`True,' confessed the deep, smooth voice. `I sent for Heat. You are still rather a novice in your new berth. And how are you getting on over there?'
`I believe I am learning something every day.'
`Of course, of course. I hope you will get on.'
`Thank you, Sir Ethelred. I've learned something today, and even within the last hour or so. There is much in this affair of a kind that does not meet the eye in a usual anarchist outrage, even if one looked into it as deep as can be. That's why I am here.'
The great man put his arms akimbo, the backs of his big hands resting on his hips.
`Very well. Go on. Only no details, pray. Spare me the details.'
`You shall not be troubled with them, Sir Ethelred,' the Assistant
Commissioner began, with a calm and untroubled assurance. While he was speaking the hands on the face of the clock behind the great man 5 back - a heavy, glistening affair of massive scrolls in the same dark marble as the mantelpiece, and with a ghostly, evanescent tick - had moved through the space of seven minutes. He spoke with a studious fidelity to a parenthetical manner, into which every little fact - that is, every detail - fitted with delightful ease. Not a murmur nor even a movement hinted at interruption. The great Personage might have been the statue of one of his own princely ancestors stripped of a Crusader's war harness, and put into an ill-fitting frockcoat. The Assistant Commissioner felt as though he were at liberty to talk for an hour. But he kept his head, and at the end of the time mentioned above he broke off with a sudden conclusion, which, reproducing the opening statement, pleasantly surprised Sir Ethelred by its apparent swiftness and force.
`The kind of thing which meets us under the surface of this affair, otherwise without gravity, is unusual - in this precise form at least - and requires special treatment.'
The tone of Sir Ethelred was deepened, full of conviction. `I should think so - involving the Ambassador of a foreign power!' `Oh! The Ambassador!' protested the other, erect and slender, allowing himself a mere half smile, `It would be stupid of me to advance anything of the kind. And it is absolutely unnecessary, because if I am right in my surmises, whether ambassador or hall porter it's a mere detail.'
Sir Ethelred opened a wide mouth, like a cavern, into which the hooked nose seemed anxious to peer; there came from it a subdued rolling sound, as from a distant organ with the scornful indignation stop.
`No! These people are too impossible. What do they mean by importing their methods of Crim-Tartary here? A Turk would have more decency.'
`You forget, Sir Ethelred, that strictly speaking we know nothing positively - as yet.'
`No! But how would you define it? Shortly?'
`Barefaced audacity amounting to childishness of a peculiar sort.'
`We can't put up with the innocence of nasty little children,' said the great and expanded personage, expanding a little more as it were. The haughty, drooping glance struck crushingly the carpet at the Assistant Commissioner's feet. `They'll have to get a hard rap on the knuckles over this affair. We must be in a position to - What is your general idea, stated shortly? No need to go into details.'
`No, Sir Ethelred. In principle, I should lay it down that the existence of secret agents should not be tolerated, as tending to augment the positive dangers of the evil against which they are used. That the spy will fabricate his information is a mere commonplace. But in the sphere of political and revolutionary
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