`Yes; I do. We're buried in special books up to our necks - whole shelves full of them - with plates... It's a noxious, rascally looking, altogether detestable beast, with a sort of smooth face and moustaches.'

`Described to a T,' commended the Assistant Commissioner. `Only mine is clean-shaven altogether. You've seen him. It's a witty fish.'

`I have seen him!' said Toodles, incredulously. `I can't conceive where I could have seen him.'

`At the Explorers', I should say,' dropped the Assistant Commissioner, calmly. At the name of that extremely exclusive club Toodles looked scared, and stopped short.

`Nonsense,' he protested, but in an awestruck tone. `What do you mean? A member?'

`Honorary,' muttered the Assistant Commissioner through his teeth.


Toodles looked so thunderstruck that the Assistant Commissioner smiled faintly.

`That's between ourselves strictly,' he said.

`That's the beastliest thing I've ever heard in my life,' declared Toodles, feebly, as if astonishment had robbed him of all his buoyant strength in a second.

The Assistant Commissioner gave him an unsmiling glance. Till they came to the door of the great man's room, Toodles preserved a scandalized and solemn silence, as though he were offended with the Assistant Commissioner for exposing such an unsavoury and disturbing fact. It revolutionized his idea of the Explorers' Club's extreme selectness, of its social purity. Toodles was revolutionary only in politics; his social beliefs and personal feelings he wished to preserve unchanged through all the years allotted to him on this earth which, upon the whole, he believed to be a nice place to live on.

He stood aside.

`Go in without knocking,' he said.

Shades of green silk fitted low over all the lights imparted to the room something of a forest's deep gloom. The haughty eyes were physically the great man's weak point. This point was wrapped up in secrecy. When an opportunity offered, he rested them conscientiously. The Assistant Commissioner entering saw at first only a big pale hand supporting a big head, and concealing the upper part of a big pale face. An open dispatch-box stood on the writing-table near a few oblong sheets of paper and a scattered handful of quill pens. There was absolutely nothing else on the flat surface except a little bronze statuette draped in a toga, mysteriously watchful in in shadowy immobility. The Assistant Commissioner, invited to take a chair, sat down. In the dim light, the salient points of his personality, the long face, the black hair, his lankness, made him look more foreign than ever.

The great man manifested no surprise, no eagerness, no sentiment whatever. The attitude in which he rested his menaced eyes was profoundly meditative. He did not alter it the least bit. But his tone was not dreamy.

`Well! What is it that you've found out already? You came upon something unexpected on the first step.'

`Not exactly unexpected, Sir Ethelred. What I mainly came upon was a psychological state.'

The Great Presence made a slight movement. `You must be lucid, please.'

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