The Assistant Commissioner, driven rapidly in a hansom from the neighbourhood
of Soho in the direction of Westminster, got out at the very centre of the Empire
on which the sun never sets. Some stalwart constables, who did not seem
particularly impressed by the duty of watching the august spot, saluted him.
Penetrating through a portal by no means lofty into the precincts of the House
which is THE House, PAR EXCELLENCE in the minds of many millions of men,
he was met at last by the volatile and revolutionary Toodles.
That neat and nice young man concealed his astonishment at the early
appearance of the Assistant Commissioner, whom he had been told to look out
for some time about midnight. His turning up so early he concluded to be the sign
that things, whatever they were, had gone wrong. With an extremely ready
sympathy, which in nice youngsters goes often with a joyous temperament, he
felt sorry for the great Presence he called "The Chief," and also for the Assistant
Commissioner, whose face appeared to him more ominously wooden than ever
before, and quite wonderfully long. "What a queer, foreign-looking chap he is," he
thought to himself, smiling from a distance with friendly buoyancy. And directly
they came together he began to talk with the kind intention of burying the
awkwardness of failure under a heap of words. It looked as if the great assault
threatened for that night were going to fizzle out. An inferior henchman of "that
brute Cheeseman" was up boring mercilessly a very thin House with some
shamelessly cooked statistics. He, Toodles, hoped he would bore them into a
count out every minute. But then he might be only marking time to let that
guzzling Cheeseman dine at his leisure. Anyway, the Chief could not be
persuaded to go home.
"He will see you at once, I think. He's sitting all alone in his room thinking of all
the fishes of the sea," concluded Toodles airily. "Come along."
Notwithstanding the kindness of his disposition, the young private secretary
(unpaid) was accessible to the common failings of humanity. He did not wish to
harrow the feelings of the Assistant Commissioner, who looked to him
uncommonly like a man who has made a mess of his job. But his curiosity was
too strong to be restrained by mere compassion. He could not help, as they went
along, to throw over his shoulder lightly:
"And your sprat?"
"Got him," answered the Assistant Commissioner with a concision which did not
mean to be repellent in the least.
"Good. You've no idea how these great men dislike to be disappointed in small