The Assistant Commissioner walked along a short and narrow street like a wet,
muddy trench, then crossing a very broad thoroughfare entered a public edifice,
and sought speech with a young private secretary (unpaid) of a great personage.
This fair, smooth-faced young man, whose symmetrically arranged hair gave him
the air of a large and neat schoolboy, met the Assistant Commissioner's request
with a doubtful look, and spoke with bated breath.
"Would he see you? I don't know about that. He has walked over from the House
an hour ago to talk with the permanent Under- Secretary, and now he's ready to
walk back again. He might have sent for him; but he does it for the sake of a little
exercise, I suppose. It's all the exercise he can find time for while this session
lasts. I don't complain; I rather enjoy these little strolls. He leans on my arm, and
doesn't open, his lips. But, I say, he's very tired, and - well - not in the sweetest of
tempers just now."
"It's in connection with that Greenwich affair."
"Oh! I say! He's very bitter against you people. But I will go and see, if you insist."
"Do. That's a good fellow," said the Assistant Commissioner.
The unpaid secretary admired this pluck. Composing for himself an innocent
face, he opened a door, and went in with the assurance of a nice and privileged
child. And presently he reappeared, with a nod to the Assistant Commissioner,
who passing through the same door left open for him, found himself with the
great personage in a large room.
Vast in bulk and stature, with a long white face, which, broadened at the base by
a big double chin, appeared egg-shaped in the fringe of thin greyish whisker, the
great personage seemed an expanding man. Unfortunate from a tailoring point of
view, the cross-folds in the middle of a buttoned black coat added to the
impression, as if the fastenings of the garment were tried to the utmost. From the
head, set upward on a thick neck, the eyes, with puffy lower lids, stared with a
haughty droop on each side of a hooked aggressive nose, nobly salient in the
vast pale circumference of the face. A shiny silk hat and a pair of worn gloves
lying ready on the end of a long table looked expanded too, enormous.
He stood on the hearthrug in big, roomy boots, and uttered no word of greeting.