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The Half-Hearted

7. The Makers Of Empire
The day before the events just recorded two men had entered the door of a certain
London club and made their way to a remote little smoking-room on the first floor. It was
not a handsome building, nor had it any particular outlook or position. It was a small,
old-fashioned place in a side street, in style obviously of last century, and the fittings
within were far from magnificent. Yet no club carried more distinction in its membership.
Its hundred possible inmates were the cream of the higher professions, the chef and the
cellar were things to wonder at, and the man who could write himself a member of the
Rota Club had obtained one of the rare social honours which men confer on one
another. Thither came all manner of people--the distinguished foreigner travelling
incognito, and eager to talk with some Minister unofficially on matters of import, the
diplomat on a secret errand, the traveller home for a brief season, the soldier, the
thinker, the lawyer. It was a catholic assembly, but exclusive--very. Each man bore the
stamp of competence on his face, and there was no cheap talk of the "well-informed"
variety. When the members spoke seriously they spoke like experts; otherwise they
were apt to joke very much like schoolboys let loose. The Right Hon. Mr. M---- was not
above twitting Lord S---- with gunroom stories, and suffering in turn good-natured libel.
Of the two men lighting their pipes in the little room one was to the first glance a
remarkable figure. About the middle height, with a square head and magnificent
shoulders, he looked from the back not unlike some professional strong man. But his
face betrayed him, for it was clearly the face of the intellectual worker, the man of
character and mind. His jaw was massive and broad, saved from hardness only by a
quaintly humorous mouth; he had, too, a pair of very sharp blue eyes looking from
under shaggy eyebrows. His age was scarcely beyond thirty, but one would have put it
ten years later, for there were lines on his brow and threads of grey in his hair. His
companion was slim and, to a hasty glance, insignificant. He wore a peaked grey beard
which lengthened his long, thin face, and he had a nervous trick of drumming always
with his fingers on whatever piece of furniture was near. But if you looked closer and
marked the high brow, the keen eyes, and the very resolute mouth, the thought of
insignificance disappeared. He looked not unlike a fighting Yankee colonel who had had
a Puritan upbringing, and the impression was aided by his simplicity in dress. He was, in
fact, a very great man, the Foreign Secretary of the time, formerly known to fame as
Lord Malham, and at the moment, by his father's death, Lord Beauregard, and, for his
sins, an exile to the Upper House. His companion, whose name was Wratislaw, was a
younger Member of Parliament who was credited with peculiar knowledge and insight
on the matters which formed his lordship's province. They were close friends and allies
of some years' standing, and colloquies between the two in this very place were not
unknown to the club annals.