The Secret Agent
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
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 things."
After this profound observation the experienced Toodles seemed to reflect. At any rate he
said nothing for quite two seconds. Then: