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   Chapter 4 No.4

The Double Traitor By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 12822

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Norgate dozed fitfully as the train sped on through the darkness. He woke once to find Herr Selingman in close confabulation with his agent on the opposite side of the compartment. They had a notebook before them and several papers spread out upon the seat. Norgate, who was really weary, closed his eyes again, and it seemed to him that he dreamed for a few moments. Then suddenly he found himself wide-awake. Although he remained motionless, the words which Selingman had spoken to his companion were throbbing in his ears.

"I do not doubt your industry, Meyer, but it is your discretion which is sometimes at fault. These plans of the forts of Liège-they might as well be published in a magazine. We had them when they were made. We have received copies of every alteration. We know to a metre how far the guns will carry, how many men are required to man them, what stocks of ammunition are close at hand. Understand, therefore, my friend, that the sight of these carefully traced plans, which you hint to have obtained at the risk of your life, excites me not at all."

The other man's reply was inaudible. In a moment or two Selingman spoke again.

"The information which I am lacking just at present in your sphere of operations, is civilian in character. Take Ghent, for instance. What I should like here, what our records need at present, is a list of the principal inhabitants with their approximate income, and, summarising it all, the rateable value of the city. With these bases it would be easy to fix a reasonable indemnity."

Norgate was wide-awake now. He was curled up on his seat, underneath his rug, and though his eyelids had quivered with a momentary excitement, he was careful to remain as near as possible motionless. Again Selingman's agent spoke, this time more distinctly.

"The young man opposite," he whispered. "He is English, surely?"

"He is English indeed," Selingman admitted, "but he speaks no German. That I have ascertained. Give me your best attention, Meyer. Here is again an important commission for you. Within the next few days, hire an automobile and visit the rising country eastwards from Antwerp. At some spot between six and eight miles from the city, on a slight incline and commanding the River Scheldt, we desire to purchase an acre of land for the erection of a factory. You can say that we have purchased the concession for making an American safety razor. The land is wanted, and urgently. See to this yourself and send plans and price to me in London. On my return I shall call and inspect the sites and close the bargain."

"And the Antwerp forts?"

The other pursed his lips.

"Pooh! Was it not the glorious firm of Krupp who fitted the guns there? Do you think the men who undertook that task were idle? I tell you that our plans of the Antwerp fortifications are more carefully worked out in detail than the plans held by the Belgians themselves. Here is good work for you to do, friend Meyer. That and the particulars from Brussels which you know of, will keep you busy until we meet again."

Herr Selingman began to collect his papers, but was suddenly thrown back into his seat by the rocking of the train, which came, a few moments later, to a standstill. The sound of the opening of windows from the other side of the corridor was heard all down the train. Selingman and his companion followed the general example, opening the door of the carriage and the window opposite. A draught blew through the compartment. One of the small folded slips of paper from Selingman's pocket-book fluttered along the seat. It came within reach of Norgate. Cautiously he stretched out his fingers and gripped it. In a moment it was in his pocket. He sat up in his place. Selingman had turned around.

"Anything the matter?" Norgate asked sleepily.

"Not that one can gather," Selingman replied. "You have slept well. I am glad that our conversation has not disturbed you. This is my agent from Brussels-Mr. Meyer. He sells our crockery in that city-not so much as he should sell, perhaps, but still he does his best."

Mr. Meyer was a dark little man who wore gold-rimmed spectacles, neat clothes, and a timid smile. Norgate nodded to him good-humouredly.

"You should get Herr Selingman to come oftener and help you," he remarked, yawning. "I can imagine that he would be able to sell anything he tried to."

"It is what I often tell him, sir," Mr. Meyer replied, "but he is too fond of the English trade."

"English money is no better than Belgian," Herr Selingman declared, "but there is more of it. Let us go round to the restaurant car and drink a bottle of wine together while the beds are prepared."

"Certainly," Norgate assented, stretching himself. "By-the-by, you had better look after your papers there, Herr Selingman. Just as I woke up I saw a small slip fluttering along the seat. You made a most infernal draught by opening that door, and I almost fancy it went out of the window."

Herr Selingman's face became suddenly grave. He went through the papers one by one, and finally locked them up in his bag.

"Nothing missing, I hope?" Norgate asked.

Herr Selingman's face was troubled.

"I am not sure," he said. "It is my belief that I had with me here a list of my agents in England. I cannot find it. In a sense it is unimportant, yet if a rival firm should obtain possession of it, there might be trouble."

Norgate looked out into the night and smiled.

"Considering that it is blowing half a hurricane and commencing to rain," he remarked, "the slip of paper which I saw blowing about will be of no use to any one when it is picked up."

They called the attendant and ordered him to prepare the sleeping berths. Then they made their way down to the buffet car, and Herr Selingman ordered a bottle of wine.

"We will drink," he proposed, "to our three countries. In our way we represent, I think, the industrial forces of the world-Belgium, England, and Germany. We are the three countries who stand for commerce and peace. We will drink prosperity to ourselves and to each other."

Norgate threw off, with apparent effort, his sleepiness.

"What you have said about our three countries is very true," he remarked. "Perhaps as you, Mr. Meyer, are a Belgian, and you, Mr. Selingman, know Belgium well and have connections with it, you can tell me one thing which has always puzzled me. Why

is it that Belgium, which is, as you say, a commercial and peace-loving country, whose neutrality is absolutely guaranteed by three of the greatest Powers in Europe, should find it necessary to have spent such large sums upon fortifications?"

"In which direction do you mean?" Selingman asked, his eyes narrowing a little as he looked across at Norgate.

"The forts of Liege and Namur," Norgate replied, "and Antwerp. I know nothing more about it than I gathered from an article which I read not long ago in a magazine. I had always looked upon Belgium as being outside the pale of possible warfare, yet according to this article it seems to be bristling to the teeth with armaments."

Herr Selingman cleared his throat.

"I will tell you the reason," he said. "You have come to the right man to know. I am a civilian, but there are few things in connection with my country which I do not understand. Mr. Meyer here, who is a citizen of Brussels, will bear me out. It is the book of a clever, intelligent, but misguided German writer which has been responsible for Belgium's unrest-Bernhardi's Germany and the Next War-that and articles of a similar tenor which preceded it."

"Never read any of them," Norgate remarked.

"It was erroneously supposed," Selingman continued, "that Bernhardi represented the dominant military opinion of Germany when he wrote that if Germany ever again invaded France, it would be, notwithstanding her guarantees of neutrality, through Belgium. Bernhardi was a clever writer, but he was a soldier, and soldiers do not understand the world policy of a great nation such as Germany. Germany will make no war upon any one, save commercially. She will never again invade France except under the bitterest provocation, and if ever she should be driven to defend herself, it will assuredly not be at the expense of her broken pledges. The forts of Belgium might just as well be converted into apple-orchards. They stand there to-day as the proof of a certain lack of faith in Germany on the part of Belgium, ministered to by that King of the Jingoes, as you would say in English, Bernhardi. How often it is that a nation suffers most from her own patriots!"

"Herr Selingman has expressed the situation admirably," Mr. Meyer declared approvingly.

"Very interesting, I'm sure," Norgate murmured. "There is one thing about you foreigners," he added, with an envious sigh. "The way you all speak the languages of other countries is wonderful. Are you a Belgian, Mr. Meyer?"

"Half Belgian and half French."

"But you speak English almost without accent," Norgate remarked.

"In commerce," Herr Selingman insisted, "that is necessary. All my agents speak four languages."

"You deserve to capture our trade," Norgate sighed.

"To a certain extent, my young friend," Selingman declared, "we mean to do it. We are doing it. And yet there is enough for us both. There is trade enough for your millions and for mine. So long as Germany and England remain friends, they can divide the commerce of the world between them. It is our greatest happiness, we who have a business relying upon the good-will of the two nations, to think that year by year the clouds of discord are rolling away from between us. Young sir, as a German citizen, I will drink a toast with you, an English one. I drink to everlasting peace between my country and yours!"

Norgate drained his glass. Selingman threw back his head as he followed suit, and smacked his lips appreciatively.

"And now," the former remarked, rising to his feet, "I think I'll go and turn in. I dare say you two still have some business to talk about, especially if Mr. Meyer is leaving us shortly."

Norgate made his way back to his compartment, undressed leisurely and climbed into the upper bunk. For an hour or two he indulged in the fitful slumber usually engendered by night travelling. At the frontier he sat up and answered the stereotyped questions. Herr Selingman, in sky-blue pyjamas, and with face looking more beaming and florid than ever, poked his head cheerfully out of the lower bunk.

"Awake?" he enquired.

"Very much so," Norgate yawned.

"I have a surprise," Herr Selingman announced. "Wait."

Almost as he spoke, an attendant arrived from the buffet car with some soda-water. Herr Selingman's head vanished for a moment or two. When he reappeared, he held two glasses in his hand.

"A whisky soda made in real English fashion," he proclaimed triumphantly.

"A good nightcap, is it not? Now we are off again."

Norgate held out his hand for the tumbler.

"Awfully good of you," he murmured.

"I myself," Selingman continued, seated on the edge of the bunk, with his legs far apart to steady himself, "I myself enjoy a whisky soda. It will be indeed a nightcap, so here goes."

He drained his glass and set it down. Norgate followed suit. Selingman's hand came up for the tumbler and Norgate was conscious of a curious mixture of sensations which he had once experienced before in the dentist's chair. He could see Selingman distinctly, and he fancied that he was watching him closely, but the rest of the carriage had become chaos. The sound of the locomotive was beating hard upon the drums of his ears. His head fell back.

It was broad daylight when he awoke. Selingman, fully dressed and looking more beaming than ever, was seated upon a ridiculously inadequate camp-stool upon the floor, smoking a cigarette. Norgate stared at him stupidly.

"My young friend," Herr Selingman declared impressively, "if there is one thing in the world I envy you, it is that capacity for sleep. You all have it, you English. Your heads touch the pillow, and off you go. Do you know that the man is waiting for you to take your coffee?"

Norgate lay quite still for several moments. Beyond a slight headache, he was feeling as usual. He leaned over the side of the bunk.

"How many whiskies and soda did I have last night?" he asked.

Herr Selingman smiled.

"But one only," he announced. "There was only one to be had. I found a little whisky in my flask. I remembered that I had an English travelling companion, and I sent for some soda-water. You drank yours, and you did sleep. I go now and sit in the corridor while you dress."

Norgate swung round in his bunk and slipped to the floor.

"Jolly good of you," he muttered sleepily, "but it was very strong whisky."

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