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   Chapter 5 No.5

The Double Traitor By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 15252

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


There was a babel of voices as the long train came to a stand-still in the harbour station at Ostend. Selingman, with characteristic forcefulness, pushed his way down the narrow corridor, driving before him passengers of less weight and pertinacity, until finally he descended on to the platform itself. Norgate, who had followed meekly in his wake, stood listening for a moment to the confused stream of explanations. He understood well enough what had happened, but with Selingman at his elbow he assumed an air of non-comprehension.

"It is extraordinary!" the latter exclaimed. "Never do I choose this route but I am visited with some mishap. You hear what has happened?"

"Fellow's trying to tell me," Norgate replied, "but his Flemish is worse to understand than German."

"The steamer," Selingman announced, "has met with an accident entering the harbour. There will be a delay of at least six hours-possibly more. It is most annoying. My appointments in London have been fixed for days."

"Bad luck!" Norgate murmured.

"You do not seem much distressed."

"Why should I be? I really came this way because I was not sure whether

I would not stay here for a few days."

"That is all very well for you," Selingman declared, as they followed their porters into the shed. "For me, I am a man of affairs. It is different. My business goes by clockwork. All is regulated by rule, with precision, with punctuality. Now I shall be many hours behind my schedule. I shall be compelled to alter my appointments-I, who pride myself always upon altering nothing. But behold! One must make the best of things. What a sunshine! What a sea! We shall meet, without a doubt, upon the Plage. I have friends here. I must seek them. Au revoir, my young travelling companion. To the good fortune!"

They drifted apart, and Norgate, having made arrangements about his luggage, strolled through the town and on to the promenade. It was early for the full season at Ostend, but the sands were already crowded with an immense throng of children and holiday-makers. The hotels were all open, and streams of people were passing back and forth along the front, Norgate, who had no wish to meet acquaintances, passed the first period of his enforced wait a little wearily. He took a taxicab and drove as far as Knocke. Here he strolled across the links and threw himself down finally amongst a little wave of sandy hillocks close to the sea. The silence, and some remains of the sleepiness of the previous night, soon began to have their natural effect. He closed his eyes and began to doze. When he awoke, curiously enough, it was a familiar voice which first fell upon his ears. He turned his head cautiously. Seated not a dozen yards away from him was a tall, thin man with a bag of golf clubs by his side. He was listening with an air of engrossed attention to his companion's impressive remarks. Norgate, raising himself upon his elbow, no longer had any doubts. The man stretched upon his back on the sand, partly hidden from sight by a little grass-grown undulation, was his late travelling companion.

"You do well, my dear Marquis, believe me!" the latter exclaimed. "Property in Belgium is valuable to-day. Take my advice. Sell. There are so many places where one may live, where the climate is better for a man of your constitution."

"That is all very well," his companion replied querulously, "but remember that Belgium, after all, is my country. My chateau and estates came to me by inheritance. Notwithstanding the frequent intermarriages of my family with the aristocracy of your country, I am still a Belgian."

"Ah! but, my dear friend," Selingman protested, "you are more than a Belgian, more than a man of local nationality. You are a citizen of the world of intelligence. You are able to see the truth. The days are coming when small states may exist no longer without the all-protecting arm of a more powerful country. I say no more than this. The position of Belgium is artificial. Of her own will, or of necessity, she must soon become merged in the onward flow of mightier nations."

"What about Holland, then?"

"Holland, too," Selingman continued, "knows the truth. She knows very well that the limit of her days as an independent kingdom is almost reached. The Power which has absorbed the states of Prussia into one mighty empire, pauses only to take breath. There are many signs-"

"But, my worthy friend," the other man interrupted irritably, "you must

take into consideration the fact that Belgium is in a different position.

Our existence as a separate kingdom might certainly be threatened by

Germany, but all that has been foreseen. Our neutrality is guaranteed.

Your country has pledged its honour to maintain it, side by side with

France and England. What have we to fear, then?"

"You have to fear, Marquis," Selingman replied ponderously, "the inevitable laws which direct the progress of nations. Treaties solemnly subscribed to in one generation become worthless as time passes and conditions change."

"But I do not understand you there!" the other man exclaimed. "What you say sounds to me like a reflection upon the honour of your country. Do you mean to insinuate that she would possibly-that she would ever for a moment contemplate breaking her pledged and sealed word?"

"My friend," Selingman pronounced drily, "the path of honour and glory, the onward progress of a mighty, struggling nation, carrying in its hand culture and civilisation, might demand even such a sacrifice. Germany recognises, is profoundly imbued with the splendour of her own ideals, the matchlessness of her own culture. She feels justified in spreading herself out wherever she can find an outlet-at any cost, mind, because the end must be good."

There was a moment's silence. Then the tall man stood upright.

"If you came out to find me, my friend Selingman, to bring me this warning, I suppose I should consider myself your debtor. As a matter of fact, I do not. You have inspired me with nameless misgivings. Your voice sounds in my ears like the voice of an ugly fate. I am, as you have often reminded me, half German, and I have shown my friendship for Germany many times. Unlike most of the aristocracy of my country, I look more often northwards than towards the south. But I tell you frankly that there are limits to my Germanism. I will play no more golf. I will walk with you to the club-house."

"All that I have to say," Selingman went on, "is not yet said. This opportunity of meeting you is too precious to be wasted. Come. As we walk there are certain questions I wish to put to you."

They passed within a few feet of where Norgate was lying. He closed his eyes and held his breath. It was not until their figures were almost specks in the distance that he rose cautiously to his feet. He made his way back to the club-house by another angle, gained his taxicab unobserved, and drove back to Ostend.

* * * * *

Towards evening Norgate strolled into one of the cosmopolitan bars at the back of the Casino. The first person he saw as he handed over his hat to a waiter, was Selingman, spread out upon a cushioned seat with a young lady upon either side of him. He at once summoned Norgate to his table.

"An apéritif," he insisted. "Come, you must not refuse me. In two hours we start. We tear ourselves away from this wonderful atmosphere. In atmosphere, mademoiselle," he added, bowing to the right and the left, "all is included."

"It is not," Norgate admitted, "an invitation to be disregarded. On the other hand, I have already an appet

ite."

Selingman thundered out an order.

"Here," he remarked, "we dwell for a few brief moments in Bohemia. I do not introduce you. You sit down and join us. You are one of us. That you speak only English counts for nothing. Mademoiselle Alice here is American. Now tell us at once, how have you spent this afternoon? You have bathed, perhaps, or walked upon the sands?"

Norgate was on the point of speaking of his excursion to Knocke but was conscious of Selingman's curiously intent gaze. The spirit of duplicity seemed to grow upon him.

"I walked for a little way," he said. "Afterwards I lay upon the sands and slept. When I found that the steamer was still further delayed, I had a bath. That was half an hour ago. I asked a man whom I met on the promenade where one might dine in travelling clothes, lightly but well, and he sent me here-the Bar de Londres-and here, for my good fortune, I am."

"It is a pity that monsieur does not speak French," one of Selingman's companions murmured.

"But, mademoiselle," Norgate protested, "I have spoken French all my life. Herr Selingman here has misunderstood me. It is German of which I am ignorant."

The young lady, who immediately introduced herself as Mademoiselle

Henriette, passed her arm through Selingman's.

"We dine here all together, my friend, is it not so?" she begged. "He will not be in the way, and for myself, I am triste. You talk all the time to Mademoiselle l'Américaine, perhaps because she is the friend of some one in whom you are interested. But for me, it is dull. Monsieur l'Anglais shall talk with me, and you may hear all the secrets that Alice has to tell. We," she murmured, looking up at Norgate, "will speak of other things, is it not so?"

For a moment Selingman hesitated. Norgate would have moved on with a little farewell nod, but Selingman's companions were insistent.

"It shall be a partie carrée," they both declared, almost in unison.

"You need have no fear," Mademoiselle Henriette continued. "I will talk all the time to monsieur. He shall tell me his name, and we shall be very great friends. I am not interested in the things of which they talk, those others. You shall tell me of London, monsieur, and how you live there."

"Join us, by all means," Selingman invited.

"On condition that you dine with me," Norgate insisted, as he took up the menu.

"Impossible!" Selingman declared firmly.

"Oh! it matters nothing," Mademoiselle Henriette exclaimed, "so long as we dine."

"So long," Mademoiselle Alice intervened, "as we have this brief glimpse of Mr. Selingman, let us make the best of it. We see him only because of a contretemps. I think we must be very nice to him and persuade him to take us to London to-night."

Selingman's shake of the head was final.

"Dear young ladies," he said, "it was delightful to find you here. I came upon the chance, I admit, but who in Ostend would not be here between six and eight? We dine, we walk down to the quay, and if you will, you shall wave your hands and wish us bon voyage, but London just now is triste. It is here you may live the life the bon Dieu sends, where the sun shines all the time and the sea laps the sands like a great blue lake, and you, mademoiselle, can wear those wonderful costumes and charm all hearts. There is nothing like that for you in London."

They ordered dinner and walked afterwards down to the quay. Mademoiselle

Henriette lingered behind with Norgate.

"Let them go on," she whispered. "They have much to talk about. It is but a short distance, and your steamer will not start before ten. We can walk slowly and listen to the music. You are not in a hurry, monsieur, to depart? Your stay here is too short already."

Norgate's reply, although gallant enough, was a little vague. He was watching Selingman with his companion. They were talking together with undoubted seriousness.

"Who is Mr. Selingman?" he enquired. "I know him only as a travelling companion."

Mademoiselle Henriette extended her hands. She shrugged her little shoulders and looked with wide-open eyes up into her companion's grave face.

"But who, indeed, can answer that question?" she exclaimed. "Twice he has been here for flying visits. Once Alice has been to see him in Berlin. He is, I believe, a very wealthy manufacturer there. He crosses often to England. He has money, and he is always gay."

"And Mademoiselle Alice?"

"Who knows?" was the somewhat pointless reply. "She came from America.

She arrived here this season with Monsieur le General."

"What General?" Norgate asked. "A Belgian?"

"But no," his companion corrected. "All the world knows that Alice is the friend of General le Foys, chief of the staff in Paris. He is a very great soldier. He spends eleven months working and one month here."

"And she is also," Norgate observed meditatively, "the friend of Herr Selingman. Tell me, mademoiselle, what do you suppose those two are talking of now? See how close their heads are together. I don't think that Herr Selingman is a Don Juan."

"They speak, perhaps, of serious matters," his companion surmised, "but who can tell? Besides, is it for us to waste our few moments wondering? You will come back to Ostend, monsieur?"

Norgate looked back at the streaming curve of lights flashing across the dark waters.

"One never knows," he answered.

"That is what Monsieur Selingman himself says," she remarked, with a little sigh. "'Enjoy your Ostend to-day, my little ones,' he said, when he first met us this evening. 'One never knows how long these days will last.' So, monsieur, we must indeed part here?"

They had all come to a standstill at the gangway of the steamer. Selingman had apparently finished his conversation with his companion. He hurried Norgate off, and they waved their hands from the deck as a few minutes later the steamer glided away.

"A most delightful interlude," Selingman declared. "I have thoroughly enjoyed these few hours. I trust, that every time this steamer meets with a little accident, it will be at this time of the year and when I am on my way to England."

"You seem to have friends everywhere," Norgate observed, as he lit a cigar.

"Young ladies, yes," Selingman admitted. "It chanced that they were both well-known to me. But who else?"

Norgate made no reply. He felt that his companion was watching him.

"It is something," he remarked, "to find charming young ladies in a strange place to dine with one."

Selingman smiled broadly.

"If we travelled together often, my young friend," he said, "you would discover that I have friends everywhere. If I have nothing else to do, I go out and make a friend. Then, when I revisit that place, it loses its coldness. There is some one there to welcome me, some one who is glad to see me again. Look steadily in that direction, a few points to the left of the bows. In two hours' time you will see the lights of your country. I have friends there, too, who will welcome me. Meantime, I go below to sleep. You have a cabin?"

Norgate shook his head.

"I shall doze on deck for a little time," he said. "It is too wonderful a night to go below."

"It is well for me that it is calm," Selingman acknowledged. "I do not love the sea. Shall we part for a little time? If we meet not at Dover, then in London, my young friend. London is the greatest city in the world, but it is the smallest place in Europe. One cannot move in the places one knows of without meeting one's friends."

"Until we meet in London, then," Norgate observed, as he settled himself down in his chair.

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