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   Chapter 10 No.10

The Double Traitor By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 15141

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The Right Honourable John Hebblethwaite, M.P., since he had become a Cabinet Minister and had even been mentioned as the possible candidate for supreme office, had lost a great deal of that breezy, almost boisterous effusion of manner which in his younger days had first endeared him to his constituents. He received Norgate, however, with marked and hearty cordiality, and took his arm as he led him to the little table which he had reserved in a corner of the dining-room. The friendship between the entirely self-made politician and Norgate, who was the nephew of a duke, and whose aristocratic connections were multifarious and far-reaching, was in its way a genuine one. There were times when Hebblethwaite had made use of his younger friend to further his own undoubted social ambitions. On the other hand, since he had become a power in politics, he had always been ready to return in kind such offices. The note which he had received from Norgate that day was, however, the first appeal which had ever been made to him.

"I have been away for a week-end's golf," Hebblethwaite explained, as they took their places at the table. "There comes a time when figures pall, and snapping away in debate seems to stick in one's throat. I telephoned directly I got your note. Fortunately, I wasn't doing anything this evening. We won't play about. I know you don't want to see me to talk about the weather, and I know something's up, or Leveson wouldn't have written to me, and you wouldn't be back from Berlin. Let's have the whole story with the soup and fish, and we'll try and hit upon a way to put things right before we reach the liqueurs."

"I've lots to say to you," Norgate admitted simply. "I'll begin with the personal side of it. Here's just a brief narration of exactly what happened to me in the most fashionable restaurant of Berlin last Thursday night."

Norgate told his story. His friend listened with the absorbed attention of a man who possesses complete powers of concentration.

"Rotten business," he remarked, when it was finished. "I suppose you've told old-I mean you've told them the story at the Foreign Office?"

"Had it all out this morning," Norgate replied.

"I know exactly what our friend told you," Mr. Hebblethwaite continued, with a gleam of humour in his eyes. "He reminded you that the first duty of a diplomat-of a young diplomat especially-is to keep on friendly terms with the governing members of the country to which he is accredited. How's that, eh?"

"Pretty nearly word for word," Norgate admitted. "It's the sort of platitude I could watch framing in his mind before I was half-way through what I had to say. What they don't seem to take sufficient account of in that museum of mummied brains and parchment tongues-forgive me, Hebblethwaite, but it isn't your department-is that the Prince's behaviour to me is such as no Englishman, subscribing to any code of honour, could possibly tolerate. I will admit, if you like, that the Kaiser's attitude may render it advisable for me to be transferred from Berlin. I do not admit that I am not at once eligible for a position of similar importance in another capital."

"No one would doubt it," John Hebblethwaite grumbled, "except those particular fools we have to deal with. I suppose they didn't see it in the same light."

"They did not," Norgate admitted.

"We've a tough proposition to tackle," Hebblethwaite confessed cheerfully, "but I am with you, Norgate, and to my mind one of the pleasures of being possessed of a certain amount of power is to help one's friends when you believe in the justice of their cause. If you leave things with me, I'll tackle them to-morrow morning."

"That's awfully good of you, Hebblethwaite," Norgate declared gratefully, "and just what I expected. We'll leave that matter altogether just now, if we may. My own little grievance is there, and I wanted to explain exactly how it came about. Apart from that altogether, there is something far more important which I have to say to you."

Hebblethwaite knitted his brows. He was clearly puzzled.

"Still personal, eh?" he enquired.

Norgate shook his head.

"It is something of vastly more importance," he said, "than any question affecting my welfare. I am almost afraid to begin for fear I shall miss any chance, for fear I may not seem convincing enough."

"We'll have the champagne opened at once, then," Mr. Hebblethwaite declared. "Perhaps that will loosen your tongue. I can see that this is going to be a busy meal. Charles, if that bottle of Pommery 1904 is iced just to the degree I like it, let it be served, if you please, in the large sized glasses. Now, Norgate."

"What I am going to relate to you," Norgate began, leaning across the table and speaking very earnestly, "is a little incident which happened to me on my way back from Berlin. I had as a fellow passenger a person whom I am convinced is high up in the German Secret Service Intelligence Department."

"All that!" Mr. Hebblethwaite murmured. "Go ahead, Norgate. I like the commencement of your story. I almost feel that I am moving through the pages of a diplomatic romance. All that I am praying is that your fellow passenger was a foreign lady-a princess, if possible-with wonderful eyes, fascinating manners, and of a generous disposition."

"Then I am afraid you will be disappointed," Norgate continued drily. "The personage in question was a man whose name was Selingman. He told me that he was a manufacturer of crockery and that he came often to England to see his customers. He called himself a peace-loving German, and he professed the utmost good-will towards our country and our national policy. At the commencement of our conversation, I managed to impress him with the idea that I spoke no German. At one of the stations on the line he was joined by a Belgian, his agent, as he told me, in Brussels for the sale of his crockery. I overheard this agent, whose name was Meyer, recount to his principal his recent operations. He offered him an exact plan of the forts of Liège. I heard him instructed to procure a list of the wealthy inhabitants of Ghent and the rateable value of the city, and I heard him commissioned to purchase land in the neighbourhood of Antwerp for a secret purpose."

Mr. Hebblethwaite's eyebrows became slowly upraised. The twinkle in his eyes remained, however.

"My!" he exclaimed softly. "We're getting on with the romance all right!"

"During the momentary absence of this fellow and his agent from the carriage," Norgate proceeded, "I possessed myself of a slip of paper which had become detached from the packet of documents they had been examining. It consisted of a list of names mostly of people resident in the United Kingdom, purporting to be Selingman's agents. I venture to believe that this list is a precise record of the principal German spies in this country."

"German spies!" Mr. Hebblethwaite murmured. "Whew!"

He sipped his champagne.

"That list," Norgate went on, "is in my pocket. I may add that although I was careful to keep up the fiction of not understanding German, and although I informed Herr Selingman that I had seen the paper in question blow out of the window, he nevertheless gave me that night a drugged whisky and soda, and during the time I slept he must have been through every one of my possessions. I found my few letters and papers turned upside down, and even my pockets had been ransacked."

"Where was the paper, then?" Mr. Hebblethwaite enquired.

"In an inner pocket of my p

yjamas," Norgate explained. "I had them made with a sort of belt inside, at the time I was a king's messenger."

Mr. Hebblethwaite played with his tie for a moment and drank a little more champagne.

"Could I have a look at the list?" he asked, as though with a sudden inspiration.

Norgate passed it across the table to him. Mr. Hebblethwaite adjusted his pince-nez, gave a little start as he read the first name, leaned back in his chair as he came to another, stared at Norgate about half-way down the list, as though to make sure that he was in earnest, and finally finished it in silence. He folded it up and handed it back.

"Well, well!" he exclaimed, a little pointlessly. "Now tell me, Norgate, you showed this list down there?"-jerking his head towards the street.

"I did," Norgate admitted.

"And what did they say?"

"Just what you might expect men whose lives are spent within the four walls of a room in Downing Street to say," Norgate replied. "You are half inclined to make fun of me yourself, Hebblethwaite, but at any rate I know you have a different outlook from theirs. Old Carew was frantically polite. He even declared the list to be most interesting! He rambled on for about a quarter of an hour on the general subject of the spy mania. German espionage, he told me, was one of the shadowy evils from which England had suffered for generations. So far as regards London and the provincial towns, he went on, whether for good or evil, we have a large German population, and if they choose to make reports to any one in Germany as to events happening here which come under their observation, we cannot stop it, and it would not even be worth while to try. As regards matters of military and naval importance, there was a special branch, he assured me, for looking after these, and it was a branch of the Service which was remarkably well-served and remarkably successful. Having said this, he folded the list up and returned it to me, rang the bell, gave me a frozen hand to shake, a mumbled promise about another appointment as soon as there should be a vacancy, and that was the end of it."

"About that other appointment," Mr. Hebblethwaite began, with some animation-

"Damn the other appointment!" Norgate interrupted testily. "I didn't come here to cadge, Hebblethwaite. I am never likely to make use of my friends in that way. I came for a bigger thing. I came to try and make you see a danger, the reality of which I have just begun to appreciate myself for the first time in my life."

Mr. Hebblethwaite's manner slowly changed. He pulled down his waistcoat, finished off a glass of wine, and leaned forward.

"Norgate," he said, "I am sorry that this is the frame of mind in which you have come to me. I tell you frankly that you couldn't have appealed to a man in the Cabinet less in sympathy with your fears than I myself."

"I am sorry to hear that," Norgate replied grimly, "but go on."

"Before I entered the Cabinet," Mr. Hebblethwaite continued, "our relations with Foreign Powers were just the myth to me that they are to most people who read the Morning Post one day and the Daily Mail the next. However, I made the best part of half a million in business through knowing the top and the bottom and every corner of my job, and I started in to do the same when I began to have a share in the government of the country. The entente with France is all right in its way, but I came to the conclusion that the greatest and broadest stroke of diplomacy possible to Englishmen to-day was to cultivate more benevolent and more confidential relations with Germany. That same feeling has been spreading through the Cabinet during the last two years. I am ready to take my share of the blame or praise, whichever in the future shall be allotted to the inspirer of that idea. It is our hope that when the present Government goes out of office, one of its chief claims to public approval and to historical praise will be the improvement of our relations with Germany. We certainly do not wish to disturb the growing confidence which exists between the two countries by any maladroit or unnecessary investigations. We believe, in short, that Germany's attitude towards us is friendly, and we intend to treat her in the same spirit."

"Tell me," Norgate asked, "is that the reason why every scheme for the expansion of the army has been shelved? Is that the reason for all the troubles with the Army Council?"

"It is," Hebblethwaite admitted. "I trust you, Norgate, and I look upon you as a friend. I tell you what the whole world of responsible men and women might as well know, but which we naturally don't care about shouting from the housetops. We have come to the conclusion that there is no possible chance of the peace of Europe being disturbed. We have come to the conclusion that civilisation has reached that pitch when the last resource of arms is absolutely unnecessary. I do not mind telling you that the Balkan crisis presented opportunities to any one of the Powers to plunge into warfare, had they been so disposed. No one bade more boldly for peace then than Germany. No one wants war. Germany has nothing to gain by it, no animosity against France, none towards Russia. Neither of these countries has the slightest intention, now or at any time, of invading Germany. Why should they? The matter of Alsace and Lorraine is finished. If these provinces ever come back to France, it will be by political means and not by any mad-headed attempt to wrest them away."

"Incidentally," Norgate asked, "what about the enormous armaments of Germany? What about her navy? What about the military spirit which practically rules the country?"

"I have spent three months in Germany during the last year," Hebblethwaite replied. "It is my firm belief that those armaments and that fleet are necessary to Germany to preserve her place of dignity among the nations. She has Russia on one side and France on the other, allies, watching her all the time, and of late years England has been chipping at her whenever she got a chance, and flirting with France. What can a nation do but make herself strong enough to defend herself against unprovoked attack? Germany, of course, is full of the military spirit, but it is my opinion, Norgate, that it is a great deal fuller of the great commercial spirit. It isn't war with Germany that we have to fear. It's the ruin of our commerce by their great assiduity and more up-to-date methods. Now you've had a statement of policy from me for which the halfpenny Press would give me a thousand guineas if I'd sign it."

"I've had it," Norgate admitted, "and I tell you frankly that I hate it. I am an unfledged young diplomat in disgrace, and I haven't your experience or your brains, but I have a hateful idea that I can see the truth and you can't. You're too big and too broad in this matter, Hebblethwaite. Your head's lifted too high. You see the horrors and the needlessness, the logical side of war, and you brush the thought away from you."

Mr. Hebblethwaite sighed.

"Perhaps so," he admitted. "One can only act according to one's convictions. You must remember, though, Norgate, that we don't carry our pacificism to extremes. Our navy is and always will be an irresistible defence."

"Even with hostile naval and aeroplane bases at-say-Calais, Boulogne,

Dieppe, Ostend?"

Mr. Hebblethwaite pushed a box of cigars towards his guest, glanced at the clock, and rose.

"Young fellow," he said, "I have engaged a box at the Empire. Let us move on."

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