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   Chapter 11 No.11

The Double Traitor By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 9332

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


"My position as a Cabinet Minister," Mr. Hebblethwaite declared, with a sigh, "renders my presence in the Promenade undesirable. If you want to stroll around, Norgate, don't bother about me."

Norgate picked up his hat. "Jolly good show," he remarked. "I'll be back before it begins again."

He descended to the lower Promenade and sauntered along towards the refreshment bar. Mrs. Paston Benedek, who was seated in the stalls, leaned over and touched his arm.

"My friend," she exclaimed, "you are distrait! You walk as though you looked for everything and saw nothing. And behold, you have found me!"

Norgate shook hands and nodded to Baring, who was her escort.

"What have you done with our expansive friend?" he asked. "I thought you were dining with him."

"I compromised," she laughed. "You see what it is to be so popular. I should have dined and have come here with Captain Baring-that was our plan for to-night. Captain Baring, however, was generous when he saw my predicament. He suffered me to dine with Mr. Selingman, and he fetched me afterwards. Even then we could not quite get rid of the dear man. He came on here with us, and he is now, I believe, greeting acquaintances everywhere in the Promenade. I am perfectly convinced that I shall have to look the other way when we go out."

"I think I'll see whether I can rescue him," Norgate remarked. "Good show, isn't it?" he added, turning to her companion.

"Capital," replied Baring, without enthusiasm. "Too many people here, though."

Norgate strolled on, and Mrs. Benedek tapped her companion on the knuckles with her fan.

"How dared you be so rude!" she exclaimed. "You are in a very bad humour this evening. I can see that I shall have to punish you."

"That's all very well," Baring grumbled, "but it gets more difficult to see you alone every day. This evening was to have been mine. Now this fat German turns up and lays claim to you, and then, about the first moment we've had a chance to talk, Norgate comes gassing along. You're not nearly as nice to me, Bertha, as you used to be."

"My dear man," she protested, "in the first place I deny it. In the second, I ask myself whether you are quite as devoted to me as you were when you first came."

"In what way?" he demanded.

She turned her wonderful eyes upon him.

"At first when you came," she declared, "you told me everything. You spoke of your long mornings and afternoons at the Admiralty. You told me of the room in which you worked, the men who worked there with you. You told me of the building of that little model, and how you were all allowed to try your own pet ideas with regard to it. And then, all of a sudden, nothing-not a word about what you have been doing. I am an intelligent woman. I love to have men friends who do things, and if they are really friends of mine, I like to enter into their life, to know of their work, to sympathise, to take an interest in it. It was like that with you at first. Now it has all gone. You have drawn down a curtain. I do not believe that you go to the Admiralty at all. I do not believe that you have any wonderful invention there over which you spend your time."

"Bertha, dear," he remonstrated, "do be reasonable."

She shrugged her shoulders.

"But am I not? See how reasonably I have spoken to you. I have told you the exact truth. I have told you why I do not take quite that same pleasure in your company as when you first came."

"Do consider," he begged. "I spoke to you freely at first because we had not reached the stage in the work when secrecy was absolutely necessary. At present we are all upon our honour. From the moment we pass inside that little room, we are, to all effects and purposes, dead men. Nothing that happens there is to be spoken of or hinted at, even to our wives or our dearest friends. It is the etiquette of my profession, Bertha. Be reasonable."

"Pooh!" she exclaimed. "Fancy asking a woman to be reasonable! Don't you realise, you stupid man, that if you were at liberty to tell everybody what it is that you do there, well, then I should have no more interest in it? It is just because you say that you will not and you may not tell, that, womanlike, I am curious."

"But whatever good could it be to you to know?" he protested. "I should simply addle your head with a mass of technical detail, not a quarter of which you would be able to understand. Besides, I have told you, Bertha, it is a matter of honour."

She looked intently at her programme.

"There are men," she murmured, "who love so much that even honour counts for little by the side of-"

"Of what?" he whispered hoarsely.

"Of success."

For a moment they sat in silence. The place was not particularly hot, yet there were little beads of perspiration upon Baring's forehead. The fingers which held his programme twitched. He rose suddenly to his feet.

"May I go out and have a drink?" he asked. "I won't go if you don't want to be alone."

"My dear friend, I do not mind in the least," she assured him. "If you find Mr. Norgate, send him here."

In one of the smaller refreshment rooms sat Mr. Selingman, a bottle of champagne before him and a wondrously attired lady on either side. The heads of all three were close together. The lady on the left was talking in a low tone but with many gesticulations.

"Dear friend," she exclaimed, "for one single moment you must not think that I am ungrateful! But consider. Success costs money always, and I have been successful-you admit that. My rooms are frequented entirely by the class of young men you have wished me to encourage. Pauline and I here, and Rose, whom you have met, seek our friends in no other direction. We are never alone, and, as you very well know, not a day has passed that I have not sent you some little word of gossip or information-the gossip of the navy and the gossip of the army-and there is always some truth underneath what these young men say. It is what you desire, is it not?"

"Without a doubt," Selingman assented. "Your work, my dear Helda, has been excellent. I commend you. I think with fervour of the day when first we talked together, and the scheme presented itself to me. Continue to play Aspasia in such a fashion to the young soldiers and sailors of this country, and your villa at Monte Carlo next year is assured."

The woman shrugged her shoulders.

"I will not say that you are not generous," she declared, "for that would be untrue, but sometimes you forget that these young men have very little money, and the chief profit from their friendship, therefore, must come to us in other ways."

"You want a larger allowance?" Selingman asked slowly.

"Not at present, but I want to warn you that the time may come when I shall need more. A salon in Pimlico, dear friend, is an expensive thing to maintain. These young men tell their friends of our hospitality, the music, our entertainment. We become almost too much the fashion, and it costs money."

Selingman held up his champagne glass, gazed at the wine for a moment, and slowly drank it.

"I am not of those," he announced, "who expect service for nothing, especially good service such as yours. Watch for the postman, dear lady. Any morning this week there may come for you a pleasant little surprise."

She leaned over and patted his arm.

"You are a prince," she murmured. "But tell me, who is the grave-looking young man?"

Selingman glanced up. Norgate, who had been standing at the bar with

Baring, was passing a few feet away.

"The rake's progress," the former quoted solemnly.

Selingman raised his glass.

"Come and join us," he invited.

Norgate shook his head slightly and passed on. Selingman leaned a little forward, watching his departing figure. The buoyant good-nature seemed to have faded out of his face.

"If you could get that young man to talk, now, Helda," he muttered, "it would be an achievement."

She glanced after him, "To me," she declared, "he looks one of the difficult sort."

"He is an Englishman with a grievance," Selingman continued. "If the grievance cuts deep enough, he may-But we gossip."

"The other was a navy man," the girl remarked. "His name is Baring."

Selingman nodded.

"You need not bother about him," he said. "If it is possible for him to be of use, that is arranged for in another quarter. So! Let us finish our wine and separate. That letter shall surely come. Have no fear."

Selingman strolled away, a few minutes later. Baring had returned to Mrs. Paston Benedek, and Norgate had resumed his place in the box. Selingman, with a gold-topped cane under his arm, a fresh cigar between his lips, and a broad smile of good-fellowship upon his face, strolled down one of the wings of the Promenade. Suddenly he came to a standstill. In the box opposite to him, Norgate and Hebblethwaite were seated side by side. Selingman regarded them for a moment steadfastly.

"A friend of Hebblethwaite's!" he muttered. "Hebblethwaite-the one man whom Berlin doubts!"

He withdrew a little into the shadows, his eyes fixed upon the box. A little way off, in the stalls, Mrs. Paston Benedek was whispering to Baring. Further back in the Promenade, Helda was entertaining a little party of friends. Selingman's eyes remained fixed upon Norgate.

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