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   Chapter 12 No.12

The Double Traitor By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 11193

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Mrs. Paston Benedek, on the following afternoon, sat in one corner of the very comfortable lounge set with its back to the light in her charming drawing-room. Norgate sat in the other.

"I think it is perfectly sweet of you to come," she declared. "I do not care how many enemies I make-I will certainly dine with you to-night. How I shall manage it I do not yet know. You shall call for me here at eight o'clock-or say a quarter past, then we need not hurry away too early from the club. If Captain Baring is there, perhaps it would be better if you did not speak of our engagement."

Norgate sighed.

"What is the wonderful attraction about Baring?" he asked discontentedly.

"Really, there isn't any," she replied. "I like to be kind, that is all. I do not like to hurt anybody's feelings, and I know that Captain Baring would like very much to dine with me to-night himself. I was obliged to throw him over last night because of Mr. Selingman's arrival."

"You have not always been so considerate," he persisted. "Why this especial care for Baring's feelings?"

She turned her head a little towards him. She was leaning back in her corner of the lounge, her hands clasped behind her head. There was an elaborate carelessness about her pose which she numbered among her best effects.

"Perhaps," she retorted, "I, too, find your sudden attraction for me a little remarkable. On those few occasions when you did honour us at the club before you left for Berlin, you were agreeable enough, but I do not remember that you once asked me to dine with you. There was no Captain Baring then."

"The truth is," Norgate confessed, "since I returned, I have felt rather like hiding myself. I don't care about going to my own club or visiting my own friends. I came to the St. James's as a sort of compromise."

"You are not very flattering," she complained.

"Wouldn't you rather I were truthful?" asked Norgate. "One's friends, one's real friends, are scarcely likely to be found at a mixed bridge club."

"After that," she sighed, "I am going to telephone to Captain Baring. He, at any rate, is in love with me, and I need something to restore my self-respect."

"In love with you, perhaps, but are you in love with him?"

She laughed, softly at first, but with an ever more insistent note of satire underlying her mirth.

"The woman," she said, "who expects to get anything out of life worth having, doesn't fall in love. She may give a good deal, she may seem to give everything, but if she is wise, she keeps her heart."

"Poor Baring!"

"Are you sure," she asked, fixing her brilliant eyes upon him, "that he needs your sympathy? He is very much in love with me, and there are times when I could almost persuade myself that I am in love with him. At any rate, he attracts me."

Norgate was momentarily sententious. "The psychology of love," he murmured, looking into the fire, "is a queer study."

Once more she laughed at him.

"Before you went to Berlin," she said, "you used not to talk of the psychology of love. Your methods, so far as I remember them, were a little different. Confess now-you fell in love in Berlin."

Norgate stifled a sudden desire to confide in his companion.

"At my age!" he exclaimed.

"It is true that it is not a susceptible age," Mrs. Benedek admitted. "You are in what I call your mid-youth. Mid-youth, as a rule, is an age of cynicism. As you grow older, you will appreciate more the luxury of emotion. But tell me, was it the little Baroness who fascinated you? She is a great beauty, is she not?"

"I took her out to dinner," Norgate observed. "Therefore I suppose it was my duty to be in love with her."

"Fancy sharing the same sofa," she laughed, "with a rival of princes! Do you know that the Baroness is a friend of mine? She comes sometimes to London."

"I am much more interested in your love affair," he protested.

"And I find far more interest in your future," she insisted. "Let us talk sensibly, like good friends and companions. What are you going to do? They will not treat this affair seriously at the Foreign Office? They cannot think that you were to blame?"

"In a sense, no," he replied. "Diplomatically, however, I am, from their point of view, a heinous offender. I rather think I am going to be shelved for six months."

"Just what one would expect from this horrible Government!" Mrs. Benedek exclaimed indignantly.

"What do you know about the Government?" he asked. "Are you taking up politics as well as the study of the higher auction?"

She sighed, and her eyes were fixed upon him very earnestly, as she declared: "You do not understand me, my friend. You never did. I am not altogether frivolous; I am not altogether an artist. I have my serious moments."

"Is this going to be one of them?"

"Don't make fun of me, please," she begged, "You are like so many Englishmen. Directly a woman tries to talk seriously, you will push her back into her place. You like to treat her as something to frivol with and make love to. Is it your amour propre which is wounded, when you feel sometimes forced to admit that she has as clear an insight into the more important things of life as you yourself?"

"Do you talk like that with Baring?" he asked.

For several seconds she was silent. Her eyes had contracted a little. She seemed to be seeking for some double meaning in his words.

"Captain Baring is an intelligent man," she said, "and he is a man, too, who understands his own particular subject. Of course it is a pleasure to talk to him about it."

"I thought na

vy men, as a rule," he remarked, "were not communicative."

"Do you call it communicative," she enquired, "to discuss the subject you love best with your greatest friend? But let us not talk any more of Captain Baring. It is in you just now that I am interested, you and your future. You seem to think that your friends at the Foreign Office are not going to find you another position-for some time, at any rate. You are not one of those men who think of nothing but sport and amusing themselves. What are you going to do during the next few months?"

"At present," he confessed thoughtfully, "I have only the vaguest ideas.

Perhaps you could help me."

"Perhaps I could," she admitted. "We will talk of that another time, if you like."

It was obvious that she was speaking under a certain tension. The silence which ensued was significant.

"Why not now?" he asked.

"It is too soon," she answered, "and you would not understand. I might say things to you which would perhaps end our friendship, which would give you a wrong impression. No, let us stay just as we are for a little time."

"This is most tantalising," grumbled Norgate.

She leaned over and patted his hand.

"Have patience, my friend," she whispered. "The great things come to those who wait."

An interruption, commonplace enough, yet in its way startling, checked the words which were already upon his lips. The telephone bell from the little instrument on the table within a few feet of them, rang insistently. For a moment Mrs. Benedek herself appeared taken by surprise. Then she raised the receiver to her ear.

"My friend," she said to Norgate, "you must excuse me. I told them distinctly to disconnect the instrument so that it rang only in my bedroom. I am disobeyed, but no matter. Who is that?"

Norgate leaned back in his place. His companion's little interjection, however, was irresistible. He glanced towards her. There was a slight flush of colour in her cheeks, her head was moving slowly as though keeping pace to the words spoken at the other end. Suddenly she laughed.

"Do not be so foolish," she said. "Yes, of course. You keep your share of the bargain and I mine. At eight o'clock, then. I will say no more now, as I am engaged with a visitor. Au revoir!"

She set down the receiver and turned towards Norgate, who was turning the pages of an illustrated paper. She made a little grimace.

"Oh, but life is very queer!" she declared. "How I love it! Now I am going to make you look glum, if indeed you do care just that little bit which is all you know of caring. Perhaps you will be a little disappointed. Tell me that you are, or my vanity will be hurt. Listen and prepare. To-night I cannot dine with you."

He turned deliberately around. "You are going to throw me over?" he demanded, looking at her steadfastly.

"To throw you over, dear friend," she repeated cheerfully. "You would do just the same, if you were in my position."

"It is an affair of duty," he persisted, "or the triumph of a rival?"

She made a grimace at him. "It is an affair of duty," she admitted, "but it is certainly with a rival that I must dine."

He moved a little nearer to her on the lounge.

"Tell me on your honour," he said, "that you are not dining with Baring, and I will forgive!"

For a moment she seemed as though she were summoning all her courage to tell the lie which he half expected. Instead she changed her mind.

"Do not be unkind," she begged. "I am dining with Captain Baring. The poor man is distracted. You know that I cannot bear to hurt people. Be kind this once. You may take my engagement book, you may fill it up as you will, but to-night I must dine with him. Consider, my friend. You may have many months before you in London. Captain Baring finishes his work at the Admiralty to-day, and leaves for Portsmouth to-morrow morning. He may not be in London again for some time. I promised him long ago that I would dine with him to-night on one condition. That condition he is keeping. I cannot break my word."

Norgate rose gloomily to his feet.

"Of course," he said, "I don't want to be unreasonable, and any one can see the poor fellow is head over ears in love with you."

She took his arm as she led him towards the door.

"Listen," she promised, laughing into his face, "when you are as much in love with me as he is, I will put off every other engagement I have in the world, and I will dine with you. You understand? We shall meet later at the club, I hope. Until then, au revoir!"

Norgate hailed a taxi outside and was driven at once to the nearest telephone call office. There, after some search in the directory, he rang up a number and enquired for Captain Baring. There was a delay of about five minutes. Then Baring spoke from the other end of the telephone.

"Who is it wants me?" he enquired, rather impatiently.

"Are you Baring?" Norgate asked, deepening his voice a little.

"Yes! Who are you?"

"I am a friend," Norgate answered slowly.

"What the devil do you mean by 'a friend'?" was the irritated reply. "I am engaged here most particularly."

"There can be nothing so important," Norgate declared, "as the warning I am charged to give to you. Remember that it is a friend who speaks. There is a train about five o'clock to Portsmouth. Your work is finished. Take that train and stay away from London."

Norgate set down the receiver without listening to the tangle of exclamations from the other end, and walked quickly out of the shop. He re-entered his taxi.

"The St. James's Club," he ordered.

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