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   Chapter 14 No.14

The Double Traitor By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 10118

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Selingman and Norgate dined together that evening in a corner of a large, popular grill-room near the Strand. They were still suffering from the shock of the recent tragedy. They both rather avoided the topic of Baring's sudden death. Selingman made but one direct allusion to it.

"Only yesterday," he remarked, "I said to little Bertha-I have known her so long that I call her always Bertha-that this bureau work was bad for Baring. When I was over last, a few months ago, he was the picture of health. Yesterday he looked wild and worried. He was at work with others, they say, at the Admiralty upon some new invention. Poor fellow!"

Norgate, conscious of a curious callousness which even he himself found inexplicable, made some conventional reply only. Selingman began to talk of other matters.

"Truly," he observed, "a visit to your country is good for the patriotic German. Behold! here in London, we are welcomed by a German ma?tre d'h?tel; we are waited on by a German waiter; we drink German wine; we eat off what I very well know is German crockery."

"And some day, I suppose," Norgate put in, "we are to be German subjects.

Isn't that so?"

Selingman's denial was almost unduly emphatic.

"Never!" he exclaimed. "There is nothing so foolish as the way many of you English seem to regard us Germans as though we were wild beasts of prey. Now it gives me pleasure to talk with a man like yourself, Mr. Norgate. I like to look a little into the future and speculate as to our two countries. Above all things, this thing I do truly know. The German nation stands for peace. Yet in order that peace shall everywhere prevail, a small war, a humanely-conducted war, may sometime within the future, one must believe, take place. It would last but a short time, but it might lead to great changes. I have sometimes thought, my young friend Norgate, that such a war might be the greatest blessing which England could ever experience."

"As a discipline, you mean?" Norgate murmured.

"As a cleansing tonic," Selingman declared. "It would sweep out your Radical Government. It would bring the classes back to power. It would kindle in the spirits of your coming generation the spark of that patriotism which is, alas! just now a very feeble flame. What do you think? You agree with me, eh?"

"It is going a long way," Norgate said cautiously, "to approve of a form of discipline so stringent."

"But not too far-oh, believe me, not too far!" Selingman insisted. "If that war should come, it would come solely with the idea of sweeping away this Government, which is most distasteful to all German politicians. It would come solely with the idea that with a new form of government here, more solid and lasting terms of friendship could be arranged between Germany and England."

"A very interesting theory," Norgate remarked. "Do you believe in it yourself?"

Selingman paused to give an order to a waiter. His tone suddenly became more serious. He pointed to the menu.

"They have dared," he exclaimed, "to bring us Hollandaise sauce with the asparagus! A gastronomic indignity! It is such things as this which would endanger the entente between our countries."

"I don't mind Hollandaise" Norgate ventured.

"Then of eating you know very little," Herr Selingman pronounced. "There is only one sauce to be served with asparagus, and that is finely drawn butter. I have explained to the ma?tre d'h?tel. He must bring us what I desire. Meanwhile, we spoke, I think, of our two countries. You asked me a question. I do indeed believe in the theories which I have been advancing."

"But wouldn't a war smash up your crockery business?" Norgate asked.

"For six months, yes! And after that six months, fortunes for all of us, trade such as the world has never known, a settled peace, a real union between two great and friendly countries. I wish England well. I love England. I love my holidays over here, my business trips which are holidays in themselves, and for their sake and for my own sake, I say that just a little wrestle, a slap on the cheek from one and a punch on the nose from the other, and we should find ourselves."

"War is a very dangerous conflagration," Norgate remarked. "I cannot think of any experiment more hazardous."

"It is no experiment," Selingman declared. "It is a certainty. All that we do in my country, we do by what we call previously ascertained methods. We test the ground in front of us before we plant our feet upon it. We not only look into the future, but we stretch out our hands. We make the doubtful places sure. Our turn of mind is scientific. Our road-making and our bridge-building, our empire-making and our diplomacy, they are all fashioned in the same manner. If you could trust us, Mr. Norgate, if you could trust yourself to work for the good of both countries, we could make very good and profitable use of you during the next six months. Would you like to hear more?"

"But I know nothing about crockery!"

"Would you like to hear more?" Selingman repeated.

"I think I should."

"Very well, then," Selingman proceeded. "Tomorrow we will talk of it. There are some ways in which you might be very useful, useful at the same time to your country and to ours. Your position might be somewhat peculiar, but that you would be prepared for a short time to tolerate."

"Peculiar in what respect?" Norgate asked.

Selingman held his glass of yellow wine up to the light and criticised it for a moment. He set it down empty.

"Peculiar," he explained, "inasmuch as you might seem to be working with Germany, whereas you were really England's best friend. But let us leave these details until to-morrow. We have talked enough of serious matters. I have a box at the Gaiety, and we must not be late-also a supper party afterwards. This is indeed a country for enjoyment. To-morrow we speak of these things again. You have seen our little German lady at the Gaiety? You have heard her sing and watch her dance? Well, to-night you shall meet her."

"Rosa Morgen?" Norgate exclaimed.

Selingman nodded complacently.

"She sups with us," he announced, "she and others. That is why, when they spoke to me of going back for bridge to-night, I pretended that I did not hear. Bridge is very good, but there are other things. To-night I am in a frivolous vein. I have many friends amongst the young ladies of the Gaiety. You shall see how they will welcome me."

"You seem to have found your way about over here," Norgate remarked, as he lit a cigar and waited while his companion paid the bill.

"I am a citizen of the world," Selingman admitted. "I enjoy myself as I go, but I have my eyes always fixed upon the future. I make many friends, and I do not lose them. I set my face towards the pleasant places, and I keep it in that direction. It is the cult of some to be miserable; it is mine to be happy. The person who does most good in the world is the person who reflects the greatest amount of happiness. Therefore, I am a philanthropist. You shall learn from me, my young friend, how to banish some of that gloom from your face. You shall learn how to find happiness."

They made their way across to the Gaiety, where Selingman was a very conspicuous figure in the largest and most conspicuous box. He watched with complacency the delivery of enormous bouquets to the principal artistes, and received their little bow of thanks with spontaneous and unaffected graciousness. Afterwards he dragged Norgate round to the stage-door, installed him in a taxi, and handed over to his escort two or three of his guests.

"I entrust you, Mr. Norgate," he declared, "with our one German export more wonderful, even, than my crockery-Miss Rosa Morgen. Take good care of her and bring her to the Milan. The other young ladies are my honoured guests, but they are also Miss Morgen's. She will tell you their names. I have others to look after."

Norgate's last glimpse of Selingman was on the pavement outside the theatre, surrounded by a little group of light-hearted girls and a few young men.

"He is perfectly wonderful, our Mr. Selingman," Miss Morgen murmured, as they started off. "Tell me how long you have known him, Mr. Norgate?"

"Four days," Norgate replied.

She screamed with laughter.

"It is so like him," she declared. "He makes friends everywhere. A day is sufficient. He gives such wonderful parties. I do not know why we all like to come, but we do. I suppose that we all get half-a-dozen invitations to supper most nights, but there is not one of us who does not put off everything to sup with Mr. Selingman. He sits in the middle-oh, you shall watch him to-night!-and what he says I do not know, but we laugh, and then we laugh again, and every one is happy."

"I think he is the most irresistible person," Norgate agreed. "I met him two or three nights ago, coming over from Berlin, and he spoke of nothing but crockery and politics. To-night I dine with him, and I find a different person."

"He is a perfect dear," one of the other girls exclaimed, "but so curiously inquisitive! I have a great friend, a gunner, whom I brought with me to one of his parties, and he is always asking me questions about him and his work. I had to absolutely worry Dick so as to be able to answer all his questions, didn't I, Rosa?"

Miss Morgen nodded a little guardedly.

"I should not call him really inquisitive," she said. "It is because he likes to seem interested in the subject which interests you."

"I am not at all sure whether that is true," the other young lady objected. "You remember when Ellison Gray was always around with us? Why, I know that Mr. Selingman simply worried Maud's life out of her to get a little model of his aeroplane from him. There were no end of things he wanted to know about cubic feet and dimensions. He is a dear, all the same."

"A perfect dear!" the others echoed.

They drew up outside the Milan. Rosa Morgen turned to their escort.

"We will meet you in the hall in five minutes," she said. "Then we can all go together and find Mr. Selingman."

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