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   Chapter 15 No.15

The Double Traitor By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 9317

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Selingman's supper party was in some respects both distinctive and unusual. Norgate, looking around him, thought that he had never in his life been among such a motley assemblage of people. There were eight or nine musical comedy young ladies; a couple of young soldiers, one of whom he knew slightly, who had arrived as escorts to two of the young ladies; Prince Edward of Lenemaur; a youthful peer, who by various misdemeanours had placed himself outside the pale of any save the most Bohemian society, and several other men whose faces were unfamiliar. They occupied a round table just inside the door of the restaurant, and they sat there till long after the lights were lowered. The conversation all the time was of the most general and frivolous description, and Selingman, as the hour grew later, seemed to grow larger and redder and more joyous. The only hint at any serious conversation came from the musical comedy star who sat at Norgate's left.

"Do you know our host very well?" she asked Norgate once.

"I am afraid I can't say that I know him well at all," Norgate replied.

"I met him in the train coming from Berlin, a few nights ago."

"He is the most original person," she declared. "He entertains whenever he has a chance; he makes new friends every hour; he eats and drinks and seems always to be enjoying himself like an overgrown baby. And yet, all the time there is such a very serious side to him. One feels that he has a purpose in it all."

"Perhaps he has," Norgate ventured.

"Perhaps he has," she agreed, lowering her voice a little. "At least, I believe one thing. I believe that he is a good German and yet a great friend of England."

"You don't find the two incompatible, then?"

"I do not," the young lady replied firmly. "I do not understand everything, of course, but I am half German and half English, so I can appreciate both sides, and I do believe that Mr. Selingman, if he had not been so immersed in his business, might have been a great politician."

The conversation drifted into other channels. Norgate was obliged to give some attention to the more frivolous young lady on his right. The general exodus to the bar smoking-room only took place long after midnight. Every one was speaking of going on to a supper club to dance, and Norgate quietly slipped away. He took a hurried leave of his host.

"You will excuse me, won't you?" he begged. "Enjoyed my evening tremendously. I'd like you to come and dine with me one night."

"We will meet at the club to-morrow afternoon," Selingman declared. "But why not come on with us now? You are not weary? They are taking me to a supper club, these young people. I have engaged myself to dance with Miss Morgen-I, who weigh nineteen stone! It will be a thing to see. Come with us."

Norgate excused himself and left the place a moment later. It was a fine night, and he walked slowly towards Pall Mall, deep in thought. Outside one of the big clubs on the right-hand side, a man descended from a taxicab just as Norgate was passing. They almost ran into one another.

"Norgate, you reprobate!"

"Hebblethwaite!"

The latter passed his arm through the young man's and led him towards the club steps.

"Come in and have a drink," he invited. "I am just up from the House. I do wish you could get some of your military friends to stop worrying us, Norgate. Two hours to-night have been absolutely wasted because they would talk National Service and heckle us about the territorials."

"I'll have the drink, although heaven knows I don't need any!" Norgate replied. "As for the rest, I am all on the side of the hecklers. You ought to know that."

They drew two easy-chairs together in a corner of the great, deserted smoking-room, and Hebblethwaite ordered the whiskies and sodas.

"Yes," he remarked, "I forgot. You are on the other side, aren't you? I haven't a word to say against the navy. We spend more money than is necessary upon it, and I stick out for economy whenever I can. But as regards the army, my theory is that it is useless. It's only a temptation to us to meddle in things that don't concern us. The navy is sufficient to defend these shores, if any one were foolish enough to wish to attack us. If we need an army at all, we should need one ten times the size, but we don't. Nature has seen to that. Yet tonight, when I was particularly anxious to get on with some important domestic legislation, we had to sit and listen to hours of prosy military talk, the possibilities of this and that. They don't realise, these brain-fogged ex-military men, that we are living in days of common sense. Before many years have

passed, war will belong to the days of romance."

"For a practical politician, Hebblethwaite," Norgate pronounced, "you have some of the rottenest ideas I ever knew. You know perfectly well that if Germany attacked France, we are almost committed to chip in. We couldn't sit still, could we, and see Calais and Boulogne, Dieppe and Ostend, fortified against us?"

"If Germany should attack France!" Hebblethwaite repeated. "If Prussia should send an expeditionary force to Cornwall, or the Siamese should declare themselves on the side of the Ulster men! We must keep in politics to possibilities that are reasonable."

"Take another view of the same case, then," Norgate continued. "Supposing

Germany should violate Belgium's independence?"

"You silly idiot!" Hebblethwaite exclaimed, as he took a long draught of his whisky and soda, lit a cigar, and leaned back in his chair, "the neutrality of Belgium is guaranteed by a treaty, actually signed by Germany!"

"Supposing she should break her treaty?" Norgate persisted. "I told you what I heard in the train the other night. It isn't for nothing that that sort of work is going on."

Hebblethwaite shook his head.

"You are incorrigible, Norgate! Germany is one of the Powers of Europe undoubtedly possessing a high sense of honour and rectitude of conduct. If any nation possesses a national conscience, and an appreciation of national ethics, they do. Germany would be less likely than any nation in the world to break a treaty."

"Hebblethwaite," Norgate declared solemnly, "if you didn't understand the temperament and character of your constituents better than you do the German temperament and character, you would never have set your foot across the threshold of Westminster. The fact of it is you're a domestic politician of the very highest order, but as regards foreign affairs and the greater side of international politics, well, all I can say is you've as little grasp of them as a local mayor might have."

"Look here, young fellow," Hebblethwaite protested, "do you know that you are talking to a Cabinet Minister?"

"To a very possible Prime Minister," Norgate replied, "but I am going to tell you what I think, all the same. I'm fed up with you all. I bring you some certain and sure information, proving conclusively that Germany is maintaining an extraordinary system of espionage over here, and you tell me to mind my own business. I tell you, Hebblethwaite, you and your Party are thundering good legislators, but you'll ruin the country before you've finished. I've had enough. It seems to me we thoroughly deserve the shaking up we're going to get. I am going to turn German spy myself and work for the other side."

"You do, if there's anything in it," Hebblethwaite retorted, with a grin. "I promise we won't arrest you. You shall hop around the country at your own sweet will, preach Teutonic doctrines, and pave the way for the coming of the conquerors. You'll have to keep away from our arsenals and our flying places, because our Service men are so prejudiced. Short of that you can do what you like."

Norgate finished his cigar in silence. Then he threw the end into the fireplace, finished his whisky and soda, and rose.

"Hebblethwaite," he said, "this is the second time you've treated me like this. I shall give you another chance. There's just one way I may be of use, and I am going to take it on. If I get into trouble about it, it will be your fault, but next time I come and talk with you, you'll have to listen to me if I shove the words down your throat. Good night!"

"Good night, Norgate," Hebblethwaite replied pleasantly. "What you want is a week or two's change somewhere, to get this anti-Teuton fever out of your veins. I think we'll send you to Tokyo and let you have a turn with the geishas in the cherry groves."

"I wouldn't go out for your Government, anyway," Norgate declared. "I've given you fair warning. I am going in on the other side. I'm fed up with the England you fellows represent."

"Nice breezy sort of chap you are for a pal!" Hebblethwaite grumbled. "Well, get along with you, then. Come and look me up when you're in a better humour."

"I shall probably find you in a worse one," Norgate retorted.

"Good night!"

* * * * *

It was one o'clock when Norgate let himself into his rooms. To his surprise, the electric lights were burning in his sitting-room. He entered a little abruptly and stopped short upon the threshold. A slim figure in dark travelling clothes, with veil pushed back, was lying curled up on his sofa. She stirred a little at his coming, opened her eyes, and looked at him.

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