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   Chapter 16 No.16

The Double Traitor By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 10477

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Throughout those weeks and months of tangled, lurid sensations, of amazing happenings which were yet to come, Norgate never once forgot that illuminative rush of fierce yet sweet feelings which suddenly thrilled his pulses. He understood in that moment the intolerable depression of the last few days. He realised the absolute advent of the one experience hitherto missing from his life. The very intensity of his feelings kept him silent, kept him unresponsive to her impetuous but unspoken welcome. Her arms dropped to her side, her lips for a moment quivered. Her voice, notwithstanding her efforts to control it, shook a little. She was no longer the brilliant young Court beauty of Vienna. She was a tired and disappointed girl.

"You are surprised-I should not have come here! It was such a foolish impulse."

She caught up her gloves feverishly, but Norgate's moment of stupefaction had passed. He clasped her hands.

"Forgive me," he begged. "It is really you-Anna!"

His words were almost incoherent, but his tone was convincing. Her fears passed away.

"You don't wonder that I was a little surprised, do you?" he exclaimed. "You were not only the last person whom I was thinking of, but you were certainly the last person whom I expected to see in London or to welcome here."

"But why?" she asked. "I told you that I came often to this country."

"I remember," Norgate admitted. "Yet I never ventured to hope-"

"Of course I should not have come here," she interrupted. "It was absurd of me, and at such an hour! And yet I am staying only a few hundred yards away. The temptation to-night was irresistible. I felt as one sometimes does in this queer, enormous city-lonely. I telephoned, and your servant, who answered me, said that you were expected back at any moment. Then I came myself."

"You cannot imagine that I am not glad to see you," he said earnestly.

"I want to believe that you are glad," she answered. "I have been restless ever since you left. Tell me at once, what did they say to you here?"

"I am practically shelved," he told her bitterly. "In twelve months' time, perhaps, I may be offered something in America or Asia-countries where diplomacy languishes. In a word, your mighty autocrat has spoken the word, and I am sacrificed."

She moved towards the window.

"I am stifled!" she exclaimed. "Open it wide, please."

He threw it open. They looked out eastwards. The roar of the night was passing. Here and there were great black spaces. On the Thames a sky-sign or two remained. The blue, opalescent glare from the Gaiety dome still shone. The curving lights which spanned the bridges and fringed the Embankment still glittered. The air, even here, high up as they were on the seventh story of the building, seemed heavy and lifeless.

"There is a storm coming," she said. "I have felt it for days."

She stood looking out, pale, her large eyes strained as though seeking to read something which eluded her in the clouds or the shadows which hung over the city. She had rather the air of a frightened but eager child. She rested her fingers upon his arm, not exactly affectionately, but as though she felt the need of some protection.

"Do you know," she whispered, "the feeling of this storm has been in my heart for days. I am afraid-afraid for all of us!"

"Afraid of what?" he asked gently.

"Afraid," she went on, "because it seems to me that I can hear, at times like this, when one is alone, the sound of what one of your writers called footsteps amongst the hills, footsteps falling upon wool, muffled yet somehow ominous. There is trouble coming. I know it. I am sure of it."

"In this country they do not think so," he reminded her. "Most of our great statesmen of today have come to the conclusion that there will be no more war."

"You have no great statesmen," she answered simply. "You have plenty of men who would make very fine local administrators, but you have no statesmen, or you would have provided for what is coming."

There was a curious conviction in her words, a sense of one speaking who has seen the truth.

"Tell me," he asked, "is there anything that you know of-"

"Ah! but that I may not tell you," she interrupted, turning away from the window. "Of myself just now I say nothing-only of you. I am here for a day or two. It is through me that you have suffered this humiliation. I wanted to know just how far it went. Is there anything I can do?"

"What could any one do?" he asked. "I am the victim of circumstances."

"But for a whole year!" she exclaimed. "You are not like so many young Englishmen. You do not wish to spend your time playing polo and golf, and shooting. You must do something. What are you going to do with that year?"

He moved across the room and took a cigarette from a box.

"Give me something to drink, please," she begged.

He opened a cupboard in his sideboard and gave her some soda-water. She had still the air of waiting for his reply.

"What am I going to do?" he repeated. "Well, here I am with an idle twelve months. It makes no difference to anybody what time I get up, what time I go to bed, with whom or how I spend the day. I suppose to some people it would sound like Par

adise. To me it is hateful. Shall I be your secretary?"

"How do you know that I need a secretary?" she asked.

"How should I?" he replied. "Yet you are not altogether an idler in life, are you?"

For a moment she did not answer. The silence in the room was almost impressive. He looked at her over the top of the soda-water syphon whose handle he was manipulating.

"What do you imagine might be my occupation, then?" she asked.

"I have heard it suggested," he said slowly, "that you have been a useful intermediary in carrying messages of the utmost importance between the Kaiser and the Emperor of Austria."

"Your Intelligence Department is not so bad," she remarked. "It is true. Why not? At the German Court I count for little, perhaps. In Austria my father was the Emperor's only personal friend. My mother was scarcely popular there-she was too completely English-but since my father died the Emperor will scarcely let me stay a week away. Yes, your information is perhaps true. I will supplement it, if you like. Since our little affair in the Café de Berlin, the Kaiser, who went out of his way to insist upon your removal from Berlin, has notified the Emperor that he would prefer to receive his most private dispatches either through the regular diplomatic channels or by some other messenger."

Norgate's emphatic expletive was only half-stifled as she continued.

"For myself," she said with a shrug, "I am not sorry. I found it very interesting, but of late those feelings of which I have told you have taken hold of me. I have felt as though a terrible shadow were brooding over the world."

"Let me ask you once more," he begged. "Why are you in London?"

"I received a wire from the Emperor," she explained, "instructing me to return at once to Vienna. If I go there, I know very well that I shall not be allowed to leave the city. I have been trusted implicitly, and they will keep me practically a prisoner. They will think that I may feel a resentment against the Kaiser, and they will be afraid. Therefore, I came here. I have every excuse for coming. It is according to my original plans. You will find that by to-morrow morning I shall have a second message from Vienna. All the same, I am not sure that I shall go."

There was a ring at the bell. Norgate started, and Anna looked at the clock.

"Who is that?" she asked. "Do you see the time?"

Norgate moved to the door and threw it open. A waiter stood there.

"What do you want?" demanded Norgate.

The man pointed to the indicator.

"The bell rang, sir," he replied. "Is there anything I can get for you?"

"I rang no bell," Norgate asserted. "Your indicator must be out of order."

Norgate would have closed the door, but Anna intervened.

"Tell the waiter I wish to speak to him," she begged.

The man advanced at once into the room and glanced interrogatively at Anna. She addressed him suddenly in Austrian, and he replied without hesitation. She nodded. Then she turned to Norgate and laughed softly.

"You see how perfect the system is," she said. "I was followed here, passed on to your floor-waiter. You are a spy, are you not?" she added, turning to the man. "But of course you are!"

"Madame!" the man protested. "I do not understand."

"You can go away," she replied. "You can tell Herr Selingman in your morning's report that I came to Mr. Norgate's rooms at an early hour in the morning and spent an hour talking with him. You can go now."

The man withdrew without remark. He was a quiet, inoffensive-looking person, with sallow complexion, suave but silent manners. Norgate closed the door behind him.

"A victim of the system which all Europe knows of except you people," she remarked lightly. "Well, after this I must be careful. Walk with me to my hotel."

"Of course," he assented.

They made their way along the silent corridors to the lift, out into the streets, empty of traffic now save for the watering-carts and street scavengers.

"Will there be trouble for you," Norgate asked at last, "because of this?"

"There is more trouble in my own heart," she told him quietly. "I feel strangely disturbed, uncertain which way to move. Let me take your arm-so. I like to walk like that. Somehow I think, Mr. Francis Norgate, that that little fracas in the Café de Berlin is going to make a great difference in both our lives. I know now what I had begun to believe. Like all the trusted agents of sovereigns, I have become an object of suspicion. Well, we shall see. At least I am glad to know that there is some one whom I can trust. Perhaps to-morrow I will tell you all that is in my heart. We might even, if you wished it, if you were willing to face a few risks, we might even work together to hold back the thunder. So! Good night, my friend," she added, turning suddenly around.

He held her hand for a moment as they stood together on the pavement outside her hotel. For a single moment he fancied that there was a change in that curious personal aloofness which seemed so distinctive of her. It passed, however, as she turned from him with her usual half-insolent, half gracious little nod.

"To-morrow," she directed, "you must ring me up. Let it be at eleven o'clock."

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