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   Chapter 17 No.17

The Double Traitor By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 8258

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

The Ambassador glanced at the clock as he entered his library to greet his early morning visitor. It was barely nine o'clock.

"Dear friend," he exclaimed, as he held out his hands, "I am distressed to keep you waiting! Such zeal in our affairs must, however, not remain unnoticed. I will remember it in my reports."

Anna smiled as he stooped to kiss her fingers.

"I had special reasons," she explained, "for my haste. I was disappointed, indeed, that I could not see you last night."

"I was at Windsor," her host remarked. "Now come, sit there in the easy-chair by the side of my table. My secretaries have not yet arrived. We shall be entirely undisturbed. I have ordered coffee here, of which we will partake together. A compromising meal to share, dear Baroness, but in the library of my own house it may be excused. The Princess sends her love. She will be glad if you will go to her apartments after we have finished our talk."

A servant entered with a tray, spread a cloth on a small round table, upon which he set out coffee, with rolls and butter and preserves. For a few moments they talked lightly of the weather, of her crossing, of mutual friends in Berlin and Vienna. Then Anna, as soon as they were alone, leaned a little forward in her chair.

"You know that I have a sort of mission to you," she said. "I should not call it that, perhaps, but it comes to very nearly the same thing. The Emperor has charged me to express to you and to Count Lanyoki his most earnest desire that if the things should come which we know of, you both maintain your position here at any cost. The Emperor's last words to me were: 'If war is to come, it may be the will of God. We are ready, but there is one country which must be kept from the ranks of our enemies. That country is England. England must be dealt with diplomatically.' He looks across the continent to you, Prince. This is the friendly message which I have brought from his own lips."

The Prince stirred his coffee thoughtfully. He was a man just passing middle-age, with grey hair, thin in places but carefully trimmed, brushed sedulously back from his high forehead. His moustache, too, was grey, and his face was heavily lined, but his eyes, clear and bright, were almost the eyes of a young man.

"You can reassure the Emperor," he declared. "As you may imagine, my supply of information here is plentiful. If those things should come that we know of, it is my firm belief that with some reasonable yet nominal considerations, this Government will never lend itself to war."

"You really believe that?" she asked earnestly.

"I do," her companion assured her. "I try to be fair in my judgments. London is a pleasant city to live in, and English people are agreeable and well-bred, but they are a people absolutely without vital impulses. Patriotism belongs to their poetry books. Indolence has stagnated their blood. They are like a nation under a spell, with their faces turned towards the pleasant and desirable things. Only a few months ago, they even further reduced the size of their ridiculous army and threw cold water upon a scheme for raising untrained help in case of emergency. Even their navy estimates are passed with difficulty. The Government which is conducting the destinies of a people like this, which believes that war belongs to a past age, is never likely to become a menace to us."

Anna drew a little sigh and lit the cigarette which the Prince passed her. She threw herself back in her chair with an air of contentment.

"It is so pleasant once more to be among the big things," she declared. "In Berlin I think they are not fond of me, and they are so pompous and secretive. Tell me, dear Prince, will you not be kinder to me? Tell me what is really going to happen?"

He moved his chair a little closer to hers.

"I see no reason," he said cautiously, "why you should not be told. Events, then, will probably move in this direction. Provocation will be given by Servia. That is easily arranged. Tension will be caused, Austria will make enormous demands, Russia will remonstrate, and, before any one has

time to breathe, the clouds will part to let the lightnings through. If anything, we are over-ready, straining with over-readiness."

"And the plan of campaign?"

"Austria and Italy," the Prince continued slowly, "will easily keep Russia in check. Germany will seize Belgium and rush through to Paris. She will either impose her terms there or leave a second-class army to conclude the campaign. There will be plenty of time for her then to turn back and fall in with her allies against Russia."

"And England?" Anna asked. "Supposing?"

The Prince tapped the table with his forefinger.

"Here," he announced, "we conquer with diplomacy. We have imbued the present Cabinet, even the Minister who is responsible for the army, with the idea that we stand for peace. We shall seem to be the attacked party in this war. We shall say to England-'Remain neutral. It is not your quarrel, and we will be capable of a great act of self-sacrifice. We will withhold our fleet from bombarding the French towns. England could do no more than deal with our fleet if she were at war. She shall do the same without raising a finger.' No country could refuse so sane and businesslike an offer, especially a country which will at once count upon its fingers how much it will save by not going to war."

"And afterwards?"

The Prince shrugged his shoulders. "Afterwards is inevitable."

"Please go on," she insisted.

"We shall occupy the whole of the coast from Antwerp to Havre. The indemnity which France and Russia will pay us will make us the mightiest nation on earth. We shall play with England as a cat with a mouse, and when the time comes…. Well, perhaps that will do," the Prince concluded, smiling.

Anna was silent for several moments.

"I am a woman, you know," she said simply, "and this sounds, in a way, terrible. Yet for months I have felt it coming."

"There is nothing terrible about it," the Prince replied, "if you keep the great principles of progress always before you. If a million or so of lives are sacrificed, the great Germany of the future, gathering under her wings the peoples of the world, will raise them to a pitch of culture and contentment and happiness which will more than atone for the sacrifices of to-day. It is, after all, the future to which we must look."

A telephone bell rang at the Prince's elbow. He listened for a moment and nodded.

"An urgent visitor demands a moment of my time," he said, rising.

"I have taken already too much," Anna declared, "but I felt it was time that I heard the truth. They fence with me so in Berlin, and, believe me, Prince Herschfeld, in Vienna the Emperor is almost wholly ignorant of what is planned."

The door was opened behind them. The Prince turned around. A young man had ushered in Herr Selingman. For a moment the latter looked steadily at Anna. Then he glanced at the Ambassador as though questioningly.

"You two must have met," the Prince murmured.

"We have met," Anna declared, smiling, as she made her way towards the door, "but we do not know one another. It is best like that. Herr Selingman and I work in the same army-"

"But I, madame, am the sergeant," Selingman interrupted, with a low bow, "whilst you are upon the staff."

She laughed as she made her adieux and departed. The door closed heavily behind her. Selingman came a little further into the room.

"You have read your dispatches this morning, Prince?" he asked.

"Not yet," the latter replied. "Is there news, then?"

Selingman pointed to the closed door. "You have spoken for long with her?"

"Naturally," the Prince assented. "She is a confidential friend of the Emperor. She has been entrusted for the last two years with all the private dispatches between Vienna and Berlin."

"In your letters you will find news," Selingman declared. "She is pronounced suspect. She is under my care at this moment. A report was brought to me half an hour ago that she was here. I came on at once myself. I trust that I am in time?"

The Prince stood quite silent for a moment.

"Fortunately," he answered coolly, "I have told her nothing."

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