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   Chapter 18 No.18

The Double Traitor By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 11933

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

As Norgate entered the premises of Selingman, Horsfal and Company a little later on the same morning he looked around him in some surprise. He had expected to find a deserted warehouse-probably only an office. He saw instead all the evidences of a thriving and prosperous business. Drays were coming and going from the busy door. Crates were piled up to the ceiling, clerks with notebooks in their hands passed continually back and forth. A small boy in a crowded office accepted his card and disappeared. In a few minutes he led Norgate into a waiting-room and handed him a paper.

"Mr. Selingman is engaged with a buyer for a few moments, sir," he reported. "He will see you presently."

Norgate looked through the windows out into the warehouse. There was no

doubt whatever that this was a genuine and considerable trading concern.

Presently the door of the inner office opened, and he heard Mr.

Selingman's hearty tones.

"You have done well for yourself and well for your firm, sir," he was saying. "There is no one in Germany or in the world who can produce crockery at the price we do. They will give you a confirmation of the order in the office. Ah! my young friend," he went on, turning to Norgate, "you have kept your word, then. You are not a customer, but you may walk in. I shall make no money out of you, but we will talk together."

Norgate passed on into a comfortably furnished office, a little redolent of cigar smoke. Selingman bit off the end of a cigar and pushed the box towards his visitor.

"Try one of these," he invited. "German made, but Havana tobacco-mild as milk."

"Thank you," Norgate answered. "I don't smoke cigars in the morning. I'll have a cigarette, if I may."

"As you will. What do you think of us now that you have found your way here?"

"Your business seems to be genuine enough, at all events," Norgate observed.

"Genuine? Of course it is!" Selingman declared emphatically. "Do you think I should be fool enough to be connected with a bogus affair? My father and my grandfather before me were manufacturers of crockery. I can assure you that I am a very energetic and a very successful business man. If I have interests in greater things, those interests have developed naturally, side by side with my commercial success. When I say that I am a German, that to me means more, much more, than if I were to declare myself a native of any other country in the world. Sit opposite to me there. I have a quarter of an hour to spare. I can show you, if you will, over a thousand designs of various articles. I can show you orders-genuine orders, mind-from some of your big wholesale houses, which would astonish you. Or, if you prefer it, we can talk of affairs from another point of view. What do you say?"

"My interest in your crockery," Norgate announced, "is non-existent. I have come to hear your offer. I have decided to retire-temporarily, at any rate-from the Diplomatic Service. I understand that I am in disgrace, and I resent it. I resent having had to leave Berlin except at my own choice. I am looking for a job in some other walk of life."

Selingman nodded approvingly.

"Forgive me," he said, "but it is true, then, that you are in some way dependent upon your profession?"

"I am not a pauper outside it," Norgate replied, "but that is not the sole question. I need work, an interest in life, something to think about. I must either find something to do, or I shall go to Abyssinia. I should prefer an occupation here."

"I can help you," Selingman said slowly, "if you are a young man of common sense. I can put you in the way of earning, if you will, a thousand pounds a year and your travelling expenses, without interfering very much with your present mode of life."

"Selling crockery?"

Selingman flicked the ash from the end of his cigar. He shook his head good-naturedly.

"I am a judge of character, young man," he declared. "I pride myself upon that accomplishment. I know very well that in you we have one with brains. Nevertheless, I do not believe that you would sell my crockery."

"It seems easy enough," Norgate observed.

"It may seem easy," Selingman objected, "but it is not. You have not, I am convinced, the gifts of a salesman. You would not reason and argue with these obstinate British shopkeepers. No! Your value to me would lie in other directions-in your social position, your opportunities of meeting with a class above the commercial one in which I have made my few English friends, and in your own intelligence."

"I scarcely see of what value these things would be to a vendor of crockery."

"They would be of no value at all," Selingman admitted. "It is not in the crockery business that I propose to make use of you. I believe that we both know that. We may dismiss it from our minds. It is only fencing with words. I will take you a little further. You have heard, by chance, of the Anglo-German Peace Society?"

"The name sounds familiar," Norgate confessed. "I can't say that I know anything about it."

"It was I who inaugurated that body," Selingman announced. "It is I who direct its interests."

"Congratulate you, I'm sure. You must find it uphill work sometimes."

"It is uphill work all the time," the German agreed. "Our great object is, as you can guess from the title, to promote good-feeling between the two countries, to heal up all possible breaches, to soothe and dispel that pitiful jealousy, of which, alas! too much exists. It is not easy, Mr. Norgate. It is not easy, my young friend. I meet with many disappointments. Yet it is a great and worthy undertaking."

"It sounds all right," Norgate observed. "Where do I come in?"

"I will explain. To carry out the aims of our society, there is much information which we are continually needing. People in Germany are often misled by the Press here. Facts and opinions are presented to them often from an unpalatable point of view. Furthermore, t

here is a section of the Press which, so far from being on our side, seems deliberately to try to stir up ill-feeling between the two countries. We want to get behind the Press. For that purpose we need to know the truth about many matters; and as the truth is a somewhat rare commodity, we are willing to pay for it. Now we come face to face. It will be your business, if you accept my offer, to collect such facts as may be useful to us."

"I see," Norgate remarked dubiously, "or rather I don't see at all. Give me an example of the sort of facts you require."

Mr. Selingman leaned a little forward in his chair. He was warming to his subject.

"By all means. There is the Irish question, then."

"The Irish question," Norgate repeated. "But of what interest can that be to you in Germany?"

"Listen," Selingman continued. "Just as you in London have great newspapers which seem to devote themselves to stirring up bitter feeling between our two countries, so we, alas! in Germany, have newspapers and journals which seem to devote all their energies to the same object. Now in this Irish question the action of your Government has been very much misrepresented in that section of our Press and much condemned. I should like to get at the truth from an authoritative source. I should like to get it in such a form that I can present it fairly and honestly to the public of Germany."

"That sounds reasonable enough," Norgate admitted. "There are several pamphlets-"

"I do not want pamphlets," Selingman interrupted. "I want an actual report from Ulster and Dublin of the state of feeling in the country, and, if possible, interviews with prominent people. For this the society would pay a bonus over and above the travelling expenses and your salary. If you accept my offer, this is probably one of the first tasks I should commit to you."

"Give me a few more examples," Norgate begged.

"Another subject," Selingman continued, "upon which there is wide divergence of opinions in Germany, and a great deal of misrepresentation, is the attitude of certain of your Cabinet Ministers towards the French entente: how far they would support it, at what they would stop short."

"Isn't that rather a large order?" Norgate ventured. "I don't number many Cabinet Ministers among my personal friends."

Selingman puffed away at his cigar for a moment. Then he withdrew it from his mouth and expelled large volumes of smoke.

"You are, I believe, intimately acquainted with Mr. Hebblethwaite?"

"How the mischief did you know that?" Norgate demanded.

"Our society," Selingman announced, smiling ponderously, "has ramifications in every direction. It is our business to know much. We are collectors of information of every sort and nature."

"Seems to have been part of your business to follow me about," observed Norgate.

"Perhaps so. If we thought it good for us to have you followed about, we certainly should," Selingman admitted. "You see, in Germany," he added, leaning back in his chair, "we lay great stress upon detail and intelligence. We get to know things: not the smattering of things, like you over here are too often content with, but to know them thoroughly and understand them. Nothing ever takes us by surprise. We are always forewarned. So far as any one can, we read the future."

"You are a very great nation, without a doubt," Norgate acknowledged, "but my quarter of an hour is coming to an end. Tell me what else you would expect from me if I accepted this post?"

"For the moment, I can think of nothing," Selingman replied. "There are many ways in which we might make use of you, but to name them now would be to look a little too far into the future."

"By whom should I really be employed?"

"By the Anglo-German Peace Society," Selingman answered promptly. "Let me say a word more about that society. I am proud of it. I am one of those prominent business men who are responsible for its initiation. I have given years of time and thought to it. All our efforts are directed towards promoting a better understanding with England, towards teaching the two countries to appreciate one another. But in the background there is always something else. It is useless to deny that the mistrust existing between the two countries has brought them more than once almost to the verge of war. What we want is to be able, at critical times, to throw oil upon the troubled waters, and if the worst should come, if a war really should break out, then we want to be able to act as peacemakers, to heal as soon as possible any little sores that there may be, and to enter afterwards upon a greater friendship with a purified England."

"It sounds very interesting," Norgate confessed. "I had an idea that you were proposing something quite different."

"Please explain."

"To be perfectly frank with you," Norgate acknowledged, "I thought you wanted me to do the ordinary spy business-traces of fortresses, and particulars about guns and aeroplanes-"

"Rubbish, my dear fellow!" Selingman interrupted. "Rubbish! Those things we leave to our military department, and pray that the question of their use may never arise. We are concerned wholly with economic and social questions, and our great aim is not war but peace."

"Very well, then," Norgate decided, "I accept. When shall I start?"

Selingman laid his hand upon the other's shoulder as he rose to his feet.

"Young man," he said, "you have come to a wise decision. Your salary will commence from the first of this month. Continue to live as usual. Let me have the opportunity of seeing you at the club, and let me know each day where you can be found. I will give you your instructions from day to day. You will be doing a great work, and, mind you, a patriotic work. If ever your conscience should trouble you, remember that. You are working not for Germany but for England."

"I will always remember that," Norgate promised, as he turned away.

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