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   Chapter 20 No.20

The Double Traitor By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 9489

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The Right Honourable John William Hebblethwaite strolled along by the rails of the polo ground, exchanging greetings with friends, feeling very well content with himself and the world generally. A difficult session was drawing towards an end. The problem which had defeated so many governments seemed at last, under his skilful treatment, capable of solution. Furthermore, the session had been one which had added to his reputation both as an orator and a statesman. There had been an astonishingly flattering picture of him in an illustrated paper that week, and he was exceedingly pleased with the effect of the white hat which he was wearing at almost a jaunty angle. He was a great man and he knew it. Nevertheless, he greeted Norgate with ample condescension and engaged him at once in conversation.

"Delighted to see you in such company, my young friend," he declared. "I think that half an hour's conversation with Prince Herschfeld would put some of those fire-eating ideas out of your head. That's the man whom we have to thank for the everyday improvement of our relations with Germany."

"The Prince has the reputation of being a great diplomatist,"

Norgate remarked.

"Added to which," Hebblethwaite continued, "he came over here charged, as you might say, almost with a special mission. He came over here to make friends with England. He has done it. So long as we have him in London, there will never be any serious fear of misunderstanding between the two countries."

"What a howling optimist you are!" Norgate observed.

"My young friend," Hebblethwaite protested, "I am nothing of the sort. I am simply a man of much common sense, enjoying, I may add, a few hours' holiday. By-the-by, Norgate, if one might venture to enquire without indiscretion, who was the remarkably charming foreign lady whom you were escorting?"

"The Baroness von Haase," Norgate replied. "She is an Austrian."

Mr. Hebblethwaite sighed. He rather posed as an admirer of the other sex.

"You young fellows," he declared, "who travel about the world, are much to be envied. There is an elegance about the way these foreign women dress, a care for detail in their clothes and jewellery, and a carriage which one seldom finds here."

They had reached the far end of the field, having turned their backs, in fact, upon the polo altogether. Norgate suddenly abandoned their conversation.

"Look here," he said, in an altered tone, "do you feel inclined to answer a few questions?"

"For publication?" Hebblethwaite asked drily. "You haven't turned journalist, by any chance, have you?"

Norgate shook his head. "Nevertheless," he admitted, "I have changed my profession. The fact is that I have accepted a stipend of a thousand a year and have become a German spy."

"Good luck to you!" exclaimed Hebblethwaite, laughing softly. "Well, fire away, then. You shall pick the brains of a Cabinet Minister at your leisure, so long as you'll give me a cigarette-and present me, when we have finished, to the Baroness. The country has no secrets from you, Norgate. Where will you begin?"

"Well, you've been warned, any way," Norgate reminded him, as he offered his cigarette case. "Now tell me. It is part of my job to obtain from you a statement of your opinion as to exactly how far our entente with France is binding upon us."

Hebblethwaite cleared his throat.

"If this is for publication," he remarked, "could you manage a photograph of myself at the head of the interview, in these clothes and with this hat? I rather fancy myself to-day. A pocket kodak is, of course, part of the equipment of a German spy."

"Sorry," Norgate regretted, "but that's a bit out of my line. I am the disappointed diplomatist, doing the dirty work among my late friends. What we should like to know from Mr. Hebblethwaite, confidentially narrated to a personal friend, is whether, in the event of a war between Germany and Russia and France, England would feel it her duty to intervene?"

Hebblethwaite glanced around. The throng of people had cleared off to watch the concluding stages of the match.

"I have a sovereign on this," he remarked, glancing at his card.

"Which have you backed?" Norgate enquired.

"The Lancers."

"Well, it's any odds on the Hussars, so you've lost your money,"

Norgate told him.

Hebblethwaite sighed resignedly. "Well," he said, "the question you submit is a problem which has presented itself to us once or twice, although I may tell you that there isn't a soul in the Cabinet except one who believes in the chance of war. We are not a fire-eating lot, you know. We are all for peace, and we believe we are going to have it. However, to answer your questions more closely, our obligations

depend entirely upon the provocation giving cause for the war. If France and Russia provoked it in any way, we should remain neutral. If it were a war of sheer aggression from Germany against France, we might to a certain extent intervene. There is not one of us, however, who believes for a single moment that Germany would enter upon such a war."

"When you admit that we might to a certain extent intervene," Norgate said, "exactly how should we do it, I wonder? We are not in a particular state of readiness to declare war upon anybody or anything, are we?" he added, as they turned around and strolled once more towards the polo ground.

"We have had no money to waste upon senseless armaments," Mr. Hebblethwaite declared severely, "and if you watch the social measures which we have passed during the last two years, you will see that every penny we could spare has been necessary in order to get them into working order. It is our contention that an army is absolutely unnecessary and would simply have the effect of provoking military reprisals. If we, by any chance in the future, were drawn into war, our navy would be at the service of our allies. What more could any country ask than to have assured for them the absolute control of the sea?"

"That's all very well," Norgate assented. "It might be our fair share on paper, and yet it might not be enough. What about our navy if Antwerp, Ostend, Dunkirk, Calais, Boulogne, and Havre were all German ports, as they certainly would be in an unassisted conflict between the French and the Germans?"

They were within hearing now of the music of the band. Hebblethwaite quickened his pace a little impatiently.

"Look here," he protested, "I came down here for a holiday, I tell you frankly that I believe in the possibility of war just as much as I believe in the possibility of an earthquake. My own personal feeling is that it is just as necessary to make preparations against one as the other. There you are, my German spy, that's all I have to say to you. Here are your friends. I must pay my respects to the Prince, and I should like to meet your charming companion."

Anna detached herself from a little group of men at their approach, and

Norgate at once introduced his friend.

"I have only been able to induce Mr. Hebblethwaite to talk to me for the last ten minutes," he declared, "by promising to present him to you."

"A ceremony which we will take for granted," she suggested, holding out her fingers. "Each time I have come to London, Mr. Hebblethwaite, I have hoped that I might have this good fortune. You interest us so much on the Continent."

Mr. Hebblethwaite bowed and looked as though he would have liked the interest to have been a little more personal.

"You see," Anna explained, as she stood between the two men, "both Austria and Germany, the two countries where I spend most of my time, are almost military ridden. Our great statesmen, or the men who stand behind them, are all soldiers. You represent something wholly different. Your nation is as great and as prosperous as ours, and yet you are a pacifist, are you not, Mr. Hebblethwaite? You scorn any preparations for war. You do not believe in it. You give back the money that we should spend in military or naval preparations to the people, for their betterment. It is very wonderful."

"We act according to our convictions," Mr. Hebblethwaite pronounced. "It is our earnest hope that we have risen sufficiently in the scale of civilisation to be able to devote our millions to more moral objects than the massing of armaments."

"And you have no fears?" she persisted earnestly. "You honestly believe that you are justified in letting the fighting spirit of your people lie dormant?"

"I honestly believe it, Baroness," Mr. Hebblethwaite replied. "Life is a battle for all of them, but the fighting which we recognise is the fight for moral and commercial supremacy, the lifting of the people by education and strenuous effort to a higher plane of prosperity."

"Of course," Anna murmured, "what you say sounds frightfully convincing.

History only will tell us whether you are in the right."

"My thirst," Mr. Hebblethwaite observed, glancing towards the little tables set out under the trees, "suggests tea and strawberries."

"If some one hadn't offered me tea in a moment or two," Anna declared, "I should have gone back to the Prince, with whom I must confess I was very bored. Shall we discuss politics or talk nonsense?"

"Talk nonsense," Mr. Hebblethwaite decided. "This is my holiday. My brain has stopped working. I can think of nothing beyond tea and strawberries. We will take that table under the elm trees, and you shall tell us all about Vienna."

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