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   Chapter 21 No.21

The Double Traitor By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 6723

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Norgate, after leaving Anna at her hotel, drove on to the club, where he arrived a few minutes before seven. Selingman was there with Prince Edward, and half a dozen others. Selingman, who happened not to be playing, came over at once and sat by his side on the broad fender.

"You are late, my young friend," he remarked.

"My new career," Norgate replied, "makes demands upon me. I can no longer spend the whole afternoon playing bridge. I have been attending to business."

"It is very good," Selingman declared amiably. "That is the way I like to hear you talk. To amuse oneself is good, but to work is better still. Have you, by chance, any report to make?"

"I have had a long conversation with Mr. Hebblethwaite at Ranelagh this afternoon," Norgate announced.

There was a sudden change in Selingman's expression, a glint of eagerness in his eyes.

"With Hebblethwaite! You have begun well. He is the man above all others of whose views we wish to feel absolutely certain. We know that he is a strong man and a pacifist, but a pacifist to what extent? That is what we wish to be clear about. Now tell me, you spoke to him seriously?"

"Very seriously, indeed," Norgate assented. "The subject suggested itself naturally, and I contrived to get him to discuss the possibilities of a European war. I posed rather as a pessimist, but he simply jeered at me. He assured me that an earthquake was more probable. I pressed him on the subject of the entente. He spoke of it as a thing of romance and sentiment, having no place in any possible development of the international situation. I put hypothetical cases of a European war before him, but he only scoffed at me. On one point only was he absolutely and entirely firm-under no circumstances whatever would the present Cabinet declare war upon anybody. If the nation found itself face to face with a crisis, the Government would simply choose the most dignified and advantageous solution which embraced peace. In short, there is one thing which you may count upon as absolutely certain. If England goes to war at any time within the next four years, it will be under some other government."

Selingman was vastly interested. He had drawn very close to Norgate, his pudgy hands stretched out upon his knees. He dropped his voice so that it was audible only a few feet away.

"Let me put an extreme case," he suggested. "Supposing Russia and Germany were at war, and France, as Russia's ally, were compelled to mobilise. It would not be a war of Germany's provocation, but Germany, in self-defence, would be bound to attack France. She might also be compelled by strategic considerations to invade Belgium. What do you think your friend Hebblethwaite would say to that?"

"I am perfectly convinced," Norgate replied, "that Hebblethwaite would work for peace at any price. The members of our present Government are pacifists, every one of them, with the possible exception of the Secretary of the Admiralty."

"Ah!" Mr. Selingman murmured. "Mr. Spencer Wyatt! He is the gentleman who clamours so hard and fights so well for his navy estimates. Last time, though, not all his eloquence could prevail. They were cut down almost a half, eh?"

"I believe that was so," Norgate admitted.

"Mr. Spencer Wyatt, eh?" Selingman continued, his eyes fixed upon the ceiling. "Well, well, one cannot

wonder at his attitude. It is not his role to pose as an economist. He is responsible for the navy. Naturally he wants a big navy. I wonder what his influence in the Cabinet really is."

"As to that," Norgate observed, "I know no more than the man in the street."

"Naturally," Mr. Selingman agreed. "I was thinking to myself."

There was a brief silence. Norgate glanced around the room.

"I don't see Mrs. Benedek here this afternoon," he remarked.

Selingman shook his head solemnly.

"The inquest on the death of that poor fellow Baring is being held to-day," he explained. "That is why she is staying away. A sad thing that, Norgate-a very sad happening."

"It was indeed."

"And mysterious," Selingman went on. "The man apparently, an hour before, was in high spirits. The special work upon which he was engaged at the Admiralty was almost finished. He had received high praise for his share in it. Every one who had seen him that day spoke of him as in absolutely capital form. Suddenly he whips out a revolver from his desk and shoots himself, and all that any one knows is that he was rung up by some one on the telephone. There's a puzzle for you, Norgate."

Norgate made no reply. He felt Selingman's eyes upon him.

"A wonderful plot for the sensational novelist. To the ordinary human being who knew Baring, there remains a substratum almost of uneasiness. Where did that voice come from that spoke along the wires, and what was its message? Baring, by all accounts, had no secrets in his life. What was the message-a warning or a threat?"

"I did not read the account of the inquest," Norgate observed. "Wasn't it possible to trace the person who rang up, through the telephone office?"

"In an ordinary case, yes," Selingman agreed. "In this case, no! The person who rang up made use of a call office. But come, it is a gloomy subject, this. I wish I had known that you were likely to see Mr. Hebblethwaite this afternoon. Bear this in mind in case you should come across him again. It would interest me very much to know whether any breach of friendship has taken place at all between him and Mr. Spencer Wyatt. Do you know Spencer Wyatt, by-the-by?"

"Only slightly," Norgate replied, "Not well enough to talk to him intimately, as I can do to Hebblethwaite."

"Well, remember that last little commission," Selingman concluded. "Are you staying on or leaving now? If you are going, we will walk together. A little exercise is good for me sometimes. My figure requires it. It is a very short distance, but it is better than nothing at all."

"I am quite ready," Norgate assured him.

They left the room and descended the stairs together. At the entrance to the building, Selingman paused for a moment. Then he seemed suddenly to remember.

"It is habit," he declared. "I stand here for a taxi, but we have agreed to walk, is it not so? Come!"

Norgate was looking across the street to the other side of the pavement. A man was standing there, engaged in conversation with a plainly-dressed young woman. To Norgate there was something vaguely familiar about the latter, who turned to glance at him as they strolled by on the other side of the road. It was not until they reached the corner of the street, however, that he remembered. She was the young woman at the telephone call office near Westbourne Grove!

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