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   Chapter 24 No.24

The Double Traitor By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 9512

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Back from the dusty roads, the heat and noise of the long day, Anna was resting on the couch in her sitting-room. A bowl of roses and a note which she had read three or four times stood on a little table by her side. One of the blossoms she had fastened into the bosom of her loose gown. The blinds were drawn, the sounds of the traffic outside were muffled and distant. Her bath had been just the right temperature, her maid's attention was skilful and delicate as ever. She was conscious of the drowsy sweet perfume of the flowers, the pleasant sense of powdered cleanliness. Everything should have conduced to rest, but she lay there with her eyes wide-open. There was so much to think about, so much that was new finding its way into her stormy young life.

"Madame!"

Anna turned her head. Her maid had entered noiselessly from the inner room and was standing by her side.

"Madame does not sleep? There is a person outside who waits for an interview. I have denied him, as all others. He gave me this."

Anna almost snatched the piece of paper from her maid's fingers. She glanced at the name, and the disappointment which shone in her eyes was very apparent. It was succeeded by an impulse of surprise.

"You can show him in," she directed.

Selingman appeared a few moments later-Selingman, cool, rosy, and confident, on the way to his beloved bridge club. He took the hand which Anna, without moving, held out to him, and raised it gallantly to his lips.

"I thought it was understood, my crockery friend," she murmured, "that in

London we did not interchange visits."

"Most true, gracious lady," he admitted, "but there are circumstances which can alter the most immovable decisions. At this moment we are confronted with one. I come to discuss with you the young Englishman, Francis Norgate."

She turned her head a little. Her eyes were full of enquiry.

"To discuss him with me?"

Selingman's eyes as though by accident fell upon the roses and the note.

"Ah, well," she murmured, "go on."

"It is wonderful," Selingman proceeded, "to be able to tell the truth. I speak to you as one comrade to another. This young man was your companion at the Café de Berlin. For the indiscretion of behaving like a bull-headed but courageous young Englishman, he is practically dismissed from the Service. He comes back smarting with the injustice of it. Chance brings him in my way. I proceed to do my best to make use of this opportunity."

"So like you, dear Herr Selingman!" Anna murmured.

Selingman beamed.

"Ever gracious, dear lady. Well, to continue, then. Here I find a young Englishman of exactly the order and position likely to be useful to us. I approach him frankly. He has been humiliated by the country he was willing to serve. I talk to him of that country. 'You are English, of course,' I remind him, 'but what manner of an England is it to-day which claims you?' It is a very telling argument, this. Upon the classes of this country, democracy has laid a throttling hand. There is a spirit of discontent, they say, among the working-classes, the discontent which breeds socialism. There is a worse spirit of discontent among the upper classes here, and it is the discontent which breeds so-called traitors."

"I can imagine all the rest," Anna interposed coolly. "How far have you succeeded?"

"The young man," Selingman told her, "has accepted my proposals. He has drawn three months' salary in advance. He furnished me yesterday with details of a private conversation with a well-known Cabinet Minister."

Anna turned her head. "So soon!" she murmured.

"So soon," Selingman repeated. "And now, gracious lady, here comes my visit to you. We have a recruit, invaluable if he is indeed a recruit at heart, dangerous if he has the brains and wit to choose to make himself so. I, on my way through life, judge men and women, and I judge them-well, with few exceptions, unerringly, but at the back of my brain there lingers something of mistrust of this young man. I have seen others in his position accept similar proposals. I have seen the struggles of shame, the doubts, the assertion of some part of a man's lower nature reconciling him in the end to accepting the pay of a foreign country. I have seen none of these things in this young man-simply a cold and deliberate acceptance of my proposals. He conforms to no type. He sets up before me a problem which I myself have failed wholly to solve. I come to you, dear lady, for your aid."

"I am to spy upon the spy," she remarked.

"It is an easy task," Selingman declared. "This young man is your slave. Whatever your daily business may be here, some part of your time, I imagine, will be spent in his company. Let me know what manner o

f man he is. Is this innate corruptness which brings him so easily to the bait, or is it the stinging smart of injustice from which he may well be suffering? Or, failing these, has he dared to set his wits against mine, to play the double traitor? If even a suspicion of this should come to you, there must be an end of Mr. Francis Norgate."

Anna toyed for a moment with the rose at her bosom. Her eyes were looking out of the room. Once again she was conscious of a curious slackening of purpose, a confusion of issues which had once seemed to her so clear.

"Very well," she promised. "I will send you a report in the course of a few days."

"I should not," Selingman continued, rising, "venture to trouble you, Baroness, as I know the sphere of your activities is far removed from mine, but chance has put you in the position of being able to ascertain definitely the things which I desire to know. For our common sake you will, I am sure, seek to discover the truth."

"So far as I can, certainly," Anna replied, "but I must admit that I, like you, find Mr. Norgate a little incomprehensible."

"There are men," Selingman declared, "there have been many of the strongest men in history, impenetrable to the world, who have yielded their secrets readily to a woman's influence. The diplomatists in life who have failed have been those who have underrated the powers possessed by your wonderful sex."

"Among whom," Anna remarked, "no one will ever number Herr Selingman."

"Dear Baroness," Selingman concluded, as the maid whom Anna had summoned stood ready to show him out, "it is because in my life I have been brought into contact with so many charming examples of your power."

* * * * *

Once more silence and solitude. Anna moved restlessly about on her couch. Her eyes were a little hot. That future into which she looked seemed to become more than ever a tangled web. At half-past seven her maid reappeared.

"Madame will dress for dinner?"

Anna swung herself to her feet. She glanced at the clock.

"I suppose so," she assented.

"I have three gowns laid out," the maid continued respectfully. "Madame would look wonderful in the light green."

"Anything," Anna yawned.

The telephone bell tinkled. Anna took down the receiver herself.

"Yes?" she asked.

Her manner suddenly changed. It was a familiar voice speaking. Her maid, who stood in the background, watched and wondered.

"It is you, Baroness! I rang up to see whether there was any chance of your being able to dine with me? I have just got back to town."

"How dared you go away without telling me!" she exclaimed. "And how can I dine with you? Do you not realise that it is Ascot Thursday, and I have had many invitations to dine to-night? I am going to a very big dinner-party at Thurm House."

"Bad luck!" Norgate replied disconsolately. "And to-morrow?"

"I have not finished about to-night yet," Anna continued. "I suppose you do not, by any chance, want me to dine with you very much?"

"Of course I do," was the prompt answer. "You see plenty of the Princess of Thurm and nothing of me, and there is always the chance that you may have to go abroad. I think that it is your duty-"

"As a matter of duty," Anna interrupted, "I ought to dine at Thurm House. As a matter of pleasure, I shall dine with you. You will very likely not enjoy yourself. I am going to be very cross indeed. You have neglected me shamefully. It is only these wonderful roses which have saved you."

"So long as I am saved," he murmured, "tell me, please, where you would like to dine?"

"Any place on earth," she replied. "You may call for me here at half-past eight. I shall wear a hat and I would like to go somewhere where our people do not go."

Anna set down the telephone. The listlessness had gone from her manner.

She glanced at the clock and ran lightly into the other room.

"Put all that splendour away," she ordered her maid cheerfully. "To-night we shall dazzle no one. Something perfectly quiet and a hat, please. I dine in a restaurant. And ring the bell, Marie, for two aperitifs-not that I need one. I am hungry, Marie. I am looking forward to my dinner already. I think something dead black. I am looking well tonight. I can afford to wear black."

Marie beamed.

"Madame has recovered her spirits," she remarked demurely.

Anna was suddenly silent. Her light-heartedness was a revelation. She turned to her maid.

"Marie," she directed, "you will telephone to Thurm House. You will ask for Lucille, the Princess's maid. You will give my love to the Princess. You will say that a sudden headache has prostrated me. It will be enough. You need say no more. To-morrow I lunch with the Princess, and she will understand."

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