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The Double Traitor By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 11771

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


"Confess," Anna exclaimed, as she leaned back in her chair, "that my idea was excellent! Your little restaurant was in its way perfection, but the heat-does one feel it anywhere, I wonder, as one does in London?"

"Here, at any rate, we have air," Norgate remarked appreciatively.

"We are far removed," she went on, "from the clamour of diners, that babel of voices, the smell of cooking, the meretricious music. We look over the house-tops. Soon, just behind that tall building there, you will see the yellow moon."

They were taking their coffee in Anna's sitting-room, seated in easy-chairs drawn up to the wide-flung windows. The topmost boughs of some tall elm trees rustled almost in their faces. Away before them spread the phantasmagoria of a wilderness of London roofs, softened and melting into the dim blue obscurity of the falling twilight. Lights were flashing out everywhere, and above them shone the stars. Norgate drew a long breath of content.

"It is wonderful, this," he murmured.

"We are at least alone," Anna said, "and I can talk to you. I want to talk to you. Should you be very much flattered, I wonder, if I were to say that I have been thinking of little else for the last three or four days than how to approach you, how to say something to you without any fear of being misunderstood, how to convince you of my own sincerity?"

"If I am not flattered," he answered, looking at her keenly, "I am at least content. Please go on."

"You are one of those, I believe," she continued earnestly, "who realise that somewhere not far removed from the splendour of these summer days, a storm is gathering. I am one of those who know. England has but a few more weeks of this self-confident, self-esteeming security. Very soon the shock will come. Oh! you sit there, my friend, and you are very monosyllabic, but that is because you do not wholly trust me."

He swung suddenly round upon her and there was an unaccustomed fire in his eyes.

"May it not be for some other reason?" he asked quickly.

There was a moment's silence. Her own face seemed paler than ever in the strange half light, but her eyes were wonderful. He told himself with passionate insistence that they were the eyes of a truthful woman.

"Tell me," she begged, "what reason?"

He leaned towards her.

"It is so hopeless," he said. "I am just a broken diplomat whose career is ended almost before it is begun, and you-well, you have everything at your feet. It is foolish of me, isn't it, but I love you."

He took her hand, and she did not withdraw it.

"If it is foolish," she murmured, "then I am foolish, too. Perhaps you can guess now why I came to London."

He drew her into his arms. She made no resistance. Her lips, even, were seeking his. It seemed to him in those breathless moments that a greater thing than even the destiny of nations was born into the world. There was a new vigour in his pulses as she gently pushed him back, a new splendour in life.

"Dear," she exclaimed, "of course we are both very foolish, and yet, I do not know. I have been wondering why this has not come to me long ago, and now that it has come I am happy."

"You care-you really care?" he insisted passionately.

"Of course I do," she told him, quietly enough and yet very convincingly. "If I did not care I should not be here. If I did not care, I should not be going to say the things to you which I am going to say now. Sit back in your chair, please, hold my hand still, smoke if you will, but listen."

He obeyed. A deeper seriousness crept into her tone, but her face was still soft and wonderful. The new things were lingering there.

"I want to tell you first," she said, "what I think you already know. The moment for which Germany has toiled so long, from which she has never faltered, is very close at hand. With all her marvellous resources and that amazing war equipment of which you in this country know little, she will soon throw down the gage to England. You are an Englishman, Francis. You are not going to forget it, are you?"

"Forget it?" he repeated.

"I know," she continued slowly, "that Selingman has made advances to you. I know that he has a devilish gift for enrolling on his list men of honour and conscience. He has the knack of subtle argument, of twisting facts and preying upon human weaknesses. You have been shockingly treated by your Foreign Office. You yourself are entirely out of sympathy with your Government. You know very well that England, as she is, is a country which has lost her ideals, a country in which many of her sons might indeed, without much reproach, lose their pride, Selingman knows this. He knows how to work upon these facts. He might very easily convince you that the truest service you could render your country was to assist her in passing through a temporary tribulation."

He looked at her almost in surprise.

"You seem to know the man's methods," he observed.

"I do," she answered, "and I detest them. Now, Francis, please tell me the truth. Is your name, too, upon that long roll of those who are pledged to assist his country?"

"It is," he admitted.

She drew a little away.

"You admit it? You have already consented?"

"I have drawn a quarter's salary," Norgate confessed. "I have entered

Selingman's corps of the German Secret Service."

"You mean that you are a traitor!" she exclaimed.

"A traitor to the false England of to-day," Norgate replied, "a friend,

I hope, of the real England."

She sat quite still for some moments.

"Somehow or other," she said, "I scarcely fancied that you would give in so easily."

"You seem disappointed," he remarked, "yet, after all, am I not on your side?"

"I suppose so," she answered, without enthusiasm.

There was another and a more prolonged silence. Norgate rose at last to his feet. He walked restlessly

to the end of the room and back again. A dark mass of clouds had rolled up; the air seemed almost sulphurous with the presage of a coming storm. They looked out into the gathering darkness.

"I don't understand," he said. "You are Austrian; that is the same as German. I tell you that I have come over on your side. You seem disappointed."

"Perhaps I am," she admitted, standing up, too, and linking her arm through his. "You see, my mother was English, and they say that I am entirely like her. I was brought up here in the English country. Sometimes my life at Vienna and Berlin seems almost like a dream to me, something unreal, as though I were playing at being some other woman. When I am back here, I feel as though I had come home. Do you know really that nothing would make me happier than to hear or think nothing about duty, to just know that I had come back to England to stay, and that you were English, and that we were going to live just the sort of life I pictured to myself that two people could live so happily over here, without too much ambition, without intrigue, simply and honestly. I am a little weary of cities and courts, Francis. To-night more than ever England seems to appeal to me, to remind me that I am one of her daughters."

"Are you trying me, Anna?" he asked hoarsely.

"Trying you? Of course not!" she answered. "I am speaking to you just simply and naturally, because you are the one person in the world to whom I may speak like that."

"Then let's drop it, both of us!" he exclaimed, holding her arm tightly to his. "Courts and cities can do without you, and Selingman can do without me. We'll take a cottage somewhere and live through these evil days."

She shook her head.

"You and I are not like that, Francis," she declared. "When the storm breaks, we mustn't be found hiding in our holes. You know that quite well. It is for us to decide what part we may play. You have chosen. So, in a measure, have I. Tomorrow I am going on a secret mission to Italy."

"Anna!" he cried in dismay.

"Alas, yes!" she repeated, "We may not even meet again, Francis, till the map of Europe has been rewritten with the blood of many of our friends and millions of our country-people. But I shall think of you, and the kiss you will give me now shall be the last upon my lips."

"You can go away?" he demanded. "You can leave me like this?"

"I must," she answered simply. "I have work before me. Good-by, Francis! Somehow I knew what was coming. I believe that I am glad, dear, but I must think about it, and so must you."

Norgate left the hotel and walked out amid the first mutterings of the storm. He found a taxi and drove to his rooms. For an hour he sat before his window, watching the lightning play, fighting the thoughts which beat upon his brain, fighting all the time a losing battle. At midnight the storm had ceased. He walked back through the rain-streaming streets. The air was filled with sweet and pungent perfumes. The heaviness had passed from the atmosphere. His own heart was lighter; he walked swiftly. Outside her hotel he paused and looked up at the window. There was a light still burning in her room. He even fancied that he could see the outline of her figure leaning back in the easy-chair which he had wheeled up close to the casement. He entered the hotel, stepped into the lift, ascended to her floor, and made his way with tingling pulses and beating heart along the corridor. He knocked softly at her door. There was a little hesitation, then he heard her voice on the other side.

"Who is that?"

"It is I-Francis," he answered softly. "Let me in."

There was a little exclamation. She opened the door, holding up her finger.

"Quietly," she whispered. "What is it, Francis? Why have you come back?

What has happened to you?"

He drew her into the room. She herself looked weary, and there were lines under her eyes. It seemed, even, as though she might have been weeping. But it was a new Norgate who spoke. His words rang out with a fierce vigour, his eyes seemed on fire.

"Anna," he cried, "I can't fence with you. I can't lie to you. I can't deceive you. I've tried these things, and I went away choking, I had to come back. You shall know the truth, even though you betray me. I am no man of Selingman's. I have taken his paltry money-it went last night to a hospital. I am for England-God knows it!-the England of any government, England, however misguided or mistaken. I want to do the work for her that's easiest and that comes to me. I am on Selingman's roll. What do you think he'll get from me? Nothing that isn't false, no information that won't mislead him, no facts save those I shall distort until they may seem so near the truth that he will build and count upon them. Every minute of my time will be spent to foil his schemes. They don't believe me in Whitehall, or Selingman would be at Bow Street to-morrow morning. That's why I am going my own way. Tell him, if you will. There is only one thing strong enough to bring me here, to risk everything, and that's my love for you."

She was in his arms, sobbing and crying, and yet laughing. She clutched at him, drew down his face and covered his lips with kisses.

"Oh! I am so thankful," she cried, "so thankful! Francis, I ached-my heart ached to have you sit there and talk as you did. Now I know that you are the man I thought you were. Francis, we will work together."

"You mean it?"

"I do, England was my mother's country, England shall be my husband's country. I will tell you many things that should help. From now my work shall be for you. If they find me out, well, I will pay the price. You shall run your risk, Francis, for your country, and I must take mine; but at least we'll keep our honour and our conscience and our love. Oh, this is a better parting, dear! This is a better good night!"

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