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   Chapter 26 No.26

The Double Traitor By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 12217

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

Mrs. Benedek was the first to notice the transformation which had certainly taken place in Norgate's appearance. She came and sat by his side upon the cushioned fender.

"What a metamorphosis!" she exclaimed. "Why, you look as though

Providence had been showering countless benefits upon you."

There were several people lounging around, and Mrs. Benedek's remark certainly had point.

"You look like Monty, when he's had a winning week," one of them observed.

"It is something more than gross lucre," a young man declared, who had just strolled up. "I believe that it is a good fat appointment. Rome, perhaps, where every one of you fellows wants to get to, nowadays."

"Or perhaps," the Prince intervened, with a little bow, "Mrs. Benedek has promised to dine with you? She is generally responsible for the gloom or happiness of us poor males in this room."

Norgate smiled.

"None of these wonderful things have happened-and yet, something perhaps more wonderful," he announced. "I am engaged to be married."

There was a mingled chorus of exclamations and congratulations. Selingman, who had been standing on the outskirts of the group, drew a little nearer. His face wore a somewhat puzzled expression.

"And the lady?" he enquired. "May we not know the lady's name? That is surely important?"

"It is the Baroness von Haase," Norgate replied. "You probably know her by name and repute, at least, Mr. Selingman. She is an Austrian, but she is often at Berlin."

Selingman stretched out his great hand. For some reason or other, the announcement seemed to have given him real pleasure.

"Know her? My dear young friend, while I may not claim the privilege of intimate friendship with her, the Baroness is a young lady of the greatest distinction and repute in Berlin. I congratulate you. I congratulate you most heartily. The anger of our young princeling is no longer to be wondered at. I cannot tell you how thoroughly interesting this news is to me."

"You are very good indeed, I am sure, all of you," Norgate declared, answering the general murmur of kindly words. "The Baroness doesn't play bridge, but I'd like to bring her in one afternoon, if I may."

"I have had the honour of meeting the Baroness von Haase several times," Prince Lenemaur said. "It will give me the utmost pleasure to renew my acquaintance with her. These alliances are most pleasing. Since I have taken up my residence in this country, I regard them with the utmost favour. They do much to cement the good feeling between Germany, Austria, and England, which is so desirable."

"English people," Mrs. Benedek remarked, "will at least have the opportunity of judging Austrian women from the proper standpoint. Anna is one of the most accomplished and beautiful women in either Vienna or Berlin. I hope so much that she will not have forgotten me altogether."

They all drifted presently back to the bridge tables. Norgate, however, excused himself. He had some letters to write, he declared, and presently he withdrew to the little drawing-room. In about a quarter of an hour, as he had expected, the door opened, and Selingman entered. He crossed the room at once to where Norgate was writing and laid his hand upon his shoulder.

"Young man," he said, "I wish to talk with you. Bring your chair around.

Sit there so that the light falls upon your face. So! Now let me see.

Where does that door lead to?"

"Into the secretary's room, but it is locked," Norgate told him.

"So! And the outer one I myself have carefully closed. We talk here, then, in private. This is great news which you have brought this afternoon."

"It is naturally of some interest to me," Norgate assented, "but I scarcely see-"

"It is of immense interest, also, to me," Selingman interrupted. "It may be that you do not know this at present. It may be that I anticipate, but if so, no matter. Between you and your fiancée there will naturally be no secrets. You are perhaps already aware that she holds a high position amongst those who are working for the power and development and expansion of our great empire?"

"I have gathered something of the sort," Norgate admitted. "I know, of course, that she is a personal favourite of the Emperor's, and persona grata at the Court of Berlin."

"You have no scruple, then, about marrying a woman who belongs to a certain clique, a certain school of diplomacy which you might, from a superficial point of view, consider inimical to your country's interests?"

"I have no scruple at all in marrying the Baroness von Haase," Norgate replied firmly. "As for the rest, you and I have discussed fully the matter of the political relations between our countries. I have shown you practically have I not, what my own views are?"

"That is true, my young friend," Selingman confessed. "We have spoken together, man to man, heart to heart. I have tried to show you that even though we should stand with sword outstretched across the seas, yet in the hearts of our people there dwells a real affection, real good-will towards your country. I think that I have convinced you. I have come, indeed, to have a certain amount of confidence in you. That I have already proved. But your news to-day alters much. There are grades of that society which you have joined, rings within rings, as you may well imagine. I see the prospect before me now of making much greater and more valuable use of you. It was your brain, and a certain impatience with the political conduct of your country, which brought you over to our side. Why should not that become an alliance-an absolute alliance? Your interests are drawn into ours. You have now a real and great reason for throwing in your lot with us. Let me look at you. Let me think whether I may not venture upon a great gamble."

Norgate did not flinch. He appeared simply a little puzzled. Selingman's blue, steel-like eyes seemed striving to reach the back of his brain.

"All the things that we accomplish in my country," the latter continued, "we do by method and order. We do them scientifically. We reach out in

to the future. So far as we can, we foresee everything. We leave little to chance. Yet there are times when one cannot deal in certainties. Young man, the news which you have told us this afternoon has brought us to this pitch. I am inclined to gamble-to gamble upon you."

"Is there any question of consulting me in this?" Norgate asked coolly.

Selingman brushed the interruption on one side.

"I now make clear to you what I mean," he continued. "You have joined my little army of helpers, those whom I have been able to convince of the justice and reasonableness of Germany's ultimate aim. Now I want more from you. I want to make of you something different. More than anything in the world, for the furtherance of my schemes here, I need a young Englishman of your position and with your connections, to whom I can give my whole confidence, who will act for me with implicit obedience, without hesitation. Will you accept that post, Francis Norgate?"

"If you think I am capable of it," Norgate replied promptly.

"You are capable of it," Selingman asserted. "There is only one grim possibility to be risked. Are you entirely trustworthy? Would you flinch at the danger moment? Before this afternoon I hesitated. It is your alliance with the Baroness which gives me that last drop of confidence which was necessary."

"I am ready to do your work," Norgate said. "I can say no more. My own country has no use for me. My own country seems to have no use for any one at all just now who thinks a little beyond the day's eating and drinking and growing fat."

Selingman nodded his head. The note of bitterness in the other's tone was to his liking.

"Of rewards, of benefits, I shall not now speak," he proceeded. "You have something in you of the spirit of men who aim at the greater things. There is, indeed, in your attitude towards life something of the idealism, the ever-stretching heavenward culture of my own people. I recognise that spirit in you, and I will not give a lower tone to our talk this afternoon by speaking of money. Yet what you wish for you may have. When the time comes, what further reward you may desire, whether it be rank or high position, you may have, but for the present let it be sufficient that you are my man."

He held out his hand, and all the time his eyes never left Norgate's. Gone the florid and beaming geniality of the man, his easy good-humour, his air of good-living and rollicking gaiety. There were lines in his forehead. The firm contraction of his lips brought lines even across his plump cheeks. It was the face, this, of a strong man and a thinker. He held Norgate's fingers, and Norgate never flinched.

"So!" he said at last, as he turned away. "Now you are indeed in the inner circle, Mr. Francis Norgate. Good! Listen to me, then. We will speak of war, the war that is to come, the war that is closer at hand than even you might imagine."

"War with England?" Norgate exclaimed.

Selingman struck his hands together.

"No!" he declared. "You may take it as a compliment, if you like-a national compliment. We do not at the present moment desire war with England. Our plan of campaign, for its speedy and successful accomplishment, demands your neutrality. The North Sea must be free to us. Our fleet must be in a position to meet and destroy, as it is well able to do, the Russian and the French fleets. Now you know what has kept Germany from war for so long."

"You are ready for it, then?" Norgate remarked.

"We are over-ready for it," Selingman continued. "We are spoiling for it. We have piled up enormous stores of ordnance, ammunition, and all the appurtenances of warfare. Our schemes have been cut and dried to the last detail. Yet time after time we have been forced to stay our hand. Need I tell you why? It is because, in all those small diplomatic complications which have arisen and from which war might have followed, England has been involved. We want to choose a time and a cause which will give England every opportunity of standing peacefully on one side. That time is close at hand. From all that I can hear, your country is, at the present moment, in danger of civil war. Your Ministers who are most in favour are Radical pacifists. Your army has never been so small or your shipbuilding programme more curtailed. Besides, there is no warlike spirit in your nation; you sleep peacefully. I think that our time has come. You will not need to strain your ears, my friend. Before many weeks have passed, the tocsin will be sounding. Does that move you? Let me look at you."

Norgate's face showed little emotion. Selingman nodded ponderously.

"Surely," Norgate asked, "Germany will wait for some reasonable pretext?"

"She will find one through Austria," Selingman replied. "That is simple. Mind, though this may seem to you a war wholly of aggression, and though I do not hesitate to say that we have been prepared for years for a war of aggression, there are other factors which will come to light. Only a few months ago, an entire Russian scheme for the invasion of Germany next spring was discovered by one of our Secret Service agents."

Norgate nodded.

"One question more," he said. "Supposing Germany takes the plunge, and then England, contrary to anticipation, decides to support France?"

Selingman's face darkened. A sudden purposeless anger shook his voice.

"We choose a time," he declared, "when England's hands are tied. She is in no position to go to war with any one. I have many reports reaching me every day. I have come to the firm conclusion that we have reached the hour. England will not fight."

"And what will happen to her eventually?" Norgate asked.

Selingman smiled slowly.

"When France is crushed," he explained, "and her northern ports garrisoned by us, England must be taught just a little lesson, the lesson of which you and I have spoken, the lesson which will be for her good. That is what we have planned. That is how things will happen. Hush! There is some one coming. It is finished, this. Come to me to-morrow morning. There is work for you."

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