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   Chapter 28 No.28

The Double Traitor By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 8702

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Mr. Hebblethwaite turned into Pall Mall, his hands behind his back, his expression a little less indicative of bland good humour than usual. He had forgotten to light his customary cigarette after the exigencies of a Cabinet Council. He had even forgotten to linger for a few minutes upon the doorstep in case any photographer should be hanging around to take a snapshot of a famous visitor leaving an historic scene, and quite unconsciously he ignored the salutation of several friends. It was only by the merest chance that he happened to glance up at the corner of the street and recognised Norgate across the way. He paused at once and beckoned to him.

"Well, young fellow," he exclaimed, as they shook hands, "how's the

German spy business going?"

"Pretty well, thanks," Norgate answered coolly. "I am in it twice over now. I'm marrying an Austrian lady shortly, very high up indeed in the Diplomatic Secret Service of her country. Between us you may take it that we could read, if we chose, the secrets of the Cabinet Council from which you have just come."

"Any fresh warnings, eh?"

Norgate turned and walked by his friend's side.

"It is no use warning you," he declared. "You've a hide as thick as a rhinoceros. Your complacency is bomb-proof. You won't believe anything until it's too late."

"Confoundedly disagreeable companion you make, Norgate," the Cabinet Minister remarked irritably. "You know quite as well as I do that the German scare is all bunkum, and you only hammer it in either to amuse yourself or because you are of a sensational turn of mind. All the same-"

"All the same, what?" Norgate interrupted.

Hebblethwaite took his young friend's arm and led him into his club.

"We will take an apéritif in the smoking-room," he said. "After that I will look in my book and see where I am lunching. It is perhaps not the wisest thing for a Cabinet Minister to talk in the street. Since the Suffragette scares, I have quite an eye for a detective, and there has been a fellow within a few yards of your elbow ever since you spoke to me."

"That's all right," Norgate reassured him. "Let's see, it's Tuesday, isn't it? I call him Boko. He never leaves me. My week-end shadowers are a trifle less assiduous, but Boko is suspicious. He has deucedly long ears, too."

"What the devil are you talking about?" Hebblethwaite demanded, as they sat down.

"The fact of it is," Norgate explained, "they don't altogether trust me in my new profession. They give me some important jobs to look after, but they watch me night and day. What they'd do if I turned 'em up, I can't imagine. By-the-by, if you do hear of my being found mysteriously shot or poisoned or something of that sort, don't you take on any theory as to suicide. It will be murder, right enough. However," he added, raising his glass to his lips and nodding, "they haven't found me out yet."

"I hear," Hebblethwaite muttered, "that the bookstalls are loaded with this sort of rubbish. You do it very well, though."

"Oh! I am the real thing all right," Norgate declared. "By-the-by, what's the matter with you?"

"Nothing," Hebblethwaite replied. "When you come to think of it, sitting here and feeling the reviving influence of this remarkably well-concocted beverage, I can confidently answer 'Nothing.' And yet, a few minutes ago, I must admit that I was conscious of a sensation of gloom. You know, Norgate, you're not the only idiot in the world who goes about seeing shadows. For the first time in my life I begin to wonder whether we haven't got a couple of them among us. Of course, I don't take any notice of Spencer Wyatt. It's his job. He plays the part of popular hero-National Anthem, God Save the Empire, and all that sort of thing. He must keep in with his admirals and the people, so of course he's always barking for ships. But White, now. I have always looked upon White as being absolutely the most level-headed, sensible, and peace-adoring Minister this country ever had."

"What's wrong with him?" Norgate asked.

"I cannot," Hebblethwaite regretted, "talk confidentially to a

German spy."

"Getting cautious as the years roll on, aren't you?" Norgate sighed. "I hoped I was going to get something interesting out of you to cable to Berlin."

"You try cabling to Berlin, young fellow," Hebblethwaite rep

lied grimly, "and I'll have you up at Bow Street pretty soon! There's no doubt about it, though, old White has got the shivers for some reason or other. To any sane person things were never calmer and more peaceful than at the present moment, and White isn't a believer in the German peril, either. He is half inclined to agree with old Busby. He got us out of that Balkan trouble in great style, and all I can say is that if any nation in Europe wanted war then, she could have had it for the asking."

"Well, exactly what is the matter with White at the present moment?"

Norgate demanded.

"Got the shakes," Hebblethwaite confided. "Of course, we don't employ well-born young Germans who are undergoing a period of rustication, as English spies, but we do get to know a bit what goes on there, and the reports that are coming in are just a little curious. Rolling stock is being called into the termini of all the railways. Staff officers in mufti have been round all the frontiers. There's an enormous amount of drilling going on, and the ordnance factories are working at full pressure, day and night."

"The manoeuvres are due very soon," Norgate reminded his friend.

"So I told White," Hebblethwaite continued, "but manoeuvres, as he remarked, don't lead to quite so much feverish activity as there is about Germany just now. Personally, I haven't a single second's anxiety. I only regret the effect that this sort of feeling has upon the others. Thank heavens we are a Government of sane, peace-believing people!"

"A Government of fat-headed asses who go about with your ears stuffed full of wool," Norgate declared, with a sudden bitterness. "What you've been telling me is the truth. Germany's getting ready for war, and you'll have it in the neck pretty soon."

Hebblethwaite set down his empty glass. He had recovered his composure.

"Well, I am glad I met you, any way, young fellow," he remarked. "You're always such an optimist. You cheer one up. Sorry I can't ask you to lunch," he went on, consulting his book, "but I find I am motoring down for a round of golf this afternoon."

"Yes, you would play golf!" Norgate grunted, as they strolled towards the door. "You're the modern Nero, playing golf while the earthquake yawns under London."

"Play you some day, if you like," Hebblethwaite suggested, as he called for a taxi. "They took my handicap down two last week at Walton Heath-not before it was time, either. By-the-by, when can I meet the young lady? My people may be out of town next week, but I'll give you both a lunch or a dinner, if you'll say the word. Thursday night, eh?"

"At present," Norgate replied, "the Baroness is in Italy, arranging for the mobilisation of the Italian armies, but if she's back for Thursday, we shall be delighted. She'll be quite interested to meet you. A keen, bright, alert politician of your type will simply fascinate her."

"We'll make it Thursday night, then, at the Carlton," Hebblethwaite called out from his taxi. "Take care of Boko. So long!"

At the top of St. James's Street, Norgate received the bow of a very elegantly-dressed young woman who was accompanied by a well-known soldier. A few steps further on he came face to face with Selingman.

"A small city, London," the latter declared. "I am on my way to the Berkeley to lunch. Will you come with me? I am alone to-day, and I hate to eat alone. Miss Morgen has deserted me shamefully."

"I met her a moment or two ago," Norgate remarked. "She was with

Colonel Bowden."

Selingman nodded. "Rosa has been taking a great interest in flying lately. Colonel Bowden is head of the Flying Section. Well, well, one must expect to be deserted sometimes, we older men."

"Especially in so great a cause," Norgate observed drily.

Selingman smiled enigmatically.

"And you, my young friend," he enquired, "what have you been doing this morning?"

"I have just left Hebblethwaite," Norgate answered.

"There was a Cabinet Council this morning, wasn't there?"

Norgate nodded.

"An unimportant one, I should imagine. Hebblethwaite seemed thoroughly satisfied with himself and with life generally. He has gone down to Walton Heath to play golf."

Selingman led the way into the restaurant.

"Very good exercise for an English Cabinet Minister," he remarked, "capital for the muscles!"

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