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   Chapter 29 No.29

The Double Traitor By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 8619

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

"I had no objection," Norgate remarked, a few hours later, "to lunching with you at the Berkeley-very good lunch it was, too-but to dine with you in Soho certainly seems to require some explanation. Why do we do it? Is it my punishment for a day's inactivity, because if so, I beg to protest. I did my best with Hebblethwaite this morning, and it was only because there was nothing for him to tell me that I heard nothing."

Selingman spread himself out at the little table and talked in voluble German to the portly head-waiter in greasy clothes. Then he turned to his guest.

"My young friend," he enjoined, "you should cultivate a spirit of optimism. I grant you that the place is small and close, that the odour of other people's dinners is repellent, that this cloth, perhaps, is not so clean as it once was, or the linen so fine as we are accustomed to. But what would you have? All sides of life come into the great scheme. It is here that we shall meet a person whom I need to meet, a person whom I do not choose to have visit me at my home, whom I do not choose to be seen with in any public place of great repute."

"I should say we were safe here from knocking against any of our friends!" Norgate observed. "Anyhow, the beer's all right."

They were served with light-coloured beer in tall, chased tumblers.

Selingman eyed his with approval.

"A nation," he declared, "which brews beer like this, deserves well of the world. You did wisely, Norgate, to become ever so slightly associated with us. Now examine carefully these hors d'oeuvres. I have talked with Karl, the head-waiter. Instead of eighteen pence, we shall pay three shillings each for our dinner. The whole resources of the establishment are at our disposal. Fresh tins of delicatessen, you perceive. Do not be afraid that you will go-away hungry."

"I am more afraid," Norgate grumbled, "that I shall go away sick.


"You may be interested to hear," announced Selingman, glancing up, "that our visit is not in vain. You perceive the two men entering? The nearest one is a Bulgarian. He is a creature of mine. The other is brought here by him to meet us. It is good."

The newcomers made their way along the room. One, the Bulgarian, was short and dark. He wore a well-brushed blue serge suit with a red tie, and a small bowler hat. He was smoking a long, brown cigarette and he carried a bundle of newspapers. Behind him came a youth with a pale, sensitive face and dark eyes, ill-dressed, with the grip of poverty upon him, from his patched shoes to his frayed collar and well-worn cap. Nevertheless, he carried himself as though indifferent to these things. His companion stopped short as he neared the table at which the two men were sitting, and took off his hat, greeting Selingman with respect.

"My friend Stralhaus!" Selingman exclaimed. "It goes well, I trust?

You are a stranger. Let me introduce to you my secretary, Mr.

Francis Norgate."

Stralhaus bowed and turned to his young companion.

"This," he said, "is the young man with whom you desired to speak. We will sit down if we may. Sigismund, this is the great Herr Selingman, philanthropist and millionaire, with his secretary, Mr. Norgate. We take dinner with him to-night."

The youth shook hands without enthusiasm. His manner towards Selingman was cold. At Norgate he glanced once or twice with something approaching curiosity. Stralhaus proceeded to make conversation.

"Our young friend," he explained, addressing Norgate, "is an exile in

London. He belongs to an unfortunate country. He is a native of Bosnia."

The boy's lip curled.

"It is possible," he remarked, "that Mr. Norgate has never even heard of my country. He is very little likely to know its history."

"On the contrary," Norgate replied, "I know it very well. You have had the misfortune, during the last few years, to come under Austrian rule."

"Since you put it like that," the boy declared, "we are friends. I am one of those who cry out to Heaven in horror at the injustice which has been done. We love liberty, we Bosnians. We love our own people and our own institutions, and we hate Austria. May you never know, sir, what it is to be ruled by an alien race!"

"You have at least the sympathy of many nations who are powerless

to interfere," Selingman said quietly. "I read your pamphlet, Mr. Henriote, with very great interest. Before we leave to-night, I shall make a proposal to you."

The boy seemed puzzled for a moment, but Stralhaus intervened with some commonplace remark.

"After dinner," he suggested, "we will talk."

Certainly during the progress of the meal Henriote said little. He ate, although obviously half famished, with restraint, but although Norgate did his best to engage him in conversation, he seemed taciturn, almost sullen. Towards the end of dinner, when every one was smoking and coffee had been served, Selingman glanced at his watch.

"Now," he said, "I will tell you, my young Bosnian patriot, why I sent for you. Would you like to go back to your country, in the first place?"

"It is impossible!" Henriote declared bitterly, "I am exile. I am forbidden to return under pain of death."

Selingman opened his pocket-book, and, searching among his papers, produced a thin blue one which he opened and passed across the table.

"Read that," he ordered shortly.

The young man obeyed. A sudden exclamation broke from his lips. A pink flush, which neither the wine nor the food had produced, burned in his cheeks. He sat hunched up, leaning forward, his eyes devouring the paper. When he had finished, he still gripped it.

"It is my pardon!" he cried. "I may go back home-back to Bosnia!"

"It is your free pardon," Selingman replied, "but it is granted to you upon conditions. Those conditions, I may say, are entirely for your country's sake and are framed by those who feel exactly as you feel-that Austrian rule for Bosnia is an injustice."

"Go on," the young man muttered. "What am I to do?"

"You are a member," Selingman went on, "of the extreme revolutionary party, a party pledged to stop at nothing, to drive your country's enemies across her borders. Very well, listen to me. The pardon which you have there is granted to you without any promise having been asked for or given in return. It is I alone who dictate terms to you. Your country's position, her wrongs, and the abuses of the present form of government, can only be brought before the notice of Europe in one way. You are pledged to do that. All that I require of you is that you keep your pledge."

The young man half rose to his feet with excitement.

"Keep it! Who is more anxious to keep it than I? If Europe wants to know how we feel, she shall know! We will proclaim the wrongs of our country so that England and Russia, France and Italy, shall hear and judge for themselves. If you need deeds to rivet the attention of the world upon our sufferings, then there shall be deeds. There shall-"

He stopped short. A look of despair crossed his face.

"But we have no money!" he exclaimed. "We patriots are starving. Our lands have been confiscated. We have nothing. I live over here Heaven knows how-I, Sigismund Henriote, have toiled for my living with Polish Jews and the outcasts of Europe."

Selingman dived once more into his pocket-book. He passed a packet across the table.

"Young man," he said, "that sum has been collected for your funds by the friends of your country abroad. Take it and use it as you think best. All that I ask from you is that what you do, you do quickly. Let me suggest an occasion for you. The Archduke of Austria will be in your capital almost as soon as you can reach home."

The boy's face was transfigured. His great eyes were lit with a wonderful fire. His frame seemed to have filled out. Norgate looked at him in wonderment. He was like a prophet; then suddenly he grew calm. He placed his pardon, to which was attached his passport, and the notes, in his breast-coat pocket. He rose to his feet and took the cap from the floor by his side.

"There is a train to-night," he announced. "I wish you farewell, gentlemen. I know nothing of you, sir," he added, turning to Selingman, "and I ask no questions. I only know that you have pointed towards the light, and for that I thank you. Good night, gentlemen!"

He left them and walked out of the restaurant like a man in a dream.

Selingman helped himself to a liqueur and passed the bottle to Norgate.

"It is in strange places that one may start sometimes the driving wheels of Fate," he remarked.

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