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The Double Traitor By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 11315

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

They paused at last, breathless, and walked out of the most wonderful ballroom in London into the gardens, aglow with fairy lanterns whose brilliance was already fading before the rising moon. They found a seat under a tall elm tree, and Anna leaned back. It was a queer mixture of sounds which came to their ears; in the near distance, the music of a wonderful orchestra rising and falling; further away, the roar of the great city still awake and alive outside the boundary of those grey stone walls.

"Of course," she murmured, "this is the one thing which completes my subjugation. Fancy an Englishman being able to waltz! Almost in that beautiful room I fancied myself back in Vienna, except that it was more wonderful because it was you."

"You are turning my head," he whispered. "This is like a night out of

Paradise. And to think that we are really in the middle of London!"

"Ah! do not mention London," she begged, "or else I shall begin to think of Sodom and Gomorrah. After all, why need one live for anything else except the present?"

"There is the Comtesse," he reminded her disconsolately.

She sighed.

"How horrid of you!"

"Let us forget her, then," he begged. "We will go into the marquee there and have supper, and afterwards dance again. We'll steal to-night out of the calendar. We'll call it ours and play with it as we please."

She shook her head.

"No," she decided, "you have reminded me of our duty, and you are quite right. You were brought here to talk to the Comtesse. I do not know why, but she is in a curiously impenetrable frame of mind. I tried hard to get her to talk to me, but it was useless; you must see what you can do. Fortunately, she seems to be absolutely delighted to have met you again. You have a dance with her, have you not?"

He drew out his programme reluctantly.

"The next one, too," he sighed.

Anna rose quickly to her feet.

"How absurd of me to forget! Take me inside, please, and go and look for her at once."

"It's all very well," Norgate grumbled, "but the last time I saw her she was about three deep among the notabilities. I really don't feel that I ought to jostle dukes and ambassadors to claim a dance."

"You must not be so foolish," Anna insisted. "The Comtesse cares nothing for dukes and ambassadors, but she is most ridiculously fond of good-looking young men. Mind, you will do better with her if you speak entirely outside all of us. She is a very peculiar woman. If one could only read the secrets she has stored up in her brain! Sometimes she is so lavish with them, and at other times, and with other people, it seems as though it would take an earthquake to force a sentence from her lips. There she is, see, in that corner. Never mind the people around her. Go and do your duty."

Norgate found it easier than he had expected. She no sooner saw him coming than she rose to her feet and welcomed him. She laid her fingers upon his arm, and they moved away towards the ballroom.

"I am afraid," he apologised, "that I am rather an intruder. You all seemed so interested in listening to the Duke."

"On the contrary, I welcome you as a deliverer," she declared. "I have heard those stories so often, and worse than having heard them is the necessity always to smile. The Duke is a dear good person, and he has been exceedingly kind to me during the whole of my stay, but oh, how one sometimes does weary oneself of this London of yours! Yet I love it. Do you know that you were almost the first person I asked for when I arrived here? They told me that you were in Berlin."

"I was," he admitted. "I am in the act of being transferred."

"Fortunate person!" she murmured. "You speak the language of all capitals, but I cannot fancy you in Berlin."

They had reached the edge of the ballroom. He hesitated.

"Do you care to dance or shall we go outside and talk?"

She smiled at him. "Both, may we not? You dear, discreet person, when I think of the strange places where I have danced with you-Perhaps it is better not to remember!"

They moved away to the music and later on found their way into the garden. The Comtesse was a little thoughtful.

"You are a great friend of Anna's, are you not?" she enquired.

"We are engaged to be married," he answered simply.

She made a little grimace.

"Ah!" she sighed, "you nice men, it comes to you all. You amuse yourselves with us for a time, and then the real feeling comes, and where are we? But it is queer, too," she went on thoughtfully, "that Anna should marry an Englishman, especially just now."

"Why 'especially just now'?"

The Comtesse evaded the question.

"Anna seemed always," she said, "to prefer the men of her own country. Oh, what music! Shall we have one turn more, Mr. Francis Norgate? It is the waltz they played-but who could expect a man to remember!"

They plunged again into the crowd of dancers. The Comtesse was breathless yet exhilarated when at last they emerged.

"But you dance, as ever, wonderfully!" she cried. "You make me think of those days in Paris. You make me even sad."

"They remain," he assured her, "one of the most pleasant memories of my life."

She patted his hand affectionately. Then her tone changed.

"Almost," she declared, "you have driven all other things out of my mind. What is it that Anna is so anxious to know from me? You are in her confidence, she tells me."


"That again is strange," the Comtesse continued, "when one considers your nationality, yet Anna herself has assured me of it. Do you know that she is a person whom I very much envy? Her life is so full of variety. She is

the special protégée of the Emperor. No woman at Vienna is more trusted."

"I am not sure," Norgate observed, "that she was altogether satisfied with the results of her visit to Rome."

The Comtesse's fan fluttered slowly back and forth. She looked for a moment or two idly upon the brilliant scene. The smooth garden paths, the sheltered seats, the lawns themselves, were crowded with little throngs of women in exquisite toilettes, men in uniform and Court dress. There were well-known faces everywhere. It was the crowning triumph of a wonderful London season.

"Anna's was a very difficult mission," the Comtesse pointed out confidentially. "There is really no secret about these matters. The whole world knows of Italy's position. A few months ago, at the time of what you call the Balkan Crisis, Germany pressed us very hard for a definite assurance of our support, under any conditions, of the Triple Alliance. I remember that Andrea was three hours with the King that day, and our reply was unacceptable in Berlin. It may have helped to keep the peace. One cannot tell. The Kaiser's present letter is simply a repetition of his feverish attempt to probe our intentions."

"But at present," Norgate ventured, "there is no Balkan Crisis."

The Comtesse looked at him lazily out of the corners of her sleepy eyes.

"Is there not?" she asked simply. "I have been away from Italy for a week or so, and Andrea trusts nothing to letters. Yesterday I had a dispatch begging me to return. I go to-morrow morning. I do not know whether it is because of the pressure of affairs, or because he wearies himself a little without me."

"One might easily imagine the latter," Norgate remarked. "But is it indeed any secret to you that there is a great feeling of uneasiness throughout the Continent, an extraordinary state of animation, a bustle, although a secret bustle, of preparation in Germany?"

"I have heard rumours of this," the Comtesse confessed.

"When one bears these things in mind and looks a little into the future," Norgate continued, "one might easily believe that the reply to that still unanswered letter of the Kaiser's might well become historical."

"You would like me, would you not," she asked, "to tell you what that reply will most certainly be?"

"Very much!"

"You are an Englishman," she remarked thoughtfully, "and intriguing with

Anna. I fear that I do not understand the position."

"Must you understand it?"

"Perhaps not," she admitted. "It really matters very little. I will speak to you just in the only way I can speak, as a private individual. I tell you that I do not believe that Andrea will ever, under any circumstances, join in any war against England, nor any war which has for its object the crushing of France. In his mind the Triple Alliance was the most selfish alliance which any country has ever entered into, but so long as the other two Powers understood the situation, it was scarcely Italy's part to point out the fact that she gained everything by it and risked nothing. Italy has sheltered herself for years under its provisions, but neither at the time of signing it, nor at any other time, has she had the slightest intention of joining in an aggressive war at the request of her allies. You see, her Government felt themselves safe-and I think that that was where Andrea was so clever-in promising to fulfil their obligations in case of an attack by any other Power upon Germany or Austria, because it was perfectly certain to Andrea, and to every person of common sense, that no such aggressive attack would ever be made. You read Austria's demands from Servia in the paper this morning?"

"I did," Norgate admitted. "No one in the world could find them reasonable."

"They are not meant to be reasonable," the Comtesse pointed out. "They are the foundation from which the world quarrel shall spring. Russia must intervene to protect Servia from their hideous injustice. Germany and Austria will throw down the gage. Germany may be right or she may be wrong, but she believes she can count on Great Britain's neutrality. She needs our help and believes she will get it. That is because German diplomacy always believes that it is going to get what it wants. Now, in a few words, I will tell you what the German Emperor would give me a province to know. I will tell you that no matter what the temptation, what the proffered reward may be, Italy will not join in this war on the side of Germany and Austria."

"You are very kind, Comtesse," Norgate said simply, "and I shall respect your confidence."

She rose and laid her fingers upon his arm.

"To people whom I like," she declared, "I speak frankly. I give away no secrets. I say what I believe. And now I must leave you for a much subtler person and a much subtler conversation. Prince Herschfeld is waiting to talk to me. Perhaps he, too, would like to know the answer which will go to his master, but how can I tell?"

The Ambassador had paused before them. The Comtesse rose and accepted his arm.

"I shall take away with me to-night at least two charming memories," she assured him, as she gathered up her skirts. "My two dances, Mr. Norgate, have been delightful. Now I am equally sure of entertainment of another sort from Prince Herschfeld."

The Prince bowed.

"Ah! madame," he sighed, "it is so hard to compete with youth. I fear that the feet of Mr. Norgate will be nimbler than my brain to-night."

She nodded sympathetically.

"You are immersed in affairs, of course," she murmured. "Au revoir, Mr. Norgate! Give my love to Anna. Some day I hope that I shall welcome you both in Rome."

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