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The Double Traitor By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 8397

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Norgate pushed his way through a confused medley of crates which had just been unloaded and made his way up the warehouse to Selingman's office. Selingman was engaged for a few minutes but presently opened the door of his sanctum and called his visitor in.

"Well, my young friend," he exclaimed, "you have brought news? Sit down. This is a busy morning. We have had large shipments from Germany. I have appointments with buyers most of the day, yet I can talk to you for a little time. You were at the ball last night?"

"I was permitted to escort the Baroness von Haase," Norgate replied.

Selingman nodded ponderously.

"I ask you no questions," he said. "The Baroness works on a higher plane. I know more than you would believe, though. I know why the dear lady went to Rome; I know why she was at the ball. I know in what respect you were probably able to help her. But I ask no questions. We work towards a common end, but we work at opposite ends of the pole. Curiosity alone would be gratified if you were to tell me everything that transpired."

"You keep yourself marvellously well-informed as to most things, don't you, Mr. Selingman?" Norgate remarked.

"Platitudes, young man, platitudes," Selingman declared, "words of air.

What purpose have they? You know who I am. I hold in my hand a thousand

strings. Any one that I pull will bring an answering message to my brain.

Come, what is it you wish to say to me?"

"I am doing my work for you," Norgate remarked, "and doing it extraordinarily well. I do not object to a certain amount of surveillance, but I am getting fed up with Boko."

"Who the hell is Boko?" Selingman demanded.

"I must apologise," Norgate replied. "A nickname only. He is a little red-faced man who looks like a children's toy and changes his clothes about seven times a day. He is with me from the moment I rise to the last thing at night. He is getting on my nerves. I am fast drifting into the frame of mind when one looks under the bed before one can sleep."

"Young man," Selingman said, "a month ago you were a person of no importance. To-day, so far as I am concerned, you are a treasure-casket. You hold secrets. You have a great value to us. Every one in your position is watched; it is part of our system. If the man for whom you have found so picturesque a nickname annoys you, he shall be changed. That is the most I can promise you."

"You don't trust me altogether, then?" Norgate observed coolly.

Selingman tapped on the table in front of him with his pudgy forefinger.

"Norgate," he declared solemnly, "trust is a personal matter. I have no personal feelings. I am a machine. All the work I do is done by machinery, the machinery of thought, the machinery of action. These are the only means by which sentiment can be barred and the curious fluctuations of human temperament guarded against. If you were my son, or if you had dropped straight down from Heaven with a letter of introduction from the proper quarters, you would still be under my surveillance."

"That seems to settle the matter," Norgate confessed, "so I suppose I mustn't grumble. Yours is rather a bloodless philosophy."

"Perhaps," Selingman assented. "You see me as I sit here, a merchant of crockery, and I am a kind person. If I saw suffering, I should pause to ease it. If a wounded insect lay in my path, I should step out of my way to avoid it. But if my dearest friend, my nearest relation, seemed likely to me to do one fraction of harm to the great cause, I should without one second's compunction arrange for their removal as inevitably, and with as little hesitation, as I leave this place at one o'clock for my luncheon."

Norgate shrugged his shoulders.

"One apparently runs risks in serving you," he remarked.

"What risks?" Selingman asked keenly.

"The risk of being misunderstood, of making mistakes."

"Pooh!" Selingman exclaimed. "I do not like the man who talks of risks.

Let us dismiss this conversation. I have work for you."

Norgate assumed a more interested attitude.

"I am ready," he said. "Go on, please."

"A movement is on foot," Selingman proceeded, "to establish manufactories in this co

untry for the purpose of producing my crockery. A very large company will be formed, a great part of the money towards which is already subscribed. We have examined several sites with a view to building factories, but I have not cared at present to open up direct negotiations. A rumour of our enterprise is about, and the price of the land we require would advance considerably if the prospective purchaser were known. The land is situated, half an acre at Willesden, three-quarters of an acre at Golder's Hill, and an acre at Highgate. I wish you to see the agents for the sale of these properties. I have ascertained indirectly the price, which you will find against each lot, with the agent's name," Selingman continued, passing across a folded slip of foolscap. "You will treat in your own name and pay the deposit yourself. Try and secure all three plots to-day, so that the lawyers can prepare the deeds and my builder can make some preparatory plans there during the week."

Norgate accepted the little bundle of papers with some surprise. Enclosed with them was a thick wad of bank-notes.

"There are two thousand pounds there for your deposits," Selingman continued. "If you need more, telephone to me, but understand I want to start to work laying the foundations within the next few days."

"I'll do the best I can," Norgate promised, "but this is rather a change for me, isn't it? Will Boko come along?"

Selingman smiled for a moment, but immediately afterwards his face was almost stern.

"Young man," he said, "from the moment you pledged your brains to my service, every action of your day has been recorded. From one of my pigeonholes I could draw out a paper and tell you where you lunched yesterday, where you dined the day before, whom you met and with whom you talked, and so it will be until our work is finished."

"So long as I know," Norgate sighed, rising to his feet, "I'll try to get used to him."

Norgate found no particular difficulty in carrying out the commissions entrusted to him. The sale of land is not an everyday affair, and he found the agents exceedingly polite and prompt. The man with whom he arranged the purchase of about three quarters of an acre of building land at Golder's Green, on the conclusion of the transaction exhibited some little curiosity.

"Queer thing," he remarked, "but I sold half an acre, a month or two ago, to a man who came very much as you come to-day. Might have been a foreigner. Said he was going to put up a factory to make boots and shoes. He is not going to start to build until next year, but he wanted a very solid floor to stand heavy machinery. Look here."

The agent climbed upon a pile of bricks, and Norgate followed his example. There was a boarded space before them, with scaffolding poles all around, but no other signs of building, and the interior consisted merely of a perfectly smooth concrete floor.

"That's the queerest way of setting about building a factory I ever saw," the man pointed out.

Norgate, who was not greatly interested, assented. The agent escorted him back to his taxicab.

"Of course, it's not my business," he admitted, "and you needn't say anything about this to your principals, but I hope they don't stop with laying down concrete floors. Of course, money for the property is the chief thing we want, but we do want factories and the employment of labour, and the sooner the better. This fellow-Reynolds, he said his name was-pays up for the property all right, has that concrete floor prepared, and clears off."

"Raising the money to build, perhaps," Norgate remarked. "I don't think there's any secret about my people's intentions. They are going to build factories for the manufacture of crockery."

The agent brightened up.

"Well, that's a new industry, anyway. Crockery, eh?"

"It's a big German firm in Cannon Street," Norgate explained. "They are going to make the stuff here. That ought to be better for our people."

The young man nodded.

"I expect they're afraid of tariff reform," he suggested. "Those Germans see a long way ahead sometimes."

"I am beginning to believe that they do," Norgate assented, as he stepped into the taxi.

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