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The Double Traitor By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 9216

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

Norgate walked into the club rather late that afternoon. Selingman and Prince Lenemaur were talking together in the little drawing-room. They called him in, and a few minutes later the Prince took his leave.

"Well, that's all arranged," Norgate reported. "I have bought the three sites. There was only one thing the fellow down at Golder's Hill was anxious about."

"And that?"

"He hoped you weren't just going to put down a concrete floor and then shut the place up."

Mr. Selingman's amiable imperturbability was for once disturbed.

"What did the fellow mean?" he enquired.

"Haven't an idea," Norgate replied, "but he made me stand on a pile of bricks and look at a strip of land which some one else had bought upon a hill close by. I suppose they want the factories built as quickly as possible, and work-people around the place."

"I shall have two hundred men at work to-morrow morning," Selingman remarked. "If that agent had not been a very ignorant person, he would have known that a concrete floor is a necessity to any factory where heavy machinery is used."

"Is it?" Norgate asked simply.

"Any other question?" Selingman demanded.

"None at all."

"Then we will go and play bridge."

They cut into the same rubber. Selingman, however, was not at first entirely himself. He played his cards in silence, and he once very nearly revoked. Mrs. Benedek took him to task.

"Dear man," she said, "we rely upon you so much, and to-day you fail to amuse us. What is there upon your mind? Let us console you, if we can."

"Dear lady, it is nothing," Selingman assured her. "My company is planning big developments in connection with our business. The details afford me much food for thought. My attention, I fear, sometimes wanders. Forgive me, I will make amends. When the day comes that my new factories start work, I will give such a party as was never seen. I will invite you all. We will have a celebration that every one shall talk of. And meanwhile, behold! I will wander no longer. I declare no trumps."

Selingman for a time was himself again. When he cut out, however, he fidgeted a little restlessly around the room and watched Norgate share the same fate with an air of relief. He laid his hand upon the latter's arm.

"Come into the other room, Norgate," he invited. "I have something to say to you."

Norgate obeyed at once, but the room was already occupied. A little blond lady was entertaining a soldier friend at tea. She withdrew her head from somewhat suspicious proximity to her companion's at their entrance and greeted Selingman with innocent surprise.

"How queer that you should come in just then, Mr. Selingman!" she exclaimed. "We were talking about Germany, Captain Fielder and I."

Selingman beamed upon them both. He was entirely himself again. He looked as though the one thing in life he had desired was to find Mrs. Barlow and her military companion in possession of the little drawing-room.

"My country is flattered," he declared, "especially," he added, with a twinkle in his eyes, "as the subject seemed to be proving so interesting."

She made a little grimace at him.

"Seriously, Mr. Selingman," she continued, "Captain Fielder and I have been almost quarrelling. He insists upon it that some day or other Germany means to declare war upon us. I have been trying to point out that before many years have passed England and France will have drifted apart. Germany is the nearest to us of the continental nations, isn't she, by relationship and race?"

"Mrs. Barlow," Selingman pronounced, "yours is the most sensible allusion to international politics which I have heard for many years. You are right. If I may be permitted to say so," he added, "Captain Fielder is wrong. Germany has no wish to fight with any one. The last country in the world with whom she would care to cross swords is England."

"If Germany does not wish for war," Captain Fielder persisted, "why does she keep such an extraordinary army? Why does she continually add to her navy? Why does she infest our country with spies and keep all her preparations as secret as possible?"

"Of these things I know little," Selingman confessed, "I am a manufacturer, and I have few friends among the military party. But this we all believe, and that is that the German army and navy are our insurance against trouble from the east. They are there so that in case of political controversy we shall have strength at our back when we seek to make favourable terms. As to using that strength, God forbid!"

The little lady threw a triumphant glance acros

s at her companion.

"There, Captain Fielder," she declared, "you have heard what a typical, well-informed, cultivated German gentleman has to say. I rely much more upon Mr. Selingman than upon any of the German reviews or official statements of policy."

Captain Fielder was bluntly unconvinced.

"Mr. Selingman, without doubt," he agreed, "may represent popular and cultivated German opinion. The only thing is whether the policy of the country is dictated by that class. Do you happen to have seen the afternoon papers?"

"Not yet," Mr. Selingman admitted. "Is there any news?"

"There is the full text," Captain Fielder continued, "of Austria's demands upon Servia. I may be wrong, but I say confidently that those demands, which are impossible of acceptance, which would reduce Servia, in fact, to the condition of a mere vassal state, are intended to provoke a state of war."

Mr. Selingman shook his head.

"I have seen the proposals," he remarked. "They were in the second edition of the morning papers. They are onerous, without a doubt, but remember that as you go further east, all diplomacy becomes a matter of barter. They ask for so much first because they are prepared to take a great deal less."

"It is my opinion," Captain Fielder pronounced, "that these demands are couched with the sole idea of inciting Russia's intervention. There is already a report that Servia has appealed to St. Petersburg. It is quite certain that Russia, as the protector of the Slav nations, can never allow Servia to be humbled to this extent."

"Even then," Mr. Selingman protested good-humouredly, "Austria is not Germany."

"There are very few people," Captain Fielder continued, "who do not realise that Austria is acting exactly as she is bidden by Germany. To-morrow you will find that Russia has intervened. If Vienna disregards her, there will be mobilisation along the frontiers. It is my private and very firm impression that Germany is mobilising to-day, and secretly."

Mr. Selingman laughed good-humouredly.

"Well, well," he said, "let us hope it is not quite so bad as that."

"You are frightening me, Captain Fielder," Mrs. Barlow declared. "I am going to take you off to play bridge."

They left the room. Selingman looked after them a little curiously.

"Your military friend," he remarked, "is rather a pessimist."

"Well, we haven't many of them," Norgate replied. "Nine people out of ten believe that a war is about as likely to come as an earthquake."

Selingman glanced towards the closed door.

"Supposing," he said, dropping his voice a little, "supposing I were to tell you, young man, that I entirely agreed with your friend? Supposing I were to tell you that, possibly by accident, he has stumbled upon the exact truth? What would you say then?"

Norgate shrugged his shoulders.

"Well," he observed, "we've agreed, haven't we, that a little lesson would be good for England? It might as well come now as at any other time."

"It will not come yet," Mr. Selingman went on, "but I will tell you what is going to happen."

His voice had fallen almost to a whisper, his manner had become portentous.

"Within a week or two," he said, "Germany and Austria will have declared war upon Russia and Servia and France. Italy will join the allies-that you yourself know. As for England, her time has not come yet. We shall keep her neutral. All the recent information which we have collected makes it clear that she is not in a position to fight, even if she wished to. Nevertheless, to make a certainty of it, we shall offer her great inducements. We shall be ready to deal with her when Calais, Ostend, Boulogne, and Havre are held by our armies. Now listen, do you flinch?"

The two men were still standing in the middle of the room. Selingman's brows were lowered, his eyes were keen and hard-set. He had gripped Norgate by the left shoulder and held him with his face to the light.

"Speak up," he insisted. "It is now or never, if you mean to go through with this. You're not funking it, eh?"

"Not in the least," Norgate declared.

For the space of almost thirty seconds Selingman did not remove his gaze.

All the time his hand was like a vice upon Norgate's shoulder.

"Very well," he said at last, "you represent rather a gamble on my part, but I am not afraid of the throw. Come back to our bridge now. It was just a moment's impulse-I saw something in your face. You realise, I suppose-but there, I won't threaten you. Come back and we'll drink a mixed vermouth together. The next few days are going to be rather a strain."

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