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   Chapter 36 No.36

The Double Traitor By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 8598

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Norgate set down the telephone receiver and turned to Anna, who was seated in an easy-chair by his side.

"Selingman is down-stairs," he announced. "I rather expected I should see something of him as I didn't go to the club this afternoon. You won't mind if he comes up?"

"The man is a nuisance," Anna declared, with a little grimace. "I was perfectly happy, Francis, sitting here before the open window and looking out at the lights in that cool, violet gulf of darkness. I believe that in another minute I should have said something to you absolutely ravishing. Then your telephone rings and back one comes to earth again!"

Norgate smiled as he held her hand in his.

"We will get rid of him quickly, dearest," he promised.

There was a knock at the door, and Selingman entered, his face wreathed in smiles. He was wearing a long dinner coat and a flowing black tie. He held out both his hands.

"So this is the great news that has kept you away from us!" he exclaimed. "My congratulations, Norgate. You can never say again that the luck has left you. Baroness, may I take advantage of my slight acquaintance to express my sincere wishes for your happiness?"

They wheeled up a chair for him, and Norgate produced some cigars. The night was close. They were on the seventh story, overlooking the river, and a pleasant breeze stole every now and then into the room.

"You are well placed here," Selingman declared. "Myself, I too like to be high up."

"These are really just my bachelor rooms," Norgate explained, "but under the circumstances we thought it wiser to wait before we settled down anywhere. Is there any news to-night?"

"There is great news," Selingman announced gravely. "There is news of wonderful import. In a few minutes you will hear the shouting of the boys in the Strand there. You shall hear it first from me. Germany has found herself compelled to declare war against Russia."

They were both speechless. Norgate was carried off his feet. The reality of the thing was stupendous.

"Russia has been mobilising night and day on the frontiers of East Prussia," Selingman continued. "Germany has chosen to strike the first blow. Now listen, both of you. I am going to speak in these few minutes to Norgate here very serious words. I take it that in the matters which lie between him and me, you, Baroness, are as one with him?"

"It is so," Norgate admitted.

"To be frank, then," Selingman went on, "you, Norgate, during these momentous days have been the most useful of all my helpers here. The information which I have dispatched to Berlin, emanating from you, has been more than important-it has been vital. It has been so vital that I have a long dispatch to-night, begging me to reaffirm my absolute conviction as to the truth of the information which I have forwarded. Let us, for a moment, recapitulate. You remember your interview with Mr. Hebblethwaite on the subject of war?"

"Distinctly," Norgate assented.

"It was your impression," Selingman continued, "gathered from that conversation, that under no possible circumstances would Mr. Hebblethwaite himself, or the Cabinet as a whole, go to war with Germany in support of France. Is that correct?"

"It is correct," Norgate admitted.

"Nothing has happened to change your opinion?"

"Nothing."

"To proceed, then," Selingman went on. "Some little time ago you called upon Mr. Bullen at the House of Commons. You promised a large contribution to the funds of the Irish Party, a sum which is to be paid over on the first of next month, on condition that no compromise in the Home Rule question shall be accepted by him, even in case of war. And further, that if England should find herself in a state of war, no Nationalists should volunteer to fight in her ranks. Is this correct?"

"Perfectly," Norgate admitted.

"The information was of great interest in Berlin," Selingman pointed out.

"It is realised there that it means of necessity a civil war."

"Without a doubt."

"You believe," Selingman persisted, "that I did not take an exaggerated or distorted view of the situation, as discussed between you and Mr. Bullen, when I reported that civil war in Ireland was inevitable?"

"It is inevitable," Norgate agreed.

Selingman sat for several moments in por

tentous silence.

"We are on the threshold of great events," he announced. "The Cabinet opinion in Berlin has been swayed by the two factors which we have discussed. It is the wish of Germany, and her policy, to end once and for all the eastern disquiet, to weaken Russia so that she can no longer call herself the champion of the Slav races and uphold their barbarism against our culture. France is to be dealt with only as the ally of Russia. We want little more from her than we have already. But our great desire is that England of necessity and of her own choice, should remain, for the present, neutral. Her time is to come later. Italy, Germany, and Austria can deal with France and Russia to a mathematical certainty. What we desire to avoid are any unforeseen complications. I leave you to-night, and I cable my absolute belief in the statements deduced from your work. You have nothing more to say?"

"Nothing," Norgate replied.

Selingman was apparently relieved. He rose, a little later, to his feet.

"My young friend," he concluded, "in the near future great rewards will find their way to this country. There is no one who has deserved more than you. There is no one who will profit more. That reminds me. There was one little question I had to ask. A friend of mine has seen you on your way back and forth to Camberley three or four times lately. You lunched the other day with the colonel of one of your Lancer regiments. How did you spend your time at Camberley?"

For a moment Norgate made no reply. The moonlight was shining into the room, and Anna had turned out all the lights with the exception of one heavily-shaded lamp. Her eyes were shining as she leaned a little forward in her chair.

"Boko again, I suppose," Norgate grunted.

"Certainly Boko," Selingman acknowledged.

"I was in the Yeomanry when I was younger," Norgate explained slowly. "I had some thought of entering the army before I took up diplomacy. Colonel Chalmers is a friend of mine. I have been down to Camberley to see if I could pick up a little of the new drill."

"For what reason?" Selingman demanded.

"Need I tell you that?" Norgate protested. "Whatever my feeling for England may be at the present moment, however bitterly I may regret the way she has let her opportunities slip, the slovenly political condition of the country, yet I cannot put away from me the fact that I am an Englishman. If trouble should come, even though I may have helped to bring it about, even though I may believe that it is a good thing for the country to have to meet trouble, I should still fight on her side."

"But there will be no war," Selingman reminded him. "You yourself have ascertained that the present Cabinet will decline war at any cost."

"The present Government, without a doubt," Norgate assented. "I am thinking of later on, when your first task is over."

Selingman nodded gravely.

"When that day comes," he said, as he rose and took up his hat, "it will not be a war. If your people resist, it will be a butchery. Better to find yourself in one of the Baroness' castles in Austria when that time comes! It is never worth while to draw a sword in a lost cause. I wish you good night, Baroness. I wish you good night, Norgate."

He shook hands with them both firmly, but there was still something of reserve in his manner. Norgate rang for his servant to show him out. They took their places once more by the window.

"War!" Norgate murmured, his eyes fixed upon the distant lights.

Anna crept a little nearer to him.

"Francis," she whispered, "that man has made me a little uneasy. Supposing they should discover that you have deceived them, before they have been obliged to leave the country!"

"They will be much too busy," Norgate replied, "to think about me."

Anna's face was still troubled. "I did not like that man's look," she persisted, "when he asked you what you were doing at Camberley. Perhaps he still believes that you have told the truth, but he might easily have it in his mind that you knew too many of their secrets to be trusted when the vital moment came."

Norgate leaned over and drew her towards him.

"Selingman has gone," he murmured. "It is only outside that war is throbbing. Dearest, I think that my vital moments are now!"

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