MoboReader > Literature > The Double Traitor

   Chapter 39 No.39

The Double Traitor By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 7611

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The card-rooms at the St. James's Club were crowded, but very few people seemed inclined to play. They were standing or sitting about in little groups. A great many of them were gathered around the corner where Selingman was seated. He was looking somewhat graver than usual, but there was still a confident smile upon his lips.

"My little friend," he said, patting the hand of the fair lady by his side, "reassure yourself. Your husband and your husband's friends are quite safe. For England there will come no fighting. Believe me, that is a true word."

"But the impossible is happening all the time," Mrs. Barlow protested. "Who would have believed that without a single word of warning Germany would have declared war against Russia?"

Mr. Selingman raised his voice a little.

"Let me make the situation clear," he begged. "Listen to me, if you will, because I am a patriotic German but also a lover of England, a sojourner here, and one of her greatest friends. Germany has gone to war against Russia. Why? You will say upon a trifling pretext. My answer to you is this. There is between the Teuton and the Slav an enmity more mighty than anything you can conceive of. It has been at the root of all the unrest in the Balkans. Many a time Germany has kept the peace at the imminent loss of her own position and prestige. But one knows now that the struggle must come. The Russians are piling up a great army with only one intention. They mean to wrest from her keeping certain provinces of Austria, to reduce Germany's one ally to the condition of a vassal state, to establish the Slav people there and throughout the Balkan States, at the expense of the Teuton. Germany must protect her own. It is a struggle, mind you, which concerns them alone. If only there were common sense in the world, every one else would stand by and let Germany and Austria fight with Russia on the one great issue-Slav or Teuton."

"But there's France," little Mrs. Barlow reminded him. "She can't keep out of it. She is Russia's ally."

"Alas! my dear madam," Selingman continued, "you point out the tragedy of the whole situation. If France could see wisdom, if France could see truth, she would fold her arms with you others, keep her country and her youth and her dignity. But I will be reasonable. She is, as you say, bound-bound by her alliance to Russia, and she will fight. Very well! Germany wants no more from France than what she has. Germany will fight a defensive campaign. She will push France back with one hand, in as friendly a manner as is compatible with the ethics of war. On the east she will move swiftly. She will fight Russia, and, believe me, the issue will not be long doubtful. She will conclude an honourable peace with France at the first opportunity."

"Then you don't think we shall be involved at all?" some one else asked.

"If you are," Selingman declared, "it will be your own doing, and it will simply be the most criminal act of this generation. Germany has nothing but friendship for England. I ask you, what British interests are threatened by this inevitable clash between the Slav and the Teuton? It is miserable enough for France to be dragged in. It would be lunacy for England. Therefore, though it is true that serious matters are pending, though, alas! I must return at once to see what help I can afford my country, never for a moment believe, any of you, that there exists the slightest chance of war between Germany and England."

"Then I don't see," Mrs. Barlow sighed, "why we shouldn't have a rubber of bridge."

"Let us," Selingman assented. "It is a very reasonable suggestion. It will divert our thoughts. Here is the afternoon paper. Let us first see whether there is any further news."

It was Mrs. Paston Benedek who opened it. She stared

at the first sheet for a moment with eyes which were almost dilated. Then she looked around. Her voice sounded unnatural.

"Look!" she cried. "Francis Norgate-Mr. Francis Norgate has committed suicide in his rooms!"

"It is not possible!" Selingman exclaimed.

They all crowded around the paper. The announcement was contained in a few lines only. Mr. Francis Norgate had been discovered shot through the heart in his sitting-room at the Milan Court, with a revolver by his side. There was a letter addressed to his wife, who had left the day before for Paris. No further particulars could be given of the tragedy. The little group of men and women all looked at one another in a strange, questioning manner. For a moment the war cloud seemed to have passed even from their memories. It was something newer and in a sense more dramatic, this. Norgate-one of themselves! Norgate, who had played bridge with them day after day, had been married only a week or so ago-dead, under the most horrible of all conditions! And Baring, only a few weeks before! There was an uneasiness about which no one could put into words, vague suspicions, strange imaginings.

"It's only three weeks," some one muttered, "since poor Baring shot himself! What the devil does it mean? Norgate-why, the fellow was full of common sense."

"He was fearfully cut up," some one interposed, "about that Berlin affair."

"But he was just married," Mrs. Paston Benedek reminded them, "married to the most charming woman in Europe,-rich, too, and noble. I saw them only two days ago together. They were the picture of happiness. This is too terrible. I am going into the other room to sit down. Please forgive me. Mr. Selingman, will you give me your arm?"

She passed into the little drawing-room, almost dragging her companion. She closed the door behind them. Her eyes were brilliant. The words came hot and quivering from her lips.

"Listen!" she ordered. "Tell me the truth. Was this suicide or not?"

"Why should it not be?" Selingman asked gravely. "Norgate was an Englishman, after all. He must have felt that he had betrayed his country. He has given us, as you know, very valuable information. The thought must have preyed upon his conscience."

"Don't lie to me!" she interrupted. "Tell me the truth now or never come near me again, never ask me another question, don't be surprised to find the whole circle of your friends here broken up and against you. It's only the truth I ask for. If a thing is necessary, do I not know that it must be done? But I will hear the truth. There was that about Baring's death which I never understood; but this-this shall be explained."

Selingman stood for a moment or two with folded arms.

"Dear lady," he said soothingly, "you are not like the others. You have earned the knowledge of the truth. You shall have it. I did not mistrust Francis Norgate, but I knew very well that when the blow fell, he would waver. These Englishmen are all like that. They can lose patience with their ill-governed country. They can go abroad, write angry letters to The Times, declare that they have shaken the dust of their native land from their feet. But when the pinch comes, they fall back. Norgate has served me well, but he knew too much. He is safer where he is."

"He was murdered, then!" she whispered.

Selingman nodded very slightly.

"It is seldom," he declared, "that we go so far. Believe me, it is only because our great Empire is making its move, stretching out for the great world war, that I gave the word. What is one man's life when millions are soon to perish?"

She sank down into an easy-chair and covered her face with her hands.

"I am answered," she murmured, "only I know now I was not made for these things. I love scheming, but I am a woman."

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares