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The Double Traitor By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 10544

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

Mr. Selingman's influence over his fellows had never been more marked than on that gloomiest of all afternoons. They gathered around him as he sat on the cushioned fender, a cup of tea in one hand and a plateful of buttered toast by his side.

"To-day," he proclaimed, "I bring good news. Yesterday, I must admit, things looked black, and the tragedy to poor young Norgate made us all miserable."

"I should have said things looked worse," one of the men declared, throwing down an afternoon paper. "The Cabinet Council is still sitting, and there are all sorts of rumours in the city."

"I was told by a man in the War Office," Mrs. Barlow announced, "that England would stand by her treaty to Belgium, and that Germany has made all her plans to invade France through Belgium."

"Rumours, of course, there must be," Selingman agreed, "but I bring something more than rumour. I received to-day, by special messenger from Berlin, a dispatch of the utmost importance. Germany is determined to show her entire friendliness towards England. She recognises the difficulties of your situation. She is going to make a splendid bid for your neutrality. Much as I would like to, I cannot tell you more. This, however, I know to be the basis of her offer. You in England could help in the fight solely by means of your fleet. It is Germany's suggestion that, in return for your neutrality, she should withdraw her fleet from action and leave the French northern towns unbombarded. You will then be in a position to fulfil your obligations to France, whatever they may be, without moving a stroke or spending a penny. It is a triumph of diplomacy, that-a veritable triumph."

"It does sound all right," Mrs. Barlow admitted.

"It has relieved my mind of a mighty burden," Selingman continued, setting down his empty plate and brushing the crumbs from his waistcoat. "I feel now that we can look on at this world drama with sorrowing eyes, indeed, but free from feelings of hatred and animosity. I have had a trying day. I should like a little bridge. Let us-"

Selingman did not finish his sentence. The whole room, for a moment, seemed to become a study in still life. A woman who had been crossing the floor stood there as though transfixed. A man who was dealing paused with an outstretched card in his hand. Every eye was turned on the threshold. It was Norgate who stood there, Norgate metamorphosed, in khaki uniform-an amazing spectacle! Mrs. Barlow was the first to break the silence with a piercing shriek. Then the whole room seemed to be in a turmoil. Selingman alone sat quite still. There was a grey shade upon his face, and the veins were standing out at the back of his hands.

"So sorry to startle you all," Norgate said apologetically. "Of course, you haven't seen the afternoon papers. It was my valet who was found dead in my rooms-a most mysterious affair," he added, his eyes meeting Selingman's. "The inquest is to be this afternoon."

"Your valet!" Selingman muttered.

"A very useful fellow," Norgate continued, strolling to the fireplace and standing there, "but with a very bad habit of wearing my clothes when I am away. I was down in Camberley for three days and left him in charge."

They showered congratulations upon him, but in the midst of them the strangeness of his appearance provoked their comment.

"What does it mean?" Mrs. Benedek asked, patting his arm. "Have you turned soldier?"

"In a sense I have," Norgate admitted, "but only in the sense that every able-bodied Englishman will have to do, in the course of the next few months. Directly I saw this coming, I arranged for a commission."

"But there is to be no war!" Mrs. Barlow exclaimed. "Mr. Selingman has been explaining to us this afternoon what wonderful offers Germany is making, so that we shall be able to remain neutral and yet keep our pledges."

"Mr. Selingman," Norgate said quietly, "is under a delusion. Germany, it is true, has offered us a shameless bribe. I am glad to be able to tell you all that our Ministry, whatever their politics may be, have shown themselves men. An English ultimatum is now on its way to Berlin. War will be declared before midnight."

Selingman rose slowly to his feet. His face was black with passion. He pushed a man away who stood between them. He was face to face with Norgate.

"So you," he thundered, suddenly reckless of the bystanders, "are a double traitor! You have taken pay from Germany and deceived her! You knew, after all, that your Government would make war when the time came. Is that so?"

"I was always convinced of it," Norgate replied calmly. "I also had the honour of deceiving you in the matter of Mr. Bullen. I have been the means, owing to your kind and thoughtful information, of having the fleet mobilised and ready to strike at the present moment, and there are various little pieces of property I know about, Mr. Selingman, around London, where we have taken the liberty of blowing up your foundations. There may be a little disappointment for you, too, in the matter of Italy. The money you were good enough to pay me for my doubtful services, has gone towards the establishment of a Red Cross hospital. As for you, Selingman, I denounce you now as one of those who worked in th

is country for her ill, one of those pests of the world, working always in the background, dishonourably and selfishly, against the country whose hospitality you have abused. If I have met you on your own ground, well, I am proud of it. You are a German spy, Selingman."

Selingman's hand fumbled in his pocket. Scarcely a soul was surprised when Norgate gripped him by the wrist, and they saw the little shining revolver fall down towards the fender.

"You shall suffer for these words," Selingman thundered. "You young fool, you shall bite the dust, you and hundreds of thousands of your cowardly fellows, when the German flag flies from Buckingham Palace."

Norgate held up his hand and turned towards the door. Two men in plain clothes entered.

"That may be a sight," Norgate said calmly, "which you, at any rate, will not be permitted to see. I have had some trouble in arranging for your arrest, as we are not yet under martial law, but I think you will find your way to the Tower of London before long, and I hope it will be with your back to the light and a dozen rifles pointing to your heart."

A third man had come into the room. He tapped Selingman on the shoulder and whispered in his ear.

"I demand to see your warrant!" the latter exclaimed.

The officer produced it. Selingman threw it on the floor and spat upon it. He looked around the room, in the further corner of which two men and a woman were standing upon chairs to look over the heads of the little crowd.

"Take me where you will," he snarled. "You are a rotten, treacherous, cowardly race, you English, and I hate you all. You can kill me first, if you will, but in two months' time you shall learn what it is like to wait hand and foot upon your conquerors."

He strode out of the room, a guard on either side of him and the door closed. One woman had fainted. Mrs. Paston Benedek was swaying back and forth upon the cushioned fender, sobbing hysterically. Norgate stood by her side.

"I have forgotten the names," he announced pointedly, "of many of that fellow's dupes. I am content to forget them. I am off now," he went on, his tone becoming a little kinder. "I am telling you the truth. It's war. You men had better look up any of the forces that suit you and get to work. We shall all be needed. There is work, too, for the women, any quantity of it. My wife will be leaving again for France next week with the first Red Cross Ambulance Corps. I dare say she will be glad to hear from any one who wants to help."

"I shall be a nurse," Mrs. Paston Benedek decided. "I am sick of bridge and amusing myself."

"The costume is quite becoming," Mrs. Barlow murmured, glancing at herself in the looking-glass, "and I adore those poor dear soldiers."

"Well, I'll leave you to it," Norgate declared. "Good luck to you all!"

They crowded around him, shaking him by the hand, still besieging him with questions about Selingman. He shook his head good-humouredly and made his way towards the door.

"There's nothing more to tell you," he concluded. "Selingman is just one of the most dangerous spies who has ever worked in this country, but the war itself was inevitable. We've known that for years, only we wouldn't believe it. We'll all meet again, perhaps, in the work later on."

Late that night, Norgate stood hand in hand with Anna at the window of their little sitting-room. Down in the Strand, the newsboys were shouting the ominous words. The whole of London was stunned. The great war had come!

"It's wonderful, dear," Anna whispered, "that we should have had these few days of so great happiness. I feel brave and strong now for our task."

Norgate held her closely to him.

"We've been in luck," he said simply. "We were able to do something pretty soon. I have had the greatest happiness in life a man can have. Now I am going to offer my life to my country and pray that it may be spared for you. But above all, whatever happens," he added, leaning a little further from the window towards where the curving lights gleamed across the black waters of the Thames, "above all, whatever may happen to us, we are face to face with one splendid thing-a great country to fight for, and a just cause. I saw Hebblethwaite as I came in. He is a changed man. Talks about raising an immense citizen army in six months. Both his boys have taken up commissions. Hebblethwaite himself is going around the country, recruiting. They are his people, after all. He has given them their prosperity at the expense, alas! of our safety. It's up to them now to prove whether the old spirit is there or not. We shall need two million men. Hebblethwaite believes we shall get them long before the camps are ready to receive them. If we do, it will be his justification."

"And if we don't?" Anna murmured.

Norgate threw his head a little further back.

"Most pictures," he said, "have two sides, but we need only look at one. I am going to believe that we shall get them. I am going to remember the only true thing that fellow Selingman ever said: that our lesson had come before it is too late. I am going to believe that the heart and conscience of the nation is still a live thing. If it is, dear, the end is certain. And I am going to believe that it is!"

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