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Norgate found Selingman in the little drawing-room of the club, reclining in an easy-chair, a small cup of black coffee by his side. He appeared to be exceedingly irate at the performance of his partner in a recent rubber, and he seized upon Norgate as a possibly sympathetic confidant.
"Listen to me for one moment," he begged, "and tell me whether I have not the right to be aggrieved. I go in on my own hand, no trump. I am a careful declarer. I play here every day when I am in London, and they know me well to be a careful declarer. My partner--I do not know his name; I hope I shall never know his name; I hope I shall never see him again--he takes me out. 'Into what?' you ask. Into diamonds! I am regretful, but I recognise, as I believe, a necessity. I ask you, of what do you suppose his hand consists? Down goes my no trump on the table--a good, a very good no trump. He has in his hand the ace, king, queen and five diamonds, the king of clubs guarded, the ace and two little hearts, and he takes me out into diamonds from no trumps with a score at love all. Two pences they had persuaded me to play, too, and it was the rubber game. Afterwards he said to me: 'You seem annoyed'; and I replied 'I am annoyed,' and I am. I come in here to drink coffee and cool myself. Presently I will cut into another rubber, where that young man is not. Perhaps our friend Mrs. Benedek will be here. You and I and Mrs. Benedek, but not, if we can help it, the lady who smokes the small black cigars. She is very amiable, but I cannot attend to the game while she sits there opposite to me. She fascinates me. In Germany sometimes our women smoke cigarettes, but cigars, and in public, never!"
"We'll get a rubber presently, I dare say," Norgate remarked, settling himself in an easy-chair. "How's business?"
"Business is very good," Selingman declared. "It is so good that I must be in London for another week or so before I set off to the provinces. It grows and grows all the time. Soon I must find a manager to take over some of my work here. At my time of life one likes to enjoy. I love to be in London; I do not like these journeys to Newcastle and Liverpool and places a long way off. In London I am happy. You should go into business, young man. It is not well for you to do nothing."
"Do you think I should be useful in the crockery trade?" Norgate asked.
Herr Selingman appeared to take the enquiry quite seriously.
"Why not?" he demanded. "You are well-educated, you have address, you have intelligence. Mrs. Benedek has spoken very highly of you. But you--oh, no! It would not suit you at all to plunge yourself into commerce, nor would it suit you, I think, to push the affairs of a prosperous German concern. You are very English, Mr. Norgate, is that not so?"
"Not aggressively," Norgate replied. "As a matter of fact, I am rather fed up with my own country just now."
Mr. Selingman sat quite still in his chair. Some signs of a change which came to him occasionally were visible in his face. He was for that moment no longer the huge, overgrown schoolboy bubbling over with the joy and appetite of life. His face seemed to have resolved itself into sterner lines. It was the face of a thinker.
"There are other Englishmen besides you," Selingman said, "who are a little--what you call 'fed up' with your country. You have much common sense. You do not believe that yours is the only country in the world. You like sometimes to hear plain speech from one who knows?"
"Without a doubt," Norgate assented.
Mr. Selingman stroked his knee with his fat hand.
"You in England," he continued, "you are too prosperous. Very, very slowly the country is drifting into the hands of the people. A country that is governed entirely by the people goes down, down, down. Your classes are losing their hold and their influence. You have gone from Tory to Whig, from Whig to Liberal, from Liberal to Radical, and soon it will be the Socialists who govern. You know what will come then? Colonies! What do your radicals care about colonies? Institutions! What do they care about institutions? All you who have inherited money, they will bleed. You will become worse than a nation of shop-keepers. You will be an illustration to all the world of the dangers of democracy. So! I go on. I tell you why that comes about. You are in the continent of Europe, and you will not do as Europe does. You are a nation outside. You have believed in yourselves and believed in yourselves, till you think that you are infallible. Before long will come the revolution. It will be a worse revolution than the French Revolution."
Norgate smiled. "Too much common sense about us, I think, Mr. Selingman, for such happenings," he declared. "I grant you that the classes are getting the worst of it so far as regards the government of the country, but I can't quite see the future that you depict."
"Good Englishman!" Herr Selingman murmured approvingly. "That is your proper attitude. You do not see because you will not see. I tell you that the best thing in all the world would be a little blood-letting. You do not like your Government. Would it not please you to see them humiliated just a little?"
"In what way?"
"Oh! there are ways," Selingman declared. "A little gentle smack like this,"--his two hands came together with a crash which echoed through the room--"a little smack from Germany would do the business. People would open their eyes and begin to understand. A Radical Government may fill your factories with orders and rob the rich to increase the prosperity of the poor, but it will not keep you a great nation amongst the others."
"You seem to have studied the question pretty closely," he remarked.
"I study the subject closely," Selingman went on, "because my interests are yours. My profits are made in England. I am German born, but I am English, too, in feeling. To me the two nations are one. We are of the same race. That is why I am sorrowful when I see England slipping back. That is why I would like to see her have just a little lesson."
Selingman paused. Norgate rose to his feet and stood on the hearthrug, with his elbow upon the mantelpiece.
"Twice we have come as far as that, Mr. Selingman," he pointed out. "England requires a little lesson. You have something in your mind behind that, something which you are half inclined to say to me. Isn't that so? Why not go on?"
"Because I am not sure of you," Selingman confessed frankly. "Because you might misunderstand what I say, and we should be friends no longer, and you would say silly things about me and my views. Therefore, I like to keep you for a friend, and I go no further at present. You say that you are a little angry with your country, but you Englishmen are so very prejudiced, so very quick to take offence, so very insular, if I may use the word. I do not know how angry you are with your country. I do not know if your mind is so big and broad that you would be willing to see her suffer a little for her greater good. Ah, but the lady comes at last!"
Mrs. Benedek was accompanied by a tall, middle-aged man, of fair complexion, whom Selingman greeted with marked respect. She turned to Norgate.
"Let me present you," she said, "to Prince Edward of Lenemaur--Mr. Francis Norgate."
The two men shook hands.
"I played golf with you once at Woking," Norgate reminded his new acquaintance.
"I not only remember it," Prince Edward answered, "but I remember the result. You beat me three up, and we were to have had a return, but you had to leave for Paris on the next day."
"You will be able to have your return match now," Mrs. Benedek observed. "Mr. Norgate is going to be in England for some time. Let us play bridge. I have to leave early to-night--I am dining out--and I should like to make a little money."
They strolled into the bridge-room. Selingman hung behind with Norgate.
"Soon," he suggested, "we must finish our talk, is it not so? Dine with me to-night. Mrs. Benedek has deserted me. We will eat at the Milan Grill. The cooking there is tolerable, and they have some Rhine wine--but you shall taste it."
"Thank you," Norgate assented, "I shall be very pleased."
They played three or four rubbers. Then Mrs. Benedek glanced at the clock.
"I must go," she announced. "I am dining at eight o'clock."
"Stay but for one moment," Selingman begged. "We will all take a little mixed vermouth together. I shall tell the excellent Horton how to prepare it. Plenty of lemon-peel, and just a dash--but I will not give my secret away."
He called the steward and whispered some instructions in his ear. While they were waiting for the result, a man came in with an evening paper in his hand. He looked across the room to a table beyond that at which Norgate and his friends were playing.
"Heard the news, Monty?" he asked.
"No! What is it?" was the prompt enquiry.
"Poor old Baring--"
The newcomer stopped short. For the first time he noticed Mrs. Benedek. She half rose from her chair, however, and her eyes were fixed upon him.
"What is it?" she exclaimed. "What has happened?"
There was a moment's awkward silence. Mrs. Benedek snatched the paper away from the man's fingers and read the little paragraph out aloud. For a moment she was deathly white.
"What is it?" Selingman demanded.
"Freddy Baring," she whispered--"Captain Baring--shot himself in his room at the Admiralty this afternoon! Some one telephoned to him. Five minutes later he was found--dead--a bullet wound through his temple!... Give me my chair, please. I think that I am going to faint."
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