The Man with the Clubfoot
THE MAN WITH THE CLUBFOOT
BY VALENTINE WILLIAMS
AUTHOR OF "THE SECRET HAND," "THE YELLOW STREAK," "THE RETURN OFCLUBFOOT," "THE ORANGE DIVAN," "CLUBFOOT THE AVENGER"
"The Man with the Clubfoot" is one of the most ingenious and sinistersecret agents in Europe. It is to him that the task is assigned ofregaining possession of an indiscreet letter written by the Kaiser.
Desmond Okewood, a young British officer with a genius for secretservice work, sets out to thwart this man and, incidentally, discoverthe whereabouts of his brother.
He penetrates into Germany disguised, and meets with many thrillingadventures before he finally achieves his mission.
In "The Man with the Clubfoot," Valentine Williams has written athrilling romance of mystery, love and intrigue, that in every sense ofthe word may be described as "breathless."
CHAPTER I I seek a Bed in Rotterdam
CHAPTER II The Cipher with the Invoice
CHAPTER III A Visitor in the Night
CHAPTER IV Destiny knocks at the Door
CHAPTER V The Lady of the Vos in't Tuintje
CHAPTER VI I board the Berlin Train and leave a Lame Gentleman on the Platform
CHAPTER VII In which a Silver Star acts as a Charm
CHAPTER VIII I hear of Clubfoot and meet his Employer
CHAPTER IX I encounter an old Acquaintance who leads me to a delightful Surprise
CHAPTER X A Glass of Wine with Clubfoot
CHAPTER XI Miss Mary Prendergast risks her Reputation
CHAPTER XII His Excellency the General is worried
CHAPTER XIII I find Achilles in his Tent
CHAPTER XIV Clubfoot comes to Haase's
CHAPTER XV The Waiter at the Café Regina
CHAPTER XVI A Hand-clasp by the Rhine
CHAPTER XVII Francis takes up the Narrative
CHAPTER XVIII I go on with the Story
CHAPTER XIX We have a Reckoning with Clubfoot
CHAPTER XX Charlemagne's Ride
CHAPTER XXI Red Tabs explains
I SEEK A BED IN ROTTERDAM
The reception clerk looked up from the hotel register and shook his headfirmly. "Very sorry, saire," he said, "not a bed in ze house." And heclosed the book with a snap.
Outside the rain came down heavens hard. Every one who came into thebrightly lit hotel vestibule entered with a gush of water. I felt Iwould rather die than face the wind-swept streets of Rotterdam again.
I turned once more to the clerk who was now busy at the key-rack.
"Haven't you really a corner? I wouldn't mind where it was, as it isonly for the night. Come now..."
"Very sorry, saire. We have two gentlemen sleeping in ze bathroomsalready. If you had reserved..." And he shrugged his shoulders and benttowards a visitor who was demanding his key.
I turned away with rage in my heart. What a cursed fool I had been notto wire from Groningen! I had fully intended to, but the extraordinaryconversation I had had with Dicky Allerton had put everything else outof my head. At every hotel I had tried it had been the samestory—Cooman's, the Maas, the Grand, all were full even to thebathrooms. If I had only wired....
As I passed out into the porch I bethought myself of the porter. A hotelporter had helped me out of a similar plight in Breslau once years ago.This porter, with his red, drink-sodden face and tarnished gold braid,did not promise well, so far as a recommendation for a lodging for thenight was concerned. Still...
I suppose it was my mind dwelling on my experience at Breslau that mademe address the man in German. When one has been familiar with a foreigntongue from one's boyhood, it requires but a very slight mental impulseto drop into it. From such slight beginnings do great enterprisesspring. If I had known the immense ramification of adventure that was tospread its roots from that simple question, I verily believe my heartwould have failed me and I would have run forth into the night and therain and roamed the streets till morning.
Well, I found myself asking the man in German if he knew where I couldget a room for the night.
He shot a quick glance at me from under his reddened eyelids.
"The gentleman would doubtless like a German house?" he queried.
You may hardly credit it, but my interview with Dicky Allerton thatafternoon had simply driven the war out of my mind. When one has livedmuch among foreign peoples, one's mentality slips automatically intotheir skin. I was now thinking in German—at least so it seems to mewhen I look back upon that night—and I answered without reflecting.
"I don't care where it is as long as I can get somewhere to sleep out ofthis infernal rain!"
"The gentleman can have a good, clean bed at the Hotel Sixt in thelittle street they call the Vos in't Tuintje, on the canal behind theBourse. The proprietress is a good German, jawohl ... Frau Anna Schratther name is. The gentleman need only say he comes from Franz at theBopparder Hof."
I gave the man a gulden and bade him get me a cab.
It was still pouring. As we rattled away over the glisteningcobble-stones, my mind travelled back over the startling events of theday. My talk with old Dicky had given me such a mental jar that I foundit at first wellnigh impossible to concentrate my thoughts. That's theworst of shell-shock. You think you are cured, you feel fit and well,and then suddenly the machinery of your mind checks and halts andcreaks. Ever since I had left hospital convalescent after being woundedon the Somme ("gunshot wound in head and cerebral concussion" thedoctors called it), I had trained myself, whenever my brain was enpanne, to go back to the beginning of things and work slowly up to thepresent by methodical stages.
Let's see then—I was "boarded" at Millbank and got three months' leave;then I did a month in the Little Johns' bungalow in Cornwall. There Igot the letter from Dicky Allerton, who, before the war, had been inpartnership with my brother Francis in the motor business at Coventry.Dicky had been with the Naval Division at Antwerp and was interned withthe rest of the crowd when they crossed the Dutch frontier in thosedisastrous days of October, 1914.
Dicky wrote from Groningen, just a line. Now that I was on leave, if Iwere fit to travel, would I come to Groningen and see him? "I have had acurious communication which seems to have to do with poor Francis," headded. That was all.
My brain was still halting, so I turned to Francis. Here again I had togo back. Francis, rejected on all sides for active service, owing towhat he scornfully used to call "the shirkers' ailment, varicose veins,"had flatly declined to carry on with his motor business after Dicky hadjoined up, although their firm was doing government work. Finally, hehad vanished into the maw of the War Office and all I knew was that hewas "something on the Intelligence." More than this not even he wouldtell me, and when he finally disappeared from London, just about thetime that I was popping the parapet with my battalion at Neuve Chapelle,he left me his London chambers as his only address for letters.
Ah! now it was all coming back—Francis' infrequent letters to me aboutnothing at all, then his will, forwarded to me for safe keeping when Iwas home on leave last Christmas, and after that, silence. Not anotherletter, not a word about him, not a shred of information. He had utterlyvanished.
I remembered my frantic inquiries, my vain visits to the War Office, myperplexity at the imperturbable silence of the various officials Iimportuned for news of my poor brother. Then there was that lunch at theBath Club with Sonny Martin of the Heavies and a friend of his, somekind of staff captain in red tabs. I don't think I heard his name, but Iknow he was at the War Office, and presently over our cigars and coffeeI laid before him the mysterious facts about my brother's case.
"Perhaps you knew Francis?" I said in conclusion. "Yes," he replied, "Iknow him well." "Know him," I repeated, "know him then ... then youthink ... you have reason to believe he is still alive...?"
Red Tabs cocked his eye at the gilded cornice of the ceiling and blew aring from his cigar. But he said nothing.
I persisted with my questions but it was of no avail. Red Tabs onlylaughed and said: "I know nothing at all except that your brother is amost delightful fellow with all your own love of getting his own way."
Then Sonny Martin, who is the perfection of tact and diplomacy—probablyon that account he failed for the Diplomatic—chipped in with ananecdote about a man who was rating the waiter at an adjoining table,and I held my peace. But as Red Tabs rose to go, a little later, he heldmy hand for a minute in his and with that curious look of his, saidslowly and with meaning:
"When a nation is at war, officers on active service must occasionallydisappear, sometimes in their country's interest, sometimes in theirown."
He emphasised the words "on active service."
In a flash my eyes were opened. How blind I had been! Francis was inGermany.
THE CIPHER WITH THE INVOICE
Red Tabs' sphinx-like declaration was no riddle to me. I knew at oncethat Francis must be on secret service in the enemy's country and thatcountry Germany. My brother's extraordinary knowledge of the Germans,their customs, life and dialects, rendered him ideally suitable for anysuch perilous mission. Francis always had an extraordinary talent forlanguages: he seemed to acquire them all without any mental effort, butin German he was supreme. During the year that he and I spent atConsistorial-Rat von Mayburg's house at Bonn, he rapidly outdistancedme, and though, at the end of our time, I could speak German like aGerman, Francis was able, in addition, to speak Bonn and Colognepatois like a native of those ancient cities—ay and he could drill asquad of recruits in their own language like the smartest Leutnantever fledged from Gross-Lichterfelde.
He never had any difficulty in passing himself off as a German. Well Iremember his delight when he was claimed as a fellow Rheinländer by aGerman officer we met, one summer before the war, combining golf with alittle useful espionage at Cromer.
I don't think Francis had any ulterior motive in his study of German.He simply found he had this imitative faculty; philology had alwaysinterested him, so even after he had gone into the motor trade, he usedto amuse himself on business trips to Germany by acquiring new dialects.
His German imitations were extraordinarily funny. One of his "starturns", was a noisy sitting of the Reichstag with speeches by PrinceBülow and August Bebel and "interruptions"; another, a patriotic orationby an old Prussian General at a Kaiser's birthday dinner. Francis had amarvellous faculty not only of seeming German, but even of almostlooking like a German, so absolutely was he able to slip into the skinof the part.
Yet never in my wildest moments had I dreamt that he would try and getinto Germany in war-time, into that land where every citizen iscatalogued and pigeonholed from the cradle. But Red Tabs' oracularutterance had made everything clear to me. Why a mission to Germanywould be the very thing that Francis would give his eyes to be allowedto attempt! Francis with his utter disregard of danger, his love oftaking risks, his impish delight in taking a rise out of the stodgyHun—why, if there were Englishmen brave enough to take chances ofthat kind, Francis would be the first to volunteer.
Yes, if Francis were on a mission anywhere it would be to Germany. Butwhat prospect had he of ever returning—with the frontiers closed andingress and egress practically barred even to pro-German neutrals? Manya night in the trenches I had a mental vision of Francis, so debonairand so fearless, facing a firing squad of Prussian privates.
From the day of