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THE MAN WITH THE CLUBFOOT

BY VALENTINE WILLIAMS

AUTHOR OF "THE SECRET HAND," "THE YELLOW STREAK," "THE RETURN OF
CLUBFOOT," "THE ORANGE DIVAN," "CLUBFOOT THE AVENGER"

1918




WHAT THIS STORY IS ABOUT


"The Man with the Clubfoot" is one of the most ingenious and sinister
secret agents in Europe. It is to him that the task is assigned of
regaining possession of an indiscreet letter written by the Kaiser.

Desmond Okewood, a young British officer with a genius for secret
service work, sets out to thwart this man and, incidentally, discover
the whereabouts of his brother.

He penetrates into Germany disguised, and meets with many thrilling
adventures before he finally achieves his mission.

In "The Man with the Clubfoot," Valentine Williams has written a
thrilling romance of mystery, love and intrigue, that in every sense of
the word may be described as "breathless."




CHAPTER

I. I seek a Bed in Rotterdam

II. The Cipher with the Invoice

III. A Visitor in the Night

IV. Destiny knocks at the Door

V. The Lady of the Vos in't Tuintje

VI. I board the Berlin Train and leave a Lame Gentleman on the
Platform

VII. In which a Silver Star acts as a Charm

VIII. I hear of Clubfoot and meet his Employer

IX. I encounter an old Acquaintance who leads me to a delightful
Surprise

X. A Glass of Wine with Clubfoot

XI. Miss Mary Prendergast risks her Reputation

XII. His Excellency the General is worried

XIII. I find Achilles in his Tent

XIV. Clubfoot comes to Haase's

XV. The Waiter at the Café Regina

XVI. A Hand-clasp by the Rhine

XVII. Francis takes up the Narrative

XVIII. I go on with the Story

XIX. We have a Reckoning with Clubfoot

XX. Charlemagne's Ride

XXI. Red Tabs explains




The Man with the Clubfoot




CHAPTER I

I SEEK A BED IN ROTTERDAM


The reception clerk looked up from the hotel register and shook his head
firmly. "Very sorry, saire," he said, "not a bed in ze house." And he
closed the book with a snap.

Outside the rain came down heavens hard. Every one who came into the
brightly lit hotel vestibule entered with a gush of water. I felt I
would 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 is
only for the night. Come now..."

"Very sorry, saire. We have two gentlemen sleeping in ze bathrooms
already. If you had reserved..." And he shrugged his shoulders and bent
towards a visitor who was demanding his key.

I turned away with rage in my heart. What a cursed fool I had been not
to wire from Groningen! I had fully intended to, but the extraordinary
conversation I had had with Dicky Allerton had put everything else out
of my head. At every hotel I had tried it had been the same
story - Cooman's, the Maas, the Grand, all were full even to the
bathrooms. If I had only wired....

As I passed out into the porch I bethought myself of the porter. A hotel
porter 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 the
night was concerned. Still...

I suppose it was my mind dwelling on my experience at Breslau that made
me address the man in German. When one has been familiar with a foreign
tongue from one's boyhood, it requires but a very slight mental impulse
to drop into it. From such slight beginnings do great enterprises
spring. If I had known the immense ramification of adventure that was to
spread its roots from that simple question, I verily believe my heart
would have failed me and I would have run forth into the night and the
rain and roamed the streets till morning.

Well, I found myself asking the man in German if he knew where I could
get 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 that
afternoon had simply driven the war out of my mind. When one has lived
much among foreign peoples, one's mentality slips automatically into
their skin. I was now thinking in German - at least so it seems to me
when 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 of
this infernal rain!"

"The gentleman can have a good, clean bed at the Hotel Sixt in the
little street they call the Vos in't Tuintje, on the canal behind the
Bourse. The proprietress is a good German, jawohl ... Frau Anna Schratt
her name is. The gentleman need only say he comes from Franz at the
Bopparder Hof."

I gave the man a gulden and bade him get me a cab.

It was still pouring. As we rattled away over the glistening
cobble-stones, my mind travelled back over the startling events of the
day. My talk with old Dicky had given me such a mental jar that I found
it at first wellnigh impossible to concentrate my thoughts. That's the
worst of shell-shock. You think you are cured, you feel fit and well,
and then suddenly the machinery of your mind checks and halts and
creaks. Ever since I had left hospital convalescent after being wounded
on the Somme ("gunshot wound in head and cerebral concussion" the
doctors called it), I had trained myself, whenever my brain was _en
panne_, to go back to the beginning of things and work slowly up to the
present 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 I
got the letter from Dicky Allerton, who, before the war, had been in
partnership with my brother Francis in the motor business at Coventry.
Dicky had been with the Naval Division at Antwerp and was interned with
the rest of the crowd when they crossed the Dutch frontier in those
disastrous days of October, 1914.

Dicky wrote from Groningen, just a line. Now that I was on leave, if I
were fit to travel, would I come to Groningen and see him? "I have had a
curious communication which seems to have to do with poor Francis," he
added. That was all.

My brain was still halting, so I turned to Francis. Here again I had to
go back. Francis, rejected on all sides for active service, owing to
what he scornfully used to call "the shirkers' ailment, varicose veins,"
had flatly declined to carry on with his motor business after Dicky had
joined up, although their firm was doing government work. Finally, he
had vanished into the maw of the War Office and all I knew was that he
was "something on the Intelligence." More than this not even _he_ would
tell me, and when he finally disappeared from London, just about the
time 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 about
nothing at all, then his will, forwarded to me for safe keeping when I
was home on leave last Christmas, and after that, silence. Not another
letter, not a word about him, not a shred of information. He had utterly
vanished.

I remembered my frantic inquiries, my vain visits to the War Office, my
perplexity at the imperturbable silence of the various officials I
importuned for news of my poor brother. Then there was that lunch at the
Bath Club with Sonny Martin of the Heavies and a friend of his, some
kind of staff captain in red tabs. I don't think I heard his name, but I
know he was at the War Office, and presently over our cigars and coffee
I laid before him the mysterious facts about my brother's case.

"Perhaps you knew Francis?" I said in conclusion. "Yes," he replied, "I
know him well." "_Know_ him," I repeated, "_know_ him then ... then you
think ... you have reason to believe he is still alive...?"

Red Tabs cocked his eye at the gilded cornice of the ceiling and blew a
ring from his cigar. But he said nothing.

I persisted with my questions but it was of no avail. Red Tabs only
laughed and said: "I know nothing at all except that your brother is a
most delightful fellow with all your own love of getting his own way."

Then Sonny Martin, who is the perfection of tact and diplomacy - probably
on that account he failed for the Diplomatic - chipped in with an
anecdote 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 held
my hand for a minute in his and with that curious look of his, said
slowly and with meaning:

"When a nation is at war, officers on _active service_ must occasionally
disappear, sometimes in their country's interest, sometimes in their
own."

He emphasised the words "on active service."

In a flash my eyes were opened. How blind I had been! Francis was in
Germany.




CHAPTER II

THE CIPHER WITH THE INVOICE


Red Tabs' sphinx-like declaration was no riddle to me. I knew at once
that Francis must be on secret service in the enemy's country and that
country Germany. My brother's extraordinary knowledge of the Germans,
their customs, life and dialects, rendered him ideally suitable for any
such perilous mission. Francis always had an extraordinary talent for
languages: he seemed to acquire them all without any mental effort, but
in German he was supreme. During the year that he and I spent at
Consistorial-Rat von Mayburg's house at Bonn, he rapidly outdistanced
me, and though, at the end of our time, I could speak German like a
German, Francis was able, in addition, to speak Bonn and Cologne
_patois_ like a native of those ancient cities - ay and he could drill a
squad of recruits in their own language like the smartest _Leutnant_
ever fledged from Gross-Lichterfelde.

He never had any difficulty in passing himself off as a German. Well I
remember his delight when he was claimed as a fellow Rheinländer by a
German officer we met, one summer before the war, combining golf with a
little 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 always
interested him, so even after he had gone into the motor trade, he used
to amuse himself on business trips to Germany by acquiring new dialects.

His German imitations were extraordinarily funny. One of his "star
turns", was a noisy sitting of the Reichstag with speeches by Prince
Bülow and August Bebel and "interruptions"; another, a patriotic oration
by an old Prussian General at a Kaiser's birthday dinner. Francis had a
marvellous faculty not only of _seeming_ German, but even of almost
looking like a German, so absolutely was he able to slip into the skin
of the part.

Yet never in my wildest moments had I dreamt that he would try and get
into Germany in war-time, into that land where every citizen is
catalogued and pigeonholed from the cradle. But Red Tabs' oracular
utterance had made everything clear to me. Why a mission to Germany
would be the very thing that Francis would give his eyes to be allowed
to attempt! Francis with his utter disregard of danger, his love of
taking risks, his impish delight in taking a rise out of the stodgy
Hun - why, if there were Englishmen brave enough to take chances of
that kind, Francis would be the first to volunteer.

Yes, if Francis were on a mission anywhere it would be to Germany. But
what prospect had he of ever returning - with the frontiers closed and
ingress and egress practically barred even to pro-German neutrals? Many
a night in the trenches I had a mental vision of Francis, so debonair
and so fearless, facing a firing squad of Prussian privates.

From the day of the luncheon at the Bath Club to this very afternoon I
had had no further inkling of my brother's whereabouts or fate. The
authorities at home professed ignorance, as I knew, in duty bound, they
would, and I had nothing to hang any theory on to until Dicky Allerton's
letter came. Ashcroft at the F.O. fixed up my passports for me and I
lost no time in exchanging the white gulls and red cliffs of Cornwall
for the windmills and trim canals of Holland.

And now in my breast pocket lay, written on a small piece of cheap
foreign notepaper, the tidings I had come to Groningen to seek. Yet so
trivial, so nonsensical, so baffling was the message that I already felt
my trip to Holland to have been a fruitless errand.

I found Dicky fat and bursting with health in his quarters at the
internment camp. He only knew that Francis had disappeared. When I told
him of my meeting with Red Tabs at the Bath Club, of the latter's words
to me at parting and of my own conviction in the matter he whistled,
then looked grave.

He went straight to the point in his bluff direct way.

"I am going to tell you a story first, Desmond," he said to me, "then
I'll show you a piece of paper. Whether the two together fit in with
your theory as to poor Francis' disappearance will be for you to judge.
Until now I must confess - I had felt inclined to dismiss the only
reference this document appears to make to your brother as a mere
coincidence in names, but what you have told me makes things
interesting - by Jove, it does, though. Well, here's the yarn first of
all.

"Your brother and I have had dealings in the past with a Dutchman in the
motor business at Nymwegen, name of Van Urutius. He has often been over
to see us at Coventry in the old days and Francis has stayed with him at
Nymwegen once or twice on his way back from Germany - Nymwegen, you know,
is close to the German frontier. Old Urutius has been very decent to me
since I have been in gaol here and has been over several times,
generally with a box or two of those nice Dutch cigars."

"Dicky," I broke in on him, "get on with the story. What the devil's all
this got to do with Francis? The document - "

"Steady, my boy!" was the imperturbable reply, "let me spin my yarn my
own way. I'm coming to the piece of paper....

"Well, then, old Urutius came to see me ten days ago. All I knew about
Francis I had told him, namely, that Francis had entered the army and
was missing. It was no business of the old Mynheer if Francis was in the
Intelligence, so I didn't tell him that. Van U. is a staunch friend of
the English, but you know the saying that if a man doesn't know he can't
split.

"My old Dutch pal, then, turned up here ten days ago. He was bubbling
over with excitement. 'Mr. Allerton' he says, 'I haf a writing, a most
mysterious writing - a I think, from Francis Okewood.'

"I sat tight. If there were any revelations coming they were going to be
Dutch, not British. On that I was resolved.

"'I haf received;' the old Dutchman went on, from Gairemany a parcel of
metal shields, plates - what you call 'em - of tin, _hein?_ What I haf to
advertise my business. They arrife las' week - I open the parcel myself
and on the top is the envelope with the invoice.'

"Mynheer paused; he has a good sense of the dramatic.

"'Well', I said, 'did it bite you or say "Gott strafe England?" Or
what?'

"Van Urutius ignored my flippancy and resumed. 'I open the envelope and
there in the invoice I find this writing - here!'

"And here," said Dicky, diving into his pocket, "is the writing!"

And he thrust into my eagerly outstretched hand a very thin half-sheet
of foreign notepaper, of that kind of cheap glazed notepaper you get in
cafes on the Continent when you ask for writing materials.

Three lines of German, written in fluent German characters in purple ink
beneath the name and address of Mynheer van Urutius ... that was all.

My heart sank with disappointment and wretchedness as I read the
inscription.

Here is the document:

* * * * *

Herr Willem van Urutius,
Automobilgeschäft,
Nymwegen.
_Alexandtr-Straat_ 81 bis.

Berlin, Iten Juli, 16.

O Eichenholz! O Eichenholz!
Wie leer sind deine Blätter.

Wie Achiles in dem Zelte.

Wo zweie sich zanken
Erfreut sich der Dritte.

* * * * *

(Translation.)

Mr. Willem van Urutius,
Automobile Agent,
Nymwegen.
81 bis _Alexander-Straat._

Berlin, 1st July, 16.

O Oak-tree! O Oak-tree,
How empty are thy leaves.

Like Achiles in the tent.

When two people fall out
The third party rejoices.

* * * * *

I stared at this nonsensical document in silence. My thoughts were
almost too bitter for words.

At last I spoke.

"What's all this rigmarole got to do with Francis, Dicky?" I asked,
vainly trying to suppress the bitterness in my voice. "This looks like a
list of copybook maxims for your Dutch friend's advertisement cards...."

But I returned to the study of the piece of paper.

"Not so fast, old bird," Dicky replied coolly, "let me finish my story.
Old Stick-in-the-mud is a lot shrewder than we think.

"'When I read the writing,' he told me, 'I think he is all robbish, but
then I ask myself, Who shall put robbish in my invoices? And then I
read the writing again and once again, and then I see he is a message.'"

"Stop, Dicky!" I cried, "of course, what an ass I am! Why
_Eichenholz_...."

"Exactly," retorted Dicky, "as the old Mynheer was the first to see,
_Eichenholz_ translated into English is 'Oak-tree' or 'Oak-wood' - in
other words, Francis."

"Then, Dicky...." I interrupted.

"Just a minute," said Dicky, putting up his hand. "I confess I thought,
on first seeing this message or whatever it is, that there must be
simply a coincidence of name and that somebody's idle scribbling had
found its way into old van U.'s invoice. But now that you have told me
that Francis may have actually got into Germany, then, I must say, it
looks as if this might be an attempt of his to communicate with home."

"Where did the Dutchman's packet of stuff come from?" I asked.

"From the Berlin Metal Works in Steglitz, a suburb of Berlin: he has
dealt with them for years."

"But then what does all the rest of it mean ... all this about Achilles
and the rest?"

"Ah, Desmond!" was Dicky's reply, "that's where you've got not only me,
but also Mynheer van Urutius."

"'O oak-wood! O oak-wood, how empty are thy leaves!'.... That sounds
like a taunt, don't you think, Dicky?" said I.

"_Or_ a confession of failure from Francis ... to let us know that he
has done nothing, adding that he is accordingly sulking 'like Achilles
in his tent.'"

"But, see here, Richard Allerton," I said, "Francis would never spell
'Achilles' with one 'l' ... now, would he?"

"By Jove!" said Dicky, looking at the paper again, "nobody would but a
very uneducated person. I know nothing about German, but tell me, is
that the hand of an educated German? Is it Francis' handwriting?"

"Certainly, it is an educated hand," I replied, "but I'm dashed if I can
say whether it is Francis' German handwriting: it can scarcely be
because, as I have already remarked, he spells 'Achilles' with one 'l.'"

Then the fog came down over us again. We sat helplessly and gazed at the
fateful paper.

"There's only one thing for it, Dicky," I said finally, "I'll take the
blooming thing back to London with me and hand it over to the
Intelligence. After all, Francis may have a code with them. Possibly
they will see light where we grope in darkness."

"Desmond," said Dicky, giving me his hand, "that's the most sensible
suggestion you've made yet. Go home and good luck to you. But promise me
you'll come back here and tell me if that piece of paper brings the
news that dear old Francis is alive."

So I left Dicky but I did not go home. I was not destined to see my home
for many a weary week.




CHAPTER III

A VISITOR IN THE NIGHT


A volley of invective from the box of the cab - bad language in Dutch is
fearfully effective - aroused me from my musings. The cab, a small,
uncomfortable box with a musty smell, stopped with a jerk that flung me
forward. From the outer darkness furious altercation resounded above the
plashing of the rain. I peered through the streaming glass of the
windows but could distinguish nothing save the yellow blur of a lamp.
Then a vehicle of some kind seemed to move away in front of us, for I
heard the grating of wheels against the kerb, and my cab drew up to the
pavement.

On alighting, I found myself in a narrow, dark street with high houses
on either side. A grimy lamp with the word "Hôtel" in half-obliterated
characters painted on it hung above my head, announcing that I had
arrived at my destination. As I paid off the cabman another cab passed.
It was apparently the one with which my Jehu had had words, for he
turned round and shouted abuse into the night.

My cabman departed, leaving me with my bag on the pavement at my feet,
gazing at a narrow dirty door, the upper half of which was filled in
with frosted glass. I was at last awake to the fact that I, an
Englishman, was going to spend the night in a German hotel to which I
had been specially recommended by a German porter on the understanding
that I was a German. I knew that, according to the Dutch neutrality
regulations, my passport would have to be handed in for inspection by
the police and that therefore I could not pass myself off as a German.

"Bah!" I said to give myself courage, "this is a free country, a neutral
country. They may be offensive, they may overcharge you, in a Hun hotel,
but they can't eat you. Besides, any bed in a night like this!" and I
pushed open the door.

Within, the hotel proved to be rather better than its uninviting
exterior promised. There was a small vestibule with a little glass cage
of an office on one side and beyond it an old-fashioned flight of
stairs, with a glass knob on the post at the foot, winding to the upper
stories.

At the sound of my footsteps on the mosaic flooring, a waiter emerged
from a little cubby-hole under the stairs. He had a blue apron girt
about his waist, but otherwise he wore the short coat and the dicky and
white tie of the Continental hotel waiter. His hands were grimy with
black marks and so was his apron. He had apparently been cleaning
boots.

He was a big, fat, blonde man with narrow, cruel little eyes. His hair
was cut so short that his head appeared to be shaven. He advanced
quickly towards me and asked me in German in a truculent voice what I
wanted.

I replied in the same language, I wanted a room.

He shot a glance at me through his little slits of eyes on hearing my
good Bonn accent, but his manner did not change.

"The hotel is full. The gentleman cannot have a bed here. The
proprietress is out at present. I regret...." He spat this all out in
the offhand insolent manner of the Prussian official.

"It was Franz, of the Bopparder Hof, who recommended me to come here," I
said. I was not going out again into the rain for a whole army of
Prussian waiters.

"He told me that Frau Schratt would make me very comfortable," I added.

The waiter's manner changed at once.

"So, so," he said - quite genially this time - "it was Franz who sent the
gentleman to us. He is a good friend of the house, is Franz. Ja, Frau
Schratt is unfortunately out just now, but as soon as the lady returns I
will inform her you are here. In the meantime, I will give the gentleman
a room."

He handed me a candlestick and a key.

"So," he grunted, "No. 31, the third floor."

A clock rang out the hour somewhere in the distance.

"Ten o'clock already," he said. "The gentleman's papers can wait till
to-morrow, it is so late. Or perhaps the gentleman will give them to the
proprietress. She must come any moment."

As I mounted the winding staircase I heard him murmur again:

"So, so, Franz sent him here! Ach, der Franz!"

As soon as I had passed out of sight of the lighted hall I found myself
in complete darkness. On each landing a jet of gas, turned down low,
flung a dim and flickering light a few yards around. On the third floor
I was able to distinguish by the gas rays a small plaque fastened to the
wall inscribed with an arrow pointing to the right above the figures:
46-30.

I stopped to strike a match to light my candle. The whole hotel seemed
wrapped in silence, the only sound the rushing of water in the gutters


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