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The Man with the Clubfoot online

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you have broken into the scramble yourself, I feel that we are partners,
so I will tell you all I know.

"Listen, then. Some time about the beginning of the year a letter
written by a German interned at one of the camps in England was stopped
by the Camp Censor. This German went by the name of Schulte: he was
arrested at a house in Dalston the day after we declared war on
Germany. There was a good reason for this, for our friend Schulte - we
don't know his real name - was known to my Chief as one of the most
daring and successful spies that ever operated in the British Isles.

"Therefore, a sharp eye was kept on his correspondence, and one day this
letter was seized. It was, I believe, perfectly harmless to the eye, but
the expert to whom it was eventually submitted soon detected a
conventional code in the chatty phrases about the daily life of the
camp. It proved to be a communication from Schulte to a third party
relating to a certain letter which, apparently, the writer imagined the
third party had a considerable interest in acquiring. For he offered to
sell this letter to the third party, mentioning a sum so preposterously
high that it attracted the earnest attention of our Intelligence people.
On half the sum mentioned being paid into the writer's account at a
certain bank in London, the letter went on to say, the writer would
forward the address at which the object in question would be found."

"It was a simple matter to send Schulte a letter in return, agreeing to
his terms, and to have the payment made, as desired, into the bank he
mentioned. His communication in reply to this was duly stopped. The
address he gave was that of a house situated on the outskirts of

"We had no idea what this letter was, but its apparent value in the eyes
of the shrewd Mr. Schulte made it highly desirable that we should obtain
possession of it without delay. Four of us were selected for this
dangerous mission of getting into Germany and fetching it, by hook or by
crook, from the house at Cleves where it was deposited. We four were to
enter Germany by different routes and different means and to converge on
Cleves (which is quite close to the Dutch frontier).

"It would take too long to tell you of the very exact organization which
we worked out to exclude all risk of failure and the various schemes we
evolved for keeping in touch with one another though working separately
and in rotation. Nor does it matter very much how I got into Germany.
The fact is that, at my very first attempt to get across the frontier, I
realized that some immensely powerful force was working against me.

"I managed it, with half a dozen hairbreadth escapes, and I set down my
success solely to my knowledge of German and to that old trick of mine
of German imitations. But I felt everywhere the influence of this unseen
hand, enforcing a meticulous vigilance which it was almost impossible to
escape. I was not surprised, therefore, to learn that two of my
companions came to grief at the very outset."

My brother lowered his voice and looked about him.

"Do you know what happened to those two gallant fellows?" he said. "Jack
Tracy was found dead on the railway: Herbert Arbuthnot was discovered
hanging in a wood. 'Suicide of an Unknown Individual' was what the
German papers called it in each case. But I heard the truth ... never
mind how. They were ambushed and slaughtered in cold blood."

"And the third man you spoke of?" I asked.

"Philip Brewster? Vanished, Des ... vanished utterly. I fear he, too,
has gone west, poor chap!

"Of the whole four of us I was the only one to reach our objective.
There I drew blank. The letter was not in the hiding-place indicated.
I think it never had been or the Huns would have got it. I felt all the
time that they didn't know exactly where the letter was but that
they anticipated our attempt to get it, hence the unceasing vigilance all
along the frontier and inside it, too.

"They damned nearly got me at Cleves: I escaped as by a miracle, and the
providential thing for me was that I had never posed as anything but a
German, only I varied the type I represented almost from day to day.
Thus I left no traces behind or they would have had me long since."

The sadness in my brother's voice increased and the shadows deepened in
his face.

"Then I tried to get out," he continued. "But it was hopeless from the
first. They knew they had one of us left in the net and they closed
every outlet. I made two separate attempts to cross the line back into
Holland, but both failed. The second time I literally had to flee for my
life. I went straight to Berlin, feeling that a big city, as remote from
the frontier as possible, was the only safe hiding-place for me as long
as the hue and cry lasted.

"I was in a desperate bad way, too, for I had had to abandon the last
set of identity papers left to me when I bolted. I landed in Berlin with
the knowledge that no roof could safely shelter me until I got a fresh
lot of papers.

"I knew of Kore - I had heard of him and his shirkers' and deserters'
agency in my travels - and I went straight to him. He sent me to
Haase's ... this was towards the end of June. It was when I was at
Haase's that I sent out that message to van Urutius that fell into your
hands. That happened like this.

"I was rather friendly with a chap that frequented Haase's, a man
employed in the packing department at the Metal Works at Steglitz. He
was telling us one night how short-handed they were and what good money
packers were earning. I was sick of being cooped up in that stinking
cellar, so, more by way of a joke than anything else, I offered to come
and lend a hand in the packing department. I thought I might get a
chance of escape, as I saw none at Haase's. To my surprise, Haase, who
was sitting at the table, rather fancied the idea and said I could go if
I paid him half my wages: I was getting nothing at the beer-cellar.

"So I was taken on at Steglitz, sleeping at Haase's and helping in the
beer-cellar in the evenings. One day a package for old van Urutius came
to me to be made up and suddenly it occurred to me that here was a
chance of sending out a message to the outside world. I hoped that old
van U., if he tumbled to the 'Eichenholz,' would send it to you and that
you would pass it on to my Chief in London."

"Then you expected me to come after you?" I said.

"No," replied Francis promptly, "I did not. But the arrangement was
that, if none of us four men had turned up at Head-quarters by May 15th,
a fifth man should come in and be at a given rendezvous near the
frontier on June 15th. I went to the place on June 15th, but he never
showed up and, though I waited about for a couple of days, I saw no
sign of him. I made my final attempt to get out and it failed, so, when
I fled to Berlin, I knew that I had cut off all means of communication
with home. As a last hope, I dashed off that cipher on the spur of the
moment and tucked it into old van U's invoice."

"But why 'Achilles' with one 'l'?" I asked.

"They knew all about Kore's agency at Head-quarters, but I didn't dare
mention Kore's name for fear the parcel might be opened. So I purposely
spelt 'Achilles' with one 'l' to draw attention to the code word, so
that they should know where news of me was to be found. It was devilish
smart of you to decipher that, Des!"

Francis smiled at me.

"I meant to stay quietly in Berlin, going daily between Haase's and the
factory and wait, for a month or two, in case that message got home. But
Kore began to give trouble. At the beginning of July he came to see me
and hinted that the renewal of my _permis de séjour_ would cost money. I
paid him, but I realized then that I was absolutely in his power and I
had no intention of being blackmailed. So I made use of his cupidity to
leave a message for the man who, I hoped, would be coming after me,
wrote that line on the wall under the Boonekamp poster in that filthy
hovel where we slept and came up here after a job I had heard of at the
Café Regina.

"And now, Des, old man," said my brother, "you know all that I know!"

"And Clubfoot?"

"Ah!" said Francis, shaking his head, "there I think I recognize the
hand that has been against us from the start, though who the man is, and
what his power, I, like you, only know from what he told you himself.
The Germans are clever enough, as we know from their communiqués, to
tell the truth when it suits their book. I believe that Clubfoot was
telling you the truth in what he said about his mission that night at
the Esplanade.

"You and I know now that the Kaiser wrote that letter ... we also know
that it was addressed to an influential English friend of William II.
You have seen the date ... Berlin, July 31st, 1914 ... the eve of the
outbreak of the world war. Even from this half in my pocket ... and you
who have seen both halves of the letter will confirm what I say ... I
can imagine what an effect on the international situation this letter
would have had if it had reached the man for whom it was destined. But
it did not ... why, we don't know. We do know, however, that the Emperor
is keenly anxious to regain possession of his letter ... you yourself
were a witness of his anxiety and you know that he put the matter into
the hands of the man Clubfoot."

"Well," I observed thoughtfully, "Clubfoot, whoever he is, seems to have
made every effort to keep my escapades dark...."

"Precisely," said Francis, "and lucky for you too. Otherwise Clubfoot
would have had you stopped at the frontier. But obviously secrecy is an
essential part of his instructions, and he has shown himself willing to
risk almost anything rather than call in the aid of the regular police."

"But they can always hush these things up!" I objected.

"From the public, yes, but not from the Court. This letter looks
uncommonly like one of William's sudden impulses ... and I fancy
anything of the kind would get very little tolerance in Germany in

"But who is Clubfoot?" I questioned.

My brother furrowed his brows anxiously.

"Des," he said, "I don't know. He is certainly not a regular official of
the German Intelligence like Steinhauer and the others. But I _have_
heard of a clubfooted German on two occasions ... both were dark and
mysterious affairs, in both he played a leading role and both ended in
the violent death of one of our men."

"Then Tracy and the others...?" I asked.

"Victims of this man, Des, without any doubt," my brother answered. He
paused a moment reflectively.

"There is a code of honour in our game, old man," he said, "and there
are lots of men in the German secret service who live up to it. We give
and take plenty of hard knocks in the rough-and-tumble of the chase, but
ambush and assassination are barred."

He took a deep breath and added:

"But the man Clubfoot doesn't play the game!"

"Francis," I said, "I wish I'd known something of this that night I had
him at my mercy at the Esplanade. He would not have got off with a
cracked skull ... with one blow. There would have been another blow for
Tracy, one for Arbuthnot, one for the other man ... until the account
was settled and I'd beaten his brains out on the carpet. But if we meet
him again, Francis, ... as, please God, we shall! ... there will be no
code of honour for _him_ ... we'll finish him in cold blood as we'd kill
a rat!"

My brother thrust out his hand at me and we clasped hands on it.

Evening was falling and lights were beginning to twinkle from the
further bank of the river.

We stood for a moment in silence with the river rushing at our feet.
Then we turned and started to tramp back towards the city. Francis
linked his arm in mine.

"And now, Des," he said in his old affectionate way, "tell me some more
about Monica!"

Out of that talk germinated in my head the only plan that seemed to
offer us a chance of escape. I was quite prepared to believe Francis
when he declared that the frontier was at present impassable: if the
vigilance had been increased before it would be redoubled now that I had
again eluded Clubfoot. We should, therefore, have to find some cover
where we could lie doggo until the excitement passed.

You remember that Monica told me, the last time I had seen her, that she
was shortly going to Schloss Bellevue, a shooting-box belonging to her
husband, to arrange some shoots in connection with the Governmental
scheme for putting game on the market. Monica, you will recollect, had
offered to take me with her, and I had fully meant to accompany her but
for Gerry's unfortunate persistence in the matter of my passport.

I now proposed to Francis that we should avail ourselves of Monica's
offer and make for Castle Bellevue. The place was well suited for our
purpose as it lies near Cleves, and in its immediate neighbourhood is
the Reichswald, that great forest which stretches from Germany clear
across into Holland. All through my wanderings, I had kept this forest
in the back of my head as a region which must offer facilities for
slipping unobserved across the frontier. Now I learnt from Francis that
he had spent months in the vicinity of Cleves, and I was not surprised
to find, when I outlined this plan to him, that he knew the Reichswald
pretty well.

"It'll be none too easy to get across through the forest," he said
doubtfully, "it's very closely patrolled, but I do know of one place
where we could lie pretty snug for a day or two waiting for a chance to
make a dash. But we have no earthly chance of getting through at
present: our clubfooted pal will see to that all right. And I don't much
like the idea of going to Bellevue either: it will be horribly dangerous
for Monica!"

"I don't think so," I said. "The whole place will be overrun with
people, guests, servants, beaters and the like, for these shoots. Both
you and I know German and we look rough enough: we ought to be able to
get an emergency job about the place without embarrassing Monica in the
least. I don't believe they will ever dream of looking for us so close
to this frontier. The only possible trail they can pick up after me in
Berlin leads to Munich. Clubfoot is bound to think I am making for the
Swiss frontier."

Well, the long and the short of it was that my suggestion was carried,
and we resolved to set out for Bellevue that very night. My brother
declared he would not return to the café: with the present shortage of
men, such desertions were by no means uncommon, and if he were to give
notice formally it might only lead to embarrassing explanations.

So we strolled back to the city in the gathering darkness, bought a map
of the Rhine and a couple of rucksacks and laid in a small stock of
provisions at a great department store, biscuits, chocolates, some hard
sausage and two small flasks of rum. Then Francis took me to a little
restaurant where he was known and introduced me to the friendly
proprietor, a very jolly old Rheinlander, as his brother just out of
hospital. I did my country good service, I think, by giving a most
harrowing account of the terrible efficiency of the British army on the

Then we dined and over our meal consulted the map.

"By the map," I said, "Bellevue should be about fifty miles from here.
My idea is that we should walk only at night and lie up during the day,
as a room is out of the question for me without any papers. I think we
should keep away from the Rhine, don't you? As otherwise we shall pass
through Wesel, which is a fortress, and, consequently, devilish
unhealthy for both of us."

Francis nodded with his mouth full.

"At present we can count on about twelve hours of darkness," I
continued, "so, leaving a margin for the slight détour we shall make,
for rests and for losing the way, I think we ought to be able to reach
Castle Bellevue on the third night from this. If the weather holds up,
it won't be too bad, but if it rains, it will be hellish! Now, have you
any suggestions?"

My brother acquiesced, as, indeed, he had in everything I had proposed
since we met. Poor fellow, he had had a roughish time: he seemed glad to
have the direction of affairs taken out of his hands for a bit.

At half-past seven that evening, our packs on our backs, we stood on the
outskirts of the town where the road branches off to Crefeld. In the
pocket of the overcoat I had filched from Haase's I found an automatic
pistol, fully loaded (most of our customers at the beer-cellar went

"You've got the document, Francis," I said. "You'd better have this,
too!" and I passed him the gun.

Francis waved it aside.

"You keep it," he said grimly, "it may serve you instead of a passport."

So I slipped the weapon back into my pocket.

A cold drop of rain fell upon my face.

"Oh, hell!" I cried, "it's beginning to rain!"

And thus we set out upon our journey.

* * * * *

It was a nightmare tramp. The rain never ceased. By day we lay in icy
misery, chilled to the bone in our sopping clothes, in some dank ditch
or wet undergrowth, with aching bones and blistered feet, fearing
detection, but fearing, even more, the coming of night and the
resumption of our march. Yet we stuck to our programme like Spartans,
and about eight o'clock on the third evening, hobbling painfully along
the road that runs from Cleves to Calcar, we were rewarded by the sight
of a long massive building, with turrets at the corners, standing back
from the highway behind a tall brick wall.

"Bellevue!" I said to Francis, with pointing finger.

We left the road and climbing a wooden palisade, struck out across the
fields with the idea of getting into the park from the back. We passed
some black and silent farm buildings, went through a gate and into a
paddock, on the further side of which ran the wall surrounding the
place. Somewhere beyond the wall a fire was blazing. We could see the
leaping light of the flames and drifting smoke. At the same moment we
heard voices, loud voices disputing in German.

We crept across the paddock to the wall, I gave Francis a back and he
hoisted himself to the top and looked over. In a moment he sprang
lightly down, a finger to his lips.

"Soldiers round a fire," he whispered. "There must be troops billeted
here. Come on ... we'll go further round!"

We ran softly along the wall to where it turned to the right and
followed it round. Presently we came to a small iron gate in the wall.
It stood open.

We listened. The sound of voices was fainter here. We still saw the
reflection of the flames in the sky. Otherwise, there was no sign or
sound of human life.

The gate led into an ornamental garden with the Castle at the further
end. All the windows were in darkness. We threaded a garden path leading
to the house. It brought us in front of a glass door. I turned the
handle and it yielded to my grasp.

I whispered to Francis:

"Stay where you are! And if you hear me shout, fly for your life!"

For, I reflected, the place might be full of troops. If there were any
risk it would be better for me to take it since Francis, with his
identity papers, had a better chance than I of bringing the document
into safety.

I opened the glass door and found myself in a lobby with a door on the

I listened again. All was still. I cautiously opened the door and
looked in. As I did so the place was suddenly flooded with light and a
voice - a voice I had often heard in my dreams - called out imperiously:

"Stay where you are and put your hands above your head!"

Clubfoot stood there, a pistol in his great hand pointed at me.

"Grundt!" I shouted but I did not move.

And Clubfoot laughed.



I saw the lights flash up in the room. I heard Desmond cry out:
"Grundt;" Instantly I flung myself flat on my face in the flower bed,
lest Desmond's shout might have alarmed the soldiers about the fire. But
no one came; the gardens remained dark and damp and silent, and I heard
no sound from the room in which I knew my brother to be in the clutches
of that man.

Desmond's cry pulled me together. It seemed to arouse me from the
lethargy into which I had sunk during all those months of danger and
disappointment. It shook me into life. If I was to save him, not a
moment was to be lost. Clubfoot would act swiftly, I knew. So must I.
But first I must find out what the situation was, the meaning of
Clubfoot's presence in Monica's house, of those soldiers in the park.
And, above all, was Monica herself at the Castle?

I had noticed a little estaminet place on the road, about a hundred
yards before we reached the Schloss. I might, at least, be able to pick
up something there. Accordingly, I stole across the garden, scaled the
wall again and reached the road in safety.

The estaminet was full of people, brutish-looking peasants swilling neat
spirits, cattle drovers and the like. I stood up at the bar and ordered
a double noggin of _Korn_ - a raw spirit made in these parts from
potatoes, very potent but at least pure. A man in corduroys and leggings
was drinking at the bar, a bluff sort of chap, who readily entered into
conversation. A casual question of mine about the game conditions
elicited from him the information that he was an under-keeper at the
Castle. It was a busy time for them, he told me, as four big shoots had
been arranged. The first was to take place the next day. There were
plenty of birds, and he thought the Frau Gräfin's guests ought to be

I asked him if there was a big party staying at the Castle. No, he told
me, only one gentleman besides the officer billeted there, but a lot of
people were coming over for the shoot the next day, the officers from
Cleves and Goch, the Chief Magistrate from Cleves, and a number of
farmers from round about.

"I expect you will find the soldiers billeted at the Castle useful as
beaters," I enquired with a purpose.

The man assented grudgingly. Gamekeepers are first-class grumblers. But
the soldiers were not many. For his part he could do without them
altogether. They were such terrible poachers to have about the place, he
declared. But what they would do for beaters without them, he didn't
know ... they were very short of beaters ... that was a fact.

"I am staying at Cleves," I said, "and I'm out of a job. I am not long
from hospital, and they've discharged me from the army. I wouldn't mind
earning a few marks as a beater, and I'd like to see the sport. I used
to do a bit of shooting myself down on the Rhine where I come from."

The man shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. "That's none of my
business, getting the beaters together," he replied. "Besides, I shall
have the head gamekeeper after me if I go bringing strangers in...."

I ordered another drink for both of us, and won the man round without
much difficulty. He pouched my five mark note and announced that he
would manage it ... the Frau Gräfin was to see some men who had offered
their services as beaters after dinner at the Castle that evening. He
would take me along.

Half an hour later I stood, as one of a group of shaggy and bedraggled
rustics, in a big stone courtyard outside the main entrance to the
Castle. The head gamekeeper mustered us with his eye and, bidding us
follow him, led the way under a vaulted gateway through a massive door
into a small lobby which had apparently been built into the great hall
of the Castle, for it opened right into it.

We found ourselves in a splendid old feudal hall, oak-lined and
oak-raftered, with lines of dusty banners just visible in the twilight
reigning in the upper part of the vast place. The modern generation had
forborne to desecrate the fine old room with electric light, and massive
silver candlesticks shed a soft light on the table set at the far end of
the hall, where dinner, apparently, was just at an end.

Three people were sitting at the table, a woman at the head, who, even
before I had taken in the details I have just set down, I knew to be
Monica, though her back was towards me. On one side of the table was a
big, heavy man whom I recognized as Clubfoot, on the other side a pale
slip of a lad in officer's uniform with only one arm ... Schmalz, no

A servant said something to Monica, who, asking permission of her
companions by a gesture, left the table and came across the hall. To my
surprise, she was dressed in deepest black with linen cuffs. Her face was
pale and set, and there was a look of fear and suffering in her eyes
that wrung my very heart.

I had shuffled into the last place of the row in which the head keeper

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Online LibraryValentine WilliamsThe Man with the Clubfoot → online text (page 12 of 16)