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I went and fetched Francis and Monica. Maggs shrunk back as they came
in.

"I bean't fit cumpany for no lady, zur," he whispered to me, "I be that
durty, fair crawling I be ... We couldn't keep clean nohow in that camp!"

All the good soldier's horror of dirt was in his voice.

"That's all right, Maggs," I answered soothingly, "she'll understand!"

We sat down on the floor in the light of Sapper Maggs' candle, and
Francis and I reviewed our situation. The cave we were in ... an old
Smuggler's _cache_ ... was where Francis had spent several days during
his different attempts to get across the frontier. The border line was
only about a quarter of a mile distant and ran right through the forest.
There was no live-wire fencing in the forest, such as the Germans have
erected along the frontier between Holland and Belgium. The frontier was
guarded by patrols. These patrols were posted four men to every two
hundred yards along the line through the forest, so that two men,
patrolling in pairs, covered a hundred yards apiece.

It was now half-past five in the evening. We both agreed that we should
certainly make the attempt to cross the frontier that night. Francis
nudged me, indicating the sapper with his eyes.

"Maggs," I said, "we are all in a bad way, but our case is more
desperate than yours. I shall not tell you more than this, that, if we
are caught, any of us three, we shall be shot, and anyone caught with us
will fare the same. If you will take my advice, you will leave us and
start off by yourself: the worst that can happen to you is to be sent
back to your camp. You will be punished for running away, but you won't
lose your life!"

Sapper Maggs shook his yellow head.

"I'll stay," he answered stolidly; "it's more cumfortable-like for us
four to 'old together, and it's a better protection for the lady. I
bean't afear'd of no Gers, I bean't! I'll go along o' yew officers and
the lady, if yew don't mind, zur!"

So it was settled, and we four agreed to unite forces. Before we set out
Francis wanted to go and reconnoitre. I thought he had done more than
his share that day, and said so. But Francis insisted.

"I know my way blindfold about the forest, old man" he said "it'll be
far safer for me than for you. I'll leave you the map and mark the
route you are to follow, so that you can find the way if anything
happens to me. If I'm not back by midnight, you ought certainly not to
wait any longer, but make the attempt by yourselves."

My brother handed me back the document and went over the route we were
to follow on the map. Then he deposited his bundle in the cave and
declared himself ready.

"And don't forget old Clubfoot's box," he said by way of a parting
injunction.

Monica took him out to the entrance of our refuge. She was dabbing her
eyes with her handkerchief when she returned. To divert her thoughts, I
questioned her about the events that had led to my rescue, and she told
me how, at Francis' request, she had got all the servants out of the
Castle on different pretexts. It was Francis who had got rid of the
soldiers remaining as a guard.

"You remember the Captain of Köpenick trick," she said. "Well, Francis
played it off on the sergeant and those six men. He slept at Cleves, had
himself trimmed up at the barber's, bought those field-boots he is
wearing, and stole that helmet and great-coat off the pegs in the
passage at Schmidt's Café, where the officers always go and drink beer
after morning parade. Then he drove out to the Castle - he knew that the
place would be deserted once the shoot had started - and told the
sergeant he had been sent from Goch to inspect the guard. I think he is
just splendid! He inspected the men and cursed everybody up and down,
and sent the sergeant out to the paddock with orders to drill them for
two hours. Francis was telling me all about it as we came along. He says
that if you can get hold of a uniform and hector a German enough, he
will never call your bluff. Can you beat it?"

The hours dragged wearily on. We had no food, and Maggs, who had eaten
the last of his provisions twenty-four hours before - the British soldier
is a bad hoarder - soon consumed the last of my cigarettes. It was past
ten o'clock when I heard a step outside. The next moment Francis came
in, white and breathless.

"They're beating the forest for us," he panted. "The place is full of
men. I had to crawl the whole way there and back, and I'm soaked to the
skin."

I pointed to Monica, who was fast asleep, and he lowered his voice.

"Des," he said, "I've hoped as long as I dared, but now I believe the
game's up. They're beating the forest in a great circle, soldiers and
police and customs men. If we set out at once we can reach the frontier
before they get here, but what's the use of that ... every patrol is on
the look-out for us ... the forest seems ablaze with torches."

"We must try it, Francis," I said. "We haven't a dog's chance if we
stay here!"

"I think you're right," he answered. "Well, here's the plan. There's a
deep ravine that runs clear across the frontier. I spent an hour in it.
They've built a plank bridge across the top just this side of the line,
and the patrol comes to the ravine about every three minutes. It is
practically impossible to get out of sight and sound along that ravine
in three minutes, but ..."

"Unless we could drar the patrol's attention away!" said Sapper Maggs.

But Francis ignored the interruption.

"... We can at least try it. Come on, we must be starting! Thank God,
there's no moon; it's as dark as the devil outside!"

We roused up Monica and groped our way out of the cave into the black
and dripping forest. Somewhere in the distance a faint glare reddened
the sky. From time to time I thought I heard a shout, but it sounded far
away.

We crawled stealthily forward, Francis in front, then Monica, Maggs and
I last. In a few minutes we were wet through, and our hands, blue and
dead with cold, were scratched and torn. Our progress was interminably
slow. Every few yards Francis raised his hand and we stopped.

At last we reached the gloomy glade where, as Francis had told us,
according to popular belief, the wraith of Charlemagne was still seen on
the night of St. Hubert's Day galloping along with his ghostly
followers of the chase. The rustling of leaves caught our ears;
instantly we all lay prone behind a bank.

A group of men came swinging along the glade. One of them was singing an
ancient German soldier song:

"Die Vöglein im Walde
Sie singen so schön
In der Heimat, in der Heimat,
Da gibt's ein Wiederseh'n."

"The relief patrol!" I whispered to Francis, as soon as they were past.

"The other lot they relieve will be back this way in a minute. We must
get across quickly." My brother stood erect, and tiptoed swiftly across
Charlemagne's Ride, and we followed.

We must have crawled for an hour before we came to the ravine. It was a
deep, narrow ditch with steep sides, full of undergrowth and brambles.
Now we could hear distinctly the voices of men all around us, as it
seemed, and to right and to left and in front we caught at intervals
glimpses of red flames through the trees. We could only proceed at a
snail's pace lest the continual rustle of our footsteps should betray
us. So each advanced a few paces in turn; then we all paused, and then
the next one went forward. We could no longer crawl; the undergrowth was
too thick for that; we had to go forward bent double.

We had progressed like this for fully half an hour when Francis, who
was in front as usual, beckoned us to lie down. We all lay motionless
among the brambles.

Then a voice somewhere above us said in German:

"And I'll have a man at the plank here, sergeant: he can watch the
ravine."

Another voice answered:

"Very good, Herr Leutnant, but in that case the patrols to right and
left need not cross the plank each time; they can turn when they come to
the ravine guard."

The voices died away in a murmur. I craned my neck aloft. It was so
dark, I could see nothing save the fretwork of branches against the
night sky. I whispered to Francis, who was just in front of me:

"Unless we make a dash for it now that man will hear us rustling along!"

Francis held up a finger. I heard a heavy footstep along the bank above
us.

"Too late!" my brother whispered back. "Do you hear the patrols?"

Footsteps crashing through the undergrowth resounded on the right and
left.

"Cold work!" said a voice.

"Bitter!" came the answer, just above our heads.

"Seen anything?"

"Nothing!"

The rustling began again on the right, and died away.

"They're closing in on the left!" Another voice this time.

"Heard anything, you?" from the voice above us.

"Not a thing!"

The rustling broke out once more on the left, and gradually became lost
in the distance.

Silence.

I felt a hot breath in my ear. Sapper Maggs stood by my side.

"There be a feller a-watching for us up there?" he whispered.

I nodded.

"If us could drar his 'tention away, yew could slip by, next time the
patrols is past, couldn't 'ee?"

Again I nodded.

"It'd be worse for yew than for me, supposin' yew'd be ca-art, that's
what t'other officer said, warn't it?"

And once more I nodded.

The hot whisper came again.

"I'll drar 'un off for ee, zur, nex' time the patrols pass. When I
holler, yew and the others, yew run. Thirty-one forty-three Sapper
Maggs, R.E., from Chewton Mendip ... that's me... maybe yew'll let us
have a bit o' writing to the camp."

I stretched out my hand in the darkness to stop him. He had gone.

I leant forward and whispered to Francis:

"When you hear a shout, we make a dash for it!"

I felt him look at me in surprise - it was too dark to see his face.

"Right!" he whispered back.

Now to the left we heard voices shouting and saw torches gleaming red
among the trees. To right and rear answering shouts resounded.

Again the patrols met at the plank above our heads, and again their
departing footsteps rustled in the leaves.

The murmur of voices grew nearer. We could faintly smell the burning
resin of the torches.

Then a wild yell rent the forest. The voice above us shouted "Halt!" but
the echo was lost in the deafening report of a rifle.

Francis caught Monica by the wrist and dragged her forward. We went
plunging and crashing through the tangle of the ravine. We heard a
second shot and a third, commands were shouted, the red glare deepened
in the sky....

Monica collapsed quite suddenly at my feet. She never uttered a sound,
but fell prone, her face as white as paper. Without a word we picked her
up between us and went on, stumbling, gasping, coughing, our clothes
rent and torn, the blood oozing from the deep scratches on our faces and
hands.

At length our strength gave out. We laid Monica down in the ravine and
drew the under growth over her, then we crawled in under the brambles
exhausted, beat.

Dawn was streaking the sky with lemon when a dog jumped sniffing down
into our hiding-place. Francis and Monica were asleep.

A man stood at the top of the ravine looking down on us. He carried a
gun over his shoulder.

"Have you had an accident?" he said kindly.

He spoke in Dutch.




CHAPTER XXI

RED TABS EXPLAINS


From the Argyllshire hills winter has stolen down upon us in the night.
Behind him he has left his white mantle, and it now lies outspread from
the topmost mountain peaks to the softly lapping tide at the black edges
of the loch. Yet as I sit adding the last words to this plain account of
a curious episode in my life, the wintry scene dissolves before my eyes,
and I see again that dawn in the forest ... Francis and Monica, sleeping
side by side, like the babes in the wood, half covered with leaves, the
eager, panting retriever, and myself, poor, ragged scarecrow, staring
openmouthed at the Dutchman whose kindly enquiry has just revealed to me
the wondrous truth ... that we are safe across the frontier.

What a disproportionate view one takes of events in which one is the
principal actor! The great issues vanish away, the little things loom
out large. When I look back on that morning I encounter in my memory no
recollection of extravagant demonstrations of joy at our delivery, no
hysteria, no heroics. But I find a fragrant remembrance of a glorious
hot bath and an epic breakfast in the house of that kindly Dutchman,
followed by a whirlwind burst of hospitality on our arrival at the house
of van Urutius, which was not more than ten miles from the fringe of the
forest.

Madame van Urutius took charge of Monica, who was promptly sent to bed,
whilst Francis and I went straight on to Rotterdam, where we had an
interview at the British Consulate, with the result that we were able to
catch the steamer for England the next day.

As the result of various telegrams which Francis dispatched from
Rotterdam, a car was waiting for us on our arrival at Fenchurch Street
the next evening. In it we drove off for an interview with my brother's
Chief. Francis insisted that I should hand over personally the portion
of the document in our possession.

"You got hold of it, Des," he said, "and it's only fair that you should
get all the credit. I have Clubfoot's dispatch-box to show as the result
of my trip. It's only a pity we could not have got the other half out of
the cloak-room at Rotterdam."

We were shown straight in to the Chief. I was rather taken aback by the
easy calm of his manner in receiving us.

"How are you, Okewood?" he said, nodding to Francis. "This your brother?
How d'ye do?"

He gave me his hand and was silent. There was a distinct pause. Feeling
distinctly embarrassed, I lugged out my portfolio, extracted the three
slips of paper and laid them on the desk before the Chief.

"I've brought you something," I said lamely.

He picked up the slips of paper and looked at them for a moment. Then he
lifted a cardboard folder from the desk in front of him, opened it and
displayed the other half of the Kaiser's letter, the fragment I had
believed to be reposing in a bag at Rotterdam railway station. He placed
the two fragments side by side. They fitted exactly. Then he closed the
folder, carried it across the room to a safe and locked it up. Coming
back, he held out his two hands to us, giving the right to me, the left
to Francis.

"You have done very well," he said. "Good boys! Good boys!"

"But that other half ..." I began.

"Your friend Ashcroft is by no means such a fool as he looks," the Chief
chuckled. "He did a wise thing. He brought your two letters to me. I saw
to the rest. So, when your brother's telegram arrived from Rotterdam, I
got the other half of the letter out of the safe; I thought I'd be ready
for you, you see!"

"But how did you know we had the remaining portion of the letter?" I
asked.

The Chief chuckled again.

"My young men don't wire for cars to meet 'em at the station when they
have failed," he replied. "Now, tell me all about it!"

So I told him my whole story from the beginning.

When I had finished, he said:

"You appear to have a very fine natural disposition for our game,
Okewood. It seems a pity to waste it in regimental work ..."

I broke in hastily.

"I've got a few weeks' sick leave left," I said, "and after that I was
looking forward to going back to the front for a rest. This sort of
thing is too exciting for me!"

"Well, well," answered the Chief, "we'll see about that afterwards. In
the meantime, we shall not forget what you have done ... and I shall see
that it is not forgotten elsewhere."

On that we left him. It was only outside that I remembered that he had
told me nothing of what I was burning to know about the origin and
disappearance of the Kaiser's letter.

It was my old friend, Red Tabs, whom I met on one of our many visits to
mysterious but obviously important officials, that finally cleared up
for me the many obscure points in this adventure of mine. When he saw me
he burst out laughing.

"'Pon my soul," he grinned, "you seem to be able to act on a hint, don't
you?"

Then he told me the story of the Kaiser's letter.

"There is no need to speak of the contents of this amazing letter," he
began, "for you are probably more familiar with them than I am. The date
alone will suffice ... July 31st, 1914 ... it explains a great deal. The
last day of July was the moment when the peace of Europe was literally
trembling in the balance. You know the Emperor's wayward, capricious
nature, his eagerness for fame and military glory, his morbid terror of
the unknown. In that fateful last week of July he was torn between
opposing forces. On the one side was ranged the whole of the Prussian
military party, led by the Crown Prince and the Emperor's own immediate
entourage; on the other, the record of prosperity which years of peace
had conferred on his realms. He had to choose between his own
megalomania craving for military laurels, on the one hand, and, on the
other, that place in history as the Prince of Peace for which, in his
gentler moments, he has so often hankered.

"The Kaiser is a man of moods. He sat down and penned this letter in a
fit of despondency and indecision, when the vision of Peace seemed
fairer to him than the spectre of War. God knows what violent emotion
impelled him to write this extraordinary appeal to his English friend,
an appeal which, if published, would convict him of the deepest
treachery to his ally, but he wrote the letter and forthwith dispatched
it to London. He did not make use of the regular courier: he sent the
letter by a man of his own choosing, who had special instructions to
hand the letter in person to Prince Lichnowski, the German ambassador.
Lichnowski was to deliver the missive personally to its destined
recipient.

"Almost as soon as the letter was away, the Kaiser seems to have
realised what he had done, to have repented of his action. Attempts to
stop the messenger before he reached the coast appear to have failed. At
any rate, we know that all through July 31st and August 1st Lichnowski,
in London, was bombarded with dispatches ordering him to send the
messenger with the letter back to Berlin as soon as he reached the
embassy.

"The courier never got as far as Carlton House Terrace. Someone in the
War party at the Court of Berlin got wind of the fateful letter and sent
word to someone in the German embassy in London - the Prussian jingoes
were well represented there by Kühlmann and others of his ilk - to
intercept the letter.

"The letter was intercepted. How it was done and by whom we have never
found out, but Lichnowski never saw that letter. Nor did the courier
leave London. With the Imperial letter still in possession, apparently,
he went to a house at Dalston, where he was arrested on the day after we
declared war on Germany.

"This courier went by the name of Schulte. We did not know him at the
time to be travelling on the Emperor's business, but we knew him very
well as one of the most daring and successful spies that Germany had
ever employed in this country. One of our people picked him up quite by
chance on his arrival in London, and shadowed him to Dalston, where we
promptly laid him by the heels when war broke out.

"Schulte was interned. You have heard how one of his letters, stopped by
the Camp Censor, put us on the track of the intercepted letter, and you
know the steps we took to obtain possession of the document. But we were
misled ... not by Schulte, but through the treachery of a man in whom he
confided, the interpreter at the internment camp.

"To this man Schulte entrusted the famous letter, telling him to send it
by an underground route to a certain address at Cleves, and promising
him in return a commission of twenty-five per cent on the price to be
paid for the letter. The interpreter took the letter, but did not do as
he was bid. On the contrary, he wrote to the go-between, with whom
Schulte had been in correspondence (probably Clubfoot), and announced
that he knew where the letter was and was prepared to sell it, only the
purchaser would have to come to England and fetch it.

"Well, to make a long story short, the interpreter made a deal with the
Huns, and this Dr. Semlin was sent to England from Washington, where he
had been working for Bernstorff, to fetch the letter at the address in
London indicated by the interpreter. In the meantime, we had got after
the interpreter, who, like Schulte, had been in the espionage business
all his life, and he was arrested.

"We know what Semlin found when he reached London. The wily interpreter
had sliced the letter in two, so as to make sure of his money, meaning,
no doubt, to hand over the other portion as soon as the price had been
paid. But by the time Semlin got to London the interpreter was jugged
and Semlin had to report that he had only got half the letter. The rest
you know ... how Grundt was sent for, how he came to this country and
retrieved the other portion. Don't ask me how he set about it: I don't
know, and we never found out even where the interpreter deposited the
second half or how Grundt discovered its hiding-place. But he executed
his mission and got clear away with the goods. The rest of the tale you
know better than I do!"

"But Clubfoot," I asked, "who is he?"

"There are many who have asked that question," Red Tabs replied gravely,
"and some have not waited long for their answer. The man was known by
name and reputation to very few, by sight to even fewer, yet I doubt if
any man of his time wielded greater power in secret than he.
Officially, he was nothing, he didn't exist; but in the dark places,
where his ways were laid, he watched and plotted and spied for his
master, the tool of the Imperial spite as he was the instrument of the
Imperial vengeance.

"A man like the Kaiser," my friend continued, "monarch though he is,
has many enemies naturally, and makes many more. Head of the Army,
head of the Navy, head of the Church, head of the State - undisputed,
autocratic head - he is confronted at every turn by personal issues
woven and intertwined with political questions. It was in this sphere,
where the personal is grafted on the political, that Clubfoot reigned
supreme ... here and in another sphere, where German William is not only
monarch, but also a very ordinary man.

"There are phases in every man's life, Okewood, which hardly bear the
light of day. In an autocracy, however, such phases are generally
inextricably entangled with political questions. It was in these dark
places that Clubfoot flourished ... he and his men ... 'the G gang' we
called them, from the letter 'G' (signifying _Garde_ or _Guard_) on
their secret-service badges.

"Clubfoot was answerable to no one save to the Emperor alone. His work
was of so delicate, so confidential a nature, that he rendered an
account of his services only to his Imperial master. There was none to
stay his hand, to check him in his courses, save only this neurotic,
capricious cripple who is always open to flattery...."

Red Tabs thought for a minute and then went on.

"No one may catalogue," he said, "the crimes that Clubfoot committed,
the infamies he had to his account. Not even the Kaiser himself, I dare
say, knows the manner in which his orders to this black-guard were
executed - orders rapped out often enough, I swear, in a fit of
petulance, a gust of passion, and forgotten the next moment in the
excitement of some fresh sensation.

"I know a little of Clubfoot's record, of innocent lives wrecked, of
careers ruined, of sudden disappearances, of violent deaths. When you
and your brother put it across der Stelze, Okewood, you settled a long
outstanding account we had against him, but you also rendered his
fellow-Huns a signal service."

I thought of the comments I had heard on Clubfoot among the customers at
Haase's, and I felt that Red Tabs had hit the right nail on the head
again.

"By the way?" said Red Tabs, as I rose to go, "would you care to see
Clubfoot's epitaph? I kept it for you." He handed me a German
newspaper - the _Berliner Tageblatt_, I think it was - with a paragraph
marked in red pencil. I read:

"We regret to report the sudden death from apoplexy of Dr. Adolf
Grundt, an inspector of secondary schools. The deceased was closely
connected for many years with a number of charitable institutions
enjoying the patronage of the Emperor. His Majesty frequently consulted
Dr. Grundt regarding the distribution of the sums allocated annually
from the Privy purse for benevolent objects."

"Pretty fair specimen of Prussian cynicism?" laughed Red Tabs. But I


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