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without. Then from the darkness of the narrow corridor that stretched
out in front of me, I heard the rattle of a key in a lock.

I advanced down the corridor, the pale glimmer of my candle showing me
as I passed a succession of yellow doors, each bearing a white porcelain
plate inscribed with a number in black. No. 46 was the first room on
the right counting from the landing: the even numbers were on the right,
the odd on the left: therefore I reckoned on finding my room the last on
the left at the end of the corridor.

The corridor presently took a sharp turn. As I came round the bend I
heard again the sound of a key and then the rattling of a door knob, but
the corridor bending again, I could not see the author of the noise
until I had turned the corner.

I ran right into a man fumbling at a door on the left-hand side of the
passage, the last door but one. A mirror at the end of the corridor
caught and threw back the reflection of my candle.

The man looked up as I approached. He was wearing a soft black felt hat
and a black overcoat and on his arm hung an umbrella streaming with
rain. His candlestick stood on the floor at his feet. It had apparently
just been extinguished, for my nostrils sniffed the odour of burning
tallow.

"You have a light?" the stranger said in German in a curiously
breathless voice. "I have just come upstairs and the wind blew out my
candle and I could not get the door open. Perhaps you could ..." He
broke off gasping and put his hand to his heart.

"Allow me," I said. The lock of the door was inverted and to open the
door you had to insert the key upside-down. I did so and the door
opened easily. As it swung back I noticed the number of the room was 33,
next door to mine.

"Can I be of any assistance to you? Are you unwell?" I said, at the same
time lifting my candle and scanning the stranger's features.

He was a young man with close-cropped black hair, fine dark eyes and an
aquiline nose with a deep furrow between the eyebrows. The crispness of
his hair and the high cheekbones gave a suggestion of Jewish blood. His
face was very pale and his lips were blueish. I saw the perspiration
glistening on his forehead.

"Thank you, it is nothing," the man replied in the same breathless
voice. "I am only a little out of breath with carrying my bag upstairs.
That's all."

"You must have arrived just before I did," I said, remembering the cab
that had driven away from the hotel as I drove up.

"That is so," he answered, pushing open his door as he spoke. He
disappeared into the darkness of the room and suddenly the door shut
with a slam that re-echoed through the house.

As I had calculated, my room was next door to his, the end room of the
corridor. It smelt horribly close and musty and the first thing I did
was to stride across to the windows and fling them back wide.

I found myself looking across a dark and narrow canal, on whose
stagnant water loomed large the black shapes of great barges, into the
windows of gaunt and weather-stained houses over the way. Not a light
shone in any window. Away in the distance the same clock as I had heard
before struck the quarter - a single, clear chime.

It was the regular bedroom of the _maison meublée_ - worn carpet,
discoloured and dingy wallpaper, faded rep curtains and mahogany
bedstead with a vast _édredon_, like a giant pincushion. My candle,
guttering wildly in the unaccustomed breeze blowing dankly through the
chamber, was the sole illuminant. There was neither gas nor electric
light laid on.

The house had relapsed into quiet. The bedroom had an evil look and
this, combined with the dank air from the canal, gave my thoughts a
sombre tinge.

"Well," I said to myself, "you're a nice kind of ass! Here you are, a
British officer, posing as a brother Hun in a cut-throat Hun hotel, with
a waiter who looks like the official Prussian executioner. What's going
to happen to you, young feller my lad, when Madame comes along and finds
you have a British passport? A very pretty kettle of fish, I must say!

"And suppose Madame takes it into her head to toddle along up here
to-night and calls your bluff and summons the gentle Hans or Fritz or
whatever that ruffianly waiter's name is to come upstairs and settle
your hash! What sort of a fight are you going to put up in that narrow
corridor out there with a Hun next door and probably on every side of
you, and no exit this end? You don't know a living soul in Rotterdam and
no one will be a penny the wiser if you vanish off the face of the
earth ... at any rate no one on this side of the water."

Starting to undress, I noticed a little door on the left-hand side of
the bed. I found it opened into a small _cabinet de toilette_, a narrow
slip of a room with a wash-hand stand and a very dirty window covered
with yellow paper. I pulled open this window with great difficulty - it
cannot have been opened for years - and found it gave on to a very small
and deep interior court, just an air shaft round which the house was
built. At the bottom was a tiny paved court not more than five foot
square, entirely isolated save on one side where there was a basement
window with a flight of steps leading down from the court through an
iron grating. From this window a faint yellow streak of light was
visible. The air was damp and chill and horrid odours of a dirty kitchen
were wafted up the shaft. So I closed the window and set about turning
in.

I took off my coat and waistcoat, then bethought me of the mysterious
document I had received from Dicky. Once more I looked at those
enigmatical words:

_O Oak-wood! O Oak-wood_ (for that much was
clear),
_How empty are thy leaves.
_Like Achiles_ (with one "l") _in the tent.
When two people fall out
The third party rejoices._

What did it all mean? Had Francis fallen out with some confederate who,
having had his revenge by denouncing my brother, now took this
extraordinary step to announce his victim's fate to the latter's
friends? "Like Achilles in the tent!" Why not "in _his_ tent"?
Surely ...

A curious choking noise, the sound of a strangled cough, suddenly broke
the profound silence of the house. My heart seemed to stop for a moment.
I hardly dared raise my eyes from the paper which I was conning, leaning
over the table in my shirt and trousers.

The noise continued, a hideous, deep-throated gurgling. Then I heard a
faint foot-fall in the corridor without.

I raised my eyes to the door.

Someone or something was scratching the panels, furiously, frantically.

The door-knob was rattled loudly. The noise broke in raucously upon that
horrid gurgling sound without. It snapped the spell that bound me.

I moved resolutely towards the door. Even as I stepped forward the
gurgling resolved itself into a strangled cry.

"Ach! ich sterbe" were the words I heard.

Then the door burst open with a crash, there was a swooping rush of wind
and rain through the room, the curtains flapped madly from the windows.

The candle flared up wildly.

Then it went out.

Something fell heavily into the room.




CHAPTER IV

DESTINY KNOCKS AT THE DOOR


There are two things at least that modern warfare teaches you, one is to
keep cool in an emergency, the other is not to be afraid of a corpse.
Therefore I was scarcely surprised to find myself standing there in the
dark calmly reviewing the extraordinary situation in which I now found
myself. That's the curious thing about shell-shock: after it a motor
back-firing or a tyre bursting will reduce a man to tears, but in face
of danger he will probably find himself in full possession of his wits
as long as there is no sudden and violent noise connected with it.

Brief as the sounds without had been, I was able on reflection to
identify that gasping gurgle, that rapid patter of the hands. Anyone who
has seen a man die quickly knows them. Accordingly I surmised that
somebody had come to my door at the point of death, probably to seek
assistance.

Then I thought of the man next door, his painful breathlessness, his
blueish lips, when I found him wrestling with his key, and I guessed
who was my nocturnal visitor lying prone in the dark at my feet.

Shielding the candle with my hand I rekindled it. Then I grappled with
the flapping curtains and got the windows shut. Then only did I raise my
candle until its beams shone down upon the silent figure lying across
the threshold of the room.

It was the man from No. 33. He was quite dead. His face was livid and
distorted, his eyes glassy between the half-closed lids, while his
fingers, still stiffly clutching, showed paint and varnish and dust
beneath the nails where he had pawed door and carpet in his death agony.

One did not need to be a doctor to see that a heart attack had swiftly
and suddenly struck him down.

Now that I knew the worst I acted with decision. I dragged the body by
the shoulders into the room until it lay in the centre of the carpet.
Then I locked the door.

The foreboding of evil that had cast its black shadow over my thoughts
from the moment I crossed the threshold of this sinister hotel came over
me strongly again. Indeed, my position was, to say the least, scarcely
enviable. Here was I, a British officer with British papers of identity,
about to be discovered in a German hotel, into which I had introduced
myself under false pretences, at dead of night alone with the corpse of
a German or Austrian (for such the dead man apparently was)!

It was undoubtedly a most awkward fix.

I listened.

Everything in the hotel was silent as the grave.

I turned from my gloomy forebodings to look again at the stranger. In
his crisp black hair and slightly protuberant cheekbones I traced again
the hint of Jewish ancestry I had remarked before. Now that the man's
eyes - his big, thoughtful eyes that had stared at me out of the darkness
of the corridor - were closed, he looked far less foreign than before: in
fact he might almost have passed as an Englishman.

He was a young man - about my own age, I judged - (I shall be twenty-eight
next birthday) and about my own height, which is five feet ten. There
was something about his appearance and build that struck a chord very
faintly in my memory.

Had I seen the fellow before?

I remembered now that I had noticed something oddly familiar about him
when I first saw him for that brief moment in the corridor.

I looked down at him again as he lay on his back on the faded carpet. I
brought the candle down closer and scanned his features.

He certainly looked less foreign than he did before. He might not be a
German after all: more likely a Hungarian or a Pole, perhaps even a
Dutchman. His German had been too flawless for a Frenchman - for a
Hungarian, either, for that matter.

I leant back on my knees to ease my cramped position. As I did so I
caught a glimpse of the stranger's three-quarters face.

Why! He reminded me of Francis a little!

There certainly was a suggestion of my brother in the man's appearance.
Was it the thick black hair, the small dark moustache? Was it the
well-chiselled mouth? It was rather a hint of Francis than a resemblance
to him.

The stranger was fully dressed. The jacket of his blue serge suit had
fallen open and I saw a portfolio in the inner breast pocket. Here, I
thought, might be a clue to the dead man's identity. I fished out the
portfolio, then rapidly ran my fingers over the stranger's other
pockets.

I left the portfolio to the last.

The jacket pockets contained nothing else except a white silk
handkerchief unmarked. In the right-hand top pocket of the waistcoat was
a neat silver cigarette case, perfectly plain, containing half a dozen
cigarettes. I took one out and looked at it. It was a Melania, a
cigarette I happen to know for they stock them at one of my clubs, the
Dionysus, and it chances to be the only place in London where you can
get the brand.

It looked as if my unknown friend had come from London.

There was also a plain silver watch of Swiss make.

In the trousers pocket was some change, a little English silver and
coppers, some Dutch silver and paper money. In the right-hand trouser
pocket was a bunch of keys.

That was all.

I put the different articles on the floor beside me. Then I got up, put
the candle on the table, drew the chair up to it and opened the
portfolio.

In a little pocket of the inner flap were visiting cards. Some were
simply engraved with the name in small letters:

Dr. Semlin

Others were more detailed:

Dr. Semlin, Brooklyn, N.Y.
The Halewright Mfg. Co., Ltd.

There were also half a dozen private cards:

Dr. Semlin, 333 E. 73rd St., New York.
Rivington Park House.

In the packet of cards was a solitary one, larger than the rest, an
expensive affair on thick, highly glazed millboard, bearing in gothic
characters the name:

Otto von Steinhardt.

On this card was written in pencil, above the name:

"Hotel Sixt, Vos in't Tuintje," and in brackets, thus: "(Mme. Anna
Schratt.)"

In another pocket of the portfolio was an American passport surmounted
by a flaming eagle and sealed with a vast red seal, sending greetings to
all and sundry on behalf of Henry Semlin, a United States citizen,
travelling to Europe. Details in the body of the document set forth that
Henry Semlin was born at Brooklyn on 31st March, 1886, that his hair was
Black, nose Aquiline, chin Firm, and that of special marks he had None.
The description was good enough to show me that it was undoubtedly the
body of Henry Semlin that lay at my feet.

The passport had been issued at Washington three months earlier. The
only _visa_ it bore was that of the American Embassy in London, dated
two days previously. With it was a British permit, issued to Henry
Semlin, Manufacturer, granting him authority to leave the United Kingdom
for the purpose of travelling to Rotterdam, further a bill for luncheon
served on board the Dutch Royal mail steamer _Koningin Regentes_ on
yesterday's date.

In the long and anguishing weeks that followed on that anxious night in
the Hotel of the Vos in't Tuintje, I have often wondered to what
malicious promptings, to what insane impulse, I owed the idea that
suddenly germinated in my brain as I sat fingering the dead man's
letter-case in that squalid room. The impulse sprang into my brain like
a flash and like a flash I acted on it, though I can hardly believe I
meant to pursue it to its logical conclusion until I stood once more
outside the door of my room.

The examination of the dead man's papers had shown me that he was an
American business man, who had just come from London, having but
recently proceeded to England from the United States.

What puzzled me was why an American manufacturer, seemingly of some
substance and decently dressed, should go to a German hotel on the
recommendation of a German, from his name, and the style of his visiting
card, a man of good family.

Semlin might, of course, have been, like myself, a traveller benighted
in Rotterdam, owing his recommendation to the hotel to a German
acquaintance in the city. Still, Americans are cautious folk and I found
it rather improbable that this American business man should adventure
himself into this evil-looking house with a large sum of money on his
person - he had several hundred pounds of money in Dutch currency notes
in a thick wad in his portfolio.

I knew that the British authorities discouraged, as far as they could,
neutrals travelling to and fro between England and Germany in war-time.
Possibly Semlin wanted to do business in Germany on his European trip as
well as in England. Knowing the attitude of the British authorities, he
may well have made his arrangements in Holland for getting into Germany
lest the British police should get wind of his purpose and stop him
crossing to Rotterdam.

But his German was so flawless, with no trace of Americanism in voice or
accent. And I knew what good use the German Intelligence had made of
neutral passports in the past. Therefore I determined to go next door
and have a look at Dr. Semlin's luggage. In the back of my mind was ever
that harebrain resolve, half-formed as yet but none the less firmly
rooted in my head.

Taking up my candle again, I stole out of the room. As I stood in the
corridor and turned to lock the bedroom door behind me, the mirror at
the end of the passage caught the reflection of my candle.

I looked and saw myself in the glass, a white, staring face.

I looked again. Then I fathomed the riddle that had puzzled me in the
dead face of the stranger in my room.

It was not the face of Francis that his features suggested.

It was mine!

* * * * *

The next moment I found myself in No. 33. I could see no sign of the key
of the room; Semlin must have dropped it in his fall, so it behoved me
to make haste for fear of any untoward interruption. I had not yet heard
eleven strike on the clock.

The stranger's hat and overcoat lay on a chair. The hat was from
Scott's: there was nothing except a pair of leather gloves in the
overcoat pockets.

A bag, in size something between a small kit-bag and a large handbag,
stood open on the table. It contained a few toilet necessaries, a pair
of pyjamas, a clean shirt, a pair of slippers, ... nothing of importance
and not a scrap of paper of any kind.

I went through everything again, looked in the sponge bag, opened the
safety razor case, shook out the shirt, and finally took everything out
of the bag and stacked the things on the table.

At the bottom of the bag I made a strange discovery. The interior of
the bag was fitted with that thin yellow canvas-like material with which
nearly all cheap bags, like this one was, are lined. At the bottom of
the bag an oblong piece of the lining had apparently been torn clean
out. The leather of the bag showed through the slit. Yet the lining
round the edges of the gap showed no fraying, no trace of rough usage.
On the contrary, the edges were pasted neatly down on the leather.

I lifted the bag and examined it. As I did so I saw lying on the table
beside it an oblong of yellow canvas. I picked it up and found the under
side stained with paste and the brown of the leather.

It was the missing piece of lining and it was stiff with something that
crackled inside it.

I slit the piece of canvas up one side with my penknife. It contained
three long fragments of paper, a thick, expensive, highly glazed paper.
Top, bottom and left-hand side of each was trim and glossy: the fourth
side showed a broken edge as though it had been roughly cut with a
knife. The three slips of paper were the halves of three quarto sheets
of writing, torn in two, lengthways, from top to bottom.

At the top of each slip was part of some kind of crest in gold, what, it
was not possible to determine, for the crest had been in the centre of
the sheet and the cut had gone right through it.

The letter was written in English but the name of the recipient as also
the date was on the missing half.

Somewhere in the silence of the night I heard a door bang. I thrust the
slips of paper in their canvas covering into my trousers pocket. I must
not be found in that room. With trembling hands I started to put the
things back in the bag. Those slips of paper, I reflected as I worked,
at least rent the veil of mystery enveloping the corpse that lay
stiffening in the next room. This, at any rate, was certain: German or
American or hyphenate, Henry Semlin, manufacturer and spy, had voyaged
from America to England not for the purposes of trade but to get hold of
that mutilated document now reposing in my pocket. Why he had only got
half the letter and what had happened to the other half was more than I
could say ... it sufficed for me to know that its importance to somebody
was sufficient to warrant a journey on its behalf from one side to the
other of the Atlantic.

As I opened the bag my fingers encountered a hard substance, as of
metal, embedded in the slack of the lining in the joints of the mouth.
At first I thought it was a coin, then I felt some kind of clasp or
fastening behind it and it seemed to be a brooch. Out came my pocket
knife again and there lay a small silver star, about as big as a
regimental cap badge, embedded in the thin canvas. It bore an
inscription. In stencilled letters I read:

O2 G
Abt. VII.

Here was Dr. Semlin's real visiting-card.

I held in my hand a badge of the German secret police.

You cannot penetrate far behind the scenes in Germany without coming
across the traces of Section Seven of the Berlin Police Presidency, the
section that is known euphemistically as that of the Political Police.
Ostensibly it attends to the safety of the monarch, and of distinguished
personages generally, and the numerous suite that used to accompany the
Kaiser on his visits to England invariably included two or three
top-hatted representatives of the section.

The ramifications of _Abteilung Sieben_ are, in reality, much wider. It
does such work in connection with the newspapers as is even too dirty
for the German Foreign Office to touch, comprising everything from the
launching of personal attacks in obscure blackmailing sheets against
inconvenient politicians to the escorting of unpleasantly truthful
foreign correspondents to the frontier. It is the obedient handmaiden of
the Intelligence Department of both War Office and Admiralty in Germany,
and renders faithful service to the espionage which is constantly
maintained on officials, politicians, the clergy and the general public
in that land of careful organisation.

Section Seven is a vast subterranean department. Always working in the
dark, its political complexion is a handy cloak for blacker and more
sinister activities. It is frequently entrusted with commissions of
which it would be inexpedient for official Germany to have cognizance
and of which, accordingly, official Germany can always safely repudiate
when occasion demands.

I thrust the pin of the badge into my braces and fastened it there,
crammed the rest of the dead man's effects into his bag, stuck his hat
upon my head and threw his overcoat on my arm, picked up his bag and
crept away. In another minute I was back in my room, my brain aflame
with the fire of a great enterprise.

Here, to my hand, lay the key of that locked land which held the secret
of my lost brother. The question I had been asking myself, ever since I
had first discovered the dead man's American papers of identity, was
this. Had I the nerve to avail myself of Semlin's American passport to
get into Germany? The answer to that question lay in the little silver
badge. I knew that no German official, whatever his standing, whatever
his orders, would refuse passage to the silver star of Section Seven. It
need only be used, too, as a last resource, for I had my papers as a
neutral. Could I but once set foot in Germany, I was quite ready to
depend on my wits to see me through. One advantage, I knew, I must
forgo. That was the half-letter in its canvas case.

If that document was of importance to Section Seven of the German
Police, then it was of equal, nay, of greater importance to my country.
If I went, that should remain behind in safe keeping. On that I was
determined.

"Never before, since the war began," I told myself, "can any Englishman
have had such an opportunity vouchsafed to him for getting easily and
safely into that jealously guarded land as you have now! You have plenty
of money, what with your own and this ..." and I fingered Semlin's wad
of notes, "and provided you can keep your head sufficiently to remember
always that you are a German, once over the frontier you should be able
to give the Huns the slip and try and follow up the trail of poor
Francis.

"And maybe," I argued further (so easily is one's better judgment
defeated when one is young and set on a thing), "maybe in German
surroundings, you may get some sense into that mysterious jingle you got
from Dicky Allerton as the sole existing clue to the disappearance of
Francis."

Nevertheless, I wavered. The risks were awful. I had to get out of that
evil hotel in the guise of Dr. Semlin, with, as the sole safeguard
against exposure, should I fall in with the dead man's employers or
friends, that slight and possibly imaginative resemblance between him
and me: I had to take such measures as would prevent the fraud from
being detected when the body was discovered in the hotel: above all, I
had to ascertain, before I could definitely resolve to push on into
Germany, whether Semlin was already known to the people at the hotel or


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