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that he would come to the cupboard in the passage.

It was cold in that damp subterranean place. The cupboard was roomy
enough, so I thought I would put on the overcoat I was carrying. As I
stretched out my arm, my hand struck hard against some kind of
projecting hook in the wall behind me.

"Damn!" I swore savagely under my breath, but I put out my hand again to
find out what had hurt me. My fingers encountered the cold iron of a
latch. I pressed it and it gave.

A door swung open and I found myself in another little area with a
flight of stone steps leading to the street.

* * * * *

I was in a narrow lane driven between the tall sides of the houses. It
was a cul-de-sac. At the open end I could see the glimmer of street
lamps. It had stopped raining and the air was fresh and pleasant.
Carrying my bag I walked briskly down the lane and presently emerged in
a quiet thoroughfare traversed by a canal - probably the street, I
thought, that I had seen from the windows of my bedroom. The Hotel Sixt
lay to the right of the lane: I struck out to the left and in a few
minutes found myself in an open square behind the Bourse.

There I found a cab-rank with three or four cabs drawn up in line, the
horses somnolent, the drivers snoring inside their vehicles. I stirred
up the first and bade the driver take me to the Café Tarnowski.

Everyone who has been to Holland knows the Café Tarnowski at Rotterdam.
It is an immense place with hundreds of marble-topped tables tucked away
among palms under a vast glazed roof. Day or night it never closes: the
waiters succeed each other in shifts: day and night the great hall
resounds to the cry of orders, the patter of the waiters' feet, the
click of dominoes on the marble tables.

Delicious Dutch café au lait, a beefsteak and fried potatoes, most
succulent of all Dutch dishes, crisp white bread, hot from the midnight
baking, and appetizing Dutch butter, largely compensated for the thrills
of the night. Then I sent for some more coffee, black this time, and a
railway guide, and lighting a cigarette began to frame my plan of
campaign.

The train for Berlin left Rotterdam at seven in the morning. It was now
ten minutes past two, so I had plenty of time. From that night onward, I
told myself, I was a German, and from that moment I set myself
assiduously to _feel_ myself a German as well as enact the part.

"It's no use dressing a part," Francis used to say to me; "you must
_feel_ it as well. If I were going to disguise myself as a Berliner, I
should not be content to shave my head and wear a bowler hat with a
morning coat and get my nails manicured pink. I should begin by
persuading myself that I was the Lord of creation, that bad manners is a
sign of manly strength and that dishonesty is the highest form of
diplomacy. Then only should I set about getting the costume!"

Poor old Francis! How shrewd he was and how well he knew his Berliners!

There is nothing like newspapers for giving one an idea of national
sentiment. I had not spoken to a German, save to a few terrified German
rats, prisoners of war in France, since the beginning of the war and I
knew that my knowledge of German thought must be rusty. So I sent the
willing waiter for all the German papers and periodicals he could lay
his hands on. He returned with stacks of them, _Berliner Tageblatt,
Kélnische Zeitung, Vorwérts;_ the alleged comic papers, _Kladderadatsch,
Lustige Blétter_ and _Simplicissimus;_ the illustrated press, _Leipziger
Illustrirte Zeitung, Der Weltkrieg im Bild,_ and the rest: that
remarkable café even took in such less popular publications as Harden's
_Zukunft_ and semi-blackmailing rags like _Der Roland von Berlin._

For two hours I saturated myself with German contemporary thought as
expressed in the German press. I deliberately laid my mind open to
conviction; I repeated to myself over and over again: "We Germans are
fighting a defensive war: the scoundrelly Grey made the world-war: Gott
strafe England!" Absurd as this proceeding seems to me when I look back
upon it, I would not laugh at myself at the time. I must be German, I
must feel German, I must think German: on that would my safety in the
immediate future depend.

I laid aside my reading in the end with a feeling of utter amazement. In
every one of these publications, in peace-time so widely dissimilar in
conviction and trend, I found the same mentality, the same outlook, the
same parrot-like cries. What the _Cologne Gazette_ shrieked from its
editorial columns, the comic (God save the mark) press echoed in foul
and hideous caricature. Here was organization with a vengeance, the
mobilization of national thought, a series of gramophone records fed
into a thousand different machines so that each might play the selfsame
tune.

"You needn't worry about your German mentality," I told myself, "you've
got it all here! You've only got to be a parrot like the rest and you'll
be as good a Hun as Hindenburg!"

A Continental waiter, they say, can get one anything one chooses to ask
for at any hour of the day or night. I was about to put this theory to
the test.

"Waiter," I said (of course, in German), "I want a bag, a handbag. Do
you think you could get me one?"

"Does the gentleman want it now?" the man replied.

"This very minute," I answered.

"About that size?" - indicating Semlin's. "Yes, or smaller if you like: I
am not particular."

"I will see what can be done."

In ten minutes the man was back with a brown leather bag about a size
smaller than Semlin's. It was not new and he charged me thirty gulden
(which is about fifty shillings) for it. I paid with a willing heart and
tipped him generously to boot, for I wanted a bag and could not wait
till the shops opened without missing the train for Germany.

I paid my bill and drove off to the Central Station through the dark
streets with my two bags. The clocks were striking six as I entered
under the great glass dome of the station hall.

I went straight to the booking-office, and bought a first-class ticket,
single, to Berlin. One never knows what may happen and I had several
things to do before the train went.

The bookstall was just opening. I purchased a sovereign's worth of books
and magazines, English, French and German, and crammed them into the bag
I had procured at the café. Thus laden I adjourned to the station
buffet.

There I set about executing a scheme I had evolved for leaving the
document which Semlin had brought from England in a place of safety,
whence it could be recovered without difficulty, should anything happen
to me. I knew no one in Holland save Dicky, and I could not send him the
document, for I did not trust the post. For the same reason I would not
post the document home to my bank in England: besides, I knew one could
not register letters until eight o'clock, by which hour I hoped to be
well on my way into Germany.

No, my bag, conveniently weighted with books and deposited at the
station cloak-room, should be my safe. The comparative security of
station cloak-rooms as safe deposits has long been recognized by jewel
thieves and the like and this means of leaving my document behind in
safety seemed to me to be better than any other I could think of.

So I dived into my bag and from the piles of literature it contained
picked up a book at random. It was a German brochure: _Gott strafe
England!_ by Prof. Dr. Hugo Bischoff, of the University of Göttingen.
The irony of the thing appealed to my sense of humour. "So be it!" I
said. "The worthy Professor's fulminations against my country shall have
the honour of harbouring the document which is, apparently, of such
value to _his_ country!" And I tucked the little canvas case away inside
the pages of the pamphlet, stuck the pamphlet deep down among the books
and shut the bag.

Seeing its harmless appearance the cloak-room receipt - I
calculated - would, unlike Semlin's document, attract no attention if, by
any mischance, it fell into wrong hands _en route._ I therefore did not
scruple to commit it to the post. Before taking my bag of books to the
cloak-room I wrote two letters. Both were to Ashcroft - Ashcroft of the
Foreign Office, who got me my passport and permit to come to Rotterdam.
Herbert Ashcroft and I were old friends. I addressed the envelopes to
his private house in London. The Postal Censor, I knew, keen though he
always is after letters from neutral countries, would leave old
Herbert's correspondence alone.

The first letter was brief. "Dear Herbert," I wrote, "would you mind
looking after the enclosed until you hear from me again? Filthy weather
here. Yours, D.O." This letter was destined to contain the cloak-room
receipt. To conceal the importance of an enclosure, it is always a good
dodge to send the covering letter under separate cover.

"Dear Herbert," I said in my second letter, "If you don't hear from me
within two months of this date regarding the enclosure you will have
already received, please send someone, or, preferably, go yourself and
collect my luggage at the cloak-room of the Rotterdam Central Station. I
know how busy you always are. Therefore you will understand my reasons
for making this inordinate claim upon your time. Yours, D.O." And, by
way of a clue, I added, inconsequently enough: _"Gott strafe England!"_

I chuckled inwardly at the thought of Herbert's face on receiving this
preposterous demand that he should abandon his dusty desk in Downing
Street and betake himself across the North Sea to fetch my luggage. But
he'd go all right. I knew my Herbert, dull and dry and conventional, but
a most faithful friend.

I called a porter at the entrance of the buffet and handing him Semlin's
bag and overcoat, bade him find me a first-class carriage in the Berlin
train when it arrived. I would meet him on the platform. Then, at the
cloak-room opposite, I gave in my bag of books, put the receipt in the
first letter and posted it in the letter-box within the station. I went
out into the streets with the second letter and posted it in a
letter-box let into the wall of a tobacconist's shop in a quiet street a
few turnings away. By this arrangement I reckoned Herbert would get the
letter with the receipt before the covering letter arrived.

Returning to the railway station I noticed a kind of slop shop which
despite the early hour was already open. A fat Jew in his shirt-sleeves,
his thumbs in his waistcoat pockets, stood at the entrance framed in
hanging overcoats and bats and boots. I had no umbrella and it struck me
that a waterproof of some kind might not be a bad addition to my
extremely scanty wardrobe. Moreover, I reflected that with the rubber
shortage rain-coats must be at a premium in Germany.

So I followed the bowing son of Shem into his dark and dirty shop and
emerged presently wearing an appallingly ugly green mackintosh reeking
hideously of rubber. It was a shocking garment but I reflected that I
was a German and must choose my garb accordingly.

Outside the shop I nearly ran into a little man who was loafing in the
doorway. He was a wizened, scrubby old fellow wearing a dirty peaked cap
with a band of tarnished gold. I knew him at once for one of those
guides, half tout, half bully, that infest the railway termini of all
great Continental cities.

"Want a guide, sir?" the man said in German.

I shook my head and hurried on. The man trotted beside me. "Want a good,
cheap hotel, sir? Good, respectable house.... Want a ..."

"Ach! gehen sie zum Teufel!" I cried angrily. But the man persisted,
running along beside me and reeling off his tout's patter in a wheezing,
asthmatic voice. I struck off blindly down the first turning we came to,
hoping to be rid of the fellow, but in vain. Finally, I stopped and held
out a gulden.

"Take this and go away!" I said.

The old fellow waved the coin aside.

"Danke, danke," he said nonchalantly, looking at the same time to right
and left.

Then he said in a calm English voice, utterly different from his whining
accents of a moment before:

"You must be a dam' cool hand!"

But he didn't bluff me, staggered though I was. I said quickly in
German:

"What do you want with me? I don't understand you. If you annoy me any
more I shall call the police!"

Again he spoke in English and it was the voice of a well-bred Englishman
that spoke:

"You're either a past master at the game or raving mad. Why! the whole
station is humming after you! Yet you walked out of the buffet and
through the whole lot of them without turning a hair. No wonder they
never spotted you!"

Again I answered in German:

"Ich verstehe nicht!"

But he went on in English, without seeming to notice my observation:

"Hang it all, man, you can't go into Germany wearing a regimental tie!"

My hand flew to my collar and the blood to my head. What a cursed
amateur I was, after all! I had entirely forgotten that I was wearing my
regimental colours. I was crimson with vexation but also with a sense of
relief. I felt I might trust this man. It would be a sharp German agent
who would notice a small detail like that.

Still I resolved to stick to German: I would trust nobody.

But the guide had started his patter again. I saw two workmen
approaching. When they had passed, he said, this time in English:

"You're quite right to be cautious with a stranger like me, but I want
to warn you. Why, I've been following you round all the morning. Lucky
for you it was me and not one of the others...."

Still I was silent. The little man went on:

"For the past half-hour they have been combing that station for you. How
you managed to escape them I don't know except that none of them seems
to have a very clear idea of your appearance. You don't look very
British, I grant you; but I spotted your tie and then I recognized the
British officer all right.

"No, don't worry to tell me anything about yourself - it is none of my
business to know, any more than you will find out anything about me. I
know where you are going, for I heard you take your ticket; but you may
as well understand that you have as much chance of getting into your
train if you walk into the railway hall and up the stairs in the
ordinary way as you have of flying across the frontier."

"But they can't stop me!" I said. "This isn't Germany...."

"Bah!" said the guide. "You will be jostled, there will be an
altercation, a false charge, and you will miss your train! _They_ will
attend to the rest!

"Damn it, man," he went on, "I know what I'm talking about. Here, come
with me and I'll show you. You have twenty minutes before the train
goes. Now start the German again!"

We went down the street together for all the world like a "mug" in tow
of one of those black-guard guides. As we approached the station the
guide said in his whining German:

"Pay attention to me now. I shall leave you here. Go to the suburban
booking-office - the entrance is in the street to the left of the
station hall. Go into the first-class waiting-room and look out of
the window that gives on to the station hall. There you will see some
of the forces mobilized against you. There is a regular cordon of
guides - like me - drawn across the entrances to the main-line
platforms - unostentatiously, of course. If you look you will see plenty
of plain-clothes Huns, too...."

"Guides?" I said.

He nodded cheerfully.

"Looks bad for me, doesn't it? But one gets better results by being one
of them. Oh! it's all right. In any case you've got to trust me now.

"See here! When you have satisfied yourself that I'm correct in what I
say, take a platform ticket and walk upstairs to platform No. 5. On that
platform you will find a train. Go to the end where the metals run out
of the station, where the engine would be coupled on, and get into the
last first-class carriage. On no account move from there until you see
me. Now then, I'll have that gulden!"

I gave him the coin. The old fellow looked at it and wagged his head, so
I gave him another, whereupon he took off his cap, bowed low and hurried
off.

In the suburban side waiting-room I peered out of the window on to the
station hall. True enough, I saw one, two, four, six guides loafing
about the barriers leading to the main-line platforms. There seemed to
be a lot of people in the hall and certainly a number of the men
possessed that singular taste in dress, those rotundities of contour,
by which one may distinguish the German in a crowd.

I now had no hesitation in following the guide's instructions to the
letter. Platform No. 5 was completely deserted as I emerged breathless
from the long staircase and I had no difficulty in getting into the last
first-class carriage unobserved. I sat down by the window on the far
side of the carriage.

Alongside it ran the brown panels and gold lettering of a German
restaurant car.

I looked at my watch. It was ten minutes to seven. There was no sign of
my mysterious friend. I wondered vaguely, too, what had become of my
porter. True, there was nothing of importance in Semlin's bag, but a
traveller with luggage always commands more confidence than one without.

Five minutes to seven! Still no word from the guide. The minutes ticked
away. By Jove! I was going to miss the train. But I sat resolutely in my
corner. I had put my trust in this man. I would trust him to the last.

Suddenly his face appeared in the window at my elbow. The door was flung
open.

"Quick!" he whispered in my ear, "follow me."

"My things ..." I gasped with one foot on the foot-board of the other
train. At the same moment the train began to move.

The guide pointed to the carriage into which I had clambered.

"The porter ..." I cried from the open door, thinking he had not
understood me.

The guide pointed towards the carriage again, then tapped himself on the
chest with a significant smile.

The next moment he had disappeared and I had not even thanked him.

The Berlin train bumped ponderously out of the station. Peering
cautiously out of the carriage, I caught a glimpse of the waiter, Karl,
hurrying down the platform. With him was a swarthy, massively built man
who leaned heavily on a stick and limped painfully as he ran. One of his
feet, I could see, was misshapen and the sweat was pouring down his
face.

I would have liked to wave my hand to the pair, but I prudently drew
back out of sight of the platform.

Caution, caution, caution, must henceforward be my watchword.




CHAPTER VII

IN WHICH A SILVER STAR ACTS AS A CHARM


I have often remarked in life that there are days when some benevolent
deity seems to be guiding one's every action. On such days, do what you
will, you cannot go wrong. As the Berlin train bumped thunderously over
the culverts spanning the canals between the tall, grey houses of
Rotterdam and rushed out imperiously into the plain of windmills and
pollards beyond, I reflected that this must be my good day, so kindly
had some fairy godmother shepherded my footsteps since I had left the
café.

So engrossed had I been, indeed, in the great enterprise on which I was
embarked, that my actions throughout the morning had been mainly
automatic. Yet how uniformly had they tended to protect me! I had bought
my ticket in advance; I had given my overcoat and bag to a porter that I
now knew to have been my saviour in disguise; I had sallied forth from
the station and thus given him an opportunity for safe converse with me.
The omens were good: I could trust my luck to-day, I felt, and, greatly
comforted, I began to look about me.

I found myself, the only occupant, in a first-class carriage. On the
window was plastered a notice, in Dutch and German, to the effect that
the carriage was reserved. Suddenly I thought of my bag and overcoat.
They were nowhere to be seen. After a little search I found them beneath
the seat. In the overcoat pocket was a black tie.

I lost no time in taking the hint. If any of you who read this tale
should one day notice a ganger on the railway between Rotterdam and
Dordrecht wearing the famous colours of a famous regiment round his neck
you will understand how they got there. Then, wearied out with the
fatigues of my sleepless night, I fell into a deep slumber, my verdant
waterproof swathed round me, Semlin's overcoat about my knees.

* * * * *

I was dreaming fitfully of a mad escape from hordes of wildly clutching
guides, led by Karl the waiter, when the screaming of brakes brought me
to my senses. The train was sensibly slackening speed. Outside the
autumn sun was shining over pleasant brown stretches of moorland bright
with heather. The next moment and before I was fully awake we had glided
to a standstill at a very spick and span station and the familiar cry
of "Alles aussteigen!" rang in my ears.

We were in Germany.

The realization fell upon me like a thunderclap. I was in the enemy's
country, sailing under false colours, with only the most meagre
information about the man whose place I had taken and no plausible tale,
such as I had fully intended to have ready, to carry me through the
rigorous scrutiny of the frontier police.

What was my firm? The Halewright Manufacturing Company. What did we
manufacture? I had not the faintest idea. Why was I coming to Germany at
all? Again I was at a loss.

The clink of iron-shod heels in the corridor and an officer, followed
closely by two privates, the white cross of the Landwehr in their
helmets, stood at the door.

"Your papers, please," he said curtly but politely.

I handed over my American passport.

"This has not been viséd," said the officer.

With a pang I realized that again I was at fault. Of course, the
passport should have been stamped at the German Consulate at Rotterdam.

"I had no time," I said boldly. "I am travelling on most important
business to Berlin. I only reached Rotterdam last night, after the
Consulate was closed."

The lieutenant turned to one of his guards.

"Take the gentleman to the Customs Hall," he said and went on to the
next carriage.

The soldier appropriated my overcoat and bag and beckoned me to follow
him. Outside the platform was railed off. Everyone, I noticed, was
shepherded into a long narrow pen made with iron hurdles leading to a
locked door over which was written: Zoll-Revision. I was going to take
my place in the queue when the soldier prodded me with his elbow. He led
me to a side door which opened in the gaunt, bare Customs Hall with its
long row of trestles for the examination of the passengers' luggage. In
a corner behind a desk was a large group of officers and subordinate
officials, all in the grey-green uniform I knew so well from the life in
the trenches. The principal seemed to be an immense man, inordinately
gross and fat, with a bloated face and great gold spectacles. He was
roaring in a loud, angry voice:

"He's not come! There you are! Again we shall have all the trouble for
nothing!"

I thought he looked an extraordinarily bad-tempered individual and I
fervently prayed that I should not be brought before him.

The doors were flung open. With a rush the hall was invaded with a
heterogeneous mob of people huddled pellmell together and driven along
before a line of soldiers. For an hour or more babel reigned. Officials
bawled at the public: the place rang with the sounds of angry
altercation. After a furious dispute one man, wildly gesticulating, was
dragged away by two soldiers.

I never saw such a thorough examination in my life. People's bags were
literally turned upside down and every single object pried into and
besnuffled. After the customs' examination passengers were passed on to
the searching-rooms, the men to one side, the women to the other. I
caught sight of a female searcher lolling at a door ... a monstrous and
grim female who reminded me of those dreadful bathing women at the
seaside in our early youth.

The fat official had vanished into an office leading off the Customs
Hall. He was, I surmised, the last instance, for several passengers,
including a very respectably dressed old lady, were driven into the side
office and were seen no more.

During all this scene of confusion no one had taken any notice of me. My
guard looked straight in front of him and said never a word. When the
hall was all but cleared, a man came to the office door and made a sign
to my sentinel.

At a table in the office which, despite the sunshine outside, was heated
like a greenhouse, I found the fat official. Something had evidently
upset him, for his brows were clouded with anger and his mastiff-like


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Online LibraryValentine WilliamsThe Man with the Clubfoot → online text (page 4 of 16)