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cheeks were trembling with irritation. He thrust a hand out as I

"Your papers!" he grunted.

I handed over my passport.

Directly he had examined it, a red flush spread over his cheeks and
forehead and he brought his hand down on the table with a crash. The
sentry beside me winced perceptibly.

"It's not viséd," the fat official screamed in a voice shrill with
anger. "It's worthless... what good do you think is this to me?"

"Excuse me ..." I said in German.

"I won't excuse you," he roared. "Who are you? What do you want in
Germany? You've been to London, I see by this passport."

"I had no time to get my passport stamped at the Consulate at
Rotterdam," I said. "I arrived there too late in the evening. I could
not wait. I am going to Berlin on most important business."

"That's nothing to do with it," the man shouted. He was working himself
up into a fine frenzy. "Your passport is not in order. You're not a
German. You're an American. We Germans know what to think of our
American friends, especially those who come from London."

A voice outside shouted: "Nach Berlin alles einsteigen." I said as
politely as I could, despite my growing annoyance:

"I don't wish to miss my train. My journey to Berlin is of the utmost
importance. I trust the train can be held back until I have satisfied
you of my good faith. I have here a card from Herr von Steinhardt."

I paused to let the name sink in. I was convinced he must be a big bug
of some kind in the German service.

"I don't care a rap for Herr von Steinhardt or Herr von anybody else,"
the German cried. Then he said curtly to a cringing secretary beside

"Has he been searched?"

The secretary cast a frightened look at the sentry.

"No, Herr Major," said the secretary.

"Well, take him away and strip him and bring me anything you find!"

The sentry spun on his heel like an automaton.

The moment had come to play my last card, I felt: I could not risk being
delayed on the frontier lest Stelze and his friends should catch up with
me. I was surprised to find that apparently they had not telegraphed to
have me stopped.

"One moment, Herr Major," I said.

"Take him away!" The fat man waved me aside.

"I warn you," I continued, "that I am on important business. I can
convince you of that, too. Only ..." and I looked round the office. "All
these must go."

To my amazement the fat man's anger vanished utterly. He stared hard at
me, then took off his spectacles and polished them with his
handkerchief. After this he said nonchalantly: "Everybody get outside
except this gentleman!" The sentry, who had spun round on his heel
again, seemed about to speak: his voice expired before it came out of
his mouth: he saluted, spun round again and followed the rest out of the

When the place was cleared I pulled my left brace out of the armhole of
my waistcoat and displayed the silver star.

The fat man sprang up.

"The Herr Doktor must excuse me: I am overwhelmed: I had no idea that
the Herr Doktor was not one of these tiresome American spies that are
overrunning our country. The Herr Doktor will understand.... If the Herr
Doktor had but said ..."

"Herr Major," I said, endeavouring to put as much insolence as I could
into my voice (that is what a German understands), "I am not in the
habit of bleating my business to every fool I meet. Now I must go back
to the train."

"The Berlin train has gone, Herr Doktor, but..."

"The Berlin train gone?" I said. "But my business brooks no delay. I
tell you I must be in Berlin to-night!"

"There is no question of your taking the ordinary train, Herr Doktor,"
the fat man replied smoothly, "but unfortunately the special which I had
ready for you has been countermanded. I thought you were not coming

A special? By Jove! I was evidently a personage of note. But a special
would never do! Where the deuce was it going to take me?

"The Berlin train was to have been held back until your special was
clear," the Major went on, "but we must stop her at Wesel until you have
passed. I will attend to that at once!"

He gave some order down the telephone and after a brisk conversation
turned to me with a beaming face:

"They will stop her at Wesel and the special will be ready in
twenty-five minutes. But there is no hurry. You have an hour or more to
spare. Might I offer the Herr Doktor a glass of beer and a sandwich at
our officers' casino here?"

Well, I was in for it this time. A special bearing me Heaven knows
whither on unknown business...! Perhaps I might be able to extract a
little information out of my fat friend if I went with him, so I
accepted his invitation with suitable condescension.

The Major excused himself for an instant and returned with my overcoat
and bag.

"So!" he cried, "we can leave these here until we come back!" Behind him
through the open door I saw a group of officials peering curiously into
the room. As we walked through their midst, they fell back with
precipitation. There was a positive reverence about their manner which I
found extremely puzzling.

A waggonette, driven by an orderly, stood in the station yard, one of
the Customs officials, hat in hand, at the door. We drove rapidly
through very spick-and-span streets to a little square where the sentry
at an iron gate denoted the Officers' Club. In the anteroom four or five
officers in field-grey uniform were lounging. As we entered they sprang
to their feet and remained stiffly standing while the Major presented
them, Hauptmann Pfahl, Oberleutnant Meyer ... a string of names. One of
the officers had lost an arm, another was very lame, the remainder were
obvious dug-outs.

"An American gentleman, a good friend of ours," was the form in which
the Major introduced me to the company. Again I found myself mystified
by the extraordinary demonstrations of respect with which I was
received. Germans don't like Americans, especially since they took to
selling shells to the Allies, and I began to think that all these
officers must know more about me and my mission than I did myself. A
stolid orderly, wearing white gloves, brought beer and some
extraordinary nasty-looking sardine sandwiches which, on sampling, I
realized to be made of "war bread."

While the beer was being poured out I glanced round the room, bare and
very simply furnished. Terrible chromo-lithographs of the Kaiser and the
Crown Prince hung on the walls above a glass filled with war trophies.
With a horrible sickness at heart I recognized amongst other emblems a
glengarry with a silver badge and a British steel helmet with a gaping
hole through the crown. Then I remembered I was in the region of the
VIIth Corps, which supplies some of our toughest opponents on the
Western front.

Conversation was polite and perfunctory.

"It is on occasions such as these," said the lame officer, "that one
recognizes how our brothers overseas are helping the German cause."

"Your work must be extraordinarily interesting," observed one of the

"All your difficulties are now over," said the Major, much in the manner
of the chorus of a Greek play. "You will be in Berlin to-night, where
your labours will be doubtless rewarded. American friends of Germany are
not popular in London, I should imagine!"

I murmured: "Hardly."

"You must possess infinite tact to have aroused no suspicion," said the

"That depends," I said.

"Pardon me," replied the Major, in whom I began to recognize all the
signs of an unmitigated gossip, "I know something of the importance of
your mission. I speak amongst ourselves, is it not so, gentlemen? There
were special orders about you from the Corps Command at Münster. Your
special has been waiting for you here for four days. The gentleman who
came to meet you has been in a fever of expectation. He had already left
the station this morning when ... when I met you, I sent word for him to
pick you up here."

The plot was thickening. I most certainly was a personage of note.

"What part of America do you come from, Mr. Semlin?" said a voice in
perfect English from the corner. The one-armed officer was speaking.

"From Brooklyn," I said stoutly, though my heart seemed turned to ice
with the shock of hearing my own tongue.

"You have no accent," the other replied suavely.

"Some Americans," I retorted sententiously, "would regard that as a
compliment. Not all Americans talk through their noses any more than we
all chew or spit in public."

"I know," said the young man. "I was brought up there!"

We were surrounded by smiling faces. This officer who could speak
English was evidently regarded as a bit of a wag by his comrades. I
seized the opportunity to give them in German a humorous description of
my simplicity in explaining to a man brought up in the United States
that all Americans were not the caricatures depicted in the European
comic press.

There was a roar of laughter from the room.

"Ach, dieser Schmalz!" guffawed the Major, beating his thigh in ecstasy.
"Kolossal!" echoed one of the dug-outs. The lame man smiled wanly and
said it was "incredible how humorous Schmalz could be."

I had hoped that the conversation might now be carried on again in
German. Nothing of the kind. The room leant back in its chairs, as if
expecting the fun to go on.

It did.

"You get your clothes in London," the young officer said.

He was a trimly built young man, very pale from recent illness, with
flaxen hair and a bright, bold blue eye - the eye of a fighter. His left
sleeve was empty and was fastened across his tunic, in a button-hole of
which was twisted the black and white ribbon of the Iron Cross.

"Generally," I answered shortly, "when I go to England. Clothes are
cheaper in London."

"You must have a good ear for languages," Schmalz continued; "you speak
German like a German and English ..." he paused appreciably, "... like
an Englishman."

I felt horribly nervous. This young man never took his eyes off me: he
had been staring at me ever since I had entered the room. His manner
was perfectly calm and suave.

Still I kept my end up very creditably, I think.

"And not a bad accomplishment, either," I said, smiling brightly, "if
one has to visit London in war-time."

Schmalz smiled back with perfect courtesy. But he continued to stare
relentlessly at me. I felt scared.

"What is Schmalz jabbering about now?" said one of the dug-outs. I
translated for the benefit of the company. My résumé gave the dug-out
who had spoken the opportunity for launching out on an interminable
anecdote about an ulster he had bought on a holiday at Brighton. The
story lasted until the white-gloved orderly came and announced that "a
gentleman" was there, asking for the Herr Major.

"That'll be your man," exclaimed the Major, starting up - I noticed he
made no attempt to bring the stranger in. "Come, let us go to him!"

I stood up and took my leave. Schmalz came to the door of the anteroom
with us.

"You are going to Berlin?" he asked.

"Yes," I replied.

"Where shall you be staying?" he asked again.

"Oh, probably at the Adlon!"

"I myself shall be in Berlin next week for my medical examination, and
perhaps we may meet again. I should much like to talk more with you
about America ... and London. We must have mutual acquaintances."

I murmured something about being only too glad, at the same time making
a mental note to get out of Berlin as soon as I conveniently could.



As we went down the staircase, the Major whispered to me:

"I don't think your man wished me to know his name, for he did not
introduce himself when he arrived and he does not come to our Casino.
But I know him for all that: it is the young Count von Boden, of the
Uhlans of the Guard: his father, the General, is one of the Emperor's
aides-de-camp: he was, for a time, tutor to the Crown Prince."

A motor-car stood at the door, in it a young man in a grey-blue military
great-coat and a flat cap with a pink band round it. He sprang out as we
appeared. His manner was most _empressé_. He completely ignored my

"I am extremely glad to see you, Herr Doktor," he said. "You are
most anxiously expected. I must present my apologies for not being
at the station to welcome you, but, apparently, there was some
misunderstanding. The arrangements at the station for your reception
seem to have broken down completely ..." and he stared through his
monocle at the old Major, who flushed with vexation.

"If you will step into my car," the young man added, "I will drive you
to the station. We need not detain this gentleman any longer."

I felt sorry for the old Major, who had remained silent under the
withering insolence of this young lieutenant, so I shook hands with him
cordially and thanked him for his hospitality. He was a jovial old
fellow after all.

The young Count drove himself and chatted amiably as we whirled through
the streets. "I must introduce myself," he said: "Lieutenant Count von
Boden of the 2nd Uhlans of the Guard. I did not wish to say anything
before that old chatterbox. I trust you have had a pleasant journey. Von
Steinhardt, of our Legation at the Hague, was instructed to make all
arrangements for your comfort on this side. But I was forgetting, you
and he must be old acquaintances, Herr Doktor!"

I said something appropriate about von Steinhardt's invariable kindness.
Inwardly, I noted the explanation of the visiting card in the portfolio
in my pocket.

At the station we found two orderlies, one with my things, the other
with von Boden's luggage and fur _pélisse_. The platforms were now
deserted save for sentries: all life at this dreary frontier station
seemed to die with the passing of the mail train.

I could not help noticing, after we had left the car and were strolling
up and down the platform waiting for the special, that my companion kept
casting furtive glances at my feet. I looked down at my boots: they
wanted brushing, certainly, but otherwise I could see nothing wrong with
them. They were brown, it is true, and I reflected that the German man
about town has a way of regulating his tastes in footgear by the
calendar, and that brown boots are seldom worn in Germany after
September 1st.

Our special came in, an engine and tender, a brakesman's van, a single
carriage and a guard's van. The stationmaster bid us a most ceremonious
adieu, and the guard, cap in hand, helped me into the train.

It was a Pullman car in which I found myself, with comfortable
arm-chairs and small tables. One of the orderlies was laying the table
for luncheon, and here, presently, the young Count and I ate a meal,
which, save for the inevitable "_Kriegsbrod_," showed few signs of the
stringency of the British blockade. But by this time I had fully
realized that, for some unknown reason, no pains were spared to do me
honour, so probably the fare was something out of the common.

My companion was a bright, amusing fellow and delightfully typical of
his class. He had seen a year's service with the cavalry on the Eastern
front, had been seriously wounded and was now attached to the General
Staff in Berlin in what I judged to be a decorative rather than a useful
capacity, for, apart from what he had learnt in his own campaigning he
seemed singularly ignorant of the development of the military situation.
Particularly, his ignorance of conditions on the Western front was
supreme. He was full to the brim with the most extraordinary fables
about the British. He solemnly assured me, for example - on the faith of
a friend of his who had seen them - that Japanese were fighting with the
English in France, dressed as Highlanders - his friend had heard these
Asiatic Scotsmen talking Japanese, he declared. I thought of the
Gaelic-speaking battalions of the Camerons and could hardly suppress a

Young von Boden was superbly contemptuous of the officers of the obscure
and much reduced infantry battalion doing garrison duty at Goch, the
frontier station we had just left, where - as he was careful to explain
to me - he had spent four days of unrelieved boredom, waiting for me.

"Of course, in war time we are a united army and all that," he observed
unsophistically, "but none of these fellows at Goch was a fit companion
for a dashing cavalry officer. They were a dull lot. I wouldn't go near
the Casino. I met some of them at the hotel one evening. That was
enough for me. Why, only one of them knew anything at all about Berlin,
and that was the lame fellow. Now, there is one thing we learn in the

But I had ceased to listen. In his irresponsible chatter the boy used a
word that struck a harsh note which went jarring through my brain. He
had mentioned "the lame fellow," using a German word "der Stelze." In a
flash I saw before me again that scene in the squalid bedroom in the Vos
in't Tuintje - the candle guttering in the draught, the livid corpse on
the floor and that sinister woman crying out: "Der Stelze has power, he
has authority, he can make and unmake men!"

The mind has unaccountable lapses. The phrase had slipped out of my
German vocabulary. I had not even recognized it until the boy had rapped
it out in a context with which I was familiar and then it had come back.
With it, it brought that tableau in the dimly lit room, but also
another - a picture of a vast and massive man, swarthy and sinister, with
a clubfoot, limping heavily after Karl, the waiter, on the platform at

That, then, was why the young lieutenant had glanced down at my feet at
the station at Goch, The messenger he had come to meet, the bearer of
the document, the man of power and authority, was clubfooted, and I was

But seeing I was free of any physical deformity, to say nothing of the
fact that I in no way resembled the clubfooted man I had seen on the
platform at Rotterdam, why had the young lieutenant accepted me so
readily? I hazarded the reason to be that he had orders to meet a person
who had not been further designated to him except that he would arrive
by a certain train. The Major at the station would be responsible for
establishing my _bona fides_. Once that officer had turned me over to
the emissary, the latter's sole responsibility consisted in conducting
me to the unknown goal to which the special train was rapidly bearing
us. Such are the marvels of discipline!

My companion was, indeed, the model of discretion in everything touching
myself and my business. Curiosity about your neighhour's affairs is a
cardinal German failing, yet the Count manifested not the slightest
desire to learn anything about me or my mission to Berlin. You may be
sure that I, for my part, did nothing to enlighten him. It was not,
indeed, in my power to do so. Yet the young man's reserve was so marked
that I was convinced he had his orders to avoid the topic.

As the train rushed through Westphalia, through busy stations with
glimpses of sidings full of trucks loaded to the brim, past towns whose
very outlines were blurred by the mirk of smoke from a hundred factory
chimneys, my thoughts were busy with that swarthy cripple. I had broken
away from him with one portion of a highly prized document, yet he had
made no attempt to have me arrested at the frontier. Clearly, then, he
must still look upon me as an ally and must therefore be yet in
ignorance of the identity of the dead man lying in my chamber at the
Hotel Sixt. The friendly guide had told me that the party "combing out"
the station at Rotterdam for me did not appear to know what I looked

_Was it possible, then, that Clubfoot did not know Semlin by sight?_

The fact that Semlin had only recently crossed the Atlantic seemed to
confirm this supposition.

Then the document. Semlin had half. Who had the other half? Surely
Clubfoot.... Clubfoot who was to have called at the hotel that morning
to receive what I had brought from England. Perhaps, after all, my
random declaration to the hotel-keeper had not been so far wrong;
Clubfoot wanted to take the whole document to Berlin and reap all the
laurels at the cost of half the danger and labour. That would explain
his present silence. He suspected Semlin of treachery, not to the common
cause, but to him!

It looked as if I might have a free run until Clubfoot could reach
Berlin. That, unless he also took a special, could not be until the
next evening at earliest. But, more redoubtable than a meeting with
the man of power and authority, hung over me, an ever-present nightmare,
the interview which I felt awaited me at the end of my present
journey ... the interview at which I must render an account of my

Evening was falling as we ran through the inhospitable region of sand
and water and pine that engirdles Berlin. We glided at diminished speed
through the trim suburbs, skirted the city, on whose tall buildings the
electric sky-signs were already beginning to twinkle, crashed heavily
over a vast network of metals at some great terminus, then tore off
again into the gathering darkness. In a little, we slowed down again. We
were running through wooded country. From the darkness ahead a lantern
waved at us and the train stopped with a jerk at a little wayside
station, a tiny box of an affair. A tall, solid figure, wearing a spiked
helmet and grey military great-coat, stood in solitary grandeur in the
centre of the little platform, the wavering rays of a flickering gas
lamp reflected in his brilliantly polished top-boots.

"Here we are at last!" said my companion.

I stepped out to meet my fate.

* * * * *

The young lieutenant was rigid at the salute before the figure on the

I heard the end of a sentence as I alighted "... the gentleman I was to
meet, Excellency!"

The other looked at me. He was a big man with a crimson face. He made no
attempt at greeting, but said in a hoarse voice: "Have the goodness to
come with me. The orderlies will attend to your things." And, with
clinking spurs, he strode out through some big kind of anteroom, swathed
in wrappings, into a yard beyond, where a big limousine was throbbing

He stood aside to let me get in, then mounted himself, followed, rather
to my surprise, by the young Count, whose responsibility for myself had
ended, I imagined, on "delivering the goods." My surprise was of short
duration, for once in the car the young Uhlan dropped all the formality
he had displayed on the platform and addressed the elder officer as
"papa." This, then, was old General von Boden, of whom the Major had
spoken, Aide-de-Camp to the Kaiser and formerly tutor to the Crown

Father and son chatted in a desultory fashion across the car, and I took
the opportunity of studying the old gentleman. His face was of the most
prodigious purple hue, and so highly polished that it continually caught
the reflection of the small electric lamp in the roof. Huge gold
spectacles with glasses so thick that they distorted his eyes,
straddled a great beak-like nose. He had doffed his helmet and was
mopping his brow, and I saw a high perfectly bald dome-like head,
brilliantly polished and almost as red as his face. He was clean shaven
and by no means young, for the flesh hung in bags about his face. Long
years of the habit of command had left their mark in an imperiousness of
manner which might easily yield to ruthlessness I judged.

"I thought I should have had orders before I left the Villa," the
General said to his son, "then you could have gone straight there. I
suppose he means to see him here: that is why he wanted him brought to
the Villa. But he's always the same: he never can make up his mind." And
he grunted.

"Perhaps there will be something waiting at home," he added in his
hoarse barrack-yard voice.

We drove through a white gate into a little drive which brought us up in
front of a long, low villa. Neither father nor son had opened their lips
to me during the drive from the station and I had not ventured to put a
question to either of them, but I knew we were in Potsdam. The little
station in the woods was Wild-Park, I suspected, the private station
used by the Emperor on his frequent journeys and situated in the grounds
of the New Palace. All the officials of the Prussian Court have villas
at Potsdam, though why I had been brought there in connection with an
affair that must surely rather interest the Wilhelm-Strasse or the
Police Presidency was more than I could fathom.

There was a frightful scene in the hall. Without any warning the General

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Online LibraryValentine WilliamsThe Man with the Clubfoot → online text (page 5 of 16)