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The Man with the Clubfoot online

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There, staring me in the face, I found the street called "In den

I had struck the trail at last.

In den Zelten, I discovered, on referring to the directory again,
derived its name "In the Tents," from the fact that in earlier days a
number of open-air beer-gardens and booths had occupied the site which
faces the northern side of the Tiergarten. It was not a long street. The
directory showed but fifty-six houses, several of which, I noticed, were
still beer-gardens. It appeared to be a fashionable thoroughfare, for
most of the occupants were titled people. No. 3, I was interested to
see, was still noted as the Berlin office of _The Times_.

The last phrase in the message decidedly gave the number. _Two_ must
refer to the number of the house: _third_ to the number of the floor,
since practically all dwelling-houses in Berlin are divided off into

As for the "Achiles," I gave it up.

I looked at my watch. It was twenty past eleven: too late to begin my
search that night. Then I suddenly realized how utterly exhausted I was.
I had been two nights out of bed without sleep, for I had sat up on deck
crossing over to Holland, and the succession of adventures that had
befallen me since I left London had driven all thought of weariness from
my mind. But now came the reaction and I felt myself yearning for a hot
bath and for a nice comfortable bed. To go to an hotel at that hour of
night, without luggage and with an American passport not in order, would
be to court disaster. It looked as though I should have to hang about
the cafés and night restaurants until morning, investigate the clue of
the street called In den Zelten, and then get away from Berlin as fast
as ever I could.

But my head was nodding with drowsiness. I must pull myself together. I
decided I would have some black coffee, and I raised my eyes to find the
waiter. They fell upon the pale face and elegant figure of the one-armed
officer I had met at the Casino at Goch ... the young lieutenant they
had called Schmalz.

He had just entered the café and was standing at the door, looking about
him. I felt a sudden pang of uneasiness at the sight of him, for I
remembered his cross-examination of me at Goch. But I could not escape
without paying my bill; besides, he blocked the way.

He settled my doubts and fears by walking straight over to my table.

"Good evening, Herr Doktor," he said in German, with his pleasant smile.
"This indeed is an unexpected pleasure! So you are seeing how we poor
Germans are amusing ourselves in war-time. You must admit that we do not
take our pleasures sadly. You permit me?"

Without waiting for my reply, he sat down at my table and ordered a
glass of beer.

"I wish you had appeared sooner," I exclaimed in as friendly a tone as I
could muster, "for I am just going. I have had a long and tiring journey
and am anxious to go to an hotel."

Directly I had spoken I realized my blunder.

"You have not got an hotel yet?" said Schmalz. "Why, how curious! Nor
have I!S As you are a stranger in Berlin, you must allow me to appoint
myself your guide. Let us go to an hotel together, shall we?"

I wanted to demur, difficult as it was to find any acceptable excuse,
but his manner was so friendly, his offer seemed so sincere, that I felt
my resolution wavering. He had a winning personality, this frank,
handsome boy. And I was so dog-tired!

He perceived my reluctance but also my indecision.

"We'll go to any hotel you like," he said brightly. "But you Americans
are spoilt in the matter of luxurious hotels, I know. Still, I tell you
we have not much to learn in that line in Berlin. Suppose we go to the
Esplanade. It's a fine hotel ... the Hamburg American line run it, you
know. I am very well known there, quite the _Hauskind_ ... my uncle was
a captain of one of their liners. They will make us very comfortable:
they always give me a little suite, bedroom, sitting-room and bath, very
reasonably: I'll make them do the same for you."

If I had been less weary - I have often thought since - I would have got
up and fled from the café rather than have countenanced any such mad
proposal. But I was drunk with sleep heaviness and I snatched at this
chance of getting a good night's rest, for I felt that, under the aegis
of this young officer, I could count on any passport difficulties at the
hotel being postponed until morning. By that time, I meant to be out of
the hotel and away on my investigations.

So I accepted Schmalz's suggestion.

"By the way," I said, "I have no luggage. My bag got mislaid somehow at
the station and I don't really feel up to going after it to-night."

"I will fix you up," the other replied promptly, "and with pyjamas in
the American fashion. By the by," he added, lowering his voice, "I
thought it better to speak German. English is not heard gladly in
Berlin just now."

"I quite understand," I said. Then, to change the subject, which I did
not like particularly, I added:

"Surely, you have been very quick in coming down from the frontier. Did
you come by train?"

"Oh, no!" he answered. "I found that the car in which you drove to the
station ... it belonged to the gentleman who came to meet you, you
know ... was being sent back to Berlin by road, so I got the driver to
give me a lift."

He said this quite airily, with his usual tone of candour. But for a
moment I regretted my decision to go to the Esplanade with him. What if
he knew more than he seemed to know?

I dismissed the suspicion from my mind.

"Bah!" I said to myself, "you are getting jumpy. Besides, it is too late
to turn back now!"

We had a friendly wrangle as to who should pay for the drinks, and it
ended in my paying. Then, after a long wait, we managed to get a cab, an
antique-looking "growler" driven by an octogenarian in a coat of many
capes, and drove to the Esplanade.

It was a regular palace of a place, with a splendid vestibule with walls
and pavement of different-hued marbles, with palm trees over-shadowing
a little fountain tinkling in a jade basin, with servants in gaudy
liveries. The reception clerk overwhelmed me with the cordiality of his
welcome to my companion and "the American gentleman," and after a
certain amount of coquettish protestations about the difficulty of
providing accommodation, allotted us a double suite on the entresol,
consisting of two bedrooms with a common sitting-room and bathroom.

In his immaculate evening dress, he was a Beau Brummell among hotel
clerks, that man. The luggage of the American gentleman should be
fetched in the morning. The gentleman's papers? There was no hurry: the
Herr Leutnant would explain to his friend the forms that had to be
filled in: they could be given to the waiter in the morning. Would the
gentlemen take anything before retiring? A whisky-soda - ah! whisky was
getting scarce. No? Nothing? He had the honour to wish the gentlemen
pleasant repose.

We went to the lift in procession, Beau Brummell in front, then a
waiter, then ourselves and the gold-braided hall porter bringing up the
rear. One or two people were sitting in the lounge, attended by a
platoon of waiters. The whole place gave an impression of wealth and
luxury altogether out of keeping with British ideas of the stringency of
life in Germany under the British blockade. I could not help reflecting
to myself mournfully that Germany did not seem to feel the pinch very

At the lift the procession bowed itself away and we went up in charge of
the liftman, a gorgeous individual who looked like one of the Pope's
Swiss Guards. We reached the centresol in an instant. The Lieutenant led
the way along the dimly lighted corridor.

"Here is the sitting-room," he said, opening a door. "This is my room,
this the bathroom, and this," he flung open the fourth door, "is your

He stood aside to let me pass. The lights in the room were full on. In
an arm-chair a big man in an overcoat was sitting.

He had a heavy square face and a clubfoot.



I walked boldly into the room. All sense of fear had vanished in a wave
of anger that swept over me, anger with myself for letting myself be
trapped, anger with my companion for his treachery.

Schmalz stood at my elbow with a smile full of malice on his face.

"There now!" he cried, "you see, you are among friends! Am I not
thoughtful to have prepared this little surprise for you? See, I have
brought you to the one man you have crossed so many hundreds of miles of
ocean to see! Herr Doktor! this is Dr. Semlin. Dr. Semlin: Dr. Grundt."

The other had by now heaved his unwieldy frame from the chair.

"Dr. Semlin?" he said, in a perfectly emotionless voice, _une voix
blanche_, as the French say, "this is an unexpected pleasure. I never
thought we should meet in Berlin. I had believed our rendezvous to have
been fixed for Rotterdam. Still, better late than never!" And he
extended to me a white, fat hand.

"Our friend, the Herr Leutnant," I answered carelessly, "omitted to
inform me that he was acquainted with you, as, indeed, he failed to warn
me that I should have the pleasure of seeing you here to-night."

"We owe that pleasure," Clubfoot replied with a smile that displayed a
glitter of gold in his teeth, "to a purely fortuitous encounter at the
Casino at Goch, as, indeed, it would appear, I am similarly indebted to
chance for the unlooked-for boon of making your personal acquaintance
here this evening."

He bowed to Schmalz as he said this.

"But come," he went on, "if I may make bold to offer you the hospitality
of your own room, sit down and try a glass of this excellent
Brauneberger. Rhine wine must be scarce where you come from. We have
much to tell one another, you and I."

Again he bared his golden teeth in a smile.

"By all means," I said. "But I fear we keep our young friend from his
bed. Doubtless, you have no secrets from him, but you will agree, Herr
Doktor, that our conversation should best be tête-à-tète."

"Schmalz, dear friend," Clubfoot exclaimed with a sigh of regret, "much
as I should like ... I am indeed truly sorry that we should be deprived
of your company, but I cannot contest the profound accuracy of our
friend's remark. If you could go to the sitting-room for a few

The young lieutenant flushed angrily.

"If you prefer my room to my company ... by all means," he retorted
gruffly, "but I think, in the circumstances, that I shall go to bed."

And he turned on his heel and walked out of the room, shutting the door
with rather more force than was necessary, I thought.

Clubfoot sighed.

"Ach! youth! youth!" he cried, "the same impetuous youth that is at
this very moment hacking out for Germany a world empire amidst the
nations in arms. A wonderful race, a race of giants, our German youth,
Herr Doktor ... the mainspring of our great German machine - as they find
who resist it. A glass of wine!"

The man's speech and manner boded ill for me, I felt. I would have
infinitely preferred violent language and open threats to the subtle
menace that lay concealed beneath all this suavity.

"You smoke?" queried Clubfoot. "No!" - he held up his hand to stop me as
I was reaching for my cigarette case, "you shall have a cigar - not one
of our poor German Hamburgers, but a fine Havana cigar given me by a
member of the English Privy Council. You stare! Aha! I repeat, by a
member of the English Privy Council, to me, the Boche, the barbarian,
the Hun! No hole and corner work for the old doctor. _Der Stelze_ may be
lame, Clubfoot may be past his work, but when he travels _en mission_,
he travels _en prince_, the man of wealth and substance. There is none
too high to do him honour, to listen to his views on poor, misguided
Germany, the land of thinkers sold into bondage to the militarists! Bah!
the fools!"

He snarled venomously. This man was beginning to interest me. His rapid
change of moods was fascinating, now the kindly philosopher, now the
Teuton braggart, now the Hun incorporate. As he limped across the room
to fetch his cigar case from the mantelpiece, I studied him.

He was a vast man, not so much by reason of his height, which was below
the medium, but his bulk, which was enormous. The span of his shoulders
was immense, and, though a heavy paunch and a white flabbiness of face
spoke of a gross, sedentary life, he was obviously a man of quite
unusual strength. His arms particularly were out of all proportion to
his stature, being so long that his hands hung down on either side of
him when he stood erect, like the paws of some giant ape. Altogether,
there was something decidedly simian about his appearance his squat nose
with hairy, open nostrils, and the general hirsuteness of the man, his
bushy eyebrows, the tufts of black hair on his cheekbones and on the
backs of his big, spade like hands. And there was that in his eyes, dark
and courageous beneath the shaggy brows, that hinted at accesses of
ape-like fury, uncontrollable and ferocious.

He gave me his cigar which, as he had said, was a good one, and, after a
preliminary sip of his wine, began to speak.

"I am a plain man, Herr Doktor," he said, "and I like plain speaking.
That is why I am going to speak quite plainly to you. When it became
apparent to that person whom it is not necessary to name further greatly
desired a certain letter to be recovered, I naturally expected that I,
who am a past member in affairs of this order, notably, on behalf of the
person concerned, would have been entrusted with the mission. It was I
who discovered the author of the theft in an English internment camp; it
was I who prevailed upon him to acquiesce in our terms; it was I who
finally located the hiding place of the document ... all this, mark you,
without setting foot in England."

My thoughts flew back again to the three slips of paper in their canvas
cover, the divided crest, the big, sprawling, upright handwriting. I
should have known that hand. I had seen it often enough on certain
photographs which were accorded the place of honour in the drawing room
at Consistorial-Rat von Mayburg's at Bonn.

"I therefore had the prior claim," Clubfoot continued, "to be entrusted
with the important task of fetching the document and of handing it back
to the writer. But the gentleman was in a hurry; the gentleman always
is; he could not wait for that old slowcoach of a Clubfoot to mature his
plans for getting into England, securing the document, and getting out

"So Bernstorff is called into consultation, the head of an embassy that
has made the German secret service the laughing-stock of the world, an
ambassador that has his private papers filched by a common sneak-thief
in the underground railway and is fool enough to send home the most
valuable documents by a jackass of a military attaché who lets the whole
lot be taken from him by a dunderheaded British customs officer at
Falmouth! _This_ was the man who was to replace _me!_

"Bernstorff is accordingly bidden to despatch one of his trusty servants
to England, with all suitable precautions, to do _my_ work. You are
chosen, and I will pay you the compliment of saying that you fulfilled
your mission in a manner that is singularly out of keeping with the
usual method of procedure of that gentleman's emissaries.

"But, my dear Doktor ... pray fill your glass. That cigar is good, is it
not? I thought you would appreciate a good cigar.... As I was saying,
you were handicapped from the first. When you reach the place indicated
to you in your instructions, you find only half the document. The wily
thief has sliced it in two so as to make sure of his money before
parting with the goods. They didn't know, of course, that Clubfoot, the
old slowcoach, who is past his work, was aware of this already, and had
made his plans accordingly. But, in the end, they had to send for me.
'The good Clubfoot,' 'old chap,' 'sly old fox,' and all the rest of
it - would run across to England and secure the other half, while Count
Bernstorff's smart young man from America would wait in Rotterdam until
Herr Dr. Grundt arrived and handed him the other portion.

"But Count Bernstorff's young man does nothing of the kind. He is
one too many for the old fox. He does not wait for him. He runs away,
after displaying unusual determination in dealing with a prying
Englander - whose fate should be a lesson to all who interfere in other
people's business - and goes to Germany, leaving poor old Clubfoot in the
lurch. You must admit, Herr Doktor, that I have been hardly used - by
yourself as well as by another person?"

My throat was dry with anxiety. What did the man mean by his veiled
allusions to "all who interfere in other people's business?"

I cleared my throat to speak.

Clubfoot raised a great hand in deprecation.

"No explanation, Herr Doktor, I beg" (his tone was perfectly
unconcerned and friendly), "let me have my say. When I found out that
you had left Rotterdam - by the way, you must let me congratulate you on
the remarkable fertility of resource you displayed in quitting Frau
Schratt's hospitable house - when I found you were gone, I sat down and
thought things out.

"I reflected that an astute American like yourself (believe me, you are
very astute) would probably be accustomed to look at everything from the
business standpoint. 'I will also consider the matter from the business
standpoint,' I said to myself, and I decided that, in your place, I too
would not be content to accept, as sole payment for the danger of my
mission, the scarcely generous compensation that Count Bernstorff allots
to his collaborators. No, I should wish to secure a little renown for
myself, or, were that not possible, then some monetary gain
proportionate with the risks I had run. You see, I have been at pains to
put myself wholly in your place. I hope I have not said anything
tactless. If so, I can at least acquit myself of any desire to offend."

"On the contrary, Herr Doktor," I replied, "you are the model of tact
and diplomacy."

His eyes narrowed a little at this. I thought he wouldn't like that word

"Another glass of wine? You may safely venture; there is not a headache
in a bottle of it. Well, Herr Doktor, since you have followed me so
patiently thus far, I will go further. I told you, when I first saw you
this evening, that I was delighted at our meeting. That was no mere
banality, but the sober truth. For, you see, I am the very person with
whom, in the circumstances, you would wish to get in touch. Deprived of
the honour, rightly belonging to me, of undertaking this mission
single-handed and of fulfilling it alone, I find that you can enable me
to carry out the mission to a successful conclusion, whilst I, for my
part, am able and willing to recompense your services as they deserve
and not according to Bernstorff's starvation scale.

"To make a long story short, Herr Doktor ... how much?"

He brought his remarks to this abrupt anticlimax so suddenly that I was
taken aback. The man was watching me intently for all his apparent
nonchalance, and I felt more than ever the necessity for being on my
guard. If I could only fathom how much he knew. Of two things I felt
fairly sure: the fellow believed me to be Semlin and was under the
impression that I still retained my portion of the document. I should
have to gain time. The bargain he proposed over my half of the letter
might give me an opportunity of doing that. Moreover, I must find out
whether he really had the other half of the document, and in that case,
where he kept it.

He broke the silence.

"Well, Herr Doktor," he said, "do you want me to start the bidding? You
needn't be afraid. I am generous."

I leant forward earnestly in my chair.

"You have spoken with admirable frankness, Herr Doktor," I said, "and I
will be equally plain, but I will be brief. In the first place, I wish
to know that you are the man you profess to be: so far, you must
remember, I have only the assurance of our excitable young friend."

"Your caution is most praiseworthy," said the other, "but I should
imagine I carry my name written on my boot." And he lifted his hideous
and deformed foot.

"That is scarcely sufficient guarantee," I answered, "in a matter of
this importance. A detail like that could easily be counterfeited, or
otherwise provided for."

"My badge," and the man produced from his waistcoat pocket a silver star
identical with the one I carried on my braces, but bearing only the
letter "G" above the inscription "Abt. VII."

"That, even," I retorted, "is not conclusive."

Clubfoot's mind was extraordinarily alert, however gross and heavy his
body might be.

He paused for a moment in reflection, his hands crossed upon his great

"Why not?" he said suddenly, reached out for his cigar-case, beside him
on the table, and produced three slips of paper highly glazed and
covered with that unforgettable, sprawling hand, a portion of a gilded
crest at the top - in short, the missing half of the document I had found
in Semlin's bag. Clubfoot held them out fanwise for me to see, but well
out of my reach, and he kept a great, spatulate thumb over the top of
the first sheet where the name of the addressee should have been.

"I trust you are now convinced, Herr Doktor," he said, with a smile that
bared his teeth, and, putting the pieces together, he folded them
across, tucked them away in the cigar-case again, and thrust it into his

I must test the ground further.

"Has it occurred to you, Herr Doktor," I asked, "that we have very
little time at our disposal? The person whom we serve must be anxiously

Clubfoot laughed and shook his head.

"I want that half-letter badly," he said, "but there's no violent hurry.
So I fear you must leave that argument out of your presentation of the
case, for it has no commercial value. The person you speak of is not in

I had heard something of the Kaiser's sudden appearances and
disappearances during the war, but I had not thought they could be so
well managed as to be kept from the knowledge of one of his own trusted
servants, for such I judged Clubfoot to be. Evidently, he knew nothing
of my visit to the Castle that evening, and I was for a moment
unpatriotic enough to wish I had kept my half of the letter that I might
give it to Clubfoot now to save the coming exposure. "A thousand
dollars!" Clubfoot said.

I remained silent.

"Two? Three? Four thousand? Man, you are greedy. Well, I will make it
five thousand - twenty thousand marks...."

"Herr Doktor," I said, "I don't want your money. I want to be fair with
you. When the ... the person we know of sends for you, we will go
together. You shall tell the large part you have played in this affair.
I only want credit for what I have done, nothing more...."

A knock came at the door. The porter entered.

"A telegram for the Herr Doktor," he said, presenting a salver.

Somewhere near by a band was playing dance music ... one of those
rousing, splendidly accented Viennese waltzes. There seemed to be a ball
on, for through the open door of the room, I heard, mingled with the
strains of the music, the sound of feet and the hum of voices.

Then the door closed, shutting out the outer world again.

"You permit me," said Grundt curtly, as he broke the seal of the
telegram. So as not to seem to observe him, I got up and walked across
to the window, and leaned against the warm radiator.

"Well?" said a voice from the arm-chair.

"Well?" I echoed.

"I have made you my proposal, Herr Doktor: you have made yours. Yours is
quite unacceptable. I have told you with great frankness why it is
necessary that I should have your portion of the document and the sum I
am prepared to pay for it. I set its value at five thousand dollars. I
will pay you the money over in cash, here and now, in good German
bank-notes, in exchange for those slips of paper."

The man's suavity had all but vanished: his voice was harsh and stern.
His eyes glittered under his shaggy brows as he looked at me. Had I been
less agitated, I should have noted this, as a portent of the coming
storm, also his great ape's hands picking nervously at the telegram in
his lap.

"I have already told you," I said firmly, "that I don't want your money.
You know my terms!"

He rose up from his seat and his figure seemed to tower.

"Terms?" he cried in a voice that quivered with suppressed passion,
"terms? Understand that I give orders. I accept terms from no man. We
waste time here talking. Come, take the money and give me the paper."

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Online LibraryValentine WilliamsThe Man with the Clubfoot → online text (page 7 of 16)