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The Man with the Clubfoot By Valentine Williams Characters: 12618

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

I saw the lights flash up in the room. I heard Desmond cry out: "Grundt;" Instantly I flung myself flat on my face in the flower bed, lest Desmond's shout might have alarmed the soldiers about the fire. But no one came; the gardens remained dark and damp and silent, and I heard no sound from the room in which I knew my brother to be in the clutches of that man.

Desmond's cry pulled me together. It seemed to arouse me from the lethargy into which I had sunk during all those months of danger and disappointment. It shook me into life. If I was to save him, not a moment was to be lost. Clubfoot would act swiftly, I knew. So must I. But first I must find out what the situation was, the meaning of Clubfoot's presence in Monica's house, of those soldiers in the park. And, above all, was Monica herself at the Castle?

I had noticed a little estaminet place on the road, about a hundred yards before we reached the Schloss. I might, at least, be able to pick up something there. Accordingly, I stole across the garden, scaled the wall again and reached the road in safety.

The estaminet was full of people, brutish-looking peasants swilling neat spirits, cattle drovers and the like. I stood up at the bar and ordered a double noggin of Korn-a raw spirit made in these parts from potatoes, very potent but at least pure. A man in corduroys and leggings was drinking at the bar, a bluff sort of chap, who readily entered into conversation. A casual question of mine about the game conditions elicited from him the information that he was an under-keeper at the Castle. It was a busy time for them, he told me, as four big shoots had been arranged. The first was to take place the next day. There were plenty of birds, and he thought the Frau Gr?fin's guests ought to be satisfied.

I asked him if there was a big party staying at the Castle. No, he told me, only one gentleman besides the officer billeted there, but a lot of people were coming over for the shoot the next day, the officers from Cleves and Goch, the Chief Magistrate from Cleves, and a number of farmers from round about.

"I expect you will find the soldiers billeted at the Castle useful as beaters," I enquired with a purpose.

The man assented grudgingly. Gamekeepers are first-class grumblers. But the soldiers were not many. For his part he could do without them altogether. They were such terrible poachers to have about the place, he declared. But what they would do for beaters without them, he didn't know ... they were very short of beaters ... that was a fact.

"I am staying at Cleves," I said, "and I'm out of a job. I am not long from hospital, and they've discharged me from the army. I wouldn't mind earning a few marks as a beater, and I'd like to see the sport. I used to do a bit of shooting myself down on the Rhine where I come from."

The man shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. "That's none of my business, getting the beaters together," he replied. "Besides, I shall have the head gamekeeper after me if I go bringing strangers in...."

I ordered another drink for both of us, and won the man round without much difficulty. He pouched my five mark note and announced that he would manage it ... the Frau Gr?fin was to see some men who had offered their services as beaters after dinner at the Castle that evening. He would take me along.

Half an hour later I stood, as one of a group of shaggy and bedraggled rustics, in a big stone courtyard outside the main entrance to the Castle. The head gamekeeper mustered us with his eye and, bidding us follow him, led the way under a vaulted gateway through a massive door into a small lobby which had apparently been built into the great hall of the Castle, for it opened right into it.

We found ourselves in a splendid old feudal hall, oak-lined and oak-raftered, with lines of dusty banners just visible in the twilight reigning in the upper part of the vast place. The modern generation had forborne to desecrate the fine old room with electric light, and massive silver candlesticks shed a soft light on the table set at the far end of the hall, where dinner, apparently, was just at an end.

Three people were sitting at the table, a woman at the head, who, even before I had taken in the details I have just set down, I knew to be Monica, though her back was towards me. On one side of the table was a big, heavy man whom I recognized as Clubfoot, on the other side a pale slip of a lad in officer's uniform with only one arm ... Schmalz, no doubt.

A servant said something to Monica, who, asking permission of her companions by a gesture, left the table and came across the hall. To my surprise, she was dressed in deepest black with linen cuffs. Her face was pale and set, and there was a look of fear and suffering in her eyes that wrung my very heart.

I had shuffled into the last place of the row in which the head keeper had ranged us. Monica spoke a word or two to each of the men, who shambled off in turn with low obeisances. Directly she stopped in front of me I knew she had recognized me-I felt it rather, for she made no sign-though the time I had had in Germany had altered my appearance, I dare say, and I must have looked pretty rough with my three days' beard and muddy clothes.

"Ah!" she said with all her languor de grande dame, "you are the man of whom Heinrich spoke. You have just come out of hospital, I think?"

"Beg the Frau Gr?fin's pardon," I mumbled out in the thick patois of the Rhine which I had learnt at Bonn, "I served with the Herr Graf in Galicia, and I thought maybe the Frau Gr?fin ..."

She stopped me with a gesture.

"Herr Doktor!" she called to the dinner-table.

By Jove! this girl had grit: her pluck was splendid.

Clubfoot came stumping over, all smiles after his food and smoking a long cigar that smelt delicious.

"Frau Gr?fin?" he queried, glancing at me.

"This is a man who served under my husband in Galicia. He is ill and out of work, and wishes me to help him. I should wish, therefore, to see him in my sitting-room, if you will allow me...."

"But, Frau Gr?fin, most certainly. There surely was no need ..."

"Johann!" Monica called the servant I had seen before, "take this man into the sitting-room!"

The servant led the way across the hall

into a snugly furnished library with a dainty writing-desk and pretty chintz curtains. Monica followed and sat down at the desk.

"Now tell me what you wish to say ..." she began in German as the servant left the room, but almost as soon as he had gone she was on her feet, clasping my hands.

"Francis!" she whispered in English in a great sob, "oh, Francis! what have they done to you to make you look like that?"

I gripped her wrist tightly.

"Frau Gr?fin," I said in German, still in that hideous patois, "you must be calm." And I whispered in English in her ear:

"Monica, be brave! And talk German whatever you do."

She regained her self-possession at once.

"I understand," she answered, sitting down at her desk again; "it is more prudent."

And for the rest of the time we spoke in German.

"Desmond?" I asked.

"Locked up in Grundt's bedroom," she replied. "I met them pushing him along the corridor-it was horrible! Grundt won't let him out of his sight. Oh, it was madness to have come. If only I could have warned you!"

"What is Grundt doing here?" I asked. "And those soldiers and that officer?"

"My dear," she answered, and her eyes flashed mischief in a sudden change of mood, "I'm in preventive arrest!"

"But, Monica...."

"Listen! Gerry and that spying man-servant of his made trouble. When Des went off that evening and didn't come back, Gerry insisted that we should notify the police. He made an awful scene, then the valet chipped in, and from what he said I knew he meant mischief. I didn't dare trust Gerry with the truth, so I let him send a note to the police. They came round and asked a lot of questions and went away again, so I thought we'd heard the last of it and came up here. Gerry wouldn't come. He's gone off to Baden-Baden on some new cure.

"About a week ago the Chief Magistrate at Cleves, who is an old friend of ours, motored over, and after a lot of talk, blurted out that I was to consider myself under arrest, and that an officer and a detachment of men from Goch were coming over to guard the house. The magistrate man would have told me anything I wanted to know, but he knew nothing: he simply carried out his orders. Then the lieutenant and his men arrived, and since that time I have been a prisoner in the house and grounds. I was terribly scared about Des until Grundt arrived suddenly, two nights ago, and I saw at once by his face that Des was still at large. But, Francis, that Clubfoot man came here to catch Des ... and he has simply walked into the trap."

"And Desmond?" I asked. "What is Clubfoot going to do about him?"

"He was with Des for about an hour in his room, and I heard him tell Schmalz he would 'try again' after dinner. Oh, Francis, I am frightened of that man ... not a word has he said to me about my knowing Desmond-not a word about my harbouring Des in Berlin ... but he knows everything, and he watches me the whole time."

I glanced through the open door into the hall. The candles still burnt on the dinner-table, where Clubfoot and the officer sat conversing in low tones.

"I have been here long enough," I said. "But before I go, I want you to answer one or two questions, Monica. Will you?"

"Yes, Francis," she said, raising her eyes to mine.

"What time is the shoot to-morrow?"

"At ten o'clock."

"Are Grundt and Schmalz going?"


"You too?"


"Could you get away back to the house by 12.30?"

"Not alone. One of them is always with me out of doors."

"Could you meet me alone anywhere outside at that time?"

"There is a quarry outside a village called Quellenburg ... it is on the edge of our preserves ... just off the road. We ought to be as far as that by twelve. If it is necessary, I will try and give them the slip and hide in one of the caves there. Then, when you came, if you whistled I could come out."

"Good. That will do excellently. We will arrange it so. Now, another question ... how many soldiers have you here?"


"Are they all going beating?"

"Oh, no! Only ten of them. The other six and the sergeant remain behind."

"Have you a car here?"

"No, but Grundt has one."

"How many servants will there be in the house to-morrow?"

"Only Johann, the butler, and the maids ... a woman cook and two girls."

"Can you contrive to have Johann out of the house between 10 and 12:30 to-morrow morning?"

"Yes, I can send him to Cleves with a note."

"The maids too?"

"Yes, the maids too."

"Good. Now will you do one thing more-the hardest of all? I want you to send a message to Desmond. Can you arrange it?"

"Tell me what your message is, and I may be able to answer you."

"I want you to tell him that he must at all costs contrive to keep Grundt from going to that shoot to-morrow ... at any rate between ten and twelve. He must manage to let Grundt believe that he is going to tell him where Grundt may find what he is after ... but he must keep him in suspense during those hours."

"And after?"

"There will be no after," I said.

"I will see that Des gets your message," Monica replied, "for I will take it myself."

"No, Monica," I said, "I don't want..."

"Francis," ...she spoke almost in a whisper ... "my life in this country is over," ... and she touched her widow's weeds.... "Karl was killed at Predeal three weeks ago.... You know as well as I do that I am involved in this affair as much as you and Des ... and I will share the risk if only you will take me away with you ... that is if you ..." She faltered.

I heard the chairs scrape in the corner of the hall where the dinner-party was breaking up.

"The Frau Gr?fin has only to command," I said. "The Frau Gr?fin knows I have been waiting for years...."

Clubfoot was crossing towards the open door.

"... I never expected to find the Frau Gr?fin so gracious.... I had never hoped that the Frau Gr?fin would be willing to do so much for me ... the Frau Gr?fin has made me very happy."

Clubfoot stood on the threshold and listened to my halting speech.

"You can bring your things in when you come to-morrow ..." Monica said. "The keeper will tell you what time you must be here."

Then she dismissed me, but as I went I heard her say:

"Herr Doktor! Can I have a word with you?"

* * *

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