The On His Majesty's Secret Service Mystery Omnibus: The Man with the Club Foot; Okewood of the Secret Service; The Yellow Streak
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by Valentine Williams
Description: Spies and Counterspies in 1920s London. Don't miss this omnibus edition of three complete classics of espionage by Valentine Williams, the bestselling spy novelist of his generation. First, Francis Okewood of his Majesty's Secret Service matches wits with Europe's greatest spy, the sinister Man with the Club Foot; then Berlin sends their top operative to London to carry out a sinister plan; finally, a cowardly murder has international consequences in The Yellow Streak. Join the millions of readers who have thrilled to the shockers of Valentine Williams.
eBook Publisher: Renaissance E Books/PageTurner, 2006
eBookwise Release Date: August 2006
6 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [934 KB]
Reading time: 639-895 min.
CHAPTER I I SEEK A BED IN ROTTERDAM
The reception clerk looked up from the hotel register and shook his head firmly. "Very sorry, saire," he said, "not a bed in ze house." And he closed the book with a snap.
Outside the rain came down heavens hard. Every one who came into the brightly lit hotel vestibule entered with a gush of water. I felt I would rather die than face the wind-swept streets of Rotterdam again.
I turned once more to the clerk who was now busy at the key-rack.
"Haven't you really a corner? I wouldn't mind where it was, as it is only for the night. Come now..."
"Very sorry, saire. We have two gentlemen sleeping in ze bathrooms already. If you had reserved..." And he shrugged his shoulders and bent towards a visitor who was demanding his key.
I turned away with rage in my heart. What a cursed fool I had been not to wire from Groningen! I had fully intended to, but the extraordinary conversation I had had with Dicky Allerton had put everything else out of my head. At every hotel I had tried it had been the same story--Cooman's, the Maas, the Grand, all were full to the bathrooms. If I had only wired...
As I passed out into the porch I bethought myself of the porter. A hotel porter had helped me out of a similar plight in Breslau once years ago. This porter, with his red, drink-sodden face and tarnished gold braid, did not promise well, so far as a recommendation for a lodging for the night was concerned. Still...
I suppose it was my mind dwelling on my experience at Breslau that made me address the man in German. When one has been familiar with a foreign tongue from one's boyhood, it requires but a very slight mental impulse to drop into it. From such slight beginnings do great enterprises spring. If I had known the immense ramification of adventure that was to spread its roots from that simple question, I verily believe my heart would have failed me and I would have run forth into the night and the rain and roamed the streets till morning.
Well, I found myself asking the man in German if he knew where I could get a room for the night.
He shot a quick glance at me from under his reddened eyelids.
"The gentleman would doubtless like a German house?" he queried.
You may hardly credit it, but my interview with Dicky Allerton that afternoon had simply driven the war out of my mind. When one has lived much among foreign peoples, one's mentality slips automatically into their skin. I was now thinking in German--at least so it seems to me when I look back upon that night--and I answered without reflecting.
"I don't care where it is as long as I can get somewhere to sleep out of this infernal rain!"
"The gentleman can have a good, clean bed at the Hotel Sixt in the little street they call the Vos in't Tuintje, on the canal behind the Bourse. The proprietress is a good German, jawohl ... Frau Anna Schratt her name is. The gentleman need only say he comes from Franz at the Bopparder Hof."
I gave the man a gulden and bade him get me a cab.
It was still pouring. As we rattled away over the glistening cobble-stones, my mind traveled back over the startling events of the day. My talk with old Dicky had given me such a mental jar that I found it at first well-nigh impossible to concentrate my thoughts. That's the worst of shell-shock. You think you are cured, you feel fit and well, and then suddenly the machinery of your mind checks and halts and creaks. Ever since I had left hospital convalescent after being wounded on the Somme ("gunshot wound in head and cerebral concussion" the doctors called it), I had trained myself, whenever my brain was en panne, to go back to the beginning of things and work slowly up to the present by methodical stages.
Let's see then--I was "boarded" at Millbank and got three months' leave; then I did a month in the Little Johns' bungalow in Cornwall. There I got the letter from Dicky Allerton, who, before the war, had been in partnership with my brother Francis in the motor business at Coventry. Dicky had been with the Naval Division at Antwerp and was interned with the rest of the crowd when they crossed the Dutch frontier in those disastrous days of October, 1914.
Dicky wrote from Groningen, just a line. Now that I was on leave, if I were fit to travel, would I come to Groningen and see him? "I have had a curious communication which seems to have to do with poor Francis," he added. That was all.
My brain was still halting, so I turned to Francis. Here again I had to go back. Francis, rejected on all sides for active service, owing to what he scornfully used to call "the shirkers' ailment, varicose veins," had flatly declined to carry on with his motor business after Dicky had joined up, although their firm was doing government work. Finally, he had vanished into the maw of the War Office and all I knew was that he was "something on the Intelligence." More than this not even he would tell me, and when he finally disappeared from London, just about the time that I was popping the parapet with my battalion at Neuve Chapelle, he left me his London chambers as his only address for letters.
Ah! Now it was all coming back--Francis' infrequent letters to me about nothing at all, then his will, forwarded to me for safe keeping when I was home on leave last Christmas, and after that, silence. Not another letter, not a word about him, not a shred of information. He had utterly vanished.
I remembered my frantic inquiries, my vain visits to the War Office, my perplexity at the imperturbable silence of the various officials I importuned for news of my poor brother. Then there was that lunch at the Bath Club with Sonny Martin of the Heavies and a friend of his, some kind of staff captain in red tabs. I don't think I heard his name, but I know he was at the War Office, and presently over our cigars and coffee I laid before him the mysterious facts about my brother's case.
"Perhaps you knew Francis?" I said in conclusion. "Yes," he replied, "I know him well."
"Know him," I repeated, "know him then ... then you think ... you have reason to believe he is still alive...?"
Red Tabs cocked his eye at the gilded cornice of the ceiling and blew a ring from his cigar. But he said nothing.
I persisted with my questions but it was of no avail. Red Tabs only laughed and said: "I know nothing at all except that your brother is a most delightful fellow with all your own love of getting his own way."
Then Sonny Martin, who is the perfection of tact and diplomacy--probably on that account he failed for the Diplomatic--chipped in with an anecdote about a man who was rating the waiter at an adjoining table, and I held my peace. But as Red Tabs rose to go, a little later, he held my hand for a minute in his and with that curious look of his, said slowly and with meaning:
"When a nation is at war, officers on active service must occasionally disappear, sometimes in their country's interest, sometimes in their own."
He emphasised the words "on active service."
In a flash my eyes were opened. How blind I had been! Francis was in Germany. * * * * CHAPTER II THE CIPHER WITH THE INVOICE
Red Tabs' sphinx-like declaration was no riddle to me. I knew at once that Francis must be on secret service in the enemy's country and that country Germany. My brother's extraordinary knowledge of the Germans, their customs, life and dialects, rendered him ideally suitable for any such perilous mission. Francis always had an extraordinary talent for languages: he seemed to acquire them all without any mental effort, but in German he was supreme. During the year that he and I spent at Consistorial-Rat von Mayburg's house at Bonn, he rapidly outdistanced me, and though, at the end of our time, I could speak German like a German, Francis was able, in addition, to speak Bonn and Cologne patois like a native of those ancient cities--ay and he could drill a squad of recruits in their own language like the smartest Leutnant ever fledged from Gross-Lichterfelde.
He never had any difficulty in passing himself off as a German. Well I remember his delight when he was claimed as a fellow Rheinlander by a German officer we met, one summer before the war, combining golf with a little useful espionage at Cromer.
I don't think Francis had any ulterior motive in his study of German. He simply found he had this imitative faculty; philology had always interested him, so even after he had gone into the motor trade, he used to amuse himself on business trips to Germany by acquiring new dialects.
His German imitations were extraordinarily funny. One of his "star turns", was a noisy sitting of the Reichstag with speeches by Prince Bulow and August Bebel and "interruptions"; another, a patriotic oration by an old Prussian General at a Kaiser's birthday dinner. Francis had a marvelous faculty not only of seeming German, but even of almost looking like a German, so absolutely was he able to slip into the skin of the part.
Yet never in my wildest moments had I dreamt that he would try and get into Germany in war-time, into that land where every citizen is catalogued and pigeonholed from the cradle. But Red Tabs' oracular utterance had made everything clear to me. Why a mission to Germany would be the very thing that Francis would give his eyes to be allowed to attempt! Francis with his utter disregard of danger, his love of taking risks, his impish delight in taking a rise out of the stodgy Hun--why, if there were Englishmen brave enough to take chances of that kind, Francis would be the first to volunteer.
Yes, if Francis were on a mission anywhere it would be to Germany. But what prospect had he of ever returning--with the frontiers closed and ingress and egress practically barred even to pro-German neutrals? Many a night in the trenches I had a mental vision of Francis, so debonair and so fearless, facing a firing squad of Prussian privates.
From the day of the luncheon at the Bath Club to this very afternoon I had had no further inkling of my brother's whereabouts or fate. The authorities at home professed ignorance, as I knew, in duty bound, they would, and I had nothing to hang any theory on to until Dicky Allerton's letter came. Ashcroft at the F.O. fixed up my passports for me and I lost no time in exchanging the white gulls and red cliffs of Cornwall for the windmills and trim canals of Holland.
And now in my breast pocket lay, written on a small piece of cheap foreign notepaper, the tidings I had come to Groningen to seek. Yet so trivial, so nonsensical, so baffling was the message that I already felt my trip to Holland to have been a fruitless errand.
I found Dicky fat and bursting with health in his quarters at the internment camp. He only knew that Francis had disappeared. When I told him of my meeting with Red Tabs at the Bath Club, of the latter's words to me at parting and of my own conviction in the matter he whistled, then looked grave.
He went straight to the point in his bluff direct way.
"I am going to tell you a story first, Desmond," he said to me, "then I'll show you a piece of paper. Whether the two together fit in with your theory as to poor Francis' disappearance will be for you to judge. Until now I must confess--I had felt inclined to dismiss the only reference this document appears to make to your brother as a mere coincidence in names, but what you have told me makes things interesting--by Jove, it does, though. Well, here's the yarn first of all.
"Your brother and I have had dealings in the past with a Dutchman in the motor business at Nymwegen, name of Van Urutius. He has often been over to see us at Coventry in the old days and Francis has stayed with him at Nymwegen once or twice on his way back from Germany--Nymwegen, you know, is close to the German frontier. Old Urutius has been very decent to me since I have been in gaol here and has been over several times, generally with a box or two of those nice Dutch cigars."
"Dicky," I broke in on him, "get on with the story. What the devil's all this got to do with Francis? The document--"
"Steady, my boy!" was the imperturbable reply, "let me spin my yarn my own way. I'm coming to the piece of paper...
"Well, then, old Urutius came to see me ten days ago. All I knew about Francis I had told him, namely, that Francis had entered the army and was missing. It was no business of the old Mynheer if Francis was in the Intelligence, so I didn't tell him that. Van U. is a staunch friend of the English, but you know the saying that if a man doesn't know he can't split.
"My old Dutch pal, then, turned up here ten days ago. He was bubbling over with excitement. 'Mr. Allerton' he says, 'I haf a writing, a most mysterious writing--a I think, from Francis Okewood.'
"I sat tight. If there were any revelations coming they were going to be Dutch, not British. On that I was resolved.
"'I haf received,' the old Dutchman went on, 'from Gairemany a parcel of metal shields, plates--what you call 'em--of tin, hein? What I haf to advertise my business. They arrife las' week--I open the parcel myself and on the top is the envelope with the invoice.'
"Mynheer paused; he has a good sense of the dramatic.
"'Well', I said, 'did it bite you or say. "Gott strafe England?" Or what?'
"Van Urutius ignored my flippancy and resumed. 'I open the envelope and there in the invoice I find this writing--here!'
"And here," said Dicky, diving into his pocket, "is the writing!"
And he thrust into my eagerly outstretched hand a very thin half-sheet of foreign notepaper, of that kind of cheap glazed notepaper you get in cafes on the Continent when you ask for writing materials.
Three lines of German, written in fluent German characters in purple ink beneath the name and address of Mynheer van Urutius ... that was all.
My heart sank with disappointment and wretchedness as I read the inscription.
Here is the document:
Herr Willem van Urutius, Automobilgeschaft, Nymwegen. Alexandtr-Straat 81 bis.
Berlin, Iten Juli, 16.
O Eichenholz! O Eichenholz! Wie leer sind deine Blatter.
Wie Achiles in dem Zelte.
Wo zweie sich zanken Erfreut sich der Dritte.
Mr. Willem van Urutius, Automobile Agent, Nymwegen. 81 bis Alexander-Straat.
Berlin, 1st July, 16.
O Oak-tree! O Oak-tree, How empty are thy leaves.
Like Achiles in the tent.
When two people fall out The third party rejoices.
I stared at this nonsensical document in silence. My thoughts were almost too bitter for words.
At last I spoke.
"What's all this rigmarole got to do with Francis, Dicky?" I asked, vainly trying to suppress the bitterness in my voice. "This looks like a list of copybook maxims for your Dutch friend's advertisement cards..."
But I returned to the study of the piece of paper.
"Not so fast, old bird," Dicky replied coolly, "let me finish my story. Old Stick-in-the-mud is a lot shrewder than we think.
"'When I read the writing,' he told me, 'I think he is all robbish, but then I ask myself, Who shall put robbish in my invoices? And then I read the writing again and once again, and then I see he is a message.'"
"Stop, Dicky!" I cried, "of course, what an ass I am! Why Eichenholz..."
"Exactly," retorted Dicky, "as the old Mynheer was the first to see, Eichenholz translated into English is 'Oak-tree' or 'Oak-wood'--in other words, Francis."
"Then, Dicky..." I interrupted.
"Just a minute," said Dicky, putting up his hand. "I confess I thought, on first seeing this message or whatever it is, that there must be simply a coincidence of name and that somebody's idle scribbling had found its way into old van U.'s invoice. But now that you have told me that Francis may have actually got into Germany, then, I must say, it looks as if this might be an attempt of his to communicate with home."
"Where did the Dutchman's packet of stuff come from?" I asked.
"From the Berlin Metal Works in Steglitz, a suburb of Berlin: he has dealt with them for years."
"But then what does all the rest of it mean ... all this about Achilles and the rest?"
"Ah, Desmond!" was Dicky's reply, "that's where you've got not only me, but also Mynheer van Urutius."
"'O oak-wood! O oak-wood, how empty are thy leaves!' ... That sounds like a taunt, don't you think, Dicky?" said I.
"Or a confession of failure from Francis ... to let us know that he has done nothing, adding that he is accordingly sulking 'like Achilles in his tent.'"
"But, see here, Richard Allerton," I said, "Francis would never spell 'Achilles' with one 'l' ... now, would he?"
"By Jove!" said Dicky, looking at the paper again, "nobody would but a very uneducated person. I know nothing about German, but tell me, is that the hand of an educated German? Is it Francis' handwriting?"
"Certainly, it is an educated hand," I replied, "but I'm dashed if I can say whether it is Francis' German handwriting: it can scarcely be because, as I have already remarked, he spells 'Achilles' with one 'l.'"
Then the fog came down over us again. We sat helplessly and gazed at the fateful paper.
"There's only one thing for it, Dicky," I said finally, "I'll take the blooming thing back to London with me and hand it over to the Intelligence. After all, Francis may have a code with them. Possibly they will see light where we grope in darkness."
"Desmond," said Dicky, giving me his hand, "that's the most sensible suggestion you've made yet. Go home and good luck to you. But promise me you'll come back here and tell me if that piece of paper brings the news that dear old Francis is alive."
So I left Dicky but I did not go home. I was not destined to see my home for many a weary week.