The Gold Comfit Box - Valentine Williams - ebook

The Gold Comfit Box ebook

Valentine Williams

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Opis

Philip Clavering is a British agent using fake name James Dunlop while in Belgium. He found out that the train Berlin-Paris crashed. His boss calls and tells him that agent Charles Forrest was on this train, and Philip must find the gold box he was carrying. The woman who survived the crash is in his hotel, and he asks her if she has any information about Forrest. She is in a state of panic and loses consciousness. Returning to the lobby, he meets with Dr. Grundt, who rides upstairs to see the woman. He does not know who Grundt is. He will find out later.

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Liczba stron: 441

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Contents

86. LONDON CALLING

87. THE SURVIVOR

88. THE GOLD BOX

89. "MON BAISER RESTE"

90. CONCERNING A CLUBFOOTED MAN

91. AT THE WEISSER HIRSCH

92. FACE TO FACE WITH CLUBFOOT

93. I CONFER WITH GARNET

94. A STEP ON THE STAIR

95. WHAT THE FLAMES REVEALED

96. NEWS OF THE BOX

97. DR. GRUNDT GOES VISITING

98. GODDESS FROM THE MACHINE

99. THE SILVER STAR

100. THE PLAN GOES AWRY

101. IN WHICH A KEY REVIVES HOPE

102. ESCAPE

103. DISASTER

104. GARNET STEPS IN

105. A GLASS OF BEER AT ANDRESEN'S AND WHAT IT LED TO

106. A GALLOWS DRAUGHT WITH DR. GRUNDT

107. WHAT THE BOX CONTAINED

108. WHICH TAKES GARNET OFF

109. ALFRED DOES HIS STUFF

110. MADELEINE SHOWS HER HAND

111. HANS ROTH, SPY

112. THE BLACK HAND CASTS A SHADOW

113. ALFRED BOBS UP AGAIN

114. THE LONG ARM OF DR. GRUNDT

115. THE CHASE IS ON

116. THE MAN IN THE HAMMAM

117. THE HOUSE WITH THE BLUE SHUTTERS

118. THE ASSAULT

119. "IT WAS NOT TO BE"

120. THE BOX GIVES UP ITS SECRET

86

London calling

The strangest chapter of adventures in my career in the British Secret Service opened on a vile, black night of storm and rain, the year before the war.

Spring was late and March went roaring out of Brussels, according to the old saw, with all the fury of the noble beast that is Brabant’s national emblem. A deluge of icy needles, driven by a wind that blew in gusts of tempest violence, stung my face as I emerged from the lighted warmth of the Café des Trois Etoiles to struggle the short distance back to my hotel. It was what the world was to learn to think of as typical Flanders weather.

The street was a funnel of wind and water and reverberant with the noises of the gale. Head down, the collar of my raincoat turned up, I battled my way along, the rain drumming upon glass, windows rattling, awnings flapping, and ever and again a loud crash as a bill-board or ash-bin was blown over. It was half past one by the clock as I crossed the Place. I had been spending the evening with Stockvis, who was at that time looking after things for us at Antwerp, and I thought the fellow would never have let me go to bed. I had been busy ever since my arrival from London on the previous afternoon and I had a long report to draw up before turning in. The prospect of a pipe and a nightcap from my flask in the snug quiet of my bedroom as I went over my notes was very inviting as, leaving the gale behind me, I pushed through the rotating door of the hotel.

In the lobby Albert, the night porter, said as he produced my key, “They telephoned for Monsieur from London to-night...”

I glanced at him, puzzled. “From London, Albert?” I could not think of anyone in London who would telephone me except the office. But Sunday, as a rule, was a quiet day at headquarters: besides, what with the Treasury perpetually slashing at the Secret Funds, the Chief was rarely lavish in the matter of long distance calls. It was something important, evidently.

The man nodded. “Twice already. They will ring up again...”

Curiouser and curiouser. I felt a little stirring of excitement. “At what time did they call up?” I asked.

Albert referred to his book. “At one eight, the first time, and again not five minutes ago...”

“I’m not going to bed yet,” I said. “Don’t let there be any mistake about it when they telephone again...”

“Very good, Monsieur Dunlop...”

“A terrible night,” I remarked, picking up my key.

“Monsieur may well say that. Especially for all those unfortunate people...”

“What people?”

“Monsieur hasn’t heard then?”

“About what?”

“About the railway accident...”

“What railway accident?”

“The Berlin-Paris express was wrecked to-night...”

I whistled. “When did this happen?”

“Around midnight. It was derailed near Charleroi...”

“And many people were killed, you say?”

The porter spread out his hands. “Dame, it would seem so. The first I heard of it was from your friend in London. It had just come over the news tape...”

I nodded. It was the office that had called me, then–we had a news ticker installed there.

“I told your friend I had no particulars. But I rang up the Petit Bleu. They said that nearly all the land lines to Charleroi are down owing to the gale and that only a single wire to the Ministry is working. But from what the lady told me, I fear the death-roll must be considerable. She said that two coaches turned over and she heard people screaming...”

“What lady are you talking about?”

Albert lowered his voice impressively. “A survivor, Monsieur Dunlop. She arrived about ten minutes ago and engaged a room. Her manner was so agitated that I asked her if she was ill and she told me what had happened. The coach she was in was thrown over, but she managed to scramble out unhurt. Running into the village she found a car and made the man drive her straight into Brussels...” He tapped his forehead. “Unhinged, savez-vous? She made me promise not to mention her arrival to anyone, said she didn’t want to be bothered with reporters. So, if Monsieur would keep this to himself...”

“Of course,” I said. “Poor creature! What a shocking experience! There’s nothing one can do, I suppose?”

“I offered to call a doctor to Madame, but she refused. She said she was going to bed. By the way, Monsieur’s friend from London asked me if we had any news of the accident. I told him just what I’ve told you...”

“Thanks, Albert,” I said. “Well, put him through promptly when he comes on again...”

I had scarcely got to my room, draped my dripping raincoat across the bath-tub and kicked off my wet shoes, than the telephone whirred. “Je vous dites,” a very English voice spoke in execrable French into my ear, “je veux parley avec Mossoo Dunlop...”

I felt a sudden thrill. It was the Chief himself. This meant business. For six months now, I had been running the show in Brussels and I was fair sick of it. Brussels may be the “little Paris,” but its delights soon pall. Every blessed Saturday morning, for six mortal months in succession, I had caught the Ostend boat train from Charing Cross, spent the rest of Saturday and the whole of Sunday in Brussels, closeted with the prime collection of cosmopolitan riff-raff constituting our intelligence rank-and-file in Belgium and Holland, and returned to London on the Monday, consigning to the devil the secret service and all its works that came between a fellow and his week-end parties. Little piffling reports–for the most part, a choice blend of blatherskyte, exaggeration and sheer mendacity–to be sifted, rewards parsimoniously doled out–a louis here, a hundred franc note there–and less excitement than a curate shall find on a seven-day round trip to Lovely Lucerne. I was absolutely fed up. And to think, I would tell myself indignantly, that I had temporarily shed my horse-gunner’s shell-jacket for this dreary chore!

But here was the Chief telephoning me from London for the third time, and at twelve bob a call. On a Sunday night, too, when, as a general thing, he was enjoying his Sabbath repose on the shores of his beloved Solent. That authoritative, deep-chested voice of his, so well-remembered, brought him vividly before my eyes–I could almost see before me that big, grizzled head, those bright, blue eyes that could twinkle so humorously yet, on occasion, become as merciless as the asp’s, that clean-cut, uncompromising mouth and crag-like jaw. “Here I am, sir,” I said.

“Is that you, Clavering?” The stern voice was edged with anxiety.

“Yes, sir...”

*****

I had better explain, before I go any further that “Dunlop” was what you might call an “accommodation” name at head quarters. All of us, even the old man himself, were “Dunlop” at odd times. It was convenient to have an alias in dealing with the funnies of international espionage who had to be interviewed as part of the day’s work. Thus, though my real name is Philip Clavering, at the week-end I regularly became James Dunlop, a London business man with interests in Belgium, and business cards, identification papers, and a most important-looking leather portfolio to support my claim, all Bristol and shipshape fashion, to quote a favourite expression of the Chief’s.

*****

“Clavering,” said the skipper, “you’ve heard about the train smash?”

“Yes, sir. Just now...”

“Heard of any English casualties?”

“No, sir. Why?”

“Charles Forrest was aboard that train...”

“I say!” Forrest was one of our star turns.

“We’ve only had the bare announcement here. What I want to do is to ascertain as soon as possible whether Forrest is all right. If you can’t find out in Brussels, get a car and drive over to the wreck–if it’s near Charleroi you ought to do it in an hour or so. I hope to God that Forrest has escaped, but what I’m concerned with at present is that box of his. You know it?”

I laughed. “That snuff-box or whatever it is he carries?”

“That’s it. If he’s injured and has had to go to hospital, get that box at all costs. If he’s among the killed, don’t leave the scene of the wreck until you’ve found the body and recovered the box or definitely established that it has been destroyed. Understand?”

“Yes, sir...”

“Then get on with it. And, hark’ee, Clavering, this matter is absolutely vital. ‘Phone or wire me the moment you have any news!”

“Very good, sir!”

I hung up, but only long enough for the line to be disconnected. Then, as in my experience newspapers are usually two or three jumps ahead of official sources with the news, I followed Albert’s example and rang the Petit Bleu. At the newspaper they were polite but not helpful. About a dozen dead and injured had been extracted from the wreck, but they had no names as yet. I called the railway station and the ministry of Railways with no better result.

There was nothing for it–it would have to be a car. As I grabbed my wet hat and raincoat and slipped my whisky flask into my pocket, I heard the wind go howling round the house–a nice trip I had let myself in for. And supposing, when I reached the wreck, I found that old Charles was all right, I would have had a cold and miserable journey for nothing.

Suddenly I remembered the woman of whom the night porter had spoken. She had been on the train; there must have been other survivors like herself who had scrambled clear. It was just possible that she might have noticed Forrest, if he had been one of these. The question was worth putting to her. I picked up the telephone again and asked for the night porter.

“What was the name of the lady who escaped from the train wreck and took a room here to-night?”

It was, Albert said, a certain Madame Staffer–at least, that is what it sounded like.

“What’s the number of her room?”

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