The Return of Clubfoot - Valentine Williams - ebook

The Return of Clubfoot ebook

Valentine Williams

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An Espionage/Adventure Classic! With „The Return of Clubfoot”, Valentine Williams has penned a thrilling page-turner of mystery, love, adventure, and intrigue. Whilst spending a holiday in a small Central American Republic, Desmond Okewood, of the Secret Service, learns from a dying beachcomber of a hidden treasure. With the assistance of a millionaire, he sets out for an island in the Pacific. To his astonishment he discovers that the Man with the Clubfoot, whom he had regarded as dead and who had shot his brother Francis, has anticipated him. The circumstances of how Okewood gains knowledge of the treasure and the subsequent pursuit by Okewood’s nemesis, Clubfoot, in which the millionaire’s pretty daughter takes a prominent part, made for a fast-paced, suspenseful, and entertaining read highlighted by a romantic interest and a satisfying ending.

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Liczba stron: 327

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Contents

I. DOÑA LUISA

II. IN WHICH A GENTLEMAN PAYS HIS DEBT

III. THE MESSAGE

IV. A FOOTSTEP IN THE LANE

V. THE GIRL IN THE SMOKE-ROOM

VI. I RECEIVE AN INVITATION

VII. THE VICE-CONSUL’S WARNING

VIII. DR. CUSTRIN

IX. CONCERNING A LONG DRINK

X. THE GRAVE IN THE CLEARING

XI. A VOICE IN THE FOREST

XII. I MEET AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE

XIII. EL COJO

XIV. “DIE FÜNF-UND-ACHTZIGER”

XV. MARJORIE’S ADVENTURE

XVI. BLACK PABLO MAKES HIS PREPARATIONS

XVII. THE ESCAPE

XVIII. A FACE AMONG THE FERNS

XIX. WHICH PROVES THAT TWO HEADS ARE BETTER THAN ONE

XX. THE BURIAL CHAMBER

XXI. A LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS AND WHAT CAME OF IT

XXII. I INTERRUPT A TÊTE-À-TÊTE

XXIII. CAPITULATION

XXIV. ULRICH VON HAGEL’S TREASURE

XXV. THE END OF A DREAM

XXVI. IN WHICH A BLACK BOX PLAYS A DECISIVE PART

I. DOÑA LUISA

AS I was sitting on the verandah of John Bard’s bungalow, glancing through a two-month old copy of The Sketch, I heard the clang of the iron gate below where I sat. I raised my eyes from the paper and looked down the gardens. At my feet was stretched a dark tangle of palms and luxuriant tropical verdure, beyond them in the distance the glass-like surface of the sea, on which a great lucent moon threw a gleaming path of light.

The night was very tranquil. From the port at the foot of the hill, on which my old friend, John Bard, had built his bungalow in this earthly paradise, the occasional screech of a winch was wafted with astonishing clearness over the warm air. Somewhere in the distance there was the faint monotonous thrumming of guitars. To these night noises of the little Central American port the sea murmured faintly a ceaseless accompaniment.

I heard voices in the garden. Within the house a door swung to with a thud; there was the patter of slippered feet over the matting in the living-room and Akawa, Bard’s Japanese servant, was at my elbow. His snow-white drill stood out against the black shadows which the moon cast at the back of the verandah. He did not speak; but his mask-like face waited for me to notice him.

“Well, Akawa?” said I; “what is it?”

“Doña Luisa ask for the Señor Commandante, excuse me!” announced the Jap stolidly.

Comfortably stretched out in a cane chair, a cold drink frosting its long glass in the trough at my side, I turned and stared at the butler. I was undoubtedly the Señor Commandante, for thus, in the course of a lazy, aimless sort of holiday on the shores of the Pacific, had my rank of Major been hispaniolised.

But what lady wanted me? Who could possibly know me here, seeing that only the day before one of John Bard’s fruit ships had landed me from San Salvador?

Doña Luisa! The name had an alluring, romantic ring, especially on this gorgeous night, the velvety sky powdered with glittering stars, the air heavy with perfumes exhaled from the scented gardens. That broad strain of romance in me (which makes so much trouble for us Celts) responded strongly to the appeal of my environment. Doña Luisa! The distant strains of music seemed to thrum that soft name into my brain.

I swung my feet to the ground, stood up and stretched myself.

“Where is the lady?” I demanded. “In the sitting-room?”

“No, sir,” replied the Japanese. “In the garden!”

More and more romantic! Had some lovely señorita, in high comb and mantilla, been inflamed by a chance sight of the Inglez as I had walked through the grass-grown streets of the city with John Bard that morning, and pursued me to my host’s gardens to declare her love? The thought amused me and I smiled. Yet I don’t mind admitting that, on my way through the sitting-room in Akawa’s wake, I glanced at a mirror and noted with satisfaction that my white drill was spotless, and my hair smooth. I adjusted my tie and with that little touch of swagger which the prospect of a romantic rendezvous imparts to the gait of the most modest of us men, I passed out of the room to the corridor which led to the door into the gardens.

The passage was brightly lit so that, on emerging into the darkness again, my eyes were dazzled. At first I could only discern a vast black shape. But presently I made out the generous proportions of an enormously stout, coal-black negress.

She was wearing a torn and filthy cotton dress and about her head was bound a spotted pink and white handkerchief. With her vast bosom and ample span of hip she looked almost as broad as she was long. On seeing me she bobbed.

“You’m Señor Commandante?” she asked in English in her soft negro voice.

“Yes,” I replied, rather taken aback by this droll apparition. “What did you want with me?”

“I has a letter for you, suh!”

She plunged a brown hand into the unfathomable depths of her opulent corsage.

“From Doña Luisa?” I asked expectantly.

The negress stopped her groping and grinned up at me with flashing teeth. Her eyeballs glistened white as her face lit up with a broad smile. Then she tapped herself with a grimy paw.

“I is Doña Luisa!” she announced with pride.

I staggered beneath the shock of this revelation. My vision of a sloe-eyed damsel in a mantilla vanished in smoke.

“I has a fine Spanish name,” remarked the lady resuming her spasmodic searchings of her person, “but I wus riz in N’Awleans. That’s how I talks English so good! Ah!”

With a grunt she fished out a folded sheet of dirty note-paper and handed it to me.

“You’re certain this is meant for me?” I asked, racking my brains to recall who was likely to send me messages by such an intermediary and at such an hour.

“I sure is!” responded Doña Luisa with authority.

Stepping back into the lighted corridor I unfolded the note and read:–

“To Major Desmond Okewood, D.S.O.

“Do you remember the beach-comber to whom you did a good turn at San Salvador a few weeks back? I now believe I am in a position to repay it if you will accompany the bearer of this note. I wish to see you most urgently but I am too ill to come to you. Don’t dismiss this note as merely an ingenious attempt on my part to raise the wind. Perhaps, by the time you have received it, I shall have already escaped from the disgrace and infamy of my present existence. Therefore come at once, I beg you.

“And make haste.”

The note was written in pencil in rather a shaky hand. There was no signature. But I remembered the writer perfectly and his signature would have availed me nothing; for I never knew his name.

Our meeting happened thus. I was visiting the jail at San Salvador and in the prison-yard I remarked among the shambling gang of prisoners taking exercise a pallid, hollow-eyed creature whose twitching mouth and fluttering hands betrayed the habitual drunkard recovering from a bout. I should have dismissed this scarecrow figure from my mind only that, suddenly evading the little brown warder, he plucked me by the coat and cried:–

“If you’re a sahib, man, you’ll get me out of this hell!”

He spoke in English and there was a refined note in his voice which, coupled with the haggard expression of his face, decided me to inquire into his case. I discovered that the man, as, indeed, he had avowed himself in the letter, was a beach-comber, a drunken wastrel, a dope fiend. In short, he was one of the unemployable, and every Consulate in the Central Americas was closed to him. But he was an Englishman; more, by birth an English gentleman. One of the officials at our Consulate told me that he was, undoubtedly, of good family.

Well, one doesn’t like to think of one of one’s own kith and kin locked up with a lot of coffee-coloured cut-throats among the cockchafers and less amiable insects of a Dago calaboose. So I interested myself in Friend Beach-comber and he was set free. His incarceration was the result of a tradesman’s plaint and a few dollars secured his release. A few more, as it appeared in the upshot, had ensured his lasting gratitude; for I gave him a ten dollar bill to see him on his way, the State stipulating, as a condition of his liberation, that he should leave the city forthwith.

The outcast’s letter was in my hand. I looked at Doña Luisa and hesitated. Would it not be simpler to give the woman a couple of dollars and send her about her business? Surely this note was nothing more than a subterfuge to obtain a further “loan” with which to buy drink or drugs–the dividing line between the two is none too clearly defined in the Central Americas.

But I found myself thinking of the beachcomber’s eyes. I recalled a certain wistfulness, a sort of lonely dignity, in their mute appeal. I glanced through the note a second time. I rather liked its independent tone. So in the end I bade the woman wait while I fetched my hat. But as I took down my panama from its peg I paused an instant, then, running into my room, picked my old automatic out of my dressing-case and slid it into my jacket pocket. I had long since learnt the lesson of the Secret Service that a man may only once forget to carry arms.

As soon as I stepped out into the gardens the old negress waddled off down the path, her bare feet pattering almost noiselessly on the hard earth. She made no further effort at conversation; but, with a swiftness surprising in one of her prodigious bulk, paddled rapidly through the scented night down the hill towards the winking lights of the port. As we left the pleasant height on which John Bard’s bungalow stood, I missed the cooling night breeze off the Pacific. The air grew closer. It was steamy and soon I was drenched in perspiration.

Doña Luisa skirted the quays softly lapped by the sluggish, phosphorescent water, and plunged into a network of small streets fringed by the little yellow houses. Most of them were in darkness; for it was getting late, but here and there a shaft of golden light, shining through a heart-shaped opening cut in the shutters, fell athwart the cobbled roadway. There was something subtly evil, something louche, about the quarter. From behind the barred and bolted windows of one such shuttered house came strains of music, fast and furious, endlessly repeated accompanied by the rhythmic stamp of a Spanish dance and the smart click of castanettes. Over the door a red light glowed dully...

But presently we left the purlieus of the port and after passing a long block of warehouses, black and forbidding, came upon a kind of township of tumbledown wooden cabins on the outskirts of the city. The stifling air was now heavy with all manner of evil odours; and heaps of refuse, dumped in the broken roadway, reeked in the hot night. The houses were the merest shanties, most of them in a dilapidated condition.

But the place swarmed with life. Black faces grinned at the unglazed casements; dark figures hurried to and fro; while from many cabins came chattering voices raised high in laughter or dispute. In the distance a native drum throbbed incessantly. To me it was like entering an African village. I knew we were in the negro quarter of the city.

Suddenly Doña Luisa stopped and when I was beside her said in a low voice:–

“We’m mos’ there!”–and struck off down a narrow lane.

Somewhere behind one of the shacks, in a full, mellow tenor, a man, hidden by the night, was singing to the soft tinkling accompaniment of a guitar. He sang in Spanish and I caught a snatch of the haunting refrain:–

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