I put a touch of pleading into my voice, which struck him at once.
“I am not unreasonable, my dear Captain Okewood,” he replied, “but you will understand that I am not to be trifled with, so I give you fair warning. I will give you until....”
“It is eight o’clock now,” I interrupted. “I tell you what, give me until ten. Will that do?”
Clubfoot nodded assent.
“Take this man upstairs to my bedroom,” he ordered the sergeant. “Stay with him while he has his breakfast, and bring him back here at ten o’clock. And tell Schmidt to leave my car at the door: he needn’t wait, as he is to beat: I will drive myself to the shoot.”
I don’t really remember what happened after that. I swallowed some breakfast, but I had no idea what I was eating, and the sergeant, who was a model of Prussian discipline, declined with a surly frown to enter into conversation with me. My morale was very low: when I look back upon that morning I think I must have been pretty near the breaking-point.
As I sat and waited I heard the house in a turmoil of preparation for the shoot. There was the sound of voices, of heavy boots in the hall, of wheels and horses in the yard without. Then the noises died away and all was still. Shortly afterwards, the clock pointing to ten, the sergeant escorted me downstairs again to the billiard-room.
Grundt was still sitting there. A hot wave of anger drove the blood into my cheeks as I looked at him, fat and soft and so triumphant at his victory. The sight of him, however, gave me the tonic I needed. My nerve was shaken badly, but I was determined it must answer to this last strain, to play this uncouth fish for two hours. After that ... if nothing happened ...
Clubfoot sent the sergeant away.
“I can look after him myself now,” he said, in a blithe tone that betrayed his conviction of success. So the sergeant saluted and left the room, his footsteps echoing down the passages like the leaden feet of Destiny, relentless, inexorable.
WE HAVE A RECKONING WITH CLUBFOOT
I looked at Clubfoot.
I must play him with caution, with method, too.
Only by acting on a most exact system could I hope to hold him in that room for two hours. I had four points to argue with him and I would devote half an hour to each of them by the clock on the bracket above his head. If only I could keep him confident in his victory, I might hope to prevent him finding out that I was playing with him ... but two hours is a long time ... it would be a near thing.
One point in my favour ... my manner gave him the assurance of success from the start. There was nothing counterfeit about my tone of humility, for in truth I was very near despair. I was making this last effort at the bidding of my brother, but I felt it to be a forlorn hope: in my heart of hearts I knew I was down and out.