“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
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 Rheinlaender 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 Buelow and August Bebel and “interruptions”; another, a patriotic oration by an old Prussian General at a Kaiser’s birthday dinner. Francis had a marvellous 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.