“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.
A VISITOR IN THE NIGHT
A volley of invective from the box of the cab—bad language in Dutch is fearfully effective—aroused me from my musings. The cab, a small, uncomfortable box with a musty smell, stopped with a jerk that flung me forward. From the outer darkness furious altercation resounded above the plashing of the rain. I peered through the streaming glass of the windows but could distinguish nothing save the yellow blur of a lamp. Then a vehicle of some kind seemed to move away in front of us, for I heard the grating of wheels against the kerb, and my cab drew up to the pavement.
On alighting, I found myself in a narrow, dark street with high houses on either side. A grimy lamp with the word “Hotel” in half-obliterated characters painted on it hung above my head, announcing that I had arrived at my destination. As I paid off the cabman another cab passed. It was apparently the one with which my Jehu had had words, for he turned round and shouted abuse into the night.
My cabman departed, leaving me with my bag on the pavement at my feet gazing at a narrow dirty door, the upper half of which was filled in with frosted glass. I was at last awake to the fact that I, an Englishman, was going to spend the night in a German hotel to which I had been specially recommended by a German porter on the understanding that I was a German. I knew that, according to the Dutch neutrality regulations, my passport would have to be handed in for inspection by the police and that therefore I could not pass myself off as a German.
“Bah!” I said to give myself courage, “this is a free country, a neutral country. They may be offensive, they may overcharge you, in a Hun hotel, but they can’t eat you. Besides, any bed in a night like this!” and I pushed open the door.
Within, the hotel proved to be rather better than its uninviting exterior promised. There was a small vestibule with a little glass cage of an office on one side and beyond it an old-fashioned flight of stairs, with a glass knob on the post at the foot, winding to the upper stories.
At the sound of my footsteps on the mosaic flooring, a waiter emerged from a little cubby-hole under the stairs. He had a blue apron girt about his waist, but otherwise he wore the short coat and the dicky and white tie of the Continental hotel waiter. His hands were grimy with black marks and so was his apron. He had apparently been cleaning boots.
He was a big, fat, blonde man with narrow, cruel little eyes. His hair was cut so short that his head appeared to be shaven. He advanced quickly towards me and asked me in German in a truculent voice what I wanted.