THE DEVIL'S PAW
By E. Phillips Oppenheim
The two men, sole occupants of the somewhat shabbycottage
lingered over their port, not so much with the air of wine lovers,
but rather as human beings and intimates, perfectly
their surroundings and company. Outside, the wind was howling over the
marshes, and occasional
bursts of rain came streaming against the
window panes. Inside at any rate was comfort, triumphing over varying
conditions. The cloth upon the plain deal table was of fine linen, the
decanter and glasses were beautifully
cut; there were walnuts and, in
a far Corner, cigars of a well-known
brand and cigarettes from a famous
tobacconist. Beyond that little oasis, however, were all the evidences
of a hired abode. A hole in the closely drawn curtains was fastened
together by a safety pin. The horsehair easy-chairs bore disfiguring
antimacassars, the photographs which adorned the walls were grotesque
of village ideals, the carpet
was threadbare, the closed
door secured by a latch instead of the usual knob. One side of the
room was littered with golf clubs, a huge game bag and several boxes
of cartridges. Two shotguns lay upon the remains of a sofa. It scarcely
needed the costume
of Miles Furley, the host, to demonstrate
that this was the temporary
abode of a visitor
to the Blakeney marshes
in search of sport.
Furley, broad-shouldered, florid, with tanned skin and grizzled hair,
was still wearing the high sea boots and jersey
of the duck shooter.
His companion, on the other hand, a tall, slim man, with high forehead,
clear eyes, stubborn
jaw, and straight yet sensitive
mouth, wore the
ordinary dinner clothes of civilisation. The contrast
between the two
men might indeed have afforded some ground for speculation
as to the
nature of their intimacy. Furley, a son of the people, had the air
of cultivating, even clinging to a certain plebeian
as when he spoke, or in his gestures. He was a Member of
Parliament for a Labour constituency, a shrewd
of the working
man. What he lacked in the higher qualities
he made up in sturdy
common sense. The will-o'-the-wisp
Socialism of the moment, with its many attendant
"isms" and theories,
received scant favour at his hands. He represented the solid element
in British Labour politics, and it was well known that he had refused
a seat in the Cabinet in order to preserve
had a remarkable
gift of taciturnity, which in a man of his class made
for strength, and it was concerning
him that the Prime Minister had made
his famous epigram, that Furley was the Labour man whom he feared the
most and dreaded the least.
Julian Orden, with an exterior
in many respects than
that of his friend, could boast of no similar distinctions. He was
the youngest son of a particularly fatuous peer resident
neighbourhood, had started life as a barrister, in which profession
had attained a moderate
success, had enjoyed a brief but not inglorious
spell of soldiering, from which he had retiredslightly
lamed for life,
and had filled up the intervening period in the harmless
of censoring. His friendship with Furley appeared on the surface too
singular to be anything else but accidental. Probably no one save the
two men themselves understood it, and they both possessed the gift of
"What's all this peace talk mean?" Julian Orden asked, fingering the
stem of his wineglass.
"Who knows?" Furley grunted. "The newspapers must have their daily
"I have a theory that it is being engineered."
"Bolo business, eh?"
Julian Orden moved in his place a little uneasily. His long, nervous
fingers played with the stick which stood always by the side of his
"You don't believe in it, do you?" he asked quietly.
Furley looked straight ahead of him. His eyes seemed caught by the
glitter of the lamplight upon the cut-glass decanter.
"You know my opinion of war, Julian," he said. "It's a filthy,
from generations of autocratic government. No
democracy ever wanted war. Every democracy
needs and desires peace."
"One moment," Julian interrupted. "You must remember that a democracy
seldom possesses the imperialistic spirit, and a great empire can
"Arrant nonsense!" was the vigorous
reply. "A great empire, from
hemisphere to hemisphere, can be kept together a good deal better by
democratic control. Force is always the arriere pensee of the individual
and the autocrat."
"These are generalities," Julian declared. "I want to know your opinion
about a peace at the present moment."
"Not having any, thanks. You're a dilettante journalist by your own
confession, Julian, and I am not going to be drawn."
"There is something in it, then?"
"Maybe," was the careless
admission. "You're a visitor
Julian. '70 port and homegrown walnuts! A nice little addition
simple fare! Must you go back to-morrow?"
"We've another batch of visitors coming,--Stenson amongst
them, by the
Furley nodded. His eyes narrowed, and little lines appeared at their
"I can't imagine," he confessed. "What brings Stenson down to Maltenby.
I should have thought that your governor
and he could scarcely spend ten
minutes together without quarrelling!"
"They never do spend ten minutes together alone," Julian replied drily.
"I see to that. Then my mother, you know, has the knack of getting
interesting people together. The Bishop is coming, amongst
Furley, I wanted to ask you--do you know anything of a young woman--she
is half Russian, I believe--who calls herself Miss Catherine Abbeway?"
"Yes, I know her," was the brief rejoinder.
"She lived in Russia for some years, it seems," Julian continued. "Her
mother was Russian--a great writer
on social subjects."
"Miss Abbeway is rather that way herself," he remarked. "I've heard her
lecture in the East End. She has got hold of the woman's side of the
Labour question as well as any one I ever came across."
"She is a most remarkablyattractive
young person," Julian declared
"Yes, she's good-looking. A countess
in her own right, they tell me, but
she keeps her title secret for fear of losing influence with the working
classes. She did a lot of good down Poplar way. Shouldn't have thought
she'd have been your sort, Julian."
Julian smiled--rather a peculiar, introspective smile.
"I, too, can, be serious sometimes," he said.
His friend thrust
his hands into his trousers
pocket and, leaning back
in his chair, looked steadfastly at his guest.
"I believe you can, Julian," he admitted. "Sometimes I am not quite
sure that I understand you. That's the worst of a man with the gift for
"You're not a great talker
yourself," the younger man reminded his host.
"When you get me going on my own subject," Furley remarked, "I find it
hard to stop, and you are a wonderful listener. Have you got any views
of your own? I never hear them."
Julian drew the box of cigarettes towards him.
"Oh, yes, I've views of my own," he confessed. "Some day, perhaps, you
shall know what they are."
"A man of mystery!" his friend jeered good-naturedly.
Julian lit his cigarette and watched the smoke curl upward.
"Let's talk about the duck," he suggested.
The two men sat in silence for some minutes. Outside, the storm seemed
to have increased in violence. Furley rose, threw a log on to the fire
and resumed his place.
"Geese flew high," he remarked.
"Too high for me," Julian confessed.
"You got one more than I did."
"Sheer luck. The outside bird dipped down to me."
Furley filled his guest's glass and then his own.
"What on earth have you kept your shooting kit on for?" the latter
asked, with lazy curiosity.
Furley glanced down at his incongruous attire
and seemed for a moment
ill at ease.
"I've got to go out presently," he announced.
Julian raised his eyebrows.
"Got to go out?" he repeated. "On a night like this? Why, my dear
He paused abruptly. He was a man of quick perceptions, and he realised
his host's embarrassment. Nevertheless, there was an awkward
the conversation. Furley rose to his feet and frowned. He fetched a jar
from a shelf and filled his pouch deliberately:
"Sorry to seem mysterious, old chap," he said. "I've just a bit of a job
to do. It doesn't amount
to anything, but--well, it's the sort of affair
we don't talk about much."
"Well, you're welcome
to all the amusement
you'll get out of it, a night
Furley laid down his pipe, ready-filled, and drank off his port.
"There isn't much amusement
left in the world, is there, just now?" he
"Very little indeed. It's three years since I handled a shotgun before
"You've really chucked the censoring?"
"Last week. I've had a solid year at it."
"Not exactly that. My own work accumulated so."
"Briefs coming along, eh?"
"I'm a sort of hack journalist as well, as you reminded me just now,"
Julian explained a little evasively.
"I wonder you stuck at the censoring so long. Isn't it terribly
"Sometimes. Now and then we come across interesting things, though. For
instance, I discovered a most original cipher the other day."
"Did it lead to anything?" Furley asked curiously.
"Not at present. I discovered it, studying a telegram
It was addressed to a perfectlyrespectable
firm of English timber
merchants who have an office in the city. This was the original: `Fir
planks too narrow by half.' Sounds harmless
enough, doesn't it?"
"Absolutely. What's the hidden
"There I am still at a loss," Julian confessed, "but treated with the
cipher it comes out as `Thirty-eight steeple
Furley stared for a moment, then he lit his pipe.
"Well, of the two," he declared, "I should prefer the first rendering
"So would most people," Julian assented, smiling, "yet I am sure there
is something in it--some meaning, of course, that needs a context to
"Have you interviewed the firm of timber
"Not personally. That doesn't come into my department. The name of the
man who manages the London office, though, is Fenn--Nicholas Fenn."
the pipe from his mouth. His eyebrows had come together
in a slight frown.
"Nicholas Fenn, the Labour M.P.?"
"That's the fellow. You know him, of course?"
"Yes, I know him," Furley replied thoughtfully. "He is secretary of the
Timber Trades Union and got in for one of the divisions of Hull last
"I understand that there is nothing whatever
against him personally,"
Julian continued, "although as a politician
he is of course beneath
contempt. He started life as a village schoolmaster
and has worked
his way up most creditably. He professed to understand the cable as it
appeared in its original form. All the same, it's very odd that, treated
by a cipher which I got on the track of a few days previously, this same
message should work out as I told you."
"Of course," Furley observed, "ciphers can lead you--"
He stopped short. Julian, who had been leaning over towards the
cigarette bog, glanced around at his friend. There was a frown on
Furley's forehead. He withdrew
his pipe from between his teeth.
"What did you say you made of it?" he demanded.
"Thirty-eight! That's queer!"
"Why is it queer?"
There was a moment's silence. Furley glanced at the little clock upon
the mantelpiece. It was five and twenty minutes past nine.
"I don't know whether you have ever heard, Julian," he said, "that our
enemies on the other side of the North Sea are supposed
to have divided
the whole of the eastern coast of Great Britain into small, rectangular
districts, each about a couple of miles square. One of our secret
service chaps got hold of a map some time ago."
"No, I never heard this," Julian acknowledged. "Well?"
"It's only a coincidence, of course," Furley went on, "but number
thirty-eight happens to be the two-mile block of seacoast
of which this
cottage is just about the centre. It stretches to Cley on one side and
Salthouse on the other, and inland
as far as Dutchman's Common. I am not
suggesting that there is any real connection
between your cable and this
fact, but that you should mention it at this particular moment--well, as
I said, it's a coincidence."
Furley had risen to his feet. He threw open the door and listened for a
moment in the passage. When he came back he was carrying some oilskins.
"Julian," he said, "I know you area bit of a cynic about espionage
and that sort of thing. Of course, there has been a terrible lot of
exaggeration, and heaps of fellows go gassing about secret service jobs,
all the way up the coast from here to Scotland, who haven't the least
idea what the thing means. But there is a little bit of it done, and in
way they find me an occasional
job or two down here. I won't
say that anything ever comes of our efforts--we're rather like the
special constables of the secret service--but just occasionally
across something suspicious."
"So that's why you're going out again to-night, is it?"
"This is my last night. I am off up to town on Monday and sha'n't be
able to get down again this season."
"Had any adventures?"
"Not the ghost of one. I don't mind admitting that I've had a good many
wettings and a few scares on that stretch of marshland, but I've never
seen or heard anything yet to send in a report about. It just happens,
though, that to-night there's a special vigilance
"What does that mean?" Julian enquired curiously.
to be up," was the dubious
reply. "We've a very
imaginative chief, I might tell you."
"But what sort of thing could happen?" Julian persisted. "What are you