Greenmantle HTML version

7. Christmastide
Everything depended on whether the servant was in the hall. I had put Stumm to sleep
for a bit, but I couldn't flatter myself he would long be quiet, and when he came to he
would kick the locked door to matchwood. I must get out of the house without a minute's
delay, and if the door was shut and the old man gone to bed I was done.
I met him at the foot of the stairs, carrying a candle.
'Your master wants me to send off an important telegram. Where is the nearest office?
There's one in the village, isn't there?' I spoke in my best German, the first time I had
used the tongue since I crossed the frontier.
'The village is five minutes off at the foot of the avenue,' he said. 'Will you be long, sir?'
'I'll be back in a quarter of an hour,' I said. 'Don't lock up till I get in.'
I put on my ulster and walked out into a clear starry night. My bag I left lying on a settle
in the hall. There was nothing in it to compromise me, but I wished I could have got a
toothbrush and some tobacco out of it.
So began one of the craziest escapades you can well imagine. I couldn't stop to think of
the future yet, but must take one step at a time. I ran down the avenue, my feet cracking
on the hard snow, planning hard my programme for the next hour.
I found the village - half a dozen houses with one biggish place that looked like an inn.
The moon was rising, and as I approached I saw that there was some kind of a store. A
funny little two-seated car was purring before the door, and I guessed this was also the
telegraph office.
I marched in and told my story to a stout woman with spectacles on her nose who was
talking to a young man.
'It is too late,' she shook her head. 'The Herr Burgrave knows that well. There is no
connection from here after eight o'clock. If the matter is urgent you must go to
'How far is that?' I asked, looking for some excuse to get decently out of the shop.
'Seven miles,' she said, 'but here is Franz and the post-wagon. Franz, you will be glad
to give the gentleman a seat beside you.'
The sheepish-looking youth muttered something which I took to be assent, and finished
off a glass of beer. From his eyes and manner he looked as if he were half drunk.