N or M? - Agatha Christie

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CHAPTER ONE

It was the spring of 1940. Tommy Beresford made sure he was smiling as he walked into the sitting-room where his wife sat knitting. Mrs Beresford looked up at him. 'Anything interesting in the evening newspaper?'
'Things look bad in France,' Tommy said. 'Well, why don't you ask me how it went?'
'Darling, I don't need to ask,' said Tuppence. 'You are smiling the unhappiest smile I have ever seen.'
'As bad as that?'
'Much worse!'
'I tell you, Tuppence, it's terrible when a man of forty-six is made to feel like a grandfather. Army, Navy, Air Force, Foreign Office, they all say the same — I'm too old. They don't want me in any job.'
'It's the same for me,' complained Tuppence. 'They don't want people of my age for nursing. They'd rather have a schoolgirl who's never seen a wound than a woman who worked in the Great War.'
'Well, it is comforting that Deborah has a job,' Tommy said.
'I could do as much as our daughter,' remarked Tuppence.
Tommy grinned. 'She wouldn't think so.'
Tuppence gave a cry of anger. 'Are we too old to do things? Isn't it true that we once caught a dangerous criminal? Isn't it true that we rescued a girl and important secret documents, and were thanked by a grateful country? Us! That was us! I'm so disappointed in Mr Carter.'
'But he no longer works in Intelligence. He's old. He lives in Scotland and fishes.'
Tuppence sighed sadly. 'I wish we could find a job — any job. I imagine the worst when I have so much time to think.' As she spoke she looked at the photograph of a very young man in an Air Force uniform, with the same wide smile as his father Tommy's.
The doorbell rang. Tuppence got up. She opened the door to see a broad-shouldered man with a large, fair moustache and a cheerful red face.
'Are you Mrs Beresford? My name is Grant. I'm a friend of Lord Easthampton's. He suggested that I visit you and your husband.'
'Oh, come in.'
She led him into the sitting room. 'Tommy, Mr Grant is a friend of Mr Car… of Lord Easthampton's.'
Lord Easthampton was the proper title of their old friend. But Tuppence always thought of him as Mr Carter — the name he used when he was Chief of Intelligence and their boss.
For a few minutes the three talked together, then Tuppence left the room. She returned a few minutes later with sherry and some glasses. Then Mr Grant said to Tommy, 'I understand you're looking for a job? Well, active service is only for the young men, but I can offer you some office work, which is better than nothing. Come to my office one day this week and...'
The telephone rang and Tuppence picked it up. 'Hello — yes — what?'
A loud voice, obviously in pain, spoke from the other end.
'Oh, my dear, of course, I'll come now...' She put down the phone. 'Tommy, that was Maureen. I'm so sorry, Mr Grant, but I must go. My friend has fallen and hurt her ankle and I must go and help her. Do forgive me.'
'Of course, Mrs Beresford.'
Tuppence hurried out. The door of the flat shut noisily. Tommy poured another glass of sherry for his guest.
'Thank you. In one way, your wife leaving is fortunate for us. It will save time. You see, Beresford, if you had come to the Ministry, I would have asked you to do something special. Easthampton told us you were the man for the job.'
Tommy was delighted. 'Tell me.'
'This is confidential. Not even your wife must know. Officially you will be working in Scotland, in a secret army area where your wife cannot join you. In fact you will be somewhere very different. You've read in the newspapers of the Fifth Column? You know what that means?'
'The enemy within,' Tommy said.
'Exactly. You know the war started badly for us. We did not want war and had not prepared for it. Well, we are correcting our mistakes and we can win this war — but only if we do not lose it first. And the danger of losing it comes, not from Germany, but from within. The Fifth Column is here, men and women in positions of power who believe in Nazi aims and want a Nazi government here.
'And we don't know who they are. We know there are at least two in powerful positions in the Navy, one in the army and three in the Air Force — and several members in Intelligence. We know because secret information is being given to the enemy.'
'But what can I do? I don't know any of these people.'
Grant nodded. 'Exactly. And they don't know you. But these people do know our agents, so I cannot use them. That is why I went to Easthampton and he thought of you. It's twenty years since you worked for the department. Your face and name are not known. What do you say? Will you take the job?'
Tommy could not stop smiling. 'I certainly will!'
'Well, Beresford, you'll take the place of the best man we had, Farquhar. He was hit by a lorry — and that was not an accident. All he managed to say before he died was, «N or M. Song Susie.»'
'That doesn't seem helpful!'
Grant smiled. 'N and M are two of the most important German agents. N, we know, is a man. M is a woman, and they are in England.'
'I see. And Farquhar?'
'Farquhar must have been on their trail. Song Susie sounds very strange — but Farquhar spoke French badly. There was a train ticket in his pocket, to Leahampton, a town on the south coast. Lots of hotels and guesthouses. There is one called Sans Souci, which means, of course, «without worries» in French — a good name for a guesthouse!'
Tommy said, 'Song Susie — Sans Souci. I see. And your idea is that I go there and see what I can find.'
'Exactly.'
Tommy smiled again.
***
Tommy went to Scotland three days later. Tuppence said goodbye at the station, her eyes bright with tears. Once there, he took a train back to England again the next day. On the third day he arrived at Leahampton.
Sans Souci was built on the side of a hill and had a good view of the sea from its upper windows. The owner, Mrs Perenna, was a middle-aged woman with a lot of black hair and a smile that showed a lot of very white teeth.
Tommy mentioned that his cousin, Miss Meadowes, had stayed at Sans Souci two years ago. Mrs Perenna remembered Miss Meadowes. 'Such a dear old lady.'
Tommy agreed. There was, he knew, a real Miss Meadowes — the department was careful about these details.
'And how is dear Miss Meadowes?'
Tommy explained sadly that Miss Meadowes had died. Mrs Perenna said the proper words with the correct sadness. But she was soon talking happily again. She had a room for Mr Meadowes with a lovely sea view. She thought Mr Meadowes was right to leave London. Very unpleasant these days.
Still talking, Mrs Perenna took Tommy upstairs and showed him the bedroom. He found himself wondering what her nationality was. The name was Spanish or Portuguese, but that could be her husband's nationality. She might, he thought, be Irish.
It was agreed that Mr Meadowes should move in the following day. Tommy arrived at six o'clock. Mrs Perenna came out to welcome him, gave instructions about his luggage to a maid, and then led him into the lounge.
'I always introduce my guests,' said Mrs Perenna, smiling at the five people there, who looked at him suspiciously. 'This is our new arrival, Mr Meadowes — Mrs O'Rourke.'
A very large woman with a moustache gave him a bright smile.
'Major Bletchley.'
Major Bletchley, obviously retired a long time ago from the army, nodded.
'Mr von Deinim.'
A young man, very stiff, fair-haired and blue-eyed, got up and bowed.
'Miss Minton.'
An elderly woman, wearing many necklaces, was knitting a balaclava. She smiled and laughed.
'And Mrs Blenkensop.'
More knitting. A dark-haired woman lifted her eyes from another balaclava. Her eyes met his — polite, uninterested stranger's eyes. The room seemed to spin round him. Tuppence! Mrs Blenkensop was Tuppence!
CHAPTER TWO
At dinner four more guests of Sans Souci appeared — a middle-aged couple, Mr and Mrs Cayley, and a young mother, Mrs Sprot, who had come with her baby girl from London. She was placed next to Tommy and asked, 'Do you think it's safe now in London? Everyone seems to be going back.'
Before Tommy could reply, Miss Minton spoke up, 'You must not risk going back. Think of your sweet little Betty. You know they say that the Blitzkrieg on England is coming soon — and a new type of poisonous gas, I believe.'
After dinner everyone moved into the lounge. The women started knitting again and Tommy had to listen to an extremely boring account of Major Bletchley's experiences in India.
The fair young man went out, bowing at the door. Major Bletchley interrupted his own story to say to Tommy, 'He's a refugee. Got out of Germany a month before the war.'
'He's a German?'
'Yes. His father was in trouble for criticizing the Nazis. Two of his brothers are in concentration camps.'
The following morning Tommy rose early and walked down to the sea front. He saw a familiar figure coming in the other direction. Tommy raised his hat. 'Good morning,' he said pleasantly. 'Mrs Blenkensop, is it not? How did you get here? Tell me how you managed it, Tuppence.'
'The moment Grant talked of our Mr Carter I knew it wouldn't be an office job — and that I was not going to be allowed to join in. So when I went to get the sherry, I ran downstairs to the Browns' apartment and telephoned Maureen. I told her to call me and what to say. She rang. I rushed off. Banged the hall door, but stayed inside, and then I simply listened to Mr Grant.'
'And you overheard everything?'
'Everything,' smiled Tuppence happily.
'But why call yourself Blenkensop?' Tommy asked.
'Why not? Why did you choose Meadowes?'
'I didn't choose it. I was told to name myself Meadowes. Mr Meadowes has a respectable past, which I have learnt.'
'Very nice,' said Tuppence. 'Are you married?'
'My wife died ten years ago in Singapore.'
'Why in Singapore?'
'We've all got to die somewhere. What's wrong with Singapore?'
'Oh, nothing. It's probably a most suitable place to die. I'm a widow. Not very intelligent and I sometimes say silly things.'
'Where did your husband die?'
'Probably at home. I suppose he died of too much alcohol. I have three sons: Douglas, who is in the Navy; Raymond is in the Air Force and Cyril, my youngest son, is in the Army. Now, how are we going to cooperate?'
Tommy said thoughtfully, 'We mustn't be seen too much together.'
'No. I think chasing is best.'
'Chasing?'
'I chase you. I've had two husbands and I'm looking for a third. You are the hunted widower. Every now and then I catch you. Everyone laughs and thinks it very funny.'
'Sounds perfect,' agreed Tommy. He caught her arm. 'Look over there.'
Near the pier they saw Carl von Deinim listening to a girl who was talking forcefully.
'I think this is where you leave me,' Tuppence murmured.
'Right,' agreed Tommy. He turned and walked off in the opposite direction.
Tuppence slowly continued her walk. As she passed the young couple she overheard a few words.
'But you must be careful, Carl. The least suspicion...'
Words that suggested something? Yes, but they could mean anything. She turned and again passed the two. More words from the girl floated to her.
'Arrogant English, how I hate them!'
Mrs Blenkensop's eyebrows rose. Carl von Deinim was a refugee from the Nazis, living in safety in England. It was not wise of him to listen to such words. Again Tuppence turned. But this time the couple had parted, the girl to cross the road, Carl von Deinim to wait for Tuppence. He quickly bowed.
Tuppence gave a silly laugh, 'Good morning, Mr von Deinim, isn't it? Such a lovely morning.'
'Ah, yes. The weather is fine.'
'Yes, it is,' Tuppence said. 'I don't often come out before breakfast. And this little walk has given me quite an appetite.'
'You go back to Sans Souci now? If you permit, I will walk with you.'
'Are you also out to get an appetite?' inquired Tuppence.
He shook his head. 'Oh no. My breakfast, I have already had it. I am on my way to work.'
'Work?'
'I am a research chemist. I came to this country to escape Nazi persecution. I had very little money — no friends. I do now what useful work I can.'
He stared straight ahead. Tuppence was conscious of the strong emotions he was trying to hide.
She answered vaguely, 'Oh, yes, I see.'
'My two brothers are in concentration camps. My father died in one. My mother died of sadness and fear.'
Tuppence thought, 'The way he says that — it's as if he had memorised it.'
They walked in silence for some moments. Two men passed them. Tuppence heard one say to his companion, 'I'm sure that man is a German.'
Carl von Deinim's hidden emotions came to the surface. 'You heard — you heard — that is what they say — I...'
'My dear boy', Tuppence suddenly returned to being her real self, 'don't be an idiot. You can't have it both ways. You're alive, that's the main thing. Alive and free. But this country's at war and you're a German.' She smiled suddenly. 'You can't expect the man in the street to know whether you're a bad German or a good German.'
He stared at her. Then suddenly he too smiled. 'To be a good German I must be on time at my work. Good morning.'
Tuppence stared after him then she said to herself, 'Mrs Blenkensop, you stopped being a silly man-chaser then. Pay more attention in future. Now for breakfast.'
***
Inside Sans Souci Mrs Perenna was having a conversation with someone.
'And get the cooked ham at Quillers — it was cheaper last time there, and be careful about the vegetables...' She stopped as Tuppence entered.
'Oh, good morning, Mrs Blenkensop, you're up early. Breakfast is all-ready in the dining-room.' She pointed to her companion, 'This is my daughter, Sheila. You haven't met her. She only came home last night.'
Tuppence looked with interest at Sheila — the girl she had just seen talking to Carl von Deinim. Tuppence said a few pleasant words, and went into the dining-room. There were three people having breakfast — Mrs Sprot and her baby girl, and Mrs O'Rourke.
The old woman looked at Tuppence with huge interest. 'It's a fine thing to be out walking before breakfast,' she remarked. 'A grand appetite it gives you.'
'Nice bread and milk, darling,' said Mrs Sprot to her daughter, trying to put a spoonful into the child's mouth, but baby Betty cleverly avoided this by a quick movement of her head and stared at Tuppence with large round eyes. She pointed a milky finger at the newcomer, gave her a brilliant smile and said, 'Gaga bouch.'
'She likes you,' cried Mrs Sprot, smiling warmly at Tuppence.
'Bouch,' said Betty Sprot. 'Ah pooth ah bag,' she added.
And what does she mean by that?' demanded Mrs O'Rourke with interest.
'She doesn't speak very clearly yet,' confessed Mrs Sprot. 'She's only just over two, you know. She can say «Mama», though, can't you, darling?'
Betty looked thoughtfully at her mother and said, 'Cuggle bick.'
'It's a language of their own they have, the little angels,' said Mrs O'Rourke. 'Betty, darling, say «Mama» now.'
Betty looked hard at Mrs O'Rourke, frowned and said with great emphasis, 'Nazer.'
'She's doing her best! And a lovely sweet girl she is.' Mrs O'Rourke stood up with difficulty, smiled in a frightening manner at Betty, and walked slowly out of the room.
'Ga, ga, ga,' said Betty with huge satisfaction, and beat the table with her spoon.
Tuppence asked with a grin, 'What does Nazer really mean?'
'I'm afraid it's what Betty says when she doesn't like anyone or anything.' Mrs Sprot said, her face reddening.
'I thought so', said Tuppence laughing.
'Mrs O'Rourke tries to be kind,' said Mrs Sprot, 'but she is alarming with that deep voice.'
The door opened and Major Bletchley and Tommy appeared. Tuppence began to play the part of a man-chasing widow. 'Ah, Mr Meadowes,' she called out. 'I got back before you! But I've left you a little breakfast!' She pointed to the chair beside her. Tommy sat down at the other end of the table. Betty Sprot said 'Putch!' to Major Bletchley, who was delighted.
'And how's little Miss Betty this morning?'
Tuppence who was watching all of them thought, 'There must be some mistake. There can't be anything suspicious going on here. There simply can't!'
CHAPTER THREE
On the sunny terrace outside, Miss Minton was knitting.
'Good morning, Mrs Blenkensop. I do hope you slept well.' Mrs Blenkensop admitted that she never slept very well the first night or two in a strange bed then added, 'What a very pretty pattern that is you are knitting!'
Miss Minton looked pleased.
'I'm not very good at knitting,' Tuppence went on. 'I can only do simple things like balaclavas for the soldiers, and even now I'm afraid I've gone wrong somewhere. I'd never done any before this terrible war. But one feels that one must do something.'
'Oh yes, indeed. And you have a boy in the Navy?'
'Yes, my eldest. Then I have a boy in the Air Force and Cyril, my youngest, is out in France.'
'Oh dear, dear, how terribly worried you must be!'
Tuppence thought of her son. 'Oh Derek, my darling Derek… Out there in terrible danger and here I am acting the part of a worried mother — when it's what I really am!' She said aloud, 'We must all be brave, mustn't we? I was told the other day by someone in a very high position that the Germans can't possibly fight for more than another two months.'
Mr and Mrs Cayley had come out on the terrace. Mr Cayley sat in a chair and his wife put a blanket over his knees.
'What's that you are saying?' he asked.
'We are saying,' said Miss Minton, 'that it will all be over by the autumn.'
'Nonsense,' said Mr Cayley. 'This war is going to last at least six years.'
'Oh, Mr Cayley,' protested Tuppence. 'You don't really think so?'
'Yes,' he said. 'I give it six years. You dear ladies are being completely unrealistic. Now I know Germany very well from my business dealings before I retired. I can assure you that Germany can continue practically indefinitely with Russia behind her...' Mr Cayley went on, approval in his voice.
Mrs Sprot came out with Betty and sat her down with a small woollen dog with only one ear and a woollen doll's jacket. 'There, Betty,' she said. 'You dress up Bonzo ready for his walk while Mummy gets ready to go out.'
Betty started talking to Bonzo in her own language.
'Truckle — truckly — pah bat,' said Betty.
Mr Cayley, noticing that no one was paying him any attention, continued angrily, 'As I was saying, Germany has such a perfect system of...'
Tuppence could feel someone behind her. She turned her head. It was Mrs Perenna, her eyes on the group. And there was something in those eyes — contempt?
Tuppence thought, 'I must find out more about Mrs Perenna.'
***
Tommy was making friends with Major Bletchley.
'You brought some golf clubs with you, didn't you, Meadowes? We must have a game together. The course has lovely views over the sea. And it's never very crowded. What about coming along with me this morning?'
'Thanks very much. I'd like it.'
'I must say, I'm glad you've arrived,' remarked Bletchley as they were walking up the hill. 'There are too many women in that place. It gets annoying. I'm glad there's another man to talk to. You can't count Cayley — the man talks of nothing but his health. If he went out for a good ten-mile walk every day, he'd be a different man. And I'm not sure about von Deinim.'
'No?' said Tommy.
'No. This refugee business is dangerous. I'd intern the lot of them. We need to be cautious. Carl von Deinim came over here only a month before the war began. That's a bit suspicious.'
'Then you think...?' began Tommy.
'Spying!'
'But surely there's nothing of great military or naval importance around here?'
'But it's on the coast, isn't it? And anyone could come over here and talk about their brothers in concentration camps. He's a Nazi — that's what he is — a Nazi.'
The Major won their game of golf, which delighted him. 'Good match, Meadowes, very good match. Come along and I'll introduce you to some of the others in the clubhouse. Nice lot. Ah, here's Haydock — you'll like Haydock. Retired naval man. He has that house on the cliff next door to us. He's our local Air Raid Precaution Warden — you know, he patrols the streets at night to make sure no lights are showing to attract the German bomber pilots.'
Commander Haydock was a big man with intensely blue eyes and a habit of shouting most of the time.
'So you're going to keep Bletchley company at Sans Souci? He'll be glad of another man. Rather too many females, eh, Bletchley?'
'I'm not that much of a ladies' man,' said Major Bletchley.
'Nonsense,' said Haydock. 'Not your type of lady, my boy, that's all. Old ladies with nothing to do but talk about other people and knit.'
'You're forgetting the landlady's daughter, Miss Perenna,' said Bletchley.
'Ah, Sheila. She's an attractive girl all right.'
'I'm a bit worried about her,' said Bletchley. 'She's seeing too much of that German fellow.'
'Hmm, that's bad. He's a good-looking young man, but we can't have that sort of thing. Making friends with the enemy — we can't allow that. There are plenty of decent young English fellows about.'
Bletchley added, 'Sheila's a strange girl — there are times when she will hardly speak to anyone.'
'Spanish blood,' said Commander Haydock. 'Her father was half Spanish, wasn't he?' He looked at his watch. 'It's time for the news. We'd better go in and listen to it.'
There was little news that day. After commenting with approval on the latest activities of the Air Force, the Commander talked about his favourite theory — that the Germans would try to land at Leahampton simply because it was such an unimportant spot. 'There's not even an anti-aircraft gun in the place! Terrible!' Haydock then gave Tommy an invitation to come and see his house, Smugglers' Rest. 'I've got a marvellous view — my own beach. Bring him along, Bletchley.'
It was decided that Tommy and Major Bletchley should come for drinks on the evening of the following day.
***
After lunch at Sans Souci, Mr Meadowes walked down to the pier. There were some children running up and down screaming in voices that matched the screaming of the seabirds, and one man sitting on the end, fishing. Mr Meadowes stood beside him and looked down into the water. Then he asked gently, 'Caught anything?'
The fisherman shook his head. 'I don't often catch anything,' Mr Grant said, without turning his head. 'What about you, Meadowes?'
'I've nothing much to report as yet, sir. I've made friends with Major Bletchley who seems the usual type of retired officer. Cayley seems to be a genuine invalid. However, he was in Germany frequently during the last few years. And of course there's von Deinim.'
'Yes, I'm interested in von Deinim. N or M may not be at Sans Souci, it may be Carl von Deinim who is there, reporting to them. Through him we may be led to them. But I can tell you in confidence, Beresford, that very nearly all Germans in this country are going to be interned.'
'You've had the other guests at Sans Souci checked, I suppose, sir?'
Grant sighed. 'No. I could ask the department to check easily enough but I can't risk it, Beresford. I'm not sure we don't have a traitor in the department itself. If anyone guesses that I'm watching Sans Souci, then the organization may find out. That's why you've got to work without help from us. They must not know. There's only one person I've been able to check up on.'
'Who's that, sir?'
'Carl von Deinim. That was easy enough because it's routine to check foreigners.'
'And what was the result?'
'Carl is exactly what he says he is. His father, who was against the Nazis, was arrested and died in a concentration camp. Carl's elder brothers are in camps. His mother died a year ago. He got to England a month before war began. Von Deinim said he wanted to help this country and his work in a chemical research laboratory has been excellent.'
'Then he's all right?'
'Not necessarily. There are two possibilities. The whole von Deinim family could be deceiving us. Or else this is not the real Carl von Deinim but a man playing the part of Carl von Deinim.'
'He seems a very nice young man,' said Tommy slowly.
Sighing unhappily Grant replied, 'They nearly always are. But what about the women in this place?'
'I think there's something strange about the woman who runs it.'
'Mrs Perenna?'
'Yes. There's a young mother; an unmarried woman who knits; the invalid's stupid wife; and a rather terrifying-looking old Irishwoman. All seem harmless enough.'
'That's everyone?'
'No. There's a Mrs Blenkensop — arrived three days ago.'
'Well?' demanded Grant.
'Mrs Blenkensop is my wife.'
'What? I thought I told you not to say a word to your wife!'
'And I didn't.' With a quiet pride, Tommy told Grant what Tuppence had done. There was a silence. Then Grant laughed.
'She's wonderful! Easthampton told me not to leave her out. I wouldn't listen to him. It shows you, though, how careful you've got to be not to be overheard. Yes, she's a smart woman, your wife. Tell her the department will consider it an honour if she will agree to work with us.'
'I'll tell her,' said Tommy with a grin.
'I don't suppose you could persuade your wife to keep out of danger?'
Tommy said slowly, 'I wouldn't want to do that… Tuppence and I, you see, we go into things together, always!'
CHAPTER FOUR
When Tuppence entered the lounge at Sans Souci just before dinner, the only person in the room was Mrs O'Rourke, who was sitting by the window like a gigantic Buddha.
'Ah now, sit here now, Mrs Blenkensop, and tell me what you've been doing with yourself this fine day and how you like Leahampton.'
There was something about Mrs O'Rourke that fascinated Tuppence. She was like a character from a fairy tale, huge and ugly, with a deep voice like a man's. Tuppence replied that she thought she was going to like Leahampton very much, and be happy there.
'That is,' she added in an unhappy voice, 'as happy as I can be anywhere with this terrible anxiety that's with me all the time.'
'Ah now, don't you be worrying yourself. Those boys of yours will come back to you safe and sound. One of them's in the Air Force, I think you said?'
'Yes, Raymond.'
'And is he in France now, or in England?'
'He's in Egypt according to his last letter — well, that's not exactly what he said — we have a little private code, if you know what I mean? You see I feel I must know just where he is.'
Mrs O'Rourke nodded her Buddha-like head. 'I know how you feel. If I had a boy out there, I'd be fooling the censor in the same way.'
'I feel so lost without my three boys,' Tuppence said sadly. 'There's always been at least one of them at home. So I thought I'd come somewhere quiet.'
Again the Buddha nodded. 'I agree with you entirely. London is no place to be at the present. I've lived there myself for many years now. I used to sell antiques and I had a shop in Chelsea. I had lovely stuff there and some good customers. But there you are, when there's a war on, no one is interested in buying antiques. But I'm not one of those that's always complaining — not like Mr Cayley with his illnesses and his talk of his failing business. Of course it's going badly — there's a war on — and there's his wife who never says no to him. Then there's that little Mrs Sprot, always worrying about her husband, Arthur.'
'Is he out at the Front?'
'No! He's a clerk in an office, and so terrified of air raids he sent his wife down here at the beginning of the war. Mind you, I think that's the best thing for the child — and a nice little girl she is — but Mrs Sprot keeps saying Arthur must miss her so. But if you ask me, Arthur's not missing her much!'
Tuppence murmured, 'I'm terribly sorry for all these mothers. I do understand why they are sending away the children from the cities — the Germans won't bomb the countryside, will they? But if you let your children go away without you, you never stop worrying. And if you go with them, it's hard on the husbands left at home.'
'Ah! Yes, and it becomes expensive running two homes.'
'This place seems quite a reasonable price,' said Tuppence. 'Yes, I'd say you get good value. Mrs Perenna's a strange woman though. There's been a great drama in that woman's life, I'm certain of that.'
'Do you really think so?'
'I do. And the mystery she makes of herself! «And where do you come from in Ireland?» I asked her. And would you believe it, she said she was not from Ireland at all.'
'You think she is Irish?'
'Of course she's Irish. I know my own countrywomen. I could name you the county she comes from. But there! «I'm English», she says, «and my husband was a Spaniard».' Mrs O'Rourke stopped speaking as Mrs Sprot came in, followed by Tommy.
Tuppence immediately took on a playful manner.
'Good evening, Mr Meadowes. You look very well this evening.'
'Plenty of exercise, that's the secret,' Tommy replied.
Then the rest of the party came in and the conversation during the meal was about spies. Only Sheila Perenna took no part in the conversation. She sat there, her dark face angry. Carl von Deinim was out, so everyone was speaking freely. Sheila only spoke once. Mrs Sprot said in her thin voice, 'The biggest mistake I think the Germans made in the last war was to shoot Nurse Cavell. It turned everybody against them.'
It was then that Sheila demanded, 'Why shouldn't they shoot her? She was an English spy, wasn't she? She helped English people to escape in an enemy country. Why shouldn't she be shot?'
'Oh, but shooting a woman — and a nurse.'
Sheila got up. 'I think the Germans were quite right,' she muttered. She went out of the glass door into the garden.
Everyone then went into the lounge for coffee. Only Tommy went out to the garden. He found Sheila Perenna standing by the garden wall, staring out at the sea. He offered her a cigarette, which she accepted.
'Lovely night,' he commented.
In a low voice, the girl answered, 'It could be...'
'If it weren't for the war, you mean?' he asked quietly.
'I don't mean that at all. I hate the war.'
'So do we all.'
'Not in the way I mean. I hate the horrible, horrible patriotism.'
'Patriotism?' Tommy was surprised.
'Yes, I hate patriotism! Betraying your country — dying for your country — serving your country. Why should one's country mean anything at all?'
Tommy said simply, 'I don't know. It just does.'
'Not to me! Oh, it would to you. You believe in the British Empire — and — and — the stupidity of dying for one's country.'
'My country,' said Tommy, 'won't let me die for it.'
'Yes, but you want to. And it's so stupid! Nothing's worth dying for. It's all an idea — talk, talk. My country doesn't mean anything to me at all.'
'Some day,' said Tommy, 'you'll find that it does.'
'No. Never. I've suffered. I've seen… Do you know who my father was? His name was Patrick Maguire. He — he was a follower of Casement in the last war. He was shot as a traitor! All for nothing! Why couldn't he just stay at home quietly? He's a martyr to some people and a traitor to others. I think he was just… stupid!'
'So that's the secret you've grown up with?'
'Yes. Mother changed her name. We lived in Spain for some years. She always says that my father was half Spanish. We always tell lies wherever we go. We've been all over Europe. Finally we came here, and I think running this guest house is the worst thing we've done yet. I hate it!'
'How does your mother feel about — things?' Tommy asked. 'You mean about my father's death?' Sheila was silent a moment, thinking carefully about the question. She said slowly, 'I've never really known… she never talks about it. It's not easy to know what Mother feels or thinks.'
Tommy nodded his head thoughtfully.
'I — I don't know why I've been telling you this.' Sheila said abruptly. 'I got angry. Where did it all start?'
'A discussion on Edith Cavell.'
'Oh, yes — patriotism. I said I hated it.'
'Aren't you forgetting Nurse Cavell's own words?'
'What words?'
'Before she died. Don't you know what she said?' He repeated the words, 'Patriotism is not enough… I must have no hatred in my heart.'
'Oh.' She stood there for a moment. Then, turning quickly, she ran off into the shadow of the garden.
***
Mrs Blenkensop stopped at the post office. She bought stamps and went into one of the public phone boxes. There she rang up a certain number and asked for Mr Faraday. This was how they contacted Mr Grant. She came out smiling and walked home, stopping on the way to buy some knitting wool.
It was a pleasant afternoon with a light wind. Tuppence changed her normally energetic walk into a slow and easy one, more like the way someone like Mrs Blenkensop would walk. Mrs Blenkensop had nothing else to do except knit and write letters to her boys. She was always writing letters to her boys — and sometimes she left them lying around, half finished.
Tuppence came slowly up the hill towards Sans Souci. Since the road ended at Smugglers' Rest, Commander Haydock's house, few people walked there. She noticed a woman standing by the gate looking inside. It was not until Tuppence was close behind her that the woman heard her and turned. She was a tall woman, poorly dressed. She was not young — probably just under forty — blonde-haired and beautiful. Just for a minute Tuppence had a feeling that the woman was familiar. A look of fear crossed the woman's face.
'Are you looking for someone?' Tuppence said.
The woman spoke slowly, with a foreign accent. 'This house is Sans Souci? Can you tell me, please? Is there a Mr Rosenstein staying there?'
Tuppence shook her head. 'No. I'm afraid not. Perhaps he has been there and left. Will I ask for you?'
'No, no. I make mistake. Excuse, please.' Then she turned and walked quickly down the hill. Tuppence stood staring after her, feeling suspicious. But following the woman could make people think that Mrs Blenkensop was not who she appeared to be.
Inside, the house seemed very quiet and empty, which was usual early in the afternoon. Betty was having her sleep, the older residents were either resting or had gone out. Then a sound came to Tuppence's ears. The telephone at Sans Souci was in the hall. Tuppence heard the sound of someone lifting or replacing a telephone extension. There was only one extension — in Mrs Perenna's bedroom. Very carefully Tuppence lifted the telephone receiver in the hall and heard a man's voice.
'… everything going well. On the fourth, then, as arranged.'
'Yes, carry on,' a woman's voice replied.
There was a click as the telephone was replaced.
Tuppence stood, frowning. Was that Mrs Perenna's voice she had heard? It was difficult to say. There was movement behind her and Tuppence put down the receiver as Mrs Perenna spoke.
'It is such a pleasant afternoon. Are you going out, Mrs Blenkensop, or have you just come in?'
So it was not Mrs Perenna who had been in Mrs Perenna's room. Tuppence said something about having had a lovely walk and moved to the staircase.
Mrs Perenna moved along the hall after her. She seemed bigger than usual. Tuppence was conscious of her as a strong athletic woman.
She hurried up the stairs. As she turned the corner of the landing, she collided with Mrs O'Rourke, whose vast body blocked the top of the stairs.
'Dear, dear, Mrs Blenkensop, you seem to be in a great hurry.'
There was, as always, a frightening quality about Mrs O'Rourke's smile. And suddenly Tuppence felt afraid. The big smiling Irishwoman, with her deep voice, blocking her way, and below Mrs Perenna at the foot of the stairs.
And then suddenly the tension broke as a little figure ran along the top hall — little Betty Sprot shouting happily as she threw herself on Tuppence. The atmosphere had changed. Mrs O'Rourke, a big friendly figure, cried out, 'Ah, the darling!'
Below, Mrs Perenna had turned away to the door that led into the kitchen. And the atmosphere on the stairs, thought Tuppence, that tense moment, might have been just her own overactive nerves.
CHAPTER FIVE
Commander Haydock welcomed Tommy and Major Bletchley with enthusiasm and insisted on showing Mr Meadowes 'all over my little place'.
Smugglers' Rest had been two cottages standing on the cliff overlooking the sea. A London businessman had bought them and made them into one. There was a small cove below, but the path down to it was dangerous.
'Then, some years ago,' explained Haydock, 'Smugglers' was sold to a man called Hahn. He was a German, and if you ask me, he was a spy. The Nazis are methodical. They were preparing even then for this war. Look at the situation of this place — it's perfect for sending signals out to sea. And there's a cove below where you could land a small boat without being seen. Oh yes, don't tell me that Hahn wasn't a German agent.
'He spent a lot of money on this place. He had a path made down to the beach — concrete steps — an expensive business. Then he had the whole of the house improved. And who did he get to do all this? Not a local man. No, it was a firm from London, or so they say — but a lot of the men who came down didn't speak a word of English. Don't you agree that that sounds extremely suspicious?'
'A little strange, certainly,' agreed Tommy.
'I was staying in the neighbourhood at the time and I used to watch the workmen. They didn't like it. Once or twice they were quite threatening. Why should they be if everything was okay? I went to the authorities. And what response did I get? «Another war with Germany was impossible,» they insisted. There was peace in Europe — our relations with Germany were excellent. No one believed me when I said that the Germans were building the finest Air Force in Europe!'
Haydock's face was redder than usual with anger. 'They thought I was just trying to start another war. But finally I began to make an impression. We had a new Chief Constable down here — a retired soldier. And he listened to me. His men began to investigate and then Hahn left secretly one night. The police searched this place carefully. In a safe built into a wall in the dining-room, they found a wireless transmitter and big tanks under the garage for petrol. The end of the story was that I bought the place when it was put up for sale. Come and have a look round, Meadowes?'
'Thanks, I'd like to.'
Commander Haydock was as full of energy as a man half his age. He threw open the big safe in the dining room to show where the secret transmitter had been found. Tommy was taken out to the garage and was shown where the big petrol tanks had been hidden, and finally he was led down the steep path to the little cove and taken into the cave that had given the place its name because it was where the smugglers had hidden their goods.
More than ever now Tommy felt that when the dying Farquhar had mentioned Sans Souci, he had been on the right track. This part of the coast had been selected for enemy activity. His spirits rose. Although Sans Souci seemed an innocent place, behind the scenes things were going on.
***
Mrs Blenkensop was reading a letter on thin foreign paper stamped outside with the censor's mark. This was the direct result of her conversation with 'Mr Faraday'.
'Dear Raymond,' she said. 'I was so happy about him being out in Egypt, and now, it seems, there is a big change round.
All very secret, of course, and he can't say anything — just that there really is a marvellous plan and that I'm to be ready for some big surprise soon. I'm glad to know where he's being sent, but I...'
Bletchley frowned. 'Surely he's not allowed to tell you that?'
Tuppence looked round the breakfast table as she folded up her precious letter. 'Oh! We have our methods,' she said with a little laugh. 'Dear Raymond knows that if I know where he is, or where he's going, I don't worry quite so much. It's quite a simple code, too. Just a certain word, and after it the first letters of the next words spell out the place. I'm sure nobody would notice.'
Little murmurs arose round the table. The moment was well chosen; everybody was at the breakfast table together for once. Bletchley, his face red, said, 'Mrs Blenkensop, that's a very stupid thing to do. It's the movements of soldiers and airmen that are just what the Germans want to know.'
'Oh, but I never tell anyone!' cried Tuppence. 'And I'm very careful never to leave letters around. I always keep them locked up.'
Bletchley shook his head.
***
It was a grey morning with the wind blowing coldly from the sea. Tuppence was at the far end of the beach. As she reached the bottom of the cliff, her attention was caught by two figures standing talking a little way up. It was the same fair-haired woman she had seen the day before and Carl von Deinim. At that moment the young German turned his head and saw her. Immediately, the two figures parted. The woman came quickly down the hill and crossed the road.
Carl von Deinim waited until Tuppence came up to him. Then, politely, he wished her good morning.
Tuppence inquired immediately, 'Was that a friend you were talking to, Mr Deinim?'
'Not at all,' said Carl. 'She is Polish and asked me if I knew a Mrs Gottlieb she thinks lives near here. I do not, and she says she has, perhaps, got the name of the house wrong.'
'I see,' murmured Tuppence thoughtfully. Mr Rosenstein. Mrs Gottlieb. She felt a growing suspicion about the Polish woman.
That evening, before she went to bed, Tuppence pulled out the long drawer of her dressing table. At one side of it was a small box with a cheap lock. Tuppence put on gloves, unlocked the box, and opened it. A pile of letters lay inside. On the top was the one received that morning from 'Raymond'. Tuppence opened it again and frowned. She had placed an eyelash in the fold of the paper this morning. The eyelash was not there now.
Somebody was interested in the movements of the British armed forces.
***
Who had read her letters? Tuppence thought about it as she lay in bed the following morning. Her thoughts were interrupted by Betty Sprot who opened the door and ran in. Betty had taken a great liking to Tuppence. She climbed up on the bed and pushed a torn picture-book under Tuppence's nose, commanding her to 'read it'. Only she said 'wead' as she couldn't pronounce the letter 'r' yet. Tuppence read obediently.
'Goosey goosey gander, whither will you wander?
Upstairs, downstairs, in my lady's chamber.'
Betty rolled about with laughter — repeating in delight, 'Upstais — upstais — upstais...' and then 'Down...' and rolled off the bed with a thump.
This was repeated several times, then Betty crawled about the floor playing with Tuppence's shoes and talking busily to herself, 'Ag do — bah pit — soo — soodah — putch...' Then she looked up at Tuppence again and said, 'Ag boo bate? Ag boo bate?'
'Lovely, darling,' said Tuppence, not knowing what Betty was saying. 'Beautiful.'
Satisfied, Betty started talking to herself again and Tuppence lay planning what to do next — with Tommy's help. Suddenly Mrs Sprot came running in, looking for Betty.
'Oh, here she is! Oh, Betty, you naughty girl — Mrs Blenkensop, I am so sorry.'
Tuppence sat up in bed and looked at Betty who, with an innocent face, had removed the laces from Tuppence's shoes and put them in a glass of water. Tuppence laughed.
'How funny! Don't worry, Mrs Sprot, they'll be OK. It's my fault. I should have noticed what she was doing. She was rather quiet.'
'I know,' Mrs Sprot sighed. 'Whenever they're quiet, it's a bad sign.' Mrs Sprot carried Betty away and Tuppence got up to put her plan into action.
CHAPTER SIX
That day Mrs Blenkensop received a letter from her son Douglas. Mrs Blenkensop was so excited that everybody at Sans Souci heard about it. The letter had not been censored at all, she explained, because one of Douglas's friends coming on leave had brought it, so Douglas had been able to write quite openly.
'And it just shows,' declared Mrs Blenkensop, 'how little we really know of what is going on.'
After breakfast she went upstairs to her room and put the letter away. Then she went downstairs again. She had already told everyone that she was going up to London for the day to see her lawyer and do a little shopping. And although she had no wish to do so, Mrs Blenkensop had said that she was going to London, and to London she must go.
***
It was not until the next day that Tuppence was able to have a meeting with Tommy. Mrs Blenkensop met Mr Meadowes as he was taking a walk on the beach.
'Well?' said Tuppence. 'Did you see anyone go into my room?'
Tommy nodded his head. 'The maids went in to clean the room, of course. And Mrs Perenna went in — but that was when the maids were there. And Betty ran in once and came out with a woollen dog.'
'Anyone else?'
'One person,' said Tommy slowly. 'Carl von Deinim. At lunchtime. He came out from the dining room early, came up to his room, then went across the passage and into yours. He was there about a quarter of an hour. That settles it, I think.'
Tuppence nodded. Yes, it was quite clear now. Carl von Deinim could have had no reason for going into Mrs Blenkensop's bedroom and remaining there for a quarter of an hour, except for one.
'I'm sorry,' she said slowly.
'So am I,' said Tommy. 'He's a nice boy.'
'Well, I think we can agree that Carl von Deinim is working with Sheila and her mother,' said Tuppence. 'Probably Mrs Perenna is in charge and that foreign woman who was talking to Carl yesterday must be involved somehow.'
'What do we do now?' Tommy asked.
We must search Mrs Perenna's room. And we must follow her and see where she goes and who she meets. Tommy, let's get Albert down here.'
Many years ago Albert, who had worked in a hotel, had helped the young Beresfords. Afterwards he had gone to work for them as a general servant. Six years ago he had married and was now the proud owner of The Duck and Dog, a pub in South London.
Tuppence continued quickly, 'Albert will be really excited. He can stay at the pub near the station and he can follow the Perennas for us — or anyone else.'
'What about Mrs Albert?'
'She has gone to her mother's in Wales with the children because of possible air raids on London. It all fits in perfectly.'
'Yes, that's a good idea, Tuppence. Albert will be perfect. Now another thing — I think we ought to watch out for that so-called Polish woman who was talking to Carl. She probably comes here for orders, or to take messages. Next time we see her, one of us must follow her and find out more about her.'
***
Tommy continued his walk and entered the post office where he phoned Mr Grant. Then he wrote and sent a letter to Albert and bought himself a newspaper. He was walking back to Sans Souci when Commander Haydock, passing in his car, shouted, 'Hello, Meadowes, want a lift?'
Tommy got in gratefully.
'So you read that awful newspaper, do you?' demanded Haydock, looking at the red cover of the Inside Weekly News.
'It's terrible,' Tommy agreed. 'But sometimes they do seem to know what's going on behind the scenes.'
'The truth of it is,' said Commander Haydock, just missing a large van, 'when they're right, you remember it, and when they're wrong, you forget it. Do you feel like a game of golf tomorrow? I've got to go to a meeting about this Parashot business, getting together a group of local volunteers — good idea if you ask me. So, will we have a round of golf about six?'
'Thanks very much.'
'Good. Then that's agreed.' The Commander stopped abruptly at the gate of Sans Souci. 'How's the fair Sheila?' he asked.
'Quite well, I think. I haven't seen much of her.'
Haydock gave his loud laugh. 'Not as much as you'd like to, I bet! She's a good-looking girl but she sees too much of that German fellow. Unpatriotic, I call it.'
Mr Meadowes said, 'Be careful, he's just coming up the hill behind us.'
'I don't care if he does hear! Any decent German's fighting for his country — not running over here to avoid it!'
CHAPTER SEVEN
On the following day Mrs Sprot went up to London. Various residents of Sans Souci had offered to look after Betty, and Tuppence had the morning turn.
'Play,' said Betty. 'Play hide seek.'
She was talking more easily every day and had adopted a most attractive habit of putting her head on one side with a lovely smile and murmuring 'Peese', which was her way of saying 'please'. Tuppence had intended to take her for a walk, but it was raining, so the two of them went into Mrs Sprot's bedroom. Betty led the way to the drawer of the bureau where her toys were kept.
'Shall we hide Bonzo?' asked Tuppence.
But Betty had changed her mind and demanded instead, 'Wead me story.'
Tuppence pulled out a book only to be interrupted by a cry from Betty.
'No, no. Bad...'
Tuppence stared at her in surprise and then down at the book, which was a coloured version of Little Jack Horner.
'Was Jack a bad boy?' she asked. 'Because he pulled out a plum?'
'B-a-ad!' Betty said, and then, with a huge effort, 'Nasty!' She took the book from Tuppence and put it back, then took out an identical book from the other end of the shelf, saying with a huge smile, 'K-k-klean ni'tice Jackorner!'
Tuppence realised that any dirty, well-read books had been replaced by new and cleaner ones. Mrs Sprot was always terrified of germs. Tuppence had brought up her own two children in contact with a reasonable amount of dirt. However, she took the clean copy of Jack Horner and read it to the child, followed by another — Goosey, Goosey, Gander. Then Betty hid the books and Tuppence took an amazingly long time to find each of them, to Betty's great delight, and so the morning passed quickly.
After lunch Betty had her rest and it was then that Tuppence looked out into the garden and saw that the rain had stopped. At the bottom of the garden the bushes parted slightly. In the gap a face appeared. It was the Polish woman staring up at the windows of Sans Souci. The woman's face had no expression, and yet there was something frightening about it.
Turning abruptly from the window, Tuppence ran downstairs, out of the front door and down the path at the side of the house to where she had seen the woman. There was no one there now. Tuppence went through the bushes and out on to the road and looked up and down the hill. She could see no one. Troubled, she turned and went back into Sans Souci. Could she have imagined the whole thing? No, the woman had been there. She felt a strange sense that something bad was going to happen.
***
Now that the weather had improved, Miss Minton was taking Betty out for a walk. They were going down to the town to buy a toy duck to sail in Betty's bath. Betty was very excited and the two set off together, Betty saying happily, 'Byaduck. Byaduck. For Bettibarf. For Bettibarf.'
Two matchsticks. left crossed on the marble table in the hall, was the code that told Tuppence that Mr Meadowes was spending the afternoon following Mrs Perenna. Tuppence went to the lounge and sat with Mr and Mrs Cayley. Mr Cayley was unhappy. He had come to Leahampton, he explained, for rest and quiet, and what quiet could there be with a child in the house? All day long she was screaming and running about, jumping up and down.
His wife murmured that Betty was really 'a dear little girl', but the comment only annoyed him more.
'No doubt, no doubt,' said Mr Cayley. 'But her mother should keep her quiet. There are other people to consider. Invalids, people who need to rest.'
Quickly, Tuppence changed the subject. 'I wish you would tell me your views on life in Germany. You've travelled there several times and it would be interesting to have your point of view...'
Mr Cayley smiled. 'Dear lady, in my opinion...'
Tuppence, murmuring an occasional 'Now that's very interesting,' listened with close attention. She was quickly convinced that Mr Cayley was an admirer of the Nazi system. He clearly thought, though he did not say it openly, how much better it would have been if England and Germany had taken sides against the rest of Europe.
Nearly two hours later they were interrupted by the return of Miss Minton, Betty, and the duck. Looking up, Tuppence caught a strange expression on Mrs Cayley's face. It might have been simply a wife's jealousy at her husband paying so much attention to another woman. It might have been concern that Mr Cayley was speaking too clearly about his political views. It certainly expressed dissatisfaction.
Tea came next and soon after that came the return of Mrs Sprot from London exclaiming, 'I do hope Betty's been good?'
Mrs Sprot then sat down, drank several cups of tea, and spoke excitedly about what she had bought in London, the crowd on the train, what a soldier recently returned from France had told the people in her train carriage, and what a girl in a shop had told her of shortages to come.
The conversation was, in fact, completely normal. It went on afterwards on the terrace outside, for the sun was now shining.
Betty rushed happily about, going into the bushes and returning with a leaf, or little stones which she placed in the lap of one of the grown-ups. She would give an explanation in her own little language, which no one could understand, of what they represented. Fortunately she required little response in her game, being satisfied with an occasional, 'How nice, darling. Is it really?'
There had never been an evening more typical of Sans Souci. There was talk about the war — Can France fight back? What is Russia likely to do? Could Hitler invade England if he tried? Will Paris fall to the Germans?
Suddenly, Mrs Sprot glanced at her watch. 'Goodness, it's nearly seven. I ought to have put that child to bed ages ago. Betty, Betty!'
It was some time since Betty had returned to the terrace, though no one had really noticed. Mrs Sprot called her with growing impatience.
'Bett-eeee! Where can the child be?'
Mrs O'Rourke said with her deep laugh, 'Doing something naughty, I've no doubt about it. It's always the way when there's quiet.'
'Betty! I want you.' There was no answer and Mrs Sprot rose impatiently. 'I suppose I must go and look for her. I wonder where she can be?'
Miss Minton suggested that she was hiding somewhere, but Betty could not be found, either inside or outside the house. They went round the garden calling and they looked in all the bedrooms. There was no Betty anywhere.
Mrs Sprot began to get annoyed. 'It's very naughty of her — very naughty indeed! Do you think she can have gone out on the road?'
Together she and Tuppence went out to the gate and looked up and down the hill. There was no one in sight except a delivery boy with a bicycle standing talking to a maid at the door of the house across the road. Tuppence and Mrs Sprot crossed the road and Mrs Sprot asked if either of them had seen a little girl. The maid asked, 'A little girl in a green dress?'
Mrs Sprot replied eagerly, 'That's right.'
'I saw her about half an hour ago — going down the road with a woman.'
Mrs Sprot said with amazement, 'With a woman? What sort of a woman?'
The girl seemed slightly embarrassed. 'Well, what I'd call a strange-looking woman. I'm sure she was foreign. She was wearing strange clothes, like a kind of shawl, and no hat. Her face was strange too. I've seen her about once or twice lately, and to tell the truth I thought she was a bit mad.'
Mrs Sprot almost collapsed against Tuppence. 'Oh Betty, my little girl. She's been stolen. She — what did the woman look like — was she dark?'
Tuppence shook her head energetically. 'No, she was fair, very fair, with a wide face and blue eyes set very far apart.' She saw Mrs Sprot staring at her and hurried to explain, 'I've noticed her around here. Carl von Deinim was speaking to her one day. It must be the same woman.'
The servant girl agreed. 'That's right. Fair-haired she was.'
'Oh,' cried Mrs Sprot. 'What shall I do?'
Tuppence put an arm round her. 'Come back to the house, have a little brandy and then we'll ring up the police. It's all right. We'll get her back.'
Mrs Sprot cried out weakly, 'She's some dreadful German woman, I expect. She'll kill my Betty.'
'Nonsense,' said Tuppence. 'It will be all right. I expect she's just some woman who's not quite right in her head.' But she did not believe her own words — she did not believe for one moment that the calm blonde woman was mad.
'Carl!' thought Tuppence, 'Would Carl know? Had he had anything to do with this?' However, a few minutes later she started to doubt this assumption. Carl von Deinim, like the rest, seemed completely surprised. As soon as the facts were told, Major Bletchley took control.
'Now then, dear lady,' he said to Mrs Sprot. 'Sit down here and just drink a little of this brandy. I'll contact the police station immediately.'
Mrs Sprot murmured, 'Wait a minute — there might be something...' She hurried up the stairs and along the passage to her room. A minute or two later they heard her footsteps running along the upstairs hall. She rushed down the stairs and took Major Bletchley's hand from the telephone receiver, which he was just about to lift.
'No, no, you mustn't — you mustn't...' And crying wildly, she collapsed into a chair.
They crowded round her. In a minute or two, she recovered herself. Sitting up, with Mrs Cayley's arm round her, she held something out for them to see. 'I found this on the floor of my room. It had been wrapped round a stone and thrown through the window. Look — look what it says.'
Tommy took it from her and unfolded it. It was a note, written in big, bold letters.
WE HAVE GOT YOUR CHILD. SHE IS SAFE. YOU WILL BE TOLD WHAT TO DO SOON. IF YOU GO TO THE POLICE, YOUR CHILD WILL BE KILLED. SAY NOTHING.
Mrs Sprot was repeating faintly, 'Betty — Betty.'
Everyone was talking at once.
'The dirty murdering criminals,' exclaimed Mrs O'Rourke.
'Brutes!' shouted Sheila Perenna.
'I don't believe a word of it. It's a silly practical joke,' declared Mr Cayley.
'Oh, the dear little girl!' murmured Miss Minton.
'I do not understand. It is shocking,' added Carl von Deinim.
And above everyone else the loud voice of Major Bletchley. 'We must inform the police at once. They'll soon find out what's going on.'
Once more he moved towards the telephone. This time a scream from Mrs Sprot stopped him.
He shouted, 'But my dear Madam, we must. This note is only to stop you doing anything so that they can get away.'
'They'll kill her.'
'Nonsense! They wouldn't dare.'
'I won't allow it, I tell you. I'm her mother. It's for me to say.'
'I know. I know. That's what they're counting on — your feeling like that. It's very natural. But you must believe me, I'm a soldier and an experienced man of the world. The police are what we need.'
'No!'
Bletchley's eyes went round, searching for agreement.
'Meadowes, you agree with me?' Slowly Tommy nodded.
'Cayley?' Mr Cayley nodded too.
'Look, Mrs Sprot, both Meadowes and Cayley agree.'
Mrs Sprot said with sudden energy, 'Men! All of you! Ask the women!'
Tommy looked at Tuppence who said, her voice low and shaken, 'I — I agree with Mrs Sprot.'
She was thinking of her own children. 'Deborah! Derek! If it were them, I'd feel like her. Tommy and the others are right, I've no doubt, but I couldn't do it. I couldn't risk it,' she said to herself.
Mrs O'Rourke was declaring, 'No mother alive could risk it and that's a fact.'
Miss Minton said weakly, 'Such awful things happen. We'd never forgive ourselves if anything happened to dear little Betty.'
'You haven't said anything, Mr von Deinim?' noted Tuppence sharply.
Carl's blue eyes were very bright. His face had no expression. He said slowly, 'I am a foreigner. I do not know your English police. How good they are — how quick.'
Someone had come into the hall. It was Mrs Perenna, her cheeks were red. Evidently she had been hurrying up the hill. 'What's all this?' she asked. Her voice was commanding, not the pleasant guesthouse owner, but a woman of force.
They told her — a confused story told by too many people, but she understood it quickly. She held the note for a minute, then she handed it back. Her words were sharp and authoritative.
'The police? They'll be no good. You can't risk their making mistakes. Go after the child yourselves.'
Bletchley said, 'Very well.'
Tommy added, 'They can't be far away. When did it happen?'
'Half an hour, the maid said,' Tuppence answered.
'Haydock,' said Bletchley. 'Haydock's the man to help us. He's got a car. The woman's unusual looking, you say? And a foreigner? She ought to leave a trail that we can follow. Come on, there's no time to lose. You'll come along, Meadowes?'
Mrs Sprot got up. 'I'm coming, too.'
'Now, my dear lady, leave it to us...'
'I'm coming, too.'
'Oh, well.' He gave in.
***
Commander Haydock, who understood the situation immediately, drove the car. Tommy sat beside him, and behind were Bletchley, Mrs Sprot and Tuppence. Not only did Mrs Sprot cling to her, but Tuppence was the only one (with the exception of Carl von Deinim) who knew the mysterious ki
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