Tuppence betrayed no awkwardness
in her new duties. The daughters of the archdeacon
were well grounded in household tasks. They were
also experts in training a “raw girl,”
the inevitable result being that the raw girl, once
trained, departed elsewhere where her newly acquired
knowledge commanded a more substantial remuneration
than the archdeacon’s meagre purse allowed.
Tuppence had therefore very little
fear of proving inefficient. Mrs. Vandemeyer’s
cook puzzled her. She evidently went in deadly
terror of her mistress. The girl thought it probable
that the other woman had some hold over her.
For the rest, she cooked like a chef, as Tuppence had
an opportunity of judging that evening. Mrs. Vandemeyer
was expecting a guest to dinner, and Tuppence accordingly
laid the beautifully polished table for two.
She was a little exercised in her own mind as to this
visitor. It was highly possible that it might
prove to be Whittington. Although she felt fairly
confident that he would not recognize her, yet she
would have been better pleased had the guest proved
to be a total stranger. However, there was nothing
for it but to hope for the best.
At a few minutes past eight the front
door bell rang, and Tuppence went to answer it with
some inward trepidation. She was relieved to see
that the visitor was the second of the two men whom
Tommy had taken upon himself to follow.
He gave his name as Count Stepanov.
Tuppence announced him, and Mrs. Vandemeyer rose from
her seat on a low divan with a quick murmur of pleasure.
“It is delightful to see you,
Boris Ivanovitch,” she said.
“And you, madame!” He bowed low over
Tuppence returned to the kitchen.
“Count Stepanov, or some such,”
she remarked, and affecting a frank and unvarnished
curiosity: “Who’s he?”
“A Russian gentleman, I believe.”
“Come here much?”
“Once in a while. What d’you want
to know for?”
“Fancied he might be sweet on
the missus, that’s all,” explained the
girl, adding with an appearance of sulkiness:
“How you do take one up!”
“I’m not quite easy in my mind about the
souffle,” explained the other.
“You know something,”
thought Tuppence to herself, but aloud she only said:
“Going to dish up now? Right-o.”
Whilst waiting at table, Tuppence
listened closely to all that was said. She remembered
that this was one of the men Tommy was shadowing when
she had last seen him. Already, although she
would hardly admit it, she was becoming uneasy about
her partner. Where was he? Why had no word
of any kind come from him? She had arranged before
leaving the Ritz to have all letters or messages sent
on at once by special messenger to a small stationer’s
shop near at hand where Albert was to call in frequently.
True, it was only yesterday morning that she had parted
from Tommy, and she told herself that any anxiety
on his behalf would be absurd. Still, it was
strange that he had sent no word of any kind.
But, listen as she might, the conversation
presented no clue. Boris and Mrs. Vandemeyer
talked on purely indifferent subjects: plays they
had seen, new dances, and the latest society gossip.
After dinner they repaired to the small boudoir where
Mrs. Vandemeyer, stretched on the divan, looked more
wickedly beautiful than ever. Tuppence brought
in the coffee and liqueurs and unwillingly retired.
As she did so, she heard Boris say:
“New, isn’t she?”
“She came in to-day. The
other was a fiend. This girl seems all right.
She waits well.”
Tuppence lingered a moment longer
by the door which she had carefully neglected to close,
and heard him say:
“Quite safe, I suppose?”
“Really, Boris, you are absurdly
suspicious. I believe she’s the cousin
of the hall porter, or something of the kind.
And nobody even dreams that I have any connection
with our mutual friend, Mr. Brown.”
“For heaven’s sake, be
careful, Rita. That door isn’t shut.”
“Well, shut it then,” laughed the woman.
Tuppence removed herself speedily.
She dared not absent herself longer
from the back premises, but she cleared away and washed
up with a breathless speed acquired in hospital.
Then she slipped quietly back to the boudoir door.
The cook, more leisurely, was still busy in the kitchen
and, if she missed the other, would only suppose her
to be turning down the beds.
Alas! The conversation inside
was being carried on in too low a tone to permit of
her hearing anything of it. She dared not reopen
the door, however gently. Mrs. Vandemeyer was
sitting almost facing it, and Tuppence respected her
mistress’s lynx-eyed powers of observation.
Nevertheless, she felt she would give
a good deal to overhear what was going on. Possibly,
if anything unforeseen had happened, she might get
news of Tommy. For some moments she reflected
desperately, then her face brightened. She went
quickly along the passage to Mrs. Vandemeyer’s
bedroom, which had long French windows leading on to
a balcony that ran the length of the flat. Slipping
quickly through the window, Tuppence crept noiselessly
along till she reached the boudoir window. As
she had thought it stood a little ajar, and the voices
within were plainly audible.
Tuppence listened attentively, but
there was no mention of anything that could be twisted
to apply to Tommy. Mrs. Vandemeyer and the Russian
seemed to be at variance over some matter, and finally
the latter exclaimed bitterly:
“With your persistent recklessness,
you will end by ruining us!”
“Bah!” laughed the woman.
“Notoriety of the right kind is the best way
of disarming suspicion. You will realize that
one of these days perhaps sooner than you
“In the meantime, you are going
about everywhere with Peel Edgerton. Not only
is he, perhaps, the most celebrated K.C. in England,
but his special hobby is criminology! It is madness!”
“I know that his eloquence has
saved untold men from the gallows,” said Mrs.
Vandemeyer calmly. “What of it? I may
need his assistance in that line myself some day.
If so, how fortunate to have such a friend at court or
perhaps it would be more to the point to say in
Boris got up and began striding up
and down. He was very excited.
“You are a clever woman, Rita;
but you are also a fool! Be guided by me, and
give up Peel Edgerton.”
Mrs. Vandemeyer shook her head gently.
“I think not.”
“You refuse?” There was an ugly ring in
the Russian’s voice.
“Then, by Heaven,” snarled
the Russian, “we will see ”
But Mrs. Vandemeyer also rose to her feet, her eyes
“You forget, Boris,” she
said. “I am accountable to no one.
I take my orders only from Mr. Brown.”
The other threw up his hands in despair.
“You are impossible,”
he muttered. “Impossible! Already it
may be too late. They say Peel Edgerton can smell
a criminal! How do we know what is at the bottom
of his sudden interest in you? Perhaps even now
his suspicions are aroused. He guesses ”
Mrs. Vandemeyer eyed him scornfully.
“Reassure yourself, my dear
Boris. He suspects nothing. With less than
your usual chivalry, you seem to forget that I am commonly
accounted a beautiful woman. I assure you that
is all that interests Peel Edgerton.”
Boris shook his head doubtfully.
“He has studied crime as no
other man in this kingdom has studied it. Do
you fancy that you can deceive him?”
Mrs. Vandemeyer’s eyes narrowed.
“If he is all that you say it would
amuse me to try!”
“Good heavens, Rita ”
“Besides,” added Mrs.
Vandemeyer, “he is extremely rich. I am
not one who despises money. The ‘sinews
of war,’ you know, Boris!”
That is always the danger with you, Rita. I believe
you would sell your soul for money. I believe ”
He paused, then in a low, sinister voice he said slowly:
“Sometimes I believe that you would sell us!”
Mrs. Vandemeyer smiled and shrugged her shoulders.
“The price, at any rate, would
have to be enormous,” she said lightly.
“It would be beyond the power of anyone but a
millionaire to pay.”
“Ah!” snarled the Russian. “You
see, I was right!”
“My dear Boris, can you not take a joke?”
“Was it a joke?”
“Then all I can say is that
your ideas of humour are peculiar, my dear Rita.”
Mrs. Vandemeyer smiled.
“Let us not quarrel, Boris. Touch the bell.
We will have some drinks.”
Tuppence beat a hasty retreat.
She paused a moment to survey herself in Mrs. Vandemeyer’s
long glass, and be sure that nothing was amiss with
her appearance. Then she answered the bell demurely.
The conversation that she had overheard,
although interesting in that it proved beyond doubt
the complicity of both Rita and Boris, threw very
little light on the present preoccupations. The
name of Jane Finn had not even been mentioned.
The following morning a few brief
words with Albert informed her that nothing was waiting
for her at the stationer’s. It seemed incredible
that Tommy, if all was well with him, should not send
any word to her. A cold hand seemed to close
round her heart.... Supposing... She choked
her fears down bravely. It was no good worrying.
But she leapt at a chance offered her by Mrs. Vandemeyer.
“What day do you usually go out, Prudence?”
“Friday’s my usual day, ma’am.”
Mrs. Vandemeyer lifted her eyebrows.
“And to-day is Friday!
But I suppose you hardly wish to go out to-day, as
you only came yesterday.”
“I was thinking of asking you if I might, ma’am.”
Mrs. Vandemeyer looked at her a minute longer, and
“I wish Count Stepanov could
hear you. He made a suggestion about you last
night.” Her smile broadened, catlike.
“Your request is very typical.
I am satisfied. You do not understand all this but
you can go out to-day. It makes no difference
to me, as I shall not be dining at home.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
Tuppence felt a sensation of relief
once she was out of the other’s presence.
Once again she admitted to herself that she was afraid,
horribly afraid, of the beautiful woman with the cruel
In the midst of a final desultory
polishing of her silver, Tuppence was disturbed by
the ringing of the front door bell, and went to answer
it. This time the visitor was neither Whittington
nor Boris, but a man of striking appearance.
Just a shade over average height,
he nevertheless conveyed the impression of a big man.
His face, clean-shaven and exquisitely mobile, was
stamped with an expression of power and force far beyond
the ordinary. Magnetism seemed to radiate from
Tuppence was undecided for the moment
whether to put him down as an actor or a lawyer, but
her doubts were soon solved as he gave her his name:
Sir James Peel Edgerton.
She looked at him with renewed interest.
This, then, was the famous K.C. whose name was familiar
all over England. She had heard it said that he
might one day be Prime Minister. He was known
to have refused office in the interests of his profession,
preferring to remain a simple Member for a Scotch
Tuppence went back to her pantry thoughtfully.
The great man had impressed her. She understood
Boris’s agitation. Peel Edgerton would not
be an easy man to deceive.
In about a quarter of an hour the
bell rang, and Tuppence repaired to the hall to show
the visitor out. He had given her a piercing glance
before. Now, as she handed him his hat and stick,
she was conscious of his eyes raking her through.
As she opened the door and stood aside to let him
pass out, he stopped in the doorway.
“Not been doing this long, eh?”
Tuppence raised her eyes, astonished.
She read in his glance kindliness, and something else
more difficult to fathom.
He nodded as though she had answered.
“V.A.D. and hard up, I suppose?”
“Did Mrs. Vandemeyer tell you that?” asked
“No, child. The look of you told me.
Good place here?”
“Very good, thank you, sir.”
“Ah, but there are plenty of
good places nowadays. And a change does no harm
“Do you mean ?” began Tuppence.
But Sir James was already on the topmost
stair. He looked back with his kindly, shrewd
“Just a hint,” he said. “That’s
Tuppence went back to the pantry more thoughtful than