After ringing up Sir James, Tommy’s
next procedure was to make a call at South Audley
Mansions. He found Albert discharging his professional
duties, and introduced himself without more ado as
a friend of Tuppence’s. Albert unbent immediately.
“Things has been very quiet
here lately,” he said wistfully. “Hope
the young lady’s keeping well, sir?”
“That’s just the point, Albert. She’s
“You don’t mean as the crooks have got
“In the Underworld?”
“No, dash it all, in this world!”
“It’s a h’expression,
sir,” explained Albert. “At the pictures
the crooks always have a restoorant in the Underworld.
But do you think as they’ve done her in, sir?”
“I hope not. By the way,
have you by any chance an aunt, a cousin, a grandmother,
or any other suitable female relation who might be
represented as being likely to kick the bucket?”
A delighted grin spread slowly over Albert’s
“I’m on, sir. My
poor aunt what lives in the country has been mortal
bad for a long time, and she’s asking for me
with her dying breath.”
Tommy nodded approval.
“Can you report this in the
proper quarter and meet me at Charing Cross in an
“I’ll be there, sir. You can count
As Tommy had judged, the faithful
Albert proved an invaluable ally. The two took
up their quarters at the inn in Gatehouse. To
Albert fell the task of collecting information.
There was no difficulty about it.
Astley Priors was the property of
a Dr. Adams. The doctor no longer practiced,
had retired, the landlord believed, but he took a few
private patients here the good fellow tapped
his forehead knowingly “balmy ones!
You understand!” The doctor was a popular figure
in the village, subscribed freely to all the local
sports “a very pleasant, affable
gentleman.” Been there long? Oh, a
matter of ten years or so might be longer.
Scientific gentleman, he was. Professors and people
often came down from town to see him. Anyway,
it was a gay house, always visitors.
In the face of all this volubility,
Tommy felt doubts. Was it possible that this
genial, well-known figure could be in reality a dangerous
criminal? His life seemed so open and aboveboard.
No hint of sinister doings. Suppose it was all
a gigantic mistake? Tommy felt a cold chill at
Then he remembered the private patients “balmy
ones.” He inquired carefully if there was
a young lady amongst them, describing Tuppence.
But nothing much seemed to be known about the patients they
were seldom seen outside the grounds. A guarded
description of Annette also failed to provoke recognition.
Astley Priors was a pleasant red-brick
edifice, surrounded by well-wooded grounds which effectually
shielded the house from observation from the road.
On the first evening Tommy, accompanied
by Albert, explored the grounds. Owing to Albert’s
insistence they dragged themselves along painfully
on their stomachs, thereby producing a great deal
more noise than if they had stood upright. In
any case, these precautions were totally unnecessary.
The grounds, like those of any other private house
after nightfall, seemed untenanted. Tommy had
imagined a possible fierce watchdog. Albert’s
fancy ran to a puma, or a tame cobra. But they
reached a shrubbery near the house quite unmolested.
The blinds of the dining-room window
were up. There was a large company assembled
round the table. The port was passing from hand
to hand. It seemed a normal, pleasant company.
Through the open window scraps of conversation floated
out disjointedly on the night air. It was a heated
discussion on county cricket!
Again Tommy felt that cold chill of
uncertainty. It seemed impossible to believe
that these people were other than they seemed.
Had he been fooled once more? The fair-bearded,
spectacled gentleman who sat at the head of the table
looked singularly honest and normal.
Tommy slept badly that night.
The following morning the indefatigable Albert, having
cemented an alliance with the greengrocer’s boy,
took the latter’s place and ingratiated himself
with the cook at Malthouse. He returned with
the information that she was undoubtedly “one
of the crooks,” but Tommy mistrusted the vividness
of his imagination. Questioned, he could adduce
nothing in support of his statement except his own
opinion that she wasn’t the usual kind.
You could see that at a glance.
The substitution being repeated (much
to the pecuniary advantage of the real greengrocer’s
boy) on the following day, Albert brought back the
first piece of hopeful news. There was a
French young lady staying in the house. Tommy
put his doubts aside. Here was confirmation of
his theory. But time pressed. To-day was
the 27th. The 29th was the much-talked-of “Labour
Day,” about which all sorts of rumours were
running riot. Newspapers were getting agitated.
Sensational hints of a Labour coup d’etat were
freely reported. The Government said nothing.
It knew and was prepared. There were rumours
of dissension among the Labour leaders. They
were not of one mind. The more far-seeing among
them realized that what they proposed might well be
a death-blow to the England that at heart they loved.
They shrank from the starvation and misery a general
strike would entail, and were willing to meet the
Government half-way. But behind them were subtle,
insistent forces at work, urging the memories of old
wrongs, deprecating the weakness of half-and-half
measures, fomenting misunderstandings.
Tommy felt that, thanks to Mr. Carter,
he understood the position fairly accurately.
With the fatal document in the hands of Mr. Brown,
public opinion would swing to the side of the Labour
extremists and revolutionists. Failing that,
the battle was an even chance. The Government
with a loyal army and police force behind them might
win but at a cost of great suffering.
But Tommy nourished another and a preposterous dream.
With Mr. Brown unmasked and captured he believed,
rightly or wrongly, that the whole organization would
crumble ignominiously and instantaneously. The
strange permeating influence of the unseen chief held
it together. Without him, Tommy believed an instant
panic would set in; and, the honest men left to themselves,
an eleventh-hour reconciliation would be possible.
“This is a one-man show,”
said Tommy to himself. “The thing to do
is to get hold of the man.”
It was partly in furtherance of this
ambitious design that he had requested Mr. Carter
not to open the sealed envelope. The draft treaty
was Tommy’s bait. Every now and then he
was aghast at his own presumption. How dared
he think that he had discovered what so many wiser
and clever men had overlooked? Nevertheless, he
stuck tenaciously to his idea.
That evening he and Albert once more
penetrated the grounds of Astley Priors. Tommy’s
ambition was somehow or other to gain admission to
the house itself. As they approached cautiously,
Tommy gave a sudden gasp.
On the second floor window some one
standing between the window and the light in the room
threw a silhouette on the blind. It was one Tommy
would have recognized anywhere! Tuppence was in
He clutched Albert by the shoulder.
“Stay here! When I begin to sing, watch
He retreated hastily to a position
on the main drive, and began in a deep roar, coupled
with an unsteady gait, the following ditty:
am a Soldier A jolly British Soldier;
You can see that I’m a Soldier
by my feet...
It had been a favourite on the gramophone
in Tuppence’s hospital days. He did not
doubt but that she would recognize it and draw her
own conclusions. Tommy had not a note of music
in his voice, but his lungs were excellent. The
noise he produced was terrific.
Presently an unimpeachable butler,
accompanied by an equally unimpeachable footman, issued
from the front door. The butler remonstrated
with him. Tommy continued to sing, addressing
the butler affectionately as “dear old whiskers.”
The footman took him by one arm, the butler by the
other. They ran him down the drive, and neatly
out of the gate. The butler threatened him with
the police if he intruded again. It was beautifully
done soberly and with perfect decorum.
Anyone would have sworn that the butler was a real
butler, the footman a real footman only,
as it happened, the butler was Whittington!
Tommy retired to the inn and waited
for Albert’s return. At last that worthy
made his appearance.
“Well?” cried Tommy eagerly.
“It’s all right.
While they was a-running of you out the window opened,
and something was chucked out.” He handed
a scrap of paper to Tommy. “It was wrapped
round a letterweight.”
On the paper were scrawled three words:
“To-morrow same time.”
“Good egg!” cried Tommy. “We’re
“I wrote a message on a piece
of paper, wrapped it round a stone, and chucked it
through the window,” continued Albert breathlessly.
“Your zeal will be the undoing of us, Albert.
What did you say?”
“Said we was a-staying at the
inn. If she could get away, to come there and
croak like a frog.”
“She’ll know that’s
you,” said Tommy with a sigh of relief.
“Your imagination runs away with you, you know,
Albert. Why, you wouldn’t recognize a frog
croaking if you heard it.”
Albert looked rather crest-fallen.
“Cheer up,” said Tommy.
“No harm done. That butler’s an old
friend of mine I bet he knew who I was,
though he didn’t let on. It’s not
their game to show suspicion. That’s why
we’ve found it fairly plain sailing. They
don’t want to discourage me altogether.
On the other hand, they don’t want to make it
too easy. I’m a pawn in their game, Albert,
that’s what I am. You see, if the spider
lets the fly walk out too easily, the fly might suspect
it was a put-up job. Hence the usefulness of that
promising youth, Mr. T. Beresford, who’s blundered
in just at the right moment for them. But later,
Mr. T. Beresford had better look out!”
Tommy retired for the night in a state
of some elation. He had elaborated a careful
plan for the following evening. He felt sure that
the inhabitants of Astley Priors would not interfere
with him up to a certain point. It was after
that that Tommy proposed to give them a surprise.
About twelve o’clock, however,
his calm was rudely shaken. He was told that
some one was demanding him in the bar. The applicant
proved to be a rude-looking carter well coated with
“Well, my good fellow, what is it?” asked
“Might this be for you, sir?”
The carter held out a very dirty folded note, on the
outside of which was written: “Take this
to the gentleman at the inn near Astley Priors.
He will give you ten shillings.”
The handwriting was Tuppence’s.
Tommy appreciated her quick-wittedness in realizing
that he might be staying at the inn under an assumed
name. He snatched at it.
“That’s all right.”
The man withheld it.
“What about my ten shillings?”
Tommy hastily produced a ten-shilling
note, and the man relinquished his find. Tommy
“I knew it was you last night.
Don’t go this evening. They’ll be
lying in wait for you. They’re taking us
away this morning. I heard something about Wales Holyhead,
I think. I’ll drop this on the road if I
get a chance. Annette told me how you’d
escaped. Buck up.
Tommy raised a shout for Albert before
he had even finished perusing this characteristic
“Pack my bag! We’re off!”
“Yes, sir.” The boots
of Albert could be heard racing upstairs. Holyhead?
Did that mean that, after all Tommy
was puzzled. He read on slowly.
The boots of Albert continued to be active on the
Suddenly a second shout came from below.
“Albert! I’m a damned fool!
Unpack that bag!”
Tommy smoothed out the note thoughtfully.
“Yes, a damned fool,”
he said softly. “But so’s some one
else! And at last I know who it is!”