فصل 12

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فصل 12

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CHAPTER TWELVE

Although Tuppence went to bed in an optimistic mood, she suffered a severe reaction in those early morning hours when human hope sinks to its lowest. Ongoing down to breakfast, however, her spirits rose with the sight of a letter sitting on her plate addressed in awkward handwriting. Tuppence opened the letter.

‘Dear Patricia,

Auntie Grace is, I am afraid, much worse today. The doctors do not actually say she is dying, but I am afraid that there cannot be much hope.

If you want to see her before the end, I think you should come today. If you take the 10.20 train to Yarrow, a friend will meet you with his car.

Look forward to seeing you again, dear, in spite of the sad reason.

Yours ever,

Penelope Playne.’

It was all Tuppence could do to control her joy. Good old Penny Plain!

After breakfast, Tuppence rang up the dressmaker’s and cancelled a fitting for a coat and skirt for that afternoon. She then went to see Mrs Perenna and explained that she might be away from home for a night or two.

She went up to her room to get ready. Betty Sprot came running out of the Cayleys’ bedroom with a mischievous smile on her face.

‘What have you been doing?’ demanded Tuppence.

Betty gurgled, ‘Goosey, goosey gander…’

Tuppence chanted. ‘Whither will you wander? Upstairs!’ She lifted Betty high over her head. ‘Downstairs!’ She rolled her on the floor.

At this minute Mrs Sprot appeared and Betty was taken off to be dressed for her walk.

‘Hide?’ said Betty hopefully. ‘Hide?’

‘You can’t play hide-and-seek now,’ said Mrs Sprot.

It was ten o’clock as she left Sans Souci. She had plenty of time. She looked up at the sky, and in doing so stepped into a dark puddle by the gatepost. Without apparently noticing it, she went on. Her heart was dancing. Success - success - they were going to succeed.

Yarrow was a small country station where the village was some distance from the railway. A car was waiting outside the station. A good-looking young man was driving it. He touched two fingers to his cap to Tuppence, but the gesture of respect didn’t seem to be one he was used to making. Tuppence kicked the front tyre.

‘Isn’t this rather flat?’

We haven’t got far to go, Madam.’

She nodded and got into the car. They drove not towards the village but towards the hills. After taking a winding road over a hill, they took a side-track that went down sharply into a deep valley. From the shadow of a small group of trees, a man stepped out to meet them.

The car stopped and Tuppence, getting out, went to meet Anthony Marsdon.

‘Beresford’s all right,’ he said quickly. ‘We located him yesterday. He’s a prisoner - the Fifth Columnists captured him - and for good reasons he’s staying where he is for another twelve hours. You see, there’s a small boat due in at a certain place - and we really want to catch it. That’s why Beresford’s not escaping - we don’t want them to realise that we know what they’re up to until the last minute.’ He looked at her anxiously. ‘You do understand, don’t you?’

‘Oh, yes!’ Tuppence was staring at a strange mass of material that was half-hidden by the trees.

‘He’ll be absolutely all right,’ continued the young man seriously.

‘Of course Tommy will be all right,’ said Tuppence impatiently. ‘You needn’t talk to me as though I was a child of two. We’re both ready to run a few risks. What’s that thing over there?’

‘Well…’ The young man hesitated. ‘That’s just it. I’ve been ordered to put a certain proposal before you. But - but well, frankly, I don’t like doing it. You see…’

Tuppence gave him a cold look. ‘Why don’t you like doing it?’

‘Well - you’re Deborah’s mother. And I mean - what would Deb say to me if - if…’

‘If I were killed?’ inquired Tuppence. ‘Personally, if I were you, I wouldn’t mention it to her. Just tell me about the dangerous and unpleasant job I have to do.’

‘You know,’ said the young man with enthusiasm, ‘I think you’re splendid, simply splendid.’

‘Enough compliments,’ said Tuppence. ‘I’m admiring myself a good deal, so there’s no need for you to join in. What exactly is the big idea?’

Tony pointed to the material in the trees ‘That,’ he said, ‘is a parachute.’

‘Aha,’ said Tuppence. Her eyes shone.

‘There was just one parachutist,’ went on Marsdon. ‘Fortunately the LDVs around here are an alert group of men. The parachutist was seen and they captured her.’

‘Her?’

‘Yes, her! A woman dressed as a hospital nurse. Medium height, middle-aged, with dark hair and with a slim figure.’

‘In fact’, said Tuppence, ‘a woman not unlike me?’

‘Exactly,’ said Tony. ‘The next part of it is up to you.’ Tuppence smiled. She said, ‘Where do I go and what do I do?’

‘I say, Mrs Beresford, what magnificent courage you’ve got.’

‘Where do I go and what do I do?’ repeated Tuppence impatiently.

‘We don’t have much information, unfortunately. In the woman’s pocket there was a piece of paper with these” words on it in German. “Walk to Leatherbarrow - due east from the stone cross. 14 St Asalph’s Rd. Dr Binion.”’

Tuppence looked up. On the hilltop nearby was a stone cross. ‘That’s it,’ said Tony. ‘All the signposts have been removed, of course, in case they helped the enemy. But Leatherbarrow’s quite a big place, and walking due east from the cross you’re sure to find it.’

‘How far?’

‘Five miles.’

Tuppence grinned. ‘Healthy walking exercise,’ she said. ‘I hope Dr Binion offers me lunch when I get there.’

‘Do you know German, Mrs Beresford?’

‘Just a few tourist phrases. I will have to be firm about speaking English - and say my instructions were to do so. Well, lead me to it.’

‘We’ve got everything here - and a policewoman who’s an expert in the art of make-up,’ explained Tony.

Just inside the trees there was a shed. At the door was a competent-looking middle-aged woman. She looked at Tuppence and nodded approvingly. Inside the shed, seated on an old box, they put on Tuppence’s make-up. Finally the policewoman stood back and remarked, ‘There, now, I think we’ve made a very nice job of it. What do you think, sir?’

‘Very good indeed,’ said Tony.

Tuppence stretched out her hand and took the mirror the other woman was holding. She looked at her own face seriously and could hardly hold back a cry of surprise.

Her eyebrows had been trimmed to an entirely different shape, which changed her whole expression. Her hair, pulled forward over her ears, hid small pieces of sticking plaster that tightened the skin of her face and altered its shape. Skilful makeup had added several years to her age, with heavy lines running down each side of the mouth. Her whole face now had a rather foolish look to it.

‘It’s very clever,’ said Tuppence admiringly.

The other woman produced two slices of thin rubber. ‘Do you think you could manage to wear these in your cheeks?’

Tuppence slipped them in and moved her mouth carefully.

‘It’s not really too uncomfortable.’

Tony then left the shed and Tuppence took off her own clothing and put on the nurse’s uniform. It fitted quite well. The dark blue hat added the final touch to her new personality. She rejected, however, the heavy square-toed shoes.

‘If I’ve got to walk five miles,’ she said, ‘it’s much better if I do it in my own shoes.’

Both Tony and the policewoman agreed that this was sensible - particularly as Tuppence’s own shoes were dark blue ones that went well with the uniform. She looked with interest into the dark blue handbag - face powder; lipstick; two pounds fourteen and sixpence in English money; a handkerchief and an identity card in the name of Freda Elton, 4 Manchester Road, Sheffield. Tuppence exchanged her own powder and lipstick for the ones in the bag and stood up, prepared to set out.

Tony Marsdon turned his head away. He said abruptly, ‘I feel very bad about letting you do this.’

‘I know just how you feel.’

‘But, you see, it’s absolutely vital that we should get some idea of just where and how the attack will come.’

Tuppence patted him on the arm. ‘Don’t you worry, my child. Believe it or not, I’m enjoying myself!’

Rather tired, Tuppence stood outside 14 St Asalph’s Road and saw that Dr Binion was a dental surgeon and not a doctor. From the corner of her eye she saw Tony Marsdon. He was sitting in a fast-looking car outside a house farther down the street. It had been thought necessary for Tuppence to walk to Leatherbarrow exactly as instructed. Tony, with the policewoman, had taken a different route before approaching Leatherbarrow. Everything was now ready.

Tuppence crossed the road and rang the bell. The door was opened by an elderly woman.

‘Dr Binion?’ said Tuppence.

The woman looked her slowly up and down. ‘You will be Nurse Elton, I suppose.’

‘Yes.’

‘Then you will come up to the doctor’s surgery.’

She stood back and the door closed behind Tuppence, who found herself standing in a narrow hall. The maid went up the stairs in front of her and opened a door on the first floor. ‘Please wait. The doctor will come to you.’

She went out, shutting the door behind her. A very ordinary dentist’s surgery - somewhat old and worn out. Soon the door would open and ‘Dr Binion’ would come in. Who would Dr Binion be? A stranger? Or someone she had seen before? If it was the person she was half expecting to see…

The door opened. The man who entered was not at all the person Tuppence had thought she might see! It was someone she had never considered as being N.

It was Commander Haydock.

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