فصل 13

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فصل 13

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CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Would the Commander recognise her? Tuppence had so prepared herself before this meeting to show no recognition or surprise, no matter whom she might see. She felt reasonably sure that she had showed no signs of surprise when she recognised Haydock. She rose to her feet and stood there, standing in a respectful attitude.

‘So you have arrived,’ said the Commander.

He spoke in English and his manner was exactly the same as usual.

‘Yes,’ said Tuppence, ‘Nurse Elton.’

Haydock smiled as though at a joke. ‘Nurse Elton! Excellent.’ He looked at her approvingly. ‘You look absolutely right. And do you know what you have to do? Sit down, please.’

Tuppence sat down obediently. She replied, ‘I was told to take detailed instructions from you.’

‘Very proper,’ said Haydock. There was a faint suggestion of amusement in his voice. ‘Do you know the day?’

‘The fourth.’

Haydock looked surprised. A heavy frown deepened the lines in his forehead. ‘So you know that, do you?’ he muttered. He paused for a minute, and then asked, ‘You have heard, no doubt, of Sans Souci?’

‘No,’ said Tuppence firmly.

There was a strange smile on the Commander’s face.

‘That surprises me very much - since you have been living there for the last month.’

There was dead silence. The Commander said, ‘What about that, Mrs Blenkensop?’

‘I don’t know what you mean, Dr Binion. I landed by parachute this morning.’

Again Haydock smiled - definitely an unpleasant smile. He continued, ‘A few yards of material pushed into a bush create a wonderful illusion. Mrs Blenkensop! Or perhaps you would prefer me to address you by your real name of Beresford?’

Again there was a silence. Tuppence took a deep breath. Haydock nodded. ‘You’ve lost the game.’

There was a faint click and the blue steel of a pistol showed in his hand. His voice took on a grim note as he added, ‘And I should advise you not to make any noise. You’d be dead before you made so much as a single cry, and even if you did manage to scream, it wouldn’t get you any attention. Patients who are under anaesthetic often cry out, you know.’

Tuppence said quietly, ‘You seem to have thought of everything. Has it occurred to you that I have friends who know where I am?’

‘Ah! You are thinking of young Marsdon. I’m sorry, Mrs Beresford, but Anthony happens to be one of our most enthusiastic supporters in this country. As I said just now, a few yards of material creates a wonderful effect. You believed the parachute idea quite easily.’

‘I don’t see the point of all this acting!’

‘Don’t you? We don’t want your friends to find you too easily. If they pick up your trail, it will lead to Yarrow and to a man in a car. The fact that a hospital nurse, of quite different appearance, walked into Leatherbarrow between one and two o’clock will hardly be connected with your disappearance.’

‘Very clever,’ said Tuppence.

Haydock said, ‘I admire your courage, you know. I admire it very much. I’m sorry to have to force you - but it’s vital that we should know just exactly how much you discovered at Sans Souci.’

Tuppence did not answer.

Haydock said quietly, ‘I’d advise you to tell me everything. There are certain - possibilities - in a dentist’s chair and these instruments can cause a lot of damage.’

Tuppence gave him an arrogant look.

‘Yes,’ Haydock observed slowly, ‘I imagine you’ve got a lot of courage. But what about the other half of the picture?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I’m talking about Thomas Beresford, your husband, who has lately been living at Sans Souci under the name of Mr Meadowes, and who is now very conveniently tied up in the cellar of my house.’

Tuppence declared, ‘I don’t believe it.’

‘Because of the Penny Plain letter? Don’t you realise that that was just a clever bit of work on the part of young Anthony. You fell into his trap nicely when you gave him the code.’

Tuppence’s voice trembled. ‘Then Tommy - then Tommy -‘

‘Tommy’, said Commander Haydock, ‘is where he has been all along - completely in my power! It’s up to you now. If you answer my questions satisfactorily, there’s a chance for him. If you don’t - well, he’ll be knocked on the head, taken out to sea and thrown overboard.’

Tuppence was silent for a minute or two - then she asked, ‘What do you want to know?’

‘I want to know who employed you, what your means of communication with that person or persons are, what you have reported so far, and exactly what you know?’

Tuppence shrugged her shoulders. ‘I could tell you what lies I choose,’ she pointed out.

‘No, because I will proceed to test what you say.’ He drew his chair a little nearer. ‘My dear woman - I know just what you feel about it all, but believe me when I say I really do admire both you and your husband immensely. You’ve got strength and bravery. It’s people like you that will be needed in the new State - the State that will arise in this country when your present weak government is destroyed. We want to turn some of our enemies into friends - those that are worthwhile. If I have to give the order that ends your husband’s life, I will do it - it’s my duty - but I will feel really bad about having to do so! He’s a fine fellow.

Let me explain what so few people in this country seem to understand. Our Leader does not intend to conquer this country. He intends to create a new Britain - a Britain strong in its own power - ruled, not by Germans, but by Englishmen. And the best type of Englishmen - Englishmen with brains and education and courage. A brave new world, as Shakespeare puts it.

‘We want no more confusion and inefficiency. And in this new state we want people like you and your husband - brave and intelligent enemies - to be our friends. You would be surprised if you knew how many there are in this country, as there are in other countries, who have sympathy with us and believe in our aims. Between us all we will create a new Europe - a Europe of peace and progress. Try and see it that way - because, I assure you - it is that way…’

His voice was mesmerizing and he looked the perfect picture of an honest British sailor.

Tuppence stared at him and searched her mind for an appropriate phrase. She was only able to find one that was both childish and rude. ‘Goosey, goosey gander!’ said Tuppence, reciting the nursery rhyme she had last repeated while playing with Betty.

The effect on Haydock was so intense that she was quite amazed. He jumped to his feet, his face went dark purple with anger, and in a second all resemblance to a cheerful British sailor had vanished. She saw what Tommy had once seen - an angry Prussian officer. He swore at her fluently in German. Then, changing to English, he shouted, ‘You dangerous little fool! Don’t you realise you give yourself away completely answering like that? You can’t be allowed to live now - you and your precious husband.’

Raising his voice he called, ‘Anna!’

The woman came into the room. Haydock pushed the pistol into her hand. ‘Watch her. Shoot if necessary.’

He went out of the room. Tuppence looked at Anna, who stood in front of her with an expressionless face. ‘Would you really shoot me?’

Anna answered quietly, ‘In the last war my son was killed, my Otto. I was thirty-eight, then - I am sixty-two now - but I have not forgotten.’

Tuppence looked at the broad face. It reminded her of the Polish woman, Vanda Polonska. She had that same frightening determination.

Something came to Tuppence’s brain - some vague memory. Something that she had always tried to remember. Something that she had known but had never succeeded in bringing into focus in her mind.

The door opened. Commander Haydock came back into the room. He shouted out, still very angry, ‘Where is it? Where have you hidden it?’

Tuppence stared at him. What he was saying did not make sense to her. She had taken nothing and hidden nothing. Haydock said to Anna, ‘Get out.’

The woman handed the pistol to him and left the room at once. Haydock threw himself into a chair and seemed to be trying hard to control himself. He said, ‘You can’t escape, you know. I’ve got you - and I’ve got ways of making people speak - not pretty ways. You’ll have to tell the truth in the end. Now then, what have you done with it?’

Tuppence was quick to see that here, at least, was something that gave her the possibility of bargaining. If only she could work out what it was she was supposed to have in her possession!

She said cautiously, ‘How do you know I’ve got it?’

‘From what you said, you silly little fool. You haven’t got it on you - that we know, since you changed completely into this nurse’s uniform.’

‘Suppose I posted it to someone?’ said Tuppence.

‘Don’t be an idiot. Everything you posted since yesterday has been examined. You didn’t post it. No, there’s only one thing you could have done - hidden it in Sans Souci before you left this morning. I give you just three minutes to tell me where that hiding-place is.’

He put his watch down on the table. ‘Three minutes, Mrs Thomas Beresford.’

The clock above the fireplace ticked. Tuppence sat quite still with a blank expressionless face. It didn’t show the thoughts racing behind it. In a flash of understanding she saw everything - and realised at last who was the centre of the whole organisation.

It came as quite a shock to her when Haydock said, ‘Ten seconds more…’

As if in a dream she watched him, saw the arm holding the pistol rise, heard him count.

‘One, two, three, four, five…’

He had reached eight when the shot rang out and he collapsed forward on his chair, a puzzled expression on his broad red face. He had been so focussed on watching his victim that he had been unaware of the door behind him opening.

In a flash Tuppence was on her feet. She pushed her way past the uniformed men in the doorway, and took hold urgently of an arm belonging to someone she knew. ‘Mr Grant!’

‘Yes, yes, my dear, it’s all right now - you’ve been wonderful…’ Tuppence ignored these reassurances. ‘Quick! There’s no time to lose. You’ve got a car here?’

‘Yes.’ He stared at her.

‘A fast one? We must get to Sans Souci at once. If only we’re in time. Before they telephone here, and get no answer.’

Two minutes later they were in the car and it was making its way through the streets of Leatherbarrow. Then they were out in the open country, moving fast.

Mr Grant asked no questions. He was content to sit quietly whilst Tuppence watched the speedometer in an agony of fear. The driver had been given his orders and he drove with all the speed the car was capable of.

Tuppence only spoke once. ‘Tommy?’

‘He’s quite all right. He was rescued half an hour ago.’

She nodded. Now, at last, they were nearing Leahampton. The car raced and twisted through the town, then up the hill. Tuppence jumped out and she and Mr Grant ran up the drive. The hall door, as usual, was open. There was no one in sight. Tuppence ran lightly up the stairs. She glanced inside her own room as she passed it, and noted the open drawers and untidy bed. She nodded to herself and passed on, along the upper hall and into the room occupied by Mr and Mrs Cayley.

The room was empty. It looked peaceful and smelt slightly of medicines. Tuppence ran across to the bed and pulled at the coverings. They fell to the ground and Tuppence put her hand under the mattress. She turned triumphantly to Mr Grant with a well-worn child’s picture-book in her hand.

‘Here you are. It’s all in here!’

‘What on earth…?’

They turned. Mrs Sprot was standing in the doorway staring at them.

‘And now,’ said Tuppence, ‘let me introduce you to M! Yes. Mrs Sprot! I should have known all along.’

It was left to Mrs Cayley, arriving in the doorway a moment later, to introduce the appropriate anti-climax.

‘Oh dear,’ said Mrs Cayley, looking with dismay at her husband’s bed. ‘Whatever will Mr Cayley say?’

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