فصل 04

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فصل 04

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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.

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