"We really must try and get ahead with the case, you know."
The same statement had been made several times in the last week, by one or the other of the Beresfords, in varying tones. A certain amount of pleasurable excitement had been succeeded by lazy passivity. Now it was said with the guilty awareness that, to the cynical outside eye, they had done very little in the last week but have a glorious time ensconced in a luxury hotel, with fashionable clothes provided at the taxpayer's expense, at the very height of high summer.
It was not that they had not attempted in all conscience to perform their allotted duties. Tuppence was reaching the point at which she had become quite bored with cocktails and being made love to by gigolos with slicked-back hair, and Tommy had done his level, somewhat stilted, best with all the horse-faced young lovelies of the establishment, to the extent that he rarely left the tennis court. All work and no play, in fact. But still... no progress.
Tuppence sighed and turned away from the window. The view from their room was particularly ravishing, with a special line in sapphire seas and emerald lawns, but what she turned towards was equally entrancing in a more expensive way. The Government, as represented by Mr. Carter, had gone all out.
"It's difficult," she said, "to see exactly what we might do. I say, Tommy - you don't suppose it's all bosh? All the secret documents being sold to the Enemy and all that?"
Her husband eyed her thoughtfully. "Why on earth should you think that?"
"Well, why - all this?" Her circling arm took in all the trappings of a no-expense-spared fashionable holiday at the seaside.
"Cover, my dear girl. If you would like to take yourself back in time, my employer, Lord Elmsworth, requested us to pose as a wealthy and fun loving young couple and worm our way into the social circle of the local toffs, while keeping an eye out as to where certain information was making its way from Lindenlea to a certain Power -"
"Oh, yes, I know that. But perhaps Mr Carter was just being kind. I mean, he knows we didn't have much in the way of a honeymoon, and perhaps he was just putting us in the way of a good time."
"The old man is not bad, I'll give him that, but I hardly think he's as kind as all that. No, my dear - it's the real thing, all right. Tuppence, the Enemy really do seem to know things that were developed by British brains, and if there's to be another War..." Tuppence shivered slightly at the thought. "We just don't seem to be getting anywhere," she sighed.
It was too true for Tommy to dispute. Through the general gossip at the Grand Atlantic, the young couple had at least established the family layout of Lindenlea, the local manor: Lord Burt the esteemed scientist, his wife Lady Burt, their son Harold, and a second cousin and Lord Burt's ward, Vere Linden. Vere and Harold seemed popular and eligible young things: a seemingly endless stream of carloads bright, artistic and generally titled friends from London streamed in and out of the house. Yet, from Tommy and Tuppence's point of view, society at Lindenlea seemed as difficult to storm as the most barricaded trench. No matter how gallantly the young Beresfords put themselves about town, invitations to the festivities were simply not forthcoming.
Dropping the subject of their unsatisfactory progress for the moment, Tommy said:
"This might cheer you up, old thing. Forwarded from our flat, courtesy of the old man himself."
He tossed his wife a parcel wrapped in brown paper, which she unceremoniously ripped open, ignoring any comments as to rampant greed. He extricated a card as Tuppence dealt with the wrappings.
"It's from Aunt Maud. Yours, I presume, not mine, as I have no relatives answering to that particular name and title. I didn't know you did, either."
"She's a godmother, really, not an aunt. I was always quite terrified of her as a child. What does the old lady say?"
"I was getting to that, before your unmannerly interruption. Ahem. Dear Prudence - congratulations on your marital union. Marriage is an adventure, and I hope you shall not live to regret - ah. Felt you could have done better?"
Tuppence had disembowelled the parcel but, oddly, kept it still in its wrapping. "Oh, do ignore her, Tommy dear. She had ideas about me and - well, it hardly matters now, does it?"
"Still, it does give one rather an uncomfortable feeling, to be the source of disappointment to the in-laws. And I suppose she's right. I aren't up to much, am I? Not for a completely marvellous girl -"
"Oh, Tommy, you idiot!" Tuppence let the present slip to the floor, deciding that actions were far more effective than words, and accomplished any reassuring to be done quite to the satisfaction of both.
It was some minutes later that Tommy asked:
"What exactly did your worthy Aunt Maud send you, Tuppence?"
"Oh!" Tuppence dropped her chin so that her unruly black hair fell over her face, but Tommy could still see the redness of her cheeks, and the way her shoulders shook with suppressed laughter. "Oh, she's too dreadful."
Tommy pounced on the fallen present. "Oh, I say!" He leafed through the Bible, noting the stern dedication. "Is that supposed to be a message for us?"
"I suspect it's for you, darling." Tuppence's eyes sparkled with mirth. "To befit you to marry a clergyman's daughter."
"I think that's a bit stiff," he said, indignantly. "Am I the one who has branched out into cherry red lipstick and eyelash black? I think you've taken to the high life all too readily."
Tuppence grinned up at him. "I think cherry red lipstick suits me quite well," she mused. "Captain Gordon seemed quite taken..."
"I think your Aunt Maud should be told what a flibbertigibbet you are," Tommy told her sternly. "While I'm off, forcing myself to spend time with perfectly beautiful girls, and all the time I virtuously long for the love of a good woman -"
"Well, you'll have to be content with the love of a flibbertigibbet," Tuppence said firmly. They smiled at each other. "Ready to brave the trenches again, old thing? You can take the Bible, if you like. I have my own."
"Ready," Tommy assented, and the Beresford's set off, arm in arm, to face a daunting evening of socialising - in the name of keeping good old England safe from harm.
"Well, I'm off."
"To the golf course again?" Tuppence's voice held a plaintive note.
"Sorry to abandon you. But there's just a chance of meeting and befriending one of the Lindenlea lot down there. Harold Burt, it seems, prefers to play just before dark." He hesitated, putting a hand on the small shoulder of his wife. He was not immune to plaintive notes. "Sure you'll be all right on your own?"
Tuppence looked up into his ugly face, and her expression softened. "Of course," she said. She lifted her chin. "Besides, I might have one or two ideas of my own to follow up."
Tommy looked down at her with some alarm. "Don't do anything dangerous without me."
"Don't be silly, darling. What could I possibly do in a hotel?"
"I fear to think." He dropped a kiss on the top of her tousled head, and left.
Tuppence sat silently hugging her knees for some time after he left, her usually bright face a little overcast. Then she shook herself, gave herself a good talking to, and went to her trunk. Her eyes were very gentle for a moment as she touched the label - Mr and Mrs. T. Beresford.
They hadn't been married very long, and they were very much in love.
Next, she turned to the hotel bed, eyed it thoughtfully, and made her preparations. When she had finished, she examined herself appraisingly in the huge hotel mirror. "That will do - that will certainly do," she told herself, with great satisfaction. Her eyes were shining again as her plan took shape.
Inaction had never been Tuppence's forte.
Optimism, however, Tuppence rather fancied she was quite good at. If one only took some of kind of positive action, she reasoned, something generally turned up. Having made her way, with considerable effort considering the changes she had effected in her hotel room, across the perimeter of Lindenlea, she picked her way carefully towards the rose garden and took shelter behind a convenient bush.
Her luck held. Just as twilight began to spread softly across the sky a slender young thing, wearing cropped hair, a shapeless sack of fabric that probably cost as much as the Beresford's flat, and a monocle, moved into the garden with a distinctly sulky gait. Vere Linden, sent out to gather flowers for the dinner table and thinking it was somewhat beneath her dignity, if Tuppence was any judge.
Tuppence judged her moment carefully then let out an anguished cry, pitching forward onto the ground.
"Oh, heavens! Are you all right?" The young lady abandoned her air of oppressed sophistication, and rushed forward.
"I - arrgh!" Tuppence's face creased with pain, tears starting to her eyes. Her acting was leant greater verisimilitude by the fact that she had overenthusiastically pitched herself too close to a rosebush, and was suffering from thorns in delicate areas. "Help me! I'm so scared..." She flung her arms around the girl and clung. What if I lose m-my baby..." She burst into noisy, less genuine, tears.
Despite her tough and hardened appearance, the young lady apparently had something of the ministering angel in her makeup. She looked at Tuppence's middle, carefully stuffed with a pillow from the hotel bed belted into place, and her eyes grew wide with sympathetic horror. "You poor dear! It will be all right, I promise." She stroked Tuppence's hair. "Just wait while I run into the house and fetch some help."
"Don't leave me!" Tuppence's terror of being left to the hands of unsympathetic servants, who might question what a stranger in her condition was doing on the grounds in the first place, loaned genuine desperation to her voice.
"Oh, you lamb! Don't cry, I promise I'll be right back, and I won't leave your side until you're settled in bed and feeling quite well." Tuppence's new friend smiled down at her, and Tuppence felt a little guilty at the warmth in the smile. "I'm Freya Keller - Freddy. And you're -?"
"Mrs Prudence Beresford." Tuppence managed a watery smile. "Please call me Tuppence."
"I'll be right back, Tuppence."
Tuppence watched the lithe figure fly into the house, then surreptitiously adjusted her underpinnings. She was just in time - Freddy was back with the troops, in the form of a couple of sturdy footmen, a stretcher and a young man with beautifully arranged hair and no chin, in no time. Tuppence allowed herself to be lifted and carried into the house.
Being carried up the stairs was an exercise in torture. Tuppence heartily wished she could volunteer to walk, but did not wish to raise the question of whether she was, in fact, well enough to be taken home. She pressed her eyes tight against motion sickness as she bobbed and lunged in the arms of her heroes, wondering if her patients in her nursing days felt quite so ill when stretchered into the hospital. She had carefully made herself up to an ill pallor before leaving the hotel, but she suspected the effect was now tinged with an unhealthy shade of green. Oh, well, it was probably all the more convincing. She moaned a little.
"Freya, what is all this?"
The voice was distinctly familiar but, Tuppence supposed, all dragon-like old ladies sounded much the same. After all, anything else was unthinkable. She kept her eyes squeezed tight and prayed.
"Oh, hallo." Freddy seemed completely undragoned. "This girl had a bit of a nasty fall, and as you can see, she's in rather a delicate condition, so I thought it best to bring her to a bedroom for the time being."
"Hmmph. She shouldn't be out at all, if she's that far gone. And you, my good girl, have no business knowing about these things in the first place." Heavy footsteps came closer. "Why, it's disgraceful - PRUDENCE?! What is the meaning of this?"
Tuppence reluctantly pried open one eyelid. "Oh. Fancy seeing you here, Aunt Maud."
Taking in her godmother's furious expression, Tuppence decided that the most sane thing to do was to pretend to pass out.