Bedtime happened late at Lindenlea. It was nearly two in the morning before quiet fell on the house and the Beresfords split up to take their separate watches. Tommy took up station in an empty sitting room near the Professor's study, watching through a slightly ajar door in case of a midnight run. Tuppence had been assigned to watching over Vere, on the dubious grounds of feminine sympathy. She ensconced herself in a convenient shadowy cubbyhole near Vere's room.
By three Tuppence was yawning and struggling to keep her eyes open. She'd had plenty of recent practice staying up at the hotel, but there had been jazz bands and dancing to keep her awake. Would the wretched girl ever leave her room? Only discomfort stopped Tuppence from drowsing off. The small table she had perched on had seemed quite comfortable for a girl of her small dimensions at first, but the longer the night wore on, the more precarious her position felt.
Tuppence yawned again, and rubbed her eyes. The table must be quite highly polished and slippery. She almost felt as if her behind was sliding...
She landed on the floor with a yelp and a crash, suddenly wide awake.
"Oh, that's torn it!" she muttered. A door slammed open near her and, with a sense of inevitability, she looked up into the ruddy and disapproving face of her Aunt Maud, rendered even more terrifying by her nightcap.
"Prudence! Do you have any explanation -"
"Not really, Aunt Maud," Tuppence said meekly. She accepted the lady's rather ungracious arm up, and clambered to her feet.
To her horror, there was movement at her midriff. Tuppence dropped her godmother's arm and clasped the pillow, desperately trying to stop it from slipping out from beneath her nightdress.
"Pru-dence! Whatever is wrong?"
Tuppence decided to go for something close to truth. "It's my baby! It's moving!" she gasped.
"Don't be ridiculous! You're not nearly far gone e -"
A sharp crack sounded from somewhere in the house, and Aunt Maud broke off. Tuppence felt the blood drain from her face and coldness sweep over her. She released her grip and let the pillow fall.
"Prudence, was that...?"
"I think - I think it was a gun firing," Tuppence gasped. "Oh, Aunt Maud - Tommy..."
Her godmother gave her a sharp look, which then moved meaningfully to the dropped pillow. "I shall expect the meaning of all this later, young lady," she hissed in low tones. She reached out and purposefully lifted a large vase. "Right now, though, I think I need to find out what is going on."
She strode off in the direction of the gunshot.
Tuppence took a moment to regain her breath, then picked up the pillow - for what reason she knew not - and scurried in her wake. She felt that she had rather allowed events to run away with her.
Tommy had been having a much more exciting evening up to that point. He had not taken his station long before he heard soft steps making their way down the passage. To his surprise, however, they did not continue onwards to the Professor's room, but paused at his door.
The door swung inwards suddenly, and Tommy had just enough presence of mind to leap back before it brained him.
Cursing his luck, he was not entirely unsurprised to look into the eyes of the Honourable Harold Burt. Hal, for his part, looked far more shocked.
"You!" they hissed in concert. Tommy was about to try and charge Hal with the situation regardless, when the sound of a second pair of footsteps sounded on both their ears. Hal gave Tommy a wild look, then shoved him further back into the room and hurriedly half-closed the door.
In shared silence, Tommy a bit bewildered, they watched a shadowy, small, slight form moved determinedly towards the Professor's office. It hesitated by the door for just a second, and a ray of moonlight fell from between the curtains, illuminating a smooth cap of black hair.
Tuppence? Tommy wondered. What on earth was she playing at?
The two men watched and waited as the girl disappeared into the room. Time passed... Tommy became more or more worried as the girl didn't reappear at the door.
"Something's wrong!" he said suddenly. "I'm going in after her."
He gave Hal a defiant look, still unsure of what the man wanted, but his mysterious companion just nodded and said:
"I'm coming with you. No tricks, Beresford, I warn you."
Tommy, too consumed with worry about Tuppence to argue, pushed swiftly through into the room, Hal at his heels. It was deserted, but the French windows were opening, swaying slightly in the breeze. Without a thought in his head but his wife's safety, Tommy plunged through them and into the night.
A small, dark woman was being accosted by a tall male figure. Tommy's heart in his mouth, he rushed towards them. The girl turned her head at their approach, and Tommy abruptly realised his mistake: the midnight intruder was not Tuppence at all, but the girl called Freddy! Tommy paused, flung off his step.
"You devil!" snapped Hal. "I knew what you were up to! Father is too trusting - and to drag a girl into it!"
Walter de Worthemley-Smythe let go of Freddy, pushing her sharply away. She stumbled into Hal's arms, and Tommy realised what Wally had been holding in his spare hand. The revolver gleamed coldly in the evening light. Freddy clung to Hal, and he put a protective arm around her.
"What of it? I have the information I need - and certain Governments will be very grateful to have it." Wally's inane young face looked older and far less English without his gaping grin. "And I suggest you let me leave with it in peace, Burt. Or your precious Vere will rue it!"
"What the hell do you mean?" sputtered Hal. "What does Vere have to do with it?"
Freddy raised her head from his shoulder. "Oh, Hal, listen to him - do. For Vere's sake! If you love her at all, let Wally go." Her tears shone on her pale, ugly face.
"I don't understand," Hal began, but Tommy had had enough. Vere, after all, meant little to him, and in his relief that Tuppence was apparently not under threat, he felt he could wrestle a bull. He leapt at Wally, delivering a sharp blow to the young man's weak chin. They went down into the bushes together, the gun firing once as the fell, before it fell from Wally's hand.
They struggled in the darkness, until Tommy felt Wally pulled from him, and watched with some glee - and a slight sense of disappointment that he had not been the one to deliver the blow - as Hal delivered a hard punch to Wally's nose.
"Hardly sporting, two against one," he demurred, as Hal pulled him to his feet and dusted him off.
Freddy's shriek pierced the air, and the two men realised, too late, their mistake. Wally had been felled like a log - but he had fallen close to the gun. He rose to his feet, and the three of them backed off.
"I had hoped to leave without any violence," Wally said, menacingly advancing towards them. Tommy watched with wide eyes, all his concentration focussed on Wally's weapon, and not on the shadow arising behind him. Please, Tuppence, he prayed, don't do anything rash now. "But you force my hands. Freddy, I can trust you to play cricket, but as for these two young jackanapes..."
He raised his weapon then froze for a moment, forming an odd tableau, before slipping nopiselessly to the ground.
Tommy stooped and removed the revolver from among the fragments of broken china, as Hal grimly removed his belt and fastened Wally's hands.
"Now, I suppose," said Aunt Maud, lowering the remnants of the vase, "someone will explain to me exactly what has been going on?"
Behind her, Tuppence raised her pencilled eyebrows, and shrugged helplessly.
"So, Aunt Maud saves the day!" Tommy said jubilantly, once they were back in their own room. "Really, what a family of harridans I've married into. I'm sure you'll be exactly like her in forty years, Tuppence. I see the signs already."
Tuppence gave him a somewhat wobbly smile, and Tommy was instantly alert and concerned. "Is something wrong, darling? We're both safe and sound, and Mr Carter has got his man."
"And his woman, too," Tuppence said. "I suppose we can trust her to play cricket and face the consequences, like she said?"
"There is that, yes," Tommy said slowly. "Somehow, I feel a bit of a heel about it. It's odd - I'm positively delighted that de Worthemley-Smythe will get what's coming to him, but when I think of that girl..."
"I don't understand why she did it," Tuppence sniffed. "You said she said something about Vere?"
"So did de Worthemley-Smythe. I still don't think we've got quite to the bottom of all this, Tuppence dear. I'm glad, though, that Hal was just trying to draw de Worthemley-Smythe out. I rather liked him."
A knock on the door broke into their thoughts. The Beresfords exchanged glances. "It's probably Aunt Maud..." Tuppence gulped.
Tommy gave her a reassuring pat on the shoulder, and crossed to the door. He swung it open, to find the beautiful, tearful face of Vere Linden.
"Can- can I speak to Mrs Beresford?" she asked. "Alone?"
Tuppence took in her bedraggled, pathetic appearance, and made a swift decision. "Of course, dear," she said briskly. "I could just do with a nice cup of cocoa. Would you like one?" She smiled reassuringly at Tommy, put her arm around the taller girl, and they set off for the kitchen together.
Once she had Vere warmly wrapped up and settled with a steaming cup in her hands, she asked, in her best kind-but-firm nurse manner:
"I think you had better tell me all about it, don't you?"
"It's Freddy," Vere gulped. "She told me she'll probably go to prison, and it's all my fault! I was taking the papers before, but I got too scared, and she did it for me because she loves me. It's all my fault, and I'll never see her again, and I can't bear it..." She buried her head in her hands and sobbed.
"Why ever were you doing it, my good girl? Don't you realise how much that information means to this country, or what it would do in the wrong hands?"
"Wally found out! At first it was just about the cocaine, he found out somehow, and he said he'd tell Father unless I helped. But I stopped doing it for him, I did! And then he found out about Freddy, somehow, and he said he'd tell... Oh, Mrs Beresford, I couldn't! Mother and Father want me to marry Hal, and if they knew... If anyone knew..."
Tuppence listened quietly. She was still disgusted by Vere's cowardice and duplicity, but oddly, she felt a tugging at her heartstrings. Poor Freddy! And there was something so pathetic about this girl, waterlogged as she was. She came to a decision, and said sharply:
"Dry up and pull yourself together at once." Vere raised tear-drenched sapphire eyes to her, but Tuppence was more-or less immune to beauty in distress. "It occurs to me," she said, more gently, "that the best response to blackmail is to tell the truth and shame the devil. Then they have no power whatsoever over you."
"Oh - I couldn't..."
"Of course you could. There are plenty of discreet nursing homes these days, which have plenty of experience in treating addiction. As for the other - well, you have to decide exactly what matters to you."
"But - I'd lose everything."
"Nonsense, my good girl," Tuppence said robustly. "Everything? I suppose you mean your home here, and your money. Well, what of it? Let me ask you one thing, Vere - are you happy at Lindenlea?"
Vere mutely shook her head, tears rolling down her face.
"Then what are you afraid of? Take your chances in the real world. I can't tell you what to do, Vere, but I can tell you this - I'd rather share a flat and eat fried eggs with the only one in the world for me, than live a life here with parties and drugs, being miserable. Of course, it might be different for you." She broke off abruptly, feeling that it was useless to continue with such a soggy specimen of humanity. But oh - how she longed to give the silly girl a good shake!
"Tell me this," she said abruptly. "If you were given a chance to go and own up for stealing the information, on the promise that Freddy would be let off if you faced the music - would you do it?"
There was a long moment, during which Tuppence despaired, and then Vere's head came up. For a moment, she looked less like a drowning Rhine maiden, and more like a Valkyrie.
"If you'll truly let Freddy off, then I will go to the police and confess, right now."
Tuppence felt a triumphant grin spread across her face. "Good for you, Vere! Well, that settles it. We'll keep both of your names right out of it. But you have to promise me to stop taking that stuff, and try to act more like a girl who deserves to be loved the way Freddy obviously loves you."
"Oh, I will! Oh, Mrs Beresford - thank you! I'll never forget what you've done." She burst into a noisy fit of weeping.
Tuppence sighed, detached Vere's clinging arms, and left her to it. She felt there had been entirely too many tears from her already.
Two days later, Tommy and Tuppence strolled together in the grounds of the Grand Atlantic, Tommy's arm firmly around his wife's waist. They were glad to have shaken the dust of Lindenlea from their feet. Mr Carter had suggested - "Oh, he is kind!" Tuppence had said - that the two of them should stay out the week at the hotel, as he had paid in advance.
"Isn't it glorious not to have to force ourselves out onto the dance floor?" Tuppence sighed happily. Tommy smiled, and was bending down towards them when a shout broke into their little world.
"Tommy! Tuppence!" Freddy raced towards them, her face aglow. "Oh - I'm so glad to have caught you!" She seized Tuppence's hands. "Isn't it all wonderful? Oh, Tuppence - Vere has booked herself into a nursing home, and she's really going to try, this time. It's all thanks to you. And afterwards - oh, I can hardly believe it - she's going to come to live in London with me. I can support her, you know - I've been offered a job designing dresses for a London shop. I designed this, you know," she added proudly.
Tuppence looked down at the shapeless, hideous and decidedly chic ensemble Freddy was wearing, and beamed. "I'm sure you'll be a huge success," she said sincerely. "And Freddy, will you take some friendly advice from me?"
"Anything!" Freddy said fervently.
"Make Vere get a job, too."
"Vere - work?" Freddy's eyes widened.
"Yes, work! Giving her something to think about would be the best thing in the world for that girl, in my opinion. Ask your shop to give her a job - a girl with her looks and breeding could sell clothes to anyone. They'll lap her up."
"It's... it's a thought..." Freddy said slowly. "I'll find out. Oh, Tuppence, I do think you're positively the most angelic of angels!" She seized Tuppence in a fierce hug, then tore off again.
"I suppose you realise," Tommy said sternly, when Freddy had vanished, "that we've not only allowed two nefarious spies to escape, but that you've aided and abetted that young woman in seducing a girl of good family into an unnatural and immoral relationship, tearing her from the bosom of her family to work in a shop well below her class and probably breaking poor young Hal's heart in the bargain."
"Oh, Tommy, don't be so stuffy," was all Tuppence said.
"I must say you do hold very odd views for a clergyman's daughter," Tommy told her.
Tuppence smiled up at him. "I just want everyone to be as happy and in love as I am."
"Oh, Tuppence..." He bent his head down to hers.
Eventually, he said:
"What I don't see is why such a perfectly beautiful and eligible girl should end up with a creature like Freddy. What on earth does she see in her?"
Tuppence's eyes flashed. "What I don't see is what a marvellous girl like Freddy should see in a wet blanket like Vere!"
"I suppose it's not such a mystery, really," Tommy mused. "Girls fall in love with the strangest people. Look at us. I know you're worth a thousand of me for brains and courage, Tuppence, and as for looks, you're an odd match with an ugly fellow like me."
"Oh, Tommy. You complete and utter idiot. Oh, you darling stupid - isn't everything in the world perfectly lovely?"
Her words weren't flattering, but catching the expression in his eyes, Tommy felt that the world was, indeed, a perfectly lovely place. He reached out a hand to smooth her black hair, and then -
"Prudence Beresford! I have some words for you, young lady!"
They turned to face Tuppence's godmother, hand-in-hand. "Tuppence?" Tommy asked, between his teeth.
"What do a pair of brave young adventurers do in a situation like this?"
They ran, hand-in-hand, off into the sunset.