"TOMMY, old thing!"
"Tuppence, old bean!"
The two young people greeted each other affectionately, and
momentarily blocked the Dover Street Tube exit in doing so. The
adjective "old" was misleading. Their united ages would
certainly not have totalled forty-five.
"Not seen you for simply centuries," continued the young man.
"Where are you off to? Come and chew a bun with me. We're
getting a bit unpopular here--blocking the gangway as it were.
Let's get out of it."
The girl assenting, they started walking down Dover Street
"Now then," said Tommy, "where shall we go?"
The very faint anxiety which underlay his tone did not escape the
astute ears of Miss Prudence Cowley, known to her intimate
friends for some mysterious reason as "Tuppence." She pounced at
"Tommy, you're stony!"
"Not a bit of it," declared Tommy unconvincingly. "Rolling in
"You always were a shocking liar," said Tuppence severely,
"though you did once persuade Sister Greenbank that the doctor
had ordered you beer as a tonic, but forgotten to write it on the
chart. Do you remember?"
"I should think I did! Wasn't the old cat in a rage when she
found out? Not that she was a bad sort really, old Mother
Greenbank! Good old hospital--demobbed like everything else, I
"Yes. You too?"
"Two months ago."
"Gratuity?" hinted Tuppence.
"No, old thing, not in riotous dissipation. No such luck! The
cost of living--ordinary plain, or garden living nowadays is, I
assure you, if you do not know----"
"My dear child," interrupted Tuppence, "there is nothing I do NOT
know about the cost of living. Here we are at Lyons', and we
will each of us pay for our own. That's it!" And Tuppence led
the way upstairs.
The place was full, and they wandered about looking for a table,
catching odds and ends of conversation as they did so.
"And--do you know, she sat down and CRIED when I told her she
couldn't have the flat after all." "It was simply a BARGAIN, my
dear! Just like the one Mabel Lewis brought from Paris----"
"Funny scraps one does overhear," murmured Tommy. "I passed two
Johnnies in the street to-day talking about some one called Jane
Finn. Did you ever hear such a name?"
But at that moment two elderly ladies rose and collected parcels,
and Tuppence deftly ensconced herself in one of the vacant seats.
Tommy ordered tea and buns. Tuppence ordered tea and buttered
"And mind the tea comes in separate teapots," she added severely.
Tommy sat down opposite her. His bared head revealed a shock of
exquisitely slicked-back red hair. His face was pleasantly
ugly--nondescript, yet unmistakably the face of a gentleman and a
sportsman. His brown suit was well cut, but perilously near the
end of its tether.
They were an essentially modern-looking couple as they sat there.
Tuppence had no claim to beauty, but there was character and
charm in the elfin lines of her little face, with its determined
chin and large, wide-apart grey eyes that looked mistily out from
under straight, black brows. She wore a small bright green toque
over her black bobbed hair, and her extremely short and rather
shabby skirt revealed a pair of uncommonly dainty ankles. Her
appearance presented a valiant attempt at smartness.
The tea came at last, and Tuppence, rousing herself from a fit of
meditation, poured it out.
"Now then," said Tommy, taking a large bite of bun, "let's get
up-to-date. Remember, I haven't seen you since that time in
hospital in 1916."
"Very well." Tuppence helped herself liberally to buttered
toast. "Abridged biography of Miss Prudence Cowley, fifth
daughter of Archdeacon Cowley of Little Missendell, Suffolk.
Miss Cowley left the delights (and drudgeries) of her home life
early in the war and came up to London, where she entered an
officers' hospital. First month: Washed up six hundred and
forty-eight plates every day. Second month: Promoted to drying
aforesaid plates. Third month: Promoted to peeling potatoes.
Fourth month: Promoted to cutting bread and butter. Fifth month:
Promoted one floor up to duties of wardmaid with mop and pail.
Sixth month: Promoted to waiting at table. Seventh month:
Pleasing appearance and nice manners so striking that am promoted
to waiting on the Sisters! Eighth month: Slight check in career.
Sister Bond ate Sister Westhaven's egg! Grand row! Wardmaid
clearly to blame! Inattention in such important matters cannot
be too highly censured. Mop and pail again! How are the mighty
fallen! Ninth month: Promoted to sweeping out wards, where I
found a friend of my childhood in Lieutenant Thomas Beresford
(bow, Tommy!), whom I had not seen for five long years. The
meeting was affecting! Tenth month: Reproved by matron for
visiting the pictures in company with one of the patients,
namely: the aforementioned Lieutenant Thomas Beresford.
Eleventh and twelfth months: Parlourmaid duties resumed with
entire success. At the end of the year left hospital in a blaze
of glory. After that, the talented Miss Cowley drove
successively a trade delivery van, a motor-lorry and a general!"
The last was the pleasantest. He was quite a young general!"
"What brighter was that?" inquired Tommy. "Perfectly sickening
the way those brass hats drove from the War Office to the Savoy,
and from the Savoy to the War Office!"
"I've forgotten his name now," confessed Tuppence. "To resume,
that was in a way the apex of my career. I next entered a
Government office. We had several very enjoyable tea parties. I
had intended to become a land girl, a postwoman, and a bus
conductress by way of rounding off my career--but the Armistice
intervened! I clung to the office with the true limpet touch for
many long months, but, alas, I was combed out at last. Since then
I've been looking for a job. Now then--your turn."
"There's not so much promotion in mine," said Tommy regretfully,
"and a great deal less variety. I went out to France again, as
you know. Then they sent me to Mesopotamia, and I got wounded
for the second time, and went into hospital out there. Then I got
stuck in Egypt till the Armistice happened, kicked my heels there
some time longer, and, as I told you, finally got demobbed. And,
for ten long, weary months I've been job hunting! There aren't
any jobs! And, if there were, they wouldn't give 'em to me. What
good am I? What do I know about business? Nothing."
Tuppence nodded gloomily.
"What about the colonies?" she suggested.
Tommy shook his head.
"I shouldn't like the colonies--and I'm perfectly certain they
wouldn't like me!"
Again Tommy shook his head.
"Oh, Tommy, not even a great-aunt?"
"I've got an old uncle who's more or less rolling, but he's no
"Wanted to adopt me once. I refused."
"I think I remember hearing about it," said Tuppence slowly. "You
refused because of your mother----"
"Yes, it would have been a bit rough on the mater. As you know,
I was all she had. Old boy hated her--wanted to get me away from
her. Just a bit of spite."
"Your mother's dead, isn't she?" said Tuppence gently.
Tuppence's large grey eyes looked misty.
"You're a good sort, Tommy. I always knew it."
"Rot!" said Tommy hastily. "Well, that's my position. I'm just
"So am I! I've hung out as long as I could. I've touted round.
I've answered advertisements. I've tried every mortal blessed
thing. I've screwed and saved and pinched! But it's no good. I
shall have to go home!"
"Don't you want to?"
"Of course I don't want to! What's the good of being
sentimental? Father's a dear--I'm awfully fond of him--but you've
no idea how I worry him! He has that delightful early Victorian
view that short skirts and smoking are immoral. You can imagine
what a thorn in the flesh I am to him! He just heaved a sigh of
relief when the war took me off. You see, there are seven of us
at home. It's awful! All housework and mothers' meetings! I
have always been the changeling. I don't want to go back,
but--oh, Tommy, what else is there to do?"
Tommy shook his head sadly. There was a silence, and then
Tuppence burst out:
"Money, money, money! I think about money morning, noon and
night! I dare say it's mercenary of me, but there it is!"
"Same here," agreed Tommy with feeling.
"I've thought over every imaginable way of getting it too,"
continued Tuppence. "There are only three! To be left it, to
marry it, or to make it. First is ruled out. I haven't got any
rich elderly relatives. Any relatives I have are in homes for
decayed gentlewomen! I always help old ladies over crossings,
and pick up parcels for old gentlemen, in case they should turn
out to be eccentric millionaires. But not one of them has ever
asked me my name--and quite a lot never said 'Thank you.' "
There was a pause.
"Of course," resumed Tuppence, "marriage is my best chance. I
made up my mind to marry money when I was quite young. Any
thinking girl would! I'm not sentimental, you know." She paused.
"Come now, you can't say I'm sentimental," she added sharply.
"Certainly not," agreed Tommy hastily. "No one would ever think
of sentiment in connection with you."
"That's not very polite," replied Tuppence. "But I dare say you
mean it all right. Well, there it is! I'm ready and willing--but
I never meet any rich men! All the boys I know are about as hard
up as I am."
"What about the general?" inquired Tommy.
"I fancy he keeps a bicycle shop in time of peace," explained
Tuppence. "No, there it is! Now you could marry a rich girl."
"I'm like you. I don't know any."
"That doesn't matter. You can always get to know one. Now, if I
see a man in a fur coat come out of the Ritz I can't rush up to
him and say: 'Look here, you're rich. I'd like to know you.' "
"Do you suggest that I should do that to a similarly garbed
"Don't be silly. You tread on her foot, or pick up her
handkerchief, or something like that. If she thinks you want to
know her she's flattered, and will manage it for you somehow."
"You overrate my manly charms," murmured Tommy.
"On the other hand," proceeded Tuppence, "my millionaire would
probably run for his life! No--marriage is fraught with
difficulties. Remains--to MAKE money!"
"We've tried that, and failed," Tommy reminded her.
"We've tried all the orthodox ways, yes. But suppose we try the
unorthodox. Tommy, let's be adventurers!"
"Certainly," replied Tommy cheerfully. "How do we begin?"
"That's the difficulty. If we could make ourselves known, people
might hire us to commit crimes for them."
"Delightful," commented Tommy. "Especially coming from a
"The moral guilt," Tuppence pointed out, "would be theirs--not
mine. You must admit that there's a difference between stealing a
diamond necklace for yourself and being hired to steal it."
"There wouldn't be the least difference if you were caught!"
"Perhaps not. But I shouldn't be caught. I'm so clever."
"Modesty always was your besetting sin," remarked Tommy.
"Don't rag. Look here, Tommy, shall we really? Shall we form a
"Form a company for the stealing of diamond necklaces?"
"That was only an illustration. Let's have a--what do you call
it in book-keeping?"
"Don't know. Never did any."
"I have--but I always got mixed up, and used to put credit
entries on the debit side, and vice versa--so they fired me out.
Oh, I know--a joint venture! It struck me as such a romantic
phrase to come across in the middle of musty old figures. It's
got an Elizabethan flavour about it--makes one think of galleons
and doubloons. A joint venture!"
"Trading under the name of the Young Adventurers, Ltd.? Is that
your idea, Tuppence?"
"It's all very well to laugh, but I feel there might be something
"How do you propose to get in touch with your would-be
"Advertisement," replied Tuppence promptly. "Have you got a bit
of paper and a pencil? Men usually seem to have. Just like we
have hairpins and powder-puffs."
Tommy handed over a rather shabby green notebook, and Tuppence
began writing busily.
"Shall we begin: 'Young officer, twice wounded in the war--' "
"Oh, very well, my dear boy. But I can assure you that that sort
of thing might touch the heart of an elderly spinster, and she
might adopt you, and then there would be no need for you to be a
young adventurer at all."
"I don't want to be adopted."
"I forgot you had a prejudice against it. I was only ragging
you! The papers are full up to the brim with that type of thing.
Now listen--how's this? 'Two young adventurers for hire. Willing
to do anything, go anywhere. Pay must be good.' (We might as
well make that clear from the start.) Then we might add: 'No
reasonable offer refused'--like flats and furniture."
"I should think any offer we get in answer to that would be a
pretty UNreasonable one!"
"Tommy! You're a genius! That's ever so much more chic. 'No
unreasonable offer refused--if pay is good.' How's that?"
"I shouldn't mention pay again. It looks rather eager."
"It couldn't look as eager as I feel! But perhaps you are right.
Now I'll read it straight through. 'Two young adventurers for
hire. Willing to do anything, go anywhere. Pay must be good. No
unreasonable offer refused.' How would that strike you if you
"It would strike me as either being a hoax, or else written by a
"It's not half so insane as a thing I read this morning beginning
'Petunia' and signed 'Best Boy.' " She tore out the leaf and
handed it to Tommy. "There you are. Times, I think. Reply to
Box so-and-so. I expect it will be about five shillings. Here's
half a crown for my share."
Tommy was holding the paper thoughtfully. His faced burned a
"Shall we really try it?" he said at last. "Shall we, Tuppence?
Just for the fun of the thing?"
"Tommy, you're a sport! I knew you would be! Let's drink to
success." She poured some cold dregs of tea into the two cups.
"Here's to our joint venture, and may it prosper!"
"The Young Adventurers, Ltd.!" responded Tommy.
They put down the cups and laughed rather uncertainly. Tuppence
"I must return to my palatial suite at the hostel."
"Perhaps it is time I strolled round to the Ritz," agreed Tommy
with a grin. "Where shall we meet? And when?"
"Twelve o'clock to-morrow. Piccadilly Tube station. Will that
"My time is my own," replied Mr. Beresford magnificently.
"So long, then."
"Good-bye, old thing."
The two young people went off in opposite directions. Tuppence's
hostel was situated in what was charitably called Southern
Belgravia. For reasons of economy she did not take a bus.
She was half-way across St. James's Park, when a man's voice
behind her made her start.
"Excuse me," it said. "But may I speak to you for a moment?"