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The Secret Adversary - Chapter 23 - A Rage Against Time

1. Prologue

2. Chapter 1 - The Young Adventurers, Ltd.

3. Chapter 2 - Mr. Whittington's Offer

4. Chapter 3 - A Set Back

5. Chapter 4 - Who is Jane Finn?

6. Chapter 5 - Mr. Julius P. Hersheimmer

7. Chapter 6 - A Plan of Campaign

8. Chapter 7 - The House in Soho

9. Chapter 8 - The Adventures of Tommy

10. Chapter 9 - Tuppence Enters Domestic Service

11. Chapter 10 - Enter Sir James Peel Edgerton

12. Chapter 11 - Julius Tells a Story

13. Chapter 12 - A Friend in Need

14. Chapter 13 - The Vigil

15. Chapter 14 - A Consultation

16. Chapter 15 - Tuppence Receives a Proposal

17. Chapter 16 - Further Adventures of Tommy

18. Chapter 17 - Annette

19. Chapter 18 - The Telegram

20. Chapter 19 - Jane Finn

21. Chapter 20 - Too Late

22. Chapter 21 - Tommy Makes a Discovery

23. Chapter 22 - In Downing Street

24. Chapter 23 - A Rage Against Time

25. Chapter 24 - Julius Takes a Hand

26. Chapter 25 - Jane's Story

27. Chapter 26 - Mr. Brown

28. Chapter 27 - A Supper Party at the Savoy

29. Chapter 28 - And After

AFTER ringing up Sir James, Tommy's next procedure was to make a
call at South Audley Mansions. He found Albert discharging his
professional duties, and introduced himself without more ado as a
friend of Tuppence's. Albert unbent immediately.

"Things has been very quiet here lately," he said wistfully.
"Hope the young lady's keeping well, sir?"

"That's just the point, Albert. She's disappeared." You don't
mean as the crooks have got her?"

"In the Underworld?"

"No, dash it all, in this world!"

"It's a h'expression, sir," explained Albert. "At the pictures
the crooks always have a restoorant in the Underworld. But do
you think as they've done her in, sir?"

"I hope not. By the way, have you by any chance an aunt, a
cousin, a grandmother, or any other suitable female relation who
might be represented as being likely to kick the bucket?"

A delighted grin spread slowly over Albert's countenance.

"I'm on, sir. My poor aunt what lives in the country has been
mortal bad for a long time, and she's asking for me with her
dying breath."

Tommy nodded approval.

"Can you report this in the proper quarter and meet me at Charing
Cross in an hour's time?"

"I'll be there, sir. You can count on me."

As Tommy had judged, the faithful Albert proved an invaluable
ally. The two took up their quarters at the inn in Gatehouse. To
Albert fell the task of collecting information There was no
difficulty about it.

Astley Priors was the property of a Dr. Adams. The doctor no
longer practiced, had retired, the landlord believed, but he took
a few private patients--here the good fellow tapped his forehead
knowingly--"balmy ones! You understand!" The doctor was a
popular figure in the village, subscribed freely to all the local
sports--"a very pleasant, affable gentleman." Been there long?
Oh, a matter of ten years or so--might be longer. Scientific
gentleman, he was. Professors and people often came down from
town to see him. Anyway, it was a gay house, always visitors.

In the face of all this volubility, Tommy felt doubts. Was it
possible that this genial, well-known figure could be in reality
a dangerous criminal? His life seemed so open and aboveboard. No
hint of sinister doings. Suppose it was all a gigantic mistake?
Tommy felt a cold chill at the thought.

Then he remembered the private patients--"balmy ones." He
inquired carefully if there was a young lady amongst them,
describing Tuppence. But nothing much seemed to be known about
the patients--they were seldom seen outside the grounds. A
guarded description of Annette also failed to provoke

Astley Priors was a pleasant red-brick edifice, surrounded by
well-wooded grounds which effectually shielded the house from
observation from the road.

On the first evening Tommy, accompanied by Albert, explored the
grounds. Owing to Albert's insistence they dragged themselves
along painfully on their stomachs, thereby producing a great deal
more noise than if they had stood upright. In any case, these
precautions were totally unnecessary. The grounds, like those of
any other private house after nightfall, seemed untenanted.
Tommy had imagined a possible fierce watchdog. Albert's fancy ran
to a puma, or a tame cobra. But they reached a shrubbery near
the house quite unmolested.

The blinds of the dining-room window were up. There was a large
company assembled round the table. The port was passing from
hand to hand. It seemed a normal, pleasant company. Through the
open window scraps of conversation floated out disjointedly on
the night air. It was a heated discussion on county cricket!

Again Tommy felt that cold chill of uncertainty. It seemed
impossible to believe that these people were other than they
seemed. Had he been fooled once more? The fair-bearded,
spectacled gentleman who sat at the head of the table looked
singularly honest and normal.

Tommy slept badly that night. The following morning the
indefatigable Albert, having cemented an alliance with the
greengrocer's boy, took the latter's place and ingratiated
himself with the cook at Malthouse. He returned with the
information that she was undoubtedly "one of the crooks," but
Tommy mistrusted the vividness of his imagination. Questioned,
he could adduce nothing in support of his statement except his
own opinion that she wasn't the usual kind. You could see that
at a glance.

The substitution being repeated (much to the pecuniary advantage
of the real greengrocer's boy) on the following day, Albert
brought back the first piece of hopeful news. There WAS a French
young lady staying in the house. Tommy put his doubts aside.
Here was confirmation of his theory. But time pressed. To-day
was the 27th. The 29th was the much-talked-of "Labour Day,"
about which all sorts of rumours were running riot. Newspapers
were getting agitated. Sensational hints of a Labour coup d'etat
were freely reported. The Government said nothing. It knew and
was prepared. There were rumours of dissension among the Labour
leaders. They were not of one mind. The more far-seeing among
them realized that what they proposed might well be a death-blow
to the England that at heart they loved. They shrank from the
starvation and misery a general strike would entail, and were
willing to meet the Government half-way. But behind them were
subtle, insistent forces at work, urging the memories of old
wrongs, deprecating the weakness of half-and-half measures,
fomenting misunderstandings.

Tommy felt that, thanks to Mr. Carter, he understood the position
fairly accurately. With the fatal document in the hands of Mr.
Brown, public opinion would swing to the side of the Labour
extremists and revolutionists. Failing that, the battle was an
even chance. The Government with a loyal army and police force
behind them might win--but at a cost of great suffering. But
Tommy nourished another and a preposterous dream. With Mr. Brown
unmasked and captured he believed, rightly or wrongly, that the
whole organization would crumble ignominiously and
instantaneously. The strange permeating influence of the unseen
chief held it together. Without him, Tommy believed an instant
panic would set in; and, the honest men left to themselves, an
eleventh-hour reconciliation would be possible.

"This is a one-man show," said Tommy to himself. "The thing to do
is to get hold of the man."

It was partly in furtherance of this ambitious design that he had
requested Mr. Carter not to open the sealed envelope. The draft
treaty was Tommy's bait. Every now and then he was aghast at his
own presumption. How dared he think that he had discovered what
so many wiser and clever men had overlooked? Nevertheless, he
stuck tenaciously to his idea.

That evening he and Albert once more penetrated the grounds of
Astley Priors. Tommy's ambition was somehow or other to gain
admission to the house itself. As they approached cautiously,
Tommy gave a sudden gasp.

On the second floor window some one standing between the window
and the light in the room threw a silhouette on the blind. It was
one Tommy would have recognized anywhere! Tuppence was in that

He clutched Albert by the shoulder.

"Stay here! When I begin to sing, watch that window."

He retreated hastily to a position on the main drive, and began
in a deep roar, coupled with an unsteady gait, the following

I am a Soldier A jolly British Soldier;
You can see that I'm a Soldier by my feet . . .

It had been a favourite on the gramophone in Tuppence's hospital
days. He did not doubt but that she would recognize it and draw
her own conclusions. Tommy had not a note of music in his voice,
but his lungs were excellent. The noise he produced was terrific.

Presently an unimpeachable butler, accompanied by an equally
unimpeachable footman, issued from the front door. The butler
remonstrated with him. Tommy continued to sing, addressing the
butler affectionately as "dear old whiskers." The footman took
him by one arm, the butler by the other. They ran him down the
drive, and neatly out of the gate. The butler threatened him with
the police if he intruded again. It was beautifully done--soberly
and with perfect decorum. Anyone would have sworn that the butler
was a real butler, the footman a real footman--only, as it
happened, the butler was Whittington!

Tommy retired to the inn and waited for Albert's return. At last
that worthy made his appearance.

"Well?" cried Tommy eagerly.

"It's all right. While they was a-running of you out the window
opened, and something was chucked out." He handed a scrap of
paper to Tommy. "It was wrapped round a letterweight."

On the paper were scrawled three words: "To-morrow--same time."

"Good egg!" cried Tommy. "We're getting going."

"I wrote a message on a piece of paper, wrapped it round a stone,
and chucked it through the window," continued Albert

Tommy groaned.

"Your zeal will be the undoing of us, Albert. What did you say?"

"Said we was a-staying at the inn. If she could get away, to
come there and croak like a frog."

"She'll know that's you," said Tommy with a sigh of relief. "Your
imagination runs away with you, you know, Albert. Why, you
wouldn't recognize a frog croaking if you heard it."

Albert looked rather crest-fallen.

"Cheer up," said Tommy. "No harm done. That butler's an old
friend of mine--I bet he knew who I was, though he didn't let on.
It's not their game to show suspicion. That's why we've found it
fairly plain sailing. They don't want to discourage me
altogether. On the other hand, they don't want to make it too
easy. I'm a pawn in their game, Albert, that's what I am. You
see, if the spider lets the fly walk out too easily, the fly
might suspect it was a put-up job. Hence the usefulness of that
promising youth, Mr. T. Beresford, who's blundered in just at the
right moment for them. But later, Mr. T. Beresford had better
look out!"

Tommy retired for the night in a state of some elation. He had
elaborated a careful plan for the following evening. He felt sure
that the inhabitants of Astley Priors would not interfere with
him up to a certain point. It was after that that Tommy proposed
to give them a surprise.

About twelve o'clock, however, his calm was rudely shaken. He was
told that some one was demanding him in the bar. The applicant
proved to be a rude-looking carter well coated with mud.

"Well, my good fellow, what is it?" asked Tommy.

"Might this be for you, sir?" The carter held out a very dirty
folded note, on the outside of which was written: "Take this to
the gentleman at the inn near Astley Priors. He will give you
ten shillings."

The handwriting was Tuppence's. Tommy appreciated her
quick-wittedness in realizing that he might be staying at the inn
under an assumed name. He snatched at it.

"That's all right."

The man withheld it.

"What about my ten shillings?"

Tommy hastily produced a ten-shilling note, and the man
relinquished his find. Tommy unfastened it.


"I knew it was you last night. Don't go this evening. They'll be
lying in wait for you. They're taking us away this morning. I
heard something about Wales--Holyhead, I think. I'll drop this on
the road if I get a chance. Annette told me how you'd escaped.
Buck up.

Tommy raised a shout for Albert before he had even finished
perusing this characteristic epistle.

"Pack my bag! We're off!"

"Yes, sir." The boots of Albert could be heard racing upstairs.
Holyhead? Did that mean that, after all----Tommy was puzzled. He
read on slowly.

The boots of Albert continued to be active on the floor above.

Suddenly a second shout came from below.

"Albert! I'm a damned fool! Unpack that bag!"

"Yes, sir."

Tommy smoothed out the note thoughtfully.

"Yes, a damned fool," he said softly. "But so's some one else!
And at last I know who it is!"

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