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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Secret Adversary - Chapter XVIII - The Telegram
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The Secret Adversary - Chapter XVIII - The Telegram Post by :imported_n/a Category :Long Stories Author :Agatha Christie Date :December 2010 Read :3471

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The Secret Adversary - Chapter XVIII - The Telegram

BAFFLED for the moment, Tommy strolled into the restaurant, and
ordered a meal of surpassing excellence. His four days'
imprisonment had taught him anew to value good food.

He was in the middle of conveying a particularly choice morsel of
Sole a la Jeanette to his mouth, when he caught sight of Julius
entering the room. Tommy waved a menu cheerfully, and succeeded
in attracting the other's attention. At the sight of Tommy,
Julius's eyes seemed as though they would pop out of his head.
He strode across, and pump-handled Tommy's hand with what seemed
to the latter quite unnecessary vigour.

"Holy snakes!" he ejaculated. "Is it really you?"

"Of course it is. Why shouldn't it be?"

"Why shouldn't it be? Say, man, don't you know you've been given
up for dead? I guess we'd have had a solemn requiem for you in
another few days."

"Who thought I was dead?" demanded Tommy.

"Tuppence."

"She remembered the proverb about the good dying young, I
suppose. There must be a certain amount of original sin in me to
have survived. Where is Tuppence, by the way?"

"Isn't she here?"

"No, the fellows at the office said she'd just gone out."

"Gone shopping, I guess. I dropped her here in the car about an
hour ago. But, say, can't you shed that British calm of yours,
and get down to it? What on God's earth have you been doing all
this time?"

"If you're feeding here," replied Tommy, "order now. It's going
to be a long story."

Julius drew up a chair to the opposite side of the table,
summoned a hovering waiter, and dictated his wishes. Then he
turned to Tommy.

"Fire ahead. I guess you've had some few adventures."

"One or two," replied Tommy modestly, and plunged into his
recital.

Julius listened spellbound. Half the dishes that were placed
before him he forgot to eat. At the end he heaved a long sigh.

"Bully for you. Reads like a dime novel!"

"And now for the home front," said Tommy, stretching out his hand
for a peach.

"We-el," drawled Julius, "I don't mind admitting we've had some
adventures too."

He, in his turn, assumed the role of narrator. Beginning with his
unsuccessful reconnoitring at Bournemouth, he passed on to his
return to London, the buying of the car, the growing anxieties of
Tuppence, the call upon Sir James, and the sensational
occurrences of the previous night.

"But who killed her?" asked Tommy. "I don't quite understand."

"The doctor kidded himself she took it herself," replied Julius
dryly.

"And Sir James? What did he think?"

"Being a legal luminary, he is likewise a human oyster," replied
Julius. "I should say he 'reserved judgment.' " He went on to
detail the events of the morning.

"Lost her memory, eh?" said Tommy with interest. "By Jove, that
explains why they looked at me so queerly when I spoke of
questioning her. Bit of a slip on my part, that! But it wasn't
the sort of thing a fellow would be likely to guess."

"They didn't give you any sort of hint as to where Jane was?"

Tommy shook his head regretfully.

"Not a word. I'm a bit of an ass, as you know. I ought to have
got more out of them somehow."

"I guess you're lucky to be here at all. That bluff of yours was
the goods all right. How you ever came to think of it all so pat
beats me to a frazzle!"

"I was in such a funk I had to think of something," said Tommy
simply.

There was a moment's pause, and then Tommy reverted to Mrs.
Vandemeyer's death.

"There's no doubt it was chloral?"

"I believe not. At least they call it heart failure induced by
an overdose, or some such claptrap. It's all right. We don't
want to be worried with an inquest. But I guess Tuppence and I
and even the highbrow Sir James have all got the same idea."

"Mr. Brown?" hazarded Tommy.

"Sure thing."

Tommy nodded.

"All the same," he said thoughtfully, "Mr. Brown hasn't got
wings. I don't see how he got in and out."

"How about some high-class thought transference stunt? Some
magnetic influence that irresistibly impelled Mrs. Vandemeyer to
commit suicide?"

Tommy looked at him with respect.

"Good, Julius. Distinctly good. Especially the phraseology. But
it leaves me cold. I yearn for a real Mr. Brown of flesh and
blood. I think the gifted young detectives must get to work,
study the entrances and exits, and tap the bumps on their
foreheads until the solution of the mystery dawns on them. Let's
go round to the scene of the crime. I wish we could get hold of
Tuppence. The Ritz would enjoy the spectacle of the glad
reunion."

Inquiry at the office revealed the fact that Tuppence had not yet
returned.

"All the same, I guess I'll have a look round upstairs," said
Julius. "She might be in my sitting-room." He disappeared.

Suddenly a diminutive boy spoke at Tommy's elbow:

"The young lady--she's gone away by train, I think, sir," he
murmured shyly.

"What?" Tommy wheeled round upon him.

The small boy became pinker than before.

"The taxi, sir. I heard her tell the driver Charing Cross and to
look sharp."

Tommy stared at him, his eyes opening wide in surprise.
Emboldened, the small boy proceeded. "So I thought, having asked
for an A.B.C. and a Bradshaw."

Tommy interrupted him:

"When did she ask for an A.B.C. and a Bradshaw?"

"When I took her the telegram, sir."

"A telegram?"

"Yes, sir."

"When was that?"

"About half-past twelve, sir."

"Tell me exactly what happened."

The small boy drew a long breath.

"I took up a telegram to No. 891--the lady was there. She opened
it and gave a gasp, and then she said, very jolly like: 'Bring me
up a Bradshaw, and an A.B.C., and look sharp, Henry.' My name
isn't Henry, but----"

"Never mind your name," said Tommy impatiently. "Go on."

"Yes, sir. I brought them, and she told me to wait, and looked
up something. And then she looks up at the clock, and 'Hurry up,'
she says. 'Tell them to get me a taxi,' and she begins a-shoving
on of her hat in front of the glass, and she was down in two
ticks, almost as quick as I was, and I seed her going down the
steps and into the taxi, and I heard her call out what I told
you."

The small boy stopped and replenished his lungs. Tommy continued
to stare at him. At that moment Julius rejoined him. He held an
open letter in his hand.

"I say, Hersheimmer"--Tommy turned to him--"Tuppence has gone off
sleuthing on her own."

" Shucks!"

"Yes, she has. She went off in a taxi to Charing Cross in the
deuce of a hurry after getting a telegram." His eye fell on the
letter in Julius's hand. "Oh; she left a note for you. That's
all right. Where's she off to?"

Almost unconsciously, he held out his hand for the letter, but
Julius folded it up and placed it in his pocket. He seemed a
trifle embarrassed.

"I guess this is nothing to do with it. It's about something
else--something I asked her that she was to let me know about."

"Oh!" Tommy looked puzzled, and seemed waiting for more.

"See here," said Julius suddenly, "I'd better put you wise. I
asked Miss Tuppence to marry me this morning."

"Oh!" said Tommy mechanically. He felt dazed. Julius's words
were totally unexpected. For the moment they benumbed his brain.

"I'd like to tell you," continued Julius, "that before I
suggested anything of the kind to Miss Tuppence, I made it clear
that I didn't want to butt in in any way between her and you----

Tommy roused himself.

"That's all right," he said quickly. "Tuppence and I have been
pals for years. Nothing more." He lit a cigarette with a hand
that shook ever so little. "That's quite all right. Tuppence
always said that she was looking out for----"

He stopped abruptly, his face crimsoning, but Julius was in no
way discomposed.

"Oh, I guess it'll be the dollars that'll do the trick. Miss
Tuppence put me wise to that right away. There's no humbug about
her. We ought to gee along together very well."

Tommy looked at him curiously for a minute, as though he were
about to speak, then changed his mind and said nothing. Tuppence
and Julius! Well, why not? Had she not lamented the fact that
she knew no rich men? Had she not openly avowed her intention of
marrying for money if she ever had the chance? Her meeting with
the young American millionaire had given her the chance--and it
was unlikely she would be slow to avail herself of it. She was
out for money. She had always said so. Why blame her because
she had been true to her creed?

Nevertheless, Tommy did blame her. He was filled with a
passionate and utterly illogical resentment. It was all very
well to SAY things like that--but a REAL girl would never marry
for money. Tuppence was utterly cold-blooded and selfish, and he
would be delighted if he never saw her again! And it was a
rotten world!

Julius's voice broke in on these meditations.

"Yes, we ought to get along together very well. I've heard that
a girl always refuses you once--a sort of convention."

Tommy caught his arm.

"Refuses? Did you say REFUSES?"

"Sure thing. Didn't I tell you that? She just rapped out a 'no'
without any kind of reason to it. The eternal feminine, the Huns
call it, I've heard. But she'll come round right enough. Likely
enough, I hustled her some----"

But Tommy interrupted regardless of decorum.

"What did she say in that note?" he demanded fiercely.

The obliging Julius handed it to him.

"There's no earthly clue in it as to where she's gone," he
assured Tommy. "But you might as well see for yourself if you
don't believe me."

The note, in Tuppence's well-known schoolboy writing, ran as
follows:


"DEAR JULIUS,

"It's always better to have things in black and white. I don't
feel I can be bothered to think of marriage until Tommy is found.
Let's leave it till then. "Yours affectionately,
"TUPPENCE."


Tommy handed it back, his eyes shining. His feelings had
undergone a sharp reaction. He now felt that Tuppence was all
that was noble and disinterested. Had she not refused Julius
without hesitation? True, the note betokened signs of weakening,
but he could excuse that. It read almost like a bribe to Julius
to spur him on in his efforts to find Tommy, but he supposed she
had not really meant it that way. Darling Tuppence, there was not
a girl in the world to touch her! When he saw her----His thoughts
were brought up with a sudden jerk.

"As you say," he remarked, pulling himself together, "there's not
a hint here as to what she's up to. Hi--Henry!"

The small boy came obediently. Tommy produced five shillings.

"One thing more. Do you remember what the young lady did with
the telegram?"

Henry gasped and spoke.

"She crumpled it up into a ball and threw it into the grate, and
made a sort of noise like 'Whoop!' sir."

"Very graphic, Henry," said Tommy. "Here's your five shillings.
Come on, Julius. We must find that telegram."

They hurried upstairs. Tuppence had left the key in her door.
The room was as she had left it. In the fireplace was a crumpled
ball of orange and white. Tommy disentangled it and smoothed out
the telegram.

"Come at once, Moat House, Ebury, Yorkshire, great
developments--TOMMY."

They looked at each other in stupefaction. Julius spoke first:

"You didn't send it?"

"Of course not. What does it mean?"

"I guess it means the worst," said Julius quietly. "They've got
her."

"WHAT?"

"Sure thing! They signed your name, and she fell into the trap
like a lamb."

"My God! What shall we do?"

"Get busy, and go after her! Right now! There's no time to
waste. It's almighty luck that she didn't take the wire with her.
If she had we'd probably never have traced her. But we've got to
hustle. Where's that Bradshaw?"

The energy of Julius was infectious. Left to himself, Tommy
would probably have sat down to think things out for a good
half-hour before he decided on a plan of action. But with Julius
Hersheimmer about, hustling was inevitable.

After a few muttered imprecations he handed the Bradshaw to Tommy
as being more conversant with its mysteries. Tommy abandoned it
in favour of an A.B.C.

"Here we are. Ebury, Yorks. From King's Cross. Or St. Pancras.
(Boy must have made a mistake. It was King's Cross, not CHARING
Cross.) 12.50, that's the train she went by. 2.10, that's gone.
3.20 is the next--and a damned slow train too."

"What about the car?"

Tommy shook his head.

"Send it up if you like, but we'd better stick to the train. The
great thing is to keep calm."

Julius groaned.

"That's so. But it gets my goat to think of that innocent young
girl in danger!"

Tommy nodded abstractedly. He was thinking. In a moment or two,
he said:

"I say, Julius, what do they want her for, anyway?"

"Eh? I don't get you?"

"What I mean is that I don't think it's their game to do her any
harm," explained Tommy, puckering his brow with the strain of his
mental processes. "She's a hostage, that's what she is. She's in
no immediate danger, because if we tumble on to anything, she'd
be damned useful to them. As long as they've got her, they've got
the whip hand of us. See?"

"Sure thing," said Julius thoughtfully. "That's so."

"Besides," added Tommy, as an afterthought, "I've great faith in
Tuppence."

The journey was wearisome, with many stops, and crowded
carriages. They had to change twice, once at Doncaster, once at a
small junction. Ebury was a deserted station with a solitary
porter, to whom Tommy addressed himself:

"Can you tell me the way to the Moat House?"

"The Moat House? It's a tidy step from here. The big house near
the sea, you mean?"

Tommy assented brazenly. After listening to the porter's
meticulous but perplexing directions, they prepared to leave the
station. It was beginning to rain, and they turned up the collars
of their coats as they trudged through the slush of the road.
Suddenly Tommy halted.

"Wait a moment." He ran back to the station and tackled the
porter anew.

"Look here, do you remember a young lady who arrived by an
earlier train, the 12.50 from London? She'd probably ask you the
way to the Moat House."

He described Tuppence as well as he could, but the porter shook
his head. Several people had arrived by the train in question.
He could not call to mind one young lady in particular. But he
was quite certain that no one had asked him the way to the Moat
House.

Tommy rejoined Julius, and explained. Depression was settling on
him like a leaden weight. He felt convinced that their quest was
going to be unsuccessful. The enemy had over three hours' start.
Three hours was more than enough for Mr. Brown. He would not
ignore the possibility of the telegram having been found.

The way seemed endless. Once they took the wrong turning and
went nearly half a mile out of their direction. It was past seven
o'clock when a small boy told them that "t' Moat House" was just
past the next corner.

A rusty iron gate swinging dismally on its hinges! An overgrown
drive thick with leaves. There was something about the place
that struck a chill to both their hearts. They went up the
deserted drive. The leaves deadened their footsteps. The
daylight was almost gone. It was like walking in a world of
ghosts. Overhead the branches flapped and creaked with a mournful
note. Occasionally a sodden leaf drifted silently down, startling
them with its cold touch on their cheek.

A turn of the drive brought them in sight of the house. That,
too, seemed empty and deserted. The shutters were closed, the
steps up to the door overgrown with moss. Was it indeed to this
desolate spot that Tuppence had been decoyed? It seemed hard to
believe that a human footstep had passed this way for months.

Julius jerked the rusty bell handle. A jangling peal rang
discordantly, echoing through the emptiness within. No one came.
They rang again and again--but there was no sign of life. Then
they walked completely round the house. Everywhere silence, and
shuttered windows. If they could believe the evidence of their
eyes the place was empty.

"Nothing doing," said Julius.

They retraced their steps slowly to the gate.

"There must be a village handy," continued the young American.
"We'd better make inquiries there. They'll know something about
the place, and whether there's been anyone there lately."

"Yes, that's not a bad idea."

Proceeding up the road, they soon came to a little hamlet. On the
outskirts of it, they met a workman swinging his bag of tools,
and Tommy stopped him with a question.

"The Moat House? It's empty. Been empty for years. Mrs;
Sweeny's got the key if you want to go over it--next to the post
office."

Tommy thanked him. They soon found the post office, which was
also a sweet and general fancy shop, and knocked at the door of
the cottage next to it. A clean, wholesome-looking woman opened
it. She readily produced the key of the Moat House.

"Though I doubt if it's the kind of place to suit you, sir. In a
terrible state of repair. Ceilings leaking and all. 'Twould need
a lot of money spent on it."

"Thanks," said Tommy cheerily. "I dare say it'll be a washout,
but houses are scarce nowadays."

"That they are," declared the woman heartily. "My daughter and
son-in-law have been looking for a decent cottage for I don't
know how long. It's all the war. Upset things terribly, it has.
But excuse me, sir, it'll be too dark for you to see much of the
house. Hadn't you better wait until to-morrow?"

"That's all right. We'll have a look around this evening,
anyway. We'd have been here before only we lost our way. What's
the best place to stay at for the night round here?"

Mrs. Sweeny looked doubtful.

"There's the Yorkshire Arms, but it's not much of a place for
gentlemen like you."

"Oh, it will do very well. Thanks. By the way, you've not had a
young lady here asking for this key to-day?"

The woman shook her head.

"No one's been over the place for a long time."

"Thanks very much."

They retraced their steps to the Moat House. As the front door
swung back on its hinges, protesting loudly, Julius struck a
match and examined the floor carefully. Then he shook his head.

"I'd swear no one's passed this way. Look at the dust. Thick.
Not a sign of a footmark."

They wandered round the deserted house. Everywhere the same
tale. Thick layers of dust apparently undisturbed.

"This gets me," said Julius. "I don't believe Tuppence was ever
in this house."

"She must have been."

Julius shook his head without replying.

"We'll go over it again to-morrow," said Tommy. "Perhaps we'll
see more in the daylight."

On the morrow they took up the search once more, and were
reluctantly forced to the conclusion that the house had not been
invaded for some considerable time. They might have left the
village altogether but for a fortunate discovery of Tommy's. As
they were retracing their steps to the gate, he gave a sudden
cry, and stooping, picked something up from among the leaves, and
held it out to Julius. It was a small gold brooch.

"That's Tuppence's!"

"Are you sure?"

"Absolutely. I've often seen her wear it."

Julius drew a deep breath.

"I guess that settles it. She came as far as here, anyway.
We'll make that pub our head-quarters, and raise hell round here
until we find her. Somebody MUST have seen her."

Forthwith the campaign began. Tommy and Julius worked separately
and together, but the result was the same. Nobody answering to
Tuppence's description had been seen in the vicinity. They were
baffled--but not discouraged. Finally they altered their
tactics. Tuppence had certainly not remained long in the
neighbourhood of the Moat House. That pointed to her having been
overcome and carried away in a car. They renewed inquiries. Had
anyone seen a car standing somewhere near the Moat House that
day? Again they met with no success.

Julius wired to town for his own car, and they scoured the
neighbourhood daily with unflagging zeal. A grey limousine on
which they had set high hopes was traced to Harrogate, and turned
out to be the property of a highly respectable maiden lady!

Each day saw them set out on a new quest. Julius was like a
hound on the leash. He followed up the slenderest clue. Every
car that had passed through the village on the fateful day was
tracked down. He forced his way into country properties and
submitted the owners of the motors to a searching
cross-examination. His apologies were as thorough as his methods,
and seldom failed in disarming the indignation of his victims;
but, as day succeeded day, they were no nearer to discovering
Tuppence's whereabouts. So well had the abduction been planned
that the girl seemed literally to have vanished into thin air.

And another preoccupation was weighing on Tommy's mind.

"Do you know how long we've been here?" he asked one morning as
they sat facing each other at breakfast. "A week! We're no
nearer to finding Tuppence, and NEXT SUNDAY IS THE 29TH!"

"Shucks!" said Julius thoughtfully. "I'd almost forgotten about
the 29th. I've been thinking of nothing but Tuppence."

"So have I. At least, I hadn't forgotten about the 29th, but it
didn't seem to matter a damn in comparison to finding Tuppence.
But to-day's the 23rd, and time's getting short. If we're ever
going to get hold of her at all, we must do it before the
29th--her life won't be worth an hour's purchase afterwards. The
hostage game will be played out by then. I'm beginning to feel
that we've made a big mistake in the way we've set about this.
We've wasted time and we're no forrader."

"I'm with you there. We've been a couple of mutts, who've bitten
off a bigger bit than they can chew. I'm going to quit fooling
right away!"

"What do you mean?"

"I'll tell you. I'm going to do what we ought to have done a
week ago. I'm going right back to London to put the case in the
hands of your British police. We fancied ourselves as sleuths.
Sleuths! It was a piece of damn-fool foolishness! I'm through!
I've had enough of it. Scotland Yard for me!"

"You're right," said Tommy slowly. "I wish to God we'd gone
there right away."

"Better late than never. We've been like a couple of babes
playing 'Here we go round the Mulberry Bush.' Now I'm going
right along to Scotland Yard to ask them to take me by the hand
and show me the way I should go. I guess the professional always
scores over the amateur in the end. Are you coming along with
me?"

Tommy shook his head.

"What's the good? One of us is enough. I might as well stay
here and nose round a bit longer. Something MIGHT turn up. One
never knows."

"Sure thing. Well, so long. I'll be back in a couple of shakes
with a few inspectors along. I shall tell them to pick out their
brightest and best."

But the course of events was not to follow the plan Julius had
laid down. Later in the day Tommy received a wire:


"Join me Manchester Midland Hotel. Important news--JULIUS."


At 7:30 that night Tommy alighted from a slow cross-country
train. Julius was on the platform.

"Thought you'd come by this train if you weren't out when my wire
arrived."

Tommy grasped him by the arm.

"What is it? Is Tuppence found?"

Julius shook his head.

"No. But I found this waiting in London. Just arrived."

He handed the telegraph form to the other. Tommy's eyes opened
as he read:


"Jane Finn found. Come Manchester Midland Hotel
immediately--PEEL EDGERTON."


Julius took the form back and folded it up.

"Queer," he said thoughtfully. "I thought that lawyer chap had
quit!"

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"MY train got in half an hour ago," explained Julius, as he ledthe way out of the station. "I reckoned you'd come by thisbefore I left London, and wired accordingly to Sir James. He'sbooked rooms for us, and will be round to dine at eight.""What made you think he'd ceased to take any interest in thecase?" asked Tommy curiously."What he said," replied Julius dryly. "The old bird's as closeas an oyster! Like all the darned lot of them, he wasn't going tocommit himself till he was sure he could deliver the goods.""I wonder," said Tommy thoughtfully.Julius turned on
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THE troubles of the future, however, soon faded before thetroubles of the present. And of these, the most immediate andpressing was that of hunger. Tommy had a healthy and vigorousappetite. The steak and chips partaken of for lunch seemed now tobelong to another decade. He regretfully recognized the factthat he would not make a success of a hunger strike.He prowled aimlessly about his prison. Once or twice hediscarded dignity, and pounded on the door. But nobody answeredthe summons."Hang it all!" said Tommy indignantly. "They can't mean tostarve me to death." A new-born fear passed
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