A SET BACK
The moment was not quite so triumphant as it ought to have been. To begin with, the resources of Tommy’s pockets were somewhat limited. In the end the fare was managed, the lady recollecting a plebeian twopence, and the driver, still holding the varied assortment of coins in his hand, was prevailed upon to move on, which he did after one last hoarse demand as to what the gentleman thought he was giving him?
“I think you’ve given him too much, Tommy,” said Tuppence innocently. “I fancy he wants to give some of it back.”
It was possibly this remark which induced the driver to move away.
“Well,” said Mr. Beresford, at length able to relieve his feelings, “what the—dickens, did you want to take a taxi for?”
“I was afraid I might be late and keep you waiting,” said Tuppence gently.
“Afraid—you—might—be—late! Oh, Lord, I give it up!” said Mr. Beresford.
“And really and truly,” continued Tuppence, opening her eyes very wide, “I haven’t got anything smaller than a five-pound note.”
“You did that part of it very well, old bean, but all the same the fellow wasn’t taken in—not for a moment!”
“No,” said Tuppence thoughtfully, “he didn’t believe it. That’s the curious part about speaking the truth. No one does believe it. I found that out this morning. Now let’s go to lunch. How about the Savoy?”
“How about the Ritz?”
“On second thoughts, I prefer the Piccadilly. It’s nearer. We shan’t have to take another taxi. Come along.”
“Is this a new brand of humour? Or is your brain really unhinged?” inquired Tommy.
“Your last supposition is the correct one. I have come into money, and the shock has been too much for me! For that particular form of mental trouble an eminent physician recommends unlimited Hors d’œuvre, Lobster à l’américane, Chicken Newberg, and Pêche Melba! Let’s go and get them!”
“Tuppence, old girl, what has really come over you?”
“Oh, unbelieving one!” Tuppence wrenched open her bag. “Look here, and here, and here!”
“Great Jehosaphat! My dear girl, don’t wave Fishers aloft like that!”
“They’re not Fishers. They’re five times better than Fishers, and this one’s ten times better!”
“I must have been drinking unawares! Am I dreaming, Tuppence, or do I really behold a large quantity of five-pound notes being waved about in a dangerous fashion?”
“Even so, O King! Now, will you come and have lunch?”
“I’ll come anywhere. But what have you been doing? Holding up a bank?”
“All in good time. What an awful place Piccadilly Circus is. There’s a huge bus bearing down on us. It would be too terrible if they killed the five-pound notes!”
“Grill room?” inquired Tommy, as they reached the opposite pavement in safety.
“The other’s more expensive,” demurred Tuppence.
“That’s mere wicked wanton extravagance. Come on below.”
“Are you sure I can get all the things I want there?”
“That extremely unwholesome menu you were outlining just now? Of course you can—or as much as is good for you, anyway.”
“And now tell me,” said Tommy, unable to restrain his pent-up curiosity any longer, as they sat in state surrounded by the many hors d’œuvre of Tuppence’s dreams.
Miss Cowley told him.
“And the curious part of it is,” she ended, “that I really did invent the name of Jane Finn! I didn’t want to give my own because of poor father—in case I should get mixed up in anything shady.”
“Perhaps that’s so,” said Tommy slowly. “But you didn’t invent it.”
“No. I told it to you. Don’t you remember, I said yesterday I’d overheard two people talking about a female called Jane Finn? That’s what brought the name into your mind so pat.”
“So you did. I remember now. How extraordinary——” Tuppence tailed off into silence. Suddenly she aroused herself. “Tommy!”
“What were they like, the two men you passed?”
Tommy frowned in an effort at remembrance.
“One was a big fat sort of chap. Clean shaven, I think—and dark.”
“That’s him,” cried Tuppence, in an ungrammatical squeal. “That’s Whittington! What was the other man like?”
“I can’t remember. I didn’t notice him particularly. It was really the outlandish name that caught my attention.”
“And people say that coincidences don’t happen!” Tuppence tackled her Pêche Melba happily.
But Tommy had become serious.
“Look here, Tuppence, old girl, what is this going to lead to?”
“More money,” replied his companion.
“I know that. You’ve only got one idea in your head. What I mean is, what about the next step? How are you going to keep the game up?”
“Oh!” Tuppence laid down her spoon. “You’re right, Tommy, it is a bit of a poser.”
“After all, you know, you can’t bluff him forever. You’re sure to slip up sooner or later. And, anyway, I’m not at all sure that it isn’t actionable—blackmail, you know.”
“Nonsense. Blackmail is saying you’ll tell unless you are given money. Now, there’s nothing I could tell, because I don’t really know anything.”
“Hm,” said Tommy doubtfully. “Well, anyway, what are we going to do? Whittington was in a hurry to get rid of you this morning, but next time he’ll want to know something more before he parts with his money. He’ll want to know how much you know, and where you got your information from, and a lot of other things that you can’t cope with. What are you going to do about it?”
Tuppence frowned severely.
“We must think. Order some Turkish coffee, Tommy. Stimulating to the brain. Oh, dear, what a lot I have eaten!”
“You have made rather a hog of yourself! So have I for that matter, but I flatter myself that my choice of dishes was more judicious than yours. Two coffees.” (This was to the waiter.) “One Turkish, one French.”
Tuppence sipped her coffee with a deeply reflective air, and snubbed Tommy when he spoke to her.
“Be quiet. I’m thinking.”
“Shades of Pelmanism!” said Tommy, and relapsed into silence.
“There!” said Tuppence at last. “I’ve got a plan. Obviously what we’ve got to do is to find out more about it all.”
“Don’t jeer. We can only find out through Whittington. We must discover where he lives, what he does—sleuth him, in fact! Now I can’t do it, because he knows me, but he only saw you for a minute or two in Lyons’. He’s not likely to recognize you. After all, one young man is much like another.”
“I repudiate that remark utterly. I’m sure my pleasing features and distinguished appearance would single me out from any crowd.”
“My plan is this,” Tuppence went on calmly, “I’ll go alone to-morrow. I’ll put him off again like I did to-day. It doesn’t matter if I don’t get any more money at once. Fifty pounds ought to last us a few days.”
“Or even longer!”
“You’ll hang about outside. When I come out I shan’t speak to you in case he’s watching. But I’ll take up my stand somewhere near, and when he comes out of the building I’ll drop a handkerchief or something, and off you go!”
“Off I go where?”
“Follow him, of course, silly! What do you think of the idea?”
“Sort of thing one reads about in books. I somehow feel that in real life one will feel a bit of an ass standing in the street for hours with nothing to do. People will wonder what I’m up to.”
“Not in the city. Every one’s in such a hurry. Probably no one will even notice you at all.”
“That’s the second time you’ve made that sort of remark. Never mind, I forgive you. Anyway, it will be rather a lark. What are you doing this afternoon?”
“Well,” said Tuppence meditatively. “I had thought of hats! Or perhaps silk stockings! Or perhaps——”
“Hold hard,” admonished Tommy. “There’s a limit to fifty pounds! But let’s do dinner and a show to-night at all events.”
The day passed pleasantly. The evening even more so. Two of the five-pound notes were now irretrievably dead.
They met by arrangement the following morning and proceeded citywards. Tommy remained on the opposite side of the road while Tuppence plunged into the building.
Tommy strolled slowly down to the end of the street, then back again. Just as he came abreast of the building, Tuppence darted across the road.
“Yes. What’s up?”
“The place is shut. I can’t make anyone hear.”
“Isn’t it? Come up with me, and let’s try again.”
Tommy followed her. As they passed the third floor landing a young clerk came out of an office. He hesitated a moment, then addressed himself to Tuppence.
“Were you wanting the Esthonia Glassware?”
“It’s closed down. Since yesterday afternoon. Company being wound up, they say. Not that I’ve ever heard of it myself. But anyway the office is to let.”
“Th—thank you,” faltered Tuppence. “I suppose you don’t know Mr. Whittington’s address?”
“Afraid I don’t. They left rather suddenly.”
“Thank you very much,” said Tommy. “Come on, Tuppence.”
They descended to the street again where they gazed at one another blankly.
“That’s torn it,” said Tommy at length.
“And I never suspected it,” wailed Tuppence.
“Cheer up, old thing, it can’t be helped.”
“Can’t it, though!” Tuppence’s little chin shot out defiantly. “Do you think this is the end? If so, you’re wrong. It’s just the beginning!”
“The beginning of what?”
“Of our adventure! Tommy, don’t you see, if they are scared enough to run away like this, it shows that there must be a lot in this Jane Finn business! Well, we’ll get to the bottom of it. We’ll run them down! We’ll be sleuths in earnest!”
“Yes, but there’s no one left to sleuth.”
“No, that’s why we’ll have to start all over again. Lend me that bit of pencil. Thanks. Wait a minute—don’t interrupt. There!” Tuppence handed back the pencil, and surveyed the piece of paper on which she had written with a satisfied eye:
“You’re not going to put that thing in after all?”
“No, it’s a different one.” She handed him the slip of paper.
Tommy read the words on it aloud:
“WANTED, any information respecting Jane Finn. Apply Y. A.”
To be continued…
Read previous chapters here: Chapters 1-2