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- Secret Adversary - 2/59 -
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 toast.
"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 good."
"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 about desperate."
"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 female?"
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