Authors: Helen Macinnes
ALSO BY HELEN MacINNES
AND AVAILABLE FROM TITAN BOOKS
Pray for a Brave Heart
Assignment in Brittany
North From Rome
Decision at Delphi
The Venetian Affair
The Salzburg Connection
Print edition ISBN: 9781781161531
E-book edition ISBN: 9781781161593
Published by Titan Books
A division of Titan Publishing Group Ltd 144 Southwark Street, London SE1 0UP
First edition: June 2012
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
© 1941, 2012 by the Estate of Helen MacInnes. All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.
Printed and bound in Great Britain by CPI Group Ltd.
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THE SONG WHICH FRANCES SANG
Lully, Lulla, thou little tiny child, By by, lully lullay.
O sisters too,
How may we do For to preserve this day This poor youngling,
For whom we do sing,
By by, lully lullay?
Herod, the King,
In his raging,
Charged he hath this day His men of might,
In his own sight,
All young children to slay.
That woe is me,
Poor child, for thee!
And ever morn and day,
For thy parting Neither say nor sing
By by, lully lullay!
Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors
(fifteenth century). This song is sung by the women of Bethlehem in the play, just before Herod’s soldiers come in to slaughter their children.
This June day seemed, to Frances Myles, very much like any other summer day in Oxford. She walked slowly along Jowett Walk, watching the gentle five-o’clock sun bring out the bronze in the leaves overhead. This was her favourite part of the road leading to her husband’s college. On her left the grey walls which hid the gardens of the Holywell houses were crowned with rambler roses. To her right were the playing fields with their stretches of soft green grass, and beyond them were the straightness of poplar, the roundness of chestnut and elm. Today there were only a few men practising at the nets: most of them were packing or going to end-of-term parties. Like herself, she thought, and quickened her pace. She was probably late again. She hoped guiltily that Richard would have enough work to occupy him, while he waited for her at College. He generally had… But it was difficult to hurry on a summer day like this: there were so many things to enjoy, like
the twenty shades of green all around her, or the patterns of unevenly cut stones in the high walls, or the way in which a young man would catch a cricket ball and lazily throw it back. Little things, but then the last few months had made the little things important.
She entered Holywell, and hurried along its curve of old houses until she reached the Broad. There her pace slackened again and she halted at a bookseller’s window. Richard’s new book on English lyric poetry was well displayed. It was selling, too, which had been a pleasant surprise. (The bookseller had explained that away rather harshly: people were buying strange books now, it sort of soothed their minds.) She smiled to herself in the window at her totally unpoetic thoughts. A selling book would be a help towards another summer among the mountains. Another summer, or a last summer, she wondered, and turned away from the window. Once all you had to do was to decide what mountains you’d like to climb and then spend the winter writing reviews and articles to cover the train fares, and there you were. But each year it was becoming more difficult. She thought of past summers in the Tyrol, in the Dolomites. Once you could walk over mountain paths and spend the evenings round a table in the village inn. There had been singing and dancing, and lighthearted talk and friendly laughter. But now there were uniforms and regulations. Self-consciousness and uncertainty controlled even the jokes. Now you might only laugh at certain things. Now conversations with foreigners were apt to end in arguments.
Richard had discussed all this with her last night before they fell asleep. He had voted for one last look at Europe in peacetime, such as it was. There were still countries where one
could breathe as one liked. Perhaps the premonition that this day was very unlike any other summer day for Frances Myles had laid its cold finger on her heart… Or it may have been the thought of Oxford as it might easily become next term. At any rate, the lightness had gone out of her step.
The young college porter was standing at the lodge gate. She tried to make her smile brighter than she felt.
“How is the new baby?” she asked.
He beamed with pride. “Just splendid, ma’am, thank you. Mr. Myles is waiting in his room. He has just ’phoned down to ask if you had arrived. I’ll tell him you’re here.” He moved back into the lodge. Frances remembered he had joined the Territorial Army in March, just after the seizure of Prague. Nowadays she kept remembering details like that. She hurried through the quadrangle, and began the climb to Richard’s room.
The oak was sported. She thumped on its massive panels, and drew back as she heard Richard open the room door first before he could let the heavy oak door swing out. He was smiling, with that guess-what look.
“Hello, darling,” she said. “Quite like old times to sport your oak. Why all the precautions?” He wiped her lipstick off his chin as he drew her into the room, fastening the two doors behind them.
“We’ve a visitor, Fran.”
It was Peter—Peter Galt.
He grinned and held out both his hands. “Hello, Frances, you look quite startled.”
“Peter! But we thought you were in Bucharest. When did you get back?”
“Two or three weeks ago. I would have written you if I could. I’ve just been explaining to Richard. I’ve purposely not written you. And I am not staying with you, either. I am putting up at the Mitre.”
Frances turned to her husband in dismay. “Richard, what’s the matter with him?”
Richard handed her a glass of sherry. He refilled Peter’s glass and then his own, with maddening concentration, before he spoke. “Peter got into a jam.”
“A jam? Peter?” She sat down on the nearest chair. She looked so charmingly anxious under her ridiculous hat that Peter hastened to reassure her.
“Don’t worry, Frances. It all turned out rather well in the end. But it did make it necessary for me to be recalled.” He grinned, and added, “Ill-health, of course.”
“Of course…” Frances was less alarmed, but she was still curious. She waited for an explanation. It was Richard who said in a non-committal way, as he placed an ashtray beside her, “He got entangled with a spy.”
“Well, I only hope she was beautiful,” Frances said. “I mean, if you
do things like that you may as well make the most of it.” She smiled as she looked up at the correctly dressed young man balancing against the fireplace. She had always hoped that Peter would never get entangled with anyone who wasn’t beautiful. She watched his calm face and the shy smile, and wondered. To a stranger he would seem just another elegant minor secretary to a British Embassy.
“Unfortunately it was a he,” said Peter. “And, to be quite
truthful, I didn’t get entangled with him. He got entangled with me.”
“You look such easy meat, really, Peter.”
“That was an asset anyway.”
“And so you had to come back to England.” Frances was still unable to take Peter quite seriously. “He isn’t after your blood, is he?”
“He can’t do that. Bucharest dealt with him. But his friends might think I learned too much before that happened.”
“But, Peter, you don’t mix that kind of—politics with diplomacy, do you?”
“He did the mixing. Now I am waiting for all the commotion to die down.”
Peter gave a good imitation of his old smile, but Frances, watching his eyes, was already revising her opinion about this visit. Something serious was behind it all. When she spoke her voice had dropped all hint of teasing.
“Is that all?”
Richard, sitting on the edge of his desk, gave a laugh.
“Out with it, Peter. It’s no good being diplomatic with Frances. She can see through a brick wall as quickly as anyone.”
Peter finished his sherry. As he looked from Frances to Richard he seemed to be making up his mind about something… Or perhaps he was deciding how to begin. They both suddenly realised the change in him. He was an older, a more business-like Peter. And he was worried. His fingers played nervously with the stem of the sherry glass. He was choosing his next words with care.
“Frances is quite right. I am not in the F.O. any longer: I’ve been put on to other work. And that’s why I am here.” He
glanced at his watch, and his next words were spoken more quickly. “I’m afraid this visit combines business with pleasure, and we haven’t very much time for everything I want to tell you. So you’ll understand if I begin abruptly… We haven’t the time for any build-up which would enlist your sympathy and make things easier for me. I’ll just have to start with the story, and hope for the best.
“First of all, I didn’t want to give anyone the idea that I have been in touch with you. So I didn’t let you know I was coming to Oxford, and I can’t stay with you. Even the porter at the lodge doesn’t know I’m with you: he thinks I am visiting old Meyrick. The reason is I have a job for you to do, and I hope you’ll agree to do it. It shouldn’t be dangerous; tiresome, perhaps, and certainly a blasted nuisance, but not actually dangerous if you stick to the directions.” He shot a quick glance at Richard, and added with emphasis, “You are just the people we need for it. You are both above any suspicion, and you’ve a good chance of getting through.”
Richard looked at Peter speculatively. “What on earth is it?” he asked. “And why?”
“I’d better tell you about the job first,” Peter answered. “The whys and wherefores can wait until the end. I am sorry if it develops into a kind of lecture, but I’d like you to get all the details quite straight. One of the reasons why I thought of you for this job, Richard, is your memory. If you’d take a mental note of things as I explain them that would save a lot of time.”
“The job is simply this. I’ve been hoping that you would go abroad as usual this summer, and that you’d travel by Paris, meet a man there, and then continue the journey as he directs.
At the end of it you should be able to send us some information which we need very badly. That’s the general outline. Now here are the particulars. I’ll give you no trimmings—just the facts.
“When you get to Paris just do as you always do. Stay at your usual hotel, eat at your favourite places, visit the usual mixture of museums and night clubs. Keep on doing that for some days—long enough, anyway, to establish your innocent-tourist reputation. And then, on Saturday night, visit the Café de la Paix. Sit at an outside table towards the left. Order Cointreau with your coffee. Frances will be wearing a red rose. Don’t notice anyone or anything in particular. About eleven o’clock Richard will upset his Cointreau. (He will be glad of an excuse not to drink it anyway, if I know Richard.) Your waiter will come and mop up. That and the red rose are the signal. A man will approach your table, and that’s the moment for one of you to speak. The sentence should begin, ‘Mrs.
told me we must see…’ and add the name of some place you’ve decided on. Pretend to talk; keep it all natural, but be on guard for the number which the man will give you somehow. That’s the key of this whole business. For if you go next day to the place which you mentioned, at exactly
one hour later
than the number which he gives you, you will get into real touch with him. And he has a message for you.