Authors: Anthony Price
Tags: #Fiction, #Espionage
How Colonel Butler’s
breakfast was spoilt
loved all his three girls equally, but (as he was accustomed to tell himself when they presented their problems to him) differently. Because, notwithstanding the identical red of their hair, they were entirely different people.
And that was why Jane had his attention now across the breakfast table, absolutely but unequally with the disquiet which he might have diverted from his
to Sally or Diana.
“I said, Father,” she repeated, “I think I have done something rather silly.”
“Yes.” Butler nodded gravely, just as he would have done for Sally or Diana, but without the pretence which paternal gravity would have required for them. “I heard you the first time, Jane.”
He stopped there, and the difference widened with his silence and hers. With Sally and Diana he would have added some soothing verbal placebo. But then, with Sally it would have been merely something to do with horses, and with Diana merely something to do with men; but it was
horse that Sally loved, not (in spite of temporary infatuations) any particular horse; and Diana, whose physical resemblance to her late mother went disturbingly more than skin deep, seemed to feel much the same way about men; and in both cases Colonel Butler and his money had together proved more than a match for any emergency in the past.
But Jane was different.
“Tell me—” Butler overcame his Anglo-Saxon reticence with a conscious effort “—darling.”
With Jane it was different: with Jane, from the moment when she had ceased to be a thing and had become a person, life had been reason and calculation, not emotion. With Jane, Butler had never been sure whether she was the least loving or the most loving of his children—whether, because she felt most deeply, she had armoured herself most carefully against feeling, or whether, because she felt nothing, she was impervious to life’s shot and shell. And so, because he loved her
, he had found himself worrying about her more, because she brought him fewer problems, and those almost purely academic, balancing one relative benefit coldly against another:
(she excelled at both)?
(mathematician or barrister, and no serious question about entry, but a faint sympathy in Butler himself for other mathematicians or prisoners at the bar eventually … just as his ultimate sympathy in her sisters’ cases was not truly with them, but with the horses and men they chose to ride into the ground, which were the animals with which—with whom—he himself could identify, having been similarly ridden in his time)?
But she was still his daughter—his flesh and his red hair and his responsibility and his equal love; and now—his instinct and experience both told—
she was in deep trouble at last, who had never been in such trouble before
The realisation of that, cold as the shrill, distant sound of Chinese bugles blowing the charge against the last handful of his company in Korea, stripped all Butler’s worries away from him momentarily (the true leak at Cheltenham, which was not the one the Russians had so carefully let them have … Mitchell and Andrew could only handle that at a pinch; but the problem with the Americans could only be dealt with by David Audley, whose own private links with the CIA would have to be cashed in when he got back from leave …. So he would have to give St John Latimer
at Cheltenham—the more he disliked Latimer, who hated Audley, the more he inconveniently needed both of them to do what had to be done—even though Audley coveted that job …).
But for the moment it was Jane who mattered—
“Tell me, darling.” This time he managed something close to encouragement, if not sympathy.
“Yes …” Some other process of reasoning, very different in content, but equal in duration and sufficient to nerve her to answer him, animated Jane “… Father, you remember when I took the little car last week … ?”
As though summoned by the memory, Sally breezed out of the kitchen into the breakfast-room, carrying her enormous horsewoman’s breakfast.
“I remember. It was last Saturday, to be exact,” Sally agreed. “Because I had to get a lift to the gymkhana the other side of Winchester that day—”
“Go and eat in the kitchen, Sal.” Jane looked up at her sister uncompromisingly. “I’ve got business to transact with Father.”
Sally gave her younger sibling one quick, sharp glance, and then picked up the plate again and was gone before Butler could say a word. And that, if anything had been required to consolidate Butler’s disquiet, confirmed it beyond question: however much they might be at odds on day-to-day matters, they never failed to decode each other’s Most Urgent signals in an emergency.
was what worried him now. Because, where Sally and Diana were given to hyperbole, Jane’s weakness was understatement, so that she would not admit to being unwell until she was too ill to walk.
Suddenly, he found himself simultaneously suppressing reasons for panic while discounting them:
she was only nineteen years old, but hard-headed and sensible with it… but she was still only nineteen years old
The Mini was still in pristine condition—he had washed it himself on Sunday, and it bore no marks of any chance encounters—and Jane wasn’t the hit-and-run type— Or …
. Butler had staked his life on several occasions when the odds were better not computed, but he was quite happy to stake it again this morning across the breakfast-table that his youngest daughter wasn’t pregnant. All the known facts of circumstance and character were against it, apart from the cheerfulness of her greeting only a few minutes before—
Only a few minutes before? Butler’s eyes dropped to the table, to beside her plate on it: one letter, but hand-written, not official—just a few lines on a single sheet of paper, without even an address so far as he could see at the distance and upside-down—hardly more than a brief scrawl, but signed with a flourish—
He raised his eyes to meet hers, with his imagination up against a blank wall of incomprehension.
“I went to see David, Father.”
“David?” Jane had no boyfriend named
. In fact, Jane had no boy-friend, full-stop.
“Uncle David, Father.”
Butler was there as she spoke.
—and, somewhat to his surprise, that in itself was reassuring: no matter how eccentric, even maverick, Audley might be in professional matters, when it came to Jane he had no doubt that the man would behave responsibly. Even … with the untimely death of Jane’s godfather, Audley rather quaintly regarded himself as an unofficial substitute for that role, for which only one other parent had regarded him suitable, to his chagrin.
So, for once at least, and in this instance in particular, Audley could be trusted, surely—
Surely? He looked at Jane. “You went to see David Audley?”
“About Becky, Father—Becky Smith.” Jane nodded.
“Becky Smith?” Butler repeated the name blankly, aware that he might have registered any young man’s name for future reference, but that no female from school or university would have fixed herself in his mind unless he could add a face to a name. And there was no file in his memory on any
“Rebecca Maxwell-Smith—you don’t know her, Father, but I’ve mentioned her. She’s reading Law with me—we live the same hall of residence … I had dinner with her in grandfather once—you remember, I
Something faintly registered now, but only faintly. “So?” He was ashamed to admit the faint registration.
“So she had this hare-brained idea—more than harebrained, bloody
But she was hell-bent on it, and there wasn’t anything I could do to stop her—absolutely bloody
But I thought I had to stop her
…” She tailed off, and the very imprecision of her account of what Rebecca Maxwell-Smith was hell-bent on re-animated Butler’s concern, for all that it was safely one step away from her now; because if there was one thing that Jane Butler was—apart from being nineteen and hard-headed and sensible—it was to the point. And at the moment she was circling the point like a mongoose round a snake.
Even Butler himself was infected by her caution. “Why didn’t you come to me?” She would come to the vital answer in her own good time, with no need for the question.
“You didn’t come home on Friday.” She excused herself by accusing him. “Becky phoned—I was going to ask you, but you weren’t there … And you always said, if there was a problem Nannie Hooker couldn’t solve, and you weren’t here, we could phone Uncle David.”
, thought Butler. But that was for
problems. And the odds on this one are that you probably wouldn’t have asked me anyway.… Yet, at the same time, it was the old fatal error he had made, of giving a precise command imprecisely, so that she had been able to obey him in circumstances he had not envisaged, disobediently.
“So what did he say?” This time, as he phrased the indirect question with false sincerity, leaving Rebecca Maxwell-Smith’s as-yet-unrevealed madness even further behind, he felt that little frisson of excitement he always did where David Audley was involved: no one could ever be quite sure what Audley would do in any situation, including Audley himself.
“He said he’d help—of course.” Jane’s expression indicated that she had only just discovered what her father and others had learnt by experience. “But now I’ve received this from Becky—!”
She pushed the letter across the table towards Butler.
There were only a dozen or so words on it, with no sender’s address, as he had already noted, and no date either.
Thanks a million for sending us your David
Now we really have a chance of pulling it off—
Butler looked at his daughter interrogatively.
“He wasn’t meant to
them,” said Jane. “He wasn’t meant to help them pull it off—he was meant
She was coming to it now, at last, thought Butler. But, whatever ‘it’ was, at least she wasn’t directly involved in it.
He concealed his overwhelming relief behind a frown.
Jane frowned back at him. “They’re planning to murder someone, Father,” she said.
Colonel Butler closed the door of his library behind him, shutting out the sound of the girls’ argument over which of them was going to drive the Mini, and went over to the huge mock-Tudor window.
One of Sally’s horses was cropping the grass right up against the white fence on the other side of the forecourt. As he stared at it, the animal seemed to sense his presence and looked up towards the house incuriously for a moment. Then it lowered its head again and the grass-tearing sound re-started. On the far side of the paddock, the other two horses were similarly engaged in their endless breakfast-lunch-tea-dinner, and beyond them, the field by the road was dotted with cows which at this distance reminded him of Brittain’s farm toys with which the girls had played when they were little and untroublesome.
Butler turned his back on the scene. It had served its purpose, because now he no longer wished to commit a murder of his own, both to pre-empt that which was allegedly in train and to punish the would-be murderers for the ruination of the quiet weekend with his girls, to which he had been looking forward.
Now commonsense and reason, disciplined by duty, had reasserted themselves. There were even books there on the shelves to remind him—
, high up on the left—that the rebellious American colonies had been supposedly lost because of the devotion of King George III’s ministers to carefree weekends … and
, two shelves down and to the right, that ‘lose not an hour’ had been Horatio Nelson’s watchword.