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Authors: James Hilton

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BOOK: Time and Time Again
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So he said now, pricking the bubble as he saw it expand: 'I wouldn't count on them letting you make any speech. If you've done nothing but write a few stupid letters they'll probably never even bring you to trial. You're just the small fish that gets into the net with the big fish, but they can't let you out till they've hauled in the catch.'

Havelock didn't like that. 'I don't know that I'm such a small fish.'

'Oh, come now, it's a bit late in life for you to make history-- even as a traitor. Don't imagine you're a Colonel Lynch or a Roger Casement.'

'That's not very civil, Charles.'

'What do you expect from me--congratulations?'

'Of course I know you don't agree with my views.'

'I not only don't agree with them, but if I knew any real evidence that you were seriously mixed up with the Germans I'd hand you over to the authorities myself. But of course I know you're relatively harmless.'

'Charles, that's not a nice thing to say.'

'Well, aren't you?' And with a sort of impish derision Charles continued: 'For instance, there's all this talk of Germans landing by parachute. Supposing one of them did, on your front lawn, what would you do? Not what would you say--or write--but what would you DO?'

Havelock pondered a moment, then his eyes lit feverishly. 'You know what? I think I'd telephone the police and have them send old Daggett. That fellow's been so officious lately about blackout curtains it would teach him a lesson. I'll bet he'd run if he even SAW a German!'

Charles was handicapped by his sense of humour at a moment like this, however serious he knew the matter to be; but he forced himself to clear up one detail that still puzzled. 'How was it,' he asked, 'that you had the name and address of a German spy in Roumania?'

'Professor Fontanescu? I didn't know he was a German spy. I just asked him to forward a letter through the German Legation there. Mere courtesy, after all. He was the man you asked me to write to about the Red-necked Phalarope. Don't you remember?'

Charles remembered. He had met the Professor once at a Bucharest reception, and learning he was an ornithologist had thought it might interest his father to be put in touch with a brother enthusiast. That was all.

'You know, Charles,' Havelock continued reproachfully, 'if this fellow was a German spy, you really ought to have warned me. You were on the spot out there . . . Isn't it the sort of thing you diplomatic people should have been aware of?'

It certainly was; but they hadn't.

* * * * *

Charles went to see Gosford the next day and reported the conversation, adding lamely: 'You may find it hard to believe, especially about Professor Fontanescu and the Red-necked Phalarope, and I daresay there's not likely to be any corroboration except from my father himself--and even he might not be in a mood to give it.'

Gosford was cool. 'This isn't much of a time for having moods.'

'I know that very well.'

'Or even for believing things that are hard to believe. Sir Havelock, after all, had a legal training--he must have known that to communicate with the enemy in wartime by ANY method would constitute an offence.'

'I agree that he must have known.'

'Yet what you tell me now seems--almost--as if you were trying to establish some degree of innocence?'

Charles paused unhappily, then nodded. 'Yes, that's so. Some degree of innocence. It's curious you should have used the phrase. Some degree of wickedness, but also some degree of innocence. That's my father all over.'

'I don't think it can really affect the situation much.'

'Probably not. Which is why I've written a letter of resignation. Here it is . . . for use if and when.' Charles placed it on the desk. It was in an unsealed envelope and he paused in case Gosford wanted to read it. When there was no move to do so, Charles continued: 'That's about all, except one thing--the result of some thought during a rather sleepless night . . . It seems to me my father oughtn't to be at a place like Beeching nowadays. Not only because of parachutists. He's talked as well as written foolish things--there's quite a bit of local feeling against him. I think he'd be better off in or near London where he can be--not exactly under my surveillance, because I suppose I'll have some kind of work to do somewhere--but at least I can keep a more frequent eye on him than in the country. . . . I don't know how far it can help matters, but it might . . . and perhaps, if I'm lucky, it will . . .'

Charles spoke the last words with difficulty. He had been hoping the letter of resignation would be refused, but Gosford had already put it in his pocket without reading it. Now Gosford got up as if to signify that there was nothing else to be discussed, no promise he could ask for or give, nothing more to do but let events take their course. All he said was: 'I assure you, Anderson, there are times when I feel tempted to resign myself.'

Charles did not think the remark either sincere or sensible, but a few days later when Gosford died suddenly of a heart attack, he remembered it. By that time the letter of resignation must have been passed to higher levels--unless, through deliberation or neglect, Gosford had kept it in his desk. In the latter event it would be there for his successor to handle. Yet his successor, when in due course he met and talked with Charles, did not mention it; so Charles didn't either. And in the meantime there came for him an official transfer to the Foreign Office.

* * * * *

Charles stayed in London, waiting for something he thought might happen at any time. It was like picking steps across a snow slope under cliffs that at any moment could dislodge an avalanche. The simile pleased him with its memories of happier days and its assurance of belonging still to at least one kind of an élite. He found a flat in Kensington, not far from his own in Chelsea, and established his father there with Cobb to look after him. None of the other Beeching servants wanted to come to London and Charles did not blame them. But Cobb was devoted to the old man, and Havelock undoubtedly returned an emotion of some sort. Since he was apt to treat his friends with far less consideration than most of them would a butler, it could well be said that he treated Cobb like a friend.

Charles told his father the reason for the move, and met with no objections. The fact that the government could think of him as a potential threat to national security seemed only to gratify Havelock's ego, and much as he disliked the attitude Charles was glad of it as an aid to making the transition easier.

Meanwhile Jane and Gerald stayed in Cheshire, where Charles joined them whenever he could, but this was not very often or regularly. There was pressure of business at the Office, and most evenings he worked late.

Early in the new year, 1940, Havelock was approached by a man who wanted to buy Beeching. Charles took him for a business man of some kind, and assumed that the rather high price he offered was either folly or the measure of his anxiety to move his family out of the likely area of air-raids. Neither Havelock nor Charles would entertain the idea at first; then all at once it began to seem attractive. Beeching was run down; it needed extensive repairs that could not be made till the war was over; the upkeep was wasteful, war work and enlistments had taken most of the staff, and there were tax considerations that made a sale more advantageous than it might ever be again. So Havelock sold Beeching. A few months later Charles learned that government engineers were laying out a huge airfield that took in most of the land, with the house left standing but derelict just beyond the end of a runway; but he could never discover exactly how much profit had been made on the resale.

* * * * *

In the drawing-room of his sister-in-law's house Charles would exchange news with Jane when he arrived there for a few days. The style of conversation was the same, but how different the items from those of earlier years. A First Secretary in a foreign capital in peacetime had been in some sort of swim; a minor Foreign Office official visiting his wife and child in an English country town during the phony war was in a backwater almost as stagnant as the war itself. Only family affection could compensate for the tedious train journey; but Charles was always thus compensated.

'Gerald looks well, Jane--I swear he's an inch taller than when I saw him last.'

'Probably. He's found a new playmate--the Grandison girl who lives at the stone house past the bridge.'

'Grandison?'

'They're a leading family here--own the local picture theatre amongst other things, so Gerald gets in free whenever he wants.'

'Fine. I'm glad he's so happy. . . . Grandison, did you say?'

'I know--you're thinking of the Grandison who used to be our pet Attaché. I don't believe he's any relative.'

'Wonder what happened to him. I'll look up the List when I get back. . . . How are Birdie and Tom?' (Jane's sister and her husband.)

'Tom thinks he'll be sent to India. Birdie's worrying about it.'

'Not a bad place to miss the war in.'

'We're missing it so far here.'

'Till it starts.'

'But for Gerald I'd rather live in London whatever happens.'

'I get more comfort thinking of you here.'

'How's Havelock?'

'In great shape. He did an amusing thing the other day--he left the flat in the morning and took the first on the right and then the first on the left and so on till the middle of the afternoon. By that time he was somewhere round Muswell Hill--at least that's what he said. Then he came back by bus.'

'Why is it so amusing?'

'Because of the idea of anyone following him--if he still is being followed. They'd probably put some old chap on the job--after all, keeping an eye on a man of eighty wouldn't seem much--and then he does a seven-mile walk all across London to nowhere! Just struck me as a bit funny. . . . But he probably isn't being followed.'

'You think they won't do any more about the letters?'

'They haven't done anything yet.'

'Except upset your career.'

'You mean the transfer to the F.O.?' (He hadn't told her about his letter of resignation--time enough to worry her if and when it had to be used.) 'That might have happened anyway.'

'I don't think it would in your case--at least not for long. You were so high up on the List and I'm sure they had something good for you.'

'Perhaps they still have.'

'Not till this business about the letters blows over.'

'Well, it will . . . let's hope.'

'Providing he doesn't send any more.'

'I think I can guarantee that. Cobb watches him--it's more feasible, in the small flat. I see him too for a short time most evenings.'

'As if you hadn't enough to do nowadays.'

'He's often quite good company.'

'You're very tolerant, Charles.'

'Well, I look at it this way--quite apart from his being my father-- I sometimes think when he's at his best--not being too eccentric, that is--suppose we'd met him at some big party--as a stranger . . . we'd both come home afterwards and talk about him. We'd say, Who WAS that man?--not just his name, but WHO? He's a WHO . . . and you can't say that of everybody.'

'Not even of everybody you like.'

'No.'

'And you CAN say it--sometimes--of people you don't like.'

Charles accepted the implication, then answered: 'I don't blame you, Jane. I daresay you feel that but for him we'd be having a much pleasanter time somewhere else.' An obscure desire to take her side in the argument made him continue: 'Yes . . . think of Vińa del Mar in February--the Cavalhos giving a party at that Chinese restaurant overlooking the sea. Not that I was ever terribly keen on the Cavalhos . . . or on Chinese food either.'

'Andy . . . tell me something, will you?'

'Yes, of course.'

'What happened at Beeching the night before I had the operation?'

Charles's face acquired the sudden protective blandness which he was afraid she knew only too well.

'What happened? Why, nothing. . . . What do you mean?'

'During dinner.'

'Dinner. Let's see, I don't think we had dinner--it was more a sort of supper--very late. Blainey was there--I'd met him at the station. . . .' He was stalling for time, of course. Since only three persons could have told her anything (Havelock, Blainey and Cobb) he did not think she could possibly know the whole story; but she clearly knew something, and he wanted to find out how much before he gave his own answer. It was a familiar situation in diplomacy, though Jane, being equally familiar with it, unfortunately knew all its tricks. He waited for her to speak while she too waited for him. Presently he said: 'If you tell me what's on your mind, I could better try to remember, perhaps. . . .'

'I just wondered what had happened.'

'But why should you think anything had happened?'

'When I saw Blainey weeks afterwards, just before Gerald was born, he asked me how I liked Havelock. I don't think he would have, in the way he did, unless he'd formed an odd impression himself, and as he'd only seen him that one time at dinner, I wondered what had happened.'

Jane always told the truth, though she did not always tell all the truth, and Charles felt reasonably certain now that she knew nothing definite, but had merely been made shrewdly suspicious by a question that Blainey had put rather naďvely. So he answered, with confidence: 'Oh, I wouldn't doubt that Blainey got an odd impression--did anyone meeting my father ever get anything else? All I remember is that we talked a lot--nervous tension--on my part, anyhow. Matter of fact Havelock would have kept Blainey up all night if I'd let him--got in one of his reminiscent moods about law cases--you know how he is at those times. . . . I think the tension affected us all.' Charles had often found that to tell the truth, casually and unimportantly, is a very effective substitute for a lie, with the additional advantage that it never requires retraction afterwards. Having told the truth in this way, he put in a little further probing of his own. 'A pity surgeons are always so busy. I'd like to see Blainey again. Did he say what HE thought of Havelock?'

'He said "You've got a rum fellow for a father-in-law".'

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