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|The Secret Adversary||Agatha Christie|
XXIII A Race Against Time
|Page 1 of 4||
AFTER ringing up Sir James, Tommy's next procedure was to make a call at South Audley Mansions. He found Albert discharging his professional duties, and introduced himself without more ado as a friend of Tuppence's. Albert unbent immediately.
"Things has been very quiet here lately," he said wistfully. "Hope the young lady's keeping well, sir?"
"That's just the point, Albert. She's disappeared." You don't mean as the crooks have got her?"
"In the Underworld?"
"No, dash it all, in this world!"
"It's a h'expression, sir," explained Albert. "At the pictures the crooks always have a restoorant in the Underworld. But do you think as they've done her in, sir?"
"I hope not. By the way, have you by any chance an aunt, a cousin, a grandmother, or any other suitable female relation who might be represented as being likely to kick the bucket?"
A delighted grin spread slowly over Albert's countenance.
"I'm on, sir. My poor aunt what lives in the country has been mortal bad for a long time, and she's asking for me with her dying breath."
Tommy nodded approval.
"Can you report this in the proper quarter and meet me at Charing Cross in an hour's time?"
"I'll be there, sir. You can count on me."
As Tommy had judged, the faithful Albert proved an invaluable ally. The two took up their quarters at the inn in Gatehouse. To Albert fell the task of collecting information There was no difficulty about it.
Astley Priors was the property of a Dr. Adams. The doctor no longer practiced, had retired, the landlord believed, but he took a few private patients--here the good fellow tapped his forehead knowingly--"balmy ones! You understand!" The doctor was a popular figure in the village, subscribed freely to all the local sports--"a very pleasant, affable gentleman." Been there long? Oh, a matter of ten years or so--might be longer. Scientific gentleman, he was. Professors and people often came down from town to see him. Anyway, it was a gay house, always visitors.
In the face of all this volubility, Tommy felt doubts. Was it possible that this genial, well-known figure could be in reality a dangerous criminal? His life seemed so open and aboveboard. No hint of sinister doings. Suppose it was all a gigantic mistake? Tommy felt a cold chill at the thought.
Then he remembered the private patients--"balmy ones." He inquired carefully if there was a young lady amongst them, describing Tuppence. But nothing much seemed to be known about the patients--they were seldom seen outside the grounds. A guarded description of Annette also failed to provoke recognition.
Astley Priors was a pleasant red-brick edifice, surrounded by well-wooded grounds which effectually shielded the house from observation from the road.
On the first evening Tommy, accompanied by Albert, explored the grounds. Owing to Albert's insistence they dragged themselves along painfully on their stomachs, thereby producing a great deal more noise than if they had stood upright. In any case, these precautions were totally unnecessary. The grounds, like those of any other private house after nightfall, seemed untenanted. Tommy had imagined a possible fierce watchdog. Albert's fancy ran to a puma, or a tame cobra. But they reached a shrubbery near the house quite unmolested.
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