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CHAPTER 21 - VESPER

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I was absent on this occasion something over three months, and on my return I went back with energy to my work at the St. Paul’s Magazine. The first novel in it from my own pen was called Phineas Finn, in which I commenced a series of semi-political tales. As I was debarred from expressing my opinions in the House of Commons, I took this method of declaring myself. And as I could not take my seat on those benches where I might possibly have been shone upon by the Speaker’s eye, I had humbly to crave his permission for a seat in the gallery, so that I might thus become conversant with the ways and doings of the House in which some of my scenes were to be placed. The Speaker was very gracious, and gave me a running order for, I think, a couple of months. It was enough, at any rate, to enable me often to be very tired — and, as I have been assured by members, to talk of the proceedings almost as well as though Fortune had enabled me to fall asleep within the House itself.

Though for some years the policy of ‘synthetic war’ instituted by the Russian and Chinese rulers was very successful, it was bound sooner or later to fail. For its success, the two imperial powers had to be approximately equal in strength. So long as this condition held, each party respected the other’s interests and relied on the other’s co-operation. Thus a serious rebellion against the Russian authorities in Capetown was crushed by a vigorous Chinese air raid. South Africans were persuaded to believe that defence against Chinese aggression was at the time more important than the assertion of local rights against the Russian government, which after all was far less methodically ruthless than its rival. On the other hand when, in the course of a successful Russian offensive in Manchuria, the power of the local Chinese authorities began to break, and a progressive anti-war party attempted to make an independent peace so as to found a new, independent, and socialistic state, the Chinese government telephoned to Moscow to stop the offensive until the rebels had been crushed. The request was complied with, and all military action against the Chinese forces ceased. Only in the region of the Khingan Mountains, where the rebels had set up their government, did the Russians continue hostilities, attacking from the west while the Chinese pressed forward from the east. And how brilliantly the jockey had done it! His head so well down that even Pissaro would have to admit Bell couldn't see the other horse. The natural curve-in for the final straight. The head still well down as he passed the post and the whip flailing for the last few lengths as if Tingaling still thought himself only half a length ahead of No3. "Okay, folks! Come on out and you won't get hurt."

James Bond looked me in the eyes, but his own didn't see me. He said, "We lost two of our side and another wounded. They lost the German, and one of theirs, and the other two won't last long. But the battlefield was a nasty sight and, well"-his face looked suddenly drawn and tired-"I've seen enough of this sort of thing. After the various post-mortems were over I wanted to get away. My headquarters, and the Mounties backed them up, wanted me to report the whole case to Washington, to our opposite numbers there, to get their help in cleaning up the American end of the Mechanics gang. The Mechanics had been given a nasty jolt, and the Mounties Special Branch thought it would be a good idea to follow up while they were still groggy. I said all right, but that I would like to drive down and not just dash off in an aeroplane or train. That was allowed so long as I didn't take more than three days, and I hired this car and started at dawn this morning. I was going all right, pretty fast, when I ran into the hell of a storm, the tail of yours I suppose. I got through it as far as Lake George, and I meant to stay the night there, but it looked such a hellish place that when I saw a sign up at a side road advertising this motel I took a chance." He smiled at me, and now he looked quite cheerful again. "Perhaps something told me you were at the end of the road and that you were in trouble. Anyway, I had a puncture a mile from here, and here I am." He smiled again, and reached out and put his hand on mine on the counter. "Funny the way things work out!"

He said softly, "You're in trouble, bimbo. Horror's a mean guy. He'll hurt you bad. Now you say 'Yes' to me for tonight, and promise to act sweet, and mebbe I can get the heat taken off. Howsabout it, baby?"

'I can't make it out,' said Mr. Dick, shaking his head. 'There's something wrong, somewhere. However, it was very soon after the mistake was made of putting some of the trouble out of King Charles's head into my head, that the man first came. I was walking out with Miss Trotwood after tea, just at dark, and there he was, close to our house.'

Charles. [Retreating.] A fig for your gun!