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Setting Up Operations
The Spanish Embassy, London, September 21, 1936
The whole embassy seemed to be in a continual state of uproar. This disorder was mirrored, on a lesser scale, by the personality of Senor Juan Francisco Fuentes y Martinez, the second secretary. In his interview with Mrs. Bellows, he had alternated between a showy chivalry which would have embarrassed Sir Walter Raleigh and a rudeness which bordered on the abusive. At one point, he had described her as an angel of mercy sent to save Spanish children. Almost in the next moment, he pointed his finger at her and shouted,
"You meddling rich women. You don't realize that we're at war! We don't want your pretty sentiments. We want guns and bombs!"
As Senor Fuentes continued to carry on, Eustacia amused herself by comparing him to Mr. Jenkins at her own embassy. It wasn't surprising that most of the diplomats preferred the Spanish Nationalists, quasi-fascists though they were, to such Republicans as Fuentes. The former, Eustacia felt sure, would be much less likely to shout and emote.
On the other hand, Commander Filson had told her enough about Fuentes so that she didn't take entirely seriously his present posture. According to Filson, he was no more a member of the working classes than the generals on the opposite side. His family owned estates. He was a graduate of the University of Salamanca. His private income bridged the gap between his salary and his preferred style of life in London. Of course, that didn't necessarily make him insincere. But still, Eustacia wondered how long the sincerity would last. In any case, it seemed that the Spanish workers and peasants, like so many other workers and peasants, had to submit themselves to the leadership of liberal intellectuals like Fuentes in order to gain respectability. At least for the moment.
Eustacia also understood that Fuentes and his ilk were required, in return, to wave their hands and shout in uncouth ways in order to demonstrate their solidarity with their inferiors. The only really odd thing, to her mind, was that people who looked and sounded so revolutionary actually constituted the legitimate government of Spain, and thus staffed her embassies. The rebels, by contrast, were led by the generals of the army and the bishops of the Catholic Church.
Excited though he was, Senor Fuentes made a good deal of sense when he declaimed against the church. Eustacia had certainly not known that it was a mortal sin in Spain to read a liberal newspaper. The only exception to this rule was that one was allowed to open such a paper in order to peek at the stock market quotations. Fuentes called on his not inconsiderable dramatic talents to act out the part of the man in possession of every Catholic virtue whose monetary concern is nevertheless so great that he cannot wait to find an illiberal paper in order to follow his investments. Hands shaking and head thrust forward with eyes popping, Fuentes pretended to peek at the only available newspaper, a liberal one. Then, with the most sanctimonious of smiles, he continued his pantomime by crumpling the paper and throwing it on the ground.
Next came the scenario of the village priest. A son of the people, he is given a little education and a few prerogatives which allow him to lord it over his erstwhile brothers and sisters. The fawning lackey of the local landowner, he then explains the doctrines of Jesus to the peasants. Prominent among these is the turning of the other cheek to the agents of that landowner. Fuentes, in the role of the priest, then regaled the impoverished populace with an account of the somewhat removed, but chaste, delights of the kingdom of heaven.
Eustacia, never an admirer of the priesthood, enjoyed these performances, and didn't discourage Senor Fuentes when he started on the Pope. He then oozed the moral sleaze of a man ensconced too deeply in the luxuries of the Vatican to even notice that the country had gone fascist.
Eustacia had already heard of the deal that the Pope had made with Mussollini, and she was inclined to agree when Fuentes opined that a man as resourceful as the pious old Pius would find a way of incorporating even the anti-semitism of Hitler into Christian doctrine.
Then Senor Fuentes started on rich foreigners again. This performance was as beautifully done as the others, but Eustacia realized that she ought to be insulted. Furthermore, since this elaborate act was obviously being put on solely for her benefit, it was her turn to respond. What would the arrogant Spanish beauty do in these circumstances? Slap him on the face with her glove? Eustacia's little white gloves hadn't been designed with that in mind.
In deference to English manners, and only secondarily because of the weather, she had acquired the feminine version of the English gent's tightly rolled umbrella. It was the work of a moment to stand abruptly, and, with a flick of the wrist, lay the umbrella along the side of Senor Fuentes' head. As he clutched his ear and howled, she twirled so as to lift her skirt significantly, and made for the door. She then tossed over her shoulder what she hoped was a hot sultry look.
After leaving the embassy, Eustacia made for what the English called a "coin box." Theoretically, it was the equivalent of an American public telephone booth. It was, in practise, a device which, after the deposit of huge pennies and the pressing of buttons, was as likely to connect one with the gravedigger at Bethnal Green Cemetary as the required party. Finally, with a sense of triumph, she got Commander Filson on the line. They then arranged to meet at the Tate Gallery in an hour's time.
The Tate wasn't quite as large and anonymous as the British National Gallery, but the work had the reputation of being better selected. More to the point, it had an especially attractive tea room which always had its complement of Americans. They found an isolated table, and, as soon as the waitress had departed with their orders, Eustacia described her interview with Senor Fuentes, concluding,
"He seems to me too unreliable to depend on in any way."
"That's been my assumption about everyone at the Spanish embassy. We may be trying to help them, at least as a partially intended consequence of our main object, but they're the sort of people who are better helped if they aren't told about it."
Eustacia nodded agreement and asked how the search for fighter planes was going.
"Fairly well. I happen to know an influential French politician who's been visiting here, in fact a member of the present leftist government, the Fronte Populaire. Like most French politicians, he has an interest in a private company that does business with the government, in this case an aircraft company. But he's also interested in promoting their sales to other governments, or to anyone."
It sounded to Eustacia as if Paul's acquaintance might get a cut in such transactions, but she pointed out,
"If he sells to us, any payments that go to him won't be graft, just legitimate commissions."
"If the company knows about them. But I'm not too concerned about that. In these circumstances, with the embargo on Spain, we need government connivance at such a sale."
"So, being a minister, he can provide it?"
"Yes. Since the Fronte Populaire already wants to support its friends of the left in Spain, that part can actually be arranged without money changing hands. A good thing, too. This is the first fairly honest government France has had in decades."
"What kind of fighters will we get?"
"The Mureaux Company is a fairly small one that specializes in lightweight fighters. They're small, with relatively less powerful engines, but they turn and maneuver very well."
"Are they slower and less powerfully armed?"
"They each have four seven point five millimeter machine guns, which is on the light side, but they won't be out- classed in speed in Spain, at least at the moment. The Mureaux fighters are monoplanes, and the others are flying biplanes."
"That sounds very good."
"The trouble is that I haven't involved as many intermediaries as Murphy and Stone wanted. And they aren't as anonymous as they should be. This politician, for example, is well known."
"We aren't getting planes ear-marked for the French Air Force, are we?"
"No, and that's good. There won't be some general, disappointed at not getting his three dozen fighters, who makes a stink. That could get into the papers."
"I suppose the Mureaux company has been told not to boast about this particular sale?"
"That's the first thing they were told."
"It sounds to me as if Mr. Stone will approve the deal."
"I certainly hope so. I can't imagine how else I'll ever get fighters into Spain."
"Have you also found a way to deliver them?"
"There are French civilian pilots who're willing to fly them wherever we want."
"Great. I've attempted to make up a list of the other things that'll be required. Apart from the field and what'll be needed to service the machines, it looks like the shopping list for a boarding school."
"If those things can be obtained locally, it's just a matter of money. Otherwise, shipments will have to be arranged. The supposed embargo of Spain is a very large-grained sieve through which almost anything can pass. The problem isn't getting things there, or even getting caught by the authorities. It's that our own newspaper reporters may find out."
"I know. I'm most interested, just now, in discovering whether it's business as usual in most parts of Spain, and whether you can buy eggs at the village market. If they've gone really crazy, there may be all sorts of unexpected shortages."
"The chaos of civil war can lead to famine, and even pestilence. We could hardly operate if it comes to that. So far, however, things don't seem to be nearly that bad."
Lowering his voice as some people walked by, Filson added,
"One thing we'll need is machine-gun ammunition. The Egyptian I meet under undignified circumstances says it's in short supply because of the war."
"That's natural. I wonder if I could get it here."
"Quite possibly. I've brought you the specifications and a list of people who might be able to supply it."
"Of a sort. They're the really dodgy ones that I can't risk approaching at all. They seem to cater to rebellions and insurrections all over the world."
Eustacia took the list and put it into her purse.
Berkeley Square, London, September 22, 1936.
As she walked into the square, it seemed to Eustacia that the neighborhood didn't fit the man. The man, Prince Aly Khan Tompkins, had been described as a bogus prince and sometime con man who had latched on to the thriving arms trade. As such, he was merely one of a couple of dozen colorful characters of dubious background who were furiously buying up war material and selling it at an unconscionable profit to the various factions in the Spanish Civil War.
Eustacia had half expected to find a man wearing a soiled turban in the dingy front office of a warehouse full of rusting machine guns. On the contrary, Berkeley Square appeared to be as expensive and high-toned a neighborhood as any she had encountered in her brief stay in London.
The grassy part of the square was circular, but Eustacia, looking for No. 48, proceeded along the paved rectangle which contained the circle. If there was any system to the house numbers, it wasn't evident. Her feet hurt and she wished she had taken a taxi. However, in the midst of these thoughts, she had made her way to the west side of the square, where there were numbers in the low forties. Her hopes rising, she passed a house with a placard announcing that Lord Clive of India had once lived in it.
The disappointment was hardly a surprise. No. 48 had four flats, and none of the residents had a name anything like Tompkins. There were some people named Simpson, the Rt. Hon. Herbert Hargraves, and a Dr. Lukacs. While this last, at any rate, sounded foreign, it didn't justify a push of the bell. The only other flat had the curious name, "Seven Seas Embassy." Perhaps, thought Eustacia, it was some sort of social club, something like the English-Speaking Union or the Alliance Francaise. At any rate, it would probably have a secretary who could tell her if anyone named Tompkins had ever lived there.
After her ring, there was a reassuring buzz which opened the door. Eustacia took the lift. When she emerged, she confronted a door with an elaborate hand-drawn placard. In large ornamental letters it proclaimed, "Seven Seas Empire," and then, in smaller letters, "Embassy to Great Britain." She approached the door and was about to knock when it opened. A large well-built man waved her in without speaking.
A little disconcerted, Eustacia was about to ask about a Mr. Tompkins when the man began talking about a women's polo team. He ended with,
"You look the right sort. If you'll come over here and try a few exercises, .."
From his gestures he seemed to want Eustacia to sit on the floor and spread her legs in a way that apparently had something to do with riding a horse. She had ridden a good deal when young, and didn't recognize the exercise. Instead of complying, she asked,
"Is the Seven Seas Empire a polo team?"
"No, it's a principality of oceanic domain. But we do organize polo teams, for both men and women, in various countries. I assumed you were answering my advertizement."
By this time, Eustacia had a strong suspicion that she was speaking with Prince Aly Khan Tompkins, but she wanted to find out more about him before stating her business.
"What is a principality of oceanic domain?"
"It comprises the seabed all over the world. There are unlimited deposits of minerals and oil. Soon it will become practicable to mine them. The annual royalties will run to billions of pounds."
The immediate question was whether this gentleman was completely out of his mind. Eustacia didn't think so. There was a manner about him which suggested, not that he thought himself the owner of the oceans, but that he believed himself to have perpetrated a legal trick. When he went on to say that he had registered his claims with the League of Nations, she was sure of it. Whenever someone did want to mine something from the seabed, he would be approached by Prince Tompkins waving documents and threatening lawsuits. It would turn out that the Prince's claim could be settled for a suprisingly small sum. It might be worth it to get rid of a man who could obviously make a monumental nuisance of himself.
Still without introducing herself, Eustacia established that the other was Prince Tompkins, and asked him about his title.
"It's an Arab title. I used to be spiritual leader of the Morroccans who work for the British on the Rock of Gibraltar. Then there was a plot, and I had to leave. Since then, I've been practising international law and engaging in world ordering. One thing I can do is settle the validity of titles in the Arab world. I can make you a princess if you like."
The Prince's style seemed to consist in saying outlandish things, but in the tone the English used when they were understating the reality. He offered to make her a princess in much the way that someone else might have offered her a cup of tea. She was nevertheless quite sure that, underneath it all, he was an American of fairly ordinary background.
If one ignored what the prince said, he could have been the sort of man Cynthia Harding had met in the Great Plains when she was looking for pilots. There was definitely a weather-beaten look in his eyes that could easily be imagined searching the far horizon. Indeed, there was a feel about him that reminded her of Moses Whitby, who could also produce some outlandish ideas.
The prince looked to be at least fifty, and was actually quite handsome. However, he had many small scars, and a thickened ear. Eustacia guessed that he had been a boxer, perhaps a professional one, in his youth. When she asked him if he was originally American, he replied equably enough,
"Yes. I was a bank president in New York for some years. I still hold American citizenship in addition to British and Saudi passports. I've been to Mecca, you know. That's one of the things that legitimizes me in the Arab world."
Eustacia was pretty sure that no one could hold that sort of multiple citizenship, and wondered out loud about it. In reply he laughed for the first time.
"There is some twaddle to that effect that the American government puts out. But it has no basis in international law. None at all. There's also all that stuff about the supposed illegality of multiple marriage, both in America and in this country."
The prince then paused and waved his hand in the manner of the aristocratic Englishman who knows he can make his audience wait as long as he wants to hear his next words.
"Whereas, in fact, Moslem marriages are perfectly legal in both England and America. I have four wives myself. I've never had any difficulty."
Surprisingly, Tompkins owned that he had completed the process of making himself a prince by changing his first name from "William" to "Prince Aly Khan." There was probably some similar legal trick behind the marriages. While the prince apologized that his maid was out, and went to get tea himself, Eustacia wondered why she wasn't moved to laughter. Surely it had been a long time since she had encountered anyone so ridiculous. However, he elicited neither laughter, anger, nor pity. Prince Tompkins was merely a professional with a bag of tricks. He would try them, one by one, until he found one that would net him a few pounds.
As she had expected, a new approach came with the tea. Not having responded to polo or to being made a princess, she was now being solicited in a different direction.
"You know, we have an institute of canon law at Oxford. Right now, we're exploring the rights of certain minorities in Europe, and we'll shortly be mounting a publicity campaign. We have openings for speakers, photographers, models, and the like. You might be interested .."
"Is this part of Oxford University?"
"It has the status of an independent institute attached to the university. Rather like the Oriental Institute."
"Well, I do have some interest in what's happening in Spain."
"Anything to do with Spain pierces my interest sharply."
"I'd like to do a little something to help the Republicans. I've got a friend who's gone there as a volunteer, and he may need some supplies."
"Is he in one of the International Brigades?"
"No, he's on his own, but he helps work out supply problems."
"I have a great deal of personal experience in Spain, and I can always call on the Defence Ministry of the Seven Seas Empire. Are we talking about rifles, machine guns, or what?"
"It would be machine-gun ammunition, gasoline, spare parts for trucks, things like that. Some of these things I could buy here easily enough, but I'd need help getting them to a particular place in Spain. Supplies like that would be at a premium, and there's the risk that some other unit would commandeer them en route to my friend George."
"If necessary, I'll take a troop of infantry and accompany them myself."
Eustacia had, by this time, caught the pattern of the prince's euphemisms. The Defense Ministry of the Seven Seas Empire was, of course, the prince himself in his capacity of arms dealer. The troop of infantry would be a half dozen armed thugs who got paid only after delivering the supplies. She was sure that the prince wasn't going to lead them himself. However, if he knew which thugs to hire, all would be well. The only real question would be the cost. She showed him the specifications for the ammunition, and he promised to work up some estimates.
The very evening of her meeting with Prince Tompkins, Eustacia realized that she had a problem. She would soon be buying such things as seven and a half millimeter ammunition for the guns of the fighters, but she had no idea what it was supposed to look like, still less any way of telling whether it was defective. She couldn't buy it from a reputable firm anywhere without exciting suspicion, and it was obvious that people like Tompkins would be likely to give her defective material. She suspected that Commander Filson knew hardly more than she did about such things, and, in any case, she couldn't compromise him, or any other American officer or diplomat by having him look at the merchandise.
Eustacia went to bed with her problem, but, in the morning, she thought of an approach to it. After making some calls, she went to Victoria Station and took a train for one of the distant suburbs of South London. She there took a bus to Biggin Hill, the location of an RAF Fighter Command station.
After exploring the immediate area on foot, she discovered that there were two pubs within easy walking distance of the entrance to the station. Since it was nearly lunch time, and there were a good many men around, both civilians and RAF personnel, she headed for the nearer of the two.
Eustacia had learned that every pub was divided in two. There was the Saloon Bar for the gentry, and the Public Bar for the lower orders. Assuming that the officers would go to the former, she headed for the latter, the one that would be patronized by what the English called "other ranks." She wanted, not a pilot, but the sort of man who worked on planes and serviced the guns.
Unfortunately, she had barely entered when the man behind the bar called out,
"Sorry love, other side."
She hardly understood, but there was muttering all around and cries of,
"Leave er alone, cant yer?"
Finally, the man came out from behind the bar and conducted her, not out into the street, but into the saloon bar. She still couldn't understand what he said, but did understood clearly enough that he thought her the wrong sort of person for the public bar.
Since her misadventure had attracted attention, she was now welcomed rather fulsomely by the men standing around with glasses and sandwiches on plates. Several were pilots, and one, a squadron leader, approached her in a proprietarial way. It seemed that, in that particular pub, pilots took precedence. And, of course, the squadron leader was allowed to try his luck without interference from his subordinates.
Eustacia, knowing better than to try to interfere with the English order of things, let him get her a half bitter. Then, having admitted that she was rather hungry, he provided a plate with some rather curious looking sausages and peas. She was, in fact, hungry enough to eat them without asking questions.
Like everyone else, she ate standing up. Her new-found friend had been with another man, a civilian a little older than himself, and the three introduced themselves. Eustacia gave her name as Eustacia Somoza, a Spanish national. Squadron Leader Tebbit took her to be joking, and said,
"You're obviously American. You couldn't be anything else."
Eustacia spoke a few sentences in Spanish, and then explained,
"I've lived in Florida and learned to speak English there, but my home is near Barcelona."
The other man, whose name was Donald Cross, remained sceptical in a good-natured way, and showed signs of tactfully disappearing. Tebbit fairly shouted,
"Not a bit of it, Donald. Eustacia will be my dinner partner Saturday week. In the meantime, I'm delighted to share her company with you."
Eustacia didn't contradict him, and soon felt an arm around her waist as they huddled close together in the noisy crush to make themselves heard. Even so, their communication was less than perfect. It was jolly for all that, and, when Tebbit had shortly to leave, he made her swear on her honor as a Girl Scout that the telephone number she had given him was the correct one.
As soon as he had left, Donald Cross, indicating his departed friend with a nod, said,
"Roger's quite a boy. You won't be bored if you go about with him."
"He may be too much a boy for me. I may have to find a duenna to chaperon us."
Cross wasn't a particularly glamorous man, but Eustacia's interest was immediately aroused when he told her that he was with Vickers, the armament manufacturers. She asked,
"Are you here on business?"
"Yes. The pilots are always complaining that their wing guns jam, and I do what I can. I also attempt to convince chaps like Roger that it's not all our fault."
He spoke with pleasant self-deprecation in a voice that sounded less aristocratic but more intelligent than that of Tebbit. It was also obvious that he didn't fancy himself the man to have an affair with an exciting woman. Eustacia knew that he would be harder to attach than someone louder and more brash, but was happy when he cheerfully agreed to her suggestion that they have a cup of tea in more quiet circumstances.
Once settled in a rather dirty little bakery and tea room down the street, Eustacia pointed his attention to the children who were leaving sticky fingerprints on the glass cases.
"I once worked in a place such as this, with special responsibility for keeping the glass clean. Just by looking at them as they came in the door, I could tell which children would put their hands on the glass."
"Didn't they all?"
"On no. There's a sort of solemn child who'll stand with his hands behind his back and stare at the cakes while he makes his decision."
As it happened, just such a child then entered. After considering the matter carefully, he handed over thruppence and departed with a large bun which he nibbled carefully. After a while, Donald asked casually,
"By the way, you aren't a spy are you?"
Eustacia, believing that she had done rather well, was taken quite aback. When she finally asked him why he thought that, he replied,
"You were hanging about in a pub near the Biggin Hill airfield. And, while Roger does rather well with the ladies, he usually doesn't have quite that easy a time of it. Besides, it was directly after I told you that I worked for Vickers that you invited me to tea."
"Well, I am an agent of a foreign government, the Spanish one."
"That I can believe. The other side would be a bit more organized about these things."
"Which side are you for."
"If you weren't an American, you'd already know. My accent is a working class one. My sentiments are therefore republican."
"You don't sound working class to me."
"I do to Roger. We technical people do lose some of our original accent, but, unless we're turncoats, we don't come to love the aristocracy, either English or Spanish. I still won't tell you any secrets, though."
"I don't want any. I'm an agent, not a spy. There's something I need rather desperately though. It would take only an hour or so of your time, and I'm prepared to do almost anything, either before, afterwards, or both."
"I suppose I might ask what I'd be asked to do."
"I'm having a shipment sent to Spain. It includes machine gun ammunition that I'm buying from a disreputable dealer, and I have no way of knowing if it's any good."
Her companion remained silent for some time. He then replied,
"That's something I could do. I'm somewhat inclined to help the Republicans in little ways, and my actions would be only marginally illegal. That is, I could look at the stuff and tell you what I think. But I couldn't enter into any sort of negotiation."
"That's wonderful! I've really been worried. As for the rest, I don't know if you're married, but everything's up to you."
"I may have to think about it a bit. I am married, but not in a very satisfactory way. Are you actually going out with Roger?"
"Yes. I don't play those cheap little tricks. I may resist him, though."
"I see. I'm not quite sure what I want to do."
"Don't agonize over it. I certainly don't want to cause you problems. Let's just go for a walk in the woods and see what happens."
Roger smiled in a way in which he hadn't before, and put down money for the tea.
In the next few days Eustacia had a series of meetings with Prince Tompkins. His price was, of course, high. But it included delivery, and they were hardly in a position to take bids. She and Filson decided to pay the price, but add some conditions.
The next day, Tompkins called, claiming that he had arranged shipment in a small tramp steamer which was due to sail for the Mediterranean in a few day's time. Her shipment could be unloaded at Barcelona relatively anonymously, along with the rest of the ship's cargo.
Eustacia insisted on seeing the supplies, and was taken to a small warehouse south of the Thames. It was mostly filled with old machinery, but, at the back, there were a number of gray-green cases. The prince himself pried them open with a crowbar to reveal the ammunition in its belts. Eustacia selected a few cartridges at random, and put them into the large bag she had brought with her.
They were in Bermondsey, an industrial district, and Eustacia, to the prince's amazement, insisted on walking around to see the sights. He soon disappeared in the taxi that had brought them, at which point Eustacia walked slowly down the street.
It wasn't long before the schoolchildren got out of school and came traipsing down the street. Most passed by the warehouse, but there was one girl of thirteen or so who was about to go into a rather depressing-looking house across the street. On impulse, Eustacia called to her.
The girl was rather plain, and, since she had been the only one walking alone, Eustacia judged that she was unpopular. Her expression, not exactly sour, suggested a slightly amused contempt for most of what she surveyed, including Eustacia. The latter, deciding that the girl was intelligent, said,
"There's a man who wants to cheat me, and I'd like to hire you to help me."
The girl laughed outright and replied,
"You have to make them pay first."
Eustacia, not thrilled at being taken for a prostitute, was nevertheless impressed by the girl's speech. People from the meaner districts of London usually spoke in ways that she could hardly understand, but this girl was evidently the local intellectual. She then proceeded to explain,
"I'm buying some cases of radio parts that are stored in that warehouse from a man who's a bit dodgy. I've checked them, but I'm afraid he'll come in at night with a lorry and exchange them for used or defective parts."
"You'll need several watchers, and, of course, we'll have to tie threads to the doors to see if they've been opened."
"Can you recruit some reliable people who won't talk about it?"
The young lady, Hortense by name, indicated that she could. She then added,
"There's almost no traffic there. We'd best put broken glass and nails so as to puncture the tyres of any lorry that might back in. That'll have to be done at night, and it may run to some money."
Delighted that she had found someone with such organizational abilities, Eustacia named a generous figure. It was accepted, with an advance, in matter-of-fact fashion. It was also arranged that Hortense would give Eustacia daily reports.
Eustacia immediately called Donald Cross at his hotel and arranged to bring the cartrides to him. It took her almost an hour to get there, but, when Cross saw the cartridges, he recognized them immediately.
"These are from a reliable manufacturer, and they'll fit your guns."
He then removed a number of small tools from a case and set about disassembling the cartridge with the remark,
"There's only a minimal chance that we'll have an explosion here."
There was no explosion, but Cross tasted a powder that spilled out and pronounced the cartridge genuine. Eustacia liked him, but, on the whole, was glad that he didn't have much time before his train left from Victoria.
Meeting Hortense after school the next day in a rather squalid little cafe, Eustacia was somewhat dismayed when the girl said quietly,
"Your ammunition hasn't been touched."
In response to Eustacia's unspoken question, she continued,
"My brother helped me get in at the back last night. We also attached some threads to the cases. I've some diagrams that'll show you where they are."
There was nothing for it but to take Hortense in on the scheme to send munitions to Spain. She didn't seem at all surprised, and replied in her usual reasonable tone,
"Getting it actually on board the ship will be the tricky part. You'll have to insist that we go in the lorry. You can sit with the driver, and I'll be in the back with the cases. Or, if you'd prefer, we could follow secretly in a car and watch to see if they try some sort of switch."
"That would be riskier. We'd better go along with it."
The Surrey Commercial Docks consisted of a maze of canals, pools, and locks which, rather improbably, were connected to the sea. Unlike the big docks on the north side of the Thames with their great ships and giant cranes, these had only scattered small ships. Most were hidden by warehouses and buildings which contained offices, shops, and pubs. Eustacia, sitting between Prince Tompkins and the driver, was amazed at the way the latter could thread his way over the cobbled quays through the crowds of people, baggage carts, bicycles, and intoxicated seaman reeling out of the pubs.
They arrived at the opposite side of the Norway Dock from the ship, a rusty little freighter already heavily laden. As they made their way slowly over a diminutive hump- backed bridge, the prince ordered the driver to keep going in the direction of the next dock.
Eustacia herself saw the customs inspector in his uniform. While they ordinarily inspected only incoming shipments, under the embargo they had the additional duty of checking outbound shipments to Spain or southern Europe. When they stopped in the next dock, the prince explained,
"He has to cover the whole area. He'll probably move on if we just wait a bit."
The trouble was that the ship couldn't wait much longer without missing the tide which equalized the water on the lock gates and allowed them to open. It would arouse suspicion if they attempted to have the ship lay over twelve hours for the next high tide.
Hortense had gotten out and was standing with them as they conferred. She suddenly looked to Eustacia and said,
"We can create a diversion, and the others can put the cases with the ones that are already being loaded."
The prince wasn't one who took advice from children, but it seemed to Eustacia that they had little to lose. She asked for details and Hortense replied,
"I should be in school now, so I'll play the truant in front of the pub. You should come up, scream at me, and take hold of my hair. I'll manage from that point."
Eustacia followed Hortense the short distance to the Norway dock. Peeking around the corner, she saw that the ship had only a little left to load as Hortense strolled toward the pub which was half-way to the ship. The customs inspector had his back to them, but he turned quickly when Eustacia let out a piercing scream.
Eustacia, with both hands buried in Hortense's lush red hair, supposed that she must be hurting her as they staggered and stumbled along. The inspector was approaching briskly, and was, Eustacia thought, about to say, "See here, we can't have any of that here."
Eustacia was beginning to run out of things to scream at Hortense when she found herself flipped over on her back near the edge of the wharf. She had lost her grip on Hortense's hair, and lying on her back with her skirts up as she kicked at Hortense, she was herself aware of a powerful kick in the ribs. The inspector had now grabbed Hortense from the back, but Eustacia, aware of the dynamics of such situations, grabbed him and screamed that he was molesting her child.
In the three-way struggle that ensued, Eustacia bit and scratched without really being aware of Hortense's grand design. When she found herself hurtling off the edge of the wharf into the water, she wasn't at all prepared for the shock.
It seemed to take forever before she came to the surface of the filthy water. Spluttering and spitting water, Eustacia was about to swim when she realized that the ammunition might, even then, be up in the cargo slings on its way into the ship's hold. The customs inspector was looking right down at her when she gave at least a passable imitation of someone about to drown.
Given the traditional chivalry of the British bureaucrat, it didn't take much. He jumped, making a great splash and coming up near Eustacia. She quickly got the impression that she was the better swimmer, but allowed herself to be rescued and taken in tow. It was a lucky thing that the inspector, wallowing along with one hand on Eustacia's arm, didn't seem to realize how hard it would be to rescue a person who was actually drowning.
A ladder was only some fifteen feet away, but it took them a long time in the chilly water to reach it. Eustacia, having lost her shoes, slowly mounted the rungs with the inspector behind her. Happy to see the ship casting off from the dock, she looked up to see Hortense smiling down at her. When Eustacia apologized very meekly at the top of the ladder, the inspector merely smiled and trudged off squaekily in his wet shoes in the direction of his office in an adjoining dock.
Prince Tompkins looked pleased, and, when the inspector had disappeared, they got back into the lorry, Hortense sitting on the prince's lap. Eustacia could only congratulate Hortense on her ingenuity as she sat, cold and dripping, on the seat.
It was after they had dropped Hortense off, with a number of five pound
notes for her efforts, that Eustacia, happy with the results of her mission
but thoroughly miserable physically, found the prince much more sympathetic.
He had the driver stop outside a shop were he bought her dry clothing,
and even a couple of towels. They then stopped near a public ladies room,
which was surprisingly clean. Once Eustacia had herself dry and respectably
dressed, she invited the prince for supper at a nearby Indian restaurant.
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