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The Humber Convertible

Olga Wojtas

“I say, Unwin, isn’t that – ?”

“Indeed it is. Dawkins’ Aunt Phoebe.”

“No, I was going to say isn’t that the Mark IV Super Snipe?”

“I beg your pardon?” 

“The car – the Humber convertible – I’m sure it’s the Mark IV.”

“I really couldn’t say. You clearly have the advantage of me as far as vehicles are concerned.”

“And you have the advantage of me as far as Dawkins’ aunt is concerned. Should I know her?”

“You most certainly should. The Hon Mrs Ashton. Our Mata Hari during the Great War.”

“The portly elderly lady sitting in the Humber? She looks like an Edwardian relic.”

“Ah, but remember that her glory days were almost forty years ago, when she was neither portly nor elderly. One of our best operatives. They say she could slit a man’s throat and be twenty miles away before he realised he was dead.”

“How very alarming. No wonder Dawkins always looks so nervous. And her chauffeur has a very hang-dog expression.” 

“Keep your voice down, man! That isn’t her chauffeur, that’s her husband.”

“Oh, good lord, do you think she heard? She’s looking straight at us. Dear me, we’re being summoned.” 

“I’m sure she can’t have heard, but do please be a little more circumspect and remember that she is a national heroine even though the nation will never know it.”

*

“Mr Unwin! How do you do?”

“How do you do, Mrs Ashton? How do you do, Mr Ashton? May I introduce my colleague Pagett? He works in the same department as your nephew.” 

“How do you do, Mr Pagett? And how is our darling Freddie?” 

“He’s very well, Mrs Ashton. Very highly regarded in the department, and indeed in the organisation as a whole.”

“How kind of you, Mr Pagett. I hope he knows his duty. I must say it’s a great reassurance that the security of our country is in good hands. Mr Unwin, a little bird tells me you’re currently working on a matter of some delicacy. But forgive me – I fear I’ve embarrassed you. Please don’t imagine for a moment that I would ask you to divulge confidential information. Mr Pagett, I believe I noticed you taking some interest in our little car?” 

“Didn’t I tell you, Pagett? Mrs Ashton, I see you have lost none of your skills. I wonder how long you had us under surveillance?” 

“I was admiring the car very much, Mrs Ashton. A Mark IV Super Snipe, isn’t it?” 

“Good gracious, I wouldn’t have the first idea. It is entirely Mr Ashton’s province; I merely sit in the back and enjoy the passing scenery. My dear, is this a Mark IV Super Snipe?” 

“That’s exactly what it is, the latest model.”

“I see you know your cars, Mr Pagett. We had stopped to plan our route, and had decided on Richmond – would you care to come for a short spin?”

“Thank you, but I wouldn’t dream of imposing. And we must get back.” 

“Nonsense! Mr Unwin, I’m sure you’d like to see Richmond. Do persuade your friend that the safety of the realm doesn’t depend entirely on you two gentlemen, and you’ll be back by – how long will it take, my dear?”

“Back by half-past two.” 

“There, half-past two – that’s not too bad, is it? What do you say, Mr Pagett?” 

*

“Not one of our more elegant escapades, my dear.”

“But successful nonetheless. And remember, Phoebe, these young men are the elite.”

“I still thought we would have more time before they realised. Mr Pagett was easy enough, sitting next to me. But I really did think you were going to lose control of the car when Mr Unwin proved so difficult.” 

“I might have done, had it not been for you. You are really quite remarkable, dear girl. Unwin was quite correct when he said you had lost none of your skills.” 

“Oh, you flatterer! So, Harwich or Liverpool?”

“Holyhead and then Dublin. Leave the itinerary to me.” 

“I shall, my dear, of course. I’m rather sorry about Mr Pagett – such a charming young man and so complimentary about the car.” 

“I trust you’re not becoming sentimental – we needed Pagett in order to get Unwin to come with us. Unwin was proving far too thorough an investigator and tomorrow could have been too late.”

“You’re absolutely right, as always. But Mr Pagett was a colleague of Freddie’s. I suppose I’m just a little worried about Freddie’s reaction, and whether he’ll be very cross with me.” 

“Phoebe, my dear, if you’re so concerned, then drop him an explanatory note when we reach Moscow.”