Somewhere in Scotland
Espionage is a Wearing Business
Recent events on the Russian Finnish border have taken their toll on Jasper Wylie, Director of Window Displays at “Chez Nous”, Scotland’s leading interior decorators,Chairman of the local History Society Capodimonte Collectors’ Club member and founder of the World War I “Museum in a Shed”. After all, he was only going to Leningrad to talk about historic Scottish connections with Russia and hopefully find one or two new speakers for next session of what his wife calls “the Hysterical”. He was not a spy he had not gone to kill someone, the petty cash certainly didn’t run to that.
Jasper has woken up.
He is now sitting up in bed with a breakfast tray across his legs and teddy is sitting to one side. He is talking to himself; he feels alternately confused and excited, but that’s the effect of pheno-barbitone.
No Muriel, No Pyjama Cord and Too Much Tartan
All I can say is that this room could do with some of Muriel’s Marvellousness, it looks like someone has decorated it for Queen Victoria’s Highland visit in 1844 and it has been untouched since. Whoever thought the Balmoral Look was desirable? Why even that stag’s head only has one eye , perhaps that’s because the mismatch of tartan patterns on carpet, curtains and cushions have sent him blind and that fox looks distinctly unfriendly – mind you so would I if my head was stuck on that cheap bit of wood.
I have never really been one for the wholesale slaughter of animals for the purposes of sport or for anything really. Here, however, we have all manner of deceased animals under glass in a range of attitudes like humans in a tableau vivant, except these will never be vivant again. If Muriel were here she would soon brighten the place up with some emulsion and some fresh bark cloth cushions. At least I have breakfast brought to me, but it’s not quite the same as a Mrs Travers’ “full Scottish” and for some reason they don’t give you a knife so the food comes ready cut up which is thoughtful I suppose. They are very thoughtful, but I feel rather lost without my shoe laces and pyjama cord.
I have been catching up on my reading; there is a book case under the window. The window by the way is covered in an attractive panel of wrought iron. I imagine this so that no one can get in as this is such a remote location. I have already read Maugham’s Ashenden by well known writer Somerset Maugham, in which a playwright is recruited by Colonel R, a British intelligence officer, and goes off on a series of adventures. Buchan’s Thirty Nine Steps of course I know so well and was written by Lord Tweedsmuir who used to be John Buchan, but one of my favourites is Childer’s Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers, who was really Robert Erskine Childers. His character Carruthers discovers that the Germans are dredging through the shifting sands to link rail and canals so that an army can invade Britain. An expatriate kills himself by throwing himself into the sea to avoid a charge of treason, rather like Mrs Blenheim Crawford; but wait now, just a minute, I remember she didn’t jump she was pushed and it was me I pushed her off that bridge. I killed Mrs Blenheim Crawford! Oh Good Lord! I am a murderer and the History Society Committee elections are next month.
The Sound of Keys
There are the sounds of keys at the door followed by a knock. A bald headed gentleman in a white coat enters with a nurse in a pale blue dress with a white apron and cap and a middle aged woman in black and someone Jasper recognises; it is the Handsome Stranger.
Visitors at the Bedside
“Good morning Mr Wylie” said the bald headed man, “ I hope you have slept well and have enjoyed your breakfast, I rather like the Black Pudding myself and the eggs are from our own farm. Some of our guests like to collect the eggs themselves in the mornings. The marmalade is from our own pantry as well. Those guests whom we feel are able to work with sharp knives and boiling fruit rather enjoy the opportunity to work with cook. And once you’re a bit steadier on your feet we can organise a shoot – good practice in the field – for you to bring home dinner. Oh I do apologise , I am letting my epicurean tendencies runaway with me, it might just be the genesis of a paper for my favourite journal , “The Fruit Cake” – sorry only joking in poor taste, I realise, but it has been a long night and administering that electric shock treatment is so wearing. I am Professor Brian Stem and
this is Sister Syrie Bellum, I believe you know Sir Roger de Coverley and last but not least Aunty Thelma.”
Boiled Eggs and Nuts
“Thank you Professor and on the subject of food, it’s not easy to eat a fried egg with just a spoon even if it does have serrated edges. To be honest I could do with another slice of toast and a fresh pot of tea. Mrs T, she is our woman what does but not a lot. says one can never have enough tea and toast in the morning and when we have boiled eggs, we always have two because as Noddy says one boiled egg is never enough.”
Turning to Sister the Professor says in his best bedside manner, “Either we’ve overdone the phenol or this one is completely nuts! Everyone knows it’s Big Ears who liked two boiled eggs.” Turning to Jasper and looking down on him as they are all doing because he is in bed and they are standing, giving them all an advantage, “Sorry Mr Wylie, I know you are exhausted and yes we shall have some more tea sent up.”
“And Professor, am I exhausted?”
“Oh totally. Barking I would say, but not to worry we will soon have you tickitty boo and right as rain and ready to go back to the trenches.”
Sir Roger Steps in
“Professor” interrupted Sir Roger, “the First World Unpleasantness has been over for 38 years.”
“Good God, time flies when you are having fun! In that case I recommend a soap and water enema, nothing like some shavings of carbolic, a length of tube and an enamel funnel to perk one up. Furthermore, I recommend that he be honourably discharged from his unit and mentioned in dispatches”.
“Professor, if I might interrupt” said Sir Roger
“Of course you can, especially if you have something constructive to say about trench foot.”
“Jasper I know you are feeling rather woozy,” said Sir Roger, but that is just the effect of a sedative. You were in a pity bad way when you landed at Renfrew Airport; we had to take precautions. Once you’re up and had a shave and got dressed you will better.”
“Where am I? Where is Muriel? Muriel will be looking for me. How did I get here?”
“I am afraid I cannot tell you where you are for reasons of National Security, but you are safe and in good hands here, isn’t he Auntie Thelma?”
“Oh indeed you are safe as houses in fact” chirped Thelma; “one might say this is a safe house.”
“As to your Lady wife, Mrs Wylie is quite safe and well indeed as we speak I gather she is giving a flower arranging class in Daly’s department store. She sends her love and a thousand piece jigsaw made from a photograph of herself in George Square. You came here by private ambulance as Mrs Wylie said she wasn’t having your delicate parts handled by nationalised health workers. Let us just say it was all arranged by Mother in London on behalf of the family.”
Jasper is Confused by his New Found Relations
“What family I haven’t got much family left now and my mother was killed in a custard powder factory explosion and who exactly is this Aunt Thelma, I have no Aunt Thelma.”
“I apologise Jasper I realise that this is all a bit much for you at the moment and I certainly do not mean to trifle with your memories. The Family protect Britain’s security interests and because of your unexpected involvement with your new “in-laws” we have to assign you to a temporary Aunty. In your case this is Major Thelma, her second name does not matter but she masterminded the tea and coffee arrangements at the Yalta Conference in 1945; she will be your contact for the moment.”
“And the Sister here” said an increasingly irritated voice from the bed “I suppose she was behind the drinks prior to the Normandy beach landings?”
“No, sorry to disappoint” , said Sir Roger “that was your wife actually.
No, Sister is just here to give you a blanket bath and to take you down to arts and crafts, where you are going to make a lovely stool.”
Jasper, an Artist’s Model
The Professor, who was sketching an outline of Jasper for a watercolour competition for the Easter edition of the Scottish magazine about art in asylums called “Are yoose aff yer heid”, suddenly looked up and spoke “All well and good, but has the patient anything to say? Anything he would like to get off his mind? It is, after all, all in the mind. By the way don’t you think this is coming on rather well? Horned rimmed spectacles are difficult at the best of times, but the forehead is rather good. I think I am in with a chance.”
Jasper’s Need to Confess
“Well yes I do have something to say. You see I have done something terrible. I pushed the secretary of our local History Society into a fast flowing river on the border between Russia and Finland and killed her. I murdered a very good typist and added to which we have the AGM next month and she has – I mean had – all my notes for the annual report. I have done a wicked thing, even if she lied to me and was really a secret agent; I still shoved her
on that icy bridge.”
Absolution from Sir Roger
“Mr Wylie”, responded Sir Roger, “while you are indeed a brave and resourceful man – who could forget your monograph on “Pulpit Falls through the Ages”? – I am afraid, however, I have to disappoint you in the matter of the unfortunate demise of Comrade
Puttapon. You see I was there, and you were deliberately pushed by the Soviets. You fell into Mrs Blenheim Crawford, I mean General Puttapon, who caught her/his high heel in the hem of that rather dowdy and outdated, (even in soviet terms) tweed hobble skirt, with the embroidered hem and button detail and red coat. This caused her/him to slip on the mixture of ice and golden syrup, the latter for some unaccountable reason spread by your wife’s cousin Lulubelle, who is an American, and Puttappon went over the side rails of the bridge. You hit your head on the rails and have been suffering from concussion and a degree of memory loss. You see, Mr Wylie Mrs BC was a double agent and neither we nor the soviets would have let her/him leave the bridge alive. She/he knew too much about us
both. You did not bring Mrs BC down my friend.”
In It Up to His Neck?
“Does that mean I can go home? It is the weekend and there will be a new iced gingerbread, added to which I have the shop windows to do for Easter; I am thinking of a Russian theme”
“I am sorry, but you need a little more rest” said Sir Roger in a caring way “and Aunt Thelma wants to chat to you a little more, you have a rather attractive wooden stool with woven top to make and I thought we could have a few strolls in the country together. I feel we should get to know one another a little more. Now I wonder if you might sign this.”
“Oh Jasper – if I may – this is The Official Secrets Act, because you see you also now know too much. Just here… and here… and here. That’s splendid, thank you and by the way there is nothing untoward going on between your wife and myself – you see apart from my work I play the accordion. Now once you are dressed, what about a little walk? If you don’t mind I would rather like to talk to you about a little problem that is brewing concerning a canal.”
“Oh you mean like the canals in Riddle of the Sands?” said Jasper enthusiastically.
“Well sort of old chap” replied Sir Roger “except this time the sands are in Egypt.”
“You don’t mean Suez do you?”
“Exactly Sir Anthony is frightfully worried.”
“Oh how interesting. Muriel’s grandfather of course had an interest in the Suez Canal. Let me think….dredgers; they had an interest in a shipping company that built the dredgers.”
“I should have known Muriel would have had a hand in linking east and west somehow, but not Muriel’s sort of ships; they are so unattractive” added Sir Roger, smiling.
“Unattractive maybe,” said Jasper getting up to put on his clothes “but I can tell you a series of mechanical buckets going up and down a river or canal is a very lucrative thing.”
And Just Who Is the One in Need of Care?
“Splendid case conference” said the Professor with enthusiasm putting down his HB, “bit of a shirker though, I’d say. No wonder we mucked up in the Dardanelles, just rub in whale oil that keeps the trench foot away, Stick some moss in that open wound, full of iodine don’t you know, absorbs 20 time its own weight in fluid, now ………wait for me…..charge…………”
Jasper got up and dressed and he and Sir Roger set off on their walk.
Later that Evening
The telephone rings at Glasgow’s most desirable West End residence.
“I’ll get it Mrs Travers. Good evening, Muriel Wylie’s residence, it is she.”
“Good evening Muriel, it’s a friend of Mother’s calling to say the family are all well.”
“Oh good, I take it he believed you then?”
“Yes I am certain.”
“I am so relieved. He could never have lived with the knowledge that he did what he did.”
“Oh indeed he did do what he did and he has probably prevented the development of a terrible machine. For the Blenheim Crawford woman was not only a 150 word a minute shorthand typist she was developing a typewriter which when connected to a sort of television would have given access to all the knowledge in the world and done away with the postcard.”
“How very dangerous!” exclaimed Muriel. “Postcards are so very useful.”
“Indeed dangerous, particularly in the wrong hands. He has just saved civilisation as we know it, but he will never know.”
“What about our canal trip?” asked Muriel “Is it on?”
“Oh I think he rather likes the idea, but we can wait for warmer weather. By the way are those Lucien Day Cushions still reduced in Chez Nous?”
Resting – March 1956