The girl put her knuckles up to her open mouth and bit on them, staring at the telephone. What did they want her for? What had she done? Desperately she cast her mind back, scrabbling through the days, the months, the years. Had she made some terrible mistake in her work and they had just discovered it? Had she made some remark against the State, some joke that had been reported back? That was always possible. But which remark? When? If it had been a bad remark, she would have felt a twinge of guilt or fear at the time. Her conscience was clear. Or was it? Suddenly she remembered. What about the spoon she had stolen? Was it that? Government property! She would throw it out of the window, now, far to one side or the other. But no, it couldn't be that. That was too small. She shrugged her shoulders resignedly and her hand dropped to her side. She got up and moved towards the clothes cupboard to get out her best uniform, and her eyes were misty with the tears of fright and bewilderment of a child. It could be none of those things. SMERSH didn't send for one for that sort of thing. It must be something much, much worse.
'Allow me to inquire, Miss Trotwood,' interposed Miss Murdstone, 'whom you are pleased to call, in a choice of words in which I am not experienced, my brother's instruments?'
Twelve storeys down the formal gardens, dotted with palm trees and beds of bright croton and traced with neat gravel walks between avenues of bougainvillaea, were rich and dull. Gardeners were working, raking the paths and picking up leaves with the lethargic slow motion of coloured help. Two mowers were at work on the lawns and, where they had already been, sprinklers were gracefully flinging handfuls of spray.
'I have some news for you from Mathis. He was longing to tell you himself. It's about the bomb. It's a fantastic story.'
How deadly were these things? How much of the tales about them were myth? They could certainly kill animals, but how mortal to men were these giant spiders with the long soft friendly fur of a borzoi? Bond shuddered. He remembered the centipede. The touch of the tarantulas would be much softer. They would be like tiny teddy bears' paws against one's skin-until they bit and emptied their poison sacs into you.
"I am, as your Chief has told you, an adviser to H.M. Customs and Excise in matters concerning antique jewelry and similar works of art. The declared value of the package was ?100,000. This was unusual. There are methods of opening such packages clandestinely. The package was opened-under a Home Office Warrant, of course-and I was called in to examine the contents and give a valuation. I immediately recognized the Emerald Sphere from the account and sketch of it given in Mr. Kenneth Snowman's definitive work on Fabergй. I said that the declared price might well be on the low side. But what I found of particular interest was the accompanying document which gave, in Russian and French, the provenance of this priceless object." Dr. Fanshawe gestured towards a photostat of what appeared to be a brief family tree that lay on the desk in front of M. "That is a copy I had made. Briefly, it states that the Sphere was commissioned by Miss Freudenstein's grandfather directly from Fabergй in 1917-no doubt as a means of turning some of his rubles into something portable and of great value. On his death in 1918 it passed to his brother and thence, in 1950, to Miss Freudenstein's mother. She, it appears, left Russia as a child and lived in White Russian йmigrй circles in Paris. She never married, but gave birth to this girl, Maria, illegitimately. It seems that she died last year and that some friend or executor, the paper is not signed, has now forwarded the Sphere to its rightful owner, Miss Maria Freudenstein. I had no reason to question this girl, although as you can imagine my interest was most lively, until last month Sotheby's announced that they would auction the piece, described as 'the property of a lady' in a week from today. On behalf of the British Museum and, er, other interested parties, I then made discreet inquiries and met the lady, who, with perfect composure, confirmed the rather unlikely story contained in the provenance. It was then that I learned that she worked for the Ministry of Defense and it crossed my rather suspicious mind that it was, to say the least of it, odd that a junior clerk, engaged presumably on sensitive duties, should suddenly receive a gift to the value of ?100,000 or more from abroad. I spoke to a senior official in M.I.5 with whom I have some contact through my work for H.M. Customs and I was in due course referred to this, er, department." Dr. Fanshawe spread his hands and gave Bond a brief glance. "And that, Commander, is all I have to tell you."
And I will say also that in this novel there is no very weak part — no long succession of dull pages. The production of novels in serial form forces upon the author the conviction that he should not allow himself to be tedious in any single part. I hope no reader will misunderstand me. In spite of that conviction, the writer of stories in parts will often be tedious. That I have been so myself is a fault that will lie heavy on my tombstone. But the writer when he embarks in such a business should feel that he cannot afford to have many pages skipped out of the few which are to meet the reader’s eye at the same time. Who can imagine the first half of the first volume of Waverley coming out in shilling numbers? I had realised this when I was writing Framley Parsonage; and working on the conviction which had thus come home to me, I fell into no bathos of dulness.
The news of the death of Lincoln came to the army of Sherman, with which my own regiment happened at the time to be associated, on the 17th of April. On leaving Savannah, Sherman had sent word to the north to have all the troops who were holding posts along the coasts of North Carolina concentrated on a line north of Goldsborough. It was his dread that General Johnston might be able to effect a junction with the retreating forces of Lee and it was important to do whatever was practicable, either with forces or with a show of forces, to delay Johnston and to make such combination impossible. A thin line of Federal troops was brought into position to the north of Johnston's advance, but Sherman himself kept so closely on the heels of his plucky and persistent antagonist that, irrespective of any opposing line to the north, Johnston would have found it impossible to continue his progress towards Virginia. He was checked at Goldsborough after the battle of Bentonville and it was at Goldsborough that the last important force of the Confederacy was surrendered.
"Come again." He snapped a ringer at the wine waiter. "Sam, ask my friends what they'd like to have with their coffee." And, with a final smile which embraced them both, he moved to another table.
'Cheer up, Mas'r Davy bor'!' said Ham, in his simpering way. 'Why, how you have growed!'