from a diary:
A TALE OF TWO LIDOS
by Simon Barber
Amelia, Lady Allworthy (neé Amelia Bourne-Phipps) & her friends
(educated adventuresses all, and warrior priestesses, some)
fly from Newfoundland across the Atlantic to Europe - August 1937.
A Tale of Two LidosSaturday 28th August, 1937
by Simon Barber
Farewell to Fourends, at least for awhile. We are invited back at any time, even if the Jenks family are not there – the staff have instructions to look after us as valued and trusted guests. I would have been happier to accept, had I not this mental image of a shadowy gunsight tracking our route across the globe. More so since we met more of the Fourends staff who came to see us off. There was old McTavish the gruff terrier gardener, back from his annual holiday visiting relatives in Troon, and Mellors the handsome donkey gamekeeper, one of those who had been keeping watch on the further estate woods and fields for intruders.
Miss Jenks has been exceedingly good to us; she has written letters of introduction to many friends of hers around the country, and telephoned round to let them know we are on our travels and might be dropping in at short (or no) notice. So we have a dozen places we shall be welcome for a day or two, a great comfort. Especially as they have no direct connection with known haunts and associates of Amelia, Dowager Lady Allworthy.
Nine o’clock saw us in Lewes, and while Helen and Maria went to collect the Bentley I called in on the gunsmiths to check if he had made any progress. Indeed he had! As soon as I left the shop last time Mr. Smethwick had started to phone associates in the trade who might have one-inch brass cases in stock, and now he has a gross of them. Plus, he has two apprentices who he put on the job right away, currently having turned out twenty-six solid slugs and fifty-one heavy-gauge shot rounds. “Canister’ as he calls them.
His jaw dropped slightly as I said I would take everything that was ready to go – but he is evidently used to demanding customers, for he rallied immediately and called his apprentices in to start filling cartridge boxes on the spot.
Ten minutes later there was the distinctive sound of the Bentley pulling up outside. I looked, and noted the garage had done an excellent job on the extra feature I had ordered. The punt-gun is far too powerful to just fire like an ordinary shotgun – it would break the shoulder of a bigger fur than Maria. That “T-gew” I owned and Molly cherished on Spontoon was about the upper limit to fire by hand, and the rounds for the punt gun are twice the size. Knowing that, I had asked for something like a “Scarff Ring” * for the back seat of the Bentley. The senior mechanic had been a fitter in the Royal Flying Corps in the War, and knew just what I was talking about. This is sturdily welded to the chassis and looks nicely inconspicuous, like a reinforcing ring for the leather bad-weather hood.
So: after a quick check, the weapon fits and traverses easily around the Scarff ring: we now have a workable firing mounting. Helen checked the fit of the other optional extra; a folding bipod with “ground spade” that we can use if we need to dismount the punt gun from the motor car. As we learned at Songmark, a basic supply of steel tube, bar stock, a welding torch and the skill to use it, can cover a world of possibilities!
Having paid Mr. Smethwick for the ready ammunition (and left him with an order for more) I strapped the artillery to the side of the Bentley, and put Miss Cabot in charge of it. Maria reports the car is fully serviced and fuelled including a five-gallon spare tank, and all ready to roll. I could see she was just itching to head out onto the high road, so the rest of us piled in, and off we went!
This time we were fully equipped with the latest Royal Automobile Club road maps, so the run into London was rather more direct, with less stops to look at signposts. A few steam-lorries to dodge, but Maria takes delight in overtaking, using the full power of the ‘blower’ (as Bentleys seem to call the supercharger). By eleven we were in London, parked two streets away from the Inns of Chancery; if anyone is ‘staking out’ the Allworthy lawyers it will hopefully not be obvious how we got here.
Having telephoned yesterday, we were expected and shown straight in. I left Miss Cabot and Maria in the lawyer’s waiting room with refreshments and a motoring atlas to memorise, while Helen and I went in to talk with Mister Hopkirke.
An informative four hours. By the end of it I had names, addresses, employment positions and pretty much the whole ‘order of battle’ as Father would call it, of how and by whom the Allworthy industrial empire is run. As I suspected, some of them had been ‘earnestly enquiring’ after me (as Mister Hopkirke put it) but lawyers are famous for being a grave of secrets and he says he told them nothing.
Relieving Miss Cabot and Maria (who were on their fourth cup of legal issue tea) I could tell them that at last I have an idea about what we are up against, and why. It looks as if the ‘Trustees’ have been anything but trusty; it would take a team of accountants and commercial lawyers to prove it, but the existing Allworthy enterprises have by all accounts been milked mercilessly of profits, with barely enough re-invested to keep things rolling. Quite possibly they will claim they are not authorised to make expansion plans, only to maintain what they were supposed to be temporarily in care of.
I was hardly surprised, really. Seven years is a long time for any deputy to be in charge of things, and by now they have almost certainly developed ‘big ideas’ as Helen says. There is a lot of money at stake in seeing that I never get to find out exactly how the Estates are running without me. I expect some furs in Barrow-in-Furriness were partying wildly after the news came through of Lord Leon’s demise – only to be thrown into deepest gloom when they heard about me. Especially that I was heading back to Europe after a Songmark education; no doubt they have enquired as to just what that teaches a girl to do. Knowing a Songmark graduate was on my tail would give me pause to think, especially if I had things to hide and could expect no help from the authorities.
So; having said farewell to the lawyers, the question arose as to our next move. The Allworthy townhouse is likely to be watched, if not staked-out by patient furs with telescopic sights on their rifles. Happily, Miss Jenks had provided some useful addresses of hotels she and her brothers use when ‘in town’ but avoiding the public spotlight. With a brace of obvious mules for half-brothers, I imagine it is quite an issue for her.
Half an hour later we had eased the Bentley through the narrow, twisting streets crowded with city centre traffic and were signing into the Musgrave Hotel, a converted town-house on the fringe of Soho. Not a district I have ever heard much good of, being famously full of political clubs, émigré restaurants and such. Not a place to look for Lady Allworthy either, which is a telling point in its favour.
Having booked in for the night and parked the motor car in a securely locked yard behind the hotel, we decided our country tweeds rather stand out in this setting. So back on with our ‘respectables’ with Miss Cabot attired like the rest of us. A uniformed maid in tow would be rather like a road-sign pointing my direction if anyone is primed to look for a missing Lady. A quick look around the neighbourhood showed a wealth of small, interesting looking shops and cafes to explore later on.
One welcome acquisition I made for eight shillings in a little bookshop on the corner was a copy of ‘Uncle’ Bill’s latest book, written under his pen-name of W.D. Pontoon. Rather a neat play on words, his actual initials coinciding with “War Department” which is stamped on all military supplies! The new book ‘Penal Acres’ seems to be squarely and uncompromisingly aimed at the garden un-enthusiast, which makes a nice change. As I explained to Maria, the nation’s bookshelves are already groaning with whimsical, flowery writing on the subject, gushing endlessly about ‘The Garden Beautiful.” What nobody else in the garden writing business is brave enough to point out is the sheer quantity of mud, sweat and tears involved in it all – hence his other best-sellers ‘A Realist’s Garden’ and ‘My Garden is a Loathsome Thing.’ ‘Uncle’ Bill Bridges strongly objects to innocent new gardeners being led up the garden path, as it were.
Hopefully, when there is a quiet spot in the Allworthy business, we can head over to Barsetshire and pay him a visit. Being Father’s adjutant he was always around when my brother and I were growing up, and after his accident with the automatic lawn-mower he purchased the house next to ours to convalesce in (and acquired his rather scornful view of the popular gardening trade.)
By the time I had skimmed through “Penal Acres”, much appreciating many of the points after two years helping with the Hoele’toemi garden plot on South Island, and we had all bathed, it was time to head out for the evening. Of course, it would be safer in many ways to sit tight in the room and dine on room service, but we are qualified Adventuresses after all, and London at night may always prove to be an Adventure.
*(Editor’s note: a Scarff Ring being the supporting ring around an observer’s cockpit in a WW1 aircraft, giving all-round traverse for the defensive machine-gun.)