JOURNEY WITH A STRANGER -5

6 Aug

JOURNEY WITH A STRANGER -5

The next day, early, Maria and her mother were awake and anxiously looking out to see if the man Lambert Mason and his extravagant car were going to pick them up. Since the previous day they’d both had doubts and had even concluded that maybe they should forget all about him and his outrageous story and carry on with life as they had planned. People who trailed their pauper’s route through life didn’t have outrageous things happening to them.

“He won’t come, you know,” murmured Mrs Bigelow knowingly. “He was trying to have us on, and it nearly worked. He must have thought we were born yesterday!”

“He seemed all right to me,” said Maria quietly, “though maybe even bad people can seem all right sometimes.”

“I didn’t trust him,” replied her mother, “with that fancy car of his, what’s he doing interfering with folks like us? I mean, we know our place and that place ain’t in fancy cars…”

But it was to be in a Rolls Royce because no sooner had Enid decided she knew her place in creation than the shiny saloon Rolls Royce pulled silently up by their front gate and Lambert Mason eased himself out. He was still dressed in the chauffeur’s uniform, with its peaked cap, and he smiled as he walked swiftly towards the front door. Maria had it open before he got there.

“Are we ready?” he asked.

Maria nodded, and smiled back at him. “We didn’t know… well, I did, but mummy was doubtful,” she said.

“Doubtful?” asked Lambert quietly.

“I’ve learned not to be too trusting,” declared Enid as she pushed past Maria. “Come on, girl, if we’re going let’s be gone,” she added, indicating the small suitcase they had packed between them. Then she locked the door and tucked its key into her purse.

The three of them made their way to the large car and climbed in, Maria in the back and her mother next to the driver at the front. Like a silent beast the car slid forwards and as far as they knew not a soul had noticed them.

“I’d better explain some things,” said Lambert as they left the small town where they lived behind them and sped through open countryside. “I’m not really a chauffeur,” he added, winking at Enid. “But I suppose you guessed that. It’s amazing where a servant can get whilst a gentleman would be quickly noticed and talked about. So I find it convenient to make believe I’m employed by some important toff whereas, in reality, this is my own car.”

“You must be very rich,” ventured Maria from the back seat. He smiled, and nodded, though Maria didn’t notice from her seat behind him.

“I’m comfortable,” he murmured. “But I’m lucky. I was born, as they put it, with a silver spoon in my mouth, but lounging around or doing a nonsense job in the family business isn’t my idea of living!”

“Doing a nonsense job?” asked Maria.

“My family business is jewellery,” sighed Lambert. “We’re goldsmiths and there’s plenty of money to be made in that business, believe you me! And my father expected me to join the family firm when I left school, and I did for a while. You’ve no idea how mind-numbingly boring it is, though, and I was training to be little more than an office clerk. Then, and sadly, my father died and everyone expected me to take the reins and business would carry on as normal, but I couldn’t stand the idea! There were plenty of skilled goldsmiths working for us and I promoted the best one to company director, took enough money to be comfortable on, and set up my own business as a private detective. I used to love stories of murder and mayhem and solving puzzles!”

“And that’s why you’re here?” asked Maria, leaning forward until she was sitting on the edge of her seat. “Are you on your first case?” she added.

He laughed at that. “Not at all!” he replied. “It was a slow business, getting a reputation for reliability. My first few cases involved following indiscreet wives or husbands and procuring evidence of infidelity. And that was almost worse than working in the office back at the family business, I can assure you. But slowly my name got passed round, and then someone high up in the Government, a Minister of State, got to hear of me, and I landed my current assignment.”

“A minister?” exclaimed Enid, crossing herself.

“Not of the church but of the State!” laughed Lambert. “And that’s why I’m here. The police are interested in one of the Benson sidelines, one that’s far from pleasant. They’ve been tipped off that he has got an unhealthy relationship with the emerging powers in Germany and finances some of their more extreme and unpleasant activities.”

“Germany? Mr Hitler?” asked Maria, almost gasping.

“Him, certainly, amongst others,” nodded Lambert. “The thing is, if the police are ordered to investigate Benson then they’ll have to be rather too public about it, and the Government doesn’t want that to happen. They want the present peace to continue for ever, and they’re afraid, and probably rightly, that there could be another war if Hitler thought that one of his allies was being looked at closely. So that’s where I come into it. I’ve got to bring Benson down in a way that makes it look as if it was his own fault and nothing to do with His Majesty or his Government.”

“Tell me about my dad,” put in Maria. “Mum and I have every right to know what it is you saw when you said he was killed.”

“I was going to come to that,” nodded Lambert. “Let me tell you a bit about the Benson family. They have (or had) a daughter…”

“Jenna,” agreed Maria.

“Well when Jenna was born something went wrong and she ended up damaged,” said Lambert. “It was in 1920 and at the time the family was in Germany. The Great War was only recently over and there was a great deal of poverty, and Benson wanted to do business with the Germans. You see, his business is in cotton and it can only expand if people want to buy things made out of cotton. But if there’s poverty in a country there’s never much money left over after the table has been provided for, and people learn to make do with what they’ve got and mend it when it wears out rather than buy new things.”

“What’s that got to do with Jenna?” asked Enid, frowning.

“Jenna was born in a German nursing home, and the doctors there were experimenting with new ways of making childbirth painless, but they couldn’t afford to experiment much until Benson arrived on the scene and offered them money if they could help his wife in childbirth. You see, she’d had the worst possible time when the boy was born…”

“Luke,” sighed Enid. “He’s a rum ‘un,” she added.

“He was a rum one when he was born too,” agreed Lambert, “and his mother got close to dying having him. She was very ill and they say she hasn’t recovered properly, not even now. Benson would have done anything to make her second go at childbirth easier, and he funded an experimental drug and procedure in the German hospital. She still had a bad time, but this time so did the baby, and Jenna was born damaged. There’s something wrong with her brain.”

“You still haven’t said what it had to do with my father,” protested Maria impatiently.

“I will. Be patient. You see, Benson found that he was in thrall to an element of the new German elite when he got back into England. They as good as blackmailed him, saying that when there was more wealth in the country nobody in Germany would ever be allowed to buy any of his cotton goods unless he said absolutely nothing about the birth of his daughter. It was a top secret and nothing whatsoever to do with worse things we hear are happening in that country, in the field of eugenics.”

“What’s eug… whatsit?” asked Maria.

“A branch of science that studies the best future for human life,” muttered Lambert. “In America they have experimented with the extermination of what they look on as inadequate human beings, and it has been followed up in Germany more recently. But the thing is, the doctors in German knew that Jenna was feeble-minded and it didn’t matter one jot to them that they had caused it. And they’ve got Benson in thrall because they say she’ll be the first to be shown into the gas chambers when their science spreads around the world and gets accepted everywhere.

He sighed deeply.

“Unless, that is, Benson pays up,” he added. “And that’s where your father comes in, Maria. Somehow he discovered the truth and that meant he had to go!”

© Peter Rogerson 06.08.15

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