Aggie held Spirit by the collar while Ruth helped John to his feet.
“I do hope you’re not hurt,” said Ruth as she helped her husband up. “That was quite a tumble. But why is there an ejector seat in your new car? It was a good job that Spirit was there to break your fall.”
Hearing his name, the hell hound began to snarl and snap.
“Quiet you,” said Aggie and lifted the hell hound up by the collar. Spirit, wise old dog that he was, instantly began whimpering softly.
“It’s standard issue,” said John. “It comes in all the Secret Service automobiles.”
“Och John,” said Aggie, “You’ve no joined up wi’ they daft gallouts again. Do you no remember last time? Whit a fankle that was.”
Ruth would have liked to know what happened last time but left that for the moment. She had other more pressing questions to ask John.
“You’ve done what?” she declared. “You’ve joined the Secret Service.”
“Not joined them,” said John, “just agreed to do a little job for them. I couldn’t refuse. It’s for king and country.”
“Hmm,” said Aggie, “No that they German Hanoverians are rightful kings. It should be a Stuart that sits on that throne.”
Ruth ignored Aggie’s interjection. She was always going on about some Jacobite nonsense that was all over and done with for hundreds of years.
“So what exactly have you signed up for, John,” Ruth asked again.
“You’ll love it,” said John, “it comes with a car. Isn’t it lovely?”
The car was quite lovely Ruth had to admit, but there was no way she was going to let him distract her from the question in hand.
“What is it that you are going to do?” she demanded forcefully.
“Aye,” said Aggie, “answer us and nane of your havers.”
“It’s nothing. Actually, it’s quite exciting. I can’t wait to tell you. You’ll be over the moon.”
“Well don’t wait,” said Ruth, “just tell us.”
“Right,” said John. “I’m playing first violin.”
“Yes, that’s right, with the Camberwell Philharmonic Orchestra.”
“I’ll be performing in front of thousands of people.”
“We’ll be touring across the whole of Europe. France, Holland, Madrid, Paris, Switzerland, Italy, Vienna, and of course Germany.”
“Oh,” said Ruth, “What about us? What about the twins? And your dog?”
“They’ll be coming with us, we’re all going on a summer holiday. A working holiday really but what a chance, what an opportunity. I’ll be famous. I’ll finally get the recognition I deserve.”
Ruth had heard John on the fiddle. He’d been on the fiddle a lot lately. And while there was no doubting that he was very good at fiddling. First fiddle in the Camberwell Philharmonic was quite a thing. Camberwell Philharmonic was famous for its fiddles. They had fiddled in front of famous folk from far-flung fiefs as far away as Finland. They had played for royalty.
“Why just now?” asked Ruth suspiciously.
“Well, as luck would have it, the first fiddler of the Philharmonic fell flat on his face from the fifth floor of his flat.”
“Poor man,” said Aggie, “I hope he’s alright.”
“Fatal,” said John. “Still one man’s fall is another man’s fortune. Can you believe it? Finally, a financially favourable deal to fiddle.”
Ruth could not really believe it. “And why did they ask you to take his place?”
“Because of my fabulous fiddling,” said John, “Why there is not a fitter fiddler to fiddle for the Philharmonic to be found from Finchley to Frinton.”
“Fiddlesticks,” said Aggie, “the finest fiddler to be found is ma friend Frank Foley from Fife.”
Ruth was a bit bemused by this.
“No,” she interrupted, “I was asking why the Secret Service wanted you to fiddle for the Philharmonic. I know there is more to this than just fiddling. Why would they give you a car?”
“So I can go on tour,” said John. “So we can go on tour, have you not been listening. I’ll be going with the Philharmonic all over the continent, we’ll be going all over the continent.”
“Yes, I’ve got that,” said Ruth, “but why do the Secret Service want you to do that for?”
“Well, I agreed to do a few wee things for them on the way,” said John airily. “Musicians, you see, are a very much in demand group and we can mix in all kinds of company. Nobody will be bothered about what the first fiddler for the Philharmonic is doing. I’ll be able to go to all sorts of places where a normal spy couldn’t go.”
“Spying,” declared Ruth, “that sounds dangerous.”
“Aye,” said Aggie, “What daft notion have you taken to now?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” said John. “Why would I do anything daft or dangerous?”
“Don’t you take that tone with me,” said Aggie. And letting go of Spirit, who slunk nervously out of sight, grabbed John by one of his protruding ears and yanked it hard.
“Ouch, mother, let me go,” said John and freed his ear from Aggies grip. “I can’t tell you even if I wanted to because it’s a secret. It is the Secret Service you know, and it’s not a secret if you tell everyone, even if it is just your family that you tell. Now get packed we need to leave soon. I won’t tell you another word, not even if you torture me. I am sworn to secrecy.”
Ruth noticed that John had dropped a piece of paper from one of his pockets when he had been ejected from the car. She bent down and picked it up. It was a note or a list and she began to read.
John grabbed the list out of her hand.
“That’s private,” he said, and stuffed it into his jacket.
“Alright,” said Ruth.
It was clear that neither Ruth nor Aggie were going to get any more information out of John. Once he had made his mind up there was nothing else for it other than to go along with things. And anyway, Ruth had always wanted to go to Paris. The follies Bergere, Coco Channel, L’Arc de Triumph, the Eifel Tower; she really was excited.
“Let’s get packed then,” she said to Aggie. “Here, John, you look after the twins while we throw a few things in a suitcase.”
In the end, it was more than a few things in a suitcase they packed. The twins need a lot of changes of clothes and Aggie insisted on taking a clean liberty bodice for every day they would be gone. Once they had the car packed there wasn’t going to be much room. There were cases and boxes tied to the roof and the boot wouldn’t close properly and had to be tied down with a piece of old washing line.
Aggie sat in the back with the twins, and once again Spirit had nabbed shotgun. I am not sitting in the back while that dog sits in the front, said Ruth to herself.
Just then John came out. “You, Spirit! Get out of that seat now,” he shouted, “That seat’s not for you.”
Spirit grumbled but jumped into the back as commanded.
How happy Ruth felt. John had sorted it all out for her, she would not have to fight the snarling hell-hound over the seat. How caring and kind he could be, from time to time. Certainly not all bad, just a bit daft.
Ruth followed John to the car where he opened the front door just as she arrived. How gentlemanly she thought, but before she could sit down, John carefully and lovingly placed his violin case in the seat and strapped it in carefully.
“There you go darling,” he said, to the violin.
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