A very pretty girl of eighteen, Ann Dawes, arrives back from Europe, one of the last travellers to get out of the war zone. Two young men meet her at the dock. They have trouble locating her because she is not on the passenger list. This is because her wealthy grandfather detests the glamor girl idea. Let her get her name in the paper three times before she’s twenty and she’ll get nothing from him.
Did she get near the front?
No. But she talked to a few who had, and she certainly was glad to be back.
It is as they leave the customs house to drive to her grandfather’s estate near Princeton that we realize she is being followed. She has not escaped from the war zone. She only thinks she has.
Tom, one of the young men, is observant and he notices the man. He remarks about it, but Ann merely laughs and his friend Dick accuses him of seeing things. Tom admits he must have been mistaken.
But after they leave Ann at her grandfather’s, Dick too sees the shadower and they give chase, overtake him and capture him. But their prisoner, an extremely attractive man, shows a card which declares him to be a member of the American Secret Service and assures them that he has followed Ann Dawes for a good reason he cannot divulge.
The two young men are shocked. They release him.
Next morning they drive over to Ann’s house and try to make her admit that she has been up to some mischief. First Ann takes it as a joke, then grows angry at their priggish and super-patriotic point of view. She sends them away, goes up to her room. The quarrel has left her full of nervous energy and a sense of injustice. She starts something she was too lazy to do the day before—unpack her trunk. At the very bottom she finds an unfamiliar leather satchel in which is a forty-five pound, 156 mm. artillery shell.
Her first reaction is fright; her second is to throw some clothes on top of it and close the trunk. Her third is to connect it up with the man who has evidently been following her. If he is a secret service man the police already suspect her and she might get some very unfortunate publicity.
She is confused and hesitant. At this point I want to stress the fact that this part should be played by a young girl—perhaps a Brenda Joyce—a girl on the edge of maturity to whom parties are all important. A fully matured girl of, say, 19, would not hesitate about going to the police.
Ann decides to go to her grandfather and asks him, without telling him the truth, what he would do in a parallel case. Her grandfather, suspecting nothing, tells her that of course she should be on the side of the law—whereupon Ann tries to phone the police. But the line is dead.
She goes downstairs and out—on the front porch she meets an electrician who tells her he has come to fix the phone. We recognize, though she doesn’t, the man who shadowed her the day before.
It is obvious that his mission has something to do with the shell—probably to get possession of it. But he had rather hoped to meet any member of the family except Ann. So they both stall. He asks to see the phone in her room, though of course he has cut the wires outside. Ann, fearing that he might not be honest, might open the trunk, goes upstairs with him and sits on the trunk as he works.
They fall into conversation. He is obviously well educated and tells her that he was trained as an engineer and that he has been forced to turn electrician very recently. We notice a faint foreign inflection, perhaps French, in his voice.
There is an immediate sympathy and attraction between them, but they are each absorbed in problems. Ann anxious to clear up the matter of the shell; the electrician anxious to be alone in the room. He asks for a hammer hoping she’ll go for it—but Ann rings for the maid. He asks her for water; mistrustfully, she gets it from the bathroom. But finally he catches her off guard and when her back is turned throws some flaming waste out the window to land on a straw pile. Then he pretends to discover the fire. The ruse works. Ann runs downstairs whereupon he opens the trunk quickly and starts to lift out the satchel containing the shell.
Downstairs we see that the fire has been noticed almost instantly from the kitchen and been put out at once by the servants. So Ann rushes back upstairs in time to hear the lid of the trunk falling. Cutting into the room we see that the electrician hearing her approach, has for a moment given up his intention of taking the shell. Connecting him now with the government she tells him frankly about the shell, and that she doesn’t know how or where it got in the trunk. The electrician accepts the identification of himself as an American agent, telling her he will take the shell away.
She must forget the whole transaction. He is about to vanish from her life. But Ann has begun to feel romantic about this “G Man” and doesn’t want this to happen. She asks him where he is taking the shell. When he says to Washington, Ann asks if she can ride with him as far as Princeton. The secret agent agrees.
Ann elects to pass him off on her grandfather—to whom obviously he cannot be either an electrician or a G man—as an air-minded friend just come from a flying field. The grandfather accepts the electrician’s costume as that of an aviator. Ann says she is going to Princeton to visit a friend.
Before they start out a letter from Dick is delivered in which he withdraws his invitation to the Princeton Prom. He still loves her and always will but everyone’s duty is to America now and he doesn’t want to have anything to do with her till she “comes clean.” The letter, of course, is a veiled threat that if she comes to Princeton at all he will expose that she is in trouble with the police.
This fits in with Ann’s plan. In Princeton she will let Tom and Dick see who she is with—thus clearing up the matter then and there. She doesn’t give a damn about the prom now but she does care about her mystery man. She doesn’t tell him this plan but when they get to Princeton gets him to stop his open car in front of the dormitory where the two boys live. She accosts a passing boy who obligingly yells up at the windows of Dick’s room. When Dick and Tom come down she pulls her coup surprising both the boys and the secret agent by saying that he will clear her name. He does so—but only in the most general terms. There is no mention of the shell.
Dick, in his jubilation, insists that she stay the night in Princeton, will take no refusal. To clinch matters he reaches into the back of the car and starts to lift the satchel containing the shell.
“What have you got here?” he exclaims, “Lead!”
“That’s mine,” says the secret agent. “Leave it alone.”
At this point a language professor passing along the walk sees the secret agent and calls him in a foreign language. His tone indicates his surprise at the agent’s presence in this country.
This instantly suggests to Ann, Dick and Tom that the man is not an American citizen, and could not be a member of the American police. The secret agent impassively answers, “You must be mistaken,” throws the car into first and starts away—carrying Ann with him.
On the outskirts of Princeton they turn into a road just at the moment that a man is about to put up a sign Detour, Highway under repair. Detour. They get on the road before the sign is put up. Then, a few miles out in the country, a tire blows out.
Up to this kidnapping, Ann has been all for the secret agent who seems the most attractive man that she ever met. Now, of course, she turns passionately against him. He is undoubtedly a spy and he is, in point of fact, kidnapping her.
He promises he will put her out of the car when they have driven further into the country, but not so near Princeton. She pretends to accept this but when he gets out to fix the tire she turns the key in the ignition and throws the car into gear. The secret agent detects her just in time, climbs in over the back seat and halts the car. When he gets out this time he takes the key with him, and also the shell as an extra precaution. This is done on his part, with an air of perfect good humor.
Once again Ann waits—until just as he is pushing the jack under the rear axle. At this point he takes off his coat and throws it over the back of the open car—and Ann has seen him put the key in the pocket of the coat. Stealthily she draws the coat over and slips out the key.
This time she manages to get away. However, about fifty feet down the road she stops, keeping the motor running. She is afraid that if she leaves him there with the shell he will in some way disappear.
The secret agent puts the shell behind some trees at the side of the road and with charming blandishment, tries to come near Ann. But each time he tries she drives a little ahead. He gives this up. His situation is that if he strikes cross country with the shell she cannot follow him, but she can and will return to Princeton for help, even with the flat tire. Ann, for her part prays for another car to come along. She doesn’t know what we know—that the road has been closed on both sides of them for repairs. No one will be along.
So time, which Ann thought was for her proves to be against her. Night falls. There is a patter of rain. Ann tries to raise the car top and can’t do it alone. The secret agent tales advantage of this effort to sneak up on her—just as the clouds burst in earnest. She throws the key off into the underbrush, watching where it lands, but he doesn’t notice this gesture. The storm is too bad to fix the tire but he gets the top up and they sit under that faint protection until we FADE OUT:
Next morning Tom and Dick at Princeton discuss the events of the day before. They know only that Ann has gone off, willingly or unwillingly, with a self-declared G.man—whom a foreign professor claimed as a countryman of his. The professor’s words were that he looked enough like Captain So-and-so, to be his own brother. But the professor also admitted that he might be mistaken, which accounts for the boys’ confusion and delay. They decide to phone her grandfather’s house and see if she’s there, but a servant tells them that she has gone visiting a certain girl in Princeton. This, they know, is not true. Dick who is in love with her wants to tell the police. Tom remembers that Ann wants no newspaper publicity and thinks they ought to search for her themselves. Disturbed, they borrow a car and set out in the direction of Washington, knight-errants, with scarcely a clue to go on. The first thing they come to is the sign—Detour—Road Under Repair. They argue with a policeman but he will not let them through.
Meanwhile our principals are awake and hungry. The secret agent has an “iron ration” in the car which they share. They wash—on the honor system—at a nearby stream—then he firmly insists she return to the car and he starts to fix the tire at last in the bright sunshine. Only now does he notice the key is missing. He asks her for it and she laughs. She has control of the situation unless he makes physical threats and it is carefully planted that he is a gentleman. Once more he tries guile. Getting out he disconnects the starter without telling her and then he starts back down the road for the jack, left there the night before. But he keeps an eye on her and sure enough, when he has gone a little way, Ann gets out and looks hurriedly in the shrubbery for the key. The secret agent comes running. He now knows where she has thrown it and presently he finds it. He is again top dog.
It seems as if they have known each other a long time and there has been a good deal of humor in the running fight about the key.
As they start along the road at last Ann at least tries to get some light on the mystery. How did the shell get in her trunk? It happened abroad, of course, but she had to pass through so many countries coming back that she doesn’t know in which one it occurred, nor does she know why it was sent here. He will tell nothing.
“The customs’ officer might have found it at the dock,” she says, “if there hadn’t been such a jam of refugees.”
Off guard he answers: “That was our only risk.”
This makes it plain to her that he is a spy, for a G man could have arranged with the customs’ house to possess the shell then and there. Her mood which has been gay all morning, turns to anger. She has become a passionate patriot—though her mind had been full of nothing but dances just 24 hours ago.
Meanwhile, Dick and Tom reach the point where the detour ends and curves back into the main road. Here also they find a sign “Road Under Repair” and the foreman of a labor gang tells them that no one has taken the main road since 5 o’clock the preceding day when a bridge collapsed. They know, therefore, that Ann and her abductor are somewhere back along that road. But no amount of persuasion will convince the foreman to let their car in to the closed strip. He has his orders. So they abandon their car and get in his truck crowded with workmen bound for the damaged bridge. Added to other worries about Ann, is their anxiety that the car might have crashed at the bridge.
At the moment Ann and the secret agent are so absorbed by their quarrel. He has now admitted to her that he is not an American—he is a patriot of his own country, trying to do his duty.
“If you feel that way I don’t think it’s quite safe to release you. You’ll just have to come along with me.”
“Not very far now.”
“I hate you.”
“Why bother?” he asks. “We’ll never meet again. If I’m caught, I’ll go to prison. If not, my mission on this side is over. In the little while longer that we’ll be together why bring hatred into it? Your country isn’t at war with mine.”
“What about that shell?” she asks.
“I can tell you nothing. It might endanger the lives of others.”
“A lot of respect for human life you have to go around with that for your briefcase.”
She indicates the article in the back seat.
“We don’t always have the final word—”
He breaks off with the sudden realization that the shell is not in the car but back on the roadside. She realizes it too and breaks out with laughter.
He turns to look at her and at this point the car goes over the bridge.
They are not hurt but are all wet again. They swim to the far bank, which is nearest and start to dry out. Ann suddenly notices a house that is half concealed by a grove of trees. She thinks of a trick to get there and to a possible telephone. She sees that the direct way to the house is covered by an expanse of sharp gravel. He has taken off his shoes to pour the water out of them. She still has her shoes on. Grabbing up his shoes she flees in the direction of the house. He starts after her on the gravel, but of course, the pain is terrific. He gives up and goes the long way around. She will reach the house comfortably in advance of him.
Inside the house a sinister figure is looking out the window—a very little woman in the uniform of a trained nurse. As I said, she is sinister and mysterious, but not particularly villainous looking. We do not make up our mind about her for the present. It is rather the haunted, barricaded character of the house which gives us this sense of menace. The nurse opens the door and Ann runs in.
At this point the truck loaded with workmen arrives at the bridge, and Dick and Tom, seeing the wrecked car look about wildly. They spot the house.
The secret agent is on the porch of the house, but seeing that Dick and Tom are coming toward it, he slips over the side of the porch and for a short time disappears from the story.
Inside the house Ann has just stammered out a resume of her situation. The nurse assures her that the man won’t be able to break into the house, that every door and window is shuttered and they go upstairs to telephone. But Ann sees no telephone—instead the woman turns on her with a gun and demands her watch and rings. She gags her and handcuffs her to a ring in the wall. There is knocking downstairs but the nurse says “If you open your mouth I’ll blow your head off.”
Downstairs the two young men are trying to arouse the house. Not succeeding they conclude it is empty but decide to break in with the faint hope that there may be a telephone. Now they know disaster has come to Ann and the agent.
They manage to pry off a shutter and are confronted by the nurse. She tells them she has seen nobody, that she heard the auto crash but nothing more. They ask her why she, a trained nurse, did not do anything about it. She says it was none of her business and this makes them suspicious. They determine to have a look around the house whereupon the nurse confronts them with a revolver and locks them up in a closet.
The nurse now makes quick preparation for departure, keeping an eye on the workmen on the bridge. She packs a little bag, then carefully opens her window and whistles a bird call.
Out in the woods the secret agent, who is sitting calmly under a tree smoking, hears the whistle. He answers it and goes to the house. It is apparent that this is the rendezvous where he was taking Ann and the shell. The nurse tells him she has taken the rings for a blind but he cannot leave Ann like that. He takes the rings to the room where Ann is and says he will phone the police news of her whereabouts when he is safely away. His regret and shame are sincere. He even leaves the key to the handcuffs, but out of her reach.
With the nurse he starts out the door silently, lest the two young men hear the departure and raise a rumpus. The workmen at the bridge head have left their truck and gone to work on the bridge. The agent and the nurse approach the truck cautiously, get in and drive it across the field over a shallow ford to the other bank. They speed back along the closed road obviously to recover the shell.
In the house, Ann has slipped the gag and having heard what occurred downstairs she yells that they’re gone. Dick and Tom break out, set her free. She tells them of the shell. They hurry to the labor gang at the bridge head. The foreman is waiting for another truck to go in pursuit. It arrives and Tom and Dick get in too.
Back at the section of the road where the shell was left. An old fashioned Norman Rockwell hobo is coming along. He wipes his brow and sits down beside the road for a rest. In fact, sits directly upon the shell which is so laid in the grass that it might be a log. He takes a packet of cards out of his pocket and starts to lay out the first row of a solitaire game. To make things brighter he reaches into another pocket and takes out a half pint of gin, gazes sadly at the two ounces residing therein. He empties it and as he lowers the bottle down from his mouth it hits the shell and breaks.
He eagerly opens the case, but when he sees the shell for the first time he is on his feet in a hurry, staring at it. He scratches his head and looks up at the sky. He shakes his head. How it got there, God alone knows. Suddenly he starts to run away from it, then his panic dies and obviously realizing that it must have some salvage value he goes back to it. He touches it gingerly, puts his ear down and listens to it; there is no tick inside. Gingerly he puts it back in its case, picks it up by the handles and lifts it with care. Then he hears the sound of a motor in the distance, steps with the case behind a tree.
The truck, with the secret agent and the nurse comes to a stop. “It’s right about here,” he says.
He hunts along the edge of the road, the tramp watching from behind the tree. Softly, the tramp sets down the shell behind the tree, moves away from it and into sight on the road, asking the secret agent if he is looking for anything. The secret agent describes the package at length. The tramp denies having seen it.
“The thing is gone,” says the agent to the nurse.
But now the tramp makes the foolish mistake of saying, “I did see a car pick something up here, half an hour ago.”
The secret agent and the nurse are walking back to the truck in despair when the impact of this hits them both at once. The secret agent says: “He couldn’t have seen anybody pick it up. This road has been closed since last night. He’s telling a lie.”
They start back towards the tramp. He tries to bluff it out. The nurse faces him with her gun and they try to get the truth out of him. As they are about to succeed they hear a motor—which is that of the truck in pursuit. He tells her to drive the truck off for it will betray them. He socks the tramp and drags him back into the shrubbery where he sees the shell. But the nurse is gone.
The pursuing truck stops. Ann jumps out and looks where the shell stood the night before. But the foreman thinks of course it’s been picked up and suddenly he sees the first truck come into sight at a point where the road climbs a hill. Not even waiting for Ann to get in the truck again, he starts after it.
Ann stands in the road. At this moment the shell which is on a slight knoll begins to roll in the direction of the unconscious tramp. It bumps him and he gives a groan.
Ann starts at the sound. The secret agent steps into the road and putting his fingers to his lips as if he had just yawned. He says, “You’re a minute too late.”
Cut to the pursuing truck and show that Tom and Dick, unwilling to leave Ann stranded on the road, are slipping off to go back to her. They have, however, already been carried half a mile.
The secret agent’s situation seems hopeless. He is without means of transportation or hope of any, unless the “nurse” should elude her pursuers and come back for him. Not to mention the fact that he is in love with this girl and anxious to justify himself in her eyes. Besides, there is the tramp bound behind the trees who at any moment may become articulate. And in the thicket lies the shell—the shell which he has gone to all this risk to obtain.
Ann once more has the upper hand—and resenting the hand-cuff business, is inclined to use it.
“Now what?” she says.
“Well, we can always play cards.”
He refers to the tramp’s solitaire game which is still spread out along the edge of the road. He goes to it, sits down in the grass, gathers up the cards. She looks at him rather skeptically, wondering what he is up to now, this man who fascinates her, whom she could love if she did not have to constantly hate. She joins him reluctantly, sits down against a tree.
“What’ll we play?” he asks, sorting the cards quickly in some fashion of his own. “Not bridge. We’ve had enough bridge.”
He lays down first an ace. “One person alone—that’s difficult. But there are so many things we have to do alone. Two. That’s better—”
Ann interrupts: “Not always.”
“But usually. Two hearts are better than one.” The card lying before him is a two of hearts.
“I haven’t got a heart,” Ann says.
“Oh, yes you have. I saw it three times.” He lays down a three of spades. “Once when I was an electrician, once when we were in the rain and once when the bridge wasn’t there.”
He lays down a four. Ann touches the card with her finger and says, “That was before I knew you for what you are.”
“Can’t think of anything for five,” he says, laying down the card. “But except for this wretched war I don’t think you and I would be at sixes and sevens.”
After the six and seven, he puts down an eight and Ann says, “I can’t remember when we last ‘ate’—stop me, will you please?”
He covers the eight with a nine and speaks more gravely:
“Nine lives. That’s what I need for this job.” He looks quickly through the pack and she says, “You can’t find a ten, so the game is about up, my friend.”
He has found the ten somewhere in the pack and he slips it on top of the pile. She lifts her hand like a person shooting:
“I’m ready for the next one—come eleven!” and snaps her fingers.
“You’re wrong for once,” he says, laying down a Jack, “Jaques—that’s my name or it was once. Really my name.”
“Jaques,” she says, testing the monosyllable.
“Silly name, isn’t it, for such a serious business.” He puts the queen on top of the pack, looks at it and then slowly lifts his eyes to hers.
“That’s exactly how I feel about it,” Jaques says, very slowly, gravely and sincerely. He puts down one more card and adds, “—if I were King.”
They are sitting cross-legged, facing each other. At this point when they are each drawn forward toward each other—Dick and Tom have arrived unobserved and crept up softy. They spring, pinion Jaques’ arms behind his back, with their neckties. It looks as if the game is up at last.
The tramp who is lying very still in the grass, is awake. He is looking through the bushes, amazed at the scene.
Dick and Tom look at Ann expecting applause. Instead she says almost with annoyance:
“Saving the country again.”
At this point a sound truck comes along the road. Out springs a newspaper man with a microphone in his hand.
“Have you got anything to say?” he demands. “The program is ‘People Met on the Road.’ What’re your names?”
He shoves the microphone at Ann. Into it she says:
“My name is Glamor O’Hara. I believe in everybody minding their own business.”
In disgust the reporter says: “You people don’t take this seriously.” He rushes back to the truck shouting into the mike, “Never mind, friends. Those were some folks rehearsing a play. They wouldn’t talk, friends. So now I’ll tell you more about that clean feeling—”
But the stranded quartet are at his heels. The two young men grasping the secret agent by the elbows, Ann following unwillingly.
“We’ve got a prisoner,” Dick says, “wanted by the police. He’ll talk if you take us to Princeton.”
They pile into the truck. Ann next to the driver, the prisoner beside her. Tom and Dick on one running board and the reporter on another. As the truck turns around and starts back toward Princeton, the reporter thrusts the microphone toward the secret agent, but Ann grabs it.
“He won’t talk, either,” she says.
“That’s about right,” says Jaques.
“The prisoner won’t talk,” says the reporter, “—but anyhow I think you’d rather have me tell you how to keep your clothes fresh and clean.”
The outskirts of Princeton we discover that the sound truck is now being followed closely by the stolen truck driven by the nurse. Suddenly she drives ahead of the sound truck, stops suddenly, causing the sound truck to come to a swift and precarious halt, throwing the two young men off the running board and allowing Jaques to escape. During this play-by-play, the reporter’s voice has never ceased—whether we were showing the action of the escape or getting the reactions of Ann who in her heart is tremendously glad.
“The prisoner has escaped, folks,” says the reporter. “I don’t know any details. It all looks very suspicious to me, friends, very suspicious to me.”
On these words and upon an expression of regret in Ann’s face that her great adventure is over, we dissolve to the part of the road where we left the tramp. He is holding the shell and trying to thumb a ride. A nice-looking coupe slows up, and the tramp gets in with his precious burden. As they start off he asks the good Samaritan, “How far are you going?”
And the good Samaritan says, “All the way to Washington. I’m a manufacturer. I’ve got business at the War Department.”
The tramp thinks of the shell reposing at his feet and rises to the occasion: “So have I,” he says and we fade out.
Fade in on a prom in the Princeton Gymnasium two months later. We follow Ann dancing, continually being cut in on by a squirearchy of boys. Her face is a little graver, more preoccupied than we have ever seen it. She is obviously not the high-spirited, careless girl we first met. Her expression suggests that she is looking for someone. As her partners are tapped on the shoulder for the cut-in, she turns eagerly to greet each newcomer. “Can it be him?” her eyes seem to say. But it never is and she adjusts herself graciously and politely to each disappointment.
Somewhere in the story Jaques has learned that she is going to this Prom.
And now suddenly he is there in a tail coat, sure of himself, unworried, undisguised, picking her out of the crowd with a look of expectation. As she sees him, she is frightened for him as well as for herself.
“May I, please?”
They talk, with an air of mingled fear, delight, repulsion and attraction.
“You’ve got your nerve,” she says.
“No, this time I am within the law. I’m at our Washington Embassy, as attache.”
“If Dick and Tom see you—”
“I have diplomatic immunity.”
At this she stops dancing.
“I hate you,” she says. “I can’t dance with you. Who are you? Won’t you tell me? What was it all about?”
“Dance with me and I’ll tell you,” he says.
She hesitates, wavers, then perhaps irresistible curiosity is the deciding factor.
“Tell me,” she demands, breathless as they start dancing again.
During this dance she is constantly interrupting the secret agent by turning to the boys who try to cut in and saying, “Not now, thanks.” Each time with a bright smile which changes to gravity as she turns back to face Jaques.
“In one country you visited,” he said, “they had developed a shell that we wanted to know about. A collaborator of mine bribed a workman and got hold of the sample shell—on the very day war was declared. The question was how to get it to my country for examination and analysis. An American like you had the best chance of getting out of the country without a baggage examination—and your trunk was in the hall of a hotel marked ‘not needed on the voyage.’ He wired me in code. I won’t tell you how we got it by customs because it might put ideas in the heads of your countrymen.”
She bristles at his last words and he continues hastily.
“Excuse me, I mean our countrymen. When the war is over I’ll live here, and you and I will belong to one country forever.”
“It’s not as easy as that. What became of the shell?”
“You’ve got me.”
She smiles suddenly.
“Have I?” she asks as their arms tighten around each other.
Dissolve to the portal of the War Department in Washington where the tramp now in uniform is proudly standing guard.
Published in I'd Die for You collection (2017). Written in 1939.