After ten minutes, a car came along the road, though not the VW Golf he’d seen earlier. The occupants got out at the junction and inspected the mud for tyre tracks. Not finding any, they hunched over a map placed on the car bonnet, and pointed at various places before driving off in the direction they’d just come.

“Bish and bosh,” said Tompkins, under his breath, “how many of them are there? And inspecting the mud for tyre tracks is rather swattish and keen, in my humble opinion, as well as bookish and academic.”

No other vehicle came along the road in the next ten minutes, so Tompkins decided to drive back to the junction and perform a party piece of his, by driving along the grass verge of the road on just the tyres on the left-hand side of the car, avoiding the mud on the road and preserving it for the next set of admirers that came this way. Once the road was back to gravel and a little tarmac, Tompkins brought his car back down to four tyres and stopped the motor. He went back to check his handiwork.

“Perfect, Tomcat, all those years turning over the pater’s sit-on lawn mower, as it was going around the large rockery – what was it called, oh yes Ben Nevis – have paid off this evening. Well done.” The mud was completely unmolested. “Virgin mud,” said Tompkins, “virgo intacto.”

At the other end of the virginity scale, the au pair was in a heap on the left-hand side of the boot, so Tompkins straightened her out as best he could, before driving down towards The Old House. By now, the moon could occasionally be seen through the drifting light mist, its glow a small splash of whiteness on the dark-grey sea.

Tompkins used his excellent eyesight to scan all the shadows, the shadows within the shadows, and the mist-shrouded shoreline. He deduced everything was ship-shape and Bristol fashion. He was trundling along the single-track road for two miles until he saw the swinging lamp in the window of the ramshackle old cottage. The signal had been set. Tompkins thought he heard the sound of a distant fog-horn. He smiled. The Jaguar now had three hundred further miles on the clock and was spattered with the ‘wear and tear’ of the road, as Tompkins referred to it.

Tompkins took the au pair out of the boot and placed her gently on the path to the house, with her legs wide apart. “If any of those rotters come along, they won’t be able to resist that,” he sneered, “they’ll be sniffing around for ages.” With that he sprinted off round the back of the cottage and approached the porch -”Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman, a Welshman, and a Scotsman,” he boomed. A green light came on inside the house and Tompkins jumped up the steps and flung open the back door.

“Hello Tomcat,” said a voice.

“Binnsy, how are you?” asked Tompkins, “how’s the Foreign Office doing?”

“Comme ci, comme ca, as they say in Deauville, just across the water.”