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Title: Brayton's Secret
Author: Fred M. White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1201281.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: February 2012
Date most recently updated: February 2012

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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: Brayton's Secret
Author: Fred M. White


*


Published in The Central Queensland Herald, Rockhampton, Qld. Thursday,
14 May, 1942.


*


Lawrence Brayton lay back in his chair luxuriously. This was the kind of
thing that appealed to him--he liked the silken luxury of it all, the
flowers, the shaded lights, the statues, the suggestion of aloofness all
around him. There was no vulgar chatter or merry laughter in the
dining-room of the Wellesley, no startling display of the 'human form
divine' as interpreted by the last audacities from Paris--they did not
encourage powdered shoulders at the Wellesley. It was all in the very
best of taste, quite subdued, with lights shaded and just an occasional
flash from a tiara or a coronet, in the purple, flower-laden lamplight.
The coffee was excellent, the cigarette a dream, the liqueur a poem.
Brayton was quite glad to be alone in the quiet enjoyment of the
picture.

"I ought to have been born a rich man," he muttered as he glanced across
the tangle of purple orchids on the table. "Every poet should have
money. I wonder if I am a poet really. Anyway, I am blest, or cursed,
with the artistic temperament. All the same, I've got to work in the
city for my living. A commission agent! If I could only have foreseen it
in the old Eton days! Lord! to have money, and cut the city. To be able
to say to Gertrude Mallison--Lawrence, my boy, you are a greater fool
than I took you for. Still, I suppose I have something to be thankful
for. I can put my bands on a thousand pounds, and I've had a good dinner
at Harrison Syme's expense without having to put up with the company of
that brilliant bounder himself."

As a matter of fact, Harrison Syme had been called away before the soup
was finished. Somebody wanted to speak to him on the telephone. He had
gone off in his insolent, swaggering way; he had come back looking white
and uneasy, quite unlike the financier who was supposed to have made
over a million of money in the past four years.

"Beastly nuisance, but I've got to go, Brayton," he muttered. "Most
important matter. I'll do my best to get back in an hour. You get on
with your dinner; I've ordered it, and I shall have to pay for the same
in any case. If I don't get back I'll ask you to call on me tomorrow.
You may have made something of the cipher by that time."

Brayton expressed himself quite correctly and conventionally. As a
matter of fact, he was not disposed to quarrel with the turn of events.

"Let it go at that," he said. "It looks to me like a variation of the
Four-Ace Code. It's the code I've been using for years."

Brayton smiled to himself. He was fond of mysteries and puzzles, and on
more than one occasion had been of considerable assistance to Scotland
Yard. But then, at the Yard, they knew what Syme was not aware of--that
the Four Ace Code was Brayton's own invention. He had sold it some years
ago for a trifle, not realising its value, and now the code was one of
the most popular amongst business men. The key-card could be changed at
pleasure. If the diamond ace was the key letter, then anybody familiar
with the clue could decipher. But say a man distrusted his confidential
clerk and elected to take hearts instead, the clerk in question was
reduced to impotence. All the most precious secrets entrusted to the
cable came by the Four-Ace Code.

Syme gulped down a large glass of brandy and departed. Quite content to
be alone, Brayton sat there puffing an other cigarette. On one side of
him was an ambassador, at the table on his left a personage was dining.
It was all very pleasant and very soothing to a well bred, ambitious
young city man possessed of the artistic temperament. He longed to have
the money to do this kind of thing regularly. And perhaps Gertrude----

Well, why should he not think of her? He knew that she liked him, and
she generally chose him as her partner at tennis and in the mixed
foursomes at Ranelagh; she had told him once that his step suited her to
perfection. But then she was so beastly rich and he was so beastly poor!
She wasn't an ordinary type of girl either--she had something besides
money and beauty.

One night, up the river--yes, he had seen the glint in her eyes, the
faint, unsteady smile. He had been very near speaking that night. To
have her for his wife, to order out the motor and drop in here to a
little dinner, they two together. And to sit opposite that exquisite
face and watch the smile in those glorious eyes.

"I am the biggest fool in England." Brayton told himself. "Well, what is
it?"

A telegraph-boy stood by his side, a pert little messenger absolutely at
home there.

"My Syme, sir?" he suggested. "Thank you, sir; good night, sir."

The orange envelope was dropped carelessly on the table, and the boy had
vanished. Evidently a telegram of importance, and one that Syme had
expected, for the sender of the message had known exactly where to find
Syme and where he could get him without delay. Very strange. It did not
seem quite so strange when Brayton recalled the fact that Syme dined at
the Wellesley most nights. Possibly Syme did not want the cable to go to
his office.

"Wonder if I'd better open it," Brayton said. "It may be very important.
His own man has orders to open any telegram, I know. If it is important
he'll pitch into me afterwards for not taking steps to get in touch with
him. I think I will."

The envelope was barely fastened down. There were only two words in it,
and they were in cipher. In an idle way Brayton spelt them over. What
did 'jigshawspi lemonnutsnoseben' mean? Brayton stuck the envelope down
again and called one of the waiters.

"Here's a shilling for you," he said. "Try and get Mr Syme on the phone.
Try his clubs. When you get him, tell him to hold the wire as I want to
speak to him."

The waiter departed on his errand. Brayton could see the queer jumble of
words no longer, but he could have repeated them by heart all the same.
He had the sort of memory necessary to the solution of cipher. And, in
fact, two or three letters in the jumble were oddly familiar. He
wondered where he had seen them before. Suddenly the answer flashed upon
him.

"By Jove," he muttered, "it's the Four-Ace Code. And the cipher ace is
clubs. I don't want to pry into any man's secrets, but I'd like to see
if I could work it out."

He took a pencil from his pocket and jotted the sequence of letters down
with absolute correctness on the back of the menu card. Then he
proceeded to place the consonants in two parallel lines. Now that he had
got the start, the rest was child's play. He wrote the answer to the sum
in his neat handwriting, so that the words stood out like little letters
of flame.

"Agricola main reef forty ounces. Blind. Eighty years. Over a thousand."

To the lay mind even now it looked cryptic to a degree. But not to a man
who had spent five of the best years of his life in the city.

"So Agricola is a really big thing," Brayton muttered.

"The Agricola mine that everybody says is a swindle turns out to be a
big thing in a main reef, showing forty ounces of gold to the ton.

"Nobody knew but the man who sent this cable, and he has seen that the
rest are absolutely 'Blind.' The life of the mine is eighty years, and
the dividend should pan out at over a thousand per cent. Well, Syme is a
greater rascal than I took him for. It was only today that I read that
Agricola was going in for liquidation. Shares a drug in the market at
two for three-halfpence. By Jove, if I can get into the market before
Syme I shall be----I've got a thousand pounds to play with. And shares
to be had for nothing. Oh, Gertrude, Gertrude----"

Brayton stretched out a shaky hand in the direction of the cablegram.

"No, I won't," he said between his teeth. "I'll not suppress it. I'll
play the game. Syme shall have his cable if I can possibly find him, but
there is no occasion to tell him what I have discovered. He couldn't
know that any form of the Four-Ace Code is like an open book to me.
He'll probably go quietly to work some time tomorrow, but he'll be too
late. By lunch time Agricola will be all mine."

Brayton helped himself to another liqueur and lighted a cigarette with a
perfectly steady hand. The whole thing was deliciously simple. He had
only to divide his thousand pounds between two brokers, and give them
instructions to buy Agricola so long as the money lasted. They could be
had for practically nothing. By this time tomorrow Brayton would be
rich. People would no doubt say a good many hard things about him, but
it was all in the way of business. Let them do it. And Gertrude----

The waiter was some time away. He came back presently with the
information that he had got Mr. Syme on the phone at his club. Mr. Syme
regretted that he was unable to return to the Wellesley that night, as
he was detained on business of the utmost importance, and that he had
just gone home.

"You told him about the cable message?" Brayton asked.

"He never gave me a chance, sir," the waiter exclaimed. "He was in a
desperate hurry. He cut me off and hung up the receiver. I did all I
could, sir."

"I daresay it will be all right," Brayton responded. "I'll take the
message myself on my way home. If a man is so foolish as to----That will
do, waiter, thank you."

The waiter vanished, and Brayton leisurely donned his hat and coat.
Things were going to be very different with him from this night on. By
this time tomorrow----He walked as far as his club, the one extravagance
he indulged in, feeling on the best of terms with the world. It is not
every night that a man strolls down Pall Mall with a secret in the back
of his mind worth two hundred thousand pounds. And this was quite a
moderate estimate, Brayton thought.

It was not very late as yet and the club was full. Brayton dropped into
his accustomed seat in the smoking room and blandly inquired if there
was any news. Three or four men were discussing something eagerly by the
fireplace. It seemed to Brayton that he caught Syme's name.

"What's that you are saying, Doctor?" he asked. "What about Syme?"

"Dead," Doctor Gladstone said crisply. "I've just come from Syme's room.
I'm his man, you know. They fetched me from here by motor half-an-hour
ago. Dead before I got there."

A little odd feeling played up and down Brayton's spinal column.

"A sudden trouble with the heart?" he gasped.

"Suicide," Gladstone went on with pseudo-cynical indifference. "Shot
himself through the head with a revolver. Walked in quite coolly and
took off his hat. Called for a drink and took every drop of it. Then he
handed the glass back to his man, took a revolver from his hip-pocket,
and shot himself. Mad! Not a bit of it--man was as sane as you or I.
Another financial bubble pricked. They say the Agricola smash finished
him off."

Brayton called for a drink himself; he felt that he needed it. The
cablegram had come too late; perhaps things had gone too far for even
the news from South America to save him. And Brayton was the one man in
the world, with the exception of the sender of the message, who knew
that Agricola was the best thing on the market at the present time.

"It's a bad smash," another man said. "I met poor old Stannard this
afternoon nearly out of his mind. He's been advising his clients to put
money into Agricola. He began to tell me what one client of his, a
girl----"

"Is that Stannard, of Lincoln's Inn, the lawyer?" Brayton asked. "Mr.
Mallison used to be his partner. If it's the same man."

"Oh, it's the same man," the other said. "What, are you going already,
Brayton?"

Brayton muttered something to the effect that he had work to do. He
wanted to be alone to think this matter over. The floating kaleidoscope
of events bewildered him. An hour or two ago and he had sat humbly in
the Wellesley envying Syme his money and position, and now Syme was dead
and Lazarus had a fortune in his pocket.

Not a soul in the world knew except the sender of the cablegram. There
would be a great deal of poverty and distress, for the Agricola had been
a strong tip with the public, who, a little while back, had rushed for
everything that Syme fathered. Scores of these people would be ruined,
but Brayton did not allow his mind to dwell on that point. People of
that class always lost their money--if one fraudulent scheme didn't have
it another would. Why couldn't they be content with a safe interest?

"Oh, yes, a lot of people would suffer. But people like old Stannard! It
seemed incredible that he should have been caught. And that he should
invest clients' money. Gertrude Mallison was a client of his; in fact,
he was her trustee. Suppose he had lost all Gertrude's money. Suppose
she had to turn out and get her own living. And suppose Brayton was
rich, as he would be soon. Gertrude, Gertrude, those eyes of yours have
made a fool of me," he murmured. "Your father was not the man to give
his trustee much latitude in the way of investments. Still----"

The papers were full of it next day. It was a tremendous smash. Scotland
Yard had been after Syme; they had been looking for him the evening
before with a warrant. He had played a desperate game at the finish, but
fortune was against him. It was one of the inspectors of the Yard who
told Brayton all this. Syme could not afford to wait for that cablegram
from South America. Doubtless, he had lingered on till the last possible
minute. The authorities had taken possession of Symes' papers, and
already a hopeless state of affairs had been divulged. Everything had
been disposed of--Syme did not appear to have a share worth keeping
left. There was no occasion to hold on to the Agricola, seeing that in
the ordinary course of events they could have been bought back for two
for three halfpence. Special meetings of the various shareholders would
be called at once, but the chance of saving anything out of the wreck
was very remote.

Brayton stood impassively. The game was absolutely in his own hands.
There was no occasion for any hurry. He took his way leisurely into the
city and commenced operations. He was a buyer for cash. His broker was
frank to the verge of rudeness.

"My dear fellow, you will lose every penny," he said. "What on
earth----"

"Never mind that," Brayton said. "What can you buy the shares for?"

"Well, certainly for sixpence each. Perhaps less."

"Then buy all you can for cash and the account. I'll give you a cheque
for 1,000 now. That should secure 40,000 of the ordinaries. Oh, I'm not
saying there is anything in Agricolas, but Agricolas may counteract
another thing that I shall get 5 per cent out of. It's a pure spec, on
my part, but I've had a bit of luck lately, and I'm backing it."

"Come into a fortune?" the broker asked.

"No, I haven't," Brayton said crisply. "But all that you can get for
that amount. Good-bye."

He strolled off quietly, and patiently awaited his game. He had parted
with all his available capital, and in return he possessed forty
thousand Agricola ordinary shares, with a possibility of as many more.
Within ten days he would have to find a further thousand pounds or carry
over. But the carrying-over would be easy enough, as Brayton very well
knew. Within ten days those shares would be standing at a premium of at
least five pounds, and he was pretty certain to make half a million of
money. A couple of days drifted by, and Brayton was satisfied. There
were no more Agricolas to be had. On Thursday morning they were asked
for, on Thursday, at closing time, as much as eight shillings were bid.
By midday on Friday the stock stood at par, and then the secret leaked
out. Whence it came nobody seemed to know or care. Syme's co-directors,
harassed out of their lives, cabled to the mine asking pertinent
questions of their engineer. His little conspiracy had failed; Syme's
tragic death had pricked the bubble, and it behoved the engineer to save
his face. He was shocked to find that Syme had suppressed his code
message, or perhaps Syme had not received it. At any rate, he begged to
repeat his cable, and did so. The directors sighed with relief. At any
rate, their holdings were intact; the Agricola was a good thing, and
they prepared without delay to call the shareholders together and tell
them so. The city rang with the story.

On the day of the extraordinary general meeting Agricolas stood at 4
10s. Brayton turned into the Cannon Street Hotel with the easy mind and
placid assurance of one who feels himself in the possession of half a
million of money. There were shareholders there who were not
shareholders at all. They had parted with their holdings and they came
sadly curious to know how the swindle had been worked. Syme was dead and
done with, but assuredly he had confederates who had engineered the
swindle, and who was going to benefit by it. Possibly the chairman of
directors would be able to tell them something.

Brayton glanced curiously around him. He began to wish that he had
stayed away. Some of those faces were by no means pleasant to look at.
There was an old clergyman with frayed coat and a collar evidently
trimmed at the edges, a half-blind working man led by a little girl. And
there was a tall lady in deep black with two children by her side. And
there was Mr. Stannard with a white, anxious face and a twitching of the
lips that told its own tale. And last, there was Gertrude Mallison, grey
lipped and forlorn, with an expression in her eyes that brought Brayton
to her side.

"I--I did not expect to see you here," he stammered. "I sincerely
hope----"

"Oh, we are all in the same boat," Gertrude smiled wistfully. "Only,
don't say anything to Mr. Stannard. He is heartbroken about it. Oh, yes,
all my money. He says that he must have been mad. You see, my father
gave him absolute discretion. And he meant to make me very rich--he----"

What was going on? Oh, yes, the chairman was speaking. But the chairman
had very little to say. He and his colleagues had not sold for various
reasons. They had lost nothing. But they were quite prepared to pool
their shares for the benefit of the company generally. At the huge
premium at which the shares stood today, something substantial would be
done to mitigate the distress. There had been some dirty, underhand
work, and certain people had benefited. Those people were strangers, and
the chairman understood that one of them was in the room at the moment.
Perhaps he would like to say a few words. If not, then there was very
little to be said. Perhaps the Board of Trade----

"You are alluding to me," Brayton said. "To be quite frank, I hold
four-fifth of the shares. I bought them for very little on exclusive
information. Your engineer betrayed you, and the exclusive information
dispatched for Syme's benefit came unexpectedly into my hands. Why I
kept the information to myself I need not say. I could not give it to
Mr. Syme, because he had gone to his account elsewhere. Neither am I
going to explain why I bought those shares. If I had not done so sooner
or later, there would have been a rush on the part of the shrewd city
speculator, and instead of one man to contend with you would have had a
hundred. As a matter of sheer business my position is unassailable. You
cannot touch me. But there is another way in which you can touch me and
you have. I am touched by the appearance of certain people here. Their
silence is more eloquent then words. If I like to leave the room with my
hands in my pockets I can do so, and no process, legal or otherwise, can
stop me. But I am not going to do it. And I am not going to have my
motive questioned either. Call it a tardy repentance on my part, call it
what you like, say that I did this to save you from the city sharks, say
I did it because a lady shareholder is a great friend of mine, and I
wanted above all things to stand well in her eyes. But I'm going to give
all those shares back to the people who sold them to me, and the price
is exactly what I gave for them. And--and that's all."

The greatest fool in the City of London walked out into Cannon Street
feeling at peace with all the world. A hand was laid on his shoulder. He
turned round to meet Gertrude's eyes.

"My cab is here," she said. "Please get in. I am going to take you as
far as my flat. Did you suppose that I was going to let you run off in
that fashion? Oh, I know something about business. My father was a
business man, remember. We shall be quite alone there. Please get in."

Brayton obeyed mechanically enough. Right away to Kensington, Gertrude
kept her face averted from him. She said no word till the flat was
reached. The tears were in her eyes still.

"Sit down in that chair," she commanded. "And tell me everything.
Everything, mind!"

Brayton told the story. He omitted nothing. It seemed strange that he
should be baring his soul to this girl in so free a fashion. He spoke of
his hopes and fears, of the artistic temperament, of his loathing for
the city.

"And there it was, thrown at me, Miss Mallison," he said.
"Especially----"

"Gertrude," the girl said. "Call me Gertrude, please."

"Well, Gertrude, darling. I could be rich. Why should I consider other
people? I--I could ask the girl I love to marry me without any chance of
being called a fortune-hunter."

"Is--is the girl rich?" Gertrude whispered. "I mean was she rich this
morning?"

"Well, she wasn't," Brayton said. "But she is now, and I am poor, and
there is an end of the matter. But, thank God, she knows my story now,
and if she thinks none the worse of me----"

"Worse of you, Lawrence! Worse of you! Oh, the boy is clearly mad. Why,
you acted splendidly. You acted as few people would have done. You gave
everything back to those poor people, you were going to give up the girl
you loved so that----What nonsense, what delicious, romantic nonsense!
And what does it matter who has the money so long as it belongs to one
of the two?"

"I--I don't know what you mean," Brayton summered.

"Yes, you do, Lawrence. Look at me. Come here. Now put your arms round
me like that--and kiss me. And I'll put my arms round you--like
this--and I'll kiss you. Oh, my dearest boy, have not you seen for a
long time that there was nobody but you? I thought that I should have to
ask you. But now that you have given me back my fortune I must offer you
something in return. Well, I do, dear! Let me hide my face on your
breast and so save my blushes----"

"I don't believe you're blushing a bit, Gertrude."

"Well, then, I'm not. I'm not a bit ashamed of myself. Lawrence, what
can I do for you?"

He bent down and kissed her long and passionately.

"Take me to the Wellesley to dinner tonight," he said. "With you
opposite me with that love-light in your glorious eyes, even the
artistic temperament would have no more to ask for."



THE END



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