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Find This Man:
Aidan de Brune:
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Date first posted: Oct 2017
Most recent update: Apr 2023
This eBook was produced by Terry Walker, Colin Choat and Roy Glashan
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THIS book is a product of a collaborative effort undertaken by Project Gutenberg Australia, Roy Glashan's Library and the bibliophile Terry Walker to collect, edit and publish the works of Aidan de Brune, a colourful and prolific Australian writer whose opus is well worth saving from oblivion.
"...AND to my dear god-daughter Ivy Breton, I give and bequeath the buhl box standing on my library table with all that it contains, to be delivered to her unopened within 24 hours of the reading of this my last will and testament."
Mark Kithner, senior partner of the firm of Kithner, Wales and Kithner, solicitors, paused abruptly and looked around the group gathered about the dining-room table. Then, lowering his eyes, he continued the reading of the last will and testament of Basil Sixsmith, deceased.
"Is that all?" Mrs. Martha Western, florid and stout; a half-sister of the deceased, gasped. "But—but there's nothing about the residue of his estate. Basil was a wealthy man—if he was—" The good lady paused. She had been about to declare her half-brother eccentric, but thought that statement would not be conventional at the moment.
"Perhaps there is no residue to the estate." Mark Kithner smiled quietly.
"Rot!" William Patterson, a small, thin, peaky-looking man with a big, booming voice interjected. "What about this house?"
"That goes to Mrs. Western—with the proviso that Miss Breton is to occupy it for the three months from the date of the reading of the will."
"—and pay rent?" A hard light came in Mrs. Western's small eyes.
"No." The lawyer spoke quickly. "Your claim to inherit is deferred until the end of Miss Breton's tenancy."
"But, the buhl box—." Charlie Western turned to his mother. "That's part of the furniture, isn't it? You're to have the house and furniture."
"Basil was always unjust." Martha Western wore the air of a martyr.
"What I want to know is, where's his money?" Patterson's voice dominated the room. "I don't mind Martha having the house—I was only Basil's cousin. I don't mind Ivy—Miss Breton—getting the buhl box. What I want to know is, where's his cash. He had a lot of it—or, at least, we thought so."
"I think the provisions of the will cover all the property the deceased had to dispose of." There was finality in the lawyer's voice.
"What?" The little man was on his feet. "But—but—there's not been a penny disposed of. Only this house and furniture and the buhl box—"
"—and a few legacies to servants. I think you forgot those," Kithner interposed.
"You say, there's no money?"
"You have heard the will read, sir."
"Then, what are the legacies to be paid from?" An air of triumph pervaded the little man.
"There is a sum of two hundred and three pounds in the bank." The solicitor referred to a memorandum before him. "From that—"
"But, the legacies amount to more than five hundred pounds!" Charlie Western, sleek and furtive, interjected.
"The balance will be provided by Mrs. Western from her legacy—"
"—which is valued, house and furniture, at over five thousand pounds."
"But—" The lady wailed. "There's the buhl box and the legacies! I'll have nothing left!"
"And the testator's debts." Patterson appeared to have satisfaction in the lady dilemma. "I hold his note of hand for five hundred pounds."
"Five hundred pounds!" Charlie protested. "Why, that's absurd."
"Oh, why did I get that coffin?" A black-bordered handkerchief did excellent duty in hiding Martha Western's angry eyes. "Why, I spent over a hundred pounds to put him away decently."
"And we don't know what else he owed." Her son added, gloomily.
"I believe there are quite a few accounts outstanding." Kithner appeared to take great enjoyment from the scene.
"There you are!" The lady glared angrily. "I think that under the circumstances Miss Breton should give up the buhl box. It's quite valuable. I believe, and-"
"I am afraid Miss Breton has no say in the matter." The lawyer rose to his feet, as if to terminate the meeting. "If you will give me instructions, Mrs. Western, to sell the house and contents—"
"Sell the house and furniture!" That was the last straw to the agitated lady. "I won't!"
"Then I will send you a list of the outstanding debts."
"Oh, let him sell, mother." Charlie spoke. "What's the use of keeping that old barn?"
"In three months' time," continued the solicitor. "In the meantime will you please instruct me as to certain outstanding accounts which will have to be settled without delay. I—"
"Do you mean to say that I've got to pay them?"
"The creditors will certainly claim against the estate of the deceased—and that estate appears to be only this house and its contents-"
"And the money in the bank," observed Charlie, sagely.
"In the circumstances, the legacies will constitute a debt on the house and contents." Mark Kithner spoke wearily.
"And that child can live here, rent-free, for three months, keeping me out of my own!" Mrs. Western rose majestically from the lounge on which she had been seated. "All I can say is, it's a scandal; that's what it is! What's she got to keep this house up and live on?"
"I have a sum of money, in trust, to provide for Miss Breton's expenses for the period mentioned."
"Oh, oh!" The woman glared at the lawyer for some seconds. "So that's that! Quite a nice little sum, I suppose! Put aside to provide for her. And I'm to pay his debts and burial and what he likes to give others who were well paid for what they did for him. Come, Charlie. I'm going to see my solicitors."
Martha Western sailed, majestically from the room, followed by her son. For a few moments there was an awkward silence, then Patterson rose to his feet.
"There's nothing for me, Mr. Kithner?" he said, almost pathetically, "Basil left me nothing—and I've got to wait three months for that five hundred pounds I lent him?"
"I believe so, Mr. Patterson."
For a moment the little man looked at the solicitor; then he glanced at the girl seated in a low chair in a dark corner of the room. He turned and went to where the girl sat.
"Sorry, Ivy." He spoke hesitatingly. "Martha shouldn't have talked as she did—but you know her." His voice was subdued. "How's it going to be with you? What are you going to do?"
"For the present, nothing." Ivy Breton looked up quickly, a little smile on her well-curved lips. "I'm sorry. Mr. Patterson, about your money. God-dad seems—seems to have left things rather—muddled."
"Looks like it." The man grinned, wryly. "And I thought he was quite rich."
"So did I. If I had known that he was so—so poor I would have found work, long ago, but he wouldn't let me. He always said that he would leave me something when—when he went-"
"He did." Patterson's mouth twisted in a grin. "He left you the buhl box."
"The buhl box!" The girl laughed. "The buhl box that he was so fond of. Do you know, Mr. Patterson, I don't think he ever went into the library without fondling that box."
"And now it's yours." The little man shook his head. "Well, well! I've got to look to cousin Martha for my money, I suppose—and that means trouble a-plenty. Well! If you get stuck, Ivy, come and see me. I ain't as rich as cousin Basil was supposed to be, but I've got a few shillings and—and—Well, well! You're not a bad kid, after all."
With a brief nod to the lawyer the man turned and ambled from the room. Again fell the silence. Ivy was thinking of the man who had been more than father to her—the only father she had known.
The will had puzzled her. All her life she had been taught to consider Basil Sixsmith a rich man. The house had been run in careless, almost spendthrift fashion. There had been money for her and the household expenses. The old man had denied himself little; his adopted daughter nothing.
And now that he was dead he had left only the house and the few pounds in the bank. But—the money in the bank was borrowed money. It had to be repaid.
She glanced around the handsomely furnished room, remembering when some twelve months before her godfather had refurnished it, against her counsel. He had declared the old furniture to be rubbish, and sent it away, to be sold by auction. To her surprise, it had fetched quite a large sum of money. He had handed her the cheque, telling her to spend it on clothes.
Had he been mad then? Ivy could not repress the thought—and felt herself disloyal. But—she looked up as a shadow fell before her, at Mark Kithner.
"Mr. Kithner, you said you had money in trust for me?" She spoke quickly. "How much is it?"
"Two hundred and fifty pounds, my dear." The old lawyer looked down on the girl. "Why?"
"I shan't need that much to keep this house up—if it is necessary for me to do so."
"Mr. Sixsmith wanted you to live here for three months. He left that money with me, for that purpose."
"But his debts?"
"They are charged on this house and contents."
"This house and its contents? But if I am to live in it you will not be able to sell it?"
"Mrs. Western is consulting her solicitor on the subject." The old lawyer spoke dryly.
"But, why should I keep her out of her money all that time?"
"Mrs. Western is not a poor woman."
"But it seems unjust." The girl rose and paced the room. "You said that she would have to pay the legacies—and the other expenses."
"But she cannot get the money from this house and furniture to do it with."
"Mrs. Martha Western is a wealthy woman."
"But—it is unjust to her."
"Was it?" Kithner smiled quietly. For some minutes he was silent. Then: "Ivy, is it unjust to receive money through a legacy?"
"Of course not. That's—Well, one receives a legacy because the giver likes one."
"Do you think Basil Sixsmith liked Martha Western?"
"They always quarrelled when they met."
"Yet he left her this house and the contents—and she is a wealthy woman—while you have nothing. He brought you up to believe that you would be his heiress—and he left you the buhl box."
"I love the buhl box—I shall keep it because he left it to me. Mr. Kithner, god-dad had to leave me nothing."
"Everyone expected that he would leave you everything." The lawyer spoke drily. "And now you want to part with the few pounds that Basil Sixsmith placed in my hands to provide for you while you obtained work?"
"I think it should go to pay his debts."
"But Martha Western can pay them out of the estate left to her."
"She can't sell it."
"For three months." Kithner paused. "She will have to find something like fifteen hundred pounds to pay the debts and expenses. At the end of the three months she will come into property at between five and six thousand pounds. That is rather good interest, isn't it?"
"You said your godfather and Martha Western were always quarrelling?"
"Perhaps a reason can be found in that." A thin smile came on the legal-looking lips. "Basil Sixsmith was a strange man. He had a queer strain of rather sardonic humour. He knew that he could not entirely ignore his half-sister—his only close relation—without causing comment, yet he did not love her." The lawyer paused a moment "Can we find a reason there? Did he leave her this house—and a problem?"
"And to me—the buhl box."
"You don't offer to hand that over to the estate?"
"I want to keep it." Ivy turned to face the solicitor. "It's the one thing that god-dad always wanted to have near him. It—it will be like having him about the place when I see it."
"The buhl box." The smile grew on the lawyer's face. "Come, Ivy. You have inherited the buhl box and its contents. As your legal counsellor, it is only right that I should obtain your inheritance for you. As the legal representative of the deceased, and co-executor with Mrs. Western, of the will," He made a grimace at the words, "I shall now hand the box over to you and obtain your receipt for it."
He went to the table and scrawled a receipt on a piece of paper.
"Sign here, Ivy." He held the pen towards her. When she had signed the receipt he folded it and placed it in his pocket.
"Now come and take possession of your buhl box."
With old-fashioned courtesy he held the door for her to pass through. Again in the gloomy hall, he smiled quietly as he viewed the trim, little figure, walking before him. Ivy Breton was a pretty girl and although below the average height of woman, carried herself with an almost regal air.
At the library door she waited until the lawyer came to her. He opened the door and she passed into the big room.
On the big desk, occupying the centre of the room, stood a box—the buhl box. Immediately the eyes of man and girl turned to it. Kithner picked it up and weighed it in his hand.
"Not heavy." He laughed gently and tried to raise the lid, but could not. "Locked!"
"There is no key to the box." Ivy took it in her hands. "See! It opens to a concealed spring. So!"
The lid flew back under the pressure of the girl's fingers. They bent to peer into the inferior. In the box lay only a letter and underneath it a photograph. Kithner slit the envelope and handed it to the girl. She withdrew the enclosure, a single sheet of paper and, almost without thinking, read the few lines on it, aloud:
You have been a good daughter to me. This last charge I lay on you. Carry out the instructions contained in this—the buhl box.
As the girl concluded reading the few lines. Kithner look from the box a photograph of a young man. In silence, he handed it to the girl. She stared at it amazedly. In the place where the autograph is usually written were three words, in her godfather's writing:
"FIND THIS MAN."
"ABSURD!" The girl gurgled, delightedly. "Do you, or did dear old god-dad, think I'm going to chase about the world looking for a man to marry me? No, he—"
"He will have to do the chasing." Kithner's smile broadened into a chuckle. "Quite right, m'dear. Now to find him and set him on the right track."
"The chasing." The solicitor's eyes twinkled. "No, dear, that was only my joke. Still—" he paused.
The girl looked at him, inquisitively.
"What are you going to do?" Kithner asked.
"I don't know." Ivy had picked up her godfather's letter again and was reading the few lines, attentively. "God-dad wants me to find him."
"That's not going to be easy." The lawyer walked around the desk and sank into Basil Sixsmith's arm-chair. "There's not a single clue. The photograph's mounted on plain card, not an imprint, not a mark on it. He may be in the heart of Australia, for all we know."
"And I am supposed to go and fetch him out? That's comforting!" Ivy perched herself on the corner or the desk, a twinkle of mischief in her green-grey eyes. "Still, he's got to be found."
"Because god-dad wants him found." Ivy spoke as if she had given the final reason. Now, Mr Kithner, how do I go about it?'
"Of course!" The girl was sarcastic. "Will this do? 'Wanted—a young man: photograph in the possession of a young lady who is looking for a job.'"
"Looks to me as if you've taken on quite a 'job' in this search."
"And with only two hundred and fifty pounds to finance it."
"Then you have relinquished the idea of handing over that money to Mrs. Western?"
The girl nodded. "Now, be sensible. How am I to go about this task?"
For some time there was silence. Ivy tried to consider the matter from all points of view. It was rather emharassing. She was to find an unknown young man—and that without the slightest clue to where he was likely to be.
Where had Basil Sixsmith found that photograph? Had he known the young man whose picture it was? What had been the relations between the young and the old man And above all, what was to happen when she found him—if she succeeded in her search?
The girl had not much doubt in the matter. She would find the man, only that the finding of him was the last injunction placed on her by the godfather she had loved so dearly She would find him—and then?
Had the old man thought to provide for her future by a marriage between her and this man? The rich colour flooded her face at the thought. This would be just like a man! To provide for her future! As if she was incapable of working?
No, her godfather would not have acted like that. Ivy knew him too well to allow that thought to linger. Her godfather had been too wise try so palpable a trick. There was—there must be—a reason behind the somewhat peremptory instruction that accompanied the photograph.
Could she couple the instruction regarding this man with the disappearance of the wealth her god-dad had been credited with possessing? But, in that case, what relation could this man be to him? Or—?
Ivy jumped from the desk and took to pacing the room. Had this unknown man she had been instructed to find anything to do with herself or her history?
Who was she? Where had she come from? Ivy shrugged. She knew so little of herself. Her godfather had carefully avoided any mention of her birth and parentage. She had ask some questions, but he had always been evasive in his replies. Once she had pressed for an answer—to be asked if she was not entirely happy with him? What could she answer to that? She had known that she was happy; that had she not possessed a native spirit of independence she would have been thoroughly spoilt by the old man.
Something of herself and her parents she had gathered; partly from what her godfather had told her, partly from the answers to the few questions she had asked and he had answered, from time to time. She had learned that she was the daughter of an old, close friend. He had told her that he had travelled to Queensland, when she was a baby, to receive her as a trust from her dying father. Her father? She remembered him so slightly. A tall grave man who hardly ever smiled; a man whose furrowed brow told of a world pressing hard on him.
She could not remember her mother. Once she had questioned the old man regarding her mother, and he had told her to go and look in the glass. She had stood on tip-toe before the old-fashioned mirror, trying to picture herself twenty years older, a mother with a daughter of her own age.
And that was all she knew—except that she was entirely dependent on the man who had taken her and given her a home; at first for the sake of the friend he had loved, then for own self. Had her father and mother had other children?
Was this man, whose photograph she had found in the buhl box, her brother? That might be. She always wanted a brother, someone to look up to—a nice, strong, elder brother who would bully her a bit. She knew that she could not love a brother who gave way to her; the woman in her revolted at the thought. She might love a husband who lived in a state of passionate adoration and acquiescence to her demands; but a brother—he had always to be superior, masterful, to call out the best in the adolescent woman that she instinctively known was in her. She laughed, suddenly.
"Well?" Kithner looked up, inquiringly.
"I was wondering if that was a photograph of my brother."
"And I was wondering how you were going to find this man."
"You suggested advertising."
"Good Lord! You never took that seriously?" The lawyer threw up his hands. "Why, every man in the Commonwealth would think that his photograph, especially if he thought that he would be a gainer if he claimed resemblance to it. Why, girl, your money would melt in a staff of secretaries to deal with the correspondence; you would have to get police protection to prevent the doors of this house being thrown down in the rush. No, advertising is no good!"
"Then, what do you suggest?"
"I don't know. I don't suggest—anything." A little smile lurked around the straight lips. "Remember, young lady, I'm only your adviser, that means, I have to carry out the instructions you give me after I have advised you whether, in my opinion, they are good or bad. The onus is entirely on you."
Ivy looked at him, suspiciously. A sudden thought was born in her mind.
"Exactly, what do you mean?"
"My meaning is carried in my exact words, m'dear." Kithner laughed, slightly. "The chase is to you. All I will promise is, that I will carry out your instructions faithfully."
Ivy went and sat on the arm of the lawyer's chair.
"That means you know something."
"I know nothing, at the moment."
"And—if you learn anything in the future?"
"Anything I shall learn will be through carrying out the instructions you honour me with. That information will, of course, be always at your service. But—"
"I was wondering what god-dad did with his money?"
"You think he had money—more money that there was in the bank when he died?"
"I think so." Ivy spoke doubtfully.
"How could he have kept up this house, this establishment, if he had not had money?"
"He borrowed five hundred pounds from Mr. Patterson, lately."
Kithner laughed. "I know the time when Basil Sixsmith laid on my desk share certificates and bonds worth over a hundred thousand pounds."
"One hundred thousand pounds?" The girl gasped. "What did he do with it? Why, he must have speculated to have lost all that."
"If Basil Sixsmith speculated, then it was the other man who lost." The lawyer laughed, broadly. "Well, my dear, the problem is yours. Let me know what you think—what you intend to do."
"I can tell you now." Ivy spoke as Kithner rose to his feet. "I am going to find that man."
"The man of the photograph?"
"I am going to ask him why god-dad set me so ridiculous a quest."
The solicitor went to the door, shaking his head. Laughingly, Ivy accompanied him. As he passed out of the house he was smiling, secretly. Some yards down, the road he turned and looked back, shaking his head again.
IVY closed the door on the solicitor and went back into the house. It seemed very lonely and deserted now that her godfather had been carried out of it to his last long rest. Almost she thought she could hear the "thud-thud" of his heavy stick, as he passed from room to room. She looked in at the library, now filled with the long evening shadows, picturing him in his arm-chair before the great desk. She visioned the quick upward motion of his head with which he had always greeted her entry into the room, tinged with a hint of inquiry regarding her errand there.
He had loved her and she had loved him. Now he had gone and behind him had left a puzzle—a mystery. Ivy laughed, as remembrance came to her. Her god-dad had always reacted to mysteries. Together they had puzzled over many problems. Now he had set her a problem—and he was not there to help her solve it.
A problem, a mystery. Were the two things related? Was the problem the mystery and the mystery but part of the problem? The lawyer had spoken of her godfather's wealth—about a hundred thousand pounds and he had died with but the house and a few pounds in the bank; died in debt leaving a dispute to the relatives who flocked to his funeral as vultures to a feast on the dead.
She would solve that problem, probe that mystery. She knew now that the problem and mystery were one. She turned to face the big armchair, drawn before the empty grate. There the old man had sat evening after evening, conning some mystery story, perhaps to put the book down and discuss with her the solution. They had laughed together when they had found that the author had baffled, deceived them. In spite of that they had tackled the next mystery in a new spirit of optimism.
The old man had declared that the mystery-mongers were all wrong. They had dealt with crime—murder, abduction and theft He had claimed, that there were still more baffling mysteries in the honest light of the world. Had he framed one for her benefit; trusting to her native wit to search out the solution?
Again she read the note she had taken from the buhl box. Was there some secret to be read in that? She looked down at the photograph, lying on the desk. He looked nice—he would he a nice brother to some girl; a nice—.
The lawyer had suggested that, more by his manner than through his words. Ivy threw back her head. It that was the solution of the problem, then she had a word to say in the matter.
She would solve the mystery, and without help. Help? What had the solicitor meant by his words? He would take her instructions, only. That meant that he would take no active part in the search from the man of the photograph. Well, she needed no assistance—no help from him!
But where, and how, was she to start her quest. Again she turned to the letter and the photograph. She could discover no help there. She turned from the room and in the hall switched on the lights.
Something lay on the hall-mat. She went to it. An envelope! She picked it up, starting down at the superscription. It was addressed to her. She tore the envelope and pulled out a card. On it were the words: "At the telephone—seven to-night."
She glanced at her watch. It wanted five minutes to the hour. Hastily, she turned and went to the library, seating herself in the arm-chair before the desk, the telephone before her.
A tinge of excitement swept over her as the minute hand slowly came to the hour. Who had dropped the envelope, containing the card, through the letter box? Who was to speak to her on the telephone at the hour named? Had that person anything to do with the mystery that was surrounding her?
The clock on the mantelpiece ticked gaily on. Ivy turned and watched I the hands. She knew that the clock was exactly right—that it had been foibles of her godfather. Every clock in the house had to keep time to the minute.
Then, on the first stroke of the hour the telephone bell rang shrilly, compellingly.
"Miss Breton?" A man's voice came across the wire. "Is that Miss Ivy speaking?"
"Yes." The girl was surprised how faint her voice sounded. "I am Miss Breton—Ivy Breton."
"There is no one with you in the room?" The voice was hard.
"I am alone in the room." The girl answered with some hesitation.
"Good!" For a moment the voice paused. "Let me say how sorry I was to read of the death of my old friend, Basil Sixsmith."
"Why are you?" asked the girl.
"I?" The man at the other end of the wire laughed. "I am one of your godfather's creditors. He owes me five thousand pounds."
FOR some seconds Ivy could not speak. Her godfather had died, owing money on every hand. Yet, the lawyer had said that his debts had amounted to only about fifteen hundred pounds, Then, when he had made that statement he had not known of this debt.
Five thousand pounds—and the knowledge of it had come to her over the telephone, from some unknown man. The girl sat holding on to the edge of the desk, bemused. What was she to answer? How was she to deal with this new development?
"Why—" She hesitated. "Why come to me—Who are you?"
"Does that matter?" The man at, the other end of the wire laughed! shortly. "I'll put in my claim soon I enough. There's five thousand golden boys owing to me and I'll collect—you bet! Now, what are you going to do about it?"
The man's coarseness irritated the girl, For a minute she did not answer.
"Nothing to say, eh? Oh, well, you'll talk fast enough when we get down to tin-tacks. I thought I'd ring you up and let you know. That's all."
"But, why me?" Ivy was amazed. "I have nothing to do with the estate. No—Mr. Sixsmith only left me a memento. His estate goes to Mrs. Western, his half-sister."
"So!" The man laughed shortly. "What did the old man leave you, then?"
"The buhl box." Almost without thinking, Ivy spoke. She was sorry immediately afterwards. Why should she give this man information?
"The buhl box?" There was a meditative note in the male voice. "Now—I wonder!"
Ivy replaced the receiver, in sudden indignation. She was angry with herself that she had told the man anything. If, as he claimed, he was a creditor of the estate it was his duty to go to Mr. Kithner, the solicitor and executor for the estate; not to ring her up, asking absurd, coarse questions.
Then, again came the thought. Why had her godfather done this thing?
He had borrowed money from Mr. Patterson—and no doubt from this | man who refused to give his name.
What had come over her godfather? Ostensibly a rich man he had, for months, been living on borrowed money—borrowing in large sums.
Ivy tried to remember if, during the past year—the last year of the old man's life—her godfather had ever hinted at financial losses. Immediately to her had come casual remarks, small boastings, showing that Basil Sixsmith had gained, not lost, in his speculations. What did that mean? Had he become childish, losing his memory during those last days; pretending that his life-long success had remained with him; forgetting the material losses in a fantasy of dream winnings.
No, that would not answer her questions. Her godfather had been hale and hearty up to the commencement of his last illness—that had only lasted three short days. His memory had been phenomenal; his judgment accurate. Then, why these debts?
The girl had remained seated before the desk, the telephone under her hand, as her mind raced through the past, in wild speculation. Suddenly the bell rang. She stiffened, raising the receiver to her ear. She spoke her name, mechanically.
"So you're still there." The coarse voice, slightly mocking came over the wire. "Thought you might have rung off—while I was thinking. S'pose the line got disconnected, somehow. These automatic things do play tricks—Well, what have you to say?"
"What do you expect me to say?"
"Not 'thank you' for the information that the estate you thought to inherit is five thou, short?" The grating, laugh sounded again. "Still—"
"I told you, I have not inherited Mr. Sixsmith's estate. If you want information regarding that you must apply to Mr. Kithner, or to Mrs. Martha Western—"
"S'pose I prefer to deal with you?"
"The matter does not interest me."
"Yet, the old man left you the buhl box. Willing to sell it, eh?"
"Well, you needn't be so short on the subject. Block of bonds in it?"
"A letter and a photograph." Ivy bit her lips, angry with herself for speaking to the man; giving him information.
"A letter and a photograph." There was silence for some seconds. "Well, think of that! Much of a letter?"
"You're very informative. Say, Basil got vain in his old age and leave you his photograph? You won't get fat on that."
"It was not his photograph."
"Not his photograph?". Again silence, the man at the other end of the wire evidently digesting the information. "Male or female?"
"What interest have you in that?"
"All grist to the mill, old dear. So it was a male, eh? Good-looking fellow like me?"
The girl did not reply; yet she did not put down the telephone. In spite of her repulsion against the voice she thought she might perhaps gather information.
"Photograph of good-looking fellow and a short letter." A hint of laughter crept in the coarse voice. "So that's it? Find the man?"
"What do you know?" Ivy gasped. The man had been too accurate in his guess for her to conceal her surprise. "Who are you?"
"Must know who you're speaking to, eh? Well, curiosity's bad for little girls. I'd come up and have a look at the photograph. If I thought you'd show it to me. S'pose you won't? Oh well, good-night."
She heard the click of the receiver being replaced on the hook. For a moment she waited, then turned to the door. There she hesitated.
She had betrayed her secret. Some instinct told her that the contents of the buhl box should be kept a strict secret. But, what could this man who had spoken to her over the telephone do? It was ridiculous to believe, that he would break into the house during the night to steal the contents of the buhl box.
She was alone in the house, except for the two servants. What protection were they to her, and the box? They slept on the top storey—two middle-aged women who slept soundly and were often late for work in the morning. She slept on the lower floor. There was no one near her, to help if—
She laughed. She was imagining things. Yet she returned to the desk and picked up the buhl box, tucking it under her arm. Again at the door, she hesitated. If she took the box with her to her room! Would the man, if he came to the house in search of it, come to her room, guessing that she had carried it there?
No. She would leave the box in the library. But there was a way to protect its secret? She looked around the room. Was there nothing there that could help her? Yes. She went to a cabinet and pulled out a drawer. A brief search and she found a photograph of a young man. She placed this photograph in the buhl box, taking from the room the photograph of the man she was instructed to find.
In her room, the door locked, she laughed again. Why should she imagine that anyone was interested in her search? Yet, she hid the photograph away amid layers of lingerie. It would be safe there—with the other photograph in the buhl box.
THE moonlight was streaming through the open windows when Ivy awoke suddenly. She lay still, listening, but could hear nothing. Restless; annoyed at being awakened at that hour, she turned on her side and snuggled under the covers again—to spring to sudden wakefulness.
There was movement in the house. Cautiously raising her head from the pillows, she listened. Yes, there was the sound again. She slid out of' bed and went to the door, opening it but a crack.
Someone was on the ground floor of the house. She opened the door wider. Now she could distinctly hear the slow movements of someone feeling a way cautiously around the hall. She went to the head of the stairs and peered down. She thought she could see a dark shadow move slowly' within the lighter shadows.
Running silently back to her room, she found a robe and threw it around her. Then she returned to the head of the stairs—and waited. She could not see anyone, now. Where had the shadow gone? Instinctively, she answered her own question. The man, if there was a man in the house—if she had not been mistaken—had gone into the library.
She stole silently down the stairs until she stood in the hall, peering into the shadows, listening intently.
Presently she heard a slight sound again: Where did it come from? She thought, the library.
Careful to make no sound, she went to the library door and waited, her hand on the handle. She thought she could hear someone moving within the room. Still she waited.
For a brief moment she thought of going upstairs and awakening the servants, but would that help her? Would not their terrors at finding the house invaded by a burglar but add to her perplexities? No, she decided that she would deal with the matter herself. She could not telephone for help, for the only instrument in the house was in the library. Perhaps, if she could spring a surprise on the man she could baffle him, put him to flight.
Bracing herself, she flung open the door and marched into the room. Immediately she was blinded by a sudden flare of intense light. She staggered back, her hands clasped to her eyes. Something brushed past her, throwing her against the wall. She heard a hard laugh and then the slamming of the street door.
For some moments Ivy stood just within the library, dazed and almost blinded. What had happened? She knew now that there had been some one in the house. She believed that she recognised the laugh. What had the man wanted? What had he taken?
It was some minutes before she felt herself normal, and could grope for the light-switch. She found it and pressed, to stand blinking in the sudden glare. Instinctively, her eyes turned to the desk, to the buhl box.
It was there, safe. She lifted it and pressed the spring. The lid flew up, and she looked down on the photograph and the letter.
But, had she left, them like that? Some instinct told her that someone had touched them since she had left the library. She was certain that she had placed the letter in the box first and then dropped the photograph on it. Now the letter lay on the photograph. Cautiously she turned the box upside-down on the desk. With a paper-knife she turned over the photograph.
It was the photograph she had placed in the box—the one that she had taken from the cabinet. The girl turned to the desk-lamp and switched it on. She moved the photograph under the light, careful not to touch it with her fingers. Immediately she saw the imprint of a thumb on the glazed surface.
Someone had been in the house; someone had found the secret spring that opened the lid of the buhl box. But, why was the thumb mark almost exactly in the centre of the photograph?
Here was mystery. For a moment Ivy stood and considered; then pulled out a drawer of the desk. From the drawer she took a powerful magnifying glass and again scrutinised the photograph. Now she came on further mystery. Against two corners of the card on which the photograph was mounted were semi-circles, about the size of half a threepenny piece.
For seconds she was puzzled; glancing about the room for help to solve this new problem. Her eyes lit on something that glistened bright in the lamp-light, close to the wall. She went to it and picked it up. It was a drawing-pin. Now she understood.
Someone had pinned the print to the wall while they photographed it.
That was the reason for the sudden blaze of light as she entered the library. Her hesitation and sudden blindness had been all that the intruder had required for to make his escape. He had wrenched the photograph from the wall and dropped it and the letter in the buhl box, snapping down the lid; then he had swept past her, carrying with him the camera he had used.
For minutes Ivy stood; leaning against the desk, laughing at her thoughts. Her nocturnal visitor had been the man who had telephoned her during the evening. She had been right in guessing that he would come to the house in search of the photograph. If she had not changed the photographs; if she had not awakened and come down stairs; he would have copied the letter and the photograph of the young man and escaped, undetected. And he had copied the photograph of the wrong man!
What did he want a copy of the photograph for? What secret lay behind the photograph of the man now lying amid her intimate things in one of her drawers.
What did this man, who claimed that her godfather owed him five thousand pounds, know of the mystery that was fast enclosing her—the mystery she was coming to believe was partly of her godfather's own making? He must know something—as she believed Mark Kithner did—or he would not have ventured so much for so little ostensible purpose. Who was this man pictured in the photograph? What was the mystery surrounding him and her godfather? Why was she instructed to find him—and for what purpose?
Breathless with the thoughts that crowded her brain. Ivy dropped into the chair before the desk, propping her chin with her hands. She had to solve this problem. She had to safeguard that photograph. A grim smile came on her lips. There were other people who could take photographs. Godfather Sixsmith had been a keen snap shooter. Somewhere in the library was a camera—a fine powerful instrument.
She went to her room and carried the photograph of the young man to the library, propping it upright on the desk against some books. In one of the drawers of the cabinet she found the camera. She had no magnesium flash, but she could give long time exposures. Three times she replaced the film in the camera and pressed the bulb, giving varying exposures. One of them must prove right. Then, before she replaced the camera in the drawer she photographed the fake photograph she had left in the buhl box. The thumbprint might be valuable. The man had left it on the print when he was pinning it against the wall. The next day she would try and discover whose fingerprint it was. Something told her that it would be useless to apply to the police. The man was not an ordinary burglar; the police would only have imprints from men who had passed through their hands. She would have to make her own inquiry.
Then, she replaced the photograph and the letter in the buhl box.
Again she hesitated. Should she take the buhl box to her room? No, there was no necessity for that. The intruder had obtained what he came to get. He had copies of the photograph, and perhaps the letter. Again Ivy laughed. Who was the man whose photograph the burglar had risked so much to obtain? Would the burglar discover the original—and what would he do then?
Some instinct told Ivy that she had stored up trouble for the unknown man whose photograph she had substituted in the buhl box. The burglar, if he was the man who had telephoned her, would strive to get on the unknown's track. He would want to find the man—as she wanted to find man. But they would not be the same man.
She turned to the door, switching out the lights and taking with her the original photograph that had been in the buhl box. As she opened the door it was swung suddenly back. Something soft was pressed over her face; something overpowering filled her lungs. She felt herself lifted and carried back into the library. Then unconsciousness came.
IVY lay back on the couch, inert and helpless; yet her period of unconsciousness was brief. She saw the electric light come on, dispelling the darkness and a shadow move between it and her eyes. She closed her eyes, hopelessly. She had no strength to resist, no will to think or plan.
What was to happen to her? She hardly cared. All she wanted to do now was to sleep, and sleep would not come—only existed that dreadful lethargy in which she seemed to hover between the living world and a world of dreams. She thought she was dropping—and she did not care. Then something caught at her, holding her suspended over space. A bright star gleamed through her eyelids, burning into the nerves of' her eyes. It hurt, and she flinched from, it. Gradually it drew further and further, away, until it disappeared in inimitable space—drawing with it her remaining powers of consciousness.
How long she slept she did not know. She opened her eyes to see the morning sun pouring in at the library windows. She looked around her, vaguely. How did she come to be in the library at that hour of the morning? She shivered in the cold morning air, then looked down at herself, covered only by the thin silk pyjamas from which the flimsy bed robe had fallen away.
Then she remembered, and sat up. She glanced around her, fearfully, and sighed with relief to find herself alone. Where had he gone to—the man who had met her at the door, suffocating her with the drugged cloth and carrying her back into the room? She lifted her hands to her head, then looked at them curiously.
When she had gone to the door to leave the library, on the previous evening, she had been carrying the photograph of the "unknown." Where was it now? She stood up and shook her robe. It was not on the lounge with her. She searched the floor. The photograph was not in the room.
Then, the man had taken it! For the moment she was dazed. In some way she must recover it. But, where was it likely to be? Who had taken it?
Not the man who had rung her up on the telephone the previous evening. Yet, he had been the burglar who had stolen into the house and copied the fake photograph she had placed in the buhl box. Ivy knew that he had not suspected the exchange of photographs. He had copied the photograph and the letter and had carried his camera from the house when she had surprised him in the library. She had heard the front door clang as he raced into the street.
That man had not lingered about the house to observe her movements. It would have been impossible for him to have guessed her objectives, if he had. She had brought the photograph to the library and had copied it and the fake photograph with the door shut.
Then, someone else was interested in the photograph of the "unknown." Who could that be? She had a dim remembrance that the man who had caught her in his arms and chloroformed her when she opened the door, was tall and well-built. She thought she remembered a head, covered with a mop of rebellious curly brown hair, bending over her. But—
The man of the photograph—the "unknown"—had brown curly hair so Mark Kithner had deduced: But—Ivy gasped. Was her assailant of the previous night the very man she had been instructed to discover? Then, he had taken away with been his own photograph!
Ivy laughed, until she lay back on the couch exhausted to broken giggles. How absurd the thought was. Her godfather had ordered her to discover a man who did not want to be discovered; a man who was prepared to break the law to prevent her tracing him! What could be the reason behind his conduct? More, for what reason had Basil Sixsmith laid his commands on her to track down a man who preferred to remain unknown?
Again the girl laughed. The man had obtained the photograph her godfather had placed in the box; but he did not know that, but a few minutes before she had copied it. Ivy rose to her feet and glanced around the room, searchingly. Where was the camera? She remembered, she had placed it in the cabinet. Was it there still? She moved to cross the room, swaying dizzily and holding on to the furniture.
At length, she recovered her sense of balance. She reached the cabinet and found the camera where she had left it. She carried it back to the couch and removed the spool of films. Later in the morning she would take it into town and have it developed and the photographs printed. Then she would have again the pictured features of the man she had been ordered to find—the "unknown."
She glanced at the clock. It wanted a few minutes to half-past seven. Then, she had been unconscious for many hours. She stood up and commenced a careful search of the room. Had either of the intruders taken anything but the photograph?' So far as she could see nothing else was missing. But, she had not looked in the buhl box! She went to the box and touched the spring. The lid fell back. Neither photograph nor letter was in it!
For many seconds Ivy stood and gazed at the empty box. Why had the man taken the photograph she had placed there? Why had he taken the letter? The lawyer had told her and she believed that the letter held nothing of consequence—that Basil Sixsmith had not included in the few lines an anagram or cipher.
A movement outside the library door brought the girl to a sense of time. She went to the door and listened. A heavy, stolid tread passed along the hall. Ivy knew that was Alice, the cook, going to her kitchen She opened the door and peered out. Faith, the housemaid, was not in sight. Probably she was in the kitchens, joining Alice in an early morning cup of tea.
She crept through the hall and fled up the stairs to her own room. Only when she closed the door did she realise that she had brought the buhl box with her. What did that matter, now? The box was empty. She placed it on the bedside table and crept under the covers. Before she could take any action she must wait for Faith to call her, when she brought the morning tea-tray. If the woman found her up and dressed she would be suspicious—and for the present Ivy could not afford to have suspicions around her.
The intervening twenty minutes passed slowly. At length, the maid came. Ivy wriggled impatiently while the woman fussed around the room. At last she was alone. She seized the few letters lying on the tray and tore them open; to fling them to the ground. There was nothing of consequence in them.
What was she to do? True, she had the roll of films and on one of the negatives appeared the thumbprint of the man who had invaded the house the previous evening. But what could she do with that? Could she plan to take the fingerprints of all the men she came across? That would he an impossible task.
Again she was back at the point where she had been stopped the previous day. No; she was in a worse position. Then she had the photograph of the "unknown" and her godfather's letter. Now both letters and photograph were missing—but; she had the roll of films containing a copy of the photographs. How and where was she to start her quest for these men?
She slipped from the bed and went into the bathroom, still conning her problem. As she slipped on her bathrobe again, Faith knocked at the door.
"Mrs. Western on the telephone, Miss Ivy." Faith spoke from the passage.
Martha Western! Ivy gasped. What did she want? Fastening her gown the girl ran down the stairs to the library—to the telephone.
"Ivy Breton speaking, Mrs. Western." She spoke into the instrument curtly.
"Oh, Ivy, dear." The voice was gushing; "How are you, this morning, and after your very terrible strain, yesterday? You don't know how I felt for you. It was all so sad and solemn, I know how fond you were of dear Basil—and to lose him like that! After so short an illness, too! Charlie spoke of coming round to see you this morning, but I would not let him. I said you must rest, have a good long rest before you saw anyone; Faith will look after you well. I'm sure, she thinks there is no one in the world like you—"
"Is there anything you want, Mrs. Western?" The girl spoke impatiently. "I am just out of my bath and would like to get some clothes on before I indulge in gossip."
"Oh, how inconsiderate of me." The widow giggled. "But you will forgive me, I'm sure. I rang you up to tell you of a most beautiful plan I have thought of. I'm sure you will like it. It's too delightful—for me, that is, of course—but I'm sure you will approve. It must be awful for you to think of living alone in that dreary place all these—"
"Yes?" Ivy had a premonition of what the lady had in mind.
"Yes. I told Charlie of my plan when I woke this morning. I sent for him to come to my room. My dear, you should have seen him, with his tousled head and unshaven chin—and he looked such a boy—such a charming, dear boy. I really wanted to cuddle him like I used to when he was a baby."
"And your plan, Mrs. Western?" Ivy suppressed a desire to yawn loudly.
"It's so simple, my dear. Just that you should pack up and come and stay with us." Mrs. Western made a pause, as if from the effort of speaking so directly; then continued vivaciously. "It will be lovely to have you—just you and I to ourselves—all day long. Of course, Charlie will only be at home in the evenings, you know. The poor boy has to work. I always say it does young men good to work."
"But what of this house, Mrs. Western?" The girl asked innocently. "God-dad wanted me to live in it for three months. You remember his will?"
"Such a silly will, wasn't it, dear? Of course, one shouldn't speak ill of the dead, but it was silly. To think of a dear child like you being left in those gloomy barracks tor three months! If Basil had only spoken to me! Of course, I would have offered you a home—not for three months, dear child, but for ever and ever."
"But I must carry out god-dad's last wishes." The girl was laughing at Martha Western's assumption of ingenuousness. "He particularly wished me to stay here for three months."
"How thrilling!" There was a little trill of anger in the laughter that came over the wire. "But, dear, you can do what he wished you to do from here. We are quite close to the house—"
"And this house, Mrs. Western?"
"Oh, that—of course that can be sold." The lady spoke as if the thought had only just dawned on her mind. "Charlie will look to that. He is such a good business man! I don't know what I should do without him—and he says that house-property is booming now; of course you will be much more comfortable here—"
"And with this house sold you can pay god-dad's debts!" The girl spoke ironically.
"How clever of you!" Now the anger was showing in the widow's voice. "I shall be glad to do that! My solicitor told me that I could defer payment until I took possession and sold the place, but I don't like to do that. It would be such a slur on my dear brother's name. Of course, I shall pay at once—I would do that in any case. It's only a matter of a few pounds—fifteen hundred, I believe, that dear Mr. Kithner said."
"I am afraid you will find that the debts amount to more than that, Mrs. Western." The girl interrupted. "I had a telephone message from a man last night who claimed that god-dad owed him five thousand."
"What?" There was almost agony in the exclamation. "What do you mean, girl? The house and contents are not worth more than three thousand pounds."
"Mr. Kithner valued them at between five and six thousand pounds."
"But—five thousand pounds! Oh, that's impossible!"
"I am afraid you will find it very possible. But I really know nothing about the matter. When the—gentleman spoke to me I advised him to communicate with you or Mr. Kithner."
Ivy listened for some seconds, but there was no reply. She laughed. Her news had greatly disturbed her godfather's half-sister. At the thought of the offer of a home, she laughed again. What sort of a home would Mrs. Western: provide for her, once she got her out of the house?
In the hall Faith met her, carrying a flat parcel.
"A man left this at the door just now, Miss Ivy."
Some instinct told Ivy what she would find under the wrapping paper. In her room she undid the parcel, and found in her hand two photographs—one the "unknown," and the other the print containing the thumb-mark.
WHO had sent the photographs back to her? She scanned them eagerly, and searched the wrappings. There was not a mark to identity the sender. Yet she carefully folded the brown paper, and stowed it away.
She placed the two photographs on the dressing-table, scanning them closely. Really, the two men were not very dissimilar; yet she had picked the second photograph at hazard. One of the photographs pictured curly hair—that was the "unknown;" the other—well, his hair could not be called absolutely straight. He looked "nice"—his hair looked nice—hair that a nice girl would care to crumple and pull. She glanced from one to the other of the photographs. A pair of nice boys, she decided.
Two brothers! No, they were not enough alike for that. Then she glanced at the clock. How she was dawdling this morning! She turned the photograph face downwards, firmly. She would not look at them again until—
Something had been marked on the back of one of the photographs. She bent to examine it more closely. Yes, there was a series of figures indented there, made with a fine, round-pointed instrument. For a minute she puzzled to decipher them; then read: "Ring B42675."
Who had placed that number on the back of the photograph? Ivy stood before her dressing-table, staring down at the card, very much perplexed. What did those figures mean?
Did they represent a telephone number? That was probable. B42675. Somehow the number seemed familiar to her. In what connection? Finishing her dressing in haste, she went down to the library and opened the telephone book. Silly! It was useless to search there for the number. The numbers in the telephone book were attached to an alphabetical list of subscribers.
She rang "Information," to be told they could not help her. Why could they not tell her? Ivy was angry. She dialled "Information" again, and a supercilious female voice advised her to ring up the number and ask who rented the instrument.
Somehow the suggestion did not appeal to the girl. She glanced at the clock. 'B' was a city exchange, and the time was a little after half past eight in the morning. Presently she heard the connecting click as the receiver at the other end of the line was lifted from the hook.
"Good morning, Miss Breton."
"Why—you know?" Ivy muttered in surprise.
"Of course. I expected you to ring me immediately you found the telephone number on the back of the photograph."
"Then you are the man who—"
"Who assaulted you last night? Now, why accuse me of that? Should I leave clues behind me if I were a burglar?"
"The authorities appear reluctant to connect telephone numbers with persons." The girl spoke crossly.
"They object to giving information to private persons. The information you asked from the exchange a few minutes ago would have been furnished to the police immediately."
"Yet my question was an innocent one. But how do you know?"
"I suspected. Now you confirm my suspicions." The man laughed intriguingly. "You might as well ask me if I have curly brown hair."
"But—I only thought that! You can't read my thoughts!" The girl was deeply puzzled. "Why—what—"
"You must forgive me, Miss Breton." A hint of mockery lay in the pleasant voice. "I am only trying to impress you with a sense of my ability as an investigator."
"Some people very wrongly call them that." The man spoke sadly. "It is quite a mistake. Investigators investigate, but rarely detect; detectives try to detect, but invariably investigate wrongly."
"Then you are only an investigator?" The girl gurgled deliciously.
"As you say, only an investigator."
"And you propose to investigate—"
"If I, say you will you be offended? More, will you think me conceited—to imagine that I believe I can investigate that most unfathomable mystery, woman? Yet—"
"You suggest investigating me?" Ivy spoke when the man paused, apparently in some confusion.
"Would you object?" His voice was now more confident.
"Certainly. I do not like strangers interfering in my affairs."
"Am I a stranger?"
"Well, at present you are only a telephone number, B42675."
"And in the telephone directory you will find, that number attached to a name—a common name—Jack Lorne."
"John Lorne, investigator?"
"Not even that. The 'investigator' is a secret—not for the knowledge of all and sundry who use the telephone directory. The 'John' has long since been absorbed in the more plebeian 'Jack' by my friends."
"Then, John Lorne, secret investigator—"
"Excuse me again. Investigator of secrets."
"—will you please tell me who came to my house last night and copied the photograph of the young man contained in the buhl box? Will you also inform me who chloroformed me and carried me to the couch in the library."
"Two separate people, please. My sins alone overwhelm me."
"—and then took the letter and the photograph from the buhl box, and the photograph I was carrying."
"Is that a commission, Miss Breton?"
"I shall require to know your charges, first."
"Certainly. You will find them most reasonable. I will call on you in the course of the morning."
"Is that necessary?"
"An investigator—like a detective—prefers to get his information first hand."
"Even a secret investigator?"
"More so." The man paused, and then continued: "There is the matter of the identity of the man whose photograph was in the buhl box. I think I should be instructed to investigate that."
Ivy thought quickly. Was that the reason for the telephone conversation. The man who had telephoned her the previous evening had been most curious regarding the original of the photograph. The burglar copied the photograph. Someone had taken the photograph from the house. Now this man—
Dare she miss this chance of obtaining the information her godfather had charged her to secure? She was to find the young man whose photograph he had left for her in the buhl box. For what reason, she asked herself again? To ask him what her godfather had done with the money his relations and friends credited him with possessing? That might be right. Certainly, it was the only thing she could suggest for the moment. Every hour plunged her deeper into the mystery that had commenced with the reading of her godfather's will.
His loss had been her first sorrow. Life with him had been happy and serene, until his illness. Then had come his death. He had passed from her peacefully, conscious to the last. He had not feared death, nor had she while she sat with his hand in hers waiting for the inevitable end.
Immediately had followed sordid greed and intrigue. She had listened to the rapacious avarice of his relatives, who cared not even to make a pretence of grief—who appeared to care only to learn what he had left, and to whom he had left it. Greed had been followed by trickery, and even violence. Had her godfather known what would follow when he drafted his last will; a will that hid from everyone the knowledge of what he had to leave behind; secured, she believed now by the mystery surrounding the buhl box?
She had to believe that. He had created a mystery and a trust—a trust concealed behind the mystery, believing that she loved him and honoured his wishes sufficiently well to work on until she had read his meaning.
"Well, Miss Breton?" The cool, pleasant voice spoke across the wire.
"I am sorry!" The girl was contrite. "I was thinking."
"I stand reproved."
"You may investigate, if you like—and if Mr. Kithner approves. You must ask him first. If you want to see me, I will see you, but there is so little that I can tell; explain so little. All I know is that I am instructed to find the original of the photograph."
"The photograph of the young man you found in the buhl box?"
"I don't know." The girl shrugged. "Just that! I'm to be allowed to live in this house for three months, rent-free. Mr. Kithner has a sum of money to pay me and the house expenses during that time. Then—"
"Unless you find this young man?"
"So far as I know, even if I do." The girl laughed slightly. "Oh, it is all so impossible! Even it I find him I have no instructions to act on."
"—but to inform him of your godfather's death, and to tell him of the legacy left to you?"
"What if I do find him, and tell him what you suggest? He may answer, 'I'm sorry; but what has that to do with me?' What am I to say, then?"
"You will have fulfilled your charge." For a second he paused. "Then I am to act for you?"
"No, for yourself, if you choose to act." Ivy spoke impulsively. "Mr. Lorne, I am sorry. I don't know you. I am surrounded by people who think—who seem to have no other idea than to fight for the little money god-dad left behind him. There is nothing but greed, selfishness. Oh, I cannot call it anything else but evil about me. I can't trust anyone. I—I must act alone."
She replaced the receiver on its hook suddenly, and went out of the room. Yes, she must act—act quickly—and alone.
Some new power stiffened her. Her lethargy, partly induced by the drugging of the previous night, left her. Fires of resolution ran in her veins. She must act—and decisively.
First, she must search out this man who had spoken to her this morning. She liked his voice. It was pleasant, even, containing a spice of humour that appealed to her. She guessed him to be honourable, if somewhat careless.
An investigator! She smiled quietly. A detective? No, he had disclaimed that title. In that he had been wise. Ivy had learned through her godfather's reading to picture detectives as men who wore hard hats, cocked on one side; men with full, fleshy faces and ruddy complexions; carrying always large, evil-smelling cigars that swished continually from corner to corner of their full-lipped mouths; believing evil of everybody, continually striving to entrap the young and innocent; looking for sin everywhere.
She went to her room and dressed quickly for the street. With the roll of films in her bag she went down to the city arranged to have them developed and printed at once. She had the original photograph again, but it was large and awkward to carry with her. The film pictures would be small, easily carried and concealed.
She had now to discover where John Lorne lived. With a little laugh she went to the post office. Why had she not consulted the telephone directory at home? A moment's search, and she found the name and address: "John Lorne, 37 Masters Street."
That was not far from the post office. Masters Street led from Macquarie Street, In one of the best quarters of the city. A narrow street, very quiet, lined with tall buildings, mostly offices and flats. The street contained a few shops, very high-class and exclusive. Ivy knew of a milliner in Masters Street; of a modiste, a beauty parlour; and a florist. Lorne, the florist! Now she remembered why the telephone number had been so familiar to her. John Lorne, florist! She laughed, delightedly. John Lorne, investigator!
"Lorne, florists," had a history. The business had been founded by two brothers, university students. Their parents had died suddenly, leaving them almost entirely unprovided-for; their education half-completed. Jack Lorne, the elder brother, had settled his parents' estates, and found himself with but a few hundred pounds in hand. Determined to, at least, complete his younger brother's education, he had invested the whole of their capital in a florist's shop, choosing the exclusive Masters Street for his venture.
The newspapers, as well as his friends, had laughed at "John Lorne, florists." The writers had derisively asked what a university student knew about flowers, especially when that university student had been chosen to represent his State—a potential All-Australia player. John Lorne had ignored the laughter, and proceeded serenely on his way. His brother had joined him in the intervals between his studies. The boys had proved themselves good business men. The newspapers had given them a good deal of free advertisement, and they soon built up a good clientèle. Paul Lorne had continued at the University, and within a very short time John Lorne had found means to divide his time between the shop and his interrupted studies.
Ivy had much to think over while she walked from the post office to the corner of Masters Street. So "Lorne, florists" had, for her benefit, named himself "investigator?"
Well, she also could investigate; she would investigate "Lorne, florists." She had often been in the shop, but she could not remember having left her name there. True, she had sometimes ordered flowers to be sent to her home, but the order had always been given in the name of her godfather, Basil Sixsmith. She remembered that one of the attendants had once called her "Miss Sixsmith." Had she met "Lorne, florists" on one of her visits to the shop? She had an idea that she had seen him.
In the shop were several girl attendants. A girl had always served her. Yet, she had a dim recollection of a tall young man, broad of shoulder, with a clean-cut, "nice" face, crowned with a mop of wavy, brown hair, somewhere in the background.
Ivy walked slowly past "Lorne, florists," glancing idly into the shop, The place was a mass of gorgeous blossoms, showing a bewildering mass of colours. A few customers were lounging in the wide, comfortable chairs that made the shop so popular with society people. A few girls, dainty and well-dressed, moved about the place, arranging, re-arranging, attending to the leisurely customers. There was no hurry and bustle. The place had the air of utter peace, yet the girl could see that behind the indolent, careless air was a keen, business brain—making indolence pay.
Next to "Lorne, florists" was a teashop, very exclusive and hidden behind well-draped windows and doors. Ivy paused, irresolutely, then entered. She found a vacant table and sat down to consider her next step. She had found the man of the telephone. Now she wanted time to consider how she was to deal with him. She knew that it was to gain time that she had entered the tea-shop. She laughed quietly. She had found her Investigator in a bower of flowers! How was she to treat him? How could she question him to make him reveal what knowledge he had of the mystery surrounding her?
It would be useless to ask him direct questions. If she went to him, in more probability, he would question her. He would draw from her what she knew. No, it was useless to expect to make him speak by direct questioning. She must find some way to surprise his secret. She must trap him; get him at some disadvantage.
Already she had one advantage over him. She knew him for "Lorne, florists," not "Lorne, investigator." The girl mused quietly as she sipped her tea. So "Lorne, florists" had challenged a woman to a duel of wits.
Slowly a plan formed in her mind. Could she carry it through? Could she put it into execution immediately? She looked down at her clothes. They would do. She finished her tea, and went to the door. In the street again she made direct for "Lorne, florists." One of the attendants came to her. "If you please, Madame?"
"Is Mr. Lorne in, please?" Ivy tried to speak casually.
"In the office." The girl pointed to the rear of the shop. Through a glass partition, Ivy could see a shock of wavy brown hair, crowning a head bent over a desk. She went to the glass door and knocked.
The man looked up. "Yes?"
"Mr. Lorne?" In answer to his quick nod, she continued: "Mr. Lorne, have you a position I can fill. I know and love flowers!"
IVY had not spoken as she had planned to speak before she entered the shop. The words had come impulsively, and, somehow, she knew that they had awakened a response in the man before her. She looked at the man—John Lorne, investigator, now revealed as "John Lorne, florists." The mop of wavy, brown hair overhung a broad low forehead, from under which looked up at her a pair of deep, brown, twinkling eyes. His chin was firm and well-moulded; his cheeks thin, but his skin sparkled with health, and was well-tanned.
"So do I."
She believed his answer to be as involuntary as her own speech. He hesitated a moment. "Sit down, Miss—"
"—France" Ivy answered, after a short pause, "Surely 'France' was true—by name she was a 'Breton'."
"Good, Miss France." Lorne swung his chair to face the girl. "Any experience in florists' work."
"None." Ivy's hopes sank.
"Better still." A wide smile came on the "nice" lips. "You know, I have a horror of 'experienced' people. Not one of my staff is 'experienced'. I suppose if one of them applied for a job elsewhere she might claim to be 'experienced' now—but I'd disown her if I heard she had."
Ivy laughed. "I will bear that in mind, Mr. Lorne." For the moment the man sat and looked at her. Ivy thought that the brown eyes that had appeared so engaging, humorous and careless when she entered the office were searching down into her soul. She tried to bear the inspection without showing that she was aware of it, but stiffened slightly.
"Miss France, will you please go to the window, and bring me three tea-rose buds. They must match well. Don't wire them. I want them to be natural."
Without a word—without showing surprise—Ivy obeyed. The attendants looked at her curiously as she crossed the shop. Striving to appear entirely unconcerned, she returned to the office and handed the bulbs to the man she hoped would prove to be her employer within the next few minutes.
"Thanks, Miss France." Lorne took the buds, glanced at them carelessly, before placing them on his desk. He waited a few seconds, then rose and held out his hand.
"Miss France, you are engaged. To-morrow morning at nine, sharp. The usual salary and conditions of the trade. I hope you will be comfortable with us." He turned again to his desk, as if about to seat himself, then picked up the three buds. "By the way, Miss France—may I ask your acceptance of these three roses."
Ivy took the flowers with a little graceful nod, and pinned them on her dress. She went to the door, and hesitated, Lorne looked up.
"Mr. Lorne, why did you send me for these flowers?"
The man laughed quietly. "I wanted to see how you would behave in the shop—in unexpected circumstances. It was the best test I could devise at the moment. You were natural—that was the great thing. I want my people to be natural, whoever is in the shop—and, really, we have some very overpowering people here at times. Keep natural. Don't be subservient to anyone. You will be employed here, but you are a woman, and, I think, a lady. I think it is in you to be nice to everyone, even to some of the 'ladies' who come here and treat my people as it they were something too low to deserve consideration. Then, again—" He paused, "You didn't want to chop and torture those flowers when I gave them to you. Oh, don't think I'm too proud not to change my mind, if I think fit," he added, noting her expression of surprise. "To me, flowers are almost human. Anyway, they have a right to be treated decently. If you had wired them, or twisted their stems, I'd probably have reconsidered your engagement. Good-bye, Miss France. Nine, sharp, to-morrow morning."
His nod was a dismissal. In the street again, Ivy tried to collect her thoughts. She laughed to herself. She was a shop-girl now; engaged at "Lorne, florists."
What made her apply for the position? What hidden sense had made her take it when she stood in the glass-framed office, and heard the man speak her appointment? Had she acted rightly?
She realised that she had considerably curtailed her personal liberty—her ability to follow up any clue that promised to lead to the discovery of the unknown man. Now she would have to attend at "Lorne, florists," or she might find awkward questions asked. If she did not go to work the next morning, she would never dare enter "Lorne, florists" again. She would not even dare to walk down Masters Street. And Jack Lorne, investigator, wanted to come to her house to question her, to investigate the mystery that enveloped her and the buhl box.
Jack Lorne, investigator! How was she to reconcile "Lorne, investigator" with "Lorne, florists?" Here was a question she could only answer when she had been an employee of "Lorne, florists" for some days, if even then. As his employee, she would be able to study the man; discover whether his telephone conversation with her that morning had been only idle curiosity, or carried some hidden meaning, unfathomable at the moment.
Now Ivy knew that she must plan and act quickly, the investigator would go to her home—to be told that she was not "at home." But she could not be "not at home" every time he called—and she had promised to see him. In some way she had to meet the contingency. If she could have a double—someone to sit quietly at home and interview callers, while she sought to probe "Lorne, investigator's" secrets as an employee of "Lorne, florists."
A double would free her from much embarrassment. In Macquarie Street she hailed a cruising taxi, and ordered the man to carry her to the lawyer's office. In the car she debated her movements. Should she tell Mark Kithner what she had so impulsively done?
Should she tell him of "Lorne, investigator's" telephone conversation that morning? She had rather more than a suspicion that Mark Kithner knew more of the mystery surrounding her and the buhl box than he was willing for her to suspect. Was he, too, pulling some strings in this problem that was a mystery; perhaps at the dictates of her godfather? That was possible; she believed very probable. In that case, if she allowed him to know her moves towards a solution of the problem, would he aid or hinder her?
The taxi drew up at the curb before the building in which Kithner, Wales & Kithner had their offices. Ivy went up in the elevator. In the outer office she suddenly decided her course of action.
She would tell Mark Kithner "everything"—up to her discovery that "Lorne, investigator" was "Lorne, florists," and her engagement as shop-girl by the latter. That she would keep secret until she knew exactly where her inquiries were leading her.
"Mr. Kithner will see you now, Miss Breton." A girl stood at the door of the waiting room.
"Will you come this way, please?"
"Well, m'dear?" The old lawyer met Ivy at the door of his office. "What's the news? Brought the original of the photograph to introduce to me?"
"I thought I might find him here, Mr. Kithner." Ivy had the ability to appear very guileless.
"Here?" Kithner shrugged. "I'm afraid we don't keep mysteries in stock."
"Not the solution of mysteries?"
"This is a legal firm, m'dear." The solicitor raised his brows slightly, "We lawyers don't solve mysteries."
"Create mysteries from problems?" The girl smiled. "For that there are judges, juries, and lawyers."
Again Kithner shrugged. "Without the courts the world would contain very few unexplainable problems, or mysteries. Now, m'dear, what's your particular problem, to-day?"
"A development of the buhl box mystery," said Ivy.
In a few terse words she told the lawyer of the happenings of the past night, including the return of the photographs and the discovery of the telephone number on the back of the photograph that she had found, originally in the buhl box.
"Humph!" The lawyer frowned. "That number wasn't on the photograph when I left your home last night, I scrutinised that photograph, back and front. There wasn't a mark on, it. Who owns that telephone number?"
"Lorne, florists." Ivy replied quietly.
"Lorne? Jack Lorne?"
"You know him?"
"His father was a client of this firm. I settled his estate and—"
"—advised his son to establish an exclusive florist's shop?"
"No." Kithner laughed. He appeared somewhat embarrassed. "Opposed the idea. Told him he would lose what remained of his inheritance."
"And he didn't?"
The solicitor shrugged. "He's making a couple of thousand a year, at least, out of it."
"And you told me to come to you for advice!" Ivy could not resist the thrust.
"Touché!" Kithner laughed. "So it was Jack Lorne who telephoned you this morning?"
"I telephoned him, please," Ivy corrected.
"Well, what do you propose to do now?"
"I hardly know." The girl hesitated. "I know that Mr. Lorne is interested in the mystery my godfather left me to solve. I know also that you are interested, Mr. Kithner, more than you wish me to see." The girl spoke daringly. "How and why, in both cases, I have yet to discover."
"Yet?" The solicitor elevated his heavy eyebrows. "Then, for the time I am under suspicion?"
"Yet you come to me for advice?"
"Advice I may not take. For help—yes."
"And that help is—"
A knock came at the door, and the girl who had shown Ivy into the lawyer's private office entered. She handed the old man a card.
"Tell him to wait, Miss Varney, please."
When the door had closed on the girl, Ivy spoke quickly. "Who is Miss Varney, Mr. Kithner?"
"She does not look very well. She looks drawn—nervous."
"That's what I tell her." The lawyer moved uneasily. "I've tried to make her take a holiday, but she won't."
"Is she interested in her work?"
"Interested? I've never had a girl to work with me like her before. She's as good a lawyer as there is in the city. Knows everything that is going on. I can walk away any time, and when I come back my work is all in apple-pie order, and progressing."
"Clever! Interested in her work!" Ivy was watching the lawyer covertly. "Like you, Mr. Kithner, interested in the demystification of problems legal?"
"Humph!" A twinkle came in the old, keen eyes. "You can put it like that if you please, m'dear."
"Lend her to me, Mr. Kithner, please."
"For what reason?"
The girl touched the bell on the desk. When Miss Varney entered she stood up. "You rang, Mr. Kithner?"
"No, I rang, Miss Varney." Ivy went to the girl, and, by her side, turned to face the lawyer. "Mr. Kithner!" The girl was almost excited. "Look at us both. Tell me; how much are we alike?"
"Humph!" The old lawyer considered the girls gravely. "Same height, within a fraction of an inch. Same build—about. Same colouring—yes. Features different, though."
"Enough to destroy any likeness?"
"Yet a general description would apply to you both," Kithner concluded. "I think so, too." Ivy turned to the girl by her side. "Miss Varney, I am in trouble. Oh, how silly of me! You don't know—"
"Mr. Kithner was explaining your problems to me this morning, Miss Breton," Mary Varney answered quietly.
"Then you know! Good!" Ivy laughed delightedly. "I'm sure you're intrigued."
Mary nodded. "Now I want to borrow you from Mr. Kithner for a few weeks. Will you come to me?" For almost a minute Mary Varney considered the girl beside her. A sudden light came in her rather dull eyes, and she smiled.
"If Mr. Kithner can spare me," she replied slowly. "But there is so much work on—"
"Spare you!" The old lawyer spoke emphatically, leaning forward on his desk, glaring at the girl. "Haven't I tried to spare you almost daily for the past three months? Haven't I almost gone down on my knees to you, imploring you to take a holiday?"
"But this is work, Mr. Kithner—not a holiday."
"Work or holiday," the old man shouted, "you go out of that door with Ivy Breton, and if I see you enter it again until she says you may I'll—"
"But, where's—" Mary started to protest, yet there was almost a lightening of her manner. "Perhaps in a fortnight or—"
"Good-bye, Mr. Kithner." Ivy slipped her arm around Mary's waist, turning her to the door. "I'll keep you advised of Miss Varney's health."
The solicitor nodded.
In the outer office Mary turned to Ivy.
"But, Miss Breton, I can't leave Mr. Kithner's papers in confusion. I can't—"
"I should hate to oppose Mr. Kithner," Ivy spoke demurely. "If he got really cross—"
Mary laughed. "He's a dear old man. His bark is far worse than his bite."
"And my bite is far worse than my bark." Ivy laughed. "How long before you can leave here?"
"Well—Ivy." The girl laughed embarrassedly. "You don't know the work there is on my desk."
"Come and show me." Ivy followed her companion to her room, to stare down on a desk piled with papers and files.
"What junk!" She spoke with the contempt of the untrained business woman. "Put it all away in a drawer, and forget it!"
"Forget it!" Mary stared at the girl in horror. "Why, there's those affidavits of—"
The girl turned quickly. In the doorway stood a young man.
"Mr. Kithner sent me to you. He tells me you are going on holiday and that I am to take over your work."
"Very well, Mr. Mitchell. When Miss Breton leaves I will go through a few matters with you."
The young man hesitated, at a quick glance from Ivy.
"Your hat's here, Mary," Ivy's quick eyes found what she sought, "Put it on, please."
"Your gloves and bag? Suppose they're in one of those drawers of your desk. Make haste, dear. We've got piles to do before the shops shut."
Ivy's impetuosity swept the girl off her feet. A nod at the clerk, and he took possession of the secretary's chair; a little deft manipulation, and she had Mary at the door, hatted and gloved, with her few personal belongings in her bag.
"GOOD-BYE, Mr. Mitchell." Ivy spoke airily. "I'll give you ample warning when Miss Varney proposes to return—or I let her do so."
She took the ex-secretary's arm and swept her through the general offices. She stopped abruptly, staring at a man who had just entered through the corridor door. A moment, and she recovered: to pull her companion into the corridor.
"Mary," she exclaimed, when the door was shut behind them. "Who was the man who came in as we were out?"
"Why?" The girl looked astonished. "That was only Mr. Richard Kithner—Mr. Kithner's son."
FOR the first time in her life attending any organised appointment, Ivy found work as a shop-girl in "Lorne, florists" strange and wearisome. She had arrived at the shop punctually at nine o'clock, to find Jack Lorne there, very busy. The morning hours were full of work, though customers were few.
Then came the mid-day interval. As Ivy walked down Masters Street, towards the centre of the city, she thought ruefully that the time in the shop had been wasted. She had found very few opportunities to come in contact with her employer, and when chance or business brought them together, he had been brusque and impersonal.
The previous afternoon, after they had left the solicitor's offices, Ivy had swept her companion in a bewildering rush through the city and its shops. For two delirious hours they had shopped and bought—in the feminine mind two very distinct processes.
Then, as the taxi carried them swiftly to the Sixsmith house the younger girl had glanced covertly at her companion. Already Mary was showing relief from the strain of her work. Her eyes were brighter, and a tinge of colour had mounted under the skin of her cheeks. Her bearing had altered: now she stepped more carefree and independent.
They had stayed up late the previous night—Ivy recounting the various happenings in that house since Mark Kithner had read her godfather's will. Mary was keenly Interested, asking innumerable questions; Particularly she was interested in the identity of the burglar of the previous night. She expressed herself certain that Jack Lorne had not been the man who had assailed and chloroformed Ivy; yet she could not even guess at his very evident interest in Basil Sixsmith's will, and the buhl box.
"Hullo, dear!" Mary came on Ivy unexpectedly, as she waited at the corner of Lancing Court. "Sorry I'm late, but my visitor detained me longer than I expected."
"Who? Jack Lorne?" The younger girl was intrigued. "I saw him leave the shop—and he was so late. Did he suspect you?"
"Of not being you?" Mary laughed. "No. I don't think he did. Yet he looked at me very strangely several times."
"But—but then he must have suspected you?"
"He might." Mary frowned. "There is that danger. You see his father and brother were clients of Kithner, Wales & Kithner—or rather of Mr. Wales. It was not until Mr. Wales died that Mr. Kithner took over their affairs. Just about that time Jack Lorne opened the florists' shop, and I went to Mr. Kithner as his secretary. I may have seen Jack Lorne half a dozen times in all not more—"
"But you don't think he recognised you from then?"
"I don't think so, but he may have. Anyway, he can't do more than suspect. After you left this morning I made a few changes in my appearance: did my hair in a different way, and those things we bought yesterday helped." The girl coloured slightly.
"They have improved you temporarily," Ivy laughed approvingly. The slight tinge of rouge, the line of lipstick, the film of expensive powder, had made an enormous difference in the girl, changing her completely from the wan, worn creature Ivy had rescued from the solicitor's offices the previous afternoon.
"Anyway, we had a great talk. He was quite the professional investigator." The older girl laughed. "He was very much interested in the buhl box I don't think I acted your part badly. I am certain that my account of the discovery of the burglar and the drugging were absolutely thrilling and lifelike."
"But what did he really want?" Ivy was puzzled. "He seems too nice to have thrust himself on you like that, out of curiosity?"
"He wanted to see the photograph and the letter." Mary was positive. "In fact, he almost acknowledged that he took the two photographs away with him. But the two things don't coincide. If he took the photographs away with him, then he had an opportunity to examine them at his leisure, without coming to the house this morning and asking to see them. I tried to hint that, and all he would say was that he took them from the man he found holding you in his arms."
"The adventures of a maid in pyjamas!" Ivy coloured while she laughed. "What a night! First I go burglar hunting in a costume that would not be approved by staid society matrons. Then a man catches hold of me and chloroforms me, and I fall insensible into his arms. Another man takes me and bears me to a couch in the library. Mary, beware of burglars, even if they keep exclusive florists' shops. They appear to care nothing tor the proprieties."
"I promise to be fully dressed when I chase burglars," the elder girl replied with mock gravity.
"But even that doesn't explain what he was after." Ivy reverted to her original question. "What is his interest in the matter?"
The elder girl shrugged. "I think Jack Lorne, in spite of his careless manner, is somewhat difficult to probe."
The next minutes were devoted by both girls to their lunches. Every now and again Ivy glanced at her watch. She had a strange feeling that she was bound by time—she who had nothing in her life before than that of amusingly passing the hours. Now she was confined to an hour for her lunch—then back to the shop, to work. She grimaced, feeling that she was paying rather heavily for what, after all, might prove to be a whim.
"Ivy," spoke Mary suddenly. "Do you remember when we were coming out of Mr. Kithner's offices yesterday afternoon you seemed greatly interested in Mr. Richard Kithner—the man we passed at the door?"
The younger girl nodded. "What of him?" she asked.
"I thought I recognised him, that's all."
"Where and when?"
"You should know, if you have met him."
Ivy stared at her companion in some surprise for a few seconds, "There is something behind that, Mary," she said quietly. "You are not likely to make any loose statement, Now, out with it!"
The elder girl shook her head. "It is not as easy as that," she replied. "You are sure you cannot remember anything about Richard Kithner. Try—think hard! Remember, I have a reason for asking the question. I have worked in the same office as that gentleman."
"So—it is that?" Ivy glanced significantly across the table.
"That—and other things, Ivy. He's a thoroughly bad lot. Isn't it strange that so fine a gentleman as Mark Kithner should have such a son? Have you ever met Richard Kithner socially?"
The girl shook her head.
"Do you remember having seen him; spoken to him, when you have called at his father's offices?"
"I have only been there three times in my life." The younger girl spoke promptly. "The first time was with god-dad on my twenty-first birthday when he settled a small income on me—what he called permanent, irrevocable dress allowance. The second time was the day after god-dad died—and Mr. Kithner telephoned, suggesting that I went to him, as he was unable to come to the house. The third time was yesterday. I think that was the first time I have ever seen Richard Kithner."
"You have never had any trouble with him?"
"Trouble with him?" Ivy's eyebrows went up. "What on earth do you mean, Mary?"
"I mean, when you have been dining out, at the theatre, or at a dance. He has a nasty reputation that way; speaking to girls he doesn't know, and insulting their escorts, if they interfere. He's terribly strong, in spite of his sleek appearance and lackadaisical manner."
"No-o." Ivy paused for a few seconds, then: "Come, Mary, what's the trouble?"
"He is very interested in you."
"Thank you—after the character you have just tacked on to him."
"He has been very interested in you and your affairs tor the past six months."
"But—" The younger girl started. "Why, the first time I ever went to Mr. Kithner's office—and that was with god-dad—was only about six months ago."
"Had Mr. Sixsmith much business with Mr. Kithner about that time?"
Ivy frowned, then nodded. "I think he was with Mr. Kithner very often six months ago. You know, god-dad speculated quite a lot, buying and selling things he thought he could make money out of. I thought yesterday that he had lost all his money in speculations, but Mr. Kithner would not have that. He said that if anyone lost in a deal in which god-dad was interested, it was the other man."
Mary laughed. "That fits in with the little knowledge I have of Mr. Sixsmith. I know that Mr. Kithner did quite a large amount of work for your god-dad during the last three months of his life. No, I must not tell you what it was, or anything about it; that's office secrets," she interjected, noting Ivy's look of inquiry. "But I do know that Richard Kithner took quite an interest in your godfather's business, and, after a time, in you. He was continually asking his father questions about Mr. Sixsmith's business, and twice I caught him searching his father's desk. On one of those occasions I had reason to believe that he had been at his father's private safe."
"Nice young gentleman!" commented the younger girl. "Goodness! I've only ten minutes to get back to the shop! Come on, dear! Anything more to tell me?"
"Only that Mr. Richard Kithner has proposed to call on me this evening. He telephoned the glad news some minutes before I left!"
"Richard Kithner coming to see me!" gasped Ivy.
"No, me." Mary laughed. "At least, he says so. Am I to be jealous?"
Ivy shook her head as she turned to the door.
In the court, the girls parted, Mary to wander through the city, the young lady of leisure, and then back to the Sixsmith house; and Ivy to her work.
The afternoon hours in the florist's shop were more interesting than the morning hours. Customers were many, and the girl obtained amusement from them. Once or twice ladies entered the shop whom she had met socially; but she managed to avoid them.
Once she thought she was caught. A very grand dame pounced upon her with a request for immediate service. One glance, and Ivy recognised her. But a bare month before she had danced at the woman's house, receiving much attention and petting. Now the cold eyes swept the girl unrecognisingly. Yet Ivy was doubtful. Had Mrs. Traynon recognised her? She could not be certain.
One thing was in her favour. The lady recognised a very big social distinction between a flower-shop girl and the girl who had been Basil Sixsmith's adored god-daughter and reputed heiress.
Jack Lorne spent most of his time in the shop that afternoon. Ivy thought he watched her rather closely, yet he never spoke to her except on business. Towards four o'clock trade slackened, and the girls were able to obtain a little needed rest. One of the girls appeared willing to talk, and Ivy encouraged her.
While she was listening to the girl's somewhat inconsequent chatter, a young man entered the shop. Ivy made to go to him, but the other girl held her back.
"Don't trouble, Miss France," she whispered. "That's Mr. Paul Lorne."
Paul Lorne! Ivy looked at him with some interest. He was tall—as tall as his brother, but not so well-built: fair, and with a thin line moustache that the girl thought disfigured rather well-shaped lips. He went directly to the office—to his brother. For some time they sat talking earnestly, and then Paul came into the shop, wandering idly about, talking to one and then another of the girls. He did not approach her, but Ivy imagined that he kept rather close watch on her movements.
Had the brothers been discussing her—not Muriel France, but Ivy Breton—during their conversation in the office? She believed they had. For what reason? Why should the Lorne brothers take an interest in a girl they had never met. Why should Jack Lorne take a peculiar and close interest in the will of a man she believed he had not known? And why was he interesting his younger brother in the matter?
She waited until Paul Lorne came close to where she was resting, determined to give him food for thought.
"Did you hear of that rather peculiar will Mr. Basil Sixsmith left?" she asked the girl she was chatting with. "Do you know he didn't leave a cent to his god-daughter, Ivy Breton, although he professed to think so much of her, and everyone believed that she would inherit all his millions? In fact, he doesn't seem to have had much to leave. We all thought Ivy would be quite an heiress. Mr. Sixsmith was reputed to be very rich."
"No." The girl spoke incuriously. "Ivy Breton? I don't think I have ever heard of her."
"Oh. I used to go to school with her." Ivy spoke plainly, watching Paul Lorne closely but furtively. He had come closer while she had been speaking. "An awfully nice girl. I'm sorry for her, I suppose she will have to go out to work now."
A customer entered at that moment, and Ivy went to serve her. Paul Lorne waited a few minutes, then went into the office. Again the two brothers held a long consultation, then left the shop together.
Again came a lull in the stream of customers. As Ivy was passing to the rear of the shop she saw a piece of paper lying Just within the office door. Some impulse made her pick it up.
She gasped, staring down at the writing on the paper in astonishment, Again she held in her hand the short note Basil Sixsmith had left with the photograph in the buhl box.
HOW came the letter Basil Sixsmith had written to place with the photograph in the buhl box, in "Lorne, florists" shop?
Jack Lorne had admitted to Ivy the previous morning over the telephone, and to Mary Varney during the interview that day, when he supposed that he was speaking to Basil Sixsmith's god-daughter, that he had been in the house on the night of the burglary. He had admitted taking the two photographs from the burglar, and returning them to her. Why had he not returned the letter also? What was there in those few lines written by the dead man that could Interest the Lorne brothers?
Yet, from what she had seen, Ivy was certain that both brothers were keenly interested in her. They were acting very mysteriously. Jack Lorne had tempted her to telephone him by scratching his telephone number on the back of one of the photographs. Why had he not initiated the call himself? Why had his younger brother, Paul, shown so much interest in her conversation with one of the girls, when she had mentioned Ivy Breton? How many people were interested in the strange will that her godfather had made? First, there was the man who had claimed that he was a creditor on the estate for five thousand pounds. Who was he? Ivy believed that he was the same man who had broken into her home and copied the photograph. But she could not even guess at his identity.
Another man, also, had chosen to burgle her home. He had come to the library while she had been there. He had waited in the darkness of the hall until she had opened the door. Then he had sprung on her, stifling her cries with the chloroformed pad. Jack Lorne had come to the house, entering immediately after the second burglar, and had rescued here from the man, carrying her into the library and placing her on the couch.
But there had been many inconsistencies in "Lorne, florists" story. Why had he been in the house? He had carefully evaded that question to her and to Mary. Yet he might have been there for some honest purpose—he might have seen the burglar enter, and followed him. From there on his story was inconsistent. She had carried the photograph of the "unknown" from the library—she remembered having it in her hand when the burglar assailed her.
Then, why had Jack Lorne taken the photograph away with him? Why had he opened the buhl box and extracted the photograph that lay in it? Then, crowning inconsistency, he had returned the two photographs, and the same day had sought an interview with her—for the purpose of seeing the photograph of the "unknown!"
A photograph that he had in his possession for some hours! In the semi-privacy of the back-shop Ivy again examined the short note her godfather had left for her in the buhl box. She could see nothing unusual in the few lines; yet it had proved so attractive to Jack Lorne that he had not returned it with the photographs.
Ivy wondered. The burglars, if there had been more than one, had concentrated on the photograph of the "unknown." Jack Lorne had found the letter the more interesting.
The girl tucked the letter in her bag, and went back to the shop. She would tell no one that they had recovered the letter, except perhaps Mary. She would warn the girl to discover if Jack Lorne or his brother showed signs of distress when they found the note missing. She laughed silently. Jack Lorne, investigator, should have something to investigate.
A short twenty minutes, and the shop cleared for the day. About five minutes before the head girl nodded to the man attendant to close the main doors, the brothers returned to the shop. Ivy watched them curiously. Certainly they showed no signs of worry; yet Paul had a little pucker between his brows, and Jack was smiling somewhat too intently. Neither were, she thought, entirely at ease.
They went direct to the office. Through the glass, Ivy watched them. The girls had gathered in the back chattering animatedly while they changed into their outdoor things. Ivy lingered, dying to be the last to leave the premises. That was not difficult. At last only one of the girls remained. Ivy went into the back room and changed quickly. As she returned to the shop she glanced into the office. Paul was searching the floor.
She smiled grimly. No doubt there, were corners in that office that could well do with a clearing out. She hoped the two men would be black from face to heel before they gave up the search. They would be that, and more, if they continued until they found the note.
In Masters Street she turned and waved ironically to the shop. "Lorne, florists" were in for a long sitting. She opened her bag and peeped at the note; then sped up to Macquarie-street where Mary was waiting with the car.
"All right, dear?" Mary called as she flung open the door and jumped in. The engine was running the elder girl threw in the gears and sped up the street. Then noticing Ivy's smile she turned sharply to her. "What's the joke?"
"This!" The girl opened her bag and showed Basil Sixsmith's note. "I found this in the office. 'Lorne, florists,' are turning out their shop in a frantic search for it."
"Spiteful!" Mary laughed. "Are we going home?"
"Unless you want to stay in town?"
"Richard Kithner is calling to-night."
"Oh, Mary!" Ivy laughed, mischievously at the girl's very set face.
"He is calling to see you, not me."
"Dear me! Am I so fascinating!"
The girl narrowly missed running down a taxi in trying to glimpse herself in the mirror.
"You will be, if you drive like that!" Ivy caught at the wheel. "Still, Mary, you have improved quite a lot! If you go on improving like you have, I shall be quite jealous."
"Of Richard Kithner?" Then both girls laughed.
"What is he after?" exclaimed Ivy.
"You!" Mary was very emphatic. "No, dear. I don't think he's fallen in love with you. You're not quite his type. The 'you' refers to your connection with godfather Sixsmith."
"You think Richard Kithner knows something?"
"I am sure he does." The elder girl paused. "Ivy, a girl can't be in the same office with a man, day after day, and not learn things. Richard Kithner is a 'snooper.' He's continually snooping among things with which he has no business. I used to think—I hoped—that some day someone would take him by the nape of neck and sling him out of the window. But he's terribly strong. I think all the other men were afraid of him; although they hate him."
"And the girls, also?"
"All except the silly ones. They're taken in by his patent-leather hair, continual smirk, the dinky moustache, and the fine, white, even teeth. Ugh! They always, make me think of Red Riding Hood!"
"Pleasant little playfellow."
Ivy swung open the door the car drew up before the Sixsmith garage. "There, run her in, Mary."
They went into the house, their arms intertwined. Ivy was watching and wondering at her companion. Only that morning she had found out that Mary could drive a car and had insisted that she went for long drives while she was at work. The result had been to take years off the girl's worn, weary looks. Her eyes had lost their dull, leaden colour. The roses that had promised the previous evening were beginning to show on her cheeks. Ivy confessed to herself that if she could induce Mary to abandon the severe straight hairdressing and to clothe herself more becomingly, she would prove a very attractive girl.
They were late for dinner. Faith was in the hall, gong-stick in hand, when they entered. The maid smiled dourly as they scampered up the stairs, calling back that they would not be more than five minutes. They returned downstairs to time. The meal was a hurried one, for Richard Kithner had set his call for an early hour.
Ivy insisted that Mary received the young man alone. She wanted to be free; to be able to take advantage of anything that might crop up. In a few words, over the coffee, they set their plans. Mary was to receive her visitor in the library; Ivy was to be in the "den"—a small room opening out of the library. There she would be close to Mary, and unobserved and, if she wished, could overhear all that passed. The "den" held another advantage. From it a door opened on to the driveway from the road to the garage.
The girls had hardly passed into the library when the maid announced Richard Kithner. Ivy went to the den, and Mary picked up a book, sitting down in one of the comfortable lounge chairs before the open fire. When Richard. Kithner entered she looked up casually.
"Oh, Mr. Kithner. You wanted to see me?"
For a moment the man hesitated, smoothing down his sleek, black hair.
"You look comfortable, Mary. Seem to have fallen on your feet eh? Why, what's the matter?"
"Only the 'Mary'."
"Oh, don't fuss. We're not at the office now." He came across the room and stood before the fire, looking down on her, his arm spread along the mantelpiece. "Where's the heiress?"
"Mrs. Western?" Mary showed surprise. "I don't remember her address. You can get it at the office in the morning."
"I suppose I should have said the supposed heiress." The small, even teeth gleamed in a cold smile. "What a disappointment, eh? She thought she was the old man's darling—and got put out in the cold."
"Are you referring to Miss Breton?"
"Oh, cut it, dearie." Richard Kithner tried to smile, ingratiatingly. "You know I mean Ivy Breton—so don't try and make me believe you misunderstand." He paused and as Mary did not reply, continued; "I've come here on business—strictly business."
"I am on holidays, Mr. Kithner."
"And they're doing you a world of good." He spoke rather impulsively, his head on one side. "D'you know, Mary—"
"Miss Varney, please."
"Well; go on as you're going and you won't be 'miss' very long." He laughed at what he thought to be a joke, "Say, girlie, what's the heiress doing? Why, she's waved a magic wand over you. Oh, I see, it's your hair. Dressed in a new style, eh? And that frock—it's a whale. Sure. Mary, if I'd known what you were hiding I'd have rushed you strong, long before this."
"Oh, cut it!" Mary thought he had been drinking. He went closer to the girl, sitting on the edge of the desk. The buhl box caught his eyes. He picked it up and turned it in his hands. "The buhl box! How does it open, Mary?"
"By a spring, I believe." The girl answered, indifferently, "I have not tried to open it. It is not my property."
"No." Richard Kithner was exploring for the spring, but could not find it.
"Say, Mary, where's the heiress? I've asked you that before, but you didn't answer."
"I have told you, Miss Breton is not an heiress. Mr. Sixsmith left his property to his half-sister and Miss Breton will have to earn her living at the end of three months from now."
"All my cock and hen! If you want plainer language—all eyewash." The young man laughed loudly. "Look here. Mary. There's some mystery about old Sixsmith's will. I've got a hunch that he was framing something."
"That's what I'm out to discover—and to do that I want your help."
"Old Sixsmith left only about six thousand founds, didn't he?"
Mary nodded. It was useless to deny knowledge of a fact that was public property. No doubt. Richard Kithner had obtained his information from his father.
"Well, what became of the rest of his money?" Then, noticing her look of surprise, "Oh, you're not going to tell me, like Dad did, that he lost it in speculations. I've been making inquiries and know different."
"In what way?".
"Well, six months ago he came to dad and put some house property in his hands to deal with. Producing a bunch of securities, something over a hundred thousand to support his fad. Dad put in some money, too, and did the work, and they made quite a killing. Two months later, old Sixsmith took a fly in oil, and just cleared out at the top of the boom. Made another pile in the old 'Comeback' liquidation, and—"
"What then?" Mary was interested, in spite of herself.
"I don't know."
"You know that about that time he invested a sum of money for Miss Breton?"
"Oh, pin money! Bah!" The young man sneered. "That's all it was. The old man called it that to dad. It was then that he told dad that the girl was going to have the lot, if he could pass the buck to his relatives—that's Mrs. Western and her son."
"It's like this, girlie." Richard Kithner' bent forward over the girl, impressively. "You're the king-pin in this game. Ivy's taken a fancy to you. You know that! Well, then, you stand pretty tor our purpose. You're in her camp, and you're joining hands with me. See? You're where a clever girl can grow clover for herself—and her pals. I'm on the outside; so others will think. They won't think that we're in co. over this. You get the information and pass it to me. I'll do the work, and we'll clean up a bit."
"I've got a line—no, I'm not telling you what it is, but it's a whizzer. I'm playing it for all it's worth. In a few days I'll know quite a lot—if you stand in with me I'll have the whole story set. Then we'll beat the band—"
"How?" In spite of herself the girl was growing more and more interested.
"You'll get the full story of where and how Mr. Sixsmith left his money."
"I'll give you sufficient dope to go to the heiress and make terms."
"I haven't decided yet. Shall we say—half to be divided between you and I? That do? Thought so. Then you shall tell her where to find her fortune—the one old Sixsmith hid for her from his relatives—and she'll give you half. See?"
"Sounds reasonable." Mary pretended to be reluctant. She hated the man, but even then was loth to fool him. "Are you certain that you will be able to discover the real facts?"
"That Ivy's the heiress? I'll bet on that! It's up to you. Get me what I want, and within a fortnight you'll be fifty thousand or more better off."
"What do you want me to do?"
"Get me the real photograph that was in the buhl box and a copy of the letter. I'll do the rest. Now, is it a go?"
"Yes." Mary stood up suddenly. Richard Kithner extended his hand, and, very reluctantly, Mary placed hers on his palm.
"Righto, partner!" The young man went to the door. "I'm off. I don't want the heiress to catch you and me together now. By the way, if you get a telephone message from 'Cousin Paul' you'll, understand, won't you?"
He went into the hall, looking back with a leer at the girl.
Mary waited a moment, then went to the door of the den, calling Ivy softly. There was no response. She switched on the lights in the room, and looked around. Ivy Breton had disappeared.
THE development of the conversation between the lawyer's son and heir and Mary had not surprised Ivy. She had guessed that Richard Kithner was not making a social call on his father's secretary. He had an ulterior motive, and now he had shown that. He had come seeking information—more, he had an ally in some only partially known scheme to hold her to ransom if she wanted to solve the mystery of her godfather's will and inherit the fortune she now was certain he had left to her. Mary had said that during the time she had been with Kithner, Wales & Kithner, the young man had not paid her any attention; In fact, he had shown antagonism towards her. Mary's summing-up of Richard Kithner's character had prepared her for the line the conversation had taken.
But she had not been prepared to find that Mary, the girl she had chosen for friend and companion, to show the greater knowledge of the mystery than she had let her know in her conversations with her. Only that day, discussing the mystery, she had stopped while speaking, claiming that certain knowledge she possessed belonged to her office, and must remain secret. Now she had to face a question.
Would Mary give her all the help she was capable of giving in solving the mystery? Ivy could not answer her own question. She would have to wait and see. One thing Ivy had now quite clear in her mind. Her godfather had not been ruined when he died. He had been a wealthy man, but for some purpose he had hidden his wealth, leaving the cryptogrammatic letter and the photograph in the buhl box as the only clues.
For what reason? Had he guessed when he was settling his estate in preparation for death that directly he had passed on his relatives would commence to squabble over what he had left behind? Had he guessed that if he had named her his heiress he would embroil her in a lot of trouble? If so, then he had evolved the mystery of the buhl box, confident that her wits would baffle and defeat those who sought to rob her; certain that her quickness would solve the mystery he had surrounded the buhl box with before his enemies.
If only she could discover the identity of those who sought the secret of the buhl box. She knew only one—Jack Lorne. Yet she was certain that at least three other persons were interested. She stamped her foot, angrily. Three days had passed and she was no nearer the solution of the mystery than when he sat in the drawing-room and heard the old lawyer reading the clause in her godfather's will leaving her the buhl box.
That evening she had learned one additional fact—that Richard Kithner was interested in the photograph of the "unknown." What did that mean? What could his interest be? He had said that he intended to solve the mystery and hold her to ransom for the secret. Had he spoken the truth? Ivy doubted it.
Jack Lorne and Richard Kithner! They were both interested in the buhl box and its contents. Jack Lorne had seen the photograph of the "unknown," Richard Kithner had not. He had asked Mary to obtain it for him. Then the two men could not be in collusion, for, if so, Jack Lorne would have shown Kithner the photograph when he had it in his possession.
She had fallen so deep into thought that Richard Kithner's sudden departure almost took her by surprise. She flew to the door of the den opening on the driveway, carrying her hat, coat and bag with her. She was standing in the shadows of the tall hedge when the young man passed on his way down to the main road. Ivy slipped out on the pavement, hugging the shadows. Richard Kithner knew too much to be ignored. She must follow him; discover whom he spoke to, and, if possible, what were the hidden plans in his mind he had hinted at to Mary. If only luck would favour her—just a little!
Kithner walked slowly down the road and at the corner stood hesitant for some seconds. He turned quickly in the direction of the city, as if moved by some sudden impulse. Two or three cruising taxis who hailed him were waved aside. Ivy thought that strange. Men of Richard Kithner's type do not walk unless compelled to do so.
Keeping carefully in the shadows, Ivy followed the young man to the main road. He had slackened his pace considerably and when he came to the end of the block halted again. Now he looked about him as if expecting someone to meet him. He looked at his watch and switched his stick impatiently; then moved on very slowly.
A man came out of the shadows, falling into step beside Richard Kithner quite naturally. For some moments they did not speak, then the stranger asked a question and Richard Kithner impatiently shook his head. For some seconds they walked on in silence; then exchanged a few brief questions and answers.
Ivy quickened her steps and drew nearer the two men. She must know more of this second man. He was tall, a few inches taller than Kithner, who was about the average height of man, and they were of like build. Somehow he was vaguely familiar to Ivy, yet she could not name him. Where had she seen him before? She was certain that he was not altogether a stranger.
The two men came to an intersection and halted, waiting for the crossing to clear. Ivy drew nearer, watching the men intently. For some minutes they spoke together in low hurried tones. Then the traffic was stopped and Richard Kithner, with a wave of his stick, started to cross the road. The stranger turned and came back towards Ivy.
The girl hesitated, looking about her for some place in which to hide. She knew that it would be foolish to turn back, for any sudden movement on the partially-filled pavement would attract the man's immediate attention. She could only walk on, keeping her head averted, yet watching the man closely. He came nearer, passing under the light from an electric standard—and Ivy stopped, in surprise.
The man was Charlie Western! What was he doing in that quarter of the city? Had he come there to meet Richard Kithner immediately after his talk with Mary? That seemed probable. It was absurd, in the face of Richard Kithner's actions within the last quarter of an hour to believe that the meeting was accidental. He had lounged down the road as if expecting to be met. Charlie Western had caught up to him, and the two men had quickened their pace, as if the meeting had been arranged.
Then Richard Kithner was acting with Charlie Western in trying to solve the mystery of the buhl box! What interest had Mrs. Western and her son in the box and its contents? The girl turned and followed the man. She must find out where he went, and to whom he spoke. Yet for a moment she doubted. Should she continue on Richard Kithner's track. No, there had been something in his manner, in the way he had parted from Charlie Western, that showed that his work was finished for that night.
Again the girl's thoughts went to Mrs. Western and the buhl box. The woman and her son had shown antagonism to her legacy when the will had been read. At the time she had supposed it was the miser instinct she knew existed in the woman. She had not liked to see anything taken from the house that was to be her property in three months' time. Now the woman and her son knew that they could never hope to get one penny from the Sixsmith estate.
Her telephone message to Mrs. Western that morning, that some man had put in a claim for five thousand pounds against the estate had shown them that the will under which they inherited was valueless. The debts of the estate would swallow up its assets, perhaps even the legacies to the servants. Failing to obtain anything from Basil Sixsmith through his will, Mrs. Western and her son had resolved to probe the legacy that Basil Sixsmith had left his god-daughter.
Had they thought, like others, that the old man had not been ruined when he died? That he had left his property—a considerable amount—hidden, and that the key to the hiding-place was contained in the buhl box?
The buhl box! How many strange figures had it gathered around it within the past few days? Again Ivy went over the group of people whom she knew were interested.
There was the burglar who had copied the photograph—
A sudden thought came to the girl. Could that burglar have been Charlie Western? Now she remembered that the man appeared very tall—and about the same build. He had not acted the part of the burglar well. How had he got into the house? Immediately on coming to her senses the following morning she had tried to discover how the man had gained entry. All she had found out was that the hall-door was on the latch. She had questioned Alice and Faith. They were certain that no door nor window had been unlatched or opened, during the night.
Then the man had gained entry to the house through the front door. That would not be difficult, for the key was old-fashioned. But, even then, he must have had some sort of key! Suddenly Ivy remembered. Some four months before her godfather died, Mrs. Western had appealed to him, asking that she and her son be accommodated while their house was being re-decorated. Basil Sixsmith had grumbled, but agreed.
Ivy believed that her godfather had supplied Charlie Western with a door key during his residence in the house Had the man returned it? For the moment Ivy laughed. If Charlie Western had been the burglar!
The burglar had copied the photograph she had placed in the buhl box, in exchange for the one her godfather had placed there. The photograph he had copied had been of Richard Kithner, taken many years before. She had recognised him when she had been leaving Mark Kithner's offices—when he had passed her and Mary in the doorway.
Had Richard Kithner then known that Charlie Western had a copy of his photograph in his possession? Had he known that the man suspected him of being the "unknown" who held the secret of the Sixsmith fortune?
Ivy was certain that here she had solved one of her chief problems. Now she was confronted with a new one. She must find out what was the connection between Richard Kithner and Charlie Western. She had to discover how much each knew of the other. Had Charlie Western, on discovering the original of the photograph he had copied, gone to Richard Kithner and demanded the solution of the Sixsmith puzzle? If so, then the confusion between the two men must have been great. What had resulted from that confusion? Had the two men come to an understanding? Was Richard Kithner's call on Mary the step in some scheme on which the two men had agreed.
Suddenly Charlie Western, some fifty yards ahead of Ivy, halted and hailed a taxi. For the moment the girl was undecided how to act. She stood on the edge of the pavement, staring at the young men entering the car.
"Taxi, miss?" Ivy started. She I had not seen nor heard the car draw up before her.
"Yes!" She jumped into the invitingly open-door, "Follow that taxi; the one just leaving up the road. Quick, please!"
The sudden jerk of the car as the driver accelerated threw her heavily on to the seat. She scrambled up and peeped out of the window.
Western's car was still in sight, and they were gaining on it rapidly. Evidently, Charlie Western did not know she was following him. For about a mile and a halt the two cars sped rapidly through the streets. Then Western's car slowed and drew in to the curb. Ivy's driver swung out into the road and came to a halt some dozen or so yards ahead.
"Sit tight, miss." The driver half turned on his seat. "I don't think they saw us." He paused for a moment. "Strange! He's standing beside the car! Why doesn't he go up to the house?"
Ivy also wondered what Charlie Western was doing. She knew that he did not live in that house. The Westerns lived in quite a different suburb. Was he waiting for anyone?
"Going to follow him further, miss?" The driver inquired curiously.
"Yes, it you have sufficient gas."
"Luck's in there, miss." The man faced her with a grin. "I'd just loaded up when you stopped me. I'll go as far as he, and perhaps further."
Again Ivy glanced through the rear window. The door of the house, outside which Charlie Western's taxi had halted had opened, and a girl came running out. The man went forward quickly to open the gate for her. With a little laugh and a smile she greeted him, then went on to the taxi. Immediately, Charlie Western followed her. The car turned and headed for the city. Ivy looked at her watch, It was barely nine o'clock. Her lips drew together disdainfully. What did Charlie Western's actions denote? Only some supper-dance assignment?
They were speeding down the long road citywards, the two cars only a few yards apart. Ivy's driver cleverly jockeyed for position, and presently was following immediately after the car containing Charlie Western and the girl.
In that order they went into the city and through the business section to where the bright lights blazed. The girl knew that she had guessed right. Almost she knocked on the window to tell the driver to turn the car and carry her homewards. Then, she hesitated. She would still follow Western, on the hunch that had brought her so far. She would see it through.
The cars turned from the busy streets into one lined with warehouses. Now Ivy knew where they were heading. The "Palido" nightclub was in this street. She peered out of the window. Only a few yards ahead she could see the arch of coloured lights above the restaurant's door. She knocked gently on the window. The man turned his head and nodded.
As Charlie Western's car drew up before the door of the "Palido," he slid to a stop immediately behind it; then motioned to the girl to remain seated, leaning well back in the shadows. Ivy watched Charlie Western alight and turn to help his companion. They went to the brilliantly lighted entrance hall, and a man came forward to meet them.
Ivy gasped. Immediately she recognised in the newcomer the man of the photograph—the "unknown" whose photograph had been in the buhl box!
IVY crouched in the corner of the taxi, watching the meeting between Charlie Western and the "unknown." It was evident that they were not too well known; their greetings being much too formal for any friendship to exist. After they had exchanged a few words the "unknown" went to the taxi which Charlie Western and his companion had just left.
The driver was on the alert, standing by the open door. The "unknown" spoke a few words, then entered the car. Ivy leaned forward, tapping on the glass. Her driver looked round, a broad grin on his face. She pointed to the car ahead, and he nodded—his grin broadening. Ivy coloured. The man must think she was mad, following different men about the city at that hour of the night. Yet she had no thought of going home. She had found the "unknown," and before she could rest she must know who he was and where she could find him again.
Back of her mind was a new-born idea. If she could follow the man to where he lived, then she could wait her opportunity to speak to him; tell him of her godfather's will and instructions, and ask him what they meant. But what would he think of her? Would he, like her taxi-driver, consider she was unbalanced? She would have to risk that.
The taxi bearing the "unknown" went down the street and turned the corner, heading for the G.P.O. Ivy's driver waited a few seconds before following the quarry; then proceeded at a much faster pace. He caught sight of the taxi again; pulling up before the main entrance of the G.P.O.
The "unknown" alighted from the car leisurely, and strolled up the steps. Now Ivy saw that he was not making for the big doors, but for the entrance to the private-boxes corridors. She pushed open the door of her taxi, bidding the man await her return.
She fumbled in her purse as she ran up the steps. Somewhere she had the keys of her godfather's private box. Had she left them at home? No, only that morning she had put them in her bag, intending to go down to the box sometime during the day, to discover what letters were there. The man was evidently not in a hurry.
Ivy found him in one of the narrow corridor's between the tiers of boxes, feeling for his keys. She looked up at the direction boards. Her godfather's box was in the same corridor. That was a gain. Now she could watch the man almost openly. She went to her godfather's box and fitted the key in the lock, letting down the steel door. There were half-a-dozen letters in the box. The girl did not take them out. She opened her bag and took out her powder-puff and mirror. Watching in the mirror she obtained a fair view of the man and the box he was opening. She marked it carefully.
For some moments he stood, scanning the letters he had taken from the box. Some he put in his pocket unopened. Two he retained in his hand. He closed the box and turned to the entrance. Ivy snatched the letters out of her box and thrust them into her bag. She followed the man towards the exit. When she came to where he had been standing, she stopped and scanned the numbers of the boxes. She found the one she had marked in her mirror. It was numbered 751M.
If she could find out who rented that box she would have the man's name and address. She turned towards the exit again, to find that the "unknown" had passed out of sight. Fearing to lose him, she ran to the covered terrace extending along the front of the building. He was stepping into his car. Ivy ran down the steps, motioning to her driver. He nodded, and as she jumped into the car, swung the door shut, and sprang to his seat. The "unknown's" car was disappearing round the corner, westwards. Ivy lay back on the cushions, angry with herself. She had had the "unknown" beside her, and had not spoken to him. Now she came to examine herself and her impulses, she found that she had only thought of tracking him. Never for a moment, as he stood before his private box—and whilst she had been at hers—had the impulse to speak to him come to her. She had only thought of watching; discovering which box belonged to him. She had her opportunity—and had thrown it away.
Now she was dependent on her taxi driver to follow him to some extent where she could rectify her omission. She vowed that if the man succeeded she would recompense him in a manner that would make his wages appear insignificant—for that week at least.
Who was this man, on whose track she was speeding? He appeared to be about thirty-five, or perhaps a little more. Dark, and somewhat fleshy. He was clad in full evening dress, with a light overcoat over it, but wore no hat. His hair was thin and light. His complexion was almost swarthy, and he was clean shaven. That was the total of her observations, for, when they had stood in the corridor of the private boxes, he had had his back to her most of the time.
"Can you follow him?" She spoke to her driver. "I want to speak to him. It is very important, I should have done so at the General Post Office, but I forgot."
She knew her explanation was distinctly lame, even as she gave it.
"Really, it is most important—so much depends on my speaking, to him at once."
"I'll do my best, miss." The man was evidently impressed by her distress.
"What's 'is name?"
"I don't know," Ivy confessed.
"Don't know?" the man echoed. "Then how am I to find him?"
"You saw him go up those steps."
"Yes, but that doesn't count now."
The man pointed to the taxi before them, now drawing up before a massive building in a quiet square.
"Why not?" Ivy stared in dismay. She saw the "unknown" descend from the car, pay off the driver, and walk into the building.
"Whose house is that?" she demanded imperiously.
"The Union Club, miss." The driver's grin broadened. "'Fraid you nor I can follow him in there. It's for gents only, and pretty exclusive."
"But you can go and ask the porter for the name of the man who last entered?" expostulated Ivy.
"That's no good now, miss." The man nodded to the club doors. Quite a group of people were entering the doors. "And, 'sides, they ain't too free in giving members' names to people like me."
Ivy almost stamped in vexation. Impatiently she ordered the man to drive her home. Her evening had ended in disappointment; and she missed her great opportunity. After a time she became more cheerful. She had really accomplished something that evening. She had found the "unknown;" she knew that he was a resident of her city. That was important. She knew he frequented the "Palido" night club, and she knew the number of his private postal box. The last point was the best point she had scored, She would write to the renter of the box, and ask for an interview. Yes, that would be the wisest thing to do.
Alighting at the door of her house, she turned to pay off her taxi-man. She tipped him liberally, for, after all, she had made the mistakes of the evening, not him.
"What is your name?" she asked.
"Fred Powers, miss."
"What time do you go on duty, Mr. Powers?"
"About five o'clock in the afternoon."
"Then you have all day to yourself?"
"Except what I use up in sleep." The man grinned. "I'm on till three in the morning, and sometimes later if I pick up an after-dinner dance fare to a distant supper. Then I may get back to the garage, if I'm lucky, about five or six in the morning."
"I understand." Ivy pondered a moment: then turned again to the man. "I live here. My name is Ivy Breton—Miss Breton. Will you go home early to-night, and to-morrow do some work for me? I will pay you well for it."
"Of course, miss." The man's face brightened. "But if you want me to be early on the job the best thing for you to do is to hire me and the cab for the time you want. It's an engagement I can put down in the office."
Ivy nodded. It would be well to have the car as well as the man. He could accomplish her commission better as a taxi-driver than as Fred Powers, lounger.
"Very well," she said. "It is half past ten now. Go on with your work until midnight; then turn in your car. Tell your office that I want you on duty at mid-day to-morrow. That will give you plenty of time for sleep. At noon, to-morrow, call for me here. Your office is to book up all charges to Miss Breton. If they want references, tell them I am the late Mr. Basil Sixsmith's god-daughter and refer them to Mr. Mark Kithner, of Kithner & Kithner, solicitors. Is that plain?"
"Right, miss—and thank you. I'll be here to-morrow, punctual."
Ivy watched the man drive away. She was planning rapidly. If the taxi-driver acted as she required him to—and he appeared resourceful and alert—before another night came round she would be questioning the "unknown."
She turned and entered the house. In the big hall she looked towards the library. A light shone under the door. She peeped in. Mary was curled up in one of the chairs, fast asleep.
"Oh, Mary, I'm so sorry!" The girl crossed the room and kissed her contritely. "Wake up, Mary; it's bedtime!"
The girl yawned and stretched; opening her eyes dreamily, then sat up.
"Ivy! Why, dear, wherever have you been?"
"Up and down the city—discovering the 'unknown.'"
"Then you found him?"
"I did." The girl sat down and pulled oft her hat, flinging it on the desk. "Oh, dear! I've had such a time."
Then, quickly and eagerly, she started an account of her adventures during the evening. Mary listened interestedly, asking many questions. When Ivy had concluded her narrative the elder girl frowned thoughtfully. "What a mix-up," she exclaimed.
"Richard Kithner, the man whose photograph you placed in the buhl box in exchange for the 'unknown'. Charlie Western, the burglar, copies that photograph and traces the original, believing him to be the 'unknown'."
The girl laughed suddenly. "Ivy, I'd have given a finger to have seen Richard Kithner's face when Charlie Western challenged him to declare the secret of the Sixsmith millions."
"If there is any money at all!" said Ivy, more soberly.
"Of course there is!" Mary spoke indignantly. "I'm not going to have that denied after to-night. I know my Richard Kithner, dear. You don't think for one moment that bright bay wastes any time unless he believes there is money in it for him."
"It's all such a terrible mix-up, Mary."
"That's the beauty of it—but you will find that it will straighten out very soon now. To-morrow you will write a nice little note to Mr. 'Unknown', asking him to call and hand over your fortune."
"Of course he'll jump at the chance of doing that."
"Why not? Your godfather did not put that photograph in the buhl box for nothing. He meant you to find the original man, and ask him what his photograph and the note means. You do that and—"
"—and he will say: 'Yes, Miss Breton. Your godfather left you a quarter of a million in good, hard, solid golden coins. Hold out your pinny and I will pour them into it.'"
Mary laughed, then became thoughtful. "There is one thing I don't like," she said slowly. "How did Charlie Western come to know the 'unknown'?"
"Dance hall acquaintances,"' suggested the younger girl.
"Maybe." Mary laughed again. "Just fancy, Ivy. Charlie Western chases Richard Kithner in mistake for the 'unknown', when all the time he knows the 'unknown', but doesn't know him as the 'unknown' and—Oh, bother, what's a girl to do with such a mix-up?"
"Go to bed." Ivy pulled the girl to her feet. "That's the best thing I know of at present. Go to bed, dear, and let all the 'unknowns' alone until the sun shines again. After all, we haven't done so bad."
"You haven't, you mean!"
"Greedy! What about you? If Richard Kithner hadn't come to make love to you I shouldn't have been able to track him to Charlie Western. Then Charlie Western wouldn't have been under my eyes when he took that girl to a supper-dance and met the 'unknown' in the Palido's doorway. Go to bed, girl! You're sleepy, or you would have seen long ago it is all your fault."
The two girls went up the stairs together. Outside Mary's door, Ivy said good-night, and went on to her own room. She was tired—dead tired—but she wanted to sit and think.
At last she was on the track of the solution of the mystery her godfather had set her. She flung her hat on the bed, and put her handbag on the dressing table. For some time she sat pondering; then undressed and slipped into a robe. When she returned from the bathroom she felt happier and much refreshed. She stretched luxuriously between the cool sheets; then threw back the covers and jumped out of bed. What had she been thinking of—to forget the letters she had taken from her godfather's private post-box?
She caught up her bag and took it into bed with her, switching on the reading lamp. She found that she had brought from the private box seven letters. Six of them were addressed to Basil Sixsmith—the seventh to herself. She placed the letters addressed to her godfather on the bedside table and opened the envelope that bore her name. Her fingers trembled as she pulled out the single sheet of notepaper. The letter was written on Union Club notepaper, and read:
Dear Miss Breton:
I have only to-day heard the very regrettable news of your godfather's death. May I be permitted to offer my condolences. Mr. Sixsmith left with me, some little time ago, a packet of documents of importance, with instructions to hand them to you in the event of his not claiming them from me before his death. The packet is in the hands of my solicitors, Messrs. Tinker & Tinker, of Hill Street, this city. I have telephoned Mr. Tinker a request to hand the packet to you if you will be good enough to call on him. He will take your receipt for the same.
IVY went down to "Lorne, florists," the next morning in a state of wild excitement, mixed with determination. She believed that the end of her quest was in sight. Surely the man who had written to her from the Union Club was the "unknown."
Her midday hour was going to be a very busy one. She had to meet Fred Powers and instruct him to watch the man she had traced to the Union Club. But was that necessary now? The man had written to her—or, rather, she believed it was the same man. Then, during that lunch hour she wanted to get to the solicitors and obtain the packet Harold Pender had referred to in his letter. With those papers, no doubt, she could solve the mystery of the buhl box and lay bare her godfather's cunning problem.
Almost she was inclined to telephone to the taxi company and rescind her instructions for the taxi and Fred Powers. Then she decided that she would not. She would wait and see what happened. She would let the driver go to the Union Club and watch for the 'unknown' while seated in his machine. He would have his flag down, as if engaged, unless he saw the "unknown" coming towards him. Then he would be disengaged—to carry the man where he wanted to go about the city; to watch him and report to her his movements, where he called and where he went.
What were the documents the man had mentioned in his letter? Why had her godfather left them in his charge? His name was unfamiliar, and she had thought she knew most of her godfather's friends and acquaintances. He had been fond of having her with him; proud of introducing her to everyone he met.
Ivy shrugged impatiently. She would have to wait until midday before she learned facts. She moved about the shop, her eyes continually seeking the hands of her watch. They seemed to move with alarming slowness.
By ten o'clock the morning had seemed so long that she almost walked out of the shop in her impatience. She had arranged everything for a busy hour. Mary was to meet the taxi-driver at the house, and, instead of bringing the car down for her, was to come in the taxi. When she came out of the shop she would find them at the corner of Masters Street. In the taxi they would drive down to Hill Street—to Harold Pender's solicitors. On the way home she would give Fred Powers his instructions. He would take Mary home and then go to the Union Club.
Mornings in the flower shop were mainly spent in arranging the blooms and decorating the windows. Ivy was not considered sufficiently experienced to take part in this work. She was relegated to the position of very junior assistant to everybody—to waiting on the experienced saleswomen.
Jack Lorne did not come to the shop until after ten o'clock. He went direct to his office; and spent some time at the telephone. At length he sat back, frowning—gazing through the shop. Presently he caught Ivy's eye, and beckoned.
"Know much about arranging flowers, Miss France?" he asked abruptly, when she entered his office.
"In what manner, Mr. Lorne?"
"Can you decorate a table for a dinner?"
"Had much experience in that work?"
"I told you, Mr. Lorne, when I applied for work, that I was not experienced in a professional sense. I have decorated many dinner tables—when my people had money."
"Which means that they have lost it now?"
"I should not be at work it they had it still."
"Good!" Jack stood up, towering above her. "Get your hat and things, we're going out."
"Where?" The girl did not move. Something told her that her plans for mid-day were to be seriously disarranged.
"To the Union Club." Jack laughed suddenly. "Is it usual for assistants to ask their employers where they are taking them?"
"I believed that I was engaged to work in the shop." Ivy spoke evenly.
Jack Lorne spoke quickly, just as she turned to the door. "Wait a moment, Miss France. I have made a mistake. You are new to the business, and I should have told you where I propose to take you, and for what reason. I am sorry."
"Thank you." Ivy lifted her eyes to his, and smiled. She was beginning to like Jack Lorne, in spite of the suspicions that crowded around him in her mind.
By the time Ivy was ready for the streets a small motor car stood before the flower-shop door, Jack Lorne at the wheel. He motioned her to take the seat beside him and immediately drove off.
"Here a the position, Miss France." Jack spoke suddenly as they turned into the main street. "There's a dinner at the Union Club to-night. The man who usually does their decorations has been taken ill. They sent for me this morning, and asked if I would take over the work. I said I would, in spite of the fact that Miss Ames, who attends to these matters for you, is otherwise engaged to-day. I had to find someone else, and I chose you."
"Yes?" Ivy spoke cautiously.
Lorne had paused as if he required an answer. "The position is this," Jack continued. "I want the club's work, and I can get it if this goes through all right. I took the chance, although I hadn't the faintest idea at the moment who to put on to it. Then I heard of a girl who specialises in that sort of thing. But when I telephoned her I found that she was engaged for the day. I looked up from the telephone—and you were looking at me. I thought then that you looked as it you had taste—so I took a risk on you."
"You thought I had taste because I was looking at you?" The girl spoke gravely. Then, as he suddenly turned to her in surprise, she laughed. He laughed with her—and they found that the barriers had tumbled down.
The car came to a halt before the doors of the Union Club—the place to which Ivy had chased the "unknown' the previous evening. Ivy descended from the car and waited for her employer. He led her into the building to the head steward's room.
"Mr. Cantor, I want to introduce you to Miss France—one of my most talented assistants." Jack spoke gravely, but his hand on Ivy's arm closed slightly. "I am sure she will do your tables justice."
"Pleased to meet you, miss," The stout, ruddy-faced man behind the desk got up laboriously and came found to shake hands with the girl.
"If you will come with me I will show you the banquet hall."
He led them to a wonderful old room, ceilinged with a big dome filled with coloured glass. Ivy looked about her with admiration. What a wonderful setting for a big dinner, and in spite of Jack Lorne's words she was beginning to think that the work before her was big and important.
"I'll have my men lay the tables for you immediately, Miss France," said the head steward.
"If you please—no."
The girl turned to face the two men, "I want the things—the linen, the glass, silver, cutlery, and all that. But I want to lay the table—do everything myself. I—I can see something." She swung round, sweeping the room with her glance. "Oh, this place can be made!"
"That wasn't in our agreement, Mr. Lorne." Cantor frowned.
"It is—now." Jack spoke grimly. "From now on Miss France has sole charge of this room, until she admits your waiters for the banquet, or—"
The head steward looked at the florist, startled.
"That's it!" Jack grinned. "I want the work, just because I fancy these sort of jobs: but my representative has all the say."
He turned to Ivy: "What do you want from the shop?"
"I will come back and get what I want—may I?"
"You're boss." The man turned at the door. "Say, you'll have some running about to do, it you're taking over the full management of this show. Drive a car?"
"Then I'll leave you mine. I can get a tram back to near the shop. Get to it, girl, and—" he lowered his voice to a whisper. "—don't let me down."
With the head steward he turned to the door. On the threshold he looked back at the girl and nodded encouragingly.
The sudden assignment to decorate the tables at the Union Club for a big function had swept Ivy's resentment of her very subordinate position at the shop from her mind. Here she was in full control of a big work, with an army of men and girls to carry out her orders. Almost she forgot her personal affairs. For more than a quarter of an hour she wandered about the big hall, watching the daylight effects on the coloured glasses of the roof; switching on and off the grouped lights in the room—waiting, thinking, to get the ideas forming clearly in her mind.
At last she was ready. She went to the head steward's office. "Mr. Cantor, has the club a permanent electrician?"
"Yes, Miss France. Do you want the lighting altered?"
"Yes, extensively." Then, noting the dismay spreading on the man's face, she laughed. "I am not going to disarrange your permanent fittings. All I want will be temporary and easily taken away after the dinner is over."
Then she exclaimed, suddenly: "Come with me!" She led the man into the hall and commenced to talk rapidly. Slowly the doubtful look on the head steward's face gave way to one of satisfaction—and he laughed.
"Do that, my girl, and the club will kiss you, all round. Now, why the devil hasn't anyone thought of that before?"
Abruptly Ivy dismissed the man, ordering the electrician to be sent to her immediately; to be followed by the club waiters with the linen and silver. Half-an-hour later she ran out of the building, jumped into the waiting car, and drove down to the shop.
There she found her status had changed, almost alarmingly. She was no longer the newest, the least experienced assistant. She was the expert, issuing her orders rapidly and with certainty—orders that had to be obeyed on the spot. She collected what she required for immediate use and went back to the club.
Half-way on the journey she suddenly drew the car to the curb, and stopped. She sat back, laughing softly. A strange thought had come to her. Would the "unknown" be among the guests at the banquet that night? She believed he would. He had appeared to be an important man at the "Palido." Was he equally important at the Union Club? If so, then—if the "unknown" was one of the guests at the banquet, then she held him in the hollow of her hand. She had determined to be at the banquet when it started. Probably Jack would be there also. That would not make any difference. A slight alteration in her plans of lighting and decorations, and—Again she laughed as she put her car into gear, and drove on.
One o'clock came, almost before she guessed the hour. She went to the car and drove down to the shop. Leaving the car in the narrow street, with a request in the shop that it be there in an hour's time.
Ivy walked up to Macquarie Street and found Mary and the taxi-driver. In the taxi, she leaned forward, as the man carried them rapidly to Hill Street, giving him directions—the orders she had thought out the previous night—modified by the happenings of that day. The man grinned broadly, and nodded. "Goin' a bit outside the law, ain't you, miss," he said at length.
"Afraid?" Ivy taunted. "It's only a practical joke!"
"I'm not afraid," the man bridled. "But what's behind all this?"
"I told you—a joke."
"And—?" Ivy thought quickly. The man looked honest. She would tell him—something.
"Mr. Powers," she spoke earnestly. "I told you my name last night. Do you connect anything with it? No? Well, let me tell you. My godfather brought me up to believe that I was to be his heiress. He died suddenly, leaving me only a buhl box. In it was the photograph of a man and a letter, instructing me to find that man."
"The photograph of the man we traced to the Union Club last night?"
"I'll help. The rotter! But, say," the man hesitated. "What about the other fellow—the one who went to the Palido with the girl?"
"He is trying to prevent me getting my fortune."
"And he knows this man at the Union Club!" Powers mused. "Righto-o! I'm on it now. Go the limit, miss. You're my boss. Worst that can happen to me is six months—and I'll do that on my head for a pretty girl like you!"
Ivy was satisfied, catching at Mary's hand and squeezing it hard. A few minutes later the taxi drew up before the offices of Tinker & Tinker, solicitors.
Ivy found everything prepared for her at the solicitor's offices. Abel Tinker, the senior partner, had been advised of her probable call, and had a large, well-filled envelope ready to his hand.
"There's the packet in question, Miss Breton," he said briskly. "You notice that it is sealed. That is the condition in which my client received it from Mr. Sixsmith. Do you recognise the seal?"
Ivy nodded. She took her godfather's seal from her bag and handed it to the solicitor. He compared it with the wax impression on the envelope.
"That's the seal, Miss Breton. Now I will ask you to give me a receipt for the packet. You notice that it has not been opened, so we can't check the contents. Are you prepared to give me a blanket receipt for a packet containing unknown papers, deposited with Mr. Harold Pender by Mr. Basil Sixsmith, unopened? I may say that the instructions on the envelope permit us to take your receipt in full discharge of the trust."
Again the girl nodded. Mr. Tinker drew a receipt and handed the girl his pen. She signed the paper and picked up the packet.
"Will you please thank Mr. Pender for me, Mr. Tinker," she said, as she turned to the door. "Or shall I write and thank him? It was good of him to take all this trouble for—for godfather."
"Just as you like, Miss Breton." The lawyer smiled. "Suppose I thank him when I see him, and you drop him a line. We men like notes of thanks from young ladies."
With a chuckle at his own words, he escorted her to the door. In the car Ivy handed the packet to Mary.
"Take this home with you, dear, and hide it. I can't have it with me all the afternoon, and I don't want to leave it with Mr. Kithner."
She turned to her driver.
"Back to Masters Street, Mr. Powers, please."
At the corner of Masters Street and Macquarie Street Ivy alighted with Mary.
"You know what to do now, Mr. Powers," Ivy said. "When you have had lunch, please go down to the Union Club. If you see me about, please don't recognise me unless I give you some sign."
The man nodded, saluted, and drove off.
Ivy took her companion down to the shop and there obtained another load of flowers for the Union Club. Then she drove the car to a tea-shop, where they had a hasty lunch. It was nearly an hour later when Ivy reached the club again. After they had lunched she had driven Mary home, then returned to the city. When she entered, the banquet hall she found that the electricians had completed their work.
"Great effect, miss." The head man went to the switchboard he had established in a corner of the room.
"Have a look!" He depressed the switches, one after the other. Ivy was delighted. She had visualised and planned a beautiful scheme of lighting—something she believed to be original, but nothing approaching what the electricians had realised from her outline. Now, when she had accomplished the decorations of the table, she would be able to give the diners a surprise—and perhaps one of them a slight shock.
"Well, Miss France?" Ivy swung round to see Jack Lorne standing beside her. "How is the work progressing. Mr. Cantor tells me you are developing ideas."
In a few brief words Ivy described the design of decorations she had originated, and the means she planned to carry them out. Jack was delighted and unstinted in his praise. He left her, wandering about the big, beautiful hall, scrutinising it thoroughly.
Ivy turned to her work. She had much to do and little time to accomplish it in. Then she intended, when she had finished with the hall, to go home and dress. She intended to be at the gathering of the diners, concealed behind the palms hiding the switchboard: her fingers would depress the levers, ordering the effects she had planned and created. Bound up in her work, she was surprised to find Jack Lorne again beside her, looking down on her with curiosity in his eyes.
She smiled up, inquiringly.
"Miss France." The man spoke slowly and quietly. "What do you know of Ivy Breton?"
THE girl's heart missed a beat. She stared up at the man, unable to speak. Then she remembered what she had said in the shop the previous afternoon.
She had told one of the assistants that she knew Ivy Breton. Well, she did. Who could know her as well as she knew herself! She had said that she had been at school with her. That was true. Ivy Breton had never been at school unless accompanied by the girl Jack Lorne knew as Muriel France.
"Well?" The cool tone, the level word, stiffened Ivy. She turned to face the man.
"Yes, I know Miss Breton." She turned again to her work. "I suppose your brother reported to you that he had heard me tell one of the girls that.
"He did." The man answered with a ghost of a smile on his lips. "But you have not answered my question. What do you know of Ivy Breton?"
"I know Ivy Breton." The girl's tones were icy. "It happens—It may interest you to learn—that Miss Breton is my friend."
"A fortunate girl." Jack's smile broadened. "Now, will you please tell me all you know about her?"
"May I ask in what way Miss Breton interests you, Mr. Lorne?"
"I went to see her yesterday."
"Is that all?" Ivy's fingers were working quickly among the flowers. "And—previous to your visit?"
"I had heard of her."
"Is that all you have to tell me?"
"Is more necessary?"
"Yet you have asked me to tell you all I know of my friend. That is rather a big order, in view of the confidence you have placed in me."
"I can assure you, Miss France, that I am only asking information for Miss Breton's good."
"Yet you say you only called on her yesterday." Ivy paused. "Was that the first time you had met her?"
"You had no other communication with her?"
"I had telephoned her previously, asking for an interview."
"What did she reply?" Ivy laughed; then, daringly: "Did she tell you that she always obtained her flowers from 'Lorne, florists'?"
The man laughed heartily. "She did not. I am afraid I forgot to mention the shop. That was remiss of me. A good business man never forgets a word in season—or out of it."
"Perhaps you mentioned something else you are interested in?"
A quirk of mischief seized the girl's brain. "You may have forgotten the flower shop, and mentioned—some other business."
"What other business?" A dull flush spread on the young man's cheeks.
"How can I possibly know?" Ivy laughed. "From the manner in which you are cross-questioning me, shall I venture—a detective agency—"
An involuntary movement showed the girl that her remark had struck home. For a moment the man did not reply.
"And that telephone conversation was the first communication—the first time you had come in contact with Miss Breton?" Ivy's face was hidden by masses of flowers.
"Am I to know—or is it so close a secret that it cannot be mentioned in the midst of a vast, lonely banquet hall?"
"Miss Breton might not like me to mention it. You see—" He flushed again.
Now Ivy blushed also. She knew that he was referring to her attire on the night of the burglary. She was furious with him—and herself. With an effort she steadied.
"Was the occasion so—so illegal?"
Again she found the crevice in his armour. He turned and stared at her. "Miss France—" He paused, unable to frame his sentence. "Have you seen Miss Breton lately."
"I see her often." The girl was thinking of the mirror in her bag.
"Then she told you?"
"Ivy tells me everything—as you must if you want to getinformation from me."
"And if the secret is not my own?"
"I am sorry."
"That means you will not give me the information I have asked for?"
The girl did not answer. What could she say? She knew that she was beset by enemies, people who appeared inclined to go to any lengths to deprive her of whatever her godfather had left her. She had to walk warily, sifting the good from the bad as she gained in knowledge. This man had asked for her confidence—under her guise of friendship for—herself. He was asking her to betray herself. What was at the back of his mind? Were his intentions favourable to herself, or not?
Somehow she felt inclined to trust him. She could not think of him otherwise than honest. She glanced up, almost furtively, into his grave, troubled face. Yes, he would make a nice friend. Why had not her godfather placed his photograph in the buhl box instead of that of Harold Pender?
Again she flushed. Why had this man so much power to incommode her? She felt herself helpless, distrait and weak of purpose when near him. She wanted now to get away from him—from things; or to throw all her burdens on his broad shoulders—and rest.
Now she knew, and the knowledge brought the soft colour to her cheeks, him. Why should she not? She knew that her one impulse was to trust him. Why should she not? The business he was trying to probe, for some undisclosed reason, was entirely hers. She could do what she liked with her own affairs. There was no one on earth—now—to say her nay. If she spoke openly to him; told him all he wanted to know; answered his questions fully and freely: what would he think of her. If she told him everything, concealing only the one fact—that she was Ivy Breton, and that she had obtained a position in his shop to probe his secrets—what would he think of her? Would he believe that she, Muriel France, was a good friend to Ivy Breton?
"Miss France—" Jack paused, then commenced again. "Miss France, will you not trust me—take my word that I mean your friend no ill?"
The girl shook her head.
"How can I? The secret is not mine."
The man turned abruptly and left the hall. Ivy bent to her work again, the salt tears dimming her sight. Jack had asked her to trust him—but he had not thought fit to trust her. And—and he had so much to explain.
Why had he crept from her house, a thief in the night? True, he had rescued her from another thief. But, had he? Could she believe his statement, unsupported by any evidence? Some instinct told her that she could—she must!
A few moments, and she flung the thought from her, devoting all her mind, all her energies, to her work. The scene grew apace under the nimble fingers. Through the long afternoon she continued until, at last, she stood back, to gaze on a room transformed. She went to the switches, now hidden behind a bower of greenery and blooms, and threw on the lights—to see if her work was good. Half an hour's further work, mainly performed by the club stewards, and the room was cleared of all debris. Ivy went out of the door and locked it. No one was to go in there until she returned to the club. Then she would open the door to the club steward and other such notabilities as he should have gathered, and seek their approval.
The girl laughed slightly. She would show them much, but one thing she would conceal. That would be revealed when she stood within the hidden bower, her fingers on the switch. She knew where the unknown would be seated. Plans of the seating at the tables had been brought to her earlier in the day. One of her last tasks had been to place the cards on the tables. Now she could go home.
In her home lay the packet she had received from Harold Pender's solicitors that day. What did it contain? Would she find the secret her godfather's fortune!—the fortune she believed he intended for her—in that packet? It were not there, where would she find it? But what mattered the fortune, if one really existed?
She had accepted the task of finding the "unknown" because it had been her godfather's desire—the last command he had laid on her. She had accomplished that task. That night she would show Harold Pender his photograph—and demand from him the truth. He would tell her everything—she knew that now. In her hands were means for enforcing her wishes.
Mary and the car were waiting for her at the top of Masters Street. She drove Jack Lorne's car down to the shop, and left a report for him—that the work at the Union Club was finished. To the report she attached a written message, asking him to be at the club at a quarter to eight that night—to meet her there. Again she added to her message, informing him that, by arrangement with Mr. Cantor, she had locked up the banquet room and had retained the key.
Then back to the car, and Mary.
The girls drove home almost in silence, the thought of the packet to be examined obsessing them. Dinner was a brief, hasty meal, and then they went to the library. Mary produced the packet, and, with trembling hands, Ivy slit the envelope. From the cover she drew out a mass of bulky papers, She unfolded the first—and gasped.
It was a bond for one thousand pounds.
She placed it on the desk, and took up another—and yet another. When she had opened the last one she sat back, staring at the pile of papers. She took pencil and paper, and made a rapid calculation. The pile of papers represented over one hundred and fifty thousand pounds. And amid the mass of bonds and script was no letter or message.
What was she to do? To whom did this money belong? She guessed that it was part of her godfather's estate; a sum of money that he had not chosen to have lying at the bank, for some unknown reason. Had he set it aside for some purpose, trusting the secret to one person—Harold Pender? Who did this money belong to?
Certainly she had no claim on it. Mr. Tinker had told her that the packet had been given to his client, Harold Pender, by her godfather, as a trust charge, and unopened; that on the envelope were written instructions that in the event of his death the packet was to be placed in her hands, unopened.
Why had he done that? Surely her godfather had known that the bonds and certificates had to go to his estate—that she had no claim on them? Even it he had desired her to have some claim on them, why had he not written some message or instructions to that effect, and enclosed it with the securities? She could not take them, conceal their existence from everybody.
She would have to hand them to Mark Kithner, and he would, when the estate was settled, pass them on to Mrs. Western. Had that been her godfather's intention—a test of her loyalty and honesty? Ivy could not believe that. No, he had intended them for her. Then, why had he not mentioned them in his will? Whatever she might believe to be her godfather's intentions he had, himself, foiled them. She could not honestly take the script.
Yet she sat on, thinking; fingering the papers which represented so much wealth. She drew pad and pencil to her again, and made some rapid calculations. Some of the papers were share certificates, inscribed to her godfather. Others were bearer bonds that could not be traced, except by their numbers.
But did anyone know that her godfather possessed them? If she gave up the certificated stock and kept the bonds, she would have enough to keep herself in luxury for the rest of her life.
The temptation brought little beads of perspiration around her eyes; it dampened the palms of her hands. She tried to think. Why had her godfather placed this burden on her shoulders? Surely he may have realised the thoughts that would come to her mind. He must surely have known that his will stood; that under it she must, honestly, hand the packet and the contents to his estate.
On sudden impulse she bundled the papers and thrust them into an envelope, then turned to the big safe. She opened it, and thrust in the packet.
"That's the end of that, Mary!" she observed quietly. "I can't take the money, can I?"
Almost she wished that the girl would deny her, but Mary shook her head. "I'll take them to Mr. Kithner to-morrow."
A choke came in the girl's throat. "He must take them!—and—do the proper thing. But it was cruel of godfather, Mary, it was cruel!"
"Wait." Mary spoke suddenly. "Wait, Ivy. There may be a way out for you."
"A way out? How?" Ivy swung round to face the elder girl.
"I think you should wait." Mary spoke with deliberation. "You see, you have the money and nothing to show what were your godfather's intentions. Wait a day or two, Ivy. The money has come to you strangely, and perhaps it will be followed by some message. Now, go upstairs and dress. You have to be at the Union Club under the hour, dear."
A KNOCK came at the door as Ivy was finishing dressing. She called a reply, and Mary entered. "Ready, dear." Then the girl added more quickly. "Get down to the telephone. There's someone asking for you. He won't give a message."
"Who is it?"
"Fred Powers. He seems to want you urgently. I tried—" Ivy ran out of the room and down the stairs. In the library, she snatched up the receiver. "Miss Breton here! Is that Mr. Powers?"
"The same, miss. Thought I'd call you up to tell you that the gent's at dinner, miss. First time I've had a chance of getting away from him."
"Where is he? At the Union Club?"
"No, miss, At the Palido."
Ivy wondered. She knew that Harold Pender was due at the dinner at the Union Club. Then why was he dining at the Palido? She had placed his card before his seat at the club. Why did he want two dinners on the one night?
She looked down at her wrist watch. It was a quarter-past seven. A frown came on her brow. Here was something she could not explain. She turned to the telephone again.
"What has Mr. Pender done since you picked him up, Mr. Powers?"
"Got him soon after I went to the club." The man laughed slightly. "I just managed to get my flag up before he got sight of my car. He hopped in and told me to go to Tinker & Tinker. You know. The place I drove you to this morning. He stayed there quite a while, and when he came out he had a sheet of paper in his hand. He slipped it into his pocket as he jumped into the car."
"He told you to wait?"
"He hadn't, miss, but I waited. I thought he might be suspicious when he found me still there, and I made some excuse that the engine hadn't been turning over right. He only grunted and asked me if it was well enough for me to drive him to 'Lorne, florists.'"
Ivy gasped. "Do you know what he wanted there?" she asked.
"He came out with a big box of flowers, miss, and put them in the car. Told me to take them down to the Palido and leave them there for him. Said that if I gave them the box they would know what to do with it."
"Strange!" Ivy spoke the word to herself, but the man at the other end of the line overheard her.
"Not so strange as you'd think, miss. There's plenty as buys flowers and sends 'em by taxi to the Palido, and such-like places. More'n likely they're to decorate the table."
"What happened then?"
"I had to leave him, miss. Couldn't get out of it. So off I went to the Palido and gave up the flowers. Didn't worry me much, for I had his name then—it was on the box, H. G. Pender. When I handed in the flowers I went back to the Union Club. Got word with one of the porters and found he wasn't there then. I waited a time, and when the chap I had spoken to at the club came out on a message, I hops up to the door and asked for Mr. Pender. Of course, they said he wasn't in the club—I knew that. Then I asked where I could find him, as I said I had a message for him. They gave me his telephone number—said it was in the directory—so I soon got hold of his full name and address. Here it is, miss: H. G. Pender, The Aspley, Macquarie Street. You know the place; the tall, white building, right in the centre, overlooking the park. Swagger place, that!"
"But what makes you think he is going to dine at the Palido?" asked Ivy.
"The box of flowers was addressed there, and in the corner was written 'For Mr. H. G. Pender's table,'" the man answered promptly. "There's more, miss. I went and hung about the Aspley. He came out at last and jumped into a taxi and went down to the Palido. That was just a quarter of an hour ago. Looks as if he was stopping there."
"Where are you now, Mr. Powers?"
"In a tea-shop just opposite the Palido. Can keep an eye on the place from here. He can't get away without my seeing him."
Ivy was trying to think. What was she to do? Harold Pender was booked to dine at the big dinner for which she had arranged the decorations—yet the taxi-driver was assured that he was giving a party at the Palido!
"You'll keep in touch with him, Mr. Powers." The girl spoke urgently. "He mustn't get away from you. And—and—oh, I must arrange some way for you to keep in touch with me. Wait a moment!"
She had to go to the Union Club.
A glance at her wrist-watch showed that she had barely time to get there to the time she had arranged. How could she be at the club and yet keep in touch with this man?
It would be useless for him to communicate with Mary. She would not know what to do. Suddenly she remembered. There was a telephone in the banquet room at the Union Club. By chance, the switchboard had been placed close to it.
If she remained behind the bank of flowers she would be out of sight of the guests, yet close to the telephone. Yes, that would do. She could make some excuse that she wanted to watch the lighting effects through the evening. They—Mr. Cantor and Jack Lorne, if he were there—would not object. She could tell Mr. Cantor that she expected a telephone message. He would have the call put through to her in the banquet hall. But, it was evident that the telephone in the banquet hall was for the use of the guests. Would it be connected with the club's switchboard, or direct to the exchange? She had to chance that!
"Please keep careful watch, Mr. Powers, please." She spoke urgently. "Let me know when you see anything of him again. Telephone me at the Union Club. Ask for Miss France. I shall near the telephone in the banquet hall. You will, won't you?"
"Sure, miss. Certain!" Ivy could almost visualise the man nodding his head to give emphasis to his words. With a word of thanks she hung up the receiver and sped to her room.
A few more minutes, and she was ready to leave the house.
A taxi was standing before the door, awaiting her. For a moment she thought longingly of her own car, but she dared not take it to the club. If Jack Lorne saw her getting out of a private car he would wonder. Shop assistants could not rightfully possess private cars. She thought her carefully-built plans had crashed to the ground.
From the moment she had accepted the assignment to design and create the decorations for the banquet she had believed that Harold Pender would be one of the guests. Her belief had been confirmed when she found his name on one of the cards given her with the plan of the tables. She had built on his presence at the banquet, planning to surprise him into some admission that would give her a clue to the solution of the mystery in which she was involved. Now she would have to find some other way. She stamped angrily.
Why did the man want to make two dinner engagements for the one night? He couldn't be a gentleman to accept an invitation to a big dinner, and then give a party at the Palido on the same night.
The taxi drew up with a jerk at the entrance to the Union Club. Ivy jumped out and paid the man. As she turned to the steps, a car came to a stop just behind the taxi.
"Miss France!" She turned to face Jack Lorne, "Good luck for me, meeting you here. I'm consumed with curiosity."
She laughed, and mounted the steps to the club door by his side. In the corridor, before the door of the banquet hall, Ivy produced the key and flung the doors open. The place was shrouded in darkness, through which was silhouetted the white of the decorated tables.
Guided by the light of her torch, Ivy went round the room to, the switchboard. She threw on the ordinary lights and then came out into the room. Bill Cantor was standing in the doorway, beside Jack Lorne. She glanced at the two men. They were slowly scanning the flower-decked room, and a feeling of pride came over the girl as she saw the expression on their faces. She had done well—she realised that—but she had not expected the indescribable atmosphere of awe that showed on the men's faces.
Cantor suddenly left his companion and came to her.
"Splendid, Miss France." He shook hands heartily. "I've never seen the room looking so well."
"May I echo that—heartily."
Ivy looked up into Jack's eyes.
"You have made a marvellous job of it—even without the lighting effects Mr. Cantor tells me to expect. Now may we see those?"
The men waited while the girl went behind the shielding bank of greenery to the switchboard. A moment, and the lights in the hall were extinguished leaving the place in darkness. Then, from the roof came a soft glow of coloured lights—lights shining through the great frames of many coloured glasses, casting beautiful shadows over hall and tables. From the massed bank of flowers on the tables other lights showed, white and coloured, changing in hues and combinations as the girl's fingers played with the switches.
Around the hall concealed lights came to life, forming a veritable scene from fairyland. At last Ivy came from behind the screen to face the two men in the big hall. Jack turned at the soft rustle of her skirts, and for a moment looked at her in silence. Then, with a strange, half-foreign gesture of homage, he bowed. The stout, ruddy-faced head steward nodded quickly.
"You've struck it, Mr. Lorne," he said. "Miss France is a wonder! I'll tell the world!"
The girl coloured with pleasure. She had been sure of her work, but had wondered what the two men would think of it. A woman would have seen the possibilities before her directly she entered the hall—but men might not. She had not been too sure of her critics.
"Mr. Cantor." The girl spoke suddenly. "May I remain in the hall after the banquet starts?"
"Sure!" Yet the stout man spoke doubtfully. "You'll have to take care you're not seen, though."
He walked over to where the switchboard was erected behind the bank of greenery. "If you care to stay in here. Miss France, you'll be able to get a fair view. That do? Good! Suppose you want to see how the diners like your lighting effects?"
The girl nodded. That was a good excuse.
"I can get out of that door later," she said, pointing to a small door else to where they stood. "If your diners see anything, it will only be the tail of my skirts."
"Don't let them see more." The stout man laughed. "If they catch you and feel like I do about this decoration business, they will want to stand you on the table and cheer you."
She made a mocking little curtsey, as sound of voices were heard in the passage outside the main door, and fled to the alcove. As she expected, Jack Lorne followed her. She switched on the main lights in the hall, and waited, very conscious of the man beside her.
Then Jack left her for a moment, to return dragging a comfortable chair.
"Sit down, Miss France," he commanded. "You must be dead beat after this big day's work."
Ivy subsided gratefully into the chair. She wanted to relax—to think. Something had gone wrong with her plans. Even now she was in trouble. Jack Lorne was with her, and any moment Fred Powers might telephone her.
She could not let this man overhear what she had to say to the taxi-driver—overhear what instructions she might have to give the man. If she spoke too plainly, she might give away her secret. In some way she must get rid of Jack Lorne. She glanced up at him, her eyes shielded by her long lashes.
He was standing, half-turned from her, staring out over the deserted banquet hall. How could she get him to leave her? She glanced up anxiously at the telephone instrument, almost over her head. At any moment it might ring to summon her. He would want to answer it—and he must not. Perhaps he would leave her after the banquet started.
She glanced at her watch. It still wanted a few minutes to eight o'clock. The guests were now due to arrive. At the half-hour the banquet was timed to start!
Could she wait that time? If Harold Ponder stayed at the Palido—yes. But would he? Had he been bound to entertain his guests together at the Palido, and then, while they were dancing, slip away to the more formal function at the Union Club? That might be an explanation of his actions. Then, at any moment, she might expect Fred Powers to telephone the news that the "unknown" was on his way to the Union Club.
"Miss France." Ivy looked up, startled. "Have you thought of what I asked you this afternoon?"
"You mean about Miss Breton?" The girl shook her head. Then in sudden impulse; "Why don't you tell me what you want to know? You asked me to tell you everything. That was far too big an order."
For a moment he waited, looking down at her. Suddenly he smiled.
"Very well, I will take you at your word. I want to know it Miss Breton is engaged to be married to her—no, he is no relation of hers!'
"Miss Breton is not engaged to be married." Ivy spoke impulsively, much startled. "Who told you that absurd—rumour?"
"Is it a rumour?" Jack laughed shortly. "Look her, Miss France, you say you are an intimate friend of Miss Breton's. Well, you know that she expected to inherit a big fortune from her godfather. She didn't, and—"
"That is the first time I have heard that Ivy Breton expected her godfather to leave her anything!" The girl spoke indignantly. "You know Mr. Sixsmith had relations?"
"A half-sister who has a cub of a son." Jack snapped the words.
"—and that Mr. Sixsmith had very little property to leave when he died?"
Ivy carefully repressed any mention of the stocks and bonds that had come into her hands that day.
"But Basil Sixsmith was a very rich man!" Jack stared in astonishment. "Why—" he paused. "Look here. Miss France! You've shown me that you can keep your counsel. I'll tell you a secret. Mr. Sixsmith was a partner with me in my business. He put in more than two-thirds of the capital."
The girl sprang to her feet in astonishment.
"What do you mean?" she asked anxiously.
"Just exactly what I have said." The young man flushed under her steady regard. "That's why I want to know something about Miss Breton. You see, she's really my partner now. When I got beached through the death of my parents, old Kithner went to a lot of trouble to get my affairs straight. There was a certain amount of money free, after my father's estate was settled. I wanted to try this flower game, but there wasn't enough capital. Mr. Kithner introduced me to Mr. Sixsmith, and we went into things thoroughly. In the end he offered to finance the business on the lines I had laid down on condition that I took the personal management of it. He added some further conditions—things I hadn't dared to bring forward."
"He thought it was no good going into a shop and waiting on the professional growers. He said that we had to have our own nurseries. I had thought of that, but had cut out the idea from my plans, for I knew that I hadn't enough capital to go into the matter in that fashion. My capital was barely sufficient to open a shop in the right quarter of the city. Well, Mr. Sixsmith made me get out a lot of new plans, and in the end advanced all the money I wanted. He had a deed of partnership drawn up, and—and—well, that's the lot of it!"
"But Mr. Kithner should have placed Mr. Sixsmith's interest in your business to the estate accounts—and he deliberately told Mrs. Western and—Ivy—that there was only the house and its contents, and the money in the bank."
"And so far as I was concerned, he was quite right." Jack laughed. "You see, Mr. Sixsmith had no time for his half-sister. To prevent her getting her fingers in my business, in the event of anything unforeseen happening to him, he executed a transfer of his interest in the business to his god-daughter, Ivy Breton."
"You mean—" Ivy stared.
Then a noise at the door attracted her attention. She turned to gaze down the room. Two men were walking into the hall, and one of them was Harold Pender.
FOR the moment Ivy hesitated; then turned to face her companion.
"You were saying?" she questioned slowly. "I am so sorry, Mr. Lorne; I am afraid I did not quite understand you."
Jack smiled. He had not missed her involuntary start, and wondered what was the connection between the girl at his aide and the two men who had just entered the banquet hall.
"I was trying to explain my interest in Miss Breton," he said, patiently. "You see, she is my partner now, and—"
"I—Ivy your partner!" The girl suppressed a desire to laugh. She had never conceived a situation like this could develop.
"Why, I thought Mr. Paul Lorne, your brother, was your partner."
"I wish he was." Jack answered whole-heartedly.
"He is the best of fellows! I'd give my ears to have him with me. But Paul's set on being a doctor—and he'll make a fine one. He comes down to the shop sometimes to give me a hand."
"And you?" The girl looked at the man curiously. "Have you no ambitions?"
"Is not 'Lorne, florists' a satisfied ambition?" he asked gently, yet for a moment a light lingered in his eyes. "You know the old quotation; 'To make two blades of grass grow where one grew before.' Is not that worthy?"
"All work is worthy." Ivy glanced up the hall. It was now filled with little groups of men chatting idly, waiting for the function to commence.
"You are disappointed with me?"
A slight irritableness shook the man. "Miss France, you are terribly direct. I will answer your question as I never thought to answer that question to anyone. I have—had other ambitions, but they had to be set aside. I had to follow the only road open to me." He paused a moment. The girl nodded. "Does she know this?" he asked.
"No." The answer was spontaneous.
"When Mr. Sixsmith died I asked Mr. Kithner what was to be done. He replied: 'Nothing.'"
"Then you are not willing to take his advice?" Ivy was trying to accustom herself to the fact that a definite link existed between herself and this man—a business link.
"I did, for a time." Jack hesitated. "Then I wondered if I was doing right. I heard that Mr. Sixsmith had left her only a small token—that he was supposed to have been a ruined man at the time of his death. I knew that was incorrect, for 'Lorne, florists' is now quite a valuable property. Not only the shop," he added, noting her look of surprise.
"You remember, Mr. Sixsmith had insisted that we had our own nurseries. I can assure you that Miss Breton need not do a stroke of work unless she wishes to. I have heard that she is looking for a situation."
"I believe she has work." Ivy laughed silently. She looked at the great hall, a monument to her skill as a decorator. "I think that she has work that she likes."
"Will she continue to like it—stick to it—when she knows that she is a partner in 'Lorne, florists'?"
"Why not?" Ivy turned to the switchboard, her fingers seeking the levers. "Wait, Mr. Lorne. I think they are about to commence the dinner."
A tall, fine-looking old man, dressed in correct, if somewhat old-fashioned cut evening attire, had moved to the head of the main table, rapping on the linen with an ivory mallet. The groups about the table broke up, the individuals sauntering to their places.
"Sir Michael Nairne." Jack indicated the chairman to the girl.
"Gentlemen." The chairman waited until there was silence. "I bid you welcome to this board. I hope you will enjoy your dinner. Afterwards, when the more serious business of the evening has passed, perhaps some of our friends will have something to say to you. I believe I have a message, myself."
As Sir Michael sat down, Ivy's fingers depressed the levers. The lights in the great hall dimmed gradually. From high up outside the domed ceiling, the lights streamed down through the many coloured glasses, casting fantastic shadows on the tables and the guests. Slowly the girl brought the lights to their full strength, then with a quick manipulation, shut off the white lights in the hall.
From amid the massed plants, foliage and flowers in the hall and on the tables, little lights began to glow, adding their radiance to the lights from the high roof. The tables became a mass of sparkling points of light, some coloured, others taking their colours from the lights that streamed down from overhead.
Along the line of tables blossoms, banked and serried, moved as it stirred by some interior convulsion. They changed formations, opening out to reveal large crystal bowls of sparkling water, in which gleamed yet more lights. From the bowls jets of water sprang high into the air, to fall in bewildering rainbows again into the bowls.
"By Jove!" Jack turned to his companion, a light of admiration in his eyes. "Miss France, you have accomplished wonders."
And so thought the guests at the banquet. For a moment guests and waiters remained spellbound, then burst into spontaneous applause.
"You like it, Mr. Lorne?" Ivy turned to face her unsuspecting partner, a light in her eyes. "I wondered if you would approve."
"Approve? Why, it's immense!" The young man could not restrain his appreciation. "'Lorne, florists' owe you a deep debt of gratitude. For the time, may one of the partners express it to you?"
"Not both of them?" The girl questioned demurely,
"Both?" For a moment the young man hesitated, then grinned broadly. "I can answer for the name—'partner,'" he added. "You will have to answer for Miss Breton. I don't know her."
"Yet you called on her yesterday?"
"You know that?"
"I told you; Ivy tells me everything."
"And you reciprocate?"
"I try to," very demurely.
"But—" he hesitated. "Now you have a secret to conceal from her."
"Yes?" For the moment Ivy did not understand.
"'Lorne, florists.'" Jack laughed.
"Why should not Ivy know?"
"I want to tell her myself—presently."
The man did not answer for a moment. The girl repeated her question.
"What do you think she will do when she knows?"
He answered her question with another. "Why?"
Again he did not reply. Suddenly she turned to him. "Jack Lorne, you are afraid that Ivy Breton might want to interfere in the business."
"She might try to."
"Just because her godfather invested money in your business," she hesitated. "Do you think women are like that?"
"You've seen Ivy. Do you think she would interfere with you?"
"She looks very capable," The momentary hesitation between the last words did not escape the girl. She flushed indignantly; then laughed. For the moment she had not realised that Jack was referring to Mary Varney.
"I can—I think I can promise you that Ivy will not interfere."
She spoke emphatically. "Mr. Lorne, is that half-share in your business really and truly Ivy's? Doesn't it belong to the Sixsmith estate?"
"Mr. Kithner says not."
"Is he certain?"
"Mr. Sixsmith signed a partnership deed with me when he placed the money required for the flotation of the business in the bank and approved the plans I had drawn up. Later, at his request, I signed a new partnership deed, this time with Mr. Kithner, acting as trustee for Miss Breton. The partnership with Mr. Sixsmith was cancelled. Thus the matter came out of Mr. Sixsmith's estate. The only interests in the business now exist between myself and Mr. Kithner, until Miss Breton arrives at the age of twenty-five." Jack spoke slowly and distinctly. "Do you understand now?"
Ivy nodded. Her godfather had not left her penniless; he had not died a ruined man. But why had he scattered and concealed his wealth so strangely? She had received that day stocks and bonds representing a huge sum of money, from a man she believed to be not more than a mere acquaintance of her godfather. Now Jack Lorne had come to her and told her that she owned a half-share in his business—the business in which she was working as a paid assistant under the name of "France." She believed she could take this partnership, but the money had to go to the estate—it would revert to Mrs. Martha Western.
Strangely now, Ivy thought little of the money. Her triumph of that night had set her life on a new plane. She now had work in which she was interested—in which she had won immediate success. She would go on with that work until she had proved herself to the man beside her now until she had convinced him that women were not all interfering busybodies. Then she would tell him that she was Ivy Breton, his partner. Perhaps he would then want her to continue with him—to continue working in the business, as his partner.
"What is Miss Breton's share in the business worth?" she asked abruptly.
"About a thousand pounds a year." Jack, startled, looked down at the girl. "Honour bright, Miss France! Not a word of this to anyone until I give you leave."
"Yes," she answered his look straightly. "I promise you shall be the first person to tell Ivy Breton."
An imp of mischief was dancing in the girl's eyes as she spoke. Jack Lorne should, indeed, be the first person to tell Ivy Breton. He had told her, though he was entirely innocent of that fact. And Ivy Breton, now that she knew, would do what she liked with the information. Yet in many ways she was hampered by her promise. Jack knew her as Muriel France—and Muriel France must keep faith. In that she was as bound by her promise as it she were not Ivy Breton.
But—Again the sparkle of mischief glowed in her eyes. Jack Lorne would have to be punished for his remarks about Ivy Breton. "She looked very capable!" Yes, Jack Lorne should find her, indeed, capable; so capable that he would have to go almost to his knees to retain her in the business.
Now Ivy was watching the tables in the centre of the hall. The correct and severely garbed diners; the silent, swift-moving shadows of waiters, flitting between the long rays of coloured lights. Her time had almost come. Soon the serious part of the dinner would be over. The cloths would be withdrawn, and the waiters would retire. Then she could act.
She glanced from the man beside her to the telephone. Why had not Fred Powers telephoned her? Had he left the duty he had promised to perform for her and missed the "unknown" when he left the night-club to come to the Union Club?
That was possible. If he had stayed at his post he could not have missed the man, for Cann Street was not crowded at that hour of the night. Few vehicles went down it after the warehouses were closed. Practically the only traffic was to and from the Palido. If Fred Powers had remained on guard, then he could have followed the man anywhere. Yet he had not telephoned her. Had he deserted her interests; left her to carry out her purpose alone?
But that did not matter now. The "unknown" was in that room, seated at the table in the place she had prepared for him. Again her glances wandered over the guests. The waiters were removing the cloths from the tables. In a few minutes they would have removed the remains of the feast and closed the doors behind themselves. Then her opportunity would come. She would spring the trick she had prepared for the man, and watch how he reacted to it.
She had one danger to face. Jack Lorne was still in the hidden alcove with her. What would he say if he discovered what she planned to do? Would he try to prevent her; would he betray her it she succeeded before he discovered her plans?
She could not help that. She had to act now as if he were not beside her, trying all she could do to prevent him noticing the few simple movements she had to make. She must act now, or forsake all she had planned. Furtively her hand went to the switchboard, to the row of little levers. She knew which one she wanted, without looking round. She moved slowly backwards, until she could reach the switchboard without turning, her eyes passing alternately from her companion to the men around the table.
Jack was watching Sir Michael Nairne, who had just risen to his feet. Now was her opportunity. She depressed the little switch, and waited. For a few seconds nothing happened. Almost she thought she had failed; then one of the diners sprang to his feet with a startled cry. For a brief moment he stood staring at the bowl of water before him; at the tall jet of water rising from the bowl and falling back in rainbow hues on the coloured lights in the water. Then, with another cry, he toppled forward and sideways, rolling from the table amid a scatter of broken glass and cries of alarm from his neighbours.
IVY gasped, staring at the man on the floor with horrified eyes. She had not expected anything like this. All that she had wanted to do was to shock him into some admission—to gain some explanation that might make towards the solution of the mystery in which she was involved. Was the man dead?
She threw over the switch and ran into the hall, to the man's side; pushing through the crowd of guests who had gathered about his prostrate body.
She knelt by him, feeling for his heart-beats through the stiff front of his shirt. "Water, please, and a glass of brandy."
Eager hands served her. She bent over the "unknown" again.
The bloodless, blue-lined lips told their tale. The man suffered from a weak or diseased heart. The shock had overcome him.
"Let me come, Muriel." A quiet voice at her side called her attention from the man. The girl looked up into Jack Lorne's face.
"Let him lie." She spoke softly, lifting the "unknown's" head from the floor and slipping under it a cushion someone had brought her.
"He will be better in a moment."
"What's the matter?" One of the men in the clustering group around spoke. "I never knew Pender to throw a fit before."
"Oh, I don't know." Another, voice answered. "I can remember one night, not so long ago, in the smoking room, when he went off like that. Something in the newspaper upset him; went blue round the lips, but didn't quite lose consciousness. It was quite a while before we could get him round."
Ivy heard and flinched. What had she done? She had wanted information, and had not hesitated to scheme anything to serve her ends. Had she risked this man's life in her mad impulse? She had acted in ignorance and—supposing he should die?
For some minutes there was silence in the big hall, broken only by a few whispered words exchanged among the men in the groups standing around. Ivy bent over the man, bathing his face and hands, every now and then forcing a few drops of brandy between his clenched teeth. At length, he opened his eyes and looked up into the girl's face. For a moment he looked puzzled, then smiled.
"What's the matter?" he asked, lowly.
"You fainted, Mr. Pender." The girl answered unsteadily.
"Why?" A long pause; then; "Oh, I remember. I thought I saw—"
"What do you think you saw?" The girl bent closer to the man.
"The buhl box—and—Basil—" The man's twisted lips showed that he was still in pain. "Funny, that! I haven't given the old box a thought for months."
"How are you, old man?" A man pushed through the group and knelt beside him. "Better? Good-o! Think you can be moved? Very well." He straightened and looked round the men nearby.
"Tom! Jim! Give me a hand to carry Harold to the library." Two men stepped forward. They lifted the sick man and carried him from the hall. Ivy made to follow. At the door she hesitated and looked back.
Sir Michael Nairne had resumed the Chair, and was asking the guests to take their place at the table again—speaking sympathetically of the sick man, but obviously trying to smooth over a disturbing incident and to restore the atmosphere of the dinner to its former smoothness.
The girl hesitated, her hand on the door-handle. Should she leave the ball and follow the man? Every inclination led to that action. But—on the table lay her secret, the means whereby she had been able to react so strangely on the "unknown."
Dare she leave it unguarded? But what could she do it she stayed in the hall? The guests were again around the table. She could only watch and wait. She could not go to the table and search the decorations, at that time. She would have to wait until the end of the feast, and then devise some means of getting into the hall alone.
There was another danger. Jack was in the hall and showed signs that he intended to stay there. He might become suspicious and search the alcove. He might examine the switchboard and find the little switch which worked her apparatus. He might depress it, and then her secret would be exposed to the diners. Then he would tax her with treachery.
What excuse could she make to him and the others? She could find no excuse for herself; now she had only a big repentance—that her zeal to solve the mystery she believed the "unknown" to hold the key of, had led her to work the man harm. She turned to the door and ran back to the alcove. Jack was not there. She went to the switchboard and found the wires leading to the little switch.
Frantically she dragged at them, snapping them from their connections, pulling them from their loose fastenings on the wall. She managed to get them free, until the fastenings held them to the floor. These were too firmly fixed for her. She looked about her desperately, then quickly re-arranged the greenery, bringing a few pot plants, to the wall, hiding the coils of wires she had pulled from the switchboard. Now she would be safe, until she could get to the table and remove the apparatus she had concealed amid the flowers. She turned to go from the alcove, then swung round at the sounds of the telephone bells. Almost trembling, she went to the instrument and took down the receiver. "Someone wants to speak to Miss France." The voice of the switchboard attendant sounded terribly impersonal to the agitated girl.
"Yes? I am Miss France. Will you please connect me."
A moment's wait, and a man's voice came across the wire. "Miss France? Fred Powers speaking. I've got to tell you that Mr. Pender has just left the Palido. He's taken a taxi and driven off. Do you want me to follow? All right. Then I must—"
"But you said Mr. Pender had just left the Palido?"
Ivy gasped. "Why, he's—"
"Yes. I was standing against the door when he came out. I saw him quite plainly. There! His taxi's moving. I'll telephone you directly I discover where he pulls up. Good-bye!"
The connection was suddenly broken. For some moments Ivy stood with the receiver to her ear, entirely dazed.
What had the man meant? Harold Pender had remained at the Palido all that time? But for more than two hours he had been sitting at the table before her. She was certain that she had not been mistaken in the man. She remembered, after his falling to the ground—while she knelt by him that men around her had spoken his name. She would know him anywhere, for she had taken particular notice of him when she had first seen him at the doors of the Palido, and afterwards, in the private boxes corridor at the G.P.O. What had happened? Had Fred Powers made a mistake?
Yet she could not believe that. She was certain that the man was honest; she knew that he was intelligent and resourceful. He had followed the man to the Palido and remained there, on watch. He had seen the man come out and had immediately telephoned her.
No, the taxi-driver had not been mistaken—but neither had she. Yet somewhere there was a big mistake. She slipped from the hall into the corridor and asked one of the attendants to take her to the library. At the door she knocked gently. One of the men who had carried Pender from the hall opened the door.
"I came to see if I could do anything tor Mr. Pender." The girl spoke quietly, though her heart was beating rapidly. "I was with him—attending to him in the hall, you will remember."
"Oh, yes." The man stepped back, opening the door wider. "Will you come in, please, Miss—er—"
"Miss France." Ivy murmured the name as she passed the man and went directly to the lounge on which they had laid Harold Pender. The men standing beside the couch moved back. For a moment she stared down on the recumbent man. He looked up at her, smiling weakly.
"Awfully sorry to give you so much trouble." He spoke in a whisper. "Silly of me to pitch over like that! My heart, y'know. The doctor says it's a bit weak. Any shock—"
"Please lie still." The girl's slender hand restrained him as the man made to sit up. She looked at the standing men over her shoulder: "Have you sent for the doctor?"
"Mr. Quayle did that, directly we got Mr. Pender in here."
"Then, if you please, I would like the room to be cleared." Ivy spoke with an assumption of authority. "Mr. Pender is suffering from a heart attack, and the quieter he is kept the sooner he will recover. Will you please let me know immediately the doctor arrives."
The man who had admitted her, and who was now standing by her side, nodded. He beckoned his companions, and in silence they went from the room. Ivy turned her attention to the man on the couch, trying to make him more comfortable. "You feel better now?" she asked.
"Much better, Miss France. Awfully good of you to trouble about me. I feel such an abject fool."
"What made you ill?"
"Seeing things." Pender laughed weakly.
"Seeing things? What do you mean?"
"Seeing the buhl box—and Basil." The man spoke almost involuntarily, then laughed. "I thought I saw the buhl box and then—and then—and my—"
"The buhl box!" Ivy spoke partly to herself. "The buhl box! What buhl box?"
"The one I used to own." The man lay back, his eyes half-shut. "You know what a buhl box is—dulled gold, inlaid—a queer sort of thing. Old-fashioned—"
"You used to own a buhl box." Ivy was startled. "Mr. Pender, tell me about it. Perhaps if you talk, instead of thinking, you will find that—that your fears—"
"Fears?" The man laughed lightly. "It was not fear, Miss France. I thought I saw a buhl box, and—and a dead man."
"What do you mean?" Ivy bent closer to the invalid. "You say that the buhl box used to belong to you. Then you gave it away? To whom?"
"To a friend—to Basil Sixsmith,"'
"You gave the buhl box to Mr. Sixsmith?"
Ivy thought quickly. Her godfather had had the buhl box for more than a year before he died. She had never asked him how he had come by it, supposing that he had bought it when wandering, as he often did, among the antique shops of the city. He had bought it home and placed it on his desk.
He had always looked on it with particular regard. For what reason? Could that regard have been tor the giver?
"Listen." She bent over the sick man. "You have called me Miss France. That is not my name. I am Ivy Breton—Mr. Sixsmith's god-daughter. Will you tell me, please: oh, please tell me what is the secret of the buhl box?"
"Hush! There is someone coming. Keep my secret, please. Here I am Miss France. I will see you later and explain."
The door of the room had opened again, and a man in evening dress entered. He came quickly to the side of the couch, moving with a quick, almost noiseless step. He nodded shortly as the girl made way for him.
"Old game again, Pender?" The doctor spoke abruptly.
"Same old trouble, doctor." Pender laughed weakly. "Heart went back on me. Caught up while I was having dinner. Chucked a faint—and all that!"
"Humph!" Dr. Unwin slipped his fingers around the man's wrist. "Feel all right, now? Of course you would. Don't seem to have been any damage done this time. Feel well enough to go home and go to bed? I'll come in the morning and vet you."
He went to one of the tables and opened the bag he carried. A few seconds, and he returned to the side of the couch, holding a glass in his hand. "Drink this." He waited while the sick man swallowed the draught, looking at Ivy inquiringly.
"I happened to be in the banquet hall when Mr. Pender fainted." The girl answered the unspoken enquiry. "I—I am responsible for the decorations. When he fell, I went to Mr. Pender and have tried to look after him until you came."
"Miss France has been wonderfully good." Harold Pender was now sitting up on the couch. "I am afraid I have been an awful nuisance to her."
"Well, you won't be any longer." The doctor smiled. "Come on, man! I'll take you home and see you to bed. Your man can bring on your car."
Pender got to his feet with some difficulty, catching at the doctor's arm. He turned to the girl, holding out his hand.
"Thanks awfully, Miss France. You have been very good to me. Don't forget your promise to come and see me. I know this doc of old. He'll get me to bed, and keep me there for a week or two, if he can. Kind of punishment for not obeying orders strictly, you know." He gripped the girl's hand, then let it go and went slowly to the door, holding to the doctor's arm. There he hesitated, and turned. "Don't forget, Miss France. I shall expect you soon—and congratulations on your decorations. They are immense!"
Ivy dropped into a chair, amazed and repentant. Still she could not understand. Somewhere, somehow—she had made a mistake—a mistake that had almost cost a man his life.
Fred Powers had telephoned her that the "unknown" had left the Palido at the moment the "unknown" had been carried from the banquet hall of the Union Club in a fainting fit. What did that mean? Had she made a mistake? Who had made the mistake? There couldn't be two "unknowns".
Either she or the taxi-driver had been watching the wrong man—and now she knew that she had not! Then Fred Powers had been following the other man! If only she could get to him—if she could see the man he had been following!
What had he said when he telephoned? That he was trailing his man, and would telephone her again. Where—to the Union Club! But he must know that the banquet would soon be over. No, he would not think of that.
She glanced at her watch. It was only a little after ten o'clock. Powers would believe that a dinner of this kind would not terminate before midnight. There would be speeches, perhaps many of them. She remembered that when Sir Michael Nairne had opened the dinner he had referred to a list of speeches. Then she would have to remain in the big hall until the end.
Suddenly she remembered one of the doctor's questions. He had asked the sick man if he had his car at the club with him. Pender had replied that the car was outside. But Fred Powers had declared that the "unknown" had driven from the Palido in a taxi! He had said that the man he had been following had taken a taxi from the Apsley to the nightclub.
She shrugged impatiently. What a mix-up!
Ivy left the library and walked down the corridor to the door of the banquet room!—the door close to the alcove in which she had been all the evening. She opened the door slightly and peeped in. Someone was speaking, and all eyes were turned in the speaker's direction, She slipped into the room and went to the alcove, to see someone sitting in her chair.
"Miss France." Jack sprang to his feet. "How is your invalid?"
"My invalid no longer." The girl laughed slightly. "I have seen him taken home by his doctor, feeling very much like a naughty little schoolboy caught in some forbidden act. From what the doctor said, I believe Mr. Pender is subject to these heart attacks."
"Awfully awkward, having one right in the middle of the dinner." Jack stared up the room, frowning. "I did want things to go right here, to-night. The Union Club means quite a lot of work for 'Lorne, florists'."
"I don't think they can hold Mr. Pender's fainting fit against our work." Ivy laughed uncertainly. "Mr. Pender congratulated me on the decorations, just before the doctor took him away."
Jack Lorne did not answer. He appeared to be listening to the chairman.
"If only he can get them settled again." Jack spoke under his breath. "If only he can get them to forget—" Suddenly he turned to the girl. "Miss France, what did Mr. Pender mean by 'the buhl box'? I saw a buhl box on Miss Breton's desk when I called on her. She told me—"
"What?" Ivy asked, colouring, as the man paused.
"She told me that it was in the buhl box that she had found the photograph of the man her godfather had commanded her to find."
"The photograph you took from her house the night someone tried to chloroform her." Ivy spoke unthinkingly. "The photograph you returned to her the next morning with your telephone number scratched on the back!"
"Good Lord! You know that!" The young man stared at the girl in amazement. "What isn't there Miss Breton doesn't tell you?"
Suddenly Ivy broke down, turning from Lorne with tears streaming from her eyes; her throat choked with sobs. Almost before she realised what had happened she was in Jack's arm, her face buried against the silk lapels of his coat, utterly ruining them. And he didn't seem to care one iota.
"Don't, Muriel, don't." His cheek was resting on her hair—and she felt most absurdly happy: so happy that she cried anew.
FOR some moments Ivy rested passive in the man's arms, then wrenched herself away from him, with flaming cheeks.
"Oh, how dare you!" she gasped. "I—I—" She turned, snatching up, her cloak and bag. "I must go home, at once!" She ran to the door, through the entrance, hall of the club, and out on to the pavement. Jack followed her more slowly, his face aflame. Ivy ran on, her eyes dimmed with tears.
A taxi drew up beside her, and she almost flung herself at the door.
"All right, miss?" A familiar voice greeted her, "What's the matter? That man annoying you?"
She shook her head, and, pulling open the door, jumped into the taxi. The car moved on. Ivy turned in her seat and looked through the little rear window. Jack was standing on the pavement in evident distress. For a moment the girl sat passive, trying to co-ordinate her ideas.
What was she to do? For the moment it seemed her world had tumbled about her ears—preceded, though, by one glamorous Incident. She could not go back to the shop. That place was closed to her for ever. Jack had made her position there impossible—or had not she? A quick blush stained throat and cheeks. What had she been thinking of, to turn to him like that? But she would have to go back to the Union Club, and that early the next morning. She would have to clear away "that" which she had placed amid the decorations on the table. She dared not let the club attendants see that!
She could get to the Union Club, perhaps, without meeting Jack. If she went down to the club early—made some excuse to Mr. Cantor that she had mislaid something, he would let her into the banquet hall. Someone from the shop could go to the club later and clear away the debris, taking back to the shop what belonged to 'Lorne, florists'.
"Mr. Powers!" She leaned forward, tapping on the glass slide that separated from the driver. He turned his head, and she motioned him to stop. He pulled in to the curb. In a moment Ivy was out of the taxi, and swung open the front door. She slipped into the seat beside the driver, motioning him to proceed.
"Now, tell me!" The girl had recovered her self-possession. "Where is Mr. Pender?"
"At home." The man grinned broadly. "I trailed him all the way there. Saw him get out and pay off the taxi."
"At the Apsley?"
"Sure." For a full minute the girl stared at the man in amazement. What was he saying? Harold Pender had been at the Union Club dinner. She had watched him from just before eight o'clock until he left—a bare half-hour before she left the premises herself. Yet this man was stating that he had spent the evening at the Palido.
"Are you quite sure?" she questioned doubtfully.
"Sure? Of course I'm sure, miss." The man stared at her in surprise.
"Because I saw Mr. Pender at the dinner at the Union Club." Ivy spoke emphatically. "He had a fainting fit during the dinner and I attended him. Dr. Unwin took him home in his car, ordering Mr. Pender's chauffeur to follow."
"Well, I'm damned!"
The man looked so utterly amazed that the girl wanted to laugh. "But—but, miss, I'll swear he went to the Palido, and then to the Apsley in a taxi."
"Are you sure you did not make a mistake in the man?" Ivy questioned.
Fred Powers shook his head. "I don't make mistakes like that, miss. It ain't the first time I've had to follow someone. No, not by a long chalk! We taxi-drivers get some queer jobs!—and look out for them. They pay well. No, miss, I marked the man too well the first time I saw him. Tonight he had on a dinner jacket, and over it a black coat with silk facings, and he wore one of them concertina hats—when he came out of the Palido he carried it in his hand. I got a real good look at his face and couldn't mistake him."
The girl shook her head. She had watched Harold Pender and the doctor leave the club. They had walked down to the entrance door arm in arm. The doctor had paused just opposite the cloak-room door and questioned his companion. Ivy had been too far away to overhear the doctor's words, but his gestures were unmistakable. He had asked Pender if there was anything in the cloak-room he wanted. The man had shaken his head negatively. He had come in his own car, wearing neither cloak nor hat.
For some time Ivy pondered her problem in deep silence. Somewhere there had been a mistake. She roused herself with a start, as the car pulled up before her own door.
"What about to-morrow, miss?" Powers asked as she alighted. For a moment the girl deliberated.
"Do the same as you did to-day." She spoke with sudden resolution. She must know the truth, and she could only get the truth by constant watchfulness. What if the man she had been watching at the Union Club was not the right man? Did the man whom Fred Powers had trailed through the day possess the secret she had set out to discover? Had she wasted her time running after a chimera?
One of the two men must be the man she sought—she had the photograph in the buhl box to convince her of that. She knew that one of the two men—Fred Powers was convinced that it was the one he had trailed to the Palido had spoken to Charlie Western outside the Palido. They had traced him to the General Post Office, and then to the Union Club. The next day the taxi-driver had picked him up at the club and trailed him to the Apsley. The circle was complete, except—
Two facts stood against her theory. The man at the Union Club that night had confessed that he had known her godfather, and knew of the buhl box. Dr. Unwin had taken him from the club to his home in his own car, leaving Pender's car to follow. Where had the doctor taken him? If he had taken him to the Apsley, then the matter was still further complicated. She must discover where her Mr. Pender lived, and at once.
He had asked her to call on him, telling her that Dr. Unwin would confine him to his bed for a week, in all probability. She ran up the steps of her house and unlocked the door. The hall was but faintly illuminated by one light. It sufficed to guide her to the library. There she seized the telephone directory.
Quickly her finger ran down the short list of "Unwins" in the directory. There were two doctors of that name. One of them had an address in Macquarie Street, the other lived at Edgecliffe. She drew the telephone to her and dialled the Macquarie Street number. There was no response. Then she dialled the Edgecliffe number.
A long pause, and then a gruff "Yes—Dr. Unwin speaking."
"Dr. Unwin?" Ivy forced herself to speak calmly.
"That is my name. What do you want?"
"This is—this is Miss France speaking. You attended Mr. Pender at the Union Club to-night. I was with him until you came. Do you remember? Mr. Pender asked me to call and see him on important business, and he forgot to leave me his address."
"So you rang me up at this hour of the night—or rather, morning—to ask me for my patient's address!" There was anger as well as laughter in the voice on the wire. "I must say—"
"I am so sorry!" For the first time Ivy realised what her impulsive actions had led her to do. "But it's frightfully important."
"It must be." Dr. Unwin was sarcastic, "Well, young lady, from what I remember of you, I believe you to be healthy. A night's puzzling over your troubles won't hurt you. In fact, it may do you good—teach you not to act on impulse. My office hours are from ten to twelve, and two to four. Good-night!"
The click of the receiver being replaced on its hook sounded plainly over the wire. The girl flushed heavily. What had she been thinking about to telephone for a man's address at that hour of the night? What must Dr. Unwin think of her? She caught at the telephone directory again.
Fred Powers had said that the man he had followed had a flat at the Aspley, and that his telephone number was in the directory. A few minutes' search, and she found it. She gave a start as her eyes caught the name immediately above it. A man named Pender lived at Edgecliffe.
Now she knew. There were two men of the same name—more than that, they had almost identical initials. One of them was named H. G. Pender, the other H. P. Pender. Which was which? All the directory told her was that H. G. Pender lived at the Apsley—and Fred Powers had told her that he had traced his man there.
Which man was the Harold Pender who had written her at her godfather's private box at the G.P.O? She believed that Harold Pender was the man who had attended the dinner at the Union Club. But against that was the fixed belief of the taxi-driver that the man he had been tracking was the true Harold Pender. There could not be two men of the same given and surnames. Either she or the taxi-driver must be at fault.
With sudden impulse she went to the buhl box and touched the spring. The lid flew back, and there, facing her, was the pictured face of the man, who, for the time being, engrossed her thoughts.
She examined the photograph carefully. It must be old: taken some years before; but it was the man she had watched. She was certain of that! A shrug, and Ivy replaced the photograph in the buhl box and closed the lid. She went round the desk to the door, to switch off the lights. A number of letters on the blotting-pad caught her eyes. What were those letters? The last post of the day had been delivered before she went to the Union Club.
There had been a letter for her, which had been brought to her room. Where had those letters come from? Then she remembered. When she fetched the letters from her godfather's private box the previous evening she had placed them on the desk, unopened. She had been engrossed in the one letter, addressed to herself, and she had forgotten the others. She sat down at the desk again.
She was not feeling tired. Before she went to sleep she would open those letters, and if there was anything in them that required her attention, separate it from the others, which would have to go to Mark Kithner. Casually, she slit the envelopes, withdrawing the contents.
Some of them were bills. She placed these aside in two piles. One or two of them she would pay from the money the lawyer held in trust for her. Others, obviously, belonged to the estate. They did not apply to the household, and only the lawyer's intimate knowledge of her godfather's estate could deal with them.
Two she placed on one side, to consider later. She carried the two letters to the big armchair before the dying fire, and sat down to study them.
The first was interesting. It related to certain dealings in stocks and shares, and was signed "Pender & Pender." The address bore the description "Stock and Share Brokers." Then both the men who bore the name "Pender" were related to each other, and had had dealings with her godfather, almost up to the day of his death. The letter showed that. It related to some deal her godfather was engaged in at the time of his death—and from the tone of the letter it was a deal of some magnitude.
But she had in the safe in that room securities amounting to one hundred and fifty thousand pounds. That, in itself, was a large fortune.
What, then, was this money of which "Pender & Pender" wrote? Had that deal been successful? If it had, then her godfather's estate had been considerably augmented. If on the other hand, it had resulted in failure, then there was a chance that the securities in the safe would barely cover the loss. She would have to know definitely, and soon; Ivy smiled wryly. She had all the time of the day on her hands now.
She could not go down to "Lorne, florists" after what had happened at the Union Club. But—what had happened? She had broken down under the strain of the evening, following on a hard day's work. Instinctively, she had turned to the man with her for comfort. Again the hot colour flooded her face and neck.
Why had she turned to this man for comfort? He was not to blame. The whole affair had been her fault.
She looked down on the second letter, puzzled. The handwriting was familiar to her; yet the signature—the one word—was strange. Where had she seen that handwriting before? She knew it well, yet familiar to her; yet the signature—for the time could, not place it. She turned to the wording of the note. There was neither address nor date heading the letter. It was not inscribed to any particular person. The words contained in the letter were few, and, so far as she could understand, hardly made sense:
The Big Boy will certainly overflow gushingly within the next few days. I have everything prepared for that. Big Boy is a winner, and if you are careful you can do well with him. If you want more information, try—
There the scrawled lines ended; to be followed by a single word written in capital letters. Was it a word, or a series of capital letters? She could not decide. Certainly, as a word, it read:
Again the girl turned to the writing. She was certain that she had seen it before, and frequently. Realisation came in a flash! That note had been written by her godfather! To whom had he written that note, and how had it come in his private box at the General Post Office?
She was certain that all the envelopes she had opened had been addressed to "Basil Sixsmith."
She took up the waste-paper basket and turned it over on the desk. There were only six envelopes in it. All of them were addressed to Basil Sixsmith, and all of them had been posted in the city. Why had her godfather written so strange a note to himself? She tried to understand it, reading it again and again.
Who was "Big Boy", and why should he "overflow gushingly"? She laughed, almost hysterically. For long moments she sat, conning the note. What did it mean? Almost she was inclined to throw it away; yet she did not, knowing that her godfather had never acted without excellent reason. The clock on the mantel chimed the hour, and then struck two o'clock. Ivy looked up, startled. She gathered the letters together, and placed them in a drawer of the desk; then switched off the lights and opened, the library door. The hall was in darkness.
For a moment she hesitated. Had she turned out the light in the hall when she passed through to come to the library? No, she could not remember doing that. Then, who had extinguished the lights? A strange sense of fear came on her.
IVY had the feeling that she was not the only person awake in the house. She could feel a presence near her; an antagonism indefinite, but very real. She groped forward to find the switches; then suddenly stopped.
She had heard a sound, the shuttling of feet, as it someone with eyes more accustomed to the darkness was watching her. She wanted to cry out; but a choked feeling held her silent. Again she took a step forward towards the light switches, feeling before her with both hands. She touched something soft—and cried out.
Again came the feeling of someone near her. She turned and fled up the stairs. Half-way up to her room she turned and looked back. The hall was still in darkness. She listened, but could hear no sound. Almost she wanted to return to the hall and switch on the lights; to assure herself that she was alone on the ground floor of the house. No, she would not go back. She had been imagining things.
Turning she sped up the stairs to the door of Mary's room. No light showed under the door. She turned the handle and opened the door slightly. The room was in darkness. She thrust back the door and went to the bed, softly calling the girl. There was no answer. She came to the bed and felt along the covers. Mary was not in the bed—it had not been slept in!
With a little cry she fled to the door and flooded the room with light. Where was Mary? She looked around the room. The girl had not made any preparations to retire to bed that night. There was no disorder in the room. She opened the wardrobe door. Immediately she saw that Mary's coat and hat were missing.
Then Mary had gone from the house! Where? For long moments Ivy stood staring at the peg on which Mary's coat had hung. Mary had left her home! What did that mean? A feeling of indescribable loneliness came over the girl. Mary had left her! For what reason? She was alone in the big gloomy house—and in it were indescribable terrors!
She ran down the corridor to the door of her godfather's room. It had not been used since he had been carried out of it at the start of his last earthly journey. For a moment she hesitated, her hand on the handle, then pushed open the door. The room was silent and vacant. Glancing fearfully towards the bed on which he had been lying when she had last entered the room, she ran to the old bureau.
In one of the top drawers was an old-fashioned revolver, loaded. A moment, and she had found the weapon. She snatched it up and turned from the room. At the head of the stairs she stopped and listened. She could not hear a sound in the house, and crept down a few stairs. Again came the feeling that she was not alone; that near her hovered some malignant presence.
On the last step she paused, waiting. Gathering up her courage, she sped across the hall to the light switches and pressed them. No beam of light answered her actions. She shuddered. What had happened to the lights? It was impossible for all the globes to have broken!
For long minutes she waited, her fingers still on the switches. If she waited, kept entirely still, perhaps she would learn something—see something—that would explain the mystery that now shrouded the house. She stared round the wide hall, careful to make no movement. A faint light flowed in at the windows, sufficient to throw thin, ghostly shadows around. From the window at the head of the stairs streamed a single, broad ray of light, flooding the stairway down which she had come.
How foolish she had been! They—if anyone had been in the hall—must have seen her come down the stairs. They would have had time to hide—to watch for her to make some move.
The stillness was becoming intolerable. Very silently and slowly she moved from the switches towards the library door. Immediately she entered the room her fingers found the light switch and pressed it. The globes in the room remained dark. With a sudden little run she reached the desk—to collide with something soft, yet firm, and to fall to the ground. Instinctively she retained her grip on the revolver.
Lying quiescent, she waited. Now she knew that there was some tangible presence with her in the room. From where she lay the desk out off sight of the farther side of the room.
Cautiously she raised herself, catching at the edge of the desk. Slowly she searched the shadows. There was a strange darkness in the corner of the room, near the big safe. Raising herself until she was on her knees, she brought up the revolver, resting the muzzle on the edge of the desk. She waited a moment, summoning all her resolution; then pressed the trigger firmly. The explosion of the cartridge was followed by a ringing sound. Almost as if it had been a signal, the lights in the room came on.
Ivy sprang to her feet, staring wildly into the corner of the room where the safe stood. She could see no one, yet part of the floor was cut from her vision by one of the big chairs.
Physically sick, she staggered, forward. Had she shot someone? What was that darkness on the floor, just beyond the edge of the desk? No, there was no body on the ground; there was no one in the room with her. She searched around her carefully, then went to the safe. The safe was open!
For a moment she stared at it, unbelievingly. When had the safe been opened? Who had opened it?
She knew that she had locked it when she had placed the securities in it. Now it was open. She caught at the heavy steel door and pulled it back. Something dull and round was on the paint. She gazed at it curiously, not understanding for a moment; then laughed. The bullet from her revolver had impinged on the safe door, spattering it with lead. A rapid search of the interior of the safe showed the girl that the packet of bonds and shares had disappeared. Where had they gone to?
The securities which represented her godfather's fortune had disappeared! She laughed gigglingly. She had recovered—received—the money strangely; it had disappeared—and the money! The two facts hummed through her brain. Mary and the money! The money—and Mary!
No, she could not believe that Mary had taken the money. But where had the girl gone to? What had happened to her? It was unlike Mary to have gone from the house without a word. Mary was not in the house—and the person who had stolen the money was!
She knew that now. She knew that when she had entered the library on first returning home she would have noticed if the safe had been opened. She was certain that then it had been shut and locked. There was no possible doubt. The safe had been fast when she left the room to go upstairs. It had been opened before she came down—and her purse, with the keys of the safe in it, had been on the desk. She had heard no movement in the house. Ivy laughed hysterically.
Almost she felt that she was being hunted; shadowed by some weird spectre. Then her whole nature blazed into revolt. She would not be driven or tortured. Someone should suffer; suffer bitterly for this!
In sudden resolution she dashed into the hall, to stare aghast! All the lights were on. For the moment she gazed around her, too amazed to move; then her eyes fell on the big gong. A moment, and she seize the big gong-maul, and was beating on the bronze with all her strength. The dull rumble rang through the hall, growing louder and more penetrating to the world without the four walls of the house. Still she thrashed at the gong, finding some salve for her mental wounds in the welter of noise she was creating.
"What on earth, girl!" A woman's voice came from way up the stairs. With a gasp of astonishment, Ivy turned. Halfway down the stairs was Mrs. Western holding on to the banisters.
"You!" Anger flamed in the girl's eyes. Now she was facing flesh and blood; something that was not the gruesome, intangible horror born of some alien presence, bred, of her-imaginations. "What are you doing here?"
"Ivy!" The woman came down the stairs, hands outstretched. "My poor child."
"Don't touch me!" Instinctively the girl drew back, raising the heavy gong-maul. "Keep back, I say! Keep back!" She turned swiftly. Someone was thundering on the front door of the house. She made a step towards it, then hesitated. Mrs. Western came down the stairs and stood in the hall.
"Give me that, Ivy." The woman spoke commandingly. "You poor dear! No wonder your brain is affected by all that you have gone through. My poor brother—oh, how can I say it! He was failing—failing when he died!"
Deliberately, but with a quick, stealthy movement, the woman seized the maul-stick the girl still held. Then, with it in her hand, she walked to the front door and opened it. A constable strode into the hall.
"What's the matter here? What's all the noise about?"
"I'm sorry, constable." Mrs. Western's voice had lost none of its purr. "It was my fault, really. I should have kept better watch over her."
The man looked from the woman to the girl, lifting his eyebrows. Mrs. Western nodded, and touched her forehead furtively.
"Yes, poor girl!" The smooth, silky voice purred on. "I should have known better; but she has been so reasonable the last couple of days. And she was so devoted to my poor brother."
"Mr. Sixsmith's house, ain't it, ma'am?" The man looked around him.
Ivy was staring from the woman to the man in horror. What was Mrs. Western trying to infer? Why was she there, in that house, at that hour of the night? Impulsively, she went forward.
"I want you, officer." She spoke imperiously. "This house has been robbed."
Mrs. Western nodded. Her fat shoulders went up in an inimitable shrug. She turned to the girl, every line of her ample body expressing resignation and patience.
"Come with me, dear." She tried to place a maternal arm about the girl, but Ivy evaded her. "Poor dear, she is quite bad now."
"Please! Please!" The girl caught the constable by the arm. "Oh, you don't believe me! But I can show you. Tell her to go away! She has no business here. This is my house—not hers. I didn't know she was here until she came down the stairs just now. How she got in I cannot understand. Oh, take her away! Sand her away, and come with me! I'll show you."
"Show me what, miss?"
"What's the matter with it?"
"Someone has burgled it."
The man glanced at Mrs. Western.
Again the woman shrugged and shook her head. "There has been no one in the house this evening, constable."
She hesitated, then continued; "I thought that my niece was better, and late this afternoon I went out. I shall never forgive myself—but Ivy was so much better, and my business was really important. When I arrived home I found that she had disappeared. You can see. She had dressed and gone out. Where on earth she has been to, I cannot even guess."
"You wicked woman!" The girl flashed round, almost inarticulate with anger. "You have stolen my god-dad's money!"
"There! There! Hear her!" The woman's show of patience was admirable. "And everyone knows that my poor, dear brother died a ruined man." The constable hesitated, looking from the girl to the woman. He shrugged.
"The young lady says there's been a robbery. Perhaps I'd better look into that before I go," he remarked.
"Certainly, officer." Mrs. Western was most gracious. "Now, dear!" She turned to Ivy. "Where did you say the robbery had taken place?"
"You opened god-dad's safe." A feeling of utter helplessness came over the girl. "You took out a packet of securities that was there. Why, you've stolen more than a hundred and fifty thousand pounds!"
The woman laughed shortly, a note of anger in her voice.
"A hundred thousand pounds! Poor dear! Why, my child, Basil never left a hundred thousand pence!" She hesitated a moment. "And you say the safe in the library has been opened?"
"I think I'd better have a look, ma'am."
The constable walked further into the hall. "Just to make certain things are all right."
"Of course!" Mrs. Western had recovered her former sweetness. "This way, officer." She led to the library door, and stood aside tor the constable to precede her into the room. Ivy followed the constable closely. Once inside the library, her eyes went to the safe. She gasped and staggered. The safe door was fast shut!
"LOOKS all right!" The policeman spoke doubtfully. He went across the room and tugged at the handles of the safe. "It's locked, miss."
Ivy was staring at the safe. She knew that it had been open when she had come into the library. It had only been partly open when she had found it, and she had pulled the doors fully back, while searching for the packet of securities. Now it was shut and locked.
Yet, on the face of it still remained the mark of the bullet she had fired in the dark. She went to the safe and I touch the splatter of metal.
"What is this, constable?" she asked quietly.
"Looks like lead. Someone must I have fired a bullet at the safe."
The man scratched his head doubtfully.
"That is entirely right." Ivy smiled wanly. "I fired that bullet. When I came in here the room was in darkness. Something brushed against me and threw me to the ground. I dragged myself up by the edge of the desk, and thought I saw someone at the safe. I had my—Mr. Sixsmith's revolver with me, and fired. The bullet struck the safe door, making the mark you see."
"But—there was no one there; the safe wasn't open."
The man showed his perplexity. "Didn't you switch on the lights when you entered the room?"
"I tried to but the lights had been cut off."
"Then how did you discover that the packet of securities had been stolen."
The man crossed the room, and picked up the old-fashioned revolver lying on the desk, close to where the girl was standing. "The lights came on when I fired the revolver."
Mrs. Western laughed titteringly; a laugh of absolute disbelief. "Ivy, you had better come upstairs with me. You are upset, dear. Let me take you to your room. When you have had a good night's rest you will be much better."
"Oh, you think I am mad!" The girl spoke wearily. "I shall be if this goes on much longer."
"There, there, dear!" The lady tried to take the girl round the waist. "I'll look after you."
"I want to know what you are doing here?" Ivy turned on the woman, passionately. "You have no right here. This is my house."
Mrs. Western's shrug was eloquent. The constable caught the significance, and nodded, "Well, there's nothing for me to do here." The man spoke stolidly. "Sorry to disturb you, ma'am, but you'll have to look after her better than that. Why, she almost woke up the whole neighbourhood!"
"I wish I had!" the girl exclaimed passionately. "If only I could have!"
She swung around and faced the man scornfully. "Can't you see that she is fooling you? Oh, you men!"
She turned and ran from the room, leaving Mrs. Western to get rid of the police officer whatever way she chose. At the top of the stairs she paused, drawing back into the shadows of the window curtains, watching. She watched the woman, followed by the police officer, come into the hall; and drew deeper into the shadows. A sound above her caught her attention. She looked up. Charlie Western was looking over the banisters, only a few yards from her, peering down on the scene in the hall. What was that man doing in the house? Ivy knew that the Westerns were working some plan to take possession of the house, and herself. That night she had played directly into their hands. They had told the police officer that she was mad—that her godfather bad been mad. She, in her temper, had played the part they had cast her for. In some manner they had gained admission to the house, and had taken possession of it.
But where was Mary? From all appearances she was out of the house. Yet at any moment she might return—walk. Into some trap prepared for her—as she herself had done. Ivy watched Charlie Western furtively, shielded from his observation by the thick curtains of the window embrasure. She heard the sound of the hall door opening and shutting, and the deep bass "Thank you!" of the constable. Then came the tap-tap of high heels passing over the polished boards of the hall. The stairs creaked under the weight of the woman as she ascended.
"All right, mother." Charlie bent over the banisters.
The woman laughed. "Where's that girl—I'd like to shake the nonsense out of her!"
"I thought she was down here with you."
"She ran out of the library when she found she couldn't fool that policeman." Mrs. Western laughed. "I thought she came upstairs. Oh, she's all right! All the windows and doors are fastened. She can't get out with those iron shutters fastened and locked. Basil was a fool over burglars."
"Well, she didn't come up here past me."
"Perhaps she did, and you didn't notice her. More than likely we shall find her in her room."
"You'd better go and see, then."
"What for? The little fool's safe; probably crying her eyes out because she couldn't persuade that policeman to put me out of my own house. Let her be, she can't harm us. Who's got the packet?"
"The one Mr. Kithner went to the safe to get."
"Oh, he took it away with him. That was best, for if anyone found it in the house—whew!"
Mrs. Western was doubtful. "The girl says there's a hundred and fifty thousand pounds in it. And Basil never mentioned it in his will. Only left me the house and the furniture, and a pile of debts to cover that; I wonder where the girl found the money?"
"In the safe."
"No, I don't think that. She wouldn't have kept it a secret for so long if she had. Of course, it belongs to the estate—that's me." The woman's voice had a whining tone.
"Of course, Charlie, dear." There was a long pause while the lady struggled up the remaining stairs. "How is—you know, Charlie—"
"You fool—to leave her alone!"
"She's tied up securely—I saw to that. She can't do anything." The man laughed gratingly.
"Oh, if you're certain—" Mrs. Western had gained the upper floor. "I'll have a look at her, and then I'll go to bed. All this excitement is not good for my poor heart."
"But a hundred and fifty thousand gold boys are; eh, mother!" Charlie laughed—a laugh echoed by his doting mother.
"Say, Charlie." The woman's voice came faintly to the concealed girl, as the couple passed down the corridor. "What's going to be the end of all this?"
"Only that Richard will find out who the man is whose photograph is in the buhl box and get from him old Sixsmith's secret. Then we'll put Miss Ivy in a nice place where she'll grow a bit madder than you made her out to that policeman to be; unless—"
"Unless what, Charlie dear—"
"Unless she likes to be Mrs. Western, junior." The voices sounded very faint now.
"But, Charlie, I can't have you throwing yourself away on a girl like that!"
The voices faded into the distance. For a moment Ivy remained behind the curtains; then laughed uncertainly.
She knew that she could not get out of the house. Her godfather had a peculiar fear of burglars, and had fitted the lower windows and the doors with a series of automatic locks, worked from his bedroom. Once the locks were set the iron shutters over the windows and the doors were safe for the night. To touch these was to spring a burglar alarm. And Mrs. Western was going to her room, to see that she was safe for the night! What would the woman do when she did not find her there? She would probably make a search through the house. What had happened to the maids, Faith and Alice? Were they confined in their rooms at the top of the house, or was one of them the prisoner to whom Charlie Western had referred?
Ivy came out of her shelter and ran up the stairs. She must manage to get to that prisoner in some way. She came to the corner of the corridor and peered around it. Mrs. Western and her son were standing before one of the doors—the door exactly opposite her godfather's room. They were talking earnestly. The man turned the key in the lock and entered the room, followed by the woman.
Ivy believed that this was the room in which the prisoner was confined. She must manage to get into that room. She must find out who was the prisoner, and in some way release her! What a fool she had been to drop the revolver in the library. If only she had it with her, now! She would have gone to that room and held up the two scoundrels, freed the prisoner, in some way found help! But where could she find anyone to help her, because the woman would be able to persuade them that she was mad—as she had persuaded that policeman.
First, she must discover the identity of the prisoner. Very softly she crept along the corridor, taking advantage of the night shadows to shield her progress. She came to her godfather's room and opened the door carefully, sliding in through the narrowest possible space. Closing the door carefully, she went to the bureau. Had her godfather possessed a second revolver? She searched wildly, though thoroughly, but could find no weapon. She returned to the door and opened it slightly. The door of the room opposite was shut.
She listened, and could hear the murmur of voices within the room. But only Charlie Western and his mother were speaking. Probably the young scoundrel had tied and gagged his prisoner. At length the door handle moved. Ivy narrowed the crack of the door behind which she stood as much as possible. She listened intently, for she dare not open the door sufficiently wide to see anything.
Charlie Western came out, followed by his mother, both of them speaking in whispers. Then: "Suppose I must have a look in at that pauper."
Mrs. Western spoke. "You'd better come with me, Charlie. I thought she was going to be violent, downstairs."
"You're afraid of her," the young blackguard sneered.
"Yes." The woman spoke candidly. "That girl is stronger than I am. I am afraid of her."
"All right. I'll come!"
There came the sounds of their steps receding down the corridor.
Ivy waited a moment, then pulled open the door. She looked across the corridor. They had left the key in the lock of the door opposite. A moment, and she had the door unlocked, the key withdrawn, reinserted in the look within the room, and the key turned.
Again the girl waited. A long moment, and Mrs. Western came into the corridor again, speaking stridently.
"Charlie, you will have to search the house for that wretched girl!"
"Oh, damn her! You say she can't get out of the house, so what's the use?"
"You don't know her. She might burn us in our beds."
"They're not our beds yet, old dear." The man chuckled. "For the time we've only pre-empted them."
"They will be ours in three months."
"Three months, less three days." Again the man laughed. "Say, mother, you'd better have a look at that apparatus Basil installed. I suppose the girl knows how to work it. If she does and gets into his room—well, good-bye to our little stunt."
The woman laughed.
"Charlie, I think you'd better find that girl," she urged again.
"All right! I'm a devil tamer. I'll find her, then—"
"Nothing." The man chuckled evilly. "You'd better keep out of this. You know what old Sixsmith wrote you."
"But he didn't put it in his will, as he threatened."
"He didn't—so far as we know, We haven't seen the will yet, and that old devil of a lawyer is quite capable of leaving something out to save his and the girl's ends, Anyway, I'm going to play safety—"
"What are you going to do, Charlie, dear?"
"Best for you not to know." Then, abruptly: "You go to the old man's room and see that the apparatus is all right, and lock the door, or take the key to bed with you. You're sleeping there, aren't you?"
"What do you mean, Charlie, dear?"
"Just what I've said. I'm playing safe. After to-night Mistress Ivy Breton won't want to squeal. Why, because there won't be any Miss Ivy Breton to squeal. There'll be a girl so anxious to get to the registrar that she won't even spare the time to kiss her new mother-in-law."
A cold shiver ran down Ivy's buck. The man was unutterably evil. She leaned her face against the door. Good God, that he did not come to that room! She pressed her ear against the panel, listening to the heavy footsteps of the woman coming nearer and nearer—to hesitate, stop and turn to the door opposite. If she had stayed in that room—
Would the woman have called to her son? That filthy beast: inhuman, gold-stained and utterly carnal! Again, the girl shuddered. She turned and faced the room. Somewhere in that room was the prisoner the two scoundrels had mentioned. She must find and release her.
A quick glance round, and Ivy went to the bed. On it lay a long bundle. She turned down the top end, and looked into Mary's agonised eyes.
"Mary?" The girl gave a little feeble moan, writhing in her bonds.
"Poor, dear!" Ivy was tugging at the knots fastening the handkerchief in the girl's mouth. A few seconds, and she released them.
"Ivy!" For a second the elder girl lay on her side, crying silently; then, when the younger girl had succeeded in releasing her hands, threw her arms about her neck.
"Mary, they haven't harmed you?"
"No, I don't think so." The girl stretched her cramped limbs. "No, I'm all right. Where are they?"
"Mrs. Western is in god-dad's room—the room opposite this. Charlie is searching the house for me."
"What if he comes in here?"
"There are two of us now. I think we can take care of Master Charlie."
Ivy spoke with some resolution; yet her heart was downcast. She was searching the room for some weapon, but it was one of the guest chambers of the big house and contained nothing of value for offence or defence. Mary sat on the edge of the bed, rubbing life into her numbed limbs.
Suddenly she hobbled over to the door, and listened at the panel. She half-turned, beckoning to Ivy. Together the two girls stayed at the door, listening. A man's footsteps sounded along the corridor, to halt outside the door of the room opposite.
They heard a loud knock.
"What's the matter, Charlie, dear?" Mrs. Western's sounded faintly through the two closed doors.
"I can't find that girl anywhere."
"Oh, let her be. We'll find her in the morning."
"But I want her to-night." Again came the evil chuckle. For some seconds there was silence.
"Is that other girl safe, Charlie?"
"Yes, I think so. You've got the key, haven't you?"
"No, I left it in the lock."
"It isn't there now." Then, with sudden illumination. "You fool! You've let those two girls get together."
"Why—what do you mean?"
The woman's voice was very faint. "Ivy's got in with Mary Varney. Now there'll be hell to pay! But I'll get her out!"
FOR long minutes there was silence: the two girls crouching close to the door, terror in their hearts.
They could hear Charlie Western tramping up and down the corridor. Once they heard the look of the door opposite click, followed by a gruff command: "Get into your room, damn you?"
Then slow and careful footsteps came to their door. Someone, they believed the man, was standing close to the panel, listening; the girls believed they could almost hear his heavy breathing. Then followed another spell of silence, followed by a heavy rapping on the wood of the door.
"Miss Breton!" The man's voice was soft and silky. "Are you there. Miss Breton?"
For a moment Ivy did not reply: then:
"I am here. What do you want?" Charlie Western did not answer. Ivy thought she could hear a low chuckle. The handle of the door was slowly turned, and the woodwork creaked under a sudden pressure applied to it.
"So you are there?" The man's voice held a satisfied note. "I want to speak to you. Will you unlock the door, please?"
The girls remained silent. Again a long pause, and then the restless feet of the man beat on the floor of the corridor outside the door. Suddenly the steps turned, and the girls heard them retreating towards the head of the stairs.
"Where has he gone?" Mary breathed the question in Ivy's ear.
The younger girl turned—then burst out laughing at sight of her. companion.
"Oh, Mary, if you could only see yourself! You do look funny!" Mary ran to the mirror to give a little gasp of horror. She was in her outdoor things, her hat pushed rakishly to the back of her head, her hair tangled and tousled, her dress crumpled and torn.
"You look as if you had been in a street fight."
Ivy could not control her laughter. "It wasn't much better."
Mary's skilful fingers were rapidly repairing the damage. "Oh, Ivy—"
"What happened?" The younger girl came and sat on the foot of the bed.
"Did you go out?" Mary nodded. "I had a telephone message from Mr. Kithner—or, rather. I thought it was from him. He wanted me to go down to the office about some matters that seemed to be in a muddle. That was about an hour and a half after you left the house. I got ready and went. There was no one at the offices, and the place was in darkness. There was no one in the building."
"I think so. You know his voice is very similar to his father's."
"I was worried and angry—but I never suspected what had happened. I came straight home and went up to my room. Just as I got to the head of the stairs that man—"
"I think it was him. He caught hold of me. Then another man—I think he was Richard Kithner—helped him to bind and gag me. They carried me to this room and flung me on the bed. He told me they would make me—and—and threatened—oh, Ivy, they threatened unspeakable things."
"You poor dear!" Ivy thought for a few minutes. "I wonder what they did with Faith and Alice?"
"I think they are locked in their rooms, upstairs."
"But—" The younger girl was plainly astonished. "How do they expect to get away with it?"
"I don't know. No, that is wrong. I think I understand. Charlie is—" She paused and looked at her companion significantly.
"I won't!" Ivy spoke viciously. "Oh, I heard him. I know what he and his mother propose to do. But—I won't marry him! I won't—whatever he does!"
"It is the only way we can get out of it. It you get free—"
"That's one thing I am going to do." Ivy laughed. "Go on, dear."
"Then Mrs. Western came in and sat on the bed, and dropped butter and oil all round me. Ugh! She's awful; worse than the men. She told me that you had become insane—that the doctor had been called to you."
"But—" Ivy was astonished. "You knew where I was—at the Union Club."
"They told me you had been taken ill there, and had been brought home. Then, when you recovered consciousness, you were entirely mad. Mrs. Western told me that she had only just arrived at the house, and I thought there was something in that, for she was still wearing her coat and hat."
"What were the men doing while she was up here with you?"
"I don't know." Mary hesitated. "I think they were down in the library. Richard Kithner said something about the safe, as they went out of the door."
"But—how did they open the safe?"
"I don't know," Again the girl hesitated. "You told me that Charlie Western had lived here for some time. He may have got hold of a key of the safe—or taken a mould of it, perhaps."
Ivy nodded. The supposition was quite probable. Charlie Western had used his stay in the house to get hold of a key of the front door. Then she remembered. When she had first gone to the library she had placed her bag on the desk. In her bag was the key of the safe. She had left it there. In fact, it was there at that moment. The safe must have been opened between the times she first left the library and her return. That would explain the unknown person she had bumped against in the dark.
"I think I understand." Ivy spoke slowly, "Richard Kithner telephoned you to go down to his father's offices, making believe that he was his father. That would be about half-past nine. I suppose you told Faith and Alice that you would take a key and let yourself in when you returned?"
"Then, Mrs. Western and her son came. More than likely they did not arrive until the maids had gone to bed. I know they like to go to bed early. Then the Westerns locked them in their rooms and tried to find the securities. They couldn't find them and waited for you to come back. Oh, it was easy—so easy—and we fell into the trap they set."
Mary nodded, miserably. "I let you down, dear," she said. "But I never thought—"
"Who would have thought they would have done such a thing?" Ivy laughed mirthlessly. "But now they have the bonds and shares; what more do they want?"
"To safeguard themselves." The elder girl spoke with conviction.
"By forcing me to marry—that?" Ivy made a grimace. "Well, I won't—that's definite. So there you are! Now, what are we going to do?"
For a long time there was silence. What could the girls do? They were locked in a room in the upper part of the house, with no chance of communicating with the outside world. In the corridor, without the room, prowled a man, utterly unscrupulous. He had found the money he had come in search of. Now he had to safeguard himself—and there was only one way of doing that. He had to force Ivy to marry him. If only she could get out of that room, with Mary. She could do that—true. She had the key in the lock, inside the door. But outside the room she had to get down to the telephone. What could she do there?
Ivy's face flamed. She knew what she would do—try and get in touch with Jack Lorne; call him to her aid. He would deal with these scoundrels effectively. But where would she find him?
Suddenly she remembered. Jack had said that he would be at the shop early that morning. He expected a truckload of stuff to come about six—for the truck would have to go out to one of the nurseries for another load that was required that day. She looked at her watch. It was just four o'clock. She had about two hours to wait—two hours in which to plan how to get down to the library. She settled herself on the bed more comfortably. She must find a way.
The sound of steps in the corridor brought her alert. They stopped at the door, and there was a long wait. Ivy guessed that the man was waiting at the panel. She motioned Mary to silence. He must not know whether they were in the room or not. Again came the hard knocking at the door.
Neither of the girls answered.
"Miss Breton!" The smooth, oily voice held a rough edge. "Oh, come on, I know you are in there with the other girl. Open the door and let's talk things out. Come on, don't be a fool! We've got the money. If you're sensible, you can have a share."
Charlie Western was offering her a share of the securities he had found in the safe! Why? Ivy tried to think.
If she was right in her interpretation of her godfather's will, then the money belonged to him and his mother. She had no claim to any part of it. What did the man's offer mean? Were they afraid she would prosecute them when she got free? Prosecute them, for what? True, they had told the constable she was mad, in that wild scene in the library. There must be some other reason for their action;—for this man's offer. He was lying, of course, or—
She strove to remember the wording of her godfather's will. There had been legacies left to persons who had served him. She had been left the buhl box and its contents. She had been given the use of the house and furniture for three months; then it was to go to Mrs. Western! How could that be interpreted? Mr. Kithner had told Mrs. Western that the house and its contents were the residuary part of the estate, and that the testator's debts would have to be paid out of their sale.
Then everything in that house, except her personal belongings and the buhl box belonged to Mrs. Western. But could she claim the securities that had only been brought into the house the previous day? Had they not been given to her, Ivy, by her godfather's definite instructions?
"Come on, Ivy; don't be a fool! I shan't harm you!"
A long pause; then the man flamed to sudden anger.
"Well, stop there, if you want to. You'll can't get out, and you'll get nothing to eat while you keep that door fastened. You'll come out soon enough, and I'll be waiting for you."
Impatient steps went down the corridor, and a door slammed, loudly. Still the girls waited. Again Ivy looked at her watch. The hands were slowly approaching five o'clock. Only an hour to wait; and in that time thy had to get out of that room and down to the library. For another half-hour the girls waited in the bedroom; then Ivy softly turned the key in the look. She believed that the time had come. She opened the door and peeped out. There was no one in the corridor.
Very softly she crept to her godfather's door and tested the handle. The door was locked. How could she secure that door, if only for a time? She laughed quietly as she returned to the room where Mary waited. Tearing one of the sheets into strips, she wound a strong rope, then beckoned to Mary to follow her.
In the corridor she secured the rope to the door of the room in which Mrs. Western slept, then shut the door of the room they had just left, and strained the other end of the rope round the handle. Now Mrs. Western was a prisoner. Beckoning Mary to follow, Ivy went to the head of the stairs. There she hesitated. If only she could find the room where Charlie Western lay she would fasten that door in a similar fashion. But it would be dangerous to delay and search. They must go down to the library at once and telephone for help.
The house was as silent as a tomb as they crept down the stairs. In the library Ivy glanced about her, quickly. She gave a gasp of relief to see the revolver lying on a corner of the desk. She picked it up and turned to the door, locking it.
Again she glanced at her watch. It wanted twenty minutes to six o'clock. She dialled Jack's number, and waited. If only he were at the shop! The steady buzz-buzz of the bell alone came over the line. There was a movement in the hall outside the door.
Someone was creeping down the stairs. The handle of the door was softly tested. A muttered oath came through the door. Another glance at her watch, and again she dialled the florist's number. For long minutes there was only the buzz-buzz of the bell coming over the line. Then followed the click of the connection. Almost at the same moment something heavy shook the door on its hinges.
"Quick, Jack! Quick!"
Her words were followed by another crash at the door. One of the panels split from top to bottom.
"You'll lock yourself up, will you?" The voice outside the door was thick and full of passion. "I'll get you out, my girl, and then look to yourself. You'll do what I want, or—"
"Jack—it's Ivy—Muriel France speaking. Come to Ivy Breton's house. Oh, quick, quick! He'll get in if you don't make haste!"
"Muriel, is that you?" Jack Lorne's voice came over the wire, anxious and hoarse.
"Where are you? At Miss Breton's? What's the matter?"
"Oh, don't talk! Come quickly. Mary and I are in the library, and Charlie Western is going to break the door down. Oh, come and save us! He's going to—"
A rapid series of thuds pounded on the split panel, splintering it from top to bottom. Another couple of blows, and part of the wood fell into the room. A face—Ivy hardly recognised it as Charlie Western's—peered in at the opening. The girl sprang to her feet and seized the revolver.
"Keep back, or I'll fire!"
"Ivy, you daren't!" Mary was crouching at the younger girl's feet, behind the desk.
"You'll kill—kill him!"
"Kill him? The beast! I wish I could!" The girl was sobbing with excitement.
"Kill me? Would you?" Again the man crashed his weapon at the door. "Just you wait until I get my hands on you!"
"Charlie! Charlie, dear! What on earth are you doing?" A high-pitched female voice sounded from above.
"Your fault!" The man turned on his mother with a snarl. "I told you to watch those girls, and you let them get down here. Go upstairs, I tell you! Keep out of this! That girl's got a gun, and she's mad!"
Again the door shivered under a hall of blows. Ivy raised the revolver, her face white and strained. Very deliberately she pointed the weapon at the door, and pulled the trigger. The sound of the explosion filled the library; the acrid smoke made the girls cough.
Something heavy fell in the hall, outside the room. Thunderous knocking came on the front door. For a moment Ivy could not understand. Then realisation came, and her face cleared. She laughed hysterically as she ran to the door.
"Jack! Jack! I want you! I want you!" She flung open the door, and with a little cry fell unconscious across the threshold.
A WEEK had passed since that night of terror in the old Sixsmith house. Ivy was beginning to look back on it as a bad dream. Jack had come to her rescue. She had placed her burdens on his shoulders, content that he would assume them for always.
There had been little trouble after Jack had forced his way into the house. Mrs. Western and her son had been sent to their home, instructed to remain there on pain of criminal action being taken against them.
Mark Kithner had come to the house later in the morning; to stand and look down at the pale, wan girl, lying on her couch, shaking his head and trying to apologise for his son. Ivy had laughed up at him. What did the troubles of the past days matter? She had sailed her life's barque into a safe harbour, how safe she hardly dared whisper to herself.
Mary had come and gone, flitting in and out of the gloomy old house like a bright, chattering butterfly. She was the only thing Ivy could find satisfactory in the mystery and disillusionment that had followed the reading of her godfather's will. She had found the girl worn and dispirited in the old lawyer's office, and had brought her to happiness—to a realisation that life held more for women than work; that they are the beauty of the earth and sky, the comforters and mothers of the menfolk, whose duty it is to accomplish the work of the world. Mary had learned her lesson. A grub had developed into a chrysalis; a chrysalis into a butterfly—no, something more—a girl who promised to develop into a lovely woman. Ivy was proud of her work and planned to bring it to a logical conclusion.
Jack and the lawyer had bidden her not think nor talk of the past. She was to rest and get well, for before her was one more mental strain. When that was to happen she did not know. They would tell her nothing.
One thing she knew, and that more from guesswork than knowledge. There was to be another meeting of the legatees and relatives of Basil Sixsmith. At that meeting the old lawyer would again read the will and explain what the testator had intended. Ivy hoped nothing from the second reading of the will. She was content with matters as they stood.
Her godfather had been a wise man—a very wise man. He had made her a partner in "Lorne, florists". She was to be Jack's partner. He had explained that very carefully to her; explain that in the business she held equal authority with himself. She had not cared, but had listened—listened with a little smile on her face, a big laugh in her heart. Men were babies—and so very, very foolish!
As if "Lorne, florists" mattered now. As if it mattered whether she had named the "unknown"—H.P. Pender. He had sent her repeated apologies, because he had not been able to call on her on account of the restrictions the doctor was imposing on him. In his messages and notes he had named her "sister invalid"—but she did not feel herself an invalid. She had never felt happier, more healthy, in all her life. And yet she had not solved the mystery and the problem her godfather had set her. She did not want to—now. If she felt later that she must know—then she would ask Jack, and he would tell her. She was content for it to be so.
MARK KITHNER had come to her one evening, grave, careworn, yet with his habitual courtesy—old-fashioned and likeable. He had been solicitous regarding her health. She had laughed at him, assuring him that she was quite well; that only the old-maidishness of the menfolk surrounding her—supported by Mary in their assumption of authority—kept her on the couch.
He had laughed, in spite of the pain that furrowed his brows. Ivy knew what lay behind those grave eyes the pain of his broken faith in a son who had only escaped becoming a criminal because of the failure of his associates to carry out their plans.
She had wanted to try and comfort him, but could not find the words. She was sorry, very sorry. In her long talks with Jack she had said so, not uncertainly. She had insisted that no one was to suffer for the past. Everyone was to be free—to try to be happy in a world that, to her, appeared to hold only happiness.
A formal note from Mark Kithner had followed that visit. In it he had, with formal courtesy, asked permission to call a meeting of all interested in the Sixsmith estate, in the library of the testator's house. He had stated that it would be a larger one than when the will had been originally read. That she would have to allow herself to be questioned on certain matters he did not specify.
Just as formally—in mocking humour—she had replied that the house was only hers for just over another two months, and that her permission appeared unnecessary, yet was freely given.
Jack had come to the house early on the day of the meeting. He had arrived just as the luncheon gong sounded; yet the gathering had been appointed for half-past two of that afternoon. He had said that he was vitally interested in the reasons for the meeting.
"Through me?" asked Ivy impertinently.
"As your future guardian," he had replied.
"Partner and guardian?" She looked at him provokingly.
"Woman!" He laughed. "Do you know that a male guardian to a woman is only a legal anomaly. A woman attains her own way always—and the younger she is the easier she gets it."
"Mercy," Mary cried. "What shall I entitle my novel, when I write it? 'The Woman-Hater Married'?"
"I thought that women-haters were only created by being married," retorted the young man.
"Or through fear of being married," interposed Ivy.
Then the maid had come to inform them that Mr. Kithner was in the library, awaiting them.
At the door of the room, Ivy hesitated. The solicitor sat at the big desk, bundles of papers before him. By him was a lounge chair—vacant. Close to the door sat two men, bearing the obvious marks of detectives. On straight uncomfortable-looking chairs were Richard Kithner, Mrs. Western and Charlie Western, his arm and shoulder heavily swathed in bandages.
Mark Kithner came to meet the girl at the door, and led her to the seat by his own chair. Jack followed with Mary, finding a seat for the girl close to Ivy, then lounged against the wall immediately behind the girls. "We are awaiting the two Mr. Penders," the solicitor announced, as he sat down.
As if answering, to their names, the maid opened the door and ushered in the two men. Ivy rose to her feet, then sank back with a gasp of astonishment. The two Penders were almost exactly alike.
Carefully she scrutinised them, feature for feature. There was hardly a difference between them; yet when they stood side by side she could see that her Mr. Pender was the one she had frightened at the Union Club. The one whom the taxi driver had followed was the real Harold Pender, the man of the photograph. She jumped to her feet again and went across the room—to "her" Mr. Pender.
"My dear young lady!" Gratefully he took her strong young arm.
"Have you forgiven me, Mr. Pender?" she asked in a low voice. "Your illness is all my fault. It was wrong—very foolish and wicked!"
"I have forgiven you." He laughed down at her. "But I will forgive you all over again if you will tell me how you worked the trick."
The girl went to the desk, and took from one of the drawers a small, black box. "This is the secret."
She smiled slightly as she opened the end of the box. In it was a small but powerful electric bulb. She took this out, and from beyond it a glass slide—a photograph of the buhl box, on which a photograph of her godfather had been imposed.
"So that is my enemy." Pender took the box and studied it. "Really, a miniature magic-lantern."
"One of my godfather's toys—he was fond of them." The girl laughed gently. "The lens will throw the image on to any reflecting substance."
"A sheet of water, for instance." Pender smiled as he turned to greet the lawyer; then found a seat next to his brother.
FOR A LONG moment there was silence in the room. Then Mark Kithner commenced to speak:
"Under instructions from my late client, Basil Sixsmith, I have again called a meeting of the legatees under his will. My instructions provided for a meeting to take place on the last day of the three months of Miss Breton's residence here; or, in the event of certain happenings taking place. Mr. Sixsmith saw clearly. The events he foresaw took place within a week of his will being read for the first time."
"Are you prepared to explain that, Mr. Kithner?" asked Jack.
"Mrs. Western." The lawyer turned to the lady. "You received a letter from Mr. Sixsmith the day after his death. Have you that letter with you now? I asked you to bring it to this meeting."
"I tore it up," Mrs. Western answered shortly.
"A pity." The lawyer commented. "Still I can explain its contents, Mr. Sixsmith, after stating fully his intentions contained in his will towards you and his god-daughter, explicitly informed you that if you made any attempt to upset his will, legally or otherwise, you would create your own punishment."
"Tush!" Mrs. Western laughed. "He left me the house and its contents. That was all he had to leave except his debts."
"There is some further property in our hands belonging to Mr. Sixsmith," Harold Pender continued. "And certain securities."
"Where are they?" The lady laughed again. "That was what that girl was talking about to the constable the other night. He thought she was mad."
"On your suggestion." A grim smile played round the legal lips. "Perhaps Mr. Pender can instruct us regarding the missing securities?"
The younger of the two brothers rose to his feet, resting his hand on his elder brother's shoulders. "My firm, Pender & Pender, were Mr. Sixsmith's brokers. We transacted a large amount of business for him. Some time ago he entrusted a packet of securities to us, with instructions to hand the packet to Miss Breton, if, within three months of his death, she produced authority for us to do so."
"But I did not produce the authority," exclaimed. Ivy.
"Acting on the advice of Mr. Kithner and our own solicitors, we decided to hand the securities to you immediately after the will had been read. For that purpose I wrote and asked you to call and receive them from Mr. Tinker."
"But she did not produce the authority—you did not carry out Mr. Sixsmith's Instructions!" Charlie Western exclaimed suddenly.
"We believed, and our solicitors supported us in the belief, that we held a certain discretion," Harold Pender answered briefly. "At the present moment Miss Breton is in charge of the securities. We have no doubt that she will deal with them honestly."
"If Iv—Miss Breton cannot produce the authority, then the securities belong to me." Mrs. Western brightened considerably. "I thought you claimed that Mr. Sixsmith did not leave any property other than this house and its contents."
The solicitor spoke dryly. "I have evidence that the securities exist."
Harold Pender interrupted. "The bonds are registered against Mr. Sixsmith's name in our books; the shares cannot be dealt with without the transfers we hold."
"Then where are they?" The woman laughed shortly. "If that girl got her hands oh them—" she shrugged. "Fortunately my son took possession of them and gave them to me."
The solicitor looked almost pleadingly at the girl. She smiled and nodded. From among the papers on the desk Mark Kithner took a packet and handed it to Ivy. "Is that the packet you received from Mr. Abel Tinker, Miss Breton?"
Again the girl nodded. "Then, if you will produce the authority, Miss Breton, I will formally hand them over to you."
"But I haven't got it." The girl looked surprised.
"He was very interested in an oil prospecting company named 'The Big Boy.'"
"'The Big Boy?'" Ivy exclaimed. "Why, god-dad wrote such a funny letter about that."
She went to the desk, and from a drawer produced the strange letter she had found in her godfather's, private box at the G.P.O., handing, it to the solicitor. He studied it for a moment, in evident bewilderment, then slowly read it aloud.
"May I see that note, please?" Mr. Herbert Pender went to the desk. "I think I can help Miss Breton here."
He took the note and studied, it carefully, then turned to the desk and picked up the buhl box. With it in his hand, he went to where the girl sat.
"Miss Breton," he said with a little smile. "Will you look at the front of this box? See if you can make out any letters among the ornamentations."
For some seconds Ivy studied the strange box. Then she looked up.
"I think I can see letters," she said, doubtfully. "Yes, there is a letter in each corner. Here is an 'N'. In this corner is an 'E'. Why, they are arranged and lettered like the four points of the compass."
"And this note." Herbert Pender took the strange letter, and handed it to Ivy. "Have you studied the signature?"
"NEWS." The girl spelt the signature. Suddenly enlightenment came. "Why, here are the four points of the compass again."
"Then press the letters in the corner of the box in the order named in the letter."
At the girl's look of astonishment, he added: "Remember, I told you I once owned this box." The girl obeyed, then stared at the box. Nothing had happened.
"Now open the box." The man smiled reassuringly. Ivy touched the spring, and the lid flew back. She gave a cry of astonishment. The bottom of the box had come up in two sections, revealing a lower, secret compartment. In it was a folded paper. She took it out and opened it.
It was an authority for her to receive a packet of papers deposited with Messrs. Pender & Pender, and signed by her godfather. She handed it to the lawyer. He read it, and passed it to the broker.
"I think that is sufficient authority for you, Mr. Pender," he said quietly, "Please remember, in this matter I am acting for Miss Breton."
"Quite sufficient." Harold Pender went and sat beside his brother again.
"My mother will contest that." Charlie Western was on his feet. "That is a deed of gift and is voided by the giver's death within a twelve-month."
"Mrs. Western may do as she pleases," Mark Kithner frowned. "It is my duty to again read the Will."
"What's the good?" Mrs. Western exclaimed. "We all know it."
"I don't think so." The solicitor smiled. "I had to remind you of the letter you received from your half-brother in which he warned you not to interfere with Miss Breton or this house within three months of his death. He told you that any action of yours would bring its own punishment. It has."
He paused a moment, then continued:
"Acting on written instructions I received from the testator, on the former occasion I read only part of the will. I omitted to read a clause that would only become operative it Mrs. Western disregarded an injunction her half-brother had laid on her. As Mrs. Western is satisfied that she remembers the will I read, I take it that I need only now read the clause I formerly omitted—the clause which now comes into operation following Mrs. Western's and her son's peculiar behaviour in this house a week ago."
For a long minute there was silence while the solicitor found the will and opened it.
Then he read: "And I further declare that if at any time during three months following my death my half-sister, Martha Western, or her son, Charles Western, by themselves or by their agents, dispossess or attempt to dispossess my god-daughter, Ivy Breton, of the free use and comfort of my house and its contents aforementioned, then I revoke any and all monies and goods I have bequeathed to them in this, my last will and testament, and direct that my god-daughter, Ivy Breton, above-mentioned, shall become my sole legatee and executor. I ask her that from the estate that she will receive, to pay such legacies as I have bequeathed to persons who have served me during my life time, and which are set out in this document."
"You mean—?" Charlie Western strode to the desk, his face white with passion.
"The will is exact." The solicitor looked up with a little smile in his eyes. "You and your mother have twice attempted to dispossess Miss Breton of her free use of this house and its contents. By this will, therefore, your mother forfeits all interest in the house and contents, which revert to Miss Breton. Is that clear?"
For a moment lawyer and man stared at each other. Then Charlie Western swung round and jerked his mother to her feet. With a sneering laugh he dragged the woman to the door. There he turned, speaking furiously.
"We're going to fight this," he shouted. "I'll see to that. If you think you can get away with that sort of thing—well, you won't."
At a sign from the lawyer the two men at the door followed the Westerns out of the room. As the door closed, Kithner turned to the girl with a sigh of relief.
"A very unpleasant afternoon, Miss Breton," he said. "Now, may I be the first to congratulate you on your inheritance?"
"But why did godfather do this?" The girl was perplexed.
"Because he was well aware of his half-sister's character. He knew that if he willed his property to you direct, she would contest the will; that you would be caused quite an amount of trouble and annoyance. But he knew that if he left matters as he did that either she or her son would put themselves in the wrong so thoroughly that when his real intentions became known, neither of them could possibly complain."
He hesitated a moment, then added: "But I don't think that even Basil Sixsmith thought those two would go to the lengths they did, or he would have taken another course."
"But who was the burglar?" Mary asked suddenly.
"The burglar was Charlie Western," Jack answered.
"But there were two," Mary protested. "And—"
"Me," Jack laughed. "I saw Western come in at the door and followed, curious to know what he wanted in my partner's house. He came to the library and copied the photograph and letter. As he was leaving the room he heard Ivy come down the stairs, and hid. When she came out of the library carrying the photograph he sprang on her. I took her from him and knocked him down. Then—"
"Then you took the photograph and letter." Ivy looked up at the young man, laughing. "And I took you for burglar."
"I sent them back to you," Jack protested.
"Not the letter. I found that on your office floor."
"Then it got out of the parcel while I was packing it." Jack grinned. "So that's the end of all the mystery."
"Not quite," the girl faced him seriously. "There was a man who telephoned me claiming that god-dad owed him five thousand pounds, who was he?"
"Ask Mr. Charles Western." Kithner's face was troubled. "I think he can explain that. The whole matter was, my dear, that they were trying to frighten and worry you. Thank God, they didn't succeed."
"I'll take care they don't get another chance." Jack spoke grimly.
"And who will take care of you?" Ivy looked up, smiling. "My partner, of course." Very quietly, the others went from the room. Mary Varney was the last to leave and she turned in the doorway, looking back with wistful eyes on the two, utterly engrossed in each other. A little smile came of her lips. She was a worker; romance had little to do with her life. But, she was beginning to understand. Work is good; very good—but there are even better things, in Life.
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