The Blue Daffodil - Fred M. White - ebook

The Blue Daffodil ebook

Fred M White

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The story begins in the London home of John Garnstone, an elderly bachelor and antiques dealer. Garnstone is an enthusiastic gardener and grows a plant of incalculable value, a blue daffodil, on the roof of his house. One of the nights his body is a secretary. A lot of weird events happen after that.

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Liczba stron: 230

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER XXV

CHAPTER XXVI

CHAPTER I

JOHN GARNSTONE, generally known as Professor Garnstone, sat at a table in his more or less armoured quarters contemplating an array of gold and silver treasures that might have formed what was once known as a king’s ransom. Gold plate, silver plate worth ten times its weight in the more precious metal, gems of price, each of them with a history, such a collection as no museum or collection in Europe could boast.

For Garnstone was by far the most noted judge of such things in his generation. He bought and sold and valued as he had done for the last 40 years; he had been the welcome guest of princes and magnates, for his judgment was unerring and his word was undisputed in the sale rooms of London and Paris. His own collection was rumoured to be unequalled, and his present wealth was estimated at a million.

An old man, this John Garnstone. Tall and thin and spare with a fine head crowned with a mass of silver hair, an imposing old man, rather hard of feature and reserved in manner as if he were the recipient of secrets–as doubtless he was. A man apparently without friends, outside his business, unless one counted his secretary, Vera Zaroff and Captain Ronald Brentford, late of the Indian Army, and now a professional hunter of rare flora on behalf of his employer. For, outside his business, Garnstone had one mastering passion–the propagation and cross fertilization of flowers. He was prepared to go to any length to obtain the rare. His one great ambition was to give the world a blue daffodil. It was Brentford’s main business to discover this or something like a bulb from which the perfect flower might be bred.

From somewhere in the Caucasus slopes leading up from the Black Sea, Brentford had discovered a pale simulacrum of the flower, and this bulb had formed the basis of Garnstone’s excursions into Mendelism. At the moment he seemed to be on the verge of success. In his roof conservatory was a solitary bulb in a pot already showing leaf, and when this bloomed, Garnstone was convinced that he would have reached his desideratum at last. Three weeks more, and then––

It was in a strange quarter of Town in which Garnstone had, so to speak, pitched his camp. He had purchased a more or less derelict block of offices which had long been in Chancery, and on the top storey he had dug himself in. In the basement lived the caretaker with the ground floor let as a warehouse, above that a whole floor was vacant and over that a suite of rooms, where Garnstone lived and had his being. For the most part he used a sort of office-library with a bedroom leading out of it. There was a large dining-room, and on the far side of that the bedroom occupied by Vera Zaroff, the lady secretary. As for meals, they were all taken out–even breakfast–and whatever house work was required was part of the duties of one, Isaac Gunter, the bachelor caretaker, who lived in the basement.

Garnstone was taking no risks so far as burglars were concerned. It was common knowledge that besides his own many priceless treasures he frequently held in temporary possession historic valuables on behalf of royal and other clients. The very latest thing in the way of safes was not entirely satisfactory, so that Garnstone had caused a door of steel and reinforced concrete to be built into the entrance to the upper floor, the master-key of which he alone held.

Above this city fortress was the flat lead-covered roof given over almost entirely to the great conservatory where the flowers flourished despite London fog and mist since the roof caught all the sunshine and looked over the river without much intervening obstruction.

The sun was shining into the flat that early autumn morning as Garnstone sat at his big desk going over his treasures. He placed them presently on a large Queen Anne salver, and locked them securely away. He touched a bell on his desk.

Into the room came Vera Zaroff, a slim creature moving with the easy grace of a deer. Young and beautiful, her dark loveliness was enhanced by the fact that her hair, which grew naturally, was white as frosted silver. And so it had been since her 15th year, when she lost both her parents abroad.

This last member of an aristocratic family had reached London almost penniless, and there had found Garnstone, whom she had known as a child since he once visited her ancestral home with a view to arranging and valuing the immense family treasures. All these had afterwards been lost during the misfortunes that had broken her father’s heart.

Despite his reserve and natural coldness, Garnstone had a warm corner in his heart for Vera. Moreover she had proved her worth as a secretary. Now she was more or less in his confidence, and more like a daughter than a paid servant.

“Good morning,” she said in her perfect English. “I did not hear you come in last night, and began to fear––”

“I was detained by the Duke of Middlesex,” Garnstone explained. “Also I heard a rumour that Brentford had returned from Brazil. Has he written by any chance?”

A warm wave of colour stained Vera’s cheek.

“There is nothing in this morning’s correspondence,” Vera said, “but then he never writes when he is on his way home. It will be very nice to see him again.”

Calmly as she spoke Vera could not keep out of her voice a little thrill which was not lost on her employer. He smiled like some benevolent old aristocrat though who he was and whence he came none could as much as guess.

As Vera stooped to hide a certain confusion, her eye fell on some glittering object on the floor. She bent to pick it up, and a cry of admiration broke from her lips at the sight of the little gold box in her hand.

A snuff-box evidently made in some remote period, on the lid of it a miniature exquisitely painted of some Court beauty, the face surrounded with brilliants. The background was red and black enamel, with a monogram inserted in rubies.

“What a lovely thing,” Vera cried. “And what a lovely face! Strange, yet oddly familiar. If––”

An instant later the box was snatched from her hand with a force which was almost painful. Vera started back at the changed expression on Garnstone’s face. The bland benevolence was no longer there, the mouth was drawn in a hard line of cunning and rage–such an expression as Vera had never seen before. It was only for an instant, but the impression on Vera’s mind was clear and vivid.

“A sacred memory,” Garnstone murmured with a return of his normal manner. “Most careless of me. It must have fallen from the table when I was examining some objects of art just now. I will return it to the safe.”

For a moment the incident passed. But Vera was to recall it in dramatic circumstances before long.

Then there were letters to be written to clients all over the world, catalogues to mark until the hour for tea arrived. This appeared through the medium of Gunter, the caretaker, a man who might have been earlier in his career either a prize-fighter or a burglar of the Bill Sikes school. The front door of the fortress was unlocked to admit him, and on his heels came a youngish-looking man at the sight of whom Vera flushed and her hands trembled ever so slightly.

“Ronald,” she whispered, but the new-comer caught the word and the tender light behind his smile was more eloquent than any word would have been.

“Vera, I kiss your hand,” Ronald Brentford cried. “So good to be back home once more. I trust I see you well, sir. And the Blue Daffodil? Has that burgeoned yet?”

“I hope that you are back in time to see its birth, my young friend,” Garnstone smiled. “There is a bursting bulb in the conservatory–but I must not anticipate. Sit down and relate your adventures over a cup of tea.”

“I am afraid there is little to tell,” Ronald said. “It seems to me that the Brazilian forests are played out so far as new flora is concerned. That is unless you are prepared to fit out a full-dress expedition to explore lands where no single hunter dare venture alone. At my hotel I have a few new orchids of no striking beauty and little use. I worked my way back through Asia Minor and once more visited the slopes of the Caucasus hoping to find some further development of the Blue Daffodil without effect.”

“Were you near Batoum?” Vera asked. “You remember that we had a summer palace there in the old days; at least Mr. Garnstone does. A lovely place on the Black Sea.”

“Of course I remember it well, Vera,” Garnstone said, with a wave of his hand. “Some of my happiest days were spent there with your father and mother.”

“I saw it,” Brentford explained. “My passport allowed me to go anywhere. The Zaroff Palace is now a sort of residential barracks for the ironstone workers, and the once fine park is a crater from which the ironstone is raised. I seem to remember that the Caucasian Blue Daffodil formed part of your coat of arms, Vera.”

“Well, I should hardly call it a blue flower,” Vera said with a smile. “Rather a dirty mauve. And not much of a bloom either. Isn’t it rather strange that you should have found the basic flower of Mr. Garnstone’s ambition near my home?”

“Not at all,” Garnstone interrupted. “Don’t forget that I was on terms of intimate friendship with your family, Vera. It was the discovery of one of those mauve flowers close to your summer palace that first inspired me with the desire to perfect the Blue Daffodil. Cause and effect, my dear.”

“Then within a month or so?” Ronald suggested.

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