The Lady in Blue - Fred M. White - ebook

The Lady in Blue ebook

Fred M White

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Fred M. White was a science fiction writer and wrote many spy stories. Events in the story The Lady in Blue take place in London. The main character, Rupert Kelso, returns from Norway and lives his usual life, until fate decided intervene. Kelso should assist in an investigation into the robbery of a gemstone.

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Liczba stron: 393

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Contents

I. Borrowed Plumes

II. The Ivory Mask

III. Missing

IV. A Press Mystery

V. The Torn Cuff

VI. What The “Herald” Knew

VII. “Find The Lady”

VIII. “Number 17”

IX. “The Stage-Box”

X. The First Avenue

XI. “Not Known”

XII. Baris Court

XIII. The Woman Speaks

XIV. The Woman In Blue

XV. Drawn Blank

XVI. Enter The Princess

XVII. A Woman’s Way

XVIII. Something Like A Clue

XIX. The Black Mackintosh

XX. The Woman In The Rusty Bonnet

XXI. Clutton Takes A Hand

XXII. The Spider’s Web

XXIII. Baiting The Trap

XXIV. The Trap Stands Open

XXV. The Turning Screw

XXVI. A Desperate Step

XXVII. The Beckoning Hand

XXVIII. In The Trap

XXIX. Taking The Risk

XXX. Polly To The Rescue

XXXI. Towards The Light

XXXII. A Matter Of Conscience

XXXIII. The Shadow Of A Crime

XXXIV. A House Of Sorrows

XXXV. Steeped To The Lips

XXXVI. A Smashing Blow

XXXVII. A Double Life

XXXVIII. The Naked Truth

I. BORROWED PLUMES

Rupert Kelso shivered as he settled himself in his seat. Outside it was raw and damp, with the streets streaming with moisture; indeed, it was more like November than June, but there, in the supper room of the Regent Restaurant, everything was warm and bright and alluring to a degree. It was a glorious change for Kelso, after three years’ hard work in Nigeria, and he was appreciating it to the tips of his long, brown fingers. He had a pleasing vision of colour in which coral pink predominated, a dazzling kaleidoscope of silken draperies broken here and there by the flashing of many gems. For it was Sunday evening, in the height of the season, and the most exclusive restaurant in Europe was thronged. As a matter of fact, Kelso was very lucky to be there at all, and he was congratulating himself that he had come here with Mark Denver, the brilliant and popular dramatist, who was welcomed everywhere and who always commanded that which less-favoured mortals sighed for in vain. But then, Denver was something more than a successful playwright; indeed, some day he would be the Earl of Denver, and his mother’s fortune rendered him independent of the profession which he had adopted. He and Kelso had been at Harrow and Trinity together, and the warm friendship which had sprung up there had never slackened. It was good to be home again, good to feel the glow and thrill of life and once more to be in touch with civilisation.

For some little time Kelso sat there, taking in the whole vivid scheme of colour until gradually everything seemed to narrow down into the focus of one beautiful, pathetic, pleading face. It was a white face with the faintest touch of colour in it, and framed in a mass of glorious chestnut hair. Kelso noted the ivory smoothness of the brow and the eyes blue and clear like pools of blue under a summer starlight sky. It seemed to Kelso that it was the most dainty and fascinating face that he had ever seen. The red lips smiled from time to time, but the smile was unsteady; indeed, it had been the half-unconscious appeal of those eyes that touched Kelso even more than the girl’s beauty had done.

She was sitting very close indeed, so close that it was possible to distinguish the pattern of the embroidery on her corsage and to note the purple shadow of the lashes that fringed her eyes from time to time. She was not alone, for at the table with her was a young man immaculately dressed, vapid and expressionless in the well-bred way, and, as Kelso glanced at him with a certain faint contempt, he was conscious that the young man was just as disturbed and uneasy as the girl on the opposite side of the table.

The third member of the party at that table was entirely at her ease. She was magnificently, not to say daringly, dressed, and her bosom literally blazed with diamonds. There was, moreover, a diamond in her dusky hair, before which all the rest of the stones seemed to dwindle and grow pale, like rush lights by the side of an electric flare. There was no occasion for Kelso to ask Denver who this woman was, for he recognised her at a glance. Blanche Trevenner, of operatic fame, had been a great theatrical star long before Kelso had left England, and, apparently, she was still riding high in a firmament of her own.

“Wears well,” Denver said, as if following his friend’s thoughts. “And yet she must be thirty-five if she is a day.”

“Yes. Still at Covent Garden, I suppose?”

“Well, no. Between ourselves, my dear fellow, the divine Blanche’s voice is not exactly what it was. It takes a good judge to note the difference, but, still, there is the difference, and that’s why the great diva elected to leave the operatic stage to shine resplendent in musical comedy. It sounded all very pretty and patronising and caused a good deal of stir at the time. Really, it produced an enormous increase of salary, which our fair friend sadly needed, for she is up to her neck in debt, though you wouldn’t think it to look at her this moment.”

“You are right there,” Kelso smiled. “Those diamonds!”

“Yes. Then, you see, they may be diamonds and they may be paste.”

“Not the one in the hair,” Kelso exclaimed. “I don’t profess to be a judge, but I wouldn’t mind gambling on the integrity of that tiara arrangement. But, to tell you the truth, Mark, I am a great deal more interested in that exquisitely pretty girl on the other side of the table. What a lovely face it is, with its suggestion of sorrow and that appealing look in those blue eyes! Do you mean to say that you haven’t noticed her?”

Denver fitted his glass carefully into his eye.

“Well, upon my word, I hadn’t,” he confessed. “Yes, exactly as you say. Poor little girl, I wonder what’s the matter! I give you my word that this is the first time I have ever seen Audrey Blair without a smile on her face.”

“You know her, then?” Kelso asked eagerly.

“My dear chap, of course I do. There is no actress of repute that I don’t know. What? Yes, I admit that she doesn’t look like it, but she is quite one of our leading lights in musical comedy. Three years ago no one had ever heard of her, and now, next to Blanche Trevenner she is reigning favourite at the Sovereign Theatre. No, I can’t tell you anything more about her besides that. Where she came from I haven’t the slightest idea. And no one seems to know where she lives. She appears at most social functions and then, discreetly, vanishes as mysteriously as Cinderella. Of course, there are all sorts of stories told about her, the most popular one being that she supports a decayed aristocratic family, who would all die with shame if it became known that they had a relative on the stage. At any rate, the girl’s a lady, despite the fact that she did start her career in an East End music-hall. She may be a trifle vain and a little extravagant in dress, but, beyond that, she’s all good and pure, I’m sure. If you like, when we reach the liqueur and coffee stage, we will go across and join them.”

Kelso accepted the suggestion eagerly enough. He was more than anxious to make the acquaintance of the girl with the pathetic face and pleading eyes. There was something about her that appealed to him as no woman had ever before. He was no squire of dames, no drawing-room lounger, agile amongst the teacups, and, hitherto, women had not troubled him at all. But the sight of that exquisite face, under the glory of red-gold hair, set him thinking of other things besides big game and the love of adventure. He was thinking now of that fine old place of his down in the west, and how shamefully he had neglected his responsibility towards the estate of late years. After all said and done, there was no place like the old country, and a man might do far worse than marry and settle down...

He came out of his dream, presently, to find himself bowing before Madame Trevenner and shaking hands with Audrey Blair. The vacuous-looking young man glanced gloomily from his coffee cup and stammered something which sounded like a welcome. He appeared to be making some sort of a struggle to throw off the mantle of depression, which seemed to fit him as well as his perfectly-cut dress coat. The only persons of the party who appeared to be entirely at their ease were Blanche Trevenner and Denver. There was some tragi-comedy going on here, and the keen eye of the dramatist was quick to detect it.

“What have we here?” he asked gaily. “Positively, I behold Miss Audrey Blair without a smile upon her face! Mr. Reggie Hermann, too, appears to be plunged in the depths of deep despair. Is there anything seriously wrong with the diamond market? Or has there been a big burglary at Hatton Garden?”

“Oh, yes,” the young man addressed as Hermann groaned. “And if there’s a bigger fool than myself in London––”

The speaker broke off abruptly as he caught the look of pleading anguish in Audrey Blair’s blue eyes. He flushed red, and uncomfortably bent over his coffee cup again.

“Then it is a tragedy?” Denver went on. “Rupert, you must know that our young friend here is the son of Montague Hermann, the diamond merchant, who finances kings and embarrassed governments–for a consideration, of course. It is popularly supposed from time to time that many regalias find their way to the strong rooms of Hermann House in Hatton Garden. One of Mr. Herrmann’s specialities is Russian Grand Dukes.”

“That’s the cause of all the trouble,” Hermann blurted out. “I––”

Once more Audrey Blair turned an appealing face to the speaker. Vivid lightnings seemed to blaze and play in Madame Trevenner’s black eyes, as she glanced at young Hermann.

“The absurdity of it,” she cried. “Now let me call your attention to the tiara I am wearing in my hair. Mr. Hermann had the audacity to tell me that the family diamonds of a certain Grand Duke are at present in the custody of his father. For what purpose or for what reason it matters nothing. It is sufficient that the statement is made. In the innocence of my heart I asked my young friend Audrey Blair and my young friend Reggie Hermann to sup with me here this evening. In their honour I wear the most precious possession I have, which is my diamond tiara. And my guests do not appreciate my consideration in the least. When they join me at my table here, Audrey turns white and faint, and Reggie stares at me, as if his eyes would drop out of his head. They tell me in effect that the tiara that I am wearing was, till a day or two ago, safely locked away in a vault at Hatton Garden.”

“Well, was it?” Denver asked dryly.

“How could I possibly tell?” Blanche Trevenner went on. “It is a strange coincidence, but, obviously, no more. The jewels were a present to me by the Grand Duke whose name I will not–yes, I will. The tiara was given to me by the Grand Duke Oro some little time ago. Does not everybody know that he has been my intimate friend for years? Is it not a well-known fact that he would have married me could he have secured the permission of his sovereign?”

“That’s true enough,” Denver smiled. “Everybody is aware of that. I suppose it’s possible, after all, that the tiara might have a duplicate somewhere.”

“A million to one against it,” Hermann said gloomily. “Some people have the cheek of the––”

Once more he broke off and lapsed into silence. Kelso sat there quietly trying to gather up the threads of the story. So far, he was merely bewildered and puzzled by what was taking place. Doubtless, he would find out presently, when he and Denver were alone once more. Judging from the queer, dry smile on Denver’s lips the latter had a clear idea of the source of the trouble.

“Well,” he said. “It’s not difficult to settle the matter one way or another. Why not call in an arbitrator in the person of the Grand Duke himself?”

“Oh, it would be too utterly childish!” Madame Trevenner cried. “Still, anything to oblige my young friends. But, unfortunately, the Grand Duke is not in England. To tell you a secret which must not go any further, my dear Oro has managed to get himself into a tremendous mess. I trust to the honour of you all not to let this go any further. The Duke has deemed it prudent to vanish for the time being. It has been given out that he has gone somewhere, in the wilds of South America, or on an exploring expedition. Otherwise, what is suggested would have been easy.”

Denver smiled as he polished his glass and placed it in his eye. As a matter of fact, he was enjoying the situation immensely. Here was something on the border line between comedy and tragedy, a piquant situation which appealed to his dramatic instincts. And he saw further into the heart of matters than the actors in the drama gave him credit for. For the moment he was an actor amongst the rest, and, did they but know it, the master of all.

“There I think you are altogether mistaken,” he said suavely. “As a matter of fact, the Grand Duke is in London, at the present moment, or, at any rate, he was last night.”

As the words came smoothly from the speaker’s mouth, he gave a rapid glance in Madame Trevenner’s direction. It was as if he had dealt her a swift and unexpected blow. He saw her wince and shiver, he saw the colour leave her cheeks, he noticed the terror in her eyes. It was only a moment before she recovered herself and smiled bravely in Denver’s face.

“You are having a little fun at my expense,” she laughed.

“Indeed, I am not,” Denver insisted. “The Grand Duke dined at my uncle’s house and went on to the Sovereign Theatre afterwards. I was at the same dinner table, and ought to know.”

“I am tired of the subject,” Madame Trevenner said coldly. “And the waiters are beginning to put out the lights. Will somebody kindly call my car?–Mr. Kelso, perhaps.”

Kelso hurried towards the vestibule, followed by Madame Trevenner, and Hermann sat in the deepest gloom. Denver ranged himself alongside Audrey Blair and looked down at her inquiringly. Something in his glance seemed to give her courage.

“It’s true!” she whispered passionately. “Stolen from my dressing-table by that woman. Ask no questions, for pity’s sake, and, for the love of heaven, help me to get it back again.”

II. THE IVORY MASK

The passioned intensity in Audrey’s voice touched Denver and appealed to his kindly nature. Cynical and worldly as he was, he had every sympathy with those in distress, and that Audrey Blair was in sore need of a friend he did not doubt. Something very much out of the common had happened which he would know all about in good time, but this was no place for the interchange of confidences. He smiled down into the anxious, white face.

“You must tell me all about it,” he said. “I can do nothing to help you unless I have some sort of idea as to the source of the trouble. And you will have to be very candid with me. I’ve got a pretty shrewd idea of the cause of the dilemma–a trouble which, obviously, Hermann shares with you. I suppose you are not engaged to him by any chance?”

There was a ghost of a smile in her blue eyes.

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