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Title: The Silver Ring Mystery
       The Vicki Barr Flight Stewardess Series #13

Author: Helen Wells

Release Date: November 4, 2016 [EBook #53448]

Language: English

Character set encoding: UTF-8


Produced by Stephen Hutcheson, MFR and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at

The Silver Ring Mystery


The Cherry Ames Stories

The Vicki Barr Flight Stewardess Series

“And of course I kept the ring,” Lucy said softly

Title page




New York


All Rights Reserved


The author acknowledges with thanks the generous co-operation of the Eastern Region Stewardess Division of American Airlines and Miss Mary Cody and Miss Joan McGuckin, Supervisors of Stewardesses, for the information given in the preparation of this book.


I Aboard the Electra 1
II Vicki Meets the Bryants 10
III The Story of Lucy 20
IV A Puzzling Discovery 38
V The Girl in the Portrait 50
VI Vicki Searches 63
VII Which Lucy? 76
VIII A Game of Wits 95
IX Secrets at Midnight 112
X The Signal 134
XI Escape 155
XII The Silver Rings 159


Aboard the Electra

“That’s why,” Vicki explained to her family, “the Electra is so challenging. Mary Carter warned us stewardesses, while she was retraining us for the Electra, that this beauty flies so fast there’s hardly time to get all our jobs done.”

“You mean it’s a hard assignment, don’t you?” said Ginny. She was fourteen, and Vicki’s younger sister.

Their mother, Betty Barr, said, “I’m sure if I had your job on a jet-prop—Or is it a jet? Which is it, Lewis?”

Professor Barr looked amused. “You know perfectly well. The all-jet without propellers,” he said, “the Boeing 707, is used more for long hauls—nonstop coast to coast, or across oceans. The Electra 188, with jet engines and propellers, is used mainly for intercity travel. I trust I have the facts correct, Victoria.”

He smiled at Vicki who looked so much like2 him—fair hair, light-blue eyes, the thoughtful Barr gaze—that it was a family joke.

“Well, anyhow,” said Vicki’s mother, “if I had to get sixty-eight passengers safely on, off, and fed, in two hours—Whew!”

“Fortunately I’m not going to have to do everything all by myself,” Vicki answered. “Jean Cox and I will work the New York-Chicago-San Francisco run together on the Electra.”

They were having a leisurely early lunch at home, at The Castle, before Vicki started out for Chicago. It was Thursday, February twelfth, Lincoln’s Birthday, an appropriate day to be in Lincoln’s state, Illinois. The holiday explained why Mr. Barr was not teaching at nearby State University that day. The holiday did not account for Vicki’s presence at home. As a flight stewardess, she often worked on holidays.

Vicki popped in and out of The Castle between assignments, whenever she could. That wasn’t often. Perhaps now that Federal Airlines was transferring her to the Electra and one of its transcontinental runs, she might be lucky enough to see her family more often.

Her mother was wondering about the same thing. “Will your being based in San Francisco mean that we won’t see much of you?”

Vicki went over her schedule again with her family. She and Jean Cox would fly regularly with the same crew on the New York-Chicago-San Francisco run, and return flight. They would have3 at least an overnight stop in Chicago, and some rest days in New York and San Francisco, “mostly in San Francisco where our plane will be serviced.” Also, since passenger traffic was sometimes heavier in the East, Vicki and Jean would occasionally fly the New York-Chicago and Chicago-New York “turn-around” run. The fast cruising speed of the Electra—up to five hundred miles per hour—made these schedules possible.

“Anyway, I’ll be in and out of Chicago,” Vicki told her family. “If I haven’t time to run down to Fairview to see you, maybe you’ll drive up to Chicago to see me?”

“I’ll come up,” her mother promised. “Now if you don’t start for Chicago, young lady, the Electra may take off for New York without you.”

“Heaven forbid! I’ve been studying, practicing, and dreaming jet-props!” So had her stewardess friends, so had pilots and navigators—all of them had been training intensively for the new aircraft at Federal Airlines’ schools in New York and Texas. “I wouldn’t miss today for anything!”

Her family drove Vicki to the Fairview station in plenty of time for the noon train to Chicago. Freckles, their spaniel, sensed Vicki’s excitement and ran around the platform so wildly that for safety they had to lock him in the car.

“Do you think, dear,” Mrs. Barr asked Vicki, “that you’ll meet any especially interesting people on this new plane?”

“I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.”

4 They could hear the train coming. In another minute it pounded in alongside the platform. Vicki’s mother and sister hugged her. “Good luck! See you soon!” Mr. Barr picked up her overnight kit, helped her aboard the train, and found her a seat. He bent over to kiss her.

“You look mighty little to be flying coast to coast, Victoria.”

“I feel like an eagle in the sky—you know, the words of the spiritual? Dad! The train’s starting to move!”

He got off, and then her family was waving to her, and the train slid quickly out of the station. She was on her way.

By three o’clock Vicki was in Chicago, and a little before four she reached Midway Airport. That allowed comfortably for an hour’s preflight ground duties before departure time at five P.M. In the stewardesses’ lounge, Vicki changed into her blue uniform and cap, then picked up her topcoat, purse, and overnight kit. She walked over to the operations area where she initialed the crew check-in sheet, wrote in the time, and noticed that Jean Cox had signed in five minutes ago.

Vicki found Captain Jordan in the busy meteorologist’s room. Jean was there, too.

“Good afternoon, Captain Jordan—Jean. Reporting in for our very first Electra flight!”

The pilot, a graying, solidly built man in blue uniform, smiled at her and Jean grinned. Jean Cox5 looked like a good-natured imp, with her cropped brown hair and twinkling eyes. Vicki knew that her fellow stewardess, despite the elfish grin, was absolutely reliable—just as their million-mile Captain Tom Jordan was a rock of strength. He told his two stewardesses:

“Dan McGovern will be our copilot, and Chuck Smith our navigator. Good men, both of them. I expect the five of us will work together fine as a unit. Now, then—”

Captain Jordan gave Vicki and Jean the flight plan and briefed them on the route and the flight conditions for this trip. Vicki knew that the passengers who asked questions about the flight might include anyone from a businessman who flew his own private plane to an aviation engineer, so she listened carefully. The pilot planned to fly above the day’s overcast, at an altitude of around 22,000 feet. “Our cruising speed will be about 400 to 420 miles per hour,” he said.

Captain Jordan then handed Vicki and Jean the Stewardess Briefing Book, which they quickly read and initialed. He answered a couple of questions for them, discussed the ETA—estimated time of arrival—and said, “See you aboard.”

“Aye, aye, sir,” said Jean, for both of them.

The two girls hurried back to the stewardesses’ lounge. There they prepared the necessary report forms for the trip.

“Do I look all right, Vic?” Jean asked.

They both checked their appearance—a stewardess6 had to be perfectly groomed and turned out—before leaving the operations area of the building.

They hurried down a flight of stairs into Hangar One. In the vast high shed, Captain Jordan had two men in blue uniform with him. The five of them met beside a DC-7 which a repair crew was tuning up. The engines roared; Captain Jordan had to shout.

“Miss Vicki Barr, Miss Jean Cox, this is our first officer, Dan McGovern—”

The girls shook hands with their copilot, who was a large, quiet, serious-looking man.

“—and our navigator, Chuck Smith.”

Chuck Smith was young, small, and wiry, with an ingratiating grin.

“See you aboard,” they all said.

The two stewardesses went outdoors onto the windy airfield. A little distance away their immense silver Electra stood waiting for them. The plane was 104 feet long with a 99-foot wing span. Its sheer size took their breath away.

Vicki and Jean had forty minutes’ work to do before the passengers came aboard. They had many things to check—it would be just too bad if, once aloft, they discovered there was not enough water for making coffee, or found the ventilation or heating system wasn’t functioning perfectly. Hurrying up and down the long cabin aisle, they took pride in their handsome Electra. Wide reclining chairs were upholstered in blue, in7 beige, and a few in pumpkin color; the silver-beige walls and curtains and coral-colored carpet harmonized. Vicki took special satisfaction in the semicircular observation lounge with its wide windows in the rear of the plane.

While Jean checked their service kit, all emergency equipment, cabin and lavatory lights, seat belts, and a dozen or more other items, Vicki was busy in the buffet area amidship. The two tall, wide, metal buffets, facing each other, held drawers and compartments for everything she and Jean would need to store, heat, and serve sixty-eight dinners, and to brew gallons of fresh coffee. Vicki found it a big job to check every item. Next, the caterer brought aboard precooked dinners on individual trays, water, bags of coffee, and Vicki checked all items off on her report form. She called through the open service door to the commissary men on the ground:

“We’re short one dinner.” She saw the fueling crew hosing kerosene for the plane’s four jet engines into the storage tanks inside the wings. Daylight was fading; the first of their passengers were gathering behind the wire gate, looking on.

Captain Jordan came aboard and went into the cockpit. In a minute or two his copilot and navigator followed. The cockpit door stood open until departure time; Vicki could see the complex instrument panel, and the three airmen at work with their air maps and weather charts. She turned on the music—a little early, but they all were keyed8 up about this flight, and it helped to have lilting music fill the cabin.

Twenty minutes later Vicki and Jean were breathless but ready. They repowdered their faces, and smiled expectantly at each other. Jean said:

“I must say you look poised and calm.”

“Calm? Who, me? Well, here’s wishing us good luck.”

Jean said a fervent amen, and then pressed down on the switch which released a folding staircase from the plane to the ground. Slowly the stairs for the passengers’ use dropped down into place. Then Jean took up her post just inside the main entrance door, to greet their passengers. Vicki stood smiling in the aft cabin to greet them and assist them in getting seated.

Mothers with babies and small children straggled aboard first. Vicki directed them to window seats in the quieter locations.

“Miss, will you be able to heat my baby’s bottle?” one mother asked her.

“Yes, I’ll be glad to.”

Vicki turned to a young couple who looked like honeymooners. Their faces shone, and the girl wore flowers. “Welcome aboard,” Vicki said to them, and nearly added, “Congratulations.” She suggested the forward cabin compartment which was smaller and more private.

Most of the passengers, many of them businessmen with brief cases, found seats by themselves9 in the large main cabin and, beyond the buffet area, in the aft cabin. For several minutes the wide aisle swarmed with people.

“Please be seated,” Vicki said to them as they passed her, “and then I’ll hang up your coats.”

A white-haired, well-dressed couple came very slowly down the aisle. They must be in their mid-sixties, Vicki thought. The elderly woman looked pleasant, but the heavy-set man was scowling and grumbling about something. He had a look of authority, of command.

Vicki went forward to help them. “Good afternoon. Would you like to sit here?”

The man nodded curtly. He helped his wife into the window seat, then placed her hatbox up on the luggage rack.

“If you don’t mind, sir,” said Vicki, “may I put that hatbox in the closet? It might bounce off the rack during flight, and the sharp corners might hurt somebody.”

The elderly man sat down as if he had not heard her. Then he remarked, “The hatbox can stay where it is.”

Vicki gulped, and said with her sweetest smile, “Yes, of course, if you prefer.” The man’s wife half smiled at her as if to say, “You mustn’t mind.”


Vicki Meets the Bryants

All the passengers were aboard now. Jean had closed the main cabin door.

Captain Jordan flashed on the “No Smoking—Fasten Seat Belts” sign. Vicki went up and down the aisle checking to see that passengers had fastened their seat belts. The airplane began to vibrate. She made her welcoming announcement over the plane’s public-address system, adding, “Captain Jordan will keep you informed of flight data en route.” Then both stewardesses found seats—the observation lounge was the only vacant place—and strapped in for the take-off.

Suddenly the Electra was taxiing and in instants they were racing past the end of the runway. Even more suddenly—no wail, no warm-up of the engines—zoom! Whoosh! Up they went!

Jean and Vicki were so amazed that they stared at each other. “Jet engines!” they exclaimed. “Look at our rate of climb! And steep—almost straight up!”

11 The plane tore into the sky. The “No Smoking—Fasten Seat Belts” sign went off. Here in the cabin there were music, air at a comfortable temperature and pressure, newspapers, magazines, and pillows which Vicki and Jean distributed. The captain’s call button sounded on the board in the buffet area, and he spoke over the plane’s communications system to the two hostesses.

“Everybody comfortable?”

“Yes, Captain,” said Vicki.

“You can tell our passengers we reached our cruising altitude within five minutes after take-off. Anyone especially interesting aboard?”

“We’ll tell you soon, sir,” said Vicki.

The passengers were interested in the Electra and asked questions. With sixty-eight aboard, Vicki and Jean could not stop to visit. But they chatted with the passengers while they set up at each seat the tray tables for dinner and spread linen tablecloths. The white-haired couple, Vicki learned, were Mr. and Mrs. Marshall Bryant. The lady told her this; the elderly man had fallen asleep, as if overtired. One genial man was a movie star, perennially young, even though he had five children. Several passengers recognized him, judging by their interested glances. He asked Vicki several stiff technical questions about the jet-propelled Electra.

From across the aisle a woman touched Vicki’s sleeve. “My two youngsters are getting hungry, I’m afraid. Could you please—?”

12 “Yes, indeed, we’ll serve dinner soon. And we always serve the children first.”

Vicki made her way along the slightly swaying plane toward the buffet area. She was waylaid by only three passengers on the way. One man wanted to know if there was a razor aboard which he could borrow. There was. A woman asked Vicki how to adjust the individual air vents and reading lights. And a determined-looking man announced to the stewardess that he was a vegetarian.

“Y-yes, sir,” said Vicki, and made her smiling way to the sky kitchen. Once inside the closed accordion curtains, Vicki lost her smile and her face became as desperate as Jean’s, in her struggle with several oven drawers full of turkey dinners.

“Hi,” Jean greeted her. “Better put your smock on, like me. I’m scared we’ll still be serving dinners ten minutes after landing in New York.”

“We’ll do fine,” Vicki said without believing it, and started to make coffee.

“Parsley, parsley, where’s the parsley?” Jean muttered. “Somewhere in this overgrown filing cabinet—oh, yes, here.”

“Can we spare extra rolls for some hungry kids?” Vicki peered in the roll warmer. “Yes, we can.”

She collected nine rolls on a tray, one for each of the children aboard. On her way back to the buffet area with her empty tray, Vicki noticed that something was wrong in the Bryants’ area.13 Two men passengers were standing over Mr. Bryant, one loosening his collar and tie, and the call button rang. Vicki hurried to them. The people nearby were considerately snuffing out their cigarettes and opening air vents.

“My husband has a heart condition,” Mrs. Bryant said anxiously to Vicki. “I don’t think he’s having a heart attack, but he—”

Vicki concealed her alarm and looked at Mr. Bryant who was lying back weakly in his chair. He was conscious but exhausted, breathing with some difficulty. His face was pale and sweaty.

“Uncomfortable—” he muttered.

“He needs oxygen,” Vicki said. “I’ll get the oxygen bottle, Mrs. Bryant. Is he in any pain?... No? That’s good. I’ll be right back.” To the two men standing by rather uselessly, Vicki said, “Thank you, gentlemen. I am trained to give first aid.”

The men nodded and resumed their seats. Vicki sped to the storage compartment, being careful to look calm for the benefit of the other passengers, and hurried back down the aisle carrying a walk-around oxygen bottle and a blanket. She paused a moment at the buffet area.

“Jean, is there a doctor aboard?”

“Not among my passengers. Who’s sick?”

“That elderly man. Mr. Bryant. Heart condition.”

“Want me to notify Captain Jordan for you?” Jean asked.

14 “Yes, phone him. I’ll report soon. Please start serving dinners, Jean. We must keep it pleasant aboard just as usual.”

Vicki hastened back to the Bryants. She covered the man with the blanket.

“Miss Barr, I must tell you”—Mrs. Bryant made an effort to control her trembling voice and hands—“that my husband is more exhausted than ill. He had three quite tiring days in Chicago on business, and it’s been hard on him.”

Vicki said soothingly, “Certain people need extra oxygen at high altitudes, where the air is thin. Our cabin air is pressurized, but for someone who is a cardiac, and for other special needs, we carry extra oxygen.”

As she talked, she placed the oxygen bottle on Mr. Bryant’s lap; he was able to hold it steady. Vicki opened the bottle’s knob, then adjusted the constant-flow mask snugly over Mr. Bryant’s mouth and nose.

Almost at once his breathing grew easier. A little color returned to his face. When he seemed comfortable again, Vicki removed the mask and closed the knob. Just the same, she was worried. He was still weak, and he was an elderly person with an impaired heart.

“Mr. Bryant, Mrs. Bryant, if you wish to have a doctor’s care within just a few minutes,” Vicki said earnestly, “we can arrange it for you. The pilot can make an emergency landing. Captain Jordan will radio ahead to the nearest airport to15 have a doctor and ambulance waiting to meet our plane.”

Mrs. Bryant murmured, “That’s wonderful. What do you think, Marshall?”

“No. Not necessary. Make myself conspicuous. Inconvenience all these people.”

“Not at all, sir,” Vicki said. “Captain Jordan probably will be able to make up the time.”

“No. I’m all right. Only a weak spell. Thank you, anyway.”

Vicki asked respectfully, “Did a doctor give his permission for you to fly, sir?”

“The doctor most certainly did not—” Mrs. Bryant started, but the man interrupted. “Fool doctors would keep me in a rocking chair. I have to do what I think is right.”

Vicki mentioned briefly the regulation for Federal and all airlines: a person with a serious heart condition was not supposed to fly unless he had a doctor’s written permission to do so, on the grounds that the trip was necessary, and unless he had someone to accompany him who could nurse him. The airlines relied on cardiacs not to board a plane without such certification.

“If we had known in advance, Mr. Bryant,” Vicki said, “we would have been obliged to keep you off the plane.”

“Well, you took excellent care of me, young lady. It worked out, didn’t it?”

Mrs. Bryant shook her head. “You are so self-willed, Marshall. So stubborn.”

16 Vicki turned to her. “The oxygen I gave your husband is only first aid, you know. Do you feel a doctor should see him immediately?”

“Well, I’ve seen him have worse spells than this one—not in the air, either.” The elderly lady hesitated. “He does seem much better now—”

Vicki said that it was really up to the captain of the plane to decide whether to make an emergency landing. She excused herself, went forward past curious passengers, unlocked the cabin door, and stepped up into the cockpit.

In the cabin dozens of black-and-white dials on the instrument panel glowed, needles flickered, the radar screen flashed. At a signal from Captain Jordan, the copilot took over the controls.

“Well, Vicki? How is that man?”

“He came fairly close to fainting, Captain Jordan. He’s elderly, a little overweight, and he has a heart condition. However, since he’s had therapeutic oxygen, he’s not in any distress. And his wife seems fairly satisfied with the way he looks now.”

“I’d much rather land than take chances with a passenger’s life.” Captain Jordan looked at his wrist watch, thinking. “I’ll tell you what. Observe him for ten minutes and if he shows any sign of relapse call me. We can come down at Clarkville. In any case, Vicki, we’re going to have a doctor and an ambulance on hand at New York. We’ll radio ahead to La Guardia Airport.”

“Thank you, Captain,” said Vicki.

17 “That’s all for now, Vicki. Keep me informed.”

Vicki returned to the Bryants. Mr. Bryant was sitting up erect now; it was a relief to see that. She told them of the captain’s decision.

“I am so grateful!” Mrs. Bryant exclaimed. “I’m sure we won’t need to make a special stop.”

Mr. Bryant apparently was not a man to yield a point easily, but he did say, “Very good of you airlines people. Very good indeed.”

Vicki brought the Bryants their dinners right away, and both old people perked up as they ate the hot food. She raced through serving all her other passengers. Jean cheerfully doubled up on jobs, so that Vicki finished her in-flight chores on time.

“Do you know we haven’t sat down once since take-off?” Jean said breathlessly.

“Jean, you’ve been an angel on this trip! For a while there I thought you had four hands.”

“Save the compliments. We’re coming in for a landing in twenty minutes.”

Twenty-one minutes later they were down at La Guardia Airport. Vicki summoned the passenger agent. He gave Mr. Bryant his arm on the way out of the plane to the waiting ambulance. Vicki escorted Mrs. Bryant, walking slowly.

Vicki waited for the Bryants outside the ambulance while the doctor checked over the elderly man. She hated to leave Jean alone to say good-by to the other passengers and pick up in the cabin afterward, but she’d make it up to Jean some other18 time. The passenger agent had sent a man to locate the Bryants’ car and chauffeur. He would bring the car onto the airfield as near to the ambulance as possible.

The doctor stepped out and said to Vicki:

“All right, stewardess, he may go home. I think it’s safe for this gentleman to drive to the city now.”

He helped Mrs. Bryant down out of the ambulance, then Mr. Bryant. Their car pulled up at that moment. Captain Jordan came hurrying over, carrying his flight papers.

“Miss Barr, are both Bryants all right?”

“Yes, Captain. Tired but all right.”

The Bryants thanked him, and he went off. They particularly thanked Vicki. They climbed into their car, and asked Vicki if she wished to drive into metropolitan New York with them.

“It’s kind of you, but I still have some duties here.”

“Then you must come to lunch,” Mrs. Bryant said. “You’ve been a wonderful help, and I want a chance to thank you properly.”

“I was only doing my job,” said Vicki.

“Come to lunch tomorrow,” Mr. Bryant barked at her. “Can you?”

Vicki was so startled she stammered, “Y-y-yes, th-thank you.”

Mrs. Bryant smiled, and told her the address. “At twelve, Miss Barr?” Then she said an odd thing. “You know, my dear, we have a granddaughter19 whom we’ve never seen. Lucy. I hope she’s like you.”

Vicki must have looked puzzled, because Mrs. Bryant smiled again. “We’ll talk about that tomorrow. Good-by for now, little Miss Barr.”


The Story of Lucy

Vicki went to the Bryants’ house not knowing quite what to expect. It was Friday the thirteenth, but since she was not foolish enough to be superstitious, the date alone did not account for her sense of something special about to happen.

“Well, I can expect lunch and conversation,” Vicki thought, and went up the white marble steps of the Bryants’ house. She was a little intimidated by its grandeur, and by the butler who admitted her. “My goodness, this is much too grand for me,” Vicki thought. “They must be awfully rich.”

The butler said, “Who shall I say is calling?”

“Miss Victoria Barr.” Vicki tried to stand up taller than she was and look older. It never worked.

“Oh, yes, Miss Barr, you are expected.”

She gave the butler her coat and followed him from the entrance hall, past a formal high-ceilinged living room, and into a big, sunny sitting21 room. It was cheerful in here, with flowered chintzes, green plants, and several extraordinarily beautiful parakeets in cages shaped like pagodas and dollhouses. Vicki exclaimed aloud “Oh! Lovely!”—without meaning to, just as the butler announced her.

Mrs. Bryant was sitting half hidden in an immense wing chair. She put aside the needlepoint she was working on and made a point of getting up to greet her young guest.

“How nice to see you again, Miss Barr. You were so busy yesterday on your plane that there was almost no chance to visit with you.”

I kept you busy, for one thing,” Mr. Bryant said. “A tiresome old codger, wasn’t I, young lady?”

Vicki smiled shyly, and said Mr. and Mrs. Bryant were kind to let her come. She asked Mr. Bryant how he was feeling.

“Better, thanks, better. Oh, I’m perfectly all right!” He started to pace up and down.

Mrs. Bryant changed the subject. She invited Vicki to sit next to her on the couch in the winter sunshine, and they chatted about the Electra. Mr. Bryant joined in with a question or two. He seemed less forbidding today. Still, Vicki thought, this imposing man would probably never be easy to get along with. She’d as soon attempt to be friends with a polar bear—he reminded her of an old, still powerful bear with his heavy, rolling gait and thatch of yellowish-white hair.

22 “Where’s Dorn?” he demanded. “Not here yet?”

His wife said, “Mr. Dorn telephoned to say he will be a little late. It was unavoidable, dear.”

“Humph. Well, I’ll lie down again for a few minutes. Excuse me, ladies.” He abruptly thumped out of the room.

Mrs. Bryant waited until he was out of earshot, then smiled at Vicki.

“When I invited you to lunch yesterday, Miss Barr,” said Mrs. Bryant, “I thought you would be our only guest. But this morning a young lawyer who is doing a particularly important piece of work for us telephoned and asked whether he couldn’t see us about noon today. So he’ll be here for lunch, too. I’m sure you and I will have our visit, anyway.”

Vicki was a little disappointed, and offered to leave rather than intrude.

“No, indeed!” Mrs. Bryant exclaimed. “I want you to stay. Mr. Dorn is going to tell us about Lucy—our granddaughter whom we’ve never seen.” She looked very thoughtful. “Does that seem odd to you?”

Vicki was not quite sure what to answer. “Unless,” she said, “your granddaughter has always lived at a great distance from you.”

“Yes, she has. In every sense. Tell me, Miss Barr, in the course of your stewardess work are you ever in San Francisco?”

“I’ll be in and out of San Francisco all the time, now that I’m based there.”

23 “That’s extremely interesting.” But Mrs. Bryant did not say why. “Well. Shall we look at my parakeets?”

Vicki walked along with Mrs. Bryant and admired the exquisite birds in their cages. Her elderly hostess pointed out the birds’ markings in every tone of blue and rose and green. Yet her mind seemed to be on something else.

“I hope you won’t find it tiresome at lunch, Vicki, listening to a conversation about a girl you know nothing about.”

“What is Lucy like?” Vicki asked.

Mrs. Bryant said helplessly, “I don’t know. It is odd, isn’t it? Our daughter’s daughter, and we don’t even know what she looks like. Except for an old snapshot. Lucy was ten when it was taken, and she’s twenty-one now.”

From a desk drawer Mrs. Bryant took a small, faded snapshot, in a frame, and handed it to Vicki. Vicki studied it. The little girl’s face was rather blurred. She could have been any little girl sitting on a porch step. Her hair was either dark blond or light brown; it was hard to tell which.

“I suppose Lucy’s hair might be darker by now,” said Mrs. Bryant, as Vicki gave her back the snapshot. “Our daughter Eleanor wrote in one of her rare letters that Lucy had my disposition. They named her Lucy after me, in spite of—everything. But I must be boring you.”

“I’m very much interested, Mrs. Bryant.”

“Well, I am rather keyed up about Mr. Dorn’s24 visit. So many old memories come to mind today. The silver rings, for one thing. I hadn’t thought about them in years. There are only two like them. Lucy has one and I have the other.”

Vicki glanced at Mrs. Bryant’s hand. Her hostess noticed.

“No, I’ve put mine away. I never wear rings of any kind,” Mrs. Bryant said. “They annoy me. But this pair of silver rings has an interesting history.”

They had an identical lacelike, open design. Mrs. Bryant had long ago given one ring to her daughter Eleanor, and Eleanor in turn had given the ring to her daughter, young Lucy.

“Almost all Mr. Bryant and I know about our granddaughter is that she has the ring. We had a few facts about her schooling and a sketchy description of her. Eleanor wrote us those things before she died.” Mrs. Bryant looked down at her tightly clasped hands. “As for the letters from Lucy’s father—” Mrs. Bryant stared past Vicki, past the birds. “We never answered certain of those letters and we were wrong. So terribly wrong!”

Then the whole grievous story of Lucy came tumbling out. Mrs. Bryant, in telling Vicki, tried hard not to blame her husband. But Vicki understood that Marshall Bryant was a man who valued money and important connections above all else. Mrs. Bryant could not cope with his domineering ways.

Mrs. Bryant handed the faded snapshot to Vicki

26 The Bryants had planned a brilliant marriage for their only child. They were bitterly disappointed when Eleanor married against their wishes a boy who had little money and limited education. They felt, unjustly, that Jack was a fortune hunter. Marshall Bryant made several attempts to break up the marriage. When he failed, he disowned his daughter. He was determined that Jack Rowe should never get hold of the Bryant money, no matter what the penalty to Eleanor or to any children Eleanor would have.

The young couple moved to California “—to get as far away from us as possible, I suppose,” said Mrs. Bryant, and also because Jack had job opportunities there. As for Jack’s family, they were scattered over the United States and were not in touch.

The young couple made several overtures to the Bryants, especially after their daughter was born. They named her Lucy after her grandmother. But the old couple refused any reconciliation. They never saw their granddaughter. “I wanted to, but Mr. Bryant was adamant. No one can blame Eleanor and Jack for feeling resentful.” A rupture and silence of many years ensued. Once Mrs. Bryant wrote to her daughter, offering aid for small Lucy, but Eleanor never answered.

When young Lucy’s mother died a few years ago, her father wrote this news to the grandparents and asked if they wished to attend the funeral. Marshall Bryant decided that they would27 not go. Mrs. Bryant murmured, “It was hard to lose Eleanor without ever seeing her again.” Jack Rowe had suggested that the Bryants might, at long last, wish to see their granddaughter. But Marshall Bryant hinted that Rowe’s motive was a desire to gain their fortune. Young Lucy’s father, as a result, felt freshly antagonized, and wrote them a bitter letter. Once more the two families ceased to communicate.

Recently, within the past year, Marshall Bryant had developed a severe heart condition. “He’s still active,” said Mrs. Bryant, “but he may not have long to live. This knowledge has—has modified his personality. He is more concerned than ever about what will become of his fortune after he and I pass away. I am afraid he is not a charitable enough man to leave the bulk of it to institutions for—as he says—strangers to enjoy. Also, he now feels great remorse for disowning Eleanor, and for refusing any contact with her daughter.”

As for herself, Mrs. Bryant said, she had grieved for years about the family rupture. For a long time she encouraged Marshall Bryant to make amends for the past. Finally, this past Christmas Day, they decided to find their granddaughter, Lucy Rowe, and arrange for her to inherit the Bryant fortune.

If Lucy wishes to live with us, we’d be so happy.”

“I’m so glad,” Vicki said softly, “that you’re trying to find her.”

“You’re right to say ‘trying,’ because all we definitely28 know about her is her last address in San Francisco. That’s the one on Jack Rowe’s letter five years ago.” For a moment Mrs. Bryant closed her eyes. Then she said matter-of-factly, “A five-year-old address and an old snapshot aren’t much to go on, are they? That’s why were relying on Mr. Dorn to locate Lucy for us.”

Mrs. Bryant explained that she and her husband were too elderly, and he too ill, to travel to San Francisco and search for the girl themselves. Also, Mrs. Bryant said, they hesitated to approach Lucy directly, either in person or by mail. “After all the antagonism which my husband—and I, too—showed them, Eleanor and Jack naturally felt antagonistic toward us. I’m afraid some of that feeling may have been instilled in Lucy. She might not be glad to see her grandparents.”

So Marshall Bryant had engaged his law firm to locate young Lucy and bring her East. He planned to transfer a generous part of the inheritance to her immediately. The law firm assigned Thurman Dorn, a young man, to do the traveling and investigating involved in finding Lucy. Mr. Bryant was pleased with the choice. Though Thurman Dorn was relatively new in the firm, his uncle, now dead, had for many years done fine work for Mr. Bryant through the same law firm.

“My husband and I feel we know young Thurman Dorn,” said Mrs. Bryant. “Our lawyers have told us that he came from Chicago, his home town, with the highest recommendation from one of his29 law school professors.” She mentioned the name of the law firm, Steele and Wilbur. Vicki recognized it as a respected company. “Mr. Dorn has persuaded us to stay entirely in the background and to let him act as intermediary with Lucy. I do think that’s the most discreet way in such a delicate situation.”

A painful situation for a sick man and his elderly wife, Vicki thought. She said, “I do hope Mr. Dorn’s search will be successful in every way.”

“Thank you, my dear. Mr. Dorn was in San Francisco three or four weeks ago, and got his search for Lucy under way. Unfortunately he could not find her on that trip—she has been away—but perhaps he has some other leads or news to tell us about today.”

“Oh! Do you think he’ll bring Lucy with him?”

Mrs. Bryant smiled shakily. “I’m afraid to hope for so much. Let’s go find my husband. He’s feeling anxious, too.”

When Thurman Dorn arrived a few minutes later, he was alone. Vicki was impressed by his air of professional competence, and by his personal dignity. He was about twenty-seven, a formal, cool young man, evidently highly educated, very correct in his manners and attire. His meticulously tailored gray suit, his British-looking mustache, the stiff way he stood, reminded Vicki of a fashion plate. Or perhaps of a stone statue. She wished someone less formal, less unsentimental were to bridge the gap between young Lucy Rowe30 and her grandparents. Well, perhaps it took someone as cool, deliberate, and as obviously hard-headed as Mr. Dorn to trace Lucy in the first place. Vicki could see how highly Marshall Bryant valued this young lawyer.

Mrs. Bryant introduced Vicki and Thurman Dorn. He said “how do you do” to her with a delightful little bow and smile, and remarked—when Mrs. Bryant said, “Vicki Barr is a flight stewardess with Federal Airlines”—that he was an air-travel enthusiast. However, he quickly turned away, and had little further to say to Vicki during lunch. She was sure that Mrs. Bryant’s mention of her work did not interest him and probably never registered with him at all.

He was busy describing to Mr. Bryant—and to Mrs. Bryant, too, though secondarily—the progress of the search for Lucy in San Francisco.

“Now, Mr. Bryant, and Mrs. Bryant, you already know that this search is not proceeding as easily and quickly as we would wish,” Thurman Dorn said. “Reaching Miss Lucy takes time and patience. So will effecting a reconciliation.”

The elderly couple listened to him, their hopes visibly rising and falling as he spoke.

“You know that I made only partial progress when, at your request, I visited San Francisco for a week, and personally conducted a search for your granddaughter.”

“I remember receiving your bills from the St. Clair Hotel,” Mr. Bryant said dryly.

31 Young Dorn accepted this with a deferential smile. “And unfortunately I had to come back and tell you the disappointing news that by the time I had located Lucy’s present home and work addresses, she had just gone off for a trip. For, I believe, a month or more.”

Mrs. Bryant turned toward Vicki. “At least Mr. Dorn learned that Lucy has gone traveling with respectable friends, another girl and the girl’s mother.”

Mr. Bryant looked up from serving himself seconds from the dish the maid offered. “Well, sir, it’s about a month now since you’ve been out there. You say Lucy will be back in San Francisco soon. How soon can you go out there again, and get on with this job?”

“Very soon, I hope, sir,” Dorn said. “Although it would be a waste of my time and your money to wait around San Francisco until Miss Lucy returns.”

“Don’t see how a girl who you say is a secretary can afford to stay away longer than a month,” Marshall Bryant grumbled. “Dorn, are you certain that this Lucy Rowe is actually our granddaughter?”

“No, I’m not certain. It’s only a reasonable presumption at this point, Mr. Bryant. Let me actually see and talk to the girl. I want to question her—yes, discreetly—about certain particulars of the Bryant family history, which she would be likely to know. I want to see whether she has any of your old letters, or photographs of yourselves32 or your daughter Eleanor. That brings me to my reason, or one of the reasons, for asking you to let me come today.”

“The name Lucy Rowe isn’t so unusual,” Mr. Bryant interrupted. “Might be more than one girl by that name in a city as large as San Francisco.”

“Exactly my view, too, sir,” said Mr. Dorn. “You have told me many details of the family history and shown me documents, but a few questions occur to me. Also, it would help in proving this Lucy Rowe’s identity if you could let me really study those documents, and study any letters in your daughter Eleanor’s handwriting or any family photographs. If you happen to have any available that I could examine, say, overnight—or for a few hours this afternoon—”

“Good idea,” said Marshall Bryant. “Plenty of those things in the safe, right here in the house. I’ll lend them to you overnight or for a day or two. Whatever you say.”

“That will be a help,” said Mr. Dorn. “I’ll return them to you promptly.”

One thing puzzled Vicki. Why had no one at the luncheon table mentioned Jack Rowe, the girl’s father? She murmured her question to Mrs. Bryant.

“Because Lucy’s father died two years ago in an auto accident,” Mrs. Bryant answered her. “Lucy did not write and tell us. Lucy has never written to us, except one or two Christmas letters when she was a child—which my husband asked33 me not to answer.” Mrs. Bryant sighed. “So we had no way of knowing about Jack until Mr. Dorn investigated and reported to us about three weeks ago. I’m sorry about Jack, if only because his passing has left Lucy entirely alone in the world.”

“She has you and her grandfather,” Vicki said.

If we can find her, and if she can forget old difficulties. However”—the elderly woman brightened—“on the basis of what he’s already learned, Mr. Dorn is hopeful that everything will work out well.” Then she said, “Oh, Mr. Dorn! Didn’t you say you had some further word about Lucy?”

“Yes, Mrs. Bryant. I’ve had a letter from one of her friends whom I was unable to meet in person. Her friend writes that Lucy is an accomplished swimmer and horsewoman. You know how Californians go in for sports and outdoor living. Her friend also wrote my firm—sorry I forgot to bring the letter—that Miss Lucy is fond of birds and knows something about them.”

“She’ll be interested in your parakeets,” Mr. Bryant said to his wife, “and she’ll enjoy the swimming pool.”

“Let’s hope so. We old people might be dull company for her. She sounds like a delightful girl, Mr. Dorn.”

The lawyer said, “From everything I’ve learned so far, she sounds like a charming girl, and a girl of considerable character.”

Marshall Bryant looked gratified, while his wife34 looked so eager that Vicki felt almost afraid for her. How every detail which Mr. Dorn was able to supply increased their desire to meet their granddaughter! How disappointed they would be if Lucy were not all they wanted her to be, or if—Heaven forbid—Dorn could not locate their granddaughter after all.

As they were rising from the dining table Mrs. Bryant reminded the lawyer about the silver ring. “If you want another look at it, it’s in the safe, too.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Bryant. I will examine it again. It will be interesting to learn whether Lucy Rowe still has the silver ring which is twin to yours.”

“Now, young man, how soon are you going back to San Francisco?” Mr. Bryant pressed him. “How about this week?”

The lawyer was inclined to wait until the next week, in order to be sure that Lucy Rowe was back in San Francisco. He offered to telegraph her employers and friends there to learn if and when she had returned. This was reasonable, the Bryants had to agree, but they were disappointed about the delay.

“I am sorry about the delay, too,” said the lawyer, “but let us make haste slowly. Let’s be a little cautious and discreet. There is a large inheritance involved here, you are well known, and if any false moves were made, they’d invite a lot of publicity—newspaper stories, pictures in the paper, and so forth.”

35 Mr. Bryant made a gesture of distaste, while Mrs. Bryant pretended to shudder. There was a moment’s awkwardness. The lawyer turned to Vicki and said:

“I understand that you—ah—were of service to Mr. Bryant yesterday when he was taken ill.”

“Not at all,” said Vicki. “I’m just sorry Mr. Bryant didn’t feel well enough to enjoy his flight on the Electra. Mr. Dorn, when you fly out to the West Coast do you go on the Electra, via Chicago?”

She said it only to make conversation, thinking someday Dorn might be one of her passengers. But suddenly his expression changed. She was surprised at the odd look on his face. Was he thinking of something else?

Mrs. Bryant said, “I believe, Mr. Dorn, you told us your mother still lives in Chicago?”

“Yes, I sometimes go home week ends to see her. Very occasionally.”

“Of course. Well—I think my husband is waiting to see you.”

“Oh, yes. Will you excuse me, Mrs. Bryant? Miss—ah—” He had forgotten her name. The young lawyer followed Mr. Bryant into the library.

Vicki felt that it was time to say good-by to her hostess. But Mrs. Bryant led her back into the room with the parakeets. By now the sun had moved to the far end of the room, and the birds were asleep. Mrs. Bryant took Vicki’s hand.

36 “I hope all this talk about our granddaughter wasn’t dull for you.”

“On the contrary, Mrs. Bryant! I couldn’t help thinking ‘Suppose it were my grandparents whom I’d never seen, who were looking for me—’”

“You’re sympathetic, Vicki. I wonder—You’re going to be in San Francisco often?” Vicki nodded. “Then I wonder whether I could ask you to do me a great favor—but only if it won’t take too much of your time.”

Vicki said, and meant it, that if the favor had anything to do with Lucy, she would be only too happy to give it her free time.

Mrs. Bryant smiled. “Then I wish very much that you’d see whether you can learn anything further about our granddaughter. While I have every confidence in Mr. Dorn and his careful, discreet approach, this delay is very hard. Even another week or ten days seem such a long time to wait.”

“I’ll be in San Francisco day after tomorrow,” Vicki said.

“Wonderful. If Lucy is back by then, won’t you try to telephone her and give her my love? All I have is her last address in Sutro Heights in the suburbs, it’s five years old—I think Mr. Dorn mentioned that she had moved in with friends in the city, in order to be nearer her place of employment. I wish I had thought to write down that firm name, but we are leaving everything, all the details, to Mr. Dorn.”

37 “Do you think Mr. Dorn will consider that I’m interfering? I wouldn’t want to cause any—any complications for him.”

“I don’t see how you could.” Mrs. Bryant went to her desk for Lucy’s last address, and copied it for Vicki. “It might be more tactful, though, not to let Mr. Dorn know that you are taking part.” Vicki agreed. “And let’s not mention it to my husband, either,” Mrs. Bryant said with a gleam of mischief. “Here’s the address, my dear. Thank you very, very much.”

“Don’t say that yet, Mrs. Bryant. First, let’s see what I can do.”

She thanked Mrs. Bryant for her hospitality, and said good-by. Mrs. Bryant walked to the front door with Vicki, and stood looking after her as she went down the marble steps. She looked so hopeful and yet afraid to hope that Vicki thought:

“I’m going to do everything I can to help those two old people.”


A Puzzling Discovery

“I don’t even want to hear anyone suggest that we go sightseeing around San Francisco today,” said Jean Cox from the other twin bed, on Monday morning. “I want to stay right here in our nice hotel room and sleep.”

“I wasn’t going to suggest sightseeing—not yet, anyway,” said Vicki, at the mirror.

“Then why are you up and dressed so early? After those week-end runs we put in, why aren’t you unconscious, too?”

On Saturday their crew had flown from New York to Chicago, stayed overnight in Chicago, and on Sunday had flown on from Chicago to San Francisco. Now they were to have a day in San Francisco to rest. Vicki figured she would rest later and look for Lucy Rowe first. She told Jean her plans.

“Well”—Jean yawned and stretched under the covers—“all I can say is that a frail-looking,39 dreamy-looking little blonde like you has more stamina than some of us husky people.”

Vicki grinned. “Is there anything I can do for you before I leave?”

“Just go away, my love, and let me sleep.”

They arranged to be in touch later in the day. Vicki softly let herself out into the hotel corridor and went downstairs to the busy lobby. Part of the fun of being a flight stewardess was living all over the United States, and staying at the pleasant hotels where the airline put up their crews. Along with her breakfast Vicki enjoyed a magnificent view of San Francisco’s hills.

Ever since talking with Mrs. Bryant, Vicki had kept Lucy Rowe’s old address safely in her purse. Now she took it out. At the hotel desk she asked for directions to Sutro Heights. Vicki made her way there—riding up and down steep hills—walking down a long wooden stairway from one street level to another. She climbed past a cliff-top park with white-painted statues, high above beach and ocean.

“San Franciscans certainly have their ups and downs,” Vicki thought, puffing. “But what views!” On three sides she looked down over the blue Pacific. The air was sea-fresh, cool, springlike. Vicki was so enchanted that she almost forgot about the address in her purse.

It led her to a modest, leafy street and an unpretentious cottage. There were a yard and an attempt at flower beds; children’s toys littered the40 porch. When Vicki rang the doorbell, a pleasant young woman in shirt and jeans came to the door. She looked not much older than Vicki, or than Lucy’s age, twenty-one.

“I’m looking for Lucy Rowe,” said Vicki, and introduced herself. She was careful not to mention the Bryants, not to intrude on the lawyer’s province. She said she understood that the Rowes lived here, or used to. “I wonder whether you could tell me what Lucy Rowe’s address is now?”

“My goodness, I should be able to! Lucy and I went to high school together; we’re old neighbors, too. After her mother died my family bought their house. This house. Come in, Miss Barr. I’m Jill Joseph. Come in, don’t mind the boys—”

The living room seemed to be overrun with very small boys and puppies. Young Mrs. Joseph shooed the whole group outdoors, and she and Vicki sat down to talk.

“I haven’t any address for Lucy at the moment,” Mrs. Joseph said, “because she’s away. Lucy is a darling. Are you a friend of hers?”

“I’m a friend of a friend of hers,” Vicki said. “An elderly lady who hasn’t heard from Lucy, or had any news of her, since Eleanor—Mrs. Rowe died.”

“Why, that was five years ago!”

“Would you fill me in?” Vicki asked.

Jill Joseph nodded. “Five years ago Lucy and I still had another year to go in high school. Then she lost her mother. This house was quite a lot of41 work for Lucy and her father—you know how full the last year of high school is, and Mr. Rowe worked hard at—” She named a large San Francisco department store. “So Lucy and her father moved to a small apartment near here, and we bought their house.”

“I see. What sort of work did Mr. Rowe do?”

“For a long time he worked at any job the department store gave him. The Rowes never had an easy time of it financially.” The neighbor hesitated. “It was hard on Lucy’s mother; she seemed to be used to more than the Rowes could afford. A lot of us wondered about Eleanor Rowe. Not that she ever complained—

“Anyway,” the young woman went on briskly, “Lucy’s father finally worked himself up to be head of the store’s delivery service, I think it was.”

“What was Jack Rowe like?” Vicki asked.

“Nice. The most devoted husband and father you ever saw. He would have made a good doctor; he was so kind and patient and gentle.”

So this was the son-in-law the Bryants had considered unworthy of their daughter, Vicki thought.

“Lucy’s mother was nice, too,” the neighbor said, “though she was quiet and sort of sad, sometimes. She worried about what would become of Lucy. Lucy used to try to laugh her out of it.... My goodness, I’m chattering!”

“Won’t you tell me more about Lucy?” Vicki said. “I’m not even sure what she looks like.”

42 “Well, she’s taller than you are, and slim—but she’s strong. Good at all sports, and she knows a lot about naturelore.” Mr. Dorn had reported that, Vicki recalled. “Brown hair, brown eyes, only sometimes they look hazel,” Mrs. Joseph said. “She—she’s active and friendly. Isn’t it hard to describe someone you know? The chief thing about Lucy is that she’s a nice person, and it shows.”

“Does she miss her mother very much?” Vicki asked. “And her father?”

“Yes, terribly. Lucy’s such a loyal and warmhearted person. She always befriends lost dogs, and hungry cats, and people who need her.”

It was out of lonesomeness and a need to be with people, the neighbor said, that after her father died in an auto accident two years ago Lucy moved into downtown San Francisco to live with another girl and the girl’s mother. Also, Lucy wanted to be nearer her job. After graduation from high school she had taken an intensive three-months’ business course, and had been working as a secretary ever since—nearly four years by now.

“Can you tell me the name and address of her employer? And of the girl and her mother?” Vicki asked.

“Yes, I’ll write them down for you. But you won’t be able to see Mary and Mrs. Scott. They’ve gone off on a trip. Lucy is away, too.”

So Dorn had learned, Vicki reminded herself. She asked:

43 “Do you know when she’ll be back?”

“She wasn’t sure herself, when she called me up to say good-by. Why don’t you ask at the women’s hotel where she’s been living? Maybe she left word. It’s the Hotel Alcott.”

“The women’s hotel?” Vicki felt confused. “I thought Lucy had been living with Mary and Mrs. Scott?”

“Well, she did until recently. I’m not sure how recently. Lucy and I aren’t in constant touch.” Jill Joseph explained that the Scotts’ household was a small one, and Lucy had felt she was crowding them.

Vicki could not remember whether Mr. Dorn had reported where Lucy lived. She’d had the impression, and perhaps the Bryants did, too, that Lucy lived with the girl and her mother with whom she was now traveling. Well, Vicki thought, she’d clear up this point.

“If I telephone Lucy’s employer,” Vicki asked, “couldn’t they tell me when she’ll be back?”

“I think she gave up her job at the Interstate Insurance Company, though you can ask them.”

“Gave up her job?” Dorn had not reported this. “Why?”

“Something about a new job. The kids were having a squabble, and I couldn’t get it straight over the telephone.”

“You mean Lucy starts on a new job when she comes back from her trip with the Scotts?”

“Lucy isn’t traveling with Mary and Mrs. Scott.44 And I think traveling is part of her new job.”

This news did not tally with Mr. Dorn’s report, or more accurately, it went beyond the lawyer’s report. Well, it was possible Lucy had been away during the period that Dorn was looking for her, and then had returned to give up her job and take a new one. Then, too, Jill Joseph admitted she didn’t have all the facts straight.

“I’ll inquire at the Hotel Alcott,” Vicki said, “and at the Interstate Insurance Company.”

“Try telephoning the Scotts, too. Perhaps they are back now and have heard from Lucy.”

Vicki and Jill Joseph chatted a while longer. Vicki gathered that Lucy’s life was rather bleak. Even though she had friends and one or two not important beaux, she missed her family and home, and felt alone. Evenings after work she often kept herself busy taking college courses, and attending church choir practice.

“I guess the Reverend Mr. Hall has done more than anyone to help Lucy feel less alone,” Mrs. Joseph said. “He’s a wonderful man. He knew her parents, and he’s known Lucy all her life. He used to be in charge of a church here in Sutro Heights, but he’s been transferred to Russian Hill. I’ll give you his address, too.”

A few minutes later Vicki thanked Jill Joseph and said good-by to her. “You’ve been a great help. More than you know.”

“Anything I can do for Lucy—well, she needs all the help and love her friends can give her.”

45 How wonderful it was going to be for Lucy, Vicki thought as she traveled back to the center of town, to discover that her grandparents cared for her. What a happy change in her life there would be.

On the way Vicki stopped at a drugstore and called the Scotts from a telephone booth. Their telephone rang repeatedly without answer. Vicki then called the Interstate Insurance Company and talked to the personnel manager.

“Miss Lucy Rowe?” he repeated. “Just a moment while I look up her card.” A pause. “Miss Rowe resigned from our employ on January twenty-second.”

Vicki scribbled down this date, and noted that it was now Monday, February sixteenth. A little less than a month ago ... just about the time Mr. Dorn said she had left San Francisco. Well, then, Dorn was right. Vicki asked whether the personnel manager could tell her anything further about Lucy.

“Well, I can tell you that she’s an excellent secretary, was with us for over three years, and we were sorry to lose her.”

“That’s a fine record, isn’t it? Thank you very much, sir.”

Vicki hung up. She telephoned the Scotts twice again on her way back to downtown San Francisco. No answer. On a third call a man’s voice answered.

“Mary Scott? She and her mother went away on46 a long trip. This is the superintendent. I’m in their place fixin’ a leaky pipe.... No, ma’am, I don’t know when they’ll be home.”

“Thank you,” Vicki said. Next she tried the Reverend Mr. Hall’s number. Here she kept getting busy signals. She decided to stop for lunch, then visit Lucy’s place of residence.

Arriving at the Hotel Alcott in the early afternoon, she found it to be a pleasant, friendly, plain sort of place. A few people, mostly women, were in the lobby. She spoke to the desk clerk.

“I wonder if you can help me? I’m looking for Miss Lucy Rowe.”

“Oh, yes, Lucy!” The middle-aged woman behind the desk smiled, but shook her head. “You won’t find Lucy here, young lady. She checked out.”

“Can you please tell me when? And where she is now?”

The woman hesitated. Vicki produced her airline identification card to introduce herself and explained that she had a message to deliver to Lucy. The woman seemed satisfied. She opened a ledger.

“Lucy checked out on—let me see—Saturday, February seventh.”

That would be—today was Monday, February sixteenth—only nine days ago. Yet Mr. Dorn reported that Lucy had left San Francisco a month ago. Vicki could not account for the discrepancy. She asked the desk clerk:

47 “I wonder whether Lucy has been out of town—taken any short trips—in the last month or two?”

“Yes, recently some of the girls here persuaded her to go off for week ends with them, to ski, or to hike in the mountains.”

“Can you tell me,” Vicki asked the desk clerk, “whether Lucy was away about a month ago?”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t remember the dates.”

“Well, will you please tell me one more thing?” Vicki was trying to figure dates, starting with the fact of Dorn’s visit about a month ago. “Did Lucy live at the Hotel Alcott a month ago?”

The woman consulted the ledger again. “Yes. Lucy was with us just barely a month.”

It was possible, Vicki thought, that Lucy might not yet have moved to the Hotel Alcott at the time of Dorn’s visit.

“If you’re trying to locate Lucy, Miss Barr,” said the clerk, “I think the best way to do it would be through Mrs. Heath.”

“Who is Mrs. Heath?”

“A very nice older woman who is now Lucy’s employer. Mrs. Elizabeth Heath. A writer. Gray hair, well-dressed, and distinguished-looking. She stayed with us at the hotel for a while. She was looking for a secretary-companion, and Lucy turned out to be just the right girl for the job.” The hotel clerk said this with a certain pride and satisfaction. “It’s a happy arrangement for both of them, I think.”

48 Vicki was surprised, but she felt better. Here was definite and reassuring news of Lucy. She asked the woman for Mrs. Heath and Lucy’s address.

“They haven’t sent us their address yet,” the woman said. “Probably they’re just traveling around. Mrs. Heath had a car, and as I understood it, her plan was to travel around California and stay at inns here and there, and write her memoirs in a leisurely sort of way. Mrs. Heath may rent a house. It sounds like a lovely job for Lucy. A lot of the girls here at the Alcott would like to have such a job.”

“It does sound like a pleasant job,” Vicki agreed, “but how can I find Lucy, Miss—?” The clerk said her name was Mrs. Stacey. “Hasn’t anyone here heard from Lucy since she left? Not even a post card?”

“She’s been gone only a little over a week,” the hotel clerk pointed out. “She’ll write to her friends here, I’m sure. She may already be in touch with the minister, Mr. Hall; he’s a great friend of hers.”

Vicki said she had his address and telephone number and would call him right away. She thanked Mrs. Stacey for all her kindness.

When Vicki again telephoned the Reverend Mr. Hall, she was able to reach him. He was rather chary of giving any information on the telephone. Vicki explained who she was, and told him a little of why she was looking for Lucy Rowe.

“Ah, I see. As a matter of fact, Miss Barr, I myself49 would like to know where Lucy is at the moment.”

The minister’s voice was friendly and direct. Vicki thought she heard an undertone of worry.

“Mr. Hall, I’m here at the Hotel Alcott, and they’ve told me Lucy has a fine job with a Mrs. Heath.”

“Yes, I know. Everybody is enthusiastic about Lucy’s new job except myself. I advised her to consider, and make haste slowly, but she—” Vicki heard voices in the background. “However, I cant go into this on the telephone.”

“May I come to see you, Mr. Hall?” Vicki asked. “It’s important for me to locate Lucy.”

“Yes, indeed, though today is all filled up.” He suggested that Vicki telephone him again in a day or two. Vicki promised she would, thanked him, and hung up.

Vicki went back to her hotel. She wanted to pack and to rest so that she would be fit for work: she was scheduled for an eight A.M. Electra flight the next morning.

Jean Cox was rested after extra sleep. “What did you find out about Lucy Rowe?” she asked.

“Don’t ask me yet. I haven’t any answers—only some new questions.”


The Girl in the Portrait

From San Francisco to Chicago on Tuesday, and back on Wednesday, left Vicki free by Thursday morning. She at once telephoned the minister. He said she might come over immediately.

Vicki found her way to Russian Hill, an area of steep, far-flung streets crisscrossed with leafy lanes. The church she was seeking was a handsome modern stone building. The minister’s residence next door, in contrast, was one of the old wooden houses with lacelike balconies and ornate cupolas that had survived the San Francisco earthquake and fire. A housekeeper admitted her and led her into Mr. Hall’s study.

Vicki’s first impression of the minister was of a pair of extraordinarily perceptive eyes. He received Vicki simply, without any ceremony, and made her feel at ease. She presented her credentials, wishing she could tell the minister about Lucy’s grandparents, and their wonderful plans for her.

51 “I’m glad you have come to me, Miss Barr,” he said. “Are you a little worried, too, about Lucy?”

“I don’t know what to think, Mr. Hall. I had been advised by Lucy’s—ah—friends in New York that she was probably on vacation traveling with friends. Now I find that isn’t exactly how it is, unless there’s been some misunderstanding.”

The minister said that was possible. “Let me speak frankly to you, Miss Barr. I wasn’t keen about Lucy’s taking this job, at least not so quickly. I asked her to get a little better acquainted with Mrs. Heath first, before she went off traveling with her. It’s true Mrs. Heath showed Lucy unimpeachable references, and she seems to be a substantial person.”

“Did you meet Mrs. Heath?” Vicki asked.

“I very much wanted to,” the minister said, “but unfortunately the lady was too ill with a virus to see me. We did have a pleasant telephone conversation. I was left with the impression that she is above reproach. Still, I’m not satisfied.” He looked out the window where a lemon tree stood. “You see—”

The minister said that Lucy had met Mrs. Heath at the women’s hotel, and liked her from the start. In some ways Mrs. Heath reminded Lucy of her mother, whom she missed. Within a short time, only about a week, they were good friends and Mrs. Heath asked Lucy whether she’d like to be her secretary and traveling companion. Lucy came to Mr. Hall to talk it over with him.52 Mrs. Heath’s offer was attractive, a long-term job, interesting work, a good salary plus all her living costs paid for by Mrs. Heath, and a chance to travel. Lucy felt confined, living in the city and working at a routine job, so Mrs. Heath’s plan appealed to her.

“I pointed out to Lucy that she needn’t be in such a hurry to give up her job and accept this new one,” said the minister. “But she told me Mrs. Heath was eager to start work on her book. At any rate, as Lucy pointed out to me, they did not rush off at once.”

Lucy gave up her job at the insurance company and for the next two weeks helped Mrs. Heath prepare for their trip, and did some library research for her. “I must admit Lucy seemed interested and happy,” said the minister. In those two weeks Mrs. Heath allowed Lucy plenty of time to wind up her own affairs in San Francisco. Then, using Mrs. Heath’s car, or, rather, a car which Mrs. Heath rented for several months, they started out.

“When did they start?” Vicki asked.

“It was a Saturday, I believe the first Saturday in February.”

Vicki scribbled down this date, with a note. “And did they say where they were going?”

“Oh, yes, certainly,” the minister answered. “I don’t wish to give you the wrong impression about Mrs. Heath,” the minister said to Vicki. “I only wish Lucy had gone more slowly and made sure53
that she and Mrs. Heath really would be compatible over a period of several months’ close association—and checked a little on Mrs. Heath’s financial ability to pay all the bills and Lucy’s salary.”

“Are you worried, too, about Lucy?” Dr. Hall asked

Their plan, the minister told Vicki, was to head slightly north and east of Sacramento, into the Mother Lode country. Mrs. Heath had made an earlier trip through the hill region and had said that she might possibly rent a house in the area.

“I received a post card from Lucy,” said Mr. Hall. “Just a moment.”

The minister picked up a picture post card from his desk and handed it to Vicki. It was postmarked Placerville, California, February seventh, at four P.M. Vicki glanced at the desk calendar. February seventh was the first Saturday in February.

“Wasn’t this post card mailed the same day that Lucy and Mrs. Heath started out?” Vicki asked.

“Yes. Evidently Lucy mailed the post card en route. She says nothing, actually—‘Beautiful country, beautiful weather. Will write soon.’ But she hasn’t written since, Miss Barr. Not to me or, so far as I can learn, to any of her friends. And I don’t know where she is.”

Vicki felt a sharp misgiving. “Have you—have you planned to take any steps to get in touch with her, Mr. Hall?”

He hesitated. “It’s not quite two weeks since Lucy left. I believe they planned to work on Mrs.55 Heath’s book, so that possibly Lucy hasn’t had a chance to write to me. I don’t mean to alarm you, Miss Barr.”

“But I think you are a little alarmed, Mr. Hall?”

He thought for a moment. “Now that you pose the question, yes, I am uneasy about Lucy.”

“Did a Mr. Dorn ever call you?”

“Dorn? No.”

That troubled Vicki. She also wondered what really lay behind Lucy’s change of jobs. She remarked as much to Mr. Hall.

“Yes, I feel there is more to know about Lucy’s job situation than we do know,” he said. He reflected. “Maybe Gravy could tell you something more.”

Vicki smiled. “I beg your pardon, but did you say someone’s name is Gravy?”

The minister smiled back at her. “Graves. Knowlton Graves. He and his wife are young people, friends of Lucy’s. She’s the one who dubbed him Gravy. He’s a painter, and he’s been doing Lucy’s portrait. I think that because of work on the portrait the Graveses had been seeing Lucy oftener than anyone else had, just before she left.”

“Do you think Mr. and Mrs. Graves would be willing to talk to me about Lucy?” Vicki asked.

“We’ll see.” Mr. Hall picked up the telephone and dialed a number. He talked to Knowlton Graves, paving the way for Vicki. “Yes, I think Miss Barr can come over right away.” Vicki nodded. “What?... Yes, I’ll tell her. Thanks56 very much,” and the minister hung up. He turned to Vicki.

“Gravy wants me to tell you, with due apologies, that he has a heavy work schedule. If you’re willing to go over to Telegraph Hill for just a short visit, he’d be very glad to see you.”

Vicki got to her feet. “Even a few minutes’ talk could be revealing.”

Mr. Hall wrote down the Graveses’ address, and gave Vicki directions for getting there. She thanked the minister warmly for all his help and kindness. He said, just as warmly:

“I feel you and I are in league for Lucy’s best interests.” He smiled, and his eyes seemed to look through and through her. “Perhaps you have more news of Lucy than you were willing to confide in me on a first visit. Come back and see me again, whether or not you learn any news.”

Gravy was a large, noisy young man. He boomed at her that his wife Maggie was out shopping, he’d made a mess of the studio, and if she was a friend of Lucy’s how come he’d never met her before?

Vicki followed him into a workmanlike studio, explaining that she was only the friend of a friend of their mutual friend.

“How’s that again?” Gravy boomed at her. He looked at her sternly. “Interesting planes in your face. Ever sit for a portrait?”

Vicki perched on a paint-splattered wooden57 chair and said firmly, “No, and I’m afraid I’m too busy to. Can we talk about Lucy?”

“Okay. Gosh, you look serious. There isn’t anything wrong, is there? About Lucy, I mean.”

“I don’t know that anything’s wrong,” Vicki said carefully. “It’s just that I’ve heard confused reports about her, and she’s gone off traveling with a woman she hardly knows. That wasn’t wise.”

“My wife feels the same way you do—though I say that Heath woman sounds all right. Don’t worry.” Gravy moved a pile of unframed canvases out of the way, and sat down facing Vicki. “Lucy likes that Mrs. Heath. She was motherly to Lucy, I guess that’s why.”

Vicki asked whether the Graveses had heard from Lucy. They had not, and Gravy was untroubled about it. He said blithely:

“All I want is for Lucy to drop by here one of these days, so I can finish her portrait. Want to see it?”

He rummaged through the pile of canvases, pulled out one, and set it on an easel so Vicki could see it. She took a long, curious look. Allowing for the painter’s rather abstract style, she could see from Gravy’s portrait what Lucy Rowe looked like—a girl with big eyes, light-brown hair, a rather square face which in a feminine version recalled Marshall Bryant’s. Vicki could also see a little of Lucy’s pleasant personality from the easy way she had tossed a bulky green wool scarf around her shoulders, and her friendly half-smile.

58 “Lucy looks as if she’s about to speak,” Vicki said.

“Well, we did talk a lot while we were doing this portrait,” Gravy said. “She was all excited about the job offer from Mrs. Heath.”

“Did she ever talk about anyone else?” Vicki asked. “About her parents, or—or her grandparents?”

“It’s funny that you should ask that. Sure, she always talked about her parents. But during the sittings a lot of stuff about her grandparents came out. Funny she never would mention their name, it was such a touchy subject with her.” Gravy looked searchingly at Vicki. “I guess it’s all right to repeat it, it’s not exactly a secret. A confidence, maybe. Well—

“Lucy told Maggie and me she’d always felt no one but her parents ever really wanted her or cared about her. She just couldn’t believe her friends care a whole lot about her, or that some day she’ll find a husband who cares for her and needs her. You know what that feeling comes out of? From the way her grandparents rejected her and her parents, all of Lucy’s life. Made them feel humiliated, left out. Wouldn’t answer their letters. Never even cared to meet their granddaughter. The three Rowes didn’t have any close relatives. They sort of huddled together by themselves; then Lucy lost her mother, and then her father. So now Lucy feels alone, and unwanted.

“Well! Along came this Mrs. Heath, and she59 was motherly to Lucy. Besides, she needed Lucy, she wanted Lucy to be with her—to help her with the book and to be her traveling companion. She even decided to go to the hills to please Lucy. Pretty nice of her, hey? You should have seen how much happier that girl was, all of a sudden! My wife says that’s why Lucy took the new job almost without hesitating. I tell you, Lucy’s heart is in that job.”

Vicki felt puzzled as she listened to all this. How could a lawyer like Mr. Dorn, a man trained to make investigations, not have unearthed the fact of Lucy’s job with Mrs. Heath? Except that Mrs. Stacey had said Lucy had been in and out of San Francisco several times with her friends, just around the time Mr. Dorn was here....

“Mr. Graves, did a man named Dorn get in touch with you?”

“Dorn? Never heard of him.”

“Did Lucy mention a Mr. Dorn to you?”

Gravy shook his head. Well, Vicki thought, Dorn and Lucy must have just missed each other, and some of her friends must have given him a garbled or incomplete account of her trip and plans and the respectable older lady with whom she was traveling.

“You said Mrs. Heath and Lucy were going to the hills. Can you tell me where in the hills?” Vicki asked.

“About a three hours’ drive from San Francisco, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains,”60 Gravy said. “It’s east of the Great Valley, in the Mother Lode country with all those little pear-growing towns like Placerville and Auburn and Grass Valley. It’s west of the mountains on the way to Donner Pass. Just about where the hills really start to roll and climb and start turning into mountains. That’s where Lucy spent some happy vacations with her parents when she was a child.”

As Gravy talked, Vicki visualized a map of California in her mind and tried to fix the locale. “Isn’t the Mother Lode country where they first discovered gold in 1848?” Vicki asked.

“Right. That was gold-rush country. They’re still mining a little gold in them thar hills,” Gravy said with a grin.

Vicki asked him what that stretch of hills was like.

“It’s high, about fifteen-hundred to two-thousand-feet elevation, and Lucy talked about the pine trees. There are a few little towns scattered trough there, and a lot of small two-to five-acre pear farms and almond farms. Lucy said it was really pretty, kind of quiet and peaceful, not too many people around.”

“Isolated?” Vicki suggested.

“Well”—Gravy thoughtfully rubbed his chin—“I suppose if this Mrs. Heath wanted to find a real private location to hole up and write her book, she wouldn’t have too many neighbors to bother her in the Sierra foothills. Especially if she didn’t stay at inns, if she rented a house—”

61 So Lucy and Mrs. Heath were somewhere in the Sierra foothills, around the pear-growing towns! Gravy had said that was about three hours’ driving time from San Francisco. By private plane, Vicki figured, it would take much less time. If she visited and inquired at the main villages in the area, she probably would learn something about the two women. Strangers in a rural area would surely be noticed.

“That’s what I could do,” Vicki thought. “It’s not much of a trip, and it shouldn’t be too difficult to look around a bit. I did promise Mrs. Bryant I’d do my best.”

She noticed Gravy glance, with embarrassment, toward the large clock on the wall.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Mr. Graves,” said Vicki. “Mr. Hall told me I mustn’t detain you too long.”

“Gosh, I’m sorry. Guess I told you everything I could about Lucy. Maybe Maggie could’ve remembered something more—”

Vicki said she hoped to meet his wife another time, thanked the painter, and went to the door.

“If you see Lucy,” said Gravy, letting her out, “tell her one more sitting will finish up the portrait. So long, now.”

If she saw Lucy! She wanted to try.

Vicki found a drugstore, ordered a coke, and took her bid sheet out of her purse. The bid sheet showed her scheduled flying days and her days off.

She had three rest days—today, tomorrow, and62 Saturday. Her next assigned flight, with Jean Cox, was not until nine A.M. on Sunday. That was fine.

This afternoon she could arrange to rent a private plane and study maps. Tomorrow, and if necessary Saturday, she could search for Lucy. That should be enough time.

Vicki had one misgiving. Suppose Lucy and Mrs. Heath were no longer in the Placerville region, where Lucy had mailed the post card? Suppose Mrs. Heath had decided to move on, or—a fleeting suspicion occurred to Vicki—suppose Mrs. Heath had never intended to settle in that region? The whole story of the sudden job offer disturbed Vicki as much as it had the minister.

“There’s only one way to find out,” Vicki decided, “and that’s to go look for Lucy Rowe.”


Vicki Searches

The next morning Vicki went to Novato airport, in Marin County, forty minutes from San Francisco. Having been out there late yesterday afternoon, she was briefed for her flight. Placerville, her first stop, was about a hundred and twenty-five miles away. Joe and Ed Foster, the men from whom she was renting a Cessna 150, had marked on her air map the routes, landmarks, and sites of small airports in and near Placerville and surrounding villages.

The trim little Cessna 150 was a single-engine, two-place airplane, with landing lights, wing lights for navigation, and a two-way radio. Vicki carefully went over the plane, making a line check. It was in A-1 condition and fully fueled. She climbed in, with a lift up from Joe Foster.

“All okay?” he asked. Vicki smiled and nodded. “Now remember, this plane has a fast rate of climb. Watch it.”

“I’ll remember.” Yesterday afternoon she had64 taxied the Cessna around a little, to see how the plane handled, and had fallen in love with the instantly responsive aircraft. Vicki said:

“I’ll bring her back late this afternoon, Mr. Foster.” She would rather not do night flying in an unfamiliar airplane over country which was new to her.

Foster waved. “Happy landings.”

“Thanks. See you.”

Vicki closed the door, put her feet on the pedals, cracked the throttle forward slightly, released the brakes, and pressed the starter button. The plane went skimming along the airstrip. As the Cessna left the ground, Vicki felt she was simply floating up into the air. While she was figuring how rapidly to reach the altitude and air speed she wanted, the Cessna reached these and almost flew off by itself.

“Whoa, there!” Vicki exclaimed aloud. This was exhilarating! She put the nose down a little, leveled off, and turned northeast.

Once across the comparatively low Coast Range mountains, Vicki looked down on the Sacramento River flowing through rich farms and cattle prairie. Vicki bypassed the city of Sacramento, capital of California, and went sailing along over the Great Valley. Her cockpit was full of sunshine, and the plane flew quietly, smoothly. She was making sixty miles an hour. The plane could do eighty or more, but Vicki had landmarks to watch for.

65 Another hour passed. Vicki saw the towns below grow smaller and farther apart, and the land begin to roll slightly. Blue outlines of hills appeared on the horizon. Vicki climbed to a higher altitude. The temperature grew much cooler. Vicki buttoned her jacket. A few minutes later she saw much higher outlines on the horizon—the immense, distant peaks of the Sierra Nevadas loomed up like a great wall. Vicki consulted her air chart, and looked down to locate Placerville. It was the first of the villages, nestled low on this side of the distant mountains.

Vicki found the local airstrip and made a neat landing. A mechanic at work in the hangar told her it was ten minutes’ walk into town.

“Or you can hitch a ride, miss.”

“Thanks, I’ll walk.” She was wary of driving with strangers; and besides, the countryside of nut and fruit ranches offered a beautiful walk.

In the village Vicki inquired first at the small hotel. The owner put down his newspaper and obligingly looked through the register. It had just a few guests listed; Lucy and Mrs. Heath were not among them.

“Did you see any older woman with a young, brown-haired woman?” Vicki asked the hotel owner.

“No, miss. Why don’t you ask at the Pines Motel? You can ’phone from here.”

Vicki telephoned. The motel had no record, no recall of the two women. She went to the Placerville66 restaurants, garage, police office, and asked. No news.

Vicki flew on to the next town, Auburn. She talked with friendly tradesmen and local people at a roadside stand heaped with cherries, almonds, grapes, walnuts, and apples. No one, not even the motel keeper or the gas-station owner, had seen the woman and the girl Vicki described. Neither had Auburn’s police officers.

In the next town, Marysville, Vicki inquired again, with no results. In each village—a few of them were almost ghost towns of gold-rush fame—she got the same story. No one had seen the two women. By midafternoon Vicki felt badly discouraged.

“Well, shall I give up?”

Vicki thought it over. So far she had tried only the villages. The minister and the painter had mentioned the possibility that Mrs. Heath might rent a house in the Sierra foothills. “A house off by itself in the hills—that’s the next thing to look for and ask about.”

Vicki took the Cessna up again, thinking hard about the best way to locate such a house. She had been aloft fifteen minutes when she decided it would be a wise precaution to replenish her gas supply. The air chart showed a small airport off to the northeast. Vicki hoped she could buy gas there. She turned, reduced speed, and watched for an airport.

Just off the highway, she spotted a meadow67 with airstrips mowed in the grass. Three or four planes and cars were parked outside a barn, which must be the hangar.

She circled low over the meadow twice, to let the people below know she wanted to land. Two men in coveralls came out of the hangar. They motioned to her how to come down, pointing to the windsock atop the barn. Vicki waggled the plane wings in reply, flew into their air pattern, and coasted in for a landing. By this time, three other men wearing coveralls had come out to watch her. They gave Vicki friendly smiles as she stepped out of the plane.

“Hello, anything we can do for you?” one asked her. They were all young men, deeply tanned, with sun squint lines around their eyes, and immediately interested in Vicki’s Cessna 150.

“Thanks, I’d like to buy some gas here,” Vicki said. “And maybe you’ll advise me how to find a place I’m looking for.”

“Glad to do both,” said one young man. “I’m Wes Clark.”

He introduced the four others—the two McKee brothers, a redhead called Red Jones, and the tall man who had spoken first, Jack Whiting. Vicki told them her name, and said her home was in Fairview, Illinois.

They all said hello, and invited Vicki to see their airplane. She was interested in their heavy plane and special equipment, and asked what they were doing.

68 “We’re prospecting from the sky,” Wes Foster said. “We search for ore buried in the ground. Mostly for mineral pockets. Want to see how we aerial miners work?”

“I certainly want to know what that long torpedolike thing tied to the back of your plane is,” Vicki admitted.

The McKee brothers said, “That’s ours.” They were electronic experts, and at work they sat inside the big instrument to watch for the telltale jump of dial needles, as the “snooper” plane flew over mountains, lakes, and valleys. The young men explained to Vicki that a strong radioactive source—such as uranium—showed on the detectors.

“Do you need maps?” Vicki asked. She was thinking of her own search for a secluded house in the hills.

“Sure, we use maps. Whiting here is our aerial photographer. He makes an aerial survey with a movie camera that’s co-ordinated with the electronic needles. Then he pieces the photographs together into one big map, and that gives us and our geologist an over-all picture of the region we’re exploring.”

Red Jones, stammering slightly, told Vicki he was the geologist of the team. She asked if she might see the map he used.

“We were just looking at it in the hangar. Come on in, Miss Barr.”

They all went into the hangar where equipment69 and a large photographic map were spread out on a table. Jack Whiting and Wes Clark started to explain the map to Vicki. They said it showed the contours of the dips and peaks of the rugged terrain around there. The photo-map resembled a complicated diagram; it was not easy for Vicki to read.

“Well, are you looking for anything in particular?” Whiting, the aerial photographer, asked her.

“Yes. An isolated house,” said Vicki.

“Hmm. That’s a tall order. There are several houses and buildings off by themselves, way up in the hills.”

Wes Clark suggested that they start by locating such houses on the photo-map. They located several small marks on the map which were houses. However, Whiting remembered that two of the buildings were power stations, one a sportsman’s hunting lodge, one a house they knew to be boarded up.

“What’s this?” Vicki put her finger on a blurred spot on the photo-map. It was the size of a pinhead.

“That’s half a dozen houses and a general store, too small even to be a village,” the younger McKee brother said. “No post office or anything. The ranchers around there call the place Pine Top.”

“No, I don’t mean the cluster of houses,” Vicki insisted, “I mean this tiny dark spot. Could it be a hidden house?”

70 The young man peered at the blur. “Could be,” the aerial photographer finally said. “Lots of forest and high, winding roads at that point. If it’s a house, it’s hidden, all right. The camera doesn’t tell what that blur is, I’m afraid.”

Vicki looked searchingly at the map. She could not see any other mark which suggested a private house. Only the one above Pine Top.

“I think,” she said slowly, “I’ll gamble on it and fly to Pine Top.”

“Maintain enough altitude,” Wes Clark advised her. “You can get gas from someone at Pine Top, if necessary.”

“Gas!” Vicki remembered. “I need some right now, if you can spare it.”

The airfield had a commercial, self-service gas pump. Wes Clark said with a grin, “Our advice is free, but you have to pay for the gas.”

“I’m glad to have both,” said Vicki.

The young men helped her to refuel her plane, and watched her climb in. Wes Clark looked at his wrist watch and said:

“It’s pretty late in the afternoon to head for Pine Top. I wouldn’t try it for the first time at dusk, if I were you.”

They were right. To explore half-mountainous terrain, by air, in fading light would be foolhardy. Besides, she was growing tired, and there was still the return flight to San Francisco to make.

“All right, I’ll try for Pine Top tomorrow,” she said. She smiled and waved at the five young men.

71 “Thanks a lot for everything. I hope to see you all again sometime.”

“See you,” they repeated. “Get home safely. Happy landings.”

That night Vicki dreamed of Pine Top and of a dark, fantastic house clinging to a wooded mountainside. Those troubled pictures were the reflection of her worry about Lucy.

Actually, when she was wide awake on Saturday noon, and looking down from the Cessna 150 in the bright sky, Pine Top turned out to be a cheerful place. There wasn’t much of Pine Top, just a few houses clustered together in the refreshing green of forests and hilly grazing lands.

She looked down and circled, losing altitude, searching for an area to land. The one level place she could see was a back road—a wide, empty, dirt road. Vicki came down bumpily, then staked down the plane at the side of the road, and hiked toward the houses.

No one was in sight, only a yellow hound-dog. The general store seemed the likeliest place to make inquiries. Going in, Vicki found it deserted. She looked around at the shelves, counters, boxes, and barrels piled with provisions for living deep in the country. She noticed a bell on the counter, rang it, then waited.

Presently a man and woman came in, carrying baskets of garden produce. They said good morning to Vicki, and looked at her curiously.

72 “Was that you flying around here a while ago?” the man asked. Vicki smiled and nodded.

“Well! What’re you doing in these parts, young lady?”

“We don’t often see strangers,” the woman put in. She said their names were Carl and Angie Potter. “My, that’s a handsome jacket you’re wearing.”

“Thank you,” said Vicki. “I wonder if you’d give me some advice?” The couple were eager to help. “I wonder if you’ve seen an elderly lady and a brown-haired girl about my age with her?”

“Why, sure enough, we have,” the man said. Vicki’s hopes leaped up. “They came here in a car about two weeks ago.”

“The lady’s name is Mrs. Elizabeth Heath,” the woman said importantly. “I saw her name on an identification tag tied on her suitcase—I noticed it when I carried some of the groceries out to her car. I can’t figure out whether the girl is her daughter or niece or exactly what. They bought a whole carload of groceries from us, same day they got here, and went on up to the old Glidden place.”

“The house up in the hills?” Vicki asked.

“Uh-huh. Nobody’s seen hide nor hair of them since,” said the man. “Bill Jenkins from the telephone company strung up a wire to their house, so we know Mrs. Heath has the phone working again. But except for phoning me to bring more groceries, she hasn’t called up nobody here.”

73 The woman sniffed. “That Mrs. Heath was uppity when she bought her groceries from us. The girl seemed real nice, though.”

“It’s the girl I want to see.” Vicki felt a great sense of relief at actually having located Mrs. Heath and Lucy. “How far is the Glidden place from here?” she asked.

“Oh, about twenty minutes up an awfully curvy, narrow piece of road. We could drive you up there.”

They all piled into the couple’s jalopy. The narrow road up to the house climbed and wound. “On a wet day,” said Mr. Potter, “anyone who drives on this road’ll break his neck.”

At the top of the road the land leveled off, and they reached a high stone wall. Behind it, Vicki could see only treetops and the second floor of a house. The Potters said the wall completely enclosed the Glidden place.

Mr. Potter stopped the car before a large wooden door in the wall. “We’ll have to honk,” he said. When there was no answer, he tried the door. “Locked,” he said.

Angie Potter raised her voice. “Oh, Mrs. Heath! Mrs. Hea-ea-eath!” Still no answer. “Maybe nobody’s home.”

Vicki said, “The upstairs windows are open, and the curtains are open, too. Someone’s probably at home.”

Mr. Potter honked, Mrs. Potter called, Vicki knocked on the wooden door in the wall. They74 made so much noise that a flock of birds swooped out of a nearby tree, and flew away.

“Not very neighborly,” Mrs. Potter grumbled.

Vicki felt discomfited. Granted that Mrs. Heath wanted an isolated place in which to write her book; still, did the two women have to isolate themselves so rigidly?

“Well, we might as well go,” said Mrs. Potter.

They made a cautious descent down the narrow, steep road. The Potters drove Vicki back to the spot where she had parked the plane. They would not hear of accepting the payment she offered, and said good-by.

She waited until the Potters drove safely off the back road. Then she got into the Cessna, taxied as far as the road permitted, and took off. In the air she figured out a route which would take her clear of the jutting hillside, yet bring her over the house.

Within sight of the wall and the house, the fast plane rolled a little when Vicki overcontrolled it to fly more slowly. First she followed the wall, to get her bearings in relation to the house and road, and to look for a possible place to land.

She was surprised to see that the property covered quite a bit of acreage. The far end of it was hilly woods, but this led into a long, fairly level stretch of meadow which would afford a landing area. The meadow led up to the house.

Before she knew it, Vicki had flown over the house, which was not very large. She had to circle75 around and fly back for a better look. The house was rather rustic and long and low. It was not far from the road behind the wall. A garden surrounded it in front and on both sides.

But the most interesting thing she saw below was two women working in the garden on the sunny south side of the house. One woman was gray-haired. The other figure was a girl’s, with brown hair; she had thrown around her shoulders a bulky green woolen scarf like the scarf in the portrait.

“Lucy!” Vicki thought in excitement. “There’s Lucy Rowe! I’ve found her.”

In the instant that Vicki flew over them, they looked up at the plane which had now flown past twice. Vicki thought, “Won’t they be astonished when I land inside their wall!”

She headed over the meadow, thinking about wind direction and landing speeds. Then she remembered to glance at her wrist watch—and was alarmed at the time. There simply wasn’t time today to land and talk to Lucy and Mrs. Heath. Her free time had nearly run out.

Vicki was obliged to fly past the meadow, beyond the wooded hillside, and out over Pine Top country in the direction of the coast and San Francisco. She was exceedingly disappointed.

“Well, I’ll have ample time off next week,” Vicki consoled herself. “I’ll come back.”


Which Lucy?

“Vicki, there’s a Miss L. Rowe aboard!” Jean said excitedly. “I just discovered it when I had to check tickets and passengers’ names!”

Vicki stopped her preparations for lunch and stepped outside the buffet into the aisle. “Where, Jean? Where is she?”

“’Way up forward. You can’t see her from here. A stunning girl. Brown suit, brown hair.”

“I can’t stop and go up there now.” Vicki craned to see down the length of the Electra cabin. “Has she a squarish face?”

“I’m not sure.” Some of the passengers noticed their excitement. The two stewardesses stepped back into the privacy of the buffet. “Vic, could she be your Lucy Rowe?”

“Hmm. It’s possible—”

Today was Tuesday. She had seen Lucy Rowe from the air on Saturday, in California. Since then Vicki had flown to Chicago, had a rest day in Chicago on Monday, and now was flying from77 Chicago to New York. The Electra had taken off from Chicago half an hour ago, at noon. With Jean she had greeted the boarding passengers but hadn’t seen anyone she could have imagined to be Lucy Rowe. Still, with sixty-eight passengers enplaning, she might not have noticed every face.

“Yes, it’s possible she’s my Lucy Rowe,” said Vicki. “I’m surprised, of course. Lucy must have left Pine Top rather suddenly—or at any rate, awfully soon after I was there. It seems like a strange coincidence.”

“One point,” Jean said. “Her ticket reads ‘Miss L. Rowe.’ It doesn’t read Lucy. Her first name might be Lillian, for all we know.”

“I’ll go forward and speak to her first chance I get,” said Vicki. Not that Gravy’s abstract portrait provided a sure means of identifying the girl, by any means. “Did she come on from California?”

“Her ticket doesn’t say, it just reads Chicago as point of origination. But she could have started from California, and changed planes in Chicago. That could involve two separate tickets.”

“That’s right. So her ticket doesn’t tell us anything. Gosh, I’m intrigued! It could very well be the right girl. Well, back to the coffeemaker.”

Captain Tom Jordan had been delayed several minutes in take-off and had notified the stewardesses he intended to make up the time during flight. That meant Vicki and Jean had even less than the usual two hours in which to take care of the needs of sixty-eight persons, and set up and78 serve sixty-eight hot luncheons. The stewardesses hadn’t a minute to spare. Vicki’s one chance to see Miss L. Rowe was when she brought her a lunch tray.

Are you enjoying the flight, Miss Rowe?

“Are you enjoying the flight, Miss Rowe?”

“Yes, it’s very smooth and pleasant.”

The girl glanced up as she spoke. She was in her early twenties and did rather resemble the79 girl in Gravy’s vague portrait, except that her hair was dark brown. Vicki had expected from the portrait that it would be light brown. As for the squarish face, Vicki could not decide whether Gravy had exaggerated its shape. Her large eyes and wide mouth resembled the portrait. Did this girl look like a topnotch secretary? She was trimly dressed, well groomed, and well made up. Did she look like an outdoors girl? That was harder to guess.

Vicki looked to see whether Miss L. Rowe wore the Bryant family’s silver ring; but she wore no rings at all. This, too, proved nothing. Most women wore little or no jewelry while traveling. Vicki longed to ask Miss Rowe her first name, but she had no right, no excuse, no time to do so. She smiled at the girl and went on with her tasks.

The trouble started shortly before they were due to land. The captain’s buzzer sounded on the stewardesses’ call board, and Vicki—wanting another glance at Miss L. Rowe—went forward to the cockpit, unlocking and then closing the steel door behind her.

In the bright light of the cockpit she saw that the faces of the two pilots and the navigator were strained but calm. Chuck Smith, the young navigator, had his jacket off and sleeves rolled up, and there were grease stains on his shirt and arms.

Captain Jordan said: “Vicki, we’re having a little trouble. We discovered the nose wheel has not retracted properly.” Vicki knew it was not uncommon80 for nose wheels to get stuck like this.

“We’ve tried everything we can to repair it, but no luck,” Captain Jordan went on. “I’ve decided to make our scheduled landing, anyway. I think the shock of landing will jolt the wheel down into place. We have tricycle landing gear, so that this landing won’t be too risky. In fact, I expect it to be a success. However, if it doesn’t work, we’d better be prepared.”

Vicki was trained for emergencies. Her heart pounded but she listened calmly to the pilot.

“I want you and Jean to inform the passengers of our situation, and to use emergency landing procedures. Just in case.”

“Yes, sir. How soon?”

“Start right away. You have about twenty minutes to prepare.”

“Yes, Captain Jordan.” Twenty minutes was ample time.

Back in the cabin she found Jean and repeated the pilot’s message. Then each stewardess went to her half of the cabin and explained quietly to the passengers. Vicki stressed that the landing very probably would be a success, but because of the risk they must be prepared. The passengers took the announcement as calmly as it was made. Vicki realized that these sixty-eight people looked to her and Jean for leadership; they must keep cool and move fast and accurately.

First, they saw to it that every passenger had his seat belt fastened tightly, that all seats were in81 upright position, and that no one was smoking. Then Vicki selected four men who told her they had had military or aviation experience. Vicki quickly showed them how to operate the lounge-door exit, window exits, ropes, and evacuation slides when the plane landed. She and Jean were responsible for opening the main-entrance door and the buffet-service door. Jean, meanwhile, selected three passengers, showed them how to operate the three window exits, and seated them there. Next, the stewardesses briefed the passengers on locations of all the exits. They showed the passengers how to brace their feet and arms, how to press their heads against the seat in front of them in order to avoid being thrown forward and getting bloody noses. The stewardesses quickly distributed pillows and blankets for extra protection.

Jean showed the woman with the one baby aboard how to lock the baby in her arms. Some of the men passengers removed parcels from the overhead luggage racks and stowed them in the luggage and coat closets.

“Will you please remove all sharp objects,” Vicki said, walking along the plane aisle. “Please remove your glasses, all pens and pencils, brooches, belts with buckles, any sharp objects—” since these things could stab. “Will the men please loosen their ties.” Then she hurried to check the fire extinguishers, first-aid kit, all emergency equipment.

Sooner than Vicki expected, they were flying82 in over New York City. The captain’s buzzer sounded. He said, “We’re cleared and coming down any minute now.” Jean sat down in the forward cabin adjacent to the main-entrance door, Vicki sat down in an aisle seat across from the buffet-service door. They strapped themselves in.

Soaring down above the length of La Guardia Airport, everything below looked as usual as on any other winter afternoon—except that two emergency trucks for extinguishing fire came racing after them on the ground. Vicki said a little prayer. She spoke confidently to the passengers near her.

Dropping—dropping—now Vicki could see the faces of the men on the field as the Electra flew low past them. They stopped working to watch, and to help if necessary. Then the plane gave a terrific jolt, a jar which Vicki felt to the roots of her teeth. Men and women swayed and rolled in their seats, the baby cried, as the Electra touched ground. The plane shuddered all over and rolled on to a stop. Safe! No one thrown—nothing broken nor on fire—The nose wheel must have come down exactly as Captain Jordan planned.

“Praise be!” Vicki exclaimed. She unstrapped and jumped to her feet.

She and Jean ran to reassure the children and the elderly among their passengers. Everyone was shaken up, profoundly sobered, but relieved and83 grateful. The men were inclined to joke now that the danger was over. The two stewardesses made certain, and Captain Jordan came out to make certain, that each passenger was all right. Not one person showed panic or caused any trouble. Captain Jordan praised the stewardesses for their share in maintaining high morale.

The cabin was littered with passengers’ garments, handbags, eyeglasses, and pens. For several minutes Jean and Vicki were busy picking these up. Everyone helped them. Or almost everyone—Vicki noticed that Miss L. Rowe, like a few others, did not bother to help anyone but herself.

Something glistened on the plane’s carpet. Vicki picked it up: it was a gold charm off a woman’s bracelet, inscribed “Dorothy.” She held it high and asked: “Does anyone own a charm marked ‘Dorothy’?” Several women shook their heads. Vicki hastily consulted the manifest with its list of names. No woman passenger aboard had the name “Dorothy” or the initial “D.”

“Does anyone own this gold charm?” Vicki asked, carrying it conspicuously all through the cabin. It was a valuable piece of jewelry. No one claimed it. She knew it was unlikely that the charm had been left on the plane from a previous flight, since the cleaning crews at terminals did a thorough job. The owner was aboard this very minute. Why didn’t Dorothy—whoever she was—claim it?

The passengers began leaving the plane, the84 stewardesses managing an orderly evacuation. There went Miss L. Rowe! Vicki was seized by an irresistible curiosity to see whether the Bryants or Mr. Dorn would meet the girl. With a promise to Jean Cox and the passenger agent to come back, Vicki went down the plane stairs after Miss Rowe. She followed her at a short distance across the airfield, into the crowded terminal building, and out again at the front portico to the taxi stand. Vicki watched Miss L. Rowe get directly into a taxi by herself, without looking around to see whether anyone was waiting to meet her. Apparently she didn’t expect to be met.

“Well, I guess she isn’t the right L. Rowe,” Vicki thought. “If she were, the Bryants would at least have sent their car and chauffeur for her. Or is her arrival a surprise? Even if it were, Mr. Dorn probably would be on hand to escort her to the Bryants’ house,” Vicki reasoned. “Wrong girl. That’s that. Just a coincidence of names and brown hair.”

In all likelihood the Bryants’ granddaughter—the girl with the brown hair and green scarf which tallied with the portrait—was still at the hill house near Pine Top.

Vicki still had the gold charm clutched in her hand. The “Lost and Found” desk was only a few steps away. She went over and turned the charm in. It was odd, she thought, that no one on the plane had claimed it.

On her return to the Electra, she joined Jean85 in completing the final, routine picking up in the cabin and putting equipment back into place. After handing in their reports to the Flight Stewardess Supervisor, Vicki and Jean went to the stewardesses’ sleeping lounge to have a nap and tidy up. Now that the emergency was met and past, they admitted they felt tired.

“We were lucky,” Jean murmured from the other cot.

“Luck and skill and a well-engineered plane,” Vicki answered.

She lay there on the cot thinking about the landing preparations, the unclaimed charm, and Miss L. Rowe. Her thoughts drifted on to the Bryants. Suddenly she sat up, took a few coins from her purse, and walked next door to the stewardesses’ lounge.

“Where you going?” Jean called after her sleepily.

“I’m going to telephone Mrs. Bryant.”

She wanted to tell Lucy’s grandmother that although she had not yet been able to deliver her message, she had, to the best of her belief, located Lucy and actually seen her from the air.

A secretary answered. The Bryants were not at home. She evidently knew from Mrs. Bryant who Vicki was. Vicki decided not to relay her news of Lucy secondhand and asked the secretary for an appointment. Vicki said she expected to be in New York again, with free time, next Sunday and Monday.

86 “I’m sure that Mrs. Bryant would be delighted to see you at lunch or tea,” said the secretary. “I’ve put you down for tea at four on Sunday, Miss Barr.”

“Thank you, that’s perfect. Until Sunday, then.”

Between that memorable Tuesday and the following Sunday, the first of March, Vicki flew three more Electra flights between New York and Chicago, with two days off in Chicago between flights. On one rest day her mother took the local train from Fairview up to Chicago, and they spent a happy day together.

On her other rest day, Vicki stayed at her Chicago hotel. Resting, she tried to plan exactly what she was going to tell Lucy’s grandmother when she visited the Bryants’ house on Sunday. What disturbed Vicki was the fact that she had learned some things about Lucy which Mr. Dorn, in San Francisco a month or so earlier, had not learned and possibly could have learned. Allowing that Mr. Dorn had missed meeting Lucy, as she herself had, and allowing that her own visit came a month later, still, either she or Mr. Dorn could be mistaken. And Vicki did not want to give Mrs. Bryant any wrong information, or raise any false hopes.

“I’m going to ask Mrs. Bryant the exact dates when Mr. Dorn was in San Francisco,” Vicki thought. “Because if he was there during the time Lucy became involved with Mrs. Heath, it’s87 strange he didn’t find out about that. Unless”—an odd idea struck her—“Mrs. Heath dodged Mr. Dorn’s inquiries and managed to keep him from learning of Lucy’s new job? Mrs. Heath avoided meeting the minister, didn’t she? She managed things so that a good friend like Gravy never met her, didn’t she? Hmm.”

Reviewing the few facts she had learned about Lucy’s new job, Vicki had to admit they were sketchy and elusive. It even occurred to her, in a wave of skepticism, that the girl she had seen from the air might not necessarily be Lucy Rowe. A green scarf and light-brown hair were not conclusive proof.

“Oh, it’s likely that girl is Lucy Rowe,” Vicki thought, impatient with herself. “Why don’t I be sensible and see, on Sunday, what Mr. Dorn has learned in the meantime? Maybe what he’s discovered by then and what I’ve discovered will tally, after all.”

She daydreamed about Sunday, and the pleasure she hoped it would give Mrs. Bryant to hear her news of Lucy.

The minute Vicki entered the Bryant house on Sunday afternoon she sensed the excitement there. The whole household had changed its mood: every lamp and chandelier in every room was alight, bouquets of fresh-cut flowers bloomed everywhere, dance music came from a radio. The house seemed young!

88 Mr. and Mrs. Bryant, when Vicki entered the room with the parakeets, looked as if they had waked up from a long sleep, refreshed and happy. They both were beaming. Mr. Bryant had a flower in his buttonhole, and Mrs. Bryant was as flushed as a girl in her rustling taffeta dress. Vicki had never seen them in such festive spirits. Around the tea service were trays of tiny, fancy sandwiches and cakes, ready for a party. Vicki, trying not to look inquisitive, said good afternoon.

“Vicki, how nice to see you!” Mrs. Bryant took her hand and drew her into the room. “You’re right on time. Our other guests are coming at five, but I especially wanted you here early. You’ll see why.”

“I’m so glad to see you again,” said Vicki. “I hope you’re both well.”

“We’re feeling exceedingly well,” said Mr. Bryant. “Mrs. Bryant has a surprise which she thinks you’ll enjoy.”

“Now, Marshall, you mustn’t spoil my surprise. First I want to ask Vicki where she’s been flying recently, and all about the fascinating people on her plane—”

“I think I hear her coming downstairs,” Marshall Bryant interrupted.

Mrs. Bryant looked flustered. Vicki, to help her, said her last few trips were probably not as special as Mrs. Bryant’s surprise. The elderly lady smiled at her delightedly.

“Well, my dear, it is a most wonderful surprise89 for Mr. Bryant and me. Just wait—one more moment, now—” Vicki heard someone’s light, quick footsteps. “Vicki, Mr. Dorn has found our granddaughter. Ah, here she is!”

A slender dark-haired girl, taller than Vicki, came into the room. She was the Miss L. Rowe who had been on Vicki’s plane. She lightly kissed both elderly people, and smiled politely when Mrs. Bryant said:

“Lucy, this is Vicki Barr who is about your age. She’s the one who was so helpful to your grandfather on our airplane trip.”

“How do you do, Miss Barr?” If the girl recognized her, she gave not the slightest sign.

“I remember you on my plane earlier this week,” Vicki said pleasantly. She started to say how excited she’d been on finding a Miss L. Rowe aboard, but caught herself just in time. Mrs. Bryant had requested her not to mention her own search to anyone. It was likely that Mrs. Bryant had not told even Lucy this secret. Then Vicki noticed that Lucy Rowe was staring at her blankly, as if she had never seen the flight stewardess before.

“You remember, Miss Rowe,” Vicki said, “the day we nearly had to make an emergency landing.”

Lucy Rowe gave her a forced smile and turned away. Vicki was astonished.

“Why, Lucy,” her grandmother said, “you didn’t tell us about any difficulty in landing!”

90 “It was nothing. I didn’t want to alarm you,” the girl said. “May I have a cup of that nice, hot tea? I’m not used to your cold weather in New York—but I expect I’ll love it here. Who else is coming today? I’m so eager to be presented to your friends.... No, I won’t mind a bit that they’re all older people.”

Lucy chattered on. Although Mrs. Bryant was eager for the two girls to be friendly, it seemed to Vicki that Lucy avoided conversing with her. Particularly it seemed that Lucy did not want last Tuesday’s flight mentioned again. Evidently it embarrassed her in some way.

“I wonder why?” Vicki thought. She would not be so tactless as to raise the subject again, of course. “But why does Lucy Rowe act as if she’s never seen me before?”

Vicki felt embarrassed and disappointed. She’d anticipated a lively, warmhearted, approachable girl—from the several descriptions of Lucy Rowe—not someone so very charming and sophisticated. Lucy was affectionate toward the Bryants, and they were already devoted to their new-found granddaughter. Vicki saw the lacelike silver ring that Lucy wore. She recognized it as the Bryant family’s ring, no doubt about that. Vicki said, hoping to prompt her to talk:

“What a lovely and unusual ring you’re wearing, Miss Rowe.”

“Thank you.” Lucy held out her hand for Vicki to inspect the ring, and said, “I value this ring91 more than I can tell you, because it’s a family heirloom. Mother gave it to me, and I’ve worn it constantly ever since she died. It hasn’t ever been off my finger, not even once.”

Mrs. Bryant murmured appreciatively, even Marshall Bryant looked touched. But Vicki was thinking, “You didn’t wear the silver ring last Tuesday on my flight. I looked, I made sure—

Why was Lucy lying? A lie about the ring—an evasion about having been on Vicki’s plane—what else would she lie about? Vicki was puzzled and troubled. She managed to conceal it, for if something was amiss here, she must not arouse the girl’s suspicions. She needed to gain more information.

“I think it’s wonderful that Mr. Dorn found your granddaughter so soon,” Vicki said to Mrs. Bryant, hoping she would talk.

“Yes, Mr. Dorn found her on his second trip to San Francisco,” Mrs. Bryant said, looking warmly at Lucy. “He flew out there just last week on Friday, and by the following Sunday—exactly a week ago today, I remember it was Washington’s Birthday, February twenty-second—he wired us that he had found our young lady.”

Last Sunday,” Vicki thought. “And I saw the girl I took to be Lucy at Pine Top last Saturday.

Lucy said, with a little laugh, “I was the most surprised girl in the world when Mr. Dorn appeared and told me that my grandparents wanted me. And the happiest girl.”

92 Marshall Bryant lighted a fresh cigar and gave a grunt of approval. “Dorn is a good man.”

Vicki thought, “Have I made a mistake and traced the wrong Lucy? I don’t see how. Yet surely Mr. Dorn, who’s a lawyer, and who has time and money to work with, didn’t make any mistake?

“Of course we wanted to meet our granddaughter instantly, the very next day after Mr. Dorn’s telegram,” Mrs. Bryant said with a smile. “He flew back to New York and came to tell us—Lucy, darling, you can’t imagine how absurdly disappointed your grandfather and I were when Mr. Dorn told us that you needed a little time to settle your affairs in San Francisco, and would fly east by yourself.”

“I could hardly wait, too,” Lucy said. “I practically ran, in San Francisco, doing all my good-bys and chores. Even so, the fastest I could get here to you was Thursday.”

Thursday!” Vicki nearly exclaimed aloud. “Why, this Miss L. Rowe was on my plane on Tuesday. She left La Guardia Airport, alone, at three o’clock Tuesday afternoon—I saw her—but she didn’t meet her grandparents until Thursday! Where was she during that interval?

Lucy leaned toward her grandparents. “And when Mr. Dorn met me at La Guardia Airport on Thursday afternoon I was terribly nervous about meeting you! He had to talk quietly to me for about half an hour before I’d even get in the car.”

93 Another lie, Vicki thought angrily. Or had this girl returned to the airport two afternoons later and pretended to Mr. Dorn that she had just got off the plane? So this was why, Vicki realized, Lucy Rowe did not want any mention of her having been on the New York-bound plane on Tuesday afternoon. Vicki said guardedly:

“New York is a wonderful place but so is your city, Miss Rowe. I’m just getting to know San Francisco on occasional visits. It’s a fascinating place. In what part of the city did you live?”

“For a while I lived on Telegraph Hill, wonderful views from there. Then three other girls and I took a beach house one summer. It was fun, but such a lot of commuting to my job.”

No mention of the women’s hotel, Hotel Alcott. No mention of sharing an apartment with Mary Scott and her mother. That did not tally with what Vicki had learned. Lucy had answered readily, even glibly. Vicki tried another tack.

“Some of the best views in New York,” she said, “are from high up in the office buildings. Is that true in San Francisco? Was it so on your job?”

Lucy looked amused. “I worked so hard at Whitney Decorators that there wasn’t much time to admire the views.”

“Poor darling,” said her grandmother.

“Oh, no, it was a perfectly nice job with nice people,” Lucy said. “But I was awfully happy to give it up and come to you.”

No mention of working for the Interstate Insurance94 Company. Was the interior-decorator job a fact or another lie? If a fact, when had Lucy worked for a decorator? And why didn’t she mention her job with Mrs. Heath? Lucy made it sound as if she had been employed in a San Francisco office building at the time when Mr. Dorn had found her a week ago. Vicki knew she had resigned from Interstate about a month earlier, and had gone to Pine Top a couple of weeks later. Why all these lies? If this girl was actually Lucy, she was trading on the love of her grandparents. Or if she was an impostor, she must be very clever to have fooled Mr. Dorn.

Vicki said to her, “I’m not sure, but I think that I met an acquaintance of yours while I was in San Francisco. Jill—I can’t remember her last name—” Vicki pretended.

“Was it Jill Baker?” said Lucy. “Such a nice girl.”

Vicki nodded and did not press the point.

Not Jill Baker—that name was Jill Joseph. Unless Baker had been Jill’s name before her marriage? Vicki decided to check the next time she was in San Francisco. She noticed that Lucy did not mention her old friend Jill’s living in her family’s former house, nor their having been in school together—in fact, nothing about Jill. Didn’t this girl know Jill Joseph? Lucy again chattered along, changing the subject. Or was the omission of no importance?

Just then Thurman Dorn came in.


A Game of Wits

For a moment Vicki wished she had never gotten mixed up in the search for Lucy Rowe. The lawyer looked so cold, so professional, that her own small efforts to find Lucy shrank to absurdity. How impertinent she would appear if Mrs. Bryant happened to tell about Vicki’s search—how difficult it would be to justify to the lawyer her doubts about this girl.

Vicki glanced beseechingly toward the grandmother. Very, very slightly, Mrs. Bryant shook her head. Did that mean she was not going to reveal their secret? Vicki hoped so. She glanced away just in time to hear and answer Mr. Dorn’s “How do you do?”

“Careful, now,” Vicki warned herself. “Don’t say or ask anything which could alert Lucy that I suspect her. And I mustn’t intrude on Mr. Dorn’s territory, particularly since Mr. Bryant has praised him so highly.”

The lawyer seated himself at Marshall Bryant’s96 right. He was a perfectly correct and formal figure as he accepted a cup of tea from Lucy. She made a little fuss over the young lawyer, and her grandmother teased her about it.

“Well, just think of what Mr. Dorn has done for me!” Lucy answered, laughing. “He’s the one who found me, and I shall always be grateful to him.” She shook her head, remembering. “Last Sunday, this stranger came to me asking to see my family letters and my silver ring. Asking me to identify myself. At first I didn’t know whether to take Mr. Dorn seriously.”

Vicki longed to know if they had met at Pine Top, but she could not afford to ask questions.

Thurman Dorn smiled a little. “I can tell you now, Miss Lucy, that a month earlier I was exasperated at not finding you. And your grandparents”—he turned toward them deferentially—“were exasperated with me. It’s a good thing for all of us that you came back to San Francisco from your vacation. If you hadn’t met me in the lobby of the St. Clair Hotel last Sunday, I believe I would have sent out some sort of alarm for you.”

So they had met last Sunday in San Francisco, Vicki noted. That meant Lucy had come in from Pine Top. Reasonable enough. But why did Lucy give Dorn and the Bryants the impression that her tour with Mrs. Heath was a “vacation”? Vicki wanted to see whether Lucy would mention, in the course of conversation, Mrs. Heath or the Reverend Mr. Hall or Knowlton Graves.

97 Curiously, she did not mention them and Mr. Dorn did not, either. He did talk in detail about his methods of search and the fine co-operation he had received from the San Francisco Post Office and Police Department. Mr. Dorn named persons and places involved in his search—Whitney Decorators, Lucy’s old Telegraph Hill residential address (where he couldn’t find her), a Dr. Alice James who was Lucy’s and Lucy’s mother’s physician. Vicki had not unearthed any of these in the course of her own search in and around San Francisco. Not one of them! This was nightmarish!

Then who is the girl I traced to Pine Top?” Vicki thought again, in utter bewilderment. “Is this girl the same girl I saw? No, she isn’t. This girl’s hair is very dark brown, sable brown, and that girl’s was almost dark blond.

Yet, Vicki thought, in tracing Lucy Rowe herself, she had received straightforward answers from Jill Joseph, Mrs. Stacey at the Hotel Alcott, Mr. Hall, Gravy. They obviously were not lying because all their accounts of Lucy Rowe tallied and dovetailed. Vicki could only think:

Either Mr. Dorn has been misled by this girl who is lying, or—less likely—the lawyer’s lying. Or—more likely—I’ve made some glaring error.

In fairness to all concerned, she could do only one thing: check back on the facts in San Francisco, this coming week. She must try to keep an open mind. Even so, she felt uneasy about this98 avowed Lucy and her several lies and evasions. She was startled out of her thoughts when the girl said:

“Mr. Dorn, Miss Barr met a friend of mine in San Francisco. Isn’t that a coincidence?”

“Small world,” he said casually, though he paid attention to Vicki for the first time since he had come in. “Are you in San Francisco often, Miss Barr?”

Vicki noticed that Mrs. Bryant had grown tense. Evading Dorn’s question, she simply said:

“I’m in San Francisco only when my airline sends me there. It isn’t too often.”

“Oh, yes, I remember now,” said Dorn. “You’re a stewardess on—?”

“Federal Airlines,” said Vicki.

Mr. Dorn nodded and lost interest, and started to talk to Marshall Bryant about something else. Vicki half waited for Lucy to ask her a question about Jill Baker or make some further remark about Vicki’s being in San Francisco. But Lucy, too, dropped the subject.

Mr. Bryant, Mr. Dorn, and Lucy went into the next room to discuss some legal papers. Mrs. Bryant came over to Vicki.

“Will you accompany me upstairs, my dear? I want to—ah—show you something of interest.”

A pretext? So that they could talk together privately? Vicki wondered whether the elderly lady shared her doubts as to whether this girl was actually the Bryants’ granddaughter.

99 She did not. Indeed, she told Vicki how happy she was “that Mr. Dorn has found Eleanor’s daughter,” and what a fine girl she considered her to be. “I can see something of Eleanor in her, in little ways.”

“In what ways?” Vicki asked. “Does she look like her mother?”

“N-no, Lucy doesn’t really resemble Eleanor—or Jack Rowe, either. But then I never resembled my parents! No, she reminds me of Eleanor in a certain dignity and reserve which she has, and in—oh—maybe I’m imagining it, but in little mannerisms—

“And Lucy knows so much about our family history,” Mrs. Bryant went on. “It’s gratifying to me, naturally, that she takes such a great interest in the family. It—In fact, it’s—” The lady hesitated. “I almost wonder, considering her youth and the family’s separation, how it’s possible for her to have learned so much family history. In such detail, too.”

Vicki waited for Mrs. Bryant to think further about her doubt, to pay attention to this danger signal. But the elderly lady smiled and said:

“Lucy’s family loyalty accounts for her remarkable knowledge, of course.”

Vicki said nothing, but she did not necessarily agree. The Marshall Bryant family was a prominent one; from time to time newspapers and magazines mentioned their activities and printed photographs; Mr. Bryant’s career was listed in 100 Who’s Who. What was there to prevent a clever, unscrupulous girl from going to the public library in any big city, looking up these facts, and memorizing them?

A question occurred to Vicki: How had this girl, if she was an impostor, discovered that Thurman Dorn was seeking the young heiress to a fortune? She could have found out in a number of ways—something overheard, a newspaper notice inquiring about Lucy Rowe, even a word dropped by Lucy herself. And how had this girl sidetracked Mr. Dorn from finding the true Lucy? Was it more than a coincidence that Dorn had been unable to find Lucy on his first trip to San Francisco? Was it more than a coincidence that another girl named Lucy Rowe had gone away on a job to a lonely place like Pine Top? Vicki shivered.

Mrs. Bryant was saying, “I couldn’t be happier, and I couldn’t be more grateful to Thurman Dorn. He’s done a wonderful thing in reuniting the three of us.” The lady said hastily, “I appreciate the interest you took in this matter, Vicki. I hope you didn’t put yourself to any trouble.”

“Nothing worth mentioning, at least not now, Mrs. Bryant.” How and what could she tell of her own search under the circumstances?

“My husband says Mr. Dorn located Lucy comparatively quickly, after so many years of silence.”

Vicki remembered the questions she wanted to ask. “Mrs. Bryant, about Mr. Dorn’s search—do101 you happen to recall the exact dates of his first trip to San Francisco?”

“I remember every detail of the search for our granddaughter. Mr. Dorn said he was in San Francisco his first trip from January tenth to twenty-third. His second trip was February twentieth to twenty-second.” Vicki imprinted these dates on her memory. “Don’t you think Mr. Dorn was quick to find Lucy on his second trip? Apparently his efforts on the first trip paid off.”

“Yes, indeed,” Vicki said, trying to keep the doubt out of her voice. “Mrs. Bryant, you—you haven’t told anyone that you wanted me to try to get in touch with Lucy?”

“Oh, no, indeed!” Mrs. Bryant laughed. “Wouldn’t you and I look foolish, now that Lucy is here? I was foolish ever to make such a request of you, I’m afraid. Why don’t we simply forget our little secret?”

Vicki smiled, but she had no intention of dropping her search, not after meeting that dark-haired girl today.

“Vicki, as a matter of sentiment, this morning I took the other silver ring out of the safe here in the house to show you. Come in here with me, won’t you?”

Vicki followed Lucy’s grandmother into an old-fashioned bedroom. From a bureau drawer she took a silver ring, exactly like the one the dark-haired girl wore.

“You see, Vicki? It is unusual. There isn’t another102 ring like it anywhere except Lucy’s. A jeweler made just the two from his own original design, and then destroyed the pattern. Mr. Bryant had them made when Eleanor was born.”

“It’s lovely, like filigree or lace,” Vicki said.

Mrs. Bryant said she would return the ring to the safe, and suggested they go downstairs.

Mr. Bryant and Mr. Dorn had finished their business, and Lucy had disappeared in order to powder her nose. It was five o’clock. Other guests were beginning to arrive. Although the Bryants urged her to stay, Vicki asked to be excused. She had experienced quite enough for one afternoon.

She returned to the apartment which she shared with several other Federal Airlines stewardesses. Jean Cox was at home, writing letters to her family. She said Charmion Wilson and Dot Crowley had just come in from their Texas run, and were asleep in the front bedroom. Tessa and Celia were working aloft somewhere along the Atlantic seaboard. The stewardesses’ housekeeper, Mrs. Duff, was out visiting friends.

Vicki was glad that the apartment, so often full of guests and parties, was quiet this Sunday. She wanted to be alone for a little while, to write down the names, dates, and addresses she had learned this afternoon at the Bryants’, and to plan her next steps.

It was the following Wednesday, March fourth, before Vicki’s scheduled New York-Chicago-San103 Francisco flight landed her in San Francisco again. She had fumed at the delay but now she had three days—Thursday, Friday, Saturday—off. “And I’m going to make good use of them!”

She wanted tremendously to fly at once to Pine Top, but it would be foolish to go unprepared, with spotty information. Her first step, obviously, must be to check on the statements she had heard Lucy and Mr. Dorn make on Sunday.

Vicki decided to make full use of the telephone. In her hotel room she collected paper, pencils, the telephone directory, her list of names and addresses, which Dorn and Lucy had mentioned in accounting for Lucy’s recent past. Then Vicki sat down at the telephone.

First she called up Jill Joseph, out in Sutro Heights. When Jill answered, Vicki could hear in the background a babble of children’s voices and dogs barking. She and Vicki exchanged hellos, and then Vicki asked:

“Have you heard from Lucy?”

“No, I haven’t,” Jill Joseph answered. “It’s beginning to worry me. Have you?”

Vicki hesitated. “I’m still trying to get news of her. Tell me again—is her hair light brown or dark brown?”

“Light brown. Lucy calls it dirty blond.”

The alleged Lucy Rowe at the Bryants’ house had dark, sable-brown hair.

“Would Lucy color her hair, do you think?” Vicki asked.

104 “I can’t imagine why she would, its natural color is pretty. She never has tinted it.”

Vicki said she had an even stranger question, and asked Jill Joseph what her maiden name had been.

“Rossiter. Why, for goodness’ sake?”

“Do you know—or does Lucy know—anyone named Jill Baker?” Vicki asked.

“Never heard of Jill Baker. Vicki, all these questions—is something wrong?”

Again Vicki hesitated. “There may be. I’m trying to find out. One more question—did you ever hear from a Mr. Dorn?” Jill had not. “Or from a girl, or anyone else, inquiring about Lucy?”

“No,” said Jill Joseph. “You’re the only one.” Well, that proved nothing. Mr. Dorn’s line of investigation need not have included an old friend whom Lucy now saw only occasionally. “Vicki? If something’s wrong, why don’t you report it to the police?”

“Because I’m not positive anything is wrong. Besides, there’s a delicate situation here.” Vicki was not at liberty to mention the Bryants and their dislike of publicity; if the police stepped in, the newspapers would get wind of the story. Vicki said, “I really don’t think it’s necessary to go to the police. Don’t worry.”

“Well, I am worried. Let me know as soon as you have any news of Lucy, will you, please?”

Vicki promised, said good-by, and hung up.

Would the Scotts be home from their trip by105 now? According to Jill Joseph, Lucy had lived with Mary Scott and Mrs. Scott. Dorn and Lucy in New York had never mentioned them. Why? Vicki tried the Scotts’ telephone number, which Jill Joseph had given her earlier.

A woman’s voice answered. Vicki introduced herself, and explained that she was trying to locate Lucy Rowe.

“This is Mrs. Scott,” the voice said. “I don’t see why you should have any trouble in locating Lucy, Miss Barr. She has an excellent job with a Mrs. Heath.... Well, no, Mary and I haven’t heard from her.... No, Lucy was not traveling with us, not at any time.”

But Mr. Dorn had told the Bryants that day at luncheon that Lucy was traveling with another girl and the girl’s mother. Had the lawyer lied? Such a minor point to lie about. Or had he honestly misunderstood Lucy’s trip with Mrs. Heath to be a trip with the Scotts? There was no way of knowing. Vicki set aside this question of traveling and tried another.

“Mrs. Scott, did Lucy live with you and your daughter?”

“Yes, she shared our apartment for several months. Then, last January, she moved to the Hotel Alcott for women.”

Last Sunday, when Vicki asked Lucy Rowe where she’d lived in San Francisco, the girl had not mentioned the Scotts and the Hotel Alcott. Instead, she’d talked of living on Telegraph Hill106 and, one summer, sharing a beach house with three other girls.

“Mrs. Scott,” Vicki asked, “can you give me Lucy’s former address on Telegraph Hill?”

“Why, Lucy never lived on Telegraph Hill, to the best of my knowledge.” No wonder Mr. Dorn had said he couldn’t find Lucy there.

“Did she share a beach house one summer with three other girls?” Vicki asked.

“If she did, Lucy never mentioned it to us. And it isn’t like her to be secretive. I think you must have some wrong information, Miss Barr.”

“I guess I have.” Unless the alleged Lucy’s story of the beach house and living on Telegraph Hill was an out-and-out falsehood. Or unless she was another Lucy Rowe?

“Mrs. Scott, Lucy Rowe isn’t an uncommon name. The Lucy Rowe I’m looking for is the daughter of Eleanor Bryant Rowe and Jack Rowe, both of them deceased.”

“Yes, that’s right. That’s the Lucy we know—the Lucy who stayed with us.”

Then the presumed granddaughter in New York was lying. Vicki sighed. “I’m sorry to have troubled you, Mrs. Scott.”

“Not at all. Any more questions?... Good-by, then, Miss Barr.”

Well, in fairness to Mr. Dorn, he had not mentioned the beach house and Telegraph Hill. The lie was the girl’s.

Vicki consulted her list of names and addresses.107 She was feeling rather grim about these lies. She decided to check with Whitney Decorators, where the presumed Lucy had said she had been employed.

There was no Whitney Decorators listed in the regular telephone directory, nor in the Classified Advertisements telephone book. Vicki called a professional association of decorators. They had no knowledge of a firm or person named Whitney. Next, Vicki called Information. She waited while the operator looked up the name.

“We have no record of any firm by that name. However, there are several persons named Whitney listed in your regular directory, if you care to call them.”

Vicki did that. Not one of them was a decorator nor even in any allied field. Not one of them had ever heard of a Lucy Rowe.

So that was that. An outright lie! Vicki tried to recall whether Mr. Dorn had been party to this lie. No, as she remembered the talk last Sunday, only Lucy had mentioned Whitney Decorators.

“I suppose,” Vicki thought, “that seeing her silver ring and family letters convinced Mr. Dorn that he had found the right Lucy. How in the world did she come by the ring and other family things, if she’s an impostor? It doesn’t seem possible! Unless she stole them from the true Lucy?”

That was perfectly possible—though Vicki had no way of proving it, as yet.

Dr. Alice James.... Let’s see, it was Dorn108 who last Sunday had brought up this physician’s name. Vicki remembered how he had made rather a point of telling that Dr. James had been both Lucy’s and Lucy’s mother’s physician.

Vicki had difficulty in locating an address and telephone number for Dr. Alice James, in San Francisco or in any of its suburbs. She used the same methods as in her search for Whitney Decorators, with the same result: there was no record of any Dr. Alice James. No such person existed.

Lucy in New York had lied again. And on this point, Mr. Dorn had lied.

Up to now Vicki had more or less dismissed her doubts about why Dorn’s findings did not tally with hers, by taking the blame for any error upon herself. But now she was brought up short. Mr. Dorn was guilty of a lie about the search for Lucy Rowe!

It struck her as odd that, so far as she had checked today, he had lied only about this one point—about the nonexistent Dr. Alice James. On what other points involving Dorn could she check?

“Well, Mr. Dorn said he met Lucy last Sunday in the lobby of the St. Clair Hotel,” Vicki recalled, “and Mr. Bryant, that first day at lunch, mentioned Dorn’s being at the St. Clair Hotel. I assume Dorn stayed there on his second visit last week, too. Let’s see what a check turns up on that.”

She tried calling the St. Clair Hotel, but the desk would not release any information over the109 telephone. Vicki powdered her nose, put on her hat and gloves, and went over to the hotel.

She was obliged to see the hotel manager, prove who she was, and state her business (as far as she discreetly could) before she could persuade him to have an assistant look up back records. The assistant, a Mr. Craig, finally told her:

“Mr. Thurman Dorn stayed at this hotel from January twelfth through January twenty-first, and overnight on February twenty-first.”

But these dates did not fully tally with Mrs. Bryant’s statement! According to her, Dorn was in San Francisco, and presumably at this hotel, January tenth to twenty-third, and February twentieth to twenty-second. Two days were unaccounted for at the beginning of his January trip, and two days were unaccounted for at the end of his January trip. Also, two days were unaccounted for on his February trip. Where had Dorn been? At another San Francisco hotel? Not likely, no point to it. At Pine Top? But in January, Lucy and Mrs. Heath had not yet left San Francisco for Pine Top, so Dorn would have had no reason to be there. And in February—on Sunday, February twenty-second—Dorn and Lucy had said they met in this hotel lobby.

Where had Mr. Dorn been on those unaccounted-for days, and what had he been doing? Since he flew from coast to coast, traveling had not eaten up those several extra days. Unless he had made a stopover somewhere en route, and110 not come directly from New York to San Francisco? But that was sheer speculation.

Vicki walked back toward her own hotel, wondering. A total of six days unaccounted for! A great deal could happen in six days. Especially during the course of an intensive search—That brought another question to mind. Why had neither the presumed Lucy nor Mr. Dorn ever mentioned Mrs. Heath or Graves, the painter, or the Reverend Mr. Hall? Lucy Rowe was closely associated with these three people, yet the Bryants had never been informed of their existence.

“Even if Lucy in New York hadn’t wanted Mr. Dorn to know about these three people,” Vicki thought, “Dorn could have found about them on his own, just as I did.”

Her mistrust of Dorn grew. Either the lawyer had made an inadequate, misleading investigation—or he had discovered the existence of Mrs. Heath, Gravy, Mr. Hall, but was not telling the Bryants about them for some reason. The reason was sadly obvious. Dorn—Dorn and the alleged Lucy together—did not want to give the Bryants the names and addresses of three persons who could help the grandparents find the true Lucy.

“Yet that may not be true at all. I’m only speculating,” Vicki reminded herself. “Before I can believe anything, or say anything to the Bryants, I must get proof—more facts.”

Even more urgent than proof was the need—assuming the Lucy in New York to be an impostor—to111 find the true Lucy Rowe. Was she the girl seen at Pine Top? If not, who was that light-brown-haired girl? “I promised myself to fly back to Pine Top,” Vicki thought. “It seems the time is now.”

Returning to her hotel room, she picked up the telephone, called Novato Airport, and reserved the Cessna 150 for tomorrow. Perhaps she would discover something of real importance back there in the hills.


Secrets at Midnight

Timing was important. Vicki had figured her flight from San Francisco in the Cessna 150 to bring her in over Pine Top just about dusk. With nightfall, and the story she planned to tell, she hoped to have to stay overnight at the hidden house. She hoped to give Mrs. Heath no choice, no chance decently to send her away. During the night there should be time and privacy to talk with Lucy, or whoever the girl really was—provided Mrs. Heath did not intrude on them.

It was a bold plan, not foolproof by any means. Vicki had sense enough to be scared.

High up in the hills, Vicki left the few houses of Pine Top behind. She headed the plane higher over the wooded mountainside, flew over the woods and wall at the extreme end of the Glidden place. Then she cut her speed as she came soaring out above the meadow. This was the landing site inside the walled grounds which she had chosen last time.

113 Vicki could not see either woman anywhere down there on the shadowy grounds, but lights were on in the house. Someone was at home. Landing on the meadow near the rear of the house, she made the plane’s perfectly tuned engine as noisy as she could, so the women would hear her.

The kitchen door flew open. A girl came out, running toward the plane. An older woman followed more slowly. Vicki already was opening the engine hood and had assumed an anxious expression.

“What do you mean by landing on our grounds?” the woman called out.

“I was forced down—I beg your pardon—” Vicki called back. “I’m having engine trouble—”

The girl reached her side. “Are you all right?”

In one swift glance in the half-light, Vicki took in the girl’s light-brown hair and open, friendly gaze. She was very like the girl in Gravy’s portrait, rather tall and athletic as Jill Joseph had said. What’s more, she wore the Bryant silver ring! “I’ve found her,” Vicki thought, but she hid her exultation.

“Yes, thanks, I’m all right,” she answered.

“You can’t stay here,” the woman said, coming up. “This is really annoying! Surely you weren’t forced to land right in our laps!”

“I’m sorry,” Vicki said again. “I’ll try to repair the engine and take off in a few minutes. Although in this fading light it’s hard”—she looked in the engine—“to see where the trouble is.”

114 She glanced up to study the elusive Mrs. Elizabeth Heath. The woman did have quite an air of authority, of poise. She was well-dressed and held her gray head high. Beside her, Lucy seemed very young and unsure of herself.

“Can I help you?” the girl asked Vicki. She was a warmhearted girl, as Jill had said. “Not that I know about plane engines—”

“I don’t know an awful lot about them myself,” Vicki said pointedly.

“Then how do you expect to make the repair?” Mrs. Heath said in exasperation. “I think you had better call up a garage—you may use my telephone—or an airport, and have them come and get you out of here.”

The girl said, “I’m afraid there isn’t a garage within miles of here, Mrs. Heath. And no airport.”

Mrs. Heath fumed while Vicki poked in the engine. Vicki straightened up.

“This engine is rough from carburetor trouble. Or there may be a little water in the engine. Whatever it is, I don’t want to fly at night with a rough engine and be forced down in the dark.”

There was a silence. Then Mrs. Heath said, “No, I suppose you can’t be expected to take such a risk.”

Lucy asked, “Can’t she possibly stay here overnight, Mrs. Heath?”

“Well, I don’t wish to appear harsh, but I really hadn’t counted on having a guest. We were planning to do some work this evening, you know.”

115 Vicki apologized for disturbing them, and said that if they could possibly put her up she wouldn’t be a nuisance. “Of course I’d want to reimburse you, and I’d leave early in the morning,” Vicki pleaded.

“But really—” Mrs. Heath protested.

“Perhaps someone in Pine Top could take you in,” Lucy said. “I could—I mean, we could,” Lucy corrected herself, “drive her down to Pine Top and ask around.”

“No, no,” Mrs. Heath said hastily. “We’ve steered clear of our inquisitive neighbors so far. Besides, I shouldn’t care to drive down that mountain road at night.” In a friendlier tone she said, “You may have the extra bedroom. I’m Mrs. Heath, and this is my young friend, Lucy Rowe.”

“How do you do?” Vicki said and gave her name. “I’ve flown in from San Francisco. My home is in Illinois. I’ve been in San Francisco just for a short stay.”

“I’m from San Francisco,” Lucy said eagerly, “and a little homesick for it.”

Mrs. Heath interrupted, saying they had better go in the house and see about dinner. She led the way around through the side garden and, via a side door, into the large, long living room of the country house. Mrs. Heath was being an amiable if resigned hostess. She asked Lucy to take their guest up to the extra room and see that she would be comfortable.

“But please come right down, Lucy,” said Mrs.116 Heath. Didn’t she want Lucy to talk alone with a stranger? “I’m sure that we’re all hungry for dinner.”

Upstairs, Lucy led Vicki to a small, rear bedroom. The large front bedroom adjoining was Mrs. Heath’s, with its door closed. Across from Mrs. Heath’s room was Lucy’s smaller front room, with its door open. A short hall connected all three bedrooms and the bathroom. Vicki noted the layout, planning where it would be safest to talk with Lucy late tonight.

“Here are fresh towels,” Lucy said, bringing them into Vicki’s room, “and I’ll lend you a housecoat and slippers.”

Vicki seized the moment of privacy.

“Miss Rowe—Lucy—”

“Yes, please call me Lucy.”

“Lucy, do you know of a Mr. Dorn? Thurman Dorn?”

“Why, no, I’ve never heard of him. Should I? Perhaps Mrs. Heath would know him.”

“Please don’t mention his name to Mrs. Heath,” Vicki said. “Please! I’ve brought you an extremely important message, but Mrs. Heath mustn’t know. That’s why I landed the plane here—”

“You what—?” The girl was startled.

“Girls!” Mrs. Heath called. “What’s taking you so long up there?”

“We’ll be down in a minute,” Lucy called back, and looked searchingly at Vicki. “What message? From whom?”

117 Vicki hesitated. She did not want to upset Lucy visibly in front of Mrs. Heath.

“It’s not something I can tell you quickly or—or simply,” Vicki said. She also would rather obtain proofs of Lucy’s identity before revealing too much. “Can we talk after Mrs. Heath has gone to bed?”

“I don’t understand why we need to be secretive. Mrs. Heath is my friend—”

“Lucy, I don’t blame you for wondering about me. But your old friend, the Reverend Mr. Hall, knows me and in a way he sent me to you.”

“Mr. Hall! How do you know I know Mr. Hall? I don’t understand this at all!”

“There isn’t anything difficult to understand,” Vicki reassured her. “I’m looking for a girl named Lucy Rowe, that’s all. Her parents were Jack and Eleanor Rowe.” Vicki was careful not to mention the Bryant name—not to give away any leads. “According to the minister, that’s you, isn’t it?”

“Why are you looking for this girl?”

“For a confidential reason. A happy, wonderful reason.”

Lucy did not or could not believe this.

“But I’ve come to you as a friend,” Vicki said. “Mr. Hall can vouch for me—and honestly, I’m bringing you the most wonderful news—”

Lucy swallowed hard. “Of course, if he vouches for you—But at least tell me, who sent you?”

Vicki put her hand on Lucy’s, and touched the silver ring. “Your grandmother sent me.”

118 The girl stiffened, distrustful again. “I have no grandmother. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She was pale and trying not to cry.

“If you’re not the granddaughter, where did you get your silver ring?”

Lucy took a deep quivering breath. She admitted she was Marshall and Lucy Bryant’s long-unwanted granddaughter. Vicki noted that Lucy, not herself, was the first to bring up the Bryant name.

“If you want proof of who I am, Vicki, I have proof. Right here in the house with me. Letters, photographs, this ring. My mother gave it to me when I was a child. There are only two rings like these in existence.”

There were supposed to be only two such rings, Vicki thought. She had seen three rings—one which Mrs. Bryant had taken from her trinket box, one on the hand of Lucy in New York, one on the hand of the Lucy here beside her.

One of the two Lucys was an impostor. The Lucy in New York also possessed letters and documents to prove her identity. Those things could be forged, a ring could be copied. Which girl was the true Lucy? Vicki believed her to be this friendly light-brown-haired girl, the girl of the portrait, the girl whom Mr. Hall, Jill Joseph, the clerk at the Hotel Alcott had reported to be with Mrs. Heath—the girl whom Mr. Dorn easily could have traced, if he had wanted to.

Mrs. Heath called again. The girls started119 downstairs together. Vicki whispered, “Not a word to Mrs. Heath about this,” and Lucy nodded. She was still shaken.

The lady announced with some impatience that she was keeping dinner hot in the warming oven. Would Lucy make the salad and coffee, while she herself set the table? Lucy hurried into the kitchen. Vicki went into the kitchen, too, to help. In low voices they arranged to meet at midnight to talk further. Lucy thought the guest bedroom would be the safest place. Mrs. Heath would have no reason to enter Vicki’s room, even if the light were on.

“You two girls,” said Mrs. Heath, coming into the kitchen, “seem to have a great deal to say to each other.”

Lucy murmured an apology for their delay, and hurried to finish making the salad. Vicki helped Mrs. Heath bring the food to the dining table, in an area just off the living room. Then the three of them sat down.

Dinner was rather strained. Vicki’s hostess seemed to expect the intruder to account for herself. Vicki talked about her flight stewardess job with Federal Airlines, and her enthusiasm for the sport of private flying. Lucy listened with interest; Mrs. Heath was thoughtful.

“About two weeks ago,” the lady said, “a small plane flew back and forth over our house and meadow. It upset me—it seemed so deliberate. Was that you, by any chance?”

120 Vicki did not dare glance at Lucy. “It must have been someone else, Mrs. Heath. I was quite lost this afternoon, that’s how I got here.” She disliked telling an untruth, but she was not sure enough of Mrs. Heath’s friendship for Lucy to reveal anything of importance.

Mrs. Heath talked about her book of memoirs “—though I’m afraid we haven’t actually done much on it, have we, Lucy? I’m still in the planning stage.” Then Mrs. Heath mentioned a plan for her and Lucy to go abroad.

“I don’t really want to go,” Lucy said uncomfortably. “Not very much.”

“It’s only perhaps,” said her employer. Lucy looked down at her plate and kept still.

Mrs. Heath changed the subject to the countryside around here. They had many lovely trees and birds to enjoy, without ever leaving their own grounds. Mrs. Heath remarked that Lucy particularly liked birds. Vicki started to say something about Mrs. Bryant’s collection of parakeets, then caught herself just in time.

During the evening Mrs. Heath and Lucy did not work on the book after all. They chatted with their guest and watched television for a while. Vicki borrowed a flashlight and went outdoors to make sure that the plane was safely staked down and the wheels chocked. At nine o’clock Mrs. Heath announced it was bedtime.

“We’re early birds in the country. Good night, Vicki. Rest well.”

121 The girls wished her good night and started to go upstairs.

“Lucy!” Mrs. Heath called her back. “Help me lock up down here.”

Was she trying to keep her and Lucy apart? Vicki wondered. Did Mrs. Heath suspect something? That was hard to tell. In any case, Mrs. Heath was keeping a close watch. She and Lucy would have to be careful tonight.

From nine until midnight was a long stretch. Vicki changed into the borrowed night clothes and put out her light. She heard Lucy go to bed and, at last, Mrs. Heath. She rested but was afraid to sleep lest she and Lucy both sleep straight through the night. The house was absolutely quiet. The night grew chilly.

On the stroke of midnight, by the luminous figures on her wrist watch, her door opened soundlessly and someone slipped in. Vicki was surprised at how hard her heart beat. She waited until the figure stepped into the moonlight, until she saw Lucy’s face, then whispered:

“Wait. I’ll get out of bed.”

“Don’t turn on the light, not yet.”

Both girls perched on the edge of the bed, wrapped in robes and sweaters. They were able to see each other’s faces clearly in the moonlight. Lucy said softly that Mrs. Heath was asleep on the other side of the wall.

“She’s a sound sleeper.”

“I hope so!”

122 “I don’t see why you mistrust Mrs. Heath, she’s almost like a mother to me,” Lucy said warmly. “Well, never mind that—I’m dying to know what my grandparents want! What are they like? Is my grandfather still awfully stern?”

“In some ways he is,” Vicki said. “But he’s not so formidable, and Mrs. Bryant is lovely. Both of them want to know their granddaughter and—well, make up for—” She realized she was saying too much too soon. “Lucy, first I must have more proof of who you are. Not that I question your word, but—”

Lucy nodded. “That’s all right. Though I can’t imagine why anyone would have any doubts at all about knowing I’m Lucy Rowe.”

Vicki kept silent about the other Lucy Rowe in New York, established in the Bryants’ house. She could discuss that difficult situation later. Lucy was digging into the pockets of her robe.

“Here, Vicki, I want you to see these.” She handed Vicki a few worn documents. “I’ll just turn on this little bedside lamp, and tilt the shade.” She did so. “The letter on top is—well, read it, Vicki.”

Vicki unfolded the letter, so old it was tearing at the creases. The ink had faded and the note paper was losing its tint. This letter was authentic, all right. It was addressed “Dearest Eleanor,” and was signed “Mother.” It proposed a family reconciliation and offered aid for small Lucy. Vicki glanced up inquiringly. Lucy said:

123 “Mother never accepted Grandmother’s offer. I guess she never even answered this letter. We all had such strained feelings about—about my father. He was a darling. Here’s a snapshot of him.”

Lucy handed Vicki a thin bundle of old snapshots and photographs. One was of her parents taken at a picnic. One was of Mr. and Mrs. Bryant, very formal, taken years before. One was a print of the same snapshot of Lucy as a little girl, seated on the porch steps, which Mrs. Bryant had shown Vicki earlier. These pictures, too, impressed Vicki as being authentic, not clever forgeries.

“I’d have more photographs and letters to show you,” Lucy said, “except that Mrs. Heath insisted on putting them away for safekeeping. She wanted me to give her all the letters and photographs for her to put away—she even urged me to let her put away this silver ring.”

“She did!” Vicki exclaimed, then remembered to lower her voice. “Where did she put your things?”

“They’re locked in her room somewhere, along with her own valuables, and she keeps her door locked, too. She says it’s safer that way in the country.”

“Is that really necessary?”

“Well, you see, I do want to please her. So I gave her most of my letters and photos to put away, but I just have to keep a few things with me all the time. I’ve done that ever since my parents124 died, I suppose it’s awfully sentimental. And of course the silver ring. I couldn’t bear to part with it, even though Mrs. Heath predicts that I’ll lose it gardening, or something.”

“I don’t think you’ll lose your ring,” Vicki said dryly. “I think it’s strange that Mrs. Heath made such a point of putting away your very personal things.”

“No, it isn’t. She locked away all her own things, too. And she says any time I want my things, I only need to ask her.”

“We-ell—Ssh! Do I hear her moving around?”

“Oh, my! Sometimes she knocks on my door when she doesn’t feel well—”

Both girls listened. Lucy put out the lamp, and moonlight poured into the room again. On the other side of the wall Mrs. Heath was stirring. They held their breaths. They heard bedsprings creak, then quiet. Lucy let out a sigh of relief.

“I guess she just turned over in her sleep.”

Nevertheless, they kept perfectly still for a few minutes, and left the lamp off. Lucy ventured to speak again, softly, eagerly.

“You still haven’t told me the message from my grandparents, Vicki.”

“I’ve told you most of it, or you’ve guessed it. They want to give you all the advantages and good things which they feel you, as their granddaughter, are entitled to.”

Lucy murmured, “That’s wonderful,” then asked what made them change their minds, after125 so many years? Vicki explained how Mr. Bryant’s severe heart attack had made him stop and take moral stock of his life. She added that Lucy’s grandmother had for a long time grieved about the family separation.

“Now they want you to come live with them, Lucy, or near them, if you wish.”

The eagerness drained out of Lucy’s voice. “They don’t really want me.”

“Lucy, they do want you! Very much!”

“But I can’t decently leave Mrs. Heath now. If you had brought me this news a few weeks ago, it would have been wonderful—it would have transformed my life! But it’s impossible now. I’ve promised to stay with her—she needs me.”

“Why did Mrs. Heath talk at dinner about going abroad?” Vicki asked. “Have you also promised to go out of the country with her?”

“It’s just a vague plan Mrs. Heath has had ever since I met her. I don’t know exactly what she has in mind.”

Vicki asked whether they would go soon.

“I suppose it might be soon. Mrs. Heath does things on the spur of the moment.”

Vicki found this a troubling prospect. If Lucy went abroad and stayed a long time, she might never be reunited with her grandparents. Even if she remained abroad a short time the separation was risky; the Bryants were elderly people, Mr. Bryant had a heart ailment. However, on this point Lucy was stubborn. Vicki saw that she felt126 really committed to her job with Mrs. Heath.

“Lucy, do you ever,” Vicki said tentatively, “wonder about your employer? Don’t you ever have any doubts about her and her plans?”

“How did you guess that?” Lucy exclaimed. Then she seemed confused. “I shouldn’t really have said that. Mrs. Heath is kind to me, and this is a pleasant job. But to tell you the truth, some things do strike me as strange. Especially now that I have a chance to talk about it—I mean, now that you make me think about it.”

“What things?”

Lucy gave a sigh of relief. “All right, I’ll tell you, though maybe I’m being disloyal.”

Ever since they had come to Pine Top, Lucy said, Mrs. Heath had not actually written anything, though the book was their reason for being here. Mrs. Heath had not given Lucy any dictation beyond a few letters, mail orders, to San Francisco stores. As for the mail, what there was of it, Mrs. Heath handled it herself and never let Lucy touch outgoing or incoming letters.

“But surely you could mail a letter if you wanted to,” Vicki said. “When you go down to Pine Top or drive into the nearest sizable town.”

“But we haven’t left these premises since we first got here,” Lucy said. “We’ve stayed right here for—let’s see—a month now.”

“What! Why, for goodness’ sake?”

“Oh, Mrs. Heath says she’s thinking out her book, she’s concentrating and doesn’t want to be127 distracted. Besides, she hasn’t been feeling very well.”

“But you could leave this place for a few hours, surely, just for a change of scene,” Vicki said.

“Mrs. Heath wants me with her. We’re busy enough. We keep house and cook—we brought a big supply of food in the car, and Mrs. Heath phones Mr. Potter when we need more. She tells him to leave it at the wall door, and she leaves payment for him in our mailbox. Mrs. Heath doesn’t like being bothered with deliveries. And, well, there’s the garden to take care of, we read, we chat. It sounds pretty dull, doesn’t it?” Lucy said uncertainly. She seemed to be reconsidering their routine. “Mrs. Heath has kept me busy doing some rather pointless research for her.”

“Hmm.” It was extraordinary, Vicki thought, that for a month Lucy had not seen nor talked with anyone except Mrs. Heath. “Don’t you get restless or lonesome?”

“Yes, I do! I wanted to call up a couple of my friends in San Francisco, but Mrs. Heath discouraged me from doing so. She won’t even let me answer the telephone, though it seldom rings. It’s in her bedroom, and she keeps her bedroom door locked.”

“But why locked?”

“Because of the valuables she keeps in there, she says.” Again Lucy seemed to reconsider. “It is odd, isn’t it?”

“Lucy, I want to say something which I hope128 won’t offend you. I know that you’re fond of Mrs. Heath—you’ve mistakenly made her almost a substitute for your own mother. Well, like her or not, it sounds to me as if Mrs. Heath is keeping you a prisoner here.”

Lucy remained silent and motionless. The moonlight had shifted, the room was darker now, so that Vicki could not read her expression. At last Lucy said:

“That’s a harsh thing for you to say. But—but I’ve once or twice thought the same thing. A prisoner.”

“You could leave, you know.”

“It’s not so simple, Vicki. I haven’t any money.”

Mrs. Heath did not pay her a salary on a weekly basis. That would not make much sense here in these hills. She promised to pay Lucy’s salary in a lump sum later on. Mrs. Heath had given her a sum in advance, when Lucy first took the job with her. But the girl had spent it on clothes and paid some old bills. “And Mrs. Heath persuaded me to bank what was left.”

“You could leave if you wanted to,” Vicki pointed out. “Even without money. There are always people who’ll help you, and organizations who’ll help, if you seriously need help in an emergency.”

“Well, I don’t feel I have the right to leave. I promised to stay with her for a certain length of time. It’s more than a business obligation, Vicki. She cares more for me than my grandparents ever129 did. And Mrs. Heath needs me. She depends on me.”

But Vicki had seen that Mrs. Heath was neither ill nor dependent. In fact, she was a vigorous woman with a decided will. True, the employer had to be considered, but Lucy needed to consider her own welfare, as well. Vicki suspected Mrs. Heath of playing upon Lucy’s sympathies, and her lonesomeness for her family.

“Lucy, how did you happen to strike up such a close acquaintance with Mrs. Heath in the first place?”

“Well, it was rather sudden,” Lucy admitted. At the women’s hotel, Lucy said, the residents easily became acquainted in the lobby, in the dining room, in the television lounge. She and Mrs. Heath had liked each other from the start. She felt complimented when Mrs. Heath decided almost at once that Lucy was exactly the girl she had been looking for, to be her secretary-companion. In offering the job, Mrs. Heath showed Lucy unassailable credentials and identification.

“She comes from Chicago,” Lucy said. “I think she has friends in New York, too. I overheard her phoning once when she had given me an all-morning gardening chore. I ran out of seeds and then the spade handle broke and I came up to her room to tell her about it, only her door was locked. I heard her, though. She was having trouble getting her number. She was trying very especially to reach someone in New York. I guess130 you think I’m awful to be an eavesdropper, Vicki.”

“Not at all, under these strange circumstances. What did you hear?”

“Well, it was a person-to-person call, but I don’t know whom she was calling. All I heard was the New York telephone number. I guess it’s a business place, because she kept asking for an extension number. I remember the number because it’s an easy one and it’s like one I called a lot when I was a secretary at Interstate Insurance. It’s—”

“Wait.” Vicki turned on the bedside lamp, took a slip of paper from her purse, and wrote down the New York number. It was not familiar to her.

“I’m going to keep this number, Lucy.”

“What are you going to do with it?”

“I don’t know at the moment. Don’t worry. I won’t do anything to embarrass you or get you in trouble. I think you’re already in trouble, being here in this isolated house almost as a prisoner. Why, Lucy, you’re being held here incommunicado! Don’t you realize that?”

“But I—Mrs. Heath is so nice to me.”

“Nice! Yes, on the surface, in little things. You’re letting your sympathies blind you to the facts. I’m a great deal more suspicious of this woman and these living arrangements than you are. Listen to me, Lucy! I think you’d better get out of here. Fast. This is an unhealthy situation for you. I wish you’d fly out of here with me tomorrow morning.”

Lucy hesitated. “It’s so sudden. I need time to think, though what you’re saying is true—I need131 to think about my grandparents, too. I hardly know how I feel about them.”

She was leaving the question open. Vicki was dissatisfied with that. Once she herself had left this hidden house, she might not be able to gain entrance and see Lucy again, and she would not be able to communicate with Lucy by telephone or letter. This was their only chance, tonight, to set up some arrangement to help Lucy leave. To escape, actually—because Mrs. Heath would not want to let the girl go.

Vicki thought hard. If she came back here to get Lucy, she’d better not use a plane and alert Mrs. Heath a second time. She’d better use a car, which she could rent, and which she could park out of sight and sound down the road from the house. Lucy could meet her there. They’d need a signal for the day and hour. If only she could use the telephone! Well, she could, in a way.

“Lucy, do you know the telephone number in this house?”

“Yes, I got it from the telephone company man when he hooked up the phone here for us. It’s—” Vicki wrote it down.

“Lucy, I’m going to come back here secretly and get you. I’ll be waiting in a car at the first sharp curve at the top of the road. It will be noon. All you’ll have to do is slip away and run down the road. Don’t take any luggage with you, not even a coat or purse, nothing to arouse Mrs. Heath’s suspicion. Do you understand?”

132 “Yes, but—You’re really going to do all this for me? You honestly think I’m not safe here?”

“Lucy, pay attention! I’ll be waiting at noon.”

“What day?” The girl sounded frightened.

“I don’t know the day yet, but on that morning I’ll send you a signal by telephone. I know you can’t receive a phone call, but here’s a way. The telephone will ring, Mrs. Heath will answer it, and I’ll say—”

Vicki stopped. No, she would be driving from San Francisco to Pine Top that morning. Someone else would have to make that call. The minister? Yes, she could rely on Mr. Hall to do it. Vicki resumed:

“Mr. Hall, not I, will telephone on that morning. Early, before his church service, if it’s a Sunday. Mrs. Heath will answer and he’ll say it’s the telephone company making a test call, and hang up. Then he’ll call again, right away. You’ll hear the phone ring a second time, but when Mrs. Heath answers, he’ll hang up without speaking. As if it were an error.”

“And Mrs. Heath will be annoyed enough to mention the two phone calls to me. I’ll be listening every morning for the phone to ring. To ring twice.”

“Good girl.” Vicki sighed. “I’d much rather you’d fly out of here with me in the morning. It would be surer and safer.”

“I—I can’t.”

“Well, the morning you hear the telephone133 signal, you’re to meet me at noon. Promise, Lucy?”

The girl took a deep breath. “Promise. But I’m scared.”

“I’ll come back as soon as I can.”

They whispered good night and Lucy crept back to her room.


The Signal

Vicki’s departure the next morning did not go well. For one thing, Mrs. Heath was suspicious when Vicki “repaired” the plane engine. “So easily?” she said—and Vicki wondered how much the woman guessed. For another thing, Lucy was fearful again this morning when Vicki hinted, “It’s such a fine, clear day. Just come for a little flight, Lucy.” One look at Lucy’s face showed she longed to leave.

Mrs. Heath said quickly to Lucy, “I’m not feeling well again this morning. Please don’t leave me alone.”

Lucy looked at the older woman almost guiltily. “Maybe someday I’ll take a ride with you, Vicki,” was the most the girl would say.

Her employer sighed. “You girls probably think me very strict, but I’d like to remind you that I’m half ill, I have important work to do. You know very well, my dear,” she said to Lucy, “that I need you.”

135 The woman played on the girl’s pity, and Vicki saw that Lucy had not the heart to walk out openly. Also, as Lucy herself had pleaded last night, she obviously needed more time to think. There was nothing now Vicki could do except thank them both and climb into the plane.

Just before she slammed the door, Vicki called:

“I should be back in the San Francisco area by noon. Noon.”

Lucy nodded. She and Mrs. Heath walked a safe distance away from the plane, waving to her. In minutes Vicki took off.

From the air, the hidden house quickly sank out of sight. Oddly enough, she reached Novato Airport, outside San Francisco, precisely at noon.

Who was Mrs. Heath? This was what Vicki wanted to learn now. Who was this woman who had coincidentally appeared at the Hotel Alcott and out of the blue offered Lucy a job? Why was she detaining Lucy?

And who was the “Lucy Rowe” in New York? The girl who had flown into New York on Vicki’s plane, yet had not then worn the silver ring? Suddenly Vicki remembered an incident of that flight with its near-emergency landing—the lost gold charm inscribed Dorothy! It had fallen off someone’s bracelet or out of someone’s purse or pocket. Yet when the stewardess tried to return the valuable trinket, no one had claimed it. Why not? Did Dorothy not wish to identify herself?

136 Suppose, Vicki thought in a flash of insight, that the alleged Miss L. Rowe on that flight was actually Miss Dorothy “Somebody.” In that case she wouldn’t dare claim the inscribed charm—it would publicly reveal her to be an impostor. And by now Vicki was convinced that the dark-haired “Lucy” at the Bryants’ house was in fact an impostor.

“Or am I only guessing about the charm?” Well, she could think of ways to find out when she was again in New York. This afternoon she had other points to check.

That telephone number in New York which Lucy said Mrs. Heath had called—apparently a business place—who was at the other end? Vicki tried a bold plan. She asked on her hotel phone for that New York number herself.

She heard the connection go through, heard the San Francisco operator say, “San Francisco calling,” and give the New York operator the number, then a telephone ringing three thousand miles away—ringing as clearly as if it were next door. A crisp, businesslike voice answered. “Two-three-four-five. Good afternoon.”

Vicki was disappointed. She had hoped that whoever answered would say the firm name—if there were a firm name in this case.

“Hello?” said the voice in her ear.

“Hello,” Vicki replied, and swallowed nervously. “This is Mrs. Heath calling.” There, the step was taken!


The hidden house quickly sank out of sight

138 “Oh, yes, Mrs. Heath. One moment, please, and I’ll ring Mr. Dorn.”

Mr. Dorn! He and Mrs. Heath were linked! She’d never suspected it—Thurman Dorn’s voice came on.

“Hello, Mother,” he said.

Vicki nearly dropped the telephone. She was careful not to answer, not to make a sound.

“Mother? Is anything wrong? Whatever are you doing in San Francisco?” A pause. “Hello? Mother? Hello!”

Vicki held her breath. She hoped Dorn would think something had gone wrong with their telephone connection. He repeated his hellos, then buzzed his receptionist, and demanded, “What’s happened to my San Francisco call, Sally?”

“You’re still connected, Mr. Dorn.”

Now his voice sounded angry. “Mother? Is that you? Hello?”

Dorn hung up, and Vicki hung up, too. Whew! Her heart was banging away over the discovery.

In the next instant Vicki realized that by pretending to be Mrs. Heath, she had put herself in a dangerous position. Even more, she had put Lucy in danger! For Thurman Dorn could easily check by calling Mrs. Heath. Then, when she informed him that Vicki Barr had flown in as an uninvited guest at the hidden house, and that Lucy had half wanted to leave with her, Dorn would know Vicki Barr was on their trail. And Lucy might really disappear.

139 “Oh, what have I done!” Vicki groaned.

But it was done now, and no use fretting about it. She had gained an immensely valuable piece of information, but at a high price. She had known all along that the search for Lucy was risky. One thing stood out urgently—now that she had probably aroused Dorn’s suspicions, she must get Lucy out of that hidden house and away from Mrs. Heath as soon as possible. Tomorrow, or next day at the latest. Time was of the essence. She and Lucy would need time, too, to reach the Bryants and some degree of safety. But she was scheduled for a Federal flight day after tomorrow, Sunday. Time!

Vicki at once telephoned the Federal Airlines office at San Francisco’s International Airport, and asked for her Flight Stewardess Supervisor. But Miss Middleton was in a conference which would last the rest of the afternoon, and no one else was authorized to change Vicki’s flight schedule.

“Please tell Miss Middleton,” Vicki said into the phone, “I’ll come in to see her tomorrow, at eight in the morning.” A day lost, and no help for it. A day for Dorn to use—

Mother and son! Mr. Dorn, the lawyer assigned to find Lucy, and Mrs. Heath, the employer who took Lucy away with her to the hills—they were in collusion!

“The next thing is to prove it,” Vicki realized. “Mr. and Mrs. Bryant are so delighted with their140 bogus granddaughter that they might never accept the true Lucy without proof.”

Proof. Facts, which were matters of record. She remembered that Dorn stayed at the St. Clair Hotel from January twelfth to twenty-first, and on February twenty-first, during his first and second visits to “search” for Lucy. Vicki called up the hotel, asked for the man who had advised her before, and inquired:

“Can you tell me, please, whether a Mrs. Elizabeth Heath was at the St. Clair Hotel around the middle of January? And again in February, around Washington’s Birthday?”

She waited, then was told:

“Yes, Mrs. Heath registered here last January twelfth and stayed two days.”

“Did she leave a forwarding address?”

“Yes, Mrs. Heath moved from here to the Hotel Alcott.”

“Was she accompanied by a Mr. Thurman Dorn when she checked in?”

“We have no record of that.... You’re welcome, Miss Barr.”

They’d arrived together in San Francisco, and had been discreet enough to register separately. Mr. Dorn must have gained some information quickly about Lucy. For two days later Mrs. Heath had moved into the Hotel Alcott where Lucy had just moved in, too. And Mrs. Heath had lost no time in striking up an acquaintance with Lucy, offered her a job, lured her away from San Francisco141 where anyone could find her, hid her out in the hills. The next move, Vicki saw plainly, was to lure Lucy into going abroad. A very smooth way to make Lucy disappear, so that they could put their own confederate into the Bryants’ house to inherit the Bryant fortune!

And Mr. Dorn? While his mother was busy getting Lucy out of the way, what had he been doing? Finding a suitable hide-out house, arranging to rent a car? So Mr. Dorn’s “report” to the Bryants that Lucy was on a trip, was traveling with friends, was a prearranged lie! The same lies as the glib ones the false Lucy told.

“Never mind reconstructing the details of their scheme,” Vicki told herself. “I haven’t time now. The urgent thing is to go get Lucy.”

She glanced out the window. It was dusk. She could not do much more today beyond setting up the signal.

By telephone she reached the minister’s residence but only the secretary was in. Another conference and delay! Vicki made an appointment to see Mr. Hall, or at least talk with him on the telephone, early the next morning after she’d seen her supervisor. She would know by then how much time she had to rescue Lucy.

She made one further telephone call, to a car rental agency. On a gamble, she reserved a car for either tomorrow or Sunday morning, depending on what free time Federal Airlines allowed her. It was about a three-hour drive to Pine Top—if142 she made an early enough start and drove fast, she could keep the noon rendezvous.

Vicki sat down to think over Lucy’s dangerous situation—and her own. She wanted very much to report what she had found to the police, and leave the responsibility for rescuing the girl to them. But she recalled Lucy’s fear that her grandparents did not really want her. Bringing Lucy to them via the police might turn her grandparents against her.

Vicki sighed. “I’d better get Lucy out of that hidden house before Mrs. Heath and Mr. Dorn think up any new plans for her.”

Early the next day, Saturday morning, rain poured down. An all-day March rain, from the Weather Bureau prediction. In the hotel room Vicki turned the radio on and heard that small aircraft were ordered grounded, most big commercial airliners continued to fly on schedule, and for drivers road conditions were fair.

“Fair is good enough to drive to Pine Top,” Vicki decided. “Providing I can get there by noon—first, providing I can get extra time off to allow for any delays or unexpected developments.” For she might not get back from Pine Top today—she might miss her scheduled nine A.M. flight tomorrow.

She bundled up and went to take the bus out to International Airport. San Francisco was wrapped in fog; it made halos of street lamps and shadows143 of people. Vicki barely found the bus which appeared to be floating. It crawled at a maddeningly slow pace the thirteen miles out to International Airport.

“I’ll never be able to reach Pine Top by noon,” Vicki mourned. “Not in this fog. Why, just going to the car rental place and then driving out of San Francisco could take an hour.” She’d have to go tomorrow—unless tomorrow she found herself in uniform aboard the Electra.

In the fog she groped her way to the Federal Airlines building, using the Hangar One entrance. It was a quarter to eight. Miss Middleton was already in her office. For the first time in her career as a stewardess, Vicki asked to be excused from making a scheduled flight. Miss Middleton, on learning that Vicki had urgent personal business, granted her a leave of absence of three days, to be made up later.

“Provided,” said the supervisor, “I can find a stewardess to take your place. I’ll phone you at your hotel some time after noon today.”

That settled it. No trip to Pine Top today.

Vicki went to one of the telephone booths in the corridor. She called the car rental agency and said she would want a car tomorrow, not today. Then, though it was early to disturb him, Vicki called the minister. He was at breakfast, and very glad and relieved to hear from her.

“Have you found Lucy, Miss Vicki?”

“Yes, I have.”

144 “Good, good! Where is she?”

“At a place called Pine Top, and it isn’t good at all, Mr. Hall. I’m going to get her out of there—tomorrow, I hope—But, in order to rescue Lucy, I’ll need your help here in San Francisco.”

“Anything you say, Miss Vicki. Your tone of voice alarms me. Do you want to come to see me and talk it over?”

They discussed meeting. But since Vicki had to be back at her hotel by noon, they decided they might as well talk fully on the telephone. Vicki dropped more coins into the telephone box at the operator’s request.

“Well, Mr. Hall, Lucy is in serious trouble.” Vicki described the situation with Mrs. Heath.

“I don’t understand why this Mrs. Heath wants to detain the girl,” said the minister. “It is detention. But why? Can you tell me why?”

His voice sounded so concerned that Vicki could almost see the minister’s face, his quiet expression and perceptive eyes. Why should she not confide in him? He was Lucy’s good and old friend.

“Yes, I’ll tell you why, Mr. Hall,” Vicki said into the telephone. “It’s a long story, it goes back to Lucy’s grandparents—”

“Her grandparents! Her only surviving grandparents are the Marshall Bryants, in New York.”

“Yes. They want Lucy at last, you see. But a terrible thing has happened because of the inheritance.” Vicki told the minister the whole story145 of the Bryants, Thurman Dorn, and the false Lucy. Then she told him of her own search which had led her to Lucy and Mrs. Heath and the truth.

“I am appalled,” the minister said, after she had finished. “Why not go to the police at once?”

“Because it could ruin Lucy’s first meeting with her grandparents.” Vicki explained Lucy’s nervousness about meeting the Bryants, after years of being ostracized. She mentioned their abhorrence of publicity.

“Yes, I see,” the minister said reluctantly. “What alternative is there? What do you plan to do, Miss Vicki?”

She told him of her plan to return to Pine Top. She told Mr. Hall of the telephone signal Lucy was listening for, and described exactly what he must do, and gave him the telephone number of the hidden house.

“I’ll call you tomorrow, Mr. Hall, just before I start out by car for Pine Top. It’s a three-hour drive, so I’ll call you early. You’re to signal by telephone at, say, nine A.M. That will give Lucy three hours’ notice.”

“Of course I’ll do it. But, Miss Vicki! Isn’t it dangerous for you, and for Lucy, too, to attempt this escape?”

She replied that Mrs. Heath might not be watching Lucy so closely in broad daylight. On the big grounds of the Glidden place, among its many trees and bushes, Lucy with her outdoors chores could quite naturally “wander” out of sight.

146 “If the plan doesn’t work”—Vicki caught her breath at the chance—“if anything goes wrong, Mr. Hall, then you’d better call the police.”

“How will I know your plan hasn’t succeeded?”

“When I drive back to San Francisco bringing Lucy, I’ll call you. That should be about three or three thirty. Four, at the latest. I’ll call you then. Or if there’s trouble at any point, I’ll try to phone you.”

“And if I don’t hear from you by four tomorrow I’m to call the police?”

“Yes, Mr. Hall. Thank you very, very much.”

“I don’t like it,” he said. “It’s dangerous—”

“I don’t like it much myself. But it’s the best we can do.”

They left it at that, and said good-by until the next day. Vicki felt grateful that she had someone like Mr. Hall to rely on.

In the fog Vicki found the airport’s bus stop. She rode back slowly over blurred roads and bridges. When she got off the bus in downtown San Francisco, the pavement seemed bottomless under her feet. She reached her hotel, glad to be indoors where there were lights. Though it was nowhere near noon, Vicki settled down in her room to wait for the Flight Supervisor’s call.

Waiting, the day seemed the longest of her life. Vicki did everything she could think of to pass the time. She read, she sewed a little, sent down for a sandwich, visited with a stewardess next door, read some more. At four o’clock the telephone147 rang. It was the Flight Stewardess Supervisor to notify Vicki that her request for extra time off was granted.

Vicki went downstairs to the lobby about five o’clock. The stewardesses of several airlines who stayed at this hotel had a favorite corner, where they looked for one another and exchanged flying news. This afternoon two girls in Trans-USA’s gray uniform were sitting there, having hot tea. Vicki knew them slightly; they were Peggy Bennett and Nancy Notaro.

“Hello, you look as if you’ve just come in from a flight,” Vicki greeted them.

“And such a flight! Grueling,” said Peggy. “Come sit down, Vicki.” She said they had flown by jet nonstop from New York, a five-and-a-half-hour run, starting at one thirty New York time that afternoon.

“The most demanding passengers you ever saw,” Nancy said, as Vicki joined them. “I admit that they were interesting people. But one young man nearly drove Peg and me out of our minds. A lawyer, I think.”

“He was awfully anxious to get here,” Peggy said to excuse him. “Our Boeing 707 didn’t go fast enough to suit Mr. Dorn.”

Vicki froze. “Did you say Dorn? Do you remember his first name?”

“I think it was Thurman,” said Nancy. “Why, Vicki, what’s the matter? Aren’t you feeling well?”

148 “N-no, I’m not. Was anyone traveling with Mr. Dorn?”

“He was alone. Vicki, you’ve turned white! Here, have some of this tea—”

“I think I’d better go to my room,” Vicki said, and excused herself.

Upstairs in her room she did some rapid figuring. Yesterday afternoon she had guardedly telephoned Dorn’s office in New York, giving her name as Mrs. Heath and then keeping silent. Today Dorn had taken the fastest plane he could board to San Francisco. His action could mean only one thing:

His suspicions were aroused by her telephone call. He probably telephoned his mother right back, learned she had not just called him—and learned about Vicki Barr’s surprise visit to the hidden house the night before. Mrs. Heath would have told him how Vicki Barr struck up a sympathetic acquaintance with Lucy. The woman had been disturbed about that; Dorn would be disturbed, too. Further, Mrs. Heath had probably told him that Vicki Barr had flown back to San Francisco earlier on the day of the faked telephone call.

So Dorn knew now that Vicki Barr was checking up on him and Mrs. Heath. He was certain enough of it to take the first plane to San Francisco, to come here and circumvent her. This was what Vicki had feared, and it had come true.

“What will Dorn do next?” Vicki wondered.149 “Steady, now. I mustn’t panic. Well, he’ll go to Pine Top, and take Mrs. Heath and Lucy out of there. Take them some place where I can’t find them again. This time Lucy will really disappear. And then Thurman Dorn will deal with me.”

She shivered. “Stop it,” she scolded herself. “I must try to think clearly.”

How soon, how fast, could Dorn reach Pine Top? The city was still wrapped in fog; so were its outlying highways, the radio reported. That meant Dorn could not fly or drive to Pine Top today, not with night closing in. He’d probably start out for Pine Top first thing tomorrow morning, weather permitting—just as she herself planned to do.

“Suppose I encounter Dorn on the highway while I’m driving to Pine Top?” She would have to disguise herself a little, and drive a closed car. “Or suppose he goes to Pine Top in a private plane—he’d arrive before I do. Will that ruin Lucy’s getaway, our getaway?”

At least she had one small advantage. She already had a car reserved. Dorn would encounter some delay in renting a car, or renting a private plane and the services of a pilot, since these were much in demand and often sold out in advance. Probably he would be able to hunt around and rent something, but it would take him extra time. Time!

When she went to bed, Vicki noticed that the fog had turned into a driving rain.

150 She rose very early Sunday morning. It was still raining hard. The radio predicted an all-day downpour and reported that roads were washed out in several localities. Motorists were advised to cancel their plans and stay off the highways.

“Oh, how awful!” Vicki thought. “Another day lost! Well, I’ll go to Pine Top tomorrow—I hope.”

She immediately made two telephone calls. One was to Mr. Hall, asking him to call Pine Top tomorrow instead of today. The other was to the car rental agency, changing her reservation to the next day. Then Vicki ventured out in the rain to attend church. She lived through the rest of that Sunday somehow.

Monday morning she again was up early. The weather was clear. She dressed quietly, without waking Jean Cox, tied a scarf over her head to conceal her light hair, and took along a bulky coat and dark glasses. These things were to make her less recognizable in case she met Dorn anywhere along the way. She took a scarf, sunglasses, and sweater for Lucy. Although she was too worried to feel hungry, she fortified herself with breakfast at one of the few restaurants open that early. Here she purchased sandwiches, and had the thermos bottle she had brought along filled with coffee. Now she and Lucy need not stop for lunch, lose precious time, make themselves visible in case Dorn was out looking for them.

That is, if she herself could reach the appointed place in the road without mishap, if Lucy could151 keep the rendezvous, if they actually could make their getaway.

Before she reached the car rental agency, Vicki put on the coat and dark glasses.

A sedan was driven out for her, with its gas tank filled to capacity. Vicki signed the necessary papers, paid a deposit, and then went to a telephone booth. She called the minister.

“I’m leaving now, Mr. Hall. Getting an early start. You’ll phone—signal—around nine?”

“Yes, at nine. I’ll be listening for your telephone call this afternoon to learn that you and Lucy are safe. Good luck, Miss Vicki.”

“Thanks, Mr. Hall. I’ll need it.”

Out on the highway traffic was light, and she made good time. Vicki kept watch in the rear-vision mirror to see if any car was following her, but so far, so good. Of course Dorn could be heading for Pine Top on any of several alternate roads.

The drive seemed a long one. It helped that she had twice flown over this Mother Lode country; the small towns and rivers were familiar landmarks and guides. But the car was slow compared to a plane, particularly when the land grew rolling and then hilly.

At twenty minutes before noon she was driving through Pine Top, and there still was no sign of a car or a private plane coming in from the same direction as she was. Vicki headed the car up the steep, winding hill which led to the hidden house.

152 She drove to the first sharp curve at the top of the road, found an area of trees a little off the road to provide some concealment for the car, and backed into it. Vicki turned off the ignition and waited. The birds were singing. The sun shone down on the empty road.

“What if Lucy doesn’t come?” Vicki thought. “What if she loses her nerve and doesn’t try? Or tries but can’t get out? The wooden door in the wall is kept locked—but surely somewhere she could find a place to climb over the wall.”

The minutes dragged.

“Or suppose she and Mrs. Heath have already left? Mrs. Heath had a rented car. Dorn could have phoned them to leave at once.” If only she could go close enough to the house to see and hear what was going on! Was Dorn there? Was Mrs. Heath keeping an extra close watch on Lucy?

Vicki got out of the car to stretch her legs. She wanted badly to venture around the bend in the road to see whether Lucy was coming—it was a minute or two until noon. But she stayed in the little enclosure of trees, half out of sight.

She heard a car coming up the hill. Vicki stepped behind her own car just as a black sedan whizzed by—the man driving was its only occupant. He had red hair. Thank goodness it wasn’t Dorn.

Suddenly a figure came running around the bend, hair flying. It was Lucy!

“Here I am!” Vicki hissed.

153 “Hurry! Where’s the car?” Lucy gasped. “Get in!”

They got in, slammed the doors, Vicki turned on the ignition, and tore out of her hiding place. They streaked down the steep road.

“Are you all right, Lucy? Is anyone else at the house?”

“No. A man is coming this morning—driving—he phoned Saturday night and Sunday morning. Mrs. Heath had me pack our suitcases this morning. Hurry, Vicki! Mrs. Heath is probably looking for me by now, and she has a car!”

They sped through Pine Top and onto the open highway. Vicki saw a car coming—any car coming might be Dorn. She kept on going, at the top speed allowed.

“Lucy, there’s a scarf and sunglasses on the seat. Put them on, cover up your face and hair all you can. How’d you get out?”

“I pretended to be gardening near the wall, climbed a tree, dropped onto the top of the wall, and scrambled down on the outside.” Lucy gave a shaky laugh. “I tore my stockings. I must be a sight. I didn’t bring even a purse or sweater or anything with me. Nothing except my family documents in the pocket of my dress.”

“That’s all that matters.” The silver ring was on Lucy’s hand.

“Mr. Hall phoned twice, around nine,” Lucy said. “Mrs. Heath got awfully annoyed at the ‘telephone company testing.’ She complained to me—but154 I’d heard the phone signal, anyway.” Lucy let out a long sigh of relief. “Where are we going?”

“Back to San Francisco. To catch a plane to New York.”

“Think we’ll make it to San Francisco safely?”

“We have a fast car, a good chance. Sit back and try to relax, Lucy.”

They rode for many miles in silence. Both girls were tense. After a while Vicki asked Lucy to open up the sandwiches and coffee. They had a hard time swallowing any food, and lapsed into silence again. Then Lucy said:

“If and when we get to New York, do you plan to take me to my grandparents?”

“Yes, we’ll go directly to the Bryants’.”

Lucy seemed fearful.

Vicki reproved her. “Besides, unless you want to go to the police, it’s the only place where either of us will be safe.”

Vicki omitted saying: “Provided we can reach the Bryants before Dorn does.” She did not want to frighten Lucy further. And Lucy was already nervous enough about facing her grandparents.



At a gas station Vicki slowed down, looking around cautiously for any car which might be Dorn’s before she stopped. No sign of Dorn—yet. Vicki bought gas and did not linger. Out on the highway she picked up speed and said to Lucy:

“Now, listen to me. Mrs. Heath and her son are trying to keep you away from the Bryants and your rightful inheritance. They want the Bryant wealth for themselves.”

“But how could they? I don’t understand—who is Mrs. Heath’s son?”

“He’s Dorn, a lawyer your grandparents hired to find you—that was when Mrs. Heath was luring you out to the hills. Then when you were practically a prisoner, Dorn brought a girl he said was Lucy Rowe to your grandparents—”

“But I’m Lucy Rowe!”

“—and they’ve accepted her on his word and ‘evidence’ and because of the silver ring she wears.” Lucy gasped. “Their next step is to persuade156 you to go abroad and stay there. Now, this other girl, who’s in collusion with Dorn and Mrs. Heath, is living in your grandparents’ house and pretending to be you.”

Lucy burst into tears. “That’s terrible. Are you sure, Vicki? How do you know?”

“I met the girl at the Bryants’ house, that’s how I know. And I only hope,” Vicki said tensely, “that Dorn and Mrs. Heath don’t stop us from ever reaching New York.”

Lucy said, crying, “Even so, please let’s not go to the police. Not even to report them. I don’t want my grandparents to hear about me first from the police. I want to meet them in a—a happy way—”

“You shall. Don’t cry any more, Lucy. Don’t look so afraid. I think Dorn and Mrs. Heath’s main intent now is to reach the Bryants first with their story, before you and I do. They probably won’t waste time trying to stop us.” Vicki did not entirely believe this, but Lucy could not stand much more strain.

They were approaching the outskirts of San Francisco. Vicki stopped at a public telephone booth and called the minister. It was a little past three o’clock in the afternoon.

“Miss Vicki!” he said. “What a relief to hear from you! Are you all right? Is Lucy with you?”

“Yes, Mr. Hall. Here she is.” Vicki handed Lucy the receiver, whispering, “Be quick.” She moved away, but heard Lucy say:

157 “Oh, Mr. Hall, if only I’d listened to you!”

Lucy talked to him for a minute or two, then gave the phone back to Vicki.

“I’m going to try to get us on a plane to New York this afternoon,” Vicki said to him. “I think Federal Airlines will find room aboard for us. Please don’t worry, Mr. Hall. Thank you for everything. We’ll keep in touch with you.”

Vicki next called Federal’s reservations desk. As one of their stewardesses, she could fly free on vacation and, in addition, she could get a pass when she had the mileage coming to her. Luckily she had it now. Vicki pleaded for a seat for herself and one for her friend, Lucy Rowe. Since Vicki insisted this was an emergency, Reservations agreed to accept her check for Lucy’s fare and told her to go out to International Airport and wait. If, at the last minute, a flight had two seats still unpurchased or had two cancellations, she and Lucy were welcome to them.

First they returned the rented car, then traveled by taxi to the airport. In the rotunda Vicki and Lucy made themselves as inconspicuous as they could around a corner—Dorn and Mrs. Heath might walk through the terminal at any time! The two girls waited out one flight after another. Passenger traffic was heavy; not a single Federal flight had space for them.

Vicki began to worry, and to grow tired and hungry. Lucy was drooping. Vicki went again and again to the reservations desk, reminding them,158 begging for seats. The evening wore on. By now, Dorn and Mrs. Heath had had ample time to drive from Pine Top to San Francisco and, as they themselves were doing, try to get space on a flight. Who was going to win this grim race? Finally, at ten thirty Reservations cleared Vicki and Lucy to go aboard a Federal DC-7 air coach. It wasn’t as fast a plane as the Electra, but at least it flew a direct transcontinental route. They would have to change planes at Chicago.

The two stewardesses were acquaintances of Vicki’s, and they were surprised to see her come aboard. Noticing how tired she and Lucy were, they brought them sandwiches and hot coffee once they were aloft, and then blankets. The two girls were too exhausted to say or think another single thing. They fell asleep and slept through the quiet night flight.

Next thing Vicki knew, a stewardess was shaking her. “Wake up, Vic. We’re coming in at Chicago in five minutes.”

Vicki awakened Lucy. It was half dark and cold as they left the plane, two bedraggled figures, and boarded another plane. Take-off time was seven A.M. The girls slept again. At ten thirty A.M., New York time, they landed at Idlewild Airport. A Federal crew car gave them a ride into Manhattan. Vicki asked to be let off at the apartment she shared with several other stewardess friends. It was just as well that no one but their housekeeper, Mrs. Duff, was at home.


The Silver Rings

“I can’t meet my grandparents for the first time looking like this,” Lucy said. “I know it’s important for us to get to them before Mr. Dorn does, but it’s important for me to look nice, too.”

“Don’t worry,” Vicki said, “I’ll lend you some clothes. You go shower and change now. I will, too, but first I must make some telephone calls.”

She telephoned La Guardia Airport and asked for the “Lost and Found” Desk.

“Hello, this is the Federal Airlines stewardess,” Vicki said into the telephone, “who turned in a gold charm, inscribed Dorothy. One of my passengers lost it. Can you tell me whether anyone has ever claimed it?”

“It’s still here,” the clerk told her. “No one has even inquired about it, so far as I know.”

That confirmed her suspicion—the owner was afraid to come for it. The reason why might prove interesting.

Next, she telephoned the Bryants’ house. Mrs.160 Bryant was surprised and pleased to hear from her. Vicki asked whether she could come over to see them, and added that she’d like to bring a friend to meet them. “Soon, please? It’s important.”

“We’d be delighted to see you and your friend,” said Mrs. Bryant, “but it can’t be this morning. We’re expecting guests for lunch at twelve thirty. Why don’t you and your friend come at two?”

“At two,” Vicki repeated. She longed to ask whether the luncheon guests would include Mr. Dorn, or whether the Bryants had heard from Dorn yesterday or today. But she couldn’t very well ask. “We’ll be there at two. Thank you very much, Mrs. Bryant.”

Lucy had come in, wearing a bathrobe, and heard Vicki make the appointment. She looked woebegone, still lost. Vicki had to encourage her.

“Yes, I know my grandparents want me,” Lucy said excitedly, “but the other ‘Lucy’—Is she more attractive than I am?”

“Not nearly as likable,” Vicki said to soothe her.

“I can’t help feeling nervous, though, especially since you’ve told me what Mr. Dorn’s been up to,” Lucy said.

“Come on. Let’s find you some clothes that will fit you and be becoming.”

Vicki borrowed from her own and Jean’s wardrobes. She made herself presentable, then Mrs.161 Duff gave them a quick lunch. As they ate, the girls debated whether Lucy still had, in certain ways, the hardest part of her ordeal to struggle through.

On the way over to the Bryants’, Lucy was silent and preoccupied. She wore the silver ring, and had the family documents in her purse. When she saw the mansion her grandparents lived in, she hesitated. Vicki took her hand and escorted her up the marble steps.

“I’ll never fit in here,” Lucy whispered, as they followed the butler toward the room with the parakeets.

“Yes, you will,” Vicki whispered back. “Wait and see.”

Mr. and Mrs. Bryant were waiting for them. Vicki’s heart sank when she saw that ‘Lucy’—the false Lucy—was with them. She had wanted so much to talk to them alone! Mrs. Bryant rose and came forward to greet the two girls.

“How nice to see you, Vicki. And I’m so glad you’ve brought your friend. I asked our Lucy to stay and meet her.”

The true Lucy stared at the impostor. There was no real resemblance between them, except that both were brown-haired, around the same age, and either Lucy might have once been the little girl in the snapshot. The true Lucy must have seen the silver ring on the other Lucy’s hand, for she thrust her hand in her pocket to hide her162 own silver ring. Vicki took her friend’s arm, to give her courage.

As Mr. Bryant and the sophisticated-looking girl rose from the sofa, Vicki said, “This is my friend from San Francisco, Lucy Rowe.” It took all her courage to come right out and say that. She watched the false Lucy closely.

“Lucy Rowe!” Mrs. Bryant exclaimed, and a look of wonder crossed her face.

“What a coincidence,” the other girl said, after a pause. “How do you do, Miss Rowe?”

Lucy was unable to speak. She looked into Mrs. Bryant’s face with her feelings naked in her eyes. Marshall Bryant said:

“Quite a coincidence, eh, Miss Vicki? Two girls with the same name. Well, well. Let’s all sit down, anyway.” He sat down heavily. “I ate too much lunch.”

Lucy stared at her grandfather. She stayed as close as she could to Vicki, her hand still in her pocket.

“How odd that we’ve never met,” the false Lucy said smoothly to the true Lucy. “I’m from San Francisco, too, you know.”

“It—it is quite a coincidence, isn’t it?” Mrs. Bryant said shakily.

Vicki drew a deep breath and said what sooner or later had to be said. “It’s more than a coincidence, Mrs. Bryant. This young woman is—is your granddaughter, and I can—”

“That’s preposterous!” the false Lucy exclaimed.163 She was furious. “I am the Bryants’ granddaughter, and I resent—”

“—and I can prove it,” Vicki went on evenly. “There has been a terrible mistake here. If one can call it a mistake.”

Marshall Bryant snorted. “Young lady, you’re having a pipe dream. Thurman Dorn is a good man, a good lawyer. He doesn’t make mistakes. Do you think I’d hire an incompetent man?”

Vicki was shaking all over. “It isn’t simply a mistake, Mr. Bryant. Forgive me for contradicting you, but Mr. Dorn has deliberately brought you the wrong girl.”

“Rot!” the big man said, and the false Lucy drew herself up in scorn. Only Mrs. Bryant, her hands trembling so badly that she had to clasp them, said to the newcomer:

“Tell me, my dear. Do you believe yourself to be our granddaughter?”

Slowly Lucy drew her hand out of her pocket and extended it. “Here is the ring you gave my mother. And here are photographs of us all—and a letter you wrote my mother—”

The false Lucy laughed. No one took the things Lucy offered. She stood there abashed. The false Lucy cried, “Why, Grandpa, they’re fakes—forgeries, that’s all.” Mrs. Bryant glanced back and forth between the two Lucys, bewildered and hurt. Finally she reached out and took the photographs and letters, and examined them.

“Marshall,” she said, “I did write this letter to164 Eleanor.” He made a gesture of disbelief. Mrs. Bryant turned to the newcomer. “Where did you get this letter?”

“Mother gave it to me. Just as she gave me this ring.”

“I also have my mother’s ring.” The false Lucy indignantly held up her hand with the silver ring. She was still assured, but her face had turned a sickly white.

Marshall Bryant exploded. “Someone here is lying! If you think I’ll set aside the detailed proof of my lawyer, and reject this lovely young woman we’re so fond of—if you expect me to take the word of a girl I’ve never seen or heard of before—Why, it is preposterous! Vicki, where in the world did you find this girl, and what in the world are you thinking of?”

Vicki said as bravely as she could, “Mr. Bryant, I have proof that she is your granddaughter, if you’ll only listen to me.”

“I think we’d better listen, Marshall,” said Mrs. Bryant. “I—er—before Mr. Dorn had found Lucy, I requested our young friend—since she sometimes flies in and out of San Francisco—to see whether she could learn anything about our granddaughter.”

“You did!” Marshall Bryant turned to Vicki. “And you actually investigated? But you’re not a trained investigator.”

“Just the same, please listen to what I found out,” Vicki pleaded.

165 The butler came in to say that Mr. Thurman Dorn was at the door, and asked whether the Bryants would see him.

“We certainly will see him!” Mr. Bryant said. “Right away! Lucky for us he’s here.”

Mrs. Bryant murmured that this seemed to be their day for coincidences. Vicki said, “This is no coincidence, either, Mrs. Bryant. Mr. Dorn has just flown in from San Francisco where he was yesterday—intending to stop me from bringing Lucy to you.”

Marshall Bryant stared at her as if she were out of her mind, and the false Lucy smiled pityingly.

They waited for Dorn. Lucy said to Vicki, very low, “This is scarcely the reception I’d dreamed of.”

Dorn came in. His suit was rumpled, as if he had slept in it all night. However, he was as self-possessed as ever, and gave Vicki and her Lucy a look of utter contempt.

“I see these two fakers beat me here,” he said. “Good afternoon, Mrs. Bryant, Lucy. How are you, sir? May I impose on your hospitality and ask for some hot coffee? I’ve just flown to San Francisco and back on your behalf. I flew all last night on a wretchedly slow coach plane, a long, roundabout Dallas-Memphis local,” he said disgustedly. “The only plane I could get on last night without a reservation—”

He sank into a chair. Vicki and Lucy exchanged glances. Getting here before Dorn hadn’t done166 them much good. Marshall Bryant spoke to him sympathetically while Mrs. Bryant ordered the coffee.

Vicki decided to attack Dorn before he could attack her.

“Mr. Dorn, I’ve found out how your mother, Mrs. Heath, lured Lucy out of San Francisco—”

“Your mother?” said Mr. Bryant in surprise.

“—and kept Lucy virtually a prisoner in—”

“Stop lying!” Dorn ordered. “You’re a ridiculous little amateur detective who’s been meddling—”

“—prisoner in a lonely house near the Sierra Nevadas, until I got her out of there yesterday! And that’s where you were yesterday, Mr. Dorn—in Pine Top!”

Dorn’s eyes narrowed. The false Lucy kept perfectly still. The lawyer retorted:

“Miss Barr, you evidently are stupid and irresponsible. Perhaps this girl with you is, too. Dreaming up some fantastic tale! Prisoner!” He turned to Mr. Bryant. “What has she told you?”

Mrs. Bryant answered. “They showed us another silver ring, and these photographs and letters.”

Dorn smiled dryly. “Documents can be forged, or stolen. A silver ring can be copied, too, by a clever jeweler.” He turned to the true Lucy and thundered at her, “How did you manage to steal and forge these things?”

As Lucy drew back in fright, Vicki said:

167 “Any stealing and forging that was done, you did. From the Bryants’ safe here in their house. You borrowed their family documents and the ring—to ‘study.’ You said—”

Both Bryants were listening to her now. Vicki turned to them.

“There’s a minister in San Francisco, a Mr. Hall, who’s known Jack and Eleanor Rowe, and Lucy, ever since Lucy was born. Would you take his word?”

Mrs. Bryant gasped. “What else did you find out? Mr. Dorn, why did you never mention the minister to us?”

“Because there is no such person in their family history,” he said boldly. “Lucy”—he turned toward the false Lucy—“did you ever know a minister named Hall?”

“No, our minister’s name was Dr. John Sands.”

“Ah, you see!” Marshall Bryant said with satisfaction. “I shall get in touch with Dr. Sands.”

“I wish, Grandpa,” said the false Lucy, “that Dr. Sands was still alive. He’d tell you the truth.”

The true Lucy said suddenly, “Ask Mr. Hall. I’ll give you his address and telephone number.”

Marshall Bryant eyed her distrustfully, but his wife said, “You haven’t answered my question, Vicki. What else did you find out?”

Dorn tried to prevent Vicki from speaking. He heaped her with scorn and flatly denied all allegations—but Mrs. Bryant insisted.

Vicki started to enumerate her points: the so-called168 Lucy had not worked for Whitney Decorators because no such firm had ever existed. Her alleged doctor, Dr. Alice James, did not exist. The addresses where she’d said she lived did not exist.

“Lies, lies!” Dorn said to Mr. Bryant. “I visited every one of those persons and places myself. You have my word for it.”

Marshall Bryant nodded. Vicki said to him:

“Mr. Dorn is the one who’s lying. You have only his word for these things, and he and his mother and this girl he misrepresents to be your granddaughter—they’re all in collusion together.”

“I’ll take you to court for libel, Vicki Barr!” Dorn fairly shouted.

She ignored that, and appealed to the Bryants. “Send an impartial investigator to San Francisco, or go yourselves. You’ll find out from the Interstate Insurance Company that that’s where Lucy worked, ever since she got out of school. Talk to Mr. Hall. Talk to Jill Joseph who lives in Lucy’s old house in Sutro Heights—she and her parents, the Rossiters, knew Lucy’s parents—”

“Ridiculous,” said Dorn, with a little laugh. “Perhaps this other girl’s name actually is Lucy Rowe—though I doubt it—but even if it is, that does not make her your granddaughter and your heir. Can’t you see how easy it is for an unscrupulous girl to claim to be your kin whom you’ve never seen? A crude attempt, I must say.”

Vicki saw that she was getting nowhere. The more points she raised, the more Dorn, with a lawyer’s169 great verbal skill, twisted and bypassed them. He managed to make Vicki’s statements appear implausible. He enumerated proofs of his own correctness. Lucy, sitting beside her, was numb with misery.

Vicki looked at the false Lucy and had an inspiration. She addressed her directly, sharply:

“See here, Dorothy, I know a good deal about you—”

The false Lucy started.

“Yes, I know it was you who lost the gold charm inscribed Dorothy on my plane that day. I know you came here from Chicago, not San Francisco—”

“I didn’t—”

“Her name isn’t Dorothy,” Dorn broke in.

“—and I know,” Vicki kept on, “that you arrived two days earlier than you pretended to the Bryants. Where were you those two days?”

“Lies,” Dorn said. “She—”

Mrs. Bryant turned to the agitated girl. “Two days earlier? Is this true?”

“Don’t you know,” Vicki kept at the girl, “that impersonating another person is a crime and you can go to jail for it?”

“I’m not—I didn’t—” the fake Lucy stammered.

“You’d better tell the truth,” Marshall Bryant warned her.

The false Lucy burst into tears. “He talked me into doing it,” she cried. “Thurman said as soon as we were married, my name would be Dorn170 and no one would ever know of this impersonation. Calling myself Lucy Rowe was just for a little while—”

Marshall Bryant in his anger was having difficulty in breathing. Vicki feared he might suffer another heart attack. “Just for a little while,” he repeated heavily. “While you tricked us into believing that you were our granddaughter, eh? I suppose you planned to keep up the pretense and call yourself Lucy indefinitely. Only now you’ve lost your nerve!”

“Thurman never told me that there was a real Lucy Rowe; he never told me I’d be cheating someone,” the other girl asserted, weeping. “Don’t blame me! He and his mother told me that Lucy was dead, only you didn’t know it, and that we might as well have the inheritance for ourselves instead of letting some stupid charities have it. Thurman and Mrs. Heath are to blame, not me.” Dorn tried to break in, but the girl went on half hysterically. “They said that with my dramatic school training and being a quick study, I could easily play Lucy’s part—”

“You’re telling half-truths,” Dorn said. “You never objected to becoming rich, did you?”

“Keep quiet, both of you,” Marshall Bryant ordered. The old man turned toward Vicki. “What’s this about Dorn’s mother?”

“Yes, didn’t you once tell us,” Mrs. Bryant asked the young lawyer, “that your mother in Chicago was widowed and had remarried? What is your171 mother’s name?” Dorn tugged hard at his mustache and refused to answer. “Mr. Dorn,” Mrs. Bryant reminded him, “we can find out from your law firm.”

Dorn muttered, “Her name is Heath. Elizabeth Heath. She’s a widow for the second time; she’s alone except for me.”

“So you thought you’d provide for your mother, yourself, and your fiancée at my expense,” Marshall Bryant said bitterly. “No wonder you were in such a hurry to have me sign over a parcel of stocks and bonds to Lucy—Dorothy—whatever her name is.” The girl gave her name, very low: Dorothy Clinton. “Well, I’ll rescind that immediately!”

“About Mrs. Heath,” Mrs. Bryant said. “She actually kept this girl, our—our granddaughter”—it was hard for her to reverse her thinking—“out of sight?”

“Yes, on a pretense of a job,” Vicki answered. “Not only that! They also planned to get her to go abroad and maybe never return.”

The Bryants both caught their breaths. Mr. Bryant got up and pulled at the wall cord to summon the butler. “I’m going to call the police,” he said.

“Wait just a minute, sir,” Dorn said. “You still have no final proof of who this girl is.”

“I have proof!” the true Lucy spoke up. “I have some proof with me and much more if I can get my things back from Mrs. Heath. Besides, I’m172 sure Mr. Hall and some of my San Francisco friends and old teachers will come East to vouch for me. They’ve known me all my life, and known my mother and father, too.”

“All right, all right,” the elderly man said, and passed his hand over his eyes. No one except Vicki noticed the butler waiting at the door. Mrs. Bryant stared dazedly at Dorn.

“Maybe you’d better start your explanations with the very beginning of this rotten scheme,” Marshall Bryant said. “You’re going to have to explain to us—and the police—sooner or later.”

Dorn put his head in his hands. “Very well, I will.” Then he said, “I have some papers in my brief case in the hall, sir”—Dorn stood up—“if you’ll permit me to get them.”

Suddenly he seized the false Lucy by the hand, and they ran out of the room. The butler was so stunned by surprise that he was motionless. So was everyone for a few seconds—until Vicki sprang to her feet. “Don’t let them get away!” She and the butler ran after them. She saw Dorn and the girl racing down the marble steps and along the street.

Vicki and the Bryants’ man tore after them. They were heading toward a taxicab waiting at the curb a few houses up. Vicki saw a gray-haired woman in the taxi who looked familiar. Mrs. Heath!

“Driver!” Vicki called out. “Don’t take those people! They’re criminals!”

173 “Catch that man!” the butler shouted.

The taxi driver jumped out and caught Dorn. He struggled to tear free, while Dorothy screamed at the butler to let her go. Vicki reached Mrs. Heath just as the woman tried to slip away. Out of nowhere a policeman appeared on the run.

“What’s all the shouting about?” he demanded. “What’s the matter here?”

From the top of his house steps Marshall Bryant told them all to come into the house. “Pay the driver his fare,” he directed the butler, “so he can go.” The policeman herded the rest of them into the house, with Dorothy screaming now at Dorn. Vicki walked in beside Mrs. Heath who looked as if she, too, had slept in her clothes last night. Mrs. Heath scornfully would not even glance in Vicki’s direction.

They all sat down in the room with the parakeets, where Mrs. Bryant and Lucy waited together. Marshall Bryant explained the situation briefly to the policeman, who said:

“You’d better phone the precinct for a couple of detectives, Mr. Bryant. This is out of my jurisdiction. I’ll stay until they get here, though.”

Mr. Bryant instructed the butler to telephone. Then he said to Dorn: “Talk!”

Thurman Dorn sat crumpled in a chair, head bent. He plucked at his fingers as he almost inaudibly told the whole story.

Thurman Dorn sat crumpled in a chair, head

He had always had to struggle along and economize, he said, and he felt that as an educated 174
man he was entitled to more than a small-salaried job. His mother and his fiancée, too, were ambitious and resentful of “scrimping along.” They felt they were entitled to wealth just as much as people like the Bryants. Thurman Dorn was determined to get rich as quickly as possible. His attitude was “Once you have a great deal of money, people won’t care or dare ask how you acquired it.”

When the Bryants engaged him to search for 176their granddaughter and heir whom they had never seen, Dorn calculated this was his main chance. The Bryant fortune was so big that he was willing to risk committing a crime. He believed that his cleverness and knowledge of the law would protect him. And he believed he had evolved a foolproof scheme: to present his fiancée to the Bryants as their unknown granddaughter, then marry her and through her gain the Bryant fortune. He flew to Chicago and talked his mother and Dorothy into the scheme.

First, though, Dorn had to learn whether Lucy Rowe could be gotten out of the way. He and Mrs. Heath went on to San Francisco in mid-January and learned—something the Bryants did not then know—that Jack Rowe had died two years earlier. This left Lucy alone in the world, and suited Dora’s scheme perfectly. Dorn also learned that Lucy was working as a secretary at Interstate, had moved several times in the past few years, and had just moved into the women’s hotel.

The next step was for Mrs. Heath to move to the Hotel Alcott, strike up an acquaintance with Lucy, and offer her a job out of town or “traveling.” At the same time, Mrs. Heath learned a great deal more about Lucy and passed the information along to Dorn. Meanwhile, Dorn located a well-hidden house in the back country and rented it and a car for Mrs. Heath.

Then Dorn flew alone to Chicago, where for two days he coached Dorothy in the role of Lucy.177 To do this, he used the information gained by Mrs. Heath, and by himself in talking with the Bryants. Dorothy memorized certain facts of Lucy’s life and acted out a personality designed to please the Bryants. Dorn carefully supplied her with a story about Lucy’s recent past. He promised Dorothy further advice on the role of Lucy.

Dorn then flew on to New York, and reported to the Bryants that he could not yet find their granddaughter who was away on a month’s trip. He was allowing his mother time to get Lucy out of San Francisco and into hiding. He also borrowed from the Bryants, from the safe in their house, family letters and photographs and Mrs. Bryant’s silver ring, ostensibly to “study” them.

Actually Dorn in the next hour had the photographs and letters photostated, and he mailed them to Dorothy in Chicago to study for developing her role. The same day he took the silver ring to a jeweler and had it sketched to be copied. Within a few days the third silver ring was ready and he mailed it to Dorothy. Meantime, Dorn had promptly returned all the originals to the Bryants.

The rest of their scheme was to persuade Lucy to leave the United States and stay abroad.

Unfortunately for them, Vicki had observed the false Miss L. Rowe on her Chicago-New York flight. By that time Dorothy had devised a make-up and hair style which helped her to resemble, superficially, the faces in the Bryant family178 photographs. Dorn, who had never taken Vicki seriously and did not bother to remember with what airline she was a stewardess, never told Dorothy to stay off Federal Airlines. On Dorothy’s part, it was a piece of carelessness that on that flight she had worn, and lost, the gold charm inscribed with her own name. Arriving in New York on a Tuesday, Dorothy went to a hotel, and on that day and Wednesday, she and Dorn held a final, thorough rehearsal of her role. On Thursday, Dorn brought her to the Bryants, saying, “Here is your granddaughter who has just flown in from San Francisco.” Dorothy had acted her role so convincingly that the Bryants did not doubt this charming girl was truly their granddaughter.

“That’s all,” Dorn finished. His voice sounded hollow. “My second trip to San Francisco was just for show, so that I could come back and say ‘I’ve found your granddaughter.’”

“Lies from start to finish,” Marshall Bryant said angrily. “I’ll see that the three of you pay for this! What a fool you’ve been, Dorn! You threw aside a promising career with Steele and Wilbur—one of the most reputable law firms in the country. When your employers hear about the vicious scheme—”

Two men quietly came into the room.

“We’re precinct detectives,” one of them said, and they showed their identification. “We’ve been standing in the hall and heard the whole thing.”

“Can you arrest these three swindlers at once?”179 Marshall Bryant demanded. “For what they’ve done to my wife and me and to an innocent girl?”

“Yes, sir,” said the detective. “You are under arrest, Dorn, and so are you two women, on a conspiracy charge.”

“I know my rights,” Dorn asserted. “I’m a lawyer, and you can’t—”

“I can,” said the detective. “Let me quote the law to you, Mr. Dorn. The unlawful acts you three persons planned to commit, and in part did commit, are fraud, misrepresentation, and obtaining money or property under false pretenses.”

“I object, I vehemently object!” Dorn said. “We may have planned it, but we haven’t actually obtained the inheritance.”

“That’s beside the point,” the detective said. “Quote: ‘Persons agreeing together to commit a crime can be prosecuted for conspiracy. In a conspiracy it does not matter whether the unlawful act agreed upon is carried out or not.’ You’re under arrest for conspiracy. Get up. All three of you.”

Dorn shrugged and said no more. He, Mrs. Heath, and Dorothy stood up. The false Lucy pulled the silver ring off her finger and bitterly threw it at Dorn.

Marshall Bryant said, “You’re being arrested for conspiracy, but I’m going to bring action against you in the courts for a whole lot more. For fraud and misrepresentation, and for detention of Lucy.”

180 “They’ll draw heavy sentences,” the detective said. “All right, get going.”

When they were gone, the Bryants and Lucy and Vicki were unable to speak for a few minutes. They looked at one another.

“Miserable business,” Marshall Bryant growled.

Mrs. Bryant went to sit next to Lucy, and put her arm around her. “My child, you don’t have to be afraid any more.”

“Nor alone any more?” Lucy asked timidly.

“Nor alone any more,” the grandmother answered. “Will she, Marshall? We shall make up to you for all the hard things you’ve been through. Tell me, my dear, did your mother have a pet name for you?”

“Yes, it was Lucinda,” Lucy said. “Sometimes Lucinda Belle, just for fun.”

“That used to be your grandfather’s special name for me” Mrs. Bryant said, and both the old people smiled at Lucy.

Mrs. Bryant leaned forward to touch Vicki’s hand. “Vicki, how can we ever thank you?” she said. “You and Lucy and all of us must always be friends.”

Vicki smiled as she looked at Lucy’s happy face. “I think we will be,” she said.

End paper

Transcriber’s Note:

The 1960 copyright date on this book was not renewed so is now in the public domain in the United States of America.

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