It was a sad day in the life of Lydia. Just a week before, she discovered the boy living in the corner house on our street. He had asked her to a school dance. Rose, my wife, had noticed a slipping of Lydia’s study habits and consequently had called the school concerning tardiness and slipshod work of late. Being only fifteen, we had told Lydia that dating would not be permitted until she turned sixteen.
“But this is just a school dance and all my friends will be there.” pleaded Lydia. Rose was very firm about it. Her tirade, too frequent of late, met with a scolding. Dashing out of the room, she ascended the stairs to her bedroom on the second floor, slamming the door after her. Rose followed her upstairs and getting only a verbal response of, “Go away and leave me alone.”
By breakfast time, Rose and I had discussed this and decided on a course of punishment. Lydia came to the table sulking, stirring her spoon in the oatmeal without eating. It need not have gotten worse–but it did. Words led to anger. Rose was forceful and told her that she was grounded and was to come home directly after school. Lydia resigned herself that she had provoked her mother and she looked at me for sympathy; there was none.
She inhaled and asked quietly, “How long am I to be punished like this?” Rose told her it was permanent unless her behavior improved as well as her marks. Also, she would not have any contact with Paul except her music lessons and definitely no chess. Period. End of discussion! By week’s end she had convinced us along with hugs and embraces that she was getting on top of everything. During this grounding, we had discussed allowing her to attend the school dance which was just as important to her as her chess victory at the tournament held by the Black Knights’ Club.
Lydia was pleased that Paul had agreed to spend his Christmas holidays with them. Two days before Christmas Eve, the shopping was done, all the presents wrapped and put under the Christmas tree. That same day, a package arrived from Hungary. It was a large box and was addressed to Miss Lydia Peters. Paul had told Rose and I about the gift he had bought Lydia and that he had to journey to London on business but should be back to celebrate Christmas with them.
Christmas morning saw the family gathered around the fireplace and beautiful tree adorned with bulbs, lights, and shimmering tinsel. Presents were under the tree and Lydia sat taking each gift and reading ‘to and from’, passing out the gifts. She saved Paul’s gift as last to open. The large box Lydia pulled to her lap and soon the paper and ribbons were crumpled and the box opened to expose a beautiful inlaid chess board cabinet wherein lay 32 beautiful chess men. The kings were six inches tall and all bases were rounded to help prevent them from toppling over. The set was handcrafted and each piece felt heavy with a red felt bottom that matched the felt adorning the housing for the individual pieces. Paul said he commissioned a craftsman in Hungary whom he was told did wonderful work to make it; it was one of a kind. Lydia hugged Paul and said she would cherish it all her life.
Several days later while at Sunday church, their home was broken into but nothing seemed lost. Lydia had put her gifts under her bed for the time being and the state of her room would make it almost impossible for anyone to find anything among the dolls, and other things that young girls enjoy in their private domain. The police reported that no other burglaries had been reported so it seemed to be an isolated case. This incident was to lead Lydia into new wealth, adventure, and intrigue.
By coincidence, Lydia had made friends with an elderly couple who were business partners heading up a private detective agency. She had taken the time to stop by their offices located on the second floor of a bookstore she frequented and mentioned the incident. Mrs. O’Rourke was alone as her partner-husband was out to London on a case. She listened intently, asking questions here and there about this strange break-in. “Have you added any valuable items to your home lately? Have you noticed anyone browsing near your house?” Lydia told her about her beautiful chess present from Paul purchased in Hungary. Mrs. O’Rourke said she would like to see it, rose from her desk, donned her winter cloak, and they dashed off to Lydia’s house.
Now, Mrs. O’Rourke had a nose for smelling out problems like few others. She took one look at the set and examined both the pieces, their width of bottoms and the board and compartments, tapping here and there. “What are you doing?” asked Lydia. She opened a jackknife she had removed from her handbag and pried off the felt covering the king’s base. “Aha! I thought so!” she exclaimed and took out a magnifying glass to examine it closely. With a careful pressing of the blade to the edge of a small indented lip in the base, it popped open and revealed a hollow that, when she turned it over, several very shiny stones fell into her hand. “We have discovered the apparent reason for the burglary. I would say that since these came from Hungary, I would venture a guess that these gems are very valuable.” Additional jewels and a necklace were found in the other major pieces.
The gems were turned over to the police; Paul was questioned on the particulars of his contact making the order. The police in Hungary questioned the dealer and owner of the shop who said the craftsman who did the work and worked there a little over two years and quit due to family concerns. No trace was found to his whereabouts so it was assumed he had false papers and passport, and fled to parts unknown. Mrs. O’Rourke believed that it was he or an accomplice who broke into the Peters home in an attempt to recover his loot. Newspaper reports told of the foiled burglary attempt and Lydia was not happy to read of how messy her room was kept as the reporter duly noted in getting to the facts of the case. We advised her to be less committal about revealing too much to reporters.
Well I said Lydia’s adventure was altering her life. She was hired by Mrs. O’Rourke to work part time answering the phone, filing, and general clean up in the office. All the while, Mrs. O’Rourke slowly groomed her into becoming a real sleuth. And what was the disposition of the jewels? A search for the owners was futile and since no one came forth to claim any or all of them, the court declared that Lydia was the rightful owner having received the chess equipment as a birthday gift. FINIS.