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5: The Man who desired Wealth

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Author Topic: 5: The Man who desired Wealth  (Read 37 times)
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« on: April 10, 2023, 12:40:51 pm »

LESLIE FRANKFORT was one of a group of three who stood in the inner office of Messrs. Warrell & Bird before a huge safe. There was plenty to attract and hold their attention, for the floor was littered with tools of every shape and description.

The safe itself bore evidence of a determined assault. A semi-circle of holes had been burnt in its solid iron door about the lock.

“They did that with an oxyhydrogen blow-pipe,” said one of the men.

He indicated a number of iron tubes which lay upon the ground with the rest of the paraphernalia. “They made a thorough job of it. I wonder what disturbed them.”

The eldest of the men shook his head.

“I expect the night watchman may have alarmed them,” he said. “What do you think, Frankfort?”

“I haven’t got over my admiration for their thoroughness yet,” said Leslie. “Why, the beggars must have used about a couple of hundred pounds’ worth of tools.”

He pointed to the kit on the ground. The detective’s gaze followed his extended finger. He smiled.

“Yes,” he said quietly, “these people are pretty thorough. You say you’ve lost nothing?”

Mr. Warrell shook his head.

“Yes and no,” he said carefully. “There was a diamond necklace which was deposited there last week by a client of ours---that has gone. I am anxious for the moment that this loss should not be reported.”

The detective looked at him wonderingly.

“That is rather a curious request,” he said, with a smile; “and you don’t usually have diamond necklaces in a stockbroker’s office---if I may be allowed to make that critical remark.”

Mr. Warrell smiled.

“It isn’t usual,” he said, “but a client of ours who went abroad last week came in just twenty minutes before the train left, and asked us to take care of the jewel cases.”

Mr. Warrell said this carelessly. He did not explain to the detective that they were held as security against the very large difference which the client had incurred; nor did he think it necessary to explain that he had kept the jewels in the office in the hope that the embarrassed lady might be able to redeem them.

“Did anybody know they were there except yourself and your partners?”

Warrell shook his head.

“I don’t think so. I have never mentioned it to anybody. Have you, Leslie?”

Leslie hesitated.

“Well, I’m bound to admit that I did,” he confessed, “though it was to somebody who would not repeat it.”

“Who was it?” asked Warrell.

“To Gilbert Standerton. I certainly mentioned the matter when we were discussing safe robberies.”

The elder man nodded.

“I hardly think he is the sort of person who is likely to burgle a safe.”

He smiled.

“It is a very curious coincidence,” said Leslie reflectively, “that he and I were talking about this very gang only a couple of days ago before he was married. I suppose,” he asked the detective suddenly, “there is no doubt that this is the work of your international friend?”

Chief Inspector Goldberg nodded his head.

“No doubt whatever, sir,” he said. “There is only one gang in England which could do this, and I could lay my hands on them to-day, but it would be a million pounds to one against my being able to secure at the same time evidence to convict them.”

Leslie nodded brightly.

“That is what I was telling Gilbert,” he said, turning to his partner. “Isn’t it extraordinary that these things can be in the twentieth century? Here we have three or four men who are known---you told me their names, Inspector, after the last attempt---and yet the police are powerless to bring home their guilt to them. It does seem curious, doesn’t it?”

Inspector Goldberg was not amused, but he permitted himself to smile politely.

“But then you’ve got to remember how difficult it is to collect evidence against men who work on such a huge scale as do these bank smashers. What I can’t understand,” he said, “is what attraction your safe has for them. This second attempt is a much more formidable one than the last.”

“Yes, this is really a burglary,” said Mr. Warrell. “In the last case there was nothing so elaborate in their preparations, though they were much more successful, in so far as they were able to open the safe.”

“I suppose you don’t want more of this to get in the papers than you can help,” said the Inspector.

Mr. Warrell shook his head.

“I don’t want any of it to get in till I have seen my client,” he said; “but I am entirely in your hands, and you must make such arrangements as you deem necessary.”

“Very good,” said the detective. “For the moment I do not think it is necessary to make any statement at all. If the reporters get hold of it, you had better tell them as much of the truth as you want to tell them, but the chances are that they won’t even get to hear of it as you communicated directly to the Yard.”

The police officer spent half an hour collecting and making notes of such data as he was able to secure. At the end of that time the old Jewry sent a contingent of plain clothes policemen to remove the tools.

The burglars had evidently entered the office after closing hours on the previous night, and had worked through the greater part of the evening, and possibly far into the night, in their successful attempt to cut out the lock of the safe. That they had been disturbed in their work was evident from the presence of the tools. This was not their first burglary in the City of London. During the previous six months the City had been startled by a succession of daring robberies, the majority of which had been successful.

The men had shown extraordinary knowledge of the safe’s contents, and it was this fact which had induced the police to narrow their circle of inquiry to three apparently innocent members of an outside broker’s firm. But try as they might, no evidence could be secured which might even remotely associate them with the crime.

Leslie remembered now that he had laughingly challenged Gilbert Standerton to qualify for the big reward which two firms at least had offered for the recovery of their stolen goods.

“After all,” he said, “with your taste and genius, you would make an ideal thief-catcher.”

“Or a thief,” Gilbert had answered moodily. It had been one of his bad days, a day on which his altered prospects had preyed upon him.

A telegram was waiting for Leslie when he entered the narrow portals of the City Proscenium Club. He took it down and opened it leisurely, and read its contents. A puzzled frown gathered on his forehead. It ran:----

“I must see you this afternoon. Meet me at Charing Cross Station four o’clock.---Gilbert.”

Punctually to the minute Leslie reached the terminus. He found Gilbert pacing to and fro beneath the clock, and was shocked at his appearance.

“What on earth is the matter with you?” he asked.

“Matter with me?” demanded the other hardly, “what do you think is the matter with me?”

“Are you in trouble?” asked Leslie anxiously.

He was genuinely fond of this friend of his.

“Trouble?” Gilbert laughed bitterly. “My dear good chap, I am always in trouble. Haven’t I been in trouble since the first day I met you? I want you to do something for me,” he went on briskly. “You were talking the other day about money. I have recognised the tragedy of my own dependence. I have got to get money, and get it quick.”

He spoke briskly, and in a matter-of-fact tone, but Leslie heard a determination which had never formed part of his friend’s equipment.

“I want to know something about shares and stocks and things of that sort,” Gilbert went on. “You’ll have to instruct me. I don’t suppose you know much about it yourself”---he smiled, with a return to the old good-humour---“but what little you know you’ve got to impart to me.”

“My dear chap,” protested the other, “why the devil are you worrying about a thing like that on your honeymoon? Where is your wife, by the way?”

“Oh, she’s at the house,” said the other shortly. He did not feel inclined to discuss her, and Leslie, in his amazement, had sufficient tact to pass over the subject.

“I can tell you all I know now, if you want a tip,” he said.

“I want something bigger than a tip---I want investments. I want you to tell me something that will bring in about twelve thousand a year.”

Leslie stopped and looked at the other.

“Are you quite----?” he began.

Gilbert smiled, a crooked little smile.

“Am I right in my head?” he finished. “Oh, yes, I am quite sane.”

“But don’t you see,” said the other, “you would want a little over a quarter of a million to bring in that interest.”

Gilbert nodded.

“I had an idea that some such amount was required. I want you to get me out between to-night and to-morrow a list of securities in which I can invest and which must be gilt-edged, and must, as I say, secure for me, or for my heirs, the sum I have mentioned.”

“And did you,” asked the indignant Leslie, “bring me to this beastly place on a hot afternoon in June to pull my leg about your dream investments?”

But something in Gilbert’s face checked his humour.

“Seriously, do you mean this?” he asked.

“Seriously, I mean it.”

“Well, then, I’ll give you the list like a shot. What has happened---has uncle relented?”

Gilbert shook his head.

“He is not likely to relent,” he said. “As a matter of fact, I had a note to-day from his secretary to tell me that he is pretty ill. I’m awfully sorry.” There was a genuine note of regret in his tone. “He is a decent old chap.”

“There’s no reason why he should hand over his wealth to the ‘demnition bow-wows,’ ” quoted Leslie indignantly. “But why did you meet me here, my son? Your club is round the corner.”

“I know,” said Gilbert; “but the club is---well, to tell you the truth,” he said, “I am giving up the club.”

“Giving up your club?” He stood squarely before the taller man. “Now just tell me,” he asked deliberately, “what the Dickens all this means? You’re giving up your club, you’ll be giving up your Foreign Office job next, my Crœsus!”

Gilbert nodded.

“I have given up the Foreign Office work,” he said quietly. “I want all the time I can get,” he went on, speaking rapidly. “I want every moment of the day for my own plans and my own schemes. You don’t know what it’s all about, my dear chap”---he laid his hand affectionately on the other’s shoulder---“but just believe that I am in urgent need of all the advice you can give me, and I only want the advice for which I ask.”

“Which means that I am not to poke my nose in your business unless I have a special invitation card all printed and decorated. Very good,” laughed Leslie. “Now come along to my club. I suppose as a result of your brief married life you haven’t conceived a dislike to all clubs?”

Gilbert made no answer, nor did they return again to the subject until they were ensconced in the spacious smoking-room of the Junior Terriers.

For two hours the men sat there, Gilbert questioning eagerly, pointedly, jotting down notes upon a sheet of paper. The other answered, often with some difficulty, the running fire of questions which his friend put.

“I didn’t know how little I knew,” confessed the young man ruefully, as Gilbert wrote down the last answer to the very last question. “What an encyclopædic questioner you are; you’re a born examiner, Gilbert.”

Gilbert smiled faintly as he slipped the sheet of paper into his pocket.

“By the way,” he said, as they were leaving the club, “I made my will this morning and I want you to be my executor.”

Leslie pushed his hat back with a groan.

“You’re the most cheerless bird I’ve met for quite a long time,” he said in exasperation. “You were married yesterday, you’re wandering round to-day with a face as long as an undertaker’s tout---I understand such interesting and picturesque individuals exist in the East End of London---you’ve chucked up the billet that’s bringing you in quite a lot of money, you’ve discussed investments, and you’ve made your will. You’re a most depressing devil!”

Again Gilbert smiled: he was grimly amused. He shook hands with the young man before the club and called a taxi-cab to him.

“I’m going to St. John’s Wood. I suppose you’re not going my way?”

“I am relieved to hear that you are going to St. John’s Wood,” said the other with mock politeness. “I feared you were going to the nearest crematorium.”

Gilbert found his wife in the study on his return. She was sitting on the big settee reading. The stress of the previous night had left no mark upon her beautiful face. She favoured him with a smile. Instinctively they had both adopted the attitude which best met the circumstances. Her respect for him had increased, even in that short space of time; he had so well mastered himself in that moment of terror---terror which in an indefinable way had communicated itself to her. He had met her the next morning at breakfast cheerfully; but she did not doubt that he had spent a sleepless night, for his eyes were heavy and tired, and in spite of his geniality his voice was sharp, as are the voices of men who have cheated Nature.

He walked straight to his desk now.

“Do you want to be alone?” she asked.

He looked up with a start.

“No, no,” he said hastily, “I’ve no wish to be alone. I’ve a little work to do, but you won’t bother me. You ought to know,” he said with an affectation of carelessness, “that I am resigning my post.”

“Your post!” she repeated.

“Yes; I find I have so much to do, and the Foreign Office takes up so much of my time that I really can’t spare, that it came to a question of giving up that or something else.”

He did not enlighten her as to what that “something else” was, nor could she guess. Already he was an enigma to her; she found, strange though it seemed to her, a new interest in him. That there was some tragedy in his life, a tragedy unsuspected by her, she did not doubt. He had told her calmly and categorically the story of his disinheritance; at his request, she had put the whole of that story into a letter which she had addressed to her mother. She felt no qualms, no inward quaking, at the prospect of the inevitable encounter, though Mrs. Cathcart would be enraged beyond reason.

Edith smiled a little to herself as she had stuck down the flap of the envelope. This was poetic justice, though she herself might be a life-long sufferer by reason of her worldly parent’s schemings. She had hoped that as a result of that letter, posted early in the morning, her mother would have called and the interview would have been finished before her husband returned. But Gilbert had been in the house half an hour when the blow fell. The tinkle of the hall bell brought the girl to her feet: she had been waiting, her ears strained, for that aggressive ring.

She herself flew down the stairs to open the door.

Mrs. Cathcart entered without a word, and as the girl closed the door behind her she turned.

“Where is that precious husband of yours?” she asked in a choked voice.

“My husband is in his study,” said the girl calmly. “Do you want him, mother?”

“Do I want him?” she repeated in a choked voice.

Edith saw the glare in the woman’s eyes, saw, too, the pinched and haggard cheek. For one brief moment she pitied this woman, who had seen all her dreams shattered at a moment when she had hoped that their realisation was inevitable.

“Does he know I am coming?”

“I think he rather expects you,” said the girl dryly.

“I will see him by myself,” said Mrs. Cathcart, turning half-way up the stairs.

“You will see him with me, mother, or you will not see him at all,” said the girl.

“You will do as I tell you, Edith,” stormed the woman.

The girl smiled.

“Mother,” she said gently, “you have ceased to have any right to direct me. You have handed me over to another guardian whose claims are greater than yours.”

It was not a good preparation for the interview that was to follow. Edith recognised this even as she opened the door and ushered her mother in.

When Gilbert saw who his visitor was he rose with a little bow. He did not offer his hand. He knew something of what this woman was feeling.

“Won’t you sit down, Mrs. Cathcart?” he said.

“I’ll stand for what I have to say,” she snapped. “Now, what is the meaning of this?” She threw down the letter which the girl had written, and which she had read and re-read until every word was engraven on her mind. “Is it true,” she asked fiercely, “that you are a poor man? That you have deceived us? That you have lied your way into a marriage----”

He held up his hand.

“You seem to forget, Mrs. Cathcart,” he said with dignity, “that the question of my position has already been discussed by you and me, and you have been most emphatic in impressing upon me the fact that no worldly considerations would weigh with you.”

“Worldly!” she sneered. “What do you mean by worldly, Mr. Standerton? Are you not in the world? Do you not live in a house and eat bread and butter that costs money? Do you not use motor-cars that require money for their upkeep? Whilst I am living in the world and you are living in the world worldly considerations will always count. I thought you were a rich man; you’re a beggar.”

He smiled a little contemptuously.

“A pretty mess you’ve made of it,” she said harshly. “You’ve got a woman who doesn’t love you---I suppose you know that?”

He bowed.

“I know all that, Mrs. Cathcart,” he said. “I knew the worst when I learnt that. The fact that you so obviously planned the marriage because you thought that I was Sir John Standerton’s heir does not hurt me, because I have met so many women like you, only”---he shrugged his shoulders---“I must confess that I thought you were a little different to the rest of the worldly mothers---forgive me if I use that word again. But you are not any better---you may be a little worse,” he said, his thoughtful eyes upon her face.

He was looking at her with a curious something which the woman could not quite understand in his eyes. She had seen that look somewhere, and in spite of herself she shivered. The anger died away in fear.

“I wanted you to postpone this wedding,” he went on softly. “I had an especial reason, a reason I will not give you, but which will interest you in a few months’ time. But you were fearful of losing your rich son-in-law. I didn’t realise then that that was your fear. I have satisfied myself---it really doesn’t matter how,” he said steadily, “that you are more responsible than I for this good match.”

He was a changed man. Mrs. Cathcart in her gusty rage could recognise this: there was a new soul, a new spirit, a new determination, and---that was it!---a new and terrible ferocity which shone from his eyes and for the moment hardened his face till it was almost terrible to look upon.

“Your daughter married me under a misapprehension. She told you all that I had to tell---almost all,” he corrected himself, “and I anticipated this visit. Had you not come I should have sent for you. Your daughter is as free as the air as far as I am concerned. I suppose your worldliness extends to a knowledge of the law? She can sue for a divorce to-morrow, and attain it without any difficulty and with little publicity.”

A gleam of hope came to the woman’s face.

“I never thought of that,” she said half to herself. She turned quickly to her daughter, for she was a woman of action. “Get your things and come with me.”

Edith did not stir. She stood the other side of the table, half facing her husband and wholly facing her mother.

“You hear what Mr. Standerton says,” said Mrs. Cathcart irritably. “He has opened a way of escape to you. What he says is true. A divorce can be obtained with no difficulty. Come with me. I will send for your clothes.”

Edith still did not move.

Mrs. Cathcart, watching her, saw her features soften one by one, saw the lips part in a smile and the head fall back as peal after peal of clear laughter rang through the room.

“Oh, mother!” The infinite contempt of the voice struck the woman like the lash of a whip. “You don’t know me! Go back with you? Divorce him? You’re mad! If he had been a rich man indeed I might; but for the time being, though I do not love him, and though I should not blame him and do not blame him if he does not love me, my lot is cast with his, my place is here.”

“Melodrama!” said the elder woman angrily.

“There’s a lot of truth and no end of decency in melodrama, Mrs. Cathcart,” said Gilbert.

His mother-in-law stood livid with rage, then turning, flung out of the room, and they heard the front door slam behind her.

They looked at each other, this strangely-married pair, for the space of a few seconds, and then Gilbert held out his hand.

“Thank you,” he said.

The girl dropped her eyes.

“You have nothing to thank me for,” she said listlessly. “I have done you too much wrong for one little act to wipe out all the effects of my selfishness.”

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