Chapter 4




THE ACCOUNTANT AT THE BANK


May Nuttall expressed her perplexity in a letter:

DEAR FRANK: Such a remarkable thing happened last night. I was in Silvers Rents about eleven o'clock, and had just finished seeing the last of my patients, when a man passed me and entered one of the houses--it was, I thought at the time, either the last or the last but one on the left. I now know that it was the last but one. There is no doubt at all in my mind that it was Mr. Cole, for not only did I see his face, but he carried the snakewood cane which he always affects.

I must confess I was curious enough to make inquiries, and I found that he is a frequent visitor here, but nobody quite knows why he comes. The last house is occupied by two families, very uninteresting people, and the last house but one is empty save for a room which is apparently the one Mr. Cole uses. None of the people in the Rents know Mr. Cole or have ever seen him. Apparently the downstairs room in the empty house is kept locked, and a woman who lives opposite told my informant, Thompson, whom you will remember as the man who always goes with me when I am slumming, that the gentleman sometimes comes, uses this room, and that he always sweeps it out for himself. It cannot be very well furnished, and apparently he never stays the night there.

Isn't it very extraordinary? Please tell me what you make of it--

Frank Merrill put down the letter and slowly filled his pipe. He was puzzled, and found no solution either then or on his way to the office.

He was the accountant of the Piccadilly branch of the London and Western Counties Bank, and had very little time to give to outside problems. But the thought of Cole and his curious appearance in a London slum under circumstances which, to say the least, were mysterious came between him and his work more than once.

He was entering up some transactions when he was sent for by the manager. Frank Merrill, though he did not occupy a particularly imposing post in the bank, held nevertheless a very extraordinary position and one which insured for him more consideration than the average official receives at the hands of his superiors. His uncle was financially interested in the bank, and it was generally believed that Frank had been sent as much to watch his relative's interests as to prepare himself for the handling of the great fortune which John Minute would some day leave to his heir.

The manager nodded cheerily as Frank came in and closed the door behind him.

"Good morning, Mr. Merrill," said the chief. "I want to see you about Mr. Holland's account. You told me he was in the other day."

Frank nodded.

"He came in in the lunch hour."

"I wish I had been here," said the manager thoughtfully. "I would like to see this gentleman."

"Is there anything wrong with his account?"

"Oh, no," said the manager with a smile; "he has a very good balance. In fact, too large a balance for a floating account. I wish you would see him and persuade him to put some of this money on deposit. The head office does not like big floating balances which may be withdrawn at any moment and which necessitates the keeping here of a larger quantity of cash than I care to hold.

"Personally," he went on, "I do not like our method of doing business at all. Our head office being in Plymouth, it is necessary, by the peculiar rules of the bank, that the floating balances should be so covered, and I confess that your uncle is as great a sinner as any. Look at this?"

He pushed a check across the table.

"Here's a bearer check for sixty thousand pounds which has just come in. It is to pay the remainder of the purchase price due to Consolidated Mines. Why they cannot accept the ordinary crossed check Heavens knows!"

Frank looked at the sprawling signature and smiled.

"You see, uncle's got a reputation to keep up," he said good-humoredly; "one is not called 'Ready-Money Minute' for nothing."

The manager made a little grimace.

"That sort of thing may be necessary in South Africa," he said, "but here in the very heart of the money world cash payments are a form of lunacy. I do not want you to repeat this to your relative."

"I am hardly likely to do that," said Frank, "though I do think you ought to allow something for uncle's peculiar experiences in the early days of his career."

"Oh, I make every allowance," said the other; "only it is very inconvenient, but it was not to discuss your uncle's shortcomings that I brought you here."

He pulled out a pass book from a heap in front of him.

"'Mr. Rex Holland,'" he read. "He opened his account while I was on my holiday, you remember."

"I remember very well," said Frank, "and he opened it through me."

"What sort of man is he?" asked the manager.

"I am afraid I am no good at descriptions," replied Frank, "but I should describe him as a typical young man about town, not very brainy, very few ideas outside of his own immediate world--which begins at Hyde Park Corner--"

"And ends at the Hippodrome," interrupted the manager.

"Possibly," said Frank. "He seemed a very sound, capable man in spite of a certain languid assumption of ignorance as to financial matters, and he came very well recommended. What would you like me to do?"

The manager pushed himself back in his chair, thrust his hands in his trousers' pockets, and looked at the ceiling for inspiration.

"Suppose you go along and see him this afternoon and ask him as a favor to put some of his money on deposit. We will pay the usual interest and all that sort of thing. You can explain that he can get the money back whenever he wants it by giving us thirty days' notice. Will you do this for me?"

"Surely," said Frank heartily. "I will see him this afternoon. What is his address? I have forgotten."

"Albemarle Chambers, Knightsbridge," replied the manager. "He may be in town."

"And what is his balance?" asked Frank.

"Thirty-seven thousand pounds," said the other, "and as he is not buying Consolidated Mines I do not see what need he has for the money, the more so since we can always give him an overdraft on the security of his deposit. Suggest to him that he puts thirty thousand pounds with us and leaves seven thousand pounds floating. By the way, your uncle is sending his secretary here this afternoon to go into the question of his own account."

Frank looked up.

"Cole," he said quickly, "is he coming here? By Jove!"

He stood by the manager's desk, and a look of amusement came into his eyes.

"I want to ask Cole something," he said slowly. "What time do you expect him?"

"About four o'clock."

"After the bank closes?"

The manager nodded.

"Uncle has a weird way of doing business," said Frank, after a pause. "I suppose that means that I shall have to stay on?"

"It isn't necessary," said Mr. Brandon. "You see Mr. Cole is one of our directors."

Frank checked an exclamation of surprise.

"How long has this been?" he asked.

"Since last Monday. I thought I told you. At any rate, if you have not been told by your uncle, you had better pretend to know nothing about it," said Brandon hastily.

"You may be sure I shall keep my counsel," said Frank, a little amused by the other's anxiety. "You have been very good to me, Mr. Brandon, and I appreciate your kindness."

"Mr. Cole is a nominee of your uncle, of course," Brandon went on, with a little nod of acknowledgment for the other's thanks. "Your uncle makes a point of never sitting on boards if he can help it, and has never been represented except by his solicitor since he acquired so large an interest in the bank. As a matter of fact, I think Mr. Cole is coming here as much to examine the affairs of the branch as to look after your uncle's account. Cole is a very first-class man of business, isn't he?"

Frank's answer was a grim smile.

"Excellent!" he said dryly. "He has the scientific mind grafted to a singular business capacity."

"You don't like him?"

"I have no particular reason for not liking him," said the other. "Possibly I am being constitutionally uncharitable. He is not the type of man I greatly care for. He possesses all the virtues, according to uncle, spends his days and nights almost slavishly working for his employer. Oh, yes, I know what you are going to say; that is a very fine quality in a young man, and honestly I agree with you, only it doesn't seem natural. I don't suppose anybody works as hard as I or takes as much interest in his work, yet I have no particular anxiety to carry it on after business hours."

The manager rose.

"You are not even an idle apprentice," he said good-humoredly. "You will see Mr. Rex Holland for me?"

"Certainly," said Frank, and went back to his desk deep in thought.

It was four o'clock to the minute when Jasper Cole passed through the one open door of the bank at which the porter stood ready to close. He was well, but neatly, dressed, and had hooked to his wrist a thin snakewood cane attached to a crook handle.

He saw Frank across the counter and smiled, displaying two rows of even, white teeth.

"Hello, Jasper!" said Frank easily, extending his hand. "How is uncle?"

"He is very well indeed," replied the other. "Of course he is very worried about things, but then I think he is always worried about something or other."

"Anything in particular?" asked Frank interestedly.

Jasper shrugged his shoulders.

"You know him much better than I; you were with him longer. He is getting so horribly suspicious of people, and sees a spy or an enemy in every strange face. That is usually a bad sign, but I think he has been a little overwrought lately."

He spoke easily; his voice was low and modulated with the faintest suggestion of a drawl, which was especially irritating to Frank, who secretly despised the Oxford product, though he admitted--since he was a very well-balanced and on the whole good-humored young man--his dislike was unreasonable.

"I hear you have come to audit the accounts," said Frank, leaning on the counter and opening his gold cigarette case.

"Hardly that," drawled Jasper.

He reached out his hand and selected a cigarette.

"I just want to sort out a few things. By the way, your uncle had a letter from a friend of yours."

"Mine?"

"A Rex Holland," said the other.

"He is hardly a friend of mine; in fact, he is rather an infernal nuisance," said Frank. "I went down to Knightsbridge to see him to-day, and he was out. What has Mr. Holland to say?"

"Oh, he is interested in some sort of charity, and he is starting a guinea collection. I forget what the charity was."

"Why do you call him a friend of mine?" asked Frank, eying the other keenly.

Jasper Cole was halfway to the manager's office and turned.

"A little joke," he said. "I had heard you mention the gentleman. I have no other reason for supposing he was a friend of yours."

"Oh, by the way, Cole," said Frank suddenly, "were you in town last night?"

Jasper Cole shot a swift glance at him.

"Why?"

"Were you near Victoria Docks?"

"What a question to ask!" said the other, with his inscrutable smile, and, turning abruptly, walked in to the waiting Mr. Brandon.

Frank finished work at five-thirty that night and left Jasper Cole and a junior clerk to the congenial task of checking the securities. At nine o'clock the clerk went home, leaving Jasper alone in the bank. Mr. Brandon, the manager, was a bachelor and occupied a flat above the bank premises. From time to time he strode in, his big pipe in the corner of his mouth. The last of these occasions was when Jasper Cole had replaced the last ledger in Mr. Minute's private safe.

"Half past eleven," said the manager disapprovingly, "and you have had no dinner."

"I can afford to miss a dinner," laughed the other.

"Lucky man," said the manager.

Jasper Cole passed out into the street and called a passing taxi to the curb.

"Charing Cross Station," he said.

He dismissed the cab in the station courtyard, and after a while walked back to the Strand and hailed another.

"Victoria Dock Road," he said in a low voice.




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