Read CHAPTER XXI - BEALE SEES WHITE of The Green Rust , free online book, by Edgar Wallace, on ReadCentral.com.

“In a sense,” said Lawyer Kitson, “it is a tragedy.  In a sense it is a comedy.  The most fatal comedy of errors that could be imagined.”

Stanford Beale sat on a low chair, his head in his hands, the picture of dejection.

“I don’t mind your kicks,” he said, without looking up; “you can’t say anything worse about me than I am saying about myself.  Oh, I’ve been a fool, an arrogant mad fool.”

Kitson, his hands clasped behind his back under his tail coat, his gold-rimmed pince-nez perched on his nose, looked down at the young man.

“I am not going to tell you that I was against the idea from the beginning, because that is unnecessary.  I ought to have put my foot down and stopped it.  I heard you were pretty clever with a gun, Stanford.  Why didn’t you sail in and rescue the girl as soon as you found where she was?”

“I don’t think there would have been a ghost of a chance,” said the other, looking up.  “I am not finding excuses, but I am telling you what I know.  There were four or five men in the house and they were all pretty tough citizens ­I doubt if I would have made it that way.”

“You think he would have married her?”

“He admitted as much,” said Stanford Beale, “the parson was already there when I butted in.”

“What steps are you taking to deal with this man van Heerden?”

Beale laughed helplessly.

“I cannot take any until Miss Cresswell recovers.”

“Mrs. Beale,” murmured Kitson, and the other went red.

“I guess we’ll call her Miss Cresswell, if you don’t mind,” he said sharply, “see here, Mr. Kitson, you needn’t make things worse than they are.  I can do nothing until she recovers and can give us a statement as to what happened.  McNorton will execute the warrant just as soon as we can formulate a charge.  In fact, he is waiting downstairs in the hope of seeing ­” he paused, “Miss Cresswell.  What does the doctor say?”

“She’s sleeping now.”

“It’s maddening, maddening,” groaned Beale, “and yet if it weren’t so horrible I could laugh.  Yesterday I was waiting for a ‘hobo’ to come out of delirium tremens.  To-day I am waiting for Miss Cresswell to recover from some devilish drug.  I’ve made a failure of it, Mr. Kitson.”

“I’m afraid you have,” said the other dryly; “what do you intend doing?”

“But does it occur to you,” asked Kitson slowly, “that this lady is not aware that she has married you and that we’ve got to break the news to her?  That’s the part I don’t like.”

“And you can bet it doesn’t fill me with rollicking high spirits,” snapped Beale; “it’s a most awful situation.”

“What are you going to do?” asked the other again.

“What are you going to do?” replied the exasperated Beale, “after all, you’re her lawyer.”

“And you’re her husband,” said Kitson grimly, “which reminds me.”  He walked to his desk and took up a slip of paper.  “I drew this out against your coming.  This is a certified cheque for L400,000, that is nearly two million dollars, which I am authorized to hand to Oliva’s husband on the day of her wedding.”

Beale took it from the other’s fingers, read it carefully and tore it into little pieces, after which conversation flagged.  After awhile Beale asked: 

“What do I have to do to get a divorce?”

“Well,” said the lawyer, “by the English law if you leave your wife and go away, and refuse to return to her she can apply to a judge of the High Court, who will order you to return within fourteen days.”

“I’d come back in fourteen seconds if she wanted me,” said Beale fervently.

“You’re hopeless,” said Kitson, “you asked how you could get a divorce.  I presume you want one.”

“Of course I do.  I want to undo the whole of this horrible tangle.  It’s absurd and undignified.  Can nothing be done without Miss Cresswell knowing?”

“Nothing can be done without your wife’s knowledge,” said Kitson.

He seemed to take a fiendish pleasure in reminding the unhappy young man of his misfortune.

“I am not blaming you,” he said more soberly, “I blame myself.  When I took this trust from poor John Millinborn I never realized all that it meant or all the responsibility it entailed.  How could I imagine that the detective I employed to protect the girl from fortune hunters would marry her?  I am not complaining,” he said hastily, seeing the wrath rise in Beale’s face, “it is very unfortunate, and you are as much the victim of circumstances as I. But unhappily we have not been the real victims.”

“I suppose,” said Beale, looking up at the ceiling, “if I were one of those grand little mediaeval knights or one of those gallant gentlemen one reads about I should blow my brains out.”

“That would be a solution,” said Mr. Kitson, “but we should still have to explain to your wife that she was a widow.”

“Then what am I to do?”

“Have a cigar,” said Kitson.

He took two from his vest pocket and handed one to his companion, and his shrewd old eyes twinkled.

“It’s years and years since I read a romantic story,” he said, “and I haven’t followed the trend of modern literature very closely, but I think that your job is to sail in and make the lady love you.”

Beale jumped to his feet.

“Do you mean that?  Pshaw!  It’s absurd!  It’s ridiculous!  She would never love me.”

“I don’t see why anybody should, least of all your wife,” said Kitson, “but it would certainly simplify matters.”

“And then?”

“Marry her all over again,” said Kitson, sending a big ring of smoke into the air, “there’s no law against it.  You can marry as many times as you like, providing you marry the same woman.”

“But, suppose ­suppose she loves somebody else?” asked Beale hoarsely.

“Why then it will be tough on you,” said Kitson, “but tougher on her.  Your business is to see that she doesn’t love somebody else.”

“But how?”

A look of infinite weariness passed across Kitson’s face.  He removed his glasses and put them carefully into their case.

“Really, as a detective,” he said, “you may be a prize exhibit, but as an ordinary human being you wouldn’t even get a consolation prize.  You have got me into a mess and you have got to get me out.  John Millinborn was concerned only with one thing ­the happiness of his niece.  If you can make your wife, Mrs. Stanford Beale” (Beale groaned), “if you can make your good lady happy,” said the remorseless lawyer, “my trust is fulfilled.  I believe you are a white man, Beale,” he said with a change in his tone, “and that her money means nothing to you.  I may not be able to give a young man advice as to the best method of courting his wife, but I know something about human nature, and if you are not straight, I have made one of my biggest mistakes.  My advice to you is to leave her alone for a day or two until she’s quite recovered.  You have plenty to occupy your mind.  Go out and fix van Heerden, but not for his treatment of the girl ­she mustn’t figure in a case of that kind, for all the facts will come out.  You think you have another charge against him; well, prove it.  That man killed John Millinborn and I believe you can put him behind bars.  As the guardian angel of Oliva Cresswell you have shown certain lamentable deficiencies” ­the smile in his eyes was infectious, and Stanford Beale smiled in sympathy.  “In that capacity I have no further use for your services and you are fired, but you can consider yourself re-engaged on the spot to settle with van Heerden.  I will pay all the expenses of the chase ­but get him.”

He put out his hand and Stanford gripped it.

“You’re a great man, sir,” he breathed.

The old man chuckled.

“And you may even be a great detective,” he said.  “In five minutes your Mr. Lassimus White will be here.  You suggested I should send for him ­who is he, by the way?”

“The managing director of Punsonby’s.  A friend of van Heerden’s and a shareholder in his Great Adventure.”

“But he knows nothing?”

There was a tap at the door and a page-boy came into the sitting-room with a card.

“Show the gentleman up,” said Kitson; “it is our friend,” he explained.

“And he may know a great deal,” said Beale.

Mr. White stalked into the room dangling his glasses with the one hand and holding his shiny silk hat with the other.  He invariably carried his hat as though it were a rifle he were shouldering.

He bowed ceremoniously and closed the door behind him.

“Mr. ­ah ­Kitson?” he said, and advanced a big hand.  “I received your note and am, as you will observe, punctual.  I may say that my favourite motto is ’Punctuality is the politeness of princes.”

“You know Mr. Beale?”

Mr. White bowed stiffly.

“I have ­ah ­met Mr. Beale.”

“In my unregenerate days,” said Beale cheerfully, “but I am quite sober now.”

“I am delighted to learn this,” said Mr. White.  “I am extremely glad to learn this.”

“Mr. Kitson asked you to come, Mr. White, but really it is I who want to see you,” said Beale.  “To be perfectly frank, I learnt that you were in some slight difficulty.”

“Difficulty?” Mr. White bristled.  “Me, sir, in difficulty?  The head of the firm of Punsonby’s, whose credit stands, sir, as a model of sound industrial finance?  Oh no, sir.”

Beale was taken aback.  He had depended upon information which came from unimpeachable sources to secure the co-operation of this pompous windbag.

“I’m sorry,” he said.  “I understood that you had called a meeting of creditors and had offered to sell certain shares in a syndicate which I had hoped to take off your hands.”

Mr. White inclined his head graciously.

“It is true, sir,” he said, “that I asked a few ­ah ­wholesale firms to meet me and to talk over things.  It is also true that I ­ah ­had shares which had ceased to interest me, but those shares are sold.”

“Sold!  Has van Heerden bought them in?” asked Beale eagerly; and Mr. White nodded.

“Doctor van Heerden, a remarkable man, a truly remarkable man.”  He shook his head as if he could not bring himself and never would bring himself to understand how remarkable a man the doctor was.  “Doctor van Heerden has repurchased my shares and they have made me a very handsome profit.”

“When was this?” asked Beale.

“I really cannot allow myself to be cross-examined, young man,” he said severely, “by your accent I perceive that you are of trans-Atlantic origin, but I cannot allow you to hustle me ­hustle I believe is the word.  The firm of Punsonby’s ­”

“Forget ’em,” said Beale tersely.  “Punsonby’s has been on the verge of collapse for eight years.  Let’s get square, Mr. White.  Punsonby’s is a one man company and you’re that man.  Its balance sheets are faked, its reserves are non-existent.  Its sinking fund is spurlos versenkt.”

“Sir!”

“I tell you I know Punsonby’s ­I’ve had the best accountants in London working out your position, and I know you live from hand to mouth and that the margin between your business and bankruptcy is as near as the margin between you and prison.”

Mr. White was very pale.

“But that isn’t my business and I dare say that the money van Heerden paid you this morning will stave off your creditors.  Anyway, I’m not running a Pure Business Campaign.  I’m running a campaign against your German friend van Heerden.”

“A German?” said the virtuous Mr. White in loud astonishment.  “Surely not ­a Holland gentleman ­”

“He’s a German and you know it.  You’ve been financing him in a scheme to ruin the greater part of Europe and the United States, to say nothing of Canada, South America, India and Australia.”

“I protest against such an inhuman charge,” said Mr. White solemnly, and he rose.  “I cannot stay here any longer ­”

“If you go I’ll lay information against you,” said Beale.  “I’m in dead earnest, so you can go or stay.  First of all, I want to know in what form you received the money?”

“By cheque,” replied White in a flurry.

“On what bank?”

“The London branch of the Swedland National Bank.”

“A secret branch of the Dresdner Bank,” said Beale.  “That’s promising.  Has Doctor Van Heerden ever paid you money before?”

By now Mr. White was the most tractable of witnesses.  All his old assurance had vanished, and his answers were almost apologetic in tone.

“Yes, Mr. Beale, small sums.”

“On what bank?”

“On my own bank.”

“Good again.  Have you ever known that he had an account elsewhere ­for example, you advanced him a very considerable sum of money; was your cheque cleared through the Swedland National Bank?”

“No, sir ­through my own bank.”

Beale fingered his chin.

“Money this morning and he took his loss in good part ­that can only mean one thing.”  He nodded.  “Mr. White, you have supplied me with valuable information.”

“I trust I have said nothing which may ­ah ­incriminate one who has invariably treated me with the highest respect,” Mr. White hastened to say.

“Not more than he is incriminated,” smiled Stanford.  “One more question.  You know that van Heerden is engaged in some sort of business ­the business in which you invested your money.  Where are his factories?”

But here Mr. White protested he could offer no information.  He recalled, not without a sinking of heart, a similar cross-examination on the previous day at the hands of McNorton.  There were factories ­van Heerden had hinted as much ­but as to where they were located ­well, confessed Mr. White, he hadn’t the slightest idea.

“That’s rubbish,” said Beale roughly, “you know.  Where did you communicate with van Heerden?  He wasn’t always at his flat and you only came there twice.”

“I assure you ­” began Mr. White, alarmed by the other’s vehemence.

“Assure nothing,” thundered Beale, “your policies won’t sell ­where did you see him?”

“On my honour ­”

“Let’s keep jokes outside of the argument,” said Beale truculently, “where did you see him?”

“Believe me, I never saw him ­if I had a message to send, my cashier ­ah ­Miss Glaum, an admirable young lady ­carried it for me.”

“Hilda Glaum!”

Beale struck his palm.  Why had he not thought of Hilda Glaum before?

“That’s about all I want to ask you, Mr. White,” he said mildly; “you’re a lucky man.”

“Lucky, sir!” Mr. White recovered his hauteur as quickly as Beale’s aggressiveness passed.  “I fail to perceive my fortune.  I fail to see, sir, where luck comes in.”

“You have your money back,” said Beale significantly, “if you hadn’t been pressed for money and had not pressed van Heerden you would have whistled for it.”

“Do you suggest,” demanded White, in his best judicial manner, “do you suggest in the presence of a witness with a due appreciation of the actionable character of your words that Doctor van Heerden is a common swindler?”

“Not common,” replied Beale, “thank goodness!”