Read CHAPTER VII - INTRODUCING MR. REX HOLLAND of The Man Who Knew , free online book, by Edgar Wallace, on

Mr. Rex Holland stepped out of his new car, and, standing back a pace, surveyed his recent acquisition with a dispassionate eye.

“I think she will do, Feltham,” he said.

The chauffeur touched his cap and grinned broadly.

“She did it in thirty-eight minutes, sir; not bad for a twenty-mile run ­half of it through London.”

“Not bad,” agreed Mr. Holland, slowly stripping his gloves.

The car was drawn up at the entrance to the country cottage which a lavish expenditure of money had converted into a bijou palace.

He still lingered, and the chauffeur, feeling that some encouragement to conversation was called for, ventured the view that a car ought to be a good one if one spent eight hundred pounds on it.

“Everything that is good costs money,” said Mr. Rex Holland sententiously, and then continued:  “Correct me if I am mistaken, but as we came through Putney did I not see you nod to the driver of another car?”

“Yes, sir.”

“When I engaged you,” Mr. Holland went on in his even voice, “you told me that you had just arrived from Australia and knew nobody in England; I think my advertisement made it clear that I wanted a man who fulfilled these conditions?”

“Quite right, sir.  I was as much surprised as you; the driver of that car was a fellow who traveled over to the old country on the same boat as me.  It’s rather rum that he should have got the same kind of job.”

Mr. Holland smiled quietly.

“I hope his employer is not as eccentric as I and that he pays his servant on my scale.”

With this shot he unlocked and passed through the door of the cottage.

Feltham drove his car to the garage which had been built at the back of the house, and, once free from observation, lit his pipe, and, seating himself on a box, drew from his pocket a little card which he perused with unusual care.

He read: 

One:  To act as chauffeur and valet.  Two:  To receive ten pounds a week and expenses.  Three:  To make no friends or acquaintances.  Four:  Never under any circumstances to discuss my employer, his habits, or his business.  Five:  Never under any circumstances to go farther eastward into London than is represented by a line drawn from the Marble Arch to Victoria Station.  Six:  Never to recognize my employer if I see him in the street in company with any other person.

The chauffeur folded the card and scratched his chin reflectively.

“Eccentricity,” he said.

It was a nice five-syllable word, and its employment was a comfort to this perturbed Australian.  He cleaned his face and hands, and went into the tiny kitchen to prepare his master’s dinner.

Mr. Holland’s house was a remarkable one.  It was filled with every form of labor-saving device which the ingenuity of man could devise.  The furniture, if luxurious, was not in any great quantity.  Vacuum tubes were to be found in every room, and by the attachment of hose and nozzle and the pressure of a switch each room could be dusted in a few minutes.  From the kitchen, at the back of the cottage, to the dining room ran two endless belts electrically controlled, which presently carried to the table the very simple meal which his cook-chauffeur had prepared.

The remnants of dinner were cleared away, the chauffeur dismissed to his quarters, a little one-roomed building separated from the cottage, and the switch was turned over which heated the automatic coffee percolator which stood on the sideboard.

Mr. Holland sat reading, his feet resting on a chair.

He only interrupted his study long enough to draw off the coffee into a little white cup and to switch off the current.

He sat until the little silver clock on the mantelshelf struck twelve, and then he placed a card in the book to mark the place, closed it, and rose leisurely.

He slid back a panel in the wall, disclosing the steel door of a safe.  This he opened with a key which he selected from a bunch.  From the interior of the safe he removed a cedarwood box, also locked.  He threw back the lid and removed one by one three check books and a pair of gloves of some thin, transparent fabric.  These were obviously to guard against tell-tale finger prints.

He carefully pulled them on and buttoned them.  Next he detached three checks, one from each book, and, taking a fountain pen from his pocket, he began filling in the blank spaces.  He wrote slowly, almost laboriously, and he wrote without a copy.  There are very few forgers in the criminal records who have ever accomplished the feat of imitating a man’s signature from memory.  Mr. Rex Holland was singularly exceptional to all precedent, for from the date to the flourishing signature these checks might have been written and signed by John Minute.

There were the same fantastic “E’s,” the same stiff-tailed “Y’s.”  Even John Minute might have been in doubt whether he wrote the “Eight hundred and fifty” which appeared on one slip.

Mr. Holland surveyed his handiwork without emotion.

He waited for the ink to dry before he folded the checks and put them in his pocket.  This was John Minute’s way, for the millionaire never used blotting paper for some reason, probably not unconnected with an event in his earlier career.  When the checks were in his pocket, Mr. Holland removed his gloves, replaced them with the check books in the box and in the safe, locked the steel door, drew the sliding panel, and went to bed.

Early the next morning he summoned his servant.

“Take the car back to town,” he said.  “I am going back by train.  Meet me at the Holland Park tube at two o’clock; I have a little job for you which will earn you five hundred.”

“That’s my job, sir,” said the dazed man when he recovered from the shock.

Frank sometimes accompanied May to the East End, and on the day Mr. Rex Holland returned to London he called for the girl at her flat to drive her to Canning Town.

“You can come in and have some tea,” she invited.

“You’re a luxurious beggar, May,” he said, glancing round approvingly at the prettily furnished sitting room.  “Contrast this with my humble abode in Bayswater.”

“I don’t know your humble abode in Bayswater,” she laughed.  “But why on earth you should elect to live at Bayswater I can’t imagine.”

He sipped his tea with a twinkle in his eye.

“Guess what income the heir of the Minute millions enjoys?” he asked ironically.  “No, I’ll save you the agony of guessing.  I earn seven pounds a week at the bank, and that is the whole of my income.”

“But doesn’t uncle ­” she began in surprise.

“Not a bob,” replied Frank vulgarly; “not half a bob.”

“But ­”

“I know what you’re going to say; he treats you generously, I know.  He treats me justly.  Between generosity and justice, give me generosity all the time.  I will tell you something else.  He pays Jasper Cole a thousand a year!  It’s very curious, isn’t it?”

She leaned over and patted his arm.

“Poor boy,” she said sympathetically, “that doesn’t make it any easier ­Jasper, I mean.”

Frank indulged in a little grimace, and said: 

“By the way, I saw the mysterious Jasper this morning ­coming out of the Waterloo Station looking more mysterious than ever.  What particular business has he in the country?”

She shook her head and rose.

“I know as little about Jasper as you,” she answered.

She turned and looked at him thoughtfully.

“Frank,” she said, “I am rather worried about you and Jasper.  I am worried because your uncle does not seem to take the same view of Jasper as you take.  It is not a very heroic position for either of you, and it is rather hateful for me.”

Frank looked at her with a quizzical smile.

“Why hateful for you?”

She shook her head.

“I would like to tell you everything, but that would not be fair.”

“To whom?” Frank asked quickly.

“To you, your uncle, or to Jasper.”

He came nearer to her.

“Have you so warm a feeling for Jasper?” he asked.

“I have no warm feeling for anybody,” she said candidly.  “Oh, don’t look so glum, Frank!  I suppose I am slow to develop, but you cannot expect me to have any very decided views yet a while.”

Frank smiled ruefully.

“That is my one big trouble, dear,” he said quietly; “bigger than anything else in the world.”

She stood with her hand on the door, hesitating, a look of perplexity upon her beautiful face.  She was of the tall, slender type, a girl slowly ripening into womanhood.  She might have been described as cold and a little repressive, but the truth was that she was as yet untouched by the fires of passion, and for all her twenty-one years she was still something of the healthy schoolgirl, with a schoolgirl’s impatience of sentiment.

“I am the last to spin a hard-luck yarn,” Frank went on, “but I have not had the best of everything, dear.  I started wrong with uncle.  He never liked my father nor any of my father’s family.  His treatment of his wife was infamous.  My poor governor was one of those easy-going fellows who was always in trouble, and it was always John Minute’s job to get him out.  I don’t like talking about him ­” He hesitated.

She nodded.

“I know,” she said sympathetically.

“Father was not the rotter that Uncle John thinks he was.  He had his good points.  He was careless, and he drank much more than was good for him, but all the scrapes he fell into were due to this latter failing.”

The girl knew the story of Doctor Merrill.  It had been sketched briefly but vividly by John Minute.  She knew also some of those scrapes which had involved Doctor Merrill’s ruin, material and moral.

“Frank,” she said, “if I can help you in any way I would do it.”

“You can help me absolutely,” said the young man quietly, “by marrying me.”

She gasped.

“When?” she asked, startled.

“Now, next week; at any rate, soon.”  He smiled, and, crossing to her, caught her hand in his.

“May, dear, you know I love you.  You know there is nothing in the world I would not do for you, no sacrifice that I would not make.”

She shook her head.

“You must give me some time to think about this, Frank,” she said.

“Don’t go,” he begged.  “You cannot know how urgent is my need of you.  Uncle John has told you a great deal about me, but has he told you this ­that my only hope of independence ­independence of his millions and his influence ­you cannot know how widespread or pernicious that influence is,” he said, with an unaccustomed passion in his voice, “lies in my marriage before my twenty-fourth birthday?”


“It is true.  I cannot tell you any more, but John Minute knows.  If I am married within the next ten days” ­he snapped his fingers ­“that for his millions.  I am independent of his legacies, independent of his patronage.”

She stared at him, open-eyed.

“You never told me this before.”

He shook his head a little despairingly.

“There are some things I can never tell you, May, and some things which you can never know till we are married.  I only ask you to trust me.”

“But suppose,” she faltered, “you are not married within ten days, what will happen?”

He shrugged his shoulders.

“‘I am John’s liege man of life and limb and of earthly regard,’” he quoted flippantly.  “I shall wait hopefully for the only release that can come, the release which his death will bring.  I hate saying that, for there is something about him that I like enormously, but that is the truth, and, May,” he said, still holding her hand and looking earnestly into her face, “I don’t want to feel like that about John Minute.  I don’t want to look forward to his end.  I want to meet him without any sense of dependence.  I don’t want to be looking all the time for signs of decay and decrepitude, and hail each illness he may have with a feeling of pleasant anticipation.  It is beastly of me to talk like this, I know, but if you were in my position ­if you knew all that I know ­you would understand.”

The girl’s mind was in a ferment.  An ordinary meeting had developed so tumultuously that she had lost her command of the situation.  A hundred thoughts ran riot through her mind.  She felt as though she were an arbitrator deciding between two men, of both of whom she was fond, and, even at that moment, there intruded into her mental vision a picture of Jasper Cole, with his pale, intellectual face and his grave, dark eyes.

“I must think about this,” she said again.  “I don’t think you had better come down to the mission with me.”

He nodded.

“Perhaps you’re right,” he said.

Gently she released her hand and left him.

For her that day was one of supreme mental perturbation.  What was the extraordinary reason which compelled his marriage by his twenty-fourth birthday?  She remembered how John Minute had insisted that her thoughts about marriage should be at least postponed for the next fortnight.  Why had John Minute suddenly sprung this story of her legacy upon her?  For the first time in her life she began to regard her uncle with suspicion.

For Frank the day did not develop without its sensations.  The Piccadilly branch of the London and Western Counties Bank occupies commodious premises, but Frank had never been granted the use of a private office.  His big desk was in a corner remote from the counter, surrounded on three sides by a screen which was half glass and half teak paneling.  From where he sat he could secure a view of the counter, a necessary provision, since he was occasionally called upon to identify the bearers of checks.

He returned a little before three o’clock in the afternoon, and Mr. Brandon, the manager, came hurriedly from his little sanctum at the rear of the premises and beckoned Frank into his office.

“You’ve taken an awful long time for lunch,” he complained.

“I’m sorry,” said Frank.  “I met Miss Nuttall, and the time flew.”

“Did you see Holland the other day?” the manager interrupted.

“I didn’t see him on the day you sent me,” replied Frank, “but I saw him on the following day.”

“Is he a friend of your uncle’s?”

“I don’t think so.  Why do you ask?”

The manager took up three checks which lay on the table, and Frank examined them.  One was for eight hundred and fifty pounds six shillings, and was drawn upon the Liverpool Cotton Bank, one was for forty-one thousand one hundred and forty pounds, and was drawn upon the Bank of England, and the other was for seven thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine pounds fourteen shillings.  They were all signed “John Minute,” and they were all made payable to “Rex Holland, esquire,” and were crossed.

Now John Minute had a very curious practice of splitting up payments so that they covered the three banking houses at which his money was deposited.  The check for seven thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine pounds fourteen shillings was drawn upon the London and Western Counties Bank, and that would have afforded the manager some clew even if he had not been well acquainted with John Minute’s eccentricity.

“Seven thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine pounds fourteen shillings from Mr. Minute’s balance,” said the manager, “leaves exactly fifty thousand pounds.”

Mr. Brandon shook his head in despair at the unbusinesslike methods of his patron.

“Does he know your uncle?”


“Rex Holland.”

Frank frowned in an effort of memory.

“I don’t remember my uncle ever speaking of him, and yet, now I come to think of it, one of the first checks he put into the bank was on my uncle’s account.  Yes, now I remember,” he exclaimed.  “He opened the account on a letter of introduction which was signed by Mr. Minute.  I thought at the time that they had probably had business dealings together, and as uncle never encourages the discussion of bank affairs outside of the bank, I have never mentioned it to him.”

Again Mr. Brandon shook his head in doubt.

“I must say, Mr. Merrill,” he said, “I don’t like these mysterious depositors.  What is he like in appearance?”

“Rather a tall, youngish man, exquisitely dressed.”

“Clean shaven?”

“No, he has a closely trimmed black beard, though he cannot be much more than twenty-eight.  In fact, when I saw him for the first time the face was familiar to me and I had an impression of having seen him before.  I think he was wearing a gold-rimmed eyeglass when he came on the first occasion, but I have never met him in the street, and he hardly moves in my humble social circle.”  Frank smiled.

“I suppose it is all right,” said the manager dubiously; “but, anyway, I’ll see him to-morrow.  As a precautionary measure we might get in touch with your uncle, though I know he’ll raise Cain if we bother him about his account.”

“He will certainly raise Cain if you get in touch with him to-day,” smiled Frank, “for he is due to leave by the two-twenty this afternoon for Paris.”

It wanted five minutes to the hour at which the bank closed when a clerk came through the swing door and laid a letter upon the counter which was taken in to Mr. Brandon, who came into the office immediately and crossed to where Frank sat.

“Look at this,” he said.

Frank took the letter and read it.  It was addressed to the manager, and ran: 

Dear sir:  I am leaving for Paris to-night to join my partner, Mr.
Minute.  I shall be very glad, therefore, if you will arrange to
cash the inclosed check.  Yours faithfully,

                                                                                        Rex A. Holland.

The “inclosed check” was for fifty-five thousand pounds and was within five thousand pounds of the amount standing to Mr. Holland’s account in the bank.  There was a postscript to the letter: 

You will accept this, my receipt, for the sum, and hand it to my messenger, Sergeant George Graylin, of the corps of commissionaires, and this form of receipt will serve to indemnify you against loss in the event of mishap.

The manager walked to the counter.

“Who gave you this letter?” he asked.

“Mr. Holland, sir,” said the man.

“Where is Mr. Holland?” asked Frank.

The sergeant shook his head.

“At his flat.  My instructions were to take this letter to the bank and bring back the money.”

The manager was in a quandary.  It was a regular transaction, and it was by no means unusual to pay out money in this way.  It was only the largeness of the sum which made him hesitate.  He disappeared into his office and came back with two bundles of notes which he had taken from the safe.  He counted them over, placed them in a sealed envelope, and received from the sergeant his receipt.

When the man had gone Brandon wiped his forehead.

“Phew!” he said.  “I don’t like this way of doing business very much, and I should be very glad indeed to be transferred back to the head office.”

The words were hardly out of his mouth when a bell rang violently.  The front doors of the bank had been closed with the departure of the commissioner, and one of the junior clerks, balancing up his day book, dropped his pen, and, at a sign from his chief, walking to the door, pulled back the bolts and admitted ­John Minute.

Frank stared at him in astonishment.

“Hello, uncle,” he said.  “I wish you had come a few minutes before.  I thought you were in Paris.”

“The wire calling me to Paris was a fake,” growled John Minute.  “I wired for confirmation, and discovered my Paris people had not sent me any message.  I only got the wire just before the train started.  I have been spending all the afternoon getting on to the phone to Paris to untangle the muddle.  Why did you wish I was here five minutes before?”

“Because,” said Frank, “we have just paid out fifty-five thousand pounds to your friend, Mr. Holland.”

“My friend?” John Minute stared from the manager to Frank and from Frank to the manager, who suddenly experienced a sinking feeling which accompanies disaster.

“What do you mean by ’my friend’?” asked John Minute.  “I have never heard of the man before.”

“Didn’t you give Mr. Holland checks amounting to fifty-five thousand pounds this morning?” gasped the manager, turning suddenly pale.

“Certainly not!” roared John Minute.  “Why the devil should I give him checks?  I have never heard of the man.”

The manager grasped the counter for support.

He explained the situation in a few halting words, and led the way to his office, Frank accompanying him.

John Minute examined the checks.

“That is my writing,” he said.  “I could swear to it myself, and yet I never wrote those checks or signed them.  Did you note the commissionaire’s number?”

“As it happens I jotted it down,” said Frank.

By this time the manager was on the phone to the police.  At seven o’clock that night the commissionaire was discovered.  He had been employed, he said, by a Mr. Holland, whom he described as a slimmish man, clean shaven, and by no means answering to the description which Frank had given.

“I have lived for a long time in Australia,” said the commissionaire, “and he spoke like an Australian.  In fact, when I mentioned certain places I had been to he told me he knew them.”

The police further discovered that the Knightsbridge flat had been taken, furnished, three months before by Mr. Rex Holland, the negotiations having been by letter.  Mr. Holland’s agent had assumed responsibility for the flat, and Mr. Holland’s agent was easily discoverable in a clerk in the employment of a well-known firm of surveyors and auctioneers, who had also received his commission by letter.

When the police searched the flat they found only one thing which helped them in their investigations.  The hall porter said that, as often as not, the flat was untenanted, and only occasionally, when he was off duty, had Mr. Holland put in an appearance, and he only knew this from statements which had been made by other tenants.

“It comes to this,” said John Minute grimly; “that nobody has seen Mr. Holland but you, Frank.”

Frank stiffened.

“I am not suggesting that you are in the swindle,” said Minute gruffly.  “As likely as not, the man you saw was not Mr. Holland, and it is probably the work of a gang, but I am going to find out who this man is, if I have to spend twice as much as I have lost.”

The police were not encouraging.

Detective Inspector Nash, from Scotland Yard, who had handled some of the biggest cases of bank swindles, held out no hope of the money being recovered.

“In theory you can get back the notes if you have their numbers,” he said, “but in practice it is almost impossible to recover them, because it is quite easy to change even notes for five hundred pounds, and probably you will find these in circulation in a week or two.”

His speculation proved to be correct, for on the third day after the crime three of the missing notes made a curious appearance.

“Ready-Money Minute,” true to his nickname, was in the habit of balancing his accounts as between bank and bank by cash payments.  He had made it a practice for all his dividends to be paid in actual cash, and these were sent to the Piccadilly branch of the London and Western Counties Bank in bulk.  After a payment of a very large sum on account of certain dividends accruing from his South African investments, three of the missing notes were discovered in the bank itself.

John Minute, apprised by telegram of the fact, said nothing; for the money had been paid in by his confidential secretary, Jasper Cole, and there was excellent reason why he did not desire to emphasize the fact.