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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Man Who Knew - Chapter 5. John Minute's Legacy
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The Man Who Knew - Chapter 5. John Minute's Legacy Post by :marketing Category :Long Stories Author :Edgar Wallace Date :May 2012 Read :2389

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The Man Who Knew - Chapter 5. John Minute's Legacy


La Rochefoucauld has said that prudence and love are inconsistent. May Nuttall, who had never explored the philosophies of La Rochefoucauld, had nevertheless seen that quotation in the birthday book of an acquaintance, and the saying had made a great impression upon her. She was twenty-one years of age, at which age girls are most impressionable and are little influenced by the workings of pure reason. They are prepared to take their philosophies ready-made, and not disinclined to accept from others certain rigid standards by which they measure their own elastic temperaments.

Frank Merrill was at once a comfort and the cause of a certain half-ashamed resentment, since she was of the age which resents dependence. The woman who spends any appreciable time in the discussion with herself as to whether she does or does not love a man can only have her doubts set at rest by the discovery of somebody whom she loves better. She liked Frank, and liked him well enough to accept the little ring which marked the beginning of a new relationship which was not exactly an engagement, yet brought to her friendship a glamour which it had never before possessed.

She liked him well enough to want his love. She loved him little enough to find the prospect of an early marriage alarming. That she did not understand herself was not remarkable. Twenty-one has not the experience by which the complexities of twenty-one may be straightened out and made visible.

She sat at breakfast, puzzling the matter out, and was a little disturbed and even distressed to find, in contrasting the men, that of the two she had a warmer and a deeper feeling for Jasper Cole. Her alarm was due to the recollection of one of Frank's warnings, almost prophetic, it seemed to her now:

"That man has a fascination which I would be the last to deny. I find myself liking him, though my instinct tells me he is the worst enemy I have in the world."

If her attitude toward Frank was difficult to define, more remarkable was her attitude of mind toward Jasper Cole. There was something sinister--no, that was not the word--something "frightening" about him. He had a magnetism, an aura of personal power, which seemed to paralyze the will of any who came into conflict with him.

She remembered how often she had gone to the big library at Weald Lodge with the firm intention of "having it out with Jasper." Sometimes it was a question of domestic economy into which he had obtruded his views--when she was sixteen she was practically housekeeper to her adopted uncle--perhaps it was a matter of carriage arrangement. Once it had been much more serious, for after she had fixed up to go with a merry picnic party to the downs, Jasper, in her uncle's absence and on his authority, had firmly but gently forbidden her attendance. Was it an accident that Frank Merrill was one of the party, and that he was coming down from London for an afternoon's fun?

In this case, as in every other, Jasper had his way. He even convinced her that his view was right and hers was wrong. He had pooh-poohed on this occasion all suggestion that it was the presence of Frank Merrill which had induced him to exercise the veto which his extraordinary position gave to him. According to his version, it had been the inclusion in the party of two ladies whose names were famous in the theatrical world which had raised his delicate gorge.

May thought of this particular incident as she sat at breakfast, and with a feeling of exasperation she realized that whenever Jasper had set his foot down he had never been short of a plausible reason for opposing her.

For one thing, however, she gave him credit. Never once had he spoken depreciatingly of Frank.

She wondered what business brought Jasper to such an unsavory neighborhood as that in which she had seen him. She had all a woman's curiosity without a woman's suspicions, and, strangely enough, she did not associate his presence in this terrible neighborhood or his mysterious comings and goings with anything discreditable to himself. She thought it was a little eccentric in him, and wondered whether he, too, was running a "little mission" of his own, but dismissed that idea since she had received no confirmation of the theory from the people with whom she came into contact in that neighborhood.

She was halfway through her breakfast when the telephone bell rang, and she rose from the table and crossed to the wall. At the first word from the caller she recognized him.

"Why, uncle!" she said. "Whatever are you doing in town?"

The voice of John Minute bellowed through the receiver:

"I've an important engagement. Will you lunch with me at one-thirty at the Savoy?"

He scarcely waited for her to accept the invitation before he hung up his receiver.

The commissioner of police replaced the book which he had taken from the shelf at the side of his desk, swung round in his chair, and smiled quizzically at the perturbed and irascible visitor.

The man who sat at the other side of the desk might have been fifty-five. He was of middle height, and was dressed in a somewhat violent check suit, the fit of which advertised the skill of the great tailor who had ably fashioned so fine a creation from so unlovely a pattern.

He wore a low collar which would have displayed a massive neck but for the fact that a glaring purple cravat and a diamond as big as a hazelnut directed the observer's attention elsewhere. The face was an unusual one. Strong to a point of coarseness, the bulbous nose, the thick, irregular lips, the massive chin all spoke of the hard life which John Minute had spent. His eyes were blue and cold, his hair a thick and unruly mop of gray. At a distance he conveyed a curious illusion of refinement. Nearer at hand, his pink face repelled one by its crudities. He reminded the commissioner of a piece of scene painting that pleased from the gallery and disappointed from the boxes.

"You see, Mr. Minute," said Sir George suavely, "we are rather limited in our opportunities and in our powers. Personally, I should be most happy to help you, not only because it is my business to help everybody, but because you were so kind to my boy in South Africa; the letters of introduction you gave to him were most helpful."

The commissioner's son had been on a hunting trip through Rhodesia and Barotseland, and a chance meeting at a dinner party with the Rhodesian millionaire had produced these letters.

"But," continued the official, with a little gesture of despair, "Scotland Yard has its limitations. We cannot investigate the cause of intangible fears. If you are threatened we can help you, but the mere fact that you fancy there is come sort of vague danger would not justify our taking any action."

John Minute hitched about in his chair.

"What are the police for?" he asked impatiently. "I have enemies, Sir George. I took a quiet little place in the country, just outside Eastbourne, to get away from London, and all sorts of new people are prying round us. There was a new parson called the other day for a subscription to some boy scouts' movement or other. He has been hanging round my place for a month, and lives at a cottage near Polegate. Why should he have come to Eastbourne?"

"On a holiday trip?" suggested the commissioner.

"Bah!" said John Minute contemptuously. "There's some other reason. I've had him watched. He goes every day to visit a woman at a hotel--a confederate. They're never seen in public together. Then there's a peddler, one of those fellows who sell glass and repair windows; nobody knows anything about him. He doesn't do enough business to keep a fly alive. He's always hanging round Weald Lodge. Then there's a Miss Paines, who says she's a landscape gardener, and wants to lay out the grounds in some newfangled way. I sent her packing about her business, but she hasn't left the neighborhood."

"Have you reported the matter to the local police?" asked the commissioner.

Minute nodded.

"And they know nothing suspicious about them?"

"Nothing!" said Mr. Minute briefly.

"Then," said the other, smiling, "there is probably nothing known against them, and they are quite innocent people trying to get a living. After all, Mr. Minute, a man who is as rich as you are must expect to attract a number of people, each trying to secure some of your wealth in a more or less legitimate way. I suspect nothing more remarkable than this has happened."

He leaned back in his chair, his hands clasped, a sudden frown on his face.

"I hate to suggest that anybody knows any more than we, but as you are so worried I will put you in touch with a man who will probably relieve your anxiety."

Minute looked up.

"A police officer?" he asked.

Sir George shook his head.

"No, this is a private detective. He can do things for you which we cannot. Have you ever heard of Saul Arthur Mann? I see you haven't. Saul Arthur Mann," said the commissioner, "has been a good friend of ours, and possibly in recommending him to you I may be a good friend to both of you. He is 'The Man Who Knows.'"

"'The Man Who Knows,'" repeated Mr. Minute dubiously. "What does he know?"

"I'll show you," said the commissioner. He went to the telephone, gave a number, and while he was waiting for the call to be put through he asked: "What is the name of your boy-scout parson?"

"The Reverend Vincent Lock," replied Mr. Minute.

"I suppose you don't know the name of your glass peddler?"

Minute shook his head.

"They call him 'Waxy' in the village," he said.

"And the lady's name is Miss Paines, I think?" asked the commissioner, jotting down the names as he repeated them. "Well, we shall--Hello! Is that Saul Arthur Mann? This is Sir George Fuller. Connect me with Mr. Mann, will you?"

He waited a second, and then continued:

"Is that you, Mr. Mann? I want to ask you something. Will you note these three names? The Reverend Vincent Lock, a peddling glazier who is known as 'Waxy,' and a Miss Paines. Have you got them? I wish you would let me know something about them."

Mr. Minute rose.

"Perhaps you'll let me know, Sir George--" he began, holding out his hand.

"Don't go yet," replied the commissioner, waving him to his chair again. "You will obtain all the information you want in a few minutes."

"But surely he must make inquiries," said the other, surprised.

Sir George shook his head.

"The curious thing about Saul Arthur Mann is that he never has to make inquiries. That is why he is called 'The Man Who Knows.' He is one of the most remarkable people in the world of criminal investigation," he went on. "We tried to induce him to come to Scotland Yard. I am not so sure that the government would have paid him his price. At any rate, he saved me any embarrassment by refusing point-blank."

The telephone bell rang at that moment, and Sir George lifted the receiver. He took a pencil and wrote rapidly on his pad, and when he had finished he said, "Thank you," and hung up the receiver.

"Here is your information, Mr. Minute," he said. "The Reverend Vincent Lock, curate in a very poor neighborhood near Manchester, interested in the boy scouts' movement. His brother, George Henry Locke, has had some domestic trouble, his wife running away from him. She is now staying at the Grand Hotel, Eastbourne, and is visited every day by her brother-in-law, who is endeavoring to induce her to return to her home. That disposes of the reverend gentleman and his confederate. Miss Paines is a genuine landscape gardener, has been the plaintiff in two breach-of-promise cases, one of which came to the court. There is no doubt," the commissioner went on reading the paper, "that her _modus operandi is to get elderly gentlemen to propose marriage and then to commence her action. That disposes of Miss Paines, and you now know why she is worrying you. Our friend 'Waxy' has another name--Thomas Cobbler--and he has been three times convicted of larceny."

The commissioner looked up with a grim little smile.

"I shall have something to say to our own record department for failing to trace 'Waxy,'" he said, and then resumed his reading.

"And that is everything! It disposes of our three," he said. "I will see that 'Waxy' does not annoy you any more."

"But how the dickens--" began Mr. Minute. "How the dickens does this fellow find out in so short a time?"

The commissioner shrugged his shoulders.

"He just knows," he said.

He took leave of his visitor at the door.

"If you are bothered any more," he said, "I should strongly advise you to go to Saul Arthur Mann. I don't know what your real trouble is, and you haven't told me exactly why you should fear an attack of any kind. You won't have to tell Mr. Mann," he said with a little twinkle in his eye.

"Why not?" asked the other suspiciously.

"Because he will know," said the commissioner.

"The devil he will!" growled John Minute, and stumped down the broad stairs on to the Embankment, a greatly mystified man. He would have gone off to seek an interview with this strange individual there and then, for his curiosity was piqued and he had also a little apprehension, one which, in his impatient way, he desired should be allayed, but he remembered that he had asked May to lunch with him, and he was already five minutes late.

He found the girl in the broad vestibule, waiting for him, and greeted her affectionately.

Whatever may be said of John Minute that is not wholly to his credit, it cannot be said that he lacked sincerity.

There are people in Rhodesia who speak of him without love. They describe him as the greatest land thief that ever rode a Zeedersburg coach from Port Charter to Salisbury to register land that he had obtained by trickery. They tell stories of those wonderful coach drives of his with relays of twelve mules waiting every ten miles. They speak of his gambling propensities, of ten-thousand-acre farms that changed hands at the turn of a card, and there are stories that are less printable. When M'Lupi, a little Mashona chief, found gold in '92, and refused to locate the reef, it was John Minute who staked him out and lit a grass fire on his chest until he spoke.

Many of the stories are probably exaggerated, but all Rhodesia agrees that John Minute robbed impartially friend and foe. The confidant of Lo'Ben and the Company alike, he betrayed both, and on that terrible day when it was a toss of a coin whether the concession seekers would be butchered in Lo'Ben's kraal, John Minute escaped with the only available span of mules and left his comrades to their fate.

Yet he had big, generous traits, and could on occasions be a tender and a kindly friend. He had married when a young man, and had taken his wife into the wilds.

There was a story that she had met a handsome young trader and had eloped with him, that John Minute had chased them over three hundred miles of hostile country from Victoria Falls to Charter, from Charter to Marandalas, from Marandalas to Massikassi, and had arrived in Biera so close upon their trail that he had seen the ship which carried them to the Cape steaming down the river.

He had never married again. Report said that the woman had died of malaria. A more popular version of the story was that John Minute had relentlessly followed his erring wife to Pieter Maritzburg and had shot her and had thereupon served seven years on the breakwater for his sin.

About a man who is rich, powerful, and wholly unpopular, hated by the majority, and feared by all, legends grow as quickly as toadstools on a marshy moor. Some were half true, some wholly apocryphal, deliberate, and malicious inventions. True or false, John Minute ignored them all, denying nothing, explaining nothing, and even refusing to take action against a Cape Town weekly which dealt with his career in a spirit of unpardonable frankness.

There was only one person in the world whom he loved more than the girl whose hand he held as they went down to the cheeriest restaurant in London.

"I have had a queer interview," he said in his gruff, quick way, "I have been to see the police."

"Oh, uncle!" she said reproachfully.

He jerked his shoulder impatiently.

"My dear, you don't know," he said. "I have got all sorts of people who--"

He stopped short.

"What was there remarkable in the interview? she asked, after he had ordered the lunch.

"Have you ever heard," he asked, "of Saul Arthur Mann?"

"Saul Arthur Mann?" she repeated, "I seem to know that name. Mann, Mann! Where have I heard it?"

"Well," said he, with that fierce and fleeting little smile which rarely lit his face for a second, "if you don't know him he knows you; he knows everybody."

"Oh, I remember! He is 'The Man Who Knows!'"

It was his turn to be astonished.

"Where in the world have you heard of him?"

Briefly she retailed her experience, and when she came to describe the omniscient Mr. Mann--"A crank," growled Mr. Minute. "I was hoping there was something in it."

"Surely, uncle, there must be something in it," said the girl seriously. "A man of the standing of the chief commissioner would not speak about him as Sir George did unless he had very excellent reason."

"Tell me some more about what you saw," he said. "I seem to remember the report of the inquest. The dead man was unknown and has not been identified."

She described, as well as she could remember, her meeting with the knowledgable Mr. Mann. She had to be tactful because she wished to tell the story without betraying the fact that she had been with Frank. But she might have saved herself the trouble, because when she was halfway through the narrative he interrupted her.

"I gather you were not by yourself," he grumbled. "Master Frank was somewhere handy, I suppose?"

She laughed.

"I met him quite by accident," she said demurely.

"Naturally," said John Minute.

"Oh, uncle, and there was a man whom Frank knew! You probably know him--Constable Wiseman."

John Minute unfolded his napkin, stirred his soup, and grunted.

"Wiseman is a stupid ass," he said briefly. "The mere fact that he was mixed up in the affair is sufficient explanation as to why the dead man remains unknown. I know Constable Wiseman very well," he said. "He has summoned me twice--once for doing a little pistol-shooting in the garden just as an object lesson to all tramps, and once--confound him!--for a smoking chimney. Oh, yes, I know Constable Wiseman."

Apparently the thought of Constable Wiseman filled his mind through two courses, for he did not speak until he set his fish knife and fork together and muttered something about a "silly, meddling jackass!"

He was very silent throughout the meal, his mind being divided between two subjects. Uppermost, though of least importance, was the personality of Saul Arthur Mann. Him he mentally viewed with suspicion and apprehension. It was an irritation even to suggest that there might be secret places in his own life which could be flooded with the light of this man's knowledge, and he resolved to beard "The Man Who Knows" in his den that afternoon and challenge him by inference to produce all the information he had concerning his past.

There was much which was public property. It was John Minute's boast that his life was a book which might be read, but in his inmost heart he knew of one dark place which baffled the outside world. He brought himself from the mental rehearsal of his interview to what was, after all, the first and more important business.

"May," he said suddenly, "have you thought any more about what I asked you?"

She made no attempt to fence with the question.

"You mean Jasper Cole?"

He nodded, and for the moment she made no reply, and sat with eyes downcast, tracing a little figure upon the tablecloth with her finger tip.

"The truth is, uncle," she said at last, "I am not keen on marriage at all just yet, and you are sufficiently acquainted with human nature to know that anything which savors of coercion will not make me predisposed toward Mr. Cole."

"I suppose the real truth is," he said gruffly, "that you are in love with Frank?"

She laughed.

"That is just what the real truth is not," she said. "I like Frank very much. He is a dear, bright, sunny boy."

Mr. Minute grunted.

"Oh, yes, he is!" the girl went on. "But I am not in love with him--really."

"I suppose you are not influenced by the fact that he is my--heir," he said, and eyed her keenly.

She met his glance steadily.

"If you were not the nicest man I know," she smiled, "I should be very offended. Of course, I don't care whether Frank is rich or poor. You have provided too well for me for mercenary considerations to weigh at all with me."

John Minute grunted again.

"I am quite serious about Jasper."

"Why are you so keen on Jasper?" she asked.

He hesitated.

"I know him," he said shortly. "He has proved to me in a hundred ways that he is a reliable, decent lad. He has become almost indispensable to me," he continued with his quick little laugh, "and that Frank has never been. Oh, yes, Frank's all right in his way, but he's crazy on things which cut no ice with me. Too fond of sports, too fond of loafing," he growled.

The girl laughed again.

"I can give you a little information on one point," John Minute went on, "and it was to tell you this that I brought you here to-day. I am a very rich man. You know that. I have made millions and lost them, but I have still enough to satisfy my heirs. I am leaving you two hundred thousand pounds in my will."

She looked at him with a startled exclamation.

"Uncle!" she said.

He nodded.

"It is not a quarter of my fortune," he went on quickly, "but it will make you comfortable after I am gone."

He rested his elbows on the table and looked at her searchingly.

"You are an heiress," he said, "for, whatever you did, I should never change my mind. Oh, I know you will do nothing of which I should disapprove, but there is the fact. If you marry Frank you would still get your two hundred thousand, though I should bitterly regret your marriage. No, my girl," he said more kindly than was his wont, "I only ask you this--that whatever else you do, you will not make your choice until the next fortnight has expired."

With a jerk of his head, John Minute summoned a waiter and paid his bill.

No more was said until he handed her into her cab in the courtyard.

"I shall be in town next week," he said.

He watched the cab disappear in the stream of traffic which flowed along the Strand, and, calling another taxi, he drove to the address with which the chief commissioner had furnished him.

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