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a main street and was almost deserted. Beale looked up at the windows. They were dark. He knocked at the side-entrance of the shop, and presently the two men were joined by a policeman.
“Nobody lives here, sir,” explained the officer, when McNorton had made himself known. “Old Rosenblaum runs the business, and lives at Highgate.”
He flashed his lamp upon the door and tried it, but it did not yield. A nightfarer who had been in the shade on the opposite side of the street came across and volunteered information.
He had seen another car drive up and a gentleman had alighted. He had opened the door with a key and gone in. There was nothing suspicious about him. He was “quite a gentleman, and was in evening-dress.” The constable thought it was one of the partners of Rosenblaum in convivial and resplendent garb. He had been in the house ten minutes then had come out again, locking the door behind him, and had driven off just before Beale’s car had arrived.
It was not until half an hour later that an agitated little man brought by the police from Highgate admitted the two men.
There was no need to make a long search. The moment the light was switched on in the shop Beale made his discovery. On the broad counter lay a sheet of paper and a little heap of silver coins. He swept the money aside and read:
“For the redemption of one silver hunter, 10s. 6d.”
It was signed in the characteristic handwriting that Beale knew so well “Van Heerden, M.D.”
The two men looked at one another.
“What do you make of that?” asked McNorton.
Beale carried the paper to the light and examined it, and McNorton went on:
“He’s a pretty cool fellow. I suppose he had the money and the message all ready for our benefit.”
Beale shook his head.
“On the contrary,” he said, “this was done on the spur of the moment. A piece of bravado which occurred to him when he had the watch. Look at this paper. You can imagine him searching his pocket for a piece of waste paper and taking the first that came to his hand. It is written in ink with the pawnbroker’s own pen. The inkwell is open,” he lifted up the pen, “the nib is still wet,” he said.
McNorton took the paper from his hands.
It was a bill from a corn-chandler’s at Horsham, the type of bill that was sent in days of war economy which folded over and constituted its own envelope. It was addressed to “J. B. Harden, Esq.” (“That was the _alias_ he used when he took the wine vaults at Paddington,” explained McNorton) and had been posted about a week before. Attached to the bottom of the account, which was for L3 10s., was a little slip calling attention to the fact that “this account had probably been overlooked.”
Beale’s finger traced the item for which the bill was rendered, and McNorton uttered an exclamation of surprise.
“Curious, isn’t it?” said Beale, as he folded the paper and put it away in his pocket, “how these very clever men always make some trifling error which brings them to justice. I don’t know how many great schemes I have seen brought to nothing through some such act of folly as this, some piece of theatrical bravado which benefited the criminal nothing at all.”
“Good gracious,” said McNorton wonderingly, “of course, that’s what he is going to do. I never thought of that. It is in the neighbourhood of Horsham we must look for him, and I think if we can get one of the Messrs. Billingham out of bed in a couple of hours’ time we shall do a good night’s work.”
They went outside and again questioned the policeman. He remembered the car turning round and going back the way it had come. It had probably taken one of the innumerable side-roads which lead from the main thoroughfare, and in this way they had missed it.
“I want to go to the ‘_Megaphone_’ office first,” said Beale. “I have some good friends on that paper and I am curious to know how bad the markets are. The night cables from New York should be coming in by now.”
In his heart was a sickening fear which he dared not express. What would the morrow bring forth? If this one man’s cupidity and hate should succeed in releasing the terror upon the world, what sort of a world would it leave? Through the windows of the car he could see the placid policemen patrolling the streets, caught a glimpse of other cars brilliantly illuminated bearing their laughing men and women back to homes, who were ignorant of the monstrous danger which threatened their security and life.
He passed the facades of great commercial mansions which in a month’s time might but serve to conceal the stark ruin within.
To him it was a night of tremendous tragedy, and for the second time in his life in the numbness induced by the greater peril and the greater anxiety he failed to wince at the thought of the danger in which Oliva stood.
Indeed, analysing his sensations she seemed to him on this occasion less a victim than a fellow-worker and he found a strange comfort in that thought of partnership.
The _Megaphone_ buildings blazed with light when the car drew up to the door, messenger-boys were hurrying through the swing-doors, the two great elevators were running up and down without pause. The grey editor with a gruff voice threw over a bundle of flimsies.
“Here are the market reports,” he growled, “they are not very encouraging.”
Beale read them and whistled, and the editor eyed him keenly.
“Well, what do you make of it?” he asked the detective. “Wheat at a shilling a pound already. God knows what it’s going to be to-morrow!”
“Any other news?” asked Beale.
“We have asked Germany to explain why she has prohibited the export of wheat and to give us a reason for the stocks she holds and the steps she has taken during the past two months to accumulate reserves.”
“An ultimatum?”
“Not exactly an ultimatum. There’s nothing to go to war about. The Government has mobilized the fleet and the French Government has partially mobilized her army. The question is,” he said, “would war ease the situation?”
Beale shook his head.
“The battle will not be fought in the field,” he said, “it will be fought right here in London, in all your great towns, in Manchester, Coventry, Birmingham, Cardiff. It will be fought in New York and in a thousand townships between the Pacific and the Atlantic, and if the German scheme comes off we shall be beaten before a shot is fired.”
“What does it mean?” asked the editor, “why is everybody buying wheat so frantically? There is no shortage. The harvests in the United States and Canada are good.”
“There will be no harvests,” said Beale solemnly; and the journalist gaped at him.
Chapter 32 The End Of Van Heerden
Dr. van Heerden expected many things and was prepared for contingencies beyond the imagination of the normally minded, but he was not prepared to find in Oliva Cresswell a pleasant travelling-companion. When a man takes a girl, against her will, from a pleasant suite at the best hotel in London, compels her at the peril of death to accompany him on a motor-car ride in the dead of the night, and when his offence is a duplication of one which had been committed less than a week before, he not unnaturally anticipates tears, supplications, or in the alternative a frigid and unapproachable silence.
To his amazement Oliva was extraordinarily cheerful and talkative and even amusing. He had kept Bridgers at the door of the car whilst he investigated the pawn-broking establishment of Messrs. Rosenblaum Bros., and had returned in triumph to discover that the girl who up to then had been taciturn and uncommunicative was in quite an amiable mood.
“I used to think,” she said, “that motor-car abductions were the invention of sensational writers, but you seem to make a practice of it. You are not very original, Dr. van Heerden. I think I’ve told you that before.”
He smiled in the darkness as the car sped smoothly through the deserted streets.
“I must plead guilty to being rather unoriginal,” he said, “but I promise you that this little adventure shall not end as did the last.”
“It can hardly do that,” she laughed, “I can only be married once whilst Mr. Beale is alive.”
“I forgot you were married,” he said suddenly, then after a pause, “I suppose you will divorce him?”
“Why?” she asked innocently.
“But you’re not fond of that fellow, are you?”
“Passionately,” she said calmly, “he is my ideal.”
The reply took away his breath and certainly silenced him.
“How is this adventure to end?” she demanded. “Are you going to maroon me on a desert island, or are you taking me to Germany?”
“How did you know I am trying to get to Germany?” he asked sharply.
“Oh, Mr. Beale thought so,” she replied, in a tone of indifference, “he reckoned that he would catch you somewhere near the coast.”
“He did, did he?” said the other calmly. “I shall deny him that pleasure. I don’t intend taking you to Germany. Indeed, it is not my intention to detain you any longer than is necessary.”
“For which I am truly grateful,” she smiled, “but why detain me at all?”
“That is a stupid question to ask when I am sure you have no doubt in your mind as to why it is necessary to keep you close to me until I have finished my work. I think I told you some time ago,” he went on, “that I had a great scheme. The other day you called me a Hun, by which I suppose you meant that I was a German. It is perfectly true that I am a German and I am a patriotic German. To me even in these days of his degradation the Kaiser is still little less than a god.”
His voice quivered a little, and the girl was struck dumb with wonder that a man of such intelligence, of such a wide outlook, of such modernity, should hold to views so archaic.
“Your country ruined Germany. You have sucked us dry. To say that I hate England and hate America–for you Anglo-Saxons are one in your soulless covetousness–is to express my feelings mildly.”
“But what is your scheme?” she asked.
“Briefly I will tell you, Miss Cresswell, that you may understand that to-night you accompany history and are a participant in world politics. America and England are going to pay. They are going to buy corn from my country at the price that Germany can fix. It will be a price,” he cried, and did not attempt to conceal his joy, “which will ruin the Anglo-Saxon people more effectively than they ruined Germany.”
“But how?” she asked, bewildered.
“They are going to buy corn,” he repeated, “at our price, corn which is stored in Germany.”
“But what nonsense!” she said scornfully, “I don’t know very much about harvests and things of that kind, but I know that most of the world’s wheat comes from America and from Russia.”
“The Russian wheat will be in German granaries,” he said softly, “the American wheat–there will be no American wheat.”
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