Mr. J. G. Reeder did odd things. And he did oddly kind things. There was once a drug addict, whom he first prosecuted and then befriended; but there was nothing unusual in that. He did the same with a young man many years later, and as a result earned for himself the high commendation of his superiors.
But helping this drug addict led apparently nowhere. It involved a great deal of trouble, and it was an unsavoury case, and in the end Mr. Reeder achieved nothing, for the man he tried to assist died in hospital without friends and without money.
It is true that the man in the next bed knew him, and communicated a great deal of information to a ferret-faced chauffeur, who subsequently made certain inquiries.
A more satisfactory adventure in the field of loving kindness was Mr. Reeder's association with a certain well-educated young burglar. That led to much that was pleasant to think about and remember.
The story of the treasure house really begins with a man who had no faith in the stability of stock markets, and believed in burying his talents in the ground. He was not singular in this respect, for the miser in man is a very common quality, and though Mr. Lane Leonard was no miser in the strictest sense of the word, being in fact rather generous of disposition, he was wedded to the reality of wealth, and there is nothing quite so real as gold. And gold he accumulated in startling quantities at a period when gold was hard to come by. Gold in buried chests would not satisfy him; he must have gold visible and reachable—but mainly visible. That is why he hoarded his wealth in large boxes made of toughened glass, having these containers further enclosed in steel wire baskets; for gold is very heavy and the toughest of glass is brittle.
They said on the New York Stock Exchange that John Lane Leonard was a lucky man, but he never regarded himself that way. He was not a member of the house, and had begun as a dabbler in the kerb market, buying on margins and accumulating a very modest fortune, which became colossal overnight, through no prescience of his own, but rather because of a lucky accident. He was as near to being ruined as made no difference. Three partners, who had pooled their shares with him, became panic stricken at a bear raid and left him to hold the baby; and whilst he was holding this very helplessly, not quite sure whether he should drop it and run, powerful financial interests, of whose existence he was quite unaware, struck so savagely at the bears that they were caught short. The sensational rise in prices placed Mr. Lane Leonard rich in excess of his own imagination.
He was not a millionaire then, but he had not long to wait before another piece of luck brought him into the seven-figure class. If he had had a sense of humour, he would have recognised just how much he owed to the spin of somebody else's coin; but, being devoid of this quality, he gave large credit to his own acumen and foresight. There were any number of people who fostered the illusion that he had the mind and vision of a great financier. His brother-in-law, Digby Olbude, was one of his most vehement and voluble sycophants.
Lane Leonard was English, and had married an English wife; a dull lady, who hated New York and was home-sick for Hampstead, a pleasant suburb it was never designed she should see again. She died, more or less of inanition, three years after her husband had acquired both his riches and a sneaking desire for American citizenship.
By this time John Lane Leonard was an authority on all matters pertaining to finance. He wrote articles for the London Economist which were never published, because in some way they did not fit in with the views of the editor or, indeed, with the views of anybody who had an elementary knowledge of economics. Whatever Digby thought about them, he said they were great. He used to drink in those days and dabble in margins and when he lost, as he so frequently did, John Lane Leonard paid.
They parted at last over a matter of a hundred thousand dollars, and although this sum also had to be found by the millionaire, it was in his heart to forgive his erratic relative by marriage, for he never forgot that Digby completely approved of and admired him, and had helped him considerably in his preparation of a pamphlet on the American Economy. That pamphlet was so scarified by the American press, so ridiculed by the experts of Wall Street, that Mr. Lane Leonard shook the dust of New York from his feet, transferred his bank balances to England, returned to his native Kent and bought Sevenways Castle and proceeded to put his theories into practice.
He met a pretty widow with a young child and married her. Within a few years she too had died. He changed the name of her little daughter by deed poll from Pamela Dolby to Pamela Lane Leonard, and designated her his heiress. It was necessary that he should have an heiress, though he would have preferred an heir.
In those days Lidgett was his junior chauffeur, a hatchet-faced boy, country born, shrewd, cunning, ruthless; but Mr. Lane Leonard knew nothing about his cunning or ruthlessness. He received from Lidgett a whole-hearted homage which was very pleasing to him. Lidgett did not prostrate himself on the ground every time he saw his employer—he just stopped short of that. He became the confidential servant and valet as well as chief chauffeur. Mr. Lane Leonard used to talk to him about the gold standard whilst he was dressing, and Lidgett used to shake his head in helpless admiration.
"What a brain you must have, Mr. Leonard! It beats me how you can keep these things in your mind! If I knew as much as you, I think I'd go mad!"
Crude stuff, but crude stuff is effective. To Lidgett Mr. Lane Leonard revealed his great plan for the creation of a gold reserve; it took three weeks for Lidgett to realise that his employer was talking about real gold. After that he became very alert.
Mr. Leonard was an assiduous church-goer, and invariably chose Evensong for his devotions. When they were in London Lidgett used to sit at the wheel of the Rolls parked outside St. George's, Hanover Square, wildly cursing the employer who was keeping him from a perfect evening's entertainment. There was a spieling club in Soho which was a second home to Mr. Lidgett, and as soon as his master was indoors and made comfortable for the night Lidgett lost no time in reaching the green table where they played chemin de fer.
His employer was a careless man, who never missed a five-pound note one way or the other, and Lidgett was a lucky man at the table, more lucky than the dignified and middle-aged gentleman he so often met at Dutch Harry's, and who seemed to come there only to lose.
Once he borrowed twenty pounds from Lidgett and found some difficulty in repaying it. Joe Lidgett got to know all about him; rather liked him, if the truth be told.
"You ought to give up this game, mister. You haven't got the right kind of nut."
"Very possible, very possible," said the other frigidly.
Sometimes in the early hours of the morning the little Cockney and his somewhat aristocratic friend would go to an all-night restaurant for a meal before they separated, the unfortunate loser to an early train which carried him into the country, Mr. Lidgett to his duties as chauffeur- valet.
In the course of his confidences with Lidgett Mr. Leonard mentioned his brother-in-law, and enlarged upon his genius.
"He is one of the few men who really understand my theories, Lidgett," he said in an expansive moment. "Unfortunately, he and I quarrelled over a trifling matter, and I haven't heard from him for many years. A sound financier, Lidgett, a very sound financier! I have been tempted lately to get into touch with him; he is the one man I could trust to carry out my wishes if what this infernal doctor says has any foundation in fact."
"This infernal doctor" was a Harley Street specialist who had said something rather serious; or it would have been serious if Mr. Leonard had regarded himself as being completely mortal.
He saw little of his step-daughter. She was at a school, came home for dull holidays, and listened uncomprehendingly to Mr. Leonard's lectures on gold values. She saw the first treasure house built, inspected its steel doors, and thought that the vault was a little terrifying; she heard that all this was for her sake, but could never quite believe that.
One day Mr. Leonard had a fainting fit which lasted for an hour. When he recovered he sent for Lidgett.
"Lidgett, I want you to get in touch with Mr. Digby Olbude," he said. "I haven't his address, but you will probably find it in the telephone book. I have never troubled to look."
He explained just what he wanted of Mr. Olbude and Lidgett listened with interest, his agile mind working with great rapidity. Digby Olbude was to carry on the work of his brother-in-law, was to become for a number of years controller of untold wealth.
Lidgett went forth on his tour of investigation, wondering in what manner he might benefit from the change which most evidently was due.
Digby Olbude was not difficult to trace, though he seemed to have changed his name on two occasions and at his last address had no name at all. The shrewd little chauffeur came back to Sevenways a very preoccupied man. He found awaiting him a letter forwarded from London—a pathetic, pleading, incoherent letter, written in perfect English by his middle-aged gambler friend.
Joe Lidgett had an idea. A few days later his master was well enough to see him and he gave an account of his search for Digby Olbude.
"I would like to see him," said Leonard feebly. "I am afraid I'm in a bad way, Lidgett—where are you?"
"I'm here, sir," said Lidgett.
"It is rather difficult to see. My eyesight has become a little defective."
The gentleman Mr. Lidgett had found arrived by car the next morning. He went up more than a little nervously to the dying man's bedroom, and was introduced with pathetic formality to the lawyer Mr. Leonard had brought from London. He did not like lawyers, but the occasion demanded expert legal assistance.
"This is my brother-in-law, Digby Olbude… "
The will was signed and witnessed with some difficulty. It was characteristic of Lane Leonard that he did not even send for his heiress or leave any message of affection or tender farewell. To him she was a peg on which his theory was to hang—and it was not even his own theory.
She was notified of his passing in a formal letter from her new guardian, and she received the notification on the very day that Larry O'Ryan decided upon adopting a criminal career.
When Larry O'Ryan was expelled from a public school on a charge of stealing some eighty-five pounds from Mr. Farthingale's room, he could not only have cleared himself of the accusation, but he could also have named the culprit.
He had no parents, no friends, being maintained at the school by a small annuity left by his mother. If Creed's Bank had been a little more generous with his father, if the Panton Credit Trust had been honestly directed, if the Medway and Western had not forced a sale, Larry would have been rich.
It was no coincidence that these immensely rich corporations were patrons of the Monarch Security Steel Corporation—Monarch's had a monopoly in this kind of work—but we will talk about that later.
He hated the school, hated most the pompous pedagogue who was a friend of Mr. Farthingale and used his study when the house master was out—but he said nothing. After all, what chance had his word against a master's? He took his expulsion as an easy way of escaping from servitude, interviewed the lawyer who was his guardian and accepted the expressions of horror and abhorrence with which that gentleman favoured him.
Anyway, the eighty-five pounds was restored; before he left the school Larry saw the terrified thief and said a few plain words.
"I'll take the risk of being disbelieved," he said, "and I'll go to the head and say I saw you open the cash-box just as I was going into the study. I don't know why you wanted the money, but the people who investigate will find out."
The accused man thundered at him, reviled him, finally broke.
It was a grotesque situation, a middle-aged master and a lanky sixth-form boy, bullying and threatening one another alternately. Larry did not cry; on the other hand, his protagonist grew maudlin. But he restored the money. Everybody thought that it was Larry or Larry's lawyer-guardian who sent the notes by registered post; but it wasn't.
He went out into the world with the starkest outlook, looked round for work of sorts, was errand boy, office boy, clerk. No prospects. The army offered one, but the army stood for another kind of school discipline, house masters who wore stripes on their sleeves.