Harvey Garrard’s Crime - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

Harvey Garrard’s Crime ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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Harvey Garrard, as his limousine crawled over London Bridge and turned into the dingy streets beyond, leaned forward in his seat looking out of the window with the half-weary anticipation of one who revisits familiar but distasteful scenes. There was a faint air of disgust in his expression as the well-known odours of the neighbourhood assailed his nostrils. Forty-eight hours ago he had been living in a paradise of mimosa and roses warmed by Riviera sunshine, his senses reacting pleasurably to the mild excitement, the music and the gaiety of Monte Carlo.

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Contents

BOOK I

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

BOOK II

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

BOOK III

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

BOOK I

CHAPTER I

Harvey Garrard, as his limousine crawled over London Bridge and turned into the dingy streets beyond, leaned forward in his seat looking out of the window with the half-weary anticipation of one who revisits familiar but distasteful scenes. There was a faint air of disgust in his expression as the well-known odours of the neighbourhood assailed his nostrils. Forty-eight hours ago he had been living in a paradise of mimosa and roses warmed by Riviera sunshine, his senses reacting pleasurably to the mild excitement, the music and the gaiety of Monte Carlo. The malodorous atmosphere of Bermondsey, into which district he had now passed–the smell of leather, the sullen, brooding skies through which it seemed impossible that the sun could ever force its way, all added to his depression. He glanced with distaste at the familiar landmarks which he passed, exchanged mechanical greetings with one or two passers-by whose names he failed to remember, and finally stepped out on to the pavement with the sigh of an unaccountable feeling of depression as his car drew up before the magnificent pile of buildings, the pride of the whole neighbourhood, the enormous warehouse built by his grandfather, Phineas Garrard, the Quaker, nearly a hundred years ago.

“You had better wait for a time, John,” he told the chauffeur. “If I have to stay here long, I’ll send down word and you can go home in case your mistress requires you.”

The man touched his hat and turned off his engine. Harvey Garrard mounted the steps, pushed open the swing doors and made his leisurely way past the spacious suites of offices which occupied the front of the ground floor into the open spaces beyond–spaces piled with great stacks of all descriptions of sole leather, from the odour of which he shrank once more with a little instinctive aversion. With his hand upon the iron railing of the circular staircase which led to the first floor where his own private office was situated he paused for a moment to look round. Perhaps because he had just emerged from an utterly different world, he was conscious of a queer sense of unreality in all he saw. He was unable to link together the past and the present. It seemed to him indeed that the men in their aprons and overalls who moved backwards and forwards were like the ghosts of themselves rather than actual human beings. Reminiscences of past years here in these surroundings puzzled at the same time that they depressed him. The clerks in the offices–he could see them through the glass partition–were all grey-headed, all seemed to bend a little wearily over their tasks. Many of their faces were familiar but all seemed changed. It was the same thing with the porters. He called one of them to him–one of the few whose name he remembered.

“Well, James,” he said, “still working as hard as ever?”

The man shook his head doubtfully

“No chance of that nowadays, sir,” he replied. “There ain’t enough to do to keep any of us busy.”

“Business bad, eh?”

“Bad enough in our department anyway, sir,” was the somewhat depressed admission.

His master turned away with a nod and mounted the winding stairway. Arrived on the first floor he paused and looked downward once more at the great room below. A vague sense of uneasiness, which had at odd times assailed him during the last six months, took to itself very definite shape in those few moments. The change in his surroundings was too apparent to exist only in his imagination; a spirit of listlessness seemed to have taken the place of those old days of bustle and commotion. The huge stacks of leather looked as though they had lain undisturbed for many months, the warehousemen, of whom there were a sufficient number in evidence, seemed to be occupying themselves with purely trivial tasks. After a brief but puzzled contemplation he turned away, acknowledged mechanically the salutations of the salesmen whose counters he passed, and entered his own office–a spacious apartment with a thick carpet upon the floor, filled with heavy Victorian furniture and hung with oil paintings of various members of the firm. The window was open, but the atmosphere was still musty after many months of disuse. The handsome table was carefully dusted but bare except for a clean sheet of blotting paper and a massive inkstand. Harvey hung up his hat on a huge wooden peg, seated himself in the familiar chair and rang the bell.

“Send Mr. Greatorex in,” he told the boy who presently answered it.

As he leaned back, waiting, a memory came to him; a memory of the day upon which he had been admitted into partnership. His father, his grandfather and an uncle had toasted him in a bottle of the famous port, the various vintages of which it had been their custom to lay down since the establishment of the house.

“A matter of twofold celebration,” his grandfather had said. “We admit one of the younger generation into the firm on the same day that our balance sheet shows that for the first time in our history our capital has reached the sum of a million pounds.”

Wealth incredible, it had seemed to him in those days! His grandfather had died in the following year, his father ten years later, and now the death of the sole surviving partner had resulted in the summons which had brought him home from the Riviera a month before his usual time. It was really ridiculous that they should have sent for him, he thought a little wearily, remembering the urgent phrasing of the message which had perplexed as well as annoyed him. During the last seven or eight years he had only entered the premises three times. He had long ago lost all touch with the activities and routine of the business. His presence there in any capacity whatsoever could be neither helpful nor necessary.

There came in due course a formal knock at the door, and Mr. Greatorex, the manager and cashier, entered; a tall, spare man with thin grey hair and straggling beard, an old-fashioned style of dress and steel-rimmed spectacles which had a habit when at close quarters with anyone of slipping down on his nose. Harvey held out his hand, struggling against the depression with which the sight of everyone in the place affected him.

“Well, Greatorex,” he began, “you’re looking just the same as ever. Terribly sad about poor Armitage.”

“It was very sad indeed, sir,” was the quiet reply. “Mr. Armitage had been ailing for some time, but we none of us expected to lose him quite so suddenly.”

“Heart trouble, I understand?”

“Heart trouble and worry.”

Harvey produced from his pocket a thin, gold case, selected a cigarette and lit it. He leaned back in his chair, waving his manager to a seat. For a moment he smoked in silence.

“What’s wrong with this place, Greatorex?” he asked a little abruptly.

Mr. Greatorex coughed.

“Business has been very bad with us for some years, sir,” he confided. “Mr. Armitage was unwilling to trouble you too much with details, but there is no doubt that his end was hastened by apprehensions for the future.”

“What sort of apprehensions?” Harvey enquired, frowning. “Do you mean that the firm is not making the profits that it used to?”

“It is no longer a question of profit at all, sir,” was the gloomy response.

“What is it a question of, then?” Harvey insisted impatiently. “Speak plainly, Greatorex. Let me understand the situation.”

“I will do so, sir,” the manager assented nervously. “The fact is that during the last three years prices of leather have fallen all over the world, and, as you may possibly remember, it has always been the custom of the House to keep very large stocks. The stock here and in our various branches has never amounted to much less than six to seven hundred thousand pounds, and since the purchase of the major portion of it I imagine that the fall in prices amounts to something like twenty-five per cent. Sales have been exceedingly difficult, therefore, and side by side with the fall in prices the shoe trade has been bad.”

“This all sounds very unpleasant,” Harvey remarked. “So far as I remember there was very little indication of it in the last balance sheet, a copy of which you sent me.”

“In that balance sheet, sir,” Greatorex explained, “a great many debts were taken as good which should not have been, and no reserve whatever was made for bad debts. The whole of the stock, too, was taken at cost price. Mr. Chalmer, when he signed it on behalf of the accountants, added a rider to that effect which you probably did not notice.”

There was a brief silence. Harvey Garrard, bewildered by premonitions of catastrophe, looking across the room, seemed for a moment to meet the stern yet benevolent gaze of his father, looking down at him from the enclosure of that heavy gilt frame opposite. Perhaps something of his inherited spirit for the first time asserted itself.

“I will look into these matters,” he announced a little shortly. “Ring up and make an appointment for me to see Mr. Chalmer. I will spend the day here.”

“I will do so at once, sir,” Mr. Greatorex assented. “In the meantime–”

He hesitated, glancing across at his employer. Harvey recognised signs of distress.

“There is something else?” he asked, not unkindly. “Out with it, Greatorex.”

The man’s voice was a trifle choked. He took off his spectacles and wiped them.

“I have just come back from the Bank, sir,” he said. “The day after to-morrow is the fourth of the month, and we have bills of exchange due amounting to about eighty thousand pounds. I handed in the advices as usual. Mr. Poulton, the manager, called me into his office. I must admit that what he said came as a great shock, although we have been expecting something of the sort. We are already overdrawn to the extent of about a hundred and ten thousand pounds–an overdraft which I confess that we have been asked several times to reduce. Mr. Poulton told me this morning that unless funds were provided to the full amount, either in cash or adequate security, he would be unable to meet our acceptances.”

“Unable to meet the firm’s acceptances?” Harvey repeated, aghast.

Mr. Greatorex nodded. For the moment he was incapable of speech. His fingers were shaking.

“It seems incredible, sir,” he continued presently–“absolutely incredible. For fifty years Garrard & Garrard have held the first position in the trade. Our credit has been like the credit of the Bank of England. Until ten years ago we paid cash for everything. Then we began to accept. Lately we have paid cash for nothing unless it was specifically asked for, and this morning the bank manager actually spoke of dishonouring our acceptances–the acceptances of Garrard & Garrard. I could scarcely believe my ears. I have not been myself since, sir.”

“Is there no cash we can lay our hands on?” Harvey demanded. “There must be money owing to the firm.”

“We have collected everything possible,” was the melancholy reply. “All our branches have had orders to draw bills on our customers and send them in. We paid in yesterday seventeen thousand pounds. That still left us overdrawn at the bank about a hundred thousand, and eighty thousand pounds’ worth of bills to be met.”

“And supposing they are not met?”

The manager rose to his feet. He shook his head and turned his back upon his employer. His shoulders seemed a little unsteady.

“You must excuse me, sir,” he begged. “I will ring up Mr. Chalmer.”

“One moment,” Harvey enjoined. “We still bank, I suppose, at that poky little branch of the Southern Bank at the corner of the street?”

“We still bank there, sir.”

“And the name of the manager?”

“Mr. Poulton, sir. He is naturally favourably disposed towards us, but he can only act on instructions from headquarters.”

Harvey rose to his feet and took up his hat.

“I shall go and see him,” he decided.

Mr. Poulton was glad enough to receive the only surviving member of a world-famed firm; a man, too, of other distinctions–a famous polo player, golfer and ex-cricketer, a figure in the social life of London as well as the Riviera. In his well-cut tweed clothes, with his bronzed complexion and his air of distinction, Harvey Garrard seemed indeed like an alien figure in the dingy office where the bank manager entertained his clients.

“I am glad you’ve come to see me, Mr. Garrard,” he said, leaning a little forward in his chair and regarding his visitor with curiosity not unmixed with sympathy. “I am afraid that you will find the affairs of your firm need very careful attention. Mr. Armitage was a clever man, but an optimist. He needed a restraining hand. It was, perhaps, a pity that the business did not appeal more to you and that you were not able to follow its progress more closely.”

“Mr. Poulton,” Harvey replied, “it is of no use beating about the bush. I know nothing whatever about the business.”

Mr. Poulton coughed a little huskily.

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