THE MONEY-LENDER

Ruth could not rid herself of a haunting doubt that her father knew
more of the Jenner murder than he chose to confess. If he himself had
not killed the man in a fit of impetuous rage–and the girl could not
bring herself to think this–he knew who had struck the fatal blow.
Ruth was certain now that Mrs. Jenner was innocent, notwithstanding
the fact that she had been found guilty. This being so, she argued to
herself that if her father were aware of the truth he should at once
take steps to remedy the grave miscarriage of justice which had taken
place. But as he made no move, Ruth, perplexed and doubtful, became
quite ill with suspense. It was no wonder then that Geoffrey had found
her poor company, and had failed to understand her constant melancholy.
Under these circumstances he had taken his departure, wondering what
had befallen the house which had formerly been so bright and pleasant.
But no satisfaction was to be had either from Mr. Cass or from his
daughter.

On arriving at his own place he went at once to the library to look
for some document with his father’s signature in order to compare it
with that on the bill. And after a close inspection of some half-dozen
autographs of the late Mr. Heron, he came to the conclusion that the
signature to the bill was a forgery. Once convinced of this, he began
to see daylight, and argued out the case that evening, alone and
undisturbed.

“Jenner was at one time a clerk in the firm of Cass and Marshall,”
he thought; “therefore he must have known Marshall very well; he was
dismissed, and so had no cause to love his employers. Mr. Cass, so
far as I know, was always an upright man, and Jenner had no chance of
injuring him in any way. With Marshall the case was different. If I
remember rightly, Mrs. Jenner told me that her husband and Marshall
were as thick as thieves; the master patronising the clerk on account
of the man’s beautiful voice and musical accomplishments. Marshall,
too, lived a gay life, and was given to spending pretty freely. It is
quite possible that he might have made use of Jenner as a tool to get
more money through this bill! Five hundred pounds,” said Geoffrey,
looking at the document in question. “Humph! Just the sum he might
require for an emergency.” He turned over the bill, and found it
endorsed by Julius Roper. “Ah!” he went on, “where have I heard that
name? Roper–Roper–I am sure someone spoke of Roper.”

Suddenly it flashed into his mind that Roper was the moneylender in
whose employment Jenner had been after he had failed on the stage.

“The bill was discounted in the office in which Jenner was employed,”
he thought, with growing excitement, for the matter was becoming more
interesting every minute, “and Jenner, knowing it was forged, stole
it from Roper. He meant to use it as a means of extorting blackmail!
Ah!” He stopped short. “Blackmail? It was of that he boasted to his
wife–this, then, was the material for getting money that he said he
had in the red pocket-book. The pocket-book has disappeared; but the
bill?–Humph! How did it get inside the horse? Could Jenner himself
have put it there? If so, why? What was his reason? I must see Mrs.
Jenner and ask her. Between the two of us we may get at the truth.”

But although he was satisfied that his father’s signature had been
forged, he could not be absolutely certain that Marshall had been the
forger. He had drawn the bill, it was true, but Jenner might have
counterfeited the signature and have assisted Marshall to get the money.

Then Geoffrey recollected that his father–a particularly precise
man–had been in the habit of keeping a diary in which he was
accustomed to set down the most trivial details of his somewhat
uninteresting life. No sooner had this thought struck him than he went
to a certain press and pulled out the series of little books which
contained these entries. Glancing at the date of the bill, he set to
work, and after an hour’s search found the evidence.

The late Mr. Heron had made no attempt to conceal Marshall’s rascality;
for it was plainly set down that a certain Mr. Roper had called upon
him to shew a bill of exchange and to ask if the signature were his.
Mr. Heron had replied that he had never signed a bill in his life,
where upon Roper had intimated that the bill had been presented by
Frank Marshall, and that the money had been paid to him. Roper had also
expressed his intention of having Marshall arrested, but to this Mr.
Heron had objected. Bad as he thought the man, he wanted to avoid any
serious trouble, less for Marshall’s own sake than for that of Miss
Inez Cass, to whom he was engaged, and who was deeply in love with him.
Roper had left the house with the avowed intention of making things hot
for him, so Mr. Heron had called on Marshall at his house near Hollyoak
and told him what had happened. Then Marshall had confessed that, being
in want of money, he had forged Mr. Heron’s name. But he stated that he
was going to pay the money back to Roper very shortly, and he implored
Mr. Heron to take no steps against him; it would break Miss Cass’s
heart, he said, and Mr. Heron, pitying Inez, and having a great respect
for her brother, had promised to say no more about it, and had agreed
to refrain from assisting Roper on condition that the five hundred
pounds were repaid. This–as a later entry in the diary-proved–had
been done. After that there was no further mention of the matter.

“Well,” Geoffrey said to himself, as he put away the books, “all
this is quite plain. It seems that Mr. Frank Marshall is a pretty
scoundrel! Oh, there is no doubt that this bill is the blackmailing
document referred to by Jenner. Now, I wonder if Marshall murdered him
to get possession of it; but if he did the bill would not have been
concealed in the toy horse. Ah! no doubt Marshall thought it was in the
red pocket-book, and stole that after he had killed him; that was why
the pocket-book disappeared. Probably Marshall himself destroyed it.
Humph! I have gone so far with very good results; now, before I can
proceed further, I must see Mrs. Jenner and Roper. I wonder if that
scoundrel is still alive?”

Next day Geoffrey paid a visit to the gaol where Mrs. Jenner was
serving her life sentence. After some difficulty he was permitted to
see the prisoner; indeed, he might not have procured the interview at
all had he not told the governor that he saw a good chance of proving
the woman innocent. The governor was a humane man, and, anxious that
justice should be done, he stretched a point and allowed Heron to see
her with as much privacy as was compatible with prison discipline.

As soon as they were alone. Heron related all that he had discovered,
and then proceeded to ask his questions. Mrs. Jenner, poor woman,
became much excited, and small wonder, seeing, that for the first time,
she saw a chance of regaining her freedom.

“But, after all, it will be to die, Mr. Heron,” she said, sadly. “I am
very ill; trouble, exposure and mental worry have been too much for
me. The doctor saw me two days ago, and has ordered my removal to the
Infirmary.” Geoffrey looked at her, and, true enough, there was death
in her face. A few weeks were all of life left to her now. And yet on
hearing Geoffrey’s news, the bold spirit flamed up again in her for the
last time.

“I am sure you are right, Mr. Heron!” she said, feverishly. “Mr.
Marshall is the guilty person. He was always a scamp and a rake. There
is no doubt that it was for the purpose of blackmailing him that my
husband came down to Westham on the night he was murdered; in fact, he
said as much to me at the Turnpike House. Do you know that he had met
Marshall on that very night?”

“No; you did not tell me that.”

“I forgot; besides, I really did not think it mattered. I did not
expect that Mr. Marshall would be brought into the affair. He was
always cunning enough to look after himself. At that time he was
engaged to marry Miss Cass, and she loved him with the fierceness of a
tigress.”

“Do you mean the present Mrs. Marshal?”

“Who else should I mean? She always loved him. He had a strange
fascination for women: why, I don’t know, for he was not particularly
good-looking or attractive. But Miss Inez loved him, and it was within
two months of the murder that they were married. I was in prison then,
as I am now, and under sentence of death.”

“Then you think that Marshall killed your husband?”

“I do,” she said, with a look of hatred in her large blue eyes. “I feel
certain of it. Look at the motive he had! He was engaged to marry Miss
Inez Cass: she was rich and he needed money; then again there was some
talk of his leaving the firm. I believe myself that Mr. Cass was quite
tired of the way he was going on.”

“I wonder that Mr. Cass–knowing him as he did–did not forbid the
marriage.”

“What would have been the use? His sister was her own mistress; she
had her own money–a large fortune–and she was madly in love with
Marshall. She would have done anything for him; she simply grovelled at
his feet. Her infatuation was the talk of all Westham at the time I was
starving at the Turnpike House.’

“Extraordinary!” mused Geoffrey. “She is so masterful a woman that I
wonder she could have fallen in love with so weak a man.”

“It is one of those things in which a woman’s nature is stronger than
her principles,” said Mrs. Jenner. “Besides, he was fascinating, and
she was no longer a young woman,” she added, with a touch of feminine
spite. “At any rate, she was delighted when he fell in love with her,
and determined not to let him go.”

“Was he in love with her?”

“No: perhaps I was wrong to put it that way. No doubt he wanted her
money. Did he leave the firm?”

“Yes; shortly after his marriage.”

“Ah! Then depend upon it, Mr. Cass got rid of him. He married Miss
Cass for her money–he must have been in great straits when he
committed that forgery. Oh, I quite believe it was he who did it:
he was wonderfully clever at imitating handwriting. I knew of that
accomplishment long before I was married.”

“How you hate him!” Geoffrey could not help exclaiming.

“I am a very good hater,” she said, quietly; “and I have every reason
to hate that man. It was he who got my husband dismissed, and it was
certainly he who led him into dissipated ways; for Jenner was not a
bad man during the early years of our married life. It was only when
he came under Marshall’s influence that he took to drink and began to
treat me cruelly. Oh, I know what I owe him only too well! I should
like to see him arrested for this murder, and hanged–hanged!”

She spoke with such vehemence that Heron shivered. “I hope he will be
proved innocent for all that,” he said. “Remember I am engaged to his
niece.”

“Miss Ruth is not his niece save by marriage.”

“Still, the disgrace—-”

“Well, leave the matter alone,” said Mrs. Jenner, abruptly. “I have
suffered so much that a little, more or less, does not matter. When I I
am gone, there will be an end of all your trouble. Let Marshall live to
repent, if he can. I am willing to die with the disgrace on me; I can’t
well be worse off than I am. And my son will soon forget me—-”

“You do him wrong, Mrs. Jenner; he loves you dearly. But, let this
be as it may, what I have to do is to get at the truth of it all. If
Marshall will confess his guilt, I will consult with Mr. Cass and see
what is to be done. I confess, that on Ruth’s account, I do not want a
scandal.”

“Would you desert her?”

“No, for I love her. And I am too just, I hope, to visit the sins of
other people upon her innocent head.”

Mrs. Jenner seemed to be considering; then, “Mr. Heron,” she said at
last, “you are a good man. Leave the matter where it stands, and let me
die a guilty woman in the eyes of the world. If I were in good health,
I might speak differently but I am dying. Let me die. I have suffered
so much, that now I could not even enjoy freedom. There is no rest for
me but in the grave. Believe me, it is better to leave things as they
are.”

“Well, we’ll see about that. But tell me, how did the bill get inside
the toy horse?”

“Ah, that is difficult to explain! The horse belonged to my boy; he was
playing with it before the fire on that evening. I left it there when
I took the child to bed. It is likely enough,” she went on, musingly,
“that my husband, knowing he had driven Marshall into a corner, was
afraid he might lose this bill. He may have sewn it up inside the horse
when I was out of the room. He knew very well that I kept all my boy’s
toys, and he thought it would be safe there. No one would ever have
dreamt of looking for it in such a hiding-place. It is really most
wonderful, when one comes to think of it, that it has come to light at
all.”

“Can you tell me where Jenner met Marshall on that night?”

“No, I cannot. All I know is what he told me–that he had seen him two
hours before he came to see me. He boasted of his blackmailing. That is
all I can tell you.”

Geoffrey rose. “Well, you have given me some information, if not very
much,” he said. “Now I will go and see Roper to make certain how the
bill came to be stolen.”

“My husband stole it when he was with Roper,” said Mrs. Jenner. And
with this last piece of information Geoffrey departed to follow up the
clue.

Mr. Julian Roper had an establishment in Golden-square, Soho. Although
this gentleman was over eighty, he had not yet repented of his many
iniquities, but callously continued to conduct his evil transactions.
His offices–two dingy rooms–were on the ground floor of the house;
the apartments overhead being occupied by himself and a crabbed old
woman who acted as his housekeeper. The hag was, if possible, worse
than her master; and from long years of association, she possessed
considerable influence over him; she was a widow–or at least it was
as such that she described herself–for her husband had left her many
years before in sheer disgust at her tyranny. Mrs. Hutt was her name;
and she had a son who acted as clerk to Julian.

When Geoffrey Heron arrived at this sordid temple of Mammon, he was
received by the drudge–a young-old person of no particular age,
dressed in a suit of rusty black. He informed the visitor that his
master was absent.

The clerk, who answered to the name of Jerry Hutt, gave Mr. Heron a
broken-backed chair, and returned to his desk, which was smuggled
away into a corner. With a shrug at the poverty of the place and the
apparently enfeebled intellect of the person in charge, the young man
took a seat and amused himself by taking stock of his surroundings.

Jerry took not the slightest notice of Geoffrey after the first
greeting; he wrote hard with his tongue thrust into his cheek, giving
vent at times to a faint chuckle which was positively uncanny. Coming
to the conclusion that he was half-witted, Heron came to regard him in
the light in which most people saw him–more as an article of furniture
than a man. But in this he, in common with the rest of the visitors to
that den, was wrong. For underneath his assumed stupidity Jerry was as
sharp as the proverbial needle.

Luckily Heron had not long to wait. In about a quarter of an hour
Jerry raised his big head and looked out of the window; a shuffling
step was heard at the door; and a minute later someone came coughing
and grumbling along the narrow passage. “Mr. Roper,” chuckled Jerry,
pointing towards the inner room. “Go in there.”

Geoffrey, taking no notice of his brusque manner, passed into the back
room; it was better lighted and better furnished than the clerk’s den.
Still, it was sordid enough, and so dirty that the young squire found
it necessary to dust with his handkerchief the seat he had chosen.
“Cleanliness and godliness are both absent from this establishment,”
thought Mr. Heron.

He could hear Roper outside growling at Jerry, but could catch nothing
of their conversation. He guessed that it had to do with himself, for
shortly Mr. Roper entered the back room with what was meant to be an
amiable smile on his mahogany face. In appearance he was the double of
his clerk, as thin, as yellow, and even smaller in stature.

“Ha! Hey!” he said; this being the way in which he was accustomed to
begin a conversation. “Mr. Heron–ah, yes–Mr. Geoffrey Heron–quite
so! I knew your father. A good man, Mr. Heron, but strong in his
expressions.”

Geoffrey took this to mean–and very rightly too–that his father
had expressed himself in no measured terms as to the moneylender’s
professional transactions. But he made no comment, merely remarking
that he had come to see Mr. Roper on business.

“Ha! Hey!” chuckled the old man, shuffling towards his desk with the
aid of a heavy stick. “Quite so. Not like your father! Oh, dear, no! He
never borrowed money.”

“I am not here for that purpose,” retorted Mr. Heron, haughtily, and
the old man, panting for breath, dropped into his chair. “And I can
assure you that you are the last person to whom I should come in such
circumstances. My business is quite of a different nature.”

“Ha! Then why do you come here, Mr. Heron? I have much to do; I am
poor, and money is hard to make. If your business has nothing to do
with money, why come at all?”

“Because you are the only person who can assist me?”

“I do nothing for nothing,” croaked Mr. Roper, quickly. “If you want
anything out of me, you must pay me–pay me–cash down, you understand!
I have had enough of bills.”

“Mr. Frank Marshall’s bill for five hundred included?” asked Geoffrey.

The man started and plucked at his nether lip. “Ha! Hey! What do you
know about Mr. Marshall, sir?”

“Not so much as you can tell me,” said Heron, significantly.

“Marshall–Marshall,” muttered Roper. “I don’t know him–never heard of
him.”

Geoffrey took a new tack and prepared to go. “In that case, I need not
trouble you. My business has to do with Marshall and a forgery.”

“Wait. Come now, don’t hurry!” screeched the old man, clawing at
Heron’s frock-coat. “I do begin to remember something of this. I am
old–I can’t remember as well as I did. Marshall–Frank Marshall–Cass
and Marshall. Yes, yes, of course I know! A forgery–your father–quite
so!” He stopped and looked up sharply. “Well, what is it?” he asked.

Geoffrey sat down again. He was beginning to see his way to the
successful management of this old gentleman. “It is a long story,” he
said, slowly, keeping his eyes fixed on the avaricious face of the
usurer. “Let me begin at the beginning. What about a man called Jenner?”

Roper gave another screech, and was visibly startled. He cast a swift
glance at the door behind which, no doubt, the useful Jerry was
eavesdropping. “Jenner,” he said, recovering himself with an effort,
“was a clerk of mine, and a blackguard.”

“The one implies the other,” Heron said, drily, “if all I have heard of
you is true.”

“Now, sir, don’t you come libelling me,” whimpered the usurer, still
disturbed. “I won’t have it. I will bring an action for damages–heavy
damages.”

“Do, Mr. Roper. I should like to see you shewn up in court. How many of
your transactions will bear the scrutiny of the law?”

“I have never broken the law,” he roared, with an attempt at dignity
which ill became him. “I am a poor man, but honest. Jenner? Oh, yes he
was murdered, and he deserved to be murdered–the beast!”

“Who did it?” asked Geoffrey, abruptly.

For the second time Mr. Roper was visibly disconcerted. “How should I
know any more than yourself?” he quavered. “His wife murdered him, of
course; he treated her badly, and she served him out. Women always do.”

“Come, Mr. Roper, you are evading my questions. But I have no time to
play the fool. I have come to talk to you about that forged bill.”

“Have you got it–have you got it?” he shrieked, making a dart with one
claw at Geoffrey. “Oh, give it to me, if you can! I want to see that
Marshall in gaol–with hard labour–hard labour!” he repeated, with
evident relish. “My dear gentleman, if you can, help me to crush him!”

“Why?” asked the young man, drawing back.

“Because I hate him. I had a daughter; she loved him; but he would not
marry her–oh, dear, no! Her father’s reputation was too bad for so
fine a gentleman. So she died–pined away. Mr. Heron, as I am a sinner!
Oh how Jerry felt it! He admired Elsa, he loved her–so did Marshall.”
His eyes flashed. “But he would not marry her, for all that. She is
dead and buried now–a most expensive tomb!” he added, vaguely. “All
marble–most costly. But she was my daughter: I hate to spend good
money; but Elsa was my daughter–a most expensive tomb!”

His listener took all this for the senile babble of age. Perhaps it
was, for tears stood in the usurer’s eyes–those hard eyes which had
remained dry whilst looking upon much deliberately-created misery. He
wiped them now with snuffy red bandana, and then looked fiercely at his
client.

“Come,” he said, roughly, with a growl as of a beast about to spring.
“What about Marshall!”

Geoffrey said nothing for the moment, but stared fixedly at the
moneylender.

“Ha! Hey!” said Roper, impatiently, and there was a yellow gleam in
his eyes. “I am waiting. What about Marshall?”

“I would rather ask you what about Jenner?”

“I do nothing for nothing, as I have told you,” was the reply. “If
you could assist me to punish that wretch, I might perhaps help you;
otherwise—-”

“Well, I may be able to help you in that!”

“Oh, oh!” said the old man. “And what grudge have you against Marshall?”

“I have none but I have a very good reason for acting as I am doing.”

“What is your reason?”

“That I refuse to tell you. Speak freely to me, or leave the matter
alone, my good man. I can do without your assistance.”

“No, no!” cried the usurer, with frightful energy. “If Marshall is to
get into trouble, I am the man to assist. He broke my Elsa’s heart; I
wish to be revenged. What is it you want to know?”

“Tell me about Jenner,” Heron said, curtly. He saw that the old man,
moved by the recollection of Marshall’s behaviour to his daughter, was
in the mood to be confidential. He would get all he could out of him
before the wind changed.

Roper commenced speaking in a hurry as though in fear that his
resolution would fail him. “Jenner was a wretch–a scamp!” he said. “He
was in my employment before Jerry grew up to assist me. I took him off
the streets, and he repaid my kindness by robbing me.”

“Of the bill of exchange on which was the forgery of my father’s name.”

“Oh, you know that!” he said with a glance of surprise. “Well, I
daresay. Your father–worthy man–would no doubt tell you. Yes, Jenner
took the bill–just when I thought I had Marshall in the palm of my
hand. Ah, that was a blow! I would have given hundreds to have kept
that bill–to have lodged Marshall in gaol. But when that was gone, I
could do nothing. Have you the bill–do you know where it is? Give it
to me. I’ll work the matter.”

“I have not the bill,” said Geoffrey, deliberately. He saw that the
honour of the Cass family would be lost if entrusted to the hands of
this man. “The bill was stolen from Jenner’s dead body,” he added, with
studied equivocation.

“By whom?” Roper asked, abruptly. “Do you not know?”

“Certainly not,” he said, with violence. “Are you about to accuse me of
the crime? Why, I do not even know of the place where he met his death.
You can prove nothing against me, sir, however cleverly you lay your
trap.”

“I am not laying any trap,” Geoffrey said, mildly. “I want to know
something more about Jenner–as I have told you at least five times! He
was in your employment, you say?”

“Yes, I took him off the streets! One day Marshall brought that bill; I
discounted it, and gave him five hundred pounds! Then I found out–how,
it does not matter–that your father’s signature had been forged. I saw
your father—-”

“I know all about that interview. You saw my father and he refused to
prosecute, did he not?”

“He did; but I would have prosecuted myself, and would have called your
father as a witness. Well, I came back after that visit, and placed the
bill in my safe then I told my housekeeper all about it: Jenner must
have listened. Shortly afterwards he disappeared; I made a search to
see if he had taken anything. Then I found that the bill had gone–that
Marshall had escaped me! I managed to set the police on Jenner’s track,
and he was arrested. I offered not to prosecute if he would give me
back the bill: but he refused. Then I prosecuted him for stealing my
money, and he got three years. When he came out, I believe he went down
to the country to see his wife; and she murdered him. What became of
the bill, I never could discover. He must have destroyed it.”

“It is possible,” said Heron. “I suppose that the bill was valuable to
Marshall as well as to you! No doubt he paid Jenner to destroy it.”

“Or else he murdered Jenner to obtain possession of it,” the old man
said, gloomily. “But, no! Mrs. Jenner killed him I was at the trial; I
heard all the evidence nothing could have been clearer or fairer. She
killed her husband. Now. I wonder if she could have taken possession of
that bill! No, I don’t think so; it would have been found on her when
she was arrested. I believe Marshall must have bribed Jenner to destroy
it; more’s the pity. I’ll never get at him now, the beast!”

Geoffrey rose to go. “Well,” he said, “I have learnt something; but I
hardly know if it will be of much assistance to me.”

“What are you going to do?” Roper asked.

“Satisfy my conscience. Listen, Mr. Roper; in my father’s diary I found
a full account of your visit and the truth about the forgery. I was
anxious to know all–therefore, I came to you. Now I am satisfied. So
far as I am concerned, the matter shall rest where it is.”

“Then you won’t help me to crush Marshall? Will nothing deliver him
into my hands?” he muttered. “I’ll make a last effort; he must be
punished for Elsa’s sake.”