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- Mr. Bingle - 40/49 -
of thing. I am quite sure that we will find it--er--in excellent order."
"Before I forget it, perhaps I'd better mention one or two expenditures that I have made in the past twenty-four hours," said Mr. Bingle thoughtfully. "I have taken it upon myself to pay all of my just debts before the order of the Court takes effect. In other words, sir, I have settled in full with my attorneys, my doctors and my servants. They are paid up to the minute, Mr. Hoskins."
The lawyer stared. "Do you mean to say that you have paid out of the estate the fees--undoubtedly exorbitant--of these lawyers for the ten years' fiddling they have been--"
"My doctor's name is Fiddler, sir," interrupted Mr. Bingle, looking so hard into Mr. Hoskins' eyes that once more the interruption passed unresented. "I have paid them all in full, if that's what you are trying to get at."
"Don't you know that such an act is distinctly illegal?" demanded Mr. Hoskins.
"So my lawyers informed me."
"And yet they permitted you to hand over to them large sums of money in the nature of fees without waiting for an order of the Court, knowing full well that an opinion had been handed down? It is incomprehensible!"
"It shouldn't be incomprehensible to you, Judge Hoskins," said Mr. Bingle gently. "You are a lawyer yourself."
"Am I to infer that you--What do you mean, sir?"
"I leave that entirely to you, sir."
Mr. Hoskins coughed, although there was nothing to indicate that it was necessary.
"It is possible, sir, for my clients to bring suit against you for a full accounting of all monies that you have expended or misused in--"
"I wouldn't say that, if I were you, Judge Hoskins."
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Bingle. For all monies that belong or have belonged to the estate of their father. I say it is possible for them to do so--but not likely. You should not forget that this estate virtually has been held in trust by you for all these years, pending the final decision--a point agreed upon by my clients and yourself in the desire to increase the value of--"
"If they feel inclined to bring such a suit, Mr. Hoskins, I shall not combat it," said Mr. Bingle drily. "They may take judgment by default. They are used to waiting by this time, so it won't be anything new for them to wait a million years for what they'd get if they sued me. By carefully hoarding a couple of dollars a year for a million years, I fancy I could in the end be able to take care of the judgment. But it hardly seems worth while, does it? It is barely possible that your clients might die before that time is up, even though I should survive."
"I fear that you do not realise that this is no joking matter, Mr. Bingle," said Mr. Hoskins stiffly. He was not quite so pompous as when he entered the house.
"I fear that you did not realise it either, Mr. Hoskins, when you spoke of suing me."
"Ahem! And now, sir, when may we arrange for a conference over the transfer of all properties now in your hands, or under your control, as coming from the estate of the late Joseph Hooper?"
"You may call up my attorneys by telephone this afternoon, sir, and arrange anything you like. They are still in my employ, according to our agreement of yesterday. I've paid them to see that I have nothing left when they get through with me, so there's nothing to worry about. Confer with them, Mr. Hoskins, and when you are ready I'll come down and do whatever is necessary in the premises. In the meantime, convey my thanks to my cousins and say that when they refused to accept a portion of the estate from me ten years ago they made it impossible for me to accept anything from them now. What they were too proud to accept, I also am too proud to take. Thank you for coming out to see me, Mr. Hoskins. I know you are a very busy man, and I know it must seem like a prodigious waste of time to be interesting yourself in the affairs of a poor bookkeeper without a cent to his name. For that is what I am, Mr. Hoskins: a poor bookkeeper without a cent to his name but still a believer in 'The Christmas Carol.'"
"But that book actually was the cause of your undoing, sir. It--"
"It doesn't matter," said Mr. Bingle wearily. "It is a good book, just the same. If you will excuse me now, I must go to the city. I have an appointment right after luncheon with a man who is going to show me a flat."
Mr. Hoskins surprised himself at this juncture--undeniably surprised himself. "If you are going to the city at once, Mr. Bingle, perhaps you will permit me to take you up in my car."
Mr. Bingle's smile was quizzical. "You HAVE got something out of 'The Christmas Carol' then," he said, and Mr. Hoskins eventually had the grace to redden perceptibly. He was slow in grasping the connection, however.
The impoverished millionaire had a busy afternoon, and some annoying mishaps--if they may be classified as such. In the first place, he went to the bank and delivered his resignation as vice-president and director. He handed it to Mr. Force and at the same moment applied for his old job as bookkeeper. Mr. Force complimented him on his promptness in both emergencies. It appears that the newspapers had printed columns about the Bingle affair. Mr. Force was in possession of all the facts. He had been interviewed by all of the reporters who had failed to see Mr. Bingle and who had to be content with a statement prepared and delivered by Flanders.
"Your resignation comes just in time, Bingle," he said. "We have a meeting of the board to-morrow. And as for the position, I'm happy to say you can have it almost immediately. Ramsey is leaving. I thought of you this morning when my secretary mentioned the fact. And, by the way, I don't mind saying that we hope to have the Hooper heirs continue their holdings in the bank. The account, as you know, is a large one and we don't want to lose it. Besides, Geoffrey Hooper is the sort of a chap who will help the bank tremendously if we put him on the board. He stands very high socially and is hand in glove with the richest people in town. I am to see him at three o'clock. By Jove, it's nearly three. Excuse me, Bingle, if I appear to hurry you off, but--"
"I just wanted to ask how Kathleen is, Mr. Force," said Mr. Bingle, who had not been asked to sit down.
"She's all right," said Mr. Force. "Good-bye, Bingle. Tell Bashford I said you were to have Ramsey's place. And, by the way, if I can ever be of any service to you, Bingle, I wish you'd call on me."
"Thanks. The job will be enough, I hope, Mr. Force."
Force suddenly lowered his eyes. "I'd ask you to come and see Kathleen, Bingle, but--but we're trying to break the child of her homesickness, of her longing to see you. Time, of course, will do it. You will understand, of course, that it is better for her--and for all of us--if she doesn't see you."
Mr. Bingle's face shone. "She--she still loves me, then?" he cried softly.
Force compressed his lips, and then admitted: "Yes, Bingle, old fellow, she DOES love you. And, hang it all, why shouldn't she? I--I want her to love me and not you. I can't look at you without envy in my soul--eating my soul, do you understand?--and I could almost hate you for the start you got of me in those long years with her. Oh, don't laugh at me, Bingle. Don't stand there grinning like a hyena. I suppose it will please you to hear that the poor child cries nearly every night of her life because she--she misses you. I--"
"You can bet it DOES please me," shouted Mr. Bingle.
"Wait, Bingle! Don't go. What am I to do? How am I going to put sunshine back into that little girl's face? Lord, man, I--I can't stand it much longer."
Mr. Bingle pondered. Then he laid his hat upon the table and took a notebook and pencil from his pocket. While he scribbled, Force looked on in perplexity.
"There!" said Mr. Bingle, tearing out the sheet and handing it to the president of the bank. "You may read it, Mr. Force. Give it to her, and see if she doesn't brighten up a bit."
Force read the note. He read it aloud, as if that was the only way to get the full meaning of it.
"'Dear Kathleen: Your old daddy loves you. You must always love him, and you must make your new daddy fetch you to see him some day. Come and see Freddie and all the other kiddies. They will be so delighted to see you, for they all love you. And if your new daddy will fetch you to see your old daddy once in a while, I am sure you will come to love your new daddy as much, if not more than you love your old
"Give that to her, Force, and maybe she'll put her arms around your neck and kiss you," said Mr. Bingle, and went swiftly out of the room, leaving Force staring at the bit of paper as if fascinated.
As he hurried from the bank, he met Rouquin, the foreign exchange manager, who evidently had been lying in wait for him.
"How do you do, Rouquin?" said he, stopping to proffer his hand to the Frenchman.
"See here, Mr. Bingle," began Rouquin, in an agitated undertone; "I want a word or two with you about Napoleon. What is to become of that child, now that you are down and out? Will he be sent to some accursed charity home or--"
"Possess your soul in peace, Rouquin," said Mr. Bingle, drawing back to look more intently into the unfriendly eyes of the once amiable Rouquin. "Napoleon shall have the best I can give him, no more. He is as well with me as he could ever have been with his good-for-nothing
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