Laverick, haggard from his long vigil, locked up his books at last, turned out the lights, and locking the doors behind him walked into the silent street. Instinctively he turned his steps westwards. This might well be the last night on which he would care to show himself in his accustomed haunts, the last night on which he could mix with his fellows freely, and without that terrible sense of consciousness which follows upon disaster. Already there was little enough left of it. It was too late to change and go to his club. The places of amusement were already closed. To-morrow night, both club and theatres would lie outside his world. He walked slowly, yet he had scarcely taken, in fact, a dozen steps when, with a purely mechanical impulse, he paused by a stone-flagged entry to light a cigarette. It was a passage, almost a tunnel for a few yards, leading to an open space, on one side of which was an old churchyard—strange survival in such a part—and on the other the offices of several firms of stockbrokers, a Russian banker, an actuary. It was the barest of impulses which led him to glance up the entry before he blew out the match. Then he gave a quick start and became for a moment paralyzed. Within a few feet of him something was lying on the ground—a dark mass, black and soft—the body of a man, perhaps. Just above it, a pair of eyes gleamed at him through the semi-darkness.
Laverick at first had no thought of tragedy. It might be a tramp or a drunkard, perhaps,—a fight, or a man taken ill. Then something sinister about the light of those burning eyes set his heart beating faster. He struck another match with firm fingers, and bent forward. What he saw upon the ground made him feel a little sick. What he saw racing away down the passage prompted him to swift pursuit. Down the arched court into the open space he ran, himself an athlete, but mocked by the swiftness of the shadowlike form which he pursued. At the end was another street—empty. He looked up and down, seeking in vain for any signs of life. There was nothing to tell him which way to turn. Opposite was a very labyrinth of courts and turnings. There was not even the sound of a footfall to guide him. Slowly he retraced his steps, lit another match, and leaned over the prostrate figure. Then he knew that it was a tragedy indeed upon which he had stumbled.
The man was dead, and he had met with his death by unusual means. These were the first two things of which Laverick assured himself. Without any doubt, a savage and a terrible crime had been committed. A hornhandled knife of unusual length had been driven up to the hilt through the heart of the murdered man. There had been other blows, notably about the head. There was not much blood, but the position of the knife alone told its ugly story. Laverick, though his nerves were of the strongest, felt his head swim as he looked. He rose to his feet and walked to the opening of the passage, gasping. The street was no longer empty.
About thirty yards away, looking westwards, a man was standing in the middle of the road. The light from the lamp-post escaped his face. Laverick could only see that he was slim, of medium height, dressed in dark clothes, with his hands in the pockets of his overcoat. To all appearance, he was watching the entry. Laverick took a step towards him—the man as deliberately took a step further away. Laverick held up his hand.
"Hullo!" he called out, and beckoned.
The person addressed took no notice. Laverick advanced another two or three steps—the man retreated a similar distance. Laverick changed his tactics and made a sudden spring forward. The man hesitated no longer—he turned and ran as though for his life. In a few minutes he was round the corner of the street and out of sight. Laverick returned slowly to the entry.
A distant clock struck midnight. A couple of clerks came along the pavement on the other side, their hands and arms full of letters. Laverick hesitated. He was never afterwards able to account for the impulse which prevented his calling out to them. Instead he lurked in the shadows and watched them go by. When he was sure that they had disappeared, he bent once more over the body of the murdered man. Already that huddled-up heap was beginning to exercise a nameless and terrible fascination for him. His first feelings of horror were mingled now with an insatiable curiosity. What manner of man was he? He was tall and strongly built; fair—of almost florid complexion. His clothes were very shabby and apparently ready-made. His moustache was upturned, and his hair was trimmed closer than is the custom amongst Englishmen. Laverick stooped lower and lower until he found himself almost on his knees. There was something projecting from the man's pocket as though it had been half snatched out—a large portfolio of brown leather, almost the size of a satchel. Laverick drew it out, holding it in one hand whilst with firm fingers he struck another match. Then, for the first time, a little cry broke from his lips. Both sides of the pocket-book were filled with bank-notes. As his match flickered out, he caught a glimpse of the figures in the left-hand corner—500 pounds!—great rolls of them! Laverick rose gasping to his feet. It was a new Arabian Nights, this!—a dream!—a continuation of the nightmare which had threatened him all day! Or was it, perhaps, the madness coming—the madness which he had begun only an hour or so ago to fear!
He walked into the gaslit streets and looked up and down. The mysterious stranger had vanished. There was not a soul in sight. He clutched the rough stone wall with his hands, he kicked the pavement with his heels. There was no doubt about it—everything around him was real. Most real of all was the fact that within a few feet of him lay a murdered man, and that in his hands was that brown leather pocket-book with its miraculous contents. For the last time Laverick retraced his steps and bent over that huddled-up shape. One by one he went through the other pockets. There was a packet of Russian cigarettes; an empty card-case of chased silver, and obviously of foreign workmanship; a cigarette holder stained with much use, but of the finest amber, with rich gold mountings. There was nothing else upon the dead man, no means of identification of any sort. Laverick stood up, giddy, half terrified with the thoughts that went tearing through his brain. The pocket-book began to burn his hand; he felt the perspiration breaking out anew upon his forehead. Yet he never hesitated. He walked like a man in a dream, but his footsteps were steady and short. Deliberately, and without any sign of hurry, he made his way towards his offices. If a policeman had come in sight up or down the street, he had decided to call him and to acquaint him with what had happened. It was the one chance he held against himself,—the gambler's method of decision, perhaps, unconsciously arrived at. As it turned out, there was still not a soul in sight. Laverick opened the outer door with his latchkey, let himself in and closed it. Then he groped his way through the clerk's office into his own room, switched on the electric light and once more sat down before his desk.
He drew his shaded writing lamp towards him and looked around with a nervousness wholly unfamiliar. Then he opened the pocket-book, drew out the roll of bank-notes and counted them. It was curious that he felt no surprise at their value. Bank-notes for five hundred pounds are not exactly common, and yet he proceeded with his task without the slightest instinct of surprise. Then he leaned back in his chair. Twenty thousand pounds in Bank of England notes! There they lay on the table before him. A man had died for their sake,—another must go through all the days with the price of blood upon his head—a murderer—a haunted creature for the rest of his life. And there on the table were the spoils. Laverick tried to think the matter out dispassionately. He was a man of average moral fibre—that is to say, he was honest in his dealings with other men because his father and his grandfather before him had been honest, and because the penalty for dishonesty was shameful. Here, however, he was face to face with an altogether unusual problem. These notes belonged, without a doubt, to the dead man. Save for his own interference, they would have been in the hands of his murderer. The use of them for a few days could do no one any harm. Such risk as there was he took himself. That it was a risk he knew and fully realized. Laverick had sat in his place unmoved when his partner had poured out his wail of fear and misery. Yet of the two men it was probable that Laverick himself had felt their position the more keenly. He was a man of some social standing, with a large circle of friends; a sportsman, and with many interests outside the daily routine of his city life. To him failure meant more than the loss of money; it would rob him of everything in life worth having. The days to come had been emptied of all promise. He had held himself stubbornly because he was a man, because he had strength enough to refuse to let his mind dwell upon the indignities and humiliation to come. And here before him was possible salvation. There was a price to be paid, of course, a risk to be run in making use even for an hour of this money. Yet from the first he had known that he meant to do it.
Quite cool now, he opened his private safe, thrust the pocket-book into one of the drawers, and locked it up. Then he lit a cigarette, finally shut up the office and walked down the street. As he passed the entry he turned his head slowly. Apparently no one had been there, nothing had been disturbed. Straining his eyes through the darkness, he could even see that dark shape still lying huddled up on the ground. Then he walked on. He had burned his boats now and was prepared for all emergencies. At the corner he met a policeman, to whom he wished a cheery good-night. He told himself that the thing which he had done was for the best. He owed it to himself. He owed it to those who had trusted him. After all, it was the chief part of his life—his city career. It was here that his friends lived. It was here that his ambitions flourished. Disgrace here was eternal disgrace. His father and his grandfather before him had been men honored and respected in this same circle. Disgrace to him, such disgrace as that with which he had stood face to face a few hours ago, would have been, in a certain sense, a reflection upon their memories. The names upon the brass plates to right and to left of him were the names of men he knew, men with whom he desired to stand well, whose friendship or contempt made life worth living or the reverse. It was worth a great risk—this effort of his to keep his place. His one mistake—this association with Morrison—had been such an unparalleled stroke of bad luck. He was rid of the fellow now. For the future there should be no more partners. He had his life to live. It was not reasonable that he should allow himself to be dragged down into the mire by such a creature. He found an empty taxicab at the corner of Queen Victoria Street, and hailed it.
"Whitehall Court," he told the driver.
BELLAMY IS OUTWITTED
Bellamy was a man used to all hazards, whose supreme effort of life it was to meet success and disaster with unvarying mien. But this was disaster too appalling even for his self-control. He felt his knees shake so that he caught at the edge of the table before which he was standing. There was no possible doubt about it, he had been tricked. Von Behrling, after all,—Von Behrling, whom he had looked upon merely as a stupid, infatuated Austrian, ready to sell his country for the sake of a woman, had fooled him utterly!
The man who sat at the head of the table—the only other occupant of the room—was in Court dress, with many orders upon his coat. He had just been attending a Court function, from which Bellamy's message had summoned him. Before him on the table was an envelope, hastily torn open, and several sheets of blank paper. It was upon these that Bellamy's eyes were fixed with an expression of mingled horror and amazement. The Cabinet Minister had already pushed them away with a little gesture of contempt.
"Bellamy," he said gravely, "it is not like you to make so serious an error.
"I hope not, sir," Bellamy answered. "I—yes, I have been deceived."
The Minister glanced at the clock.
"What is to be done?" he asked.
Bellamy, with an effort, pulled himself together. He caught up the envelope, looked once more inside, held up the blank sheets of paper to the lamp and laid them down. Then with clenched fists he walked to the other side of the room and returned. He was himself again.
"Sir James, I will not waste your time by saying that I am sorry. Only an hour ago I met Von Behrling in a little restaurant in the city, and gave him twenty thousand pounds for that envelope."
"You paid him the money," the Minister remarked slowly, "without opening the envelope."
Bellamy admitted it.
"In such transactions as these," he declared, "great risks are almost inevitable. I took what must seem to you now to be an absurd risk. To tell you the honest truth, sir, and I have had experience in these things, I thought it no risk at all when I handed over the money. Von Behrling was there in disguise. The men with whom he came to this country are furious with him. To all appearance, he seemed to have broken with them absolutely. Even now—
"Even now," Bellamy said slowly, with his eyes fixed upon the wall of the room, and a dawning light growing stronger every moment in his face, "even now I believe that Von Behrling made a mistake. An envelope such as this had been arranged for him to show the others or leave at the Austrian Embassy in case of emergency. He had it with him in his pocket-book. He even told me so. God in Heaven, he gave me the wrong one!"
The Minister glanced once more at the clock.
"In that case," he said, "perhaps he would not go to the Embassy to-night, especially if he was in disguise. You may still be able to find him and repair the error.
"I will try," answered Bellamy. "Thank Heaven!" he added, with a sudden gleam of satisfaction, "my watchers are still dogging his footsteps. I can find out before morning where he went when he left our rendezvous. There is another way, too. Mademoiselle—this man Von Behrling believed that she was leaving the country with him. She was to have had a message within the next few hours."
The Minister nodded thoughtfully.
"Bellamy, I have been your friend and you have done us good service often. The Secret Service estimates, as you know, are above supervision, but twenty thousand pounds is a great deal of money to have paid for this."
He touched the sheets of blank paper with his forefinger. Bellamy's teeth were clenched.
"The money shall be returned, sir.
"Do not misunderstand me," Sir James went on, speaking a little more kindly. "The money, after all, in comparison with what it was destined to purchase, is nothing. We might even count it a fair risk if it was lost."
"It shall not be lost," Bellamy promised. "If Von Behrling has played the traitor to us, then he will go back to his country. In that case, I will have the money from him without a doubt. If, on the other hand, he was honest to us and a traitor to his country, as I firmly believe, it may not yet be too late."
"Let us hope not," Sir James declared. "Bellamy," he continued, a note of agitation trembling in his tone, "I need not tell you, I am sure, how important this matter is. You work like a mole in the dark, yet you have brains,—you understand. Let me tell you how things are with us. A certain amount of confidence is due to you, if to any one. I may tell you that at the Cabinet Council to-day a very serious tone prevailed. We do not understand in the least the attitude of several of the European Powers. It can be understood only under certain assumptions. A note of ours sent through the Ambassador to Vienna has remained unanswered for two days. The German Ambassador has left unexpectedly for Berlin on urgent business. We have just heard, too, that a secret mission from Russia left St. Petersburg last night for Paris. Side by side with all this," Sir James continued, "the Czar is trying to evade his promised visit here. The note we have received speaks of his health. Well, we know all about that. We know, I may tell you, that his health has never been better than at the present moment."
"It all means one thing and one thing only," Bellamy affirmed. "In Vienna and Berlin to-day they look at an Englishman and smile. Even the man in the street seems to know what is coming."
Sir James leaned a little back in his seat. His hands were tightly clenched, and there was a fierce light in his hollow eyes. Those who were intimate with him knew that he had aged many years during the last few weeks.
"The cruel part is," he said softly, "that it should have come in my administration, when for ten years I have prayed from the Opposition benches for the one thing which would have made us safe to-day."
"An army," murmured Bellamy.
"The days are coming," Sir James continued, "when those who prated of militarism and the security of our island walls will see with their own eyes the ruin they have brought upon us. Secretly we are mobilizing all that we have to mobilize," he added, with a little sigh. "At the very best, however, our position is pitiful. Even if we are prepared to defend, I am afraid that we shall see things on the Continent in which we shall be driven to interfere, or else suffer the greatest blow which our prestige has ever known. If we could only tell what was coming!" he wound up, looking once more at those empty sheets of paper. "It is this darkness which is so alarming!"
Bellamy turned toward the door.
"You have the telephone in your bedroom, sir?" he asked.
"Yes, ring me up at any time in the night or morning, if you have news."
Bellamy drove at once to Dover Street. It was half-past one, but he had no fear of not being admitted. Louise's French maid answered the bell.
"Madame has not retired?" Bellamy inquired.
"But no, sir," the woman assured him, with a welcoming smile. "It is only a few minutes ago that she has returned."
Bellamy was ushered at once into her room. She was gorgeous in blue satin and pearls. Her other maid was taking off her jewels. She dismissed both the women abruptly.
"I absolutely couldn't avoid a supper-party," she said, holding out her hands. "You expected that, of course. You were not at the Opera House?"
He shook his head, and walking to the door tried the handle. It was securely closed. He came back slowly to her side. Her eyes were questioning him fiercely.
"Well?" she exclaimed. "Well?"
"Have you heard from Von Behrling?"
"No," she answered. "He knew that I must sing to-night. I have been expecting him to telephone every moment since I got home. You have seen him?"
"I have seen him," Bellamy admitted. "Either he has deceived us both, or the most unfortunate mistake in the world has happened. Listen. I met him where he appointed. He was there, disguised, almost unrecognizable. He was nervous and desperate; he had the air of a man who has cut himself adrift from the world. I gave him the money,—twenty thousand pounds in Bank of England notes, Louise,—and he gave me the papers, or what we thought were the papers. He told me that he was keeping a false duplicate upon him for a little time, in case he was seized, but that he was going to Liverpool Street station to wait, and would telephone you from the hotel there later on. You have not heard yet, then?"
She shook her head.
"There has been no message, but go on."
"He gave me the wrong document—the wrong envelope," continued Bellamy. "When I took it to—to Downing Street, it was full of blank paper."
The color slowly left her cheeks. She looked at him with horror in her face.
"Do you think that he meant to do it?" she exclaimed.
"We cannot tell," Bellamy answered. "My own impression is that he did not. We must find out at once what has become of him. He might even, if he fancies himself safe, destroy the envelope he has, believing it to be the duplicate. He is sure to telephone you. The moment you hear you must let me know."
"You had better stay here," she declared. "There are plenty of rooms. You will be on the spot then."
Bellamy shook his head.
"The joke of it is that I, too, am being watched whereever I go. That fellow Streuss has spies everywhere. That is one reason why I believe that Von Behrling was serious.
"Oh, he was serious!" Louise repeated.
"You are sure?" Bellamy asked. "You have never had even any doubt about him?"
"Never," she answered firmly. "David, I had not meant to tell you this. You know that I saw him for a moment this morning. He was in deadly earnest. He gave me a ring—a trifle—but it had belonged to his mother. He would not have done this if he had been playing us false."
Bellamy sprang to his feet.
"You are right, Louise!" he exclaimed. "I shall go back to my rooms at once. Fortunately, I had a man shadowing Von Behrling, and there may be a report for me. If anything comes here, you will telephone at once?"
"Of course," she assented.
"You do not think it possible," he asked slowly, "that he would attempt to see you here?"
Louise shuddered for a moment.
"I absolutely forbade it, so I am sure there is no chance of that."
"Very well, then," he decided, "we will wait. Dear," he added, in an altered tone, "how splendid you look!"
Her face suddenly softened.
"Ah, David!" she murmured, "to hear you speak naturally even for a moment—it makes everything seem so different!"
He held out his arms and she came to him with a little sigh of satisfaction.
"Louise," he said, "some day the time may come when we shall be able to give up this life of anxiety and terrors. But it cannot be yet—not for your country's sake or mine."
She kissed him fondly.
"So long as there is hope!" she whispered.
VON BEHRLING'S FATE
It seemed to Louise that she had scarcely been in bed an hour when the more confidential of her maids—Annette, the Frenchwoman—woke her with a light touch of the arm. She sat up in bed sleepily.
"What is it, Annette?" she asked. "Surely it is not mid-day yet? Why do you disturb me?"
"It is barely nine o'clock, Mademoiselle, but Monsieur Bellamy—Mademoiselle told me that she wished to receive him whenever he came. He is in the boudoir now, and very impatient."
"Did he send any message?"
"Only that his business was of the most urgent," the maid replied.
Louise sighed,—she was really very sleepy. Then, as the thoughts began to crowd into her brain, she began also to remember. Some part of the excitement of a few hours ago returned.
"My bath, Annette, and a dressing-gown," she ordered. "Tell Monsieur Bellamy that I hurry. I will be with him in twenty minutes."
To Bellamy, the twenty minutes were minutes of purgatory. She came at last, however, fresh and eager; her hair tied up with ribbon, she herself clad in a pink dressing-gown and pink slippers.
"David!" she cried,—"my dear David—!"
Then she broke off.
"What is it?" she asked, in a different tone.
He showed her the headlines of the newspaper he was carrying.
"Tragedy!" he answered hoarsely. "Von Behrling was true, after all,—at least, it seems so."
"What has happened?" she demanded.
Bellamy pointed once more to the newspaper.
"He was murdered last night, within fifty yards of the place of our rendezvous."
A little exclamation broke from Louise's lips. She sat down suddenly. The color called into her cheeks by the exercise of her bath was rapidly fading away.
"David," she murmured, "is this true?"
"It is indeed," Bellamy assured her. "Not only that, but there is no mention of his pocket-book in the account of his murder. It must have been engineered by Streuss and the others, and they have got away with the pocket-book and the money."
"What can we do?" she asked.
"There is nothing to be done," Bellamy declared calmly. "We are defeated. The thing is quite apparent. Von Behrling never succeeded, after all, in shaking off the espionage of the men who were watching him. They tracked him to our rendezvous, they waited about while I met him. Afterwards, he had to pass along a narrow passage. It was there that he was found murdered."
"But, David, I don't understand! Why did they wait until after he had seen you? How did they know that he had not parted with the paper in the restaurant? To all intents and purposes he ought to have done so."
"I cannot understand that myself," Bellamy admitted. "In fact, it is inexplicable."
She took up the newspaper and glanced at the report. Then, "You are sure, I suppose, that this does refer to Von Behrling? He is quite unidentified, you see."
"There is no doubt about it," Bellamy declared. "I have been to the Mortuary. It is certainly he. All our work has been in vain—just as I thought, too, that we had made a splendid success of it."
She looked at him compassionately.
"It is hard lines, dear," she admitted. "You are tired, too. You look as though you had been up all night."
"Yes, I am tired," he answered, sinking into a chair. "I am worse than tired. This has been the grossest failure of my career, and I am afraid that it is the end of everything. I have lost twenty thousand pounds of Secret Service money; I have lost the one chance which might have saved England. They will never trust me again."
"You did your best," she said, coming over and sitting on the arm of his chair. "You did your best, David."
She laid her hands upon his forehead, her cheek against his—smooth and cold—exquisitely refreshing it seemed to his jaded nerves.
"Ah, Louise!" he murmured, "life is getting a little too strenuous. Perhaps we have given too much of it up to others. What do you think?"
She shook her head.
"Dear, I have felt like that sometimes, yet what can we do? Could we be happy, you and I, in exile, if the things which we dread were coming to pass? Could I go away and hide while my countrymen were being butchered out of existence?— And you—you are not the sort of man to be content with an ignoble peace. No, it isn't possible. Our work may not be over yet—"
There was a knock at the door, and Annette entered with many apologies.
"Mademoiselle," she explained, "a thousand pardons, and to Monsieur also, but there is a gentleman here who says that his business is of the most urgent importance, and that he must see you at once. I have done all that I can, but he will not go away. He knows that Monsieur Bellamy is here, too," she added, turning to him, "and he says his business has to do with Monsieur as well as Mademoiselle."
Bellamy almost snatched the card from the girl's fingers. He read out the name in blank amazement.
"Baron de Streuss!"
There was a moment's silence. Louise and he exchanged wondering glances.
"What can this mean?" she asked hoarsely.
"Heaven knows!" he answered. "Let us see him together. After all—after all—"
"You can show the gentleman in, Annette," her mistress ordered.
"If he has the papers," Bellamy continued slowly, "why does he come to us? It is not like these men to be vindictive. Diplomacy to them is nothing—a game of chess. I do not understand."
The door opened. Annette announced their visitor. Streuss bowed low to Louise—he bowed, also, to Bellamy.
"I need not introduce myself," he said. "With Mr. Bellamy I have the honor to be well acquainted. Madame is known to all the world."
Louise nodded, somewhat coldly.
"We can dispense with an introduction, I think, Monsieur le Baron," she said. "At the same time, you will perhaps explain to what I owe this somewhat unexpected pleasure?"
"Mademoiselle, an explanation there must certainly be. I know that it is an impossible hour. I know, too, that to have forced my presence upon you in this manner may seem discourteous. Yet the urgency of the matter, I am convinced, justifies me."
Louise motioned him to a chair, but he declined with a little bow of thanks.
"Mademoiselle," he said, "and you, Mr. Bellamy, we need not waste words. We have played a game of chess together. You, Mademoiselle, and Mr. Bellamy on the one side—I and my friends upon the other. The honor of Rudolph Von Behrling was the pawn for which we fought. The victory remains with you."
Bellamy never moved a muscle. Louise, on the contrary, could not help a slight start.
"Under the circumstances," the Baron continued smoothly, "the struggle was uneven. I do myself the justice to remember that from the first I realized that we played a losing game. Mademoiselle," he added, "from the days of Cleopatra—ay, and throughout those shadowy days which lie beyond—the diplomats of the world have been powerless when matched against your sex. Rudolph Von Behrling was an honest fellow enough until he looked into your eyes. Mademoiselle, you have gifts which might, perhaps, have driven from his senses a stronger man."
Louise smiled, but there was no suggestion of mirth in the curl of her lips. Her eyes all the time sought his questioningly. She did not understand.
"You flatter me, Baron," she murmured.
"No, I do not flatter you, I speak the truth. This plain talking is pleasant enough when the time comes that one may indulge in it. That time, I think, is now. Rudolph Von Behrling, against my advice, but because he was the Chancellor's nephew, was associated with me in a certain enterprise, the nature of which is no secret to you, Mademoiselle, or to Mr. Bellamy here. We followed a man who, by some strange chance, was in possession of a few sheets of foolscap, the contents of which were alike priceless to my country and priceless to yours. The subsequent history of those papers should have been automatic. The first step was fulfilled readily enough. The man disappeared—the papers were ours. Von Behrling was the man who secured them, and Von Behrling it was who retained them. If my advice had been followed, I admit frankly that we should have ignored all possible comment and returned with them at once to Vienna. The others thought differently. They ruled that we should come on to London and deposit the packet with our Ambassador here. In a weak moment I consented. It was your opportunity, Mademoiselle, an opportunity of which you have splendidly availed yourself."
This time Louise held herself with composure. Bellamy's brain was in a whirl but he remained silent.
"I come to you both," the Baron continued, "with my hands open. I come—I make no secret of it—I come to make terms. But first of all I must know whether I am in time. There is one question which I must ask. I address it, sir, to you," he added, turning to Bellamy. "Have you yet placed in the hands of your Government the papers which you obtained from Von Behrling?"
Bellamy shook his head.
The Baron drew a long breath of relief. Though he had maintained his savoir faire perfectly, the fingers which for a moment played with his tie, as though to rearrange it, were trembling.
"Well, then, I am in time. Will you see my hand?"
"Mademoiselle and I," answered Bellamy, "are at least ready to listen to anything you may have to say."
"You know quite well," the Baron continued, "what it is that I have come to say, yet I want you to remember this. I do not come to bribe you in any ordinary manner. The things which are to come will happen; they must happen, if not this year, next,—if not next year, within half a decade of years. History is an absolute science. The future as well as the past can be read by those who know the signs. The thing which has been resolved upon is certain. The knowledge of the contents of those papers by your Government might delay the final catastrophe for a short while; it could do no more. In the long run, it would be better for your country, Mr. Bellamy, in every way, that the end come soon. Therefore, I ask you to perform no traitorous deed. I ask you to do that which is simply reasonable for all of us, which is, indeed, for the advantage of all of us. restore those papers to me instead of handing them to your Government, and I will pay you for them the sum of one hundred thousand pounds!"
"One hundred thousand pounds," Bellamy repeated.
"One hundred thousand pounds!" murmured Louise.
There was a brief, intense pause. Louise waited, warned by the expression in Bellamy's face. Silence, she felt, was safest, and it was Bellamy who spoke.
"Baron," said he, "your visit and your proposal are both a little amazing. Forgive me if I speak alone with Mademoiselle for a moment."
"Most certainly," the Baron agreed. "I go away and leave you—out of the room, if you will."
"It is not necessary," Bellamy replied. "Louise!" The Baron withdrew to the window, and Bellamy led Louise into the furthest corner of the room.
"What can it mean?" he whispered. "What do you suppose has happened?"
"I cannot imagine. My brain is in a whirl."
"If they have not got the pocket-book," Bellamy muttered, "it must have gone with Von Behrling to the Mortuary. If so, there is a chance. Louise, say nothing; leave this to me."
"As you will," she assented. "I have no wish to interfere. I only hope that he does not ask me any questions."
They came once more into the middle of the room, and the Baron turned to meet them.
"You must forgive Mademoiselle," said Bellamy, "if she is a little upset this morning. She knows, of course, as I know and you know, that Von Behrling was playing a desperate game, and that he carried his life in his hands. Yet his death has been a shock—has been a shock, I may say, to both of us. From your point of view," Bellamy went on, "it was doubtless deserved, but—"
"What, in God's name, is this that you say?" the Baron interrupted. "I do not understand at all! You speak of Von Behrling's death! What do you mean?"
Bellamy looked at him as one who listens to strange words.
"Baron," he said, "between us who know so much there is surely no need for you to play a part. Von Behrling knew that you were watching him. Your spies were shadowing him as they have done me. He knew that he was running terrible risks. He was not unprepared and he has paid. It is not for us—"
"Now, in God's name, tell me the truth!" Baron de Streuss interrupted once more. "What is it that you are saying about Von Behrling's death?"
Bellamy drew a little breath between his teeth. He leaned forward with his hands resting upon the table.
"Do you mean to say that you do not know?"
"Upon my soul, no!" replied the Baron.
Bellamy threw open the newspaper before him.
"Von Behrling was murdered last night, ten minutes after our interview."
BARON DE STREUSS' PROPOSAL
The Baron adjusted his eyeglass with shaking fingers. His face now was waxen-white as he spread out the newspaper upon the table and read the paragraph word by word.
TERRIBLE CRIME IN THE CITY
Early this morning the body of a man was discovered in a narrow passageway leading from Crooked Friars to Royal Street, under circumstances which leave little doubt but that the man's death was owing to foul play. The deceased had apparently been stabbed, and had received several severe blows about the head. He was shabbily dressed but was well supplied with money, and he was wearing a gold watch and chain when he was found.
There appears to be no further doubt but that the man found in the entry leading from Crooked Friars had been the victim of a particularly murderous assault. Neither his clothes nor his linen bore any mark by means of which he could be identified. The body has been removed to the nearest mortuary, and an inquest will shortly be held.
Streuss looked up from the newspaper and the reality of his surprise was apparent. He had all the appearance of a man shaken with emotion. While he looked at his two companions wonderingly, strange thoughts were forming in his mind.
"Von Behrling dead!" he muttered. "But who—who could have done this?"
"Until this moment," Bellamy answered dryly, "it was not a matter concerning which we had any doubt. The only wonder to us was that it should have been done too late."
"You mean," Streuss said slowly, "that he was murdered after he had completed his bargain with you?"
"I suppose," the Baron continued, "there is no question but that it was done afterwards? You smile," he exclaimed, "but what am I to think? Neither I nor my people had any hand in this deed. How about yours?"
Bellamy shook his head.
"We do not fight that way," he replied. "I had bought Von Behrling. He was of no further interest to me. I did not care whether he lived or died."
"There is something very strange about this," the Baron said. "If neither you nor I were responsible for his death, who was?"
"That I can't tell you. Perhaps later in the day we shall hear from the police. It is scarcely the sort of murder which would remain long undetected, especially as he was robbed of a large sum in bank-notes."
"Supplied by His Majesty's Government, I presume?" Streuss remarked.
"Precisely," Bellamy assented, "and paid to him by me."
"At any rate," Streuss said grimly, "we have now no more secrets from one another. I will ask you one last question. Where is that packet at the present moment?"
Bellamy raised his eyebrows.
"It is a question," he declared, "which you could scarcely expect me to answer."
"I will put it another way," Streuss continued. "Supposing you decide to accept my offer, how long will it be before the packet can be placed in my hands?"
"If we decide to accept," Bellamy answered, "there is no reason why there should be any delay at all."
Streuss was silent for several moments. His hands were thrust deep down into the pockets of his overcoat. With eyes fixed upon the tablecloth, he seemed to be thinking deeply, till presently he raised his head and looked steadily at Bellamy.
"You are sure that Von Behrling has not fooled you? You are sure that you have that identical packet?"
"I am absolutely certain that I have," Bellamy answered, without flinching.
"Then accept my price and have done with this matter," Streuss begged. "I will sign a draft for you here, and I will undertake to bring you the money, or honor it wherever you say, within twenty-four hours."
"I cannot decide so quickly," said Bellamy, shaking his head. "Mademoiselle Idiale and I must talk together first. I am not sure," he added, "whether I might not find a higher bidder."
Streuss laughed mirthlessly.
"There is little fear of that," he said. "The papers are of no use except to us and to England. To England, I will admit that the foreknowledge of what is to come would be worth much, although the eventful result would be the same. It is for that reason that I am here, for that reason that I have made you this offer."
"Mademoiselle and I must discuss it," Bellamy declared. "It is not a matter to be decided upon off-hand. Remember that it is not only the packet which you are offering to buy, but also my career and my honor."
"One hundred thousand pounds," Streuss said slowly. "From your own side you get nothing—nothing but your beggarly salary and an occasional reprimand. One hundred thousand pounds is not immense wealth, but it is something."
"Your offer is a generous one," admitted Bellamy, "there is no doubt about that. On the other hand, I cannot decide without further consideration. It is a big thing for us, remember. I have worked very hard for the contents of that packet."
Once more Streuss felt an uneasy pang of incredulity. After all, was this Englishman playing with him? So he asked: "You are quite sure that you have it?"
"There is no means of convincing you of which I care to make use. You must be content with my word. I have the packet. I paid Von Behrling for it and he gave it to me with his own hands."
"I must accept your word," Streuss declared. "I give you three days for reflection. Before I go, Mr. Bellamy, forgive me if I refer once more to this,"—touching the newspaper which still lay upon the table. "Remember that Rudolph Von Behrling moved about a marked man. Your spies and mine were most of the time upon his heels. Yet in the end some third person seems to have intervened. Are you quite sure that you know nothing of this?"
"Upon my honor," Bellamy replied, "I have not the slightest information concerning Von Behrling's death beyond what you can read there. It was as great a surprise to me as to you."
"It is incomprehensible," Streuss murmured.
"One can only conclude," Bellamy remarked thoughtfully, "that someone must have seen him with those notes. There were people moving about in the little restaurant where we met. The rustle of bank-notes has cost more than one man his life.
"For the present," Streuss said, "we must believe that it was so. Listen to me, both of you. You will be wiser if you do not delay. You are young people, and the world is before you. With money one can do everything. Without it, life is but a slavery. The world is full of beautiful dwelling-places for those who have the means to choose. Remember, too, that not a soul will ever know of this transaction, if you should decide to accept my offer."
"We shall remember all those things," Bellamy assured him.
Streuss took up his hat and gloves.
"With your permission, then, Mademoiselle," he concluded, turning to Louise, "I go. I must try and understand for myself the meaning of this thing which has happened to Von Behrling."
"Do not forget," Bellamy said, "that if you discover anything, we are equally interested."...
They heard him go out. Bellamy purposely held the door open until he saw the lift descend. Then he closed it firmly and came back into the room. Louise and he looked at each other, their faces full of anxious questioning.
"What does it mean?" Louise cried. "What can it mean?"
"Heaven alone knows!" Bellamy answered. "There is not a gleam of daylight. My people are absolutely innocent of any attempt upon Von Behrling. If Streuss tells the truth, and I believe he does, his people are in the same position. Who, then, in the name of all that is miraculous, can have murdered and robbed Von Behrling?"
"In London, too," Louise murmured. "It is not Vienna, this, or Belgrade."
"You are right," Bellamy agreed. "London is one of the most law-abiding cities in Europe. Besides, the quarter where the murder occurred is entirely unfrequented by the criminal classes. It is simply a region of great banks and the offices of merchant princes.
"Is it possible that there is some one else who knew about that document?" Louise asked,—"some one else who has been watching Von Behrling?"
Bellamy shook his head.
"How can that be? Besides, if any one else were really on his track, they must have believed that he had parted with it to me. I shall go back now to Downing Street to ask for a letter to the Chief of Scotland Yard. If anything comes out, I must have plenty of warning."
"And I," she said, with an approving nod, "shall go back to bed again. These days are too strenuous for me. Won't you stay and take your coffee with me?"
Bellamy held her hand for a moment in his.
"Dear," he said, "I would stay, but you understand, don't you, what a maze this is into which we have wandered. Von Behrling has been murdered by some person who seems to have dropped from the skies. Whoever they may be, they have in their possession my twenty thousand pounds and the packet which should have been mine. I must trace them if I can, Louise. It is a poor chance, but I must do my best. I myself am of the opinion that Von Behrling was murdered for the money, and for the money only. If so, that packet may be in the hands of people who have no idea what use to make of it. They may even destroy it. If Streuss returns and you are forced to see him, be careful. Remember, we have the document—we are hesitating. So long as he believes that it is in our possession, he will not look elsewhere."
"I will be careful," Louise promised, with her arms around his neck. "And, dear, take care. When I think of poor Rudolph Von Behrling, I tremble, also, for you. It seems to me that your danger is no less than his."
"I do not go about with twenty thousand pounds in my pocket-book," with a smile.
She shook her head.
"No, but Streuss believes that you have the document which he is pledged to recover. Be careful that they do not lead you into a trap. They are not above anything, these men. I heard once of a Bulgarian in Vienna who was tortured—tortured almost to death—before he spoke. Then they thrust him into a lunatic asylum. Remember, dear, they have no consciences and no pity."
"We are in London," he reminded her.
"So was Von Behrling," she answered quickly,—"not only in London but in a safe part of London. Yet he is dead."
"It was not their doing," he declared. "In their own country, they have the whole machinery of their wonderful police system at their backs, and no fear of the law in their hearts. Here they must needs go cautiously. I don't think you need be afraid," he added, smiling, as he opened the door. "I think I can promise you that if you will do me the honor we will sup together to-night."
"You must fetch me from the Opera House," Louise insisted. "It is a bargain. I have suffered enough neglect at your hands. One thing, David,—where do you go first from here?"
"To find the man," Bellamy answered gravely, "who was watching Von Behrling when he left me. If any man in England knows anything of the murder, it must be he. He should be at my rooms by now."
STEPHEN LAVERICK'S CONSCIENCE
Stephen Laverick was a bachelor—his friends called him an incorrigible one. He had a small but pleasantly situated suite of rooms in Whitehall Court, looking out upon the river. His habits were almost monotonous in their regularity, and the morning following his late night in the city was no exception to the general rule. At eight o'clock, the valet attached to the suite knocked at his door and informed him that his bath was ready. He awoke at once from a sound sleep, sat up in bed, and remembered the events of the preceding evening.
At first he was inclined to doubt that slowly stirring effort of memory. He was a man of unromantic temperament, unimaginative, and by no means of an adventurous turn of mind. He sought naturally for the most reasonable explanation of this strange picture, which no effort of his will could dismiss from his memory. It was a dream, of course. But the dream did not fade. Slowly it spread itself out so that he could no longer doubt. He knew very well as he sat there on the edge of his bed that the thing was truth. He, Stephen Laverick, a man hitherto of upright character, with a reputation of which unconsciously he was proud, had robbed a dead man, had looked into the burning eyes of his murderer, had stolen away with twenty thousand pounds of someone else's money. Morally, at any rate,—probably legally as well,—he was a thief. A glimpse inside his safe on the part of an astute detective might very easily bring him under the grave suspicion of being a criminal of altogether deeper dye.
Stephen Laverick was, in his way, something of a philosopher. In the cold daylight, with the sound of the water running into his bath, this deed which he had done seemed to him foolish and reprehensible. Nevertheless, he realized the absolute finality of his action. The thing was done; he must make the best of it. Behaving in every way like a sensible man, he did not send for the newspapers and search hysterically for their account of last night's tragedy, but took his bath as usual, dressed with more than ordinary care, and sat down to his breakfast before he even unfolded the paper. The item for which he searched occupied by no means so prominent a position as he had expected. It appeared under one of the leading headlines, but it consisted of only a few words. He read them with interest but without emotion. Afterwards he turned to the Stock Exchange quotations and made notes of a few prices in which he was interested.
He completed in leisurely fashion an excellent breakfast and followed his usual custom of walking along the Embankment as far as the Royal Hotel, where he called a taxicab and drove to his offices. A little crowd had gathered around the end of the passage which led from Crooked Friars, and Laverick himself leaned forward and looked curiously at the spot where the body of the murdered man had lain. It seemed hard to him to reconstruct last night's scene in his mind now that the narrow street was filled with hurrying men and a stream of vehicles blocked every inch of the roadway. In his early morning mood the thing was impossible. In a moment or two he paid his driver and dismissed him.
He fancied that a certain relief was visible among his clerks when he opened the door at precisely his usual time and with a cheerful "Good-morning!" made his way into the private office. He lit his customary cigarette and dealt rapidly with the correspondence which was brought in to him by his head-clerk. Afterwards, as soon as he was alone, he opened the safe, thrust the contents of that inner drawer into his breast-pocket, and took up once more his hat and gloves.
"I am going around to the bank," he told his clerk as he passed out. "I shall be back in half-an-hour—perhaps less."
"Very good, sir," the man answered. "Will Mr. Morrison be here this morning?"
"No, Mr. Morrison will not be here to-day."
It was only a few steps to his bankers, and his request for an interview with the manager was immediately granted. The latter received him kindly but with a certain restraint. There are not many secrets in the city, and Morrison's big plunge on a particular mining share, notwithstanding its steady drop, had been freely commented upon.
"What can I do for you, Mr. Laverick?" the banker asked.
"I am not sure," answered Laverick. "To tell you the truth, I am in a somewhat singular position."
The banker nodded. He had not a doubt but that he understood exactly what that position was.
"You have perhaps heard," Laverick continued slowly, "that my late partner, Mr. Morrison,—"
"Late partner?" the manager interrupted.
"We had a few words last night," he explained "and Mr. Morrison left the office with an understanding between us that he should not return. You will receive a formal intimation of that during the course of the next day or so. We will revert to the matter presently, if you wish. My immediate business with you is to discuss the fact that I have to provide something like twenty thousand pounds to-day if I decide to take up the purchases of stock which Morrison has made."
"You understand the position, of course, Mr. Laverick, if you fail to do so?" the manager remarked gravely.
"Naturally," Laverick answered. "I am quite aware of the fact that Morrison acted on behalf of the firm and that I am responsible for his transactions. He has plunged pretty deeply, though, a great deal more deeply than our capital warranted. I may add that I had not the slightest idea as to the extent of his dealings."
The bank manager adopted a sympathetic but serious attitude.
"Twenty thousand pounds," he declared, "is a great deal of money, Mr. Laverick."
"It is a great deal of money," Laverick admitted. "I am here to ask you to lend it to me."
The bank manager raised his eyebrows.
"My dear Mr. Laverick!" he exclaimed reproachfully.
"Upon unimpeachable security," Laverick continued. The bank manager was conscious that he had allowed a little start of surprise to escape him, and bit his lip with annoyance. It was entirely contrary to his tenets to display at any time during office hours any sort of emotion.
"Unimpeachable security," he repeated. "Of course, if you have that to offer, Mr. Laverick, although the sum is a large one, it is our business to see what we can do for you."
"My security is of the best," Laverick declared grimly. "I have bank-notes here, Mr. Fenwick, for twenty thousand pounds."
The bank manager was again guilty of an unprofessional action. He whistled softly under his breath. A very respectable client he had always considered Mr. Stephen Laverick, but he had certainly never suspected him of being able to produce at a pinch such evidence of means. Laverick smoothed out the notes and laid them upon the table.
"Mr. Fenwick," he said, "I believe I am right in assuming that when one comes to one's bankers, one enters, as it were, into a confessional. I feel convinced that nothing which I say to you will be repeated outside this office, or will be allowed to dwell in your own mind except with reference to this particular transaction between you and me. I have the right, have I not, to take that for granted?"
"Most certainly," the banker agreed.
"From a strictly ethical point of view," Laverick went on, "this money is not mine. I hold it in trust for its owner, but I hold it without any conditions. I have power to make what use I wish of it, and I choose to-day to use it on my own behalf. Whether I am justified or not is scarcely a matter, I presume, which concerns this excellent banking establishment over which you preside so ably. I do not pay these bank-notes in to my account and ask you to credit me with twenty thousand pounds. I ask you to allow me to deposit them here for seven days as security against an overdraft. You can then advance me enough money to meet my engagements of to-day."
The banker took up the notes and looked them through, one by one. They were very crisp, very new, and absolutely genuine.
"This is somewhat an extraordinary proceeding, Mr. Laverick," he said.
"I have no doubt that it must seem so to you," Laverick admitted. "At the same time, there the money is. You can run no risk. If I am exceeding my moral right in making use of these notes, it is I who will have to pay. Will you do as I ask?"
The banker hesitated. The transaction was somewhat a peculiar one, but on the face of it there could be no possible risk. At the same time, there was something about it which he could not understand.
"Your wish, Mr. Laverick," he remarked, looking at him thoughtfully, "seems to be to keep these notes out of circulation."
Laverick returned his gaze without flinching.
"In a sense, that is so," he assented.
"On the whole," the banker declared, "I should prefer to credit them to your account in the usual way."
"I am sorry," Laverick answered, "but I have a sentimental feeling about it. I prefer to keep the notes intact. If you cannot follow out my suggestion, I must remove my account at once. This isn't a threat, Mr. Fenwick,—you will understand that, I am sure. It is simply a matter of business, and owing to Morrison's speculations I have no time for arguments. I am quite satisfied to remain in your hands, but my feeling in the matter is exactly as I have stated, and I cannot change. If you are to retain my account, my engagements for to-day must be met precisely in the way I have pointed out."
The banker excused himself and left the room for a few moments. When he returned, he shrugged his shoulders with the air of one who is giving in to an unreasonable client.
"It shall be as you say, Mr. Laverick," he announced. "The notes are placed upon deposit. Your engagements to-day up to twenty thousand pounds shall be duly honored."
Laverick shook hands with him, talked for a moment or two about indifferent matters, and strolled back towards his office. He had rather the sense of a man who moves in a dream, who is living, somehow, in a life which doesn't belong to him. He was doing the impossible. He knew very well that his name was in every one's mouth. People were looking at him sympathetically, wondering how he could have been such a fool as to become the victim of an irresponsible speculator. No one ever imagined that he would be able to keep his engagements. And he had done it. The price might be a great one, but he was prepared to pay. At any moment the sensational news might be upon the placards, and the whole world might know that the man who had been murdered in Crooked Friars last night had first been robbed of twenty thousand pounds. So far he had felt himself curiously free from anything in the shape of direct apprehensions. Already, however, the shadow was beginning to fall. Even as he entered his office, the sight of a stranger offering office files for sale made him start. He half expected to feel a hand upon his shoulder, a few words whispered in his ear. He set his teeth tight. This was his risk and he must take it.
For several hours he remained in his office, engaged in a scheme for the redirection of its policy. With the absence of Morrison, too, there were other changes to be made,—changes in the nature of the business they were prepared to handle, limits to be fixed. It was not until nearly luncheon time that the telephone, the simultaneous arrival of several clients, and the breathless entry of his own head-clerk rushing in from the house, told him what was going on.
"'Unions' have taken their turn at last!" the clerk announced, in an excited tone. "They sagged a little this morning, but since eleven they have been going steadily up. Just now there seems to be a boom. Listen."
Laverick heard the roar of voices in the street, and nodded. He was prepared to be surprised at nothing.
"They were bound to go within a day or two," he remarked. "Morrison wasn't an absolute idiot."
The luncheon hour passed. The excitement in the city grew. By three o'clock, ten thousand pounds would have covered all of Laverick's engagements. Just before closing-time, it was even doubtful whether he might not have borrowed every penny without security at all. He took it all quite calmly and as a matter of course. He left the office a little earlier than usual, and every man whom he met stopped to slap him on the back and chaff him. He escaped as soon as he could, bought the evening papers, found a taxicab, and as soon as he had started spread them open. It was a remarkable proof of the man's self-restraint that at no time during the afternoon had he sent out for one of these early editions. He turned them over now with firm fingers. There was absolutely no fresh news. No one had come forward with any suggestion as to the identity of the murdered man. All day long the body had lain in the Mortuary, visited by a constant stream of the curious, but presumably unrecognized. Laverick could scarcely believe the words he read. The thing seemed ludicrously impossible. The twenty thousand pounds must have come from some one. Why did they keep silence? What was the mystery about it? Could it be that they were not in a position to disclose the fact? Curiously enough, this unnatural absence of news inspired him with something which was almost fear. He had taken his risks boldly enough. Now that Fate was playing him this unexpectedly good turn, he was conscious of a growing nervousness. Who could he have been, this man? Whence could he have derived this great sum? One person at least must know that he had been robbed—the man who murdered him must know it. A cold shiver passed through Laverick's veins at the thought. Somewhere in London there must be a man thirsting for his blood, a man who had committed a murder in vain and been robbed of his spoil.
Laverick had no engagements for that evening, but instead of going to his club he drove straight to his rooms, meaning to change a little early for dinner and go to a theatre, lie found there, however, a small boy waiting for him with a note in his hand. It was addressed in pencil only, and his name was printed upon it.
Laverick tore it open with a haste which he only imperfectly concealed. There was something ominous to him in those printed characters. Its contents, however, were short enough.
DEAR LAVERICK, I must see you. Come the moment you get this. Come without fail, for your own sake and mine. A. M.
Laverick looked at the boy. His fingers were trembling, but it was with relief. The note was from Morrison.
"There is no address here," he remarked.
"The gent said as I was to take you back with me," the boy answered.
"Is it far?" Laverick asked.
"Close to Red Lion Square," the boy declared. "Not more nor five minutes in one of them taxicabs. The gent said we was to take one. He is in a great hurry to see you."
Laverick did not hesitate a moment.
"Very well," he said, "we'll start at once."
He put on his hat again and waited while the commissionaire called them a taxicab.
"What address?" he asked.
"Number 7, Theobald Square," the boy said. Laverick nodded and repeated the address to the driver.
"What the dickens can Morrison be doing in a part like that!" he thought, as they passed up Northumberland Avenue.
ARTHUR MORRISON'S COLLAPSE
The Square was a small one, and in a particularly unsavory neighborhood. Laverick, who had once visited his partner's somewhat extensive suite of rooms in Jermyn Street, rang the bell doubtfully. The door was opened almost at once, not by a servant but by a young lady who was obviously expecting him. Before he could open his lips to frame an inquiry, she had closed the door behind him.
"Will you please come this way?" she said timidly.
Laverick found himself in a small sitting-room, unexpectedly neat, and with the plainness of its furniture relieved by certain undeniable traces of some cultured presence. The girl who had followed him stood with her back to the door, a little out of breath. Laverick contemplated her in surprise. She was under medium height, with small pale face and wonderful dark eyes. Her brown hair was parted in the middle and arranged low down, so that at first, taking into account her obvious nervousness, he thought that she was a child. When she spoke, however, he knew that for some reason she was afraid. Her voice was soft and low, but it was the voice of a woman.
"It is Mr. Laverick, is it not?" she asked, looking at him eagerly.
"My name is Stephen Laverick," he admitted. "I understood that I should find Mr. Arthur Morrison here."
"Yes," the girl answered, "he sent for you. The note was from him. He is here."
She made no movement to summon him. She still stood, in fact, with her back to the door. Laverick was distinctly puzzled. He felt himself unable to place this timid, childlike woman, with her terrified face and beautiful eyes. He had never heard Morrison speak of having any relations. His presence in such a locality, indeed, was hard to understand unless he had met with an accident. Morrison was one of those young men who would have chosen Hell with a "W" rather than Heaven E. C.
"I am afraid," Laverick said, "that for some reason or other you are afraid of me. I can assure you that I am quite harmless," he added smiling. "Won't you sit down and tell me what is the matter? Is Mr. Morrison in any trouble?"
"Yes," she answered, "he is. As for me, I am terrified."
She came a little away from the door. Laverick was a man who inspired trust. His tone, too, was unusually kind. He had the protective instinct of a big man toward a small woman.
"Come and tell me all about it," he suggested. "I expected to hear that he had gone abroad."
"Mr. Laverick," she said, looking up at him tremulously. "I was hoping that you could have told me what it was that had come to him."
"Well, that rather depends," Laverick answered. "We certainly had a terribly anxious time yesterday. Our business has been most unfortunate—"
"Yes, yes!" the girl interrupted. "Please go on. There have been business troubles, then."
"Rather," Laverick continued. "Last night they reached such a pitch that I gave Morrison some money and it was agreed that he should leave the firm and try his luck somewhere else. I quite understood that he was going abroad."
The girl seemed, for some reason, relieved.
"There was something, then," she said, half to herself. "There was something. Oh, I am glad of that! You were angry with him, perhaps, Mr. Laverick?"
Laverick stood with his back to the little fireplace and with his hands behind him—a commanding figure in the tiny room full of feminine trifles. He looked a great deal more at his ease than he really was.
"Perhaps I was inclined to be short-tempered," he admitted. "You see, to be frank with you, the department of our business that was going wrong was the one over which Morrison has had sole control. He had entered into certain speculations which I considered unjustifiable. To-day, however, matters took an unexpected turn for the better."
Almost as he spoke his face clouded. Morrison, of course, would be triumphant. Perhaps he would even expect to be reinstated. For many reasons, this was a thing which Laverick did not desire.
"Now tell me," he continued, "what is the matter with Morrison, and why has he sent for me, and, if you will pardon my saying so, why is he here instead of in his own rooms?"
"I will explain," she began softly.
"You will please explain sitting down," he said firmly. "And don't look so terrified," he added, with a little laugh. "I can assure you that I am not going to eat you, or anything of that sort. You make me feel quite uncomfortable."
She smiled for the first time, and Laverick thought that he had never seen anything so wonderful as the change in her features. The strained rigidity passed away. An altogether softer light gleamed in her wonderful eyes. She was certainly by far the prettiest child he had ever seen. As yet he could not take her altogether seriously.
"Thank you," she said, sinking down upon the arm of an easy-chair. "first of all, then, Arthur is here because he is my brother."
"Your brother!" Laverick repeated wonderingly.
Somehow or other, he had never associated Morrison with relations. Besides, this meant that she must be of his race. There was nothing in her face to denote it except the darkness of her eyes, and that nameless charm of manner, a sort of ultra-sensitiveness, which belongs sometimes to the highest type of Jews. It was not a quality, Laverick thought, which he should have associated with Morrison's sister.
"My brother, in a way," she resumed. "Arthur's father was a widower and my mother was a widow when they were married. You are surprised?"
"There is no reason why I should be," he answered, curiously relieved at her last statement. "Your brother and I have been connected in business for some years. We have seen very little of one another outside."
"I dare say," she continued, still timidly, "that Arthur's friends would not be your friends, and that he wouldn't care for the same sort of things. You see, my mother is dead and also his father, and as we aren't really related at all, I cannot expect that he would come to see me very often. Last night, though, quite late—long after I had gone to bed—he rang the bell here. I was frightened, for just now I am all alone, and my servant only comes in the morning. So I looked out of the window and I saw him on the pavement, huddled up against the door. I hurried down and let him in. Mr. Laverick," she went on, with an appealing glance at him, "I have never seen any one look like it. He was terrified to death. Something seemed to have happened which had taken away from him even the power of speech. He pushed past me into this room, threw himself into that chair," she added, pointing across the room, "and he sobbed and beat his hands upon his knees as though he were a woman in a fit of hysterics. His clothes were all untidy, he was as pale as death, and his eyes looked as though they were ready to start out of his head."
"You must indeed have been frightened," Laverick said softly.
"Frightened! I shall never forget it! I did not sleep all night. He would tell me nothing—he has scarcely spoken a sensible word. Early this morning I persuaded him to go upstairs, and made him lie down. He has taken two draughts which I bought from the chemist, but he has not slept. Every now and then he tries to get up, but in a minute or two he throws himself down on the bed again and hides his face. If any one rings at the bell, he shrieks. If he hears a footfall in the street, even, he calls out for me. Mr. Laverick, I have never been so frightened in my life. I didn't know whom to send for or what to do. When he wrote that note to you I was so relieved. You can't imagine how glad I am to think you have come!"
Laverick's eyes were full of sympathy. One could see that the scene of last night had risen up again before her eyes. She was shrinking back, and the terror was upon her once more. He moved over to her side, and with an impulse which, when he thought of it afterwards, amazed him, laid his hand gently upon her shoulder.
"Don't worry yourself thinking about it," he said. "I will talk to your brother. We did have words, I'll admit, last night, but there wasn't the slightest reason why it should have upset him in this way. Things in the city were shocking yesterday, but they have improved a great deal to-day. Let me go upstairs and I'll try and pump some courage into him."
"You are so kind," she murmured, suddenly dropping her hands from before her face and looking up at him with shining eyes, "so very kind. Will you come, then?"
She rose and he followed her out of the room, up the stairs, and into a tiny bedroom. Laverick had no time to look around, but it seemed to him, notwithstanding the cheap white furniture and very ordinary appointments, that the same note of dainty femininity pervaded this little apartment as the one below.
"It is my room," she said shyly. "There is no other properly furnished, and I thought that he might sleep upon the bed."
"Perhaps he is asleep now," Laverick whispered.
Even as he spoke, the dark figure stretched upon the sheets sprang into a sitting posture. Laverick was conscious of a distinct shock. It was Morrison, still wearing the clothes in which he had left the office, his collar crushed out of all shape, his tie vanished. His black hair, usually so shiny and perfectly arranged, was all disordered. Out of his staring eyes flashed an expression which one sees seldom in life,—an expression of real and mortal terror.
"Who is it?" he cried out, and even his voice was unrecognizable. "Who is that? What do you want?"
"It is I—Laverick," Laverick answered. "What on earth is the matter with you, man?"
Morrison drew a quick breath. Some part of the terror seemed to leave his face, but he was still an alarming-looking object. Laverick quietly opened the door and laid his hand upon the girl's shoulder.
"Will you leave us alone?" he asked. "I will come and talk to you afterwards, if I may."
She nodded understandingly, and passed out. Laverick closed the door and came up to the bedside.
"What in the name of thunder has come over you, Morrison?" he said. "Are you ill, or what is it?"
Morrison opened his lips—opened them twice—without any sort of sound issuing.
"This is absurd!" Laverick exclaimed protestingly. "I have been feeling worried myself, but there's nothing so terrifying in losing one's money, after all. As a matter of fact, things are altogether better in the city to-day. You made a big mistake in taking us out of our depth, but we are going to pull through, after all. 'Unions' have been going up all day."
Laverick's presence, and the sound of his even, matter-of-fact tone, seemed to act like a tonic upon his late partner. He made no reference, however, to Laverick's words.
"You got my note?" he asked hoarsely.
"Naturally I got it," Laverick answered impatiently, "and I came at once. Try and pull yourself together. Sit up and tell me what you are doing here, frightening your sister out of her life."
"I came here," he muttered, "because I dared not go to my own rooms. I was afraid!"
Laverick struggled with the contempt he felt.
"Man alive," he exclaimed, "what was there to be afraid of?"
"You don't know!" Morrison faltered. "You don't know!"
Then, for the first time, it occurred to Laverick that perhaps the financial crisis in their affairs was not the only thing which had reduced his late partner to this hopeless state. He looked at him narrowly.
"Where did you go last night," he asked, "when you left me?"
"Nowhere," Morrison gasped. "I came here."
Laverick made a space for himself at the end of the bed, and sat down.
"Look here," he said, "it's no use sending for me unless you mean to tell me everything. Have you been getting yourself into any trouble apart from our affairs, or is there anything in connection with them which I don't know?"
Again Morrison opened his lips, and again, for some reason or other, he remained speechless. Then a certain fear came also upon Laverick. There was something in Morrison's state which was in itself terrifying.
"You had better tell me all about it," Laverick persisted, "whatever it is. I will help you if I can."
Morrison shook his head. There was a glass of water by his side. He thrust his finger into it and passed it across his lips. They were dry, almost cracking.
"Look here," he said, "I've got a breakdown—that's what's the matter with me. My nerves were never good. I'm afraid of going mad. The anxiety of the last few weeks has been too much for me. I want to get out of the country quickly, and I don't know how to manage it. I can't think. Directly I try to think my head goes round."
"There is nothing in the world to prevent your going away," Laverick answered. "It is the simplest matter possible. Even if we had gone under to-day, no one could have stopped your going wherever you chose to go. Ruin, even if it had been ruin,—and I told you just now that business was better,—is not a crime. Pull yourself together, for Heaven's sake, man! You should be ashamed to come here and frighten that poor little girl downstairs almost to death."
Morrison gripped his partner's arm.
"You must do as I ask," he declared hoarsely. "It doesn't matter about prices being better. I want to get away. You must help me."
Laverick looked at him steadily. Morrison was an ordinary young man of his type, something of a swaggerer, probably at heart a coward. But this was no ordinary fear—not even the ordinary fear of a coward. Laverick's face became graver. There was something else, then!
"I will get you out of the country if I can," said he. "There is no difficulty about it at all unless you are concealing something from me. You can catch a fast steamer to-morrow, either for South Africa or New York, but before I make any definite plans, hadn't you better tell me exactly what happened last night?"
Once more Morrison's lips parted without the ability to frame words. Then a feeble moan escaped him. He threw up his hands and his head fell back. The ghastliness of his face spread almost to his lips, and he sank back among the pillows. Laverick strode across the room to the door.
"Are you anywhere about?" he called out.
The girl was by his side in a moment.
"There is nothing to be alarmed at," he said, "but your brother has fainted. Bring me some sal volatile if you have it, and I think that you had better run out and get a doctor. I will stay with him. I know exactly what to do."
She pointed to the dressing-table, where a little bottle was standing, and ran downstairs without a word. Laverick mixed some of the spirit, and moved over to the side of the fainting man.
LAVERICK's PARTNER FLEES
The doctor, a grave, incurious person, arrived within a few minutes to find Morrison already conscious but absolutely exhausted. He felt his patient's pulse, prescribed a draught, and followed Laverick down into the sitting room.
"An ordinary case of nervous exhaustion," he pronounced. "The patient appears to have had a very severe shock lately. He will be all right with proper diet and treatment, and a complete rest. I will call again to-morrow."
He accepted the fee which Laverick slipped into his hand, and took his departure. Once more Laverick was alone with the girl, who had followed them downstairs.
"There is nothing to be alarmed at, you see," he remarked.
"It is not his health which frightens me. I am sure—I am quite sure that he has something upon his mind. Did he tell you nothing?"
"Nothing at all," Laverick answered, with an inward sense of thankfulness. "To tell you the truth, though, I am afraid you are right and that he did get into some sort of trouble last night. He was just about to tell me something when he fainted."
Upstairs they could hear him moaning. The girl listened with pitiful face.
"What am I to do?" she asked. "I cannot leave him like this, and if I am not at the theatre in twenty minutes, I shall be fined."
"The theatre?" Laverick repeated.
"I am on the stage," she said,—"only a chorus girl at the Universal, worse luck. Still, they don't allow us to stay away, and I can't afford to lose my place."
"Do you mean to say that you have been keeping yourself here, then?" Laverick asked bluntly.
"Of course," she answered. "I do not like to be a burden on any one, and after all, you see, Arthur and I are really not related at all. He has always told me, too, that times have been so bad lately."
Laverick was on the point of telling her that bad though they had been Arthur Morrison had never drawn less than fifteen hundred a year, but he checked himself. It was not his business to interfere.
"I think," he said, "that your brother ought to have provided for you. He could have done so with very little effort."
"But what am I to do now?" she asked him. "If I am absent, I shall lose my place."
Laverick thought for a moment.
"If you went round there and told them," he suggested, "would that make any difference? I could stay until you came back."
"Do you mind?" she asked eagerly. "It would be so kind of you."
"Not at all," he answered. "Perhaps you would be good enough to bring a taxicab back, and I could take it on to my rooms. Take one from here, if you can find it. There are always some at the corner."
"I'd love to," she answered. "I must run upstairs and get my hat and coat."
He watched her go up on tiptoe for fear of disturbing her brother. Her feet seemed almost unearthly in the lightness of their pressure. Not a board creaked. She seemed to float down to him in a most becoming little hat but a shockingly shabby jacket, of whose deficiencies she seemed wholly unaware. Her lips were parted once more in a smile.
"He is fast asleep and breathing quite regularly," she announced. "It is nice of you to stay."
He looked at her almost jealously.
"Do you know," he said, "you ought not to go about alone?"
She laughed, softly but heartily.
"Have you any idea how old I am?"
"I took you for fourteen when I came inside," he answered. "Afterwards I thought you might be sixteen. Later on, it seemed to me possible that you were eighteen. I am absolutely certain that you are not more than nineteen."
"That shows how little you know about it. I am twenty, and I am quite used to going about alone. Will you sit upstairs or here? I am so sorry that I have nothing to offer you."
"Thanks, I need nothing. I think I will sit upstairs in case he wakes."
She nodded and stole out, closing the door behind her noiselessly. Laverick watched her from the window until she was out of sight, moving without any appearance of haste, yet with an incredible swiftness. When she had turned the corner, he went slowly upstairs and into the room where Morrison still lay asleep. He drew a chair to the bedside and leaning forward opened out the evening paper. The events of the last hour or so had completely blotted out from his mind, for the time being, his own expedition into the world of tragical happenings. He glanced at the sleeping man, then opened his paper. There was very little fresh news except that this time the fact was mentioned that upon the body of the murdered man was discovered a sum larger than was at first supposed. It seemed doubtful, therefore, whether robbery, after all, was the motive of the crime, especially as it took place in a neighborhood which was by no means infested with criminals. There was a suggestion of political motive, a reference to the "Black Hand," concerning whose doings the papers had been full since the murder of a well-known detective a few weeks ago. But apart from this there was nothing fresh.
Laverick folded up the paper and leaned back in his chair. The strain of the last twenty-four hours was beginning to tell even upon his robust constitution. The atmosphere of the room, too, was close. He leaned back in his chair and was suddenly weary. Perhaps he dozed. At any rate, the whisper which called him back to realization of where he was, came to him so unexpectedly that he sat up with a sudden start.
Morrison's eyes were open, he had raised himself on his elbow, his lips were parted. His manner was quieter, but there were black lines deep engraven under his eyes, in which there still shone something of that haunting fear.
"Laverick!" he repeated hoarsely.
Laverick, fully awakened now, leaned towards him.
"Hullo," he said, "are you feeling more like yourself?"
"Yes," he admitted, "I am feeling—better. How did you come here? I can't remember anything."
"You sent for me," Laverick answered. "I arrived to find you pretty well in a state of collapse. Your sister has gone round to the theatre to ask them to excuse her this evening."
"I remember now that I sent for you," Morrison continued. "Tell me, has any one been around at the office asking after me?"
"No one particular," Laverick answered,—"no one at all that I can think of. There were one or two inquiries through the telephone, but they were all ordinary business matters."
The man on the bed drew a little breath which sounded like a sigh of relief.
"I have made a fool of myself, Laverick," he said hoarsely.
"You are making a worse one of yourself by lying here and giving way," Laverick declared, "besides frightening your sister half to death."
Morrison passed his hand across his forehead.
"We talked—some time ago," he went on, "about my getting away. You promised that you would help me. You said that I could get off to Africa or America to-morrow."
"Not the slightest difficulty about that," Laverick answered. "There are half-a-dozen steamers sailing, at least. At the same time, I suppose I ought to remind you that the firm is going to pull through. Mind—don't take this unkindly but the truth is best—I will not have you back again. There may have to be a more definite readjustment of our affairs now, but the old business is finished with."
"I don't want to come back," Morrison murmured. "I have had enough of the city for the rest of my life. I'd rather get away somewhere and make a fresh start. You'll help me, Laverick, won't you?"
"Yes, I will help you," Laverick promised.
"You were always a good sort," Morrison continued, "much too good for me. It was a rotten partnership for you. We could never have pulled together."
"Let that go," Laverick interrupted. "If you really mean getting away, that simplifies matters, of course. Have you made any plans at all? Where do you want to go?"
"To New York," answered Morrison; "New York would suit me best. There is money to be made there if one has something to make a start with."
"There will be some more money to come to you," Laverick answered, "probably a great deal more. I shall place our affairs in the hands of an accountant, and shall have an estimate drawn up to yesterday. You shall have every penny that is due to you. You have quite enough, however, to get there with. I will see to your ticket to-night, if possible. When you've arrived you can cable me your address, or you can decide where you will stay before you leave, and I will send you a further remittance."
"You're a good sort, Laverick," Morrison mumbled.
"You'd better give me the key of your rooms," Laverick continued, "and I will go back and put together some of your things. I suppose you will not want much to go away with. The rest can be sent on afterwards. And what about your letters?"
Morrison, with a sudden movement, threw himself almost out of the bed. He clutched at Laverick's shoulder frantically.
"Don't go near my rooms, Laverick!" he begged. "Promise me that you won't! I don't want any letters! I don't want any of my things!"
Laverick was dumfounded.
"You mean you want to go away without—"
"I mean just what I have said," Morrison continued hysterically. "If you go there they will watch you, they will follow you, they will find out where I am. I should be there now but for that."
Laverick was silent for a moment. The matter was becoming serious.
"Very well," he said, "I will do as you say. I will not go near your rooms. I will get you a few things somewhere to start with."
Morrison sank back upon his pillow.
"Thank you, Laverick," he said; "thank you. I wish—I wish—"
His voice seemed to die away. Laverick glanced towards him, wondering at the unfinished sentence. Once again the man's face seemed to be convulsed with horror. He flung himself face downward upon the bed and tore at the sheets with both his hands.
"Don't be a fool," Laverick said sternly. "If you've anything on your mind apart from business, tell me about it and I'll do what I can to help you."
Morrison made no reply. He was sobbing now like a child. Laverick rose to his feet and went to the window. What was to be done with such a creature! When he got back, Morrison had raised himself once more into a sitting posture. His appearance was absolutely spectral.
"Laverick," he said feebly, "there is something else, but I cannot tell you—I cannot tell any one."
"Just as you please, of course," Laverick answered. "I am simply anxious to help you."
"You can do that as it is!" Morrison exclaimed feverishly. "You must promise me something—promise that if any one asks for me to-morrow before I get away, you will not tell them where I am. Say you suppose that I am at my rooms, or that I have gone into the country for a few days. Say that you are expecting me back. Don't let any one know that I have gone abroad, until I am safely away. And then don't tell a soul where I have gone."
"Have you been up to any tricks with your friends?" Laverick asked sternly.
"I haven't—I swear that I haven't," Morrison declared. "It's something quite outside business—quite outside business altogether."
"Very well," answered Laverick, "I will promise what you have asked, then. Listen—here is your sister back again," he added, as he heard the taxicab stop outside. "Pull yourself together and don't frighten her so much. I am going down to meet her. I shall tell her that you are better. Try and buck up when she comes in to see you."
"I'll do my best," Morrison said humbly. "If you knew! If you only knew!"
He began to sob again. Laverick left the room and, descending the stairs, met the girl in the hall. Her white face questioned him before her lips had time to frame the speech.
"Your brother is very much better," Laverick said. "I am sure that you need not be anxious about him."
"I am so glad," she murmured. "They let me off but I had to pay a fine. I had no idea before that I was so important. Shall I go to him now?"
"One moment," Laverick answered, holding open the door of the sitting-room. "Miss Morrison," he went on,—
"Miss Leneven is my name," she interrupted.
"I beg your pardon. Your brother evidently has something on his mind apart from business. I am afraid that he has been getting into some sort of trouble. I don't think there is any object in bothering him about it, but the great thing is to get him away."
"You will help?" she begged.
"I will help, certainly," Laverick answered. "I have promised to. You must see that he is ready to leave here at seven o'clock to-morrow morning. He wants to go to New York, and the special to catch the German boat will leave Waterloo somewhere about eight to eight-thirty."
"But his clothes!" she cried. "How can he be ready by then?"
"Your brother does not wish me or any one to go near his rooms or to send him any of his belongings," Laverick continued quietly.
"But how strange!" the girl exclaimed. "Do you mean to say, then, that he is going without anything?"
"I am afraid," Laverick said kindly, "that we must take it for granted that your brother has got mixed up in some undesirable business or other. He is nervously anxious to keep his whereabouts an entire secret. He has been asking me whether any one has been to the office to inquire for him. Under the circumstances, I think the best thing we can do is to humor him. I shall buy him before to-morrow morning a cheap dressing-case and a ready-made suit of clothes, and a few things for the voyage. Then I shall send a cab for you both at seven o'clock and meet you at the station.
"You are very kind," she murmured. "What should I have done without you? Oh, I cannot think!"
The protective instinct in the man was suddenly strong. Naturally unaffectionate, he was conscious of an almost overmastering desire to take her hands in his, even to lift her up and kiss away the tears which shone in her deep, childlike eyes. He reminded himself that she was a stranger, that her appearance of youth was a delusion, that she could only construe such an action as a liberty, an impertinence, offered under circumstances for which there could be no possible excuse.
He moved away towards the door.
"Naturally," he said, "I am glad to be of use to your brother. You see," he explained, a little awkwardly, "after all, we have been partners in business."
He caught a look upon her face and smiled.
"Naturally, too," he continued, "it has been a great pleasure for me to do anything to relieve your anxiety."
She gave him her hands then of her own accord. The gratitude which shone out of her swimming eyes seemed mingled with something which was almost invitation. Laverick was suddenly swept off his feet. Something had come into his life—something absurd, uncounted upon, incomprehensible. The atmosphere of the room seemed electrified. In a moment, he had done what only a second or two before he had told himself would be the action of a cad. He had taken her, unresisting, up into his arms, kissed her eyes and lips. Afterwards, he was never able to remember those few moments clearly, only it seemed to him that she had accepted his caress almost without hesitation, with the effortless serenity of a child receiving a natural consolation in a time of trouble. But Laverick was conscious of other feelings as he leaned hard back in the corner of his taxicab and was driven swiftly away.
THE WAITER AT THE "BLACK POST"
Laverick, notwithstanding that the hour was becoming late, found an outfitter's shop in the Strand still open, and made such purchases as he could on Morrison's behalf. Then, with the bag ready packed, he returned to his rooms. Time had passed quickly during the last three hours. It was nearly nine o'clock when he stepped out of the lift and opened the door of his small suite of rooms with the latchkey which hung from his chain. He began to change his clothes mechanically, and he had nearly finished when the telephone bell upon his table rang.
"Who's that?" he asked, taking up the receiver.
"Hall-porter, sir," was the answer. "Person here wishes to see you particularly."
"A person!" Laverick repeated. "Man or woman?"
"Better send him up," Laverick ordered.
"He's a seedy-looking lot, sir," the porter explained "I told him that I scarcely thought you'd see him."
"Never mind," Laverick answered. "I can soon get rid of the fellow if he's cadging."
He went back to his room and finished fastening his tie. His own affairs had sunk a little into the background lately, but the announcement of this unusual visitor brought them back into his mind with a rush. Notwithstanding his iron nerves, his fingers shook as he drew on his dinner-jacket and walked out to the passageway to answer the bell which rang a few seconds later. A man stood outside, dressed in shabby black clothes, whose face somehow was familiar to him, although he could not, for the moment, place it.
"Do you want to see me?" Laverick asked.
"If you please, Mr. Laverick," the man replied, "if you could spare me just a moment."
"You had better come inside, then," Laverick said, closing the door and preceding the way into the sitting-room. At any rate, there was nothing threatening about the appearance of this visitor—nor anything official.
"I have taken the liberty of coming, sir," the man announced, "to ask you if you can tell me where I can find Mr. Arthur Morrison."
Laverick's face showed no sign of his relief. What he felt he succeeded in keeping to himself.
"You mean Morrison—my partner, I suppose?" he answered.
"If you please, sir," the man admitted. "I wanted a word or two with him most particular. I found out his address from the caretaker of your office, but he don't seem to have been home to his rooms at all last night, and they know nothing about him there."
"Your face seems familiar to me," Laverick remarked. "Where do you come from?"
The man hesitated.
"I am the waiter, sir, at the 'Black Post,'—little bar and restaurant, you know," he added, "just behind your offices, sir, at the end of Crooked Friars' Alley. You've been in once or twice, Mr. Laverick, I think. Mr. Morrison's a regular customer. He comes in for a drink most mornings."
"I knew I'd seen your face somewhere," he said. "What do you want with Mr. Morrison?"
The man was silent. He twirled his hat and looked embarrassed.
"It's a matter I shouldn't like to mention to any one except Mr. Morrison himself, sir," he declared finally. "If you could put me in the way of seeing him, I'd be glad. I may say that it would be to his advantage, too."
Laverick was thoughtful for a moment.
"As it happens, that's a little difficult," he explained. "Mr. Morrison and I disagreed on a matter of business last night. I undertook certain responsibilities which he should have shared, and he arranged to leave the firm and the country at once. We parted—well, not exactly the best of friends. I am afraid I cannot give you any information."
"You haven't seen him since then, sir?" the man asked.
Laverick lied promptly but he lied badly. His visitor was not in the least convinced.
"I am afraid I haven't made myself quite plain, sir," he said. "It's to do him a bit o' good that I'm here. I'm not wishing him any harm at all. On the contrary, it's a great deal more to his advantage to see me than it will be mine to find him."
"I think," Laverick suggested, "that you had better be frank with me. Supposing I knew where to catch Morrison before he left the country, I could easily deal with you on his behalf."
The man looked doubtful.
"You see, sir," he replied awkwardly, "it's a matter I wouldn't like to breathe a word about to any one but Mr. Morrison himself. It's—it's a bit serious."
The man's face gave weight to his words. Curiously enough, the gleam of terror which Laverick caught in his white face reminded him of a similar look which he had seen in Morrison's eyes barely an hour ago. To gain time, Laverick moved across the room, took a cigarette from a box and lit it. A conviction was forming itself in his mind. There was something definite behind these hysterical paroxysms of his late partner, something of which this man had an inkling.
"Look here," he said, throwing himself into an easychair, "I think you had better be frank with me. I must know more than I know at present before I help you to find Morrison, even if he is to be found. We didn't part very good friends, but I'm his friend enough—for the sake of others," he added, after a moment's hesitation, "to do all that I could to help him out of any difficulty he may have stumbled into. So you see that so far as anything you may have to say to him is concerned, I think you might as well say it to me."
"You couldn't see your way, then, sir," the man continued doggedly, "to tell me where I could find Mr. Morrison himself?"