"No, I couldn't," Laverick decided. "Even if I knew exactly where he was—and I'm not admitting that—I couldn't put you in touch with him unless I knew what your business was."
The man's eyes gleamed. He was a typical waiter—pasty-faced, unwholesome-looking—but he had small eyes of a greenish cast, and they were expressive.
"I think, sir," he said, "you've some idea yourself, then, that Mr. Morrison has been getting into a bit of trouble."
"We won't discuss that," Laverick answered. "You must either go away—it's past nine o'clock and I haven't had my dinner yet—or you must treat me as you would Mr. Morrison."
The man looked upon the carpet for several moments.
"Very well, sir," he said, "there's no great reason why I should put myself out about this at all. The only thing is—"
"Well, go on," Laverick said encouragingly.
"I think," the man continued, "that Mr. Morrison—knowing, as I well do, sir, the sort of gent he is—would be more likely to talk common sense with me about this matter than you, sir."
"I'll imagine I'm Morrison, for the moment," Laverick said smiling, "especially as I'm acting for him."
The man looked around the room. The door behind had been left ajar. He stepped backward and closed it.
"You'll pardon the liberty, sir," he said, "but this is a serious matter I'm going to speak about. I'll just tell you a little thing and you can form your own conclusions. Last night we was open late at the 'Black Post.' We keep open, sir, as you know, when you gentlemen at the Stock Exchange are busy. About nine o'clock there was a strange customer came in. He had two drinks and he sat as though he were waiting. In about 'arf-an-hour another gent came in, and they went into a corner together and seemed to be doing some sort of business. Anyways, there was papers passed between them. I was fairly busy about then, as there were one or two more customers in the place, but I noticed these two talking together, and I noticed the dark gentleman leave. The others went out a few minutes afterwards, and the gent who had come first was alone in the place. He sat in the corner and he had a pocket-book on the table before him. I had a sort of casual glance at it when I brought him a drink, and it seemed to me that it was full of bank-notes. He sat there just like a man extra deep in thought. Just after eleven, in came Mr. Morrison. I could see he was rare and put out, for he was white, and shaking all over. 'Give me a drink, Jim,' he said,—'a big brandy and soda, big as you make 'em."'
The man paused for a moment as though to collect himself. Laverick was suddenly conscious of a strange thrill creeping through his pulses.
"Go on," he said. "That was after he left me. Go on."
"He was quite close to the other gent, Mr. Morrison was," the waiter continued, "but they didn't say nowt to each other. All of a sudden I see Mr. Morrison set down his glass and stare at the other chap as though he'd seen something that had given him a turn. I leaned over the counter and had a look, too. There he sat—this tall, fair chap who had been in the place so long—with his big pocket-book on the table in front of him, and even from where I was I could see that there was a great pile of bank-notes sticking out from it. All of a sudden he looks up and sees Mr. Morrison a-watching him and me from behind the counter. Back he whisks the pocket-book into his pocket, calls me for my bill, gives me two mouldy pennies for a tip, buttons up his coat and walks out."
"You know who he was?" Laverick inquired.
Again the waiter paused for a moment before he answered—paused and looked nervously around the room. His voice shook.
"He was the man as was murdered about a hundred yards off the 'Black Post' last night, sir," he said.
"How do you know?" Laverick asked.
"I got an hour off to-day," the waiter continued, "and went down to the Mortuary. There was no doubt about it. There he was—same chap, same clothes. I could swear to him anywhere, and I reckon I'll have to at the inquest."
Laverick's cigarette burned away between his fingers. It seemed to him that he was no longer in the room. He was listening to Big Ben striking the hour, he was back again in that tiny little bedroom with its spotless sheets and lace curtains. The man on the bed was looking at him. Laverick remembered the look and shivered.
"What has this to do with Morrison?" he demanded.
Once more the waiter looked around in that half mysterious, half terrified way.
"Mr. Morrison, sir," he said, dropping his voice to a hoarse whisper, "he followed the other chap out within thirty seconds. A sort of queer look he'd got in his face too, and he went out without paying me. I've read the papers pretty careful, sir," the man went on, "but I ain't seen no word of that pocket-book of bank-notes being found on the man as was murdered."
Laverick threw the end of his burning cigarette away. He walked to the window, keeping his back deliberately turned on his visitor. His eyes followed the glittering arc of lights which fringed the Thames Embankment, were caught by the flaring sky-sign on the other side of the river. He felt his heart beating with unaccustomed vigor. Was this, then, the secret of Morrison's terror? He wondered no longer at his collapse. The terror was upon him, too. He felt his forehead, and his hand, when he drew it away, was wet. It was not Morrison alone but he himself who might be implicated in this man's knowledge. The thoughts flitted through his brain like parts of a nightmare. He saw Morrison arrested, he saw the whole story of the missing pocket-book in the papers, he imagined his bank manager reading it and thinking of that parcel of mysterious bank-notes deposited in his keeping on the morning after the tragedy... Laverick was a strong man, and his moment of weakness, poignant though it had been, passed. This was no new thing with which he was confronted. All the time he had known that the probabilities were in favor of such a discovery. He set his teeth and turned to face his visitor.
"This is a very serious thing which you have told me," he said. "Have you spoken about it to any one else?"
"Not a soul, sir," the man answered. "I thought it best to have a word or two first with Mr. Morrison."
"You were thinking of attending the inquest," Laverick said thoughtfully. "The police would thank you for your evidence, and there, I suppose, the matter would end."
"You've hit it precisely, sir," the man admitted. "There the matter would end."
"On the other hand," Laverick continued, speaking as though he were reasoning this matter out to himself, "supposing you decided not to meddle in an affair which does not concern you, supposing you were not sure as to the identity of your customer last night, and being a little tired you could not rightly remember whether Mr. Morrison called in for a drink or not, and so, to cut the matter short, you dismissed the whole matter from your mind and let the inquest take its own course,—Laverick paused. His visitor scratched the side of his chin and nodded.
"You've put this matter plainly, sir," he said, "in what I call an understandable, straightforward way. I'm a poor man—I've been a poor man all my life—and I've never seed a chance before of getting away from it. I see one now."
"You want to do the best you can for yourself?"
"So 'elp me God, sir, I do!" the man agreed.
"You have done a remarkably wise thing," he said, "in coming to me and in telling me about this affair. The idea of connecting Mr. Morrison with the murder would, of course, be ridiculous, but, on the other hand, it would be very disagreeable to him to have his name mentioned in connection with it. You have behaved discreetly, and you have done Mr. Morrison a service in trying to find him out. You will do him a further service by adopting the second course I suggested with regard to the inquest. What do you consider that service is worth?"
"It depends, sir," the man answered quietly, "at what price Mr. Morrison values his life!"
THE PRICE OF SILENCE
The man's manner was expressive. Laverick repeated his phrase, frowning.
Laverick shrugged his shoulders.
"Come," he declared, "you must not go too far with this thing. I have admitted, so as to clear the way for anything you have to say, that Mr. Morrison would not care to have his name mentioned in connection with this affair. But because he left your bar a few minutes after the murdered man, it is sheer folly to assume that therefore he is necessarily implicated in his death. I cannot conceive anything more unlikely."
The man smiled—a slow, uncomfortable smile which suggested mirth less than anything in the world.
"There are a few other things, sir," he remarked,—"one in especial."
"Well?" Laverick inquired. "Let's have it. You had better tell me everything that is in your mind."
"The man was stabbed with a horn-handled knife."
"I remember reading that," Laverick admitted.
"The knife was mine," his visitor affirmed, dropping his voice once more to a whisper. "It lay on the edge of the counter, close to where Mr. Morrison was leaning, and as soon as he'd gone I missed it."
Laverick was silent. What was there to be said?
"Horn-handled knives," he muttered, "are not rare not uncommon things."
"One don't possess a knife for a matter of eight or nine years without being able to swear to it," the other remarked dryly.
"Is there anything more?"
"There don't need to be," was the quiet reply. "You know that, sir. So do I. There don't need to be any more evidence than mine to send Mr. Morrison to the gallows."
"We will waive that point," Laverick declared. "The jury sometimes are very hard to convince by circumstantial evidence alone. However, as I have said, let us waive that point. Your position is clear enough. You go to the inquest, you tell all you know, and you get nothing. You are a poor man, you have worked hard all your life. The chance has come in your way to do yourself a little good. Now take my advice. Don't spoil it all by asking for anything ridiculous. It won't do for you to come into a fortune a few days after this affair, especially if it ever comes out that the murdered man was in your place. I am here to act for Mr. Morrison. What is it that you want?"
"You are talking like a gent, sir," the man said,—"like a sensible gent, too. I'd have to keep it quiet, of course, that I'd come into a bit of money,—just at present, at any rate. I could easy find an excuse for changing my job—perhaps get away from London altogether. I've got a few pounds saved and I've always wanted to open a banking account. A gent like you, perhaps, could put me in the way of doing it."
"How much do you consider would be a satisfactory balance to commence with?" Laverick asked.
"I was thinking of a thousand pounds, sir."
Laverick was thoughtful for a few moments.
"By the way, what is your name?" he inquired at last.
"James Shepherd, sir," the man answered,—"generally called Jim, sir."
"Well, you see, Shepherd," Laverick continued, "the difficulty is, in your case, as in all similar ones, that one never knows where the thing will end. A thousand pounds is a considerable sum, but in four amounts, with three months interval between each, it could be arranged. This would be better for you, in any case. Two hundred and fifty pounds is not an unheard-of sum for you to have saved or got together. After that your investments would be my lookout, and they would produce, as I have said, another seven hundred and fifty pounds. But what security have I—has Mr. Morrison, let us say—that you will be content with this sum?"
"He hasn't any, sir," the man admitted at once. "He couldn't have any. I'm a modest-living man, and I've no desire to go shouting around that I'm independent all of a sudden. That wouldn't do nohow. A thousand pounds would bring me in near enough a pound a week if I invested it, or two pounds a week for an annuity, my health being none too good. I've no wife or children, sir. I was thinking of an annuity. With two pounds a week I'd have no cause to trouble any one again."
"It shall be done," he said. "To-morrow I shall buy shares for you to the extent of two hundred and fifty pounds. They will be deposited in a bank. Some day you can look in and see me, and I will take you round there. You are my client who has speculated under my instructions successfully, and you will sign your name and become a customer. After that, you will speculate again. When your thousand pounds has been made, I will show you how to buy an annuity. Keep your mouth shut, and last night will be the luckiest night of your life. Do you drink?"
"A drop or two, sir," the man admitted. "If I didn't, I guess I'd go off my chump."
"Do you talk when you're drunk?" Laverick asked.
"Never, sir," the man declared. "I've a way of getting a drop too much when I'm by myself. Then I tumbles off to sleep and that's the end of it. I've no fancy for company at such times."
"It's a good thing," Laverick remarked, thrusting his hand into his pocket. "Here's a five-pound note on account. I daresay you can manage to keep sober to-night, at any rate. That's all, isn't it?"
"That's all, sir," the man answered, "unless I might make so bold as to ask whether Mr. Morrison has really hooked it?"
"Mr. Morrison had decided to hook it, as you graphically say, before he came in for that drink to your bar, Shepherd," Laverick affirmed. "Business had been none too good with us, and we had had a disagreement."
The man nodded.
"I see, sir," he said, taking up his hat. "Good night, sir!"
"Good night!" Laverick answered. "You can find your way down?"
"Quite well, sir, and thank you," declared Mr. Shepherd, closing the door softly behind him.
Laverick sat down in his chair. He had forgotten that he was hungry. He was faced now with a new tragedy.
THE LONELY CHORUS GIRL
They stood together upon the platform watching the receding train. The girl's eyes were filled with tears, but Laverick was conscious of a sense of immense relief. Morrison had been at the station some time before the train was due to leave, and, although a physical wreck, he seemed only too anxious to depart. He had all the appearance of a broken-spirited man. He looked about him on the platform, and even from the carriage, in the furtive way of a criminal expecting apprehension at any moment. The whistle of the train had been a relief as great to him as to Laverick.
"We'll write you to New York, care of Barclays," Laverick called out. "Good luck, Morrison! Pull yourself together and make a fresh start."
Morrison's only reply was a somewhat feeble nod. Laverick had not attempted to shake hands. He felt himself at the last moment, stirred almost to anger by the perfunctory farewell which was all this man had offered to the girl he had treated so inconsiderately. His thoughts were engrossed upon himself and his own danger. He would not even have kissed her if she had not drawn his face down to hers and whispered a reassuring little message. Laverick turned away. For some reason or other he felt himself shuddering. Conversation during those last few moments had been increasingly difficult. The train was off at last, however, and they were alone.
The girl drew a long breath, which might very well have been one of relief. They turned silently toward the exit.
"Are you going back home?" Laverick asked.
"Yes," she answered listlessly. "There is nothing else to do."
"Isn't it rather sad for you there by yourself?"
"It is the first time," she said. "Another girl and her mother have lived with me always. They started off last week, touring. They are paying a little toward the house or I should have to go into rooms. As it is, I think that it would be more comfortable."
Laverick looked at her wonderingly.
"You seem such a child," he said, "to be left all alone in the world like this."
"But I am not a child actually, you see," she answered, with an effort at lightness. "Somehow, though, I do miss Arthur's going. His father was always very good to me, and made him promise that he would do what he could. I didn't see much of him, but one felt always that there was somebody. It's different now. It makes one feel very lonely."
"I, too," Laverick said, with commendable mendacity, "am rather a lonely person. You must let me see something of you now and then."
She looked up at him quickly. Her gaze was altogether disingenuous, but her eyes—those wonderful eyes—spoke volumes.
"If you really mean it," she said, "I should be so glad."
"Supposing we start to-day," he suggested, smiling. "I cannot ask you to lunch, as I have a busy day before me, but we might have dinner together quite early. Then I would take you to the theatre and meet you afterwards, if you liked."
"If I liked!" she whispered. "Oh, how good you are."
"I am not at all sure about that. Now I'll put you in this taxi and send you home."
"You mustn't do anything so extravagant. I can get a 'bus just outside. I never have taxicabs."
"Just this morning," he insisted, "and I think he won't trouble you for his fare. You must let me, please. Remember that there's a large account open still between your half-brother and me, so you needn't mind these trifles. Till this evening, then. Shall I fetch you or will you come to me?"
"Let me fetch you, if I may," she said. "It isn't nice for you to come down to where I live. It's such a horrid part."
"Just as you like," he answered. "I'd be very glad to fetch you if you prefer it, but it would give me more time if you came. Shall we say seven o'clock? I've written the address down on this card so that you can make no mistake."
She laughed gayly.
"You know, all the time," she said, "I feel that you are treating me as though I were a baby. I'll be there punctually, and I don't think I need tie the card around my neck."
The cab glided off. Laverick caught a glimpse of a wan little face with a faint smile quivering at the corner of her lips as she leaned out for a moment to say good-bye. Then he went back to his rooms, breakfasted, and made his way to his office.
The morning papers had nothing new to report concerning the murder in Crooked Friars' Alley. Evidently what information the police had obtained they were keeping for the inquest. Laverick, from the moment when he entered the office, had little or no time to think of the tragedy under whose shadow he had come. The long-predicted boom had arrived at last. Without lunch, he and all his clerks worked until after six o'clock. Even then Laverick found it hard to leave. During the day, a dozen people or so had been in to ask for Morrison. To all of them he had given the same reply,—Morrison had gone abroad on private business for the firm. Very few were deceived by Laverick's dry statement. He was quite aware that he was looked upon either as one of the luckiest men on earth, or as a financier of consummate skill. The failure of Laverick & Morrison had been looked upon as a certainty. How they had tided over that twenty-four hours had been known to no one—to no one but Laverick himself and the manager of his bank.
Just before four o'clock, the telephone rang at his elbow.
"Mr. Fenwick from the bank, sir, is wishing to speak to you for a moment," his head-clerk announced.
Laverick took up the telephone.
"Yes," he said, "I am Laverick. Good afternoon, Mr. Fenwick! Absolutely impossible to spare any time to-day. What is it? The account is all right, isn't it?"
"Quite right, Mr. Laverick," was the answer. "At the same time, if you could spare me a moment I should be glad to see you concerning the deposit you made yesterday."
"I will come in to-morrow," Laverick promised. "This afternoon it is quite out of the question. I have a crowd of people waiting to see me, and several important engagements for which I am late already."
The banker seemed scarcely satisfied.
"I may rely upon seeing you to-morrow?" he pressed.
"To-morrow," Laverick repeated, ringing off.
For a time this last message troubled him. As soon as the day's work was over, however, and he stepped into his cab, he dismissed it entirely from his thoughts. It was curious how, notwithstanding this new seriousness which had come into his life, notwithstanding that sensation of walking all the time on the brink of a precipice, he set his face homeward and looked forward to his evening, with a pleasure which he had not felt for many months. The whirl of the day faded easily from his mind. He lived no more in an atmosphere of wild excitement, of changing prices, of feverish anxiety. How empty his life must have unconsciously grown that he could find so much pleasure in being kind to a pretty child! It was hard to think of her otherwise—impossible. A strange heritage, this, to have been left him by such a person as Arthur Morrison. How in the world, he wondered, did he happen to have such a connection.
She was a little shy when she arrived. Laverick had left special orders downstairs, and she was brought up into his sitting-room immediately. She was very quietly dressed except for her hat, which was large and wavy. He found it becoming, but he knew enough to understand that her clothes were very simple and very inexpensive, and he was conscious of being curiously glad of the fact.
"I am afraid," she said timidly, with a glance at his evening attire, "that we must go somewhere very quiet. You see, I have only one evening gown and I couldn't wear that. There wouldn't be time to change afterwards. Besides, one's clothes do get so knocked about in the dressing-rooms."
"There are heaps of places we can go to," he assured her pleasantly. "Of course you can't, dress for the evening when you have to go on to work, but you must remember that there are a good many other smart young ladies in the same position. I had to change because I have taken a stall to see your performance. Tell me, how are you feeling now?"
"Rather lonely," she admitted, making a pathetic little grimace. "That is to say I have been feeling lonely," she added softly. "I don't now, of course.
"You are a queer little person," he said kindly, as they went down in the lift. "Haven't you any friends?"
She shrugged her shoulders.
"What sort of friends could I have?" she asked. "The girls in the chorus with me are very nice, some of them, but they know so many people whom I don't, and they are always out to supper, or something of the sort."
She shook her head.
"I went to one supper-party with the girl who is near me," she said. "I liked it very much, but they didn't ask me again."
"I wonder why?" he remarked.
"Oh, I don't know!" she went on drearily. "You see, I think the men who take out girls who are in the chorus, generally expect to be allowed to make love to them. At any rate, they behaved like that. Such a horrid man tried to say nice things to me and I didn't like it a bit. So they left me alone afterwards. The girl I lived with and her mother are quite nice, and they have a few friends we go to see sometimes on Sunday or holidays. It's dull, though, very dull, especially now they're away."
"What on earth made you think of going on the stage at all?" he asked.
"What could one do?" she answered. "My mother's money died with her—she had only an annuity—and my stepfather, who had promised to look after me, lost all his money and died quite suddenly. Arthur was in a stockbroker's office and he couldn't save anything. My only friend was my old music-master, and he had given up teaching and was director of the orchestra at the Universal. All he could do for me was to get me a place in the chorus. I have been there ever since. They keep on promising me a little part but I never get it. It's always like that in theatres. You have to be a favorite of the manager's, for some reason or other, or you never get your chance unless you are unusually lucky."
"I don't know much about theatres," he admitted. "I am afraid I am rather a stupid person. When I can get away from work I go into the country and play cricket or golf, or anything that's going. When I am up in town, I am generally content with looking up a few friends, or playing bridge at the club. I never have been a theatre-goer.
"I wonder," she asked, as they seated themselves at a small round table in the restaurant which he had chosen,—"I wonder why every now and then you look so serious."
"I didn't know that I did," he answered. "We've had thundering hard times lately in business, though. I suppose that makes a man look thoughtful."
"Poor Mr. Laverick," she murmured softly. "Are things any better now?"
"Then you have nothing really to bother you?" she persisted.
"I suppose we all have something," he replied, suddenly grave. "Why do you ask that?"
She leaned across the table. In the shaded light, her oval face with its little halo of deep brown hair seemed to him as though it might have belonged to some old miniature. She was delightful, like Watteau-work upon a piece of priceless porcelain—delightful when the lights played in her eyes and the smile quivered at the corner of her lips. Just now, however, she became very much in earnest.
"I will tell you why I ask that question," she said. "I cannot help worrying still about Arthur. You know you admitted last night that he had done something. You saw how terribly frightened he was this morning, and how he kept on looking around as though he were afraid that he would see somebody whom he wished to avoid. Oh! I don't want to worry you," she went on, "but I feel so terrified sometimes. I feel that he must have done something—bad. It was not an ordinary business trouble which took the life out of him so completely."
"It was not," Laverick admitted at once. "He has done something, I believe, quite foolish; but the matter is in my hands to arrange, and I think you can assure yourself that nothing will come of it."
"Did you tell him so this morning?" she asked eagerly.
"I did not," he answered. "I told him nothing. For many reasons it was better to keep him ignorant. He and I might not have seen things the same way, and I am sure that what I am doing is for the best. If I were you, Miss Leneveu, I think I wouldn't worry any more. Soon you will hear from your brother that he is safe in New York, and I think I can promise you that the trouble will never come to anything serious."
"Why have you been so kind to him?" she asked timidly. "From what he said, I do not think that he was very useful to you, and, indeed, you and he are so different."
Laverick was silent for a moment.
"To be honest," he said, "I think that I should not have taken so much trouble for his sake alone. You see," he continued, smiling, "you are rather a delightful young person, and you were very anxious, weren't you?"
Her hand came across the table—an impulsive little gesture, which he nevertheless found perfectly natural and delightful. He took it into his, and would have raised the fingers to his lips but for the waiters who were hovering around.
"You are so kind," she said, "and I am so fortunate. I think that I wanted a friend."
"You poor child," he answered, "I should think you did. You are not drinking your wine."
She shook her head.
"Do you mind?" she asked. "A very little gets into my head because I take it so seldom, and the manager is cross if one makes the least bit of a mistake. Besides, I do not think that I like to drink wine. If one does not take it at all, there is an excuse for never having anything when the girls ask you."
He nodded sympathetically.
"I believe you are quite right," he said; "in a general way, at any rate. Well, I will drink by myself to your brother's safe arrival in New York. Are you ready?"
She glanced at the clock.
"I must be there in a quarter of an hour," she told him.
"I will drive you to the theatre," he said, "and then go round and fetch my ticket."
As he waited for her in the reception hall of the restaurant, he took an evening paper from the stall. A brief paragraph at once attracted his attention.
Murder in the City.—We understand that very important information has come into the hands of the police. An ARREST is expected to-night or to-morrow at the latest.
He crushed the paper in his hand and threw it on one side. It was the usual sort of thing. There was nothing they could have found out—nothing, he told himself.
As soon as he had gone through his letters on the following morning, Laverick, in response to a second and more urgent message, went round to his bank. Mr. Fenwick greeted him gravely. He was feeling keenly the responsibilities of his position. Just how much to say and how much to leave unsaid was a question which called for a full measure of diplomacy.
"You understand, Mr. Laverick," he began, "that I wished to see you with regard to the arrangement we came to the day before yesterday."
Laverick nodded. It suited him to remain monosyllabic.
"Well?" he asked.
"The arrangement, of course, was most unusual," the manager continued. "I agreed to it as you were an old customer and the matter was an urgent one."
"I do not quite follow you," Laverick remarked, frowning. "What is it you wish me to do? Withdraw my account?"
"Not in the least," the manager answered hastily.
"You know the position of our market, of course," Laverick went on. "Three days ago I was in a situation which might have been called desperate. I could quite understand that you needed security to go on making the necessary payments on my behalf. To-day, things are entirely different. I am twenty thousand pounds better off, and if necessary I could realize sufficient to pay off the whole of my overdraft within half-an-hour. That I do not do so is simply a matter of policy and prices."
"I quite understand that, my dear Mr. Laverick," the bank manager declared. "The position is simply this. We have had a most unusual and a strictly private inquiry, of a nature which I cannot divulge to you, asking whether any large sum in five hundred pound banknotes has been passed through our account during the last few days."
"You have actually had this inquiry?" Laverick asked calmly.
"We have. I can tell you no more. The source of the inquiry was, in a sense, amazing."
"May I ask what your reply was?"
"My reply was," Mr. Fenwick said slowly, "that no such notes had passed through our account. We asked them, however, without giving any reasons, to repeat their question in a few days' time. Our reply was perfectly truthful. Owing to your peculiar stipulations, we are simply holding a certain packet for you in our security chamber. We know it to contain bank-notes, and there is very little doubt but that it contains the notes which have been the subject of this inquiry. I want to ask you, Mr. Laverick, to be so good as to open that packet, let me credit the notes to your account in the usual way, and leave me free to reply as I ought to have done in the first instance to this inquiry."
"The course which you suggest," replied the other, "is one which I absolutely decline to take. It is not for me to tell you the nature of the relations which should exist between a banker and his client. All that I can say is that those notes are deposited with you and must remain on deposit, and that the transaction is one which must be treated entirely as a confidential one. If you decline to do this, I must remove my account, in which case I shall, of course, take the packet away with me. To be plain with you, Mr. Fenwick," he wound up, "I do not intend to make use of those notes, I never intended to do so. I simply deposited them as security until the turn in price of 'Unions' came.
"It is a very nice point, Mr. Laverick," the bank manager remarked. "I should consider that you had already made use of them."
"Every one to his own conscience," Laverick answered calmly.
"You place me in a very embarrassing position, Mr. Laverick."
"I cannot admit that at all," Laverick replied. "There is only one inquiry which you could have had which could justify you in insisting upon what you have suggested. It emanated, I presume, from Scotland Yard?"
"If it had," Mr. Fenwick answered, "no considerations of etiquette would have intervened at all. I should have felt it my duty to have revealed at once the fact of your deposit. At the same time, the inquiry comes from an even more important source,—a source which cannot be ignored."
Laverick thought for a moment.
"After all, the matter is a very simple one," he declared. "By four o'clock this afternoon my account shall be within its limits. You will then automatically restore to me the packet which you hold on my behalf, and the possession of which seems to embarrass you."
"If you do not mind," the banker answered, "I should be glad if you would take it with you. It means, I think, a matter of six or seven thousand pounds added to your overdraft, but as a temporary thing we will pass that."
"As you will," Laverick assented carelessly. "The charge of those documents is a trust with me as well as with yourself. I have no doubt that I can arrange for their being held in a secure place elsewhere."
The usual formalities were gone through, and Laverick left the bank with the brown leather pocket-book in his breast-coat pocket. Arrived at his office, he locked it up at once in his private safe and proceeded with the usual business of the day. Even with an added staff of clerks, the office was almost in an uproar. Laverick threw himself into the struggle with a whole-hearted desire to escape from these unpleasant memories. He succeeded perfectly. It was two hours before he was able to sit down even for a moment. His head-clerk, almost as exhausted, followed him into his room.
"I forgot to tell you, sir," he announced, "that there s a man outside—Mr. Shepherd was his name, I believe—said he had a small investment to make which you promised to look after personally. He would insist on seeing you—said he was a waiter at a restaurant which you visited sometimes."
"That's all right," Laverick declared. "You can show him in. We'll probably give him American rails."
"Can't we attend to it in the office for you, sir?" the clerk asked. "I suppose it's only a matter of a few hundreds."
"Less than that, probably, but I promised the fellow I'd look after it myself. Send him in, Scropes."
There was a brief delay and then Mr. Shepherd was announced. Laverick, who was sitting with his coat off, smoking a well-earned cigarette, looked up and nodded to his visitor as the door was closed.
"Sorry to keep you waiting," he remarked. "We're having a bit of a rush."
The man laid down his hat and came up to Laverick's side.
"I guess that, sir," he said, "from the number of people we've had in the 'Black Post' to-day, and the way they've all been shouting and talking. They don't seem to eat much these days, but there's some of them can shift the drink."
"I've got some sound stocks looked out for you," Laverick remarked, "two hundred and fifty pounds' worth. If you'll just approve that list as a matter of form," he added, pushing a piece of paper across, "you can come in to-morrow and have the certificates. I shall tell them to debit the purchase money to my private account, so that if any one asks you anything, you can say that you paid me for them."
"I'm sure I'm much obliged, sir," the man said. "To tell you the truth," he went on, "I've had a bit of a scare to-day."
Laverick looked up quickly.
"What do you mean?" he demanded.
"May I sit down, sir? I'm a bit worn out. I've been on the go since half-past ten."
Laverick nodded and pointed to a chair. Shepherd brought it up to the side of the table and leaned forward.
"There's been two men in to-day," he said, "asking questions. They wanted to know how many customers I had there on Monday night, and could I describe them. Was there any one I recognized, and so on."
"What did you say?"
"I declared I couldn't remember any one. To the best of my recollection, I told them, there was no one served at all after ten o'clock. I wouldn't say for certain—it looked as though I might have had a reason."
"And were they satisfied?"
"I don't think they were," Shepherd admitted. "Not altogether, that is to say."
"Did they mention any names?" asked Laverick—"Morrison's, for instance? Did they want to know whether he was a regular customer?"
"They didn't mention no names at all, sir," the man answered, "but they did begin to ask questions about my regular clients. Fortunate like, the place was so crowded that I had every excuse for not paying any too much attention to them. It was all I could do to keep on getting orders attended to."
"What sort of men were they?" Laverick asked. "Do you think that they came from the police?"
"I shouldn't have said so," Shepherd replied, "but one can't tell, and these gentlemen from Scotland Yard do make themselves up so sometimes on purpose to deceive. I should have said that these two were foreigners, the same kidney as the poor chap as was murdered. I heard a word or two pass, and I sort of gathered that they'd a shrewd idea as to that meeting in the 'Black Post' between the man who was murdered and the little dark fellow."
"Jim Shepherd," he declared, "you appear to me to be a very sagacious person."
"I'm sure I'm much obliged, sir; I can tell you, though," he added, "I don't half like these chaps coming round making inquiries. My nerves ain't quite what they were, and it gives me the jumps."
Laverick was thoughtful for a few moments.
"After all, there was no one else in the bar that night," he remarked,—"no one who could contradict you?"
"Not a soul," Jim Shepherd agreed.
"Then don't you bother," Laverick continued. "You see, you've been wise. You haven't given yourself away altogether. You've simply said that you don't recollect any one coming in. Why should you recollect? At the end of a day's work you are not likely to notice every stray customer. Stick to it, and, if you take my advice, don't go throwing any money about, and don't give your notice in for another week or so. Pave the way for it a bit. Ask the governor for a rise—say you're not making a living out of it."
"I'm on," Jim Shepherd remarked, nodding his head. "I'm on to it, sir. I don't want to get into no trouble, I'm sure."
"You can't," Laverick answered dryly, "unless you chuck yourself in. You're not obliged to remember anything. No one can ever prove that you remembered anything. Keep your eyes open, and let me hear if these fellows turn up again."
"I'm pretty certain they will, sir," the man declared. "They sat about waiting for me to be disengaged, but when my time off came, I hopped out the back way. They'll be there again to-night, sure enough."
"Well, you must let me know," he said, "what happens."
Jim Shepherd leaned across the corner of the table and dropped his voice.
"It's an awful thing to think of, sir," he whispered, blinking rapidly. "I wouldn't be that young Mr. Morrison for all that great pocketful of notes. But my! there was a sight of money there, sir! He'll be a rich man for all his days if nothing comes out."
"We won't talk any more about it," Laverick insisted. "It isn't a pleasant thing to think about or talk about. We won't know anything, Shepherd. We shall be better off."
The man took his departure and the whirl of business recommenced. Laverick turned his back upon the city only a few minutes before eight and, tired out, he dined at a restaurant on his homeward way. When at last he reached his sitting-room he threw himself on the sofa and lit a cigar. Once more the evening papers had no particular news. This time, however, one of them had a leading article upon the English police system. The fact that an undetected murder should take place in a wealthy neighborhood, away from the slums, a murder which must have been premeditated, was in itself alarming. Until the inquest had been held, it was better to make little comment upon the facts of the case so far as they were known. At the same time, the circumstance could not fail to incite a considerable amount of alarm among those who had offices in the vicinity of the tragedy. It was rumored that some mysterious inquiries were being circulated around London banks. It was possible that robbery, after all, had been the real motive of the crime, but robbery on a scale as yet unimagined. The whole interest of the case now was centred upon the discovery of the man's identity. As soon as this was solved, some very startling developments might be expected.
Laverick threw the paper away. He tried to rest upon the sofa, but tried in vain. He found himself continually glancing at the clock.
"To-night," he muttered to himself,—"no, I will not go to-night! It is not fair to the child. It is absurd. Why, she would think that I was—"
He stopped short.
"I'll change and go to the club," he decided.
He rose to his feet. Just then there was a ring at his bell. He opened the door and found a messenger boy standing in the vestibule.
"Note, sir, for Mr. Stephen Laverick," the boy announced, opening his wallet.
Laverick held out his hand. The boy gave him a large square envelope, and upon the back of it was "Universal Theatre." Laverick tried to assure himself that he was not so ridiculously pleased. He stepped back into the room, tore open the envelope, and read the few lines traced in rather faint but delicate handwriting.
Are you coming to fetch me to-night? Don't let me be a nuisance, but do come if you have nothing to do. I have something to tell you.
Laverick gave the boy a shilling for himself and suddenly forgot that he was tired. He changed his clothes, whistling softly to himself all the time. At eleven o'clock, he was at the stage-door of the Universal Theatre, waiting in a taxicab.
LAVERICK IS CROSS-EXAMINED
One by one the young ladies of the chorus came out from the stage-door of the Universal, in most cases to be assisted into a waiting hansom or taxicab by an attendant cavalier. Laverick stood back in the shadows as much as possible, smiling now and then to himself at this, to him, somewhat novel way of spending the evening. Zoe was among the last to appear. She came up to him with a delightful little gesture of pleasure, and took his arm as a matter of course as he led her across to the waiting cab.
"This sort of thing is making me feel absurdly young," he declared. "Luigi's for supper, I suppose?"
"Supper!" she exclaimed, clapping her hands. "Delightful! Two nights following, too! I did love last night."
"We had better engage a table at Luigi's permanently," he remarked.
"If only you meant it!" she sighed.
He laughed at her, but he was thoughtful for a few minutes. Afterwards, when they sat at a small round table in the somewhat Bohemian restaurant which was the fashionable rendezvous of the moment for ladies of the theatrical profession, he asked her a question.
"Tell me what you meant in your note," he begged. "You said that you had some information for me.
"I'm afraid it wasn't anything very much," she admitted. "I found out to-day that some one had been inquiring at the stage-door about me, and whether I was connected in any way with a Mr. Arthur Morrison, the stockbroker."
"Do you know who it was?" he asked.
She shook her head.
"The man left no name at all. I tried to get the doorkeeper to tell me about him, but he's such a surly old fellow, and he's so used to that sort of thing, that he pretended he didn't remember anything."
"It seems odd," he remarked thoughtfully, "that any one should have found you out. You were so seldom with Morrison. I dare say," he added, "it was just some one to whom your brother owes some small sum of money."
"Very likely," she answered. "But I was going to tell you. He came again to-night while the performance was on, and sent a note round. I have brought it for you to see."
The note—it was really little more than a message—was written on the back of a programme and enclosed in an envelope evidently borrowed from the box-office. It read as follows:
DEAR MISS LENEVEU,
I believe that Mr. Arthur Morrison is a connection of yours, and I am venturing to introduce myself to you as a friend of his. Could you spare me half-an-hour of your company after the performance of this evening? If you could honor me so much, you might perhaps allow me to give you some supper.
Sincerely, PHILIP E. MILES.
Laverick felt an absurd pang of jealousy as he handed back the programme.
"I should say," he declared, "that this was simply some young man who was trying to scrape an acquaintance with you because he was or had been a friend of Morrison's."
"In that case," answered Zoe, "he is very soon forgotten."
She tore the programme into two pieces, and Laverick was conscious of a ridiculous feeling of pleasure at her indifference.
"If you hear anything more about him," he said, "you might let me know. You are a brave young lady to dismiss your admirers so summarily."
"Perhaps I am quite satisfied with one," laughing softly.
Laverick told himself that at his age he was behaving like an idiot, nevertheless his eyes across the table expressed his appreciation of her speech.
"Tell me something about yourself, Mr. Laverick," she begged.
"First of all, then, how old are you?"
He made a grimace.
"Thirty-eight—thirty-nine my next birthday. Doesn't that seem grandfatherly to you?"
"You must not be absurd!" she exclaimed. "It is not even middle-aged. Now tell me—how do you spend your time generally? Do you really mean that you go and play cards at your club most evenings?"
"I have a good many friends, and I dine out quite a great deal."
"You have no sisters?"
"I have no relatives at all in London," he explained.
"It is to be a real cross-examination," she warned him.
"I am quite content," he answered. "Go ahead, but remember, though, that I am a very dull person."
"You look so young for your years," she declared. "I wonder, have you ever been in love?"
He laughed heartily.
"About a dozen times, I suppose. Why? Do I seem to you like a misanthrope?"
"I don't know," she admitted, hesitatingly. "You don't seem to me as though you cared to make friends very easily. I just felt I wanted to ask you. Have you ever been engaged?"
"Never," he assured her.
"And when was the last time," she asked, "that you felt you cared a little for any one?"
"It dates from the day before yesterday," he declared, filling her glass.
She laughed at him.
"Of course, it is nonsense to talk to you like this!" she said. "You are quite right to make fun of me."
"On the contrary," he insisted. "I am very much in earnest."
"Very well, then," she answered, "if you are in earnest you shall be in love with me. You shall take me about, give me supper every night, send me some sweets and cigarettes to the theatre—oh, and there are heaps of things you ought to do if you really mean it!" she wound up.
"If those things mean being fond of you," he answered, "I'll prove it with pleasure. Sweets, cigarettes, suppers, taxicabs at the stage-door."
"It all sounds very terrible," she sighed. "It's a horrid little life."
"Yet I suppose you enjoy it?" he remarked tentatively.
"I hate it, but I must do something. I could not live on charity. If I knew any other way I could make money, I would rather, but there is no other way. I tried once to give music lessons. I had a few pupils, but they never paid—they never do pay.
"I wish I could think of something," Laverick said thoughtfully. "Of course, it is occupation you want. So far as regards the monetary part of it, I still owe your brother a great deal—"
She shook her head, interrupting him with a quick little gesture.
"No, no!" she declared. "I have never complained about Arthur. Sometimes he made me suffer, because I know that he was ashamed of having a relative in the chorus, but I am quite sure that I do not wish to take any of his money—or of anybody else's," she added. "I want always to earn my own living."
"For such a child," he remarked, smiling, "you are wonderfully independent."
"Why not?" she answered softly. "It is years since I had any one to do very much for me. Necessity teaches us a good many things. Oh, I was helpless enough when it began!" she added, with a little sigh. "I got over it. We all do. Tell me—who is that woman, and why does she stare so at you?"
Laverick looked across the room. Louise and Bellamy were sitting at the opposite table. The former was strikingly handsome and very wonderfully dressed. Her closely-clinging gown, cut slightly open in front, displayed her marvelous figure. She wore long pearl earrings, and a hat with white feathers which drooped over her fair hair. Laverick recognized her at once.
"It is Mademoiselle Idiale," he said, "the most wonderful soprano in the world."
"Why does she look so at you?" Zoe asked.
Laverick shook his head.
"I do not know her," he said. "I know who she is, of course,—every one does. She is a Servian, and they say that she is devoted to her country. She left Vienna at a moment's notice, only a few days ago, and they say that it was because she had sworn never to sing again before the enemies of her country. She had been engaged a long time to appear at Covent Garden, but no one believed that she would really come. She breaks her engagements just when she chooses. In fact, she is a very wonderful person altogether."
"I never saw such pearls in my life," Zoe whispered. "And how lovely she is! I do not understand, though, why she is so interested in you."
"She mistakes me for some one, perhaps."
It certainly seemed probable. Even at that moment she touched her escort upon the arm, and he distinctly looked across at Laverick. It was obvious that he was the subject of her conversation.
"I know the man," Laverick said. "He was at Harrow with me, and I have played cricket with him since. But I have certainly never met Mademoiselle Idiale. One does not forget that sort of person."
"Her figure is magnificent," Zoe murmured wistfully. "Do you like tall women very much, Mr. Laverick?"
"I adore them," he answered, smiling, "but I prefer small ones."
"We are very foolish people, you and I," she laughed. "We came together so strangely and yet we talk such frivolous nonsense."
"You are making me young again," he declared.
"Oh, you are quite young enough!" she assured him. "To tell you the truth, I am jealous. Mademoiselle Idiale looks at you all the time. Look at her now. Is she not beautiful?"
There was no doubt about her beauty, but those who were criticising her—and she was by far the most interesting person in the room—thought her a little sad. Though Bellamy was doing his utmost to be entertaining, her eyes seemed to travel every now and then over his head and out of the room. Wherever her thoughts were, one could be very sure that they were not fixed upon the subject under discussion.
"She is like that when she sings," Laverick remarked. "She has none of the vivacity of the Frenchwomen. Yet there was never anything so graceful in the world as the way she moves about the stage."
"If I were a man," Zoe sighed, "that is the sort of woman I would die for."
"If you were a man," he replied, "you would probably find some one whom you preferred to live for. Do you know, you are rather a morbid sort of person, Miss Zoe?"
"Ah, I like that!" she declared. "I will not be called Miss Leneveu any more by you. You must call me Miss Zoe, please,—Zoe, if you like."
"Zoe, by all means. Under the circumstances, I think it is only fitting."
His eyes wandered across the room again.
"Ah!" she cried softly, "you, too, are coming under the spell, then. I was reading about her only the other day. They say that so many men fall in love with her—so many men to whom she gives no encouragement at all."
Laverick looked into his companion's face.
"Come," he said, "my heart is not so easily won. I can assure you that I never aspire to so mighty a personage as a Covent Garden star. Don't you know that she gets a salary of five hundred pounds a week, and wears ropes of pearls which would represent ten times my entire income? Heaven alone knows what her gowns cost!"
"After all, though," murmured Zoe, "she is a woman. See, your friend is coming to speak to you."
Bellamy was indeed crossing the room. He nodded to Laverick and bowed to his companion.
"Forgive my intruding, Laverick," he said. "You do remember me, I hope? Bellamy, you know."
"I remember you quite well. We used to play together at Lord's, even after we left school."
"That is so," he answered. "I see by the papers that you have kept up your cricket. Mine, alas! has had to go. I have been too much of a rolling stone lately. Do you know that I have come to ask you a favor?"
"Go ahead," Laverick interposed.
"Mademoiselle Idiale has a fancy to meet you," Bellamy explained. "You know, or I dare say you have heard, what a creature of whims she is. If you won't come across and be introduced like a good fellow, she probably won't speak a word all through supper-time, go off in a huff, and my evening will be spoiled."
Laverick laughed heartily. A little smile played at the corner of Zoe's lips—nevertheless, she was looking slightly anxious.
"Under those circumstances," remarked Laverick, "perhaps I had better go. You will understand," he added, with a glance at Zoe, "that I cannot stay for more than a second."
"Naturally," Bellamy answered. "If Mademoiselle really has anything to say to you, I will, if I am permitted, return for a moment."
Laverick introduced him to Zoe.
"I am sure I have seen you at the Universal," he declared. "You're in the front row, aren't you? I have seen you in that clever little step-dance and song in the second act."
She nodded, evidently pleased.
"Does it seem clever to you?" she asked wistfully. "You see, we are all so tired of it."
"I think it is ripping," Bellamy declared. "I shall have the pleasure again directly," he added, with a bow.
The two men crossed the room.
"What the dickens does Mademoiselle Idiale want with me?" Laverick demanded. "Does she know that I am a poor stockbroker, struggling against hard times?"
Bellamy shrugged his shoulders.
"She isn't the sort to care who or what you are," he answered. "And as for the rest, I suppose she could buy any of us up if she wanted to. Her interest in you is rather a curious one. No time to explain it now. She'll tell you."
Louise smiled as he paused before her. She was certainly exquisitely beautiful. Her dress, her carriage, her delicate hands, even her voice, were all perfection. She gave him the tips of her fingers as Bellamy pronounced his name.
"It is so kind of you," she said, "to come and speak to me. And indeed you will laugh when I tell you why I thought that I would like to say one word with you."
"I am thankful, Mademoiselle," he replied, "for anything which procures me such a pleasure."
"Ah! you, too, are gallant," she said. "But indeed, then, I fear you will not be flattered when I tell you why I was so interested. I read all your newspapers. I read of that terrible murder in Crooked Friars' Alley only a few days ago,—is not that how you call the place?"
Laverick was suddenly grave. What was this that was coming?
"One of the reports," she continued, "says that the man was a foreigner. The maker's name upon his clothes was Austrian. I, too, come from that part of Europe—if not from Austria, from a country very near—and I am always interested in my country-people. A few moments ago I asked my friend Mr. Bellamy, 'Where is this Crooked Friars' Alley?' Just then he bowed to you, and he answered me, 'It is in the city. It is within a yard or two of the offices of the gentleman to whom I just have said good-evening.' So I looked across at you and I thought that it was strange."
Laverick scarcely knew what to say.
"It was a terrible affair," he admitted, "and, as Mr. Bellamy has told you, it occurred within a few steps of my office. So far, too, the police seem completely at a loss."
"Ah!" she went on, shaking her head, "your police, I am afraid they are not very clever. It is too bad, but I am afraid that it is so. Tell me, Mr. Laverick, is this, then, a very lonely spot where your offices are?"
"Not at all," Laverick replied. "On the contrary, in the daytime it might be called the heart of the city—of the money-making part of the city, at any rate. Only this thing, you see, seems to have taken place very late at night."
"When all the offices were closed," she remarked.
"Most of them," Laverick answered. "Mine, as it happened, was open late that night. I passed the spot within half-an-hour or so of the time when the murder must have been committed."
"But that is terrible!" she declared, shaking her head. "Tell me, Mr. Laverick, if I drive to your office some morning you will show me this place,—yes?"
"If you are in earnest, Mademoiselle, I will certainly do so, but there is nothing there. It is just a passage."
"You give me your address," she insisted, "and I think that I will come. You are a stockbroker, Mr. Bellamy tells me. Well, sometimes I have a good deal of money to invest. I come to you and you will give me your advice. So! You have a card!"
Laverick found one and scribbled his city address upon it. She thanked him and once more held out the tips of her fingers.
"So I shall see you again some day, Mr. Laverick."
He bowed and recrossed the room. Bellamy was standing talking to Zoe.
"Well," he asked, as Laverick returned, "are you, too, going to throw yourself beneath the car?"
Laverick shook his head.
"I do not think so," he answered. "Our acquaintance promises to be a business one. Mademoiselle spoke of investing some money though me."
"Then you have kept your heart," he remarked. "Ah, well, you have every reason!"
He bowed to Zoe, nodded to Laverick, and returned to his place. Laverick looked after him a little compassionately.
"Poor fellow," he said.
"Who is he?"
"He has some sort of a Government appointment," Laverick answered. "They say he is hopelessly in love with Mademoiselle Idiale."
"Why not?" Zoe exclaimed. "He is nice. She must care for some one. Why do you pity him?"
"They say, too, that she has no more heart than a stone," Laverick continued, "and that never a man has had even a kind word from her. She is very patriotic, and all the thoughts and love she has to spare from herself are given to her country."
"Ah!" she murmured, "I do not like to think of heartless women. Perhaps she is not so cruel, after all. To me she seems only very, very sad. Tell me, Mr. Laverick, why did she send for you?"
"I imagine," said he, "that it was a whim. It must have been a whim."
MADEMOISELLE IDIALE'S VISIT
Laverick, on the following morning, found many things to think about. He was accustomed to lunch always at the same restaurant, within a few yards of his office, and with the same little company of friends. Just as he was leaving, an outside broker whom he knew slightly came across the room to him.
"Tell me, Laverick," he asked, "what's become of your partner?"
"He has gone abroad for a few weeks. As a matter of fact, we shall be announcing a change in the firm shortly."
"Queer thing," the broker remarked. "I was in Liverpool yesterday, and I could have sworn that I saw him hanging around the docks. I should never have doubted it, but Morrison was always so careful about his appearance, and this fellow was such a seedy-looking individual. I called out to him and he vanished like a streak."
"It could scarcely have been Morrison," Laverick said. "He sailed several days ago for New York."
"That settles it," the man declared, passing on. "All the same, it was the most extraordinary likeness I ever saw."
Laverick, on his way back, went into a cable office and wrote out a marconigram to the Lusitania,
Have you passenger Arthur Morrison on board? Reply.
He signed his name and paid for an answer. Then he went back to his office.
"Any one to see me?" he inquired.
"Mr. Shepherd is here waiting," his clerk told him,—"queer looking fellow who paid you two hundred and fifty pounds in cash for some railway stock."
"I'll see him," he said. "Anything else?"
"A lady rang up—name sounded like a French one, but we could none of us catch what it was—to say that she was coming down to see you."
"If it is Mademoiselle Idiale," Laverick directed, "I must see her directly she arrives. How are you, Shepherd?" he added, nodding to the waiter as he passed towards his room. "Come in, will you? You've got your certificates all right?"
Mr. James Shepherd had the air of a man with whom prosperity had not wholly agreed. He was paler and pastier-looking than ever, and his little green eyes seemed even more restless. His attire—a long rough overcoat over the livery of his profession—scarcely enhanced the dignity of his appearance.
"Well, what is it?" Laverick asked, as soon as the door was closed.
"Our bar is being watched," the man declared. "I don't think it's anything to do with the police. Seems to be a sort of foreign gang. They're all round the place, morning, noon, and night. They've pumped everybody."
"There isn't very much," Laverick remarked slowly, "for them to find out except from you."
"They've found out something, anyway," Shepherd continued. "My junior waiter, unfortunately, who was asleep in the sitting-room, told them he was sure there were customers in the place between ten and twelve on Monday night, because they woke him up twice, talking. They're beginning to look at me a bit doubtful."
"I shouldn't worry," Laverick advised. "The inquest's on now and you haven't been called. I don't fancy you're running any sort of risk. Any one may say they believe there were people in the bar between those hours, but there isn't any one who can contradict you outright. Besides, you haven't sworn to anything. You've simply said, as might be very possible, that you don't remember any one."
"It makes me a bit nervous, though," Shepherd remarked apologetically. "They're a regular keen-looking tribe, I can tell you. Their eyes seem to follow you all over the place."
"I shall come in for a drink presently myself," Laverick declared. "I should like to see them. I might get an idea as to their nationality, at any rate."
"Very good, sir. I'm sure I'm doing just as you suggested. I've said nothing about leaving, but I'm beginning to grumble a bit at the work, so as to pave the way. It's a hard job, and no mistake. I had thirty-nine chops between one and half-past, single-handed, too, with only a boy to carry the bread and that, and no one to serve the drinks unless they go to the counter for them. It's more than one man's work, Mr. Laverick."
"So much the better," he declared. "All the more excuse for your leaving.
"You'll be round sometime to-day, sir, then?" the man asked, taking up his hat.
"I shall look in for a few moments, for certain," Laverick answered. "If you get a chance you must point out to me one of those fellows."
Jim Shepherd departed. There was a shouting of newspaper boys in the street outside. Laverick sent out for a paper. The account of the inquest was brief enough, and there were no witnesses called except the men who had found the dead body. The nature of the wounds was explained to the jury, also the impossibility of their having been self-inflicted. In the absence of any police evidence or any identification, the discussion as to the manner of the death was naturally limited. The jury contented themselves by bringing in a verdict of "Wilful murder against some person or persons unknown." Laverick laid down the paper. The completion of the inquest was at least the first definite step toward safety. The question now before him was what to do with that twenty thousand pounds. He sat at his desk, looking into vacancy. After all, had he paid too great a price? The millstone was gone from around his neck, something new and incomprehensible had crept into his life. Yet for a background there was always this secret knowledge.
A clerk announcing Mademoiselle Idiale broke in upon his reflections. Laverick rose from his seat to greet his visitor. She was wonderfully dressed, as usual, yet with the utmost simplicity,—a white serge gown with a large black hat, but a gown that seemed to have been moulded on to her slim, faultless figure. She brought with her a musical rustle, a slight suggestion of subtle perfumes—a perfume so thin and ethereal that it was unrecognizable except in its faint suggestion of hothouse flowers. She held out her hand to Laverick, who placed for her at once an easy-chair.
"This is indeed an honor, Mademoiselle."
She inclined her head graciously.
"You are very kind," said she. "I know that here in the city you are very busy making money all the time, so I must not stay long. Will you buy me some stocks,—some good safe stocks, which will bring me in at least four per cent?"
"I can promise to do that," Laverick answered. "Have you any choice?"
"No, I have no choice," Louise told him. "I bring with me a cheque,—see, I give it to you,—it is for six thousand pounds. I would like to buy some stocks with this, and to know the names so that I may watch them in the paper. I like to see whether they go up or down, but I do not wish to risk their going down too much. It is something like gambling but it is no trouble."
"Your money shall be spent in a few minutes, Mademoiselle," Laverick assured her, "and I think I can promise you that for a week or two, at any rate, your stocks will go up. With regard to selling—"
"I leave everything to you," she interrupted, "only let me know what you propose."
"We will do our best," Laverick promised.
"It is good," she said. "Money is a wonderful thing. Without it one can do little. You have not forgotten, Mr. Laverick, that you were going to show me this passage?"
"Certainly not. Come with me now, if you will. It is only a yard or two away."
He took her out into the street. Every clerk in the office forgot his manners and craned his neck. Outside, Mademoiselle let fall her veil and passed unrecognized. Laverick showed her the entry.
"It was just there," he explained, "about half a dozen yards up on the left, that the body was found."
She looked at the place steadily. Then she looked along the passage.
"Where does it lead to—that?" she asked.
"Come and I will show you. On the left"—as they passed along the flagged pavement—"is St. Nicholas Church and churchyard. On the right here there are just offices. The street in front of us is Henschell Street. All of those buildings are stockbrokers' offices."
"And directly opposite," she asked,—"that is a cafe, is it not,—a restaurant, as you would call it?"
"That is so," he agreed. "One goes in there sometimes for a drink."
"And a meeting place, perhaps?" she inquired. "It would probably be a meeting place. One might leave there and walk down this passage naturally enough."
Laverick inclined his head.
"As a matter of fact," he declared, "I think that the evidence went to prove that there were no visitors in the restaurant that night. You see, all these offices round here close at six or seven o'clock, and the whole neighborhood becomes deserted."
She shrugged her shoulders impatiently.
"Your English police, they do not know how to collect evidence. In the hands of Frenchmen, this mystery would have been solved long before now. The guilty person would be in the hands of the law. As it is, I suppose that he will go free."
"Well, we must give the police a chance, at any rate," answered Laverick. "They haven't had much time so far."
"No," she admitted, "they have not had much time. I wonder—" She hesitated for a moment and did not conclude her sentence. "Come," she exclaimed, with a little shiver, "let us go back to your office! This place is not cheerful. All the time I think of that poor man. It does make me frightened."
Laverick escorted his visitor back to the electric brougham which was waiting before his door.
"A list of stocks purchased on your behalf will reach you by to-night's post," he promised her. "We shall do our best in your interests."
He held out his hand, but she seemed in no hurry to let him go.
"You are very kind, Mr. Laverick. I would like to see you again very soon. You have heard me sing in Samson and Delilah?"
"Not yet, but I am hoping to very shortly."
"To-night," she declared, "you must come to the Opera House. I leave a box for you at the door. Send me round a note that you are there, and it is possible that I may see you. It is against the rules, but for me there are no rules."
Laverick hesitating, she leaned forward and looked into his face.
"You are doing something else?" she protested. "You were, perhaps, thinking of taking out again the little girl with whom you were sitting last night?"
"I had half promised—"
"No, no!" she exclaimed, holding his hand tighter. "She is not for you—that child. She is too young. She knows nothing. Better to leave her alone. She is not for a man of the world like you. Soon she would cease to amuse you. You would be dull and she would still care. Oh, there is so much tragedy in these things, Mr. Laverick—so much tragedy for the woman! It is she always who suffers. You will take my advice. You will leave that little girl alone."
"I am afraid," said he, "that I cannot promise that so quickly. You see, I have not known her long, but she has very few friends and I think that she would miss me. Perhaps," he added, after a second's pause, "I care for her too much."
"It is not for you," she answered scornfully, "to care too much. An Englishman, he cares never enough. A woman to him is something amusing,—his companion for a little of his spare time, something to be pleased about, to show off to his friends,—to share, even, the passion of the moment. But an Englishman he does not care too much. He never cares enough. He does not know what it is to care enough."
"Mademoiselle, there may be truth in what you say, and again there may not. We have the name, I know, of being cold lovers, but at least we are faithful."
She held up her hand with a little grimace.
"Oh, how I do hate that word!" she exclaimed. "Who is there, indeed, who wishes that you would be faithful? How much we poor women do suffer from that! Why can you never understand that a woman would be cared for very, very much, with all the strength and all the passion you can conceive, but let it not last for too long. It gets weary. It gets stale. It is as you say,—the Englishman he cares very little, perhaps, but he cares always; and the woman, if she be an artiste and a woman, she tires. But good afternoon, Mr. Laverick! I must not keep you here on the pavement talking of these frivolous matters. You come to-night?"
"You are very kind," Laverick said. "If I may come until eleven o'clock, it would give me the greatest pleasure."
"As you will," she declared. "We shall see. I expect you, then. You ask for your box."
"If you wish it, certainly."
She smiled and waved her hand.
"You will tell him, please," she directed, "to drive to Bond Street."
Laverick re-entered his office, pausing for a minute to give his clerk instructions for the purchase of stocks for Mademoiselle Idiale. He had scarcely reached his own room when he was told that Mr. James Shepherd wished to speak to him for a moment upon the telephone. He took up the receiver.
"Who is it?" he asked.
"It is Shepherd," was the answer. "Is that Mr. Laverick?"
"You were outside the restaurant here a few minutes ago," Shepherd continued. "You had with you a lady—a young, tall lady with a veil."
"That's right," Laverick admitted. "What about her?"
"One of the two men who watch always here was reading the paper in the window," Shepherd went on hoarsely. "He saw her with you and I heard him mutter something as though he had received a shock. He dropped his glass and his paper. He watched you every second of the time you were there until you had disappeared. Then he, too, put on his hat and went out."
"Nothing else," was the reply. "I thought you might like to know this, sir. The man recognized the lady right enough."
"It seems queer," Laverick admitted. "Thank you for ringing me up, Shepherd. Good morning!"
Laverick leaned back in his chair. There was no doubt whatever now in his mind but that Mademoiselle Idiale, for some reason or other, was interested in this crime. Her wish to see the place, her introduction to him last night and her purchase of stocks, were all part of a scheme. He was suddenly and absolutely convinced of it. As friend or foe, she was very certainly about to take her place amongst the few people over whom this tragedy loomed.
ACTIVITY OF AUSTRIAN SPIES
Louise left her brougham in Piccadilly and walked across the Green Park. Bellamy, who was waiting, rose up from a seat, hat in hand. She took his arm in foreign fashion. They walked together towards Buckingham Palace—a strangely distinguished-looking couple.
"My dear David," she said, "the man perplexes me. To look at him, to hear him speak, one would swear that he was honest. He has just those clear blue eyes and the stolid face, half stupid and half splendid, of your athletic Englishman. One would imagine him doing a foolishly honorable thing, but he is not my conception of a criminal at all."
Bellamy kicked a pebble from the path. His forehead wore a perplexed frown.
"He didn't give himself away, then?"
"Not in the least."
"He took you out and showed you the spot where it happened?"
"Without an instant's hesitation."
"As a matter of curiosity," asked Bellamy, "did he try to make love to you?"
She shook her head.
"I even gave him an opening," she said. "Of flirtation he has no more idea than the average stupid Englishman one meets."
Bellamy was silent for several moments.
"I can't believe," he said, "that there is the least doubt but that he has the money and the portfolio. I have made one or two other inquiries, and I find that his firm was in very low water indeed only a week ago. They were spoken of, in fact, as being hopelessly insolvent. No one can imagine how they tided over the crisis."
"The man who was watching for you?" she inquired.
"He makes no mistakes," Bellamy assured her. "He saw Laverick enter that passage and come out. Afterwards he went back to his office, although he had closed up there and had been on his homeward way. The thing could not have been accidental."
"Why do you not go to him openly?" she suggested. "He is, after all, an Englishman, and when you tell him what you know he will be very much in your power. Tell him of the value of that document. Tell him that you must have it."
"It could be done," Bellamy admitted. "I think that one of us must talk plainly to him. Listen, Louise,—are you seeing him again?"
"I have invited him to come to the Opera House to-night."
"See what you can do," he begged. "I would rather keep away from him myself, if I can. Have you heard anything of Streuss?"
She shrugged her shoulders.
"Nothing directly," she replied, "but my rooms have been searched—even my dressing-room at the Opera House. That man's spies are simply wonderful. He seems able to plant them everywhere. And, David!—"
"He has got hold of Lassen," she continued. "I am perfectly certain of it."
"Then the sooner you get rid of Lassen, the better," Bellamy declared.
"It is so difficult," she murmured, in a perplexed tone. "The man has all my affairs in his hands. Up till now, although he is uncomely, and a brute in many ways, he has served me well."
"If he is Streuss's creature he must go," Bellamy insisted.
"Let us sit down for a few minutes," she said. "I am tired."
She sank on to a seat and Bellamy sat by her side. In full view of them was Buckingham Palace with its flag flying. She looked thoughtfully at it and across to Westminster.
"Do they know, I wonder, your country-people?" she asked.
"Half-a-dozen of them, perhaps," he answered gloomily, no more.
"To-day," she declared, "I seem to have lost confidence. I seem to feel the sense of impending calamity, to hear the guns as I walk, to see the terror fall upon the faces of all these great crowds who throng your streets. They are a stolid, unbelieving people—these. The blow, when it comes, will be the harder."
"You are right," he said. "When one comes to think of it, it is amazing. How long the prophets of woe have preached, and how completely their teachings have been ignored! The invasion bogey has been so long among us that it has become nothing but a jest. Even I, in a way, am one of the unbelievers."
"You are not serious, David!" she exclaimed.
"I am," he affirmed. "I think that if we could read that document we should see that there is no plan there for the immediate invasion of England. I think you would find that the blow would be struck simultaneously at our Colonies. We should either have to submit or send a considerable fleet away from home waters. Then, I presume, the question of invasion would come again. All the time, of course, the gage would be flung down, treaties would be defied, we should be scorned as though we were a nation of weaklings. Austria would gather in what she wanted, and there would be no one to interfere."
Louise was very pale but her eyes were flashing fire.
"It is the most terrible thing which has happened in history," she said, "this decadence of your country. Once England held the scales of justice for the world. Now she is no longer strong enough, and there is none to take her place. David, even if you know what that document contains, even then will it help very much?"
"Very much indeed. Don't you see that there is one hope left to us—one hope—and that is Russia? The Czar must be made to withdraw from that compact. We want to know his share in it. When we know that, there will be a secret mission sent to Russia. Germany and Austria are strong, but they are not all the world. With Russia behind and France and England westward, the struggle is at least an equal one. They have to face both directions, they have to face two great armies working from the east and from the west."
She nodded, and they sat there in silence for several moments. Bellamy was thinking deeply.
"You say, Louise," he asked, looking up quickly, "that your rooms have been searched. When was this?"
"Only last night," she replied.
Bellamy drew a little sigh of relief.
"At any rate," he said, "Streuss has no idea that the document is not in our possession. He knows nothing about Laverick. How are we going to deal with him, Louise, when he comes for his answer?"
"You have a plan?" she asked.
"There is only one thing to be done," Bellamy declared. "I shall say that we have already handed over the document to the English Government. It will be a bluff, pure and simple. He may believe it or he may not."
"You will break your compact then," she reminded him.
"I shall call myself justified," he continued. "He has attempted to rob us of the document. You are sure of what you say—that your rooms and dressing-room have been searched?"
"Absolutely certain," she declared.
"That will be sufficient," Bellamy decided. "If Streuss comes to me, I shall meet him frankly. I shall tell him that he has tried to play the burglar and that it must be war. I shall tell him that the compact is in the hands of the Prime Minister, and that he and his spies had better clear out."
She looked at him questioningly.
"Of course, you understand," he added, "there is one thing we can do, and one thing only. We must send a mission to Russia and another to France, and before the German fleet can pass down the North Sea we must declare war. It is the only thing left to us—a bold front. Without that packet we have no casus belli. With it, we can strike, and strike hard. I still believe that if we declare war within seven days, we shall save ourselves."
Streuss and Kahn looked, too, across the panorama of London, across the dingy Adelphi Gardens, the turbid Thames, the smoke-hung world beyond. They were together in Streuss's sitting-room on the seventh floor of one of the great Strand hotels.
"Our enterprise is a failure!" Kahn exclaimed gloomily. "We cannot doubt it any longer. I think, Streuss, that the best course you and I could adopt would be to realize it and to get back. We do no good here. We only run needless risks."
The face of the other man was dark with anger. His tone, when he spoke, shook with passion.
"You don't know what you say, Kahn!" he cried hoarsely. "I tell you that we must succeed. If that document reaches the hands of any one in authority here, it would be the worst disaster which has fallen upon our country since you or I were born. You don't understand, Kahn! You keep your eyes closed!"
"What men can do we have done," the other answered. "Von Behrling played us false. He has died a traitor's death, but it is very certain that he parted with his document before he received that twenty thousand pounds."
"Once and for all, I do not believe it!" Streuss declared. "At mid-day, I can swear to it that the contents of that envelope were unknown to the Ministers of the King here. Now if Von Behrling had parted with that document last Monday night, don't you suppose that everything would be known by now? He did not part with it. Bellamy and Mademoiselle lie when they say that they possess it. That document remains in the possession of Von Behrling's murderer, and it is for us to find him."
"It is outside our sphere—that. What can we do against the police of this country working in their own land?"
Streuss struck the table before which they were standing. The veins in his temples were like whipcord.
"Adolf," he muttered, "you talk like a fool! Can't you see what it means? If that document reaches its destination, what do you suppose will happen?"
"They will know our plans, of course," Kahn answered. "They will have time to make preparation."
Streuss laughed bitterly.
"Worse than that!" he exclaimed. "They are not all fools, these English statesmen, though one would think so to read their speeches. Can't you see what the result would be if that document reaches Downing Street? War at a moment's notice, war six months too soon! Don't you know that every shipbuilding yard in Germany is working night and day? Don't you know that every nerve is being strained, that the muscles of the country are hammering the rivets into our new battleships? There is but one chance for this country, and if her statesmen read that document they will know what it is. It is open to them to destroy the German navy utterly, to render themselves secure against attack."
"They would never have the courage," Kahn declared. "They might make a show of defending themselves if they were attacked, but to take the initiative—no! I do not believe it."
"There is one man who has wit enough to do it," Streuss said. "He may not be in the Cabinet, but he commands it. Kahn, wake up, man! You and I together have never known what failure means. I tell you that that document is still to be bought or fought for, and we must find it. This morning Mademoiselle drove into the city and called at the offices of a stockbroker within a dozen yards of Crooked Friars' Alley. She was there a long time. The stockbroker himself came out with her into the street, took her to see the entry, stood with her there and returned. What was her interest in him, Kahn? His name is Laverick. Four days ago he was on the brink of ruin. To the amazement of every one, he met all his engagements. Why did Mademoiselle go to the city to see him? He was at his office late that Tuesday night. He had a partner who has disappeared."
Kahn looked at his companion with admiration.
"You have found all this out!" he exclaimed.
"And more," Streuss declared. "For twenty-four hours, this man Laverick has not moved without my spies at his heels."
"Why not approach him boldly?" Kahn suggested. "If he has the document, let us outbid Mademoiselle Louise, and do it quickly."
Streuss shook his head.
"You don't know the man. He is an Englishman, and if he had any idea what that document contained, our chances of buying it would be small indeed. This is what I think will happen. Mademoiselle will try to obtain it, and try in vain. Then Bellamy will tell him the truth, and he will part with it willingly. In the meantime, I believe that it is in his possession.
"The evidence is slender enough," objected Kahn.
"What if it is!" Streuss exclaimed. "If it is only a hundred to one chance, we have to take it. I have no fancy for disgrace, Adolf, and I know very well what will happen if we go back empty-handed."
The telephone bell rang. Streuss took off the receiver and held it to his ear. The words which he spoke were few, but when he laid the instrument down there was a certain amount of satisfaction in his face.
"At any rate," he announced, "this man Laverick did not part with the document to-day. Mademoiselle Louise and Bellamy have been sitting in the Park for an hour. When they separated, she drove home and dropped him at his club. Up till now, then, they have not the document. We shall see what Mr. Laverick does when he leaves business this evening; if he goes straight home, either the document has never been in his possession, or else it is in the safe in his office; if he goes to Mademoiselle Idiale's—"
"Well?" Kahn asked eagerly.
"If he goes to Mademoiselle Idiale's," Streuss repeated slowly, "there is still a chance for us!"
LAVERICK AT THE OPERA
Laverick, in presenting his card at the box office at Covent Garden that evening, did so without the slightest misconception of the reasons which had prompted Mademoiselle Idiale to beg him to become her guest. It was sheer curiosity which prompted him to pursue this adventure. He was perfectly convinced that personally he had no interest for her. In some way or other he had become connected in her mind with the murder which had taken place within a few yards of his office, and in some other equally mysterious manner that murder had become a subject of interest to her. Either that, or this was one of the whims of a spoiled and pleasure-surfeited woman.
He found an excellent box reserved for him, and a measure of courtesy from the attendants not often vouchsafed to an ordinary visitor. The opera was Samson and Delilah, and even before her wonderful voice thrilled the house, it seemed to Laverick that no person more lovely than the woman he had come to see had ever moved upon any stage. It appeared impossible that movement so graceful and passionate should remain so absolutely effortless. There seemed to be some strange power inside the woman. Surely her will guided her feet! The necessity for physical effort never once appeared. Notwithstanding the slight prejudice which he had felt against her, it was impossible to keep his admiration altogether in check. The fascination of her wonderful presence, and then her glorious voice, moved him with the rest of the audience. He clapped as the others did at the end of the first act, and he leaned forward just as eagerly to catch a glimpse of her when she reappeared and stood there with that marvelous smile upon her lips, accepting with faint, deprecating gratitude the homage of the packed house.
Just before the curtain rose upon the second act, there was a knock at his box door. One of the attendants ushered in a short man of somewhat remarkable personality. He was barely five feet in height, and an extremely fat neck and a corpulent body gave him almost the appearance of a hunchback. He had black, beady eyes, a black moustache fiercely turned up, and sallow skin. His white gloves had curious stitchings on the back not common in England, and his silk hat, exceedingly glossy, had wider brims than are usually associated with Bond Street.
Laverick half rose, but the little man spread out one hand and commenced to speak. His accent was foreign, but, if not an Englishman, he at any rate spoke the language with confidence.
"My dear sir," he began, "I owe you many apologies. It was Mademoiselle Idiale's wish that I should make your acquaintance. My name is Lassen. I have the fortune to be Mademoiselle's business manager.
"I am very glad to meet you, Mr. Lassen," said Laverick. "Will you sit down?"
Mr. Lassen thereupon hung his hat upon a peg, removed his overcoat, straightened his white tie with the aid of a looking-glass, brushed back his glossy black hair with the palms of his hands, and took the seat opposite Laverick. His first question was inevitable.
"What do you think of the opera, sir?"
"It is like Mademoiselle Idiale herself," Laverick answered. "It is above criticism."
"She is," Mr. Lassen said firmly, "the loveliest woman in Europe and her voice is the most wonderful. It is a great combination, this. I myself have managed for many stars, I have brought to England most of those whose names are known during the last ten years; but there has never been another Louise Idiale,—never will be."
"I can believe it," Laverick admitted.
"She has wonderful qualities, too," continued Mr. Lassen. "Your acquaintance with her, I believe, sir, is of the shortest."
"That is so," Laverick answered, a little coldly. He was not particularly taken with his visitor.
"Mademoiselle has spoken to me of you," the latter proceeded. "She desired that I should pay my respects during the performance."
"It is very kind of you," Laverick answered. "As a matter of fact, it is exceedingly kind, also, of Mademoiselle Idiale to insist upon my coming here to-night. She did me the honor, as you may know, of paying me a visit in the city this morning."
"So she did tell me," Mr. Lassen declared. "Mademoiselle is a great woman of business. Most of her investments she controls herself. She has whims, however, and it never does to contradict her. She has also, curiously enough, a preference for the men of affairs."
Laverick had reached that stage when he felt indisposed to discuss Mademoiselle any longer with a stranger, even though that stranger should be her manager. He nodded and took up his programme. As he did so, the curtain rang up upon the next act. Laverick turned deliberately towards the stage. The little man had paid his respects, as he put it. Laverick felt disinclined for further conversation with him. Yet, though his head was turned, he knew very well that his companion's eyes were fixed upon him. He had an uncomfortable sense that he was an object of more than ordinary interest to this visitor, that he had come for some specific object which as yet he had not declared.
"You will like to go round and see Mademoiselle," the latter remarked, some time afterwards.
Laverick shook his head.
"I shall find another opportunity, I hope, to congratulate her."
"But, my dear sir, she expects to see you," Mr. Lassen protested. "You are here at her invitation. It is usual, I can assure you."
"Mademoiselle Idiale will perhaps excuse me," Laverick said. "I have an engagement immediately after the performance is over."
His companion muttered something which Laverick could not catch, and made some excuse to leave the box a few minutes later. When he returned, he carried a little, note which he presented to Laverick with an air of triumph.
"It is as I said!" he exclaimed. "Mademoiselle expects you."
Laverick read the few lines which she had written.
I wish to see you after the performance. If you cannot come round or escort me yourself, will you come later to the restaurant of Luigi, where, as always, I shall sup. Do not fail.
Laverick placed the note in his waistcoat pocket without immediate remark. Later on he turned to his companion.
"Will you tell Mademoiselle Idiale," he said, "that I will do myself the honor of coming to her at Luigi's restaurant. I have an engagement after the performance which I must keep."
"You will certainly come?" Lassen asked anxiously.
"Without a doubt," Laverick promised.
Mr. Lassen took up his hat...
"I will go and tell Mademoiselle. For some reason or other she seemed particularly desirous of seeing you this evening. She has her whims, and those who have most to do with her, like myself, find it well to keep them gratified. If I do not see you again, sir, permit me to wish you good evening."
He disappeared with several bows of his pudgy little person, and Laverick was left with another puzzle to solve. He was not in the least conceited, and he did not for a moment misinterpret this woman's interest in him. Her invitation, he knew very well, was one which half London would have coveted. Yet it meant nothing personal, he was sure of that. It simply meant that for some mysterious reason, the same reason which had prompted her to visit him in the city he was of interest to her.
At a few minutes before eleven Laverick left the place and drove to the stage-door of the Universal Theatre. Zoe came out among the first and paused upon the threshold, looking up and down the street eagerly. When she recognized him, her smile was heavenly.
"Oh, how nice of you!" she exclaimed, stepping at once into his taxicab. "You don't know how different it feels to hope that there is some one waiting for you and then to find your hope come true. To-night I was not sure. You had said nothing about it, and yet I could not help believing that you would be here."
"I was hoping," he said, "that we might have another supper together. Unfortunately, I have an engagement."