"I shall take the liberty, also," remarked Bellamy, "of kicking Henri out."
"He was such a good servant. I think it must have cost our friend Streuss a good deal to buy Henri. You will come back to me when you have finished with them?"
Bellamy made short work of his discomfited prisoners. Lassen was surly but only eager to depart Henri was resigned but tearful. Almost as they went the other servants began to return from their various missions. Bellamy went back to Louise, who was lying down again and drinking some tea. She motioned Bellamy to come over to her side.
"Tell me," she asked, "what are you going to do now?"
"I am going to do what I ought to have done before," Bellamy answered. "Laverick's connection with this affair is suspicious enough, but after all he is a sportsman and an Englishman. I am going to tell him what that envelope contains—tell him the truth."
"You are right!" she exclaimed. "Whatever he may have done, if you tell him the truth he will give you that document. I am sure of it. Do you know where to find him?"
"I shall go to his rooms," Bellamy declared. "I must be quick, too, for Lassen is free—they will know that he has failed."
"Come back to me, David," she begged, and he kissed her fingers and hurried out.
THE CONTEST FOR THE PAPERS
Laverick, sitting with Zoe at dinner, caught his companion looking around the restaurant with an expression in her face which he did not wholly understand.
"Something is the matter with you this evening, Zoe," he said anxiously. "Tell me what it is. You don't like this place, perhaps?"
"Of course I do."
"It is your dinner, then, or me?" he persisted. "Come, out with it. Haven't we promised to tell each other the truth always?"
The pink color came slowly into her cheeks. Her eyes, raised for a moment to his, were almost reproachful.
"You know very well that it is not anything to do with you," she whispered. "You are too kind to me all the time. Only," she went on, a little hesitatingly, "don't you realize—can't you see how differently most of the girls here are dressed? I don't mind so much for myself—but you—you have so many friends. You keep on seeing people whom you know. I am afraid they will think that I ought not to be here."
He looked at her in surprise, mingled, perhaps, with compunction. For the first time he appreciated the actual shabbiness of her clothes. Everything about her was so neat—pathetically neat, as it seemed to him in one illuminating moment of realization. The white linen collar, notwithstanding its frayed edges, was spotlessly clean. The black bow was carefully tied to conceal its worn parts. Her gloves had been stitched a good many times. Her gown, although it was tidy, was old-fashioned and had distinctly seen its best days. He suddenly recognized the effort—the almost despairing effort—which her toilette had cost her.
"I don't think that men notice these things," he said simply. "To me you look just as you should look—and I wouldn't change places with any other man in the room for a great deal."
Her eyes were soft—perilously soft—as she looked at him with uplifted eyebrows and a faint smile struggling at the corners of her lips. A wave of tenderness crept into his heart. What a brave little child she was!
"You will quite spoil me if you make such nice speeches," she murmured.
"Anyhow," he went on, speaking with decision, "so long as you feel like that, you are going to have a new gown—or two—and a new hat, and you are going to have them at once. They are going to be bought with your brother's money, mind. Shall I come shopping with you?"
She shook her head.
"Mind, it is partly for your sake that I give in," she said. "It would be lovely to have you come, but you would spend far too much money. You really mean it all?"
"Absolutely," he answered. "I insist upon it."
She leaned towards him with dancing eyes. After all, she was very much of a child. The prospect of a new gown, now that she permitted herself to think of it, was enthralling.
"I might get a coat and skirt," she remarked thoughtfully, "and a simple white dress. A black hat would do for both of them, then."
"Don't you study your brother too much," Laverick declared. "His stock is going up all the time."
"Tell me your favorite color," she begged confidentially.
"I can't conceive your looking nicer than you do in black," he replied.
She made a wry face.
"I suppose it must be black," she murmured doubtfully. "It is much more economical than anything—"
She broke off to bow to a stout, red-faced man who, after a rude stare, had greeted her with a patronizing nod. Laverick frowned.
"Who is that fellow?" he asked.
"Mr. Heepman, our stage-manager," Zoe answered, a little timidly.
"Is there any particular reason why he should behave like a boor?" Laverick continued, raising his voice a little.
She caught at his arm in terror. The man was sitting at the next table.
"Don't, please!" she implored. "He might hear you. He is just behind there."
Laverick half turned in his chair. She guessed what he was about to say, and went on rapidly.
"He has been so foolish," she whispered. "He has asked me so often to go out with him. And he could get me sent away, if he wanted, any time. He almost threatened it, the last time I refused. Now that he has seen me with you, he will be worse than ever."
Laverick's face darkened, and there was a peculiar flash in his eyes. The man was certainly looking at them in a rude manner.
"There are so many of the girls who would only be too pleased to go with him," Zoe continued, in a terrified undertone. "I can't think why he bothers me."
"I can," Laverick muttered. "Let's forget about the brute."
But the dinner was already spoiled for Zoe, so Laverick paid the bill a few minutes later, and walked across to the stage-door of the theatre with her. Her little hand, when she gave it to him at parting, was quite cold.
"I'm as nervous as I can be," she confessed. "Mr. Heepman will be watching all the night for something to find fault with me about."
"Don't you let him bully you," Laverick begged.
"I won't," she promised. "Good-bye! Thanks so much for my dinner."
She turned away with a brave attempt at a smile, but it was only an attempt. Laverick walked on to his club. There was no one in the dining-room whom he knew, and the card-room was empty. He played one game of billiards, but he played badly. He was upset. His nerves were wrong he told himself, and little wonder. There seemed to be no chance of a rubber at bridge, so he sallied out again and walked aimlessly towards Covent Garden. Outside the Opera House he hesitated and finally entered, yielding to an impulse the nature of which he scarcely recognized. While he was inquiring about a stall, a small printed notice was thrust into his hand. He read it with a slight start.
We regret to announce that owing to indisposition Mademoiselle Idiale will not be able to appear this evening. The part of Delilah will be taken by Mademoiselle Blanche Temoigne, late of the Royal Opera House, St. Petersburg.
Ten minutes later, Laverick rang the bell of her flat in Dover Street. A strange man-servant answered him.
"I came to inquire after Mademoiselle Idiale," Laverick said.
The man held out a tray on which was already a small heap of cards. Laverick, however, retained his.
"I should be glad if you would take mine in to her," he said. "I think it is just likely that she may see me for a moment."
The servant's attitude was one of civil but unconcealed hostility. He would have closed the door had not Laverick already passed over the threshold.
"Madame is not well enough to receive visitors, sir," the man declared. "She shall have your card as soon as possible."
"I should like her to have it now," Laverick persisted, drawing a five-pound note from his pocket.
The man looked at the note longingly.
"It would be only waste of time, sir," he declared. "Mademoiselle is confined to her bedroom and my orders are absolute."
"You are not the man who was here earlier in the day," Laverick remarked. "I wonder," he continued, with a sudden inspiration, "whether you are not Mr. Bellamy's servant?"
"That is so, sir. Mr. Bellamy has sent me here to see that no one has access to Mademoiselle Idiale."
"Then there is no harm whatever in taking in my card," Laverick declared convincingly. "You can put that note in your pocket. I am perfectly certain that Mademoiselle Idiale will see me, and that your master would wish her to do so."
"I will take the risk, sir," the man decided, "but the orders I have received were stringent."
He disappeared and was gone for several moments. When he came back he was accompanied by a pale-faced woman dressed in black, obviously a maid.
"Monsieur Laverick," she said, "Mademoiselle Idiale will receive you. If you will come this way?"
She opened the door of the little reception-room, and Laverick followed her. The man returned to his place in the hall.
"Madame will be here in a moment," the maid said. "She will be glad to see you, but she has been very badly frightened."
Laverick bowed sympathetically. The woman herself was gray-faced, terror-stricken.
"It is Monsieur Lassen, the manager of Madame, who has caused a great deal of trouble here," she said. "Madame never trusted him and now we have discovered that he is a spy."
The woman seemed to fade away. The door of the inner room was opened and Louise came out. She was still exceedingly pale, and there were dark rims under her eyes. She came across the room with outstretched hands. There was no doubt whatever as to her pleasure.
"You have seen Mr. Bellamy?" she asked.
Laverick shook his head.
"No, I have seen nothing of Bellamy to-day. I came to call upon you this afternoon."
She wrung her hands.
"You understand, of course!" she exclaimed. "I did not trust Lassen, but I never imagined anything like this. He is an Austrian. Only a few hours ago I learned that he is one of their most heavily paid spies. Streuss got hold of him. But there, I forgot—you do not understand this. It is enough that he laid a plot to get that document from you. Where is it, Mr. Laverick? You have brought it now?"
"Why, no," Laverick answered, "I have not."
Her eyes were round with terror. She held out her hands as though to keep away some tormenting thought.
"Where is it?" she cried. "You have not parted with it?
"I have not," Laverick replied gravely. "It is in the safe deposit of a hotel to which I have moved."
She closed her eyes and drew a long breath of relief.
"You are not well," Laverick said. "Let me help you to a chair."
She sat down wearily.
"Why have you moved to a hotel?" she asked.
"To tell you the truth," Laverick answered, "I seem to have wandered into a sort of modern Arabian Nights. Three times to-day attempts have been made to get that document from me by force. I have been followed whereever I went. I felt that it was not safe in my chambers, so I moved to a hotel and deposited it in their strong-room. I have come to the conclusion that the best thing I can do is to open it to-morrow morning, and decide for myself as to its destination."
Louise sat quite still for several moments. Then she opened her eyes.
"What you say is an immense relief to me, Mr. Laverick," she declared. "I perceive now that we have made a mistake. We should have told you the whole truth from the first. This afternoon when Mr. Bellamy left me, it was to come to you and tell you everything."
Laverick listened gravely.
"Really," he said, "it seems to me the wisest course. I haven't the least desire to keep the document. I cannot think why Bellamy did not treat me with confidence from the first—"
He stopped short. Suddenly he understood. Something in Louise's face gave him the hint.
"Of course!" he murmured to himself.
"Mr. Laverick," Louise said quietly, "in this matter I am no man's judge, yet, as you and I know well, that paper could have come into your hands in one way, and one way only. There may be some explanation. If so, it is for you to offer it or not, as you think best. Mr. Bellamy and I are allies in this matter. It is not our business to interfere with the course of justice. You will run no risk in parting with that paper.
"Where can I see Bellamy?" Laverick Inquired, rising and taking up his hat.
"He would go straight to your rooms," she answered. "Did you leave word there where you had gone?"
"Purposely I did not," Laverick replied. "I had better try and find him, perhaps."
"It is not necessary," she announced. "No wonder that you feel yourself to have wandered into the Arabian Nights, Mr. Laverick. There are two sets of spies who follow you everywhere—two sets that I know of. There may be another."
"You think that Bellamy will find me?" he asked.
"I am sure of it."
"Then I'll go back to the hotel and wait."
She hurried him away, but at the door she detained him for a moment.
"Mr. Laverick," she said, looking at him earnestly, "somehow or other I cannot help believing that you are an honest man."
Laverick sighed. He opened his lips but closed them again.
"You are very kind, Mademoiselle," he declared simply.
Laverick, as he entered the reception hall at the Milan Hotel, noticed a man leaning over the cashier's desk talking confidentially to the clerk in charge. The latter recognized Laverick with obvious relief, and at once directed his questioner's attention to him. Kahn turned swiftly around and without a moment's hesitation came smiling towards Laverick with the apparent intention of accosting him. He was correctly garbed, tall and fair, with every appearance of being a man of breeding. He glanced at Laverick carelessly as he passed, but, as though changing his original purpose, made no attempt to address him. The cashier, who had been watching, gave vent to a little exclamation of surprise and sprang over the counter. He approached Laverick hastily.
"Do you know that gentleman just going out, sir?" he asked.
"I never saw him before in my life," Laverick answered. "Why?"
"Is this your handwriting, sir?" the man inquired, touching with his forefinger the half sheet of note-paper which he had been carrying.
Laverick read quickly,—
To the Cashier at the Milan Hotel,—Deliver to bearer document deposited with you. STEPHEN LAVERICK.
"It is not," he declared promptly. "It is an impudent forgery. Good God! You don't mean to say that you parted with my property to—"
The cashier stopped his breathless question.
"I haven't parted with anything, sir," he said. "I was just wondering what to do when you came in. I'd no reason to believe that the signature was a forgery, but I didn't like the look of it, somehow. We'd better be after him. Come along, sir."
They hurried outside. The man was nowhere in sight. The cashier summoned the head porter.
"A gentleman has just come out," he exclaimed,—"tall and fair, very carefully dressed, with a single eyeglass! Which way did he go?"
"He's just driven off in a big Daimler car, sir," the porter answered. "I noticed him particularly. He spoke to the chauffeur in Austrian."
Laverick looked out into the Strand.
"Can't we stop him?" he asked rapidly.
The porter smiled as he shook his head.
"Not the ghost of a chance, sir. He shot round the corner there as though he were in a desperate hurry, and went the wrong side of the island. I heard the police calling to him. I hope there's nothing wrong, Mr. Dean?"
The cashier hesitated and glanced at Laverick.
"Nothing much," Laverick answered. "We should have liked to have asked him a question—that is all."
Bellamy came out from the hotel and paused to light a cigarette.
"How are you, Laverick?" he said quietly. "Nothing the matter, I hope?"
"Nothing worth mentioning," Laverick replied.
The cashier returned to his duties. The two men were alone. Bellamy, most carefully dressed, with his silver-headed cane under his arm, and his silk hat at precisely the correct angle, seemed very far removed from the work of intrigue into which Laverick felt himself to have blundered. He looked down for a moment at the tips of his patent shoes and up again at the sky, as though anxious about the weather.
"What about a drink, Laverick?" he asked nonchalantly.
"Delighted!" Laverick assented.
MISS LENEVEU'S MESSAGE
The two men stepped back into the hotel. The cashier had returned to his desk, and the incident which had just transpired seemed to have passed unnoticed. Nevertheless, Laverick felt that the studied indifference of his companion's manner had its significance, and he endeavored to imitate it.
"Shall we go through into the bar?" he asked. "There's very seldom any one there at this time."
"Anywhere you say," Bellamy answered. "It's years since we had a drink together."
They passed into the inner room and, finding it empty, drew two chairs into the further corner. Bellamy summoned the waiter.
"Two whiskies and sodas quick, Tim," he ordered. "Now, Laverick, listen to me," he added, as the waiter turned away. "We are alone for the moment but it won't be for long. You know very well that it wasn't to renew our schoolboy acquaintance that I've asked you to come in here with me."
Laverick drew a little breath.
"Please go on," he said. "I am as anxious as you can be to grasp this affair properly."
"When we left school," Bellamy remarked, "you were destined for the Stock Exchange. I went first to Magdalen. Did you ever hear what became of me afterwards?"
"I always understood," Laverick answered, "that you went into one of the Government offices."
"Quite right," Bellamy assented. "I did. At this moment I have the honor to serve His Majesty."
"Two thousand a year and two hours work a day," Laverick laughed. "I know the sort of thing."
"You evidently don't," Bellamy answered. "I often work twenty hours a day, I don't get half two thousand a year, and most of the time I carry my life in my hands. When I am working—and I am working now—I am never sure of the morrow."
Laverick looked at him incredulously.
"You're not joking, Bellamy?" he asked.
"Not by any manner of means. I have the honor to be a humble member of His Majesty's Secret Service."
Laverick glanced at his companion wonderingly.
"I really didn't know," he said, "that such a service had any actual existence except in novels."
"I am a proof to the contrary," Bellamy declared grimly. "Abroad, I run always the risk of being dubbed a spy and treated like one. At home, I am simply the head of the A2 Branch of the Secret Service. Here come our drinks."
Laverick raised his whiskey and soda to his lips mechanically.
"Here's luck!" he exclaimed. "Now go on, Bellamy," he continued. "The waiter can't overhear."
"Tim is one of the few persons in the place," he said, "whom one can trust. As a matter of fact, he has been very useful to me more than once. Now listen to me attentively, Laverick. I am going to speak to you as one man to another."
"I am ready," he said.
"Last Monday," Bellamy went on, leaning forward and speaking in a soft but very distinct undertone, "a man was murdered late at night in the heart of the city—within one hundred yards of the Stock Exchange. The papers called it a mysterious murder. No one knows who the man was, or who committed the crime, or why. You and I, Laverick, both know a little more than the rest of the world."
"The murder," Bellamy continued, with a strange light in his eyes, "was accomplished only a stone's throw from your office."
Laverick lit a cigarette and threw the match away.
"Horrible affair it was," he remarked.
Bellamy glanced toward the door,—a man had looked in and departed.
"Enough of this fencing, Laverick," he said. "A theft was committed from the person of that murdered man, of which the general public knows nothing. A pocketbook was stolen from him containing twenty thousand pounds and a sealed document. As to who murdered the man, I want you to understand that that is not my affair. As to what has become of that twenty thousand pounds, I have not the slightest curiosity. I want the document."
"What claim have you to it?" Laverick asked quickly.
"I might retort, but I will not," Bellamy replied. "Time is too short. I will answer you by explaining who the man was and what that document consists of. The man's name was Von Behrling, and he was a trusted agent of the Austrian Secret Service. The document of which he was robbed contains a verbatim report of the conference which recently took place at Vienna between the Emperor of Germany, the Emperor of Austria, and the Czar of Russia. It contains the details of a plot against this country and the undertakings entered into by those several Powers. I want that document, Laverick. Have I established my claim?"
"You have," Laverick answered. "Why on earth Didn't you come to me before? Don't you believe that I should have listened to you as readily as to Mademoiselle Idiale?"
"I wish that I had come," Bellamy admitted, "and yet, here is the truth, Laverick, because the truth is best. Twenty-two years lie between us and the time when we knew anything of one another. To me, therefore, you are a stranger. I had my spies following Von Behrling that night. I know that you took the pocket-book from his dead body. If you did not murder him yourself, the deed was done by an accomplice of yours. How was I to trust you? We are speaking naked words, my friend. We are dealing with naked truths. To me you were a murderer and a thief. A word from me and you would have realized the value of that document. I tell you frankly that Austria would give you almost any sum for it to-day."
Laverick, strong man though he was, was conscious of a sudden weakness. He raised his hand to his forehead and drew it away—wet. He struggled desperately for self-control.
"Bellamy," he said, "here's truth for truth. I am not on my trial before you. Believe me, man, for God's sake!"
"I'll try," Bellamy promised. "Go on."
"That night I stayed at my office late because I saw ruin before me on the morrow. I left it meaning to go straight home. I lit a cigarette near that entry, and by the light of a match, as I was throwing it away, I saw the murdered man. I think for a time I was paralyzed. The pocket-book was half dragged out from his pocket. Why I looked inside it I don't know. I had some sort of wild idea that I must find out who he was. Mind you, though, I should have given the alarm at once, but there wasn't a soul in the street. There was a man lurking in the entry and I chased him, unsuccessfully. When I came back, the body was still there and the street empty. I looked inside that pocket-book, which would have been in the possession of his murderer but for my unexpected appearance. I saw the notes there. Once more I went out into the street. I gave no alarm,—I am not attempting to explain why. I was like a man made suddenly mad. I went back to my office and shut myself in."
Bellamy pointed to the glasses silently. The waiter came forward and refilled them.
"Bellamy," Laverick continued, "your career and mine lie far apart, and yet, at their backbone, as there is at the backbone of every man's life, there must be something of the same sort of ambition. My grandfather lived and died a member of the Stock Exchange, honored and well thought of. My father followed in his footsteps. I, too, was there. Without becoming wealthy, the name I bear has become known and respected. Failure, whatever one may say, means a broken life and a broken honor. I sat in my office and I knew that the use of those notes for a few days might save me from disgrace, might keep the name, which my father and grandfather had guarded so jealously, free from shame. I would have paid any price for the use of them. I would have paid with my life, if that had been possible. Think of the risk I ran—the danger I am now in. I deposited those notes on the morrow as security at my bank, and I met all my engagements. The crisis is over! Those notes are in a safe deposit vault in Chancery Lane! I only wish to Heaven that I could find the owner!"
"And the document?" Bellamy asked. "The document?"
"It is in the hotel safe," Laverick answered.
Bellamy drew a long sigh of relief. Then he emptied his tumbler and lit a cigarette.
"Laverick," he declared, "I believe you."
"Thank God!" Laverick muttered.
"I am no crime investigator," Bellamy went on thoughtfully. "As to who killed Von Behrling, or why, I cannot now form the slightest idea. That twenty thousand pounds, Laverick, is Secret Service money, paid by me to Von Behrling only half-an-hour before he was murdered, in a small restaurant there, for what I supposed to be the document. He deceived me by making up a false packet. The real one he kept. He deserved to die, and I am glad he is dead."
Laverick's face was suddenly hopeful.
"Then you can take these notes!" he exclaimed.
"In a few days," he said, "I shall take you with me to a friend of mine—a Cabinet Minister. You shall tell him the story exactly as you've told it to me, and restore the money."
Laverick laughed like a child.
"Don't think I'm mad," he apologized, "but I am not a person like you, Bellamy,—used to adventures and this sort of wild happenings. I'm a steady-going, matter-of-fact Englishman, and this thing has been like a hateful nightmare to me. I can't believe that I'm going to get rid of it."
"It's a great adventure," he declared, "to come to any one like you. To tell you the truth, I can't imagine how you had the pluck—don't misunderstand me, I mean the moral pluck—to run such a risk. Why, at the moment you used those notes," Bellamy continued, "the odds must have been about twenty to one against your not being found out."
"One doesn't stop to count the odds," Laverick said grimly. "I saw a chance of salvation and I went for it. And now about this letter."
Bellamy rose to his feet.
"On the King's service!" he whispered softly.
They walked once more to the cashier's desk. A stranger greeted them. Laverick produced his receipt.
"I should like the packet I deposited here this evening," he said. "I am sorry to trouble you, but I find that I require it unexpectedly."
The clerk glanced at the receipt and up at the clock. "I am afraid, sir," he answered, "that we cannot get at it before the morning."
"Why not?" Laverick demanded, frowning.
"Mr. Dean has just gone home," the man declared, "and he is the only one who knows the combination on the 'L' safe. You see, sir," he continued, "we keep this particular safe for documents, and we did not expect that anything would be required from it to-night."
Bellamy drew Laverick away.
"After all," he said, "perhaps to-morrow morning would be better. There's no need to get shirty with these fellows. As a matter of fact, I don't think that I should have dared to receive it without making some special preparations. I can get some plain clothes men here upon whom I can rely, at nine o'clock."
They strolled back into the hall.
"Tell me," Laverick asked, "do you know who the man was who forged my name to the order a few hours ago?"
"It was Adolf Kahn, an Austrian spy. I have been watching him for days. If they'd given him the paper I had four men at the door, but it would have been touch and go. He is a very prince of conspirators, that fellow. To tell you the truth, I think I might as well go home."
Bellamy was drawing on his gloves when the hall-porter brought a note to Laverick.
"A messenger has just left this for you, sir," he explained.
Laverick tore open the envelope. The contents consisted of a few words only, written on plain note-paper and in a handwriting which was strange to him.
"Ring up 1232 Gerrard."
Laverick frowned, turned over the half sheet of paper and looked once more at the envelope. Then he passed it on to his companion.
"What do you make of that, Bellamy?" he asked.
Bellamy smiled as he perused and returned it.
"What could any one make of it?" he remarked, laconically. "Do you know the handwriting?"
"Never saw it before, to my knowledge," Laverick answered. "What should you do about it?"
"I think," Bellamy suggested, "that I should ring up number 1232 Gerrard."
They crossed the hall and Laverick entered one of the telephone booths.
"1232 Gerrard," he said.
The connection was made almost at once.
"Who are you?" Laverick asked.
"I am speaking for Miss Zoe Leneven," was the reply. "Are you Mr. Laverick?"
"I am," Laverick answered. "Is Miss Leneveu there? Can she speak to me herself?"
"She is not here," the voice continued. "She was fetched away in a hurry from the theatre—we understood by her brother. She left two and sixpence with the doorkeeper here to ring you up and explain that she had been summoned to her brother's rooms, 25, Jermyn Street, and would you kindly go on there."
"Who are you?" Laverick demanded.
There was no reply. Laverick remained speechless, listening intently. He stood still with the receiver pressed to his ear. Was it his fancy, or was that really Zoe's protesting voice which he heard in the background? It was a woman or a child who was speaking—he was almost sure that it was Zoe.
"Who are you?" he asked fiercely. "Miss Leneveu is there with you. Why does she not speak for herself?"
"Miss Leneveu is not here," was the answer. "I have done what she desired. You can please yourself whether you go or not. The address is 25, Jermyn Street. Ring off."
The connection was gone. Laverick laid down the receiver and stepped out of the booth.
"I must be off at once," he said to Bellamy. "You'll be round in the morning?"
"After all," he remarked, "I have changed my plans. I shall not leave the hotel. I am going to telephone round to my man to bring me some clothes. By the bye, do you mind telling me whether this message which you have just received had anything to do with the little affair in which we are interested?"
"Not directly," Laverick answered, after a moment's hesitation. "The message was from a young lady. I have to go and meet her."
"A young lady whom you can trust?" Bellamy inquired quietly.
"Implicitly," Laverick assured him.
"She spoke herself?"
"No, she sent a message. Excuse me, Bellamy, won't you, but I must really go."
"By all means," Bellamy answered.
They stood at the entrance to the hotel together while a taxicab was summoned. Laverick stepped quickly in.
"25, Jermyn Street," he ordered.
Bellamy watched him drive off. Then he sighed.
"I think, my friend Laverick," he said softly, "that you will need some one to look after you to-night."
MORRISON IS DESPERATE
Certainly it was a strange little gathering that waited in Morrison's room for the coming of Laverick. There was Lassen—flushed, ugly, breathing heavily, and watching the door with fixed, beady eyes. There was Adolf Kahn, the man who had strolled out from the Milan Hotel as Laverick had entered it, leaving the forged order behind him. There was Streuss—stern, and desperate with anxiety. There was Morrison himself, in the clothes of a workman, worn to a shadow, with the furtive gleam of terrified guilt shining in his sunken eyes, and the slouched shoulders and broken mien of the habitual criminal. There was Zoe, around whom they were all standing, with anger burning in her cheeks and gleaming out of her passion-filled eyes. She, too, like the others, watched the door. So they waited.
Streuss, not for the first time, moved to the window and drawing aside the curtains looked down into the street.
"Will he come—this Englishman?" he muttered. "Has he courage?"
"More courage than you who keep a girl here against her will!" Zoe panted, looking at him defiantly. "More courage than my poor brother, who stands there like a coward!"
"Shut up, Zoe!" Morrison exclaimed harshly. "There is nothing for you to be furious about or frightened. No one wants to ill-treat you. These gentlemen all want to behave kindly to us. It is Laverick they want."
"And you," she cried, "are content to stand by and let him walk into a trap—you let them even use my name to bring him here! Arthur, be a man! Have nothing more to do with them. Help me to get away from this place. Call out. Do something instead of standing there and wasting the precious minutes."
He came towards her—ugly and threatening.
"I'll do something in a minute," he declared savagely,—"something you won't like, either. Keep your mouth shut, I tell you. It's me or him, and, by Heavens, he deserves what he'll get!"
Streuss turned away from the window and looked towards Zoe.
"Young lady," he said quietly, "let me beg you not to distress yourself so. I sincerely trust that nothing unpleasant will happen. If it does, I promise you that we will arrange for your temporary absence. You shall not be disturbed in any way."
"And as regards your brother, have a care, young lady," Lassen growled. "If any one's in danger, it's he. He'll be lucky if he saves his own skin."
The young man glowered at her.
"You hear that, you little fool!" he muttered. "Keep still, can't you?"
Her face was full of defiance. He came nearer to her and changed his tone.
"Zoe," he whispered hoarsely, "don't you understand? If they can't get what they want from Laverick, they'll visit it upon me. They're desperate, I tell you. They mean mischief all the time."
"Yet you let him be brought here, your partner who looked after you when you were ill, and who helped you to get away!" she cried indignantly.
He laughed unpleasantly.
"When it comes to a matter of life or death, it's every man for himself. Besides, if I'd known as much about Laverick as I know now, I'm not sure that I should have been so ready to go—not empty-handed, by any manner of means."
"What have you done that you should be so much in the power of these people?" she demanded, fixing her dark eyes upon him searchingly.
The terror whitened his face once more. The perspiration stood out in beads upon his forehead.
"Don't dare to ask me questions!" he exclaimed nervously. "I should like to know what Laverick is to you, eh, that you take so much interest in him? Listen here, my fine young lady. If I've been mug enough to do the dirty work, he hasn't made any bones about taking advantage of it. He's a nice sort of sportsman, I can tell you."
The man at the window suddenly dropped the curtain and spoke across the room to them all.
"He is here," he announced.
"Alone?" Lassen asked thickly.
"Alone," Streuss echoed.
A little thrill seemed to pass through the room. Zoe made no attempt to cry out. Instead she leaned forward towards the door, as though listening. Her attitude seemed harmless enough. No one took any more notice of her. They all watched the entrance to the apartment. Zoe remembered the two flights of stairs. She was absorbed in a breathless calculation. Now—now he should be coming quite close. Her whole being was concentrated upon one effort of listening. At last she raised her head. The room resounded with her cries.
"Don't come in! Don't come in here!" she shrieked. "Mr. Laverick, do you hear? Go away! Don't come in here alone!"
Her brother was the first to reach her, his hand fell upon her mouth brutally. Her little effort was naturally a failure—defeating, in fact, its own object. Laverick, hearing her cries, simply hastened his coming, threw open the door without waiting to knock, and stepped quickly across the threshold. He saw a man dressed in shabby workman's clothes, unshaven, dishevelled, holding Zoe in a rough grasp, and with a single well-directed blow he sent him reeling across the room. Then something in the man's cry, a momentary glimpse of his white face, revealed his identity.
"Morrison!" he cried. "Good God, it's Morrison!"
Arthur Morrison was crouching in a corner of the room, his evil face turned upon his aggressor. Laverick took quick stock of his surroundings. There was the tall, fair young man—Adolf Kahn—whom he had seen at the Milan a few hours ago—the man who had unsuccessfully forged his name. There was Lassen, the man who, under pretence of being her manager, had been a spy upon Louise. There was Streuss, with blanched face and hard features, standing with his back to the door. There was Zoe, and, behind, her brother. She held out her hands timidly towards him, and her eyes were soft with pleading.
"I did not want you to come here, Mr. Laverick," she cried softly. "I tried so hard to stop you. It was not I who sent that message."
He took her cold little fingers and raised them to his lips.
"I know it, dear," he murmured.
Then a movement in the room warned him, and he was suddenly on guard. Lassen was close to his side, some evil purpose plainly enough written in his pasty face and unwholesome eyes. Laverick gave him his left shoulder and sent him staggering across the floor. He was angry at having been outwitted and his eyes gleamed ominously.
"Well, gentlemen," he exclaimed, "you seem to have taken unusual pains to secure my presence here! Tell me now, what can I do for you?"
It was Streuss who became spokesman. He addressed Laverick with the consideration of one gentleman addressing another. His voice had many agreeable qualities. His demeanor was entirely amicable.
"Mr. Laverick," he answered, "let us first apologize if we used a little subterfuge to procure for us the pleasure of your visit. We are men who are in earnest, and across whose path you have either wilfully or accidentally strayed. An understanding between us has become a necessity."
"Go on," Laverick interrupted. "Tell me exactly who you are and what you want."
"As to who we are," Streuss answered, "does that really matter? I repeat that we are men who are in earnest—let that be enough. As to what we want, it is a certain document to which we have every claim, and which has come into your possession—I flatter you somewhat, Mr. Laverick, if I say by chance."
Laverick shrugged his shoulders.
"Let that go," he said. "I know all about the document you refer to, and the notes. They were contained in a pocket-book which it is perfectly true has come into my possession. Prove your claim to both and you shall have them."
"You will admit that our claim, since we know of its existence," he asked suavely, "is equal to yours?"
"Certainly," Laverick answered, "but then I never had any idea of keeping either the document or the money. That your claim is better than mine is no guarantee that there is not some one else whose title is better still."
"Be reasonable, Mr. Laverick," he begged. "We are men of peace—when peace is possible. The money of which you spoke you can consider as treasure trove, if you will, but it is our intention to possess ourselves of the document. It is for that reason that we are here in London. I, personally, am committed to the extent of my life and my honor to its recovery."
A declaration of war, courteously veiled but decisive. Laverick looked around him a little defiantly, and shrugged his shoulders.
"You know very well that I do not carry it about with me," he said. "The gentleman on my left," he added, pointing to Kahn, "can tell you where it is kept."
"Quite so," Streuss admitted. "We are not doing you the injustice to suppose that you would be so foolhardy as to trust yourself anywhere with that document upon your person. It is in the safe at the Milan Hotel. I may add that probably, if it had not occurred to you to change your quarters, it would have been in our possession before now. We are hoping to persuade you to return to the hotel with one of our friends here, and procure it."
"As it happens," Laverick remarked, "that is impossible. The man who set the combination for that particular safe has gone off duty, and will not be back again at the hotel till to-morrow morning."
"But he is to be found," Streuss answered easily. "His present whereabouts and his address are known to us. He lives with his family at Harvard Court, Hampstead. We shall assist you in making it worth his while to return to the hotel or to give you the combination word for the safe."
"You are rather great on detail!" Laverick exclaimed.
"It is our business. The question for you to decide, and to decide immediately, is whether you are ready to end this, in some respects, constrained situation, and give your word to place that document in our hands."
"You are ready to accept my word, then?" Laverick asked.
"We have a certain hold upon you," Streuss continued slowly. "Your partner Mr. Morrison's position in connection with the murder in Crooked Friars' Alley is, as you may have surmised, a somewhat unfortunate one. Your own I will not allude to. I will simply suggest that for both your sakes publicity—any measure of publicity, in fact, as regards this little affair—would not be desirable."
Laverick hesitated. He understood all that was implied. Morrison's eyes were fixed upon him—the eyes of a craven coward. He felt the intensity of the moment. Then Zoe turned suddenly towards him.
"You are not to give it up!" she cried, with trembling lips. "They cannot hurt you, and it is not true—about Arthur."
Kahn, who was nearest, clapped his hand over her mouth and Laverick knocked him down. Instantly the pacific atmosphere of the room was changed. Lassen and Morrison closed swiftly upon Laverick from different sides. Streuss covered him with the shining barrel of a revolver.
"Mr. Laverick," he said, "we are not here to be trifled with. Keep your sister quiet, Morrison, or, by God, you'll swing!"
Laverick looked at the revolver—fascinated, for an instant, by its unexpected appearance. The face of the man who held it had changed. There was lightning playing about the room.
"It's the dock for you both!" Streuss exclaimed fiercely,—"for you, Laverick, and you, Morrison, too, if you play with us any longer! One of you's a murderer and the other receives the booty. Who are you to have scruples—criminals, both of you? Your place is in the dock, and you shall be there within twenty-four hours if there are any more evasions. Now, Laverick, will you fetch that document? It is your last chance."
Upon the breathless silence that followed a quiet voice intervened—a voice calm and emotionless, tinged with a measure of polite inquiry. Yet its level utterance fell like a bomb among the little company. The curtain separating this from the inner room had been drawn a few feet back, and Bellamy was standing there, in black overcoat and white muffler, his silk hat on the back of his head, his left hand, carefully gloved, resting still upon the curtain which he had drawn aside.
"I hope I am not disturbing you at all?" he murmured softly.
For a moment the development of the situation remained uncertain. The gleaming barrel of Streuss's revolver changed its destination. Bellamy glanced at it with the pleased curiosity of a child.
"I really ought not to have intruded," he continued amiably. "I happened to hear the address my friend Laverick gave to the taxicab driver, and I was particularly anxious to have a word or two with him before I left for the Continent."
Streuss was surely something of a charlatan! His revolver had disappeared. The smile upon his lips was both gracious and unembarrassed.
"One is always only too pleased to welcome Mr. Bellamy anywhere—anyhow," he declared. "If apologies are needed at all," he continued, "it is to our friend and host—Mr. Morrison here. Permit me—Mr. Arthur Morrison—the Honorable David Bellamy! These are Mr. Morrison's rooms."
Morrison could do no more than stare. Bellamy, on the contrary, with a little bow came further into the apartment, removing his hat from his head. Lassen glided round behind him, remaining between Bellamy and the heavy curtains. Adolf Kahn moved as though unconsciously in front of the door of the room in which they were.
Bellamy smiled courteously.
"I am afraid," he said, "that I must not stay for more than a moment. I have a car full of friends below—we are on our way, in fact, to the Covent Garden Ball—and one or two of them, I fear," he added indulgently, "have already reached that stage of exhilaration which such an entertainment in England seems to demand. They will certainly come and rout me out if I am here much longer. There!" he exclaimed, "you hear that?"
There was the sound of a motor horn from the street below. Streuss, with an oath trembling upon his lips, lifted the blind. There were two motor-cars waiting there—large cars with Limousine bodies, and apparently full of men. After all, it was to be expected. Bellamy was no fool!
"Since we are to lose you, then Mr. Laverick," Streuss remarked with a gesture of farewell, "let us say good night. The little matter of business which we were discussing can be concluded with your partner."
Laverick turned toward Zoe. Their eyes met and he read their message of terror.
"You are coming back to your own rooms, Miss Leneveu," he said. "You must let me offer you my escort."
She half rose, but in obedience to a gesture from Streuss Morrison moved near to them.
"If you leave me here, Laverick," he muttered beneath his breath,—"if you leave me to these hounds, do you know what they will do? They will hand me over to the police—they have sworn it!"
"Why did you come back?" Laverick asked quickly.
"They stopped me as I was boarding the steamer," Morrison declared. "I tell you they have eyes everywhere. You cannot move without their knowledge. I had to come. Now that I am here they have told me plainly the price of my freedom. It is that document. Laverick, it is my life! You must give in—you must, indeed! Remember you're in it, too."
"Am I?" Laverick asked quietly.
"You fool, of course you are!" Morrison whispered hoarsely. "Didn't you come into the entry and take the pocket-book? Heaven knows what possessed you to do it! Heaven knows how you found the pluck to use the money! But you did it, and you are a criminal—a criminal as I am. Don't be a fool, Laverick. Make terms with these people. They want the document—the document—nothing but the document! They will let us keep the money."
"And you?" Laverick asked, turning suddenly to Zoe. "What do you say about all this?"
She looked at him fearlessly.
"I trust you," she said. "I trust you to do what is right."
LAVERICK S ARREST
"At last, David!"
Louise welcomed her visitor eagerly with outstretched hands, which Bellamy raised for a moment to his lips. Then she turned toward the third person, who had also risen at the opening of the door—a short, somewhat thick-set man, with swarthy complexion, close-cropped black hair, and upturned black moustache.
"You remember Prince Rosmaran?" she said to Bellamy. "He left Servia only the day before yesterday. He has come to England on a special mission to the King."
Bellamy shook hands.
"I think," he remarked, "I had the honor of meeting you once before, Prince, at the opening of the Servian Parliament two years ago. It was just then, I believe, that you were elected to lead the patriotic party."
The Prince bowed sadly.
"My leadership, I fear," he declared, "has brought little good to my unhappy country."
"It is a terrible crisis through which your nation is passing," Bellamy reminded him sympathetically. "At the same time, we must not despair. Austria holds out her clenched hands, but as yet she has not dared to strike."
The face of the Prince was dark with passion.
"As yet, no!" he answered. "But how long—how long, I wonder—before the blow falls? We in Servia have been blamed for arming ourselves, but I tell you that to-day the Austrian troops are being secretly concentrated on the frontier. Their arsenals are working night and day. Her soldiers are manoeuvering almost within sight of Belgrade. We have hoped against hope, yet in our hearts we know that our fate was sealed when the Czar of Russia left Vienna last week."
"Nothing is certain," Bellamy declared restlessly. "England has been ill-governed for a great many years, but we are not yet a negligible Power."
Louise leaned a little towards him.
"David," she whispered, "the compact!"
He answered her unspoken question.
"It is arranged," he said,—"finished. To-morrow morning at nine o'clock I receive it."
"You are sure?" she begged. "Why need there be any delay?"
"It is locked up in a powerful safe," he explained, "and the clerk who has the combination will not be on duty again till nine. Laverick is there simply waiting for the hour. You were right, Louise, as usual. I should have trusted him from the first."
The Prince had been listening to their conversation with undisguised interest.
"There is a rumor," he said, "that some secret information concerning the compact of Vienna has found its way to this country."
"Hence, I presume, your mission, Prince."
"We three have no secrets from one another," the Prince declared. "Our interests in this matter are absolutely identical. What you suggest, Mr. Bellamy, is the truth. There is a rumor that the Chancellor, in the first few moments of his illness, gave valuable information to some one who is likely to have communicated it to the Government here. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. That, I know, is one of your own mottoes. So I am here to know if there is anything to be learned."
"Your arrival is not inopportune, Prince. When did you come?"
"I reached Charing Cross at midnight," the Prince answered. "Our train was an hour late. I am presenting my credentials early this morning, and I am hoping for an interview during the afternoon."
Bellamy considered for a moment.
"It is true!" he said. "Between us three there is indeed no need for secrecy. The information you speak of will be in our hands within a few hours. I have no doubt whatever but that your Minister will share in it."
"You know of what it Consists?" the Prince inquired curiously.
"I think so," Bellamy answered, glancing at the clock. "For my own part, although the information itself is invaluable, I see another and a profounder source of interest in that document. If, indeed, it is what we believe it to be, it amounts to a casus belli."
"You mean that you would provoke war?" Prince Rosmaran asked.
Bellamy shrugged his shoulders.
"I," said he,—"I am not even a politician. But, you know, the lookers-on see a good deal of the game, and in my opinion there is only one course open for this country,—to work upon Russia so that she withdraws from any compact she may have entered into with Austria and Germany, to accept Germany's cooperation with Austria in the despoilment of your country as a casus belli, and to declare war at once while our fleet is invincible and our Colonies free from danger."
The Prince nodded.
"It is good," he admitted, "to hear man's talk once more. Wherever one moves, people bow the head before the might of Germany and Austria. Let them alone but a little longer, and they will indeed rule Europe."
Three o'clock struck. The Prince rose.
"I go," he announced.
"And I," Bellamy declared. "Come to my rooms at ten o'clock tomorrow morning, Prince, and you shall hear the news."
Bellamy lingered behind. For a moment he held Louise in his arms and gazed sorrowfully into her weary face.
"Is it worth while, I wonder?" he asked bitterly.
"Worth while," she answered, opening her eyes and looking at him, "to feel the mother love? Who can help it who would not be ignoble?"
"But yours, dear," he murmured, "is all grief. Even now I am afraid."
"We can do no more than toil to the end," she said. "David, you are sure this time?"
"I am sure," he replied. "I am going back now to the hotel where Laverick is staying. We are going to sit together and smoke until the morning. Nothing short of an army could storm the hotel. I was with them all only an hour ago,—Streuss, that blackguard Lassen, and Adolf Kahn, the police spy. They are beaten men and they know it. They had Laverick, had him by a trick, but I made a dramatic entrance and the game was up."
"Telephone me directly you have taken it safely to Downing Street," she begged.
"I will," he promised.
Bellamy walked from Dover Street to the Strand. The streets were almost brilliant with the cold, hard moonlight. The air seemed curiously keen. Once or twice the fall of his feet upon the pavement was so clear and distinct that he fancied he was being followed and glanced sharply around. He reached the Milan Hotel, however, without adventure, and looked towards the little open space in the hall where he had expected to find Laverick. There was no one there! He stood still for a moment, troubled with a sudden sense of apprehension. The place was deserted except for a couple of sleepy-looking clerks and a small army of cleaners busy with their machines down in the restaurant, moving about like mysterious figures in the dim light.
Bellamy turned back to the hall-porter who had admitted him.
"Do you happen to know what has become of the gentleman whom I was with about an hour ago?" he asked,—"a tall, fair gentleman—Mr. Laverick his name was?"
The hall-porter recognized Bellamy and touched his hat.
"Why, yes, sir!" he answered with a somewhat mysterious air. "Mr. Laverick was sitting over there in an easy-chair until about half-an-hour ago. Then two gentle-men arrived in a taxicab and inquired for him. They talked for a little time, and finally Mr. Laverick went away with them."
Bellamy was puzzled.
"Went away with them?" he repeated. "I don't understand that, Reynolds. He was to have waited here till I returned."
The man hesitated.
"It didn't strike me, sir," he said, "that Mr. Laverick was very wishful to go. It seemed as though he hadn't much choice about the matter."
Bellamy looked at him keenly.
"Tell me what is in your mind?" he asked.
"Mr. Bellamy, sir," the hall-porter replied, "I knew one of those gentlemen by sight. He was a detective from Scotland Yard, and the one who was with him was a policeman in plain clothes."
"Good God!" Bellamy exclaimed. "You think, then,—"
"I am afraid there was no doubt about it, sir," the man answered. "Mr. Laverick was arrested on some charge."
Into New Oxford Street, one of the ceaseless streams of polyglot humanity, came Zoe from her cheerless day bound for the theatre. She was a little whiter, a little more tired than usual. All day long she had heard nothing of Laverick. All day long she had sat in her tiny room with the memory of that horrible night before her. She had tried in vain to sleep,—she had made no effort whatever to eat. She knew now why Arthur Morrison had fled away. She knew the cause of that paroxysm of fear in which he had sought her out. The horror of the whole thing had crept into her blood like poison. Life was once more a dreary, profitless struggle. All the wonderful dreams, which had made existence seem almost like a fairy-tale for this last week, had faded away. She was once more a mournful little waif among the pitiless crowds.
She turned to the left and past the Holborn Tube. Boys were shouting everywhere the contents of the evening papers. Nearly every one seemed to be carrying one of the pink sheets. She herself passed on with unseeing eyes. News was nothing to her. Governments might rise and fall, war might come and go,—she had still life to support, a friendless little life, too, on two pounds fifteen shillings a week. The news they shouted fell upon deaf ears, but one boy unfurled almost before her eyes the headlines of his sheet.
SENSATIONAL ARREST OF A WELL-KNOWN STOCKBROKER. CHARGE OF MURDER.
She came to a sudden stop and pulled out her purse. Her fingers trembled so that the penny fell on to the pavement. The boy picked it up willingly enough, however, and she passed on with the paper in her hand. There it was on the front page—staring her in the face:
Early yesterday morning Mr. Stephen Laverick, of the firm of Laverick & Morrison, Stockbrokers, Old Broad Street, was arrested at the Milan Hotel on the charge of being concerned in the murder of a person unknown, in Crooked Friars' Alley, on Monday last. The accused, who made no reply to the charge, was removed to Bow Street Police-Station. Particulars of his examination before the magistrates will be found on page 4.
There was a dull singing in her ears. An electric tram, coming up from the underground passage, seemed to bring with it some sort of thunder from an unknown world. She staggered on, unseeing, gasping for breath. If she could find somewhere to sit down! If she could only rest for a moment! Then a sudden wave of strength came to her, the blood flowed once more in her veins—blood that was hot with anger, that stained her cheeks with a spot of red. It was the man she loved, this, being made to suffer falsely. It was the fulfilment of their threat—a deliberate plot against him. The murderer of Crooked Friars' Alley—she knew who that was!—she knew! Perhaps she might help!
She had not the slightest recollection of the remainder of that walk, but she found herself presently sitting in a quiet corner of the theatre with the paper spread out before her. She read that Stephen Laverick had been brought before Mr. Rawson, the magistrate of Bow Street Police Court, on a warrant charging him with having been concerned with the murder of a person unknown, and that he had pleaded "Not Guilty!" Her eyes glittered as she read that the first witness called was Mr. Arthur Morrison, late partner of the accused. She read his deposition—that he had left Laverick at their offices at eleven o'clock on the night in question, that they were at that time absolutely without means, and had no prospect of meeting their engagements on the morrow. She read the evidence of Mr. Fenwick, bank manager, to the effect that Mr. Laverick had, on the following morning, deposited with him the sum of twenty thousand pounds in Bank of England notes, by means of which the engagements of the firm were duly met, that those notes had since been redeemed, and that he had no idea of their present whereabouts. She read, too, the evidence of Adolf Kahn, an Austrian visiting this country upon private business, who deposed that he was in the vicinity just before midnight, that he saw a person, whom he identified as the accused, walking down the street and, after disappearing for a few minutes down the entry, return and re-enter the offices from which he had issued. He explained his presence there by the fact that he was waiting for a clerk employed by the Goldfields' Corporation, Limited, whose offices were close by. Further formal evidence was given, and a remand asked for. The accused's solicitor was on the point of addressing the court when Mr. Rawson was unfortunately taken ill. After waiting for some time, the case was adjourned until the next day, and the accused man was removed in custody.
Zoe laid down the paper and rose to her feet. She made her way to where the stage-manager was superintending the erection of some new scenery.
"Mr. Heepman," she exclaimed, "I cannot stay to rehearsal! I have to go out."
He turned heavily round and looked at her.
"Rehearsal postponed," he declared solemnly. "Shall you be back for the evening performance, or shall we close the theatre?"
His clumsy irony missed its mark. Her thoughts were too intensely focussed upon one thing.
"I am sorry," she replied, turning away. "I will come back as soon as I can."
He called out after her and she paused.
"Look here," he said, "you were absent from the performance the other evening, and now you are skipping rehearsal without even waiting for permission. It can't be done, young lady. You must do your playing around some other time. If you're not here when you're called, you needn't trouble to turn up again. Do you understand?"
Her lips quivered and the sense of impending disaster which seemed to be brooding over her life became almost overwhelming.
"I'll come back as soon as I can," she promised, with a little break in her voice,—"as soon as ever I can, Mr. Heepman."
She hurried out of the theatre and took her place once more among the hurrying throng of pedestrians. Several people turned round to look at her. Her white face, tight-drawn mouth, and eyes almost unnaturally large, seemed to have become the abiding-place for tragedy. She herself saw no one. She would have taken a cab, but a glimpse at the contents of her purse dissuaded her. She walked steadily on to Jermyn Street, walked up the stairs to the third floor, and knocked at her brother's door. No one answered her at first. She turned the handle and entered to find the room empty. There were sounds, however, in the further apartment, and she called out to him.
"Arthur," she cried, "are you there?"
"Who is it?" he demanded.
"It is I—Zoe!" she exclaimed.
"What do you want?"
"I want to speak to you, Arthur. I must speak to you. Please come as quickly as you can."
He growled something and in a few moments he appeared. He was wearing the morning clothes in which he had attended court earlier in the day, but the change in him was perhaps all the more marked by reason of this resumption of his old attire. His cheeks were hollow, his eyes scarcely for an instant seemed to lose that feverish gleam of terror with which he had returned from Liverpool. He knew very well what she had come about, and he began nervously to try and bully her.
"I wish you wouldn't come to these rooms, Zoe," he said. "I've told you before they're bachelors' apartments, and they don't like women about the place. What is it? What do you want?"
"I was brought here last time without any particular desire on my part," she answered, looking him in the face. "I've come now to ask you what accursed plot this is against Stephen Laverick? What were you doing in the court this morning, lying? What is the meaning of it, Arthur?"
"If you've come to talk rubbish like that," he declared roughly, "you'd better be off."
"No, it is not rubbish!" she went on fearlessly. "I think I can understand what it is that has happened. They have terrified you and bribed you until you are willing to do any despicable thing—even this. Your father was good to my mother, Arthur, and I have tried to feel towards you as though you were indeed a relation. But nothing of that counts. I want you to realize that I know the truth, and that I will not see an innocent man convicted while the guilty go free."
He moved a step towards her. They were on opposite sides of the small round table which stood in the centre of the apartment.
"What do you mean?" he demanded hoarsely.
"Isn't it plain enough?" she exclaimed. "You came to my rooms a week or so ago, a terrified, broken-down man. If ever there was guilt in a man's face, it was in yours. You sent for Laverick. He pitied you and helped you away. At Liverpool they would not let you embark—these men. They have brought you back here. You are their tool. But you know very well, Arthur, that it was not Stephen Laverick who killed the man in Crooked Friars' Alley! You know very well that it was not Stephen Laverick!"
"Why the devil should I know anything about it?" he asked fiercely.
A note of passion suddenly crept into her voice. Her little white hand, with its accusing forefinger, shot out towards him.
"Because it was you, Arthur Morrison, who committed that crime," she cried, "and sooner than another man should suffer for it, I shall go to court myself and tell the truth."
He was, for the moment, absolutely speechless, pale as death, with nervously twitching lips and fingers. But there was murder in his eyes.
"What do you know about this?" he muttered.
"Never mind," she answered. "I know and I guess quite enough to convince me—and I think anybody else—that you are the guilty man. I would have helped you and shielded you, whatever it cost me, but I will not do so at Stephen Laverick's expense."
"What is Laverick to you?" he growled.
"He is nothing to me," she replied, "but the best of friends. Even were he less than that, do you suppose that I would let an innocent man suffer?"
He moistened his dry lips rapidly.
"You are talking nonsense, Zoe," he said,—"nonsense! Even if there has been some little mistake, what could I do now? I have given my evidence. So far as I am concerned, the case is finished. I shall not be called again until the trial."
"Then you had better go to the magistrates tomorrow morning and take back your evidence," she declared boldly, "for if you do not, I shall be there and I shall tell the truth."
"Zoe," he gasped, "don't try me too high. This thing has upset me. I'm ill. Can't you see it, Zoe? Look at me. I haven't slept for weeks. Night and day I've had the fear—the fear always with me. You don't know what it is—you can't imagine. It's like a terrible ghost, keeping pace with you wherever you go, laying his icy finger upon you whenever you would rest, mocking at you when you try to drown thought even for a moment. Don't you try me too far, Zoe. I'm not responsible. Laverick isn't the man you think him to be. He isn't the man I believed. He did have that money—he did, indeed."
"That," she said, "is to be explained. But he is not a murderer."
"Listen to me, Zoe," Morrison continued, leaning across the table. "Come and stay with me for a time and we will go away for a week—somewhere to the seaside. We will talk about this and think it over. I want to get away from London. We will go to Brighton, if you like. I must do something for you, Zoe. I'm afraid I've neglected you a good deal. Perhaps I could get you a better part at one of the theatres. I must make you an allowance. You ought to be wearing better clothes."
She drew a little away.
"I want nothing from you, Arthur," she said, "except this—that you speak the truth."
He wiped his forehead and struck the table before her.
"But, good God, Zoe!" he exclaimed, "do you know what it is that you are asking me? Do you want me to go into court and say—'That isn't the man... It is I who am the murderer'? Do you want me to feel their hands upon my shoulder, to be put there in the dock and have all the people staring at me curiously because they know that before very long I am to stand upon the scaffold and have that rope around my neck and—"
He broke off with a low cry, wringing his hands like a child in a fit of impotent terror. But the girl in front of him never flinched.
"Arthur," she said, "crime is a terrible thing, but nothing in the world can alter its punishment. If it is frightful for you to think of this, what must it be for him? And you are guilty and he is not."
"I was mad!" Morrison went on, now almost beside himself. "Zoe, I was mad! I called there to have a drink. We were broke,—the firm was broke. I'd a hundred or so in my pocket and I was going to bolt the next day. And there, within a few yards of me, was that man, with such a roll of notes as I had never seen in my life. Five hundred pounds, every one of them, and a wad as thick as my fists. Zoe, they fascinated me. I had two drinks quickly and I followed him out. Somehow or other, I found that I'd caught up a knife that was on the counter. I never meant to hurt him seriously, but I wanted some of those notes! I was leaving the next day for Africa and I hadn't enough money to make a fair start. I wanted it—my God, how I wanted money!"
"It couldn't have been worth—that!" she cried, looking at him wonderingly.
"I was mad," he continued. "I saw the notes and they went to my head. Men do wild things sometimes when they are drunk, or for love. I don't drink much, and I'm not over fond of women, but, my God, money is like the blood of my body to me! I saw it, and I wanted it and I wanted it, and I went mad! Zoe, you won't give me away? Say you won't!"
"But what am I to do?" she protested. "He must not suffer."
"He'll get off," Morrison assured her thickly. "I tell you he'll get off. He's only to part with the document, which never belonged to him, and the charge will be withdrawn. They know who the murdered man was. They know where the money came from which he was carrying. I tell you he can save himself. You wouldn't dream of sending me to the gallows, Zoe!"
"Stephen Laverick will never give up that document to those people," she declared. "I am sure of that."
"It's his own lookout," Morrison muttered. "He has the chance, anyway."
She turned toward the door.
"I must go away," she said. "I must go away and think. It is all too horrible."
He came round the table swiftly and caught at her wrists.
"Listen," he said, "I can't let you go like this. You must tell me that you are not going to give me up. Do you hear?"
"I can make no promises, Arthur," she answered sadly, "only this—I shall not let Stephen Laverick suffer in your stead."
He opened his hand and she shrank back, terrified, when she saw what it was that he was holding. Then he struck her down and without a backward glance fled out of the place.
Late that afternoon the hall-porter at the Milan Hotel, the commissionaire, and the chief maitre d'hotel from the Cafe, who happened to be in the hall, together with several others around the place who knew Stephen Laverick by sight, were treated to an unexpected surprise. A large closed motor-car drove up to the front entrance and several men descended, among whom was Laverick himself. He nodded to the hall-porter, whose salute was purely mechanical, and making his way without hesitation to the interior of the hotel, presented his receipt at the cashier's desk and asked for his packet. The clerk looked up at him in amazement. He did not, for the moment, notice that the two men standing immediately behind bore the stamp of plain-clothes policemen. He had only a few minutes ago finished reading the report of Laverick's examination before the magistrates and his remand until the morrow, upon the charge of murder. His knowledge of English law was by no means perfect, but he was at least aware that Laverick's appearance outside the purlieus of the prison was an unusual happening.
"Your packet, sir!" he repeated, in amazement. "Why, this is Mr. Laverick himself, is it not?"
"Certainly," was the quiet reply. "I am Stephen Laverick."
The clerk called the head cashier, who also stared at Laverick as though he were a ghost. They whispered together in the background for a moment, and their faces were a study in perplexity. Of Laverick's identity, however, there was no manner of doubt. Besides, the presence of what was obviously a very ample escort somewhat reassured them. The cashier himself came forward.
"We shall be exceedingly glad, Mr. Laverick," he said dryly, "to get rid of your packet. Your instructions were that we should disregard all orders to hand it over to any person whatsoever, and I may say that they have been strictly adhered to. We have, however, had two applications in your name this morning."
"They were both forgeries," Laverick declared.
The cashier hesitated. Then he leaned across the broad mahogany counter towards Laverick. One of the men who appeared to form part of the escort detached himself from them and approached a few steps nearer.
"This gentleman is your friend, sir?" the cashier asked, glancing towards him.
"He is my solicitor," Laverick answered, "and is entirely in my confidence. If you have anything to tell me, I should like Mr. Bellamy also to hear."
Bellamy, who was standing a little in the background, took his place by Laverick's side. The cashier, who knew him by sight, bowed.
"Beside these two forged orders, sir," he said, turning again to Laverick, "we have had a man who took a room in the hotel leave a small black bag here, which he insisted upon having deposited in our document safe. My assistant had accepted it and was actually locking it up when he noticed a faint sound inside which he could not understand. The bag was opened and found to contain an infernal machine which would have exploded in a quarter of an hour."
Bellamy drew his breath sharply between his teeth.
"We should have thought of that!" he exclaimed softly. "That's Kahn's work!"
"I seem to have given you a great deal of trouble," Laverick remarked quietly. "I gather, however, from what you say, that my packet is still in your possession?"
"It is, sir," the man assented. "We have two detectives from Scotland Yard here at the present moment, though, and we had almost decided to place it in their charge for greater security."
"It will be well taken care of from now, I promise you," Laverick declared.
The cashier and his clerk led the way into the inner office. At their invitation Laverick and his solicitor followed, and a few yards behind came the two plain-clothes policemen, Bellamy, and the superintendent. The safe was opened and the packet placed in Laverick's hands. He passed it on at once to Bellamy, and immediately afterwards the doorway behind was thronged with men, apparently ordinary loiterers around the hotel. They made a slow and exceedingly cautious exit. Once outside, Bellamy turned to Laverick with outstretched hand.
"Au revoir and good luck, old chap!" he said heartily. "I think you'll find things go your way all right to-morrow morning."
He departed, forming one of a somewhat singular cavalcade—two of his friends on either side, two in front, and two behind. It had almost the appearance of a procession. The whole party stepped into a closed motor-car. Three or four men were lounging on the pavement and there was some excited whispering, but no one actually interfered. As soon as they had left the courtyard, Laverick and his solicitor, with his own guard, re-entered the motor-car in which they had arrived, and drove back to Bow Street. Very few words were exchanged during the short journey. His solicitor, however, bade him good-night cheerfully, and Laverick's bearing was by no means the bearing of a man in despair.
In Downing Street, within the next half-an-hour, a somewhat remarkable little gathering took place. The two men chiefly responsible for the destinies of the nation—the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs—sat side by side before a small table. Facing them was Bellamy, and spread out in front were those few pages of foolscap, released from their envelope a few minutes ago for the first time since the hand of the great Chancellor himself had pressed down the seal. The Foreign Minister had just finished a translation for the benefit of his colleague, and the two men were silent, as men are in the presence of big events.
"Bellamy," the Prime Minister said slowly, "you are willing to stake, I presume, your reputation upon the authenticity of this document?"
"My honor and my life, if you will," Bellamy answered earnestly. "That is no copy which you have there. On the contrary, the handwriting is the handwriting of the Chancellor himself."
The Prime Minister turned silently towards his colleague. The latter, whose eyes still seemed glued to those fateful words, looked up.
"All I can say is this," he remarked impressively, "that never in my time have I seen written words possessed of so much significance. One moment, if you please."
He touched the bell, and his private secretary entered at once from an adjoining room.
"Anthony," he said, "telephone to the Great Western Railway Company at Paddington. Ask for the station master in my name, and see that a special train is held ready to depart for Windsor in half-an-hour. Tell the station-master that all ordinary traffic must be held up, but that the destination of the special is not to be divulged."
The young man bowed and withdrew.
"The more I consider this matter," the Foreign Minister went on, "the more miraculous does the appearance of this document seem. We know now why the Czar is struggling so frantically to curtail his visit—why he came, as it were, under protest, and seeks everywhere for an opportunity to leave before the appointed time. His health is all right. He has had a hint from Vienna that there has been a leakage. His special mission only reached Paris this morning. The President is in the country and their audience is not fixed until to-morrow. Rawson will go over with a copy of these papers and a dispatch from His Majesty by the nine o'clock train. It is not often that we have had the chance of such a 'coup' as this."
He drew his chief a few steps away. They whispered together for several moments. When they returned, the Foreign Minister rang the bell again for his secretary.
"Anthony," he said, "Sir James and I will be leaving in a few minutes for Windsor. Go round yourself to General Hamilton, telephone to Aldershot for Lord Neville, and call round at the Admiralty Board for Sir John Harrison. Tell them all to be here at ten o'clock tonight. If I am not back, they must wait. If either of them have royal commands, you need only repeat the word 'Finisterre.' They will understand."
The young man once more withdrew. The Prime Minister turned back to the papers.
"It will be worth a great deal," he remarked, with a grim smile, "to see His Majesty's face when he reads this."
"It would be worth a great deal more," his fellow statesman answered dryly, "to be with his August cousin at the interview which will follow. A month ago, the thought that war might come under our administration was a continual terror to me. To-day things are entirely different. To-day it really seems that if war does come, it may be the most glorious happening for England of this century. You saw the last report from Kiel?"
Sir James nodded.
"There isn't a battleship or a cruiser worth a snap of the fingers south of the German Ocean," his colleague continued earnestly. "They are cooped up—safe enough, they think—under the shelter of their fortifications. Hamilton has another idea. Between you and me, Sir James, so have I. I tell you," he went on, in a deeper and more passionate tone, "it's like the passing of a terrible nightmare—this. We have had ten years of panic, of nervous fears of a German invasion, and no one knows more than you and I, Sir James, how much cause we have had for those fears. It will seem strange if, after all, history has to write that chapter differently."
The secretary re-entered and announced the result of his telephone interview with the superintendent at Paddington. The two great men rose. The Prime Minister held out his hand to Bellamy.
"Bellamy," he declared, "you've done us one more important service. There may be work for you within the next few weeks, but you've earned a rest for a day or two, at any rate. There is nothing more we can do?"
"Nothing except a letter to the Home Secretary, Sir James," Bellamy answered. "Remember, sir, that although I have worked hard, the man to whom we really owe those papers is Stephen Laverick."
The Prime Minister frowned thoughtfully.
"It's a difficult situation, Bellamy," he said. "You are asking a great deal when you suggest that we should interfere in the slightest manner with the course of justice. You are absolutely convinced, I suppose, that this man Laverick had nothing to do with the murder?"
"Absolutely and entirely, sir," Bellamy replied.
"The murdered man has never been identified by the police," Sir James remarked. "Who was he?"
"His name was Rudolph Von Behrling," Bellamy announced, "and he was actually the Chancellor's nephew, also his private secretary. I have told you the history, sir, of those papers. It was Von Behrling who, without a doubt, murdered the American journalist and secured them. It was he who insisted upon coming to London instead of returning with them to Vienna, which would have been the most obvious course for him to have adopted. He was a pauper, and desperately in love with a certain lady who has helped me throughout this matter. He agreed to part with the papers for twenty thousand pounds, and the lady incidentally promised to elope with him the same night. I met him by appointment at that little restaurant in the city, paid him the twenty thousand pounds, and received the false packet which you remember I brought to you, sir. As a matter of fact, Von Behrling, either by accident or design, and no man now will ever know which, left me with those papers which I was supposed to have bought in his possession, and also the money. Within five minutes he was murdered. Doubtless we shall know sometime by whom, but it was not by Stephen Laverick. Laverick's share in the whole thing was nothing but this—that he found the pocket-book, and that he made use of the notes in his business for twenty-four hours to save himself from ruin. That was unjustifiable, of course. He has made atonement. The notes at this minute are in a safe deposit vault and will be returned intact to the fund from which they came. I want, also, to impress upon you, Sir James, the fact that Baron de Streuss offered one hundred thousand pounds for that letter."
Sir James nodded thoughtfully. He stooped down and scrawled a few lines on half a sheet of note-paper.
"You must take this to Lord Estcourt at once," he said, "and tell him the whole affair, omitting all specific information as to the nature of the papers. The thing must be arranged, of course."
Half-a-dozen reporters, who had somehow got hold of the fact that the Prime Minister and his colleague from the Foreign Office were going down to Windsor on a special mission, followed them, but even they remained altogether in the dark as to the events which were really transpiring. They knew nothing of the interview between the Czar and his August host—an interview which in itself was a chapter in the history of these times. They knew nothing of the reason of their royal visitor's decision to prolong his visit instead of shortening it, or of his autograph letter to the President of the French Republic, which reached Paris even before the special mission from St. Petersburg had presented themselves. The one thing which they did know, and that alone was significant enough, was that the Czar's Foreign Minister was cabled for that night to come to his master by special train from St. Petersburg. At the Austrian and German Embassies, forewarned by a report from Baron de Streuss, something like consternation reigned. The Russian Ambassador, heckled to death, took refuge at Windsor under pretence of a command from his royal master. The happiest man in London was Prince Rosmaran.
At mid-day on the following morning Laverick stepped down from the dock at Bow Street and, as the evening papers put it, "in company with his friends left the court." The proceedings altogether took scarcely more than half-an-hour. Laverick's solicitor first put Shepherd in the box, who gave his account of Morrison's visit to the restaurant, spoke of his hurried exit, and identified the knife which he had seen him snatch up. Cross-examined as to why he had kept silent, he explained that Mr. Morrison had been a good customer and he saw no reason why he should give unsolicited evidence which would cost a man his life. Directly, however, another man had been accused, the matter appeared to him to be altogether different. He had come forward the moment he had heard of Laverick's ARREST, to offer his evidence.
While the opinion of the court was still undecided, Laverick's solicitor called Miss Zoe Leneveu. A little murmur of interest ran though the court. Laverick himself started. Zoe stepped into the witness-box, looking exceedingly pale, and with a bandage over the upper part of her head. She admitted that she was the half-sister of Arthur Morrison, although there was no blood relationship. She described his sudden visit to her rooms on the night of the murder, and his state of great alarm. She declared that he had confessed to her on the previous afternoon that he had been guilty of the murder in question.
Her place in the witness-box was taken by the Honorable David Bellamy. He declared that the prisoner was an old friend of his, and that the twenty thousand pounds of which he had been recently possessed, had come from him for investment in Laverick's business. The circumstances, he admitted, were somewhat peculiar, and until negotiations had been concluded Mr. Laverick had doubtless felt uncertain how to make use of the money. But he assured the court that there was no person who had any claim to the sum of money in question save himself, and that he was perfectly aware of the use to which Laverick had put it.
Laverick was discharged within a very few minutes, and a warrant was issued for the apprehension of Morrison. Laverick found Bellamy waiting for him, and was hurried into his motor.
"Well, you see," the latter exclaimed, "we kept our word! That dear plucky little friend of yours turned the scale, but in any case I think that there would not have been much trouble about the matter. The magistrate had received a communication direct from the Home Secretary concerning your case."
"I am very grateful indeed," Laverick declared. "I tell you I think I am very lucky. I wish I knew what had become of Miss Leneveu. The usher told me she left the court before we came out."
"I asked her to go straight back to her rooms," Bellamy said. "You must excuse me for interfering, Laverick, but I found her almost in a state of collapse last night in Jermyn Street. I was having Morrison watched, and my man reported to me that he had left his rooms in a state of great excitement, and that a young lady was there who appeared to be seriously injured."
"D—d scamp!" Laverick muttered.
"I did everything I could," Bellamy continued. "I fetched her at once and sent her back to her house with a hospital nurse and some one to look after her. The wound wasn't serious, but the fellow must have been a brute indeed to have lifted his hand against such a child. I wonder whether he'll get away."
"I should doubt it," Laverick remarked. "He hasn't the nerve. He'll probably get drunk and blow his brains out. He's a broken-spirited cur, after all."
"You'll have some lunch?" Bellamy asked.
Laverick shook his head.
"If you don't mind, I'd like to go on and see Miss Leneveu."
"Put me down at the club, then, and take my car on, if you will."
Laverick walked up and down the pavement outside Zoe's little house for nearly half-an-hour. He had found the door closed and locked, and a neighbor had informed him that Miss Leneveu had gone out in a cab with the nurse, some time ago, and had not returned. Laverick sent Bellamy's car back and waited. Presently a four-wheel cab came round the corner and stopped in front of her house. Laverick opened the door and helped Zoe out. She was as white as death, and the nurse who was with her was looking anxious.
"You are safe, then?" she murmured, holding out her hands.
"Quite," he answered. "You dear little girl!"
Zoe had fainted, however, and Laverick hurried out for the doctor. Curiously enough, it was the same man who only a week or so ago had come to see Arthur Morrison.
"She has had a bad scalp wound," he declared, "and her nervous system is very much run down. There is nothing serious. She seems to have just escaped concussion. The nurse had better stay with her for another day, at any rate."
"You are sure that it isn't serious?" Laverick asked eagerly.
"Not in the least," the doctor answered dryly. "I see worse wounds every day of my life. I'll come again to-morrow, if you like, but it really isn't necessary with the nurse on the spot."
His natural pessimism was for a moment lightened by the fee which Laverick pressed upon him, and he departed with a few more encouraging words. Laverick stayed and talked for a short time with the nurse.
"She has gone off to sleep now, sir," the latter announced. "There isn't anything to worry about. She seems as though she had been having a hard time, though. There was scarcely a thing in the house but half a packet of tea—and these."
She held up a packet of pawn tickets.
"I found these in a drawer when I came," she said. "I had to look round, because there was no money and nothing whatever in the house."
Laverick was suddenly conscious of an absurd mistiness before his eyes.
"Poor little woman!" he murmured. "I think she'd sooner have starved than ask for help."
The nurse smiled.
"I thought at first that she was rather a vain young lady," she remarked. "An empty larder and a pile of pawn tickets, and a new hat with a receipted bill for thirty shillings," she added, pointing to the sofa.
Laverick placed some notes in her hands.
"Please keep these," he begged, "and see that she has everything she wants. I shall be here again later in the day. There is not the slightest need for all this. She will be quite well off for the rest of her life. Will you try and engage some one for a day or two to come in until she is able to be moved?"
"I'll look after her," the nurse promised.
Laverick went reluctantly away. The events of the last few days were becoming more and more like a dream to him. He went to his club almost from habit. Presently the excitement which all London seemed to be sharing drove his own personal feelings a little into the background. The air was full of rumors. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary were spoken of as one speaks of heroes. Nothing was definitely known, but there was a splendid feeling of confidence that for once in her history England was preparing to justify her existence as a great Power.
THE PLOT THAT FAILED
The progress of the Czar from Buckingham Palace to the Mansion House, where he had, after all, consented to lunch with the Lord Mayor, witnessed a popular outburst of enthusiasm absolutely inexplicable to the general public. It was known that affairs in Central Europe were in a dangerously precarious state, and it was felt that the Czar's visit here, and the urgent summons which had brought from St. Petersburg his Foreign Minister, were indications that the long wished-for entente between Russia and this country was now actually at hand. There was in the Press a curious reticence with regard to the development of the political situation. One felt everywhere that it was the calm before the storm—that at any moment the great black headlines might tell of some startling stroke of diplomacy, some dangerous peril averted or defied. The circumstances themselves of the Czar's visit had been a little peculiar. On his arrival it was announced that, for reasons of health, the original period of his stay, namely a week, was to be cut down to two days. No sooner had he arrived at Windsor, however, than a change was announced. The Czar had so far recovered as to be able even to extend the period at first fixed for his visit. Simultaneously with this, the German and Austrian Press were full of bitter and barely veiled articles, whose meaning was unmistakable. The Czar had thrown in his lot at first with Austria and Germany. That he was going deliberately to break away from that arrangement there seemed now scarcely any manner of doubt.