Chapter XV. Laverick's Partner Flees
 

The doctor, a grave, incurious person, arrived within a few minutes to find Morrison already conscious but absolutely exhausted. He felt his patient's pulse, prescribed a draught, and followed Laverick. down into the sitting room.

"An ordinary case of nervous exhaustion," he pronounced. "The patient appears to have had a very severe shock lately. He will be all right with proper diet and treatment, and a complete rest. I will call again to-morrow."

He accepted the fee which Laverick slipped into his hand, and took his departure. Once more Laverick was alone with the girl, who had followed them downstairs.

"There is nothing to be alarmed at, you see," he remarked.

"It is not his health which frightens me. I am sure - I am quite sure that he has something upon his mind. Did he tell you nothing?"

"Nothing at all," Laverick answered, with an inward sense of thankfulness. "To tell you the truth, though, I am afraid you are right and that he did get into some sort of trouble last night. He was just about to tell me something when he fainted."

Upstairs they could hear him moaning. The girl listened with pitiful face.

"What am I to do?" she asked. "I cannot leave him like this, and if I am not at the theatre in twenty minutes, I shall be fined."

"The theatre?" Laverick repeated.

She nodded.

"I am on the stage," she said, - "only a chorus girl at the Universal, worse luck. Still, they don't allow us to stay away, and I can't afford to lose my place."

"Do you mean to say that you have been keeping yourself here, then?" Laverick asked bluntly.

"Of course," she answered. "I do not like to be a burden on any one, and after all, you see, Arthur and I are really not related at all. He has always told me, too, that times have been so bad lately."

Laverick was on the point of telling her that bad though they had been Arthur Morrison had never drawn less than fifteen hundred a year, but he checked himself. It was not his business to interfere.

"I think," he said, "that your brother ought to have provided for you. He could have done so with very little effort."

"But what am I to do now?" she asked him. "If I am absent, I shall lose my place."

Laverick thought for a moment.

"If you went round there and told them," he suggested, "would that make any difference? I could stay until you came back."

"Do you mind?" she asked eagerly. "It would be so kind of you."

"Not at all," he answered. "Perhaps you would be good enough to bring a taxicab back, and I could take it on to my rooms. Take one from here, if you can find it. There are always some at the corner."

"I'd love to," she answered. "I must run upstairs and get my hat and coat."

He watched her go up on tiptoe for fear of disturbing her brother. Her feet seemed almost unearthly in the lightness of their pressure. Not a board creaked. She seemed to float down to him in a most becoming little hat but a shockingly shabby jacket, of whose deficiencies she seemed wholly unaware. Her lips were parted once more in a smile.

"He is fast asleep and breathing quite regularly," she announced. "It is nice of you to stay."

He looked at her almost jealously.

"Do you know," he said, "you ought not to go about alone?"

She laughed, softly but heartily.

"Have you any idea how old I am?"

"I took you for fourteen when I came inside," he answered. "Afterwards I thought you might be sixteen. Later on, it seemed to me possible that you were eighteen. I am absolutely certain that you are not more than nineteen."

"That shows how little you know about it. I am twenty, and I am quite used to going about alone. Will you sit upstairs or here? I am so sorry that I have nothing to offer you."

"Thanks, I need nothing. I think I will sit upstairs in case he wakes."

She nodded and stole out, closing the door behind her noiselessly. Laverick watched her from the window until she was out of sight, moving without any appearance of haste, yet with an incredible swiftness. When she had turned the corner, he went slowly upstairs and into the room where Morrison still lay asleep. He drew a chair to the bedside and leaning forward opened out the evening paper. The events of the last hour or so had completely blotted out from his mind, for the time being, his own expedition into the world of tragical happenings. He glanced at the sleeping man, then opened his paper. There was very little fresh news except that this time the fact was mentioned that upon the body of the murdered man was discovered a sum larger than was at first supposed. It seemed doubtful, therefore, whether robbery, after all, was the motive of the crime, especially as it took place in a neighborhood which was by no means infested with criminals. There was a suggestion of political motive, a reference to the "Black Hand," concerning whose doings the papers had been full since the murder of a well-known detective a few weeks ago. But apart from this there was nothing fresh.

Laverick folded up the paper and leaned back in his chair. The strain of the last twenty-four hours was beginning to tell even upon his robust constitution. The atmosphere of the room, too, was close. He leaned back in his chair and was suddenly weary. Perhaps he dozed. At any rate, the whisper which called him back to realization of where he was, came to him so unexpectedly that he sat up with a sudden start.

Morrison's eyes were open, he had raised himself on his elbow, his lips were parted. His manner was quieter, but there were black lines deep engraven under his eyes, in which there still shone something of that haunting fear.

"Laverick!" he repeated hoarsely.

Laverick, fully awakened now, leaned towards him.

"Hullo," he said, "are you feeling more like yourself?"

Morrison nodded.

"Yes," he admitted, "I am feeling - better. How did you come here? I can't remember anything."

"You sent for me," Laverick answered. "I arrived to find you pretty well in a state of collapse. Your sister has gone round to the theatre to ask them to excuse her this evening."

"I remember now that I sent for you," Morrison continued. "Tell me, has any one been around at the office asking after me?"

"No one particular," Laverick answered, - "no one at all that I can think of. There were one or two inquiries through the telephone, but they were all ordinary business matters."

The man on the bed drew a little breath which sounded like a sigh of relief.

"I have made a fool of myself, Laverick," he said hoarsely .

"You are making a worse one of yourself by lying here and giving way," Laverick declared, "besides frightening your sister half to death.

Morrison passed his hand across his forehead.

"We talked - some time ago," he went on, "about my getting away. You promised that you would help me. You said that I could get off to Africa or America to-morrow."

"Not the slightest difficulty about that," Laverick answered. "There are half-a-dozen steamers sailing, at least. At the same time, I suppose I ought to remind you that the firm is going to pull through. Mind - don't take this unkindly but the truth is best - I will not have you back again. There may have to be a more definite readjustment of our affairs now, but the old business is finished with."

"I don't want to come back," Morrison murmured. "I have had enough of the city for the rest of my life. I'd rather get away somewhere and make a fresh start. You'll help me, Laverick, won't you?"

"Yes, I will help you," Laverick promised.

"You were always a good sort," Morrison continued, "much too good for me. It was a rotten partnership for you. We could never have pulled together."

"Let that go," Laverick interrupted. "If you really mean getting away, that simplifies matters, of course. Have you made any plans at all? Where do you want to go?"

"To New York," answered Morrison; "New York would suit me best. There is money to be made there if one has something to make a start with."

"There will be some more money to come to you," Laverick answered, "probably a great deal more. I shall place our affairs in the hands of an accountant, and shall have an estimate drawn up to yesterday. You shall have every penny that is due to you. You have quite enough, however, to get there with. I will see to your ticket to-night, if possible. When you've arrived you can cable me your address, or you can decide where you will stay before you leave, and I will send you a further remittance."

"You're a good sort, Laverick," Morrison mumbled.

"You'd better give me the key of your rooms," Laverick continued, "and I will go back and put together some of your things. I suppose you will not want much to go away with. The rest can be sent on afterwards. And what about your letters?"

Morrison, with a sudden movement, threw himself almost out of the bed. He clutched at Laverick's shoulder frantically.

"Don't go near my rooms, Laverick!" he begged. "Promise me that you won't! I don't want any letters! I don't want any of my things!"

Laverick was dumfounded.

"You mean you want to go away without - "

"I mean just what I have said," Morrison continued hysterically. "If you go there they will watch you, they will follow you, they will find out where I am. I should be there now but for that."

Laverick was silent for a moment. The matter was becoming serious.

"Very well," he said, "I will do as you say. I will not go near your rooms. I will get you a few things somewhere to start with."

Morrison sank back upon his pillow.

"Thank you, Laverick," he said; "thank you. I wish - I wish - "

His voice seemed to die away. Laverick glanced towards him, wondering at the unfinished sentence. Once again the man's face seemed to be convulsed with horror. He flung himself face downward upon the bed and tore at the sheets with both his hands.

"Don't be a fool," Laverick said sternly. "If you've anything on your mind apart from business, tell me about it and I'll do what I can to help you."

Morrison made no reply. He was sobbing now like a child. Laverick rose to his feet and went to the window. What was to be done with such a creature! When he got back, Morrison had raised himself once more into a sitting posture. His appearance was absolutely spectral.

"Laverick," he said feebly, "there is something else, but I cannot tell you - I cannot tell any one."

"Just as you please, of course," Laverick answered. "I am simply anxious to help you."

"You can do that as it is!" Morrison exclaimed feverishly. "You must promise me something - promise that if any one asks for me to-morrow before I get away, you will not tell them where I am. Say you suppose that I am at my rooms, or that I have gone into the country for a few days. Say that you are expecting me back. Don't let any one know that I have gone abroad, until I am safely away. And then don't tell a soul where I have gone."

"Have you been up to any tricks with your friends?" Laverick asked sternly.

"I haven't - I swear that I haven't," Morrison declared. "It's something quite outside business - quite outside business altogether."

"Very well," answered Laverick, "I will promise what you have asked, then. Listen - here is your sister back again," he added, as he heard the taxicab stop outside. "Pull yourself together and don't frighten her so much. I am going down to meet her. I shall tell her that you are better. Try and buck up when she comes in to see you."

"I'll do my best," Morrison said humbly. "If you knew! If you only knew!"

He began to sob again. Laverick left the room and, descending the stairs, met the girl in the hall. Her white face questioned him before her lips had time to frame the speech.

"Your brother is very much better," Laverick said. "I am sure that you need not be anxious about him."

"I am so glad," she murmured. "They let me off but I had to pay a fine. I had no idea before that I was so important. Shall I go to him now?"

"One moment," Laverick answered, holding open the door of the sitting-room. "Miss Morrison," he went on, -

"Miss Leneven is my name," she interrupted.

"I beg your pardon. Your brother evidently has something on his mind apart from business. I am afraid that he has been getting into some sort of trouble. I don't think there is any object in bothering him about it, but the great thing is to get him away."

"You will help?" she begged.

"I will help, certainly," Laverick answered. "I have promised to. You must see that he is ready to leave here at seven o'clock to-morrow morning. He wants to go to New York, and the special to catch the German boat will leave Waterloo somewhere about eight to eight-thirty."

"But his clothes!" she cried. "How can he be ready by then?"

"Your brother does not wish me or any one to go near his rooms or to send him any of his belongings," Laverick continued quietly.

"But how strange!" the girl exclaimed. "Do you mean to say, then, that he is going without anything?"

"I am afraid," Laverick said kindly, "that we must take it for granted that your brother has got mixed up in some undesirable business or other. He is nervously anxious to keep his whereabouts an entire secret. He has been asking me whether any one has been to the office to inquire for him. Under the circumstances, I think the best thing we can do is to humor him. I shall buy him before to-morrow morning a cheap dressing-case and a ready-made suit of clothes, and a few things for the voyage. Then I shall send a cab for you both at seven o'clock and meet you at the station.

"You are very kind," she murmured. "What should I have done without you? Oh, I cannot think!"

The protective instinct in the man was suddenly strong. Naturally unaffectionate, he was conscious of an almost overmastering desire to take her hands in his, even to lift her up and kiss away the tears which shone in her deep, childlike eyes. He reminded himself that she was a stranger, that her appearance of youth was a delusion, that she could only construe such an action as a liberty, an impertinence, offered under circumstances for which there could be no possible excuse.

He moved away towards the door.

"Naturally," he said, "I am glad to be of use to your brother. You see," he explained, a little awkwardly, "after all, we have been partners in business."

He caught a look upon her face and smiled.

"Naturally, too," he continued, "it has been a great pleasure for me to do anything to relieve your anxiety."

She gave him her hands then of her own accord. The gratitude which shone out of her swimming eyes seemed mingled with something which was almost invitation. Laverick was suddenly swept off his feet. Something had come into his life - something absurd, uncounted upon, incomprehensible. The atmosphere of the room seemed electrified. In a moment, he had done what only a second or two before he had told himself would be the action of a cad. He had taken her, unresisting, up into his arms, kissed her eyes and lips. Afterwards, he was never able to remember those few moments clearly, only it seemed to him that she had accepted his caress almost without hesitation, with the effortless serenity of a child receiving a natural consolation in a time of trouble. But Laverick was conscious of other feelings as he leaned hard back in the corner of his taxicab and was driven swiftly away.