Chapter XVIII. The Lonely Chorus Girl
 

They stood together upon the platform watching the receding train. The girl's eyes were filled with tears, but Laverick was conscious of a sense of immense relief. Morrison had been at the station some time before the train was due to leave, and, although a physical wreck, he seemed only too anxious to depart. He had all the appearance of a broken-spirited man. He looked about him on the platform, and even from the carriage, in the furtive way of a criminal expecting apprehension at any moment. The whistle of the train had been a relief as great to him as to Laverick.

We'11 write you to New York, care of Barclays," Laverick called out. "Good luck, Morrison! Pull yourself tog-ether and make a fresh start.

"Morrison's only reply was a somewhat feeble nod. Laverick had not attempted to shake hands. He felt himself at the last moment, stirred almost to anger by the perfunctory farewell which was all this man had offered to the girl he had treated so inconsiderately. His thoughts were engrossed upon himself and his own danger. He would not even have kissed her if she had not drawn his face down to hers and whispered a reassuring little message. Laverick turned away. For some reason or other he felt himself shuddering. Conversation during those last few moments had been increasingly difficult. The train was off at last, however, and they were alone.

The girl drew a long breath, which might very well have been one of relief. They turned silently toward the exit.

"Are you going back home?" Laverick asked.

"Yes," she answered listlessly. "There is nothing else to do."

"Isn't it rather sad for you there by yourself?"

She nodded.

"It is the first time," she said. "Another girl and her mother have lived with me always. They started off last week, touring. They are paying a little toward the house or I should have to go into rooms. As it is, I think that it would be more comfortable."

Laverick looked at her wonderingly.

"You seem such a child," he said, "to be left all alone in the world like this."

"But I am not a child actually, you see," she answered, with an effort at lightness. "Somehow, though, I do miss Arthur's going. His father was always very good to me, and made him promise that he would do what he could. I didn't see much of him, but one felt always that there was somebody. It's different now. It makes one feel very lonely."

"I, too," Laverick said, with commendable mendacity, "am rather a lonely person. You must let me see something of you now and then."

She looked up at him quickly. Her gaze was altogether disingenuous, but her eyes - those wonderful eyes - spoke volumes.

"If you really mean it," she said, "I should be so glad."

"Supposing we start to-day," he suggested, smiling. "I cannot ask you to lunch, as I have a busy day before me, but we might have dinner together quite early. Then I would take you to the theatre and meet you afterwards, if you liked."

"If I liked!" she whispered. "Oh, how good you are."

"I am not at all sure about that. Now I'll put you in this taxi and send you home."

She laughed.

"You mustn't do anything so extravagant. I can get a 'bus just outside. I never have taxicabs."

"Just this morning," he insisted, "and I think he won't trouble you for his fare. You must let me, please. Remember that there's a large account open still between your half-brother and me, so you needn't mind these trifles. Till this evening, then. Shall I fetch you or will you come to me?"

"Let me fetch you, if I may," she said. "It isn't nice for you to come down to where I live. It's such a horrid part."

"Just as you like," he answered. "I'd be very glad to fetch you if you prefer it, but it would give me more time if you came. Shall we say seven o'clock? I've written the address down on this card so that you can make no mistake."

She laughed gayly.

"You know, all the time," she said, "I feel that you are treating me as though I were a baby. I'll be there punctually, and I don't think I need tie the card around my neck."

The cab glided off. Laverick caught a glimpse of a wan little face with a faint smile quivering at the corner of her lips as she leaned out for a moment to say good-bye. Then he went back to his rooms, breakfasted, and made his way to his office.

The morning papers had nothing new to report concerning the murder in Crooked Friars' Alley. Evidently what information the police had obtained they were keeping for the inquest. Laverick, from the moment when he entered the office, had little or no time to think of the tragedy under whose shadow he had come. The long-predicted boom had arrived at last. Without lunch, he and all his clerks worked until after six o'clock. Even then Laverick found it hard to leave. During the day, a dozen people or so had been in to ask for Morrison. To all of them he had given the same reply, - Morrison had gone abroad on private business for the firm. Very few were deceived by Laverick's dry statement. He was quite aware that he was looked upon either as one of the luckiest men on earth, or as a financier of consummate skill. The failure of Laverick & Morrison had been looked upon as a certainty. How they had tided over that twenty-four hours had been known to no one - to no one but Laverick himself and the manager of his bank.

Just before four o'clock, the telephone rang at his elbow.

"Mr. Fenwick from the bank, sir, is wishing to speak to you for a moment," his head-clerk announced.

Laverick took up the telephone.

"Yes," he said, "I am Laverick. Good afternoon, Mr. Fenwick! Absolutely impossible to spare any time to-day. What is it? The account is all right, isn't it?"

"Quite right, Mr. Laverick," was the answer. "At the same time, if you could spare me a moment I should be glad to see you concerning the deposit you made yesterday."

"I will come in to-morrow," Laverick promised. "This afternoon it is quite out of the question. I have a crowd of people waiting to see me, and several important engagements for which I am late already."

The banker seemed scarcely satisfied.

"I may rely upon seeing you to-morrow?" he pressed.

"To-morrow," Laverick repeated, ringing off.

For a time this last message troubled him. As soon as the day's work was over, however, and he stepped into his cab, he dismissed it entirely from his thoughts. It was curious how, notwithstanding this new seriousness which had come into his life, notwithstanding that sensation of walking all the time on the brink of a precipice, he set his face homeward and looked forward to his evening, with a pleasure which he had not felt for many months. The whirl of the day faded easily from his mind. He lived no more in an atmosphere of wild excitement, of changing prices, of feverish anxiety. How empty his life must have unconsciously grown that he could find so much pleasure in being kind to a pretty child! It was hard to think of her otherwise - impossible. A strange heritage, this, to have been left him by such a person as Arthur Morrison. How in the world, he wondered, did he happen to have such a connection.

She was a little shy when she arrived. Laverick had left special orders downstairs, and she was brought up into his sitting-room immediately. She was very quietly dressed except for her hat, which was large and wavy. He found it becoming, but he knew enough to understand that her clothes were very simple and very inexpensive, and he was conscious of being curiously glad of the fact.

"I am afraid," she said timidly, with a glance at his evening attire, "that we must go somewhere very quiet. You see, I have only one evening gown and I couldn't wear that. There wouldn't be time to change afterwards. Besides, one's clothes do get so knocked about in the dressing-rooms."

"There are heaps of places we can go to," he assured her pleasantly. "Of course you can't, dress for the evening when you have to go on to work, but you must remember that there are a good many other smart young ladies in the same position. I had to change because I have taken a stall to see your performance. Tell me, how are you feeling now?"

"Rather lonely," she admitted, making a pathetic little grimace. "That is to say I have been feeling lonely," she added softly. "I don't now, of course.

"You are a queer little person," he said kindly, as they went down in the lift. "Haven't you any friends?"

She shrugged her shoulders.

"What sort of friends could I have?" she asked. "The girls in the chorus with me are very nice, some of them, but they know so many people whom I don't, and they are always out to supper, or something of the sort."

"And you?"

She shook her head.

"I went to one supper-party with the girl who is near me," she said. "I liked it very much, but they didn't ask me again."

"I wonder why?" he remarked.

"Oh, I don't know!" she went on drearily. "You see, I think the men who take out girls who are in the chorus, generally expect to be allowed to make love to them. At any rate, they behaved like that. Such a horrid man tried to say nice things to me and I didn't like it a bit. So they left me alone afterwards. The girl I lived with and her mother are quite nice, and they have a few friends we go to see sometimes on Sunday or holidays. It's dull, though, very dull, especially now they're away."

"What on earth made you think of going on the stage at all?" he asked.

"What could one do?" she answered. "My mother's money died with her - she had only an annuity - and my stepfather, who had promised to look after me, lost all his money and died quite suddenly. Arthur was in a stockbroker's office and he couldn't save anything. My only friend was my old music-master, and he had given up teaching and was director of the orchestra at the Universal. All he could do for me was to get me a place in the chorus. I have been there ever since. They keep on promising me a little part but I never get it. It's always like that in theatres. You have to be a favorite of the manager's, for some reason or other, or you never get your chance unless you are unusually lucky."

"I don't know much about theatres," he admitted. "I am afraid I am rather a stupid person. When I can get away from work I go into the country and play cricket or golf, or anything that's going. When I am up in town, I am generally content with looking up a few friends, or playing bridge at the club. I never have been a theatre-goer.

"I wonder," she asked, as they seated themselves at a small round table in the restaurant which he had chosen, - "I wonder why every now and then you look so serious."

"I didn't know that I did," he answered. "We've had thundering hard times lately in business, though. I suppose that makes a man look thoughtful."

"Poor Mr. Laverick," she murmured softly. "Are things any better now?"

"Much better."

"Then you have nothing really to bother you?" she persisted.

"I suppose we all have something," he replied, suddenly grave. "Why do you ask that?"

She leaned across the table. In the shaded light, her oval face with its little halo of deep brown hair seemed to him as though it might have belonged to some old miniature. She was delightful, like Watteau-work upon a piece of priceless porcelain - delightful when the lights played in her eyes and the smile quivered at the corner of her lips. Just now, however, she became very much in earnest.

"I will tell you why I ask that question," she said. "I cannot help worrying still about Arthur. You know you admitted last night that he had done something. You saw how terribly frightened he was this morning, and how he kept on looking around as though he were afraid that he would see somebody whom he wished to avoid. Oh! I don't want to worry you," she went on, "but I feel so terrified sometimes. I feel that he must have done something - bad. It was not an ordinary business trouble which took the life out of him so completely."

"It was not," Laverick admitted at once. "He has done something, I believe, quite foolish; but the matter is in my hands to arrange, and I think you can assure yourself that nothing will come of it."

"Did you tell him so this morning?" she asked eagerly.

"I did not," he answered. "I told him nothing. For many reasons it was better to keep him ignorant. He and I might not have seen things the same way, and I am sure that what I am doing is for the best. If I were you, Miss Leneveu, I think I wouldn't worry any more. Soon you will hear from your brother that he is safe in New York, and I think I can promise you that the trouble will never come to anything serious."

"Why have you been so kind to him?" she asked timidly. "From what he said, I do not think that he was very useful to you, and, indeed, you and he are so different."

Laverick was silent for a moment.

"To be honest," he said, "I think that I should not have taken so much trouble for his sake alone. You see," he continued, smiling, "you are rather a delightful young person, and you were very anxious, weren't you?"

Her hand came across the table - an impulsive little gesture, which he nevertheless found perfectly natural and delightful. He took it into his, and would have raised the fingers to his lips but for the waiters who were hovering around.

"You are so kind," she said, "and I am so fortunate. I think that I wanted a friend."

"You poor child," he answered, "I should think you did. You are not drinking your wine."

She shook her head.

"Do you mind?" she asked. "A very little gets into my head because I take it so seldom, and the manager is cross if one makes the least bit of a mistake. Besides, I do not think that I like to drink wine. If one does not take it at all, there is an excuse for never having anything when the girls ask you."

He nodded sympathetically.

"I believe you are quite right," he said; "in a general way, at any rate. Well, I will drink by myself to your brother's safe arrival in New York. Are you ready?"

She glanced at the clock.

"I must be there in a quarter of an hour," she told him.

"I will drive you to the theatre," he said, "and then go round and fetch my ticket."

As he waited for her in the reception hall of the restaurant, he took an evening paper from the stall. A brief paragraph at once attracted his attention.

Murder in the City. - We understand that very important information has come into the hands of the police. An arrest is expected to-night or to-morrow at the latest.

He crushed the paper in his hand and threw it on one side. It was the usual sort of thing. There was nothing they could have found out - nothing, he told himself.