Havoc by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Chapter XXI. Mademoiselle Idiale's Visit
Laverick, on the following morning, found many things to think about. He was accustomed to lunch always at the same restaurant, within a few yards of his office, and with the same little company of friends. Just as he was leaving, an outside broker whom he knew slightly came across the room to him.
"Tell me, Laverick," he asked, "what's become of your partner?"
"He has gone abroad for a few weeks. As a matter of fact, we shall be announcing a change in the firm shortly."
"Queer thing," the broker remarked. "I was in Liverpool yesterday, and I could have sworn that I saw him hanging around the docks. I should never have doubted it, but Morrison was always so careful about his appearance, and this fellow was such a seedy-looking individual. I called out to him and he vanished like a streak."
"It could scarcely have been Morrison," Laverick said. "He sailed several days ago for New York."
"That settles it," the man declared, passing on. "All the same, it was the most extraordinary likeness I ever saw."
Laverick, on his way back, went into a cable office and wrote out a marconigram to the Lusitania,
He signed his name and paid for an answer. Then he went back to his office.
"Any one to see me?" he inquired.
"Mr. Shepherd is here waiting," his clerk told him, - "queer looking fellow who paid you two hundred and fifty pounds in cash for some railway stock."
"I'll see him," he said. "Anything else?"
"A lady rang up - name sounded like a French one, but we could none of us catch what it was - to say that she was coming down to see you."
"If it is Mademoiselle Idiale," Laverick directed, "I must see her directly she arrives. How are you, Shepherd?" he added, nodding to the waiter as he passed towards his room. "Come in, will you? You've got your certificates all right?"
Mr. James Shepherd had the air of a man with whom prosperity had not wholly agreed. He was paler and pastier-looking than ever, and his little green eyes seemed even more restless. His attire - a long rough overcoat over the livery of his profession - scarcely enhanced the dignity of his appearance.
"Well, what is it?" Laverick asked, as soon as the door was closed.
"Our bar is being watched," the man declared. "I don't think it's anything to do with the police. Seems to be a sort of foreign gang. They're all round the place, morning, noon, and night. They've pumped everybody."
"There isn't very much," Laverick remarked slowly, "for them to find out except from you."
"They've found out something, anyway," Shepherd continued. "My junior waiter, unfortunately, who was asleep in the sitting-room, told them he was sure there were customers in the place between ten and twelve on Monday night, because they woke him up twice, talking. They're beginning to look at me a bit doubtful."
"I shouldn't worry," Laverick advised. "The inquest's on now and you haven't been called. I don't fancy you're running any sort of risk. Any one may say they believe there were people in the, bar between those hours, but there isn't any one who can contradict you outright. Besides, you haven't sworn to anything. You've simply said, as might be very possible, that you don't remember any one."
"It makes me a bit nervous, though," Shepherd remarked apologetically. "They're a regular keen-looking tribe, I can tell you. Their eyes seem to follow you all over the place."
"I shall come in for a drink presently myself," Laverick declared. "I should like to see them. I might get an idea as to their nationality, at any rate."
"Very good, sir. I'm sure I'm doing just as you suggested. I've said nothing about leaving, but I'm beginning to grumble a bit at the work, so as to pave the way. It's a hard job, and no mistake. I had thirty-nine chops between one and half-past, single-handed, too, with only a boy to carry the bread and that, and no one to serve the drinks unless they go to the counter for them. It's more than one man's work, Mr. Laverick."
"So much the better," he declared. "All the more excuse for your leaving.
"You '11 be round sometime to-day, sir, then?" the man asked, taking up his hat.
"I shall look in for a few moments, for certain," Laverick answered. "If you get a chance you must point out to me one of those fellows."
Jim Shepherd departed. There was a shouting of newspaper boys in the street outside. Laverick sent out for a paper. The account of the inquest was brief enough, and there were no witnesses called except the men who had found the dead body. The nature of the wounds was explained to the jury, also the impossibility of their having been self-inflicted. In the absence of any police evidence or any identification, the discussion as to the manner of the death was naturally limited. The jury contented themselves by bringing in a verdict of "Wilful murder against some person or persons unknown." Laverick laid down the paper. The completion of the inquest was at least the first definite step toward safety. The question now before him was what to do with that twenty thousand pounds. He sat at his desk, looking into vacancy. After all, had he paid too great a price? The millstone was gone from around his neck, something new and incomprehensible had crept into his life. Yet for a background there was always this secret knowledge.
A clerk announcing Mademoiselle Idiale broke in upon his reflections. Laverick rose from his seat to greet his visitor. She was wonderfully dressed, as usual, yet with the utmost simplicity, - a white serge gown with a large black hat, but a gown that seemed to have been moulded on to her slim, faultless figure. She brought with her a musical rustle, a slight suggestion of subtle perfumes - a perfume so thin and ethereal that it was unrecognizable except in its faint suggestion of hothouse flowers. She held out her hand to Laverick, who placed for her at once an easy-chair.
"This is indeed an honor, Mademoiselle."
She inclined her head graciously.
"You are very kind," said she. "I know that here in the city you are very busy making money all the time, so I must not stay long. Will you buy me some stocks, - some good safe stocks, which will bring me in at least four per cent?"
"I can promise to do that," Laverick answered. "Have you any choice?"
"No, I have no choice," Louise told him. "I bring with me a cheque, - see, I give it to you, - it is for six thousand pounds. I would like to buy some stocks with this, and to know the names so that I may watch them in the paper. I like to see whether they go up or down, but I do not wish to risk their going down too much. It is something like gambling but it is no trouble."
"Your money shall be spent in a few minutes, Mademoiselle," Laverick assured her, "and I think I can promise you that for a week or two, at any rate, your stocks will go up. With regard to selling - "
"I leave everything to you," she interrupted, "only let me know what you propose."
"We will do our best," Laverick promised.
"It is good," she said. "Money is a wonderful thing. Without it one can do little. You have not forgotten, Mr. Laverick, that you were going to show me this passage?"
"Certainly not. Come with me now, if you will. It is only a yard or two away."
He took her out into the street. Every clerk in the office forgot his manners and craned his neck. Outside, Mademoiselle let fall her veil and passed unrecognized. Laverick showed her the entry.
"It was just there," he explained, "about half a dozen yards up on the left, that the body was found."
She looked at the place steadily. Then she looked along the passage.
"Where does it lead to - that?" she asked.
"Come and I will show you. On the left" - as they passed along the flagged pavement - "is St. Nicholas Church and churchyard. On the right here there are just offices. The street in front of us is Henschell Street. All of those buildings are stockbrokers' offices."
"And directly opposite," she asked, - "that is a café, is it not, - a restaurant, as you would call it?"
"That is so," he agreed. "One goes in there sometimes for a drink."
"And a meeting place, perhaps?" she inquired. "It would probably be a meeting place. One might leave there and walk down this passage naturally enough."
Laverick inclined his head.
"As a matter of fact," he declared, "I think that the evidence went to prove that there were no visitors in the restaurant that night. You see, all these offices round here close at six or seven o'clock, and the whole neighborhood becomes deserted."
She shrugged her shoulders impatiently.
"Your English police, they do not know how to collect evidence. In the hands of Frenchmen, this mystery would have been solved long before now. The guilty person would be in the hands of the law. As it is, I suppose that he will go free."
"Well, we must give the police a chance, at any rate," answered Laverick. "They haven't had much time so far."
"No," she admitted, "they have not had much time. I wonder - " She hesitated for a moment and did not conclude her sentence. "Come," she exclaimed, with a little shiver, "let us go back to your office! This place is not cheerful. All the time I think of that poor man. It does make me frightened."
Laverick escorted his visitor back to the electric brougham which was waiting before his door.
"A list of stocks purchased on your behalf will reach you by to-night's post," he promised her. "We shall do our best in your interests."
He held out his hand, but she seemed in no hurry to let him go.
"You are very kind, Mr. Laverick. I would like to see you again very soon. You have heard me sing in Samson and Delilah?"
"Not yet, but I am hoping to very shortly."
"To-night," she declared, "you must come to the Opera House. I leave a box for you at the door. Send me round a note that you are there, and it is possible that I may see you. It is against the rules, but for me there are no rules."
Laverick hesitating, she leaned forward and looked into his face.
"You are doing something else?" she protested. "You were, perhaps, thinking of taking out again the little girl with whom you were sitting last night?"
"I had half promised - "
"No, no!" she exclaimed, holding his hand tighter. "She is not for you - that child. She is too young. She knows nothing. Better to leave her alone. She is not for a man of the world like you. Soon she would cease to amuse you. You would be dull and she would still care. Oh, there is so much tragedy in these things, Mr. Laverick - so much tragedy for the woman! It is she always who suffers. You will take my advice. You will leave that little girl alone."
"I am afraid," said he, "that I cannot promise that so quickly. You see, I have not known her long, but she has very few friends and I think that she would miss me. Perhaps," he added, after a second's pause, "I care for her too much."
"It is not for you," she answered scornfully, "to care too much. An Englishman, he cares never enough. A woman to him is something amusing, - his companion for a little of his spare time, something to be pleased about, to show off to his friends, - to share, even, the passion of the moment. But an Englishman he does not care too much. He never cares enough. He does not know what it is to care enough."
"Mademoiselle, there may be truth in what you say, and again there may not. We have the name, I know, of being cold lovers, but at least we are faithful."
She held up her hand with a little grimace.
"Oh, how I do hate that word!" she exclaimed. "Who is there, indeed, who wishes that you would be faithful? How much we poor women do suffer from that! Why can you never understand that a woman would be cared for very, very much, with all the strength and all the passion you can conceive, but let it not last for too long. It gets weary. It gets stale. It is as you say, - the Englishman he cares very little, perhaps, but he cares always; and the woman, if she be an artiste and a woman, she tires. But good afternoon, Mr. Laverick! I must not keep you here on the pavement talking of these frivolous matters. You come to-night?"
"You are very kind," Laverick said. "If I may come until eleven o'clock, it would give me the greatest pleasure."
"As you will," she declared. "We shall see. I expect you, then. You ask for your box."
"If you wish it, certainly."
She smiled and waved her hand.
"You will tell him, please," she directed, "to drive to Bond Street."
Laverick re-entered his office, pausing for a minute to give his clerk instructions for the purchase of stocks for Mademoiselle Idiale. He had scarcely reached his own room when he was told that Mr. James Shepherd wished to speak to him for a moment upon the telephone. He took up the receiver.
"Who is it?" he asked.
"It is Shepherd," was the answer. "Is that Mr. Laverick?"
"You were outside the restaurant here a few minutes ago," Shepherd continued. "You had with you a lady - a young, tall lady with a veil."
"That's right," Laverick admitted. "What about her?"
"One of the two men who watch always here was reading the paper in the window," Shepherd went on hoarsely. "He saw her with you and I heard him mutter something as though he had received a shock. He dropped his glass and his paper. He watched you every second of the time you were there until you had disappeared. Then he, too, put on his hat and went out."
"Nothing else," was the reply. "I thought you might like to know this, sir. The man recognized the lady right enough."
"It seems queer," Laverick admitted. "Thank you for ringing me up, Shepherd. Good morning!"
Laverick leaned back in his chair. There was no doubt whatever now in his mind but that Mademoiselle Idiale, for some reason or other, was interested in this crime. Her wish to see the place, her introduction to him last night and her purchase of stocks, were all part of a scheme. He was suddenly and absolutely convinced of it. As friend or foe, she was very certainly about to take her place amongst the few people over whom this tragedy loomed.