Chapter XXIV. A Supper Party at Luigi's
 

Laverick walked into Luigi's Restaurant at about a quarter to twelve, and found the place crowded with many little supper-parties on their way to a fancy dress ball. The demand for tables was far in excess of the supply, but he had scarcely shown himself before the head maitre d'hotel came hurrying up.

"Mademoiselle Idiale is waiting for you, sir," he announced at once. "Will you be so good as to come this way?"

Laverick followed him. She was sitting at the same table as last night, but she was alone, and it was laid, he noticed with surprise, only for two.

"You have treated me," she said, as she held out her fingers, "to a new sensation. I have waited for you alone here for a quarter of an hour - I! Such a thing has never happened to me before."

"You do me too much honor," Laverick declared, seating himself and taking up the carte.

"Then, too," she continued, "I sup alone with you. That is what I seldom do with any man. Not that I care for the appearance," she added, with a contemptuous wave of the hand. "Nothing troubles me less. It is simply that one man alone wearies me. Almost always he will make love, and that I do not like. You, Mr. Laverick, I am not afraid of. I do not think that you will make love to me."

"Any intentions I may have had," Laverick remarked, with a sigh, "I forthwith banish. You ask a hard task of your cavaliers, though, Mademoiselle."

She smiled and looked at him from under her eyelids.

"Not of you, I fancy, Mr. Laverick," she said. "I do not think that you are one of those who make love to every woman because she is good-looking or famous."

"To tell you the truth," Laverick admitted, "I find it hard to make love to any one. I often feel the most profound admiration for individual members of your sex, but to express one's self is difficult - sometimes it is even embarrassing. For supper?"

"It is ordered," she declared. "You are my guest."

"Impossible!" Laverick asserted firmly. "I have been your guest at the Opera. You at least owe me the honor of being mine for supper."

She frowned a little. She was obviously unused to being contradicted.

"I sup with you, then, another night," she insisted. "No," she continued, "If you are going to look like that, I take it back. I sup with you to-night. This is an ill omen for our future acquaintance. I have given in to you already - I, who give in to no man. Give me some champagne, please."

Laverick took the bottle from the ice-pail by his side, but the sommelier darted forward and served them.

"I drink to our better understanding of one another, Mr. Laverick," she said, raising her glass, "and, if you would like a double toast, I drink also to the early gratification of the curiosity which is consuming you."

"The curiosity? "

"Yes! You are wondering all the time why it is that I chose last night to send and have you presented to me, why I came to your office in the city to-day with the excuse of investing money with you, why I invited you to the Opera to-night, why I commanded you to supper here and am supping with you alone. Now confess the truth; you are full of curiosity, is it not so?"

"Frankly, I am."

She smiled good-humoredly.

"I knew it quite well. You are not conceited. You do not believe, as so many men would, that I have fallen in love with you. You think that there must be some object, and you ask yourself all the time, 'What is it?' in your heart, Mr. Laverick, I wonder whether you have any idea."

Her voice had fallen almost to a whisper. She looked at him with a suggestion of stealthiness from under her eyelids, a look which only needed the slightest softening of her face to have made it something almost irresistible.

"I can assure you," Laverick said firmly, "that I have no idea."

"Do you remember almost my first question to you?" she asked.

"It was about the murder. You seemed interested in the fact that my office was within a few yards of the passage where it occurred."

"Quite right," she admitted. "I see that your memory is very good. There, then, Mr. Laverick, you have the secret of my desire to meet you."

Laverick drank his wine slowly. The woman knew! Impossible! Her eyes were watching his face, but he held himself bravely. What could she know? How could she guess?

"Frankly," he said, "I do not understand. Your interest in me arises from the fact that my offices are near the scene of that murder. Well, to begin with, what concern have you in that?"

"The murdered man," she declared thoughtfully, "was an acquaintance of mine."

"An acquaintance of yours!" Laverick exclaimed. "Why, he has not been identified. No one knows who he was."

She raised her eyebrows very slightly.

"Mr. Laverick," she murmured, "the newspapers do not tell you everything. I repeat that the murdered man was an acquaintance of mine. Only three days ago I traveled part of the way from Vienna with him."

Laverick was intensely interested.

"You could, perhaps, throw some light, then, upon his death?"

"Perhaps I could," she answered. "I can tell you one thing, at any rate, Mr. Laverick, if it is news to you. At the time when he was murdered, he was carrying a very large sum of money with him. This is a fact which has not been spoken of in the Press."

Once again Laverick was thankful for those nerves of his. He sat quite still. His face exhibited nothing more than the blank amazement which he certainly felt.

"This is marvelous," he said. "Have you told the police?"

"I have not," she answered. "I wish, if I can, to avoid telling the police."

"But the money? To whom did it belong?"

"Not to the murdered man."

"To any one whom you know of?" he inquired.

"I wonder," she said, after a moment of hesitation, "whether I am telling you too much."

"You are telling me a good deal," he admitted frankly.

"I wonder how far," she asked, "you will be inclined to reciprocate?"

"I reciprocate!" he exclaimed. "But what can I do? What do I know of these things?"

She stretched out her hand lazily, and drew towards her a wonderful gold purse set with emeralds. Carefully opening it, she drew from the interior a small flat pocketbook, also of gold, with a great uncut emerald set into its centre. This, too, she opened, and drew out several sheets of foreign note-paper pinned together at the top. These she glanced through until she came to the third or fourth. Then she bent it down and passed it across the table to Laverick.

"You may read that," she said. "It is part of a report which I have had in my pos session since Wednesday morning."

Laverick drew the sheet towards him and read, in thin, angular characters, very distinct and plain:

Some ten minutes after the assault, a policeman passed down the street but did not glance toward the passage. The next person to appear was a gentleman who left some offices on the same side as the passage, and walked down evidently on his homeward way. He glanced up the passage and saw the body lying there. He disappeared for a moment and struck a match. A minute afterwards he emerged from the passage, looked up and down the street, and finding it empty returned to the office from which he had issued, let himself in with his latchkey, and closed the door behind him. He was there for about ten minutes. When he reappeared, he walked quickly down the street and for obvious reasons I was unable to follow him.

The address of the offices which he left and re-entered was Messrs. Laverick & Morrison, Stockbrokers.

"That interests you, Mr. Laverick?" she asked softly.

He handed it back to her.

"It interests me very much," he answered. "Who was this unseen person who wrote from the clouds?"

"I may not tell you all my secrets, Mr. Laverick," she declared. "What have you done with that twenty thousand pounds?"

Laverick helped himself to champagne. He listened for a moment to the music, and looked into the wonderful eyes which shone from that beautiful face a few feet away. Her lips were slightly parted, her forehead wrinkled. There was nothing of the accuser in her countenance; a gentle irony was its most poignant expression.

"Is this a fairy tale, Mademoiselle Idiale?"

She shrugged her shoulders.

"It might seem so," she answered. "Sometimes I think that all the time we live two lives, - the life of which the world sees the outside, and the life inside of which no one save ourselves knows anything at all. Look, for instance, at all these people - these chorus girls and young men about town - the older ones, too - all hungry for pleasure, all drinking at the cup of life as though they had indeed but to-day and to-morrow in which to live and enjoy. Have they no shadows, too, no secrets? They seem so harmless, yet if the great white truth shone down, might one not find a murderer there, a dying man who knew his terrible secret, yonder a Croesus on the verge of bankruptcy, a strong man playing with dishonor? But those are the things of the other world which we do not see. The men look at us to-night and they envy you because you are with me. The women envy me more because I have emeralds upon my neck and shoulders for which they would give their souls, and a fame throughout Europe which would turn their foolish heads in a very few minutes. But they do not know. There are the shadows across my path, and I think that there are the shadows across yours. What do you say, Mr. Laverick?"

He looked at her, curiously moved. Now at last he began to believe that it was true what they said of her, that she was indeed a marvelous woman. She had a fame which would have contented nine hundred and ninety-nine women out of a thousand. She had beauty, and, more wonderful still, the grace, the fascination which are irresistible. She had but to lift a finger and there were few who would not kneel to do her bidding. And yet, behind it all there were other things in her life. Had she sought them, or had they come to her?

"You are one of those wise people, Mr. Laverick," she said, "who realize the danger of words. You believe in silence. Well, silence is often good. You do not choose to admit anything."

"What is there for me to admit? Do you want to know whether I am the man who left those offices, who disappeared into the passage, who reappeared again - "

"With a pocket-book containing twenty thousand pounds," she murmured across the flowers.

"At least tell me this?" he demanded. "Was the money yours?"

"I am not like you," she replied. "I have talked a great deal and I have reached the limit of the things which I may tell you."

"But where are we?" he asked. "Are you seriously accusing me of having robbed this murdered man?"

"Be thankful," she declared, "that I am not accusing you of having murdered him."

"But seriously," he insisted, "am I on my defence have I to account for my movements that night as against the written word of your mysterious informant? Is it you who are charging me with being a thief? Is it to you I am to account for my actions, to defend myself or to plead guilty?"

She shook her head.

"No," she answered. "I have said almost my last word to you upon this subject. All that I have to ask of you is this. If that pocket-book is in your possession, empty it first of its contents, then go over it carefully with your fingers and see if there is not a secret pocket. If you discover that, I think that you will find in it a sealed document. If you find that document, you must bring it to me."

The lights went down. The voice of the waiter murmured something in his ears.

"It is after hours," Mademoiselle Idiale said, "but Luigi does not wish to disturb us. Still, perhaps we had better go."

They passed down the room. To Laverick it was all - like a dream - the laughing crowd, the flushed men and bright-eyed women, the lowered lights, the air of voluptuousness which somehow seemed to have enfolded the place. In the hall her maid came up. A small motor-brougham, with two servants on the box, was standing at the doorway. Mademoiselle turned suddenly and gave him her hand.

"Our supper-party, I think, Mr. Laverick," she said, "has been quite a success. We shall before long, I hope, meet again."

He handed her into the carriage. Her maid walked with them. The footman stood erect by his side. There were no further words to be spoken. A little crowd in the doorway envied him as he stood bareheaded upon the pavement.