Havoc by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Chapter XXVI. The Document Discovered
On the following morning, Laverick surprised his office cleaner and one errand-boy by appearing at about a quarter to nine. He found a woman busy brushing out his room and a man Cleaning the windows. They stared at him in amazement. His arrival at such an hour was absolutely unprecedented.
"You can leave the office just as it is, if you please," he told them. "I have a few things to attend to at once."
He was accordingly left alone. He had reckoned upon this as being the one period during the day when he could rely upon not being disturbed. Nevertheless, he locked the door so as to be secure against any possible intruder. Then he went to his safe, unlocked it, and drew from its secret drawer the worn brown-leather pocket-book.
First of all he took out the notes and laid them upon the table. Then he felt the pocket-book all over and his heart gave a little leap. It was true what Mademoiselle Idiale had told him. On one side there was distinctly a rustling as of paper. He opened the case quite flat and passed his fingers carefully over the lining. Very soon he found the opening - it was simply a matter of drawing down the stiff silk lining from underneath the overlapping edge. Thrusting in his fingers, he drew out a long foreign envelope, securely sealed. Scarcely stopping to glance at it, he rearranged the pocket-book, replaced the notes, and locked it up again. Then he unbolted his door and sat down at his desk, with the document which he had discovered, on the pad in front of him.
There was not much to be made of it. There was no address, but the black seal at the end bore the impression of a foreign coat of arms, and a motto which to him was indecipherable. He held it up to the light, but the outside sheet had not been written on, and he gained no idea as to its contents. He leaned back in his chair for a moment, and looked at it. So this was the document which would probably reveal the secret of the murder in Crooked Friars' Alley! This was the document which Mademoiselle Idiale considered of so much more importance than the fortune represented by that packet of bank-notes! What did it all mean? Was this man, who had either expiated a crime or been the victim of a terrible vengeance, - was he a politician, a dealer in trade secrets, a member of a secret society, an informer? Or was he one of the underground criminals of the world, one of those who crawl beneath the surface of known things - a creature of the dark places? Perhaps during those few minutes, when his brain was cool and active, with the great city awakening all around him, Laverick realized more completely than ever before exactly how he stood. Without doubt he was walking on the brink of a precipice. Four days ago there had been nothing for him but ruin. The means of salvation had suddenly presented themselves in this startling and dramatic manner, and without hesitation he had embraced them. What did it all amount to? How far was he guilty, and of what? Was he a thief? The law would probably call him so. The law might have even more to say. It would say that by keeping his mouth closed as to his adventure on that night he had ranged himself on the side of the criminals, - he was guilty not only of technical theft, but of a criminal knowledge of this terrible crime. Events had followed upon one another so rapidly during these last few days that he had little enough time for reflection, little time to realize exactly how he stood. The long-expected boom in" Unions," the coming of Zoe, the strange advances made to him by Mademoiselle Idiale, her incomprehensible connection with this tragedy across which he had stumbled, and her apparent knowledge of his share in it, - these things were sufficient, indeed, to give him food for thought. Laverick was not by nature a pessimist. Other things being equal, he would have made, without doubt, a magnificent soldier, for he had courage of a rare and high order. It never occurred to him to sit and brood upon his own danger. He rather welcomed the opportunity of occupying his mind with other thoughts. Yet in those few minutes, while he waited for the business of the: day to commence, he looked his exact position in the face and he realized more thoroughly how grave it really was. How was he to find a way out - to set himself right with the law? What could he do with those notes? They were there untouched. He had only made use of them in an indirect way. They were there intact, as he had picked them up upon that fateful night. Was there any possible chance by means of which he might discover the owner and restore them in such a way that his name might never be mentioned? His eyes repeatedly sought that envelope which lay before him. Inside it must lie the secret of the whole tragedy. Should he risk everything and break the seal, or should he risk perhaps as much and tell the whole truth to Mademoiselle Idiale? It was a strange dilemma for a man to find himself in.
Then, as he sat there, the business of the day commenced. A pile of letters was brought in, the telephones in the outer office began to ring. He thrust the sealed envelope into the breast-pocket of his coat and buttoned it up. There, for the present, it must remain. He owed it to himself to devote every energy he possessed to make the most of this great tide of business. With set face he closed the doors upon the unreal world, and took hold of the levers which were to guide his passage through the one in which he was an actual figure.
Her visit was not altogether unexpected, and yet, when they told him that Mademoiselle Idiale was outside, he hesitated.
"It is the lady who was here the other day," his head clerk reminded him. "We made a remarkably good choice of stocks for her. They must be showing nearly sixteen hundred pounds profit. Perhaps she wants to realize."
"In any case, you had better show her in," said Laverick.
She came, bringing with her, notwithstanding her black clothes and heavy veil, the atmosphere of a strange world into his somewhat severely furnished office. Her skirts swept his carpet with a musical swirl. She carried with her a faint, indefinable perfume of violets, - a perfume altogether peculiar, dedicated to her by a famous chemist in the Rue Royale, and supplied to no other person upon earth. Who else was there, indeed, who could have walked those few yards as she walked?
He rose to his feet and pointed to a chair.
"You have come to ask about your shares?" he asked politely. "So far, we have nothing but good news for you."
She recognized that he spoke to her in the presence of his clerk, and she waved her hand.
"Women who will come themselves to look after their poor investments are a nuisance, I suppose," she said. "But indeed I will not keep you long. A few minutes are all that I shall ask of you. I am beginning to find city affairs so interesting."
They were alone by now and Louise raised her veil, raised it so high that he could see her eyes. She leaned back in her chair, supporting her chin with the long, exquisite fingers of her right hand. She looked at him thoughtfully.
"You have examined the pocket-book?" she asked.
"And the document was there?"
"The document was there," he admitted. "Perhaps you can tell me how it would be addressed?"
Looking at her closely, it came to him that her indifference was assumed. She was shivering slightly, as though with cold.
"I imagine that there would be no address," she said.
"You are right. That document is in my pocket."
"What are you going to do with it?" she asked.
"What do you advise me to do with it?"
"Give it to me."
"Have you any claim?"
She leaned a little nearer to him.
"At least I have more claim to it," she whispered, "than you to that twenty thousand pounds."
"I do not claim them," he replied. "They are in my safe at this moment, untouched. They are there ready to be returned to their proper owner."
"Why do you not find him?" - with a note of incredulity in her tone.
"How am I to do that?" Laverick demanded.
"We waste words," she continued coldly. "I think that if I leave you with the contents of your safe, it will be wise for you to hand me that document."
"I am inclined to do so," Laverick admitted. "The very fact that you knew of its existence would seem to give you a sort of claim to it. But, Mademoiselle Idiale, will you answer me a few questions?"
"I think," she said, "that it would be better if you asked me none."
"But listen," he begged. "You are the only person with whom I have come into touch who seems to know anything about this affair. I should rather like to tell you exactly how I stumbled in upon it. Why can we not exchange confidence for confidence? I want neither the twenty thousand pounds nor the document. I want, to be frank with you, nothing but to escape from the position I am now in of being half a thief and half a criminal. Show me some claim to that document and you shall have it. Tell me to whom that money belongs, and it shall be restored."
"You are incomprehensible," she declared. "Are you, by any chance, playing a part with me? Do you think that it is worth while?"
"Mademoiselle Idiale," Laverick protested earnestly, "nothing in the world is further from my thoughts. There is very little of the conspirator about me. I am a plain man of business who stumbled in upon this affair at a critical moment and dared to make temporary use of his discovery. You can put it, if you like, that I am afraid. I want to get out. Nothing would give me greater pleasure, if such a thing were possible, than to send this pocket-book and its contents anonymously to Scotland Yard, and never hear about them again.
She listened to him with unchanged face. Yet for some moments after he had finished speaking she was thoughtful.
"You may be speaking the truth," she said. "If so, I have been deceived. You are not quite the sort of man I did believe you were. What you tell me is amazing, but it may be true."
"It is the truth," Laverick repeated calmly.
"Listen," she said, after a brief pause. "You were at school, were you not, with Mr. David Bellamy? You know well who he is?"
"Perfectly well," Laverick admitted.
"You would consider him a person to be trusted?"
"Very well, then," she declared. "You shall come to my fiat at five o'clock this afternoon and bring that document. If it is possible, David Bellamy shall be there himself. We will try then and prove to you that you do no harm in parting with that document to us."
"I will come," Laverick promised, "at five o'clock; but you must tell me where."
"You will put it down, please," she said. "There must not be any mistake. You must come, and you must come to-day. I am staying at number 15, Dover Street. I will leave orders that you are shown in at once."
She rose to her feet and he walked to the door with her. On the way she hesitated.
"Take care of yourself to-day, Mr. Laverick," she begged. "There are others beside myself who are interested in that packet you carry with you. You represent to them things beside which life and death are trivial happenings."
Laverick laughed shortly. He was a matter-of-fact man, and there seemed something a little absurd in such a warning.
"I do not think," he declared, "that you need have any fear. London is, as you doubtless find it, a dull old city, but it is a remarkably safe one to live in."
"Nevertheless, Mr. Laverick," she repeated earnestly, "be on your guard to-day, for all our sakes."
He bowed and changed the subject.
"Your investments," he remarked, "you will be content, perhaps, to leave as they are. It is, no doubt, of some interest to you to know that they are showing already a profit of considerably over a thousand pounds."
She shrugged her shoulders.
"It was an excuse - that investment," she declared. "Yet money is always good. Keep it for me, Mr. Laverick, and do what you will. I will trust your judgment. Buy or sell as you please. You will let nothing prevent your coming this afternoon?"
"Nothing," he promised her.
From the window of her beautifully appointed little electric brougham she held out her hand in farewell.
"You think me foolish, I know, that I persist," she said, "but I do beg that you will remember what I say. Do not be alone to-day more than you can help. Suspect every one who comes near to you. There may be a trap before your feet at any moment. Be wary always and do not forget - at five o'clock I expect you."
Laverick smiled as he bowed his adieux.
"It is a promise, Mademoiselle," he assured her.