Chapter XXXI. Miss Leneveu's Message
 

The two men stepped back into the hotel. The cashier had returned to his desk, and the incident which had just transpired seemed to have passed unnoticed. Nevertheless, Laverick felt that the studied indifference of his companion's manner had its significance, and he endeavored to imitate it.

"Shall we go through into the bar?" he asked. "There's very seldom any one there at this time."

"Anywhere you say, Bellamy answered. "It's years since we had a drink together."

They passed into the inner room and, finding it empty, drew two chairs into the further corner. Bellamy summoned the waiter.

"Two whiskies and sodas quick, Tim," he ordered. "Now, Laverick, listen to me," he added, as the waiter turned away. "We are alone for the moment but it won't be for long. You know very well that it wasn't to renew our schoolboy acquaintance that I've asked you to come in here with me."

Laverick drew a little breath.

"Please go on," he said. "I am as anxious as you can be to grasp this affair properly."

"When we left school," Bellamy remarked, "you were destined for the Stock Exchange. I went first to Magdalen. Did you ever hear what became of me afterwards?"

"I always understood," Laverick answered, "that you went into one of the Government offices."

"Quite right," Bellamy assented. "I did. At this moment I have the honor to serve His Majesty."

"Two thousand a year and two hours work a day," Laverick laughed. "I know the sort of thing."

"You evidently don't," Bellamy answered. "I often work twenty hours a day, I don't get half two thousand a year, and most of the time I carry my life in my hands. When I am working - and I am working now - I am never sure of the morrow."

Laverick looked at him incredulously.

"You're not joking, Bellamy?" he asked.

"Not by any manner of means. I have the honor to be a humble member of His Majesty's Secret Service."

Laverick glanced at his companion wonderingly.

"I really didn't know," he said, "that such a service had any actual existence except in novels."

"I am a proof to the contrary," Bellamy declared grimly. "Abroad, I run always the risk of being dubbed a spy and treated like one. At home, I am simply the head of the A2 Branch of the Secret Service. Here come our drinks."

Laverick raised his whiskey and soda to his lips mechanically.

"Here's luck!" he exclaimed. "Now go on, Bellamy," he continued. "The waiter can't overhear."

Bellamy smiled.

"Tim is one of the few persons in the place," he said, "whom one can trust. As a matter of fact, he has been very useful to me more than once. Now listen to me attentively, Laverick. I am going to speak to you as one man to another."

Laverick nodded.

"I am ready," he said.

"Last Monday," Bellamy went on, leaning forward and speaking in a soft but very distinct undertone, "a man was murdered late at night in the heart of the city - within one hundred yards of the Stock Exchange. The papers called it a mysterious murder. No one knows who the man was, or who committed the crime, or why. You and I, Laverick, both know a little more than the rest of the world."

"Well?"

"The murder," Bellamy continued, with a strange light in his eyes, "was accomplished only a stone's throw from your office."

Laverick lit a cigarette and threw the match away.

"Horrible affair it was," he remarked.

Bellamy glanced toward the door, - a man had looked in and departed.

"Enough of this fencing, Laverick," he said. "A theft was committed from the person of that murdered man, of which the general public knows nothing. A pocketbook was stolen from him containing twenty thousand pounds and a sealed document. As to who murdered the man, I want you to understand that that is not my affair. As to what has become of that twenty thousand pounds, I have not the slightest curiosity. I want the document."

"What claim have you to it?" Laverick asked quickly.

"I might retort, but I will not," Bellamy replied. "Time is too short. I will answer you by explaining who the man was and what that document consists of. The man's name was Von Behrling, and he was a trusted agent of the Austrian Secret Service. The document of which he was robbed contains a verbatim report of the conference which recently took place at Vienna between the Emperor of Germany, the Emperor of Austria, and the Czar of Russia. It contains the details of a plot against this country and the undertakings entered into by those several Powers. I want that document, Laverick. Have I established my claim?"

"You have," Laverick answered. "Why on earth Didn't you come to me before? Don't you believe that I should have listened to you as readily as to Mademoiselle Idiale?"

"I wish that I had come," Bellamy admitted, "and yet, here is the truth, Laverick, because the truth is best. Twenty-two years lie between us and the time when we knew anything of one another. To me, therefore, you are a stranger. I had my spies following Von Behrling that night. I know that you took the pocket-book from his dead body. If you did not murder him yourself, the deed was done by an accomplice of yours. How was I to trust you? We are speaking naked words, my friend. We are dealing with naked truths. To me you were a murderer and a thief. A word from me and you would have realized the value of that document. I tell you frankly that Austria would give you almost any sum for it to-day."

Laverick, strong man though he was, was conscious of a sudden weakness. He raised his hand to his forehead and drew it away - wet. He struggled desperately for self-control.

"Bellamy," he said, "here's truth for truth. I am not on my trial before you. Believe me, man, for God's sake!"

"I'll try," Bellamy promised. "Go on."

"That night I stayed at my office late because I saw ruin before me on the morrow. I left it meaning to go straight home. I lit a cigarette near that entry, and by the light of a match, as I was throwing it away, I saw the murdered man. I think for a time I was paralyzed. The pocket-book was half dragged out from his pocket. Why I looked inside it I don't know. I had some sort of wild idea that I must find out who he was. Mind you, though, I should have given the alarm at once, but there wasn't a soul in the street. There was a man lurking in the entry and I chased him, unsuccessfully. When I came back, the body was still there and the street empty. I looked inside that pocket-book, which would have been in the possession of his murderer but for my unexpected appearance. I saw the notes there. Once more I went out into the street. I gave no alarm, - I am not attempting to explain why. I was like a man made suddenly mad. I went back to my office and shut myself in."

Bellamy pointed to the glasses silently. The waiter came forward and refilled them.

"Bellamy," Laverick continued, "your career and mine lie far apart, and yet, at their backbone, as there is at the backbone of every man's life, there must be something of the same sort of ambition. My grandfather lived and died a member of the Stock Exchange, honored and well thought of. My father followed in his footsteps. I, too, was there. Without becoming wealthy, the name I bear has become known and respected. Failure, whatever one may say, means a broken life and a broken honor. I sat in my office and I knew that the use of those notes for a few days might save me from disgrace, might keep the name, which my father and grandfather had guarded so jealously, free from shame. I would have paid any price for the use of them. I would have paid with my life, if that had been possible. Think of the risk I ran - the danger I am now in. I deposited those notes on the morrow as security at my bank, and I met all my engagements. The crisis is over! Those notes are in a safe deposit vault in Chancery Lane! I only wish to Heaven that I could find the owner!"

"And the document?" Bellamy asked. "The document?"

"It is in the hotel safe," Laverick answered.

Bellamy drew a long sigh of relief. Then he emptied his tumbler and lit a cigarette.

"Laverick," he declared, "I believe you."

"Thank God!" Laverick muttered.

"I am no crime investigator," Bellamy went on thoughtfully. "As to who killed Von Behrling, or why, I cannot now form the slightest idea. That twenty thousand pounds, Laverick, is Secret Service money, paid by me to Von Behrling only half-an-hour before he was murdered, in a small restaurant there, for what I supposed to be the document. He deceived me by making up a false packet. The real one he kept. He deserved to die, and I am glad he is dead."

Laverick's face was suddenly hopeful.

"Then you can take these notes!" he exclaimed.

Bellamy nodded.

"In a few days," he said, "I shall take you with me to a friend of mine - a Cabinet Minister. You shall tell him the story exactly as you've told it to me, and restore the money."

Laverick laughed like a child.

"Don't think I'm mad," he apologized, "but I am not a person like you, Bellamy, - used to adventures and this sort of wild happenings. I'm a steady-going, matter-of-fact Englishman, and this thing has been like a hateful nightmare to me. I can't believe that I'm going to get rid of it."

Bellamy smiled.

"It's a great adventure," he declared, "to come to any one like you. To tell you the truth, I can't imagine how you had the pluck - don't misunderstand me, I mean the moral pluck - to run such a risk. Why, at the moment you used those notes," Bellamy continued, "the odds must have been about twenty to one against your not being found out."

"One doesn't stop to count the odds," Laverick said grimly. "I saw a chance of salvation and I went for it. And now about this letter."

Bellamy rose to his feet.

"On the King's service!" he whispered softly.

They walked once more to the cashier's desk. A stranger greeted them. Laverick produced his receipt.

"I should like the packet I deposited here this evening," he said. "I am sorry to trouble you, but I find that I require it unexpectedly."

The clerk glanced at the receipt and up at the clock. "I am afraid, sir," he answered, "that we cannot get at it before the morning."

"Why not?" Laverick demanded, frowning.

"Mr. Dean has just gone home," the man declared, "and he is the only one who knows the combination on the 'L' safe. You see, sir," he continued, "we keep this particular safe for documents, and we did not expect that anything would be required from it to-night."

Bellamy drew Laverick away.

"After all," he said, "perhaps to-morrow morning would be better. There's no need to get shirty with these fellows. As a matter of fact, I don't think that I should have dared to receive it without making some special preparations. I can get some plain clothes men here upon whom I can rely, at nine o'clock."

They strolled back into the hall.

"Tell me," Laverick asked, "do you know who the man was who forged my name to the order a few hours ago?"

Bellamy nodded.

"It was Adolf Kahn, an Austrian spy. I have been watching him for days. If they'd given him the paper I had four men at the door, but it would have been touch and go. He is a very prince of conspirators, that fellow. To tell you the truth, I think I might as well go home."

Bellamy was drawing on his gloves when the hall-porter brought a note to Laverick.

"A messenger has just left this for you, sir," he explained.

Laverick tore open the envelope. The contents consisted of a few words only, written on plain note-paper and in a handwriting which was strange to him.

"Ring up 1232 Gerrard."

Laverick frowned, turned over the half sheet of paper and looked once more at the envelope. Then he passed it on to his companion.

"What do you make of that, Bellamy?" he asked.

Bellamy smiled as he perused and returned it.

"What could any one make of it?" he remarked, laconically. "Do you know the handwriting?"

"Never saw it before, to my knowledge," Laverick answered. "What should you do about it?"

"I think," Bellamy suggested, "that I should ring up number 1232 Gerrard."

They crossed the hall and Laverick entered one of the telephone booths.

"1232 Gerrard," he said.

The connection was made almost at once.

"Who are you?" Laverick asked.

"I am speaking for Miss Zoe Leneven," was the reply. "Are you Mr. Laverick?"

"I am," Laverick answered. "Is Miss Leneveu there? Can she speak to me herself?"

"She is not here," the voice continued. "She was fetched away in a hurry from the theatre - we understood by her brother. She left two and sixpence with the doorkeeper here to ring you up and explain that she had been summoned to her brother's rooms, 25, Jermyn Street, and would you kindly go on there."

"Who are you?" Laverick demanded.

There was no reply. Laverick remained speechless, listening intently. He stood still with the receiver pressed to his ear. Was it his fancy, or was that really Zoe's protesting voice which he heard in the background? It was a woman or a child who was speaking - he was almost sure that it was Zoe.

"Who are you?" he asked fiercely. "Miss Leneveu is there with you. Why does she not speak for herself?"

"Miss Leneveu is not here," was the answer. "I have done what she desired. You can please yourself whether you go or not. The address is 25, Jermyn Street. Ring off."

The connection was gone. Laverick laid down the receiver and stepped out of the booth.

"I must be off at once," he said to Bellamy. "You'll be round in the morning?"

Bellamy smiled.

"After all," he remarked, "I have changed my plans. I shall not leave the hotel. I am going to telephone round to my man to bring me some clothes. By the bye, do you mind telling me whether this message which you have just received had anything to do with the little affair in which we are interested?"

"Not directly," Laverick answered, after a moment's hesitation. "The message was from a young lady. I have to go and meet her."

"A young lady whom you can trust?" Bellamy inquired quietly.

"Implicitly," Laverick assured him.

"She spoke herself?"

"No, she sent a message. Excuse me, Bellamy, won't you, but I must really go."

"By all means," Bellamy answered.

They stood at the entrance to the hotel together while a taxicab was summoned. Laverick stepped quickly in.

"25, Jermyn Street," he ordered.

Bellamy watched him drive off. Then he sighed.

"I think, my friend Laverick," he said softly, "that you will need some one to look after you to-night."