Chapter XXXII. Morrison is Desperate
 

Certainly it was a strange little gathering that waited in Morrison's room for the coming of Laverick. There was Lassen -flushed, ugly, breathing heavily, and watching the door with fixed, beady eyes. There was Adolf Kahn, the man who had strolled out from the Milan Hotel as Laverick had entered it, leaving the forged order behind him. There was Streuss - stern, and desperate with anxiety. There was Morrison himself, in the clothes of a workman, worn to a shadow, with the furtive gleam of terrified guilt shining in his sunken eyes, and the slouched shoulders and broken mien of the habitual criminal. There was Zoe, around whom they were all standing, with anger burning in her cheeks and gleaming out of her passion-filled eyes. She, too, like the others, watched the door. So they waited.

Streuss, not for the first time, moved to the window and drawing aside the curtains looked down into the street.

"Will he come - this Englishman?" he muttered. "Has he courage?"

"More courage than you who keep a girl here against her will!" Zoe panted, looking at him defiantly. "More courage than my poor brother, who stands there like a coward!"

"Shut up, Zoe!" Morrison exclaimed harshly. "There is nothing for you to be furious about or frightened. No one wants to ill-treat you. These gentlemen all want to behave kindly to us. It is Laverick they want."

"And you," she cried, "are content to stand by and let him walk into a trap - you let them even use my name to bring him here! Arthur, be a man! Have nothing more to do with them. Help me to get away from this place. Call out. Do something instead of standing there and wasting the precious minutes."

He came towards her - ugly and threatening.

"I'll do something in a minute," he declared savagely, - "something you won't like, either. Keep your mouth shut, I tell you. It's me or him, and, by Heavens, he deserves what he'll get!"

Streuss turned away from the window and looked towards Zoe.

"Young lady," he said quietly, "let me beg you not to distress yourself so. I sincerely trust that nothing unpleasant will happen. If it does, I promise you that we will arrange for your temporary absence. You shall not be disturbed in any way."

"And as regards your brother, have a care, young lady," Lassen growled. "If any one's in danger, it's he. He'll be lucky if he saves his own skin."

The young man glowered at her.

"You hear that, you little fool!" he muttered. Keep still, can't you?"

Her face was full of defiance. He came nearer to her and changed his tone.

"Zoe," he whispered hoarsely, "don't you understand ? If they can't get what they want from Laverick, they'll visit it upon me. They're desperate, I tell you. They mean mischief all the time."

"Yet you let him be brought here, your partner who looked after you when you were ill, and who helped you to get away!" she cried indignantly.

He laughed unpleasantly.

"When it comes to a matter of life or death, it's every man for himself. Besides, if I'd known as much about Laverick as I know now, I'm not sure that I should have been so ready to go - not empty-handed, by any manner of means."

"What have you done that you should be so much in the power of these people?" she demanded, fixing her dark eyes upon him searchingly.

The terror whitened his face once more. The perspiration stood out in beads upon his forehead.

"Don't dare to ask me questions!" he exclaimed nervously. "I should like to know what Laverick is to you, eh, that you take so much interest in him? Listen here, my fine young lady. If I've been mug enough to do the dirty work, he hasn't made any bones about taking advantage of it. He's a nice sort of sportsman, I can tell you."

The man at the window suddenly dropped the curtain and spoke across the room to them all.

"He is here," he announced.

"Alone?" Lassen asked thickly.

"Alone," Streuss echoed.

A little thrill seemed to pass through the room. Zoe made no attempt to cry out. Instead she leaned forward towards the door, as though listening. Her attitude seemed harmless enough. No one took any more notice of her. They all watched the entrance to the apartment. Zoe remembered the two flights of stairs. She was absorbed in a breathless calculation. Now - now he should be coming quite close. Her whole being was concentrated upon one effort of listening. At last she raised her head. The room resounded with her cries.

"Don't come in! Don't come in here!" she shrieked. "Mr. Laverick, do you hear? Go away! Don't come in here alone!"

Her brother was the first to reach her, his hand fell upon her mouth brutally. Her little effort was naturally a failure - defeating, in fact, its own object. Laverick, hearing her cries, simply hastened his coming, threw open the door without waiting to knock, and stepped quickly across the threshold. He saw a man dressed in shabby workman's clothes, unshaven, dishevelled, holding Zoe in a rough grasp, and with a single well-directed blow he sent him reeling across the room. Then something in the man's cry, a momentary glimpse of his white face, revealed his identity.

"Morrison!" he cried. "Good God, it's Morrison!"

Arthur Morrison was crouching in a corner of the room, his evil face turned upon his aggressor. Laverick took quick stock of his surroundings. There was the tall, fair young man -Adolf Kahn - whom he had seen at the Milan a few hours ago - the man who had unsuccessfully forged his name. There was Lassen, the man who, under pretence of being her manager, had been a spy upon Louise. There was Streuss, with blanched face and hard features, standing with his back to the door. There was Zoe, and, behind, her brother. She held out her hands timidly towards him, and her eyes were soft with pleading.

"I did not want you to come here, Mr. Laverick," she cried softly. "I tried so hard to stop you. It was not I who sent that message."

He took her cold little fingers and raised them to his lips.

"I know it, dear," he murmured.

Then a movement in the room warned him, and he was suddenly on guard. Lassen was close to his side, some evil purpose plainly enough written in his pasty face and unwholesome eyes. Laverick gave him his left shoulder and sent him staggering across the floor. He was angry at having been outwitted and his eyes gleamed ominously.

"Well, gentlemen," he exclaimed, "you seem to have taken unusual pains to secure my presence here! Tell me now, what can I do for you?"

It was Streuss who became spokesman. He addressed Laverick with the consideration of one gentleman addressing another. His voice had many agreeable qualities. His demeanor was entirely amicable.

"Mr. Laverick," he answered, "let us first apologize if we used a little subterfuge to procure for us the pleasure of your visit. We are men who are in earnest, and across whose path you have either wilfully or accidentally strayed. An understanding between us has become a necessity."

"Go on," Laverick interrupted. "Tell me exactly who you are and what you want."

"As to who we are," Streuss answered, "does that really matter? I repeat that we are men who are in earnest - let that be enough. As to what we want, it is a certain document to which we have every claim, and which has come into your possession - I flatter you somewhat, Mr. Laverick, if I say by chance."

Laverick shrugged his shoulders.

"Let that go," he said. "I know all about the document you refer to, and the notes. They were contained in a pocket-book which it is perfectly true has come into my possession. Prove your claim to both and you shall have them."

Streuss smiled.

"You will admit that our claim, since we know of its existence," he asked suavely, "is equal to yours?"

"Certainly," Laverick answered, "but then I never had any idea of keeping either the document or the money. That your claim is better than mine is no guarantee that there is not some one else whose title is better still."

Streuss frowned.

"Be reasonable, Mr. Laverick," he begged. "We are men of peace - when peace is possible. The money of which you spoke you can consider as treasure trove, if you will, but it is our intention to possess ourselves of the document. It is for that reason that we are here in London. I, personally, am committed to the extent of my life and my honor to its recovery."

A declaration of war, courteously veiled but decisive. Laverick looked around him a little defiantly, and shrugged his shoulders.

"You know very well that I do not carry it about with me," he said. "The gentleman on my left," he added, pointing to Kahn, "can tell you where it is kept."

"Quite so," Streuss admitted. "We are not doing you the injustice to suppose that you would be so foolhardy as to trust yourself anywhere with that document upon your person. It is in the safe at the Milan Hotel. I may add that probably, if it had not occurred to you to change your quarters, it would have been in our possession before now. We are hoping to persuade you to return to the hotel with one of our friends here, and procure it."

"As it happens," Laverick remarked, "that is impossible. The man who set the combination for that particular safe has gone off duty, and will not be back again at the hotel till to-morrow morning."

"But he is to be found," Streuss answered easily. "His present whereabouts and his address are known to us. He lives with his family at Harvard Court, Hampstead. We shall assist you in making it worth his while to return to the hotel or to give you the combination word for the safe."

"You are rather great on detail!" Laverick exclaimed.

"It is our business. The question for you to decide, and to decide immediately, is whether you are ready to end this, in some respects, constrained situation, and give your word to place that document in our hands."

"You are ready to accept my word, then?" Laverick asked.

"We have a certain hold upon you," Streuss continued slowly. "Your partner Mr. Morrison's position in connection with the murder in Crooked Friars' Alley is, as you may have surmised, a somewhat unfortunate one. Your own I will not allude to. I will simply suggest that for both your sakes publicity - any measure of publicity, in fact, as regards this little affair - would not be desirable."

Laverick hesitated. He understood all that was implied. Morrison's eyes were fixed upon him - the eyes of a craven coward. He felt the intensity of the moment. Then Zoe turned suddenly towards him.

"You are not to give it up!" she cried, with trembling lips. "They cannot hurt you, and it is not true - about Arthur."

Kahn, who was nearest, clapped his hand over her mouth and Laverick knocked him down. Instantly the pacific atmosphere of the room was changed. Lassen and Morrison closed swiftly upon Laverick from different sides. Streuss covered him with the shining barrel of a revolver.

"Mr. Laverick," he said, "we are not here to be trifled with. Keep your sister quiet, Morrison, or, by God, you'll swing!"

Laverick looked at the revolver - fascinated, for an instant, by its unexpected appearance. The face of the man who held it had changed. There was lightning playing about the room.

"It's the dock for you both!" Streuss exclaimed fiercely, - "for you, Laverick, and you, Morrison, too, if you play with us any longer! One of you's a murderer and the other receives the booty. Who are you to have scruples - criminals, both of you? Your place is in the dock, and you shall be there within twenty-four hours if there are any more evasions. Now, Laverick, will you fetch that document? It is your last chance."

Upon the breathless silence that followed a quiet voice intervened - a voice calm and emotionless, tinged with a measure of polite inquiry. Yet its level utterance fell like a bomb among the little company. The curtain separating this from the inner room had been drawn a few feet back, and Bellamy was standing there, in black overcoat and white muffler, his silk hat on the back of his head, his left hand, carefully gloved, resting still upon the curtain which he had drawn aside.

"I hope I am not disturbing you at all?" he murmured softly.

For a moment the development of the situation remained uncertain. The gleaming barrel of Streuss's revolver changed its destination. Bellamy glanced at it with the pleased curiosity of a child.

"I really ought not to have intruded," he continued amiably. "I happened to hear the address my friend Laverick gave to the taxicab driver, and I was particularly anxious to have a word or two with him before I left for the Continent."

Streuss was surely something of a charlatan! His revolver had disappeared. The smile upon his lips was both gracious and unembarrassed.

"One is always only too pleased to welcome Mr. Bellamy anywhere - anyhow," he declared. "If apologies are needed at all," he continued, "it is to our friend and host - Mr. Morrison here. Permit me - Mr. Arthur Morrison - the Honorable David Bellamy! These are Mr. Morrison's rooms."

Morrison could do no more than stare. Bellamy, on the contrary, with a little bow came further into the apartment, removing his hat from his head. Lassen glided round behind him, remaining between Bellamy and the heavy curtains. Adolf Kahn moved as though unconsciously in front of the door of the room in which they were.

Bellamy smiled courteously.

"I am afraid," he said, "that I must not stay for more than a moment. I have a car full of friends below - we are on our way, in fact, to the Covent Garden Ball - and one or two of them, I fear," he added indulgently, "have already reached that stage of exhilaration which such an entertainment in England seems to demand. They will certainly come and rout me out if I am here much longer. There!" he exclaimed, "you hear that?"

There was the sound of a motor horn from the street below. Streuss, with an oath trembling upon his lips, lifted the blind. There were two motor-cars waiting there - large cars with Limousine bodies, and apparently full of men. After all, it was to be expected. Bellamy was no fool!

"Since we are to lose you, then Mr. Laverick," Streuss remarked with a gesture of farewell, "let us say good night. The little matter of business which we were discussing can be concluded with your partner."

Laverick turned toward Zoe. Their eyes met and he read their message of terror.

"You are coming back to your own rooms, Miss Leneveu," he said. "You must let me offer you my escort."

She half rose, but in obedience to a gesture from Streuss Morrison moved near to them.

"If you leave me here, Laverick," he muttered beneath his breath, - "if you leave me to these hounds, do you know what they will do? They will hand me over to the police - they have sworn it!"

"Why did you come back?" Laverick asked quickly.

"They stopped me as I was boarding the steamer," Morrison declared. "I tell you they have eyes everywhere. You cannot move without their knowledge. I had to come. Now that I am here they have told me plainly the price of my freedom. It is that document. Laverick, it is my life! You must give in - you must, indeed! Remember you're in it, too."

"Am I?" Laverick asked quietly.

"You fool, of course you are!" Morrison whispered hoarsely. "Didn't you come into the entry and take the pocket-book? Heaven knows what possessed you to do it! Heaven knows how you found the pluck to use the money! But you did it, and you are a criminal - a criminal as I am. Don't be a fool, Laverick. Make terms with these people. They want the document - the document - nothing but the document! They will let us keep the money."

"And you?" Laverick asked, turning suddenly to Zoe. "What do you say about all this?"

She looked at him fearlessly.

"I trust you," she said. "I trust you to do what is right.