Havoc by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Chapter XXXIV. Morrison's Disclosure
Into New Oxford Street, one of the ceaseless streams of polyglot humanity, came Zoe from her cheerless day bound for the theatre. She was a little whiter, a little more tired than usual. All day long she had heard nothing of Laverick. All day long she had sat in her tiny room with the memory of that horrible night before her. She had tried in vain to sleep, - she had made no effort whatever to eat. She knew now why Arthur Morrison had fled away. She knew the cause of that paroxysm of fear in which he had sought her out. The horror of the whole thing had crept into her blood like poison. Life was once more a dreary, profitless struggle. All the wonderful dreams, which had made existence seem almost like a fairy-tale for this last week, had faded away. She was once more a mournful little waif among the pitiless crowds.
She turned to the left and past the Holborn Tube. Boys were shouting everywhere the contents of the evening papers. Nearly every one seemed to be carrying one of the pink sheets. She herself passed on with unseeing eyes. News was nothing to her. Governments might rise and fall, war might come and go, - she had still life to support, a friendless little life, too, on two pounds fifteen shillings a week. The news they shouted fell upon deaf ears, but one boy unfurled almost before her eyes the headlines of his sheet.
SENSATIONAL ARREST OF A WELL-KNOWN
She came to a sudden stop and pulled out her purse. Her fingers trembled so that the penny fell on to the pavement. The boy picked it up willingly enough, however, and she passed on with the paper in her hand. There it was on the front page - staring her in the face:
There was a dull singing in her ears. An electric tram, coming up from the underground passage, seemed to bring with it some sort of thunder from an unknown world. She staggered on, unseeing, gasping for breath. If she could find somewhere to sit down! If she could only rest for a moment! Then a sudden wave of strength came to her, the blood flowed once more in her veins - blood that was hot with anger, that stained her cheeks with a spot of red. It was the man she loved, this, being made to suffer falsely. It was the fulfilment of their threat - a deliberate plot against him. The murderer of Crooked Friars' Alley - she knew who that was! - she knew! Perhaps she might help!
She had not the slightest recollection of the remainder of that walk, but she found herself presently sitting in a quiet corner of the theatre with the paper spread out before her. She read that Stephen Laverick had been brought before Mr. Rawson, the magistrate of Bow Street Police Court, on a warrant charging him with having been concerned with the murder of a person unknown, and that he had pleaded "Not Guilty!" Her eyes glittered as she read that the first witness called was Mr. Arthur Morrison, late partner of the accused. She read his deposition - that he had left Laverick at their offices at eleven o'clock on the night in question, that they were at that time absolutely without means, and had no prospect of meeting their engagements on the morrow. She read the evidence of Mr. Fenwick, bank manager, to the effect that Mr. Laverick had, on the following morning, deposited with him the sum of twenty thousand pounds in Bank of England notes, by means of which the engagements of the firm were duly met, that those notes had since been redeemed, and that he had no idea of their present whereabouts. She read, too, the evidence of Adolf Kahn, an Austrian visiting this country upon private business, who deposed that he was in the vicinity just before midnight, that he saw a person, whom he identified as the accused, walking down the street and, after disappearing for a few minutes down the entry, return and re-enter the offices from which he had issued. He explained his presence there by the fact that he was waiting for a clerk employed by the Goldfields' Corporation, Limited, whose offices were close by. Further formal evidence was given, and a remand asked for. The accused's solicitor was on the point of addressing the court when Mr. Rawson was unfortunately taken ill. After waiting for some time, the case was adjourned until the next day, and the accused man was removed in custody.
Zoe laid down the paper and rose to her feet. She made her way to where the stage-manager was superintending the erection of some new scenery.
"Mr. Heepman," she exclaimed, "I cannot stay to rehearsal! I have to go out."
He turned heavily round and looked at her.
"Rehearsal postponed," he declared solemnly. "Shall you be back for the evening performance, or shall we close the theatre?"
His clumsy irony missed its mark. Her thoughts were too intensely focussed upon one thing.
"I am sorry," she replied, turning away. "I will come back as soon as I can."
He called out after her and she paused.
"Look here," he said, "you were absent from the performance the other evening, and now you are skipping rehearsal without even waiting for permission. It can't be done, young lady. You must do your playing around some other time. If you're not here when you're called, you needn't trouble to turn up again. Do you understand?"
Her lips quivered and the sense of impending disaster which seemed to be brooding over her life became almost overwhelming.
"I'll come back as soon as I can," she promised, with a little break in her voice, - "as soon as ever I can, Mr. Heepman."
She hurried out of the theatre and took her place once more among the hurrying throng of pedestrians. Several people turned round to look at her. Her white face, tight-drawn mouth, and eyes almost unnaturally large, seemed to have become the abiding-place for tragedy. She herself saw no one. She would have taken a cab, but a glimpse at the contents of her purse dissuaded her. She walked steadily on to Jermyn Street, walked up the stairs to the third floor, and knocked at her brother's door. No one answered her at first. She turned the handle and entered to find the room empty. There were sounds, however, in the further apartment, and she called out to him.
"Arthur," she cried, "are you there?"
"Who is it?" he demanded.
"It is I - Zoe!" she exclaimed.
"What do you want?"
"I want to speak to you, Arthur. I must speak to you. Please come as quickly as you can."
He growled something and in a few moments he appeared. He was wearing the morning clothes in which he had attended court earlier in the day, but the change in him was perhaps all the more marked by reason of this resumption of his old attire. His cheeks were hollow, his eyes scarcely for an instant seemed to lose that feverish gleam of terror with which he had returned from Liverpool. He knew very well what she had come about, and he began nervously to try and bully her.
"I wish you wouldn't come to these rooms, Zoe," he said. "I've told you before they're bachelors' apartments, and they don't like women about the place. What is it? What do you want?"
"I was brought here last time without any particular desire on my part," she answered, looking him in the face. "I've come now to ask you what accursed plot this is against Stephen Laverick? What were you doing in the court this morning, lying? What is the meaning of it, Arthur?"
"If you've come to talk rubbish like that," he declared roughly, "you'd better be off."
"No, it is not rubbish!" she went on fearlessly. "I think I can understand what it is that has happened. They have terrified you and bribed you until you are willing to do any despicable thing - even this. Your father was good to my mother, Arthur, and I have tried to feel towards you as though you were indeed a relation. But nothing of that counts. I want you to realize that I know the truth, and that I will not see an innocent man convicted while the guilty go free."
He moved a step towards her. They were on opposite sides of the small round table which stood in the centre of the apartment.
"What do you mean?" he demanded hoarsely.
"Isn't it plain enough?" she exclaimed. "You came to my rooms a week or so ago, a terrified, broken-down man. If ever there was guilt in a man's face, it was in yours. You sent for Laverick. He pitied you and helped you away. At Liverpool they would not let you embark - these men. They have brought you back here. You are their tool. But you know very well, Arthur, that it was not Stephen Laverick who killed the man in Crooked Friars' Alley! You know very well that it was not Stephen Laverick!"
"Why the devil should I know anything about it?" he asked fiercely.
A note of passion suddenly crept into her voice. Her little white hand, with its accusing forefinger, shot out towards him.
"Because it was you, Arthur Morrison, who committed that crime," she cried, "and sooner than another man should suffer for it, I shall go to court myself and tell the truth."
He was, for the moment, absolutely speechless, pale as death, with nervously twitching lips and fingers. But there was murder in his eyes.
"What do you know about this?" he muttered.
"Never mind," she answered. "I know and I guess quite enough to convince me - and I think anybody else - that you are the guilty man. I would have helped you and shielded you, whatever it cost me, but I will not do so at Stephen Laverick's expense."
"What is Laverick to you?" he growled.
"He is nothing to me," she replied, "but the best of friends. Even were he less than that, do you suppose that I would let an innocent man suffer?"
He moistened his dry lips rapidly.
"You are talking nonsense, Zoe," he said, - "nonsense! Even if there has been some little mistake, what could I do now? I have given my evidence. So far as I am concerned, the case is finished. I shall not be called again until the trial."
"Then you had better go to the magistrates tomorrow morning and take back your evidence," she declared boldly, "for if you do not, I shall be there and I shall tell the truth."
"Zoe," he gasped, "don't try me too high. This thing has upset me. I'm ill. Can't you see it, Zoe? Look at me. I haven't slept for weeks. Night and day I've had the fear - the fear always with me. You don't know what it is - you can't imagine. It's like a terrible ghost, keeping pace with you wherever you go, laying his icy finger upon you whenever you would rest, mocking at you when you try to drown thought even for a moment. Don't you try me too far, Zoe. I'm not responsible. Laverick isn't the man you think him to be. He isn't the man I believed. He did have that money - he did, indeed."
"That," she said, "is to be explained. But he is not a murderer."
"Listen to me, Zoe," Morrison continued, leaning across the table. "Come and stay with me for a time and we will go away for a week - somewhere to the seaside. e will talk about this and think it over. I want to get away from London. We will go to Brighton, if you like. must do something for you, Zoe. I'm afraid I've neglected you a good deal. Perhaps I could get you a better part at one of the theatres. I must make you an allowance. You ought to be wearing better clothes."
She drew a little away.
"I want nothing from you, Arthur," she said, "except this - that you speak the truth."
He wiped his forehead and struck the table before her.
"But, good God, Zoe!" he exclaimed, "do you know what it is that you are asking me? Do you want me to go into court and say - 'That isn't the man... It is I who am the murderer'? Do you want me to feel their hands upon my shoulder, to be put there in the dock and have all the people staring at me curiously because they know that before very long I am to stand upon the scaffold and have that rope around my neck and - "
He broke off with a low cry, wringing his hands like a child in a fit of impotent terror. But the girl in front of him never flinched.
"Arthur," she said, "crime is a terrible thing, but nothing in the world can alter its punishment. If it is frightful for you to think of this, what must it be for him? And you are guilty and he is not."
"I was mad!" Morrison went on, now almost beside himself. "Zoe, I was mad! I called there to have a drink. We were broke, - the firm was broke. I'd a hundred or so in my pocket and I was going to bolt the next day. And there, within a few yards of me, was that man, with such a roll of notes as I had never seen in my life. Five hundred pounds, every one of them, and a wad as thick as my fists. Zoe, they fascinated me. I had two drinks quickly and I followed him out. Somehow or other, I found that I'd caught up a knife that was on the counter. I never meant to hurt him seriously, but I wanted some of those notes! I was leaving the next day for Africa and I hadn't enough money to make a fair start. I wanted it - my God, how I wanted money!"
"It couldn't have been worth - that!" she cried, looking at him wonderingly.
"I was mad," he continued. "I saw the notes and they went to my head. Men do wild things sometimes when they are drunk, or for love. I don't drink much, and I'm not over fond of women, but, my God, money is like the blood of my body to me! I saw it, and I wanted it and I wanted it, and I went mad! Zoe, you won't give me away? Say you won't!"
"But what am I to do?" she protested. "He must not suffer."
"He'll get off," Morrison assured her thickly. "I tell you he'll get off. He's only to part with the document, which never belonged to him, and the charge will be withdrawn. They know who the murdered man was. They know where the money came from which he was carrying. I tell you he can save himself. You wouldn't dream of sending me to the gallows, Zoe!"
"Stephen Laverick will never give up that document to those people," she declared. "I am sure of that."
"It's his own lookout," Morrison muttered. "He has the chance, anyway."
She turned toward the door.
"I must go away," she said. "I must go away and think. It is all too horrible."
He came round the table swiftly and caught at her wrists.
"Listen," he said, "I can't let you go like this. You must tell me that you are not going to give me up. Do you hear?"
"I can make no promises, Arthur," she answered sadly, "only this - I shall not let Stephen Laverick suffer in your stead."
He opened his hand and she shrank back, terrified, when she saw what it was that he was holding. Then he struck her down and without a backward glance fled out of the place.