Havoc by E. Phillips Oppenheim - HTML preview

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Stephen Laverick's Conscience

Stephen Laverick was a bachelor - his friends called him an incorrigible one. He had a small but pleasantly situated suite of rooms in Whitehall Court, looking out upon the river. His habits were almost monotonous in their regularity, and the morning following his late night in the city was no exception to the general rule. At eight o'clock, the valet attached to the suite knocked at his door and informed him that his bath was ready. He awoke at once from a sound sleep, sat up in bed, and remembered the events of the preceding evening.

At first he was inclined to doubt that slowly stirring effort of memory. He was a man of unromantic temperament, unimaginative, and by no means of an adventurous turn of mind. He sought naturally for the most reasonable explanation of this strange picture, which no effort of his will could dismiss from his memory. It was a dream, of course. But the dream did not fade. Slowly it spread itself out so that he could no longer doubt. He knew very well as he sat there on the edge of his bed that the thing was truth. He, Stephen Laverick, a man hitherto of upright character, with a reputation of which unconsciously he was proud, had robbed a dead man, had looked into the burning eyes of his murderer, had stolen away with twenty thousand pounds of someone else's money. Morally, at any rate, - probably legally as well, - he was a thief. A glimpse inside his safe on the part of an astute detective might very easily bring him under the grave suspicion of being a criminal of altogether deeper dye.

Stephen Laverick was, in his way, something of a philosopher. In the cold daylight, with the sound of the water running into his bath, this deed which he had done seemed to him foolish and reprehensible. Nevertheless, he realized the absolute finality of his action. The thing was done; he must make the best of it. Behaving in every way like a sensible man, he did not send for the newspapers and search hysterically for their account of last night's tragedy, but took his bath as usual, dressed with more than ordinary care, and sat down to his breakfast before he even unfolded the paper. The item for which he searched occupied by no means so prominent a position as he had expected. It appeared under one of the leading headlines, but it consisted of only a few words. He read them with interest but without emotion. Afterwards he turned to the Stock Exchange quotations and made notes of a few prices in which he was interested.

He completed in leisurely fashion an excellent breakfast and followed his usual custom of walking along the Embankment as far as the Royal Hotel, where he called a taxicab and drove to his offices. A little crowd had gathered around the end of the passage which led from Crooked Friars, and Laverick himself leaned forward and looked curiously at the spot where the body of the murdered man had lain. It seemed hard to him to reconstruct last night's scene in his mind now that the narrow street was filled with hurrying men and a stream of vehicles blocked every inch of the roadway. In his early morning mood the thing was impossible. In a moment or two he paid his driver and dismissed him.

He fancied that a certain relief was visible among his clerks when he opened the door at precisely his usual time and with a cheerful "Good-morning!" made his way into the private office. He lit his customary cigarette and dealt rapidly with the correspondence which was brought in to him by his head-clerk. Afterwards, as soon as he was alone, he opened the safe, thrust the contents of that inner drawer into his breast-pocket, and took up once more his hat and gloves.

 "I am going around to the bank," he told his clerk as he passed out. "I shall be back in half-an-hour - perhaps less."

 "Very good, sir," the man answered. "Will Mr. Morrison be here this morning?"

 Laverick hesitated.

 "No, Mr. Morrison will not be here to-day."

It was only a few steps to his bankers, and his request for an interview with the manager was immediately granted. The latter received him kindly but with a certain restraint. There are not many secrets in the city, and Morrison's big plunge on a particular mining share, notwithstanding its steady drop, had been freely commented upon.

 "What can I do for you, Mr. Laverick?" the banker asked.

 "I am not sure," answered Laverick. "To tell you the truth, I am in a somewhat singular position."

 The banker nodded. He had not a doubt but that he understood exactly what that position was.

 "You have perhaps heard," Laverick continued slowly, "that my late partner, Mr. Morrison, - "

 "Late partner?" the manager interrupted.

 Laverick assented.

"We had a few words last night," he explained "and Mr. Morrison left the office with an understanding between us that he should not return. You will receive a formal intimation of that during the course of the next day or so. We will revert to the matter presently, if you wish. My immediate business with you is to discuss the fact that I have to provide something like twenty thousand pounds to-day if I decide to take up the purchases of stock which Morrison has made."

 "You understand the position, of course, Mr. Laverick, if you fail to do so?" the manager remarked gravely.

"Naturally," Laverick answered. "I am quite aware of the fact that Morrison acted on behalf of the firm and that I am responsible for his transactions. He has plunged pretty deeply, though, a great deal more deeply than our capital warranted. I may add that I had not the slightest idea as to the extent of his dealings."

 The bank manager adopted a sympathetic but serious attitude. "Twenty thousand pounds," he declared, "is a great deal of money, Mr. Laverick."

 "It is a great deal of money," Laverick admitted. "I am here to ask you to lend it to me.

 The bank manager raised his eyebrows.

 "My dear Mr. Laverick!" he exclaimed reproachfully.

"Upon unimpeachable security," Laverick continued. The bank manager was conscious that he had allowed a little start of surprise to escape him, and bit his lip with annoyance. It was entirely contrary to his tenets to display at any time during office hours any sort of emotion.

"Unimpeachable security," he repeated. "Of course, if you have that to offer, Mr. Laverick, although the sum is a large one, it is our business to see what we can do for you."

 "My security is of the best," Laverick declared grimly. "I have bank-notes here, Mr. Fenwick, for twenty thousand pounds."

The bank manager was again guilty of an unprofessional action. He whistled softly under his breath. A very respectable client he had always considered Mr. Stephen Laverick, but he had certainly never suspected him of being able to produce at a pinch such evidence of means. Laverick smoothed out the notes and laid them upon the table.

"Mr. Fenwick," he said, "I believe I am right in assuming that when one comes to one's bankers, one enters, as it were, into a confessional. I feel convinced that nothing which I say to you will be repeated outside this office, or will be allowed to dwell in your own mind except with reference to this particular transaction between you and me. I have the right, have I not, to take that for granted?"

 "Most certainly," the banker agreed.

"From a strictly ethical point of view," Laverick went on, "this money is not mine. I hold it in trust for its owner, but I hold it without any conditions . I have power to make what use I wish of it, and I choose to-day to use it on my own behalf. Whether I am justified or not is scarcely a matter, I presume, which concerns this excellent banking establishment over which you preside so ably. I do not pay these bank-notes in to my account and ask you to credit me with twenty thousand pounds. I ask you to allow me to deposit them here for seven days as security against an overdraft. You can then advance me enough money to meet my engagements of to-day."

 The banker took up the notes and looked them through, one by one. They were very crisp, very new, and absolutely genuine.

"This is somewhat an extraordinary proceeding, Mr. Laverick," he said. "I have no doubt that it must seem so to you," Laverick admitted. "At the same time, there the money is. You can run no risk. If I am exceeding my moral right in making use of these notes, it is I who will have to pay. Will you do as I ask?"

The banker hesitated. The transaction was somewhat a peculiar one, but on the face of it there could be no possible risk. At the same time, there was something about it which he could not understand.

 "Your wish, Mr. Laverick," he remarked, looking at him thoughtfully, "seems to be to keep these notes out of circulation."

 Laverick returned his gaze without flinching.

 "In a sense, that is so," he assented.

 "On the whole," the banker declared, "I should prefer to credit them to your account in the usual way."

"I am sorry," Laverick answered, "but I have a sentimental feeling about it. I prefer to keep the notes intact. If you cannot follow out my suggestion, I must remove my account at once. This isn't a threat, Mr. Fenwick, - you will understand that, I am sure. It is simply a matter of business, and owing to Morrison's speculations I have no time for arguments. I am quite satisfied to remain in your hands, but my feeling in the matter is exactly as I have stated, and I cannot change. If you are to retain my account, my engagements for today must be met precisely in the way I have pointed out."

 The banker excused himself and left the room for a few moments. When he returned, he shrugged his shoulders with the air of one who is giving in to an unreasonable client.

 "It shall be as you say, Mr. Laverick," he announced. "The notes are placed upon deposit. Your engagements to-day up to twenty thousand pounds shall be duly honored."

Laverick shook hands with him, talked for a moment or two about indifferent matters, and strolled back towards his office. He had rather the sense of a man who moves in a dream, who is living, somehow, in a life which doesn't belong to him. He was doing the impossible. He knew very well that his name was in every one's mouth. People were looking at him sympathetically, wondering how he could have been such a fool as to become the victim of an irresponsible speculator. No one ever imagined that he would be able to keep his engagements. And he had done it. The price might be a great one, but he was prepared to pay. At any moment the sensational news might be upon the placards, and the whole world might know that the man who had been murdered in Crooked Friars last night had first been robbed of twenty thousand pounds. So far he had felt himself curiously free from anything in the shape of direct apprehensions. Already, however, the shadow was beginning to fall. Even as he entered his office, the sight of a stranger offering office files for sale made him start. He half expected to feel a hand upon his shoulder, a few words whispered in his ear. He set his teeth tight. This was his risk and he must take it.

 For several hours he remained in his office, engaged in a scheme for the redirection of its policy. With the absence of Morrison, too, there were other changes to be made, - changes in the nature of the business they were prepared to handle, limits to be fixed. It was not until nearly luncheon time that the telephone, the simultaneous arrival of several clients, and the breathless entry of his own head-clerk rushing in from the house, told him what was going on.

"'Unions' have taken their turn at last!" the clerk announced, in an excited tone. "They sagged a little this morning, but since eleven they have been going steadily up. Just now there seems to be a boom. Listen."

 Laverick heard the roar of voices in the street, and nodded. He was prepared to be surprised at nothing.

 "They were bound to go within a day or two," he remarked. "Morrison wasn't an absolute idiot."

The luncheon hour passed. The excitement in the city grew. By three o'clock, ten thousand pounds would have covered all of Laverick's engagements. Just before closingtime, it was even doubtful whether he might not have borrowed every penny without security at all. He took it all quite calmly and as a matter of course. He left the office a little earlier than usual, and every man whom he met stopped to slap him on the back and chaff him. He escaped as soon as he could, bought the evening papers, found a taxicab, and as soon as he had started spread them open. It was a remarkable proof of the man's self-restraint that at no time during the afternoon had he sent out for one of these early editions. He turned them over now with firm fingers. There was absolutely no fresh news. No one had come forward with any suggestion as to the identity of the murdered man. All day long the body had lain in the Mortuary, visited by a constant stream of the curious, but presumably unrecognized. Laverick could scarcely believe the words he read. The thing seemed ludicrously impossible. The twenty thousand pounds must have come from some one. Why did they keep silence? What was the mystery about it? Could it be that they were not in a position to disclose the fact? Curiously enough, this unnatural absence of news inspired him with something which was almost fear. He had taken his risks boldly enough. Now that Fate was playing him this unexpectedly good turn, he was conscious of a growing nervousness. Who could he have been, this man? Whence could he have derived this great sum? One person at least must know that he had been robbed - the man who murdered him must know it. A cold shiver passed through Laverick's veins at the thought. Somewhere in London there must be a man thirsting for his blood, a man who had committed a murder in vain and been robbed of his spoil.

Laverick had no engagements for that evening, but instead of going to his club he drove straight to his rooms, meaning to change a little early for dinner and go to a theatre, lie found there, however, a small boy waiting for him with a note in his hand. It was addressed in pencil only, and his name was printed upon it.

Laverick tore it open with a haste which he only imperfectly concealed. There was something ominous to him in those printed characters. Its contents, however, were short enough.

 DEAR LAVERICK, I must see you. Come the moment you get this. Come without fail, for your own sake and mine. A. M.

 Laverick looked at the boy. His fingers were trembling, but it was with relief. The note was from Morrison.

 "There is no address here," he remarked.

 "The gent said as I was to take you back with me," the boy answered.

 "Is it far?" Laverick asked.

 "Close to Red Lion Square," the boy declared. "Not more nor five minutes in one of them taxicabs. The gent said we was to take one. He is in a great hurry to see you."

 Laverick did not hesitate a moment."

 "Very well," he said, "we'll start at once.

 He put on his hat again and waited while the commissionaire called them a taxicab.

 "What address?" he asked.

 "Number 7, Theobald Square," the boy said. Laverick nodded and repeated the address to the driver.

 "What the dickens can Morrison be doing in a part like that!" he thought, as they passed up Northumberland Avenue.