Havoc by E. Phillips Oppenheim - HTML preview
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One by one the young ladies of the chorus came out from the stage-door of the Universal, in most cases to be assisted into a waiting hansom or taxicab by an attendant cavalier. Laverick stood back in the shadows as much as possible, smiling now and then to himself at this, to him, somewhat novel way of spending the evening. Zoe was among the last to appear. She came up to him with a delightful little gesture of pleasure, and took his arm as a matter of course as he led her across to the waiting cab.
"This sort of thing is making me feel absurdly young," he declared. "Luigi's for supper, I suppose?"
"Supper!" she exclaimed, clapping her hands. "Delightful! Two nights following, too! I did love last night."
"We had better engage a table at Luigi's permanently," he remarked.
"If only you meant it!" she sighed.
He laughed at her, but he was thoughtful for a few minutes. Afterwards, when they sat at a small round table in the somewhat Bohemian restaurant which was the fashionable rendezvous of the moment for ladies of the theatrical profession, he asked her a question.
"Tell me what you meant in your note," he begged. "You said that you had some information for me.
"I'm afraid it wasn't anything very much," she admitted. "I found out to-day that some one had been inquiring at the stage-door about me, and whether I was connected in any way with a Mr. Arthur Morrison, the stockbroker."
"Do you know who it was?" he asked.
She shook her head.
"The man left no name at all. I tried to get the doorkeeper to tell me about him, but he's such a surly old fellow, and he's so used to that sort of thing, that he pretended he didn't remember anything."
"It seems odd," he remarked thoughtfully, "that any one should have found you out. You were so seldom with Morrison. I dare say," he added, "it was just some one to whom your brother owes some small sum of money."
"Very likely," she answered. "But I was going to tell you. He came again to-night while the performance was on, and sent a note round. I have brought it for you to see." The note - it was really little more than a message - was written on the back of a programme and enclosed in an envelope evidently borrowed from the box-office. It read as follows:
DEAR MISS LENEVEU,
I believe that Mr. Arthur Morrison is a connection of yours, and I am venturing to introduce myself to you as a friend of his. Could you spare me half-an-hour of your company after the performance of this evening? If you could honor me so much, you might perhaps allow me to give you some supper. Sincerely,
PHILIP E. MILES.
Laverick felt an absurd pang of jealousy as he handed back the programme.
"I should say," he declared, "that this was simply some young man who was trying to scrape an acquaintance with you because he was or had been a friend of Morrison's."
"In that case," answered Zoe, "he is very soon forgotten."
She tore the programme into two pieces, and Laverick was conscious of a ridiculous feeling of pleasure at her indifference.
"If you hear anything more about him," he said, "you might let me know. You are a brave young lady to dismiss your admirers so summarily."
"Perhaps I am quite satisfied with one," laughing softly.
Laverick told himself that at his age he was behaving like an idiot, nevertheless his eyes across the table expressed his appreciation of her speech.
"Tell me something about yourself, Mr. Laverick," she begged.
"First of all, then, how old are you?"
He made a grimace.
"Thirty-eight - thirty-nine my next birthday. Doesn't that seem grandfatherly to you?"
"You must not be absurd!" she exclaimed. "It is not even middle-aged. Now tell me - how do you spend your time generally? Do you really mean that you go and play cards at your club most evenings?"
"I have a good many friends, and I dine out quite a great deal."
"You have no sisters?"
"I have no relatives at all in London," he explained. "It is to be a real cross-examination," she warned him.
"I am quite content," he answered. "Go ahead, but remember, though, that I am a very dull person."
"You look so young for your years," she declared. "I wonder, have you ever been in love?"
He laughed heartily.
"About a dozen times, I suppose. Why? Do I seem to you like a misanthrope?"
"I don't know," she admitted, hesitatingly. "You don't seem to me as though you cared to make friends very easily. I just felt I wanted to ask you. Have you ever been engaged?"
"Never," he assured her.
"And when was the last time," she asked, "that you felt you cared a little for any one?"
"It dates from the day before yesterday," he declared, filling her glass.
She laughed at him.
"Of course, it is nonsense to talk to you like this!" she said. "You are quite right to make fun of me."
"On the contrary," he insisted. "I am very much in earnest."
"Very well, then," she answered, "if you are in earnest you shall be in love with me. You shall take me about, give me supper every night, send me some sweets and cigarettes to the theatre - oh, and there are heaps of things you ought to do if you really mean it!" she wound up.
"If those things mean being fond of you," he answered, "I'll prove it with pleasure. Sweets, cigarettes, suppers, taxicabs at the stage-door."
"It all sounds very terrible," she sighed. "It's a horrid little life."
"Yet I suppose you enjoy it?" he remarked tentatively.
"I hate it, but I must do something. I could not live on charity. If I knew any other way I could make money, I would rather, but there is no other way. I tried once to give music lessons. I had a few pupils, but they never paid - they never do pay.
"I wish I could think of something," Laverick said thoughtfully. "Of course, it is occupation you want. So far as regards the monetary part of it, I still owe your brother a great deal - "
She shook her head, interrupting him with a quick little gesture. "No, no!" she declared. "I have never complained about Arthur. Sometimes he made me suffer, because I know that he was ashamed of having a relative in the chorus, but I am quite sure that I do not wish to take any of his money - or of anybody else's," she added. "I want always to earn my own living."
"For such a child," he remarked, smiling, "you are wonderfully independent."
"Why not?" she answered softly. "It is years since I had any one to do very much for me. Necessity teaches us a good many things. Oh, I was helpless enough when it began!" she added, with a little sigh. "I got over it. We all do. Tell me - who is that woman, and why does she stare so at you?"
Laverick looked across the room. Louise and Bellamy were sitting at the opposite table. The former was strikingly handsome and very wonderfully dressed. Her closely-clinging gown, cut slightly open in front, displayed her marvelous figure. She wore long pearl earrings, and a hat with white feathers which drooped over her fair hair. Laverick recognized her at once.
"It is Mademoiselle Idiale," he said, "the most wonderful soprano in the world."
"Why does she look so at you?" Zoe asked.
Laverick shook his head.
"I do not know her," he said. "I know who she is, of course, - every one does. She is a Servian, and they say that she is devoted to her country. She left Vienna at a moment's notice, only a few days ago, and they say that it was because she had sworn never to sing again before the enemies of her country. She had been engaged a long time to appear at Covent Garden, but no one believed that she would really come. She breaks her engagements just when she chooses. In fact, she is a very wonderful person altogether."
"I never saw such pearls in my life," Zoe whispered. "And how lovely she is! I do not understand, though, why she is so interested in you."
"She mistakes me for some one, perhaps."
It certainly seemed probable. Even at that moment she touched her escort upon the arm, and he distinctly looked across at Laverick. It was obvious that he was the subject of her conversation.
"I know the man," Laverick said. "He was at Harrow with me, and I have played cricket with him since. But I have certainly never met Mademoiselle Idiale. One does not forget that sort of person.
"Her figure is magnificent," Zoe murmured wistfully. "Do you like tall women very much, Mr. Laverick?"
"I adore them," he answered, smiling, "but I prefer small ones." "We are very foolish people, you and I," she laughed. "We came together so strangely and yet we talk such frivolous nonsense.
"You are making me young again," he declared.
"Oh, you are quite young enough!" she assured him. "To tell you the truth, I am jealous. Mademoiselle Idiale looks at you all the time. Look at her now. Is she not beautiful?"
There was no doubt about her beauty, but those who were criticising her - and she was by far the most interesting person in the room - thought her a little sad. Though Bellamy was doing his utmost to be entertaining, her eyes seemed to travel every now and then over his head and out of the room. Wherever her thoughts were, one could be very sure that they were not fixed upon the subject under discussion.
"She is like that when she sings," Laverick remarked. "She has none of the vivacity of the Frenchwomen. Yet there was never anything so graceful in the world as the way she moves about the stage."
"If I were a man," Zoe sighed, "that is the sort of woman I would die for."
"If you were a man," he replied, "you would probably find some one whom you preferred to live for. Do you know, you are rather a morbid sort of person, Miss Zoe?"
"Ah, I like that!" she declared. "I will not be called Miss Leneveu any more by you. You must call me Miss Zoe, please, - Zoe, if you like."
"Zoe, by all means. Under the circumstances, I think it is only fitting."
His eyes wandered across the room again.
"Ah!" she cried softly, "you, too, are coming under the spell, then. I was reading about her only the other day. They say that so many men fall in love with her - so many men to whom she gives no encouragement at all."
Laverick looked into his companion's face.
"Come," he said, "my heart is not so easily won. I can assure you that I never aspire to so mighty a personage as a Covent Garden star. Don't you know that she gets a salary of five hundred pounds a week, and wears ropes of pearls which would represent ten times my entire income? Heaven alone knows what her gowns cost!"
"After all, though," murmured Zoe, "she is a woman. See, your friend is coming to speak to you."
Bellamy was indeed crossing the room. He nodded to Laverick and bowed to his companion.
"Forgive my intruding, Laverick," he said. "You do remember me, I hope? Bellamy, you know."
"I remember you quite well. We used to play together at Lord's, even after we left school."
"That is so," he answered. "I see by the papers that you have kept up your cricket. Mine, alas! has had to go. I have been too much of a rolling stone lately. Do you know that I have come to ask you a favor?"
"Go ahead," Laverick interposed.
"Mademoiselle Idiale has a fancy to meet you," Bellamy explained. "You know, or I dare say you have heard, what a creature of whims she is. If you won't come across and be introduced like a good fellow, she probably won't speak a word all through supper-time, go off in a huff, and my evening will be spoiled."
Laverick laughed heartily. A little smile played at the corner of Zoe's lips - nevertheless, she was looking slightly anxious.
"Under those circumstances," remarked Laverick, "perhaps I had better go. You will understand," he added, with a glance at Zoe, "that I cannot stay for more than a second."
"Naturally," Bellamy answered. "If Mademoiselle really has anything to say to you, I will, if I am permitted, return for a moment."
Laverick introduced him to Zoe.
"I am sure I have seen you at the Universal," he declared. "You're in the front row, aren't you? I have seen you in that clever little step-dance and song in the second act."
She nodded, evidently pleased.
"Does it seem clever to you?" she asked wistfully. "You see, we are all so tired of it."
"I think it is ripping," Bellamy declared. "I shall have the pleasure again directly," he added, with a bow.
The two men crossed the room.
"What the dickens does Mademoiselle Idiale want with me?" Laverick demanded. "Does she know that I am a poor stockbroker, struggling against hard times?"
Bellamy shrugged his shoulders.
"She isn't the sort to care who or what you are," he answered. "And as for the rest, I suppose she could buy any of us up if she wanted to. Her interest in you is rather a curious one. No time to explain it now. She'll tell you."
Louise smiled as he paused before her. She was certainly exquisitely beautiful. Her dress, her carriage, her delicate hands, even her voice, were all perfection. She gave him the tips of her fingers as Bellamy pronounced his name.
"It is so kind of you," she said, "to come and speak to me. And indeed you will laugh when I tell you why I thought that I would like to say one word with you."
"I am thankful, Mademoiselle," he replied, "for anything which procures me such a pleasure."
"Ah! you, too, are gallant," she said. "But indeed, then, I fear you will not be flattered when I tell you why I was so interested. I read all your newspapers. I read of that terrible murder in Crooked Friars' Alley only a few days ago, - is not that how you call the place?"
Laverick was suddenly grave. What was this that was coming?
"One of the reports," she continued, "says that the man was a foreigner. The maker's name upon his clothes was Austrian. I, too, come from that part of Europe - if not from Austria, from a country very near - and I am always interested in my country-people. A few moments ago I asked my friend Mr. Bellamy, 'Where is this Crooked Friars' Alley?' Just then he bowed to you, and he answered me, 'It is in the city. It is within a yard or two of the offices of the gentleman to whom I just have said good-evening.' So I looked across at you and I thought that it was strange."
Laverick scarcely knew what to say.
"It was a terrible affair," he admitted, "and, as Mr. Bellamy has told you, it occurred within a few steps of my office. So far, too, the police seem completely at a loss."
"Ah!" she went on, shaking her head, "your police, I am afraid they are not very clever. It is too bad, but I am afraid that it is so. Tell me, Mr. Laverick, is this, then, a very lonely spot where your offices are?"
"Not at all," Laverick replied. "On the contrary, in the daytime it might be called the heart of the city - of the money-making part of the city, at any rate. Only this thing, you see, seems to have taken place very late at night."
"When all the offices were closed," she remarked.
"Most of them," Laverick answered. "Mine, as it happened, was open late that night. I passed the spot within half-an-hour or so of the time when the murder must have been committed."
"But that is terrible!" she declared, shaking her head. "Tell me, Mr. Laverick, if I drive to your office some morning you will show me this place, - yes?"
"If you are in earnest, Mademoiselle, I will certainly do so, but there is nothing there. It is just a passage."
"You give me your address," she insisted, "and I think that I will come. You are a stockbroker, Mr. Bellamy tells me. Well, sometimes I have a good deal of money to invest. I come to you and you will give me your advice. So! You have a card!"
Laverick found one and scribbled his city address upon it. She thanked him and once more held out the tips of her fingers.
"So I shall see you again some day, Mr. Laverick."
He bowed and recrossed the room. Bellamy was standing talking to Zoe.
"Well," he asked,. as Laverick returned, "are you, too, going to throw yourself beneath the car?"
Laverick shook his head.
"I do not think so," he answered. "Our acquaintance promises to be a business one. Mademoiselle spoke of investing some money though me."
"Then you have kept your heart," he remarked. "Ah, well, you have every reason!"
He bowed to Zoe, nodded to Laverick, and returned to his place. Laverick looked after him a little compassionately.
"Poor fellow," he said.
"Who is he?"
"He has some sort of a Government appointment," Laverick answered. "They say he is hopelessly in love with Mademoiselle Idiale."
"Why not?" Zoe exclaimed. "He is nice. She must care for some one. Why do you pity him?"
"They say, too, that she has no more heart than a stone," Laverick continued, "and that never a man has had even a kind word from her. She is very patriotic, and all the thoughts and love she has to spare from herself are given to her country."
Zoe shuddered. "Ah!" she murmured, "I do not like to think of heartless women. Perhaps she is not so cruel, after all. To me she seems only very, very sad. Tell me, Mr. Laverick, why did she send for you?"
"I imagine," said he, "that it was a whim. It must have been a whim."