E. Phillips Oppenheim.

The Cinema Murder online

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matter-of-fact the two persons chiefly concerned were. There was only one
moment, just before they started for the theatre, when Elizabeth betrayed
the slightest signs of uneasiness.

"I sent a telegram, Philip," she said, "to Sylvanus Power. I thought I
had better. This is his answer."

Philip read the few typewritten words on the little slip of paper:

"You will hear from me within twenty-four hours."

Philip frowned a little as he handed it back. It was dated from
Washington.

"I think," Elizabeth faltered, "he might have sent his good wishes, at
any rate."

Philip laughed confidently.

"We have nothing to fear," he declared confidently, "from Sylvanus
Power."

"Nor from any one else in the world," Elizabeth murmured fervently.

Then followed the wonderful evening. Philip found Beatrice alone in the
stage box when he returned from taking Elizabeth to her dressing-room.

"Where's Martha?" he asked.

"Faithless," Beatrice replied. "She is in the stalls down there with a
young man from the box office. She said you'd understand."

"A serious affair?" Philip ventured.

Beatrice nodded.

"They are engaged. I had tea with them yesterday."

"We shall have to do something for you, Beatrice, soon," he remarked
cheerfully.

A very rare gravity settled for a moment upon her face.

"I wonder, Philip," she said simply. "I thought, a little time ago, it
would be easy enough to care for the right sort of person. Perhaps I am
not really quite so rotten as I thought I was. Here comes Elizabeth.
Let's watch her."

They both leaned a little forward in the box, Philip in a state of
beatific wonder, which turned soon to amazement when, at Elizabeth's
first appearance, the house suddenly rose, and a torrent of applause
broke out from the floor to the ceiling. Elizabeth for a moment seemed
dumbfounded. The fact that the news of what had happened that afternoon
could so soon have become public property had not occurred to either her
or Philip. Then a sudden smile of comprehension broke across her face.
With understanding, however, came a momentary embarrassment. She looked a
little pathetically at the great audience, then laughed and glanced at
Philip, seated now well back in the box. Many of them followed her gaze,
and the applause broke out again. Then there was silence. She paused
before she spoke the first words of her part.

"Thank you so much," she said quietly.

It was a queer little episode. Beatrice gripped Philip's hand as she drew
her chair back to his. There were tears in her eyes.

"How they love her, these people! And fancy their knowing about it,
Philip, already! You ought to have shown yourself as the happy
bridegroom. They were all looking up here. I wonder why men are so shy.
I'm glad I have my new frock on.... Fancy being married only a few hours
ago! Tell me how you are feeling, can't you, Philip? You sit there
looking like a sphinx. You are happy, aren't you?"

"Happier, I think, than any man has a right to be," he answered, his eyes
watching Elizabeth's every movement.

As the play proceeded, his silence only deepened. He went behind at the
end of each act and spent a few stolen moments with Elizabeth. Life was a
marvellous thing, indeed. Every pulse and nerve in his body was tingling
with happiness. And yet, as he lingered for a moment in the vestibule of
the theatre, before going back to his box at the commencement of the last
act, he felt once more that terrible wave of depression, the ghostly
uprising of his old terrors even in this supreme moment. He looked down
from the panorama of flaring sky-signs into the faces of the passers-by
along the crowded pavement. He had a sudden fancy that Dane was there,
watching. His heart beat fiercely as he stood, almost transfixed,
scanning eagerly every strange face. Then the bell rang behind him. He
set his teeth and turned away. In less than half an hour the play would
be over. They would be on their way home.

He found the box door open and the box itself, to his surprise, empty.
There was no sign anywhere of Beatrice. He waited for a little time. Then
he rang the bell for the attendant but could hear no news of her. His
uneasiness increased as the curtain at last fell and she had not
returned. He hurried round to the back, but Elizabeth, when he told her,
only smiled.

"Why, there's nothing to worry about, dear," she said. "Beatrice can take
care of herself. Perhaps she thought it more tactful to hurry on home
tonight. She is really just as kind-hearted as she can be, you know,
Philip, underneath all that pent-up, passionate desire for just a small
share of the good things of life. She has wasted so much of herself in
longings. Poor child! I sometimes wonder that she is as level-headed as
she seems to be. Now I am ready."

They passed down the corridor amidst a little chorus of good nights, and
stepped into the automobile which was waiting. As it glided off she
suddenly came closer to him.

"Philip," she whispered, "it's true, isn't it? Put your arms around me.
You are driving me home - say it's true!"

Elizabeth sat up presently, a little dazed. Her fingers were still
gripping Philip's almost fiercely. The automobile had stopped.

"I haven't the least idea where we are," she murmured.

"And I forgot to tell you," he laughed, as he helped her out. "I took the
suite below mine by the week. There are two or three rooms, and an
extra one for Beatrice. Of course, it's small, but then with this London
idea before us - "

"Such extravagance!" she interrupted. "Your own rooms would have done
quite nicely, only it is a luxury to have a place for Phoebe. I hope
Beatrice won't have gone to bed."

"I am sure she won't," he replied. "She has done all the arranging for
me - she and Phoebe together."

They crossed the pavement and entered the lift. The attendant grinned
broadly as he stopped at the eighth floor, and held out his hand for the
tip for which Philip had been fumbling. The door of the suite was opened
before they could reach the bell. Elizabeth's maid, Phoebe, came forward
to take her mistress' cloak, and the floor valet was there to relieve
Philip of his overcoat. A waiter was hovering in the background.

"Supper is served in the dining room, sir," he announced. "Shall I open
the wine?"

Philip nodded and showed Elizabeth over the little flat, finally ushering
her into the small, round dining room.

"It's perfectly delightful," she declared, "but we don't need nearly so
much room, Philip. What a dear little dining table and what a delicious
supper! Everything I like best in the world, from pâté de foie gras to
cold asparagus. You are a dear."

The waiter disappeared with a little bow. They were alone at last. She
held his hands tightly. She was trembling. The forced composure of the
last few minutes seemed to have left her.

"I am silly," she faltered, "but the servants and everything - they won't
come back, will they?"

He laughed as he patted her hand.

"We shan't see another soul, dear," he assured her.

She laid her cheek against his.

"How hot your face feels," she exclaimed. "Throw open the window, do. I
shan't feel it."

He obeyed her at once. The roar of the city, all its harshness muffled,
came to them in a sombre, almost melodious undernote. She rested her
hands upon his shoulder.

"What children we are!" she murmured. "Now it's you who are trembling!
Sit down, please. You've been so brave these last few days."

"It was just for a moment," he told her. "It seems too wonderful. I had a
sudden impulse of terror lest it should all be snatched away."

She laughed easily.

"I don't think there's any fear of that, dear," she said. "Perhaps - "

There was a little knock at the door. Philip, who had been holding
Elizabeth's chair, stood as though transfixed. Elizabeth gripped at the
side of the table. It was some few seconds before either of them
spoke.

"It's perhaps - Beatrice," Elizabeth faltered.

The knock was repeated. Philip drew a little breath.

"Come in," he invited.

The door opened slowly towards them and closed again. It was Mr. Dane who
had entered. From outside they caught a momentary glimpse of another
man, waiting. Mr. Dane took off his hat. For a man with so expressionless
a countenance, he was looking considerably perturbed.

"Miss Dalstan," he said, "I am very sorry, believe me, to intrude. I only
heard of your marriage an hour ago. I wish I could have prevented it."

"Prevented it?" Elizabeth repeated. "What do you mean?"

"I think that Mr. Philip Romilly could explain," Dane continued, turning
towards Philip. "I am sorry, but I have received an imperative cable from
Scotland Yard, and it is my duty to arrest you, Philip Romilly, and to
hold you, pending the arrival of a special police mission from England. I
am bound to take note of anything you may say, so I beg of you not to ask
me any particulars as to the charge."

The colour slowly faded from Elizabeth's cheeks. She had risen to her
feet and was gripping the mantelpiece for support. Philip, however, was
perfectly calm. He poured out a glass of water and held it to her lips.

"Drink this, dear," he begged, "and don't be alarmed. It sounds very
terrible, but believe me there is nothing to be feared."

He swung suddenly round to Dane. His voice shook with passion.

"You've kept me under observation," he cried, "all this time. I haven't
attempted to escape. I haven't moved from New York. I haven't the
slightest intention of doing so until this thing is cleared up. Can't you
take my parole? Can't you leave me alone until they come from England?"

Mr. Dane shook his head slowly. He was a hard man, but there was an
unaccustomed look of distress in his face.

"Sorry, Mr. Romilly," he said regretfully. "I did suggest something of
the sort, but they wouldn't hear of it at headquarters. If we let you
slip through our fingers, we should never hear the last of it from
London."

Then there came another and a still more unexpected interruption. From
outside they heard Beatrice's voice raised in excitement. Mr. Dane stood
on one side as the door was thrown open. Beatrice suddenly flung herself
into the room, dragging after her a man who was almost breathless.

"I say, Beatrice, steady!" the latter began good-naturedly.

There followed the most wonderful silence in the world, a silence which
was filled with throbbing, indescribable emotions, a silence which meant
something different for every one of them. Beatrice, gripping her captive
by the wrist, was looking around, striving to understand. Elizabeth was
filled with blank wonder. Mr. Dane was puzzled. But Philip, who a moment
before had seemed perfectly composed, was the one who seemed torn by
indescribable, by horrible emotions. He was livid almost to the lips. His
hands were stretched out as though to keep from him some awful and
ghastly vision. His eyes, filled with the anguished light of supreme
terror, were fastened upon the newcomer. His lips shook as he tried to
speak.

"Take him away!" he shrieked. "Oh, my God!"

Beatrice, more coherent than any of them, scoffed at him.

"Don't be a fool!" she cried. "Take him away, indeed! He's the most
wonderful thing that ever happened. He's the one man in life you want to
see! So you've come for him, eh?" she went on, turning almost like a
wild-cat on Dane. "You beast! You chose to-night, did you? Now get on
with it, then, and I'll give you the surprise of your life. What are you
here for?"

"I am here to arrest that man, Philip Romilly, for the murder of his
cousin, Douglas Romilly, Miss Wenderley," Dane announced gravely. "I am
sorry."

Beatrice threw her head back and laughed hysterically.

"You'll never write a play like it, Philip!" she exclaimed. "There never
was anything like it before. Now, Mr. Dane, what is it you say in America
when you want to introduce anybody? - shake hands with Mr. Douglas
Romilly - that's it. Shake hands with the dead man here and then get on
with your arresting. He must be dead if you say so, but he doesn't look
it, does he?"

Philip's face had become a more natural colour. His eyes had never left
the other man's. He swayed a little on his feet and his voice seemed to
him to come from a long way off.

"Douglas! It isn't you, Douglas! ... It isn't you really?"

"I wish you'd all leave off staring at me as though I were a ghost," the
other man answered, almost pettishly. "I'm Douglas Romilly, right enough.
You needn't look in such a blue funk, Philip," he went on, his fingers
mechanically rearranging his collar and tie, which Beatrice had
disarranged. "I served you a beastly trick and you went for me. I should
have done the same if I'd been in your place. On the other hand, I rather
turned the tables on you by keeping quiet. Perhaps it's up to me to
explain."

Elizabeth, feeling her way by the mantelpiece, came to Philip's side. His
arm supported her, holding her as though in a vise.

"Is that your cousin?" she whispered hoarsely. "Is that Douglas Romilly?
Is he alive, after all?"

Philip had no words, but his face spoke for him. Then they both turned to
listen. The newcomer had dragged a chair towards him and was leaning over
the back of it. He addressed Philip.

"We met, as you know, on the canal path that beastly afternoon," he
began. "I was jolly well ashamed of myself for having made love to
Beatrice, and all the rest of it, and you were mad with rage. We had a
sort of tussle and you threw me into the canal. It was a nasty dark spot
just underneath the bridge. I expect I was stunned for a moment,
but it was only for a moment. I came to long before I choked, and when I
remembered your grip upon my throat, I decided I was safer where I was. I
could swim like a duck, you know, and though it was filthy water I took a
long dive. When I came up again - gad, what disgusting water it was! - you
were tearing off like a creature possessed. That's the true history of
our little fracas."

"But afterwards?" Philip asked wonderingly. "What happened afterwards?"

"You just tell them all about it," Beatrice ordered him sternly. "Go on,
Douglas."

"Well, you see," Douglas Romilly continued, "I was just going to scramble
out on to the bank when my brain began to work, and I swam slowly along
instead. You see, just then I was in a devil of a mess. I'd spent a lot
of money, and though I'd kept the credit of the firm good, I knew that
the business was bust, and the one thing I was anxious about was to get
off to America without being stopped. I've explained this all to
Beatrice, and why I didn't send for her before. Anyway, I swam along
until I met with an old barge. I climbed in and got two of the choicest
blackguards you ever saw to let me spend an hour or two in their filthy
cabin and to keep their mouths closed about it. Fortunately, I had
another pocketbook, with sufficient to satisfy them and keep me going.
Then I borrowed some clothes and came out to America, steerage. I had no
difficulty in getting my money, as I had a couple of pals in Lynn whom I
had fixed things up with before I started. They came and identified me as
Merton Ware, and we all three started in business together as the Ford
Boot and Shoe Manufacturing Company at Lynn in Massachusetts.
Incidentally, we've done all right. Heaps more, of course, but that's the
pith of it. As for the body that was fished out of the canal, if you make
enquiries, you'll find there was a tramp missing, a month or so before."

Elizabeth had begun to sob quietly. Philip, who was holding her tenderly
in his arms, whispered unheard things into her ears. It was Beatrice who
remained in charge of the situation.

"So now, Mr. Dane," she jeered, "what about your little errand? I hope
this will be a lesson to you not to come meddling in other people's
affairs."

Dane turned to the man who had brought this bombshell into their midst.

"Do you swear that you are Douglas Romilly?" he asked.

"I not only swear it but I can prove it, if you'll come along with me to
Murray's," he answered. "My partner's there, waiting supper, and another
man who has known me all his life."

The detective glanced interrogatively towards Philip.

"That is my cousin, Douglas Romilly," the latter pronounced.

Dane took up his hat.

"Mr. Merton Ware," he said, "or Mr. Philip Romilly, whichever you may in
future elect to call yourself, you may not believe it, but the end of
this affairs is an immense relief to me. I offer you my heartiest
congratulations. You need fear no more annoyance. Good night!"

He passed out. They heard the sound of his footsteps and his companion's,
as they crossed the corridor and rang for the lift. Speech was a little
difficult. It was still Beatrice who imposed conviction upon them.

"I was seated in the box," she explained, "when Philip went round to see
you, Elizabeth. I had looking down into the stalls to find Martha, and
all of a sudden I saw Douglas there. He, too, was staring at me. Of
course, I thought it was some extraordinary likeness, but, whilst I was
clutching at the curtain, he stood up and waved his hand. You should have
seen me tear from the box! You know, ever since they showed me that
signature at the bank I have had a queer idea at the back of my head.
Luckily for him," she went, patting his arm, "he sent home for me a
fortnight ago, and sent a draft for my expenses out. You won't mind, will
you, if I take him off now?" she concluded, turning to Elizabeth. "They
are waiting supper for us, but I wasn't going to let Philip - "

"Did you know that Dane was going to be here?" Elizabeth asked.

"Not an idea," Beatrice declared. "I simply dragged Douglas along here,
as soon as we'd talked things out, because I knew that it would be the
one thing wanting to complete Philip's happiness. We'll leave you now.
Douglas will bring me back, and we are going to be married in a few
days."

Philip held out his hand a little diffidently.

"You wouldn't - "

"My dear fellow," Douglas interrupted, grasping it, "wouldn't I! I'm
thundering sorry for all you've been through. I suppose I ought to have
let you know that I was still in the land of the living, but I was
waiting until things blew over in England. That's all right now, though,"
he went on. "I've turned over a new leaf and I am making money - making
it after a style they don't understand in England. I am going to pay my
creditors twenty shillings in the pound before a couple of years have
gone, and do pretty well for Beatrice and myself as well. You wouldn't
care, I suppose," he added, as they stood there with locked hands, "to
offer us just a glass of wine before we start out? Beatrice has been
riddling me with questions and dragging me through the streets till I
scarcely know whether I am on my head or my heels."

Philip emptied the contents of the champagne bottle into the glasses.
Never was wine poured out more gladly.

"Douglas," he explained, "this is Miss Elizabeth Dalstan, whom you saw
act this evening. We were married this afternoon. You can understand,
can't you, just what your coming has meant for us?"

Douglas shook Elizabeth by the hand. Then he held up his glass.

"Here's the best of luck to you both!" he said heartily. "Very soon
Beatrice and I will ask you to wish us the same. Philip, old chap," he
added, as he set his glass down and without the slightest protest watched
it replenished, "that's a thundering good play of yours I've seen this
evening, but you'll never write one to beat this!"

Soon Beatrice and Douglas also took their departure. Elizabeth held out
her arms almost as the door closed. The tear-stains were still on her
cheeks. Her lips quivered a little, but her voice was clear and sweet and
passionate.

"Philip," she cried, "it's all over - it's all finished with - the dread,
the awful days! I am not going to be hysterical any more, and you - you
are just going to remember that we have everything we want in the world.
Sit down opposite to me, if you please, and fill my glass. I have only
one emotion left. I am hungry - desperately hungry. Move your chair nearer
so that I can reach your hand. There! Now you and I will drink our little
toast."

It was an hour before they thought of leaving the table. A very perplexed
waiter brought them coffee and watched them light cigarettes. Then the
telephone bell rang. They both stared at the instrument. Philip would
have taken off the receiver, but Elizabeth held out her hand.

"I have an idea," she said. "I believe it is from Sylvanus Power. Let me
answer it."

She held the receiver to her ear and listened.

"Yes?" she murmured. "Yes?... At what time?"

Her face grew more puzzled. She listened for a moment longer.

"But, Sylvanus," she expostulated, "what do you mean?... Sylvanus?... Mr.
Power?"

The telephone had become a dumb thing. She replaced the receiver.

"I don't understand," she told Philip. "All that he said was - 'You will
receive my present at five o'clock this morning!'"

"Does he think we are going to sit up for it?" Philip asked.

"He is the strangest man," she sighed....

* * * * *

After all, some queer fancy awoke Philip at a little before five that
morning and drew him to the window. He sat looking out over the still
sleeping city. All sound now was hushed. It was the brief breathing space
before the dawn. In the clear morning spring light, the buildings of the
city seemed to stand out with a new and marvellous distinctness. Now and
then from the harbour came the shriek of a siren. A few pale lights were
still burning along the river way. From one of the city clocks the hour
was slowly tolled. Philip counted the strokes - one, two, three, four,
five. Then, almost as he was preparing to leave his post, there came a
terrific roar. The window against which he leaned shook. Some of the
buildings in the distance trembled. One, with its familiar white cupola,
seemed for a moment to be lifted from the ground and then split through
by some unseen hand. The roar of the explosion was followed by the
crashing of falling masonry. Long fingers of fire suddenly leapt up into
the quiet, cool air. Fragments of masonry, a portion, even, of that
wonderful cupola, came crashing down into the street. He heard
Elizabeth's voice behind him, felt her fingers upon his shoulder.

"What is it? Philip, what is it?"

He pointed with steady finger. The truth seemed to come to him by
inspiration.

"It is Sylvanus Power's message to you," he replied. "The theatre!"

There were flames now, leaping up to the sky. Together they watched them
and listened to the shrieking of sirens and whistles as the fire engines
galloped by from every section of the city. There was a strange look in
Elizabeth's face as she watched the curling flames.

"Philip," she whispered, "thank God! There it goes, all his great
offering to me! It's like the man and his motto - 'A man may do what he
will with his own.' Only last night I felt as though I would give
anything in the world never to stand upon the stage of that theatre
again. He doesn't know it, Philip, but his is a precious gift."

He passed his arm around her and drew her from the window.

"'A man may do what he will with his own,'" he repeated. "Well, it isn't
such a bad motto. Sylvanus Power may destroy a million-dollar theatre
for a whim, but so far as you and I are concerned - "

She sighed with content.

"We do both need a holiday," she murmured. "Somewhere in Europe, I
think."


THE END




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Online LibraryE. Phillips OppenheimThe Cinema Murder → online text (page 17 of 17)