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suddenly left him. He cursed the imagination which lifted his feet from
the white decks and dragged his eyes from the sparkling blue sea to the
rain-soaked, smut-blackened fields riven by that long thread of bleak,
turgid water. The horrors of a murderous passion beat upon his brain.
He saw himself hastening, grim and blind, on his devil-sped mission. Then
the haze faded from before his eyes. Somehow or other he accomplished his
errand. He was in the library, standing in front of those many sheets of
typewritten messages, passing them all over, heedless of what their
message might be, until he came to the last and most insignificant.
Four lines, almost overlapped by another sheet -

STRANGE DISAPPEARANCE OF A LONDON ART TEACHER

SUICIDE FEARED

Acting upon instructions received, the police
are investigating a somewhat curious case of
disappearance. Philip Romilly, a teacher of art in
a London school, visited Detton Magna on Friday
afternoon and apparently started for a walk along
the canal bank, towards dusk. Nothing has since
been heard of him or his movements, and
arrangements have been made to drag the canal
at a certain point.

The letters seemed to grow larger to him as he stood and read. He
remained in front of the message for an inordinately long time. Again his
imagination was at work. He saw the whole ghastly business, the police on
the canal banks, watching the slow progress of the men with their drags
bringing to the surface all the miserable refuse of the turgid waters,
the dripping black mud, perhaps at last....

He was back again on the deck, walking quite steadily yet seeing little.
He made his way to the smoking room, asked almost indifferently for a
brandy and soda, and drained it to the last drop. Then he walked up the
deck to where Elizabeth was seated, and dropped into a chair by her side.

"So I am missing," he remarked, almost in his ordinary tone. "I really
had no idea that I was a person of such importance. Fancy reading of my
own disappearance within a few days of its taking place, in the middle of
the Atlantic!"

"There was probably some one there who gave information," she suggested.

"There was the young lady whom I went to visit," he assented. "She
probably watched me cross the road and turn in at that gate and take the
path by the canal side. Yes, she may even have gone to the station to see
whether I took the only other train back to London, and found that I did
not. She knew, too, that I could only have had a few shillings in my
pocket, and that my living depended upon being in London for my school
the next morning. Yes, the whole thing was reasonable."

"And they are going to drag the canal," Elizabeth said thoughtfully.

"A difficult business," he assured her. "It is one of the most ghastly,
ill-constructed, filthiest strips of water you ever looked upon. It has
been the garbage depository of the villages through which it makes its
beastly way, for generations. I don't envy the men who have to handle the
drags."

"You do not believe, then, that they will find anything - interesting?"

He shrugged his shoulders.

"That type of man," he continued, "must have a morbid mind. There will be
dead animals without a doubt, worn-out boots, filthy and decomposed
articles of clothing - "

"Don't!" she interrupted. "You know what I mean. Do leave off painting
your ghastly pictures. You know quite well what I mean. Philip Romilly is
here by my side. What can they hope to find there in his place?"

His evil moments for that afternoon were over. He answered her almost
carelessly.

"Not what they are looking for. Have you brought the paper and pencil you
spoke of? I have an idea - I am getting fresh ideas every moment now
that I picture you as my heroine. It is queer, isn't it, how naturally
you fall into the role?"

She drew a little nearer to him. He was conscious of a mysterious and
unfamiliar perfume, perhaps from the violets half hidden in her furs, or
was it something in her hair? It reminded him a little of the world the
keys into which he had gripped - the world of joyousness, of light-hearted
pleasures, the sunlit world into which he had only looked through other
men's eyes.

"Perhaps you knew that I was somewhere across the threshold," she
suggested. "Did you drag your Mona wholly from your brain, or has she her
prototype somewhere in your world?"

He shook his head.

"Therein lies the weakness of all that I have ever written," he declared.
"There have been so few in my world from whom I could garner even the
gleanings of a personality. They are all, my men and women, artificially
made, not born. Twenty-three shillings a week has kept me well outside
the locked doors."

"Yet, you know, in many ways," she reflected, "Mona is like me."

"Like you because she was a helper of men," he assented swiftly, "a woman
of large sympathies, appealing to me, I suppose, because in my solitude,
thoughts of my own weakness taunted me, weakness because I couldn't break
out, I mean. Perhaps for that reason the thought of a strong woman
fascinated me, a woman large in thoughts and ways, a woman to whom
purposes and tendencies counted most. I dreamed of a woman sweetly
omnipotent, strong without a shadow of masculinity. That is where my Mona
was to be different from all other created figures."

"Chance," she declared, "is a wonderful thing. Chance has pitchforked you
here, absolutely to my side, I, the one woman who could understand what
you mean, who could give your Mona life. Don't think I am vain," she went
on. "I can assure you that my head isn't the least turned because I have
been successful. I simply know. Listen. I have few engagements in New
York. I should not be going back at all but to see my mother, who is too
delicate to travel, and who is miserable when I am away for long. Take
this pencil and paper. Let us leave off dreaming for a little time and
give ourselves up to technicalities. I want to draft a new first act and
a new last one, not so very different from your version and yet with
changes which I want to explain as we go on. Bring your chair a little
nearer - so. Now take down these notes."

They worked until the first gong for dinner rang. She sat up in her chair
with a happy little laugh.

"Isn't it wonderful!" she exclaimed. "I never knew time to pass so
quickly. There isn't any pleasure in the world like this," she added, a
little impulsively, "the pleasure of letting your thoughts run out to
meet some one else's, some one who understands. Take care of every line
we have written, my friend."

"We might go on after dinner," he suggested eagerly.

She shook her head.

"I'd rather not," she admitted. "My brain is too full. I have a hundred
fancies dancing about. I even find myself, as we sit here, rehearsing
my gestures, tuning myself to a new outlook. Oh! You most disturbing
person - intellectually of course, I mean," she added, laughing into his
face. "Take off my rugs and help me up. No, we'll leave them there.
Perhaps, after dinner, we might walk for a little time."

"But the whole thing is tingling in my brain," he protested. "Couldn't we
go into the library? We could find a corner by ourselves."

She turned and looked at him, standing up now, the wind blowing her
skirts, her eyes glowing, her lips a little parted. Then for the first
time he understood her beauty, understood the peculiar qualities of it,
the dissensions of the Press as to her appearance, the supreme charm of a
woman possessed of a sweet and passionate temperament, turning her face
towards the long-wished-for sun. Even the greater things caught hold of
him in that moment, and he felt dimly what was coming.

"Do you really wish to work?" she asked.

He looked away from her.

"No!" he answered, a little thickly. "We will talk, if you will."

They neither of them moved. The atmosphere had suddenly become charged
with a force indescribable, almost numbing. In the far distance they saw
the level line of lights from a passing steamer. Mr. Raymond Greene, with
his hands in his ulster pockets, suddenly spotted them and did for them
what they seemed to have lost the power to do.

"Hullo!" he exclaimed. "I've been looking for you two everywhere. I don't
want to hurt that smoking room steward's feelings. He's not bad at
his job. But," he added confidentially, dropping his voice and taking
them both by the arm, "I have made a cocktail down in my stateroom - it's
there in the shaker waiting for us, something I can't talk about. I've
given Lawton one, and he's following me about like a dog. Come right this
way, both of you. Steady across the gangway - she's pitching a little.
Why, you look kind of scared, Mr. Romilly. Been to sleep, either of you?"

Philip's laugh was almost too long to be natural. Elizabeth, as though by
accident, had dropped her veil. Mr. Raymond Greene, bubbling over with
good nature and anticipation, led them towards the stairs.


CHAPTER VIII

Mr. Raymond Greene could scarcely wait until Philip had taken his place
at the dinner table that evening, to make known his latest discovery.

"Say, Mr. Romilly," he exclaimed, leaning a little forward, "do you
happen to have seen the wireless messages to-day? - those tissue sheets
that are stuck up in the library?"

Philip set down the menu, in which he had been taking an unusual
interest.

"Yes, I looked through them this afternoon," he acknowledged.

"There's a little one at the bottom, looks as though it had been shoved
in at the last moment. I don't know whether you noticed it. It announced
the mysterious disappearance of a young man of the same name as your
own - an art teacher from London, I think he was. I wondered whether it
might have been any relation?"

"I read the message," Philip admitted. "It certainly looks as though it
might have referred to my cousin."

Mr. Raymond Greene became almost impressive in his interested
earnestness.

"Talk about coincidences!" he continued. "Do you remember last night
talking about subjects for cinema plays? I told you of a little incident
I happened to have noticed on the way from London to Liverpool, about the
two men somewhere in Derbyshire whom I had seen approaching a tunnel over
a canal - they neither of them came out, you know, all the time that the
train was standing there."

Philip helped himself a little absently to whisky and soda from the
bottle in front of him.

"I remember your professional interest in the situation," he confessed.

"I felt at the time," Mr. Raymond Greene went on eagerly, "that there was
something queer about the affair. Listen! I have been putting two and two
together, and it seems to me that one of those men might very well have
been this missing Mr. Romilly."

Philip shook his head pensively.

"I don't think so," he ventured.

"What's that? You don't think so?" the cinema magnate exclaimed. "Why
not, Mr. Romilly? It's exactly the district - at Detton Magna, the message
said, in Derbyshire - and it was a canal, too, one of the filthiest I ever
saw. Can't you realise the dramatic interest of the situation now that
you are confronted with this case of disappearance? I have been asking
myself ever since I strolled up into the library before dinner and read
this notice - '_What about the other man_?'"

Philip had commenced a leisurely consumption of his first course, and
answered without undue haste.

"Well," he said, "if this young man Romilly is my cousin, it would be
the second or third time already that he has disappeared. He is an
ill-balanced, neurotic sort of creature. At times he accepts help - even
solicits it - from his more prosperous relations, and at times he won't
speak to us. But of one thing I am perfectly convinced, and that is that
there is no man in the world who would be less likely to make away with
himself. He has a nervous horror of death or pain of any sort, and in
his peculiar way he is much too fond of life ever to dream of voluntarily
shortening it. On the other hand, he is always doing eccentric things. He
probably set out to walk to London - I have known him do it before - and
will turn up there in a fortnight's time."

Mr. Raymond Greene seemed rather to resent having cold water poured upon
his melodramatic imaginings. He turned to Elizabeth, who had remained
silent during the brief colloquy.

"What do you think, Miss Dalstan?" he asked. "Don't you think that, under
the circumstances, I ought to give information to the British police?"

She laughed at him quite good-naturedly, and yet in such a way that a
less sensitive man than Mr. Raymond Greene might well have been conscious
of the note of ridicule.

"No wonder you are such a great success in your profession!" she
observed. "You carry the melodramatic instinct with you, day by day. You
see everything through the dramatist's spectacles."

"That's all very well," Mr. Greene protested, "but you saw the two men
yourself, and you've probably read about the case of mysterious
disappearance. Surely you must admit that the coincidence is
interesting?"

"Alas!" she went on, shaking her head, "I am afraid I must throw cold
water upon your vivid imaginings. You see, my eyesight is better than
yours and I could see the two men distinctly, whilst you could only see
their figures. One of them, the better-dressed, was fair and obviously
affluent, and the other was a labourer. Neither of them could in any way
have answered the description of the missing man."

Mr. Raymond Greene was a little dashed.

"You didn't say so at the time," he complained.

"I really wasn't sufficiently interested," she told him. "Besides,
without knowing anything of Mr. Romilly's cousin, I don't think any
person in the world could have had the courage to seek an exit from his
troubles by means of that canal."

"But my point," Mr. Raymond Greene persisted, "is that it wasn't suicide
at all. I maintain that the situation as I saw it presented all the
possibilities of a different sort of crime."

"My cousin hadn't an enemy in the world except himself," Philip
intervened.

"And I would give you the filming of my next play for nothing," Elizabeth
ventured, "if either of those two men could possibly have been an art
teacher.... Can I have a little more oil with my salad, please, steward,
and I should like some French white wine."

Mr. Raymond Greene took what appeared to be a positive disappointment
very good-naturedly.

"Well," he said, "I dare say you are both right, and in any case I
shouldn't like to persist in a point of view which might naturally enough
become distressing to our young friend here. Tell you what I'll do to
show my penitence. I shall order a bottle of wine, and we'll drink to the
welfare of the missing Mr. Philip Romilly, wherever he may be. Pommery,
steward, and bring some ice along."

Philip pushed away his whisky and soda.

"Just in time," he remarked. "I'll drink to poor Philip's welfare, with
pleasure, although he hasn't been an unmixed blessing to his family."

The subject passed away with the drinking of the toast, and with the
necessity for a guard upon himself gone, Philip found himself eating and
drinking mechanically, watching all the time the woman who sat opposite
to him, who had now engaged Mr. Raymond Greene in an animated
conversation on the subject of the suitability for filming of certain
recent plays. He was trying with a curious intentness to study her
dispassionately, to understand the nature of the charm on which dramatic
critics had wasted a wealth of adjectives, and of which he himself was
humanly and personally conscious. She wore a high-necked gown of some
soft, black material, with a little lace at her throat fastened by her
only article of jewellery, a pearl pin. Her hair was arranged in coils,
with a simplicity and a precision which to a more experienced observer
would have indicated the possession of a maid of no ordinary qualities.
Her mouth became more and more delightful every time he studied it; her
voice, even her method of speech, were entirely natural and with a
peculiarly fascinating inflexion. At times she looked and spoke with the
light-hearted gaiety of a child; then again there was the grave and
cultured woman apparent in her well-balanced and thoughtful criticisms.
When, at the end of the meal, she rose to leave the table, he found
himself surprised at her height and the slim perfection of her figure.
His first remark, when he joined her upon the stairs, was an almost
abrupt expression of his thoughts.

"Tell me," he exclaimed, "why were all my first impressions of you wrong?
To-night you are a revelation to me. You are amazingly different."

She laughed at him.

"I really can't do more than show you myself as I am," she expostulated.

"Ah! but you are so many women," he murmured.

"Of course, if you are going to flatter me! Give me a cigarette from my
case, please, and strike a match, and if you don't mind struggling with
this wind and the darkness, we will have our walk. There!" she added, as
they stood in the companionway. "Now don't you feel as though we were
facing an adventure? We shan't be able to see a yard ahead of us, and the
wind is singing."

They passed through up the companionway. She took his arm and he suddenly
felt the touch of her warm fingers feeling for his other hand. He gripped
them tightly, and his last impression of her face, before they plunged
into the darkness, was of a queer softness, as though she were giving
herself up to some unexpected but welcome emotion. Her eyes were half
closed. She had the air of one wrapped in silence. So they walked almost
the whole length of the deck. Philip, indeed, had no impulse or desire
for speech. All his aching nerves were soothed into repose. The last
remnants of his ghostly fears had been swept away. They were on the
windward side of the ship, untenanted save now and then by the shadowy
forms of other promenaders. The whole experience, even the regular
throbbing of the engines, the swish of the sea, the rising and falling of
a lantern bound to the top of a fishing smack by which they were passing,
the distant chant of the changing watch, all the night sights and sounds
of the seaborne hostel, were unfamiliar and exhilarating. And inside his
hand, even though given him of her great pity, a woman's fingers lay in
his.

She spoke at last a little abruptly.

"There is something I must know about," she said.

"You have only to ask," he assured her.

"Don't be afraid," she continued. "I wish to ask you nothing which might
give you pain, but I must know - you see, I am really such a ordinary
woman - I must know about some one whom you went to visit that day, didn't
you, at Detton Magna?"

He answered her almost eagerly.

"I want to talk about Beatrice," he declared. "I want to tell you
everything about her. I know that you will understand. We were brought up
together in the same country place. We were both thrown upon the world
about the same time. That was one thing, I suppose, which made us kindly
disposed towards one another. We corresponded always. I commenced my
unsuccessful fight in London. I lived - I can't tell you how - week by
week, month by month. I ate coarse food, I was a hanger-on to the fringe
of everything in life which appealed to me, fed intellectually on the
crumbs of free libraries and picture galleries. I met no one of my own
station - I was at a public school and my people were gentlefolk - or
tastes. I had no friends in London before whom I dared present myself, no
money to join a club where I might have mixed with my fellows, no one to
talk to or exchange a single idea with - and I wasn't always the gloomy
sort of person I have become; in my younger days I loved companionship.
And the women - my landlady's daughter, with dyed hair, a loud voice,
slatternly in the morning, a flagrant imitation of her less honest
sisters at night! Who else? Where was I to meet women when I didn't even
know men? I spent my poor holidays at Detton Magna. Our very loneliness
brought Beatrice and me closer together. We used to walk in those ugly
fields around Detton Magna and exchanged the story of our woes. She was a
teacher at the national school. The children weren't pleasant, their
parents were worse. The drudgery was horrible, and there wasn't any
escape for her. Sometimes she would sob as we sat side by side. She, too,
wanted something out of life, as I did, and there seemed nothing but that
black wall always before us. I think that we clung together because we
shared a common misery. We talked endlessly of a way out. For me what was
there? There was no one to rob - I wasn't clever enough. There was no way
I could earn money, honestly or dishonestly. And for her, buried in that
Derbyshire village amongst the collieries, where there was scarcely a
person who hadn't the taint of the place upon them - what chance was there
for her? There was nothing she could do, either. I knew in my heart that
we were both ready for evil things, if by evil things we could make our
escape. And we couldn't. So we tried to lose ourselves in the only fields
left for such as we. We read poetry. We tried to live in that unnatural
world where the brains only are nourished and the body languishes. It was
a morbid, unhealthy existence, but I plodded along and so did she. Then
her weekly letters became different. For the first time she wrote me with
reserves. I took a day's vacation and I went down to Detton Magna to see
what had happened."

"That was the day," she interrupted softly, "when - "

"That was the day," he assented. "I remember so well getting out of
the train and walking up that long, miserable street. School wasn't
over, and I went straight to her cottage, as I have often done before.
There was a change. Her cheap furniture had gone. It was like one of
those little rooms we had dreamed of. There was a soft carpet upon the
floor, Chippendale furniture, flowers, hothouse fruit, and on the
mantelpiece - the photograph of a man."

He paused, and they took the whole one long turn along the wind-swept,
shadowy deck in silence.

"Presently she came," he continued. "The change was there, too. She was
dressed simply enough, but even I, in my inexperience, knew the
difference. She came in - she, who had spoken of suicide a short time
ago - singing softly to herself. She saw me, our eyes met, and the story
was told. I knew, and she knew that I knew."

It seemed as though something in his tone might have grated upon her.
Gently, but with a certain firmness, she drew her hand away from his.

"You were very angry, I suppose?" she murmured.

Some instinct told him exactly what was passing in her thoughts. In a
moment he was on the defensive.

"I think," he said, "that if it had been any other man - but listen. The
photograph which I took from the mantelpiece and threw into the fire was
the photograph of my own cousin. His father and my father were brought up
together. My father chose the Church, his founded the factory in which
most of the people in Detton Magna were employed. When my grandfather
died, it was found that he was penniless. The whole of his money had gone
towards founding the Douglas Romilly Shoe Company. I won't weary with the
details. The business prospered, but we remained in poverty. When my
mother died I was left with nothing. My uncle made promises and never
kept them. He, too, died. My cousin and I quarrelled. He and his father
both held that the money advanced by my grandfather had been a gift and
not a loan. They offered me a pittance. Well, I refused anything. I spoke
plain words, and that was an end of it. And then I came back and I saw
his picture, my cousin's picture, upon the mantelpiece. I can see it now
and it looks hateful to me. All the old fires burned up in me. I
remembered my father's death - a pauper he was. I remembered how near I
had been to starvation. I remembered the years I had spent in a garret
whilst Douglas had idled time away at Oxford, had left there to trifle
with the business his father had founded, had his West End club, hunters,
and shooting. It was a vicious, mad, jealous hatred, perhaps, but I claim
that it was human. I went out of that little house and it seemed to me
that there was a new lust in my heart, a new, craving desire. If I had
thrown myself into that canal, they might well have called it temporary
insanity. I didn't, but I was mad all the same. Anything else I did - was
temporary insanity!"

Her hand suddenly came back again and she leaned towards him through the
darkness.

"You poor child," she whispered. "Stop there, please. Don't be afraid to


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Online LibraryE. Phillips OppenheimThe Cinema Murder → online text (page 4 of 17)