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   Chapter 8 No.8

The Cinema Murder By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 20264

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


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 think you've told me this. You see, I am of the world, and I know that we are all only human. Now, twice up and down the deck, and not a word. Then I shall ask you something."

So they passed on, side by side, the touch of her fingers keeping this new courage alive in his heart, his head uplifted even to the stars towards which their rolling mast pointed. It was wonderful, this-to tell the truth, to open the door of his heart!

"Now I am going to ask you something," she said, when they turned for the third time. "You may think it a strange question, but you must please answer it. To me it is rather important. Just what were your feelings for Beatrice?"

"I think I was fond of her," he answered thoughtfully. "I know that I hated her when she came in from the schoolhouse-when I understood. Both of us, in the days of our joint poverty, had scoffed at principles, had spoken boldly enough of sin, but I can only say that when she came, when I looked into her eyes, I seemed to have discovered a new horror in life. I can't analyse it. I am not sure, even now, that I was not more of a beast that I had thought myself. I am not sure that part of my rage was not because she had escaped and I couldn't."

"But your personal feelings-that is what I want to know about?" she persisted.

He dug down into his consciousness to satisfy her.

"Think of what my life in London had been," he reminded her. "There wasn't a single woman I knew, with whom I could exchange a word. All the time I loved beautiful things, and beautiful women, and the thought of them. I have gone out into the streets at nights sometimes and hung around the entrances to theatres and restaurants just for the pleasure of looking at them with other men. It didn't do me any good, you know, but the desire was there. I wanted a companion like those other men had. Beatrice was the only woman I knew. I didn't choose her. It wasn't the selective instinct that made her attractive to me. It was because she was the only one. I never felt anything great when I was with her," he went on hoarsely. "I knew very well that ours were ordinary feelings. She was in the same position that I was. There was no one else for her, either. Do you want me to go on?"

She hesitated.

"Don't be afraid-I am not quite mad," he continued, "only I'll answer for you the part of your question you don't put into words. Beatrice was nothing to me but an interpretress of her sex. I never loved her. If I had, we might in our misery have done the wildest, the most foolish things. I will tell you why I know so clearly that I never loved her. I have known it since you have been kind to me, since I have realised what a wonderful thing a woman can be, what a world she can make for the man who cares, whom she cares for."

Her fingers gripped his tightly.

"And now," she said, "I know all that I want to know and all that it is well for us to speak of just now. Dear friend, will you remember that you are sharing your burden with me, and that I, who am accounted something in the world and who know life pretty thoroughly, believe in you and hope for you."

They paused for a moment by the side of the steamer rail. She understood so well his speechlessness. She drew her hand away from his and held it to his lips.

"Please kiss my fingers," she begged. "That is just the seal of our friendship in these days. See how quickly we seem to plough our way through the water. Listen to the throbbing of that engine, always towards a new world for you, my friend. It is to be an undiscovered country. Be brave, keep on being brave, and remember-"

The words seemed to die away upon her lips. A shower of spray came glittering into the dim light, like flakes of snow falling with unexpected violence close to them. He drew her cloak around her and moved back.

"Now," she said, "I think we will smoke, and perhaps, if you made yourself very agreeable to the steward in the smoking room, you could get some coffee."

"One moment," he pleaded. "Remember what? Don't you realise that there is just one word I still need, one little word to crown all that you have said?"

She turned her head towards him. The trouble and brooding melancholy seemed to have fallen from his face. She realised more fully its sensitive lines, its poetic, almost passionate charm. She was carried suddenly away upon a wave of the emotion which she herself had created.

"Oh, but you know!" she faltered. "You see, I trust you even to know when … Now your arm, please, until we reach the smoking room, and mind-I must have coffee."

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