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   Chapter 10 No.10

The Cinema Murder By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 13526

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Philip stepped into his own little bedroom and made scanty preparations for this, his first excursion. Then he made his way down into the shabby hall and was seated there on the worn settee when his guest descended. She was wearing a hat which, so far as he could judge, was almost becoming. Her gloves, notwithstanding their many signs of mending, were neat, her shoes carefully polished, and although her dress was undeniably shabby, there was something in her carriage which pleased him. Her eyes were fixed upon his from the moment she stepped from the lift. She was watching for his expression half defiantly, half anxiously.

"Well, you see what I look like," she remarked brusquely. "You can back out of it, if you want to."

"Don't be silly," he replied. "You look quite all right. I'm not much of a beau myself, you know. I bought this suit over the counter the other day, without being measured for it or anything."

"Guess you ain't used to ready-made clothes," she observed, as they stepped outside.

"You see, in England-and the Colonies," he added hastily, "things aren't so expensive as here. What a wonderful city this is of yours, Martha!"

"Miss Grimes, please," she corrected him.

"I beg your pardon," he apologised.

"That's just what I was afraid of," she went on querulously. "You're beginning already. You think because you're giving me a meal, you can take all sorts of liberties. Calling me by my Christian name, indeed!"

"It was entirely a slip," he assured her. "Tell me what theatre that is across the way?"

She answered his question and volunteered other pieces of information. Philip gazed about him, as they walked along Broadway, with the eager curiosity of a provincial sightseer. She laughed at him a little scornfully.

"You'll get used to all the life and bustle presently," she told him. "It won't seem so wonderful to you when you walk along here without a dollar to bless yourself with, and your silly plays come tumbling back. Now this is the Martin House. My! Looks good inside, don't it?"

They crossed the threshold, Philip handed his hat to the attendant and they stood, a little undecided, at the top of the brilliantly-lit room. A condescending ma?tre d'hotel showed them to a retired table in a distant corner, and another waiter handed them a menu.

"You know, half of this is unintelligible to me," Philip confessed.

"You'll have to do the ordering-that was our bargain, you know."

"You must tell me how much you want to spend, then?" she insisted.

"I will not," he answered firmly. "What I want is a good dinner, and for this once in my life I don't care what it costs. I've a few hundred dollars in my pocket, so you needn't be afraid I shan't be able to pay the bill. You just order the things you like, and a bottle of claret or anything else you prefer."

She turned to the waiter, and, carefully studying the prices, she gave him an order.

"One portion for two, remember, of the fish and the salad," she enjoined.

"Two portions of the chicken, if you think one won't be enough."

She leaned back in her place.

"It's going to cost you, when you've paid for the claret, a matter of four dollars and fifty cents, this dinner," she said, "and I guess you'll have to give the waiter a quarter. Are you scared?"

He laughed at her once more.

"Not a bit!"

She looked at his long, delicate fingers-studied him for a moment. Notwithstanding his clothes, there was an air of breeding about him, unconcealable, a thing apart, even, from his good looks.

"Clerk, were you?" she remarked. "Seems to me you're used to spending two dollars on a meal all right. I'm not!"

"Neither am I," he assured her. "One doesn't have much opportunity of spending money in-Jamaica."

"You seem kind of used to it, somehow," she persisted. "Have you come into money, then?"

"I've saved a little," he explained, with a rather grim smile, "and

I've-well, shall we say come into some?"

"Stolen it, maybe," she observed indifferently.

"Should you be horrified if I told that I had?"

"I don't know," she answered. "I'm one of those who's lived honest, and I sometimes wonder whether it pays."

"It's a great problem," he sighed.

"It is that," she admitted gloomily. "I've got a friend-she used to live in our place, just below me-Stella Kimbell, her name is. She and I learnt our typewriting together and started in the same office. We stood it, somehow, for three years, sometimes office work, sometimes at home. We didn't have much luck. It was always better for me than for Stella, because she was good-looking, and I'm not."

"I shouldn't say that," he remonstrated. "You've got beautiful eyes, you know."

"You stop it!" she warned him firmly. "My eyes are my own, and I'll trouble you not to make remarks about them."

"Sorry," Philip murmured, duly crushed.

"The men were after her all the time," the girl continued, reminiscently. "Last place we were at, a dry goods store not far from here, the heads of the departments used to make her life fairly miserable. She held out, though, but what with fines, and one thing or another, they forced her to leave. So I did the same. We drifted apart then for a while. She got a job at an automobile place, and I was working at home. I remember the night she came to me-I was all alone. Pop had got a three-line part somewhere and was bragging about it at all the bars in Broadway. Stella came in quite suddenly and almost out of breath.

"'Kid,' she said, 'I'm through with it.'

"'What do you mean?' I asked her.

"Then she threw herself down on the sofa and she sobbed-I never heard a girl cry like that in all my life. She shrieked, she was pretty nearly in hysterics, and I couldn't get a word out of her. When she was through at last, she was all limp and white. She wouldn't tell me anything. She simply sat and looked at the stove. Presently she got up to go. I put my hands on her shoulders and I forced her back in the chair.

"'You've got to tell me all about it, Stella,' I insisted.

"And then of course I heard the whole story. She'd got fired again. These men are devils!"

"Don't tell me more about it unless you like," he begged sympathetically.

"Where is she now?"

"In the chorus of 'Three Frivolous Maids.' She comes in here regularly."

"Sorry for herself?"

"Not she! Last time I saw her she told me she wouldn't go back into an office, or take on typewriting again, for anything in the world. She was looking prettier than ever, too. There's a swell chap almost crazy about her. Shouldn't wonder if she hasn't got an automobile."

"Well, she answers our question one way, then," he remarked thoughtfully. "Tell me, Miss Grimes, is everything to eat in Ame

rica as good as this fish?"

"Some cooking here," she observed, looking rather regretfully at her empty plate. "I told you things were all right. There's grilled chicken-Maryland chicken-coming, and green corn."

"Have I got to eat the corn like that man opposite?" he asked anxiously.

"You can eat it how you like," she answered.

"Watch me, if you want to. I don't care. I ain't tasted green corn since

I can remember, and I'm going to enjoy it."

"You don't like your claret, I'm afraid," he remarked.

She sipped it and set down the glass a little disparagingly.

"If you want to know what I would like," she said, "it's just a Martini cocktail. We don't drink wines over here as much as you folk, I guess."

He ordered the cocktails at once. Every now and then he watched her. She ate delicately but with a healthy and unashamed appetite. A little colour came into her cheeks as the room grew warmer, her lower lip became less uncompromising. Suddenly she laid down her knife and fork. Her eyes were agleam with interest. She pulled at his sleeve.

"Say, that's Stella!" she exclaimed excitedly. "Look, she's coming this way! Don't she look stunning!"

A girl, undeniably pretty, with dark, red-gold hair, wearing a long ermine coat and followed by a fashionably dressed young man, was making her way up the room. She suddenly recognised Philip's companion and came towards her with outstretched hand.

"If it isn't Martha!" she cried. "Isn't this great! Felix, this is Miss Grimes-Martha Grimes, you know," she added, calling to the young man who was accompanying her. "You must remember-why, what's the matter with you, Felix?"

She broke off in her speech. Her companion was staring at Philip, who was returning his scrutiny with an air of mild interrogation.

"Say," the young man enquired, "didn't I meet you on the Elletania?

Aren't you Mr. Douglas Romilly?"

Philip shook his head.

"My name is Ware," he pronounced, "Merton Ware. I have certainly never been on the Elletania and I don't remember having met you before."

The young man whose name was Felix appeared almost stupefied.

"Gee whiz!" he muttered. "Excuse me, sir, but I never saw such a likeness before-never!"

"Well, shake hands with Miss Grimes quickly and come along," Stella enjoined. "Remember I only have half an hour for dinner now. You coming to see the show, Martha?"

"Not to-night," that young woman declared firmly.

The two passed on after a few more moments of amiable but, on the part of the young man, somewhat dazed conversation. Philip had resumed the consumption of his chicken. He raised an over-filled glass to his lips steadily and drank it without spilling a drop.

"Mistook me for some one," he remarked coolly.

She nodded.

"Man who disappeared from the Waldorf Astoria. They made quite a fuss about him in the newspapers. I shouldn't have said you were the least like him-to judge by his pictures, anyway."

Philip shrugged his shoulders. He seemed very little interested.

"I don't often read the newspapers…. So that is Stella."

"That is Stella," she assented, a little defiantly. "And if I were she-I mean if I were as good-looking as she is-I'd be in her place."

"I wonder whether you would?" he observed thoughtfully.

"Oh! don't bother me with your problems," she replied. "Does it run to coffee?"

"Of course it does," he agreed, "and a liqueur, if you like."

"If you mean a cordial, I'll have some of that green stuff," she decided.

"Don't know when I shall get another dinner like this again."

"Well, that rests with you," he assured her. "I am very lonely just now.

Later on it will be different. We'll come again next week, if you like."

"Better see how you feel about it when the time comes," she answered practically. "Besides, I'm not sure they'd let me in here again. Did you see Stella's coat? Fancy feeling fur like that up against your chin! Fancy-"

She broke off and sipped her coffee broodingly.

"Those things are immaterial in themselves," he reminded her. "It's just a question how much happiness they have brought her, whether the thing pays or not."

"Of course it pays!" she declared, almost passionately. "You've never seen my rooms or my drunken father. I can tell you what they're like, though. They're ugly, they're tawdry, they're untidy, when I've any work to do, they're scarcely clean. Our meals are thrown at us-we're always behind with the rent. There isn't anything to look at or listen to that isn't ugly. You haven't known what it is to feel the grim pang of a constant hideousness crawling into your senses, stupefying you almost with a sort of misery-oh, I can't describe it!"

"I have felt all those things," he said quietly.

"What did you do?" she demanded. "No, perhaps you had luck. Perhaps it's not fair to ask you that. It wouldn't apply. What should you do if you were me, if you had the chance to get out of it all the way that she has?"

"I am not a woman," he reminded her simply. "If I answer you as an outsider, a passer-by-mind, though, one who thinks about men and women-I should say try one of her lesser sins, one of the sins that leaves you clean. Steal, for instance."

"And go to prison!" she protested angrily. "How much better off would you be there, I wonder, and what about when you came out? Pooh! Pay your bill and let's get out of this."

He obeyed, and they made their way into the crowded street. He paused for a moment on the pavement. The pleasure swirl was creeping a little into his veins.

"Would you like to go to a theatre?" he asked.

She shook her head.

"You do as you like. I'm going home. You needn't bother about coming with me, either."

"Don't be foolish," he protested. "I only mentioned a theatre for your sake. Come along."

They walked down Broadway and turned into their own street. They entered the tenement building together and stepped into the lift. She held out her hand a little abruptly.

"Good night!"

"Good night!" he answered. "You get out first, don't you? I'll polish that stuff up to-night, the first part of it, so that you can get on with the typing."

Some half-developed fear which had been troubling her during the walk home, seemed to have passed. Her face cleared.

"Don't think I am ungrateful," she begged, as the lift stopped. "I haven't had a good time like this for many months. Thank you, Mr. Ware, and good night!"

She stepped through the iron gates on to her own floor, and Philip swung up to his rooms. Somehow, he entered almost light-heartedly. The roar of the city below was no longer provocative. He felt as though he had stretched out a hand towards it, as though he were in the way of becoming one of its children.

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