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   Chapter 15 No.15

The Cinema Murder By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 18501

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The success of "The House of Shams" was as immediate and complete as was the social success of its author. After a few faint-hearted attempts, Philip and Elizabeth both agreed that the wisest course was to play the bold game-to submit himself to the photographer, the interviewer, and, to some judicious extent, to the wave of hospitality which flowed in upon him from all sides. He threw aside, completely and utterly, every idea of leading a more or less sheltered life. His photograph was in the Sunday newspapers and the magazines. It was quite easy, in satisfying the appetite of journalists for copious personal details, especially after the hints dropped by Mr. Fink, to keep them carefully off the subject of his immediate past. There had been many others in the world who, on attaining fame, had preferred to gloss over their earlier history. It seemed to be tacitly understood amongst this wonderful freemasonry of newspaper men that Mr. Merton Ware was to be humoured in this way. He was a man of the present. Character sketches of him were to be all foreground. But, nevertheless, Philip had his trials.

"Want to introduce you to one of our chief 'movie' men," Noel Bridges said to him one day in the smoking room of "The Lambs." "He is much interested in the play, too. Mr. Raymond Greene, shake hands with Mr. Merton Ware."

Mr. Raymond Greene, smiling and urbane, turned around with outstretched hand, which Philip, courteous, and with all that charm of manner which was making him speedily one of the most popular young men in New York, grasped cordially.

"I am very happy to meet you, Mr. Greene," he said. "You represent an amazing development. I am told that we shall all have to work for you presently or find our occupation gone."

With a cool calculation which had come to Philip in these days of his greater strength, he had purposely extended his sentence, conscious, although apparently he ignored the fact, that all the time Mr. Raymond Greene was staring in his face with a bewilderment which was not without its humorous side. He was too much a man of the world, this great picture producer, to be at a loss for words, to receive an introduction with any degree of clumsiness.

"But surely," he almost stammered, "we have met before?"

Philip shook his head doubtfully.

"I don't think so," he said, "As a matter of fact, I am sure we haven't, because you are one of the men whom I hoped some day to come across over here. I couldn't possibly have forgotten a meeting with you."

Mr. Raymond Greene's blue eyes looked as though they saw visions.

"But surely," he expostulated, "the Elletania-my table on the Elletania, when Miss Dalstan crossed-"

Philip laughed easily.

"Why," he exclaimed, "are you going to be like the others and take me for-wasn't it Mr. Romilly?-the man who disappeared from the Waldorf? Why, I've been tracked all round New York because of my likeness to that man."

"Likeness!" Mr. Raymond Greene muttered. "Likeness!"

There was a moment's silence. Then Mr. Greene knew that the time had arrived for him to pull himself together. He had carried his bewilderment to the very limits of good breeding.

"Well, well!" he continued. "Fortunately, it's six o'clock, and I can offer you gentlemen a cocktail, for upon my word I need it! Come to look at you, Mr. Ware, there's a trifle more what I might term savoir faire, about you. That chap on the boat was a little crude in places, but believe me, sir," he went on, thrusting his arm through Ware's and leading him towards the bar, "you don't want to be annoyed at those people who have mistaken you for Romilly, for in the whole course of my life, and I've travelled round the world a pretty good deal, I never came across a likeness so entirely extraordinary."

"I have heard other people mention it," Noel Bridges intervened, "although not quite with the same conviction as you, Mr. Greene. Curiously enough, however, the photograph of Romilly which they sent out from England, and which was in all the Sunday papers, didn't strike me as being particularly like Mr. Ware."

"It was a damned bad photograph, that," Mr. Raymond Greene pronounced. "I saw it-couldn't make head nor tail of it, myself. Well, the world is full of queer surprises, but this is the queerest I ever ran up against. Believe me, Mr. Ware, if this man Romilly who disappeared had been a millionaire, you could have walked into his family circle and been made welcome at the present moment. Why, I don't believe his own wife or sister, if he had such appendages, would have been able to tell that you weren't the man."

"Unfortunately," Bridges remarked, as he sipped the cocktail which the cinema man had ordered, "this chap Romilly was broke, wasn't he?-did a scoot to avoid the smash-up? They say that he had a few hundred thousand dollars over here, ostensibly for buying material, and that he has taken the lot out West."

"Well, I must say he didn't seem that sort on the steamer," Mr. Raymond Greene declared, "but you never can tell. Looked to me more like a schoolteacher. Some day, Mr. Ware, I want you to come along to my office-it's just round the corner in Broadway there-and have a chat about the play."

"You don't want to film us before we've finished its first run, surely?"

Philip protested, laughing. "Give us a chance!"

"Well, we'll talk about that," the cinema magnate promised.

They were joined by other acquaintances, and Philip presently made his escape. One of the moments which he had dreaded more than any other had come and passed. Even if Mr. Raymond Greene had still some slight misgivings, he was, to all effects and purposes, convinced. Philip walked down the street, feeling that one more obstacle in the path of his absolute freedom had been torn away. He glanced at his watch and boarded a down-town car, descended in the heart of the city region of Broadway, and threaded his way through several streets until he came to the back entrance of a dry goods store. Here he glanced once more at his watch and commenced slowly to walk up and down. The timekeeper, who was standing in the doorway with his hands in his pockets, watched him with interest. When Philip approached for the third time, he addressed him in friendly fashion.

"Waiting for one of our gals, eh?"

Philip stifled his quick annoyance and answered in as matter-of-fact a tone as possible.

"Yes! How long will it be before they are out from the typewriting department?"

"Typewriting department?" the man repeated. "Well, that depends some upon the work. They'll be out, most likely, in ten minutes or so. I guessed you were after one of our showroom young ladies. We get some real swells down here sometimes-motor cars of their own. The typists ain't much, as a rule. It's a skinny job, theirs."

"The young ladies from here appear to be prosperous," Ware remarked. "I watched them last night coming out. My friend happened to be late, and I had to leave without seeing her."

"That's nothing to go by, their clothes ain't," the man replied. "They spend all their money on their backs instead of putting it inside. If it's Miss Grimes you're waiting for, you're in luck, for here she is, first out."

Philip drew a little into the background. The girl came down the stone passage, passed the timekeeper without appearing to notice his familiar "Good-evening!" and stepped out into the murky street. Philip, who saw her face as she emerged from the gloom, gave a little start. She seemed paler than ever, and she walked with her eyes fixed upon vacancy, as though almost unconscious of her whereabouts. She crossed the sidewalk without noticing the curbstone, and stumbled at the unexpected depth of it. Philip stepped hastily forward.

"Miss Grimes!" he exclaimed. "Martha!… Why do you look at me as though

I were a ghost?"

She started violently. It was certain that she saw him then for the first time.

"You! Mr. Ware! Sorry, I didn't see you."

He insisted upon shaking hands. There was a little streak of colour in her cheeks now.

"I came to meet you," he explained. "I came yesterday and missed you. I have been to your rooms four times and only found out with difficulty where you were working. The last time I called, I rang the bell six times, but the door was locked."

"I was in bed," she said shortly. "I can't have gentlemen callers there at all now. Father's gone off on tour. Thank you for coming to meet me, but I don't think you'd better stop."

"Why not?" he asked gently.

"Because I don't want to be seen about with you," she declared, "because I don't want you to look at me, because I want you to leave me alone," she added, with a little passionate choke in her voice.

He turned and walked by her side.

"Martha," he said, "you were very kind to me when I needed it, you were a companion to me when I was more miserable than I ever thought any human being could be. I was in a quandary then-in a very difficult position. I took a plunge. In a way I have been successful."

"Oh, we all know that!" she replied bitterly. "Pictures everywhere, notices in the paper all the time-you and your fine play! I've seen it. Didn't think much of it myself, but I suppose

I'm not a judge."

"Tell me why you came out there looking as though you'd seen a ghost?" he asked.

"Discharged," she answered promptly.

"Why?"

"Fainted yesterday," she went on, "and was a bit wobbly to-day. The head clerk said he wanted some one stronger."

"Brute!" Philip muttered. "Well, that's all right, Martha. I have some work for you."

"Don't want to do your work."

"Little fool!" he exclaimed. "Martha, do you know you're the most obstinate, pig-headed, prejudiced, ill-tempered little beast I ever knew?"

"Then go along and leave me," she insisted, stopping short, "if I'm all that."

"You're also a dear!"

She drew a little breath and looked at him fiercely.

"Now don't be silly," he begged. "I'm starving. I had no lunch so that I could dine early. Here we are at Durrad's."

"I'm not going inside there with you," she declared.

"Look here," he expostulated, "are we going to do a wrestling act on the sidewalk? It will be in all the papers, you know."

"Spoil your clothes some, wouldn't it?" she remarked, looking at them disparagingly.

"It would indeed, also my temper," he assured her. "We are going to have a cocktail, you and I, within two minutes, young lady, and a steak afterwards. If you want to go in there with my hand on your neck, you can, but I think it would look better-"

She set her feet squarely upon the ground and faced him.

"Mr. Ware," she said, "I am in rags-any one can see that. Listen. I will not go into a restaurant and sit by your side to have people wonder what woman from the streets you have brought in to give a meal to out of charity. Do you hear that? I can live or I can die, just by myself. If I can't keep myself, I'll die, but I won't. Nothing doing. You hear?"

She had been so strong and then something in his eyes, that pitying, half anxious expression with which he listened, suddenly seemed to sap her determination. She swayed a little upon her feet-she was indeed very tired and very weak. Philip took instant advantage of her condition. Without a moment's hesitation he passed his arm firmly through hers, and before she could protest she was inside the place, being led to a table, seated there with her back to the wall, with a confused tangle of words still in her throat, unuttered. Then two great tears found their way into her eyes. She said nothing because she could not. Philip was busy talking to the waiter. Soon there was a cocktail by her side, and he was drinking, smiling at her, perfectly good-natured, obviously accepting her momentary weakness and his triumph as a joke.

"Got you in, didn't I?" he observed pleasantly. "Now, remember you told me the way to drink American cocktails-one look, one swallow, and down they go."

She obeyed him instinctively. Then she took out a miserable little piece of a handkerchief and wiped her eyes.

"What's gone wrong?" he asked briskly. "Tell me all about it."

"Father went off on tour," she explained. "He left the rent owing for a month, and he's been writing for money all the time. The agent who comes round doesn't listen to excuses. You pay, or out you go into the street. I've paid somehow and nearly starved over it. Then I got this job after worrying about it Lord knows how long, and this evening I'm discharged."

"How much a week was it?" he enquired, with sympathy.

"Ten dollars," she replied. "Little enough, but I can't live without it."

He changed his attitude, suddenly realising the volcanic sensitiveness of her attitude towards him and life in general. Instinctively he felt that at a single ill-considered word she would even then, in her moment of weakness, have left him, have pushed him on one side, and walked out to whatever she might have to face.

"What a fool you are!" he exclaimed, a little brusquely.

"Am I!" she replied belligerently.

"Of course you are! You call yourself a daughter of New York, a city whose motto seems to be pretty well every one for himself. You know you did my typing all right, you know my play was a success, you know that I shall have to write another. What made you take it for granted that I shouldn't want to employ you, and go and hide yourself? Lock the door when I came to see you, because it was past eight o'clock, and not answer my letters?"

"Can't have men callers now dad's away," she told him, a little brusquely. "It's not allowed."

"Oh, rubbish!" he answered irritably. "That isn't the point. You've kept away from me. You've deliberately avoided me. You knew that I was just as lonely as you were."

Then she blazed out. The sallowness of her cheeks, the little dip under her cheekbones-she had grown thinner during the last week or so-made her eyes seem larger and more brilliant than ever.

"You lonely! Rubbish! Why, they're all running after you everywhere. Quite a social success, according to the papers! I say, ain't you afraid?"

"Horribly," he admitted, "and about the one person I could have talked to about it chucks me."

"I don't know anything about you, or what you've done," she said. "I only know that the tecs-"

He laid his hand upon her fingers. She snatched them away but accepted his warning. They were served then with their meal, and their conversation drifted into other channels.

"Well," he continued presently, in a perfectly matter-of-fact tone, "I've found you now, and you've got to be sensible. It's true I've had a stroke of luck, but that might fall away at any moment. I've typing waiting for you, or I can get you a post at the New York Theatre. You'd better first do my typing. I'll have it in your rooms to-morrow morning by nine o'clock. And would you like something in advance?"

"No!" she replied grudgingly. "I'll have what I've earned, when I've earned it."

He sipped his claret and studied her meditatively.

"You're not much of a pal, are you?"

She scoffed at him, looked him up and down, at his well-fitting clothes, his general air of prosperity.

"Pal!" she jeered. "Look at you-Merton Ware, the great dramatist, and me-a shabby, ugly, bad-tempered, indifferent typewriter. Bad-tempered," she repeated. "Yes, I am that. I didn't start out to be. I just haven't had any luck."

"It will all come some day," he assured her cheerfully.

"I think if you'd stayed different," she went on thoughtfully, "if you hadn't slipped away into the clouds … shows what a selfish little beast I am! Can't imagine why you bother about me."

"Shall I tell you why, really?" he asked. "Because you saved me-I don't know what from. The night we went out I was suffering from a loneliness which was the worst torture I have ever felt. It was there in my throat and dragging down my heart, and I just felt as though any way of ending it all would be a joy. All these millions of hard-faced people, intent on their own prosperity or their own petty troubles, goaded me, I think, into a sort of silent fury. Just that one night I craved like a madman for a single human being to talk to-well, I shall never forget it, Martha-"

"Miss Grimes!" she interrupted under her breath.

He laughed.

"That doesn't really matter, does it?" he asked. "You've never been afraid that I should want to make love to you, have you?"

She glanced round into the mirror by their side, looked at her wan face, the shabby little hat, the none too tidily arranged hair which drooped over her ears; down at her shapeless jacket, her patched skirt, the shoes which were in open rebellion. Then she laughed, curiously enough without any note of bitterness.

"Seems queer, doesn't it, even to think of such a thing! I've been up against it pretty hard, though. A man who gives a meal to a girl, even if she is as plain as I am, generally seems to think he's bought her, in this city. Even the men who are earning money don't give much for nothing. But you are different," she admitted. "I'll be fair about it-you're different."

"You'll be waiting for the work at nine o'clock to-morrow morning?" he asked, as indifferently as possible.

"I will," she promised.

He leaned back and told her little anecdotes about the play, things that had happened to him during the last few weeks, speaking often of Elizabeth Dalstan. By degrees the nervous unrest seemed to pass away from her. When they had finished their meal and drunk their coffee, she was almost normal. She smoked a cigarette and even accepted the box which he thrust into her hand. When he had paid the bill, she rose a little abruptly.

"Well," she said, "you've had your way, and a kind, nice way it was. Now I'll have mine. I don't want any politeness. When we leave this place I am going to walk home, and I am going to walk home alone."

"That's lucky," he replied, "because I have to be at the theatre in ten minutes to meet a cinema man. Button up your coat and have a good night's sleep."

They left the place together. She turned away with a farewell nod and walked rapidly eastwards. He watched her cross the road. A poor little waif, she seemed, except that something had gone from her face which had almost terrified him. She carried herself, he fancied, with more buoyancy, with infinitely more confidence, and he drew a sigh of relief as he called for a taxi.

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