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   Chapter 16 No.16

The Cinema Murder By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 8641

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

Elizabeth paused for breath at the top of the third flight of stairs. She leaned against the iron balustrade.

"You poor dear!" she exclaimed. "How many times a day did you have to do this?"

"I didn't go out very often," he reminded her, "and it wasn't every day that the lift was out of order. It's only one more flight."

She looked up the stairs, sighed, and raised her smart, grey, tailor-made skirt a little higher over her shoes.

"Well," she announced heroically, "lead on. If they would sometimes dust these steps-but, after all, it doesn't matter to you now, does it? Fancy that poor girl, though."

He smiled a little grimly.

"A few flights of stairs aren't the worst things she has had to face, I'm afraid," he said.

"I am rather terrified of her," Elizabeth confided, supporting herself by her companion's shoulder. "I think I know that ultra-independent type. Kick me if I put my foot in it. Is this the door?"

Philip nodded and knocked softly. There was a sharp "Come in!"

"Put the key down, please," the figure at the typewriter said, as they entered.

The words had scarcely left Martha's lips before she turned around, conscious of some other influence in the room. Philip stepped forward.

"Miss Grimes," he said, "I have brought Miss Dalstan in to see you. She wants-"

He paused. Something in the stony expression of the girl who had risen to her feet and stood now facing them, her ashen paleness unrelieved by any note of colour, her hands hanging in front of her patched and shabby frock, seemed to check the words upon his lips. Her voice was low but not soft. It seemed to create at once an atmosphere of anger and resentment.

"What do you want?" she demanded.

"I hope you don't mind-I am so anxious that you should do some work for me," Elizabeth explained. "When Mr. Ware first brought me in his play, I noticed how nicely it was typewritten. You must have been glad to find it turn out such a success."

"I take no interest in my work when once it is typed," Martha Grimes declared, "and I am very sorry but I do not like to receive visitors. I am very busy. Mr. Ware knows quite well that I like to be left alone."

Elizabeth smiled at her delightfully.

"But it isn't always good for us, is it," she reminded her, "to live exactly as we would like, or to have our own way in all things?"

There was a moment's rather queer silence. Martha Grimes seemed to be intent upon studying the appearance of her visitor, the very beautiful woman familiar to nearly every one in New York, perhaps at that moment America's most popular actress. Her eyes seemed to dwell upon the little strands of fair hair that escaped from beneath her smart but simple hat, to take in the slightly deprecating lift of the eyebrows, the very attractive, half appealing smile, the smart grey tailor-made gown with the bunch of violets in her waistband. Elizabeth was as quietly dressed as it was possible for her to be, but her appearance nevertheless brought a note of some other world into the shabby little apartment.

"It's the only thing I ask of life," Martha said, "the only thing I get. I want to be left alone, and I will be left alone. If there is any more work, I will do it. If there isn't, I can find some somewhere else. But visitors I don't want and won't have."

Elizabeth was adorably patient. She surreptitiously drew towards her a cane chair, a doubtful-looking article of furniture upon which she seated herself slowly and with great care.

"Well," she continued, with unabated pleasantness, "that is reasonable as far as it goes, only we didn't quite understand, and it is such a climb up here, isn't it? I came to talk about some work, but I must get my breath first."

"Miss Dalstan thought, perhaps," Philip intervened diffidently, "that you might consider accepting a post at the theatre. They always keep two stenographers there, and one of them fills up her time by private work, generally work for some one connected with the theatre. In your case you could, of course, go on with mine, only when I hadn't enough for you, and of course I can't compose as fast as you can type, there would be something else, and the salary would be regular."

"I should like a regular post," the girl admitted sullenly. "So would any one who's out of work

, of course."

"The salary," Elizabeth explained, "is twenty-five dollars a week. The hours are nine to six. You have quite a comfortable room there, but when you have private work connected with the theatre you can bring it home if you wish. Mr. Ware tells me that you work very quickly. You will finish all that you have for him to-day, won't you?"

"I shall have it finished in half an hour."

"Then will you be at the New York Theatre to-morrow morning at nine o'clock," Elizabeth suggested. "There are some parts to be copied. It will be very nice indeed if you like the work, and I think you will."

The girl stood there, irresolute. It was obvious that she was trying to bring herself to utter some form of thanks. Then there was a loud knock at the door, which was opened without waiting for any reply. The janitor stood there with a small key in his hand, which he threw down upon a table.

"Key of number two hundred, miss," he said. "Let me have it back again to-night."

He closed the door and departed.

"Two hundred?" Philip exclaimed. "Why, that's my old room, the one up above."

"I must see it," Elizabeth insisted. "Do please let us go up there. I meant to ask you to show it me."

"You are not thinking of moving, are you, Miss Grimes?" Philip enquired.

She snatched at the key, but he had just possessed himself of it and was swinging it from his forefinger.

"I don't know," she snapped. "I was going up there, anyway. You can't have the key to-day."

"Why not?" Philip asked in surprise.

"Never mind. There are some things of mine up there. I-"

She broke off. They both looked at her, perplexed. Philip shook his head good-naturedly.

"Miss Grimes," he said, "you forget that the rooms are mine till next quarter day. I promise you we will respect any of your belongings we may find there. Come along, Elizabeth."

"We'll see you as we come down," the latter promised, nodding pleasantly,

"I don't know as you will," the girl retorted fiercely. "I may not be here."

They climbed the last two flights of stairs together.

"What an extraordinary young woman!" Elizabeth exclaimed. "Is there any reason for her being quite so rude to me?"

"None that I can conceive," he answered. "She is always like that."

"And yet you took an interest in her!"

"Why not? She is human, soured by misfortune, if you like, with an immense stock of bravery and honesty underneath it all. She has had a drunken father practically upon her hands, and life's been pretty sordid for her. Here we are."

He fitted the key into the lock and swung the door open. The clear afternoon light shone in upon the little shabby room and its worn furniture. There were one or two insignificant belongings of Philip's still lying about the place, and on the writing-table, exactly opposite the spot where he used to sit, a little blue vase, in which was a bunch of violets. Somehow or other it was the one arresting object in the room. They both of them looked at it in equal amazement.

"Is any one living here?" Elizabeth enquired.

"Not to my knowledge," he replied. "No one could take it on without my signing a release."

They moved over to the desk. Elizabeth stooped down and smelt the violets, lifted them up and looked at the cut stalks.

"Is this where you used to sit and write?" she asked.

He nodded.

"But I never had any flowers here," he observed, gazing at them in a puzzled manner.

Elizabeth looked at the vase and set it down. Then she turned towards her companion and shook her head.

"Oh, my dear Philip," she sighed, "you really don't know what makes that girl so uncouth?"

"You mean Martha? Of course I don't. You think that she … Rubbish!"

He stopped short in sudden confusion. Elizabeth passed her arm through his. She replaced the vase very carefully, looked once more around the room, and led him to the door.

"Never mind," she said. "It isn't anything serious, of course, but it's wonderful, Philip, what memories a really lonely woman will live on, what she will do to keep that little natural vein of sentiment alive in her, and how fiercely she will fight to conceal it. You can go on down and wait for me in the hall. I am going in to say good-by to Miss Martha Grimes. I think that this time I shall get on better with her."

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