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   Chapter 17 No.17

The Cinema Murder By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 11784

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Philip waited nearly a quarter of an hour for Elizabeth. When at last she returned, she was unusually silent. They drove off together in her automobile. She held his fingers under the rug.

"Philip dear," she said, "I think it is time that you and I were married."

He turned and looked at her in amazement. There was a smile upon her lips, but rather a plaintive one. He had a fancy, somehow, that there had been tears in her eyes lately.

"Elizabeth!"

"If we are ever going to be," she went on softly, "why shouldn't we be married quietly, as people are sometimes, and then tell every one afterwards?"

He held the joy away from him, struggling hard for composure.

"But a little time ago," he reminded her, "you wanted to wait."

"Yes," she confessed, "I, too, had my-my what shall I call it-fear?-my ghost in the background?"

"Ah! but not like mine," he faltered, his voice unsteady with a surging flood of passion. "Elizabeth, if you really mean it, if you are going to take the risk of finding yourself the wife of the villain in a cause célèbre, why-why-you know very well that even the thought of it can draw me up into heaven. But, dear-my sweetheart-remember! We've played a bold game, or rather I have with your encouragement, but we're not safe yet."

"Do you know anything that I don't?" she asked feverishly.

"Well, I suppose I do," he admitted. "It isn't necessarily serious," he went on quickly, as he saw the colour fade from her cheeks, "but on the very night that our play was produced, whilst I was waiting about for you all at the restaurant, a man came to see me. He is one of the keenest detectives in New York-Edward Dane his name is. He knew perfectly well that I was the man who had disappeared from the Waldorf. He told me so to my face."

"Then why didn't he-why didn't he do something?"

"Because he was clever enough to suspect that there was something else behind it all," Philip said grimly. "You see, he'd discovered that I hadn't used any of the money. He couldn't fit in any of my doings with the reports they'd had about Douglas. Somehow or other-I can't tell how-another suspicion seems to have crept into the man's brain. All the time he talked to me I could see him trying to read in my face whether there wasn't something else! He'd stumbled across a puzzle of which the pieces didn't fit. He has gone to England-gone to Detton Magna-gone to see whether there are any missing pieces to be found. He may be back any day now."

"But what could he discover?" she faltered.

"God knows!" Philip groaned. "There's the whole ghastly truth there, if fortune helped him, and he were clever enough, if by any devilish chance the threads came into his hand. I don't think-I don't think there was ever any fear from the other side. I had all the luck. But, Elizabeth, sometimes I am terrified of this man Dane. I didn't mean to tell you this, but it's too late now. Do you know that I am watched, day by day? I pretend not to notice it-I am even able, now and then, to shut it out from my own thoughts-but wherever I go there's some one shadowing me, some one walking in my footsteps. I'm perfectly certain that if you were to go to police headquarters here, you could find out where I have spent almost every hour since I took that room in Monmouth House."

She gripped his fingers fiercely.

"Philip! Philip!"

He leaned forward, gazing with peculiar, almost passionate intentness, into the faces of the people as they swept along Broadway.

"Look at them, Elizabeth!" he muttered. "Look at that mob of men and women sweeping along the pavements there, every kind and shape of man, every nationality, every age! They are like the little flecks on the top of a wave. I watched them when I first came and I felt almost reckless. You'd think a man could plunge in there and be lost, wouldn't you? He can't! I tried it. Is there anywhere else in the world, I wonder? Is there anywhere in the living world where one can throw off everything of the past, where one can take up a new life, and memory doesn't come?"

She shook her head. She was more composed now. The moment of feverish excitement had passed. Her shrewd and level common sense had begun to reassert itself.

"There isn't any such place, Philip," she told him, "and if there were it wouldn't be worth while your trying to find it. We are both a little hysterical this evening. We've lost our sense of proportion. You've played for your stake. You mustn't quail; if the worst should come, you must brave it out. I believe, even then, you would be safe. But it won't come-it shan't!"

He gripped her hands. They were slowing up now, caught in a maze of heavy traffic a few blocks from the theatre. His voice was firm. He had regained his self-control.

"What an idiot I have been!" he exclaimed scornfully. "Never mind, that's past. There is just one more serious word, though, dear."

She responded immediately to the change in his manner, and smiled into his face.

"Well?"

"My only real problem," he went on earnestly, "is this. Dare I hold you to your word, Elizabeth? Dare I, for instance, say 'yes' to the wonderful suggestion of yours?-make you my wife and risk having people look at you in years to come, point at you with pity and say that you married a murderer who died a shameful death! Fancy how the tragedy of that would lie across your life-you who are so wonderful and so courted and so clever!"

"Isn't that my affair, Philip?" she asked calmly.

"No," he answered, "it's mine!"

She turned and laughed at him. For a moment she was her old self again.

"You refuse me?"

His eyes glowed.

"We'll wait," he said hoarsely, "till Dane comes back from England!"

The car had stopped outside the theatre. Hat in hand, and with his face wreathed in smiles, the commissionaire had thrown open the door. The people on the pavem

ent were nudging one another-a famous woman was about to descend. She turned back to Philip.

"Come in with me," she begged. "Somehow, I feel cold and lonely to-night. It hasn't anything to do with what we were talking about, but I feel as though something were going to happen, that something were coming out of the shadows, something that threatens either you or me. I'm silly, but come."

She clung to him as they crossed the pavement. For once she forgot to smile at the little curious crowd. She was absorbed in herself and her feelings.

"Life is so hard sometimes!" she exclaimed, as they lingered for a moment near the box office. "There's that poor girl, Philip, friendless and lonely. What she must suffer! God help her-God help us all! I am sick with loneliness myself, Philip. Don't leave me alone. Come with me to my room. I only want to see if there are any letters. We'll go somewhere near and dine first, before I change. Philip, what is the matter with me? I don't want to go a step alone. I don't want to be alone for a moment."

He laughed reassuringly and drew her closer to him. She led the way down the passage towards her own suite of apartments. They passed one or two of the officials of the theatre, whom she greeted with something less than her usual charm of manner. As they reached the manager's office there was the sound of loud voices, and the door was thrown open. Mr. Fink appeared, and with him a somewhat remarkable figure-a tall, immensely broad, ill-dressed man, with a strong, rugged face and a mass of grey hair; a huge man, who seemed, somehow or other, to proclaim himself of a bigger and stronger type than those others amongst whom he moved. He had black eyes, and the heavy jaw of an Irishman. His face was curiously unwrinkled. He stood there, blocking the way, his great hands suddenly thrust forward.

"Betty, by the Lord that loves us!" he exclaimed. "Here's luck! I was on my way out to search for you. Got here on the Chicago Limited at four o'clock. Give me your hands and say that you are glad to see me."

If Elizabeth were glad, she showed no sign of it. She seemed to have become rooted to the spot, suddenly dumb. Philip, by her side, heard the quick indrawing of her breath.

"Sylvanus!" she murmured. "You! Why, I thought you were in China."

"There's no place on God's earth can hold me for long," was the boisterous reply. "I did my business there in three days and caught a Japanese boat back. Such a voyage and such food! But New York will make up for that. You've got a great play, they tell me. I must hear all about it. Shake my hands first, though, girl, as though you were glad to see me. You seem to have shrunken since I saw you last-to have grown smaller. Didn't London agree with you?"

The moment of shock had passed. Elizabeth had recovered herself. She gave the newcomer her hands quite frankly. She even seemed, in a measure, glad to see him.

"These unannounced comings and goings of yours from the ends of the earth are so upsetting to your friends," she declared.

"And this gentleman? Who is he?"

Elizabeth laughed softly.

"I needn't tell you, Mr. Ware," she said, turning to Philip, "that this dear man here is an eccentric. I dare say you've heard of him. It is Mr. Sylvanus Power, and Sylvanus, this is Mr. Merton Ware, the author of our play-'The House of Shams.'"

Philip felt his hand held in a grasp which, firm though it was, seemed to owe its vigour rather to the long, powerful fingers than to any real cordiality. Mr. Sylvanus Power was studying him from behind his bushy eyebrows.

"So you're Merton Ware," he observed. "I haven't seen your play yet-hope to to-night. An Englishman, eh?"

"Yes, I am English," Philip assented coolly. "You come from the West, don't you?"

There was a moment's silence. Elizabeth laughed softly.

"Oh, there's no mistake about Mr. Power!" she declared. "He brings the breezy West with him, to Wall Street or Broadway, Paris or London. You can't shake it off or blow it away."

"And I don't know as I am particularly anxious to, either," Mr. Power pronounced. "Are you going to your rooms here, Betty? If so, I'll come along. I guess Mr. Ware will excuse you."

Philip was instantly conscious of the antagonism in the other's manner.

As yet, however, he felt little more than amusement. He glanced towards

Elizabeth, and the look in her face startled him. The colour had once

more left her cheeks and her eyes were full of appeal.

"If you wouldn't mind?" she begged. "Mr. Power is a very old friend and we haven't met for so long."

"You needn't expect to see anything more of Miss Dalstan to-night, either of you," the newcomer declared, drawing her hand through his arm, "except on the stage, that is. I am going to take her out and give her a little dinner directly. Au revoir, Fink! I'll see you to-night here. Good-day to you, Mr. Ware."

Philip stood for a moment motionless. The voice of Mr. Sylvanus Power was no small thing, and he was conscious that several of the officials of the place, and the man in the box office, had heard every word that had passed. He felt, somehow, curiously ignored. He watched the huge figure of the Westerner, with Elizabeth by his side, disappear down the corridor. Mr. Fink, who had also been looking after them, turned towards him.

"Say, that's some man, Sylvanus Power!" he exclaimed admiringly. "He is one of our multimillionaires, Mr. Ware. What do you think of him?"

"So far as one can judge from a few seconds' conversation," Philip remarked, "he seems to possess all the qualities essential to the production of a multimillionaire in this country."

Mr. Fink grinned.

"Sounds a trifle sarcastic, but I guess he's a new type to you," he observed tolerantly.

"Absolutely," Philip acknowledged, as he turned and made his way slowly out of the theatre.

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