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   Chapter 18 No.18

The Cinema Murder By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 10490

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Philip's disposition had been so curiously affected by the emotions of the last few months that he was not in the least surprised to find himself, that evening, torn by a very curious and unfamiliar spasm of jealousy. After an hour or so of indecision he made his way, as usual, to the theatre, but instead of going at once to Elizabeth's room, he slipped in at the back of the stalls. The house was crowded, and, seated in the stage box, alone and gloomy, his somewhat austere demeanour intensified by the severity of his evening clothes, sat Sylvanus Power with the air of a conqueror. Philip, unaccountably restless, left his seat in a very few minutes, and, making his way to the box office, scribbled a line to Elizabeth. The official to whom he handed it looked at him in surprise.

"Won't you go round yourself, Mr. Ware?" he suggested. "Miss Dalstan has another ten minutes before she is on."

Philip shook his head.

"I'm looking for a man I know," he replied evasively. "I'll be somewhere about here in five minutes."

The answer came in less than that time. It was just a scrawled line in pencil:

"Forgive me, dear. I will explain everything in the morning, if you will come to my rooms at eleven o'clock. This evening I have a hateful duty to perform and I cannot see you."

Philip, impatient of the atmosphere of the theatre, wandered out into the streets with the note in his pocket. Broadway was thronged with people, a heterogeneous, slowly-moving throng, the hardest crowd to apprehend, to understand, of any in the world. He looked absently into the varying stream of faces, stared at the whirling sky-signs, the lights flashing from the tall buildings, heard snatches of the music from the open doors of the cafes and restaurants. Men, and even women, elbowed him, unresenting, out of the way, without the semblance of an apology. It seemed to him that his presence there, part of the drifting pandemonium of the pavement, was in a sense typical of his own existence in New York. He had given so much of his life into another's hands and now the anchor was dragging. He was suddenly confronted with the possibility of a rift in his relations with Elizabeth; with a sudden surging doubt, not of Elizabeth herself but simply a feeling of insecurity with regard to their future. He only realised in those moments how much he had leaned upon her, how completely she seemed to have extended over him and his troubled life some sort of sheltering influence, to which he had succumbed with an effortless, an almost fatalistic impulse, finding there, at any rate, a refuge from the horrors of his empty days. It was all abstract and impersonal at first, this jealousy which had come so suddenly to disturb the serenity of an almost too perfect day, but as the hours passed it seemed to him that his thoughts dwelt more often upon the direct cause of his brief separation from Elizabeth. He turned in at one of the clubs of which he had been made a member, and threw himself gloomily into an easy-chair. His thoughts had turned towards the grim, masterful personality of the man who seemed to have obtruded himself upon their lives. What did it mean when Elizabeth told him she was engaged for to-night? She was supping with him somewhere-probably at that moment seated opposite to him at a small, rose-shaded table in one of the many restaurants of the city which they had visited together. He, Sylvanus Power, his supplanter, was occupying the place that belonged to him, ordering her supper, humouring her little preferences, perhaps sharing with her that little glow of relief which comes with the hour of rest, after the strain of the day's work. The suggestion was intolerable. To-morrow he would have an explanation! Elizabeth belonged to him. The sooner the world knew it, the better, and this man first of all. He read her few lines again, hastily pencilled, and evidently written standing up. There was a certain ignominy in being sent about his business, just because this colossus from the West had appeared and claimed-what? Not his right!-he could have no right! What then?…

Philip ordered a drink, tore open an evening paper, and tried to read. The letters danced before his eyes, the whisky and soda stood neglected at his elbow. Afterwards he found himself looking into space. There was something cynical, challenging almost, in the manner in which that man had taken Elizabeth away from him, had acknowledged his introduction, even had treated the author of a play, a writer, as some sort of a mountebank, making his living by catering for the amusements of the world. How did that man regard such gifts as his, he wondered?-Sylvanus Power, of whom he had seen it written that he was one of the conquerors of nature, a hard but splendid utilitarian, the builder of railways in China and bridges for the transit of his metals amid the clouds of the mountain tops. In the man's absence, his harshness, almost uncouthness, seemed modified. He was a rival, without a doubt, and to-night a favoured one. How well had he known Elizabeth? For how long? Was it true, that rumour he had once heard-that the first step in her fortunes had been due to the caprice of a millionaire? He found the room stifling, bu

t the thought of the streets outside unnerved him. He looked about for some distraction.

The room was beginning to fill-actors, musicians, a few journalists, a great many men of note in the world of Bohemia kept streaming in. One or two of them nodded to him, several paused to speak.

"Hullo, Ware!" Noel Bridges exclaimed. "Not often you give us a look in.

What are you doing with yourself here all alone?"

Philip turned to answer him, and suddenly felt the fire blaze up again. He saw his questioner's frown, saw him even bite his lip as though conscious of having said a tactless thing. The actor probably understood the whole situation well enough.

"I generally go into the Lotus," Philip lied. "To-night I had a fancy to come here."

"The Lotus is too far up town for us fellows," Bridges remarked. "We need a drink, a little supper, and to see our pals quickly when the night's work is over. I hear great things of the new play, Mr. Ware, but I don't know when you'll get a chance to produce it. Were you in the house tonight?"

"Only for a moment."

"Going stronger than ever," Bridges continued impressively. "Yes, thanks, I'll take a Scotch highball," he added, in response to Philip's mute invitation, "plenty of ice, Mick. There wasn't a seat to be had in the house, and I wouldn't like to say what old Fink had to go through before he could get his box for the great Sylvanus."

"His box?" Philip queried.

"The theatre belongs to Sylvanus Power, you know," Bridges explained. "He built it five years ago."

"For a speculation?"

The actor fidgeted for a moment with his tumbler.

"No, for Miss Dalstan," he replied.

Philip set his teeth hard. The temptation to pursue the conversation was almost overpowering. The young man himself, though a trifle embarrassed, seemed perfectly willing to talk. At least it was better to know the truth! Then another impulse suddenly asserted itself. Whatever he was to know he must learn from her lips and from hers only.

"Well, I should think it's turned out all right," he remarked.

Noel Bridges shrugged his shoulders.

"The rent, if it were figured out at a fair interest on the capital, would be something fabulous," he declared. "You see, the place was extravagantly built-without any regard to cost. The dressing rooms, as you may have noticed, are wonderful, and all the appointments are unique. I don't fancy the old man's ever had a quarter's rent yet that's paid him one per cent, on the money. See you later, perhaps, Mr. Ware," the young man concluded, setting down his tumbler. "I'm going in to have a grill. Why don't you come along?"

Philip hesitated for a second and then, somewhat to the other's surprise, assented. He was conscious that he had been, perhaps, just a little unresponsive to the many courtesies which had been offered him here and at the other kindred clubs. They had been ready to receive him with open arms, this little fraternity of brain-workers, and his response had been, perhaps, a little doubtful, not from any lack of appreciation but partly from that curious diffidence, so hard to understand but so fundamentally English, and partly because of that queer sense of being an impostor which sometimes swept over him, a sense that he was, after all, only the ghost of another man, living a subjective life; that, reason it out however he might, there was something of the fraud in any personality he might adopt. And yet, deep down in his heart he was conscious of so earnest a desire to be really one of them, this good-natured, good-hearted, gay-spirited little throng, with their delightful intimacies, their keen interest in each other's welfare, their potent, almost mysterious geniality, which seemed to draw the stranger of kindred tastes so closely under its influence. Philip, as he sat at the long table with a dozen or so other men, did his best that night to break through the fetters, tried hard to remember that his place amongst them, after all, was honest enough. They were writers and actors and journalists. Well, he too was a writer. He had written a play which they had welcomed with open arms, as they had done him. In this world of Bohemia, if anywhere, he surely had a right to lift up his head and breathe-and he would do it. He sat with them, smoking and talking, until the little company began to thin out, establishing all the time a new reputation, doing a great deal to dissipate that little sense of disappointment which his former non-responsiveness had created.

"He's a damned good fellow, after all," one of them declared, as at last he left the room. "He is losing his Britishness every day he stays here."

"Been through rough times, they say," another remarked.

"He is one of those," an elder member pronounced, taking his pipe for a moment from his mouth, "who was never made for happiness. You can always read those men. You can see it behind their eyes."

Nevertheless, Philip walked home a saner and a better man. He felt somehow warmed by those few hours of companionship. The senseless part of his jealousy was gone, his trust in Elizabeth reestablished. He looked at the note once more as he undressed. At eleven o'clock on the following morning in her rooms!

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