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   Chapter 21 No.21

The Cinema Murder By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 11874

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The slow fever of inaction, fretting in Philip's veins, culminated soon after Martha's departure in a passionate desire for a movement of some sort. The very silence of the room maddened him, the unresponsive-looking telephone, the fire which had burned itself out, the dropping even of the wind, which at intervals during the evening had flung a rainstorm against the windowpane. At midnight he could bear it no longer and sallied out into the streets. Again that curious desire for companionship was upon him, a strange heritage for one who throughout the earlier stages of his life had been content with and had even sought a grim and unending solitude. He boarded a surface car for the sake of sitting wedged in amongst a little crowd of people, and he entered his club, noting the number of hats and coats in the cloakroom with a queer sense of satisfaction. He no sooner made his appearance in the main room than he was greeted vociferously from half a dozen quarters. He accepted every hospitality that was offered to him, drinking cheerfully with new as well as old acquaintances. Presently Noel Bridges came up and gripped his shoulder.

"Come and have a grill with us, Ware," he begged. "There's Seymour and

Richmond here, from the Savage Club, and a whole crowd of us. Hullo,

Freddy!" he went on, greeting the man with whom Philip had been talking.

"Why don't you come and join us, too? We'll have a rubber of bridge

afterwards."

"That's great," the other declared. "Come on, Ware. We'll rag old

Honeybrook into telling us some of his stories."

The little party gathered together at the end of the common table. Philip had already drunk much more than he was accustomed to, but the only result appeared to be some slight slackening of the tension in which he had been living. His eyes flashed, and his tongue became more nimble. He insisted upon ordering wine. He had had no opportunity yet of repaying many courtesies. They drank his health, forced him into the place of honour by the side of Honeybrook, veteran of the club, and ate their meal to the accompaniment of ceaseless bursts of laughter, chaff, the popping of corks, mock speeches, badinage of every sort. Philip felt, somehow, that his brain had never been clearer. He not only held his own, but he earned a reputation for a sense of humour previously denied to him. And in the midst of it all the door opened and closed, and a huge man, dressed in plain dinner clothes, still wearing his theatre hat, with a coat upon his arm and a stick in his hand, passed through the door and stood for a moment gazing around him.

"Say, that's Sylvanus Power!" one of the young men at the table exclaimed. "Looks a trifle grim, doesn't he?"

"It's the old man, right enough," Noel Bridges murmured. "Wonder what he wants down here? It isn't in his beat?"

Honeybrook, the great New York raconteur, father of the club, touched

Philip upon the shoulder.

"Hey, presto!" he whispered. "We who think so much of ourselves have become pigmies upon the face of the earth. There towers the representative of modern omnipotence. Those are the hands-grim, strong-looking hands, aren't they?-that grip the levers of modern American life. Rodin ought to do a statue of him as he stands there-art and letters growing smaller as he grows larger. We exist for him. He builds theatres for our plays, museums for our pictures, libraries for our books."

"Seems to me he is looking for one of us," Noel Bridges remarked.

"Some pose, isn't it!" a younger member of the party exclaimed reverently, as he lifted his tankard.

All these things were a matter of seconds, during which Sylvanus Power did indeed stand without moving, looking closely about the room. Then his eye at last lit upon the end of the table where Philip and his friends were seated. He approached them without a word. Noel Bridges ventured upon a greeting.

"Coming to join us, Mr. Power?" he asked.

Sylvanus Power, if he heard the question, ignored it. His eyes had rested upon Philip. He stood over the table now, looming before them, massive, in his way awe-inspiring.

"Ware," he said, "I've been looking for you."

Instinctively Philip rose to his feet. Tall though he was, he had to look up at the other man, and his slender body seemed in comparison like a willow wand. Nevertheless, the light in his eyes was illuminative. There was no shrinking away. He stood there with the air of one prepared to welcome, to incite and provoke storm whatever might be brewing.

"I have been to your rooms," Sylvanus Power went on. "They knew nothing about you there."

"They wouldn't," Philip replied. "I go where I choose and when I choose.

What do you want with me?"

Conversation in the room was almost suspended. Those in the immediate locality, well acquainted with the gossip of the city, held the key to the situation. Every one for a moment, however, was spellbound. They felt the coming storm, but they were powerless.

"I sought you out, Ware," Sylvanus Power continued, his harsh voice ringing through the room, "to tell you what probably every other man here knows except you. If you know it you're a fool, and I'm here to tell you so."

"Have you been drinking?" Philip asked calmly.

"Maybe I have," Sylvanus Power answered, "but whisky can't cloud my brain or stop my tongue. You're looking at my little toy here," he went on, twirling in his right hand a heavy malacca cane with a leaden top. "I killed a man with that once."

"The weapon seems sufficient for the purpose," Philip answered indifferently.

"Any other man," Sylvanus Power went on, "would have sat in the chair for that. Not I! You don't know as much of me as you need to, Merton Ware. I'm no whippersnapper of a pen-slinger, earning a few paltry dollars by writing doggerel for women and mountebanks to act. I've hewn my way with my right arm and my brain, from the streets to th

e palace. They say that money talks. By God! if it does I ought to shout, for I've more million dollars than there are men in this room."

"Nevertheless," Philip said, growing calmer as he recognised the man's condition, "you are a very insufferable fellow."

There had been a little murmur throughout the room at the end of Sylvanus Power's last blatant speech, but at Philip's retort there was a hushed, almost an awed silence. Mr. Honeybrook rose to his feet.

"Sir," he said, turning to Power, "to the best of my belief you are not a member of this club."

"I am a member of any club in America I choose to enter," the intruder declared. "As for you writing and acting popinjays, I could break the lot of you if I chose. I came to see you, Ware. Come out from your friends and talk to me."

Philip pushed back his chair, made his way deliberately round the head of the table, brushing aside several arms outstretched to prevent his going. Sylvanus Power stood in an open space between the tables, swinging his cane, with its ugly top, in the middle of his hand. He watched Philip's approach and lowered his head a little, like a bull about to charge.

"If you have anything to say to me," Philip observed coolly, "I am here, but I warn you that there is one subject which is never discussed within these walls. If you transgress our unwritten rule, I shall neither listen to what you have to say nor will you be allowed to remain here."

"And what is that subject?" Sylvanus Power thundered.

"No woman's name is mentioned here," Philip told him calmly.

Several of the men had sprung to their feet. It seemed from Power's attitude as though murder might be done. Philip, however, stood his ground almost contemptuously, his frame tense and poised, his fists clenched. Suddenly the strain passed. The man whose face for a moment had been almost black with passion, lowered his cane, swayed a little upon his feet, and recovered himself.

"So you know what I've come here to talk about, young man?" he demanded.

"One can surmise," Philip replied. "If you think it worth while, I will accompany you to my rooms or to yours."

Philip in those few seconds made a reputation for himself which he never lost. The little company of men looked at one another in mute acknowledgment of a courage which not one of them failed to appreciate.

"I'll take you at your word," Sylvanus Power decided grimly. "Here, boys," he went on, moving towards the table where Philip had been seated, "give me a drink-some rye whisky. I'm dry."

Not a soul stirred. Even Noel Bridges remained motionless. Heselton, the junior manager of the theatre, met the millionaire's eye and never flinched. Mr. Honeybrook knocked the ash from his cigar and accepted the role of spokesman.

"Mr. Power," he said, "we are a hospitable company here, and we are at all times glad to entertain our friends. At the same time, the privileges of the club are retained so far as possible for those who conform to a reasonable standard of good manners."

There was a sudden thumping of hands upon the table until the glasses rattled. Power's face showed not a single sign of anger. He was simply puzzled. He had come into touch with something which he could not understand. There was Bridges, earning a salary at his theatre, to be thrown out into the streets or made a star of, according to his whim; Heselton, a family man, drawing his salary, and a good one, too, also from the theatre; men whose faces were familiar to him-some of them, he knew, on newspapers in which he owned a controlling interest. The power of which he had bragged was a real enough thing. What had come to these men that they failed to recognise it?-to this slim young boy of an Englishman that he dared to defy him?

"Pretty queer crowd, you boys," he muttered.

Philip, who had been waiting by the door, came a few steps back again.

"Mr. Power," he said, "I don't know much about you, and you don't seem to know anything at all about us. I am only at present a member by courtesy of this club, but it isn't often that any one has reason to complain of lack of hospitality here. If you take my advice, you'll apologise to these gentlemen for your shockingly bad behaviour when you came in. Tell them that you weren't quite yourself, and I'll stand you a drink myself."

"That goes," Honeybrook assented gravely. "It's up to you, sir."

Mr. Sylvanus Power felt that he had wandered into a cul-de-sac. He had found his way into one of those branch avenues leading from the great road of his imperial success. He was man enough to know when to turn back.

"Gentlemen," he said, "I offer you my apologies. I came here in a furious temper and a little drunk. I retract all that I said. I'll drink to your club, if you'll allow me the privilege."

Willing hands filled his tumbler, and grateful ones forced a glass between Philip's fingers. None of them really wanted Sylvanus Power for an enemy.

"Here's looking at you all," the latter said. "Luck!" he muttered, glancing towards Philip.

They all drank as though it were a rite. Philip and Sylvanus Power set their glasses down almost at the same moment. Philip turned towards the door.

"I am at your service now, Mr. Power," he announced. "Good night, you fellows!"

There was a new ring of friendliness in the hearty response which came from every corner of the room.

"Goodnight, Ware!"

"So long, old fellow!"

"Good night, old chap!"

There was a little delay in the cloakroom while the attendant searched for Philip's hat, which had been temporarily misplaced. Honeybrook, who had followed the two men out of the room, fumbling for a moment in his locker and, coming over to Philip, dropped something into the latter's overcoat pocket.

"Rather like a scene in a melodrama, isn't it, Ware," he whispered, "but

I know a little about Sylvanus Power. It's only a last resource, mind."

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