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   Chapter 22 No.22

The Cinema Murder By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 12856

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Philip fetched his hat, and the two men stepped out on to the pavement. A servant in quiet grey livery held open the door of an enormous motor car. Sylvanus Power beckoned his companion to precede him.

"Home," he told the man, "unless," he added, turning to Philip, "you'd rather go to your rooms?"

"I am quite indifferent," Philip replied.

They drove off in absolute silence, a silence which remained unbroken until they passed through some elaborate iron gates and drew up before a mansion in Fifth Avenue.

"You'll wait," Sylvanus Power ordered, "and take this gentleman home.

This way, sir."

The doors rolled open before them. Philip caught a vista of a wonderful hall, with a domed roof and stained glass windows, and a fountain playing from some marble statuary at the further end. A personage in black took his coat and hat. The door of a dining room stood open. A table, covered with a profusion of flowers, was laid, and places set for two. Mr. Sylvanus Power turned abruptly to a footman.

"You can have that cleared away," he directed harshly. "No supper will be required."

He swung around and led the way into a room at the rear of the hall, a room which, in comparison with Philip's confused impressions of the rest of the place, was almost plainly furnished. There was a small oak sideboard, upon which was set out whisky and soda and cigars; a great desk, covered with papers, before which a young man was seated; two telephone instruments and a phonograph. The walls were lined with books. The room itself was long and narrow. Power turned to the young man.

"You can go to bed, George," he ordered. "Disconnect the telephones."

The young man gathered up some papers, locked the desk in silence, bowed to his employer, and left the room without a word. Power waited until the door was closed. Then he stood up with his back to the fireplace and pointed to a chair.

"You can sit, if you like," he invited. "Drink or smoke if you want to.

You're welcome."

"Thank you," Philip replied. "I'd rather stand."

"You don't want even to take a chair in my house, I suppose," Mr. Sylvanus Power went on mockingly, "or drink my whisky or smoke my cigars, eh?"

"From the little I have seen of you," Philip confessed, "my inclinations are certainly against accepting any hospitality at your hands."

"That's a play-writing trick, I suppose," Sylvanus Power sneered, "stringing out your sentences as pat as butter. It's not my way. There's the truth always at the back of my head, and the words ready to fit it, but they come as they please."

"I seem to have noticed that," Philip observed.

"What sort of a man are you, anyway?" the other demanded, his heavy eyebrows suddenly lowering, his wonderful, keen eyes riveted upon Philip. "Can I buy you, I wonder, or threaten you?"

"That rather depends upon what it is you want from me?"

"I want you to leave this country and never set foot in it again. That's what I want of you. I want you to get back to your London slums and write your stuff there and have it played in your own poky little theatres. I want you out of New York, and I want you out quick."

"Then I am afraid," Philip regretted, "that we are wasting time. I haven't the least intention of leaving New York."

"Well, we'll go through the rigmarole," Power continued gruffly. "We've got to understand one another. There's my cheque book in that safe. A million dollars if you leave this country-alone-within twenty-four hours, and stay away for the rest of your life."

Philip raised his eyebrows. He was lounging slightly against the desk.

"I should have no use for a million dollars, Mr. Power," he said. "If I had, I should not take it from you, and further, the conditions you suggest are absurd."

"Bribery no good, eh?" Mr. Power observed. "What about threats? There was a man once who wrote a letter to a certain woman, which I found. I killed him a few days afterwards. There was a sort of a scuffle, but it was murder, right enough. I am nearer the door than you are, and I should say about three times as strong. How would a fight suit you?"

Ware's hand was in his overcoat pocket.

"Not particularly," he answered. "Besides, it wouldn't be fair. You see,

I am armed, and you're not."

As though for curiosity, he drew from his pocket the little revolver which Honeybrook had slipped into it. Power looked at it and shrugged his shoulders.

"We'll leave that out, then, for the moment," he said. "Now listen to me. I'm off on another tack now. Eight years ago I met Elizabeth Dalstan. I was thirty-eight years old then-I am forty-six now. You young men nowadays go through your life, they tell me, with a woman on your hands most of the time, waste yourself out in a score of passions, go through the same old rigmarole once a year or something like it. I was married when I was twenty-four. I got married to lay my hands on the first ten thousand dollars I needed. My wife left me fifteen years ago. You may have read of her. She was a storekeeper's daughter then. She has a flat in Paris now, a country house in England, a villa at Monte Carlo and another at Florence. She lives her life, I live mine. She's the only woman I'd ever spoken a civil word to until I met Elizabeth Dalstan, or since."

Philip was interested despite his violent antipathy to the man.

"A singular record of fidelity," he remarked suavely.

"If you'd drop that play-acting talk and speak like a man, I'd like you better," Sylvanus Power continued. "There it is in plain words. I lived with my wife until we quarrelled and she left me, and while she lived with me I thought no more of women than cats. When she went, I thought I'd done with the sex. Elizabeth Dalstan happened along, and I found I hadn't even begun. Eight years ago we met. I offered her at once everything I could offer. Nothing doing. We don't need to tell one another that she isn't that sort. I went off and left her, spent a winter in Siberia, and came home by China. I suppose there were women there and in Paris. I was there for a month. I didn't see them. Then America. Elizabeth Dalstan was still touring, not doing much good for herself. I hung around for a time, tried my luck once more-no go. Then I went back to Europe, offered my wife ten million and an income for a divorce. It didn't suit her, so I came back again. The third time I found Elizabeth discourag

ed. If ever a man found a woman at the right time, I did. She is ambitious-Lord knows why! I hate acting and the theatres and everything to do with them. However, I tried a new move. I built that theatre in New York-there isn't another place like it in the world-and offered it to her for a birthday present. Then she began to hesitate."

"Look here," Philip broke in, "I know all this. I know everything you have told me, and everything you can tell me. What about it? What have you got to say to me?"

"This," Sylvanus Power declared, striking the desk with his clenched fist. "I have only had one consolation all the time I have been waiting-there has been no other man. Elizabeth isn't that sort. Each time I was separated and came back, I just looked at her and I knew. That's why I have been patient. That is why I haven't insisted upon my debt being paid. You understand that?"

"I hear what you say."

Power crossed the room, helped himself to whisky, and returned to his place with the tumbler in his hand. There was a brief silence. A little clock upon the mantelpiece struck two. The street sounds outside had ceased save for the hoot of an occasional taxicab. Philip was conscious of a burning desire to get away. This man, this great lump of power and success, standing like a colossus in his wonderful home, infuriated him. That a man should live who thought he had a right such as he claimed, was maddening.

"Well," Power proceeded, setting down the tumbler empty, "you won't be bought. How am I going to get you out of the way?"

"You can't do it," Philip asserted. "I am going to-morrow morning to

Elizabeth, and I am going to pray her to marry me at once."

Power swayed for a single moment upon his feet. The teeth gleamed between his slightly parted lips. His great arm was outstretched, its bursting muscles showing against the sleeve of his dinner coat. His chest was heaving.

"If you do it," he shouted, "I'll close the theatre to-morrow and sack every one in it. I'll buy any theatre in New York where you try to present your namby-pamby play. I'll buy every manager she goes to for an engagement, every newspaper that says a word of praise of any work of yours. I tell you I'll stand behind the scenes and pull the strings which shall bring you and her to the knowledge of what failure and want mean. I'll give up the great things in life. I'll devote every dollar I have, every thought of my brain, every atom of my power, to bringing you two face to face with misery. That's if I keep my hands off you. I mayn't do that."

Philip shrugged his shoulders.

"If I put you in a play," he said, "which is where you really belong, people would find you humorous. Your threats don't affect me at all, Mr. Power. Elizabeth can choose."

Power leaned over to the switch and turned on an electric light above

Philip's head.

"Blast you, let me look at you!" he thundered. "You're a white-faced, sickly creature to call yourself a man! Can't you see this thing as I see it? You're the sort that's had women, and plenty of them. Another will do for you, and, my God! she is the only one I've looked at-I, Sylvanus Power, mind-I, who have ruled fate and ruled men all my life-I want her! Don't be a fool! Get out of my path. I've crushed a hundred such men as you in my day."

Philip took up his hat.

"We are wasting time," he observed. "You are a cruder person than I thought you, Mr. Power. I am sorry for you, if that's anything."

"Sorry for me? You?"

"Very," Philip continued. "You see, you've imbibed a false view of life. You've placed yourself amongst the gods and your feet really are made of very sticky clay…. Shall I find my own way out?"

"You can find your way to hell!" Power roared. "Use your toy pistol, if you want to. You're going where you'll never need it again!"

He took a giant stride, a stride which was more like the spring of a maddened bull, towards Philip. The veneer of a spurious civilisation seemed to have fallen from him. He was the great and splendid animal, transformed with an overmastering passion. There was murder in his eyes. His great right arm, with its long, hairy fingers and its single massive ring, was like the limb of some prehistoric creature. Philip's brain and his feet, however, were alike nimble. He sprang a little on one side, and though that first blow caught him just on the edge of the shoulder and sent him spinning round and round, he saved himself by clutching at the desk. Fortunately, it was his left arm that hung helpless by his side. His fingers groped feverishly in the cavernous folds of his overcoat pocket. Power, who had dashed against the wall, smashing the glass of one of the pictures, had already recovered his balance and turned around. The little revolver, with whose use Philip was barely acquainted, flashed suddenly out in the lamplight. Even in that lurid moment he kept his nerve. He aimed at the right arm outstretched to strike him, and pulled the trigger. Through the little mist of smoke he saw a spasm of pain in his assailant's face, felt the thundering crash of his other arm, striking him on the side of the head. The room spun round. There was a second almost of unconsciousness…. When he came to, he was lying with his finger pressed against the electric bell. Power was clutching the desk for support, and gasping. The sober person in black, with a couple of footmen behind, were already in the room…. Their master turned to them.

"There has been an accident here," he groaned, "nothing serious. Take that gentleman and put him in the car. It's waiting outside for him. Telephone round for Doctor Renshaw."

For a single moment the major-domo hesitated. The weapon was still smoking in Philip's hand. Then Power's voice rang out again in furious command.

"Do as I tell you," he ordered. "If there's one of you here opens his lips about this, he leaves my service to-morrow. Not a dollar of pension, mind," he added, his voice shaking a little.

The servant bowed sombrely.

"Your orders shall be obeyed, sir," he promised.

He took up the telephone, and signed to one of the footmen, who helped Philip to the door. A moment afterwards the latter sank back amongst the cushions, a little dizzy and breathless, but revived almost instantly by the cool night air. He gave the chauffeur his address, and the car glided through the iron gates and down Fifth Avenue.

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