MoboReader> Literature > The Cinema Murder

   Chapter 23 No.23

The Cinema Murder By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 18953

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Philip was awakened the next morning by the insistent ringing of the telephone at his elbow. He took up the receiver, conscious of a sharp pain in his left shoulder as he moved.

"Is this Mr. Merton Ware?" a man's smooth voice enquired.

"Yes!"

"I am speaking for Mr. Sylvanus Power. Mr. Sylvanus Power regrets very much that he is unable to lunch with Mr. Ware as arranged to-day, but he is compelled to go to Philadelphia on the morning train. He will be glad to meet Mr. Ware anywhere, a week to-day, and know the result of the matter which was discussed last night."

"To whom am I speaking?" Philip demanded. "I don't know anything about lunching with Mr. Power to-day."

"I am Mr. Power's secretary, George Lunt," was the reply. "Mr. Power's message is very clear. He wishes you to know that he will not be in New York until a week to-day."

"How is Mr. Power?" Philip enquired.

"He met with a slight accident last night," the voice continued, "and is obliged to wear his arm in a sling. Except for that he is quite well. He has already left for Philadelphia by the early train. He was anxious that you should know this."

"Thank you very much," Philip murmured, a little dazed.

He sprang out of bed, dressed quickly, hurried over his coffee and rolls, boarded a cross-town car, and arrived at the Monmouth House flats just in time to meet Martha Grimes issuing into the street. She was not at all the same Martha. She was very neatly dressed, her shoes were nicely polished, her clothes well brushed, her gloves new, and she wore a bunch of fresh-looking violets in her waistband. She started in surprise as Philip accosted her.

"Whatever are you doing back in the slums?" she demanded. "Any fresh trouble?"

"Nothing particular," Philip replied, turning round and falling into step with her. "I can't see my way, that's all, and I want to talk to you. You're the most human person I know, and you understand Elizabeth."

"Gee!" she smiled. "This is the lion and the mouse, with a vengeance. You can walk with me, if you like, as far as the block before the theatre. I'm not going to arrive there with you, and I tell you so straight."

"No followers, eh?"

"There's no reason to set people talking," she declared. "Their tongues wag fast enough at the theatre, as it is. I've only been there for one day's work, and it seems to me I've heard the inside history of every one connected with the place."

"That makes what I have to say easier," he remarked. "Just what do they say about Miss Dalstan and Mr. Sylvanus Power?"

She looked at him indignantly.

"If you think you're going to worm things out of me-"

"Don't be foolish," he interrupted, a little wearily. "How could you know anything? You are only the echo of a thousand voices. I could find out, if I went where they gossip. I don't. In effect I don't care, but I am up against a queer situation. I want to know just what people think of them. Afterwards I'll tell you the truth."

"Well, they profess to think," she said slowly, "that the theatre belongs to Miss Dalstan, and that she-"

"Stop, please," he interrupted. "I know you hate saying it, and I know quite well what you mean. Well, what about that?"

"It isn't my affair."

"It isn't true," he told her.

"Whether it's true or not, she is one of the best women in the world,"

Martha declared vigorously.

"There isn't any doubt about that, either," he assented. "This is the situation. Listen. Sylvanus Power has been in love with Elizabeth for the best part of his life. He built that theatre for her and offered it-at a price. She accepted his terms. When the time came for payment, he saw her flinch. He went away again and has just come back. She is face to face now with a decision, a decision to which she is partly committed. In the meantime, during these last few months, Elizabeth and I have become great friends. You know that I care for her. I think that she cares for me. She has to make up her mind. Martha, which is she to choose?"

"How do you want me to answer that?" the girl asked, slackening her pace a little. "I'm not Miss Dalstan."

"From her point of view," he explained eagerly. "This man Power is madly and I believe truly in love with her. In his way he is great; in his way, too, he is a potentate. He can give her more than luxury, more, even, than success. You know Elizabeth," he went on. "She is one of the finest women who ever breathed, an idealist but a seeker after big things. She deserves the big things. Is she more likely to find them with me or with him?"

"Power's wife is still alive," she ruminated.

"And won't accept a divorce at present," he observed. "If ever she does, of course he will marry her. That has to be taken into account not morally but the temporal side of it. We know perfectly well that whatever Elizabeth decides, she couldn't possibly do wrong."

Martha smiled a little grimly.

"That's what it is to be born in the clouds," she said. "There is no sin for a good woman."

He looked at her appreciatively.

"I wonder how I knew that you would understand this," he sighed.

Suddenly he clutched at her arm. She glanced up in surprise. He was staring at a passer-by. Her eyes followed his. In a neat morning suit, with a black bowler hat and well-polished shoes, a cigar in his mouth and a general air of prosperity, Mr. Edward Dane was strolling along Broadway. He passed without a glance at either of them. For a moment Philip faltered. Then he set his teeth and walked on. There was an ashen shade in his face. The girl looked at him and shook her head.

"Mr. Ware," she said, "we haven't talked much about it, but there is something there behind, isn't there, something you are terrified about, something that might come, even now?"

"She knows about it," he interposed quickly.

"Would it be very bad if it came?"

"Hideous!"

"If she were your wife-?"

"She would be notorious. It would ruin her."

"Do you think, then," she asked quietly, "that you needed to come and ask my advice?"

He walked on with his head high, looking upwards with unseeing eyes. A little vista of that undisturbed supper table on the other side of the marble hall, a dim perspective of those eight years of waiting, flitted through his brain. The lord of that Fifth Avenue Mansion was in earnest, right enough, and he had so much to offer.

"It will break me if I have to give her up," he said simply. "I believe I should have gone overboard, crossing the Atlantic, but for her."

"There are some women," she sighed, "the best of all women, the joy of whose life seems to be sacrifice. That sounds queer, don't it, but it's true. They're happy in misfortune, so long as they are helping some one else. She is wonderful, Elizabeth Dalstan. She may even be one of those. You'll find that out. You'd better find out for yourself. There isn't any one can help you very much."

"I am not sure that you haven't," he said. "Now I'll go. Where did you get your violets, Martha? Had them in water since last night, haven't you?"

She made a little grimace at him.

"A very polite young gentleman at the box office sent us each a bunch directly we started work yesterday. I've only had a few words with him yet, but Eva-that's the other girl-she's plagued to death with fellows already, so I'm going to take him out one evening."

Philip stopped short. They were approaching the theatre.

"Not a step further," he declared solemnly. "I wouldn't spoil your prospects for worlds. Run along, my little cynic, and warm your hands. Life's good at your age-better than when I found you, eh?"

"You don't think I am ungrateful?" she asked, a little wistfully.

He shook his head.

"You couldn't be that, Martha…. Good luck to you!"

She turned away with a little farewell wave of the hand and was lost at once in the surging stream of people. Philip summoned a taxicab, sat far back in the corner, and drove to his rooms. He hesitated for a moment before getting out, crossed the pavement quickly, hurried into the lift, and, arriving up-stairs, let down the latch of the outside door. Edward Dane was back in New York! For a moment, the memory of the great human drama in which he found himself a somewhat pathetic figure seemed swallowed up by this sudden resurrection of a grisly tragedy. He looked around his room a little helplessly. Against his will, that hideous vision which had loomed up before him in so many moments of depression was slowly reforming itself, this time not in the still watches of the night but in the broad daylight, with the spring sunshine to cheer his heart, the roar of a friendly city in his ears. It was no time for dreams, this, and yet he felt the misery sweeping in upon him, felt all the cold shivers of his ineffective struggles. Slowly that fateful panorama unfolded itself before his memory. He saw himself step out with glad relief from the uncomfortable, nauseous, third-class carriage, and, clutching his humble little present in his hand, cross the flinty platform, climb the long, rain-swept hill, keeping his head upraised, though the very sky seemed grimy, battling against the miserable depression of that everlasting ugliness. Before him, at least, there was his one companion. There would be kind words, sympathy, a cheerful fireside, a little dreaming, a little wandering into that world which they had made for themselves with the help of such treasures as t

hat cheap little volume he carried. And then the last few steps, the open door, the room, its air at first of wonderful comfort, and then the queer note of luxury obtruding itself disquietingly, the picture on the mantelpiece, her coming. He had never been in love with Beatrice. He knew that now perfectly well. He had simply clung to her because she was the only living being who knew and understood, because they had mingled their thoughts and trodden the path of misery together. Removed now from that blaze of passion, smouldering perhaps in him through previous years of discontent, but which leaped into actual and effective life for the first time in those few moments, he realised a certain justice in her point of view, a certain hard logic in the way she had spoken of life and their relations. There had been so little real affection between them. So little had passed which might have constituted a greater bond. It was his passionate outburst of revolt against life, whose drear talons seemed to have fastened themselves into his very soul, which had sent him out with murder in his brain to seek the man who had robbed him of the one thing which stood between him and despair; the pent-up fury of a lifetime which had tingled in his blood and had given him the strength of the navvy in those few minutes by the canal side.

He covered his face with his hands, strode around the room, gazing wildly out over the city, trying to listen to the clanging of the surface cars, the rumble of the overhead railway in the distance, the breaking of the long, ceaseless waves of human feet upon the pavement. It was useless. No effort of his will could keep from his brain the haunting memory of those final moments-the man's face, handsome and well-satisfied at first, the careless greeting, the sudden change, the surprise, the apprehension, the ghastly fear, the agony! He heard the low, gurgling shriek of terror; he looked into the eyes with the fear of hell before them! Then he heard the splash of the black, filthy water.

There was a cry. It was several seconds before he realised that it had broken from his lips. He looked around him like a hunted creature. There was another terror now-the gloomy court with its ugly, miserable paraphernalia-the death, uglier still, death in disgrace, a sordid, ghastly thing! And in his brain, too, there was so much dawning, so many wonderful ideas craving for fulfilment. These few months had been months of marvellous development. The power of the writer had seemed to grow, hour by hour. His brain was full of fancies, exquisite fancies some of them. It was a new world growing up around him and within him, too beautiful a world to leave. Yet, in those breathless moments, fear was the dominant sensation. He felt a coward to his fingertips…

He walked up and down the room feverishly, as a man might pace a prison in the first few moments of captivity. There was no escape! If he disappeared again, it would only rivet suspicion the more closely. There was no place to which he could fly, no shelter save on the other side of the life which he had just begun to love. His physical condition began to alarm him. He felt his forehead by accident and found it damp with sweat. His heart was beating irregularly with a spasmodic vigour which brought pain. He caught sight of his terror-stricken face in the looking-glass, and the craving to escape from his frenzied solitude overcame all his other resolutions. He rushed to the telephone, spoke with Phoebe, waited breathlessly whilst she fetched his mistress to the instrument.

"I want to see you," he begged, as soon as he was conscious of her presence at the other end. "I want to see you at once."

"Has anything happened?" she asked quickly.

"Yes!" he almost groaned. "I can't tell you-"

"I will be with you in ten minutes," she promised.

He set the receiver down. Those ten minutes were surely the longest which had ever ticked their way into Eternity! And then she came. He heard the lift stop and his door open. There was a moment's breathless silence as their eyes met, then a little gathering together of the lines of her forehead, a half querulous, half sympathetic smile. She shook her head at him.

"You've had one of those silly nervous attacks," she declared. "Tell me at once why?"

"Dane is back-I saw him on the pavement this morning!" he exclaimed. "He has been to England to find out!"

She made him sit down and seated herself by his side.

"Listen," she said, "Dane came back on the Orinoco, the day before yesterday. I saw his name in the paper. If his voyage to England had been a success, which it could not have been, you would have heard from him before now."

"I didn't think of that," he muttered.

"I have never asked you," she went on, "to tell me exactly what happened behind there. I don't want to know. Only I have a consciousness-I had from the first, when you began to talk to me about it-that your fears were exaggerated. If you have been allowed to remain safe all this time, you will be safe always. I feel it, and I am always right in these things. Now use your own common sense. Tell me truthfully, don't you think it is very improbable that anything could be discovered?"

"That anything could be proved," he admitted eagerly, "yes!"

"Then don't be silly. No one is likely to make accusations and attempt a case unless they had a definite end in view. We are safe even from the Elletania people. Mr. Raymond Greene has ceased to talk of your wonderful resemblance to Douglas Romilly. Phoebe-the only one who could really know-will never open her lips. Now take me for a little walk. We will look in the shops in Fifth Avenue and lunch at the Ritz-Carlton. Go and brush yourself and make yourself look respectable. I'll have a cigarette and read the paper…. No, I won't, I'll look over these loose sheets and see how you are getting on."

He disappeared into his room for a few minutes. When he returned she was entirely engrossed. She looked up at him with something almost of reverence in her face.

"When did you write this?" she asked.

"Yesterday, most of it," he answered. "There is more of it-I haven't finished yet. When you send me away this afternoon, I shall go on. That is only the beginning. I have a great idea dawning."

"What you have written is wonderful," she said simply. "It makes me feel almost humble, makes me feel that the very best actress in the world remains only an interpretress. Yes, I can say those words you have written, but they can never be mine. I want to be something more than an intelligent parrot, Philip. Why can't you teach me to feel and think things like that?"

"You!" he murmured, as he took her arm and led her to the door. "You could feel all the sweetest and most wonderful things in heaven. The writer's knack is only a slight gift. I put on paper what lives in your heart."

She raised her head, and he kissed her lips. For a moment he held her quite quietly. Her arms encircled him. The perfume of her clothes, her hair, her warm, gentle touch, seemed like a strong sedative. If she said that he was safe, he must be. It was queer how so often at these times their sexes seemed reversed; it was he who felt that womanly desire for shelter and protection which she so amply afforded him. She patted his cheek.

"Now for our little walk," she said. "Open the windows and let out all these bad fancies of yours. And listen," she went on, as they stepped out of the lift a moment or two later, and passed through the hall towards the pavement, "not a word about our own problem. We are going to talk nonsense. We are going to be just two light-hearted children in this wonderful city, gazing at the sights and taking all she has to offer us. I love it, you know. I love the noise of it. It isn't a distant, stifled roar like London. There's a harsh, clarion-like note about it, like metal striking upon metal. And the smell of New York-there isn't any other city like it! When we get into Fifth Avenue I am going to direct your attention to the subject of hats. Have you ever bought a woman's hat, Philip?"

"Never," he answered, truthfully enough.

"Then you are going to this morning, or rather you are going to help me to choose one," she declared, "and in a very few moments, too. There is a little place almost underground in Fifth Avenue there, and a Frenchwoman-oh, she is so French!-and all her assistants have black hair and wear untidy, shapeless clothes and velvet slippers. It isn't New York at all, but I love it, and I let them put their name on the programme. They really don't charge me more than twice as much as they ought to for my hats. We go down here," she added, descending some steps, "and if you make eyes at any of the young women I shall bring you straight out again."

They spent half an hour choosing a hat and nearly two hours over lunch. It was late in the afternoon before she dropped him at his rooms. Not a word had they spoken of Sylvanus Power or their future, but Philip was a different man. Only, as he turned and said good-by, his voice trembled.

"I can't say thank you," he muttered, "but you know!"…

The lift was too slow for him. He opened his door with almost breathless haste. He only paused to light a cigarette and change his coat and wheel his table round so as to catch the afternoon light more perfectly. Then, with his brain teeming with fancies, he plunged into his work.

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