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   Chapter 24 No.24

The Cinema Murder By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 14326

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

Philip let the pen slip at last from his tired fingers. The light had failed. He had been writing with straining eyes, almost in the darkness. But there was something else. Had it been fancy or … This time there could be no mistake. He had not heard the lift stop, but some one was knocking softly at the door, softly but persistently. He turned his head. The room seemed filled with shadows. He had written for hours, and he was conscious that his limbs were stiff. The sun had gone down in a cloudy sky, and the light had faded. He could scarcely distinguish the articles of furniture at the further end of the room. For some reason or other he felt tongue-tied. Then, without any answer from him to this mysterious summons, the handle of the door slowly turned. As he sat there he saw it pushed open. A woman, wrapped in a long coat, stepped inside, closing it firmly behind her. She stood peering around the room. There was something familiar and yet unfamiliar in her height, her carriage. He waited, spellbound, for her voice.

"Douglas!" she exclaimed. "Ah, there you are!"

The words seemed to die away, unuttered, upon his lips. He suddenly thought that he was choking. He stared at her blankly. It was impossible! She came a step further into the room. Her hand was stretched out accusingly.

"So I've found you, have I, Douglas?" she cried, and there was a note of bitter triumph in her words, "found you after all these months! Aren't you terrified? Aren't you afraid? No wonder you sit there, shrinking away! Do you know what I have come for?"

He tried to speak, but his lips were as powerless to frame words as his limbs were to respond to his desire for movement. This was the one thing which he had not foreseen.

"You broke your promise," she went on, raising her voice a little in passionate reproach. "You left me there alone to face dismissal, without a penny, and slipped off yourself to America. You never even came in to wish me good-by. Why? Tell me why you went without coming near me?… You won't, eh? You daren't. Be a man. Out with it. I am here, and I know the truth."

For the first time some definite sound came from his lips.

"Beatrice!" he gasped.

"Ah!" she mocked. "You can remember my name, then? Douglas, I knew that you were a bad man. I knew that when you told me how you meant to cheat your creditors, how you meant to escape over here on the pretext of business, and bring all the money you could scrape together. I knew that, and yet I was willing to come with you, and I should have come. But there was one thing I didn't reckon upon. I didn't know that you had the heart or the courage to be a murderer!"

The little cry that broke from his lips was stifled even before it was uttered.

"I shall never forgive you!" she sobbed. "I never want to touch your bloodstained fingers! I have forgotten that I ever loved you. You're horrible-do you hear?-horrible! And yet, I don't mean to be left to starve. That's why I've followed you. You're afraid I am going to give you up to justice? Well, I don't know. It depends…. Turn on the lights. I want to see you. Do you hear? I want to see how you can face me. I want to see how the memory of that afternoon has dealt with you. Do as I tell you. Don't stand there glowering at me."

He crossed the room with stumbling footsteps.

"You've learnt to stoop, anyhow," she went on. "You're thinner, too…. My God!"

The room was suddenly flooded with light. Philip, rigid and ghastly, was looking at her from the other side of the table. She held up her hands as though to shut out the sight of him.

"Philip!" she shrieked. "Philip!… Oh, my God!"

Her eyes were lit with horror as she swayed upon her feet. For a moment she seemed about to collapse. Then she groped her way towards the door and stood there, clinging to the handle. Slowly she looked around over her shoulder, her face as white as death. She moistened her lips with her tongue, her eyes glared at him. Behind, her brain seemed to be working. Her first spasm of inarticulate fear passed.

"Philip--alive!" she muttered. "Alive!… Speak! Can't you speak to me?

Are you a ghost?"

"Of course not," he answered, with a calm which surprised him. "You can't have forgotten in less than six months what I look like."

A new expression struggled into her face. She abandoned her grasp of the handle and came back to her former position.

"Look here," she faltered, "if you are Philip Romilly, where's he-Douglas?… Where's Douglas?"

There was no answer. Philip simply looked at her. She began to shake once more upon her feet.

"Where's Douglas?" she demanded fiercely. "Tell me? Tell me quickly, before I go mad! If you are Philip Romilly alive, if it wasn't your body they found, where's Douglas?"

"You can guess what happened to him," Philip said slowly. "I met him on the towing-path by the side of the canal. I spoke to him-about you. He answered me with a jest. I think that all the passion of those grinding years of misery swept up at that moment from my heart. I was strong-God, how strong I was! I took him by the throat, Beatrice. I watched his face change. I watched his damned, self-satisfied complacency fade away. He lost all his smugness, and his eyes began to stare at me, and his lips grew whiter as they struggled to utter the cries for mercy which choked back. Then I flung him in-that's all. Splash!… God, I can hear it now! I saw his face just under the water. Then I went on."

"You went on?" she repeated, trembling in every limb.

"I picked up the pocketbook which I had shaken out of his clothes in that first struggle. I studied its contents, and it gave me an idea. I went to Liverpool, stayed at the hotel where he had engaged rooms, dressed myself in his clothes, and went on the steamer in his place. I travelled to New York as Mr. Douglas Romilly of the Douglas Romilly Shoe Company, occupied my room at the Waldorf under that name. Then I disappeared suddenly-there were too many people waiting to see me. I took the pseudonym which he had carefully prepared for himself and hid for a time in a small tenement house. Then I rewrote the play. There you have my story."

"You-murdered him, Philip!… You!"

"It was no crime," he continued calmly, filled with a queer sense of relief at the idea of being able to talk about it. "My whole life, up till that day, had been one epitome of injustice and evil fortune. You were my one solace. His life-well, you know what it had been. Everything was made easy for him. He had a luxurious boyhood, he was sent to college, pampered and spoilt, and passed on to a dissipated manhood. He spent a great fortune, ruined a magnificent business. He lived, month by month, hour by hour, for just the voluptuous pleasures which his wealth made possible to him. That was the man I met on the canal bank that afternoon. You know the state I was in. You know very well the grievance I had against him."

"You had no right to interfere," she said dully. "If I chose to accept what he had to give, it was my business. There never had been over-much affection between you and me. We were just waifs together.

Life wouldn't give us what we wanted. I had made up my mind months before to escape whenever the opportunity came. Douglas brought it to me and I snatched at it. I am not accepting any blame."

He leaned towards her.

"Neither am I," he declared. "Do you remember we used to talk about the doctrine of responsibility? I am a pervert. I did what I had to do, and I am content."

She stood quite still for several moments. Then she took out the pins from her hat, banged it upon the table, opened her tweed coat, came round to the fireside, and threw herself into an easy-chair. Her action was portentous and significant.

"Tell me how you found me out?" he asked, after a brief pause.

"I was dismissed from Detton Magna," she told him. "I had to go and be waiting-maid to Aunt Esther at Croydon. I took the place of her maid-of-all-work. I scrubbed for my living. There wasn't anything else. I hadn't clothes to try for the bolder things, not a friend in the world, but I was only waiting. I meant, at the first chance, to rob Aunt Esther, to come to London, dress myself properly, and find a post on the stage, if possible. I wasn't particular. Then one day a man came to see me-an American. He'd travelled all the way from New York because he was interested in what he called the mysterious Romilly disappearance. He knew that I had been Douglas' friend. He asked me to come out and identify-you! He offered me my passage, a hundred pounds, and to give me a start in life here, if I needed it. So I came out with him."

"With Dane," he muttered.

She nodded.

"Yes, that was his name-Mr. Edward Dane. I came out to identify


"You weren't going to give him away?" Philip asked curiously.

"Of course not. I should have made my bargain, and then, after I had scared Douglas for leaving me as he did, I should have said that it wasn't the man. And instead-I found you!"

He tapped the table with his fingers, restlessly. A new hope was forming in his brain. This, indeed, might be the end of all his troubles.

"Listen," he said earnestly, "Dane has always suspected me. Sometimes I have wondered whether he hadn't the truth at the back of his head. You can make me safe forever."

She made no reply. Her eyes were watching his face. She seemed to be waiting to hear what else he had to say.

"Don't you understand?" he went on impatiently. "You have only to tell Dane that I am neither Douglas nor Philip, but curiously like both, and he will chuck the thing up. He must. Then I shall be safe. You see that, don't you?"

"Yes, I see that," she admitted.


"Tell me exactly how much of Douglas' money you have spent?" she demanded.

"Only the loose money from the pocketbook. Not all of that. I am earning money now."

She leaned across the table.

"What about the twenty thousand pounds?"

"I haven't touched it," he assured her, "not a penny."

"On your honour?"

He rose silently and went to his desk, unlocked one of the drawers, and drew from a hidden place a thin strip of paper. He smoothed it out on the table before her.

"There's the deposit note," he said,-"Twenty thousand pounds to the joint or separate credit of Beatrice Wenderley and Douglas Romilly, on demand. The money's there still. I haven't touched it."

She gripped the paper in her fingers. The sight of the figures seemed to fascinate her. Then she looked around.

"How can you afford to live in a place like this, then?" she demanded suspiciously. "Where does your money come from?"

"The play," he told her.

"What, all this?" she exclaimed.

"It is a great success. The theatre is packed every night. My royalties come every week to far more than I could spend."

She looked once more around her, gripped the deposit note in her fingers, and leaned back in her chair. She laughed curiously. Her eyes had travelled back to Philip's anxious face.

"Wonderful!" she murmured. "You paid the price, but you've won. You've had something for it. I paid the price, and up till now-"

She stared at the paper in her hand. Then she looked away into the fire.

"I can't get it all into my head," she went on. "I pictured him here, living in luxury, spending the money of which he had promised me a share … and he's dead! That was his body-that unrecognisable thing they found in the canal. You killed him-Douglas! He was so fond of life, too."

"Fond of the things which meant life to him," Philip muttered.

"I should never have believed that you had the courage," she observed ruminatingly. "After all, then, he wasn't faithless. He wasn't the brute I thought him."

She sat thinking for what seemed to him to be an interminable time. He broke in at last upon her meditations.

"Well," he asked, "what are you going to say to Dane?"

"I shan't give you away-at least I don't think so," she promised cautiously. "I shall see. Presently I will make terms, only this time I am not going to be left. I am going to have what I want."

"But he'll be waiting to hear from you!" Philip exclaimed. "He may come here, even."

She shook her head.

"He's gone to Chicago. He can't be back for five days. I promised to wire, but I shan't. I'll wait until he's back. And in the meantime-"

Her fingers closed upon the deposit note. He nodded shortly.

"That's yours," he said. "You can have it all. I have helped myself to a fresh start in life at his expense. That's all I wanted."

She folded up the paper and thrust it carefully into the bosom of her gown. Then she stood up.

"Well," she pronounced, "I think I am getting used to things. It's wonderful how callous one can become. The banks are closed now, I suppose?"

He nodded.

"They will be open at nine o'clock in the morning."

"First of all, then," she decided, "I'll make sure of my twenty thousand pounds, and then we'll see. I don't think you'll find me hard, Philip. I ought not to be hard on you, ought I?"

She looked at him most kindly, and he began to shiver. Curiously enough, her very kindness, when he realised the knowledge which lay behind her brain, was hateful to him. He had pleaded for her forgiveness, even her toleration, but-anything else seemed horrible! She strolled across the room and glanced at the clock, took one of his cigarettes from a box and lit it.

"Well, this is queer!" she murmured reflectively. "Now I want some dinner, and I'll see your play, Philip. You shall take me. Get ready quickly, please."

He looked at her doubtfully.

"But, Beatrice," he protested, "think! You know why you came here? You know the story you will have to tell? We are strangers, you and I. What if we are seen together?"

She snapped her fingers at him.

"Pooh! Who cares! I am a stranger in New York, and I have taken a fancy to you. You are a young man of gallantry, and you are going to take me out…. We often used to talk of a little excursion like this in London. We'll have it in New York instead."

He turned slowly towards the door of his bedroom. She was busy looking at her own eyes in the mirror, and she missed the little gleam of horror in his face.

"In ten minutes," he promised her.

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