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   Chapter 25 No.25

The Cinema Murder By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 10623

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Beatrice replaced the programme which she had been studying, on the ledge of the box, and turned towards Philip, who was seated in the background. There was something a little new in her manner. Her tone was subdued, her eyes curious.

"You really are a wonderful person, Philip," she declared. "It's the same play, just as you used to tell it me, word for word. And yet it isn't. What is it that you have gained, I wonder?-a sense of atmosphere, breadth, something strangely vital."

"I am glad you like it," he said simply.

"Like it? It's amazing! And what an audience! I never thought that the people were so fashionable here, Philip. I am sitting right back in the box, but ten minutes after I have cashed my draft tomorrow I shall be buying clothes. You won't be ashamed to be seen anywhere with me then."

He drew his chair up to her side, a little haggard and worn with the suspense of the evening. She laughed at him mockingly.

"What an idiot you are!" she exclaimed. "You ought to be one of the happiest men in the world, and you look like a death's-head."

"The happiest man in the world," he repeated.

"Beatrice, sometimes I think that there is only one thing in the world that makes for happiness."

"And what's that, booby?" she asked, with some of her old familiarity.

"A clear conscience."

She laid her hand upon his arm.

"Look here, Philip," she said, "the one thing I determined, when I threw up the sponge, was that whether the venture was a success or not I'd never waste a single moment in regrets. Things didn't turn out too brilliantly with me, as you know. But you-see what you've attained! Why, it's wonderful! Your play, the one thing you dreamed about, produced in one of the greatest cities in the world, and a packed house to listen to it, people applauding all the time. I didn't realise your success when we talked this evening. I am just beginning to understand. I've been reading some of these extracts from the newspapers. You're Merton Ware, the great dramatist, the coming man of letters. You've won, Philip. Can't you see that it's puling cowardice to grumble at the price?"

He, for his part, was wondering at her callousness, of which he was constantly discovering fresh evidences. The whole shock of her discovery seemed already, in these few hours, to have passed away.

"If you can forget-so soon," he muttered, "I suppose I ought to be able to."

She made a little grimace, but immediately afterwards he saw the cold tightening of her lips.

"Listen, Philip," she said. "I started life with the usual quiverful of good qualities, but there's one I've lost, and I don't want it back again. I'm a selfish woman, and I mean to stay a selfish woman. I am going to live for myself. I've paid a fair price, and I'm going to have what I've paid for. See?"

"Do you think," he asked, "that it is possible to make that sort of bargain with one's self and fate?"

She laughed scornfully.

"There's room for a little stiffening in you, even now, Philip! No one but a weakling ever talks about fate. You'd think better of me, I suppose, if I stayed in my room and wept. Well, I could do it if I let myself, but I won't. I should lose several hours of the life that belongs to me. You think I didn't care about Douglas? I am not at all sure that I didn't care for him as much as I ever did for you, although, of course, he wasn't worthy of it. But he's gone, and all the shudders and morbid regrets in the world won't bring him back again. And I am here in New York, and to-morrow I shall have twenty thousand pounds, and to-night I am with you, watching your play. That's life enough for me at present-no more, no less. I hate missing the first act, and I'm coming to see it again to-morrow. What time is it over?"

"Soon after eleven," he told her.

She glanced at her watch.

"You shall take me out and give me some supper," she decided, "somewhere where there's music."

He made no remark, but she surprised again something in his face which irritated her.

"Look here, Philip," she said firmly, "I won't have you look at me as though I were something inhuman. There are plenty of other women like me in the world, even if they are not quite so frank about it. I want to live, and I will live, and I grudge every moment out of which I am not extracting the fullest amount of happiness. That's because I've paid. It's the woman's bargaining instinct, you know. She wants to get value…. Now I want to hear about Miss Dalstan. Where did you meet her, and how did you get her to accept your play?"

"She was on the Elletania," he explained. "We crossed from Liverpool together. She sat at my table."

"How much does she know about you?" Beatrice asked bluntly.

"Everything," he confessed. "I don't know what I should have done without her. She has been the most wonderful friend any one could have."

Beatrice looked at him a little critically.

"You're a queer person, Philip," she exclaimed. "You're not fit to go about alone, really. Good thing I came over to take care of you, I think."

"You don't understand," he replied. "Miss Dalstan is-well, unlike anybody else. She wants to see you. I am to take you round after the next act, if you would like to go."

Beatrice smiled at him in a gratified manner.

"I'

ve always wanted to go behind the scenes," she admitted. "I'll come with you, with pleasure. Perhaps if I decide that I'd like to go on the stage, she may be able to help me. How much is twenty thousand pounds in dollars, Philip?"

"A little over a hundred thousand," he told her.

"I don't suppose they think that much out here," she went on ruminatingly. "The hotel where Mr. Dane sent me-it's nice enough, in its way, but very stuffy as regards the people-is twice as expensive as it would be in London. However, we shall see."

The curtain rang up on the third act, and Beatrice, seated well back in the shadows, followed the play attentively, appreciated its good points and had every appearance of both understanding and enjoying it. Afterwards, she rose promptly to her feet, still clapping.

"I'm longing to meet Miss Dalstan, Philip," she declared. "She is wonderful. And to think that you wrote it-that you created the part for her! I am really quite proud of you."

She laughed at his embarrassment, affecting to ignore the fact that it was less the author's modesty than some queer impulse of horror which seemed to come over him when any action of hers reminded him of their past familiarity. He hurried on, piloting her down the corridor to the door of Elizabeth's dressing room. In response to his knock they were bidden to enter, and Elizabeth, who was lying on a couch whilst a maid was busy preparing her costume for the next act, held out her hand with a little welcoming smile.

"I am so glad to see you, Miss Wenderley," she said cordially. "Philip, bring Miss Wenderley over here. You'll forgive my not getting up, won't you? I have to rest for just these few minutes before the next act."

Beatrice was for a moment overpowered. The luxury of the wonderful dressing room, with its perfect French furniture, its white walls hung with a few choice sketches, the thick rugs upon the polished wood floor, the exquisite toilet table with its wealth of gold and tortoiseshell appurtenances-Elizabeth herself, so beautiful and gracious-even a hurried contemplation of all these things took her breath away. She felt suddenly acutely conscious of the poverty of her travelling clothes, of her own insignificance.

"Won't you sit down for a moment?" Elizabeth begged, pointing to a chair by her side. "You and I must be friends, you know, for Philip's sake."

Beatrice recovered herself a little. She sank into the blue satin chair, with its ample cushions, and looked down at Elizabeth with something very much like awe.

"I am sure Philip must feel very grateful to you for having taken his play," she declared. "It has given him a fresh chance in life."

"After all he has gone through," Elizabeth said gently, "he certainly deserves it. It is a wonderfully clever play, you know … don't blush, Mr. Author!"

"I heard the story long ago," Beatrice observed, "only of course it sounded very differently then, and we never dreamed that it would really be produced."

"Philip has told me about those days," Elizabeth said. "I am afraid that you, too, have had your share of unhappiness, Miss Wenderley. I only hope that life in the future will make up to you something of what you have lost."

The girl's face hardened. Her lips came together in familiar fashion.

"I mean it to," she declared. "I am going to make a start to-morrow. I wish, Miss Dalstan, you could get Philip to look at things a little more cheerfully. He has been like a ghost ever since I arrived."

Elizabeth turned and smiled at him sympathetically.

"Your coming must have been rather a shock," she reminded Beatrice. "You came with the idea, did you not, that-you would find Mr. Douglas Romilly?"

The girl nodded and glanced around for the maid, who had disappeared, however, into an inner apartment.

"They were always alike," she confided,-"the same figures, same shaped head and that sort of thing. Douglas was a little overfond of life, though, and Philip here hasn't found out yet what it means. It was a shock, though, Miss Dalstan. Philip was sitting in the dark when I arrived at his rooms this evening, and-I thought it was Douglas."

Elizabeth shivered a little.

"Don't let us talk about it," she begged. "You must come and see me, won't you, Miss Wenderley? Philip will tell you where I live. Are you going back to England at once?"

"I haven't made up my mind yet," the girl replied, with a slight frown.

"It just depends."

Elizabeth glanced at the little clock upon her table, and Philip threw away his cigarette and came forward.

"We must go, Beatrice," he announced. "Miss Dalstan has to change her dress for this act."

He held out his hand and Elizabeth rose lightly to her feet. So far, no word as to their two selves had passed their lips. She smiled at him and all this sense of throbbing, almost theatrical excitement subsided. He was once more conscious of the beautiful things beyond. Once more he felt the rest of her presence.

"You must let me see something of you tomorrow, Philip," she said.

"Telephone, will you? Good night, Miss Wenderley."

The maid, who had just returned, held the door open. Philip glanced back over his shoulder. Elizabeth blew him a kiss, a gesture which curiously enough brought a frown to Beatrice's face.

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