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   Chapter 26 No.26

The Cinema Murder By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 13996

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

The close of the performance left them both curiously tongue-tied. They waited until the theatre was half empty before they left their seats. Then they joined the little throng of stragglers at the end.

"Your play!" she murmured, as they faced the soft night air. "I can't believe it, even now. We've seen it together-your play-and this is New York! That's a new ending, isn't it?"

"Absolutely," he confessed. "The ending was always what bothered me, you know."

She laughed, not quite naturally. She was unexpectedly impressed.

"So you're a genius, after all," she went on. "Sometimes I wondered-but never mind that now. Philip, do you know I am starving? We took exactly ten minutes over dinner!"

He led her to a huge restaurant a few doors away, where they found a corner table. Up in the balcony an orchestra was playing light music, and a little crowd of people were all the time streaming through the doors. Beatrice settled herself down with an air of content. Few of the people were in evening dress, and the tone of the place was essentially democratic. Philip, who had learnt a little about American dishes, gave an order, and Beatrice sipped her cocktail with an air of growing appreciation.

"Queer idea, this, but the stuff tastes all right," she acknowledged. "I suppose, if you were taking your dear Miss Dalstan out, you'd go to a different sort of place, eh?"

"We generally go further up town," he admitted unthinkingly.

She set her glass down quickly.

"So you do take her out, do you?" she asked coldly. "You'd have been with her to-night, perhaps, if I hadn't been here?"

"Very likely."

She was half inclined to rally him, behind it all a little annoyed.

"You're a nice sort of person! Why, it's only a few months ago since you pretended to be in love with me!"

He looked at her, and her eyes fell before his.

"I don't think there was ever much question of our being in love with one another, was there? We simply seemed to have drifted together because we were both miserable, and then, as the time passed on-well, you came to be my only solace against the wretchedness of that life."

She nodded appreciatively. For a moment the sights and sounds of the noisy restaurant passed from her consciousness.

"Do you remember how glad I was to see you? How we used to spend our holidays out in those dingy fields and hope and pray for better things some day? But it was all so hopeless, wasn't it! You could barely keep yourself from starving, and I-oh, the misery of that awful Detton Magna and teaching those wretched children! There never were such children in the world. I couldn't get their mothers to send them clean. They seemed to have inherited all the vice, the bad language, the ugly sordidness with which the place reeked. They were old men and women in wickedness before they passed their first standard. It's a corner of the world I never want to see again. I'd rather find hell! Have you ordered any wine, Philip? I want to forget."

He pointed to the bottle which stood in the pail by their side, and summoned a waiter. She watched it being opened and their glasses filled.

"This is like one of our fairy stories of the old days, isn't it?" she said. "Well, I drink to you, Philip. Here's success to our new lives!"

She raised her glass and drained it. A woman had entered who reminded him of Elizabeth, and his eyes had wandered away for a moment as Beatrice pledged him. She called him back a little impatiently.

"Don't sit there as though you were looking at ghosts, Philip! Try and remember who I am and what we used to mean to one another. Let us try and believe," she added, a little wistfully, "that one of those dreams of ours which we used to set floating like bubbles, has come true. We can wipe out all the memories we don't want. That ought to be easy."

"Ought it?" he answered grimly. "There are times when I've found it difficult enough."

She laughed and looked about her. He realised suddenly that she was still very attractive with her rather insolent mouth, her clear eyes, her silky hair with the little fringe. People, as they passed, paid her some attention, and she was frankly curious about everybody.

"Well," she went on presently, "thank heavens I have plenty of will power. I remember nothing, absolutely nothing, which happened before this evening. I am going to tell myself that an uncle in Australia has died and left me money, and so we are here in New York to spend it. To-morrow I am going to begin. I shall buy clothes-all sorts of clothes-and hats. You won't know me to-morrow evening, Philip."

His heart sank. To-morrow evening!

"But Beatrice," he expostulated, "you don't think of staying out here, do you? You don't know a soul. You haven't a friend in the city."

"What friends have I in England?" she retorted. "Not one! I may just as well start a new life in a new country. It seems bright enough here, and gay. I like it. I shall move to a different sort of hotel to-morrow. You must help me choose one. And as to friends," she whispered, looking up at him with a little provocative gleam in her eyes, "don't you count? Can't you do what I am going to do, Philip? Can't you draw down that curtain?"

He shivered.

"I can't!" he muttered.

A waiter brought their first course, and she at once evinced interest in her food. She returned to the subject, however, later on, after she had drunk another glass of wine.

"You're a silly old thing, you know," she declared. "You found the courage, somehow, to break away from that loathsome existence. You had more courage, even, than I, because you ran a risk I never did. But here you are, free, with the whole world before you, and your last danger disappearing with the knowledge that I am ready to be your friend and am sensible about everything that has happened. This ought to be an immense relief to you, Philip. You ought to be the happiest man on earth. And there you sit, looking like a death's-head! Look at me for a moment like a human being, can't you? Drink some more wine. There must be some strength, some manhood about you somewhere, or you couldn't have done what you have done."

He filled his glass mechanically. She leaned across the table. Her eyes were bright, her cheeks delicately pink.

"Courage, Philip," she murmured. "Remember that what you did … well, in a way it was for my sake, wasn't it?-for love of me? I am here now and we are both free. The old days are passed. Even their shadow cannot trouble us any longer. Don't be a sentimentalist. Listen and I'll tell you something-at the bottom of my heart I rather admire you for what you did. Don't you want your reward?"

"No," he answered firmly, "I don't!"

She shrugged her shoulders and kept time with her foot to the music. Across the table, although she kept silence for a while, she smiled at him whenever she caught his eye. She was not angry, not even hurt. Philip had always been so difficult, but in the

end so easily led. She had unlimited confidence in herself.

"Don't be a goose!" she exclaimed at last. "Of course you want your reward, and of course you'll have it, some day! You've always lived with your head partly in the clouds, and it's always been my task to pull you down to earth. I suppose I shall have to do the same again, but to-night I haven't patience. I feel suddenly gay. You are so nice-looking, Philip, but you'd look ten times nicer still if you'd only smile once or twice and look as though you were glad."

The whole thing was a nightmare to him. The horror of it was in his blood, yet he did his best to obey. Plain speaking just then was impossible. He drank glass after glass of wine and called for liqueurs. She held his fingers for a moment under the table.

"Oh, Philip," she whispered, "can't you forget that you have ever been a school-teacher, dear? We are only human, and did suffer so. You know," she went on, "you were made for the things that are coming to us. You've improved already, ever so much. I like your clothes and the way you carry yourself. But you look-oh, so sad and so far away all the time! When I came to your rooms, at my first glimpse of you I knew that you were miserable. We must alter all that, dear. Tell me how it is that with all your success you haven't been happy?"

"Memories!" he answered harshly. "Only a few hours before you came,

I was in hell!"

"Then you had better make up your mind," she told him firmly, "that you are going to climb up out of there, and when you're out, you're going to stay out. You can't alter the past. You can't alter even the smallest detail of its setting. Just as inevitably as our lives come and go, so what has happened is finished with, unchangeable. It is only a weak person who would spoil the present and the future, brooding. You used not to be weak, Philip."

"I don't think that I am, really," he said. "I am moody, though, and that's almost as bad. The sight of you brought it all back. And that fellow Dane-I've been frightened of him, Beatrice."

"Well, you needn't be any longer," she declared. "What you want is some one with you all the time who understands you, some one to drive back those other thoughts when they come to worry you. It is really a very good thing for you, dear, that I came out to New York. Mr. Dane is going to be very disappointed when I tell him that I never saw you before in my life…. Don't you love the music? Listen to that waltz. That was written for happy people, Philip. I adore this place. I suppose we shall find others that we like better, as time goes on, but I shall always think of this evening. It is the beginning of my task, too, Philip, with you-for you. What has really happened, dear? I can't realise anything. I feel as though the gates of some great prison had been thrown wide-open, and everything there was to long for in life was just there, within reach, waiting. I am glad, so much gladder than I should have imagined possible. It's wonderful to have you again. I didn't even feel that I missed you so much, but I know now what it was that made life so appalling. Tell me, am I still nice to look at?"

"Of course you are," he assured her. "Can't you understand that by the way people notice you?"

She strummed upon the table with her fingers. Her whole body seemed to be moving to the music. She nodded several times.

"I don't want them to notice me, Philip," she murmured. "I want you to look just for a moment as though you thought me the only person in the world-as you did once, you know."

He did his best to be responsive, but he was not wholly successful. Nevertheless, she was tolerant with his shortcomings. They sat there until nearly three o'clock. It was she at last who rose reluctantly to her feet.

"I want to go whilst the memory of it all is wonderful," she declared.

"Come. Here's a card with my address on. Drive me home now, please."

He paid his bill and they found a cab. She linked her arm through his, her head sank a little upon his shoulder. He made no movement. She waited for a moment, then she leaned back amongst the cushions.

"Philip," she asked quietly, "has this Elizabeth Dalstan been letting you make love to her?"

"Please don't speak of Miss Dalstan like that," he begged.

"Answer my question," she insisted.

"Miss Dalstan has been very kind to me," he admitted slowly, "wonderfully kind. If you really want to know, I do care for her."

"More than you did for me?"

"Very much more," he answered bravely, "and in a different fashion."

In the darkness of the cab it seemed to him that her face had grown whiter. Her arm remained within his but it clasped him no longer. Her body seemed to have become limp. Even her voice, firm though it was, seemed pitched in a different key.

"Listen," she said. "You will have to forget Miss Dalstan. I have made up my mind what I want in life and I am going to have it. I shall draw my money to-morrow morning and afterwards I shall come straight to your rooms. Then we will talk. I want more than just that money. I am lonely. And do you know, Philip, I believe that I must have cared for you all the time, and you-you must have cared for me a little or you would never have done that for my sake. You must and you shall care, Philip, because our time has come, and I want you, please-shall I have to say it, dear?-I want you to marry me."

He wrenched himself free from her.

"That is quite out of the question, Beatrice," he declared.

She laughed at him mockingly.

"Oh, don't say that, Philip! You might tempt me to be brutal. You might tempt me to speak horribly plain words to you."

"Speak them and have done with it," he told her roughly. "I might find a few, too."

"I am past hurting," she replied, "and I am not in the least afraid of anything you could say. You robbed me of the man who was bringing me to America-who would have married me some day, I suppose. Well, you must pay, do you see, and in my way? I have told you the way I choose."

"You want me to marry you?" he demanded-"simply marry you? You do not care whether I have any love for you or whether I loathe you now."

"You couldn't loathe me, could you?" she begged. "The thought of those long days we spent together in our prison house would rise up and forbid it. Kiss me."

"I will not!"

Her lips sought his, in vain. He pushed her away.

"Don't you understand?" he exclaimed. "There is another woman whom I have kissed-whom I am longing to kiss now."

"But we are old friends," she pleaded, "and I am lonely. Kiss me how you like. Don't be foolish."

He kissed her upon the cheek. She pulled down her veil. The cab had stopped before the door of her hotel.

"You are not to worry any more about ugly things, Philip," she whispered, holding his hand for a moment as he rang the bell for her. "You are safe, remember-quite safe. I've come to take care of you. You need it so badly…. Good night, dear!"

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