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   Chapter 28 No.28

The Cinema Murder By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 12047

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Philip was still gazing into vacancy and smoking cigarettes when Elizabeth arrived. She seemed conscious at once of the disturbed atmosphere. His hands, which she held firmly in hers, were as cold as ice.

"Is that girl going to be troublesome?" she demanded anxiously.

"Not in the way we feared," he replied. "All the same, the plot has thickened so far as I am concerned. That fellow Dane has been here."

"Go on," she begged.

"He laid a trap for us, and we fell into it like the veriest simpletons. He let Beatrice think that he had gone to Chicago. Of course, he did nothing of the sort. He turned her loose to come to me, and he had us watched. He knew that we spent last evening together as old friends. She was here in my rooms this morning when he arrived."

"Oh, Philip, Philip!" she murmured. "Well, what does he suspect?"

"The truth! He accused me to my face of being Philip Romilly. Beatrice did her best but, you see, the position was a little absurd. She denied strenuously that she had ever seen me before, that I was anything but a stranger to her. In the face of last evening, and his finding her here this morning, it didn't sound convincing."

"What is Dane going to do?"

"Heaven knows! It isn't his affair, really. If there were any charge against me-well, you see, there'd have to be an extradition order. I should think he will probably lay the facts before Scotland Yard and let them do what they choose."

She made him sit down and drew a low chair herself to his side. She held his hand in hers.

"Philip," she said soothingly, "they can't possibly prove anything."

"They can prove," he pointed out, "that I was in Detton Magna that afternoon. I don't think any one except Beatrice saw me start along the canal path, but they can prove that I knew all about Douglas Romilly's disappearance, because I travelled to America under his name and with his ticket, and deliberately personated him."

"They can prove all that," she agreed, "but they can't prove the crime itself. Beatrice is the only person who could do that."

"She proposes to marry me," he announced grimly. "That would prevent her giving evidence at all."

Elizabeth suddenly threw her arms around his neck and held her cheek to his.

"She shan't marry you!" she declared. "I want you myself!"

"Elizabeth!"

"Yes, I have made up my mind, Philip. It is no use. The other things are fascinating and splendid in their way, but they don't count, they don't last. They're tinsel, dear, and I don't want tinsel-I want the gold. We'll face this bravely, wherever it leads, however far, however deep down, and then we'll start again."

"You know what this means, Elizabeth?" he faltered. "That man Power-"

She brushed the thought away.

"I know. He'll close the theatre. He'll do all he can to harm us. That doesn't matter. The play is ours. That's worth a fortune. And the new one coming-why, it's wonderful, Philip. We don't want wealth. Your brain and my art can win us all that we desire in life. We shall have something sweeter than anything which Sylvanus Power's millions could buy. We shall have our love-your love for me, dear, and mine for you."

He felt her tears upon his cheek, her lips pressed to his. He held her there, but although his heart was beating with renewed hope, he said nothing for a time. When she stepped back to look at his face, however, the change was already there.

"You are glad, Philip!" she cried. "You are happy-I can see it! You didn't ever care really for that girl, did you?"

He almost laughed.

"Not like this!" he answered confidently. "I never even for a single moment pretended to care in a great way. We were just companions in misfortune. The madness that came over me that day had been growing in my brain for years. I hated Douglas Romilly. I had every reason to hate him. And then, after all he had robbed me of-my one companion-"

She stopped him.

"I know-I know," she murmured. "You need never try to explain anything to me. I know everything, I understand, I sympathise."

A revulsion of feeling had suddenly chilled him. He held her to him none the less tightly but there was a ring of despair in his tone.

"Elizabeth, think what it may mean!" he muttered. "How can I drag you through it all? A trial, perhaps, the suspense, and all the time that guilty knowledge behind-yours and mine!"

"Pooh!" she exclaimed lightly. "I am not a sentimentalist. I am a woman in love."

"But, Elizabeth, I am guilty!" he groaned. "That's the horror of it! I'd take the risk if I were an innocent man-I'd risk everything. But I am afraid to stand there and know that every word they say against me will be true, and every word of the men who speak in my defence will be false. Can't you realise the black, abominable horror of it? I couldn't drag you into such a plight, Elizabeth! I was weak to think of it. I couldn't!"

"You'll drag me nowhere," she answered, holding him tightly. "Where I go my feet will lead me, and my love for you. You can't help that. We'll play the game-play it magnificently, Philip. My faith in you will count for something."

"But, dear," he protested, "don't you see? If the case ever comes into court, even if I get off, every one will know that it is through a technicality. The evidence is too strong. Half the world at least will believe me guilty."

"It shan't come into court," she proclaimed confidently. "I shall talk to Dane. I have some influence with the police authorities here. I shall point out how ridiculous it all is. What's the use of formulating a charge that they can never, never prove?"

"Unless," he reminded her hesitatingly, "Beatrice-"

"Beatrice! You're not afraid of her?"

"I am afraid of no one or anything," he declared, "when you are here! But Beatrice has been behaving strangely ever since she arrived. She has a sudden fancy for remembering that in a sense we were once engaged."

"Beatrice," Elizabeth announced, "must be satisfied with her twenty thousand

pounds. I know what you are trying to say-she wants you. She shan't have you, Philip! We'll find her some one else. We'll be kind to her-I don't mind that. Very soon we'll find her plenty of friends. But as for you, Philip-well, she just shan't have you, and that's all there is about it."

He took her suddenly into his arms. In that moment he was the lover she had craved for-strong, passionate, and reckless.

"All the love that my heart has ever known," he cried, "is yours, Elizabeth! Every thought and every hope is yours. You are my life. You saved me-you made me what I am. The play is yours, my brain is yours, there isn't a thought or a dream or a wish that isn't for you-of you-yours!"

He kissed her as he had never dreamed of kissing any woman. It was the one supreme moment of their life and their love. Time passed uncounted….

Then interruption came, suddenly and tragically. Without knock or ring, the door was flung open and slammed again. Beatrice stood there, still in her shabby clothes, her veil pushed back, gloveless and breathless. Her clenched hand flew out towards Philip as though she would have struck him.

"You liar!" she shrieked. "You've had my money! You've spent it! You've stolen it! Thief! Murderer!"

She paused, struggling for breath, tore her hat from her head and threw it on the table. Her face was like the face of a virago, her eyes blazed, her cheeks were as pale as death save for one hectic spot of colour.

"You are talking nonsense, Beatrice," he expostulated.

"Don't lie to me!" she shouted. "You can lie in the dock when you stand there and tell them you never murdered Douglas Romilly! That makes you cringe, doesn't it? I don't want to make a scene, but the woman you're in love with had better hear what I have to say. Are you going to give me back my money, Philip?"

"As I stand here," he declared solemnly, "I have not touched that money or been near the bank where it was deposited. I swear it. Every penny I have spent since I moved into this apartment, I have spent from my earnings. My own royalties come to over a hundred pounds a week-more than sufficient to keep me in luxury. I never meant to touch that money. I have not touched it."

His words carried conviction with them. She stood there for several seconds, absolutely rigid, her eyes growing larger and rounder, her lips a little parted. Bewilderment was now struggling with her passion.

"Who in God's name, then," she asked hoarsely, "could have known about the money and forged his signature! I tell you that I've seen it with my own eyes, a few minutes ago, in the bank. They showed me into a little cupboard, a place without any roof, and laid it there before me on the desk-his cheque and signature for the whole amount."

Philip looked at her earnestly, oppressed by a sense of coming trouble.

"Beatrice," he said, "I wouldn't deceive you. I should be a fool to try, shouldn't I? I can only repeat what I have said. I have never been near the bank. I have never touched that money."

She shivered a little where she stood. It was obvious that she was convinced, but her sense of personal injustice remained unabated.

"Then there is some one else," she declared, "who knows everything-some one else, my man," she added, leaning across the table and shaking her head with a sudden fierceness, "who can step into the witness box and tell the truth about you. You must find out who it is. You must find out who has stolen that money and get it back. I tell you I won't have everything snatched away from me like this!" she cried, her voice breaking hysterically, "I won't be robbed of life and happiness and everything that counts! I want my money. Are you going to get it back for me?"

"Beatrice, don't be absurd," he protested. "You know very well that I can't do that. I am not in a position to go about making enquiries. I shall be watched from now, day and night, if nothing worse happens. A single step on my part in that direction would mean disaster."

"Then take me straight to the town hall, or the registry office, or wherever you go here, and marry me," she demanded. "A hundred pounds a week royalty, eh? Well, that's good enough. I'll marry you, Philip-do you hear?-at once. That'll save your skin if it won't get me back my twenty thousand pounds. You needn't flatter yourself overmuch, either. I'd rather have had Douglas. He's more of a man than you, after all. You are too self-conscious. You think about yourself too much. You're too intellectual, too. I don't want those things. I want to live! Any way, you've got to marry me-to-day. Now give me some money, do you hear?"

He took out his pocketbook and threw it towards her. She smoothed out the wad of notes which it contained and counted them with glistening eyes.

"Well, there's enough here for a start," she decided, slipping them into her bosom. "No one shall rob me of these before I get to the shops. Better come with me, Philip. I'm not going to leave you alone with her."

Elizabeth would have intervened, but Philip laid his hand upon her arm.

"Beatrice," he said sternly, "you are a little beside yourself. Listen. I don't understand what has happened. I must think about it. Apparently that twenty thousand pounds has gone, but so far as regards money I recognise your claim. You shall have half my earnings. I'll write more. I'll make it up somehow. But for the rest, this morning has cleared away many misunderstandings. Let this be the last word. Miss Dalstan has promised to be my wife. She is the only woman I could ever love."

"Then you'll have to marry me without loving me," Beatrice declared thickly. "I won't be left alone in this beastly city! I want some one to take care of me. I am getting frightened. It's uncanny-horrible! I-oh! I am so miserable-so miserable!"

She sank into a chair and fell forward across the table, sobbing hysterically.

"I hate every one!" she moaned. "Philip, why can't you be kind to me!

Why doesn't some one care!"

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