"You deny, then, that you are Mr. Philip Romilly?" the detective asked.
"I never heard of the fellow in my life," Philip replied pleasantly, "but don't go, Mr. Dane. You can't imagine how interesting this is to me. You have sent me a most charming acquaintance," he added, bowing to Beatrice, "and you have provided me with what I can assure you is almost pathetically scarce in these days—a new and very dramatic idea. Take a seat, won't you, and chat with us a little longer? Tell us how you came to think of all this? I have always held that the workings of a criminologist's brain must be one of the most interesting studies in life."
Mr. Dane smiled enigmatically.
"Ah!" he protested, "you mustn't ask me to disclose all my secrets."
"You wouldn't care to tell us a little about your future intentions?" Philip enquired.
Mr. Dane shook his head.
"It is very kind of you, Mr. Merton Ware," he confessed, "to let me down so gently. We all make mistakes, of course. As to my future intentions, well, I am not quite sure about them. You see, this isn't really my job at all. It isn't up to me to hunt out English criminals, so long as they behave themselves in this city. If an extradition order or anything of that sort came my way, it would, of course, be different."
"Why not lay this interesting theory of yours before the authorities at Scotland Yard?" Philip suggested. "I am sure they would listen with immense interest to any report from you."
"That's some idea, certainly," the detective admitted, taking up his hat from the table. "For the present I'll wish you both good morning—or shall I say an revoir?"
"We may look for the pleasure of another visit from you, then?" Philip enquired politely.
The detective faced them from the doorway.
"Sir," he said to Philip, "I admire your nerve, and I admire the nerve of your old sweetheart, Miss Wenderley. I am afraid I cannot promise you, however, that this will be my last visit."
The door closed behind him. They heard the shrill summons of the bell, the arrival of the lift, the clanging of the iron gate, and its subsequent descent. Then Beatrice turned her head. Philip was still smoking serenely, standing with his back to the mantelpiece, his hands in his pockets. She rose and threw her arms around him.
"Philip!" she cried. "Why, you are wonderful! You are marvellous! You make me ashamed. It was only for a moment that I lost my nerve, and you saved us. Oh, what idiots we were! Of course he meant to watch—that's why he told me he was going to Chicago. The beast!"
"He seems to have got hold of the idea all right, doesn't he?" Philip muttered.
"Pooh!" she exclaimed encouragingly. "I know a little about the law—so do you. He hasn't any proof—he never can have any proof. No one will ever be able to swear that the body which they picked out of the canal was the body of Douglas Romilly. There wasn't a soul who saw you do it. I am the only person in the world who could supply the motive, and I—I shall never be any use to them. Don't you see, Philip?... I shall be your wife! A wife can't give evidence against her husband! You'll be safe, dear—quite safe."
He withdrew a little from her embrace.
"Beatrice," he reminded her, "there is another tragedy beyond the one with which Dane threatens us. I do not wish to marry you."
She suddenly blazed up.
"Not because of any reason in the world," he interrupted, "except that I love Elizabeth Dalstan."
"Does she want to marry you?"
He was suddenly an altered person. Some of his confidence seemed to desert him. He shook his head doubtfully.
"I am not sure. Sometimes I think that she would. Sometimes I fancy that it is only a great kindness of heart, an immense sympathy, a kind of protective sympathy, which has made her so good to me."
She looked at herself steadily for a moment in the mirror. Then she pulled down her veil.
"Philip," she said, "we find out the truth when we are up against things like this. I used to think I could live alone. I can't. Whatever you may think of me, I was fond of Douglas. It wasn't only for the sake of the money and the comfort. He was kind, and in his way he understood. And then, you know, misery didn't agree with you. You were often, even in those few hours we spent together, very hard and cold. Anyway," she added, with a little tightening of the lips, "I am going to get my money now. No one can stop that. You stay here and think it over. It would be better to marry me, Philip, and be safe, than to have the fear of that man Dane always before you. And wait—wait till you see me when I come back!" she went on, her spirits rapidly rising as she moved towards the door. "You'll change your mind then, Philip. You were always so impressionable, weren't you? A little touch of colour, the perfume of flowers, a single soft word spoken at the right moment—anything that took your fancy made such a difference. Well—just wait till I come back!"
She closed the door. Philip heard her descend in the lift. He moved to the window and watched for her on the pavement. She appeared there in a moment or two and waited whilst the boy whistled for a taxicab, her face expectantly upraised, one hand resting lightly on her bosom, just over the spot where her pocketbook lay.
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!"
"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!"
And, after all, nothing happened. Dane's barely veiled threats seemed to vanish like the man himself into thin air. Beatrice, after the breakdown of her one passionate outburst, had become wonderfully meek and tractable. Sylvanus Power, who had received from Elizabeth the message for which he had waited, showed no sign either of disappointment or anger. After the storm which had seemed to be breaking in upon him from every quarter, the days which followed possessed for Philip almost the calm of an Indian summer. He had found something in life at last stronger than his turbulent fears. His whole nature was engrossed by one great atmosphere of deep and wonderful affection. He spent a part of every day with Elizabeth, and the remainder of his time was completely engrossed by the work over which she, too, the presiding genius, pored eagerly. Together they humoured many of Beatrice's whims, treating her very much as an unexpected protegee, a position with which she seemed entirely content. She made friends with the utmost facility. She wore new clothes with frank and obvious joy. She preened herself before the looking-glass of life, developed a capacity for living and enjoying herself which, under the circumstances, was nothing less than remarkable.
And then came the climax of Philip's new-found happiness. His earnest protests had long since been overruled, and certainly no one could have accused him of posing for a single moment as the reluctant bridegroom. The happiness which shone from their two faces seemed to brighten the strangely unecclesiastical looking apartment, in which a cheerful and exceedingly pleasant looking American divine completed the formalities of their marriage. It was a queer little company who hurried back to Elizabeth's room for tea—Elizabeth and Philip themselves, and Martha Grimes and Beatrice sharing the attentions of Noel Bridges. For an event of such stupendous importance, it was amazing how perfectly matter-of-fact the two persons chiefly concerned were. There was only one moment, just before they started for the theatre, when Elizabeth betrayed the slightest signs of uneasiness.
"I sent a telegram, Philip," she said, "to Sylvanus Power. I thought I had better. This is his answer."
Philip read the few typewritten words on the little slip of paper:
"You will hear from me within twenty-four hours."
Philip frowned a little as he handed it back. It was dated from Washington.
"I think," Elizabeth faltered, "he might have sent his good wishes, at any rate."
Philip laughed confidently.
"We have nothing to fear," he declared confidently, "from Sylvanus Power."
"Nor from any one else in the world," Elizabeth murmured fervently.
Then followed the wonderful evening. Philip found Beatrice alone in the stage box when he returned from taking Elizabeth to her dressing-room.
"Where's Martha?" he asked.
"Faithless," Beatrice replied. "She is in the stalls down there with a young man from the box office. She said you'd understand."
"A serious affair?" Philip ventured.
"They are engaged. I had tea with them yesterday."
"We shall have to do something for you, Beatrice, soon," he remarked cheerfully.
A very rare gravity settled for a moment upon her face.
"I wonder, Philip," she said simply. "I thought, a little time ago, it would be easy enough to care for the right sort of person. Perhaps I am not really quite so rotten as I thought I was. Here comes Elizabeth. Let's watch her."
They both leaned a little forward in the box, Philip in a state of beatific wonder, which turned soon to amazement when, at Elizabeth's first appearance, the house suddenly rose, and a torrent of applause broke out from the floor to the ceiling. Elizabeth for a moment seemed dumbfounded. The fact that the news of what had happened that afternoon could so soon have become public property had not occurred to either her or Philip. Then a sudden smile of comprehension broke across her face. With understanding, however, came a momentary embarrassment. She looked a little pathetically at the great audience, then laughed and glanced at Philip, seated now well back in the box. Many of them followed her gaze, and the applause broke out again. Then there was silence. She paused before she spoke the first words of her part.
"Thank you so much," she said quietly.
It was a queer little episode. Beatrice gripped Philip's hand as she drew her chair back to his. There were tears in her eyes.
"How they love her, these people! And fancy their knowing about it, Philip, already! You ought to have shown yourself as the happy bridegroom. They were all looking up here. I wonder why men are so shy. I'm glad I have my new frock on.... Fancy being married only a few hours ago! Tell me how you are feeling, can't you, Philip? You sit there looking like a sphinx. You are happy, aren't you?"
"Happier, I think, than any man has a right to be," he answered, his eyes watching Elizabeth's every movement.
As the play proceeded, his silence only deepened. He went behind at the end of each act and spent a few stolen moments with Elizabeth. Life was a marvellous thing, indeed. Every pulse and nerve in his body was tingling with happiness. And yet, as he lingered for a moment in the vestibule of the theatre, before going back to his box at the commencement of the last act, he felt once more that terrible wave of depression, the ghostly uprising of his old terrors even in this supreme moment. He looked down from the panorama of flaring sky-signs into the faces of the passers-by along the crowded pavement. He had a sudden fancy that Dane was there, watching. His heart beat fiercely as he stood, almost transfixed, scanning eagerly every strange face. Then the bell rang behind him. He set his teeth and turned away. In less than half an hour the play would be over. They would be on their way home.
He found the box door open and the box itself, to his surprise, empty. There was no sign anywhere of Beatrice. He waited for a little time. Then he rang the bell for the attendant but could hear no news of her. His uneasiness increased as the curtain at last fell and she had not returned. He hurried round to the back, but Elizabeth, when he told her, only smiled.
"Why, there's nothing to worry about, dear," she said. "Beatrice can take care of herself. Perhaps she thought it more tactful to hurry on home tonight. She is really just as kind-hearted as she can be, you know, Philip, underneath all that pent-up, passionate desire for just a small share of the good things of life. She has wasted so much of herself in longings. Poor child! I sometimes wonder that she is as level-headed as she seems to be. Now I am ready."
They passed down the corridor amidst a little chorus of good nights, and stepped into the automobile which was waiting. As it glided off she suddenly came closer to him.
"Philip," she whispered, "it's true, isn't it? Put your arms around me. You are driving me home—say it's true!"
Elizabeth sat up presently, a little dazed. Her fingers were still gripping Philip's almost fiercely. The automobile had stopped.
"I haven't the least idea where we are," she murmured.
"And I forgot to tell you," he laughed, as he helped her out. "I took the suite below mine by the week. There are two or three rooms, and an extra one for Beatrice. Of course, it's small, but then with this London idea before us—"
"Such extravagance!" she interrupted. "Your own rooms would have done quite nicely, only it is a luxury to have a place for Phoebe. I hope Beatrice won't have gone to bed."
"I am sure she won't," he replied. "She has done all the arranging for me—she and Phoebe together."
They crossed the pavement and entered the lift. The attendant grinned broadly as he stopped at the eighth floor, and held out his hand for the tip for which Philip had been fumbling. The door of the suite was opened before they could reach the bell. Elizabeth's maid, Phoebe, came forward to take her mistress' cloak, and the floor valet was there to relieve Philip of his overcoat. A waiter was hovering in the background.
"Supper is served in the dining room, sir," he announced. "Shall I open the wine?"
Philip nodded and showed Elizabeth over the little flat, finally ushering her into the small, round dining room.
"It's perfectly delightful," she declared, "but we don't need nearly so much room, Philip. What a dear little dining table and what a delicious supper! Everything I like best in the world, from pate de foie gras to cold asparagus. You are a dear."
The waiter disappeared with a little bow. They were alone at last. She held his hands tightly. She was trembling. The forced composure of the last few minutes seemed to have left her.
"I am silly," she faltered, "but the servants and everything—they won't come back, will they?"
He laughed as he patted her hand.
"We shan't see another soul, dear," he assured her.
She laid her cheek against his.
"How hot your face feels," she exclaimed. "Throw open the window, do. I shan't feel it."
He obeyed her at once. The roar of the city, all its harshness muffled, came to them in a sombre, almost melodious undernote. She rested her hands upon his shoulder.
"What children we are!" she murmured. "Now it's you who are trembling! Sit down, please. You've been so brave these last few days."
"It was just for a moment," he told her. "It seems too wonderful. I had a sudden impulse of terror lest it should all be snatched away."
She laughed easily.
"I don't think there's any fear of that, dear," she said. "Perhaps—"
There was a little knock at the door. Philip, who had been holding Elizabeth's chair, stood as though transfixed. Elizabeth gripped at the side of the table. It was some few seconds before either of them spoke.
"It's perhaps—Beatrice," Elizabeth faltered.
The knock was repeated. Philip drew a little breath.
"Come in," he invited.
The door opened slowly towards them and closed again. It was Mr. Dane who had entered. From outside they caught a momentary glimpse of another man, waiting. Mr. Dane took off his hat. For a man with so expressionless a countenance, he was looking considerably perturbed.
"Miss Dalstan," he said, "I am very sorry, believe me, to intrude. I only heard of your marriage an hour ago. I wish I could have prevented it."
"Prevented it?" Elizabeth repeated. "What do you mean?"
"I think that Mr. Philip Romilly could explain," Dane continued, turning towards Philip. "I am sorry, but I have received an imperative cable from Scotland Yard, and it is my duty to arrest you, Philip Romilly, and to hold you, pending the arrival of a special police mission from England. I am bound to take note of anything you may say, so I beg of you not to ask me any particulars as to the charge."
The colour slowly faded from Elizabeth's cheeks. She had risen to her feet and was gripping the mantelpiece for support. Philip, however, was perfectly calm. He poured out a glass of water and held it to her lips.
"Drink this, dear," he begged, "and don't be alarmed. It sounds very terrible, but believe me there is nothing to be feared."
He swung suddenly round to Dane. His voice shook with passion.
"You've kept me under observation," he cried, "all this time. I haven't attempted to escape. I haven't moved from New York. I haven't the slightest intention of doing so until this thing is cleared up. Can't you take my parole? Can't you leave me alone until they come from England?"
Mr. Dane shook his head slowly. He was a hard man, but there was an unaccustomed look of distress in his face.
"Sorry, Mr. Romilly," he said regretfully. "I did suggest something of the sort, but they wouldn't hear of it at headquarters. If we let you slip through our fingers, we should never hear the last of it from London."
Then there came another and a still more unexpected interruption. From outside they heard Beatrice's voice raised in excitement. Mr. Dane stood on one side as the door was thrown open. Beatrice suddenly flung herself into the room, dragging after her a man who was almost breathless.
"I say, Beatrice, steady!" the latter began good-naturedly.
There followed the most wonderful silence in the world, a silence which was filled with throbbing, indescribable emotions, a silence which meant something different for every one of them. Beatrice, gripping her captive by the wrist, was looking around, striving to understand. Elizabeth was filled with blank wonder. Mr. Dane was puzzled. But Philip, who a moment before had seemed perfectly composed, was the one who seemed torn by indescribable, by horrible emotions. He was livid almost to the lips. His hands were stretched out as though to keep from him some awful and ghastly vision. His eyes, filled with the anguished light of supreme terror, were fastened upon the newcomer. His lips shook as he tried to speak.
"Take him away!" he shrieked. "Oh, my God!"
Beatrice, more coherent than any of them, scoffed at him.
"Don't be a fool!" she cried. "Take him away, indeed! He's the most wonderful thing that ever happened. He's the one man in life you want to see! So you've come for him, eh?" she went on, turning almost like a wild-cat on Dane. "You beast! You chose to-night, did you? Now get on with it, then, and I'll give you the surprise of your life. What are you here for?"
"I am here to arrest that man, Philip Romilly, for the murder of his cousin, Douglas Romilly, Miss Wenderley," Dane announced gravely. "I am sorry."
Beatrice threw her head back and laughed hysterically.
"You'll never write a play like it, Philip!" she exclaimed. "There never was anything like it before. Now, Mr. Dane, what is it you say in America when you want to introduce anybody?—shake hands with Mr. Douglas Romilly—that's it. Shake hands with the dead man here and then get on with your arresting. He must be dead if you say so, but he doesn't look it, does he?"
Philip's face had become a more natural colour. His eyes had never left the other man's. He swayed a little on his feet and his voice seemed to him to come from a long way off.
"Douglas! It isn't you, Douglas! ... It isn't you really?"
"I wish you'd all leave off staring at me as though I were a ghost," the other man answered, almost pettishly. "I'm Douglas Romilly, right enough. You needn't look in such a blue funk, Philip," he went on, his fingers mechanically rearranging his collar and tie, which Beatrice had disarranged. "I served you a beastly trick and you went for me. I should have done the same if I'd been in your place. On the other hand, I rather turned the tables on you by keeping quiet. Perhaps it's up to me to explain."
Elizabeth, feeling her way by the mantelpiece, came to Philip's side. His arm supported her, holding her as though in a vise.
"Is that your cousin?" she whispered hoarsely. "Is that Douglas Romilly? Is he alive, after all?"
Philip had no words, but his face spoke for him. Then they both turned to listen. The newcomer had dragged a chair towards him and was leaning over the back of it. He addressed Philip.
"We met, as you know, on the canal path that beastly afternoon," he began. "I was jolly well ashamed of myself for having made love to Beatrice, and all the rest of it, and you were mad with rage. We had a sort of tussle and you threw me into the canal. It was a nasty dark spot just underneath the bridge. I expect I was stunned for a moment, but it was only for a moment. I came to long before I choked, and when I remembered your grip upon my throat, I decided I was safer where I was. I could swim like a duck, you know, and though it was filthy water I took a long dive. When I came up again—gad, what disgusting water it was!—you were tearing off like a creature possessed. That's the true history of our little fracas."
"But afterwards?" Philip asked wonderingly. "What happened afterwards?"
"You just tell them all about it," Beatrice ordered him sternly. "Go on, Douglas."
"Well, you see," Douglas Romilly continued, "I was just going to scramble out on to the bank when my brain began to work, and I swam slowly along instead. You see, just then I was in a devil of a mess. I'd spent a lot of money, and though I'd kept the credit of the firm good, I knew that the business was bust, and the one thing I was anxious about was to get off to America without being stopped. I've explained this all to Beatrice, and why I didn't send for her before. Anyway, I swam along until I met with an old barge. I climbed in and got two of the choicest blackguards you ever saw to let me spend an hour or two in their filthy cabin and to keep their mouths closed about it. Fortunately, I had another pocketbook, with sufficient to satisfy them and keep me going. Then I borrowed some clothes and came out to America, steerage. I had no difficulty in getting my money, as I had a couple of pals in Lynn whom I had fixed things up with before I started. They came and identified me as Merton Ware, and we all three started in business together as the Ford Boot and Shoe Manufacturing Company at Lynn in Massachusetts. Incidentally, we've done all right. Heaps more, of course, but that's the pith of it. As for the body that was fished out of the canal, if you make enquiries, you'll find there was a tramp missing, a month or so before."
Elizabeth had begun to sob quietly. Philip, who was holding her tenderly in his arms, whispered unheard things into her ears. It was Beatrice who remained in charge of the situation.
"So now, Mr. Dane," she jeered, "what about your little errand? I hope this will be a lesson to you not to come meddling in other people's affairs."
Dane turned to the man who had brought this bombshell into their midst.
"Do you swear that you are Douglas Romilly?" he asked.
"I not only swear it but I can prove it, if you'll come along with me to Murray's," he answered. "My partner's there, waiting supper, and another man who has known me all his life."
The detective glanced interrogatively towards Philip.
"That is my cousin, Douglas Romilly," the latter pronounced.
Dane took up his hat.
"Mr. Merton Ware," he said, "or Mr. Philip Romilly, whichever you may in future elect to call yourself, you may not believe it, but the end of this affairs is an immense relief to me. I offer you my heartiest congratulations. You need fear no more annoyance. Good night!"
He passed out. They heard the sound of his footsteps and his companion's, as they crossed the corridor and rang for the lift. Speech was a little difficult. It was still Beatrice who imposed conviction upon them.
"I was seated in the box," she explained, "when Philip went round to see you, Elizabeth. I had looking down into the stalls to find Martha, and all of a sudden I saw Douglas there. He, too, was staring at me. Of course, I thought it was some extraordinary likeness, but, whilst I was clutching at the curtain, he stood up and waved his hand. You should have seen me tear from the box! You know, ever since they showed me that signature at the bank I have had a queer idea at the back of my head. Luckily for him," she went, patting his arm, "he sent home for me a fortnight ago, and sent a draft for my expenses out. You won't mind, will you, if I take him off now?" she concluded, turning to Elizabeth. "They are waiting supper for us, but I wasn't going to let Philip—"
"Did you know that Dane was going to be here?" Elizabeth asked.
"Not an idea," Beatrice declared. "I simply dragged Douglas along here, as soon as we'd talked things out, because I knew that it would be the one thing wanting to complete Philip's happiness. We'll leave you now. Douglas will bring me back, and we are going to be married in a few days."
Philip held out his hand a little diffidently.
"My dear fellow," Douglas interrupted, grasping it, "wouldn't I! I'm thundering sorry for all you've been through. I suppose I ought to have let you know that I was still in the land of the living, but I was waiting until things blew over in England. That's all right now, though," he went on. "I've turned over a new leaf and I am making money—making it after a style they don't understand in England. I am going to pay my creditors twenty shillings in the pound before a couple of years have gone, and do pretty well for Beatrice and myself as well. You wouldn't care, I suppose," he added, as they stood there with locked hands, "to offer us just a glass of wine before we start out? Beatrice has been riddling me with questions and dragging me through the streets till I scarcely know whether I am on my head or my heels."
Philip emptied the contents of the champagne bottle into the glasses. Never was wine poured out more gladly.
"Douglas," he explained, "this is Miss Elizabeth Dalstan, whom you saw act this evening. We were married this afternoon. You can understand, can't you, just what your coming has meant for us?"
Douglas shook Elizabeth by the hand. Then he held up his glass.
"Here's the best of luck to you both!" he said heartily. "Very soon Beatrice and I will ask you to wish us the same. Philip, old chap," he added, as he set his glass down and without the slightest protest watched it replenished, "that's a thundering good play of yours I've seen this evening, but you'll never write one to beat this!"
Soon Beatrice and Douglas also took their departure. Elizabeth held out her arms almost as the door closed. The tear-stains were still on her cheeks. Her lips quivered a little, but her voice was clear and sweet and passionate.
"Philip," she cried, "it's all over—it's all finished with—the dread, the awful days! I am not going to be hysterical any more, and you—you are just going to remember that we have everything we want in the world. Sit down opposite to me, if you please, and fill my glass. I have only one emotion left. I am hungry—desperately hungry. Move your chair nearer so that I can reach your hand. There! Now you and I will drink our little toast."
It was an hour before they thought of leaving the table. A very perplexed waiter brought them coffee and watched them light cigarettes. Then the telephone bell rang. They both stared at the instrument. Philip would have taken off the receiver, but Elizabeth held out her hand.
"I have an idea," she said. "I believe it is from Sylvanus Power. Let me answer it."
She held the receiver to her ear and listened.
"Yes?" she murmured. "Yes?... At what time?"
Her face grew more puzzled. She listened for a moment longer.
"But, Sylvanus," she expostulated, "what do you mean?... Sylvanus?... Mr. Power?"
The telephone had become a dumb thing. She replaced the receiver.
"I don't understand," she told Philip. "All that he said was—'You will receive my present at five o'clock this morning!'"
"Does he think we are going to sit up for it?" Philip asked.
"He is the strangest man," she sighed....
* * * * *
After all, some queer fancy awoke Philip at a little before five that morning and drew him to the window. He sat looking out over the still sleeping city. All sound now was hushed. It was the brief breathing space before the dawn. In the clear morning spring light, the buildings of the city seemed to stand out with a new and marvellous distinctness. Now and then from the harbour came the shriek of a siren. A few pale lights were still burning along the river way. From one of the city clocks the hour was slowly tolled. Philip counted the strokes—one, two, three, four, five. Then, almost as he was preparing to leave his post, there came a terrific roar. The window against which he leaned shook. Some of the buildings in the distance trembled. One, with its familiar white cupola, seemed for a moment to be lifted from the ground and then split through by some unseen hand. The roar of the explosion was followed by the crashing of falling masonry. Long fingers of fire suddenly leapt up into the quiet, cool air. Fragments of masonry, a portion, even, of that wonderful cupola, came crashing down into the street. He heard Elizabeth's voice behind him, felt her fingers upon his shoulder.
"What is it? Philip, what is it?"
He pointed with steady finger. The truth seemed to come to him by inspiration.
"It is Sylvanus Power's message to you," he replied. "The theatre!"
There were flames now, leaping up to the sky. Together they watched them and listened to the shrieking of sirens and whistles as the fire engines galloped by from every section of the city. There was a strange look in Elizabeth's face as she watched the curling flames.
"Philip," she whispered, "thank God! There it goes, all his great offering to me! It's like the man and his motto—'A man may do what he will with his own.' Only last night I felt as though I would give anything in the world never to stand upon the stage of that theatre again. He doesn't know it, Philip, but his is a precious gift."
He passed his arm around her and drew her from the window.
"'A man may do what he will with his own,'" he repeated. "Well, it isn't such a bad motto. Sylvanus Power may destroy a million-dollar theatre for a whim, but so far as you and I are concerned—"
She sighed with content.
"We do both need a holiday," she murmured. "Somewhere in Europe, I think."