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New York became a changed city to Philip. Its roar and its turmoil, its babel of tongues speaking to him always in some alien language, were suddenly hushed! He was no longer conscious of the hard unconcern of a million faces, of the crude buildings in the streets, the cutting winds, the curious, depressing sense of being on a desert island, the hermit clutching at the sleeves of imaginary multitudes. A few minutes' journey in a cable car which seemed to crawl, a few minutes' swift walking along the broad thoroughfare of Fifth Avenue, where his feet seemed to fall upon the air and the passersby seemed to smile upon him like real human beings, and he was in her room. It was only an hotel sitting room, after all, but eloquent of her, a sitting room filled with great bowls of roses, with comfortable easy-chairs, furniture of rose-coloured satin, white walls, and an English fire upon the grate. Elizabeth was in New York, and the world moved differently.
She came out to him from an inner room almost at once. His eyes swept over her feverishly. He almost held his breath. Then he gave a great sigh of satisfaction. She came with her hands outstretched, a welcoming smile upon her lips. She was just as he had expected to find her. There was nothing in her manner to indicate that they had not parted yesterday.
"Welcome to New York, my dramatist!" she exclaimed. "I am here, you see, to the day, almost to the hour."
He stood there, holding her hands. His eyes seemed to be devouring her.
"Go on talking to me," he begged. "Let me hear you speak. You can't think--you can't imagine how often in the middle of the night, I have waked up and thought of you, and the cold shivers have come because, after all, I fancied that you must be a dream, that you didn't really exist, that that voyage had never existed. Go on talking."
"You foolish person!" she laughed, patting his hands affectionately. "But then, of course, you are a little overwrought. I am very real, I can assure you. I have been in Chicago, playing, but there hasn't been a night when I haven't thought of the times when we used to talk together in the darkness, when you let me into your life, and I made up my mind to try and help you. Foolish person! Sit down in that great easy-chair and draw it up to the fire."
He sank into it with a little sigh of content. She threw herself on to the couch opposite to him. Her hands drooped down a little wearily on either side, her head was thrown back. Against the background of rose-silk cushions, her cheeks seemed unexpectedly pale.
"I am tired with travelling," she murmured, "and I hate Chicago, and I have worried about you. Day by day I have read the papers. Everything has gone well?"
"So far as I know," he answered. "I did exactly as we planned--or rather as you planned. The papers have been full of the disappearance of Douglas Romilly. You read how wonderfully it has all turned out? Fate has provided him with a real reason for disappearing. It seems that the business was bankrupt."
"You mustn't forget, though," she reminded him, "that that also supplies a considerable motive for tracking him down. He is supposed to have at least twenty thousand pounds with him."
"I have all the papers," he went on. "They prove that he knew the state the business was in. They prove that he really intended to disappear in New York. The money stands to the credit of Merton Ware--and another at a bank with which his firm apparently had had no connections, a small bank in Wall Street."
"So that," she remarked, "is where you get your pseudonym from?"
"It makes the identification so easy," he pointed out, "and no one knew of it except he. I could easily get a witness presently to prove that I am Merton Ware."
"You haven't drawn the money yet, then?"
"I haven't been near the bank," he replied. "I still have over a thousand dollars--money he had with him. Sometimes I think that if I could I'd like to leave that twenty thousand pounds where it is. I should like some day, if I could do so without suspicion, to let the creditors of the firm have it back again. What do you think?"
"I would rather you didn't touch it yourself," she agreed. "I think you'll find, too, that you'll be able to earn quite enough without wanting it. Nothing disturbing has happened to you at all, then?"
"Once I had a fright," he told her. "I was in a restaurant close to my hotel. I was there with a young woman who is typing the play for me."
She looked towards him incredulously.
"You were there with a typewriter?" she exclaimed.
"I suppose it seems queer," he admitted. "It didn't to me. She is a plain, shabby, half starved little thing, fighting her own battle bravely. She came to me for work--she lives in the flat below--and it seemed to me that she was just as hungry for a kind word as I was lonely, and I took her out with me. Twice I have taken her. Her name is Miss Grimes."
"I am not in the least sure that I approve," she said, "but go on."
"A friend of hers came into the restaurant, a girl in the chorus of a musical comedy here, and she had with her a young man. I recognised him at once. We didn't come across one another much, but he was on the steamer."
Elizabeth's face was full of concern.
"He asked me twice if I wasn't Mr. Romilly. I assured him that he was mistaken. I don't think I gave myself away. The next day he went to see the girl I was with, Martha Grimes."
"Well, what did she tell him?"
"She told him that she had been typing my work for over a month, that I had come from Jamaica, and that my name was Merton Ware."
Elizabeth gazed into the fire for several moments, and Philip watched her. It was a woman's face, grave and thoughtful, a little perturbed just then, as though by some unwelcome thought. Presently she looked back at him, looked into his eyes long and earnestly.
"My friend," she said, "you are like no one else on earth. Perhaps you are one of those horrible people who have what they call an unholy influence over my sex. You have known this girl for a matter of a few days, and she lies for you. And there's five hundred dollars reward. I suppose she knew about that?"
"Yes, she knew," he admitted. "She simply isn't that sort. I suppose I realised that, or I shouldn't have been kind to her."
"It's a puzzle," she went on. "I think there must be something in you of the weakling, you know, something that appeals to the mothering instinct in women. I know that my first feeling for you was that I wanted to help you. Tell me what you think of yourself, Mr. Philip Merton Ware? Are you a faithful person? Are you conscientious? Have you a heart, I wonder? How much of the man is there underneath that strong frame of yours? Are you going to take just the things that are given you in life, and make no return? For the moment, you see, I am forgetting that you are my friend and that I like you. I am thinking of you from the point of view of an actress--as a psychical problem. Philip, you idiot!" she broke off, suddenly stamping her foot, "don't sit there looking at me with your great eyes. Tell me you are glad I've come back. Tell me you feel something, for goodness' sake!"
He was on his knees before she could check him, his arms, his lips praying for her. She thrust him back.
"It was my fault," she declared, "but don't, please. Yes, of course you have feelings. I don't know why you tempted me to that little outburst."
"You'll tempt me to more than that," he cried passionately. "Do you think it's for your help that I've thought of you? Do you think it's because you're an angel to me, because you've comforted me in my darkest, most miserable hours that I've dreamed of you and craved for you? There's more than that in my thoughts, dear. It's because you are you, yourself, that I've longed for you through the aching hours of the night, that I've sat and written like a man beside himself just for the joy of thinking that the words I wrote would be spoken by you. Oh! if you want me to tell you what I feel--"
She suddenly leaned forward, took his head between her hands and kissed his forehead.
"Now get back, please, to your chair," she begged. "You've stilled the horrible, miserable little doubt that was tearing at my heartstrings. I just had it before, once or twice, and then--isn't it foolish!--your telling me about this little typewriter girl! I must go and see her. We must be kind to her."
He resumed his seat with a little sigh.
"She thought a great deal more of me and my work when I told her that you were probably going to act in my play."
Her expression changed. She was more serious, at the same time more eager.
"Ah! The play!" she exclaimed. "I can see that you have brought some of it."
He drew the roll of manuscript from his pocket.
"Shall I read it?" he suggested.
She almost snatched it away. "No! I can't wait for that. Give it to me, quickly."
She leaned forward so that the firelight fell upon the pages. Little strands of soft brown hair drooped over her face. In studying her, Philip almost forgot his own anxiety. He had known so few women, yet he had watched so many from afar off, endowed them with their natural qualities, built up their lives and tastes for them, and found them all so sadly wanting. To him, Elizabeth represented everything that was desirable in her sex, from the flowing lines of her beautiful body to the sympathy which seemed to be always shining out of her eyes. Notwithstanding her strength, she was so exquisitely and entirely feminine, a creature of silk and laces, free from any effort of provocativeness, yet subtly, almost clamorously human. He forgot, in those few moments, that she had become the arbitress of his material fate--that he was a humble author, watching the effect of his first attempts upon a mistress in her profession. He remembered only that she was the woman who was filling his life, stealing into every corner of it, permeating him with love, pointing him onwards towards a life indescribable, unrealisable....
She swung suddenly towards him. There was a certain amount of enthusiasm in her face but even more marked was her relief.
"Oh! I am so glad," she cried. "You know, I have had qualms. When you told me the story in your own words, picking your language so carefully, and building it all up before me, well, you know what I said. I gave you more than hope--I promised you success. And then, when I got away into the hard, stagey world of Chicago, and my manager talked business to me, and my last playwright preached of technique, I began to wonder whether, after all, you could bring your ideas together like this, whether you would have a sense of perspective--you know what I mean, don't you? And you have it, and the play is going to be wonderful, and I shall produce it. Why don't you look pleased, Mr. Author? You are going to be famous."
"I don't care about fame," he said. "And for the rest, I think I knew."
"Conceited!" she exclaimed.
"It wasn't that," he protested. "It was simply when I sat down in that little room, high up over the roofs and buildings of a strange city, shut myself in and told myself that it was for you--well, the thoughts came too easily. They tumbled over one another. And when I looked away from my work, I saw the people moving around me, and I knew that I had made my dreams real, and that's the great thing, isn't it?... Elizabeth!"
"I am lonely in that little room."
"You lonely, taking out typewriters to dine!" she mocked tenderly.
"It is lonely," he repeated, "and I am afraid of you here in all this luxury. I am so far away. I come from my attic to this, and I am afraid. Do you know why?"
She sat quite still for a moment. Dimly she felt the presage of a coming change in their relations. Up to now she had been the mistress, she had held him so easily in check with her practised skill, with an unfinished sentence, a look, a touch. And now the man was rising up in him, and she felt her powers weaken.
"Shall I change my abode?" she murmured.
"Ah! but you would be just as wonderful and as far away even if we changed places--if you sat in my attic and I took your place here. That isn't why I torture myself, why I am always asking myself if you are real, if the things we talk about are real, if the things we feel belong to ourselves, well up from our own hearts for one another or are just the secondary emotions of other people we catch up without knowing why. This is foolish, but you understand--you do understand. It is because you keep me so far away from yourself, when my fingers are burning for yours, when even to touch your face, to feel your cheek against mine, would banish every fear I have ever had. Elizabeth, you do understand! I have never kissed you, I have never held you for one moment in my arms--and I love you!"
He was leaning over her chair and she held him tightly by the shoulders. There was nothing left of that hidden fear in his dark eyes. They shone now with another light, and she began to tremble.
"I wanted to wait a little, Philip, but if you feel like that--well, I can't."
He took her silently into his arms. With the half closing of her eyes, the first touch of her responsive lips, himself dimly conscious of the change, he passed into the world where stronger men live.
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