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Three months later, a very different Philip stood in the smaller of a handsome suite of reception rooms in a fashionable Fifth Avenue hotel. He was wearing evening clothes of the most approved cut and carried himself with a dignity and assurance entirely transforming. The distinction of birth and breeding, little apparent in those half-starved, passionate days of his misery, had come easily to the surface. His shoulders, too, seemed to have broadened, and his face had lost its cadaverous pallor.
The apartment in which he stood was plainly but handsomely furnished as a small withdrawing room. On the oak chiffonier stood a silver tray on which were half a dozen frosted cocktails. Through the curtains was apparent a room beyond, in which a round table, smothered with flowers, was arranged for supper; in the distance, from the public restaurant, came the sound of softly played music. Philip glanced at the clock. The whole of the anxieties of this momentous evening had passed. Telephone messages had reached him every quarter of an hour. The play was a great success. Elizabeth was coming to him with her producer and a few theatrical friends, flushed with triumph. They were all to meet for the first time that night the man who for the last three months had lived as a hermit--Merton Ware, the author of "The House of Shams," the new-found dramatist.
A maître d'hôtel appeared in the space between the two rooms, and bowed.
"Everything is quite ready, Mr. Ware," he said, in the friendly yet deferential manner of an American head-waiter. "Won't you take a cocktail, sir, while you are waiting?"
"Very thoughtful of you, Louis. I think I will," Philip assented, taking a little case from his pocket and lighting a cigarette.
The man passed him a glass upon a small salver.
"You'll pardon the liberty, I am sure, sir," he continued, dropping his voice a little. "I've just heard that 'The House of Shams' seems to be a huge success, sir. If I might take the liberty of offering my congratulations!"
Philip smiled genially.
"You are the first, Louis," he said. "Thank you very much indeed."
"I think you will find the supper everything that could be desired, Mr. Ware," the man went on. "Our head chef, Monsieur Raconnot, has given it his personal attention. The wine will be slightly iced, as you desired. I shall be outside in the corridor to announce the guests."
"Capital, Louis!" Ware replied, sipping his cocktail. "It will be another quarter of an hour yet before we see anything of them, I am afraid."
The man disappeared and left Philip once more alone. He looked through the walls of the room as though, indeed, he could see into the packed theatre and could hear the cries for "Author!" which even then were echoing through the house. From the moment when Elizabeth, abandoning her reserve, had given him the love he craved, a new strength seemed to have shone out of the man. Step by step he had thought out subtly and with infinite care every small detail of his life. It was he who had elected to live those three months in absolute seclusion. It was he, indirectly, who had arranged that many more photographs of Douglas Romilly, the English shoe manufacturer, should appear in the newspapers. One moment's horror he had certainly had. He could see the little paragraph now, almost lost in the shoals of more important news:
GHASTLY DISCOVERY IN A DERBYSHIRE CANAL
Yesterday the police recovered the body of a man who had apparently been dead for some weeks, from a canal close to Detton Magna. The body was unrecognisable but it is believed that the remains are those of Mr. Philip Romilly, the missing art teacher from London, who is alleged to have committed suicide in January last.
The thought of that gruesome find scarcely blanched his cheeks. His nerves now were stronger and tenser things. He crushed back those memories with all the strength of his will. Whatever might lie behind, he had struck for the future which he meant to live and enjoy. They were only weaklings who brooded over an unalterable past. It was for the present and the near future that he lived, and both, in that moment, were more alluring than ever before. Even his intellectual powers seemed to have developed in his new-found happiness. The play which he had written, every line of which appeared to gain in vital and literary force towards its conclusion, was only the first of his children. Already other images and ideas were flowing into his brain. The power of creation was triumphantly throwing out its tendrils. He was filled with an amazing and almost inspired confidence. He was ready to start upon fresh work that hour, to-morrow, or when he chose. And before him now was the prospect of stimulating companionship. Elizabeth and he had decided that the time had come for him to take his fate into his hands. He was to be introduced to the magnates of the dramatic profession, to become a clubman in the world's most hospitable city, to mix freely in the circles where he would find himself in constant association with the keenest brains and most brilliant men of letters in the world. He was safe. They had both decided it.
He walked to the mirror and looked at himself. The nervous, highly-strung, half-starved, neurotic stripling had become the perfectly assured, well-mannered, and well-dressed man of the world. He had studied various details with a peculiar care, suffered a barber to take summary measures with his overlong black hair, had accustomed himself to the use of an eyeglass, which hung around his neck by a thin, black ribbon. Men might talk of likenesses, men who were close students of their fellows, yet there was no living person who could point to him and say--"You are, beyond a shadow of doubt, a man with whom I travelled on the Elletania." The thing was impossible.
Louis once more made a noiseless appearance. There was the slightest of frowns upon his face.
"A gentleman wishes a word with you before the arrival of your guests, Mr. Ware," he announced.
"A journalist?" Philip enquired carelessly.
"I do not think so, sir."
Even as he spoke the door was opened and closed again. The man who had entered bowed slightly to Philip. He was tall and clean-shaven, self-assured, and with manner almost significantly reserved. He held a bowler hat in his hand and glanced towards Louis. He had the air of being somewhat out of place in so fashionable a rendezvous.
"Good evening, Mr. Ware!" he began. "Could I have just a word with you?"
Philip nodded to Louis, who at once left the room. The newcomer drew a little nearer.
"My name, sir," he said, "is Dane--Edward Dane."
Philip bowed politely. He was just a little annoyed at the intrusion, an annoyance which he failed altogether to conceal.
"What do you want with me?" he asked. "I am expecting some friends to supper in about ten minutes."
"Ten minutes will perhaps be sufficient for what I have to say," the other promised. "You don't know me, then, Mr. Ware?"
"Never saw you before, to the best of my knowledge," Philip replied nonchalantly. "Are you a journalist?"
The man laid his hat upon a corner of the table.
"I am a detective," he said, "attached to the Cherry Street headquarters. Your last rooms, Mr. Ware, were in my beat."
Philip nodded with some slight indication of interest. He faced his ordeal with the courage of a man of steel.
"That so?" he remarked indifferently. "Well, Mr. Dane, I have heard a good deal about you American detectives. Pleased to meet you. What can I do for you?"
The detective eyed Philip steadfastly. There was just the shadow of something that looked like admiration in his hard, grey eyes.
"Well, Mr. Ware," he said, "nothing that need disturb your supper party, I am sure. Over in this country we sometimes do things in an unusual way. That's why I am paying you this visit. I have been watching you for exactly three months and fourteen days."
"Watching me?" Philip repeated.
"Precisely! No idea why, I suppose?"
"Not the slightest."
The detective glanced towards the clock. Barely two minutes had passed.
"Well," he explained, "I got on your tracks quick enough when you skipped from the Waldorf and blossomed out in a second-rate tenement house as Merton Ware."
"So I was at the Waldorf, was I?" Philip murmured.
"You crossed from Liverpool on the Elletania," the man continued, "registered at the Waldorf as Mr. Douglas Romilly of the Douglas Romilly Shoe Company, went to your room, changed your clothes, and disappeared. Of course, a disappearance of that sort," he went on tolerantly, "might be possible in London. In New York, to even attempt it is farcical."
"Dear me," remarked Philip, "this is very interesting. Let me ask you this question, though. If you were so sure of your facts, why didn't you arrest me at once instead of just watching me?"
The man's eyes were like gimlets. He seemed as though he were trying, with curious and professional intensity, to read the thoughts in Philip's brain.
"There is no criminal charge against Douglas Romilly that I know of," he said.
"There's a considerable reward offered for his discovery," Philip reminded him.
"I can claim that at any moment," the man replied. "I have had my reasons for waiting. It's partly those reasons that have brought me here. For one thing, Mr. Douglas Romilly was supposed to be able to put his hand on a matter of a hundred thousand dollars somewhere in New York. You haven't shown many signs up till now, Mr. Ware, of having any such sum in your possession."
"I see," Philip assented. "You wanted the money as well."
"The creditors of the Douglas Romilly Shoe Company are wanting it pretty badly," the man proceeded, "but that wasn't all. I wanted to find out what your game was. That I don't know, even now. That is why I have come to you. Have I the pleasure of speaking to Mr. Douglas Romilly?"
"I really don't see," Philip protested thoughtfully, "why I should go into partnership with you in this affair. You see, in the long run, our interests might not be altogether identical."
Mr. Dane smiled grimly.
"That's a fairly shrewd calculation, Mr. Ware," he admitted. "You ain't bound to answer any question you don't want to. This is just a friendly chat and no more."
"Besides," Philip continued, lighting another cigarette, "I think I understood you to say that you had already arrived at the conclusion that I was Douglas Romilly?"
"Not precisely that," the detective replied. "All that I discovered was that you were the man who registered at the Waldorf Hotel as Mr. Douglas Romilly."
"Well, the only name I choose to acknowledge at present is the name of Merton Ware," Philip declared. "If you think there is any mystery about me, any connection with the gentleman whom I believe you call Mr. Douglas Romilly, well, the matter is one for your investigation. You will forgive me if I remind you that my guests will be here in a matter of a few minutes, and permit me to ask you one more question. Why do you come here to me in this very unofficial manner? If I am really an impostor, you are giving me every opportunity of clearing out."
Mr. Edward Dane shook his head. He was fingering the brim of his hat.
"Oh, no, Mr. Ware!" he declared smoothly. "Our detective system may have some faults, but when a man's name is put on the list where yours figures, he has not one chance in a million of leaving the country or of gaining any place of hiding. I shall know where you lunch to-morrow and with whom you dine, and with whom you spend your time. The law, sir, will keep its eye upon you."
"Really, that seems very friendly," Philip said coolly. "Shall I have the privilege of your personal surveillance?"
"I think not, Mr. Ware. To tell you the truth, this is rather a p.p.c. visit. I've booked my passage on the Elletania, sailing to-morrow from New York. I am taking a trip over to England to make a few enquiries round about the spot where this Mr. Douglas Romilly hails from--Detton Magna, isn't it?"
Philip made no reply, yet even his silence might well have been the silence of indifference.
"At the last moment," the detective concluded, "it flashed in upon me that there might be some ridiculous explanation of the few little points about your case which, I must confess, have puzzled me. For that reason, I decided to seek an interview with you before I left. You have, however, I gather, nothing to say to me?"
"Nothing at all, Mr. Dane, except to wish you a pleasant voyage," Philip declared. "I won't detain you a moment longer. I hear my guests in the corridor. Good night, sir!" he added, opening the door. "I appreciate your call very much. Come and see me again when you return from England."
Mr. Dane lingered for a moment upon the threshold, hat in hand, a somewhat ominous figure. There was no attempt at a handshake between the two men. The detective was imperturbable. Philip, listening to Elizabeth's voice, had shown his first sign of impatience.
"I shall surely do that, Mr. Ware!" the other promised, as he passed out.
The door closed. Philip stood for a moment in the empty room, listening to the man's retreating footsteps. Then he turned slowly around. His cheeks were blanched, his eyes were glazed with reminiscent horror. He looked through the wall of the room--a long way back.
"We shall find Mr. Ware in here, I expect." He could hear the voices of his approaching guests.
He ground his heel into the carpet and swung around. He anticipated Louis, threw open the curtain, and stood there waiting to welcome his guests, a smile upon his lips, his hands outstretched towards Elizabeth.
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