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Mr. Raymond Greene, very soon after the bugle had sounded for dinner that evening, took his place at the head of one of the small tables in the saloon and wished every one good evening. It was perfectly apparent that he meant to enjoy the trip, that he was prepared to like his fellow passengers and that he wished them to know it. Even the somewhat melancholy-looking steward, who had been waiting for his arrival, cheered up at the sight of his beaming face, and the other four occupants of the table returned his salutation according to their lights.
"Two vacant places, I am sorry to see," Mr. Greene observed. "One of them I can answer for, though. The young lady who is to sit on my right will be down directly--Miss Elizabeth Dalstan, the great actress, you know. She is by way of being under my charge. Very charming and talented young lady she is. Let us see who our other absentee is."
He stretched across and glanced at the name upon the card.
"Mr. Douglas Romilly," he read out. "Quite a good name--English, without a doubt. I have crossed with you before, haven't I, sir?" he went on affably, turning to his nearest neighbour on the left.
A burly, many-chinned American signified his assent.
"Why, I should say so," he admitted, "and I'd like a five-dollar bill, Mr. Greene, for every film I've seen of yours in the United States."
Mr. Greene beamed with satisfaction.
"Well, I am glad to hear you've come across my stuff," he declared. "I've made some name for myself on the films and I am proud of it. Raymond Greene it is, at your service."
"Joseph P. Hyam's mine," the large American announced, watching the disappearance of his soup plate with an air of regret. "I'm in the clothing business. If my wife were here, she'd say you wouldn't think it to look at me. Never was faddy about myself, though," he added, with a glance at Mr. Greene's very correct dinner attire.
"You ought to remember me, Mr. Greene," one of the two men remarked from the right-hand side of the table. "I've played golf with you at Baltusrol more than once."
Mr. Greene glanced surreptitiously at the card and smiled.
"Why, it's James P. Busby, of course!" he exclaimed. "Your father's the Busby Iron Works, isn't he?"
The young man nodded.
"And this is Mr. Caroll, one of our engineers," he said, indicating a rather rough-looking personage by his side.
"Delighted to meet you both," Mr. Greene assured them. "Say, I remember your golf, Mr. Busby! You're some driver, eh? And those long putts of yours--you never took three on any green that I can remember!"
"Been playing in England?" the young man asked.
Mr. Raymond Greene shook his head.
"When I am on business," he explained, "I don't carry my sticks about with me, and I tell you this last fortnight has been a giddy whirl for me. I was in Berlin Wednesday night, and I did business in Vienna last Monday. Ah! here comes Miss Dalstan."
He rose ceremoniously to his feet. A young lady who was still wearing her travelling clothes smiled at him delightfully and sank into the chair by his side. During the little stir caused by her arrival, no one paid any attention to the man who had slipped into the other vacant place opposite. Mr. Greene, however, when he had finished making known his companion's wants to the steward, welcomed Philip Romilly genially.
"Now we're a full table," he declared. "That's what I like. I only hope we'll keep it up all the voyage. Mind, there'll be a forfeit for the first one that misses a meal. Mr. Romilly, isn't it?" he went on, glancing at his left-hand neighbour's card once more. "My name's Raymond Greene. I am an old traveller and there's nothing I enjoy more, outside my business, than these little ocean trips, especially when they come after a pretty strenuous time on shore. Crossed many times, sir?"
"Never before," Philip answered.
"First trip, eh?" Mr. Greene remarked, mildly interested. "Well, well, you've some surprises in store for you, then. Let me make you acquainted with your opposite neighbour, Miss Elizabeth Dalstan. I dare say, even if you haven't been in the States, you know some of our principal actresses by name."
Philip raised his head and caught a glimpse of a rather pale face, a mass of deep brown hair, a pleasant smile from a very shapely mouth, and the rather intense regard of a pair of wonderfully soft eyes, whose colour at that moment he was not able to determine.
"I have had the pleasure of seeing Miss Dalstan on the stage," he observed.
"Capital!" Mr. Raymond Greene exclaimed. "We haven't met before, have we, Mr. Romilly? Something kind of familiar in your face. You are not by way of being in the Profession, are you?"
Romilly shook his head.
"I am a manufacturer," he acknowledged.
"That so?" his neighbour remarked, a trifle surprised. "Queer! I had a fancy that we'd met, and quite lately, too. I am in the cinema business. You may have heard of me--Raymond Greene?"
"I have seen some of your films," Philip told him. "Very excellent productions, if you will allow me to say so."
"That's pleasant hearing at any time," Mr. Greene admitted, with a gratified smile. "Well, I can see that we are going to be quite a friendly party. That's Mr. Busby on your right, Mr. Romilly--some golfer, I can tell you!--and his friend Mr. Caroll alongside. The lady next you--"
"My name is Miss Pinsent," the elderly lady indicated declared pleasantly, replying to Mr. Greene's interrogative glance. "It is my first trip to America, too. I am going out to see a nephew who has settled in Chicago."
"Capital!" Mr. Raymond Greene repeated. "Now we are all more or less a family party. What did you say your line of business was, Mr. Romilly?"
"I don't remember mentioning it," Philip observed, "but I am a manufacturer of boots and shoes."
Elizabeth Dalstan looked across at him a little curiously. One might have surmised that she was in some way disappointed.
"Coming over to learn a thing or two from us, eh?" Mr. Greene went on. "You use all our machinery, don't you? Well, there's Paul Lawton on board, from Brockton. I should think he has one of the biggest plants in Massachusetts. I must make you acquainted with him."
Philip frowned slightly.
"That is very kind of you, Mr. Greene," he acknowledged, "but do you know I would very much rather not talk business with any one while I am on the steamer? I am a little overworked and I need the rest."
Elizabeth Dalstan looked at her vis-à-vis with some renewal of her former interest. She saw a young man who was, without doubt, good-looking, although he certainly had an over-tired and somewhat depressed appearance. His cheeks were colourless, and there were little dark lines under his eyes as though he suffered from sleeplessness. He was clean-shaven and he had the sensitive mouth of an artist. His forehead was high and exceptionally good. His air of breeding was unmistakable.
"You do look a little fagged," Mr. Raymond Greene observed sympathetically. "Well, these are strenuous days in business. We all have to stretch out as far as we can go, and keep stretched out, or else some one else will get ahead of us. Business been good with you this fall, Mr. Romilly?"
"Very fair, thank you," Philip answered a little vaguely. "Tell me, Miss Dalstan," he went on, leaning slightly towards her, and with a note of curiosity in his tone, "I want to know your candid opinion of the last act of the play I saw you in--'Henderson's Second Wife'? I made up my mind that if ever I had the privilege of meeting you, I would ask you that question."
"I know exactly why," she declared, with a quick little nod of appreciation. "Listen."
They talked together for some time, earnestly. Mr. Greene addressed his conversation to his neighbours lower down the table. It was not until the arrival of dessert that Philip and his vis-à-vis abandoned their discussion.
"Tell me, have you written yourself, Mr. Romilly?" Elizabeth Dalstan asked him with interest.
"I have made an attempt at it," he confessed.
"Most difficult thing in the whole world to write a play," Mr. Raymond Greene intervened, seeing an opportunity to join once more in the conversation. "Most difficult thing in the world, I should say. Now with pictures it's entirely different. The slightest little happening in everyday life may give you the start, and then, there you are--the whole thing unravels itself. Now let me give you an example," he went on, helping himself to a little more whisky and soda. "Only yesterday afternoon, on our way up to Liverpool, the train got pulled up somewhere in Derbyshire, and I sat looking out of the window. It was a dreary neighbourhood, a miserable afternoon, and we happened to be crossing a rather high viaduct. Down below were some meadows and a canal, and by the side of the canal, a path. At a certain point--I should think about half a mile from where the train was standing--this path went underneath a rude bridge, built of bricks and covered over with turf. Well, as I sat there I could see two men, both approaching the bridge along the path from opposite directions. One was tall, dressed in light tweeds, a good-looking fellow--looked like one of your country squires except that he was a little on the thin side. The other was a sombre-looking person, dressed in dark clothes, about your height and build, I should say, Mr. Romilly. Well, they both disappeared under that bridge at the same moment, and I don't know why, but I leaned forward to see them come out. The train was there for quite another two minutes, perhaps more. There wasn't another soul anywhere in sight, and it was raining as it only can rain in England."
Mr. Raymond Greene paused. Every one at the table had been listening intently. He glanced around at their rapt faces with satisfaction. He was conscious of the artist's dramatic touch. Once more it had not failed him. He had excited interest. In Philip Romilly's eyes there was something even more than interest. It seemed almost as though he were trying to project his thoughts back and conjure up for himself the very scene which was being described to him. The young man was certainly in a very delicate state of health, Mr. Greene decided.
"You are keeping us in suspense, sir," the elderly lady complained, leaning forward in her place. "Please go on. What happened when they came out?"
"That," Mr. Raymond Greene said impressively, "is the point of the story. The train remained standing there, as I have said, for several minutes--as many minutes, in fact, as it would have taken them seconds to have traversed that tunnel. Notwithstanding that, they neither of them appeared again. I sat there, believe me, with my eyes fastened upon that path, and when the train started I leaned out of the window until we had rounded the curve and we were out of sight, but I never saw either of those two men again. Now there's the beginning of a film story for you! What do you want more than that? There's dramatic interest, surprise, an original situation."
"After all, I suppose the explanation was quite a simple one," Mr. Busby remarked. "They were probably acquaintances, and they stayed to have a chat."
Mr. Raymond Greene shook his head doubtfully.
"All I can say to that is that it was a queer place to choose for a little friendly conversation," he pronounced. "They were both tall men--about the same height, I should say--and it would have been impossible for them to have even stood upright."
"You mentioned the fact, did you not," the lady who called herself Miss Pinsent observed, "that it was raining heavily at the time? Perhaps they stayed under the bridge to shelter."
"That's something I never thought of," Mr. Greene admitted, "perhaps for the reason that they both of them seemed quite indifferent to the rain. The young man in the dark clothes hadn't even an umbrella. I must admit that I allowed my thoughts to travel in another direction. Professional instinct, you see. It was a fairly broad canal, and the water was nearly up to the towing-path. I'd lay a wager it was twelve or fifteen feet deep. Supposing those two men had met on that narrow path and quarrelled! Supposing--"
Mr. Raymond Greene stopped short. He gazed in amazement at Elizabeth Dalstan, who had suddenly clutched his hand. There was something in her face which puzzled as well as startled him. She had been looking at her opposite neighbour but she turned back towards the narrator of this thrilling story as the monosyllable broke from her lips.
"Please stop," she begged. "You are too dramatic, Mr. Greene. You really frighten me."
"Frighten you?" he repeated. "My dear Miss Dalstan!"
"I suppose it is very absurd of me," she went on, smiling appealingly at him, "but your words were altogether too graphic. I can't bear to think of what might have taken place underneath that tunnel! You must remember that I saw it, too. Don't go on. Don't talk about it any more. I am going upstairs for my cigarette. Are you coming to get my chair for me, Mr. Greene, or must I rely upon the deck steward?"
Mr. Raymond Greene was a very gallant man, and he did not hesitate for a moment. He sprang to his feet and escorted the young lady from the saloon. He glanced back, as he left the table, to nod his adieux to the little company whom he had taken under his charge. Philip Romilly was gazing steadfastly out of the porthole.
"Kind of delicate young fellow, that," he remarked. "Nice face, too. Can't help thinking that I've met or seen some one like him lately."
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