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All the physical exhilaration of his unlived youth seemed to be dancing in Philip Romilly's veins when he awoke the next morning to find an open porthole, the blue sea tossing away to infinity, and his steward's cheerful face at his bedside.
"Bathroom steward says if you are ready, sir, he can arrange for your bath now," the man announced.
Philip sprang out of bed and reached for his Bond Street dressing-gown.
"I'll bring you a cup of tea when you get back, sir," the steward continued. "The bathrooms are exactly opposite."
The sting of the salt water seemed to complete his new-found light-heartedness. Philip dressed and shaved, whistling softly all the time to himself. He even found a queer sort of interest in examining his stock of ties and other garments. The memory of Elizabeth Dalstan's words was still in his brain. They had become the text of his life. This, he told himself, was his birthday. He even accepted without a tremor a letter and telegram which the steward brought him.
"These were in the rack for you, sir," he said. "I meant to bring them down last night but we had a busy start off."
Philip took them up on deck to read. He tore open the telegram first and permitted himself a little start when he saw the signature. It was sent off from Detton Magna,--
"Why did you not come as promised? What am I to do? BEATRICE."
The envelope of the letter he opened with a little more compunction. It was written on the printed notepaper of the Douglas Romilly Shoe Company, and was of no great length,--
"Dear Mr. Romilly,
"I understood that you would return to the factory this evening for a few minutes, before taking the train to Liverpool. There were one or two matters upon which I should like some further information, but as time is short I am writing to you at the Waldorf Hotel at New York.
"I see that the acceptances due next 4th are unusually heavy, but I think I understood you to say that you had spoken to Mr. Henshaw at the bank concerning these, and in any case I presume there would be no difficulty.
"Wishing you every success on the other side, and a safe return,
"Your obedient servant,
"There is not the slightest doubt," Philip said to himself, as he tore both communications into pieces and watched them flutter away downwards, "that I am on my way to New York. If only one knew what had become of that poor, half-starved art master!"
He went down to breakfast and afterwards strolled aimlessly about the deck. His sense of enjoyment was so extraordinarily keen that he found it hard to settle down to any of the usual light occupations of idle travellers. He was content to stand by the rail and gaze across the sea, a new wonder to him; or to lie about in his steamer chair and listen, with half-closed eyes, to the hissing of the spray and the faint music of the wind. His mind turned by chance to one of those stories of which he had spoken. A sudden new vigour of thought seemed to rend it inside out almost in those first few seconds. He thought of the garret in which it had been written, the wretched surroundings, the odoriferous food, the thick crockery, the smoke-palled vista of roofs and chimneys. The genius of a Stevenson would have become dwarfed in such surroundings. A phrase, a happy idea, suddenly caught his fancy. He itched for a pencil and paper. Then he looked up to find the one thing wanting. Elizabeth Dalstan, followed by a maid carrying rugs and cushions, had paused, smiling, by his side.
"You have slept and you are better," she said pleasantly. "Now for the next few minutes you must please devote yourself to making me comfortable. Put everything down, Phoebe. Mr. Romilly will look after me."
For a moment he paused before proceeding to his task.
"I want to look at you," he confessed. "Remember I have only seen you under the electric lights of the saloon, or in that queer, violet gloom of last night. Why, you have quite light hair, and I thought it was dark!"
She laughed good-humouredly and turned slowly around.
"Here I am," she announced, "a much bephotographed person. Almost plain, some journalists have dared to call me, but for my expression. On flowing lines, as you see, because I always wear such loose clothes, and yet, believe me, slim. As a matter of fact," she went on pensively, "I am rather proud of my figure. A little journalist who had annoyed me, and to whom I was rude, once called it ample. No one has ever ventured to say more. The critics who love me, and they most of them love me because I am so exceptionally polite to them, and tell them exactly what to say about every new play, allude to my physique as Grecian."
"But your eyes!" he exclaimed. "Last night I thought they were grey. This morning--why, surely they are brown?"
"You see, that is all according to the light," she confided. "If any one does try to write a description of me, they generally evade the point by calling them browny-grey. A young man who was in love with me," she sighed, "but that was long ago, used to say that they reminded him of fallen leaves in a place where the sunlight sometimes is and sometimes isn't. And now, if you please, I want to be made exceedingly comfortable. I want you to find the deck steward and see that I have some beef tea as quickly as possible. I want my box of cigarettes on one side and my vanity case on the other, and I should like to listen to the plot of your play."
He obeyed her behests with scrupulous care, leaned back in his chair and brought into the foreground of his mind the figures of those men and women who had told his story, finding them, to his dismay, unexpectedly crude and unlifelike. And the story itself. Was unhappiness so necessary, after all? They suddenly seemed to crumble away into insignificance, these men and women of his creation. In their place he could almost fancy a race of larger beings, a more extensive canvas, a more splendid, a riper and richer vocabulary.
"Nothing that I have ever done," he sighed, "is worth talking to you about. But if you are going to be my friend--"
"If you are going to be my friend," he went on, with almost inspired conviction, "I shall write something different."
"One can rebuild," she murmured. "One can sometimes use the old pieces. Life and chess are both like that."
"Would you help me, I wonder?" he asked impulsively.
She looked away from him, out across the steamer rail. She seemed to be measuring with her eyes the roll of the ship as it rose and fell in the trough of the sea.
"You are a strange person," she said. "Tell me, are you in the habit of becoming suddenly dependent upon people?"
"Not I," he assured her. "If I were to tell you how my last ten years have been spent, you would not believe me. You couldn't. If I were to speak of a tearing, unutterable loneliness, if I were to speak of poverty--not the poverty you know anything about, but the poverty of bare walls, of coarse food and little enough of it, of everything cheap and miserable and soiled and second-hand--nothing fresh, nothing real--"
He stopped abruptly.
"But I forgot," he muttered. "I can't explain."
"Is one to understand," she asked, a little puzzled, "that you have had difficulties in your business?"
"I have never been in business," he answered quickly. "My name is Romilly, but I am not Romilly the manufacturer. For the last eight years I have lived in a garret in London, teaching false art in a third-rate school some of the time, doing penny-a-line journalistic work when I got the chance; clerk for a month or two in a brewer's office and sacked for incapacity--those are a few of the real threads in my life."
"At the present moment, then," she observed, "you are an impostor."
"Exactly," he admitted, "and I should probably have been repenting it by now but for your words last night."
She smiled at him and the sun shone once more. It wasn't an ordinary smile at all. It was just as though she were letting him into the light of her understanding, as though some one from the world, entrance into which he had craved, had stooped down to understand and was telling him that all was well. He drew his chair a little closer to hers.
"We are all more or less impostors," she said. "Does any one, I wonder, go about the world telling everybody what they really are, how they really live? Dear me, how unpleasant and uncomfortable it would be! You are so wise, my new friend. You know the value of impulses. You tell me the truth, and I am your friend. I do not need facts, because facts count for little. I judge by what lies behind, and I understand. Do not weary me with explanations. I like what you have told me. Only, of course, your work must have suffered from surroundings like that. Will it be better for you now?"
"I shall land in New York," he told her, "with at least a thousand pounds. That is about as much as I have spent in ten years. There is the possibility of other money. Concerning that--well, I can't make up my mind. The thousand pounds, of course, is stolen."
"So I gathered," she remarked. "Do you continue, may I ask, to be Douglas Romilly, the manufacturer?"
He shook his head a little vaguely.
"I haven't thought," he confessed. "But of course I don't. I have risked everything for the chance of a new life. I shall start it in a new way and under a new name."
He was suddenly conscious of her pity, of a moistness in her eyes as she looked at him.
"I think," she said, "that you must have been very miserable. Above all things, now, whatever you may have done for your liberty, don't be fainthearted. If you are in trouble or danger you must come to me. You promise?"
"If I may," he assented fervently.
"Now I must hear the play as it stood in your thoughts when you wrote it," she insisted. "I have a fancy that it will sound a little gloomy. Am I right?"
"Of course you are! How could I write in any other way except through the darkened spectacles? However, there's a way out--of altering it, I mean. I feel flashes of it already. Listen."
The story expanded with relation. He no longer felt confined to its established lines. Every now and then he paused to tell her that this or that was new, and she nodded appreciatively. They walked for a time, watched the seagulls, and bade their farewell to the Irish coast.
"You will have to re-write that play for me," she said, a little abruptly, as she paused before the companionway. "I am going down to my room for a few minutes before lunch now. Afterwards I shall bring up a pencil and paper. We will make some notes together."
Philip walked on to the smoking room. He could scarcely believe that the planks he trod were of solid wood. Raymond Greene met him at the entrance and slapped him on the back:
"Just in time for a cocktail before lunch!" he exclaimed. "I was looking everywhere for a pal. Two Martinis, dry as you like, Jim," he added, turning round to the smoking room steward. "Sure you won't join us, Lawton?"
"Daren't!" was the laconic answer from the man whom he had addressed.
"By-the-bye," Mr. Raymond Greene went on, "let me make you two acquainted. This is Mr. Douglas Romilly, an English boot manufacturer--Mr. Paul Lawton of Brockton. Mr. Lawton owns one of the largest boot and shoe plants in the States," the introducer went on. "You two ought to find something to talk about."
Philip held out his hand without a single moment's hesitation. He was filled with a new confidence.
"I should be delighted to talk with Mr. Lawton on any subject in the world," he declared, "except our respective businesses."
"I am very glad to meet you, sir," the other replied, shaking hands heartily. "I don't follow that last stipulation of yours, though."
"It simply means that I am taking seven days' holiday," Philip explained gaily, "seven days during which I have passed my word to myself to neither talk business nor think business. Your very good health, Mr. Raymond Greene," he went on, drinking his cocktail with relish. "If we meet on the other side, Mr. Lawton, we'll compare notes as much as you like."
"That's all right, sir," the other agreed. "I don't know as you're not right. We Americans do hang round our businesses, and that's a fact. Still, there's a little matter of lasts I should like to have a word or two with you about some time."
"A little matter of what?" Philip asked vaguely.
"Lasts," the other repeated. "That's where your people and ours look different ways chiefly, that and a little matter of manipulation of our machinery."
"Just so," Philip assented, swallowing the rest of his cocktail. "What about luncheon? There's nothing in the world to give you an appetite like this sea air."
"I'm with you," Mr. Raymond Greene chimed in. "You two can have your trade talk later on."
He took his young friend's arm, and they descended the stairs together.
"What the mischief is a last?" he inquired.
"I haven't the least idea," Philip replied carelessly. "Something to do with boots and shoes, isn't it?"
His questioner stared at him for a moment and then laughed.
"Say, you're a young man of your word!" he remarked appreciatively.
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