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Philip Romilly, on the last day of the voyage, experienced to the full that peculiar sensation of unrest which seems inevitably to prevail when an oceangoing steamer is being slowly towed into port. The winds of the ocean had been left behind. There was a new but pleasant chill in the frosty, sunlit air. The great buildings of New York, at which he had been gazing for hours, were standing, heterogeneous but magnificent, clear-cut against an azure sky. The ferry boats, with their amazing human cargo, seemed to be screeching a welcome as they churned their way across the busy river. Wherever he looked, there was something novel and interesting, yet nothing sufficiently arresting to enable him to forget that he was face to face now with the first crisis of his new life. Since that brief wireless message on the first day out, there had been nothing disquieting in the daily bulletins of news, and he had been able to appreciate to the full the soothing sense of detachment, the friendliness of his fellow voyagers, immeasurably above all the daily association with Elizabeth. He felt like one awaking from a dream as he realised that these things were over. At the first sight of land, it was as though a magician's wand had been waved, a charm broken. His fellow passengers, in unfamiliar costumes, were standing about with their eyes glued upon the distant docks. A queer sense of ostracism possessed him. Perhaps, after all, it had been a dream from which he was now slowly awaking.
He wandered into the lounge to find Elizabeth surrounded by a little group of journalists. She nodded to him pleasantly and waved a great bunch of long-stemmed pink roses which one of them had brought to her. Her greeting saved him from despair. She, at least, was unchanged.
"See how my friends are beginning to spoil me!" she cried out. "Really, I can't tell any of you a thing more," she went on, turning back to them, "only this, and I am sure it ought to be interesting. I have discovered a new dramatist, and I am going to produce a play of his within three months, I hope. I shan't tell you his name and I shan't tell you anything about the play, except that I find more promise in it than anything I have seen or read for months. Mr. Romilly, please wait for me," she called after him. "I want to point out some of the buildings to you."
A dark young man, wearing eyeglasses, with a notebook and pencil in his hand, swung around.
"Is this Mr. Douglas Romilly," he enquired, "of the Romilly Shoe Company? I am from the New York Star. Pleased to meet you, Mr. Romilly. You are over here on business, we understand?"
Philip was taken aback and for the moment remained speechless.
"We'd like to know your reason, Mr. Romilly, for paying us a visit," the young man continued, "in your own words. How long a trip do you intend to make, anyway? What might your output be in England per week? Women's shoes and misses', isn't it?"
Elizabeth intervened swiftly, shaking her finger at the journalist.
"Mr. Harris," she said, "Mr. Romilly is my friend, and I am not going to have him spend these few impressive moments, when he ought to be looking about him at the harbour, telling you silly details about his business. You can call upon him at his hotel, if you like--the Waldorf he is going to, I believe--and I am sure he will tell you anything you want to know."
"That's all right, Miss Dalstan," the young man declared soothingly. "See you later, Mr. Romilly," he added. "Maybe you'll let us have a few of your impressions to work in with the other stuff."
Romilly made light of the matter, but there was a slight frown upon his forehead as they passed along the curiously stationary deck.
"I am afraid," he observed, "that this is going to be a terribly hard country to disappear in."
"Don't you believe it," she replied cheerfully. "You arrive here to-day and you are in request everywhere. To-morrow you are forgotten--some one else arrives. That newspaper man scarcely remembers your existence at the present moment. He has discovered Mr. Raymond Greene.... Tell me, why do you look so white and unhappy?"
"I am sorry the voyage is over," he confessed.
"So am I, for that matter," she assented. "I have loved every minute of the last few days, but then we knew all the time, didn't we, that it was just an interlude? The things which lie before us are so full of interest."
"It is the next few hours which I fear," he muttered gloomily.
She laughed at him.
"Foolish! If there had been any one on this side who wanted to ask you disagreeable questions, they wouldn't have waited to meet you on the quay. They'd have come down the harbour and held us up. Don't think about that for a moment. Think instead of all the wonderful things we are going to do. You will be occupied every minute of the time until I come back to New York, and I shall be so anxious to see the result. You won't disappoint me, will you?"
"I will not," he promised. "It was only for just a moment that I felt an idiot. It's exciting, you know, this new atmosphere, and the voyage was so wonderful, such a perfect rest. It's like waking up, and the daylight seems a little crude."
She held out her hand.
"You see, the gangways are going down," she pointed out. "I can see many of my friends waiting. Remember, with your new life begins our new alliance. Good luck to you, dear friend!"
Their fingers were locked for a moment together. He looked earnestly into her eyes.
"Whatever the new life may mean for me," he said fervently, "I shall owe to you."
A little rush of people came up the gangway, and Elizabeth was speedily surrounded and carried off. They came across one another several times in the Custom House, and she waved her hand to him gaily. Philip went through the usual formalities, superintended the hoisting of his trunks upon a clumsy motor truck, and was himself driven without question from the covered shed adjoining the quay. He looked back at the huge side of the steamer, the floor of the Custom House, about which were still dotted little crowds of his fellow passengers. It was the disintegration of a wonderful memory--his farewell....
* * * * * * *
At the Waldorf he found himself greeted with unexpected cordiality. The young gentleman to whom he applied, after some hesitation, for a room, stretched out his hand and welcomed him to America.
"So you are Mr. Romilly!" he exclaimed. "Well, that's good. We've got your room--Number 602, on the ninth floor."
"Ninth floor!" Philip gasped.
"If you'd like to be higher up we can change you," the young man continued amiably. "Been several people here enquiring for you. A young man from the 'Boot and Shoe Trades Reporter' was here only half an hour ago, and here's a cable. No mail yet."
He handed the key to a small boy and waved Philip away. The small boy proved fully equal to his mission.
"You just step this way, sir," he invited encouragingly. "Those packages of yours will be all right. You don't need to worry about them."
He led the way down a corridor streaming with human beings, into a lift from which it appeared to Philip that he was shot on to the ninth floor, along a thickly-carpeted way into a good-sized and comfortable bedroom, with bathroom attached.
"Your things will be up directly, sir," the small boy promised, holding out his hand. "I'll see after them myself."
Philip expressed his gratitude in a satisfactory manner and stood for a few moments at the window. Although it was practically his first glimpse of New York, the wonders of the panorama over which he looked failed even to excite his curiosity. The clanging of the surface cars, the roar and clatter of the overhead railway, the hooting of streams of automobiles, all apparently being driven at breakneck speed, alien sounds though they were, fell upon deaf ears. He could neither listen nor observe. Every second's delay fretted him. His plans were all made. Everything depended upon their being carried out now without the slightest hitch. He walked a dozen times to the door, waiting for his luggage, and when at last it arrived he was on the point of using the telephone. He feed the linen-coated porters and dismissed them as rapidly as possible. Then he ransacked the trunks until he found, amidst a pile of fashionable clothing, a quiet and inconspicuous suit of dark grey. In the bathroom he hastily changed his clothes, selected an ordinary Homburg hat, and filled a small leather case with various papers. He was on the point of leaving the room when his eyes fell upon the cable. He hesitated for a moment, gazed at the superscription, shrugged his shoulders, and tore it open. He moved to the window and read it slowly, word for word:
"Just seen Henshaw. Most disturbing interview. Tells me you have had notice to reduce overdraft by February 1st. Absolutely declines any further advances. Payments coming in insufficient meet wages and current liabilities. No provision for 4th bills, amounting sixteen thousand pounds. Have wired London for accountant. Await your instructions urgently. Suggest you cable back the twenty thousand pounds lying our credit New York. Please reply. Very worried. Potts."
Word by word, Philip read the cable twice over. Then it fluttered from his fingers on to the table. It told its own story beyond any shadow of a mistake. His cousin's great wealth was a fiction. The business to which his own fortune and the whole of his grandfather's money had been devoted, was even now tottering. He remembered the rumours he had heard of Douglas' extravagance, his establishment in London, the burden of his college debts. And then a further light flashed in upon him. Twenty thousand pounds in America!--lying there, too, for Douglas under a false name! He drew out one of the documents which he had packed and glanced at it more carefully. Then he replaced it, a little dazed. Douglas had planned to leave England, then, with this crisis looming over him. Why? Philip for a moment sat down on the arm of an easy-chair. A grim sense of humour suddenly parted his lips. He threw back his head and laughed. Douglas Romilly had actually been coming to America to disappear! It was incredible but it was true.
He left the cable carefully open upon the dressing-table, and, picking up the small leather case, left the room. He reached the lift, happily escaping the observation of the young lady seated at her desk, and descended into the hall. Once amongst the crowd of people who thronged the corridors, he found it perfectly simple to leave the hotel by one of the side entrances. He walked to the corner of the street and drew a little breath. Then he lit a cigarette and strolled along Broadway, curiously light-hearted, his spirits rising at every step. He was free for ever from that other hateful personality. Mr. Douglas Romilly, of the Douglas Romilly Shoe Company, had paid his brief visit to America and passed on.
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