This page will take you into pieces of literature that are carefully selected for their great content at the literary, scientific, or philosophical level. A short selection will be presented in full. A long one will be divided into sections that will be refreshed regularly. Emphasis and highlights are mostly ours, not made by the original author.
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Anna the Adventuress (1904) by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Chapter 4. The Temperament of an Artist
"You may sit there and smoke, and look out upon your wonderful Paris," Anna said lightly. "You may talk--if you can talk cheerfully, not unless."
"And you?" asked David Courtlaw.
"Well, if I find your conversation interesting I shall listen. If not, I have plenty to think about," she answered, leaning back in her chair, and watching the smoke from her own cigarette curl upwards.
"How I am to earn enough sous for my dinner tomorrow--or failing that, what I can sell."
His face darkened.
"And yet," he said, "you bid me talk cheerfully, or not at all."
"Why not? Your spirits at least should be good. It is not you who runs the risk of going dinnerless tomorrow."
He turned upon her almost fiercely.
"You know," he muttered, "you know quite well that your troubles are far more likely to weigh upon me than my own. Do you think that I am utterly selfish?"
She raised her eyebrows.
"Troubles, my friend," she exclaimed lightly. "But I have no troubles."
He stared at her incredulously, and she laughed very softly.
"What a gloomy person you are!" she murmured. "You call yourself an artist--but you have no temperament. The material cares of life hang about your neck like a millstone. A doubt as to your dinner tomorrow would make you miserable tonight. You know I call that positively wicked. It is not at all what I expected either. On the whole, I think that I have been disappointed with the life here. There is so little abandon, so little real joyousness."
"And yet," he murmured, "one of the greatest of our writers has declared that the true spirit of Bohemianism is denied to your sex."
"He was probably right," she declared. "Bohemianism is the least understood word ever coined. I do not think that I have the Bohemian spirit at all."
He looked at her thoughtfully. She wore a plain black dress, reaching almost to her throat--her small oval face, with the large brown eyes, was colourless, delicately expressive, yet with something mysterious in its Sphinx-like immobility. A woman hard to read, who seemed to delight in keeping locked up behind that fascinating rigidity of feature the intense sensibility which had been revealed to him, her master, only in occasional and rare moments of enthusiasm. She reminded him sometimes of the one holy and ineffable Madonna, at others of Berode, the great courtezan of her day, who had sent kings away from her doors, and had just announced her intention of ending her life in a convent.
"I believe that you are right," he said softly. "It is the worst of including in our vocabulary words which have no definite meaning, perhaps I should say of which the meaning varies according to one's personal point of view. You, for instance, you live, you are not afraid to live. Yet you make our Bohemianism seem like a vulgar thing."
She stirred gently in her chair.
"My friend," she said, "I have been your pupil for two years. You have watched all the uncouth creations of my brain come sprawling out upon the canvas, and besides, we have been companions. Yet the fact remains that you do not understand me at all. No, not one little bit. It is extraordinary."
"It is," he replied, "the one humiliation of my life. My opportunities have been immense, and my failure utter. If I had been your companion only, and not your master, I might very well have been content to accept you for what you seem. But there have been times, Anna, when your work has startled me. Ill-drawn, without method or sense of proportion, you have put wonderful things on to canvas, have drawn them out of yourself, notwithstanding your mechanical inefficiency. God knows how you did it. You are utterly baffling."
She laughed at him easily and mirthfully.
"Dear friend," she said, "do not magnify me into a physiological problem. I should only disappoint you terribly some day. I think I know where I am puzzling you now----"
"Then for Heaven's sake be merciful," he exclaimed. "Lift up one corner of the curtain for me."
"Very well. You shall tell me if I am wrong. You see me here, an admitted failure in the object to which I have devoted two years of my life. You know that I am practically destitute, without means or any certain knowledge of where my next meal is coming from. I speak frankly, because you also know that no possible extremity would induce me to accept help from any living person. You notice that I have recently spent ten francs on a box of the best Russian cigarettes, and that there are roses upon my table. You observe that I am, as usual, fairly cheerful, and moderately amiable. It surprises you. You do not understand, and you would like to. Very well! I will try to help you."
Her hand hung over the side of her chair nearest to him. He looked at it eagerly, but made no movement to take it. During all their long comradeship he had never so much as ventured to hold her fingers. This was David Courtlaw, whose ways, too, had never been very different from the ways of other men as regards her sex.
"You see, it comes after all," she continued, "from certain original convictions which have become my religion. Rather a magniloquent term, perhaps, but what else am I to say? One of these is that the most absolutely selfish thing in the world is to give way to depression, to think of one's troubles at all except of how to overcome them. I spend many delightful hours thinking of the pleasant and beautiful things of life. I decline to waste a single second even in considering
the ugly ones. Do you know that this becomes a habit?"
"If you would only teach us all," he murmured, "how to acquire it."
"I suppose people would say that it is a matter of temperament," she continued. "With me I believe that it is more. It has become a part of the order of my life. Whatever may happen tomorrow I shall be none the better for anticipating
its miseries today."
"I wonder," he said, a trifle irrelevantly, "what the future has in store for you."
She shrugged her shoulders.
"Is that not rather a profitless speculation, my friend?"
He seemed deaf to her interruption. His grey eyes burned under his shaggy eyebrows. He leaned towards her as though anxious to see more of her face than that faint delicate profile gleaming like marble in the uncertain light.
"You were born for great things," he said huskily. "For great passions, for great accomplishments. Will you find your destiny, I wonder, or will you go through life like so many others--a wanderer, knocking ever at empty doors, homeless to the last? Oh, if one could but find the way to your heart."
She laughed gaily.
"Dear friend," she said, "remember that you are speaking to one who has failed in the only serious object which she has ever sought to accomplish. My destiny, I am afraid, is going to lead me into the ruts."
He shook his head.
"You were never born," he declared, "to follow the well worn roads. I wonder," he added, after a moment's pause, "whether you ever realize how young you are."
"Young? I am twenty-four."
"Yet you are very young. Anna, why will you persist in this single-handed combat with life?"
"Don't!" she cried.
"But I must, I will," he answered fiercely. "Oh, I know you would stop me if you could. This time you cannot. You are the woman I love, Anna. Let me make your future for you. Don't be afraid that I shall stunt it. I will give you a broad free life. You shall have room to develop, you shall live as you will, where you will, only give me the right to protect you, to free you from all these petty material cares."
She laid her hand softly upon his.
"Dear friend," she said, "do you not think that you are breaking an unspoken compact? I am very sorry. In your heart you know quite well that all that you have said is useless."
"Ay," he repeated, looking away from her. "Useless--worse than useless."
"You are foolish," she declared, with a note of irritability in her tone. "You would appear to be trying to destroy a comradeship which has been very, very pleasant. For you know that I have made up my mind to dig a little way into life single-handed. I, too, want to understand--to walk with my head in the light. Love is a great thing, and happiness a joy. Let me go my own way towards them. We may meet--who can tell? But I will not be fettered, even though you would make the chains of roses. Listen."
She stopped short. There was a sharp knocking at the outside door. Courtlaw rose to his feet.
"It is too late for visitors," she remarked. "I wonder would you mind seeing who it is."
Courtlaw crossed the room and threw open the door. He had come to Anna's rooms from a dinner party, and he was in evening dress. Sir John, who was standing outside, looked past him at the girl still sitting in the shadow.
"I believe," he said stiffly, "that these are the apartments of Miss Pellissier. I must apologize for disturbing you at such an unseemly hour, but I should be very much obliged if Miss Pellissier would allow me a few minutes' conversation. My name is Ferringhall--Sir John Ferringhall."