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 6. A Question of Identification
The little man with the closely-cropped beard and hair looked at her keenly through his gold eye-glasses. He sat before a desk littered all over with papers and official looking documents. The walls of the room were lined with shelves, on which were glass jars, retorts, countless bottles and many appliances of surgical science. A skeleton was propped against the mantelpiece. The atmosphere seemed heavy with the odour of drugs.
"You are Mademoiselle Pellissier?" he asked, without rising to his feet.
Anna admitted the fact.
"We sent for you several hours ago," he remarked.
"I came directly I was disengaged," Anna answered. "In any case, there is probably some mistake. I have very few friends in Paris."
He referred to a sheet of paper by his side.
"Your name and address were upon an envelope found in the pocket of an Englishman who was brought here late last night suffering from serious injuries," he said in a dry official tone. "As it is doubtful whether the man will live, we should be glad if you would identify him."
"It is most unlikely that I shall be able to do so," Anna answered. "To the best of my belief, I have not a single English acquaintance in the city."
"My dear young lady," the official said irritably, "this man would not have your name and address in his pocket without an object. You cannot tell whether you know him or not until you have seen him. Be so good as to come this way."
With a little shrug of the shoulders Anna followed him. They ascended by a lift to one of the upper floors, passed through a long ward, and finally came to a bed in the extreme corner, round which a screen had been arranged. A nurse came hurrying up.
"He is quiet only this minute," she said to the official. "All the time he is shouting and muttering. If this is the young lady, she can perhaps calm him."
Anna stepped to the foot of the bed. An electric light flashed out from the wall. The face of the man who lay there was clearly visible. Anna merely glanced at the coarse, flushed features, and at once shook her head.
"I have never seen him in my life," she said to the official. "I have not the least idea who he is."
Just then the man's eyes opened. He saw the girl, and sprang up in bed.
"Annabel at last," he shouted. "Where have you been? All these hours I have been calling for you. Annabel, I was lying. Who says that I am not Meysey Hill? I was trying to scare you. See, it is on my cards--M. Hill, Meysey Hill. Don't touch the handle, Annabel! Curse the thing, you've jammed it now. Do you want to kill us both? Stop the thing. Stop it!"
Anna stepped back bewildered, but the man held out his arms to her.
"I tell you it was a lie!" he shouted wildly. "Can't you believe me? I am Meysey Hill. I am the richest man in England. I am the richest man in the world. You love money. You know you do, Annabel. Never mind, I've got plenty. We'll go to the shops. Diamonds! You shall have all that you can carry away, sacks full if you like. Pearls too! I mean it. I tell you I'm Meysey Hill, the railway man. Don't leave me. Don't leave me in this beastly thing. Annabel! Annabel!"
His voice became a shriek. In response to an almost imperative gesture from the nurse, Anna laid her hand upon his. He fell back upon the pillows with a little moan, clutching the slim white fingers fiercely. In a moment his grasp grew weaker. The perspiration stood out upon his forehead. His eyes closed.
Anna stepped back at once with a little gasp of relief. The hand which the man had been holding hung limp and nerveless at her side. She held it away from her with an instinctive repulsion, born of her unconquerable antipathy to the touch of strangers. She began rubbing it with her pocket-handkerchief. The man himself was not a pleasant object. Part of his head was swathed in linen bandages. Such of his features as were visible were of coarse mould. His eyes were set too close together. Anna turned deliberately away from the bedside. She followed the official back into his room.
"Well?" he asked her tersely.
"I can only repeat what I said before," she declared. "To the best of my belief, I have never seen the man in my life."
"But he recognized you," the official objected.
"He fancied that he did," she corrected him coolly. "I suppose delusions are not uncommon to patients in his condition."
The official frowned.
"Your name and address in his pocket was no delusion," he said sharply. "I do not wish to make impertinent inquiries into your private life. Nothing is of any concern of ours except the discovery of the man's identity. He was picked up from amongst the wreckage of a broken motor on the road to Versailles last night, and we have information that a lady was with him only a few minutes before the accident occurred."
"You are very unbelieving," Anna said coldly. "I hope you will not compel me to say again that I do not know the man's name, nor, to the best of my belief, have I ever seen him before in my life."
The official shrugged his shoulders.
"You decline to help us in any way, then," he said. "Remember that the man will probably die. He had little money about him, and unless friends come to his aid he must be treated as a pauper."
"I do not wish to seem unfeeling," Anna said, slowly, "but I can only repeat that I am absolutely without concern in the matter. The man is a stranger to me."
The official had no more to say. Only it was with a further and most unbelieving shrug of the shoulders that he resumed his seat.
"You will be so good as to leave us your correct name and address, mademoiselle," he said curtly.
"You have them both," Anna answered.
He opened the door for her with a faint disagreeable smile.
"It is possible, mademoiselle," he said, "that this affair is not yet ended. It may bring us together again."
She passed out without reply. Yet she took with her an uneasy consciousness that in this affair might lie the germs of future trouble.
As she crossed the square, almost within a stone's throw of her lodgings, she came face to face with Courtlaw. He stopped short with a little exclamation of surprise.
"My dear friend," she laughed, "not so tragic, if you please."
He recovered himself.
"I was surprised, I admit," he said. "You did not tell me that you were going out, or I would have offered my escort. Do you know how late it is?"
"I heard the clock strike as I crossed the square," she answered. "I was sent for to go to the Hospital St. Denis. But what are you doing here?"
"Old Père Runeval met me on your doorstep, and he would not let me go. I have been sitting with him ever since. The Hospital St. Denis, did you say? I hope that no one of our friends has met with an accident."
She shook her head.
"They wanted me to identify some one whom I had certainly never seen before in my life, and to tell you the truth, they were positively rude to me because I could not. Have you ever heard the name of Meysey Hill?"
"Meysey Hill?" He repeated it after her, and she knew at once from his tone and his quick glance into her face that the name possessed some significance for him.
"Yes, I have heard of him, and I know him by sight," he admitted. "He was a friend of your sister's, was he not?"
"I never heard her mention his name," she answered. "Still, of course, it is possible. This man was apparently not sure whether he was Meysey Hill or not."
"How long had he been in the hospital?" Courtlaw asked.
"Since last night."
"Then, whoever he may be, he is not Meysey Hill," Courtlaw said. "That young man was giving a luncheon party to a dozen friends at the Café de Paris to-day. I sat within a few feet of him. I feel almost inclined to regret the fact."
"Why?" she asked.
"If one half of the stories about Meysey Hill are true," he answered, "I would not stretch out my little finger to save his life."
"Isn't that a little extreme?"
"I am an extreme person at times. This man has an evil reputation. I know of scandalous deeds which he has done."
Anna had reached the house where she lodged, but she hesitated on the doorstep.
"Have you ever seen Annabel with him?" she asked.
"It is odd that this man at the hospital should call himself Meysey Hill," she remarked.
"If you wish," he said, "I will go there in the morning and see what can be done for him."
"It would be very kind of you," she declared. "I am only sorry that I did not ask you to go with me."
She rang the bell, and he waited by her side until she was admitted to the tall, gloomy lodging-house. And ever after it struck him that her backward smile as she disappeared was charged with some special significance. The door closed upon her, and he moved reluctantly away. When next he asked for her, some twelve hours later, he was told that Mademoiselle had left. His most eager inquiries and most lavish bribes could gain no further information than that she had left for England, and that her address was--London.