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 7. Miss Pellissier's Suspicions
Anna kissed her sister and nodded to her aunt. Then she sat down--uninvited--and looked from one to the other curiously. There was something about their greeting and the tone of Annabel's exclamation which puzzled her.
"I wish," she said, "that you would leave off looking at me as though I were something grisly. I am your very dutiful niece, aunt, and your most devoted sister, Annabel. I haven't murdered any one, or broken the law in any way that I know of. Perhaps you will explain the state of panic into which I seem to have thrown you."
Annabel, who was looking very well, and who was most becomingly dressed, moved to a seat from which she could command a view of the road outside. She was the first to recover herself. Her aunt, a faded, anaemic-looking lady of somewhat too obtrusive gentility, was still sitting with her hand pressed to her heart.
Annabel looked up and down the empty street, and then turned to her sister.
"For one thing, Anna," she remarked, "we had not the slightest idea that you had left, or were leaving Paris. You did not say a word about it last week, nor have you written. It is quite a descent from the clouds, isn't it?"
"I will accept that," Anna said, "as accounting for the surprise. Perhaps you will now explain the alarm."
Miss Pellissier was beginning to recover herself. She too at once developed an anxious interest in the street outside.
"I am sure, Anna," she said, "I do not see why we should conceal the truth from you. We are expecting a visit from Sir John Ferringhall at any moment. He is coming here to tea."
"Well?" Anna remarked calmly.
"Sir John," her aunt repeated, with thin emphasis, "is coming to see your sister."
Anna drummed impatiently with her fingers against the arm of her chair.
"Well!" she declared good-humouredly. "I shan't eat him."
Miss Pellissier stiffened visibly.
"This is not a matter altogether for levity, Anna," she said. "Your sister's future is at stake. I imagine that even you must realize that this is of some importance."
Anna glanced towards her sister, but the latter avoided her eyes.
"I have always," she admitted calmly, "taken a certain amount of interest in Annabel's future. I should like to know how it is concerned with Sir John Ferringhall, and how my presence intervenes."
"Sir John," Miss Pellissier said impressively, "has asked your sister to be his wife. It is a most wonderful piece of good fortune, as I suppose you will be prepared to admit. The Ferringhalls are of course without any pretence at family, but Sir John is a very rich man, and will be able to give Annabel a very enviable position in the world. The settlements which he has spoken of, too, are most munificent. No wonder we are anxious that nothing should happen to make him change his mind."
Anna stopped short. Suddenly she understood. She grew perhaps a shade paler, and she glanced out into the street, where her four-wheeler cab, laden with luggage, was still waiting.
"Sir John of course disapproves of me," she remarked slowly.
"Sir John is a man of the world," her aunt answered coldly. "He naturally does not wish for connexions which are--I do not wish to hurt you feelings, Anna, but I must say it--not altogether desirable."
The irrepressible smile curved Anna's lips. She glanced towards her sister, and curiously enough found in her face some faint reflection of her own rather sombre mirth. She leaned back in her chair. It was no use. The smile had become a laugh. She laughed till the tears stood in her eyes.
"I had a visit from Sir John in my rooms," she said. "Did he tell you, Annabel?"
"He mentioned the matter to me also," Miss Pellissier remarked stiffly. "The visit seems to have made a most painful impression upon him. To tell you the truth, he spoke to me very seriously upon the subject."
Anna sprang up.
"I will be off," she declared. "My cab with all that luggage would give the whole show away. Good-bye, aunt."
Miss Pellissier tried ineffectually to conceal her relief.
"I do not like to seem inhospitable, Anna," she said hesitatingly. "And of course you are my niece just as Annabel is, although I am sorry to learn that your conduct has been much less discreet than hers. But at the same time, I must say plainly that I think your presence here just now would be a great misfortune. I wish very much that you had written before leaving Paris."
"Quite right," she said. "I ought to have done. Good-bye aunt. I'll come and see you again later on. Annabel, come to the door with me," she added a little abruptly. "There is something which I must say to you."
Annabel rose and followed her sister from the room. A maidservant held the front door open. Anna sent her away.
"Annabel," she said brusquely. "Listen to me."
"Sir John came to me--that you know--and you can guess what I told him. No, never mind about thanking me. I want to ask you a plain question, and you must answer me faithfully. Is all that folly done with--for ever?"
Annabel shivered ever so slightly.
"Of course it is, Anna. You ought to know that. I am going to make a fresh start."
"Be very sure that you do," Anna said slowly. "If I thought for a moment that there was any chance of a relapse, I should stop here and tell him the truth even now."
Annabel looked at her with terrified eyes.
"Anna," she cried, "you must believe me. I am really in earnest. I would not have him know--now--for the world."
"Very well," Anna said. "I will believe you. Remember that he's not at all a bad sort, and to speak frankly, he's your salvation. Try and let him never regret it. There's plenty to be got out of life in a decent sort of way. Be a good wife to him. You can if you will."
"I promise," Annabel declared. "He is very kind, Anna, really, and not half such a prig as he seems."
Anna moved towards the door, but her sister detained her.
"Won't you tell me why you have come to England?" she said. "It was such a surprise to see you. I thought that you loved Paris and your work so much."
A momentary bitterness crept into Anna's tone.
"I have made no progress with my work," she said slowly, "and the money was gone. I had to ask Mr. Courtlaw for his true verdict, and he gave it me. I have given up painting."
"It is true, dear. After all there are other things. All that I regret are the wasted years, and I am not sure that I regret them. Only of course I must begin something else at once. That is why I came to London."
"But what are you going to do--where are you going to live?" Annabel asked. "Have you any money?"
"Lots," Anna answered laconically. "Never mind me. I always fall on my feet, you know."
"You will let us hear from you--let us know where you are, very soon?" Annabel called out from the step.
Anna nodded as she briskly crossed the pavement.
"Some day," she answered. "Run in now. There's a hansom coming round the corner."
Anna sat back in her cab, but found it remain stationary.
"Gracious!" she exclaimed to herself. "I don't know where to go to."
The cabman, knocking with the butt end of his whip upon the window, reminded her that he was in a similar predicament.
"Drive towards St. Pancras," she directed, promptly. "I will tell you when to stop."
The cab rumbled off. Anna leaned forward, watching the people in the streets. It was then for the first time she remembered that she had said nothing to her sister of the man in the hospital.