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.
Here is our current selection:
Anna the Adventuress (1904) by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Chapter 9. Brendon's Luck
Anna sat in a chair in her room and sighed. She was alone, and the mask of her unchanging high spirits was for the moment laid aside. She was a little paler than when she had come to London, a little paler and a little thinner. There were dark rims under her eyes, soft now with unshed tears. For this three weeks had been the hardest of her life. There had been disappointments and humiliations, and although she hated to admit it even to herself, she was in desperate straits. Nevertheless, she was still fighting.
"There is one thing I must concentrate on at the moment," she told herself, "and that is how to pay my next week's bill to Mrs. White. It ought not to be much. I have gone without dinner for three nights, and--come in."
Sydney Courtlaw followed his timid knock. Anna raised her eyebrows at the sight of him. He was in evening dress: swallow-tailed coat and white tie.
"Is this a concession to Mrs. White?" she asked, laughing. "How gratified she must have been! If only I had known I would have made an effort to get home in time for dinner."
"Not exactly," he answered nervously. "Please forgive me coming up, Miss Pellissier, but you have not been down to dinner for three nights, and--Brendon and I--we were afraid that you might be unwell."
"Never better in my life," Anna declared briskly. "I had lunch very late today, and I did not get home in time for dinner."
She smiled grimly at the recollection of that lunch--tea and roll at a cheap café. Sydney was watching her eagerly.
"I'm glad you're all right," he said, "because we want you to do us a favour. Brendon's had an awful stroke of luck."
"I'm delighted," she exclaimed. "Do tell me all about it."
"He only heard this afternoon," Sydney continued. "An uncle in New York is dead, and has left him loads of money. A lawyer has come all the way from America about it. We want to celebrate, and we want you to help us. Brendon suggests supper at the Carlton. We meant to make it dinner and a theatre, but you were not home. We thought of starting in half an hour's time, and trying for a theatre somewhere on the way."
"How delightful!" exclaimed Anna. "I should love to come. It is very sweet of you to have waited for me. Run away now, please. I must see if I have a gown fit to wear."
"This," Anna declared, as she sipped her wine and looked around her, "reminds me more of Paris than any place I have yet seen. I suppose it is the mirrors and decorations."
"And the people?" Brendon asked. "What do you think of them?"
Anna extended her critical survey and shrugged her shoulders.
"What can one say?" she exclaimed. "Did you ever see women so weary-looking and so dowdy? They do not talk. They seem to spend their time yawning and inspecting their neighbour's dresses through those hateful glasses. It never seems to enter their heads to try and amuse their menkind."
Two young men on their way down the room came suddenly to a standstill before Anna. The foremost, tall, clean-shaven, perfectly groomed, half extended his hand with a smile of recognition.
"Miss Pellissier, isn't it?" he said. "Glad to see you in London. No idea that you were here, though."
Anna looked up with a doubtful smile of non-recognition.
"My name is certainly Pellissier," she said, "but I am very sorry--I do not recognize you in the least."
The tall young man dropped his eye-glass and smiled.
"Had the pleasure of dining with you at the 'Ambassador's' one night, before the show, you know--last September I think it was. Charley Pevenill was our host. My name is Armytage--Lord Ernest Armytage."
Anna had suddenly stiffened. She regarded the young man coldly. Her tone was icy.
"I am afraid that you are making a mistake," she said. "I was never at any such dinner, and I am quite sure that I do not know you."
"Perhaps you remember me, Miss Pellissier," the second young man interposed. "I had the pleasure of--er--meeting you more than once, I believe."
A spot of colour flared in Anna's cheek as she glanced towards the speaker. Something in his smile, in the cynical suggestiveness of his deferential tone, maddened her.
"To the best of my belief," she said, with quiet dignity, "I have never seen either of you before in my life."
For a fraction of a second the two young men hesitated. Then the foremost bowed and passed on.
"I am exceedingly sorry," he said. "Pray accept my apologies."
"And mine," murmured his companion, with the smile still lingering upon his lips.
They took their places at a distant table. Anna sat quite still for a moment, and then the colour suddenly returned to her cheeks. She laughed softly, and leaned across the table.
"Do not look so uncomfortable, both of you," she begged. "Those young men startled me at first, because they knew my name. I am quite sure though that they did not mean to be rude."
"Impudent beggars," Sydney growled. "I never wanted to kick any one so much in my life as that second fellow."
"I think," Anna said, "that it was only his manner. Do look at this tragedy in mauve, who has just come in. What can she be? The wife of a country tradesman, or a duchess? And such a meek little husband too. What can she have done to deserve such a fate? Oh!"
They both turned round at Anna's exclamation. A familiar figure was making his way towards them. Sydney sprang up.
"Why, it's David!" he exclaimed. "Hullo!"
Courtlaw, haggard, his deep-set eyes more brilliant than ever, took Anna's hand into his, and breathed a little close drawn sigh of content. He was introduced to Brendon, and a chair was brought by an attentive waiter. He declined supper, but took wine.
"Have you dropped from the skies?" Sydney asked wonderingly. "It was only yesterday I had your letter, and you never mentioned coming over."
"I had some unexpected business," Courtlaw answered shortly.
"And how did you find us here?"
"I called at Montague Street a few minutes after you had left. Mrs. White told me where to find you."
He leaned back in his chair as though wearied. Yet either the rest or the wine seemed already to have done him good. The lines about his mouth gradually softened. He talked very little and rather absently. In no way could he be said to contribute to the gaiety of the little party. But when they were on their way out he whispered in Anna's ear.
"Please let me drive you home. I want to talk to you, and I must return tomorrow."
"We are Mr. Brendon's guests," she said, "and I scarcely think it would be nice of me to leave him alone with Sydney."
Courtlaw turned abruptly to Brendon.
"Mr. Brendon," he said, "may I rob you of your guest just for the drive home? I have only a few hours in England, and Miss Pellissier is an old friend."
"By all means," Brendon answered. "We will follow you in another cab."
They passed out on to the pavement, and the commissionaire called a hansom. The man looked closely at Anna as she crossed the footway, and as he held her skirt from the wheel he pressed something into her hand. Her fingers closed upon it instinctively. It was a letter. She slipped it calmly into her pocket. The commissionaire smiled. It was a sovereign easily earned.
The hansom drove off. Suddenly Anna felt her hand seized and imprisoned in Courtlaw's burning fingers. She glanced into his face. It was enough.
"I have stood it for a month, Anna," he exclaimed. "You will not even answer my letters. I could not keep away any longer."
"Do you think that it was wise of you, or kind to come?" she asked quietly.
"Wise! Kind! What mockery words are! I came because I had to. I cannot live without you, Anna. Come back--you must come back. We can be married tomorrow in Paris. There! You are trying to take your hand away."
"You disappoint me," she said wearily. "You are talking like a boy. What is the use of it? I do not wish to marry you. I do not wish to return to Paris. You are doing your best to break our friendship."
"It is you," he cried, "you, who are talking folly, when you speak of friendship between you and me. It is not the woman who speaks there. It is the vapouring school girl. I tell you that I love you, Anna, and I believe that you love me. You are necessary to me. I shall give you my life, every moment and thought of my life. You must come back. See what you have made of me. I cannot work, I cannot teach. You have grown into my life, and I cannot tear you out."
Anna was silent. She was trembling a little. The man's passion was infectious. She had to school herself to speak the words which she knew would cut him like a knife.
"You are mistaken, David. I have counted you, and always hoped to count you, the best of my friends. But I do not love you. I do not love any one."
"I don't believe it," he answered hoarsely. "We have come too close together for me to believe it. You care for me a little, I know. I will teach you how to make that little sufficient."
"You came to tell me this?"
"I came for you," he declared fiercely.
The hansom sped through the crowded streets. Anna suddenly leaned forward and looked around her.
"We are not going the right way," she exclaimed.
"You are coming my way," Courtlaw answered. "Anna," he pleaded, "be merciful. You care for me just a little, I know. You are alone in the world, you have no one save yourself to consider. Come back with me tonight. Your old rooms are there, if you choose. I kept them on myself till the sight of your empty chair and the chill loneliness of it all nearly sent me mad."
Anna lifted her hand and pushed open the trap door.
"Drive to 13, Montague Street, cabman," she ordered.
The man pulled up his horse grumbling, and turned round. Courtlaw sat with folded arms. He said nothing.
"My friend," she said, "no! Let me tell you this. Nothing would induce me to marry you, or any man at present. I am a pauper, and as yet I have not discovered how to earn money. I am determined to fight my own little battle with the world--there must be a place for me somewhere, and I mean to find it. Afterwards, it may be different. If I were to marry you now I should feel a dependent being all my life--a sort of parasitical creature without blood or muscle. I should lose every scrap of independence--even my self-respect. However good you were to me, and however happy I was in other ways, I should find this intolerable."
"All these things," he muttered bitterly, "this desperate resolve to take your life into your own hands, your unnatural craving for independence, would never trouble you for a moment--if you really cared."
"Then perhaps," she answered, with a new coldness in her tone, "perhaps I really do not care. No, don't interrupt me. I think that I am a little disappointed in you. You appear to be amongst those strong enough in all ordinary matters, but who seem to think it quite natural and proper to give in at once and play the weakling directly--one cares. Do you think that it makes for happiness to force oneself into the extravagant belief that love is the only thing in the world worth having, and to sacrifice for it independence, self-respect, one's whole scheme of life. I cannot do it, David. Perhaps, as you say, I do not really care--but I cannot do it."
He was strangely silent. He did not even reply to her for several minutes.
"I cannot reason with you," he said at last wearily. "I speak from my heart, and you answer from your brain."
"Believe me that I have answered you wisely," she said, in a gentler tone, "wisely for you too, as well as myself. And now you must go back, take up your work and think all this over. Presently you will see that I am right, and then you shall take your vacation over here, and we will be good comrades again."
He smiled bitterly as he handed her from the cab. He declined to come in.
"Will you tell Sydney that I will see him in the morning," he said. "I am staying at the Savoy. He can come round there."
"You will shake hands with me, please," she begged.
He took her fingers and lifted his eyes to hers. Something he saw there made him feel for a moment ashamed. He pressed the long shapely hand warmly in his.
"Good-bye," he said earnestly. "Please forgive me. You are right. Quite right."
She was able to go straight to her room without delay, and she at once locked the door with a little sigh of relief. She found herself struggling with a storm of tears.
A sob was strangled in her throat. She struggled fiercely not to give way.
"Oh, I am lonely," she moaned. "I am lonely. If I could but--"
To escape from her thoughts she began to undress, humming a light tune to herself, though her eyes were hot with unshed tears, and the sobs kept rising in her throat. As she drew off her skirt she felt something in the pocket, and remembered the letter which the commissionaire at the Carlton had given her. She tore open the envelope and read it.
"My Dear Girl,--
"I am so sorry if we made asses of ourselves tonight. The fact is I was so glad to see you again that it never occurred to me that a little discretion might be advisable. I'm afraid I'm a terribly clumsy fellow.
"I hope that you are going to allow me to see something of you during your stay in London, for the sake of old times. Could you come to tea at my rooms one afternoon, or would you dine with me somewhere, and do a theatre? We could have a private room, of course, if you do not wish to be seen about London, and a box at the theatre. I often think of those delightful evenings in Paris. May we not repeat them once, at any rate, in London?
"P.S. My address is 94, Pall Mall."
Anna read, and her cheeks grew slowly scarlet. She crushed the letter in her hand.
"I wonder," she murmured to herself, "if this is the beginning."