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 10. The Tragedy of an Appetite
Anna, notwithstanding her quiet clothes, a figure marvellously out of accord with her surroundings, sat before a small marble-topped table at a crowded A.B.C., and munched a roll and butter with hearty appetite.
"If only I could afford another!" she thought regretfully. "I wonder why I am always hungry nowadays. It is so ridiculous."
She lingered over her tea, and glancing around, a sudden reflection on the change in her surroundings from the scene of her last night's supper brought a faint, humorous smile to her lips.
"In two days," she reflected, "Mrs. White will present her bill. I have one shilling and sevenpence halfpenny left. I have two days in which to earn nearly thirty shillings--that is with no dinners, and get a situation. I fancy that this is a little more than playing at Bohemianism."
"So far," she continued, eyeing hungrily the last morsel of roll which lay upon her plate, "my only chance of occupation has lain with a photographer who engaged me on the spot and insulted me in half an hour. What beasts men are! I cannot typewrite, my three stories are still wandering round, two milliners have refused me as a lay figure because business was so bad. I am no use for a clerk, because I do not understand shorthand. After all, I fancy that I shall have to apply for a situation as a nursery governess who understands French. Faugh!"
She took up the last morsel of roll, and held it delicately between her long slim fingers. Then her white teeth gleamed, and her excuse for remaining any longer before that little marble table was gone. She rose, paid her bill, and turned westwards.
She walked with long swinging steps, scorning the thought of buses or the tube. If ever she felt fatigue in these long tramps which had already taken her half over London, she never admitted it. Asking her way once or twice, she passed along Fleet Street into the Strand, and crossed Trafalgar Square, into Piccadilly. Here she walked more slowly, looking constantly at the notices in the shop windows. One she entered and met with a sharp rebuff, which she appeared to receive unmoved. But when she reached the pavement outside her teeth were clenched, and she carried herself unconsciously an inch or so higher. It was just then that she came face to face with Nigel Ennison.
He was walking listlessly along, well-dressed, debonnair, good-looking. Directly he saw Anna he accosted her. His manner was deferential, even eager. Anna, who was disposed to be sharply critical, could find no fault with it.
"How fortunate I am, Miss Pellissier! All day I have been hoping that I might run across you. You got my note?"
"I certainly received a note," Anna admitted.
"You were going to answer it?"
"Certainly not!" she said deliberately.
He looked at her with an expression of comical despair.
"What have I done, Miss Pellissier?" he pleaded. "We were good friends in Paris,
weren't we? You made me all sorts of promises, we planned no end of nice things, and then--without a word to any one you disappeared. Now we meet again, and you will scarcely look at me. You seem altogether altered, too. Upon my word--you are Miss Pellissier, aren't you?"
"I certainly am," she admitted.
He looked at her for a moment in a puzzled sort of way.
"Of course!" he said. "You have changed somehow--and you certainly are less friendly."
She laughed. After all, his was a pleasant face, and a pleasant voice, and very likely Annabel had behaved badly.
"Perhaps," she said, "it is the London climate. It depresses one, you know."
"You look more like your old self when you smile," he remarked. "But, forgive me, you are tired. Won't you come and have some tea with me? There is a new place in Bond Street," he hastened to say, "where everything is very well done, and they give us music, if that is any attraction to you."
She hesitated and looked for a moment straight into his eyes. He certainly bore inspection. He was tall and straight, and his expression was good.
"I will come--with pleasure," she said, "if you will promise to treat me as a new
acquaintance--not to refer to--Paris--at all."
"I promise," he answered heartily. "Allow me."
He took his place by her side, and they talked lightly of London, the shops and people. They found a cosy little table in the tea-rooms, and everything was delicious. Anna, with her marvellous capacity for enjoyment, ate cakes and laughed, and forgot that she had had tea an hour or so ago at an A.B.C., or that she had a care in the world.
"By-the-bye," he said, presently, "your sister was married to old Ferringhall the other day, wasn't she? I saw the notice in the papers."
Anna never flinched. But after the first shock came a warm glow of relief. After all, it was what she had been praying for--and Annabel could not have known her address.
"My sister and I," she said slowly, "have seen very little of each other lately. I fancy that Sir John does not approve of me."
Ennison shrugged his shoulders.
"Sort of man who can see no further than his nose," he remarked contemptuously. "Fearful old fogey! I can't imagine any sister of yours putting up with him for a moment. I thought perhaps you were staying with them, as you did not seem particularly anxious to recognize your old friends."
Anna shook her head.
"No, I am alone," she answered.
"Then we must try and make London endurable for you," he remarked cheerfully.
"What night will you dine and go to the theatre with me?--and how about Hurlingham on Saturday?"
Anna shook her head.
"Thank you," she said coolly. "Those things are not for me just at present. "
He was obviously puzzled. Anna sighed as she reflected that her sister had simply revelled in her indiscretions.
"Come," he said, "you can't be meaning to bury yourself. There must be something we can do. What do you say to Brighton----"
Anna looked at him quietly--and he never finished his sentence.
"May I ask whether you are staying with friends in town?" he inquired deferentially. "Perhaps your engagements are made for you."
"I am staying," she answered coolly, "at a small boarding-house near Russell
He dropped his eye-glass with a clatter.
"At a boarding-house?" he gasped.
"Yes. I am an independent sort of person," she continued, "and I am engaged in
an attempt to earn my own living. You don't happen to know of any one, I suppose, who wants a nursery governess, or a clerk--without shorthand--or a tryer-on, or a copyist, or----"
"For Heaven's sake stop, Miss Pellissier," he interrupted. "What a hideous repertoire! If you are in earnest about wanting to earn money, why on earth don't you accept an engagement here?"
"An engagement?" she queried.
"On the stage? Yes. You would not have the slightest difficulty."
She laughed softly to herself.
"Do you know," she confessed, "I never thought of that?"
He looked at her as though doubting even now whether she could possibly be in earnest.
"I cannot conceive," he said, "how any other occupation could ever have occurred
to you. You do not need me to remind you of your success at Paris. The papers are continually wondering what has become of 'Alcide.' Your name alone would fill any music hall in London."
Again that curious smile which puzzled him so much parted her lips for a moment.
"Dear me," she said, "I fancy you exaggerate my fame. I can't imagine Londoners--particularly interested in me."
He shrugged his shoulders. Even now he was not at all sure that she was not playing with him. There were so many things about her which he could not understand. She began to draw on her gloves thoughtfully.
"I am very much obliged for the tea," she said. "This is a charming place, and I
have enjoyed the rest."
"It was a delightful piece of good fortune that I should have met you," he answered. "I hope that whatever your plans may be, you will give me the opportunity of seeing something of you now and then."
"I am afraid," she said, preceding him down the narrow stairs, "that I am going
to be too busy to have much time for gadding about. However, I daresay that we shall come across one another before long."
"That is provokingly indefinite," he answered, a little ruefully. "Won't you give me your address?"
She shook her head.
"It is such a very respectable boarding-house," she said. "I feel quite sure that Mrs. White would not approve of callers."
"I have a clue, at any rate," he remarked, smiling. "I must try the Directory. "
"I wish you good luck," she answered. "There are a good many Whites in London. "
"May I put you in a hansom?" he asked, lifting his stick.
"For Heaven's sake, no," she answered quickly. "Do you want to ruin me? I shall
"I may come a little way, then?" he begged.
"If you think it worth while," she answered doubtfully.
Apparently he thought it very much worth while. Restraining with an effort his intense curiosity, he talked of general subjects only, trying his best to entertain her. He succeeded so well that they were almost in Montague Street before Anna stopped short.
"Heavens!" she exclaimed. "I have brought you very nearly to my door. Go back at once, please."
He held out his hand obediently.
"I'll go," he said, "but I warn you that I shall find you out."
For a moment she was grave.
"Well," she said. "I may be leaving where I am in a few days, so very likely you
will be no better off."
He looked at her intently.
"Miss Pellissier," he said, "I don't understand this change in you. Every word you utter puzzles me. I have an idea that you are in some sort of trouble. Won't you let me--can't I be of any assistance?"
He was obviously in earnest. His tone was kind and sympathetic.
"You are very good," she said. "Indeed I shall not forget your offer. But just now there is nothing which you or anybody can do. Good-bye."
He was dismissed, and he understood it. Anna crossed the street, and letting herself in at No. 13 with a latchkey went humming lightly up to her room. She was in excellent spirits, and it was not until she had taken off her hat, and was considering the question of dinner or no dinner, that she remembered that another day had passed, and she was not a whit nearer being able to pay her tomorrow's bill.