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 16. The Discomfiture of Sir John
Sir John looked from one to the other of the two sisters. His face darkened.
"My arrival appears to be opportune," he said stiffly. "I was hoping to be able to secure a few minutes' conversation with you, Miss Pellissier. Perhaps my wife has already prepared you for what I wish to say."
"Not in the least," Anna answered calmly. "We have scarcely mentioned your name."
Sir John coughed. He looked at Annabel, whose face was buried in her hands--he looked back at Anna, who was regarding him with an easy composure which secretly irritated him.
"It is concerning--our future relations," Sir John pronounced ponderously.
"Indeed!" Anna answered indifferently. "That sounds interesting."
Sir John frowned. Anna was unimpressed. Elegant, a little scornful, she leaned slightly against the back of a chair and looked him steadily in the eyes.
"I have no wish," he said, "to altogether ignore the fact that you are my wife's sister, and have therefore a certain claim upon me."
Anna's eyes opened a little wider, but she said nothing.
"A claim," he continued, "which I am quite prepared to recognize. It will give me great pleasure to settle an annuity for a moderate amount upon you on certain conditions."
"A--what?" Anna asked.
"An annuity--a sum of money paid to you yearly or quarterly through my solicitors, and which you can consider as a gift from your sister. The conditions are such as I think you will recognize the justice of. I wish to prevent a repetition of any such errand as I presume you have come here upon this evening. I cannot have my wife distressed or worried."
"May I ask," Anna said softly, "what you presume to have been the nature of my errand here this evening?"
Sir John pointed to Annabel, who was as yet utterly limp.
"I cannot but conclude," he said, "that your errand involved the recital to my wife of some trouble in which you find yourself. I should like to add that if a certain amount is needed to set you free from any debts you may have contracted, in addition to this annuity, you will not find me unreasonable."
Anna glanced momentarily towards her sister, but Annabel neither spoke nor moved.
"With regard to the conditions I mentioned," Sir John continued, gaining a little confidence from Anna's silence, "I think you will admit that they are not wholly unreasonable. I should require you to accept no employment whatever upon the stage, and to remain out of England."
Anna's demeanour was still imperturbable, her marble pallor untinged by the slightest flush of colour. She regarded him coldly, as though wondering whether he had anything further to say. Sir John hesitated, and then continued.
"I trust," he said, "that you will recognize the justice of these conditions. Under happier circumstances nothing would have given me more pleasure than to have offered you a home with your sister. You yourself, I am sure, recognize how impossible you have made it for me now to do anything of the sort. I may say that the amount of the annuity I propose to allow you is two hundred a year."
Anna looked for a moment steadily at her sister, whose face was still averted. Then she moved towards the door. Before she passed out she turned and faced Sir John. The impassivity of her features changed at last. Her eyes were lit with mirth, the corners of her mouth quivered.
"Really, Sir John," she said, "I don't know how to thank you. I can understand now these newspapers when they talk of your magnificent philanthropy. It is magnificent indeed. And yet--you millionaires should really, I think, cultivate the art of discrimination. I am so much obliged to you for your projected benevolence. Frankly, it is the funniest thing which has ever happened to me in my life. I shall like to think of it--whenever I feel dull. Good-bye, Anna!"
Annabel sprang up. Sir John waved her back.
"Do I understand you then to refuse my offer?" he asked Anna.
She shot a sudden glance at him. Sir John felt hot and furious. It was maddening to be made to feel that he was in any way the inferior of this cool, self-possessed young woman, whose eyes seemed for a moment to scintillate with scorn. There were one or two bitter moments in his life when he had been made to feel that gentility laid on with a brush may sometimes crack and show weak places--that deportment and breeding are after all things apart. Anna went out.
Her cheeks burned for a moment or two when she reached the street, although she held her head upright and walked blithely, even humming to herself fragments of an old French song. And then at the street corner she came face to face with Nigel Ennison.
"I won't pretend," he said, "that this is an accident. The fates are never so kind to me. As a matter of fact I have been waiting for you."
She raised her eyebrows.
"Really," she said. "And by what right do you do anything of the sort?"
"No right at all," he admitted. "Only it is much too late for you to be out alone. You have been to see your sister, of course. How is she?"
"My sister is quite well, thank you," she answered. "Would you mind calling that hansom for me?"
He looked at it critically and shook his head.
"You really couldn't ride in it," he said, deprecatingly. "The horse's knees are broken, and I am not sure that the man is sober. I would sooner see you in a 'bus again."
"Do you mean to say that you have been here ever since I came?"
"I am afraid that I must confess it," he answered. "Idiotic, isn't it?"
"Absolutely," she agreed coldly. "I wish you would not do it."
"Would not do what?"
"Well, follow buses from Russell Square to Hampstead."
"I can assure you," he answered, "that it isn't a habit of mine. But seriously----"
"Isn't it your own fault a little? Why do you not tell me your address, and allow me to call upon you."
"Why should I? I have told you that I do not wish for acquaintances in London."
"Perhaps not in a general way," he answered calmly. "You are quite right, I think. Only I am not an acquaintance at all. I am an old friend, and I declined to be shelved."
"Would you mind telling me," Anna asked, "how long I knew you in Paris?"
He looked at her sideways. There was nothing to be learned from her face.
"Well," he said slowly, "I had met you three times--before Drummond's dinner."
"Oh, Drummond's dinner!" she repeated. "You were there, were you?"
He laughed a little impatiently.
"Isn't that rather a strange question--under the circumstances?" he asked quietly.
Her cheeks flushed a dull red. She felt that there was a hidden meaning under his words. Yet her embarrassment was only a passing thing. She dismissed the whole subject with a little shrug of the shoulders.
"We are both of us trenching upon forbidden ground," she said. "It was perhaps my fault. You have not forgotten----"
"I have forgotten nothing?" he answered, enigmatically.
Anna hailed a bus. He looked at her reproachfully. The bus however was full. They fell into step again. More than ever a sense of confusion was upon Ennison.
"Last time I saw you," he reminded her, "you spoke, did you not, of obtaining some employment in London."
"Quite true," she answered briskly, "and thanks to you I have succeeded."
"Thanks to me," he repeated, puzzled. "I don't understand."
"No? But it is very simple. It was you who were so much amazed that I did not try--the music hall stage here."
"You must admit," he declared, "that to us--who had seen you--the thought of your trying anything else was amazing."
"At any rate," she declared, "your remarks decided me. I have an engagement with a theatrical agent--I believe for the ‘Unusual'."
"You are going to sing in London?" he said quietly.
For a moment or two he did not speak. Glancing towards him she saw that a shadow had fallen upon his face.
"Tell me," she insisted, "why you look like that. You are afraid--that here in London--I shall not be a success. It is that, is it not?"
"No," he answered readily. "It is not that. The idea of your being a failure would never have occurred to me."
"Then why are you sorry that I am going to the ‘Unusual'? I do not understand."
Their eyes met for a moment. His face was very serious.
"I am sorry," he said slowly. "Why, I do not know."
"I positively insist upon knowing," she declared cheerfully. "The sooner you tell me the better."
"It is very hard to explain," he answered. "I think that it is only an idea. Only you seem to me since the time when I knew you in Paris to have changed--to have changed in some subtle manner which I find at times utterly bewildering. I find you an impenetrable enigma. I find it impossible to associate you with--my little friend of the ‘Ambassador's.' The things she said and did from you--seem impossible. I had a sort of idea," he went on, "that you were starting life all over again, and it seemed awfully plucky."
There was a long silence. Then Anna spoke more seriously than usual.
"I think," she said, "that I rather like what you have said. Don't be afraid to go on thinking it. Even though I am going to sing at the ‘Unusual' you may find that the ‘Alcide,' whom you knew in Paris does not exist any more. At the same time," she added, in a suddenly altered tone, "it isn't anything whatever to do with you, is it?"
"Why not?" he answered. "You permitted me then to call you my friend. I do not intend to allow you to forget."
They passed a man who stared at them curiously. Ennison started and looked anxiously at Anna. She was quite unconcerned.
"Did you see who that was?" he asked in a low tone.
"I did not recognize him," Anna answered. "I supposed that he took off his hat to you."
"It was Cheveney!" he said slowly.
"Cheveney!" she repeated. "I do not know any one of that name."
He caught her wrist and turned her face towards him. Her eyes were wide open with amazement.
He released her.
"Good God!" he exclaimed. "Who are you--Annabel Pellissier or her ghost?"
"If it is a choice between the two," she answered, "I must be Annabel Pellissier. I am certainly no ghost."
"You have her face and figure," he muttered. "You have even her name. Yet you can look Cheveney in the face and declare that you do not know him. You have changed from the veriest butterfly to a woman--you wear different clothes, you have the air of another world. If you do not help me to read the riddle of yourself, Annabel, I think that very soon I shall be a candidate for the asylum."
She laughed heartily, and became as suddenly grave.
"So Mr. Cheveney was another Paris friend, was he?" she asked.
"Don't befool me any more," he answered, almost roughly. "If any one should know----you should! He was your friend. We were only--les autres."
"That is quite untrue," she declared cheerfully. "I certainly knew him no better than you."
"Then he--and Paris--lied," Ennison answered.
"That," she answered, "is far easier to believe. You are too credulous."
Ennison had things to say, but he looked at her and held his tongue. They turned the last corner, and almost immediately a man who had been standing there turned and struck Ennison a violent blow on the cheek. Ennison reeled, and almost fell. Recovering himself quickly his instinct of self-defence was quicker than his recollection of Anna's presence. He struck out from the shoulder, and the man measured his length upon the pavement.
Anna sprang lightly away across the street. Brendon and Courtlaw who had been watching for her, met her at the door. She pointed across the road.
"Please go and see that--nothing happens," she pleaded.
"It is the first moment we have let him out of our sight," Brendon exclaimed, as he hastened across the street.
Hill sat up on the pavement and mopped the blood from his cheek. Ennison's signet-ring had cut nearly to the bone.
"What the devil do you mean by coming for me like that?" Ennison exclaimed, glowering down upon him. "Serves you right if I'd cracked your skull."
Hill looked up at him, an unkempt, rough-looking object, with broken collar, tumbled hair, and the blood slowly dripping from his face.
"What do you mean, hanging round with my wife?" he answered fiercely.
Ennison looked down on him in disgust.
"You silly fool," he said. "I know nothing about your wife. The young lady I was with is not married at all. Why don't you make sure before you rush out like that upon a stranger?"
"You were with my wife," Hill repeated sullenly. "I suppose you're like the rest of them. Call her Miss Pellissier, eh? I tell you she's my wife, and I've got the certificate in my pocket."
"I don't know who you are," Ennison said quietly, "but you are a thundering liar."
Hill staggered to his feet and drew a folded paper from his pocket.
"Marriage certificates don't tell lies, at any rate," he said. "Just look that through, will you."
Ennison took the document, tore it half in two without looking at it, and flung it back in Hill's face. Then he turned on his heel and walked off.