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 17. The Change in "Alcide"
"By-the-bye," his neighbour asked him languidly, "who is our hostess?"
"Usually known, I believe, as Lady Ferringhall," Ennison answered, "unless I have mixed up my engagement list and come to the wrong house."
"How dull you are," the lady remarked. "Of course I mean, who was she?"
"I believe that her name was Pellissier," Ennison answered.
"Pellissier," she repeated thoughtfully. "There were some Hampshire Pellissiers."
"She is one of them," Ennison said.
"Dear me! I wonder where Sir John picked her up."
"In Paris, I think," Ennison answered. "Only married a few months ago and lived out at Hampstead."
"Heavens!" the lady exclaimed. "I heard they came from somewhere outrageous."
"Hampstead didn't suit Lady Ferringhall," Ennison remarked. "They have just taken this house from Lady Cellender."
"And what are you doing here?" the lady asked.
"Politics!" Ennison answered grimly. "And you?"
"Same thing. Besides, my husband has shares in Sir John's company. Do you know, I am beginning to believe that we only exist nowadays by the tolerance of these millionaire tradesmen. Our land brings us in nothing. We have to get them to let us in for the profits of their business, and in return we ask them to--dinner. By-the-bye, have you seen this new woman at the 'Empire'? What is it they call her--'Alcide?'"
"Yes, I have seen her," Ennison answered.
"Every one raves about her," Lady Angela continued. "For my part I can see no difference in any of these French girls who come over here with their demure manner and atrocious songs."
"Alcide's songs are not atrocious," Ennison remarked.
Lady Angela shrugged her shoulders.
"It is unimportant," she said. "Nobody understands them, of course, but we all look as though we did. Something about this woman rather reminds me of our hostess."
Ennison thought so too half an hour later, when having cut out from one of the bridge tables he settled down for a chat with Annabel. Every now and then something familiar in her tone, the poise of her head, the play of her eyes startled him. Then he remembered that she was Anna's sister.
He lowered his voice a little and leaned over towards her.
"By-the-bye, Lady Ferringhall," he said, "do you know that I am a very great admirer of your sister's? I wonder if she has ever spoken to you of me."
The change in Lady Ferringhall's manner was subtle but unmistakable. She answered him almost coldly.
"I see nothing of my sister," she said. "In Paris our lives were far apart, and we had seldom the same friends. I have heard of you from my husband. You are somebody's secretary, are you not?"
It was plain that the subject was distasteful to her, but Ennison, although famous in a small way for his social tact, did not at once discard it.
"You have not seen your sister lately," he remarked. "I believe that you would find her in some respects curiously altered. I have never in my life been so much puzzled by any one as by your sister. Something has changed her tremendously."
Annabel looked at him curiously.
"Do you mean in looks?" she asked.
"Not only that," he answered. "In Paris your sister appeared to me to be a charming student of frivolity. Here she seems to have developed into a brilliant woman with more character and steadfastness than I should ever have given her credit for. Her features are the same, yet the change has written its mark into her face. Do you know, Lady Ferringhall, I am proud that your sister permits me to call myself her friend."
"And in Paris----"
"In Paris," he interrupted, "she was a very delightful companion, but beyond that--one did not take her seriously. I am not boring you, am I?"
She raised her eyes to his and smiled into his face.
"You are not boring me," she said, "but I would rather talk of something else. I suppose you will think me very unsisterly and cold-hearted, but there are circumstances in connexion with my sister's latest exploit which are intensely irritating both to my husband and to myself."
He recognized the force, almost the passion, which trembled in her tone, and he at once abandoned the subject. He remained talking with her however. It was easy for him to see that she desired to be agreeable to him. They talked lightly but confidentially until Sir John approached them with a slight frown upon his face.
"Mr. Ennison," he said, "it is for you to cut in at Lady Angela's table. Anna, do you not see that the Countess is sitting alone?"
She rose, and flashed a quick smile upon Ennison behind her husband's back.
"You must come and see me some afternoon," she said to him.
He murmured his delight, and joined the bridge party, where he played with less than his accustomed skill. On the way home he was still thoughtful. He turned in at the club. They were talking of "Alcide," as they often did in those days.
"She has improved her style," someone declared. "Certainly her voice is far more musical."
"She has lost something," he declared, "something which brought the men in crowds around the stage at the 'Ambassador's.' I don't know what you'd call it--a sort of witchery, almost suggestiveness. She sings better perhaps. But I don't think she lays hold of one so.>/f?"
"I will tell you what there is about her which is so fetching," Drummond, who was lounging by, declared. "She contrives somehow to strike the personal note in an amazing manner. You are wedged in amongst a crowd, perhaps in the promenade, you lean over the back, you are almost out of sight. Yet you catch her eye--you can't seem to escape from it. You feel that that smile is for you, the words are for you, the whole song is for you. Naturally you shout yourself hoarse when she has finished, and feel jolly pleased with yourself."
"And if you are a millionaire like Drummond," someone remarked, "you send round a note and ask her to come out to supper."
"In the present case," Drummond remarked, glancing across the room, "Cheveney wouldn't permit it."
Ennison dropped the evening paper which he had been pretending to read. Cheveney strolled up, a pipe in his mouth.
"Cheveney wouldn't have anything to say about it, as it happens," he remarked, a little grimly. "Ungracious little beast, I call her. I don't mind telling you chaps that except on the stage I haven't set eyes on her this side of the water. I've called half a dozen times at her flat, and she won't see me. Rank ingratitude, I call it."
There was a shout of laughter. Drummond patted him on the shoulder.
"Never mind, old chap," he declared. "Let's hope your successor is worthy of you."
"You fellows," Ennison said quietly, "are getting a little wild. I have known Miss Pellissier as long as any of you perhaps, and I have seen something of her since her arrival in London. I consider her a very charming young woman--and I won't hear a word about Paris, for there are things I don't understand about that, but I will stake my word upon it that today Miss Pellissier is entitled not only to our admiration, but to our respect. I firmly believe that she is as straight as a die."
Ennison's voice shook a little. They were his friends, and they recognized his unusual earnestness. Drummond, who had been about to speak, refrained. Cheveney walked away with a shrug of the shoulders.
"I believe you are quite right so far as regards the present, at any rate," someone remarked, from the depths of an easy chair. "You see, her sister is married to Ferringhall, isn't she? and she herself must be drawing no end of a good screw here. I always say that it's poverty before everything that makes a girl skip the line."
Ennison escaped. He was afraid if he stayed that he would make a fool of himself. He walked through the misty September night to his rooms. On his way he made a slight divergence from the direct route and paused for a moment outside the flat where Anna was now living. It was nearly one o'clock; but there
were lights still in all her windows. Suddenly the door of the flat opened and closed. A man came out, and walking recklessly, almost cannoned into Ennison. He mumbled an apology and then stopped short.
"It's Ennison, isn't it?" he exclaimed. "What the devil are you doing star-gazing here?"
Ennison looked at him in surprise.
"I might return the compliment, Courtlaw," he answered, "by asking why the devil you come lurching on to the pavement like a drunken man."
Courtlaw was pale and dishevelled. He was carelessly dressed, and there were marks of unrest upon his features. He pointed to where the lights still burned in Anna's windows.
"What do you think of that farce?" he exclaimed bitterly. "You are one of those who must know all about it. Was there ever such madness?"
"I am afraid that I don't understand," Ennison answered. "You seem to have come from Miss Pellissier's rooms. I had no idea even that she was a friend of yours."
Courtlaw laughed hardly. His eyes were red. He was in a curious state of desperation.
"Nor am I now," he answered. "I have spoken too many truths tonight. Why do women take to lies and deceit and trickery as naturally as a duck to water?"
"You are not alluding, I hope, to Miss Pellissier?" Ennison said stiffly.
"Why not? Isn't the whole thing a lie? Isn't her reputation, this husband of hers, the 'Alcide' business, isn't it all a cursed juggle? She hasn't the right to do it. I----"
He stopped short. He had the air of a man who has said too much. Ennison was deeply interested.
"I should like to understand you," he said. "I knew Miss Pellissier in Paris at the 'Ambassador's,' and I know her now, but I am convinced that there is some mystery in connexion with her change of life. She is curiously altered in many ways. Is there any truth, do you suppose, in this rumoured marriage?"
"I know nothing," Courtlaw answered hurriedly. "Ask me nothing. I will not talk to you about Miss Pellissier or her affairs."
"You are not yourself tonight, Courtlaw," Ennison said. "Come to my rooms and have a drink."
Courtlaw refused brusquely, almost rudely.
"I am off tonight," he said. "I am going to America. I have work there. I ought to have gone long ago. Will you answer me a question first?"
"If I can," Ennison said.
"What were you doing outside Miss Pellissier's flat to-night? You were looking at her windows. Why? What is she to you?"
"I was there by accident," Ennison answered. "Miss Pellissier is nothing to me except a young lady for whom I have the most profound and respectful admiration."
Courtlaw laid his hand upon Ennison's shoulder. They were at the corner of Pall Mall now, and had come to a standstill.
"Take my advice," he said hoarsely. "Call it warning, if you like. Admire her as much as you choose--at a distance. No more. Look at me. You knew me in Paris. David Courtlaw. Well-balanced, sane, wasn't I? You never heard anyone call me a madman? I'm pretty near being one now, and it's her fault. I've loved her for two years, I love her now. And I'm off to America, and if my steamer goes to the bottom of the Atlantic I'll thank the Lord for it."
He strode away and vanished in the gathering fog. Ennison stood still for a moment, swinging his latchkey upon his finger. Then he turned round and gazed thoughtfully at the particular spot in the fog where Courtlaw had disappeared.
"I'm d----d if I understand this," he said thoughtfully. "I never saw Courtlaw with her--never heard her speak of him. He was going to tell me something--and he shut up. I wonder what it was."