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Literary Adventures

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 18. Annabel and "Alcide"

Lady Ferringhall lifted her eyes to the newcomer, and the greeting in them was obviously meant for him alone. She continued to fan herself.

"You are late," she murmured.

"My chief," he said, "took it into his head to have an impromptu dinner party. He brought home a few waverers to talk to them where they had no chance of getting away."

She nodded.

"I am bored," she said abruptly. "This is a very foolish sort of entertainment. And, as usual," she continued, a little bitterly, "I seem to have been sent along with the dullest and least edifying of Mrs. Montressor's guests."

Ennison glanced at the other people in the box and smiled.

"I got your note just in time," he remarked. "I knew of course that you were at the Montressor's, but I had no idea that it was a music hall party afterwards. Are you all here?"

"Five boxes full," she answered. "Some of them seem to be having an awfully good time too. Did you see Lord Delafield and Miss Anderson? They packed me in with Colonel Anson and Mrs. Hitchings, who seem to be absolutely engrossed in one another, and a boy of about seventeen, who no sooner got here than he discovered that he wanted to see a man in the promenade and disappeared."

Ennison at once seated himself. "I feel justified then," he said, "in annexing his chair. I expect you had been snubbing him terribly."

"Well, he was presumptuous," Annabel remarked, "and he wasn't nice about it. I wonder how it is," she added, "that boys always make love so impertinently."

Ennison laughed softly.

"I wonder," he said, "how you would like to be made love to--boldly or timorously or sentimentally."

"Are you master of all three methods?" she asked, stopping her fanning for a moment to look at him.

"Indeed, no," he answered. "Mine is a primitive and unstudied manner. It needs cultivating, I think."

His fingers touched hers for a moment under the ledge of the box.

"That sounds so uncouth," she murmured. "I detest amateurs."

"I will buy books and a lay figure," he declared, "to practise upon. Or shall I ask Colonel Anson for a few hints?"

"For Heaven's sake no," she declared. "I would rather put up with your own efforts, however clumsy. Love-making at first hand is dull enough. At second hand it would be unendurable."

He leaned towards her.

"Is that a challenge?"

She shrugged her shoulders, all ablaze with jewels.

"Why not? It might amuse me."

Somewhat irrelevantly he glanced at the next few boxes where the rest of Mrs. Montressor's guests were.

"Is your husband here tonight?" he asked.

"My husband!" she laughed a little derisively. "No, he wouldn't come here of all places--just now. He dined, and then pleaded a political engagement. I was supposed to do the same, but I didn't."

"You know," he said with some hesitation, "that your sister is singing."

She nodded.

"Of course. I want to hear how she does it."

"She does it magnificently," he declared. "I think--we all think that she is wonderful."

She looked at him with curious eyes.

"I remember," she said, "that the first night I saw you, you spoke of my sister as your friend. Have you seen much of her lately?"

"Nothing at all," he answered.

The small grey feathers of her exquisitely shaped fan waved gently backwards and forwards. She was watching him intently.

"Do you know," she said, "that every one is remarking how ill you look. I too can see it. What has been the matter?"

"Toothache," he answered laconically.

She looked away.

"You might at least," she murmured, "have invented a more romantic reason."

"Oh, I might," he answered, "have gone further still. I might have told you the truth."

"Has my sister been unkind to you?"

"The family," he declared, "has not treated me with consideration."

She looked at him doubtfully.

"You promised faithfully to be there," he said slowly. "I loathe afternoon concerts, and----"

She was really like her sister he thought, impressed for a moment by the soft brilliancy of her smile. Her fingers rested upon his.

"You were really at Moulton House," she exclaimed penitently. "I am so sorry. I had a perfect shoal of callers. People who would not go. I only arrived when everybody was coming away."

A little murmur of expectation, an audible silence announced the coming of "Alcide." Then a burst of applause. She was standing there, smiling at the audience as at her friends. From the first there had always been between her and her listeners that electrical sympathy which only a certain order of genius seems able to create. Then she sang.

Ennison listened, and his eyes glowed. Lady Ferringhall listened, and her cheeks grew pale. Her whole face stiffened with suppressed anger. She forgot Anna's sacrifices, forgot her own callousness, forgot the burden which she had fastened upon her sister's shoulders. She was fiercely and bitterly jealous. Anna was singing as she used to sing. She was chic, distinguished, unusual. What right had she to call herself "Alcide"? It was abominable, an imposture. Ennison listened, and he forgot where he was. He forgot Annabel's idle attempts at love-making, all the cul-de-sac gallantry of the moment. The cultivated indifference, which was part of the armour of his little world fell away from him. He leaned forward, and looked into the eyes of the woman he loved, and it seemed to him that she sang back to him with a sudden note of something like passion breaking here and there through the gay mocking words which flowed with such effortless and seductive music from her lips.

Neither of them joined in the applause which followed upon her exit. They were both conscious, however, that something had intervened between them. Their conversation became stilted. A spot of colour, brighter than any rouge, burned on her cheeks.

"She is marvellously clever," he said.

"She appears to be very popular here," she remarked.

"You too sing?" he asked.

"I have given it up," she answered. "One genius in the family is enough." After a pause, she added, "Do you mind fetching back my recalcitrant cavalier."

"Anything except that," he murmured. "I was half hoping that I might be allowed to see you home."

"If you can tear yourself away from this delightful place in five minutes," she answered, "I think I can get rid of the others."

"We will do it," he declared. "If only Sir John were not Sir John I would ask you to come and have some supper."

"Don't imperil my reputation before I am established," she answered, smiling. "Afterwards it seems to me that there are no limits to what one may not do amongst one's own set."

"I am frightened of Sir John," he said, "but I suggest that we risk it."

"Don't tempt me," she said, laughing, and drawing her opera-cloak together. "You shall drive home with me in a hansom, if you will. That is quite as far as I mean to tempt Providence tonight."

Again on his way homeward from Cavendish Square he abandoned the direct route to pass by the door of Anna's flat. Impassive by nature and training, he was conscious tonight of a strange sense of excitement, of exhilaration tempered by a dull background of disappointment. Her sister had told him that it was true. Anna was married. After all, she was a consummate actress. Her recent attitude towards him was undoubtedly a pose. His long struggle with himself, his avoidance of her were quite unnecessary. There was no longer any risk in association with her. His pulses beat fast as he walked, his feet fell lightly upon the pavement. He slackened his pace as he reached the flat. The windows were still darkened--perhaps she was not home yet. He lit a cigarette and loitered about. He laughed once or twice at himself as he paced backwards and forwards. He felt like a boy again, the taste for adventures was keen upon his palate, the whole undiscovered world of rhythmical things, of love and poetry and passion seemed again to him a real and actual place, and he himself an adventurer upon the threshold.

Then a hansom drove up, and his heart gave a great leap. She stepped on to the pavement almost before him, and his blood turned almost to ice as he saw that she was not alone. A young man turned to pay the cabman. Then she saw him.

"Mr. Ennison," she exclaimed, "is that really you?"

There was no sign of embarrassment in her manner. She held out her hand frankly. She seemed honestly glad to see him.

"How odd that I should almost spring into your arms just on my doorstep!" she remarked gaily. "Are you in a hurry? Will you come in and have some coffee?"

He hesitated, and glanced towards her companion. He saw now that it was merely a boy.

"This is Mr. Sydney Courtlaw--Mr. Ennison," she said. "You are coming in, aren\'t you, Sydney?"

"If I may," he answered. "Your coffee's too good to refuse."

She led the way, talking all the time to Ennison.

"Do you know, I have been wondering what had become of you," she said. "I had those beautiful roses from you on my first night, and a tiny little note but no address. I did not even know where to write and thank you."

"I have been abroad," he said. "The life of a private secretary is positively one of slavery. I had to go at a moment\'s notice."

"I am glad that you have a reasonable excuse for not having been to see me," she said good-humouredly. "Please make yourselves comfortable while I see to the coffee."

It was a tiny little room, daintily furnished, individual in its quaint colouring, and the masses of perfumed flowers set in strange and unexpected places. A great bowl of scarlet carnations gleamed from a dark corner, set against the background of a deep brown wall. A jar of pink roses upon a tiny table seemed to gain an extra delicacy of colour from the sombre curtains behind. Anna, who had thrown aside her sealskin coat, wore a tight-fitting walking dress of some dark shade. He leaned back in a low chair, and watched her graceful movements, the play of her white hands as she bent over some wonderful machine. A woman indeed this to love and be loved, beautiful, graceful, gay. A dreamy sense of content crept over him. The ambitions of his life, and they were many, seemed to lie far away, broken up dreams in some outside world where the way was rough and the sky always grey. A little table covered with a damask cloth was dragged out. There were cakes and sandwiches--for Ennison a sort of Elysian feast, long to be remembered. They talked lightly and smoked cigarettes till Anna, with a little laugh, threw open the window and let in the cool night air.

Ennison stood by her side. They looked out over the city, grim and silent now, for it was long past midnight. For a moment her thoughts led her back to the evening when she and Courtlaw had stood together before the window of her studio in Paris, before the coming of Sir John had made so many changes in her life. She was silent, the ghost of a fading smile passed from her lips. She had made her way since then a little further into the heart of life. Yet even now there were so many things untouched, so much to be learned. Tonight she had a curious feeling that she stood upon the threshold of some change. The great untrodden world was before her still, into which no one can pass alone. She felt a new warmth in her blood, a strange sense of elation crept over her. Sorrows and danger and disappointment she had known. Perhaps the day of her recompense was at hand. She glanced into her companion's face, and she saw there strange things. For a moment her heart seemed to stop beating. Then she dropped the curtain and stepped back into the room. Sydney was strumming over a new song which stood upon the piano.

"I am sure," she said, "that you mean to stay until you are turned out. Do you see the time?"

"I may come and see you?" Ennison asked, as his hand touched hers.

"Yes," she answered, looking away. "Some afternoon."


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