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 19. "This is Not the End"
"I said some afternoon," she remarked, throwing open her warm coat, and taking off her gloves, "but I certainly did not mean today."
"I met you accidentally," he reminded her. "Our ways happened to lie together."
"And our destinations also, it seems," she added, smiling.
"You asked me in to tea," he protested.
"In self-defence I had to," she answered. "It is a delightful day for walking, but a great deal too cold to be standing on the pavement."
"Of course," he said, reaching out his hand tentatively for his hat, "I could go away even now. Your reputation for hospitality would remain under a cloud though, for tea was distinctly mentioned."
"Then you had better ring the bell," she declared, laughing. "The walk has given me an appetite, and I do not feel like waiting till five o'clock. I wonder why on earth the curtains are drawn. It is quite light yet, and I want to have one more look at that angry red sun. Would you mind drawing them back?"
Ennison sprang up, but he never reached the curtains. They were suddenly thrown aside, and a man stepped out from his hiding-place. A little exclamation of surprise escaped Ennison. Anna sprang to her feet with a startled cry.
"You!" she exclaimed. "What are you doing here? How dare you come to my rooms!"
The man stepped into the middle of the room. The last few months had not dealt kindly with Mr. Montague Hill. He was still flashily dressed, with much obvious jewellery and the shiniest of patent boots, but his general bearing and appearance had altered for the worse. His cheeks were puffy, and his eyes blood-shot. He had the appearance of a man who has known no rest for many nights. His voice when he spoke was almost fiercely assertive, but there was an undernote of nervousness.
"Why not?" he exclaimed. "I have the right to be here. I hid because there was no other way of seeing you. I did not reckon upon--him."
He pointed to Ennison, who in his turn looked across at Anna.
"You wish me to stay?" he asked, in a low tone.
"I would not have you go for anything," she answered.
"Nevertheless," Hill said doggedly, "I am here to speak to you alone."
"If you do not leave the room at once," Anna answered calmly, "I shall ring the bell for a policeman."
He raised his hand, and they saw that he was holding a small revolver.
"You need not be alarmed," he said. "I do not wish to use this. I came here peaceably, and I only ask for a few words with you. But I mean to have them. "
"No, you don't!"
Ennison had moved stealthily a little nearer to him, and looked suddenly into the dark muzzle of the revolver.
"If you interfere between us," the man said, "it will go hardly with you. This lady is my wife, and I have a right to be here. I have the right also to throw you out."
Ennison obeyed Anna's gesture, and was silent.
"You can say what you have to say before Mr. Ennison, if at all," Anna declared calmly. "In any case, I decline to see you alone."
"Very well," the man answered. "I have come to tell you this. You are my wife, and I am determined to claim you. We were properly married, and the certificate is at my lawyer's. I am not a madman, or a pauper, or even an unreasonable person. I know that you were disappointed because I did not turn out to be the millionaire. Perhaps I deceived you about it. However, that's over and done with. I'll make any reasonable arrangement you like. I don't want to stop your singing. You can live just about how you like. But you belong to me--and I want you."
He paused for a moment, and then suddenly continued. His voice had broken. He spoke in quick nervous sentences.
"You did your best to kill me," he said. "You might have given me a chance, anyway. I'm not such a bad sort. You know--I worship you. I have done from the first moment I saw you. I can't rest or work or settle down to anything while things are like this between you and me. I want you. I've got to have you, and by God I will."
He took a quick step forward. Anna held out her hand, and he paused. There was something which chilled even him in the cold impassivity of her features.
"Listen," she said. "I have heard these things from you before, and you have had my answer. Understand once and for all that that answer is final. I do not admit the truth of a word which you have said. I will not be persecuted in this way by you."
"You do not deny that you are my wife," he asked hoarsely. "You cannot! Oh, you cannot."
"I have denied it," she answered. "Why will you not be sensible? Go back to your old life and your old friends, and forget all about Paris and this absurd delusion of yours."
"Delusion!" he muttered, glaring at her. "Delusion!"
"You can call it what you like," she said. "In any case you will never receive any different sort of answer from me. Stay where you are, Mr. Ennison."
With a swift movement she gained the bell and rang it. The man's hand flashed out, but immediately afterwards an oath and a cry of pain broke from his lips. The pistol fell to the floor. Ennison kicked it away with his foot.
"I shall send for a policeman," Anna said, "directly my maid answers the bell--unless you choose to go before."
The man made no attempt to recover the revolver. He walked unsteadily towards the door.
"Very well," he said, "I will go. But," and he faced them both with a still expressionless glance, "this is not the end!"
Anna recovered her spirits with marvellous facility. It was Ennison who for the rest of his visit was quiet and subdued.
"You are absurd," she declared. "It was unpleasant while it lasted, but it is over--and my toasted scones are delicious. Do have another."
"It is over for now," he answered, "but I cannot bear to think that you are subject to this sort of thing."
She shrugged her shoulders slightly. Some of the delicate colour which the afternoon walk had brought into her cheeks had already returned.
"It is an annoyance, my friend," she said, "not a tragedy."
"It might become one," he answered. "The man is dangerous."
She looked thoughtfully into the fire.
"I am afraid," she said, "that he must have a skeleton key to these rooms. If so I shall have to leave."
"You cannot play at hide-and-seek with this creature all your life," he answered. "Let your friends act for you. There must be ways of getting rid of him."
"I am afraid," she murmured, "that it would be difficult. He really deserves a better fate, does he not? He is so beautifully persistent."
He drew a little nearer to her. The lamp was not yet lit, and in the dim light he bent forward as though trying to look into her averted face. He touched her hand, soft and cool to his fingers--she turned at once to look at him. Her eyes were perhaps a little brighter than usual, the firelight played about her hair, there seemed to him to be a sudden softening of the straight firm mouth. Nevertheless she withdrew her hand.
"Let me help you," he begged. "Indeed, you could have no more faithful friend, you could find no one more anxious to serve you."
Her hand fell back into her lap. He touched it again, and this time it was not withdrawn.
"That is very nice of you," she said. "But it is so difficult----"
"Not at all," he answered eagerly. "I wish you would come and see my lawyers. Of course I know nothing of what really did happen in Paris--if even you ever saw him there. You need not tell me, but a lawyer is different. His client's story is safe with him. He would advise you how to get rid of the fellow."
"I will think of it," she promised.
"You must do more than think of it," he urged. "It is intolerable that you should be followed about by such a creature. I am sure that he can be got rid of."
She turned and looked at him. Her face scarcely reflected his enthusiasm.
"It may be more difficult than you think," she said. "You see you do not know how much of truth there is in his story."
"If it were all true," he said doggedly, "it may still be possible."
"I will think of it," she repeated. "I cannot say more."
They talked for a while in somewhat dreamy fashion, Anna especially being more silent than usual. At last she glanced at a little clock in the corner of the room, and sprang to her feet.
"Heavens, look at the time!" she exclaimed. "It is incredible. I shall barely be in time for the theatre. I must go and dress at once."
He too rose.
"I will wait for you on the pavement, if you like," he said, "but I am going to the 'Unusual' with you. Your maid would not be of the least protection."
"But your dinner!" she protested. "You will be so late."
"You cannot seriously believe," he said, "that at the present moment I care a snap of the fingers whether I have any dinner or not."
"Well, you certainly did very well at tea," she remarked. "If you really are going to wait, make yourself as comfortable as you can. There are cigarettes and magazines in the corner there."
Anna disappeared, but Ennison did not trouble either the cigarettes or the magazines. He sat back in an easy chair with a hand upon each of the elbows, and looked steadfastly into the fire.
People spoke of him everywhere as a young man of great promise, a politician by instinct, a keen and careful judge of character. Yet he was in a state of hopeless bewilderment. He was absolutely unable to focus his ideas. The girl who had just left the room was as great a mystery to him now as on the afternoon when he had met her in Piccadilly and taken her to tea. And behind--there was Paris, memories of amazing things, memories which made his cheeks burn and his heart beat quickly as he sat there waiting for her. For the first time a definite doubt possessed him. A woman cannot change her soul. Then it was the woman herself who was changed. Anna was not "Alcide" of the "Ambassador's," whose subtly demure smile and piquant glances had called him to her side from the moment of their first meeting. It was impossible.
She came in while he was still in the throes, conviction battling with common-sense, his own apprehension. He rose at once to his feet and turned a white face upon her.
"I am going to break a covenant," he cried. "I cannot keep silence any longer."
"You are going to speak to me of things which happened before we met in London?"
she asked quietly.
"Yes! I must! The thing is becoming a torture to me. I must!"
She threw open the door and pointed to it.
"My word holds," she said. "If you speak--farewell."
He stood quite silent for a moment, his eyes fixed upon her face. Something he saw there had a curious effect upon him. He was suddenly calm.
"I shall not speak," he said, "now or at any other time. Come!"
They went out together and he called a hansom. From the opposite corner under the trees a man with his hat slouched over his eyes stood and glowered at them.