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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 20. Anna's Surrender

"This is indeed a gala night," said Ennison, raising his glass, and watching for a moment the golden bubbles. "Was it really only this afternoon that I met you in St. James' Park?"

Anna nodded, and made a careful selection from a dish of quails.

"It was just an hour before teatime," she remarked. "I have had nothing since, and it seems a very long time."

"An appetite like yours," he said resignedly, "is fatal to all sentiment."

"Not in the least," she assured him. "I find the two inseparable."

He sighed.

"I have noticed," he said, "that you seem to delight in taking a topsy-turvy view of life. It arises, I think, from an over-developed sense of humour. You would find things to laugh at even in Artemus Ward."

"You do not understand me at all," she declared. "I think that you are very dense. Besides, your remark is not in the least complimentary. I have always understood that men avoid like the plague a woman with a sense of humour."

So they talked on whilst supper was served, falling easily into the spirit of the place, and yet both of them conscious of some new thing underlying the gaiety of their tongues and manner. Anna, in her strange striking way, was radiantly beautiful. Without a single ornament about her neck, or hair, wearing the plainest of black gowns, out of which her shoulders shone gleaming white, she was easily the most noticeable and the most distinguished-looking woman in the room. Tonight there seemed to be a new brilliancy in her eyes, a deeper quality in her tone. She was herself conscious of a recklessness of spirits almost hysterical. Perhaps, after all, the others were right. Perhaps she had found this new thing in life, the thing wonderful. The terrors and anxieties of the last few months seemed to have fallen from her, to have passed away like an ugly dream, dismissed with a shudder even from the memory. An acute sense of living was in her veins, even the taste of her wine seemed magical. Ennison too, always handsome and debonnair, seemed transported out of his calm self. His tongue was more ready, his wit more keen than usual. He said daring things with a grace which made them irresistible, his eyes flashed back upon her some eloquent but silent appreciation of the change in her manner towards him.

And then there came for both of them at least a temporary awakening. It was he who saw them first coming down the room--Annabel in a wonderful white satin gown in front, and Sir John stiff, unbending, disapproving, bringing up the rear. He bent over to Anna at once.

"It is your sister and her husband," he said. "They are coming past our table."

Annabel saw Ennison first, and noticing his single companion calmly ignored him. Then making a pretence of stooping to rearrange her flowing train, she glanced at Anna, and half stopped in her progress down the room. Sir John followed her gaze, and also saw them. His face clouded with anger.

It was after all a momentary affair. Annabel passed on with a strained nod to her sister, and Sir John's bow was a miracle of icy displeasure. They vanished through the doorway. Anna and her escort exchanged glances. Almost simultaneously they burst out laughing.

"How do you feel?" she asked.

"Limp," he answered. "As a matter of fact, I deserve to. I was engaged to dine with your sister and her husband, and I sent a wire."

"It was exceedingly wrong of you," Anna declared. "Before I came to England I was told that there were two things which an Englishman who was comme-il-faut never did. The first was to break a dinner engagement."

"And the second?"

"Make love to a single woman."

"Your knowledge of our ways," he murmured "is profound. Yet, I suppose that at the present moment I am the most envied man in the room."

Her eyes were lit with humour. To have spoken lightly on such a subject a few hours ago would have seemed incredible.

"But you do not know," she whispered, "whether I am a married woman or not. There is Mr. Montague Hill."

The lights were lowered, and an attentive waiter hovered round Anna's cloak. They left the room amongst the last, and Ennison had almost to elbow his way through a group of acquaintances who had all some pretext for detaining him, to which he absolutely refused to listen. They entered a hansom and turned on to the Embankment. The two great hotels on their right were still ablaze with lights. On their left the river, with its gloomy pile of buildings on the opposite side, and a huge revolving advertisement throwing its strange reflection upon the black water. A fresh cool breeze blew in their faces. Anna leaned back with half closed eyes.

"Delicious!" she murmured.

His fingers closed upon her hand. She yielded it without protest, as though unconsciously. Not a word passed between them. It seemed to him that speech would be an anticlimax.

He paid the cab, and turned to follow her. She passed inside and upstairs without a word. In her little sitting-room she turned on the electric light and looked around half fearfully.

"Please search everywhere," she said. "I am going through the other rooms. I shall not let you go till I am quite sure."

"If he has a key," Ennison said, "how are you to be safe?"

"I had bolts fitted on the doors yesterday," she answered. "If he is not here now I can make myself safe."

It was certain that he was not there. Anna came back into the sitting-room with a little sigh of relief.

"Indeed," she said, "it was very fortunate that I should have met you this afternoon. Either Sydney or Mr. Brendon always comes home with me, and tonight both are away. Mary is very good, but she is too nervous to be the slightest protection."

"I am very glad," he answered, in a low tone. "It has been a delightful evening for me."

"And for me," Anna echoed.

A curious silence ensued. Anna was sitting before the fire a little distance from him--Ennison himself remained standing. Some shadow of reserve seemed to have crept up between them. She laughed nervously, but kept her eyes averted.

"It is strange that we should have met Annabel," she said. "I am afraid your broken dinner engagement will not be so easy to explain."

He was very indifferent. In fact he was thinking of other things.

"I am going," he said, "to be impertinent. I do not understand why you and your sister should not see more of one another. You must be lonely here with only a few men friends."

She shook her head.

"Loneliness," she said, "is a luxury which I never permit myself. Besides--there is Sir John."

"Sir John is an ass!" he declared.

"He is Annabel's husband," she reminded him.

"Annabel!" He looked at her thoughtfully. "It is rather odd," he said, "but I always thought that your name was Annabel and hers Anna."

"Many other people," she remarked, "have made the same mistake."

"Again," he said, "I am going to be impertinent. I never met your sister in Paris, but I heard about her more than once. She is not in the least like the descriptions of her."

"She has changed a good deal," Anna admitted.

"There is some mystery about you both," he exclaimed, with sudden earnestness. "No, don't interrupt me. Why may I not be your friend? Somehow or other I feel that you have been driven into a false position. You represent to me an enigma, the solution of which has become the one desire of my life. I want to give you warning that I have set myself to solve it. Tomorrow I am going to Paris."

She seemed unmoved, but she did not look at him.

"To Paris! But why? What do you hope to discover there?"

"I do not know," he answered, "but I am going to see David Courtlaw."

Then she looked up at him with frightened eyes.

"David Courtlaw!" she repeated. "What has he to do with it?"

"He was your sister's master--her friend. A few days ago I saw him leave your house. He was like a man beside himself. He began to tell me something--and stopped. I am going to ask him to finish it."

She rose up.

"I forbid it!" she said firmly.

They were standing face to face now upon the hearthrug. She was very pale, and there was a look of fear in her eyes.

"I will tell you as much as this," she continued. "There is a secret. I admit it. Set yourself to find it out, if you will--but if you do, never dare to call yourself my friend again."

"It is for your good--your good only I am thinking," he declared.

"Then let me be the judge of what is best," she answered.

He was silent. He felt his heart beat faster and faster--his self-restraint slipping away. After all, what did it matter?--it or anything else in the world? She was within reach of his arms, beautiful, compelling, herself as it seemed suddenly conscious of the light which was burning in his eyes. A quick flush stained her cheeks. She put out her hands to avoid his embrace.

"No!" she exclaimed. "You must not. It is impossible."

His arms were around her. He only laughed his defiance.

"I will make it possible," he cried. "I will make all things possible."

Anna was bewildered. She did not know herself. Only she was conscious of an unfamiliar and wonderful emotion. She gave her lips to his without resistance. All her protests seemed stifled before she could find words to utter them. With a little sigh of happiness she accepted this new thing.


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