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 21. Her Sister's Secret
"I think," Lady Ferringhall said, "that you are talking very foolishly. I was quite as much annoyed as you were to see Mr. Ennison with my sister last night. But apart from that, you have no particular objection to him, I suppose?"
"The occurrence of last night is quite sufficient in itself," Sir John answered, "to make me wish to discontinue Mr. Ennison's acquaintance. I should think, Anna, that your own sense--er--of propriety would enable you to see this. It is not possible for us to be on friendly terms with a young man who has been seen in a public place, having supper alone with your sister after midnight. The fact itself is regrettable enough--regrettable, I fear, is quite an inadequate word. To receive him here afterwards would be most repugnant to me."
"He probably does not know of the relationship," Annabel remarked.
"I imagine," Sir John said, "that your sister would acquaint him with it. In any case, he is liable to discover it at any time. My own impression is that he already knows."
"Why do you think so?" she asked.
"I noticed him call her attention to us as we passed down the room," he answered. "Of course he may merely have been telling her who we were, but I think it improbable."
"Apart from the fact of his acquaintance with Anna--Annabel," Lady Ferringhall said quickly, "may I ask if you have any other objection to Mr. Ennison?"
Sir John hesitated.
"To the young man himself," he answered, "no! I simply object to his calling here two or three times a week during my absence."
"How absurd!" Annabel declared. "How could he call except in your absence, as you are never at home in the afternoon. And if I cared to have him come every day, why shouldn't he? I find him very amusing and very useful as well. He brought his mother to call, and as you know the Countess goes scarcely anywhere. Hers is quite the most exclusive set in London."
"My feeling in the matter," Sir John said, "is as I have stated. Further, I do not care for you to accept social obligations from Mr. Ennison, or any other young man."
"You are jealous," she declared contemptuously.
"If I am," he answered, reddening, "you can scarcely assert that it is without a cause. You will forgive my remarking, Anna, that I consider there is a great change in your manner towards me and your general deportment since our marriage."
Annabel laughed gaily.
"My dear man," she exclaimed, "wasn't that a foregone conclusion?"
"You treat the matter lightly," he continued. "To me it seems serious enough. I have fulfilled my part of our marriage contract. Can you wonder that I expect you to fulfil yours?"
"I am not aware," she answered, "that I have ever failed in doing so."
"You are at least aware," he said, "that you have on several recent occasions acted in direct opposition to my wishes."
"Your dyed hair. I was perfectly satisfied with your appearance. I consider even now that the present colour is far less becoming. Then you have altered not only that, but your manner of dressing it. You have darkened your eyebrows, you have even changed your style of dress. You have shown an almost feverish anxiety to eliminate from your personal appearance all that reminded me of you--when we first met."
"Well," she said, "has there not been some reason for this? The likeness to Annabel could scarcely have escaped remark. You forget that every one is going to the 'Unusual' to see her."
He frowned heavily.
"I wish that I could forget it," he said. "Fortunately I believe that the relationship is not generally known. I trust that no unpleasant rumours will be circulated before the election, at any rate."
"They might do you good," she remarked. "'Alcide' is very popular."
Sir John turned towards the door.
"It does not appear to me," he said, stiffly, "to be an affair for jests."
Annabel laughed derisively and took up her book. She heard her husband's heavy tread descending the stairs, and the wheels of his carriage as he drove off. Then she threw the volume away with a little impatient exclamation. She rose from her chair, and began walking up and down the room restlessly. Every now and then she fingered an ornament, moved a piece of furniture, or rearranged some draperies. Once she stopped in front of a mirror and looked at herself thoughtfully.
"I am getting plain," she said, with a little shudder. "This life is killing me! Oh, it is dull, dull, dull!"
Suddenly an idea seemed to strike her. She went to her room and changed the loose morning gown in which she had lunched for a dark walking dress. A few minutes later she left the house on foot, and taking a hansom at the corner of the Square, drove to Anna's flat.
Anna was having tea by herself when she entered. She rose at once with a little exclamation, half of surprise, half of pleasure.
"My dear Annabel," she said, "this is delightful, but I thought that it was forbidden."
"It is," Annabel answered shortly. "But I wanted to see you."
Anna wheeled an easy chair to the fire.
"You will have some tea?" she asked.
Annabel ignored both the chair and the invitation. She was looking about her, and her face was dark with anger. The little room was fragrant with flowers, Anna herself bright, and with all the evidences of well being. Annabel was conscious then of the slow anger which had been burning within her since the night of her visit to the "Unusual." Her voice trembled with suppressed passion.
"I have come for an explanation," she said. "You are an impostor. How dare you use my name and sing my songs?"
Anna looked at her sister in blank amazement.
"Annabel!" she exclaimed. "Why, what is the matter with you? What do you mean?"
Annabel laughed scornfully.
"Oh, you know," she said. "Don't be a hypocrite. You are not 'Alcide.' You have
no right to call yourself 'Alcide.' You used to declare that you hated the name. You used to beg me for hours at a time to give it all up, never to go near the 'Ambassador's' again. And yet the moment I am safely out of the way you are content to dress yourself in my rags, to go and get yourself popular and admired and successful, all on my reputation."
Annabel stamped her foot. Her tone was hoarse with passion.
"Oh, you can act!" she cried. "You can look as innocent and shocked as you please. I want to know who sent you those."
She pointed with shaking fingers to a great bunch of dark red carnations, thrust carelessly into a deep china bowl, to which the card was still attached. Anna followed her finger, and looked back into her sister's face.
"They were sent to me by Mr. Nigel Ennison, Annabel. How on earth does it concern you?"
Annabel laughed hardly.
"Concern me!" she repeated fiercely. "You are not content then with stealing from me my name. You would steal from me then the only man I ever cared a snap of the fingers about. They are not your flowers. They are mine! They were sent to 'Alcide' not to you."
Anna rose to her feet. At last she was roused. Her cheeks were flushed, and her eyes bright.
"Annabel," she said, "you are my sister, or I would bid you take the flowers if you care for them, and leave the room. But behind these things which you have said to me there must be others of which I know nothing. You speak as one injured--as though I had been the one to take your name--as though you had been the one to make sacrifices. In your heart you know very well that this is absurd. It is you who took my name, not I yours. It is I who took the burden of your misdeeds upon my shoulders that you might become Lady Ferringhall. It is I who am persecuted by the man who calls himself your husband."
Annabel shivered a little and looked around her.
"He does not come here!" she exclaimed, quickly.
"He spends hours of every day on the pavement below," Anna answered calmly. "I have been bearing this--for your sake. Shall I send him to Sir John?"
Annabel was white to the lips, but her anger was not yet spent.
"It was your own fault," she exclaimed. "He would never have found you out if you had not personated me."
"On the contrary," Anna whispered quietly, "we met in a small boarding-house where I was stopping."
"You have not told me yet," Annabel said, "how it is that you have dared to personate me. To call yourself 'Alcide'! Your hair, your gestures, your voice, all mine! Oh, how dared you do it?"
"You must not forget," Anna said calmly, "that it is necessary for me also--to live. I arrived here with something less than five pounds in my pocket. My reception at West Kensington you know of. I was the black sheep, I was hurried out of the way. You did not complain then that I personated you--no, nor when
Sir John came to me in Paris, and for your sake I lied."
"You did not----"
"Wait, Annabel! When I arrived in London I went to live in the cheapest place I could find. I set myself to find employment. I offered myself as a clerk, as a milliner, as a shop girl. I would even have taken a place as waitress in a tea shop. I walked London till the soles of my shoes were worn through, and my toes were blistered. I ate only enough to keep body and soul together."
"There was no need for such heroism," Annabel said coldly. "You had only to ask----"
"Do you think," Anna interrupted, with a note of passion trembling also in her tone, "that I would have taken alms from Sir John, the man to whom I had lied for your sake. It was not possible. I went at last when I had barely a shilling in my purse to a dramatic agent. By chance I went to one who had known you in
"He greeted me effusively. He offered me at once an engagement. I told him that I was not 'Alcide.' He only laughed. He had seen the announcement of your marriage in the papers, and he imagined that I simply wanted to remain unknown because of your husband's puritanism. I sang to him, and he was satisfied. I did not appear, I have never announced myself as 'Alcide.' It was the Press who forced the identity upon me."
"They were my posters," Annabel said. "The ones Cariolus did for me."
"The posters at least," Anna answered quietly, "I have some claim to. You know very well that you took from my easel David Courtlaw's study of me, and sent it to Cariolus. You denied it at the time--but unfortunately I have proof. Mr. Courtlaw found the study in Cariolus' studio."
Annabel laughed hardly.
"What did it matter?" she cried. "We are, or rather we were, so much alike then that the portrait of either of us would have done for the other. It saved me the bother of being studied."
"It convinced Mr. Earles that I was 'Alcide,'" Anna remarked quietly.
"We will convince him now to the contrary," Annabel answered.
Anna looked at her, startled.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
Annabel set her teeth hard, and turned fiercely towards Anna.
"It means that I have had enough of this slavery," she declared. "My husband and all his friends are fools, and the life they lead is impossible for me. It takes too many years to climb even a step in the social ladder. I've had enough of it. I want my freedom."
"You mean to say," Anna said slowly, "that you are going to leave your husband?"
"You are willing to give up your position, your beautiful houses, your carriages and milliner's accounts to come back to Bohemianism?"
"Why not?" Annabel declared. "I am sick of it. It is dull--deadly dull."
"And what about this man--Mr. Montague Hill?"
Annabel put her hand suddenly to her throat and steadied herself with the back of a chair. She looked stealthily at Anna.
"You have succeeded a little too well in your personation," she said bitterly, "to get rid very easily of Mr. Montague Hill. You are a great deal more like what I was a few months ago than I am now."
Anna laughed softly.
"You propose, then," she remarked, "that I shall still be saddled with a pseudo husband. I think not, Annabel. You are welcome to proclaim yourself 'Alcide' if you will. I would even make over my engagement to you, if Mr. Earles would permit. But I should certainly want to be rid of Mr. Montague Hill, and I do not think that under those circumstances I should be long about it."
Annabel sank suddenly into a chair. Her knees were trembling, her whole frame was shaken with sobs.
"Anna," she moaned, "I am a jealous, ungrateful woman. But oh, how weary I am! I know. If only--Anna, tell me," she broke off suddenly, "how did you get to know Mr. Ennison?"
"He spoke to me, thinking that I was you," Anna answered. "I liked him, and I never undeceived him."
"And he sat at my table," Annabel said bitterly, "and yet he did not know me."
Anna glanced up.
"You must remember," she said, "that you yourself are responsible for your altered looks."
"For the others," Annabel said tearfully, "that is well enough. But for him----"
Something in her sister's tone startled Anna. She looked at her for a moment fixedly. When she tried to speak she found it difficult. Her voice seemed to come from a long way off.
"What do you mean, Annabel? You only knew Mr. Ennison slightly----"
There was a dead silence in the little room. Anna sat with the face of a Sphinx--waiting. Annabel thought, and thought again.
"I knew Mr. Ennison better than I have ever told you," she said slowly.
"You know--in Paris they coupled my name with some one's--an Englishman's. Nigel Ennison was he."
Anna stood up. Her cheeks were aflame. Her eyes were lit with smouldering passion.
"Go on!" she commanded. "Let me know the truth."
Annabel looked down. It was hard to meet that gaze.
"Does he never speak to you of--of old times?" she faltered.
"Don't fence with me," Anna cried fiercely. "The truth!"
Annabel bent over her and whispered in her sister's ear.