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 22. An Old Fool
Lady Ferringhall made room for him on the sofa by her side. She was wearing a becoming tea-gown, and it was quite certain that Sir John would not be home for several hours at least.
"I am delighted to see you, Mr. Ennison," she said, letting her fingers rest in his. "Do come and cheer me up. I am bored to distraction."
He took a seat by her side. He was looking pale and ill. There were shadows under his eyes. He returned her impressive greeting almost mechanically.
"But you yourself," she exclaimed, glancing into his face, "you too look tired. You poor man, what have you been doing to yourself?"
"Nothing except travelling all night," he answered. "I am just back from Paris. I am bothered. I have come to you for sympathy, perhaps for help."
"You may be sure of the one," she murmured. "The other too if it is within my power."
"It is within yours--if anybody's," he answered. "It is about your sister, Lady Ferringhall."
Annabel gave a little gasp. The colour slowly left her cheeks, the lines of her mouth hardened. The change in her face was not a pleasant one.
"About my sister," she repeated slowly.
Her tone should have warned him, but he was too much in earnest to regard it.
"Yes. You remember that you saw us at the Savoy a few evenings ago?"
"And you knew, of course, that we were old friends?"
"Lady Ferringhall, I love your sister."
"You what?" she repeated incredulously.
"I love your sister."
Lady Ferringhall sat with half closed eyes and clenched teeth. Brute! Fool! To have come to her on such an errand. She felt a hysterical desire to strike him, to burst out crying, to blurt out the whole miserable truth. The effort to maintain her self-control was almost superhuman.
"But--your people!" she gasped. "Surely Lady Ennison would object, even if it were possible. And the Duke, too--I heard him say that a married secretary would be worse than useless to him."
"The difficulties on my own side I can deal with," he answered. "I am not dependent upon any one. I have plenty of money, and the Duke will not be in the next Cabinet. My trouble is with your sister."
Lady Ferringhall was conscious of some relief.
"She has refused to listen to you?"
"She has behaved in a most extraordinary manner," he answered. "We parted--that night the best of friends. She knew that I cared for her, she had admitted that she cared for me. I suppose I was a little idiotic--I don't think we either of us mentioned the future, but it was arranged that I should go the next afternoon and have tea with her. When I went I was refused admittance. I have since received a most extraordinary letter from her. She offers me no explanation, permits me absolutely no hope. She simply refuses to see or hear from me again. I went to the theatre that night. I waited for her at the back. She saw me, and, Lady Ferringhall, I shall never forget her look as long as I live. It was horrible. She looked at me as though I were some unclean thing, as though my soul were weighted with every sin in the calendar. I could not have spoken to her. It took my breath away. By the time I had recovered myself she had gone. My letters are returned unopened, her maid will not even allow me across the doorstep."
"The explanation seems to me to be reasonably simple," Annabel said coldly. "You seem to forget that my sister is--married."
"If she is," he answered, "I am convinced that there are circumstances in connexion with that marriage which would make a divorce easy."
"You would marry a divorcée?" she asked.
"I would marry your sister anyhow, under any circumstances," he answered.
She looked at him curiously.
"I want to ask you a question," she said abruptly. "This wonderful affection of yours for my sister, does it date from your first meeting with her in Paris?"
"I admired your sister in Paris," he answered, "but I do not believe that I regard her now as altogether the same person. Something has happened to change her marvellously, either that, or she wilfully deceived me and every one else in those days as to her real self. She was a much lighter and more frivolous person, very charming and companionable--but with a difference--a great difference. I wonder whether you would mind, Lady Ferringhall," he went on, with a sudden glance at her, "if I tell you that you yourself remind me a great deal more of what she was like then, except of course that your complexion and colouring are altogether different."
"I am highly flattered," she remarked, with subtle irony.
"Will you help me?" he asked.
"What can I do?"
"Go and see her. Find out what I have done or failed to do. Get me an interview with her."
"Really," she said, with a hard little laugh, "you must regard me as a very good-natured person."
"You are," he answered unconsciously. "I am sure that you are. I want her to tell me the whole truth about this extraordinary marriage. We will find some way out of it."
"You think that you can do that?"
"I am sure of it," he answered, confidently. "Those things are arranged more easily in any other country than England. At any rate she must see me. I demand it as a right. I must know what new thing has come between us that she should treat me as a lover one day and a monster the next."
She leaned back amongst the cushions of her chair. She was very pale, but she reminded him more at that minute than at any time of "Alcide" as he had first known her.
"I wonder," she said, "how much you care."
"I care as a man cares only once in his life," he answered promptly. "When it comes there is no mistaking it."
"Did it come--in Paris?"
"I do not know," he answered. "I do not think so. What does it matter? It is here, and it is here to stay. Do help me, Lady Ferringhall. You need not be afraid. No trouble will ever come to your sister through me. If this idiotic marriage is binding then I will be her friend. But I have powerful friends. I only want to know the truth, and I will move heaven and earth to have it set aside."
"The truth," she murmured, with her eyes fixed upon him. "Well----"
She stopped short. He looked at her in some embarrassment.
"Forgive me," he said, "but I want to hear it from your sister. It is her duty to tell me, and I would not have her think that I had been trying to work upon your sympathies to learn her secrets."
She was silent.
"You will go and see her," he begged.
"Yes, I will go," she promised, with a queer little smile. "It is against my husband's orders, and I am not sure that my sister will be particularly glad to see me. But I will go."
"I shall always be grateful to you," he declared.
"Don't be too sure of that," she answered enigmatically.