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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 23. Montague Hill Sees Light at Last

At exactly ten minutes past ten Annabel rang the bell of her sister's flat. There was no response. She rang again with the same result. Then, as she was in the act of turning reluctantly away, she noticed a thin crack between the door and the frame. She pushed the former and it opened. The latch had not fully caught.

The flat was apparently empty. Annabel turned on the electric light and made her way into the sitting-room. There was a coffee equipage on the table, and some sandwiches, and the fire had been recently made up. Annabel seated herself in an easy chair and determined to wait for her sister's return.

The clock struck half-past ten. The loneliness of the place somewhat depressed her. She took up a book and threw it down again. Then she examined with curiosity some knick-knacks upon a small round table by her side. Amongst them was a revolver. She handled it half fearfully, and set it carefully down again. Then for the first time she was conscious of an unaccountable and terrifying sensation. She felt that she was not alone.

She was only a few yards from the door, but lacked the courage to rise and fly. Her knees shook, her breath came fast, she almost felt the lurid effect of those tiny patches of rouge upon her pallor-stricken cheeks. Her eyes were dilated--fixed in a horrified stare at the parting in the curtains which hung before the window.

There was some one there. She had seen a man's head steal out for a moment and draw the curtains a little closer. Even now she could trace the outline of his shape behind the left-hand curtain. She was wholly unable to conceal her knowledge of his presence. A little smothered cry broke from her lips--the curtains were thrown aside and a man stepped out. She was powerless to move from her chair. All through that brief but measureless space of time during which wonder kept him silent, as fear did her, she cowered there, a limp helpless object. Her courage and her presence of mind had alike deserted her. She could neither speak nor move nor cry out.

"Annabel! God in Heaven, it is Annabel!"

She did not speak. Her lips parted, but no words came.

"What have you done to yourself?" he muttered. "You have dyed your hair and darkened your eyebrows. But you are Annabel. I should know you--in Heaven or Hell. Who is the other?"

"What other?"

Her voice seemed to come from a long way off. Her lips were dry and cracked.

"The Annabel who lives here, who sings every night at the 'Unusual'? They call her by your old name. Her hair and voice and figure are as yours used to be. Who is she, I say?"

"My sister!" Annabel faltered.

He trembled violently. He seemed to be labouring under some great excitement.

"I am a fool," he said. "All these days I have taken her for you. I have pleaded with her--no wonder that I have pleaded with her in vain. And all this time perhaps you have been waiting, expecting to hear from me. Is it so, Annabel?"

"I did not know," she faltered, "anything about you. Why should I?"

"At last," he murmured, "at last I have found you. I must not let you go again. Do you know, Annabel, that you are my wife?"

"No," she moaned, "not that. I thought--the papers said----"

"You thought that I was dead," he interrupted. "You pushed the wheel from my hand. You jumped, and I think that you left me. Yet you knew that I was not dead. You came to see me in the hospital. You must have repented a little, or you would not have done that."

"I did not come," she faltered. "It was my sister Anna. I had left Paris."

He passed his hand wearily over his forehead.

"That is where I got confused," he said. "I opened my eyes, and she was bending over my bedside. Then, I thought, she has repented, all will be well. So I made haste and recovered. I came to London to look for you, and somehow the figure I saw in my dreams had got mixed up with you. Your sister! Great God, how like she is to what you were!"

Annabel looked around her nervously.

"These are her rooms," she said. "Soon she will return."

"The sooner the better," he answered. "I must explain to her. Annabel, I cannot believe it. I have found you."

His eyes were burning. He advanced a step towards her. She held out both her hands.

"No, no," she cried. "You frighten me!"

He smiled at her indulgently.

"But I am your husband," he said. "You have forgotten. I am your husband, though as yet your hand has scarcely lain in mine."

"It was a mistake," she faltered. "You told me that your name was Meysey Hill. I thought that you were he."

His face darkened.

"I did it for love of you," he said. "I lied, as I would have committed a murder, or done any evil deed sooner than lose you. What does it matter? I am not a pauper, Annabel. I can keep you. You shall have a house out at Balham or Sydenham, and two servants. You shall have the spending of every penny of my money. Annabel, tell me that you did not wish me dead. Tell me that you are not sorry to see me again."

Her passion conquered for a moment her fear.

"But I am sorry," she exclaimed. "Our marriage must be annulled. It was no marriage at all."

"Never," he exclaimed vehemently. "You are mine, Annabel, and nothing shall ever make me give you up."

"But it is too late," she declared. "You have no right to hold me to a bargain which on your side was a lie. I consented to become Mrs. Meysey Hill--never your wife."

"What do you mean--by too late?" he demanded.

"There is some one else whom I care for!"

He laughed hardly.

"Tell me his name," he said, "and I promise that he shall never trouble you. But you," he continued, moving imperceptiby a little nearer to her, "you are mine. The angels in Heaven shall not tear you from me. We leave this room together. I shall not part with you again."

"No," she cried, "I will not. I will have nothing to do with you. You are not my husband."

He came towards her with that in his face which filled her with blind terror.

"You belong to me," he said fiercely; "the marriage certificate is in my pocket. You belong to me, and I have waited long enough."

He stepped past her to the door and closed it. Then he turned with a fierce movement to take her into his arms. There was a flash and a loud report. He threw up his hand, reeled for a moment on his feet, and collapsed upon the floor.

"Annabel;" he moaned. "You have killed me. My wife--killed me."

With a little crash the pistol fell from her shaking fingers. She stood looking down upon him with dilated eyes. Her faculties seemed for a moment numbed. She could not realize what she saw. Surely it was a dream. A moment before he had been a strong man, she had been in his power, a poor helpless thing. Now he lay there, a doubled-up mass, with ugly distorted features, and a dark wet stain dripping slowly on to the carpet. It could not be she who had done this. She had never let off a pistol in her life. Yet the smoke was curling upwards in a faint innocent-looking cloud to the ceiling. The smell of gunpowder was strong in the room.

It was true. She had killed him. It was as much accident as anything, but she had killed him. Once before--but that had been different. This time they would call it murder.

She listened, listened intently for several minutes. People were passing in the street below. She could hear their footsteps upon the pavement. A hansom stopped a little way off. She could hear the bell tinkle as the horse shook its head. There was no one stirring in the flats. He himself had deadened the sound by closing the door. She moved a little nearer to him.

It was horrible, but she must do it. She sank upon her knees and unbuttoned his coat. It was there in the breast pocket, stiff and legal looking. She drew it out with shaking fingers. There was a great splash of blood upon it, her hand was all wet and sticky. A deadly sickness came over her, the room seemed spinning round. She staggered to the fireplace and thrust it into the heart of the dying flames. She held it down with the poker, looking nervously over her shoulder. Then she put more coal on, piled it over the ashes, and stood once more upright.

Still silence everywhere. She pulled down her veil and made her way to the door. She turned out the electric light and gained the hall. Still no sound. Her knees almost sank beneath her as she raised the latch of the front door and looked out. There was no one to be seen. She passed down the stairs and into the street.

She walked for a mile or more recklessly, close veiled, with swift level footsteps, though her brain was in a whirl and a horrible faintness all the time hovered about her. Then she called a hansom and drove home.

"Miss Pellissier," Brendon said gently, "I am afraid that some fresh trouble has come to you."

She smiled at him cheerfully.

"Am I dull?" she said. "I am sorry."

"You could never be that," he answered, "but you are at least more serious than usual."

"Perhaps," she said, "I am superstitious. This is my last week at the 'Unusual,' you know. We begin rehearsing on Monday at the 'Garrick'."

"Surely," he protested, "the change is all in favour of your own inclinations. It is your own choice, isn't it?"

She nodded.

"Yes. But I believe that Mr. Earles thinks I am a little mad, and between ourselves I am not sure about it myself. It is easy enough to sing these little chansons in an original way--it requires a very different sort of ability to succeed on the stage."

"You have it," he declared confidently.

She laughed altogether in her old manner.

"I wonder how it is," she exclaimed, "that my friends have so much more confidence in me than I have in myself."

"They know you better," he declared.

"I am afraid," she answered, "that one's friends can judge only of the externals, and the things which matter, the things inside are realized only by oneself--stop."

She laid her fingers upon his arm, and they both stood still. They had turned into the street, on the opposite side of which were the flats where Anna lived. Glancing idly up at her own window as they had swung round the corner she had seen a strange thing. The curtains which she had left drawn were open, and the electric lights were turned on. Then, even as they stood there, the room was plunged into darkness.

"There is someone in my rooms," Anna said.

"Is it your maid?" he asked.

"I have given her two days' holiday," Anna answered. "She has gone down into the country."

"And no one else--has a key?"

"I believe," she said, "that that man must have one. I am safe while I am there, for I have had bolts fitted everywhere, and a pane of glass in the front door. But I am always afraid that he may get in while I am away. Look! Is that some one coming out?"

The front door of the flats stood open, and through it a woman, slim and veiled, passed on to the pavement and turned with swift footsteps in the opposite direction. Anna watched her with curious eyes.

"Is it any one you know?" Brendon asked.

"I am not sure," Anna answered. "But, of course, she may have come from one of the other flats."

"Perhaps," he said, "you had better let me have your key, and I will go up and explore."

"We will go together," she answered.

They crossed the street, and entering the front door passed up the outside stone steps of the flat. Anna herself opened the hall door. They stood for a moment in the passage and listened. Silence! Then Anna clutched her companion's arm.

"What was that?" she asked sharply.

He had heard nothing. They both listened intently. Again silence.

"I thought that I heard a groan," Anna whispered.

He laughed reassuringly.

"I heard nothing," he declared, "and my ears are good. Come."

He threw open the door of the sitting-room and switched on the electric light.

"There is no--Good God!" he exclaimed.

He turned round to keep Anna out by force if possible, but he was too late. She was by his side. She too had seen. The thin stream of blood on which her eyes were fastened with a nameless horror reached almost to her feet.


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