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 26. Annabel is Warned
David Courtlaw crossed the floor of the dingy little sitting-room with outstretched hands.
"You cannot say that you did not expect me," he answered. "I got Sydney's telegram at ten o'clock, and caught the ten-thirty from the Gare du Nord."
"It is very nice of you," Anna said softly.
"Rubbish!" he answered. "I could not have stayed in Paris and waited for news. Tell me exactly what has happened. Even now I do not understand. Is this man Hill dead?"
She shook her head.
"He was alive at four o'clock this afternoon," she answered, "but the doctors give little hope of his recovery."
"What is there to be feared?" he asked her quietly.
"You are my friend," she said, "if any one is. I think that I will tell you. The man Hill has persecuted me for months--ever since I have been in England. He claimed me for his wife, and showed to every one a marriage certificate. He shot at me at the 'Unusual,' and the magistrates bound him over to keep the peace. I found him once in my rooms, and I believe that he had a key to my front door. Last night Mr. Brendon and I returned from the 'Unusual,' and found him lying in my room shot through the lungs. In the grate were some charred fragments of a marriage certificate. We fetched the doctor and the police. From the first I could see that neither believed my story. I am suspected of having shot the man."
"But that is ridiculous!" he exclaimed.
She laughed a little bitterly.
"I am under police surveillance," she said. "So is Mr. Brendon."
"But there is not a shadow of evidence against you," he objected. "The man alone could supply any, and if he recovers sufficiently to say anything, what he would say would exonerate you."
There was a moment's silence. Anna's face was half turned from him, but her expression, and the tone of her monosyllable puzzled him. He stepped quickly towards her. Her eyes seemed to be looking backwards. She distinctly shivered as he forced her to look at him. He was bewildered.
"Anna!" he exclaimed hoarsely. "Look at me. What is it? Good God!"
An unhappy little smile parted her lips. She clenched her hands together and leaned forward in her chair, gazing steadily into the fire.
"I think," she said, "that I will tell you everything. I must tell somebody--and you would understand."
"I am your friend," he said slowly, "whatever you may have to tell me. You can trust me, Anna. You know that. I will be as silent as the grave."
"Not long ago," she said, "you left me in anger, partly because of this exchange of identities between Annabel and myself. You said that it would bring trouble. It has."
"Annabel's real reason for wishing to leave Paris, the real reason she married Sir John Ferringhall, was because of a very foolish thing which she did. It was--in connection with this man Hill. He personated over there a millionaire named Meysey Hill, and it seems that he induced Annabel to go through some sort of marriage with him at the Embassy."
"Where?" Courtlaw asked quickly.
Courtlaw seemed about to say something. He changed his mind however, and simply motioned to her to proceed.
"Then there was a motor accident only an hour or so after this ceremony, and Hill was reported to be killed. Annabel believed it, came to England and married Sir John. Now you can understand why I have been obliged to----"
"Yes, yes, I understand that," Courtlaw interrupted. "But about last night."
"Annabel knew where I lived," Anna continued slowly. "She has been to my flat before. I saw her come out from the flat buildings two minutes before we entered it last night. I picked up her handkerchief on the floor."
"You mean--you think----"
"Hush! I think that he was concealed in my room, and Annabel and he met there. What passed between them I cannot think--I dare not. The pistol was his own, it is true, but it was one which was taken from him when he forced his way in upon me before. Now you can understand why every minute is a torture to me. It is not for myself I fear. But if he speaks--I fear what he may tell."
"You have been to her?" he asked.
"I dare not," she answered.
"I will go," he said. "She must be warned. She had better escape if she can."
Anna shook her head.
"She will take her risk," she answered. "I am sure of it. If he recovers he may not accuse her. If he dies she is safe."
He paced the room for a minute or two restlessly.
"There are some people," he said at last, "who seem fated to carry on their shoulders the burdens of other people. You, Anna, are one of them. I know in Paris you pinched and scraped that your sister might have the dresses and entertainments she desired. You fell in at once with her quixotic and damnable scheme of foisting her reputation and her follies upon your shoulders whilst she marries a rich man and commences all over again a life of selfish pleasure. You on the other hand have to come to London, a worker, with the responsibility of life upon your own shoulders--and in addition all the burden of her follies."
"You forget," she said, looking up at him with a faint smile, "that under the cloak of her name I am earning more money a week than I could ever have earned in a year by my own labours."
"It is an accident," he answered. "Besides, it is not so. You sing better than Annabel ever did, you have even a better style. 'Alcide' or no 'Alcide,' there is not a music hall manager in London or Paris who would not give you an engagement on your own merits."
"Perhaps not," she answered. "And yet in a very few weeks I shall have done with it all. Do you think that I shall ever make an actress, my friend?"
"I doubt it," he answered bluntly. "You have not feeling enough."
She smiled at him.
"It is like old times," she said, "to hear these home truths. All the same, I don't admit it."
He shook his head.
"To be an actress," he said, "you require a special and peculiar temperament. I do not believe that there has ever lived a really great actress whose moral character from the ordinary point of view would bear inspection."
"Then I," she said, "have too much character."
"Too much character, and too little sentiment," he answered. "Too much sensibility and too cold a heart. Too easily roused emotions and too little passion. How could you draw the curtain aside which hides the great and holy places of life--you, who have never loved?"
"You have become French to the core," she murmured. "You would believe that life is kindled by the passions alone."
There was silence between them. Then a servant girl brought in a telegram. Anna tore it open and passed it to Courtlaw. It was from Brendon.
"Hill gradually recovering consciousness.
Doctor says depositions tonight.
He looked at her gravely.
"I think," he said, "that some one ought to warn her."
"It is Number 8, Cavendish Square," she answered simply.
Courtlaw found himself ushered without questions into Annabel's long low drawing-room, fragrant with flowers and somewhat to his surprise, crowded with guests. From the further end of the apartment came the low music of a violin. Servants were passing backwards and forwards with tea and chocolate. For a moment he did not recognize Annabel. Then she came a few steps to meet him.
"Mr. Courtlaw, is it not," she remarked, with lifted eyebrows. "Really it is very kind of you to have found me out."
He was bereft of words for a moment, and in that moment she escaped, having passed him on deftly to one of the later arrivals.
"Lady Mackinnor," she said, "I am sure that you must have heard of Mr. David Courtlaw. Permit me to make him known to you--Mr. Courtlaw--Lady Mackinnor."
With a murmured word of excuse she glided away, and Courtlaw, who had come with a mission which seemed to him to be one of life or death, was left to listen to the latest art jargon from Chelsea. He bore it as long as he could, watching all the time with fascinated eyes Annabel moving gracefully about amongst her guests, always gay, with a smile and a whisper for nearly everybody. Grudgingly he admired her. To him she had always appeared as a mere pleasure-loving parasite--something quite insignificant. He had pictured her, if indeed she had ever had the courage to do this thing, as sitting alone, convulsed with guilty fear, starting at her own shadow, a slave to constant terror. And instead he found her playing the great lady, and playing it well. She knew, or guessed his mission too, for more than once their eyes met, and
she laughed mockingly at him. At last he could bear it no longer. He left his companion in the midst of a glowing eulogy of Bastien Leparge, and boldly intercepted his hostess as she moved from one group to join another.
"Can you spare me a moment?" he asked. "I have a message from your sister."
"Are you in a hurry," she asked carelessly. "A lot of these people will be going presently."
"My message is urgent," he said firmly. "If you cannot listen to me now it must remain undelivered."
She shrugged her shoulders and led him towards a small recess. "So you come from Anna, do you?" she remarked. "Well, what is it?"
"Montague Hill is recovering consciousness," he said. "He will probably make a statement tonight."
"That sounds very interesting," she answered coolly. "Perhaps I should better be able to understand its significance if you would explain to me who Mr. Montague Hill is."
"Your husband," he answered bluntly.
She did not wince. She laughed a little contemptuously.
"You and Anna," she said, "seem to have stumbled upon a mare's nest. If that is my sister's message, pray return to her and say that the doings and sayings of Mr. Montague Hill do not interest me in the least."
"Don't be foolish," he said sharply. "You were seen to leave the flat, and your handkerchief was found there. Very likely by this time the whole truth is known."
She smiled at him, an understanding smile, but her words defied him.
"What a beautiful mare's nest!" she exclaimed. "I can see you and Anna groaning and nodding your grave heads together. Bah! She does not know me very well, and you--not at all. Do have some tea, won't you? If you must, go then."
Courtlaw was dismissed. As he passed out he saw in the hall a quietly dressed man with keen grey eyes, talking to one of the footmen. He shivered and looked behind as he stepped into his hansom. Had it come already?