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 29. Montague Hill Plays the Game
The man opened his eyes and looked curiously about him.
"Where am I?"he muttered.
Courtlaw, who was sitting by the bedside, bent over him.
"You are in a private room of St. Felix Hospital,"he said.
"Hospital? What for? What's the matter with me?"
Courtlaw's voice sank to a whisper. A nurse was at the other end of the room.
"There was an accident with a pistol in Miss Pellissier's room," he said.
The light of memory flashed in the man's face. His brows drew a little nearer together.
"Accident! She shot me,"he muttered. "I had found her at last, and she shot me. Listen, you. Am I going to die?"
"I am afraid that you are in a dangerous state," Courtlaw answered gravely. "The nurse will fetch the doctor directly. I wanted to speak to you first."
"Who are you?"
"I am a friend of Miss Pellissier's," Courtlaw answered.
"The Miss Pellissier in whose rooms you were, and who sings at the 'Unusual,'" Courtlaw answered. "The Miss Pellissier who was at White's with us."
The man nodded.
"I remember you now," he said. "So it seems that I was wrong. Annabel was in hiding all the time."
"Annabel Pellissier is married,"Courtlaw said quietly.
"She's my wife," the man muttered.
"It is possible," Courtlaw said, "that you too were deceived. Where were you married?"
"At the English Embassy in Paris. You will find the certificate in my pocket."
"And who made the arrangements for you, and sent you there?" Courtlaw asked.
"Hainault, Celeste's friend. He did everything."
"I thought so," Courtlaw said. "You too were deceived. The place to which you went was not the English Embassy, and the whole performance was a fraud. I heard rumours of it in Paris, and the place since then has been closed."
"But Hainault--assured--me--that the marriage was binding."
"So it would have been at the English Embassy," Courtlaw answered, "but the place to which you went was not the English Embassy. It was rigged up for the occasion as it has been many a time before."
"But Hainault--was--a pal. I--I don't understand," the man faltered wearily.
"Hainault was Celeste's friend, and Celeste was Annabel's enemy," Courtlaw said. "It was a plot amongst them all to humiliate her."
"Then she has never been my wife."
"Never for a second. She is the wife now of another man."
Hill closed his eyes. For fully five minutes he lay quite motionless. Then he opened them again suddenly, to find Courtlaw still by his side.
"It was a bad day for me," he said, speaking slowly and painfully. "A bad thing for me when that legacy came. I thought I'd see Paris, do the thing--like a toff. And I heard 'Alcide' sing, and that little dance she did. I was in the front row, and I fancied she smiled at me. Lord, what a state I was in! Night after night I sat there, I watched her come in, I watched her go. She dropped a flower--it's in my pocket-book now. I couldn't rest or eat or sleep. I made Hainault's acquaintance, stood him drinks, lent him money. He shook his head all the time. Annabel Pellissier was not like the others, he said. She had a few acquaintances, English gentlemen, but she lived with her sister--was a lady. But one day he came to me. It was Celeste's idea. I could be presented as Meysey Hill. We were alike. He was--a millionaire. And I passed myself off as Meysey Hill, and since--then--I haven't had a minute's peace. God help me."
Courtlaw was alarmed at the man's pallor.
"You mustn't talk any more," he said, "but I want you to listen to me just for a moment. The doctor will be here to see you in five minutes. The nurse sent for him as soon as she saw that you were conscious. It is very possible that he will ask you to tell him before witnesses how you received your wound."
The man smiled at him.
"You are their friend, then?"
"I am," Courtlaw answered.
"The one whose life you have been making a burden, who has been all the time shielding her sister. I would have married her long ago, but she will not have me."
"Bring her--here," Hill muttered. "I----"
The door opened, and the doctor entered softly. Hill closed his eyes. Courtlaw stood up.
"He has asked to see some one," he whispered to the doctor. "Is there any urgency?"
The doctor bent over his patient, who seemed to have fallen asleep. Presently he turned to Courtlaw.
"I think," he said, "that I would fetch any one whom he has asked to see. His condition is not unfavourable, but there may be a relapse at any moment."
So only a few minutes after Ennison's departure, while Anna stood indeed with her sister's open letter still in her hand, Courtlaw drove up in hot haste. She opened the door to him herself.
"Will you come round to the hospital?" he asked. "Hill has asked for you, and they will take his depositions tonight."
She slipped on her cloak and stepped into the hansom with him. They drove rapidly through the emptying streets.
"Will he die?" she asked.
"Impossible to say," he answered. "We have a private room at St. Felix. Everything is being done that can be."
"You are sure that he asked for me--not for Annabel?"
"Certain," Courtlaw answered.
"Has he accused any one yet?"
"Not yet," he answered. "I have scarcely left his side."
He was still conscious when they reached the hospital and his state was much more favourable. The doctor and another man were by his bedside when they entered the room, and there were writing materials which had evidently been used close at hand. He recognised Anna, and at once addressed her.
"Thank you--for coming," he said. "The doctor has asked me to give them my reasons--for shooting myself. I've told them all that was necessary, but I--wanted to ask your pardon--for having made myself a nuisance to you, and for breaking into your rooms--and to thank you--the doctor says you bound up my wound--or I should have bled to death."
"I forgive you willingly," Anna said, bending over him. "It has all been a mistake, hasn't it?"
"No more talking," the doctor interposed.
"I want two words--with Miss Pellissier alone," Hill pleaded.
The doctor frowned.
"Remember," he said, "you are not by any means a dying man now, but you'll never pull through if you don't husband your strength."
"Two words only," Hill repeated.
They all left the room. Anna leaned over so that he needed only to whisper.
"Tell your sister she was right to shoot, quite right. I meant mischief. But tell her this, too. I believed that our marriage was genuine. I believed that she was my wife, or she would have been safe from me."
"I will tell her," Anna promised.
"She has nothing to be afraid of," he continued. "I have signed a statement that I shot myself; bad trade and drink, both true--both true."
His eyes were closed. Anna left the room on tiptoe. She and Courtlaw drove homewards together.