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 30. Sir John's Necktie
Sir John, in a quiet dark travelling suit, was sitting in a pokey little room writing letters. The room was worse than pokey, it was shabby; and the view from the window, of chimney pots and slate roofs, wholly uninspiring. Nevertheless, Sir John had the look of a man who was enjoying himself. He seemed years younger, and the arrangement of his tie and hair were almost rakish. He stamped his last letter as Annabel entered.
She was dressed for the street very much as her own maid was accustomed to dress, and there was a thick veil attached to her hat.
"John," she declared, "I must eat or die. Do get your hat, and we will go to that corner café."
"Right," he answered. "I know the place you mean--very good cooking for such an out-of-the-way show. I'll be ready in a moment."
Sir John stamped his letters, brushed his hat, and carefully gave his moustache an upward curl before the looking-glass.
"I really do not believe," he announced with satisfaction, "that any one would recognize me. What do you think, Annabel?"
"I don't think they would," she admitted. "You seem to have cultivated quite a jaunty appearance, and you certainly look years younger. One would think that you enjoyed crawling away out of your world into hiding, with a very foolish wicked wife."
"Upon my word," he declared, "you are right. I really am enjoying it. It is like a second honeymoon. If it wasn't for the fear that after all--but we won't think of that. I don't believe any one could have traced us here. You see, we travelled second class, and we are in the least known quarter of Paris. Tonight we leave for Marseilles. On Thursday we embark for South America."
"You are a marvellous courier," she declared, as they passed into the street. "You see, I will take your arm. It looks so French to be affectionate."
"There are some French customs," he declared, "which are admirable. I presume that I may not kiss you in the street?"
"Certainly not, sir," she replied, laughing. "If you attempted such a thing it would be in order that I should smack you hard with the palm of my hand upon the cheek."
"That is another French custom," he remarked, "which is not so agreeable. Here we are. Shall we sit outside and drink a petit verre of something to give us an appetite while dinner is being prepared?"
"Certainly not," she answered. "I am already so hungry that I shall begin on the petit pains. I have an appetite which I dare not increase."
They entered the place, a pleasant little café of the sort to be met with in the outlying parts of Paris. Most of the tables were for those who smoked only and drank wine, but there were a few spread with tablecloths and laid for dinner. Sir John and Annabel seated themselves at one of them, and the proprietor himself, a small dark-visaged man, radiant with smiles, came hurrying up, followed by a waiter.
"Monsieur would dine! It was very good! And Madame, of course?" with a low bow. The carte de jour was before Monsieur. He had but to give his orders. Monsieur could rely upon his special attention, and for the cooking--well, he had his customers, who came from their homes to him year after year. And always they were well satisfied. He waited the pleasure of Monsieur.
Sir John gave his order, deliberately stumbling now and then over a word, and anglicizing others. When he had finished he took up the wine list and ordered a bottle of dry champagne.
"I am afraid," he said to Anna afterwards, "that it was a mistake to order the champagne sec. They will guess that I am English."
Annabel leaned back in her chair and laughed till the tears stood in her eyes.
"Did you--did you really think that they would take you for a Frenchman?" she exclaimed.
"I don't see why not," he answered. "These clothes are French, and I'm sure this floppy bow would make a Frenchman of me anyhow. Perhaps I ought to have let you order the dinner, but I think I got through it pretty well."
"You did," Anna exclaimed. "Thank Heaven, they are bringing the hors
d'oeuvres. John, I shall eat that whole tin of sardines. Do take them away from me after I have had four."
"After all," Sir John remarked complacently, "it is astonishing how easy it is for people with brains and a little knowledge of the world to completely hide themselves. I am absolutely certain that up to the present we have escaped all notice, and I do not believe that any casual observer would take us for English people."
A man who had been sitting with his hat tilted over his eyes at an adjacent table had risen to his feet and stood suddenly before them.
"Permit me to offer you the English paper which has just arrived, Sir John," he said, holding out a Daily Telegraph. "You may find in it a paragraph of some interest to you."
Sir John was speechless. It was Annabel who caught at the paper.
"You--appear to know my name, sir," Sir John said.
"Oh, yes," the stranger remarked good-humouredly. "I know you very well by sight, Sir John. It is my business to know most people. We were fellow passengers from Charing Cross, and we have been fellow lodgers in the Rue d'Entrepot. I trust you will not accuse me of discourtesy if I express my pleasure that henceforth our ways will lie apart."
A little sobbing cry from Annabel arrested Sir John's attention. The stranger with a bow returned to his table.
"Read this, John."
The Bucknall Mansions Mystery:--
Montague Hill, the man who was found lying wounded in Bucknall Mansions late on Wednesday night in the rooms of a well-known artiste, has recovered sufficiently to make a statement to the police. It appears that he was an unsuccessful admirer of the lady in question, and he admits that, under the influence of drink, he broke into her rooms, and there made a determined attempt at suicide. He further gave the name and address of the firm from whom he purchased the revolver and cartridges, a member of which firm has since corroborated his statement.
Hill's confession will finally refute a number of absurd stories which have been in circulation during the last few days. We understand that, notwithstanding the serious nature of the man's injuries, there is every possibility of his recovery.
Annabel pulled down her veil to hide the tears. Sir John filled his glass with trembling hand.
"Thank God," he exclaimed. "The fellow is not such a blackguard, after all."
Annabel's hand stole into his.
"And I have dragged you all over here for nothing," she murmured.
"For nothing, do you call it?" he declared. "I wouldn't have been without this trip for worlds. It has been a real honeymoon trip, Annabel, for I feel that it has given me a wife."
Annabel pulled up her veil.
"You are a dear," she exclaimed affectionately. "I do hope that I shall be able to make it up to you."
Sir John's reply was incoherent. He called a waiter.
"Garçon," he said, "will you ask the gentleman at the next table if he will do me the honour of taking a glass of wine with me."
The stranger came over to them smiling. He had been on the point of leaving the restaurant. He accepted the glass of wine, and bowed.
"I drink your very good health, Sir John and Lady Ferringhall," he said, "and I wish you a pleasant journey back to England. If I might take the liberty, Sir John," he added, with a humorous gleam in his eyes, "I should like to congratulate you upon your tie."
"Oh, damn the thing!" Sir John exclaimed, tucking the loose ends inside his coat.
"I propose," Sir John said, "that we pay for our dinner--which we haven't had--tip the garçon a sovereign, and take a cab to the Ritz."
Annabel shook her head.
"Look at our clothes," she exclaimed, "and besides, the funny little proprietor has gone down himself to help it along. He would be so disappointed. I am sure it will be good, John, and I could eat anything. No, let us dine here, and then go and have our coffee on the boulevards. We can take our things up with us and stay at the Continental or the Ritz."
"Excellent," Sir John declared. "We will do Paris like the tourists, and thank God here comes dinner."
Everything was good. The garçon was tipped as he had never been tipped before in his life. They drove up into Paris in an open fiacre with a soft cool wind blowing in their faces, hand in hand beneath the rug. They went first to a hotel, and then out again on to the boulevards. The natural gaiety of the place seemed to have affected them both. They laughed and talked and stared about them. She took his hand in hers.
"Dear John," she whispered. "We are to begin our married life tonight--here where I first met you. I shall only pray that I may reward you for all your goodness to me."
Sir John, frankly oblivious of the possibility of passersby, took her into his arms and kissed her. Then he stood up and hailed a fiacre.