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 31. Anna's Tea Party
"I suppose you haven't the least idea who I am," Lady Lescelles said, as she settled herself in Anna's most comfortable chair.
"I have heard of you, of course," Anna answered hesitatingly, "but----"
"You cannot imagine what I have come to see you about. Well, I am Nigel Ennison's sister!"
"Oh!" Anna said.
"Nigel is like all men," Lady Lescelles continued. "He is a sad blunderer. He has helped me out of scrapes though, no end of times. He is an awfully good sort--and now he has come to me to help him if I can. Do you know that he is very much in love with you?"
"Well," she admitted. "He has said something of the sort."
"And you have sent him about his business. He tells me that you will not even see him. I don't want to bother you, of course. A woman has a perfect right to choose her own husband, but Nigel seemed to think that there was something a little mysterious about your treatment of him. You seemed, he thought, to have some grievance which you would not explain and which he thought must arise from a misunderstanding. There, that sounds frightfully involved, doesn't it, but perhaps you can make out what I mean. Don't you care for Nigel at all?"
Anna was silent for a moment or two.
Lady Lescelles, graceful, very fashionably but quietly dressed, leaned back and watched her with shrewd kindly eyes.
"I like your brother better than any other man I know," Anna said at last.
"Well, I don't think you told him as much as that, did you?" Lady Lescelles asked.
"I did not," Anna answered. "To be frank with you, Lady Lescelles, when your brother asked me the other day to be his wife I was under a false impression as regards his relations--with some other person. I know now that I was mistaken."
"That sounds more promising," Lady Lescelles declared. "May I tell Nigel to come and see you again? I am not here to do his love-making for him, you know. I came to see you on my own account."
"Thank you very much," Anna said. "It is very nice of you to come, but I do not think for the present, at any rate, I could give him any other answer. I do not intend to be married, or to become engaged just at present."
"Well, why not?" Lady Lescelles asked, smiling. "I can only be a few years older than you, and I have been married four years. I can assure you, I wouldn't be single again for worlds. One gets a lot more fun married."
"Our cases are scarcely similar," Anna remarked.
"Why not?" Lady Lescelles answered. "You are one of the Hampshire Pellissiers, I know, and your family are quite as good as ours. As for money, Nigel has tons of it."
"It isn't exactly that," Anna answered, "but to tell you the truth, I cannot bear to look upon myself as a rank failure. We girls, my sister and I, were left quite alone when our father died, and I made up my mind to make some little place in the world for myself. I tried painting and couldn't get on. Then I
came to London and tried almost everything--all failures. I had two offers of marriage from men I liked very much indeed, but it never occurred to me to listen to either of them. You see I am rather obstinate. At last I tried a dramatic agent, and got on the music hall stage."
"Well, you can't say you're a failure there," Lady Lescelles remarked, smiling. "I've been to hear you lots of times."
"I have been more fortunate than I deserved," Anna answered, "but I only meant to stay upon the music hall stage until I could get something better. I am rehearsing now for a new play at the ‘Garrick' and I have quite made up my mind to try and make some sort of position for myself as an actress."
"Do you think it is really worth while?" Lady Lescelles asked gently. "I am sure you will marry Nigel sooner or later, and then all your work will be thrown away."
Anna shook her head.
"If I were to marry now," she said, "it would be with a sense of humiliation. I should feel that I had been obliged to find some one else to fight my battles for me."
"What else," Lady Lescelles murmured, "are men for?"
"Afterwards," she said, "I should be perfectly content to have everything done for me. But I do think that if a girl is to feel comfortable about it they should start fairly equal. Take your case, for instance. You brought your husband a large fortune, your people were well known in society, your family interest I have heard was useful to him in his parliamentary career. So far as I am concerned, I am just now a hopeless nonentity. Your brother has everything--I have not shown myself capable even of earning my own living except in a way which could not possibly bring any credit upon anybody. And beyond this, Lady Lescelles, as you must know, recent events have set a good many people's tongues wagging, and I am quite determined to live down all this scandal before I think of marrying any one."
"I am sure," Lady Lescelles said, gently, "that the last consideration need not weigh with you in the least. No one in the world is beyond the shaft of scandal--we all catch it terribly sometimes. It simply doesn't count."
"You are very kind," Anna said. "I do hope I have been able to make you understand how I feel, that you don't consider me a hopeless prig. It does sound a little horrid to talk so much about oneself and to have views."
"I think," Lady Lescelles said, putting down her teacup, "that I must send Nigel to plead his own cause. I may tell him, at any rate, that you will see him?"
"I shall like to see him," Anna answered. "I really owe him something of an apology."
"I will tell him," Lady Lescelles said. "And now let us leave the men alone and talk about ourselves."
"I am delighted to see you all here," Anna said smiling upon them from behind the tea-tray, "but I shall have to ask you to excuse me for a few minutes. My agent is here, and he has brought his contract for me to sign. I will give you all some tea, and then I must leave you for a few minutes."
The three men, who had arrived within a minute or two of one another, received her little speech in dead silence. Ennison, who had been standing with his back to the window, came suddenly a little further into the room.
"Miss Pellissier," he said, "I came here this afternoon hoping particularly to see you for a few moments before you signed that contract."
She shook her head.
"We may just as well have our talk afterwards," she said, "and I need not keep poor Mr. Earles waiting."
Courtlaw suddenly interposed.
"May I be allowed to say," he declared, "that I came here with the same intention."
"And I also," Brendon echoed.
Anna was suddenly very quiet.
She was perhaps as near tears as ever before in her life.
"If I had three hands," she said, with a faint smile, "I would give one to each of you. I know that you are all my friends, and I know that you all have very good advice to give me. But I am afraid I am a shockingly obstinate and a very ungrateful person. No, don't let me call myself that. I am grateful, indeed I am. But on this matter my mind is quite made up."
Ennison hesitated for a moment.
"Miss Pellissier," he said, "these gentlemen are your friends, and therefore they are my friends. If I am to have no other opportunity I will speak before them. I came here to beg you not to sign that contract. I came to beg you instead to do me the honour of becoming my wife."
"And I," Courtlaw said, "although I have asked before in vain, have come to ask you once more the same thing."
"And I," Brendon said, humbly, "although I am afraid there is no chance for me, my errand was the same."
Anna looked at them for a moment with a pitiful attempt at a smile. Then her head disappeared suddenly in her hands, and her shoulders shook violently.
"Please forgive me--for one moment," she sobbed. "I--I shall be all right directly."
Brendon rushed to the piano and strummed out a tune.
The others hurried to the window. And Anna was conscious of a few moments of exquisite emotion. After all, life had still its pulsations. The joy of being loved thrilled her as nothing before had ever done, a curious abstract joy which had nothing in it at that moment of regret or even pity.
She called them back very soon.
The signs of tears had all gone, but some subtle change seemed to have stolen into her face. She spoke readily enough, but there was a new timidity in her manner.
"My friends," she said, "my dear friends, I am going to make the same answer to all of you--and that is perhaps you will say no answer at all. At present I cannot marry, I will not become bound even to any one. It would be very hard perhaps to make you understand just how I feel about it. I won't try. Only I feel that you all want to make life too easy for me, and I am determined to fight my own battles a little longer. If any of you--or all of you feel the same in six months' time from today, will you come, if you care to, and see me then?"
There was a brief silence. Ennison spoke at last.
"You will sign the contract?"
"I shall sign the contract. I think that I am very fortunate to have it to sign."
"Do you mean," Courtlaw asked, "that from now to the end of the six months you do not wish to see us--any of us?"
Her eyes were a little dim again.
"I do mean that," she declared. "I want to have no distractions. My work will be all sufficient. I have an aunt who is coming to live with me, and I do not intend to receive any visitors at all. It will be a little lonely sometimes," she said, looking around at them, "and I shall miss you all, but it is the fairest for myself--and I think for you. Do not avoid me if we meet by accident, but I trust to you all not to let the accident happen if you can help it."
Brendon rose and came towards her with outstretched hand.
"Good-bye, Miss Pellissier, and success to you," he said. "May you have as much good fortune as you deserve, but not enough to make you forget us."
Courtlaw rose too.
"You are of the genus obstinate," he said. "I do not know whether to wish you success or not. I will wish you success or failure, whichever is the better for you."
"And I," Ennison said, holding her fingers tightly, and forcing her to look into his eyes, "I will tell you what I have wished for you when we meet six months from today."