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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAnna The Adventuress - Chapter 2. The Adventure Of Annabel
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Anna The Adventuress - Chapter 2. The Adventure Of Annabel Post by :Howlerckc Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :1550

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Anna The Adventuress - Chapter 2. The Adventure Of Annabel

Chapter II. THE ADVENTURE OF ANNABEL

The man spoke mercilessly, incisively, as a surgeon. Only he hated the words he uttered, hated the blunt honesty which forced them from his lips. Opposite, his pupil stood with bowed head and clasped hands.

"You have the temperament," he said. "You have the ideas. Your first treatment of a subject is always correct, always suggestive. But of what avail is this? You have no execution, no finish. You lack only that mechanical knack of expression which is the least important part of an artist's equipment, but which remains a tedious and absolute necessity. We have both tried hard to develop it--you and I--and we have failed. It is better to face the truth."

"Much better," she agreed. "Oh, much better."

"Personally," he went on, "I must confess to a great disappointment. I looked upon you from the first as the most promising of my pupils. I overlooked the mechanical imperfections of your work, the utter lack of finish, the crudeness of your drawing. I said to myself, 'this will come.' It seems that I was mistaken. You cannot draw. Your fingers are even now as stiff as a schoolgirl's. You will never be able to draw. You have the ideas. You are an artist by the Divine right of birth, but whatever form of expression may come to you at some time it will not be painting. Take my advice. Burn your palette and your easel. Give up your lonely hours of work here. Look somewhere else in life. Depend upon it, there is a place for you--waiting. Here you only waste your time."

She was silent, and in the gloom of the dimly lit apartment he could not see her face. He drew a little breath of relief. The worst was over now. He continued tenderly, almost affectionately.

"After all, there are great things left in the world for you. Painting is only one slender branch of the great tree. To-night all this may seem hard and cruel. To-morrow you will feel like a freed woman. To-morrow I shall come and talk to you again--of other things."

A man of infinite tact and kindness, he spoke his message and went. The girl, with a little moan, crossed the room and threw open the window.

She looked steadfastly out. Paris, always beautiful even in the darkness, glittered away to the horizon. The lights of the Champs Elysees and the Place de la Concorde, suggestive, brilliant, seductive, shone like an army of fireflies against the deep cool background of the night. She stood there with white set face and nervously clenched fingers. The echo of those kindly words seemed still to ring in her ears. She was crushed with a sense of her own terrible impotency. A failure! She must write herself down a failure! At her age, with her ambitions, with her artistic temperament and creative instincts, she was yet to be denied all coherent means of expression. She was to fall back amongst the ruck, a young woman of talent, content perhaps to earn a scanty living by painting Christmas cards, or teaching at a kindergarten. Her finger-nails dug into her flesh. It was the bitterest moment of her life. She flung herself back into the bare little room, cold, empty, comfortless. In a momentary fury she seized and tore in pieces the study which remained upon the easel. The pieces fell to the ground in a little white shower. It was the end, she told herself, fiercely. And then, as she stood there, with the fragments of the torn canvas at her feet, some even caught upon her skirt, the door was thrown open, and a girl entered humming a light tune.

The newcomer stopped short upon the threshold.

"Anna! What tragedy has happened, little sister? No lights, no supper, no coffee--and, above all, no Mr. Courtlaw. How dreary it all looks. Never mind. Come and help me pack. I'm off to England."

"Annabel, are you mad? To England! You are joking, of course. But come in, dear. I will light the stove, and there shall be some coffee presently."

"Coffee! Bah!"

The newcomer picked her way across the floor with daintily uplifted skirts, and subsided into a deck chair of stretched canvas.

"I will not rob you of your coffee, most dutiful of sisters!" she exclaimed. "I have had adventures--oh, more than one, I can assure you. It has been a marvellous day--and I am going to England."

Anna looked at her sister gravely. Even in her painting smock and with her disarranged hair, the likeness between the two girls was marvellous.

"The adventures I do not doubt, Annabel," she said. "They seem to come to you as naturally as disappointment--to other people. But to England! What has happened, then?"

Already the terror of a few hours ago seemed to have passed away from the girl who leaned back so lazily in her chair, watching the tip of her patent shoe swing backwards and forwards. She could even think of what had happened. Very soon she would be able to forget it.

"Happened! Oh, many things," she declared indolently. "The most important is that I have a new admirer."

The wonderful likeness between the two girls was never less noticeable than at that moment. Anna stood looking down upon her sister with grave perturbed face. Annabel lounged in her chair with a sort of insolent _abandon in her pose, and wide-open eyes which never flinched or drooped. One realized indeed then where the differences lay; the tender curves about Anna's mouth transformed into hard sharp lines in Annabel's, the eyes of one, truthful and frank, the other's more beautiful but with less expression--windows lit with dazzling light, but through which one saw--nothing.

"A new admirer, Annabel? But what has that to do with your going to England?"

"Everything! He is Sir John Ferringhall--very stupid, very respectable, very egotistical. But, after all, what does that matter? He is very much taken with me. He tries hard to conceal it, but he cannot."

"Then why," Anna asked quietly, "do you run away? It is not like you."

Annabel laughed softly.

"How unkind!" she exclaimed. "Still, since it is better to tell you, Sir John is very much in earnest, but his respectability is something altogether too overpowering. Of course I knew all about him years ago, and he is exactly like everybody's description of him. I am afraid, Anna, just a little afraid, that in Paris I and my friends here might seem a trifle advanced. Besides, he might hear things. That is why I called myself Anna."

"You--you did what?" Anna exclaimed.

"Called myself Anna," the girl repeated coolly. "It can't make any difference to you, and there are not half a dozen people in Paris who could tell us apart."

Anna tried to look angry, but her mouth betrayed her. Instead, she laughed, laughed with lips and eyes, laughed till the tears ran down her cheeks.

"You little wretch!" she exclaimed weakly. "Why should I bear the burden of your wickedness? Who knows what might come of it? I shall permit nothing of the sort."

Annabel shrugged her shoulders.

"Too late, my dear girl," she exclaimed. "I gave your name. I called myself Anna. After all, what can it matter? It was just to make sure. Three little letters can't make a bit of difference."

"But it may matter very much indeed," Anna declared. "Perhaps for myself I do not mind, but this man is sure to find out some day, and he will not like having been deceived. Tell him the truth, Annabel."

"The truth!"

There was a brief but intense silence. Anna felt that her words had become charged with a fuller and more subtle meaning than any which she had intended to impart. "The truth!" It was a moment of awkwardness between the two sisters--a moment, too, charged with its own psychological interest, for there were secrets between them which for many months had made their intercourse a constrained and difficult thing. It was Annabel who spoke.

"How crude you are, Anna!" she exclaimed with a little sigh. "Sir John is not at all that sort. He is the kind of man who would much prefer a little dust in his eyes. But heavens, I must pack!"

She sprang to her feet and disappeared in the room beyond, from which she emerged a few minutes later with flushed cheeks and dishevelled hair.

"It is positively no use, Anna," she declared, appealingly. "You must pack for me. I am sorry, but you have spoilt me. I can't do it even decently myself, and I dare not run the risk of ruining all my clothes."

Anna laughed, gave in and with deft fingers created order out of chaos. Soon the trunk, portmanteau and hat box were ready. Then she took her sister's hand.

"Annabel," she said, "I have never asked you for your confidence. We have lived under the same roof, but our ways seem to have lain wide apart. There are many things which I do not understand. Have you anything to tell me before you go?"

Annabel laughed lightly.

"My dear Anna! As though I should think of depressing you with my long list of misdeeds."

"You have nothing to tell me?"

"Nothing!"

So Annabel departed with the slightest of farewells, wearing a thick travelling veil, and sitting far back in the corner of a closed carriage. Anna watched her from the windows, watched the carriage jolt away along the cobbled street and disappear. Then she stepped back into the empty room and stood for a moment looking down upon the scattered fragments of her last canvas.

"It is a night of endings," she murmured to herself. "Perhaps for me," she added, with a sudden wistful look out of the bare high window, "a night of beginnings."

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