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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAnna The Adventuress - Chapter 3. Anna? Or Annabel?
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Anna The Adventuress - Chapter 3. Anna? Or Annabel? Post by :Howlerckc Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :2172

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Anna The Adventuress - Chapter 3. Anna? Or Annabel?

Chapter III. ANNA? OR ANNABEL?

Sir John was wholly unable to understand the laugh and semi-ironical cheer which greeted his entrance to the smoking-room of the English Club on the following evening. He stood upon the threshold, dangling his eye-glasses in his fingers, stolid, imperturbable, mildly interrogative. He wanted to know what the joke against him was--if any.

"May I enquire," he asked smoothly, "in what way my appearance contributes to your amusement? If there is a joke I should like to share it."

A fair-haired young Englishman looked up from the depths of his easy chair.

"You hear him?" he remarked, looking impressively around. "A joke! Sir John, if you had presented yourself here an hour ago we should have greeted you in pained silence. We had not then recovered from thef shock. Our ideal had fallen. A sense of loss was amongst us. Drummond," he continued, looking across at his _vis-a-vis_, "we look to you to give expression to our sentiments. Your career at the bar had given you a command of language, also a self-control not vouchsafed to us ordinary mortals. Explain to Sir John our feelings."

Drummond, a few years older, dark, clean-shaven, with bright eyes and humorous mouth, laid down his paper and turned towards Sir John. He removed his cigarette from his lips and waved it gently in the air.

"Holcroft," he remarked, "in bald language, and with the usual limitations of his clouded intellect, has still given some slight expression to the consternation which I believe I may say is general amongst us. We looked upon you, my dear Sir John, with reverence, almost with awe. You represented to us the immaculate Briton, the one Englishman who typified the Saxonism, if I may coin a word, of our race. We have seen great and sober-minded men come to this unholy city, and become degenerates. We have known men who have come here for no other purpose than to prove their unassailable virtue, who have strode into the arena of temptation, waving the--the what is it--the white flower of a blameless life, only to exchange it with marvellous facility for the violets of the Parisienne. But you, Ferringhall, our pattern, an erstwhile Sheriff of London, a county magistrate, a prospective politician, a sober and an upright man, one who, had he aspired to it, might even have filled the glorious position of Lord Mayor--James, a whisky and Apollinaris at once. I cannot go on. My feelings overpower me."

"You all seem to be trying to pull my leg," Sir John remarked quietly. "I suppose you'll come to the point soon--if there is one."

Drummond shook his head in melancholy fashion.

"He dissembles," he said. "After all, how easy the descent is, even for the greatest of us. I hope that James will not be long with that whisky and Apollinaris. My nerves are shaken. I require stimulant."

Sir John seated himself deliberately.

"I should imagine," he said, shaking out a copy of _The Times_, "that it is your brain which is addled."

Drummond looked up with mock eagerness.

"This," he exclaimed, "must be either the indifference of an utterly callous nature, or it may be--ye gods, it may be--innocence. Holcroft, we may have been mistaken."

"Think not," that young man remarked laconically.

"I will put the question," Drummond said gravely. "Ferringhall, were you or were you not dining last night at a certain restaurant in the Boulevard des Italiennes with--_la petite Pellissier?"

Now indeed Sir John was moved. He sat up in his chair as though the question had stung him. _The Times slipped from his fingers. His eyes were bright, and his voice had in it an unaccustomed _timbre_.

"It is true," he said, "that I was dining last night at a restaurant in the Boulevard des Italiennes, and it is true that my companion was a young lady whose name is Pellissier. What of it?"

There was a shout of laughter. Sir John looked about him, and somehow the laugh died away. If such a thing in connexion with him had been possible they would have declared that he was in a towering rage. An uncomfortable silence followed. Sir John once more looked around him.

"I repeat, gentlemen," he said, in an ominously low tone, "what of it?"

Drummond shrugged his shoulders.

"You seem to be taking our little joke more seriously than it deserves, Ferringhall," he remarked.

"I fail to see the joke," Sir John said. "Kindly explain it to me."

"Certainly! The thing which appeals to our sense of humour is the fact that you and _la petite Pellissier were dining together."

"Will you tell me," Sir John said ponderously, "by what right you call that young lady--_la petite Pellissier? I should be glad to know how you dare to allude to her in a public place in such a disrespectful manner!"

Drummond looked at him and smiled.

"Don't be an ass, Ferringhall," he said tersely. "Annabel Pellissier is known to most of us. I myself have had the pleasure of dining with her. She is very charming, and we all admire her immensely. She sings twice a week at the 'Ambassador's' and the 'Casino Mavise'----"

Sir John held up his hand.

"Stop," he said. "You do not even know what you are talking about. The young lady with whom I was dining last night was Miss Anna Pellissier. Miss Annabel is her sister. I know nothing of that young lady."

There was a moment's silence. Drummond took up a cigarette and lit it.

"The young lady, I presume, told you that her name was Anna," he remarked.

"It was not necessary," Sir John answered stiffly. "I was already aware of the fact. I may add that the family is well known to me. The two aunts of these young ladies lived for many years in the dower house upon my estate in Hampshire. Under the circumstances you must permit me to be the best judge of the identity of the young lady who did me the honour, as an old family friend, of dining with me."

Like most men who lie but seldom, he lied well. Drummond smoked his cigarette meditatively. He remembered that he had heard stories about the wonderful likeness between these two sisters, one of whom was an artist and a recluse, whilst the other had attached herself to a very gay and a very brilliant little _coterie of pleasure-seekers. There was a bare chance that he had been mistaken. He thought it best to let the matter drop. A few minutes later Sir John left the room.

He walked out into the Champs Elysees and sat down. His cigar burnt out between his fingers, and he threw it impatiently away. He had seldom been more perturbed. He sat with folded arms and knitted brows, thinking intently. The girl had told him distinctly that her name was Anna. Her whole conduct and tone had been modest and ladylike. He went over his interview with her again, their conversation at dinner-time. She had behaved in every way perfectly. His spirits began to rise. Drummond had made an abominable mistake. It was not possible for him to have been deceived. He drew a little sigh of relief.

Sir John, by instinct and training, was an unimaginative person. He was a business man, pure and simple, his eyes were fastened always upon the practical side of life. Such ambitions as he had were stereotyped and material. Yet in some hidden corner was a vein of sentiment, of which for the first time in his later life he was now unexpectedly aware. He was conscious of a peculiar pleasure in sitting there and thinking of those few hours which already were becoming to assume a definite importance in his mind--a place curiously apart from those dry-as-dust images which had become the gods of his prosaic life. Somehow or other his reputation as a hardened and unassailable bachelor had won for him during the last few years a comparative immunity from attentions on the part of those women with whom he had been brought into contact. It was a reputation by no means deserved. A wife formed part of his scheme of life, for several years he had been secretly but assiduously looking for her. In his way he was critical. The young ladies in the somewhat mixed society amongst which he moved neither satisfied his taste nor appealed in any way to his affections. This girl whom he had met by chance and befriended had done both. She possessed what he affected to despise, but secretly worshipped--the innate charm of breeding. The Pellissiers had been an old family in Hampshire, while his grandfather had driven a van.

As in all things, so his thoughts came to him deliberately. He pictured himself visiting the girl in this shabby little home of her aunt's--she had told him that it was shabby--and he recalled that delicious little smile with which she would surely greet him, a smile which seemed to be a matter of the eyes as well as the lips. She was poor. He was heartily thankful for it. He thought of his wealth for once from a different point of view. How much he would be able to do for her. Flowers, theatre boxes, carriages, the "open sesame" to the whole world of pleasure. He himself, middle-aged, steeped in traditions of the City and money-making, very ill-skilled in all the lighter graces of life, as he himself well knew, could yet come to her invested with something of the halo of romance by the almost magical powers of an unlimited banking account. She should be lifted out of her narrow little life, and it should be all owing to him. And afterwards! Sir John drew his cigar from his lips, and looked upwards where the white-lights flashed strangely amongst the deep cool green of the lime-trees. His lips parted in a rare smile. Afterwards was the most delightful part of all!...

If only there had not been this single torturing thought--a mere pin-prick, but still curiously persistent. Suddenly he stopped short. He was in front of one of the more imposing of the _cafes chantants_--opposite, illuminated with a whole row of lights, was the wonderful poster which had helped to make "Alcide" famous. He had looked at it before without comprehension. To-night the subtle suggestiveness of those few daring lines, fascinating in their very simplicity, the head thrown back, the half-closed eyes--the inner meaning of the great artist seemed to come to him with a rush. He stood still, almost breathless. A slow anger burned in the man. It was debauching, this--a devilish art which drew such strange allurements from a face and figure almost Madonna-like in their simplicity. Unwillingly he drew a little nearer, and became one of the group of loiterers about the entrance. A woman touched him lightly on the arm, and smiled into his face.

"Monsieur admires the poster?"

As a rule Sir John treated such advances with cold silence. This woman, contrary to his custom, he answered.

"It is hateful--diabolical!" he exclaimed.

The woman shrugged her shoulders.

"It is a great art," she said in broken English. "The little English girl is very fortunate. For what indeed does she do? A simple song, no gesture, no acting, nothing. And they pay her. Monsieur is going inside perhaps?"

But Sir John's eyes were still riveted upon the poster, and his heart was beating with unaccustomed force. For just as though a vague likeness is sometimes borne swiftly in upon one, so a vague dissimilarity between the face on the poster and the heroine of his thoughts had slowly crept into his consciousness. He drew a little breath and stepped back. After all, he had the means of setting this tormenting doubt at rest. She had mentioned the address where she and her sister had lived. He would go there. He would see this sister. He would know the truth then once and for all. He walked hastily to the side of the broad pavement and summoned a _fiacre_.

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