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Title: Anna the Adventuress
Author: Oppenheim, E. Phillips (Edward Phillips), 1866-1946
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Internet Archive)



 ANNA
 THE ADVENTURESS

 By

 E. Phillips Oppenheim

 AUTHOR OF "THE SECRET", "THE TRAITORS", ETC.

 WARD, LOCK & CO., LIMITED
 LONDON AND MELBOURNE



 MADE IN ENGLAND

 _Printed in Great Britain by C. Tinling & Co., Ltd.,
 Liverpool, London and Prescot._



ABOUT THE STORY


Annabel Pellissier, for reasons of her own, allows Sir John
Ferringhall to believe that she is her sister Anna. Anna lets the
deception continue and has to bear the burden of her sister's
reputation which, in Paris at any rate, is that of being a coquette.
Endless complications ensue when both sisters return to London.

This is one of the late E. Phillips Oppenheim's most intriguing
stories.



CONTENTS


CHAPTER                                                     PAGE

      I THE CARPET-KNIGHT AND THE LADY                        7
     II THE ADVENTURE OF ANNABEL                             15
    III ANNA? OR ANNABEL?                                    20
     IV THE TEMPERAMENT OF AN ARTIST                         26
      V "ALCIDE"                                             31
     VI A QUESTION OF IDENTIFICATION                         36
    VII MISS PELLISSIER'S SUSPICIONS                         41
   VIII "WHITE'S"                                            45
     IX BRENDON'S LUCK                                       54
      X THE TRAGEDY OF AN APPETITE                           61
     XI THE PUZZLEMENT OF NIGEL ENNISON                      66
    XII THE POSTER OF "ALCIDE"                               70
   XIII "HE WILL NOT FORGET!"                                76
    XIV "THIS IS MY WIFE"                                    81
     XV A MARRIAGE CERTIFICATE                               89
    XVI THE DISCOMFITURE OF SIR JOHN                         96
   XVII THE CHANGE IN "ALCIDE"                              103
  XVIII ANNABEL AND "ALCIDE"                                109
    XIX "THIS IS NOT THE END"                               115
     XX ANNA'S SURRENDER                                    121
    XXI HER SISTER'S SECRET                                 126
   XXII AN OLD FOOL                                         134
  XXIII MONTAGUE HILL SEES LIGHT AT LAST                    138
   XXIV A CASE FOR THE POLICE                               144
    XXV THE STEEL EDGE OF THE TRUTH                         150
   XXVI ANNABEL IS WARNED                                   156
  XXVII JOHN FERRINGHAM, GENTLEMAN                          162
 XXVIII THE HISSING OF "ALCIDE"                             169
   XXIX MONTAGUE HILL PLAYS THE GAME                        174
    XXX SIR JOHN'S NECKTIE                                  178
   XXXI ANNA'S TEA PARTY                                    183
  XXXII SIX MONTHS AFTER                                    188



ANNA THE ADVENTURESS



_Chapter I_

THE CARPET-KNIGHT AND THE LADY


The girl paused and steadied herself for a moment against a field
gate. Her breath came fast in little sobbing pants. Her dainty shoes
were soiled with dust and there was a great tear in her skirt. Very
slowly, very fearfully, she turned her head. Her cheeks were the
colour of chalk, her eyes were filled with terror. If a cart were
coming, or those labourers in the field had heard, escape was
impossible.

The terror faded from her eyes. A faint gleam of returning colour gave
her at once a more natural appearance. So far as the eye could reach,
the white level road, with its fringe of elm-trees, was empty. Away
off in the fields the blue-smocked peasants bent still at their toil.
They had heard nothing, seen nothing. A few more minutes, and she was
safe.

Yet before she turned once more to resume her flight she schooled
herself with an effort to look where it had happened. A dark mass of
wreckage, over which hung a slight mist of vapour, lay half in the
ditch, half across the hedge, close under a tree from the trunk of
which the bark had been torn and stripped. A few yards further off
something grey, inert, was lying, a huddled-up heap of humanity
twisted into a strange unnatural shape. Again the chalky pallor spread
even to her lips, her eyes became lit with the old terror. She
withdrew her head with a little moan, and resumed her flight. Away up
on the hillside was the little country railway station. She fixed her
eyes upon it and ran, keeping always as far as possible in the shadow
of the hedge, gazing fearfully every now and then down along the
valley for the white smoke of the train.

She reached the station, and mingling with a crowd of excursionists
who had come from the river on the other side, took her place in the
train unnoticed. She leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes.
Until the last moment she was afraid.

Arrived in Paris she remembered that she had not the money for a
_fiacre_. She was in ill trim for walking, but somehow or other she
made her way as far as the Champs Elysées, and sank down upon an empty
seat.

She had not at first the power for concealment. Her nerves were
shattered, her senses dazed by this unexpected shock. She sat there, a
mark for boulevarders, the unconscious object of numberless wondering
glances. Paris was full, and it was by no means a retired spot which
she had found. Yet she never once thought of changing it. A person of
somewhat artificial graces and mannerisms, she was for once in her
life perfectly natural. Terror had laid a paralyzing hand upon her,
fear kept her almost unconscious of the curious glances which she was
continually attracting.

Then there came briskly along the path towards her, an Englishman. He
was perhaps forty-five years of age. He was dressed with the utmost
care, and he set his feet upon the broad walk as though the action
were in some way a condescension. He was alert, well-groomed, and
yet--perhaps in contrast with the more volatile French type--there was
a suggestion of weight about him, not to say heaviness. He too looked
at the girl, slackened his pace and looked at her again through his
eye-glasses, looked over his shoulder after he had passed, and finally
came to a dead stop. He scratched his upper lip reflectively.

It was a habit of his to talk to himself. In the present case it did
not matter, as there was no one else within earshot.

"Dear me!" he said. "Dear me! I wonder what I ought to do. She is
English! I am sure of that. She is English, and apparently in some
distress. I wonder----"

He turned slowly round. He was inclined to be a good-natured person,
and he had no nervous fears of receiving a snub. The girl was pretty,
and apparently a lady.

"She cannot be aware," he continued, "that she is making herself
conspicuous. It would surely be only common politeness to drop her a
hint--a fellow countrywoman too. I trust that she will not
misunderstand me. I believe--I believe that I must risk it."

He stood before her, his hat in his hand, his head bent, his voice
lowered to a convenient pitch.

"I beg your pardon," he said, "but you appear to be a
fellow countrywoman of mine, and in some distress. Can I be of any
assistance? I can assure you that it would give me very much
pleasure."

Her first upward glance was one of terrified apprehension. When she
saw however that this man was a stranger, and obviously harmless, her
expression changed as though by magic. A delicate flush of colour
streamed into her cheeks. Her eyes fell, and then sought his again
with timid interest. Her natural instincts reasserted themselves. She
began to act.

"You are very kind," she said hesitatingly, "but I don't remember--I
don't think that I know you, do I?"

"I am afraid that you do not," he admitted, with a smile which he
meant to be encouraging. "You remind me of the story which they tell
against us over here, you know--of the Englishman who refused to be
saved from drowning because he was unacquainted with his rescuer.
Permit me to introduce myself. My name is Ferringhall--Sir John
Ferringhall."

There was genuine interest in her eyes now. Sir John saw it, and was
flattered.

"You are Sir John Ferringhall," she repeated. "Yes, I remember you
now. You were pointed out to me at--a few nights ago."

He was not in the least surprised. A millionaire and a knight, even
though his money has been made in carpets, is used to being a person
of interest.

"Very likely," he answered. "I am fairly well known here. I must
apologize, I suppose, for speaking to you, but your appearance
certainly indicated that you were in some sort of trouble, and you
were becoming--pardon me--an object of comment to the passers-by."

The girl sat up and looked at him with a curious twist at the corners
of her mouth--humorous or pathetic, he could not tell which. As though
accidentally she swept her skirts from a chair close drawn to her own.
Sir John hesitated. She was marvellously pretty, but he was not quite
sure--yet--that it was advisable for him to sit with her in so public
a place. His inclinations prompted him most decidedly to take the
vacant chair. Prudence reminded him that he was a county magistrate,
and parliamentary candidate for a somewhat difficult borough, where
his principal supporters were dissenters of strict principles who took
a zealous interest in his moral character. He temporized, and the girl
raised her eyes once more to his.

"You are the Sir John Ferringhall who has bought the Lyndmore estate,
are you not?" she remarked. "My father's sisters used once to live in
the old manor house. I believe you have had it pulled down, have you
not?"

"The Misses Pellissier!" he exclaimed. "Then your name----"

"My name is Pellissier. My father was Colonel Pellissier. He had an
appointment in Jersey, you know, after he left the army."

Sir John did not hesitate any longer. He sat down.

"Upon my word," he exclaimed, "this is most extraordinary. I----"

Then he stopped short, for he began to remember things. He was not
quite sure whether, after all, he had been wise. He would have risen
again, but for the significance of the action.

"Dear me!" he said. "Then some of your family history is known to me.
One of your aunts died, I believe, and the other removed to London."

The girl nodded.

"She is living there now," she remarked.

"Your father is dead too, I believe," he continued, "and your mother."

"Two years ago," she answered. "They died within a few months of one
another."

"Very sad--very sad indeed," he remarked uneasily. "I remember hearing
something about it. I believe that the common report was that you and
your sister had come to Paris to study painting."

She assented gently.

"We have a small studio," she murmured, "in the Rue de St. Pierre."

Sir John looked at her sideways. Her eyes were fixed upon the ground,
the pink colour coming and going in her cheeks was very delicate and
girlish. After all, this could never be the black sheep. He had been
quite right to sit down. It was astonishing how seldom it was that his
instincts betrayed him. He breathed a little sigh of satisfaction.

"Come," he continued, "the world after all is a very small place. We
are not altogether strangers, are we? I feel that under the
circumstances I have the right to offer you my advice, and if
necessary my help. I beg that you will consider me your friend."

She looked at him with fluttering eyelids--sweetly grateful. It was
such an unexpected stroke of fortune. Sir John was not used to such
glances, and he liked them.

"It is so difficult," she murmured, "so impossible to explain. Even to
my own brother--if I had one--I could not tell everything, and you,
although you are so kind, you are almost a stranger, aren't you?"

"No, no!" he protested. "You must not think of me as one. Try and
consider me your elder brother, or an old family friend, whichever you
like best."

She thanked him with one of her shy little glances. More than ever Sir
John was glad that he had sat down.

"It is very, very difficult," she continued, looking steadfastly at
the ground. "Only--I have come face to face--with something terrible,
and wholly unexpected trouble. I want to leave Paris to-day--this very
day. I want to leave it for ever."

He looked at her very gravely.

"But your sister?" he asked. "What of her? Have you quarrelled with
her?"

The girl shook her head.

"No," she answered. "I have not quarrelled with her. It is simply our
point of view which is altogether different. I want to get away--to go
to London. I cannot explain beyond that."

"Then I am sure," Sir John declared, "that I shall not ask you. I know
nothing about the matter, but I feel convinced that you are right. You
ought to have had better advice two years ago. Paris is not the place
for two young girls. I presume that you have been living alone?"

She sighed gently.

"My sister," she murmured, "is so independent. She is Bohemian to the
finger-tips. She makes me feel terribly old-fashioned."

Sir John smiled and congratulated himself upon his insight. He was so
seldom wrong.

"The next question, Miss Anna," he said, "is how am I to help you? I
am wholly at your disposal."

She looked up at him quickly. Her expression was a little changed,
less innocent, more discerning.

"Anna!" she repeated. "How do you know--why do you think that my name
is Anna?" He smiled in a quietly superior way.

"I think," he said, "that I am right. I am very good at guessing
names."

"I am really curious," she persisted. "You must have heard--have
you--oh, tell me, won't you?" she begged. "Have you heard things?"

The tears stood in her eyes. She leaned a little towards him. Nothing
but the publicity of the place and the recollection of that terrible
constituency kept him from attempting some perfectly respectful but
unmistakable evidence of his sympathy.

"I am afraid," he said gravely, "that your sister has been a little
indiscreet. It is nothing at all for you to worry about."

She looked away from him.

"I knew," she said, in a low despairing tone, "that people would
talk."

He coughed gently.

"It was inevitable," he declared. "It is not, of course, a pleasant
subject of conversation for you or for me, yet I think I may venture
to suggest to you that your sister's--er--indiscretions--have reached
a point which makes a separation between you almost a necessity."

She covered her face with her hands.

"It--it--must come," she faltered.

"I do not lay claim," he continued, "to any remarkable amount of
insight, but it is possible, is it not, that I have stumbled upon your
present cause of distress."

"You are wonderful!" she murmured.

He smiled complacently.

"Not at all. This is simply a chapter of coincidences. Now what I want
you to feel is this. I want you to feel that you have found a friend
who has a strong desire to be of service to you. Treat me as an elder
brother, if you like. He is here by your side. How can he help you?"

She threw such a look upon him that even he, Sir John Ferringhall,
carpet-merchant, hide-bound Englishman, slow-witted, pompous,
deliberate, felt his heart beat to music. Perhaps the Parisian
atmosphere had affected him. He leaned towards her, laid his hand
tenderly upon hers.

"I hope you realize," he went on, in a lower and less assured tone,
"that I am in earnest--very much in earnest. You must let me do
whatever I can for you. I shall count it a privilege."

"I believe you," she murmured. "I trust you altogether. I am going to
take you entirely at your word. I want to leave Paris to-day. Will you
lend me the money for my ticket to London?"

"With all the pleasure in the world," he answered heartily. "Let me
add too that I am thankful for your decision. You have somewhere to go
to in London, I hope."

She nodded.

"There is my aunt," she said. "The one who used to live at Lyndmore.
She will take me in until I can make some plans. It will be horribly
dull, and she is a very trying person. But anything is better than
this."

He took out his watch.

"Let me see," he said. "Your best route will be via Boulogne and
Folkestone at nine o'clock from the Gare du Nord. What about your
luggage?"

"I could get a few of my things, at any rate," she said. "My sister is
sure to be out."

"Very well," he said. "It is just six o'clock now. Supposing you fetch
what you can, and if you will allow me, I will see you off. It would
give me great pleasure if you would dine with me somewhere first."

She looked at him wistfully, but with some unwilling doubt in her
wrinkled forehead. It was excellently done, especially as she loved
good dinners.

"You are very kind to think of it," she said, "but--don't you think
perhaps--that I had better not?"

He smiled indulgently.

"My dear child," he said, "with me you need have no apprehension. I am
almost old enough to be your father."

She looked at him with uplifted eyebrows--a look of whimsical
incredulity. Sir John felt that after all forty-five was not so very
old.

"That sounds quite absurd," she answered. "Yet it is my last evening,
and I think--if you are sure that you would like to have me--that I
will risk it."

"We will go to a very quiet place," he assured her, "a place where I
have often taken my own sisters. You will be wearing your travelling
dress, and no doubt you would prefer it. Shall we say at half-past
seven?"

She rose from her chair.

"I will take a carriage," she said, "and fetch my things."

"Let us say that Café Maston, in the Boulevard des Italiennes, at
half-past seven then," he decided. "I shall be waiting for you there,
and in the meantime, if you will help yourself--pray don't look like
that. It is a very small affair, after all, and you can pay me back if
you will."

She took the pocket-book and looked up at him with a little impulsive
movement. Her voice shook, her eyes were very soft and melting.

"I cannot thank you, Sir John," she said. "I shall never be able to
thank you."

"Won't you postpone the attempt, then?" he said gallantly, "until I
have done something to deserve your gratitude? You will not
forget--seven-thirty, Café Maston, Boulevard des Italiennes."

She drove off in a little _fiacre_, nodding and smiling at Sir John,
who remained upon the Avenue. He too, when she had disappeared, called
a carriage.

"Hotel Ritz," he said mechanically to the coachman. "If only her
sister is half as pretty, no wonder that she has set the Parisians
talking."



_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
Elysées 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."



_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-à-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 Elysées 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 _cafés
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_.



_Chapter IV_

THE TEMPERAMENT OF AN ARTIST


"You may sit there and smoke, and look out upon your wonderful Paris,"
Anna said lightly. "You may talk--if you can talk cheerfully, not
unless."

"And you?" asked David Courtlaw.

"Well, if I find your conversation interesting I shall listen. If not,
I have plenty to think about," she answered, leaning back in her
chair, and watching the smoke from her own cigarette curl upwards.

"For instance?"

She smiled.

"How I am to earn enough _sous_ for my dinner to-morrow--or failing
that, what I can sell."

His face darkened.

"And yet," he said, "you bid me talk cheerfully, or not at all."

"Why not? Your spirits at least should be good. It is not you who runs
the risk of going dinnerless to-morrow."

He turned upon her almost fiercely.

"You know," he muttered, "you know quite well that your troubles are
far more likely to weigh upon me than my own. Do you think that I am
utterly selfish?"

She raised her eyebrows.

"Troubles, my friend," she exclaimed lightly. "But I have no
troubles."

He stared at her incredulously, and she laughed very softly.

"What a gloomy person you are!" she murmured. "You call yourself an
artist--but you have no temperament. The material cares of life hang
about your neck like a millstone. A doubt as to your dinner to-morrow
would make you miserable to-night. You know I call that positively
wicked. It is not at all what I expected either. On the whole, I think
that I have been disappointed with the life here. There is so little
_abandon_, so little real joyousness."

"And yet," he murmured, "one of the greatest of our writers has
declared that the true spirit of Bohemianism is denied to your sex."

"He was probably right," she declared. "Bohemianism is the least
understood word ever coined. I do not think that I have the Bohemian
spirit at all."

He looked at her thoughtfully. She wore a plain black dress, reaching
almost to her throat--her small oval face, with the large brown eyes,
was colourless, delicately expressive, yet with something mysterious
in its Sphinx-like immobility. A woman hard to read, who seemed to
delight in keeping locked up behind that fascinating rigidity of
feature the intense sensibility which had been revealed to him, her
master, only in occasional and rare moments of enthusiasm. She
reminded him sometimes of the one holy and ineffable Madonna, at
others of Berode, the great courtezan of her day, who had sent kings
away from her doors, and had just announced her intention of ending
her life in a convent.

"I believe that you are right," he said softly. "It is the worst of
including in our vocabulary words which have no definite meaning,
perhaps I should say of which the meaning varies according to one's
personal point of view. You, for instance, you live, you are not
afraid to live. Yet you make our Bohemianism seem like a vulgar
thing."

She stirred gently in her chair.

"My friend," she said, "I have been your pupil for two years. You have
watched all the uncouth creations of my brain come sprawling out upon
the canvas, and besides, we have been companions. Yet the fact remains
that you do not understand me at all. No, not one little bit. It is
extraordinary."

"It is," he replied, "the one humiliation of my life. My opportunities
have been immense, and my failure utter. If I had been your companion
only, and not your master, I might very well have been content to
accept you for what you seem. But there have been times, Anna, when
your work has startled me. Ill-drawn, without method or sense of
proportion, you have put wonderful things on to canvas, have drawn
them out of yourself, notwithstanding your mechanical inefficiency.
God knows how you did it. You are utterly baffling."

She laughed at him easily and mirthfully.

"Dear friend," she said, "do not magnify me into a physiological
problem. I should only disappoint you terribly some day. I think I
know where I am puzzling you now----"

"Then for Heaven's sake be merciful," he exclaimed. "Lift up one
corner of the curtain for me."

"Very well. You shall tell me if I am wrong. You see me here, an
admitted failure in the object to which I have devoted two years of my
life. You know that I am practically destitute, without means or any
certain knowledge of where my next meal is coming from. I speak
frankly, because you also know that no possible extremity would induce
me to accept help from any living person. You notice that I have
recently spent ten francs on a box of the best Russian cigarettes, and
that there are roses upon my table. You observe that I am, as usual,
fairly cheerful, and moderately amiable. It surprises you. You do not
understand, and you would like to. Very well! I will try to help you."

Her hand hung over the side of her chair nearest to him. He looked at
it eagerly, but made no movement to take it. During all their long
comradeship he had never so much as ventured to hold her fingers. This
was David Courtlaw, whose ways, too, had never been very different
from the ways of other men as regards her sex.

"You see, it comes after all," she continued, "from certain original
convictions which have become my religion. Rather a magniloquent term,
perhaps, but what else am I to say? One of these is that the most
absolutely selfish thing in the world is to give way to depression, to
think of one's troubles at all except of how to overcome them. I spend
many delightful hours thinking of the pleasant and beautiful things of
life. I decline to waste a single second even in considering the ugly
ones. Do you know that this becomes a habit?"

"If you would only teach us all," he murmured, "how to acquire it."

"I suppose people would say that it is a matter of temperament," she
continued. "With me I believe that it is more. It has become a part of
the order of my life. Whatever may happen to-morrow I shall be none
the better for anticipating its miseries to-day."

"I wonder," he said, a trifle irrelevantly, "what the future has in
store for you."

She shrugged her shoulders.

"Is that not rather a profitless speculation, my friend?"

He seemed deaf to her interruption. His grey eyes burned under his
shaggy eyebrows. He leaned towards her as though anxious to see more
of her face than that faint delicate profile gleaming like marble in
the uncertain light.

"You were born for great things," he said huskily. "For great
passions, for great accomplishments. Will you find your destiny, I
wonder, or will you go through life like so many others--a wanderer,
knocking ever at empty doors, homeless to the last? Oh, if one could
but find the way to your heart."

She laughed gaily.

"Dear friend," she said, "remember that you are speaking to one who
has failed in the only serious object which she has ever sought to
accomplish. My destiny, I am afraid, is going to lead me into the
ruts."

He shook his head.

"You were never born," he declared, "to follow the well worn roads. I
wonder," he added, after a moment's pause, "whether you ever realize
how young you are."

"Young? I am twenty-four."

"Yet you are very young. Anna, why will you persist in this
single-handed combat with life?"

"Don't!" she cried.

"But I must, I will," he answered fiercely. "Oh, I know you would stop
me if you could. This time you cannot. You are the woman I love, Anna.
Let me make your future for you. Don't be afraid that I shall stunt
it. I will give you a broad free life. You shall have room to develop,
you shall live as you will, where you will, only give me the right to
protect you, to free you from all these petty material cares."

She laid her hand softly upon his.

"Dear friend," she said, "do you not think that you are breaking an
unspoken compact? I am very sorry. In your heart you know quite well
that all that you have said is useless."

"Ay," he repeated, looking away from her. "Useless--worse than
useless."

"You are foolish," she declared, with a note of irritability in her
tone. "You would appear to be trying to destroy a comradeship which
has been very, very pleasant. For you know that I have made up my mind
to dig a little way into life single-handed. I, too, want to
understand--to walk with my head in the light. Love is a great thing,
and happiness a joy. Let me go my own way towards them. We may
meet--who can tell? But I will not be fettered, even though you would
make the chains of roses. Listen."

She stopped short. There was a sharp knocking at the outside door.
Courtlaw rose to his feet.

"It is too late for visitors," she remarked. "I wonder would you mind
seeing who it is."

Courtlaw crossed the room and threw open the door. He had come to
Anna's rooms from a dinner party, and he was in evening dress. Sir
John, who was standing outside, looked past him at the girl still
sitting in the shadow.

"I believe," he said stiffly, "that these are the apartments of Miss
Pellissier. I must apologize for disturbing you at such an unseemly
hour, but I should be very much obliged if Miss Pellissier would allow
me a few minutes' conversation. My name is Ferringhall--Sir John
Ferringhall."



_Chapter V_

"ALCIDE"


Courtlaw took up his hat and coat at once, but Anna motioned him to
remain.

"Please stay," she said briefly. "Will you come in, Sir John. I
believe that I have heard my sister speak of you. This is my friend,
Mr. David Courtlaw--Sir John Ferringhall."

Sir John acknowledged the introduction without cordiality. He entered
the room with his usual deliberation, and looked covertly about him.
He noticed the two chairs close together. Anna was still holding her
cigarette between her fingers. Her likeness to her sister gave him at
first almost a shock; a moment afterwards he was conscious of a
wonderful sense of relief. For if the likeness between the sisters was
remarkable, the likeness between this girl and the poster which he had
come from studying was more remarkable still.

"I must repeat," Sir John said, "that I much regret disturbing you at
such an unseemly hour. My only excuse is that I missed my way here,
and I am leaving Paris early to-morrow morning."

"If your business with me is of any importance," Anna said calmly, "it
does not matter in the least about the hour. Have you brought me a
message from my sister? I understood, I believe, that she was seeing
you last night."

"Your sister," he answered, "did me the honour of dining with me last
night."

"Yes."

After all, it was not so easy. The girl's eyes never left his face.
She was civil, but she was obviously impatient to know his errand.
Afraid, no doubt, he thought grimly, that her other visitor would
leave.

"I believe," he said slowly, "that I shall do best to throw myself
upon your consideration and tell you the truth. I have recently made
your sister's acquaintance, and in the course of conversation I
understood from her that her Christian name was Anna. Some friends who
saw us dining together persist in alluding to her as Miss Annabel
Pellissier. I am guilty practically of the impertinence of coming to
ask you whether I misunderstood your sister."

"Is my sister's Christian name, then, of so much importance to you?"
she asked with a faint smile.

"The things involved in it are," he answered gravely.

She accepted his rejoinder with a brief nod. Courtlaw opened his lips,
but remained silent in the face of her imperative gesture. "Let me
hasten," she said, "to reassure you. My sister was scarcely likely to
make a mistake. She told you--the truth."

Courtlaw's walking stick, which he had been handling, fell with a
crash to the ground. He stooped to recover it, and his face was
hidden. Sir John felt and looked several years younger.

"I am much obliged to you," he said. "Really, I do not know why I
should have doubted it."

"Nor I," she remarked tersely.

He looked at her with a certain curiosity. She was a very elegant
young woman, slightly taller perhaps than her sister, and with an air
of reserved strength underneath her quiet face and manner which
Annabel may have lacked. It was hard to associate her with the stories
which he and all Paris had heard of "Alcide."

"You, then," he said, "are 'Alcide.' That wonderful poster--is of
you."

She lifted her eyebrows.

"I am sorry," she said, "if you find the likeness unsatisfactory. My
friends consider it wonderfully faithful. Have you any more questions
to ask me?"

Sir John, on his way down, had determined to hint to this young woman
that, providing certain contingencies which he had in his mind should
come to pass, he would be prepared to make her a handsome offer to
change her name. He found, however, that now the time had come he
utterly lacked the courage to attempt any such speech.

"None, I thank you," he answered. "I will not intrude upon you
further."

"Wait," she said.

He turned back at once.

"I have answered all your questions," she said. "Perhaps you will not
object to answering one for me. You have thought it worth while to
take some considerable pains to resolve for yourself my sister's
identity. May I ask the nature of your interest in her?"

He hesitated.

"It is not an easy matter," he said, "for me to offer you an
altogether adequate explanation. I have only seen your sister for a
very brief time, and I am a little past the age when a man does
headstrong things. At the same time, I must say that I am most anxious
to improve my acquaintance with her. I am a single man, and----"

"Thank you," she interrupted. "I will not ask you to explain further.
Good night."

He left at once, immensely relieved, yet scarcely satisfied with
himself as regarded his share of the interview with this young woman.
They heard his footsteps descending the stone staircase, growing
fainter and fainter. Then Courtlaw looked across at her with a white
puzzled face.

"Why did you lie to that man?" he asked fiercely. "How dared you do
yourself this injustice?"

"I did it for her sake," she answered. "It may be her salvation. I
believe that he will marry her."

"You would let him--knowing--all that you know?"

"Why not? She is my flesh and blood. She is more dear to me than
anything else. Perhaps if I had watched over her more closely, things
would have been different."

"You! Why, you have been an angel to her," he exclaimed impatiently.
"You know very well that she is selfish and pleasure-loving to the
backbone. You have made enough sacrifices for her surely without this.
Besides, you cannot tell where it will end. You have taken upon your
shoulders the burden of her misdeeds. You may have to carry them
further and longer than you think. Oh, it is unbearable."

The man's face was dark with passion. It was as though he were
personally aggrieved. His tone was rough, almost threatening. The girl
only smiled at him serenely, but she laid her hand for a moment
quietly upon his.

"Dear friend," she said, "this is a matter which you must leave to me
to do as I think best. Annabel is my only sister, you know, almost my
only relative. If I do not look after her, she has no one. And she is
very young, younger than her years."

It was significant of her influence over him that he answered her
calmly, although a storm of angry thoughts were struggling for
expression within him.

"Look after her! Why not? But you have done it all your life. You have
been her guardian angel. But even you cannot alter her character.
Annabel was born soulless, a human butterfly, if ever there was one.
The pursuit of pleasure, self-gratification, is an original instinct
with her. Blood and bone, body and spirit, she is selfish through and
through. Even you have not been able to hold her back. I speak no harm
of her. She is your sister, and God knows I wish her none. But----"

A look checked him.

"I know," she said quietly, "that Paris, where she has been so much
admired, is not a good place for her. That is why I am glad that she
has gone to London."

He rose from his chair, and walked restlessly up and down the room.
The passion of pent-up speech compelled action of some sort. There was
a black fear in his heart. He stopped before her suddenly.

"You, too," he said abruptly. "You mean to follow her. You will go to
London?"

"It is necessary," she answered. "You yourself have decided
that--apart from the question of Annabel."

He was suddenly calm.

"It is part of the irony of life," he said. "One is always playing the
surgeon, one kills always the thing one loves best. I meant to lie to
you. Would to God I had."

She shook her head.

"The surgeon's knife is surely a kindly weapon," she declared. "It was
best for me to know. Later on I could scarcely have forgiven you."

"And now--I am to lose you."

"For a little time," she answered. "I meant to say good-bye to you
to-night. Or, after all, is it worth while? The Channel is a little
broader than the Boulevards--but one crosses it sometimes."

He looked at her with white, set face.

"Yes," he said, "I shall come. That is very certain. But, after all,
it will be different. I think that I have become a drug drinker. I
need you every day. In the mornings I find labour easy because I am
going to see you. In the afternoon my brain and fingers leap to their
work because you have been with me. Anna, you shall not go. I cannot
let you go."

She threw away the end of her cigarette. Without turning or looking
in his direction she leaned forwards, her head supported upon her
fingers, her elbows upon her knees. She gazed steadily out of the
window at that arc of glittering lights. He made a quick movement
towards her, but she did not flinch. His arm fell to his side. The
effort of self-repression cost him a sob.

"David," she said, "you are not a coward, are you?"

"I do not know," he muttered. "The bravest of us have joints in our
armour."

"You are not a coward," she repeated, "or you would not be my friend.
A woman may choose any one for her lover, but for her friend she makes
no mistake. You are not a coward David, and you must not talk like
one. Put out your hand and bid me God-speed. It is the only way."

"I cannot do it!" he cried hoarsely. "I cannot part with you. You have
grown into my life. Anna----"

Again she stopped him, but this time it was not so easy. The man's
passion became almost unbearable at the thought of losing her. And
yet, as she rose slowly to her feet and stood looking at him with
outstretched hands, a strange mixture of expressions shining in her
wonderful eyes, he realized in some measure the strength of her
determination, felt the utter impotence of anything which he could say
to her. He forgot for the moment his own self-pity, the egotism of his
own passionate love. He took her hands firmly in his and raised them
to his lips.

"You shall go," he declared. "I will make of the days and weeks one
long morning, but remember the afternoon must come. Always remember
that."

Her hands fell to her side. She remained for a few moments standing as
though listening to his retreating footsteps. Then she turned, and
entering the inner room, commenced to dress hastily for the street.



_Chapter VI_

A QUESTION OF IDENTIFICATION


The little man with the closely-cropped beard and hair looked at her
keenly through his gold eye-glasses. He sat before a desk littered all
over with papers and official looking documents. The walls of the room
were lined with shelves, on which were glass jars, retorts, countless
bottles and many appliances of surgical science. A skeleton was
propped against the mantelpiece. The atmosphere seemed heavy with the
odour of drugs.

"You are Mademoiselle Pellissier?" he asked, without rising to his
feet.

Anna admitted the fact.

"We sent for you several hours ago," he remarked.

"I came directly I was disengaged," Anna answered. "In any case, there
is probably some mistake. I have very few friends in Paris."

He referred to a sheet of paper by his side.

"Your name and address were upon an envelope found in the pocket of an
Englishman who was brought here late last night suffering from serious
injuries," he said in a dry official tone. "As it is doubtful whether
the man will live, we should be glad if you would identify him."

"It is most unlikely that I shall be able to do so," Anna answered.
"To the best of my belief, I have not a single English acquaintance in
the city."

"My dear young lady," the official said irritably, "this man would not
have your name and address in his pocket without an object. You cannot
tell whether you know him or not until you have seen him. Be so good
as to come this way."

With a little shrug of the shoulders Anna followed him. They ascended
by a lift to one of the upper floors, passed through a long ward, and
finally came to a bed in the extreme corner, round which a screen had
been arranged. A nurse came hurrying up.

"He is quiet only this minute," she said to the official. "All the
time he is shouting and muttering. If this is the young lady, she can
perhaps calm him."

Anna stepped to the foot of the bed. An electric light flashed out
from the wall. The face of the man who lay there was clearly visible.
Anna merely glanced at the coarse, flushed features, and at once shook
her head.

"I have never seen him in my life," she said to the official. "I have
not the least idea who he is."

Just then the man's eyes opened. He saw the girl, and sprang up in
bed.

"Annabel at last," he shouted. "Where have you been? All these hours I
have been calling for you. Annabel, I was lying. Who says that I am
not Meysey Hill? I was trying to scare you. See, it is on my cards--M.
Hill, Meysey Hill. Don't touch the handle, Annabel! Curse the thing,
you've jammed it now. Do you want to kill us both? Stop the thing.
Stop it!"

Anna stepped back bewildered, but the man held out his arms to her.

"I tell you it was a lie!" he shouted wildly. "Can't you believe me? I
am Meysey Hill. I am the richest man in England. I am the richest man
in the world. You love money. You know you do, Annabel. Never mind,
I've got plenty. We'll go to the shops. Diamonds! You shall have all
that you can carry away, sacks full if you like. Pearls too! I mean
it. I tell you I'm Meysey Hill, the railway man. Don't leave me. Don't
leave me in this beastly thing. Annabel! Annabel!"

His voice became a shriek. In response to an almost imperative gesture
from the nurse, Anna laid her hand upon his. He fell back upon the
pillows with a little moan, clutching the slim white fingers fiercely.
In a moment his grasp grew weaker. The perspiration stood out upon his
forehead. His eyes closed.

Anna stepped back at once with a little gasp of relief. The hand which
the man had been holding hung limp and nerveless at her side. She held
it away from her with an instinctive repulsion, born of her
unconquerable antipathy to the touch of strangers. She began rubbing
it with her pocket-handkerchief. The man himself was not a pleasant
object. Part of his head was swathed in linen bandages. Such of his
features as were visible were of coarse mould. His eyes were set too
close together. Anna turned deliberately away from the bedside. She
followed the official back into his room.

"Well?" he asked her tersely.

"I can only repeat what I said before," she declared. "To the best of
my belief, I have never seen the man in my life."

"But he recognized you," the official objected.

"He fancied that he did," she corrected him coolly. "I suppose
delusions are not uncommon to patients in his condition."

The official frowned.

"Your name and address in his pocket was no delusion," he said
sharply. "I do not wish to make impertinent inquiries into your
private life. Nothing is of any concern of ours except the discovery
of the man's identity. He was picked up from amongst the wreckage of a
broken motor on the road to Versailles last night, and we have
information that a lady was with him only a few minutes before the
accident occurred."

"You are very unbelieving," Anna said coldly. "I hope you will not
compel me to say again that I do not know the man's name, nor, to the
best of my belief, have I ever seen him before in my life."

The official shrugged his shoulders.

"You decline to help us in any way, then," he said. "Remember that the
man will probably die. He had little money about him, and unless
friends come to his aid he must be treated as a pauper."

"I do not wish to seem unfeeling," Anna said, slowly, "but I can only
repeat that I am absolutely without concern in the matter. The man is
a stranger to me."

The official had no more to say. Only it was with a further and most
unbelieving shrug of the shoulders that he resumed his seat.

"You will be so good as to leave us your correct name and address,
mademoiselle," he said curtly.

"You have them both," Anna answered.

He opened the door for her with a faint disagreeable smile.

"It is possible, mademoiselle," he said, "that this affair is not yet
ended. It may bring us together again."

She passed out without reply. Yet she took with her an uneasy
consciousness that in this affair might lie the germs of future
trouble.

As she crossed the square, almost within a stone's throw of her
lodgings, she came face to face with Courtlaw. He stopped short with a
little exclamation of surprise.

"My dear friend," she laughed, "not so tragic, if you please."

He recovered himself.

"I was surprised, I admit," he said. "You did not tell me that you
were going out, or I would have offered my escort. Do you know how
late it is?"

She nodded.

"I heard the clock strike as I crossed the square," she answered. "I
was sent for to go to the Hospital St. Denis. But what are you doing
here?"

"Old Père Runeval met me on your doorstep, and he would not let me go.
I have been sitting with him ever since. The Hospital St. Denis, did
you say? I hope that no one of our friends has met with an accident."

She shook her head.

"They wanted me to identify some one whom I had certainly never seen
before in my life, and to tell you the truth, they were positively
rude to me because I could not. Have you ever heard the name of Meysey
Hill?"

"Meysey Hill?" He repeated it after her, and she knew at once from his
tone and his quick glance into her face that the name possessed some
significance for him.

"Yes, I have heard of him, and I know him by sight," he admitted. "He
was a friend of your sister's, was he not?"

"I never heard her mention his name," she answered. "Still, of course,
it is possible. This man was apparently not sure whether he was Meysey
Hill or not."

"How long had he been in the hospital?" Courtlaw asked.

"Since last night."

"Then, whoever he may be, he is not Meysey Hill," Courtlaw said. "That
young man was giving a luncheon party to a dozen friends at the Café
de Paris to-day. I sat within a few feet of him. I feel almost
inclined to regret the fact."

"Why?" she asked.

"If one half of the stories about Meysey Hill are true," he answered,
"I would not stretch out my little finger to save his life."

"Isn't that a little extreme?"

"I am an extreme person at times. This man has an evil reputation. I
know of scandalous deeds which he has done."

Anna had reached the house where she lodged, but she hesitated on the
doorstep.

"Have you ever seen Annabel with him?" she asked.

"Never."

"It is odd that this man at the hospital should call himself Meysey
Hill," she remarked.

"If you wish," he said, "I will go there in the morning and see what
can be done for him."

"It would be very kind of you," she declared. "I am only sorry that I
did not ask you to go with me."

She rang the bell, and he waited by her side until she was admitted to
the tall, gloomy lodging-house. And ever after it struck him that her
backward smile as she disappeared was charged with some special
significance. The door closed upon her, and he moved reluctantly away.
When next he asked for her, some twelve hours later, he was told that
Mademoiselle had left. His most eager inquiries and most lavish bribes
could gain no further information than that she had left for England,
and that her address was--London.



_Chapter VII_

MISS PELLISSIER'S SUSPICIONS


"Anna!"

Anna kissed her sister and nodded to her aunt. Then she sat
down--uninvited--and looked from one to the other curiously. There was
something about their greeting and the tone of Annabel's exclamation
which puzzled her.

"I wish," she said, "that you would leave off looking at me as though
I were something grisly. I am your very dutiful niece, aunt, and your
most devoted sister, Annabel. I haven't murdered any one, or broken
the law in any way that I know of. Perhaps you will explain the state
of panic into which I seem to have thrown you."

Annabel, who was looking very well, and who was most becomingly
dressed, moved to a seat from which she could command a view of the
road outside. She was the first to recover herself. Her aunt, a faded,
anæmic-looking lady of somewhat too obtrusive gentility, was still
sitting with her hand pressed to her heart.

Annabel looked up and down the empty street, and then turned to her
sister.

"For one thing, Anna," she remarked, "we had not the slightest idea
that you had left, or were leaving Paris. You did not say a word about
it last week, nor have you written. It is quite a descent from the
clouds, isn't it?"

"I will accept that," Anna said, "as accounting for the surprise.
Perhaps you will now explain the alarm."

Miss Pellissier was beginning to recover herself. She too at once
developed an anxious interest in the street outside.

"I am sure, Anna," she said, "I do not see why we should conceal the
truth from you. We are expecting a visit from Sir John Ferringhall at
any moment. He is coming here to tea."

"Well?" Anna remarked calmly.

"Sir John," her aunt repeated, with thin emphasis, "is coming to see
your sister."

Anna drummed impatiently with her fingers against the arm of her
chair.

"Well!" she declared good-humouredly. "I shan't eat him."

Miss Pellissier stiffened visibly.

"This is not a matter altogether for levity, Anna," she said. "Your
sister's future is at stake. I imagine that even you must realize that
this is of some importance."

Anna glanced towards her sister, but the latter avoided her eyes.

"I have always," she admitted calmly, "taken a certain amount of
interest in Annabel's future. I should like to know how it is
concerned with Sir John Ferringhall, and how my presence intervenes."

"Sir John," Miss Pellissier said impressively, "has asked your sister
to be his wife. It is a most wonderful piece of good fortune, as I
suppose you will be prepared to admit. The Ferringhalls are of course
without any pretence at family, but Sir John is a very rich man, and
will be able to give Annabel a very enviable position in the world.
The settlements which he has spoken of, too, are most munificent. No
wonder we are anxious that nothing should happen to make him change
his mind."

"I still----"

Anna stopped short. Suddenly she understood. She grew perhaps a shade
paler, and she glanced out into the street, where her four-wheeler
cab, laden with luggage, was still waiting.

"Sir John of course disapproves of me," she remarked slowly.

"Sir John is a man of the world," her aunt answered coldly. "He
naturally does not wish for connexions which are--I do not wish to
hurt you feelings, Anna, but I must say it--not altogether desirable."

The irrepressible smile curved Anna's lips. She glanced towards her
sister, and curiously enough found in her face some faint reflection
of her own rather sombre mirth. She leaned back in her chair. It was
no use. The smile had become a laugh. She laughed till the tears stood
in her eyes.

"I had a visit from Sir John in my rooms," she said. "Did he tell you,
Annabel?"

"Yes."

"He mentioned the matter to me also," Miss Pellissier remarked
stiffly. "The visit seems to have made a most painful impression upon
him. To tell you the truth, he spoke to me very seriously upon the
subject."

Anna sprang up.

"I will be off," she declared. "My cab with all that luggage would
give the whole show away. Good-bye, aunt."

Miss Pellissier tried ineffectually to conceal her relief.

"I do not like to seem inhospitable, Anna," she said hesitatingly.
"And of course you are my niece just as Annabel is, although I am
sorry to learn that your conduct has been much less discreet than
hers. But at the same time, I must say plainly that I think your
presence here just now would be a great misfortune. I wish very much
that you had written before leaving Paris."

Anna nodded.

"Quite right," she said. "I ought to have done. Good-bye aunt. I'll
come and see you again later on. Annabel, come to the door with me,"
she added a little abruptly. "There is something which I must say to
you."

Annabel rose and followed her sister from the room. A maidservant held
the front door open. Anna sent her away.

"Annabel," she said brusquely. "Listen to me."

"Well?"

"Sir John came to me--that you know--and you can guess what I told
him. No, never mind about thanking me. I want to ask you a plain
question, and you must answer me faithfully. Is all that folly done
with--for ever?"

Annabel shivered ever so slightly.

"Of course it is, Anna. You ought to know that. I am going to make a
fresh start."

"Be very sure that you do," Anna said slowly. "If I thought for a
moment that there was any chance of a relapse, I should stop here and
tell him the truth even now."

Annabel looked at her with terrified eyes.

"Anna," she cried, "you must believe me. I am really in earnest. I
would not have him know--now--for the world."

"Very well," Anna said. "I will believe you. Remember that he's not at
all a bad sort, and to speak frankly, he's your salvation. Try and let
him never regret it. There's plenty to be got out of life in a decent
sort of way. Be a good wife to him. You can if you will."

"I promise," Annabel declared. "He is very kind, Anna, really, and not
half such a prig as he seems."

Anna moved towards the door, but her sister detained her.

"Won't you tell me why you have come to England?" she said. "It was
such a surprise to see you. I thought that you loved Paris and your
work so much."

A momentary bitterness crept into Anna's tone.

"I have made no progress with my work," she said slowly, "and the
money was gone. I had to ask Mr. Courtlaw for his true verdict, and he
gave it me. I have given up painting."

"Anna!"

"It is true, dear. After all there are other things. All that I regret
are the wasted years, and I am not sure that I regret them. Only of
course I must begin something else at once. That is why I came to
London."

"But what are you going to do--where are you going to live?" Annabel
asked. "Have you any money?"

"Lots," Anna answered laconically. "Never mind me. I always fall on my
feet, you know."

"You will let us hear from you--let us know where you are, very soon?"
Annabel called out from the step.

Anna nodded as she briskly crossed the pavement.

"Some day," she answered. "Run in now. There's a hansom coming round
the corner."

       *       *       *       *       *

Anna sat back in her cab, but found it remain stationary.

"Gracious!" she exclaimed to herself. "I don't know where to go to."

The cabman, knocking with the butt end of his whip upon the window,
reminded her that he was in a similar predicament.

"Drive towards St. Pancras," she directed, promptly. "I will tell you
when to stop."

The cab rumbled off. Anna leaned forward, watching the people in the
streets. It was then for the first time she remembered that she had
said nothing to her sister of the man in the hospital.



_Chapter VIII_

"WHITE'S"


Northwards, away from the inhospitality of West Kensington, rumbled
the ancient four-wheel cab, laden with luggage and drawn by a wheezy
old horse rapidly approaching its last days. Inside was Anna, leaning
a little forward to watch the passers-by, bright-eyed, full to the
brim of the insatiable curiosity of youth--the desire to understand
and appreciate this new world in which she found herself. She was
practically an outcast, she had not even the ghost of a plan as to her
future, and she had something less than five pounds in her pocket. She
watched the people and hummed softly to herself.

Suddenly she thrust her head out of the window.

"Please stop, cabman," she ordered.

The man pulled up. It was not a difficult affair.

"Is this Montague Street, W.C.?" she asked.

The man looked as though he would have liked to deny it, but could
not.

"Stay where you are for a moment," she directed. "I want to find an
address."

The man contented himself with a nod. Anna rummaged about in her
dressing-case, and finally drew out a letter. On the envelope was
written--

               Sydney Courtlaw, Esq.,
                  13, Montague St.

She put her head out of the window.

"Number 13, please, cabman."

"We've come past it, miss," the man answered, with a note of finality
in his gruff voice.

"Then turn round and go back there," she directed.

The man muttered something inaudible, and gathered up the reins. His
horse, which had apparently gone to sleep, preferred to remain where
he was. After a certain amount of manoeuvring, however, he was
induced to crawl around, and in a few minutes came to stop again
before a tall brightly-painted house, which seemed like an oasis of
colour and assertive prosperity in a long dingy row. This was number
13, Montague Street, familiarly spoken of in the neighbourhood as
"White's."

Anna promptly alighted with the letter in her hand. The door was
opened for her by a weary-looking youth in a striped jacket several
sizes too large for him. The rest of his attire was nondescript.

"Does Mr. Courtlaw, Mr. Sydney Courtlaw, live here, please?" Anna
asked him.

"Not home yet, miss," the young man replied. "Generally gets here
about seven."

Anna hesitated, and then held out the letter.

"I think that I will leave this letter for him," she said. "It is from
his brother in Paris. Say that I will call again or let him know my
address in London."

The young man accepted the letter and the message, and seemed about to
close the door when a lady issued from one of the front rooms and
intervened. She wore a black satin dress, a little shiny at the seams,
a purposeless bow of white tulle at the back of her neck, and a huge
chatelaine. She addressed Anna with a beaming smile and a very
creditable mixture of condescension and officiousness. Under the
somewhat trying incandescent light her cheeks pleaded guilty to a
recent use of the powder puff.

"I think that you were inquiring for Mr. Courtlaw," she remarked. "He
is one of our guests--perhaps I should say boarders here, but he
seldom returns before dinner-time. We dine at seven-thirty. Can I give
him any message for you?"

"Thank you," Anna answered. "I have a letter for him from his brother,
which I was just leaving."

"I will see that he gets it immediately on his return," the lady
promised. "You did not wish to see him particularly this evening,
then?"

Anna hesitated.

"Well, no," she answered. "To tell you the truth though, I am quite a
stranger in London, and it occurred to me that Mr. Courtlaw might have
been able to give me an idea where to stop."

The lady in black satin looked at the pile of luggage outside and
hesitated.

"Were you thinking of private apartments, a boarding-house or an
hotel?" she asked.

"I really had not thought about it at all," Anna answered smiling. "I
expected to stay with a relation, but I found that their arrangements
did not allow of it. I have been used to living in apartments in
Paris, but I suppose the system is different here."

The lady in black satin appeared undecided. She looked from Anna, who
was far too nice-looking to be travelling about alone, to that
reassuring pile of luggage, and wrinkled her brows thoughtfully.

"Of course," she said diffidently, "this is a boarding-house, although
we never take in promiscuous travellers. The class of guests we have
are all permanent, and I am obliged to be very careful indeed. But--if
you are a friend of Mr. Courtlaw's--I should like to oblige Mr.
Courtlaw."

"It is very nice of you to think of it," Anna said briskly. "I should
really like to find somewhere to stay, if it was only for a few
nights."

The lady stood away from the door.

"Will you come this way," she said, "into the drawing-room? There is
no one there just now. Most of my people are upstairs dressing for
dinner. The gentlemen are so particular now, and a good thing too, I
say. I was always used to it, and I think it gives quite a tone to an
establishment. Please sit down, Miss--dear me, I haven't asked you
your name yet."

"My name is Pellissier," Anna said, "Anna Pellissier."

"I am Mrs. White," the lady in black satin remarked. "It makes one
feel quite awkward to mention such a thing, but after all I think that
it is best for both parties. Could you give me any references?"

"There is Mr. Courtlaw," Anna said, "and my solicitors, Messrs. Le
Mercier and Stowe of St. Heliers. They are rather a long way off, but
you could write to them. I am sorry that I do not know any one in
London. But after all, Mrs. White, I am not sure that I could afford
to come to you. I am shockingly poor. Please tell me what your terms
are."

"Well," Mrs. White said slowly, "it depends a good deal upon what
rooms you have. Just now my best ones are all taken."

"So much the better," Anna declared cheerfully. "The smallest will do
for me quite well."

Mrs. White looked mysteriously about the room as though to be sure
that no one was listening.

"I should like you to come here," she said. "It's a great deal for a
young lady who's alone in the world, as I suppose you are at present,
to have a respectable home, and I do not think in such a case that
private apartments are at all desirable. We have a very nice set of
young people here too just at present, and you would soon make some
friends. I will take you for thirty-five shillings a week. Please
don't let any one know that."

"I have no idea what it costs to live in London," Anna said, "but I
should like very much to come for a short time if I might."

"Certainly," Mrs. White said. "Two days' notice shall be sufficient on
either side."

"And I may bring my luggage in and send that cabman away?" Anna asked.
"Dear me, what a relief! If I had had any nerves that man would have
trampled upon them long ago."

"Cabmen are so trying," Mrs. White assented. "You need have no further
trouble. The manservant shall bring your trunks in and pay the fare
too, if you like."

Anna drew out her purse at once.

"You are really a good Samaritan," she declared. "I am perfectly
certain that that man meant to be rude to me. He has been bottling it
up all the way from West Kensington."

Mrs. White rang the bell.

"Come upstairs," she said, "and I will show you your room. And would
you mind hurrying a little. You won't want to be late the first
evening, and it's ten minutes past seven now. Gracious, there's the
gong. This way, my dear--and--you'll excuse my mentioning it, but a
quiet blouse and a little chiffon, you know, will be quite sufficient.
It's your first evening, and early impressions do count for so much.
You understand me, I'm sure."

Anna was a little puzzled, but she only laughed.

"Perhaps, as I've only just arrived," she remarked, "I might be
forgiven if I do not change my skirt. I packed so hurriedly that it
will take me a long time to find my things."

"Certainly," Mrs. White assured her. "Certainly. I'll mention it.
You're tired, of course. This is your room. The gong will go at
seven-thirty. Don't be late if you can help it."

       *       *       *       *       *

Anna was not late, but her heart sank within her when she entered the
drawing-room. It was not a hopeful looking group. Two or three
podgy-looking old men with wives to match, half-a-dozen overdressed
girls, and a couple of underdressed American ones, who still wore the
clothes in which they had been tramping half over London since
breakfast time. A sprinkling of callow youths, and a couple of
pronounced young Jews, who were talking loudly together in some
unintelligible jargon of the City. What had she to do with such as
these? She had hard work to keep a smiling face, as Mrs. White, who
had risen to greet her, proceeded with a formal, and from Anna's point
of view, a wholly unnecessary round of introductions. And then
suddenly--a relief. A young man--almost a boy, slight, dark, and with
his brother's deep grey eyes--came across the room to her.

"You must be the Miss Pellissier of whom David has told me so much,"
he said, shyly. "I am very glad that you have come here. I heard from
David about you only this morning."

"You are marvellously like your brother," Anna said, beaming upon him.
"I have a letter for you, and no end of messages. Where can we sit
down and talk?"

He led her across the room towards a window recess, in which a tall,
fair young man was seated with an evening paper in his hand.

"Let me introduce my friend to you," Courtlaw said. "Arthur, this is
Miss Pellissier--Mr. Brendon. Brendon and I are great chums," he went
on nervously. "We are clerks in the same bank. I don't think that the
rest of the people here like us very well, do they, Arthur, so we're
obliged to be friends."

Anna shook hands with Brendon--a young man also, but older and more
self-possessed than Sydney Courtlaw.

"Sydney is quite right, Miss Pellissier," he said. "He and I don't
seem to get on at all with our fellow-guests, as Mrs. White calls
them. You really ought not to stay here and talk to us. It is a most
inauspicious start for you."

"Dear me," Anna laughed, "how unfortunate! What ought I to do? Should
I be forgiven, do you think, if I were to go and hold that skein of
wool for the old lady in the yellow cap?"

"Don't speak of her irreverently," Brendon said, in an awed whisper.
"Her husband was a county councillor, and she has a niece who comes to
see her in a carriage. I wish she wouldn't look like that at us over
her glasses."

Horace, the manservant, transformed now into the semblance of a
correctly garbed waiter, threw open the door.

"Dinner is served, ma'am," he announced to Mrs. White.

There was no rush. Everything was done in a genteel and ordinary way,
but on the other hand, there was no lingering. Anna found herself next
Sydney Courtlaw, with his friend close at hand. Opposite to her was a
sallow-visaged young man, whose small tie seemed like a smudge of
obtusively shiny black across the front of a high close-drawn collar.
As a rule, Courtlaw told her softly, he talked right and left, and to
everybody throughout the whole of the meal--to-night he was almost
silent, and seemed to devote his whole attention to staring at Anna.
After the first courses however she scarcely noticed him. Her two new
friends did their best to entertain her.

"I can't imagine, Miss Pellissier," Brendon said, leaning towards her,
"whatever made you think of coming to stay if only for a week at a
Montague Street boarding-house. Are you going to write a novel?"

"Not I," she answered gaily. "I came to London unexpectedly, and my
friends could not take me in. I had a vague sort of idea that this was
the region where one finds apartments, so I told my cabman to drive in
this direction while I sat inside his vehicle and endeavoured to form
a plan of campaign. He brought me past this house, and I thought I
would call and leave your brother's letter. Then I saw Mrs. White----"

"No more," Sydney Courtlaw begged, laughingly. "You were booked of
course. An unexpected vacancy, wasn't it? Every one comes in on
unexpected vacancy."

"And they go?"

"When they get the chance. It really isn't so easy to go as it seems.
We have come to the conclusion, Brendon and I, that Mrs. White is
psychologically gifted. She throws a sort of spell over us all. We
struggle against it at first, but in the end we have to submit. She
calls us her guests, but in reality we are her prisoners. We simply
can't get away. There's that old gentleman at the end of the
table--Bullding his name is. He will tell you confidentially that he
simply hates the place. Yet he's been here for six years, and he's as
much a fixture as that sham mahogany sideboard. Everyone will grumble
to you confidentially--Miss Ellicot, she's our swagger young lady, you
know--up there, next to Miss White, she will tell you that it is so
out of the world here, so far away from everyone one knows. Old
Kesterton, choleric-looking individual nearly opposite, will curse the
cooking till he's black in the face, but he never misses a dinner.
The Semitic looking young man opposite, who seems to have been
committing you to memory piecemeal, will tell you that he was never so
bored in all his life as he has been here. Yet he stays. They all
stay!"

"And you yourself?"

Brendon laughed.

"Oh, we are also under the spell," he declared, "but I think that we
are here mainly because it is cheap. It is really cheap, you know. To
appreciate it you should try rooms."

"Is this a fair sample of the dinner?" Anna asked, who had the healthy
appetite of a strong young woman.

"It is, if anything, a little above the average," Brendon admitted.

Anna said nothing. The young man opposite was straining his ears to
listen to their conversation. Mrs. White caught her eye, and smiled
benignly down the table.

"I hope that Mr. Courtlaw is looking after you, Miss Pellissier," she
said.

"Admirably, thank you," Anna answered.

The young lady with frizzled hair, whom Brendon had pointed out to her
as Miss Ellicot, leaned forward from her hostess's side. She had very
frizzy hair indeed, very black eyebrows, a profusion of metallic
adornments about her neck and waist, and an engaging smile.

"We are so interested to hear, Miss Pellissier," she said, "that you
have been living in Paris. We shall expect you to tell us all what to
wear."

Anna smiled very faintly, and shook her head.

"I have come from a very unfashionable quarter," she said, "and I do
not think that I have been inside a milliner's shop for a year.
Besides, it is all reversed now, you know. Paris copies London."

Brendon leaned over confidentially.

"You are in luck, Miss Pellissier," he declared. "Your success here is
absolutely meteoric. Miss Ellicot has spoken to you, the great Mr.
Bullding is going to. For five minutes he has been trying to think of
something to say. I am not sure, but I believe that he has just
thought of something."

"May I be prepared?" Anna asked. "Which is Mr. Bullding?"

"Stout old gentleman four places down on the left. Look out, it's
coming."

Anna raised her eyes, and caught the earnest gaze of an elderly
gentleman with a double chin, a protuberant under lip, and a
snuff-stained coat.

"I was in Paris four years ago," Mr. Building announced solemnly. "It
rained the whole of the time, but we saw all the sights, and the place
never seemed dull."

"It takes a great deal of bad weather to depress the true Parisian,"
Anna admitted.

"A volatile temperament--yes, a volatile temperament," Mr. Bullding
repeated, rather struck with the phrase. "It is a pity that as nations
we are not more friendly."

Anna nodded and turned again to Courtlaw.

"I will not be drawn into a conversation with Mr. Bullding," she
declared. "I believe that he would bore me. Tell me, what are these
bananas and nuts for?"

"Dessert."

Anna laid down her serviette.

"Let us escape," she said. "Couldn't we three go out and have some
coffee somewhere? The thought of that drawing-room paralyses me."

Brendon laughed softly.

"We can," he said, "and we will. But it is only fair to warn you that
it isn't expected. Mrs. White is proud of her drawing-room evenings.
There is a musical programme, and we have the windows open and blinds
up, and a pink lamp shade over the piano lamp--a sort of advertisement
of the place, you know. Strangers look in and long, and neighbours are
moved to envy."

Anna hesitated no longer. She almost sprang to her feet. Conscious of
Mrs. White's surprise as she swung easily down the room, followed by
the two young men, she smiled a careless explanation at her.

"I am dying to renew my acquaintance with London, Mrs. White," she
remarked.

"You are not going out--this evening, I trust," that lady asked, a
trifle dismayed.

Anna did not pause, but she looked over her shoulder with slightly
lifted eyebrows.

"Why not? They tell me that London is impossible till after ten, and I
want my first impressions to be favourable."

"There will be some coffee and music in the drawing-room in a few
minutes," Mrs. White said.

"Thanks, I'm not very fond of coffee," Anna answered, "and I hate
music. Good night."

Mrs. White gasped, and then stiffened. Miss Ellicot, who sang ballads,
and liked Brendon to turn over the pages for her, tossed her head.
Anna passed serenely out.



_Chapter IX_

BRENDON'S LUCK


Anna sat in a chair in her room and sighed. She was alone, and the
mask of her unchanging high spirits was for the moment laid aside. She
was a little paler than when she had come to London, a little paler
and a little thinner. There were dark rims under her eyes, soft now
with unshed tears. For this three weeks had been the hardest of her
life. There had been disappointments and humiliations, and although
she hated to admit it even to herself, she was in desperate straits.
Nevertheless, she was still fighting.

"There is one thing I must concentrate on at the moment," she told
herself, "and that is how to pay my next week's bill to Mrs. White. It
ought not to be much. I have gone without dinner for three nights,
and--come in."

Sydney Courtlaw followed his timid knock. Anna raised her eyebrows at
the sight of him. He was in evening dress: swallow-tailed coat and
white tie.

"Is this a concession to Mrs. White?" she asked, laughing. "How
gratified she must have been! If only I had known I would have made an
effort to get home in time for dinner."

"Not exactly," he answered nervously. "Please forgive me coming up,
Miss Pellissier, but you have not been down to dinner for three
nights, and--Brendon and I--we were afraid that you might be unwell."

"Never better in my life," Anna declared briskly. "I had lunch very
late to-day, and I did not get home in time for dinner."

She smiled grimly at the recollection of that lunch--tea and roll at a
cheap café. Sydney was watching her eagerly.

"I'm glad you're all right," he said, "because we want you to do us a
favour. Brendon's had an awful stroke of luck."

"I'm delighted," she exclaimed. "Do tell me all about it."

"He only heard this afternoon," Sydney continued. "An uncle in New
York is dead, and has left him loads of money. A lawyer has come all
the way from America about it. We want to celebrate, and we want you
to help us. Brendon suggests supper at the Carlton. We meant to make
it dinner and a theatre, but you were not home. We thought of
starting in half an hour's time, and trying for a theatre somewhere on
the way."

"How delightful!" exclaimed Anna. "I should love to come. It is very
sweet of you to have waited for me. Run away now, please. I must see
if I have a gown fit to wear."

       *       *       *       *       *

"This," Anna declared, as she sipped her wine and looked around her,
"reminds me more of Paris than any place I have yet seen. I suppose it
is the mirrors and decorations."

"And the people?" Brendon asked. "What do you think of them?"

Anna extended her critical survey and shrugged her shoulders.

"What can one say?" she exclaimed. "Did you ever see women so
weary-looking and so dowdy? They do not talk. They seem to spend their
time yawning and inspecting their neighbour's dresses through those
hateful glasses. It never seems to enter their heads to try and amuse
their menkind."

Two young men on their way down the room came suddenly to a standstill
before Anna. The foremost, tall, clean-shaven, perfectly groomed, half
extended his hand with a smile of recognition.

"Miss Pellissier, isn't it?" he said. "Glad to see you in London. No
idea that you were here, though."

Anna looked up with a doubtful smile of non-recognition.

"My name is certainly Pellissier," she said, "but I am very sorry--I
do not recognize you in the least."

The tall young man dropped his eye-glass and smiled.

"Had the pleasure of dining with you at the 'Ambassador's' one night,
before the show, you know--last September I think it was. Charley
Pevenill was our host. My name is Armytage--Lord Ernest Armytage."

Anna had suddenly stiffened. She regarded the young man coldly. Her
tone was icy.

"I am afraid that you are making a mistake," she said. "I was never at
any such dinner, and I am quite sure that I do not know you."

"Perhaps you remember me, Miss Pellissier," the second young man
interposed. "I had the pleasure of--er--meeting you more than once, I
believe."

A spot of colour flared in Anna's cheek as she glanced towards the
speaker. Something in his smile, in the cynical suggestiveness of his
deferential tone, maddened her.

"To the best of my belief," she said, with quiet dignity, "I have
never seen either of you before in my life."

For a fraction of a second the two young men hesitated. Then the
foremost bowed and passed on.

"I am exceedingly sorry," he said. "Pray accept my apologies."

"And mine," murmured his companion, with the smile still lingering
upon his lips.

They took their places at a distant table. Anna sat quite still for a
moment, and then the colour suddenly returned to her cheeks. She
laughed softly, and leaned across the table.

"Do not look so uncomfortable, both of you," she begged. "Those young
men startled me at first, because they knew my name. I am quite sure
though that they did not mean to be rude."

"Impudent beggars," Sydney growled. "I never wanted to kick any one so
much in my life as that second fellow."

"I think," Anna said, "that it was only his manner. Do look at this
tragedy in mauve, who has just come in. What can she be? The wife of a
country tradesman, or a duchess? And such a meek little husband too.
What can she have done to deserve such a fate? Oh!"

They both turned round at Anna's exclamation. A familiar figure was
making his way towards them. Sydney sprang up.

"Why, it's David!" he exclaimed. "Hullo!"

Courtlaw, haggard, his deep-set eyes more brilliant than ever, took
Anna's hand into his, and breathed a little close drawn sigh of
content. He was introduced to Brendon, and a chair was brought by an
attentive waiter. He declined supper, but took wine.

"Have you dropped from the skies?" Sydney asked wonderingly. "It was
only yesterday I had your letter, and you never mentioned coming
over."

"I had some unexpected business," Courtlaw answered shortly.

"And how did you find us here?"

"I called at Montague Street a few minutes after you had left. Mrs.
White told me where to find you."

He leaned back in his chair as though wearied. Yet either the rest or
the wine seemed already to have done him good. The lines about his
mouth gradually softened. He talked very little and rather absently.
In no way could he be said to contribute to the gaiety of the little
party. But when they were on their way out he whispered in Anna's ear.

"Please let me drive you home. I want to talk to you, and I must
return to-morrow."

Anna hesitated.

"We are Mr. Brendon's guests," she said, "and I scarcely think it
would be nice of me to leave him alone with Sydney."

Courtlaw turned abruptly to Brendon.

"Mr. Brendon," he said, "may I rob you of your guest just for the
drive home? I have only a few hours in England, and Miss Pellissier is
an old friend."

"By all means," Brendon answered. "We will follow you in another cab."

They passed out on to the pavement, and the commissionaire called a
hansom. The man looked closely at Anna as she crossed the footway, and
as he held her skirt from the wheel he pressed something into her
hand. Her fingers closed upon it instinctively. It was a letter. She
slipped it calmly into her pocket. The commissionaire smiled. It was a
sovereign easily earned.

The hansom drove off. Suddenly Anna felt her hand seized and
imprisoned in Courtlaw's burning fingers. She glanced into his face.
It was enough.

"I have stood it for a month, Anna," he exclaimed. "You will not even
answer my letters. I could not keep away any longer."

"Do you think that it was wise of you, or kind to come?" she asked
quietly.

"Wise! Kind! What mockery words are! I came because I had to. I cannot
live without you, Anna. Come back--you must come back. We can be
married to-morrow in Paris. There! You are trying to take your hand
away."

"You disappoint me," she said wearily. "You are talking like a boy.
What is the use of it? I do not wish to marry you. I do not wish to
return to Paris. You are doing your best to break our friendship."

"It is you," he cried, "you, who are talking folly, when you speak of
friendship between you and me. It is not the woman who speaks there.
It is the vapouring school girl. I tell you that I love you, Anna, and
I believe that you love me. You are necessary to me. I shall give you
my life, every moment and thought of my life. You must come back. See
what you have made of me. I cannot work, I cannot teach. You have
grown into my life, and I cannot tear you out."

Anna was silent. She was trembling a little. The man's passion was
infectious. She had to school herself to speak the words which she
knew would cut him like a knife.

"You are mistaken, David. I have counted you, and always hoped to
count you, the best of my friends. But I do not love you. I do not
love any one."

"I don't believe it," he answered hoarsely. "We have come too close
together for me to believe it. You care for me a little, I know. I
will teach you how to make that little sufficient."

"You came to tell me this?"

"I came for you," he declared fiercely.

The hansom sped through the crowded streets. Anna suddenly leaned
forward and looked around her.

"We are not going the right way," she exclaimed.

"You are coming my way," Courtlaw answered. "Anna," he pleaded, "be
merciful. You care for me just a little, I know. You are alone in the
world, you have no one save yourself to consider. Come back with me
to-night. Your old rooms are there, if you choose. I kept them on
myself till the sight of your empty chair and the chill loneliness of
it all nearly sent me mad."

Anna lifted her hand and pushed open the trap door.

"Drive to 13, Montague Street, cabman," she ordered.

The man pulled up his horse grumbling, and turned round. Courtlaw sat
with folded arms. He said nothing.

"My friend," she said, "no! Let me tell you this. Nothing would induce
me to marry you, or any man at present. I am a pauper, and as yet I
have not discovered how to earn money. I am determined to fight my own
little battle with the world--there must be a place for me somewhere,
and I mean to find it. Afterwards, it may be different. If I were to
marry you now I should feel a dependent being all my life--a sort of
parasitical creature without blood or muscle. I should lose every
scrap of independence--even my self-respect. However good you were to
me, and however happy I was in other ways, I should find this
intolerable."

"All these things," he muttered bitterly, "this desperate resolve to
take your life into your own hands, your unnatural craving for
independence, would never trouble you for a moment--if you really
cared."

"Then perhaps," she answered, with a new coldness in her tone,
"perhaps I really do not care. No, don't interrupt me. I think that I
am a little disappointed in you. You appear to be amongst those strong
enough in all ordinary matters, but who seem to think it quite
natural and proper to give in at once and play the weakling
directly--one cares. Do you think that it makes for happiness to force
oneself into the extravagant belief that love is the only thing in the
world worth having, and to sacrifice for it independence,
self-respect, one's whole scheme of life. I cannot do it, David.
Perhaps, as you say, I do not really care--but I cannot do it."

He was strangely silent. He did not even reply to her for several
minutes.

"I cannot reason with you," he said at last wearily. "I speak from my
heart, and you answer from your brain."

"Believe me that I have answered you wisely," she said, in a gentler
tone, "wisely for you too, as well as myself. And now you must go
back, take up your work and think all this over. Presently you will
see that I am right, and then you shall take your vacation over here,
and we will be good comrades again."

He smiled bitterly as he handed her from the cab. He declined to come
in.

"Will you tell Sydney that I will see him in the morning," he said. "I
am staying at the Savoy. He can come round there."

"You will shake hands with me, please," she begged.

He took her fingers and lifted his eyes to hers. Something he saw
there made him feel for a moment ashamed. He pressed the long shapely
hand warmly in his.

"Good-bye," he said earnestly. "Please forgive me. You are right.
Quite right."

She was able to go straight to her room without delay, and she at once
locked the door with a little sigh of relief. She found herself
struggling with a storm of tears.

A sob was strangled in her throat. She struggled fiercely not to give
way.

"Oh, I am lonely," she moaned. "I am lonely. If I could but----"

       *       *       *       *       *

To escape from her thoughts she began to undress, humming a light tune
to herself, though her eyes were hot with unshed tears, and the sobs
kept rising in her throat. As she drew off her skirt she felt
something in the pocket, and remembered the letter which the
commissionaire at the Carlton had given her. She tore open the
envelope and read it.

     "MY DEAR GIRL,--

     "I am so sorry if we made asses of ourselves to-night. The fact
     is I was so glad to see you again that it never occurred to me
     that a little discretion might be advisable. I'm afraid I'm a
     terribly clumsy fellow.

     "I hope that you are going to allow me to see something of you
     during your stay in London, for the sake of old times. Could you
     come to tea at my rooms one afternoon, or would you dine with me
     somewhere, and do a theatre? We could have a private room, of
     course, if you do not wish to be seen about London, and a box at
     the theatre. I often think of those delightful evenings in Paris.
     May we not repeat them once, at any rate, in London?

               "Ever yours,
                  "NIGEL ENNISON.

     "P.S. My address is 94, Pall Mall."

Anna read, and her cheeks grew slowly scarlet. She crushed the letter
in her hand.

"I wonder," she murmured to herself, "if this is the beginning."



_Chapter X_

THE TRAGEDY OF AN APPETITE


Anna, notwithstanding her quiet clothes, a figure marvellously out of
accord with her surroundings, sat before a small marble-topped table
at a crowded A.B.C., and munched a roll and butter with hearty
appetite.

"If only I could afford another!" she thought regretfully. "I wonder
why I am always hungry nowadays. It is so ridiculous."

She lingered over her tea, and glancing around, a sudden reflection on
the change in her surroundings from the scene of her last night's
supper brought a faint, humorous smile to her lips.

"In two days," she reflected, "Mrs. White will present her bill. I
have one shilling and sevenpence halfpenny left. I have two days in
which to earn nearly thirty shillings--that is with no dinners, and
get a situation. I fancy that this is a little more than playing at
Bohemianism."

"So far," she continued, eyeing hungrily the last morsel of roll which
lay upon her plate, "my only chance of occupation has lain with a
photographer who engaged me on the spot and insulted me in half an
hour. What beasts men are! I cannot typewrite, my three stories are
still wandering round, two milliners have refused me as a lay figure
because business was so bad. I am no use for a clerk, because I do not
understand shorthand. After all, I fancy that I shall have to apply
for a situation as a nursery governess who understands French. Faugh!"

She took up the last morsel of roll, and held it delicately between
her long slim fingers. Then her white teeth gleamed, and her excuse
for remaining any longer before that little marble table was gone. She
rose, paid her bill, and turned westwards.

She walked with long swinging steps, scorning the thought of buses or
the tube. If ever she felt fatigue in these long tramps which had
already taken her half over London, she never admitted it. Asking her
way once or twice, she passed along Fleet Street into the Strand, and
crossed Trafalgar Square, into Piccadilly. Here she walked more
slowly, looking constantly at the notices in the shop windows. One she
entered and met with a sharp rebuff, which she appeared to receive
unmoved. But when she reached the pavement outside her teeth were
clenched, and she carried herself unconsciously an inch or so higher.
It was just then that she came face to face with Nigel Ennison.

He was walking listlessly along, well-dressed, _debonnair_,
good-looking. Directly he saw Anna he accosted her. His manner was
deferential, even eager. Anna, who was disposed to be sharply
critical, could find no fault with it.

"How fortunate I am, Miss Pellissier! All day I have been hoping that
I might run across you. You got my note?"

"I certainly received a note," Anna admitted.

"You were going to answer it?"

"Certainly not!" she said deliberately.

He looked at her with an expression of comical despair.

"What have I done, Miss Pellissier?" he pleaded. "We were good friends
in Paris, weren't we? You made me all sorts of promises, we planned
no end of nice things, and then--without a word to any one you
disappeared. Now we meet again, and you will scarcely look at me. You
seem altogether altered, too. Upon my word--you are Miss Pellissier,
aren't you?"

"I certainly am," she admitted.

He looked at her for a moment in a puzzled sort of way.

"Of course!" he said. "You have changed somehow--and you certainly are
less friendly."

She laughed. After all, his was a pleasant face, and a pleasant voice,
and very likely Annabel had behaved badly.

"Perhaps," she said, "it is the London climate. It depresses one, you
know."

He nodded.

"You look more like your old self when you smile," he remarked. "But,
forgive me, you are tired. Won't you come and have some tea with me?
There is a new place in Bond Street," he hastened to say, "where
everything is very well done, and they give us music, if that is any
attraction to you."

She hesitated and looked for a moment straight into his eyes. He
certainly bore inspection. He was tall and straight, and his
expression was good.

"I will come--with pleasure," she said, "if you will promise to treat
me as a new acquaintance--not to refer to--Paris--at all."

"I promise," he answered heartily. "Allow me."

He took his place by her side, and they talked lightly of London, the
shops and people. They found a cosy little table in the tea-rooms, and
everything was delicious. Anna, with her marvellous capacity for
enjoyment, ate cakes and laughed, and forgot that she had had tea an
hour or so ago at an A.B.C., or that she had a care in the world.

"By-the-bye," he said, presently, "your sister was married to old
Ferringhall the other day, wasn't she? I saw the notice in the
papers."

Anna never flinched. But after the first shock came a warm glow of
relief. After all, it was what she had been praying for--and Annabel
could not have known her address.

"My sister and I," she said slowly, "have seen very little of each
other lately. I fancy that Sir John does not approve of me."

Ennison shrugged his shoulders.

"Sort of man who can see no further than his nose," he remarked
contemptuously. "Fearful old fogey! I can't imagine any sister of
yours putting up with him for a moment. I thought perhaps you were
staying with them, as you did not seem particularly anxious to
recognize your old friends."

Anna shook her head.

"No, I am alone," she answered.

"Then we must try and make London endurable for you," he remarked
cheerfully. "What night will you dine and go to the theatre with
me?--and how about Hurlingham on Saturday?"

Anna shook her head.

"Thank you," she said coolly. "Those things are not for me just at
present."

He was obviously puzzled. Anna sighed as she reflected that her sister
had simply revelled in her indiscretions.

"Come," he said, "you can't be meaning to bury yourself. There must be
something we can do. What do you say to Brighton----"

Anna looked at him quietly--and he never finished his sentence.

"May I ask whether you are staying with friends in town?" he inquired
deferentially. "Perhaps your engagements are made for you."

"I am staying," she answered coolly, "at a small boarding-house near
Russell Square."

He dropped his eye-glass with a clatter.

"At a boarding-house?" he gasped.

She nodded.

"Yes. I am an independent sort of person," she continued, "and I am
engaged in an attempt to earn my own living. You don't happen to know
of any one, I suppose, who wants a nursery governess, or a
clerk--without shorthand--or a tryer-on, or a copyist, or----"

"For Heaven's sake stop, Miss Pellissier," he interrupted. "What a
hideous repertoire! If you are in earnest about wanting to earn money,
why on earth don't you accept an engagement here?"

"An engagement?" she queried.

"On the stage? Yes. You would not have the slightest difficulty."

She laughed softly to herself.

"Do you know," she confessed, "I never thought of that?"

He looked at her as though doubting even now whether she could
possibly be in earnest.

"I cannot conceive," he said, "how any other occupation could ever
have occurred to you. You do not need me to remind you of your success
at Paris. The papers are continually wondering what has become of
'Alcide.' Your name alone would fill any music hall in London."

Again that curious smile which puzzled him so much parted her lips for
a moment.

"Dear me," she said, "I fancy you exaggerate my fame. I can't imagine
Londoners--particularly interested in me."

He shrugged his shoulders. Even now he was not at all sure that she
was not playing with him. There were so many things about her which he
could not understand. She began to draw on her gloves thoughtfully.

"I am very much obliged for the tea," she said. "This is a charming
place, and I have enjoyed the rest."

"It was a delightful piece of good fortune that I should have met
you," he answered. "I hope that whatever your plans may be, you will
give me the opportunity of seeing something of you now and then."

"I am afraid," she said, preceding him down the narrow stairs, "that I
am going to be too busy to have much time for gadding about. However,
I daresay that we shall come across one another before long."

"That is provokingly indefinite," he answered, a little ruefully.
"Won't you give me your address?"

She shook her head.

"It is such a very respectable boarding-house," she said. "I feel
quite sure that Mrs. White would not approve of callers."

"I have a clue, at any rate," he remarked, smiling. "I must try the
Directory."

"I wish you good luck," she answered. "There are a good many Whites in
London."

"May I put you in a hansom?" he asked, lifting his stick.

"For Heaven's sake, no," she answered quickly. "Do you want to ruin
me? I shall walk back."

"I may come a little way, then?" he begged.

"If you think it worth while," she answered doubtfully.

Apparently he thought it very much worth while. Restraining with an
effort his intense curiosity, he talked of general subjects only,
trying his best to entertain her. He succeeded so well that they were
almost in Montague Street before Anna stopped short.

"Heavens!" she exclaimed. "I have brought you very nearly to my door.
Go back at once, please."

He held out his hand obediently.

"I'll go," he said, "but I warn you that I shall find you out."

For a moment she was grave.

"Well," she said. "I may be leaving where I am in a few days, so very
likely you will be no better off."

He looked at her intently.

"Miss Pellissier," he said, "I don't understand this change in you.
Every word you utter puzzles me. I have an idea that you are in some
sort of trouble. Won't you let me--can't I be of any assistance?"

He was obviously in earnest. His tone was kind and sympathetic.

"You are very good," she said. "Indeed I shall not forget your offer.
But just now there is nothing which you or anybody can do. Good-bye."

He was dismissed, and he understood it. Anna crossed the street, and
letting herself in at No. 13 with a latchkey went humming lightly up
to her room. She was in excellent spirits, and it was not until she
had taken off her hat, and was considering the question of dinner or
no dinner, that she remembered that another day had passed, and she
was not a whit nearer being able to pay her to-morrow's bill.



_Chapter XI_

THE PUZZLEMENT OF NIGEL ENNISON


Nigel Ennison walked towards his club the most puzzled man in London.
There could not, he decided, possibly be two girls so much alike.
Besides, she had admitted her identity. And yet--he thought of the
supper party where he had met Annabel Pellissier, the stories about
her, his own few minutes' whispered love-making! He was a
self-contained young man, but his cheeks grew hot at the thought of
the things which it had seemed quite natural to say to her then, but
which he knew very well would have been instantly resented by the girl
whom he had just left. He went over her features one by one in his
mind. They were the same. He could not doubt it. There was the same
airy grace of movement, the same deep brown hair and alabaster skin.
He found himself thinking up all the psychology which he had ever
read. Was this the result of some strange experiment? It was the
person of Annabel Pellissier--the soul of a very different order of
being.

He spent the remainder of the afternoon looking for a friend whom he
found at last in the billiard room of one of the smaller clubs to
which he belonged. After the usual laconic greetings, he drew him on
one side.

"Fred," he said, "do you remember taking me to dinner at the
'Ambassador's,' one evening last September, to meet a girl who was
singing there? Hamilton and Drummond and his lot were with us."

"Of course," his friend answered. "_La belle_ 'Alcide,' wasn't it?
Annabel Pellissier was her real name. Jolly nice girl, too."

Ennison nodded.

"I thought I saw her in town to-day," he said. "Do you happen to know
whether she is supposed to be here?"

"Very likely indeed," Captain Fred Meddoes answered, lighting a
cigarette. "I heard that she had chucked her show at the French places
and gone in for a reform all round. Sister's got married to that
bounder Ferringhall."

Ennison took an easy chair.

"What a little brick!" he murmured. "She must have character. It's no
half reform either. What do you know about her, Fred? I am
interested."

Meddoes turned round from the table on which he was practising shots
and shrugged his shoulders.

"Not much," he answered, "and yet about all there is to be known, I
fancy. There were two sisters, you know. Old Jersey and Hampshire
family, the Pellissiers, and a capital stock, too, I believe."

"Any one could see that the girls were ladies," Ennison murmured.

"No doubt about that," Meddoes continued. "The father was in the army,
and got a half-pay job at St. Heliers. Died short, I suppose, and the
girls had to shift for themselves. One went in for painting, kept
straight and married old Ferringhall a week or so ago--the Lord help
her. The other kicked over the traces a bit, made rather a hit with
her singing at some of those French places, and went the pace in a
mild, ladylike sort of way. Cheveney was looking after her, I think,
then. If she's over, he probably knows all about it."

Ennison looked steadily at the cigarette which he was tapping on his
forefinger.

"So Cheveney was her friend, you think, eh?" he remarked.

"No doubt about that, I fancy," Meddoes answered lightly. "He ran some
Austrian fellow off. She was quite the rage, in a small way, you know.
Strange, demure-looking young woman, with wonderful complexion and
eyes, and a style about her, too. Care for a hundred up?"

Ennison shook his head.

"Can't stop, thanks," he answered. "See you to-night, I suppose?"

He sauntered off.

"I'm damned if I'll believe it," he muttered to himself savagely.

But for the next few days he avoided Cheveney like the plague.

       *       *       *       *       *

The same night he met Meddoes and Drummond together, the latter over
from Paris on a week's leave from the Embassy.

"Odd thing," Meddoes remarked, "we were just talking about the
Pellissier girl. Drummond was telling me about the way old Ferringhall
rounded upon them all at the club."

"Sounds interesting," Ennison remarked. "May I hear?"

"It really isn't much to tell," Drummond answered. "You know what a
fearful old prig Ferringhall is, always goes about as though the whole
world were watching him? We tried to show him around Paris, but he
wouldn't have any of it. Talked about his years, his position and his
constituents, and always sneaked off back to his hotel just when the
fun was going to begin. Well one night, some of us saw him, or thought
we saw him, at a café dining with 'Alcide,'--as a matter of fact, it
seems that it was her sister. He came into the club next day, and of
course we went for him thick. Jove, he didn't take to it kindly, I can
tell you. Stood on his dignity and shut us up in great style. It seems
that he was a sort of family friend of the Pellissiers, and it was the
artist sister whom he was with. The joke of it is that he's married to
her now, and cuts me dead."

"I suppose," Ennison said, "the likeness between the sisters must be
rather exceptional?"

"I never saw the goody-goody one close to, so I can't say," Drummond
answered. "Certainly I was a little way off at the café, and she had a
hat and veil on, but I could have sworn that it was 'Alcide.'"

"Is 'Alcide' still in Paris?" Ennison asked.

"Don't think so," Drummond answered. "I heard the other day that she'd
been taken in by some cad of a fellow who was cutting a great dash in
Paris, personating Meysey Hill, the great railway man. Anyhow, she's
disappeared for some reason or other. Perhaps Ferringhall has
pensioned her off. He's the sort of johnny who wouldn't care about
having a sister-in-law on the loose."

"Ennison here thought he saw her in London," Meddoes remarked.

Drummond nodded.

"Very likely. The two sisters were very fond of one another, I
believe. Perhaps Sir John is going to take the other one under his
wing. Who's for a rubber of whist?"

Ennison made so many mistakes that he was glad to cut out early in the
evening. He walked across the Park and called upon his sister.

"Is Lady Lescelles in?" he asked the butler.

"Her ladyship dined at home," the man answered. "I have just ordered a
carriage for her. I believe that her ladyship is going to Carey House,
and on to the Marquis of Waterford's ball," he added, hastily
consulting a diary on the hall table.

A tall elegantly dressed woman, followed by a maid, came down the
broad staircase.

"Is that you, Nigel?" she asked. "I hope you are going to Carey
House."

He shook his head, and threw open the door of a great dimly-lit
apartment on the ground floor.

"Come in here a moment, will you, Blanche," he said. "I want to speak
to you."

She assented, smiling. He was her only brother, and she his favourite
sister. He closed the door.

"I want to ask you a question," he said. "A serious question."

She stopped buttoning her glove, and looked at him.

"Well?"

"You and all the rest of them are always lamenting that I do not
marry. Supposing I made up my mind to marry some one of good enough
family, but who was in a somewhat doubtful position, concerning whose
antecedents, in fact there was a certain amount of scandal. Would you
stand by me--and her?"

"My dear Nigel!" she exclaimed. "Are you serious?"

"You know very well that I should never joke on such a subject. Mind,
I am anticipating events. Nothing is settled upon. It may be, it
probably will all come to, nothing. But I want to know whether in such
an event you would stand by me?"

She held out her hand.

"You can count upon me, Nigel," she said. "But for you Dad would never
have let me marry Lescelles. He was only a younger son, and you know
what trouble we had. I am with you through thick and thin, Nigel."

He kissed her, and handed her into the carriage. Then he went back to
his rooms and lit a cigar.

"There are two things to be done," he said softly to himself. "The
first is to discover what she is here for, and where she is staying.
The second is to somehow meet Lady Ferringhall. These fellows must be
right," he added thoughtfully, "and yet--there's a mystery somewhere."



_Chapter XII_

THE POSTER OF "ALCIDE"


On Saturday mornings there was deposited on the plate of each guest at
breakfast time, a long folded paper with Mrs. White's compliments.
Anna thrust hers into her pocket unopened, and for the first time left
the house without a smile upon her face. She was practically destitute
of jewellery. The few pence left in her purse would only provide a
very scanty lunch. Another day of non-success would mean many
disagreeable things.

And even she was forced to admit to herself that this last resource of
hers was a slender reed on which to lean. She mounted the stairs of
the theatrical agent's office with very much less than her usual
buoyancy, nor did she find much encouragement in the general
appearance of the room into which she was shown. There was already a
score or more of people there, some standing up and talking together,
others seated in chairs ranged along the wall. Beyond was another
door, on which was painted in black letters:

               MR. EARLES,
               Strictly Private

Every one stared at Anna. Anna stared back at every one with undaunted
composure. A young man with shiny frock coat and very high collar,
advanced towards her languidly.

"Want to see Mr. Earles?" he inquired.

"I do," Anna answered. "Here is my card. Will you take it in to him?"

The young man smiled in a superior manner.

"Have to take your turn," he remarked laconically. "There's twenty
before you, and Mr. Earles is going out at twelve sharp--important
engagement. Better come another morning."

"Thank you," Anna answered. "I will take my chance."

She removed some posters from a chair, and seated herself coolly. The
young man looked at her.

"Unless you have an appointment, which you haven't," he said, "you'll
only waste your time here."

"I can spare it," Anna answered suavely.

The young man entered into a lively little war of words with a
yellow-haired young person near the door. Anna picked up an ancient
magazine, and began to turn over the pages in a leisurely way. The
conversation which her entrance had interrupted began to buzz again
all around her. A quarter of an hour passed. Then the inner door
opened abruptly. A tall, clean-shaven man came out and walked rapidly
through the room, exchanging greetings right and left, but evidently
anxious to avoid being detained. Mr. Earles himself stood upon the
threshold of his sanctum, the prototype of the smart natty Jew, with
black hair, waxed moustache, and a wired flower in his button-hole. A
florid-looking young woman rose up and accosted him eagerly.

"I'm next, Mr. Earles," she exclaimed. "Been sitting on the doorstep
almost for two hours."

"In a minute, in a minute," he answered, his eyes fixed upon Anna.
"Reuben, come here."

The young man obeyed the summons. His employer retreated into the
further apartment, leaving the door ajar.

"What's that young lady's name--girl in dark brown, stranger here?"
Mr. Earles asked sharply.

The youth produced a crumpled-up card from his waistcoat pocket. A
sense of impending disaster was upon him. Mr. Earles glanced at it,
and his eyes flashed with anger.

"You blithering idiot!" he exclaimed.

Mr. Earles strode into the waiting-room. His face was wreathed in
smiles, his be-ringed hand was cordially outstretched.

"My dear Miss Pellissier," he said impressively, "this is an
unexpected pleasure. Come in! Come in, do. I must apologize for my
young puppy of a clerk. If I had known that you were here you should
not have been kept waiting for a second."

It took a good deal to surprise Anna, but it was all she could do to
follow Mr. Earles with composure into the inner room. There was a
little murmur of consternation from the waiting crowd, and the florid
young woman showed signs of temper, to which Mr. Earles was absolutely
indifferent. He installed Anna in a comfortable easy chair, and placed
his own between her and the door.

"Come," he said, "this is capital, capital. It was only a few months
ago that I told you you must come to London, and you only laughed at
me. Yet here you are, and at precisely the right moment, too.
By-the-bye," he added, in a suddenly altered tone, "I hope, I
trust--that you have not entered into any arrangements with any one
here?"

"I--oh no!" Anna said, a little faintly. "I have made no arrangements
as yet--none at all."

Mr. Earles recovered his spirits.

"Excellent!" he exclaimed. "Your arrival is really most opportune. The
halls are on the lookout for something new. By-the-bye, do you
recognize that?"

Anna looked and gasped. An enormous poster almost covered one side of
the wall--_the_ poster. The figure of the girl upon it in plain black
dress, standing with her hands behind her, was an undeniable and
astonishing likeness of herself. It was her figure, her style of
dress, her manner of arranging the hair. Mr. Earles regarded it
approvingly.

"A wonderful piece of work," he declared. "A most wonderful likeness,
too. I hope in a few days, Miss Pellissier, that these posters will be
livening up our London hoardings."

Anna leaned back in the chair and laughed softly. Even this man had
accepted her for "Alcide" without a moment's question. Then all the
embarrassments of the matter flashed in upon her. She was suddenly
grave.

"I suppose, Mr. Earles," she said, "that if I were to tell you that
although that poster was designed from a rough study of me, and
although my name is Pellissier, that nevertheless, I am not 'Alcide'
would you believe me?"

"You can try it on, if you like," Mr. Earles remarked genially. "My
only answer would be to ask you to look at that mirror and then at the
poster. The poster is of 'Alcide.' It's a duplicate of the French
one."

Anna got up and looked at the mirror and then at the poster. The
likeness was ridiculous.

"Well?" she said, sitting down again. "I want an engagement."

"Capital!" Mr. Earles declared. "Any choice as to which of the Halls?
You can pick and choose, you know. I recommend the 'Unusual.'"

"I have no choice," Anna declared.

"I can get you," Mr. Earles said, slowly, keeping his eyes fixed upon
her, "forty at the 'Unusual,' two turns, encores voluntary, six for
matinées. We should not bar any engagements at private houses, but in
other respects the arrangement must be exclusive."

"Forty what?" Anna asked bewildered.

"Guineas, of course," Mr. Earles answered, glibly. "Forty guineas a
week. I mentioned sixty, I believe, when I was in Paris, but there are
expenses, and just now business is bad."

Anna was speechless, but she had presence of mind enough to sit still
until she had recovered herself. Mr. Earles watched her anxiously. She
appeared to be considering.

"Of course," he ventured, "I could try for more at the 'Alhambra.' Very
likely they would give----"

"I should be satisfied with the sum you mention," Anna said quietly,
"but there are difficulties."

"Don't use such a word, my dear young lady," Mr. Earles said
persuasively. "Difficulties indeed. We'll make short work of them."

"I hope that you may," Anna answered enigmatically. "In the first
place, I have no objection to the posters, as they have no name on
them, but I do not wish to appear at all upon the stage as 'Alcide.'
If you engage me it must be upon my own merits. You are taking it for
granted that I am 'Alcide.' As a matter of fact, I am not."

"Excuse me," Mr. Earles said, "but this is rubbish."

"Call it what you like," Anna answered. "I can sing the songs 'Alcide'
sang, and in the same style. But I will not be engaged as 'Alcide' or
advertised under that name."

Mr. Earles scratched his chin for a moment thoughtfully. Then a light
seemed to break in upon him. He slapped his knee.

"By Jove!" he exclaimed. "Of course, I remember now. It was your
sister who married Sir John Ferringhall the other day, wasn't it?"

Anna nodded.

"It was," she admitted.

"You needn't say a word more," Mr. Earles declared. "I see the
difficulty. The old fool's been working on you through your sister to
keep off the stage. He's a prig to the finger-tips, is Sir
John--doesn't know what an artist is. It's awkward, but we'll get
round it somehow. Now I'll tell you what I propose. Let me run you for
six months. I'll give you, say, thirty-five guineas a week clear of
expenses, and half of anything you earn above the two turns a night.
What do you say?"

"I agree," Anna said coldly, "if you will make it three months."

"Better say six," Mr. Earles protested, seating himself before the
desk, and dipping his pen in the ink.

"Four," Anna decided firmly. "I shall not agree to six."

"It scarcely gives me a chance," Mr. Earles said, with a resigned
sigh, "but I shall rely upon you to stick to me so long as I do the
right thing by you. You can't do without an agent, and there's no one
can run you better than I can."

"You must also put in the agreement," Anna said, "that I do not
represent myself to be 'Alcide,' and that I am not advertised to the
public by that name."

Mr. Earles threw down his pen with a little exclamation.

"Come this way," he said.

He opened the door of still another room, in one corner of which was a
grand piano. He seated himself before it.

"Go to the far corner," he said, "and sing the last verse of _Les
Petites_."

He struck a note, and Anna responded. Playing with one hand he turned
on his stool to glance at her. Instinctively she had fallen into the
posture of the poster, her hands behind her, her head bent slightly
forward, her chin uplifted, her eyes bright with the drollery of the
song. Mr. Earles closed the piano with a little bang.

"You are a funny, a very funny young lady," he said, "but we waste
time here. You do not need my compliments. We will get on with the
agreement and you shall have in it whatever rubbish you like."

Anna laughed, and went back to her easy chair. She knew that her voice
was superior to Annabel's, and she had no further qualms. Whilst she
was wondering how to frame her request for an advance, Mr. Earles drew
out his cheque book.

"You will not object," he said, glancing towards her, "to accepting a
deposit. It is customary even where an agreement is drawn."

"I shall have no objection at all," Anna assured him.

He handed her a cheque for thirty-one pounds, ten shillings, and read
the agreement through to her. Anna took up the pen, and signed, after
a moment's hesitation,

               A. PELLISSIER.

"I will send you a copy," Mr. Earles said, rubbing his hands together,
"by post. Now, will you do me the honour of lunching with me, Miss
Pellissier?"

Anna hesitated.

"Perhaps," he queried, "you wish to avoid being seen about with any
one--er--connected with the profession, under present circumstances.
If so, do not hesitate to tell me. Be frank, I beg you, Miss
Pellissier. I am already too much flattered that you should have given
me your confidence."

"You are very good, Mr. Earles," Anna said. "I think, perhaps if you
will excuse me, that we will defer the luncheon."

"Just as you wish," Mr. Earles declared good-humouredly, "but I shall
not let you go without drinking a glass of wine to our success."

He plunged into one of his drawers, and brought up a small gold-foiled
bottle. The cork came out with a loud pop, and Anna could not help
wondering how it must sound to the patient little crowd outside. She
drank her glass of wine, however, and clanked glasses good-naturedly
with Mr. Earles.

"You must leave me your address if you please," he said, as she rose
to go.

She wrote it down. He looked at it with uplifted eyebrows, but made no
remark.

"I shall probably want you to come down to the 'Unusual' to-morrow
morning," he said. "Bring any new songs you may have."

Anna nodded, and Mr. Earles attended her obsequiously to the door. She
descended the stairs, and found herself at last in the street--alone.
It was a brief solitude, however. A young man, who had been spending
the last hour walking up and down on the opposite side of the way,
came quickly over to her. She looked up, and recognized Mr. Brendon.



_Chapter XIII_

"HE WILL NOT FORGET!"


The external changes in Brendon following on his alteration of fortune
were sufficiently noticeable. From head to foot he was attired in the
fashionable garb of the young man of the moment. Not only that, but he
carried himself erect--the slight slouch which had bent his shoulders
had altogether disappeared. He came to her at once, and turning,
walked by her side.

"Now I should like to know," she said, looking at him with a quiet
smile, "what you are doing here? It is not a particularly inspiring
neighbourhood for walking about by yourself."

"I plead guilty, Miss Pellissier," he answered at once. "I saw you go
into that place, and I have been waiting for you ever since."

"I am not sure whether I feel inclined to scold or thank you," she
declared. "I think as I feel in a good humour it must be the latter."

He faced her doggedly.

"Miss Pellissier," he said, "I am going to take a liberty."

"You alarm me," she murmured, smiling.

"Don't think that I have been playing the spy upon you," he continued.
"Neither Sydney nor I would think of such a thing. But we can't help
noticing. You have been going out every morning, and coming home
late--tired out--too tired to come down to dinner. Forgive me, but you
have been looking, have you not, for some employment?"

"Quite true!" she answered. "I have found out at last what a useless
person I am--from a utilitarian point of view. It has been very
humiliating."

"And that, I suppose," he said, waving his stick towards Mr. Earles'
office, "was your last resource."

"It certainly was," she admitted. "I changed my last shilling
yesterday."

He was silent for a moment or two. His lips were tight drawn. His eyes
flashed as he turned towards her.

"Do you think that it is kind of you, Miss Pellissier," he said,
almost roughly, "to ignore your friends so? In your heart you know
quite well that you could pay Sydney or me no greater compliment than
to give us just a little of your confidence. We know London, and you
are a stranger here. Surely our advice would have been worth having,
at any rate. You might have spared yourself many useless journeys and
disappointments, and us a good deal of anxiety. Instead, you are
willing to go to a place like that where you ought not to be allowed
to think of showing yourself."

"Why not?" she asked quietly.

"The very question shows your ignorance," he declared. "You know
nothing about the stage. You haven't an idea what the sort of
employment you could get there would be like, the sort of people you
would be mixed up with. It is positively hateful to think of it."

She laid her fingers for a moment upon his arm.

"Mr. Brendon," she said, "if I could ask for advice, or borrow money
from any one, I would from you--there! But I cannot. I never could. I
suppose I ought to have been a man. You see, I have had to look after
myself so long that I have developed a terrible bump of independence."

"Such independence," he answered quickly, "is a vice. You see to what
it has brought you. You are going to accept a post as chorus girl, or
super, or something of that sort."

"You do not flatter me," she laughed.

"I am too much in earnest," he answered, "to be able to take this
matter lightly."

"I am rebuked," she declared. "I suppose my levity is incorrigible.
But seriously, things are not so bad as you think."

He groaned.

"They never seem so at first!" he said.

"You do not quite understand," she said gently. "I will tell you the
truth. It is true that I have accepted an engagement from Mr. Earles,
but it is a good one. I am not going to be a chorus girl, or even a
super. I have never told you so, or Sydney, but I can sing--rather
well. When my father died, and we were left alone in Jersey, I was
quite a long time deciding whether I would go in for singing
professionally or try painting. I made a wrong choice, it seems--but
my voice remains."

"You are really going on the stage, then?" he said slowly.

"In a sense--yes."

Brendon went very pale.

"Miss Pellissier," he said, "don't!"

"Why not?" she asked, smiling. "I must live, you know."

"I haven't told any one the amount," he went on. "It sounds too
ridiculous. But I have two hundred thousand pounds. Will you marry
me?"

Anna looked at him in blank amazement. Then she burst into a peal of
laughter.

"My dear boy," she exclaimed. "How ridiculous! Fancy you with all that
money! For heaven's sake, though, do not go about playing the Don
Quixote like this. It doesn't matter with me, but there are at least a
dozen young women in Mr. Earles' waiting-room who would march you
straight off to a registrar's office."

"You have not answered my question," he reminded her.

"Nor am I going to," she answered, smiling. "I am going to ignore it.
It was really very nice of you, but to-morrow you will laugh at it as
I do now."

"Is it necessary," he said, "for me to tell you----"

"Stop, please," she said firmly.

Brendon was silent.

"Do not force me to take you seriously," she continued. "I like to
think of your offer. It was impulsive and natural. Now let us forget
it."

"I understand," he said, doggedly.

"And you must please not look at me as though I were an executioner,"
she declared lightly. "I will tell you something if you like. One of
the reasons why I left Paris and came to London was because there was
a man there who wanted me to marry him. I really cared for him a
little, but I am absolutely determined not to marry for some time at
any rate. I do not want to get only a second-hand flavour of life. One
can learn and understand only by personal experience, by actual
contact with the realities of life. I did not want anything made
smooth and easy for me. That is why I would not marry this man whom I
did and whom I do care for a little. Later on--well then the time may
come. Then perhaps I shall send for him if he has not forgotten."

"I do not know who he is," Brendon said quietly, "but he will not
forget."

Anna shrugged her shoulders lightly.

"Who can tell?" she said. "Your sex is a terrible fraud. It is
generally deficient in the qualities it prides itself upon most. Men
do not understand constancy as women do."

Brendon was not inclined to be led away from the point.

"We will take it then," he said, "that you have refused or ignored
one request I have made you this morning. I have yet another. Let me
lend you some money. Between comrades it is the most usual thing in
the world, and I do not see how your sex intervenes. Let me keep you
from that man's clutches. Then we can look out together for such
employment--as would be more suitable for you. I know London better
than you, and I have had to earn my own living. You cannot refuse me
this."

He looked at her anxiously, and she met his glance with a dazzling
smile of gratitude.

"Indeed," she said, "I would not. But it is no longer necessary. I
cannot tell you much about it, but my bad times are over for the
present. I will tell you what you shall give me, if you like."

"Well?"

"Lunch! I am hungry--tragically hungry."

He called for a hansom.

"After all," he said, "I am not sure that you are not a very material
person."

"I am convinced of it," she answered. "Let us go to that little place
at the back of the Palace. I'm not half smart enough for the West
End."

"Wherever you like!" he answered, a little absently.

They alighted at the restaurant, and stood for a moment in the passage
looking into the crowded room. Suddenly a half stifled exclamation
broke from Anna's lips. Brendon felt his arm seized. In a moment they
were in the street outside. Anna jumped into a waiting hansom.

"Tell him to drive--anywhere," she exclaimed.

Brendon told him the name of a distant restaurant and sprang in by her
side. She was looking anxiously at the entrance to the restaurant. The
commissionaire stood there, tall and imperturbable. There was no one
else in the doorway. She leaned back in the corner of the cab with a
little sigh of relief. A smile flickered upon her lips as she glanced
towards Brendon, who was very serious indeed. Her sense of humour
could not wholly resist his abnormal gravity.

"I am so sorry to have startled you," she said, "but I was startled
myself. I saw someone in there whom I have always hoped that I should
never meet again. I hope--I am sure that he did not see me."

"He certainly did not follow you out," Brendon answered.

"His back was towards me," Anna said. "I saw his face in a mirror. I
wonder----"

"London is a huge place," Brendon said. "Even if he lives here you may
go all your life and never come face to face with him again."



_Chapter XIV_

"THIS IS MY WIFE"


Anna, notwithstanding her momentary fright in the middle of the day,
was in high spirits. She felt that for a time at any rate her
depressing struggle against continual failure was at an end. She had
paid her bill, and she had enough left in her purse to pay many such.
Beyond that everything was nebulous. She knew that in her new rôle she
was as likely as not to be a rank failure. But the relief from the
strain of her immediate necessities was immense. She had been in the
drawing-room for a few minutes before the gong had sounded, and had
chattered gaily to every one. Now, in her old place, she was doing her
best thoroughly to enjoy a most indifferent dinner.

"Your brother has gone?" she asked Sydney, between the courses.

He nodded.

"Yes. David left this afternoon. I do not think that he has quite got
over his surprise at finding you established here."

She laughed.

"After all, why should he be surprised?" she remarked. "Of course, one
lives differently in Paris, but then--Paris is Paris. I think that a
boarding-house is the very best place for a woman who wants to develop
her sense of humour. Only I wish that it did not remind one so much of
a second-hand clothes shop."

Sydney looked at her doubtfully.

"Now I suppose Brendon understands exactly what you mean," he
remarked. "He looks as though he did, at any rate. I don't! Please
enlighten me."

She laughed gaily--and she had a way when she laughed of throwing back
her head and showing her beautiful white teeth, so that mirth from her
was a thing very much to be desired.

"Look round the table," she said. "Aren't we all just odds and ends of
humanity--the left-overs, you know. There is something inconglomerate
about us. We are amiable to one another, but we don't mix. We can't."

"You and I and Brendon get on all right, don't we?" Sydney objected.

"But that's quite different," replied Anna. "You are neither of you in
the least like the ordinary boarding-house young man. You don't wear a
dinner coat with a flower in your button-hole, or last night's shirt,
or very glossy boots, nor do you haunt the drawing-room in the
evening, or play at being musical. Besides----"

She stopped short. She herself, and one other there, recognized the
interposition of something akin to tragedy. A thickly-set, sandy young
man, with an unwholesome complexion and grease-smooth hair, had
entered the room. He wore a black tail coat buttoned tightly over his
chest, and a large diamond pin sparkled in a white satin tie which had
seen better days. He bowed awkwardly to Mrs. White, who held out her
hand and beamed a welcome upon him.

"Now isn't this nice!" that lady exclaimed. "I'm sure we're all
delighted to see you again, Mr. Hill. I do like to see old friends
back here. If there's any one here whom you have not met I will make
you acquainted with them after dinner. Will you take your old place by
Miss Ellicot."

Miss Ellicot swept aside her skirts from the vacant chair and welcomed
the newcomer with one of her most engaging smiles.

"We were afraid that you had deserted us for good, Mr. Hill," she said
graciously. "I suppose Paris is very, very distracting. You must come
and tell me all about it, although I am not sure whether we shall
forgive you for not having written to any of us."

Mr. Hill was exchanging greetings with his hostess, and salutations
around the table.

"Thank you, ma'am. Glad to get back, I'm sure," he said briskly.
"Looks like old times here, I see. Sorry I'm a bit late the first
evening. Got detained in the City, and----"

Then he met the fixed, breathless gaze of those wonderful eyes from
the other side of the table, and he, too, broke off in the middle of
his sentence. He breathed heavily, as though he had been running. His
large, coarse lips drew wider apart. Slowly a mirthless and very
unpleasant smile dawned upon his face.

"Great Scott!" he exclaimed huskily. "Why--it's--it's you!"

Amazement seemed to dry up the torrents of his speech. The girl
regarded him with the face of a Sphinx. Only in her eyes there seemed
to be some apprehension of the fact that the young man's clothes and
manners were alike undesirable things.

"Are you speaking to me?" she asked calmly. "I am afraid that you are
making a mistake. I am quite sure that I do not know you."

A dull flush burned upon his cheeks. He took his seat at the table,
but leaned forward to address her. A note of belligerency had crept
into his tone.

"Don't know me, eh? I like that. You are--or rather you were----" he
corrected himself with an unpleasant little laugh, "Miss Pellissier,
eh?"

A little sensation followed upon his words. Miss Ellicot pursed her
lips and sat a little more upright. The lady whose husband had been
Mayor of Hartlepool looked at Anna and sniffed. Mrs. White became
conscious of a distinct sense of uneasiness, and showed it in her
face. She was obliged, as she explained continually to every one who
cared to listen, to be so very particular. On the other hand the two
young men who sat on either side of Anna were already throwing
murderous glances at the newcomer.

"My name," Anna replied calmly, "is certainly Pellissier, but I repeat
that I do not know you. I never have known you."

He unfolded his serviette with fingers which shook all the time. His
eyes never left her face. An ugly flush stained his cheeks.

"I've plenty of pals," he said, "who, when they've been doing Paris on
the Q.T., like to forget all about it--even their names. But you----"

Something seemed to catch his breath. He never finished his sentence.
There was a moment's breathless and disappointed silence. If only he
had known it, sympathy was almost entirely with him. Anna was no
favourite at No. 13 Montague Street.

She shrugged her shoulders.

"You appear," she said, without any sign of anger in her tone, and
with unruffled composure, "to be a very impertinent person. Do you
mind talking to some one else."

Mrs. White leaned forward in her chair with an anxious smile designed
to throw oil upon the troubled waters.

"Come," she said. "We mustn't have any unpleasantness, and Mr. Hill's
first night back amongst us, too. No doubt there's some little
mistake. We all get deceived sometimes. Mr. Hill, I hope you won't
find everything cold. You're a little late, you must remember, and we
are punctual people here."

"I shall do very well, thank you, ma'am," he answered shortly.

Sydney and Brendon vied with one another in their efforts to engage
Anna in conversation, and Miss Ellicot, during the momentary lull,
deemed it a favourable opportunity to recommence siege operations. The
young man was mollified by her sympathy, and flattered by the obvious
attempts of several of the other guests to draw him into conversation.
Yet every now and then, during the progress of the meal, his attention
apparently wandered, and leaning forward he glanced covertly at Anna
with a curious mixture of expressions on his face.

Anna rose a few minutes before the general company. At the same time
Sydney and Brendon also vacated their places. To reach the door they
had to pass the end of the table, and behind the chair where Mr. Hill
was seated. He rose deliberately to his feet and confronted them.

"I should like to speak to you for a few minutes," he said to Anna,
dropping his voice a little. "It is no good playing a game. We had
better have it over."

She eyed him scornfully. In any place her beauty would have been an
uncommon thing. Here, where every element of her surroundings was
tawdry and commonplace, and before this young man of vulgar origin and
appearance, it was striking.

"I do not know you," she said coldly. "I have nothing to say to you."

He stood before the door. Brendon made a quick movement forward. She
laid her hand upon his arm.

"Please don't," she said. "It really is not necessary. Be so good as
to let me pass, sir," she added, looking her obstructor steadily in
the face.

He hesitated.

"This is all rot!" he declared angrily. "You can't think that I'm fool
enough to be put off like this."

She glanced at Brendon, who stood by her side, tall and threatening.
Her eyebrows were lifted in expostulation. A faint, delightfully
humorous smile parted her lips.

"After all," she said, "if this person will not be reasonable, I am
afraid----"

It was enough. A hand of iron fell upon the scowling young man's
shoulder.

"Be so good as to stand away from that door at once, sir," Brendon
ordered.

Hill lost a little of his truculency. He knew very well that his
muscles were flabby, and his nerve by no means what it should be. He
was no match for Brendon. He yielded his place and struck instead with
his tongue. He turned to Mrs. White.

"I'm sorry, ma'am, to seem the cause of any disturbance, but this," he
pointed to Anna, "is my wife."

The sensation produced was gratifying enough. The man's statement was
explicit, and spoken with confidence. Every one looked at Anna. For a
moment she too had started and faltered in her exit from the room. Her
fingers clutched the side of the door as though to steady herself. She
caught her breath, and her eyes were lit with a sudden terror. She
recovered herself, however, with amazing facility. Scarcely any one
noticed the full measure of her consternation. From the threshold she
looked her accuser steadily and coldly in the face.

"What you have said is a ridiculous falsehood," she declared
scornfully. "I do not even know who you are."

She swept out of the room. Hill would have followed her, but Mrs.
White and Miss Ellicot laid each a hand upon his arm, one on either
side. The echoes of his hard, unpleasant laugh reached Anna on her way
upstairs.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a queer little bed-sitting-room almost in the roof, with a
partition right across it. As usual Brendon lit the candles, and
Sydney dragged out the spirit-lamp and set it going. Anna opened a
cupboard and produced cups and saucers and a tin of coffee.

"Only four spoonsful left," she declared briskly, "and your turn to
buy the next pound, Sydney."

"Right!" he answered. "I'll bring it to-morrow. Fresh ground, no
chicory, and all the rest of it. But--Miss Pellissier!"

"Well?"

"Are you quite sure that you want us this evening? Wouldn't you rather
be alone? Just say the word, and we'll clear out like a shot."

She laughed softly.

"You are afraid," she said, "that the young man who thinks that he is
my husband has upset me."

"Madman!"

"Blithering ass!"

The girl looked into the two indignant faces and held out both her
hands.

"You're very nice, both of you," she said gently. "But I'm afraid you
are going to be in a hopeless minority here as regards me."

They eyed her incredulously.

"You can't imagine," Sydney exclaimed, "that the people downstairs
will be such drivelling asses as to believe piffle like that."

Anna measured out the coffee. Her eyes were lit with a gleam of
humour. After all, it was really rather funny.

"Well, I don't know," she said thoughtfully. "I always notice that
people find it very easy to believe what they want to believe, and you
see I'm not in the least popular. Miss Ellicot, for instance,
considers me a most improper person."

"Miss Ellicot! That old cat!" Sydney exclaimed indignantly.

"Miss Ellicot!" Brendon echoed. "As if it could possibly matter what
such a person thinks of you."

Anna laughed outright.

"You are positively eloquent to-night--both of you," she declared.
"But, you see, appearances are very much against me. He knew my name,
and also that I had been living in Paris, and a man doesn't risk
claiming a girl for his wife, as a rule, for nothing. He was painfully
in earnest, too. I think you will find that his story will be
believed, whatever I say; and in any case, if he is going to stay on
here, I shall have to go away."

"Don't say that," Sydney begged. "We will see that he never annoys
you."

Anna shook her head.

"He is evidently a friend of Mrs. White's," she said, "and if he is
going to persist in this delusion, we cannot both remain here. I'd
rather not go," she added. "This is much the cheapest place I know of
where things are moderately clean, and I should hate rooms all by
myself. Dear me, what a nuisance it is to have a pseudo husband shot
down upon one from the skies."

"And such a beast of a one," Sydney remarked vigorously.

Brendon looked across the room at her thoughtfully.

"I wonder," he said, "is there anything we could do to help you to get
rid of him?"

"Can you think of anything?" Anna answered. "I can't! He appears to be
a most immovable person."

Brendon hesitated for a moment. He was a little embarrassed.

"There ought to be some means of getting at him," he said. "The fellow
seems to know your name, Miss Pellissier, and that you have lived in
Paris. Might we ask you if you have ever seen him, if you knew him at
all before this evening?"

She stood up suddenly, and turning her back to them, looked steadily
out of the window. Below was an uninspiring street, a thoroughfare of
boarding-houses and apartments. The steps, even the pavements, were
invaded by little knots of loungers driven outside by the unusual heat
of the evening, most of them in evening dress, or what passed for
evening dress in Montague Street. The sound of their strident voices
floated upwards, the high nasal note of the predominant Americans, the
shrill laughter of girls quick to appreciate the wit of such of their
male companions as thought it worth while to be amusing. A young man
was playing the banjo. In the distance a barrel-organ was grinding out
a _pot pourri_ of popular airs. Anna raised her eyes. Above the
housetops it was different. She drew a long breath. After all, why
need one look down. Always the other things remained.

"I think," she said, "that I would rather not have anything to say
about that man."

"It isn't necessary," they both declared breathlessly.

Brendon dismissed the subject with a wave of the hand. He glanced at
his watch.

"Let us walk round to Covent Garden," he suggested. "I daresay the
gallery will be full, but there is always the chance, and I know you
two are keen on Melba."

The girl shook her head.

"Not to-night," she said. "I have to go out."

They hesitated. As a rule their comings and goings were discussed with
perfect confidence, but on this occasion they both felt that there was
intent in her silence as to her destination. Nevertheless Sydney,
clumsily, but earnestly, had something to say about it.

"I am afraid--I really think that one of us ought to go with you," he
said. "That beast of a fellow is certain to be hanging about."

She shook her head.

"It is a secret mission," she declared. "There are policemen--and
buses."

"You shall not need either," Brendon said grimly. "We will see that he
doesn't follow you."

She thanked him with a look and rose to her feet.

"Go down and rescue the rags of my reputation," she said, smiling. "I
expect it is pretty well in shreds by now. To-morrow morning I shall
have made up my mind what to do."



_Chapter XV_

A MARRIAGE CERTIFICATE


Anna looked about her admiringly. It was just such a bedroom as she
would have chosen for herself. The colouring was green and white, with
softly shaded electric lights, an alcove bedstead, which was a miracle
of daintiness, white furniture, and a long low dressing-table littered
all over with a multitude of daintily fashioned toilet appliances.
Through an open door was a glimpse of the bathroom--a vision of
luxury, out of which Annabel herself, in a wonderful dressing-gown and
followed by a maid presently appeared.

"Too bad to keep you waiting," Annabel exclaimed. "I'm really very
sorry. Collins, you can go now. I will ring if I want you."

The maid discreetly withdrew, and Anna stood transfixed, gazing with
puzzled frown at her sister.

"Annabel! Why, what on earth have you been doing to yourself, child?"
she exclaimed.

Annabel laughed a little uneasily.

"The very question, my dear sister," she said, "tells me that I have
succeeded. Dear me, what a difference it has made! No one would ever
think that we were sisters. Don't you think that the shade of my hair
is lovely?"

"There is nothing particular the matter with the shade," Anna
answered, "but it is not nearly so becoming as before you touched it.
And what on earth do you want to darken your eyebrows and use so much
make-up for at your age? You're exactly twenty-three, and you're got
up as much as a woman of forty-five."

Annabel shrugged her shoulders.

"I only use the weeniest little dab of rouge," she declared, "and it
is really necessary, because I want to get rid of the 'pallor
effect.'"

Anna made no remark. Her disapproval was obvious enough. Annabel saw
it, and suddenly changed her tone.

"You are very stupid, Anna," she said. "Can you not understand? It is
of no use your taking my identity and all the burden of my iniquities
upon your dear shoulders if I am to be recognized the moment I show my
face in London. That is why I have dyed my hair, that is why I have
abandoned my rôle of _ingenuèe_ and altered my whole style of dress.
Upon my word, Anna," she declared, with a strange little laugh, "you
are a thousand times more like me as I was two months ago than I am
myself."

A sudden sense of the gravity of this thing came home to Anna. Her
sister's words were true. They had changed identities absolutely. It
was not for a week or a month. It was for ever. A cold shiver came
over her. That last year in Paris, when Annabel and she had lived in
different worlds, had often been a nightmare to her. Annabel had taken
her life into her hands with gay _insouciance_, had made her own
friends, gone her own way. Anna never knew whither it had led
her--sometimes she had fears. It was her past now, not Annabel's.

"It is very good of you to come and see me, my dear sister," Annabel
remarked, throwing herself into a low chair, and clasping her hands
over her head. "To tell you the truth, I am a little dull."

"Where is your husband?" Anna asked.

"He is addressing a meeting of his constituents somewhere," Annabel
answered. "I do not suppose he will be home till late. Tell me how are
you amusing yourself?"

Anna laughed.

"I have been amusing myself up to now by trying to earn my living,"
she replied.

"I hope," Annabel answered lazily, "that you have succeeded.
By-the-bye, do you want any money? Sir John's ideas of pin money are
not exactly princely, but I can manage what you want, I dare say."

"Thank you," Anna answered coldly. "I am not in need of any. I might
add that in any case I should not touch Sir John's."

"That's rather a pity," Annabel said. "He wants to settle something on
you, I believe. It is really amusing. He lives in constant dread of a
reappearance of '_La Belle Alcide_,' and hearing it said that she is
his wife's sister. Bit priggish, isn't it? And if he only knew it--so
absurd. Tell me how you are earning your living here,
Anna--typewriting, or painting, or lady's companion?"

"I think," Anna said, "that the less you know about me the better. Is
all your house on the same scale of magnificence as this, Annabel?"
she asked, looking round.

Annabel shook her head.

"Most of it is ugly and frowsy," she declared, "but it isn't worth
talking about. I have made up my mind to insist upon moving from here
into Park Lane, or one of the Squares. It is absolutely a frightful
neighbourhood, this. If only you could see the people who have been to
call on me! Sir John has the most absurd ideas, too. He won't have
menservants inside the house, and his collection of carriages is only
fit for a museum--where most of his friends ought to be, by-the-bye. I
can assure you, Anna, it will take me years to get decently
established. The man's as obstinate as a mule."

Anna looked at her steadily.

"He will find it difficult no doubt to alter his style of living,"
she said. "I do not blame him. I hope you will always remember----"

Annabel held out her hands with a little cry of protest.

"No lecturing, Anna!" she exclaimed. "I hope you have not come for
that."

"I came," Anna answered, looking her sister steadily in the face, "to
hear all that you can tell me about a man named Hill."

Annabel had been lying curled up on the lounge, the personification of
graceful animal ease. At Anna's words she seemed suddenly to stiffen.
Her softly intertwined fingers became rigid. The little spot of rouge
was vivid enough now by reason of this new pallor, which seemed to
draw the colour even from her lips. But she did not speak. She made no
attempt to answer her sister's question. Anna looked at her curiously,
and with sinking heart.

"You must answer me, Annabel," she continued. "You must tell me the
truth, please. It is necessary."

Annabel rose slowly to her feet, walked to the door as though to see
that it was shut, and came back with slow lagging footsteps.

"There was a man called Montague Hill," she said hoarsely, "but he is
dead."

"Then there is also," Anna remarked, "a Montague Hill who is very much
alive. Not only that, but he is here in London. I have just come from
him."

Annabel no longer attempted to conceal her emotion. She battled with a
deadly faintness, and she tottered rather than walked back to her
seat. Anna, quitting her chair, dropped on her knees by her sister's
side and took her hand.

"Do not be frightened, dear," she said. "You must tell me the truth,
and I will see that no harm comes to you."

"The only Montague Hill I ever knew," Annabel said slowly, "is dead. I
know he is dead. I saw him lying on the footway. I felt his heart. It
had ceased to beat. It was a motor accident--a fatal motor accident
the evening papers called it. They could not have called it a fatal
motor accident if he had not been dead."

Anna nodded.

"Yes, I remember," she said. "It was the night you left Paris. They
thought that he was dead at first, and they took him to the hospital.
I believe that his recovery was considered almost miraculous."

"Alive," Annabel moaned, her eyes large with terror. "You say that he
is alive."

"He is certainly alive," Anna declared. "More than that, he arrived
to-day at the boarding-house where I am staying, greeted me with a
theatrical start, and claimed me--as his wife. That is why I am here.
You must tell me what it all means."

"And you?" Annabel exclaimed. "What did you say?"

"Well, I considered myself justified in denying it," Anna answered
drily. "He produced what he called a marriage certificate, and I
believe that nearly every one in the boarding-house, including Mrs.
White, my landlady, believes his story. I am fairly well hardened in
iniquity--your iniquity, Annabel--but I decline to have a husband
thrust upon me. I really cannot have anything to do with Mr. Montague
Hill."

"A--marriage certificate!" Annabel gasped.

Anna glanced into her sister's face, and rose to her feet.

"Let me get you some water, Annabel. Don't be frightened, dear.
Remember----"

Annabel clutched her sister's arm. She would not let her move. She
seemed smitten with a paroxysm of fear.

"A thick-set, coarse-looking young man, Anna!" she exclaimed in a
hoarse excited whisper. "He has a stubbly yellow moustache, weak eyes,
and great horrid hands."

Anna nodded.

"It is the same man, Annabel," she said. "There is no doubt whatever
about that. There was the motor accident, too. It is the same man, for
he raved in the hospital, and they fetched me. It was you, of course,
whom he wanted."

"Alive! In London!" Annabel moaned.

"Yes. Pull yourself together, Annabel! I must have the truth."

The girl on the lounge drew a long sobbing breath.

"You shall," she said. "Listen! There was a Meysey Hill in Paris, an
American railway millionaire. This man and he were alike, and about
the same age. Montague Hill was taken for the millionaire once or
twice, and I suppose it flattered his vanity. At any rate, he began to
deliberately personate him. He sent me flowers. Celeste introduced him
to me--oh, how Celeste hated me! She must have known. He--wanted to
marry me. Just then--I was nervous. I had gone further than I meant
to--with some Englishmen. I was afraid of being talked about. You
don't know, Anna, but when one is in danger one realizes that the--the
other side of the line is Hell. The man was mad to marry me. I heard
everywhere of his enormous riches and his generosity. I consented. We
went to the Embassy. There was--a service. Then he took me out to
Monteaux, on a motor. We were to have breakfast there and return in
the evening. On the way he confessed. He was a London man of business,
spending a small legacy in Paris. He had heard me sing--the fool
thought himself in love with me. Celeste he knew. She was chaffing him
about being taken for Meysey Hill, and suggested that he should be
presented to me as the millionaire. He told me with a coarse nervous
laugh. I was his wife. We were to live in some wretched London suburb.
His salary was a few paltry hundreds a year. Anna, I listened to all
that he had to say, and I called to him to let me get out. He laughed.
I tried to jump, but he increased the speed. We were going at a mad
pace. I struck him across the mouth, and across the eyes. He lost
control of the machine. I jumped then--I was not even shaken. I saw
the motor dashed to pieces against the wall, and I saw him pitched on
his head into the road. I leaned over and looked at him--he was quite
still. I could not hear his heart beat. I thought that he was dead. I
stole away and walked to the railway station. That night in Paris I
saw on the bills 'Fatal Motor Accidents.' _Le Petit Journal_ said that
the man was dead. I was afraid that I might be called upon as a
witness. That is why I was so anxious to leave Paris. The man who came
to our rooms, you know, that night was his friend."

"The good God!" Anna murmured, herself shaken with fear. "You were
married to him!"

"It could not be legal," Annabel moaned. "It couldn't be. I thought
that I was marrying Meysey Hill, not that creature. We stepped from
the Embassy into the motor--and oh! I thought that he was dead. Why
didn't he die?"

Anna sprang to her feet and walked restlessly up and down the room.
Annabel watched her with wide-open, terrified eyes.

"You won't give me away, Anna. He would never recognize me now. You
are much more like what I was then."

Anna stopped in front of her.

"You don't propose, do you," she said quietly, "that I should take
this man for my husband?"

"You can drive him away," Annabel cried. "Tell him that he is mad. Go
and live somewhere else."

"In his present mood," Anna remarked, "he would follow me."

"Oh, you are strong and brave," Annabel murmured. "You can keep him at
arm's length. Besides, it was under false pretences. He told me that
he was a millionaire. It could not be a legal marriage."

"I am very much afraid," Anna answered, "that it was. It might be
upset. I am wondering whether it would not be better to tell your
husband everything. You will never be happy with this hanging over
you."

Annabel moistened her dry lips with a handkerchief steeped in eau de
Cologne.

"You don't know him, Anna," she said with a little shudder, "or you
would not talk like that. He is steeped in the conventions. Every
slight action is influenced by what he imagines would be the opinion
of other people. Anything in the least irregular is like poison to
him. He has no imagination, no real generosity. You might tell the
truth to some men, but never to him."

Anna was thoughtful. A conviction that her sister's words were true
had from the first possessed her.

"Annabel," she said slowly, "if I fight this thing out myself, can I
trust you that it will not be a vain sacrifice? After what you have
said it is useless for us to play with words. You do not love your
husband, you have married him for a position--to escape from--things
which you feared. Will you be a faithful and honest wife? Will you do
your duty by him, and forget all your past follies? Unless, Annabel,
you can----"

"Oh, I will pledge you my word," Annabel cried passionately, "my
solemn word. Believe me, Anna. Oh, you must believe me. I have been
very foolish, but it is over."

"Remember that you are young still, and fond of admiration," Anna
said. "You will not give Sir John any cause for jealousy? You will
have no secrets from him except--concerning those things which are
past?"

"Anna, I swear it!" her sister sobbed.

"Then I will do what I can," Anna promised. "I believe that you are
quite safe. He has had brain fever since, and, as you say, I am more
like what you were then than you yourself are now. I don't think for a
moment that he would recognize you."

Annabel clutched her sister's hands. The tears were streaming down her
face, her voice was thick with sobs.

"Anna, you are the dearest, bravest sister in the world," she cried.
"Oh, I can't thank you. You dear, dear girl. I--listen."

They heard a man's voice outside.

"Sir John!" Annabel gasped.

Anna sprang to her feet and made for the dressing-room door.

"One moment, if you please!"

She stopped short and looked round. Sir John stood upon the threshold.



_Chapter XVI_

THE DISCOMFITURE OF SIR JOHN


Sir John looked from one to the other of the two sisters. His face
darkened.

"My arrival appears to be opportune," he said stiffly. "I was hoping
to be able to secure a few minutes' conversation with you, Miss
Pellissier. Perhaps my wife has already prepared you for what I wish
to say."

"Not in the least," Anna answered calmly. "We have scarcely mentioned
your name."

Sir John coughed. He looked at Annabel, whose face was buried in her
hands--he looked back at Anna, who was regarding him with an easy
composure which secretly irritated him.

"It is concerning--our future relations," Sir John pronounced
ponderously.

"Indeed!" Anna answered indifferently. "That sounds interesting."

Sir John frowned. Anna was unimpressed. Elegant, a little scornful,
she leaned slightly against the back of a chair and looked him
steadily in the eyes.

"I have no wish," he said, "to altogether ignore the fact that you are
my wife's sister, and have therefore a certain claim upon me."

Anna's eyes opened a little wider, but she said nothing.

"A claim," he continued, "which I am quite prepared to recognize. It
will give me great pleasure to settle an annuity for a moderate amount
upon you on certain conditions."

"A--what?" Anna asked.

"An annuity--a sum of money paid to you yearly or quarterly through my
solicitors, and which you can consider as a gift from your sister. The
conditions are such as I think you will recognize the justice of. I
wish to prevent a repetition of any such errand as I presume you have
come here upon this evening. I cannot have my wife distressed or
worried."

"May I ask," Anna said softly, "what you presume to have been the
nature of my errand here this evening?"

Sir John pointed to Annabel, who was as yet utterly limp.

"I cannot but conclude," he said, "that your errand involved the
recital to my wife of some trouble in which you find yourself. I
should like to add that if a certain amount is needed to set you free
from any debts you may have contracted, in addition to this annuity,
you will not find me unreasonable."

Anna glanced momentarily towards her sister, but Annabel neither spoke
nor moved.

"With regard to the conditions I mentioned," Sir John continued,
gaining a little confidence from Anna's silence, "I think you will
admit that they are not wholly unreasonable. I should require you to
accept no employment whatever upon the stage, and to remain out of
England."

Anna's demeanour was still imperturbable, her marble pallor untinged
by the slightest flush of colour. She regarded him coldly, as though
wondering whether he had anything further to say. Sir John hesitated,
and then continued.

"I trust," he said, "that you will recognize the justice of these
conditions. Under happier circumstances nothing would have given me
more pleasure than to have offered you a home with your sister. You
yourself, I am sure, recognize how impossible you have made it for me
now to do anything of the sort. I may say that the amount of the
annuity I propose to allow you is two hundred a year."

Anna looked for a moment steadily at her sister, whose face was still
averted. Then she moved towards the door. Before she passed out she
turned and faced Sir John. The impassivity of her features changed at
last. Her eyes were lit with mirth, the corners of her mouth quivered.

"Really, Sir John," she said, "I don't know how to thank you. I can
understand now these newspapers when they talk of your magnificent
philanthropy. It is magnificent indeed. And yet--you millionaires
should really, I think, cultivate the art of discrimination. I am so
much obliged to you for your projected benevolence. Frankly, it is the
funniest thing which has ever happened to me in my life. I shall like
to think of it--whenever I feel dull. Good-bye, Anna!"

Annabel sprang up. Sir John waved her back.

"Do I understand you then to refuse my offer?" he asked Anna.

She shot a sudden glance at him. Sir John felt hot and furious. It was
maddening to be made to feel that he was in any way the inferior of
this cool, self-possessed young woman, whose eyes seemed for a moment
to scintillate with scorn. There were one or two bitter moments in his
life when he had been made to feel that gentility laid on with a
brush may sometimes crack and show weak places--that deportment and
breeding are after all things apart. Anna went out.

       *       *       *       *       *

Her cheeks burned for a moment or two when she reached the street,
although she held her head upright and walked blithely, even humming
to herself fragments of an old French song. And then at the street
corner she came face to face with Nigel Ennison.

"I won't pretend," he said, "that this is an accident. The fates are
never so kind to me. As a matter of fact I have been waiting for you."

She raised her eyebrows.

"Really," she said. "And by what right do you do anything of the
sort?"

"No right at all," he admitted. "Only it is much too late for you to
be out alone. You have been to see your sister, of course. How is
she?"

"My sister is quite well, thank you," she answered. "Would you mind
calling that hansom for me?"

He looked at it critically and shook his head.

"You really couldn't ride in it," he said, deprecatingly. "The horse's
knees are broken, and I am not sure that the man is sober. I would
sooner see you in a 'bus again."

She laughed.

"Do you mean to say that you have been here ever since I came?"

"I am afraid that I must confess it," he answered. "Idiotic, isn't
it?"

"Absolutely," she agreed coldly. "I wish you would not do it."

"Would not do what?"

"Well, follow buses from Russell Square to Hampstead."

"I can assure you," he answered, "that it isn't a habit of mine. But
seriously----"

"Well seriously?"

"Isn't it your own fault a little? Why do you not tell me your
address, and allow me to call upon you."

"Why should I? I have told you that I do not wish for acquaintances in
London."

"Perhaps not in a general way," he answered calmly. "You are quite
right, I think. Only I am not an acquaintance at all. I am an old
friend, and I declined to be shelved."

"Would you mind telling me," Anna asked, "how long I knew you in
Paris?"

He looked at her sideways. There was nothing to be learned from her
face.

"Well," he said slowly, "I had met you three times--before Drummond's
dinner."

"Oh, Drummond's dinner!" she repeated. "You were there, were you?"

He laughed a little impatiently.

"Isn't that rather a strange question--under the circumstances?" he
asked quietly.

Her cheeks flushed a dull red. She felt that there was a hidden
meaning under his words. Yet her embarrassment was only a passing
thing. She dismissed the whole subject with a little shrug of the
shoulders.

"We are both of us trenching upon forbidden ground," she said. "It was
perhaps my fault. You have not forgotten----"

"I have forgotten nothing?" he answered, enigmatically.

Anna hailed a bus. He looked at her reproachfully. The bus however was
full. They fell into step again. More than ever a sense of confusion
was upon Ennison.

"Last time I saw you," he reminded her, "you spoke, did you not, of
obtaining some employment in London."

"Quite true," she answered briskly, "and thanks to you I have
succeeded."

"Thanks to me," he repeated, puzzled. "I don't understand."

"No? But it is very simple. It was you who were so much amazed that I
did not try--the music hall stage here."

"You must admit," he declared, "that to us--who had seen you--the
thought of your trying anything else was amazing."

"At any rate," she declared, "your remarks decided me. I have an
engagement with a theatrical agent--I believe for the 'Unusual'."

"You are going to sing in London?" he said quietly.

"Yes."

For a moment or two he did not speak. Glancing towards him she saw
that a shadow had fallen upon his face.

"Tell me," she insisted, "why you look like that. You are afraid--that
here in London--I shall not be a success. It is that, is it not?"

"No," he answered readily. "It is not that. The idea of your being a
failure would never have occurred to me."

"Then why are you sorry that I am going to the 'Unusual'? I do not
understand."

Their eyes met for a moment. His face was very serious.

"I am sorry," he said slowly. "Why, I do not know."

"I positively insist upon knowing," she declared cheerfully. "The
sooner you tell me the better."

"It is very hard to explain," he answered. "I think that it is only an
idea. Only you seem to me since the time when I knew you in Paris to
have changed--to have changed in some subtle manner which I find at
times utterly bewildering. I find you an impenetrable enigma. I find
it impossible to associate you with--my little friend of the
'Ambassador's.' The things she said and did from you--seem impossible. I
had a sort of idea," he went on, "that you were starting life all over
again, and it seemed awfully plucky."

There was a long silence. Then Anna spoke more seriously than usual.

"I think," she said, "that I rather like what you have said. Don't be
afraid to go on thinking it. Even though I am going to sing at the
'Unusual' you may find that the 'Alcide,' whom you knew in Paris does
not exist any more. At the same time," she added, in a suddenly
altered tone, "it isn't anything whatever to do with you, is it?"

"Why not?" he answered. "You permitted me then to call you my friend.
I do not intend to allow you to forget."

They passed a man who stared at them curiously. Ennison started and
looked anxiously at Anna. She was quite unconcerned.

"Did you see who that was?" he asked in a low tone.

"I did not recognize him," Anna answered. "I supposed that he took off
his hat to you."

"It was Cheveney!" he said slowly.

"Cheveney!" she repeated. "I do not know any one of that name."

He caught her wrist and turned her face towards him. Her eyes were
wide open with amazement.

"Mr. Ennison!"

He released her.

"Good God!" he exclaimed. "Who are you--Annabel Pellissier or her
ghost?"

Anna laughed.

"If it is a choice between the two," she answered, "I must be Annabel
Pellissier. I am certainly no ghost."

"You have her face and figure," he muttered. "You have even her name.
Yet you can look Cheveney in the face and declare that you do not know
him. You have changed from the veriest butterfly to a woman--you wear
different clothes, you have the air of another world. If you do not
help me to read the riddle of yourself, Annabel, I think that very
soon I shall be a candidate for the asylum."

She laughed heartily, and became as suddenly grave.

"So Mr. Cheveney was another Paris friend, was he?" she asked.

"Don't befool me any more," he answered, almost roughly. "If any one
should know----you should! He was your friend. We were only--_les
autres_."

"That is quite untrue," she declared cheerfully. "I certainly knew him
no better than you."

"Then he--and Paris--lied," Ennison answered.

"That," she answered, "is far easier to believe. You are too
credulous."

Ennison had things to say, but he looked at her and held his tongue.
They turned the last corner, and almost immediately a man who had been
standing there turned and struck Ennison a violent blow on the cheek.
Ennison reeled, and almost fell. Recovering himself quickly his
instinct of self-defence was quicker than his recollection of Anna's
presence. He struck out from the shoulder, and the man measured his
length upon the pavement.

Anna sprang lightly away across the street. Brendon and Courtlaw who
had been watching for her, met her at the door. She pointed across the
road.

"Please go and see that--nothing happens," she pleaded.

"It is the first moment we have let him out of our sight," Brendon
exclaimed, as he hastened across the street.

Hill sat up on the pavement and mopped the blood from his cheek.
Ennison's signet-ring had cut nearly to the bone.

"What the devil do you mean by coming for me like that?" Ennison
exclaimed, glowering down upon him. "Serves you right if I'd cracked
your skull."

Hill looked up at him, an unkempt, rough-looking object, with broken
collar, tumbled hair, and the blood slowly dripping from his face.

"What do you mean, hanging round with my wife?" he answered fiercely.

Ennison looked down on him in disgust.

"You silly fool," he said. "I know nothing about your wife. The young
lady I was with is not married at all. Why don't you make sure before
you rush out like that upon a stranger?"

"You were with my wife," Hill repeated sullenly. "I suppose you're
like the rest of them. Call her Miss Pellissier, eh? I tell you she's
my wife, and I've got the certificate in my pocket."

"I don't know who you are," Ennison said quietly, "but you are a
thundering liar."

Hill staggered to his feet and drew a folded paper from his pocket.

"Marriage certificates don't tell lies, at any rate," he said. "Just
look that through, will you."

Ennison took the document, tore it half in two without looking at it,
and flung it back in Hill's face. Then he turned on his heel and
walked off.



_Chapter XVII_

THE CHANGE IN "ALCIDE"


"By-the-bye," his neighbour asked him languidly, "who is our hostess?"

"Usually known, I believe, as Lady Ferringhall," Ennison answered,
"unless I have mixed up my engagement list and come to the wrong
house."

"How dull you are," the lady remarked. "Of course I mean, who was
she?"

"I believe that her name was Pellissier," Ennison answered.

"Pellissier," she repeated thoughtfully. "There were some Hampshire
Pellissiers."

"She is one of them," Ennison said.

"Dear me! I wonder where Sir John picked her up."

"In Paris, I think," Ennison answered. "Only married a few months ago
and lived out at Hampstead."

"Heavens!" the lady exclaimed. "I heard they came from somewhere
outrageous."

"Hampstead didn't suit Lady Ferringhall," Ennison remarked. "They have
just taken this house from Lady Cellender."

"And what are you doing here?" the lady asked.

"Politics!" Ennison answered grimly. "And you?"

"Same thing. Besides, my husband has shares in Sir John's company. Do
you know, I am beginning to believe that we only exist nowadays by the
tolerance of these millionaire tradesmen. Our land brings us in
nothing. We have to get them to let us in for the profits of their
business, and in return we ask them to--dinner. By-the-bye, have you
seen this new woman at the 'Empire'? What is it they call
her--'Alcide?'"

"Yes, I have seen her," Ennison answered.

"Every one raves about her," Lady Angela continued. "For my part I can
see no difference in any of these French girls who come over here with
their demure manner and atrocious songs."

"'Alcide's' songs are not atrocious," Ennison remarked.

Lady Angela shrugged her shoulders.

"It is unimportant," she said. "Nobody understands them, of course,
but we all look as though we did. Something about this woman rather
reminds me of our hostess."

Ennison thought so too half an hour later, when having cut out from
one of the bridge tables he settled down for a chat with Annabel.
Every now and then something familiar in her tone, the poise of her
head, the play of her eyes startled him. Then he remembered that she
was Anna's sister.

He lowered his voice a little and leaned over towards her.

"By-the-bye, Lady Ferringhall," he said, "do you know that I am a very
great admirer of your sister's? I wonder if she has ever spoken to you
of me."

The change in Lady Ferringhall's manner was subtle but unmistakable.
She answered him almost coldly.

"I see nothing of my sister," she said. "In Paris our lives were far
apart, and we had seldom the same friends. I have heard of you from my
husband. You are somebody's secretary, are you not?"

It was plain that the subject was distasteful to her, but Ennison,
although famous in a small way for his social tact, did not at once
discard it.

"You have not seen your sister lately," he remarked. "I believe that
you would find her in some respects curiously altered. I have never in
my life been so much puzzled by any one as by your sister. Something
has changed her tremendously."

Annabel looked at him curiously.

"Do you mean in looks?" she asked.

"Not only that," he answered. "In Paris your sister appeared to me to
be a charming student of frivolity. Here she seems to have developed
into a brilliant woman with more character and steadfastness than I
should ever have given her credit for. Her features are the same, yet
the change has written its mark into her face. Do you know, Lady
Ferringhall, I am proud that your sister permits me to call myself her
friend."

"And in Paris----"

"In Paris," he interrupted, "she was a very delightful companion, but
beyond that--one did not take her seriously. I am not boring you, am
I?"

She raised her eyes to his and smiled into his face.

"You are not boring me," she said, "but I would rather talk of
something else. I suppose you will think me very unsisterly and
cold-hearted, but there are circumstances in connexion with my
sister's latest exploit which are intensely irritating both to my
husband and to myself."

He recognized the force, almost the passion, which trembled in her
tone, and he at once abandoned the subject. He remained talking with
her however. It was easy for him to see that she desired to be
agreeable to him. They talked lightly but confidentially until Sir
John approached them with a slight frown upon his face.

"Mr. Ennison," he said, "it is for you to cut in at Lady Angela's
table. Anna, do you not see that the Countess is sitting alone?"

She rose, and flashed a quick smile upon Ennison behind her husband's
back.

"You must come and see me some afternoon," she said to him.

He murmured his delight, and joined the bridge party, where he played
with less than his accustomed skill. On the way home he was still
thoughtful. He turned in at the club. They were talking of "Alcide,"
as they often did in those days.

"She has improved her style," someone declared. "Certainly her voice
is far more musical."

Another differed.

"She has lost something," he declared, "something which brought the
men in crowds around the stage at the 'Ambassador's.' I don't know what
you'd call it--a sort of witchery, almost suggestiveness. She sings
better perhaps. But I don't think she lays hold of one so."

"I will tell you what there is about her which is so fetching,"
Drummond, who was lounging by, declared. "She contrives somehow to
strike the personal note in an amazing manner. You are wedged in
amongst a crowd, perhaps in the promenade, you lean over the back, you
are almost out of sight. Yet you catch her eye--you can't seem to
escape from it. You feel that that smile is for you, the words are for
you, the whole song is for you. Naturally you shout yourself hoarse
when she has finished, and feel jolly pleased with yourself."

"And if you are a millionaire like Drummond," someone remarked, "you
send round a note and ask her to come out to supper."

"In the present case," Drummond remarked, glancing across the room,
"Cheveney wouldn't permit it."

Ennison dropped the evening paper which he had been pretending to
read. Cheveney strolled up, a pipe in his mouth.

"Cheveney wouldn't have anything to say about it, as it happens," he
remarked, a little grimly. "Ungracious little beast, I call her. I
don't mind telling you chaps that except on the stage I haven't set
eyes on her this side of the water. I've called half a dozen times at
her flat, and she won't see me. Rank ingratitude, I call it."

There was a shout of laughter. Drummond patted him on the shoulder.

"Never mind, old chap," he declared. "Let's hope your successor is
worthy of you."

"You fellows," Ennison said quietly, "are getting a little wild. I
have known Miss Pellissier as long as any of you perhaps, and I have
seen something of her since her arrival in London. I consider her a
very charming young woman--and I won't hear a word about Paris, for
there are things I don't understand about that, but I will stake my
word upon it that to-day Miss Pellissier is entitled not only to our
admiration, but to our respect. I firmly believe that she is as
straight as a die."

Ennison's voice shook a little. They were his friends, and they
recognized his unusual earnestness. Drummond, who had been about to
speak, refrained. Cheveney walked away with a shrug of the shoulders.

"I believe you are quite right so far as regards the present, at any
rate," someone remarked, from the depths of an easy chair. "You see,
her sister is married to Ferringhall, isn't she? and she herself must
be drawing no end of a good screw here. I always say that it's poverty
before everything that makes a girl skip the line."

Ennison escaped. He was afraid if he stayed that he would make a fool
of himself. He walked through the misty September night to his rooms.
On his way he made a slight divergence from the direct route and
paused for a moment outside the flat where Anna was now living. It was
nearly one o'clock; but there were lights still in all her windows.
Suddenly the door of the flat opened and closed. A man came out, and
walking recklessly, almost cannoned into Ennison. He mumbled an
apology and then stopped short.

"It's Ennison, isn't it?" he exclaimed. "What the devil are you doing
star-gazing here?"

Ennison looked at him in surprise.

"I might return the compliment, Courtlaw," he answered, "by asking why
the devil you come lurching on to the pavement like a drunken man."

Courtlaw was pale and dishevelled. He was carelessly dressed, and
there were marks of unrest upon his features. He pointed to where the
lights still burned in Anna's windows.

"What do you think of that farce?" he exclaimed bitterly. "You are one
of those who must know all about it. Was there ever such madness?"

"I am afraid that I don't understand," Ennison answered. "You seem to
have come from Miss Pellissier's rooms. I had no idea even that she
was a friend of yours."

Courtlaw laughed hardly. His eyes were red. He was in a curious state
of desperation.

"Nor am I now," he answered. "I have spoken too many truths to-night.
Why do women take to lies and deceit and trickery as naturally as a
duck to water?"

"You are not alluding, I hope, to Miss Pellissier?" Ennison said
stiffly.

"Why not? Isn't the whole thing a lie? Isn't her reputation, this
husband of hers, the 'Alcide' business, isn't it all a cursed juggle?
She hasn't the right to do it. I----"

He stopped short. He had the air of a man who has said too much.
Ennison was deeply interested.

"I should like to understand you," he said. "I knew Miss Pellissier in
Paris at the 'Ambassador's,' and I know her now, but I am convinced
that there is some mystery in connexion with her change of life. She
is curiously altered in many ways. Is there any truth, do you suppose,
in this rumoured marriage?"

"I know nothing," Courtlaw answered hurriedly. "Ask me nothing. I will
not talk to you about Miss Pellissier or her affairs."

"You are not yourself to-night, Courtlaw," Ennison said. "Come to my
rooms and have a drink."

Courtlaw refused brusquely, almost rudely.

"I am off to-night," he said. "I am going to America. I have work
there. I ought to have gone long ago. Will you answer me a question
first?"

"If I can," Ennison said.

"What were you doing outside Miss Pellissier's flat to-night? You were
looking at her windows. Why? What is she to you?"

"I was there by accident," Ennison answered. "Miss Pellissier is
nothing to me except a young lady for whom I have the most profound
and respectful admiration."

Courtlaw laid his hand upon Ennison's shoulder. They were at the
corner of Pall Mall now, and had come to a standstill.

"Take my advice," he said hoarsely. "Call it warning, if you like.
Admire her as much as you choose--at a distance. No more. Look at me.
You knew me in Paris. David Courtlaw. Well-balanced, sane, wasn't I?
You never heard anyone call me a madman? I'm pretty near being one
now, and it's her fault. I've loved her for two years, I love her now.
And I'm off to America, and if my steamer goes to the bottom of the
Atlantic I'll thank the Lord for it."

He strode away and vanished in the gathering fog. Ennison stood still
for a moment, swinging his latchkey upon his finger. Then he turned
round and gazed thoughtfully at the particular spot in the fog where
Courtlaw had disappeared.

"I'm d----d if I understand this," he said thoughtfully. "I never saw
Courtlaw with her--never heard her speak of him. He was going to tell
me something--and he shut up. I wonder what it was."



_Chapter XVIII_

ANNABEL AND "ALCIDE"


Lady Ferringhall lifted her eyes to the newcomer, and the greeting in
them was obviously meant for him alone. She continued to fan herself.

"You are late," she murmured.

"My chief," he said, "took it into his head to have an impromptu
dinner party. He brought home a few waverers to talk to them where
they had no chance of getting away."

She nodded.

"I am bored," she said abruptly. "This is a very foolish sort of
entertainment. And, as usual," she continued, a little bitterly, "I
seem to have been sent along with the dullest and least edifying of
Mrs. Montressor's guests."

Ennison glanced at the other people in the box and smiled.

"I got your note just in time," he remarked. "I knew of course that
you were at the Montressor's, but I had no idea that it was a music
hall party afterwards. Are you all here?"

"Five boxes full," she answered. "Some of them seem to be having an
awfully good time too. Did you see Lord Delafield and Miss Anderson?
They packed me in with Colonel Anson and Mrs. Hitchings, who seem to
be absolutely engrossed in one another, and a boy of about seventeen,
who no sooner got here than he discovered that he wanted to see a man
in the promenade and disappeared."

Ennison at once seated himself.

"I feel justified then," he said, "in annexing his chair. I expect you
had been snubbing him terribly."

"Well, he was presumptuous," Annabel remarked, "and he wasn't nice
about it. I wonder how it is," she added, "that boys always make love
so impertinently."

Ennison laughed softly.

"I wonder," he said, "how you would like to be made love to--boldly or
timorously or sentimentally."

"Are you master of all three methods?" she asked, stopping her fanning
for a moment to look at him.

"Indeed, no," he answered. "Mine is a primitive and unstudied manner.
It needs cultivating, I think."

His fingers touched hers for a moment under the ledge of the box.

"That sounds so uncouth," she murmured. "I detest amateurs."

"I will buy books and a lay figure," he declared, "to practise upon.
Or shall I ask Colonel Anson for a few hints?"

"For Heaven's sake no," she declared. "I would rather put up with your
own efforts, however clumsy. Love-making at first hand is dull enough.
At second hand it would be unendurable."

He leaned towards her.

"Is that a challenge?"

She shrugged her shoulders, all ablaze with jewels.

"Why not? It might amuse me."

Somewhat irrelevantly he glanced at the next few boxes where the rest
of Mrs. Montressor's guests were.

"Is your husband here to-night?" he asked.

"My husband!" she laughed a little derisively. "No, he wouldn't come
here of all places--just now. He dined, and then pleaded a political
engagement. I was supposed to do the same, but I didn't."

"You know," he said with some hesitation, "that your sister is
singing."

She nodded.

"Of course. I want to hear how she does it."

"She does it magnificently," he declared. "I think--we all think that
she is wonderful."

She looked at him with curious eyes.

"I remember," she said, "that the first night I saw you, you spoke of
my sister as your friend. Have you seen much of her lately?"

"Nothing at all," he answered.

The small grey feathers of her exquisitely shaped fan waved gently
backwards and forwards. She was watching him intently.

"Do you know," she said, "that every one is remarking how ill you
look. I too can see it. What has been the matter?"

"Toothache," he answered laconically.

She looked away.

"You might at least," she murmured, "have invented a more romantic
reason."

"Oh, I might," he answered, "have gone further still. I might have
told you the truth."

"Has my sister been unkind to you?"

"The family," he declared, "has not treated me with consideration."

She looked at him doubtfully.

"You promised faithfully to be there," he said slowly. "I loathe
afternoon concerts, and----"

She was really like her sister he thought, impressed for a moment by
the soft brilliancy of her smile. Her fingers rested upon his.

"You were really at Moulton House," she exclaimed penitently. "I am so
sorry. I had a perfect shoal of callers. People who would not go. I
only arrived when everybody was coming away."

A little murmur of expectation, an audible silence announced the
coming of "Alcide." Then a burst of applause. She was standing there,
smiling at the audience as at her friends. From the first there had
always been between her and her listeners that electrical sympathy
which only a certain order of genius seems able to create. Then she
sang.

Ennison listened, and his eyes glowed. Lady Ferringhall listened, and
her cheeks grew pale. Her whole face stiffened with suppressed anger.
She forgot Anna's sacrifices, forgot her own callousness, forgot the
burden which she had fastened upon her sister's shoulders. She was
fiercely and bitterly jealous. Anna was singing as she used to sing.
She was _chic_, distinguished, unusual. What right had she to call
herself "Alcide"? It was abominable, an imposture. Ennison listened,
and he forgot where he was. He forgot Annabel's idle attempts at
love-making, all the _cul-de-sac_ gallantry of the moment. The
cultivated indifference, which was part of the armour of his little
world fell away from him. He leaned forward, and looked into the eyes
of the woman he loved, and it seemed to him that she sang back to him
with a sudden note of something like passion breaking here and there
through the gay mocking words which flowed with such effortless and
seductive music from her lips.

Neither of them joined in the applause which followed upon her exit.
They were both conscious, however, that something had intervened
between them. Their conversation became stilted. A spot of colour,
brighter than any rouge, burned on her cheeks.

"She is marvellously clever," he said.

"She appears to be very popular here," she remarked.

"You too sing?" he asked.

"I have given it up," she answered. "One genius in the family is
enough." After a pause, she added, "Do you mind fetching back my
recalcitrant cavalier."

"Anything except that," he murmured. "I was half hoping that I might
be allowed to see you home."

"If you can tear yourself away from this delightful place in five
minutes," she answered, "I think I can get rid of the others."

"We will do it," he declared. "If only Sir John were not Sir John I
would ask you to come and have some supper."

"Don't imperil my reputation before I am established," she answered,
smiling. "Afterwards it seems to me that there are no limits to what
one may not do amongst one's own set."

"I am frightened of Sir John," he said, "but I suggest that we risk
it."

"Don't tempt me," she said, laughing, and drawing her opera-cloak
together. "You shall drive home with me in a hansom, if you will. That
is quite as far as I mean to tempt Providence to-night."

       *       *       *       *       *

Again on his way homeward from Cavendish Square he abandoned the
direct route to pass by the door of Anna's flat. Impassive by nature
and training, he was conscious to-night of a strange sense of
excitement, of exhilaration tempered by a dull background of
disappointment. Her sister had told him that it was true. Anna was
married. After all, she was a consummate actress. Her recent attitude
towards him was undoubtedly a pose. His long struggle with himself,
his avoidance of her were quite unnecessary. There was no longer any
risk in association with her. His pulses beat fast as he walked, his
feet fell lightly upon the pavement. He slackened his pace as he
reached the flat. The windows were still darkened--perhaps she was not
home yet. He lit a cigarette and loitered about. He laughed once or
twice at himself as he paced backwards and forwards. He felt like a
boy again, the taste for adventures was keen upon his palate, the
whole undiscovered world of rhythmical things, of love and poetry and
passion seemed again to him a real and actual place, and he himself an
adventurer upon the threshold.

Then a hansom drove up, and his heart gave a great leap. She stepped
on to the pavement almost before him, and his blood turned almost to
ice as he saw that she was not alone. A young man turned to pay the
cabman. Then she saw him.

"Mr. Ennison," she exclaimed, "is that really you?"

There was no sign of embarrassment in her manner. She held out her
hand frankly. She seemed honestly glad to see him.

"How odd that I should almost spring into your arms just on my
doorstep!" she remarked gaily. "Are you in a hurry? Will you come in
and have some coffee?"

He hesitated, and glanced towards her companion. He saw now that it
was merely a boy.

"This is Mr. Sydney Courtlaw--Mr. Ennison," she said. "You are coming
in, aren't you, Sydney?"

"If I may," he answered. "Your coffee's too good to refuse."

She led the way, talking all the time to Ennison.

"Do you know, I have been wondering what had become of you," she said.
"I had those beautiful roses from you on my first night, and a tiny
little note but no address. I did not even know where to write and
thank you."

"I have been abroad," he said. "The life of a private secretary is
positively one of slavery. I had to go at a moment's notice."

"I am glad that you have a reasonable excuse for not having been to
see me," she said good-humouredly. "Please make yourselves comfortable
while I see to the coffee."

It was a tiny little room, daintily furnished, individual in its
quaint colouring, and the masses of perfumed flowers set in strange
and unexpected places. A great bowl of scarlet carnations gleamed from
a dark corner, set against the background of a deep brown wall. A jar
of pink roses upon a tiny table seemed to gain an extra delicacy of
colour from the sombre curtains behind. Anna, who had thrown aside her
sealskin coat, wore a tight-fitting walking dress of some dark shade.
He leaned back in a low chair, and watched her graceful movements, the
play of her white hands as she bent over some wonderful machine. A
woman indeed this to love and be loved, beautiful, graceful, gay. A
dreamy sense of content crept over him. The ambitions of his life, and
they were many, seemed to lie far away, broken up dreams in some
outside world where the way was rough and the sky always grey. A
little table covered with a damask cloth was dragged out. There were
cakes and sandwiches--for Ennison a sort of Elysian feast, long to be
remembered. They talked lightly and smoked cigarettes till Anna, with
a little laugh, threw open the window and let in the cool night air.

Ennison stood by her side. They looked out over the city, grim and
silent now, for it was long past midnight. For a moment her thoughts
led her back to the evening when she and Courtlaw had stood together
before the window of her studio in Paris, before the coming of Sir
John had made so many changes in her life. She was silent, the ghost
of a fading smile passed from her lips. She had made her way since
then a little further into the heart of life. Yet even now there were
so many things untouched, so much to be learned. To-night she had a
curious feeling that she stood upon the threshold of some change. The
great untrodden world was before her still, into which no one can pass
alone. She felt a new warmth in her blood, a strange sense of elation
crept over her. Sorrows and danger and disappointment she had known.
Perhaps the day of her recompense was at hand. She glanced into her
companion's face, and she saw there strange things. For a moment her
heart seemed to stop beating. Then she dropped the curtain and stepped
back into the room. Sydney was strumming over a new song which stood
upon the piano.

"I am sure," she said, "that you mean to stay until you are turned
out. Do you see the time?"

"I may come and see you?" Ennison asked, as his hand touched hers.

"Yes," she answered, looking away. "Some afternoon."



_Chapter XIX_

"THIS IS NOT THE END"


"I said some afternoon," she remarked, throwing open her warm coat,
and taking off her gloves, "but I certainly did not mean to-day."

"I met you accidentally," he reminded her. "Our ways happened to lie
together."

"And our destinations also, it seems," she added, smiling.

"You asked me in to tea," he protested.

"In self-defence I had to," she answered. "It is a delightful day for
walking, but a great deal too cold to be standing on the pavement."

"Of course," he said, reaching out his hand tentatively for his hat,
"I could go away even now. Your reputation for hospitality would
remain under a cloud though, for tea was distinctly mentioned."

"Then you had better ring the bell," she declared, laughing. "The walk
has given me an appetite, and I do not feel like waiting till five
o'clock. I wonder why on earth the curtains are drawn. It is quite
light yet, and I want to have one more look at that angry red sun.
Would you mind drawing them back?"

Ennison sprang up, but he never reached the curtains. They were
suddenly thrown aside, and a man stepped out from his hiding-place. A
little exclamation of surprise escaped Ennison. Anna sprang to her
feet with a startled cry.

"You!" she exclaimed. "What are you doing here? How dare you come to
my rooms!"

The man stepped into the middle of the room. The last few months had
not dealt kindly with Mr. Montague Hill. He was still flashily
dressed, with much obvious jewellery and the shiniest of patent boots,
but his general bearing and appearance had altered for the worse. His
cheeks were puffy, and his eyes blood-shot. He had the appearance of a
man who has known no rest for many nights. His voice when he spoke was
almost fiercely assertive, but there was an undernote of nervousness.

"Why not?" he exclaimed. "I have the right to be here. I hid because
there was no other way of seeing you. I did not reckon upon--him."

He pointed to Ennison, who in his turn looked across at Anna.

"You wish me to stay?" he asked, in a low tone.

"I would not have you go for anything," she answered.

"Nevertheless," Hill said doggedly, "I am here to speak to you alone."

"If you do not leave the room at once," Anna answered calmly, "I shall
ring the bell for a policeman."

He raised his hand, and they saw that he was holding a small revolver.

"You need not be alarmed," he said. "I do not wish to use this. I came
here peaceably, and I only ask for a few words with you. But I mean to
have them. No, you don't!"

Ennison had moved stealthily a little nearer to him, and looked
suddenly into the dark muzzle of the revolver.

"If you interfere between us," the man said, "it will go hardly with
you. This lady is my wife, and I have a right to be here. I have the
right also to throw you out."

Ennison obeyed Anna's gesture, and was silent.

"You can say what you have to say before Mr. Ennison, if at all," Anna
declared calmly. "In any case, I decline to see you alone."

"Very well," the man answered. "I have come to tell you this. You are
my wife, and I am determined to claim you. We were properly married,
and the certificate is at my lawyer's. I am not a madman, or a pauper,
or even an unreasonable person. I know that you were disappointed
because I did not turn out to be the millionaire. Perhaps I deceived
you about it. However, that's over and done with. I'll make any
reasonable arrangement you like. I don't want to stop your singing.
You can live just about how you like. But you belong to me--and I want
you."

He paused for a moment, and then suddenly continued. His voice had
broken. He spoke in quick nervous sentences.

"You did your best to kill me," he said. "You might have given me a
chance, anyway. I'm not such a bad sort. You know--I worship you. I
have done from the first moment I saw you. I can't rest or work or
settle down to anything while things are like this between you and me.
I want you. I've got to have you, and by God I will."

He took a quick step forward. Anna held out her hand, and he paused.
There was something which chilled even him in the cold impassivity of
her features.

"Listen," she said. "I have heard these things from you before, and
you have had my answer. Understand once and for all that that answer
is final. I do not admit the truth of a word which you have said. I
will not be persecuted in this way by you."

"You do not deny that you are my wife," he asked hoarsely. "You
cannot! Oh, you cannot."

"I have denied it," she answered. "Why will you not be sensible? Go
back to your old life and your old friends, and forget all about Paris
and this absurd delusion of yours."

"Delusion!" he muttered, glaring at her. "Delusion!"

"You can call it what you like," she said. "In any case you will never
receive any different sort of answer from me. Stay where you are, Mr.
Ennison."

With a swift movement she gained the bell and rang it. The man's hand
flashed out, but immediately afterwards an oath and a cry of pain
broke from his lips. The pistol fell to the floor. Ennison kicked it
away with his foot.

"I shall send for a policeman," Anna said, "directly my maid answers
the bell--unless you choose to go before."

The man made no attempt to recover the revolver. He walked unsteadily
towards the door.

"Very well," he said, "I will go. But," and he faced them both with a
still expressionless glance, "this is not the end!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Anna recovered her spirits with marvellous facility. It was Ennison
who for the rest of his visit was quiet and subdued.

"You are absurd," she declared. "It was unpleasant while it lasted,
but it is over--and my toasted scones are delicious. Do have another."

"It is over for now," he answered, "but I cannot bear to think that
you are subject to this sort of thing."

She shrugged her shoulders slightly. Some of the delicate colour which
the afternoon walk had brought into her cheeks had already returned.

"It is an annoyance, my friend," she said, "not a tragedy."

"It might become one," he answered. "The man is dangerous."

She looked thoughtfully into the fire.

"I am afraid," she said, "that he must have a skeleton key to these
rooms. If so I shall have to leave."

"You cannot play at hide-and-seek with this creature all your life,"
he answered. "Let your friends act for you. There must be ways of
getting rid of him."

"I am afraid," she murmured, "that it would be difficult. He really
deserves a better fate, does he not? He is so beautifully persistent."

He drew a little nearer to her. The lamp was not yet lit, and in the
dim light he bent forward as though trying to look into her averted
face. He touched her hand, soft and cool to his fingers--she turned at
once to look at him. Her eyes were perhaps a little brighter than
usual, the firelight played about her hair, there seemed to him to be
a sudden softening of the straight firm mouth. Nevertheless she
withdrew her hand.

"Let me help you," he begged. "Indeed, you could have no more faithful
friend, you could find no one more anxious to serve you."

Her hand fell back into her lap. He touched it again, and this time it
was not withdrawn.

"That is very nice of you," she said. "But it is so difficult----"

"Not at all," he answered eagerly. "I wish you would come and see my
lawyers. Of course I know nothing of what really did happen in
Paris--if even you ever saw him there. You need not tell me, but a
lawyer is different. His client's story is safe with him. He would
advise you how to get rid of the fellow."

"I will think of it," she promised.

"You must do more than think of it," he urged. "It is intolerable that
you should be followed about by such a creature. I am sure that he can
be got rid of."

She turned and looked at him. Her face scarcely reflected his
enthusiasm.

"It may be more difficult than you think," she said. "You see you do
not know how much of truth there is in his story."

"If it were all true," he said doggedly, "it may still be possible."

"I will think of it," she repeated. "I cannot say more."

They talked for a while in somewhat dreamy fashion, Anna especially
being more silent than usual. At last she glanced at a little clock in
the corner of the room, and sprang to her feet.

"Heavens, look at the time!" she exclaimed. "It is incredible. I
shall barely be in time for the theatre. I must go and dress at once."

He too rose.

"I will wait for you on the pavement, if you like," he said, "but I am
going to the 'Unusual' with you. Your maid would not be of the least
protection."

"But your dinner!" she protested. "You will be so late."

He laughed.

"You cannot seriously believe," he said, "that at the present moment I
care a snap of the fingers whether I have any dinner or not."

She laughed.

"Well, you certainly did very well at tea," she remarked. "If you
really are going to wait, make yourself as comfortable as you can.
There are cigarettes and magazines in the corner there."

Anna disappeared, but Ennison did not trouble either the cigarettes or
the magazines. He sat back in an easy chair with a hand upon each of
the elbows, and looked steadfastly into the fire.

People spoke of him everywhere as a young man of great promise, a
politician by instinct, a keen and careful judge of character. Yet he
was in a state of hopeless bewilderment. He was absolutely unable to
focus his ideas. The girl who had just left the room was as great a
mystery to him now as on the afternoon when he had met her in
Piccadilly and taken her to tea. And behind--there was Paris, memories
of amazing things, memories which made his cheeks burn and his heart
beat quickly as he sat there waiting for her. For the first time a
definite doubt possessed him. A woman cannot change her soul. Then it
was the woman herself who was changed. Anna was not "Alcide" of the
"Ambassador's," whose subtly demure smile and piquant glances had
called him to her side from the moment of their first meeting. It was
impossible.

She came in while he was still in the throes, conviction battling with
common-sense, his own apprehension. He rose at once to his feet and
turned a white face upon her.

"I am going to break a covenant," he cried. "I cannot keep silence any
longer."

"You are going to speak to me of things which happened before we met
in London?" she asked quietly.

"Yes! I must! The thing is becoming a torture to me. I must!"

She threw open the door and pointed to it.

"My word holds," she said. "If you speak--farewell."

He stood quite silent for a moment, his eyes fixed upon her face.
Something he saw there had a curious effect upon him. He was suddenly
calm.

"I shall not speak," he said, "now or at any other time. Come!"

They went out together and he called a hansom. From the opposite
corner under the trees a man with his hat slouched over his eyes stood
and glowered at them.



_Chapter XX_

ANNA'S SURRENDER


"This is indeed a gala night," said Ennison, raising his glass, and
watching for a moment the golden bubbles. "Was it really only this
afternoon that I met you in St. James' Park?"

Anna nodded, and made a careful selection from a dish of quails.

"It was just an hour before teatime," she remarked. "I have had
nothing since, and it seems a very long time."

"An appetite like yours," he said resignedly, "is fatal to all
sentiment."

"Not in the least," she assured him. "I find the two inseparable."

He sighed.

"I have noticed," he said, "that you seem to delight in taking a
topsy-turvy view of life. It arises, I think, from an over developed
sense of humour. You would find things to laugh at even in Artemus
Ward."

"You do not understand me at all," she declared. "I think that you are
very dense. Besides, your remark is not in the least complimentary. I
have always understood that men avoid like the plague a woman with a
sense of humour."

So they talked on whilst supper was served, falling easily into the
spirit of the place, and yet both of them conscious of some new thing
underlying the gaiety of their tongues and manner. Anna, in her
strange striking way, was radiantly beautiful. Without a single
ornament about her neck, or hair, wearing the plainest of black gowns,
out of which her shoulders shone gleaming white, she was easily the
most noticeable and the most distinguished-looking woman in the room.
To-night there seemed to be a new brilliancy in her eyes, a deeper
quality in her tone. She was herself conscious of a recklessness of
spirits almost hysterical. Perhaps, after all, the others were right.
Perhaps she had found this new thing in life, the thing wonderful. The
terrors and anxieties of the last few months seemed to have fallen
from her, to have passed away like an ugly dream, dismissed with a
shudder even from the memory. An acute sense of living was in her
veins, even the taste of her wine seemed magical. Ennison too, always
handsome and _debonnair_, seemed transported out of his calm self. His
tongue was more ready, his wit more keen than usual. He said daring
things with a grace which made them irresistible, his eyes flashed
back upon her some eloquent but silent appreciation of the change in
her manner towards him.

And then there came for both of them at least a temporary awakening.
It was he who saw them first coming down the room--Annabel in a
wonderful white satin gown in front, and Sir John stiff, unbending,
disapproving, bringing up the rear. He bent over to Anna at once.

"It is your sister and her husband," he said. "They are coming past
our table."

Annabel saw Ennison first, and noticing his single companion calmly
ignored him. Then making a pretence of stooping to rearrange her
flowing train, she glanced at Anna, and half stopped in her progress
down the room. Sir John followed her gaze, and also saw them. His face
clouded with anger.

It was after all a momentary affair. Annabel passed on with a strained
nod to her sister, and Sir John's bow was a miracle of icy
displeasure. They vanished through the doorway. Anna and her escort
exchanged glances. Almost simultaneously they burst out laughing.

"How do you feel?" she asked.

"Limp," he answered. "As a matter of fact, I deserve to. I was engaged
to dine with your sister and her husband, and I sent a wire."

"It was exceedingly wrong of you," Anna declared. "Before I came to
England I was told that there were two things which an Englishman who
was _comme-il-faut_ never did. The first was to break a dinner
engagement."

"And the second?"

"Make love to a single woman."

"Your knowledge of our ways," he murmured "is profound. Yet, I suppose
that at the present moment I am the most envied man in the room."

Her eyes were lit with humour. To have spoken lightly on such a
subject a few hours ago would have seemed incredible.

"But you do not know," she whispered, "whether I am a married woman or
not. There is Mr. Montague Hill."

The lights were lowered, and an attentive waiter hovered round Anna's
cloak. They left the room amongst the last, and Ennison had almost to
elbow his way through a group of acquaintances who had all some
pretext for detaining him, to which he absolutely refused to listen.
They entered a hansom and turned on to the Embankment. The two great
hotels on their right were still ablaze with lights. On their left the
river, with its gloomy pile of buildings on the opposite side, and a
huge revolving advertisement throwing its strange reflection upon the
black water. A fresh cool breeze blew in their faces. Anna leaned back
with half closed eyes.

"Delicious!" she murmured.

His fingers closed upon her hand. She yielded it without protest, as
though unconsciously. Not a word passed between them. It seemed to him
that speech would be an anticlimax.

He paid the cab, and turned to follow her. She passed inside and
upstairs without a word. In her little sitting-room she turned on the
electric light and looked around half fearfully.

"Please search everywhere," she said. "I am going through the other
rooms. I shall not let you go till I am quite sure."

"If he has a key," Ennison said, "how are you to be safe?"

"I had bolts fitted on the doors yesterday," she answered. "If he is
not here now I can make myself safe."

It was certain that he was not there. Anna came back into the
sitting-room with a little sigh of relief.

"Indeed," she said, "it was very fortunate that I should have met you
this afternoon. Either Sydney or Mr. Brendon always comes home with
me, and to-night both are away. Mary is very good, but she is too
nervous to be the slightest protection."

"I am very glad," he answered, in a low tone. "It has been a
delightful evening for me."

"And for me," Anna echoed.

A curious silence ensued. Anna was sitting before the fire a little
distance from him--Ennison himself remained standing. Some shadow of
reserve seemed to have crept up between them. She laughed nervously,
but kept her eyes averted.

"It is strange that we should have met Annabel," she said. "I am
afraid your broken dinner engagement will not be so easy to explain."

He was very indifferent. In fact he was thinking of other things.

"I am going," he said, "to be impertinent. I do not understand why you
and your sister should not see more of one another. You must be lonely
here with only a few men friends."

She shook her head.

"Loneliness," she said, "is a luxury which I never permit myself.
Besides--there is Sir John."

"Sir John is an ass!" he declared.

"He is Annabel's husband," she reminded him.

"Annabel!" He looked at her thoughtfully. "It is rather odd," he said,
"but I always thought that your name was Annabel and hers Anna."

"Many other people," she remarked, "have made the same mistake."

"Again," he said, "I am going to be impertinent. I never met your
sister in Paris, but I heard about her more than once. She is not in
the least like the descriptions of her."

"She has changed a good deal," Anna admitted.

"There is some mystery about you both," he exclaimed, with sudden
earnestness. "No, don't interrupt me. Why may I not be your friend?
Somehow or other I feel that you have been driven into a false
position. You represent to me an enigma, the solution of which has
become the one desire of my life. I want to give you warning that I
have set myself to solve it. To-morrow I am going to Paris."

She seemed unmoved, but she did not look at him.

"To Paris! But why? What do you hope to discover there?"

"I do not know," he answered, "but I am going to see David Courtlaw."

Then she looked up at him with frightened eyes.

"David Courtlaw!" she repeated. "What has he to do with it?"

"He was your sister's master--her friend. A few days ago I saw him
leave your house. He was like a man beside himself. He began to tell
me something--and stopped. I am going to ask him to finish it."

She rose up.

"I forbid it!" she said firmly.

They were standing face to face now upon the hearthrug. She was very
pale, and there was a look of fear in her eyes.

"I will tell you as much as this," she continued. "There is a secret.
I admit it. Set yourself to find it out, if you will--but if you do,
never dare to call yourself my friend again."

"It is for your good--your good only I am thinking," he declared.

"Then let me be the judge of what is best," she answered.

He was silent. He felt his heart beat faster and faster--his
self-restraint slipping away. After all, what did it matter?--it or
anything else in the world? She was within reach of his arms,
beautiful, compelling, herself as it seemed suddenly conscious of the
light which was burning in his eyes. A quick flush stained her cheeks.
She put out her hands to avoid his embrace.

"No!" she exclaimed. "You must not. It is impossible."

His arms were around her. He only laughed his defiance.

"I will make it possible," he cried. "I will make all things
possible."

Anna was bewildered. She did not know herself. Only she was conscious
of an unfamiliar and wonderful emotion. She gave her lips to his
without resistance. All her protests seemed stifled before she could
find words to utter them. With a little sigh of happiness she accepted
this new thing.



_Chapter XXI_

HER SISTER'S SECRET


"I think," Lady Ferringhall said, "that you are talking very
foolishly. I was quite as much annoyed as you were to see Mr. Ennison
with my sister last night. But apart from that, you have no particular
objection to him, I suppose?"

"The occurrence of last night is quite sufficient in itself," Sir John
answered, "to make me wish to discontinue Mr. Ennison's acquaintance.
I should think, Anna, that your own sense--er--of propriety would
enable you to see this. It is not possible for us to be on friendly
terms with a young man who has been seen in a public place, having
supper alone with your sister after midnight. The fact itself is
regrettable enough--regrettable, I fear, is quite an inadequate word.
To receive him here afterwards would be most repugnant to me."

"He probably does not know of the relationship," Annabel remarked.

"I imagine," Sir John said, "that your sister would acquaint him with
it. In any case, he is liable to discover it at any time. My own
impression is that he already knows."

"Why do you think so?" she asked.

"I noticed him call her attention to us as we passed down the room,"
he answered. "Of course he may merely have been telling her who we
were, but I think it improbable."

"Apart from the fact of his acquaintance with Anna--Annabel," Lady
Ferringhall said quickly, "may I ask if you have any other objection
to Mr. Ennison?"

Sir John hesitated.

"To the young man himself," he answered, "no! I simply object to his
calling here two or three times a week during my absence."

"How absurd!" Annabel declared. "How could he call except in your
absence, as you are never at home in the afternoon. And if I cared to
have him come every day, why shouldn't he? I find him very amusing and
very useful as well. He brought his mother to call, and as you know
the Countess goes scarcely anywhere. Hers is quite the most exclusive
set in London."

"My feeling in the matter," Sir John said, "is as I have stated.
Further, I do not care for you to accept social obligations from Mr.
Ennison, or any other young man."

"You are jealous," she declared contemptuously.

"If I am," he answered, reddening, "you can scarcely assert that it is
without a cause. You will forgive my remarking, Anna, that I consider
there is a great change in your manner towards me and your general
deportment since our marriage."

Annabel laughed gaily.

"My dear man," she exclaimed, "wasn't that a foregone conclusion?"

"You treat the matter lightly," he continued. "To me it seems serious
enough. I have fulfilled my part of our marriage contract. Can you
wonder that I expect you to fulfil yours?"

"I am not aware," she answered, "that I have ever failed in doing so."

"You are at least aware," he said, "that you have on several recent
occasions acted in direct opposition to my wishes."

"For example?"

"Your dyed hair. I was perfectly satisfied with your appearance. I
consider even now that the present colour is far less becoming. Then
you have altered not only that, but your manner of dressing it. You
have darkened your eyebrows, you have even changed your style of
dress. You have shown an almost feverish anxiety to eliminate from
your personal appearance all that reminded me of you--when we first
met."

"Well," she said, "has there not been some reason for this? The
likeness to Annabel could scarcely have escaped remark. You forget
that every one is going to the 'Unusual' to see her."

He frowned heavily.

"I wish that I could forget it," he said. "Fortunately I believe that
the relationship is not generally known. I trust that no unpleasant
rumours will be circulated before the election, at any rate."

Annabel yawned.

"They might do you good," she remarked. "'Alcide' is very popular."

Sir John turned towards the door.

"It does not appear to me," he said, stiffly, "to be an affair for
jests."

Annabel laughed derisively and took up her book. She heard her
husband's heavy tread descending the stairs, and the wheels of his
carriage as he drove off. Then she threw the volume away with a little
impatient exclamation. She rose from her chair, and began walking up
and down the room restlessly. Every now and then she fingered an
ornament, moved a piece of furniture, or rearranged some draperies.
Once she stopped in front of a mirror and looked at herself
thoughtfully.

"I am getting plain," she said, with a little shudder. "This life is
killing me! Oh, it is dull, dull, dull!"

Suddenly an idea seemed to strike her. She went to her room and
changed the loose morning gown in which she had lunched for a dark
walking dress. A few minutes later she left the house on foot, and
taking a hansom at the corner of the Square, drove to Anna's flat.

Anna was having tea by herself when she entered. She rose at once with
a little exclamation, half of surprise, half of pleasure.

"My dear Annabel," she said, "this is delightful, but I thought that
it was forbidden."

"It is," Annabel answered shortly. "But I wanted to see you."

Anna wheeled an easy chair to the fire.

"You will have some tea?" she asked.

Annabel ignored both the chair and the invitation. She was looking
about her, and her face was dark with anger. The little room was
fragrant with flowers, Anna herself bright, and with all the evidences
of well being. Annabel was conscious then of the slow anger which had
been burning within her since the night of her visit to the
"Unusual." Her voice trembled with suppressed passion.

"I have come for an explanation," she said. "You are an impostor. How
dare you use my name and sing my songs?"

Anna looked at her sister in blank amazement.

"Annabel!" she exclaimed. "Why, what is the matter with you? What do
you mean?"

Annabel laughed scornfully.

"Oh, you know," she said. "Don't be a hypocrite. You are not 'Alcide.'
You have no right to call yourself 'Alcide.' You used to declare that
you hated the name. You used to beg me for hours at a time to give it
all up, never to go near the 'Ambassador's' again. And yet the moment
I am safely out of the way you are content to dress yourself in my
rags, to go and get yourself popular and admired and successful, all
on my reputation."

"Annabel! Annabel!"

Annabel stamped her foot. Her tone was hoarse with passion.

"Oh, you can act!" she cried. "You can look as innocent and shocked as
you please. I want to know who sent you those."

She pointed with shaking fingers to a great bunch of dark red
carnations, thrust carelessly into a deep china bowl, to which the
card was still attached. Anna followed her finger, and looked back
into her sister's face.

"They were sent to me by Mr. Nigel Ennison, Annabel. How on earth does
it concern you?"

Annabel laughed hardly.

"Concern me!" she repeated fiercely. "You are not content then with
stealing from me my name. You would steal from me then the only man I
ever cared a snap of the fingers about. They are not your flowers.
They are mine! They were sent to 'Alcide' not to you."

Anna rose to her feet. At last she was roused. Her cheeks were
flushed, and her eyes bright.

"Annabel," she said, "you are my sister, or I would bid you take the
flowers if you care for them, and leave the room. But behind these
things which you have said to me there must be others of which I know
nothing. You speak as one injured--as though I had been the one to
take your name--as though you had been the one to make sacrifices. In
your heart you know very well that this is absurd. It is you who took
my name, not I yours. It is I who took the burden of your misdeeds
upon my shoulders that you might become Lady Ferringhall. It is I who
am persecuted by the man who calls himself your husband."

Annabel shivered a little and looked around her.

"He does not come here," she exclaimed, quickly.

"He spends hours of every day on the pavement below," Anna answered
calmly. "I have been bearing this--for your sake. Shall I send him to
Sir John?"

Annabel was white to the lips, but her anger was not yet spent.

"It was your own fault," she exclaimed. "He would never have found you
out if you had not personated me."

"On the contrary," Anna whispered quietly, "we met in a small
boarding-house where I was stopping."

"You have not told me yet," Annabel said, "how it is that you have
dared to personate me. To call yourself 'Alcide'! Your hair, your
gestures, your voice, all mine! Oh, how dared you do it?"

"You must not forget," Anna said calmly, "that it is necessary for me
also--to live. I arrived here with something less than five pounds in
my pocket. My reception at West Kensington you know of. I was the
black sheep, I was hurried out of the way. You did not complain then
that I personated you--no, nor when Sir John came to me in Paris, and
for your sake I lied."

"You did not----"

"Wait, Annabel! When I arrived in London I went to live in the
cheapest place I could find. I set myself to find employment. I
offered myself as a clerk, as a milliner, as a shop girl. I would even
have taken a place as waitress in a tea shop. I walked London till the
soles of my shoes were worn through, and my toes were blistered. I ate
only enough to keep body and soul together."

"There was no need for such heroism," Annabel said coldly. "You had
only to ask----"

"Do you think," Anna interrupted, with a note of passion trembling
also in her tone, "that I would have taken alms from Sir John, the man
to whom I had lied for your sake. It was not possible. I went at last
when I had barely a shilling in my purse to a dramatic agent. By
chance I went to one who had known you in Paris."

"Well!"

"He greeted me effusively. He offered me at once an engagement. I told
him that I was not 'Alcide.' He only laughed. He had seen the
announcement of your marriage in the papers, and he imagined that I
simply wanted to remain unknown because of your husband's puritanism.
I sang to him, and he was satisfied. I did not appear, I have never
announced myself as 'Alcide.' It was the Press who forced the identity
upon me."

"They were my posters," Annabel said. "The ones Cariolus did for me."

"The posters at least," Anna answered quietly, "I have some claim to.
You know very well that you took from my easel David Courtlaw's study
of me, and sent it to Cariolus. You denied it at the time--but
unfortunately I have proof. Mr. Courtlaw found the study in Cariolus'
studio."

Annabel laughed hardly.

"What did it matter?" she cried. "We are, or rather we were, so much
alike then that the portrait of either of us would have done for the
other. It saved me the bother of being studied."

"It convinced Mr. Earles that I was 'Alcide,'" Anna remarked quietly.

"We will convince him now to the contrary," Annabel answered.

Anna looked at her, startled.

"What do you mean?" she asked.

Annabel set her teeth hard, and turned fiercely towards Anna.

"It means that I have had enough of this slavery," she declared. "My
husband and all his friends are fools, and the life they lead is
impossible for me. It takes too many years to climb even a step in the
social ladder. I've had enough of it. I want my freedom."

"You mean to say," Anna said slowly, "that you are going to leave your
husband?"

"Yes."

"You are willing to give up your position, your beautiful houses, your
carriages and milliner's accounts to come back to Bohemianism?"

"Why not?" Annabel declared. "I am sick of it. It is dull--deadly
dull."

"And what about this man--Mr. Montague Hill?"

Annabel put her hand suddenly to her throat and steadied herself with
the back of a chair. She looked stealthily at Anna.

"You have succeeded a little too well in your personation," she said
bitterly, "to get rid very easily of Mr. Montague Hill. You are a
great deal more like what I was a few months ago than I am now."

Anna laughed softly.

"You propose, then," she remarked, "that I shall still be saddled with
a pseudo husband. I think not, Annabel. You are welcome to proclaim
yourself 'Alcide' if you will. I would even make over my engagement to
you, if Mr. Earles would permit. But I should certainly want to be rid
of Mr. Montague Hill, and I do not think that under those
circumstances I should be long about it."

Annabel sank suddenly into a chair. Her knees were trembling, her
whole frame was shaken with sobs.

"Anna," she moaned, "I am a jealous, ungrateful woman. But oh, how
weary I am! I know. If only--Anna, tell me," she broke off suddenly,
"how did you get to know Mr. Ennison?"

"He spoke to me, thinking that I was you," Anna answered. "I liked
him, and I never undeceived him."

"And he sat at my table," Annabel said bitterly, "and yet he did not
know me."

Anna glanced up.

"You must remember," she said, "that you yourself are responsible for
your altered looks."

"For the others," Annabel said tearfully, "that is well enough. But
for him----"

Something in her sister's tone startled Anna. She looked at her for a
moment fixedly. When she tried to speak she found it difficult. Her
voice seemed to come from a long way off.

"What do you mean, Annabel? You only knew Mr. Ennison slightly----"

There was a dead silence in the little room. Anna sat with the face of
a Sphinx--waiting. Annabel thought, and thought again.

"I knew Mr. Ennison better than I have ever told you," she said
slowly.

"Go on!"

"You know--in Paris they coupled my name with some one's--an
Englishman's. Nigel Ennison was he."

Anna stood up. Her cheeks were aflame. Her eyes were lit with
smouldering passion.

"Go on!" she commanded. "Let me know the truth."

Annabel looked down. It was hard to meet that gaze.

"Does he never speak to you of--of old times?" she faltered.

"Don't fence with me," Anna cried fiercely. "The truth!"

Annabel bent over her and whispered in her sister's ear.



_Chapter XXII_

AN OLD FOOL


Lady Ferringhall made room for him on the sofa by her side. She was
wearing a becoming tea-gown, and it was quite certain that Sir John
would not be home for several hours at least.

"I am delighted to see you, Mr. Ennison," she said, letting her
fingers rest in his. "Do come and cheer me up. I am bored to
distraction."

He took a seat by her side. He was looking pale and ill. There were
shadows under his eyes. He returned her impressive greeting almost
mechanically.

"But you yourself," she exclaimed, glancing into his face, "you too
look tired. You poor man, what have you been doing to yourself?"

"Nothing except travelling all night," he answered. "I am just back
from Paris. I am bothered. I have come to you for sympathy, perhaps
for help."

"You may be sure of the one," she murmured. "The other too if it is
within my power."

"It is within yours--if anybody's," he answered. "It is about your
sister, Lady Ferringhall."

Annabel gave a little gasp. The colour slowly left her cheeks, the
lines of her mouth hardened. The change in her face was not a pleasant
one.

"About my sister," she repeated slowly.

Her tone should have warned him, but he was too much in earnest to
regard it.

"Yes. You remember that you saw us at the Savoy a few evenings ago?"

"Yes."

"And you knew, of course, that we were old friends?"

"Indeed!"

"Lady Ferringhall, I love your sister."

"You what?" she repeated incredulously.

"I love your sister."

Lady Ferringhall sat with half closed eyes and clenched teeth. Brute!
Fool! To have come to her on such an errand. She felt a hysterical
desire to strike him, to burst out crying, to blurt out the whole
miserable truth. The effort to maintain her self-control was almost
superhuman.

"But--your people!" she gasped. "Surely Lady Ennison would object,
even if it were possible. And the Duke, too--I heard him say that a
married secretary would be worse than useless to him."

"The difficulties on my own side I can deal with," he answered. "I am
not dependent upon any one. I have plenty of money, and the Duke will
not be in the next Cabinet. My trouble is with your sister."

Lady Ferringhall was conscious of some relief.

"She has refused to listen to you?"

"She has behaved in a most extraordinary manner," he answered. "We
parted--that night the best of friends. She knew that I cared for her,
she had admitted that she cared for me. I suppose I was a little
idiotic--I don't think we either of us mentioned the future, but it
was arranged that I should go the next afternoon and have tea with
her. When I went I was refused admittance. I have since received a
most extraordinary letter from her. She offers me no explanation,
permits me absolutely no hope. She simply refuses to see or hear from
me again. I went to the theatre that night. I waited for her at the
back. She saw me, and, Lady Ferringhall, I shall never forget her look
as long as I live. It was horrible. She looked at me as though I were
some unclean thing, as though my soul were weighted with every sin in
the calendar. I could not have spoken to her. It took my breath away.
By the time I had recovered myself she had gone. My letters are
returned unopened, her maid will not even allow me across the
doorstep."

"The explanation seems to me to be reasonably simple," Annabel said
coldly. "You seem to forget that my sister is--married."

"If she is," he answered, "I am convinced that there are circumstances
in connexion with that marriage which would make a divorce easy."

"You would marry a divorcée?" she asked.

"I would marry your sister anyhow, under any circumstances," he
answered.

She looked at him curiously.

"I want to ask you a question," she said abruptly. "This wonderful
affection of yours for my sister, does it date from your first meeting
with her in Paris?"

He hesitated.

"I admired your sister in Paris," he answered, "but I do not believe
that I regard her now as altogether the same person. Something has
happened to change her marvellously, either that, or she wilfully
deceived me and every one else in those days as to her real self. She
was a much lighter and more frivolous person, very charming and
companionable--but with a difference--a great difference. I wonder
whether you would mind, Lady Ferringhall," he went on, with a sudden
glance at her, "if I tell you that you yourself remind me a great deal
more of what she was like then, except of course that your complexion
and colouring are altogether different."

"I am highly flattered," she remarked, with subtle irony.

"Will you help me?" he asked.

"What can I do?"

"Go and see her. Find out what I have done or failed to do. Get me an
interview with her."

"Really," she said, with a hard little laugh, "you must regard me as a
very good-natured person."

"You are," he answered unconsciously. "I am sure that you are. I want
her to tell me the whole truth about this extraordinary marriage. We
will find some way out of it."

"You think that you can do that?"

"I am sure of it," he answered, confidently. "Those things are
arranged more easily in any other country than England. At any rate
she must see me. I demand it as a right. I must know what new thing
has come between us that she should treat me as a lover one day and a
monster the next."

She leaned back amongst the cushions of her chair. She was very pale,
but she reminded him more at that minute than at any time of "Alcide"
as he had first known her.

"I wonder," she said, "how much you care."

"I care as a man cares only once in his life," he answered promptly.
"When it comes there is no mistaking it."

"Did it come--in Paris?"

"I do not know," he answered. "I do not think so. What does it matter?
It is here, and it is here to stay. Do help me, Lady Ferringhall. You
need not be afraid. No trouble will ever come to your sister through
me. If this idiotic marriage is binding then I will be her friend. But
I have powerful friends. I only want to know the truth, and I will
move heaven and earth to have it set aside."

"The truth," she murmured, with her eyes fixed upon him. "Well----"

She stopped short. He looked at her in some embarrassment.

"Forgive me," he said, "but I want to hear it from your sister. It is
her duty to tell me, and I would not have her think that I had been
trying to work upon your sympathies to learn her secrets."

She was silent.

"You will go and see her," he begged.

"Yes, I will go," she promised, with a queer little smile. "It is
against my husband's orders, and I am not sure that my sister will be
particularly glad to see me. But I will go."

"I shall always be grateful to you," he declared.

"Don't be too sure of that," she answered enigmatically.



_Chapter XXIII_

MONTAGUE HILL SEES LIGHT AT LAST


At exactly ten minutes past ten Annabel rang the bell of her sister's
flat. There was no response. She rang again with the same result.
Then, as she was in the act of turning reluctantly away, she noticed a
thin crack between the door and the frame. She pushed the former and
it opened. The latch had not fully caught.

The flat was apparently empty. Annabel turned on the electric light
and made her way into the sitting-room. There was a coffee equipage on
the table, and some sandwiches, and the fire had been recently made
up. Annabel seated herself in an easy chair and determined to wait for
her sister's return.

The clock struck half-past ten. The loneliness of the place somewhat
depressed her. She took up a book and threw it down again. Then she
examined with curiosity some knick-knacks upon a small round table by
her side. Amongst them was a revolver. She handled it half fearfully,
and set it carefully down again. Then for the first time she was
conscious of an unaccountable and terrifying sensation. She felt that
she was not alone.

She was only a few yards from the door, but lacked the courage to rise
and fly. Her knees shook, her breath came fast, she almost felt the
lurid effect of those tiny patches of rouge upon her pallor-stricken
cheeks. Her eyes were dilated--fixed in a horrified stare at the
parting in the curtains which hung before the window.

There was some one there. She had seen a man's head steal out for a
moment and draw the curtains a little closer. Even now she could trace
the outline of his shape behind the left-hand curtain. She was wholly
unable to conceal her knowledge of his presence. A little smothered
cry broke from her lips--the curtains were thrown aside and a man
stepped out. She was powerless to move from her chair. All through
that brief but measureless space of time during which wonder kept him
silent, as fear did her, she cowered there, a limp helpless object.
Her courage and her presence of mind had alike deserted her. She
could neither speak nor move nor cry out.

"Annabel! God in Heaven, it is Annabel!"

She did not speak. Her lips parted, but no words came.

"What have you done to yourself?" he muttered. "You have dyed your
hair and darkened your eyebrows. But you are Annabel. I should know
you--in Heaven or Hell. Who is the other?"

"What other?"

Her voice seemed to come from a long way off. Her lips were dry and
cracked.

"The Annabel who lives here, who sings every night at the 'Unusual'?
They call her by your old name. Her hair and voice and figure are as
yours used to be. Who is she, I say?"

"My sister!" Annabel faltered.

He trembled violently. He seemed to be labouring under some great
excitement.

"I am a fool," he said. "All these days I have taken her for you. I
have pleaded with her--no wonder that I have pleaded with her in vain.
And all this time perhaps you have been waiting, expecting to hear
from me. Is it so, Annabel?"

"I did not know," she faltered, "anything about you. Why should I?"

"At last," he murmured, "at last I have found you. I must not let you
go again. Do you know, Annabel, that you are my wife."

"No," she moaned, "not that. I thought--the papers said----"

"You thought that I was dead," he interrupted. "You pushed the wheel
from my hand. You jumped, and I think that you left me. Yet you knew
that I was not dead. You came to see me in the hospital. You must have
repented a little, or you would not have done that."

"I did not come," she faltered. "It was my sister Anna. I had left
Paris."

He passed his hand wearily over his forehead.

"That is where I got confused," he said. "I opened my eyes, and she
was bending over my bedside. Then, I thought, she has repented, all
will be well. So I made haste and recovered. I came to London to look
for you, and somehow the figure I saw in my dreams had got mixed up
with you. Your sister! Great God, how like she is to what you were!"

Annabel looked around her nervously.

"These are her rooms," she said. "Soon she will return."

"The sooner the better," he answered. "I must explain to her. Annabel,
I cannot believe it. I have found you."

His eyes were burning. He advanced a step towards her. She held out
both her hands.

"No, no," she cried. "You frighten me!"

He smiled at her indulgently.

"But I am your husband," he said. "You have forgotten. I am your
husband, though as yet your hand has scarcely lain in mine."

"It was a mistake," she faltered. "You told me that your name was
Meysey Hill. I thought that you were he."

His face darkened.

"I did it for love of you," he said. "I lied, as I would have
committed a murder, or done any evil deed sooner than lose you. What
does it matter? I am not a pauper, Annabel. I can keep you. You shall
have a house out at Balham or Sydenham, and two servants. You shall
have the spending of every penny of my money. Annabel, tell me that
you did not wish me dead. Tell me that you are not sorry to see me
again."

Her passion conquered for a moment her fear.

"But I am sorry," she exclaimed. "Our marriage must be annulled. It
was no marriage at all."

"Never," he exclaimed vehemently. "You are mine, Annabel, and nothing
shall ever make me give you up."

"But it is too late," she declared. "You have no right to hold me to a
bargain which on your side was a lie. I consented to become Mrs.
Meysey Hill--never your wife."

"What do you mean--by too late?" he demanded.

"There is some one else whom I care for!"

He laughed hardly.

"Tell me his name," he said, "and I promise that he shall never
trouble you. But you," he continued, moving imperceptibility a little
nearer to her, "you are mine. The angels in Heaven shall not tear you
from me. We leave this room together. I shall not part with you
again."

"No," she cried, "I will not. I will have nothing to do with you. You
are not my husband."

He came towards her with that in his face which filled her with blind
terror.

"You belong to me," he said fiercely; "the marriage certificate is in
my pocket. You belong to me, and I have waited long enough."

He stepped past her to the door and closed it. Then he turned with a
fierce movement to take her into his arms. There was a flash and a
loud report. He threw up his hand, reeled for a moment on his feet,
and collapsed upon the floor.

"Annabel;" he moaned. "You have killed me. My wife--killed me."

With a little crash the pistol fell from her shaking fingers. She
stood looking down upon him with dilated eyes. Her faculties seemed
for a moment numbed. She could not realize what she saw. Surely it was
a dream. A moment before he had been a strong man, she had been in his
power, a poor helpless thing. Now he lay there, a doubled-up mass,
with ugly distorted features, and a dark wet stain dripping slowly on
to the carpet. It could not be she who had done this. She had never
let off a pistol in her life. Yet the smoke was curling upwards in a
faint innocent-looking cloud to the ceiling. The smell of gunpowder
was strong in the room.

It was true. She had killed him. It was as much accident as anything,
but she had killed him. Once before--but that had been different. This
time they would call it murder.

She listened, listened intently for several minutes. People were
passing in the street below. She could hear their footsteps upon the
pavement. A hansom stopped a little way off. She could hear the bell
tinkle as the horse shook its head. There was no one stirring in the
flats. He himself had deadened the sound by closing the door. She
moved a little nearer to him.

It was horrible, but she must do it. She sank upon her knees and
unbuttoned his coat. It was there in the breast pocket, stiff and
legal looking. She drew it out with shaking fingers. There was a great
splash of blood upon it, her hand was all wet and sticky. A deadly
sickness came over her, the room seemed spinning round. She staggered
to the fireplace and thrust it into the heart of the dying flames. She
held it down with the poker, looking nervously over her shoulder. Then
she put more coal on, piled it over the ashes, and stood once more
upright.

Still silence everywhere. She pulled down her veil and made her way to
the door. She turned out the electric light and gained the hall. Still
no sound. Her knees almost sank beneath her as she raised the latch of
the front door and looked out. There was no one to be seen. She
passed down the stairs and into the street.

She walked for a mile or more recklessly, close veiled, with swift
level footsteps, though her brain was in a whirl and a horrible
faintness all the time hovered about her. Then she called a hansom and
drove home.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Miss Pellissier," Brendon said gently, "I am afraid that some fresh
trouble has come to you."

She smiled at him cheerfully.

"Am I dull?" she said. "I am sorry."

"You could never be that," he answered, "but you are at least more
serious than usual."

"Perhaps," she said, "I am superstitious. This is my last week at the
'Unusual,' you know. We begin rehearsing on Monday at the
'Garrick'."

"Surely," he protested, "the change is all in favour of your own
inclinations. It is your own choice, isn't it?"

She nodded.

"Yes. But I believe that Mr. Earles thinks I am a little mad, and
between ourselves I am not sure about it myself. It is easy enough to
sing these little chansons in an original way--it requires a very
different sort of ability to succeed on the stage."

"You have it," he declared confidently.

She laughed altogether in her old manner.

"I wonder how it is," she exclaimed, "that my friends have so much
more confidence in me than I have in myself."

"They know you better," he declared.

"I am afraid," she answered, "that one's friends can judge only of the
externals, and the things which matter, the things inside are realized
only by oneself--stop."

She laid her fingers upon his arm, and they both stood still. They had
turned into the street, on the opposite side of which were the flats
where Anna lived. Glancing idly up at her own window as they had swung
round the corner she had seen a strange thing. The curtains which she
had left drawn were open, and the electric lights were turned on.
Then, even as they stood there, the room was plunged into darkness.

"There is someone in my rooms," Anna said.

"Is it your maid?" he asked.

"I have given her two days' holiday," Anna answered. "She has gone
down into the country."

"And no one else--has a key?"

"I believe," she said, "that that man must have one. I am safe while I
am there, for I have had bolts fitted everywhere, and a pane of glass
in the front door. But I am always afraid that he may get in while I
am away. Look! Is that some one coming out?"

The front door of the flats stood open, and through it a woman, slim
and veiled, passed on to the pavement and turned with swift footsteps
in the opposite direction. Anna watched her with curious eyes.

"Is it any one you know?" Brendon asked.

"I am not sure," Anna answered. "But, of course, she may have come
from one of the other flats."

"Perhaps," he said, "you had better let me have your key, and I will
go up and explore."

"We will go together," she answered.

They crossed the street, and entering the front door passed up the
outside stone steps of the flat. Anna herself opened the hall door.
They stood for a moment in the passage and listened. Silence! Then
Anna clutched her companion's arm.

"What was that?" she asked sharply.

He had heard nothing. They both listened intently. Again silence.

"I thought that I heard a groan," Anna whispered.

He laughed reassuringly.

"I heard nothing," he declared, "and my ears are good. Come."

He threw open the door of the sitting-room and switched on the
electric light.

"There is no--Good God!" he exclaimed.

He turned round to keep Anna out by force if possible, but he was too
late. She was by his side. She too had seen. The thin stream of blood
on which her eyes were fastened with a nameless horror reached almost
to her feet.



_Chapter XXIV_

A CASE FOR THE POLICE


After that first horrible moment it was perhaps Anna who was the more
self-possessed. She dropped on her knees by his side, and gently
unbuttoned his waistcoat. Then she looked up at Brendon.

"You must fetch a doctor," she said. "I do not think that he is quite
dead."

"And leave you here alone?" he asked, in a hoarse whisper. "Come with
me."

"I am not afraid," she answered. "Please hurry."

He reeled out of the room. Anna was afterwards astonished at her own
self-possession. She bound a scarf tightly round the place where the
blood seemed to be coming from. Then she stood up and looked around
the room.

There were no evidences of any struggle, no overturned chairs or
disarranged furniture. The grate was full of fluttering ashes of burnt
paper, and the easy chair near the fire had evidently been used. On
the floor was a handkerchief, a little morsel of lace. Anna saw it,
and for the first time found herself trembling.

She moved towards it slowly and picked it up, holding it out in front
of her whilst the familiar perfume seemed to assert itself with
damning insistence. It was Annabel's. The lace was family lace, easily
recognizable. The perfume was the only one she ever used. Annabel had
been here then. It was she who had come out from the flat only a few
minutes before. It was she----

Anna's nerves were not easily shaken, but she found herself suddenly
clutching at the table for support. The room was reeling, or was it
that she was going to faint? She recovered herself with a supreme
effort. There were the burnt papers still in the grate. She took up
the poker and stirred the fire vigorously. Almost at the same moment
the door opened and Brendon entered, followed by the doctor.

Anna turned round with a start, which was almost of guilt, the poker
still in her hand. She met the keen grey eyes of a clean-shaven man,
between forty and fifty, quietly dressed in professional attire.
Before he even glanced at the man on the floor he stepped over to her
side and took the poker from her.

"Forgive me, madam," he said stiffly, "but in such a case as this it
is better that nothing in the room should be disturbed until the
arrival of the police. You have been burning paper, I see."

"Are you a detective or a doctor?" she asked calmly. "Do you need me
to remind you that your patient is bleeding to death?"

He dropped on his knees by the man's side and made a hurried
examination.

"Who tied this scarf here?" he asked, looking up.

"I did," Anna answered. "I hope that it has not done any harm."

"He would have been dead before now without it," the doctor answered
shortly. "Get me some brandy and my bag."

It was nearly half an hour before they dared ask him the question.

"Will he live?"

The doctor shook his head.

"It is very doubtful," he said. "You must send for the police at once,
you know. You, sir," he added, turning to Brendon, "had better take my
card round to the police station in Werner Street and ask that
Detective Dorling be sent round here at once on urgent business."

"Is it necessary to send for the police?" Anna asked.

"Absolutely," the doctor answered, "and the sooner the better. This is
a case either of suicide or murder. The police are concerned in it in
either event."

"Please go then, Mr. Brendon," Anna said. "You will come back, won't
you?"

He nodded cheerfully.

"Of course I will," he answered.

The doctor and Anna were left alone. Every moment or two he bent over
his patient. He seemed to avoid meeting Anna's eyes as much as
possible.

"Does he live here?" he asked her presently.

"No."

"Far away?"

"I have no idea," Anna answered.

"Who is the tenant of these rooms?" he inquired.

"I am."

"You will have no objection to his remaining here?" he asked. "A move
of any sort would certainly be fatal."

"Of course not," Anna said. "Had he better have a nurse? I will be
responsible for anything of that sort."

"If he lives through the next hour," the doctor answered, "I will send
some one. Do you know anything of his friends? Is there any one for
whom we ought to send?"

"I know very little of him beyond his name," Anna answered. "I know
nothing whatever of his friends or his home. He used to live in a
boarding-house in Russell Square. That is where I first knew him."

The doctor looked at her thoughtfully. Perhaps for the first time he
realized that Anna was by no means an ordinary person. His patient was
distinctly of a different order of life. It was possible that his
first impressions had not been correct.

"Your name, I believe, is----"

"Pellissier," Anna answered.

"Allow me," the doctor said, "to give you a word of advice, Miss
Pellissier. A detective will be here in a few moments to make
inquiries into this affair. You may have something to conceal, you may
not. Tell the whole truth. It always comes out sooner or later. Don't
try to shield anybody or hide anything. It is bad policy."

Anna smiled very faintly.

"I thank you for your advice," she said. "I can assure you that it was
quite unnecessary. I know less about this affair perhaps than you
suppose. What I do know I shall have no hesitation in telling anyone
who has the right to ask."

"Just so," the doctor remarked drily. "And if I were you I would keep
away from the fire."

Brendon reappeared, followed by a tall thin man with a stubbly brown
moustache and restless grey eyes. The doctor nodded to him curtly.

"Good evening, Dorling," he said. "Before you do anything else I
should advise you to secure those charred fragments of paper from the
grate. I know nothing about this affair, but some one has been burning
documents."

The detective went down on his hands and knees. With delicate touch he
rescued all that was possible of them, and made a careful little
parcel. Then he stepped briskly to his feet and bent over the wounded
man.

"Shot through the lungs," he remarked.

The doctor nodded.

"Bad hemorrhage," he said. "I am going to fetch some things that will
be wanted if he pulls through the next hour. I found him lying like
this, the bleeding partly stopped by this scarf, else he had been dead
by now."

The doctor glanced towards Anna. Considering his convictions he felt
that his remark was a generous one. Anna's face however was wholly
impassive.

He took up his hat and went. The detective rapidly sketched the
appearance of the room in his notebook, and picked up the pistol from
under the table. Then he turned to Anna.

"Can you give me any information as to this affair?" he asked.

"I will tell you all that I know," Anna said. "My name is Anna
Pellissier, sometimes called Annabel. I am engaged to sing every
evening at the 'Unusual' music hall. This man's name is Montague
Hill. I saw him first a few months ago at Mrs. White's boarding-house
in Russell Square. He subjected me there to great annoyance by
claiming me as his wife. As a matter of fact, I had never spoken to
him before in my life. Since then he has persistently annoyed me. I
have suspected him of possessing a skeleton key to my apartments.
To-night I locked up my flat at six o'clock. It was then, I am sure,
empty. I dined with a friend and went to the 'Unusual.' At a quarter
past eleven I returned here with this gentleman, Mr. Brendon. As we
turned the corner of the street, I noticed that the electric light was
burning in this room. We stopped for a moment to watch it, and almost
immediately it was turned out. We came on here at once. I found the
door locked as usual, but when we entered this room everything was as
you see. Nothing has been touched since."

The detective nodded.

"A very clear statement, madam," he said. "From what you saw from the
opposite pavement then, it is certain that some person who was able to
move about was in this room only a minute or so before you entered
it?"

"That is so," Anna answered.

"You met no one upon the stairs, or saw no one leave the flats?"

"No one," Anna answered firmly.

"Then either this man shot himself or some one else shot him
immediately before your arrival--or rather if it was not himself the
person who did it was in the room, say two minutes, before you
arrived."

"That is so," Anna admitted.

"I will not trouble you with any questions about the other occupants
of the flats," Mr. Dorling said. "I shall have to go through the
building. You say that this gentleman was with you?"

"I was," Brendon answered, "most providentially."

"You did not notice anything which may have escaped this lady? You saw
no one leave the flats?"

"No one," Brendon answered.

"You heard no pistol-shot?"

"None."

The detective turned again to Anna.

"You know of no one likely to have had a grudge against this man?" he
asked.

"No."

"There is no one else who has a key to your rooms?"

"No one except my maid, who is away in Wiltshire."

"The inference is, then," the detective said smoothly, "that this man
obtained admission to your rooms by means of a false key, that he
burnt some papers here and shot himself within a few moments of your
return. Either that or some other person also obtained admission here
and shot him, and that person is either still upon the premises or
escaped without your notice."

"I suppose," Anna said, "that those are reasonable deductions."

The detective thrust his notebook into his pocket.

"I brought a man with me who is posted outside," he remarked. "With
your permission I should like to search the remainder of your rooms."

Anna showed him the way.

"Have either of you been out of this room since you discovered what
had happened?" he asked.

"Mr. Brendon went for the doctor," Anna answered. "I have not left
this apartment myself."

Nothing unusual was discovered in any other part of the flat. While
they were still engaged in looking round the doctor returned with a
nurse and assistant.

"With your permission," he said to Anna, "I shall arrange a bed for
him where he is. There is scarcely one chance in a dozen of saving his
life; there would be none at all if he were moved."

"You can make any arrangements you like," Anna declared. "I shall
leave the flat to you and go to a hotel."

"You would perhaps be so good as to allow one of my men to accompany
you and see you settled," Mr. Dorling said deferentially. "In the
event of his death we should require you at once to attend at the
inquest."

"I am going to pack my bag," Anna answered. "In five minutes I shall
be ready."



_Chapter XXV_

THE STEEL EDGE OF THE TRUTH


The manservant, with his plain black clothes and black tie, had
entered the room with a deferential little gesture.

"You will pardon me, sir," he said in a subdued tone, "but I think
that you have forgotten to look at your engagement book. There is Lady
Arlingford's reception to-night, ten till twelve, and the Hatton House
ball, marked with a cross, sir, important. I put your clothes out an
hour ago."

Nigel Ennison looked up with a little start.

"All right, Dunster," he said. "I may go to Hatton House later, but
you needn't wait. I can get into my clothes."

The man hesitated.

"Can I bring you anything, sir--a whisky and soda, or a liqueur?
You'll excuse me, sir, but you haven't touched your coffee."

"Bring me a whisky and soda, and a box of cigarettes," Ennison
answered, "and then leave me alone, there's a good fellow. I'm a
little tired."

The man obeyed his orders noiselessly and then left the room.

Ennison roused himself with an effort, took a long drink from his
whisky and soda, and lit a cigarette.

"What a fool I am!" he muttered, standing up on the hearthrug, and
leaning his elbows upon the broad mantelpiece. "And yet I wonder
whether the world ever held such another enigma in her sex. Paris
looms behind--a tragedy of strange recollections--here she emerges
Phoenix-like, subtly developed, a flawless woman, beautiful,
self-reliant, witty, a woman with the strange gift of making all
others beside her seem plain or vulgar. And then--this sudden thrust.
God only knows what I have done, or left undone. Something
unpardonable is laid to my charge. Only last night she saw me, and
there was horror in her eyes.... I have written, called--of what avail
is anything--against that look.... What the devil is the matter,
Dunster?"

"I beg your pardon, sir," the man answered, "there is a lady here to
see you."

Ennison turned round sharply.

"A lady, Dunster. Who is it?"

The man came a little further into the room.

"Lady Ferringhall, sir."

"Lady Ferringhall--alone?" Ennison exclaimed.

"Quite alone, sir."

Ennison was dismayed.

"For Heaven's sake, Dunster, don't let her out of the carriage, or
hansom, or whatever she came in. Say I'm out, away, anything!"

"I am sorry, sir," the man answered, "but she had sent away her hansom
before I answered the bell. She is in the hall now. I----"

The door was thrown open. Annabel entered.

"Forgive my coming in," she said to Ennison. "I heard your voices, and
the hall is draughty. What is the matter with you?"

Dunster had withdrawn discreetly. Ennison's manner was certainly not
one of a willing host.

"I cannot pretend that I am glad to see you, Lady Ferringhall," he
said quietly. "For your own sake, let me beg of you not to stay for a
moment. Dunster shall fetch you a cab. I----"

She threw herself into an easy chair. She was unusually pale, and her
eyes were brilliant. Never had she seemed to him so much like Anna.

"You needn't be worried," she said quietly. "The conventions do not
matter one little bit. You will agree with me when you have heard what
I have to say. For me that is all over and done with."

"Lady Ferringhall! Anna!" he exclaimed.

She fixed her brilliant eyes upon him.

"Suppose you call me by my proper name," she said quietly. "Call me
Annabel."

He started back as though he had been shot.

"Annabel?" he exclaimed. "That is your sister's name."

"No, mine."

It came upon him like a flash. Innumerable little puzzles were
instantly solved. He could only wonder that this amazing thing had
remained so long a secret to him. He remembered little whispered
speeches of hers, so like the Annabel of Paris, so unlike the woman he
loved, a hundred little things should have told him long ago.
Nevertheless it was overwhelming.

"But your hair," he gasped.

"Dyed!"

"And your figure?"

"One's _corsetière_ arranges that. My friend, I am only grieved that
you of all others should have been so deceived. I have seen you with
Anna, and I have not known whether to be glad or sorry. I have been in
torment all the while to know whether it was to Anna or to Annabel
that you were making love so charmingly. Nigel, do you know that I
have been very jealous?"

He avoided the invitation of her eyes. He was indeed still in the
throes of his bewilderment.

"But Sir John?" he exclaimed. "What made you marry him? What made you
leave Paris without a word to any one? What made you and your sister
exchange identities?"

"There is one answer to all those questions, Nigel," she said, with a
nervous little shudder. "It is a hateful story. Come close to me, and
let me hold your hand, dear. I am a little afraid."

There was a strange look in her face, the look of a frightened child.
Ennison seemed to feel already the shadow of tragedy approaching. He
stood by her side, and he suffered her hands to rest in his.

"You remember the man in Paris who used to follow me about--Meysey
Hill they called him?"

He nodded.

"Miserable bounder," he murmured. "Turned out to be an impostor, too."

"He imposed on me," Annabel continued. "I believed that he was the
great multi-millionaire. He worried me to marry him. I let him take me
to the English Embassy, and we went through some sort of a ceremony. I
thought it would be magnificent to have a great house in Paris, and
more money than any other woman. Afterwards we started for _déjeuner_
in a motor. On the way he confessed. He was not Meysey Hill, but an
Englishman of business, and he had only a small income. Every one took
him for the millionaire, and he had lost his head about me. I--well, I
lost my temper. I struck him across the face, twisted the steering
wheel of the motor, sprang out myself, and left him for dead on the
road with the motor on top of him. This is the first act."

"Served the beast right," Ennison declared. "I think I can tell you
something which may be very good news for you presently. But go on."

"Act two," she continued. "Enter Sir John, very honest, very much in
love with me. I thought that Hill was dead, but I was frightened, and
I wanted to get away from Paris. Sir John heard gossip about us--about
Anna the recluse, a paragon of virtue, and Annabel alias 'Alcide' a
dancer at the _cafés chantants_, and concerning whom there were many
stories which were false, and a few--which were true. I--well, I
borrowed Anna's name. I made her my unwilling confederate. Sir John
followed me to London and married me. To this day he and every one
else thinks that he married Anna.

"Act three. Anna comes to London. She is poor, and she will take
nothing from my husband, the man she had deceived for my sake, and he,
on his part, gravely disapproves of her as 'Alcide.' She tries every
way of earning a living and fails. Then she goes to a dramatic agent.
Curiously enough nothing will persuade him that she is not 'Alcide.'
He believes that she denies it simply because owing to my marriage
with Sir John, whom they call the 'Puritan Knight,' she wants to keep
her identity secret. He forces an engagement upon her. She never calls
herself 'Alcide.' It is the Press who find her out. She is the image
of what I was like, and she has a better voice. Then enter Mr. Hill
again--alive. He meets Anna, and claims her as his wife. It is Anna
again who stands between me and ruin."

"I cannot let you go on," Ennison interrupted. "I believe that I can
give you great news. Tell me where the fellow Hill took you for this
marriage ceremony."

"It was behind the Place de Vendome, on the other side from the Ritz."

"I knew it," Ennison exclaimed. "Cheer up, Annabel. You were never
married at all. That place was closed by the police last month. It was
a bogus affair altogether, kept by some blackguard or other of an
Englishman. Everything was done in the most legal and imposing way,
but the whole thing was a fraud."

"Then I was never married to him at all?" Annabel said.

"Never--but, by Jove, you had a narrow escape," Ennison exclaimed.
"Annabel, I begin to see why you are here. Think! Had you not better
hurry back before Sir John discovers? You are his wife right enough.
You can tell me the rest another time."

She smiled faintly.

"The rest," she said, holding tightly to his hands, "is the most
important of all. You came to me, you wished me to speak to Anna. I
went to her rooms to-night. There was no one at home, and I was coming
away when I saw that the door was open. I decided to go in and wait.
In her sitting-room I found Montague Hill. He had gained admission
somehow, and he too was waiting for Anna. But--he was cleverer than
any of you. He knew me, Nigel. 'At last,' he cried, 'I have found
you!' He would listen to nothing. He swore that I was his wife, and--I
shot him, Nigel, as his arms were closing around me. Shot him, do you
hear?"

"Good God!" he exclaimed, looking at her curiously. "Is this true,
Annabel? Is he dead?"

She nodded.

"I shot him. I saw the blood come as he rolled over. I tore the
marriage certificate from his pocket and burnt it. And then I came
here."

"You came--here!" he repeated, vaguely.

"Nigel, Nigel," she cried. "Don't you understand? It is I whom you
cared for in Paris, not Anna. She is a stranger to you. You cannot
care for her. Think of those days in Paris. Do you remember when we
went right away, Nigel, and forgot everything? We went down the river
past Veraz, and the larks were singing all over those deep brown
fields, and the river further on wound its way like a coil of silver
across the rich meadowland, and along the hillside vineyards. Oh, the
scent of the flowers that day, the delicious quiet, the swallows that
dived before us in the river. Nigel! You have not forgotten. It was
the first day you kissed me, under the willows, coming into Veraz.
Nigel, you have not forgotten!"

"No," he said, with a little bitter smile. "I have never forgotten."

She suddenly caught hold of his shoulders and drew him down towards
her.

"Nigel, don't you understand. I must leave England to-night. I must go
somewhere into hiding, a long, long way off. I killed him, Nigel. They
will say that it was murder. But if only you will come I do not care."

He shook her hands off almost roughly. He stood away from her. She
listened with dumb fear in her eyes.

"Listen, Annabel," he said hoarsely. "We played at love-making in
Paris. It was very pretty and very dainty while it lasted, but we
played it with our eyes open, and we perfectly understood the
game--both of us. Other things came. We went our ways. There was no
broken faith--not even any question of anything of the sort. I met you
here as Lady Ferringhall. We have played at a little mild love-making
again. It has been only the sort of nonsense which passes lightly
enough between half the men and women in London. You shall know the
truth. I do not love you. I have never loved you. I call myself a man
of the world, a man of many experiences, but I never knew what love
meant--until I met your sister."

"You love--Anna?" she exclaimed.

"I do," he answered. "I always shall. Now if you are ready to go with
me, I too am ready. We will go to Ostend by the early morning boat and
choose a hiding place from there. I will marry you when Sir John gets
his divorce, and I will do all I can to keep you out of harm. But you
had better know the truth to start with. I will do all this not
because I love you, but--because you are Anna's sister."

Annabel rose to her feet.

"You are magnificent," she said, "but the steel of your truth is a
little oversharpened. It cuts. Will you let your servant call me a
hansom," she continued, opening the door before he could reach her
side. "I had no idea that it was so abominably late."

He scarcely saw her face again. She pulled her veil down, and he knew
that silence was best.

"Where to?" he asked, as the hansom drove up.

"Home, of course," she answered. "Eight, Cavendish Square."



_Chapter XXVI_

ANNABEL IS WARNED


"You!"

David Courtlaw crossed the floor of the dingy little sitting-room with
outstretched hands.

"You cannot say that you did not expect me," he answered. "I got
Sydney's telegram at ten o'clock, and caught the ten-thirty from the
Gare du Nord."

"It is very nice of you," Anna said softly.

"Rubbish!" he answered. "I could not have stayed in Paris and waited
for news. Tell me exactly what has happened. Even now I do not
understand. Is this man Hill dead?"

She shook her head.

"He was alive at four o'clock this afternoon," she answered, "but the
doctors give little hope of his recovery."

"What is there to be feared?" he asked her quietly.

She hesitated.

"You are my friend," she said, "if any one is. I think that I will
tell you. The man Hill has persecuted me for months--ever since I have
been in England. He claimed me for his wife, and showed to every one a
marriage certificate. He shot at me at the 'Unusual,' and the
magistrates bound him over to keep the peace. I found him once in my
rooms, and I believe that he had a key to my front door. Last night
Mr. Brendon and I returned from the 'Unusual,' and found him lying
in my room shot through the lungs. In the grate were some charred
fragments of a marriage certificate. We fetched the doctor and the
police. From the first I could see that neither believed my story. I
am suspected of having shot the man."

"But that is ridiculous!" he exclaimed.

She laughed a little bitterly.

"I am under police surveillance," she said. "So is Mr. Brendon."

"But there is not a shadow of evidence against you," he objected. "The
man alone could supply any, and if he recovers sufficiently to say
anything, what he would say would exonerate you."

"Yes."

There was a moment's silence. Anna's face was half turned from him,
but her expression, and the tone of her monosyllable puzzled him. He
stepped quickly towards her. Her eyes seemed to be looking backwards.
She distinctly shivered as he forced her to look at him. He was
bewildered.

"Anna!" he exclaimed hoarsely. "Look at me. What is it? Good God!"

An unhappy little smile parted her lips. She clenched her hands
together and leaned forward in her chair, gazing steadily into the
fire.

"I think," she said, "that I will tell you everything. I must tell
somebody--and you would understand."

"I am your friend," he said slowly, "whatever you may have to tell me.
You can trust me, Anna. You know that. I will be as silent as the
grave."

"Not long ago," she said, "you left me in anger, partly because of
this exchange of identities between Annabel and myself. You said that
it would bring trouble. It has."

"Yes."

"Annabel's real reason for wishing to leave Paris, the real reason she
married Sir John Ferringhall, was because of a very foolish thing
which she did. It was--in connection with this man Hill. He personated
over there a millionaire named Meysey Hill, and it seems that he
induced Annabel to go through some sort of marriage with him at the
Embassy."

"Where?" Courtlaw asked quickly.

"In Paris."

Courtlaw seemed about to say something. He changed his mind however,
and simply motioned to her to proceed.

"Then there was a motor accident only an hour or so after this
ceremony, and Hill was reported to be killed. Annabel believed it,
came to England and married Sir John. Now you can understand why I
have been obliged to----"

"Yes, yes, I understand that," Courtlaw interrupted. "But about last
night."

"Annabel knew where I lived," Anna continued slowly. "She has been to
my flat before. I saw her come out from the flat buildings two minutes
before we entered it last night. I picked up her handkerchief on the
floor."

"You mean--you think----"

"Hush! I think that he was concealed in my room, and Annabel and he
met there. What passed between them I cannot think--I dare not. The
pistol was his own, it is true, but it was one which was taken from
him when he forced his way in upon me before. Now you can understand
why every minute is a torture to me. It is not for myself I fear. But
if he speaks--I fear what he may tell."

"You have been to her?" he asked.

"I dare not," she answered.

"I will go," he said. "She must be warned. She had better escape if
she can."

Anna shook her head.

"She will take her risk," she answered. "I am sure of it. If he
recovers he may not accuse her. If he dies she is safe."

He paced the room for a minute or two restlessly.

"There are some people," he said at last, "who seem fated to carry on
their shoulders the burdens of other people. You, Anna, are one of
them. I know in Paris you pinched and scraped that your sister might
have the dresses and entertainments she desired. You fell in at once
with her quixotic and damnable scheme of foisting her reputation and
her follies upon your shoulders whilst she marries a rich man and
commences all over again a life of selfish pleasure. You on the other
hand have to come to London, a worker, with the responsibility of life
upon your own shoulders--and in addition all the burden of her
follies."

"You forget," she said, looking up at him with a faint smile, "that
under the cloak of her name I am earning more money a week than I
could ever have earned in a year by my own labours."

"It is an accident," he answered. "Besides, it is not so. You sing
better than Annabel ever did, you have even a better style. 'Alcide'
or no 'Alcide,' there is not a music hall manager in London or Paris
who would not give you an engagement on your own merits."

"Perhaps not," she answered. "And yet in a very few weeks I shall have
done with it all. Do you think that I shall ever make an actress, my
friend?"

"I doubt it," he answered bluntly. "You have not feeling enough."

She smiled at him.

"It is like old times," she said, "to hear these home truths. All the
same, I don't admit it."

He shook his head.

"To be an actress," he said, "you require a special and peculiar
temperament. I do not believe that there has ever lived a really great
actress whose moral character from the ordinary point of view would
bear inspection."

"Then I," she said, "have too much character."

"Too much character, and too little sentiment," he answered. "Too much
sensibility and too cold a heart. Too easily roused emotions and too
little passion. How could you draw the curtain aside which hides the
great and holy places of life--you, who have never loved?"

"You have become French to the core," she murmured. "You would believe
that life is kindled by the passions alone."

There was silence between them. Then a servant girl brought in a
telegram. Anna tore it open and passed it to Courtlaw. It was from
Brendon.

    "Hill gradually recovering consciousness. Doctor says depositions
    to-night. Recovery impossible.--BRENDON."

He looked at her gravely.

"I think," he said, "that some one ought to warn her."

"It is Number 8, Cavendish Square," she answered simply.

       *       *       *       *       *

Courtlaw found himself ushered without questions into Annabel's long
low drawing-room, fragrant with flowers and somewhat to his surprise,
crowded with guests. From the further end of the apartment came the
low music of a violin. Servants were passing backwards and forwards
with tea and chocolate. For a moment he did not recognize Annabel.
Then she came a few steps to meet him.

"Mr. Courtlaw, is it not," she remarked, with lifted eyebrows. "Really
it is very kind of you to have found me out."

He was bereft of words for a moment, and in that moment she escaped,
having passed him on deftly to one of the later arrivals.

"Lady Mackinnor," she said, "I am sure that you must have heard of Mr.
David Courtlaw. Permit me to make him known to you--Mr. Courtlaw--Lady
Mackinnor."

With a murmured word of excuse she glided away, and Courtlaw, who
had come with a mission which seemed to him to be one of life or
death, was left to listen to the latest art jargon from Chelsea. He
bore it as long as he could, watching all the time with fascinated
eyes Annabel moving gracefully about amongst her guests, always gay,
with a smile and a whisper for nearly everybody. Grudgingly he admired
her. To him she had always appeared as a mere pleasure-loving
parasite--something quite insignificant. He had pictured her, if
indeed she had ever had the courage to do this thing, as sitting
alone, convulsed with guilty fear, starting at her own shadow, a slave
to constant terror. And instead he found her playing the great lady,
and playing it well. She knew, or guessed his mission too, for more
than once their eyes met, and she laughed mockingly at him. At last he
could bear it no longer. He left his companion in the midst of a
glowing eulogy of Bastien Leparge, and boldly intercepted his hostess
as she moved from one group to join another.

"Can you spare me a moment?" he asked. "I have a message from your
sister."

"Are you in a hurry," she asked carelessly. "A lot of these people
will be going presently."

"My message is urgent," he said firmly. "If you cannot listen to me
now it must remain undelivered."

She shrugged her shoulders and led him towards a small recess. "So you
come from Anna, do you?" she remarked. "Well, what is it?"

"Montague Hill is recovering consciousness," he said. "He will
probably make a statement to-night."

"That sounds very interesting," she answered coolly. "Perhaps I should
better be able to understand its significance if you would explain to
me who Mr. Montague Hill is."

"Your husband," he answered bluntly.

She did not wince. She laughed a little contemptuously.

"You and Anna," she said, "seem to have stumbled upon a mare's nest.
If that is my sister's message, pray return to her and say that the
doings and sayings of Mr. Montague Hill do not interest me in the
least."

"Don't be foolish," he said sharply. "You were seen to leave the flat,
and your handkerchief was found there. Very likely by this time the
whole truth is known."

She smiled at him, an understanding smile, but her words defied him.

"What a beautiful mare's nest!" she exclaimed. "I can see you and Anna
groaning and nodding your grave heads together. Bah! She does not know
me very well, and you--not at all. Do have some tea, won't you? If
you must, go then."

Courtlaw was dismissed. As he passed out he saw in the hall a quietly
dressed man with keen grey eyes, talking to one of the footmen. He
shivered and looked behind as he stepped into his hansom. Had it come
already?



_Chapter XXVII_

JOHN FERRINGHAM, GENTLEMAN


"Confess, my dear husband," Annabel said lightly, "that you are
bewildered."

Sir John smiled.

"My dear Anna," he answered. "To tell you the truth, it has seemed
just lately as though we were becoming in some measure estranged. You
certainly have not shown much desire for my society, have you?"

"You have been wrapped up in your politics," she murmured.

He shook his head.

"There have been other times," he said a little sadly.

Her little white hand stole across the table. There was a look in her
eyes which puzzled him.

"I have been very selfish," she declared. "But you must forgive me,
John."

"I would forgive you a great deal more," he answered readily, "for the
sake of an evening like this. You have actually given up a
dinner-party to dine alone with me."

"And made you give up a political meeting," she reminded him.

"Quite an unimportant one," he assured her. "I would have given up
anything to see you your old self again--as you are this evening."

"I am afraid I have not been very nice," she said sadly. "Never mind.
You must think of this evening, John, sometimes--as a sort of
atonement."

"I hope," he answered, looking at her in some surprise, "that we shall
have many more such to think about."

They were lingering over their dessert. The servants had left the
room. Annabel half filled her glass with wine, and taking a little
folded packet from her plate, shook the contents into it.

"I am developing ailments," she said, meeting his questioning eyes.
"It is nothing of any importance. John, I have something to say to
you."

"If you want to ask a favour," he remarked smiling, "you have made it
almost impossible for me to refuse you anything."

"I am going to ask more than a favour," she said slowly. "I am going
to ask for your forgiveness."

He was a little uneasy.

"I do not know what you mean," he said, "but if you are referring to
any little coolness since our marriage let us never speak of it again.
I am something of an old fogey, Anna, I'm afraid, but if you treat me
like this you will teach me to forget it."

Annabel looked intently into her glass.

"John," she said, "I am afraid that I am going to make you unhappy. I
am very, very sorry, but you must listen to me."

He relapsed into a stony silence. A few feet away, across the low
vases of pink and white roses, sat Annabel, more beautiful to-night
perhaps than ever before in her life. She wore a wonderful dress of
turquoise blue, made by a great dressmaker for a function which she
knew very well now that she would never attend. Her hair once more was
arranged with its old simplicity. There was a new softness in her
eyes, a hesitation, a timidity about her manner which was almost
pathetic.

"You remember our first meeting?"

"Yes," he answered hoarsely. "I remember it very well indeed. You have
the look in your eyes to-night which you had that day, the look of a
frightened child."

She looked into her glass.

"I was frightened then," she declared. "I am frightened now. But it is
all very different. There was hope for me then. Now there is none. No,
none at all."

"You talk strangely, Anna," he said. "Go on!"

"People talked to you in Paris about us," she continued, "about Anna
the virtuous and Annabel the rake. You were accused of having been
seen with the latter. You denied it, remembering that I had called
myself Anna. You went even to our rooms and saw my sister. Anna lied
to you, I lied to you. I was Annabel the rake, 'Alcide' of the music
halls. My name is Annabel, not Anna. Do you understand?"

"I do not," he answered. "How could I, when your sister sings now at
the 'Unusual' every night and the name 'Alcide' flaunts from every
placard in London?"

"The likeness between us," she said, "before I began to disfigure
myself with rouge and ill-dressed hair, was remarkable. Anna failed in
her painting, our money was gone, and she was forced to earn her own
living. She came to London, and tried several things without any
success."

"But why----"

Sir John stopped short. With a moment of inward shame he remembered
his deportment towards Anna. It was scarcely likely that she would
have accepted his aid. Some one had once, in his hearing, called him a
prig. He remembered it suddenly. He thought of his severe attitude
towards the girl who was rightly and with contempt refusing his
measured help. He looked across at Annabel, and he groaned. This was
his humiliation as well as hers.

"Anna of course would not accept any money from us," she continued.
"She tried everything, and last of all she tried the stage. She went
to a dramatic agent, and he turned out to be the one who had heard me
sing in Paris. He refused to believe that Anna was not 'Alcide.' He
thought she wished to conceal her identity because of the connexion
with you, and he offered her an engagement at once. She was never
announced as 'Alcide,' but directly she walked on she simply became
'Alcide' to every one. She had a better voice than I, and the rest I
suppose is only a trick. The real 'Alcide'," she wound up with a faint
smile across the table at him, "is here."

He sat like a man turned to stone. Some part of the stiff vigour of
the man seemed to have subsided. He seemed to have shrunken in his
seat. His eyes were fixed upon her face, but he opened his lips twice
before he spoke.

"When you married me----"

Her little hand flashed out across the table.

"John," she said, "I can spare you that question. I had been about as
foolish and selfish as a girl could be. I had done the most
compromising things, and behaved in the most ridiculous way. But from
the rest--you saved me."

Sir John breathed a long deep sigh. He sat up in his chair again, the
colour came back to his cheeks.

"John, don't!" she cried. "You think that this is all. You are going
to be generous and forgive. It isn't all. There is worse to come.
There is a tragedy to come."

"Out with it, then," he cried, almost roughly. "Don't you know, child,
that this is torture for me? What in God's name more can you have to
tell me?"

Her face had become almost like a marble image. She spoke with a
certain odd deliberation carefully chosen words which fell like drops
of ice upon the man who sat listening.

"Before I met you I was deluded into receiving upon friendly terms a
man named Hill, who passed himself off as Meysey Hill the railway man,
but who was in reality an Englishman in poor circumstances. He was
going to settle I forget how many millions upon me, and I think that I
was dazzled. I went with him to what I supposed to be the British
Embassy, and went through a ceremony which I understood to be the
usual form of the marriage one used there. Afterwards we started for a
motor ride to a place outside Paris for _déjeuner_, and I suppose the
man's nerve failed him. I questioned him too closely about his
possessions, and remarked upon the fact that he was a most inexpert
driver, although Meysey Hill had a great reputation as a motorist.
Anyhow he confessed that he was a fraud. I struck him across the face,
jumped out and went back by train to Paris. He lost control of the
machine, was upset and nearly killed."

"Did you say," Sir John asked, "that the man's name was Hill?"

"Yes," she answered.

"The man who was found dead in your sister's room was named Hill?"

"It is the man," she answered. "I killed him."

Sir John clutched at the table with both hands. A slow horror was
dawning in his fixed eyes. This was not the sort of confession which
he had been expecting. Annabel had spoken calmly enough and steadily,
but his brain refused at first to accept the full meaning of her
words. It seemed to him that a sort of mist had risen up between them.
Everything was blurred. Only her face was clear, frail and delicate,
almost flower-like, with the sad haunting eyes ever watching his.
Annabel a murderess! It was not possible.

"Child!" he cried. "You do not know what you say. This is part of a
dream--some evil fancy. Think! You could not have done it."

She shook her head deliberately, hopelessly.

"I think that I know very well what I am saying," she answered. "I
went to Anna's rooms because I felt that I must see her. He was there
concealed, waiting her return. He recognized me at once, and he
behaved like a madman. He swore that I was his wife, that chance had
given me to him at last. John, he was between me and the door. A
strong coarse man, and there were things in his eyes which made my
blood run cold with terror. He came over to me. I was helpless.
Beside me on Anna's table was a pistol. I was not even sure whether
it was loaded. I snatched it up, pointed it blindly at him, and
fired."

"Ah!" Sir John exclaimed.

"He fell over at my feet," she continued. "I saw him stagger and sink
down, and the pistol was smoking still in my hand. I bent over him.
Anna had told me that he carried always with him this bogus marriage
certificate. I undid his coat, and I took it from his pocket. I burned
it."

"But the marriage itself?" Sir John asked. "I do not understand."

"There was no marriage," she answered. "I was very foolish to have
been deceived even for a moment. There was no marriage, and I hated,
oh, how I hated the man."

"Did any one see you leave the flat?" he asked.

"I do not know. But David Courtlaw has been here. To-night they say he
will be conscious. He will say who it was. So there is no escape. And
listen, John."

"Well?"

"I went from Anna's flat to Nigel Ennison's rooms. I told him the
truth. I asked him to take me away, and hide me. He refused. He sent
me home."

Sir John's head bent lower and lower. There was nothing left now of
the self-assured, prosperous man of affairs. His shoulders were bent,
his face was furrowed with wrinkles. He looked no longer at his wife.
His eyes were fixed upon the tablecloth.

There was a gentle rustling of skirts. Softly she rose to her feet. He
felt her warm breath upon his cheek, the perfume of her hair as she
leaned over him. He did not look up, so he did not know that in her
other hand she held a glass of wine.

"Dear husband," she murmured. "I am so very, very sorry. I have
brought disgrace upon you, and I haven't been the right sort of wife
at all. But it is all over now, and presently there will be some one
else. I should like to have had you forgive me."

He did not move. He seemed to be thinking hard. She paused for a
moment. Then she raised the glass nearer to her lips.

"Good-bye, John," she said simply.

Something in her tone made him look up. In a second the glass lay
shattered upon the carpet. There was a stain of wine upon her dress.

"God in Heaven, Annabel!" he cried. "What were you doing?"

Her voice was a little hysterical. Her unnatural calm was giving way.

"It was poison--why not?" she answered. "Who is there to care
and--John."

His arms were around her. He kissed her once on the lips with a
passion of which, during all their days of married life, he had given
no sign.

"You poor little girl!" he cried. "Forgive you, indeed. There isn't a
husband breathing, Annabel, who wouldn't have blessed that pistol in
your hands, and prayed God that the bullet might go straight. It is no
crime, none at all. It is one of God's laws that a woman may defend
her honour, even with the shedding of blood. While you talked I was
only making our plans. It was necessary to think, and think quickly."

She was altogether hysterical now.

"But I--I went to Nigel Ennison for help. I asked him--to take me
away."

She saw him flinch, but he gave no sign of it in his tone.

"Perhaps," he said, "I have been to blame. It must be my fault that
you have not learnt that your husband is the man to come to--at such a
time as this. Oh, I think I understand, Annabel. You were afraid of
me, afraid that I should have been shocked, afraid of the scandal.
Bah. Little woman, you have been brave enough before. Pull yourself
together now. Drink this!"

He poured out a glass of wine with a firm hand, and held it to her
lips. She drank it obediently.

"Good," he said, as he watched the colour come back to her cheeks.
"Now listen. You go to your room and ring for your maid. I received a
telegram, as you know, during dinner. It contains news of the serious
illness of a near relation at Paris. Your maid has twenty minutes to
pack your dressing case for one night, and you have the same time to
change into a travelling dress. In twenty minutes we meet in the hall,
remember. I will tell you our plans on the way to the station."

"But you," she exclaimed, "you are not coming. There is the
election----"

He laughed derisively.

"Election be hanged!" he exclaimed. "Don't be childish, Annabel. We
are off for a second honeymoon. Just one thing more. We may be
stopped. Don't look so frightened. You called yourself a murderess.
You are nothing of the sort. What you did is called manslaughter, and
at the worst there is only a very slight penalty, nothing to be
frightened about in the least. Remember that."

She kissed him passionately, and ran lightly upstairs. In the hall
below she could hear his firm voice giving quick commands to the
servants.



_Chapter XXVIII_

THE HISSING OF "ALCIDE"


There was a strange and ominous murmur of voices, a shuffling of feet
in the gallery, a silence, which was like the silence before a storm.
Anna, who had sung the first verse of her song, looked around the
house, a little surprised at the absence of the applause which had
never yet failed her. She realized in a moment what had happened. Even
though the individual faces of her audience were not to be singled
out, she had been conscious from the first moment of her appearance
that something was wrong. She hesitated, and for a moment thought of
omitting her second verse altogether. The manager, however, who stood
in the wings, nodded to her to proceed, and the orchestra commenced
the first few bars of the music. Then the storm broke. A long shrill
cat-call in the gallery seemed to be the signal. Then a roar of
hisses. They came from every part, from the pit, the circle and the
gallery, even from the stalls. And there arose too, a background of
shouts.

"Who killed her husband?"

"Go and nurse him, missus!"

"Murderess!"

Anna looked from left to right. She was as pale as death, but she
seemed to have lost the power of movement. They shouted to her from
the wings to come off. She could not stir hand or foot. A paralyzing
horror was upon her. Her eardrums were burning with the echoes of
those hideous shouts. A crumpled-up newspaper thrown from the gallery
hit her upon the cheek. The stage manager came out from the wings, and
taking her hand led her off. There was more shouting.

The stage manager reappeared presently, and made a speech. He
regretted--more deeply than he could say--the occurrence of this
evening. He fancied that when they had had time to reflect, they would
regret it still more. ("No, no.") They had shown themselves grossly
ignorant of facts. They had chosen to deliberately and wickedly insult
a lady who had done her best to entertain them for many weeks. He
could not promise that she would ever appear again in that house.
("Good job.") Well, they might say that, but he knew very well that
before long they would regret it. Of his own certain knowledge he
could tell them that. For his own part he could not sufficiently
admire the pluck of this lady, who, notwithstanding all that she had
been through, had chosen to appear this evening rather than break her
engagement. He should never sufficiently be able to regret the return
which they had made to her. He begged their attention for the next
turn.

He had spoken impressively, and most likely Anna, had she reappeared,
would have met with a fair reception. She, however, had no idea of
doing anything of the sort. She dressed rapidly and left the theatre
without a word to any one. The whole incident was so unexpected that
neither Courtlaw nor Brendon were awaiting. The man who sat behind a
pigeon-hole, and regulated the comings and goings, was for a moment
absent. Anna stood on the step and looked up and down the street for a
hansom. Suddenly she felt her wrist grasped by a strong hand. It was
Ennison, who loomed up through the shadows.

"Anna! Thank God I have found you at last. But you have not finished
surely. Your second turn is not over, is it?"

She laughed a little hardly. Even now she was dazed. The horror of
those few minutes was still with her.

"Have you not heard?" she said. "For me there is no second turn. I
have said good-bye to it all. They hissed me!"

"Beasts!" he muttered. "But was it wise to sing to-night?"

"Why not? The man was nothing to me."

"You have not seen the evening paper?"

"No. What about them?"

He called a hansom.

"They are full of the usual foolish stories. To-morrow they will all
be contradicted. To-night all London believes that he was your
husband."

"That is why they hissed me, then?"

"Of course. To-morrow they will know the truth."

She shivered.

"Is this hansom for me?" she said. "Thank you--and good-bye."

"I am coming with you," he said firmly.

She shook her head.

"Don't!" she begged.

"You are in trouble," he said. "No one has a better right than I to be
with you."

"You have no right at all," she answered coldly.

"I have the right of the man who loves you," he declared. "Some day
you will be my wife, and it would not be well for either of us to
remember that in these unhappy days you and I were separated."

Anna gave her address to the driver. She leaned back in the cab with
half-closed eyes.

"This is all madness," she declared wearily. "Do you think it is fair
of you to persecute me just now?"

"It is not persecution, Anna," he answered gently. "Only you are the
woman I love, and you are in trouble. And you are something of a
heroine, too. You see, my riddle is solved. I know all."

"You know all?"

"Your sister has told me."

"You have seen her--since last night?"

"Yes."

Anna shivered a little. She asked no further questions for the moment.
Ennison himself, with the recollection of Annabel's visit still fresh
in his mind, was for a moment constrained and ill at ease. When they
reached her rooms she stepped lightly out upon the pavement.

"Now you must go," she said firmly. "I have had a trying evening and I
need rest."

"You need help and sympathy more, Anna," he pleaded, "and I have the
right, yes I have the right to offer you both. I will not be sent
away."

"It is my wish to be alone," she said wearily. "I can say no more."

She turned and fitted the latchkey into the door. He hesitated for a
moment and then he followed her. She turned the gas up in her little
sitting-room, and sank wearily into an easy chair. On the mantelpiece
in front of her was a note addressed to her in Annabel's handwriting.
She looked at it with a little shudder, but she made no motion to take
it.

"Will you say what you have to say, please, and go. I am tired, and I
want to be alone."

He came and stood on the hearthrug close to her.

"Anna," he said, "you make it all indescribably hard for me. Will you
not remember what has passed between us? I have the right to take my
place by your side."

"You have no right at all," she answered. "Further than that, I am
amazed that you should dare to allude to those few moments, to that
single moment of folly. If ever I could bring myself to ask you any
favour, I would ask you to forget even as I have forgotten."

"Why in Heaven's name should I forget?" he cried. "I love you, Anna,
and I want you for my wife. There is nothing but your pride which
stands between us."

"There is great deal more," she answered coldly. "For one thing I am
going to marry David Courtlaw."

He stepped back as though he had received a blow.

"It is not possible," he exclaimed.

"Why not?"

"Because you are mine. You have told me that you cared. Oh, you cannot
escape from it. Anna, my love, you cannot have forgotten so soon."

He fancied that she was yielding, but her eyes fell once more upon
that fatal envelope, and her tone when she spoke was colder than ever.

"That was a moment of madness," she said. "I was lonely. I did not
know what I was saying."

"I will have your reason for this," he said. "I will have your true
reason."

She looked at him for a moment with fire in her eyes.

"You need a reason. Ask your own conscience. What sort of a standard
of life yours may be I do not know, yet in your heart you know very
well that every word you have spoken to me has been a veiled insult,
every time you have come into my presence has been an outrage. That is
what stands between us, if you would know--that."

She pointed to the envelope still resting upon the mantelpiece. He
recognized the handwriting, and turned a shade paler. Her eyes noted
it mercilessly.

"But your sister," he said. "What has she told you?"

"Everything."

He was a little bewildered.

"But," he said, "you do not blame me altogether?"

She rose to her feet.

"I am tired," she said, "and I want to rest. But if you do not leave
this room I must."

He took up his hat.

"Very well," he said. "You are unjust and quixotic, Anna, you have no
right to treat any one as you are treating me. And yet--I love you.
When you send for me I shall come back. I do not believe that you will
marry David Courtlaw. I do not think that you will dare to marry
anybody else."

He left the room, and she stood motionless, with flaming cheeks,
listening to his retreating footsteps. When she was quite sure that he
was gone she took her sister's note from the mantelpiece and slowly
broke the seal.

     "DEAREST A----

     "I lied to you. Nigel Ennison was my very good friend, but there
     is not the slightest reason for your not marrying him, if you
     wish to do so.

     "My husband knows all. We leave England to-night.

               "Ever yours,
                  "ANNABEL.

Anna moved softly to the window, and threw up the sash. Ennison had
disappeared.



_Chapter XXIX_

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.

"Which one?"

"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.

"Which one?"

"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 to-night."

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.



_Chapter XXX_

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. To-night 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
to-night--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 passers-by, took her
into his arms and kissed her. Then he stood up and hailed a _fiacre_.

"Hotel Ritz!"



_Chapter XXXI_

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?"

Anna smiled.

"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?"

Anna laughed.

"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 to-day, 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 to-day."



_Chapter XXXII_

SIX MONTHS AFTER


Up the moss-grown path, where the rose bushes run wild, almost met,
came Anna in a spotless white gown, with the flush of her early
morning walk in her cheeks, and something of the brightness of it in
her eyes. In one hand she carried a long-stalked red rose, dripping
with dew, in the other the post-bag.

She reached a tiny yellow-fronted cottage covered with flowering
creepers, and entered the front room by the wide-open window.
Breakfast was laid for one, a dish of fruit and a shining coffee
equipage. By the side of her plate was a small key. With trembling
fingers she opened the post-bag. There was one letter. One only.

She opened and read it at once. It was dated from the House of Commons
on the previous day.

     "MY DEAR MISS PELLISSIER,--

     "To-morrow the six months will be up. For days I have been
     undecided as to whether I would come to you or no. I would like
     you to believe that the decision I have arrived at--to stay
     away--is wholly and entirely to save you pain. It should be the
     happiest day of your life, and I would not detract from its
     happiness by letting you remember for a moment that there are
     others to whom your inevitable decision must bring some pain.

     "For I know that you love Ennison. You tried bravely enough to
     hide your preference, to look at us all with the same eyes, to
     speak to us in the same tone. It was not your fault you failed.
     If by any chance I have made a mistake a word will bring me to
     you. But I know very well that that word will never be spoken.

     "Your great success has been my joy, our joy as well as yours.
     You have made for yourself a unique place upon the stage. We have
     so many actresses who aspire to great things in the drama, not
     one who can interpret as you have interpreted it, the delicate
     finesse, the finer lights and shades of true comedy. Ennison will
     make a thousand enemies if he takes you from the stage. Yet I
     think that he will do it.

     "For my own part I have come fully now into my inheritance. I am
     bound to admit that I greatly enjoy my altered life. Every minute
     I spend here is an education to me. Before very long I hope to
     have definite work. Some of my schemes are already in hand.
     People shrug their shoulders and call me a crazy socialist. Yet I
     fancy that we who have been poor ourselves must be the best
     judges of the needs of the people.

     "You will write to me, I am sure--and from the date of your
     letter I trust most earnestly that I may come back to my old
     place as

               "Your devoted friend,
                    "WALTER BRENDON."

She set the letter down, and drew from her pocket another with a
foreign post mark which had come the day before. This one too she
read.

               "HASSELL'S CAMP,
                    "NEAR COLORADO.

     "On or about the day you receive this letter, Anna, the six
     months will be up. Do you expect me, I wonder. I think not. At
     any rate, here I am, and here I shall be, twenty thousand feet
     above all your poison-reeking cities, up where God's wind comes
     fresh from heaven, very near indeed to the untrodden snows.
     Sometimes I tremble, Anna, to think how near I came to passing
     through life without a single glimpse, a moment's revelation of
     this greatest and most awful of mysteries, the mystery of
     primaeval nature. It is a true saying that in the mountains there
     is peace. One's sense of proportion, battered out of all shape in
     the daily life of cities, reasserts itself. I love you still,
     Anna, but life holds other things than the love of man for woman.
     Some day I shall come back, and I will show you on canvas the
     things which have come to me up here amongst the eternal silence.

     "Many nights I have thought of you, Anna. Your face has flitted
     out of my watch-fire, and then I have been a haunted man. But
     with the morning, the glorious unstained morning the passion of
     living would stir even the blood of a clod. It comes over the
     mountains, Anna, pink darkening into orange red, everywhere a
     wonderful cloud sea, scintillating with colour. It is enough to
     make a man throw away canvas and brushes into the bottomless
     precipices, enough to make one weep with despair at his utter and
     absolute impotence. Nature is God, Anna, and the greatest artist
     of us all a pigmy. When I think of those ateliers of ours, the
     art jargon, the decadents with their flamboyant talk I long for
     a two-edged sword and a minute of Divinity. To perdition with
     them all.

     "I shall come back, if at all, a new man. I have a new cult to
     teach, a new enthusiasm. I feel years younger, a man again. My
     first visit will be to you. I must tell you all about God's land,
     this marvellous virgin country, with its silent forests and
     dazzling peaks. I make no apology for not being with you now. You
     love Ennison. Believe me, the bitterness of it has almost
     departed, crushed out of me together with much of the weariness
     and sorrow I brought with me here by the nameless glory of these
     lonely months. Yet I shall think of you to-day. I pray, Anna,
     that you may find your happiness.

               "Your friend,
                    "DAVID COURTLAW."

     "P.S.--I do not congratulate you on your success. I was certain
     of it. I am glad or sorry according as it has brought you
     happiness."

Anna's eyes were a little dim as she poured out her coffee, and the
laugh she attempted was not altogether a success.

"This is all very well," she said, "but two out of the three are rank
deserters--and if the papers tell the truth the third is as bad. I
believe I am doomed to be an old maid."

She finished her breakfast and strolled out across the garden with the
letters still in her hand. Beyond was a field sloping steeply upwards,
and at the top a small pine plantation. She climbed slowly towards it,
keeping close to the hedge side, fragrant with wild roses, and holding
her skirts high above the dew-laden grass. Arrived in the plantation
she sat down with her back against a tree trunk.

Already the warm sun was drawing from the pines their delicious odour.
Below her stretched a valley of rich meadowland, of yellow cornfields,
and beyond moorland hillside glorious with purple heather and golden
gorse. She tried to compose her thoughts, to think of the last six
months, to steep herself in the calm beauty of the surroundings. And
she found herself able to do nothing of the sort. A new restlessness
seemed to have stolen in upon her. She started at the falling of a
leaf, at the lumbering of a cow through the hedge. Her heart was
beating with quite unaccustomed vigour, her hands were hot, she was
conscious of a warmth in her blood which the summer sunshine was
scarcely responsible for. She struggled against it quite uselessly.
She knew very well that a new thing was stirring in her. The period
of repression was over. It is foolish, she murmured to herself,
foolish. He will not come. He cannot.

And then all her restlessness was turned to joy. She sprang to her
feet and stood listening with parted lips and eager eyes. So he found
her when he came round the corner of the spinney.

"Anna," he cried eagerly.

She held out her arms to him and smiled.

       *       *       *       *       *

"And where," he asked, "are my rivals?"

"Deserters," she answered, laughing. "It is you alone, Nigel, who have
saved me from being an old maid. Here are their letters."

He took them from her and read them. When he came to a certain
sentence in Brendon's letter he stopped short and looked up at her.

"So Brendon and I," he said, "have been troubled with the same fears.
I too, Anna, have watched and read of your success with--I must
confess it--some misgiving."

"Please tell me why?" she asked.

"Do you need me to tell you? You have tasted the luxury of power. You
have made your public, you are already a personage. And I want you for
myself--for my wife."

She took his hand and smiled upon him.

"Don't you understand, Nigel," she said softly, "that it was precisely
for this I have worked so hard. It is just the aim I have had in view
all the time. I wanted to have something to give up. I did not
care--no woman really cares--to play the beggar maid to your King
Cophetua."

"Then you will really give it all up!" he exclaimed.

She laughed.

"When we go indoors I will show you the offers I have refused," she
answered. "They have all been trying to turn my head. I think that
nearly every manager in London has made me an offer. My reply to all
of them has been the same. My engagement at the 'Garrick' terminates
Saturday week, and then I am free."

"You will make me horribly conceited," he answered. "I think that I
shall be the most unpopular man in London. You are not playing
to-night, are you?"

"Not to-night," she answered. "I am giving my understudy a chance. I
am going up to dine with my sister."

"Annabel is a prophetess," he declared. "I too am asked."

"It is a conspiracy," she exclaimed. "Come, we must go home and have
some luncheon. My little maidservant will think that I am lost."

They clambered down the hill together. The air was sweet with the
perfume of flowers, and the melody of murmuring insects, the blue sky
was cloudless, the heat of the sun was tempered by the heather-scented
west wind. Ennison paused by the little gate.

"I think," he said, "that you have found the real home of the
lotus-eaters. Here one might live the life of golden days."

She shook her head gently.

"Neither you nor I, Nigel, are made of such stuff," she answered.
"These are the playgrounds of life. The great heart of the world beats
only where men and women are gathered together. You have your work
before you, and I----"

He kissed her on the lips.

"I believe," he said, "that you mean me to be Prime Minister."



TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE:

Typesetting and editing of the original book from which this e-text
has been transcribed was inconsistent. In addition to minor changes in
punctuation, the theater in London in which the main character was a
singer was referred to as the 'Unusual' and as the 'Universal'; this
has been changed to refer to the theater consistently as the
'Unusual'. Additionally, Russell Square, the area in London where the
main character resided was referred to twice as Russell Street; this
has been changed to be consistent throughout this etext. Otherwise,
every effort has been made to remain true to the author's words and
intent.





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