F. MARION CRAWFORD
AUTHOR OF "SARACINESCA," "SANT' ILARIO," "WHOSOEVER SHALL OFFEND," ETC., ETC.
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY HORACE T. CARPENTER
NEW YORK GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS
COPYRIGHT, 1905, BY F. MARION CRAWFORD.
COPYRIGHT, 1905, BY THE MACMILLAN COMPANY.
Set up and electrotyped. Published November, 1905. Reprinted November, December, 1905; April, 1906; July, September, 1908; July, 1909; February, twice, 1910.
Norwood Press J. S. Cushing & Co.—Berwick & Smith Co Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.
'I am a realist,' said Mr. Edmund Lushington, as if that explained everything. 'We could hardly expect to agree,' he added.
It sounded very much as if he had said: 'As you are not a realist, my poor young lady, I can of course hardly expect you to know anything.'
Margaret Donne looked at him quietly and smiled. She was not very sensitive to other people's opinions; few idealists are, for they generally think more of their ideas than of themselves. Mr. Lushington had said that he could not agree with her, that was all, and she was quite indifferent. She had known that he would not share her opinion, when the discussion had begun, for he never did, and she was glad of it. She also knew that her smile irritated him, for he did not resemble her in the very least. He was slightly aggressive, as shy persons often are: and yet, like a good many men who profess 'realism,' brutal frankness and a sweeping disbelief of everything not 'scientifically' true, Mr. Lushington was almost morbidly sensitive to the opinion of others. Criticism hurt him; indifference wounded him to the quick; ridicule made him writhe.
He was a fair man with a healthy skin, and his eyes were blue; but they had a particularly disagreeable trick of looking at one suddenly for an instant, with a little pinching of the lids, and a slight glitter, turning away again in a displeased way, as if he had expected to be insulted, and was sure that the speaker was slighting him, at the very least. He often blushed when he said something sharp. He wished he were dark, because dark men could say biting things without blushing, and pale, because he felt that it was not interesting to be pink and white. His hair, too, was smoother and softer than he could have wished it. He had tried experiments with his beard and moustache, and had finally made up his mind to let both grow, but he still looked hopelessly neat. When he pushed his hair back from his forehead with a devastating gesture it simply became untidy, as if he had forgotten to brush it. At last he had accepted his fate, and he resigned himself to what he considered his physical disadvantages, but no one would ever know how he had studied the photographs of the big men in the front of things, trying to detect in them some single feature to which his own bore a faint resemblance. Hitherto he had failed.
Yet he was 'somebody,' and perhaps it means more to be somebody nowadays, in the howling fight for place and acknowledgment, than it meant in the latter part of the nineteenth century. How easy life was in the early eighties, compared with this, how mild were the ways of nations, how primitive, pure and upright the dealings of financiers in that day of pristine virtue and pastoral simplicity! It was all very well to be an idealist then, Mr. Lushington sometimes said to Margaret; the world was young, then; there was time for everything, then; there was room for everybody, then; even the seasons were different, then! At least, all old people say so, and it can hardly be supposed that all persons over fifty years of age belong to a secret and powerful association of liars, organised and banded together to deceive the young.
Mr. Lushington was somebody, even at the beginning of this truthful little tale, and that was some time ago; and if anything about him could have really irritated Margaret Donne, it was that she could not understand the reason of his undeniable importance. The people who succeed in life, and in the arts and professions, are not always the pleasantest people, nor even the nicest. Miss Donne had found this out before she was twenty, and she was two years older now. She had learned a good many other things more or less connected with human nature, and more or less useful to a young woman in her position.
She remembered two or three of those comparatively recent discoveries as she smiled at Mr. Lushington and observed that her smile annoyed him. Not that Margaret was cruel or fond of giving pain for the sake of seeing suffering; but she could be both when she was roused to defend her beliefs, her ideals, or even her tastes. The cool ferocity of some young women is awful. Judith, Jael, Delilah, and Athaliah were not mythical. Is there a man who has not wakened from dreams, to find that the woman he trusted has stolen his strength or is just about to hammer the great nail home through his temples?
Margaret Donne was not actually cruel to her fellow-creatures. She was not one of those modern persons who feel sick at the sight of a half-starved horse dragging a heavy load, but will turn a man's life into a temporary hell without changing colour. Such as these give women a bad name among men. Margaret was merely defending herself, for Mr. Lushington sometimes drove her to extremities; his very shyness was so aggressive, that she could not pity him, even when she saw him blush painfully, and noticed the slight dew which an attack of social timidity brought to his smooth forehead.
She had excellent nerves, and was not at all timid; if anything, she thought herself a little too self-possessed, and was slightly ashamed of it, fancying it unwomanly. She had a great fear of ever being that, and with Mr. Lushington, who seemed to take it for granted that she ought to think as men do, and was to be blamed for thinking otherwise, she took especial pains to claim a woman's privileges at every turn.
'I cannot imagine,' he said presently, 'how any intelligent person can really believe in such arrant mythology.'
'But I make no pretension of "intelligence",' murmured Margaret Donne.
'That is absurd,' retorted Mr. Lushington, with a half-furtive, half-angry glance. 'You know you are clever.'
Margaret knew it, of course, and she smiled again. The young man did not need to see her to be sure how she looked at that moment, for he knew her face well. It had fixed itself in the front of his memories some time ago, and he had not succeeded in bringing any other image there to drive it away. Perhaps he had not tried as hard as he supposed.
It was not such a very striking face either, at first sight. The features were not perfect, by any means, and they were certainly not Greek. Anacreon would not have compared Margaret's complexion to roses mixed with milk, but he might have thought of cream tinged with peach-bloom, and it would have been called a beautiful skin anywhere. Margaret had rather light brown eyes, but when she was interested in anything the pupils widened so much as to make them look very dark. Then the lids would stay quite motionless for a long time, and the colour would fade a little from her whole face; but sometimes, just then, she would bite her lower lip, and that spoiled what some people would have called the intenseness of her expression. It is true that her teeth were beyond criticism and her lips were fresh and creamy red—but Mr. Lushington wished she would not do it. The muses are never represented 'biting their lips'; and in his moments of enthusiasm he liked to think that Margaret was his muse. She had thick brown hair that waved naturally, but made no little curls and baby ringlets, such as some young women have, or make. The line of her hair along her forehead and temples, though curved, was rather severe. She had been fair when a little girl, but had grown darker after she was fifteen.
When she thought of it, she rather liked her own face, for she was not everlastingly trying to be some one else. It was a satisfactory face, on the whole, she thought, perfectly natural and frank, and healthy. No doubt it would have been nice to be as beautiful as a Madame de Villeneuve, or a Comtesse de Castiglione, but as that was quite impossible, it was easy to be satisfied with what she had in the way of looks and not to envy the insolent radiance of the fair beauties, or the tragic splendour of the dark ones. Besides, great beauty has disadvantages; it attracts attention at the wrong moment, it makes travelling troublesome, it is obtrusive and hinders a woman from doing exactly what she pleases. It is celebrity, and therefore a target for every photographing tourist and newspaper man.
And then, to lose it, as one must, is a kind of suffering which no male can quite understand. Every great beauty feels that she is to be unjustly condemned to death between forty and fifty, and that every day of her life brings her nearer to ignominious public execution; and though beauties manage to last longer, yet is their strength but sorrow and weakness, depending largely on the hairdresser, the dentist, the dressmaker and other functions of the unknown quantities x and y, as the mathematicians say.
The Emperor Tiberius is reported to have said that if a man does not know what is good for him when he is forty years old, he must be either a fool or a physician. Similarly, a woman who does not know her own good points at twenty is either very foolish, or a raving beauty—or a saint. Perhaps women can be all three; it is not safe to assert anything positively about them. Margaret Donne was clever, she was a good girl but not a saint, and she was a little more than fairly good-looking. That was all, and she knew her good points. If she was not perpetually showing them to advantage, she at least realised what they were and that she might some day have to make the most of them. They were her complexion, her mouth and her figure; and she was clever, if cleverness be a 'point' in a human being, which is doubtful. It is not considered one in a puppy.
Mr. Lushington discouraged the familiarity of men who called him plain 'Lushington.' When they were older than he, he felt that they were patronising him; if they were younger, he thought them distinctly cheeky. Occasionally he fell in with a relation, or an old schoolfellow, who addressed him as 'Ned,' or even as 'Eddie,' This made him utterly miserable; in the language of Johnson, when Mr. Lushington was called 'Eddie,' he was convolved with agony—especially if a third person chanced to be present. Margaret sometimes wondered whether she should ever be in a position to use that weapon.
There was a possibility of it, depending on her own choice. In fact, there were two possibilities, for she could marry him if she pleased, or she could make an intimate friend of him, and they might then call each other by their Christian names. At the present time she knew him so well that she avoided using his name altogether, and he called her 'Miss Margaret' when he was pleased, and 'Miss Donne' when he was not.
'It is a pity you think me clever,' she said demurely, after a little pause.
'Why?' he inquired severely.
'The idea makes you so uncomfortable,' Margaret answered. 'If I were just a nice dull girl, you would only have to lay down the law, and I should have to accept it. Or else you would not feel obliged to talk to me at all, which would be simpler.'
'Much,' said Lushington, with some acerbity.
'So much simpler, that I wonder why you do not follow the line of least resistance!'
A short silence came after this suggestion, and Margaret turned over the pages of her book as if making up her mind where to begin reading. This was not quite a pretence, for Lushington had told her that it was a book she ought to read, which it was her intellectual duty to read, and which would develop her reasoning faculties. By way of encouragement he had added that she would probably not like it. On that point she agreed with him readily. To people who read much, every new book has a personality, features and an expression, attractive, dull, or repulsive, like most human beings one meets for the first time. This particular book had a particularly priggish expression, like Lushington's yellow shoes, which were too good and too new, and which he was examining with apparent earnestness. To tell the truth he did not see them, for he was wondering whether the blush of annoyance he felt was unusually visible. The result of thinking about it was that it deepened to scarlet at once.
'You look hot,' observed Margaret, with an exasperating smile.
'Not at all,' answered Lushington, feeling as if she had rubbed his cheeks with red pepper. 'I suppose I am sunburnt.'
Tiny beads of perspiration were gathering on his forehead, and he knew by her smile that she saw them. It would have been delightful to walk into the pond just then, yellow shoes and all.
He told himself that he was Edmund Lushington, the distinguished critic and reviewer, before whom authors trembled and were afraid. It was absurd that he should feel too hot because a mere girl had said something smart and disagreeable. In fact, what she had said was little short of an impertinence, in his opinion.
The fool who does not know that he looks a fool is happy. The fool who is conscious of looking one undergoes real pain. But of all the miserable victims of shyness, the one most to be pitied is the sensitive, gifted man who is perfectly aware that he looks silly while rightly conscious that he is not. Margaret Donne watched Lushington, and knew that she was amply revenged. He would call her 'Miss Donne' presently, and say something about the weather, as if they had never met before. She paid no more attention to him for some time, and began to read bits of the new book, here and there, where one page looked a little less dull than the rest.
Meanwhile Lushington smoked thoughtfully, and the unwelcome blush subsided. He glanced sideways at Margaret's face two or three times, as if he were going to speak, but said nothing, and sent a small cloud straight out before him, with a rather vicious blowing, as if he were trying to make the smoke express his feelings. Margaret knew that trick of his very well. Lushington was an aggressive smoker, and with every puff he seemed to say: 'There! Take that! I told you so!'
Margaret did not look up from her book, for she knew that he would speak before long; and so it happened.
'Miss Donne,' he began, with unnecessary coldness, and then stopped short.
'Yes?' Margaret answered, with mild interrogation.
'Oh!' ejaculated Mr. Lushington, as if surprised that she should reply at all. 'I thought you were reading.'
'I was.' She let the new book shut itself, as she lifted her hand from the open pages.
'I did not mean to interrupt you,' said the young man stiffly.
No answer occurred to Margaret at once, so she waited, gently drumming on the closed book with her loosely gloved fingers.
'I suppose you think I'm an awful idiot,' observed Mr. Lushington, with unexpected and quite unnecessary energy.
'Dear me! This is so very sudden! Awful—idiot? Let me see.'
Her absurd gravity was even more exasperating than her smile. Lushington threw away his cigarette angrily.
'You know what I mean,' he cried, getting red again. 'Don't be horrid!'
'Then don't be silly,' retorted Margaret.
'There! I knew you thought so!'
'Perhaps I do, sometimes,' the girl answered, more seriously. 'But I don't mind it at all. If you care to know, I think you are often much more human when you are—well—"silly," than when you are being clever.
'And I suppose you would like me better if I were always silly?'
Margaret shook her head and laughed softly, but said nothing. She was thinking that it was good to be alive, and that it was the spring, and that the life was stirring in her, as it stirred amongst the young leaves overhead and in the shooting grasses and budding flowers, and in the hearts of the nesting birds in the oaks and elms. Just then it mattered very little to Margaret whether the man who was talking to her made himself out to be silly or clever. She felt herself much nearer to the simple breathing and growing of all nature than to the silliness or cleverness of any fellow-creature.
Her lips parted a little and she drew in the air again and again, slowly and quietly, as if she could drink it, and live on its sweet taste, and never want food or other drink again, though she was not an ethereal young person, but only a perfectly healthy and natural girl. She was not tired, yet somehow she felt that she was resting body, soul and heart, for a little while, after growing up and before beginning what was to be her life.
Lushington was perfectly healthy, too, but he was not simple, and was often not quite natural. He had real troubles and artificial ways of treating them. He had also been in the thick of the big fight for several years, he had tasted the wine of success and the vinegar of failure, the sticky honey of flattery and some nasty little pills prepared with malignant art by brother critics. With his faults and weaknesses and absurd sensitiveness, he had in him the stuff that wins battles with glory, or loses them with honour, promising to fight again. He was complex. He was rarely quite sure what he felt, though he could express with precision whatever he thought he was feeling at any moment.
'How complicated you are!' he exclaimed, when Margaret laughed.
'I was just thinking how simple I am compared with you,' she answered serenely; 'I mean, when you talk,' she added.
'Thank you for the distinction! "Oliver Goldsmith, for shortness called Noll, Who writes like an angel but talks like poor Poll." That sort of thing, I suppose?'
'I did not say that you write like an angel,' answered Margaret, in a tone of reflection.
'You do not talk like one,' observed Mr. Lushington bitterly. 'Are you going to Paris to-day?' he inquired after a pause; and he looked at his watch.
'No. I had my lesson yesterday. But I am going in to-morrow.'
Lushington knew that she had only two lessons a week, and wondered why she was going to Paris on the following day. But he was offended and would not ask questions; moreover he did not at all approve of her studying singing as a profession, and she knew that he did not.
His disapproval did not disturb her, though she should have liked him to admire her voice because he was really a good judge, and praise from him would be worth having. He often said sharp things that he did not mean, but on the other hand, when he said that anything was good, he always meant that it was first-rate. She wondered where he had learned so much about music.
After all, she knew very little of his life, and as he never said anything about his family she was inclined to think that he had no relations and that he came of people anything but aristocratic. He had worked his way to the front by sheer talent and energy, and she had the good sense to think better of him for that, and not less well of him for his reticence.
Mrs. Rushmore knew no more about Lushington's family than Margaret. The latter was spending the spring in Versailles with the elderly American widow, and the successful young writer had been asked to stop a week with them. Mrs. Rushmore did not care a straw about the family connections of celebrities, and she knew by experience that it was generally better not to ask questions about them, as the answers might place one in an awkward position. She had always acted on the principle that a real lion needs no pedigree, and belongs by right to the higher animals. Lushington was a real lion, though he was a young one. His roar was a passport, and his bite was dangerous. Why make unnecessary inquiries about his parents? They were probably dead, and, socially, they had never been alive, since Society had never heard of them. It was quite possible, Mrs. Rushmore said, that his name was not his own, for she had met two or three celebrities who had deliberately taken names to which they did not pretend any legal claim, but which sounded better than their own.
He had been at Versailles to stay a few days during the previous spring, and Margaret had seen him several times in the interval, and they had occasionally exchanged letters. She was quite well aware that he was in love with her, and she liked him enough not to discourage him. To marry him would be quite another question, though she did not look upon it as impossible. Before all, she intended to wait until her own position was clearly defined.
For the present she did not know whether she had inherited a large fortune, or was practically a penniless orphan living on the charity of her friend Mrs. Rushmore; and several months might pass before this vital question was solved. Mrs. Rushmore believed that Margaret would get the money, or a large part of it; Margaret did not, and in the meantime she was doing her best to cultivate her voice in order to support herself by singing.
Her father had been English, a distinguished student and critical scholar, holding a professorship of which the income, together with what he received from writing learned articles in the serious reviews, had sufficed for himself, his wife and his only child. At his death he had left little except his books, his highly honourable reputation and a small life insurance.
He had married an American whose father had been rich at the time, but had subsequently lost all he possessed by an unfortunate investment, depending upon an invention, which had afterwards become enormously valuable. Finding himself driven to extremities and on the verge of failure, he had been glad to make over his whole interest to a distant relative, who assumed his liabilities as well as his chances of success. Utterly ruined, save in reputation, he had bravely accepted a salaried post, had worked himself to death in eighteen months and had died universally respected by his friends and as poor as Job.
His daughter, Mrs. Donne, had felt her position keenly. She was a sensitive woman, she had married a poor man for love, expecting to make him rich; and instead, she was now far poorer than he. He, on his part, never bestowed a thought on the matter. He was simple and unselfish and he loved her simply and unselfishly. She died of a fever at forty-two and her death killed him. Two years later, Margaret Donne was alone in the world.
Mrs. Rushmore had known Margaret's American grandmother and had been Mrs. Donne's best friend. She had grave doubts as to the conditions on which the whole interest in the invention had been ceded to old Alvah Moon, the Californian millionaire, and, after consulting her own lawyers in New York, she had insisted upon bringing suit against him, in Margaret Donne's name, but at her own risk, for the recovery of an equitable share of the fortune. A tenth part of it would have made the girl rich, but there were great difficulties in the way of obtaining evidence as to an implied agreement, and Alvah Moon was as hard as bedrock.
While the suit was going on, Mrs. Rushmore insisted that Margaret should live with her, and Margaret was glad to accept her protection and hospitality, for she felt that the obligation was not all on her own side. Mrs. Rushmore was childless, a widow and very dependent on companionship for such enjoyment as she could get out of her existence. She had few resources as she grew older, for she did not read much and had no especial tastes. The presence of such a girl as Margaret was a godsend in many ways, and she looked forward with something like terror to the not distant time when she should be left alone again, unless she could induce one of her nieces to live with her. But that would not be easy; they did not want her money, nor anything she could give them, and they thought her dull. Her life would be very empty and sad, then. She had never been vain, and she was well aware that such people as Mr. Edmund Lushington could not be easily induced to come and spend a fortnight with her if Margaret were not in the house. Besides, she loved the girl for her own sake. It was very pleasant to delude herself with the idea that Margaret was almost her daughter, and she wished she could adopt her; but Margaret was far too independent to accept such an arrangement, and Mrs. Rushmore had the common-sense to guess that if the girl were bound to her in any way a sort of restraint would follow which would be disagreeable to both in the end. If there could be a bond, it must be one which Margaret should not feel, nor even guess, and such a relation as that seemed to be an impossibility. Margaret was not the sort of girl to accept anything from an unknown giver, and if the suit failed it would be out of the question to make her believe that she had inherited property from an unsuspected source. Mrs. Rushmore, in her generosity, would have liked to practise some such affectionate deception, and she would try almost anything, however hopeless, rather than let Margaret be a professional singer.
The American woman was not puritanical; she had lived too much in Europe for that and had met many clever people, not to say men of much more than mere talent, who had made big marks on their times. But she had been brought up in the narrow life of old New York, when old New York still survived, as a tradition if not as a fact, in a score or two of families; and one of the prejudices she had inherited early was that there is a mysterious immorality in the practice of the fine arts, whereas an equally mysterious morality is inherent in business. Painters and sculptors, great actors and great singers without end, had sat at her table and she was always interested in their talk and often attracted by their personalities; yet in her heart she knew that she connected them all vaguely with undefined wickedness, just as she associated the idea of virtuous uprightness with all American and English business men. Next to a clergyman, she unconsciously looked upon an American banker as the most strictly moral type of man; and though her hair was grey and she knew a vast deal about this wicked world, she still felt a painful little shock when her favourite newspaper informed her that a banker or a clergyman had turned aside out of the paths of righteousness, as they occasionally do, just like human beings. She felt a similar disagreeable thrill when she thought of Margaret singing in public to earn a living. Prejudices are moral corns; anything that touches one makes it ache more or less, but the pain is always of the same kind. You cannot get a pleasurable sensation out of a corn.
Yet Margaret was working at her music, with persevering regularity, quite convinced that she must soon support herself unhelped and quite sure that her voice was her only means to that end. Singing was her only accomplishment, and she therefore supposed that the gift, such as it was, must be her only talent.
She was modest about it, for the very reason that she believed it was what she did best, and she was patient because she knew that she must do it well before she could hope to live by it. Most successful singers had appeared in public before reaching her age, yet she was only two and twenty, and a year or two could make no great difference. Nevertheless, she was more anxious than she would have admitted, and she had persuaded her teacher to let her sing to Madame Bonanni, the celebrated lyric soprano, whose opinion would be worth having, and perhaps final. The great singer had the reputation of being very good-natured in such cases and was on friendly terms with Margaret's teacher, the latter being a retired prima donna. Margaret felt sure of a fair hearing, therefore, and it was for this trial that she was going to the city on the following morning.
Neither she nor Lushington spoke for a long time after she had given him the information. She took up her book again, but she read without paying any attention to the words, for the recollection of what was coming had brought back all her anxiety about her future life. It would be a dreadful thing if Madame Bonanni should tell her frankly that she had no real talent and had better give it up. The great artist would say what she thought, without wasting time or sympathy; that was why Margaret was going to her. Women do not flatter women unless they have something to gain, whereas men often flatter them for the mere pleasure of seeing them smile, which is an innocent pastime in itself, though the consequences are sometimes disastrous.
Edmund Lushington had at first been wondering why Margaret was going to Paris the next day, then he had inwardly framed several ingenious questions which he might ask her; and then, as he thought of her, he had forgotten himself at last, and had momentarily escaped from the terrible and morbid obligation of putting his thoughts into unspoken words, which is one of the torments that pursue men of letters when they are tired, or annoyed, or distressed. He had forgotten his troubles, too, whatever they were, and could listen to the music spring was making in the trees, without feeling that he might be forced to describe it.
Just then Margaret raised her eyes from her book and saw his face, and he did not know that she was looking at him. For the first time since she had met him she understood a little of his real nature, and guessed the reason why he could write so well. He was a man of heart. She knew it now, in spite of his faults, his shyness, his ridiculous over-sensitiveness, his detestable way of blurting out cutting speeches, his icy criticism of things he did not like. It was a revelation. She wondered what he would say if he spoke just then.
But at that moment Mrs. Rushmore appeared on the lawn, an imposing and rather formal figure in black and violet, against the curtain of honeysuckle that hung down over the verandah.
Margaret went alone to the house of the famous singer, for her teacher knew by experience that it was better not to be present on such occasions. Margaret had not even a maid with her, for except in some queer neighbourhoods Paris is as safe as any city in the world, and it never occurred to her that she could need protection at her age. If she should ever have any annoyance she could call a policeman, but she had a firm and well-founded conviction that if a young woman looked straight before her and held her head up as if she could take care of herself, no one would ever molest her, from London to Pekin.
It was not very far from her teacher's rooms in the Boulevard Malesherbes to the pretty little house Madame Bonanni had built for herself in the Avenue Hoche; so Margaret walked. It is the pleasantest way of getting about Paris on a May morning, when one has not to go a long distance. Paris has changed terribly of late years, but there are moments when all her old brilliancy comes back, when the air is again full of the intoxicating effervescence of life, when the well-remembered conviction comes over one that in Paris the main object of every man's and every woman's existence is to make love, to amuse and to be amused. Terrible things have happened, it is true; blood has run like rain through the streets; and great works are created, great books are written, and Art has here her workshop and her temple, her craftsmen and her high priests. The Parisians have a right to take themselves seriously; but we cannot—we graver, grimmer men of rougher race. Do what they will, we can never quite believe that genius can really hew and toil all day and laugh all night; we can never get rid of the idea that there must be some vast delusion about Paris, some great stage trick, some hugely clever deception by which a quicksand is made to seem like bedrock, and a stone pavement like a river of quicksilver.
The great cities all have faces. If all the people who live in each city could be photographed exactly one over the other, the result would be the general expression of that city's face. New York would be discontented and eager; London would be stolidly glum and healthy, with a little surliness; Berlin would be supercilious, overbearing; Rome would be gravely resentful; and so on; but Paris would be gay, incredulous, frivolous, pretty and impudent. The reality may be gone, or may have changed, but the look is in her face still when the light of a May morning shines on it.
What should we get, if we could blend into one picture the English descriptions of Paris left us by Thackeray, Sala, Du Maurier? Would it not show us that face as it is still, when we see it in spring? And drawn by loving hands too, obeying the eyes of genius. An empty square in Berlin suggests a possible regimental parade, in London a mass meeting; in Paris it is a playground waiting for the Parisians to come out and enjoy themselves after their manner, like pretty moths and dragon-flies in the sun.
But there is another side to it. More than any city in the world, Paris has a dual nature. Like Janus, she has two faces; like Endymion, half her life is spent with the gods, half with the powers of darkness. She has her sweet May mornings, but she has her hideous nights when the north wind blows and the streets are of glass. She has her life of art and beauty, and taste and delight, but she has her fevers of blood and fury, her awful reactions of raw brutality, her hidden sores of strange crime. Of all cities, Paris is the most refined, the most progressive in the highest way, the most delicately sensitive; of all cities, too, when the spasm is on her, she is the most mediaeval in her violence, her lust for blood, her horrible 'inhumanity to man'—Burns might have written those unforgettable lines of her.
Margaret was not thinking of these things as she took her way through the Parc Monceau, not because it was nearer but because she loved the old trees, and the contrast between the green peace within its gates and the intense life outside. She was nearer than she had perhaps ever been to fright, just then, and yet would not for the world have turned back, nor even slackened her pace. In five minutes she would be ringing the bell at Madame Bonanni's door.
She had heard the prima donna several times but had never met her. She knew that she was no longer young, though her great voice was marvellously fresh and elastic. There were men, of that unpleasant type that is quite sure of everything, who recalled her first appearance and said that she could not be less than fifty years old. As a matter of fact, she was just forty-eight, and made no secret of it. Margaret had learned this from her own singing teacher, but that was all she knew about Madame Bonanni, when she stopped at the closed door of the carriage entrance and rang the bell. She did not know whether she was to meet a Juliet, an Elsa, a Marguerite or a Tosca. She remembered a large woman with heavy arms, in various magnificent costumes and a variety of superb wigs, with a lime-light complexion that was always the same. The rest was music. That, with a choice selection of absurdly impossible anecdotes, is as much as most people ever know about a great singer or a great actress. Margaret had been spared the anecdotes, because most of them were not fit for her to hear, but she had more than once heard fastidious ladies speak of Madame Bonanni as 'that dreadful woman.' No one, however, denied that she was a great artist, and that was the only consideration in Margaret's present need.
She rang the bell and glanced at the big window over the entrance. It had a complicated arrangement of folding green blinds, which were half open, and a grey awning with a red border. She wondered whether it was the window of the singer's own especial room.
The house was different from those next it, though she could hardly tell where the difference lay. She thought that if she had not known the number she should have instinctively picked out this house, amongst all the others in that part of the Avenue Hoche, as the one in which the prima donna or an actress must be living; and as she stood waiting, a very simple and well-bred figure of a young lady, she felt that on the other side of the door there was a whole world of which she knew nothing, which was not at all like her own world, which was going to offend something in her, and which it was nevertheless her duty to enter. She was in that state of mind in which a nun breathes an ejaculatory prayer against the wiles of Satan, and a delicately nurtured girl thinks of her mother. Her heart hardly beat any faster than usual, though she was sure that one of the great moments of her life was at hand; but she drew her skirt round her a little closer, and pursed her lips together a little more tightly, and was very glad to feel that nobody could mistake her for anything but a lady.
The servant who opened the door smiled. He was a man of thirty-five, or thereabouts, with cheerful blue eyes, a brown moustache and pink cheeks. He wore a blue cotton apron and had a feather duster in his hand; and he smiled very pleasantly.
'Madame Bonanni said she would see me this morning,' Margaret explained.
'What name, if you please?' the man asked, contemplating her with approval.
'Very well. But Madame is in her bath,' observed the servant, showing no inclination to let Margaret pass. 'Mademoiselle would do better to come another day.'
'But Madame Bonanni has given me an appointment.'
'It is possible,' the man replied, still smiling calmly.
'I have come to sing to her,' Margaret said, with a little impatience.
'Ah—then it is different!' He positively beamed. 'Then Mademoiselle is a musician? Who would have thought it?'
Margaret was not quite sure who would have thought it, but she thought the servant decidedly familiar. At that moment he stood aside for her to pass, shut the front door after her and led the way to the short flight of steps that gave access to the house from the carriage entrance.
'This way, Mademoiselle. If Mademoiselle will be good enough to wait, I will inform Madame.'
'Please don't disturb her! You said she was in her bath.'
'Oh, that has no importance!' the man cried cheerfully, and disappeared at once.
Margaret looked about her, but if she had been blind she would have been aware that she was in a place quite unlike any she had ever been in before. The air had an indescribable odour that was almost a taste; it smelt of Houbigant, Greek tobacco, Persian carpets, women's clothes, liqueur and late hours; and it was not good to breathe—except, perhaps, for people used to the air of the theatre. Margaret at first saw nothing particular to sit upon, and stood still.
It was a big room, with two very large windows on one side, a massive chimney-piece at the end opposite the door, and facing the windows the most enormous divan Margaret had ever seen. Over this a great canopy was stretched, a sort of silk awning of which the corners were stretched out and held up by more or less mediaeval lances. The divan itself was so high that an ordinary person would have to climb upon it, and it was completely covered by a wild confusion of cushions of all colours, thrown upon it and piled up, and tumbling off, as if a Homeric pillow fight had just been fought upon it by several scores of vigorous school-girls.
The room was plethoric with artistic objects, some good, some bad, some atrocious, but all recalling the singer's past triumphs, and all jumbled together, on tables, easels, pedestals, brackets and shelves with much less taste than an average dealer in antiquities would have shown in arranging his wares. There was not even light enough to see them distinctly, for the terrifically heavy and expensive Genoa velvet curtains produced a sort of dingy twilight. Moreover the Persian carpet was so extremely thick that Margaret almost turned her ankle as she made a step upon it.
As she knew that she must probably wait some time she looked for a seat. There were a few light chairs here and there, but they were occupied by various objects; on one a framed oil-painting was waiting till a place could be found for it, on another there was a bandbox, on a third lay some sort of garment that might be an opera-cloak or a tea-gown, or a theatrical dress, a little silver tray with the remains of black coffee and an empty liqueur glass stood upon a fourth chair, and Margaret's searching eye discovered a fifth, with nothing on it, pushed away in a corner.
She took hold of it by the back, to bring it forward a little, and the gilt cross-bar came off in her hand. She stuck the piece on again as well as she could, and as she did not like to disturb any of the things she stood still, in the middle of the room, wondering vaguely whether Madame Bonanni's visitors usually sat down, and if so, on what.
Suddenly her eyes fell upon a piano, standing behind several easels that almost completely hid it. A piano usually has a stool, and Margaret made her way between the easels and the little oriental tables, and the plants, and the general confusion, towards the keyboard. She was not disappointed; there was a stool, and she sat down at last.
The air was oppressive and she wished herself out in the Pare Monceau, in the May morning. The time seemed endless. By sheer force of habit she slowly turned on the revolving stool and touched the keys; then she struck a few chords softly, and the sound of the perfect instrument gave her pleasure. She played something, trying to make as little noise as possible so long as she remembered where she was, but presently she forgot herself, her lips parted and she was singing, as people do who sing naturally.
She sang the waltz song in the first act of Gounod's Romeo and Juliet, and after the first few bars she had altogether forgotten that she was not at home, with her own piano, or else standing behind her teacher's shoulder in the Boulevard Malesherbes.
Now there are not many singers living who can sing the waltz song and accompany themselves without making a terrible mess of the music; but Margaret did it well, and much more than well, for she was not only a singer with a beautiful voice but a true musician. There was not a quaver or hesitation in her singing from beginning to end, nor a false note in the accompaniment.
When she had finished, her lips closed and she went on playing the music of the scene that follows. She had not gone on a dozen bars, however, when a head appeared suddenly round the corner of a picture on an easel.
'Ah, bah!' exclaimed the head, in an accent of great surprise.
Its thick dark-brown hair was all towzled and standing on end, its brown eyes were opened very wide in astonishment, and it was showing magnificently strong teeth, a little discoloured.
Margaret sprang to her feet with an apology for having forgotten herself, but the head laughed and came forward, bringing with it a large body wrapped in an enormous gown of white Turkish towelling, evidently held together by the invisible hands within. Margaret thought of the statue of Balzac.
'I thought it was Caravita,' said Madame Bonanni. 'We are great friends you know. I sometimes find her waiting for me. But who in the world are you?'
'Ah, bah!' exclaimed the great singer again, the two syllables being apparently her only means of expressing surprise.
'But I told your servant——' Margaret began.
'Why have you not made your debut?' cried Madame Bonanni, interrupting her, and shaking her disordered locks as if in protest. 'You have millions in your throat! Why do you come here? To ask advice? To let me hear you sing? Let the public hear you! What are you waiting for? To-morrow you will be old! And all singers are young. How old do you think I am? Forty-five, perhaps, because it is printed so! Not a bit of it! A prima donna is never over thirty, never, never, never! Imagine Juliet over thirty, or Lucia! Pah! The idea is horrible! Fortunately, all tenors are fat. A Juliet of thirty may love a fat Romeo, but at forty it would be disgusting, positively disgusting! I am sick at the mere thought.'
Margaret stood up, resting one hand on the corner of the piano and smiling at the torrent of speech. Yet all the time, while Madame Bonanni was saying things that sounded absurd enough, the young girl was conscious that the handsome brown eyes were studying her quietly and perhaps not unwisely.
'I am twenty-two,' she said by way of answer.
'I made my debut when I was twenty,' answered the prima donna. 'But then,' she added, as if in explanation, 'I was married before I was seventeen.'
'Indeed!' Margaret exclaimed politely.
'Yes. He died. Let us sing! I always want to sing when I come out of my bath. Do you know the duo at the beginning of the fourth act? Yes? Good. I will sing Romeo. Oh yes, I can sing the tenor part—it is very high for a man. Sit down. Imagine that you admire me and that the lark is trying to imitate the nightingale so that we need not part. We have not heard it yet. The man is beginning to turn up the dawn outside the window behind us, but we do not see it. We are perfectly happy. Now, begin!'
The chords sounded softly, the two voices blended, rose and fell and died away. The elder woman's rich lower tones imitated a tenor voice well enough to give Margaret the little illusion she needed, and her overflowing happiness did the rest. She sang as she had not sung before.
'I wish to embrace you!' cried Madame Bonanni, when they had finished.
And forthwith Margaret felt herself enveloped in the Turkish bath-gown, and entangled in the towzled hair and held by a pair of tremendously strong white arms; and being thus helpless, she experienced a kindly but portentous kiss on each cheek; after which she was set at liberty.
'You are a real musician, too!' Madame Bonanni said with genuine admiration. 'You can play anything, as well as sing. I hope you will never hear me play. It is awful. I could empty any theatre instantly, if there were a fire, merely by playing a little!'
She laughed heartily at her little joke, for like many great singers she was half a child and half a genius, and endowed with the huge vitality that alone makes an opera singer's life possible.
'I would give my playing to have your voice,' Margaret said.
'You would be cheated in your bargain,' observed Madame Bonanni. 'Let me look at you. Have you a big chest and a thick throat? What are your arms like? If you have a voice and talent, strength is every thing! Young girls come and sing to me so prettily, so sweetly! They want to be singers! Singers, my dear, with chests like paper dolls and throats like plucked spring chickens! Bah! They are good for nothing, they catch cold, they give a little croak and they die. Strength is everything. Let me see your throat! No! You will never croak! You will never die. And your arms? Look at mine. Yes, yours will be like mine, some day.'
Margaret hoped not, for Madame Bonanni seemed to be a very big woman, though she still managed to look human as Juliet. Perhaps that was because the tenors were all fat.
Again a hand emerged from the thick white folds and grasped Margaret's arm firmly above the elbow, as a trainer feels an athlete's biceps.
'Good, good! Very good!' cried Madame Bonanni approvingly. 'It is a pity you are a lady! You are a lady, aren't you?'
'I am a peasant,' the singer answered without the least affectation. 'I always say that it takes five generations of life in the fields to make a voice. But you are English, I suppose. Yes? All English live out of doors. If they had a proper climate they would all sing, but they have to keep their mouths shut all the time, to keep out the rain, and the fog, and the smoke of their chimneys. It is incredible, how little they open their mouths! Come and sit down. We will have a little talk.'
Margaret thought her new friend had managed to talk a good deal already. Madame Bonanni slipped between the easels and pedestals with surprising ease and lightness, and made for the divan. Margaret now saw that a stool was half concealed by a fallen pillow, so that the singer used it in order to climb up. In a moment she had settled herself comfortably, supported on all sides by the huge cushions. Margaret fancied she looked like a big snowball with a human head.
'Why don t you sit down, my dear?' inquired Madame Bonanni blandly.
'Yes, but where?' asked Margaret with a little laugh.
'Here! Climb up beside me on the divan.'
'I'm not used to it!' Margaret laughed. 'It looks awfully hot.'
'Then take a chair. Oh, the things? Throw them on the floor. Somebody will pick them up. People are always sending me perfectly useless things. Look at that picture! Did you ever see such a daub? I'll burn it! No. I'll give it to the missionaries. They take everything one gives them, for the African babies. Ah!'
Madame Bonanni shrieked suddenly, seized a big cushion and held it up as a screen before her. She looked towards the door, and Margaret, looking in the same direction, saw an over-dressed man of thirty-five standing on the threshold.
'Go away!' screamed Madame Bonanni. 'Logotheti! Go away, I say! Don't you see that I'm not dressed?'
'I see nothing but cushions,' answered the new-comer, showing very white teeth and speaking with a thick accent Margaret had never heard.
'Ah! So much the better!' returned Madame Bonanni with sudden calm. 'What do you want?'
'You did me the honour to ask me to breakfast,' said Logotheti, coming forward a few steps.
'To breakfast! Never! You are dreaming!' She paused an instant. 'Yes, I believe I did. What difference does it make? Go and get your breakfast somewhere else!'
'Oh no!' protested the visitor, who had been examining Margaret's face and figure. 'I can wait any length of time, but I shall keep you to your bargain, dear lady.'
'You are detestable! Well, then you must go and look out of the window while I get down.'
'With pleasure,' Logotheti answered, meaning exactly what he said, and turning his back after a deliberate look at Margaret.
Madame Bonanni worked herself to the edge of the divan, with a curious sidelong movement, got one of her feet upon the stool and slipped down, till she stood on the floor. Then she gathered the folds of her bathing-gown to her and ran to the door with astonishing agility, for so large a person.
Margaret was not sure what she should do, and began to follow her, hoping to exchange a few words with her before going away. At the door, Madame Bonanni suddenly draped herself in the dark velvet curtain, stuck her head out and looked back.
'Of course you will stay to breakfast, my dear!' she called out, 'Logotheti! I present you to Miss—Miss—oh, the name doesn't matter! I present you!'
'I'm afraid I cannot——' Margaret began to say, not knowing how long she might be left alone with Logotheti.
But Madame Bonanni had already unfurled the curtain and fled. Logotheti bowed gravely to Margaret, cleared the things off one of the chairs and offered it to her. His manner was as respectful with her as it had been familiar with the singer, and she felt at once that he understood her position.
'Thank you,' she said quietly, as she seated herself.
He cleared another chair and sat down at a little distance. She glanced at him furtively and saw that he was a very dark man of rather long features; that his eyes were almond-shaped, like those of many orientals; that he had a heavy jaw and a large mouth with lips that were broad rather than thick, and hardly at all concealed by a small black moustache which was trained to lie very flat to his face, and turned up at the ends; that his short hair was worn brush fashion, without a parting; that he had olive brown hands with strong fingers, on one of which he wore an enormous turquoise in a ring; that his clothes were evidently the result of English workmanship misguided by a very un-English taste; and finally that he was well-built and looked strong. She wondered very much what his nationality might be, for his accent had told her that he was not French.
After a little pause he turned his head quietly and spoke to her.
'Our friend's introduction was a little vague,' he said. 'My name is Constantine Logotheti. I am a Greek of Constantinople by birth, or what we call a Fanariote there. I live in Paris and I occupy myself with what we call "finance" here. In other words, I spend an hour or two every day at the Bourse. If I had anything to recommend me, I should say so at once, but I believe there is nothing.'
'Thank you!' Margaret laughed a little at the words. 'You are very frank. Madame Bonanni could not remember my name, as she has never seen me before to-day. I am Miss Donne; I am studying to be an opera-singer, and I came here for advice. I am English. I believe that is all.'
They looked at each other and smiled. Margaret was certainly not prepossessed in the man's favour at first sight. She detested over-dressed men, men who wore turquoise rings, and men who had oily voices; but it was perfectly clear to her that Logotheti was a man of the world, who knew a lady when he met one, no matter where, and meant to behave with her precisely as if he had been introduced to her in Mrs. Rushmore's drawing-room.
'It is my turn to thank you,' he said, acknowledging with a little bow the favour she had conferred in telling him who she was. 'I fancy you have not yet seen much of theatrical people, off the stage. Have you?'
No,' answered Margaret. 'Why do you ask?'
'I wonder whether you will like them when you do,' said Logotheti.
'I never thought of it. Is Madame Bonanni a good type of them?'
'No,' Logotheti answered, after a moment's reflection. 'I don't think she is. None of the great ones are. They all have something original, personal, dominating, about them. That is the reason why they are great. I was thinking of the average singer you will have to do with if you really sing in opera. As for Madame Bonanni, she has a heart of pure gold. We are old friends, and I know her well.'
'I can quite believe that she is kind-hearted,' Margaret answered. But don't you think, perhaps, that she is just a little too much so?'
'How do you mean?'
'That she might be too kind to tell a beginner just what she really thinks?'
'No, indeed.' Logotheti laughed at the idea. 'You would not think so if you knew how many poor girls she sends away in tears because she tells them the honest truth, that they have neither voice nor talent, and will fail miserably if they go on. That is real kindness after all! Have you sung to her?'
'Yes,' answered Margaret.
'May I ask what she said? I know her so well that I can perhaps be of use to you. Sometimes, for instance, she says nothing at all. That means that there may be a chance of success but that she herself is not sure.'
'She kissed me on both cheeks,' Margaret said with a laugh, 'and she talked about my debut.'
'Then I should advise you to make your debut at once,' Logotheti answered. 'She means that you will have a very great success.'
'Do you really think so?' asked Margaret, much pleased.
'I know it,' he replied with conviction. 'That woman is utterly incapable of saying anything she does not think, but she sometimes gives her opinion with horrible brutality.'
'I rather like that.'
'Yes. It is good medicine.'
'Then you have only been a spectator, and never the patient!' Logotheti laughed.
'Perhaps. Tell me all about Madame Bonanni.'
'All about her?' Logotheti smiled oddly. 'Well, she is a great artist, perhaps the greatest living soprano, though she is getting old. You can see that. Let me see, what else? She is very frank, I have told you that. And she is charitable. She gives away a great deal. She has a great many friends, of whom I call myself one, and we are all sincerely attached to her. I cannot think of anything else to tell you about her.'
'She said she was born a peasant,' observed Margaret who wished to hear more.
'Oh yes!' Logotheti laughed. 'There is no doubt of that! Besides, she is proud of it.'
'She was married at seventeen, too.'
'They all marry,' answered Logotheti vaguely, 'and their husbands disappear, by some law of nature we do not understand—absorbed into the elements, evaporated, drawn up into the clouds like moisture. One might write an interesting essay on the husbands of prima donnas and great actresses. What becomes of them? We know whence they come, for they are often impecunious gentlemen, but where do they go? There must be a limbo for them, somewhere, a place of departed husbands. Possibly they are all in lunatic asylums. The greater the singer, or the actress, the more certain it is that she has been married and that her husband has disappeared! It is very mysterious.'
'Very!' Margaret was rather amused by his talk.
'Have you lived long in Paris?' he asked, suddenly changing the subject.
'We live in Versailles. I come in for my lessons.'
Without asking many direct questions Logotheti managed to find out a good deal about Margaret during the next quarter of an hour. She was not suspicious of a man who showed no inclination to be familiar or to make blatant compliments to her, and she told him that her father and mother were dead and that she lived with Mrs. Rushmore and saw many interesting people, most of whom he seemed to know. He, on his part, told her many things about Versailles which she did not know, and she soon saw that he was a man of varied tastes and wide information. She wondered why he wore such a big turquoise ring and why he had such a wonderful waistcoat, such a superlative tie, such an amazing shirt and such a frightfully expensive pin. But it was not the first time in her life that she had met an otherwise intelligent man who made the mistake of over-dressing, and her first prejudice against him began to disappear. She even admitted to herself that he had a certain charm of manner which she liked, a mingling of reserve and frankness, or repose and strength, the qualities which appeal so strongly to most women. If only his voice had not that disagreeable oiliness! After all, that was what she liked least. He spoke French with wonderful fluency, but he abstained from making the tiresome compliments which so many Frenchmen reel off even at first acquaintance. He had really beautiful almond-shaped eyes, but he never once turned them to her with that languishing look which young men with almond eyes seem to think quite irresistible. Surely, all this was in his favour.
After being gone about half an hour, Madame Bonanni came back, her Juno-like figure clad in a very pale green tea-gown, very open at the throat, and her thick hair was smoothed in great curved surfaces which were certainly supported by cushions underneath them. Her solid arms were bare to the elbows, and the green sleeves hung almost to her feet. Her face was rouged and there were artificial shadows under her eyes. Round her neck she wore a single string of pearls as big as olives, and her fingers were covered with all sorts of rings.
'Now you may look at me,' she said, with a gay laugh.
'I see a star of the first magnitude,' Logotheti answered gravely.
Margaret bit her lip to keep from laughing, but Madame Bonanni laughed herself, very good-naturedly, though she understood.
'I detest this man!' she cried, turning to Margaret. 'I don't know why I ask him to breakfast.'
'Because you cannot live without me, I suppose,' suggested Logotheti.
'I hate Greeks!' screamed the prima donna, still laughing. 'Why are you a Greek?'
'Doubtless by a mistake of my father's, dear lady; quite unpardonable since you are displeased! If he had lived, he certainly would have rectified it to please you, but the Turks killed him when I was a baby in arms; and that was before you were born.'
'Of course it was,' answered Madame Bonanni, who must have been just about to be married at that time. 'But that is no reason why we should stand here starving to death while you chatter.'
Thereupon she put her arm through Margaret's and led her away at a brisk pace, Logotheti following at a little distance and contemplating the young girl's moving figure with the satisfaction that only an Oriental feels in youthful womanly beauty. It was long since he had seen any sight that pleased him as well, for his artistic sense was fastidious in the highest degree where the things of daily life were not concerned. He might indeed wear waistcoats that inspired terror and jewellery that dazzled the ordinary eye, but there were few men in Paris who were better judges of a picture, a statue, an intaglio, or a woman.
In a few moments the three were seated at a carved and polished table overloaded with silver and cut glass, one on each side of Madame Bonanni. Three other places were set, but no one appeared to fill them. The cheerful servant with the moustache was arrayed in a neat frock coat and a white satin tie, and he smiled perpetually.
'I adore plover's eggs!' cried Madame Bonanni, as he set a plate before her containing three tiny porcelain bowls, in each of which a little boiled plover's egg lay buried in jelly.
It was evident that she was speaking the truth, for they disappeared in an instant, and were followed by a bisque of shrimps of the most creamy composition.
'It is my passion!' she said.
She took her spoon in her hand, but appeared to hesitate, for she glanced first at Margaret, then down at her green tea-gown, and then at Margaret again. At last she seemed to make up her mind, and quickly unfolding the damask napkin she tied it round her neck in a solid knot. The stiff points stood out on each side behind her ears. She emitted a sigh of satisfaction and went to work at the soup. Margaret pretended to see nothing and made an indifferent remark to Logotheti.
Madame Bonanni made a good deal of noise, finally tipping up her plate and scraping out the contents to the last drop.
'Ah!' she exclaimed with immense satisfaction. 'That was good!'
'Perfect,' assented Logotheti, who ate delicately and noiselessly, as Orientals do.
'Delicious! said Margaret, who was hungry.
'I taught my cook the real way to make it,' Madame Bonanni said. 'I am a good cook, a very good cook! I always did the cooking at home before I came to Paris to study, because my mother was not able to stand long. One of the farm horses had kicked her and broken her leg and she was always lame after that. Well?' she asked suddenly turning to the cheerful servant. 'Is that all we are to have to-day? I am dying of hunger!'
A marvellous salmon trout made its appearance a moment later.
'Oh yes!' exclaimed the prima donna. 'I am fond of eating! You may laugh at me if you like, Logotheti. I am perfectly indifferent!'
And she was. She did all sorts of things that surprised Margaret, and when a dish of ortolans with a rich brown sauce was put before her, she deliberately discarded her knife and fork altogether and ate with her hands. By way of terminating the operation, she stuck every finger of each hand into her mouth as far as it would go, licked all ten thoroughly, and then looked at them critically before drying them on her napkin. By this time Margaret was past being surprised at anything.
'Logotheti says that in the East they all eat with their fingers,' the singer observed.
'It is much cleaner,' Logotheti answered imperturbably.
Margaret uttered an involuntary exclamation of surprise.
'Of course it is!' he exclaimed. 'I know who washes my fingers. I don't know who washes the forks, nor who used them last. If one stopped to think about it, one would never use a fork or a spoon that was not one's own or washed by oneself. I am sure that every sort of disease is caught from other people's forks and spoons.'
'What a horrible idea!' exclaimed Margaret with disgust. 'I shall never want to eat at a hotel or a restaurant again.'
'You will forget it,' replied Logotheti reassuringly. 'Civilisation makes us forget a great many little things of the sort, I assure you!'
'But is there no way of protecting oneself?' Margaret asked.
'It is absurd!' cried Madame Bonanni. 'I don't believe in germs and microbes and such silly things! If they exist we are full of them, and I have no doubt they do us good.'
'It would be just as easy to boil the forks and spoons for ten minutes in clean water, after they are washed,' observed Logotheti. 'But after all, fingers are safer.'
'Things taste better with fingers,' said Madame Bonanni thoughtfully.
'In the East,' Logotheti answered, 'people pour water on their hands after each course. Why don't you try that?'
'I wash my hands afterwards; it is less trouble.'
Logotheti laughed, but Margaret was disgusted, and did not even smile. Madame Bonanni's proceedings had made an impression on her which it would be hard to forget, and she sat silent for a while, not tasting what followed.
'Logotheti,' said Madame Bonanni later, with her mouth full of strawberries and cream, 'you must do something for me.'
'An investment, dear lady? I suppose you want some of the bonds of the new electric road, don't you? They are not to be had, but of course you shall have them at once. Or else you have decided to give your whole fortune to an eccentric charity. Is that it?'
'No,' answered the singer, swallowing. 'This charming young lady—what is your name, my dear? I have forgotten it twenty times this morning!'
'Donne. Margaret Donne.'
'This charming Miss Donne sings, Logotheti.'
'So I gathered while we were talking.'
'No, you didn't! You gathered no such thing! She told you that she took lessons, perhaps. But I tell you that she sings. It is quite different.'
Madame Bonanni pushed away her plate, planted her large white elbows on the table and looked thoughtfully at Margaret. Logotheti looked at the young girl, too, for he knew very well what his old friend meant by the simple statement, slightly emphasised.
'Ah!' he ejaculated. 'I understand. I am at your service.'
'What is it?' asked Margaret, blushing a little and turning from one to the other.
'Logotheti knows everybody,' answered Madame Bonanni. 'He is rich, immensely rich, fabulously rich, my dear. He is in the "high finance," in fact. It is disgusting, how rich he is, but it is sometimes useful. He wants a theatre, a newspaper; he buys it and does what he likes with it. It makes no difference to him, for he always sells it again for more than he gave for it, and besides, it amuses him. You would not think it, but Logotheti is often dreadfully bored.'
'Very often,' assented the Greek, 'but never when I am with you.'
'Ah, bah! You say that! But why should I care? You always do what I want.'
'And out of pure friendship, too.'
'The purest!' Logotheti uttered the two words with profound conviction.
'I never could induce this creature to make love to me,' cried Madame Bonanni, turning to Margaret with a laugh. 'It is incredible! And yet I love him—almost as well as plover's eggs! It is true that if he made love to me, I should have him turned out of the house. But that makes no difference. It is one of the disappointments of my life that he doesn't!'
'What I admire next to your genius, is your logic, dear lady,' said Logotheti.
'Precisely. Now before you have your coffee you will give me your word of honour that Miss Donne shall have a triumph and an ovation at her debut, and an engagement to sing next season at the Opera.'
'Really——' Margaret tried to protest.
'You know nothing about business,' interrupted Madame Bonanni. 'You are nothing but a child! These things are done in this way. Logotheti, give me your word of honour.'
'Are you sure of the voice?' asked the Greek quietly.
'As sure as I am of my own.'
'Very well. I give you my word. It is done.'
'Good. I hate you, Logotheti, because you are so cautious, but you always do what you promise. You may have your coffee now! What name are you going to take, my dear?' she asked, turning to Margaret, who felt very uncomfortable. 'The name is very important, you know, even when one has your genius.'
'My genius!' exclaimed the young girl in confusion.
'I know what I am talking about,' answered Madame Bonanni in a matter-of-fact tone. 'You will get up on the morning of your debut as little Miss Donne, nobody! You will go to bed as the great new soprano, famous! That is what you will do. Now don't talk, but let me give you a name, and we will drink your health to it in a drop of that old white Chartreuse. You like that old white Chartreuse, Logotheti. You shall have none till you have found a name for Miss Donne.'
'May I not keep my own?' Margaret asked timidly.
'No. It is an absurd name for the stage, my dear. All the people would make jokes about it. Of course you must be either Italian, or French, or German, or Hungarian, or Spanish. There is no great Italian soprano just now. I advise you to be an Italian. You are Signorina—Signorina what? Logotheti, do make haste! You know Italian.'
'May I ask where you were born, Miss Donne?' inquired Logotheti.
'In Oxford. But what has that to do with it?'
'Translate into Italian: ox, "bove," ford, "guado." No, that won't do'
'Certainly not!' cried Madame Bonanni. 'Guado—guano! Fancy! Try again. Think of a pretty Italian name. It must be very easy! Take an historical name, the name of a great family. Those people never object.'
'Cordova is a fine name,' observed Logotheti. 'She may just as well be Spanish, after all. Margarita da Cordova. That sounds rather well.'
'Yes. Do you like it, my dear?' asked Madame Bonanni.
'But I don't know a word of Spanish——'
'What in the world has that to do with it? It is a good name. You may have your Chartreuse, Logotheti. Margarita da Cordova, the great Spanish soprano! Your health! You were born in the little town of Boveguado in Andalusia.'
'Your father was the famous contrabandier Ramon da Cordova, who sang like an angel and played the guitar better than any one in Spain.'
'Was there ever such a man?'
'No, of course not! And besides, he was stabbed in a love affair when you were a baby, so that it does not matter. You ought to be able to make something out of that for the papers, Logotheti. Carmen, don't you know? Heavens, how romantic!'
Margaret had a vague idea that she was dreaming, that Madame Bonanni and Logotheti were not real people, and that she was going to waken in a few minutes. The heavy, middle-aged woman with the good-natured face and the painted cheeks could not possibly be the tragic Juliet, the terrible Tosca, the poor, mad, fluttering Lucia, whose marvellous voice had so often thrilled the young girl to the heart, in Paris and in London. It was either a dream or a cruel deception. Her own words sounded far away and unsteady when she was at last allowed to speak.
'I am sure I cannot sing in public in less than a year,' she said. 'You are very kind, but you are exaggerating my talent. I could never get through the whole opera well enough.'
Madame Bonanni looked at her curiously for a moment, not at all certain that she was in earnest; but she saw that Margaret meant what she said. There was no mistaking the troubled look in the girl's eyes.
'I suppose you are not afraid to come here and sing before an impresario and three or four musicians, are you?' inquired the singer.
'No!' cried Margaret. 'But that is different.'
'Did you think that any manager would engage you, even for one night, merely on my word, my child? You will have to show what you can do. But I can tell you one thing, little Miss Donne!' A great, good-natured laugh rolled out before Madame Bonanni proceeded to state the one thing she could tell. 'When you have sung the waltz song in Romeo and Juliet, and the duo in the fifth act, to four or five of the men who make a living out of us artists, you will be surprised at what happens afterwards! Those people will not risk their money for your handsome eyes, my dear! And they know their business, don't they, Logotheti?'
He answered by speaking directly to Margaret.
'I think,' he said quietly, 'that you can have confidence in Madame Bonanni's opinion.'
'Listen to me,' said the prima donna—suddenly, and for some unknown reason, rubbing all the rouge off her right cheek with the corner of her napkin and then inspecting curiously the colour that adhered to the linen—'listen to me! I sing day after to-morrow, for the last time before going to London. Come to my dressing-room after the second act. I will have Schreiermeyer there, and we will make an appointment for the next day, and settle the matter at once. It's understood, isn't it?'
Margaret was delighted, for Logotheti's quiet words had reassured her a little. Madame Bonanni rose suddenly, untying her napkin from her neck as she got up, and throwing it on the floor behind her. Before she had reached the door she yawned portentously.
'I always go to sleep when I have eaten,' she said. 'Find a cab for little Miss Donne, Logotheti—for the famous Senorita da Cordova!' She laughed sleepily, and waved her hand to Margaret.
'I don't know how to thank you,' the young girl began, but before she got any further Madame Bonanni had disappeared.
A few moments later Margaret and Logotheti were in the street. The noonday air was warm and bright and she drew in deep breaths of it, as she had done in the morning. Logotheti looked at her from under the brim of his Panama hat.
'We shall find a cab in a minute,' he said, in an indifferent tone.
They walked a few steps in silence.
'I hope you don't really mean to do what Madame Bonanni asked of you,' Margaret said, rather awkwardly. 'I mean, about my debut, if it really comes off.'
Logotheti laughed lightly.
'She always talks in that way,' he said. 'She thinks I can do anything, but as a matter of fact I have no influence to speak of, and money has nothing to do with an artist's success. I shall certainly be there on your first night, and you will not object to my splitting my gloves in applauding you?'
'Oh no!' Margaret laughed, too. 'You are welcome to do that! There is a cab.'
She held up her parasol to attract the driver's attention, and Logotheti made a few steps forward and called him.
'Where shall I tell the man to take you?' Logotheti asked, as she got in.
'To the Saint Lazare station, please. Thank you very much!'
She smiled pleasantly and nodded as she drove away. He stood still a moment on the pavement, looking after her, and then turned in the opposite direction, lighting a cigarette as he walked.
He was a Greek, and an educated one, and as he sauntered along on the shady side of the Avenue Hoche, the cigarette twitched oddly in his mouth, as if he were talking to himself. From four and twenty centuries away, in the most modern city of the world, broken lines of an ode of Anacreon came ringing to his ears, and his lips formed the words noiselessly:
'I wish I were the zone that lies Warm to thy breast, and feels its sighs ... Oh, anything that touches thee! Nay, sandals for those fairy feet ...'
That, at least, is the English for it, according to Thomas Moore.
Margaret was not quite sure how she could find her way to Madame Bonanni's dressing-room at the Opera, but she had no intention of missing the appointment. The most natural and easy way of managing matters would be to ask her teacher to go with her, and she could then spend the night at the latter's house. She accordingly stopped there before she went to the station.
The elderly artist burst into tears on hearing the result of the interview with Madame Bonanni, and fell upon Margaret's neck.
'I knew it,' she said. 'I was sure of it, but I did not dare to tell you so!'
Margaret was very happy, but she was a little nervous about her frock and wondered whether tears stained, as sea water does. The old singer was of a very different type from Madame Bonanni, and had never enjoyed such supremacy as the latter, even for a few months. But she had been admired for her perfect method, her good acting, and her agreeable voice, and for having made the most of what nature had given her; and when she had retired from the stage comparatively young, as the wife of the excellent Monsieur Durand, she had already acquired a great reputation as a model for young singers, and she soon consented to give lessons. Unfortunately, Monsieur Durand had made ducks and drakes of her earnings in a few years, by carefully mis-investing every penny she possessed; but as he had then lost no time in destroying himself by the over-use of antidotes to despair, such as absinthe, his widow had soon re-established the equilibrium of her finances by hard work and was at the present time one of the most famous teachers of singers for the stage. Madame Durand was a Neapolitan by birth and had been known to modest fame on the stage as Signora De Rosa, that being her real name; for Italian singers seem to be the only ones who do not care for high-sounding pseudonyms. She was a voluble little person, over-flowing with easy feeling which made her momentarily intensely happy, miserable, or angry, as the case might be. Whichever it might be, she generally shed abundant tears.
Margaret went back to Versailles feeling very happy, but determined to say nothing of what had happened except to Mrs. Rushmore, who need only know that Madame Bonanni had spoken in an encouraging way and wished to see her at the theatre. For the girl herself found it hard to believe half of what the prima donna had told her, and was far from believing that she was on the eve of signing her first engagement.
Madame Bonanni had breakfasted at half-past eleven, but Mrs. Rushmore lunched at half-past one, and Margaret found her at table with Lushington and three or four other people who had dropped in. There was an English officer who had got his Victoria Cross in South Africa and was on his way to India, with a few days to spare by the way; there was a middle-aged French portrait-painter who had caressing ways and an immense reputation; there was a woman of the world whose husband was an Austrian and was in the diplomatic service; and there was a young archaeologist just from Crete, who foregathered with Lushington.
They were at the end of luncheon when Margaret came in, they were sipping fine wine from very thin glasses, they were all saying their second-best things, because each one was afraid that if he said his very best before dinner one of the others would steal it; and Mrs. Rushmore was in her element.
Margaret came in with her hat on and sat down in her place, which was opposite Mrs. Rushmore. The men subsided again into their chairs and looked at her. Lushington was next to her, but she smiled at the others first, nodding quietly and answering their greetings.
'You seem pleased,' Lushington said, when he saw that she would hear him.
'Do I?' She smiled again.
'That sort of answer always means a secret,' Lushington replied. 'Happiness for one, don't you know?'
'By the way,' asked the English officer on her other side, 'was not your father the famous army coach?'
'No,' Margaret replied. 'I'm often asked that.'
'What is an army coach?' inquired the French painter, who spoke some English. 'Is it not an ambulance? But I do not understand.'
Mrs. Rushmore began to explain in an undertone.
'Miss Donne's father was an Oxford don,' observed Lushington, rather stiffly.
At this quite unintentional pun the French painter laughed so much that every one turned and looked at him. He had once painted a famous man in Oxford, and knew what a don was.
'Make the next one in Greek,' said Margaret to Lushington, with a smile.
'There are some very bad puns in Aristophanes,' observed the archaeologist thoughtfully. 'Why don't you go to Crete?' he inquired very suddenly of Mrs. Rushmore.
Mrs. Rushmore, who did not happen to have heard of the recent discoveries yet, felt a little as if the young man had asked her why she did not go to Jericho. But she concealed her feelings, being quite sure that no offence to her dignity was meant.
'It is so far,' she answered with a vague smile.
'It's a beastly hole,' observed the soldier. 'I was there when that row was going on.'
'The discoveries have all been made since then,' answered the archaeologist, who could think of nothing else. 'You have no idea what those paintings are,' he continued, talking to the table. 'I have been there several weeks and I'm going back next month. Logotheti is going to take a party of us in his big yacht.'
'Who is Logotheti?' inquired Margaret, with great calm.
'A financier,' put in Lushington.
'A millionaire,' said the artist. 'I have painted his portrait.'
'He seems to be interested in discoveries,' Margaret said to the archaeologist. 'I suppose you know him very well?'
'Oh yes! He is a most interesting person, a Greek of Constantinople by birth, but a real Greek at heart, who knows his own literature, and loves his country, and spends immense sums in helping archaeology. He really cares for nothing but art! Finance amuses him now and then for a while, and he has been tremendously lucky. They consider him one of the important men in the money market, don't they?'
The question was directed to the French artist.
'Certainly they do!' replied the latter, with alacrity. 'I have painted his portrait.'
'I should like to know him,' said Mrs. Rushmore.
'He is quite delightful,' the woman of the world chimed in. 'Quite the most amusing man I know!'
'You know him, too?' Mrs. Rushmore asked.
'Everybody knows Logotheti!' answered the other.
'You must really bring him,' said Mrs. Rushmore, in a general way, to everybody.
'I am sure he will be enchanted!' cried the archaeologist. 'I am dining with him to-night, and if you will allow me I'll bring him to-morrow afternoon.'
'You seem very sure that he will come,' Margaret said.
'But why should he not? Every one is glad to come to Mrs. Rushmore's house.'
This was an unanswerable form of complimentary argument. Margaret reflected on that strange law by which, when we have just heard for the first time of a fact or a person, we are sure to come across it, or him, again, within the next twenty-four hours. She did not believe that Logotheti could be found at short notice and introduced to new acquaintances so easily as the young scholar seemed to think; but she made up her mind, if he came at all, that she would prevent him from talking about their meeting at Madame Bonanni's, which she wished to avoid mentioning for the present. That would be easy enough, for a man of his tact would understand the slightest sign, and behave as if he had not met her before.
In the afternoon she was alone with Lushington again. He was not at all in an aggressive mood; indeed, he seemed rather depressed. They walked slowly under the oaks and elms.
'What is the matter?' Margaret asked gently, after a silence.
'I have been thinking a great deal about you,' he answered.
'The thought seems to make you sad!' Margaret laughed, for she was very happy.
'Yes. It does,' he answered, with a sigh that certainly was not affected.
'But why?' she asked, growing grave at once.
'There is no reason why I should not tell you. After all, we know each other too well to apologise for saying what we think. Don't we?'
'I hope so,' Margaret answered, wondering what he was going to say.
'But then,' said Lushington disconsolately, 'I am perfectly sure that nothing I can say can have the slightest effect.'
'Who knows?' The young girl's lids drooped a little and then opened again.
'You know.' He spoke gravely and with regret.
She tried to laugh.
'I wish I did! But what is it? There can be no harm in saying it!'
'You have made up your mind to be an opera-singer,' Lushington answered. 'You have a beautiful voice, you have talent, you have been well taught. You will succeed.'
He had never said as much as that about her singing, and she was pleased. After many months of patient work, the acknowledgment of it seemed to be all coming in one day.
'You talk as if you were quite sure.'
'Yes. You will succeed. But there is another side to it. Shall you think me priggish and call me disagreeable if I tell you that it is no life for a woman brought up like you?'
Margaret had just acquired some insight into the existence of the class she meant to join, though by no means into the worst phase of it. She was sure that if she closed her eyes she should see Madame Bonanni vividly before her, and hear her talking to Logotheti, and smell the heavy air of the big room. She felt that she could not call Lushington a prig.
'I think I know what you mean,' she answered. 'But surely, an artist can lead her own life, especially if she is successful.'
'No,' Lushington answered, 'she cannot. That's just it.'
'How do you know?' Margaret asked, incredulously.
'I do know,' he said with emphasis. 'I assure you that I know. I have seen a great deal of operatic people. A few, and they are not generally the great ones, try to lead their own lives, as you put it, but they either don't succeed at all or else they make themselves so disagreeable to their fellow artists that life becomes a burden.'
'If they don't succeed, it's because they have no strength of character,' Margaret answered, 'and if they make themselves disagreeable, it's because they have no tact!'
'That settles it!' Lushington laughed drily. 'I had better not say anything more.'
'I did not mean to cut you short. I beg your pardon. Please go on, please!'
She turned to him as she said the last words, and there was in the word 'please' that one tone of hers which he could never resist. It is said that even lifeless things, like bridges and towers, are subject by nature to the vibration of a sympathetic note, and that the greatest buildings in the world would tremble, and shake, and rock and fall in ruins if that single musical sound were steadily produced near to them. We men cannot pretend to be harder of hearing and feeling than stocks and stones. The woman who loves, whether she herself knows it or not, has her call, that we answer as the wood-bird answers his mate, her sympathetic word and note at which we vibrate to our heart's core.
When Margaret said 'please' in a certain way, Lushington's free will seemed to retire from him suddenly, to contemplate his weakness from a little distance. When she said 'please go on,' he went on, and not only said what he had meant to say but a great deal more, too.
'It would bore you to know all about my existence,' he began, 'but as a critic and otherwise I happen to have been often in contact with theatrical people, especially opera-singers. I have at least one—er—one very dear friend amongst them.
'A man?' suggested Margaret.
'No. A woman—of a certain age. As I see her very often, I naturally see other singers, especially as she is very much liked by them. I only tell you that to explain why I know so much about them; and if I want to explain at all, it's only because I like you so much, and because I suppose that what I like most about you, next to yourself, is just that something which my dear old friend can never have. Do you understand?'
Lushington was certainly very shy as a rule, and most people would have said that he was very cold; but Margaret suddenly felt that there was a true and deep emotion behind his plain speech.
'You have been very fond of her,' she said gently.
He flushed almost before she had finished speaking; but he could not have been angry, for he smiled.
'Yes, I have always been very fond of her,' he answered, after a scarcely perceptible pause, 'and I always shall be. But she is old enough to be my mother.'
'I'm glad if it's really a friendship,' said Margaret; 'and only a friendship,' she added.
He turned his eyes to her rather slowly.
'I believe you really are glad,' he answered. 'Thank you. I'm very fond of you. I can't help it. I suppose I love you, and I have no business to—and sometimes you say things that touch me. That's all.
After this rather inexplicable speech he relapsed into silence. But there are silences of all sorts, as there is speech of all sorts. There are silences that set one's teeth on edge—it is always a relief to break them; and there are silences that are gentler, kinder, sweeter, more loving, more eloquent than any words, and which it is always a wrench to interrupt. Of these was the pause that followed now; but Margaret was asking herself what he meant by saying that he had no right to love her.
'Do you know what the hardest thing in my life is?' Lushington asked, suddenly rousing himself. 'It is the certainty that my friend can never have been and never can be at all like you in everything that appeals to me most. But it would be still worse—oh, infinitely worse!—to see you grow like her, by living amongst the same people. You will suffer if you do, and you will suffer if you cannot. That is why I dread the idea of your going on the stage.'
'But I really think I shall not change so much as you think, if I do,' Margaret said.
'You don't know the life,' Lushington answered rather sadly. 'All I can do is to tell you that it is not fit for you, or that you are not fit for it, because you are not by nature what most of them are, and please God you never will be.'
He spoke very earnestly, and another little silence followed, during which the two walked on.
'Please notice that I have not called you a prig for saying that,' said Margaret at last. 'And I have not thought you one either,' she added, before he could answer.
'You re very nice!' Lushington tried to laugh, but it was rather a failure.
'But of course you've no business to think me nice, have you?'
It was not even curiosity, nor an idle inclination to flirt that made Margaret ask the question at last. She had never felt so strongly drawn to him as now.
He looked at her quietly, and answered without the least hesitation or shyness.
'I've no business to be in love with you, because I'm a fraud,' he said.
'A fraud! You? What in the world do you mean?'
Margaret was thoroughly surprised. This gifted, shy, youthful man who had fought his way to the front by his own talent and hard work, was of all people she knew the one with whom she least connected any idea of deception. He only nodded and looked at her.
'A fraud!' she exclaimed again. 'I suppose it's some sort of false modesty that makes you say that! You know that you are a very successful writer and that you have earned your success. Why do you try to make out——'
'I'm not trying to make out anything. I tell you the plain truth. I'm a fraud.'
'Nonsense!' Margaret was almost angry at his persistence.
'I would not tell you, if I did not care for you so much,' he answered. 'But as I do, and as you seem to like me a little, I should be an awful cad if I kept you in the dark any longer. You won't publish it on the housetops. I'm not Edmund Lushington at all.'
'You are not Edmund Lushington, the critic?' Margaret's mouth opened in surprise.
'I'm the critic all right,' he answered, with a faint smile. 'I'm the man that writes, the man you've heard of. But I'm not Lushington. It's an assumed name.'
'Oh!' Margaret seemed relieved. 'Is that all? Many people who write take other names.'
'But they are not generally known by them to their friends,' Lushington observed. 'That's where the fraud comes in, in my case. A man may sign his book Judas Iscariot or Peter the Great if he likes, provided he's known as Mr. Smith at home, if that's his real name.'
'Is your real name Smith?' Margaret asked. 'Is that why you changed it?'
Lushington could not help smiling.
'No. If I had been called Smith, I would have stuck to it. Smith is a very good, honest name. Most of the people who originally came by it made armour and were more or less artists. No! I wish I were a Smith, indeed I do! The name is frequent, not common, that's all.'
Margaret was puzzled, and looked at his face, as if she were thinking out the problem.
'No,' she said suddenly, and with decision. 'You are not a Jew. That's impossible!'
'I'm not a Jew.' He laughed this time. 'But I know several very interesting Jews, and I don't dislike them at all. I really should not mind being called Solomon Isaacs! I would not have changed the name either.'
'You might have been called Isidore Guggenheimer,' Margaret suggested, smiling.
'Well—that! For purposes of literature, it would not be practical.'
'You forget that you have not told me your real name yet. You see, if I should ever happen to think of you again, I'd rather not think of you under a pseudonym, unless it were in connection with your books.'
'That's the only way in which you are likely to think of me,' he answered. 'But if you really want to know, my first name is Thomas, diminutive Tom—plain Tom.'
'I like that much better than Edmund,' said Margaret, who had simple tastes. 'Is the other one as nice?'
'I don't know what you might think of it,' Lushington answered. 'It is neither common nor uncommon, and not at all striking, but I cannot tell you what it is. I'm sorry to make a mystery of it, for my father was nobody in particular, and I was nobody in particular until I was heard of as Lushington, the critic. And I've been Lushington so long that I'm used to it. I was called so at school and at Oxford.'
'As long ago as that!' Margaret again seemed relieved.
'Yes. Oh, I've done nothing disgraceful, nor my father either! It's not that. I cannot possibly explain, but it's the reason why I'm a fraud—as far as you are concerned.'
'Only as far as I am concerned?'
'Nobody else happens to matter. Mrs. Rushmore receives all sorts of interesting people, many of whom have played tricks with their names. Why should she care? Why should anybody care? We have all done the things we are known for, and we are not in love with Mrs. Rushmore, though she is a very agreeable woman! She wouldn't care to call me Tom, would she?'
'I don't know,' Margaret answered with a laugh. 'She might!'
'At all events, it's not necessary to tell her,' said Lushington.
'No. But suppose that I should not care to call you Tom either, and yet should wish to call you something, don't you know? That might happen.'
Lushington did not answer at once, and Margaret was a little displeased, for she had said more than she had ever meant to say to show him what she was beginning to feel. She held her head rather high as they walked on under the great trees, and her eyes sparkled coldly now and then.
She had known for a long time that he loved her, and to-day he had told her so, almost roughly; and for some time, also, she had understood that she was growing fond of him. But now that she held out her hand, metaphorically, he would not take it.
'I don't want to know your secret, if it is as important as that,' she said at last. 'A man who hides his real name so carefully must have some very good reason for doing it.'
She emphasised the words almost cruelly and looked straight before her, and her eyes sparkled again. His lips parted to make a quick retort, but he checked himself, and then spoke quietly.
'I have never done anything I am ashamed of,' he said.
'I don't think it's very nice to do what you are doing now,' Margaret retorted, coolly. 'It doesn't inspire confidence, you know.'
'Can't we part without quarrelling?'
'Oh, certainly! Do you mean to go away?'
'You leave me no choice. Shall we turn back to the house? It will sooner be over. I can leave before dinner. It will be easy to find an excuse.'
'Yes! Those proofs you have been talking of lately—your publishers—anything will do!'
Margaret was thoroughly angry with him and with herself by this time, and he was deeply hurt, and they turned and walked stiffly, with their noses in the air, as if they never meant to speak to each other again.
'It's very odd!' Margaret observed at last, as if she had made a discovery.
'What is very odd?'
'I never liked you as much as I did a quarter of an hour ago, and I never disliked you as much as I do now! Do you understand that?'
'Yes. You make it very clear. I never heard any thing put more plainly.'
'I'm glad of that. But it's very funny. I detest you just now, and yet, if you go away at once, I know I shall be sorry. On the whole, do you know?—you had better not leave to-night.'
Lushington turned sharply on her.
'Are you playing with me?' he asked, in an angry tone.
'No,' she answered with exasperating coolness, 'I don't think I am. Only, you are two people, you see. It confuses me. You are Mr. Lushington, and then, the next minute, you're—Tom. I hate Mr. Lushington. I believe I always did. I wish I might never see him again.'
'Oh indeed! How about Tom?'
'Tom is rather bearable than otherwise,' Margaret answered, laughing again. 'He knows that I think so, too, and it's no reason why he should be always trying to keep out of the way!'
'He has no right to be in the way.'
'Then he ought never to have come here. But since he has, I would rather have him stay.'
When she had thus explained herself with perfect frankness and made known her wishes, Margaret seemed to think that there was nothing more to be said. But Lushington thought otherwise.
'Why do you hate Mr. Lushington?' he asked.
'Because he is a fraud,' Margaret answered. 'As you have just told me that he is, you cannot possibly deny it, and you can't quarrel with me for not liking him. So there!'
All her good-humour had come back, the cold sparkle in her eyes had turned into afternoon sunshine, and she swung her closed parasol gently on one finger by its hook as she walked, nodding her head just perceptibly as if keeping time with it. She expected an answer, a laugh perhaps, or a retort; but nothing came. She glanced sideways at Lushington, thinking to meet his eyes, but they were watching the ground as he walked, a yard before his feet. She turned her head and looked at his face, and she realised that it was a little drawn, and had grown suddenly pale, and that there were dark shadows under his eyes which she had never seen before. The healthy, shy, rather too youthful mask was gone, and in its place she saw the features of a mature man who was quietly suffering a great deal. She fancied that he must often look as he did now, when he was alone.