HotFreeBooks.com
The Primadonna
by F. Marion Crawford
1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

THE PRIMADONNA

A SEQUEL TO "FAIR MARGARET"

BY

F. MARION CRAWFORD

AUTHOR OF "SARACINESCA," "SANT' ILARIO," "FAIR MARGARET," ETC., ETC.

1908



CHAPTER I

When the accident happened, Cordova was singing the mad scene in Lucia for the last time in that season, and she had never sung it better. The Bride of Lammermoor is the greatest love-story ever written, and it was nothing short of desecration to make a libretto of it; but so far as the last act is concerned the opera certainly conveys the impression that the heroine is a raving lunatic. Only a crazy woman could express feeling in such an unusual way.

Cordova's face was nothing but a mask of powder, in which her handsome brown eyes would have looked like two holes if she had not kept them half shut under the heavily whitened lids; her hands were chalked too, and they were like plaster casts of hands, cleverly jointed at the wrists. She wore a garment which was supposed to be a nightdress, which resembled a very expensive modern shroud, and which was evidently put on over a good many other things. There was a deal of lace on it, which fluttered when she made her hands shake to accompany each trill, and all this really contributed to the general impression of insanity. Possibly it was overdone; but if any one in the audience had seen such a young person enter his or her room unexpectedly, and uttering such unaccountable sounds, he or she would most assuredly have rung for a doctor and a cab, and for a strait-jacket if such a thing were to be had in the neighbourhood.

An elderly man, with very marked features and iron-grey hair, sat in the fifth row of the stalls, on the right-hand aisle. He was a bony man, and the people behind him noticed him and thought he looked strong. He had heard Bonanni in her best days and many great lyric sopranos from Patti to Melba, and he was thinking that none of them had sung the mad scene better than Cordova, who had only been on the stage two years, and was now in New York for the first time. But he had already heard her in London and Paris, and he knew her. He had first met her at a breakfast on board Logotheti's yacht at Cap Martin. Logotheti was a young Greek financier who lived in Paris and wanted to marry her. He was rather mad, and had tried to carry her off on the night of the dress rehearsal before her debut, but had somehow got himself locked up for somebody else. Since then he had grown calmer, but he still worshipped at the shrine of the Cordova. He was not the only one, however; there were several, including the very distinguished English man of letters, Edmund Lushington, who had known her before she had begun to sing on the stage.

But Lushington was in England and Logotheti was in Paris, and on the night of the accident Cordova had not many acquaintances in the house besides the bony man with grey hair; for though society had been anxious to feed her and get her to sing for nothing, and to play bridge with her, she had never been inclined to accept those attentions. Society in New York claimed her, on the ground that she was a lady and was an American on her mother's side. Yet she insisted on calling herself a professional, because singing was her profession, and society thought this so strange that it at once became suspicious and invented wild and unedifying stories about her; and the reporters haunted the lobby of her hotel, and gossiped with their friends the detectives, who also spent much time there in a professional way for the general good, and were generally what English workmen call wet smokers.

Cordova herself was altogether intent on what she was doing and was not thinking of her friends, of Lushington, or Logotheti, nor of the bony man in the stalls; certainly not of society, though it was richly represented by diamonds in the subscriber's tier. Indeed the jewellery was so plentiful and of such expensive quality that the whole row of boxes shone like a vast coronet set with thousands of precious stones. When the music did not amuse society, the diamonds and rubies twinkled and glittered uneasily, but when Cordova was trilling her wildest they were quite still and blazed with a steady light. Afterwards the audience would all say again what they had always said about every great lyric soprano, that it was just a wonderful instrument without a particle of feeling, that it was an over-grown canary, a human flute, and all the rest of it; but while the trills ran on the people listened in wonder and the diamonds were very quiet.

'A-a—A-a—A-a—A-a—' sang Cordova at an inconceivable pitch.

A terrific explosion shook the building to its foundations; the lights went out, and there was a long grinding crash of broken glass not far off.

In the momentary silence that followed before the inevitable panic the voice of Schreiermeyer, the manager, rang out through the darkness.

'Ladies and gentlemen! There's no danger! Keep your seats! The lights will be up directly.'

And indeed the little red lamps over each door that led out, being on another circuit, were all burning quietly, but in the first moment of fright no one noticed them, and the house seemed to be quite dark.

Then the whole mass of humanity began to writhe and swell, as a frightened crowd does in the dark, so that every one feels as if all the other people were growing hugely big, as big as elephants, to smother and crush him; and each man makes himself as broad as he can, and tries to swell out his chest, and squares his elbows to keep the weight off his sides; and with the steady strain and effort every one breathes hard, and few speak, and the hard-drawn breath of thousands together makes a sound of rushing wind like bellows as enormous as houses, blowing steadily in the darkness.

'Keep your seats!' yelled Schreiermeyer desperately.

He had been in many accidents, and understood the meaning of the noises he heard. There was death in them, death for the weak by squeezing, and smothering, and trampling underfoot. It was a grim moment, and no one who was there has forgotten it, the manager least of all.

'It's only a fuse gone!' he shouted. 'Only a plug burnt out!'

But the terrified throng did not believe, and the people pressed upon each other with the weight of hundreds of bodies, thronging from behind, towards the little red lights. There were groans now, besides the strained breathing and the soft shuffling of many feet on the thick carpets. Each time some one went down there was a groan, stifled as instantly and surely as though the lips from which it came were quickly thrust under water.

Schreiermeyer knew well enough that if nothing could be done within the next two minutes there would be an awful catastrophe; but he was helpless. No doubt the electricians were at work; in ten minutes the damage would be repaired and the lights would be up again; but the house would be empty then, except for the dead and the dying.

Another groan was heard, and another quickly after it. The wretched manager yelled, stormed, stamped, entreated, and promised, but with no effect. In the very faint red light from the doors he saw a moving sea of black and heard it surging to his very feet. He had an old professional's exact sense of passing time, and he knew that a full minute had already gone by since the explosion. No one could be dead yet, even in that press, but there were few seconds to spare, fewer and fewer.

Then another sound was heard, a very pure strong note, high above his own tones, a beautiful round note, that made one think of gold and silver bells, and that filled the house instantly, like light, and reached every ear, even through the terror that was driving the crowd mad in the dark.

A moment more, an instant's pause, and Cordova had begun Lucia's song again at the beginning, and her marvellous trills and staccato notes, and trills again, trills upon trills without end, filled the vast darkness and stopped those four thousand men and women, spellbound and silent, and ashamed too.

It was not great music, surely; but it was sung by the greatest living singer, singing alone in the dark, as calmly and as perfectly as if all the orchestra had been with her, singing as no one can who feels the least tremor of fear; and the awful tension of the dark throng relaxed, and the breath that came was a great sigh of relief, for it was not possible to be frightened when a fearless woman was singing so marvellously.

Then, still in the dark, some of the musicians struck in and supported her, and others followed, till the whole body of harmony was complete; and just as she was at the wildest trills, at the very passage during which the crash had come, the lights went up all at once; and there stood Cordova in white and lace, with her eyes half shut and shaking her outstretched hands as she always made them shake in the mad scene; and the stage was just as it had been before the accident, except that Schreiermeyer was standing near the singer in evening dress with a perfectly new and shiny high hat on the back of his head, and his mouth wide open.

The people were half hysterical from the past danger, and when they saw, and realised, they did not wait for the end of the air, but sent up such a shout of applause as had never been heard in the Opera before and may not be heard there again.

Instinctively the Primadonna sang the last bars, though no one heard her in the din, unless it was Schreiermeyer, who stood near her. When she had finished at last he ran up to her and threw both his arms round her in a paroxysm of gratitude, regardless of her powder and chalk, which came off upon his coat and yellow beard in patches of white as he kissed her on both cheeks, calling her by every endearing name that occurred to his polyglot memory, from Sweetheart in English to Little Cabbage in French, till Cordova laughed and pushed him away, and made a tremendous courtesy to the audience.

Just then a man in a blue jacket and gilt buttons entered from the left of the stage and whispered a few words into Schreiermeyer's ear. The manager looked grave at once, nodded and came forward to the prompter's box. The man had brought news of the accident, he said; a quantity of dynamite which was to have been used in subterranean blasting had exploded and had done great damage, no one yet knew how great. It was probable that many persons had been killed.

But for this news, Cordova would have had one of those ovations which rarely fall to the lot of any but famous singers, for there was not a man or woman in the theatre who had not felt that she had averted a catastrophe and saved scores of lives. As it was, several women had been slightly hurt and at least fifty had fainted. Every one was anxious to help them now, most of all the very people who had hurt them.

But the news of an accident in the city emptied the house in a few minutes; even now that the lights were up the anxiety to get out to the street and to know more of the truth was great enough to be dangerous, and the strong crowd heaved and surged again and pushed through the many doors with little thought for the weak or for any who had been injured in the first panic.

But in the meantime Cordova had reached her dressing-room, supported by the enthusiastic Schreiermeyer on one side, and by the equally enthusiastic tenor on the other, while the singular family party assembled in the last act of Lucia di Lammermoor brought up the rear with many expressions of admiration and sympathy.

As a matter of fact the Primadonna needed neither sympathy nor support, and that sort of admiration was not of the kind that most delighted her. She did not believe that she had done anything heroic, and did not feel at all inclined to cry.

'You saved the whole audience!' cried Signor Pompeo Stromboli, the great Italian tenor, who presented an amazing appearance in his Highland dress. 'Four thousand seven hundred and fifty-three people owe you their lives at this moment! Every one of them would have been dead but for your superb coolness! Ah, you are indeed a great woman!'

Schreiermeyer's business ear had caught the figures. As they walked, each with an arm through one of the Primadonna's, he leaned back and spoke to Stromboli behind her head.

'How the devil do you know what the house was?' he asked sharply.

'I always know,' answered the Italian in a perfectly matter-of-fact tone. 'My dresser finds out from the box-office. I never take the C sharp if there are less than three thousand.'

'I'll stop that!' growled Schreiermeyer.

'As you please!' Stromboli shrugged his massive shoulders. 'C sharp is not in the engagement!'

'It shall be in the next! I won't sign without it!'

'I won't sign at all!' retorted the tenor with a sneer of superiority. 'You need not talk of conditions, for I shall not come to America again!'

'Oh, do stop quarrelling!' laughed Cordova as they reached the door of her box, for she had heard similar amenities exchanged twenty times already, and she knew that they meant nothing at all on either side.

'Have you any beer?' inquired Stromboli of the Primadonna, as if nothing had happened.

'Bring some beer, Bob!' Schreiermeyer called out over his shoulder to some one in the distance.

'Yes, sir,' answered a rough voice, far off, and with a foreign accent.

The three entered the Primadonna's dressing-room together. It was a hideous place, as all dressing-rooms are which are never used two days in succession by the same actress or singer; very different from the pretty cells in the beehive of the Comedie Francaise where each pensioner or shareholder is lodged like a queen bee by herself, for years at a time.

The walls of Cordova's dressing-room were more or less white-washed where the plaster had not been damaged. There was a dingy full-length mirror, a shabby toilet-table; there were a few crazy chairs, the wretched furniture which is generally to be found in actresses' dressing-rooms, notwithstanding the marvellous descriptions invented by romancers. But there was light in abundance and to excess, dazzling, unshaded, intolerable to any but theatrical eyes. There were at least twenty strong electric lamps in the miserable place, which illuminated the coarsely painted faces of the Primadonna and the tenor with alarming distinctness, and gleamed on Schreiermeyer's smooth fair hair and beard, and impassive features.

'You'll have two columns and a portrait in every paper to-morrow,' he observed thoughtfully. 'It's worth while to engage such people. Oh yes, damn it, I tell you it's worth while!'

The last emphatic sentence was intended for Stromboli, as if he had contradicted the statement, or were himself not 'worth while.'

'There's beer there already,' said the tenor, seeing a bottle and glass on a deal table, and making for them at once.

He undid the patent fastening, stood upright with his sturdy stockinged legs wide apart, threw his head back, opened his huge painted mouth to the necessary extent, but not to the full, and without touching his lips poured the beer into the chasm in a gurgling stream, which he swallowed without the least apparent difficulty. When he had taken down half the contents of the small bottle he desisted and poured the rest into the glass, apparently for Cordova's benefit.

'I hope I have left you enough,' he said, as he prepared to go. 'My throat felt like a rusty gun-barrel.'

'Fright is very bad for the voice,' Schreiermeyer remarked, as the call-boy handed him another bottle of beer through the open door.

Stromboli took no notice of the direct imputation. He had taken a very small and fine handkerchief from his sporran and was carefully tucking it into his collar with some idea of protecting his throat. When this was done his admiration for his colleague broke out again without the slightest warning.

'You were superb, magnificent, surpassing!' he cried.

He seized Cordova's chalked hands, pressed them to his own whitened chin, by sheer force of stage habit, because the red on his lips would have come off on them, and turned away.

'Surpassing! Magnificent! What a woman!' he roared in tremendous tones as he strode away through the dim corridor towards the stage and his own dressing-room on the other side.

Meanwhile Schreiermeyer, who was quite as thirsty as the tenor, drank what the latter had left in the only glass there was, and set the full bottle beside the latter on the deal table.

'There is your beer,' he said, calling attention to what he had done.

Cordova nodded carelessly and sat down on one of the crazy chairs before the toilet-table. Her maid at once came forward and took off her wig, and her own beautiful brown hair appeared, pressed and matted close to her head in a rather disorderly coil.

'You must be tired,' said the manager, with more consideration than he often showed to any one whose next engagement was already signed. 'I'll find out how many were killed in the explosion and then I'll get hold of the reporters. You'll have two columns and a picture to-morrow.'

Schreiermeyer rarely took the trouble to say good-morning or good-night, and Cordova heard the door shut after him as he went out.

'Lock it,' she said to her maid. 'I'm sure that madman is about the theatre again.'

The maid obeyed with alacrity. She was very tall and dark, and when she had entered Cordova's service two years ago she had been positively cadaverous. She herself said that her appearance had been the result of living many years with the celebrated Madame Bonanni, who was a whirlwind, an earthquake, a phenomenon, a cosmic force. No one who had lived with her in her stage days had ever grown fat; it was as much as a very strong constitution could do not to grow thin.

Madame Bonanni had presented the cadaverous woman to the young Primadonna as one of the most precious of her possessions, and out of sheer affection. It was true that since the great singer had closed her long career and had retired to live in the country, in Provence, she dressed with such simplicity as made it possible for her to exist without the long-faithful, all-skilful, and iron-handed Alphonsine; and the maid, on her side, was so thoroughly a professional theatrical dresser that she must have died of inanition in what she would have called private life. Lastly, she had heard that Madame Bonanni had now given up the semblance, long far from empty, but certainly vain, of a waist, and dressed herself in a garment resembling a priest's cassock, buttoned in front from her throat to her toes.

Alphonsine locked the door, and the Primadonna leaned her elbows on the sordid toilet-table and stared at her chalked and painted face, vaguely trying to recognise the features of Margaret Donne, the daughter of the quiet Oxford scholar, her real self as she had been two years ago, and by no means very different from her everyday self now. But it was not easy. Margaret was there, no doubt, behind the paint and the 'liquid white,' but the reality was what the public saw beyond the footlights two or three times a week during the opera season, and applauded with might and main as the most successful lyric soprano of the day.

There were moments when she tried to get hold of herself and bring herself back. They came most often after some great emotion in the theatre, when the sight of the painted mask in the glass shocked and disgusted her as it did to-night; when the contrasts of life were almost more than she could bear, when her sensibilities awoke again, when the fastidiousness of the delicately nurtured girl revolted under the rough familiarity of such a comrade as Stromboli, and rebelled against the sordid cynicism of Schreiermeyer.

She shuddered at the mere idea that the manager should have thought she would drink out of the glass he had just used. Even the Italian peasant, who had been a goatherd in Calabria, and could hardly write his name, showed more delicacy, according to his lights, which were certainly not dazzling. A faint ray of Roman civilisation had reached him through generations of slaves and serfs and shepherds. But no such traditions of forgotten delicacy disturbed the manners of Schreiermeyer. The glass from which he had drunk was good enough for any primadonna in his company, and it was silly for any of them to give themselves airs. Were they not largely his creatures, fed from his hand, to work for him while they were young, and to be turned out as soon as they began to sing false? He was by no means the worst of his kind, as Margaret knew very well.

She thought of her childhood, of her mother and of her father, both dead long before she had gone on the stage; and of that excellent and kind Mrs. Rushmore, her American mother's American friend, who had taken her as her own daughter, and had loved her and cared for her, and had shed tears when Margaret insisted on becoming a singer; who had fought for her, too, and had recovered for her a small fortune of which her mother had been cheated. For Margaret would have been more than well off without her profession, even when she had made her debut, and she had given up much to be a singer, believing that she knew what she was doing.

But now she was ready to undo it all and to go back; at least she thought she was, as she stared at herself in the glass while the pale maid drew her hair back and fastened it far above her forehead with a big curved comb, as a preliminary to getting rid of paint and powder. At this stage of the operation the Primadonna was neither Cordova nor Margaret Donne; there was something terrifying about the exaggeratedly painted mask when the wig was gone and her natural hair was drawn tightly back. She thought she was like a monstrous skinned rabbit with staring brown eyes.

At first, with the inexperience of youth, she used to plunge her painted face into soapsuds and scrub vigorously till her own complexion appeared, a good deal overheated and temporarily shiny; but before long she had yielded to Alphonsine's entreaties and representations and had adopted the butter method, long familiar to chimney-sweeps.

The butter lay ready; not in a lordly dish, but in a clean tin can with a cover, of the kind workmen use for fetching beer, and commonly called a 'growler' in New York, for some reason which escapes etymologists.

Having got rid of the upper strata of white lace and fine linen, artfully done up so as to tremble like aspen leaves with Lucia's mad trills, Margaret proceeded to butter her face thoroughly. It occurred to her just then that all the other artists who had appeared with her were presumably buttering their faces at the same moment, and that if the public could look in upon them it would be very much surprised indeed. At the thought she forgot what she had been thinking of and smiled.

The maid, who was holding her hair back where it escaped the comb, smiled too, and evidently considered that the relaxation of Margaret's buttered features was equivalent to a permission to speak.

'It was a great triumph for Madame,' she observed. 'All the papers will praise Madame to-morrow. Madame saved many lives.'

'Was Mr. Griggs in the house?' Margaret asked. 'I did not see him.'

Alphonsine did not answer at once, and when she spoke her tone had changed.

'Yes, Madame. Mr. Griggs was in the house.'

Margaret wondered whether she had saved his life too, in his own estimation or in that of her maid, and while she pondered the question she buttered her nose industriously.

Alphonsine took a commercial view of the case.

'If Madame would appear three times more in New York, before sailing, the manager would give ten thousand francs a night,' she observed.

Margaret said nothing to this, but she thought it would be amusing to show herself to an admiring public in her present condition.

'Madame is now a heroine,' continued Alphonsine, behind her. 'Madame can ask anything she pleases. Several milliardaires will now offer to marry Madame.'

'Alphonsine,' answered Margaret, 'you have no sense.'

The maid smiled, knowing that her mistress could not see even the reflection of the smile in the glass; but she said nothing.

'No sense,' Margaret repeated, with conviction. 'None at all'

The maid allowed a few seconds to pass before she spoke again.

'Or if Madame would accept to sing in one or two private houses in New York, we could ask a very great price, more than the manager would give.'

'I daresay.'

'It is certain,' said Alphonsine. 'At the French ball to which Madame kindly allowed me to go, the valet of Mr. Van Torp approached me.'

'Indeed!' exclaimed Cordova absently. 'How very disagreeable!'

'I see that Madame is not listening,' said Alphonsine, taking offence.

What she said was so true that Margaret did not answer at all. Besides, the buttering process was finished, and it was time for the hot water. She went to the ugly stationary washstand and bent over it, while the maid kept her hair from her face. Alphonsine spoke again when she was sure that her mistress could not possibly answer her.

'Mr. Van Torp's valet asked me whether I thought Madame would be willing to sing in church, at the wedding, the day after to-morrow,' she said, holding the Primadonna's back hair firmly.

The head moved energetically under her hands. Margaret would certainly not sing at Mr. Van Torp's wedding, and she even tried to say so, but her voice only bubbled and sputtered ineffectually through the soap and water.

'I was sure Madame would not,' continued the maid, 'though Mr. Van Torp's valet said that money was no object. He had heard Mr. Van Torp say that he would give five thousand dollars to have Madame sing at his wedding.'

Margaret did not shake her head this time, nor try to speak, but Alphonsine heard the little impatient tap of her slipper on the wooden floor. It was not often that the Primadonna showed so much annoyance at anything; and of late, when she did, the cause had been connected with this same Mr. Van Torp. The mere mention of his name irritated her, and Alphonsine seemed to know it, and to take an inexplicable pleasure in talking about him—about Mr. Rufus Van Torp, formerly of Chicago, but now of New York. He was looked upon as the controlling intellect of the great Nickel Trust; in fact, he was the Nickel Trust himself, and the other men in it were mere dummies compared with him. He had sailed the uncertain waters of finance for twenty years or more, and had been nearly shipwrecked more than once, but at the time of this story he was on the top of the wave; and as his past was even more entirely a matter of conjecture than his future, it would be useless to inquire into the former or to speculate about the latter. Moreover, in these break-neck days no time counts but the present, so far as reputation goes; good fame itself now resembles righteousness chiefly because it clothes men as with a garment; and as we have the highest authority for assuming that charity covers a multitude of sins, we can hardly be surprised that it should be so generally used for that purpose. Rufus Van Torp's charities were notorious, aggressive, and profitable. The same sums of money could not have bought as much mingled advertisement and immunity in any other way.

'Of course,' observed Alphonsine, seeing that Margaret would soon be able to speak again, 'money is no object to Madame either!'

This subtle flattery was evidently meant to forestall reproof. But Margaret was now splashing vigorously, and as both taps were running the noise was as loud as that of a small waterfall; possibly she had not even heard the maid's last speech.

Some one knocked at the door, and knocked a second time almost directly. The Primadonna pushed Alphonsine with her elbow, speaking being still impossible, and the woman understood that she was to answer the summons.

She asked who was knocking, and some one answered.

'It is Mr. Griggs,' said Alphonsine.

'Ask him to wait,' Margaret succeeded in saying.

Alphonsine transmitted the message through the closed door, and listened for the answer.

'He says that there is a lady dying in the manager's room, who wants Madame,' said the maid, repeating what she heard.

Margaret stood upright, turned quickly, and crossed the room to the door, mopping her face with a towel.

'Who is it?' she asked in an anxious tone.

'I'm Griggs,' said a deep voice. 'Come at once, if you can, for the poor girl cannot last long.'

'One minute! Don't go away—I'm coming out.'

Alphonsine never lost her head. A theatrical dresser who does is of no use. She had already brought the wide fur coat Margaret always wore after singing. In ten seconds the singer was completely clothed in it, and as she laid her hand on the lock to let herself out, the maid placed a dark Russian hood on her head from behind her and took the long ends twice round her throat.

Mr. Griggs was a large bony man with iron-grey hair, who looked very strong. He had a sad face and deep-set grey eyes. He led the way without speaking, and Cordova walked quickly after him. Alphonsine did not follow, for she was responsible for the belongings that lay about in the dressing-room. The other doors on the women's side, which is on the stage left and the audience's right at the Opera, were all tightly closed. The stage itself was not dark yet, and the carpenters were putting away the scenery of the last act as methodically as if nothing had happened.

'Do you know her?' Margaret asked of her companion as they hurried along the passage that leads into the house.

'Barely. She is a Miss Bamberger, and she was to have been married the day after to-morrow, poor thing—to a millionaire. I always forget his name, though I've met him several times.'

'Van Torp?' asked Margaret as they hastened on.

'Yes. That's it—the Nickel Trust man, you know.'

'Yes,' Margaret answered in a low tone. 'I was asked to sing at the wedding.'

They reached the door of the manager's room. The clerks from the box-office and several other persons employed about the house were whispering together in the little lobby. They made way for Cordova and looked with curiosity at Griggs, who was a well-known man of letters.

Schreiermeyer stood at the half-closed inner door, evidently waiting.

'Come in,' he said to Margaret. 'The doctor is there.'

The room was flooded with electric light, and smelt of very strong Havana cigars and brandy. Margaret saw a slight figure in a red silk evening gown, lying at full length on an immense red leathern sofa. A young doctor was kneeling on the floor, bending down to press his ear against the girl's side; he moved his head continually, listening for the beating of her heart. Her face was of a type every one knows, and had a certain half-pathetic prettiness; the features were small, and the chin was degenerate but delicately modelled. The rather colourless fair hair was elaborately done; her thin cheeks were dreadfully white, and her thin neck shrank painfully each time she breathed out, though it grew smooth and full as she drew in her breath. A short string of very large pearls was round her throat, and gleamed in the light as her breathing moved them.

Schreiermeyer did not let Griggs come in, but went out to him, shut the door and stood with his back to it.

Margaret did not look behind her, but crossed directly to the sofa and leaned over the dying girl, who was conscious and looked at her with inquiring eyes, not recognising her.

'You sent for me,' said the singer gently.

'Are you really Madame Cordova?' asked the girl in a faint tone.

It was as much as she could do to speak at all, and the doctor looked up to Margaret and raised his hand in a warning gesture, meaning that his patient should not be allowed to talk. She saw his movement and smiled faintly, and shook her head.

'No one can save me,' she said to him, quite quietly and distinctly. 'Please leave us together, doctor.'

'I am altogether at a loss,' the doctor answered, speaking to Margaret as he rose. 'There are no signs of asphyxia, yet the heart does not respond to stimulants. I've tried nitro-glycerine—'

'Please, please go away!' begged the girl.

The doctor was a young surgeon from the nearest hospital, and hated to leave his case. He was going to argue the point, but Margaret stopped him.

'Go into the next room for a moment, please,' she said authoritatively.

He obeyed with a bad grace, and went into the empty office which adjoined the manager's room, but he left the door open. Margaret knelt down in his place and took the girl's cold white hand.

'Can he hear?' asked the faint voice.

'Speak low,' Margaret answered. 'What can I do?'

'It is a secret,' said the girl. 'The last I shall ever have, but I must tell some one before I die. I know about you. I know you are a lady, and very good and kind, and I have always admired you so much!'

'You can trust me,' said the singer. 'What is the secret I am to keep for you?'

'Do you believe in God? I do, but so many people don't nowadays, you know. Tell me.'

'Yes,' Margaret answered, wondering. 'Yes, I do.'

'Will you promise, by the God you believe in?'

'I promise to keep your secret, so help me God in Heaven,' said Margaret gravely.

The girl seemed relieved, and closed her eyes for a moment. She was so pale and still that Margaret thought the end had come, but presently she drew breath again and spoke, though it was clear that she had not much strength left.

'You must not keep the secret always,' she said. 'You may tell him you know it. Yes—let him know that you know—if you think it best—'

'Who is he?'

'Mr. Van Torp.'

'Yes?' Margaret bent her ear to the girl's lips and waited.

Again there was a pause of many seconds, and then the voice came once more, with a great effort that only produced very faint sounds, scarcely above a whisper.

'He did it.'

That was all. At long intervals the dying girl drew deep breaths, longer and longer, and then no more. Margaret looked anxiously at the still face for some time, and then straightened herself suddenly.

'Doctor! Doctor!' she cried.

The young man was beside her in an instant. For a full minute there was no sound in the room, and he bent over the motionless figure.

'I'm afraid I can't do anything,' he said gently, and he rose to his feet.

'Is she really dead?' Margaret asked, in an undertone.

'Yes. Failure of the heart, from shock.'

'Is that what you will call it?'

'That is what it is,' said the doctor with a little emphasis of offence, as if his science had been doubted. 'You knew her, I suppose?'

'No. I never saw her before. I will call Schreiermeyer.'

She stood still a moment longer, looking down at the dead face, and she wondered what it all meant, and why the poor girl had sent for her, and what it was that Mr. Van Torp had done. Then she turned very slowly and went out.

'Dead, I suppose,' said Schreiermeyer as soon as he saw the Primadonna's face. 'Her relations won't get here in time.'

Margaret nodded in silence and went on through the lobby.

'The rehearsal is at eleven,' the manager called out after her, in his wooden voice.

She nodded again, but did not look back. Griggs had waited in order to take her back to her dressing-room, and the two crossed the stage together. It was almost quite dark now, and the carpenters were gone away.

'Thank you,' Margaret said. 'If you don't care to go all the way back you can get out by the stage door.'

'Yes. I know the way in this theatre. Before I say good-night, do you mind telling me what the doctor said?'

'He said she died of failure of the heart, from shock. Those were his words. Why do you ask?'

'Mere curiosity. I helped to carry her—that is, I carried her myself to the manager's room, and she begged me to call you, so I came to your door.'

'It was kind of you. Perhaps it made a difference to her, poor girl. Good-night.'

'Good-night. When do you sail?'

'On Saturday. I sing "Juliet" on Friday night and sail the next morning.'

'On the Leofric?'

'Yes.'

'So do I. We shall cross together.'

'How delightful! I'm so glad! Good-night again.'

Alphonsine was standing at the open door of the dressing-room in the bright light, and Margaret nodded and went in. The maid looked after the elderly man till he finally disappeared, and then she went in too and locked the door after her.

Griggs walked home in the bitter March weather. When he was in New York, he lived in rooms on the second floor of an old business building not far from Fifth Avenue. He was quite alone in the house at night, and had to walk up the stairs by the help of a little electric pocket-lantern he carried. He let himself into his own door, turned up the light, slipped off his overcoat and gloves, and went to the writing-table to get his pipe. That is very often the first thing a man does when he gets home at night.

The old briar pipe he preferred to any other lay on the blotting-paper in the circle where the light was brightest. As he took it a stain on his right hand caught his eye, and he dropped the pipe to look at it. The blood was dark and was quite dry, and he could not find any scratch to account for it. It was on the inner side of his right hand, between the thumb and forefinger, and was no larger than an ordinary watch.

'How very odd!' exclaimed Mr. Griggs aloud; and he turned his hand this way and that under the electric lamp, looking for some small wound which he supposed must have bled. There was a little more inside his fingers, and between them, as if it had oozed through and then had spread over his knuckles.

But he could find nothing to account for it. He was an elderly man who had lived all over the world and had seen most things, and he was not easily surprised, but he was puzzled now. Not the least strange thing was that the stain should be as small as it was and yet so dark. He crossed the room again and examined the front of his overcoat with the most minute attention. It was made of a dark frieze, almost black, on which a red stain would have shown very little; but after a very careful search Griggs was convinced that the blood which had stained his hand had not touched the cloth.

He went into his dressing-room and looked at his face in his shaving-glass, but there was certainly no stain on the weather-beaten cheeks or the furrowed forehead.

'How very odd!' he exclaimed a second time.

He washed his hands slowly and carefully, examining them again and again, for he thought it barely possible that the skin might have been cracked somewhere by the cutting March wind, and might have bled a little, but he could not find the least sign of such a thing.

When he was finally convinced that he could not account for the stain he had now washed off, he filled his old pipe thoughtfully and sat down in a big shabby arm-chair beside the table to think over other questions more easy of solution. For he was a philosophical man, and when he could not understand a matter he was able to put it away in a safe place, to be kept until he got more information about it.

The next morning, amidst the flamboyant accounts of the subterranean explosion, and of the heroic conduct of Madame Margarita da Cordova, the famous Primadonna, in checking a dangerous panic at the Opera, all the papers found room for a long paragraph about Miss Ida H. Bamberger, who had died at the theatre in consequence of the shock her nerves had received, and who was to have married the celebrated capitalist and philanthropist, Mr. Van Torp, only two days later. There were various dramatic and heart-rending accounts of her death, and most of them agreed that she had breathed her last amidst her nearest and dearest, who had been with her all the evening.

But Mr. Griggs read these paragraphs thoughtfully, for he remembered that he had found her lying in a heap behind a red baize door which his memory could easily identify.

After all, the least misleading notice was the one in the column of deaths:—

BAMBERGER.—On Wednesday, of heart-failure from shock, IDA HAMILTON, only child of HANNAH MOON by her former marriage with ISIDORE BAMBERGER. California papers please copy.



CHAPTER II

In the lives of professionals, whatever their profession may be, the ordinary work of the day makes very little impression on the memory, whereas a very strong and lasting one is often made by circumstances which a man of leisure or a woman of the world might barely notice, and would soon forget. In Margaret's life there were but two sorts of days, those on which she was to sing and those on which she was at liberty. In the one case she had a cutlet at five o'clock, and supper when she came home; in the other, she dined like other people and went to bed early. At the end of a season in New York, the evenings on which she had sung all seemed to have been exactly alike; the people had always applauded at the same places, she had always been called out about the same number of times, she had always felt very much the same pleasure and satisfaction, and she had invariably eaten her supper with the same appetite. Actors lead far more emotional lives than singers, partly because they have the excitement of a new piece much more often, with the tremendous nervous strain of a first night, and largely because they are not obliged to keep themselves in such perfect training. To an actor a cold, an indigestion, or a headache is doubtless an annoyance; but to a leading singer such an accident almost always means the impossibility of appearing at all, with serious loss of money to the artist, and grave disappointment to the public. The result of all this is that singers, as a rule, are much more normal, healthy, and well-balanced people than other musicians, or than actors. Moreover they generally have very strong bodies and constitutions to begin with, and when they have not they break down young.

Paul Griggs had an old traveller's preference for having plenty of time, and he was on board the steamer on Saturday a full hour before she was to sail; his not very numerous belongings, which looked as weather-beaten as himself, were piled up unopened in his cabin, and he himself stood on the upper promenade deck watching the passengers as they came on board. He was an observant man, and it interested him to note the expression of each new face that appeared; for the fact of starting on a voyage across the ocean is apt to affect people inversely as their experience. Those who cross often look so unconcerned that a casual observer might think they were not to start at all, whereas those who are going for the first time are either visibly flurried, or are posing to look as if they were not, though they are intensely nervous about their belongings; or they try to appear as if they belonged to the ship, or else as if the ship belonged to them, making observations which are supposed to be nautical, but which instantly stamp them as unutterable land-lubbers in the shrewd estimation of the stewards; and the latter, as every old hand is aware, always know everything much better than the captain.

Margaret Donne had been the most sensible and simple of young girls, and when she appeared at the gangway very quietly dressed in brown, with a brown fur collar, a brown hat, a brown veil, and a brown parasol, there was really nothing striking to distinguish her from other female passengers, except her good looks and her well-set-up figure. Yet somehow it seems impossible for a successful primadonna ever to escape notice. Instead of one maid, for instance, Cordova had two, and they carried rather worn leathern boxes that were evidently heavy jewel-cases, which they clutched with both hands and refused to give up to the stewards. They also had about them the indescribable air of rather aggressive assurance which belongs especially to highly-paid servants, men and women. Their looks said to every one: 'We are the show and you are the public, so don't stand in the way, for if you do the performance cannot go on!' They gave their orders about their mistress's things to the chief steward as if he were nothing better than a railway porter or a call-boy at the theatre; and, strange to say, that exalted capitalist obeyed with a docility he would certainly not have shown to any other passenger less than royal. They knew their way everywhere, they knew exactly what the best of everything was, and they made it clear that the great singer would have nothing less than the very, very best. She had the best cabin already, and she was to have the best seat at table, the best steward and the best stewardess, and her deck-chair was to be always in the best place on the upper promenade deck; and there was to be no mistake about it; and if anybody questioned the right of Margarita da Cordova, the great lyric soprano, to absolute precedence during the whole voyage, from start to finish, her two maids would know the reason why, and make the captain and all the ship's company wish they were dead.

That was their attitude.

But this was not all. There were the colleagues who came to see Margaret off and wished that they were going too. In spite of the windy weather there was Signor Pompeo Stromboli, the tenor, as broad as any two ordinary men, in a fur coat of the most terribly expensive sort, bringing an enormous box of chocolates with his best wishes; and there was the great German dramatic barytone, Herr Tiefenbach, who sang 'Amfortas' better than any one, and was a true musician as well as a man of culture, and he brought Margaret a book which he insisted that she must read on the voyage, called The Genesis of the Tone Epos; and there was that excellent and useful little artist, Fraeulein Ottilie Braun, who never had an enemy in her life, who was always ready to sing any part creditably at a moment's notice if one of the leading artists broke down, and who was altogether one of the best, kindest, and least conceited human beings that ever joined an opera company. She brought her great colleague a little bunch of violets.

Least expected of them all, there was Schreiermeyer, with a basket of grape fruit in his tightly-gloved podgy hands; and he was smiling cheerfully, which was an event in itself. They followed Margaret up to the promenade deck after her maids had gone below, and stood round her in a group, all talking at once in different languages.

Griggs chanced to be the only other passenger on that part of the deck and he joined the party, for he knew them all. Margaret gave him her hand quietly and nodded to him. Signor Stromboli was effusive in his greeting; Herr Tiefenbach gave him a solemn grip; little Fraeulein Ottilie smiled pleasantly, and Schreiermeyer put into his hands the basket he carried, judging that as he could not get anything else out of the literary man he could at least make him carry a parcel.

'Grape fruit for Cordova,' he observed. 'You can give it to the steward, and tell him to keep the things in a cool place.'

Griggs took the basket with a slight smile, but Stromboli snatched it from him instantly, and managed at the same time to seize upon the book Herr Tiefenbach had brought without dropping his own big box of sweetmeats.

'I shall give everything to the waiter!' he cried with exuberant energy as he turned away. 'He shall take care of Cordova with his conscience! I tell you, I will frighten him!'

This was possible, and even probable. Margaret looked after the broad figure.

'Dear old Stromboli!' she laughed.

'He has the kindest heart in the world,' said little Fraeulein Ottilie Braun.

'He is no a musician,' observed Herr Tiefenbach; 'but he does not sing out of tune.'

'He is a lunatic,' said Schreiermeyer gravely. 'All tenors are lunatics—except about money,' he added thoughtfully.

'I think Stromboli is very sensible,' said Margaret, turning to Griggs. 'He brings his little Calabrian wife and her baby out with him, and they take a small house for the winter and Italian servants, and live just as if they were in their own country and see only their Italian friends—instead of being utterly wretched in a horrible hotel.'

'For the modest consideration of a hundred dollars a day,' put in Griggs, who was a poor man.

'I wish my bills were never more than that!' Margaret laughed.

'Yes,' said Schreiermeyer, still thoughtful. 'Stromboli understands money. He is a man of business. He makes his wife cook for him.'

'I often cook for myself,' said Fraeulein Ottilie quite simply. 'If I had a husband, I would cook for him too!' She laughed like a child, without the slightest sourness. 'It is easier to cook well than to marry at all, even badly!'

'I do not at all agree with you,' answered Herr Tiefenbach severely. 'Without flattering myself, I may say that my wife married well; but her potato dumplings are terrifying.'

'You were never married, were you?' Margaret asked, turning to Griggs with a smile.

'No,' he answered. 'Can you make potato dumplings, and are you in search of a husband?'

'It is the other way,' said Schreiermeyer, 'for the husbands are always after her. Talking of marriage, that girl who died the other night was to have been married to Mr. Van Torp yesterday, and they were to have sailed with you this morning.'

'I saw his name on the—' Schreiermeyer began, but he was interrupted by a tremendous blast from the ship's horn, the first warning for non-passengers to go ashore.

Before the noise stopped Stromboli appeared again, looking very much pleased with himself, and twisting up the short black moustache that was quite lost on his big face. When he was nearer he desisted from twirling, shook a fat forefinger at Margaret and laughed.

'Oh, well, then,' he cried, translating his Italian literally into English, 'I've been in your room, Miss Cordova! Who is this Tom, eh? Flowers from Tom, one! Sweets from Tom, two! A telegram from Tom, three! Tom, Tom, Tom; it is full of Tom, her room! In the end, what is this Tom? For me, I only know Tom the ruffian in the Ballo in Maschera. That is all the Tom I know!'

They all looked at Margaret and laughed. She blushed a little, more out of annoyance than from any other reason.

'The maids wished to put me out,' laughed Stromboli, 'but they could not, because I am big. So I read everything. If I tell you I read, what harm is there?'

'None whatever,' Margaret answered, 'except that it is bad manners to open other people's telegrams.'

'Oh, that! The maid had opened it with water, and was reading when I came. So I read too! You shall find it all well sealed again, have no fear! They all do so.'

'Pleasant journey,' said Schreiermeyer abruptly. 'I'm going ashore. I'll see you in Paris in three weeks.'

'Read the book,' said Herr Tiefenbach earnestly, as he shook hands. 'It is a deep book.'

'Do not forget me!' cried Stromboli sentimentally, and he kissed Margaret's gloves several times.

'Good-bye,' said Fraeulein Ottilie. 'Every one is sorry when you go!'

Margaret was not a gushing person, but she stooped and kissed the cheerful little woman, and pressed her small hand affectionately.

'And everybody is glad when you come, my dear,' she said.

For Fraeulein Ottilie was perhaps the only person in the company whom Cordova really liked, and who did not jar dreadfully on her at one time or another.

Another blast from the horn and they were all gone, leaving her and Griggs standing by the rail on the upper promenade deck. The little party gathered again on the pier when they had crossed the plank, and made farewell signals to the two, and then disappeared. Unconsciously Margaret gave a little sigh of relief, and Griggs noticed it, as he noticed most things, but said nothing.

There was silence for a while, and the gangplank was still in place when the horn blew a third time, longer than before.

'How very odd!' exclaimed Griggs, a moment after the sound had ceased.

'What is odd?' Margaret asked.

She saw that he was looking down, and her eyes followed his. A square-shouldered man in mourning was walking up the plank in a leisurely way, followed by a well-dressed English valet, who carried a despatch-box in a leathern case.

'It's not possible!' Margaret whispered in great surprise.

'Perfectly possible,' Griggs answered, in a low voice. 'That is Rufus Van Torp.'

Margaret drew back from the rail, though the new comer was already out of sight on the lower promenade deck, to which the plank was laid to suit the height of the tide. She moved away from the door of the first cabin companion.

Griggs went with, her, supposing that she wished to walk up and down. Numbers of other passengers were strolling about on the side next to the pier, waiting to see the start. Margaret went on forward, turned the deck-house and walked to the rail on the opposite side, where there was no one. Griggs glanced at her face and thought that she seemed disturbed. She looked straight before her at the closed iron doors of the next pier, at which no ship was lying.

'I wish I knew you better,' she said suddenly.

Griggs looked at her quietly. It did not occur to him to make a trivial and complimentary answer to this advance, such as most men of the world would have made, even at his age.

'I shall be very glad if we ever know each other better,' he said after a short pause.

'So shall I.'

She leaned upon the rail and looked down at the eddying water. The tide had turned and was beginning to go out. Griggs watched her handsome profile in silence for a time.

'You have not many intimate friends, have you?' she asked presently.

'No, only one or two.'

She smiled.

'I'm not trying to get confidences from you. But really, that is very vague. You must surely know whether you have only one, or whether there is another. I'm not suggesting myself as a third, either!'

'Perhaps I'm over-cautious,' Griggs said. 'It does not matter. You began by saying that you wished you knew me better. You meant that if you did, you would either tell me something which you don't tell everybody, or you would come to me for advice about something, or you would ask me to do something for you. Is that it?'

'I suppose so.'

'It was not very hard to guess. I'll answer the three cases. If you want to tell me a secret, don't. If you want advice without telling everything about the case, it will be worthless. But if there is anything I can do for you, I'll do it if I can, and I won't ask any questions.'

'That's kind and sensible,' Margaret answered. 'And I should not be in the least afraid to tell you anything. You would not repeat it.'

'No, certainly not. But some day, unless we became real friends, you would think that I might, and then you would be very sorry.'

A short pause followed.

'We are moving,' Margaret said, glancing at the iron doors again.

'Yes, we are off.'

There was another pause. Then Margaret stood upright and turned her face to her companion. She did not remember that she had ever looked steadily into his eyes since she had known him.

They were grey and rather deeply set under grizzled eyebrows that were growing thick and rough with advancing years, and they met hers quietly. She knew at once that she could bear their scrutiny for any length of time without blushing or feeling nervous, though there was something in them that was stronger than she.

'It's this,' she said at last, as if she had been talking and had reached a conclusion. 'I'm alone, and I'm a little frightened.'

'You?' Griggs smiled rather incredulously.

'Yes. Of course I'm used to travelling without any one and taking care of myself. Singers and actresses are just like men in that, and it did not occur to me this morning that this trip could be different from any other.'

'No. Why should it be so different? I don't understand.'

'You said you would do something for me without asking questions. Will you?'

'If I can.'

'Keep Mr. Van Torp away from me during the voyage. I mean, as much as you can without being openly rude. Have my chair put next to some other woman's and your own on my other side. Do you mind doing that?'

Griggs smiled.

'No,' he said, 'I don't mind.'

'And if I am walking on deck and he joins me, come and walk beside me too. Will you? Are you quite sure you don't mind?'

'Yes.' He was still smiling. 'I'm quite certain that I don't dislike the idea.'

'I wish I were sure of being seasick,' Margaret said thoughtfully. 'It's bad for the voice, but it would be a great resource.'

'As a resource, I shall try to be a good substitute for it,' said Griggs.

Margaret realised what she had said and laughed.

'But it is no laughing matter,' she answered, her face growing grave again after a moment.

Griggs had promised not to ask questions, and he expressed no curiosity.

'As soon as you go below I'll see about the chair,' he said.

'My cabin is on this deck,' Margaret answered. 'I believe I have a tiny little sitting-room, too. It's what they call a suite in their magnificent language, and the photographs in the advertisements make it look like a palatial apartment!'

She left the rail as she spoke, and found her own door on the same side of the ship, not very far away.

'Here it is,' she said. 'Thank you very much.'

She looked into his eyes again for an instant and went in.

She had forgotten Signor Stromboli and what he had said, for her thoughts had been busy with a graver matter, but she smiled when she saw the big bunch of dark red carnations in a water-jug on the table, and the little cylinder-shaped parcel which certainly contained a dozen little boxes of the chocolate 'oublies' she liked, and the telegram, with its impersonal-looking address, waiting to be opened by her after having been opened, read, and sealed again by her thoughtful maids. Such trifles as the latter circumstance did not disturb her in the least, for though she was only a young woman of four and twenty, a singer and a musician, she had a philosophical mind, and considered that if virtue has nothing to do with the greatness of princes, moral worth need not be a clever lady's-maid's strong point.

'Tom' was her old friend Edmund Lushington, one of the most distinguished of the younger writers of the day. He was the only son of the celebrated soprano, Madame Bonanni, now retired from the stage, by her marriage with an English gentleman of the name of Goodyear, and he had been christened Thomas. But his mother had got his name and surname legally changed when he was a child, thinking that it would be a disadvantage to him to be known as her son, as indeed it might have been at first; even now the world did not know the truth about his birth, but it would not have cared, since he had won his own way.

Margaret meant to marry him if she married at all, for he had been faithful in his devotion to her nearly three years; and his rivalry with Constantine Logotheti, her other serious adorer, had brought some complications into her life. But on mature reflection she was sure that she did not wish to marry any one for the present. So many of her fellow-singers had married young and married often, evidently following the advice of a great American humorist, and mostly with disastrous consequences, that Margaret preferred to be an exception, and to marry late if at all.

In the glaring light of the twentieth century it at last clearly appears that marriageable young women have always looked upon marriage as the chief means of escape from the abject slavery and humiliating dependence hitherto imposed upon virgins between fifteen and fifty years old. Shakespeare lacked the courage to write the 'Seven Ages of Woman,' a matter the more to be regretted as no other writer has ever possessed enough command of the English language to describe more than three out of the seven without giving offence: namely, youth, which lasts from sixteen to twenty; perfection, which begins at twenty and lasts till further notice; and old age, which women generally place beyond seventy, though some, whose strength is not all sorrow and weakness even then, do not reach it till much later. If Shakespeare had dared he would have described with poetic fire the age of the girl who never marries. But this is a digression. The point is that the truth about marriage is out, since the modern spinster has shown the sisterhood how to live, and an amazing number of women look upon wedlock as a foolish thing, vainly imagined, never necessary, and rarely amusing.

The state of perpetual unsanctified virginity, however, is not for poor girls, nor for operatic singers, nor for kings' daughters, none of whom, for various reasons, can live, or are allowed to live, without husbands. Unless she be a hunchback, an unmarried royal princess is almost as great an exception as a white raven or a cat without a tail; a primadonna without a husband alive, dead, or divorced, is hardly more common; and poor girls marry to live. But give a modern young woman a decent social position, with enough money for her wants and an average dose of assurance, and she becomes so fastidious in the choice of a mate that no man is good enough for her till she is too old to be good enough for any man. Even then the chances are that she will not deeply regret her lost opportunities, and though her married friends will tell her that she has made a mistake, half of them will envy her in secret, the other half will not pity her much, and all will ask her to their dinner-parties, because a woman without a husband is such a convenience.

In respect to her art Margarita da Cordova was in all ways a thorough artist, endowed with the gifts, animated by the feelings, and afflicted with the failings that usually make up an artistic nature. But Margaret Donne was a sound and healthy English girl who had been brought up in the right way by a very refined and cultivated father and mother who loved her devotedly. If they had lived she would not have gone upon the stage; for as her mother's friend Mrs. Rushmore had often told her, the mere thought of such a life for their daughter would have broken their hearts. She was a grown woman now, and high on the wave of increasing success and celebrity, but she still had a childish misgiving that she had disobeyed her parents and done something very wrong, just as when she had surreptitiously got into the jam cupboard at the age of five.

Yet there are old-fashioned people alive even now who might think that there was less harm in becoming a public singer than in keeping Edmund Lushington dangling on a string for two years and more. Those things are matters of opinion. Margaret would have answered that if he dangled it was his misfortune and not her fault, since she never, in her own opinion, had done anything to keep him, and would not have been broken-hearted if he had gone away, though she would have missed his friendship very much. Of the two, the man who had disturbed her maiden peace of mind was Logotheti, whom she feared and sometimes hated, but who had an inexplicable power over her when they met: the sort of fateful influence which honest Britons commonly ascribe to all foreigners with black hair, good teeth, diamond studs, and the other outward signs of wickedness. Twice, at least, Logotheti had behaved in a manner positively alarming, and on the second occasion he had very nearly succeeded in carrying her off bodily from the theatre to his yacht, a fate from which Lushington and his mother had been instrumental in saving her. Such doings were shockingly lawless, but they showed a degree of recklessly passionate admiration which was flattering from a young financier who was so popular with women that he found it infinitely easier to please than to be pleased.

Perhaps, if Logotheti could have put on a little Anglo-Saxon coolness, Margaret might have married him by this time. Perhaps she would have married Lushington, if he could have suddenly been animated by a little Greek fire. As things stood, she told herself that she did not care to take a man who meant to be not only her master but her tyrant, nor one who seemed more inclined to be her slave than her master.

Meanwhile, however, it was the Englishman who kept himself constantly in mind with her by an unbroken chain of small attentions that often made her smile but sometimes really touched her. Any one could cable 'Pleasant voyage,' and sign the telegram 'Tom,' which gave it a friendly and encouraging look, because somehow 'Tom' is a cheerful, plucky little name, very unlike 'Edmund.' But it was quite another matter, being in England, to take the trouble to have carnations of just the right shade fresh on her cabin table at the moment of her sailing from New York, and beside them the only sort of chocolates she liked. That was more than a message, it was a visit, a presence, a real reaching out of hand to hand.

Logotheti, on the contrary, behaved as if he had forgotten Margaret's existence as soon as he was out of her sight; and they now no longer met often, but when they did he had a way of taking up the thread as if there had been no interval, which was almost as effective as his rival's method; for it produced the impression that he had been thinking of her only, and of nothing else in the world since the last meeting, and could never again give a thought to any other woman. This also was flattering. He never wrote to her, he never telegraphed good wishes for a journey or a performance, he never sent her so much as a flower; he acted as if he were really trying to forget her, as perhaps he was. But when they met, he was no sooner in the same room with her than she felt the old disturbing influence she feared and yet somehow desired in spite of herself, and much as she preferred the companionship of Lushington and liked his loyal straightforward ways, and admired his great talent, she felt that he paled and seemed less interesting beside the vivid personality of the Greek financier.

He was vivid; no other word expresses what he was, and if that one cannot properly be applied to a man, so much the worse for our language. His colouring was too handsome, his clothes were too good, his shoes were too shiny, his ties too surprising, and he not only wore diamonds and rubies, but very valuable ones. Yet he was not vulgarly gorgeous; he was Oriental. No one would say that a Chinese idol covered with gold and precious stones was overdressed, but it would be out of place in a Scotch kirk; the minister would be thrown into the shade and the congregation would look at the idol. In society, which nowadays is far from a chiaroscuro, everybody looked at Logotheti. If he had come from any place nearer than Constantinople people would have smiled and perhaps laughed at him; as it was, he was an exotic, and besides, he had the reputation of being dangerous to women's peace, and extremely awkward to meddle with in a quarrel.

Margaret sat some time in her little sitting-room reflecting on these things, for she knew that before many days were past she must meet her two adorers; and when she had thought enough about both, she gave orders to her maids about arranging her belongings. By and by she went to luncheon and found herself alone at some distance from the other passengers, next to the captain's empty seat; but she was rather glad that her neighbours had not come to table, for she got what she wanted very quickly and had no reason for waiting after she had finished.

Then she took a book and went on deck again, and Alphonsine found her chair on the sunny side and installed her in it very comfortably and covered her up, and to her own surprise she felt that she was very sleepy; so that just as she was wondering why, she dozed off and began to dream that she was Isolde, on board of Tristan's ship, and that she was singing the part, though she had never sung it and probably never would.

When she opened her eyes again there was no land in sight, and the big steamer was going quietly with scarcely any roll. She looked aft and saw Paul Griggs leaning against the rail, smoking; and she turned her head the other way, and the chair next to her own on that side was occupied by a very pleasant-looking young woman who was sitting up straight and showing the pictures in a book to a beautiful little girl who stood beside her.

The lady had a very quiet healthy face and smooth brown hair, and was simply and sensibly dressed. Margaret at once decided that she was not the child's mother, nor an elder sister, but some one who had charge of her, though not exactly a governess. The child was about nine years old; she had a quantity of golden hair that waved naturally, and a spiritual face with deep violet eyes, a broad white forehead and a pathetic little mouth.

She examined each picture, and then looked up quickly at the lady, keeping her wide eyes fixed on the latter's face with an expression of watchful interest. The lady explained each picture to her, but in such a soft whisper that Margaret could not hear a sound. Yet the child evidently understood every word easily. It was natural to suppose that the lady spoke under her breath in order not to disturb Margaret while she was asleep.

'It is very kind of you to whisper,' said the Primadonna graciously, 'but I am awake now.'

The lady turned with a pleasant smile.

'Thank you,' she answered.

The child did not notice Margaret's little speech, but looked up from the book for the explanation of the next picture.

'It is the inside of the Colosseum in Rome, and you will see it before long,' said the lady very distinctly. 'I have told you how the gladiators fought there, and how Saint Ignatius was sent all the way from Antioch to be devoured by lions there, like many other martyrs.'

The little girl watched her face intently, nodded gravely, and looked down at the picture again, but said nothing. The lady turned to Margaret.

'She was born deaf and dumb,' she said quietly, 'but I have taught her to understand from the lips, and she can already speak quite well. She is very clever.'

'Poor little thing!' Margaret looked at the girl with increasing interest. 'Such a little beauty, too! What is her name?'

'Ida—'

The child had turned over the pages to another picture, and now looked up for the explanation of it. Griggs had finished his cigar and came and sat down on Margaret's other side.



CHAPTER III

The Leofric was three days out, and therefore half-way over the ocean, for she was a fast boat, but so far Griggs had not been called upon to hinder Mr. Van Torp from annoying Margaret. Mr. Van Torp had not been on deck; in fact, he had not been seen at all since he had disappeared into his cabin a quarter of an hour before the steamer had left the pier. There was a good deal of curiosity about him amongst the passengers, as there would have been about the famous Primadonna if she had not come punctually to every meal, and if she had not been equally regular in spending a certain number of hours on deck every day.

At first every one was anxious to have what people call a 'good look' at her, because all the usual legends were already repeated about her wherever she went. It was said that she was really an ugly woman of thirty-five who had been married to a Spanish count of twice that age, and that he had died leaving her penniless, so that she had been obliged to support herself by singing. Others were equally sure that she was a beautiful escaped nun, who had been forced to take the veil in a convent in Seville by cruel parents, but who had succeeded in getting herself carried off by a Polish nobleman disguised as a priest. Every one remembered the marvellous voice that used to sing so high above all the other nuns, behind the lattice on Sunday afternoons at the church of the Dominican Convent. That had been the voice of Margarita da Cordova, and she could never go back to Spain, for if she did the Inquisition would seize upon her, and she would be tortured and probably burnt alive to encourage the other nuns.

This was very romantic, but unfortunately there was a man who said he knew the plain truth about her, and that she was just a good-looking Irish girl whose father used to play the flute at a theatre in Dublin, and whose mother kept a sweetshop in Queen Street. The man who knew this had often seen the shop, which was conclusive.

Margaret showed herself daily and the myths lost value, for every one saw that she was neither an escaped Spanish nun nor the gifted offspring of a Dublin flute-player and a female retailer of bull's-eyes and butterscotch, but just a handsome, healthy, well-brought-up young Englishwoman, who called herself Miss Donne in private life.

But gossip, finding no hold upon her, turned and rent Mr. Van Torp, who dwelt within his tent like Achilles, but whether brooding or sea-sick no one was ever to know. The difference of opinion about him was amazing. Some said he had no heart, since he had not even waited for the funeral of the poor girl who was to have been his wife. Others, on the contrary, said that he was broken-hearted, and that his doctor had insisted upon his going abroad at once, doubtless considering, as the best practitioners often do, that it is wisest to send a patient who is in a dangerous condition to distant shores, where some other doctor will get the credit of having killed him or driven him mad. Some said that Mr. Van Torp was concerned in the affair of that Chinese loan, which of course explained why he was forced to go to Europe in spite of the dreadful misfortune that had happened to him. The man who knew everything hinted darkly that Mr. Van Torp was not really solvent, and that he had perhaps left the country just at the right moment.

'That is nonsense,' said Miss More to Margaret in an undertone, for they had both heard what had just been said.

Miss More was the lady in charge of the pretty deaf child, and the latter was curled up in the next chair with a little piece of crochet work. Margaret had soon found out that Miss More was a very nice woman, after her own taste, who was given neither to flattery nor to prying, the two faults from which celebrities are generally made to suffer most by fellow-travellers who make their acquaintance. Miss More was evidently delighted to find herself placed on deck next to the famous singer, and Margaret was so well satisfied that the deck steward had already received a preliminary tip, with instructions to keep the chairs together during the voyage.

'Yes,' said Margaret, in answer to Miss More's remark. 'I don't believe there is the least reason for thinking that Mr. Van Torp is not immensely rich. Do you know him?'

'Yes.'

Miss More did not seem inclined to enlarge upon the fact, and her face was thoughtful after she had said the one word; so was Margaret's tone when she answered:

'So do I.'

Each of the young women understood that the other did not care to talk of Mr. Van Torp. Margaret glanced sideways at her neighbour and wondered vaguely whether the latter's experience had been at all like her own, but she could not see anything to make her think so. Miss More had a singularly pleasant expression and a face that made one trust her at once, but she was far from beautiful, and would hardly pass for pretty beside such a good-looking woman as Margaret, who after all was not what people call an out-and-out beauty. It was odd that the quiet lady-like teacher should have answered monosyllabically in that tone. She felt Margaret's sidelong look of inquiry, and turned half round after glancing at little Ida, who was very busy with her crochet.

'I'm afraid you may have misunderstood me,' she said, smiling. 'If I did not say any more it is because he himself does not wish people to talk of what he does.'

'I assure you, I'm not curious,' Margaret answered, smiling too. 'I'm sorry if I looked as if I were.'

'No—you misunderstood me, and it was a little my fault. Mr. Van Torp is doing something very, very kind which it was impossible that I should not know of, and he has asked me not to tell any one.'

'I see,' Margaret answered. 'Thank you for telling me. I am glad to know that he—'

She checked herself. She detested and feared the man, for reasons of her own, and she found it hard to believe that he could do something 'very, very kind' and yet not wish it to be known. He did not strike her as being the kind of person who would go out of his way to hide his light under a bushel. Yet Miss More's tone had been quiet and earnest. Perhaps he had employed her to teach some poor deaf and dumb child, like little Ida. Her words seemed to imply this, for she had said that it had been impossible that she should not know; that is, he had been forced to ask her advice or help, and her help and advice could only be considered indispensable where her profession as a teacher of the deaf and dumb was concerned.

Miss More was too discreet to ask the question which Margaret's unfinished sentence suggested, but she would not let the speech pass quite unanswered.

'He is often misjudged,' she said. 'In business he may be what many people say he is. I don't understand business! But I have known him to help people who needed help badly and who never guessed that he even knew their names.'

'You must be right,' Margaret answered.

She remembered the last words of the girl who had died in the manager's room at the theatre. There had been a secret. The secret was that Mr. Van Torp had done the thing, whatever it was. She had probably not known what she was saying, but it had been on her mind to say that Mr. Van Torp had done it, the man she was to have married. Margaret's first impression had been that the thing done must have been something very bad, because she herself disliked the man so much; but Miss More knew him, and since he often did 'very, very kind things,' it was possible that the particular action of which the dying girl was thinking might have been a charitable one; possibly he had confided the secret to her. Margaret smiled rather cruelly at her own superior knowledge of the world—yes, he had told the girl about that 'secret' charity in order to make a good impression on her! Perhaps that was his favourite method of interesting women; if it was, he had not invented it. Margaret thought she could have told Miss More something which would have thrown another light on Mr. Van Torp's character.

Her reflections had led her back to the painful scene at the theatre, and she remembered the account of it the next day, and the fact that the girl's name had been Ida. To change the subject she asked her neighbour an idle question.

'What is the little girl's full name?' she inquired.

'Ida Moon,' answered Miss More.

'Moon?' Margaret turned her head sharply. 'May I ask if she is any relation of the California Senator who died last year?'

'She is his daughter,' said Miss More quietly.

Margaret laid one hand on the arm of her chair and leaned forward a little, so as to see the child better.

'Really!' she exclaimed, rather deliberately, as if she had chosen that particular word out of a number that suggested themselves. 'Really!' she repeated, still more slowly, and then leaned back again and looked at the grey waves.

She remembered the notice of Miss Bamberger's death. It had described the deceased as the only child of Hannah Moon by her former marriage with Isidore Bamberger. But Hannah Moon, as Margaret happened to know, was now the widow of Senator Alvah Moon. Therefore the little deaf child was the half-sister of the girl who had died at the theatre in Margaret's arms and had been christened by the same name. Therefore, also, she was related to Margaret, whose mother had been the California magnate's cousin.

'How small the world is!' Margaret said in a low voice as she looked at the grey waves.

She wondered whether little Ida had ever heard of her half-sister, and what Miss More knew about it all.

'How old is Mrs. Moon?' she asked.

'I fancy she must be forty, or near that. I know that she was nearly thirty years younger than the Senator, but I never saw her.'

'You never saw her?' Margaret was surprised.

'No,' Miss More answered. 'She is insane, you know. She went quite mad soon after the little girl was born. It was very painful for the Senator. Her delusion was that he was her divorced husband, Mr. Bamberger, and when the child came into the world she insisted that it should be called Ida, and that she had no other. Mr. Bamberger's daughter was Ida, you know. It was very strange. Mrs. Moon was convinced that she was forced to live her life over again, year by year, as an expiation for something she had done. The doctors say it is a hopeless case. I really think it shortened the Senator's life.'

Margaret did not think that the world had any cause to complain of Mrs. Moon on that account.

'So this child is quite alone in the world,' she said.

'Yes. Her father is dead and her mother is in an asylum.'

'Poor little thing!'

The two young women were leaning back in their chairs, their faces turned towards each other as they talked, and Ida was still busy with her crochet.

'Luckily she has a sunny nature,' said Miss More. 'She is interested in everything she sees and hears.' She laughed a little. 'I always speak of it as hearing,' she added, 'for it is quite as quick, when there is light enough. You know that, since you have talked with her.'

'Yes. But in the dark, how do you make her understand?'

'She can generally read what I say by laying her hand on my lips; but besides that, we have the deaf and dumb alphabet, and she can feel my fingers as I make the letters.'

'You have been with her a long time, I suppose,' Margaret said.

'Since she was three years old.'

'California is a beautiful country, isn't it?' asked Margaret after a pause.

She put the question idly, for she was thinking how hard it must be to teach deaf and dumb children. Miss More's answer surprised her.

'I have never been there.'

'But, surely, Senator Moon lived in San Francisco,' Margaret said.

'Yes. But the child was sent to New England when she was three, and never went back again. We have been living in the country near Boston.'

'And the Senator used to pay you a visit now and then, of course, when he was alive. He must have been immensely pleased by the success of your teaching.'

Though Margaret felt that she was growing more curious about little Ida than she often was about any one, it did not occur to her that the question she now suggested, rather than asked, was an indiscreet one, and she was surprised by her companion's silence. She had already discovered that Miss More was one of those literally truthful people who never let an inaccurate statement pass their lips, and who will be obstinately silent rather than answer a leading question, quite regardless of the fact that silence is sometimes the most direct answer that can be given. On the present occasion Miss More said nothing and turned her eyes to the sea, leaving Margaret to make any deduction she pleased; but only one suggested itself, namely, that the deceased Senator had taken very little interest in the child of his old age, and had felt no affection for her. Margaret wondered whether he had left her rich, but Miss More's silence told her that she had already asked too many questions.

She glanced down the long line of passengers beyond Miss More and Ida. Men, women, and children lay side by side in their chairs, wrapped and propped like a row of stuffed specimens in a museum. They were not interesting, Margaret thought; for those who were awake all looked discontented, and those who were asleep looked either ill or apoplectic. Perhaps half of them were crossing because they were obliged to go to Europe for one reason or another; the other half were going in an aimless way, because they had got into the habit while they were young, or had been told that it was the right thing to do, or because their doctors sent them abroad to get rid of them. The grey light from the waves was reflected on the immaculate and shiny white paint, and shed a cold glare on the commonplace faces and on the plaid rugs, and on the vivid magazines which many of the people were reading, or pretending to read; for most persons only look at the pictures nowadays, and read the advertisements. A steward in a very short jacket was serving perfectly unnecessary cups of weak broth on a big tray, and a great number of the passengers took some, with a vague idea that the Company's feelings might be hurt if they did not, or else that they would not be getting their money's worth.

Between the railing and the feet of the passengers, which stuck out over the foot-rests of their chairs to different lengths according to the height of the possessors, certain energetic people walked ceaselessly up and down the deck, sometimes flattening themselves against the railing to let others who met them pass by, and sometimes, when the ship rolled a little, stumbling against an outstretched foot or two without making any elaborate apology for doing so.

Margaret only glanced at the familiar sight, but she made a little movement of annoyance almost directly, and took up the book that lay open and face downwards on her knee; she became absorbed in it so suddenly as to convey the impression that she was not really reading at all.

She had seen Mr. Van Torp and Paul Griggs walking together and coming towards her.

The millionaire was shorter than his companion and more clumsily made, though not by any means a stout man. Though he did not look like a soldier he had about him the very combative air which belongs to so many modern financiers of the Christian breed. There was the bull-dog jaw, the iron mouth, and the aggressive blue eye of the man who takes and keeps by force rather than by astuteness. Though his face had lines in it and his complexion was far from brilliant he looked scarcely forty years of age, and his short, rough, sandy hair had not yet begun to turn grey.

He was not ugly, but Margaret had always seen something in his face that repelled her. It was some lack of proportion somewhere, which she could not precisely define; it was something that was out of the common type of faces, but that was disquieting rather than interesting. Instead of wondering what it meant, those who noticed it wished it were not there.

Margaret was sure she could distinguish his heavy step from Griggs's when he was near her, but she would not look up from her book till he stopped and spoke to her.

'Good-morning, Madame Cordova; how are you this morning?' he inquired, holding out his hand. 'You didn't expect to see me on board, did you?'

His tone was hard and business-like, but he lifted his yachting cap politely as he held out his hand. Margaret hesitated a moment before taking it, and when she moved her own he was already holding his out to Miss More.

'Good-morning, Miss More; how are you this morning?'

Miss More leaned forward and put down one foot as if she would have risen in the presence of the great man, but he pushed her back by her hand which he held, and proceeded to shake hands with the little girl.

'Good-morning, Miss Ida; how are you this morning?'

Margaret felt sure that if he had shaken hands with a hundred people he would have repeated the same words to each without any variation. She looked at Griggs imploringly, and glanced at his vacant chair on her right side. He did not answer by sitting down, because the action would have been too like deliberately telling Mr. Van Torp to go away, but he began to fold up the chair as if he were going to take it away, and then he seemed to find that there was something wrong with one of its joints, and altogether it gave him a good deal of trouble, and made it quite impossible for the great man to get any nearer to Margaret.

Little Ida had taken Mr. Van Torp's proffered hand, and had watched his hard lips when he spoke. She answered quite clearly and rather slowly, in the somewhat monotonous voice of those born deaf who have learned to speak.

'I'm very well, thank you, Mr. Van Torp. I hope you are quite well.'

Margaret heard, and saw the child's face, and at once decided that, if the little girl knew of her own relationship to Ida Bamberger, she was certainly ignorant of the fact that her half-sister had been engaged to Mr. Van Torp, when she had died so suddenly less than a week ago. Little Ida's manner strengthened the impression in Margaret's mind that the millionaire was having her educated by Miss More. Yet it seemed impossible that the rich old Senator should not have left her well provided.

'I see you've made friends with Madame Cordova,' said Mr. Van Torp. 'I'm very glad, for she's quite an old friend of mine too.'

Margaret made a slight movement, but said nothing. Miss More saw her annoyance and intervened by speaking to the financier.

'We began to fear that we might not see you at all on the voyage,' she said, in a tone of some concern. 'I hope you have not been suffering again.'

Margaret wondered whether she meant to ask if he had been sea-sick; what she said sounded like an inquiry about some more or less frequent indisposition, though Mr. Van Torp looked as strong as a ploughman.

In answer to the question he glanced sharply at Miss More, and shook his head.

'I've been too busy to come on deck,' he said, rather curtly, and he turned to Margaret again.

'Will you take a little walk with me, Madame Cordova?' he asked.

Not having any valid excuse for refusing, Margaret smiled, for the first time since she had seen him on deck.

'I'm so comfortable!' she answered. 'Don't make me get out of my rug!'

'If you'll take a little walk with me, I'll give you a pretty present,' said Mr. Van Torp playfully.

Margaret thought it best to laugh and shake her head at this singular offer. Little Ida had been watching them both.

'You'd better go with him,' said the child gravely. 'He makes lovely presents.'

'Does he?' Margaret laughed again.

'"A fortress that parleys, or a woman who listens, is lost,'" put in Griggs, quoting an old French proverb.

'Then I won't listen,' Margaret said.

Mr. Van Torp planted himself more firmly on his sturdy legs, for the ship was rolling a little.

'I'll give you a book, Madame Cordova,' he said.

His habit of constantly repeating the name of the person with whom he was talking irritated her extremely. She was not smiling when she answered.

'Thank you. I have more books than I can possibly read.'

'Yes. But you have not the one I will give you, and it happens to be the only one you want.'

'But I don't want any book at all! I don't want to read!'

'Yes, you do, Madame Cordova. You want to read this one, and it's the only copy on board, and if you'll take a little walk with me I'll give it to you.'

As he spoke he very slowly drew a new book from the depths of the wide pocket in his overcoat, but only far enough to show Margaret the first words of the title, and he kept his aggressive blue eyes fixed on her face. A faint blush came into her cheeks at once and he let the volume slip back. Griggs, being on his other side, had not seen it, and it meant nothing to Miss More. To the latter's surprise Margaret pushed her heavy rug from her knees and let her feet slip from the chair to the ground. Her eyes met Griggs's as she rose, and seeing that his look asked her whether he was to carry out her previous instructions and walk beside her, she shook her head.

'Nine times out of ten, proverbs are true,' he said in a tone of amusement.

Mr. Van Torp's hard face expressed no triumph when Margaret stood beside him, ready to walk. She had yielded, as he had been sure she would; he turned from the other passengers to go round to the weather side of the ship, and she went with him submissively. Just at the point where the wind and the fine spray would have met them if they had gone on, he stopped in the lee of a big ventilator. There was no one in sight of them now.

'Excuse me for making you get up,' he said. 'I wanted to see you alone for a moment.'

Margaret said nothing in answer to this apology, and she met his fixed eyes coldly.

'You were with Miss Bamberger when she died,' he said.

Margaret bent her head gravely in assent. His face was as expressionless as a stone.

'I thought she might have mentioned me before she died,' he said slowly.

'Yes,' Margaret answered after a moment's pause; 'she did.'

'What did she say?'

'She told me that it was a secret, but that I was to tell you what she said, if I thought it best.'

'Are you going to tell me?'

It was impossible to guess whether he was controlling any emotion or not; but if the men with whom he had done business where large sums were involved had seen him now and had heard his voice, they would have recognised the tone and the expression.

'She said, "he did it,"' Margaret answered slowly, after a moment's thought.

'Was that all she said?'

'That was all. A moment later she was dead. Before she said it, she told me it was a secret, and she made me promise solemnly never to tell any one but you.'

'It's not much of a secret, is it?' As he spoke, Mr. Van Torp turned his eyes from Margaret's at last and looked at the grey sea beyond the ventilator.

'Such as it is, I have told it to you because she wished me to,' answered Margaret. 'But I shall never tell any one else. It will be all the easier to be silent, as I have not the least idea what she meant.'

'She meant our engagement,' said Mr. Van Torp in a matter-of-fact tone. 'We had broken it off that afternoon. She meant that it was I who did it, and so it was. Perhaps she did not like to think that when she was dead people might call her heartless and say she had thrown me over; and no one would ever know the truth except me, unless I chose to tell—me and her father.'

'Then you were not to be married after all!' Margaret showed her surprise.

'No. I had broken it off. We were going to let it be known the next day.'

'On the very eve of the wedding!'

'Yes.' Mr. Van Torp fixed his eyes on Margaret's again. 'On the very eve of the wedding,' he said, repeating her words.

He spoke very slowly and without emphasis, but with the greatest possible distinctness. Margaret had once been taken to see a motor-car manufactory and she remembered a machine that clipped bits off the end of an iron bar, inch by inch, smoothly and deliberately. Mr. Van Torp's lips made her think of that; they seemed to cut the hard words one by one, in lengths.

'Poor girl!' she sighed, and looked away.

The man's face did not change, and if his next words echoed the sympathy she expressed his tone did not.

'I was a good deal cut up myself,' he observed coolly. 'Here's your book, Madame Cordova.'

'No,' Margaret answered with a little burst of indignation, 'I don't want it. I won't take it from you!'

'What's the matter now?' asked Mr. Van Torp without the least change of manner. 'It's your friend Mr. Lushington's latest, you know, and it won't be out for ten days. I thought you would like to see it, so I got an advance copy before it was published.'

He held the volume out to her, but she would not even look at it, nor answer him.

'How you hate me! Don't you, Madame Cordova?'

Margaret still said nothing. She was considering how she could best get rid of him. If she simply brushed past him and went back to her chair on the lee side, he would follow her and go on talking to her as if nothing had happened; and she knew that in that case she would lose control of herself before Griggs and Miss More.

'Oh, well,' he went on, 'if you don't want the book, I don't. I can't read novels myself, and I daresay it's trash anyhow.'

Thereupon, with a quick movement of his arm and hand, he sent Mr. Lushington's latest novel flying over the lee rail, fully thirty feet away, and it dropped out of sight into the grey waves. He had been a good baseball pitcher in his youth.

Margaret bit her lip and her eyes flashed.

'You are quite the most disgustingly brutal person I ever met,' she said, no longer able to keep down her anger.

'No,' he answered calmly. 'I'm not brutal; I'm only logical. I took a great deal of trouble to get that book for you because I thought it would give you pleasure, and it wasn't a particularly legal transaction by which I got it either. Since you didn't want it, I wasn't going to let anybody else have the satisfaction of reading it before it was published, so I just threw it away because it is safer in the sea than knocking about in my cabin. If you hadn't seen me throw it overboard you would never have believed that I had. You're not much given to believing me, anyway. I've noticed that. Are you, now?'

'Oh, it was not the book!'

Margaret turned from him and made a step forward so that she faced the sharp wind. It cut her face and she felt that the little pain was a relief. He came and stood beside her with his hands deep in the pockets of his overcoat.

'If you think I'm a brute on account of what I told you about Miss Bamberger,' he said, 'that's not quite fair. I broke off our engagement because I found out that we were going to make each other miserable and we should have had to divorce in six months; and if half the people who are just going to get married would do the same thing there would be a lot more happy women in the world, not to say men! That's all, and she knew it, poor girl, and was just as glad as I was when the thing was done. Now what is there so brutal in that, Madame Cordova?'

Margaret turned on him almost fiercely.

'Why do you tell me all this?' she asked. 'For heaven's sake let poor Miss Bamberger rest in her grave!'

'Since you ask me why,' answered Mr. Van Torp, unmoved,' I tell you all this because I want you to know more about me than you do. If you did, you'd hate me less. That's the plain truth. You know very well that there's nobody like you, and that if I'd judged I had the slightest chance of getting you I would no more have thought of marrying Miss Bamberger than of throwing a million dollars into the sea after that book, or ten million, and that's a great deal of money.'

'I ought to be flattered,' said Margaret with scorn, still facing the wind.

'No. I'm not given to flattery, and money means something real to me, because I've fought for it, and got it. Your regular young lover will always call you his precious treasure, and I don't see much difference between a precious treasure and several million dollars. I'm logical, you see. I tell you I'm logical, that's all.'

1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse