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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 12
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Fair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 12 Post by :clawHAMMER Category :Long Stories Author :F. Marion Crawford Date :May 2011 Read :2253

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Fair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 12

CHAPTER XII

Madame Bonanni sat in the spring sunshine by the closed window of her sitting-room in London; she was thankful that there was any sunshine at all, and by keeping the window shut and wrapping herself in furs she produced the illusion that it was warming her. The room was not very large and a good deal of space was taken up by a grand piano, a good deal more by the big table and the heavy furniture, and the rest by Madame Bonanni herself. Her bulk was considerably increased by the white furs, from which only her head emerged; and as her face was made up for the day with rather more paint than she wore in Paris, on the ground that London is a darker city, the effect of the whole was highly artificial and disconcerting. One might have compared the huge bundle of white to an enormous egg out of which a large and very animated middle-aged fowl was just hatching.

Lushington was seated before the open piano, but had turned half away from it on the stool and was looking quietly at his mother. His face had an expression of listless weariness which was not natural to him. Madame Bonanni moved just then and the outer fur slipped a little from its place. Lushington rose at once and arranged it again.

'Will you have anything else over you, mother?' he asked.

'No, my child. I am warm at last. Your English sun is like stage lime-light. It shines, and shines, and does no good! The man turns it off, and London is pitch dark! Nothing warms one here but eating five times a day and wearing a fur coat all the time. But I am growing old. Why do you say I am not? It is foolish.'

'Your voice is as perfect as ever,' said Lushington.

'My voice, my voice! What did you expect? That it would crack, or that I should sing false? Ungrateful boy! How can you say such things of your mother? But I am growing old. Soon I shall make the effect on the public of a grandmother in baby's clothes. Do you think I am blind? They will say, "Poor old Bonanni, she remembers Thiers!" They might as well say at once that I remember the Second Empire! It is infamous! Have people no heart? But why do I go on singing, my dear? Tell me that! Why do I go on?'

'Because you sing as well as ever,' suggested Lushington gently.

'It is no reason why I should work as hard as ever! Why should I go on earning money, money, money? Yes, I know! They come to hear me, they crowd the house, they pay, they clap their hands when I sing the mad scene in _Lucia_, or Juliet's waltz song, or the crescendo trills in the _Huguenots_! But I am old, my dear!'

'Nonsense!' interjected Lushington in an encouraging tone.

'Do you know why I am sure of it? It is this. I do not care any more. It is all the same to me, what they do. I do not care whether they come or not, or whether they applaud, or hiss, or stamp on the floor. Why should I care? I have had it all so often. I have seen the people standing on the seats all over the theatre and yelling, and often in foreign countries they have taken the horses from my carriage and dragged it themselves. I have had everything. Why should I care for it? And I do not want money. I have too much already.'

'You certainly have enough, mother.'

'It is your fault that I have too much,' she said, in sudden anger. 'You have no heart; you are a cruel, ungrateful boy! Is there anything I have not done to make you happy, ever since you were a baby? Look at your position! You are a celebrated writer, a critic! Other writers are green with jealousy and fear of you! And why? Because I made up my mind that you should be a great man, and sent you to school and the university instead of keeping you to myself, at home, always pressed against my heart! Is not that the greatest sacrifice that a mother can make, to send her child to college, to be left alone herself, always wondering whether he is catching cold and is getting enough to eat, and is not being led away by wicked little boys? Ah, you do not know! You can never be a mother!'

This was unanswerable, but Lushington really looked sorry for her, as if it were his fault.

'And what have you given me in return for it all? How have you repaid me for the days of anxiety and nights of fever all the time when you were at those terrible studies? I ask you that! How have you rewarded me? You will not take money from me. I go on making more and more, and you will not spend it. Oh, it is not to be believed! I shall die of grief!'

Madame Bonanni put one fat hand out from under the furs, and pressed a podgy finger to each eyelid in succession by way of stopping the very genuine tears that threatened her rouged cheeks with watery destruction.

'Mother, please don't!' cried Lushington, in helpless distress. 'You know that I can't take money from you!'

'Oh, I know, I know! That is the worst of it--I know! It is not because you are proud of earning your own living, it's because you're ashamed of me!'

Lushington rose again, and began to walk up and down, bending his head and glancing at her now and then.

'Why will you always go back to that question?' he asked, and his tone showed how much he resented it. 'You cannot unlive your life. Don't make me say more than that, for you don't know how it hurts to say that much. Indeed you don't!'

He went to the closed window and looked out, turning away from her. She stretched out her hand and pulled at his coat timidly, as a dog pulls his master's clothes to attract his attention. He turned his head a little.

'I've tried to live differently, Tom,' she said. 'Of late years I've tried.'

Her voice was low and unsteady.

'I know it,' he said just above a whisper, and he turned to the window-pane again.

'Can't you forgive me, Tom?' she asked pitifully. 'Won't you take some of the money--only what I made by singing?'

He shook his head without looking round, for it would have hurt him to see her eyes just then.

'I have enough, mother,' he answered. 'I make as much as I need.'

'You will need much more when you marry.'

'I shall never marry.'

'You will marry little Miss Donne,' said Madame Bonanni, after a moment's pause.

Lushington turned sharply now, and leaned back against the glass.

'No,' he answered, with sudden hardness, 'I can't ask Miss Donne to be my wife. No man in my position could have the right. You understand what I mean, and heaven knows I don't wish to pain you, mother--I'd give anything not to! Why do you talk of these things?'

'Because I feel that you're unhappy, Tom, and I know that I am--and there must be some way out of it. After all, my dear--now don't be angry!--Miss Donne is a good girl--she's all that I wish I had been--but after all, she's going to be an opera-singer. You are the son of an artist and I don't see why any artist should not marry you. The public believes we are all bad, whether we are or not.'

'I'm not thinking of the public,' Lushington answered. 'I don't care a straw what the world says. If I had been offered my choice I would not have changed my name at all.'

'But then, my dear, what in the world are you thinking of?' asked the prima donna, evidently surprised by what he said. 'If the girl loves you, do you suppose she will care what I've done?'

'But I care!' cried Lushington with sudden vehemence. 'I care, for her sake!'

Madame Bonanni's hand had disappeared within the furs again, after she had ascertained that the two tears were not going to run down her cheeks. Her large face wore the expression of a coloured sphinx, and there was something Egyptian about the immobility of her eyes and her painted eyebrows. No one could have guessed from her look whether she were going to cry or laugh the next time she spoke. Lushington walked up and down the room without glancing at her.

'Do you think----' she began, and broke off as he stopped to listen.

'What?' he inquired, standing still.

'Would it make it any better if--if I married again?' She asked the question with hesitation.

'How? I don't understand.'

'They always say that marriage is so respectable,' Madame Bonanni answered, in a matter-of-fact tone. 'I don't know why, I'm sure, but everybody seems to think it is, and if it would help matters--I mean, if Miss Donne would consider that a respectable marriage with a solid, middle-class man would settle the question, I suppose I could manage it. I could always divorce, you know, if it became unbearable!'

'Yes,' Lushington answered. 'Marriage is the first step to the divorce court. For heaven's sake, don't talk in this way! I've made up my mind that I cannot marry, and that ends it. Let it alone. We each know what the other thinks, and we are each trying to make the best of what can't be undone. Talking about it can do no good. Nothing can. It's the inevitable, and so the least said about it, the better. Sometimes you say that I am ungrateful, mother, but I'm not, you don't mean it seriously. If I've made my own way, it is because you started me right, by making me work instead of bringing me up at your apron-strings, to live on your money. You did it so well, too, that you cannot undo it, now that you would like to make me rich. Why aren't you proud of that, mother? It's the best thing you ever did in your life--God bless you! And yet you say I'm ungrateful!'

At this, there was a convulsion of the white furs; Madame Bonanni suddenly emerged, erect, massive and seething with motherly emotion; throwing her arms round her son she pressed him to her with a strength and vehemence that might have suffocated a weaker man. As it was, Lushington was speechless in her embrace for several seconds, while she uttered more or less incoherent cries of joy.

'My child! My own darling Tommy! Oh, you make me so happy!'

Lushington let her print many heavy kisses on his cheeks, and he gently patted her shoulder with his free hand. He was very patient and affectionate, considering the frightful dilemma with regard to her in which he had lived all his life; for, as his mother, he loved her, but as a woman, he knew that he could never respect her, whatever she might do to retrieve her past. He could find excuses for the life she had led, but they were only palliatives that momentarily soothed the rankling sore in his heart, which nothing could heal. In his own world of literature and work and publicity, he had a name of his own, not without honour, and respected by every one. But to himself, to the few trusted persons who knew his secret, above all to Margaret Donne, he was the son of that 'Bonanni woman,' who had been the spoilt plaything of royalty and semi-royalty from London to St. Petersburg, whose lovers had been legion and her caprices as the sand on the sea-shore. There were times when Lushington could not bear to see her, and kept away from her, or even left the city in which they were together. There were days when the natural bond drew him to her, and when he realised that, with countless faults, she had been to him a far better mother than most men are blessed with.

And now, poor thing, she was grateful to the verge of tears for his one word of blessing that seemed to wipe out all the rest. She wished that when her hour came, she might hear him say again 'God bless you,' and then die.

She let him go, and sat down amongst her furs, with a deep sigh of satisfaction.

'I've made up my mind what to do,' she said, almost as if she were talking to herself. 'I'm tired of it all, Tom, and I'm losing my good looks and my figure. If this goes on, I shall soon be ridiculous. You would not like your mother to be ridiculous, would you?'

'Certainly not!'

'No, my angel! Be good if you can; if you can't be good, be bad; but never be ridiculous! Oh, never, never! I could not bear that. So I shall leave the stage, quietly, without any farewell. I shall cancel my engagements when I have finished singing here. The doctors will swear to anything. What are they for? I was never ill in my life, but they shall say I am ill now. What is it that every one has nowadays--the appendix? I will have the appendix. The doctors shall swear that I have it well. So I shall leave the stage with a good reason, and pay no forfeit for cancelling the contracts. That is business. Then I will be a nun.'

'Eh?' ejaculated Lushington, staring at her.

'Yes, I will be a nun,' continued Madame Bonanni unmoved. 'I will go into religion. When your mother is a nun, my child, I presume that the Church will protect her, and no one will dare to say anything against her. Then you can marry or not, as you please, but you will no longer be ashamed of your mother! I shall be a blue nun with a white bonnet and a black veil, and I shall call myself Sister Juliet, because that has been my great part, and the name will remind me of old times. Don't you think "Sister Juliet" sounds very well? And dark blue is becoming to me--I always said so.'

'Yes--yes,' answered Lushington in an uncertain tone and biting his lip.

'I cannot do more than that for you, my treasure,' said his mother, a touch of real human sadness in her voice. 'You will not take the miserable money--but perhaps you will take the sacrifice, if I shut myself up in a convent and wear a hair shirt, and feed sick babies, and eat cabbage. How could any one say a word against me then? And you will be happy, Tom. That is all I ask.'

'I shall not be happy, if you make yourself miserable, mother,' said Lushington, smiling.

'Miserable? Ah, well, I daresay there will not be cabbage every day,' answered Madame Bonanni thoughtfully. 'And I like fish. Fortunately, I am fond of fish. The simplest, you know. Only a fried sole with a meuniere sauce. Bah! When I talk of eating you never believe I am in earnest. Go away, my beloved child! Go and write to little Miss Donne that she may have all my engagements, because I am entering religion. You shall see! She will marry you in a week. Go over to Paris and talk to her. She is crying her eyes out for you, and that is bad for the voice. It relaxes the vocal cords frightfully. I always have to gargle for half-an-hour if I have been crying and am going to sing.'

Through all her rambling talk, half earnest and half absurd, Lushington detected the signs of a coming change. He did not think she would leave the stage so suddenly as she said she would; he assuredly did not believe that she would ever 'enter religion'; but he saw for the first time that she was tired of the life she had led, that she felt herself growing old and longed for rest and quiet. She had lived as very few live, to satisfy every ambition and satiate every passion to the full, and now, with advancing years, she had not the one great bad passion of old age, which is avarice, as an incentive for prolonging her career. In its place, on the contrary, stood her one redeeming virtue, that abundant generosity which had made her welcome Margaret Donne's great talent with honest enthusiasm, and which had been like a providence to hundreds, perhaps to thousands of unknown men, women and children ever since she had gained the means of helping the poor and distressed. But it had been part of her nature to hide that. Logotheti, who managed most of her business, knew more about her charities than her own son, and the world knew next to nothing at all.

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