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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 13
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Fair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 13 Post by :ehllc Category :Long Stories Author :F. Marion Crawford Date :May 2011 Read :1178

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Fair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 13

CHAPTER XIII

When Lushington had run over to Paris the day before the conversation just recorded, he had entertained a vague notion of going out to Versailles in the afternoon; for he felt that all had not been said between himself and Margaret and that their last parting in the street had not been really final. The fact was that he merely yielded to the tormenting desire to see her again, if for only a few minutes and in the presence of Mrs. Rushmore.

But the meeting in the Boulevard Pereire had chilled him like a stream of cold water poured down his back; than which homely simile there is none more true. He had fancied her very grave and even a little sad, going quietly to her rehearsals with a maid, or even with Mrs. Rushmore, speaking to no one at the theatre and returning at once to Versailles to reflect on the vicissitudes to which human affections are subject.

He had come upon her suddenly and unawares, in a very smart frock and a superlatively becoming hat, smiling gaily, just stepping out of a magnificent white motor car, resting her hand familiarly on that of the most successful young financier in Paris, whose conquests among women of the world were a byword, and chaperoned by a flighty little Neapolitan teacher of singing. Truly, if some one had deliberately rubbed the back of his neck with a large lump of ice on that warm spring day, the chill could not have been more effectual. Morally speaking, Lushington caught a bad cold, which 'struck in,' as old people used to say.

He might have explained to himself that as he had insisted upon parting from Margaret for ever, and against her will, her subsequent doings were none of his business. But he was half an Englishman by birth and altogether one by bringing up, and he therefore could not admit that she should be apparently enjoying herself, while he was gloomily brooding over the misfortunes that put her beyond his reach. The fable of the Dog in the Manger must have been composed to describe us Anglo-Saxons. It is sufficient that we be hindered from getting what we want, even by our own sense of honour; we are forthwith ready to sacrifice life and limb to prevent any other man from getting it. The magnanimity of our renunciation is only to be compared with our tenacity in asserting our claim to what we have renounced. Even our charities usually have strings to them on which our hold never relaxes, in case we should want them back.

Lushington had never trusted Logotheti, but since his instinct and the force of circumstances had told him that the Greek was making love to Margaret and that Margaret liked his society, he hated the man in a most unchristian manner, and few things would have given the usually peaceable man of letters such unmitigated satisfaction as to see the shining white motor car blow up and scatter his rival's arms and legs to the thirty-two points of the compass.

Logotheti, on the other hand, was as yet unaware that Lushington was the 'some one else' of whom Margaret had spoken twice with evident feeling. The consequence was that when the Englishman began to give himself the bitter satisfaction of watching Logotheti, the latter was very far from suspecting such a thing, and took no pains at all to hide his doings; and Lushington established himself in Paris and watched him, in his coming and going, and nursed his jealousy into hatred and his hatred into action.

He would not have stooped to employ any one in such work, for that would have seemed like an insult to Margaret, and a piece of cowardice into the bargain. The time would come when the astute Greek would discover that he was followed, and Lushington had no intention of putting some one else in his shoes when that time came; on the contrary, he looked forward with all a real Englishman's cool self-confidence to the explanation that must take place some day. But he wished to remain undiscovered as long as possible.

He had gone back to his old rooms in the Hotel des Saints Peres, but in order to disappear more effectually from his acquaintances he took a lodging, and walked to it, after sending on his belongings. On his way he stopped at a quiet barber's shop and had his beard and moustache shaved off. After that it was not likely that any of his acquaintances would recognise him, but he took further steps towards completing his disguise by making radical and painful changes in his dress. He bought ready-made French clothes, he put on a pair of square kid boots with elastic sides and patent leather tips, he wore a soft silk cravat artificially tied in a bow knot with wide and floating ends, and he purchased a French silk hat with a broad and curving brim. Having satisfied himself that the effect was good, he laid in a stock of similar articles, and further adorned his appearance with a pair of tortoise-shell-rimmed spectacles, and a green umbrella. For possibly cool or rainy weather he provided himself with a coffee-coloured overcoat that had a velvet collar and tails reaching almost to the ground.

When he had been younger Lushington had tried in vain to ruffle his naturally excessive neatness, but he now realised that he had only lacked the courage to make a thorough change. In his present costume he ran no risk of being taken for a smart English lounger, nor for a French dandy. The effect of forgetting to shave, too, was frightful, for in forty-eight hours his fair face was covered with shiny bristles that had a positively metallic look. Though he was so unlike his mother in most ways, he must have inherited a little of the theatrical instinct from her, for he wore his disguise as easily as if he had always been used to it.

He also had the advantage of speaking French like a native, though possibly with a very slight southern accent caught from his mother, who originally came from Provence. As for his name, it was useless to assume another, for Paris is full of Parisians of foreign descent, whose names are English, German, Polish and Italian; and in a really great city no one takes the least notice of a man unless he does something to attract attention. Besides, Lushington had no idea of disappearing from his own world, or of cutting himself off from his regular correspondents.

He had not any fixed plan, for he was not sure what he wanted; he only knew that he hated and distrusted Logotheti, and that while he could not forgive Margaret for liking the Greek's society, he meant, in an undetermined way, to save her from destruction. Probably, if he had attempted to put his thoughts into words, he could have got no further than Mrs. Rushmore, who suspected Logotheti of designs, and at the root of his growing suspicion he would have found the fine old Anglo-Saxon prejudice that a woman might as well trust herself to Don Juan, an Italian Count, or Beelzebub, as to the offspring of Cadmus or Danaus.

Englishmen have indolent minds and active bodies, as a rule, but on the other hand, when they are really roused, no people in the world are capable of greater mental concentration and energy. They are therefore not good detectives as a rule, but there are few better when they are deeply and selfishly interested in the result.

Incidentally, Lushington meant to do his utmost to prevent Margaret from going on the stage, and he would have been much surprised to learn that in this respect he was Logotheti's ally, instead of his enemy, against Margaret's fixed determination. If there was to be a struggle, therefore, it was to be a three-cornered one, in which the two men would be pitted against each other, and both together against the resolution of the woman they both loved. Unfortunately for Lushington, he had begun by withdrawing from Margaret's surroundings and had made way for his adversary.

Meanwhile Logotheti made the running. He had offered Margaret his motor car for coming in to her rehearsals, and a chauffeur appeared with it in good time, masked, coated and gloved in the approved fashion. Margaret supposed that Logotheti meant to ask her to luncheon again with Madame De Rosa, and she made up her mind to refuse, for no particular reason except that she did not wish to seem too willing to do whatever he proposed. Mrs. Rushmore thought it bad enough that she should accept the offer of the motor car, but was beginning to understand that the machine had quite irresistible temptations for all persons under fifty. She was even a little shocked that Margaret should go alone to Paris under the sole protection of the chauffeur, though she would have thought it infinitely worse if Logotheti himself had appeared.

The man held the door open for Margaret to get in, when she came out upon the step with Mrs. Rushmore, who seemed anxious to keep an eye on her as long as possible; as if she could project an influence of propriety, a sort of astral chaperonage, that would follow the girl to the city. She detained her at the last minute, holding her by the elbow. The chauffeur stood impassive with his hand on the door, while she delivered herself of her final opinion in English, which of course he could not understand.

'I must say that your sudden intimacy with this suspicious Greek is most extraordinary,' she said.

'Don't you think there is just a little prejudice in your opinion of him?' asked Margaret sweetly.

'No,' answered Mrs. Rushmore with firmness, 'I don't, and I think it very strange that a clever girl like you should be so easily taken in by a foreigner. Much worse than a foreigner, my dear! A Greek is almost as bad as a Turk, and we all know what Turks are! Fancy a decent young woman trusting herself alone with a Turk! I declare, it's not to be believed! Your dear mother's daughter too! You'll end in a harem, Margaret, mark my word.'

'And be sewn up in a sack and thrown into the Bosphorus,' laughed Margaret, trying to get away.

'Such things have happened before now,' said Mrs. Rushmore gloomily.

'Greeks don't have harems,' Margaret objected.

'Don't catch cold,' said Mrs. Rushmore, by way of refuting Margaret's argument. 'It looks as if it might rain.'

The morning was still and soft and overcast, and the air was full of the scent of the flowers and leaves, and fresh-clipped grass. The small birds chirped rather plaintively from the trees on the lawn, or stood about the edge of the little pond apparently expecting something to happen, hopping down to the water occasionally, looking down at the reflections in it and then hopping back again with a dissatisfied air; and they muffled themselves up in their feathers as if they meant to go to sleep, and then suddenly spread their wings out, without flying, and scraped the grass with them. The elms were quite green already, and the oaks were pushing out thousands of bright emerald leaves. There is a day in every spring when the maiden year reaches full girlhood, and pauses on the verge of woman's estate, to wonder at the mysterious longings that disquiet all her being, and at the unknown music that sings through her waking dreams.

Margaret sat in the motor car wrapped in a wide thin cloak and covering her mouth lest the rush of air should affect her voice; but the quick motion was pleasant, and she felt all the illusion of accomplishing something worth doing, merely because she was spinning along at breakneck speed. Somehow, too, the still air and the smell of the flowers had made her restless that morning before starting, and the rapid movement soothed her. If she had been offered her choice just then, she would perhaps have been on horseback for a gallop across country, but the motor car was certainly the next best thing to that.

For some minutes the chauffeur kept his eyes on the road ahead and both hands on the steering-gear. Then one hand moved, the speed of the car slackened suddenly, and the man turned and spoke over the back of his seat.

'I hope you'll forgive me,' he said in English.

Margaret started and sat up straight, for the voice was Logotheti's. The huge goggles, the protecting curtain over half the face, the wide-visored cap and the turned-up coat collar, had disguised him beyond all recognition. Even his usually smooth black moustache was ruffled out of shape, and hid his characteristic mouth.

Margaret uttered an exclamation of surprise, not quite sure whether she ought to smile or frown.

'I thought Mrs. Rushmore would not like it, if I came for you myself,' he continued, looking at her through his goggles.

'I'm sure she wouldn't,' Margaret assented readily.

'In point of fact,' Logotheti continued, with a grin, 'she expressed her opinion of me with extraordinary directness. Suspicious Greek! Worse than a foreigner! As bad as a Turk! The unprincipled owner of a harem! It's really true that eavesdroppers never hear any good of themselves! I never tried it before, and it served me right.'

'You cannot say that I said anything against you,' laughed Margaret. 'I took your defence.'

'Not with enthusiasm.' Logotheti joined in her laugh.

'You thought there might be just a little prejudice in her opinion and you told her that Greeks don't have harems. Yes--yes--I suppose that might be called defending an absent friend.'

The car was moving very slowly now.

'If I had known it was you, I would have called you all sorts of names,' Margaret answered. 'Should you mind taking that thing off your face for a moment? I don t like talking to a mask, and you may be some one else after all.'

'No,' said Logotheti, 'I'm not "some one else".' He emphasised the words that had become familiar to them both. 'I wish I were! But if I take off my glasses and cap, you will be frightened, for my hair is not smooth and I'm sure I look like a Greek pirate!'

'I should like to see one, and I shall not be frightened.'

He pulled off his cap and glasses, and faced her. She stared at him in surprise, for she was not sure that she should have recognised him. His thick black hair stuck up all over his head like a crest, his heavy eyebrows were as bushy as an animal's fur and his rough and bristling moustache lent his large mouth and massive jaws a look approaching to ferocity. The whole effect was rather startling, and Margaret opened her eyes wide in astonishment. Logotheti smiled.

'Now you understand why I smooth my hair and dress like a tailor's manikin,' he said quietly. 'It's enough to cow a mob, isn't it?'

'Do you know, I'm not sure that I don't like you better so. You're more natural!'

'You're evidently not timid,' he answered, amused. 'But you can fancy the effect on Mrs. Rushmore's nerves, if she had seen me.'

'I should not have dared to come with you. As it is----' She hesitated.

'Oh, as it is, you cannot help yourself,' Logotheti said. 'You can't get out and walk.'

'I could get out when you have to stop at the petrol station; and I assure you that I can refuse to come with you again!'

'Of course you can. But you won't.'

'Why not?'

'Because you're much too sensible. Have I offended you, or frightened you? What have I done to displease you?'

'Nothing--but----' She laughed and shook her head as she broke off.

'I haven't even asked you to marry me to-day! I should think that I was taking an unfair advantage, if I did, since I could easily carry you off just now. The car will run sixty miles at a stretch without any trouble at all, and I don't suppose you would risk your neck to jump, merely for the sake of getting away from me, would you?'

'Not if you behaved properly,' Margaret answered.

'And then,' Logotheti continued, 'I could put her at full speed and say, "If you won't swear to marry me, I'll give myself the satisfaction of being killed with you at the very next bridge we come to!" Most women would rather marry a man than be smashed to atoms with him, even if he looks like a pirate.'

'Possibly!'

'But that would be unfair. Besides, an oath taken under compulsion is not binding. I should have to find some other way.'

'Shall we go on?' Margaret asked. 'I shall be late for the rehearsal.'

'Give it up,' suggested Logotheti calmly. 'We'll spend the morning at St. Cloud. Much pleasanter than tiring yourself out in that wretched theatre! I want to talk to you.'

'You can talk to me when I am not singing.'

'No. Singing will distract your attention, and you won't listen to what I tell you. You have no idea what delightful things I can say when I try!'

'I wonder!' Margaret laughed lightly. 'You might begin trying while you take me to Paris. We haven't run a mile in the last ten minutes, and it's getting late.'

'Unless you are always a little late nobody will respect you. I'll go a little faster, just to prove to you that you can do anything you like with me, even against my judgment. Let me put on my glasses first.'

At that moment a man met them on a bicycle, and passed at a leisurely pace. There was not much traffic on the Versailles road at that hour, and Margaret let her eyes rest idly on the man, who merely glanced at her and looked ahead again. Logotheti had taken off his cap in order to adjust his goggles and shield. When the bicycle had gone by he laughed.

'There goes a typical French bookworm, bicycling to get an appetite,' he observed. 'I wonder why a certain type of Frenchman always wears kid boots with square patent leather toes, and a Lavalliere tie, and spectacles with tortoise-shell rims!'

'If he could see you as you generally are,' answered Margaret, 'he would probably wonder why a certain type of foreigner plasters his hair down and covers himself with diamonds and rubies! Do go a little faster, it's getting later every moment.'

'It always does.'

'Especially when one doesn't wish it to! Please go on!'

'Say at once that I've bored you to death.' He put the car at half-speed.

'No. You don't bore me at all, but I want to get to the theatre.'

'To please you, I am going there--for no other reason. I'll do anything in the world to give you pleasure. I only wish you would do the smallest thing for me!'

'What, for instance? Perhaps I may do some very little thing. You'll get nothing if you don't ask for it!'

'Some people take without asking. Greek pirates always do, you know! But I can't drive at this rate and talk over my shoulder.'

The way was clear and for several minutes he ran at full speed, keeping his eyes on the road. Margaret turned sideways and kept behind him as much as possible, shielding her face and mouth from the tremendous draught.

She had told the truth when she had said that he did not bore her. The whole thing had a savour of adventure in it, and it amused her to think how shocked Mrs. Rushmore would have been if she had guessed that the chauffeur was Logotheti himself. There was something in the man's coolness that attracted her very much, for though there was no danger on the present occasion, she felt that if there had been any, he would have been just as indifferent to it if it stood in the way of his seeing her alone. Poor Lushington had always been so intensely proper, so morbidly afraid of compromising her, and above all, so deadly in earnest!

She did not quite like to admit that the Greek was altogether in earnest, too, and that she was just a little afraid of him; still less that her unacknowledged fear gave her rather a pleasant sensation. But it was quite true that she had liked him better than before, from the moment when he had pulled off his cap and glasses and shown his face as nature had made it. However he might appear hereafter when she met him, she would always think of him as she had seen him then.

Most women are much more influenced by strength in a man than by anything which can reasonably be called beauty. Actually and metaphorically every woman would rather be roughly carried off her feet by something she cannot resist than be abjectly worshipped and flattered; yet worship and flattery, though second-best, are much better than the terribly superior and instructive affection which the born prig bestows upon his idol with the air of granting a favour on moral grounds.

Men, on the other hand, detest being carried away, almost as much as being led. The woman who lets a man guess that she is trying to influence him is lost, and generally forfeits for ever any real influence she may have had. The only sort of cleverness which is distinctly womanly is that which leads a man to do with energy, enthusiasm and devotion the very thing which he has always assured everybody that he will not think of doing. The old-fashioned way of making a pig go to market is to pull his tail steadily in the opposite direction. If you do that, nothing can save him from his fate; for he will drag you off your feet in his effort to do what he does not want to do at all; and there is more 'psychology' in that plain fact than in volumes of subtle analysis.

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