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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 14
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Fair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 14 Post by :onlinemoney Category :Long Stories Author :F. Marion Crawford Date :May 2011 Read :3036

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Fair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 14

CHAPTER XIV

Lushington's first discovery was not calculated to soothe his feelings. It had come about simply enough. He had bicycled in the Boulevard Pereire, keeping an eye on Logotheti's house from a distance, and had seen the motor car waiting before the door, in charge of the chauffeur. A man had come out, dressed precisely like the latter, had got in and had gone off, apparently in no hurry, while the original chauffeur went into the house, presumably to wait. It had been easy enough to keep the machine in sight till it was fairly out on the road to Versailles, after which Lushington had felt tolerably sure that by going slowly he should meet it coming back and probably bringing Margaret. As has been seen, this was what happened, and, as chance favoured him, he passed the motor before Logotheti had covered his face again. He was not likely to forget that face either, and it had done more to reveal to him his adversary's true character than any number of meetings in society. For once he had seen the real Logotheti, as Margaret had. He had ridden on till they were out of sight and had then turned back, in no very amiable frame of mind.

He understood very well that Logotheti had made great progress in a few days; he even took it for granted that Margaret had expected him that morning, and approved of the disguise; for it was nothing else, after all. If the world, and therefore Mrs. Rushmore, had been meant to know that Logotheti was acting as his own chauffeur, Margaret would have been sitting beside him in front. Instead, she was behind him, in the body of the car, and had evidently been talking with him over the back of the seat. The big machine, too, was moving at a snail's pace, clearly in order that they might talk at leisure. In other words, Logotheti had arranged a secret meeting with Margaret, with her consent; and that could only mean one thing. The Greek had gained enough influence over her to make her do almost anything he liked.

It was not a pleasant discovery, but it was an important one, and Lushington thought over the best means of following it up. He almost choked with anger as he reflected that if matters went on at this rate, Margaret would soon be going to Logotheti's house without even the nominal protection afforded by little Madame De Rosa. He rode back by the way he had taken outward and passed the Greek's house. The motor car was not there, which was a relief, on the whole.

He went on as far as the Opera, for he knew from his mother that Margaret's rehearsals were taking place there, by the kindness of the director, who was on very friendly terms with Schreiermeyer. But the motor was not to be seen. Logotheti, who could hardly have entered disguised as his own chauffeur, and who would not leave the machine unguarded in the street, had possibly left Margaret at the door and gone away. Lushington got off his bicycle and went in under the covered way to the stage door.

In answer to his questions, the keeper told him that Mademoiselle da Cordova was rehearsing, and would probably not come out for at least two hours. Lushington asked the man whether he had seen Logotheti. No, he had not; he knew Monsieur Logotheti very well; he knew all the subscribers, and particularly all those who were members of the 'high finance.' Besides, every one in Paris knew Monsieur Logotheti by sight; every one knew him as well as the column in the Place Vendome. He had not been seen that morning. The door-keeper, who had absolutely nothing to do just at that hour, was willing to talk; but he had nothing of importance to say. Monsieur Logotheti came sometimes to rehearsals. A few days ago he and Mademoiselle da Cordova had left the theatre together. The keeper smiled, and ventured to suppose that Mademoiselle da Cordova was 'protected' by the 'financier.' Lushington flushed angrily and went away.

It had come already, then; what the man had said this morning, he would say to-morrow and the next day, to any one who cared to listen, including the second-class reporters who go to underlings for information; Margaret's name was already coupled with that of a millionaire who was supposed to protect her. Ten days ago, she had been unassailable, a 'lady'--Lushington did not particularly like the word--a young English girl of honourable birth, protected by no less a personage than Mrs. Rushmore, and defended from calumny by that very powerful organisation for mutual defence under all circumstances, which calls itself society, which wields most of the capital of the world, rewards its humble friends with its patronage and generally kills or ruins its enemies. That was ten days ago. Now, the 'lady' had become an 'artist,' and was public property. The stage doorkeeper of a theatre could smilingly suggest that she was the property of a financier, and no one had a right to hit him between the eyes for saying so. Lushington had been strongly tempted to do that, but he had instantly foreseen the consequences; he would have been arrested for an unprovoked assault, the man would have told his story, the papers would have repeated it with lively comments, and Margaret's name would have been dragged through the mud of a newspaper scandal. So Lushington put his hands in his pockets and went away, which was by far the wisest thing he could do.

He set himself resolutely to think out a plan of action, but like many men of tolerably fertile imagination he was at a loss for any expedient in the presence of urgent need. He could watch Logotheti and Margaret, and they would not easily recognise him, but he was fain to admit that he had nothing to gain by spying on them. He had seen enough and heard enough already to convince him that Margaret had allowed herself to be led into a situation very dangerous for her good name, to say the least. It did not occur to him that Logotheti wished to marry her, still less that he meant to hinder her from singing in public. He could not help thinking of the very worst motives, and he attributed them all to the Greek.

The mild English man of letters was momentarily turned into an avenging demon, breathing wrath and destruction upon his adversary. The most extravagant and reckless crimes looked comparatively easy just then, and very tempting. He thought of getting into Logotheti's cellar with enough dynamite to blow the house, its owner and himself to atoms, not to speak of half the Boulevard Pereire. He fancied himself pounding Logotheti's face quite out of shape with his fists, riddling him with revolver bullets, running him through in all directions with duelling swords, tearing him in pieces with wild horses and hanging him out of his own front window. These vivacious actions all looked possible and delightful to Lushington as he walked up and down his little sitting-room. Then came the cold shower-bath of returning common-sense. He sat down, filled a pipe and lit it.

'I'm an awful ass,' he said aloud to himself, in a reproachful tone.

He wished that some spirit voice would contradict him, but in the absence of any supernatural intervention the statement remained unrefuted. The worst of it was that he had always thought himself clever, and in his critical writings he had sneered in a superior way at the inventions of contemporary novelists. Just then, he would have given his reputation for the talents of the hero in a common detective story. But his mind refused to work in that way, and he watched with growing discouragement the little clouds of smoke that floated upwards to the whitewashed ceiling without leaving the least shadow of a serviceable idea behind them.

He looked disconsolately at the square patent leather toes of his shoes, very dusty from bicycling, and he sadly passed his hand over his smooth-shaven chin; the curious creases in his ready-made trousers, so conspicuously in the wrong place, depressed him still further, and the sight of his broad-brimmed hat, lying on the table, enhanced the melancholy of his reflections. The disguise was admirable, undoubtedly, but it had only helped him to see with his eyes what he had already seen in imagination, and so far as he could guess, it was not likely to help him one step further. At that very moment Margaret was probably seated at Logotheti's table, without even Madame De Rosa to chaperon her, and Logotheti's men-servants were exchanging opinions about her outside the door. Lushington nearly bit through the mouthpiece of his pipe as he thought of that, knowing that he was powerless to interfere. The same thing might go on for a month, and he could not stop it; then Margaret would make her _debut_, and the case would be more hopeless than ever.

The truth was that after launching himself as a disguised detective, he found himself barred from going any further than merely watching his enemy, simply because he was incapable of stooping to a detective's methods of work. He would as soon have lost his hand as have written an anonymous letter or deliberately inveigled Logotheti into a trap, and while he was so carefully concealing himself he longed in reality for open fight, and felt that he had made himself ridiculous in his own eyes. Yet he hesitated to put on his own English clothes and go about as usual, for he had to pass the porter's window on the stairs every time he went out or came in, and such a sudden change in his appearance would certainly make the porter suspect that he was engaged in some nefarious business. Porters are powerful personages in Parisian lodging-houses, and this one would probably inform the police that he had a suspicious lodger; after which Lushington would be watched in his turn and would very probably have trouble. These reflections made him feel more ridiculous than ever.

Now it very often happens that when a man, even of considerable intelligence, has made up his mind to do something which at first seemed very clever, but which, by degrees, turns out to be quite useless, if not altogether foolish, he perseveres in his course with mule-like obstinacy. He has taken endless trouble to prepare the means, he has thought it all out so nicely, only omitting to reach the conclusion! It would be a pity to go back, it would be useless to desist, since everything has been so well prepared. Something is sure to come of it, if he only sticks to his original plan, and any result must be better than allowing events to go their way.

Therefore, when the clouds that curled up from Lushington's pipe failed to shape themselves into a vision both wise and prophetic, and left absolutely no new idea behind when they vanished, he came to the conclusion that his first scheme was a very good one after all, and that he had better abide by the square-toed, spring-side boots and the rest of his admirable disguise, until something happened. Then he would seize the opportunity and act decisively; he was not at all sure how he should act, but he secretly hoped that the action in question might be of the nature of a fight with something or somebody. There are many quiet and shy men who would really rather fight than do anything else, though they will rarely admit it, even to themselves.

Returning to his plan of watching Logotheti, Lushington argued rightly that the trip in the motor car would be repeated the very next time that Margaret had a rehearsal, and that the car would therefore leave the house in the Boulevard Pereire at about the same time, every two or three days, but never on two days consecutively. When there was no rehearsal, Margaret would not come into town. When that was the case it would be easy to watch the house in Versailles. Lushington was not quite sure what he expected to see, but he would watch it all the same. Perhaps, on those days, Logotheti would appear undisguised and call. But what Lushington was most anxious to find out was whether Margaret had been to the house again. He wished he had waited near the Opera to see where she went when she came out, or in the Boulevard Pereire, instead of coming back to his lodgings in a bad temper after his interview with the stage doorkeeper.

He looked out of the window and saw that it was raining. That made it sure that Margaret would not go back to Versailles in the motor car, but in the meantime she might very possibly be at Logotheti's, at luncheon.

He glanced at his watch, and a few minutes later he was on his bicycle again, an outlandish figure in his long-tailed, coffee-coloured overcoat and soft student's hat. He hitched up the tails as well as he could and sat on them, to keep them out of the mud, and he pulled the hat well down to keep the rain off his big spectacles and his nose. His own mother would certainly not have recognised him.

He spent a melancholy hour, riding up and down in the wet between the Place Pereire and the Place Wagram, till he wished with all his heart that he might never again set eyes on the statue of Alphonse de Neuville. Half the time, too, he was obliged to look back every moment in order to watch Logotheti's door, lest he should miss what he was waiting so patiently to see. The rain was cold, too, and persistent as it can be in Paris, even in spring. His gloves were pulpy and jellified, his spring-side kid boots felt as if he were taking a foot bath of cold glue, and some insidious drops of cold water were trickling down his back. The broad street was almost deserted, and when he met any one he wished it were altogether so. Yet he wondered why a man as rich as Logotheti should have built his house there.

At last his patience was rewarded. A brougham drove up past him at a smart pace, stopped before the door and waited. He turned back and wheeled round, crossing and re-crossing the street, so as to keep behind the carriage. As it was impossible to continue this singular exercise without attracting the attention of a policeman who came in sight just then, he rode on towards the Batignolles station. Just then, when his back was turned, he heard the door of the brougham sharply shut, and as he quickly turned again he saw the carriage driving off in the opposite direction. It was driving fast, but he overtook it in a couple of minutes and passed close to the window, which was half up, against the rain. He almost looked in as he went by, and suddenly he met Logotheti's almond eyes, looking straight at him, with an air of recognition. He bent his head, swerved away from the brougham and took the first turning out of the wide street. But he had seen that the Greek was alone in his carriage. Margaret had not lunched at the house in the Boulevard Pereire.

During the next few days Lushington did not lead a life of idle repose; in fact, he did not remember that he had ever taken so much exercise since his Oxford days. On an average he must have bicycled twenty or thirty miles between breakfast and dinner, which is not bad work for a literary man accustomed to spend most of his time at his writing-table and the rest in society. Unknown to himself, he was fast becoming one of the sights on the Versailles road, and the men at the octroi station grinned when he went by, and called him the crazy professor.

More than once he met the motor, bringing Margaret to town or taking her back, and though he did not again chance upon it when Logotheti was without his glasses and shield, he felt tolerably sure that he was the chauffeur, and Margaret was always alone in the body of the car. Twice he was quite certain that the two were talking when he saw them in the distance coming towards him, but when they passed him Margaret was leaning back quietly in her place, and the chauffeur merely glanced at him and then kept his eyes on the road. Margaret looked at him and smiled faintly, as if in spite of herself, most probably at his appearance.

He ascertained also that after one more rehearsal at the Opera, Margaret did not go there again. The newspapers informed him very soon that Schreiermeyer had got his own company together and had borrowed the stage of an obscure theatre in the outskirts of Paris for the purpose of rehearsing. It had been an advantage for the young prima donna to sing two or three times with the great orchestra of the Opera, but the arrangement could of course not continue. Margaret's _debut was to take place in July in a Belgian town.

Lushington was certain that Margaret had been at least once again to Logotheti's house with Madame De Rosa, but he did not believe that she had stayed to luncheon, for she had not remained in the house much over half-an-hour.

During all this time he made no attempt to communicate with her, and was uncomfortably aware that Logotheti was having it all his own way. He yielded to a morbid impulse in watching the two, since no good could come of it for himself or Margaret. Almost every time he went out on the Versailles road he knew that he should see them together before he came back, and he knew equally well that he could do nothing to separate them. He wondered what it was that attracted such a woman as Margaret Donne to such a man, and with a humility which his friends and enemies would have been far from suspecting in him he honestly tried to compare himself with Logotheti, and to define the points in which the latter had the advantage of him.

Very naturally, he failed to discover them. In spite of what philosophers tell us, most of us know ourselves pretty well. The conclusive and irrefutable proof of this is that we always know when we are not telling, or showing, the truth about ourselves, as, for instance, when we are boasting or attributing to ourselves some gift, some knowledge, or some power which we really do not possess. We also know perfectly well when our impulses are good and when they are bad, and can guess approximately how much courage we have in reserve for doing the one, and how far our natural cowardice will incline us to do the other. But we know very little indeed about other people, and almost always judge them by ourselves, because we have no other convenient standard. A great many men are influenced in the same general way by the big things in life, but one scarcely ever finds two men who are similarly affected by the little things from which all great results proceed. Mark Antony lost the world for a woman, but it was for a woman that Tallien overthrew Robespierre and saved France.

So Lushington's comparison came to nothing at all, and he was no nearer to a solution of his problem than before.

Then came the unexpected, and it furnished him with a surprisingly simple means of comparing himself with his rival in the eyes of Margaret herself.

There are several roads from Paris to Versailles, as every one knows, leaving the city on opposite sides of the Seine. Hitherto Logotheti had always taken the one that leads to the right bank, along the Avenue de Versailles to the Porte St. Cloud. Another follows the left bank by Bas Meudon, but the most pleasant road goes through the woods Fausses Reposes.

One morning, when he knew that there was to be a rehearsal, Lushington bicycled out by the usual way without meeting the motor car. It naturally occurred to him that Logotheti must have returned by another road. Whether he would bring Margaret out again by the same way or not, was of course uncertain, but Lushington resolved to try the Fausses Reposes on the chance of meeting the car, after waiting in Versailles as long as he thought the rehearsal might last.

He set out again about half-past one. The road is in parts much more lonely than the others, especially in the woods, and is much less straight; there are sharp turns to the right and left in several places. Lushington did not know the road very well and hesitated more than once, going slowly and fast by turns, and at the end of half-an-hour he felt almost sure that he had either lost his way or that Logotheti was coming back by another route.

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CHAPTER XVMargaret knew by this time that Logotheti was really very much in love; she was equally sure that she was not, and that when she encouraged him she was yielding to a rather complicated temptation that presented elements of amusement and of mild danger. In plain English, she was playing with the man, though she guessed that he was not the kind of man who would allow himself to be played with very long. There are not many young women who could resist such a temptation under the circumstances, and small blame to them. Margaret had done nothing to attract
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CHAPTER XIIIWhen 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
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