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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 16
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Fair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 16 Post by :russault Category :Long Stories Author :F. Marion Crawford Date :May 2011 Read :3164

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Fair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 16

CHAPTER XVI


Until the carriage was out of sight, Logotheti and Lushington stood still where Margaret had left them. Then Lushington looked at his adversary coolly for about four seconds, stuck his hands into his pockets, turned his back and deliberately walked off without a word. Logotheti was so little prepared for such an abrupt closure that he stood looking after the Englishman in surprise till the latter had made a dozen steps.

'I say!' said the Greek, calling after him then and affecting an exceedingly English tone. 'I say, you know! This won't do.'

Lushington stopped, turned on his heel and faced him from a distance.

'What won't do?' he asked coolly.

Seeing that he came no nearer, Logotheti went forward a little.

'You admitted just now that you had been playing the spy,' said the Greek, whose temper was getting beyond his control, now that the women were gone.

'Yes,' said Lushington, 'I've been watching you.'

'I said spying,' answered Logotheti; 'I used the word "spy." Do you understand?'

'Perfectly.'

'You don't seem to. I'm insulting you. I mean to insult you.'

'Oh!' A faint smile crossed the Englishman's face. 'You want me to send you a couple of friends and fight a duel with you? I won't do anything so silly. As I told you before Miss Donne, we don't owe each other anything to speak of, so we may as well part without calling each other bad names.'

'If that is your view of it, you had better keep out of my way in future.' He laid his hand on the car to get in as he spoke.

Lushington's face hardened.

'I shall not take any pains to do that,' he answered. 'On the contrary, if you go on doing what you have been doing of late, you'll find me very much in your way.'

Logotheti turned upon him savagely.

'Do you want to marry Miss Donne yourself?' he asked.

Lushington, who was perfectly cool now that no woman was present, was struck by the words, which contained a fair question, though the tone was angry and aggressive.

'No,' he answered quietly. 'Do you?'

Logotheti stared at him.

'What the devil did you dare to think that I meant?' he asked. 'It would give me the greatest satisfaction to break your bones for asking that!'

Lushington came a step nearer, his hands in his pockets, though his eyes were rather bright.

'You may try if you like,' he said. 'But I've something more to say, and I don't think we need fall to fisticuffs on the highroad like a couple of bargees. I've misunderstood you. If you are going to marry Miss Donne, I shall keep out of your way altogether. I made a mistake, because you haven't the reputation of a saint, and when a man of your fortune runs after a young singer it's not usually with the idea of marrying her. I'm glad I was wrong.'

Logotheti was too good a judge of men to fancy that Lushington was in the least afraid of him, or that he spoke from any motive but a fair and firm conviction; and the Greek himself, with many faults, was too brave not to be generous. He turned again to get into the car.

'I believe you English take it for granted that every foreigner is a born scoundrel,' he said with something like a laugh.

'To tell the truth,' Lushington answered, 'I believe we do. But we are willing to admit that we can be mistaken. Good morning.'

He walked away, and this time Logotheti did not stop him, but got in and started the car in the opposite direction without looking back. He was conscious of wishing that he might kill the cool Englishman, and though his expression betrayed nothing but annoyance a little colour rose and settled on his cheek-bones; and that bodes no good in the faces of dark men when they are naturally pale. He reached home, and it was there still; he changed his clothes, and yet it was not gone; he drank a cup of coffee and smoked a big cigar, and the faint red spots were still there, though he seemed absorbed in the book he was reading.

It was not his short interview with Lushington which had so much moved him, though it had been the first disturbing cause. In men whose nature, physical and moral, harks back to the savage ancestor, to the pirate of northern or southern seas, to the Bedouin of the desert, to the Tartar of Bokhara or the Suliote of Albania, the least bit of a quarrel stirs up all the blood at once, and the mere thought of a fight rouses every masculine passion. The silent Scotchman, the stately Arab, the courtly Turk are far nearer to the fanatic than the quick-tempered Frenchman or the fiery Italian.

For a long time Constantine Logotheti had been playing at civilisation, at civilised living and especially at the more or less gentle diversion of civilised love-making; but he was suddenly tired of it all, because it had never been quite natural to him, and he grew bodily hungry and thirsty for what he wanted. The round flushed spots on his cheeks were the outward signs of something very like a fever which had seized him within the last two hours. Until then he would hardly have believed that his magnificent artificial calm could break down, and that he could wish to get his hands on another man's throat, or take by force the woman he loved, and drag her away to his own lawless East. He wondered now why he had not fallen upon Lushington and tried to kill him in the road. He wondered why, when Margaret had been safe in the motor car, he had not put the machine at full speed for Havre, where his yacht was lying. His artificial civilisation had hindered him of course! It would not check him now, if Lushington were within arm's length, or if Margaret were in his power. It would be very bad for any one to come between him and what he wanted so much, just then, that his throat was dry and he could hear his heart beating as he sat in his chair. He sat there a long time because he was not sure what he might do if he allowed himself the liberty of crossing the room. If he did that, he might write a note, or go to the telephone, or ring for his secretary, or do one of fifty little things whereby the train of the inevitable may be started in the doubtful moments of life.

It did not occur to him that he was not the arbiter of his actions in that moment, free to choose between good and evil, which he, perhaps, called by other names just then. He probably could not have remembered a moment in his whole life at which he had not believed himself the master of his own future, with full power to do this, or that, or to leave it undone. And now he was quite sure that he was choosing the part of wisdom in resisting the strong temptation to do something rash, which made it a physical effort to sit still and keep his eyes on his book. He held the volume firmly with both hands as if he were clinging to something fixed which secured him from being made to move against his will.

One of fate's most amusing tricks is to let us work with might and main to help her on, while she makes us believe that we are straining every nerve and muscle to force her back.

If Logotheti had not insisted on sitting still that afternoon nothing might have happened. If he had gone out, or if he had shut himself up with his statue, beyond the reach of visitors, his destiny might have been changed, and one of the most important events of his life might never have come to pass.

But he sat still with his book, firm as a rock, sure of himself, convinced that he was doing the best thing, proud of his strength of mind and his obstinacy, perfectly pharisaical in his contempt of human weakness, persuaded that no power in earth or heaven could force him to do or say anything against his mature judgment. He sat in his deep chair near a window that was half open, his legs stretched straight out before him, his flashing patent leather feet crossed in a manner which showed off the most fantastically over-embroidered silk socks, tightly drawn over his lean but solid ankles.

From the wall behind him the strange face in the encaustic painting watched him with drooping lids and dewy lips that seemed to quiver; the ancient woman, ever young, looked as if she knew that he was thinking of her and that he would not turn round to see her because she was so like Margaret Donne.

His back was to the picture, but his face was to the door. It opened softly, he looked up from his book and Margaret was before him, coming quickly forward. For an instant he did not move, for he was taken unawares. Behind her, by the door, a man-servant gesticulated apologies--the lady had pushed by him before he had been able to announce her. Then another figure appeared, hurrying after Margaret; it was little Madame De Rosa, out of breath.

Logotheti got up now, and when he was on his feet, Margaret was already close to him. She was pale and her eyes were bright, and when she spoke he felt the warmth of her breath in his face. He held out his hand mechanically, but he hardly noticed that she did not take it.

'I want to speak to you alone,' she said.

Madame De Rosa evidently understood that nothing more was expected of her for the present, and she sat down and made herself comfortable.

'Will you come with me?' Logotheti asked, controlling his voice.

Margaret nodded; he led the way and they left the room together. Just outside the door there was a small lift. He turned up the electric light, and Margaret stepped in; then he followed and worked the lift himself. In the narrow space there was barely room for two; Logotheti felt a throbbing in his temples and the red spots on his cheek-bones grew darker. He could hear and almost feel Margaret's slightest movement as she stood close behind him while he faced the shut door of the machine. He did not know why she had come, he did not guess why she wished to be alone with him, but that was what she had asked, and he was taking her where they would really be alone together; and it was not his fault. Why had she come?

When a terrible accident happens to a man, the memory of all his life may pass before his eyes in the interval of a second or two. I once knew a man who fell from the flying trapeze in a circus in Berlin, struck on one of the ropes to which the safety net was laced and broke most of his bones. He told me that he had never before understood the meaning of eternity, but that ever afterwards, for him, it meant the time that had passed after he had missed his hold and before he struck and was unconscious. He could associate nothing else with the word. Logotheti remembered, as long as he lived, the interminable interval between Margaret's request to see him alone, and the noiseless closing of the sound-proof door when they had entered the upper room, where Aphrodite stood in the midst and the soft light fell from high windows that were half-shaded.

Even then, though her anger was hot and her thoughts were chasing one another furiously, Margaret could not repress an exclamation of surprise when she first saw the statue facing her in its bare beauty, like a living thing.

Logotheti laid one hand very lightly upon her arm, and was going to say something, but she sprang back from his touch as if it burnt her. The colour deepened in his dark cheeks and his eyes seemed brighter and nearer together. When a woman comes to a man's house and asks to be alone with him, she need not play horror because the tips of his fingers rest on her sleeve for a moment. Why did she come?

Margaret spoke first.

'How did you dare to settle money on me?' she asked, standing back from him.

Logotheti understood for the first time that she was angry with him, and that her anger had brought her to his house. The fact did not impress him much, though he wished she were in a better temper. The sound of her voice was sweet to him whatever she said.

'Oh?' he ejaculated with a sort of thoughtful interrogation. 'Has she told you? She had agreed to say nothing about it. How very annoying!'

His sudden calm was exasperating, for Margaret did not know him well enough to see that below the surface his blood was boiling. She tapped the blue tiled floor sharply with the toe of her shoe.

'It's outrageous!' she said with energy.

'I quite agree with you. Won't you sit down?' Logotheti looked at the divan. Margaret half sat upon the arm of a big leathern chair.

'Oh, you agree with me? Will you please explain?'

'I mean, it is outrageous that Mrs. Rushmore should have told you----'

'You're quibbling!' Margaret broke in angrily. 'You know very well what I mean. It's an outrage that a man should put a woman under an enormous obligation in spite of herself, without her even knowing it!'

Logotheti had seated himself where he could watch her; the fashion of dress was close-fitting; his eyes followed the graceful lines of her figure. If she had not come to drive him mad, why did she take an attitude which of all others is becoming to well-made women and fatal to all the rest?

'I'm sorry,' said Logotheti, rather absently and as if her anger did not affect him in the least, if he even noticed it. 'I happened to want the invention for a company in which I am interested. You stood in the way of my having the whole thing, so I was obliged to buy you out. I'm very sorry that it happened to be you, and that Mrs. Rushmore could not keep the fact to herself. I knew you wouldn't be pleased if you ever found it out.'

'I don't believe a word of what you are telling me,' Margaret answered.

'Really not?' Logotheti seemed momentarily interested. 'That's generally the way when one speaks the truth,' he added, more carelessly again. 'Nobody believes it.'

His eyes caressed her as he spoke. He was not thinking much of what he said.

'I've come here to make you take back the money,' Margaret said. 'I won't keep it another day.'

'Have you come all the way from Versailles again to say that?' asked Logotheti, laughing.

Again, as she sat on the arm of the big chair, she tapped the dark blue tiles with the toe of her shoe. The slight movement transmitted itself through her whole figure, and for an instant each beautiful line and curve quivered and was very slightly modified. Logotheti saw and drew his breath sharply between his teeth.

'Yes,' Margaret was saying impatiently. 'When Mrs. Rushmore had told me the truth, I walked to the station and took the first train. I only stopped to get Madame De Rosa.'

'She is not a very powerful ally,' observed Logotheti. 'She is probably asleep in her arm-chair in the drawing-room by this time. Are you still angry with me? Yes, I believe you are. Please forgive me. I had not the least idea of offending you, because I trusted that old---- I mean, because I was so sure that Mrs. Rushmore would never tell.'

'Never mind Mrs. Rushmore,' Margaret said. 'What I will not forgive you is that you made me take your money without my knowing it. I've been flirting with you--yes, I confess it! I'm not perfection, and you're rather amusing sometimes----'

'You are adorable!' Logotheti put in, as a sort of murmuring parenthesis.

'Don't talk nonsense,' Margaret answered. 'I mean that whatever I may have said to you I've never given you the right to make me a present of a hundred thousand pounds. It's the most unparalleled piece of impertinence I ever heard of.'

'But I've not made you a present of anything. I bought what was yours without letting you know, that's all.'

'Then give me back what is mine and take your money again.'

'Hm!' Logotheti smiled. 'That would be very like going into a business partnership with me. Do you wish to do that?'

'What do you mean?'

'You see, I'm the whole company at present. But if you come in with a third of the stock to your credit, we shall be partners, to all intents and purposes. We shall have meetings of the board of directors, just you and I, and we shall decide what to do. It will be rather a queer sort of board, for of course I shall always do exactly what you wish, but it's not impossible that we may make money together. Well--on the whole I have no particular objection to selling you exactly the amount of stock I bought from you the other day. That's the shape the transaction takes. I'll do any thing to please you, but I'm quite willing you should know that I am doing you a favour, as business men would look at it.'

'A favour!' Margaret slipped from the arm of the chair as she spoke and stood upright and made a step towards him. 'Do you think I'm a child to believe such nonsense?'

'In matters of business all women are children. With the possible exception of Mrs. Rushmore,' he added in a tone of reflection. 'Besides, this is not nonsense.'

'It is!' cried Margaret. 'It is absurd to try and make me believe that a mere claim set up on the chance of getting something should have turned out to be worth so much. It has cost Mrs. Rushmore I don't know how much in lawsuits, and no one ever really believed in it. She fought for it out of pure kindness of heart, and even the lawyers said she was very foolish to go on----'

'Will you listen to me?' asked Logotheti, interrupting her. 'I've not much to say, but it's rather convincing. You probably admit that the invention is valuable, and that Alvah Moon has made money by it.'

'I should think he had, the old thief!'

'Very well. I happened to want that invention. I've bought several at different times and have founded companies and sold them. That's a part of finance, which is a form of game. You deal yourself a hand and then play it. I made up my mind to play with this particular invention. I know much more about it than you do; in fact, I understand it thoroughly. I cabled to my agent in America to buy it, if he could, and he succeeded. Now please tell me whether you think Mrs. Rushmore, acting for you, would have withdrawn the suit after the property had changed hands, merely because I've dined in her house.'

'No,' Margaret was forced to admit. 'No, she would have gone on.'

'Precisely. Now I don't want property of that kind, about which there is constant litigation. The credit of such property is injured by the talk there always is about lawsuits. So I went to Mrs. Rushmore and asked her what she thought your claim was worth, and she told me, and I gave her a cheque for the money, and she has given me a full release, as your attorney. If it had been her claim, or Madame De Rosa's or any one else's, I should have done exactly the same thing. Will you tell me how I could have acted otherwise in order to get the property into my hands free of all chance of dispute? Was there any other way?'

Margaret was silent, for she could find no answer.

'There was one other way,' Logotheti continued. 'I could have proposed that you should go into partnership with me, which is what you yourself are proposing now. But in the eyes of the world I confess that might look intimate, to say the least of it. Don't you think so too?'

'You're the most plausible person I ever listened to!' Margaret almost laughed, though her anger had not subsided.

'Will you leave things as they are and forget all about this business? What has been done cannot possibly be undone now. Won't you separate me from it in your thoughts? You can, if you try. You know, I'm two people in one. So are you. I'm Logotheti the financier, and I'm Logotheti the man. You are Margaret Donne, and you are Senorita da Cordova, on the very eve of being famous--and then, I think you are some thing else which I don't quite understand, but which is like my fate, for I cannot escape from you, whether I see you, or only dream of you.'

Margaret was silent, and looked at the Aphrodite while she sat on the arm of the big chair. She might have breathed a little faster if she had known that the two doors through which she had entered, and which had closed so silently and surely after her, were as sound-proof as six feet of earth. She would not have been afraid, for she was fearless and confident, but her heart would have beaten a little more quickly at the thought that she was out of hearing of the world, and in the presence of a man whose eyes looked at her strangely and whose cheeks were darkly flushed, who was a good deal nearer to the primitive human animal than most men are, and in whom the main force of nature was awake and hungry.

'I don't want you to make love to me just now,' she said, swinging her foot a little as she sat. 'You've done something that has hurt me very much, and has made me almost wish that I might never see you again after this time. I wish you could find a way of undoing it--I'm sure there is a way.'

Unconsciously wise, she had checked his pulse for a moment, and she looked at him calmly and shook her head. With a sudden and impatient movement he rose, turned away from her and began to walk up and down at a little distance, his head bent and his hands behind him.

Though the air in the high room was pure, it was still and hot, for the late spring afternoon had turned sultry all at once; the fluid of a near storm was fast condensing to the point of explosion.

The man felt the tension more than the woman just then. It acted on his state, and made it almost unbearable. His hands were locked behind him and his fingers twisted each other till they changed colour. He moved with the short, noiseless steps of a young wild animal measuring its cage, up and down, up and down, without pause.

'It's this,' Margaret continued, much more gently than she had meant to speak, 'I don't quite believe you. I'm almost sure you thought that I would give up the stage if I had enough money to live on without my work.'

'Yes, I did.' He stopped as if in anger and the words came sharply; but he was not angry.

'You see!' Margaret answered triumphantly. 'I knew it! What becomes of your story about the company now?'

She rose also and began to walk. The big leathern arm-chair was between them; he leaned his elbows on the back of it and watched her, and compared her hungrily with the Aphrodite.

'All I have told you is true,' he said. 'The business happened to serve two purposes, that's all. At least, I thought it would, and it was a pleasure to help you without your knowing it. Why should I be sorry? That money might as well come to you through me as through anybody else. You're angry with me. Why? Because I'm too fond of you? It cannot reasonably be about the money any more--the wretched money! If you can't keep the filthy stuff--if it won't prevent you from going on the stage after all--why then, give it away! Throw it away! Lose it, if you can. But don't come to me with it, for it's the price of a thing I bought in the way of business and which I won't give up, nor take as a gift from anybody.'

He spoke in such a harsh tone now that she paused in her short walk and met his eyes, to see what he meant, over and above what he was saying. She stood in front of the chair; he was leaning over the back of it, with his hands together; one hand was slowly kneading the closed fist, and the veins stood out on both. His voice was hoarse but rather low, like that of a man who wants water.

The light in the room had a yellowish tinge now, and the window showed a dull glare where there had been blue sky before. The lurid light got into Logotheti's eyes, and was ready to flash while Margaret looked at him. The marble Aphrodite took a creamy, living tint, and the little shadows that modelled her quivered and deepened.

All at once Margaret knew that there was danger. She could not have told how she knew it, nor just what the danger was, but she raised her fair head suddenly, as the stag does when the scent of the hounds comes down the breeze. Watching her, he saw and understood, and his hands left each other and closed tightly upon the back of the chair.

'Will you take me back to Madame De Rosa, please?' Margaret asked, and her voice did not shake.

Before he could answer, a flash of lightning filled the room, vivid as flame, and almost purple; it flared and danced two or three times before it went out.

If Logotheti spoke at all, his words were drowned in the crash that shook the house and rolled away over the city. His eyes never moved from Margaret's face; she felt that his gaze was fastened on her lips, as if he would have drawn them to meet his own. She was not exactly afraid, but she knew that she must get away from him, for he was stronger than she, and he was like a man going mad. That was what she would have called it. And it seemed to her that one of two things was going to happen. Either she would let his lips reach hers, without resisting, or else she would try to kill him when he came near her. She did not know which she should do. She was in herself two people; the one was a human woman, tempted by the mysterious sympathy of flesh and blood; the other self was a startled maiden caught in a trap and at bay, without escape.

With the great peal of thunder the Aphrodite trembled from head to foot, twice, as the vibration ran down the walls of the house to the very foundations and then came up again and died away, like the second shock of an earthquake. The statue trembled as if it were alive and afraid.

With a glance, Margaret measured the distance which separated her from the door, but it was too far. There were half-a-dozen steps, and Logotheti was much nearer to her than that, even allowing that he must get past the chair to reach her.

Now he moved a little and it was too late to try. He was beside the chair instead of behind it; but then he stopped and came no further yet, while he spoke to her.

'Why did you come?' he asked in a low tone. 'You might have guessed that it wasn't quite safe!'

It was almost as if he were speaking to himself. She kept her eyes on him, and tried to back away towards the door so slowly that he should not notice it. But he smiled and his lids drooped.

'You could not open the door if you reached it,' he said. 'You said that you wanted to speak with me alone. We are alone here--quite alone. No one can hear, even if you scream. No one can get in. Why did you say you wanted to be alone with me, if you were not in earnest? Why do you risk playing with a man who is crazy about you, and has everything in the world except you, and would throw it all away to have you? And now that you are here of your own accord, why should I let you go?'

The speech was rough, but there was a sudden caress in his voice with the last words, and he had scarcely spoken them when another flash of lightning filled the room with a maddening purple light.

Before the peal broke, Logotheti held Margaret by the wrists, and spoke close to her face, very fast.

'I will not let you go. I love you, and I will not let you go.'

The thunder burst, and roared and echoed away, while he drew her nearer, looking for the woman in her eyes, too mad to know that she did not feel what he felt. He touched her now; he could feel her breathings, fast and frightened, and the quiver that ran through her limbs. He held her, but without hurting her in the least--she could turn her wrists loosely in the bonds he made of his fingers. Yet she could not get away from him and he drew her closer.

She threw her head back from his face, and tried to speak.

'Please--please, let me go.'

'No. I love you.'

He drew her till she was pressed against him, and he held her hands in his behind her waist. The air was clearing with a furious rush of rain, and her courage was not all gone yet. She looked up to the high windows, as one about to die might look up from the scaffold, and there was a streak of clear blue sky between the driving clouds. It was as if hope looked through, out of heaven, at the girl driven to bay.

Margaret did not try to use her strength, for she knew it was useless against his. But she held her head back and spoke slowly.

'For your mother's sake,' she said, low and clear, her eyes on his.

For one moment his grasp tightened and his white teeth caught his lower lip; but his look was changing slowly.

'For her sake,' Margaret said, 'as you would have kept harm from her----'

His hold relaxed, and he turned away. There was good in him still; he had loved his mother.

He turned deliberately, till he could see neither Margaret nor the Aphrodite, and he leaned heavily on the table, with bent head, resting the weight of his body on the palms of his hands, and remaining quite motionless for some time.

He heard her go towards the door. Without looking round he slowly shook his head.

'Don't be afraid of me,' he said, in a low voice. 'It's all over, now. I'll let you out in a moment.'

'Yes.'

She waited quietly by the door, which she did not understand how to open. Presently he moved a little, and his head sank lower between his shoulders; then he spoke again, but still without turning towards her.

'I'm sorry,' he said. 'I did not know I could be such a brute. Forgive me, will you?'

As usual, when he was very much in earnest, there was something rudely abrupt about his speech.

'It was my fault,' Margaret answered from the door. 'I should not have come.'

Even after her escape, something about him still pleased her. The maiden that had been brought to bay was scarcely safe, before the human woman began to be drawn to him again by that sympathy of flesh and blood that had nearly cost her more than life.

But Margaret revolted against it now, as soon as she knew what it was that made her speak kindly.

'I'm not afraid of you,' she said, almost coldly, 'but I want you to let me out, please.'

He straightened himself and turned slowly to her. The dark red colour was gone from his cheeks, he was suddenly pale and haggard, and if he had not been really young, he would have looked old; as it was, his face was drawn and pinched as if by sharp physical suffering. He drew two or three quick, deep breaths as he came towards her.

He stood beside her a moment, and then without a word, he unfastened the door. It swung inwards and stood open. Margaret saw that it was thickly padded to prevent any sound from passing, and that there was another padded door beyond it which she had not noticed when she had entered. He understood her look of doubt.

'That one is open now,' he said. 'It locks and unlocks itself as I shut or open the inner door.'

He was willing to let her see how completely she had been cut off from the outer world; and she realised the truth and shuddered.

'Good-bye,' she said, abruptly, as if he were not to go downstairs with her, and she made a step to pass him.

He thrust his arm out across the way, resting his head against the door-post. She started, almost nervously, and then stood still again and looked at him.

'No,' he said, 'I shall not try to keep you, and the door is open. But please don't say good-bye like that, as if we were not going to meet soon.'

'It's not good for us to be alone together,' she said.

The words came by instinct, and acknowledged a weakness in herself. After she had spoken, she was very sorry. His drawn face softened.

'That's why I forgive you,' she said, with sudden frankness, and a blush reddened her cheeks under the fawn-coloured veil she had drawn down again.

He took her hand, against her will and almost violently, but in an instant his own was gentle again.

'Margaret!' His voice had a thrill in it.

'No,' she answered, but not roughly now, and scarcely trying to free herself. 'No. I don't love you in the least. That is why I won't marry you. There's something that draws me to you against my will sometimes--yes, I know that! But I hate it, and I'm afraid of it. It's not what I like in you, it's what I like least. It's something like hypnotism, I'm sure. I'm ashamed of it, because it is what has made me flirt with you. Yes, I have! I've flirted outrageously, except that I've always told you that I never would marry you. I've been truthful in that, at all events.'

'Do you think I reproach you?'

'You might have, this morning. Now we have each something to reproach the other. We will forgive and say good-bye for a while. When we meet again, that something I'm afraid of will be gone--perhaps--then everything will be different. Now, good-bye.'

He had held her hand all the time while she had been speaking. She pressed his now, with an impulse of frank loyalty, and dropped it suddenly.

'Do you mean that I may not even come and see you?' he asked.

'Not till after my _debut_,' answered Margaret in a decided tone, for she felt that she dominated him at last. 'You don't want me to be a singer and I cannot help feeling your opposition. It disturbs me, as the time comes near. Of course I can't hinder you from being there on the first night----'

'No indeed!'

'And when you've heard me, and seen Gilda's head come out of the sack, and when the curtain has gone down on Rigoletto's despair--why, then you may come behind and congratulate me, especially if I've made a failure! Till then I don't want to see you, please!'

'I cannot wait so long. It is nearly three weeks.'

Margaret stood up very straight in the doorway, already past him and free to go out.

'Since I am willing to forgive you for losing your head just now,' she said, 'it's for me to decide whether you may ever see me again, and if so when, and where. I've been very good to you. Now I am going.'

It seemed to him that she had grown all at once in strength and individuality till there was nothing for him to do but to submit. This was an illusion, no doubt; she was just what she had always been, and what he had always judged her, a gifted young woman, rather inclined to flirt and easily guided in any direction, whose exuberant animal vitality might pass for strong character in the eyes of an inexperienced innocent like Lushington, but could not deceive an old hand like Logotheti for a moment. Nevertheless, when she had spoken her last words and was leading the way out of the room, Logotheti felt a little like a small boy who has had his ears boxed for being too cheeky, which is a sensation not at all pleasant or natural to an old hand.

As he took her down in the little lift, he vaguely wondered whether he had ever thought of her till now except as an animated work of art; comparable in beauty with his encaustic painting or his dearly loved Aphrodite; worth more than either of them as a possible possession, as life is worth more than stone, and endowed with a divine voice; but having neither soul, intelligence, nor will to speak of, nor any original power of ruling others, still less of resisting a systematic and prolonged attack.

The change had come quickly. Logotheti thought of beautiful beings of old, disguised as yielding, mortal women, who had visited the men they loved on earth and had by and by revealed themselves as true and puissant goddesses, moving in a sphere of rosy light, and speaking only to command.

Logotheti took her down in the lift and they went back into the big room where they had left Madame De Rosa. They found her looking out of the window. Books did not interest her, nor pictures either, there was no piano in the room and the maraschino was locked up. So there was nothing to do but to look out of the window. As the two came in she turned sharply to them, with her head on one side, as birds do, and her intelligent little eyes sparkled. She was a good little woman herself, and believed in heaven and salvation, but she had no particular belief in man and none at all in woman. On the other hand, she had a very keen scent for the truth in love affairs, and in Logotheti's subdued expression she instantly detected sure signs of discomfiture, which were fully confirmed by Margaret's serene and superior manner. Men sometimes follow women into a room with such an air of submission that one almost looks for the string by which they are led.

Madame De Rosa nodded her approval to Margaret in a rather officious manner, much as if she were congratulating her pupil on having soundly beaten an unruly and dangerous dog.

'Well done,' the nod said. 'Beat him again, the very next time he does it!'

But Margaret either did not understand at all, or did not care for Madame De Rosa's approbation, for she returned no answering glance of intelligence.

'I hope,' she said, 'that I have not kept you too long.'

The former prima donna looked at a tiny watch set in diamonds, the gift of a great tenor whom she had taught.

'Not at all,' she said. 'It's not twenty minutes since we came.'

She put the watch to her ear and listened. Nine women out of ten are generally in doubt as to whether their watches have not just stopped.

'Yes,' she said. 'It is going.'

Logotheti remembered how long the seconds had seemed while he was taking Margaret up in the lift, and it seemed as if hours had passed since then.

'Good-bye,' said Margaret, holding out one hand and passing the other through Madame De Rosa's arm to lead her away.

'Good-bye,' Logotheti answered. 'Of course,' he continued, 'you must please remember that if I can be of any use in making investments for you, you have only to send me your commands. I am at your service for anything connected with the money market.'

'Thank you,' said Margaret, ambiguously, as to the tone in which the words were spoken, but with a quick glance of approval.

He had meant his speech for Madame De Rosa, who had probably been told that Margaret came to see him on a matter of business. But it was quite unnecessary. The little Neapolitan woman could judge of the state of a love affair at any moment with a certainty as unerring as that of a great cook who can tell by a mere glance what stage of development the finest sauce has reached. She supported Logotheti's fiction, however, without a smile.

'Ah, my dear,' she said, 'always consult him, if he will help you! Bonanni owes half her fortune to his judgment, and I could certainly not live as I do if he had not given me his advice and kind assistance.'

'You exaggerate, dear lady,' said Logotheti, opening the door for them, and following them into the hall.

'Not in the least,' laughed Madame De Rosa, 'though I am sure that Cordova is quite able to take care of herself and is much too proud to owe you anything.'

She often called Margaret by her stage name, as artists do among themselves, but it jarred disagreeably on Logotheti's ear.

'You are right in that,' he said, rather coldly, as a footman appeared and opened the outer door. 'Miss Donne'--he emphasised the name a little--'will probably not need any help from me. But if she should, I am her very humble servant.'

'Thank you,' Margaret said, in the same ambiguous tone as before.

Thereupon she and Madame De Rosa nodded to him and left him bowing on his doorstep. They walked away in the direction of the Batignolles station. When they had heard the door of the house shut, Madame De Rosa spoke.

'You are splendid, my dear,' she said with admiration. 'But take care! To play with Logotheti is like balancing a volcano on the tip of your nose while you juggle with the world, the flesh and the devil--you know what I mean--the man who keeps a cannon-ball, an empty bottle and a bit of paper all going at once with one hand. I am afraid Logotheti will do something unexpected, to upset all our plans.'

'He had better not!' answered Margaret, drooping her lids; and her eyes flashed, and her handsome lips pouted a little.

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CHAPTER XVII Margaret, it is sad to relate, was much less concerned about the two men who were in love with her than is considered becoming in a woman of heart. She confessed to herself, without excess of penitence, that she had flirted abominably with them both, she consoled her conscience with the reflection that they were both alive and apparently very well, and she put all her strength, which was great, into preparing for her _debut_. Men never love so energetically and persuasively as when they are fighting every day for life, honour or fame, and are already on the
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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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