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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 17
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Fair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 17 Post by :Dioqq Category :Long Stories Author :F. Marion Crawford Date :May 2011 Read :1400

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Fair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 17

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 road to victory; but a woman's passion, though true and lasting, may be momentarily quite overshadowed by the anticipation of a new hat or of a social battle of uncertain issue. How much more, then, by the near approach of such an event as a first appearance on the stage!

Logotheti bribed the doorkeeper at the small theatre where Margaret was rehearsing. Whenever there was a rehearsal he was there before her, quite out of sight in the back of a lower box, and he did not go away until he was quite sure that she had left. He knew women well enough to be certain that if anything could make Margaret wish to see him it would be his own strict observance of her request not to show himself; and in the meantime he enjoyed some moments of keen delight in watching her and listening to her. He felt something of the selfish pleasure which filled that King of Bavaria who had a performance of _Lohengrin given for himself alone. But the pleasure was not unmixed, nor was the delight unclouded.

Even Schreiermeyer had given up coming to the rehearsals, for he was now sure of Margaret's success and had passed on to other business. In the dim stalls there appeared only the shabby relations and rather gorgeous friends of the other members of the company. There was the young painter who loved the leading girl of the chorus, there was the wholesale upholsterer who admired the contralto, and a little apart there was the middle-aged great lady who entertained a romantic and expensive passion for the tenor. The tenor was a young Italian, who was something between a third-rate poet and a spoilt child when he was in love and was as cynical as Macchiavelli when he was not, which was the case at present, at least so far as the middle-aged woman of the world was concerned. His friends could always tell the state of his affections by the way he sang in _Rigoletto_. When he was hopelessly in love himself, he sang 'La donna e mobile' with tears in his voice, as if his heart were breaking; when, on the contrary, he knew that some unhappy female was hopelessly in love with him, he sang it with a sort of laugh that was diabolically irritating. At the present time he seemed to be in an intermediate state, for he sometimes sang it in the one way and sometimes in the other, to the despair of the poor foolish lady in the stalls. The truth was that at irregular intervals he felt that he was in love with Margaret.

Leading singers are very rarely attracted by each other. Perhaps that is because they receive such a vast amount of adulation which pleases them better, and of course there have been famous instances of the contrary, such as Mario and Grisi. As a rule singers do not meet much except at the theatre; it is only during rehearsals that they have a chance of talking, and then, as everybody knows, they show the worst side of themselves and are often in a very bad temper indeed.

Margaret had not reached that stage yet, for she had met with no disappointments and could not complain of her manager, and moreover she was not at all above learning what she could from her fellow-artists. She was therefore popular with them in spite of the fact that she was a lady born. They overlooked that, because she could sing, and the tenor only remembered it when he tried to patronise her a little. He had often sung with Melba, and she did this or that, and he had sung with Bonanni and knew exactly how she sang the difficult passages, and he reeled off the precepts and practice of half-a-dozen other lyric sopranos, giving Margaret to understand that he was willing and able to teach her a good deal. But she only smiled kindly, and did precisely what Madame De Rosa told her to do, seeing that the little Neapolitan had taught most of them what they knew. It was clear that Margaret could not be patronised, and the other members of the company liked her the better for it, because the tenor patronised them all and gave them to understand that they were rather small fry compared with a man who could hold the high C and walk off the stage with it.

From the darkness of his lower box Logotheti looked on and approved of Margaret's behaviour. At the same time he abstracted himself from her life and saw how she lived with respect to other men and women, and a great change began to take place in his feelings, one of those changes which are sometimes salutary because they may hinder an act of folly, but which humiliate a man in his own eyes, in proportion as they are unexpected, and tend to contradict something which he has believed to be beyond all doubt. To many men the loss of a noble illusion feels like a loss of strength in themselves, perhaps because such men can never keep an ideal before them without making an unconscious effort against the material tendency of their natures.

The change in Logotheti during the next three weeks was profound; and it was humiliating because it deprived him all at once of a sort of power over himself which had grown up with his love for Margaret and depended on that for its nourishment and life; a power which had perhaps not been an original force at all, but only a chivalrous willingness to do her will instead of his own. He looked on and did not betray his presence, and she, on her side, began to wonder at his prolonged obedience. More than once she felt a sudden conviction that he must be near, and he saw how she peered into the gloom of the empty house as if looking for some one she expected. It was only natural, and no theory of telepathy was needed to explain it. She had so often seen him there in reality! But he would not show himself now, for he was determined that she should send for him; if she did not, he could wait for her _debut_; and little by little, as he kept to his determination and only saw her from a distance in the frame of the stage, the woman who had dominated him in a moment when he was beside himself with passion, became once more an animated work of art which he unconsciously compared with his Aphrodite and his ancient picture, and which he coveted as a possession.

It did not at first occur to him that Margaret had really changed since he had met her, and not exactly in the way he might have wished. Instead of showing any inclination to give up the stage, as he had hoped that she might, she seemed more and more in love with her future career.

When he had first met her he had made the acquaintance of a strikingly good-looking English girl, born and brought up a lady, full of talent and enthusiasm for her art, but as yet absolutely ignorant of professional artistic life and still in a state of mind in which some sides of it were sure to be disagreeable to her, if not absolutely repulsive.

Hidden in his box, and watching her as well as listening to her, he gradually realised the change, and he remembered many facts which should have prepared him for it. He recollected, for instance, her perfect coolness and self-possession with Madame Bonanni, so absolutely different from the paralysing shyness, the visible fright and the pitiful helplessness at the moment of trial, which he had more than once seen in young girls who came to Madame Bonanni for advice. They had good voices, too, those poor trembling candidates; many of them had talent of a certain order; but it was not the real thing, there was not the real strength behind it, there was not the absolute self-reliance to steady it; above all, there was not the tremendous physical organisation which every great singer possesses.

But Margaret had all that; in other words, she had every gift that makes a first-rate professional on the stage, and as the life became familiar to her, those gifts, suddenly called into play, exerted their influence directly upon her character and manner. She was born to be a professional artist, to face the public and make it applaud her, to believe in her own talent, to help herself, to trust to her nerves and to defend herself with cool courage in moments of danger.

This was assuredly not the girl with whom Logotheti had fallen in love at first sight, whom he, as well as Lushington, had believed far too refined and delicately brought up to be happy in the surroundings of a stage life, and much too sensitive to bear such familiarity as being addressed as 'Cordova,' without any prefix, by an Italian tenor singer whose father had kept a butcher's shop in Turin.

No doubt, the refinement, the sensitiveness, the delicacy of manner were all there still, for such things do not disappear out of a woman in a few days; but they belonged chiefly to one side of a nature that had two very distinct sides. There was the 'lady' side, and there was the 'actress' side; and unfortunately, thought Logotheti, there was now no longer the slightest doubt as to which was the stronger. Margaret Donne was already a memory; the reality was 'Cordova,' who was going to have a fabulous success and would soon be one of the most successful lyric sopranos of her time.

'Cordova' was a splendid creature, she was a good girl, she had a hundred fine qualities not always found together in a great prima donna; but no power in the world could ever make her Margaret Donne again.

Logotheti watched her and once or twice he sighed; for he knew that he no longer wished to marry her. It is not in the nature of Orientals to let their wives exhibit themselves to the public, and in most ways the prejudices of a well-born Greek of Constantinople are just as strong as those of a Mohammedan Turk.

As an artistic possession, 'Cordova' was as desirable as ever in Logotheti's eyes; but she was no longer at all desirable as a wife. The Greek, in spite of the lawless strain in him, was an aristocrat to the marrow of his very solid bones. An aristocrat, doubtless, in the Eastern sense, proud of his own long descent, but perfectly indifferent to any such matter as a noble pedigree in the choice of a wife; quite capable, if he had not chanced to be born a Christian, of taking to himself, even by purchase, the jealously-guarded daughter of a Circassian horse-thief, or of a Georgian cut-throat, a girl brought up in seclusion for sale, like a valuable thoroughbred; but a man who revolted at the thought of marrying a woman who could show herself upon the stage, and for money, who could sing for money, and for the applause of a couple of thousand people, nine-tenths of whom he would never have allowed to enter his house. He was jealous of what he really loved. To him, it would have been a real and keen suffering to see his marble Aphrodite set up in a hall of the Louvre, to be admired in her naked perfection by every passing tourist, criticised and compared with famous living models by loose-talking art students, and furtively examined by prurient and disapproving old maids from distant countries. He prized her, and he had risked his life, not to mention the just anger of a government, to get possession of her. If he could feel so much for a piece of marble, it was not likely that he should feel less keenly where the woman he loved was concerned; and circumstance for circumstance, point for point, it was much worse that Margaret Donne should stand and sing behind the footlights, for money, and disguise herself as a man in the last act of _Rigoletto_, than that the Aphrodite should go to the Louvre and take her place with the Borghese Gladiator, the Venus of Milo and the Victory of Samothrace. It was true that he would have given much to possess one of those other treasures, too, but even then it would not have been like possessing the Aphrodite. The other statues had been public property and had faced the public gaze for many years; but he had found his treasure for himself, buried safe in the earth since ages ago, and he had brought her thence directly to that upper room where few eyes but his own had ever seen her. Perhaps he was a little mad on this point, for strong natures that hark back to primitive types often seem a little mad to us. But at the root of his madness there was that which no man need be ashamed of, for it has been the very foundation of human society--the right of every husband to keep the mother of his children from the world in his own home. For human society existed before the Ten Commandments, and a large part of it seems tolerably able to survive without them even now; but no nation has ever come to any good or greatness, since the world began, unless its men have kept their wives from other men. Yet nature is not mocked, and woman is a match for man; she first drove him to invent divorce for his self-defence, and see, it is a two-edged sword in her own hands and is turned against him! No strong nation, beginning its life and history, ever questioned the husband's right to kill the unfaithful wife; no old and corrupt race has ever failed to make it easy for a wife to have many husbands--including those of her friends.

Logotheti belonged to the primitives. As he had once laughingly explained to Margaret, his people had dropped out of civilisation during a good many centuries; they had absorbed a good deal of wild blood in that time, and, scientifically speaking, had reverted to their type; and now that he had chosen to mingle in the throng of the moderns, whose fathers had lost no time in the race, while his own had remained stationary, he found himself different from other people, stronger than they, bolder and much more lawless, but also infinitely more responsive to the creations of art and the facts of life, as well as to the finer fictions of his imagination and the simple cravings of his very masculine being.

Men who are especially gifted almost always seem exaggerated to average society, either because, like Logotheti, they feel more, want more and get more than other men, by sheer all-round exuberance of life and energy, or else because, as in many great poets, some one faculty is almost missing, which would have balanced the rest, so that in its absence the others work at incredible speed and tension, wear themselves out in half a lifetime and leave immortal records of their brief activity.

There had been a time when Margaret had appealed only to Logotheti's artistic perceptions; at their second meeting he had asked her to marry him because he felt sure that until he could make her his permanent possession, he could never again know what it was to be satisfied.

There had been a moment when she had risen in his estimation from an artistic treasure to the dignity of an ideal, and had dominated him, even when the human animal in him was most furiously roused.

Again, and lastly, the time had come when, by watching her unseen, instead of spending hours with her every day, by abstracting himself from her life instead of trying to take part in it, he had lost his hold upon his ideal for ever, and had been cruelly robbed of what for a few short days he had held most dear.

Moreover, after the ideal had withered and fallen, there remained something of which the man felt ashamed, though it was what had seemed most natural before the higher thought had sprung up full-grown in a day, and had blossomed, and perished. It was simply this. Margaret was as much as ever the artistic treasure he coveted, and he was tormented by the fear lest some one else should get possession of her before him.

He remembered the sleepless nights he had spent while his marble Aphrodite had lain above ground, before he was ready to carry her off, the unspeakable anxiety lest she should be found and taken from him, the terror of losing her which had driven him to make the attempt in the teeth of weather which his craft had not been fit to face; and he remembered, too, that the short time while she had lain at the bottom of the bay had not passed without real dread lest by a miracle another should find her and steal her.

He felt that same sensation now, as he watched Margaret from a distance; some one would find her, some one would marry her, some one would take her away and own her, body and soul, and cheat him of what had been within his grasp and all but his; and yet he was ashamed, because he no longer wanted her for his wife, but only as a possession--as Achilles wanted Briseis and was wroth when she was taken from him. He felt shame at the thought, because he had already honoured her in his imagination as his wife, and because to dream of her as anything as near, yet less in honour, was a sort of dishonour to himself. Let the subtle analyst make what he can of that; it is the truth. But possibly the truth about a man very unlike his fellow-men is not worth analysing, since it cannot lead to any useful generality; and if analysis is not to be useful, of what use can it possibly be? It would be more to the purpose to analyse the character of Margaret, for instance, who represents a certain class of artists, or of Madame Bonanni who is an arch-type, or of poor Edmund Lushington, a literary Englishman, who was just then very unhappy and very sorry for himself. Margaret and Lushington, and the elderly prima donna, and even Mrs. Rushmore, are all much more like you and me than Constantine Logotheti, the Greek financier of artistic tastes, watching the woman he covets, from the depths of his lower box during rehearsal.

He watched, and he coveted; and presently he fell to thinking of the wonderful things which money can do, when it is skilfully used; and he fell to scheming and plotting, and laying deep plans; and moreover he recalled the days when Margaret had first appeared to him as an animated work of art, and he remembered why he had persuaded Schreiermeyer to change the opera from _Faust to _Rigoletto_. He had regretted the change later, when she had risen to the higher place in his heart, because it required her to wear a man's disguise in the last act; but now that she was again in his eyes what she had been at first, he was glad he had made the suggestion, and that the manager had taken his advice, for there was something in that last act which should serve him when the time came.

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Fair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 18 Fair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 18

Fair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 18
CHAPTER XVIII After the adventure on the Versailles road, Lushington eschewed disguises, changed his lodgings again and appeared in clothes that fitted him. It was a great relief to look like a human being and a gentleman, even at the cost of calling himself an ass for having tried to look like something else. There was but one difficulty in the way of resuming his former appearance, and that lay in the loss of his beard, which would take some time to grow again, while its growth would involve retirement from civilisation during several weeks. But he reflected that it was
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Fair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 16 Fair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 16

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
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