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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 18
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Fair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 18 Post by :CharlesWest Category :Long Stories Author :F. Marion Crawford Date :May 2011 Read :1157

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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 fashionable to be clean-shaven, and that, in point of appearance, all that is fashionable is right, though Plato would have declared it to be removed in the third degree from truth.

A week after the accident he went out to Versailles in the morning. Mrs. Rushmore had a headache and Margaret received him. She smiled as she took his hand, and she looked hard at his face, as if to be sure that it was he, after all. The absence of the gleaming fair beard made a great difference.

'I think I like you better without it,' she said, at last. 'Your face has more character!'

'It's the inevitable,' answered Lushington, 'so I'm glad you are pleased.'

'Come out,' she said, turning to the door. 'It always seems more natural to talk to you on the lawn, and the bench is still there.'

He felt like an exile come home. Nothing was changed, except that Margaret was gentler and seemed more glad to see him than formerly. He wondered how that could be, seeing that he had made himself so very ridiculous; for he was not experienced enough to know that a woman's sense of humour is very different from that of a man she likes, when she herself has been concerned in the circumstances that have made him an object of ridicule to others. Then her face grows grave, her eyes harden, and her head goes up. 'I cannot see that there is anything to laugh at,' she says very coldly, to the disagreeable people who are poking fun at the poor man. At these signs, the disagreeable people generally desist and retire to whisper in a corner.

Lushington followed Margaret out. As they passed through the hall, she took an old garden hat from the table and fastened it upon her head with the pin that had been left stuck in it. It was done almost with a single motion and without even glancing at the mirror which hung above the hall table. Lushington watched her, but not as Logotheti would have done, in artistic admiration of the graceful movement and perfect balance. The Englishman, who called himself a realist, was admiring the ideal qualities with which he had long ago invested the real woman. As he watched her, his imagination clothed her handsome reality with a semi-divine mantle of glory; for him she could never be anything but Margaret Donne, let her call herself Cordova or anything else, let her sing in _Rigoletto or in any other opera.

'It was nice of you to come,' she said, as they reached the bench near the pond. 'I wanted to see you.'

'And I wanted you to see me,' Lushington laughed a little, remembering how she had seen him the last time, after his fall, in very bad clothes and much damaged, particularly as to his nose.

'You certainly look more civilised,' Margaret said.

'Did Logotheti tell you anything about what happened after you left us?' asked Lushington, suddenly.

Margaret's face lost its expression for a moment. It was exactly as if, while sitting in the full sunshine, a little cloud had blown across the sun, taking the golden light out of her face.

'I have not seen Monsieur Logotheti since that day,' she said.

It was not necessary to tell Lushington that she had seen the Greek once again on the same afternoon. Her companion seemed surprised.

'That's strange,' he said. 'I supposed you saw him--no, I beg your pardon, I've no right to suppose anything about you. Please forgive me.'

'What did you suppose?' asked Margaret in a rather imperative tone.

'We are likely to meet so seldom that I may as well tell you what happened,' answered Lushington, with more decision than he had formerly been wont to show. 'I'd just as soon have you know, if you don't mind.'

Margaret leaned back in her seat, and pulled the garden hat over her eyes. It was warm, and she could see the gnats in the strong light reflected from the pond.

'He asked me if I wanted to marry you,' Lushington continued. 'I said that such a thing was impossible. Then he gave me to understand that he did.'

He paused, but as if he had more to say.

'What did you answer?' asked Margaret.

'I said I would keep out of the way, since he was in earnest.'

'Oh!'

Margaret uttered the ejaculation in a tone that might have meant anything, and she watched the gnats darting hither and thither in the sunshine.

'I did right, didn't I?' asked Lushington after a long pause.

'You meant to,' said Margaret almost roughly. 'I suppose it's the same thing. You're always so terribly honourable!'

Her humour changed suddenly, and there was a shade of contempt in her voice. She had been very glad to see him a few moments earlier, but now she wished he would go. She was perhaps just then in the temper to be won, though she did not know it, and she unconsciously wished that Lushington would take hold of her and almost hurt her, as Logotheti had done, instead of being so dreadfully anxious to be told that he had done right a week ago.

'You don't care a straw for Logotheti,' he said, so suddenly that she started a little. 'I don't know why you should,' he added, as she said nothing, 'but I had got the impression that you did.'

'There are days--I mean,' she corrected herself, 'there have been days, when I have liked him very much--more, it seems to me, than I ever liked you, though in quite a different way.'

'There will be more such days,' Lushington answered.

'I hope not.'

Margaret spoke almost as if to herself and very low, turning her head away. Lushington heard the words, however, and was surprised.

'Has anything happened?' he asked quickly, and quite without reflection.

Again she answered in a low tone, unfamiliar to him.

'Yes. Something has happened.'

Then neither spoke for some time. When Margaret broke the silence at last, there was a little defiance in her voice, a touch of recklessness in her manner, as new to Lushington as her low, absent-minded tone had been when she had last spoken.

'It was only natural, I suppose,' she laughed, a little sharply. 'I'm too good for one and not good enough for the other! It would be really interesting to know just how good one ought to be--when one is an artist!'

'What do you mean?' asked Lushington, not understanding at all.

'My dear child!' She laughed again, and both the words and the laugh jarred on Lushington, as being a little unlike her--she had never addressed him in that way before. 'You don't really suppose that I am going to explain, do you? You made up your mind that I was much too fine a lady to marry the son of a singer--much too good for you, in fact--though I would have married you just then!'

'Just then!' Lushington repeated the words sadly.

'Certainly not now,' answered Margaret viciously. 'You would come to your senses in a week with a start, to find your idol in a very shaky and moth-eaten state. I'm horribly human, after all! I admit it!'

'What is the matter with you?' asked Lushington, rather sharply. 'What has become of you?' he asked, as she gave him no answer. 'Where are you, the real you? I saw you when I came, and you brought me out on the lawn, and it was going to be so nice, just as it used to be; and now, on a sudden, you are gone, and there is some one I don't know in your place.'

Margaret laughed, leaned back in her chair and looked at the pond.

'Some one you don't know?' she repeated, with a question.

'Yes.'

'I wonder!' She laughed again. 'It must be that,' she said presently. 'It cannot be anything else.'

'What?'

'It must be "Cordova." Don't you think so? I know just what you mean--I feel it, I hear it in my voice when I speak, I see it in the glass when I look at myself. But not always. It comes and it goes, it has its hours. Sometimes I'm it when I wake up suddenly in the night, and sometimes I'm Margaret Donne, whom you used to like. And I'm sure of something else. Shall I tell you? One of these days Margaret Donne will go away and never come back, and there will be only Cordova left, and then I suppose I shall go to the bad. They all do, you know.'

Lushington did know, and made an odd movement and bent himself, as if something sharp had run into him unawares, and he turned his face away, to hide the look of pain which he could not control. Margaret had hardly spoken the cruel words when she realised what she had done.

'Oh, I'm so sorry!' she cried, in dreadful distress, and the voice came from her heart and was quite her own again.

In her genuine pain for him, she took his hand in both her own, and drew it to her and looked into his eyes.

'It's all right,' he answered. 'You did not mean it. Don't distress yourself.'

There were tears in her eyes now, but they were not going to overflow. She dropped his hands.

'How splendidly good and generous you are!' Margaret cried. 'There's nobody like you, after all!'

Lushington forgot his pain in the pleasure he felt at this outburst.

'But why?' he asked, not very clear as to her reasons for praising him.

'It was the same thing the other day,' she said, 'when we upset you on the Versailles road. You were in a bad way; I don't think I remember ever seeing a man in a worse plight! I couldn't help laughing a little.'

'No,' said Lushington, 'I suppose you couldn't.'

'You had your revenge afterwards, though you did not know it,' Margaret answered.

'What sort of revenge?'

'Monsieur Logotheti was detestable. It would have given me the greatest satisfaction to have stuck hat-pins into him, ever so many of them, as thick as the quills on a porcupine!'

Lushington laughed, in a colourless way.

'As you say, I was revenged,' he answered.

'Oh, that wasn't it!' she laughed, too. 'Not at all! Besides, you knew that! You were perfectly well aware that you had the heroic part, all through.'

'Indeed, I wasn't aware of it at all! I felt most awfully small, I assure you.'

'That's because you're not a woman,' observed Margaret thoughtfully. 'No,' she went on, after a short pause, during which Lushington found nothing to say, 'the revenge you had was much more complete. I don't think I'll tell you what it was. You might think----'

She broke off abruptly, and drew the big garden hat even further over her eyes. Lushington watched her mouth, as he could see so little of the rest of her face, but the lips were shut and motionless, with rather a set look, as if she meant to keep a secret.

'If you don't tell me, I suppose I'm free to think what I please,' Lushington answered. 'I might even think that you were seized with remorse for being so extremely horrid and that you went home and drenched a number of pillows with your tears.'

He laughed lightly. Margaret was silent for a moment, but she slowly nodded and drummed a five-fingered exercise on her knee with her right hand.

'I cried like a baby,' she said suddenly, with a little snort of dissatisfaction.

'Not really?' Lushington was profoundly surprised, before he was flattered.

'Yes. I hope you're satisfied? Was I not right in saying that you were revenged?'

'You have more heart than you like to show,' he answered. 'Thank you for caring so much! It was nice of you.'

'I don't believe it was what you mean by "heart" at all,' said Margaret. 'I don't pretend to have much, and what there is of it is not a bit of the "faithful squaw" kind. I cried that night about you, exactly as I might have cried over a poor lame horse, if somebody had kicked it uphill and I had been brute enough to laugh at its pain!'

'Hm!' ejaculated Lushington. 'Pity, I suppose?'

'Not a bit of it. How rude you are! I should have pitied you at the time, then. But I didn't, not the least bit. I laughed at you. Afterwards I cried because I had been such a beast as to laugh, and I wished that somebody would come and beat me! I assure you, it was entirely out of disgust with myself that I cried, and not in the least out of pity for you!'

'I'm delighted to hear it,' said Lushington. 'In the first place, I should be sorry to have been the direct means of bringing you to tears; secondly, I hate to be pitied; and thirdly, it's a much more difficult thing to make a woman disgusted with herself than it is to excite her compassion by playing lame horse or sick puppy!'

Margaret looked at him from under the brim of her hat, throwing her head far back so as to do so. Then they both laughed a little, and Lushington felt happy for a moment; but Margaret did not know what she felt, if indeed she felt anything at all, beyond a momentary satisfaction in the society of a man she really liked very much, whom she had once believed she loved, and whom she might still have been willing to marry if she had not been at the point of beginning her public career, and if he had asked her, and if--but there were altogether too many conditions, and for the moment matrimony was out of sight.

'I like you very much,' she said, suddenly thoughtful. 'I've seen you act like a hero, and you always act like a gentleman. One cannot say that of many men. If I were not such a wicked flirt, I suppose I should be in love with you, as I was that day when you left here. I'm glad I'm not! Do you know that it's frightfully humiliating to want to marry a man, and to have him object, no matter why?'

Lushington said something, but he felt that again the real Margaret had slipped away out of sight for a while, leaving somebody else in her place.

Whenever it happened, he felt a little painful sensation of choking, like a man who is suddenly deprived of air; until he looked at her and saw that she was outwardly herself. Then he adjusted the halo of ideality upon the artist again, and continued to love Margaret Donne with all his heart.

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