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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 3
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Fair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 3 Post by :davidrle Category :Long Stories Author :F. Marion Crawford Date :May 2011 Read :692

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Fair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 3


The servant who opened the door smiled. He was a man of thirty-five, or thereabouts, with cheerful blue eyes, a brown moustache and pink cheeks. He wore a blue cotton apron and had a feather duster in his hand; and he smiled very pleasantly.

'Madame Bonanni said she would see me this morning,' Margaret explained.

'What name, if you please?' the man asked, contemplating her with approval.

'Miss Donne.'

'Very well. But Madame is in her bath,' observed the servant, showing no inclination to let Margaret pass. 'Mademoiselle would do better to come another day.'

'But Madame Bonanni has given me an appointment.'

'It is possible,' the man replied, still smiling calmly.

'I have come to sing to her,' Margaret said, with a little impatience.

'Ah--then it is different!' He positively beamed. 'Then Mademoiselle is a musician? Who would have thought it?'

Margaret was not quite sure who would have thought it, but she thought the servant decidedly familiar. At that moment he stood aside for her to pass, shut the front door after her and led the way to the short flight of steps that gave access to the house from the carriage entrance.

'This way, Mademoiselle. If Mademoiselle will be good enough to wait, I will inform Madame.'

'Please don't disturb her! You said she was in her bath.'

'Oh, that has no importance!' the man cried cheerfully, and disappeared at once.

Margaret looked about her, but if she had been blind she would have been aware that she was in a place quite unlike any she had ever been in before. The air had an indescribable odour that was almost a taste; it smelt of Houbigant, Greek tobacco, Persian carpets, women's clothes, liqueur and late hours; and it was not good to breathe--except, perhaps, for people used to the air of the theatre. Margaret at first saw nothing particular to sit upon, and stood still.

It was a big room, with two very large windows on one side, a massive chimney-piece at the end opposite the door, and facing the windows the most enormous divan Margaret had ever seen. Over this a great canopy was stretched, a sort of silk awning of which the corners were stretched out and held up by more or less mediaeval lances. The divan itself was so high that an ordinary person would have to climb upon it, and it was completely covered by a wild confusion of cushions of all colours, thrown upon it and piled up, and tumbling off, as if a Homeric pillow fight had just been fought upon it by several scores of vigorous school-girls.

The room was plethoric with artistic objects, some good, some bad, some atrocious, but all recalling the singer's past triumphs, and all jumbled together, on tables, easels, pedestals, brackets and shelves with much less taste than an average dealer in antiquities would have shown in arranging his wares. There was not even light enough to see them distinctly, for the terrifically heavy and expensive Genoa velvet curtains produced a sort of dingy twilight. Moreover the Persian carpet was so extremely thick that Margaret almost turned her ankle as she made a step upon it.

As she knew that she must probably wait some time she looked for a seat. There were a few light chairs here and there, but they were occupied by various objects; on one a framed oil-painting was waiting till a place could be found for it, on another there was a bandbox, on a third lay some sort of garment that might be an opera-cloak or a tea-gown, or a theatrical dress, a little silver tray with the remains of black coffee and an empty liqueur glass stood upon a fourth chair, and Margaret's searching eye discovered a fifth, with nothing on it, pushed away in a corner.

She took hold of it by the back, to bring it forward a little, and the gilt cross-bar came off in her hand. She stuck the piece on again as well as she could, and as she did not like to disturb any of the things she stood still, in the middle of the room, wondering vaguely whether Madame Bonanni's visitors usually sat down, and if so, on what.

Suddenly her eyes fell upon a piano, standing behind several easels that almost completely hid it. A piano usually has a stool, and Margaret made her way between the easels and the little oriental tables, and the plants, and the general confusion, towards the keyboard. She was not disappointed; there was a stool, and she sat down at last.

The air was oppressive and she wished herself out in the Pare Monceau, in the May morning. The time seemed endless. By sheer force of habit she slowly turned on the revolving stool and touched the keys; then she struck a few chords softly, and the sound of the perfect instrument gave her pleasure. She played something, trying to make as little noise as possible so long as she remembered where she was, but presently she forgot herself, her lips parted and she was singing, as people do who sing naturally.

She sang the waltz song in the first act of Gounod's _Romeo and Juliet_, and after the first few bars she had altogether forgotten that she was not at home, with her own piano, or else standing behind her teacher's shoulder in the Boulevard Malesherbes.

Now there are not many singers living who can sing the waltz song and accompany themselves without making a terrible mess of the music; but Margaret did it well, and much more than well, for she was not only a singer with a beautiful voice but a true musician. There was not a quaver or hesitation in her singing from beginning to end, nor a false note in the accompaniment.

When she had finished, her lips closed and she went on playing the music of the scene that follows. She had not gone on a dozen bars, however, when a head appeared suddenly round the corner of a picture on an easel.

'Ah, bah!' exclaimed the head, in an accent of great surprise.

Its thick dark-brown hair was all towzled and standing on end, its brown eyes were opened very wide in astonishment, and it was showing magnificently strong teeth, a little discoloured.

Margaret sprang to her feet with an apology for having forgotten herself, but the head laughed and came forward, bringing with it a large body wrapped in an enormous gown of white Turkish towelling, evidently held together by the invisible hands within. Margaret thought of the statue of Balzac.

(Illustration: "Margaret sprang to her feet with an apology.")

'I thought it was Caravita,' said Madame Bonanni. 'We are great friends you know. I sometimes find her waiting for me. But who in the world are you?'

'Margaret Donne.'

'Ah, bah!' exclaimed the great singer again, the two syllables being apparently her only means of expressing surprise.

'But I told your servant----' Margaret began.

'Why have you not made your _debut_?' cried Madame Bonanni, interrupting her, and shaking her disordered locks as if in protest. 'You have millions in your throat! Why do you come here? To ask advice? To let me hear you sing? Let the public hear you! What are you waiting for? To-morrow you will be old! And all singers are young. How old do you think I am? Forty-five, perhaps, because it is printed so! Not a bit of it! A prima donna is never over thirty, never, never, never! Imagine Juliet over thirty, or Lucia! Pah! The idea is horrible! Fortunately, all tenors are fat. A Juliet of thirty may love a fat Romeo, but at forty it would be disgusting, positively disgusting! I am sick at the mere thought.'

Margaret stood up, resting one hand on the corner of the piano and smiling at the torrent of speech. Yet all the time, while Madame Bonanni was saying things that sounded absurd enough, the young girl was conscious that the handsome brown eyes were studying her quietly and perhaps not unwisely.

'I am twenty-two,' she said by way of answer.

'I made my _debut when I was twenty,' answered the prima donna. 'But then,' she added, as if in explanation, 'I was married before I was seventeen.'

'Indeed!' Margaret exclaimed politely.

'Yes. He died. Let us sing! I always want to sing when I come out of my bath. Do you know the duo at the beginning of the fourth act? Yes? Good. I will sing Romeo. Oh yes, I can sing the tenor part--it is very high for a man. Sit down. Imagine that you admire me and that the lark is trying to imitate the nightingale so that we need not part. We have not heard it yet. The man is beginning to turn up the dawn outside the window behind us, but we do not see it. We are perfectly happy. Now, begin!'

The chords sounded softly, the two voices blended, rose and fell and died away. The elder woman's rich lower tones imitated a tenor voice well enough to give Margaret the little illusion she needed, and her overflowing happiness did the rest. She sang as she had not sung before.

'I wish to embrace you!' cried Madame Bonanni, when they had finished.

And forthwith Margaret felt herself enveloped in the Turkish bath-gown, and entangled in the towzled hair and held by a pair of tremendously strong white arms; and being thus helpless, she experienced a kindly but portentous kiss on each cheek; after which she was set at liberty.

'You are a real musician, too!' Madame Bonanni said with genuine admiration. 'You can play anything, as well as sing. I hope you will never hear me play. It is awful. I could empty any theatre instantly, if there were a fire, merely by playing a little!'

She laughed heartily at her little joke, for like many great singers she was half a child and half a genius, and endowed with the huge vitality that alone makes an opera singer's life possible.

'I would give my playing to have your voice,' Margaret said.

'You would be cheated in your bargain,' observed Madame Bonanni. 'Let me look at you. Have you a big chest and a thick throat? What are your arms like? If you have a voice and talent, strength is every thing! Young girls come and sing to me so prettily, so sweetly! They want to be singers! Singers, my dear, with chests like paper dolls and throats like plucked spring chickens! Bah! They are good for nothing, they catch cold, they give a little croak and they die. Strength is everything. Let me see your throat! No! You will never croak! You will never die. And your arms? Look at mine. Yes, yours will be like mine, some day.'

Margaret hoped not, for Madame Bonanni seemed to be a very big woman, though she still managed to look human as Juliet. Perhaps that was because the tenors were all fat.

Again a hand emerged from the thick white folds and grasped Margaret's arm firmly above the elbow, as a trainer feels an athlete's biceps.

'Good, good! Very good!' cried Madame Bonanni approvingly. 'It is a pity you are a lady! You are a lady, aren't you?'

Margaret smiled.

'I am a peasant,' the singer answered without the least affectation. 'I always say that it takes five generations of life in the fields to make a voice. But you are English, I suppose. Yes? All English live out of doors. If they had a proper climate they would all sing, but they have to keep their mouths shut all the time, to keep out the rain, and the fog, and the smoke of their chimneys. It is incredible, how little they open their mouths! Come and sit down. We will have a little talk.'

Margaret thought her new friend had managed to talk a good deal already. Madame Bonanni slipped between the easels and pedestals with surprising ease and lightness, and made for the divan. Margaret now saw that a stool was half concealed by a fallen pillow, so that the singer used it in order to climb up. In a moment she had settled herself comfortably, supported on all sides by the huge cushions. Margaret fancied she looked like a big snowball with a human head.

'Why don t you sit down, my dear?' inquired Madame Bonanni blandly.

'Yes, but where?' asked Margaret with a little laugh.

'Here! Climb up beside me on the divan.'

'I'm not used to it!' Margaret laughed. 'It looks awfully hot.'

'Then take a chair. Oh, the things? Throw them on the floor. Somebody will pick them up. People are always sending me perfectly useless things. Look at that picture! Did you ever see such a daub? I'll burn it! No. I'll give it to the missionaries. They take everything one gives them, for the African babies. Ah!'

Madame Bonanni shrieked suddenly, seized a big cushion and held it up as a screen before her. She looked towards the door, and Margaret, looking in the same direction, saw an over-dressed man of thirty-five standing on the threshold.

'Go away!' screamed Madame Bonanni. 'Logotheti! Go away, I say! Don't you see that I'm not dressed?'

'I see nothing but cushions,' answered the new-comer, showing very white teeth and speaking with a thick accent Margaret had never heard.

'Ah! So much the better!' returned Madame Bonanni with sudden calm. 'What do you want?'

'You did me the honour to ask me to breakfast,' said Logotheti, coming forward a few steps.

'To breakfast! Never! You are dreaming!' She paused an instant. 'Yes, I believe I did. What difference does it make? Go and get your breakfast somewhere else!'

'Oh no!' protested the visitor, who had been examining Margaret's face and figure. 'I can wait any length of time, but I shall keep you to your bargain, dear lady.'

'You are detestable! Well, then you must go and look out of the window while I get down.'

'With pleasure,' Logotheti answered, meaning exactly what he said, and turning his back after a deliberate look at Margaret.

Madame Bonanni worked herself to the edge of the divan, with a curious sidelong movement, got one of her feet upon the stool and slipped down, till she stood on the floor. Then she gathered the folds of her bathing-gown to her and ran to the door with astonishing agility, for so large a person.

Margaret was not sure what she should do, and began to follow her, hoping to exchange a few words with her before going away. At the door, Madame Bonanni suddenly draped herself in the dark velvet curtain, stuck her head out and looked back.

'Of course you will stay to breakfast, my dear!' she called out, 'Logotheti! I present you to Miss--Miss--oh, the name doesn't matter! I present you!'

'I'm afraid I cannot----' Margaret began to say, not knowing how long she might be left alone with Logotheti.

But Madame Bonanni had already unfurled the curtain and fled. Logotheti bowed gravely to Margaret, cleared the things off one of the chairs and offered it to her. His manner was as respectful with her as it had been familiar with the singer, and she felt at once that he understood her position.

'Thank you,' she said quietly, as she seated herself.

He cleared another chair and sat down at a little distance. She glanced at him furtively and saw that he was a very dark man of rather long features; that his eyes were almond-shaped, like those of many orientals; that he had a heavy jaw and a large mouth with lips that were broad rather than thick, and hardly at all concealed by a small black moustache which was trained to lie very flat to his face, and turned up at the ends; that his short hair was worn brush fashion, without a parting; that he had olive brown hands with strong fingers, on one of which he wore an enormous turquoise in a ring; that his clothes were evidently the result of English workmanship misguided by a very un-English taste; and finally that he was well-built and looked strong. She wondered very much what his nationality might be, for his accent had told her that he was not French.

After a little pause he turned his head quietly and spoke to her.

'Our friend's introduction was a little vague,' he said. 'My name is Constantine Logotheti. I am a Greek of Constantinople by birth, or what we call a Fanariote there. I live in Paris and I occupy myself with what we call "finance" here. In other words, I spend an hour or two every day at the Bourse. If I had anything to recommend me, I should say so at once, but I believe there is nothing.'

'Thank you!' Margaret laughed a little at the words. 'You are very frank. Madame Bonanni could not remember my name, as she has never seen me before to-day. I am Miss Donne; I am studying to be an opera-singer, and I came here for advice. I am English. I believe that is all.'

They looked at each other and smiled. Margaret was certainly not prepossessed in the man's favour at first sight. She detested over-dressed men, men who wore turquoise rings, and men who had oily voices; but it was perfectly clear to her that Logotheti was a man of the world, who knew a lady when he met one, no matter where, and meant to behave with her precisely as if he had been introduced to her in Mrs. Rushmore's drawing-room.

'It is my turn to thank you,' he said, acknowledging with a little bow the favour she had conferred in telling him who she was. 'I fancy you have not yet seen much of theatrical people, off the stage. Have you?'

No,' answered Margaret. 'Why do you ask?'

'I wonder whether you will like them when you do,' said Logotheti.

'I never thought of it. Is Madame Bonanni a good type of them?'

'No,' Logotheti answered, after a moment's reflection. 'I don't think she is. None of the great ones are. They all have something original, personal, dominating, about them. That is the reason why they are great. I was thinking of the average singer you will have to do with if you really sing in opera. As for Madame Bonanni, she has a heart of pure gold. We are old friends, and I know her well.'

'I can quite believe that she is kind-hearted,' Margaret answered. But don't you think, perhaps, that she is just a little too much so?'

'How do you mean?'

'That she might be too kind to tell a beginner just what she really thinks?'

'No, indeed.' Logotheti laughed at the idea. 'You would not think so if you knew how many poor girls she sends away in tears because she tells them the honest truth, that they have neither voice nor talent, and will fail miserably if they go on. That is real kindness after all! Have you sung to her?'

'Yes,' answered Margaret.

'May I ask what she said? I know her so well that I can perhaps be of use to you. Sometimes, for instance, she says nothing at all. That means that there may be a chance of success but that she herself is not sure.'

'She kissed me on both cheeks,' Margaret said with a laugh, 'and she talked about my _debut_.'

'Then I should advise you to make your _debut at once,' Logotheti answered. 'She means that you will have a very great success.'

'Do you really think so?' asked Margaret, much pleased.

'I know it,' he replied with conviction. 'That woman is utterly incapable of saying anything she does not think, but she sometimes gives her opinion with horrible brutality.'

'I rather like that.'

'Do you?'

'Yes. It is good medicine.'

'Then you have only been a spectator, and never the patient!' Logotheti laughed.

'Perhaps. Tell me all about Madame Bonanni.'

'All about her?' Logotheti smiled oddly. 'Well, she is a great artist, perhaps the greatest living soprano, though she is getting old. You can see that. Let me see, what else? She is very frank, I have told you that. And she is charitable. She gives away a great deal. She has a great many friends, of whom I call myself one, and we are all sincerely attached to her. I cannot think of anything else to tell you about her.'

'She said she was born a peasant,' observed Margaret who wished to hear more.

'Oh yes!' Logotheti laughed. 'There is no doubt of that! Besides, she is proud of it.'

'She was married at seventeen, too.'

'They all marry,' answered Logotheti vaguely, 'and their husbands disappear, by some law of nature we do not understand--absorbed into the elements, evaporated, drawn up into the clouds like moisture. One might write an interesting essay on the husbands of prima donnas and great actresses. What becomes of them? We know whence they come, for they are often impecunious gentlemen, but where do they go? There must be a limbo for them, somewhere, a place of departed husbands. Possibly they are all in lunatic asylums. The greater the singer, or the actress, the more certain it is that she has been married and that her husband has disappeared! It is very mysterious.'

'Very!' Margaret was rather amused by his talk.

'Have you lived long in Paris?' he asked, suddenly changing the subject.

'We live in Versailles. I come in for my lessons.'

Without asking many direct questions Logotheti managed to find out a good deal about Margaret during the next quarter of an hour. She was not suspicious of a man who showed no inclination to be familiar or to make blatant compliments to her, and she told him that her father and mother were dead and that she lived with Mrs. Rushmore and saw many interesting people, most of whom he seemed to know. He, on his part, told her many things about Versailles which she did not know, and she soon saw that he was a man of varied tastes and wide information. She wondered why he wore such a big turquoise ring and why he had such a wonderful waistcoat, such a superlative tie, such an amazing shirt and such a frightfully expensive pin. But it was not the first time in her life that she had met an otherwise intelligent man who made the mistake of over-dressing, and her first prejudice against him began to disappear. She even admitted to herself that he had a certain charm of manner which she liked, a mingling of reserve and frankness, or repose and strength, the qualities which appeal so strongly to most women. If only his voice had not that disagreeable oiliness! After all, that was what she liked least. He spoke French with wonderful fluency, but he abstained from making the tiresome compliments which so many Frenchmen reel off even at first acquaintance. He had really beautiful almond-shaped eyes, but he never once turned them to her with that languishing look which young men with almond eyes seem to think quite irresistible. Surely, all this was in his favour.

After being gone about half an hour, Madame Bonanni came back, her Juno-like figure clad in a very pale green tea-gown, very open at the throat, and her thick hair was smoothed in great curved surfaces which were certainly supported by cushions underneath them. Her solid arms were bare to the elbows, and the green sleeves hung almost to her feet. Her face was rouged and there were artificial shadows under her eyes. Round her neck she wore a single string of pearls as big as olives, and her fingers were covered with all sorts of rings.

'Now you may look at me,' she said, with a gay laugh.

'I see a star of the first magnitude,' Logotheti answered gravely.

Margaret bit her lip to keep from laughing, but Madame Bonanni laughed herself, very good-naturedly, though she understood.

'I detest this man!' she cried, turning to Margaret. 'I don't know why I ask him to breakfast.'

'Because you cannot live without me, I suppose,' suggested Logotheti.

'I hate Greeks!' screamed the prima donna, still laughing. 'Why are you a Greek?'

'Doubtless by a mistake of my father's, dear lady; quite unpardonable since you are displeased! If he had lived, he certainly would have rectified it to please you, but the Turks killed him when I was a baby in arms; and that was before you were born.'

'Of course it was,' answered Madame Bonanni, who must have been just about to be married at that time. 'But that is no reason why we should stand here starving to death while you chatter.'

Thereupon she put her arm through Margaret's and led her away at a brisk pace, Logotheti following at a little distance and contemplating the young girl's moving figure with the satisfaction that only an Oriental feels in youthful womanly beauty. It was long since he had seen any sight that pleased him as well, for his artistic sense was fastidious in the highest degree where the things of daily life were not concerned. He might indeed wear waistcoats that inspired terror and jewellery that dazzled the ordinary eye, but there were few men in Paris who were better judges of a picture, a statue, an intaglio, or a woman.

In a few moments the three were seated at a carved and polished table overloaded with silver and cut glass, one on each side of Madame Bonanni. Three other places were set, but no one appeared to fill them. The cheerful servant with the moustache was arrayed in a neat frock coat and a white satin tie, and he smiled perpetually.

'I adore plover's eggs!' cried Madame Bonanni, as he set a plate before her containing three tiny porcelain bowls, in each of which a little boiled plover's egg lay buried in jelly.

It was evident that she was speaking the truth, for they disappeared in an instant, and were followed by a bisque of shrimps of the most creamy composition.

'It is my passion!' she said.

She took her spoon in her hand, but appeared to hesitate, for she glanced first at Margaret, then down at her green tea-gown, and then at Margaret again. At last she seemed to make up her mind, and quickly unfolding the damask napkin she tied it round her neck in a solid knot. The stiff points stood out on each side behind her ears. She emitted a sigh of satisfaction and went to work at the soup. Margaret pretended to see nothing and made an indifferent remark to Logotheti.

Madame Bonanni made a good deal of noise, finally tipping up her plate and scraping out the contents to the last drop.

'Ah!' she exclaimed with immense satisfaction. 'That was good!'

'Perfect,' assented Logotheti, who ate delicately and noiselessly, as Orientals do.

'Delicious! said Margaret, who was hungry.

'I taught my cook the real way to make it,' Madame Bonanni said. 'I am a good cook, a very good cook! I always did the cooking at home before I came to Paris to study, because my mother was not able to stand long. One of the farm horses had kicked her and broken her leg and she was always lame after that. Well?' she asked suddenly turning to the cheerful servant. 'Is that all we are to have to-day? I am dying of hunger!'

A marvellous salmon trout made its appearance a moment later.

'Oh yes!' exclaimed the prima donna. 'I am fond of eating! You may laugh at me if you like, Logotheti. I am perfectly indifferent!'

And she was. She did all sorts of things that surprised Margaret, and when a dish of ortolans with a rich brown sauce was put before her, she deliberately discarded her knife and fork altogether and ate with her hands. By way of terminating the operation, she stuck every finger of each hand into her mouth as far as it would go, licked all ten thoroughly, and then looked at them critically before drying them on her napkin. By this time Margaret was past being surprised at anything.

'Logotheti says that in the East they all eat with their fingers,' the singer observed.

'It is much cleaner,' Logotheti answered imperturbably.

Margaret uttered an involuntary exclamation of surprise.

'Of course it is!' he exclaimed. 'I know who washes my fingers. I don't know who washes the forks, nor who used them last. If one stopped to think about it, one would never use a fork or a spoon that was not one's own or washed by oneself. I am sure that every sort of disease is caught from other people's forks and spoons.'

'What a horrible idea!' exclaimed Margaret with disgust. 'I shall never want to eat at a hotel or a restaurant again.'

'You will forget it,' replied Logotheti reassuringly. 'Civilisation makes us forget a great many little things of the sort, I assure you!'

'But is there no way of protecting oneself?' Margaret asked.

'It is absurd!' cried Madame Bonanni. 'I don't believe in germs and microbes and such silly things! If they exist we are full of them, and I have no doubt they do us good.'

'It would be just as easy to boil the forks and spoons for ten minutes in clean water, after they are washed,' observed Logotheti. 'But after all, fingers are safer.'

'Things taste better with fingers,' said Madame Bonanni thoughtfully.

'In the East,' Logotheti answered, 'people pour water on their hands after each course. Why don't you try that?'

'I wash my hands afterwards; it is less trouble.'

Logotheti laughed, but Margaret was disgusted, and did not even smile. Madame Bonanni's proceedings had made an impression on her which it would be hard to forget, and she sat silent for a while, not tasting what followed.

'Logotheti,' said Madame Bonanni later, with her mouth full of strawberries and cream, 'you must do something for me.'

'An investment, dear lady? I suppose you want some of the bonds of the new electric road, don't you? They are not to be had, but of course you shall have them at once. Or else you have decided to give your whole fortune to an eccentric charity. Is that it?'

'No,' answered the singer, swallowing. 'This charming young lady--what is your name, my dear? I have forgotten it twenty times this morning!'

'Donne. Margaret Donne.'

'This charming Miss Donne sings, Logotheti.'

'So I gathered while we were talking.'

'No, you didn't! You gathered no such thing! She told you that she took lessons, perhaps. But I tell you that she sings. It is quite different.'

Madame Bonanni pushed away her plate, planted her large white elbows on the table and looked thoughtfully at Margaret. Logotheti looked at the young girl, too, for he knew very well what his old friend meant by the simple statement, slightly emphasised.

'Ah!' he ejaculated. 'I understand. I am at your service.'

'What is it?' asked Margaret, blushing a little and turning from one to the other.

'Logotheti knows everybody,' answered Madame Bonanni. 'He is rich, immensely rich, fabulously rich, my dear. He is in the "high finance," in fact. It is disgusting, how rich he is, but it is sometimes useful. He wants a theatre, a newspaper; he buys it and does what he likes with it. It makes no difference to him, for he always sells it again for more than he gave for it, and besides, it amuses him. You would not think it, but Logotheti is often dreadfully bored.'

'Very often,' assented the Greek, 'but never when I am with you.'

'Ah, bah! You say that! But why should I care? You always do what I want.'


'And out of pure friendship, too.'

'The purest!' Logotheti uttered the two words with profound conviction.

'I never could induce this creature to make love to me,' cried Madame Bonanni, turning to Margaret with a laugh. 'It is incredible! And yet I love him--almost as well as plover's eggs! It is true that if he made love to me, I should have him turned out of the house. But that makes no difference. It is one of the disappointments of my life that he doesn't!'

'What I admire next to your genius, is your logic, dear lady,' said Logotheti.

'Precisely. Now before you have your coffee you will give me your word of honour that Miss Donne shall have a triumph and an ovation at her _debut_, and an engagement to sing next season at the Opera.'

'Really----' Margaret tried to protest.

'You know nothing about business,' interrupted Madame Bonanni. 'You are nothing but a child! These things are done in this way. Logotheti, give me your word of honour.'

'Are you sure of the voice?' asked the Greek quietly.

'As sure as I am of my own.'

'Very well. I give you my word. It is done.'

'Good. I hate you, Logotheti, because you are so cautious, but you always do what you promise. You may have your coffee now! What name are you going to take, my dear?' she asked, turning to Margaret, who felt very uncomfortable. 'The name is very important, you know, even when one has your genius.'

'My genius!' exclaimed the young girl in confusion.

'I know what I am talking about,' answered Madame Bonanni in a matter-of-fact tone. 'You will get up on the morning of your _debut as little Miss Donne, nobody! You will go to bed as the great new soprano, famous! That is what you will do. Now don't talk, but let me give you a name, and we will drink your health to it in a drop of that old white Chartreuse. You like that old white Chartreuse, Logotheti. You shall have none till you have found a name for Miss Donne.'

'May I not keep my own?' Margaret asked timidly.

'No. It is an absurd name for the stage, my dear. All the people would make jokes about it. Of course you must be either Italian, or French, or German, or Hungarian, or Spanish. There is no great Italian soprano just now. I advise you to be an Italian. You are Signorina--Signorina what? Logotheti, do make haste! You know Italian.'

'May I ask where you were born, Miss Donne?' inquired Logotheti.

'In Oxford. But what has that to do with it?'

'Translate into Italian: ox, "bove," ford, "guado." No, that won't do'

'Certainly not!' cried Madame Bonanni. 'Guado--guano! Fancy! Try again. Think of a pretty Italian name. It must be very easy! Take an historical name, the name of a great family. Those people never object.'

'Cordova is a fine name,' observed Logotheti. 'She may just as well be Spanish, after all. Margarita da Cordova. That sounds rather well.'

'Yes. Do you like it, my dear?' asked Madame Bonanni.

'But I don't know a word of Spanish----'

'What in the world has that to do with it? It is a good name. You may have your Chartreuse, Logotheti. Margarita da Cordova, the great Spanish soprano! Your health! You were born in the little town of Boveguado in Andalusia.'

'Your father was the famous contrabandier Ramon da Cordova, who sang like an angel and played the guitar better than any one in Spain.'

'Was there ever such a man?'

'No, of course not! And besides, he was stabbed in a love affair when you were a baby, so that it does not matter. You ought to be able to make something out of that for the papers, Logotheti. Carmen, don't you know? Heavens, how romantic!'

Margaret had a vague idea that she was dreaming, that Madame Bonanni and Logotheti were not real people, and that she was going to waken in a few minutes. The heavy, middle-aged woman with the good-natured face and the painted cheeks could not possibly be the tragic Juliet, the terrible Tosca, the poor, mad, fluttering Lucia, whose marvellous voice had so often thrilled the young girl to the heart, in Paris and in London. It was either a dream or a cruel deception. Her own words sounded far away and unsteady when she was at last allowed to speak.

'I am sure I cannot sing in public in less than a year,' she said. 'You are very kind, but you are exaggerating my talent. I could never get through the whole opera well enough.'

Madame Bonanni looked at her curiously for a moment, not at all certain that she was in earnest; but she saw that Margaret meant what she said. There was no mistaking the troubled look in the girl's eyes.

'I suppose you are not afraid to come here and sing before an impresario and three or four musicians, are you?' inquired the singer.

'No!' cried Margaret. 'But that is different.'

'Did you think that any manager would engage you, even for one night, merely on my word, my child? You will have to show what you can do. But I can tell you one thing, little Miss Donne!' A great, good-natured laugh rolled out before Madame Bonanni proceeded to state the one thing she could tell. 'When you have sung the waltz song in _Romeo and Juliet_, and the duo in the fifth act, to four or five of the men who make a living out of us artists, you will be surprised at what happens afterwards! Those people will not risk their money for your handsome eyes, my dear! And they know their business, don't they, Logotheti?'

He answered by speaking directly to Margaret.

'I think,' he said quietly, 'that you can have confidence in Madame Bonanni's opinion.'

'Listen to me,' said the prima donna--suddenly, and for some unknown reason, rubbing all the rouge off her right cheek with the corner of her napkin and then inspecting curiously the colour that adhered to the linen--'listen to me! I sing day after to-morrow, for the last time before going to London. Come to my dressing-room after the second act. I will have Schreiermeyer there, and we will make an appointment for the next day, and settle the matter at once. It's understood, isn't it?'

Margaret was delighted, for Logotheti's quiet words had reassured her a little. Madame Bonanni rose suddenly, untying her napkin from her neck as she got up, and throwing it on the floor behind her. Before she had reached the door she yawned portentously.

'I always go to sleep when I have eaten,' she said. 'Find a cab for little Miss Donne, Logotheti--for the famous Senorita da Cordova!' She laughed sleepily, and waved her hand to Margaret.

'I don't know how to thank you,' the young girl began, but before she got any further Madame Bonanni had disappeared.

A few moments later Margaret and Logotheti were in the street. The noonday air was warm and bright and she drew in deep breaths of it, as she had done in the morning. Logotheti looked at her from under the brim of his Panama hat.

'We shall find a cab in a minute,' he said, in an indifferent tone.


They walked a few steps in silence.

'I hope you don't really mean to do what Madame Bonanni asked of you,' Margaret said, rather awkwardly. 'I mean, about my _debut_, if it really comes off.'

Logotheti laughed lightly.

'She always talks in that way,' he said. 'She thinks I can do anything, but as a matter of fact I have no influence to speak of, and money has nothing to do with an artist's success. I shall certainly be there on your first night, and you will not object to my splitting my gloves in applauding you?'

'Oh no!' Margaret laughed, too. 'You are welcome to do that! There is a cab.'

She held up her parasol to attract the driver's attention, and Logotheti made a few steps forward and called him.

'Where shall I tell the man to take you?' Logotheti asked, as she got in.

'To the Saint Lazare station, please. Thank you very much!'

She smiled pleasantly and nodded as she drove away. He stood still a moment on the pavement, looking after her, and then turned in the opposite direction, lighting a cigarette as he walked.

He was a Greek, and an educated one, and as he sauntered along on the shady side of the Avenue Hoche, the cigarette twitched oddly in his mouth, as if he were talking to himself. From four and twenty centuries away, in the most modern city of the world, broken lines of an ode of Anacreon came ringing to his ears, and his lips formed the words noiselessly:

'I wish I were the zone that lies
Warm to thy breast, and feels its sighs ...
Oh, anything that touches thee!
Nay, sandals for those fairy feet ...'

That, at least, is the English for it, according to Thomas Moore.

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Fair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 4 Fair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 4

Fair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 4
CHAPTER IVMargaret was not quite sure how she could find her way to Madame Bonanni's dressing-room at the Opera, but she had no intention of missing the appointment. The most natural and easy way of managing matters would be to ask her teacher to go with her, and she could then spend the night at the latter's house. She accordingly stopped there before she went to the station. The elderly artist burst into tears on hearing the result of the interview with Madame Bonanni, and fell upon Margaret's neck. 'I knew it,' she said. 'I was sure of it, but I

Fair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 2 Fair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 2

Fair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 2
CHAPTER IIMargaret went alone to the house of the famous singer, for her teacher knew by experience that it was better not to be present on such occasions. Margaret had not even a maid with her, for except in some queer neighbourhoods Paris is as safe as any city in the world, and it never occurred to her that she could need protection at her age. If she should ever have any annoyance she could call a policeman, but she had a firm and well-founded conviction that if a young woman looked straight before her and held her head up as