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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 4
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Fair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 4 Post by :Kaiser_Soze Category :Long Stories Author :F. Marion Crawford Date :May 2011 Read :1412

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Fair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 4

CHAPTER IV

Margaret 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 did not dare to tell you so!'

Margaret was very happy, but she was a little nervous about her frock and wondered whether tears stained, as sea water does. The old singer was of a very different type from Madame Bonanni, and had never enjoyed such supremacy as the latter, even for a few months. But she had been admired for her perfect method, her good acting, and her agreeable voice, and for having made the most of what nature had given her; and when she had retired from the stage comparatively young, as the wife of the excellent Monsieur Durand, she had already acquired a great reputation as a model for young singers, and she soon consented to give lessons. Unfortunately, Monsieur Durand had made ducks and drakes of her earnings in a few years, by carefully mis-investing every penny she possessed; but as he had then lost no time in destroying himself by the over-use of antidotes to despair, such as absinthe, his widow had soon re-established the equilibrium of her finances by hard work and was at the present time one of the most famous teachers of singers for the stage. Madame Durand was a Neapolitan by birth and had been known to modest fame on the stage as Signora De Rosa, that being her real name; for Italian singers seem to be the only ones who do not care for high-sounding pseudonyms. She was a voluble little person, over-flowing with easy feeling which made her momentarily intensely happy, miserable, or angry, as the case might be. Whichever it might be, she generally shed abundant tears.

Margaret went back to Versailles feeling very happy, but determined to say nothing of what had happened except to Mrs. Rushmore, who need only know that Madame Bonanni had spoken in an encouraging way and wished to see her at the theatre. For the girl herself found it hard to believe half of what the prima donna had told her, and was far from believing that she was on the eve of signing her first engagement.

Madame Bonanni had breakfasted at half-past eleven, but Mrs. Rushmore lunched at half-past one, and Margaret found her at table with Lushington and three or four other people who had dropped in. There was an English officer who had got his Victoria Cross in South Africa and was on his way to India, with a few days to spare by the way; there was a middle-aged French portrait-painter who had caressing ways and an immense reputation; there was a woman of the world whose husband was an Austrian and was in the diplomatic service; and there was a young archaeologist just from Crete, who foregathered with Lushington.

They were at the end of luncheon when Margaret came in, they were sipping fine wine from very thin glasses, they were all saying their second-best things, because each one was afraid that if he said his very best before dinner one of the others would steal it; and Mrs. Rushmore was in her element.

Margaret came in with her hat on and sat down in her place, which was opposite Mrs. Rushmore. The men subsided again into their chairs and looked at her. Lushington was next to her, but she smiled at the others first, nodding quietly and answering their greetings.

'You seem pleased,' Lushington said, when he saw that she would hear him.

'Do I?' She smiled again.

'That sort of answer always means a secret,' Lushington replied. 'Happiness for one, don't you know?'

'By the way,' asked the English officer on her other side, 'was not your father the famous army coach?'

'No,' Margaret replied. 'I'm often asked that.'

'What is an army coach?' inquired the French painter, who spoke some English. 'Is it not an ambulance? But I do not understand.'

Mrs. Rushmore began to explain in an undertone.

'Miss Donne's father was an Oxford don,' observed Lushington, rather stiffly.

At this quite unintentional pun the French painter laughed so much that every one turned and looked at him. He had once painted a famous man in Oxford, and knew what a don was.

'Make the next one in Greek,' said Margaret to Lushington, with a smile.

'There are some very bad puns in Aristophanes,' observed the archaeologist thoughtfully. 'Why don't you go to Crete?' he inquired very suddenly of Mrs. Rushmore.

Mrs. Rushmore, who did not happen to have heard of the recent discoveries yet, felt a little as if the young man had asked her why she did not go to Jericho. But she concealed her feelings, being quite sure that no offence to her dignity was meant.

'It is so far,' she answered with a vague smile.

'It's a beastly hole,' observed the soldier. 'I was there when that row was going on.'

'The discoveries have all been made since then,' answered the archaeologist, who could think of nothing else. 'You have no idea what those paintings are,' he continued, talking to the table. 'I have been there several weeks and I'm going back next month. Logotheti is going to take a party of us in his big yacht.'

'Who is Logotheti?' inquired Margaret, with great calm.

'A financier,' put in Lushington.

'A millionaire,' said the artist. 'I have painted his portrait.'

'He seems to be interested in discoveries,' Margaret said to the archaeologist. 'I suppose you know him very well?'

'Oh yes! He is a most interesting person, a Greek of Constantinople by birth, but a real Greek at heart, who knows his own literature, and loves his country, and spends immense sums in helping archaeology. He really cares for nothing but art! Finance amuses him now and then for a while, and he has been tremendously lucky. They consider him one of the important men in the money market, don't they?'

The question was directed to the French artist.

'Certainly they do!' replied the latter, with alacrity. 'I have painted his portrait.'

'I should like to know him,' said Mrs. Rushmore.

'He is quite delightful,' the woman of the world chimed in. 'Quite the most amusing man I know!'

'You know him, too?' Mrs. Rushmore asked.

'Everybody knows Logotheti!' answered the other.

'You must really bring him,' said Mrs. Rushmore, in a general way, to everybody.

'I am sure he will be enchanted!' cried the archaeologist. 'I am dining with him to-night, and if you will allow me I'll bring him to-morrow afternoon.'

'You seem very sure that he will come,' Margaret said.

'But why should he not? Every one is glad to come to Mrs. Rushmore's house.'

This was an unanswerable form of complimentary argument. Margaret reflected on that strange law by which, when we have just heard for the first time of a fact or a person, we are sure to come across it, or him, again, within the next twenty-four hours. She did not believe that Logotheti could be found at short notice and introduced to new acquaintances so easily as the young scholar seemed to think; but she made up her mind, if he came at all, that she would prevent him from talking about their meeting at Madame Bonanni's, which she wished to avoid mentioning for the present. That would be easy enough, for a man of his tact would understand the slightest sign, and behave as if he had not met her before.

In the afternoon she was alone with Lushington again. He was not at all in an aggressive mood; indeed, he seemed rather depressed. They walked slowly under the oaks and elms.

'What is the matter?' Margaret asked gently, after a silence.

'I have been thinking a great deal about you,' he answered.

'The thought seems to make you sad!' Margaret laughed, for she was very happy.

'Yes. It does,' he answered, with a sigh that certainly was not affected.

'But why?' she asked, growing grave at once.

'There is no reason why I should not tell you. After all, we know each other too well to apologise for saying what we think. Don't we?'

'I hope so,' Margaret answered, wondering what he was going to say.

'But then,' said Lushington disconsolately, 'I am perfectly sure that nothing I can say can have the slightest effect.'

'Who knows?' The young girl's lids drooped a little and then opened again.

'You know.' He spoke gravely and with regret.

She tried to laugh.

'I wish I did! But what is it? There can be no harm in saying it!'

'You have made up your mind to be an opera-singer,' Lushington answered. 'You have a beautiful voice, you have talent, you have been well taught. You will succeed.'

He had never said as much as that about her singing, and she was pleased. After many months of patient work, the acknowledgment of it seemed to be all coming in one day.

'You talk as if you were quite sure.'

'Yes. You will succeed. But there is another side to it. Shall you think me priggish and call me disagreeable if I tell you that it is no life for a woman brought up like you?'

Margaret had just acquired some insight into the existence of the class she meant to join, though by no means into the worst phase of it. She was sure that if she closed her eyes she should see Madame Bonanni vividly before her, and hear her talking to Logotheti, and smell the heavy air of the big room. She felt that she could not call Lushington a prig.

'I think I know what you mean,' she answered. 'But surely, an artist can lead her own life, especially if she is successful.'

'No,' Lushington answered, 'she cannot. That's just it.'

'How do you know?' Margaret asked, incredulously.

'I do know,' he said with emphasis. 'I assure you that I know. I have seen a great deal of operatic people. A few, and they are not generally the great ones, try to lead their own lives, as you put it, but they either don't succeed at all or else they make themselves so disagreeable to their fellow artists that life becomes a burden.'

'If they don't succeed, it's because they have no strength of character,' Margaret answered, 'and if they make themselves disagreeable, it's because they have no tact!'

'That settles it!' Lushington laughed drily. 'I had better not say anything more.'

'I did not mean to cut you short. I beg your pardon. Please go on, please!'

She turned to him as she said the last words, and there was in the word 'please' that one tone of hers which he could never resist. It is said that even lifeless things, like bridges and towers, are subject by nature to the vibration of a sympathetic note, and that the greatest buildings in the world would tremble, and shake, and rock and fall in ruins if that single musical sound were steadily produced near to them. We men cannot pretend to be harder of hearing and feeling than stocks and stones. The woman who loves, whether she herself knows it or not, has her call, that we answer as the wood-bird answers his mate, her sympathetic word and note at which we vibrate to our heart's core.

When Margaret said 'please' in a certain way, Lushington's free will seemed to retire from him suddenly, to contemplate his weakness from a little distance. When she said 'please go on,' he went on, and not only said what he had meant to say but a great deal more, too.

'It would bore you to know all about my existence,' he began, 'but as a critic and otherwise I happen to have been often in contact with theatrical people, especially opera-singers. I have at least one--er--one very dear friend amongst them.

'A man?' suggested Margaret.

'No. A woman--of a certain age. As I see her very often, I naturally see other singers, especially as she is very much liked by them. I only tell you that to explain why I know so much about them; and if I want to explain at all, it's only because I like you so much, and because I suppose that what I like most about you, next to yourself, is just that something which my dear old friend can never have. Do you understand?'

Lushington was certainly very shy as a rule, and most people would have said that he was very cold; but Margaret suddenly felt that there was a true and deep emotion behind his plain speech.

'You have been very fond of her,' she said gently.

He flushed almost before she had finished speaking; but he could not have been angry, for he smiled.

'Yes, I have always been very fond of her,' he answered, after a scarcely perceptible pause, 'and I always shall be. But she is old enough to be my mother.'

'I'm glad if it's really a friendship,' said Margaret; 'and only a friendship,' she added.

He turned his eyes to her rather slowly.

'I believe you really are glad,' he answered. 'Thank you. I'm very fond of you. I can't help it. I suppose I love you, and I have no business to--and sometimes you say things that touch me. That's all.

After this rather inexplicable speech he relapsed into silence. But there are silences of all sorts, as there is speech of all sorts. There are silences that set one's teeth on edge--it is always a relief to break them; and there are silences that are gentler, kinder, sweeter, more loving, more eloquent than any words, and which it is always a wrench to interrupt. Of these was the pause that followed now; but Margaret was asking herself what he meant by saying that he had no right to love her.

'Do you know what the hardest thing in my life is?' Lushington asked, suddenly rousing himself. 'It is the certainty that my friend can never have been and never can be at all like you in everything that appeals to me most. But it would be still worse--oh, infinitely worse!--to see you grow like her, by living amongst the same people. You will suffer if you do, and you will suffer if you cannot. That is why I dread the idea of your going on the stage.'

'But I really think I shall not change so much as you think, if I do,' Margaret said.

'You don't know the life,' Lushington answered rather sadly. 'All I can do is to tell you that it is not fit for you, or that you are not fit for it, because you are not by nature what most of them are, and please God you never will be.'

He spoke very earnestly, and another little silence followed, during which the two walked on.

'Please notice that I have not called you a prig for saying that,' said Margaret at last. 'And I have not thought you one either,' she added, before he could answer.

'You re very nice!' Lushington tried to laugh, but it was rather a failure.

'But of course you've no business to think me nice, have you?'

'None whatever.'

'Why not?'

It was not even curiosity, nor an idle inclination to flirt that made Margaret ask the question at last. She had never felt so strongly drawn to him as now.

He looked at her quietly, and answered without the least hesitation or shyness.

'I've no business to be in love with you, because I'm a fraud,' he said.

'A fraud! You? What in the world do you mean?'

Margaret was thoroughly surprised. This gifted, shy, youthful man who had fought his way to the front by his own talent and hard work, was of all people she knew the one with whom she least connected any idea of deception. He only nodded and looked at her.

'A fraud!' she exclaimed again. 'I suppose it's some sort of false modesty that makes you say that! You know that you are a very successful writer and that you have earned your success. Why do you try to make out----'

'I'm not trying to make out anything. I tell you the plain truth. I'm a fraud.'

'Nonsense!' Margaret was almost angry at his persistence.

'I would not tell you, if I did not care for you so much,' he answered. 'But as I do, and as you seem to like me a little, I should be an awful cad if I kept you in the dark any longer. You won't publish it on the housetops. I'm not Edmund Lushington at all.'

'You are not Edmund Lushington, the critic?' Margaret's mouth opened in surprise.

'I'm the critic all right,' he answered, with a faint smile. 'I'm the man that writes, the man you've heard of. But I'm not Lushington. It's an assumed name.'

'Oh!' Margaret seemed relieved. 'Is that all? Many people who write take other names.'

'But they are not generally known by them to their friends,' Lushington observed. 'That's where the fraud comes in, in my case. A man may sign his book Judas Iscariot or Peter the Great if he likes, provided he's known as Mr. Smith at home, if that's his real name.'

'Is your real name Smith?' Margaret asked. 'Is that why you changed it?'

Lushington could not help smiling.

'No. If I had been called Smith, I would have stuck to it. Smith is a very good, honest name. Most of the people who originally came by it made armour and were more or less artists. No! I wish I were a Smith, indeed I do! The name is frequent, not common, that's all.'

Margaret was puzzled, and looked at his face, as if she were thinking out the problem.

'No,' she said suddenly, and with decision. 'You are not a Jew. That's impossible!'

'I'm not a Jew.' He laughed this time. 'But I know several very interesting Jews, and I don't dislike them at all. I really should not mind being called Solomon Isaacs! I would not have changed the name either.'

'You might have been called Isidore Guggenheimer,' Margaret suggested, smiling.

'Well--that! For purposes of literature, it would not be practical.'

'You forget that you have not told me your real name yet. You see, if I should ever happen to think of you again, I'd rather not think of you under a pseudonym, unless it were in connection with your books.'

'That's the only way in which you are likely to think of me,' he answered. 'But if you really want to know, my first name is Thomas, diminutive Tom--plain Tom.'

'I like that much better than Edmund,' said Margaret, who had simple tastes. 'Is the other one as nice?'

'I don't know what you might think of it,' Lushington answered. 'It is neither common nor uncommon, and not at all striking, but I cannot tell you what it is. I'm sorry to make a mystery of it, for my father was nobody in particular, and I was nobody in particular until I was heard of as Lushington, the critic. And I've been Lushington so long that I'm used to it. I was called so at school and at Oxford.'

'As long ago as that!' Margaret again seemed relieved.

'Yes. Oh, I've done nothing disgraceful, nor my father either! It's not that. I cannot possibly explain, but it's the reason why I'm a fraud--as far as you are concerned.'

'Only as far as I am concerned?'

'Nobody else happens to matter. Mrs. Rushmore receives all sorts of interesting people, many of whom have played tricks with their names. Why should she care? Why should anybody care? We have all done the things we are known for, and we are not in love with Mrs. Rushmore, though she is a very agreeable woman! She wouldn't care to call me Tom, would she?'

'I don't know,' Margaret answered with a laugh. 'She might!'

'At all events, it's not necessary to tell her,' said Lushington.

'No. But suppose that I should not care to call you Tom either, and yet should wish to call you something, don't you know? That might happen.'

Lushington did not answer at once, and Margaret was a little displeased, for she had said more than she had ever meant to say to show him what she was beginning to feel. She held her head rather high as they walked on under the great trees, and her eyes sparkled coldly now and then.

She had known for a long time that he loved her, and to-day he had told her so, almost roughly; and for some time, also, she had understood that she was growing fond of him. But now that she held out her hand, metaphorically, he would not take it.

'I don't want to know your secret, if it is as important as that,' she said at last. 'A man who hides his real name so carefully must have some very good reason for doing it.'

She emphasised the words almost cruelly and looked straight before her, and her eyes sparkled again. His lips parted to make a quick retort, but he checked himself, and then spoke quietly.

'I have never done anything I am ashamed of,' he said.

'I don't think it's very nice to do what you are doing now,' Margaret retorted, coolly. 'It doesn't inspire confidence, you know.'

'Can't we part without quarrelling?'

'Oh, certainly! Do you mean to go away?'

'You leave me no choice. Shall we turn back to the house? It will sooner be over. I can leave before dinner. It will be easy to find an excuse.'

'Yes! Those proofs you have been talking of lately--your publishers--anything will do!'

Margaret was thoroughly angry with him and with herself by this time, and he was deeply hurt, and they turned and walked stiffly, with their noses in the air, as if they never meant to speak to each other again.

'It's very odd!' Margaret observed at last, as if she had made a discovery.

'What is very odd?'

'I never liked you as much as I did a quarter of an hour ago, and I never disliked you as much as I do now! Do you understand that?'

'Yes. You make it very clear. I never heard any thing put more plainly.'

'I'm glad of that. But it's very funny. I detest you just now, and yet, if you go away at once, I know I shall be sorry. On the whole, do you know?--you had better not leave to-night.'

Lushington turned sharply on her.

'Are you playing with me?' he asked, in an angry tone.

'No,' she answered with exasperating coolness, 'I don't think I am. Only, you are two people, you see. It confuses me. You are Mr. Lushington, and then, the next minute, you're--Tom. I hate Mr. Lushington. I believe I always did. I wish I might never see him again.'

'Oh indeed! How about Tom?'

'Tom is rather bearable than otherwise,' Margaret answered, laughing again. 'He knows that I think so, too, and it's no reason why he should be always trying to keep out of the way!'

'He has no right to be in the way.'

'Then he ought never to have come here. But since he has, I would rather have him stay.'

When she had thus explained herself with perfect frankness and made known her wishes, Margaret seemed to think that there was nothing more to be said. But Lushington thought otherwise.

'Why do you hate Mr. Lushington?' he asked.

'Because he is a fraud,' Margaret answered. 'As you have just told me that he is, you cannot possibly deny it, and you can't quarrel with me for not liking him. So there!'

All her good-humour had come back, the cold sparkle in her eyes had turned into afternoon sunshine, and she swung her closed parasol gently on one finger by its hook as she walked, nodding her head just perceptibly as if keeping time with it. She expected an answer, a laugh perhaps, or a retort; but nothing came. She glanced sideways at Lushington, thinking to meet his eyes, but they were watching the ground as he walked, a yard before his feet. She turned her head and looked at his face, and she realised that it was a little drawn, and had grown suddenly pale, and that there were dark shadows under his eyes which she had never seen before. The healthy, shy, rather too youthful mask was gone, and in its place she saw the features of a mature man who was quietly suffering a great deal. She fancied that he must often look as he did now, when he was alone.

'Could any one do anything to make it easier for you?' she asked softly, after a moment.

He looked up quickly in surprise, and then shook his head, without speaking.

'Because, if I could help you, I would,' she added.

'Thank you. I know you would,' He spoke with real gratitude, and the colour began to come back to his face. You see, it's not a thing that can be changed, or helped, or bettered. It's a condition from which I cannot escape, and I've got to live in it. It would have been easier if I had never met you, my dear Miss Donne!'

He straightened himself and put on something of the formality that had become a habit with him, as it easily does with shy men who feel much.

'Please don't call me Miss Donne,' Margaret said, very low.

'Margaret----' he paused on the syllables, as he almost whispered them. 'No!' he said, suddenly, as if angry with himself. 'That's silly! Don't make me do such things, please, or I shall hate myself! Nothing in the world can ever change what is, and I shall never have the right to put out my hand and ask you to marry me. The best we can do is to say good-bye, and I'll try to keep out of your way. Help me to do that, for it's the only help you can ever give me!'

'I don't believe it,' Margaret answered. 'We can always be friends, if we cannot be anything else.'

Lushington shook his head incredulously, but said nothing.

'Why not?' Margaret asked, clinging to her idea. 'Why can't we like each other, be very, very fond of each other, and meet often, and each help the other in life? I don't want to know your secret. I won't even call you Tom, as I want to, and you shall be as stiff and formal with me as you please. What do such things matter, if we really care? If we really trust one another, and know it? The main thing is to know, to be absolutely sure. Why do you wish to go away, just when I've found out how much I want you to stay? It's not right, and it's not kind! Indeed it's not!'

They had been walking very slowly, and now she stood still and faced him, waiting for his answer.

He looked steadily into her eyes as he spoke.

'I don't think I can stay,' he said slowly. 'You can't tear love up by the roots and plant it in a pot and call it friendship. If you try, something will happen. Excuse me if the simile sounds lyric, but I don't happen to think of a better one, on the spur of the moment. I'll behave all right before the others, but I had better go away to-morrow morning. The thing will only get worse if I keep on seeing you.'

Margaret heard the short, awkward sentences and knew what they cost him. She looked down and stuck the bright metal tip of her parasol into the thin dry mud of the macadamised road, grinding it in slowly, half round and half back, with both hands, and unconsciously wondering what made the earth so hard just in that place.

'I wish I were a man!' she said all at once, and the parasol bent dangerously as she gave it a particularly vicious twist, leaning upon it at the same time.

'It would certainly simplify matters for me, if you were,' said Lushington coldly.

She looked up with a hurt expression.

'Oh, please don't go back to that way of talking!' she said. 'It's bad enough, as it is! Don't you see how hard I am trying?'

'I'm sorry,' Lushington said. 'Don't pay any attention to what I say. I'm all over the place.'

He mumbled the words and turned away from her as he stood. She watched him, and desisted from digging holes in the ground. Then, as he did not look at her again she put out one hand rather shyly and touched his sleeve.

'Look at me,' she said. 'What is this for? What are we making ourselves miserable about? We care for each other a great deal, much more than I had any idea of this morning. Why should we say good-bye? I don't believe it's at all necessary, after all. You have got some silly, quixotic idea into your head, I'm sure. Tell me what it is, and let me judge for myself!'

'I can't,' he answered, in evident distress. 'You may find out what it is some day, but I cannot tell you. It's the one thing I couldn't say to anybody alive. If I did, I should deserve to be kicked out of decent society for ever!'

She saw the look of suffering in his face again, and she felt as if she were going to cry, out of sympathy.

'Of course,' she faltered, 'if it would be--what you call dishonourable--to tell----'

'Yes. It would be dishonourable to tell.'

There was a little silence.

'All I can hope,' he continued presently, 'is that you won't believe it's anything I've done myself.'

'Indeed, indeed I don't. I never could!'

She held out her hand and he took it gladly, and kept it in his for a moment; then he dropped it of his own accord, before she had made the least motion to take it back.

They walked on without speaking again for a long time, and without wishing to speak. When they were in sight of Mrs. Rushmore's gate Margaret broke the silence at last.

'Do you mean to take an early train to-morrow morning?' she asked.

'Nine o'clock, I think,' he answered.

There was another little pause, and again Margaret spoke, but very low, this time.

'I shall be in the garden at half-past eight--to say good-bye.'

'Yes,' Lushington answered. 'Thank you,' he added after a moment.

They were side by side, very near together as they walked, and her left hand hung down close to his right. He caught her fingers suddenly, and they pressed his, and parted from them instantly.

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CHAPTER IIIThe 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
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