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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 7
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Fair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 7 Post by :Amber_Lowery Category :Long Stories Author :F. Marion Crawford Date :May 2011 Read :1652

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Fair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 7

CHAPTER VII

Constantine Logotheti had at least two reasons for not going out to Versailles as soon as Mrs. Rushmore signified her desire to know him. In the first place he was 'somebody,' and an important part of being 'somebody' is to keep the fact well before the eyes of other people. He was altogether too great a personage to be at the beck and call of every one who wanted to know him. Secondly, he did not wish Margaret to think that he was running after her, for the very good reason that he meant to do so with the least possible delay.

Lushington, who was really both sensitive and imaginative, used to tell Margaret that he was a realist. Logotheti, who was by nature, talent and education a thorough materialist, loved to believe that he possessed both a rich imagination and the gift of true sentiment.

Margaret had delighted him at first sight, though he was hard to please, and though she was not a great beauty. She appealed directly to that love of life for its own sake which was always the strength, the genius and the snare of the Greek people, and which is not extinct in their modern descendants. Logotheti certainly had plenty of it, and his first impression, when he had met Margaret Donne, was that he had met his natural mate. There was nothing in the very least psychological about the sensation, and yet it was not the result of a purely physical attraction. It brought with it a satisfaction of artistic taste that was an unmarred pleasure in itself.

True art has gone much further in deifying humanity than in humanising divinity. The Hermes of Olympia is a man made into a god; no Christian artist has ever done a tenth as well in presenting the image of God made Man. When imagination soars towards an invisible world it loses love of life as it flies higher, till it ends in glorifying death as the only means of reaching heaven; and in doing that it has often descended to a gross realism that would have revolted the Greeks--to the materialism of anatomical preparations that make one think of the dissecting-room, if one has ever been there.

Love of genuine art is the best sort of love of life, and the really great artists have always been tremendously vital creatures. So-called artistic people who are sickly or merely under-vitalised generally go astray after strange gods; or, at the best, they admire works of art for the sake of certain pleasing, or sad, or even unhealthy associations which these call up.

Logotheti came of a race which, through being temporarily isolated from modern progress, has not grown old with it. For it seems pretty sure that progress means, with many other things, the survival of the unfit and the transmission of unfitness to a generation of old babies; but where men are not disinfected, sterilised, fed on preserved carrion and treated with hypodermics from the cradle to the grave, the good old law of nature holds its own and the weak ones die young, while the strong fight for life and are very much alive while they live.

Such people, when transplanted from what we call a half-barbarous state to live amongst us, never feel as we do, and when they are roused to action their deeds are not of the sort which our wives, our mothers-in-law and the clergy expect us to approve. It does not follow that they are villains, though they may occasionally kill some one in a fit of anger, or carry off by force the women they fall in love with; for such doings probably seem quite natural in their own country, and after all they cannot be expected to know more about right and wrong than their papas and mammas taught them when they were little things.

The object of this long-winded digression is not to excite sympathy on behalf of Logotheti, but to forestall surprise at some of the things he did when he had convinced himself that of all the women he had ever met, Margaret Donne was the one that suited him best, and that she must be his at any cost and at any risk.

The conviction was almost formed at the first meeting, and took full possession of him when he met her again, and she seemed glad to see him. By this time she had no reason for concealing from Mrs. Rushmore that she had seen him at Madame Bonanni's, and she held out her hand with a frank smile. It was on a Sunday afternoon and there were a number of lions on the lawn, and half a dozen women of the world. Logotheti seemed to know more than half the people present, which is rather unusual in Paris, and most of them treated him with the rather fawning deference accorded by society to the superior claims of wealth over good blood.

The Greek smiled pleasantly and reflected that the nobility of the Fanar, which goes back to the Byzantine Empire, is as good as any in France, and even less virtuous. He by no means despised his wealth, and he continually employed his excellent faculties in multiplying it; but in his semi-barbarous heart he was an aristocrat and was quietly amused when people whose real names seemed to have been selected from a list of Rhine wines took titles which emanated from the Vatican, or when plain Monsieur Dubois turned himself into 'le comte du Bois de Vincennes'. Yet since few people seemed to know anything about Leo the Isaurian, under whom his direct ancestor had held office as treasurer and had eventually had his eyes put out for his pains, Logotheti was quite willing to be treated with deference for the sake of the more tangible advantages of present fortune. In Mrs. Rushmore's garden of celebrities, he at once took his place as a rare bird.

He crossed the lawn beside Margaret, indeed, with the air and assurance of a magnificent peacock. He was perhaps a shade less over-dressed than when she had seen him last, but there was an astonishing lustre about everything he wore, and even his almond-shaped eyes were bright almost to vulgarity; but though he tired the sight, as a peacock does in the sun, it was impossible not to watch him.

'What a handsome man Logotheti is!' exclaimed a Roumanian poetess, who was there.

'What an awful cad!' observed a fastidious young American to the English officer who was still on his way to India, and was very comfortable at Mrs. Rushmore's.

The Englishman looked at Logotheti attentively for nearly half a minute before he answered.

'No,' he said quietly. 'That man is not a cad, he is simply a rich Oriental, dressed up in European clothes. I've met that sort before, and they are sometimes nasty customers. That fellow is as strong as a horse and as quick as a cat.'

Meanwhile the Greek and Margaret reached a seat near the little pond and sat down. She did not know that he had watched every one of her movements with as much delight as if Psyche, made whole and alive, had been walking beside him. He had not seemed to look at her at all, and he did not begin the conversation by making her compliments.

'I should have left a card on Mrs. Rushmore the day after I met you,' he began in a rather apologetic tone, 'but I was not quite sure that she knew about your visit to our friend, and she might have asked who I was and where you had met me. Besides, as she is an American, she would have thought I was trying to scrape acquaintance.'

'Hardly that. But you did quite right,' Margaret answered. 'Thank you.'

He was tactful. She leaned back a little in the corner of the seat and looked at him with an air of curiosity, wondering why everything he had said and done so far had pleased her so much better than his appearance. She was always expecting him to say something blatant or to do something vulgar, mainly because he wore such phenomenal ties and such gorgeous pins. To-day he displayed a ruby of astonishing size and startling colour. She was sure that it must be real, because he was so rich, but she had never known that rubies could be so big except in a fairy story. The tie was knitted of the palest mauve, shot with green and gold threads.

'I have seen Schreiermeyer,' he said. 'Is there to be any secret about your _debut_?'

'None whatever! But I have said nothing about it, and none of the people here seem to have found it out yet.'

'So much the better. In everything connected with the theatre I believe it is a mistake to try and excite interest before the event. What is said beforehand is rarely said afterwards. You can be sure that Schreiermeyer will say nothing till the time comes, and if Madame Bonanni talks about you to her friends in London, nobody will believe she is in earnest.'

'But she is so outspoken,' Margaret objected.

'Yes, but no one could possibly understand that a prima donna just on the edge of decline could possibly wish to advertise a rising light. It is hardly human!'

'I think she is the most good-natured woman I ever knew,' said Margaret with conviction.

'She has a heart of gold. Her only trouble in life is that she has too much of it! There is enough for everybody. She has always had far too much for one.'

Logotheti smiled at his own expression.

'Perhaps that is better than having no heart at all,' Margaret answered, not quite realising how the words might have been misunderstood.

'The heart is a convenient and elastic organ,' observed Logotheti. 'It does almost everything. It sinks, it swells, it falls, it leaps, it stands still, it quivers, it gets into one's throat and it breaks; but it goes on beating all the time with more or less regularity, just as the violin clown scrapes his fiddle while he turns somersaults, sticks out his tongue, sits down with frightful suddenness and tumbles in and out of his white hat.'

He talked to amuse her and occupy her while he looked at her, studying her lines, as a yacht expert studies those of a new and beautiful model; yet he knew so well how to glance and look away, and glance again, that she was not at all aware of what he was really doing. She laughed a little at what he said.

'Where did you learn to speak English so well?' she asked.

'Languages do not count nowadays,' he answered carelessly. 'Any Levantine in Smyrna can speak a dozen, like a native. Have you never been in the East?'

'No.'

'Should you like to go to Greece?'

'Of course I should.'

'Then come! I am going to take a party in my yacht next month. It will give me the greatest pleasure if you and Mrs. Rushmore will come with us.'

Margaret laughed.

'You forget that I am a real artist, with a real engagement!' she answered.

'Yes, I forgot that. I wanted to! I can make Schreiermeyer forget it, too, if you will come. I'll hypnotise him. Will you authorise me?'

He smiled pleasantly but his long eyes were quite grave. Margaret supposed that it would be absurd to suspect anything but chaff in his proposal, and yet she felt an odd conviction that he meant what he said. Only vain women are easily mistaken about such things. Margaret turned the point with another little laugh.

'If you put him to sleep he will hibernate, like a dormouse,' she said. 'It will take a whole year to wake him up!'

'I don't think so, but what if it did?'

'I should be a year older, and I am not too young as it is! I'm twenty-two.'

'It's only in Constantinople that they are so particular about age,' laughed the Greek. 'After seventeen the price goes down very fast.'

'Really?' Margaret was amused. 'What do you suppose I should be worth in Turkey?'

Logotheti looked at her gravely and seemed to be estimating her value.

'If you were seventeen, you would be worth a good thousand pounds,' he said presently, 'and at least three hundred more for your singing.'

'Is that all, for my voice?' She could not help laughing. 'And at twenty-two, what should I sell for?'

'I doubt whether any one would give much more than eight hundred for you,' answered Logotheti with perfect gravity. 'That's a big price, you know. In Persia they give less. I knew a Persian ambassador, for instance, who got a very handsome wife for four hundred and fifty.'

'Are you in earnest?' asked Margaret. 'Do you mean to say that you could just go out and buy yourself a wife in the market in Constantinople?'

'I could not, because I am a Christian. The market exists in a quiet place where Europeans never find it. You see all the Circassians in Turkey live by stealing horses and selling their daughters. They are a noble race, the Circassians! The girls are brought up with the idea, and they rarely dislike it at all.'

'I never heard of such things!'

'No. The East is very interesting. Will you come? I'll take you wherever you like. We will leave the archaeologists in Crete and go on to Constantinople. It will be the most beautiful season on the Bosphorus, you know, and after that we will go along the southern shore of the Black Sea to Samsoun, and Kerasund, and Trebizond, and round by the Crimea. There are wonderful towns on the shores of the Black Sea which hardly any European ever sees. I'm sure you would like them, just as I do.'

'I am sure I should.'

'You love beautiful things, don't you?'

'Yes--though I don't pretend to be a judge.'

'I do. And when I see anything that really pleases me, I always try to get it; and if I succeed, nothing in the world will induce me to part with it. I'm a miser about the things I like. I keep them in safe places, and it gives me pleasure to look at them when I'm alone.'

'That's not very generous. You might give others a little pleasure, too, now and then.'

'So few people know what is good! Some of us Greeks have the instinct in our blood still, and we recognise it in a few men and women we meet--you are one, for instance. As soon as I saw you the first time, I was quite sure that we should think alike about a great many things. Do you mind my saying as much as that, at a second meeting?'

'Not if you think it is true,' she answered with a smile. 'Why should I?'

'It might sound as if I were trying to make out that we have some natural bond of sympathy,' said Logotheti. 'That's a favourite way of opening the game, you know. "Do you like carrots? So do I"--a bond, at once! "Do you go in, when it rains? I always do"--second bond. "We must be sympathetic to each other! Do you smile when you are pleased? Of course! We are exactly alike, and our hearts beat in unison!" That's the sort of thing.'

He amused her; perhaps she was easily amused now, because she had been feeling rather depressed all the morning. Women are subject to such harmless self-contradictions.

'I love to be out in the rain, and I don't like carrots!' she answered. 'There are evidently things about which our hearts don't beat in unison at all!'

'If people agreed about everything, what would become of conversation, lawyers and standing armies? But I meant to suggest that we might possibly like each other if we met often.'

'I daresay.'

'I have begun,' said Logotheti lightly, but again his long eyes were grave.

'Begun what?'

'I have begun by liking you. You don't object, do you?'

'Oh no! I like to be liked--by everybody!' Margaret laughed again, and watched him.

'It only remains for you to like everybody yourself. Will you kindly include me?'

'Yes, in a general way, as a neighbour, in the biblical sense, you know. Are you English enough to understand that expression?'

'I happen to have read the story of the Good Samaritan in Greek,' Logotheti answered. 'Since you are willing that we should be neighbours, "in the biblical sense," you cannot blame me for saying that I love my neighbour as myself.'

Once more her instinct told her that the words were meant less carelessly than they were spoken, though she could not possibly seem to take them in earnest. Yet her curiosity was aroused, as he intended that it should be.

'I remember that the Samaritan loved his neighbour, "in the biblical sense," at first sight,' he said, with a quick glance.

'But those were biblical times, you know!'

'Men have not changed much since then. We can still love at first sight, I assure you, even after we have seen a good deal of the world. It depends on meeting the right woman, and on nothing else. Do you suppose that if the Naples Psyche, or the Syracuse Venus, or the Venus of Milo, or the Victory of Samothrace suddenly appeared in Paris or London, all the men would not lose their heads about her--at first sight? Of course they would!'

'If you expect to have such neighbours as those--"in the biblical sense"----'

'I have one,' said Logotheti, 'and that's enough.'

Margaret had received many compliments of a more or less complicated nature, but she did not remember that any one had yet compared her to two Venuses, the Psyche and the Samothrace Nike in a single breath.

'That's nonsense!' she exclaimed, blushing a little, and not at all indignant.

'No,' Logotheti answered, imperturbably. 'Besides, neither the Victory nor the Venus of Syracuse has a head, so I am at liberty to suppose yours on their shoulders. Take the Victory. You move exactly as she seems to be moving, for she is not flying at all, you know, though she has wings. The wings are only a symbol. The Greeks knew perfectly well that a winged human being could not fly straight without a feathered tail two or three yards long!'

'How absurd!'

'That you should move like the Victory? Not at all. The reason why I love my neighbour as myself is that my neighbour is the most absolutely satisfactory being, from an artistic point of view. I don't often make compliments.'

'They are astonishing when you do!'

'Perhaps. But I was going on to say that what satisfies my love of the beautiful, can only be what satisfies my love of life itself, which is enormous.'

'In other words,' said Margaret, wondering how he would go on, 'I am your ideal!'

'Do you know what an "ideal" is?'

'Yes--well--no!' She hesitated. 'Perhaps I could not define it exactly.'

'A man's ideal is what he wants, and nothing else in the world.'

Margaret was not sure whether she should resent the speech a little, or let it pass. For an instant they looked at each other in silence. Then she made up her mind to laugh.

'Do you know that you are going ahead at a frightful pace?' she asked.

'Why should I waste time? My time is my life. It's all I have. Any fool can make money when he has wasted it and really wants more, but no power in heaven or earth can give me back an hour thrown away, an hour of what might have been.'

'I'm sure you must have learnt that in an English Sunday school! It's a highly moral and practical sentiment! But what becomes of the imagination?'

'Oh, that's the other side,' Logotheti answered, laughing. 'Never do to-day what you can put off till to-morrow, for if you do you'll lose all the pleasure of anticipating it! And the anticipation is much more delightful than the reality, so you must never realise your dream, if you mean to be happy--and all that sort of thing! But if reality knocks at my door while I am asleep and dreaming, and if I don't wake up to let it in, it may never take the trouble to knock again, you know, and I shall be left dreaming. I don't know about the Sunday school maxim being moral in all cases, but it's certainly very practical. I wish you would follow it and come with me to the East--you and Mrs. Rushmore.'

'You mean that if I don't, you'll never ask me again, I suppose?'

'No. That was not what I meant.' He looked steadily into her eyes till she turned her head away. 'What I meant was that you might be induced to give up the idea of the stage.'

'And as an inducement to throw up my engagement and sacrifice a career that may turn out well--you have told me so!--you offer me a trip to Constantinople!'

'You shall keep the yacht as a memento of the cruise. She's not a bad vessel.'

'What should I do with a steam yacht?'

'Oh, you would have to take the owner with her,' Logotheti answered airily.

'Eh?' Margaret stared at him in amazement.

'Yes. Don't be surprised. I'm quite in earnest. I never lose time, you know.'

'I should think not! Do you know that this is only our second meeting?'

'Exactly,' replied the Greek coolly. 'Of course, I might have asked you the first time we met, when we were standing together on the pavement outside Madame Bonanni's door. I thought of it, but I was afraid it might strike you as sudden.'

'A little!'

'Yes. But a second meeting is different. You must admit that I have had plenty of time to think it over and to know my own mind.'

'In two meetings?'

'Yes. Surely you know that in France young people are often engaged to be married when they have never seen each other at all.'

'That is arranged for them by their parents,' objected Margaret.

'Whereas we can arrange the matter for ourselves,' Logotheti said. 'It's more dignified, and far more independent. Isn't it?'

'I suppose so--I hardly know.'

'Oh yes, it is! You cannot deny it. Besides we have no parents and we are not children. You may think me hasty, but you cannot possibly be offended.'

'I'm not, but I think you are quite mad--unless you are joking.'

'Mad, because I love you?' asked Logotheti, lowering his voice and looking at her.

'But how is it possible? We hardly know each other!' Margaret was beginning to feel uncomfortable.

'Never mind; it is possible, since it is so. Of course, I cannot expect you to feel as I do, so soon, but I want to be before any one else.'

Margaret was silent, and her expression changed as she listened to his low and earnest tones.

'I don't want to believe there is any one else,' he went on. 'I don't believe it, not even if you tell me there is. But you would not tell me, I suppose.'

She turned her eyes full upon him and spoke as low as he, but a little unsteadily.

'There is some one else,' she said slowly.

Logotheti's lips moved, but she could not hear what he said, and almost as soon as she had spoken he looked down at the grass. There was no visible change in his face, and though she watched him for a few seconds, she did not think his hold tightened on his stick or that his brows contracted. She was somewhat relieved at this, for she was inclined to conclude that he had not been in earnest at all, and had idly asked her to marry him just to see whether he could surprise her into saying anything foolish. Yet this idea did not please her either. If there is anything a woman resents, it is that a man should pretend to be in love with her, in order to laugh at her in his sleeve. Margaret rose during the silence that followed. Logotheti sat still for a moment, as if he had not noticed her, and then he got up suddenly, and glanced at her with a careless smile.

'I wish you good luck,' he said lightly.

'Thank you,' she answered. 'One can never have too much of it!'

'Never. Get a talisman, a charm, a "jadoo." You will need something of the sort in your career. A black opal is the best, but if you choose that you must get it yourself, you must buy it, find it, or steal it. Otherwise it will have no effect!'

They moved away from the place where they had sat, and they joined the others. But after they had separated Margaret looked more than once at Logotheti, as if her eyes were drawn to him against her will, and she was annoyed to find that he was watching her.

She had thought of Lushington often that day, and now she wished with all her heart that he were beside her, standing between her and something she could not define but which she dreaded just because she could not imagine what it was, though it was certainly connected with Logotheti and with what he had said. She changed her mind about the Greek half-a-dozen times in an hour, but after each change the conviction grew on her that he had meant not only what he had said, but much more. His eyes were not like other men's eyes at all, when they looked at her, though they were so very quiet and steady; they were the eyes of another race which she did not know, and they saw the world as her own people did not see it, nor as Frenchmen, nor as Italians, nor Germans, nor as any people she had met. They had seen sights she could never see, in countries where the law, if there was any, took it for granted that men would risk their lives for what they wanted. She, who was not easily frightened, suddenly felt the fear of the unknown, and the unknown was somehow embodied in Logotheti.

She did not show what she felt when he strolled up to her to say good-bye, but through her glove she felt that his hand was stone cold, and as he said the half-dozen conventional words that were necessary she was sure that he smiled strangely, even mysteriously, as if such phrases as 'I hope to see you again before long,' and 'such a heavenly afternoon,' would cloak the deadly purposes of a diabolical design.

Margaret was alone with Mrs. Rushmore for a few minutes before dinner.

'Well?'

Mrs. Rushmore uttered the single word in an ejaculatory and interrogative tone, as only a certain number of old-fashioned Americans can. Spoken in that peculiar way it can mean a good deal, for it can convey suspicion, or approval or disapproval and any degree of acquaintance with the circumstances concerned, from almost total ignorance to the knowledge of everything except the result of the latest development.

On the present occasion Mrs. Rushmore meant that she had watched Margaret and Logotheti and had guessed approximately what had passed--that she thought the matter decidedly interesting, and wished to know all about it.

But Margaret was not anxious to understand, if indeed her English ear detected all the hidden meaning of the monosyllable.

'There were a good many people, weren't there?' she observed with a sort of query, meant to lead the conversation in that direction.

Mrs. Rushmore would not be thrown off the scent.

'My dear,' she said severely, 'he proposed to you on that bench. Don't deny it.'

'Good gracious!' exclaimed Margaret, taken by surprise.

'Don't deny it,' repeated Mrs. Rushmore.

'I had only met him once before to-day,' said Margaret.

'It's all the same,' retorted Mrs. Rushmore with an approach to asperity. 'He proposed to you. Don't deny it. I say, don't deny it.'

'I haven't denied it,' answered Margaret. 'I only hoped that you had not noticed anything. He must be perfectly mad. Why in the world should he want to marry me?'

'All Greeks,' said Mrs. Rushmore, 'are very designing.'

Margaret smiled at the expression.

'I should have said that Monsieur Logotheti was hasty,' she answered.

'My dear,' said Mrs. Rushmore with conviction, 'this man is an adventurer. You may say what you like, he is an adventurer. I am sure that ruby he wears is worth at least twenty thousand dollars. You may say what you like; I am sure of it.'

'But I don't say anything,' Margaret protested. 'I daresay it is.'

'I know it is,' retorted Mrs. Rushmore with cold emphasis. 'What business has a man to wear such jewellery? He's an adventurer, and nothing else.'

'He's one of the richest men in Paris for all that,' observed Margaret.

'There!' exclaimed Mrs. Rushmore. 'Now you're defending him! I told you so!'

'I don't quite see----'

'Of course not. You're much too young to understand such things. The wretch has designs on you. I don't care what you say, my dear, he has designs.'

In Mrs. Rushmore's estimation she could say nothing worse of any human being than that.

'What sort of "designs"?' inquired Margaret, somewhat amused.

'In the first place, he wants to marry you. You admit that he does. My dear Margaret, it's bad enough that you should talk in your cold-blooded way of going on the stage, but that you should ever marry a Greek! Good heavens, child! What do you think I am made of? And then you ask me what designs the man has. It's not to be believed!'

'I must be very dull,' said Margaret in a patient tone, 'but I don't understand.'

'I do,' retorted Mrs. Rushmore with severity, 'and that's enough! Wasn't I your dear mother's best friend? Haven't I been a good friend to you?'

'Indeed you have!' cried Margaret very gratefully.

'Well then,' explained Mrs. Rushmore, 'I don't see that there is anything more to be said. It follows that the man is either an agent of that wicked old Alvah Moon----'

'Why?' asked Margaret, opening her eyes.

'Or else,' continued Mrs. Rushmore with crushing logic, 'he means to live on you when you've made your fortune by singing. It must be one or the other, and if it isn't the one, it's certainly the other. Certainly it is! You may say what you like. So that's settled, and I've warned you. You can't afford to despise your old friend's warning, Margaret--indeed you can't.'

'But I've no idea of marrying the man,' said Margaret helplessly.

'Of course not! But I should like to say, my child, that whatever you do, I won't leave you to your fate. You may be sure of that. If nothing else would serve I'd go on the stage myself! I owe it to your mother.'

Margaret wondered in what capacity Mrs. Rushmore would exhibit herself to the astounded public if she carried out her threat.

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