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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 8
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Fair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 8 Post by :frontier Category :Long Stories Author :F. Marion Crawford Date :May 2011 Read :1570

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Fair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 8

CHAPTER VIII

If Mrs. Rushmore's logic was faulty and the language of her argument vague, her instinct was keen enough and had not altogether misled her. Logotheti was neither a secret agent of the wicked Alvah Moon who had robbed Margaret of her fortune, nor had he the remotest idea of making Margaret support him in luxurious idleness in case she made a success. But if, when a young and not over-scrupulous Oriental has been refused by an English girl, he does not abandon the idea of marrying her, but calmly considers the possibilities of making her marry him against her will, he may be described as having 'designs' upon her, then Logotheti was undeniably a very 'designing' person, and Mrs. Rushmore was not nearly so far wrong as Margaret thought her. Whether it was at all likely that he might succeed, was another matter, but he possessed both the qualities and the weapons which sometimes ensure success in the most unpromising undertakings.

He was tenacious, astute and cool, he was very rich, he was very much in love and he had no scruples worth mentioning; moreover, if he failed, he belonged to a country from which it is extremely hard to obtain the extradition of persons who have elsewhere taken the name of the law in vain. It is with a feeling of national pride and security that the true-born Greek takes sanctuary beneath the shadow of the Acropolis.

He had played his first card boldly, but not recklessly, to find out how matters stood. He had been the target of too many matrimonial aims not to know that even such a girl as Margaret Donne might be suddenly dazzled and tempted by the offer of his hand and fortune, and might throw over the possibilities of a stage career for the certainties of an enormously rich marriage. But he had not counted on that at all, and had really set Margaret much higher in his estimation than to suppose that she would marry him out of hand for his money; he had reckoned only on finding out whether he had a rival, and in this he had succeeded, to an extent which he had not anticipated, and the result was not very promising. There had been no possibility of mistaking Margaret's tone and manner when she had confessed that there was 'some one else.'

On reflection he had to admit that Margaret had not been dazzled by his offer, though she had seemed surprised. She had either been accustomed to the idea of unlimited money, because Mrs. Rushmore was rich, or else she did not know its value. It came to the same thing in the end. Orientals very generally act on the perfectly simple theory that nine people out of ten are to be imposed upon by the mere display of what money can buy, and that if you show them the real thing they will be tempted by it. It is not pleasant to think how often they are right; and though Logotheti had made no impression on Margaret with his magnificent ruby and his casual offer of a yacht as a present, he did not reproach himself with having made a mistake. He had simply tried what he considered the usual method of influencing a woman, and as it had failed he had eliminated it from the arsenal of his weapons. That was all. He had found out at once that it was of no use, and as he hated to waste time he was not dissatisfied with the result of his day's work.

Like most men who have lived much in Paris he cared nothing at all for the ordinary round of dissipated amusement which carries foreigners and even young Frenchmen off their feet like a cyclone, depositing them afterwards in strange places and in a damaged condition. It was long since he had dined 'in joyous company,' frequented the lobby of the ballet or found himself at dawn among the survivors of an indiscriminate orgy. Men who know Paris well may not have improved upon their original selves as to moral character, but they have almost always acquired the priceless art of refined enjoyment; and this is even more true now than in the noisy days of the Second Empire. In Paris senseless dissipation is mostly the pursuit of the young, who know no better, or of much older men who have never risen above the animal state, and who sink with age into half-idiotic bestiality. Logotheti had never been counted amongst the former, and was in no danger of ending his days in the ranks of the latter. He was much too fond of real enjoyment to be dissipated. Most Orientals are.

He spent the evening alone in an inner room to which no mere acquaintance and very few of his friends had ever been admitted. His rule was that when he was there he was not to be disturbed on any account.

'But if the house should take fire?' a new man-servant inquired on receiving these instructions.

'The fire-engines will put it out,' Logotheti answered. 'It is none of my business. I will not be disturbed.'

'Very good, sir. But if the house should burn down before they come?'

'Then I should advise you to go away. But be careful not to disturb me.'

'Very good, sir. And if'--the man's voice took a confidential tone--'if any lady should ask for you, sir?'

'Tell her that to the best of your knowledge I am dead. If she faints, call a cab.'

'Very good, sir.'

Thereupon the new man-servant had entered upon his functions, satisfied that his master was an original character, if not quite mad. But there was no secret about the room itself, as far as could be seen, and it was regularly swept and dusted like other rooms. The door was never locked except when Logotheti was within, and the room contained no hidden treasures, nor any piece of furniture in which such things might have been concealed. There was nothing peculiar about the construction of the place, except that the three windows were high above the ground like those of a painter's studio, and could be opened or shut, or shaded, by means of cords and chains. There were also heavy curtains, such as are never seen in studios, which could be drawn completely across the windows.

In a less civilised country Logotheti's servants might have supposed that he retired to this solitude to practise necromancy or study astrology, or to celebrate the Black Mass. But his matter-of-fact Frenchmen merely said that he was 'an original'; they even said so with a certain pride, as if there might be bad copies of him extant somewhere, which they despised. One man, who had an epileptic aunt, suggested that Logotheti probably had fits, and disappeared into the inner room in order to have them alone; but this theory did not find favour, though it was supported, as the man pointed out, by the fact that the double doors of the room were heavily padded, and that the whole place seemed to be sound-proof, as indeed it was. On the other hand there was nothing about the furniture within that could give colour to the supposition, which was consequently laughed at in the servants' hall. Monsieur was simply 'an original'; that was enough to explain everything, and his order as to being left undisturbed was the more strictly obeyed because it would apparently be impossible to disturb him with anything less than artillery.

It is a curious fact that when servants have decided that their masters are eccentric they soon cease to take any notice of their doings, except to laugh at them now and then when more eccentric than usual. It being once established that Logotheti was an original he might have kept his private room full of Bengal tigers for all the servants hall would have cared, provided the beasts did not get about the house. It was a 'good place,' for he was generous, and there were perquisites; therefore he might do anything he pleased, so long as he paid--as indeed most of us might in this modern world, if we were able and willing to pay the price.

On this particular evening Logotheti dined at home alone, chiefly on a very simple Greek pilaff, Turkish preserved rose leaves and cream cheese, which might strike a Parisian as strange fare, unless he were a gourmet of the very highest order. Having sipped a couple of small glasses of very old Samos wine, Logotheti ordered lights and coffee in his private room, told the servants not to disturb him, went in and locked the outer door.

Then he gave a sigh of satisfaction and sat down, as if he had reached the end of a day's journey. He tasted his coffee, and kicked off first one of his gleaming patent leather slippers and then the other, and drew up his feet under him on the broad leather seat, and drank more coffee, and lit a big cigarette; after which he sat almost motionless for at least half an hour, looking most of the time at a statue which occupied the principal place in the middle of the room. Now and then he half closed his eyes, and then opened them again suddenly, with an evident sense of pleasure. He had the air of a man completely satisfied with his surroundings, his sensations and his thoughts. There was something almost Buddha-like in his attitude, in his perfect calm, in the expression of his quiet almond eyes; even the European clothes he wore did not greatly hinder the illusion. Just then he did not look at all the sort of person to do anything sudden or violent, to pitch order to the dogs and tear the law to pieces, to kill anything that stood in his way as coolly as he would kill a mosquito, or to lay violent hands on what he wanted if he was hindered from taking it peacefully. Neither does a wild-cat look very dangerous when it is dozing.

On the rare occasions when he allowed any one but his servants to enter that room, he said that the statue was a copy, which he had caused to be very carefully made after an original found in Lesbos and secretly carried off by a high Turkish official, who kept it in his house and never spoke of it. This accounted for its being quite unknown to the artistic world. He called attention to the fact that it was really a facsimile, rather than a copy, and he seemed pleased at the perfect reproduction of the injured points, which were few, and of the stains, which were faint and not unpleasing. But he never showed it to an artist or an expert critic.

'A mere copy,' he would say, with a shrug of his shoulders. 'Nothing that would interest any one who really knows about such things.'

A very perfect copy, a very marvellous copy, surely; one that might stand in the Vatican, with the Torso, or in the Louvre, beside the Venus of Milo, or in the British Museum, opposite the Pericles, or in Olympia itself, facing the Hermes, the greatest of all, and yet never be taken for anything but the work of a supreme master's own hands. But Constantine Logotheti shrugged his shoulders and said it was a mere copy, nothing but a clever facsimile, carved and chipped and stained by a couple of Italian marble-cutters, whose business it was to manufacture antiquities for the American market and whom any one could engage to work in any part of the world for twenty francs a day and their expenses. Yes, those Italian workmen were clever fellows, Logotheti admitted. But everything could be counterfeited now, as everybody knew, and his only merit lay in having ordered this particular counterfeit instead of having been deceived by it.

As Logotheti sat there in the quiet light, looking at it, the word 'copy' sounded in his memory, as he had often spoken it, and a peaceful smile played upon his broad Oriental lips. The 'copy' had cost human lives, and he had almost paid for it with his own, in his haste to have it for himself, and only for himself.

His eyes were half-closed again, and he saw outlines of strong ragged men staggering down to a lonely cove at night, with their marble burden, and he heard the autumn gale howling among the rocks, and the soft thud of the baled statue as it was laid in the bottom of the little fishing craft; and then, because the men feared the weather, he was in the boat himself, shaming them by his courage, loosing the sail, bending furiously to one of the long sweeps, yelling, cheering, cursing, promising endless gold, then baling with mad energy as the water swirled up and poured over the canvas bulwark that Greek boats carry, and still wildly urging the fishermen to keep her up; and then, the end, a sweep broken and foul of the next, a rower falling headlong on the man in front of him, confusion in the dark, the crazy boat broached to in the breaking sea, filling, fuller, now quite full and sinking, the raging hell of men fighting for their lives amongst broken oars, and tangled rigging and floating bottom-boards; one voice less, two less, a smashing sea and then no voices at all, no boat, no men, no anything but the howling wind and the driving spray, and he himself, Logotheti, gripping a spar, one of those long booms the fishermen carry for running, half-drowned again and again, but gripping still, and drifting with the storm past the awful death of sharp black rocks and pounding seas, into the calm lee beyond.

And then, a week later, on a still October night, his great yacht lying where the boat had sunk, with diver and crane and hoisting gear, and submarine light; and at last, the thing itself brought up from ten fathoms deep with noise of chain and steam winch, and swung in on deck, the water-worn baling dropping from it and soon torn off, to show the precious marble perfect still. And then--'full speed ahead' and west by north, straight for the Malta channel.

Logotheti's personal reminiscences were not exactly dull, and the vivid recollection of struggles and danger and visible death made the peace of his solitude more profound; the priceless thing he had fought for was alive in the stillness with the supernatural life of the ever beautiful; his fingers pressed an ebony key in the table beside him and the marble turned very slowly and steadily and noiselessly on the low base, seeming to let her shadowy eyes linger on him as she looked back over the curve of her shoulder. Again his fingers moved, and the motion ceased, obedient to the hidden mechanism; and so, as he sat still, the goddess moved this way and that, facing him at his will, or looking back, or turning quite away, as if ashamed to meet his gaze, being clothed only in warm light and dreamy shadows, then once more confronting him in the pride of a beauty too faultless to fear a man's bold eyes.

He leaned against his cushions, and sipped his coffee now and then, and let the thin blue smoke make clouds of lace between him and the very slowly moving marble, for he knew what little things help great illusions, or destroy them. Nothing was lacking. The dark blue pavement, combed like rippling water and shot with silver that cast back broken reflections, was the sea itself; snowy gauze wrapped loosely round the base was breaking foam; the tinted walls, the morning sky of Greece; the goddess, Aphrodite, sea-born, too human to be quite divine, too heavenly to be only a living woman.

And she was his; his not only for the dangers he had faced to have her, but his because he was a Greek, because his heart beat with a strain of the ancient sculptor's blood; because his treasure was the goddess of his far forefathers, who had made her in the image of the loveliness they adored; because he worshipped her himself, more than half heathenly; but doubly his now, because his imagination had found her likeness in the outer world, clothed, breathing and alive, and created for him only.

He leaned against his cushions, and lines of the old poetry rose to his lips, and the words came aloud. He loved the sound when he was alone, the vital rush of it, and the voluptuous pause and the soft, lingering cadence before it rose again. In the music of each separate verse there was the whole episode of man's love and woman's, the illusion and the image, the image and the maddening, leaping, all-satisfying, softly-subsiding reality.

It was no wonder that he would not allow anything to disturb him in that inner sanctuary of rare delight. His bodily nature, his imagination, his deep knowledge and love of his own Hellenic poets, his almost adoration of the beautiful, all that was his real self, placed him far outside the pale that confines the world of common men as the sheepfold pens in the flock.

It was late in the night when he rose from his seat at last, extinguished the lights himself and left the room, with a regretful look on his face; for, after his manner, he had been very happy in his solitude, if indeed he had been alone where his treasure reigned.

He went downstairs, for the sanctuary was high up in the house, and he found his man dozing in a chair in the vestibule at the door of his dressing-room. The valet rose to his feet instantly, took a little salver from the small table beside him, and held it out to Logotheti.

'A telegram, sir,' he said.

Logotheti carelessly tore the end off the blue cover and glanced at the contents.

Can buy moon. Cable offer and limit.

Logotheti looked at his watch and made a short calculation which convinced him that no time would really be lost in buying the moon if he did not answer the telegram till the next morning. Then he went to bed and read himself to sleep with Musurus' Greek translation of Dante's _Inferno_.

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