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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 9
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Fair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 9 Post by :madec Category :Long Stories Author :F. Marion Crawford Date :May 2011 Read :2403

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Fair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 9

CHAPTER IX

On the following day Margaret received a note from Schreiermeyer informing her in the briefest terms and in doubtful French that he had concluded the arrangements for her to make her _debut in the part of Marguerite, in a Belgian city, in exactly a month, and requiring that she should attend the next rehearsal of _Faust at the Opera in Paris, where _Faust is almost a perpetual performance and yet seems to need rehearsing from time to time.

She showed the letter to Mrs. Rushmore, who sighed wearily after reading it, and said nothing. But there was a little more colour in Margaret's cheek, and her eyes sparkled at the prospect of making a beginning at last. Mrs. Rushmore took up her newspaper again with an air of sorrowful disapproval, but presently she started uncomfortably and looked at Margaret.

'Oh!' she exclaimed, and sighed once more.

'What is it?' asked the young girl.

'It must be true, for it's in the _Herald_.'

'What?'

Mrs. Rushmore read the following paragraph:--

We hear on the best authority that a new star is about to dazzle the operatic stage. Monsieur Schreiermeyer has announced to a select circle of friends that it will be visible in the theatrical heaven on the night of June 21, in the character of Marguerite and in the person of a surprisingly beautiful young Spanish soprano, the Senorita Margarita da Cordova, whose romantic story as daughter to a contrabandista of Andalusia and granddaughter to the celebrated bullfighter Ramon and----

'Oh, my dear! This is too shameful! I told you so!'

Mrs. Rushmore's elderly cheeks were positively scarlet as she stared at the print. Margaret observed the unwonted phenomenon with surprise.

'I don't see anything so appallingly improper in that,' she observed.

'You don't see! No, my child, you don't! I trust you never may. Indeed if I can prevent it, you never shall. Disgusting! Vile!'

And the good lady read the rest of the paragraph to herself, holding up the paper so as to hide her modest blushes.

'My dear, what a story!' she cried at last. 'It positively makes me creep!'

'This is very tantalising,' said Margaret. 'I suppose it has to do with my imaginary ancestry in Andalusia.'

'I should think it had! Where do they get such things, I wonder? A bishop, my dear--oh no, really! it would make a pirate blush! Can you tell me what good this kind of thing can do?'

'Advertisement,' Margaret answered coolly. 'It's intended to excite interest in me before I appear, you know. Don't they do it in America?'

'Never!' cried Mrs. Rushmore with solemn emphasis. 'Apart from its being all a perfectly gratuitous falsehood.'

'Gratuitous? Perhaps Schreiermeyer paid to have it put in.'

'Then I never wish to see him, Margaret, never! Do you understand! I think I shall bring an action against him. At all events I shall take legal advice. This cannot be allowed to go uncontradicted. If I were you, I would sit down and write to the paper this very minute, and tell the editor that you are a respectable English girl. You are, I'm sure!'

'I hope so! But what has respectability to do with art?'

'A great deal, my dear,' answered Mrs. Rushmore wisely. 'You may say what you like, there is a vast difference between being respectable and disreputable--perfectly vast! It's of no use to deny it, because you can't.'

'Nobody can.'

'There now, I told you so! I must say, child, you are getting some very strange ideas from your new acquaintances. If these are the principles you mean to adopt, I am sorry for you, very sorry!'

Margaret did not seem very sorry for herself, however, for she went off at this point, singing the 'jewel song' in _Faust at the top of her voice, and wishing with all her heart that she were already behind the footlights with the orchestra at her feet.

Two days later, Mrs. Rushmore received a cable message from New York which surprised her almost as much as the paragraph about Margaret had.


Alvah Moon has sold invention for cash to anonymous
New York syndicate who offer to compromise suit.
Cable instructions naming sum you will accept, if
disposed to deal.


Now Mrs. Rushmore was a wise woman, as well as a good one, though her ability to express her thoughts in concise language was insignificant. She had long known that the issue of the suit she had brought was doubtful, and that as it was one which could be appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States, it might drag on for a long time; so that the possibility of a compromise was very welcome, and she at once remembered that half a loaf is better than no bread, especially when the loaf is of hearty dimensions and easily divided. What she could not understand was that any one should have been willing to pay Alvah Moon the sum he must have asked, while his interest was still in litigation, and that, after buying that interest, the purchasers should propose a compromise when they might have prolonged the suit for some time, with a fair chance of winning it in the end. But that did not matter. More than once since Mrs. Rushmore had taken up the case her lawyers had advised her to drop it and submit to losing what she had already spent on the suit, and of late her own misgivings had increased. The prospect of obtaining a considerable sum for Margaret, at the very moment when the girl had made up her mind to support herself as a singer, was in itself very tempting; and as it presented itself just when the horrors of an artistic career had been brought clearly before Mrs. Rushmore's mind by the newspaper paragraph, she did not hesitate a moment.

Margaret was in Paris that morning, at her first rehearsal, and could not come back till the afternoon; but after all it would be of no use to consult her, as she was so infatuated with the idea of singing in public that she would very probably be almost disappointed by her good fortune. Mrs. Rushmore read the message three times, and then went out under the trees to consider her answer, carrying the bit of paper in her hand as if she did not know by heart the words written on it. For once, she had no guests, and for the first time she was glad of it. She walked slowly up and down, and as it was a warm morning, still and overcast, she fanned herself with the telegram in a very futile way, and watched the flies skimming over the water of the little pond, and repeated her inward question to herself many times.

Mrs. Rushmore never thought anything out. When she was in doubt, she asked herself the same question, 'What had I better do?' or, 'What will he or she do next?' over and over again, with a frantic determination to be logical. And suddenly, sooner or later, the answer flashed upon her in a sort of accidental way as if it were not looking for her, and so completely outran all power of expression that she could not put it into words at all, though she could act upon it well enough. The odd part of it all was that these accidental revelations rarely misled her. They were like fragments of a former world of excellent common-sense that had gone to pieces, which she now and then encountered like meteors in her own orbit.

When she had walked up and down for a quarter of an hour one of these aeroliths of reason shot across the field of her mental sight, and she understood that one of two things must have occurred. Either Alvah Moon had lost confidence in his chances and had sold the invention to some greenhorn for anything he could get; or else some one else had been so deeply interested in the affair as to risk a great deal of money in it. Mrs. Rushmore's gleam of intelligence was a comet; but her comet had two tails, which was very confusing.

Her meditations were disturbed by the noise of a big motor car, approaching the house from a distance, and heralding its advance with a steadily rising whizz and a series of most unearthly toots. Motor cars often passed the house and ran down the Boulevard St. Antoine at frightful speed, for the beautiful road is generally clear; but something, perhaps a small meteor again, warned her that this one was going to stop at the gate and demand admittance for itself.

Thereupon Mrs. Rushmore looked at her fingers; for she kept up an extensive correspondence, in the course of which she often inked them. For forty years she had asked herself why she, who prided herself on her fastidious neatness, should have been predestined and condemned to have inky fingers like an untidy school-girl, and she had spent time and money in search of an ink that would wash off easily and completely, without the necessity of flaying her hands with pumice stone and chemicals. When suddenly aware of the approach of an unexpected visitor, she always looked at her fingers.

The thing came nearer, roared, sputtered, tooted and was silent. In the silence Mrs. Rushmore heard the tinkle of the gate bell and in a few moments she saw Logotheti coming towards her across the lawn. She was not particularly pleased to see him.

'I am afraid,' she said rather stiffly, 'that Miss Donne is out.'

In a not altogether well-spent life Logotheti had seen many things; but he was not accustomed to American chaperons, whose amazing humility always takes it for granted that no man under forty can possibly call upon them except for the sake of seeing the young woman in their charge. Logotheti looked vaguely surprised.

'Indeed?' he answered, with a little interrogation as though he found it hard to be astonished, but wished to be obliging. 'That is rather fortunate,' he continued, 'for I was hoping to find you alone.'

'Me?' Mrs. Rushmore unbent a little and smiled rather grimly.

'Yes. If I had not been so anxious to see you at once, I should have written or telegraphed to ask for a few minutes alone with you. But I could not afford to waste time.'

He spoke so gravely that she immediately suspected him of dark designs. Perhaps he was going to propose to her, since Margaret had refused him. She remembered instances of adventurers who had actually married widows of sixty for their money. She compressed her lips. She would be firm with him; he should have a piece of her mind.

'I am alone,' she said severely, a little as if warning him not to take liberties.

'My errand concerns a matter in which we have common interests at stake,' he said.

Mrs. Rushmore sat down on a garden chair, and pointed to the bench, on which he took his seat.

'I cannot imagine what interests you mean,' she said, with dignity. 'Pray explain. If you refer to Miss Donne, I may as well inform you with perfect frankness that it is of no use.'

Logotheti smiled and shook his head gently, keeping his eyes on Mrs. Rushmore's face, all of which she took to mean incredulity on his part.

'You may say what you like,' she said. 'It's of no use.'

When Mrs. Rushmore declared that you might say what you liked, she was in earnest, but her visitor was not familiar with the expression.

'Nevertheless,' he said, in a soothing way, 'my errand concerns Miss Donne.'

'Well then,' said Mrs. Rushmore, 'don't! That's all I have to say, and it's my last word. She doesn't care for you. I don't want to be unkind, but I daresay you have made yourself think all sorts of things.'

She felt that this was a great concession, to a Greek and an adventurer.

'Excuse me,' said Logotheti quietly, 'but we are talking at cross purposes. What I have to say concerns Miss Donne's financial interests--her fortune, if you like to call it so.'

Mrs. Rushmore's suspicions were immediately confirmed.

'She has none,' said she, with a snap as if she were shutting up a safe with a spring lock.

'That depends on what you call a fortune,' answered the Greek coolly. 'In Paris most people would think it quite enough. It is true that it is in litigation.'

'I really cannot see how that can interest you,' said Mrs. Rushmore in an offended tone.

'It interests me a good deal. I have come to see you in order to propose that you should compromise the suit about that invention.'

Mrs. Rushmore drew herself up against the straight back of the garden chair and glared at him in polite wrath.

'You will pardon my saying that I consider your interferences very much out of place, sir,' she said.

'But you will forgive me, dear madam, for differing with you,' said Logotheti with the utmost blandness. 'This business concerns me quite as much as Miss Donne.'

'You?' Mrs. Rushmore was amazed.

'I fancy you have heard that Mr. Alvah Moon has sold the invention to a New York syndicate.'

'Yes--but----'

'I am the syndicate.'

'You!' The good lady was breathless with astonishment. 'I cannot believe it,' she gasped.

Logotheti's hand went to his inner breast pocket.

'Should you like to see the telegrams?' he asked quietly. 'Here they are. My agent's cable to me, my instructions to him, his acknowledgment, his cable saying that the affair is closed and the money paid. They are all here. Pray look at them.'

Mrs. Rushmore looked at the papers, for she was cautious, even when surprised. There was no denying the evidence he showed her. Her hands fell upon her knees and she stared at him.

'So you have got control of all that Margaret can ever hope to have of her own,' she said blankly, at last. 'Why have you done it?'

Logotheti smiled as he put the flimsy bits of paper into his pocket again.

'Purely as a matter of business,' he answered. 'I shall make money by it, though I have paid Mr. Moon a large sum, and expect to make a heavy payment to you if we agree to compromise the old suit, which, as you have seen by the telegrams, I have assumed with my eyes open. Now, my dear Mrs. Rushmore, shall we talk business? I am very anxious to oblige you, and I am not fond of bargaining. I propose to pay a lump sum on condition that you withdraw the suit at once. You pay your lawyers and I pay those employed by Mr. Moon. Now, what sum do you think would be fair? That is the question. Please understand that it is you who will be doing me a favour, not I who offer to do you a service. As I understand it, you never claimed of Mr. Moon the whole value of the invention. It was a suit in equity brought on the ground that Mr. Moon had paid a derisory price for what he got, in other words--but is Mr. Moon a personal friend of yours, apart from his business?'

'A friend!' cried Mrs. Rushmore in horror. 'Goodness gracious, no!'

'Very well,' continued Logotheti. 'Then we will say that he cheated Miss Donne's maternal grandfather--is that the relationship? Yes. Very good. I propose to hand over to you the sum out of which Miss Donne's maternal grandfather was cheated. If you will tell me just how much it was, allowing a fair interest, I will write you a cheque. I think I have a blank one here.'

He produced a miniature card-case of pale blue morocco, which exactly matched his tie, and drew from it a blank cheque carefully folded to about the size of two postage stamps.

'Dear me!' exclaimed Mrs. Rushmore. 'Dear me! This is very sudden!'

'You must have made up your mind a long time ago as to what Miss Donne's share should be worth,' suggested Logotheti, smoothing the cheque on his knee.

Mrs. Rushmore hesitated.

'But you have already paid much more to Senator Moon,' she said.

'That is my affair,' answered the Greek. 'I have my own views about the value of the invention, and I have no time to lose. What shall we say, Mrs. Rushmore.'

'I wish Margaret were here,' said the good lady vaguely.

'I'm very glad she is not. Now, tell me what I am to write, please.'

He produced a fountain pen and was already writing the date. The pen was evidently one specially made to suit his tastes, for it was of gold, the elaborate chasing was picked out with small rubies and a large brilliant was set in the end of the cap. Mrs. Rushmore could not help looking at it, and in her prim way she wondered how any man who was not an adventurer or a sort of glorified commercial traveller could carry such a thing. There was an unpleasant fascination in the mere look of it, and she watched it move instead of answering.

'Yes?' said Logotheti, looking up interrogatively. 'What shall we say?'

'I--I honestly don't know what to say,' Mrs. Rushmore answered, really confused by the suddenness of the man's proposal. I suppose--no--you must let me consult my lawyer.'

'I am sorry,' said Logotheti, 'but I cannot afford to waste so much time. Allow me to be your man of business. How much were you suing Mr. Moon for?'

'Half a million dollars,' answered Mrs. Rushmore.

'Have you been paying your lawyer, or was he to get a percentage on the sum recovered?'

'I have paid him about seventeen thousand, so far.'

'For doing nothing. I should like to be your lawyer! I suppose three thousand more will satisfy him? Yes, that will make it a round twenty thousand. That leaves your claim worth four hundred and eighty thousand dollars, does it not?'

'Yes, certainly.'

'Which at four-eighty-four is--' he looked at the ceiling for ten seconds--'ninety-nine thousand one hundred and eleven pounds, two shillings and twopence halfpenny--within a fraction. Is that it? My mental arithmetic is generally pretty fair.'

'I've no doubt that the calculation is correct,' said Mrs. Rushmore, 'only it seems to me--let me see--I'm a little confused--but it seems to me that if I had won the suit for half a million, the lawyer's expenses would have come out of that.'

'They do come out of it,' answered Logotheti blandly. 'That is why you don't get half a million.'

'Yes,' insisted Mrs. Rushmore, who was not easily misled about money, 'certainly. But as it is, after I have received the four hundred and eighty thousand, I shall still have to deduct the twenty thousand for the lawyers before handing it over to Margaret, who would only get four hundred and sixty. Excuse me, perhaps you don't understand.'

'Yes, yes! I do.' Logotheti smiled pleasantly. 'It was very stupid of me, wasn't it? I'm always doing things like that!'

As indeed financiers are, for arithmetical obliquity about money is caused by having too much or too little of it, and the people who lose to both sides are generally the comparatively honest ones who have enough. It certainly did not occur to Logotheti that he had tried to do Margaret Donne out of four thousand pounds; he would have been only too delighted to give her ten times the sum if she would have accepted it, and so far as profit went the whole transaction was for her benefit, and he might lose heavily by it. But in actual dealing he was constitutionally unable to resist the impulse to get the better of the person with whom he dealt. And on her side, Mrs. Rushmore, though generous to a fault, was by nature incapable of allowing money to slip through her fingers without reason. So the two were well matched, being both born financiers, and Logotheti respected Mrs. Rushmore for detecting his little 'mistake,' and she recognised in him a real 'man of business' because he had made it.

'Let us call it a half million dollars, then,' he said, with a smile. 'At four-eighty-four, that is'--again he looked at the ceiling for ten seconds--'that is one hundred and three thousand three hundred and five pounds fifteen shillings fivepence halfpenny, nearly. Is that it? Shall we say that, Mrs. Rushmore.'

'How quickly you do it!' exclaimed the lady in admiration. 'I wish I could do that! Oh yes, I have no doubt it is quite correct. You couldn't do it on paper, could you? You see it doesn't matter so much about the halfpenny, but if there were a little slip in the thousands, you know--it would make quite a difference----'

She paused significantly. Logotheti quietly pulled his cuff over his hand, produced a pencil instead of his fountain pen, and proceeded to divide five hundred thousand by four hundred and eighty-four to three places of decimals.

'Fifteen and fivepence halfpenny,' he said, when he had turned the fraction into shillings and pence, 'and the pounds are just what I said.'

'Do you mean to say that you did all that in your head in ten seconds?' asked Mrs. Rushmore, with renewed admiration.

'Oh no,' he answered. 'We have much shorter ways of reckoning money in the East, but you could not understand that. You are quite satisfied that this is right?'

'Oh, certainly!'

Mrs. Rushmore could no more have divided five hundred thousand by four hundred and eighty-four to three places of decimals than she could have composed _Parsifal_, but her doubts were satisfied by its having been done 'on paper.'

Logotheti put away his jewelled pencil, took out his jewelled fountain pen again, spread the cheque on the seat of the bench beside him and filled it in for the amount, including the halfpenny. He handed it to her, holding it by the corner.

'It's wet,' he observed. 'It's drawn on the Bank of England. It will be necessary for you to sign a statement to the effect that you withdraw the suit and that Miss Donne's claim is fully satisfied. She will have to sign that too. I'll send you the paper. If you have any doubts,' he smiled, 'you need not return it until the cheque has been cashed.'

That was precisely what Mrs. Rushmore intended to do, but she protested politely that she had no doubt whatever on the score of the cheque, looking all the time at the big figures written out in Logotheti's remarkably clear handwriting. Only the signature was perfectly illegible. He noticed her curiosity about it.

'I always sign my cheques in Greek,' he observed 'It is not so easy to imitate.'

He rose and held out his hand.

'I suppose I ought to thank you on Margaret's behalf,' said Mrs. Rushmore, as she took it. 'She will be so sorry not to have seen you.'

'It was much easier to do business without her. And as for that, there is no reason for telling her anything about the transaction. You need only say that a syndicate has bought out Alvah Moon and has compromised the old suit by a cash payment. I am not at all anxious to have her know that I have had a hand in the matter--in fact, I had rather that she shouldn't, if you don't object.'

Mrs. Rushmore looked hard at him. She had not even thought of refusing his offer, which would save Margaret a considerable fortune by a stroke of a pen; but she had taken it for granted that what might easily be made to pass for an act of magnificent liberality was intended to produce a profound impression on Margaret's feelings. The elder woman was shrewd enough to guess that the Greek would not lose money in the end, but she went much too far in suspecting him of anything so vulgar as playing on the girl's gratitude. She looked at him keenly.

'Do you mean that?' she asked, almost incredulously.

His quiet almond eyes gazed into hers with the trustful simplicity of a child's.

'Yes,' he answered. 'This is purely a matter of business, in which I am consulting nothing but my own interests. I should have acted precisely in the same way if I had never had the pleasure of knowing either of you. If it chances that I have been of service to Miss Donne, so much the better, but there is no reason why she should ever know it, so far as I am concerned. I would rather she should not. She might fancy that I had acted from other motives.'

'Very well,' Mrs. Rushmore answered; 'then I shall not tell her.'

Nevertheless, when the motor car had tooted and puffed itself away to Paris and Mrs. Rushmore still sat in her straight-backed garden chair holding the cheque in her hand, she thought it all very strange and unaccountable; and the only explanation that occurred to her was that the invention must be worth far more than she had supposed. This was not altogether a pleasant reflection either, as it made her inclined to reproach herself for not having driven a hard bargain with Logotheti.

'But after all,' she said to herself, 'if half a million is not a fortune, it's a competence, even nowadays, and I suppose the man isn't an adventurer after all--at least, not if his cheque is good.'

In her complicated frame of mind she felt a distinct sense of disappointment at the thought that her judgment had been at fault, and that the Greek was not a blackleg, as she had decided that he ought to be.

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CHAPTER XLogotheti's motor car was built to combine the greatest comfort and the greatest speed which can be made compatible. It was not meant for sport, though it could easily beat most things on the road, for though the Greek lived a good deal among sporting men and often did what they did, he was not one himself. It was not in his nature to regard any sport as an object to be pursued for its own sake. Only the English take that view naturally, and, of late years, some Frenchmen. All other Europeans look upon sport as pastime which is
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CHAPTER VIIIIf 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,
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