Full Online Books
Authors Authors Short Stories Short Stories Long Stories Long Stories Funny Stories Funny Stories Love Stories Love Stories Stories For Kids Stories For Kids Poems Poems Essays Essays Nonfictions Nonfictions Plays Plays Folktales Folktales Fairy Tales Fairy Tales Fables Fables Learning Kitchen Learning Kitchen
Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional Free Classified Website Without Registration Free Classified Website Daniel Company
Twitter Twitter Add book
Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Primadonna - Chapter 1
Famous Authors (View All Authors)
The Primadonna - Chapter 1 Post by :jmoore Category :Long Stories Author :F. Marion Crawford Date :May 2011 Read :1807

Click below to download : The Primadonna - Chapter 1 (Format : PDF)

The Primadonna - Chapter 1


When the accident happened, Cordova was singing the mad scene in _Lucia for the last time in that season, and she had never sung it better. _The Bride of Lammermoor is the greatest love-story ever written, and it was nothing short of desecration to make a libretto of it; but so far as the last act is concerned the opera certainly conveys the impression that the heroine is a raving lunatic. Only a crazy woman could express feeling in such an unusual way.

Cordova's face was nothing but a mask of powder, in which her handsome brown eyes would have looked like two holes if she had not kept them half shut under the heavily whitened lids; her hands were chalked too, and they were like plaster casts of hands, cleverly jointed at the wrists. She wore a garment which was supposed to be a nightdress, which resembled a very expensive modern shroud, and which was evidently put on over a good many other things. There was a deal of lace on it, which fluttered when she made her hands shake to accompany each trill, and all this really contributed to the general impression of insanity. Possibly it was overdone; but if any one in the audience had seen such a young person enter his or her room unexpectedly, and uttering such unaccountable sounds, he or she would most assuredly have rung for a doctor and a cab, and for a strait-jacket if such a thing were to be had in the neighbourhood.

An elderly man, with very marked features and iron-grey hair, sat in the fifth row of the stalls, on the right-hand aisle. He was a bony man, and the people behind him noticed him and thought he looked strong. He had heard Bonanni in her best days and many great lyric sopranos from Patti to Melba, and he was thinking that none of them had sung the mad scene better than Cordova, who had only been on the stage two years, and was now in New York for the first time. But he had already heard her in London and Paris, and he knew her. He had first met her at a breakfast on board Logotheti's yacht at Cap Martin. Logotheti was a young Greek financier who lived in Paris and wanted to marry her. He was rather mad, and had tried to carry her off on the night of the dress rehearsal before her _debut_, but had somehow got himself locked up for somebody else. Since then he had grown calmer, but he still worshipped at the shrine of the Cordova. He was not the only one, however; there were several, including the very distinguished English man of letters, Edmund Lushington, who had known her before she had begun to sing on the stage.

But Lushington was in England and Logotheti was in Paris, and on the night of the accident Cordova had not many acquaintances in the house besides the bony man with grey hair; for though society had been anxious to feed her and get her to sing for nothing, and to play bridge with her, she had never been inclined to accept those attentions. Society in New York claimed her, on the ground that she was a lady and was an American on her mother's side. Yet she insisted on calling herself a professional, because singing was her profession, and society thought this so strange that it at once became suspicious and invented wild and unedifying stories about her; and the reporters haunted the lobby of her hotel, and gossiped with their friends the detectives, who also spent much time there in a professional way for the general good, and were generally what English workmen call wet smokers.

Cordova herself was altogether intent on what she was doing and was not thinking of her friends, of Lushington, or Logotheti, nor of the bony man in the stalls; certainly not of society, though it was richly represented by diamonds in the subscriber's tier. Indeed the jewellery was so plentiful and of such expensive quality that the whole row of boxes shone like a vast coronet set with thousands of precious stones. When the music did not amuse society, the diamonds and rubies twinkled and glittered uneasily, but when Cordova was trilling her wildest they were quite still and blazed with a steady light. Afterwards the audience would all say again what they had always said about every great lyric soprano, that it was just a wonderful instrument without a particle of feeling, that it was an over-grown canary, a human flute, and all the rest of it; but while the trills ran on the people listened in wonder and the diamonds were very quiet.

'A-a--A-a--A-a--A-a--' sang Cordova at an inconceivable pitch.

A terrific explosion shook the building to its foundations; the lights went out, and there was a long grinding crash of broken glass not far off.

In the momentary silence that followed before the inevitable panic the voice of Schreiermeyer, the manager, rang out through the darkness.

'Ladies and gentlemen! There's no danger! Keep your seats! The lights will be up directly.'

And indeed the little red lamps over each door that led out, being on another circuit, were all burning quietly, but in the first moment of fright no one noticed them, and the house seemed to be quite dark.

Then the whole mass of humanity began to writhe and swell, as a frightened crowd does in the dark, so that every one feels as if all the other people were growing hugely big, as big as elephants, to smother and crush him; and each man makes himself as broad as he can, and tries to swell out his chest, and squares his elbows to keep the weight off his sides; and with the steady strain and effort every one breathes hard, and few speak, and the hard-drawn breath of thousands together makes a sound of rushing wind like bellows as enormous as houses, blowing steadily in the darkness.

'Keep your seats!' yelled Schreiermeyer desperately.

He had been in many accidents, and understood the meaning of the noises he heard. There was death in them, death for the weak by squeezing, and smothering, and trampling underfoot. It was a grim moment, and no one who was there has forgotten it, the manager least of all.

'It's only a fuse gone!' he shouted. 'Only a plug burnt out!'

But the terrified throng did not believe, and the people pressed upon each other with the weight of hundreds of bodies, thronging from behind, towards the little red lights. There were groans now, besides the strained breathing and the soft shuffling of many feet on the thick carpets. Each time some one went down there was a groan, stifled as instantly and surely as though the lips from which it came were quickly thrust under water.

Schreiermeyer knew well enough that if nothing could be done within the next two minutes there would be an awful catastrophe; but he was helpless. No doubt the electricians were at work; in ten minutes the damage would be repaired and the lights would be up again; but the house would be empty then, except for the dead and the dying.

Another groan was heard, and another quickly after it. The wretched manager yelled, stormed, stamped, entreated, and promised, but with no effect. In the very faint red light from the doors he saw a moving sea of black and heard it surging to his very feet. He had an old professional's exact sense of passing time, and he knew that a full minute had already gone by since the explosion. No one could be dead yet, even in that press, but there were few seconds to spare, fewer and fewer.

Then another sound was heard, a very pure strong note, high above his own tones, a beautiful round note, that made one think of gold and silver bells, and that filled the house instantly, like light, and reached every ear, even through the terror that was driving the crowd mad in the dark.

A moment more, an instant's pause, and Cordova had begun Lucia's song again at the beginning, and her marvellous trills and staccato notes, and trills again, trills upon trills without end, filled the vast darkness and stopped those four thousand men and women, spellbound and silent, and ashamed too.

It was not great music, surely; but it was sung by the greatest living singer, singing alone in the dark, as calmly and as perfectly as if all the orchestra had been with her, singing as no one can who feels the least tremor of fear; and the awful tension of the dark throng relaxed, and the breath that came was a great sigh of relief, for it was not possible to be frightened when a fearless woman was singing so marvellously.

Then, still in the dark, some of the musicians struck in and supported her, and others followed, till the whole body of harmony was complete; and just as she was at the wildest trills, at the very passage during which the crash had come, the lights went up all at once; and there stood Cordova in white and lace, with her eyes half shut and shaking her outstretched hands as she always made them shake in the mad scene; and the stage was just as it had been before the accident, except that Schreiermeyer was standing near the singer in evening dress with a perfectly new and shiny high hat on the back of his head, and his mouth wide open.

The people were half hysterical from the past danger, and when they saw, and realised, they did not wait for the end of the air, but sent up such a shout of applause as had never been heard in the Opera before and may not be heard there again.

Instinctively the Primadonna sang the last bars, though no one heard her in the din, unless it was Schreiermeyer, who stood near her. When she had finished at last he ran up to her and threw both his arms round her in a paroxysm of gratitude, regardless of her powder and chalk, which came off upon his coat and yellow beard in patches of white as he kissed her on both cheeks, calling her by every endearing name that occurred to his polyglot memory, from Sweetheart in English to Little Cabbage in French, till Cordova laughed and pushed him away, and made a tremendous courtesy to the audience.

Just then a man in a blue jacket and gilt buttons entered from the left of the stage and whispered a few words into Schreiermeyer's ear. The manager looked grave at once, nodded and came forward to the prompter's box. The man had brought news of the accident, he said; a quantity of dynamite which was to have been used in subterranean blasting had exploded and had done great damage, no one yet knew how great. It was probable that many persons had been killed.

But for this news, Cordova would have had one of those ovations which rarely fall to the lot of any but famous singers, for there was not a man or woman in the theatre who had not felt that she had averted a catastrophe and saved scores of lives. As it was, several women had been slightly hurt and at least fifty had fainted. Every one was anxious to help them now, most of all the very people who had hurt them.

But the news of an accident in the city emptied the house in a few minutes; even now that the lights were up the anxiety to get out to the street and to know more of the truth was great enough to be dangerous, and the strong crowd heaved and surged again and pushed through the many doors with little thought for the weak or for any who had been injured in the first panic.

But in the meantime Cordova had reached her dressing-room, supported by the enthusiastic Schreiermeyer on one side, and by the equally enthusiastic tenor on the other, while the singular family party assembled in the last act of _Lucia di Lammermoor brought up the rear with many expressions of admiration and sympathy.

As a matter of fact the Primadonna needed neither sympathy nor support, and that sort of admiration was not of the kind that most delighted her. She did not believe that she had done anything heroic, and did not feel at all inclined to cry.

'You saved the whole audience!' cried Signor Pompeo Stromboli, the great Italian tenor, who presented an amazing appearance in his Highland dress. 'Four thousand seven hundred and fifty-three people owe you their lives at this moment! Every one of them would have been dead but for your superb coolness! Ah, you are indeed a great woman!'

Schreiermeyer's business ear had caught the figures. As they walked, each with an arm through one of the Primadonna's, he leaned back and spoke to Stromboli behind her head.

'How the devil do you know what the house was?' he asked sharply.

'I always know,' answered the Italian in a perfectly matter-of-fact tone. 'My dresser finds out from the box-office. I never take the C sharp if there are less than three thousand.'

'I'll stop that!' growled Schreiermeyer.

'As you please!' Stromboli shrugged his massive shoulders. 'C sharp is not in the engagement!'

'It shall be in the next! I won't sign without it!'

'I won't sign at all!' retorted the tenor with a sneer of superiority. 'You need not talk of conditions, for I shall not come to America again!'

'Oh, do stop quarrelling!' laughed Cordova as they reached the door of her box, for she had heard similar amenities exchanged twenty times already, and she knew that they meant nothing at all on either side.

'Have you any beer?' inquired Stromboli of the Primadonna, as if nothing had happened.

'Bring some beer, Bob!' Schreiermeyer called out over his shoulder to some one in the distance.

'Yes, sir,' answered a rough voice, far off, and with a foreign accent.

The three entered the Primadonna's dressing-room together. It was a hideous place, as all dressing-rooms are which are never used two days in succession by the same actress or singer; very different from the pretty cells in the beehive of the Comedie Francaise where each pensioner or shareholder is lodged like a queen bee by herself, for years at a time.

The walls of Cordova's dressing-room were more or less white-washed where the plaster had not been damaged. There was a dingy full-length mirror, a shabby toilet-table; there were a few crazy chairs, the wretched furniture which is generally to be found in actresses' dressing-rooms, notwithstanding the marvellous descriptions invented by romancers. But there was light in abundance and to excess, dazzling, unshaded, intolerable to any but theatrical eyes. There were at least twenty strong electric lamps in the miserable place, which illuminated the coarsely painted faces of the Primadonna and the tenor with alarming distinctness, and gleamed on Schreiermeyer's smooth fair hair and beard, and impassive features.

'You'll have two columns and a portrait in every paper to-morrow,' he observed thoughtfully. 'It's worth while to engage such people. Oh yes, damn it, I tell you it's worth while!'

The last emphatic sentence was intended for Stromboli, as if he had contradicted the statement, or were himself not 'worth while.'

'There's beer there already,' said the tenor, seeing a bottle and glass on a deal table, and making for them at once.

He undid the patent fastening, stood upright with his sturdy stockinged legs wide apart, threw his head back, opened his huge painted mouth to the necessary extent, but not to the full, and without touching his lips poured the beer into the chasm in a gurgling stream, which he swallowed without the least apparent difficulty. When he had taken down half the contents of the small bottle he desisted and poured the rest into the glass, apparently for Cordova's benefit.

'I hope I have left you enough,' he said, as he prepared to go. 'My throat felt like a rusty gun-barrel.'

'Fright is very bad for the voice,' Schreiermeyer remarked, as the call-boy handed him another bottle of beer through the open door.

Stromboli took no notice of the direct imputation. He had taken a very small and fine handkerchief from his sporran and was carefully tucking it into his collar with some idea of protecting his throat. When this was done his admiration for his colleague broke out again without the slightest warning.

'You were superb, magnificent, surpassing!' he cried.

He seized Cordova's chalked hands, pressed them to his own whitened chin, by sheer force of stage habit, because the red on his lips would have come off on them, and turned away.

'Surpassing! Magnificent! What a woman!' he roared in tremendous tones as he strode away through the dim corridor towards the stage and his own dressing-room on the other side.

Meanwhile Schreiermeyer, who was quite as thirsty as the tenor, drank what the latter had left in the only glass there was, and set the full bottle beside the latter on the deal table.

'There is your beer,' he said, calling attention to what he had done.

Cordova nodded carelessly and sat down on one of the crazy chairs before the toilet-table. Her maid at once came forward and took off her wig, and her own beautiful brown hair appeared, pressed and matted close to her head in a rather disorderly coil.

'You must be tired,' said the manager, with more consideration than he often showed to any one whose next engagement was already signed. 'I'll find out how many were killed in the explosion and then I'll get hold of the reporters. You'll have two columns and a picture to-morrow.'

Schreiermeyer rarely took the trouble to say good-morning or good-night, and Cordova heard the door shut after him as he went out.

'Lock it,' she said to her maid. 'I'm sure that madman is about the theatre again.'

The maid obeyed with alacrity. She was very tall and dark, and when she had entered Cordova's service two years ago she had been positively cadaverous. She herself said that her appearance had been the result of living many years with the celebrated Madame Bonanni, who was a whirlwind, an earthquake, a phenomenon, a cosmic force. No one who had lived with her in her stage days had ever grown fat; it was as much as a very strong constitution could do not to grow thin.

Madame Bonanni had presented the cadaverous woman to the young Primadonna as one of the most precious of her possessions, and out of sheer affection. It was true that since the great singer had closed her long career and had retired to live in the country, in Provence, she dressed with such simplicity as made it possible for her to exist without the long-faithful, all-skilful, and iron-handed Alphonsine; and the maid, on her side, was so thoroughly a professional theatrical dresser that she must have died of inanition in what she would have called private life. Lastly, she had heard that Madame Bonanni had now given up the semblance, long far from empty, but certainly vain, of a waist, and dressed herself in a garment resembling a priest's cassock, buttoned in front from her throat to her toes.

Alphonsine locked the door, and the Primadonna leaned her elbows on the sordid toilet-table and stared at her chalked and painted face, vaguely trying to recognise the features of Margaret Donne, the daughter of the quiet Oxford scholar, her real self as she had been two years ago, and by no means very different from her everyday self now. But it was not easy. Margaret was there, no doubt, behind the paint and the 'liquid white,' but the reality was what the public saw beyond the footlights two or three times a week during the opera season, and applauded with might and main as the most successful lyric soprano of the day.

There were moments when she tried to get hold of herself and bring herself back. They came most often after some great emotion in the theatre, when the sight of the painted mask in the glass shocked and disgusted her as it did to-night; when the contrasts of life were almost more than she could bear, when her sensibilities awoke again, when the fastidiousness of the delicately nurtured girl revolted under the rough familiarity of such a comrade as Stromboli, and rebelled against the sordid cynicism of Schreiermeyer.

She shuddered at the mere idea that the manager should have thought she would drink out of the glass he had just used. Even the Italian peasant, who had been a goatherd in Calabria, and could hardly write his name, showed more delicacy, according to his lights, which were certainly not dazzling. A faint ray of Roman civilisation had reached him through generations of slaves and serfs and shepherds. But no such traditions of forgotten delicacy disturbed the manners of Schreiermeyer. The glass from which he had drunk was good enough for any primadonna in his company, and it was silly for any of them to give themselves airs. Were they not largely his creatures, fed from his hand, to work for him while they were young, and to be turned out as soon as they began to sing false? He was by no means the worst of his kind, as Margaret knew very well.

She thought of her childhood, of her mother and of her father, both dead long before she had gone on the stage; and of that excellent and kind Mrs. Rushmore, her American mother's American friend, who had taken her as her own daughter, and had loved her and cared for her, and had shed tears when Margaret insisted on becoming a singer; who had fought for her, too, and had recovered for her a small fortune of which her mother had been cheated. For Margaret would have been more than well off without her profession, even when she had made her _debut_, and she had given up much to be a singer, believing that she knew what she was doing.

But now she was ready to undo it all and to go back; at least she thought she was, as she stared at herself in the glass while the pale maid drew her hair back and fastened it far above her forehead with a big curved comb, as a preliminary to getting rid of paint and powder. At this stage of the operation the Primadonna was neither Cordova nor Margaret Donne; there was something terrifying about the exaggeratedly painted mask when the wig was gone and her natural hair was drawn tightly back. She thought she was like a monstrous skinned rabbit with staring brown eyes.

At first, with the inexperience of youth, she used to plunge her painted face into soapsuds and scrub vigorously till her own complexion appeared, a good deal overheated and temporarily shiny; but before long she had yielded to Alphonsine's entreaties and representations and had adopted the butter method, long familiar to chimney-sweeps.

The butter lay ready; not in a lordly dish, but in a clean tin can with a cover, of the kind workmen use for fetching beer, and commonly called a 'growler' in New York, for some reason which escapes etymologists.

Having got rid of the upper strata of white lace and fine linen, artfully done up so as to tremble like aspen leaves with Lucia's mad trills, Margaret proceeded to butter her face thoroughly. It occurred to her just then that all the other artists who had appeared with her were presumably buttering their faces at the same moment, and that if the public could look in upon them it would be very much surprised indeed. At the thought she forgot what she had been thinking of and smiled.

The maid, who was holding her hair back where it escaped the comb, smiled too, and evidently considered that the relaxation of Margaret's buttered features was equivalent to a permission to speak.

'It was a great triumph for Madame,' she observed. 'All the papers will praise Madame to-morrow. Madame saved many lives.'

'Was Mr. Griggs in the house?' Margaret asked. 'I did not see him.'

Alphonsine did not answer at once, and when she spoke her tone had changed.

'Yes, Madame. Mr. Griggs was in the house.'

Margaret wondered whether she had saved his life too, in his own estimation or in that of her maid, and while she pondered the question she buttered her nose industriously.

Alphonsine took a commercial view of the case.

'If Madame would appear three times more in New York, before sailing, the manager would give ten thousand francs a night,' she observed.

Margaret said nothing to this, but she thought it would be amusing to show herself to an admiring public in her present condition.

'Madame is now a heroine,' continued Alphonsine, behind her. 'Madame can ask anything she pleases. Several milliardaires will now offer to marry Madame.'

'Alphonsine,' answered Margaret, 'you have no sense.'

The maid smiled, knowing that her mistress could not see even the reflection of the smile in the glass; but she said nothing.

'No sense,' Margaret repeated, with conviction. 'None at all'

The maid allowed a few seconds to pass before she spoke again.

'Or if Madame would accept to sing in one or two private houses in New York, we could ask a very great price, more than the manager would give.'

'I daresay.'

'It is certain,' said Alphonsine. 'At the French ball to which Madame kindly allowed me to go, the valet of Mr. Van Torp approached me.'

'Indeed!' exclaimed Cordova absently. 'How very disagreeable!'

'I see that Madame is not listening,' said Alphonsine, taking offence.

What she said was so true that Margaret did not answer at all. Besides, the buttering process was finished, and it was time for the hot water. She went to the ugly stationary washstand and bent over it, while the maid kept her hair from her face. Alphonsine spoke again when she was sure that her mistress could not possibly answer her.

'Mr. Van Torp's valet asked me whether I thought Madame would be willing to sing in church, at the wedding, the day after to-morrow,' she said, holding the Primadonna's back hair firmly.

The head moved energetically under her hands. Margaret would certainly not sing at Mr. Van Torp's wedding, and she even tried to say so, but her voice only bubbled and sputtered ineffectually through the soap and water.

'I was sure Madame would not,' continued the maid, 'though Mr. Van Torp's valet said that money was no object. He had heard Mr. Van Torp say that he would give five thousand dollars to have Madame sing at his wedding.'

Margaret did not shake her head this time, nor try to speak, but Alphonsine heard the little impatient tap of her slipper on the wooden floor. It was not often that the Primadonna showed so much annoyance at anything; and of late, when she did, the cause had been connected with this same Mr. Van Torp. The mere mention of his name irritated her, and Alphonsine seemed to know it, and to take an inexplicable pleasure in talking about him--about Mr. Rufus Van Torp, formerly of Chicago, but now of New York. He was looked upon as the controlling intellect of the great Nickel Trust; in fact, he was the Nickel Trust himself, and the other men in it were mere dummies compared with him. He had sailed the uncertain waters of finance for twenty years or more, and had been nearly shipwrecked more than once, but at the time of this story he was on the top of the wave; and as his past was even more entirely a matter of conjecture than his future, it would be useless to inquire into the former or to speculate about the latter. Moreover, in these break-neck days no time counts but the present, so far as reputation goes; good fame itself now resembles righteousness chiefly because it clothes men as with a garment; and as we have the highest authority for assuming that charity covers a multitude of sins, we can hardly be surprised that it should be so generally used for that purpose. Rufus Van Torp's charities were notorious, aggressive, and profitable. The same sums of money could not have bought as much mingled advertisement and immunity in any other way.

'Of course,' observed Alphonsine, seeing that Margaret would soon be able to speak again, 'money is no object to Madame either!'

This subtle flattery was evidently meant to forestall reproof. But Margaret was now splashing vigorously, and as both taps were running the noise was as loud as that of a small waterfall; possibly she had not even heard the maid's last speech.

Some one knocked at the door, and knocked a second time almost directly. The Primadonna pushed Alphonsine with her elbow, speaking being still impossible, and the woman understood that she was to answer the summons.

She asked who was knocking, and some one answered.

'It is Mr. Griggs,' said Alphonsine.

'Ask him to wait,' Margaret succeeded in saying.

Alphonsine transmitted the message through the closed door, and listened for the answer.

'He says that there is a lady dying in the manager's room, who wants Madame,' said the maid, repeating what she heard.

Margaret stood upright, turned quickly, and crossed the room to the door, mopping her face with a towel.

'Who is it?' she asked in an anxious tone.

'I'm Griggs,' said a deep voice. 'Come at once, if you can, for the poor girl cannot last long.'

'One minute! Don't go away--I'm coming out.'

Alphonsine never lost her head. A theatrical dresser who does is of no use. She had already brought the wide fur coat Margaret always wore after singing. In ten seconds the singer was completely clothed in it, and as she laid her hand on the lock to let herself out, the maid placed a dark Russian hood on her head from behind her and took the long ends twice round her throat.

Mr. Griggs was a large bony man with iron-grey hair, who looked very strong. He had a sad face and deep-set grey eyes. He led the way without speaking, and Cordova walked quickly after him. Alphonsine did not follow, for she was responsible for the belongings that lay about in the dressing-room. The other doors on the women's side, which is on the stage left and the audience's right at the Opera, were all tightly closed. The stage itself was not dark yet, and the carpenters were putting away the scenery of the last act as methodically as if nothing had happened.

'Do you know her?' Margaret asked of her companion as they hurried along the passage that leads into the house.

'Barely. She is a Miss Bamberger, and she was to have been married the day after to-morrow, poor thing--to a millionaire. I always forget his name, though I've met him several times.'

'Van Torp?' asked Margaret as they hastened on.

'Yes. That's it--the Nickel Trust man, you know.'

'Yes,' Margaret answered in a low tone. 'I was asked to sing at the wedding.'

They reached the door of the manager's room. The clerks from the box-office and several other persons employed about the house were whispering together in the little lobby. They made way for Cordova and looked with curiosity at Griggs, who was a well-known man of letters.

Schreiermeyer stood at the half-closed inner door, evidently waiting.

'Come in,' he said to Margaret. 'The doctor is there.'

The room was flooded with electric light, and smelt of very strong Havana cigars and brandy. Margaret saw a slight figure in a red silk evening gown, lying at full length on an immense red leathern sofa. A young doctor was kneeling on the floor, bending down to press his ear against the girl's side; he moved his head continually, listening for the beating of her heart. Her face was of a type every one knows, and had a certain half-pathetic prettiness; the features were small, and the chin was degenerate but delicately modelled. The rather colourless fair hair was elaborately done; her thin cheeks were dreadfully white, and her thin neck shrank painfully each time she breathed out, though it grew smooth and full as she drew in her breath. A short string of very large pearls was round her throat, and gleamed in the light as her breathing moved them.

Schreiermeyer did not let Griggs come in, but went out to him, shut the door and stood with his back to it.

Margaret did not look behind her, but crossed directly to the sofa and leaned over the dying girl, who was conscious and looked at her with inquiring eyes, not recognising her.

'You sent for me,' said the singer gently.

'Are you really Madame Cordova?' asked the girl in a faint tone.

It was as much as she could do to speak at all, and the doctor looked up to Margaret and raised his hand in a warning gesture, meaning that his patient should not be allowed to talk. She saw his movement and smiled faintly, and shook her head.

'No one can save me,' she said to him, quite quietly and distinctly. 'Please leave us together, doctor.'

'I am altogether at a loss,' the doctor answered, speaking to Margaret as he rose. 'There are no signs of asphyxia, yet the heart does not respond to stimulants. I've tried nitro-glycerine--'

'Please, please go away!' begged the girl.

The doctor was a young surgeon from the nearest hospital, and hated to leave his case. He was going to argue the point, but Margaret stopped him.

'Go into the next room for a moment, please,' she said authoritatively.

He obeyed with a bad grace, and went into the empty office which adjoined the manager's room, but he left the door open. Margaret knelt down in his place and took the girl's cold white hand.

'Can he hear?' asked the faint voice.

'Speak low,' Margaret answered. 'What can I do?'

'It is a secret,' said the girl. 'The last I shall ever have, but I must tell some one before I die. I know about you. I know you are a lady, and very good and kind, and I have always admired you so much!'

'You can trust me,' said the singer. 'What is the secret I am to keep for you?'

'Do you believe in God? I do, but so many people don't nowadays, you know. Tell me.'

'Yes,' Margaret answered, wondering. 'Yes, I do.'

'Will you promise, by the God you believe in?'

'I promise to keep your secret, so help me God in Heaven,' said Margaret gravely.

The girl seemed relieved, and closed her eyes for a moment. She was so pale and still that Margaret thought the end had come, but presently she drew breath again and spoke, though it was clear that she had not much strength left.

'You must not keep the secret always,' she said. 'You may tell him you know it. Yes--let him know that you know--if you think it best--'

'Who is he?'

'Mr. Van Torp.'

'Yes?' Margaret bent her ear to the girl's lips and waited.

Again there was a pause of many seconds, and then the voice came once more, with a great effort that only produced very faint sounds, scarcely above a whisper.

'He did it.'

That was all. At long intervals the dying girl drew deep breaths, longer and longer, and then no more. Margaret looked anxiously at the still face for some time, and then straightened herself suddenly.

'Doctor! Doctor!' she cried.

The young man was beside her in an instant. For a full minute there was no sound in the room, and he bent over the motionless figure.

'I'm afraid I can't do anything,' he said gently, and he rose to his feet.

'Is she really dead?' Margaret asked, in an undertone.

'Yes. Failure of the heart, from shock.'

'Is that what you will call it?'

'That is what it is,' said the doctor with a little emphasis of offence, as if his science had been doubted. 'You knew her, I suppose?'

'No. I never saw her before. I will call Schreiermeyer.'

She stood still a moment longer, looking down at the dead face, and she wondered what it all meant, and why the poor girl had sent for her, and what it was that Mr. Van Torp had done. Then she turned very slowly and went out.

'Dead, I suppose,' said Schreiermeyer as soon as he saw the Primadonna's face. 'Her relations won't get here in time.'

Margaret nodded in silence and went on through the lobby.

'The rehearsal is at eleven,' the manager called out after her, in his wooden voice.

She nodded again, but did not look back. Griggs had waited in order to take her back to her dressing-room, and the two crossed the stage together. It was almost quite dark now, and the carpenters were gone away.

'Thank you,' Margaret said. 'If you don't care to go all the way back you can get out by the stage door.'

'Yes. I know the way in this theatre. Before I say good-night, do you mind telling me what the doctor said?'

'He said she died of failure of the heart, from shock. Those were his words. Why do you ask?'

'Mere curiosity. I helped to carry her--that is, I carried her myself to the manager's room, and she begged me to call you, so I came to your door.'

'It was kind of you. Perhaps it made a difference to her, poor girl. Good-night.'

'Good-night. When do you sail?'

'On Saturday. I sing "Juliet" on Friday night and sail the next morning.'

'On the _Leofric_?'


'So do I. We shall cross together.'

'How delightful! I'm so glad! Good-night again.'

Alphonsine was standing at the open door of the dressing-room in the bright light, and Margaret nodded and went in. The maid looked after the elderly man till he finally disappeared, and then she went in too and locked the door after her.

Griggs walked home in the bitter March weather. When he was in New York, he lived in rooms on the second floor of an old business building not far from Fifth Avenue. He was quite alone in the house at night, and had to walk up the stairs by the help of a little electric pocket-lantern he carried. He let himself into his own door, turned up the light, slipped off his overcoat and gloves, and went to the writing-table to get his pipe. That is very often the first thing a man does when he gets home at night.

The old briar pipe he preferred to any other lay on the blotting-paper in the circle where the light was brightest. As he took it a stain on his right hand caught his eye, and he dropped the pipe to look at it. The blood was dark and was quite dry, and he could not find any scratch to account for it. It was on the inner side of his right hand, between the thumb and forefinger, and was no larger than an ordinary watch.

'How very odd!' exclaimed Mr. Griggs aloud; and he turned his hand this way and that under the electric lamp, looking for some small wound which he supposed must have bled. There was a little more inside his fingers, and between them, as if it had oozed through and then had spread over his knuckles.

But he could find nothing to account for it. He was an elderly man who had lived all over the world and had seen most things, and he was not easily surprised, but he was puzzled now. Not the least strange thing was that the stain should be as small as it was and yet so dark. He crossed the room again and examined the front of his overcoat with the most minute attention. It was made of a dark frieze, almost black, on which a red stain would have shown very little; but after a very careful search Griggs was convinced that the blood which had stained his hand had not touched the cloth.

He went into his dressing-room and looked at his face in his shaving-glass, but there was certainly no stain on the weather-beaten cheeks or the furrowed forehead.

'How very odd!' he exclaimed a second time.

He washed his hands slowly and carefully, examining them again and again, for he thought it barely possible that the skin might have been cracked somewhere by the cutting March wind, and might have bled a little, but he could not find the least sign of such a thing.

When he was finally convinced that he could not account for the stain he had now washed off, he filled his old pipe thoughtfully and sat down in a big shabby arm-chair beside the table to think over other questions more easy of solution. For he was a philosophical man, and when he could not understand a matter he was able to put it away in a safe place, to be kept until he got more information about it.

The next morning, amidst the flamboyant accounts of the subterranean explosion, and of the heroic conduct of Madame Margarita da Cordova, the famous Primadonna, in checking a dangerous panic at the Opera, all the papers found room for a long paragraph about Miss Ida H. Bamberger, who had died at the theatre in consequence of the shock her nerves had received, and who was to have married the celebrated capitalist and philanthropist, Mr. Van Torp, only two days later. There were various dramatic and heart-rending accounts of her death, and most of them agreed that she had breathed her last amidst her nearest and dearest, who had been with her all the evening.

But Mr. Griggs read these paragraphs thoughtfully, for he remembered that he had found her lying in a heap behind a red baize door which his memory could easily identify.

After all, the least misleading notice was the one in the column of deaths:--

BAMBERGER.--On Wednesday, of heart-failure from shock, IDA HAMILTON, only child of HANNAH MOON by her former marriage with ISIDORE BAMBERGER. California papers please copy.

If you like this book please share to your friends :

The Primadonna - Chapter 2 The Primadonna - Chapter 2

The Primadonna - Chapter 2
CHAPTER II In the lives of professionals, whatever their profession may be, the ordinary work of the day makes very little impression on the memory as a very strong and lasting one is often made by circumstances which a man of leisure or a woman of the world might barely notice, and would soon forget. In Margaret's life there were but two sorts of days, those on which she was to sing and those on which she was at liberty. In the one case she had a cutlet at five o'clock, and supper when she came home; in the other, she

Fair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 20 Fair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 20

Fair Margaret: A Portrait - Chapter 20
CHAPTER XX The stage was set for the introduction to the first act of _Rigoletto_, the curtain was down, the lights were already up in the house and a good many people were in their seats or standing about and chatting quietly. It was a hot afternoon in July, and high up in the gallery the summer sunshine streamed through an open window full upon the blazing lights of the central chandelier, a straight, square beam of yellow gold thrown across a white fire, and clearly seen through it. It was still afternoon when the dress rehearsal began, but the night