Read CHAPTER VII of The Primadonna, free online book, by F. Marion Crawford, on ReadCentral.com.

Two days later Margaret was somewhat surprised by an informal invitation to dine at the Turkish Embassy.  The Ambassador had lately been transferred to London from Paris, where she had known him through Logotheti and had met him two or three times.  The latter, as a Fanariote Greek, was a Turkish subject, and although he had once told Margaret that the Turks had murdered his father in some insurrection, and though he himself might have hesitated to spend much time in Constantinople, he nevertheless maintained friendly relations with the representatives of what was his country; and for obvious reasons, connected with Turkish finance, they treated him with marked consideration.  On general principles and in theory Turks and Greeks hate each other; in practice they can live very amicably side by side.  In the many cases in which Armenians have been attacked and killed by the Turks no Greek has ever been hurt except by accident; on the other hand, none has lifted a hand to defend an Armenian in distress, which sufficiently proves that the question of religion has not been concerned at all.

Margaret accepted the Ambassador’s invitation, feeling tolerably sure of meeting Logotheti at the dinner.  If there were any other women they would be of the meteoric sort, the fragments of former social planets that go on revolving in the old orbit, more or less divorced, bankrupt, or otherwise unsound, though still smart, the kind of women who are asked to fill a table on such occasions ’because they won’t mind’ ­that is to say, they will not object to dining with a primadonna or an actress whose husband has become nebulous and whose reputation is mottled.  The men, of whom there might be several, would be either very clever or overpoweringly noble, because all geniuses and all peers are supposed to like their birds of paradise a little high.  I wonder why.  I have met and talked with a good many men of genius, from Wagner and Liszt to Zola and some still living contemporaries, and, really, their general preference for highly correct social gatherings has struck me as phenomenal.  There are even noblemen who seem to be quite respectable, and pretend that they would rather talk to an honest woman at a dinner party than drink bumpers of brut champagne out of Astarte’s satin slipper.

Mustapha Pasha, the Turkish Ambassador, was a fair, pale man of fifty, who had spiritual features, quiet blue eyes, and a pleasant smile.  His hands were delicately made and very white, but not effeminate.  He had been educated partly in England, and spoke English without difficulty and almost without accent, as Logotheti did.  He came forward to meet Margaret as she entered the room, and he greeted her warmly, thanking her for being so good as to come at short notice.

Logotheti was the next to take her hand, and she looked at him attentively when her eyes met his, wondering whether he, too, would think her changed.  He himself was not, at all events.  Mustapha Pasha, a born Musalman and a genuine Turk, never arrested attention in an English drawing-room by his appearance; but Constantino Logotheti, the Greek, was an Oriental in looks as well as in character.  His beautiful eyes were almond-shaped, his lips were broad and rather flat, and the small black moustache grew upwards and away from them so as not to hide his mouth at all.  He had an even olive complexion, and any judge of men would have seen at a glance that he was thoroughly sound and as strong as a professional athlete.  His coat had a velvet collar; a single emerald stud, worth several thousand pounds, diffused a green refulgence round itself in the middle of his very shiny shirt front; his waistcoat was embroidered and adorned with diamond buttons, his trousers were tight, and his name, with those of three or four other European financiers, made it alternately possible or impossible for impecunious empires and kingdoms to raise money in England, France and Germany.  In matters of business, in the East, the Jew fears the Greek, the Greek fears the Armenian, the Armenian fears the Persian, and the Persian fears only Allah.  One reason why the Jews do not care to return to Palestine and Asia Minor is that they cannot get a living amongst Christians and Mohammedans, a plain fact which those eminent and charitable European Jews who are trying to draw their fellow-believers eastward would do well to consider.  Even in Europe there are far more poor Jews than Christians realise; in Asia there are hardly any rich ones.  The Venetians were too much for Shylock, and he lost his ducats and his daughter; amongst Christian Greeks, Christian Armenians, and Musalman Persians, from Constantinople to Tiflis, Teheran, Bagdad and Cairo, the poor man could not have saved sixpence a year.

This is not a mere digression, since it may serve to define Logotheti’s position in the scale of the financial forces.

Margaret took his hand and looked at him just a little longer than she had looked at Mustapha Pasha.  He never wrote to her, and never took the trouble to let her know where he was; but when they met his time was hers, and when he could be with her he seemed to have no other pre-occupation in life.

‘I came over from Paris to-day,’ he said.  ’When may I come and see you?’

That was always the first question, for he never wasted time.

‘To-morrow, if you like.  Come late ­about seven.’

The Ambassador was on her other side.  A little knot of men and one lady were standing near the fire in an expectant sort of way, ready to be introduced to Margaret.  She saw the bony head of Paul Griggs, and she smiled at him from a distance.  He was talking to a very handsome and thoroughbred looking woman in plain black velvet, who had the most perfectly beautiful shoulders Margaret had ever seen.

Mustapha Pasha led the Primadonna to the group.

‘Lady Maud,’ he said to the beauty, ’this is my old friend Senorita da Cordova.  Countess Leven,’ he added, for Margaret’s benefit.

She had not met him more than three times, but she did not resent being called his old friend.  It was well meant, she thought.

Lady Maud held out her hand cordially.

‘I’ve wanted to know you ever so long,’ she said, in her sweet low voice.

‘That’s very kind of you,’ Margaret answered.

It is not easy to find a proper reply to people who say they have long hoped to meet you, but Griggs came to the rescue, as he shook hands in his turn.

‘That was not a mere phrase,’ he said with a smile.  ’It’s quite true.  Lady Maud wanted me to give her a letter to you a year ago.’

‘Indeed I did,’ asseverated the beauty, nodding, ’but Mr. Griggs said he didn’t know you well enough!’

‘You might have asked me,’ observed Logotheti.  ’I’m less cautious than Griggs.’

‘You’re too exotic,’ retorted Lady Maud, with a ripple in her voice.

The adjective described the Greek so well that the others laughed.

‘Exotic,’ Margaret repeated the word thoughtfully.

‘For that matter,’ put in Mustapha Pasha with a smile, ’I can hardly be called a native!’

The Countess Leven looked at him critically.

‘You could pass for one,’ she said, ‘but Monsieur Logotheti couldn’t.’  The other men, whom Margaret did not know, had been listening in silence, and maintained their expectant attitude.  In the pause which followed Lady Maud’s remark the Ambassador introduced them in foreign fashion:  one was a middle-aged peer who wore gold-rimmed spectacles and looked like a student or a man of letters; another was the most successful young playwright of the younger generation, and he wore a very good coat and was altogether well turned out, for in his heart he prided himself on being the best groomed man in London; a third was a famous barrister who had a crisp and breezy way with him that made flat calms in conversation impossible.  Lastly, a very disagreeable young man, who seemed a mere boy, was introduced to the Primadonna.

‘Mr. Feist,’ said the Ambassador, who never forgot names.

Margaret was aware of a person with an unhealthy complexion, thick hair of a dead-leaf brown colour, and staring blue eyes that made her think of glass marbles.  The face had an unnaturally youthful look, and yet, at the same time, there was something profoundly vicious about it.  Margaret wondered who in the world the young man might be and why he was at the Turkish Embassy, apparently invited there to meet her.  She at once supposed that in spite of his appearance he must have some claim to celebrity.

‘I’m a great admirer of yours, Senorita,’ said Mr. Feist in a womanish voice and with a drawl.  ’I was in the Metropolitan in New York when you sang in the dark and prevented a panic.  I suppose that was about the finest thing any singer ever did.’

Margaret smiled pleasantly, though she felt the strongest repulsion for the man.

‘I happened to be on the stage,’ she said modestly.  ’Any of the others would have done the same.’

‘Well,’ drawled Mr. Feist, ‘may be.  I doubt it.’

Dinner was announced.

‘Will you keep house for me?’ asked the Ambassador of Lady Maud.

’There’s something rather appropriate about your playing Ambassadress here,’ observed Logotheti.

Margaret heard but did not understand that her new acquaintance was a Russian subject.  Mustapha Pasha held out his arm to take her in to dinner.  The spectacled peer took in Lady Maud, and the men straggled in.  At table Lady Maud sat opposite the Pasha, with the peer on her right and the barrister on her left.  Margaret was on the right of the Ambassador, on whose other side Griggs was placed, and Logotheti was Margaret’s other neighbour.  Feist and the young playwright were together, between Griggs and the nobleman.

Margaret glanced round the table at the people and wondered about them.  She had heard of the barrister and the novelist, and the peer’s name had a familiar sound that suggested something unusual, though she could not quite remember what it was.  It might be pictures, or the north pole, or the divorce court, or a new idiot asylum; it would never matter much.  The new acquaintances on whom her attention fixed itself were Lady Maud, who attracted her strongly, and Mr. Feist, who repelled her.  She wished she could speak Greek in order to ask Logotheti who the latter was and why he was present.  To judge by appearances he was probably a rich young American who travelled and frequented theatres a good deal, and who wished to be able to say that he knew Cordova.  He had perhaps arrived lately with a letter of introduction to the Ambassador, who had asked him to the first nondescript informal dinner he gave, because the man would not have fitted in anywhere else.

Logotheti began to talk at once, while Mustapha Pasha plunged into a political conversation with Griggs.

‘I’m much more glad to see you than you can imagine,’ the Greek said, not in an undertone, but just so softly that no one else could hear him.

‘I’m not good at imagining,’ answered Margaret.  ’But I’m glad you are here.  There are so many new faces.’

’Happily you are not shy.  One of your most enviable qualities is your self-possession.’

‘You’re not lacking in that way either,’ laughed Margaret.  ’Unless you have changed very much.’

’Neither of us has changed much since last year.  I only wish you would!’

Margaret turned her head to look at him.

‘So you think I am not changed!’ she said, with a little pleased surprise in her tone.

’Not a bit.  If anything, you have grown younger in the last two years.’

‘Does that mean more youthful?  More frisky?  I hope not!’

’No, not at all.  What I see is the natural effect of vast success on a very, nice woman.  Formerly, even after you had begun your career, you had some doubts as to the ultimate result.  The future made you restless, and sometimes disturbed the peace of your face a little, when you thought about it too much.  That’s all gone now, and you are your real self, as nature meant you to be.’

‘My real self?  You mean, the professional singer!’

‘No.  A great artist, in the person of a thoroughly nice woman.’

Margaret had thought that blushing was a thing of the past with her, but a soft colour rose in her cheeks now, from sheer pleasure at what he had said.

‘I hope you don’t think it impertinent of me to tell you so,’ said Logotheti with a slight intonation of anxiety.

‘Impertinent!’ cried Margaret.  ’It’s the nicest thing any one has said to me for months, and thank goodness I’m not above being pleased.’

Nor was Logotheti above using any art that could please her.  His instinct about women, finding no scruples in the way, had led him into present favour by the shortest road.  It is one thing to say brutally that all women like flattery; it is quite another to foresee just what form of flattery they will like.  People who do not know professional artistic life from the inner side are much too ready to cry out that first-class professionals will swallow any amount of undiscriminating praise.  The ability to judge their own work is one of the gifts which place them above the second class.

‘I said what I thought,’ observed Logotheti with a sudden air of conscientious reserve.  ’For once in our acquaintance, I was not thinking of pleasing you.  And then I was afraid that I had displeased you, as I so often have.’

The last words were spoken with a regret that was real.

‘I have forgiven you,’ said Margaret quietly; ‘with conditions!’ she added, as an afterthought, and smiling.

‘Oh, I know ­I’ll never do it again.’

’That’s what a runaway horse seems to say when he walks quietly home, with his head down and his ears limp, after nearly breaking one’s neck!’

‘I was a born runaway,’ said Logotheti meekly, ’but you have cured me.’

In the pause that followed this speech, Mr. Feist leaned forward and spoke to Margaret across the table.

‘I think we have a mutual friend, Madame,’ he said.

‘Indeed?’ Margaret spoke coolly; she did not like to be called ‘Madame’ by people who spoke English.

‘Mr. Van Torp,’ explained the young man.

‘Yes,’ Margaret said, after a moment’s hesitation, ’I know Mr. Van Torp; he came over on the same steamer.’

The others at the table were suddenly silent, and seemed to be listening.  Lady Maud’s clear eyes rested on Mr. Feist’s face.

‘He’s quite a wonderful man, I think,’ observed the latter.

‘Yes,’ assented the Primadonna indifferently.

‘Don’t you think he is a wonderful man?’ insisted Mr. Feist, with his disagreeable drawl.

‘I daresay he is,’ Margaret answered, ’but I don’t know him very well.’

‘Really?  That’s funny!’

‘Why?’

’Because I happen to know that he thinks everything of you, Madame Cordova.  That’s why I supposed, you were intimate friends.’

The others had listened hitherto in a sort of mournful silence, distinctly bored.  Lady Maud’s eyes now turned to Margaret, but the latter still seemed perfectly indifferent, though she was wishing that some one else would speak.  Griggs turned to Mr. Feist, who was next to him.

‘You mean that he is a wonderful man of business, perhaps,’ he said.

‘Well, we all know he’s that, anyway,’ returned his neighbour.  ’He’s not exactly a friend of mine, not exactly!’ A meaning smile wrinkled the unhealthy face and suddenly made it look older.  ’All the same, I think he’s quite wonderful.  He’s not merely an able man, he’s a man of powerful intellect.’

‘A Nickel Napoleon,’ suggested the barrister, who was bored to death by this time, and could not imagine why Lady Maud followed the conversation with so much interest.

‘Your speaking of nickel,’ said the peer, at her elbow, ’reminds me of that extraordinary new discovery ­let me see ­what is it?’

‘America?’ suggested the barrister viciously.

‘No,’ said his lordship, with perfect gravity, ’it’s not that.  Ah yes, I remember!  It’s a process for making nitric acid out of air.’

Lady Maud nodded and smiled, as if she knew all about it, but her eyes were again scrutinising Mr. Feist’s face.  Her neighbour, whose hobby was applied science, at once launched upon a long account of the invention.  From time to time the beauty nodded and said that she quite understood, which was totally untrue, but well meant.

‘That young man has the head of a criminal,’ said the barrister on her other side, speaking very low.

She bent her head very slightly, to show that she had heard, and she continued to listen to the description of the new process.  By this time every one was talking again.  Mr. Feist was in conversation with Griggs, and showed his profile to the barrister, who quietly studied the retreating forehead and the ill-formed jaw, the latter plainly discernible to a practised eye, in spite of the round cheeks.  The barrister was a little mad on the subject of degeneracy, and knew that an unnaturally boyish look in a grown man is one of the signs of it.  In the course of a long experience at the bar he had appeared in defence of several ‘high-class criminals.’  By way of comparing Mr. Feist with a perfectly healthy specimen of humanity, he turned to look at Logotheti beside him.  Margaret was talking with the Ambassador, and the Greek was just turning to talk to his neighbour, so that their eyes met, and each waited for the other to speak first.

‘Are you a judge of faces?’ asked the barrister after a moment.

‘Men of business have to be, to some extent,’ answered Logotheti.

‘So do lawyers.  What should you say was the matter with that one?’

It was impossible to doubt that he was speaking of the only abnormal head at the table, and Logotheti looked across the wide table at Mr. Feist for several seconds before he answered.

‘Drink,’ he said in an undertone, when he had finished his examination.

‘Yes.  Anything else?’

‘May go mad any day, I should think,’ observed Logotheti.

‘Do you know anything about him?’

‘Never saw him before.’

‘And we shall probably never see him again,’ said the Englishman.  ’That’s the worst of it.  One sees such heads occasionally, but one very rarely hears what becomes of them.’

The Greek did not care a straw what became of Mr. Feist’s head, for he was waiting to renew his conversation with Margaret.

Mustapha Pasha told her that she should go to Constantinople some day and sing to the Sultan, who would give her a pretty decoration in diamonds; and she laughed carelessly and answered that it might be very amusing.

‘I shall be very happy to show you the way,’ said the Pasha.  ’Whenever you have a fancy for the trip, promise to let me know.’

Margaret had no doubt that he was quite in earnest, and would enjoy the holiday vastly.  She was used to such kind offers and knew how to laugh at them, though she was very well aware that they were not made in jest.

‘I have a pretty little villa on the Bosphorus,’ said the Ambassador, ’If you should ever come to Constantinople it is at your disposal, with everything in it, as long as you care to use it.’

‘It’s too good of you!’ she answered.  ’But I have a small house of my own here which is very comfortable, and I like London.’

‘I know,’ answered the Pasha blandly; ’I only meant to suggest a little change.’

He smiled pleasantly, as if he had meant nothing, and there was a pause, of which Logotheti took advantage.

‘You are admirable,’ he said.

‘I have had much more magnificent invitations,’ she answered.  ’You once wished to give me your yacht as a present if I would only make a trip to Crete ­with a party of archaeologists!  An archduke once proposed to take me for a drive in a cab!’

‘If I remember,’ said Logotheti, ’I offered you the owner with the yacht.  But I fancy you thought me too “exotic,” as Countess Leven calls me.’

‘Oh, much!’ Margaret laughed again, and then lowered her voice, ’by the bye, who is she?’

’Lady Maud?  Didn’t you know her?  She is Lord Creedmore’s daughter, one of seven or eight, I believe.  She married a Russian in the diplomatic service, four years ago ­Count Leven ­but everybody here calls her Lady Maud.  She hadn’t a penny, for the Creedmores are poor.  Leven was supposed to be rich, but there are all sorts of stories about him, and he’s often hard up.  As for her, she always wears that black velvet gown, and I’ve been told that she has no other.  I fancy she gets a new one every year.  But people say ­’

Logotheti broke off suddenly.

‘What do they say?’ Margaret was interested.

‘No, I shall not tell you, because I don’t believe it.’

’If you say you don’t believe the story, what harm can there be in telling it?’

’No harm, perhaps.  But what is the use of repeating a bit of wicked gossip?’

Margaret’s curiosity was roused about the beautiful Englishwoman.

‘If you won’t tell me, I may think it is something far worse!’

‘I’m sure you could not imagine anything more unlikely!’

’Please tell me!  Please!  I know it’s mere idle curiosity, but you’ve roused it, and I shall not sleep unless I know.’

‘And that would be bad for your voice.’

‘Of course!  Please ­’

Logotheti had not meant to yield, but he could not resist her winning tone.

’I’ll tell you, but I don’t believe a word of it, and I hope you will not either.  The story is that her husband found her with Van Torp the other evening in rooms he keeps in the Temple, and there was an envelope on the table addressed to her in his handwriting, in which there were four thousand one hundred pounds in notes.’

Margaret looked thoughtfully at Lady Maud before she answered.

’She?  With Mr. Van Torp, and taking money from him?  Oh no!  Not with that face!’

‘Besides,’ said Logotheti, ’why the odd hundred?  The story gives too many details.  People never know as much of the truth as that.’

‘And if it is true,’ returned Margaret, ’he will divorce her, and then we shall know.’

‘For that matter,’ said the Greek contemptuously, ’Leven would not be particular, provided he had his share of the profits.’

‘Is it as bad as that?  How disgusting!  Poor woman!’

’Yes.  I fancy she is to be pitied.  In connection with Van Torp, may I ask an indiscreet question?’

‘No question you can ask me about him can be indiscreet.  What is it?’

‘Is it true that he once asked you to marry him and you refused him?’

Margaret turned her pale face to Logotheti with a look of genuine surprise.

’Yes.  It’s true.  But I never told any one.  How in the world did you hear it?’

‘And he quite lost his head, I heard, and behaved like a madman ­’

‘Who told you that?’ asked Margaret, more and more astonished, and not at all pleased.

’He behaved so strangely that you ran into the next room and bolted the door, and waited till he went away ­’

‘Have you been paying a detective to watch me?’

There was anger in her eyes for a moment, but she saw at once that she was mistaken.

‘No,’ Logotheti answered with a smile, ’why should I?  If a detective told me anything against you I should not believe it, and no one could tell me half the good I believe about you!’

‘You’re really awfully nice,’ laughed Margaret, for she could not help being flattered.  ‘Forgive me, please!’

’I would rather that the Nike of Samothrace should think dreadful things of me than that she should not think of me at all!’

‘Do I still remind you of her?’ asked Margaret.

’Yes.  I used to be quite satisfied with my Venus, but now I want the Victory from the Louvre.  It’s not a mere resemblance.  She is you, and as she has no face I see yours when I look at her.  The other day I stood so long on the landing where she is, that a watchman took me for an anarchist waiting to deposit a bomb, and he called a policeman, who asked me my name and occupation.  I was very near being arrested ­on your account again!  You are destined to turn the heads of men of business!’

At this point Margaret became aware that she and Logotheti were talking in undertones, while the conversation at the table had become general, and she reluctantly gave up the idea of again asking where he had got his information about her interview with Mr. Van Torp in New York.  The dinner came to an end before long, and the men went out with the ladies, and began to smoke in the drawing-room, standing round the coffee.

Lady Maud put her arm through Margaret’s.

‘Cigarettes are bad for your throat, I’m sure,’ she said, ’and I hate them.’

She led the Primadonna away through a curtained door to a small room furnished according to Eastern ideas of comfort, and she sat down on a low, hard divan, which was covered with a silk carpet.  The walls were hung with Persian silks, and displayed three or four texts from the Koran, beautifully written in gold on a green ground.  Two small inlaid tables stood near the divan, one at each end, and two deep English easy-chairs, covered with red leather, were placed symmetrically beside them.  There was no other furniture, and there were no gimcracks about, such as Europeans think necessary in an ‘oriental’ room.

With her plain black velvet, Lady Maud looked handsomer than ever in the severely simple surroundings.

‘Do you mind?’ she asked, as Margaret sat down beside her.  ’I’m afraid I carried you off rather unceremoniously!’

‘No,’ Margaret answered.  ’I’m glad to be quiet, it’s so long since I was at a dinner-party.’

‘I’ve always hoped to meet you,’ said Lady Maud, ’but you’re quite different from what I expected.  I did not know you were really so young ­ever so much younger than I am.’

‘Really?’

‘Oh, yes!  I’m seven-and-twenty, and I’ve been married four years.’

‘I’m twenty-four,’ said Margaret, ‘and I’m not married yet.’

She was aware that the clear eyes were studying her face, but she did not resent their scrutiny.  There was something about her companion that inspired her with trust at first sight, and she did not even remember the impossible story Logotheti had told her.

’I suppose you are tormented by all sorts of people who ask things, aren’t you?’

Margaret wondered whether the beauty was going to ask her to sing for nothing at a charity concert.

‘I get a great many begging letters, and some very amusing ones,’ she answered cautiously.  ’Young girls, of whom I never heard, write and ask me to give them pianos and the means of getting a musical education.  I once took the trouble to have one of those requests examined.  It came from a gang of thieves in Chicago.’

Lady Maud smiled, but did not seem surprised.

‘Millionaires get lots of letters of that sort,’ she said.  ’Think of poor Mr. Van Torp!’

Margaret moved uneasily at the name, which seemed to pursue her since she had left New York; but her present companion was the first person who had applied to him the adjective ‘poor.’

‘Do you know him well?’ she asked, by way of saying something.

Lady Maud was silent for a moment, and seemed to be considering the question.

‘I had not meant to speak of him,’ she answered presently.  ’I like him, and from what you said at dinner I fancy that you don’t, so we shall never agree about him.’

‘Perhaps not,’ said Margaret.  ’But I really could not have answered that odious man’s question in any other way, could I?  I meant to be quite truthful.  Though I have met Mr. Van Torp often since last Christmas, I cannot say that I know him very well, because I have not seen the best side of him.’

’Few people ever do, and you have put it as fairly as possible.  When I first met him I thought he was a dreadful person, and now we’re awfully good friends.  But I did not mean to talk about him!’

‘I wish you would,’ protested Margaret.  ’I should like to hear the other side of the case from some one who knows him well.’

‘It would take all night to tell even what I know of his story,’ said Lady Maud.  ’And as you’ve never seen me before you probably would not believe me,’ she added with philosophical calm.  ’Why should you?  The other side of the case, as I know it, is that he is kind to me, and good to people in trouble, and true to his friends.’

‘You cannot say more than that of any man,’ Margaret observed gravely.

‘I could say much more, but I want to talk to you about other things.’

Margaret, who was attracted by her, and who was sure that the story Logotheti had told was a fabrication, as he said it was, wished that her new acquaintance would leave other matters alone and tell her what she knew about Van Torp.

‘It all comes of my having mentioned him accidentally,’ said Lady Maud.  ’But I often do ­probably because I think about him a good deal.’

Margaret thought her amazingly frank, but nothing suggested itself in the way of answer, so she remained silent.

‘Did you know that your father and my father were friends at Oxford?’ Lady Maud asked, after a little pause.

‘Really?’ Margaret was surprised.

’When they were undergrads.  Your name is Donne, isn’t it?  Margaret Donne?  My father was called Foxwell then.  That’s our name, you know.  He didn’t come into the title till his uncle died, a few years ago.’

‘But I remember a Mr. Foxwell when I was a child,’ said Margaret.  ’He came to see us at Oxford sometimes.  Do you mean to say that he was your father?’

’Yes.  He is alive, you know ­tremendously alive! ­and he remembers you as a little girl, and wants me to bring you to see him.  Do you mind very much?  I told him I was to meet you this evening.’

‘I should be very glad indeed,’ said Margaret.

‘He would come to see you,’ said Lady Maud, rather apologetically, ’but he sprained his ankle the other day.  He was chivvying a cat that was after the pheasants at Creedmore ­he’s absurdly young, you know ­and he came down at some hurdles.’

‘I’m so sorry!  Of course I shall be delighted to go.’

’It’s awfully good of you, and he’ll be ever so pleased.  May I come and fetch you?  When?  To-morrow afternoon about three?  Are you quite sure you don’t mind?’

Margaret was quite sure; for the prospect of seeing an old friend of her father’s, and one whom she herself remembered well, was pleasant just then.  She was groping for something she had lost, and the merest thread was worth following.

‘If you like I’ll sing for him,’ she said.

‘Oh, he simply hates music!’ answered Lady Maud, with unconscious indifference to the magnificence of such an offer from the greatest lyric soprano alive.

Margaret laughed in spite of herself.

‘Do you hate music too?’ she asked.

’No, indeed!  I could listen to you for ever.  But my father is quite different.  I believe he hears half a note higher with one ear than with the other.  At all events the effect of music on him is dreadful.  He behaves like a cat in a thunderstorm.  If you want to please him, talk to him about old bindings.  Next to shooting he likes bindings better than anything in the world ­in fact he’s a capital bookbinder himself.’

At this juncture Mustapha Pasha’s pale and spiritual face appeared between the curtains of the small room, and he interrupted the conversation by a single word.

‘Bridge?’

Lady Maud was on her feet in an instant.

‘Rather!’

‘Do you play?’ asked the Ambassador, turning to Margaret, who rose more slowly.

‘Very badly.  I would rather not.’

The diplomatist looked disappointed, and she noticed his expression, and suspected that he would feel himself obliged to talk to her instead of playing.

‘I’m very fond of looking on,’ she added quickly, ’if you will let me sit beside you.’

They went back to the drawing-room, and presently the celebrated Senorita da Cordova, who was more accustomed to being the centre of interest than she realised, felt that she was nobody at all, as she sat at her host’s elbow watching the game through a cloud of suffocating cigarette smoke.  Even old Griggs, who detested cards, had sacrificed himself in order to make up the second table.  As for Logotheti, he was too tactful to refuse a game in which every one knew him to be a past master, in order to sit out and talk to her the whole evening.

Margaret watched the players with some little interest at first.  The disagreeable Mr. Feist lost and became even more disagreeable, and Margaret reflected that whatever he might be he was certainly not an adventurer, for she had seen a good many of the class.  The Ambassador lost even more, but with the quiet indifference of a host who plays because his guests like that form of amusement.  Lady Maud and the barrister were partners, and seemed to be winning a good deal; the peer whose hobby was applied science revoked and did dreadful things with his trumps, but nobody seemed to care in the least, except the barrister, who was no respecter of persons, and had fought his way to celebrity by terrorising juries and bullying the Bench.

At last Margaret let her head rest against the back of her comfortable chair, and when she closed her eyes because the cigarette smoke made them smart, she forgot to open them again, and went sound asleep; for she was a healthy young person, and had eaten a good dinner, and on evenings when she did not sing she was accustomed to go to bed at ten o’clock, if not earlier.

No one even noticed that she was sleeping, and the game went on till nearly midnight, when she was awakened by the sound of voices, and sprang to her feet with the impression of having done something terribly rude.  Every one was standing, the smoke was as thick as ever, and it was tempered by a smell of Scotch whisky.  The men looked more or less tired, but Lady Maud had not turned a hair.

The peer, holding a tall glass of weak whisky and soda in his hand, and blinking through his gold-rimmed spectacles, asked her if she were going anywhere else.

‘There’s nothing to go to yet,’ she said rather regretfully.

‘There are women’s clubs,’ suggested Logotheti.

‘That’s the objection to them,’ answered the beauty with more sarcasm than grammatical sequence.

‘Bridge till all hours, though,’ observed the barrister.

‘I’d give something to spend an evening at a smart women’s club,’ said the playwright in a musing tone.  ’Is it true that the Crown Prince of Persia got into the one in Mayfair as a waiter?’

‘They don’t have waiters,’ said Lady Maud.  ’Nothing is ever true.  I must be going home.’

Margaret was only too glad to go too.  When they were downstairs she heard a footman ask Lady Maud if he should call a hansom for her.  He evidently knew that she had no carriage.

‘May I take you home?’ Margaret asked.

‘Oh, please do!’ answered the beauty with alacrity.  ’It’s awfully good of you!’

It was raining as the two handsome women got into the singer’s comfortable brougham.

‘Isn’t there room for me too?’ asked Logotheti, putting his head in before the footman could shut the door.

‘Don’t be such a baby,’ answered Lady Maud in a displeased tone.

The Greek drew back with a laugh and put up his umbrella; Lady Maud told the footman where to go, and the carriage drove away.

‘You must have had a dull evening,’ she said.

‘I was sound asleep most of the time,’ Margaret answered.  ’I’m afraid the Ambassador thought me very rude.’

’Because you went to sleep?  I don’t believe he even noticed it.  And if he did, why should you mind?  Nobody cares what anybody does nowadays.  We’ve simplified life since the days of our fathers.  We think more of the big things than they did, and much less of the little ones.’

‘All the same, I wish I had kept awake!’

‘Nonsense!’ retorted Lady Maud.  ’What is the use of being famous if you cannot go to sleep when you are sleepy?  This is a bad world as it is, but it would be intolerable if one had to keep up one’s school-room manners all one’s life, and sit up straight and spell properly, as if Society, with a big S, were a governess that could send us to bed without our supper if we didn’t!’

Margaret laughed a little, but there was no ripple in Lady Maud’s delicious voice as she made these singular statements.  She was profoundly in earnest.

‘The public is my schoolmistress,’ said Margaret.  ’I’m so used to being looked at and listened to on the stage that I feel as if people were always watching me and criticising me, even when I go out to dinner.’

’I’ve no right at all to give you my opinion, because I’m nobody in particular,’ answered Lady Maud, ’and you are tremendously famous and all that!  But you’ll make yourself miserable for nothing if you get into the way of caring about anybody’s opinion of you, except on the stage.  And you’ll end by making the other people uncomfortable too, because you’ll make them think that you mean to teach them manners!’

‘Heaven forbid!’ Margaret laughed again.

The carriage stopped, and Lady Maud thanked her, bade her good-night, and got out.

‘No,’ she said, as the footman was going to ring the bell, ’I have a latch-key, thank you.’

It was a small house in Charles Street, Berkeley Square, and the windows were quite dark.  There was not even a light in the hall when Margaret saw Lady Maud open the front door and disappear within.

Margaret went over the little incidents of the evening as she drove home alone, and felt better satisfied with herself than she had been since Lushington’s visit, in spite of having deliberately gone to sleep in Mustapha Pasha’s drawing-room.  No one had made her feel that she was changed except for the better, and Lady Maud, who was most undoubtedly a smart woman of the world, had taken a sudden fancy to her.  Margaret told herself that this would be impossible if she were ever so little vulgarised by her stage life, and in this reflection she consoled herself for what Lushington had said, and nursed her resentment against him.

The small weaknesses of celebrities are sometimes amazing.  There was a moment that evening, as she stood before her huge looking-glass before undressing and scrutinised her face in it, when she would have given her fame and her fortune to be Lady Maud, who trusted to a passing hansom or an acquaintance’s carriage for getting home from an Embassy, who let herself into a dark and cheerless little house with a latch-key, who was said to be married to a slippery foreigner, and about whom the gossips invented unedifying tales.

Margaret wondered whether Lady Maud would ever think of changing places with her, to be a goddess for a few hours every week, to have more money than she could spend on herself, and to be pursued with requests for autographs and grand pianos, not to mention invitations to supper from those supernal personages whose uneasy heads wear crowns or itch for them; and Senorita da Cordova told herself rather petulantly that Lady Maud would rather starve than be the most successful soprano that ever trilled on the high A till the house yelled with delight, and the royalties held up their stalking-glasses to watch the fluttering of her throat, if perchance they might see how the pretty noise was made.

But at this point Margaret Donne was a little ashamed of herself, and went to bed; and she dreamt that Edmund Lushington had suddenly taken to wearing a little moustache, very much turned up and flattened on his cheeks, and a single emerald for a stud, which cast a greenish refulgence round it upon a shirt-front that was hideously shiny; and the effect of these changes in his appearance was to make him perfectly odious.