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

Lord Creedmore had begun life as a poor barrister, with no particular prospects, had entered the House of Commons early, and had been a hard-working member of Parliament till he had inherited a title and a relatively exiguous fortune when he was over fifty by the unexpected death of his uncle and both the latter’s sons within a year.  He had married young; his wife was the daughter of a Yorkshire country gentleman, and had blessed him with ten children, who were all alive, and of whom Lady Maud was not the youngest.  He was always obliged to make a little calculation to remember how old she was, and whether she was the eighth or the ninth.  There were three sons and seven daughters.  The sons were all in the army, and all stood between six and seven feet in their stockings; the daughters were all good-looking, but none was as handsome as Maud; they were all married, and all but she had children.  Lady Creedmore had been a beauty too, but at the present time she was stout and gouty, had a bad temper, and alternately soothed and irritated her complaint and her disposition by following cures or committing imprudences.  Her husband, who was now over sixty, had never been ill a day in his life; he was as lean and tough as a greyhound and as active as a schoolboy, a good rider, and a crack shot.

His connection with this tale, apart from the friendship which grew up between Margaret and Lady Maud, lies in the fact that his land in Derbyshire adjoined the estate which Mr. Van Torp had bought and re-named after himself.  It was here that Lady Maud and the American magnate had first met, two years after her marriage, when she had come home on a long visit, very much disillusionised as to the supposed advantages of the marriage bond as compared with the freedom of a handsome English girl of three-and-twenty, who is liked in her set and has the run of a score of big country houses without any chaperonial encumbrance.  For the chaperon is going down to the shadowy kingdom of the extinct, and is already reckoned with dodos, stagecoaches, muzzle loaders, crinolines, Southey’s poems, the Thirty-nine Articles, Benjamin Franklin’s reputation, the British workman, and the late Herbert Spencer’s philosophy.

On the previous evening Lady Maud had not told Margaret that Lord Creedmore lived in Surrey, having let his town house since his youngest daughter had married.  She now explained that it would be absurd to think of driving such a distance when one could go almost all the way by train.  The singer was rather scared at the prospect of possibly missing trains, waiting in draughty stations, and getting wet by a shower; she was accustomed to think nothing of driving twenty miles in a closed carriage to avoid the slightest risk of a wetting.

But Lady Maud piloted her safely, and showed an intimate knowledge of the art of getting about by public conveyances which amazed her companion.  She seemed to know by instinct the difference between one train and another, when all looked just alike, and when she had to ask a question of a guard or a porter her inquiry was met with business-like directness and brevity, and commanded the respect which all officials feel for people who do not speak to them without a really good reason ­so different from their indulgent superiority when we enter into friendly conversation with them.

The journey ended in a walk of a quarter of a mile from the station to the gate of the small park in which the house stood.  Lady Maud said she was sorry she had forgotten to telephone for a trap to be sent down, but added cheerfully that the walk would do Margaret good.

‘You know your way wonderfully well,’ Margaret said.

‘Yes,’ answered her companion carelessly.  ’I don’t think I could lose myself in London, from Limehouse to Wormwood Scrubs.’

She spoke quite naturally, as if it were not in the least surprising that a smart woman of the world should possess such knowledge.

‘You must have a marvellous memory for places,’ Margaret ventured to say.

‘Why?  Because I know my way about?  I walk a great deal, that’s all.’

Margaret wondered whether the Countess Leven habitually took her walks in the direction of Limehouse in the east or Shepherd’s Bush in the west; and if so, why?  As for the distance, the thoroughbred looked as if she could do twenty miles without turning a hair, and Margaret wished she would not walk quite so fast, for, like all great singers, she herself easily got out of breath if she was hurried; it was not the distance that surprised her, however, but the fact that Lady Maud should ever visit such regions.

They reached the house and found Lord Creedmore in the library, his lame foot on a stool and covered up with a chudder.  His clear brown eyes examined Margaret’s face attentively while he held her hand in his.

‘So you are little Margery,’ he said at last, with a very friendly smile.  ’Do you remember me at all, my dear?  I suppose I have changed almost more than you have.’

Margaret remembered him very well indeed as Mr. Foxwell, who used always to bring her certain particularly delicious chocolate wafers whenever he came to see her father in Oxford.  She sat down beside him and looked at his face ­clean-shaven, kindly, and energetic ­the face of a clever lawyer and yet of a keen sportsman, a type you will hardly find out of England.

Lady Maud left the two alone after a few minutes, and Margaret found herself talking of her childhood and her old home, as if nothing very much worth mentioning had happened in her life during the last ten or a dozen years.  While she answered her new friend’s questions and asked others of him she unconsciously looked about the room.  The writing-table was not far from her, and she saw on it two photographs in plain ebony frames; one was of her father, the other was a likeness of Lady Maud.  Little by little she understood that her father had been Lord Creedmore’s best friend from their schoolboy days till his death.  Yet although they had constantly exchanged short visits, the one living in Oxford and the other chiefly in town, their wives had hardly known each other, and their children had never met.

‘Take him all in all,’ said the old gentleman gravely, ’Donne was the finest fellow I ever knew, and the only real friend I ever had.’

His eyes turned to the photograph on the table with a far-away manly regret that went to Margaret’s heart.  Her father had been a reticent man, and as there was no reason why he should have talked much about his absent friend Foxwell, it was not surprising that Margaret should never have known how close the tie was that bound them.  But now, coming unawares upon the recollection of that friendship in the man who had survived, she felt herself drawn to him as if he were of her own blood, and she thought she understood why she had liked his daughter so much at first sight.

They talked for more than half an hour, and Margaret did not even notice that he had not once alluded to her profession, and that she had so far forgotten herself for the time as not to miss the usual platitudes about her marvellous voice and her astoundingly successful career.

‘I hope you’ll come and stop with us in Derbyshire in September,’ he said at last.  ’I’m quite ashamed to ask you there, for we are dreadfully dull people; but it would give us a great deal of pleasure.’

‘You are very kind indeed,’ Margaret said.  ’I should be delighted to come.’

‘Some of our neighbours might interest you,’ said Lord Creedmore.  ’There’s Mr. Van Torp, for instance, the American millionaire.  His land joins mine.’

‘Really?’

Margaret wondered if she should ever again go anywhere without hearing of Mr. Van Torp.

’Yes.  He bought Oxley Paddox some time ago and promptly re-christened it Torp Towers.  But he’s not a bad fellow.  Maud likes him, though Lady Creedmore calls him names.  He has such a nice little girl ­at least, it’s not exactly his child, I believe,’ his lordship ran on rather hurriedly; ’but he’s adopted her, I understand ­at least, I fancy so.  At all events she was born deaf, poor little thing; but he has had her taught to speak and to understand from the lips.  Awfully pretty child!  Maud delights in her.  Nice governess, too ­I forget her name; but she’s a faithful sort of woman.  It’s a dreadfully hard position, don’t you know, to be a governess if you’re young and good-looking, and though Van Torp is rather a decent sort, I never feel quite sure ­Maud likes him immensely, it’s true, and that is a good sign; but Maud is utterly mad about a lot of things, and besides, she’s singularly well able to take care of herself.’

‘Yes,’ said Margaret; but she thought of the story Logotheti had told her on the previous evening.  ’I know Mr. Van Torp, and the little girl and Miss More,’ she said after a moment.  ’We came over in the same steamer.’

She thought it was only fair to say that she had met the people of whom he had been speaking.  There was no reason why Lord Creedmore should be surprised by this, and he only nodded and smiled pleasantly.

’All the better.  I shall set Maud on you to drag you down to Derbyshire in September,’ he said.  ’Women never have anything to do in September.  Let me see ­you’re an actress, aren’t you, my dear?’

Margaret laughed.  It was positively delightful to feel that he had never heard of her theatrical career.

‘No; I’m a singer,’ she said.  ‘My stage name is Cordova.’

‘Oh yes, yes,’ answered Lord Creedmore, very vaguely.  ’It’s the same thing ­you cannot possibly have anything to do in September, can you?’

‘We shall see.  I hope not, this year.’

’If it’s not very indiscreet of me, as an old friend, you know, do you manage to make a living by the stage?’

‘Oh ­fair!’ Margaret almost laughed again.

Lady Maud returned at this juncture, and Margaret rose to go, feeling that she had stayed long enough.

‘Margery has half promised to come to us in September,’ said Lord Creedmore to his daughter, ’You don’t mind if I call you Margery, do you?’ he asked, turning to Margaret.  ’I cannot call you Miss Donne since you really remember the chocolate wafers!  You shall have some as soon as I can go to see you!’

Margaret loved the name she had been called by as a child.  Mrs. Rushmore had severely eschewed diminutives.

‘Margery,’ repeated Lady Maud thoughtfully.  ’I like the name awfully well.  Do you mind calling me Maud?  We ought to have known each other when we were in pinafores!’

In this way it happened that Margaret found herself unexpectedly on something like intimate terms with her father’s friend and the latter’s favourite child less than twenty-four hours after meeting Lady Maud, and this was how she was asked to their place in the country for the month of September.  But that seemed very far away.

Lady Maud took Margaret home, as she had brought her, without making her wait more than three minutes for a train, without exposing her to a draught, and without letting her get wet, all of which would seem easy enough to an old Londoner, but was marvellous in the eyes of the young Primadonna, and conveyed to her an idea of freedom that was quite new to her.  She remembered that she used to be proud of her independence when she first went into Paris from Versailles alone for her singing lessons; but that trip, contrasted with the one from her own house to Lord Creedmore’s on the Surrey side, was like going out for an hour’s sail in a pleasure-boat on a summer’s afternoon compared with working a sea-going vessel safely through an intricate and crowded channel at night.

Margaret noticed, too, that although Lady Maud was a very striking figure, she was treated with respect in places where the singer knew instinctively that if she herself had been alone she would have been afraid that men would speak to her.  She knew very well how to treat them if they did, and was able to take care of herself if she chose to travel alone; but she ran the risk of being annoyed where the beautiful thoroughbred was in no danger at all.  That was the difference.

Lady Maud left her at her own door and went off on foot, though the hansom that had brought them from the Baker Street Station was still lurking near.

Margaret had told Logotheti to come and see her late in the afternoon, and as she entered the hall she was surprised to hear voices upstairs.  She asked the servant who was waiting.

With infinite difficulty in the matter of pronunciation the man informed her that the party consisted of Monsieur Logotheti, Herr Schreiermeyer, Signor Stromboli, the Signorina Baci-Roventi, and Fraeulein Ottilie Braun.  The four professionals had come at the very moment when Logotheti had gained admittance on the ground that he had an appointment, which was true, and they had refused to be sent away.  In fact, unless he had called the police the poor footman could not have kept them out.  The Signorina Baci-Roventi alone, black-browed, muscular, and five feet ten in her shoes, would have been almost a match for him alone; but she was backed by Signor Pompeo Stromboli, who weighed fifteen stone in his fur coat, was as broad as he was long, and had been seen to run off the stage with Madame Bonanni in his arms while he yelled a high G that could have been heard in Westminster if the doors had been open.  Before the onslaught of such terrific foreigners a superior London footman could only protest with dignity and hold the door open for them to pass.  Braver men than he had quailed before Schreiermeyer’s stony eye, and gentle little Fraeulein Ottilie slipped in like a swallow in the track of a storm.

Margaret felt suddenly inclined to shut herself up in her room and send word that she had a headache and could not see them.  But Schreiermeyer was there.  He would telephone for three doctors, and would refuse to leave the house till they signed an assurance that she was perfectly well and able to begin rehearsing the Elisir d’Amore the next morning.  That was what Schreiermeyer would do, and when she next met him he would tell her that he would have ’no nonsense, no stupid stuff,’ and that she had signed an engagement and must sing or pay.

She had never shammed an illness, either, and she did not mean to begin now.  It was only that for two blessed hours and more, with her dead father’s best friend and Maud, she had felt like her old self again, and had dreamt that she was with her own people.  She had even disliked the prospect of seeing Logotheti after that, and she felt a much stronger repugnance for her theatrical comrades.  She went to her own room before meeting them, and she sighed as she stood before the tall looking-glass for a moment after taking off her coat and hat.  In pulling out the hat-pins her hair had almost come down, and Alphonsine proposed to do it over again, but Margaret was impatient.

‘Give me something ­a veil, or anything,’ she said impatiently.  ’They are waiting for me.’

The maid instantly produced from a near drawer a peach-coloured veil embroidered with green and gold.  It was a rather vivid modern Turkish one given her by Logotheti, and she wrapped it quickly over her disordered hair, like a sort of turban, tucking one end in, and left the room almost without glancing at the glass again.  She was discontented with herself now for having dreamt of ever again being anything but what she was ­a professional singer.

The little party greeted her noisily as she entered the music-room.  Her comrades had not seen her since she had left them in New York, and the consequence was that Signorina Baci-Roventi kissed her on both cheeks with dramatic force, and she kissed Fraeulein Ottilie on both cheeks, and Pompeo Stromboli offered himself for a like favour and had to be fought off, while Schreiermeyer looked on gravely, very much as a keeper at the Zoo watches the gambols of the animals in his charge; but Logotheti shook hands very quietly, well perceiving that his chance of pleasing her just then lay in being profoundly respectful while the professionals were overpoweringly familiar.  His almond-shaped eyes asked her how in the world she could stand it all, and she felt uncomfortable at the thought that she was used to it.

Besides, these good people really liked her.  The only members of the profession who hated her were the other lyric sopranos.  Schreiermeyer, rapacious and glittering, had a photograph of her hideously enamelled in colours inside the cover of his watch, and the facsimile of her autograph was engraved across the lid of his silver cigarette-case.  Pompeo Stromboli carried some of her hair in a locket which he wore on his chain between two amulets against the Evil Eye.  Fraeulein Ottilie treasured a little water-colour sketch of her as Juliet on which Margaret had written a few friendly words, and the Baci-Roventi actually went to the length of asking her advice about the high notes the contralto has to sing in such operas as Semiramide.  It would be hard to imagine a more sincere proof of affection and admiration than this.

Margaret knew that the greeting was genuine and that she ought to be pleased, but at the first moment the noise and the kissing and the rough promiscuity of it all disgusted her.

Then she saw that all had brought her little presents, which were arranged side by side on the piano, and she suddenly remembered that it was her birthday.  They were small things without value, intended to make her laugh.  Stromboli had sent to Italy for a Neapolitan clay figure of a shepherd, cleverly modelled and painted, and vaguely resembling himself ­he had been a Calabrian goatherd.  The contralto, who came from Bologna, the city of sausages, gave Margaret a tiny pig made of silver with holes in his back, in which were stuck a number of quill toothpicks.

‘You will think of me when you use them at table,’ she said, charmingly unconscious of English prejudices.

Schreiermeyer presented her with a bronze statuette of Shylock whetting his knife upon his thigh.

‘It will encourage you to sign our next agreement,’ he observed with stony calm.  ’It is the symbol of business.  We are all symbolic nowadays.’

Fraeulein Ottilie Braun had wrought a remarkable little specimen of German sentiment.  She had made a little blue pin-cushion and had embroidered some little flowers on it in brown silk.  Margaret had no difficulty in looking pleased, but she also looked slightly puzzled.

‘They are forget-me-nots,’ said the Fraeulein, ’but because my name is Braun I made them brown.  You see?  So you will remember your little Braun forget-me-not!’

Margaret laughed at the primitively simple little jest, but she was touched too, and somehow she felt that her eyes were not quite dry as she kissed the good little woman again.  But Logotheti could not understand at all, and thought it all extremely silly.  He did not like Margaret’s improvised turban, either, though he recognised the veil as one he had given her.  The headdress was not classic, and he did not think it becoming to the Victory of Samothrace.

He also had remembered her birthday and he had a small offering in his pocket, but he could not give it to her before the others.  Schreiermeyer would probably insist on looking at it and would guess its value, whereas Logotheti was sure that Margaret would not.  He would give it to her when they were alone, and would tell her that it was nothing but a seal for her writing-case, a common green stone of some kind with a little Greek head on it; and she would look at it and think it pretty, and take it, because it did not look very valuable to her unpractised eye.  But the ‘common green stone’ was a great emerald, and the ‘little Greek head’ was an intaglio of Anacreon, cut some two thousand and odd hundred years ago by an art that is lost; and the setting had been made and chiselled for Maria de’ Medici when she married Henry the Fourth of France.  Logotheti liked to give Margaret things vastly more rare than she guessed them to be.

Margaret offered her visitors tea, and she and Logotheti took theirs while the others looked on or devoured the cake and bread and butter.

‘Tea?’ repeated Signor Stromboli.  ’I am well.  Why should I take tea?  The tea is for to perspire when I have a cold.’

The Signorina Baci-Roventi laughed at him.

’Do you not know that the English drink tea before dinner to give themselves an appetite?’ she asked.  ’It is because they drink tea that they eat so much.’

‘All the more,’ answered Stromboli.  ’Do you not see that I am fat?  Why should I eat more?  Am I to turn into a monument of Victor Emanuel?’

‘You eat too much bread,’ said Schreiermeyer in a resentful tone.

‘It is my vice,’ said the tenor, taking up four thin slices of bread and butter together and popping them all into his mouth without the least difficulty.  ‘When I see bread, I eat it.  I eat all there is.’

‘We see you do,’ returned Schreiermeyer bitterly.

’I cannot help it.  Why do they bring bread?  They are in league to make me fat.  The waiters know me.  I go into the Carlton; the head-waiter whispers; a waiter brings a basket of bread; I eat it all.  I go into Boisin’s, or Henry’s; the head-waiter whispers; it is a basket of bread; while I eat a few eggs, a chicken, a salad, a tart or two, some fruit, cheese, the bread is all gone.  I am the tomb of all the bread in the world.  So I get fat.  There,’ he concluded gravely, ’it is as I tell you.  I have eaten all.’

And in fact, while talking, he had punctuated each sentence with a tiny slice or two of thin bread and butter, and everybody laughed, except Schreiermeyer, as the huge singer gravely held up the empty glass dish and showed it.

‘What do you expect of me?’ he asked.  ’It is a vice, and I am not Saint Anthony, to resist temptation.’

‘Perhaps,’ suggested Fraeulein Ottilie timidly, ’if you exercised a little strength of character ­’

‘Exercise?’ roared Stromboli, not understanding her, for they spoke a jargon of Italian, German, and English.  ’Exercise?  The more I exercise, the more I eat!  Ha, ha, ha!  Exercise, indeed!  You talk like crazy!’

‘You will end on wheels,’ said Schreiermeyer with cold contempt.  ’You will stand on a little truck which will be moved about the stage from below.  You will be lifted to Juliet’s balcony by a hydraulic crane.  But you shall pay for the machinery.  Oh yes, oh yes!  I will have it in the contract!  You shall be weighed.  So much flesh to move, so much money.’

‘Shylock!’ suggested Logotheti, glancing at the statuette and laughing.

‘Yes, Shylock and his five hundred pounds of flesh,’ answered Schreiermeyer, with a faint smile that disappeared again at once.

‘But I meant character ­’ began Fraeulein Ottilie, trying to go back and get in a word.

‘Character!’ cried the Baci-Roventi with a deep note that made the open piano vibrate.  ’His stomach is his heart, and his character is his appetite!’

She bent her heavy brows and fixed her gleaming black eyes on him with a tragic expression.

‘"Let them cant about decorum who have characters to lose,"’ quoted Logotheti softly.

This delicate banter went on for twenty minutes, very much to Schreiermeyer’s inward satisfaction, for it proved that at least four members of his company were on good terms with him and with each other; for when they had a grudge against him, real or imaginary, they became sullen and silent in his presence, and eyed him with the coldly ferocious expression of china dogs.

At last they all rose and went away in a body, leaving Margaret with Logotheti.

‘I had quite forgotten that it was my birthday,’ she said, when they were gone.

‘I’ve brought you a little seal,’ he answered, holding out the intaglio.

She took it and looked at it.

‘How pretty!’ she exclaimed.  ’It’s awfully kind of you to have remembered to-day, and I wanted a seal very much.’

’It’s a silly little thing, just a head on some sort of green stone.  But I tried it on sealing-wax, and the impression is not so bad.  I shall be very happy if it’s of any use, for I’m always puzzling my brain to find something you may like.’

‘Thanks very much.  It’s the thought I care for.’  She laid the seal on the table beside her empty cup.  ‘And now that we are alone,’ she went on, ‘please tell me.’

‘What?’

‘How you found out what you told me at dinner last night.’

She leant back in the chair, raising her arms and joining her hands above her head against the high top of the chair, and stretching herself a little.  The attitude threw the curving lines of her figure into high relief, and was careless enough, but the tone in which she spoke was almost one of command, and there was a sort of expectant resentfulness in her eyes as they watched his face while she waited for his answer.  She believed that he had paid to have her watched by some one who had bribed her servants.

‘I did not find out anything,’ he said quietly.  ’I received an anonymous letter from New York giving me all the details of the scene.  The letter was written with the evident intention of injuring Mr. Van Torp.  Whoever wrote it must have heard what you said to each other, and perhaps he was watching you through the keyhole.  It is barely possible that by some accident he overheard the scene through the local telephone, if there was one in the room.  Should you care to see that part of the letter which concerns you?  It is not very delicately worded!’

Margaret’s expression had changed; she had dropped her hands and was leaning forward, listening with interest.

‘No,’ she said, ’I don’t care to see the letter, but who in the world can have written it?  You say it was meant to injure Mr. Van Torp ­not me.’

’Yes.  There is nothing against you in it.  On the contrary, the writer calls attention to the fact that there never was a word breathed against your reputation, in order to prove what an utter brute Van Torp must be.’

‘Tell me,’ Margaret said, ’was that story about Lady Maud in the same letter?’

’Oh dear, no!  That is supposed to have happened the other day, but I got the letter last winter.’

‘When?’

‘In January, I think.’

‘He came to see me soon after New Year’s Day,’ said Margaret.’  I wish I knew who told ­I really don’t believe it was my maid.’

’I took the letter to one of those men who tell character by handwriting,’ answered Logotheti.  ’I don’t know whether you believe in that, but I do a little.  I got rather a queer result, considering that I only showed half-a-dozen lines, which could not give any idea of the contents.’

‘What did the man say?’

’He said the writer appeared to be on the verge of insanity, if not actually mad; that he was naturally of an accurate mind, with ordinary business capacities, such as a clerk might have, but that he had received a much better education than most clerks get, and must at one time have done intellectual work.  His madness, the man said, would probably take some violent form.’

‘There’s nothing very definite about all that,’ Margaret observed.  ’Why in the world should the creature have written to you, of all people, to destroy Mr. Van Torp’s character?’

‘The interview with you was only an incident,’ answered Logotheti.  ’There were other things, all tending to show that he is not a safe person to deal with.’

‘Why should you ever deal with him?’

Logotheti smiled.

’There are about a hundred and fifty men in different countries who are regarded as the organs of the world’s financial body.  The very big ones are the vital organs.  Van Torp has grown so much of late that he is probably one of them.  Some people are good enough to think that I’m another.  The blood of the financial body ­call it gold, or credit, or anything you like ­circulates through all the organs, and if one of the great vital ones gets out of order the whole body is likely to suffer.  Suppose that Van Torp wished to do something with the Nickel Trust in Paris, and that I had private information to the effect that he was not a man to be trusted, and that I believed this information, don’t you see that I should naturally warn my friends against him, and that our joint weight would be an effective obstacle in his way?’

’Yes, I see that.  But, dear me! do you mean to say that all financiers must be strictly virtuous, like little woolly white lambs?’

Margaret laughed carelessly.  If Lushington had heard her, his teeth would have been set on edge, but Logotheti did not notice the shade of expression and tone.

’I repeat that the account of the interview with you was a mere incident, thrown in to show that Van Torp occasionally loses his head and behaves like a madman.’

‘I don’t want to see the letter,’ said Margaret, ’but what sort of accusations did it contain?  Were they all of the same kind?’

’No.  There was one other thing ­something about a little girl called Ida, who is supposed to be the daughter of that old Alvah Moon who robbed your mother.  You can guess the sort of thing the letter said without my telling you.’

Margaret leaned forward and poked the small wood fire with a pair of unnecessarily elaborate gilt tongs, and she nodded, for she remembered how Lord Creedmore had mentioned the child that afternoon.  He had hesitated a little, and had then gone on speaking rather hurriedly.  She watched the sparks fly upward each time she touched the log, and she nodded slowly.

‘What are you thinking of?’ asked Logotheti.

But she did not answer for nearly half a minute.  She was reflecting on a singular little fact which made itself clear to her just then.  She was certainly not a child; she was not even a very young girl, at twenty-four; she had never been prudish, and she did not affect the pre-Serpentine innocence of Eve before the fall.  Yet it was suddenly apparent to her that because she was a singer men treated her as if she were a married woman, and would have done so if she had been even five years younger.  Talking to her as Margaret Donne, in Mrs. Rushmore’s house, two years earlier, Logotheti would not have approached such a subject as little Ida Moon’s possible relation to Mr. Van Torp, because the Greek had been partly brought up in England and had been taught what one might and might not say to a ’nice English girl.’  Margaret now reflected that since the day she had set foot upon the stage of the Opera she had apparently ceased to be a ‘nice English girl’ in the eyes of men of the world.  The profession of singing in public, then, presupposed that the singer was no longer the more or less imaginary young girl, the hothouse flower of the social garden, whose perfect bloom the merest breath of worldly knowledge must blight for ever.  Margaret might smile at the myth, but she could not ignore the fact that she was already as much detached from it in men’s eyes as if she had entered the married state.  The mere fact of realising that the hothouse blossom was part of the social legend proved the change in herself.

‘So that is the secret about the little girl,’ she said at last.  Then she started a little, as if she had made a discovery.  ‘Good heavens!’ she exclaimed, poking the fire sharply.  ’He cannot be as bad as that ­even he!’

‘What do you mean?’ asked Logotheti, surprised.

‘No ­really ­it’s too awful,’ Margaret said slowly, to herself.  ‘Besides,’ she added, ’one has no right to believe an anonymous letter.’

‘The writer was well informed about you, at least,’ observed Logotheti.  ‘You say that the details are true.’

‘Absolutely.  That makes the other thing all the more dreadful.’

‘It’s not such a frightful crime, after all,’ Logotheti answered with a little surprise.  ’Long before he fell in love with you he may have liked some one else!  Such things may happen in every man’s life.’

’That one thing ­yes, no doubt.  But you either don’t know, or you don’t realise just what all the rest has been, up to the death of that poor girl in the theatre in New York.’

‘He was engaged to her, was he not?’

‘Yes.’

‘I forget who she was.’

‘His partner’s daughter.  She was called Ida Bamberger.’

‘Ida?  Like the little girl?’

’Yes.  Bamberger divorced his wife, and she married Senator Moon.  Don’t you see?’

‘And the girls were half-sisters ­and ?’ Logotheti stopped and stared.

‘Yes.’  Margaret nodded slowly again and poked the fire.

‘Good heavens!’ The Greek knew something of the world’s wickedness, but his jaw dropped.  ‘Oedipus!’ he ejaculated.

‘It cannot be true,’ Margaret said, quite in earnest.  ’I detest him, but I cannot believe that of him.’

For in her mind all that she knew and that Griggs had told her, and that Logotheti did not know yet, rose up in orderly logic, and joined what was now in her mind, completing the whole hideous tale of wickedness that had ended in the death of Ida Bamberger, who had been murdered, perhaps, in desperation to avert a crime even more monstrous.  The dying girl’s faint voice came back to Margaret across the ocean.

‘He did it ­’

And there was the stain on Paul Griggs’ hand; and there was little Ida’s face on the steamer, when she had looked up and had seen Van Torp’s lips moving, and had understood what he was saying to himself, and had dragged Margaret away in terror.  And not least, there was the indescribable fear of him which Margaret felt when he was near her for a few minutes.

On the other side, what was there to be said for him?  Miss More, quiet, good, conscientious Miss More, devoting her life to the child, said that he was one of the kindest men living.  There was Lady Maud, with her clear eyes, her fearless ways, and her knowledge of the world and men, and she said that Van Torp was kind, and good to people in trouble and true to his friends.  Lord Creedmore, the intimate friend of Margaret’s father, a barrister half his life, and as keen as a hawk, said that Mr. Van Torp was a very decent sort of man, and he evidently allowed his daughter to like the American.  It was true that a scandalous tale about Lady Maud and the millionaire was already going from mouth to mouth, but Margaret did not believe it.  If she had known that the facts were accurately told, whatever their meaning might be, she would have taken them for further evidence against the accused.  As for Miss More, she was guided by her duty to her employer, or her affection for little Ida, and she seemed to be of the charitable sort, who think no evil; but after what Lord Creedmore had said, Margaret had no doubt but that it was Mr. Van Torp who provided for the child, and if she was his daughter, the reason for Senator Moon’s neglect of her was patent.

Then Margaret thought of Isidore Bamberger, the hard-working man of business who was Van Torp’s right hand and figure-head, as Griggs had said, and who had divorced the beautiful, half-crazy mother of the two Idas because Van Torp had stolen her from him ­Van Torp, his partner, and once his trusted friend.  She remembered the other things Griggs had told her:  how old Bamberger must surely have discovered that his daughter had been murdered, and that he meant to keep it a secret till he caught the murderer.  Even now the detectives might be on the right scent, and if he whose child had been killed, and whose wife had been stolen from him by the man he had once trusted, learnt the whole truth at last, he would not be easily appeased.

‘You have had some singular offers of marriage,’ said Logotheti in a tone of reflection.  ’You will probably marry a beggar some day ­a nice beggar, who has ruined himself like a gentleman, but a beggar nevertheless!’

‘I don’t know,’ Margaret said carelessly.  ’Of one thing I am sure.  I shall not marry Mr. Van Torp.’

Logotheti laughed softly.

‘Remember the French proverb,’ he said. ’"Say not to the fountain, I will not drink of thy water."’

‘Proverbs,’ returned Margaret, ’are what Schreiermeyer calls stupid stuff.  Fancy marrying that monster!’

‘Yes,’ assented Logotheti, ‘fancy!’