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

The Elisir d’Amore was received with enthusiasm, but the tenor had it all his own way, as Lushington had foretold, and when Pompeo Stromboli sang ‘Una furtiva lacrima’ the incomparable Cordova was for once eclipsed in the eyes of a hitherto faithful public.  Covent Garden surrendered unconditionally.  Metaphorically speaking, it rolled over on its back, with its four paws in the air, like a small dog that has got the worst of a fight and throws himself on the bigger dog’s mercy.

Margaret was applauded, but as a matter of course.  There was no electric thrill in the clapping of hands; she got the formal applause which is regularly given to the sovereign, but not the enthusiasm which is bestowed spontaneously on the conqueror.  When she buttered her face and got the paint off, she was a little pale, and her eyes were not kind.  It was the first time that she had not carried everything before her since she had begun her astonishing career, and in her first disappointment she had not philosophy enough to console herself with the consideration that it would have been infinitely worse to be thrown into the shade by another lyric soprano, instead of by the most popular lyric tenor on the stage.  She was also uncomfortably aware that Lushington had predicted what had happened, and she was informed that he had not even taken the trouble to come to the first performance of the opera.  Logotheti, who knew everything about his old rival, had told her that Lushington was in Paris that week, and was going on to see his mother in Provence.

The Primadonna was put out with herself and with everybody, after the manner of great artists when a performance has not gone exactly as they had hoped.  The critics said the next morning that the Senorita da Cordova had been in good voice and had sung with excellent taste and judgment, but that was all:  as if any decent soprano might not do as well!  They wrote as if she might have been expected to show neither judgment nor taste, and as if she were threatened with a cold.  Then they went on to praise Pompeo Stromboli with the very words they usually applied to her.  His voice was full, rich, tender, vibrating, flexible, soft, powerful, stirring, natural, cultivated, superb, phenomenal, and perfectly fresh.  The critics had a severe attack of ‘adjectivitis.’

Paul Griggs had first applied the name to that inflammation of language to which many young writers are subject when cutting their literary milk-teeth, and from which musical critics are never quite immune.  Margaret could no longer help reading what was written about her; that was one of the signs of the change that had come over her, and she disliked it, and sometimes despised herself for it, though she was quite unable to resist the impulse.  The appetite for flattery which comes of living on it may be innocent, but it is never harmless.  Dante consigned the flatterers to Inferno, and more particularly to a very nasty place there:  it is true that there were no musical critics in his day; but he does not say much about the flattered, perhaps because they suffer enough when they find out the truth, or lose the gift for which they have been over-praised.

The Primadonna was in a detestably uncomfortable state of mind on the day after the performance of the revived opera.  Her dual nature was hopelessly mixed; Cordova was in a rage with Stromboli, Schreiermeyer, Baci-Roventi, and the whole company, not to mention Signor Bambinelli the conductor, the whole orchestra, and the dead composer of the Elisir d’Amore; but Margaret Donne was ashamed of herself for caring, and for being spoilt, and for bearing poor Lushington a grudge because he had foretold a result that was only to be expected with such a tenor as Stromboli; she despised herself for wickedly wishing that the latter had cracked on the final high note and had made himself ridiculous.  But he had not cracked at all; in imagination she could hear the note still, tremendous, round, and persistently drawn out, as if it came out of a tenor trombone and had all the world’s lungs behind it.

In her mortification Cordova was ready to give up lyric opera and study Wagner, in order to annihilate Pompeo Stromboli, who did not even venture Lohengrin.  Schreiermeyer had unkindly told him that if he arrayed his figure in polished armour he would look like a silver teapot; and Stromboli was very sensitive to ridicule.  Even if he had possessed a dramatic voice, he could never have bounded about the stage in pink tights and the exiguous skin of an unknown wild animal as Siegfried, and in the flower scene of Parsifal he would have looked like Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor.  But Cordova could have made herself into a stately Brunhilde, a wild and lovely Kundry, or a fair and fateful Isolde, with the very least amount of artificial aid that theatrical illusion admits.

Margaret Donne, disgusted with Cordova, said that her voice was about as well adapted for one of those parts as a sick girl’s might be for giving orders at sea in a storm.  Cordova could not deny this, and fell back upon the idea of having an opera written for her, expressly to show off her voice, with a crescendo trill in every scene and a high D at the end; and Margaret Donne, who loved music for its own sake, was more disgusted than ever, and took up a book in order to get rid of her professional self, and tried so hard to read that she almost gave herself a headache.

Pompeo Stromboli was really the most sweet-tempered creature in the world, and called during the afternoon with the idea of apologising for having eclipsed her, but was told that she was resting and would see no one.  Fraeulein Ottilie Braun also came, and Margaret would probably have seen her, but had not given any special orders, so the kindly little person trotted off, and Margaret knew nothing of her coming; and the day wore on quickly; and when she wanted to go out, it at once began to rain furiously; and, at last, in sheer impatience at everything, she telephoned to Logotheti, asking him to come and dine alone with her if he felt that he could put up with her temper, which, she explained, was atrocious.  She heard the Greek laugh gaily at the other end of the wire.

‘Will you come?’ she asked, impatient that anybody should be in a good humour when she was not.

‘I’ll come now, if you’ll let me,’ he answered readily.

‘No.  Come to dinner at half-past eight.’  She waited a moment and then went on.  ’I’ve sent down word that I’m not at home for any one, and I don’t like to make you the only exception.’

‘Oh, I see,’ answered Logotheti’s voice.  ’But I’ve always wanted to be the only exception.  I say, does half-past eight mean a quarter past nine?’

‘No.  It means a quarter past eight, if you like.  Good-bye!’

She cut off the communication abruptly, being a little afraid that if she let him go on chattering any longer she might yield and allow him to come at once.  In her solitude she was intensely bored by her own bad temper, and was nearer to making him the ‘only exception’ than she had often been of late.  She said to herself that he always amused her, but in her heart she was conscious that he was the only man in the world who knew how to flatter her back into a good temper, and would take the trouble to do so.  It was better than nothing to look forward to a pleasant evening, and she went back to her novel and her cup of tea already half reconciled with life.

It rained almost without stopping.  At times it poured, which really does not happen often in much-abused London; but even heavy rain is not so depressing in spring as it is in winter, and when the Primadonna raised her eyes from her book and looked out of the big window, she was not thinking of the dreariness outside but of what she should wear in the evening.  To tell the truth, she did not often trouble herself much about that matter when she was not going to sing, and all singers and actresses who habitually play ‘costume parts’ are conscious of looking upon stage-dressing and ordinary dressing from totally different points of view.  By far the larger number of them have their stage clothes made by a theatrical tailor, and only an occasional eccentric celebrity goes to Worth or Doucet to be dressed for a ‘Juliet,’ a ‘Tosca,’ or a ‘Dona Sol.’

Margaret looked at the rain and decided that Logotheti should not find her in a tea-gown, not because it would look too intimate, but because tea-gowns suggest weariness, the state of being misunderstood, and a craving for sympathy.  A woman who is going to surrender to fate puts on a tea-gown, but a well-fitting body indicates strength of character and virtuous firmness.

I remember a smart elderly Frenchwoman who always bestowed unusual care on every detail of her dress, visible and invisible, before going to church.  Her niece was in the room one Sunday while she was dressing for church, and asked why she took so much trouble.

‘My dear,’ was the answer, ’Satan is everywhere, and one can never know what may happen.’

Margaret was very fond of warm greys, and fawn tints, and dove colour, and she had lately got a very pretty dress that was exactly to her taste, and was made of a newly invented thin material of pure silk, which had no sheen and cast no reflections of light, and was slightly elastic, so that it fitted as no ordinary silk or velvet ever could.  Alphonsine called the gown a ‘legend,’ but a celebrated painter who had lately seen it said it was an ‘Indian twilight,’ which might mean anything, as Paul Griggs explained, because there is no twilight to speak of in India.  The dress-maker who had made it called the colour ‘fawn’s stomach,’ which was less poetical, and the fabric, ’veil of nun in love,’ which showed little respect for monastic institutions.  As for the way in which the dress was made, it is folly to rush into competition with tailors and dress-makers, who know what they are talking about, and are able to say things which nobody can understand.

The plain fact is that the Primadonna began to dress early, out of sheer boredom, had her thick brown hair done in the most becoming way in spite of its natural waves, which happened to be unfashionable just then, and she put on the new gown with all the care and consideration which so noble a creation deserved.

‘Madame is adorable,’ observed Alphonsine.  ’Madame is a dream.  Madame has only to lift her little finger, and kings will fall into ecstasy before her.’

‘That would be very amusing,’ said Margaret, looking at herself in the glass, and less angry with the world than she had been.  ’I have never seen a king in ecstasy.’

‘The fault is Madame’s,’ returned Alphonsine, possibly with truth.

When Margaret went into the drawing-room Logotheti was already there, and she felt a thrill of pleasure when his expression changed at sight of her.  It is not easy to affect the pleased surprise which the sudden appearance of something beautiful brings into the face of a man who is not expecting anything unusual.

‘Oh, I say!’ exclaimed the Greek.  ‘Let me look at you!’

And instead of coming forward to take her hand, he stepped back in order not to lose anything of the wonderful effect by being too near.  Margaret stood still and smiled in the peculiar way which is a woman’s equivalent for a cat’s purring.  Then, to Logotheti’s still greater delight, she slowly turned herself round, to be admired, like a statue on a pivoted pedestal, quite regardless of a secret consciousness that Margaret Donne would not have done such a thing for him, and probably not for any other man.

‘You’re really too utterly stunning!’ he cried.

In moments of enthusiasm he sometimes out-Englished Englishmen.

‘I’m glad you like it,’ Margaret said.  ’This is the first time I’ve worn it.’

’If you put it on for me, thank you!  If not, thank you for putting it on!  I’m not asking, either.  I should think you would wear it if you were alone for the mere pleasure of feeling like a goddess.’

‘You’re very nice!’

She was satisfied, and for a moment she forgot Pompeo Stromboli, the Elisir d’Amore, the public, and the critics.  It was particularly ‘nice’ of him, too, not to insist upon being told that she had put on the new creation solely for his benefit.  Next to not assuming rashly that a woman means anything of the sort expressly for him, it is wise of a man to know when she really does, without being told.  At least, so Margaret thought just then; but it is true that she wanted him to amuse her and was willing to be pleased.

She executed the graceful swaying movement which only a well-made woman can make just before sitting down for the first time in a perfectly new gown.  It is a slightly serpentine motion; and as there is nothing to show that Eve did not meet the Serpent again after she had taken to clothes, she may have learnt the trick from him.  There is certainly something diabolical about it when it is well done.

Logotheti’s almond-shaped eyes watched her quietly, and he stood motionless till she was established on her chair.  Then he seated himself at a little distance.

‘I hope I was not rude,’ he said, in artful apology, ’but it’s not often that one’s breath is taken away by what one sees.  Horrid weather all day, wasn’t it?  Have you been out at all?’

’No.  I’ve been moping.  I told you that I was in a bad humour, but I don’t want to talk about it now that I feel better.  What have you been doing?  Tell me all sorts of amusing things, where you have been, whom you have seen, and what people said to you.’

‘That might be rather dull,’ observed the Greek.

’I don’t believe it.  You are always in the thick of everything that’s happening.’

’We have agreed to-day to lend Russia some more money.  But that doesn’t interest you, does it?  There’s to be a European conference about the Malay pirates, but there’s nothing very funny in that.  It would be more amusing to hear the pirates’ view of Europeans.  Let me see.  Some one has discovered a conspiracy in Italy against Austria, and there is another in Austria against the Italians.  They are the same old plots that were discovered six months ago, but people had forgotten about them, so they are as good as new.  Then there is the sad case of that Greek.’

‘What Greek?  I’ve not heard about that.  What has happened to him?’

‘Oh, nothing much.  It’s only a love-story ­the same old thing.’

‘Tell me.’

’Not now, for we shall have to go to dinner just when I get to the most thrilling part of it, I’m sure.’  Logotheti laughed.  ’And besides,’ he added, ’the man isn’t dead yet, though he’s not expected to live.  I’ll tell you about your friend Mr. Feist instead.  He has been very ill too.’

‘I would much rather know about the Greek love-story,’ Margaret objected.  ‘I never heard of Mr. Feist.’

She had quite forgotten the man’s existence, but Logotheti recalled to her memory the circumstances under which they had met, and Feist’s unhealthy face with its absurdly youthful look, and what he had said about having been at the Opera in New York on the night of the explosion.

‘Why do you tell me all this?’ Margaret asked.  ’He was a disgusting-looking man, and I never wish to see him again.  Tell me about the Greek.  When we go to dinner you can finish the story in French.  We spoke French the first time we met, at Madame Bonanni’s.  Do you remember?’

‘Yes, of course I do.  But I was telling you about Mr. Feist ­’

‘Dinner is ready,’ Margaret said, rising as the servant opened the door.

To her surprise the man came forward.  He said that just as he was going to announce dinner Countess Leven had telephoned that she was dining out, and would afterwards stop on her way to the play in the hope of seeing Margaret for a moment.  She had seemed to be in a hurry, and had closed the communication before the butler could answer.  And dinner was served, he added.

Margaret nodded carelessly, and the two went into the dining-room.  Lady Maud could not possibly come before half-past nine, and there was plenty of time to decide whether she should be admitted or not.

‘Mr. Feist has been very ill,’ Logotheti said as they sat down to table under the pleasant light, ’and I have been taking care of him, after a fashion.’

Margaret raised her eyebrows a little, for she was beginning to be annoyed at his persistency, and was not much pleased at the prospect of Lady Maud’s visit.

‘How very odd!’ she said, rather coldly.  ’I cannot imagine anything more disagreeable.’

‘It has been very unpleasant,’ Logotheti answered, ’but he seemed to have no particular friends here, and he was all alone at an hotel, and really very ill.  So I volunteered.’

’I’ve no objection to being moderately sorry for a young man who falls ill at an hotel and has no friends,’ Margaret said, ’but are you going in for nursing?  Is that your latest hobby?  It’s a long way from art, and even from finance!’

‘Isn’t it?’

‘Yes.  I’m beginning to be curious!’

‘I thought you would be before long,’ Logotheti answered coolly, but suddenly speaking French.  ’One of the most delightful things in life is to have one’s curiosity roused and then satisfied by very slow degrees!’

‘Not too slow, please.  The interest might not last to the end.’

‘Oh yes, it will, for Mr. Feist plays a part in your life.’

‘About as distant as Voltaire’s Chinese Mandarin, I fancy,’ Margaret suggested.

’Nearer than that, though I did not guess it when I went to see him.  In the first place, it was owing to you that I went to see him the first time.’

‘Nonsense!’

’Not at all.  Everything that happens to me is connected with you in some way.  I came to see you late in the afternoon, on one of your off-days not long ago, hoping that you would ask me to dine, but you were across the river at Lord Creedmore’s.  I met old Griggs at your door, and as we walked away he told me that Mr. Feist had fallen down in a fit at a club, the night before, and had been sent home in a cab to the Carlton.  As I had nothing to do, worth doing, I went to see him.  If you had been at home, I should never have gone.  That is what I mean when I say that you were the cause of my going to see him.’

’In the same way, if you had been killed by a motor-car as you went away from my door, I should have been the cause of your death!’

‘You will be in any case,’ laughed Logotheti, ’but that’s a detail!  I found Mr. Feist in a very bad way.’

‘What was the matter with him?’ asked Margaret.

‘He was committing suicide,’ answered the Greek with the utmost calm.  ’If I were in Constantinople I should tell you that this turbot is extremely good, but as we are in London I suppose it would be very bad manners to say so, wouldn’t it?  So I am thinking it.’

‘Take the fish for granted, and tell me more about Mr. Feist!’

’I found him standing before the glass with a razor in his hand and quite near his throat.  When he saw me he tried to laugh and said he was just going to shave; I asked him if he generally shaved without soap and water, and he burst into tears.’

‘That’s rather dreadful,’ observed Margaret.  ‘What did you do?’

’I saved his life, but I don’t think he’s very grateful yet.  Perhaps he may be by and by.  When he stopped sobbing he tried to kill me for hindering his destruction, but I had got the razor in my pocket, and his revolver missed fire.  That was lucky, for he managed to stick the muzzle against my chest and pull the trigger just as I got him down.  I wished I had brought old Griggs with me, for they say he can bend a good horse-shoe double, even now, and the fellow had the strength of a lunatic in him.  It was rather lively for a few seconds, and then he broke down again, and was as limp as a rag, and trembled with fright, as if he saw queer things in the room.’

‘You sent for a doctor then?’

’My own, and we took care of him together that night.  You may laugh at the idea of my having a doctor, as I never was ill in my life.  I have him to dine with me now and then, because he is such good company, and is the best judge of a statue or a picture I know.  The habit of taking the human body to pieces teaches you a great deal about the shape of it, you see.  In the morning we moved Mr. Feist from the hotel to a small private hospital where cases of that sort are treated.  Of course he was perfectly helpless, so we packed his belongings and papers.’

’It was really very kind of you to act the Good Samaritan to a stranger,’ Margaret said, but her tone showed that she was disappointed at the tame ending of the story.

‘No,’ Logotheti answered.  ’I was never consciously kind, as you call it.  It’s not a Greek characteristic to love one’s neighbour as one’s self.  Teutons, Anglo-Saxons, Latins, and, most of all, Asiatics, are charitable, but the old Greeks were not.  I don’t believe you’ll find an instance of a charitable act in all Greek history, drama, and biography!  If you did find one I should only say that the exception proves the rule.  Charity was left out of us at the beginning, and we never could understand it, except as a foreign sentiment imported with Christianity from Asia.  We have had every other virtue, including hospitality.  In the Iliad a man declines to kill his enemy on the ground that their people had dined together, which is going rather far, but it is not recorded that any ancient Greek, even Socrates himself, ever felt pity or did an act of spontaneous kindness!  I don’t believe any one has said that, but it’s perfectly true.’

‘Then why did you take all that trouble for Mr. Feist?’

’I don’t know.  People who always know why they do things are great bores.  It was probably a caprice that took me to see him, and then it did not occur to me to let him cut his throat, so I took away his razor; and, finally, I telephoned for my doctor, because my misspent life has brought me into contact with Western civilisation.  But when we began to pack Mr. Feist’s papers I became interested in him.’

‘Do you mean to say that you read his letters?’ Margaret inquired.

’Why not?  If I had let him kill himself, somebody would have read them, as he had not taken the trouble to destroy them!’

‘That’s a singular point of view.’

’So was Mr. Feist’s, as it turned out.  I found enough to convince me that he is the writer of all those articles about Van Torp, including the ones in which you are mentioned.  The odd thing about it is that I found a very friendly invitation from Van Torp himself, begging Mr. Feist to go down to Derbyshire and stop a week with him.’

Margaret leaned back in her chair and looked at her guest in quiet surprise.

‘What does that mean?’ she asked.  ’Is it possible that Mr. Van Torp has got up this campaign against himself in order to play some trick on the Stock Exchange?’

Logotheti smiled and shook his head.

‘That’s not the way such things are usually managed,’ he answered.  ’A hundred years ago a publisher paid a critic to attack a book in order to make it succeed, but in finance abuse doesn’t contribute to our success, which is always a question of credit.  All these scurrilous articles have set the public very much against Van Torp, from Paris to San Francisco, and this man Feist is responsible for them.  He is either insane, or he has some grudge against Van Torp, or else he has been somebody’s instrument, which looks the most probable.’

‘What did you find amongst his papers?’ Margaret asked, quite forgetting her vicarious scruples about reading a sick man’s letters.

’A complete set of the articles that have appeared, all neatly filed, and a great many notes for more, besides a lot of stuff written in cypher.  It must be a diary, for the days are written out in full and give the days of the week.’

‘I wonder whether there was anything about the explosion,’ said Margaret thoughtfully.  ‘He said he was there, did he not?’

‘Yes.  Do you remember the day?’

’It was a Wednesday, I’m sure, and it was after the middle of March.  My maid can tell us, for she writes down the date and the opera in a little book each time I sing.  It’s sometimes very convenient.  But it’s too late now, of course, and, besides, you could not have read the cypher.’

‘That’s an easy matter,’ Logotheti answered.  ’All cyphers can be read by experts, if there is no hurry, except the mechanical ones that are written through holes in a square plate which you turn round till the sheet is full.  Hardly any one uses those now, because when the square is raised the letters don’t form words, and the cable companies will only transmit real words in some known language, or groups of figures.  The diary is written hastily, too, not at all as if it were copied from the sheet on which the perforated plate would have had to be used, and besides, the plate itself would be amongst his things, for he could not read his own notes without it.’

’All that doesn’t help us, as you have not the diary, but I should really be curious to know what he had to say about the accident, since some of the articles hint that Mr. Van Torp made it happen.’

’My doctor and I took the liberty of confiscating the papers, and we set a very good man to work on the cypher at once.  So your curiosity shall be satisfied.  I said it should, didn’t I?  And you are not so dreadfully bored after all, are you?  Do say that I’m very nice!’

‘I won’t!’ Margaret answered with a little laugh.  ’I’ll only admit that I’m not bored!  But wasn’t it rather a high-handed proceeding to carry off Mr. Feist like that, and to seize his papers?’

‘Do you call it high-handed to keep a man from cutting his throat?’

‘But the letters ?’

’I really don’t know.  I had not time to ask a lawyer’s opinion, and so I had to be satisfied with my doctor’s.’

‘Are you going to tell Mr. Van Torp what you’ve done?’

‘I don’t know.  Why should I?  You may if you like.’

Logotheti was eating a very large and excellent truffle, and after each short sentence he cut off a tiny slice and put it into his mouth.  The Primadonna had already finished hers, and watched him thoughtfully.

‘I’m not likely to see him,’ she said.  ‘At least, I hope not!’

‘My interest in Mr. Feist,’ answered Logotheti, ’begins and ends with what concerns you.  Beyond that I don’t care a straw what happens to Mr. Van Torp, or to any one else.  To all intents and purposes I have got the author of the stories locked up, for a man who has consented to undergo treatment for dipsomania in a private hospital, by the advice of his friends and under the care of a doctor with a great reputation, is as really in prison as if he were in gaol.  Legally, he can get out, but in real fact nobody will lift a hand to release him, because he is shut up for his own good and for the good of the public, just as much as if he were a criminal.  Feist may have friends or relations in America, and they may come and claim him; but as there seems to be nobody in London who cares what becomes of him, it pleases me to keep him in confinement, because I mean to prevent any further mention of your name in connection with the Van Torp scandals.’

His eyes rested on Margaret as he spoke, and lingered afterwards, with a look that did not escape her.  She had seen him swayed by passion, more than once, and almost mad for her, and she had been frightened though she had dominated him.  What she saw in his face now was not that; it was more like affection, faithful and lasting, and it touched her English nature much more than any show of passion could.

‘Thank you,’ she said quietly.

They did not talk much more while they finished the short dinner, but when they were going back to the drawing-room Margaret took his arm, in foreign fashion, which she had never done before when they were alone.  Then he stood before the mantelpiece and watched her in silence as she moved about the room; for she was one of those women who always find half a dozen little things to do as soon as they get back from dinner, and go from place to place, moving a reading lamp half an inch farther from the edge of a table, shutting a book that has been left open on another, tearing up a letter that lies on the writing-desk, and slightly changing the angle at which a chair stands.  It is an odd little mania, and the more people there are in the room the less the mistress of the house yields to it, and the more uncomfortable she feels at being hindered from ‘tidying up the room,’ as she probably calls it.

Logotheti watched Margaret with keen pleasure, as every step and little movement showed her figure in a slightly different attitude and light, indiscreetly moulded in the perfection of her matchless gown.  In less than two minutes she had finished her trip round the room and was standing beside him, her elbows resting on the mantelpiece, while she moved a beautiful Tanagra a little to one side and then to the other, trying for the twentieth time how it looked the best.

‘There is no denying it,’ Logotheti said at last, with profound conviction.  ’I do not care a straw what becomes of any living creature but you.’

She did not turn her head, and her fingers still touched the Tanagra, but he saw the rare blush spread up the cheek that was turned to him; and because she stopped moving the statuette about, and looked at it intently, he guessed that she was not colouring from annoyance at what he had said.  She blushed so very seldom now, that it might mean much more than in the old days at Versailles.

‘I did not think it would last so long,’ she said gently, after a little while.

‘What faith can one expect of a Greek!’

He laughed, too wise in woman’s ways to be serious too long just then.  But she shook her head and turned to him with the smile he loved.

‘I thought it was something different,’ she said.  ’I was mistaken.  I believed you had only lost your head for a while, and would soon run after some one else.  That’s all.’

‘And the loss is permanent.  That’s all!’ He laughed again as he repeated her words.  ’You thought it was “something different” ­do you know that you are two people in one?’

She looked a little surprised.

‘Indeed I do!’ she answered rather sadly.  ‘Have you found it out?’

’Yes.  You are Margaret Donne and you are Cordova.  I admire Cordova immensely, I am extremely fond of Margaret, and I’m in love with both.  Oh yes!  I’m quite frank about it, and it’s very unlucky, for whichever one of your two selves I meet I’m just as much in love as ever!  Absurd, isn’t it?’

‘It’s flattering, at all events.’

’If you ever took it into your handsome head to marry me ­please, I’m only saying “if” ­the absurdity would be rather reassuring, wouldn’t it?  When a man is in love with two women at the same time, it really is a little unlikely that he should fall in love with a third!’

’Mr. Griggs says that marriage is a drama which only succeeds if people preserve the unities!’

’Griggs is always trying to coax the Djin back into the bottle, like the fisherman in the Arabian Nights,’ answered Logotheti.  ’He has read Kant till he believes that the greatest things in the world can be squeezed into a formula of ten words, or nailed up amongst the Categories like a dead owl over a stable door.  My intelligence, such as it is, abhors definitions!’

‘So do I. I never understand them.’

’Besides, you can only define what you know from past experience and can reflect upon coolly, and that is not my position, nor yours either.’

Margaret nodded, but said nothing and sat down.

‘Do you want to smoke?’ she asked.  ’You may, if you like.  I don’t mind a cigarette.’

‘No, thank you.’

’But I assure you I don’t mind it in the least.  It never hurts my throat.’

‘Thanks, but I really don’t want to.’

‘I’m sure you do.  Please ­’

‘Why do you insist?  You know I never smoke when you are in the room.’

’I don’t like to be the object of little sacrifices that make people uncomfortable.’

’I’m not uncomfortable, but if you have any big sacrifice to suggest, I promise to offer it at once.’

‘Unconditionally?’ Margaret smiled.  ‘Anything I ask?’

‘Yes.  Do you want my statue?’

‘The Aphrodite?  Would you give her to me?’

‘Yes.  May I telegraph to have her packed and brought here from Paris?’

He was already at the writing-table looking for a telegraph form.  Margaret watched his face, for she knew that he valued the wonderful statue far beyond all his treasures, both for its own sake and because he had nearly lost his life in carrying it off from Samos, as has been told elsewhere.

As Margaret said nothing, he began to write the message.  She really had not had any idea of testing his willingness to part with the thing he valued most, at her slightest word, and was taken by surprise; but it was impossible not to be pleased when she saw that he was in earnest.  In her present mood, too, it restored her sense of power, which had been rudely shaken by the attitude of the public on the previous evening.

It took some minutes to compose the message.

‘It’s only to save time by having the box ready,’ he said, as he rose with the bit of paper in his hand.  ’Of course I shall see the statue packed myself and come over with it.’

She saw his face clearly in the light as he came towards her, and there was no mistaking the unaffected satisfaction it expressed.  He held out the telegram for her to read, but she would not take it, and she looked up quietly and earnestly as he stood beside her.

‘Do you remember Delorges?’ she asked.  ’How the lady tossed her glove amongst the lions and bade him fetch it, if he loved her, and how he went in and got it ­and then threw it in her face?  I feel like her.’

Logotheti looked at her blankly.

‘Do you mean to say you won’t take the statue?’ he asked in a disappointed tone.

’No, indeed!  I was taken by surprise when you went to the writing-table.’

’You did not believe I was in earnest?  Don’t you see that I’m disappointed now?’ His voice changed a little.  ’Don’t you understand that if the world were mine I should want to give it all to you?’

’And don’t you understand that the wish may be quite as much to me as the deed?  That sounds commonplace, I know.  I would say it better if I could.’

She folded her hands on her knee, and looked at them thoughtfully while he sat down beside her.

‘You say it well enough,’ he answered after a little pause.  ’The trouble lies there.  The wish is all you will ever take.  I have submitted to that; but if you ever change your mind, please remember that I have not changed mine.  For two years I’ve done everything I can to make you marry me whether you would or not, and you’ve forgiven me for trying to carry you off against your will, and for several other things, but you are no nearer to caring for me ever so little than you were the first day we met.  You “like” me!  That’s the worst of it!’

‘I’m not so sure of that,’ Margaret answered, raising her eyes for a moment and then looking at her hands again.

He turned his head slowly, but there was a startled look in his eyes.

‘Do you feel as if you could hate me a little, for a change?’ he asked.

‘No.’

‘There’s only one other thing,’ he said in a low voice.

‘Perhaps,’ Margaret answered, in an even lower tone than his.  ’I’m not quite sure to-day.’

Logotheti had known her long, and he now resisted the strong impulse to reach out and take the hand she would surely have let him hold in his for a moment.  She was not disappointed because he neither spoke nor moved, nor took any sudden advantage of her rather timid admission, for his silence made her trust him more than any passionate speech or impulsive action could have done.

‘I daresay I am wrong to tell you even that much,’ she went on presently, ’but I do so want to play fair.  I’ve always despised women who cannot make up their minds whether they care for a man or not.  But you have found out my secret; I am two people in one, and there are days when each makes the other dreadfully uncomfortable!  You understand.’

’And it’s the Cordova that neither likes me nor hates me just at this moment,’ suggested Logotheti.  ’Margaret Donne sometimes hates me and sometimes likes me, and on some days she can be quite indifferent too!  Is that it?’

‘Yes.  That’s it.’

‘The only question is, which of you is to be mistress of the house,’ said Logotheti, smiling, ’and whether it is to be always the same one, or if there is to be a perpetual hide-and-seek between them!’

‘Box and Cox,’ suggested Margaret, glad of the chance to say something frivolous just then.

‘I should say Hera and Aphrodite,’ answered the Greek, ’if it did not look like comparing myself to Adonis!’

’It sounds better than Box and Cox, but I have forgotten my mythology.’

’Hera and Aphrodite agreed that each should keep Adonis one-third of the year, and that he should have the odd four months to himself.  Now that you are the Cordova, if you could come to some such understanding about me with Miss Donne, it would be very satisfactory.  But I am afraid Margaret does not want even a third of me!’

Logotheti felt that it was rather ponderous fun, but he was in such an anxious state that his usually ready wit did not serve him very well.  For the first time since he had known her, Margaret had confessed that she might possibly fall in love with him; and after what had passed between them in former days, he knew that the smallest mistake on his part would now be fatal to the realisation of such a possibility.  He was not afraid of being dull, or of boring her, but he was afraid of wakening against him the wary watchfulness of that side of her nature which he called Margaret Donne, as distinguished from Cordova, of the ‘English-girl’ side, of the potential old maid that is dormant in every young northern woman until the day she marries, and wakes to torment her like a biblical devil if she does not.  There is no miser like a reformed spendthrift, and no ascetic will go to such extremes of self-mortification as a converted libertine; in the same way, there are no such portentously virginal old maids as those who might have been the most womanly wives; the opposite is certainly true also, for the variety ‘Hemiparthenos,’ studied after nature by Marcel Prevost, generally makes an utter failure of matrimony, and becomes, in fact, little better than a half-wife.

Logotheti took it as a good sign that Margaret laughed at what he said.  He was in the rather absurd position of wishing to leave her while she was in her present humour, lest anything should disturb it and destroy his advantage; yet, after what had just passed, it was next to impossible not to talk of her, or of himself.  He had exceptionally good nerves, he was generally cool to a fault, and he had the daring that makes great financiers.  But what looked like the most important crisis of his life had presented itself unexpectedly within a few minutes; a success which he reckoned far beyond all other successes was almost within his grasp, and he felt that he was unprepared.  For the first time he did not know what to say to a woman.

Happily for him, Margaret helped him unexpectedly.

‘I shall have to see Lady Maud,’ she said, ’and you must either go when she comes or leave with her.  I’m sorry, but you understand, don’t you?’

’Of course.  I’ll go a moment after she comes.  When am I to see you again?  To-morrow?  You are not to sing again this week, are you?’

‘No,’ the Primadonna answered vaguely, ‘I believe not.’

She was thinking of something else.  She was wondering whether Logotheti would wish her to give up the stage, if by any possibility she ever married him, and her thoughts led her on quickly to the consideration of what that would mean, and to asking herself what sort of sacrifice it would really mean to her.  For the recollection of the Elisir d’Amore awoke and began to rankle again just then.

Logotheti did not press her for an answer, but watched her cautiously while her eyes were turned away from him.  At that moment he felt like a tamer who had just succeeded in making a tiger give its paw for the first time, and has not the smallest idea whether the creature will do it again or bite off his head.

She, on her side, being at the moment altogether the artist, was thinking that it would be pleasant to enjoy a few more triumphs, to make the tour of Europe with a company of her own ­which is always the primadonna’s dream as it is the actress’s ­and to leave the stage at twenty-five in a blaze of glory, rather than to risk one more performance of the opera she now hated.  She knew quite well that it was not at all an impossibility.  To please her, and with the expectation of marrying her in six months, Logotheti would cheerfully pay the large forfeit that would be due to Schreiermeyer if she broke her London engagement at the height of the season, and the Greek financier would produce all the ready money necessary for getting together an opera company.  The rest would be child’s play, she was sure, and she would make a triumphant progress through the capitals of Europe which should be remembered for half a century.  After that, said the Primadonna to herself, she would repay her friend all the money he had lent her, and would then decide at her leisure whether she would marry him or not.  For one moment her cynicism would have surprised even Schreiermeyer; the next, the Primadonna herself was ashamed of it, quite independently of what her better self might have thought.

Besides, it was certainly not for his money that her old inclination for Logotheti had begun to grow again.  She could say so, truly enough, and when she felt sure of it she turned her eyes to see his face.

She did not admire him for his looks, either.  So far as appearance was concerned, she preferred Lushington, with his smooth hair and fair complexion.  Logotheti was a handsome and showy Oriental, that was all, and she knew instinctively that the type must be common in the East.  What attracted her was probably his daring masculineness, which contrasted so strongly with Lushington’s quiet and rather bashful manliness.  The Englishman would die for a cause and make no noise about it, which would be heroic; but the Greek would run away with a woman he loved, at the risk of breaking his neck, which was romantic in the extreme.  It is not easy to be a romantic character in the eyes of a lady who lives on the stage, and by it, and constantly gives utterance to the most dramatic sentiments at a pitch an octave higher than any one else; but Logotheti had succeeded.  There never was a woman yet to whom that sort of thing has not appealed once; for one moment she has felt everything whirling with her as if the centre of gravity had gone mad, and the Ten Commandments might drop out of the solid family Bible and get lost.  That recollection is probably the only secret of a virtuously colourless existence, but she hides it, like a treasure or a crime, until she is an old and widowed woman; and one day, at last, she tells her grown-up granddaughter, with a far-away smile, that there was once a man whose eyes and voice stirred her strongly, and for whom she might have quite lost her head.  But she never saw him again, and that is the end of the little story; and the tall girl in her first season thinks it rather dull.

But it was not likely that the chronicle of Cordova’s youth should come to such an abrupt conclusion.  The man who moved her now had been near her too often, the sound of his voice was too easily recalled, and, since his rival’s defection, he was too necessary to her; and, besides, he was as obstinate as Christopher Columbus.

‘Let me see,’ she said thoughtfully.  ’There’s a rehearsal to-morrow morning.  That means a late luncheon.  Come at two o’clock, and if it’s fine we can go for a little walk.  Will you?’

‘Of course.  Thank you.’

He had hardly spoken the words when a servant opened the door and Lady Maud came in.  She had not dropped the opera cloak she wore over her black velvet gown; she was rather pale, and the look in her eyes told that something was wrong, but her serenity did not seem otherwise affected.  She kissed Margaret and gave her hand to Logotheti.

‘We dined early to go to the play,’ she said, ’and as there’s a curtain-raiser, I thought I might as well take a hansom and join them later.’

She seated herself beside Margaret on one of those little sofas that are measured to hold two women when the fashions are moderate, and are wide enough for a woman and one man, whatever happens.  Indeed they must be, since otherwise no one would tolerate them in a drawing-room.  When two women instal themselves in one, and a man is present, it means that he is to go away, because they are either going to make confidences or are going to fight.

Logotheti thought it would be simpler and more tactful to go at once, since Lady Maud was in a hurry, having stopped on her way to the play, presumably in the hope of seeing Margaret alone.  To his surprise she asked him to stay; but as he thought she might be doing this out of mere civility he said he had an engagement.

‘Will it keep for ten minutes?’ asked Lady Maud gravely.

’Engagements of that sort are very convenient.  They will keep any length of time.’

Logotheti sat down again, smiling, but he wondered what Lady Maud was going to say, and why she wished him to remain.

‘It will save a note,’ she said, by way of explanation.  ’My father and I want you to come to Craythew for the week-end after this,’ she continued, turning to Margaret.  ’We are asking several people, so it won’t be too awfully dull, I hope.  Will you come?’

‘With pleasure,’ answered the singer.

‘And you too?’ Lady Maud looked at Logotheti.

‘Delighted ­most kind of you,’ he replied, somewhat surprised by the invitation, for he had never met Lord and Lady Creedmore.  ’May I take you down in my motor?’ he spoke to Margaret.  ’I think I can do it under four hours.  I’m my own chauffeur, you know.’

‘Yes, I know,’ Margaret answered with a rather malicious smile.  ’No, thank you!’

‘Does he often kill?’ inquired Lady Maud coolly.

‘I should be more afraid of a runaway,’ Margaret said.

‘Get that new German brake,’ suggested Lady Maud, not understanding at all.  ’It’s quite the best I’ve seen.  Come on Friday, if you can.  You don’t mind meeting Mr. Van Torp, do you?  He is our neighbour, you remember.’

The question was addressed to Margaret, who made a slight movement and unconsciously glanced at Logotheti before she answered.

‘Not at all,’ she said.

’There’s a reason for asking him when there are other people.  I’m not divorced after all ­you had not heard?  It will be in the Times to-morrow morning.  The Patriarch of Constantinople turns out to be a very sensible sort of person.’

‘He’s my uncle,’ observed Logotheti.

’Is he?  But that wouldn’t account for it, would it?  He refused to believe what my husband called the evidence, and dismissed the suit.  As the trouble was all about Mr. Van Torp my father wants people to see him at Craythew.  That’s the story in a nutshell, and if any of you like me you’ll be nice to him.’

She leaned back in her corner of the little sofa and looked first at one and then at the other in an inquiring way, but as if she were fairly sure of the answer.

‘Every one likes you,’ said Logotheti quietly, ’and every one will be nice to him.’

‘Of course,’ chimed in Margaret.

She could say nothing else, though her intense dislike of the American millionaire almost destroyed the anticipated pleasure of her visit to Derbyshire.

‘I thought it just as well to explain,’ said Lady Maud.

She was still pale, and in spite of her perfect outward coolness and self-reliance her eyes would have betrayed her anxiety if she had not managed them with the unconscious skill of a woman of the world who has something very important to hide.  Logotheti broke the short silence that followed her last speech.

‘I think you ought to know something I have been telling Miss Donne,’ he said simply.  ’I’ve found the man who wrote all those articles, and I’ve locked him up.’

Lady Maud leaned forward so suddenly that her loosened opera-cloak slipped down behind her, leaving her neck and shoulders bare.  Her eyes were wide open in her surprise, the pupils very dark.

‘Where?’ she asked breathlessly.  ‘Where is he?  In prison?’

‘In a more convenient and accessible place,’ answered the Greek.

He had known Lady Maud some time, but he had never seen her in the least disturbed, or surprised, or otherwise moved by anything.  It was true that he had only met her in society.

He told the story of Mr. Feist, as Margaret had heard it during dinner, and Lady Maud did not move, even to lean back in her seat again, till he had finished.  She scarcely seemed to breathe, and Logotheti felt her steady gaze on him, and would have sworn that through all those minutes she did not even wink.  When he ceased speaking she drew a long breath and sank back to her former attitude; but he saw that her white neck heaved suddenly again and again, and her delicate nostrils quivered once or twice.  For a little while there was silence in the room.  Then Lady Maud rose to go.

‘I must be going too,’ said Logotheti.

Margaret was a little sorry that she had given him such precise instructions, but did not contradict herself by asking him to stay longer.  She promised Lady Maud again to be at Craythew on Friday of the next week if possible, and certainly on Saturday, and Lady Maud and Logotheti went out together.

‘Get in with me,’ she said quietly, as he helped her into her hansom.

He obeyed, and as he sat down she told the cabman to take her to the Haymarket Theatre.  Logotheti expected her to speak, for he was quite sure that she had not taken him with her without a purpose; the more so, as she had not even asked him where he was going.

Three or four minutes passed before he heard her voice asking him a question, very low, as if she feared to be overheard.

’Is there any way of making that man tell the truth against his will?  You have lived in the East, and you must know about such things.’

Logotheti turned his almond-shaped eyes slowly towards her, but he could not see her face well, for it was not very light in the broad West End street.  She was white; that was all he could make out.  But he understood what she meant.

‘There is a way,’ he answered slowly and almost sternly.  ’Why do you ask?’

’Mr. Van Torp is going to be accused of murder.  That man knows who did it.  Will you help me?’

It seemed an age before the answer to her whispered question came.

‘Yes.’