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Logotheti's motor car was built to combine the greatest comfort and the greatest speed which can be made compatible. It was not meant for sport, though it could easily beat most things on the road, for though the Greek lived a good deal among sporting men and often did what they did, he was not one himself. It was not in his nature to regard any sport as an object to be pursued for its own sake. Only the English take that view naturally, and, of late years, some Frenchmen. All other Europeans look upon sport as pastime which is very well when there is nothing else to do, but not at all comparable with love-making, or gambling, for the amusement it affords. They take the view of the late Shah of Persia, who explained why he would not go to the Derby by saying that he had always known that one horse could run faster than another, but that it was a matter of perfect indifference to him which that one horse might be. In the same way Logotheti did not care to possess the fastest motor car in Europe, provided that he could be comfortable in one which was a great deal faster than the majority. Moreover, though he was by no means timid, he never went in search of danger merely for the sake of its pleasant excitement. Possibly he was too natural and too primitive to think useless danger attractive; but if danger stood between him and anything he wanted very much, he could be as reckless as an Irishman or a Cossack—which is saying all there is to be said.
The motor tooted and whizzed itself from Mrs. Rushmore's gate to the stage entrance of the Opéra in something like thirty minutes without the slightest strain, and could have covered the distance in much less time if necessary.
Logotheti found Schreiermeyer sitting alone in the dusk, in the stalls. Half the footlights and one row of border lights illuminated the stage, and a fat man in very light grey clothes, a vast white waistcoat and a pot hat was singing 'Salut demeure' in a nasal half-voice to the tail of the Commendatore's white horse, from Don Juan. The monumental animal had apparently stopped to investigate an Egyptian palm tree which happened to grow near the spot usually occupied by Marguerite's cottage. The tenor had his hands in his pockets, his hat was rather on the back of his head, and he looked extremely bored.
So did Schreiermeyer when Logotheti sat down beside him. He turned his round glasses to the newcomer with a slight expression of recognition which was not perceptible at all in the gloom, and then he looked at the stage again, without a word. The tenor had heard somebody moving in the house, and he stuck a single glass in his eye and peered over the footlights into the abyss, thinking the last comer might be a woman, in which case he would perhaps have condescended to sing a little louder and better. A number of people were loafing on the stage, standing up or sitting on the wooden steps of somebody's enchanted palace, but Logotheti could not see Margaret amongst them.
The conductor of the orchestra rapped sharply on his desk, the music ceased suddenly and he glared down at an unseen offender.
'D sharp!' he said, as if he were swearing at the man.
'I believe they hire their band from the deaf and dumb asylum,' observed the tenor very audibly, but looking vaguely at the plaster tail of the horse.
Some of the young women at the back of the stage giggled obsequiously at this piece of graceful wit, but the orchestra manifested its indignation by hissing. Thereupon the director rapped on his desk more noisily than ever.
'Da capo,' he said, and the bows began to scrape and quiver again.
The tenor only hummed his part now, picking bits of straw out of the plaster tail and examining them with evident interest.
'Is Miss Donne here?' Logotheti inquired of Schreiermeyer.
The impresario nodded indifferently, without looking round.
'I wish you had chosen Rigoletto for her début,' said the Greek. 'The part of Gilda is much better suited to her voice, take my word for it.'
'What do you know about it?' asked Schreiermeyer, smiling faintly, just enough to save the rude question from being almost insulting.
'When Gounod began Faust he was in love with a lady with a deep voice,' answered Logotheti, 'but when he was near the end he was in love with one who had a high voice. The consequence is that Marguerite's part ranges over nearly three octaves, and is frightfully trying, particularly for a beginner.'
'Bosh!' ejaculated the impresario, though he knew it was quite true.
He looked at the stage again, as if Logotheti did not exist.
'Oh, very well,' said the latter carelessly. 'It probably won't matter much, as they say that Miss Donne is going to throw up her engagement, and give up going on the stage.'
He had produced an effect at last, for Schreiermeyer's jaw dropped as he turned quickly.
'Eh? What? Who says she is not going to sing? What?'
'I dare say it is nothing but gossip,' Logotheti answered coolly. 'You seem excited.'
'Excited? Eh? Some one has heard her sing and has offered her more! You shall tell me who it is!' He gripped Logotheti's arm with fingers that felt like talons. 'Tell me quickly!' he cried. 'I will offer her more, more than anybody can! Tell me quickly.'
'Take care, you are spoiling my cuff,' said Logotheti. 'I know nothing about it, beyond that piece of gossip. Of course you are aware that she is a lady. Somebody may have left her a fortune, you know. Her only reason for singing was that she was poor.'
'Nonsense!' cried Schreiermeyer, with a sort of suppressed yell. 'It is all bosh! Somebody has offered her more money, and you know who it is! You shall tell me!' He was in a violent passion by this time, or seemed to be. 'You come here, suggesting and interfering with my prima donnas! You are in league, damn you! Damn you, you are a conspiracy!'
His face was as white as paper, his queer eyes blazed through his glasses, and his features were disfigured with rage. He showed his teeth and hissed like a wildcat; his nervous fingers fastened themselves upon Logotheti's arm.
But Logotheti gazed at him with a look of amusement in his quiet eyes, and laughed softly.
'If I were conspiring against you, you would not guess it, my friend,' he observed in a gentle tone. 'And you will never get anything out of me by threatening, you know.'
Schreiermeyer's face relaxed instantly into an expression of disappointment, and he looked wearily at the stage again.
'No, it is of no use,' he answered in a melancholy tone. 'You are phlegmatic.'
'Perfectly,' Logotheti assented. 'If I were you, I would put her on in Rigoletto.'
'Does she know the part?' Schreiermeyer asked, as calmly as if nothing had happened.
'Ask Madame De Rosa,' suggested the Greek. 'I see her on the stage.'
'I will. There is truth in what you say about Faust. The part is trying.'
'You told me it was bosh,' Logotheti observed with a smile.
'I had forgotten that you are such a phlegmatic man, when I said that,' answered Schreiermeyer with the frankness of a conjurer who admits that his trick has been guessed.
They had been talking as if nothing were going on, but now the conductor turned to them, and gave a signal for silence, which was taken up by all the people on the stage.
'Sh—sh—sh—sh—' it came from all directions.
'Here comes Cordova,' observed Schreiermeyer in a low tone.
Margaret appeared, wearing an extremely becoming hat, and poked her head round the white horse's tail, which represented the door of her cottage as to position.
The tenor, who had nothing to do and was supposed to be off, at once turned himself into a stage Faust, so far as expression went, but his white waistcoat and pot hat hindered the illusion so much that Margaret smiled.
She sang the 'King of Thule,' and every one listened in profound silence. When she had finished, Schreiermeyer and Logotheti turned their heads slowly, by a common instinct, looked at each other a moment and nodded gravely. Then Logotheti rose rather suddenly.
'What's the matter?' asked the impresario.
But the Greek had disappeared in the gloom of the house and Schreiermeyer merely shrugged his shoulders when he saw that his question had not been heard. It would have been perfectly impossible for him to understand that Logotheti, who was so 'phlegmatic,' could not bear the disturbing sight of the white waistcoat and the hat while Margaret was singing the lovely music and looking, Logotheti thought, as she had never looked before.
He went behind, and sat down in a corner where he could hear without seeing what was going on; he lent himself altogether to the delight of Margaret's voice, and dreamt that she was singing only for him in some vast and remote place where they were quite alone together.
The rehearsal went on by fits and starts; some scenes were repeated, others were left out; at intervals the conductor rapped his desk nervously and abused somebody, or spoke with great affability to Margaret, or with the familiarity of long acquaintance to one of the other singers. Logotheti did not notice these interruptions, for his sensitiveness was not of the sort that suffers by anything which must be and therefore should be; it was only the unnecessary that disturbed him—the tenor's white waistcoat and dangling gold chain. While Margaret was singing, the illusion was perfect; the rest was a blank, provided that nothing offended his eyes.
The end was almost reached at last. There was a pause.
'Will you try the trio to-day?' inquired the conductor of Margaret. 'Or are you tired?'
'Tired?' Margaret laughed. 'Go on, please.'
Now Marguerite's part in the trio, where she sings 'Anges pures,' repeating the refrain three times and each time in a higher key, is one of the most sustained high pieces ever written for a woman's voice; and Logotheti, listening, suddenly shut out his illusions and turned himself into a musical critic, or at least into a judge of singing.
Not a note quavered, from first to last; there was not one sound that was not as true as pure gold, to the very end, not one tone that was forced, either, in spite of the almost fantastic pitch of the last passage.
It is not often that everybody applauds a singer at a rehearsal of Faust, which has been sung to death for five-and-forty years; but as the trio ended, and the drums rolled the long knell, there was a shout of genuine enthusiasm from the little company on the stage.
'Vive la Cordova! Vive la Diva!' yelled the tenor, and he threw up his pot hat almost to the border lights, quite forgetting to be indifferent.
'Brava, la Cordova!' boomed the bass, with a tremendous roar.
'Brava, brava, brava!' shouted all the lesser people at the back of the stage.
Little Madame De Rosa was in hysterics of joy, and embraced everybody and everything in her way till she came to Margaret and reached the climax of embracing in a perfect storm of tears. By this time the tenor and bass were kissing Margaret's gloved hands with fervour and every one was pressing round her.
Logotheti had come forward and stood a little aloof, waiting for the excitement to subside. Margaret, surrounded as she was, did not see him at once, and he watched her quietly. She was the least bit pale and her eyes were very bright indeed. She was smiling rather vaguely, he thought, though she was trying to thank everybody for being so pleased, and Logotheti fancied she was looking for somebody who was not there, probably for the mysterious 'some one else,' whose existence she had confessed a few days earlier.
Presently she seemed to feel that he was looking at her, for she turned her head to him and met his eyes. He came forward at once, and the others made way for him a little, for most of them knew him by sight as the famous financier, though he rarely condescended to come behind the scenes at a rehearsal, or indeed at any other time.
Margaret held out her hand, and Logotheti had just begun to say a few rather conventional words of congratulation when Schreiermeyer rushed up with his hat on, pushing everybody aside without ceremony till he seized Margaret's wrist and would apparently have dragged her away by main force if she had not gone with him willingly.
'Ill-mannered brute!' exclaimed Logotheti in such a tone that Schreiermeyer must certainly have heard the words, though he did not even turn his head.
'I must speak to you at once,' he was saying to Margaret, very hurriedly, as he led her away. 'It is all bosh, nonsense, stupid stuff, I tell you! Rubbish!'
'What is rubbish?' asked Margaret in surprise, just as they reached the other side of the stage. 'My singing?'
'Stuff! You sing well enough. You know it too, you know it quite well! Good. Are you satisfied with the contract we signed?'
'Perfectly,' answered Margaret, more and more surprised at his manner.
'Ah, very good. Because, I tell you, if you are not pleased, it is just the same. I will make you stick to it, whether you like it or not. Understand?'
Margaret drew herself up, and looked at him coldly.
'If I carry out my contract,' she said, 'it will be because I signed my name to it, not because you can force me to do anything against my will.'
Schreiermeyer turned a little pale and glared through his glasses.
'Ah, you are proud, eh? You say to yourself, "First I am a lady, and then I am a singer that is going to be a prima donna." But the law is on my side. The law will give me heavy damages, enormous damages, if you fail to appear according to contract. You think because you have money in your throat somebody will pay me my damages if you go to somebody else. You don't know the law, my lady! I can get an injunction to prevent you from singing anywhere in Europe, pending suit. The other man will have to pay me before you can open your beautiful mouth to let the money out! Just remember that! You take my advice. You be an artist first and a lady afterwards when you have plenty of time, and you stick to old Schreiermeyer, and he'll stick to you. No nonsense, now, no stupid stuff! Eh?'
'I haven't the slightest idea what you are driving at,' said Margaret. 'I have made an agreement with you, and unless I lose my voice during the next month I shall sing wherever you expect me to.'
'All right, because if you don't, I'll make you dance from here to Jerusalem,' answered Schreiermeyer, glaring again.
'Do you know that you are quite the rudest and most brutal person I ever met?' inquired Margaret, raising her eyebrows.
But Schreiermeyer now smiled in the most pleasant manner possible, ceased glaring, spread out his palms and put his head on one side as he answered her, apparently much pleased by her estimate of him.
'Ah, you are not phlegmatic, like Logotheti! We shall be good friends. I shall be rude to you when I am in a rage, and tell you the truth, and you shall call me many bad names. Then we shall be perfectly good friends. You will say, "Bah! it is only old Schreiermeyer!" and I shall say, "Pshaw! Cordova may call me a brute, but she is the greatest soprano in the world, what does it matter?" Do you see? We are going to be good friends!'
It was impossible not to laugh at his way of putting it; impossible, too, not to feel that behind his strange manner, his brutal speeches and his serio-comic rage there was the character of a man who would keep his word and who expected others to do the same. There might even be lurking somewhere in him a streak of generosity.
'Good friends?' he repeated, with an interrogation.
'Yes, good friends,' Margaret answered, taking his hand frankly and still smiling.
'I like you,' said Schreiermeyer, looking at her with sudden thoughtfulness, as if he had just discovered something.
And then without a word he turned on his heel and disappeared as quickly as he had come, his head sinking between his shoulders till the collar of the snuff-coloured overcoat he wore in spite of the warm weather was almost up to the brim of his hat behind.
Logotheti and little Madame De Rosa came up to Margaret at once. The other singers were already filing out, eager to get into the fresh air.
'The Signora,' said Logotheti, 'says she will come and lunch with me. Will you come too? I daresay we shall find something ready, and then, if you like, I'll run you out to Mrs. Rushmore's in the motor car.'
Margaret hesitated a moment, and looked from one to the other. She was very hungry, and the prospect of a luxurious luncheon was much more alluring than that of the rather scrappy sort of meal she had expected to get at a Bouillon Duval. As 'Miss Donne,' a fortnight ago, she would certainly not have thought of going to Logotheti's house, except with Mrs. Rushmore; but as the proposal tempted her she found it easy to tell herself that since she was a real artist she could go where she pleased, that people would gossip about her wherever she went, and that what she did was nobody's business. And surely, for an artist, Madame De Rosa was a chaperon of sufficient weight. Moreover, Margaret was curious to see the place where the man lived. He interested her in spite of herself, and since Lushington had insisted on going off, though she had begged him to stay, she felt just a little reckless.
'Do come!' said Logotheti.
The two words were spoken in just the right tone, neither as if his life depended on her answer, nor as if he were asking her to do something just a little risky, which would be amusing; but quite naturally, as if he would be really glad should she accept, but by no means overwhelmed with despair if she refused.
'Thank you,' she answered. 'It's very nice of you to ask us. I'll come.'
Logotheti smiled pleasantly, but looked away, perhaps not caring that she should see his eyes, even in the uncertain light. The three hastened to leave the theatre, for the stage was already full of workmen, the Egyptian palm was moving in one direction, the Commendatore's white horse was joggling away uneasily in another, and the steps of somebody's enchanted palace were being dragged forward into place. All was noise, dust and apparent confusion.
Margaret expected that Logotheti's house would somehow correspond with his own outward appearance and would be architecturally over-dressed, inside and out, but in this she was greatly mistaken. It was evidently a new house, in a quarter where many houses were new and where some were not in the most perfect taste, though none were monstrosities. It was not exceptionally big, and was certainly not showy; on the whole, it had the unmistakable air of having been built by a good architect, of the very best materials and in a way to last as long as hewn stone can. Such beauty as it had lay in its proportions and not in any sort of ornament, for it was in fact rather plainer than most of its neighbours in the Boulevard Péreire.
The big door opened noiselessly just as the car came up, but Logotheti, who drove himself, did not turn in.
'It's rather a tight fit,' he explained, as he stopped by the curbstone.
He gave his hand to Margaret to get down. As her foot touched the pavement a man who was walking very fast, with his head down, made a step to one side, to get out of the way, and then, recognising her and the Greek, lifted his hat hastily and would have passed on. She started with an exclamation of surprise, for it was Lushington, whom she had supposed to be in London. Logotheti spoke first, calling to him in English.
'Hollo! Lushington—I say!'
Lushington stopped instantly and turned half round, with an exclamation intended to express an imaginary surprise, for he had recognised all three at first sight.
'Oh!' he exclaimed coldly. 'Is that you? How are you?'
Margaret offered her hand as he did not put out his. She was a little surprised to see that he did not change colour when he took it, as he always used to do when they met; he did not seem in the least shy, now, and there was a hard look in his eyes.
'All right?' he said, with a cool interrogation, and he turned to Logotheti before Margaret could give any answer.
'Come in and lunch, my dear fellow,' said the Greek affably.
'I never lunch—thanks all the same.' He moved to go on, nodding a good-bye.
'Are you here for long?' asked Margaret, forcing him to stop again.
'That depends on what you call long. I leave this evening.'
'I should call that a very short time!' Margaret tried to laugh a little, with a lingering hope that he might unbend.
'It's quite long enough for me, thank you,' he answered roughly. 'Good-bye!'
He lifted his hat again and walked off very fast. Margaret's face fell, and Logotheti saw the change of expression.
'He's an awfully good fellow in spite of his shyness,' he said quietly. 'I wish we could have made him stay.'
'Yes,' Margaret answered, in a preoccupied tone.
She was wondering whether Logotheti had guessed that there had been anything between her and Lushington. Logotheti ushered his guests in under the main entrance.
'Do you know Mr. Lushington well?' she asked.
'Yes, in a way. I once published a little book, and he wrote a very nice article about it in a London Review. You did not know I was a man of letters, did you?' Logotheti laughed quietly. 'My book was not very long—only about a hundred pages, I think. But Lushington made out that it wasn't all rubbish, and I was always grateful to him.'
'What was your book about?' asked Margaret, as they entered the house.
'Oh, nothing that would interest you—the pronunciation of Greek. Will you take off your hat?'
At every step, at every turn, Margaret realised how much she had been mistaken in thinking that anything in Logotheti's house could be in bad taste. There was perfect harmony everywhere, and a great deal of simplicity. The man alone offended her eye a little, the man himself, with his resplendent tie, his jewellery and his patent leather shoes; and even so, it was only the outward man, in so far as she could not help seeing him and contrasting his appearance with his surroundings. For he was as tactful and quiet, and as modest about himself as ever; he did not exhibit the conquering air which many men would have found it impossible not to assume under the circumstances; he showed himself just as anxious to please little Madame De Rosa as Margaret herself, and talked to both indiscriminately. If Margaret at first felt that she was doing something a little eccentric, not to say compromising, in accepting the invitation, the sensation had completely worn off before luncheon was half over, and she was as much at her ease as she could have been in Mrs. Rushmore's own house. She felt as if she had known Logotheti all her life, as if she understood him thoroughly and was not displeased that he should understand her.
They went into the next room for coffee.
'You used to like my Zara maraschino,' said Logotheti to Madame De Rosa.
He took a decanter from a large case, filled a good-sized liqueur glass for her and set it beside her cup.
'It is the most delicious thing in the world,' cried the little woman, sipping it eagerly.
'May I not have some, too?' asked Margaret.
'Not on any account,' answered Logotheti, putting the decanter back on the other side. 'It's very bad for the voice, you know.'
'I never heard that,' said Madame De Rosa, laughing. 'I adore it! But as my singing days are over it does not matter at all. Oh, how good it is!'
She sipped it again and again, with all sorts of little cries and sighs of satisfaction.
Logotheti and Margaret looked on, smiling at her childish delight.
'Do you think I might have a little more?' she asked, presently. 'Only half a glass!'
Logotheti filled the glass again, though she laughingly protested that half a glass was all she wanted. But he took none himself.
Margaret saw a picture at the other end of the room which attracted her attention, and she rose to go and look at it. Logotheti followed her, but Madame De Rosa, who had established her small person in the most comfortable arm-chair in the room, was too much interested in the maraschino to move. Margaret stood in silence before the painting for a few moments, and Logotheti waited for her to speak, watching her as he always did when she was not looking.
'What is it?' she asked, at last. 'It's quite beautiful, but I don't understand it.'
'Nor do I, in the least,' answered Logotheti. 'I found it in Italy two years ago. It's what they call an encaustic painting, like the Muse of Cortona, probably of the time of Tiberius. It is painted on a slab of slate three inches thick, and burnt in by a process that is lost. You might put it into the fire and leave it there without doing it any harm. That much I know, for I found it built into a baker's oven. But I can tell you no more about it. I have some pretty good things here, but this is quite my best picture. It is very like somebody, too—uncommonly like! Do you see the resemblance?'
'No. I suppose I don't know the person.'
Logotheti laughed and took up a little mirror set in an old Spanish frame.
'Look at yourself,' he said. 'The picture is the image of you.'
'Of me?' Margaret took the glass, and her cheek flushed a little as she looked at herself and then at the picture, and realised that the likeness was not imaginary.
'In future,' said Logotheti, 'I shall tell people that it is a portrait of you.'
'Of me? Oh please, no!' cried Margaret anxiously, and blushing deeper. 'Don't!'
'Did you think I was in earnest?' he asked.
The painting represented the head and shoulders of a woman—perhaps of a goddess, though it had that strangely living look about the eyes and mouth which belongs to all good portraits that are like the originals. The woman's head was thrown back, her deep-set eyes were looking up with an expression of strange longing, the rich hair flowed down over her bare neck, where one beautiful hand caught it and seemed to press the tangled locks upon her heart.
The picture's beauty was the beauty of life, for the features were not technically faultless. The lips glowed with burning breath, the twining hair was alive and elastic, the after-light of a profound and secret pleasure lingered in the liquid eyes, blending with the shadow of pain just past but passionately desired again.
Margaret gazed at the painting a few seconds, for it fascinated her against her will. Then she laid down the small looking-glass and turned away rather abruptly.
'I don't like to look at it,' she said, avoiding Logotheti's eyes. 'I think it must be time to be going,' she added. 'Mrs. Rushmore will be wondering where I am.'
She went back across the room a little way with Logotheti by her side. Suddenly he stopped and laughed softly.
'By Jove!' he exclaimed under his breath, pointing to the arm-chair in which Madame De Rosa was sitting. 'She's fast asleep!'
She was sleeping as peacefully as a cat after a meal, half curled up in the big chair, her head turned to one side and her cheek buried in a cushion of Rhodes tapestry. Margaret stood and looked at her with curiosity and some amusement.
'She's not generally a very sleepy person,' said the young girl.
'The emotions of your first rehearsal have tired her out,' said Logotheti. 'They don't seem to have affected you at all,' he added. 'Shall we wake her?'
Margaret hesitated, and then bent down and touched the sleeping woman's arm gently, and called her by name in a low tone; but without the slightest result.
'She must be very tired,' Margaret said in a tone of sympathy. 'After all, it's not so very late. We had better let her sleep a few minutes longer, poor thing.'
Logotheti bent his head gravely.
'We'll make up the time with the motor in going to Versailles,' he said.
By unspoken consent, they moved away and sat down at some distance from Madame De Rosa's chair, at the end of the room opposite to the picture. Logotheti did not speak at once, but sat leaning forward, his wrists resting on his knees, his hands hanging down limply, his eyes bent on the carpet. As she sat, Margaret could see the top of his head; there was a sort of fascination about his preternaturally glossy black hair, and the faultless parting made it look like the wig on a barber's doll. She thought of Lushington and idly wondered whether she was always to be admired by men with phenomenally smooth hair.
'What are you thinking of?' Logotheti asked, looking up suddenly and smiling as he met her eyes.
She laughed low.
'I was wondering how you kept your hair so smooth!' she answered.
'I should look like a savage if I did not,' he said. 'My only chance of seeming civilised is to overdo the outward fashions of civilisation. If I wore rough clothes like an Englishman, and did not smooth my hair and let my man do all sorts of things to my moustache to keep it flat, I should look like a pirate. And if I looked like a Greek pirate you would have hesitated about coming to lunch with me to-day. Do you see? There is a method in my bad taste.'
Margaret looked at him a moment and then laughed again.
'So that's it, is it? How ingenious! Do you know that I have wondered at the way you dress, ever since I met you?'
'I'm flattered. But think a moment. I daresay you wonder why I wear a lot of jewellery, too. Of course it's in bad taste. I quite agree with you. But the world is often nearer to first principles than you realise. A man who wears a ruby in his tie worth ten thousand pounds is not suspected of wanting to get other people's money as soon as he makes acquaintance. On the contrary, they are much more likely to try to get his, and are rather inclined to think him a fool for showing that he has so much. It is always an advantage to be thought a fool when one is not. If one is clever it is much better to have it believed that one is merely lucky. In business everybody likes lucky people, but every one avoids a clever man. It is one of the elements of success to remember that!'
'You won't easily persuade any one that you are a foolish person,' said Margaret.
'It would be much harder if I did not take pains,' he answered gravely. 'Now you know my secret, but don't betray me.'
'Not for worlds!'
They both laughed a little, and their eyes met.
'But just now, I'm in a very awkward position about that,' Logotheti continued. I cannot afford to sacrifice my reputation as a lucky fool, and yet I want you to think me a marvel of cleverness, good taste and perfection in every way.'
'Is that all?' asked Margaret, more and more amused.
'Almost all. You see I know perfectly well that I cannot surprise you into falling in love with me—— Yes, she's sound asleep! The ideal chaperon, isn't she?'
'I don't know,' Margaret answered lightly, and she glanced at Madame De Rosa, as if she thought of waking her.
'Excuse me, you do; for if I were "some one else" you would be delighted that she should be asleep. But that's not the question. As I cannot surprise you into—there's no harm in saying it!—into loving me, I'm driven to use what they call the "arts of persuasion"! But in order to persuade, it's necessary to inspire confidence. Do you understand?'
'Have I succeeded at all?' His voice changed suddenly as he asked the question.
'I don't know why I should distrust you, I'm sure,' Margaret answered gravely. 'You are certainly very outspoken,' she continued more lightly, as if wishing to keep the conversation from growing serious. 'In fact, I never knew anything like your frankness!'
'I'm in earnest, and I don't wish to leave the least doubt in your mind. You are the first woman I have ever met whom I wanted to marry, and you are likely to be the last. I'm not a boy and I know the world as you can never know it, even if you insist upon going on the stage. I'm not amazingly young, for I'm five-and-thirty, and I suppose I have had as large a share of what the world holds as most rich men. That is my position. Until I met you, I thought I had really had everything. When I knew you I found that I had never had the only thing worth having at all.'
He spoke quietly, without the least affectation of feeling, or the smallest apparent attempt to make an impression upon her; but it was impossible not to believe that he was speaking the truth. Margaret was silent, and looked steadily at an imaginary point in the distance.
'So far,' he said, in the same tone, 'I have always got what I wanted. I don't mean to say,' he continued quickly, as she made a movement, 'that I expected you to accept me when I asked you to marry me, at our second meeting. I was sure you would not. I merely put in a claim—that was all.'
Margaret turned a little and rested her elbow on the back of her chair, facing him.
'And I told you there was some one else. Do you understand clearly? I am frank, too. I love another man, and he loves me.'
'And you are going to be married, I suppose?' said Logotheti, his lids contracting a very little.
'I hope so. Some day.'
'Ah! There is an obstacle. I see. A question of fortune, I daresay?'
'No.' Her tone was meant to discourage further questioning, and she moved in her seat and looked away again.
'That man does not love you,' Logotheti said. 'If he did, nothing could hinder your marriage, since he knows that you are willing.'
'There may be a reason you don't understand,' Margaret answered reluctantly.
'A man who loves does not reason. A man who wants a certain woman wants nothing else, any more than a man who is dying of thirst can want anything but drink. He must have it or die, and nothing can keep him from it if he sees it.'
There was a shade of more energy in his tone now, though he still spoke quietly enough. Margaret was silent again, possibly because the same thought had crossed her own mind during the last few days, and even an hour ago, when she had met Lushington at the door. Since she was willing to marry him, in spite of his birth, could he be in earnest as long as he hesitated?
She wished that he might have said what Logotheti was saying now, instead of reasoning with her about a point of honour.
'When people think themselves in love and hesitate,' Logotheti continued, almost speaking her own thoughts aloud, 'it is because something else in them is stronger than love, or quite as strong.'
'There may be honour,' said Margaret, defending Lushington in her mind, out of sheer loyalty.
'There ought to be, sometimes, but it is more in the nature of real love to tear honour to pieces than to be torn in pieces for it. I'm not defending such things, I'm only stating a fact. More men have betrayed their country for love than have sacrificed love to save their country!'
'That's not a very noble view of love!'
'If you were passionately in love with a man, should you like him to sacrifice you in order to save his country, especially if his country were not yours? If it were your own, you might be as patriotic as he and you would associate yourself with him in the salvation of your own people. But that would not be a fair case. The question is whether, in a matter that concerns him only and not yourself, you would set his honour higher than his love for you and let yourself be sacrificed, without feeling that if he had loved you as you would like to be loved he would forfeit his honour rather than give you up.'
'That's a dreadfully hard question to answer!' Margaret smiled.
'It is only hard to answer, because you are conscious of a convention called honour which man expects you to set above everything. Very good. A couple of thousand years hence there will be some other convention in its place called by another name; but love will be precisely the same passion that it is now, because it's purely human and not subject to any conventions when it is real—any more than you can make the circulation of your blood conventional or the beating of your heart, or hunger, or thirst, or sleepiness, instead of being natural as they all are.'
'You're a materialist,' said Margaret, finding nothing else to say.
'I don't think so, but whatever I am, I'm in earnest, and I don't pretend to be anything but human.'
He stopped and looked straight into Margaret's eyes; and somehow she did not turn away, for there was nothing in his that she was afraid to meet. Just then she would rather have tried to stare him out of countenance than look for one minute at the woman's face in the picture, which he said was so like her. She did not remember that in all her life anything had so strangely disturbed her as that likeness. She had seen pictures and statues by the score in exhibitions and public places, which should have offended her maiden modesty far more. What was there in that one painting that could offend at all? A woman's head thrown back, a woman's hand pressing her hair to her breast—it ended there, and that was all; and what was that, compared with the acres of raw nudity that crowd the walls of the Salon every year.
Logotheti said that he was 'human,' and she felt it was true, in the sense that he was a 'primitive,' or an 'elementary being,' as some people would say. The fact that he had all the profound astuteness of the true Oriental did not conflict with this in the least. The astuteness of the Asiatic, and of the Greek of Asia, is an instinct like that of the wild animal; talent alone is 'human' in any true sense, but instinct is animal, even in men, whether it shows itself in matters of money-getting or matters of taste.
Yet somehow Margaret was beginning to be attracted by the man. He had never shown the least lack of respect, or of what Mrs. Rushmore would have called 'refinement,' and he had done nothing which even distantly resembled taking a liberty. He spoke quietly, and even gently, and his eyes did not gloat upon her face and figure as some men's eyes did. Even as to the picture, he had not led her to see it, for she had gone up to it herself, drawn to it against her will, and he had only told the truth in saying that it was like her. Yet he was very much in love with her, she was sure, and most of the men she had met would not have behaved as well as he did, under the rather unusual circumstances. For little Madame De Rosa had been sleeping so soundly that she might as well not have been in the room at all. Behind all he did and said, she felt his almost primitive sincerity, and the elementary strength of the passion she had inspired. No woman can feel that and not be flattered, and few, being flattered by a man's love, can resist the temptation to play with it.
Women are more alike than men are; some of the nature of the worst of them is latent in the very best, and in the very worst there are little treasures of gentleness and faith that can ransom the poor soul at last.
'I am in earnest, indeed I am,' Logotheti repeated, looking at Margaret still.
'Yes,' she answered, 'I am sure you are.'
There was something in her tone that acquiesced, that almost approved, and he felt that these were the first words of encouragement she had vouchsafed him.
A portentous yawn from Madame De Rosa made them both turn round. She was stretching herself like a cat when it wakes, and looking about her with blinking eyes, as if trying to remember where she was. Then she saw Margaret, smiled at her spasmodically, and yawned again.
'I must have been asleep,' she said, and she laughed rather foolishly.
'Only for a few minutes,' answered Logotheti in a reassuring tone.
Margaret rose and came up to her, followed by the Greek.
'It's most extraordinary!' cried Madame De Rosa. 'I never go to sleep like that! Do you think it could possibly have been the maraschino?'
'No indeed!' Logotheti laughed carelessly. 'You were tired, after the rehearsal.'
He put the decanter back into the large liqueur case from which he had taken it, shut down the lid, locked it and put the key in his pocket. Madame De Rosa watched him in silence, but Margaret paid no attention to what he was doing, for she was accustomed to see Mrs. Rushmore do the same thing. The taste of servants for liqueur and cigars is quite irreproachable; they always take the best there is.
A few minutes later the three were on their way to Versailles, and before long Logotheti put Margaret down at Mrs. Rushmore's gate, starting to take Madame De Rosa back to Paris, as soon as the girl had gone in. Neither of them said much on the way, and the motor stopped again in the Boulevard Malesherbes. Madame De Rosa thanked Logotheti, with an odd little smile of intelligence.
'Take care!' she said, as they parted, and her beady little black eyes looked sharply at him.
'Why?' he asked, with perfect calm, but his lids were slightly contracted.
Madame De Rosa shook her finger at him, laughed and ran in, leaving him standing on the pavement.
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