F. Marion Crawford
Part 2 out of 6
He spoke very slowly and without emphasis, but with the greatest
possible distinctness. Margaret had once been taken to see a motor-car
manufactory and she remembered a machine that clipped bits off the
end of an iron bar, inch by inch, smoothly and deliberately. Mr. Van
Torp's lips made her think of that; they seemed to cut the hard words
one by one, in lengths.
'Poor girl!' she sighed, and looked away.
The man's face did not change, and if his next words echoed the
sympathy she expressed his tone did not.
'I was a good deal cut up myself,' he observed coolly. 'Here's your
book, Madame Cordova.'
'No,' Margaret answered with a little burst of indignation, 'I don't
want it. I won't take it from you!'
'What's the matter now?' asked Mr. Van Torp without the least change
of manner. 'It's your friend Mr. Lushington's latest, you know, and it
won't be out for ten days. I thought you would like to see it, so I
got an advance copy before it was published.'
He held the volume out to her, but she would not even look at it, nor
'How you hate me! Don't you, Madame Cordova?'
Margaret still said nothing. She was considering how she could best
get rid of him. If she simply brushed past him and went back to her
chair on the lee side, he would follow her and go on talking to her as
if nothing had happened; and she knew that in that case she would lose
control of herself before Griggs and Miss More.
'Oh, well,' he went on, 'if you don't want the book, I don't. I can't
read novels myself, and I daresay it's trash anyhow.'
Thereupon, with a quick movement of his arm and hand, he sent Mr.
Lushington's latest novel flying over the lee rail, fully thirty feet
away, and it dropped out of sight into the grey waves. He had been a
good baseball pitcher in his youth.
Margaret bit her lip and her eyes flashed.
'You are quite the most disgustingly brutal person I ever met,' she
said, no longer able to keep down her anger.
'No,' he answered calmly. 'I'm not brutal; I'm only logical. I took a
great deal of trouble to get that book for you because I thought
it would give you pleasure, and it wasn't a particularly legal
transaction by which I got it either. Since you didn't want it, I
wasn't going to let anybody else have the satisfaction of reading it
before it was published, so I just threw it away because it is safer
in the sea than knocking about in my cabin. If you hadn't seen me
throw it overboard you would never have believed that I had. You're
not much given to believing me, anyway. I've noticed that. Are you,
'Oh, it was not the book!'
Margaret turned from him and made a step forward so that she faced the
sharp wind. It cut her face and she felt that the little pain was
a relief. He came and stood beside her with his hands deep in the
pockets of his overcoat.
'If you think I'm a brute on account of what I told you about
Miss Bamberger,' he said, 'that's not quite fair. I broke off our
engagement because I found out that we were going to make each other
miserable and we should have had to divorce in six months; and if half
the people who are just going to get married would do the same thing
there would be a lot more happy women in the world, not to say men!
That's all, and she knew it, poor girl, and was just as glad as I was
when the thing was done. Now what is there so brutal in that, Madame
Margaret turned on him almost fiercely.
'Why do you tell me all this?' she asked. 'For heaven's sake let poor
Miss Bamberger rest in her grave!'
'Since you ask me why,' answered Mr. Van Torp, unmoved,' I tell you
all this because I want you to know more about me than you do. If you
did, you'd hate me less. That's the plain truth. You know very well
that there's nobody like you, and that if I'd judged I had the
slightest chance of getting you I would no more have thought of
marrying Miss Bamberger than of throwing a million dollars into the
sea after that book, or ten million, and that's a great deal of
'I ought to be flattered,' said Margaret with scorn, still facing the
'No. I'm not given to flattery, and money means something real to me,
because I've fought for it, and got it. Your regular young lover will
always call you his precious treasure, and I don't see much difference
between a precious treasure and several million dollars. I'm logical,
you see. I tell you I'm logical, that's all.'
'I daresay. I think we have been talking here long enough. Shall we go
She had got her anger under again. She detested Mr. Van Torp, but she
was honest enough to realise that for the present she had resented his
saying that Lushington's book was probably trash, much more than what
he had told her of his broken engagement. She turned and came back to
the ventilator, meaning to go around to her chair, but he stopped her.
'Don't go yet, please!' he said, keeping beside her. 'Call me a
disgusting brute if you like. I sha'n't mind it, and I daresay it's
true in a kind of way. Business isn't very refining, you know, and it
was the only education I got after I was sixteen. I'm sorry I called
that book rubbish, for I'm sure it's not. I've met Mr. Lushington in
England several times; he's very clever, and he's got a first-rate
position. But you see I didn't like your refusing the book, after I'd
taken so much trouble to get it for you. Perhaps if I hadn't thrown it
overboard you'd take it, now that I've apologised. Would you?'
His tone had changed at last, as she had known it to change before in
the course of an acquaintance that had lasted more than a year. He put
the question almost humbly.
'I don't know,' Margaret answered, relenting a little in spite of
herself. 'At all events I'm sorry I was so rude. I lost my temper.'
'It was very natural,' said Mr. Van Torp meekly, but not looking at
her, 'and I know I deserved it. You really would let me give you the
book now, if it were possible, wouldn't you?'
'Perhaps.' She thought that as there was no such possibility it was
safe to say as much as that.
'I should feel so much better if you would,' he answered. 'I should
feel as if you'd accepted my apology. Won't you say it, Madame
'Well--yes--since you wish it so much,' Margaret replied, feeling that
she risked nothing.
'Here it is, then,' he said, to her amazement, producing the new novel
from the pocket of his overcoat, and enjoying her surprise as he put
it into her hand.
It looked like a trick of sleight of hand, and she took the book and
stared at him, as a child stares at the conjuror who produces an apple
out of its ear.
'But I saw you throw it away,' she said in a puzzled tone.
'I got two while I was about it,' said Mr. Van Torp, smiling without
showing his teeth. 'It was just as easy and it didn't cost me any
'I see! Thank you very much.'
She knew that she could not but keep the volume now, and in her heart
she was glad to have it, for Lushington had written to her about it
several times since she had been in America.
'Well, I'll leave you now,' said the millionaire, resuming his stony
expression. 'I hope I've not kept you too long.'
Before Margaret had realised the idiotic conventionality of the last
words her companion had disappeared and she was left alone. He had not
gone back in the direction whence they had come, but had taken the
deserted windward side of the ship, doubtless with the intention of
avoiding the crowd.
Margaret stood still for some time in the lee of the ventilator,
holding the novel in her hand and thinking. She wondered whether Mr.
Van Torp had planned the whole scene, including the sacrifice of the
novel. If he had not, it was certainly strange that he should have had
the second copy ready in his pocket. Lushington had once told her that
great politicians and great financiers were always great comedians,
and now that she remembered the saying it occurred to her that Mr. Van
Torp reminded her of a certain type of American actor, a type that
has a heavy jaw and an aggressive eye, and strongly resembles the
portraits of Daniel Webster. Now Daniel Webster had a wide reputation
as a politician, but there is reason to believe that the numerous
persons who lent him money and never got it back thought him a
financier of undoubted ability, if not a comedian of talent. There
were giants in those days.
The English girl, breathing the clean air of the ocean, felt as if
something had left a bad taste in her mouth; and the famous young
singer, who had seen in two years what a normal Englishwoman would
neither see, nor guess at, nor wish to imagine in a lifetime, thought
she understood tolerably well what the bad taste meant. Moreover,
Margaret Donne was ashamed of what Margarita da Cordova knew, and
Cordova had moments of sharp regret when she thought of the girl who
had been herself, and had lived under good Mrs. Rushmore's protection,
like a flower in a glass house.
She remembered, too, how Lushington and Mrs. Rushmore had warned her
and entreated her not to become an opera-singer. She had taken her
future into her own hands and had soon found out what it meant to be
a celebrity on the stage; and she had seen only too clearly where
she was classed by the women who would have been her companions and
friends if she had kept out of the profession. She had learned by
experience, too, how little real consideration she could expect from
men of the world, and how very little she could really exact from such
people as Mr. Van Torp; still less could she expect to get it from
persons like Schreiermeyer, who looked upon the gifted men and women
he engaged to sing as so many head of cattle, to be driven more or
less hard according to their value, and to be turned out to starve the
moment they were broken-winded. That fate is sure to overtake the best
of them sooner or later. The career of a great opera-singer is rarely
more than half as long as that of a great tragedian, and even when a
primadonna or a tenor makes a fortune, the decline of their glory is
far more sudden and sad than that of actors generally is. Lady Macbeth
is as great a part as Juliet for an actress of genius, but there are
no 'old parts' for singers; the soprano dare not turn into a contralto
with advancing years, nor does the unapproachable Parsifal of
eight-and-twenty turn into an incomparable Amfortas at fifty. For the
actor, it often happens that the first sign of age is fatigue; in the
singer's day, the first shadow is an eclipse, the first false note is
disaster, the first breakdown is often a heart-rending failure that
brings real tears to the eyes of younger comrades. The exquisite voice
does not grow weak and pathetic and ethereal by degrees, so that we
still love to hear it, even to the end; far more often it is suddenly
flat or sharp by a quarter of a tone throughout whole acts, or it
breaks on one note in a discordant shriek that is the end. Down goes
the curtain then, in the middle of the great opera, and down goes the
great singer for ever into tears and silence. Some of us have seen
that happen, many have heard of it; few can think without real
sympathy of such mortal suffering and distress.
Margaret realised all this, without any illusion, but there was
another side to the question. There was success, glorious and
far-reaching, and beyond her brightest dreams; there was the certainty
that she was amongst the very first, for the deafening ring of
universal applause was in her ears; and, above all, there was youth.
Sometimes it seemed to her that she had almost too much, and that some
dreadful thing must happen to her; yet if there were moments when she
faintly regretted the calmer, sweeter life she might have led, she
knew that she would have given that life up, over and over again, for
the splendid joy of holding thousands spellbound while she sang. She
had the real lyric artist's temperament, for that breathless silence
of the many while her voice rang out alone, and trilled and died away
to a delicate musical echo, was more to her than the roar of applause
that could be heard through the walls and closed doors in the street
outside. To such a moment as that Faustus himself would have cried
'Stay!' though the price of satisfied desire were his soul. And there
had been many such moments in Cordova's life. They satisfied something
much deeper than greedy vanity and stronger than hungry ambition. Call
it what you will, according to the worth you set on such art, it is
a longing which only artists feel, and to which only something in
themselves can answer. To listen to perfect music is a feast for gods,
but to be the living instrument beyond compare is to be a god oneself.
Of our five senses, sight calls up visions, divine as well as earthly,
but hearing alone can link body, mind, and soul with higher things, by
the word and by the word made song. The mere memory of hearing when it
is lost is still enough for the ends of genius; for the poet and the
composer touch the blind most deeply, perhaps, when other senses do
not count at all; but a painter who loses his sight is as helpless in
the world of art as a dismasted ship in the middle of the ocean.
Some of these thoughts passed through Margaret's brain as she stood
beside the ventilator with her friend's new book in her hand, and,
although her reflections were not new to her, it was the first time
she clearly understood that her life had made two natures out of her
original self, and that the two did not always agree. She felt that
she was not halved by the process, but doubled. She was two women
instead of one, and each woman was complete in herself. She had not
found this out by any elaborate self-study, for healthy people do not
study themselves. She simply felt it, and she was sure it was true,
because she knew that each of her two selves was able to do, suffer,
and enjoy as much as any one woman could. The one might like what the
other disliked and feared, but the contradiction was open and natural,
not secret or morbid. The two women were called respectively Madame
Cordova and Miss Donne. Miss Donne thought Madame Cordova very showy,
and much too tolerant of vulgar things and people, if not a little
touched with vulgarity herself. On the other hand, the brilliantly
successful Cordova thought Margaret Donne a good girl, but rather
silly. Miss Donne was very fond of Edmund Lushington, the writer, but
the Primadonna had a distinct weakness for Constantine Logotheti, the
Greek financier who lived in Paris, and who wore too many rubies and
On two points, at least, the singer and the modest English girl
agreed, for they both detested Rufus Van Torp, and each had positive
proof that he was in love with her, if what he felt deserved the name.
For in very different ways she was really loved by Lushington and by
Logotheti; and since she had been famous she had made the acquaintance
of a good many very high and imposing personages, whose names are to
be found in the first and second part of the _Almanack de Gotha_, in
the Olympian circle of the reigning or the supernal regions of the
Serene Mediatized, far above the common herd of dukes and princes;
they had offered her a share in the overflowing abundance of their
admirative protection; and then had seemed surprised, if not deeply
moved, by the independence she showed in declining their intimacy.
Some of them were frankly and contentedly cynical; some were of a
brutality compared with which the tastes and manners of a bargee would
have seemed ladylike; some were as refined and sensitive as English
old maids, though less scrupulous and much less shy; the one was
as generous as an Irish sailor, the next was as mean as a Normandy
peasant; some had offered her rivers of rubies, and some had proposed
to take her incognito for a drive in a cab, because it would be so
amusing--and so inexpensive. Yet in their families and varieties
they were all of the same species, all human and all subject to the
ordinary laws of attraction and repulsion. Rufus Van Torp was not like
Neither of Margaret's selves could look upon him as a normal human
being. At first sight there was nothing so very unusual in his face,
certainly nothing that suggested a monster; and yet, whatever mood she
chanced to be in, she could not be with him five minutes without being
aware of something undefinable that always disturbed her profoundly,
and sometimes became positively terrifying. She always felt the
sensation coming upon her after a few moments, and when it had
actually come she could hardly hide her repulsion till she felt, as
to-day, that she must run from him, without the least consideration
of pride or dignity. She might have fled like that before a fire or a
flood, or from the scene of an earthquake, and more than once nothing
had kept her in her place but her strong will and healthy nerves. She
knew that it was like the panic that seizes people in the presence of
an appalling disturbance of nature.
Doubtless, when she had talked with Mr. Van Torp just now, she had
been disgusted by the indifferent way in which he spoke of poor Miss
Bamberger's sudden death; it was still more certain that what he said
about the book, and his very ungentlemanly behaviour in throwing it
into the sea, had roused her justifiable anger. But she would have
smiled at the thought that an exhibition of heartlessness, or the most
utter lack of manners, could have made her wish to run away from any
other man. Her life had accustomed her to people who had no more
feeling than Schreiermeyer, and no better manners than Pompeo
Stromboli. Van Torp might have been on his very best behaviour that
morning, or at any of her previous chance meetings with him; sooner
or later she would have felt that same absurd and unreasoning fear
of him, and would have found it very hard not to turn and make her
escape. His face was so stony and his eyes were so aggressive; he was
always like something dreadful that was just going to happen.
Yet Margarita da Cordova was a brave woman, and had lately been called
a heroine because she had gone on singing after that explosion till
the people were quiet again; and Margaret Donne was a sensible girl,
justly confident of being able to take care of herself where men were
concerned. She stood still and wondered what there was about Mr. Van
Torp that could frighten her so dreadfully.
After a little while she went quietly back to her chair, and sat down
between Griggs and Miss More. The elderly man rose and packed her
neatly in her plaid, and she thanked him. Miss More looked at her and
smiled vaguely, as even the most intelligent people do sometimes. Then
Griggs got into his own chair again and took up his book.
'Was that right of me?' he asked presently, so low that Miss More did
not hear him speak.
'Yes,' Margaret answered, under her breath, 'but don't let me do it
They both began to read, but after a time Margaret spoke to him again
without turning her eyes.
'He wanted to ask me about that girl who died at the theatre,' she
said, just audibly.
Griggs seemed so vague that Margaret glanced at him. He was looking at
the inside of his right hand in a meditative way, as if it recalled
something. If he had shown more interest in what she said she would
have told him what she had just learned, about the breaking off of the
engagement, but he was evidently absorbed in thought, while he slowly
rubbed that particular spot on his hand, and looked at it again and
again as if it recalled something.
Margaret did not resent his indifference, for he was much more than
old enough to be her father; he was a man whom all younger writers
looked upon as a veteran, he had always been most kind and courteous
to her when she had met him, and she freely conceded him the right to
be occupied with his own thoughts and not with hers. With him she was
always Margaret Donne, and he seldom talked to her about music, or of
her own work. Indeed, he so rarely mentioned music that she fancied he
did not really care for it, and she wondered why he was so often in
the house when she sang.
Mr. Van Torp did not show himself at luncheon, and Margaret began to
hope that he would not appear on deck again till the next day. In
the afternoon the wind dropped, the clouds broke, and the sun shone
brightly. Little Ida, who was tired of doing crochet work, and had
looked at all the books that had pictures, came and begged Margaret to
walk round the ship with her. It would please her small child's vanity
to show everybody that the great singer was willing to be seen walking
up and down with her, although she was quite deaf, and could not hope
ever to hear music. It was her greatest delight to be treated before
every one as if she were just like other girls, and her cleverness in
watching the lips of the person with her, without seeming too intent,
They went the whole length of the promenade deck, as if they were
reviewing the passengers, bundled and packed in their chairs, and the
passengers looked at them both with so much interest that the child
made Margaret come all the way back again.
'The sea has a voice, too, hasn't it?' Ida asked, as they paused and
looked over the rail.
She glanced up quickly for the answer, but Margaret did not find one
'Because I've read poetry about the voices of the sea,' Ida explained.
'And in books they talk of the music of the waves, and then they say
the sea roars, and thunders in a storm. I can hear thunder, you know.
Did you know that I could hear thunder?'
Margaret smiled and looked interested.
'It bangs in the back of my head,' said the child gravely. 'But I
should like to hear the sea thunder. I often watch the waves on the
beach, as if they were lips moving, and I try to understand what they
say. Of course, it's play, because one can't, can one? But I can only
make out "Boom, ta-ta-ta-ta," getting quicker and weaker to the end,
you know, as the ripples run up the sand.'
'It's very like what I hear,' Margaret answered.
'Is it really?' Little Ida was delighted. 'Perhaps it's a language
after all, and I shall make it out some day. You see, until I know the
language people are speaking, their lips look as if they were talking
nonsense. But I'm sure the sea could not really talk nonsense all day
for thousands of years.'
'No, I'm sure it couldn't!' Margaret was amused. 'But the sea is not
alive,' she added.
'Everything that moves is alive,' the child said, 'and everything that
is alive can make a noise, and the noise must mean something. If it
didn't, it would be of no use, and everything is of some use. So
Delighted with her own argument, the beautiful child laughed and
showed her even teeth in the sun.
They were standing at the end of the promenade deck, which extended
twenty feet abaft the smoking-room, and took the whole beam; above
the latter, as in most modern ships, there was the boat deck, to the
after-part of which passengers had access. Standing below, it was easy
to see and talk with any one who looked over the upper rail.
Ida threw her head back and looked up as she laughed, and Margaret
laughed good-naturedly with her, thinking how pretty she was. But
suddenly the child's expression changed, her face grew grave, and her
eyes fixed themselves intently on some point above. Margaret looked in
the same direction, and saw that Mr. Van Torp was standing alone up
there, leaning against the railing and evidently not seeing her, for
he gazed fixedly into the distance; and as he stood there, his lips
moved as if he were talking to himself.
Margaret gave a little start of surprise when she saw him, but the
child watched him steadily, and a look of fear stole over her face.
Suddenly she grasped Margaret's arm.
'Come away! Come away!' she cried in a low tone of terror.
Margaret was sorry to say good-bye to Miss More and little Ida when
the voyage was over, three days later. She was instinctively fond of
children, as all healthy women are, and she saw very few of them in
her wandering life. It is true that she did not understand them very
well, for she had been an only child, brought up much alone, and
children's ways are only to be learnt and understood by experience,
since all children are experimentalists in life, and what often seems
to us foolishness in them is practical wisdom of the explorative kind.
When Ida had pulled Margaret away from the railing after watching Mr.
Van Torp while he was talking to himself, the singer had thought
very little of it; and Ida never mentioned it afterwards. As for the
millionaire, he was hardly seen again, and he made no attempt to
persuade Margaret to take another walk with him on deck.
'Perhaps you would like to see my place,' he said, as he bade her
good-bye on the tender at Liverpool. 'It used to be called Oxley
Paddox, but I didn't like that, so I changed the name to Torp Towers.
I'm Mr. Van Torp of Torp Towers. Sounds well, don't it?'
'Yes,' Margaret answered, biting her lip, for she wanted to laugh. 'It
has a very lordly sound. If you bought a moor and a river in Scotland,
you might call yourself the M'Torp of Glen Torp, in the same way.'
'I see you're laughing at me,' said the millionaire, with a quiet
smile of a man either above or beyond ridicule. 'But it's all a game
in a toy-shop anyway, this having a place in Europe. I buy a doll to
play with when I have time, and I can call it what I please, and
smash its head when I'm tired of it. It's my doll. It isn't any one's
else's. The Towers is in Derbyshire if you want to come.'
Margaret did not 'want to come' to Torp Towers, even if the doll
wasn't 'any one's else's.' She was sorry for any person or thing
that had the misfortune to be Mr. Van Torp's doll, and she felt her
inexplicable fear of him coming upon her while he was speaking. She
broke off the conversation by saying good-bye rather abruptly.
'Then you won't come,' he said, in a tone of amusement.
'Really, you are very kind, but I have so many engagements.'
'Saturday to Monday in the season wouldn't interfere with your
engagements. However, do as you like.'
'Thank you very much. Good-bye again.'
She escaped, and he looked after her, with an unsatisfied expression
that was almost wistful, and that would certainly not have been in his
face if she could have seen it.
Griggs was beside her when she went ashore.
'I had not much to do after all,' he said, glancing at Van Torp.
'No,' Margaret answered, 'but please don't think it was all
imagination. I may tell you some day. No,' she said again, after a
short pause, 'he did not make himself a nuisance, except that once,
and now he has asked me to his place in Derbyshire.'
'Torp Towers,' Griggs observed, with a smile.
'Yes. I could hardly help laughing when he told me he had changed its
'It's worth seeing,' said Griggs. 'A big old house, all full of other
'I mean figuratively. It's full of things that remind one of the
people who lived there. It has one of the oldest parks in England.
Lots of pheasants, too--but that cannot last long.'
'He won't let any one shoot them! They will all die of overcrowding in
two or three years. His keepers are three men from the Society for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.'
'What a mad idea!' Margaret laughed. 'Is he a Buddhist?'
'No.' Paul Griggs knew something about Buddhism. 'Certainly not! He's
eccentric. That's all.'
They were at the pier. Half-an-hour later they were in the train
together, and there was no one else in the carriage. Miss More and
little Ida had disappeared directly after landing, but Margaret had
seen Mr. Van Torp get into a carriage on the window of which was
pasted the label of the rich and great: 'Reserved.' She could have had
the same privilege if she had chosen to ask for it or pay for it, but
it irritated her that he should treat himself like a superior being.
Everything he did either irritated her or frightened her, and she
found herself constantly thinking of him and wishing that he would get
out at the first station. Griggs was silent too, and Margaret thought
he really might have taken some trouble to amuse her.
She had Lushington's book on her knee, for she had found it less
interesting than she had expected, and was rather ashamed of not
having finished it before meeting him, since it had been given to her.
She thought he might come down as far as Rugby to meet her, and she
was quite willing that he should find her with it in her hand. A
literary man is always supposed to be flattered at finding a friend
reading his last production, as if he did not know that the friend has
probably grabbed the volume with undignified haste the instant he was
on the horizon, with the intention of being discovered deep in it. Yet
such little friendly frauds are sweet compared with the extremes of
brutal frankness to which our dearest friends sometimes think it their
duty to go with us, for our own good.
After a time Griggs spoke to her, and she was glad to hear his voice.
She had grown to like him during the voyage, even more than she had
ever thought probable. She had even gone so far as to wonder whether,
if he had been twenty-five years younger, he might not have been the
one man she had ever met whom she might care to marry, and she had
laughed at the involved terms of the hypothesis as soon as she thought
of it. Griggs had never been married, but elderly people remembered
that there had been some romantic tale about his youth, when he had
been an unknown young writer struggling for life as a newspaper
'You saw the notice of Miss Bamberger's death, I suppose,' he said,
turning his grey eyes to hers.
He had not alluded to the subject during the voyage.
'Yes,' Margaret answered, wondering why he broached it now.
'The notice said that she died of heart failure, from shock,' Griggs
continued. 'I should like to know what you think about it, as you were
with her when she died. Have you any idea that she may have died of
'No.' Margaret was surprised. 'The doctor said it was that.'
'I know. I only wanted to have your own impression. I believe that
when people die of heart failure in that way, they often make
desperate efforts to explain what has happened, and go on trying to
talk when they can only make inarticulate sounds. Do you remember if
it was at all like that?'
'Not at all,' Margaret said. 'She whispered the last words she spoke,
but they were quite distinct. Then she drew three or four deep
breaths, and all at once I saw that she was dead, and I called the
doctor from the next room.'
'I suppose that might be heart failure,' said Griggs thoughtfully.
'You are quite sure that you thought it was only that, are you not?'
'Only what?' Margaret asked with growing surprise.
'Only fright, or the result of having been half-suffocated in the
'Yes, I think I am sure. What do you mean? Why do you insist so much?'
'It's of no use to tell other people,' said Griggs, 'but you may just
as well know. I found her lying in a heap behind a door, where there
could not have been much of a crowd.'
'Perhaps she had taken refuge there, to save herself,' Margaret
'Possibly. But there was another thing. When I got home I found that
there was a little blood on the palm of my hand. It was the hand I had
put under her waist when I lifted her.'
'Do you mean to say you think she was wounded?' Margaret asked,
opening her eyes wide.
'There was blood on the inside of my hand,' Griggs answered, 'and I
had no scratch to account for it. I know quite well that it was on the
hand that I put under her waist--a little above the waist, just in the
middle of her back.'
'But it would have been seen afterwards.'
'On the dark red silk she wore? Not if there was very little of it.
The doctor never thought of looking for such a wound. Why should he?
He had not the slightest reason for suspecting that the poor girl had
Margaret looked hard at Griggs, and then she suddenly shuddered from
head to foot. She had never before had such a sensation; it was like
a shock from an electric current at the instant when the contact is
made, not strong enough to hurt, but yet very disagreeable. She felt
it at the moment when her mind connected what Griggs was saying with
the dying girl's last words, 'he did it'; and with little Ida's look
of horror when she had watched Mr. Van Torp's lips while he was
talking to himself on the boat-deck of the _Leofric_; and again, with
the physical fear of the man that always came over her when she had
been near him for a little while. When she spoke to Griggs again the
tone of her voice had changed.
'Please tell me how it could have been done,' she said.
'Easily enough. A steel bodkin six or seven inches long, or even a
strong hat-pin. It would be only a question of strength.'
Margaret remembered Mr. Van Torp's coarse hands, and shuddered again.
'How awful!' she exclaimed.
'One would bleed to death internally before long,' Griggs said.
'Are you sure?'
'Yes. That is the reason why the three-cornered blade for duelling
swords was introduced in France thirty years ago. Before that, men
often fought with ordinary foils filed to a point, and there were many
deaths from internal hemorrhage.'
'What odd things you always know! That would be just like being run
through with a bodkin, then?'
'Very much the same.'
'But it would have been found out afterwards,' Margaret said, 'and the
papers would have been full of it.'
'That does not follow,' Griggs answered. 'The girl was an only child,
and her mother had been divorced and married again. She lived alone
with her father, and he probably was told the truth. But Isidore
Bamberger is not the man to spread out his troubles before the public
in the newspapers. On the contrary, if he found out that his daughter
had been killed--supposing that she was--he probably made up his mind
at once that the world should not know it till he had caught the
murderer. So he sent for the best detective in America, put the matter
in his hands, and inserted a notice of his daughter's death that
agreed with what the doctor had said. That would be the detective's
advice, I'm sure, and probably Van Torp approved of it.'
'Mr. Van Torp? Do you think he was told about it? Why?'
'First, because Bamberger is Van Torp's banker, broker, figure-head,
and general representative on earth,' answered Griggs. 'Secondly,
because Van Torp was engaged to marry the girl.'
'The engagement was broken off,' Margaret said.
'How do you know that?' asked Griggs quickly.
'Mr. Van Torp told me, on the steamer. They had broken it off that
very day, and were going to let it be known the next morning. He told
me so, that afternoon when I walked with him.'
Griggs was a little surprised, but as he did not connect Van Torp with
the possibility that Miss Bamberger had been murdered, his thoughts
did not dwell on the broken engagement.
'Why don't you try to find out the truth?' Margaret asked rather
anxiously. 'You know so many people everywhere--you have so much
'I never had much taste for detective work,' answered the literary
man, 'and besides, this is none of my business. But Bamberger and Van
Torp are probably both of them aware by this time that I found the
girl and carried her to the manager's room, and when they are ready
to ask me what I know, or what I remember, the detective they
are employing will suddenly appear to me in the shape of a new
acquaintance in some out-of-the-way place, who will go to work
scientifically to make me talk to him. He will very likely have a
little theory of his own, to the effect that since it was I who
brought Miss Bamberger to Schreiermeyer's room, it was probably I who
killed her, for some mysterious reason!'
'Shall you tell him about the drop of blood on your hand?'
'Without the slightest hesitation. But not until I am asked, and I
shall be very glad if you will not speak of it.'
'I won't,' Margaret said; 'but I wonder why you have told me if you
mean to keep it a secret!'
The veteran man of letters turned his sad grey eyes to hers, while his
'The world is not all bad,' he said. 'All men are not liars, and all
women do not betray confidence.'
'It's very good to hear a man like you say that,' Margaret answered.
'It means something.'
'Yes,' assented Griggs thoughtfully. 'It means a great deal to me to
be sure of it, now that most of my life is lived.'
'Were you unhappy when you were young?'
She asked the question as a woman sometimes does who feels herself
strongly drawn to a man much older than she. Griggs did not answer at
once, and when he spoke his voice was unusually grave, and his eyes
looked far away.
'A great misfortune happened to me,' he said. 'A great misfortune,' he
repeated slowly, after a pause, and his tone and look told Margaret
how great that calamity had been better than a score of big words.
'Forgive me,' Margaret said softly; 'I should have known.'
'No,' Griggs answered after a moment. 'You could not have known. It
happened very long ago, perhaps ten years before you were born.'
Again he turned his sad grey eyes to hers, but no smile lingered now
about the rather stern mouth. The two looked at each other quietly
for five or six seconds, and that may seem a long time. When Margaret
turned away from the elderly man's more enduring gaze, both felt that
there was a bond of sympathy between them which neither had quite
acknowledged till then. There was silence after that, and Margaret
looked out of the window, while her hand unconsciously played with the
book on her knee, lifting the cover a little and letting it fall again
Suddenly she turned to Griggs once more and held the book out to him
with a smile.
'I'm not an autograph-hunter,' she said, 'but will you write something
on the fly-leaf? Just a word or two, without your name, if you like.
Do you think I'm very sentimental?'
She smiled again, and he took the book from her and produced a pencil.
'It's a book I shall not throw away,' she went on, 'because the man
who wrote it is a great friend of mine, and I have everything he has
ever written. So, as I shall keep it, I want it to remind me that you
and I grew to know each other better on this voyage.'
It occurred to the veteran that while this was complimentary to
himself it was not altogether promising for Lushington, who was the
old friend in question. A woman who loves a man does not usually ask
another to write a line in that man's book. Griggs set the point of
the pencil on the fly-leaf as if he were going to write; but then he
hesitated, looked up, glanced at Margaret, and at last leaned back in
the seat, as if in deep thought.
'I didn't mean to give you so much trouble,' Margaret said, still
smiling. 'I thought it must be so easy for a famous author like you to
write half-a-dozen words!'
'A "sentiment" you mean!' Griggs laughed rather contemptuously, and
then was grave again.
'No!' Margaret said, a little disappointed. 'You did not understand
me. Don't write anything at all. Give me back the book.'
She held out her hand for it; but as if he had just made up his mind,
he put his pencil to the paper again, and wrote four words in a small
clear hand. She leaned forwards a little to see what he was writing.
'You know enough Latin to read that,' he said, as he gave the book
back to her.
She read the words aloud, with a puzzled expression.
'"Credo in resurrectionem mortuorum."' She looked at him for some
'Yes,' he said, answering her unspoken question. '"I believe in the
resurrection of the dead."'
'It means something especial to you--is that it?'
'Yes.' His eyes were very sad again as they met hers.
'My voice?' she asked. 'Some one--who sang like me? Who died?'
'Long before you were born,' he answered gently.
There was another little pause before she spoke again, for she was
'Thank you,' she said. 'Thank you for writing that.'
Mr. Van Torp arrived in London alone, with one small valise, for he
had sent his man with his luggage to the place in Derbyshire. At
Euston a porter got him a hansom, and he bargained with the cabman to
take him and his valise to the Temple for eighteenpence, a sum which,
he explained, allowed sixpence for the valise, as the distance could
not by any means be made out to be more than two miles.
Such close economy was to be expected from a millionaire, travelling
incognito; what was more surprising was that, when the cab stopped
before a door in Hare Court and Mr. Van Torp received his valise from
the roof of the vehicle, he gave the man half-a-crown, and said it was
'Now, my man,' he observed, 'you've not only got an extra shilling,
to which you had no claim whatever, but you've had the pleasure of a
surprise which you could not have bought for that money.'
The cabman grinned as he touched his hat and drove away, and Mr. Van
Torp took his valise in one hand and his umbrella in the other and
went up the dark stairs. He went up four flights without stopping
to take breath, and without so much as glancing at any of the names
painted in white letters on the small black boards beside the doors on
the right and left of each landing.
The fourth floor was the last, and though the name on the left had
evidently been there a number of years, for the white lettering was of
the tint of a yellow fog, it was still quite clear and legible.
That was the name, but the millionaire did not look at it any more
than he had looked at the others lower down. He knew them all by
heart. He dropped his valise, took a small key from his pocket, opened
the door, picked up his valise again, and, as neither hand was free,
he shut the door with his heel as he passed in, and it slammed behind
him, sending dismal echoes down the empty staircase.
The entry was almost quite dark, for it was past six o'clock in the
afternoon, late in March, and the sky was overcast; but there was
still light enough to see in the large room on the left into which Mr.
Van Torp carried his things.
It was a dingy place, poorly furnished, but some one had dusted the
table, the mantelpiece, and the small bookcase, and the fire was laid
in the grate, while a bright copper kettle stood on a movable hob. Mr.
Van Torp struck a match and lighted the kindling before he took off
his overcoat, and in a few minutes a cheerful blaze dispelled the
gathering gloom. He went to a small old-fashioned cupboard in a corner
and brought from it a chipped cup and saucer, a brown teapot, and a
cheap japanned tea-caddy, all of which he set on the table; and as
soon as the fire burned brightly, he pushed the movable hob round with
his foot till the kettle was over the flame of the coals. Then he took
off his overcoat and sat down in the shabby easy-chair by the hearth,
to wait till the water boiled.
His proceedings, his manner, and his expression would have surprised
the people who had been his fellow-passengers on the _Leofric_, and
who imagined Mr. Van Torp driving to an Olympian mansion, somewhere
between Constitution Hill and Sloane Square, to be received at his own
door by gravely obsequious footmen in plush, and to drink Imperial
Chinese tea from cups of Old Saxe, or Bleu du Roi, or Capo di Monte.
Paul Griggs, having tea and a pipe in a quiet little hotel in Clarges
Street, would have been much surprised if he could have seen Rufus Van
Torp lighting a fire for himself in that dingy room in Hare Court.
Madame Margarita da Cordova, waiting for an expected visitor in her
own sitting-room, in her own pretty house in Norfolk Crescent, would
have been very much surprised indeed. The sight would have plunged her
into even greater uncertainty as to the man's real character, and it
is not unlikely that she would have taken his mysterious retreat to be
another link in the chain of evidence against him which already seemed
so convincing. She might naturally have wondered, too, what he had
felt when he had seen that board beside the door, and she could hardly
have believed that he had gone in without so much as glancing at the
yellowish letters that formed the name of Bamberger.
But he seemed quite at home where he was, and not at all uncomfortable
as he sat before the fire, watching the spout of the kettle, his
elbows on the arms of the easy-chair and his hands raised before him,
with the finger-tips pressed against each other, in the attitude
which, with most men, means that they are considering the two sides of
a question that is interesting without being very important.
Perhaps a thoughtful observer would have noticed at once that there
had been no letters waiting for him when he had arrived, and would
have inferred either that he did not mean to stay at the rooms
twenty-four hours, or that, if he did, he had not chosen to let any
one know where he was.
Presently it occurred to him that there was no longer any light in
the room except from the fire, and he rose and lit the gas. The
incandescent light sent a raw glare into the farthest corners of the
large room, and just then a tiny wreath of white steam issued from the
spout of the kettle. This did not escape Mr. Van Torp's watchful eye,
but instead of making tea at once he looked at his watch, after which
he crossed the room to the window and stood thoughtfully gazing
through the panes at the fast disappearing outlines of the roofs and
chimney-pots which made up the view when there was daylight outside.
He did not pull down the shade before he turned back to the fire,
perhaps because no one could possibly look in.
But he poured a little hot water into the teapot, to scald it, and
went to the cupboard and got another cup and saucer, and an old
tobacco-tin of which the dingy label was half torn off, and which
betrayed by a rattling noise that it contained lumps of sugar. The
imaginary thoughtful observer already mentioned would have inferred
from all this that Mr. Van Torp had resolved to put off making tea
until some one came to share it with him, and that the some one
might take sugar, though he himself did not; and further, as it was
extremely improbable, on the face of it, that an afternoon visitor
should look in by a mere chance, in the hope of finding some one in
Mr. Isidore Bamberger's usually deserted rooms, on the fourth floor of
a dark building in Hare Court, the observer would suppose that Mr. Van
Torp was expecting some one to come and see him just at that hour,
though he had only landed in Liverpool that day, and would have been
still at sea if the weather had been rough or foggy.
All this might have still further interested Paul Griggs, and would
certainly have seemed suspicious to Margaret, if she could have known
Five minutes passed, and ten, and the kettle was boiling furiously,
and sending out a long jet of steam over the not very shapely toes of
Mr. Van Torp's boots, as he leaned back with his feet on the fender.
He looked at his watch again and apparently gave up the idea of
waiting any longer, for he rose and poured out the hot water from the
teapot into one of the cups, as a preparatory measure, and took off
the lid to put in the tea. But just as he had opened the caddy, he
paused and listened. The door of the room leading to the entry was
ajar, and as he stood by the table he had heard footsteps on the
stairs, still far down, but mounting steadily.
He went to the outer door and listened. There was no doubt that
somebody was coming up; any one not deaf could have heard the sound.
It was more strange that Mr. Van Torp should recognise the step,
for the rooms on the other side of the landing were occupied, and a
stranger would have thought it quite possible that the person who
was coming up should be going there. But Mr. Van Torp evidently knew
better, for he opened his door noiselessly and stood waiting to
receive the visitor. The staircase below was dimly lighted by gas, but
there was none at the upper landing, and in a few seconds a dark form
appeared, casting a tall shadow upwards against the dingy white paint
of the wall. The figure mounted steadily and came directly to the open
door--a lady in a long black cloak that quite hid her dress. She wore
no hat, but her head was altogether covered by one of those things
which are neither hoods nor mantillas nor veils, but which serve women
for any of the three, according to weather and circumstances. The
peculiarity of the one the lady wore was that it cast a deep shadow
over her face.
'Come in,' said Mr. Van Torp, withdrawing into the entry to make way.
She entered and went on directly to the sitting-room, while he shut
the outer door. Then he followed her, and shut the second door behind
him. She was standing before the fire spreading her gloved hands to
the blaze, as if she were cold. The gloves were white, and they fitted
very perfectly. As he came near, she turned and held out one hand.
'All right?' he inquired, shaking it heartily, as if it had been a
A sweet low voice answered him.
'Yes--all right,' it said, as if nothing could ever be wrong with
its possessor. 'But you?' it asked directly afterwards, in a tone of
'I? Oh--well--' Mr. Van Torp's incomplete answer might have meant
anything, except that he too was 'all right.'
'Yes,' said the lady gravely. 'I read the telegram the next day. Did
you get my cable? I did not think you would sail.'
'Yes, I got your cable. Thank you. Well--I did sail, you see. Take off
your things. The water's boiling and we'll have tea in a minute.'
The lady undid the fastening at her throat so that the fur-lined cloak
opened and slipped a little on her white shoulders. She held it in
place with one hand, and with the other she carefully turned back the
lace hood from her face, so as not to disarrange her hair. Mr. Van
Torp was making tea, and he looked up at her over the teapot.
'I dressed for dinner,' she said, explaining.
'Well,' said Mr. Van Torp, looking at her, 'I should think you did!'
There was real admiration in his tone, though it was distinctly
'I thought it would save half an hour and give us more time together,'
said the lady simply.
She sat down in the shabby easy-chair, and as she did so the cloak
slipped and lay about her waist, and she gathered one side of it over
her knees. Her gown was of black velvet, without so much as a bit of
lace, except at the sleeves, and the only ornament she wore was a
short string of very perfect pearls clasped round her handsome young
She was handsome, to say the least. If tired ghosts of departed
barristers were haunting the dingy room in Hare Court that night, they
must have blinked and quivered for sheer pleasure at what they saw,
for Mr. Van Torp's visitor was a very fine creature to look at; and if
ghosts can hear, they heard that her voice was sweet and low, like an
evening breeze and flowing water in a garden, even in the Garden of
She was handsome, and she was young; and above all she had the
freshness, the uncontaminated bloom, the subdued brilliancy of
nature's most perfect growing things. It was in the deep clear eyes,
in the satin sheen of her bare shoulders under the sordid gaslight; it
was in the strong smooth lips, delicately shaded from salmon colour to
the faintest peach-blossom; it was in the firm oval of her face, in
the well-modelled ear, the straight throat and the curving neck; it
was in her graceful attitude; it was everywhere. 'No doubt,' the
ghosts might have said, 'there are more beautiful women in England
than this one, but surely there is none more like a thoroughbred and a
'You take sugar, don't you?' asked Mr. Van Torp, having got the lid
off the old tobacco-tin with some difficulty, for it had developed an
inclination to rust since it had last been moved.
'One lump, please,' said the thoroughbred, looking at the fire.
'I thought I remembered,' observed the millionaire. 'The tea's good,'
he added, 'and you'll have to excuse the cup. And there's no cream.'
'I'll excuse anything,' said the lady, 'I'm so glad to be here!'
'Well, I'm glad to see you too,' said Mr. Van Torp, giving her the
cup. 'Crackers? I'll see if there're any in the cupboard. I forgot.'
He went to the corner again and found a small tin of biscuits, which
he opened and examined under gaslight.
'Mouldy,' he observed. 'Weevils in them, too. Sorry. Does it matter
'Nothing matters,' answered the lady, sweet and low. 'But why do you
put them away if they are bad? It would be better to burn them and be
done with it.'
He was taking the box back to the cupboard.
'I suppose you're right,' he said reluctantly. 'But it always seems
wicked to burn bread, doesn't it?'
'Not when it's weevilly,' replied the thoroughbred, after sipping the
He emptied the contents of the tin upon the coal fire, and the room
presently began to smell of mouldy toast.
'Besides,' he said, 'it's cruel to burn weevils, I suppose. If I'd
thought of that, I'd have left them alone. It's too late now. They're
done for, poor beasts! I'm sorry. I don't like to kill things.'
He stared thoughtfully at the already charred remains of the
holocaust, and shook his head a little. The lady sipped her tea and
looked at him quietly, perhaps affectionately, but he did not see her.
'You think I'm rather silly sometimes, don't you?' he asked, still
gazing at the fire.
'No,' she answered at once. 'It's never silly to be kind, even to
'Thank you for thinking so,' said Mr. Van Torp, in an oddly humble
tone, and he began to drink his own tea.
If Margaret Donne could have suddenly found herself perched among the
chimney-pots on the opposite roof, and if she had then looked at his
face through the window, she would have wondered why she had ever felt
a perfectly irrational terror of him. It was quite plain that the lady
in black velvet had no such impression.
'You need not be so meek,' she said, smiling.
She did not laugh often, but sometimes there was a ripple in her fresh
voice that would turn a man's head. Mr. Van Torp looked at her in a
rather dull way.
'I believe I feel meek when I'm with you. Especially just now.'
He swallowed the rest of his tea at a gulp, set the cup on the table,
and folded his hands loosely together, his elbows resting on his
knees; in this attitude he leaned forward and looked at the burning
coals. Again his companion watched his hard face with affectionate
'Tell me just how it happened,' she said. 'I mean, if it will help you
at all to talk about it.'
'Yes. You always help me,' he answered, and then paused. 'I think I
should like to tell you the whole thing,' he added after an instant.
'Somehow, I never tell anybody much about myself.'
She bent her handsome head in assent. Just then it would have been
very hard to guess what the relations were between the oddly assorted
pair, as they sat a little apart from each other before the grate.
Mr. Van Torp was silent now, as if he were making up his mind how to
In the pause, the lady quietly held out her hand towards him. He saw
without turning further, and he stretched out his own. She took it
gently, and then, without warning, she leaned very far forward, bent
over it and touched it with her lips. He started and drew it back
hastily. It was as if the leaf of a flower had settled upon it, and
had hovered an instant, and fluttered away in a breath of soft air.
'Please don't!' he cried, almost roughly. 'There's nothing to thank me
for. I've often told you so.'
But the lady was already leaning back in the old easy-chair again as
if she had done nothing at all unusual.
'It wasn't for myself,' she said. 'It was for all the others, who will
'Well, I'd rather not,' he answered. 'It's not worth all that. Now,
see here! I'm going to tell you as near as I can what happened, and
when you know you can make up your mind. You never saw but one side of
me anyhow, but you've got to see the other sooner or later. No, I know
what you're going to say--all that about a dual nature, and Jekyll and
Hyde, and all the rest of it. That may be true for nervous people, but
I'm not nervous. Not at all. I never was. What I know is, there are
two sides to everybody, and one's always the business side. The other
may be anything. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad. Sometimes
it cares for a woman, sometimes it's a collector of art things,
Babylonian glass, and Etruscan toys and prehistoric dolls. It may
gamble, or drink, or teach a Sunday school, or read Dante, or shoot,
or fish, or anything that's of no use. But one side's always the
business side. That's certain.'
Mr. Van Torp paused, and looked at his companion's empty cup. Seeing
that he was going to get up in order to give her more, she herself
rose quickly and did it for herself. He sat still and watched her,
probably because the business side of his nature judged that he could
be of no use. The fur-lined cloak was now lying in the easy-chair, and
there was nothing to break the sweeping lines of the black velvet from
her dazzling shoulders to her waist, to her knee, to her feet. Mr. Van
Torp watched her in silence, till she sat down again.
'You know me well enough to understand that,' he said, going on. 'My
outside's my business side, and that's what matters most. Now the
plain truth is this. My engagement to Miss Bamberger was just a
business affair. Bamberger thought of it first, and suggested it to
me, and he asked her if she'd mind being engaged to me for a few
weeks; and she said she wouldn't provided she wasn't expected to marry
me. That was fair and square, anyway, on both sides. Wasn't it?'
'It depends on why you did it,' said the lady, going to the point
'That was the business side,' answered her companion. 'You see, a big
thing like the Nickel Trust always has a lot of enemies, besides a
heap of people who want to get some of it cheap. This time they put
their heads together and got up one of the usual stories. You see,
Isidore H. Bamberger is the president and I only appear as a director,
though most of it's mine. So they got up a story that he was operating
on his own account to get behind me, and that we were going to quarrel
over it, and there was going to be a slump, and people began to
believe it. It wasn't any use talking to the papers. We soon found
that out. Sometimes the public won't believe anything it's told, and
sometimes it swallows faster than you can feed to it. I don't know
why, though I've had a pretty long experience, but I generally do know
which state it's in. I feel it. That's what's called business ability.
It's like fishing. Any old fisherman can judge in half an hour whether
the fish are going to bite all day or not. If he's wrong once, he'll
be right a hundred times. Well, I felt talking was no good, and so did
Bamberger, and the shares began to go down before the storm. If the
big slump had come there'd have been a heap of money lost. I don't say
we didn't let the shares drop a couple of points further than they
needed to, and Bamberger bought any of it that happened to be lying
around, and the more he bought the quicker it wanted to go
down, because people said there was going to be trouble and an
investigation. But if we'd gone on, lots of people would have been
ruined, and yet we didn't just see how to stop it sharp, till
Bamberger started his scheme. Do you understand all that?'
The lady nodded gravely.
'You make it clear,' she said.
'Well, I thought it was a good scheme,' continued her companion,
'and as the girl said she didn't mind, we told we were engaged. That
settled things pretty quick. The shares went up again in forty-eight
hours, and as we'd bought for cash we made the points, and the other
people were short and lost. But when everything was all right again we
got tired of being engaged, Miss Bamberger and I; and besides, there
was a young fellow she'd a fancy for, and he kept writing to her that
he'd kill himself, and that made her nervous, you see, and she said if
it went on another day she knew she'd have appendicitis or something.
So we were going to announce that the engagement was broken. And the
very night before--'
He paused. Not a muscle of the hard face moved, there was not a change
in the expression of the tremendous mouth, there was not a tremor in
the tone; but the man kept his eyes steadily on the fire.
'Oh, well, she's dead now, poor thing,' he said presently. 'And that's
what I wanted to tell you. I suppose it's not a very pretty story, is
it? But I'll tell you one thing. Though we made a little by the turn
of the market, we saved a heap of small fry from losing all they'd put
in. If we'd let the slump come and then bought we should have made a
pile; but then we might have had difficulty in getting the stock up to
anywhere near par again for some time.'
'Besides,' said the lady quietly, 'you would not have ruined all those
little people if you could help it.'
'You think I wouldn't?' He turned his eyes to her now.
'I'm sure you would not,' said the lady with perfect confidence.
'I don't know, I'm sure,' answered Mr. Van Torp in a doubtful tone.
'Perhaps I wouldn't. But it would only have been business if I had.
It's not as if Bamberger and I had started a story on purpose about
our quarrelling in order to make things go down. I draw the line
there. That's downright dishonest, I call it. But if we'd just let
things slide and taken advantage of what happened, it would only have
been business after all. Except for that doubt about getting back
to par,' he added, as an afterthought. 'But then I should have felt
whether it was safe or not.'
'Then why did you not let things slide, as you call it?'
'I don't know, I'm sure. Maybe I was soft-hearted. We don't always
know why we do things in business. There's a great deal more in the
weather where big money is moving than you might think. For instance,
there was never a great revolution in winter. But as for making people
lose their money, those who can't keep it ought not to have it.
They're a danger to society, and half the time it's they who upset the
market by acting like lunatics. They get a lot of sentimental pity
sometimes, those people; but after all, if they didn't try to cut in
without capital, and play the game without knowing the rules, business
would be much steadier and there would be fewer panics. They're the
people who get frightened and run, not we. The fact is, they ought
never to have been there. That's why I believe in big things myself.'
He paused, having apparently reached the end of his subject.
'Were you with the poor girl when she died?' asked the lady presently.
'No. She'd dined with a party and was in their box, and they were the
last people who saw her. You read about the explosion. She bolted
from the box in the dark, I was told, and as she couldn't be found
afterwards they concluded she had rushed out and taken a cab home. It
seemed natural, I suppose.'
'Who found her at last?'
'A man called Griggs--the author, you know. He carried her to the
manager's room, still alive. They got a doctor, and as she wanted
to see a woman, they sent for Cordova, the singer, from her
dressing-room, and the girl died in her arms. They said it was heart
failure, from shock.'
'It was very sad.'
'I'm sorry for poor Bamberger,' said Mr. Van Torp thoughtfully. 'She
was his only child, and he doted on her. I never saw a man so cut up
as he looked. I wanted to stay, but he said the mere sight of me drove
him crazy, poor fellow, and as I had business over here and my passage
was taken, I just sailed. Sometimes the kindest thing one can do is
to get out. So I did. But I'm very sorry for him. I wish I could do
anything to make it easier for him. It was nobody's fault, I suppose,
though I do think the people she was with might have prevented her
from rushing out in the dark.'
'They were frightened themselves. How could any one be blamed for her
'Exactly. But if any one could be made responsible, I know Bamberger
would do for him in some way. He's a resentful sort of man if any one
does him an injury. Blood for blood is Bamberger's motto, every time.
One thing I'm sure of. He'll run down whoever was responsible for
that explosion, and he'll do for him, whoever he is, if it costs one
million to get a conviction. I wouldn't like to be the fellow!'
'I can understand wishing to be revenged for the death of one's only
child,' said the lady thoughtfully. 'Cannot you?'
The American turned his hard face to her.
'Yes,' he said, 'I can. It's only human, after all.'
She sighed and looked into the fire. She was married, but she was
childless, and that was a constant regret to her. Mr. Van Torp knew it
'To change the subject,' he said cheerfully, 'I suppose you need
money, don't you?'
'Oh yes! Indeed I do!'
Her momentary sadness had already disappeared, and there was almost a
ripple in her tone again as she answered.
'How much?' asked the millionaire smiling.
She shook her head and smiled too; and as she met his eyes she
settled herself and leaned far back in the shabby easy-chair. She was
wonderfully graceful and good to look at in her easy attitude.
'I'm afraid to tell you how much!' She shook her head again, as she
'Well,' said Mr. Van Torp in an encouraging tone, 'I've brought some
cash in my pocket, and if it isn't enough I'll get you some more
to-morrow. But I won't give you a cheque. It's too compromising. I
thought of that before I left New York, so I brought some English
notes from there.'
'How thoughtful you always are for me!'
'It's not much to do for a woman one likes. But I'm sorry if I've
brought too little. Here it is, anyway.'
He produced a large and well-worn pocket-book, and took from it a
small envelope, which he handed to her.
'Tell me how much more you'll need,' he said, 'and I'll give it to
you to-morrow. I'll put the notes between the pages of a new book and
leave it at your door. He wouldn't open a package that was addressed
to you from a bookseller's, would he?'
'No,' answered the lady, her expression changing a little, 'I think he
draws the line at the bookseller.'
'You see, this was meant for you,' said Mr. Van Torp. 'There are your
initials on it.'
She glanced at the envelope, and saw that it was marked in pencil with
the letters M.L. in one corner.
'Thank you,' she said, but she did not open it.
'You'd better count the notes,' suggested the millionaire. 'I'm open
to making mistakes myself.'
The lady took from the envelope a thin flat package of new Bank of
England notes, folded together in four. Without separating them she
glanced carelessly at the first, which was for a hundred pounds, and
then counted the others by the edges. She counted four after the
first, and Mr. Van Torp watched her face with evident amusement.
'You need more than that, don't you?' he asked, when she had finished.
'A little more, perhaps,' she said quietly, though she could not quite
conceal her disappointment, as she folded the notes and slipped them
into the envelope again. 'But I shall try to make this last. Thank you
'I like you,' said Mr. Van Torp. 'You're the real thing. They'd call
you a chief's daughter in the South Seas. But I'm not so mean as all
that. I only thought you might need a little cash at once. That's
A loud knocking at the outer door prevented the lady from answering.
She looked at Mr. Van Torp in surprise.
'What's that?' she asked, rather anxiously.
'I don't know,' he answered. 'He couldn't guess that you were here,
'Oh no! That's quite out of the question!'
'Then I'll open the door,' said the millionaire, and he left the
The lady had not risen, and she still leaned back in her seat. She
idly tapped the knuckles of her gloved hand with the small envelope.
The knocking was repeated, she heard the outer door opened, and the
sound of voices followed directly.
'Oh!' Mr. Van Torp exclaimed in a tone of contemptuous surprise, 'it's
you, is it? Well, I'm busy just now. I can't see you till to-morrow.'
'My business will not keep till to-morrow,' answered an oily voice in
a slightly foreign accent.
At the very first syllables the lady rose quickly to her feet, and
resting one hand on the table she leant forward in the direction of
the door, with an expression that was at once eager and anxious, and
yet quite fearless.
'What you call your business is going to wait my convenience,' said
Mr. Van Torp. 'You'll find me here to-morrow morning until eleven
From the sounds the lady judged that the American now attempted to
shut the door in his visitor's face, but that he was hindered and that
a scuffle followed.
'Hold him!' cried the oily voice in a tone of command. 'Bring him in!
Lock the door!'
It was clear enough that the visitor had not come alone, and that Mr.
Van Torp had been overpowered. The lady bit her salmon-coloured lip
angrily and contemptuously.
A moment later a tall heavily-built man with thick fair hair, a long
moustache, and shifty blue eyes, rushed into the room and did not stop
till there was only the small table between him and the lady.
'I've caught you! What have you to say?' he asked.
'To you? Nothing!'
She deliberately turned her back on her husband, rested one elbow on
the mantelpiece and set one foot upon the low fender, drawing up
her velvet gown over her instep. But a moment later she heard other
footsteps in the room, and turned her head to see Mr. Van Torp enter
the room between two big men who were evidently ex-policemen. The
millionaire, having failed to shut the door in the face of the three
men, had been too wise to attempt any further resistance.
The fair man glanced down at the table and saw the envelope with his
wife's initials lying beside the tea things. She had dropped it there
when she had risen to her feet at the sound of his voice. He snatched
it away as soon as he saw the pencilled letters on it, and in a moment
he had taken out the notes and was looking over them.
'I should like you to remember this, please,' he said, addressing the
two men who had accompanied him. 'This envelope is addressed to my
wife, under her initials, in the handwriting of Mr. Van Torp. Am
I right in taking it for your handwriting?' he inquired, in a
disagreeably polite tone, and turning towards the millionaire.
'You are,' answered the American, in a perfectly colourless voice and
without moving a muscle. 'That's my writing.'
'And this envelope,' continued the husband, holding up the notes
before the men, 'contains notes to the amount of four thousand one
'Five hundred pounds, you mean,' said the lady coldly.
'See for yourself!' retorted the fair man, raising his eyebrows and
holding out the notes.
'That's correct,' said Mr. Van Torp, smiling and looking at the lady.
'Four thousand one hundred. Only the first one was for a hundred, and
the rest were thousands. I meant it for a little surprise, you see.'
'Oh, how kind! How dear and kind!' cried the lady gratefully, and with
amazing disregard of her husband's presence.
The two ex-policemen had not expected anything so interesting as this,
and their expressions were worthy of study. They had been engaged,
through a private agency, to assist and support an injured husband,
and afterwards to appear as witnesses of a vulgar clandestine meeting,
as they supposed. It was not the first time they had been employed on
such business, but they did not remember ever having had to deal with
two persons who exhibited such hardened indifference; and though the
incident of the notes was not new to them, they had never been in a
case where the amount of cash received by the lady at one time was so
'It is needless,' said the fair man, addressing them both, 'to ask
what this money was for.'
'Yes,' said Mr. Van Torp coolly. 'You needn't bother. But I'll call
your attention to the fact that the notes are not yours, and that I'd
like to see them put back into that envelope and laid on that table
before you go. You broke into my house by force anyhow. If you take
valuables away with you, which you found here, it's burglary in
England, whatever it may be in your country; and if you don't know it,
these two professional gentlemen do. So you just do as I tell you, if
you want to keep out of gaol.'
The fair man had shown a too evident intention of slipping the
envelope into his own pocket, doubtless to be produced in evidence,
but Mr. Van Torp's final argument seemed convincing.
'I have not the smallest intention of depriving my wife of the price
of my honour, sir. Indeed, I am rather flattered to find that you both
value it so highly.'
Mr. Van Torp's hard face grew harder, and a very singular light came
into his eyes. He moved forwards till he was close to the fair man.
'None of that!' he said authoritatively. 'If you say another word
against your wife in my hearing I'll make it the last you ever said to
anybody. Now you'd better be gone before I telephone for the police.
Do you understand?'
The two ex-policemen employed by a private agency thought the case was
becoming more and more interesting; but at the same time they were
made vaguely nervous by Mr. Van Torp's attitude.
'I think you are threatening me,' said the fair man, drawing back a
step, and leaving the envelope on the table.
'No,' answered his adversary, 'I'm warning you off my premises, and
if you don't go pretty soon I'll telephone for the police. Is that a
The last question was addressed to the two men.
'No, sir,' answered one of them.
'It would hardly be to your advantage to have more witnesses of my
wife's presence here,' observed the fair man coldly, 'but as I intend
to take her home we may as well go at once. Come, Maud! The carriage
The lady, whose name was now spoken for the first time since she had
entered Mr. Van Torp's lodging, had not moved from the fireplace since
she had taken up her position there. Women are as clever as Napoleon
or Julius Caesar in selecting strong positions when there is to be an
encounter, and a fireplace, with a solid mantelpiece to lean against,
to strike, to cry upon or to cling to, is one of the strongest.
The enemy is thus reduced to prowling about the room and handling
knick-knacks while he talks, or smashing them if he is of a violent
The lady now leant back against the dingy marble shelf and laid one
white-gloved arm along it, in an attitude that was positively regal.
Her right hand might appropriately have been toying with the orb of
empire on the mantelpiece, and her left, which hung down beside her,
might have loosely held the sceptre. Mr. Van Torp, who often bought
large pictures, was reminded of one recently offered to him in
America, representing an empress. He would have bought the portrait if
the dealer could have remembered which empress it represented, but the
fact that he could not had seemed suspicious to Mr. Van Torp. It was
clearly the man's business to know empresses by sight.
From her commanding position the Lady Maud refused her husband's
invitation to go home with him.
'I shall certainly not go with you,' she said. 'Besides, I'm dining
early at the Turkish Embassy and we are going to the play. You need
not wait for me. I'll take care of myself this evening, thank you.'
'This is monstrous!' cried the fair man, and with a peculiarly
un-English gesture he thrust his hand into his thick hair.
The foreigner in despair has always amused the genuine Anglo-Saxon.
Lady Maud's lip did not curl contemptuously now, she did not raise
her eyebrows, nor did her eyes flash with scorn. On the contrary,
she smiled quite frankly, and the sweet ripple was in her voice, the
ripple that drove some men almost crazy.
'You needn't make such a fuss,' she said. 'It's quite absurd, you
know. Mr. Van Torp is an old friend of mine, and you have known him
ever so long, and he is a man of business. You are, are you not?' she
asked, looking to the American for assent.
'I'm generally thought to be that,' he answered.
'Very well. I came here, to Mr. Van Torp's rooms in the Temple,
before going to dinner, because I wished to see him about a matter of
business, in what is a place of business. It's all ridiculous nonsense
to talk about having caught me--and worse. That money is for a
charity, and I am going to take it before your eyes, and thank Mr. Van
Torp for being so splendidly generous. Now go, and take those persons
with you, and let me hear no more of this!'
Thereupon Lady Maud came forward from the mantelpiece and deliberately
took from the table the envelope which contained four thousand one
hundred pounds in new Bank of England notes; and she put it into the
bosom of her gown, and smiled pleasantly at her husband.
Mr. Van Torp watched her with genuine admiration, and when she looked
at him and nodded her thanks again, he unconsciously smiled too, and
answered by a nod of approval.
The fair-haired foreign gentleman turned to his two ex-policemen with
'You have heard and seen,' he said impressively. 'I shall expect you
to remember all this when you are in the witness-box. Let us go.'
He made a sweeping bow to his wife and Mr. Van Torp. 'I wish you an
agreeable evening,' he said.
Thereupon he marched out of the room, followed by his men, who each
made an awkward bow at nothing in particular before going out. Mr. Van
Torp followed them at some distance towards the outer door, judging
that as they had forced their way in they could probably find their
way out. He did not even go to the outer threshold, for the last of
the three shut the door behind him.
When the millionaire came back Lady Maud was seated in the easy-chair,
leaning forward and looking thoughtfully into the fire. Assuredly no
one would have suspected from her composed face that anything unusual
had happened. She glanced at her friend when he came in, but did not
speak, and he began to walk up and down on the other side of the
table, with his hands behind him.
'You've got pretty good nerves,' he said presently.
'Yes,' answered Lady Maud, still watching the coals, 'they really are
A long silence followed, during which she did not move and Mr. Van
Torp steadily paced the floor.
'I didn't tell a fib, either,' she said at last. 'It's charity, in its
'Certainly,' assented her friend. 'What isn't either purchase-money or
interest, or taxes, or a bribe, or a loan, or a premium, or a present,
or blackmail, must be charity, because it must be something, and it
isn't anything else you can name.'
'A present may be a charity,' said Lady Maud, still thoughtful.
'Yes,' answered Mr. Van Torp. 'It may be, but it isn't always.'
He walked twice the length of the room before he spoke again.
'Do you think it's really to be war this time?' he asked, stopping
beside the table. 'Because if it is, I'll see a lawyer before I go to
Lady Maud looked up with a bright smile. Clearly she had been thinking
of something compared with which the divorce court was a delightful
'I don't know,' she answered. 'It must come sooner or later, because
he wants to be free to marry that woman, and as he has not the courage
to cut my throat, he must divorce me--if he can!'
'I've sometimes thought he might take the shorter way,' said Van Torp.
'He?' Lady Maud almost laughed, but her companion looked grave.
'There's a thing called homicidal mania,' he said. 'Didn't he shoot a
boy in Russia a year ago?'
'A young man--one of the beaters. But that was an accident.'
'I'm not so sure. How about that poor dog at the Theobalds' last
'He thought the creature was mad,' Lady Maud explained.
'He knows as well as you do that there's no rabies in the British
Isles,' objected Mr. Van Torp. 'Count Leven never liked that dog for
some reason, and he shot him the first time he got a chance. He's
always killing things. Some day he'll kill you, I'm afraid.'
'I don't think so,' answered the lady carelessly. 'If he does, I hope
he'll do it neatly! I should hate to be maimed or mangled.'
'Do you know it makes me uncomfortable to hear you talk like that? I
wish you wouldn't! You can't deny that your husband's half a lunatic,
anyway. He was behaving like one here only a quarter of an hour ago,
and it's no use denying it.'
'But I'm not denying anything!'
'No, I know you're not,' said Mr. Van Torp. 'If you don't know how
crazy he is, I don't suppose any one else does. But your nerves are
better than mine, as I told you. The idea of killing anything makes
me uncomfortable, and when it comes to thinking that he really might
murder you some day--well, I can't stand it, that's all! If I didn't
know that you lock your door at night I shouldn't sleep, sometimes.
You do lock it, always, don't you?'
'Be sure you do to-night. I wonder whether he is in earnest about the
divorce this time, or whether the whole scene was just bluff, to get
'I don't know,' answered Lady Maud, rising. 'He needs money, I
believe, but I'm not sure that he would try to get it just in that
'Too bad? Even for him?'
'Oh dear, no! Too simple! He's a tortuous person.'
'He tried to pocket those notes with a good deal of directness!'
observed Mr. Van Torp.
'Yes. That was an opportunity that turned up unexpectedly, but he
didn't know it would. How could he? He didn't come here expecting to
find thousands of pounds lying about on the table! It was easy enough
to know that I was here, of course. I couldn't go out of my own house
on foot, in a dinner-gown, and pick up a hansom, could I? I had one
called and gave the address, and the footman remembered it and told my
husband. There's nothing more foolish than making mysteries and giving
the cabman first one address and then another. If Boris is really
going to bring a suit, the mere fact that there was no concealment as
to where I was going this evening would be strong evidence, wouldn't
it? Evidence he cannot deny, too, since he must have learnt the
address from the footman, who heard me give it! And people who make no
secret of a meeting are not meeting clandestinely, are they?'
'You argue that pretty well,' said Mr. Van Torp, smiling.
'And besides,' rippled Lady Maud's sweet voice, as she shook out the
folds of her black velvet, 'I don't care.'
Her friend held up the fur-lined cloak and put it over her shoulders.
She fastened it at the neck and then turned to the fire for a moment
'Rufus,' she said gravely, after a moment's pause, and looking down at
the coals, 'you're an angel.'
'The others in the game don't think so,' answered Mr. Van Torp.
'No one was ever so good to a woman as you've been to me,' said Maud.
And all at once the joyful ring had died away from her voice and there
was another tone in it that was sweet and low too, but sad and tender
and grateful, all at once.
'There's nothing to thank me for,' answered Mr. Van Torp. 'I've often
told you so. But I have a good deal of reason to be grateful to you
for all you've given me.'
'Nonsense!' returned the lady, and the sadness was gone again, but
not all the tenderness. 'I must be going,' she added a moment later,
turning away from the fire.
'I'll take you to the Embassy in a hansom,' said the millionaire,
slipping on his overcoat.
'No. You mustn't do that--we should be sure to meet some one at the
door. Are you going anywhere in particular? I'll drop you wherever you
like, and then go on. It will give us a few minutes more together.'
'Goodness knows we don't get too many!'
So the two went down the dismal stairs of the house in Hare Court
The position of a successful lyric primadonna with regard to other
artists and the rest of the world is altogether exceptional, and
is not easy to explain. Her value for purposes of advertisement
apparently exceeds that of any other popular favourite, not to mention
the majority of royal personages. A respectable publisher has been
known to bring out a book in which he did not believe, solely because
a leading lyric soprano promised him to say in an interview that it
was the book of the year. Countless brands of cigars, cigarettes,
wines and liquors, have been the fashion with the flash crowd that
frequents public billiard-rooms and consumes unlimited tobacco and
drink, merely because some famous 'Juliet' or 'Marguerite' has
'consented' to lend her name to the articles in question; and half
the grog-shops on both sides of the Atlantic display to the admiring
street the most alarming pink and white caricatures, or monstrously
enlarged photographs, of the three or four celebrated lyric sopranos
who happen to be before the public at any one time. In the popular
mind those artists represent something which they themselves do not
always understand. There is a legend about each; she is either an
angel of purity and light, or a beautiful monster of iniquity; she
has turned the heads of kings--'kings' in a vaguely royal
plural--completely round on their shoulders, or she has built out of
her earnings a hospital for crippled children; the watery-sentimental
eye of the flash crowd in its cups sees in her a Phryne, a Mrs. Fry,
or a Saint Cecilia. Goethe said that every man must be either the
hammer or the anvil; the billiard-room public is sure that every
primadonna is a siren or a martyred wife, or else a public
benefactress, unless she is all three by turns, which is even more
In any case, the reporters are sure that every one wants to know just
what she thinks about everything. In the United States, for instance,
her opinion on political matters is often asked, and is advertised
with 'scare-heads' that would stop a funeral or arrest the attention
of a man on his way to the gallows.
Then, too, she hasher 'following' of 'girls,' thousands of whom have
her photograph, or her autograph, or both, and believe in her, and are
ready to scratch out the eyes of any older person who suggests that
she is not perfection in every way, or that to be a primadonna like
her ought not to be every girl's highest ambition. They not only
worship her, but many of them make real sacrifices to hear her sing;
for most of them are anything but well off, and to hear an opera means
living without little luxuries, and sometimes without necessaries, for
days together. Their devotion to their idol is touching and true; and
she knows it and is good-natured in the matter of autographs for them,
and talks about 'my matinee girls' to the reporters, as if those
eleven thousand virgins and more were all her younger sisters and
nieces. An actress, even the most gifted, has no such 'following.' The
greatest dramatic sopranos that ever sing Brunhilde and Kundry
enjoy no such popularity. It belongs exclusively to the nightingale
primadonnas, whose voices enchant the ear if they do not always
stir the blood. It may be explicable, but no explanation is at all
necessary, since the fact cannot be disputed.
To this amazing popularity Margaret Donne had now attained; and she
was known to the matinee girls' respectful admiration as Madame
Cordova, to the public generally and to her comrades as Cordova, to
sentimental paragraph-writers as Fair Margaret, and to her friends as
Miss Donne, or merely as Margaret. Indeed, from the name each person
gave her in speaking of her, it was easy to know the class to which
She had bought a house in London, because in her heart she still
thought England the finest country in the world, and had never felt
the least desire to live anywhere else. She had few relations left and
none whom she saw; for her father, the Oxford scholar, had not had
money, and they all looked with disapproval on the career she had
chosen. Besides, she had been very little in England since her
parents' death. Her mother's American friend, the excellent Mrs.
Rushmore, who had taken her under her wing, was now in Versailles,
where she had a house, and Margaret actually had the audacity to live
alone, rather than burden herself with a tiresome companion.
Her courage in doing so was perhaps mistaken, considering what the
world is and what it generally thinks of the musical and theatrical
professions; and Mrs. Rushmore, who was quite powerless to influence
Margaret's conduct, did not at all approve of it. The girl's will had
always been strong, and her immense success had so little weakened
her belief in herself, or softened her character, that she had grown
almost too independent. The spirit of independence is not a fault in
women, but it is a defect in the eyes of men. Darwin has proved that
the dominant characteristic of male animals is vanity; and what is
to become of that if women show that they can do without us? If the
emancipation of woman had gone on as it began when we were boys, we
should by this time be importing wives for our sons from Timbuctoo or
the Friendly Islands. Happily, women are practical beings who rarely
stray far from the narrow path along which usefulness and pleasure may
still go hand in hand; for considering how much most women do that
is useful, the amount of pleasure they get out of life is perfectly
amazing; and when we try to keep up with them in the chase after
amusement we are surprised at the number of useful things they
accomplish without effort in twenty-four hours.
But, indeed, women are to us very like the moon, which has shown the
earth only one side of herself since the beginning, though she has
watched and studied our world from all its sides through uncounted
ages. We men are alternately delighted, humiliated, and terrified when
women anticipate our wishes, perceive our weaknesses, and detect our
shortcomings, whether we be frisky young colts in the field or sober
stagers plodding along between the matrimonial shafts in harness and
blinkers. We pride ourselves on having the strength to smash the
shafts, shake off the harness, and kick the cart to pieces if we
choose, and there are men who can and do. But the man does not live
who knows what the dickens women are up to when he is going quietly
along the road, as a good horse should. Sometimes they are driving us,
and then there is no mistake about it; and sometimes they are just
sitting in the cart and dozing, and we can tell that they are behind
us by their weight; but very often we are neither driven by them nor
are we dragging them, and we really have not the faintest idea where
they are, so that we are reduced to telling ourselves, with a little
nervousness which we do not care to acknowledge, that it is noble and
beautiful to trust what we love.
A part of the great feminine secret is the concealment of that
independence about which there has been so much talk in our time. As
for suffrage, wherever there is such a thing, the woman who does not
vote always controls far more men's votes than the woman-who goes to
the polls, and has only her own vote to give.
Margaret, the primadonna, did not want to vote for or against
anything; but she was a little too ready to assert that she could and
would lead her own life as she pleased, without danger to her good
name, because she had never done anything to be ashamed of. The
natural consequence was that she was gradually losing something
which is really much more worth having than commonplace, technical
independence. Her friend Lushington realised the change as soon as she
landed, and it hurt him to see it, because it seemed to him a great
pity that what he had thought an ideal, and therefore a natural
manifestation of art, should be losing the fine outlines that had
made it perfect to his devoted gaze. But this was not all. His rather
over-strung moral sense was offended as well as his artistic taste.
He felt that Margaret was blunting the sensibilities of her feminine
nature and wronging a part of herself, and that the delicate bloom
of girlhood was opening to a blossom that was somewhat too evidently
strong, a shade too vivid and more brilliant than beautiful.
There were times when she reminded him of his mother, and those were
some of the most painful moments of his present life. It is true that
compared with Madame Bonanni in her prime, as he remembered her,
Margaret was as a lily of the valley to a giant dahlia; yet when he
recalled the sweet and healthy English girl he had known and loved in
Versailles three years ago, the vision was delicate and fairy-like
beside the strong reality of the successful primadonna. She was so
very sure of herself now, and so fully persuaded that she was not
accountable to any one for her doings, her tastes, or the choice of
her friends! If not actually like Madame Bonanni, she was undoubtedly
beginning to resemble two or three of her famous rivals in the
profession who were nearer to her own age. Her taste did not run in
the direction of white fox cloaks, named diamonds, and imperial jade
plates; she did not use a solid gold toothbrush with emeralds set in
the handle, like Ismail Pacha; bridge did not amuse her at all, nor
could she derive pleasure from playing at Monte Carlo; she did not
even keep an eighty-horse-power motor-car worth five thousand pounds.
Paul Griggs, who was old-fashioned, called motor-cars 'sudden-death
carts,' and Margaret was inclined to agree with him. She cared for
none of these things.
Nevertheless there was a quiet thoroughgoing luxury in her existence,
an unseen private extravagance, such as Rufus Van Torp, the
millionaire, had never dreamt of. She had first determined to be a
singer in order to support herself, because she had been cheated of
a fortune by old Alvah Moon; but before she had actually made her
_debut_ a handsome sum had been recovered for her, and though she was
not exactly what is now called rich, she was at least extremely well
off, apart from her professional earnings, which were very large
indeed. In the certainty that if her voice failed she would always
have a more than sufficient income for the rest of her life, and
considering that she was not under the obligation of supporting a
number of poor relations, it was not surprising that she should spend
a great deal of money on herself.
It is not every one who can be lavish without going a little beyond
the finely-drawn boundary which divides luxury from extravagance; for
useless profusion is by nature as contrary to what is aesthetic as fat
in the wrong place, and is quite as sure to be seen. To spend well
what rich people are justified in expending over and above an ample
provision for the necessities and reasonable comforts of a large
existence is an art in itself, and the modest muse of good taste loves
not the rich man for his riches, nor the successful primadonna for the
thousands she has a right to throw away if she likes.
Mr. Van Torp vaguely understood this, without at all guessing how the
great artist spent her money. He had understood at least enough to
hinder him from trying to dazzle her in the beginning of the New York
season, when he had brought siege against her.
A week after her arrival in London, Margaret was alone at her piano
and Lushington was announced. Unlike the majority of musicians in real
fiction she had not been allowing her fingers to 'wander over the
keys,' a relaxation that not seldom leads to outer darkness, where the
consecutive fifth plays hide-and-seek with the falling sub-tonic to
superinduce gnashing of teeth in them that hear. Margaret was learning
her part in the _Elisir d'Amore_, and instead of using her voice she
was whistling from the score and playing the accompaniment. The old
opera was to be revived during the coming season with her and the
great Pompeo Stromboli, and she was obliged to work hard to have it
The music-room had a polished wooden floor, and the furniture
consisted chiefly of a grand piano and a dozen chairs. The walls were
tinted a pale green; there were no curtains at the windows, because
they would have deadened sound, and a very small wood fire was burning
in an almost miniature fireplace quite at the other end of the room.
The sun had not quite set yet, and as the blinds were still open,
a lurid glare came in from the western sky, over the houses on the
opposite side of the wide square. There had been a heavy shower, but
the streets were already drying. One shaded electric lamp stood on the
desk of the piano, and the rest of the room was illuminated by the
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