The PrimadonnaF. Marion Crawford
A SEQUEL TO "FAIR MARGARET"
F. MARION CRAWFORD
AUTHOR OF "SARACINESCA," "SANT' ILARIO," "FAIR MARGARET," ETC., ETC.
When the accident happened, Cordova was singing the mad scene in_Lucia_ for the last time in that season, and she had never sung itbetter. _The Bride of Lammermoor_ is the greatest love-story everwritten, and it was nothing short of desecration to make a librettoof it; but so far as the last act is concerned the opera certainlyconveys the impression that the heroine is a raving lunatic. Only acrazy woman could express feeling in such an unusual way.
Cordova's face was nothing but a mask of powder, in which her handsomebrown eyes would have looked like two holes if she had not kept themhalf shut under the heavily whitened lids; her hands were chalked too,and they were like plaster casts of hands, cleverly jointed at thewrists. She wore a garment which was supposed to be a nightdress,which resembled a very expensive modern shroud, and which wasevidently put on over a good many other things. There was a deal oflace on it, which fluttered when she made her hands shake to accompanyeach trill, and all this really contributed to the general impressionof insanity. Possibly it was overdone; but if any one in the audiencehad seen such a young person enter his or her room unexpectedly, anduttering such unaccountable sounds, he or she would most assuredlyhave rung for a doctor and a cab, and for a strait-jacket if such athing were to be had in the neighbourhood.
An elderly man, with very marked features and iron-grey hair, sat inthe fifth row of the stalls, on the right-hand aisle. He was a bonyman, and the people behind him noticed him and thought he lookedstrong. He had heard Bonanni in her best days and many great lyricsopranos from Patti to Melba, and he was thinking that none of themhad sung the mad scene better than Cordova, who had only been on thestage two years, and was now in New York for the first time. But hehad already heard her in London and Paris, and he knew her. He hadfirst met her at a breakfast on board Logotheti's yacht at Cap Martin.Logotheti was a young Greek financier who lived in Paris and wanted tomarry her. He was rather mad, and had tried to carry her off on thenight of the dress rehearsal before her _debut_, but had somehow gothimself locked up for somebody else. Since then he had grown calmer,but he still worshipped at the shrine of the Cordova. He was notthe only one, however; there were several, including the verydistinguished English man of letters, Edmund Lushington, who had knownher before she had begun to sing on the stage.
But Lushington was in England and Logotheti was in Paris, and on thenight of the accident Cordova had not many acquaintances in the housebesides the bony man with grey hair; for though society had beenanxious to feed her and get her to sing for nothing, and to playbridge with her, she had never been inclined to accept thoseattentions. Society in New York claimed her, on the ground that shewas a lady and was an American on her mother's side. Yet she insistedon calling herself a professional, because singing was her profession,and society thought this so strange that it at once became suspiciousand invented wild and unedifying stories about her; and the reportershaunted the lobby of her hotel, and gossiped with their friends thedetectives, who also spent much time there in a professional way forthe general good, and were generally what English workmen call wetsmokers.
Cordova herself was altogether intent on what she was doing and wasnot thinking of her friends, of Lushington, or Logotheti, nor of thebony man in the stalls; certainly not of society, though it was richlyrepresented by diamonds in the subscriber's tier. Indeed the jewellerywas so plentiful and of such expensive quality that the whole row ofboxes shone like a vast coronet set with thousands of precious stones.When the music did not amuse society, the diamonds and rubies twinkledand glittered uneasily, but when Cordova was trilling her wildestthey were quite still and blazed with a steady light. Afterwards theaudience would all say again what they had always said about everygreat lyric soprano, that it was just a wonderful instrument without aparticle of feeling, that it was an over-grown canary, a human flute,and all the rest of it; but while the trills ran on the peoplelistened in wonder and the diamonds were very quiet.
'A-a--A-a--A-a--A-a--' sang Cordova at an inconceivable pitch.
A terrific explosion shook the building to its foundations; the lightswent out, and there was a long grinding crash of broken glass not faroff.
In the momentary silence that followed before the inevitable panic thevoice of Schreiermeyer, the manager, rang out through the darkness.
'Ladies and gentlemen! There's no danger! Keep your seats! The lightswill be up directly.'
And indeed the little red lamps over each door that led out, being onanother circuit, were all burning quietly, but in the first moment offright no one noticed them, and the house seemed to be quite dark.
Then the whole mass of humanity began to writhe and swell, as afrightened crowd does in the dark, so that every one feels as if allthe other people were growing hugely big, as big as elephants, tosmother and crush him; and each man makes himself as broad as he can,and tries to swell out his chest, and squares his elbows to keep theweight off his sides; and with the steady strain and effort every onebreathes hard, and few speak, and the hard-drawn breath of thousandstogether makes a sound of rushing wind like bellows as enormous ashouses, blowing steadily in the darkness.
'Keep your seats!' yelled Schreiermeyer desperately.
He had been in many accidents, and understood the meaning of thenoises he heard. There was death in them, death for the weak bysqueezing, and smothering, and trampling underfoot. It was a grimmoment, and no one who was there has forgotten it, the manager leastof all.
'It's only a fuse gone!' he shouted. 'Only a plug burnt out!'
But the terrified throng did not believe, and the people pressed uponeach other with the weight of hundreds of bodies, thronging frombehind, towards the little red lights. There were groans now, besidesthe strained breathing and the soft shuffling of many feet on thethick carpets. Each time some one went down there was a groan, stifledas instantly and surely as though the lips from which it came werequickly thrust under water.
Schreiermeyer knew well enough that if nothing could be done withinthe next two minutes there would be an awful catastrophe; but he washelpless. No doubt the electricians were at work; in ten minutes thedamage would be repaired and the lights would be up again; but thehouse would be empty then, except for the dead and the dying.
Another groan was heard, and another quickly after it. The wretchedmanager yelled, stormed, stamped, entreated, and promised, but with noeffect. In the very faint red light from the doors he saw a movingsea of black and heard it surging to his very feet. He had an oldprofessional's exact sense of passing time, and he knew that a fullminute had already gone by since the explosion. No one could be deadyet, even in that press, but there were few seconds to spare, fewerand fewer.
Then another sound was heard, a very pure strong note, high above hisown tones, a beautiful round note, that made one think of gold andsilver bells, and that filled the house instantly, like light, andreached every ear, even through the terror that was driving the crowdmad in the dark.
A moment more, an instant's pause, and Cordova had begun Lucia's songagain at the beginning, and her marvellous trills and staccato notes,and trills again, trills upon trills without end, filled the vastdarkness and stopped those four thousand men and women, spellbound andsilent, and ashamed too.
It was not great music, surely; but it was sung by the greatest livingsinger, singing alone in the dark, as calmly and as perfectly as ifall the orchestra had been with her, singing as no one can who feelsthe least tremor of fear; and the awful tension of the dark throngrelaxed, and the breath that came was a great sigh of relief, for itwas no
t possible to be frightened when a fearless woman was singing somarvellously.
Then, still in the dark, some of the musicians struck in and supportedher, and others followed, till the whole body of harmony was complete;and just as she was at the wildest trills, at the very passage duringwhich the crash had come, the lights went up all at once; and therestood Cordova in white and lace, with her eyes half shut and shakingher outstretched hands as she always made them shake in the mad scene;and the stage was just as it had been before the accident, except thatSchreiermeyer was standing near the singer in evening dress with aperfectly new and shiny high hat on the back of his head, and hismouth wide open.
The people were half hysterical from the past danger, and when theysaw, and realised, they did not wait for the end of the air, but sentup such a shout of applause as had never been heard in the Operabefore and may not be heard there again.
Instinctively the Primadonna sang the last bars, though no one heardher in the din, unless it was Schreiermeyer, who stood near her. Whenshe had finished at last he ran up to her and threw both his armsround her in a paroxysm of gratitude, regardless of her powder andchalk, which came off upon his coat and yellow beard in patches ofwhite as he kissed her on both cheeks, calling her by every endearingname that occurred to his polyglot memory, from Sweetheart in Englishto Little Cabbage in French, till Cordova laughed and pushed him away,and made a tremendous courtesy to the audience.
Just then a man in a blue jacket and gilt buttons entered from theleft of the stage and whispered a few words into Schreiermeyer's ear.The manager looked grave at once, nodded and came forward to theprompter's box. The man had brought news of the accident, he said;a quantity of dynamite which was to have been used in subterraneanblasting had exploded and had done great damage, no one yet knew howgreat. It was probable that many persons had been killed.
But for this news, Cordova would have had one of those ovations whichrarely fall to the lot of any but famous singers, for there was not aman or woman in the theatre who had not felt that she had averted acatastrophe and saved scores of lives. As it was, several women hadbeen slightly hurt and at least fifty had fainted. Every one wasanxious to help them now, most of all the very people who had hurtthem.
But the news of an accident in the city emptied the house in a fewminutes; even now that the lights were up the anxiety to get outto the street and to know more of the truth was great enough to bedangerous, and the strong crowd heaved and surged again and pushedthrough the many doors with little thought for the weak or for any whohad been injured in the first panic.
But in the meantime Cordova had reached her dressing-room, supportedby the enthusiastic Schreiermeyer on one side, and by the equallyenthusiastic tenor on the other, while the singular family partyassembled in the last act of _Lucia di Lammermoor_ brought up the rearwith many expressions of admiration and sympathy.
As a matter of fact the Primadonna needed neither sympathy norsupport, and that sort of admiration was not of the kind that mostdelighted her. She did not believe that she had done anything heroic,and did not feel at all inclined to cry.
'You saved the whole audience!' cried Signor Pompeo Stromboli, thegreat Italian tenor, who presented an amazing appearance in hisHighland dress. 'Four thousand seven hundred and fifty-three peopleowe you their lives at this moment! Every one of them would have beendead but for your superb coolness! Ah, you are indeed a great woman!'
Schreiermeyer's business ear had caught the figures. As they walked,each with an arm through one of the Primadonna's, he leaned back andspoke to Stromboli behind her head.
'How the devil do you know what the house was?' he asked sharply.
'I always know,' answered the Italian in a perfectly matter-of-facttone. 'My dresser finds out from the box-office. I never take the Csharp if there are less than three thousand.'
'I'll stop that!' growled Schreiermeyer.
'As you please!' Stromboli shrugged his massive shoulders. 'C sharp isnot in the engagement!'
'It shall be in the next! I won't sign without it!'
'I won't sign at all!' retorted the tenor with a sneer of superiority.'You need not talk of conditions, for I shall not come to Americaagain!'
'Oh, do stop quarrelling!' laughed Cordova as they reached the door ofher box, for she had heard similar amenities exchanged twenty timesalready, and she knew that they meant nothing at all on either side.
'Have you any beer?' inquired Stromboli of the Primadonna, as ifnothing had happened.
'Bring some beer, Bob!' Schreiermeyer called out over his shoulder tosome one in the distance.
'Yes, sir,' answered a rough voice, far off, and with a foreignaccent.
The three entered the Primadonna's dressing-room together. It was ahideous place, as all dressing-rooms are which are never used two daysin succession by the same actress or singer; very different fromthe pretty cells in the beehive of the Comedie Francaise where eachpensioner or shareholder is lodged like a queen bee by herself, foryears at a time.
The walls of Cordova's dressing-room were more or less white-washedwhere the plaster had not been damaged. There was a dingy full-lengthmirror, a shabby toilet-table; there were a few crazy chairs, thewretched furniture which is generally to be found in actresses'dressing-rooms, notwithstanding the marvellous descriptions inventedby romancers. But there was light in abundance and to excess,dazzling, unshaded, intolerable to any but theatrical eyes. There wereat least twenty strong electric lamps in the miserable place, whichilluminated the coarsely painted faces of the Primadonna and the tenorwith alarming distinctness, and gleamed on Schreiermeyer's smooth fairhair and beard, and impassive features.
'You'll have two columns and a portrait in every paper to-morrow,' heobserved thoughtfully. 'It's worth while to engage such people. Ohyes, damn it, I tell you it's worth while!'
The last emphatic sentence was intended for Stromboli, as if he hadcontradicted the statement, or were himself not 'worth while.'
'There's beer there already,' said the tenor, seeing a bottle andglass on a deal table, and making for them at once.
He undid the patent fastening, stood upright with his sturdystockinged legs wide apart, threw his head back, opened his hugepainted mouth to the necessary extent, but not to the full, andwithout touching his lips poured the beer into the chasm in a gurglingstream, which he swallowed without the least apparent difficulty. Whenhe had taken down half the contents of the small bottle he desistedand poured the rest into the glass, apparently for Cordova's benefit.
'I hope I have left you enough,' he said, as he prepared to go. 'Mythroat felt like a rusty gun-barrel.'
'Fright is very bad for the voice,' Schreiermeyer remarked, as thecall-boy handed him another bottle of beer through the open door.
Stromboli took no notice of the direct imputation. He had taken a verysmall and fine handkerchief from his sporran and was carefully tuckingit into his collar with some idea of protecting his throat. When thiswas done his admiration for his colleague broke out again without theslightest warning.
'You were superb, magnificent, surpassing!' he cried.
He seized Cordova's chalked hands, pressed them to his own whitenedchin, by sheer force of stage habit, because the red on his lips wouldhave come off on them, and turned away.
'Surpassing! Magnificent! What a woman!' he roared in tremendous tonesas he strode away through the dim corridor towards the stage and hisown dressing-room on the other side.
Meanwhile Schreiermeyer, who was quite as thirsty as the tenor, drankwhat the latter had left in the only glass there was, and set the fullbottle beside the latter on the deal table.
'There is your beer,' he said, calling attention to what he had done.
Cordova nodded carelessly and sat down on one of the crazy chairsbefore the toilet-table. Her maid at once came forward and took offher wig, and her own beautiful brown hair appeared, pressed and mattedclose to her head in a rather disorderly coil.
'You must be tired,' said the manager, with more co
nsideration thanhe often showed to any one whose next engagement was already signed.'I'll find out how many were killed in the explosion and then I'llget hold of the reporters. You'll have two columns and a pictureto-morrow.'
Schreiermeyer rarely took the trouble to say good-morning orgood-night, and Cordova heard the door shut after him as he went out.
'Lock it,' she said to her maid. 'I'm sure that madman is about thetheatre again.'
The maid obeyed with alacrity. She was very tall and dark, andwhen she had entered Cordova's service two years ago she had beenpositively cadaverous. She herself said that her appearance had beenthe result of living many years with the celebrated Madame Bonanni,who was a whirlwind, an earthquake, a phenomenon, a cosmic force. Noone who had lived with her in her stage days had ever grown fat; itwas as much as a very strong constitution could do not to grow thin.
Madame Bonanni had presented the cadaverous woman to the youngPrimadonna as one of the most precious of her possessions, and out ofsheer affection. It was true that since the great singer had closedher long career and had retired to live in the country, in Provence,she dressed with such simplicity as made it possible for her to existwithout the long-faithful, all-skilful, and iron-handed Alphonsine;and the maid, on her side, was so thoroughly a professional theatricaldresser that she must have died of inanition in what she would havecalled private life. Lastly, she had heard that Madame Bonanni had nowgiven up the semblance, long far from empty, but certainly vain, of awaist, and dressed herself in a garment resembling a priest's cassock,buttoned in front from her throat to her toes.
Alphonsine locked the door, and the Primadonna leaned her elbows onthe sordid toilet-table and stared at her chalked and painted face,vaguely trying to recognise the features of Margaret Donne, thedaughter of the quiet Oxford scholar, her real self as she had beentwo years ago, and by no means very different from her everyday selfnow. But it was not easy. Margaret was there, no doubt, behind thepaint and the 'liquid white,' but the reality was what the publicsaw beyond the footlights two or three times a week during the operaseason, and applauded with might and main as the most successful lyricsoprano of the day.
There were moments when she tried to get hold of herself and bringherself back. They came most often after some great emotion in thetheatre, when the sight of the painted mask in the glass shocked anddisgusted her as it did to-night; when the contrasts of life werealmost more than she could bear, when her sensibilities awoke again,when the fastidiousness of the delicately nurtured girl revolted underthe rough familiarity of such a comrade as Stromboli, and rebelledagainst the sordid cynicism of Schreiermeyer.
She shuddered at the mere idea that the manager should have thoughtshe would drink out of the glass he had just used. Even the Italianpeasant, who had been a goatherd in Calabria, and could hardly writehis name, showed more delicacy, according to his lights, which werecertainly not dazzling. A faint ray of Roman civilisation had reachedhim through generations of slaves and serfs and shepherds. But nosuch traditions of forgotten delicacy disturbed the manners ofSchreiermeyer. The glass from which he had drunk was good enough forany primadonna in his company, and it was silly for any of them togive themselves airs. Were they not largely his creatures, fed fromhis hand, to work for him while they were young, and to be turned outas soon as they began to sing false? He was by no means the worst ofhis kind, as Margaret knew very well.
She thought of her childhood, of her mother and of her father, bothdead long before she had gone on the stage; and of that excellent andkind Mrs. Rushmore, her American mother's American friend, who hadtaken her as her own daughter, and had loved her and cared for her,and had shed tears when Margaret insisted on becoming a singer; whohad fought for her, too, and had recovered for her a small fortune ofwhich her mother had been cheated. For Margaret would have been morethan well off without her profession, even when she had made her_debut_, and she had given up much to be a singer, believing that sheknew what she was doing.
But now she was ready to undo it all and to go back; at least shethought she was, as she stared at herself in the glass while the palemaid drew her hair back and fastened it far above her forehead with abig curved comb, as a preliminary to getting rid of paint and powder.At this stage of the operation the Primadonna was neither Cordova norMargaret Donne; there was something terrifying about the exaggeratedlypainted mask when the wig was gone and her natural hair was drawntightly back. She thought she was like a monstrous skinned rabbit withstaring brown eyes.
At first, with the inexperience of youth, she used to plunge herpainted face into soapsuds and scrub vigorously till her owncomplexion appeared, a good deal overheated and temporarily shiny;but before long she had yielded to Alphonsine's entreaties andrepresentations and had adopted the butter method, long familiar tochimney-sweeps.
The butter lay ready; not in a lordly dish, but in a clean tin canwith a cover, of the kind workmen use for fetching beer, and commonlycalled a 'growler' in New York, for some reason which escapesetymologists.
Having got rid of the upper strata of white lace and fine linen,artfully done up so as to tremble like aspen leaves with Lucia's madtrills, Margaret proceeded to butter her face thoroughly. It occurredto her just then that all the other artists who had appeared with herwere presumably buttering their faces at the same moment, and that ifthe public could look in upon them it would be very much surprisedindeed. At the thought she forgot what she had been thinking of andsmiled.
The maid, who was holding her hair back where it escaped the comb,smiled too, and evidently considered that the relaxation of Margaret'sbuttered features was equivalent to a permission to speak.
'It was a great triumph for Madame,' she observed. 'All the paperswill praise Madame to-morrow. Madame saved many lives.'
'Was Mr. Griggs in the house?' Margaret asked. 'I did not see him.'
Alphonsine did not answer at once, and when she spoke her tone hadchanged.
'Yes, Madame. Mr. Griggs was in the house.'
Margaret wondered whether she had saved his life too, in his ownestimation or in that of her maid, and while she pondered the questionshe buttered her nose industriously.
Alphonsine took a commercial view of the case.
'If Madame would appear three times more in New York, before sailing,the manager would give ten thousand francs a night,' she observed.
Margaret said nothing to this, but she thought it would be amusing toshow herself to an admiring public in her present condition.
'Madame is now a heroine,' continued Alphonsine, behind her. 'Madamecan ask anything she pleases. Several milliardaires will now offer tomarry Madame.'
'Alphonsine,' answered Margaret, 'you have no sense.'
The maid smiled, knowing that her mistress could not see even thereflection of the smile in the glass; but she said nothing.
'No sense,' Margaret repeated, with conviction. 'None at all'
The maid allowed a few seconds to pass before she spoke again.
'Or if Madame would accept to sing in one or two private houses in NewYork, we could ask a very great price, more than the manager wouldgive.'
'It is certain,' said Alphonsine. 'At the French ball to which Madamekindly allowed me to go, the valet of Mr. Van Torp approached me.'
'Indeed!' exclaimed Cordova absently. 'How very disagreeable!'
'I see that Madame is not listening,' said Alphonsine, taking offence.
What she said was so true that Margaret did not answer at all.Besides, the buttering process was finished, and it was time for thehot water. She went to the ugly stationary washstand and bent over it,while the maid kept her hair from her face. Alphonsine spoke againwhen she was sure that her mistress could not possibly answer her.
'Mr. Van Torp's valet asked me whether I thought Madame would bewilling to sing in church, at the wedding, the day after to-morrow,'she said, holding the Primadonna's back hair firmly.
The head moved energetically under her hands. Margaret would certai
nlynot sing at Mr. Van Torp's wedding, and she even tried to say so, buther voice only bubbled and sputtered ineffectually through the soapand water.
'I was sure Madame would not,' continued the maid, 'though Mr. VanTorp's valet said that money was no object. He had heard Mr. Van Torpsay that he would give five thousand dollars to have Madame sing athis wedding.'
Margaret did not shake her head this time, nor try to speak, butAlphonsine heard the little impatient tap of her slipper on the woodenfloor. It was not often that the Primadonna showed so much annoyanceat anything; and of late, when she did, the cause had been connectedwith this same Mr. Van Torp. The mere mention of his name irritatedher, and Alphonsine seemed to know it, and to take an inexplicablepleasure in talking about him--about Mr. Rufus Van Torp, formerly ofChicago, but now of New York. He was looked upon as the controllingintellect of the great Nickel Trust; in fact, he was the Nickel Trusthimself, and the other men in it were mere dummies compared with him.He had sailed the uncertain waters of finance for twenty years ormore, and had been nearly shipwrecked more than once, but at the timeof this story he was on the top of the wave; and as his past was evenmore entirely a matter of conjecture than his future, it would beuseless to inquire into the former or to speculate about the latter.Moreover, in these break-neck days no time counts but the present, sofar as reputation goes; good fame itself now resembles righteousnesschiefly because it clothes men as with a garment; and as we have thehighest authority for assuming that charity covers a multitude ofsins, we can hardly be surprised that it should be so generallyused for that purpose. Rufus Van Torp's charities were notorious,aggressive, and profitable. The same sums of money could not havebought as much mingled advertisement and immunity in any other way.
'Of course,' observed Alphonsine, seeing that Margaret would soon beable to speak again, 'money is no object to Madame either!'
This subtle flattery was evidently meant to forestall reproof. ButMargaret was now splashing vigorously, and as both taps were runningthe noise was as loud as that of a small waterfall; possibly she hadnot even heard the maid's last speech.
Some one knocked at the door, and knocked a second time almostdirectly. The Primadonna pushed Alphonsine with her elbow, speakingbeing still impossible, and the woman understood that she was toanswer the summons.
She asked who was knocking, and some one answered.
'It is Mr. Griggs,' said Alphonsine.
'Ask him to wait,' Margaret succeeded in saying.
Alphonsine transmitted the message through the closed door, andlistened for the answer.
'He says that there is a lady dying in the manager's room, who wantsMadame,' said the maid, repeating what she heard.
Margaret stood upright, turned quickly, and crossed the room to thedoor, mopping her face with a towel.
'Who is it?' she asked in an anxious tone.
'I'm Griggs,' said a deep voice. 'Come at once, if you can, for thepoor girl cannot last long.'
'One minute! Don't go away--I'm coming out.'
Alphonsine never lost her head. A theatrical dresser who does is of nouse. She had already brought the wide fur coat Margaret always woreafter singing. In ten seconds the singer was completely clothed init, and as she laid her hand on the lock to let herself out, the maidplaced a dark Russian hood on her head from behind her and took thelong ends twice round her throat.
Mr. Griggs was a large bony man with iron-grey hair, who looked verystrong. He had a sad face and deep-set grey eyes. He led the waywithout speaking, and Cordova walked quickly after him. Alphonsine didnot follow, for she was responsible for the belongings that lay aboutin the dressing-room. The other doors on the women's side, which is onthe stage left and the audience's right at the Opera, were all tightlyclosed. The stage itself was not dark yet, and the carpenters wereputting away the scenery of the last act as methodically as if nothinghad happened.
'Do you know her?' Margaret asked of her companion as they hurriedalong the passage that leads into the house.
'Barely. She is a Miss Bamberger, and she was to have been married theday after to-morrow, poor thing--to a millionaire. I always forget hisname, though I've met him several times.'
'Van Torp?' asked Margaret as they hastened on.
'Yes. That's it--the Nickel Trust man, you know.'
'Yes,' Margaret answered in a low tone. 'I was asked to sing at thewedding.'
They reached the door of the manager's room. The clerks from thebox-office and several other persons employed about the house werewhispering together in the little lobby. They made way for Cordova andlooked with curiosity at Griggs, who was a well-known man of letters.
Schreiermeyer stood at the half-closed inner door, evidently waiting.
'Come in,' he said to Margaret. 'The doctor is there.'
The room was flooded with electric light, and smelt of very strongHavana cigars and brandy. Margaret saw a slight figure in a red silkevening gown, lying at full length on an immense red leathern sofa. Ayoung doctor was kneeling on the floor, bending down to press his earagainst the girl's side; he moved his head continually, listening forthe beating of her heart. Her face was of a type every one knows, andhad a certain half-pathetic prettiness; the features were small, andthe chin was degenerate but delicately modelled. The rather colourlessfair hair was elaborately done; her thin cheeks were dreadfully white,and her thin neck shrank painfully each time she breathed out, thoughit grew smooth and full as she drew in her breath. A short string ofvery large pearls was round her throat, and gleamed in the light asher breathing moved them.
Schreiermeyer did not let Griggs come in, but went out to him, shutthe door and stood with his back to it.
Margaret did not look behind her, but crossed directly to the sofa andleaned over the dying girl, who was conscious and looked at her withinquiring eyes, not recognising her.
'You sent for me,' said the singer gently.
'Are you really Madame Cordova?' asked the girl in a faint tone.
It was as much as she could do to speak at all, and the doctor lookedup to Margaret and raised his hand in a warning gesture, meaning thathis patient should not be allowed to talk. She saw his movement andsmiled faintly, and shook her head.
'No one can save me,' she said to him, quite quietly and distinctly.'Please leave us together, doctor.'
'I am altogether at a loss,' the doctor answered, speaking to Margaretas he rose. 'There are no signs of asphyxia, yet the heart does notrespond to stimulants. I've tried nitro-glycerine--'
'Please, please go away!' begged the girl.
The doctor was a young surgeon from the nearest hospital, and hated toleave his case. He was going to argue the point, but Margaret stoppedhim.
'Go into the next room for a moment, please,' she saidauthoritatively.
He obeyed with a bad grace, and went into the empty office whichadjoined the manager's room, but he left the door open. Margaret kneltdown in his place and took the girl's cold white hand.
'Can he hear?' asked the faint voice.
'Speak low,' Margaret answered. 'What can I do?'
'It is a secret,' said the girl. 'The last I shall ever have, but Imust tell some one before I die. I know about you. I know you are alady, and very good and kind, and I have always admired you so much!'
'You can trust me,' said the singer. 'What is the secret I am to keepfor you?'
'Do you believe in God? I do, but so many people don't nowadays, youknow. Tell me.'
'Yes,' Margaret answered, wondering. 'Yes, I do.'
'Will you promise, by the God you believe in?'
'I promise to keep your secret, so help me God in Heaven,' saidMargaret gravely.
The girl seemed relieved, and closed her eyes for a moment. She was sopale and still that Margaret thought the end had come, but presentlyshe drew breath again and spoke, though it was clear that she had notmuch strength left.
'You must not keep the secret always,' she said. 'You may tell him youknow it. Yes--let him know that you know--if you think it
'Who is he?'
'Mr. Van Torp.'
'Yes?' Margaret bent her ear to the girl's lips and waited.
Again there was a pause of many seconds, and then the voice cameonce more, with a great effort that only produced very faint sounds,scarcely above a whisper.
'He did it.'
That was all. At long intervals the dying girl drew deep breaths,longer and longer, and then no more. Margaret looked anxiously at thestill face for some time, and then straightened herself suddenly.
'Doctor! Doctor!' she cried.
The young man was beside her in an instant. For a full minute therewas no sound in the room, and he bent over the motionless figure.
'I'm afraid I can't do anything,' he said gently, and he rose to hisfeet.
'Is she really dead?' Margaret asked, in an undertone.
'Yes. Failure of the heart, from shock.'
'Is that what you will call it?'
'That is what it is,' said the doctor with a little emphasis ofoffence, as if his science had been doubted. 'You knew her, Isuppose?'
'No. I never saw her before. I will call Schreiermeyer.'
She stood still a moment longer, looking down at the dead face, andshe wondered what it all meant, and why the poor girl had sent forher, and what it was that Mr. Van Torp had done. Then she turned veryslowly and went out.
'Dead, I suppose,' said Schreiermeyer as soon as he saw thePrimadonna's face. 'Her relations won't get here in time.'
Margaret nodded in silence and went on through the lobby.
'The rehearsal is at eleven,' the manager called out after her, in hiswooden voice.
She nodded again, but did not look back. Griggs had waited in orderto take her back to her dressing-room, and the two crossed the stagetogether. It was almost quite dark now, and the carpenters were goneaway.
'Thank you,' Margaret said. 'If you don't care to go all the way backyou can get out by the stage door.'
'Yes. I know the way in this theatre. Before I say good-night, do youmind telling me what the doctor said?'
'He said she died of failure of the heart, from shock. Those were hiswords. Why do you ask?'
'Mere curiosity. I helped to carry her--that is, I carried her myselfto the manager's room, and she begged me to call you, so I came toyour door.'
'It was kind of you. Perhaps it made a difference to her, poor girl.Good-night.'
'Good-night. When do you sail?'
'On Saturday. I sing "Juliet" on Friday night and sail the nextmorning.'
'On the _Leofric_?'
'So do I. We shall cross together.'
'How delightful! I'm so glad! Good-night again.'
Alphonsine was standing at the open door of the dressing-room in thebright light, and Margaret nodded and went in. The maid looked afterthe elderly man till he finally disappeared, and then she went in tooand locked the door after her.
Griggs walked home in the bitter March weather. When he was in NewYork, he lived in rooms on the second floor of an old businessbuilding not far from Fifth Avenue. He was quite alone in the house atnight, and had to walk up the stairs by the help of a little electricpocket-lantern he carried. He let himself into his own door, turnedup the light, slipped off his overcoat and gloves, and went to thewriting-table to get his pipe. That is very often the first thing aman does when he gets home at night.
The old briar pipe he preferred to any other lay on the blotting-paperin the circle where the light was brightest. As he took it a stain onhis right hand caught his eye, and he dropped the pipe to look atit. The blood was dark and was quite dry, and he could not find anyscratch to account for it. It was on the inner side of his right hand,between the thumb and forefinger, and was no larger than an ordinarywatch.
'How very odd!' exclaimed Mr. Griggs aloud; and he turned his handthis way and that under the electric lamp, looking for some smallwound which he supposed must have bled. There was a little more insidehis fingers, and between them, as if it had oozed through and then hadspread over his knuckles.
But he could find nothing to account for it. He was an elderly man whohad lived all over the world and had seen most things, and he was noteasily surprised, but he was puzzled now. Not the least strange thingwas that the stain should be as small as it was and yet so dark. Hecrossed the room again and examined the front of his overcoat with themost minute attention. It was made of a dark frieze, almost black,on which a red stain would have shown very little; but after a verycareful search Griggs was convinced that the blood which had stainedhis hand had not touched the cloth.
He went into his dressing-room and looked at his face in hisshaving-glass, but there was certainly no stain on the weather-beatencheeks or the furrowed forehead.
'How very odd!' he exclaimed a second time.
He washed his hands slowly and carefully, examining them again andagain, for he thought it barely possible that the skin might have beencracked somewhere by the cutting March wind, and might have bled alittle, but he could not find the least sign of such a thing.
When he was finally convinced that he could not account for the stainhe had now washed off, he filled his old pipe thoughtfully and satdown in a big shabby arm-chair beside the table to think over otherquestions more easy of solution. For he was a philosophical man, andwhen he could not understand a matter he was able to put it away in asafe place, to be kept until he got more information about it.
The next morning, amidst the flamboyant accounts of the subterraneanexplosion, and of the heroic conduct of Madame Margarita da Cordova,the famous Primadonna, in checking a dangerous panic at the Opera,all the papers found room for a long paragraph about Miss Ida H.Bamberger, who had died at the theatre in consequence of the shockher nerves had received, and who was to have married the celebratedcapitalist and philanthropist, Mr. Van Torp, only two days later.There were various dramatic and heart-rending accounts of her death,and most of them agreed that she had breathed her last amidst hernearest and dearest, who had been with her all the evening.
But Mr. Griggs read these paragraphs thoughtfully, for he rememberedthat he had found her lying in a heap behind a red baize door whichhis memory could easily identify.
After all, the least misleading notice was the one in the column ofdeaths:--
BAMBERGER.--On Wednesday, of heart-failure from shock, IDA HAMILTON,only child of HANNAH MOON by her former marriage with ISIDOREBAMBERGER. California papers please copy.