Read On wings of song Online

Authors: Mary Burchell

Tags: #Singers, #Opera

On wings of song (4 page)

'Oh—oh, thank you very much!' Caroline laughed in a pleased way and coloured. 'I'll tell her, certainly. She'll be very flattered.'

*And now ' Warrender glanced at his watch

*—I'm afraid I must send you away. I'm expecting another visitor. Leave your names and your addresses '

'We have the same address,' interjected Caroline happily. *I live with my aunt, who's Jeremy's mother,' she added decorously.

'I see.' Warrender smiled slightly. 'Well, give the particulars to my wife.' Then he turned again to Jeremy and said, 'I make no specific promises, you understand. But I'll keep you in mind for anything suitable that may come my way. It may be very small at first '

'I don't mind. I don't mind a bit!' Jeremy assured him, and he looked in a hero-worshipping way after the famous conductor as he left the room.

Meanwhile Caroline carefully supplied Lady Warrender with a note of Jeremy's name and their address and, to her surprise, received an envelope in return.

'What's this?' She turned it over, genuinely mystified.

'That's your real reward, my dear. The audition was an extra,' Anthea told her with a smile. Then, before Caroline could make any further comment, she added, 'Janet will see you out,' and indicated a discreet-looking maid who was already waiting at the door.

'Oh—thank you ' There was no time to

say anything further and, aware that she was being tactfully dismissed without a chance to argue about the reward, Caroline followed Jeremy out into the hall, and a moment later the door of the apartment closed behind them.

'Oh, Jeremy ' she hugged his arm as they

stood waiting for the lift together, 'it worked! I can't beheve it! It worked! Aren't you thrilled?'

*Yes. Aren't you?'

'On your behalf—of course.'

'What about on your own behalf? You got a Warrender audition too, didn't you?'

'Well—yes.' It occurred to her that there was a rather curious note in his voice, and she added anxiously. 'You didn't mind my singing too, did you? I mean—it was a duet. You had to have a soprano too, otherwise he wouldn't have realised how well you handle the rest of that scene.'

'But she was prepared to sing the Marguerite if you hadn't jumped in. Didn't you realise that?'

'Oh, Jerry, I'm so sorry! Did you very much want to sing with her?'

'What ambitious tenor wouldn't?' he retorted with a vexed laugh. 'It's the sort of chance that doesn't come twice in a lifetime.' And he pushed the bell to summon the lift with rather more force than was necessary. 'Imagine being able to say one had sung with Anthea Warrender!'

'I'm so sorry,' Caroline said again, overwhelmed with remorse, and she looked so utterly contrite, as she had sometimes when she was a child, that he said, 'It doesn't matter.'

But as they stood there in silence waiting for the lift to come, she knew it did matter. And she could think of nothing to say which would ease the situation.

'This thing must have gone out of order,' Jeremy muttered crossly, and pushed the bell again.

*It's coming now,' she said pacifically as they heard the discreet purr of the lift ascending.

Then with a gentle click it arrived at their floor, the door slid smoothly open, and out stepped Kennedy Marshall.

CHAPTER TWO

For a moment Caroline and her employer confronted each other in stunned silence. Then Kennedy Marshall asked grimly,

*And what are you doing here, may I ask?*

*Well, I ' she swallowed, groped for some

easy explanation and found none. Then, characteristically, Jeremy came to her rescue.

'I don't know who you are,' he said pleasantly, *but I'll thank you not to take that tone to my cousin. It's not your business what we're doing here or anywhere else, but since you're obviously the inquisitive type, I don't mind telling you. I've just been auditioning for Sir Oscar Warrender. By my cousin's arrangement,' he added grandly, as he ushered Caroline into the lift before him. Then the door closed and they were borne downwards.

*Who was that impertinent oaf, for heaven's sake?' he asked as they stepped out at the ground floor.

'That,' replied Caroline despairingly, 'was my boss.' At which Jeremy whistled and then laughed aloud.

'Well, he has no right to dictate what you do out of office hours,' he said. 'You should keep him in better order.'

'He isn't the kind to keep in order,' Caroline replied with a sigh. 'That's why I never got him round to auditioning you, I suppose.'

'Auditioning me? —Oh, yes, of course that was once the idea, wasn't it?' Jeremy recalled casually. *Well, we don't need him any more. We have Oscar Warrender behind us.'

*Oh, Jeremy, not exactly,' Caroline warned him with a protesting laugh, for she saw that her cousin's hopes were taking off into very high altitudes after the encouraging scene with Sir Oscar. 'He said he couldn't guarantee anything, remember. Only that '

*I reckon he's the kind of man who's usually better than his word. Not the kind who promises the earth and then forgets your existence the moment you go out of the door.'

*Well, I think I agree there,' Caroline admitted. *And of course you did make a splendid showing, Jerry. If only I hadn't barged in at the wrong moment,' she added remorsefully.

*Forget it—forget it,' Jeremy advised her good humouredly. ^Fve forgotten it already. I was just disappointed for a moment not to have sung with Anthea Warrender. But I'll do that one day on my own merits, I promise you. And Warrender shall conduct for us. You'll see! So smile, Carrie dear, and don't let it be said that that sour-faced boss of yours spoiled our great evening.'

She smiled then, of course, and tried to stifle the anxiety in her heart whenever she thought of facing Kennedy Marshall the next morning.

Naturally Aimt Hilda was full of congratulations on learning how the audition had gone. She was not surprised, she emphasised, that Sir Oscar Warrender had realised Jeremy's value. He was, after all, supposed to have excellent judgment. But she was gratified that someone had seen the

light at last. And by the end of the evening she was pretty well deciding whom she would invite to accompany her to Covent Garden when Jeremy made his debut there.

*And you say you also sang for Sir Oscar, Caroline? Wasn't that putting yourself forward a bit, dear? I mean—it was Jeremy's evening, wasn't it? We don't want Sir Oscar to think we expect him to spend his time on just anybody, do we?'

*It was all right. Mother,' Jeremy assured her. *He didn't mind. He was in a rather—indulgent mood, I suppose one might say. It must be rare with him. Anyway, Caroline filled in quite usefully in the "Faust" duet. We needed someone for that, you know.'

Caroline thought it was generous of him not to mention that Anthea Warrender herself might have been willing to *fill in quite usefully' if she had not put herself forward, as Aunt Hilda ejcpressed it. So she exchanged a grateful smile with her cousin and felt happy again, until she thought about the morrow.

It was all very well for Jeremy to be iighthearted about the incident, even to find an element of comedy in it. He was not the one who would have to face Mr Kennedy Marshall. Nor need he entertain any feelings of guilt. It was not he who had worked out the elaborate plot by which Sir Oscar Warrender (that distinguished client of her employer) had been induced to grant the all-important audition.

That it had been on behalf of someone other than herself really did not exonerate Caroline. Euphoric about the finding of Anthea

Warrender's ring, she had deliberately used her official position to do something of which she knew her employer would disapprove.

'If he'd been more helpful, more co-operative about giving Jeremy a break, it need not have happened,' she told herself, trying to shift some of the responsibility from her own shoulders to his. But she knew she was using specious arguments, and she despised herself for doing so.

On the way to the office next moining she tried to buttress her courage by reminding herself that Jeremy was right in saying it was not Kennedy Marshall's business what she did outside office hours. But she knew the issue was not quite so simple as that. She had been—she supposed 'devious' was the word—in her planning of the Warrender audition. That was how her employer would see it, for, whatever his faults might be, he was, she knew, uncompromisingly straight in his dealings with both clients and staff.

'Well, I shall soon know,' she admitted with a grimace as she hung up her coat in her office and lifted the cover from her machine.

She was all too right. For before she had sat down at her desk his bell summoned her and, swallowing a nervous lump in her throat, she picked up her shorthand notebook and went across to his office.

'You needn't bother with that notebook,' he told her without looking up. 'You're fired.'

'I'm—what?'

'You're fired. You understand the meaning of that word, I suppose?'

'Yes, I do, you mean bully. And you ought to

be ashamed to use it to me!' Caroline was astounded to hear herself say.

*What did you call me?' He looked up then, leaned back in his chair and regarded her with an astonishment at least equal to her own.

'I called you a mean bully, and I meant it.' She was trembling now but, oddly enough, her voice was quite steady and had taken on a deep, authoritative tone. 'How dare you speak to me as though I'd stolen the petty cash? I had every right to arrange an audition with Oscar Warrender for my cousin if I chose to do so. It was out of office hours and had absolutely nothing to do with you!'

'Aren't you over-simplifying the issue?' he suggested with dangerous calm. 'It certainly had something to do with me. You were a member of my staff. A trusted member of my staff until yesterday,' he added, which made her wince. 'I'd taken you into my confidence about the necessity for tact and diplomacy over the handling of the recent merger and the important clients involved. Of those clients I suppose Warrender and his wife were about the most important. When this silly business about Anthea's ring happened '

'It was not silly,' Caroline interrupted coldly. 'What you mean is that you were peeved because you had no part in it.'

There was another moment of surprised silence, and then he said, 'I don't think I know you in this mood.'

'I don't think I know myself,' she responded imhappily, and passed her hands over her face in a singularly expressive gesture of bewilderment and distress.

*Sit down,' he growled, and she dropped into her usual chair beside his desk, still clutching the notebook he had told her she would no longer require.

'Now ' he leant forward, his hands clasped

in front of him on the desk, those frighteningly penetrating grey eyes fully upon her'—are you going to tell me you feel totally guiltless about the way you've behaved in this business?'

Caroline looked back at him, and then her glance fell.

'No,' she said in a much smaller voice. 'I would much rather have told you what I was going to do—but then you wouldn't have let me do it, would you?' Then, as he didn't answer that, she went on, 'I hadn't really worked it all out at first. It was you yourself who gave me the idea.'

'/ did?'

She nodded. 'When you knew I was going to return the ring in person, you observed in a nasty, snide sort of way, "Don't try to foist that cousin of yours on Warrender, of all people." '

There was a short silence, then he said, as though he were making a not altogether welcome discovery, 'You don't much like me, do you?'

She looked away from him, but then felt compelled to look back again.

'As a matter of fact I do—^usually,' she replied reluctantly. And at that he laughed suddenly, and she thought how much it changed him and how until that moment it had never occurred to her that his laugh and his smile showed more in his eyes than in any other feature.

'Even though I'm a mean bully?' he enquired.

Caroline hesitated again and then said. 'Do you want me to take that back?'

'I think I do rather.'

*Then you must also take back the terms of my dismissal,' she told him firmly.

It was he who hesitated then until, prompted by something she could not quite define, she held out her hand to him across the desk, and he took it—reluctantly at first and then in an almost painful grip.

'Did you want to dictate anything?' she asked, withdrawing her hand after a moment and turning the pages of her notebook as though anxious to retvim to normality.

'No. Tell me instead how the audition went,' he replied. 'Did Warrender hail your cousin as the tenor we've all been waiting for?'

'Not exactly. But why don't you ask him yourself? You might not feel you could trust me to report accurately.'

He gave her a quizzical glance at that, reached for the telephone and then, indicating the other one, said, 'Do you want to listen in on the extension?'

Caroline shook her head, much though she would have liked to hear what passed, and replied, 'No, thank you. If Sir Oscar speaks confidentially to you it wouldn't be right for me to overhear, would it?'

'I see you have your scruples—even if they don't always apply in my case,' he retorted. But he added, 'Stay where you are,' when she made a move to go.

So she stayed, and watched his face as he dialled, greeted Sir Oscar, who evidently replied

in person, and then said, 'I understand you auditioned a young tenor yesterday evening?— No, I don't know him, having met him only briefly.' He grinned across at CaroHne, who flushed as she recalled the scene by the lift. *Do you mind telling me what you thought of him?'

There was a pause while presumably Warrender gave his opinion. Then Kennedy Marshall said,

*Just so—just so. What did you say?—Oh, the girl who was with him? Yes, I know her better.' Then there was quite a long pause and he began to scribble something on the pad in front of him. *Are you sure?—Well, no, of course, I know one never can be quite sure. It's just that you surprise me. Yes, I know her very well. As a matter of fact she's my secretary, and is sitting in front of me at the moment.'

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