Authors: Mary Burchell
Tags: #Singers, #Opera
Caroline stirred uneasily and her employer went on, 'What's that you say?—^No, of course I won't. May I tell her the gist of what you've said? With the usual warnings about high hopes, of course. Yes, naturally I'll keep an eye on her. Have you any idea who her teacher is?—Good God, you don't say!' Then he laughed and, after a few more remarks, he replaced the receiver and looked across at Caroline.
'You never told me you sang,' he said after a slight pause.
'I didn't think it was important—or would interest you.'
'Didn't you really?' He looked down at what he had written and after a moment Caroline asked diffidently,
'What did Sir Oscar say about Jeremy?—if it's not confidential.'
'No, it's not confidential. Warrender said he's a good promising lad, with an excellent voice, and that with hard work and a bit of luck he should make a satisfactory career, provided his hopes
aren't too high. But then he went on '
Kennedy Marshall consulted the notes he had made '—he went on to say, "But it's the girl who interests me."'
'Me?' gasped Caroline.
'You. He said, "I may be mistaken, though I
seldom am " a typical bit of Warrender
arrogance, of course—"but I think that girl is something quite out of the ordinary. I haven't heard such potential for a long time." '
There was quite a silence, then Caroline said, 'I don't think I can believe that.'
'True, all the same. I mean—it's true that Warrender said it. Did it never occur to you that you had a voice of some quality?'
'Occasionally—yes. I mean, I sometimes wondered. But it was Jeremy's voice that mattered.'
^Are you in love with Jeremy?'
'No,' said Caroline quickly, then blushed. 'What did Sir Oscar mean by "potential", do you think?'
'Primarily the voice, of course, and then the way you use it, your attitude to what you're singing, and possibly your projection of whatever character you're depicting. Have you had any stage training, Caroline?'
'No.' She shook her head. 'Not even amateur experience. I suppose I do identify with the character. Last night it was Marguerite in "Faust". But I hadn't thought about any
dramatic powers. Had you?—In connection with me, I mean.'
*Not until half an hour ago. But when you began to berate me and call me names it did rather suggest Lady Macbeth on the warpath.'
She gave a vexed little laugh and said, 'Now you're just teasing me, aren't you?'
*Not entirely. Your voice deepened and darkened as I'd never heard it do before. And when you said that nasty bit about stealing the petty cash I wouldn't have been surprised to see you produce a dagger.'
'I'm sorry. I've said I'm sorry.'
*A11 right, don't apologise again. The whole incident was most revealing and rather refreshing,' he assured her. *You're usually so quiet and self-contained. I don't think I've ever come across anyone before who can bank down the inner fires so effectively. It's possible Warrender really did release some hidden acting talent yesterday evening. But weren't you afraid of him? Most people are.'
*Of Sir Oscar?—oh, no.'
'Only of me?'
'Well, yes. Sometimes—^when you lose your temper.'
'I must tell Warrender that,' declared her employer with some satisfaction. 'To be more intimidating than Oscar Warrender is quite an achievement! Now tell me something about your teacher. She's some old girl from the great days of musical comedy, according to Warrender.'
'That isn't the way I would describe her myself,' replied Caroline rather repressively. 'Her name is Miss Curtis—Naomi Curtis. She zvas in
musical comedy years ago—^yes. And Sir Oscar said I was to tell her from him that she's obviously a very good teacher indeed. I'll do so tomorrow when I go for my usual Saturday lesson. She'll be delighted.'
'Could I come and hear your lesson?' Kennedy looked both amused and curious. But then, before she could say she very much doubted if Miss Curtis would agree to that, he added, 'No—I forgot—I can't. I'm taking our Lucille Duparc to lunch.'
'Again?' Caroline said that without thinking, but at a slight change in his expression she amended that hastily with, 'Not that it's my business, of course!'
'No, it isn't, is it?' he agreed drily. But, perhaps realising that he had sounded unnecessarily touchy, he reverted to the subject of her teacher and said thoughtfully, 'Naomi Curtis? The name doesn't ring a bell with me. What did she play?'
'I have no idea. It was long before my time— and yours too, I imagine. Anyway, she didn't have star roles. Hers wasn't that kind of voice. Oddly enough, what she recalls with the greatest pride is some role she had in a straight play. Quite a secondary one dramatically, I gather, but it required someone who could sing with great taste and musicality during the course of the action.'
'What was the play called?'
'I'm afraid I can't remember that.' Caroline shook her head regretfully. 'But I do remember the name of the woman who played the leading role, because Miss Curtis thought the world of her. The name was Sophie Lander.'
He gave her an odd sort of glance at that and asked drily, 'What made you pick that name out of the hat, for heaven's sake?'
Caroline looked astonished.
*It was the name Miss Curtis mentioned. It doesn't mean a thing to me. Why should it?'
'Sophie Lander was the stage name of my legendary godmother before she married old Van KrolL'
'Your ? Oh, then you really have a
godmother? I didn't quite believe you when you mentioned her the other day. And even now the word "legendary" seems appropriate.' Caroline laughed outright. 'You don't strike one as anyone's godchild, if I may say so.'
He laughed too then, though rather reluctantly, but he asked with real curiosity. 'What did your Miss Curtis say about her? Was she a good actress? I never saw her on the stage myself. She'd left and married Van Kroll before I was bom.'
Caroline considered the question before saying slowly, 'I asked Miss Curtis that once and she made an odd reply. She said, "Not really—^no. She didn't need to be. When she came on to the stage or into a room you didn't notice anyone else.'"
Kennedy's laugh was quite uninhibited that time and he said, 'That's my godmother all right! As a matter of fact, she may be coming to Lucille's recital. If she does I'll introduce you to each other. She's in about the same age group as your Miss Curtis—but even so I think you'll see
what I mean. And now ' he pushed a pile of
correspondence towards her'—take those and
attend to them. They're routine stuff. You know as well as I do what's required.'
Then he dismissed her with a peremptory wave of his hand, as though he thought they had already wasted enough time on matters of secondary importance.
Among those he evidently included Caroline and her singing capabilities, whatever Oscar Warrender might have said about her, and on the whole Caroline was now ready to agree with him.
After all, as she had said, it was Jeremy's career with which they were all concerned. She wished he hadn't asked if she were in love with Jeremy, and still more did she wish she had not blushed at the question. But no one before had ever asked her to define her feelings where Jeremy was concerned. Of course she loved him. His hopes were her hopes; his ambitions, her ambitions. When she looked into the future Jeremy was always there. He had been part of her life—the most important part of it—for as long as she could remember. A future without him' was simply imthinkable.
That being so, she felt presumptuous—even oddly embarrassed—at the recollection of Warrender's complimentary words about herself. As though she were more interesting vocally than Jeremy! It just wouldn't do.
*I can't tell Jeremy what Sir Oscar said,' she decided. *I can't tell anyone —except perhaps Miss Curtis.'
And as she thought about Miss Curtis and all that she owed to her, Caroline made one cast-iron resolution. She would pay her much more generously for her lessons in future—out of the
unexpectedly lavish reward which Anthea had given her for the return of the famous ring.
This inevitably provoked some argument with Aunt Hilda, who was always interested in matters of finance. She had evidently been thinking over the question of the reward and, on Caroline's return that evening, she asked outright if she had yet received it and how much it was.
Rather reluctantly Caroline told her.
'Well, that was very generous, I must say!' was the approving comment. 'What are you going to do with all that money? It's a very pleasant sort of subject for speculation, isn't it?'
Caroline said that it was.
'There'll be a nice present for you and for Jeremy, of course—^and myself,' said Caroline, with an air of giving the matter great thought. 'Then I'll bank the rest and set some aside for my lessons with Miss Curtis. I've always felt that I don't pay her enough.'
'Miss Curtis? Why, Caroline, what an odd idea!' exclaimed Aunt Hilda. 'There's nothing very serious about those lessons. It isn't as though they were real professional lessons, like Jeremy's. She's just a nice elderly lady making a little bit extra while pleasing you. But don't get exaggerated ideas about yourself, dear, just because we really do happen to have a professional singer in the family. And don't start throwing your money about just because Lady Warrender was generous.'
Sorely tempted to blurt out what Sir Oscar had said about herself, Caroline held her breath and silently counted ten. And fortimately at that moment Jeremy came in—in high good himiour.
*You won't believe it!' He kissed his mother— and Caroline too, which was rather unusual and indicated that he was feeling specially happy and expansive. 'But this seems to be our week for hobnobbing with the great, Carrie. You've heard of the French singer Lucille Duparc, I suppose?'
*Of course. We represent her.'
'Well, I met her today.'
'You met her?—Where?'
'At the French Cultural Institute. There was a midday reception for her, and some of us from the College were invited. So I went along, and got talking with her—she's charmingly easy to talk to, not a bit inclined to give herself airs—and I found myself telling her about the Warrender audition. She seemed genuinely interested, and when I told her I sang Faust's aria from the Garden Scene for him, she laughed—she has an enchanting laugh—and said maybe one day she'd sing Marguerite to my Faust. I'm going to her recital on Thursday.'
'You are? But I doubt if you'll get a ticket now,' Caroline told him regretfully. 'I myself '
'Oh, that's all right. She gave me a ticket—on the spot,' Jeremy said casually. 'And she said I was to come round and see her afterwards. Of course there'll be dozens of people milling
around, but—I don't know ' he smiled
reminiscently'—I think she'll remember me all right. We got on well, somehow. We laughed a lot. Did I tell you she has a lovely laugh?'
'Yes, you did,' said Caroline, and felt imac-countably depressed.
She had been right to decide not to mention
anything Sir Oscar had said about her inconsiderable self. Perhaps even Miss Curtis would take it all casually, when it came to the point.
Miss Curtis, however, provided no such disappointment the next morning. She flushed with pleasure when Caroline reported the great conductor's comment on her own teaching powers.
*Why, Caroline,' she exclaimed, *you must have been in splendid form to make that impression! Thank you for doing me such credit, dear. Oscar Warrender to say I was a good teacher! Just fancy that!'
*A very good teacher was what he said,' amended Caroline. *And then later—though I'm not taking this too seriously—^he said to my boss on the phone that I—I had very unusual potential.'
'So you have, my dear,' Miss Curtis said warmly. 'I've always thought so—only you're too much under the shadow of that cousin of yours. What did your boss—^your employer—say to that?'
'I think he was as surprised as I was,' Caroline confessed. 'But he asked about you and was impressed. Oh, and—I know this sounds a bit as though I'm making it up but, you know, there are some occasions when surprises seem to pile on each other in the strangest way—what impressed him most was that you'd known Sophie Lander. She's his godmother.'
'His godmother? She can't be!'
'Yes, she is. Though I do agree it seems such an improbable relationship for a rather aggressive businessman. He never saw her on the stage
himself because she retired before he was bom. She must be very old.''
*No older than I am,' replied Miss Curtis primly. 'She was hardly thirty when she retired. She married a Dutch millionaire—at least, we all thought he was a millionaire. Anyway, he was immensely rich and insisted on her leaving the stage on her marriage. Such a pity, because he didn't live more than about a year after that. But at least he left her all his money—which is always a help.'
'She could have gone back to the stage then if she'd wanted to, couldn't she?' said Caroline curiously.
'I suppose she could—but she never did. I don't think the stage meant much to her. I mean, she wasn't a dedicated artist or anything like that. Fancy her being anybody's godmother!' Miss Curtis laughed reminiscently. 'Well, I suppose if you're the widow of a millionaire parents tend to think it would be nice to have you take an interest in their offspring.'
*I suppose they do,' agreed Caroline with a laugh. Then she added tentatively, 'I just might be meeting her at a concert on Thursday. If I do shall I mention you to her?'
'If you like.' Again Miss Curtis gave that reminiscent little laugh. 'We got on very well when we were young. She used to call me into her dressing-room and we used to laugh and gossip together. That was how I knew about Van Kroll before anyone else did. But of course it's all years and years ago. She wouldn't remember me now. Not after all the important people she would have known since.'
But Miss Curtis was quite wrong.
On the following Tuesday, in the middle of some important dictation, Kennedy Marshall said,