Authors: Mary Burchell
Tags: #Singers, #Opera
*Oh, I saw Sophie last night—my godmother, you know—and she remembers your Miss Curtis perfectly. She says she was a pretty, lively little thing with a great sense of fun, and that she had a lovely light soprano voice. Apparently she had lots of admirers '
'Miss Curtis did? I can't believe it! Nowadays she's very quiet and almost mousy. Terribly nice, of course, but '
*My dear girl, this was all about forty years ago, I suppose. We all change a bit in forty years, you know. Though you may not,' he added quite unexpectedly. 'Your facial bone structure is very good.'
'Thank you. But tell me some more about Miss Curtis. She'll be entranced to be remembered like this! She said your godmother couldn't possibly remember her after all these years and all the important people she had met.'
'It isn't always the important people one remembers, Caroline,' said her employer quite seriously. 'Anyway, they were girls together, I suppose, and apparently giggled about their respective beaux in their dressing-rooms. Your Miss Curtis was against Sophie marrying Van KroU. She thought she was only doing it for the money—which of course she was.'
'How do you know?' countered Caroline. 'You weren't even bom then—you said not.'
'Well, that's true. But why else would a lovely girl—and apparently she was a stunner—^marry a man twice her age?'
Terhaps he was very attractive. Some elderly men are.'
*Not this one. Not judging from the photographs.'
Caroline laughed and said that beauty was notoriously in the eye of the beholder. Then she added quite eagerly, 'Will she—^your godmother—^be at the Lucille Duparc recital, as you suggested? I'd really love to meet her after hearing so much about her.'
*Yes, I think she'll be there. I suppose we ought to have tried to get your Miss Curtis a
ticket. But ' he opened the top drawer once
more and took out a now much diminished pack of tickets. Tity—^but I'm afraid all these are answered for twice over. There just are no tickets left.'
'Except with the lady herself,' murmured Caroline absently.
*Well, she's entitled to a few. But how did you know she had some?' he asked curiously.
'She gave one to my cousin Jeremy when she met him casually at a reception.'
'To a casual stranger?—that's naughty. Unless—oh, that's who it was!' An amused smile broke over his face. 'I knew I'd seen him somewhere. Outside the lift, of course, when he told me to mind my own business. So it's your cousin Jeremy who's on waving terms with her, is it?'
'On waving terms?' Caroline found that she disliked the expression intensely, and her tone was sharper than she had intended. 'What do you mean exactly?'
'He was in the restaurant where I took Lucille
to lunch on Saturday, and they waved to each other very cordially, I thought. So she'd given him one of the precious tickets, had she? Fast mover, your cousin Jeremy. But I have to admit he's quite a good-looker in his own way. I didn't notice when we met head-on outside the I Warrenders' apartment. But Lucille is right— I he's almost too handsome for a tenor.' |
*She said—that?' Caroline was divided between gratification on behalf of Jeremy and a sort of dismay for which she was quite unable to account. 'So you discussed Jeremy?'
'I wouldn't put it quite like that. She said, "You see that dark-eyed Adonis over there? He's a tenor in addition to everything else. It doesn't seen fair, does it?" And I just murmured something noncommittal, having quite enough troubles of my own without having unknown tenors wished on to me.—Let me see, where were we?'
Caroline glanced down at her notebook, read back the last paragraph with commendable accuracy, and thought, 'I'll ask Jeremy about Lucille Duparc'
But she knew suddenly that she would not. |
During the next two days Jeremy also made no '^ reference to Lucille. But he went about looking rather pleased about something, and Caroline heard him putting in a lot of practice on a French song he had not previously tried over.
'I never heard you sing that before,' she said casually. 'It suits your voice well.'
'Think so?' He smiled as though gratified. 'I rather thought so too.'
'What made you choose it?'
There was a second's hesitation, then he said.
'Someone suggested it to me, and I thought I'd have a bash at it.'
And somehow she simply could not make herself ask who had made the suggestion. It would have been such a natural question only a few days ago. Now his once open manner had become slightly veiled as though a faint cloud had risen between them.
Caroline felt dismayed out of all proportion to the little incident, and her disquiet deepened when, on the night of the concert, he left the house half an hour before she did, without comment.
*He's going to get flowers for her, I expect,' observed Aunt Hilda complacently. 'It's his way of acknowledging her kindness in giving him a ticket. He's got something rather extravagant in mind, I imagine—^he borrowed five pounds.' But she said that indulgently.
Caroline made some noncommittal reply and presently took herself off to the concert, feeling in some way rather out of things.
Although it was Lucille Duparc's first London recital she already had a considerable reputation based on her gramophone records, and when Caroline arrived at the hall the vestibule was already crowded, with at least three major critics conspicuous in the throng.
One or two cronies from the Covent Garden amphitheatre and the Festival Hall greeted her, but she managed not to become involved in any long conversations. Instead, she went almost straight to her seat, telling herself that she would rather be left on her own at the moment.
This was not, however, strictly true. She
longed for some contact with Jeremy—some confidential word perhaps about his offering to the heroine of the evening—^and when she saw him come in and take his seat on the other side of the hall she felt chilled by the rather indifferent wave which was all he bestowed upon her.
Her thoughts were still deeply engaged with Jeremy when she had to stand to allow a tall, elegant woman to pass to the seat beyond hers, and was a good deal startled to be greeted with,
'You must be Ken's secretary, Caroline Bagshot.'
'Why, yes, I am.—Oh, and you must be the famous Sophie Lander,' exclaimed Caroline. 'At least—I'm sorry! I mean Mrs Van Kroll, of course.'
'Don't apologise. I haven't been called Sophie Lander for so long. It's somehow rather touching to hear it again. And now I must have a good look
at you ' the older woman turned towards
Caroline with uninhibited curiosity. 'Ken says your eyes are exactly the same colour as mine.'
'Really? But does he know the colour of my eyes?' Caroline was amused and faintly put out. 'We are usually too busy to *
'Dear child, no man is ever too busy to notice a woman's eyes if they're worth noticing! And I see yours are. Ken is right—they're the same shade of violet blue as mine. It's very rare, you know,' Sophie Van Kroll added complacently.
'Is it?' Caroline was amused, but took the opportimity to look with some frankness at her employer's legendary godmother. Immediately she was aware of a sort of pleasurable shock. For even now—at seventy or whatever it was—Mrs
Van Kroll was one of the most beautiful women she had ever seen.
'If Mr Marshall was right about me. Miss Curtis was right about you,' she exclaimed.
*In what way?'
*She said that when you came on the stage or into a room no one noticed anyone else.'
'Oh, that was years ago.' The older woman laughed and shrugged. 'And Naomi was always rather prejudiced. Though I was very good-looking in my youth,' she added impersonally and entirely without conceit. 'Now tell me something about Naomi. How is she these days?'
So Caroline explained about her connection with Miss Curtis and her own singing lessons, and Mrs Van Kroll said, 'I must arrange to see her again. Just to talk about her makes me feel young and silly and irresponsible again.'
Caroline found it difficult to imagine Miss Curtis yoimg and silly and irresponsible, but before she could say so, her companion glanced down at her programme and asked, 'Have you heard this woman?'
'No. Have you?'
'Yes. Once or twice in Paris.' Mrs Van Kroll looked critically at the photograjph on the cover of the programme. A very attractive photograph of a rather appealing face. And she observed dispassionately. 'She's not a bit like that really.'
'No?' Caroline looked intrigued and amused. 'What is she like then?'
'Like one of those gorgeous cats who always get top rating at a cat show, because they're much to cute to sharpen their claws on any of the judges until the prizes have been awarded.'
*0-oh! That sounds rather dangerous.'
*She is dangerous, my dear. That sort always is. I wouldn't have her set sights on any man I was fond of—Ken, for instance,' she added reflectively as she saw her godson coming up the gangway. 'But I shall probably kiss her afterwards in the green room,' she admitted without shame. *One does, you know.'
There was no time for Caroline to make any sort of reply to that, even if she could have thought of one. A second later her employer slipped into his seat on the other side of his godmother and Lucille Duparc made her entrance on to the platform.
The recital was destined for success from the first number, Caroline admitted to herself without reservation. The voice was warm and of an intensely individual quality, and Lucille Duparc used it with consummate skill and artistry. In contrast to that appealing manner of hers the luscious, sexy soimd was extraordinarily piquant. Then, in a group of Spanish songs, just before the interval, she suddenly changed her whole manner, almost frightening Caroline with the intensity of her feeling and purpose, and bringing half the delighted audience to their feet.
'She must be tremendously effective on the operatic stage,' Caroline said to her employer, fascinated in spite of herself.
'Oh, she is,' he replied with a satisfied smile. 'Even if my godmother doesn't like her,' he added, with a faintly provocative glance at Mrs Van KroU.
'I, my dear?' She opened those remarkable eyes in innocent surprise. 'She's a very fine artist. What makes you think I don't like her?'
*A certain pricking of my thumbs which is infallible/ he retorted, at which she gave him a quite heavenly smile and said,
'I shall go backstage afterwards to express my fervent admiration. And Caroline will come with me, won't you, dear?'
'If you'd like me to.' Caroline gave an interrogative glance at her employer, who nodded his assent.
During the interval she kept on wishing that Jeremy would come across to her and exchange at least a few words of friendly comment, but he made no move to do so. And just as she had made up her mind to take the initiative and go to him the audience began streaming back into the hall, and the interval was obviously over.
The second half of the programme was as remarkable—and as well received—as the first, Caroline finding herself almost completely under Lucille Duparc's spell by the end. Then, when all the encores had been cheered, and all the flowers presented and acknowledged with grateful, wide-eyed surprise, Caroline went round backstage with Mrs Van Kroll, her employer having slipped away ahead of them just before the last encore.
The green room was crowded and at first it was difficult to see Lucille for the admirers milhng round her. But because of her extra height Caroline's companion evidently saw rather more than she did. For she suddenly said softly, 'No— I don't think I need worry about Ken.'
^ Worry about him?' It had never occurred to Caroline that anyone need worry about her employer. To the best of her belief he was
singularly well equipped to look after himself, and she said as much.
'Oh, you never know,' was the knowledgeable reply. 'Most men are fools at one time or another. But at the moment it's that good-looking yoimg man she has in view. Lean a little this way. You can't see him where you are.'
So Caroline leaned a little towards Mrs Van KroU, and gave a slight gasp. For the young man at whom Lucille Duparc was smiling with such compelling charm was Jeremy.
'You see?' Her companion gave a pitying shrug.
'Yes—I see,' Caroline replied, and was suddenly aware of a stab of pain that was almost physical. A pain which she bewilderedly identified as raging jealousy.
It was late when Caroline reached home after the concert. Not that she had been included in any celebration supper, of course. Nor that there had been even so much as a cup of coffee and a sandwich with Jeremy, which was their usual ending to an evening after attending the same concert.
In the green room she had been briefly presented to the star of the evening by Kennedy Marshall as 'my invaluable secretary', while Jeremy stood by smiling but making no attempt to claim any connection with her. After that there was nothing to do but bid goodnight to Airs Van KroU (her employer had already turned away) and make her departure through die now more or less empty hall.
On the whole, Caroline tended not to join the throng waiting at the stage door after a performance, but on this occasion she did so, though she kept well to the back of the crowd. Jeremy would almost certainly come out this way, she argued, and then they would go home together, discussing the evening—as they had discussed so many evenings in their time—and everything would be as it had always been. The passionate emotion which had shaken her earlier would fade into normality.
But it had not been like that at all. She had had to wait quite a long time, alternately chilled by
the slight wind which had sprung up and hot with a sort of shame that she should be standing there waiting—for what?
At last Jeremy came out. But Lucille came out with him. She even handed him some of her flowers, saying, *Hold those for me, darling,' while she signed some eagerly proffered programmes. Then he and she entered a large waiting car and drove away, while Caroline fled from the scene before her employer and his godmother could come out and find her waiting there, ignored and ashamed.