Authors: Mary Burchell
Tags: #Singers, #Opera
She walked home, though she could hardly have said why. It was a long way, and there was a perfectly convenient bus if she had cared to take it. But she could not have sat still in any bus. She had to move —and fast, in some desperate attempt to outdistance her own thoughts. But there was no way of doing that.
*It's absurd!' she told herself. *Why ever shouldn't Jeremy go out to supper with another woman? It's a wonderful experience for him—^a struggling singer—to go with a celebrated artist. Any young man would have jumped at the chance.'
But that was not the whole of it, and well she knew it. Until tonight Jeremy and she had shared almost every experience connected with his musical development—right from the first time when as a child she had listened entranced to his practising, until the magical, undreamt-of excitement of the Warrender audition which had seemed to open up fresh vistas of hope and joy.
It would have been ungenerous to dwell on the fact that it was she alone who had engineered that
last experience for him, and she resolutely refused to do so. She had been so happy to offer him that glorious chance. In all her life she had never been happier than when she rushed into the house and told him that Warrender had agreed to hear him.
'I didn't want anything in return. Not a thing. It was so wonderful just to give him joy. Only—
only ' two big hot tears suddenly ran down
her cheeks and she caught her breath on a sob *—if only he'd acknowledged me this evening! Just said, "This is my cousin Caroline." Oh, it's silly to mind, but I do mind. I do—I do! Maybe it's ungenerous of me, but I w-wanted him to say, "This is my cousin Caroline.'"
Yet what young man was going to drag cousins into the picture when a dazzling Lucille Duparc was calling him 'darling' and asking him to hold some of her floral tributes?
'It isn't as though there's anything specially interesting or exciting about mey she thought dejectedly. 'I'm ordinary—that's what it is. I'm ordinary. No Stardust about me. Cousins don't rate much in the Stardust league. Except '
And then she stopped dead, not a himdred yards from her own front door. For what was it that Oscar Warrender had said about her, if her employer had reported correctly?
'Ifs the girl who interests me.'
Also something about her being 'out of the ordinary' with 'remarkable potential'.
Her footsteps, which had been dragging wearily, suddenly quickened, and she reached the house almost at a run.
Predictably Aunt Hilda called out, 'Is that you.
Caroline?' as soon as she stepped into the hall, but her voice came rather sleepily from her bedroom, and Caroline had only to reply,
'Yes, Aimtie. I'll tell you all about it in the morning.'
'Is Jeremy with you?'
Her throat ached suddenly, but she managed to reply quite steadily, 'No. He—went out to supper with someone. I'll leave him to slip the front door bolt when he comes in. Good night.'
Then she went into the kitchen, helped herself to a glass of milk and a biscuit and stood there sunk in thought while she absently consumed them. After that she went to her own room and, without even taking off her coat, sat down before the dressing table and examined her reflection in the mirror with more intensity than she had ever bestowed on herself before.
/r's the girl who interests me.
But why? Why should Sir Oscar Warrender, who was, by his own cynical admission, pestered by would-be stage performers, be interested in Caroline Bagshot, hitherto little more than an admiring supporter for her cousin Jeremy?
The violet-blue eyes on which Mrs Van Kroll had commented so favourably stared back at her Out of a rather anxious face. Then, quite deliberately, she smiled—^and was surprised to see how subtly that changed her whole appearance.
Still without taking her eyes from the girl reflected back at her, she put up her hands, loosened the chestnut-coloured hair and, with a quick shake of her head, brought the gleaming waves into a softer frame around her face.
'Not bad/ she said aloud. 'Good enough to team up with a voice which could interest Oscar Warrender. It's the voice that matters, not the face.'
But that voice would have to be developed, burnished, brought to full beauty. And—how?— how?
At that moment she heard Jeremy open the front door.
He came straight to her room, knocked softly and asked in a half-whisper, 'Are you asleep, Carrie?'
'Almost.' She gave a realistic little yawn.
'Oh ' He was disappointed, she could hear
that from the tone of his voice. But she didn't care. For the first time in her life she simply did not care that she had disappointed him and brought that note of protest from him.
Then, in the same excited whisper, he said, 'What did you think of Lucille? Wasn't she gorgeous?'
'Absolutely wonderful,' replied Caroline, making a slight face at herself in the mirror. 'We'll have to talk about her tomorrow.' Another yawn.
'Indeed we will,' he agreed. 'Good night.'
'Good night,' she returned. And she went on sitting there smiling faintly at herself in the mirror and thinking, 'I pretended. How odd. I never pretended anything to Jeremy before.'
She continued to pretend the next morning during the hurried breakfast he and she shared. There was little she needed to say, however. All Jeremy wanted was to give an uninterrupted account of the wonderful time he had had at the
supper party the previous evening, and he looked genuinely taken aback when she interrupted drily with,
'I was a little surprised that you didn't introduce me when I came backstage.'
'Introduce you? Wasn't that for your boss to do if he felt it necessary?'
'Not really—^no. He's not related to me, and you are. You were standing by when I said my few words of congratulation. Didn't it even occur to you to say, "This is my cousin Caroline"?'
'Frankly, no. It might have seemed to Lucille that I was trying to include you in the supper party,' he said rather naively.
*I see. Well, tell me some more about this party.'
'I wasn't the only one there, of course. I mean—it wasn't what you might call an intimate affair. But she insisted on my sitting beside her.' Jeremy was back on course again after that slight interruption, and laughed with such transparent satisfaction that she was curiously touched and almost reduced to her old role of absorbed listener.
*It was rather one in the eye for that self-satisfied boss of yours, I imagine. He was there, of course—^with a handsome woman old enough to be his grandmother.'
'His godmother,' amended Caroline. 'Mrs Van Kroll.'
'Was that who it was? No wonder he paid a good deal of attention to her! She's pretty well-heeled, isn't she?'
'I don't know,' said Caroline, coldly and untruthfully. 'But that wouldn't be the only consideration. He isn't at all mercenary.'
*How do you know?' asked Jeremy, not unnaturally.
*I just do know/ she insisted. 'But tell me some more about Lucille Duparc'
So he told her some more about Lucille Duparc, a good deal of it rather repetitious, until she said she must fly or she would be late. On this they parted, he obviously believing that they shared a common admiration for the French soprano.
It promised to be a fairly slack day for Caroline as her employer was making a brief visit to Paris to engineer a couple of important contracts. She dealt rapidly and efficiently with the post, and completed an unfinished task left over from the previous day. Then, after some thought, she deliberately rolled a sheet of paper into her typewriter and began:
'Dear Sir Oscar, I hope you will not think I'm presuming on the kindness you've already shown me, but my employer, Mr Kennedy Marshall, has told me that you spoke well of my vocal potential, so far as you could assess it the other evening.
*My problem is that, apart from my voice teacher, I have no one who can advise me about what I should do to develop further any talents I may possess. Would you be willing to give me the name of someone I might consult for further guidance?
'I should be deeply grateful if you could do so. On the other hand, I should fully understand if you felt that I should take my personal problems to someone less distinguished than yourself. Yours sincerely—Caroline Bagshot.'
She read it over three times, with less satisfaction each time. To battle for Jeremy had become second nature to her. But to battle on her own behalf was something so completely new to her that she found herself in imknown coimtry, with some doubt about every step she took.
If she had not recalled the words, 'It's the girl who interests me,' she would probably have torn up the letter at that point. Instead, she put it into an envelope, addressed it to Sir Oscar Warrender at Killigrew Mansions, and took it with her when she went out to lunch.
Ignoring two postboxes which she passed, she took it in person to the elegant block of flats in St James's and handed it to the porter in the entrance hall. Then she walked rapidly away before the last grain of courage could desert her.
She presumed he would reply—if he replied at all—by post. But, back in the office, the horrid thought came to her that perhaps two short sentences on the telephone might be a more characteristic way of dealing with a presumptuous request from a virtual stranger.
*If only Mr Marshall hadn't rushed off to Paris,' was the rather imfair reflection which followed on that. 'He'd have kept me too busy to do anything so ill-judged as pester Sir Oscar. Putting myself forward^ as Atmt Hilda's horrid phrase has it!'
And then the telephone rang and, with an imsteady hand, she picked up the receiver, already rehearsing her apologies to Sir Oscar.
It was not, however. Sir Oscar who spoke. It was her employer, calling from Paris to request some necessary information. Caroline supplied
this promptly, but there must have been something unusual in her voice, because, having dealt with the matter, he suddenly asked, 'Are you all right?'
'All right?—Yes, of course. Why not?'
*You didn't sound exactly yourself somehow. Must be the phone. Oh, by the way, you made quite a hit with my rather exacting godmother.'
^Did I?' Caroline was inordinately pleased by this much-needed boost to her morale. 'Thank you very much.'
'Don't mention it. It's a pleasure to transmit compliments between two charming women,' he retorted with a laugh. 'It doesn't happen all that often in our world.' And, still laughing, he rang off.
In some way she felt better for having heard his voice, and, since the rest of the afternoon passed without incident, her agitation had quieted by the time she gathered her things together to go home. Then, just as she reached the door, the telephone rang again.
Reluctantly she returned to pick up the receiver once more, and a precise female voice said, 'May I speak to Miss Bagshot, please?'
'This is Miss Bagshot,' replied Caroline, swallowing a slight lump in her throat.
'I have a message from Sir Oscar Warrender,' went on the precise voice. 'If you will come to Killigrew Mansions at six o'clock this evening, he will see you then.'
'Oh, thank you,' gasped Caroline, and then, as her caller rang off, she dropped into her chair, trying to decide if that curt reply, through a second party, meant that she was to receive
valuable information or what might be best described as the complete brush-off.
'No, he wouldn't have bothered to see me if he meant to brush me off/ she decided, after some thought, 'And I daresay Lady Warrender will be there, with her special talent for smoothing over any awkwardness.'
Lady Warrender, however, was not there when Caroline was once more shown into the now familiar studio. Sir Oscar was there alone, sitting at his desk, and although he rose when she came in, his greeting was brief, and he merely indicated the chair directly opposite him before resuming his own seat.
There was a slight silence, and Caroline realised it was being left to her to open the proceedings.
'I hope,' she said diffidently, 'you weren't annoyed by my writing to you.'
'On the contrary,' was the reply, 'if you had not made some approach to me on your own account I should have lost interest in you and any possible career of yours.'
'Would you really?' She opened her eyes wide. 'But why. Sir Oscar?'
'Because the profession you hope to enter is a very tough one, and the prizes don't go to those who hang back expecting someone else to take the initiative for them.'
'I—I very nearly didn't write that letter,' she suddenly confided in him.
'I know.' He smiled slightly.
^How do you know?'
'Because everything about you the other evening indicated a retiring disposition. The only
time you plucked up courage to act with boldness was when you were thinking of your cousin's welfare. Isn't that correct?'
Caroline nodded, but she added quickly, *I'm deeply concerned still with Jeremy's career.'
'Of course, of course,' agreed the conductor without any interest at all. 'Now tell me about yourself. All I know so far is that you have obviously had a good basic vocal training, and that your voice is an excellent one, with a memorable quality essential if one is ever to stand out from the clutch of worthy Marys and Annes and Elizabeths, who never make a nasty soimd nor, unfortunately, give one the slightest reason to want to hear them again.'
'Oh ' Caroline slowly digested this. *I don't
know that there's much else to tell you about me.'
'Of course there is—don't be silly,' said Warrender impatiently. 'And above all don't underestimate yourself. If you can't display the goods in your own shop window no one else is going to do it for you. Why should they? Think careftilly for three minutes, and then tell me anything about yourself which you think might interest me.'
'Anything,' agreed the conductor. 'The singer, imlike every otiher musical performer, is his or her own instrument. If the basic voice is good, everything else about the owner of it contributes to—or detracts from—its beauty and importance.
Three minutes ' and he suddenly smiled at