Read On wings of song Online

Authors: Mary Burchell

Tags: #Singers, #Opera

On wings of song (8 page)

her with quite compelling charm and authority.

Afterwards Caroline had the extraordinary impression that she practically told Oscar

Warrender her life story. If it proved longer than he had expected he showed no sign of impatience. He asked one or two questions, but in a casual way which did nothing to check the flow of her narrative and usually related to her feelings or reactions.

She even told him about the concert on the previous evening, and he enquired idly, 'Did you admire Lucille Duparc?'

'As an artist—^yes. As a person, I think—^no.'

'How about your cousin?' he asked, moving one or two things on his desk absently, so that she thought again that he was not really much interested in Jeremy.

'He—admires her very much, both artistically and personally,' she replied, and for the first time there was hesitation in her flow of information.

'Do you mind very much?' He looked up and straight at her.

'Passionately/' Suddenly her remarkable eyes blazed at him, and the one word came out with a force which shook her to the core.

'Splendid,' said Oscar Warrender, and his one word, though quietly spoken, was as significant as hers.

'What do you mean? It—^makes me very unhappy.' She glanced down at her tightly clasped hands.

'That is immaterial,' he told her coolly. 'Success—^particularly artistic success—is not built on imadulterated happiness.'

'But ' indignation rose in her at this casual

dismissal of her misery about Jeremy and, to her own dismay, she heard herself challenge him with, 'Have you ever known what it is to be terribly unhappy?'

*Of course. No fiilly developed person goes through Ufe without experiencing the extremes of emotion/ he told her not unkindly. *But your imhappiness is not the factor which made me express satisfaction. It was the way you looked and the tone of your voice. In one word and with one direct glance you showed me that you can express tremendous depth of feeling in your face and your voice. If it's any consolation to you, Lucille Duparc has to work much harder to produce an equal effect/ he added with a slight smile.

'Does she?* Caroline caught her breath. *Do you mean that one day I might possibly be as—as arresting as she is?'

'Difficult to tell. She is the product of much work on her own part and the part of those who have schooled her. We still have to find out how you respond. The vocal foimdation has been well laid by your Miss—Curtis, isn't it?—and you say you play the piano reasonably well?'

Caroline nodded.

*I would suggest that you continue your basic singing lessons with her, but in addition you will need intensive coaching in the study and interpretation of roles, the understanding of musical nuances, the value of tone colour and so on—everything which belongs to the development of an artist as distinct from a mere warbler. Apart from that '

'Sir Oscar,' interrupted Caroline rather anxiously, 'all this is going to be very expensive, isn't it?'

'Oh, yes. The training of a worthwhile singer is not a cheap proposition,' he agreed. 'I'm only

outlining what ideally you should do. How—or even if—you follow that out is of course your own concern, though I can recommend you to the right people for the purpose. In addition, if you set your sights on an operatic career—which I would say is your right milieu both vocally and personally—there would be the further matter of some stage training.'

She was silent in dismay at the immensity of the task confronting her, and finally she said slowly,

*rm afraid we're talking rather far outside the sphere of practical possibilities. As I told you, I have a well paid but not spectacular office job. In addition I have a modest bank balance made up of the last of the money left me by my parents and part of the very generous reward Lady Warrender gave me for finding her ring. It would be idle for me to pretend there's anyone else to whom I could turn.'

*Think it over,' he replied calmly. 'It's remarkable the paths one can explore if one is utterly dedicated to a fixed purpose. What about Kennedy Marshall? Might he feel like making a generous contribution?'

'My employer?' Caroline sounded so shocked that Oscar Warrender laughed. 'I couldn't think of asking him for anything!'

'No?' He continued to look amused and even a trifle curious. 'Is he the kind who would expect something in return?'

'Certainly not!'

*I see. Well, it will be for you to consider the situation, decide what you might undertake in the immediate future, and canvass every possibility

for financing your programme. I think I should tell you that in my view you're probably worth a good deal of effort—^and sacrifice.'

'Thank you,' she said earnestly.

'Don't thank me, thank your Maker,' Warrender told her drily. 'He gave you the voice. It's up to you to develop it.' Then, as she got up to go, he added, 'I'm not usually in favour of contests or competitions—they tend to be a gamble, and not a particularly healthy one. But there's no denying that a useful money prize would help. We'll consider that later.'

Then he dismissed her, courteously but firmly.

Caroline made her way home divided between extravagant hopes and a sense of realism which verged on despair. And once she reached home, of course, there would be no one with whom she could discuss those hopes and fears. To Jeremy— and still more to Aunt Hilda—this sudden obsession about her own vocal future would be inexplicable, even carrying a hint of treachery with it.

After all, it was she herself who had always insisted on putting Jeremy's fortunes before anything else. She it was who had agreed that her part was to wait until he was established. Was it perhaps, she thought imeasily, still her natural role—to wait?

But when she reflected on Sir Oscar's bracing advice—^and the way Lucille Duparc had looked at Jeremy, which of course had nothing to do with the present situation—she thirsted for action. And action on her own behalf, for the first time in her life.

One encouraging ray of light was provided by

the fact that the next day was Saturday, when she would be going to her usual singing lesson. To Miss Curtis she could confide her whole story, secure in her complete interest and a discretion upon which one could rely implicitly.

As it turned out Miss Curtis was not only enthralled and prepared to be discretion itself, but she displayed an optimism beyond anything Caroline had herself entertained.

*You have a great future in front of you, dear child, if you follow Sir Oscar's advice,' she stated dramatically. 'Who else could advise you better?'

'But the money ' began Caroline.

'The money V With a telling gesture of scorn Miss Curtis pushed imaginary stacks of banknotes from her. 'The money must somehow be found. To begin with, you will no longer pay for any lessons of mine '

'Of course I shall!' Caroline interrupted indignantly in her turn. 'In fact, I fully intend to increase the very modest amount I pay you, out of Lady Warrender's generous reward. You see '

This competition in generous offer and counter-offer continued for a few minutes and ended in their kissing each other emotionally— which was quite unlike them really—^and in Miss Curtis declaring that when Caroline was famous, and she herself was known to be the teacher of the rising star, prospective students would be eagerly beating a pathway to her studio door.

Caroline's own hopes fell somewhat short of this, but there was no denying that there was something so infectious about Miss Curtis's enthusiasm that, for the first time, she began somehow to believe in miracles.

If only she could have discussed it all with Jeremy! Until a couple of weeks ago that would have been the natural, the most exciting and heartwarming thing to do. But not now. For Jeremy was, not imnaturally, pursuing his own interests with concentrated energy and enthusiasm.

Initially encouragement had been based on Sir Oscar's moderate but basically favourable verdict. But to this had now been added some subtle influence from Lucille Duparc, with whom he was quite obviously maintaining some continued contact. Indeed, during the following week the French soprano was his chief topic of conversation.

He questioned Caroline closely about Lucille's future plans. For, as he said, 'Since your boss represents her you must know quite a lot about these.'

Tlans for next year, you mean?'

*Any plans of hers.' Jeremy made a gesture descriptive of unlimited activities.

'A lot of what goes on in the office is confidential,' Caroline said a trifle repressively.

'Oh, come on! Don't be silly. I'm not asking about fees or conditions of contract or that sort of thing. But there must be a point when general trends are discussed. There's nothing specially confidential about that. Any persistent journalist can ferret out something like that.'

Tersist^it journalists also exercise their lively imaginations,' retorted Caroline tartly. 'But, without breaking any confidences, I can tell you that Lucille is expected to come to the Garden in the spring to sing two—or possibly three—works.

but I don't think it's been decided yet just which ones they'll be.'

'Is she, by Jove!' Jeremy was clearly enchanted with this scrap of information. 'She wouldn't tell me much about her future arrangements—she said it was unlucky to do so before everything was fixed. She's a bit superstitious, you know,' he added with an indulgent laugh which showed how charming he found Lucille's superstitions.

'You sound as though you've been seeing quite a lot of her.' Caroline tried to make that sound casual.

'Oh, on and off.' Jeremy brushed that off lightly. 'I know about the Birmingham concert at the end of the month, of course. In fact I'm going to it.'

'To Birmingham? Are you really, Jerry?' Suddenly Carohne felt deeply disturbed, and she went on with less than her usual tact, 'Does she— mind your following her around like that?'

'What do you mean— following her around? Birmingham isn't exactly outer space,' he retorted indignantly.

'No, no—of course not, but '

'We get on remarkably well, to tell the truth,' he stated emphatically, cutting across her objection. 'So naturally I want to hear her as often as I can. You don't get a chance to experience her standard of performance every day.'

Caroline thought of that appealing photograph on the front of the programme, and Mrs Van Kroll's caustic comment on it, and her tone was troubled as she said,

'Well—so long as she isn't just stringing you along, I suppose it's all right.'

'Caroline, what's the matter with you?— making these catty comments and suggestions!' Jeremy exclaimed indignantly. *You can take it from me that Lucille Duparc is a very special and lovely person. Incidentally, she's a very good friend too. As a matter of fact, she's trying to help me with my career. While I'm in Birmingham she's going to introduce me to someone who might get me some work on the French provincial circuit.'

'But Jerry, French agents don't go to Birmingham to make their arrangements,' countered Caroline unhappily. 'They '

'Don't be silly,' he interrupted loftily. 'You needn't think you're the only one to know about these things, just because you work for that unpleasant Kennedy Marshall. This man isn't coming to Birmingham just to meet me. He's coming over to see Lucille about some of her arrangements, and she's promised to put in a word for me.'

'I see,' said Caroline pacifically, for this was obviously not the moment to say that in her experience contracts seldom stemmed from a word being 'put in' by another artist, however distinguished.

The last thing she wanted to do was to quarrel with Jeremy about Lucille Duparc. So she held her peace; but this conversation was very much in her mind the next afternoon when she was taking dictation from her employer. She glanced at his rather hard, good-looking face and could not help wondering what his reaction would have been to the naive arrangements suggested for contract-making via Lucille Duparc.

She could not of course ask him; they were not on terms when they discussed anything personal. And then, oddly enough, it was he who suddenly volunteered a completely personal remark.

'I imderstand you went to consult our mutual friend Oscar Warrender the other evening/ hie said. 'About your chances of making a career in the world of singing.'

There was nothing in his tone to indicate his own reaction to that, but hers was inmiediately defensive.

'Who told you?' she asked quickly.

'He did, of course. But he was rather cagey about what advice he gave you. Said I must ask you if I wanted to know.'

'And so you want to know?' Caroline gave a nervous little laugh. 'I didn't imagine it would be of any interest to you.'

'No? Well, I think I might be kept in the picture,' he Countered. 'After all, if you're going to take off into the higher spheres of the operatic world, let's say, I shall have to start looking for another secretary. I should also expect you to remember me kindly if you required a good agent.'

At that she laughed iminhibitedly.

'No hurry,' she assured him. 'Although Sir Oscar spoke encouragingly about my future potential, he frankly outlined a programme of study which would cost far more than I could think of raising at the moment.'

'Did you tell him that?'

'Of course. There'd be no point in ignoring the practical facts.'

'And what did he say to that?' enquired her employer curiously.

'After having been kind enough to say '

*Oscar Warrender isn't kind. What he says he means.'

'Well then, he said that in his view it would be worth a good deal of effort and sacrifice to develop the voice God had given me. And his concluding advice was for me to canvas every possibility for financing the programme he'd laid down.'

'He didn't offer to help in any way?'

'No. Why should he?'

'I don't know.' Kennedy Marshall rather moodily pushed the point of his pen into the blotting pad on his desk. Then he shrugged and said, not very agreeably, 'Well—so long as you don't expect me to do it.'

'You're the last person to whom I would apply>' she replied icily. 'I think I told him that,' she added for good measure.

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