Authors: Mary Burchell
Tags: #Singers, #Opera
'Don't try,' was the rather grim reply. 'You'll probably hate me by seven-fifteen tomorrow evening.' And with a slight but expressive gesture of his hand he turned and went.
'Well, that's settled!' Anthea gave her friendly smile. 'And we'll expect you both tomorrow evening at six-thirty. What's the cousin's name, by the way?'
'Jeremy Prentiss. And—and he really is good.'
'We'll hope so, anyway,' replied Anthea, and it sovmded as though she really meant that.
It seemed to Caroline that the journey home had never taken so long. The bus simply crawled, stopping at every traffic light and request stop, while her excited hopes and fears ran on ahead. Suppose Jeremy were out?—perhaps for the whole evening. Could she possibly put off Aunt Hilda with just a partial accoimt of what had happened?
By the time she reached home she was in a fever. But she had arranged in her own mind exactly what she was going to say—how she would calmly give every detail leading up to the stunning denouement of her story. But when it
came to the point, she was so relieved to hear Jeremy's voice talking to her aunt that she just rushed into the room, confronted the two of them and gasped out,
*I returned the ring. It belonged to Anthea Warrender. And he—Oscar Warrender—is going to audition you tomorrow evening, Jeremy, and give you his advice!'
Then she sat down and burst into excited tears.
'Caroline!' Actually white with joyous shock, Jeremy seized her up in his arms and exclaimed, 'Don't cry, darling! Do you mean what you're saying? Oh, my God—I can't believe it! Warrender? How on earth did you do it?'
'I just asked him and he said "yes",' gulped Caroline.
'Will someone tell me what all this fuss is about?' interjected Aunt Hilda. 'Stop crying, Caroline—^my nerves won't stand it. You returned the ring, you say? What reward did they give you?'
^That was the reward!' Caroline raised a flushed and tear-stained face from her cousin's shoulder. 'The Warrender audition. That was what I asked for.'
'You blessed little angel!' That was Jeremy. But his mother exclaimed,
'You must be mad! That ring was worth I don't know what. And you're telling me they were mean enough to fob you off with the promise of an auditiotiT
'They weren't mean at all.' Caroline was calmer now. 'In fact—I remember—Lady Warrender said I would have to have something else besides the audition.'
'Well, thank heaven for that!' Aunt Hilda actually fanned herself with the magazine she had been reading. 'You gave me such a fright! My heart's still pounding. Now pull yourself together and tell us the whole story.'
So Caroline pulled herself together and gave a fairly coherent accoimt of her incredible day, while Jeremy stood beside her, holding her hand so tightly that it was quite niunb by the time he released her.
At the end he said, 'Caroline, I—I'll never forget this,' And she loved him more than ever because there was that unusual quiver in his voice.
Even Aunt Hilda said, 'You know, I could do with a drink. See if there's any sherry left, Caroline.'
'Not sherry^^ exclaimed Jeremy. 'Not for an occasion like this. This calls for champagne. I'll go along to the corner shop and get a bottle while you and Caroline set the supper. Mother.'
'What a splendid idea,' agreed his mother, who was not of course committing herself to sharing the preparations for supper. But neither Jeremy nor Caroline cared. They were riding the topmost waves of hope and excitement, and 3ie world was theirs that night.
The next day Caroline had some nervous tremors on the way to the office. If her employer started asking questions she must somehow manage to prevaricate until the all-important audition that evening was over. And prevaricating was not at all easy when one was face to face with Kennedy Marshall.
However, it so happened that he was lunching
with a recent and most prestigious addition to his list of artists, and had little time to enquire about his secretary's affairs. Indeed, when he returned to the office late in the afternoon Caroline detected signs of something like excitement in his demeanour, and she asked with genuine interest, 'Is this Lucille Duparc as glamorous as people say?'
'Glamorous?—^No, nothing quite as obvious as that.' He smiled reflectively. 'There's something slightly enigmatic about her, both as an artist and a person. I think it's a quality more attractive to men than women. My godmother, for instance, pretends she sees nothing in her. But you must see and hear her for yourself on Thursday next.'
Caroline, who had never thought of a godmother in connection with her employer and found some difficulty in doing so now, said that she would certainly hear Lucille Duparc.
'I'll get a ticket on the way home,' she started to say, then stopped, suddenly remembering there would be no time to rim after tickets on the way home. Only just enough time to meet Jeremy and accompany him to the Warrenders' apartment.
But her employer seemed not to notice the sudden check. He said, 'You won't get anything now, I'm afraid. The place is sold out. Wait a
minute ' He jerked open a drawer in his desk,
picked out a small bundle of tickets and ran his
thumb through them. 'There you are ' he
tossed one across the desk to her'—and don't lose it. The ticket touts are out in force.'
'I'll take great care of it,' she promised fervently. 'And thank you very much.'
*All part of the education of an impresario's secretary/ he assured her with a grin. 'How did you get on with Anthea Warrender, by the way?'
'Very well. She was absolutely charming, and so happy to have her ring back.'
'I bet she was. And what about him? Did you meet the great Sir Oscar?'
'Oh, yes.' With a tremendous effort Caroline kept her voice steady. 'He was very nice to me too, and said the ring meant a lot to both of them because it was—as you guessed—^her engagement ring.'
'Sealed one of the great love stories of the operatic world, as one might say.' He looked rather cynically amused, and then was obviously going to ask another leading question when— perhaps in answer to a silent but frantic prayer from Caroline—the telephone bell rang with blessed insistence, and, as he lifted the receiver, she fled to the safety of her own office.
The real moment of danger was past, it seemed, for he made no further reference to her encounter with the Warrenders during the rest of that afternoon, and she was able to leave in good time for her meeting with Jeremy at a coffee bar near Piccadilly.
He joined her two minutes after she had found a vacant table, but he looked pale and nervous, and when she asked him if he would like a coffee, he shook his head.
'Are you feeling a bit sick?' she enquired sympathetically.
'Yes. Are you?'
She nodded, and was aware of a chilling drop in her spirits. The possibility that they might.
after all, be heading for a ghastly disappointment suddenly pierced her consciousness like a blunt knife. Until that moment she had resolutely refused to entertain any thought which was not hopeful. Now, as she looked across at Jeremy, she realised that with him also confidence was draining away by the minute.
'We'd better go,' she said huskily at last. And in complete silence they made their way to Killigrew Mansions, up in the lift to the fourth floor, and into the studio where so many before them had been tested—and probably been found wanting.
They must have looked a rather desperate couple, Caroline thought, for Oscar Warrender, who was already there waiting for them, said, 'There's no need to be scared. It's usually easier to perform for a knowledgeable audience than an ignorant one.'
'It's just that so much depends on it,' Caroline thought, while Jeremy's strained smile showed that he was thinking much the same.
Then Anthea came in, greeted Jeremy pleasantly and again told Caroline how happy she was to have her ring back. The preliminaries thus disposed of, Oscar Warrender sat down at the piano and without—to Caroline's surprise— asking Jeremy anything about his training or experience, said,
'What are you going to sing for me? Choose something in which you feel comfortable. If it's anything I know I'll accompany you. If not, I'll pick it up as we go along.'
'I'd like to sing the first act aria from "The Pearl Fishers",' replied Jeremy boldly.
•Hm—brave fellow/ commented Warrender, but not iinkindly, and he began the introduction to that most lovely—and difficult—aria.
To Caroline's unspeakable horror, Jeremy went hoarse on the third bar, cleared his throat nervously and then came to a ragged halt.
*Don't worry,' said the conductor calmly. *That can happen to anyone, particularly anyone who is nervous and under a strain. Go back and start again. Stand where I can see you.'
So Jeremy shifted his position, looked rather desperately at the man at the piano and received such a compelling nod of encouragement that he made a perfect entry and then went on confidently to the last soft high note, which he took faultlessly.
*Not bad,' observed Warrender, at which Jeremy drew a long sigh of imspeakable relief. *But you're attempting things beyond your present capacity. Sing me a scale.'
Jeremy sang a scale, and then followed firmly and intelligently as Warrender took him further and further to the top of his natural range.
'Yes, it's a good healthy voice,' was Warrender's rather moderate verdict. 'Tell me— do you want to sing more than anything else in the world?'
Jeremy nodded wordlessly.
*Well, the future depends primarily on you yourself and your capacity to work. I don't need to tell you that the profession is a crowded one. Crowded, that is to say, by worthy mediocrities who think the world owes them an interesting living. They're wrong, of course. The world owes no one anything but what they can achieve by
their own talent and hard work. Also a little bit of luck is a fine thing.'
'I regarded this audition as my bit of luck/ Jeremy said with his very engaging smile. 'And I would like to thank you for providing that. I do imderstand that there's no easy answer to what I'm trying to achieve, but I would just like to know if, in your opinion, I might have a chance of doing something worthwhile one day.'
'You want me to give you the unvarnished truth, I take it?'
'Yes, please.' Though Jeremy bit his lip anxiously, and Caroline found that she was digging her nails into the palms of her hands.
'Well, Jeremy—that's your name, isn't it? I doubt if there will ever be a time when the leading opera houses of the world will be competing for your services. But, if you have intelligence and a capacity for hard work to match your natural talent, you could well make a good solid career of considerable satisfaction to yourself. You might go even further than that, given some favourable circumstances, but it would be no kindness on may part to raise your hopes too high at this stage.'
'I see.' Jeremy looked rather serious, but not dejected.
'Sing me something else.' Warrender turned back to the piano. 'Something from the more general repertoire. These occasional specialist arias which require a very exceptional technique are seldom asked for, except from highly gifted performers who are already famous enough to have their individual requests catered for. No one is likely to put on "The Pearl Fishers" for you at this point.'
Jeremy smiled faintly and asked diffidently, 'What would you like to hear?'
*Rodolfo—the Duke in "Rigoletto"—
Faust ?' suggested Oscar Warrender. 'These
are the roles which are always in demand, and although you're not ready for any of them yet, you can keep them in mind.'
'Faust,' said Jeremy. *I could sing the aria from the Garden Scene.'
'Let's try it. You couldn't do better,' Sir Oscar told him. 'No one ever wrote more felicitously for the voice than Gounod.'
So Jeremy, both challenged and encouraged, proceeded to give a very good account of himself in that aria, and at the end Warrender turned and said,
'That's extremely good, you know. The aria lies beautifully for your voice. Do you know the rest of the scene?'
'Oh, yes, of course. But we need a Marguerite for that.'
'Indeed we do.' Warrender glanced across half enquiringly at his wife. But before Anthea could utter a word Caroline heard herself say excitedly,
'Let me sing the Marguerite! I'd like to. I'm used
to singing with Jeremy. At least ' she stopped
and looked both surprised and oddly guilty.
'Very well,' Sir Oscar smiled almost indulgently. 'You come and sing Marguerite. Do you want the score?'
'Oh, no, thank you.
She came and stood beside Jeremy, a streak of excited colour in her cheeks, her heart beating eagerly at the thought that it was she who would be giving Jeremy the opportunity to show how
well he sang in concerted music.
In the last year or so they had not sung very much together, but she was able to give just the right support, the subtle blending of vocal colour which enabled Jeremy to show another facet of his imdoubted talent. She hardly thought of her own part in the performance. She thought only of how best to give Jeremy a chance to shine.
Warrender let them sing right through to the end of the scene. Then again he just glanced at his wife, this time with a slight lift of his eyebrows, to which she responded with the faintest nod.
*You're quite a gifted couple, aren't you?' he said again with a touch of indulgence. 'Do you have the same teacher?'
*Oh, no!' Jeremy laughed, and explained about his grant to St Cecilia's College.
*And you. Miss Bagshot?' Warrender turned to Caroline. 'Who is your teacher?'
'Nobody at all distinguished,' Caroline explained deprecatingly. 'Nothing to do with a music college or anything like that, you know. You wouldn't have heard of her. Her name's Miss Curtis—^Naomi Curtis. She v/sls in musical comedy years ago.'
'Well, you may tell her from me—from Oscar Warrender—that she's a very good teacher indeed. Yours is a voice which has never had anything wrong done to it. It has been allowed to develop naturally. Few teachers can say as much for their pupils.'