There is Nothing like a Dame
A novel by Bronwen Welsh
Copyright© 2017 & 2018 Bronwen Welsh
A sequel to 'The Might-Have-Been Girl' and 'All the World's a Stage'
Chapter 18 A proposal and an alarm
That evening at dinner, Hiram said: “I hear that you are having some trouble with your 'Juliet'.”
'Where's he getting that from? Is Miranda or someone else reporting back to him?” I thought, then realised that as he was funding the theatre, perhaps he was entitled to know what was going on.
Aloud I said “She's a good actress but just lacking some self-confidence. I'm working on that.”
He laughed. “'Good', but not as good as you.”
“I've had the privilege of working with many of the world's finest Shakespearean actors; some of that is bound to rub off. I'm also older than she is, but I'm sure she'll get there in time.”
“That's a fair point. Oh, by the way, I forgot to mention that our resident artists usually put on a solo performance for the local community at the theatre. Would that be a problem for you?”
I managed to mask my annoyance at another instance of me not being made aware of everything I need to know.
“Not at all, but I wonder if listening to me droning on for two hours plus an interval presumably, might be asking a bit much of them.” I had another of my 'bright ideas'. “How would you feel if I organised a few promising young local musicians to provide a couple of musical interludes, just for variety?”
“That sounds a good idea, Hiram. What do you think?” said Magnolia.
“Hmm. Well, it's true that the last artist did get a bit boring after a while. Maybe Miranda can help you find someone suitable; she knows all the music schools in the area.”
“Thank you,” I said. “I'll follow that up.”
The following day at the theatre I asked Miranda about musicians and she said she would make enquiries. I didn't mention about Hiram knowing of Julie's problems with the part, just in case it had come from Miranda.
Although I have been concentrating on 'Romeo and Juliet', I should mention that this was a repertory company and they were also scheduled to perform 'Much Ado About Nothing' in between the 'Romeo and Juliet' performances. This was a good idea, as it gave players who only had small parts in one play to have much larger ones in the other. It was excellent practice for them, and presenting a comedy as well as a tragedy gave audiences a choice.
For the next couple of weeks, I concentrated on my rôle as Resident Artist, effectively conducting master classes in performing Shakespeare. The company, even the older members, seemed to respect me as someone coming from the home of Shakespeare and having 'special knowledge'. The fact that I knew both plays by heart seemed to impress them. I learned things too, so it wasn't all one-way traffic. I discovered that I really enjoyed passing on my knowledge and skills and thought that if a time ever came that I could no longer perform, then this would be a good alternative to acting.
I did give Julie extra one-on-one tuition, mixed with judicious praise and she really seemed to be developing self-confidence, which was good to see.
Some evenings I worked on a list of speeches and poetry which I could use for my solo performance. I had asked Miranda if she would direct me and give me honest advice on my choice of works. The last thing I wanted to do was bore the audience, especially as it seemed this had happened in the past. I thought that a mixture of Shakespeare, his contemporaries and some American authors would work well.
One day Miranda told me she had found the perfect duo for the musical interludes.
“They are a very talented young brother and sister in their mid to late teens, called Itzak and Miriam Rabinovich. Itzak is eighteen and plays the piano; Miriam is sixteen and plays the violin. I've asked them to come along and audition for you tomorrow, I hope you don't mind?”
“Not at all,” I replied. “Thank you for finding them. Do you think they could play some Elizabethan music to fit in with the items I will be performing?”
“I've already asked them, and they are quite excited about that,” replied Miranda. “Itzak has suggested adapting some of William Byrd's work from the original instruments to violin and piano. Byrd was Elizabeth's favourite composer you know?”
“I confess I didn't, but I must say that sounds very impressive. I'm really looking forward to meeting and hearing them.”
The following morning I had that pleasure. The two young people arrived at nine o'clock, having been allowed to take time off from school and rehearsals had been delayed until ten o'clock so that we would have a free hour to meet them. They were charming young people. Miranda introduced them to me and they called me Miss Stow which I decided to stay with until I knew if their music would be suitable.
I wasn't too sure about the quality of the piano in the theatre. I never learned to play but just hitting some of the keys I felt that the sound was not of a very high standard. Izak pulled a face after playing a few notes and I hurried to reassure him that we would obtain a much better instrument for the evening even if I had to hire it myself. He looked reassured at that.
Miriam took her violin out of its case and started to tune up. Then they played the first piece, Itzak's adaptation of a piece by William Byrd 'Though Amaryllis Dance in Green' which he told me was originally a work for an unaccompanied small choir. I was stunned by the quality of their playing. These were young people. What would they be like when they matured?
“Your violin has a lovely tone,” I said to Miriam.
“Yes, it's a Vincenco Cavani, nearly a hundred years old,” she replied. “Daddy bought it for my last birthday.”
“How old were you when you started to play?” I asked.
“I was only five. Mummy plays and she was my first teacher. I started with a child's violin and graduated to a three-quarter size, but this year they said I was good enough and old enough now to deserve a professional instrument. A lot of people ask if it's a Stradivarius.” She giggled. “I explain that Daddy is not quite wealthy enough to afford one of those, but I'm quite happy with my Cavani.”
' What a charming young girl and not in the least spoilt by the praise she must so often get,' I thought.
I smiled. “Do you have something else to play for us?” I asked.
“Yes, this is a piece by Thomas Tallis. Miss Strange explained that you would be reciting works by Shakespeare and his contemporaries and wanted music of around the same period.”
The second piece they played was as good as the first, and as Miranda and I applauded at the conclusion, I told her that there was no need to look further, these talented siblings would be perfect to compliment my recitations.
“Well Miriam and Itzak, I would be very pleased if you would play at my evening's performance. Would you like to do so?”
“Oh yes, Miss Stow. We've heard a lot about you and it would be a wonderful experience for us. Our parents saw you perform in London during their last trip and said it was one of the best performances of Shakespeare that they had ever seen.”
“That's very kind of them,” I replied. “Nevertheless, I think that Miss Strange and I should meet them and discuss the program we have in mind. Do you live nearby?”
“We live in Albany,” said Itzak. “It's about an hour's drive from here. Our parents actually drove us here today. They're waiting outside.”
“Oh, I had no idea!” I exclaimed. “Please invite them in to the theatre.”
Itzak left the theatre and returned a few minutes later with his parents whom he introduced as Rebecca and Menachem Rabinovich. He and Miriam then returned to the stage to play a final piece.
“Mr and Mrs Rabinovich, I am so sorry you were left waiting outside. I had no idea you were there or I would have invited you in earlier,” I said. “As you know, I asked Miss Strange if she could find some young musicians to play musical interludes during the performance which I've been asked to give before I return to England. Your children are very talented and I would be so pleased if they could play during my performance, with your permission of course.”
“I'm sure they would be thrilled to take part in your performance, Miss Stow. We had the pleasure of seeing you perform at the Globe Theatre the last time we were in London, and we enjoyed the play very much,” replied Mr Rabinovich.
I was surprised that here were yet more people who had seen me perform in a play. Was I starting to become famous? I must take care not to get a swollen head!
The two young people played their final piece and we all applauded enthusiastically. It was agreed that I would work on my program and they would record some short pieces of music on disk and send it to me for my selections. Mr and Mrs Rabinovich invited me to come to their home for a final rehearsal a few days before the performance, and I accepted with pleasure.
I asked Itzak about a suitable piano to hire for the occasion.
“They come in a number of different sizes from Petite Grand to Concert Grand, Miss Stow,” he replied. “We have a Medium Grand at home so that's what I would suggest as I'm used to it. The volume of sound it produces is also compatible with Miriam's violin.”
He was able to give me the name of a company where I would be able to hire the piano. By this time the actors were starting to arrive for the rehearsal so we made our farewells and promised to get in touch nearer the time of my performance.
That night, an incident occurred that nearly brought my tenure at East Devon to a sudden halt. I was in bed making notes about things to discuss with Miranda concerning my solo performance. I was glad that we had confirmed the appearance of the Rabinovich siblings as 'special guests' as I knew they would really enhance the evening, and it would be good for them to perform before a relatively large audience.
The room was quite dim, lit only by the bedside lamp. There was a tap on the door and I called out “Come in” thinking it must be one of the women in the house with a query. To my surprise it, was Hiram. With an effort I managed to stay calm.
“Mr Thompson, I think you must have mistaken my room for yours,” I said brightly, trying to make it seem like he was playing a joke on me.
“No mistake, my dear, I know you've been expecting me for weeks, but this was my first opportunity,” he replied. “Well, there was one previous occasion, but that young rascal Richard Jenkins beat me to it.”
My heart sank. I didn't think anyone was aware of Richard's visit to my room and now it seemed that the worst possible person had seen him. As though nothing could make the situation worse I realised that someone was listening. It was the Thompson's practice to leave a light on in the hall outside the bedrooms, and what I could see but Hiram couldn't, was that a shadow had appeared in the light under the door. It didn't take a genius to know who that shadow belonged to. Suddenly I felt annoyed. Why was it that some men couldn't think with their brain rather than, well, another part of their anatomy?
“Richard came to apologise for being part of the secret about the gala performance. He didn't realise that it was news to me. I told him that it was inappropriate for him to come to my room and he left soon after. I had hoped that no-one was aware of his visit but it seems I was mistaken.”
“Well, I hope you are not going to ask me to leave, my dear. I must say you look most alluring in your night attire,” responded Hiram. Wasn't he listening to a word I said? I raised my voice slightly as I wanted the listener at the door to hear everything.
“Mr Thompson, I came here to perform the duties of an 'artist in residence' and I trust that I am doing that to your satisfaction. I hope I have never given you any impression that our relationship is anything other than that of employer and employee, although I hoped that we could be considered friends as well. You must realise that if Mrs Thompson became aware of your presence in my room, this would place me in an impossible position. She would naturally have to take your side, and I would have no alternative but to return to England immediately.”
He still looked unconvinced, so I played my trump card.
“Of course that means I wouldn't be available for the gala performance of 'Romeo and Juliet'.” This it seems struck home.
He hesitated, then said. “I'm sorry Miss Stow, it seems that I misinterpreted your friendliness for something more. Would you be kind enough to forget that this incident ever happened?”
“Of course, Mr Thompson,” I said. “I will bid you 'goodnight'.” I noticed that the shadow was no longer visible under the bedroom door. Magnolia had heard all she needed to. I still wondered if this incident would affect my relationship with her. Surely I was not the first person that Hiram had approached in this way?
“Err, yes, goodnight Miss Stow,” said Hiram, and he turned and left the room. I realised that I was shaking. What if he had insisted on trying to enter my bed? What would I have done?
I tried to settle down to sleep, which normally comes easily to me, but not that night. I tossed and turned for some time, replaying over in my mind the events that had happened. The room felt stuffy, and I decided I needed some fresh air. My room faced the rear of the house, overlooking the outbuildings. I slipped out of bed and walked over to the window. As I opened it, I smelt something – smoke! I leaned out and realised that it was coming from the upper floor of the garage. I grabbed my phone, dialed 911 and asked to be put through to the fire service. I gave them my location, explained the emergency and was reassured that they would be there within ten minutes, possibly less.
That done, I put on my robe and slippers and immediately set about alerting the household. Magnolia's and Hiram's rooms were just down the corridor and as soon as I knew they were awake and getting up, I ran downstairs to knock on the staff's bedroom doors to let them know too. In each case I called out to them that I had rung 911. Then I walked out of the back door into the cold night air to see how the fire was progressing. It was obvious that the upper floor of the garage was well alight and I wondered if the fire brigade would arrive in time to save anything.
Soon I was joined by the rest of the household. Magnolia and Hiram thanked me for my quick thinking in seeking help as we stood and watched the smoke and flames. In the distance I could hear the sounds of fire appliances approaching and I noticed that everyone was present except Henry who had presumably stayed behind to put on some clothes. Suddenly he appeared, stared at the garage and blurted out “Annabel” before rushing to the building, pulling open the two large swing doors and running into the smoke-filled interior.
To be continued.
Many thanks once again to Louise Ann and Julia Phillips for spotting my 'typos', thus allowing me to correct them before publishing. A special thank-you to Karen Lockhart, a native of New England who has provided me with local knowledge, menus and correct American idioms for this and the following chapters while Harriet visits the United States.
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