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   Chapter 3 No.3

A Woman-Hater By Charles Reade Characters: 16529

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


INA KLOSKING worked night and day upon Siebel, in Gounod's "Faust," and upon the songs that had been added to give weight to the part.

She came early to the theater at night, and sat, half dressed, fatigued, and nervous, in her dressing-room.

Crash!-the first coup d'archet announced the overture, and roused her energy, as if Ithuriel's spear had pricked her. She came down dressed, to listen at one of the upper entrances, to fill herself with the musical theme, before taking her part in it, and also to gauge the audience and the singers.

The man Faust was a German; but the musical part Faust seems better suited to an Italian or a Frenchman. Indeed, some say that, as a rule, the German genius excels in creation and the Italian in representation or interpretation. For my part, I am unable to judge nations in the lump, as some fine fellows do, because nations are composed of very different individuals, and I know only one to the million; but I do take on me to say that the individual Herr who executed Doctor Faustus at Homburg that night had everything to learn, except what he had to unlearn. His person was obese; his delivery of the words was mouthing, chewing, and gurgling; and he uttered the notes in tune, but without point, pathos, or passion; a steady lay-clerk from York or Durham Cathedral would have done a little better, because he would have been no colder at heart, and more exact in time, and would have sung clean; whereas this gentleman set his windpipe trembling, all through the business, as if palsy were passion. By what system of leverage such a man came to be hoisted on to such a pinnacle of song as "Faust" puzzled our English friends in front as much as it did the Anglo-Danish artist at the wing; for English girls know what is what in opera.

The Marguerite had a voice of sufficient compass, and rather sweet, though thin. The part demands a better actress than Patti, and this Fraulein was not half as good: she put on the painful grin of a prize-fighter who has received a staggerer, and grinned all through the part, though there is little in it to grin at.

She also suffered by having to play to a Faust milked of his poetry, and self-smitten with a tremolo which, as I said before, is the voice of palsy, and is not, nor ever was, nor ever will be, the voice of passion. Bless your heart, passion is a manly thing, a womanly thing, a grand thing, not a feeble, quavering, palsied, anile, senile thing. Learn that, ye trembling, quavering idiots of song!

"They let me down," whispered Ina Klosking to her faithful Ashmead. "I feel all out of tune. I shall never be able. And the audience so cold. It will be like singing in a sepulcher."

"What would you think of them, if they applauded?" said Ashmead.

"I should say they were good, charitable souls, and the very audience I shall want in five minutes."

"No, no," said Ashmead, "all you want is a discriminating audience; and this is one. Remember they have all seen Patti in Marguerite. Is it likely they would applaud this tin stick?"

Ina turned the conversation with feminine quickness. "Mr. Ashmead, have you kept your promise; my name is not in the programme?"

"It is not; and a great mistake too."

"I have not been announced by name in any way?"

"No. But, of course, I have nursed you a bit."

"Nursed me? What is that? Oh, what have you been doing? No charlatanerie, I hope."

"Nothing of the kind," said Ashmead, stoutly; "only the regular business."

"And pray what is the regular business?" inquired Ina, distrustfully.

"Why, of course, I sent on the manager to say that Mademoiselle Schwaub had been taken seriously ill; that we had been fearing we must break faith with the public for the first time; but that a cantatrice, who had left the stage, appreciating our difficulty, had, with rare kindness, come to our aid for this one night: we felt sure a Humbug audience-what am I saying?-a Homburg audience would appreciate this, and make due allowance for a performance undertaken in such a spirit, and with imperfect rehearsals, etc.-in short, the usual patter; and the usual effect, great applause. Indeed, the only applause that I have heard in this theater to-night. Ashmead ahead of Gounod, so far."

Ina Klosking put both hands before her face, and uttered a little moan. She had really a soul above these artifices. "So, then," said she, "if they do receive me, it will be out of charity."

"No, no; but on your first night you must have two strings to your bow."

"But I have only one. These cajoling speeches are a waste of breath. A singer can sing, or she can not sing, and they find out which it is as soon as she opens her mouth."

"Well, then, you open your mouth-that is just what half the singers can't do-and they will soon find out you can sing."

"I hope they may. I do not know. I am discouraged. I'm terrified. I think it is stage-fright," and she began to tremble visibly, for the time drew near.

Ashmead ran off and brought her some brandy-and-water. She put up her hand against it with royal scorn. "No, sir! If the theater, and the lights, and the people, the mind of Goethe, and the music of Gounod, can't excite me without that, put me at the counter of a cafe', for I have no business here."

The power, without violence, and the grandeur with which she said this would have brought down the house had she spoken it in a play without a note of music; and Ashmead drew back respectfully, but chuckled internally at the idea of this Minerva giving change in a cafe'.

And now her cue was coming. She ordered everybody out of the entrance not very ceremoniously, and drew well back. Then, at her cue, she made a stately rush, and so, being in full swing before she cleared the wing, she swept into the center of the stage with great rapidity and resolution; no trace either of her sorrowful heart or her quaking limbs was visible from the front.

There was a little applause, all due to Ashmead's preliminary apology, but there was no real reception; for Germany is large and musical, and she was not immediately recognized at Homburg. But there was that indescribable flutter which marks a good impression and keen expectation suddenly aroused. She was beautiful on the stage for one thing; her figure rather tall and stately, and her face full of power: and then the very way she came on showed the step and carriage of an artist at home upon the boards.

She cast a rapid glance round the house, observed its size, and felt her way. She sung her first song evenly, but not tamely, yet with restrained power; but the tones were so full and flexible, the expression so easy yet exact, that the judges saw there was no effort, and suspected something big might be yet in store to-night. At the end of her song she did let out for a moment, and, at this well-timed foretaste of her power, there was applause, but nothing extravagant.

She was quite content, however. She met Ashmead, as she came off, and said, "All is well, my friend, so far. They are sitting in judgment on me, like sensible people, and not in a hurry. I rather like that."

"Your own fault," said Joseph. "You should have been announced. Prejudice is a surer card than judgment. The public is an ass."

"It must come to the same thing in the end," said the Klosking firmly. "One can sing, or one cannot."

Her next song was encored, and she came off flushed with art and gratified pride. "I have no fears now," said she, to her Achates, firmly. "I have my barometer; a young lady in the stalls. Oh, such a beautiful creature, with black hair and eyes! She applauds me fearlessly. Her glorious eyes speak to mine, and inspire me. She is happy, she is. I drink sunbeams at her. I shall act and sing 'Le Parlate d'Amor' for her-and you will see."

Between the acts, who should come in but Ned Severne, and glided into the vacant stall by Zoe's side.

She quivered at his coming near her; he saw it, and felt a thrill of pleasure himself.

"How is 'S. T.'?" said she, kindly.

"'S. T.'?" said he, forgetting.

"Why, your sick friend, to be sure."

"Oh, not half so bad as he thought. I was a fool to lose an hour of you for him. He was hipped; had lost all his money at rouge et

noir. So I lent him fifty pounds, and that did him more good than the doctor. You forgive me?"

"Forgive you? I approve. Are you going back to him?" said she, demurely.

"No, thank you, I have made sacrifices enough."

And so indeed he had, having got cleaned out of three hundred pounds through preferring gambling to beauty.

"Singers good?" he inquired.

"Wretched, all but one; and she is divine."

"Indeed. Who is she?"

"I don't know. A gentleman in black came out-"

"Mephistopheles?"

"No-how dare you?-and said a singer that had retired would perform the part of 'Siebel, to oblige; and she has obliged me for one. She is, oh, so superior to the others! Such a heavenly contralto; and her upper notes, honey dropping from the comb. And then she is so modest, so dignified, and so beautiful. She is fair as a lily; and such a queen-like brow, and deep, gray eyes, full of sadness and soul. I'm afraid she is not happy. Once or twice she fixed them on me, and they magnetized me, and drew me to her. So I magnetized her in return. I should know her anywhere fifty years hence. Now, if I were a man, I should love that woman and make her love me."

"Then I am very glad you are not a man," said Severne, tenderly.

"So am I," whispered Zoe, and blushed. The curtain rose.

"Listen now, Mr. Chatterbox," said Zoe.

Ned Severne composed himself to listen; but Fraulein Graas had not sung many bars before he revolted. "Listen to what?" said he; "and look at what? The only Marguerite in the place is by my side."

Zoe colored with pleasure; but her good sense was not to be blinded. "The only good black Mephistophe-less you mean," said she. "To be Marguerite, one must be great, and sweet, and tender; yes, and far more lovely than ever woman was. That lady is a better color for the part than I am; but neither she nor I shall ever be Marguerite."

He murmured in her ear. "You are Marguerite, for you could fire a man's heart so that he would sell his soul to gain you."

It was the accent of passion and the sensitive girl quivered. Yet she defended herself-in words, "Hush!" said she. "That is wicked-out of an opera. Fanny would laugh at you, if she heard."

Here were two reasons for not making such hot love in the stalls of an opera. Which of the two weighed most with the fair reasoner shall be left to her own sex.

The brief scene ended with the declaration of the evil spirit that Marguerite is lost.

"There," said Zoe, naively, "that is over, thank goodness: now you will hear my singer."

Siebel and Marta came on from opposite sides of the stage. "See!" said Zoe, "isn't she lovely?" and she turned her beaming face full on Severne, to share her pleasure with him. To her amazement the man seemed transformed: a dark cloud had come over his sunny countenance. He sat, pale, and seemed to stare at the tall, majestic, dreamy singer, who stood immovable, dressed like a velvet youth, yet looking like no earthly boy, but a draped statue of Mercury,

"New lighted on a heaven-kissing hill."

The blood left his lips, and Zoe thought he was faint; but the next moment he put his handkerchief hastily to his nose, and wriggled his way out, with a rush and a crawl, strangely combined, at the very moment when the singer delivered her first commanding note of recitative.

Everybody about looked surprised and disgusted at so ill-timed an exit; but Zoe, who had seen his white face, was seriously alarmed, and made a movement to rise too, and watch, or even follow him; but, when he got to the side, he looked back to her, and made her a signal that his nose was bleeding, but it was of no great consequence. He even pointed with his finger out and then back again, indicating he should not be long gone.

This re-assured her greatly; for she had always been told a little bleeding of that sort was good for hot-headed young people. Then the singer took complete hold of her. The composer, to balance the delightful part of Marguerite, has given Siebel a melody with which wonders can be done; and the Klosking had made a considerable reserve of her powers for this crowning effort. After a recitative that rivaled the silver trumpet, she flung herself with immediate and electrifying ardor into the melody; the orchestra, taken by surprise, fought feebly for the old ripple; but the Klosking, resolute by nature, was now mighty as Neptune, and would have her big waves. The momentary struggle, in which she was loyally seconded by the conductor, evoked her grand powers. Catgut had to yield to brains, and the whole orchestra, composed, after all, of good musicians, soon caught the divine afflatus, and the little theater seemed on fire with music; the air, sung with a large rhythm, swelled and rose, and thrilled every breast with amazement and delight; the house hung breathless: by-and-by there were pale cheeks, panting bosoms, and wet eyes, the true, rare triumphs of the sovereigns of song; and when the last note had pealed and ceased to vibrate, the pent-up feelings broke forth in a roar of applause, which shook the dome, followed by a clapping of hands, like a salvo, that never stopped till Ina Klosking, who had retired, came forward again.

She courtesied with admirable dignity, modesty, and respectful gravity, and the applause thundered, and people rose at her in clusters about the house, and waved their hats and handkerchiefs at her, and a little Italian recognized her, and cried out as loud as he could, "Viva la Klosking! viva!" and she heard that, and it gave her a thrill; and Zoe Vizard, being out of England, and, therefore, brave as a lioness, stood boldly up at her full height, and, taking her bouquet in her right hand, carried it swiftly to her left ear, and so flung it, with a free back-handed sweep, more Oriental than English, into the air, and it lighted beside the singer; and she saw the noble motion, and the bouquet fly, and, when she made her last courtesy at the wing, she fixed her eyes on Zoe, and then put her hand to her heart with a most touching gesture that said, "Most of all I value your bouquet and your praise."

Then the house buzzed, and ranks were leveled; little people spoke to big people, and big to little, in mutual congratulation; for at such rare moments (except in Anglo-Saxony) instinct seems to tell men that true art is a sunshine of the soul, and blesses the rich and the poor alike.

One person was affected in another way. Harrington Vizard sat rapt in attention, and never took his eyes off her, yet said not a word.

Several Russian and Prussian grandees sought an introduction to the new singer. But she pleaded fatigue.

The manager entreated her to sup with him, and meet the Grand Duke of Hesse. She said she had a prior engagement.

She went quietly home, and supped with her faithful Ashmead, and very heartily too; for nature was exhausted, and agitation had quite spoiled her dinner.

Joseph Ashmead, in the pride of his heart, proposed a bottle of champagne. The Queen of Song, with triumph flushed, looked rather blue at that. "My friend," said she, in a meek, deprecating way, "we are working-people: is not Bordeaux good enough for us?"

"Yes; but it is not good enough for the occasion," said Joseph, a little testily. "Well, never mind;" and he muttered to himself, "that is the worst of good women: they are so terribly stingy."

The Queen of Song, with triumph flushed, did not catch these words, but only a little growling. However, as supper proceeded, she got uneasy. So she rang the bell, and ordered a pint: of this she drank one spoonful. The remainder, co-operating with triumph and claret, kept Ashmead in a great flow of spirits. He traced her a brilliant career. To be photographed tomorrow morning as Siebel, and in plain dress. Paragraphs in Era, Figaro, Galignani, Inde'pendance Belge, and the leading dailies. Large wood-cuts before leaving Homburg for Paris, London, Vienna, St. Petersburg, and New York."

"I'm in your hands," said she, and smiled languidly, to please him.

But by-and-by he looked at her, and found she was taking a little cry all to herself.

"Dear me!" said he, "what is the matter?"

"My friend, forgive me. He was not there to share my triumph."

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