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When Carl Foster, a young doctor, sees beautiful Rosetta Rosa at a London opera he is instantly captivated -- and almost as rapidly finds himself plagued by mysterious occurances. When another of Rosa's paramours un-expectedly dies, Carl begins to wonder if her glamour carries a deadly curse.The Ghostby Arnold BennettThis work is available for countries where copyright is Life+70 and in the USA
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I am eight years older now. It had never occurred to me that I am advancing in life and experience until, in setting myself to recall the various details of the affair, I suddenly remembered my timid confusion before the haughty mien of the clerk at Keith Prowse's.
I had asked him:
"Have you any amphitheatre seats for the Opera to-night?"
He did not reply. He merely put his lips together and waved his hand slowly from side to side.
Not perceiving, in my simplicity, that he was thus expressing a sublime pity for the ignorance which my demand implied, I innocently proceeded:
This time he condescended to speak.
Then I understood that what he meant was: "Poor fool! why don't you ask for the moon?"
I blushed. Yes, I blushed before the clerk at Keith Prowse's, and turned to leave the shop. I suppose he thought that as a Christian it was his duty to enlighten my pitiable darkness.
"It's the first Rosa night to-night," he said with august affability. "I had a couple of stalls this morning, but I've just sold them over the telephone for six pound ten."
He smiled. His smile crushed me. I know better now. I know that clerks in box-offices, with their correct neckties and their air of continually doing wonders over the telephone, are not, after all, the grand masters of the operatic world. I know that that manner of theirs is merely a part of their attire, like their cravats; that they are not really responsible for the popularity of great sopranos; and that they probably go home at nights to Fulham by the white omnibus, or to Hammersmith by the red one—and not in broughams.
"I see," I observed, carrying my crushed remains out into the street. Impossible to conceal the fact that I had recently arrived from Edinburgh as raw as a ploughboy!
If you had seen me standing irresolute on the pavement, tapping my stick of Irish bog-oak idly against the curbstone, you would have seen a slim youth, rather nattily dressed (I think), with a shadow of brown on his upper lip, and a curl escaping from under his hat, and the hat just a little towards the back of his head, and a pretty good chin, and the pride of life in his ingenuous eye. Quite unaware that he was immature! Quite unaware that the supple curves of his limbs had an almost feminine grace that made older fellows feel paternal! Quite unaware that he had everything to learn, and that all his troubles lay before him! Actually fancying himself a man because he had just taken his medical degree… .
The June sun shone gently radiant in a blue sky, and above the roofs milky-bosomed clouds were floating in a light wind. The town was bright, fresh, alert, as London can be during the season, and the joyousness of the busy streets echoed the joyousness of my heart (for I had already, with the elasticity of my years, recovered from the reverse inflicted on me by Keith Prowse's clerk). On the opposite side of the street were the rich premises of a well-known theatrical club, whose weekly entertainments had recently acquired fame. I was, I recollect, proud of knowing the identity of the building—it was one of the few things I did know in London—and I was observing with interest the wondrous livery of the two menials motionless behind the glass of its portals, when a tandem equipage drew up in front of the pile, and the menials darted out, in their white gloves, to prove that they were alive and to justify their existence.
It was an amazingly complete turnout, and it well deserved all the attention it attracted, which was considerable. The horses were capricious, highly polished grays, perhaps a trifle undersized, but with such an action as is not to be bought for less than twenty-five guineas a hoof; the harness was silver-mounted; the dog-cart itself a creation of beauty and nice poise; the groom a pink and priceless perfection. But the crown and summit of the work was the driver—a youngish gentleman who, from the gloss of his peculiarly shaped collar to the buttons of his diminutive boots, exuded an atmosphere of expense. His gloves, his scarf-pin, his watch-chain, his mustache, his eye-glass, the crease in his nether garments, the cut of his coat-tails, the curves of his hat—all uttered with one accord the final word of fashion, left nothing else to be said. The correctness of Keith Prowse's clerk was as naught to his correctness. He looked as if he had emerged immaculate from the outfitter's boudoir, an achievement the pride of Bond Street.
As this marvellous creature stood up and prepared to alight from the vehicle, he chanced to turn his eye-glass in my direction. He scanned me carelessly, glanced away, and scanned me again with a less detached stare. And I, on my part, felt the awakening of a memory.
"That's my cousin Sullivan," I said to myself. "I wonder if he wants to be friends."
Our eyes coquetted. I put one foot into the roadway, withdrew it, restored it to the roadway, and then crossed the street.
It was indeed the celebrated Sullivan Smith, composer of those so successful musical comedies, "The Japanese Cat," "The Arabian Girl," and "My Queen." And he condescended to recognize me! His gestures indicated, in fact, a warm desire to be cousinly. I reached him. The moment was historic. While the groom held the wheeler's head, and the twin menials assisted with dignified inactivity, we shook hands.
"How long is it?" he said.
"Fifteen years—about," I answered, feeling deliciously old.
"Remember I punched your head?"
"Rather!" (Somehow I was proud that he had punched my head.)
"No credit to me," he added magnanimously, "seeing I was years older than you and a foot or so taller. By the way, Carl, how old did you say you were?"
He regarded me as a sixth-form boy might regard a fourth-form boy.
"I didn't say I was any age," I replied. "But I'm twenty-three."
"Well, then, you're quite old enough to have a drink. Come into the club and partake of a gin-and-angostura, old man. I'll clear all this away."
He pointed to the equipage, the horses, and the groom, and with an apparently magic word whispered into the groom's ear he did in fact clear them away. They rattled and jingled off in the direction of Leicester Square, while Sullivan muttered observations on the groom's driving.
"Don't imagine I make a practice of tooling tandems down to my club," said Sullivan. "I don't. I brought the thing along to-day because I've sold it complete to Lottie Cass. You know her, of course?"
"Well, anyhow," he went on after this check, "I've sold her the entire bag of tricks. What do you think I'm going to buy?"
"A motor-car, old man!"
In those days the person who bought a motor-car was deemed a fearless adventurer of romantic tendencies. And Sullivan so deemed himself. The very word "motor-car" then had a strange and thrilling romantic sound with it.
"The deuce you are!" I exclaimed.
"I am," said he, happy in having impressed me. He took my arm as though we had been intimate for a thousand years, and led me fearlessly past the swelling menials within the gate to the club smoking-room, and put me into a grandfather's chair of pale heliotrope plush in front of an onyx table, and put himself into another grandfather's chair of heliotrope plush. And in the cushioned quietude of the smoking-room, where light-shod acolytes served gin-and-angostura as if serving gin-and-angostura had been a religious rite, Sullivan went through an extraordinary process of unchaining himself. His form seemed to be crossed and re-crossed with chains—gold chains. At the end of one gold chain was a gold cigarette-case, from which he produced gold-tipped cigarettes. At the end of another was a gold matchbox. At the end of another, which he may or may not have drawn out by mistake, were all sorts of things—knives, keys, mirrors, and pencils. A singular ceremony! But I was now in the world of gold.
And then smoke ascended from the gold-tipped cigarettes as incense from censers, and Sullivan lifted his tinted glass of gin-and-angostura, and I, perceiving that such actions were expected of one in a theatrical club, responsively lifted mine, and the glasses collided, and Sullivan said:
"Here's to the end of the great family quarrel."
"I'm with you," said I.
And we sipped.
My father had quarrelled with his mother in an epoch when even musical comedies were unknown, and the quarrel had spread, as family quarrels do, like a fire or the measles. The punching of my head by Sullivan in the extinct past had been one of its earliest consequences.
"May the earth lie lightly on them!" said Sullivan.
He was referring to the originators of the altercation. The tone in which he uttered this wish pleased me—it was so gentle. It hinted that there was more in Sullivan than met the eye, though a great deal met the eye. I liked him. He awed me, and he also seemed to me somewhat ridiculous in his excessive pomp. But I liked him.
The next instant we were talking about Sullivan Smith. How he contrived to switch the conversation suddenly into that channel I cannot imagine. Some people have a gift of conjuring with conversations. They are almost always frankly and openly interested in themselves, as Sullivan was interested in himself. You may seek to foil them; you may even violently wrench the conversation into other directions. But every effort will be useless. They will beat you. You had much better lean back in your chair and enjoy their legerdemain.
In about two minutes Sullivan was in the very midst of his career.
"I never went in for high art, you know. All rot! I found I could write melodies that people liked and remembered." (He was so used to reading interviews with himself in popular weeklies that he had caught the formalistic phraseology, and he was ready apparently to mistake even his cousin for an interviewer. But I liked him.) "And I could get rather classy effects out of an orchestra. And so I kept on. I didn't try to be Wagner. I just stuck to Sullivan Smith. And, my boy, let me tell you it's only five years since 'The Japanese Cat' was produced, and I'm only twenty-seven, my boy! And now, who is there that doesn't know me?" He put his elbows on the onyx. "Privately, between cousins, you know, I made seven thousand quid last year, and spent half that. I live on half my income; always have done; always shall. Good principle! I'm a man of business, I am, Carl Foster. Give the public what they want, and save half your income—that's the ticket. Look at me. I've got to act the duke; it pays, so I do it. I am a duke. I get twopence apiece royalty on my photographs. That's what you'll never reach up to, not if you're the biggest doctor in the world." He laughed. "By the way, how's Jem getting along? Still practising at Totnes?"
"Yes," I said.
"Oh! So—so! You see, we haven't got seven thousand a year, but we've got five hundred each, and Jem's more interested in hunting than in doctoring. He wants me to go into partnership with him. But I don't see myself."
"Ambitious, eh, like I was? Got your degree in Edinburgh?"
I nodded, but modestly disclaimed being ambitious like he was.
"And your sister Lilian?"
"She's keeping house for Jem."
"Pretty girl, isn't she?"
"Yes," I said doubtfully. "Sings well, too."
"So you cultivate music down there?"
"Rather!" I said. "That is, Lilian does, and I do when I'm with her. We're pretty mad on it. I was dead set on hearing Rosetta Rosa in 'Lohengrin' to-night, but there isn't a seat to be had. I suppose I shall push myself into the gallery."
"No, you won't," Sullivan put in sharply. "I've got a box. There'll be a chair for you. You'll see my wife. I should never have dreamt of going. Wagner bores me, though I must say I've got a few tips from him. But when we heard what a rush there was for seats Emmeline thought we ought to go, and I never cross her if I can help it. I made Smart give us a box."
"I shall be delighted to come," I said. "There's only one Smart, I suppose? You mean Sir Cyril?"
"The same, my boy. Lessee of the Opera, lessee of the Diana, lessee of the Folly, lessee of the Ottoman. If any one knows the color of his cheques I reckon it's me. He made me—that I will say; but I made him, too. Queer fellow! Awfully cute of him to get elected to the County Council. It was through him I met my wife. Did you ever see Emmeline when she was Sissie Vox?"
"I'm afraid I didn't."
"You missed a treat, old man. There was no one to touch her in boys' parts in burlesque. A dashed fine woman she is—though I say it, dashed fine!" He seemed to reflect a moment. "She's a spiritualist. I wish she wasn't. Spiritualism gets on her nerves. I've no use for it myself, but it's her life. It gives her fancies. She got some sort of a silly notion—don't tell her I said this, Carlie—about Rosetta Rosa. Says she's unlucky—Rosa, I mean. Wanted me to warn Smart against engaging her. Me! Imagine it! Why, Rosa will be the making of this opera season! She's getting a terrific salary, Smart told me."
"It's awfully decent of you to offer me a seat," I began to thank him.
"Stuff!" he said. "Cost me nothing." A clock struck softly. "Christopher! it's half-past twelve, and I'm due at the Diana at twelve. We're rehearsing, you know."
We went out of the club arm in arm, Sullivan toying with his eye-glass.
"Well, you'll toddle round to-night, eh? Just ask for my box. You'll find they'll look after you. So long!"
He walked off.
"I say," he cried, returning hastily on his steps, and lowering his voice, "when you meet my wife, don't say anything about her theatrical career. She don't like it. She's a great lady now. See?"
"Why, of course!" I agreed.
He slapped me on the back and departed.
It is easy to laugh at Sullivan. I could see that even then—perhaps more clearly then than now. But I insist that he was lovable. He had little directly to do with my immense adventure, but without him it could not have happened. And so I place him in the forefront of the narrative.
It was with a certain nervousness that I mentioned Sullivan's name to the gentleman at the receipt of tickets—a sort of transcendantly fine version of Keith Prowse's clerk—but Sullivan had not exaggerated his own importance. They did look after me. They looked after me with such respectful diligence that I might have been excused for supposing that they had mistaken me for the Shah of Persia in disguise. I was introduced into Sullivan's box with every circumstance of pomp. The box was empty. Naturally I had arrived there first. I sat down, and watched the enormous house fill, but not until I had glanced into the mirror that hung on the crimson partition of the box to make sure that my appearance did no discredit to Sullivan and the great lady, his wife.
At eight o'clock, when the conductor appeared at his desk to an accompaniment of applauding taps from the musicians, the house was nearly full. The four tiers sent forth a sparkle of diamonds, of silk, and of white arms and shoulders which rivalled the glitter of the vast crystal chandelier. The wide floor of serried stalls (those stalls of which one pair at least had gone for six pound ten) added their more sombre brilliance to the show, while far above, stretching away indefinitely to the very furthest roof, was the gallery (where but for Sullivan I should have been), a mass of black spotted with white faces.
Excitement was in the air: the expectation of seeing once again Rosetta Rosa, the girl with the golden throat, the mere girl who, two years ago, had in one brief month captured London, and who now, after a period of petulance, had decided to recapture London. On ordinary nights, for the inhabitants of boxes, the Opera is a social observance, an exhibition of jewels, something between an F.O. reception and a conversazione with music in the distance. But to-night the habitués confessed a genuine interest in the stage itself, abandoning their rôle of players. Dozens of times since then have I been to the Opera, and never have I witnessed the candid enthusiasm of that night. If London can be naïve, it was naïve then.
The conductor raised his baton. The orchestra ceased its tuning. The lights were lowered. Silence and stillness enwrapped the auditorium. And the quivering violins sighed out the first chords of the "Lohengrin" overture. For me, then, there existed nothing save the voluptuous music, to which I abandoned myself as to the fascination of a dream. But not for long. Just as the curtain rose, the door behind me gave a click, and Sullivan entered in all his magnificence. I jumped up. On his arm in the semi-darkness I discerned a tall, olive-pale woman, with large handsome features of Jewish cast, and large, liquid black eyes. She wore a dead-white gown, and over this a gorgeous cloak of purple and mauve.
"Emmeline, this is Carl," Sullivan whispered.
She smiled faintly, giving me her finger-tips, and then she suddenly took a step forward as if the better to examine my face. Her strange eyes met mine. She gave a little indefinable unnecessary "Ah!" and sank down into a chair, loosing my hand swiftly. I was going to say that she loosed my hand as if it had been the tail of a snake that she had picked up in mistake for something else. But that would leave the impression that her gesture was melodramatic, which it was not. Only there was in her demeanor a touch of the bizarre, ever so slight; yes, so slight that I could not be sure that I had not imagined it.
"The wife's a bit overwrought," Sullivan murmured in my ear. "Nerves, you know. Women are like that. Wait till you're married. Take no notice. She'll be all right soon."
I nodded and sat down. In a moment the music had resumed its sway over me.
I shall never forget my first sight of Rosetta Rosa as, robed with the modesty which the character of Elsa demands, she appeared on the stage to answer the accusation of Ortrud. For some moments she hesitated in the background, and then timidly, yet with what grandeur of mien, advanced towards the king. I knew then, as I know now, that hers was a loveliness of that imperious, absolute, dazzling kind which banishes from the hearts of men all moral conceptions, all considerations of right and wrong, and leaves therein nothing but worship and desire. Her acting, as she replied by gesture to the question of the king, was perfect in its realization of the simplicity of Elsa. Nevertheless I, at any rate, as I searched her features through the lorgnon that Mrs. Sullivan had silently handed to me, could descry beneath the actress the girl—the spoilt and splendid child of Good Fortune, who in the very spring of youth had tasted the joy of sovereign power, that unique and terrible dominion over mankind which belongs to beauty alone.
Such a face as hers once seen is engraved eternally on the memory of its generation. And yet when, in a mood of lyrical and rapt ecstasy, she began her opening song, "In Lichter Waffen Scheine," her face was upon the instant forgotten. She became a Voice—pure, miraculous, all-compelling; and the listeners seemed to hold breath while the matchless melody wove round them its persuasive spell.
The first act was over, and Rosetta Rosa stood at the footlights bowing before the rolling and thunderous storms of applause, her hand in the hand of Alresca, the Lohengrin. That I have not till this moment mentioned Alresca, and that I mention him now merely as the man who happened to hold Rosa's hand, shows with what absolute sovereignty Rosa had dominated the scene. For as Rosa was among sopranos, so was Alresca among tenors—the undisputed star. Without other aid Alresca could fill the opera-house; did he not receive two hundred and fifty pounds a night? To put him in the same cast as Rosa was one of Cyril Smart's lavish freaks of expense.
As these two stood together Rosetta Rosa smiled at him; he gave her a timid glance and looked away.
When the clapping had ceased and the curtain hid the passions of the stage, I turned with a sigh of exhaustion and of pleasure to my hostess, and I was rather surprised to find that she showed not a trace of the nervous excitement which had marked her entrance into the box. She sat there, an excellent imitation of a woman of fashion, languid, unmoved, apparently a little bored, but finely conscious of doing the right thing.
"It's a treat to see any one enjoy anything as you enjoy this music," she said to me. She spoke well, perhaps rather too carefully, and with a hint of the cockney accent.
"It runs in the family, you know, Mrs. Smith," I replied, blushing for the ingenuousness which had pleased her.
"Don't call me Mrs. Smith; call me Emmeline, as we are cousins. I shouldn't at all like it if I mightn't call you Carl. Carl is such a handsome name, and it suits you. Now, doesn't it, Sully?"
"Yes, darling," Sullivan answered nonchalantly. He was at the back of the box, and clearly it was his benevolent desire to give me fair opportunity of a tête-à-tête with his dark and languorous lady. Unfortunately, I was quite unpractised in the art of maintaining a tête-à-tête with dark and languorous ladies. Presently he rose.
"I must look up Smart," he said, and left us.
"Sullivan has been telling me about you. What a strange meeting! And so you are a doctor! You don't know how young you look. Why, I am old enough to be your mother!"
"Oh, no, you aren't," I said. At any rate, I knew enough to say that.
And she smiled.
"Personally," she went on, "I hate music—loathe it. But it's Sullivan's trade, and, of course, one must come here."
She waved a jewelled arm towards the splendid animation of the auditorium.
"But surely, Emmeline," I cried protestingly, "you didn't 'loathe' that first act. I never heard anything like it. Rosa was simply—well, I can't describe it."
She gazed at me, and a cloud of melancholy seemed to come into her eyes. And after a pause she said, in the strangest tone, very quietly:
"You're in love with her already."
And her eyes continued to hold mine.
"Who could help it?" I laughed.
She leaned towards me, and her left hand hung over the edge of the box.
"Women like Rosetta Rosa ought to be killed!" she said, with astonishing ferocity. Her rich, heavy contralto vibrated through me. She was excited again, that was evident. The nervous mood had overtaken her. The long pendent lobes of her ears crimsoned, and her opulent bosom heaved. I was startled. I was rather more than startled—I was frightened. I said to myself, "What a peculiar creature!"
"Why?" I questioned faintly.
"Because they are too young, too lovely, too dangerous," she responded with fierce emphasis. "And as for Rosa in particular—as for Rosa in particular—if you knew what I knew, what I've seen——"
"What have you seen?" I was bewildered. I began to wish that Sullivan had not abandoned me to her.
"Perhaps I'm wrong," she laughed.
She laughed, and sat up straight again, and resumed her excellent imitation of the woman of fashion, while I tried to behave as though I had found nothing singular in her behavior.
"You know about our reception?" she asked vivaciously in another moment, playing with her fan.
"I'm afraid I don't."
"Where have you been, Carl?"
"I've been in Edinburgh," I said, "for my final."
"Oh!" she said. "Well, it's been paragraphed in all the papers. Sullivan is giving a reception in the Gold Rooms of the Grand Babylon Hotel. Of course, it will be largely theatrical,—Sullivan has to mix a good deal with that class, you know; it's his business,—but there will be a lot of good people there. You'll come, won't you? It's to celebrate the five hundredth performance of 'My Queen.' Rosetta Rosa is coming."
"I shall be charmed. But I should have thought you wouldn't ask Rosa after what you've just said."
"Not ask Rosa! My dear Carl, she simply won't go anywhere. I know for a fact she declined Lady Casterby's invitation to meet a Serene Highness. Sir Cyril got her for me. She'll be the star of the show."
The theatre darkened once more. There were the usual preliminaries, and the orchestra burst into the prelude of the second act.
"Have you ever done any crystal-gazing?" Emmeline whispered.
And some one on the floor of the house hissed for silence.
I shook my head.
"You must try." Her voice indicated that she was becoming excited again. "At my reception there will be a spiritualism room. I'm a believer, you know."
I nodded politely, leaning over the front of the box to watch the conductor.
Then she set herself to endure the music.
Immediately the second act was over, Sullivan returned, bringing with him a short, slight, bald-headed man of about fifty. The two were just finishing a conversation on some stage matter.
"Smart, let me introduce to you my cousin, Carl Foster. Carl, this is Sir Cyril Smart."
My first feeling was one of surprise that a man so celebrated should be so insignificant to the sight. Yet as he looked at me I could somehow feel that here was an intelligence somewhat out of the common. At first he said little, and that little was said chiefly to my cousin's wife, but there was a quietude and firmness in his speech which had their own effect.
Sir Cyril had small eyes, and small features generally, including rather a narrow forehead. His nostrils, however, were well curved, and his thin, straight lips and square chin showed the stiffest determination. He looked fatigued, weary, and harassed; yet it did not appear that he complained of his lot; rather accepted it with sardonic humor. The cares of an opera season and of three other simultaneous managements weighed on him ponderously, but he supported the burden with stoicism.
"What is the matter with Alresca to-night?" Sullivan asked. "Suffering the pangs of jealousy, I suppose."
"Alresca," Sir Cyril replied, "is the greatest tenor living, and to-night he sings like a variety comedian. But it is not jealousy. There is one thing about Alresca that makes me sometimes think he is not an artist at all—he is incapable of being jealous. I have known hundreds of singers, and he is the one solitary bird among them of that plumage. No, it is not jealousy."
"Then what is it?"
"I wish I knew. He asked me to go and dine with him this afternoon. You know he dines at four o'clock. Of course, I went. What do you think he wanted me to do? He actually suggested that I should change the bill to-night! That showed me that something really was the matter, because he's the most modest and courteous man I have ever known, and he has a horror of disappointing the public. I asked him if he was hoarse. No. I asked him if he felt ill. No. But he was extremely depressed.
"'I'm quite well,' he said, 'and yet—' Then he stopped. 'And yet what?' It seemed as if I couldn't drag it out of him. Then all of a sudden he told me. 'My dear Smart,' he said, 'there is a misfortune coming to me. I feel it.' That's just what he said—'There's a misfortune coming to me. I feel it.' He's superstitious. They all are. Naturally, I set to work to soothe him. I did what I could. I talked about his liver in the usual way. But it had less than the usual effect. However, I persuaded him not to force me to change the bill."
Mrs. Sullivan struck into the conversation.
"He isn't in love with Rosa, is he?" she demanded brusquely.
"In love with Rosa? Of course he isn't, my pet!" said Sullivan.
The wife glared at her husband as if angry, and Sullivan made a comic gesture of despair with his hands.
"Is he?" Mrs. Sullivan persisted, waiting for Smart's reply.
"I never thought of that," said Sir Cyril simply. "No; I should say not, decidedly not… . He may be, after all. I don't know. But if he were, that oughtn't to depress him. Even Rosa ought to be flattered by the admiration of a man like Alresca. Besides, so far as I know, they've seen very little of each other. They're too expensive to sing together often. There's only myself and Conried of New York who would dream of putting them in the same bill. I should say they hadn't sung together more than two or three times since the death of Lord Clarenceux; so, even if he has been making love to her, she's scarcely had time to refuse him—eh?"
"If he has been making love to Rosa," said Mrs. Sullivan slowly, "whether she has refused him or not, it's a misfortune for him, that's all."
"Oh, you women! you women!" Sullivan smiled. "How fond you are of each other."
Mrs. Sullivan disdained to reply to her spouse.
"And, let me tell you," she added, "he has been making love to her."
The talk momentarily ceased, and in order to demonstrate that I was not tongue-tied in the company of these celebrities, I ventured to inquire what Lord Clarenceux, whose riches and eccentricities had reached even the Scottish newspapers, had to do with the matter.
"Lord Clarenceux was secretly engaged to Rosa in Vienna," Sir Cyril replied. "That was about two and a half years ago. He died shortly afterwards. It was a terrible shock for her. Indeed, I have always thought that the shock had something to do with her notorious quarrel with us. She isn't naturally quarrelsome, so far as I can judge, though really I have seen very little of her."
"By the way, what was the real history of that quarrel?" said Sullivan. "I only know the beginning of it, and I expect Carl doesn't know even that, do you, Carl?"
"No," I murmured modestly. "But perhaps it's a State secret."
"Not in the least," Sir Cyril said, turning to me. "I first heard Rosa in Genoa—the opera-house there is more of a barn even than this, and a worse stage than this used to be, if that's possible. She was nineteen. Of course, I knew instantly that I had met with the chance of my life. In my time I have discovered eleven stars, but this was a sun. I engaged her at once, and she appeared here in the following July. She sang twelve times, and—well, you know the sensation there was. I had offered her twenty pounds a night in Genoa, and she seemed mighty enchanted.
"After her season here I offered her two hundred pounds a night for the following year; but Lord Clarenceux had met her then, and she merely said she would think it over. She wouldn't sign a contract. I was annoyed. My motto is, 'Never be annoyed,' but I was. Next to herself, she owed everything to me. She went to Vienna to fulfil an engagement, and Lord Clarenceux after her. I followed. I saw her, and I laid myself out to arrange terms of peace.
"I have had difficulties with prime donne before, scores of times. Yes; I have had experience." He laughed sardonically. "I thought I knew what to do. Generally a prima donna has either a pet dog or a pet parrot—sopranos go in for dogs, contraltos seem to prefer parrots. I have made a study of these agreeable animals, and I have found that through them their mistresses can be approached when all other avenues are closed. I can talk doggily to poodles in five languages, and in the art of administering sugar to the bird I am, I venture to think, unrivalled. But Rosa had no pets. And after a week's negotiation, I was compelled to own myself beaten. It was a disadvantage to me that she wouldn't lose her temper. She was too polite; she really was grateful for what I had done for her. She gave me no chance to work on her feelings. But beyond all this there was something strange about Rosa, something I have never been able to fathom. She isn't a child like most of 'em. She's as strong-headed as I am myself, every bit!"
He paused, as if inwardly working at the problem.
"Well, and how did you make it up?" Sullivan asked briskly.
(As for me, I felt as if I had come suddenly into the centre of the great world.)
"Oh, nothing happened for a time. She sang in Paris and America, and took her proper place as the first soprano in the world. I did without her, and managed very well. Then early this spring she sent her agent to see me, and offered to sing ten times for three thousand pounds. They can't keep away from London, you know. New York and Chicago are all very well for money, but if they don't sing in London people ask 'em why. I wanted to jump at the offer, but I pretended not to be eager. Up till then she had confined herself to French operas; so I said that London wouldn't stand an exclusively French repertoire from any one, and would she sing in 'Lohengrin.' She would. I suggested that she should open with 'Lohengrin,' and she agreed. The price was stiffish, but I didn't quarrel with that. I never drive bargains. She is twenty-two now, or twenty-three; in a few more years she will want five hundred pounds a night, and I shall have to pay it."
"And how did she meet you?"
"With just the same cold politeness. And I understand her less than ever."
"She isn't English, I suppose?" I put in.
"English!" Sir Cyril ejaculated. "No one ever heard of a great English soprano. Unless you count Australia as England, and Australia wouldn't like that. No. That is another of her mysteries. No one knows where she emerged from. She speaks English and French with absolute perfection. Her Italian accent is beautiful. She talks German freely, but badly. I have heard that she speaks perfect Flemish,—which is curious,—but I do not know."
"Well," said Sullivan, nodding his head, "give me the theatrical as opposed to the operatic star. The theatrical star's bad enough, and mysterious enough, and awkward enough. But, thank goodness, she isn't polite—at least, those at the Diana aren't. You can speak your mind to 'em. And that reminds me, Smart, about that costume of Effie's in the
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