Extremely controlled studies of constrained desire, loneliness, and incomplete relationships, these tales fostered Edwards' development of a nonrealist world of imagery and symbolism in her own language. The ten stories of Rhapsody, together with the three previously uncollected pieces added to this edition, are utterly distinctive in voice and sensibility. At least three of the Rhapsody stories—"A Country House," "Days," and the brilliant, enigmatic "A Garland of Earth"—are small masterpieces sure to by enjoyed by a whole new generation.
About the Author
Dorothy Edwards is the author of numerous short stories and the novel Winter Sonata.
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By Dorothy Edwards
ParthianCopyright © 2007 Estate of Ceri Richards/DACS
All rights reserved.
Last summer, on the very first day I returned from Egypt for my summer vacation, I made a new and interesting acquaintance. I reached London at about three o'clock, and had to wait about until a six o'clock appointment with my firm, and because I was too tired to do anything else in the meantime, and feeling also a little depressed and lonely, I turned into a café and sat there drinking tea and reading a magazine. At about four a man walked in and sat at the table in front of mine. He was short and thin, with very straight fair hair and pale blue eyes, and he was perhaps about forty years of age, though he looked very young. His face wore a curious expression, as if he were listening all the time to something intensely illuminating but scarcely audible, or as if he were experiencing some almost intolerably sweet emotion, and he seemed to be imploring you 'Please don't interrupt me for a moment; it will soon be over.'
I noticed him particularly as he ordered tea and poured it out for himself, and I remember thinking what a neat and well-ordered personality he must be.
Then I went back to my magazine, and, when next I looked up, he was standing at my side, trying to attract my attention by saying in a very polite voice, 'Pardon me, could you tell me what time it is?'
The fact of his not knowing the time was so much out of harmony with the conception I had formed of his 'well- ordered personality,' and I was so muddle-headed after my rather sensational magazine story, that I did a very rude thing. I said, 'But haven't you a watch?'
He put two fingers into his watch-pocket and said, 'No. I lent it to my little boy this morning. It has been a great inconvenience all day.'
'It is a quarter to five,' I said hurriedly; and then, to make up for my rudeness, I offered him a cigarette, and asked him if he would not sit down at my table. He accepted my invitation very politely, and sat down.
'It is most unpleasant being without a watch,' he said seriously. 'I am so anxious not to miss my train, which goes at 5.40, because my wife is an invalid. There was no means of ascertaining the time at the concert this afternoon, and I regret to say that I came out of it earlier than necessary, because I thought it was later than it actually was. That is why I have some time to spend here.'
'Yes. That is awfully annoying,' I said.
'However,' and his expression of intolerable bliss returned, 'I heard a great deal.'
'You are fond of music?' I remarked.
'Yes,' he answered. 'I never have the opportunity to hear very much now. It is impossible for me to come to town in the evening, because I cannot get home the same night. I can never go to the opera, for instance, though I am very fond of Mozart. My wife is an invalid, so that I do not like to leave her for very long. She used to play, but our tastes were dissimilar in many ways, and now she cannot play at all.'
'And do you not play?' I asked.
'Alas, no!' he answered. 'I can finger out the notes in a very clumsy way, but though that gives me pleasure, I am sure it causes great anguish to everyone anywhere near, and it annoys my wife terribly, because her technique was always excellent. I can see you are sympathising with me,' he added almost gaily. 'I suppose you can play beautifully. Is that so?'
I laughed too. 'No,' I said. 'I am very fond of music, though. I quite understand how you must miss it.'
He was delighted. He began to hum the little Minueto from Don Giovanni ecstatically in a whisper. Suddenly he said, 'But, though you do not play, you will go to hear everything this season while I shall hear nothing.'
I was so anxious to take away some of his envy that I answered sorrowfully, 'Yes, but even if it were possible to go to concerts every day, it is very dull wandering about by oneself in between for a whole three months.'
He was all compassion. 'You have no friends here? Perhaps you do not live in London?'
It seemed a pity to talk about me, but I had made it inevitable.
'I have a job in Egypt — Alexandria,' I said. 'I am home for three months, and there is nothing particularly to do now except go to theatres. I do not know what I shall do in August.'
'It is a pity you do not play,' he said, appearing not to have listened to what I said. 'You will be sorry some day. When I was a boy I had a sister who played everything for me, and then my wife was a beautiful pianist, so I never practised myself. Now, of course, I can't begin playing scales with an invalid in the house. Perhaps you sing, though?' he added suspiciously.
I blushed a little. 'I used to have a bit of a voice,' I admitted.
He drummed on the table with his little finger. Then suddenly he stopped, and a most cunning expression pirouetted across his face. He looked up and said casually, 'Perhaps, if you are indeed without engagements, you would care to spend a few days with me. We are going away in a fortnight's time, so that it would have to be before then.' And a little less casually he added: 'Do you think you could possibly sing unaccompanied?' and really there was a most pathetically imploring expression in his eyes.
So I said yes at once, and promised to stay with him the very next week. Then I had to remind him of the time, and, flinging his card down on the table, he scurried away, waving his new grey gloves in an ecstatic farewell. And I was left, somewhat to my own astonishment, with an engagement on my hands. However, I continued in that mood of loneliness when one is quite ready to take a passionate interest in the affairs of any stranger, so the next week I went down to see him. He lived in the country, some way out of London. He seemed altogether delighted to see me, and even more delighted to see some music under my arm. With great restraint he did not mention the music, only he put it reverently on the hall- table. Then we went in to tea. His wife was rather disappointing. She lay on a sofa presiding over the tea- table, though Everett himself actually poured out the tea. She was a dark, thick-set woman, with large, heavy white hands. Her face bore the marks of much physical suffering, so that she looked older than her husband, though I suppose she was about the same age, and she wore an expression which was neither complaint nor resignation, but something quite different from either. I liked her at once, though of course she did not strike my imagination as her husband did.
'George said you were finding England lonely,' she said.
I smiled, thinking that I had been represented to her simply as an object of compassion.
'Oh, not very seriously,' I said. 'Only I had been looking forward to getting here, and forgot that there would be no one to meet me. Your husband found me in the middle of that mood. Now I am quite reconciled to being at the centre of the earth instead of at its outskirts.'
'Yes,' she said slowly. 'I never go to town now.'
Everett said excitably, 'Please have a cress sandwich. I grow them myself in boxes on the window-ledge.'
It was exceedingly pleasant to be welcomed with such enthusiasm, even though I knew the cunning that lay beneath it. Mrs Everett seemed glad to see me too. I suppose she saw few people, as they lived in the country. I found them both very interesting. It was curious how, whenever Everett mentioned music, he looked at her a little apprehensively, and she almost imperceptibly frowned. I wonder if she had awakened one day to find that he had married her because she was a beautiful pianist, and perhaps she took a dislike to music from that day?
During tea their little son came into the room. He was a nice little chap, with dark eyes like his mother's. He shook hands with me shyly and said to Everett: 'Please, father, will you lend me your watch again tomorrow?'
'Oh yes, Vincent, certainly,' said his father, with great attentiveness.
'Why do you want it?' asked his mother heavily.
'Well, the truf is,' said he, 'I showed it to Dick last week, and he told another little boy that I had one, so I had better show it to the other little boy tomorrow.'
'All right,' said his mother; 'go and play now.'
'You won't forget, father?' said Vincent.
'No,' said Everett. 'I cannot give it to you now, because I am going to take Mr Elliott for a walk, and we will not know when it is time for dinner, but you shall have it immediately afterwards.'
'I have a watch, you know,' I said.
'Oh, then in that case Vincent can have it now.' And he took out of his pocket a very magnificent gold watch and gave it to the boy. Vincent put it carefully into his trousers-pocket and then went out.
'Nice little chap,' I said.
'Yes,' said his mother. 'He is going away to school in September. When you take Mr Elliott out, George, go along to the woods; he will like that best.'
'Yes,' said Everett. 'I hope you are not feeling tired now. Is there anything I can do for you?'
'No, thank you,' she said, without looking up.
Everett led me outside, and we began to walk along a road shaded by trees. He had the air of one about to impart a desperate secret.
'I have been so anxious to tell you,' he said. 'I have evolved a scheme. Next week we are going to Scotland for a holiday.'
'But can Mrs Everett travel so far?' I asked in surprise.
'Oh yes,' he said quickly. 'She likes it there very much. We will go all the way by car. It is expensive, but of course it will be better for her than going by train. We stay at a place called Glen Elan, and the man who lives in the cottage we stay at plays the violin — not very well, you know, but he has a quite natural talent for it.'
'Oh, I see.'
'The piano there is an old one, but I have already written to get it tuned before we arrive. But this is the scheme that I have on foot. Vincent is going to school in September. Now, do you not think he should have a governess during these two months? I don't want him to be behind the other boys in his studies.'
'I think it would perhaps be a good thing,' I said cautiously.
He beamed at me. 'And she would keep him from worrying his mother, and give the maid the opportunity to devote all her time to her.'
'Well, do you know what I have done?' he said, and his wisp of a voice rose to a crescendo of excitement. 'I put a carefully worded advertisement in the paper. I asked for a music teacher who could also give some instruction in general subjects.'
'A most diabolical plot,' I said, feeling glad that I had come.
He chuckled. 'With a violinist and a pianist and a singer,' he said, 'we shall be able to do a great deal.'
'A singer?' I inquired.
'Oh yes,' he said hurriedly. 'You will come with us for at least part of the time? Glen Elan would just suit you.'
'You are very kind,' I said doubtfully. 'But let me hear the rest of the plot.'
He looked a little worried. 'Ah, that is where I wished to ask your advice. The most promising of the applicants says she is not at all sure that she knows enough arithmetic. Do you think arithmetic is very necessary to Vincent?'
'How much does he know already?' I said gravely.
'I do not altogether know,' said his father, 'but I should think he has probably picked up some.'
'He hasn't had any definite lessons?'
'No. I do not think there is anyone who would have given them to him.'
'In that case,' I pronounced, 'she ought to know enough to start him.'
He was overjoyed. 'Tomorrow afternoon she is coming for an interview. I arranged it for when you were here. And I shall simply ask her to play something. If she plays it with soul I shall engage her.'
He was silent for a few moments, then he said, 'Though there is no harm at all in what I am doing, I should so much prefer it if my wife were not present at the interview. So would you be kind enough to take her into the garden just before three o'clock tomorrow afternoon, and then if the governess can play I will bring her out to you both?'
With vows of the uttermost secrecy I joined in the conspiracy.
After dinner that evening he led me solemnly into the drawing-room. In spite of his passion for music the room had a desolate, unoccupied air, and the music was arranged too neatly. He shut the door very carefully and drew a heavy curtain across it.
'What are you going to sing?' he asked.
I answered that I would try something from Don Giovanni.
In delight he picked up from the floor a neat score bound in bright red leather, and, opening it at the beginning of the overture, he put it on the piano and went and sat down in a chair.
'We will sit quietly for a moment and imagine the overture,' he said, and he sat and listened to the exquisite inaudible notes. I, of course, could not remember it all through. Afterwards he made me sing until I was hoarse, and though I had not sung for a long time and my voice had never been much to boast about, he seemed to derive such pleasure from it that he would have affected me with his enthusiasm had I not been unpleasantly aware of Mrs Everett somewhere within hearing of this not very sound-proof room.
The next day just before three o'clock I asked Mrs Everett if she would let me take her into the garden. She accepted my escort without any suspicion, and I do not know why I felt so desperately wicked and conscience- stricken. She dragged very heavily on my arm, and we walked only to a seat by the side of a croquet lawn. She hardly spoke, except to admire the yellow roses and the woods in the distance.
She said, 'You will like Glen Elan. George says you are coming there with us for some of the time.'
'If you are sure that you would like me to come,' I said.
'It is quiet, of course,' she remarked, without answering, 'but if you like walking you can make a good holiday there.'
I thanked her again, and promised that I would come there in August.
'Good,' she said, and seemed quite pleased.
I was rather glad, too, that I should not visit them entirely on my merits as a singer.
Soon after this Everett came pirouetting across the garden, and with him a quaint little figure who was the music teacher. She was smiling shyly, but with delight, so she had evidently played with soul. He led her up to us.
'This is the lady I have engaged as a governess for Vincent, my dear,' he said to his wife. 'Her name is Miss Antonia Trenier.'
Miss Antonia smiled timidly. She was a small creature, not even as tall as Everett. She had a very high forehead and big black eyes, and she made quick and startled, yet at the same time reposeful, movements. She wore a comical little, loosely knitted striped coat, which reached only to her waist, and looked too small for anyone, and a long, full, white pleated skirt, while a childish little white straw hat on her head proclaimed that she was in the country.
'You will find Vincent quite easy to manage,' said Mrs Everett. 'He is a docile child.'
'Oh yes, thank you,' said Antonia, and sat down on the seat next to her.
'This is Mr Elliott,' said Mrs Everett. 'He is coming to Scotland with us for part of the time.'
'Oh yes,' said Antonia, giving me a little bow from where she sat.
I found it a little difficult not to show my amusement at this music teacher who had answered Everett's 'carefully worded advertisement' and did not know much arithmetic. Everett, of course, sat looking at her as though she were a new piano.
Mrs Everett suggested that she should stay to tea, and sent Everett scurrying off to the house to have it brought out to the garden.
She turned to Antonia. 'Why did you apply for the post?' she asked abruptly.
Antonia looked rather frightened. 'I had had no holiday for a very long time,' she said. 'I thought it would be very nice to go to Scotland, although I will have to put off all my pupils to do so.'
'What do you teach?' asked Mrs Everett.
'Music,' said Antonia, looking surprised.
'Oh,' said Mrs Everett. 'I used to play once, but now my health is too bad.'
Antonia looked rather startled, and evidently did not know what to say.
'Are you very fond of music?' I asked.
'Oh yes,' said Antonia. 'My father played the violin in an orchestra. He played very well, but he was without ambition.'
'And you are not without ambition?' I remarked.
'I do not know,' said she. 'Teaching is very tiring to the temperament.'
'Yes, it must be,' I agreed.
Everett came out again and we had tea. Mrs Everett did not speak, and looked across to the woods. Everett was in complete bliss, and Antonia as full of excitement as any child would be before a holiday. Nobody seemed to think of introducing Vincent to his new governess, so when an opportunity presented itself I suggested it. Then Everett ran to fetch him, and returned with the little fellow hurrying after him.
'This is your new governess, Vincent,' said his father. 'She is coming to Glen Elan with us, and she is going to teach you a great many interesting things.'
'Oh yes,' said Antonia, bobbing down to his level to shake hands with him. 'Music, you know.'
Vincent looked at her shyly and said, 'Thank you very much.'
'But he need not learn music,' said Everett. Antonia looked up at us. 'But —' she began.
I broke in hurriedly and a little maliciously with, 'Arithmetic and things like that, Miss Trenier.'
She looked from Everett, who was looking rather apprehensive, to me, but seeing that I was smiling, she laughed too, and having very little notion what to do with Vincent, she patted him on the shoulder and went back to her seat. Soon afterwards she went to catch her train. The next day I, too, went back to town, after promising to join them at Glen Elan the first week in August.
Excerpted from Rhapsody by Dorothy Edwards. Copyright © 2007 Estate of Ceri Richards/DACS. Excerpted by permission of Parthian.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
A COUNTRY HOUSE,
TREACHERY IN A FOREST,
A GARLAND OF EARTH,
A THRONE IN HEAVEN,
THE PROBLEM OF LIFE,
Foreword by Christopher Meredith,
Cover Image The Pianist by Ceri Richards,
LIBRARY OF WALES,