The Simple Tale Of A Woman Surviving With The Tools God Gave Her
Adapted From An Original Story by
“Here you are, miss,” said the red-faced cabby, putting his head in at the cab window, “this is Miss Melford’s school.”
It was a large, many windowed, white house on Hertford Green, in sight of the famous spires of Silverbridge, and was for some six months to be both home and school to me, Gloria Dene.
I was late in my arrival, and I was tired, for I had come all the way from Erlingham in the heart of Norfolk, and moreover, I was hungry, and just a little homesick, and already wanted to return to the old homestead and to Uncle Gervase and Aunt Ducie, who had taken the place of my parents.
The cabman gave a loud rat-a-tat with the lion-headed knocker, and in due course a rosy-faced servant maid opened the door and ushered me in.
Then she preceded me through a broad flagged hall, lit by crimson lamps. And as I went I heard a sweet and thrilling voice singing,
“Home, home, sweet, sweet home, Be it ever so humble there’s no place like home.”
The words naturally appealed to me, and I exclaimed:
“How lovely! Who is singing?” only to be told that it was Mamselle Narda, the music mistress.
I thought of the nightingale which sang in our rose bush on summer nights at home, and found myself wondering what Mamselle was like.
The next day I saw her–Bernarda Torres; she was a brown beauty, with dark rippling hair, soft dark eyes, and a richly soft complexion, which put one in mind of a ripe peach on a southern wall.
She was of Spanish extraction, her father (a fruit merchant) hailing from Granada, her mother from Seville. Narda’s path had been strewn with roses, until a bank failure interrupted a life of happiness, and then sorrows had come in battalions. Mamselle had really turned her silver notes into silver coins for the sake of “Home, Sweet Home.”
This love of home it was which united Narda and myself. She told me all about the house at home, about her brother, Carlos, and his pictures, and maman, who made point lace, and Olla Podrida, and little Nita, who was douce et belle. And I, in my turn, told her of the thatched homestead near the Broads, of the bay and mulberry trees, of Aunt Ducie’s sweet kind face, and Uncle Gervase’s early silvered hair.
And she called me “little sister,” and promised to spend her next vacation where the heron fishes and the robin pipes in fair and fresh East Anglia.
But one May morning, when the lilacs in our playground were full of sweet-scented, purple plumes, a bolt fell from the blue. A letter came to Narda telling her of her mother’s failing health, her father’s apathy, her brother’s despair.
“It is enough,” said Mamselle, “I see my duty! An impresario once told me that my destiny was to sing in public. I will do it for ‘Home, Sweet Home,’ I will be La Narda the singer, instead of Miss Melford’s Mamselle. God who helps the blind bird build its nest will help me to save mine.”
There had been the first fall of the snow, and “ye Antiente Citie” looked like some town in dreamland, or in fairyland, as Miss Melford’s boarders (myself amongst the number) went through its streets and wynds to the ballad concert (in aid of Crumblebolme’s Charity), at which Mamselle, then La Narda, the cantatrice, was announced to sing. We were naturally much excited; it seemed, as Ivy Davis remarked, almost as though we were all going to sing in public.
We had front seats, quite near the tapestried platform from whence we took note of the audience.
“Look, look!” whispered Milly Reed eagerly. “The Countess of Jesmond, and the house-party at Coss have come to hear our Mamselle. That dark, handsome man next the countess is Count Mirloff, the Russian poet. Just think I—-”
What more Milly would have said I really cannot say, for just then there was a soft clapping of hands, and La Narda came down the crimson steps of the Justice Room, and advanced to the footlights.
“She’s like a fairy queen! She’s just too lovely!” said the irrepressible Ivy. And though Miss Melford shook her head, I am sure she also was of the same opinion, and was proud of my dear brown nightingale.
The petite figure was robed in white silk, trimmed with frosted leaves and pink roses, and wore a garland of the same on her dark bright head.
“Tell me, thou bonnie bird, When shall I marry me? When three braw gentlemen Churchward shall carry ye,” sang the sweet full voice, and we listened entranced. The next song was “Robin Adair.”
Then came an encore, and as Narda acknowledged it, an accident occurred which (as the newspapers say) might have had a fatal termination.
A flounce of the singer’s dress touched the footlights, and the flame began to creep upwards like a snake of fire.
Narda glanced downward, drew back, and was about to try to crush it out with her hands, when in less time than it takes to tell it, the Russian gentleman sprang forward, wrapped his fur-lined coat about her, and extinguished the flame.
The poet had saved the nightingale, and Miss Melford’s romantic girls unanimously resolved “that he ought to marry her.”
And he did shortly after. Our some time music-teacher who was good enough for any position became a grande dame with a mansion in St. Petersburg, and a country house in Livania. She went to balls at the Winter Palace, and was present at all the court ceremonies.
Yet was she still our Narda, she sent us girls presents of Viennese bonbons and French fruit, bought brother Carlo’s paintings, sent petite Nita as a boarder to Miss Melford’s, and studied under a great maestro.
When a wee birdie came into the Russian nest she named it Endora Gloria, and her happiness and my pride were complete.
Then came a great–a terrible blow. The count, whose opinions were liberal, was accused of being implicated in a revolutionary rising. He was cast into prison, and sent to the silver mines to work in the long underground passages for twenty years.
Ivy Davis, who was very romantic, was grievously disappointed because the countess returned to her profession instead of sharing her husband’s exile. But there came a day and an hour when she honoured as well as loved the cantatrice; for she with Heaven’s help freed the count, and obtained his pardon from the Czar–she herself shall tell you how she gained it.
Read the letter she sent to me:–
“Alexis is free; he is nursing Endora as I write.
“When the officers took him from me I felt half mad, and knew not where to go.
“One morning as I knelt by my little one’s white bed an inspiration came; over the mantel was a picture of ‘The Good Shepherd,’ and I clasped my hands, and cried aloud:
“‘O bon Pasteur, help me to free Thy sheep.’
“And lo, a voice seemed to answer: ‘Daughter, use the talent that you have.’
“I rose from my knees knowing what course to pursue. I sought new opportunities for the display of my one talent, I was more than successful, I became Narda the prima donna, and won golden guineas and opinions.
“At last came my opportunity. I was to sing at Bayreuth in Wagner’s glorious opera, I was to sing the Swan Song, and the Czar was to be present.
“The house was crowded, there was row upon row, tier after tier of faces, but I saw one only–that of the Czar in his box.
“I stood there before the footlights in shining white, and sang my song.
“The heavenly music rose and fell, died away and rose again, and I sang as I had never done before. I sang for home, love, and child.
“When the curtain fell the Czar sent for me and complimented me graciously, offering me a diamond ring which I gratefully refused.
“‘Sire,’ I said, ‘I ask for a gift more costly still.’
“‘Is it,’ he asked, ‘a necklace?’
“‘No, sire, it is my husband’s pardon. Give my little daughter her father back.’
“He frowned, hesitated, then said that he would inquire into the matter.
“And, he did, God be praised! The evidence was sifted, much of it was found to be false. The pardon was made out. Your nightingale had sung with her breast against a thorn, ‘her song had been a prayer which Heaven itself had heard.”
Smiles and Good Fortune,
Teresa Thomas Bohannon
Author of the Regency Romance novel, A Very Merry Chase
– W. Somerset Maugham (1874 - 1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915