A Summer in Olympia Ch. 08byNigel Debonnaire©
It was Wednesday, and opening night was two days away. Sir Charles had attended the dress rehearsal the night before, and had proclaimed the production excellent, in spite of the fact none of his original cast remained. Alfred helped me with plausible stories about the remaining players' defections, which Sir Charles took in stride. The run of the opera was to be the last three weekends of September after initial celebration of Labor Day, and Alfred was nervous about the rest of his season of concerts, his first as director of the Choral-Symphony Society. I assured him his patrons would understand, and would be generous in evaluating his entire First Season in St. Louis.
The rehearsal was going smoothly, too smoothly, until the penultimate scene when Andromeda is chained to the rock. The soldier's costumes were still not quite right, and as they left, a sharp bit of one tore Andromeda's costume off her body, exposing her naked form almost completely. She began screaming and wailing, struggling with her bonds, which were too real to let her go easily. The reactions of the other cast and crew were varied: the other leads on stage stood stock still, amazed at what had happened; several members of the orchestra turned to stare at her huge breasts with big brown nipples while others began laughing hysterically; a couple of stage hands started mooing and the chorus ran off stage at high speed as if they were in danger of sudden revelation. Alfred started screaming from the podium for wardrobe and shortly a wardrobe mistress emerged with a blanket for the poor woman.
Tears were welling in my eyes, and several voices called out marriage proposals. Magda, the poor disrobed singer, couldn't bear it and wept uncontrollably as she left the stage under the protection of a piece of cloth. I was wiping tears from my face when a hand prodded my shoulder. "Mr. MacLeod, Mr. MacLeod you must come back now. Something dreadful has happened." I looked to find Connie standing next to me with a worried look on his face; clearly something was very wrong at Olympia. I leapt to my feet and following him out, pausing to tell an usher that I was leaving to attend to an emergency and would in touch with Alfred as soon as I could.
Max was waiting in a carriage outside the door, and he tipped his cap as I approached. "Good evening, Mr. MacLeod," his rich baritone voice intoned. "Something has happened to Sir Charles, we fear for his life. Don't have time to get your bags, get in and we're off." I jumped into the seat with Connie on the other side, and with a crack of the whip we were navigating the streets of the city outward.
The boys were very quiet, unusually quiet, during our journey, focused on maintaining speed without exhausting the horses or getting the attention of the police. Once we left the city, there was little light, which slowed our progress as well, but around nine o'clock we pulled up at the entrance of Olympia. Maurice met us at the top of the stairs: "It's Sir Charles, he was out hunting for rabbits early this morning with Gus and Max, and he had some kind of heart attack or episode. The boys brought him in unconscious and he's remained that way all day. Doctor Uhrlacher is with him, as is Lady Alice, however the younger women could use reassurance. They're in his study upstairs."
She conducted me there, where I found Pearl and Penny sitting on chairs almost at opposite ends of the room. Penny jumped out of her seat and came quickly to me, touching my arm in supplication: "Thank you for coming, Mr. MacLeod. Is there any new news?"
"No, I've just arrived. Maurice gave me the short version of the story."
Turning away and wringing her hands, she sobbed: "Oh, he thought rabbit for luncheon would be so delightful today, so he went out with the lads to find some. The dogs flushed one from a thicket near the bluff's edge, but he was a little out of position to shoot and ran over a couple of hillocks to get a shot off, and then he collapsed holding his chest."
"Father has never been particularly athletic," Pearl added, staring out the window, "Always thought his constitution would carry him through, as well as his genes. His father is still alive at 87."
"How old is he, exactly?" I said.
"Forty seven," Pearl replied. "Not young and not old. Almost the Earl of Kent's age in _King Lear_" My Shakespeare was rusty and Penny looked lost, so Pearl continued from memory:
'Not so young, sir, to love a woman for singing, nor
so old to dote on her for any thing: I have years
on my back forty eight.'
Opal brought in a tray with appetizers and pots of coffee and tea, setting it down on the study's sideboard, and giving me a solemn look before she left. Penny nervously took a plate and loaded it; Pearl remained at her station, staring out the window. I sat between them on a couch and crossed my legs, many things running through my mind. There wasn't enough information and my thoughts chased each other randomly. It was a time to wait, and nothing would hasten it.
"The boys brought him here in good order, strong lads they are and able to conquer the world someday, I guess," Penny rambled, "And after they brought him upstairs, they went off to fetch Dr. Uhrlacher. We knew you were busy with the rehearsal tonight, so we waited to see if he would rally before we sent Max and Connie to fetch you, waited until. . .until. . ."
"Until we were sure his life was in danger," Pearl finished in a calm voice.
"And who knows what will happen if he dies," Penny wailed, "what will become of us?"
"You'll be fine, Penny," I said.
There was a silence as Penny resumed her tea, and went back to the tray for more. Pearl began to recite the Twenty Third Psalm out of the blue, which seemed to mollify the other young woman for the moment and helped calm me. After finishing her repast, Penny suddenly ran from the room, crying again, and slammed the door behind her.
I went over to Pearl and laid hand on her shoulder; she was still staring out the window toward the lake she swam in every morning with her half-sister Opal and watching the last flickers of light in the West. She covered my hand with hers but otherwise did not respond. "How are you, Pearl?"
"I'm all right," she began in a distant voice. "My father and I were never close, which is not unusual for a father and a daughter, I imagine. I remember flickers of kindness and joviality when I was small, but none after I reached the age of eight. Mother didn't pay much attention to me, either, they sent me to a boarding school. They sent Opal as well, so I wouldn't be lonely. When we came back, all there was for me was the library. Needlepoint never interested me, but ideas always have. Father taught me to sing so I could sing his wretched songs for him. It's said a Father is a rock of a child's life, a provider and protector. I've never felt that, and I wonder if it really will be different when he's gone."
I kept my hand on her shoulder, standing behind her, watching the stars come out. She squeezed my hand and kept it there, the one indication of her inner struggle and her need.
After a lifetime of waiting, there were footsteps on the stairs, and Maurice stuck his head in to announce that the Vicar had arrived, and we should all gather in the Master Bedroom for prayer.
Lady Alice sat on the bed beside her husband, holding his hand in hers and crying. Penny had taken up a position next to her, also weeping, and Mrs. Edwards stood in a far corner, also lost in grief. The six other servants, all his children though never acknowledged, stood in order from oldest to youngest, holding their hands in front of them, their heads bowed and their faces solemn. Maurice took his place beside Opal, as head of the house servants, her face drawn and somber. Pearl went to stand at the foot of the bed, still keeping my hand on her shoulder, and I took my place behind her.
The Vicar began the prayers of Extreme Unction. Sir Charles struggled to draw breath and occasionally would pause for several moments before drawing another. We all responded when indicated by the clergyman, and since it was clear he was incapable of eating or drinking, the Vicar didn't share communion with him. After finishing the rote prayers, he continued with several other prayers and scripture readings, including the Twenty Third Psalm. During that passage, Sir Charles gave out his death rattle and exhaled for the last time.
It was the time of tears, and they flowed down my cheeks as well. In the midst of the sobs, Pearl's clear voice came out:
'Now cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet prince:
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!'
Lady Alice looked back and nodded at her daughter. There was sobbing and leave taking, with Lady Alice being last, and Dr. Uhrlacher told the boys to bring the carriage around so they could fetch the undertaker.
That night Pearl and Opal stayed in my bed, dressed, and we held each other for support. Not a word was spoken, but the pillows were all damp when morning light broke the next day. I took the first train back into town the next morning to speak with Alfred, and decide the fate of the Opera.
"Look, Frankie, the piece is awful and I will be glad to wash my hands of it," he began when I first saw him. "Let's just cancel the whole thing and get on with our lives."
"I agree it's trash," I said, "but it was his last great effort, one he poured a true heart into even if his inspiration wasn't so true. He paid for everything, the money is already in your hands. We owe him something."
He shrugged his shoulders. "All right, what?"
I thought for a moment. "It wouldn't be proper to play the opera this weekend; his funeral won't take place before Saturday and the family will be distraught. Put together a concert of favorites for this weekend, literature your patrons know, preferably music of mourning. As for the Opera, let's do it once, next Saturday night. Lady Alice will have recovered by then, and there'll be a crowd of curiosity seekers. You have time to put together a program for the last weekend and then your season's underway as usual."
"All right, all right, but I need your help. Getting the parts together for a concert on the fly tomorrow night will take time and thanks to the shrunken budget of the Society, I have no help today. Do you still have the Mozart D minor under your fingers?"
"I think so."
"Great, you make your debut with us tomorrow night if we can find the orchestra parts. I will have to go tell Concertmaster Spielmann about the change so he can get the word out, Herr Otten's programs are in the top drawer; you get started and I'll be back in a half hour or so."
Before I got started with the files, I wrote Maurice a quick note and sent it by messenger to Olympia, telling him my plans. I found music in the files to construct a program of familiar music for the orchestra, and much to my dismay I found the parts for the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor. My afternoon would be spent at the keyboard retrieving those notes from my memory. Alfred got back a little later than I expected, but was happy with my work and we became librarians, assembling folders of music in order for the desks of the orchestra.
My rooms in the city were still mine, so after an exhausting day of preparation and rehearsals I spent the night there. Maurice sent a quick note acknowledging my plans and affirming a Saturday morning funeral for Sir Charles. The next day was full as well, and in the evening Alfred made the solemn announcement of Sir Charles' passing and dedicating the special concert to him. Adrenaline gave me the ability to play the Mozart, and the audience received it warmly.
Afterward, I saw Maurice in the stalls. She waited for the crowd to leave, and met me backstage. "I never knew you could play like that. What a revelation!"
"Thanks, but I was rusty. I'm supposed to play it again tomorrow night, but it may be a close call with the funeral."
"We'll get you back in time."
"How are they doing?"
"Lady Alice is bearing like a soldier, Miss Penny is a mess, and Miss Pearl is distant. Mrs. Edwards and the children are bearing up well." She paused and hesitantly resumed on a new topic: "I have one personal request, if you have the energy."
She looked down for a moment, trying to come up with the words. "The next couple of months I'll be consumed with work; Sir Charles has a lot of loose ends that will need to be tied up. You will be gone before long, I can feel it. There's something in me you have uncovered, something I will have to let go of again soon, but not yet. Take me to your rooms in the City, strip me naked and shove your magnificent stallion into my secret place. I don't care what might happen; I need you inside me one more time before the winds of chaos blow us apart."
I looked around, but no one was paying attention to us. The look in her eyes was desperate, pleading. "All right," I said, and we went to the hotel.
As two apparent men, there was no problem getting her inside without arousing suspicion. When we shut the door and locked it, we began stripping off our clothes, throwing them wildly around the room, and when we were naked we clasped one another strongly, pressing our lips together so hard they almost bled. It seemed a lifetime before we broke, and she immediately reached down to stroke my stallion to readiness. I reached between her legs and found her slick and ready. Throwing her onto the bed, I knelt above her and made ready; she grabbed me and thrust me home. It took several tries before I was all the way in, but once I reached bottom we began rocking back and forth, slowly at first, then increasing speed and energy until the bed creaked with our efforts. She clawed at my back, and if she had worn her fingernails long there would have been scratches. One orgasm hit her after another, and soon my lions spewed forth its tribute of love deep inside her. We held each other for a long time, staring into each other's eyes, conjoined, not wanting to break the scenario.
But we had to and we did. We dressed and made our way back to the country, when we arrived I cleansed myself in my rooms, just in time for my bedmates to arrive for their overnight consolation.
Trinity Episcopal church in Saint Charles was half full for the funeral liturgy. The choir sang three of his anthems they had learned during his stay, and the Vicar preached a relatively short homily in tribute to him. There was no eulogy, and we brought the body outside to bury it in the churchyard just before noon.
Lady Alice came to the premiere dressed in black, accompanied by Pearl, Penny and myself; Maurice did not escort us and left the task to Gus and Max. They dressed in suits and sat with the unaccompanied ladies in the box. The production went well, and the cast was greeted with a warm reception after the final curtain. The smile on Alfred's face was a little too broad, but he had performed a more herculean task than I.
I worked alone for the next few days afterward, organizing his music and doing odd jobs; I received no visitors, official or unofficial, and a solemn silence was observed by all. Even the walls seemed unwilling to reflect what little sounds were produced within them. One Saturday morning I found a note thrust under my door from Pearl, asking me to join her for lunch on the veranda. It was an Indian Summer day, warm and sticky, and she wore a pink tea dress with bare feet, which was most unusual. When I arrived, she stood to greet me with a big kiss. "Thanks for everything, Frank," she began.
My work with the papers was done, and I assumed my service wouldn't be needed any longer. "You're welcome, Pearl. Despite the trials and the great loss, this has been a good time for me here."
She smiled and beckoned me to sit. "You're probably wondering what's going to happen," she said, pouring my coffee. "All has been worked out, for now at least, and it's time to move forward."
"Of course. I am curious about the arrangements."
"My mother has chosen to go back to England, she leaves next Wednesday. She'll live with her sister Peggy in Sussex."
"It'll be best for her, she hated Missouri and America."
"Yes, indeed. Gus and Max will be going with her: they will work on her sister's estate for a year, in the house, and then Mother will sponsor them as students at Cambridge. I think they're ready and they're already fluent in French as well as English, so they're smart enough. They'll have their chance to get an education and find a career suitable for young men of their talents."
"Good. And the younger ones?"
"Mrs. Edwards has found a job in your home state, Pennsylvania, and will be taking her three youngest with her. She wants them to have a chance in America, and they will have it."
"Where in Pennsylvania?"
"Reading. They will be taking care of an army veteran, Mr. Archibald MacLeod, who is happy they are coming."
I shook my head; they were going to care for my father. It was several moments before I could stammer out: "I can't afford that."
"But I can, and would rather send them to people I know I can trust than just any stranger." She smiled at me, calm, serene, in control.
I couldn't wrap my head around that, but Father had been very lonely since Mother died, and Mrs. Edwards could bring a lot of light into his life. I decided to press on: "What of Maurice?"
Pearl smiled. "He has chosen to seek his fortune in the West. Mr. Perkins, my father's friend in Colorado, has given him a job with a mine in Nevada, where he can work his way up in management. Mother wrote him a glowing recommendation, and Mr. Perkins is quite glad to have him, foreseeing a great future for him in the company. Father's business affairs are tied up, and Maurice has hired an attorney in Saint Charles to take care of the final execution of Father's estate."
"What of our poor Penny?"
"Evidently, Mr. Perkins' son was quite smitten with her when they met last summer, and has asked for her hand in marriage You can imagine her response, and her family was overjoyed she will have the future she so longed for. I'm quite glad for her: she was so afraid of becoming a spinster."
I nodded in agreement and found two names left off the list. Pearl nibbled a roll and looked at me, calculating, assessing my mood. "And what of me?"
"Your job here is definitely over, and we thank you for it. I do not doubt of your future since sales of your Piano Sonata have done well and I'm sure the Presser company is asking you for more works." I nodded in agreement, thinking of my return trip to Pennsylvania. "I have a proposition you may be interested in, or you may have one for me."
"Yes." She stood up and took off her tea-dress: she was completely naked underneath it and stood in the sunlight unashamed, pulling a beret from her hair to let it flow freely. It was like the sun suddenly broke through the clouds: her face lost its businesslike demeanor and took on a look of passion I'd never seen anywhere before. "I don't want to lose you, and will do everything in my power to keep you here. I love you, and will love you with all my heart for the rest of my life."
I put down my cup, and looked down for a moment. The thought of leaving Olympia was one I'd been dreading ever since Sir Charles died, and she was one reason I hated to go. "I don't know, Pearl. This is so sudden. I'm torn, I don't know."
"I'm a good manager, have read extensively about the music business and can do everything for you so you may concentrate on your art."
Her face was so confident I could not doubt her. My hand trembled, but I felt at the brink of a precipice and was reluctant to press onward. I could say nothing.
"Let me offer you a wager," she said stepping forward and confining me to my chair with her bare legs. "I don't imagine many women have been able to take the full length of your manhood inside them, correct?"