When Miss Hallam heard from Anna Sartorius that my singing had evidently struck Herr von Francius, and of his intended visit, she looked pleased—so pleased that I was surprised.
He came the following afternoon, at the time he had specified. Now, in the broad daylight, and apart from his official, professional manner, I found the Herr Direktor still different from the man of last night, and yet the same. He looked even younger now than on the estrade last night, and quiet though his demeanor was, attuned to a gentlemanly calm and evenness, there was still the one thing, the cool, hard glance left, to unite him with the dark, somewhat sinister-looking personage who had cast his eyes round our circle last night, and told us to sing as if we were damned.
“Miss Hallam, this is Herr von Francius,” said I. “He speaks English,” I added.
Von Francius glanced from her to me with a somewhat inquiring expression.
Miss Hallam received him graciously, and they talked about all sorts of trifles, while I sat by in seemly silence, till at last Miss Hallam said:
“Can you give me any opinion upon Miss Wedderburn’s voice?”
“Scarcely, until I have given it another trial. She seems to have had no training.”
“No, that is true,” she said, and proceeded to inform him casually that she wished me to have every advantage I could get from my stay in Elberthal, and must put the matter into his hands. Von Francius looked pleased.
For my part, I was deeply moved. Miss Hallam’s generosity to one so stupid and ignorant touched me nearly.
Von Francius, pausing a short time, at last said:
“I must try her voice again, as I remarked. Last night I was struck with her sense of the dramatic point of what we were singing—a quality which I do not too often find in my pupils. I think, mein Fräulein, that with care and study you might take a place on the stage.”
“The stage!” I repeated, startled, and thinking of Courvoisier’s words.
But von Francius had been reckoning without his host. When Miss Hallam spoke of “putting the matter into his hands,” she understood the words in her own sense.
“The stage!” said she, with a slight shiver. “That is quite out of the question. Miss Wedderburn is a young lady—not an actress.”
“So! Then it is impossible to be both in your country?” said he, with polite sarcasm. “I spoke as simple Künstler—artist—I was not thinking of anything else. I do not think the gnädiges Fräulein will ever make a good singer of mere songs. She requires emotion to bring out her best powers—a little passion—a little scope for acting and abandon before she can attain the full extent of her talent.”
He spoke in the most perfectly matter-of-fact way, and I trembled. I feared lest this display of what Miss Hallam would consider little short of indecent laxity and Bohemianism, would shock her so much that I should lose everything by it. It was not so, however.
“Passion—abandon! I think you can not understand what you are talking about!” said she. “My dear sir, you must understand that those kind of things may be all very well for one set of people, but not for that class to which Miss Wedderburn belongs. Her father is a clergyman”—von Fraucius bowed, as if he did not quite see what that had to do with it—“in short, that idea is impossible. I tell you plainly. She may learn as much as she likes, but she will never be allowed to go upon the stage.”
“Then she may teach?” said he, inquiringly.
“Certainly. I believe that is what she wishes to do, in case—if necessary.”
“She may teach, but she may not act,” said he, reflectively. “So be it, then! Only,” he added as if making a last effort, “I would just mention that, apart from artistic considerations, while a lady may wear herself out as a poorly paid teacher, a prima donna—”
Miss Hallam smiled with calm disdain.
“It is not of the least use to speak of such a thing. You and I look at the matter from quite different points of view, and to argue about it would only be to waste time.”
Von Francius, with a sarcastic, ambiguous smile, turned to me:
“And you, mein Fräulein?”
“I—no. I agree with Miss Hallam,” I murmured, not really having found myself able to think about it at all, but conscious that opposition was useless. And, besides, I did shrink away from the ideas conjured up by that word, the “stage.”
“So!” said he, with a little bow and a half smile. “Also, I must try to make the round man fit into the square hole. The first thing will be another trial of your voice; then I must see how many lessons a week you will require, and must give you instructions about practicing. You must understand that it is not pleasure or child’s play which you are undertaking. It is a work in order to accomplish which you must strain every nerve, and give up everything which in any way interferes with it.”
“I don’t know whether I shall have time for it,” I murmured, looking doubtfully toward Miss Hallam.
“Yes, May; you will have time for it,” was all she said.
“Is there a piano in the house?” said von Francius. “But, yes, certainly. Fräulein Sartorius has one; she will lend it to us for half an hour. If you were at liberty, mein Fräulein, just now—”
“Certainly,” said I, following him, as he told Miss Hallam that he would see her again.
As he knocked at the door of Anna’s sitting-room she came out, dressed for walking.
“Ach, Fräulein! will you allow us the use of your piano for a few minutes?”
“Bitte!” said she, motioning us into the room. “I am sorry I have an engagement, and must leave you.”
“Do not let us keep you on any account,” said he, with touching politeness; and she went out.
“Desto besser!” he observed, shrugging his shoulders.
He pulled off his gloves with rather an impatient gesture, seated himself at the piano, and struck some chords, in an annoyed manner.
“Who is that old lady?” he inquired, looking up at me. “Any relation of yours?”
“No—oh, no! I am her companion.”
“So! And you mean to let her prevent you from following the career you have a talent for?”
“If I do not do as she wishes, I shall have no chance of following any career at all,” said I. “And, besides, how does any one know that I have a talent—for—for—what you say?”
“I know it; that is why I said it. I wish I could persuade that old lady to my way of thinking!” he added. “I wish you were out of her hands and in mine. Na! we shall see!”
It was not a very long “trial” that he gave me; we soon rose from the piano.
“To-morrow at eleven I come to give you a lesson,” said he. “I am going to talk to Miss Hallam now. You please not come. I wish to see her alone; and I can manage her better by myself, nicht wahr!”
“Thank you,” said I in a subdued tone.
“You must have a piano, too,” he added; “and we must have the room to ourselves. I allow no third person to be present in my private lessons, but go on the principle of Paul Heyse’s hero, Edwin, either in open lecture, or unter vier Augen.”
With that he held the door open for me, and as I turned into my room, shook hands with me in a friendly manner, bidding me expect him on the morrow.
Certainly, I decided, Herr von Francius was quite unlike any one I had ever seen before; and how awfully cool he was and self-possessed. I liked him well, though.
The next morning Herr von Francius gave me my first lesson, and after that I had one from him nearly every day. As teacher and as acquaintance he was, as it were, two different men. As teacher he was strict, severe, gave much blame and little praise; but when he did once praise me, I remember, I carried the remembrance of it with me for days as a ray of sunshine. He seemed never surprised to find how much work had been prepared for him, although he would express displeasure sometimes at its quality. He was a teacher whom it was impossible not to respect, whom one obeyed by instinct. As man, as acquaintance, I knew little of him, though I heard much—idle tales, which it would be as idle to repeat. They chiefly related to his domineering disposition and determination to go his own way and disregard that of others. In this fashion my life became busy enough.