Disclaimers - See Part 1.
PENDRAGON COVE - PART 2
Bethany clattered down the stairs towards the kitchen, feeling as though she'd been punched in the stomach. It was Claudia's ice blue eyes looking at her, really looking at her for the first time, she decided, combined with that devastating smile. "Boy, have I got it bad!"
"Pardon?" A passing student was looking at her in enquiry.
Bethany realized not only had she spoken aloud, she had come to a complete halt in the middle of the landing. She felt her cheeks grow hot.
"Oh, nothing. Sorry." She resumed her progress down the stairs and made her way to the kitchen.
"You're late," said Alice grumpily.
Bethany grabbed an apron. "I was standing in for Stephen."
Alice handed her a mixing bowl containing milk, flour, and eggs, followed by a whisk.
"Yorkshire Pudding?" Bethany began obediently to whisk the batter.
Alice nodded. "Roast beef tonight, my bird."
They worked in companionable silence, which suited Bethany since she felt distinctly off balance after being with Claudia. The way she had handled that violin had been one of the most sensual things she had seen in her life!
"So, where did you get to this afternoon?" Alice poured the batter into tins and popped them in the oven.
Bethany brushed a strand of hair out of her eyes. "Truro."
"What's in Truro?"
"You mean apart from the Cathedral, the art gallery, Lemon Quay -" A pointed look brought the list of attractions to a halt. Bethany grinned and relented. "Sir Benjamin."
Alice's face lit up with pleasure. "How is the old goat?"
"Well, let's just say his arthritis doesn't seem to have slowed him down much." Bethany rubbed her right buttock and looked rueful.
"Sir Benjy always did like to pinch the pretty ones." Alice retrieved a pan full of sizzling fat and began to turn the potatoes roasting in it.
"Mmmm. Worth it though. I went to borrow a violin off him, and he came through."
Alice replaced the potatoes in the oven. "A violin? Why? Did someone break theirs?"
"No. It's for Claudia Holbrook."
Alice turned and stared at her. "Bethie! You went all the way to Truro for her?"
"It's what Stephen would have done," said Bethany defensively.
"Yes, it is." Alice's mouth quirked. "But I thought you couldn't stand 'Miss Snooty'."
Bethany wondered what Alice would think if she admitted to passionately hating the violin maestro one minute and having erotic fantasies about her the next.
"So," she said instead, reaching for the pile of carrots and beginning to scrape one. "Any idea how her masterclass went?"
Alice sighed. "Another disaster, by all accounts."
That worried Bethany. The Seminar's reputation would be damaged if this went on much longer.
"Perhaps I should sit in on one of her classes. See where she's going wrong," she muttered. "What do you think, Alice? That's what Stephen would do if there were a problem, isn’t it?"
But Mungo, Charlotte, and Sam came in just then, and with the mad dash of last minute preparations for dinner, Bethany never did find out Alice's opinion on the matter ….
Claudia rubbed out the semiquaver and penciled it on a different line. B flat was better, she decided. Much better. The harmony hadn't been quite right before.
She reached for the Guarnerius and played the revised bar quietly - a concession to the early hour and the fact that everyone except her was sleeping.
She had been working on the composition she called 'Those Loved and Lost' for several hours and she was exhausted. Sometimes, composing came easily to her, but most of the time it was like getting blood from a stone. She relinquished the violin, stretched the kink from her neck and shoulders, and crossed to the window.
A full moon silvered the inky waves lapping the cove. Perfect as a picture postcard, she thought, and imagined the accompanying message: 'Pendragon Cove. Wish you were here (and I wasn't!)'.
She sighed and wondered for the umpteenth time why Stephen had asked her to teach. Usually, his instincts were right, but this time he had been astoundingly wrong. She just didn't know how to reach these kids and she still had eight more classes to go.
The silence was suddenly oppressive. To her surprise, she had grown accustomed to the laughter and music that each day filled the old house until midnight, when Stephen or the pretty blonde (Bethany, she corrected herself) rounded up the students and shooed them off to bed.
Bethany. She glanced at the Guarnerius, still astounded that Bethany had not only tracked down an instrument of such quality but entrusted it to her care. Especially considering her track record. Absently she stroked the scar on the back of her hand. No, she thought. The blonde woman couldn't have known about that or she would never have let this violin out of her sight.
A rumbling broke the silence, and Claudia realized that it was her own stomach. She should have eaten more at dinner, but her appetite had disappeared when she saw Luisa gazing reproachfully at her from across the room. Now, her erratic eating habits had caught up with her.
She searched her things for a KitKat, then remembered she'd eaten the last of those yesterday. Damn! She really was becoming uncomfortably hungry. Only one thing for it. She pulled on her dressing gown and set off in search of the kitchen.
It must be a burglar, thought Bethany anxiously. Who else would be wandering round the house at this time of night?
She wondered whether to wake her roommates, then decided against it. Quietly, she got out of bed, knelt on the threadbare carpet, and pressed her ear to the floor. Yes. That was definitely the sound of drawers being opened and closed in the kitchen directly beneath.
Maybe the burglar believed there were valuables in the pantry. Some people kept theirs in fake baked bean tins, didn’t they? Once he finished with the kitchen, he'd probably head for the office and Stephen's computer ….
One of the other sleepers stirred and mumbled softly, and Bethany held her breath. Then the snores resumed, and she considered her options.
Slippers first. She found them and eased her feet into them. Now for some kind of weapon … for appearance's sake if nothing else. She scanned the moonlit room, her gaze settling finally on the set of fire irons by the empty hearth - one thing about these old houses, in Winter you could always enjoy an authentic log fire.
Okay, then. She grabbed the poker, took one last look at her blissfully unconscious roommates, and crept from the room.
Getting down the stairs without alerting her prey proved difficult. The treads seemed to creak and groan with every step. She made it eventually, though, and turned into the passage leading to the kitchen.
The door was ajar and light spilled out into the passageway. Sounds of stealthy movement came from inside the kitchen. Bethany took a deep breath, gripped the poker more firmly in her sweaty hand, and pushed the door wide.
"Got you, you bastard!"
At her shout, a tall figure whirled, a startled look on its … no, her ... face. Something dropped and smashed loudly on the kitchen floor.
"Shit!" said the ashen-faced figure in the gorgeous silk dressing gown.
"Ms Holbrook!" Belatedly Bethany registered the knife in Claudia's hand, the crumbs on the kitchen worktop, the two slices of bread on a plate …. "I thought it was a burglar."
She gazed at the mess on the stone flags. From the look of the red label and brown paste, it had been a jar of crunchy peanut butter. The violinist crouched, and reached for the shards of glass.
"Don't!" said Bethany. "Let me -" But it was too late.
"Aaah!" Claudia sucked a finger.
"Oh, no!" Bethany hurried to the violinist's side, crouched next to her, and pulled the bleeding finger over for closer inspection. Then she looked up into bemused blue eyes and for a moment forgot who she was and what she was doing. All she knew was that she was holding hands with Claudia and there was a faint scent of … sandalwood? … in her nostrils.
Awareness returned abruptly, and she flushed and released the warm hand.
"Um … sorry. But your hands … you must take care of your hands."
"I'm all right," protested Claudia. "It's only a small cut. " She straightened and stepped back.
"Run it under the cold tap," ordered Bethany, going to the cupboard where the blue sticking plasters were kept.
Claudia raised an eyebrow at her but obeyed.
"Now dry it … carefully."
Bethany opened the tin and selected the right size for Claudia's finger. She crossed to the sink beside Claudia, aware again of the scent of sandalwood. Perfume? … soap? … shower gel? …. Claudia, naked, in the shower…. Get your mind out of the gutter, girl!
"Give it here."
The violinist held out her finger and let Bethany apply some Savlon followed by the sticking plaster itself.
"All done," Bethany stepped away from Claudia with something like relief.
Claudia examined her finger. "Thank you."
"Now for the mess on the floor."
Bethany was brushing glass fragments into a dustpan, trying not to let Claudia's quiet gaze unnerve her any more than she already was, when she heard footsteps.
"What's going on in here?" Alice's voice trailed off as she took in the scene. "Bethany … Ms Holbrook." She regarded them with astonishment.
"It's my fault, Alice." Claudia's calm voice surprised Bethany, as did the fact the violinist knew the cook's name. "Bethany was rescuing me from my inept attempts to make myself a peanut butter sandwich." She waggled the finger with the blue sticking plaster on it.
Alice's gaze travelled from the injured finger to the poker now lying discarded on the table. "I see." Her tone was sceptical but to Bethany's relief she didn't press the matter. "Well, can you two please make sure you leave my kitchen in the state in which you found it?"
"Of course," said Bethany meekly.
"Certainly," agreed Claudia.
The cook grumbled a little longer, then went back to bed, leaving the two of them alone again. Claudia seemed in no hurry to return to her room, but leaned against a counter, watching Bethany finish swabbing the flagstones with a mop.
As Bethany squeezed out the surplus water and put away the mop, she remembered the reason for Claudia's midnight jaunt. "Do you still want that peanut butter sandwich? I'm sure there's another jar in the pantry."
Claudia shook her head. "I think I've had all the excitement I can take for one night," she said dryly.
Bethany grunted. "You know, if you’d eaten properly at dinner, you wouldn't be hungry now."
"Well," said Bethany, stifling a yawn as her disturbed sleep caught up with her. "If that's all. I'm going back to bed."
She had reached the kitchen door when Claudia spoke her name. "Yes?" She turned and regarded Claudia curiously.
"Thank you for looking after me." The violinist's expression was indecipherable.
Bethany shrugged, then smiled. "You're welcome."
Claudia picked unenthusiastically at her dinner. Under other circumstances she might have enjoyed the Welsh lamb, mint sauce, potatoes, and garden peas, followed by lemon meringue pie, but her stomach seemed to be tied in a huge knot.
She had spent the morning pleasantly enough, exploring the house's extensive gardens and woods, finishing off with a trip to the cove to see what Bethany had founds so interesting about the rockpools the other morning - she'd found a tiny, almost translucent, pink crab, and a starfish. Then, after a lunch of tuna salad and an apple, she had squared her shoulders and given her third masterclass.
It had proved to be every bit as much of an ordeal as the previous two. Worse. She suppressed a wince. This time her humiliation had been witnessed by Bethany.
Claudia had been acutely conscious of the green eyes watching her, had felt her heart sink when a crease appeared between the small woman's brows, and the delicate mouth pursed in disapproval. But it was like watching a train wreck in slow motion - there was absolutely nothing she could do about it. When the interminable class came to its end, she had quite simply fled before the blonde could approach her.
With a start, she realized she had been pushing the same chunk of potato around her plate for several minutes - no-one in the vicinity seemed to have noticed, fortunately. She was tempted to push the plate away, then she remembered Bethany's remonstrance about eating properly and forced down another bite. As soon as she conveniently could, however, she excused herself.
In her room, she paced up and down, feeling even more restless than usual. So I'm an awful teacher, she mused. I already knew that. Why am I even more upset?
Because now Bethany knows it too, her subconscious supplied. Now why, she halted in puzzlement, did that seem to matter so much?
Bethany had intended to speak to Claudia after the master class, but the violin maestro disappeared before she had the opportunity, then last minute administrative affairs monopolized her time until dinner.
One of the pianos badly needed retuning - all that enthusiastic pounding took its toll - so she made arrangements for a local tuner to call first thing. They were also almost out of violin strings, which the young students, bowing for all they were worth, were getting through at a rate of knots. A quick call to Stephen's usual supplier in Redruth - she had tracked down the details in a battered file - ensured supplies would be ready for collection the next day (when she could combine it with other shopping she had planned).
By the time she was free to talk to Claudia, the violin maestro had retired for the night. At least, she consoled herself, the woman had eaten a decent dinner, or so Alice said.
An exhausted Bethany ate her own meal, let the exuberant students play chamber music until midnight, then shooed them off to bed. Then she turned in herself.
As she readied herself for bed, she thought back to the masterclass she had sat in on that afternoon. The piece Claudia had been teaching was simply far too hard for the students to tackle in the time available. Why on earth hadn’t the maestro realized?
Bethany had just slid between the sheets and murmured goodnight to her roommates when the night breeze wafted the strains of a violin through the slightly open window. It was the haunting piece she had heard the other night, she realized almost immediately.
She cocked her head, listening. Having now heard Claudia play, the identity of the mysterious violinist was unmistakable. That phrasing, that technique ….
The music fairly dripped with grief and loss, and Bethany lay there stunned. On the surface Claudia appeared so cold, so controlled, but underneath it all lay … this?
She let the music soothe her. Just before sleep claimed her, it occurred to her: If Claudia was so talented, why on earth couldn't she teach others to play like her?
Outside the minibus, the weather was sunny; inside, it was anything but.
I've upset Bethany again, thought Claudia dolefully.
She was running low on oil varnish and resin - the regular brand in Pendragon House's storeroom just wasn't good enough for a Guarnerius. Since she had the morning free, when she learned Bethany was planning a trip to Redruth she had jumped at the chance to go too.
"Tell me what you want, and I’ll get it for you," Bethany offered, smiling. "It's no trouble."
"I'd rather get it myself," Claudia had said, and immediately wished she hadn't, for the smile had vanished from Bethany's face, and the blonde woman's tone had become curt.
"I see. In that case, meet me out front at 10.30am sharp. I won’t wait." Bethany had stalked off, clearly offended by what she saw as a slur on her competence.
More gorgeous Cornish scenery whizzed by, but Claudia barely noticed it. "Nice morning," she offered, wishing she was better at small talk.
Bethany grunted and changed up a gear. They travelled a few more miles in silence until Claudia plucked up the courage to try again.
"So. Are you from around here?"
That earned her a glance and a frown. "Yes. Why? Do I have an accent?"
Claudia bit her lip, sensing the topic was a sore point. "No … um, well … only a little bit," she temporized.
Another grunt. They passed a field full of cows and Claudia fiddled with the sticking plaster on her finger.
"Is it all right?" asked Bethany.
Claudia looked up in some confusion. "What?"
"The cut on your finger."
"Oh .… Yes. Fine, thank you."
A few more miles of lush countryside passed, then they turned inland, away from the blue sea.
"It'll take me a while to do everything I need to in Redruth," said Bethany.
Claudia nodded, pleased the blonde woman was speaking to her again. "So it might be best if we meet up in the pub afterwards."
"Okay. Which one?"
Bethany chewed her lower lip. "The Pick and Shovel, in Fore Street?"
"I'll find it," said Claudia.
She relaxed and stared out of the window, her mood suddenly lighter. A sunny day, a pretty girl, a pub lunch, she thought. Things were looking up.
It took Bethany longer than planned to get the supplies back to the minibus, though old Penhallow had thoughtfully sent a boy with her to carry the heavier boxes. She was hot and sweaty and in need of a cool drink by the time she made it to The Pick and Shovel.
After the brilliant sunshine, it took her a moment to adjust to the gloomy interior. The pub was full of regulars and tourists, and it was a moment before she spotted Claudia. She was sitting in a window seat, looking out.
Bethany elbowed her way through the drinkers to join the violinist. "Carn Brea," she said.
Claudia looked up at her. "I'm sorry?"
Bethany pointed at the vegetation covered granite crag Claudia had been staring at. "That."
Claudia obligingly moved the parcels that had reserved the seat beside her and placed them on the little table.
Bethany nodded her thanks and sat down. "Sorry I took so long," she said.
"No problem." The violinist regarded her for a moment then pushed a menu towards her. "This'll be a change from your cooking."
Bethany smiled. Was it her imagination, or was Claudia trying really hard to be friendly? "It's not my cooking. I only help Alice," she said. "But it will be nice not to have to do the washing up afterwards."
She studied the pub menu while Claudia sipped her drink - something clear: vodka … gin?
"Plaice," she decided. She looked questioningly at Claudia.
"Gammon," said the violinist.
Bethany was about to get up and take their order over to the counter when she felt a hand on her arm, keeping her in place.
"No, let me," said Claudia. "You did the driving."
Startled, Bethany gazed into ice blue eyes whose proximity made her stomach flip-flop. "Oh, okay."
Claudia nodded, removed her hand, and eased behind Bethany's chair. Instinctively Bethany turned to watch the violinist make her way through the crowd, eyeing the chinos-clad rear and long legs appreciatively. She blushed as she realized what she was doing, and looked away. Down, girl!
A few minutes later, Claudia was placing a tall, condensation coated glass of orange juice in front of Bethany. "You looked like you could use this."
"Thanks." Bethany reached eagerly for the glass and gulped half of it down in one go. She shuddered slightly as the chill hit her gullet and stomach. "That hit the spot!"
Claudia smiled and resumed her seat. "Quarter of an hour," she said.
"Until our meals are ready. They’ll bring them to our table."
They sat in comfortable silence, letting the noise and chatter wash over them, Bethany sneaking a glance at Claudia whenever she thought the violinist wasn't watching.
"I heard you playing last night," she ventured at last. "It was very beautiful.
"Thanks," said Claudia rather stiffly.
"I hadn't … um … heard it before. Who wrote it?"
For a moment she thought Claudia wasn't going to answer, then came a quiet "I did."
She gaped at the tall woman. "You compose your own music?"
Claudia shrugged. "Sometimes."
A drinker tried to squeeze behind them, and Bethany was forced to shift her chair forward. By the time she was settled again, the landlord was placing a huge plate of plaice, chips, and peas in front of her and a massive gammon steak with salad and chips in front of Claudia.
"How big are Cornish pigs, anyway?" murmured Claudia, her eyes wide.
Claudia gave her a wry smile then unwrapped her knife and fork from the paper napkin and began to cut her steak.
Eating took all of their attention for a while, restricting the conversation to a "Pass the ketchup," from Bethany and a "Could I have the salt please?" from Claudia.
When Bethany had eaten the last morsel, she heaved a satisfied sigh and placed her cutlery neatly on her empty plate. Claudia, she was amused to see, was still only half way through her meal.
"I'm never going to manage all this," admitted Claudia eventually. "Seems such a shame to waste it."
Bethany grinned. "Give it here."
Glancing round quickly to make sure they were unobserved - though what did it matter if they were? - Bethany switched plates and began to tuck in. Claudia's jaw dropped.
"Hollow legs," confided Bethany, between mouthfuls. "At least that's what my brothers say …. Mind you," - Bethany finished the last of the gammon and wiped her mouth - "they can talk. They eat twice as much as me."
Awe flickered across Claudia's face then was gone.
Bethany washed away the salty taste with the rest of her orange juice. "Does your brother eat like a horse too?"
Claudia seemed to stiffen. "I don’t have a brother."
"Oh, I'm sorry. I could have sworn your biographical details said …."
The violinist abruptly pulled her sunglasses from her jacket pocket and put them on, and Bethany found herself gazing at two tiny mirror images of herself, both looking startled.
Whoa! she thought. What happened? Did the temperature just drop in here?
She put down her empty glass and sighed. She hadn't spoken to Claudia about her masterclass yet, either. Damn! Now was certainly not the time.
"Well." She made a show of looking at her watch. "I think we’d better get back to Pendragon House, don’t you?"
Claudia nodded silently, and reached for her parcels.
"No, not like that." Claudia adjusted the violin beneath her jaw, then played the bar again. "You're sawing at it .… Try it like this. See the difference?"
The boy - Matthew Reece, according to his name tag - flushed and shook his head.
Claudia tried once more to explain. "Treat your violin more gently, like something precious." The irony that her violin was precious, one of only 150 in the world, did not escape her.
He tried again. There was an improvement, she supposed. Marginal, but an improvement nonetheless.
His expression changed to one of sheer relief and she cringed inwardly. Am I such a hard taskmaster? "Okay," she said, outwardly calm. "That's enough for today."
As the youngsters gathered their instruments and traipsed dejectedly out of the classroom, Claudia stowed the borrowed Guarnerius in its case, and began to collect up the music scores.
Behind her, someone cleared their throat. She paused but didn't look round. "Yes?"
"Claudia." The soft voice was instantly familiar.
Oh God! Could it get any worse?
The trip back from Redruth had been as awkward as the trip there. Claudia knew she had overreacted in the pub, but Bethany's questions about Ben had caught her on the raw. Perhaps if she pretended it hadn't happened ….
"Bethany. Can I help you with something?" She kept her tone light and turned towards the young woman.
"I've been meaning to talk to you about your teaching," said Bethany quietly. "If you don’t mind a bit of advice -"
A sudden wave of anger surged through Claudia, so strong it took her by surprise. What the fuck did this … countrygirl know about teaching the violin? She struggled for control and failed miserably.
"That's very big of you, I'm sure," she growled, "but what makes you think I need your advice?" She grabbed her violin, stalked past a startled Bethany, and slammed the classroom door behind her.
It started that night at dinner. Jana, a Czech student, said she felt sick and rushed from the dining room. A concerned Bethany observed the hasty exit of the ashen-faced girl, then resumed serving roast chicken to the rest of the Seminar's attendees.
By Nine o'clock, four more - among them maestro Bartalan Domokos - were complaining of nausea and stomach pains. Bethany's heart sank. We've got a food bug on our hands.
Back in the kitchen, she found a harassed Alice examining the leftovers from lunch with a frown. The cook looked rather queasy herself.
"Are you all right?" asked Bethany.
"No, my bird," admitted the older woman, before turning and dashing for the toilet situated next door to the kitchen.
Bethany waited outside the door and listened to the sound of retching, then she headed for the office. It took her a few minutes to locate the number of the local doctor, then she picked up the phone and dialled.
After a few rings, someone at the other end answered. "Normal Surgery hours are - "
"I'm sorry to bother Dr James at home," Bethany interrupted the woman - the doctor's wife? "My name is Bethany Tredinnick. I'm at Pendragon House. The Musicians' Seminar is being held here, and we may have an outbreak of foodpoisoning. Could you ask the doctor if he can come as soon as possible, please?"
She remembered Dr James vaguely from last year, when an American cello student had developed acute appendicitis.
There was a brief murmuring at the other end then the doctor himself was on the line. "I'll be there in quarter of an hour," he promised.
"Thank you." Relieved, Bethany replaced the receiver. Then she retraced her steps to the kitchen to see how Alice was doing. Not well, by her pallor.
"Go to bed," ordered Bethany. "I've called the doctor. He'll be here soon."
An hour later, when Dr James had finished examining the twenty-five (the number was growing steadily) people complaining of nausea and diarrhoea, he reported back to Bethany.
"The timing means it's almost certainly something they ate at lunchtime," he confirmed her suspicions. "Probably the salad. Alice is dubious about the watercress .… Not homegrown, apparently. I've taken a sample to send to the lab." He folded his stethoscope and stowed it in his bag. "Fortunately, the symptoms aren't acute. I’d say it's only a mild attack."
"Can you prescribe anything … antibiotics?"
He shook his head. "We don’t do that anymore, Miss Tredinnick. It's much better to let the body deal with something like this unimpeded. Plenty of bed rest and fluids ... that should do the trick. People should improve in a day or two. If they don’t, give me another call."
"Oh ... well …. Thanks for your help, and for coming so quickly." She ushered him along the hall towards the front door.
"No problem. You did the right thing calling me. If it had been more serious .…"
She stood on the porch and watched him climb into his car and drive away.
Returning to the office, she stared at the colour coded wall organizer. The course schedule Stephen had so lovingly prepared had had to be revamped once already, to take into account his absence. Now ….
She frowned thoughtfully. 'A day or two' the doctor had said. She'd have to cancel tomorrow's classes. Fortunately, the day after that was Sunday and a relaxation day anyway.
She chewed her lip and removed the T-shaped cards representing tomorrow's classes. If she spread them out over next week …. The schedule would be tight - some days the maestros would have masterclasses both morning and afternoon - but it could be done without extending the course to more than its allotted ten days. Providing they didn't lose any more days to the stomach bug, of course. She inserted the coloured cards, then removed them and tried again until the result looked feasible.
It struck her suddenly that at least she and Claudia would be all right - while the others were eating contaminated watercress, they'd been enjoying a pleasant lunch in Redruth. It seemed a lifetime ago. She hadn’t seen the violinist since the upsetting confrontation in the classroom.
Bethany sighed. What with a house-wide stomach bug, and Claudia furious with her, she had a sinking feeling that the next few days would see her more than earning the bed and board that was all the Seminar paid her.
When Claudia returned from her early morning jog, it was to a 'help yourself' breakfast and a house in chaos. God must have heard her plea, she thought jubilantly, on learning that the masterclass she had been dreading had been postponed due to a stomach bug.
That burden removed, she was free to think of other things, and discovered she was feeling more than a little remorseful about yesterday. Bethany had only offered to help, and she had practically snapped the poor woman's head off.
As soon as she'd finished her cereal and tea, she sought out Bethany, and found her, looking red-faced and harassed, in Stephen's office.
"Anything I can do to help?" asked Claudia.
Bethany looked as surprised by the offer as Claudia herself was. "Yes," she said, after a moment's thought. "You can help occupy those who aren't sick."
As Claudia returned to her own room she wondered how on earth she was going to do that. The idea came to her when she was unclipping the Walkman from her belt and undraping the earphones from around her neck. She chewed her lip for a moment then shrugged. What the hell, it would pass the time anyway, wouldn't it?
She retrieved the case of music cassettes that went everywhere with her, and began flipping through the classical ones. Nothing contemporary, she decided. And no chamber music. Nothing the students would normally play, and the more passionate and romantic the better.
Which didn’t leave much, she found when she'd finished weeding. Ruefully she eyed the tiny pile of cassettes. Perhaps Stephen .…
This time Bethany was in the middle of a phone call. The blonde woman rolled her eyes expressively and gestured at a chair. Claudia sat down and twiddled her thumbs, eyeing her surroundings curiously. Her gaze skipped over the wall planner (not before she had registered that Stephen had colour-coded her blue, though) to a small painting of daffodils and iris that she had given Stephen for a birthday several years ago.
Bethany put down the phone. "Some people!" She let out a breath and composed herself, then turned to Claudia.
"Something you want?" Her gaze was warm.
An erotic thought surfaced, and Claudia averted her gaze quickly. Where the hell had that come from? She tried not to blush.
"Um .. yes. Does Stephen have a music collection?" She forced herself to meet Bethany's gaze.
The blonde woman was looking puzzled. "Music scores, you mean?"
"Cassettes, CDs … that kind of thing."
"Oh. Yes - for his personal use. Do you want to borrow them?"
Claudia nodded, "Please." She didn't elaborate. Already she was having second thoughts. The idea seemed … silly.
Bethany nodded and searched in a desk drawer for a moment. "Here." She tossed Claudia a key. "This floor. Two doors along from the chamber music library."
"Thanks." Claudia grabbed the key, rose, and turned to go.
"If you need me for anything else, I'll be in the garden digging up vegetables … or in the kitchen, cooking them," added Bethany with a sigh.
"Okay." Claudia smiled at her then went in search of the cassettes.
Stephen, it turned out, had an extensive collection of music recordings on vinyl, cassette, and CD, and Claudia could happily have immersed herself in them for hours. She restrained herself, however. She had promised Bethany ….
She selected some cassettes, added them to those from her own collection, then carried them through to one of the sitting rooms. Unfortunately there was no sound system, so she went back to her room, retrieved her Walkman and a mains lead, then unearthed the minispeakers from her suitcase. She also grabbed her violin case.
She was setting up the system when some bored students - either they hadn't eaten the dodgy watercress or their immune systems had resisted the stomach bug - wandered in and stayed, curious to see what she was up to. One of them, Claudia realized, was the young Japanese girl from her first masterclass. Kameko, wasn't it?
Claudia held up one of the cassettes - a reissue of an old recording. "This was the first record I was ever given, Kameko. I thought it was wonderful."
The Japanese girl blushed at being addressed directly, but she looked interested. Good, thought Claudia. She popped the cassette in the Walkman and pressed 'play'. The speakers sprang into life, their volume belying their size, and the sound of a piano, followed by the rich tones of a violin, filled the room.
After a few bars, Kameko's eyes lit up. "Wieniawski."
Claudia smiled to see the spark of enthusiasm that had been so conspicuously absent during her own lessons "His Mazurka in D major," she agreed. "Fiery, romantic.… Out of fashion these days." She shrugged. "But it has something, don’t you think?"
A few more students had popped their heads around the sitting room door, attracted by the music. Kameko watched wide-eyed as Claudia reached for her violin case, unlatched it, and took out the Guarnerius.
"You can play the Wieniawski?"
Claudia nodded, draped the cloth she used for comfort over the violin, and positioned it against her neck. The heady scent of oil varnish and rosin hit her nostrils, and she began to play.
She hadn't played the Mazurka since she was a girl, and she was rusty. But as she accompanied the dead violinist, the melody and the fingering came back to her. For a while she simply played what Wieniawski had composed, then she felt an urge to improvise, to harmonize, and surrendered to it. Her senses attuned to the resonances buzzing through her fingers and jaw, she began to weave her own melody around the dead composer's in what some, she knew, would consider sacrilege. She shrugged that thought away and gave herself wholly to the music, until it seemed she had only to think of a note and her violin gave it life ….
The recording had ended, and her last note was still hanging in the air when she came back to herself and her surroundings, and realized that the spontaneous clapping was for her.
She placed the Guarnerius demurely on her lap, then grinned at her young and appreciative audience. Belatedly she realized there were beads of sweat on her upper lip, and hair plastered to her temples. She retrieved a tissue and mopped her face.
"Now you," she told Kameko. She held out the Guarnerius and bow.
"Oh no," said the horrified girl, holding up her hands and backing away. "It is too much … too precious."
"It's a violin," corrected Claudia. "It's meant to be played." She pressed it and the bow into the trembling girl's hands then turned to the pile of cassettes and selected one.
"Do you like Tchaikovsky?"
"Of course." Kameko's eyes bulged as she regarded the instrument she now held. "But I have never played it properly."
"Who said anything about playing properly?" asked Claudia, popping in the cassette. "Busk it. Use this as your backing tape." She pressed 'play' and the sound of a full orchestra swelled around the room.
Kameko was torn, she could see. After all, how many opportunities to play a Guarnerius would she get?
The Japanese girl took a deep breath and looked at Claudia who nodded reassuringly. "Imagine you're standing outside a department store, and some wealthy American tourists are coming along the pavement towards you. Are you going to let them go by without putting some money in your hat?"
"My … hat?" Kameko's eyes widened, and one of her classmates laughed.
"Yep. It's a scarlet baseball hat …. Has some coins in it - not many, mostly silver, but you can soon fix that. Come on, Kameko. They're getting nearer.. Play them some emotional, deeply romantic music. It never fails." Claudia leaned confidingly towards the girl. "I should know. I was a busker once."
That did it. Kameko took a deep breath, raised the violin gingerly to her chin, and began to play .…
Bethany reached for another onion. While she sliced, she wondered absently where everyone else was - well, everyone not confined to bed.
Earlier, she had seen several students wandering aimlessly around the house. Some had even ventured into the kitchen until she shooed them out. Now, she could hear music, interspersed with applause, cheers, and laughter. She sighed and wished she could join in whatever it was they were doing.
"Need some help?"
A dark head was peering round the kitchen door.
"I thought you were keeping them amused," said Bethany. "And very successfully, by the sound of it."
Claudia shrugged. "They're amusing themselves now. Busking." Her mouth quirked.
"Busking?" Somehow it was the last thing she would associate with the elegant violinist.
"Yes." The violinist laughed. "I've probably wiped out everything they've learned from this Seminar at a stroke!" She stood beside Bethany and leaned on the countertop. "I can chop those," she said.
Bethany wiped a stray hair from her eyes with the back of one hand and glanced at the violinist. "Sharp knives … violinist's fingers … I don’t think so!"
Claudia raised one eyebrow. "What - you think I'm going to chop my fingers off?"
Bethany continued slicing while she figured out how best to phrase her reply. "Stephen would never forgive me if anything were to happen to you." Nor would I, she admitted privately.
"How old am I? Eight?" Claudia reached past Bethany, grabbed a spare knife and an onion, and began slicing.
The protest died in Bethany's throat as she watched Claudia wield the kitchen knife with the speed and dexterity of a master chef. Apprehension turned instantly to embarrassment.
Claudia seemed to sense her discomfort. "I like to cook for myself when I get the chance," she explained. "Vegetable stir fries, mostly. Hotel food gets tedious after a while."
"Right." Bethany resumed her slicing. So Claudia was used to hotels, she mused. Perhaps that explained her tendency, now much less in evidence, to treat people as servants.
If the truth be told, Bethany was glad of the help, and more than glad of the company. The other volunteers had all succumbed to the stomach bug, and making soup for forty invalids meant a lot of vegetables to slice and dice. Now Claudia was on the case, though, the huge pile of freshly dug leeks, carrots, onions, and potatoes was soon dealt with.
Bethany moved on to the next stage - cooking - and soon they were each stirring a huge pot of simmering vegetables.
"I'm sorry if I -" began Bethany.
"About yesterday, I'm - " said Claudia simultaneously.
They looked ruefully at one another. "Maestros first," said Bethany.
The violinist flushed slightly and took a deep breath. "I'm sorry about yesterday," she said. "I know you were only trying to help. But the truth is - " she shrugged, "- you can't help me. Stephen was wrong to ask me. I'm a lousy teacher."
"But you’re not!"
Claudia snorted. "Face facts, Bethany. Those poor kids … I've reduced some of them tears. I can't explain what I want, can't get them to understand. A teacher who can't communicate? I think it's best if I call it a day, don’t you … before I do any more damage."
Bethany shook her head violently. "Stephen wasn't wrong," she said. "It's just that you underrate yourself. You think everyone can play the pieces you did at that age, can pick things up as quickly. But they can't, Claudia." She sensed this moment was crucial and chose her words carefully. "Why not try setting your sights lower. Start them at the bottom rung, not the top. Or try a different angle … teach them something only you can teach?"
She tasted the soup, added more seasoning, and resumed her stirring. Claudia copied her actions, but Bethany could tell the dark woman's thoughts were elsewhere.
"Why don’t you check out the library," she suggested.
Ice blue eyes met hers and for a moment she forgot to breathe. "Uh … yes." She gathered her scattered wits. "Stephen doesn't just keep chamber music scores in there, you know. There are books on all aspects of music and musicians. The thing is … I'm sure I saw some tutors in there. Why don’t you take a look, see if they can offer you some tips?"
She tasted the soup again. About right, she decided. Belatedly she was aware that the violinist was regarding her intently, an odd expression on her face.
"Why are you helping me?" asked Claudia.
Bethany lifted the heavy pot of soup off the stove and began to carry it towards the table. "Because that's what friends do," she said.
CONTINUED IN PART 3