By Richard Hann
Violins began to play a soft melody as the flutes echoed their tune and the soft chatter among the audience dimmed to a complete silence. Ida twisted her fingers together nervously as she had done twice before with each performance. She scrunched her toes, feeling the wooden stage beneath them, she still couldn’t get used to walking in heels and after attempting several pairs of the most beautiful shoes she had ever seen in her life, Madame had instead decided that her comfort was more important than her wardrobe, so thankfully she had picked out flowing long silk dresses which always hid her feet.
Her soft blue eyes searched the audience beneath her, pausing occasionally to meet the audiences’ gaze. She would pause for a brief second, nod politely in recognition at a face from previous night’s performances, then smile and continue onwards with her search. Her eyes finally came to rest upon the darkness of the upper stall that belonged to him.
“For the last time!”
His voice still echoed in her mind, could it be possible? could all her dreams really come true tonight? and would he be good to his word? She had no reason to believe otherwise, he had never lied to her, even knowing that some truths would hurt, he never twisted his words or softened them to appease her feelings.
A musical intro played, and Ida allowed her thoughts to momentarily reflect on her past, to the workhouse. three years prior to current events in fact and for the fourth night in a row Mr Skriven had reduced Ida and James to naught but bread and water, this mainly due to James once again voicing his anger towards his master’s ill treatment of his sister
“She may not work as ard as others ere, but we all know that Ida brings more to your coffers than anyone else!” he stood angrily shaking his fist at the rather rotund gentleman clenching the few coins that his sister had been given, “not ta mention her voice increases your standing amongst the knobs!”
“She’s lucky to be given that boy!” He stood over James, His finger jabbing hard into his shoulder with each word, “and you would do well to remember who it is that you’re addressing!” His cheeks began to redden followed by the rest of his face as he raised his voice and widened his eyes in anger
“Please, James stop,” Ida tugged on his torn shirt pulling him away from their Workmaster “we’re already down to bread and water, please just leave it be,”
James was slight of build but had courage in abundance often getting into fights with other families in the workhouse that would try to take from him and his sister. Ida and James felt as though they had no option, it was either the orphanage or the workhouse. They were both agreed on the opinion that at least at the workhouse they would be able to stay together, and this is where they would stay, at least for now. James was twelve years old and even at such a young age, he found himself taking on the responsibility of taking care of his older sister Ida. She was his whole world, especially after losing their mother to dysentery, only to be followed to the grave by their father several months later to cholera.
“Ida, you promise me you do better….”
He threw his waistcoat on the floor “you be better than us, and you get the hell out of this place as soon as you can,” he tore the bread then offered half to his sister
“We!” rather ungracefully she dropped to her cot, showing her annoyance with her brother
“WE!” she snatched the bread from his hand “I aint going nowhere without you, ya halfwit,” she turned slightly away from him making sure that he noticed her annoyance.
James smiled then began to cough, clenching his stomach as he did so, he had spent the last few weeks trying to hide his illness from Ida but now it was becoming too painful to disguise it. His skin had a blue hue to it, as his fathers had once done. She remembered holding him so tight that night and singing to him, Ida would always sing to him towards the end, it was a lullaby that her mother had learned from her grandmother which in turn she taught Ida when she had become old enough to remember the words, she didn’t know why but it always helped to ease him and allow some rare but needed sleep.
Tapping washed Idas’ memories from the forefront of her mind and her attention drew back to the Hall, the conductor had turned to the young star with his hands raised towards the Orchestra, in his left hand he held a small white baton waiting to be brought to life on the order of his Soprano. Steadying her nerves and clearing her throat she inhaled deeply.
The conductor slowly flicked his wrist ordering his orchestra to begin, First the flutes and oboes sang, then the violins answered and then Ida took control. It was the lullaby, her emotions poured across the audience, draining the joy and excitement from the room filling its void with sadness and longing for something that was lost. Just as the conductor had instructed the orchestra, Ida had conducted her audiences very soul.
Finally, the Lullaby reached its conclusion and the audience stood, Women cried into their handkerchiefs uncontrollably and the gentlemen inhaled deeply trying to fight back any appearance of emotion, suddenly the silence broke as rapturous applause broke out.
Idas’ mind once again began to wander as her eyes searched for his, looking out towards the box hidden within the shadows of the upper tiers of the Opera house.
She allowed her memories to fill her mind once again as she took several bows, it had been one year on from her brother’s death and she had been moved into her Masters’ home, after all she was worth more alive to him then dead, and he certainly didn’t want anything happening to his prized asset. That evening she was to perform for a potential business partner, and she was to “Behave herself,”. Ida had indeed continued to be used by her Workmaster to further his standing amongst circles that he had no business being in, although he would allow her to keep and ware her favourite long flowing cotton dress, but only on nights of a performance this would help to hide her masters true nature, the bruising that was caused by a broom handle or the broken skin along the small of her back from his belt, he would never strike her were others could see, it would draw too many questions. That night Ida was just thankful to be away from the house, even if he was there, he couldn’t hurt her in public.
“Perhaps tonight will be the night the pig will drink himself to death,”
she allowed a smile to pass over her as the thought of him choking to death on his own vomit pleased her, it was also then that she had seen him for the first time, He stood taller than everyone in the room, he exuded confidence, yet she could see danger behind his eyes, his beautiful hazel eyes she could remember the warmth she found in gazing into them, yet she was also aware of the danger she felt, he was now matching her smile as he raised his glass of champagne to her then drank
“What are you smiling at?” her master was drunk “come with me girl you are wanted,” she pulled her arm free of his grip, knowing that she would pay for it later upon their return to the workhouse, but she knew that as long as she wasn’t too obvious about it she could win these small battles with him as long as they were in public just as a reminder that he did not control her completely
“You’ll pay for that girl,” he placed his finger under her chin and gently rubbed his thumb down her lip, whispering in her ear
“Dir sir do you intend on keeping me waiting all night?” it was him, he had appeared from nowhere, but she was glad that he had appeared, she shuddered at her master’s touch in disgust, as he removed his hand from her
“Heaven forbid Maestro, here she is, the star of our little venture … Maestro may I introduce Ida,”
Once again Idas’ focus was drawn back to her performance, this time the orchestra began to play, and Idas’ voice had filled her audience with joy just as it had on her opening night. Two days prior to her current performance Ida had met Madame Le Verglace for the first time upon entering the great hall
“my dear girl, I have heard so much about you from the Maestro, let me get a good look at you,”
She walked around the young lady tutting “this will not do,” she continued to circle the poor girl “there is nothing else for it, Ida follow me please we are going to pick out your dress for tonight….. tell me girl have you eaten this morning?”
Ida was about to answer when Mr Skrivens intercepted
“she was too nervous to eat, weren’t you girl!” he stared angrily at her expecting more resistance, but the truth was she was still taken aback by the beauty of the opera hall
“that will never do indeed, follow me, we are going to have breakfast first then back to work,”
Ida was rushed away in the whirl wind that was Madame Le Verglace, half way down one of the isles Madame Le Verglace turned and waved a figure at Mr Skriven, who had now stopped following them and was left speechless as he had never been spoken to in such a way before, especially by a woman “No, not you, you wait here and the Maestro will see you soon please,”
Ida for the first time in her life had eaten Pastries and drank tea, she really hated the idea of returning to her Master after her morning with Madam Le Verglace, although she had found her reaction to the bruises and torn skin strange, she said nothing but she could of sworn she heard a guttural growl come from the woman as she softly touched the wounds on her back and helped her into her dress.
Ida was led to the stage and was momentarily shocked at the absence of Mr Skriven, she didn’t know what the Maestro had said to him, but he had left her there unsupervised. The orchestra were already waiting in place bellow the stage.
“There you go my dear,” She walked up to music stand “can you read Ida or would you like my help?” Madame le Verglace looked anxiously at Ida, she didn’t wish to cause offence
“no its alright I can read, I often used to read to my brother at night,”
Ida began to sing, filling the hall with her soft tones, madame Le Verglace held her hand to heart and breathed in deeply, smiling uncontrollably,.
“Do you see now Madame!”
the deep gravelly voice of the Maestro came from the darkness of the back upper boxes,
“oh yes, oh my…… yes it truly is marvellous, sir,” her voice trembled with excitement
“excuse me,” Ida spoke softly
“I couldn’t stop sir, the emotions, it was like they were pushing through me,”
Ida clenched her fist tight then stomped her foot hard on the stage floor, making a dull thud
“HEY!” the hall fell silent “Who exactly are you people!”
“Please Ida, do excuse my lack of manners …” she relaxed a little, she knew he meant her no harm, nor did he seek anything from her, she didn’t know how she knew she just felt it. Ida drew a sharp breath in shock, his voice was now soft and loving and directly behind her “I am known as the Maestro around here, please believe me when I tell you that I am only here to help you free yourself,”
“Free myself, are you here to be my knight in shining armour are ya?”
Ida folded her arms rather unimpressed with her would be hero, the Maestro smiled as he took her hands in his and began to dance around the stage with her
“No my dear girl, no, no, I am here to show you how you are going to free yourself,”
“Oh, it’s that simple is it just free myself, ave you seen the size of that pig, ave you not thought I’ve asked for help from the police, they took me straight back to him, straight back to the arms of …. of that ….” Tears streamed down Idas cheeks, Madame Le Verglace rushed to her side ripping her from the Maestros’ hands holding her tightly against her chest
“Madame, you must not, not yet, she will be in your care soon enough, trust in me, you must trust in the girl’s strength also.” she held her tighter
“Have you seen her Sir? have you seen what that animal has done to her, and we are supposed to be the….” Her masters gaze burned deep into the eyes of his consort
“there are greater dangers to the girl than him, madame and as long as we are here those dangers will stay at arms-length from the girl” she eased her grip on Ida “for now we continue as planned, we teach and help her to gain strength, tell me Ida what is it that you want more than anything in this world?” releasing herself from the Madame Le Verglace she smiled, walked over to the Maestro and whispered into his ear
“I want to be free from that monster, I want him dead for what he put me and my family through and I want to see him die!”
“In due course Ida in due course, but you must trust in me, you must return to your master’s side until it is time.”
After Idas’ first performance the Work masters attention had been shifted to celebrating his new found fortune from his share of the ticket sale amongst his friends, the following days papers had Idas picture in it claiming the new Sopranos ability to capture her audience was mesmerising and how she would soon raise to fame, this didn’t bother Ida in the slightest the most import thing to her now was to spend time away from him at the Opera.
“tonight, Ida I need for you to remember the saddest moment in your life, really feel the pain of that memory and push it into your voice really project it, please my dear try it for me,” the Maestro held his hand out and lead her to the centre of the stage.
Tears began to well in her eyes as the music softly played and Ida sang
“Yes, my dear, good …. I feel it … now really sing with your emotions let it all out my dear,”
The Maestro smiled and took over conducting the faltering orchestra as the conductor was now bent over double in tears, Idas’ voice reached soft valleys that pleaded with your soul and then beautiful peeks that shattered them.
“Please Ida stop, I can’t listen to it anymore!” Madame Le Verglace was crawling along the floor begging her, the pain was too much for her bare
“Madame are you ok?” Ida rushed to her side holding her “did ………did I do this?”
She turned to the Maestro, while still holding the beautiful Madame in her arms. The smile he gave and the intent in which it was given shocked Ida
“Yes, Yes you did, do you understand now Ida the gift…. the gift that you possess?”
“Tonight my dear I want you to sing my aria,” he waved at the music stand in the centre of the stage “I want you to sing it to me, and promise you that tonight your dreams will come true, you will return no more to that wretched tyrant, sing to me and me alone and you will return to him today for the las time.”
Looking down at the stage floor Idas thoughts had returned to her current performance
“Sing to me and me alone,” his voice repeated in her mind as she drew on the emotions of her past, holding her brothers head in her lap as he drew his last breath, tears filled her eyes as she looked towards the Maestros box, she remembered holding her brother as he died in her arms. “For the last time,”
Her voice sang a tale, of loss of her pain, she began to reach out to the shadow, reach out with her voice and what was left of her heart as the orchestra struggled as they had done once before, she had not faltered, her voice reached the top of her vocal range calling out to the Maestro.
Ida remembered seeing the body fall from the shadows of the Maestros box, she remembered the thud and hearing the crack of his spine hitting the chairs beneath them. Screaming and shouting filled the hall as people shoved at each other, some to get away from the body, others to the body to find out who it was. Ida pushed her way through the crowed, tears streaming down her face
“This way my dear,” relief filled her heart on hearing his voice, the Maestro took her arm in his and placed his hand on top of hers, as they passed the body of Mr Skriven, twisted among broken chairs and blood pooling beneath him “shall we go?” Ida smiled and nodded at him
“Yes …. Let’s go please,”