October 24, 2020

Anne – Part 69

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We continue our serialisation of Anne by Constance Fenimore Woolson

“Anne’s rich voice pleased her ears”

There were many men who, seeing Helen Lorrington for the first time, thought her exquisitely beautiful; there were others who, seeing her for the first time, thought her

singularly ugly. The second time, there was never a question. Her grandfather called her an albino; but he was nearly blind, and could only see the color of her hair. He could not see the strong brown light of her eyes, or the soft ivory complexion, which never changed in the wind, the heat, or the cold.

Mrs. Lorrington was always dressed richly, but after a fashion of her own. Instead of disguising the slenderness of her form, she intensified it; instead of contrasting hues, she often wore amber tints like her hair. Amid all her silks, jewels, and laces, there was always supreme her own personality, which reduced her costumes to what, after all, costumes should be, merely the subordinate coverings of a beautiful woman.

Helen had a clear, flute-like voice, with few low notes, and a remarkably high range. She continued her lessons with Belzini whenever she was in the city, more in order that he might transpose her songs for her than for any instruction he could now bestow. She was an old pupil of his, and the sentimental Italian adored her; this adoration, however, did not prevent him from being very comfortable at home with his portly wife. One morning Helen, coming in for a moment to leave a new song, found Anne at the piano taking her lesson. Belzini, always anxious to please his fair-haired divinity, motioned to her to stay and listen. Anne’s rich voice pleased her ears; but she had heard rich voices before.  What held her attention now was the girl herself.  For although Helen was a marvel of self-belief, although she made her own peculiar beauty an object of worship, and was so saturated with knowledge of herself that she could not take an attitude which did not become her, she yet possessed a comprehension of other types of beauty, and had, if not an admiration for, at least a curiosity about, them. In Anne she recognized at once what Tante had also recognized—unfolding beauty of an unfamiliar type, the curves of a nobly shaped form hidden under an ugly gown, above the round white throat a beautiful head, and a singularly young face shadowed by a thoughtfulness which was very grave and impersonal when compared with the usual light, self-centered expressions of young girls’ faces.  At once Helen’s artistic eye had Anne before her, robed in fit attire; in imagination she dressed her slowly from head to foot as the song went on, and was considering the question of jewels when the music ceased, and Belzini was turning toward her.

“I hope I may become better acquainted with this rich voice,” she said, coming back gracefully to the present. “May I introduce myself? I should like to try a duet with you, if you will allow me, Miss—”

“Douglas,” said Belzini; “and this, mademoiselle, is Mrs. Lorrington.” Such was the beginning.

In addition to Helen’s fancy for Anne’s fair grave face, the young girl’s voice proved a firmer support for her high soprano than it had ever obtained. Her own circle in society and the music classes had been searched in vain more than once.  For she needed a soprano, not a contralto. And as soprani is particularly human, there had never been any lasting co-operation.  Anne, however, cheerfully sang whatever Belzini put before her, remained admiringly silent while Helen executed the rapid runs and trills with which she always decorated her part, and then, when the mezzo was needed again, gave her full voice willingly, supporting the other as the notes of an organ meet and support a flute after its solo.

Belzini was in ecstasies; he sat up all night to copy music for them. He said, anxiously, to Helen: “And the young girl? You like her, do you not? Such a voice for you!”

“But I can not exactly buy young girls, can I?” said Mrs. Lorrington, smiling.

More and more, however, each day she liked “the young girl” for herself alone. She was an original, of course; almost an aboriginal; for she told the truth exactly upon all occasions, appropriate or inappropriate, and she had convictions.  She was not aware, apparently, of the old-fashioned and cumbrous appearance of these last-named articles of mental furniture.  But the real secret of Helen’s liking lay in the fact that Anne admired her, and was at the same time neither envious nor jealous, and from her youth she had been troubled by the sure development of these two feelings, sooner or later, in all her girl companions. In truth, Helen’s lot was enviable; and also, whether consciously or unconsciously, she had a skill in provoking jealousy.  She was the spoiled child of fortune. It was no wonder, therefore, that those of her own sex and age seldom enjoyed being with her: the contrast was too great. Helen was, besides, the very queen of Whim.



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