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The Music Maker's Daughter


  “Josie! What if I fail…?”

  “You won’t Maddy, you’re brilliant…”

  Maddy pulled the ribbons from her long golden plaits and ran her fingers through her hair as though the constriction was stifling her thoughts and feelings. She knew what she was capable of, but she also knew how hard the challenge would be. “I’d be very ordinary at music college.” She glanced round at her friend and her face tensed with self-doubt. “Part of me desperately wants to try, and part wants to draw back and to have a normal, safe life.”

  “Look,” Josie took her hands fondly, “you’ll know what to do when you need to choose. Just imagine how proud your father would be.”

Maddy smiled and nodded, and a little thrill of hope warmed her heart.

  Her father was a great pianist. Few of those who knew him really understood the extent of his ability nor how close he had come to success. He never spoke of it, almost as though he had turned his back on his past. He had been poised on the verge of playing to audiences across the world, then the appointments had been withdrawn and he retired from public life to come here, to be a church organist and to teach music.

  He was good at that too.

  If she succeeded then he would be intensely proud of her, and she knew he would be with her every step of the way. But if she failed she had a terrible feeling it would break his heart, make him relive the agony of his own failure. Life was hard enough for him without such hurt.

  But thinking of her father reminded her of the tension that had been in the house this morning, and the reason for it. She had not dared to say anything to Josie or the other girls yet. She sighed. “I must hurry home today Josie. I’ve got a rehearsal in the church, and I need to show him this music first.”

  “Alright. See you tomorrow then,” Josie nodded.

  The girls went their separate ways. Josie continued on to the rambling old vicarage where she and her five brothers lived, and Maddy ran along the busy high street and up the narrow flight of stairs between the hardware shop and the green grocer’s.

  Their flat was a small place. A threadbare carpet covered bare floorboards, and the walls had been whitewashed so long ago that the surface was flaking and discoloured.

  Her father, Angus Brooks, was working at the dining table but he looked round at the sound of her running footsteps.

  She took one look at his face, at the weary despair in his vivid blue eyes, and did not dare to ask the question that had been burning on her mind all day. She struggled to summon her enthusiasm, anything to distract him from this pain. “I’ve got some tremendous news Daddy!”

  He turned fully round to scrutinise her and made a visible effort to respond positively. “Oh yes, and what might that be?”

  “They announced the programme for the end of term concert today and they want me to play the piano solo. And I’m only in the first year.”

  “Good. It’s about time your talent was recognised.”

 “I’ve brought the music home. It’s the Beethoven Pathetique. Mr Wrighton wants me to concentrate on the last movement, but I could do it all couldn’t I?”

  He took the music and flicked through the pages. Then he stopped turning and his strong fingers followed the accumulation of notes that soared densely across the page. His face had lost the echoes of despair. It was as though he was touching a past memory and playing once again to a big audience. Slowly he smiled. “It’s a powerful work Maddy, you’ll love it’s passion and pathos. You’re right, you could learn the whole of this in under a month.”

  “Then why did he suggest...?”

  “Because he doesn’t understand yet.” He touched her cheek gently and his intense blue eyes were vivid with a mixture of hope and concern for her. “The gift you have is far beyond any of them, and you’re still so young. They’re obviously testing you by sending this home. I’m glad something has gone well today for one member of the family.”

  The sadness of his voice drew tears from her eyes, and she found it hard to talk around the lump in her throat. “Didn’t you get the job, Daddy?”

  “No. So we’ll be here for your concert.” He turned quickly away from her, and she felt utterly helpless, faced with this silent uncommunicative hurt. Then he continued very quietly. “And you won’t have to leave your friends.”

  Despite herself, an intense flood of relief went through Maddy. This was her home and she had some very special friends here. But then she felt passionately ashamed that she could be so selfish. If Daddy had got the job then the whole family would have lived once again in comfort and security. In a small voice, she murmured, “I’m so sorry. But other jobs will come along, won’t they? Perhaps even here in Westcott.”

  “Perhaps,” he murmured. But she could hear from his voice that he really meant the opposite.

  “It’s going to be hard isn’t it?” she asked tentatively, almost afraid to enquire further. “I wish I could help.”

  He turned back to her. “You shouldn’t worry about things like this at your age. Let’s have a look at your new music, and then later, your mother and I have got something serious to discuss with you both.”

  The peace was broken suddenly as Matthew’s vigorous footsteps stumped up the stairs and the front door went flying. The handle crashed back against the wall with a resounding thump and he stood there, covered in mud from a school football match.

  They both looked around, and the lively eight-year-old dumped his coat and bag without thinking. “What a match! We lost three nil. They stomped all over us in the last ten minutes. Anything to eat Maddy? I’m absolutely starving.”

  “Come with me, you mucky pup,” she laughed. “I’ll see what I can find in the larder.”

  “Matthew, you can’t leave your coat and bag in the middle of the doorway. Kindly pick them up,” her father said sternly. Then he looked from one laughing young face to another. A reluctant smile spread across his face as though their joy was warming him, and suddenly he nodded. He rose to his full height. “Go and wash Matt. I want you presentable. Maddy, brush your hair. We’re going out. I shall need you both for some advice.”

  Maddy looked questioningly at him.

  “Hurry along and get ready Maddy. I’ve made a decision. We have a lot to do before your mother gets home. You must have that rehearsal, and we have some serious celebrating to plan.”


  Maisy Brooks arrived home from work that night to find the table set for a special occasion. The china and silverware had been brought out, reminding her of the gracious entertaining they had once done. There had been a time when their London flat had hummed with the discussions and ideas of hosts of talented and creative people. But that time was long past, the country was deep in depression, and she was simply grateful for a happy and loving family. The smell of cooking filled the little flat with a delicious aroma that instantly made her feel better. She hung her coat behind the door and gave both children a quick hug, turning her face away discreetly so that she would not breathe on them. “What’s all this my darlings?”

  Maddy’s eyes sparkled. “Daddy and I have made dinner today. It’s a little celebration. I’ve had some good news. I’ll tell you all about it in a minute.”

  “It’s a feast, and I’ve set the table,” Matthew interrupted excitedly.

  “Come and sit down Mummy, it’s all ready.”

  “Alright Matt,” she smiled, but remained watching her daughter’s face. “And did they really help you Maddy?”

  “A little bit. They tried very hard, honestly,” the girl smiled, and caught her mother’s eyes and they exchanged a look of silent understanding. She knew exactly how ham-fisted boys and men could be, particularly if they thought the task belonged to a woman. It was a sort of agreement between them to make allowances for that.

  “Well, it smells utterly delicious, dear.” Then she turned as she heard her husband’s footsteps coming from the kitchen.

  He was a strong man, and even now she loved and admired him tremendously. But one look at his face told her that the celebrations were not for him. She moved quickly towards him and they held each other close.

  She closed her eyes and swallowed hard, burying her face in his shoulder. They had become used to these disappointments, but this one was particularly cruel and difficult to bear.

  Then finally he sighed and turned her face up so that she looked into his determined blue eyes. “Come and eat. Then I’m afraid we shall have to talk to the children. Are you ready for it now? Are you feeling strong enough?”

  “Yes,” she smiled and squeezed his hand. “It has to be done. Where did you get all this? I haven’t seen so much food in months.”

  He drew the chair back for her with graceful gallantry. “I gave John Turnbull an extra lesson this week for his exam, and I thought what better use could I make of the money than treat you and the children? Maddy’s a good cook, wait till you taste her stew.”

  Matthew threw himself into his seat with a vigorous bump whilst Maddy brought the steaming casserole dish in and placed it in the centre of the table. Then she fetched the vegetables, and as she took her seat, her father looked around the gathered throng of his family and a strange expression of pain passed across his face.

  He shook his napkin out and lay it over his knee. “Maddy, would you care to serve? We have an item of excellent news to celebrate today my dears, that’s why we’ve created this feast. Tell your mother what happened at school.”


  The meal left all of them replete and contented. Once the dishes had been cleared away and the silver polished and placed back in its velvet lined canteen, the two adults sat quietly near the fire and talked in hushed whispers for more than an hour, then at last Maisy Brooks turned to her children. She and Angus had decided on the best approach, and the time had come to break the news to the children.

  She sat in silence for several minutes watching them at their homework, side by side at the dining table in the corner of the room, and gradually the grim future they had been discussing retreated from about her and the smile of affection returned, struggling for life against her weariness. The expression on her delicate pale face hardly changed, but her eyes warmed, resurrecting the cosy happiness that usually filled the little flat. She held her hand out to Maddy and forced herself to her feet. “Come on love. Let’s try that new dress of yours one last time.”

  Maddy surfaced with difficulty from the intricacy of her mathematical homework and pushed her books away with a little sigh. “Mmmm. I’ll just go and get it on,” she hurried up the stairs, and by the time Maisy had caught up with her, the girl had slipped out of her school tunic and blouse, taken the elegant moss green silk dress from its hanger and was drawing it on a little anxiously. “I hope it’ll do up, after all that dinner. I feel as fat as a pudding.”

  “Let’s see, shall we? Stand perfectly still.” Meticulously Maisy fastened the tiny buttons at the back of the dress, then turned Maddy round slowly and studied her from head to foot. Her daughter looked so grown up and beautiful that a lump of emotion filled her throat. It was not so long ago that she had been young like this and dressed with stunning elegance. The dresses of her early years had been very different, hem lines just beginning to creep up above the ankle. Then as a young woman she had instantly taken to the daringly short flapper dresses that had suited her slim figure and scandalised her mother: the chiffon scarves, beads, and long gloves and above all, the extravagance of the Charleston! But her life was almost over, just as the fashions and dances of her youth had faded into the past. She only prayed she had not passed the accursed disease on to any of the family. It was Madeline’s turn to beguile and bewitch now. And she would do it splendidly. “It fits you perfectly. Let me show you how to do your hair. We’ll have a dress rehearsal, shall we, and see what our gentlemen downstairs think?”

  Maddy nodded and sat on the stool.

  Maisy drew her daughter’s hair out of its plaits and brushed it until it shone in the light and framed her finely carved face like a halo of shimmering curly gold. Then with a bold sweep of her hand the hair was gathered up into a perfect Chignon. A few clips were inserted to hold it in place, and suddenly the twelve-year-old possessed a graceful, elegant maturity. But the physical activity was more than the older woman could take, and she sighed and sank weakly onto the bed. “You look beautiful Maddy. How I wish I could be there to watch you.”

  Maddy was examining her reflection in the mirror and turned gracefully so that the silk swirled luxuriously around her. “You could come and listen from the vestry, couldn’t you?”

  Maisy watched her daughter hold her head up high and press her shoulders back, breathing in deeply as though she was about to sing. She had such poise and elegance that it was like a physical pain to realise she would not see her mature into an adult.

  The wedding Maddy had been asked to sing at was going to be a society affair, and the guests were affluent and famous people from London. It was a great honour to be asked to perform at such an occasion. People all across Westcott had been talking about it for weeks, and there were rumours that guests were even coming from as far afield as India and Siam.

  Maisy was finding it hard to breathe again, and her voice was muffled as she murmured, “You look so like your father, Maddy. I’m so...” her voice choked hoarsely with a mixture of emotion and weariness, “so proud of you.”

  The young girl turned quickly.

  Maisy was struggling to suppress the cough that had destroyed her health these last few months. She had so much she wanted to say and so little time in which to say it. With a titanic effort she hauled herself to her feet.

  “Sit down Mummy,” Maddy rushed to make her sit, and the fear the young girl felt was naked on her face. “You should be resting. You’ve been hard at work all day. I wish you would go to the doctor!”

  Maisy’s determination was relentless. She struggled up, took her daughter’s hands so that she would not come too close, and looked deeply into the girl’s anxious blue eyes. “I have been Maddy, and we have to talk. Dr Morrison is sending me away...”

  “Oh Mummy, no!” the young girl’s mature young face paled and tears flooded into her eyes, and quite suddenly she was a child again.

Maisy reassuringly touched her daughter’s golden curls although her heart was breaking. “Dr Morrison is sending me away immediately to stay in the sanatorium. When I’ve gone, Daddy will need all your strength and love. He’ll be very alone. You’ll have to care for him and Matthew as though you were me. You can, can’t you?”

  “I... I’ll do my best.” Tears flooded down the young girl’s cheeks. “But I don’t want you to go. Will you be gone for very long?”

  “My dearest Maddy! They won’t allow me home for a long while. I shall be too ill,” her mother’s voice was warm with affection, and gently she forced the girl’s chin up. “You will be the lady of the house then, and I know you’ll do well. I want you to remember one thing more. I’ve never regretted marrying your father, though my family tried to stop me. He is a marvellous man, and we’ve been very happy. That’s what counts. One day, you must find someone you really and sincerely love, and don’t let anyone take that happiness from you. There’s nothing more precious in all this world. Remember that… always.”

  Maddy shook her head fiercely. “Mummy, I don’t want to be someone’s wife, I want to be a pianist. I want that more than anything on earth.”

  “You’re still so young for all this,” her mother murmured and smoothed a wisp of hair away from the young girl’s forehead and nodded in grave understanding. Then she patted her shoulder.     “Strive for it Maddy, but ... that’s not quite what I meant. When you’re older...” but the cough was coming again, taking her breath away, tearing at her cruelly, and she could say no more.



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