With the opening of the season, my singing teacher, Karleton Hackett, encouraged me to sing publicly as much as the public would stand. I illustrated lectures, warbled my own compositions and “une-voce-poco-fahed” before clubs and at free entertainments.
On occasion, too, I burst forth into “Alleleujahs” at church, though I was usually panicked at the bare prospect of singing to accompaniments other than my own. My best results were achieved before an audience generously interlarded with aging gentlemen. There are those that hold that admiration from older men is an achievement. I’m convinced it is a fallacy. Discrimination is less keen in the near-young. That was where I struck fire. When hearing and sight were waning I could fairly wring their hearts with yearning airs like “My Mother Bids Me Bind My Hair,” “The Lass With The Delicate Air,” “The Last Rose Of Summer,” or Dr. Richard Strauss’ Serenade. Vanishing youth imagined it was young again and flared up. That, as you can readily perceive, is exaggeration. However, I did receive adulation, much more than I deserved, and after certain benefits at which I sang each year. I joyously wallowed in praise.
Mr. Hackett would have had me sing day and night and when a circumspect string quartette made me an offer to travel with them as soloist and accompanist he was delighted. It might have had family approval too but for the fact that the Dean was opposed so, of course, Mother concurred. A trip to Springfield in the holidays with a dramatic reader put a final crimp in it. Mrs. Boker had arranged the affair and secured railroad passes for us. Unfortunately, on the return trip, the engine had broken down and we landed in Kansas City at midnight and missed our train to Chicago. A pair of polished gentlemen of the old school of perfidy, thinking we were green lassies, tried to escort us to a hotel but a noble friend rescued us at the correct moment. After that trips without escort had a taint.
One of the perfidious sex who kept my days from being too dull at the period was a young Scot with a pernicious habit of winking at unexpected moments. He was an instructor at the university and possessed a pleasing baritone voice. I first played accompaniments for him in Mr. Hackett’s studio. The fly in the ointment was that he insisted on singing the particular airs that the Rich Young Man had chosen and they struck a sour note. Not only that, he liked the same diversion that the Rich Young Man and I had shared, and appeared at my door on a tandem bicycle with a drop seat in the rear which he invited me to occupy.
“O, I never let a man get ahead of me,” I had said, trying to laugh the situation off. I had seen the flash of his temper as I hesitated to mount. Being a Scotchman, he was economical of his words as one would expect and I sat patiently on the curb stone while the bicycle was exchanged for one that accorded me a view of scenery instead of sweater. His face was still unrelaxed when he helped me mount the substitute.
I wouldn’t have done it for any other girl,” he said, cooling off. Then we cleared the air with a laugh and had a fine time.
Letters from the Rich Young Man were full of tools dropped in oil wells, and placer mining of dirty men and bad luck came by post and were far from inspiring but I remembered that his secretary (an old school friend) was never far away nor the Spanish senorita at the next hacienda and I continued to go out with my Scotchman.
One day Howie brought home a case of mumps. Being a greedy person, I helped myself to them and the Scotchman fled in terror to his innermost sanctum. For days he was in a jittery state as I later learned, measuring his cheekbones before the mirror with heavy misgivings. He was spared humiliation in his classes for the blight passed him by. But not me. The wind of contagion had blown him completely off my calendar. When my face and he returned to normal I presented him with a song I had written. A young painter whose mother had confined him to mama’s care illustrated it for me. The lyrics were from the Sanskrit.
Thy face a lovely lily,
Thine eyes the lotus blue,
Thy teeth are jasmine blossoms,
Thy lips the rosebud’s hue,
The velvet touch of the champal
The tender skin doth own.
How comes it the Creator
Hath made thy heart a stone?
The drawing was clever. The artist had painted the actual flowers and as his own contribution the heart of gray rock was definitely cracked.
It might have been more realistic if the head had been bashed but Charles was too nice to do that.