Cornelia hesitated as she reached the door of the little music room. She must not linger for long; Plato would not be pleased if she arrived late for her singing lesson, for he was wont to work her hard and frequently bemoaned the limited time devoted to her musical education. But today was different, for barely three days had passed since the school had learned of Mademoiselle Lepattre's sad death. While the girls that had known her mourned her keenly, for Cornelia things were worse. She was an unsentimental young lady, not much given to emotion, but to her, the kindness shown by Mademoiselle had done much to reform her from the hard-hearted, difficult character she had been when first she had arrived at the Chalet School, and in consequence she had felt a tenacious affection and deep love for the kind-hearted little headmistress, and had been badly upset by her death. She had insisted on continuing as normal, however, and since her fainting fit on hearing the sad news she had managed to keep a tight rein on her emotions - for more than anything she hated a "scene" - but now it was time for her singing lesson, and she feared that music might stir her deeply-felt grief.
“Wouldn’t it be just awful if I had a fit of the flops in front of Plato!” she thought to herself. “Why, I’d never look him in the face again. Well, I must just set myself to it – Plato will have a fit if I’m any later than I am now.”
And so saying, she tapped at the door and marched in at the melodious, “Enter!” which floated from within.
To her surprise and horror, Plato, or more accurately Mr Denny, the singing master, was alone. Usually Grizel Cochrane, the music mistress, attended lessons as accompanist, but this was not always possible, and once or twice before the singing master had been forced to play for his lessons himself. Cornelia, however, had expected Grizel to be there, and now she entered the room feeling sick and anxious.
“Oh my stars,” she thought. “I don’t know if I can do it. If only Grizel were here!” For though she could expect little sympathy from the hard-hearted Grizel, Cornelia would far rather have had her as comforter, should she break down.
Mr Denny was blithely unaware of the girl’s panic, and beamed at her in his customary fashion, motioning for her to come further into the room.
“Ah, Cornelia,” he said, merrily. “Come in, come in! You see we are without Miss Cochrane today, so I have perforce to stumble through the accompaniments myself. Have you all of your music? Place them over there, please, on the table. We shall attend to warming up before we turn to them.”
Cornelia did as she was bid, then came to stand before the piano for the exercises with which they began each lesson. Mr Denny’s comment about his playing was not entirely justified, as he was a very fair pianist, and he accompanied the exercises with vigour. Cornelia herself managed to get through them well enough, though her voice cracked a little over some of the high notes. Mr Denny raised his eyebrows, concerned, but she excused herself as having a slightly sore throat, and he waved in the direction of a jug of water and glasses, saying to help herself as she needed. She poured a glass, grateful, and then they turned to her songs. She presented a fair performance of the first two, drawing little criticism from her precise and careful singing master. Then she turned to the third, and felt her throat tighten. It was by Debussy, one of Mademoiselle’s own favourite composers. Cornelia swallowed hard and blinked furiously, determined not to give way. She simply couldn’t cry now! She took a deep breath and looked up to see Mr Denny looking at her curiously.
“Are you quite well, child?” he asked, sounding a little alarmed, but she nodded and even managed a strained smile, which seemed to satisfy him, for he said,
“From the top then – if you are ready?”
She nodded again, and he struck the opening chords, but as she began, she realised she would not make it through the piece. On the third phrase her voice began to tremble as the emotion swelled in her heart – oh Mademoiselle, her beloved Mademoiselle, so kind, so patient, so understanding; gone! It could not be! – and then her shoulders began to shake and the tears welled up and spilled over, down her cheeks and pattered onto the song-sheet which grew dim behind the film of tears.