Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Yacht, Book 2, Chapter 13

Still somewhat affected, naturally, by her mother's stunning edict, Maggie's voice faltered a little, but Paul's singing the numbers with her gave her warmth and confidence and she eventually soared free on her own. This, Sadie Blakeley thought, was probably a good thing for the Schlegel household. Paul had been upset with the news, no doubt much more angry than he showed under his joking about and turning the setback into one more opportunity to show how fully he understood the music scheme, and she had wondered if he just might go down to Maggie's house with the girls - the turnabout was at the Schlegel's this time - and have it out with Maria then and there. He was most certainly a teacher, a soul incapable of tolerating error, incompetence, any attempt to mask the real truth, any sign of confusion or lack of confidence on the part of a student. But Maggie had taken the lesson, so his mind could rest, knowing the essential next step had not been interfered with.
So the girls left, both of them looking as is they would love to throw their arms around Paul and hug him to death, but of course they didn't know him that well yet. And he was, after all, their classroom teacher. The experience would be all that sweeter and good for their souls when it happened naturally. Possibly he was too angry for it anyway.
The girls left, Paul slouched in a chair with a furrowed brow, and Sadie got him a beer. "By no means do you have to earn your booze, Paul, but I think we both know you've earned this one."
"Bloody rights I have. Wait'll I run into that old bat. And whatever opening scene from Macbeth she was listening to in order to come down on her kid like that. You must have some real doozers in this town." He didn't use any adjectives rooted in four-letter words, but Sadie could hear them roiling in his brain.
And she could also hear his mistake, his assumption, about Maggie's mother's age. She was heading back to the kitchen. Adam would be home before Paul was finished his drink. But she turned back, laughing, realizing that as talented as the young teacher was, he was also very humanly capable of jumping to conclusions. In fact, to thoroughly get rid of the tensions that had been layering her house for the last hour, she sat in a happily relaxed lump herself, and laughed and laughed.
"No offense, young fellow, but you have been thinking that because Deirdre is my youngest, and born just before I was out of my Forties, that Maggie's Mom is also a woman of . . . . shall we say, mature years?"
"Oh my God." Paul sat up, and started to laugh himself. "Yes, I have. I suppose we've been too busy making cultural beach heads for me to ask family questions. She's not . . . .middle aged?"
"Heavens, no. Margaret is the oldest, and Maria wasn't all that old when she was married. She's very little into her Thirties, and, incidentally, rather good looking. Oh my. Wonderful. For the rest of my days I will wish I could have been in her house or wherever when you ran into her with a lecture in your mind all arranged for an elderly charter member of the stitch and bitch set. You're a man, and a young one at that. I'm sure you would recover and get on with your job, but the initial encounter would have been worth a camera angle or two. Oh, you don't have to start dropping your visor. She's a very good young woman and she and Horst love each other dearly. And Horst would never let her bully Maggie away from you, although it might take a while to persuade Maria to see the light. She's a convert. She was raised Mennonite, on the Prairies, and she sometimes falls back into odd frames of mind. Especially over music. She's very talented. There's been some real devils at work in the business of this afternoon. She would be my choice to make the very best of what your secrets are, and I'm sure in the end she will, if you have time for another student. But I fear that at the beginning she would not be easy about it. She might tell Maggie that she should have studied her scales better, but I think there's more to her negative experiences than that.As I said, she's good looking, and some music teachers . . . ."
"Hmm hm. Maman has had a few victims of that species of nonsense. I think this Horst must be quite the man. I'm looking forward to meeting him. What does he do?"
"He's the accountant at the mill."
"You guys are quite the cartel. But nothing really good can be done without real friendships, as Aristotle says, and it's always especially efficient when business and friendship go forward in the name of culture and faith. Man, what Gaetan Renard and my Grandpere accomplished in the name of both is certainly proof of that." He was recovering quickly, and sat up even straighter.
"You will have to tell me more about it. But not now. I must get to the kitchen. Thank heaven the weather's cooling off. Oh, and don't assume that there actually was anything that dark in Maria's student days. It might just have been some disciplinary approach radically different than yours and very stupid. But I've always wondered, and I think you should be aware of the possibilities because I really think she will wind up listening to you, and letting your show her how to make better use of her own piano. After all, she can't help but hear that voice on Sunday, unless she goes somewhere else for Mass. And another thought. Have you even see Ionesco's 'The Lesson'?"
Paul hooted. "Seen it? I belonged to the Players Club, I'll have you know, and I did the teacher's role two years ago. I was very successful, too, considered one of the most hateful men who'd ever graced the stage. That was enough villainy for a lifetime, I can tell you. Where did you see it?"
"See it? That's your second assumption of the day. I played the student, in my own college days."
"Good heavens! You're an actress. Wonderful. Maybe that's what gives you so much understanding. Thank Christ you're not taking Maria Schlegel's side of things. Between her and that Havincourt woman, and even Iris' initial reaction I've had to wonder if I'd come to the ends of the earth in Blackfish Bay. I mean I know Vancouver is full of wilfully ignorant rabble as well, but I did expect a little more pastoral quiet and co-operation than has shown up so far. Or shall I say I expected a little less opposition? I'm an optimist, you see. I expect people to trust and expect the best, not doubt, bitch, whine and insist only the worst can happen. Sometimes it has to, of course. The first three chapters of Genesis lay it all down. But it would all be so much nicer if it didn't. But here, I'm bitching too, just after you handed me a beer for my nerves. Maybe I should just realize that it's all happened so quickly so I won't take you and Adam for granted. That's a problem with me, expecting every house to be like the one I grew up in. My adopted brother used to get on me about it, as he came from quite the opposite." He raised the bottle. "To the Blakeleys. Long may they reign, and may all their enemies either repent or catch the plague."
"Oh, dear. I didn't get you a glass."
"Never mind. I'll imagine myself at the wheel of the Melinda Richards, looking for swimmers to run over." He rose from the chair and followed Sadie into the kitchen.
Sadie was still ready to laugh. "Maria Schlegel would make a very pretty corpse."
"But why did she do it? Why did she turn cannibal on her own daughter? Maggie simply did not deserve it."
"I can see you're the sort of teacher who believes in shooting the parent first and asking the kid 'why' later."
"You got it. But as they quickly found out when I was learning my new trade in the spring, I shoot kids even faster if they ask for it. But this scenario knocked me flat. I'm a veteran observer, you know, of the good, the bad, and the ugly that have been through my Mom. Dierdre and Maggie are both genuinely docile and genuinely as eager as they come. The sort teachers live for, if they've any sense. The world is full of resistance to real learning, especially when it comes to art. They haven't balked once. You talk about my teaching the mother! All I can see in my head is complete resistance. She isn't likely to do the first damn thing I tell her!"
Sadie began rustling around the stove and in the fridge and cupboards.
"It won't be like that. Trust me. Maria is young, Maggie is her firstborn, and the Schlegels have some friends - not the Blakeleys - with mouths as big as the Parliament Buildings in Victoria, and even more eager to argue just to hear the sounds of their own voices." She stopped to look at him, and firmly said, "You know what discretion means, right?"
"Yes, Ma'am."
"Good. Because I'm not eager to have any of my critical remarks come back to me. It makes life that much harder for Adam. So a lot of the things I might say, or you might hear in this house, you have to forget, like the priest in the confessional. But of course some things you will need to hear, and have a right to hear, because of your position in the school, the parish, and I what I suspect will happen very quickly, the community at large. As you get to know people, you will find these things out for yourself. But, as you said, there are some real doozers. Born gossips, born meddlers, born souls who would rather do anything than read a good book or open their lives to anything more than a soap opera mentality. And, bluntly, let me tell you that there are a couple of women in Maria's circle who are simply jealous of how much she and I enjoy each other's company. I've never met her parents, but I suspect that there is a history of harshness there, so she appreciates knowing an couple from her parents' generation that simply give her room to be. And I quite suspect that the parents have never really forgiven her for becoming a Catholic. And one of her woman friends has a daughter the same age as Maggie and Deirdre, whom they try to make room for, but she's not easy company. She's coarse, and I suspect about to get promiscuous, or at the least, simply too moony over boys. The mother was much the same, she can see it coming, and she probably hates the situation and resents the fact that Maggie and Deirdre just might escape the same fate, because they have some interests in things of the mind. She might have heard something about you, and managed to find just the right words to set Maria off balance. Stranger things have happened. Strange things always happen when people ignore Casti Connubi. Oh. I don't mean the Schlegels. I mean the woman that might have been part of the false witness."
Paul grinned. "Good old Pius XI. My grandfather used to send him lovely letters."
"Really? Rome seems so far away. It's hard to imagine someone in Canada - other than a bishop, of course, just sitting down and jotting a note to the Pope."
"Easy enough when you're Philippe. And he never had anything to hide, like a lot of bishops do. He was more or less just taking dictation from the big head office in the sky. As natural as Adam dropping a line to Vancouver. How long do you think it will take Maria to come around?"
"Are you asking for Maggie's sake or hers?" Paul was by a window now, looking down over the hill that sloped to the Strait. They had remodeled, he thought, with this house that went back some years, probably before the First World War, putting in more windows to take advantage of the view.
"Well, hers in both cases," he said. "Because unless she wants to commit the unthinkable and tell Maggie she has to stop being Deirdre's friend, Deirdre will certainly show her every thing she learns from me. And that might even be an advantage, a silver lining in the cloud of the Schlegel discontent, because that simply means that Deirdre will learn it better. Nothing makes you learn more efficiently than the prospect of having to teach what you know."
"I thought of that too, which is why I'm not too worried about Maggie. And once you've met Horst you'll realize he really does wear the pants, and Maria will not hold out against what he knows is good for his daughter. This would never have happened if he'd been home from work. There must have been some stupid incident this afternoon, and it provoked Maria to fall back into whatever happened over her and music when she was young. Horst is no musician, by the way, just a very good accountant. He can't help her that way. I'm not worried about Maggie now, although of course it was very disturbing to have Maria call me up in such a ridiculous mood. No, it's Maria that's concerning me, or you and Maria, because I'm absolutely convinced, after watching and listening to you with the girls just now, that you're the man to solve her problems with music, to clear up whatever happened when she was young. I mean, I've never seen anything like you, and I even suspect, whether you know it or not, because I have read a little of your grandfather's writing, that you have some mystic in you. I'm sure you can do it, and I'm only afraid that you will say you don't have time. Or that you're still angry and can't forgive her for upsetting Maggie." She had turned away from the stove and looked directly at him. He thought: good women are all the same. I could be looking at my mother. Lucky Maria Schlegel, to have such a friend.
He grinned. "Would you kick me out if I refused?"
"Of course not. I happen to be very fond of art and the thought that you might actually be painting in my house is very pleasant indeed. But for some reason I'm also very fond of Maria. Somewhere, somehow, she's been dealt a bad hand." She turned back to the stove, then went to the fridge for lettuce and took that to the sink.
"How long have you known her?"
"A little more than a year. They were in Vancouver, which she really loved, after the Prairies, and Horst was number three man in the head office. The accountant here retired, and they offered Horst his job. So they moved, and Maggie came to Saint Bridget's, where Deirdre had been having far too easy a time being head of the class. Maggie's brain was the best thing that could have happened to her. They could have become enemies and rivals, but by the grace of God they became friends."
"I heard how she said Maggie was the best math student in the school. It reminded me of how I finally came to reckon with Jacob's skills with philosophy. You learn to recognize that God loves variety, and made each of us unique. Then, and only then, can you know how to create teamwork. Of course I'll take Maria on, if she'll have me. There's a fair amount of shrinking goes on around our house, and I'd like to get at the skeletons in the Schlegel closet just to see if I can do my bit." He grinned again. "Besides, she's good looking, right? Just think of what it will give the good Edna Havincourt to talk about. We wouldn't want to let down the gossip columnists, would we?"

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