On Tuesday evening The Maestro had two visitors. As so often Mrs Hardy’s piano lesson had gone on longer than it was supposed to; it was the last lesson of the day and they had chatted for some time afterwards. She was not naturally gifted but worked hard and practiced regularly so that she had reached a higher standard than many of his more talented but lazier pupils.
They got on well and she was beautiful with light brown or perhaps blonde hair and, as far as he could see, flawless skin. She had the buxom figure he enjoyed in a woman, and equally importantly she made him laugh. They were both married of course, and thus nothing of a romantic nature would happen between them, but he looked forward to her lessons and when he and his wife Annie made love in, what was so far, a vain attempt to produce a child, it was often Mrs Hardy he imagined; naked and happy.
She left, giving him a smile and Annie then appeared with two middle-aged men; dark and bearded and with strong Yorkshire accents, without the gentility of Harrogate folk. Was it his imagination or did the smell of the mill still cling to them? They both shook his hand warmly before sitting down whilst the Maestro sat opposite them on the piano stool, still warm from Mrs Hardy’s bottom.
They were Bradford businessmen and had come to make him an offer. “We have been commissioned by the town council to ask you if you would consider becoming conductor for the Bradford City Orchestra. We have a fine orchestra, you have probably heard of it, and we pay well in consequence. We know how you have transformed the orchestra here in Harrogate but an ambitious man like you will want to better himself I am sure.” The Maestro thanked them for the offer and promised them he would think about it and get back to them. “We would be happy to take you around our city. Have you ever visited it? It is a city to be proud of and there are some lovely areas where you and your wife could live; it is not all industry; Shipley is a lovely town and close by.”
The Maestro had indeed visited Bradford a few years ago; and the anarchist within him had noticed the squalid houses and obvious poverty so close to the rich villas of the businessmen who had turned the city, for better or for worse, what it was today. He wondered if he could bring music to the people with free concerts and lessons for the poor. There was definitely a job to be done for a musician with a conscience and a love of the people.
He did not expect Annie to be enthusiastic about this offer; she had many friends in Harrogate and seemed to love the town, but on the contrary she begged him to take it. “Oh it would be wonderful. You could do so much; your talent is hidden away here. I know you are getting bored. You have lived in London; don’t you miss the bustle of a large city? I do from when I lived in Birmingham, before mama died.” He said nothing definite, as he was still undecided. But that night she made love to him with a strength and passion he had never known from her before, as if she were giving herself to an exciting and vibrant future.
By chance he met Mrs Hardy in the Valley Gardens the following morning and they sat on a bench together and talked. It was warm and she was holding a parasol; he could smell his companion’s perfume mixing with the heady odour of flowers. All about them smartly dressed gentlefolk walked and gossiped; many using sticks to keep themselves steady. Somewhere he could hear the faint sounds of a violin being played with a wildness that appealed to him and made him think that perhaps he could move.
“That is wonderful isn’t it?” she said after he told her about the offer, “although how will we manage without our teacher?” “I am not sure I will take it” he told her. “I am in my late thirties and I am happy here, and Annie has all her friends. And would I want my children to grow up in a large city like Bradford?” He was aware of how close she was to him and for a moment he had an urge to kiss her on her cheek; to feel her cool, pale skin against his lips. No doubt she would have screamed and run, leaving his career in ruins, but it would have been worth it.
He was never really sure why he did not accept the job. Annie was desperate for him to take it, and when he told her he had refused it, she went into something akin to mourning; barely talking beyond what was necessary for weeks afterwards. The Maestro felt himself to be callous at causing someone such pain particularly as he did not understand his motives.
Was it really that he would have missed Mrs Hardy too much? If so, he was foolish, because predictably she soon became pregnant and, a few years later he was teaching piano to her children, but by then she was a rather bossy matron who had run to fat. But there were her successors; intelligent, beautiful women with a zest for life, who flirted with him and made him laugh, and he loved them all, each and everyone.