Grizel’s bad mood was mostly due to the absence of the girl who was meant to help in the shop on Wednesdays, but it was exacerbated by the mild cold which was causing her to reach for her handkerchief at regular intervals, as well as the weather the weather, which was uncompromisingly wet. “And I thought England was miserable,” she’d grumbled to Deira over the ‘phone that morning. Deira had laughed.
“Sure, England’s just grey,” she said. “You know what it’s like here – rain all morning and sunshine come the afternoon. That’s what I’ve told Moira, anyway,” she added, a touch regretfully, and so Grizel had hoped that Deira was right for her daughter’s sake, at least. Moira was confined to the house enough without the rain forcing her to stay inside, too.
So far, the torrent showed no sign of abating, and there’d been no customers in the store to lift Grizel’s mood, either – the usual trickle of students looking for sheet music having stopped completely as, Grizel assumed, they were spending their free time sheltering at the university library instead. She rather liked the students, which had surprised her at first. She’d certainly never felt much more than a mild disinterest in her own pupils. Perhaps it was because they were older, and more like adults than recalcitrant children – or, more likely, it was because talking about music with them was a choice rather than an enforced chore. Probably if she’d been listening to them dully churn out scales she wouldn’t have liked them at all, but instead she found that they would ask her interested question about whatever new music they had in store, and seemed to think her answers knowledgeable.
In her turn, she found that she was taking an interest in their regular customers. Ngaio Campbell, the farmer’s daughter who had talked her parents into sending her to university on the basis that she could teach when she was done, but whose spare hours all went to the piano; Colin Young, who split his time equally between rugby and singing; and Sally Johnson, whose bright eyes and fierce expression when playing the violin belied her true personality - demure, quiet, even shy at times. Her soft-spokenness had annoyed Grizel until the day Sally had brought her mother into the store and she had heard Mrs Johnson’s shrill, nagging tones, asking her why she was wasting her time lunching and shopping when she ought to be practicing. Grizel was instantly taken back to her own step-mother’s constant complaints, and thought it was a miracle that Sally had stuck to music at all, no matter how much talent and passion she had for it.
The wall clock above the door ticked over to twelve, and Grizel heaved a sigh of something that was almost relief. She could close for her lunch hour, and perhaps after a break she would feel less irritable. She carefully locked the till, fetched her umbrella and stepped out onto the street. There were several small – and inexpensive – tea rooms near the store, and with any luck she’d pick one which didn’t have a chatty waitress, for once. Most of the time she liked the New Zealand way of greeting every stranger as a potential friend; today she loathed the very thought.
She was in luck. The tea room she picked was already full of people, with the smell of fresh bread and cakes not quite obscuring the scent of drying clothes. She was bustled to a small, out of the way table, and quickly brought fresh tea and a not particularly dainty ham and mustard sandwich, which she ate without complaint. She was used to the overly-strong New Zealand tea by now, and was just starting on a second cup when a familiar voice said, “Oh, Miss Cochrane! I was just coming to see you.” It was Sally Johnson, with the slight smile which meant she’d had to steel her nerves to approach her.
Grizel experienced a momentary annoyance at being approached when she wished to be left alone, but said as warmly as she could muster, “Hello, Sally! Were you on your way to the shop? I won’t reopen until one, but if you need anything now-“
“Oh, I don’t need anything. I was really just coming to say – thank you, for last week.”
“Oh,” Grizel echoed. Last week Sally had broken down in the store for reasons Grizel hadn’t quite understood – but of which the causes seemed to mutually be Colin Young and Mrs Johnson – and Grizel, who knew that musicians were temperamental even if she didn’t like it much, had let her sit in the back room until she could pull herself together. “There’s no need for thanks,” she said hurriedly.
“Well – only I have a ticket to see a visiting orchestra tonight, and I can’t make it.” Sally hadn’t quite been meeting Grizel’s eyes, but now she looked hopefully at her. “It seems silly to waste it, so won’t you take it, Miss Cochrane? If not as thanks then – as a favour?”
Inwardly, Grizel groaned, but she liked Sally enough that she didn’t want to offend her. “Why don’t we compromise?” she said lightly. “I will take the ticket, but only if you call me Grizel – that’s my name, you know. You calling me Miss Cochrane reminds me of being a school mistress.”
“You used to be a teacher?” Sally asked, surprised. Grizel seldom volunteered information about herself. “You must have been a good one.”
No, Grizel thought grimly that afternoon as she tidied shelves that were already perfectly tidy, she had not been a good teacher. She had been a competent teacher, and her students had always done well enough, but now, with distance and time between her and her teaching career, she knew that she’d lacked the most important quality of a good teacher – a love of her work, and the ability to pass on that love to her pupils. Grizel was too pragmatic a person to be given to idle speculation, but she did wonder, for a moment, what she’d managed to install in her own students.
Between the weather and her nose, when it was finally time to close the shop Grizel was strongly tempted to just go home; but Auckland’s music community was small, and she knew there was a good chance that Sally would hear if she hadn’t been to the concert. So, reluctantly, she checked she still had a clean handkerchief, donned her raincoat and umbrella, and headed down to Queen Street. Sure enough, she knew most of the people milling around outside the concert chamber, and nodded pleasantly at one or two before Ngaio Cambell caught her eye, and she found herself being beckoned over. “Sally said she was going to give you her ticket,” Ngaio said, and a hint of scorn entered her voice as she added, “She’s gone to watch a rugby game. But I’m glad you’re here – tonight’s soloist is a friend of mine, you know, I met her when I was in Melbourne last year – ”
The slim young woman standing next to Ngaio turned, and Grizel’s eyebrows shot up. “Jacynth Hardy!” she exclaimed, involuntarily.
“Cocky!” Jacynth cried, her eyes lighting up; then she blushed and said, “Excuse me – Miss Cochrane.”
“Grizel is just fine,” Grizel said dryly. “I didn’t know that it was your concert I was coming to, Jacynth. Actually, I had no idea that you were in New Zealand at all.”
“It’s my first proper tour,” Jacynth said, a little pride in her voice. “And if I’d known you were in New Zealand I would have invited you myself. Why, I might not have been here at all if it wasn’t for you.”
“Me?” Grizel asked, surprised.
“Of course – don’t you remember? Oh, but I can see that you don’t! It was my first term at school, and Gay wanted to teach me the cello, and you let us have a room and music – even though that frightful Miss Bubb didn’t want us to – that was when I started playing,” she added to Ngaio with a smile. “Ancient history, really.”
“It was a long time ago,” Grizel agreed. “I’m surprised it made such an impression on you.”
Jacynth flushed again. “A lot happened that term – all of it was memorable, in different ways.” She fell silent; remembering, Grizel supposed. She herself remembered coming up against Mabel Bubb, although not over Jacynth specifically. Actually, she rather thought she did remember something about Gay Lambert – hadn’t she run away? Or was she the one who had been lost in a snow drift?
Ngaio broke the silence but asking Jacynth if she oughtn’t be warming up. Jacynth agreed and excused herself, but not before smiling at Grizel and saying she hoped she’d enjoy the music. “And if you’d like – perhaps we could have tea together tomorrow? We’re not leaving for Wai- Wai- our next performance,” she finished, looking apologetically at Ngaio, “until tomorrow afternoon.”
Grizel agreed, perfunctorily. And yet, a small part of her was warmed, despite her head cold and the weather. Perhaps, in some small way, she had been more than merely competent after all.