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When Millie Played Fair

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Millie gave the piano a thoughtful look, she would manage this piece before the concert. Miss Heloise had said that if she practiced hard enough, she might win a prize as she had a good ear and her playing was fine. Harriet was bound to win the top prize as she made music that held everyone spellbound, everyone knew Harriet had a gift and was bound for great places with her music. Millie would be satisfied to do well enough that she might win perhaps most improved or another prize and her grandmother would be impressed as Granny considered that every woman must be skilled with music.

The main obstacle to any prize was her own fingers, she would keep tripping over notes and Delphinia, who always wanted to win and make herself look the best. Carefully she began the series of arpeggios and scales to warm up, keeping watch of how every key had to sound all on its own, no slurring over allowed. Then she took out her music, she couldn’t get it completely right since she had to stop and turn the pages but Miss Heloise was assigning the girls to turn each other’s pages. She just hoped that Delphinia wasn’t given her because she would do something to muck everything up.

*********

“I’m going to mess up,” Millie said as she sat on her bed and stared at her sheet music.

“No, you won’t,” Jane said and tossed a pillow at Millie, “You’re always practicing and you know that Miss Heloise thinks that you’re a hard worker.”

“But what about Delphinia?” She knew that Delphinia loved crowds and was good at looking just right.

“I’m not talking about her, not after she almost knocked over poor Arthur on her new horse. Honestly, it shouldn’t be allowed the way she carries on,” Horses mattered to Jane, she cared so much and hated how Delphinia didn’t.

“She was showing off,” That was simply what Delphinia did and she had the prettiest dresses that helped.

“She’s always showing off but she can’t do that much on the piano, she’s not that good. Now come on, I need to finish this essay or else I won’t be allowed to ride in the race next month,” Jane said with a sigh, Millie knew it was only to distract her but she didn’t mind. She knew she was lucky to have Jane as her roommate, because she understood about Delphinia and never thought she was making anything up, even though Jane didn’t care one whit about music or who was best except in riding.

Millie came over and sat on Jane’s bed and together they worked on trying to make sense of Roman history and the Punic Wars, “Do you really think you wouldn’t be allowed to ride?”

“Father and Miss Powell made me agree at the start of the term that for every race, I had to write an essay in history,” Jane looked ready to cry over her empty paper.

“That’s not fair. You always struggle with history,” It was horribly unfair to Jane who was always doing her best to prove herself.

“That’s why. Miss Powell said that it would prove that I was willing to work. Father agreed pointing out that he didn’t want another trainer, he wanted a well educated young lady as he couldn’t easily hire one of those. So history essays.”

Everything Jane did was so that she could have time out in the stables to convince her father that she could help him train racehorses. It wasn’t Jane’s fault that she was a girl when her father wanted a boy, but she was the best with horses.

Jane had never let her down like when Millie had made an utter mess of the party she held for the visiting opera singer. She knew that at the time, Jane had wanted to be out helping Arthur with a new colt, instead she had stayed and the party had gone off well enough that even the Headmistress had complimented them. Jane had even snuck off a few cakes for Arthur, the stable boy, who was their age and Millie suspected Jane liked him.

***********

Miss Heloise cleared her throat as she looked over the girls before the concert, “Now Delphinia will turn for Millie and then Millie for Harriet. Remember your tempo, girls. While this is a concert, it is also a competition. I want you to do your very best to impress our local and visiting audience. I know that only a few relatives were able to make it but the mayor is here as well as Mr. Fisher who is a visiting organist and a good friend of mine.”

Millie was amazed to see Miss Heloise almost blush, she would have to find out more about this Mr. Fisher. Miss Heloise clapped her hands and moved the girls off stage to wait in line in order, Millie would go after Delphinia who was second.

Eliza went first and she stumbled a good bit and when she came off, Millie squeezed her hand, Eliza did always get the worst stage fright. When Delphinia walked out, it was with a satisfied smile as Harriet prepared to turn her pages. It sounded to Millie like there were some extra flourishes and Harriet had a careful blank look on her face which meant she didn’t approve. Harriet and Miss Heloise both liked music that you felt and the way Delphinia did the flourishes, they felt like flounces of her skirt. Delphinia finished with a completely unnecessary arpeggio that made even Miss Heloise sigh. Her curtsy was lovely as Harriet walked back and Millie went out with her own music.

She met Delphinia’s eyes and saw that gleam she hated, which meant that Delphinia had a plan. Millie took a deep breath as Miss Heloise had taught her and then looked at her music and began to play. The first two pages were fine but Delphinia turned a beat too soon. She would not get lost, she wouldn’t, so Millie sped up her tempo, trying to hit every note but she could hear them starting to blur. Delphinia turned the last page two beats quicker and Millie glared at her while Delphinia just smiled. Finally it was over and Millie stood up to bow as Delphinia smugly flounced off the stage and Harriet came back out.

Harriet sat down and smiled at Millie before beginning to play, the lovely music which danced made Millie truly feel better as she carefully turned all the pages. She didn’t know how Harriet was able to look at a piano and music notes and create such beauty. The audience applauded much louder when Harriet finished and the two girls went off.

They couldn’t talk as the other girls were performing but Harriet kept a good grip on Millie’s hand until Miss Heloise stepped out, “Thank you to everyone for attending. Tea is being served outside in the garden while the prizes are considered.”

Then she waved the girls outside and Millie watched Miss Heloise sit down at the piano before Millie went out to the garden for tea. Her grandmother came towards her with a look that Millie dreaded, “Oh Millie, you almost did so well until you started to speed up. Have tea and tell me about that essay you have been dreading, I think you mentioned the Punic Wars.”

Tea went by quickly as Granny was in a good mood and Mrs. Doyle had set out her seed cakes, Millie ate five. While she was contemplating a sixth, she spotted Miss Heloise and Mr. Fisher talking over the cucumber sandwiches. She moved over a little closer and grabbed a fish paste sandwich and heard, “You are going to take the job in Coventry, Tim?”

“Won’t you come with me, Hel?” His voice was sad, Millie wondered why, Coventry was a grand cathedral.

“I don’t know and I need to announce the prizes,” Miss Heloise began to walk away and Mr. Fisher held her hand for a long moment. Millie quickly went back to her Granny, she didn’t want Miss Heloise to leave but love was important.

Miss Heloise dinged on a glass with a smile, “Hello, again, everyone. Thank you to coming to our concert and competition. I have a few prizes to give out for our talented girls. Most Improved to Miss Eliza Hatter.”

Eliza blushed as she went to get her prize, a certificate.

“Best Performance to Miss Harriet Kindle and her prize is a collection of recent sheet music from Vienna,” Harriet beamed at everyone as she went up and there were tears in her eyes as she took the book and waved at everyone.

“The last award is one that I have created today but I feel is important. Best Accompanist, now I know the girls were playing on their own, but a page turner makes a great deal of difference to how you play. The winner of this prize is Miss Millicent Conrad.”

Millie blushed bright red as everyone applauded and her grandmother hugged her. Miss Heloise handed her a handwritten card and squeezed her hand tightly saying, “You help your fellow girls succeed, Millie and in music and in life, that’s terribly important. Good job.”

She looked down at the card in Miss Heloise’s looping handwriting, it wasn’t the prize she expected but she was proud of it.