/*bootstrap*/ My Maugham Collection Concordance Library: Theatre – xii
Newly Added: Francis de Croisset

Follow by Email

Theatre – xii

Novels > Theatre >


When Julia got to bed and slipped her feet down to the comfort of her hot-water bottle, she took a happy look at her room, rose-pink and Nattier-blue, with the gold cherubs of her dressing-table, and sighed with satisfaction. She thought how very Madame de Pompadour it was. She put out the light but she did not feel at all sleepy. She would have liked really to go to Quag’s and dance, but not to dance with Michael, to dance with Louis XV or Ludwig of Bavaria or Alfred de Musset. Clairon and the Bal de l’Opéra. She remembered the miniature Charles had once given her. That was how she felt tonight. Such an adventure had not happened to her for ages. The last time was eight years before. That was an episode that she ought to have been thoroughly ashamed of; goodness, how scared she’d been afterwards, but she had in point of fact never been able to think of it since without a chuckle.

That had been an accident too. She had been acting for a long time without a rest and she badly needed one. The play she was in was ceasing to attract and they were about to start rehearsing a new one when Michael got the chance of letting the theatre to a French company for six weeks. It seemed a good opportunity for Julia to get away. Dolly had rented a house at Cannes for the season and Julia could stay with her. It was just before Easter when she started off, and the trains south were so crowded that she had not been able to get a sleeper, but at a travel agency they had said that it would be quite all right and there would be one waiting for her at the station in Paris. To her consternation she found when they got to Paris that nothing seemed to be known about her, and the chef de train told her that every sleeper was engaged. The only chance was that someone should not turn up at the last moment. She did not like the idea of sitting up all night in the corner of a first-class carriage, and went into dinner with a perturbed mind. She was given a table for two, and soon a man came and sat down opposite her. She paid no attention to him. Presently the chef de train came along and told her that he was very sorry, but he could do nothing for her. She made a useless scene. When the official had gone, the man at her table addressed her. Though he spoke fluent, idiomatic French, she recognized by his accent that he was not a Frenchman. She told him in answer to his polite inquiry the whole story and gave him her opinion of the travel agency, the railway company, and the general inefficiency of the human race. He was very sympathetic. He told her that after dinner he would go along the train and see for himself if something could not be arranged. One never knew what one of the conductors could not manage for a tip.

“I’m simply tired out,” she said. “I’d willingly give five hundred francs for a sleeper.”

The conversation thus started, he told her that he was an attaché at the Spanish Embassy in Paris and was going down to Cannes for Easter. Though she had been talking to him for a quarter of an hour she had not troubled to notice what he was like. She observed now that he had a beard, a black curly beard and a black curly moustache, but the beard grew rather oddly on his face; there were two bare patches under the corners of his mouth. It gave him a curious look. With his black hair, drooping eyelids and rather long nose, he reminded her of someone she had seen. Suddenly she remembered, and it was such a surprise that she blurted out:

“D’you know, I couldn’t think who you reminded me of. You’re strangely like Titian’s portrait of Francis I in the Louvre.”

“With his little pig’s eyes?”

“No, not them, yours are large, I think it’s the beard chiefly.” She glanced at the skin under his eyes; it was faintly violet and unwrinkled. Notwithstanding the ageing beard he was quite a young man; he could not have been more than thirty. She wondered if he was a Spanish Grandee. He was not very well dressed, but then foreigners often weren’t, his clothes might have cost a lot even if they were badly cut, and his tie, though rather loud, she recognized as a Charvet. When they came to the coffee he asked her whether he might offer her a liqueur.

“That’s very kind of you. Perhaps it’ll make me sleep better.”

He offered her a cigarette. His cigarette-case was silver, that put her off a little, but when he closed it she saw that in the corner was a small crown in gold. He must be a count or something. It was rather chic, having a silver cigarette-case with a gold crown on it. Pity he had to wear those modern clothes! If he’d been dressed like Francis I he would really look very distinguished. She set herself to be as gracious as she knew how.

“I think I should tell you,” he said presently, “that I know who you are. And may I add that I have a great admiration for you?”

She gave him a lingering look of her splendid eyes.

“You’ve seen me act?”

“Yes, I was in London last month.”

“An interesting little play, wasn’t it?”

“Only because you made it so.”

When the man came round to collect the money she had to insist on paying her own bill. The Spaniard accompanied her to the carriage and then said he would go along the train to see if he could find a sleeper for her. He came back in a quarter of an hour with a conductor and told her that he had got her a compartment and if she would give the conductor her things he would take her to it. She was delighted. He threw down his hat on the seat she vacated and she followed him along the corridor. When they reached the compartment he told the conductor to take the portmanteau and the dispatch-case that were in the rack to the carriage Madame had just left.

“But it’s not your own compartment you’re giving up to me?” cried Julia.

“It’s the only one on the train.”

“Oh, but I won’t hear of it.”

“Allez,” the Spaniard said to the conductor.

“No, no.”

The conductor, on a nod from the stranger, took the luggage away.

“I don’t matter. I can sleep anywhere, but I shouldn’t sleep a wink if I thought that such a great artist was obliged to spend the night in a stuffy carriage with three other people.”

Julia continued to protest, but not too much. It was terribly sweet of him. She didn’t know how to thank him. He would not even let her pay for the sleeper. He begged her, almost with tears in his eyes, to let him have the great privilege of making her that trifling present. She had with her only a dressing-bag, in which were her face creams, her night-dress and her toilet things, and this he put on the table for her. All he asked was that he might be allowed to sit with her and smoke a cigarette or two till she wanted to go to bed. She could hardly refuse him that. The bed was already made up and they sat down on it. In a few minutes the conductor came back with a bottle of champagne and a couple of glasses. It was an odd little adventure and Julia was enjoying it. It was wonderfully polite of him, all that, ah, those foreigners, they knew how to treat a great actress. Of course that was the sort of thing that happened to Bernhardt every day. And Siddons, when she went into a drawing-room everyone stood up as though she were royalty. He complimented her on her beautiful French. Born in Jersey and educated in France? Ah, that explained it. But why hadn’t she chosen to act in French rather than in English? She would have as great a reputation as Duse if she had. She reminded him of Duse, the same magnificent eyes and the pale skin, and in her acting the same emotion and the wonderful naturalness.

They half finished the bottle of champagne and Julia realized that it was very late.

“I really think I ought to go to bed now.”

“I’ll leave you.”

He got up and kissed her hand. When he was gone Julia bolted the door and undressed. Putting out all the lights except the one just behind her head she began to read. Presently there was a knock at the door.

“Yes?”

“I’m sorry to disturb you. I left my toothbrush in the lavabo. May I get it?”

“I’m in bed.”

“I can’t go to sleep unless I brush my teeth.”

“Oh well, he’s clean anyway.”

With a little shrug of her shoulders Julia slipped her hand to the door and drew back the bolt. It would be stupid in the circumstances to be prudish. He came in, went into the lavatory and in a moment came out, brandishing a toothbrush. She had noticed it when she brushed her own teeth, but thought it belonged to the person who had the compartment next door. At that period adjoining compartments shared a lavatory. The Spaniard seemed to catch sight of the bottle.

“I’m so thirsty, do you mind if I have a glass of champagne?”

Julia was silent for a fraction of a second. It was his champagne and his compartment. Oh, well, in for a penny, in for a pound.

“Of course not.”

He poured himself out a glass, lit a cigarette and sat down on the edge of her bed. She moved a little to give him more room. He accepted the situation as perfectly natural.

“You couldn’t possibly have slept in that carriage,” he said. “There’s a man there who’s a heavy breather. I’d almost rather he snored. If he snored one could wake him.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Oh, it doesn’t matter. If the worst comes to the worst I’ll curl up in the corridor outside your door.”

“He can hardly expect me to ask him to come and sleep in here,” Julia said to herself. “I’m beginning to think this was all a put-up job. Nothing doing, my lad.” And then aloud. “Romantic, of course, but uncomfortable.”

“You’re a terribly attractive woman.”

She was just as glad that her nightdress was pretty and that she had put no cream on her face. She had in point of fact not troubled to take off her make-up. Her lips were brightly scarlet, and with the reading light behind her she well knew that she did not look her worst. But she answered ironically.

“If you think that because you’ve given up your compartment to me I’m going to let you sleep with me, you’re mistaken.”

“Just as you say, of course. But why not?”

“I’m not that sort of terribly attractive woman.”

“What sort of woman are you then?”

“A faithful wife and a devoted mother.”

He gave a little sigh.

“Very well. Then I’ll say good night to you.”

He crushed the stub of his cigarette on the ashtray and took her hand and kissed it. He slowly ran his lips up her arm. It gave Julia a funny little sensation. The beard slightly tickled her skin. Then he leant over and kissed her lips. His beard had a somewhat musty smell, which she found peculiar; she was not sure if it revolted or thrilled her. It was odd when she came to think of it, she had never been kissed by a man with a beard before. It seemed strangely indecent. He snapped out the light.

He did not leave her till a chink of light through the drawn blind warned them that day had broken. Julia was shattered morally and physically.

“I shall look a perfect wreck when we get to Cannes.”

And what a risk to take! He might have murdered her or stolen her pearl necklace. She went hot and cold all over as she pictured to herself the danger she had incurred. He was going to Cannes too. Supposing he claimed acquaintance with her there, how on earth was she going to explain him to her friends? She felt sure Dolly wouldn’t like him. He might try to blackmail her. And what should she do if he wanted to repeat the experience? He was passionate, there was no doubt about that, he had asked her where she was staying, and though she had not told him, he could certainly find out if he tried; in a place like Cannes, it would be almost impossible not to run across him. He might pester her. If he loved her as much as he said it was inconceivable that he should let her alone, and foreigners were so unreliable, he might make frightful scenes. The only comfort was that he was only staying over Easter, she would pretend she was tired and tell Dolly that she preferred to stay quietly at the villa.

“How could I have been such a fool?” she cried angrily.

Dolly would be there to meet her at the station, and if he was tactless enough to come up and say good-bye to her she would tell Dolly that he had given up his compartment to her. There was no harm in that. It was always best to tell as much of the truth as you could. But there was quite a crowd of passengers getting out at Cannes, and Julia got out of the station and into Dolly’s car without catching a glimpse of him.

“I’ve arranged nothing for today,” said Dolly. “I thought you’d be tired and I wanted to have you all to myself just for twenty-four hours.”

Julia gave her arm an affectionate squeeze.

“That’ll be too wonderful. We’ll just sit about the villa and grease our faces and have a good old gossip.”

But next day Dolly had arranged that they should go out to luncheon, and they were to meet their hosts at one of the bars on the Croisette to have cocktails. It was a beautiful day, clear, warm and sunny. When they got out of the car Dolly stopped to give the chauffeur instructions about fetching them and Julia waited for her. Suddenly her heart gave a great jump, for there was the Spaniard walking towards her, with a woman on one side of him clinging to his arm and on the other a little girl whose hand he held. She had not time to turn away. At that moment Dolly joined her to walk across the pavement. The Spaniard came, gave her a glance in which there was no sign of recognition, he was in animated conversation with the woman on his arm, and walked on. In a flash Julia understood that he was just as little anxious to see her as she was to see him. The woman and the child were obviously his wife and daughter whom he had come down to Cannes to spend Easter with. What a relief! Now she could enjoy herself without fear. But as she accompanied Dolly to the bar, Julia thought how disgusting men were. You simply couldn’t trust them for a minute. It was really disgraceful that a man with a charming wife and such a sweet little girl should be willing to pick up a woman in the train. You would think they’d have some sense of decency.

But as time passed Julia’s indignation was mitigated, and she had often thought of the adventure since with a good deal of pleasure. After all it had been fun. Sometimes she allowed her reveries to run away with her and she went over in her fancy the incidents of that singular night. He had been a most agreeable lover. It would be something to look back on when she was an old woman. It was the beard that had made such an impression on her, the odd feeling of it on her face and that slightly musty smell which was repulsive and yet strangely exciting. For years she looked out for men with beards, and she had a feeling that if one of them made proposals to her she simply wouldn’t be able to resist him. But few men wore beards any more, luckily for her because the sight made her go a little weak at the knees, and none of those that did ever made any advance to her. She would have liked to know who the Spaniard was. She saw him a day or two later playing chemin de fer at the Casino and asked two or three people if they knew him. Nobody did, and he remained in her recollection, and in her bones, without a name. It was an odd coincidence that she didn’t know the name either of the young man who had that afternoon behaved in so unexpected a manner. It struck her as rather comic.

“If I only knew beforehand that they were going to take liberties with me I’d at least ask for their cards.”

With this thought she fell happily asleep.

+-mymaughamcollection.blogspot.com-+
|                 |                |
|                \|/               |
|               \~|~/              |
|       ,#####\/  | ,\/§§§§        |
|       #  #\./#__|_§_\./          |
|       #  \./ # _|_§  \./         |
|       #  #/  #  | §   \          |
|       #  #   #  | `~§§§§§        |
+--------mmccl.blogspot.com--------+