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Theatre xv

Novels > Theatre >


Julia did not wake till after eleven. Among her letters was one that had not come by post. She recognized Tom’s neat, commercial hand and tore it open. It contained nothing but the four pounds and the ten-shilling note. She felt slightly sick. She did not quite know what she had expected him to reply to her condescending letter and the humiliating present. It had not occurred to her that he would return it. She was troubled, she had wanted to hurt his feelings, but she had a fear now that she had gone too far.

“Anyhow I hope he tipped the servants,” she muttered to reassure herself. She shrugged her shoulders. “He’ll come round. It won’t hurt him to discover that I’m not all milk and honey.”

But she remained thoughtful throughout the day. When she got to the theatre a parcel was waiting for her. As soon as she looked at the address she knew what it contained. Evie asked if she should open it.

“No.”

But the moment she was alone she opened it herself. There were the cuff-links and the waistcoat buttons, the pearl studs, the wrist-watch and the cigarette-case of which Tom was so proud. All the presents she had ever given him. But no letter. Not a word of explanation. Her heart sank and she noticed that she was trembling.

“What a damned fool I was! Why didn’t I keep my temper?”

Her heart now beat painfully. She couldn’t go on the stage with that anguish gnawing at her vitals, she would give a frightful performance; at whatever cost she must speak to him. There was a telephone in his house and an extension to his room. She rang him. Fortunately he was in.

“Tom.”

“Yes?”

He had paused for a moment before answering and his voice was peevish.

“What does this mean? Why have you sent me all those things?”

“Did you get the notes this morning?”

“Yes. I couldn’t make head or tail of it. Have I offended you?”

“Oh no,” he answered. “I like being treated like a kept boy. I like having it thrown in my face that even my tips have to be given me. I thought it rather strange that you didn’t send me the money for a third-class ticket back to London.”

Although Julia was in a pitiable state of anxiety, so that she could hardly get the words out of her mouth, she almost smiled at his fatuous irony. He was a silly little thing.

“But you can’t imagine that I wanted to hurt your feelings. You surely know me well enough to know that’s the last thing I should do.”

“That only makes it worse.” (“Damn and curse,” thought Julia.) “I ought never to have let you make me those presents. I should never have let you lend me money.”

“I don’t know what you mean. It’s all some horrible misunderstanding. Come and fetch me after the play and we’ll have it out. I know I can explain.”

“I’m going to dinner with my people and I shall sleep at home.”

“Tomorrow then.”

“I’m engaged tomorrow.”

“I must see you, Tom. We’ve been too much to one another to part like this. You can’t condemn me unheard. It’s so unjust to punish me for no fault of mine.”

“I think it’s much better that we shouldn’t meet again.”

Julia was growing desperate.

“But I love you, Tom. I love you. Let me see you once more and then, if you’re still angry with me, we’ll call it a day.”

There was a long pause before he answered.

“All right. I’ll come after the matinée on Wednesday.”

“Don’t think unkindly of me, Tom.”

She put down the receiver. At all events he was coming. She wrapped up again the things he had returned to her, and hid them away where she was pretty sure Evie would not see them. She undressed, put on her old pink dressing-gown and began to make-up. She was out of humour: this was the first time she had ever told him that she loved him. It vexed her that she had been forced to humiliate herself by begging him to come and see her. Till then it had always been he who sought her company. She was not pleased to think that the situation between them now was openly reversed.

Julia gave a very poor performance at the matinée on Wednesday. The heat wave had affected business and the house was apathetic. Julia was indifferent. With that sickness of apprehension gnawing at her heart she could not care how the play went. (“What the hell do they want to come to the theatre for on a day like this anyway?”) She was glad when it was over.

“I’m expecting Mr. Fennell,” she told Evie. “While he’s here I don’t want to be disturbed.”

Evie did not answer. Julia gave her a glance and saw that she was looking grim.

(“To hell with her. What do I care what she thinks!”)

He ought to have been there by now. It was after five. He was bound to come; after all, he’d promised, hadn’t he? She put on a dressing-gown, not the one she made up in, but a man’s dressing-gown, in plum-coloured silk. Evie took an interminable time to put things straight.

“For God’s sake don’t fuss, Evie. Leave me alone.”

Evie did not speak. She went on methodically arranging the various objects on the dressing-table exactly as Julia always wanted them.

“Why the devil don’t you answer when I speak to you?”

Evie turned round and looked at her. She thoughtfully rubbed her finger along her nostrils.

“Great actress you may be...”

“Get the hell out of here.”

After taking off her stage make-up Julia had done nothing to her face except put the very faintest shading of blue under her eyes. She had a smooth, pale skin and without rouge on her cheeks or red on her lips she looked wan. The man’s dressing-gown gave an effect at once helpless, fragile and gallant. Her heart was beating painfully and she was very anxious, but looking at herself in the glass she murmured: Mimi in the last act of Bohème. Almost without meaning to she coughed once or twice consumptively. She turned off the bright lights on her dressing-table and lay down on the sofa. Presently there was a knock on the door and Evie announced Mr. Fennell. Julia held out a white, thin hand.

“I’m lying down. I’m afraid I’m not very well. Find yourself a chair. It’s nice of you to come.”

“I’m sorry. What’s the matter?”

“Oh, nothing.” She forced a smile to her ashy lips. “I haven’t been sleeping very well the last two or three nights.”

She turned her beautiful eyes on him and for a while gazed at him in silence. His expression was sullen, but she had a notion that he was frightened.

“I’m waiting for you to tell me what you’ve got against me,” she said at last in a low voice.

It trembled a little, she noticed, but quite naturally. (“Christ, I believe I’m frightened too.”)

“There’s no object in going back to that. The only thing I wanted to say to you was this: I’m afraid I can’t pay you the two hundred pounds I owe you right away. I simply haven’t got it, but I’ll pay you by degrees. I hate having to ask you to give me time, but I can’t help myself.”

She sat up on the sofa and put both her hands to her breaking heart.

“I don’t understand. I’ve lain awake for two whole nights turning it all over in my mind. I thought I should go mad. I’ve been trying to understand. I can’t. I can’t.”

(“What play did I say that in?”)

“Oh yes, you can, you understand perfectly. You were angry with me and you wanted to get back on me. And you did. You got back on me all right. You couldn’t have shown your contempt for me more clearly.”

“But why should I want to get back on you? Why should I be angry with you?”

“Because I went to Maidenhead with Roger to that party and you wanted me to come home.”

“But I told you to go. I said I hoped you’d have a good time.”

“I know you did, but your eyes were blazing with passion. I didn’t want to go, but Roger was keen on it. I told him I thought we ought to come back and dine with you and Michael, but he said you’d be glad to have us off your hands, and I didn’t like to make a song and dance about it. And when I saw you were in a rage it was too late to get out of it.”

“I wasn’t in a rage. I can’t think how you got such an idea in your head. It was so natural that you should want to go to the party. You can’t think I’m such a beast as to grudge you a little fun in your fortnight’s holiday. My poor lamb, my only fear was that you would be bored. I so wanted you to have a good time.”

“Then why did you send me that money and write me that letter? It was so insulting.”

Julia’s voice faltered. Her jaw began to tremble and the loss of control over her muscles was strangely moving. Tom looked away uneasily.

“I couldn’t bear to think of your having to throw away your good money on tips. I know that you’re not terribly rich and I knew you’d spent a lot on green fees. I hate women who go about with young men and let them pay for everything. It’s so inconsiderate. I treated you just as I’d have treated Roger. I never thought it would hurt your feelings.”

“Will you swear that?”

“Of course I will. My God, is it possible that after all these months you don’t know me better than that? If what you think were true, what a mean, cruel, despicable woman I should be, what a cad, what a heartless, vulgar beast! Is that what you think I am?”

A poser.

“Anyhow it doesn’t matter. I ought never to have accepted valuable presents from you and allowed you to lend me money. It’s put me in a rotten position. Why I thought you despised me is that I can’t help feeling that you’ve got a right to. The fact is I can’t afford to run around with people who are so much richer than I am. I was a fool to think I could. It’s been fun and I’ve had a grand time, but now I’m through. I’m not going to see you any more.”

She gave a deep sigh.

“You don’t care two hoots for me. That’s what that means.”

“That’s not fair.”

“You’re everything in the world to me. You know that. I’m so lonely and your friendship meant a great deal to me. I’m surrounded by hangers-on and parasites and I knew you were disinterested. I felt I could rely on you. I so loved being with you. You were the only person in the world with whom I could be entirely myself. Don’t you know what a pleasure it was to me to help you a little? It wasn’t for your sake I made you little presents, it was for my own; it made me so happy to see you using the things I’d given you. If you’d cared for me at all they wouldn’t have humiliated you, you’d have been touched to owe me something.”

She turned her eyes on him once more. She could always cry easily, and she was really so miserable now that she did not have to make even a small effort. He had never seen her cry before. She could cry, without sobbing, her wonderful dark eyes wide open, with a face that was almost rigid. Great heavy tears ran down it. And her quietness, the immobility of the tragic body, were terribly moving. She hadn’t cried like that since she cried in The Stricken Heart. Christ, how that play had shattered her. She was not looking at Tom, she was looking straight in front of her; she was really distracted with grief, but, what was it? another self within her knew what she was doing, a self that shared in her unhappiness and yet watched its expression. She felt him go white. She felt a sudden anguish wring his heartstrings, she felt that his flesh and blood could not support the intolerable pain of hers.

“Julia.”

His voice was broken. She slowly turned her liquid eyes on him. It was not a woman crying that he saw, it was all the woe of humankind, it was the immeasurable, the inconsolable grief that is the lot of man. He threw himself down on his knees and took her in his arms. He was shattered.

“Dearest, dearest.”

For a minute she did not move. It was as if she did not know that he was there. He kissed her streaming eyes and with his mouth sought hers. She gave it to him as though she were powerless, as though, scarcely conscious of what was befalling her, she had no will left. With a scarcely perceptible movement she pressed her body to his and gradually her arms found their way round his neck. She lay in his arms, not exactly inert, but as though all the strength, all the vitality, had gone out of her. In his mouth he tasted the saltness of her tears. At last, exhausted, clinging to him with soft arms she sank back on the sofa. His lips clung to hers.

You would never have thought had you seen her a quarter of an hour later, so quietly gay, flushed a little, that so short a while before she had passed through such a tempest of weeping. They each had a whisky and soda and a cigarette and looked at one another with fond eyes.

“He’s a sweet little thing,” she thought.

It occurred to her that she would give him a treat.

“The Duke and Duchess of Rickaby are coming to the play tonight and we’re going to have supper at the Savoy. I suppose you wouldn’t come, would you? I want a man badly to make a fourth.”

“If you’d like me to, of course I will.”

The heightened colour on his cheeks told her how excited he was to meet such distinguished persons. She did not tell him that the Rickabys would go anywhere for a free meal. Tom took back the presents that he had returned to her rather shyly, but he took them. When he had gone she sat down at the dressing-table and had a good look at herself.

“How lucky I am that I can cry without my eyelids swelling,” she said. She massaged them a little. “All the same, what mugs men are.”

She was happy. Everything would be all right now. She had got him back. But somewhere, at the back of her mind or in the bottom of her heart, was a feeling of ever so slight contempt for Tom because he was such a simple fool.

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