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Theatre – xix

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Nor did Julia sleep well that night. She was awake when she heard Roger come in, and turning on her light she saw that it was four. She frowned. He came clattering down the stone stairs next morning just when she was beginning to think of getting up.

“Can I come in, mummy?”

“Come in.”

He was still in his pyjamas and dressing-gown. She smiled at him because he looked so fresh and young.

“You were very late last night.”

“No, not very. I was in by one.”

“Liar. I looked at my clock. It was four.”

“All right. It was four then,” he agreed cheerfully.

“What on earth were you doing?”

“We went on to some place after the show and had supper. We danced.”

“Who with?”

“A couple of girls we picked up. Tom knew them before.”

“What were their names?”

“One was called Jill and one was called Joan. I don’t know what their other names were. Joan’s on the stage. She asked me if I couldn’t get her an understudy in your next play.”

At all events neither of them was Avice Crichton. That name had been in her thoughts ever since Dolly had mentioned it.

“But those places aren’t open till four.”

“No, we went back to Tom’s flat. Tom made me promise I wouldn’t tell you. He said you’d be furious.”

“Oh, my dear, it takes a great deal more than that to make me furious. I promise you I won’t say a word.”

“If anyone’s to blame I am. I went to see Tom yesterday afternoon and we arranged it then. All this stuff about love that one hears about in plays and reads in novels. I’m nearly eighteen. I thought I ought to see for myself what it was all about.”

Julia sat up in bed and looked at Roger with wide, inquiring eyes.

“Roger, what do you mean?”

He was composed and serious.

“Tom said he knew a couple of girls who were all right. He’s had them both himself. They live together and so we phoned and asked them to meet us after the show. He told them I was a virgin and they’d better toss up for me. When we got back to the flat he took Jill into the bedroom and left me the sitting-room and Joan.”

For the moment she did not think of Tom, she was so disturbed at what Roger was saying.

“I don’t think it’s so much really. I don’t see it’s anything to make all that fuss about.”

She could not speak. The tears filled her eyes and ran quickly down her face.

“Mummy, what’s the matter? Why are you crying?”

“But you’re a little boy.”

He came over to her and sitting on the side of her bed took her in his arms.

“Darling, don’t cry. I wouldn’t have told you if I’d thought it was going to upset you. After all, it had to happen sooner or later.”

“But so soon. So soon. It makes me feel so old.”

“Not you, darling. Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety.”

She giggled through her tears.

“You fool, Roger, d’you think Cleopatra would have liked what that silly old donkey said of her? You might have waited a little longer.”

“It’s just as well I didn’t. I know all about it now. To tell you the truth I think it’s rather disgusting.”

She sighed deeply. It was a comfort to feel him holding her so tenderly. But she felt terribly sorry for herself.

“You’re not angry with me, darling?” he asked.

“Angry? No. But if it had to come I wish it hadn’t been quite so matter of fact. You talk as though it had just been a rather curious experiment.”

“I suppose it was in a way.”

She gave him a little smile.

“And you really think that was love?”

“Well, it’s what most people mean by it, isn’t it?”

“No, they don’t, they mean pain and anguish, shame, ecstasy, heaven and hell; they mean the sense of living more intensely, and unutterable boredom; they mean freedom and slavery; they mean peace and unrest.”

Something in the stillness with which he listened to her made her give him a glance through her eyelashes. There was a curious expression in his eyes. She did not know what it meant. It was as though he were gravely listening to a sound that came from a long way off.

“It doesn’t sound as though it were much fun,” he murmured.

She took his smooth face in her hands and kissed his lips.

“I’m a fool, aren’t I? You see, I still see you as a little baby boy that I’m holding in my arms.”

A twinkle shone in his eyes.

“What are you grinning at, you ape?”

“It made a damned good photograph, didn’t it?”

She could not but laugh.

“You pig. You filthy pig.”

“I say, about the understudy, is there any chance for Joan?”

“Tell her to come and see me one day.”

But when Roger left her she sighed. She was depressed. She felt very lonely. Her life had always been so full and so exciting that she had never had the time to busy herself much with Roger. She got in a state, of course, when he had whooping-cough or measles, but he was for the most part in robust health, and then he occupied a pleasant place in the background of her consciousness. But she had always felt that he was there to be attended to when she was inclined and she had often thought it would be nice when he was old enough really to share her interests. It came to her as a shock now to realize that, without ever having really possessed him, she had lost him. Her lips tightened when she thought of the girl who had taken him from her.

“An understudy. My foot.”

Her pain absorbed her so that she could not feel the grief she might have felt from her discovery of Tom’s perfidy. She had always known in her bones that he was unfaithful to her. At his age, with his wanton temperament, with herself tied down by her performances at the theatre, by all manner of engagements which her position forced upon her, it was plain that he had ample opportunity to gratify his inclinations. She had shut her eyes. All she asked was that she should not know. This was the first time that an actual fact had been thrust upon her notice.

“I must just put up with it,” she sighed. Thoughts wandered through her mind. “It’s like lying and not knowing you’re lying, that’s what’s fatal; I suppose it’s better to be a fool and know it than a fool and not know it.”

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