THERE was a knock at the door.
"Come in," said Julia.
"Aren't you going to bed today, Miss Lambert?" She saw Julia sitting on the floor surrounded by masses of photographs. "Whatever are you doing?"
"Dreaming." She took up two of the photographs. "Look here upon this picture, and on this."
One was of Michael as Mercutio in all the radiant beauty of his youth and the other of Michael in the last part he had played, in a white topper and a morning coat, with a pair of field-glasses slung over his shoulder. He looked unbelievably self-satisfied.
"Oh, well, it's no good crying over spilt milk."
"I've been thinking of the past and I'm as blue as the devil."*
"I don't wonder. When you start thinking of the past it means you ain't got no future, don't it?"
"You shut your trap, you old cow," said Julia, who could be very vulgar when she chose.
"Come on now, or you'll be fit for nothing tonight. I'll clear up all this mess."
Evie was Julia's dresser and maid. She had come to her first at Middlepool and had accompanied her to London. She was a cockney, a thin, raddled, angular woman, with red hair which was always untidy and looked as if it much needed washing, two of her front teeth were missing but, notwithstanding Julia's offer, repeated for years, to provide her with new ones she would not have them replaced.
"For the little I eat I've got all the teeth I want. It'd only fidget me to 'ave a lot of elephant's tusks in me mouth."
Michael had long wanted Julia at least to get a maid whose appearance was more suitable to their position, and he had tried to persuade Evie that the work was too much for her, but Evie would not hear of it.
"You can say what you like, Mr. Gosselyn, but no one's going to maid Miss Lambert as long as I've got me 'ealth and strength."
"We're all getting on, you know, Evie. We're not so young as we were."
Evie drew her forefinger across the base of her nostrils and sniffed.
"As long as Miss Lambert's young enough to play women of twenty-five, I'm young enough to dress 'er. And maid 'er." Evie gave him a sharp look. "An' what d'you want to pay two lots of wages for, when you can get the work done for one?"
Michael chuckled in his good-humoured way.
"There's something in that, Evie dear."
She bustled Julia upstairs. When she had no matinee Julia went to bed for a couple of hours in the afternoon and then had a light massage. She undressed now and slipped between the sheets.
"Damn, my hot water bottle's nearly stone cold."
She looked at the clock on the chimney-piece. It was no wonder. It must have been there an hour. She had no notion that she had stayed so long in Michael's room, looking at those photographs and idly thinking of the past.
"Forty-six. Forty-six. Forty-six. I shall retire when I'm sixty. At fifty-eight South Africa and Australia. Michael says we can clean up there. Twenty thousand pounds. I can play all my old parts. Of course even at sixty I could play women of forty-five. But what about parts? Those bloody dramatists."
Trying to remember any plays in which there was a first-rate part for a woman of five-and-forty she fell asleep. She slept soundly till Evie came to awake her because the masseuse was there. Evie brought her the evening paper, and Julia, stripped, while the masseuse rubbed her long slim legs and her belly, putting on her spectacles, read the same theatrical intelligence she had read that morning, the gossip column and the woman's page. Presently Michael came in and sat on her bed. He often came at that hour to have a little chat with her.
"Well, what was his name?" asked Julia.
"The boy who came to lunch?"
"I haven't a notion. I drove him back to the theatre. I never gave him another thought."
Miss Phillips, the masseuse, liked Michael. You knew where you were with him. He always said the same things and you knew exactly what to answer. No side to him. And terribly good-looking. My word.
"Well, Miss Phillips, fat coming off nicely?"
"Oh, Mr. Gosselyn, there's not an ounce of fat on Miss Lambert. I think it's wonderful the way she keeps her figure."
"Pity I can't have you to massage me, Miss Phillips. You might be able to do something about mine."
"How you talk, Mr. Gosselyn. Why, you've got the figure of a boy of twenty. I dont' know how you do it, upon my word I don't."
"Plain living and high thinking, Miss Phillips."
Julia was paying no attention to what they said but Miss Phillips's reply reached her.
"Of course there's nothing like massage, I always say that, but you've got to be careful of your diet. That there's no doubt about at all."
"Diet!" she thought. "When I'm sixty I shall let myself go. I shall eat all the bread and butter I like. I'll have hot rolls for breakfast, I'll have potatoes for lunch and potatoes for dinner. And beer. God, how I like beer. Pea soup and tomato soup; treacle pudding and cherry tart. Cream, cream, cream. And so help me God, I'll never eat spinach again as long as I live."
When the massage was finished Evie brought her a cup of tea, a slice of ham from which the fat had been cut, and some dry toast. Julia got up, dressed, and went down with Michael to the theatre. She liked to be there an hour before the curtain rang up. Michael went on to dine at his club. Evie had preceded her in a cab and when she got into her dressing-room everything was ready for her. She undressed once more and put on a dressing-gown. As she sat down at her dressing-table to make up she noticed some fresh flowers in a vase.
"Hulloa, who sent them? Mrs. de Vries?" Dolly always sent her a huge basket on her first nights, and on the hundredth night, and the two hundredth if there was one, and in between, whenever she ordered flowers for her own house, had some sent to Julia.
Lord Charles Tamerley was the oldest and the most constant of Julia's admirers, and when he passed a florist's he was very apt to drop in and order some roses for her.
"Here's the card," said Evie.
Julia looked at it. Mr. Thomas Fennell. Tavistock Square.
"What a place to live. Who the hell d'you suppose he is, Evie?"
"Some feller knocked all of a heap by your fatal beauty, I expect."
"They must have cost all of a pound. Tavistock Square doesn't look very prosperous to me. For all you know he may have gone without his dinner for a week to buy them."
"I don't think."
Julia plastered her face with grease paint.
"You're so damned unromantic, Evie. Just because I'm not a chorus girl you can't understand why anyone should send me flowers. And God knows, I've got better legs than most of them."
"You and your legs," said Evie.
"Well, I don't mind telling you I think it's a bit of all right having an unknown young man sending me flowers at my time of life. I mean it just shows you."
"If he saw you now 'e wouldn't, not if I know anything about men."
"Go to hell," said Julia.
But when she was made up to her satisfaction, and Evie had put on her stockings and her shoes, having a few minutes still to spare she sat down at her desk and in her straggling bold hand wrote to Mr. Thomas Fennell a gushing note of thanks for his beautiful flowers. She was naturally polite and it was, besides, a principle with her to answer all fan letters. That was how she kept in touch with her public. Having addressed the envelope she threw the card in the wastepaper basket and was ready to slip into her first act dress. The call-boy came round knocking at the dressing-room doors.
Those words, though heaven only knew how often she had heard them, still gave her a thrill. They braced her like a tonic. Life acquired significance. She was about to step from the world of make-believe into the world of reality.