SOME days passed, and one morning, while Julia was lying in bed reading a play, they rang through from the basement to ask if she would speak to Mr. Fennell. The name meant nothing to her and she was about to refuse when it occurred to her that it might be the young man of her adventure. Her curiosity induced her to tell them to connect him. She recognized his voice.
"You promised to ring me up," he said. "I got tired of waiting, so I've rung you up instead."
"I've been terribly busy the last few days."
"When am I going to see you?"
"As soon as I have a moment to spare."
"What about this afternoon?"
"I've got a matinee today."
"Come to tea after the matinee."
She smiled. ("No, young feller-me-lad, you don't catch me a second time like that.")
"I can't possibly," she answered. "I always stay in my dressing-room and rest till the evening performance."
"Can't I come and see you while you're resting?"
She hesitated for an instant. Perhaps the best thing would be to get him come; with Evie popping in and out and Miss Phillips due at seven, there would be no chance of any nonsense, and it would be a good opportunity to tell him, amiably, because he was really a sweet little thing, but firmly, that the incident of the other afternoon was to have no sequel. With a few well-chosen words she would explain to him that it was quite unreasonable and that he must oblige her by erasing the episode from his memory.
"All right. Come at half-past five and I'll give you a cup of tea."
There was no part of her busy life that she enjoyed more than those three hours that she spent in her dressing-room between the afternoon and the evening performances. The other members of the cast had gone away; and Evie was there to attend to her wants and the doorkeeper to guard her privacy. Her dressing-room was like the cabin of a ship. The world seemed a long way off, and she relished her seclusion. She felt an enchanting freedom. She dozed a little, she read a little, or lying on the comfortable sofa she let her thoughts wander. She reflected on the part she was playing and the favourite parts she had played in the past. She thought of Roger her son. Pleasant reveries sauntered through her mind like lovers wandering in a green wood. She was fond of French poetry, and sometimes she repeated to herself verses of Verlaine.
Punctually at half-past five Evie brought her in a card.
"Mr. Thomas Fennell", she read.
"Send him in and bring some tea."
She had decided how she was going to treat him. She would be amiable, but distant. She would take a friendly interest in his work and ask him about his examination. Then she would talk to him about Roger.
Roger was seventeen now and in a year would be going to Cambridge. She would insinuate the fact that she was old enough to be his mother. She would act as if there had never been anything between them and he would go away, never to see her again except across the footlights, half convinced that the whole thing had been a figment of his fancy. But when she saw him, so slight, with his hectic flush and his blue eyes, so charmingly boyish, she felt a sudden pang. Evie closed the door behind him. She was lying on the sofa and she stretched out her arm to give him her hand, the gracious smile of Madame Recamier on her lips, but he flung himself on his knees and passionately kissed her mouth. She could not help herself, she put her arms round his neck, and kissed him as passionately.
("Oh, my good resolutions. My God, I can't have fallen in love with him.")
"For goodness' sake, sit down. Evie's coming in with the tea."
"Tell her not to disturb us."
"What do you mean?" But what he meant was obvious. Her heart began to beat quickly. "It's ridiculous. I can't. Michael might come in."
"I want you."
"What d'you suppose Evie would think? It'd be idiotic to take such a risk. No, no, no."
There was a knock at the door and Evie came in with the tea. Julia gave her instructions to put the table by the side of her sofa and a chair for the young man on the other side of the table. She kept Evie with unnecessary conversation. She felt him looking at her. His eyes moved quickly, following her gestures and the expression of her face; she avoided them, but she felt their anxiety and the eagerness of his desire. She was troubled. It seemed to her that her voice did not sound quite natural.
("What the devil's the matter with me? God, I can hardly breathe.")
When Evie reached the door the boy made a gesture that was so instinctive that her sensitiveness rather than her sight caught it. She could not but look at him. His face had gone quite pale.
"Oh, Evie," she said. "This gentleman wants to talk to me about a play. See that no one disturbs me. I'll ring when I want you."
"Very good, miss."
Evie went out and closed the door.
("I'm a fool. I'm a bloody fool.")
But he had moved the table, and he was on his knees, and she was in his arms.
She sent him away a little before Miss Phillips was due, and when he was gone rang for Evie.
"Play any good?" asked Evie.
"The play 'e was talkin' to you abaht."
"He's clever. Of course he's young."
Evie was looking down at the dressing-table. Julia liked everything always to be in the same place, and if a pot of grease or her eyeblack was not exactly where it should be made a scene.
"Where's your comb?"
He had used it to comb his hair and had carelessly placed it on the tea-table. When Evie caught sight of it she stared at it for a moment reflectively.
"How on earth did it get there?" cried Julia lightly.
"I was just wondering."
It gave Julia a nasty turn. Of course it was madness to do that sort of thing in the dressing-room. Why, there wasn't even a key in the lock. Evie kept it. All the same the risk had given it a spice. It was fun to think that she could be so crazy. At all events they'd made a date now. Tom, she'd asked him what they called him at home and he said Thomas, she really couldn't call him that, Tom wanted to take her to supper somewhere so that they could dance, and it happened that Michael was going up to Cambridge for a night to rehearse a series of one-act plays written by undergraduates. They would be able to spend hours together.
"You can get back with the milk,"* he'd said.
"And what about my performance next day?"
"We can't bother about that."
She had refused to let him fetch her at the theatre, and when she got to the restaurant they had chosen he was waiting for her in the lobby. His face lit up as he saw her.
"It was getting so late, I was afraid you weren't coming."
"I'm sorry, some tiresome people came round after the play and I couldn't get rid of them."
But it wasn't true. She had been as excited all the evening as a girl going to her first ball. She could not help thinking how absurd she was. But when she had taken off her theatrical make-up and made up again for supper she could not satisfy herself. She put blue on her eyelids and took it off again, she rouged her cheeks, rubbed them clean and tried another colour.
"What are you trying to do?" said Evie.
"I'm trying to look twenty, you fool."
"If you try much longer you'll look your age."
She had never seen him in evening clothes before. He shone like a new pin. Though he was of no more than average height his slimness made him look tall. She was a trifle touched to see that for all his airs of the man of the world he was shy with the head waiter when it came to ordering supper. They danced and he did not dance very well, but she found his slight awkwardness rather charming. People recognized her, and she was conscious that he enjoyed the reflected glory of their glances. A pair of young things who had been dancing came up to their table to say how do you do to her. When they had left he asked:
"Wasn't that Lord and Lady Dennorant?"
"Yes. I've known George since he was at Eton."
He followed them with his eyes.
"She was Lady Cecily Laweston, wasn't she?"
"I've forgotten. Was she?"
It seemed a matter of no interest to her. A few minutes later another couple passed them.
"Look, there's Lady Lepard."
"Don't you remember, they had a big party at their place in Cheshire a few weeks ago and the Prince of Wales was there. It was in the Bystander!''
Oh, that was how he got all his information. Poor sweet. He read about grand people in the papers and now and then, at a restaurant or a theatre, saw them in the flesh. Of course it was a thrill for him. Romance. If he only knew how dull they were really! This innocent passion for the persons whose photographs appear in the illustrated papers made him seem incredibly naive, and she looked at him with tender eyes.
"Have you ever taken an actress out to supper before?"
He blushed scarlet.
She hated to let him pay the bill, she had an inkling that it was costing pretty well his week's salary, but she knew it would hurt his pride if she offered to pay it herself. She asked casually what the time was and instinctively he looked at his wrist.
"I forgot to put on my watch."
She gave him a searching look.
"Have you pawned it?"
He reddened again.
"No. I dressed in rather a hurry tonight."
She only had to look at his tie to know that he had done no such thing. He was lying to her. She knew that he had pawned his watch in order to take her out to supper. A lump came into her throat. She could have taken him in her arms then and there and kissed his blue eyes. She adored him.
"Let's go," she said.
They drove back to his bed-sitting room in Tavistock Square.