NEXT day Julia went to Cartier's and bought a watch to send to Tom Fennell instead of the one he had pawned, and two or three weeks later, discovering that it was his birthday, she sent him a gold cigarette-case.
"D'you know, that's the one thing I've wanted all my life."
She wondered if there were tears in his eyes. He kissed her passionately.
Then, on one excuse and another, she sent him pearl studs and sleeve-links and waistcoat buttons. It thrilled her to make him presents.
"It's so awful that I can't give you anything in return," he said.
"Give me the watch you pawned to stand me a supper."
It was a little gold watch that could not have cost more than ten pounds, but it amused her to wear it now and then.
It was not till after that night when they had first supped together that Julia confessed to herself that she had fallen in love with Tom. It came to her as a shock. But she was exhilarated.
"I who thought I could never be in love again. Of course it can't last. But why shouldn't I get what fun out of it I can?"
She decided that he must come again to Stanhope Place. It was not long before an opportunity presented itself.
"You know that young accountant of yours," she said to Michael. "Tom Fennell's his name. I met him out at supper the other night and I've asked him to dinner next Sunday. We want an extra man."
"Oh, d'you think he'll fit in?"
It was rather a grand party. It was on that account she had asked him. She thought it would please him to meet some of the people he had known only from their pictures. She had realized already that he was a bit of a snob. Well, that was all to the good; she could give him all the smart people he wanted. For Julia was shrewd, and she knew very well that Tom was not in love with her. To have an affair with her flattered his vanity. He was a highly-sexed young man and enjoyed sexual exercise. From hints, from stories that she had dragged out of him, she discovered that since he was seventeen he had had a great many women. He loved the act rather than the person. He looked upon it as the greatest lark in the world. And she could understand why he had so much success. There was something appealing in his slightness, his body was just skin and bone, that was why his clothes sat on him so well, and something charming in his clean freshness. His shyness and his effrontery combined to make him irresistible. It was strangely flattering for a woman to be treated as a little bit of fluff* that you just tumbled on to a bed.
"What he's got, of course, is sex appeal."
She knew that his good looks were due to his youth. He would grow wizened as he grew older, dried up and haggard; that charming flush on his cheeks would turn into a purple glow and his delicate skin would go lined and sallow; but the feeling that what she loved in him would endure so short a time increased her tenderness. She felt a strange compassion for him. He had the high spirits of youth, and she lapped them up as a kitten laps up milk. But he was not amusing. Though he laughed when Julia said a funny thing he never said one himself. She did not mind. She found his dullness restful. She never felt so light-hearted as in his company, and she could be brilliant enough for two.
People kept on telling Julia that she was looking ten years younger and that she had never acted better. She knew it was true and she knew the reason. But it behoved her to walk warily. She must keep her head. Charles Tamerley always said that what an actress needed was not intelligence, but sensibility, and he might be right; perhaps she wasn't clever, but her feelings were alert and she trusted them. They told her now that she must never tell Tom that she loved him. She was careful to make it plain to him that she laid no claims on him and that he was free to do whatever he liked. She took up the attitude that the whole thing was a bit of nonsense to which neither of them must attach importance. But she left nothing undone to bind him to her. He liked parties and she took him to parties. She got Dolly and Charles Tamerley to ask him to luncheon. He was fond of dancing and she got him cards for balls. For his sake she would go to them herself for an hour, and she was conscious of the satisfaction he got out of seeing how much fuss people made of her. She knew that he was dazzled by the great, and she introduced him to eminent persons. Fortunately Michael took a fancy to him. Michael liked to talk, and Tom was a good listener. He was clever at his business. One day Michael said to her:
"Smart fellow, Tom. He knows a lot about income-tax. I believe he's shown me a way of saving two or three hundred pounds on my next return."
Michael, looking for new talent, often took him to the play in the evenings, either in London or the suburbs; they would fetch Julia after the performance, and the three of them supped together. Now and then Michael asked Tom to play golf with him on Sundays and then if there was no party would bring him home to dinner.
"Nice to have a young fellow like that around," he said. "It keeps one from growing rusty."
Tom was very pleasant about the house. He would play backgammon* with Michael, or patience with Julia, and when they turned on the gramophone he was always there to change the records.
"He'll be a nice friend for Roger," said Michael. "Tom's got his head screwed on his shoulders the right way, and he's a lot older than Roger. He ought to have a good influence on him. Why don't you ask him to come and spend his holiday with us?"
("Lucky I'm a good actress.") But it wanted an effort to keep the joy out of her voice and to prevent her face from showing the exultation that made her heart beat so violently. "That's not a bad idea," she answered. I'll ask him if you like."
Their play was running through August, and Michael had taken a house at Taplow so that they could spend the height of the summer there. Julia was to come up for her performances and Michael when business needed it, but she would have the day in the country and Sundays. Tom had a fortnight's holiday; he accepted the invitation with alacrity.
But one day Julia noticed that he was unusually silent. He looked pale and his buoyant spirits had deserted him. She knew that something was wrong, but he would not tell her what it was; he would only say that he was worried to death. At last she forced him to confess that he had got into debt and was being dunned by tradesmen. The life into which she had led him had made him spend more money than he could afford, and ashamed of his cheap clothes at the grand parties to which she took him, he had gone to an expensive tailor and ordered himself new suits. He had backed a horse* hoping to make enough money to get square and the horse was beaten. To Julia it was a very small sum that he owed, a hundred and twenty-five pounds, and she found it absurd that anyone should allow a trifle like that to upset him. She said at once that she would give it to him.
"Oh, I couldn't. I couldn't take money from a woman."
He went scarlet; the mere thought of it made him ashamed. Julia used all her arts of cajolery.* She reasoned, she pretended to be affronted, she even cried a little, and at last as a great favour he consented to borrow the money from her. Next day she sent him a letter in which were bank notes to the value of two hundred pounds. He rang her up and told her that she had sent far more than he wanted.
"Oh, I know people always lie about their debts," she said with a laugh. "I'm sure you owe more than you said."
"I promise you I don't. You're the last person I'd lie to."
"Then keep the rest for anything that turns up. I hate seeing you pay the bill when we go out to supper. And taxis and all that sort of thing."
"No, really. It's so humiliating."
"What nonsense! You know I've got more money than I know what to do with. Can you grudge me the happiness it gives me to get you out of a hole?"
"It's awfully kind of you. You don't know what a relief it is. I don't know how to thank you."
But his voice was troubled. Poor lamb, he was so conventional. But it was true, it gave her a thrill she had never known before to give him money; it excited in her a surprising passion. And she had another scheme in her head which during the fortnight Tom was to spend at Taplow she thought she could easily work. Tom's bed-sitting room in Tavistock Square had at first seemed to her charming in its sordidness, and the humble furniture had touched her heart. But time had robbed it of these moving characteristics. Once or twice she had met people on the stairs and thought they stared at her strangely. There was a slatternly housekeeper who made Tom's room and cooked his breakfast, and Julia had a feeling that she knew what was going on and was spying on her. Once the locked door had been tried while Julia was in the room, and when she went out the housekeeper was dusting the banisters. She gave Julia a sour look. Julia hated the smell of stale food that hung about the stairs and with her quick eyes she soon discovered that Tom's room was none too clean. The dingy curtains, the worn carpet, the shoddy furniture; it all rather disgusted her. Now it happened that a little while before, Michael, always on the look out for a good investment, had bought a block of garages near Stanhope Place. By letting off those he did not want he found that he could get their own for nothing. There were a number of rooms over. He divided them into two small flats, one for their chauffeur and one which he proposed to let. This was still vacant and Julia suggested to Tom that he should take it. It would be wonderful. She could slip along and see him for an hour when he got back from the office; sometimes she could drop in after the theatre and no one would be any the wiser. They would be free there. She talked to him of the fun they would have furnishing it; she was sure they had lots of things in their house that they did not want, and by storing them he would be doing them a kindness. The rest they would buy together. He was tempted by the idea of having a flat of his own, but it was out of the question; the rent, though small, was beyond his means. Julia knew that. She knew also that if she offered to pay it herself he would indignantly refuse. But she had a notion that during that idle, luxurious fortnight by the river she would be able to overcome his scruples. She saw how much the idea tempted him, and she had little doubt that she could devise some means to persuade him that by falling in with her proposal he was really doing her a service.
"People don't want reasons to do what they'd like to," she reflected. "They want excuses."
Julia looked forward to Tom's visit to Taplow with excitement. It would be lovely to go on the river with him in the morning and in the afternoon sit about the garden with him. With Roger in the house she was determined that there should be no nonsense between her and Tom; decency forbade. But it would be heaven to spend nearly all day with him. When she had matinees he could amuse himself with Roger.
But things did not turn out at all as she expected. It had never occurred to her that Roger and Tom would take a great fancy to one another. There were five years between them and she thought, or would have if she had thought about it at all, that Tom would look upon Roger as a hobbledehoy,* quite nice of course, but whom you treated as such, who fetched and carried for you and whom you told to go and play when you did not want to be bothered with him. Roger was seventeen. He was a nice-looking boy, with reddish hair and blue eyes, but that was the best you could say of him. He had neither his mother's vivacity and changing expression nor his father's beauty of feature. Julia was somewhat disappointed in him. As a child when she had been so constantly photographed with him he was lovely. He was rather stolid now and he had a serious look. Really when you came to examine him his only good features were his teeth and his hair. Julia was very fond of him, but she could not but find him a trifle dull. When she was alone with him the time hung somewhat heavily on her hands. She exhibited a lively interest in the things she supposed must interest him, cricket and such like, but he did not seem to have much to say about them. She was afraid he was not very intelligent.
"Of course he's young," she said hopefully. "Perhaps he'll improve as he grows older."
From the time that he first went to his preparatory school she had seen little of him. During the holidays she was always acting at night and he went out with his father or with a boy friend, and on Sundays he and his father played golf together. If she happened to be lunching out it often happened that she did not see him for two or three days together except for a few minutes in the morning when he came to her room. It was a pity he could not always have remained a sweetly pretty little boy who could play in her room without disturbing her and be photographed, smiling into the camera, with his arm round her neck. She went down to see him at Eton occasionally and had tea with him. It flattered her that there were several photographs of her in his room. She was conscious that when she went to Eton it created quite a little excitement, and Mr. Brackenbridge, in whose house he was, made a point of being very polite to her. When the half ended Michael and Julia had already moved to Taplow and Roger came straight there. Julia kissed him emotionally. He was not so much excited at getting home as she had expected him to be. He was rather casual. He seemed suddenly to have grown very sophisticated.
He told Julia at once that he desired to leave Eton at Christmas, he thought he had got everything out of it that he could, and he wanted to go to Vienna for a few months and learn German before going up to Cambridge. Michael had wished him to go into the army, but this he had set his face against. He did not yet know what he wanted to be. Both Julia and Michael had from the first been obsessed by the fear that he would go on the stage, but for this apparently he had no inclination.
"Anyhow he wouldn't be any good," said Julia.
He led his own life. He went out on the river and lay about the garden reading. On his seventeenth birthday Julia had given him a very smart roadster, and in this he careered about the country at breakneck speeds.
"There's one comfort," said Julia. "He's no bother. He seems quite capable of amusing himself."
On Sundays they had a good many people down for the day, actors and actresses, an occasional writer, and a sprinkling of some of their grander friends. Julia found these parties very amusing and she knew that people liked to come to them. On the first Sunday after Roger's arrival there was a great mob. Roger was very polite to the guests. He did his duty as part host like a man of the world. But it seemed to Julia that he held himself in some curious way aloof, as though he were playing a part in which he had not lost himself, and she had an uneasy feeling that he was not accepting all these people, but coolly judging them. She had an impression that he took none of them very seriously.
Tom had arranged to come on the following Saturday and she drove him down after the theatre. It was a moonlit night and at that hour the roads were empty. The drive was enchanting. Julia would have liked it to go on for ever. She nestled against him and every now and then in the darkness he kissed her.
"Are you happy?" she asked.
Michael and Roger had gone to bed, but supper was waiting for them in the dining-room. The silent house gave them the feeling of being there without leave. They might have been a couple of wanderers who had strolled out of the night into a strange house and found a copious repast laid out for them. It was romantic. It had a little the air of a tale in the Arabian Nights. Julia showed him his room, which was next door to Roger's, and then went to bed. She did not wake till late next morning. It was a lovely day. So that she might have Tom all to herself she had not asked anybody down. When she was dressed they would go on the river together. She had her breakfast and her bath. She put on a little white frock that suited the sunny riverside and her, and a large-brimmed red straw hat whose colour threw a warm glow on her face. She was very little made-up. She looked at herself in the glass and smiled with satisfaction. She really looked very pretty and young. She strolled down into the garden. There was a lawn that stretched down to the river, and here she saw Michael surrounded by the Sunday papers. He was alone.
"I thought you'd gone to play golf."
"No, the boys have gone. I thought they'd have more fun if I let them go alone." He smiled in his friendly way. "They're a bit too active for me. They were bathing at eight o'clock this morning, and as soon as they'd swallowed their breakfast they bolted off in Roger's car."
"I'm glad they've made friends."
Julia meant it. She was slightly disappointed that she would not be able to go on the river with Tom, but she was anxious that Roger should like him, she had a feeling that Roger did not like people indiscriminately; and after all she had the next fortnight to be with Tom.
"They make me feel damned middle-aged, I don't mind telling you that," Michael remarked.
"What nonsense. You're much more beautiful than either of them, and well you know it, my pet."
Michael thrust out his jaw a little and pulled in his belly.
The boys did not come back till luncheon was nearly ready.
"Sorry we're so late," said Roger. "There was a filthy crowd and we had to wait on nearly every tee.* We halved the match."
They were hungry and thirsty, excited and pleased with themselves.
"It's grand having no one here today," said Roger. "I was afraid you'd got a whole gang coming and we'd have to behave like little gentlemen."
"I thought a rest would be rather nice," said Julia.
Roger gave her a glance.
"It'll do you good, mummy. You're looking awfully fagged."
("Blast his eyes. No, I mustn't show I mind. Thank God, I can act.")
She laughed gaily.
"I had a sleepless night wondering what on earth we were going to do about your spots."
"I know, aren't they sickening? Tom says he used to have them too."
Julia looked at Tom. In his tennis shirt open at the neck, with his hair ruffled, his face already caught by the sun, he looked incredibly young. He really looked no older than Roger.
"Anyhow, his nose is going to peel," Roger went on with a chuckle. "He'll look a sight then."
Julia felt slightly uneasy. It seemed to her that Tom had shed the years so that he was become not only in age Roger's contemporary. They talked a great deal of nonsense. They ate enormously and drank tankards of beer. Michael, eating and drinking as sparingly as usual, watched them with amusement. He was enjoying their youth and their high spirits. He reminded Julia of an old dog lying in the sun and gently beating his tail on the ground as he looked at a pair of puppies gambolling about him. They had coffee on the lawn. Julia found it very pleasant to sit there in the shade, looking at the river. Tom was slim and graceful in his long white trousers. She had never seen him smoke a pipe before. She found it strangely touching. But Roger mocked him.
"Do you smoke it because it makes you feel manly or because you like it?"
"Shut up," said Tom.
"Finished your coffee?"
"Come on then, let's go on the river."
Tom gave her a doubtful look. Roger saw it.
"Oh, it's all right, you needn't bother about my respected parents, they've got the Sunday papers. Mummy's just given me a racing punt."*
("I must keep my temper. I must keep my temper. Why was I such a fool as to give him a racing punt?")
"All right," she said, with an indulgent smile, "go on the river, but don't fall in."
"It won't hurt us if we do. We'll be back for tea. Is the court marked out, daddy? We're going to play tennis after tea."
"I dare say your father can get hold of somebody and you can have a four."
"Oh, don't bother. Singles are better fun really and one gets more exercise." Then to Tom. "I'll race you to the boathouse."
Tom leapt to his feet and dashed off with Roger in quick pursuit. Michael took up one of the papers and looked for his spectacles.
"They've clicked all right, haven't they?"
"I was afraid Roger would be rather bored alone here with us. It'll be fine for him to have someone to play around with."
"Don't you think Roger's rather inconsiderate?"
"You mean about the tennis? Oh, my dear, I don't really care if I play or not. It's only natural that those two boys should want to play together. From their point of view I'm an old man, and they think I'll spoil their game. After all the great thing is that they should have a good time."
Julia had a pang of remorse. Michael was prosy, near with his money, self-complacent, but how extraordinarily kind he was and how unselfish! He was devoid of envy. It gave him a real satisfaction, so long as it did not cost money, to make other people happy. She read his mind like an open book. It was true that he never had any but a commonplace thought; on the other hand he never had a shameful one. It was exasperating that with so much to make him worthy of her affection, she should be so excruciatingly bored by him.
"I think you're a much better man than I am a woman, my sweet," she said.
He gave her his good, friendly smile and slightly shook his head.
"No, dear, I had a wonderful profile, but you've got genius."
Julia giggled. There was a certain fun to be got out of a man who never knew what you were talking about. But what did they mean when they said an actress had genius? Julia had often asked herself what it was that had placed her at last head and shoulders above her contemporaries. She had had detractors. At one time people had compared her unfavourably with some actress or other who at the moment enjoyed the public favour, but now no one disputed her supremacy. It was true that she had not the world-wide notoriety of the film-stars; she had tried her luck on the pictures, but had achieved no success; her face on the stage so mobile and expressive for some reason lost on the screen, and after one trial she had with Michael's approval refused to accept any of the offers that were from time to time made her. She had got a good deal of useful publicity out of her dignified attitude. But Julia did not envy the film-stars; they came and went; she stayed. When it was possible she went to see the performance of actresses who played leading parts on the London stage. She was generous in her praise of them and her praise was sincere. Sometimes she honestly thought them so very good that she could not understand why people made so much fuss over her. She was much too intelligent not to know in what estimation the public held her, but she was modest about herself. It always surprised her when people raved over something she had done that came to her so naturally that she had never thought it possible to do anything else. The critics admired her variety. They praised especially her capacity for insinuating herself into a part. She was not aware that she deliberately observed people, but when she came to study a new part vague recollections surged up in her from she knew not where, and she found that she knew things about the character she was to represent that she had had no inkling of. It helped her to think of someone she knew or even someone she had seen in the street or at a party; she combined with this recollection her own personality, and thus built up a character founded on fact but enriched with her experience, her knowledge of technique and her amazing magnetism. People thought that she only acted during the two or three hours she was on the stage; they did not know that the character she was playing dwelt in the back of her mind all day long, when she was talking to others with all the appearance of attention, or in whatever business she was engaged. It often seemed to her that she was two persons, the actress, the popular favourite, the best-dressed woman in London, and that was a shadow; and the woman she was playing at night, and that was the substance.
"Damned if I know what genius is," she said to herself. "But I know this, I'd give all I have to be eighteen."
But she knew that wasn't true. If she were given the chance to go back again would she take it? No. Not really. It was not the popularity, the celebrity if you like, that she cared for, nor the hold she had over audiences, the real love they bore her, it was certainly not the money this had brought her; it was the power she felt in herself, her mastery over the medium, that thrilled her. She could step into a part, not a very good one perhaps, with silly words to say, and by her personality, by the dexterity which she had at her finger-tips, infuse it with life. There was no one who could do what she could with a part. Sometimes she felt like God.
"And besides," she chuckled, "Tom wouldn't be born."
After all it was very natural that he should like to play about with Roger. They belonged to the same generation. It was the first day of his holiday, she must let him enjoy himself; there was a whole fortnight more. He would soon get sick of being all the time with a boy of seventeen. Roger was sweet, but he was dull; she wasn't going to let maternal affection blind her to that. She must be very careful not to show that she was in the least put out. From the beginning she had made up her mind that she would never make any claim on Tom; it would be fatal if he felt that he owed something to her.
"Michael, why don't you let that flat in the mews to Tom? Now that he's passed his exam and is a chartered accountant he can't go on living in a bed-sitting room."
"That's not a bad idea. I'll suggest it to him."
"It would save an agent's fees. We could help him to furnish it. We've got a lot of stuff stored away. We might just as well let him use it moulder away in the attics."
Tom and Roger came back to eat an enormous tea and then played tennis till the light failed. After dinner they played dominoes. Julia gave a beautiful performance of a still young mother fondly watching her son and his boy friend. She went to bed early. Presently they too went upstairs. Their rooms were just over hers. She heard Roger go into Tom's room. They began talking, her windows and theirs were open, and she heard their voices in animated conversation. She wondered with exasperation what they found to say to one another. She had never found either of them very talkative. After a while Michael's voice interrupted them.
"Now then, you kids, you go to bed. You can go on talking tomorrow."
She heard them laugh.
"All right, daddy," cried Roger.
"A pair of damned chatterboxes, that's what you are."
She heard Roger's voice again.
"Well, good night, old boy."
And Tom's hearty answer: "So long, old man."
"Idiots!" she said to herself crossly.
Next morning while she was having her breakfast Michael came into Julia's room.
"The boys have gone off to play golf at Huntercombe. They want to play a couple of rounds and they asked if they need come back to lunch. I told them that was quite all right."
"I don't know that I particularly like the idea of Tom treating the house as if it was a hotel."
"Oh, my dear, they're only a couple of kids. Let them have all the fun they can get, I say."
She would not see Tom at all that day, for she had to start for London between five and six in order to get to the theatre in good time. It was all very well for Michael to be so damned good-natured about it. She was hurt. She felt a little inclined to cry. He must be entirely indifferent to her, it was Tom she was thinking of now; and she had made up her mind that today was going to be quite different from the day before. She had awakened determined to be tolerant and to take things as they came, but she hadn't been prepared for a smack in the face like this.
"Have the papers come yet?" she asked sulkily.
She drove up to town with rage in her heart.
The following day was not much better. The boys did not go off to play golf, but they played tennis. Their incessant activity profoundly irritated Julia. Tom in shorts, with his bare legs, and a cricket shirt, really did not look more than sixteen. Bathing as they did three or four times a day he could not get his hair to stay down, and the moment it was dry it spread over his head in unruly curls. It made him look younger than ever, but oh, so charming. Julia's heart was wrung. And it seemed to her that his demeanour had strangely changed; in the constant companionship of Roger he had shed the young man about town who was so careful of his dress, so particular about wearing the right thing, and was become again a sloppy little schoolboy. He never gave a hint, no glance even betrayed, that he was her lover; he treated her as if she were no more than Roger's mother. In every remark he made, in his mischievousness, in his polite little ways, he made her feel that she belonged to an older generation. His behaviour had nothing of the chivalrous courtesy a young man might show to a fascinating woman; it was the tolerant kindness he might display to a maiden aunt.
Julia was irritated that Tom should docilely follow the lead of a boy so much younger than himself. It indicated lack of character. But she did not blame him; she blamed Roger. Roger's selfishness revolted her. It was all very well to say he was young. His indifference to anyone's pleasure but his own showed a vile disposition. He was tactless and inconsiderate. He acted as though the house, the servants, his father and mother were there for his particular convenience. She would often have been rather sharp with him, but that she did not dare before Tom assume the role of the correcting mother. And when you reproved Roger he had a maddening way of looking deeply hurt, like a stricken hind, which made you feel that you had been unkind and unjust. She could look like that too, it was an expression of the eyes that he had inherited from her; she had used it over and over again on the stage with moving effect, and she knew it need not mean very much, but when she saw it in his it shattered her. The mere thought of it now made her feel tenderly towards him. And that sudden change of feeling showed her the truth; she was jealous of Roger, madly jealous. The realization gave her something of a shock; she did not know whether to laugh or to be ashamed. She reflected a moment.
"Well, I'll cook his goose all right."
She was not going to let the following Sunday pass like the last. Thank God, Tom was a snob. "A woman attracts men by her charm and holds them by their vices," she murmured and wondered whether she had invented the aphorism or remembered it from some play she had once acted in.
She gave instructions for some telephoning to be done. She got the Dennorants to come for the week-end. Charles Tamerley was staying at Henley and accepted an invitation to come over for Sunday and bring his host, Sir Mayhew Bryanston, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer. To amuse him and the Dennorants, because she knew that the upper classes do not want to meet one another in what they think is Bohemia, but artists of one sort or another, she asked Archie Dexter, her leading man, and his pretty wife who acted under her maiden name of Grace Hardwill. She felt pretty sure that with a marquess and marchioness to hover round and a Cabinet Minister to be impressed by, Tom would not go off to play golf with Roger or spend the afternoon in a punt. In such a party Roger would sink into his proper place of a schoolboy that no one took any notice of, and Tom would see how brilliant she could be when she took the trouble. In the anticipation of her triumph she managed to bear the intervening days with fortitude. She saw little of Roger and Tom. On her matinee days she did not see them at all. If they were not playing some game they were careering about the country in Roger's car.
Julia drove the Dennorants down after the play. Roger had gone to bed, but Michael and Tom were waiting up to have supper with them. It was a very good supper. The servants had gone to bed too and they helped themselves. Julia noticed the shy eagerness with which Tom saw that the Dennorants had everything they wanted, and his alacrity to jump up if he could be of service. His civility was somewhat officious. The Dennorants were an unassuming young couple to whom it had never occurred that their rank could impress anyone, and George Dennorant was a little embarrassed when Tom took away his dirty plate and handed him a dish to help himself to the next course.
"No golf for Roger tomorrow, I think," said Julia to herself.
They stayed up talking and laughing till three in the morning, and when Tom said good night to her his eyes were shining; but whether from love or champagne she did not know. He pressed her hand.
"What a lovely party," he said.
It was late when Julia, dressed in organdie,* looking her best, came down into the garden. She saw Roger in a long chair with a book.
"Reading?" she said, lifting her really beautiful eyebrows. "Why aren't you playing golf?"
Roger looked a trifle sulky.
"Tom said it was too hot."
"Oh?" she smiled charmingly. "I was afraid you thought you ought to stay and entertain my guests. There are going to be so many people, we could easily have managed without you. Where are the others?"
"I don't know. Tom's making chichi* with Cecily Dennorant."
"She's very pretty, you know."
"It looks to me as though it's going to be a crashing bore today."
"I hope Tom won't find it so," she said, as though she were seriously concerned.
Roger remained silent.
The day passed exactly as she had hoped. It was true that she saw little of Tom, but Roger saw less. Tom made a great hit with the Dennorants; he explained to them how they could get out of paying as much income-tax as they did. He listened respectfully to the Chancellor while he discoursed on the stage and to Archie Dexter while he gave his views on tbe political situation. Julia was at the top of her form. Archie Dexter had a quick wit, a fund of stage stories and a wonderful gift for telling them; between the two of them they kept the table during luncheon laughing uproariously; and after tea, when the tennis players were tired of playing tennis, Julia was persuaded (not much against her will) to do her imitations of Gladys Cooper, Constance Collier and Gertie Lawrence. But Julia did not forget that Charles Tamerley was her devoted, unrewarded lover, and she took care to have a little stroll alone with him in the gloaming. With him she sought to be neither gay nor brilliant, she was tender and wistful. Her heart ached, notwithstanding the scintillating performance she had given during the day; and it was with almost complete sincerity that with sighs, sad looks and broken sentences, she made him understand that her life was hollow and despite the long continued success of her career she could not but feel that she had missed something. Sometimes she thought of the villa at Sorrento on the bay of Naples. A beautiful dream. Happiness might have been hers for the asking, perhaps, she had been a fool; after all what were the triumphs of the stage but illusion? Pagliacci. People never realized how true that was; Vesti la giubba and all that sort of thing. She was desperately lonely. Of course there was no need to tell Charles that her heart ached not for lost opportunities, but because a young man seemed to prefer playing golf with her son to making love to her.
But then Julia and Archie Dexter got together. After dinner when they were all sitting in the drawing-room, without warning, starting with a few words of natural conversation they burst, as though they were lovers, into a jealous quarrel. For a moment the rest did not realize it was a joke till their mutual accusations became so outrageous and indecent that they were consumed with laughter. Then they played an extempore scene of an intoxicated gentleman picking up a French tart in Jermyn Street. After that, with intense seriousness, while their little audience shook with laughter, they did Mrs. Alving in Ghosts trying to seduce Pastor Manders. They finished with a performance that they had given often enough before at theatrical parties to enable them to do it with effect. This was a Chekhov play in English, but in moments of passion breaking into something that sounded exactly like Russian. Julia exercised all her great gift for tragedy, but underlined it with a farcical emphasis, so that the effect was incredibly funny. She put into her performance the real anguish of her heart, and with her lively sense of the ridiculous made a mock of it. The audience rolled about in their chairs; they held their sides, they groaned in an agony of laughter. Perhaps Julia had never acted better. She was acting for Tom and for him alone.
"I've seen Bernhardt and Rejane," said the Chancellor; "I've seen Duse and Ellen Terry and Mrs. Kendal. Nunc dimittis."
Julia, radiant, sank back into a chair and swallowed at a draught a glass of champagne.
"If I haven't cooked Roger's goose I'll eat my hat," she thought.
But for all that the two lads had gone to play golf when she came downstairs next morning. Michael had taken the Dennorants up to town. Julia was tired. She found it an effort to be bright and chatty when Tom and Roger came in to lunch. In the afternoon the three of them went on the river, but Julia had the feeling that they took her, not because they much wanted to, but because they could not help it. She stifled a sigh when she reflected how much she had looked forward to Tom's holiday. Now she was counting the days that must pass till it ended. She drew a deep breath of relief when she got into the car to go to London. She was not angry with Tom, but deeply hurt; she was exasperated with herself because she had so lost control over her feelings. But when she got into the theatre she felt that she shook off the obsession of him like a bad dream from which one awoke; there, in her dressing-room, she regained possession of herself and the affairs of the common round of daily life faded to insignificance. Nothing really mattered when she had within her grasp this possibility of freedom.
Thus the week went by. Michael, Roger and Tom enjoyed themselves. They bathed, they played tennis, they played golf, they lounged about on the river. There were only four days more. There were only three days more.
("I can stick it out now. It'll be different when we're back in London again. I mustn't show how miserable I am. I must pretend it's all right.")
"A snip having this spell of fine weather," said Michael. "Tom's been a success, hasn't he? Pity he can't stay another week."
"Yes, a terrible pity."
"I think he's a nice friend for Roger to have. A thoroughly normal, clean-minded English boy."
"Oh, thoroughly." ("Bloody fool, bloody fool")
"To see the way they eat is a fair treat."
"Yes, they seem to have enjoyed their food." ("My God, I wish it could have choked them.")
Tom was to go up to town by an early train on Monday morning. The Dexters, who had a house at Bourne End, had asked them all to lunch on Sunday. They were to go down, in the launch. Now that Tom's holiday was nearly over Julia was glad that she had never by so much as a lifted eyebrow betrayed her irritation. She was certain that he had no notion how deeply he had wounded her. After all she must be tolerant, he was only a boy, and if you must cross your t's,* she was old enough to be his mother. It was a bore that she had a thing about him, but there it was, she couldn't help it; she had told herself from the beginning that she must never let him feel that she had any claims on him. No one was coming to dinner on Sunday. She would have liked to have Tom to herself on his last evening; that was impossible, but at all events they could go for a stroll by themselves in the garden.
"I wonder if he's noticed that he hasn't kissed me since he came here?"
They might go out in the punt. It would be heavenly to lie in his arms for a few minutes; it would make up for everything.
The Dexters' party was theatrical. Grace Hardwill, Archie's wife, played in musical comedy, and there was a bevy of pretty girls who danced in the piece in which she was then appearing. Julia acted with great naturalness the part of a leading lady who put on no frills. She was charming to the young ladies, with their waved platinum hair, who earned three pounds a week in the chorus. A good many of the guests had brought kodaks and she submitted with affability to being photographed. She applauded enthusiastically when Grace Hardwill sang her famous song to the accompaniment of the composer. She laughed as heartily as anyone when the comic woman did an imitation of her in one of her best-known parts. It was all very gay, rather rowdy, and agreeably light-hearted. Julia enjoyed herself, but when it was seven o'clock was not sorry to go. She was thanking her hosts effusively for the pleasant party when Roger came up to her.
"I say, mum, there's a whole crowd going on to Maidenhead to dine and dance, and they want Tom and me to go too. You don't mind, do you?"
The blood rushed to her cheeks. She could not help answering rather sharply.
"How are you to get back?"
"Oh, that'll be all right. We'll get someone to drop us."
She looked at him helplessly. She could not think what to say.
"It's going to be a tremendous lark. Tom's crazy to go."
Her heart sank. It was with the greatest difficulty that she managed not to make a scene. But she controlled herself.
"All right, darling. But don't be too late. Remember that Tom's got to rise with the lark."
Tom had come up and heard the last words.
"You're sure you don't mind?" he asked.
"Of course not. I hope you'll have a grand time."
She smiled brightly at him, but her eyes were steely with hatred.
"I'm just as glad those two kids have gone off," said Michael when they got into the launch. "We haven't had an evening to ourselves for ever so long."
She clenched her hands in order to prevent herself from telling him to hold his silly tongue. She was in a black rage. This was the last straw. Tom had neglected her for a fortnight, he had not even treated her with civility, and she had been angelic. There wasn't a woman in the world who would have shown such patience. Any other woman would have told him that if he couldn't behave with common decency he'd better get out. Selfish, stupid and common, that's what he was. She almost wished he wasn't going tomorrow so that she could have the pleasure of turning him out bag and baggage. And to dare to treat her like that, a twopenny halfpenny little man in the city; poets, cabinet ministers, peers of the realm would be only too glad to break the most important engagements to have the chance of dining with her, and he threw her over to go and dance with a pack of peroxide blondes who couldn't act for nuts. That showed what a fool he was. You would have thought he'd have some gratitude. Why, the very clothes he had on she'd paid for. That cigarette-case he was so proud of, hadn't she given him that? And the ring he wore. My God, she'd get even with him. Yes, and she knew how she could do it. She knew where he was most sensitive and how she could most cruelly wound him. That would get him on the raw. She felt a faint sensation of relief as she turned the scheme over in her mind.
She was impatient to carry out her part of it at once, and they had no sooner got home than she went up to her room. She got four single pounds out of her bag and a ten-shilling note. She wrote a brief letter.
I'm enclosing the money for your tips as I shan't see you in the morning. Give three pounds to the butler, a pound to the maid who's been valeting you, and ten shillings to the chauffeur.
She sent for Evie and gave instructions that the letter should be given to Tom by the maid who awoke him. When she went down to dinner she felt much better. She carried on an animated conversation with Michael while they dined and afterwards they played six pack bezique.* If she had racked her brains for a week she couldn't have thought of anything that would humiliate Tom more bitterly.
But when she went to bed she could not sleep. She was waiting for Roger and Tom to come home. A notion came to her that made her restless. Perhaps Tom would realize that he had behaved rottenly, if he gave it a moment's thought he must see how unhappy he was making her; it might be that he would be sorry and when he came in, after he had said good night to Roger, he would creep down to her room. If he did that she would forgive everything. The letter was probably in the butler's pantry; she could easily slip down and get it back. At last a car drove up. She turned on her light to lookat the time. It was three. She heard the two young men go upstairs and to their respective rooms. She waited. She put on the light by her bedside so that when he opened the door he should be able to see. She would pretend she was sleeping and then as he crept forward on tiptoe slowly open her eyes and smile at him. She waited. In the silent night she heard him get into bed and switch off the light. She stared straight in front of her for a minute, then with a shrug of the shoulders opened a drawer by her bedside and from a little bottle took a couple of sleeping-tablets. "If I don't sleep I shall go mad."