home | login | register | DMCA | contacts | help | donate |      


my bookshelf | genres | recommend | rating of books | rating of authors | reviews | new | форум | collections | читалки | авторам | add


THEIR quarrel, destroying in some strange way the barrier between them, brought them closer together. Tom offered less resistance than she had expected when she mooted once more the question of the flat. It looked as though, after their reconciliation, having taken back her presents and consented to forget the loan, he had put aside his moral scruples. They had a lot of fun furnishing it. The chauffeur's wife kept it clean for him and cooked his breakfast. Julia had a key and would sometimes let herself in and sit by herself in the little sitting-room till he came back from his office. They supped together two or three times a week and danced, then drove back to the flat in a taxi. Julia enjoyed a happy autumn. The play they put on was a success. She felt alert and young. Roger was coming home at Christmas, but only for a fortnight, and was then going to Vienna. Julia expected him to monopolize Tom and she was determined not to mind. Youth naturally appealed to youth and she told herself that there was no reason for her to feel anxious if for a few days the two of them were so wrapped up in one another that Tom had no thought for her. She held him now. He was proud to be her lover, it gave him confidence in himself, and he was pleased to be on familiar terms with a large number of more or less distinguished persons whom after all he only knew through her. He was anxious now to join a good club and Julia was preparing the ground. Charles had never refused her anything, and with tact she was certain that she could wheedle him into proposing Tom for one of those to which he belonged. It was a new and delicious sensation for Tom to have money to spend; she encouraged him to be extravagant; she had a notion that he would get used to living in a certain way and then would realize that he could not do without her.

"Of course it can't last," she told herself, "but when it comes to an end it will have been a wonderful experience for him. It'll really have made a man of him."

But though she told herself that it could not last she did not see really why it shouldn't. As the years went by and he grew older there wouldn't be any particular difference between them. He would no longer be so very young in ten or fifteen years and she would be just the same age as she was now. They were very comfortable together. Men were creatures of habit; that gave women such a hold on them. She did not feel a day older than he, and she was convinced that the disparity in their ages had never even occurred to him. It was true that on this point she had once had a moment's disquietude. She was lying on his bed. He was standing at the dressing-table, in his shirt sleeves, brushing his hair. She was stark naked and she lay in the position of a Venus by Titian that she remembered to have seen in a country house at which she had stayed. She felt that she made really a lovely picture, and in complete awareness of the charming sight she offered, held the pose. She was happy and satisfied.

"This is romance," she thought, and a light, quick smile hovered over her lips.

He caught sight of her in the mirror, turned round and without a word, twitched the sheet over her. Though she smiled at him affectionately, it gave her quite a turn. Was he afraid that she would catch cold or was it that his English modesty was shocked at her nakedness? Or could it be that, his boyish lust satisfied, he was a trifle disgusted at the sight of her ageing body? When she got home she again took all her clothes off and examined herself in the looking-glass. She determined not to spare herself. She looked at her neck, there was no sign of age there, especially when she held her chin up; and her breasts were small and firm; they might have been a girl's. Her belly was flat, her hips were small, there was a very small roll of fat there, like a long sausage, but everyone had that, and anyhow Miss Phillips could have a go at it. No one could say that her legs weren't good, they were long and slim and comely; she passed her hands over her body, her skin was as soft as velvet and there wasn't a blemish on it. Of course there were a few wrinkles under her eyes, but you had to peer to see them; they said there was an operation now by which you could get rid of them, it might be worth while to inquire into that; it was lucky that her hair had retained its colour; however well hair was dyed, to dye hardened the face; hers remained a rich, deep brown. Her teeth were all right too.

"Prudishness, that's all it was." She had a moment's recollection of the Spaniard with the beard in the wagon-lit and she smiled roguishly at herself in the glass.

"No damned modesty about him."

But all the same from that day on she took care to act up to Tom's standards of decency.

Julia's reputation was so good that she felt she need not hesitate to show herself with Tom in public places. It was a new experience for her to go to night clubs, she enjoyed it, and though no one could have been better aware than she that she could go nowhere without being stared at, it never entered her head that such a change in her habits must excite comment. With twenty years of fidelity behind her, for of course she did not count the Spaniard, an accident that might happen to any woman, Julia was confident that no one would imagine for a moment that she was having an affair with a boy young enough to be her son. It never occurred to her that perhaps Tom was not always so discreet as he might have been. It never occurred to her that the look in her eyes when they danced together betrayed her. She looked upon her position as so privileged that it never occurred to her that people at last were beginning to gossip.

When this gossip reached the ears of Dolly de Vries she laughed. At Julia's request she had invited Tom to parties and once or twice had him down for a week-end in the country, but she had never paid any attention to him. He seemed a nice little thing, a useful escort for Julia when Michael was busy, but perfectly insignificant. He was one of those persons who everywhere pass unnoticed, and even after you had met him you could not remember what he was like. He was the extra man you invited to dinner to make an odd number even. Julia talked of him gaily as "me boy friend" or as "my young man"; she could hardly have been so cool about it, so open, if there were anything in it. Besides, Dolly knew very well that the only two men there had ever been in Julia's life were Michael and Charles Tamerley. But it was funny of Julia, after taking so much care of herself for years, suddenly to start going to night clubs three or four times a week. Dolly had seen little of her of late and indeed had been somewhat piqued by her neglect. She had many friends in theatrical circles and she began to make inquiries. She did not at all like what she heard. She did not know what to think. One thing was evident, Julia couldn't know what was being said about her, and someone must tell her. Not she; she hadn't the courage. Even after all these years she was a little frightened of Julia. Julia was a very good-tempered woman, and though her language was often brusque it was hard to ruffle her; but there was something about her that prevented you from taking liberties with her; you had a feeling that if once you went too far you would regret it. But something must be done. Dolly turned the matter over in her mind for a fortnight, anxiously; she tried to put her own wounded feelings aside and look at it only from the point of view of Julia's career, and at last she came to the conclusion that Michael must speak to her. She had never liked Michael, but after all he was Julia's husband and it was her duty to tell him at least enough to make him put a stop to whatever was going on.

She rang Michael up and made an appointment with him at the theatre. Michael liked Dolly as little as she liked him, though for other reasons, and when he heard that she wanted to see him he swore. He was annoyed that he had never been able to induce her to sell out her shares in the management, and he resented whatever suggestions she made as an unwarrantable interference. But when she was shown into his office he greeted her with cordiality. He kissed her on both cheeks.

"Sit down and make yourself comfy. Come to see that the old firm's still raking in dividends for you?"

Dolly de Vries was now a woman of sixty. She was very fat, and her face, with its large nose and heavy red lips, seemed larger than life. There was a slightly masculine touch in her black satin dress, but she wore a double string of pearls round her neck, a diamond brooch at her waist and another in her hat. Her short hair was dyed a rich copper. Her lips and her finger-nails were bright red. Her voice was loud and deep, but when she got excited the words were apt to tumble over one another and a slight cockney accent revealed itself.

"Michael, I'm upset about Julia."

Michael, always the perfect gentleman, slightly raised his eyebrows and compressed his thin lips. He was not prepared to discuss his wife even with Dolly.

"I think she's doing a great deal too much. I don't know what's come over her. All these parties she's going to now. These night clubs and things. After all, she's not a young woman any more; she'll just wear herself out."

"Oh, nonsense. She's as strong as a horse and she's in the best of health. She's looking younger than she has for years. You're not going to grudge her a bit of fun when her day's work is over. The part she's playingjust now doesn't take it out of her; I'm very glad that she should want to go out and amuse herself. It only shows how much vitality she has."

"She never cared for that sort of thing before. It seems so strange that she should suddenly take to dancing till two in the morning in the horrible atmosphere of those places."

"It's the only exercise she gets. I can't expect her to put on shorts and come for a run with me in the park."

"I think you ought to know that people are beginning to talk. It's doing her reputation a lot of harm."

"What the devil d'you mean by that?"

"Well, it's absurd that at her age she should make herself so conspicuous with a young boy."

He looked at her for a moment without understanding, and when he caught what she meant he laughed loud.

"Tom? Don't be such a fool, Dolly."

"I'm not a fool. I know what I'm talking about. When anyone's as well known as Julia and she's always about with the same man naturally people talk."

"But Tom's just as much my friend as hers. You know very well that I can't take Julia out dancing. I have to get up every morning at eight to get my exercise in before my day's work. Hang it all, I do know something about human nature after thirty years on the stage. Tom's a very good type of clean honest English boy and he's by way of being a gentleman. I dare say he admires Julia, boys of that age often think they're in love with women older than themselves, well, it won't do him any harm, it'll do him good; but to think Julia could possibly give him a thought - my poor Dolly, you make me laugh."

"He's boring, he's dull, he's common and he's a snob."

"Well, if you think he's all that, doesn't it strike you as rather strange that Julia should be so wrapped up in him as you seem to think?"

"Only a woman knows what a woman can do."

"That's not a bad line, Dolly. We shall have you writing a play next. Now let's get this straight. Can you look me in the face and tell me that you really think Julia is having an affair with Tom?"

She looked him in the face. Her eyes were anguished. For though at first she had only laughed at what was being said about Julia she had not been able altogether to suppress the doubts that soon assailed her; she remembered a dozen little incidents that at the time had escaped her notice, but when considered in cold blood looked terribly suspicious. She had suffered such torture as she had never thought it possible to endure. Proof? She had no proof; she only had an intuition that she could not mistrust; she wanted to say yes, the impulse to do so was almost uncontrollable; she controlled it. She could not give Julia away. The fool might go and tell her and Julia would never speak to her again. He might have Julia watched and catch her out. No one could tell what might happen if she told the truth.

"No, I don't."

Her eyes filled with tears and began to roll down her massive cheeks. Michael saw her misery. He thought her ridiculous, but he realized that she was suffering and in the kindness of his heart sought to console her.

"I was sure you didn't really. You know how fond Julia is of you, you mustn't be jealous, you know, if she has other friends."

"God knows I don't grudge her anything," she sobbed. "She's been so different to me lately. She's been so cold. I've been such a loyal friend to her, Michael."

"Yes, dear, I know you have."

"Had I but served my God with half the zeal I served my King…"

"Oh, come now, it's not so bad as that. You know, I'm not the sort of chap to talk about his wife to other people. I always think that's such frightfully bad form. But you know, honestly you don't know the first thing about Julia. Sex doesn't mean a thing to her. When we were first married it was different, and I don't mind telling you after all these years that she made life a bit difficult for me. I don't say she was a nymphomaniac or anything like that, but she was inclined to be rather tiresome sometimes. Bed's all very well in its way, but there are other things in life. But after Roger was born she changed completely. Having a baby settled her. All those instincts went into her acting. You've read Freud, Dolly; what does he call it when that happens?"

"Oh, Michael, what do I care about Freud?"

"Sublimation. That's it. I often think that's what's made her such a great actress. Acting's a whole time job and if you want to be really good you've got to give your whole self to it. I'm so impatient with the public who think actors and actresses lead a devil of a life. We haven't got the time for that sort of nonsense."

What Michael was saying made her so angry that she recovered her self-control.

"But Michael, it may be that you and I know that there's nothing wrong in Julia's going about all the time with that miserable little pip-squeak.* It's so bad for her reputation. After all, one of your great assets has been your exemplary married life. Everyone has looked up to you. The public has loved to think of you as such a devoted and united couple."

"And so we are, damn it."

Dolly was growing impatient.

"But I tell you people are talking. You can't be so stupid as not to see that they're bound to. I mean, if Julia had had one flagrant affair after another, nobody would take any notice, but after the life she's led for so many years suddenly to break out like this - naturally everybody starts chattering. It's so bad for business."

Michael gave her a swift glance. He smiled a little.

"I see what you mean, Dolly. I dare say there's something in what you say and in the circumstances I feel that you have a perfect right to say it. You were awfully good to us when we started and I should hate to see you let down now. I'll tell you what, I'll buy you out."

"Buy me out?"

Dolly straightened herself and her face, a moment ago rumpled and discomposed, hardened. She was seized with indignation. He went on suavely.

"I see your point. If Julia's gadding about all night it must tell on her performances. That's obvious. She's got a funny sort of public, a lot of old ladies come to our matinees because they think she's such a sweet good woman. I don't mind admitting that if she gets herself unpleasantly talked about it might have some effect on the takings. I know Julia well enough to know that she wouldn't put up with any interference with her liberty of action. I'm her husband and I've got to put up with it. But you're in a different position altogether. I shouldn't blame you if you wanted to get out while the going was good."

Dolly was alert now. She was far from a fool and when it came to business was a match for Michael. She was angry, but her anger gave her self-control.

"I should have thought after all these years, Michael, that you knew me better than that. I thought it my duty to warn you, but I'm prepared to take the rough with the smooth. I'm not the woman to desert a sinking ship. I dare say I can afford to lose my money better than you can."

It gave her a great deal of satisfaction to see the disappointment that was clearly expressed on Michael's face. She knew how much money meant to him and she had a hope that what she had said would rankle. He pulled himself together quickly.

"Well, think it over, Dolly."

She gathered up her bag and they parted with mutual expressions of affection and good will.

"Silly old bitch," he said when the door was closed behind her.

"Pompous old ass," she hissed as she went down in the lift.

But when she got into her magnificent and very expensive car and drove back to Montagu Square she could not hold back the heavy, painful tears that filled her eyes. She felt old, lonely, unhappy, and desperately jealous.

предыдущая глава | Theatre | cледующая глава