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


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


NEXT day Julia got Dolly on her private number. "Darling, it seems ages since I've seen you. What have you been doing with yourself all this time?"

"Nothing very much."

Dolly's voice sounded cold.

"Now listen, Roger's coming home tomorrow. You now he's leaving Eton for good. I'm sending the car for him early and I want you to come to lunch. Not a party; only you and me, Michael and Roger."

"I'm lunching out tomorrow."

In twenty years Dolly had never been engaged when Julia wanted her to do something with her. The voice at the other end of the telephone was hostile.

"Dolly, how can you be so unkind? Roger'll be terribly disappointed. His first day at home; besides, I want to see you. I haven't seen you for ages and I miss you terribly. Can't you break your engagement, just for this once, darling, and we'll have a good old gossip after lunch, just you and me?"

No one could be more persuasive than Julia when she liked, no one could put more tenderness into her voice, nor a more irresistible appeal. There was a moment's pause and Julia knew that Dolly was struggling with her wounded feelings.

"All right, darling, I'll manage."

"Darling." But when she rang off Julia through clenched teeth muttered: "The old cow."

Dolly came. Roger listened politely while she told him that he had grown and with his grave smile answered her suitably when she said the sort of things she thought proper to a boy of his age. Julia was puzzled by him. Without talking much he listened, apparently with attention, to what the rest of them were saying, but she had an odd feeling that he was occupied with thoughts of his own. He seemed to observe them with a detached curiosity like that with which he might have observed animals in a zoo. It was faintly disquieting. When the opportunity presented itself she delivered the little bit of dialogue she had prepared for Dolly's benefit.

"Oh, Roger darling, you know your wretched father's busy tonight. I've got a couple of seats for the second house at the Palladium and Tom wants you to dine with him at the Cafe Royal."

"Oh!" He paused for a second. "All right."

She turned to Dolly.

"It's so nice for Roger to have somebody like Tom to go about with. They're great friends, you know."

Michael gave Dolly a glance. There was a twinkle in his eyes. He spoke.

"Tom's a very decent sort of boy. He won't let Roger get into any mischief."

" I should have thought Roger would prefer to go about with his Eton friends," said Dolly.

"Old cow," thought Julia. "Old cow."

But when luncheon was over she asked her to come up to her room.

"I'll get into bed and you can talk to me while I'm resting. A good old girls' gossip, that's what I want."

She put her arm affectionately round Dolly's vast waist and led her upstairs. For a while they spoke of indifferent things, clothes and servants, make-up and scandal; then Julia, leaning on her elbow, looked at Dolly with confiding eyes.

"Dolly, there's something I want to talk to you about. I want advice and you're the only person in the world whose advice I would take. I know I can trust you."

"Of course, darling."

"It appears that people are saying rather disagreeable things about me. Someone's been to Michael and told him that there's a lot of gossip about me and poor Tom Fennell."

Though her eyes still wore the charming and appealing look that she knew Dolly found irresistible, she watched her closely for a start or for some change in her expression. She saw nothing.

"Who told Michael?"

"I don't know. He won't say. You know what he is when he starts being a perfect gentleman."

She wondered if she only imagined that Dolly's features at this slightly relaxed.

"I want the truth, Dolly."

"I'm so glad you've asked me, darling. You know how I hate to interfere in other people's business and if you hadn't brought the matter up yourself nothing would have induced me to mention it."

"My dear, if I don't know that you're a loyal friend, who does?"

Dolly slipped off her shoes and settled down massively in her chair. Julia never took her eyes off her.

"You know how malicious people are. You've always led such a quiet, regular life. You've gone out so little, and then only with Michael or Charles Tamerley. He's different; of course everyone knows he's adored you for ages. It seems so funny that all of a sudden you should run around all over the place with a clerk in the firm that does your accounts."

"He isn't exactly that. His father has bought him a share in the firm and he's a junior partner."

"Yes, he gets four hundred a year."

"How d'you know?" asked Julia quickly.

This time she was certain that Dolly was disconcerted.

"You persuaded me to go to his firm about my income-tax. One of the head partners told me. It seems a little strange that on that he should be able to have a flat, dress the way he does and take people to night clubs."

"For all I know his father may make him an allowance."

"His father's a solicitor in the North of London. You know very well that if he's bought him a partnership he isn't making him an allowance as well."

"Surely you don't imagine that I'm keeping him," said Julia, with a ringing laugh.

"I don't imagine anything, darling. Other people do."

Julia liked neither the words Dolly spoke nor the way she said them. But she gave no sign of her uneasiness.

"It's too absurd. He's Roger's friend much more than mine. Of course I've been about with him. I felt I was getting too set. I'm tired of just going to the theatre and taking care of myself. It's no life. After all if I don't enjoy myself a little now I never shall. I'm getting on, you know, Dolly, it's no good denying it. You know what Michael is; of course he's sweet, but he is a bore."

"No more a bore than he's ever been," said Dolly acidly.

"I should have thought I was the last person anyone would dream would have an affair with a boy twenty years younger than myself."

"Twenty-five," corrected Dolly. "I should have thought so too. Unfortunately he's not very discreet."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Well, he's told Avice Crichton that he'll get her a part in your next play."

"Who the devil is Avice Crichton?"

"Oh, she's a young actress I know. She's as pretty as a picture."

"He's only a silly kid. I suppose he thinks he can get round Michael. You know what Michael is with his little bits."

"He says he can get you to do anything he wants. He says you just eat out of his hand."

It was lucky for Julia that she was a good actress. For a second her heart stood still. How could he say a thing like that? The fool. The blasted fool. But recovering herself at once she laughed lightly.

"What nonsense! I don't believe a word of it."

"He's a very commonplace, rather vulgar man. It's not surprising if all the fuss you've made of him has turned his head."

Julia, smiling good-naturedly, looked at her with ingenuous eyes.

"But, darling, you don't think he's my lover, do you?"

"If I don't, I'm the only person who doesn't."

"And do you?"

For a minute Dolly did not answer. They looked at one another steadily, their hearts were black with hatred; but Julia still smiled.

"If you give me your solemn word of honour that he isn't, of course I'll believe you."

Julia dropped her voice to a low, grave note. It had a true ring of sincerity:

"I've never told you a lie yet, Dolly, and I'm too old to begin now. I give you my solemn word of honour that Tom has never been anything more to me than just a friend."

"You take a great weight off my mind."

Julia knew that Dolly did not believe her and Dolly was aware that Julia knew it. She went on.

"But in that case, for your own sake, Julia dear, do be sensible. Don't go about with this young man any more. Drop him."

"Oh, I couldn't do that. That would be an admission that people were right in what they thought. After all, my conscience is clear. I can afford to hold my head high. I should despise myself if I allowed my behaviour to be influenced by malicious gossip."

Dolly slipped her feet back into her shoes and getting her lipstick out of her bag did her lips.

"Well, dear, you're old enough to know your own mind."

They parted coldly.

But one or two of Dolly's remarks had been somewhat of a shock to Julia. They rankled. It was disconcerting that gossip had so nearly reached the truth. But did it matter? Plenty of women had lovers and who bothered? And an actress. No one expected an actress to be a pattern of propriety.

"It's my damned virtue. That's at the bottom of the trouble."

She had acquired the reputation of a perfectly virtuous woman, whom the tongue of scandal could not touch, and now it looked as though her reputation was a prison that she had built round herself. But there was worse. What had Tom meant by saying that she ate out of his hand? That deeply affronted her. Silly little fool. How dare he? She didn't know what to do about it either. She would have liked to tax him with it. What was the good? He would deny it. The only thing was to say nothing; it had all gone too far now, she must accept everything. It was no good not facing the truth, he didn't love her, he was her lover because it gratified his self-esteem, because it brought him various things he cared for and because in his own eyes at least it gave him a sort of position.

"If I had any sense I'd chuck him." She gave an angry laugh. "It's easy to say that. I love him."

The strange thing was that when she looked into her heart it was not Julia Lambert the woman who resented the affront, she didn't care for herself, it was the affront to Julia Lambert the actress that stung her. She had often felt that her talent, genius the critics called it, but that was a very grand word, her gift, if you like, was not really herself, not even part of her, but something outside that used her, Julia Lambert the woman, in order to express itself. It was a strange, immaterial personality that seemed to descend upon her and it did things through her that she did not know she was capable of doing. She was an ordinary, prettyish, ageing woman. Her gift had neither age nor form. It was a spirit that played on her body as the violinist plays on his violin. It was the slight to that that galled her.

She tried to sleep. She was so accustomed to sleeping in the afternoon that she could always drop off the moment she composed herself, but on this occasion she turned restlessly from side to side and sleep would not come. At last she looked at the clock. Tom often got back from his office soon after five. She yearned for him; in his arms was peace, when she was with him nothing else mattered. She dialled his number.

"Hulloa? Yes. Who is it?"

She held the receiver to her ear, panic-stricken. It was Roger's voice. She hung up.

предыдущая глава | Theatre | cледующая глава