TOM went to Eastbourne with his family for Christmas. Julia had two performances on Boxing Day, so the Gosselyns stayed in town; they went to a large party at the Savoy that Dolly de Vries gave to see the New Year in; and a few days later Roger set off for Vienna. While he was in London Julia saw little of Tom. She did not ask Roger what they did when they tore about the town together, she did not want to know, she steeled herself not to think and distracted her mind by going to as many parties as she could. And there was always her acting; when once she got into the theatre her anguish, her humiliation, her jealousy were allayed. It gave her a sense of triumphant power to find, as it were in her pot of grease paint, another personality that could be touched by no human griefs. With that refuge always at hand she could support anything.
On the day that Roger left, Tom rang her up from his office.
"Are you doing anything tonight? What about going out on the binge?"
"No, I'm busy."
It was not true, but the words slipped out of her mouth, independent of her will.
"Oh, are you? Well, what about tomorrow?"
If he had expressed disappointment, if he had asked her to cut the date he supposed she had, she might have had strength to break with him then and there. His casualness defeated her.
"Tomorrow's all right."
"O.K. I'll fetch you at the theatre after the show. Bye-bye."
Julia was ready and waiting when he was shown into her dressing-room. She was strangely nervous. His face lit up when he saw her, and when Evie went out of the room for a moment he caught her in his arms and warmly kissed her on the lips.
"I feel all the better for that," he laughed.
You would never have thought to look at him, so young, fresh and ingenuous, in such high spirits, that he was capable of giving her so much pain. You would never have thought that he was so deceitful. It was quite plain that he had not noticed that for more than a fortnight he had hardly seen her.
("Oh, God, if I could only tell him to go to hell.")
But she looked at him with a gay smile in her lovely eyes.
"Where are we going?"
"I've got a table at Quag's. They've got a new turn there, an American conjurer, who's grand."
She talked with vivacity all through supper. She told him about the various parties she had been to, and the theatrical functions she had not been able to get out of, so that it seemed only on account of her engagements that they had not met. It disconcerted her to perceive that he took it as perfectly natural. He was glad to see her, that was plain, he was interested in what she had been doing and in the people she had seen, but it was plain also that he had not missed her. To see what he would say she told him that she had had an offer to take the play in which she was acting to New York. She told him the terms that had been suggested.
"They're marvellous," he said, his eyes glittering. "What a snip. You can't lose and you may make a packet."
"The only thing is, I don't much care for leaving London."
"Why on earth not? I should have thought you'd jump at it. The play's had a good long run, for all you know it'll be pretty well through by Easter, and if you want to make a stab at America you couldn't have a better vehicle."
"I don't see why it shouldn't run through the summer. Besides, I don't like strangers very much. I'm fond of my friends."
"I think that's silly. Your friends'll get along without you all right. And you'll have a grand time in New York."
Her gay laugh was very convincing.
"One would think you were terribly anxious to get rid of me."
"Of course I should miss you like hell. But it would only be for a few months. If I had a chance like that I'd jump at it."
But when they had finished supper and the commissionaire had called up a taxi for them he gave the address of the flat as if it were an understood thing that they should go back to it. In the taxi he put his arm round her waist and kissed her, and later, when she lay in his arms, in the little single bed, she felt that all the pain she had suffered during that last fortnight was not too great a price to pay for the happy peace that filled her heart.
Julia continued to go to the smart supper places and to night clubs with Tom. If people wanted to think he was her lover, let them; she was past caring. But it happened more than once that he was engaged when she wanted him to go somewhere with her. It had spread around among Julia's grander friends that Tom was very clever at helping one with one's income-tax returns. The Dennorants had asked him down to the country for a week-end, and here he had met a number of persons who were glad to take advantage of his technical knowledge. He began to get invitations from people whom Julia did not know. Acquaintances would mention him to her.
"You know Tom Fennell, don't you? He's very clever, isn't he? I hear he's saved the Gillians hundreds of pounds on their income-tax."
Julia was none too pleased. It was through her that he had got asked to parties that he wanted to go to. It began to look as if in this respect he could do without her. He was pleasant and unassuming, very well-dressed now, and with a fresh, clean look that was engaging; he was able to save people money; Julia knew the world which he was so anxious to get into well enough to realize that he would soon establish himself in it. She had no very high opinion of the morals of the women he would meet there and she could name more than one person of title who would be glad to snap him up. Julia's comfort was that they were all as mean as cat's meat. Dolly had said he was only earning four hundred a year; he certainly couldn't live in those circles on that.
Julia had with decision turned down the American offer before ever she mentioned it to Tom; their play was playing to very good business. But one of those inexplicable slumps that occasionally affect the theatre now swept over London and the takings suddenly dropped. It looked as though they would not be able to carry on long after Easter. They had a new play on which they set great hopes. It was called Nowadays, and the intention had been to produce it early in the autumn. It had a great part for Julia and the advantage of one that well suited Michael. It was the sort of play that might easily run a year. Michael did not much like the idea of producing it in May, with the summer coming on, but there seemed no help for it and he began looking about for a cast.
One afternoon, during the interval at a matinee, Evie brought a note in to Julia. She was surprised to see Roger's handwriting.
This is to introduce to you Miss Joan Denver who I talked to you about. She's awfully keen on getting in the Siddons Theatre and would be quite satisfied with an understudy however small.
Your affectionate son,
Julia smiled at the formal way in which he wrote; she was tickled because he was so grown up as to try to get jobs for his girl friends. Then she suddenly remembered who Joan Denver was. Joan and Jill. She was the girl who had seduced poor Roger. Her face went grim. But she was curious to see her.
"Is George there?" George was the doorkeeper. Evie nodded and opened the door.
He came in.
"Is the lady who brought this letter here now?"
"Tell her I'll see her after the play."
She wore in the last act an evening dress with a train; it was a very grand dress and showed her beautiful figure to advantage. She wore diamonds in her dark hair and diamond bracelets on her arms. She looked, as indeed the part required, majestic. She received Joan Denver the moment she had taken her last call. Julia could in the twinkling of an eye leap from her part into private life, but now without an effort she continued to play the imperious, aloof, stately and well-bred woman of the play.
"I've kept you waiting so long I thought I wouldn't keep you till I'd got changed." ..
Her cordial smile was the smile of a queen; her graciousness kept you at a respectful distance. In a glance she had taken in the young girl who entered her dressing-room. She was young, with a pretty little face and a snub nose, a good deal made-up and not very well made-up.
"Her legs are too short," thought Julia. "Very second-rate."
She had evidently put on her best clothes and the same glance had told Julia all about them.
("Shaftesbury Avenue. Off the nail.")
The poor thing was at the moment frightfully nervous. Julia made her sit down and offered her a cigarette.
"There are matches by your side."
She saw her hands tremble when she tried to strike one. It broke and she rubbed a second three times against the box before she could get it to light.
("If Roger could only see her now! Cheap rouge, cheap lipstick, and scared out of her wits. Gay little thing, he thought she was.")
"Have you been on the stage long, Miss - I'm so sorry I've forgotten your name."
"Joan Denver." Her throat was dry and she could hardly speak. Her cigarette went out and she held it helplessly. She answered Julia's question. "Two years."
"How old are you?"
("That's a lie. You're twenty-two if you're a day.") "You know my son, don't you?"
"He's just left Eton. He's gone to Vienna to learn German. Of course he's very young, but his father and I thought it would be good for him to spend a few months abroad before going up to Cambridge. And what parts have you played? Your cigarette's gone out. Won't you have another?"
"Oh, it's all right, thanks. I've been playing on tour, but I'm frightfully anxious to be in town." Despair gave her courage and she uttered the speech she had evidently prepared. "I've got the most tremendous admiration for you, Miss Lambert. I always say you're the greatest actress on the stage. I've learnt more from you than I did all the years I was at the R.A.D.A.* My greatest ambition is to be in your theatre, Miss Lambert, and if you could see your way to giving me a little something, I know it would be the most wonderful chance a girl could have."
"Will you take off your hat?"
Joan Denver took the cheap little hat off her head and with a quick gesture shook out her close-cropped curls.
"What pretty hair you have," said Julia.
Still with that slightly imperious, but infinitely cordial smile, the smile that a queen in royal procession bestows on her subjects, Julia gazed at her. She did not speak. She remembered Jane Taitbout's maxim: Don't pause unless it's necessary, but then pause as long as you can. She could almost hear the girl's heart beating and she felt her shrinking in her ready-made clothes, shrinking in her skin.
"What made you think of asking my son to give you a letter to me?"
Joan grew red under her make-up and she swallowed before she answered.
"I met him at a friend's house and I told him how much I admired you and he said he thought perhaps you'd have something for me in your next play."
"I'm just turning over the parts in my mind."
"I wasn't thinking of a part. If I could have an understudy - I mean, that would give me a chance of attending rehearsals and studying your technique. That's an education in itself. Everyone agrees about that."
("Silly little fool, trying to flatter me. As if I didn't know that. And why the hell should I educate her?") "It's very sweet of you to put it like that. I'm only a very ordinary person really. The public is so kind, so very kind. You're a pretty little thing. And young. Youth is so beautiful. Our policy has always been to give the younger people a chance. After all we can't go on for ever, and we look upon it as a duty we owe the public to train up actors and actresses to take our place when the time comes."
Julia said these words so simply, in her beautifully modulated voice, that Joan Denver's heart was warmed. She'd got round the old girl and the understudy was as good as hers. Tom Fennell had said that if she played her cards well with Roger it might easily lead to something.
"Oh, that won't be a for a long while yet, Miss Lambert," she said, her eyes, her pretty dark eyes glowing.
("You're right there, my girl, dead right. I bet I could play you off the stage when I was seventy.")
"I must think it over. I hardly know yet what understudies we shall want in our next play."
"I hear there's some talk of Avice Crichton for the girl's part. I thought perhaps I could understudy her."
Avice Crichton. No flicker of the eyes showed that the name meant anything to Julia.
"My husband has mentioned her, but nothing is settled yet. I don't know her at all. Is she clever?"
"I think so. I was at the Academy with her."
"And pretty as a picture, they tell me." Rising to her feet to show that the audience was at an end, Julia put off her royalty. She changed her tone and became on a sudden the jolly, good-natured actress who would do a good turn to anyone if she could. "Well, dear, leave me your name and address and if there's anything doing I'll let you know."
"You won't forget me, Miss Lambert?"
"No, dear, I promise you I won't. It's been so nice to see you. You have a very sweet personality. You'll find your way out, won't you? Good-bye."
"A fat chance she's got of ever setting foot in this theatre," said Julia to herself when she was gone. "Dirty little bitch to seduce my son. Poor lamb. It's a shame, that's what it is; women like that oughtn't to be allowed."
She looked at herself in the glass as she slipped out of her beautiful gown. Her eyes were hard and her lips had a sardonic curl. She addressed her reflection.
"And I may tell you this, old girl: there's one person who isn't going to play in Nowadays and that's Miss Avice Crichton."