BUT she woke early next morning, at six, and began to think of Tom. She repeated to herself all she had said to him and all he had said to her. She was harassed and unhappy. Her only consolation was that she had carried the rupture through with so careless a gaiety that he could not guess how miserable he had made her.
She spent a wretched day, unable to think of anything else, and angry with herself because she could not put Tom out of her mind. It would not have been so bad if she could have confided her grief to a friend. She wanted someone to console her, someone to tell her that Tom was not worth troubling about and to assure her that he had treated her shamefully. As a rule she took her troubles to Charles or to Dolly. Of course Charles would give her all the sympathy she needed, but it would be a terrible blow to him, after all he had loved her to distraction for twenty years, and it would be cruel to tell him that she had given to a very ordinary young man what he would gladly have sacrificed ten years of his life for. She was his ideal and it would be heartless on her part to shatter it. It certainly did her good at that moment to be assured that Charles Tamerley, so distinguished, so cultured, so elegant, loved her with an imperishable devotion. Of course Dolly would be delighted if she confided in her. They had not seen much of one another lately, but Julia knew that she had only to call up and Dolly would come running. Even though she more than suspected the truth already she'd be shocked and jealous when Julia made a clean breast of it, but she'd be so thankful that everything was over, she'd forgive. It would be a comfort to both of them to tear Tom limb from limb. Of course it wouldn't be very nice to admit that Tom had chucked her, and Dolly was so shrewd, she would never get away with the lie that she had chucked him. She wanted to have a good cry with somebody, and there didn't seem to be any reason for it if she had made the break herself. It would be a score for Dolly, and however sympathetic she was it was asking too much of human nature to expect that she would be altogether sorry that Julia had been taken down a peg or two. Dolly had always worshipped her. She wasn't going to give her a peep at her feet of clay.
"It almost looks as if the only person I can go to is Michael," she giggled. "But I suppose it wouldn't do."
She knew exactly what he would say.
"My dear girl, I'm really not the sort of feller you ought to come to with a story like that. Damn it all, you put me in a very awkward position. I flatter myself I'm pretty broad-minded, I may be an actor, but when all's said and done I am a gentleman, and well, I mean, I mean it's such damned bad form."
Michael did not get home till the afternoon, and when he came into her room she was resting. He told her about his week-end and the result of his matches. He had played very well, some of his recoveries had been marvellous, and he described them in detail.
"By the way, what about that girl you saw last night, is she any good?"
"I really think she is, you know. She's very pretty. You're sure to fall for her."
"Oh, my dear, at my time of life. Can she act?"
"She's inexperienced of course, but I think she's got it in her."
"Oh well, I'd better have her up and give her the once over. How can I get hold of her?"
"Tom's got her address."
"I'll phone him right away."
He took off the receiver and dialled Tom's number. Tom was in and Michael wrote down the address on a pad.
The conversation went on.
"Oh, my dear old chap, I'm sorry to hear that. What rotten luck!"
"What's the matter?" asked Julia.
He motioned her to be quiet.
"Oh, well, I don't want to be hard on you. Don't you worry. I'm sure we can come to some arrangement that will be satisfactory to you." He put his hand over the receiver and turned to Julia. "Shall I ask him to dinner next Sunday?"
"If you like."
"Julia says, will you come and dine on Sunday? Oh, I'm sorry. Well, so long, old man."
He put down the receiver.
"He's got a date. Is the young ruffian having an affair with this girl?"
"He assures me not. He respects her. She's a colonel's daughter."
"Oh, she's a lady."
"I don't know that that follows," said Julia acidly. "What were you talking to him about?"
"He says they've cut his salary. Bad times. He wants to give up the flat." Julia's heart gave a sudden sickening beat. "I've told him not to worry. I'll let him stay there rent free till times improve."
"I don't know why you should do that. After all, it was a purely business arrangement."
"It seems rather tough luck on a young chap like that. And you know he's very useful to us; if we want an extra man we can always call upon him, and it's convenient having him round the corner when I want someone to play golf with me. It's only twenty-five pounds a quarter."
"You're the last person I should expect to see indulge in indiscriminate generosity."
"Oh, don't you be afraid, if I lose on the swings I'll get back on the roundabouts."
The masseuse came in and put an end to the conversation. Julia was thankful that it would soon be time to go down to the theatre and so put an end for a while to the misery of that long day; when she got back she would take a sleeping-draught again and so get some hours of forgetfulness. She had a notion that in a few days the worst of her pain would be over; the important thing was to get through them as best she could. She must distract her mind. When she left for the theatre she told the butler to ring up Charles Tamerley and see if she could lunch with him at the Ritz next day.
He was extraordinarily nice at luncheon. His look, his manner bespoke the different world he lived in, and she felt a sudden abhorrence for the circle in which on Tom's account she had moved during the last year. He spoke of politics, of art, of books; and peace entered into her soul. Tom had been an obsession and she saw now that it had been hurtful; but she would escape from it. Her spirits rose. She did not want to be alone, she knew that even though she went home after luncheon she would not sleep, so she asked Charles if he would take her to the National Gallery. She could give him no greater pleasure; he liked to talk about pictures and he talked of them well. It took them back to the old days when she had made her first success in London and they used to spend so many afternoons together, walking in the park or sauntering through museums. The day after that she had a matinee and the next a luncheon-party, but when they separated they arranged to lunch again together on the Friday and go to the Tate.
A few days later Michael told her he had engaged Avice Crichton.
"She has the looks for the part, there's no doubt about that, and she'll be a good contrast to you. I'm taking her acting on the strength of what you said."
Next morning they rang through from the basement to say that Mr. Fennell was on the telephone. It seemed to her that her heart stopped beating.
"Put him through."
"Julia, I wanted to tell you, Michael has engaged Avice."
"Yes, I know."
"He told her he was engaging her on what you'd told him. You are a brick."
Julia, her heart now beating nineteen to the dozen, made an effort to control her voice.
"Oh, don't talk such nonsense," she answered gaily. "I told you it would be all right."
"I'm awfully glad it's fixed up. She's accepted the part on what I've told her about it. Ordinarily she won't take anything unless she's read the play."
It was just as well he could not see Julia's face when she heard him say this. She would have liked to answer tartly that it was not their habit when they engaged small-part actresses to let them read the play, but instead she said mildly:
"Well, I think she'll like it, don't you? It's quite a good part."
"And you know, she'll play it for all it's worth. I believe she'll make a sensation."
Julia took a long breath.
"It'll be wonderful, won't it? I mean, it may make her."
"Yes, I've told her that. I say, when am I going to see you again?"
"I'll phone you, shall I? It's such a bore, I'm terribly full of engagements for the next few days."
"You're not going to drop me just because…"
She gave a low, rather hoarse chuckle, that chuckle which so delighted audiences.
"Don't be so silly. Oh lord, there's my bath running. I must go and have it. Good-bye, my sweet."
She put down the receiver. The sound of his voice! The pain in her heart was unendurable. Sitting up in her bed she rocked to and fro in an agony.
"What shall I do? What shall I do?"
She had thought she was getting over it, and now that brief, silly conversation had shown her that she loved him as much as ever. She wanted him. She missed him every minute of the day. She could not do without him.
"I shall never get over it," she moaned.
Once again the theatre was her only refuge. By an ironic chance the great scene of the play in which she was then acting, the scene to which the play owed its success, showed the parting of two lovers. It was true that they parted from a sense of duty; and Julia, in the play, sacrificed her love, her hopes of happiness, all that she held dear, to an ideal of uprightness. It was a scene that had appealed to her from the beginning. She was wonderfully moving in it. She put into it now all the agony of her spirit; it was no longer the broken heart of a character that she portrayed but her own. In ordinary life she tried to stifle a passion that she knew very well was ridiculous, a love that was unworthy of the woman she was, and she steeled herself to think as little as possible of the wretched boy who had wrought such havoc with her; but when she came to this scene she let herself go. She gave free rein to her anguish. She was hopeless with her own loss, and the love she poured out on the man who was playing opposite to her was the love she still felt, the passionate, devouring love, for Tom. The prospect of the empty life that confronted the woman of the play was the prospect of her own empty life. There was at least that solace, she felt she had never played so magnificently.
"My God, it's almost worth while to suffer so frightfully to give such a performance."
She had never put more of herself into a part.
One night a week or two later when she came into her dressing-room at the end of the play, exhausted by all the emotion she had displayed, but triumphant after innumerable curtain calls, she found Michael sitting there.
"Hulloa? You haven't been in front, have you?"
"But you were in front two or three days ago."
"Yes, I've sat through the play for the last four nights."
She started to undress. He got up from his chair and began to walk up and down. She gave him a glance and saw that he was frowning slightly.
"What's the matter?"
"That's what I want to know."
She gave a start. The thought flashed through her mind that he had once more heard something about Tom.
"Why the devil isn't Evie here?" she asked.
"I told her to get out. I've got something to say to you, Julia. It's no good your flying in a temper. You've just got to listen."
A cold shiver ran down her spine.
"Well, what is it?"
"I heard something was up and I thought I'd better see for myself. At first I thought it was just an accident. That's why I didn't say anything till I was quite sure. What's wrong with you, Julia?"
"Yes. Why are you giving such a lousy performance?"
"Me?" That was the last thing she expected to hear him say. She faced him with blazing eyes. "You damned fool, I've never acted better in my life."
"Nonsense. You're acting like hell."
Of course it was a relief that he was talking about her acting, but what he was saying was so ridiculous that, angry as she was, she had to laugh.
"You blasted idiot, you don't know what you're talking about. Why, what I don't know about acting isn't worth knowing. Everything you know about it I've taught you. If you're even a tolerable actor it's due to me. After all, the proof of the pudding's in the eating. D'you know how many curtain calls I got tonight? The play's never gone better in all its run."
"I know all about that. The public are a lot of jackasses. If you yell and scream and throw yourself about you'll always get a lot of damned fools to shout themselves silly. Just barnstorming,* that's what you've been doing the last four nights. It was false from beginning to end."
"False? But I felt every word of it."
"I don't care what you felt, you weren't acting it. Your performance was a mess. You were exaggerating; you were over-acting; you didn't carry conviction for a moment. It was about as rotten a piece of ham acting as I've ever seen in my life."
"You bloody swine, how dare you talk to me like that? It's you the ham."
With her open hand she gave him a great swinging blow on the face. He smiled.
"You can hit me, you can swear at me, you can yell your head off, but the fact remains that your acting's gone all to hell. I'm not going to start rehearsing Nowadays with you acting like that."
"Find someone who can act the part better than I can then."
"Don't be silly, Julia. I may not be a very good actor myself, I never thought I was, but I know good acting from bad. And what's more there's nothing about you I don't know. I'm going to put up the notices on Saturday and then I want you to go abroad. We'll make Nowadays our autumn production."
The quiet, decisive way in which he spoke calmed her. It was true that when it came to acting Michael knew everything there was to know about her.
"It is true that I'm acting badly?"
She thought it over. She knew exactly what had happened. She had let her emotion run away with her; she had been feeling, not acting. Again a cold shiver ran down her spine. This was serious. It was all very fine to have a broken heart, but if it was going to interfere with her acting …no, no, no. That was quite another pair of shoes. Her acting was more important than any love affair in the world.
"I'll try and pull myself together."
"It's no good trying to force oneself. You're tired out. It's my fault, I ought to have insisted on your taking a holiday long ago. What you want is a good rest."
"What about the theatre?"
"If I can't let it, I'll revive some play that I can play in. There's Hearts are Trumps. You always hated your part in that."
"Everyone says the season's going to be wonderful. You can't expect much of a revival with me out of the cast; you won't make a penny."
"I don't care a hang about that. The only thing that matters is your health."
"Oh, Christ, don't be so magnanimous,"* she cried. "I can't bear it."
Suddenly she burst into a storm of weeping.
He took her in his arms and sat her down on the sofa with himself beside her. She clung to him desperately
"You 're so good to me, Michael, and I hate myself. I'm a beast, I'm a slut, I'm just a bloody bitch. I'm rotten through and through."
"All that may be," he smiled, "but the fact remains that you're a very great actress."
"I don't know how you can have the patience you have with me. I've treated you foully. You've been too wonderful and I've sacrificed you heartlessly."
"Now, dear, don't say a lot of things that you'll regret later. I shall only bring them up against you another time."
His tenderness melted her and she reproached herself bitterly because for years she found him so boring.
"Thank God, I've got you. What should I do without you?"
"You haven't got to do without me."
He held her close and though she sobbed still she began to feel comforted.
"I'm sorry I was so beastly to you just now."
"Oh, my dear."
"Do you really think I'm a ham actress?"
"Darling, Duse couldn't hold a candle to you."
"Do you honestly think that? Give me your hanky. You never saw Sarah Bernhardt, did you?"
"She ranted like the devil."
They sat together for a little while, in silence, and Julia grew calmer in spirit. Her heart was filled with a great love for Michael.
"You're still the best-looking man in England," she murmured at last. "No one will ever persuade me to the contrary."
She felt that he drew in his belly and thrust out his chin, and it seemed to her rather sweet and touching.
"You're quite right. I'm tired out. I feel low and miserable. I feel all empty inside. The only thing is to go away."