JULIA now was looking at the photograph of herself in her wedding-dress.
"Christ, what a sight I looked."
They decided to keep their engagement to themselves, and Julia told no one about it but Jimmie Langton, two or three girls in the company and her dresser. She vowed them to secrecy and could not understand how within forty-eight hours everyone in the theatre seemed to know all about it. Julia was divinely happy. She loved Michael more passionately than ever and would gladly have married him there and then, but his good sense prevailed. They were at present no more than a couple of provincial actors, and to start their conquest of London as a married couple would jeopardize their chances. Julia showed him as clearly as she knew how, and this was very clearly indeed, that she was quite willing to become his mistress, but this he refused. He was too honourable to take advantage of her.
"I could not love thee, dear, so much, loved I not honour more," he quoted.
He felt sure that when they were married they would bitterly regret it if they had lived together before as man and wife. Julia was proud of his principles. He was a kind and affectionate lover, but in a very short while seemed to take her a trifle for granted; by his manner, friendly but casual, you might have thought they had been married for years. But he showed great good nature in allowing Julia to make love to him. She adored to sit cuddled up to him with his arm round her waist, her face against his, and it was heaven when she could press her eager mouth against his rather thin lips. Though when they sat side by side like that he preferred to talk of the parts they were studying or make plans for the future, he made her very happy. She never tired of praising his beauty. It was heavenly, when she told him how exquisite his nose was and how lovely his russet, curly hair, to feel his hold on her tighten a little and to see the tenderness in his eyes.
"Darling, you'll make me as vain as a peacock."
"It would be so silly to pretend you weren't divinely handsome."
Julia thought he was, and she said it because she liked saying it, but she said it also because she knew he liked to hear it. He had affection and admiration for her, he felt at ease with her, and he had confidence in her, but she was well aware that he was not in love with her. She consoled herself by thinking that he loved her as much as he was capable of loving, and she thought that when they were married, when they slept together, her own passion would excite an equal passion in him. Meanwhile she exercised all her tact and all her self-control. She knew she could not afford to bore him. She knew she must never let him feel that she was a burden or a responsibility. He might desert her for a game of golf, or to lunch with a casual acquaintance, she never let him see for a moment that she was hurt. And with an inkling that her success as an actress strengthened his feeling for her she worked like a dog to play well.
When they had been engaged for rather more than a year an American manager, looking for talent and having heard of Jimmie Langton's repertory company, came to Middlepool and was greatly taken by Michael. He sent him round a note asking him to come to his hotel on the following afternoon. Michael, breathless with excitement, showed it to Julia; it could only mean that he was going to offer him a part. Her heart sank, but she pretended that she was as excited as he, and went with him next day to the hotel. She was to wait in the lobby while Michael saw the great man.
"Wish me luck," he whispered, as he turned from her to enter the lift. "It's almost too good to be true."
Julia sat in a great leather armchair willing with all her might the American manager to offer a part that Michael would refuse or a salary that he felt it would be beneath his dignity to accept. Or alternatively that he should get Michael to read the part he had in view and come to the conclusion that he could not touch it. But when she saw Michael coming towards her half an hour later, his eyes bright and his step swinging, she knew he had clicked. For a moment she thought she was going to be sick, and when she forced on her face an eager, happy smile, she felt that her muscles were stiff and hard.
"It's all right. He says it's a damned good part, a boy's part, nineteen. Eight or ten weeks in New York and then on the road. It's a safe forty weeks with John Drew. Two hundred and fifty dollars a week."
"Oh, darling, how wonderful for you."
It was quite clear that he had accepted with alacrity. The thought of refusing had never even occurred to him.
"And I - I," she thought, "if they'd offered me a thousand dollars a week I wouldn't have gone if it meant being separated from Michael."
Black despair seized her. She could do nothing. She must pretend to be as delighted as he was. He was too much excited to sit still and took her out into the crowded street to walk.
"It's a wonderful chance. Of course America's expensive, but I ought to be able to live on fifty dollars a week at the outside, they say the Americans are awfully hospitable and I shall get a lot of free meals. I don't see why I shouldn't save eight thousand dollars in the forty weeks and that's sixteen hundred pounds."
("He doesn't love me. He doesn't care a damn about me. I hate him. I'd like to kill him. Blast that American manager.")
"And if he takes me on for a second year I'm to get three hundred. That means that in two years I'd have the best part of four thousand pounds. Almost enough to start management on."
"A second year!" For a moment Julia lost control of herself and her voice was heavy with tears. "D'you mean to say you'll be gone two years?"
"Oh, I should come back next summer of course. They pay my fare back and I'd go and live at home so as not to spend any money."
"I don't know how I'm going to get on without you."
She said the words very brightly, so that they sounded polite, but somewhat casual.
"Well, we can have a grand time together in the summer and you know a year, two years at the outside, well, it passes like a flash of lightning."
Michael had been walking at random, but Julia without his noticing had guided him in the direction she wished, and now they arrived in front of the theatre. She stopped.
"I'll see you later. I've got to pop up and see Jimmie."
His face fell.
"You're not going to leave me now! I must talk to somebody. I thought we might go and have a snack together before the show."
"I'm terribly sorry. Jimmie's expecting me and you know what he is."
Michael gave her his sweet, good-natured smile.
"Oh, well, go on then. I'm not going to hold it up against you because for once you've let me down."
He walked on and she went in by the stage door. Jimmie Langton had arranged himself a tiny flat under the roof to which you gained access through the balcony. She rang the bell of his front door and he opened it himself. He was surprised, but pleased, to see her.
"Hulloa, Julia, come in."
She walked past him without a word, and when they got into his sitting-room, untidy, littered with typescript plays, books and other rubbish, the remains of his frugal luncheon still on a tray by his desk, she turned and faced him. Her jaw was set and her eyes were frowning.
With a swift gesture she went up to him, seized him by his loose shirt collar with both hands and shook him. He struggled to get free of her, but she was strong and violent.
"Stop it. Stop it."
"You devil, you swine, you filthy low-down cad." He took a swing and with his open hand gave her a great smack on the face. She instinctively loosened her grip on him and put her own hand up to her cheek, for he had hurt her. She burst out crying.
"You brute. You rotten hound to hit a woman."
"You put that where the monkey put the nuts, dearie. Didn't you know that when a woman hits me I always hit back?"
"I didn't hit you."
"You damned near throttled me."
"You deserved it. Oh, my God, I'd like to kill you."
"Now sit down, duckie, and I'll give you a drop of Scotch to pull you together. And then you can tell me all about it."
Julia looked round for a big chair into which she could conveniently sink.
"Christ, the place is like a pig-sty. Why the hell don't you get a charwoman in?"
With an angry gesture she swept the books on to the floor from an armchair, threw herself in it, and began to cry in earnest. He poured her out a stiff dose of whisky, added a drop of soda, and made her drink it.
"Now what's all this Tosca stuff about?"
"Michael's going to America."
She wrenched herself away from the arm he had round her shoulder.
"How could you? How could you?"
"I had nothing to do with it."
"That's a lie. I suppose you didn't even know that filthy American manager was in Middlepool. Of course it's your doing. You did it deliberately to separate us."
"Oh, dearie, you're doing me an injustice. In point of fact I don't mind telling you that I said to him he could have anyone in the company he liked with the one exception of Michael Gosselyn."
Julia did not see the look in Jimmie's eyes when he told her this, but if she had would have wondered why he was looking as pleased as if he had pulled off a very clever little trick.
"Even me?" she said.
"I knew he didn't want women. They've got plenty of their own. It's men they want who know how to wear their clothes and don't spit in the drawing-room."
"Oh, Jimmie, don't let Michael go. I can't bear it."
"How can I prevent it? His contract's up at the end of the season. It's a wonderful chance for him."
"But I love him. I want him. Supposing he sees someone else in America. Supposing some American heiress falls in love with him."
"If he doesn't love you any more than that I should have thought you'd be well rid of him."
The remark revived Julia's fury.
"You rotten old eunuch, what do you know about love?"
"These women," Jimmie sighed. "If you try to go to bed with them they say you're a dirty old man, and if you don't they say you're a rotten old eunuch."
"Oh, you don't understand. He's so frightfully handsome, they'll fall for him like a row of ninepins,* and poor lamb, he's so susceptible to flattery. Anything can happen in two years."
"What's this about two years?"
"If he's a success he's to stay another year."
"Well, don't worry your head about that. He'll be back at the end of the season and back for good. That manager only saw him in Candida. It's the only part he's half-way decent in. Take my word for it, it won't be long before they find out they've been sold a pup. He's going to be a flop."
"What do you know about acting?"
"I'd like to scratch your eyes out."
"I warn you that if you attempt to touch me I shan't give you a little bit of a slap, I shall give you such a biff on the jaw that you won't be able to eat in comfort for a week."
"By God, I believe you'd do it. Do you call yourself a gentleman?"
"Not even when I'm drunk."
Julia giggled, and Jimmie felt the worst of the scene was over.
"Now you know just as well as I do that you can act him off his head. I tell you, you're going to be the greatest actress since Mrs. Kendal. What do you want to go and hamper yourself with a man who'll always be a millstone round your neck? You want to go into management; he'll want to play opposite you. He'll never be good enough, my dear."
"He's got looks. I can carry him."
"You've got a pretty good opinion of yourself, haven't you? But you're wrong. If you want to make a success you can't afford to have a leading man who's not up to the mark."
"I don't care. I'd rather marry him and be a failure than be a success and married to somebody else."
"Are you a virgin?"
Julia giggled again.
"I don't know that it's any business of yours, but in point of fact I am."
"I thought you were. Well, unless it means something to you, why don't you go over to Paris with him for a fortnight when we close? He won't be sailing till August. It might get him out of your system."
"Oh, he wouldn't. He's not that sort of man. You see, he's by way of being a gentleman."
"Even the upper classes propagate their species."
"You don't understand," said Julia haughtily.
"I bet you don't either."
Julia did not condescend to reply. She was really very unhappy.
"I can't live without him, I tell you. What am I to do with myself when he's away?"
"Stay on with me. I'll give you a contract for another year. I've got a lot of new parts I want to give you and I've got a juvenile in my eye who's a find. You'll be surprised how much easier you'll find it when you've got a chap opposite you who'll really give you something. You can have twelve pounds a week."
Julia went up to him and stared into his eyes searchingly.
"Have you done all this to get me to stay on for another year? Have you broken my heart and ruined my whole life just to keep me in your rotten theatre?"
"I swear I haven't. I like you and I admire you. And we've done better business the last two years than we've ever done before. But damn it, I wouldn't play you a dirty trick like that."
"You liar, you filthy liar."
"I swear it's the truth."
"Prove it then," she said violently.
"How can I prove it? You know I'm decent really."
"Give me fifteen pounds a week and I'll believe you."
"Fifteen pounds a week? You know what our takings are. How can I? Oh well, all right. But I shall have to pay three pounds out of my own pocket."
"A fat lot I care."