AFTER a fortnight of rehearsals, Michael was thrown out of the part for which he had been engaged, and for three or four weeks was left to kick his heels about till something else could be found for him. He opened in due course in a play that ran less than a month in New York. It was sent on the road; but languished and was withdrawn. After another wait he was given a part in a costume play where his good looks shone to such advantage that his indifferent acting was little noticed, and in this he finished the season. There was no talk of renewing his contract. Indeed the manager who had engaged him was caustic in his comments.
"Gee, I'd give something to get even with that fellow Langton, the son of a bitch," he said. "He knew what he was doing all right when he landed me with that stick."
Julia wrote to Michael constantly, pages and pages of love and gossip, while he answered once a week, four pages exactly in a neat, precise hand. He always ended up by sending her his best love and signing himself hers very affectionately, but the rest of his letter was more informative than passionate. Yet she awaited its coming in an agony of impatience and read it over and over again. Though he wrote cheerfully, saying little about the theatre except that the parts they gave him were rotten and the plays in which he was expected to act beneath contempt, news travels in the theatrical world, and Julia knew that he had not made good.
"I suppose it's beastly of me," she thought, "but thank God, thank God."
When he announced the date of his sailing she could not contain her joy. She got Jimmie so to arrange his programme that she might go and meet him at Liverpool.
"If the boat comes in late I shall probably stay the night," she told Jimmie.
He smiled ironically.
"I suppose you think that in the excitement of homecoming you may work the trick."
"What a beastly little man you are."
"Come off it, dear. My advice to you is, get him a bit tight and then lock yourself in a room with him and tell him you won't let him out till he's made a dishonest woman of you."
But when she was starting he came to the station with her. As she was getting into the carriage he took her hand and patted it.
"Feeling nervous, dear?"
"Oh, Jimmie dear, wild with happiness and sick with anxiety."
"Well, good luck to you. And don't forget you're much too good for him. You're young and pretty and you're the greatest actress in England."
When the train steamed out Jimmie went to the station bar and had a whisky and soda. "Lord, what fools these mortals be," he sighed. But Julia stood up in the empty carriage and looked at herself in the glass.
"Mouth too large, face too puddingy, nose too fleshy. Thank God, I've got good eyes and good legs. Exquisite legs. I wonder if I've got too much make-up on. He doesn't like make-up off the stage. I look bloody without rouge. My eyelashes are all right. Damn it all, I don't look so bad."
Uncertain till the last moment whether Jimmie would allow her to go, Julia had not been able to let Michael know that she was meeting him. He was surprised and frankly delighted to see her. His beautiful eyes beamed with pleasure.
"You're more lovely than ever," she said.
"Oh, don't be so silly," he laughed, squeezing her arm affectionately. "You haven't got to go back till after dinner, have you?"
"I haven't got to go back till tomorrow. I've taken a couple of rooms at the Adelphi, so that we can have a real talk."
"The Adelphi's a bit grand, isn't it?"
"Oh, well, you don't come back from America every day. Damn the expense."
"Extravagant little thing, aren't you? I didn't know when we'd dock, so I told my people I'd wire when I was getting down to Cheltenham. I'll tell them I'll be coming along tomorrow."
When they got to the hotel Michael came to Julia's room, at her suggestion, so that they could talk in peace and quiet. She sat on his knees, with her arm round his neck, her cheek against his.
"Oh, it's so good to be home again," she sighed.
"You don't have to tell me that," he said, not understanding that she referred to his arms and not to his arrival.
"D'you still like me?"
She kissed him fondly.
"Oh, you don't know how I've missed you."
"I was an awful flop in America," he said. "I didn't tell you in my letters, because I thought it would only worry you. They thought me rotten."
"Michael," she cried, as though she could not believe him.
"The fact is, I suppose, I'm too English. They don't want me another year. I didn't think they did, but just as a matter of form I asked them if they were going to exercise their option and they said no, not at any price."
Julia was silent. She looked deeply concerned, but her heart was beating with exultation.
"I honestly don't care, you know. I didn't like America. It's a smack in the eye of course, it's no good denying that, but the only thing is to grin and bear it. If you only knew the people one has to deal with! Why, compared with some of them, Jimmie Langton's a great gentleman. Even if they had wanted me to stay I should have refused."
Though he put a brave face on it, Julia felt that he was deeply mortified. He must have had to put up with a good deal of unpleasantness. She hated him to have been made unhappy, but, oh, she was so relieved.
"What are you going to do now?" she asked quietly.
"Well, I shall go home for a bit and think things over. Then I shall go to London and see if I can't get a part."
She knew that it was no good suggesting that he should come back to Middlepool. Jimmie Langton would not have him.
"You wouldn't like to come with me, I suppose?"
Julia could hardly believe her ears.
"Me? Darling, you know I'd go anywhere in the world with you."
"Your contract's up at the end of this season, and if you want to get anywhere you've got to make a stab at London soon. I saved every bob* I could in America, they all called me a tight-wad but I just let them talk, I've brought back between twelve and fifteen hundred pounds."
"Michael, how on earth can you have done that?"
"I didn't give much away, you know," he smiled happily. "Of course it's not enough to start management on, but it's enough to get married on, I mean we'd have something to fall back on if we didn't get parts right away or happened to be out of a job for a few months."
It took Julia a second or two to understand what he meant.
"D'you mean to say, get married now?"
"Of course it's a risk, without anything in prospect, but one has to take a risk sometimes."
Julia took his head in both her hands and pressed his iips with hers. Then she gave a sigh.
"Darling, you're wonderful and you're as beautiful as a Greek god, but you're the biggest damned fool I've ever known in my life."
They went to a theatre that night and at supper drank champagne to celebrate their reunion and toast their future. When Michael accompanied her to her room she held up her face to his.
"D'you want me to say good night to you in the passage? I'll just come in for a minute."
"Better not, darling," she said with quiet dignity.
She felt like a high-born damsel, with all the traditions of a great and ancient family to keep up; her purity was a pearl of great price; she also felt that she was making a wonderfully good impression: of course he was a great gentleman, and "damn it all" it behoved her to be a great lady. She was so pleased with her performance that when she had got into her room and somewhat noisily locked the door, she paraded up and down bowing right and left graciously to her obsequious retainers. She stretched out her lily white hand for the trembling old steward to kiss (as a baby he had often dandled her on his knee), and when he pressed it with his pallid lips she felt something fall upon it. A tear.