AFTER Julia had made up her mind to that she was glad. The prospect of getting away from the misery that tormented her at once made it easier to bear. The notices were put up; Michael collected his cast for the revival and started rehearsals. It amused Julia to sit idly in a stall and watch the actress who had been engaged rehearse the part which she had played herself some years before. She had never lost the thrill it gave her when she first went on the stage to sit in the darkened playhouse, under dust-sheets, and see the characters grow in the actors' hands. Merely to be inside a theatre rested her; nowhere was she so happy. Watching the rehearsals she was able to relax so that when at night she had her own performance to give she felt fresh. She realized that all Michael had said was true. She took hold of herself. Thrusting her private emotion into the background and thus getting the character under control, she managed once more to play with her accustomed virtuosity. Her acting ceased to be a means by which she gave release to her feelings and was again the manifestation of her creative instinct. She got a quiet exhilaration out of thus recovering mastery over her medium. It gave her a sense of power and of liberation.
But the triumphant effort she made took it out of her, and when she was not in the theatre she felt listless and discouraged. She lost her exuberant vitality. A new humility overcame her. She had a feeling that her day was done. She sighed as she told herself that nobody wanted her any more. Michael suggested that she should go to Vienna to be near Roger, and she would have liked that, but she shook her head.
"I should only cramp his style."
She was afraid he would find her a bore. He was enjoying himself and she would only be in the way. She could not bear the thought that he would find it an irksome duty to take her here and there and occasionally have luncheon or dinner with her. It was only natural that he should have more fun with the friends of his own age that he had made. She decided to go and stay with her mother. Mrs. Lambert - Madame de Lambert, as Michael insisted on calling her - had lived for many years now with her sister, Madame Falloux, at St. Malo. She spent a few days every year in London with Julia, but this year had not been well enough to come. She was an old lady, well over seventy, and Julia knew that it would be a great joy for her to have her daughter on a long visit. Who cared about an English actress in Vienna? She wouldn't be anyone there. In St.Malo she would be something of a figure, and it would be fun for the two old women to be able to show her off to their friends.
"Ma fille, la plus grande actrice d'Angleterre,"* and all that sort of thing.
Poor old girls, they couldn't live much longer and they led drab, monotonous lives. Of course it would be fearfully boring for her, but it would be a treat for them. Julia had a feeling that perhaps in the course of her brilliant and triumphant career she had a trifle neglected her mother. She could make up for it now. She would lay herself out to be charming. Her tenderness for Michael and her ever-present sense of having been for years unjust to him filled her with contrition. She felt that she had been selfish and overbearing, and she wanted to atone for all that. She was eager to sacrifice herself, and so wrote to her mother to announce her imminent arrival.
She managed in the most natural way in the world to see nothing of Tom till her last day in London. The play had closed the night before and she was starting for St. Malo in the evening. Tom came in about six o'clock to say good-bye to her. Michael was there, Dolly, Charles Tamerley and one or two others, so that there was no chance of their being left even for a moment by themselves. Julia found no difficulty in talking to him naturally. To see him gave her not the anguish she had feared but no more than a dull heartache. They had kept the date and place of her departure secret, that is to say, the Press representative of the theatre had only rung up a very few newspapers, so that when Julia and Michael reached the station there were not more than half a dozen reporters and three camera-men. Julia said a few gracious words to them, and Michael a few more, then the Press representative took the reporters aside and gave them a succinct account of Julia's plans. Meanwhile Julia and Michael posed while the camera-men to the glare of flashes photographed them arm in arm, exchanging a final kiss, and at last Julia, half out of the carriage window, giving her hand to Michael who stood on the platform.
"What a nuisance these people are," she said. "One simply cannot escape them."
"I can't imagine how they knew you were going."
The little crowd that had assembled when they realized that something was going on stood at a respectful distance. The Press representative came up and told Michael he thought he'd given the reporters enough for a column. The train steamed out.
Julia had refused to take Evie with her. She had a feeling that in order to regain her serenity she must cut herself off completely for a time from her old life. Evie in that French household would be out of place. For Madame Falloux, Julia's Aunt Carrie, married as a girl to a Frenchman, now as an old, old lady spoke French more easily than English. She had been a widow for many years and her only son had been killed in the war. She lived in a tall, narrow stone house on a hill, and when you crossed its threshold from the cobbled street you entered upon the peace of a bygone age. Nothing had been changed for half a century. The drawing-room was furnished with a Louis XV suite under covers, and the covers were only taken off once a month to give the silk underneath a delicate brushing. The crystal chandelier was shrouded in muslin so that the flies should not spot it. In front of the chimney-piece was a fire-screen of peacocks' feathers artfully arranged and protected by glass. Though the room was never used Aunt Carrie dusted it herself every day. The dining-room was panelled and here too the chairs were under dust-covers. On the sideboard was a silver epergne, a silver coffee-pot, a silver tea-pot and a silver tray. Aunt Carrie and Julia's mother, Mrs. Lambert, lived in the morning-room, a long narrow room, with Empire furniture. On the walls in oval frames were oil portraits of Aunt Carrie and her deceased husband, of his father and mother, and a pastel of the dead son as a child. Here they had their work-boxes, here they read their papers, the Catholic La Croix, the Revue des Deux Mondes and the local daily, and here they played dominoes in the evening. Except on Thursday evenings when the Abbe and the Commandant La Garde, a retired naval officer, came to dinner, they had their meals there; but when Julia arrived they decided that it would be more convenient to eat in the dining-room.
Aunt Carrie still wore mourning for her husband and her son. It was seldom warm enough for her to leave off the little black tricot that she crocheted* herself. Mrs. Lambert wore black too, but when Monsieur L'Abbe and the Commandant came to dinner she put over her shoulders a white lace shawl that Julia had given her. After dinner they played plafond for two sous* a hundred. Mrs. Lambert, because she had lived for so many years in Jersey and still went to London, knew all about the great world, and she said that a game called contract was much played, but the Commandant said it was all very well for Americans, but he was content to stick to plafond, and the Abbe said that for his part he thought it a pity that whist had been abandoned. But there, men were never satisfied with what they had; they wanted change, change, change, all the time.
Every Christmas Julia gave her mother and her aunt expensive presents, but they never used them. They showed them to their friends with pride, these wonderful things that came from London, and then wrapped them up in tissue paper and put them away in cupboards. Julia had offered her mother a car, but she refused it. For the little they went out, they could go on foot; a chauffeur would steal their petrol, if he had his meals out it could be ruinous and if he had them in it would upset Annette. Annette was cook, housekeeper and housemaid, she had been with Aunt Carrie for five and thirty years. Her niece was there to do the rough work, but Angele was young, she wasn't forty yet, and it would hardly do to have a man constantly about the house.
They put Julia in the same room she had had as a girl when she was living with Aunt Carrie for her education. It gave her a peculiar, heart-rending sensation, indeed for a little it made her quite emotional. But she fell into the life very easily. Aunt Carrie had become a Catholic on her marriage and Mrs. Lambert, when on losing her husband she settled down in St. Malo, having received instructions from the Abbe, in due course took the same step. The two old ladies were very devout. They went to Mass every morning and to High Mass on Sundays. Otherwise they seldom went out. When they did it was to pay a ceremonious call on some old lady who had had a bereavement in the family or one of whose grandchildren was become engaged. They read their papers, and their magazine, did a great deal of sewing for charitable purposes, played dominoes and listened to the radio that Julia had given them. Though the Abbe and the Commandant had dined with them every Thursday for many years they were always in a flutter when Thursday came. The Commandant, with the sailor's downrightness that they expected of him, did not hesitate to say so if something was not cooked to his liking, and even the Abbe, though a saint, had his likes and dislikes. For instance, he was very fond of sole Normande, but he insisted on its being cooked with the best butter, and with butter at the price it was since the war that was very expensive. Every Thursday morning Aunt Carrie took the cellar key from the place where she had hidden it and herself fetched a bottle of claret from the cellar. She and her sister finished what was left of it by the end of the week.
They made a great fuss of Julia. They dosed her with tisanes,* and were anxious that she should not sit in anything that might be thought a draught. Indeed a great part of their lives was devoted to avoiding draughts. They made her lie on sofas and were solicitous that she should cover her feet. They reasoned with her about the clothes she wore. Those silk stockings that were so thin you could see through them; and what did she wear next to her skin? Aunt Carrie would not have been surprised to learn that she wore nothing but a chemise.
"She doesn't even wear that," said Mrs. Lambert.
"What does she wear then?"
"Panties," said Julia.
"And a soutien-gorge,* I suppose."
"Certainly not," cried Julia tartly.
"Then, my niece, under your dress you are naked?"
"C'est de la folie,"* said Aunt Carrie.
"C'est vraiment pas raisonnable, ma fille,"* said Mrs. Lambert.
"And without being a prude," added Aunt Carrie, "I must say that it is hardly decent."
Julia showed them her clothes, and on the first Thursday after her arrival they discussed what she should wear for dinner. Aunt Carrie and Mrs. Lambert grew rather sharp with one another. Mrs. Lambert thought that since her daughter had evening dresses with her she ought to wear one, but Aunt Carrie considered it quite unnecessary.
"When I used to come and visit you in Jersey, my dear, and gentlemen were coming to dinner, I remember you would put on a tea-gown."
"Of course a tea-gown would be very suitable."
They looked at Julia hopefully. She shook her head.
"I would sooner wear a shroud."
Aunt Carrie wore a high-necked dress of heavy black silk, with a string of jet, and Mrs. Lambert a similar one, but with her lace shawl and a paste necklace. The Commandant, a sturdy little man with a much-wrinkled face, white hair cut en brosse* and an imposing moustache dyed a deep black, was very gallant, and though well past seventy pressed Julia's foot under the table during dinner. On the way out he seized the opportunity to pinch her bottom.
"Sex appeal," Julia murmured to herself as with dignity she followed the two old ladies into the parlour.
They made a fuss of her, not because she was a great actress, but because she was in poor health and needed rest. Julia to her great amazement soon discovered that to them her celebrity was an embarrassment rather than an asset. Far from wanting to show her off, they did not offer to take her with them to pay calls. Aunt Carrie had brought the habit of afternoon tea with her from Jersey, and had never abandoned it. One day, soon after Julia's arrival, when they had invited some ladies to tea, Mrs. Lambert at luncheon thus addressed her daughter.
"My dear, we have some very good friends at St. Malo, but of course they still look upon us as foreigners, even after all these years, and we don't like to do anything that seems at all eccentric. Naturally we don't want you to tell a lie, but unless you are forced to mention it, your Aunt Carrie thinks it would be better if you did not tell anyone that you are an actress."
Julia was taken aback, but, her sense of humour prevailing, she felt inclined to laugh.
"If one of the friends we are expecting this afternoon happens to ask you what your husband is, it wouldn't be untrue, would it? to say that he was in business."
"Not at all," said Julia, permitting herself to smile.
"Of course, we know that English actresses are not like French ones," Aunt Carrie added kindly. "It's almost an understood thing for a French actress to have a lover."
"Dear, dear," said Julia.
Her life in London, with its excitements, its triumphs and its pains, began to seem very far away. She found herself able soon to consider Tom and her feeling for him with a tranquil mind. She realized that her vanity had been more wounded than her heart. The days passed monotonously. Soon the only thing that recalled London to her was the arrival on Monday of the Sunday papers. She got a batch of them and spent the whole day reading them. Then she was a trifle restless. She walked on the ramparts and looked at the islands that dotted the bay. The grey sky made her sick for the grey sky of England. But by Tuesday morning she had sunk back once more into the calmness of the provincial life. She read a good deal, novels, English and French, that she bought at the local bookshop, and her favourite Verlaine. There was a tender melancholy in his verses that seemed to fit the grey Breton town, the sad old stone houses and the quietness of those steep and tortuous streets. The peaceful habits of the two old ladies, the routine of their uneventful existence and their quiet gossip, excited her compassion. Nothing had happened to them for years, nothing now would ever happen to them till they died, and then how little would their lives have signified. The strange thing was that they were content. They knew neither malice nor envy. They had achieved the aloofness from the common ties of men that Julia felt in herself when she stood at the footlights bowing to the applause of an enthusiastic audience. Sometimes she had thought that aloofness her most precious possession. In her it was born of pride; in them of humility. In both cases it brought one precious thing, liberty of spirit; but with them it was more secure.
Michael wrote to her once a week, brisk, businesslike letters in which he told her what her takings* were at the Siddons and the preparations he was making for the next production; but Charles Tamerley wrote to her every day. He told her the gossip of the town, he talked in his charming, cultivated way of the pictures he saw and the books he read. He was tenderly allusive and playfully erudite. He philosophized without pedantry. He told her that he adored her. They were the most beautiful love-letters Julia had ever received and for the sake of posterity she made up her mind to keep them. One day perhaps someone would publish them and people would go to the National Portrait Gallery and look at her portrait, the one McEvoy had painted, and sigh when they thought of the sad, romantic love-story of which she had been the heroine.
Charles had been wonderful to her during the first two weeks of her bereavement, she did not know what she would have done without him. He had always been at her beck and call* His conversation, by taking her into a different world, had soothed her nerves. Her soul had been muddied, and in his distinction of spirit she had washed herself clean. It had rested her wonderfully to wander about the galleries with him and look at pictures. She had good reason to be grateful to him. She thought of all the years he had loved her. He had waited for her now for more than twenty years. She had not been very kind to him. It would have given him so much happiness to possess her and really it would not have hurt her. She wondered why she had resisted him so long. Perhaps because he was so faithful, because his devotion was so humble, perhaps only because she wanted to preserve in his mind the ideal that he had of her. It was stupid really and she had been selfish. It occurred to her with exultation that she could at last reward him for all his tenderness, his patience and his selflessness. She had not lost the sense of unworthiness which Michael's great kindness had aroused in her, and she was remorseful still because she had been for so long impatient of him. The desire for self-sacrifice with which she left England burnt still in her breast with an eager flame. She felt that Charles was a worthy object for its exercise. She laughed a little, kindly and compassionately, as she thought of his amazement when he understood what she intended; for a moment he would hardly be able to believe it, and then what rapture, then what ecstasy! The love that he had held banked up for so many years would burst its sluices like a great torrent and in a flood o'erwhelm her. Her heart swelled at the thought of his infinite gratitude. But still he could hardly believe in his good fortune; and when it was all over and she lay in his arms she would nestle up to him and whisper tenderly:
"Was it worth waiting for?"
"Like Helen, you make me immortal with a kiss."
It was wonderful to be able to give so much happiness to a human being.
"I'll write to him just before I leave St. Malo," she decided.
The spring passed into summer, and at the end of July it was time for Julia to go to Paris and see about her clothes. Michael wanted to open with the new play early in September, and rehearsals were to start in August. She had brought the play with her to St. Malo, intending to study her part, but the circumstances in which she lived had made it impossible. She had all the leisure she needed, but in that grey, austere and yet snug little town, in the constant company of those two old ladies whose interests were confined to the parish church and their household affairs, though it was a good play, she could take but little interest in it.
"It's high time I was getting back," she said. "It would be hell if I really came to the conclusion that the theatre wasn't worth the fuss and bother they make about it."
She said good-bye to her mother and to Aunt Carrie. They had been very kind to her, but she had an inkling that they would not be sorry when her departure allowed them to return to the life she had interrupted. They were a little relieved besides to know that now there was no more danger of some eccentricity, such as you must always run the risk of with an actress, which might arouse the unfavourable comment of the ladies of St. Malo.
She arrived in Paris in the afternoon, and when she was shown into her suite at the Ritz, she gave a sigh of satisfaction. It was a treat to get back to luxury. Three or four people had sent her flowers. She had a bath and changed. Charley Deverill, who always made her clothes for her, an old friend, called to take her to dinner in the Bois.
"I had a wonderful time," she told him, "and of course it was a grand treat for those old girls to have me there, but I have a feeling that if I'd stayed a day longer I should have been bored."
To drive up the Champs Elysees on that lovely evening filled her with exhilaration. It was good to smell once more the smell of petrol. The cars, the taxis, the hooting of horns, the chestnut trees, the street lights, the crowd on the pavement and the crowd sitting outside the cafes; it was an enchantment. And when they got to the Chateau de Madrid, so gay, so civilized and so expensive, it was grand to see once more well-dressed women, decently made-up, and tanned men in dinner-jackets.
"I feel like a queen returning from exile."
Julia spent several happy days choosing her clothes and having the first fittings. She enjoyed every moment of them. But she was a woman of character, and when she had come to a decision she adhered to it; before leaving for London she wrote a note to Charles. He had been to Goodwood and Cowes and was spending twenty-four hours in London on his way to Salzburg.
How wonderful that I shall see you so soon. Of course I am free on Wednesday. Shall we dine together and do you love me still?
As she stuck down the envelope she murmured: Bis dat qui cito dat.* It was a Latin tag that Michael always quoted when, asked to subscribe to a charity, he sent by return of post exactly half what was expected of him.