JULIA lay awake next morning for some time before she rang her bell. She thought. When she reflected on her adventure of the previous night she could not but be pleased that she had shown so much presence of mind. It was hardly true to say that she had snatched victory from defeat, but looking upon it as a strategic retreat her conduct had been masterly. She was notwithstanding ill at ease. There might be yet another explanation for Charles's singular behaviour. It was possible that he did not desire her because she was not desirable. The notion had crossed her mind in the night, and though she had at once dismissed it as highly improbable, there was no denying it, at that hour of the morning it had a nasty look. She rang. As a rule, since Michael often came in while Julia had breakfast, Evie when she had drawn the curtains handed her a mirror and a comb, her powder and lipstick. On this occasion, instead of running the comb rapidly through her hair and giving her face a perfunctory dab with the puff, Julia took some trouble. She painted her lips with care and put on some rouge; she arranged her hair.
"Speaking without passion or prejudice," she said, still looking at herself in the glass, when Evie placed the breakfast tray on her bed, "would you say I was by way of being a good-looking woman, Evie?"
"I must know what I'm letting myself in for before answering that question."
"You old bitch," said Julia.
"You're no beauty, you know."
"No great actress ever has been."
"When you're all dolled up posh like you was last night, and got the light be'ind you, I've seen worse, you know."
("Fat lot of good it did me last night.") "What I want to say is, if I really set my mind on getting off with a man, d'you think I could?"
"Knowing what men are, I wouldn't be surprised. Who d'you want to get off with now?"
"Nobody. I was only talking generally."
Evie sniffed and drew her forefinger along her nostrils.
"Don't sniff like that. If your nose wants blowing, blow it."
Julia ate her boiled egg slowly. She was busy with her thoughts. She looked at Evie. Funny-looking old thing of course, but one never knew.
"Tell me, Evie, do men ever try to pick you up in the street?"
"Me? I'd like to see 'em try."
"So would I, to tell you the truth. Women are always telling me how men follow them in the street and if they stop and look in at a shop window come up and try to catch their eye. Sometimes they have an awful bother getting rid of them."
"Disgusting, I call it."
"I don't know about that. It's rather flattering. You know, it's a most extraordinary thing, no one ever follows me in the street. I don't remember a man ever having tried to pick me up."
"Oh well, you walk along Edgware Road one evening. You'll get picked up all right."
"I shouldn't know what to do if I was."
"Call a policeman," said Evie grimly.
"I know a girl who was looking in a shop window in Bond Street, a hat shop, and a man came up and asked her if she'd like a hat. I'd love one, she said, and they went in and she chose one and gave her name and address, he paid for it on the nail, and then she said, thank you so much, and walked out while he was waiting for the change."
"That's what she told you." Evie's sniff was sceptical. She gave Julia a puzzled look. "What's the idea?"
"Oh, nothing. I was only wondering why in point of fact I never have been accosted by a man. It's not as if I had no sex appeal."
But had she? She made up her mind to put the matter to the test.
That afternoon, when she had had her sleep, she got up, made up a little more than usual, and without calling Evie put on a dress that was neither plain nor obviously expensive and a red straw hat with a wide brim.
"I don't want to look like a tart," she said as she looked at herself in the glass. "On the other hand I don't want to look too respectable."
She tiptoed down the stairs so that no one should hear her and closed the door softly behind her. She was a trifle nervous, but pleasantly excited; she felt that she was doing something rather shocking. She walked through Connaught Square into the Edgware Road. It was about five o'clock. There was a dense line of buses, taxis and lorries; bicyclists dangerously threaded their way through the traffic. The pavements were thronged. She sauntered slowly north. At first she walked with her eyes straight in front of her, looking neither to the right nor to the left, but soon realized that this was useless. She must look at people if she wanted them to look at her. Two or three times when she saw half a dozen persons gazing at a shop window she paused and gazed too, but none of them took any notice of her. She strolled on. People passed her in one direction and another. They seemed in a hurry. No one paid any attention to her. When she saw a man alone coming towards her she gave him a bold stare, but he passed on with a blank face. It occurred to her that her expression was too severe, and she let a slight smile hover on her lips. Two or three men thought she was smiling at them and quickly averted their gaze. She looked back as one of them passed her and he looked back too, but catching her eye he hurried on. She felt a trifle snubbed and decided not to look round again. She walked on and on. She had always heard that the London crowd was the best behaved in the world, but really its behaviour on this occasion was unconscionable.
"This couldn't happen to one in the streets of Paris, Rome or Berlin," she reflected.
She decided to go as far as the Marylebone Road, and then turn back. It would be too humiliating to go home without being once accosted. She was walking so slowly that passers-by sometimes jostled her. This irritated her.
"I ought to have tried Oxford Street," she said. "That fool Evie. The Edgware Road's obviously a wash-out."
Suddenly her heart gave an exultant leap. She had caught a young man's eye and she was sure that there was a gleam in it. He passed, and she had all she could do not to turn round. She started, for in a moment he passed her again, he had retraced his steps, and this time he gave her a stare. She shot him a glance and then modestly lowered her eyes. He fell back and she was conscious that he was following her. It was all right. She stopped to look into a shop window and he stopped too. She knew how to behave now. She pretended to be absorbed in the goods that were displayed, but just before she moved on gave him a quick flash of her faintly smiling eyes. He was rather short, he looked like a clerk or a shop-walker, he wore a grey suit and a brown soft hat. He was not the man she would have chosen to be picked up by, but there it was, he was evidently trying to pick her up. She forgot that she was beginning to feel tired. She did not know what would happen next. Of course she wasn't going to let the thing go too far, but she was curious to see what his next step would be. She wondered what he would say to her. She was excited and pleased; it was a weight off her mind. She walked on slowly and she knew he was close behind her. She stopped at another shop window, and this time when he stopped he was close beside her. Her heart began to beat wildly. It was really beginning to look like an adventure.
"I wonder if he'll ask me to go to a hotel with him. I don't suppose he could afford that. A cinema. That's it. It would be rather fun."
She looked him full in the face now and very nearly smiled. He took off his hat.
"Miss Lambert, isn't it?"
She almost jumped out of her skin. She was indeed so taken aback that she had not the presence of mind to deny it.
"I thought I recognized you the moment I saw you, that's why I turned back, to make sure, see, and I said to meself, if that's not Julia Lambert I'm Ramsay Macdonald. Then you stopped to look in that shop window and that give me the chance to 'ave a good look at you. What made me 'esitate was seeing you in the Edgware Road. It seems so funny, if you know what I mean."
It was much funnier than he imagined. Anyhow it didn't matter if he knew who she was. She ought to have guessed that she couldn't go far in London without being recognized. He had a cockney accent and a pasty face, but she gave him a jolly, friendly smile. He mustn't think she was putting on airs.
"Excuse me talking to you, not 'aving been introduced and all that, but I couldn't miss the opportunity. Will you oblige me with your autograph?"
Julia caught her breath. It couldn't be that this was why he had followed her for ten minutes. He must have thought that up as an excuse for speaking to her. Well, she would play up.
"I shall be delighted. But I can't very well give it you in the street. People would stare so."
"That's right. Look here, I was just going along to 'ave my tea. There's a Lyons at the next corner. Why don't you come in and 'ave a cup too?"
She was getting on. When they'd had tea he'd probably suggest going to the pictures.
"All right," she said.
They walked along till they came to the shop and took their places at a small table.
"Two teas, please, miss," he ordered. "Anything to eat?" And when Julia declined: "Scone* and butter for one, miss."
Julia was able now to have a good look at him. Though stocky and short he had good features, his black hair was plastered down on his head and he had fine eyes, but his teeth were poor and his pale skin gave him an unhealthy look. There was a sort of impudence in his manner that Julia did not much like, but then, as she sensibly reflected, you could hardly expect the modesty of the violet in a young man who picked you up in the Edgware Road.
"Before we go any further let's 'ave this autograph, eh? Do it now, that's my motto."
He took a fountain pen from his pocket and from a bulging pocket-book a large card.
"One of our trade cards," he said. "That'll do O.K."
Julia thought it silly to carry the subterfuge to this length, but she good-humouredly signed her name on the back of the card.
"Do you collect autographs?" she asked him with a subtle smile.
"Me? Noa. I think it's a lot of tommy rot. My young lady does. She's got Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks and I don't know what all. Show you 'er photo if you like."
From his pocket-book he extracted a snapshot of a rather pert-looking* young woman showing all her teeth in a cinema smile.
"Pretty," said Julia.
"And how. We're going to the pictures tonight. She will be surprised when I give her your autograph. The first thing I said to meself when I knew it was you was, I'll get Julia Lambert's autograph for Gwen or die in the attempt. We're going to get married in August, when I 'ave my 'oliday, you know; we're going to the Isle of Wight for the 'oneymoon. I shall 'ave a rare lot of fun with 'er over this. She won't believe me when I tell her you an' me 'ad tea together, she'll think I'm kidding, and then I'll show 'er the autograph, see?"
Julia listened to him politely, but the smile had left her face.
"I'm afraid I shall have to go in a minute," she said. "I'm late already."
"I 'aven't got too much time meself. You see, meeting my young lady, I want to get away from the shop on the tick."
The check had been put on the table when the girl brought their tea, and when they got up Julia took a shilling out of her bag.
"What are you doing that for? You don't think I'm going to let you pay. I invited you."
"That's very kind of you."
"But I'll tell you what you can do, let me bring my young lady to see you in your dressing-room one day. Just shake 'ands with her, see? It would mean a rare lot to her. Why, she'd go on talking about it the rest of her life."
Julia's manner had been for some minutes growing stiffer and now, though gracious still, it was almost haughty.
"I'm so sorry, but we never allow strangers behind."
"Oh, sorry. You don't mind my asking though, do you? I mean, it's not as if it was for meself."
"Not at all. I quite understand."
She signalled to a cab crawling along the kerb and gave her hand to the young man.
"Good-bye, Miss Lambert. So long, good luck and all that sort of thing. And thanks for the autograph."
Julia sat in the corner of the taxi raging.
"Vulgar little beast. Him and his young lady. The nerve of asking if he could bring her to see ME."
When she got home she went upstairs to her room. She snatched her hat off her head and flung it angrily on the bed. She strode over to the looking-glass and stared at herself.
"Old, old, old," she muttered. "There are no two ways about it; I'm entirely devoid of sex appeal. You wouldn't believe it, would you? You'd say it was preposterous. What other explanation is there? I walk from one end of the Edgware Road to the other and God knows I'd dressed the part perfectly, and not a man pays the smallest attention to me except a bloody little shop-assistant who wants my autograph for his young lady. It's absurd. A lot of sexless bastards. I don't know what's coming to the English. The British Empire!"
The last words she said with a scorn that would have withered a whole front bench of cabinet ministers. She began to gesticulate.
"It's ridiculous to suppose that I could have got to my position if I hadn't got sex appeal. What do people come to see an actress for? Because they want to go to bed with her. Do you mean to tell me that I could fill a theatre for three months with a rotten play if I hadn't got sex appeal? What is sex appeal anyway?"
She paused, looking at herself reflectively.
"Surely I can act sex appeal. I can act anything."
She began to think of the actresses who notoriously had it, of one especially, Lydia Mayne, whom one always engaged when one wanted a vamp. She was not much of an actress, but in certain parts she was wonderfully effective. Julia was a great mimic, and now she began to do an imitation of Lydia Mayne. Her eyelids drooped sensually over her eyes as Lydia's did and her body writhed sinuously in her dress. She got into her eyes the provoking indecency of Lydia's glance and into her serpentine gestures that invitation which was Lydia's speciality. She began to speak in Lydia's voice, with the lazy drawl that made every remark she uttered sound faintly obscene.
"Oh, my dear man, I've heard that sort of thing so often. I don't want to make trouble between you and your wife. Why won't men leave me alone?"
It was a cruel caricature that Julia gave. It was quite ruthless. It amused her so much that she burst out laughing.
"Well, there's one thing, I may not have any sex appeal, but after seeing my imitation there aren't many people who'd think Lydia had either."
It made her feel much better.