‘I wish,’ Martyn said, ‘I knew what the play was about. Is it really a modern morality and do you think it good?’
‘All good plays are moralities,’ said Jacko sententiously, and he leant so far back on the top of his step-ladder that Martyn hurriedly grasped it. ‘And this is a good play with a very old theme.’ He hesitated for a moment and she wondered if she only imagined that he looked worried. ‘Here is a selected man with new ideas in conflict with people who have very old ones. Adam plays the selected man. He has been brought up on an island by a community of idealists; he represents the value of environment. By his own wish he returns to his original habitat, and there he is confronted by his heredity, in the persons of his great uncle, who is played by J. G. Darcey, his brilliant but unstable cousin, who is played by Clark Bennington, this cousin’s wife, who is Helena, and with whom he falls in love, and their daughter who is freakishly like him, but vicious and who represents therefore his inescapable heredity. This wretched girl,’ Jacko continued with great relish, looking at Martyn out of the corner of his eyes, ‘is engaged to a nonentity but finds herself drawn by a terrible attraction to Adam himself. She is played by Gay Gainsford. Receive again from me the pink pot, and bestow upon me the brown. As I have recited it to you so baldly, without nuance and without detail, you will say perhaps if Ibsen or Kafka or Brecht or even Sartre had written this play it would have been a good one.’
Inexplicably, he again seemed to be in some sort of distress. ‘It has, in fact,’ he said, ‘a continental flavour. But for those who have ears to hear and eyes to see, it has a wider implication than I have suggested. It is a tale, in point of fact, about the struggle of the human being in the detestable situation in which from the beginning he has found himself. Now I descend.’ He climbed down his step-ladder, groaning lamentably. ‘And now,’ he said, ‘we have some light and we see if what I have done is good. Go out into the front of the house and in a moment I join you.’
By the time Martyn reached the sixth row of the stalls the stage was fully illuminated, and for the first time she saw the set for Act II as Jacko had intended it.
It was an interior, simple in design and execution, but with an air of being over-civilized and stale. ‘They are,’ Jacko explained, slumping into a seat beside her, ‘bad people who live in it. They are not bad of their own volition, but because they have been set down in this place by their heredity and cannot escape. And now you say, all this is pretentious nonsense, and nobody will notice my set except perhaps a few queers who come to first nights and in any case will get it all wrong. And now we wash ourselves and go out to a place where I am known, and we eat a little, and you tell me why you look like a puppy who has found his tail but dare not wag it. Come.’
The restaurant where Jacko was known turned out to be hard by the theatre, and situated in a basement. He insisted on paying for a surprisingly good meal, and Martyn’s two and fourpence remained in her pocket. Whereas the curiosity of Fred Badger and Bob Cringle, and in some degree of the actors, had been covert and indirect, Jacko’s was unblushing and persistent.
‘Now,’ he said, over their coffee, ‘I ask you my questions. If there is a secret you tell me so, and with difficulty I shut myself up. If not, you confide in me, because everybody in the Vulcan makes me their confidant and I am greatly flattered by this. In any case we remain friends, no bones broken, and we repeat our little outings. How old do you think I am?’
With some embarrassment, Martyn looked at his scrawny neck, at the thin lichen-like growth of fuzz on his head, and at his heavily scored and indented face. ‘Fifty-seven,’ she ventured.
‘Sixty-two,’ said Jacko complacently. ‘I am sixty-two years old, and a bit of a character. I have not the talent to make a character of myself for the people who sit in front, so instead I play to actors. A wheel within wheels. For twenty years I have built up my role of confidant and now, if I wanted to, I couldn’t leave off. For example I can speak perfect English, but my accent is a feature of the role of Papa Jacko, and must be sustained. Everybody knows it is a game and, amiably, everyone pretends with me. It is all rather ham and jejune, but I hope that you are going to play too.’
Martyn thought, ‘It would be pleasant to tell him: I’m sure he’s very nice and so why don’t I do it? I suppose it’s because he looks so very old.’ And whether with uncanny prescience or else by a queer coincidence, he said, ‘I’m not nearly as peculiar as I look.’
Martyn said tentatively, ‘But I honestly don’t know what you want me to tell you.’
On the opposite wall of the restaurant there was a tarnished looking-glass, upon the surface of which someone had half-heartedly painted a number of water-lilies and leaves. Among this growth, as if drowned in Edwardiana, Jacko’s and Martyn’s faces were reflected. He pointed to hers.
‘See,’ he said. ‘We rehearse a play for which it is necessary a secondary-part actress should resemble, strikingly, the leading man. We have auditions, and from the hundreds of anxious ingénues we select the one who is least unlike him, but she is still very unlike him. Incidentally,’ Jacko continued, looking Martyn very hard in the eye, ‘she is the niece of Clark Bennington. She is not very like him either which is neither here nor there and perhaps fortunate for her. It is her unlikeness to Adam that we must deplore. Moreover, although I am a genius with make-up, there is very little I can do about it. So we depend instead on reflected emotions and echoed mannerisms. But although she is a nice little actress with a nice small talent, she cannot do this very well either. In the meantime our author who is a person of unbridled passion where his art is in question, becomes incensed with her performance and makes scenes and everybody except her Uncle Bennington retires into corners and tears pieces of their hair out. The little actress also retires into corners and weeps and is comforted by her Uncle Bennington, who never the less knows she is no good.
‘Upon this scene there enters, in the guise of a dresser,’ he jabbed his finger at the fly-blown glass, ‘this. Look at it. If I set out to draw the daughter or the young sister of the leading man, that is what I should draw. Everybody has a look at her and retires again into corners to ask what it is about. Because obviously, she is not a dresser. Is she perhaps – and there are many excited speculations. “A niece for a niece?” we ask ourselves, and there is some mention of Adam’s extreme youth, you must excuse me, and the wrong side of the rose bush, and everybody says it cannot be an accident and waits to see, except Papa Jacko whose curiosity will not permit him to wait.’
Martyn cried out, ‘I’ve never seen him before, except in films in New Zealand. He knows nothing about me at all. Nothing. I came here from New Zealand a fortnight ago and I’ve been looking for a job ever since. I came to the Vulcan looking for a job, that’s all there is about it.’
‘Did you come looking for the job of dresser to Miss Hamilton?’
‘For any job,’ she said desperately. ‘I heard by accident about the dresser.’
‘But it was not to be a dresser that you came all the way from New Zealand, and yet it was to work in the theatre, and so perhaps after all you hoped to be an actress.’
‘Yes,’ Martyn said, throwing up her hands, ‘all right, I hoped to be an actress. But please let’s forget all about it. You can’t imagine how thankful I am to be a dresser, and if you think I’m secretly hoping Miss Gainsford will get laryngitis or break her leg, you couldn’t be more mistaken. I don’t believe in fairy tales.’
‘What humbugs you all are.’
‘Who?’ she demanded indignantly.
‘All you Anglo-Saxons. You humbug even yourselves. Conceive for the moment the mise en scène, the situation, the coincidence, and have you the cheek to tell me again that you came thirteen thousand miles to be an actress and yet do not wish to play this part. Are you a good actress?’
‘Don’t,’ Martyn said, ‘don’t. I’ve got a job and I’m in a sort of a trance. It makes everything very simple and I don’t want to come out of it.’
Jacko grinned fiendishly. ‘Just a little touch of laryngitis?’ he suggested.
Martyn got up. ‘Thank you very much for my nice dinner,’ she said. ‘I ought to be getting on with my job.’
‘Little hypocrite. Or perhaps after all you know already you are a very bad actress.’
Without answering she walked out ahead of him, and they returned in silence to the Vulcan.
Timed to begin at seven, the dress-rehearsal actually started at ten-past eight. Miss Hamilton had no changes in the first act, and told Martyn she might watch from the front. She went out and sat at the back of the stalls near the other dressers.
Suddenly the lights went up along the fringe of the curtain. Martyn’s flesh began to creep. Throughout the auditorium other little flames sprang up, illuminating from below, like miniature footlights, the faces of the watchers in front. A remote voice said, ‘OK. Take it away,’ a band of gold appeared below the fringe of the curtain, widened and grew to a lighted stage. Parry Percival spoke the opening line of Dr Rutherford’s new play.
Martyn liked the first act. It concerned itself with the group of figures Jacko had already described – the old man, his son, his son’s wife, their daughter and her fiancé. They were creatures of convention, the wife alone possessed of some inclination to reach out beyond her enclosed and aimless existence.
Gay Gainsford’s entry as the daughter was a delayed one, and try as she might not to anticipate it, Martyn felt a sinking in her midriff when at last towards the end of the act Miss Gainsford came on. It was quite a small part but one of immense importance. Of the entire group the girl represented the third generation, the most completely lost, and in the writing of her part Rutherford displayed the influence of Existentialism. It was clear that with a few lines to carry her she must make her mark, and clever production was written over everything she did. Agitated as she was by Jacko’s direct attack, Martyn wondered if she only imagined that there was nothing more than production there, and if Miss Gainsford was really as ill at ease as she herself supposed. A specific gesture had been introduced and was evidently important, a sudden thrust of her fingers through her short hair, and she twice used a phrase: ‘That was not what I meant’ where in the context it was evidently intended to plant a barb of attention in the minds of the audience. When this moment came, Martyn sensed uneasiness among the actors. She glanced at Poole and saw him make the specific gesture he had given Miss Gainsford, a quick thrust of his fingers through his hair.
At this juncture the voice in the circle ejaculated:
‘Quiet!’ said Poole.
Miss Gainsford hesitated, looked wretchedly into the auditorium, and lost her words. She was twice prompted before she went on again. Bennington crossed the stage, put his arm about her shoulder and glared into the circle. The prompter once more threw out a line, Miss Gainsford repeated it and they were off again. Poole got up and went back-stage through the pass-door. The secretary leant forward and shakily lit one cigarette from the butt of another. For the life of her, Martyn couldn’t resist glancing at Jacko. He was slumped back in his stall with his arms folded – deliberately imperturbable, she felt – putting on an act. The light from the stage caught his emu-like head and as if conscious of her attention, he rolled his eyes round at her. She hastily looked back at the stage.
With Gay Gainsford’s exit, Martyn could have sworn, a wave of relaxation blessed the actors. The dialogue began to move forward compactly with a firm upward curve towards some well-designed climax. There was an increase in tempo corresponding with the rising suspense. Martyn’s blood tingled and her heart thumped. Through which door would the entrance be made? The players began a complex circling movement accompanied by a sharp crescendo in the dialogue. Up and up it soared. ‘Now,’ she thought, ‘now!’ The action of the play was held in suspense, poised and adjusted, and into the prepared silence, with judgement and precision, at the head of Jacko’s twisted flight of steps, came Adam Poole.
‘Is that an entrance,’ thought Martyn, pressing her hands together, ‘or is it an entrance?’
The curtain came down almost immediately. The secretary gathered his notes together and went backstage.
Dr Rutherford shouted: ‘Hold your horses,’ thundered out of the circle, reappeared in the stalls, and plunged through the pass-door to back-stage where he could be heard cruelly apostrophizing the Almighty and the actors. Jacko stretched elaborately and slouched down the centre aisle, saying into the air as he passed Martyn, ‘You had better get round for the change.’
Horrified, Martyn bolted like a rabbit. When she arrived in the dressing-room she found her employer, with a set face, attempting to unhook an elaborate back fastening. Martyn bleated an apology which was cut short.
‘I hope,’ said Miss Hamilton, ‘you haven’t mistaken the nature of your job, Martyn. You are my dresser and as such are expected to be here, in this dressing-room, whenever I return to it. Do you understand?’
Martyn, feeling very sick, said that she did, and with trembling fingers effected the complicated change. Miss Hamilton was completely silent, and to Martyn, humiliated and miserable, the necessary intimacies of her work were particularly mortifying.
A boy’s voice in the passage chanted: ‘Second Act, please. Second Act,’ and Miss Hamilton said, ‘Have you got everything on-stage for the quick change?’
‘I think so, madam.’
‘Very well.’ She looked at herself coldly and searchingly in the long glass and added, ‘I will go out.’
Martyn opened the door. Her employer glanced critically at her. ‘You’re as white as a sheet,’ she said, ‘what’s the matter?’
Martyn stammered, ‘Am I? I’m sorry, madam. It must have been the first act.’
‘Did you like it?’
‘Like it?’ Martyn repeated. ‘Oh, yes, I liked it.’
‘As much as that?’ As easily as if she had passed from one room into another, Miss Hamilton re-entered her mood of enchantment. ‘What a ridiculous child you are,’ she said. ‘It’s only actresses who are allowed to have temperaments.’
She went out to the stage, and as Martyn followed her she was surprised to feel in herself a kind of resistance to this woman who could so easily command her own happiness or misery.
An improvised dressing-room had been built on the stage for the quick change, and in or near it Martyn spent the whole of the second act. She was not sure when the quick change came, and didn’t like to ask anybody. She therefore spent the first quarter of an hour on tenterhooks, hearing the dialogue, but not seeing anything of the play.
After a short introductory passage the act opened with a long scene between Helena Hamilton and Adam Poole in which their attraction to each other was introduced and established, and her instinctive struggle against her environment made clear and developed. The scene was admirably played by both of them, and carried the play strongly forward. When Miss Hamilton came off she found her dresser bright eyed and excited. Martyn effected the change without any blunders and in good time. Miss Hamilton’s attention seemed to be divided between her clothes and the scene which was now being played between J. G. Darcey, Poole and her husband. This scene built up into a quarrel between Poole and Bennington which at its climax was broken by Poole saying in his normal voice, ‘I dislike interrupting dress-rehearsals, Ben, but we’ve had this point over and over again. Please take the line as we rehearsed it.’
There was complete silence, perhaps for five seconds, and then, unseen, so that Martyn formed no picture of what he was doing or how he looked, Bennington began to giggle. The sound wavered and bubbled into a laugh. Helena Hamilton whispered: ‘Oh, my God!’ and went out to the stage. Martyn followed. A group of stage-hands who had been moving round the set stopped dead as if in suspended animation. Parry Percival, waiting off-stage, turned with a look of elaborate concern to Miss Hamilton and mimed bewilderment.
Bennington’s laughter broke down into ungainly speech. ‘I always say,’ he said, ‘there is no future in being an actor-manager unless you arrange things your own way. I want to make this chap a human being. You and John say he’s to be a monster. All right, all right, dear boy, I won’t offend again. He shall be less human than Caliban, and far less sympathetic.’
Evidently Poole was standing inside the entrance nearest to the dressing-room, because Martyn heard Bennington cross the stage and when he spoke again he was quite close to her, and had lowered his voice. ‘You’re grabbing everything, aren’t you?’ the voice wavered. ‘On – and off-stage, as you might say – domestically and professionally. The piratical Mr Poole.’
Poole muttered, ‘If you are not too drunk to think, we’ll go on,’ and pitching his voice, threw out a line of dialogue: ‘If you knew what you wanted, if there was any object, however silly, behind anything you say or do, I could find some excuse for you – ‘
Martyn heard Helena Hamilton catch her breath in a sob. The next moment she had flung open the door and made her entrance.
Through the good offices of Jacko, Martyn was able to watch the rest of the act from the side. Evidently he was determined she should see as much as possible of the play. He sent her round a list, scribbled in an elaborate hand, of the warnings and cues for Miss Hamilton’s entrances and exits and times when she changed her dress. ‘Stand in the OP corner,’ he had written across the paper, ‘and think of your sins.’ She wouldn’t have dared to follow his advice if Miss Hamilton, on her first exit, had not said with a sort of irritated good nature: ‘You needn’t wait in the dressing-room perpetually. Just be ready for me: that’s all.’
So she stood in the shadows of the OP corner and saw the one big scene between Adam Poole and Gay Gainsford. The author’s intention was clear enough. In this girl, the impure flower of her heredity, the most hopelessly lost of all the group, he sought to show the obverse side of the character Poole presented. She was his twisted shadow, a spiritual incubus. In everything she said and did the audience must see a distortion of Poole himself, until at the end they faced each other across the desk, as in the scene that had been photographed, and Helena Hamilton re-entered to speak the line of climax: ‘But it’s you, don’t you see? You can’t escape it. It’s you,’ and the curtain came down.
Gay Gainsford was not good enough. It was not only that she didn’t resemble Poole closely; her performance was too anxious, too careful a reproduction of mannerisms without a flame to light them. Martyn burnt in her shadowy corner. The transparent covering in which, like a sea-creature, she had spent her twenty-four hours’ respite, now shrivelled away and she was exposed to the inexorable hunger of an unsatisfied player.
She didn’t see Bennington until he put his hand on her arm as the curtain came down, and he startled her so much that she cried out and backed away from him.
‘So you think you could do it, dear, do you?’ he said.
Martyn stammered: ‘I’m sorry. Miss Hamilton will want me,’ and dodged past him towards the improvised dressing-room. He followed and with a conventionally showy movement, barred her entrance.
‘Wait a minute, wait a minute,’ he said. ‘I want to talk to you.’
She stood there, afraid of him, conscious of his smell of greasepaint and alcohol and thinking him a ridiculous as well as an alarming person.
‘I’m so angry,’ he said conversationally, ‘just literally so angry that I’m afraid you’re going to find me quite a difficult man. And now we’ve got that ironed out perhaps you’ll tell me who the bloody hell you are.’
‘You know who I am,’ Martyn said desperately. ‘Please let me go in.’
He took her chin in his hand and twisted her face to the light. Poole came round the back of the set. Martyn thought: ‘He’ll be sick of the sight of me. Always getting myself into stupid little scenes.’ Bennington’s hand felt wet and hot round her chin.
‘M’wife’s dresser,’ he repeated. ‘And m’wife’s lover’s little by-blow. That the story?’
The edge of Poole’s hand dropped on his arm. ‘In you go,’ he said to Martyn, and twisted Bennington away from the door. Martyn slipped through and he shut it behind her. She heard him say: ‘You’re an offensive fellow in your cups, Ben. We’ll have this out after rehearsal. Get along and change for the third act.’
There was a moment’s pause. The door opened and he looked in.
‘Are you all right?’ he asked.
‘Perfectly, thank you,’ Martyn said and in an agony of embarrassment added, ‘I’m sorry to be a nuisance, sir.’
‘Oh, don’t be an ass,’ he said with great ill-humour. The next moment he had gone.
Miss Hamilton, looking desperately worried, came in to change for the third act.
The dress-rehearsal ended at midnight in an atmosphere of acute tension. Because she had not yet been paid, Martyn proposed to sleep again in the greenroom. So easily do our standards adjust themselves to our circumstances that whereas on her first night at the Vulcan the greenroom had been a blessed haven, her hours of precarious security had bred a longing for a bed and ordered cleanliness, and she began to dread the night.
In groups and singly, the actors and stage-staff drifted away. Their voices died out in the alley and passages, and she saw, with dismay, that Fred Badger had emerged from the door of his cubby-hole and now eyed her speculatively. Desolation and fear possessed Martyn. With a show of preoccupation, she hurried away to Miss Hamilton’s dressing-room which she had already set in order. Here she would find a moment’s respite. Perhaps in a few minutes she would creep down the passage and lock herself in the empty room and wait there until Fred Badger had gone his rounds. He would think she had found a lodging somewhere and left the theatre. She opened the door of Miss Hamilton’s room and went in.
Adam Poole was sitting in front of the gas-fire.
Martyn stammered, ‘I’m sorry,’ and made for the door.
‘Come in,’ he said and stood up. ‘I want to see you for a moment.’
‘Well,’ Martyn thought sickly, ‘this is it. I’m to go.’
He twisted the chair round and ordered rather than invited her to sit in it. As she did so she thought: ‘I won’t be able to sleep here tonight. When he’s sacked me I’ll get my suitcase and ask my way to the nearest women’s hostel. I’ll walk alone through the streets and when I get there the hostel will be shut.’
He had turned his back to her and seemed to be examining something on the dressing-shelf.
‘I would very much rather have disregarded this business,’ he said irritably, ‘but I suppose I can’t. For one thing, someone should apologize to you for Bennington’s behaviour. He’s not likely to do it for himself.’
‘It really didn’t matter.’
‘Of course it mattered,’ he said sharply. ‘It was insufferable. For both of us.’
She was too distressed to recognize as one of pleasure the small shock this last phrase gave her.
‘You realize, of course, how this nonsense started,’ he was saying. ‘You’ve seen something of the play. You’ve seen me. It’s not a matter for congratulation, I dare say, but you’re like enough to be my daughter. You’re a New Zealander, I understand. How old are you?’
‘You needn’t bother to pepper your replies with this “sir” business. It’s not in character and it’s entirely unconvincing. I’m thirty-eight. I toured New Zealand in my first job twenty years ago, and Bennington was in the company. That, apparently, is good enough for him. Under the circumstances I hope you won’t mind my asking you who your parents are and where you were born.’
‘I’ve no objection whatever,’ said Martyn with spirit. ‘My father was Martyn Tarne. He was the son and grandson of a high-country run-holder – a sheep-farmer – in the South Island. He was killed on Crete.’
He turned and looked directly at her for the first time since she had come into the room.
‘I see. And your mother?’
‘She’s the daughter of a run-holder in the same district?’
‘Do you mind telling me her maiden name, if you please?’
Martyn said: ‘I don’t see what good this will do.’
‘Don’t you, indeed? Don’t you, after all, resent the sort of conjecture that’s brewing among these people?’
‘I certainly haven’t the smallest desire to be thought your daughter.’
‘And I couldn’t agree more. Good Lord!’ he said. ‘This is a fatheaded way for us to talk. Why don’t you want to tell me your mother’s maiden name? What was the matter with it?’
‘She always thought it sounded silly. It was Paula Poole Passington.’
He brought the palm of his hand down crisply on the back of her chair. ‘And why in the world,’ he asked, ‘couldn’t you say so at once?’ Martyn was silent. ‘Paula Poole Passington,’ he repeated. ‘All right. An old cousin of my father’s – cousin Paula – married someone called Passington and disappeared. I suppose to New Zealand. Why didn’t she look me up when I went out there?’
‘I believe she didn’t care for theatricals,’ said Martyn. ‘She was my grandmother. The connection is really quite distant.’
‘You might at least have mentioned it.’
‘I preferred not to.’
‘If you like,’ she said desperately.
‘Why did you come to England?’
‘To earn my living.’
‘As a dresser?’ She was silent. ‘Well?’ he said.
‘As best I could.’
‘As an actress? Oh, for God’s sake,’ he added, ‘it’s damnably late and I’ll be obliged if you’ll behave reasonably. I may tell you I’ve spoken to Jacko. Don’t you think you’re making an ass of yourself? All this mystery act!’
Martyn got up and faced him. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘It’s a silly business but it’s not an act. I didn’t want to make a thing of it. I joined an English touring company in New Zealand a year ago and they took me on with them to Australia.’
‘What company was this? What parts did you play?’
She told him.
‘I heard about the tour,’ he said. ‘They were a reasonably good company.’
‘They paid quite well and I did broadcasting too. I saved up enough to keep me in England for six months and got a job as an assistant children’s minder in a ship. Perhaps I should explain that my father lost pretty well everything in the slump, and we are poor people. I had my money in traveller’s cheques and the day we landed they were stolen out of my bag, together with my letters of introduction. The bank will probably be able to stop them and let me have it back but until they decide, I’m hard up. That’s all.’
‘How long have you been here?’
‘Where have you tried?’
‘Agencies. All the London theatres, I think.’
‘This one last? Why?’
‘One of them had to be last.’
‘Did you know of this – connection – as you call it?’
‘Yes. My mother knew of it.’
‘And the resemblance?’
‘I – we saw your pictures – people sometimes said –’ They looked at each other, warily, with guarded interest.
‘And you deliberately fought shy of this theatre because you knew I was playing here?’
‘Did you know about this piece? The girl’s part?’
Martyn was beginning to be very tired. A weariness of spirit and body seeped up through her being in a sluggish tide. She was near to tears and thrust her hand nervously through her short hair. He made some kind of ejaculation and she said at once: ‘I didn’t mean to do that.’
‘But you knew about the part when you came here?’
‘There’s a lot of gossip at the agencies when you’re waiting. A girl I stood next to in the queue at Garnet Marks’ told me they wanted someone at the Vulcan who could be made up to look like you. She’d got it all muddled up with yesterday’s auditions for the touring company in another piece.’
‘So you thought you’d try?’
‘Yes. I was a bit desperate by then. I thought I’d try.’
‘Without, I suppose, mentioning this famous “connection”?’
‘And finding there was nothing for you in the piece you applied for the job of dresser?’
‘Well,’ he said, ‘it’s fantastic, but at least it’s less fantastic than pure coincidence would have been. One rather respects you by the way, if it’s not impertinent in a second cousin once removed to say so.’
‘Thank you,’ she said vaguely.
‘The question is: What are we going to do about it?’
Martyn turned away to the ranks of dresses and with businesslike movements of her trembling hands, tweaked at the sheets that covered them. She said briskly: ‘I realize of course that I’ll have to go. Perhaps Miss Hamilton –’
‘You think you ought to go?’ his voice said behind her. ‘I suppose you’re right. It’s an awkward business.’
‘But I’d like to – it’s difficult to suggest –’
‘I’ll be perfectly all right,’ she said with savage brightness. ‘Please don’t give it another thought.’
‘Why, by the way, are you still in the theatre?’
‘I was going to sleep here,’ Martyn said loudly. ‘I did last night. The night-watchman knows.’
‘You would be paid on Friday.’
‘Like the actors?’
‘Certainly. How much is there in the exchequer between now and Friday?’ Martyn was silent and he said with a complete change of voice: ‘My manners, you will already have been told, are notoriously offensive but I don’t believe I was going to say anything that would have offended you.’
‘I’ve got two and fourpence.’
He opened the door and shouted: ‘Jacko!’ into the echoing darkness. She heard the greenroom door creak and in a moment or two Jacko came in. He carried a board with a half-finished drawing pinned to it. This he exhibited to Poole. ‘Crazy, isn’t it?’ he said. ‘Helena’s costume for the ball. What must I do but waste my beauty-sleep concocting it. Everybody will have to work very hard if it is to be made. I see you are in need of my counsel. What goes on?’
‘Against my better judgement,’ Poole said, ‘I’m going to follow your advice. You always think you’re indispensable at auditions. Give me some light out there and then sit in front.’
‘It is past midnight. This child has worked and worried herself into a complete bouleversement. She is as pale as a pierrot.’
Poole looked at her. ‘Are you all right?’ he asked her. ‘It won’t take ten minutes.’
‘I don’t understand, but I’m all right.’
‘There you are, Jacko,’ Poole said and sounded pleased. ‘It’s over to you.’
Jacko took her by the shoulders and gently pushed her down on the chair. ‘Attention,’ he said. ‘We make a bargain. I live not so far from here in an apartment house kept by a well-disposed French couple. An entirely respectable house, you understand, with no funny business. At the top one finds an attic room as it might be in a tale for children, and so small, it is but twice the size of its nice little bed. The rental is low, within the compass of a silly girl who gets herself into equivocal situations. At my recommendation she will be accommodated in the attic which is included in my portion of the house and will pay me the rent at the end of a week. But in exchange for my good offices she does for us a little service. Again, no funny business.’
‘Oh, dear!’ Martyn said. She leant towards the dressing-shelf and propped her face in her hands. ‘It sounds so wonderful,’ she said and tried to steady her voice, ‘a nice little bed.’
‘All right, Jacko,’ Poole said. She heard the door open and shut. ‘I want you to relax for a few minutes,’ his voice went on. ‘Relax all over like a cat. Don’t think of anything in particular. You’re going to sleep sound tonight. All will be well.’
The gas-fire hummed, the smell of roses and cosmetics filled the warm room. ‘Do you smoke?’ Poole asked.
‘Here you are.’
She drew in the smoke gratefully. He went into the passage and she watched him light his own cigarette. Her thoughts drifted aimlessly about the bony structure of his head and face. Presently a stronger light streamed down the passage. Jacko’s voice called something from a great distance.
Poole turned to her. ‘Come along,’ he said.
On the stage, dust-thickened rays from pageant-lamps settled in a pool of light about a desk and two chairs. It was like an island in a vague region of blueness. She found herself seated there at the desk, facing him across it. In response to a gesture of Poole’s she rested her arms on the desk and her face in her arms.
‘Listen,’ he said, ‘and don’t move. You are in the hall of an old house, beautiful but decaying. You are the girl with the bad heredity. You are the creature who goes round and round in her great empty cage like a stoat filled with a wicked desire. The object of your desire is the man on the other side of the desk who is joined to you in blood and of whose face and mind you are the ill reflection. In a moment you will raise your face to his. He will make a gesture and you will make the same gesture. Then you will say: “Don’t you like what you see?” It must be horrible and real. Don’t move. Think of it. Then raise your head and speak.’
There was a kind of voluptuousness in Martyn’s fatigue. Only the chair she sat on and the desk that propped her arms and head prevented her, she felt, from slipping to the floor. Into this defencelessness Poole’s suggestions entered like those of a mesmerist, and that perfection of duality for which actors pray and which they are so rarely granted now fully invested her. She was herself and she was the girl in the play. She guided the girl and was aware of her and she governed the possession of the girl by the obverse of the man in the play. When at last she raised her face and looked at him and repeated his gesture it seemed to her that she looked into a glass and saw her own reflection and spoke to it.
‘Don’t you like what you see? ’ Martyn said.
In the pause that followed, the sound of her own breathing and Poole’s returned. She could hear her heart beat.
‘Can you do it again?’ he said.
‘I don’t know,’ she said helplessly. ‘I don’t know at all.’ She turned away and with a childish gesture hid her face in the crook of her arm. In dismay and shame she set loose the tears she had so long denied herself.
‘There now!’ he said, not so much as if to comfort her as to proclaim some private triumph of his own. Out in the dark auditorium Jacko struck his hands together once.
Poole touched her shoulder. ‘It’s nothing,’ he said. ‘These are growing pains. They will pass.’ From the door in the set he said: ‘You can have the understudy. We’ll make terms tomorrow. If you prefer it, the relationship can be forgotten. Goodnight.’
He left her alone and presently Jacko returned to the stage carrying her suitcase.
‘Now,’ he said, ‘we go home.’