All the World's a Stage
A novel by Bronwen Welsh
Chapter 8 A visit to Bridchester
Mum finally released me from her hug, and holding me at arm's length looked at me critically.
“Harriet, my dear, you look pale. Are you eating properly?”
I smiled at her. “My specialist Dr McLeish said the same thing, and you know what, you're both right. The only difference is that you've diagnosed me for free. I've had some blood tests done and my haemoglobin and iron levels are a bit low, so she's put me on iron tablets for a month and told me to more eat vegetables and fruit that are high in iron. I guess it will take a few weeks to make a difference.”
“I think what you need is some good home-cooked meals,” said Mum.
“Oh yes please!” was my response.
“Well, take your things upstairs and I'll see what I can do.”
“I think I might change Mum. Do you think I look a bit 'butch' in trousers?”
She laughed. “There are many adjectives that come to mind when I look at you Harriet, but 'butch' isn't one of them. Don't bother to change on my account. Emma has invited us around for lunch tomorrow so you might like to save a change of clothes until then.”
I took her at her word, and carried my suitcase and clothes up to my bedroom. It looked just as I'd left it and I remembered how delighted I had been when I returned from London while playing in 'Dear Brutus' and seen how Mum had arranged to turn it into a girl's bedroom. I still become quite emotional when I think of that.
After I freshened up my makeup, I went downstairs to the kitchen. I know there are people who enjoy eating in fancy restaurants where the portions are minuscule and the prices astronomical, but for me there is nothing like a home-cooked meal and the ones that Mum did are the best. She had cooked a lamb casserole with roast vegetables and the smell alone made my mouth water.
As we enjoyed the meal together, I brought her up to date on what had been happening in Stratford, including Mr Beams the driving instructor, and the reason I wore trousers for the drive up.
“He did me one good turn, in making me realise that in case of breakdowns, wearing trousers is far more practical. I suppose the second good turn was that because of his behaviour I got to meet Dale. It was through Dale that I bought 'Bluebird' at a really good price, so 'All's Well that Ends Well' “
Mum laughed. “You and your Shakespeare quotes. So what does Reggie think of you having Dale as a friend?” asked Mum. Sometimes I forgot how sharp she is.
“He's fine about it. I think it helps that Dale is gay. He has a really nice partner called Frank who works in London.”
“Yes, he's a charming young man,” said Mum, and in response to my quizzical look she said “He wrote me the most lovely letter and it was all about you.”
Now she really had me puzzled.
“How did he know where to write to?” I asked.
“Maybe he asked Dale or looked me up in the phone book. There's only one 'Stow' in Bridchester. He said you probably wouldn't mention it, and you haven't, so he wrote to tell me how you had managed to get tickets for Dale and him to see 'Hamlet', and also how you had given him a program with the signatures of all the cast. To crown it all, because they were invited down to your dressing room, he had the chance to exchange a few words with Dame Emily. You really made that young man's day. He said he'd never forget it.”
I was blushing by now of course. “Well it was something I was able to do, and I was happy to do it. You're right, Frank and Dale are both charming young men and I'm happy to have them as friends.”
The conversation turned to Emma and David and how they were going.
“Well, you'll see Emma tomorrow of course. David will probably be at the theatre, but he might make it home in time, or take a break. They are really looking forward to the baby arriving. They're so happy.”
I know it's silly, but every time I hear of someone having a baby I feel a momentary pang of disappointment that I'll never be able to do that. We can't have everything we'd like in life, but for woman of course, if she wants a child, being unable to have one is a great sadness.
Mum brought out the dessert which was apple strudel and cream, and despite having had a large plate of casserole, I was able to do justice to it.
“Given a few weeks here, we'd soon fix your anaemia,” said Mum. “By the way, how long are you staying?”
“I'll stay until Friday afternoon if that's alright, and then return to Stratford to see Reggie at the weekend. Then it's full-on rehearsing for 'Twelfth Night'.”
“It does sound like hard work,” said Mum. “Just so long as you are enjoying it.”
I smiled. “I can't think of anything I'd rather be doing,” I said.
Mum hesitated, and I could see there was something on her mind.
“I hope you don't mind me asking darling, but does anyone at Stratford know about your background?”
“No they don't. I didn't think it was necessary to tell them,” I replied.
“Do you think that's wise? Supposing someone found out and it got into one of those dreadful tabloid newspapers? I can't see the Imperial being very pleased.”
I confess I had never thought of it that way. Mum was probably right, as she usually was.
“I see what you mean, but supposing they sack me when I tell them?”
“I feel that's a risk you will have to take; and what about Dame Emily? She's your friend, shouldn't you tell her too?”
The next day we were going to see Emma for lunch. This time I did wear one of my summer dresses with bare legs and sandals, and Mum gave me the 'tick of approval'. Emma and David lived only five minutes away from Mum. When Emma opened the door, it was obvious that things had been developing while I was away. 'Bump' was much bigger, and when I pressed against her to give her a hug, I suddenly felt a punch in my stomach.
“Oh!” I gasped. “'Bump' kicked me!”
Emma laughed. “Yes, he, or she, had been doing quite a lot of that recently. I thought it was a girl, but now I'm wondering if it's a boy and he's going to be a footballer.”
“Well in that case he'll probably earns millions and keep you in the style to which you'll become accustomed.” We all laughed at that.
“I hope you don't mind me mentioning it, but you are looking a bit pale Harriet,” Emma said.
“Well, you're the third person to say that after Dr McLeish and Mum, but I am now on iron tablets and improving my diet, so I hope I will look healthier soon. But look at you! You're absolutely blooming,” I said.
Emma blushed slightly. “I'm feeling really good now. I just have to allow for my changing centre of gravity. Just a few months to go now.”
Emma had prepared a salad for lunch, and as women do, we chatted as we ate. I asked her opinion about me telling Dame Emily and the bosses at Stratford about my background. As I expected, she agreed with Mum.
I took a deep breath. “Alright, I'll talk to Dame Emily first. I'd prefer to see her face to face if possible, but she might be busy. I know she's back in London now and shooting another film.”
We didn't hurry over lunch and when we finally finished, Emma brought out the wedding photos.
“Oh Emma, they're wonderful,” I exclaimed. “You're the most beautiful bride I've ever seen.”
Emma laughed. “I think we all scrubbed up pretty well on the day. I'm going to order some more prints. Would you like some of you and Reggie?”
“Oh yes please,” I replied. “You must let me pay for them. I'd like some enlargements and I know they are expensive.”
About four o'clock Penny arrived home from school. She still seemed a little shy, but I smiled at her and asked her how she was and told her how pretty she looked in the wedding photos, and soon we were chatting away like old friends. Shortly afterwards David arrived home for tea in between a rehearsal and the evening's performance.
“Harriet! It's lovely to see you again. How are things in Stratford?” he asked, giving me a kiss on the cheek.
“Fine. We're rehearsing 'Twelfth Night' now,” I replied, thinking to myself 'Well, I hope I will be rehearsing 'Twelfth Night' after I tell them about me.' “And how are things going at Apollo?”
“Great. We're doing 'Look Back in Anger' at present, and it's doing really well. Do you have time to come and see a performance?”
“I'd love to,” I replied. “Has Mum seen it?”
“It's not really my sort of play darling, but you go along,” said Mum.
“How's Mary going at Stratford?” asked David. “Do you think she'll ever come back to Brid?”
“I believe she will, in fact if she hadn't been given the role of Maria in 'Twelfth Night', I think she'd be back already.”
I was pleased that he didn't ask me in front of Mum whether I would ever come back. I suppose the answer was obvious to everyone.
I did go to see the play two nights later, and it was a fine production. David seemed very pleased when I told him. It seemed that since joining the ISC, people were paying a lot of attention to my opinions, and I felt a bit of a fraud since my experience was still quite limited.
On Thursday evening I plucked up my courage and phoned Dame Emily. To be honest I was hoping she wouldn't answer, but she did.
“Harriet my dear, it's so nice to hear from you. How are things in Stratford?” she asked.
“Fine thank-you Dame Emily; I'm to play Viola in 'Twelfth Night' and my friend Mary who was my understudy has been given the role of Maria.”
“That's wonderful news,” she said.
“Yes it is,” I replied ,and I'm sure she could hear in my voice that all was not well. “Actually, if you have the time, there's something I'd really like to discuss with you, face to face if possible.”
“Well, you know I'm in London at present. Would you like to have tea with me next Sunday afternoon, say about three o'clock?”
She gave me the address of her London apartment and we rang off. I'm sure she was wondering what on earth was wrong, and I was also fairly sure that she had no idea what it was.
On Friday, after lunch, I kissed Mum goodbye and started the long drive back to Stratford. My mind was full of what I was going to say to Dame Emily, and I had to force myself to concentrate on the road. I was going to spend the weekend with Reggie, and we would still have some time together, but he understood that I really needed to see Dame Emily, and after I had seen her I would have to head back to Stratford.
I was only twenty minutes from Stratford when it happened. Approaching me in the distance was a big lorry, so I kept well over to the left, and then suddenly, to my horror, a red sports car appeared from behind it obviously intent upon overtaking. I was still a relatively inexperienced driver, so I probably lost a couple of seconds before it became apparent to me that there was no way it could pass the lorry and miss me. I did the only thing I could think to do and pulled over onto the gravel shoulder, at the same time stamping hard on the brake. 'Bluebird' began to skid sideways, and the last thing I remembered was seeing trees ahead and approaching rapidly, before there was a bang and then darkness.
To be continued.
I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Louise Anne in proofreading the text and giving me a great deal of useful advice about modern-day Britain to incorporate in the story.
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