All the World's a Stage
A novel by Bronwen Welsh
Chapter 28 Becoming a godmother
I sat there for a while thinking about what had just happened. Even though I didn't really take her implied threat seriously, certainly not the way I took Sid's, I decided that Richard should be told. I couldn't really tell him while standing in the wings, and it seemed unwise to visit his flat again in case Stella was still hanging around, so I asked to speak to him privately. I went down to his dressing room at the end of the performance. Donald, his understudy, fortunately seemed to sense that something was up and left us to it.
I gave Richard a summary of my conversation with Stella.
“I don't even know how she got hold of my phone number,” I said.
“I'm sorry Harriet. If you recall, you did give it to me and it was on my phone. She must have searched my contacts list.”
“I wouldn't have bothered you about it, but she might do something like throw a stone through your window”, I said. “I'm sure you've heard that old saying 'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned'?”
“Yes I have, and you may be right. She was far from happy when she left. I had quite a job getting the door key off her.”
“The thing is, she had no reason to be jealous. I tried to explain that we are acting, but she wouldn't buy it.”
Richard smiled. “It looks like we are doing too good a job.”
After I left Richard's dressing room, I started thinking again about the incident. Could Stella be right after all? Was there a bit more to our relationship than just pretending on stage? I didn't want to believe it, but I had to be honest with myself; since Reggie got married I did feel lonely sometimes, but the way to deal with it was certainly not to fall in love with a fellow cast member.
I told Dale about the incident; at least I didn’t have any romantic problems with him, we were genuinely 'just good friends'. A couple of weeks later, when Richard again suggested a Sunday drive and lunch I was able to say quite truthfully that Dale and I were going out and he was most welcome to come along if he liked, but he declined the offer. That made me think that perhaps Stella had been right and I was too dumb to see it.
I had my interview with the executive at ISC and also Paul, at which I confirmed my interest in going on the overseas tour.
“We're very glad to hear that,” said Malcolm. “Paul has been discussing it with us. Of course we would want you to play Juliet, but you also played Viola/Cesario in 'Twelfth Night', so our suggestion is that you play that rôle in all the performances and play Juliet in one in three performances. That way you won't get over-tired. Jemma will also join the troupe, and she's agreed to understudy you for Viola as well. As you know, she has quite a phenomenal memory as well, almost as good as yours, so she will be a great asset to the tour.
“We've managed to get almost all the original cast of 'Twelfth Night', but Leon has decided against making the trip. To be honest with you, he isn't very well, and a tour like we have arranged would be very tiring. We are looking for another actor to play Friar Lawrence, and I'm sure we will find one soon. Geraldine has decided that she is up to it, so that means there is only one cast member to replace.
“We're giving you all a few weeks off over Christmas, and assembling back here during the second week of January to start getting ready for the tour. In the meantime, if you don't have a passport, please apply for one as soon as possible.”
When I left the interview room, it suddenly occurred to me that if all the original cast of 'Twelfth Night' were touring, that must mean that Scarlett would be coming too. Thinking back to the last time I saw her, I wasn't sure how I felt about that.
Three weeks later I drove up to Bridchester very early on Sunday morning to be godmother to Elizabeth. For the occasion I had bought a very pretty champagne-colour tea-length chiffon dress with a ruched Empire waist. I was a little concerned it might be too 'dressy' for the occasion, but a phone call to Emma set my mind at ease. She had bought a new dress as well, and so had Mum!
I drove to Mum's house and we had a light lunch before I went up to my room to get changed. In addition to the new dress and matching shoes of course, I wore the gorgeous earrings that Emma and David had bought me as a gift when I was a bridesmaid at their wedding.
When I came down the stairs to the lounge room where Mum was waiting, the look on her face was something to behold. “Oh darling, I've promised myself I won't cry today, but you look so beautiful,” she said in a tearful voice.
“Oh Mum,” I said as I hugged her. “Don't you start, or I'll start crying too and then I'll have to do my make-up all over again.”
We arrived at Mum's church at two o'clock, and I was pleased to see it was the Rev. James Sutton, the same vicar who had asked me to make recordings of bible readings for his older parishioners some time back. He remembered me and asked how my career was going, and seemed genuinely interested in the progress I had made.
Elizabeth was also to have a godfather who was David's brother Michael, so we sat together. Quite a few of Emma and David's friends had turned up, including some of the Apollo Players.
I had done some investigating about what I was getting myself into, taking on the rôle of godmother, and while I'm not a particularly religious person, I hope that I'm a fairly moral one. It seemed that my main promises were to help in bringing up Elizabeth to be a good, kind and compassionate person with Christian values, who would stand up against injustices and help her make the right choices in life. This I felt I could do and so I answered all the questions put to the parents and godparents with a clear conscience.
Elizabeth behaved impeccably throughout the service and didn't even cry when the baptismal water from the eighteenth century font (warmed for the occasion as I found out later) was poured over her head.
Afterwards we made our way to the church hall where the ladies of the parish had once again put on a splendid afternoon tea for us. I found myself sitting next to the minister who seemed keen to know more about my acting career. In some ways this did not surprise me as there is surely more than a little of the actor in every church minister. I half expected him to ask me to make more Bible recordings for him, but the subject didn't come up.
The season of 'Romeo and Juliet' came to an end in mid-December, after being extended for two weeks. Right to the end we were playing to packed houses. Of course it wasn't really the end of 'Romeo and Juliet' due to the upcoming tour, but we still had an 'end of season' get-together for the cast in one of the rehearsal rooms following the final performance at Stratford. Paul announced that he had secured the services of Sir John McKenna to play 'Friar Lawrence' during the tour. I was pleased to hear that, as I had played opposite him in 'Hamlet' when he had performed 'Polonius' so brilliantly. Many other members of the cast knew him too, so there was applause and cheers at the announcement.
The day after the season concluded, I checked my Hotmail account. There were two messages from Reggie, one from the previous day and one from the previous week. I had started by checking the account daily, but messages from Reggie were not very frequent and so my checking had become less frequent. Now I felt guilty.
The first message read as follows:
I'm sorry I haven't written before. I have a lot of work at university but that's not an excuse. You probably want to know what is going on and are too polite to ask. Yesterday I went to lectures and S wasn't feeling well so stayed home. Early afternoon I had a phone call from the hospital. She had been taken there by ambulance when she started bleeding. I went in to see her and it seems she lost the baby. She still insists it was mine although I'm sure it wasn't. She said we must try for another one when we can and I had to agree with her since she was so upset. I hope you understand. I'm not sure what she will think when she finds out I am sterile.
I hope this finds you well. The play must have finished by now. We saw in the paper that you are all going on an overseas tour. You must be looking forward to that. Please write soon. Much love, Reggie'
Then I read the second message:
'Dear Harriet, It's been a week since I last wrote and I haven't heard from you. I am sorry if you are upset with me and I can't blame you for that. S is home now but seems to have lost interest in attending lectures. I wonder if she ever was very interested. Please write soon and tell me you are alright.
Much love, Reggie'
I had to sit for a while and think what to write. Poor Reggie, he is such a sweet person and didn't want to upset Sophie, even after what she did to him and us. I have to confess that I tried to get out of my mind the thought of them 'trying for a baby' and what that involved. I couldn't imagine getting that intimate with a man I didn't love, but then I thought of the marriages of royalty and the nobility, often arranged for dynastic or financial reasons and they often resulted in children. Indeed they were meant to, so perhaps men approached these things differently. To give the devil her due, Sophie was a very beautiful woman... At this point I forced myself to stop thinking along these lines and instead concentrate on a reply to Reggie.
Eventually I did write to him as follows:
I'm sorry for the delay in replying. It's been busy here and I only just saw your first message and the follow-up. Your concern for S does you credit. I can't imagine what it would be like to lose a baby and wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. Please remember though that it wasn't your fault.
I am going to Bridchester for a couple of weeks holiday over Christmas. I don't know if you'll be there and if you are with S I know you won't be able to meet up with me.
I didn't tell you about the tour in case you accidentally said something about it and S would wonder how you knew. That was the only reason. Yes the thought of travelling to all those countries is exciting, although we are warned that it will be hard work, performing in unfamiliar surroundings and coping with jet-lag.
When I come back I hope to take a couple of months off for the surgery which I've already put off because of 'R&J'. I hope that something else may be offered at Stratford when I have recovered enough to work.
I hope this finds you well, and I promise to check my mail box more often in future,
I checked it over a couple of times and changed 'I'm sorry' to 'I'm very sorry', and concluded with 'All my love'.
A couple of days later a Christmas card arrived from Sophie and Reggie. She had written it and the message was brief and formal:
'Best wishes for a Very Happy Christmas, from Sophie and Reginald' I wondered why I had made it onto their card list and decided it was Sophie's way of emphasising that they were a couple. I could not help myself – I put it straight in the bin.
A second card was much more welcome since it came from Dame Emily and contained a hand-written note:
I was delighted to hear from Cassie of your success in Romeo and Juliet, and that you have been engaged to perform two rôles in ISC's overseas tour. I know you will make the most of this invaluable experience. Cassie is looking forward to going too, and I know you will look out for each other.
The next time you are in London please do come round for afternoon tea again. As I recall your last visit was shortened by having to attend your friend's cricket match. I do hope he is keeping well too.
I imagine that you will be visiting your family for Christmas. Please give them my kind regards.
With Best Wishes,
As you might expect, this card and note were treasured and I still have them.
I also received a very nice card from Frank which included a 'thank you' for getting him the signed programs to add to his collection.
A couple of days later I received the precious referral from Dr McLeish, and I called to pick up the one from Dr Schwarz. I was almost shaking with excitement when I phoned to make an appointment with Mr Edgar Summers, the plastic surgeon.
I was fortunate that he had a cancellation, perhaps the fact that I was going to be a private patient helped, and three days later I took the train to London to see him. The clinic was a very modern building, with large windows and up to date furniture. Even the magazines in the waiting room were current!
If I may dare to paraphrase Jane Austen, 'It is a truth universally acknowledged that the more senior a medical practitioner, the longer you will cool your heels in the waiting room after your appointed consultation time'.
I have to say that the receptionist was very apologetic. Ten minutes after my appointment time she took a telephone call and said: “I'm very sorry but Mr Summers is currently in theatre and the operation is taking longer than he anticipated. He sends his apologies.”
I responded in what I hoped was a magnanimous fashion. “I certainly wouldn't want him to hurry on my account, any more than I would want him to hurry an operation on me if someone else was waiting.”
The receptionist smiled. “You are very understanding; not everyone is.”
I suspected that being a private clinic some of their patients had an inflated idea of their own importance and resented any delay in their crowded schedule.
As I waited, a few more people came in and received the news of the delay with various responses. One even made a new appointment as she said she couldn't wait long.
It was about ninety minutes later when the door finally opened and a tall man, at a guess in his sixties and with grey hair, appeared and looking into the waiting room said “Miss Stow?” I stood up and followed him through the door.
“I'm Edgar Summers,” he said as he led me down a corridor. “I do apologise for keeping you waiting so long.”
“I wouldn't expect you to hurry an operation on my account, any more than I hope you wouldn't hurry while operating on me in the same situation,” I responded once again.
He smiled as he led me into his consulting room and indicated a chair for me to sit upon. He picked up the referral letter I had been given by Dr McLeish and read through it.
“I see Helen says you are a professional actress. I confess I hadn't heard of you until about a month ago. My wife and some friends went to Stratford for the weekend especially to see 'Romeo and Juliet' and apparently you were starring in it,” I think he saw the look on my face because he went on. “Oh, and I should tell you, she doesn't ask and I don't tell about any of my patients. Confidentiality is very important to all of us at this clinic, and as far as I know it's never been breached.”
“Oh I didn't think for a minute...” I started.
He smiled. “We've had some very well known names here and we know how important privacy is, but the same applies to any of our patients. Now I see from the letter you have been receiving hormone therapy and living full-time as a woman for nearly two years. By law I have to tell you that the surgery you are proposing to have is irreversible and you will have to sign a statement to that effect which will be witnessed. Do you understand that?”
“Yes doctor, I am completely convinced in my own mind that I am a woman and I wish to live the rest of my life as one.”
“Very good. Well I have to say that you present as a young woman, and the fact that you perform as one in front of thousands of people every week is another factor in your favour."
He spoke to me for about another ten minutes about my background, when I had first felt the disconnect between my body and mind, how I had felt when I first began to live as a woman and how I would feel if I was unable to have the surgery I requested.
Following my answers he said “Well like Dr McLeish, I am satisfied that surgery is appropriate for you. Two things; bearing in mind this is a private clinic there are costs involved. I can only give you an estimate at this stage as some operations take longer than others.”
Dr Summers went on to give me a quote which is of course out of date now. Up to date amounts can be found with a web search.
“The next step is to give you a physical examination. Are you happy to proceed with that now?”
“Yes I am.”
“Please go to the examination couch and draw the curtains around. You will need to take off all your clothes, then lie on the couch and pull the blanket over you. One of our nurses will accompany me while I examine you.”
I did as he requested. The examination was similar to those I had had before. Dr Summers worked quickly and efficiently, telling me what he was doing and why. Surprisingly for someone who blushes easily, I didn't feel embarrassed at all.
Once the examination was over and I was dressed and sitting in front of his desk once more, he asked me if I had any commitments which would affect when I could have the surgery. I told him about the overseas tour and that I would be back in the first week of April. Surgery as soon as possible after that would be ideal if it could be arranged. He checked his computer screen.
“How does Monday 15th April sound as an admission day?”
“That would be ideal,” I replied.
“You must stop your hormone therapy four weeks before surgery. You're admitted the day before surgery to have blood tests and a pre-operative examination. Surgery takes place the following morning. You will stay at the clinic for five or six days and receive pain management as required. We suggest that you stay a further week in an hotel near to the clinic so that you can attend for follow-up examinations and if you have any concerns. I understand that you are currently living in Stratford but your family is in Bridchester?”
“Yes my mother has invited me to stay with her while I convalesce.”
“That sounds perfect. Do you have any questions at this stage?”
When I said that I didn't, he said “Here is a brochure which should tell you all you need to know, but if you have any questions please do not hesitate to call us.”
And with that my first consultation was over. I paid my account at the reception desk and after a quick look at the shops, took the train back to Stratford.
When I arrived back at Stratford I made an appointment to see the CEO, Duncan Morgan. He had some free time a couple of days later so I called at his office and explained that I was going to have surgery soon after arriving back from the overseas tour and wouldn't be able to act for about six weeks to two months. I didn't need to spell it out, he knew the surgery I was referring to and wished me good luck with it. I told him that I hoped to have the opportunity to perform with ISC again.
“I hope so too, Harriet,” he said. “We have all been very impressed with your progress. You may be aware that we are staging 'Othello' in June next year and my colleagues tell me that they would be happy to add you to a short list auditioning for the part of 'Desdemona'. How do you feel about that?”
To be honest, I was shocked. This is one of the great women's dramatic rôles in Shakespeare, on a par with Juliet in my opinion, and here I was bring told that I had a chance to perform it. Lest Duncan might think that my moments of silence meant I wasn't interested, I hurried to say “I would be very interested Mr Morgan. I know that there will be many actresses vying for the part but I would certainly appreciate the opportunity to audition for it.”
“Good,” he said, smiling. “But one step at a time, first you've got the overseas tour, and if you don't feel sufficiently recovered after your surgery, we will understand. There are always other parts coming up.”
I knew that of course, but this would give me something to aim for in recovering as quickly as I could. My next move was to phone my agent and tell him when I would be unavailable and also about 'Desdemona'. He was as keen as I was that I should try for the rôle.
“It's another important step for you Harriet. If you get it you will be building up quite a C.V. of Shakespearean parts and before long people will be seeking you out to play them.”
I decided to head up to Bridchester the week before Christmas and probably stay around two weeks. It was my first real break for over a year and I was looking forward to relaxing and doing nothing for a while. I told Dale I would be gone for a fortnight and he seemed quite relaxed about the idea. However in the famous words of Robbie Burns 'The best laid plans o' mice an' men gang aft a-gley'.
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, also Julia Phillips for picking up my punctuation errors and any typos Louise or I missed. I'm very grateful to them both.
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