All the World's a Stage Chapter 44

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All the World's a Stage

A novel by Bronwen Welsh


Copyright© 2016, 2017 Bronwen Welsh

A sequel to 'The Might-Have-Been Girl'


Chapter 44   Blood groups don't lie

It was mid-morning and my mobile phone rang. It was Reggie.

“Hi Harriet, I'm glad I caught you, I've got a bit of time between lectures.”

“So Sophie had the baby, what did she have?”

“It's a girl – eight pounds and she named her Stella. She's a pretty little thing with red hair.”

It didn't sound as though Reggie was consulted about her name, but then why would he be when he wasn't Stella's father and Sophie knew it? It was interesting news but why was he so anxious to ring me rather than send an email?

“The reason I'm ringing you is because I can prove that Stella isn't mine and without revealing my vasectomy,” Reggie continued. “As it's a bit complicated I thought I should ring rather than send an email. It's all to do with blood groups; she was a bit jaundiced after a couple of days and some blood tests were done, including her blood group, which turned out to be A”

He paused and I felt a comment was expected but I didn't know what it was.

“I'm sorry Reggie, you'll have to explain the significance of that.”

“Well both Sophie and I are group O. I thought I remembered something about blood groups from Biology at school but I checked with a guy I know who is studying medicine. He said that Stella's father has to be group A too and so it can't possibly be me.”

“Is there any chance that could be wrong?” I asked.

“No, blood groups don't lie. It's one hundred percent sure that someone else is Stella's father.”

“Is Stella alright now?” I asked. I suddenly thought 'Is that maternal instincts kicking in and she isn't even my child?'

“Yes, she's fine. They put her under some special lights and she's not jaundiced any more.”

“So who does Sophie know with red hair?” I asked.

“Well.....there is Phillip Whitlow. He's visited us a few times since I joined the football club.”

'And maybe he's visited when you haven't been there,' I thought but didn't say it out loud.

“Of course I can't come out and ask him what his blood group is,” said Reggie with a forced laugh.

“But perhaps you could mention that Stella has red hair and see how he reacts?”

Reggie laughed. “Yes, that could be interesting.”

“So what does that mean to us?” I asked.

“Well, nothing right now,” admitted Reggie. “But it's valuable information if the time comes when I can get a divorce without putting you in danger.”

“I do hope that day comes before I'm an old lady,” I said trying for a jocular tone.

“So do I Harriet, so do I,” replied Reggie very seriously.

My heart went out to him. “We will be together Reggie, I just know it,” I said.

“I'm sorry Harriet. I think you were expecting more substantial news than that, but I thought it was important to let you know.”

“You did the right thing Reggie. You have to be Stella's father regardless, so how are you finding it?”

“Well the funny thing is that I'm very fond of her, even though I know she's not mine.”

“That's because you are a good man, and would make a great father,” I said. There were tears in my eyes, but Reggie didn't know that.

“I love you Harriet,” he said softly.

“I love you too Reggie.” By now the tears were really flowing and I think it showed in my voice because Reggie said “Don't cry Harriet. We'll be together one day soon; I just know it.”

I no longer tried to disguise the fact that I was crying. “I hope so Reggie, so very very much.”

--ooOoo--

A year passed by, one in which I continued to live and work in Stratford. First I played Rosalind in 'As You Like It' There was a certainy irony in this rôle as the character is disguised as a boy for much of the play. Of course this happened more than once in Shakespeare's plays and there was a double irony in those days since the audience knew that all female parts were played by boys or young men.

I also played Mistress Anne Page in 'The Merry Wives of Windsor', Katherina in 'The Taming of the Shrew', and Adriana in 'The Comedy of Errors'. It has doubtless not escaped your notice that all these women are strong characters and even the feminists of their time.

My agent Richard informed me that producers and directors were now starting to ask if I was available to audition for these rôles. I wondered if I was becoming type-cast.

“It won't be long before they start asking if you are willing to take rôles without even auditioning for them,” he said.

When I demurred, he insisted that he was not joking.

“In my occupation as an agent I've seen this happen before, but only rarely. I hardly need tell you who comes to mind,” he said. He was obviously referring to Dame Emily, and to be compared with her was a wild exaggeration in my view, but I said nothing.

We took the production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor” to Broadway, New York for a two month season. Scarlett Mitchell was playing the part of Mistress Ford. This was the first time I had seen her since our overseas tour of 'Romeo and Juliet' and 'Twelfth Night'. I wondered if she was still seeing Gemma, but thought it was better not to ask. To my surprise she asked if I would be interested in sharing an apartment while we were in New York.

When I hesitated, she laughed and said “I'm asking you to share an apartment, not my bed!”

I felt a bit embarrassed and replied “Yes, I'd be happy to share an apartment.” I think my follow up laugh sounded a bit forced.

Scarlett smiled. “There's one proviso, I hope you won't object if someone else shares my bed occasionally, because I'm happy to extend the same courtesy to you.”

I felt like saying 'That won't be necessary', but instead I said “Of course.”

We found a very nice two-bedroom apartment at AKA Times Square, only a few blocks from the theatre where we were to perform. It had a kitchenette and all the usual hotel facilities and suited us perfectly. We ate in the restaurant a lot of the time, but it was nice to be able to whip up a late-night snack for ourselves. I've always found that I'm ravenous after a performance, partly because I don't ever eat a big meal before one.

The second weekend of the season, a very pretty coloured girl joined Scarlett and I for breakfast. I hadn't heard her come into the apartment, and I am a fairly heavy sleeper so I wasn't disturbed during the night. I believe I treated her appearance with 'sang froid'.

“Harriet, this is Marcia,” said Scarlett.

“Hi Marcia, it's very nice to meet you,” I said.

“Hi Harriet, Scarlett didn't tell me you were so pretty,” she said with typical American forthrightness. “I don't suppose you...”

Scarlett cut her off. “Harriet's straight,” she said. “Gay-friendly but straight.”

“I'm sorry honey, I hope I didn't embarrass you,” said Marcia.

“Not at all,” I replied. “I take it you live in New York?”

“Goodness no,” she giggled, “I'm a Columbus Ohio girl. I'm on stage too, that's how I met Scarlett.”

She didn't elaborate further which left unanswered questions. Just how did Scarlett meet these women? I had recently heard the expression 'gaydar' and wondered if Scarlett had this mysterious ability to divine someone's sexual preference just by looking at them.

During our two-month season, Marcia appeared a number of times for breakfast. I did attend a performance of the musical in which she had a small part and she did very well.

Something I have noticed about American performers is that they all seem to be brimming with self-confidence which I believe is imbued in them at an early age. Marcia certainly believed that it was only a matter of time before she became a big star on Broadway. A few years ago I happened to see a copy of 'Playbill', and there was Marcia starring in a Broadway musical. One thing had changed, she was no longer using the name Marcia, and in order not to embarrass her, I won't mention what name she uses nowadays.

I should mention that I slept alone by choice during that seasn, though not for want of an offer. As happened during our previous visit, we were given a reception by local dignitaries, and being forewarned I packed a gorgeous deep red gown, sheer black tights and six inch heels. I also took precautions to discourage anyone getting too close. The previous Christmas, Mum had given Emma and I one of her mother's rings each. Emma's was a ring with five large diamonds which had been earmarked for her eldest granddaughter. For me there was a ring with a beautiful honey-yellow stone called Imperial Topaz. Before I went to the reception I slipped it onto the fourth finger of my left hand.

It was a pleasant evening with the women all dressed in glamorous gowns and the men in their dinner suits looking very smart. A very handsome young man came up to me and introduced himself as Elmer Graystone III. It seems to be a very American tradition to give several male generations of a family the same name and distinguish them by a number suffix.

“Harriet Stow. I'm very pleased to meet you,” I said politely.

“I thought it was you Miss Stow,” he replied. “I had the pleasure of seeing you in 'Romeo and Juliet' when your company was last here. I have never seen Shakespeare performed better.”

“Thank you very much Mr Graystone,” I replied.

“Please call me Elmer,” he responded. “I shall look forward to seeing you in 'The Merry Wives'. Tell me, do you get any time off during the season? I would consider it a privilege to show you around New York.”

I used my left hand to move a strand of hair off my face. Perhaps the gesture was a bit obvious.

“I see you are engaged. I am seeing someone myself, so let me assure you that my intentions are totally honorable.”

“Please call me Harriet,” I replied, smiling. “If I am not taking up too much of your time, I would be very glad of a local resident to show me around, but I only have Sundays off and that might not suit you.”

“On the contrary, it would suit me very well indeed,” was his reply.

New York is an amazing city, and Elmer not only showed me the traditional tourist sites, like the view from the top of the Empire State Building and a walk through Central Park, but also many other places that only locals know about. We even managed to catch a few performances of other plays and musicals that had a performance, usually a matinée, on Sundays. I could only conclude that whoever he was seeing was either very tolerant, or didn't know about his outings with me. Whoever she was, he didn't mention her again.

Perhaps it pleased him to have an actress on his arm as a couple of times we ran into friends of his and I was proudly introduced as a member of the famous Imperial Shakespeare Company from Stratford-upon-Avon in England. They seemed duly impressed.. It turned out that Elmer worked for one of the big merchant banks, but he loved the arts and we spent one day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which has some amazing works by famous Old Masters.

I tried to make a contribution to the expenses but he refused to take any money.

“They pay me a ridiculous amount for what I do,” was his explanation.

We dined at some of the upmarket restaurants, and he took me to supper after a few performances, so I felt the need to buy myself a few more dresses, finally stopping at six!. Well I could hardly wear the same dress all the time, not that a girl really needs an excuse to go shopping with Macy's and Bloomingdale's only a short walk away.

To give Elmer his due, he was a perfect gentleman, and the only time we shared a kiss on the lips was on our last date before the season ended. I felt a twinge of regret that I hadn't invited him back to the apartment, but I really didn't want to get into the habit of bedding every eligible young man I met. I know that some famous actresses are well known, in the theatrical community at least, not to have such scruples.

After I returned to England Elmer and I stayed in touch by email. A year or so later he wrote to tell me that he had become engaged to the boss's daughter which seems a very smart thing for an up and coming executive to do, although I'm sure he was fond of her. I sent them both a card and present, wishing them well. I was even invited to their wedding but work commitments forced me to decline. In any case, it might have left his fiancée wondering about Elmer and I, not a good way to start a marriage. For the same reason our email correspondance came to an end by mutual agreement.

The season was a great success, and the audiences were most appreciative. Most performances were sold out, which is quite a feat in a two thousand seat theatre. When the season came to an end, it was with genuine regret that I said farewell to New York. I've been back many times since of course, but that first proper visit was very special, and Elmer certainly helped to make it so.

--ooOoo--

Christmas came around and with it a break from performing for a few weeks. I drove up to Bridchester to spend it with my family. Mum was going well, and so were David, Emma and their little family. Baby Elizabeth was now crawling around and Penny was developing into quite a young lady.

One thing that puzzled me was that Emma showed no signs of wanting to get back on the stage. It was through her that I took the first steps of my career because she was performing with the Apollo Players who need a replacement backstage in a hurry and so I obtained my short-lived job of assistant stage manager, before quickly replacing a sick cast member. Now she seemed quite content in her rôle of 'stay-at-home mum'. I just couldn't imagine my life without being on the stage, but then I didn't have children to look after, so I suppose that was the difference.

David was directing the Christmas pantomime again. That year it was 'Aladdin'. All the cast members remained well, so there was no need to call upon my services to fill in a vacant part. I confess I felt a twinge of disappointment, which was ridiculous really since the idea of the Chritsmas break was rest and relaxation, recharging the batteries for another year of performing in Stratford.

I baby-sat Elizabeth while Emma, Mum and Penny went to a performance, and that was a real pleasure. For a couple of hours I was able to pretend that I had a baby of my own, though of course if I had had one, that would have caused complications for my career. Realistically, it was better for me to be an auntie.

Rather than attend a performance on my own, I took Mum along for a second viewing. She was happy to go, since, as she said “Every pantomime performance is different”. Having had experience of it myself, I had to agree with her.

David invited us backstage after the performance and introduced me to the members of the cast that I hadn't met before. It seemed they all knew of me, but then the performing world is rather like a great big family where even if you don't see the relatives very often, you are still aware of their existence.

--ooOoo--

One morning I was out shopping in Bridchester on my own when turning from looking in a shop window, I suddenly realised that a young couple walking towards me and pushing a baby pram were Reggie and Sophie. I suppose it shouldn't have been totally unexpected, after all, Reggie's parents still lived in Brid, and it was natural that he might want to see them at Christmas time. Anyway, it was too late to pretend I hadn't seen them, so I kept walking towards them with a big smile on my face.

“Hello Reggie, Sophie, what a surprise seeing you here,” I said.

Sophie gave me her usual cold smile and Reggie looked embarrassed. I had no doubts about my ability to handle the situation, and could only hope that he would be discreet.

“My mum met your parents a while back, Reggie, and they told her that you had a baby,” I went on, and of course had to look in the pram. .Reggie was right, she was a pretty little thing, and being dressed in pink, it was perfectly reasonable for me to ask 'her' name.

“Stella! What a pretty name!” I exclaimed.

“We like it, don't we Reginald?” said Sophie, her attitude thawing out slightly. Reggie nodded.

“Are you staying here long?” she enquired.

“Just three weeks, and then it's back to Stratford. I suppose you've had to put your course on hold, Sophie; how is yours going Reginald?” I said.

“Quite well thank-you,” he replied.

“Well, I mustn't keep you; I'm sure you have shopping to do too. Please give my regards to your parents,” I said, then walked on down the street, thinking to myself that our meeting had gone quite well. It had been friendly but not too friendly and nothing had been said to give away the fact that Reggie and I were still in contact.

--ooOoo--

I returned to Stratford and shortly afterward, Richard, my agent, rang to tell me that I was invited to audition for the part of Lady Macbeth in 'The Scottish Play'. It seemed there was to be a new director and he wanted younger people for the leads. It's true of course that at the time it was set, people didn't live to a great age. The real Macbeth was fifty-two when he died or more likely was killed.

I never took auditions lightly but thought it quite likely that I would be considered too young or too inexperienced for the part. Nevertheless it was flattering to be considered, and I thought that maybe the other strong Shakespearean women I had been playing might stand me in good stead.

It was the day before the audition, and I was home doing some housework. Dale had left for work, and when the door bell rang, I opened it thinking it might be a neighbour or even Jehovah's Witnesses. A camera flash went off in my face and after I had a chance to collect my thoughts I realised that two men were standing there.

The older one held the camera, and the younger one who looked rather cocky said “Good morning Miss Stow,” with a heavy emphasis on the 'Miss'. “What was it like growing up as a boy?”

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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