Martyn looked at her reflected self in the mirror. She was accustomed to inspecting herself very minutely when doing her make-up and making sure that her stage costumes were exactly right, but this was the first time she had really scrutinised herself in a non-stage setting for weeks. There she was: short, slight, dark-eyed, with short dark hair which was not allowed to grow longer due to the continued run of Thus To Revisit. The dress suited her very much, being very simple, and exquisitely made: she tried on the veil.
“No,” she said to herself, violently. She snatched off the veil, a beautifully made thing of lace, looking at it with revulsion. “I can’t.”
She contorted her arms behind her back to unhook and unbutton, and was dismayed by the noticeable tremor in her thin hands as she pulled off the dress. She hung it up carefully and put on her kimono over her underwear, then sat down on the edge of her bed.
Her room had become a tiny refuge against the emotion elsewhere. The Vulcan, now utterly familiar to her as her own home in faraway New Zealand, was always swirling with the tension from the play and its tragic opening night, and the vast feelings between the players. Adam had never ventured here, and she admitted to herself that she did not want him to see it. She’d thought it merely because it was so small, he’d have taken up all the space, but now she thought rather that she wanted a place where the famous Adam Poole did not spread his influence.
There was a savoury smell emanating from the kitchen downstairs, which meant that Jacko was in. He had lately been transfigured by a long-desired relationship with his much admir’d Miss Hamilton, and Martyn felt a good deal less shy in his company now.
She put on a skirt and sweater, and went to investigate. Jacques Doré was humming almost beneath his breath and was cooking something with eggs and potato. “Good morning, infant,” he said, sketching a little bow to her. “How is your dress?”
Martyn made coffee, feeling Jacko’s bright eyes following her movements, but when she turned to face him, he was studying the pan and its contents. “It’s beautiful,” she said, and then, aware of a lack of enthusiasm in her voice, added, “It really is lovely.”
“Hmm.” There was a birdlike turn of the head on its thin neck, and a sharp glance from those wise eyes. “Are there, maybe, regrets, little one?”
“What? No, of course not,” she said, knowing that she was being untruthful even as she spoke.
“Sit, and I will propound. You will like my frittata, sans doute.” He found the cups and milk for the coffee, divided the eggy delicious-smelling mess onto two plates and sat down with her at the table. “Now. You and Adam found yourselves attracted – in love – almost immediately after meeting, at a time when you were bouleversée by circumstances and emotion and much drama. It is so, yes?” He hardly waited for her reluctant nod. “You can step back a little from the situation since it is now familiar, and you realise all the difficulties.”
Martyn ate the frittata glumly, but in a moment said, “This is delicious, Jacko. Yes. He’s twice my age, my director, I’ve seen him at the cinema since I was a kid. I can’t approach him with any degree of equality. I don’t want always to be in Adam Poole’s shadow. It’s a long shadow and it would completely engulf me. He wouldn’t ever do it on purpose, but he has such personality I’d always be under. And I don’t know if I could muster the strength to assert myself always.”
Jacko patted her hand. “One needs much ego to stand in opposition to Adam, it is true. And yet he does not impose his will so consciously, but,” he shrugged, expressively, “he would not dream that one would flout him. It is what one needs as a director and producer, of course, but in private life might be less than ideal.”
“What shall I do?” Martyn asked, almost desperately.
He paused thoughtfully, balancing a forkful of egg above the plate. “You must decide, child, whether you will be happy as Mrs Adam Poole, or whether you wish to remain as Miss Martyn Tarne.” He swallowed the last of his meal. “Can you reconcile those two roles?”
Martyn shrugged. “I don’t know. I do love him terribly, but…” Her voice trailed off uncertainly, and she ran her fingers abruptly through her hair, then caught herself making the action. “No. I can’t, Jacko. I’m not even twenty yet – I need to – want to – make myself. Not to be made.” She took off the ring on her left hand. “I suppose I must tell him.”
Martyn finished her coffee. “I’m glad the run’s coming to an end. I’ve enjoyed it enormously and have been so grateful for the chance, but I won’t be sorry to leave.”
“That is as it should be,” Jacko said approvingly.
Once her mind was made up, it did not make it any easier for Martyn to go to Adam in his dressing room after the performance that evening and tell him that she couldn’t, after all, marry him. He looked at her, his face naked and somehow vulnerable, and she wanted very much to kiss him.
He did not, thankfully, make protestations or impassioned promises. His mouth twisted wryly as she placed the ring delicately on the dressing table. Their faces mirrored each other as they so often did on stage. “I never meant to overwhelm you,” he said, gently.
“No, I know. But I think you couldn’t help doing it.” She paused, thinking that he needed someone more like Helena Hamilton, a woman of the world with her own fame. “It would be too easy to hero-worship.”
He smiled a little, wryly, but she could read the pain behind the expression. “Thank-you, my dear Kate.”
The old nickname almost undid her resolve, but she thanked him and fled.
The last fortnight of performances had not been easy. Adam was as professional on stage as usual, but had avoided her off it. The usual sort of gossip had been traded around the cast and crew, and Martyn had desperately shut her ears to it. She supposed she was lucky that they had already cast the touring party, and there were already preparations for that. She had saved some money, and could afford some resting time before the next engagement, but had, nevertheless been auditioning.
After the last performance, Adam held them all back and thanked them all for their hard work and contributions to making theatrical magic. He did not look at her. Martyn returned to her own dressing room, cleaned her face of make-up, changed into her street clothes, tidied up. She snatched up her bags and coat, and headed out of the stage door. As ever, despite the late hour, there were the habitual hangers-around; she signed a couple of autographs, thanked the well-wishers and emerged onto Carpet Street as usual.
“Miss Tarne?” said a voice. It came from a tall figure in rather careless evening dress. He was standing beneath a streetlight which gilded his light brown hair and cast shadows beneath his cheekbones and jaw. The voice was oddly familiar, but she knew so few people other than her colleagues at the Vulcan, that it took her a moment to recognize it and his face, last seen three months earlier at the start of the run.
“Hullo,” she said cautiously, wishing she had paid attention to his title at the time: obviously she couldn’t call him ‘constable’ when he was out of uniform.
He gave a little bow. “Mike Lamprey. I hope you won’t think this is frightful cheek, but could I take you to dinner? Or are you having a cast last night celebration?”
“No, we’re not celebrating tonight.” She hesitated. He seemed very young after Adam, but she reminded herself that he was actually around her own age. It might be pleasant to dine with someone not directly connected with the theatre. “Thank-you. I’d like that, though I’m not really dressed for it,” she added, looking down at herself.
He put his head on one side, as though surveying her. “We can go somewhere that won’t matter, or if you’d rather, you could go home to change.”
“I’ll change, if you don’t mind waiting.”
“Not in the least.” Courteously, he offered to take her bags, and she gave them up in relief. They walked briskly, for the wind was chilly, and soon came to the building where Martyn’s garret was located. Martyn darted upstairs, relieved that Lord Michael did not offer to accompany her. She piled her bags in her room, tore off her outer clothes, found her sole evening dress and slipped it over her head. She brushed her hair hastily, put on some lipstick, found her evening slippers, and hastened downstairs again.
Mike had evidently resigned himself to a longer wait, since he was comfortably ensconced on the steps which led from the pavement to the front door, long legs stretched out in front of him. He scrambled to his feet when he heard the door open, and stood on the lower step so that she was, briefly, looking down at his upturned face. It was an unaccustomed position for Martyn, who was not tall. He offered his arm, and, a little hesitantly, she tucked her hand into it. They set off, walking. He talked about the play, which he’d seen twice, and Martyn, as when they’d met before, found herself chatting easily back. He supposed she’d not seen any other plays during the run, and while she’d admitted that this was the case, he mentioned that he’d seen Measure for Measure at the Dolphin which he had enjoyed, and a new translation of Aristophanes’ The Frogs, which he had not.
They dined at a cheerful Greek restaurant in Soho, which Martyn found a good deal less intimidating than the smarter establishments to which Adam had taken her. They ordered from a very limited menu chalked in Greek and English letters on a board at the front of the premises, and their waitress grinned encouragingly at their attempts to pronounce the Greek correctly.
After she’d gone, Mike said, “Such a fat lot of use Greek was at school if one can’t even understand a menu!”
Martyn laughed. “Ancient Greek, though, isn’t it?”
“True. It might just as well have been Maori.”
Martyn recollected that he’d been a child in New Zealand, and so she asked about that, and they talked about home for a while. The reminiscence brought sadness and a little loneliness, though she tried to hide it from him. Adam would have guessed her feelings, and made some remark, but Mike observed that his sister was always ravenous after a performance so he expected Martyn was, too.
Distracted by this, she asked, “Your sister’s an actress?”
He nodded. “Frid thought Lamprey was a terrible stage name, though, so she’s Friede Grey, which was Robin’s maiden name.”
“Gosh, I never knew that. She’s very good – I mean, so I’ve heard – I’ve never had a chance to see her in anything.”
He made a wry face. “I can probably get tickets to her current play, if you’d like. I think they’re doing something new by Toby Tullingham.”
“Oh, I’d love to if you don’t mind. Marta Hallard’s playing in that, too, and I’ve wanted to see her for ages.”
Mike grinned. “It’s a date.”
Their food arrived, smelling delicious, and they both tucked in with hearty appetites. They talked about London, where Mike had lived since the age of eight. “When my uncle died,” he remarked, “and my father inherited, he sold the family house – my mother talked about some awful black magic ritual that my aunt had done and that she couldn’t bear to live in the place afterwards.”
“Black magic? You’re joking, surely?” She stared at him, thinking that he was trying to pull her leg.
“Wish I were. Our repellent aunt practised witchcraft. And the house took a direct hit in the Blitz, anyway, so that was lucky. Exorcised the evil influence.”
“So where do your family live now?”
“The parents are mostly at Deepacres in Sussex with Henry and Robin – Henry’s my eldest brother, and Robin’s Roberta, his wife. Frid has a flat in Chelsea, Colin stayed in the RAF after the war, and he’s stationed in the wilds of Lincolnshire right now. Pat’s in Oxford – her husband’s a don – and like you I have a room in a friend’s house.”
“There’s five of you?” Martyn was surprised, as an only child.
“Yes. My brother Stephen was killed in the war. He was a bomber pilot.”
“From what Colin’s said, it’s amazing not more of them were killed.” Mike glanced down briefly at his plate. “Anyway, what have you seen of the city since you landed? I don’t suppose you’ve had much free time.”
“More than you might think. Adam – Mr Poole doesn’t go in much for regular rehearsals. But I don’t have much money, so I visit museums, mostly.”
“Which is your favourite?”
She laughed. “I don’t think I’ve been often enough to form a preference.”
“Have you been over to Greenwich at all?” he asked. She shook her head, a little puzzled, and he added, “There’s the National Maritime Museum, and the Naval College, and you can stand on the Meridian.”
His tone of wide-eyed awe tempered with rueful amusement at his own enthusiasm made her laugh again. “Definitely not to be missed. I shall make a point of visiting, now that the run’s over.”
“Would you prefer to go alone, or could I show you around?” he asked. “Would Tuesday be convenient?”
Martyn sat up straight and regarded him. He was certainly easy to talk to and she found him more relaxing company than Adam. “Yes,” she said, decidedly. “I’d like that. Tuesday would be fine.”
“Good.” He smiled, seemingly involuntarily.
Later, as they walked back to her home, they talked about books they had recently read, and she was surprised to find that they both enjoyed thrillers and modern poetry, and he enthused with her about Nicholas Blake and Sara Teasdale. On the steps, they paused briefly while she opened the door. Mike bade her goodnight very politely and scrupulously, and Martyn, who had half-worried that he might ask to kiss her, was even a little disappointed that he had not.
“Till Tuesday, then,” she said, retrieving the key and opening the door.
“Until then, Miss Tarne. Thank-you for a lovely evening.”
She shut the front door behind her and mounted the stairs, feeling oddly comforted.