Read Twopence Coloured Online

Authors: Patrick Hamilton

Twopence Coloured

TWOPENCE COLOURED

PATRICK HAMILTON

TO
MICHAEL SADLEIR

CONTENTS

Title Page

Dedication

Author’s Note

Prologue

 

Book One: The Aspirant

Chapter I: Travel

Chapter II: Glimpses

Chapter III: A Day in the Theatre

Chapter IV: Rehearsal

Chapter V: The Other Girls

Chapter VI: Highmindedness

Chapter VII: The Gift

Chapter VIII: Desolation

Chapter IX: Lunches

Chapter X: The Three Weeks

Chapter XI: Cricket

Chapter XII: The Underworld

Chapter XIII: Dates

Chapter XIV: Liverpool

Chapter XV: The Return

Chapter XVI: Charles

Chapter XVII: “For God, King, and Country”

Chapter XVIII: The Rain

 

Book Two: The Actress

Chapter I: Decisions

Chapter II: The Actress

Chapter III: The Evening

Chapter IV: The Touring Company

Chapter V: London

Chapter VI: Arrival

Chapter VII: Jackie and Richard

Chapter VIII: Tennis

Chapter IX: Temperament

Chapter X: The Night

Chapter XI: Richard

 

Book Three: The Failure

Chapter I: Moments

Chapter II: The Aspirant

Chapter III: Lunches

Chapter IV: Manuscripts

Chapter V: Eavesdropping

Chapter VI: Observations

Chapter VII: A Pleasant Surprise

Chapter VIII: The Chance

Chapter IX: Correspondence

Chapter X: A Day in the Theatre

Chapter XI: Doubtless Buying a New Hat

Chapter XII: The Taxi

 

Copyright

All the characters and
play-
titles
in this book are entirely imaginary.

 
I

S
HORTLY before midnight, several years ago, a pretty but unusually foolish girl, for her age (which was
nineteen
), was walking by herself along the Brighton front. It was raining slightly, and the movement of her even strides made little thunders with her mackintosh, and the rain spat with a kind of sullen suddenness upon her glistening white face and mouth, and she was very full of her quiet self and her quiet decisions.

She had just been to the Theatre Royal in this town. That is to say, she had been one of a large crowd of people who earlier in the evening had fled in a state of unnatural excitement and seriousness from their dinners, spent two hours and a half shut up in a stewed atmosphere of ardent illuminations and rippling facial darknesses, poured out into a distressed vestibule amid the uneasy superciliousness of the frustrated taxi-seeker, and the maddened importunities of the professional umbrella-holder, and at last dispersed to their respective homes again, in good order, but with their taste for such ebullitions temporarily damped, if in no way permanently satisfied.

But this girl was in no way damped. She was braced and wrought up by it, on the other hand (why, else, should she have gone home and changed her clothes to walk by the rainy sea at midnight?): and the thick sights and sounds of the echoing evening behind her — the restless resplendence of the audience in the plush of the stalls, the hot whisperings, the lemon glare from the stage, the ring of actors’ voices and the hard roar of applause — were still in her eyes and ears, were still an intoxication to her, and were the very stuff from which she was making her decisions. And her decisions were very clearly defined, and most charmingly and alarmingly
simplified, and yet a little defiant and tremulous withal (for she was by no means quite sure of herself as yet), and they amounted to this — that she intended — or rather that she
intended
— she was underlining tremendously to-night, which shows how insecure she was down below — that she
intended
— to Go upon the Stage.

II

For in the calculations of the youthful, light-hearted, and in every respect untheatrical circles in which she had hitherto moved, you had no difficulty in Going upon the Stage like that. The Stage (whatever that was) had no say in the matter. It was, presumably, just waiting somewhere, like a bus, or a tram, or the Giant Racer at Wembley, to be Gone Upon…. That the cold testimony of Science might one day succeed in cumbering the situation with whispers of an Agent (or some such coarse reality), she was, of course, vaguely aware; but such a thing never entered her head as a serious barrier. If there were any deterrent at all, it came from the character of the Stage itself, which was conceived by this girl as being unalterably, lamentably, and yet also a little enthrallingly inseparable from a nebulous kind of
Wickedness
. This Wickedness was obscurely collective, of course, rather than actively individual — otherwise you would
naturally
have little desire to Go amongst it — but that did not alter the fact of this Wickedness. Wickedness, indeed,
confronted
you at the very opening of your negotiations in this quarter, inasmuch as it was another unalterable and
lamentable
axiom (much impressed upon this girl by her various girlish and sympathetic discouragers) that you were not likely to Succeed upon the Stage unless you Carried On with the Manager.

With respect to this Manager, it seems that the poor man had no more say in the matter than the stage had in the first place; and that just as there was some placidly receptive Stage, to be Gone Upon at will, so there was some kind of ideal and all-embracing Manager, pleasantly and
professionally
intemperate, simply waiting in an iniquitous flat
somewhere
to be Carried On with.

It is believed that those actually concerned in this
connection
would not defer to this outlook. That is all very well, they might say, but the thing’s not so easy as all that. The enigma hitherto has been to find your Manager. We shouldn’t mind Carrying On with him a bit if you could only tell us where to look him up. And they would surely be justified in thus casting disparagement upon questionable data. For experience has exhibited, with respect to Managers, that although there may yet be a certain quantity extant who (as this girl imagined the greater part of them to do) relieve their daily energies in a nefarious round of cigar-eating, champagne-drinking, being bloated, buying souls, and
turning
beautiful (and trusting) creatures into Things and so forth — that although there can never be any natural
guarantee
against the acquirement of any of the above-mentioned characteristics by Managers — they are a great deal more likely to appear in everyday affairs as middle-aged and heavily married bodies, in the habit of returning to their wives punctually for supper, with a severe talking-to if they forget the greens, and not without the threat of a strong mustard bath and a pot of gruel if there’s any sneezing and the weather’s on the chilly side…. For the domesticity of the average Manager, experience would affirm, is as pious as it is proverbial.

But once get on to experience, and what experience would have had to say on the subject of the profession this girl was choosing at midnight with such tremulous audacity, and instances of her general bemusement might be multiplied indefinitely. Her misinterpretation of managerial intention was but a preliminary misinterpretation,

III

Jackie Mortimer, for that was this girl’s name, was the product of a late Edwardian and early Georgian Brighton, which was not really Edwardian, and not really Georgian;
and she belonged to an indeterminate society which was dominated from no particular quarter, but conspicuously active in Cutting itself. This was a golden era for the Cut, in fact, and that naïve bludgeon of social consciousness and rectitude was wielded judiciously but lavishly on all sides. But then, from the standpoint of the present time, it was a naïve and simple-hearted Brighton altogether. It is
impossible
to say why it should have been so; but it was so, in its very artless Edward-Georgian self. It was a naïve Brighton merely because Horse Cabs are naïve things, and the spectacle of people whistling like blazes in the night for them is a spectacle of naïveté, and because people who can still make conversation on Ankles, and get into a great state about Glad Eyes and speak derisively of Knuts, and wear straw hats, and play Coon Can, and try to get thin on Antipon, and consider themselves on the road to becoming fast, and talk with strong conceit about Motoring, are fundamentally and necessarily a naïve people.

In this Brighton, or rather in the Hove lying ponderously and residentially to the west of this Brighton, the whole of Jackie’s life had been spent. In the last days on earth of King Edward the Peacemaker, when that lovable yet
imposing
monarch was allowed to come out, laboriously and
without
molestation from the populace, into the King’s Gardens, and there take the sun with surly receptivity and asthmatic silence, Jackie Mortimer was a little girl of about five or six, herself playing with a ball in those gardens. And in the early part of the reign of King George the Fifth, just before the war, when all Brighton and Hove was going out on
excited
steamers to the fleet of battleships that lay peacefully on the coast, and the front was festive with pink and green and blue electric bulbs, hung all the way along, Jackie was a very composed and full-grown girl of about sixteen, who walked in twilights on the lawns of those same King’s Gardens, and was loved — walked up and down on the twilit grass, harangued, beseeched, peacefully worshipped, kissed, and withal very calm and friendly under the importunities of her straining young adorers.

Where and when Jackie was first taken with the idea of adopting a theatrical line of business, it is difficult to say; though there can be no doubt that it was her nurse who, in the very first instance, Put Ideas into the child’s head. For Jackie was an exceptionally alluring little girl, and had just that kind of thoughtful-eyed and champagne-haired head into which it is a great pleasure for nurses to Put Ideas. But inasmuch as, among other ideas, Put, at this time, into Jackie’s head, there was always a positive and unequivocal understanding that she was one day (and if Good) to be the Queen, it is doubtful whether anything of so professional a nature could ever have entered into her mind as a serious project.

But she must have acquired it somewhere, and that very young, for it had always been a tradition at Jackie’s
day-school
, from the earliest and satchel-carrying times, that that, somehow, was Jackie’s line, and that one day Jackie was coming back, in her glory, to play at the Theatre Royal. “You won’t know us then,” the other girls used to say. (That was the way in which people spoke to Jackie. She had just that quality of inspiring enthusiasm without
resentment
, and popularity without jealousy. She was always rather fêted and made much, was Jackie — in these days anyway.) Also, whenever there were any private theatricals in progress, she was always the leading figure, and naturally given the principal part, and played, it has been said, superbly. Indeed in a certain play, given by the school in her last term there, and called, you will not be surprised to hear,

The
Dream
Man,”
Jackie came on in a sweet boy’s dress and with a large bag (purported to contain dreams), and took by storm the dark little hall that was specially hired for the entertainment. There was hardly one who did not join in the general applause of Jackie, then: and when she came up to take her prizes afterwards — for Jackie was as clever as Macaulay, as well as being so talented and beautiful (The Headmistress said that Their Youthful Siddons seemed to possess historic as well as histrionic talent [Laughter]) — such a roar of clapping and cheering and footstamping arose,
that signs of tears became apparent not only in Jackie’s eyes, and not only in the eyes of her closest friends, but even in those of her few detractors, so carried away were they all by the occasion. Indeed one impassionable person of twelve years of age, celebrated for having nourished a Crush on the figure in the limelight, was positively observed to be no longer in command of herself and compelled to withdraw to the back of the hall, with an accommodating companion of the same years, until such time as she could again face the world with a dry and sober countenance.

And then, of course, quite apart from her demonstrable dramatic skill, Jackie’s adorers and Jackie’s beauty must in themselves have been incitements to some sort of theatrical aspiration. And as for the quantity of those adorers, and the high quality of that beauty — the latter was proved by the former, and proved beyond question. Very possibly no other young girl in the whole history of those King’s
Gardens
could lay claim to quite so much admiration and quite so much of soft intrigue as Jackie had drawn towards her in those days. But whether or no she could actually and
objectively
have been styled a beauty in these days, and what kind of beauty she would have been if she fell under that category, are different questions. It need only be said that to the world at large she was certainly recognizable in her looks as one belonging to a type aiming distantly at some racial ideal, and she could not go abroad without making this fact subtly manifest in whatever quarter. Old ladies in buses were to be discovered either gazing with lost and
dim-smiling
benignancy, or frowning with fierce absorption at her, as she sat opposite: ticket-collectors, carpenters, porters, and their ingenuous kind were either reduced to almost emotional direction-giving and professional exposition, or braced to misanthropic curtness, in her presence: factory hoydens, when they passed her in the street, at once began to nudge, and giggle, and cry “La-di-dah!” and tumble about with similar derisive and envious expressions until she was out of sight: and she was, in general, considered in the course of nature to be unequal to carrying anything, of any
weight whatever, or to standing up on the two legs which God had given her for any decent length of time, or to
transacting
any daily business with ordinary care or efficiency. Whether it was defined or not, Jackie introduced a new and slightly strained and slightly elevated atmosphere wherever she went; and it was taken for granted that she was
constructed
on slightly different principles.

You must figure Jackie in these days as being very modest, but very bright-eyed and serene, and full of the most high-minded intentions of Knowing her old friends when she came back to the Theatre Royal in her glory, and with all the unhurried air of one who knows that the world is at her feet, and that the world’s prizes are for her leisurely picking. She had, at the time, the most curious credibility towards life as an occurrence, and success as a thing that would happen to her from the outside. Success, and the
admitted
obstacles to success, were alike to fall upon her as the natural results and indications of her talents. She had no sense of having to seek or make anything, to thrust, and watch the results, and thrust again. She had certain gifts, and the world would show the fit and normal worldly
reaction
to such gifts.

Indeed at this time everything hung so deliciously and yet so very much in the air, that the whole thing seemed likely to remain in the air for ever, and finally dissolve into its own element: but two events occurred which brought her projects down to earth, where they still remained phantasmal, and delicious, and vague, but were down to earth for all that. The first of these was the outbreak of the war, and the second of these was the death of her father. Her mother had died when she was very young.

Possibly there was no decline in Jackie’s popularity at the outbreak of the war, but there was, of course, a war to think about, and she could not expect, had no notion of expecting, to be the talk and pet of her circle to the same extent. Her circle, in fact, towards the end, showed every sign of getting itself involved in war-work and war-marriage and dispersing altogether. At war-work proper Jackie herself was utterly
incompetent. She fainted instantly on being confronted by a day’s work at a canteen; she was the wretched and scared origin of a deplorable scene (involving a Tram) in the Dyke Road while trying to learn how to drive a car; and apart from a little rather strained singing and cigarette-bestowing amongst well-disposed wounded soldiers, and apart from a little estimably patriotic villification of the Germans, whom she declared, with conviction, to be Brutes (or even, after great outrages, Swine), she was hardly any true support to her country in its hour of need. Indeed Jackie was always rather out of it as far as the war was concerned.

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