W. Somerset Maugham


THE door opened and Michael Gosselyn looked up. Julia came in.

"Hulloa! I won't keep you a minute. I was just signing some letters."

"No hurry. I only came to see what seats had been sent to the Dennorants. What's that young man doing here?"

With the experienced actress's instinct to fit the gesture to the word, by a movement of her neat head she indicated the room through which she had just passed.

"He's the accountant. He comes from Lawrence and Hamphreys. He's been here three days."

"He looks very young."

"He's an articled clerk. He seems to know his job. He can't get over the way our accounts are kept. He told me he never expected a theatre to be run on such businesslike lines. He says the way some of those firms in the city keep their accounts is enough to turn your hair grey."

Julia smiled at the complacency on her husband's handsome face.

"He's a young man of tact."

"He finishes today. I thought we might take him back with us and give him a spot of lunch. He's quite a gentleman."

"Is that a sufficient reason to ask him to lunch?" Michael did not notice the faint irony of her tone. "I won't ask him if you don't want him. I merely thought it would be a treat for him. He admires you tremendously. He's been to see the play three times. He's crazy to be introduced to you."

Michael touched a button and in a moment his secretary came in.

"Here are the letters, Margery. What appointments have I got for this afternoon?"

Julia with half an ear listened to the list Margery read out and, though she knew the room so well, idly looked about her. It was a very proper room for the manager of a first-class theatre. The walls had been panelled (at cost price) by a good decorator and on them hung engravings of theatrical pictures by Zoffany and de Wilde. The armchairs were large and comfortable. Michael sat in a heavily carved Chippendale* chair, a reproduction but made by a well-known firm, and his Chippendale table, with heavy ball and claw feet, was immensely solid. On it stood in a massive silver frame a photograph of herself and to balance it a photograph of Roger, their son. Between these was a magnificent silver ink-stand that she had herself given him on one of his birthdays and behind it a rack in red morocco, heavily gilt, in which he kept his private paper in case he wanted to write a letter in his own hand. The paper bore the address, Siddons Theatre, and the envelope his crest, a boar's head with the motto underneath: Nemo me impune lacessit.* A bunch of yellow tulips in a silver bowl, which he had got through winning the theatrical golf tournament three times running, showed Margery's care. Julia gave her a reflective glance. Notwithstanding her cropped peroxide hair and her heavily-painted lips she had the neutral look that marks the perfect secretary. She had been with Michael for five years. In that time she must have got to know him inside and out. Julia wondered if she could be such a fool as to be in love with him.

But Michael rose from his chair.

"Now, darling, I'm ready for you."

Margery gave him his black Homburg* hat and opened the door for Julia and Michael to go out. As they entered the office the young man Julia had noticed turned round and stood up.

"I should like to introduce you to Miss Lambert," said Michael. Then with the air of an ambassador presenting an attache to the sovereign of the court to which he is accredited: "This is the gentleman who is good enough to put some order into the mess we make of our accounts."

The young man went scarlet. He smiled stiffly in answer to Julia's warm, ready smile and she felt the palm of his hand wet with sweat when she cordially grasped it. His confusion was touching. That was how people had felt when they were presented to Sarah Siddons. She thought that she had not been very gracious to Michael when he had proposed asking the boy to luncheon. She looked straight into his eyes. Her own were large, of a very dark brown, and starry. It was no eftort to her, it was as instinctive as brushing away a fly that was buzzing round her, to suggest now a faintly amused, friendly tenderness.

"I wonder if we could persuade you to come and