ARRIVING at the stage door of the theatre in Manchester ready for another morning of rehearsal, Sally Swift was passing the office of Charlie the doorman when his head popped out.
“’Morning, Miss Swift.”
“Good morning, Charlie.” She was walking on when he called her back.
“’Ere, I’ve got something for you.” He held out a small cream envelope. “A young fella jumped out of a big motor and said I was to give it to you as soon as you arrived. Posh gent he was, with a far back voice.”
Sally wasn’t sure what a far back voice was. For a moment she suddenly thought of Will Griffiths. She looked at the small envelope.
Miss Swift was inscribed on the front. She quickly ran her thumb along the seal and took out a single sheet of crackling notepaper.
Dear Miss Swift,
They tell me you are my understudy. What fun! We must meet before I get completely taken over by the show. I’m in room 206 at the Midland Hotel. Please call between
3 and 4 p.m. today.
Sally read the note again. She had a slight feeling of disappointment, then excitement. The star of the show had arrived and wanted to meet her. That was nice of her. And she was staying at the best hotel in Manchester. But, of course, she was an established star of musical comedy.
* * * *
Promptly at 3 p.m. Sally stepped into the lift in the grand foyer of the Midland Hotel and said, “Second floor, please,” to the uniformed lift boy.
A moment later she was standing in a thick-carpeted corridor outside room 206. She took a deep breath then knocked.
The door was opened by a fresh-faced, good-looking young man in his early twenties in a navy blue blazer and trousers, a cream shirt and lilac cravat. He smiled.
“I’m here to see Miss Dupont. My name is Sally Swift.”
The young man called over his shoulder.
“There’s a very beautiful girl at the door, Clarice.”
A clear, melodious voice called back.
“Then don’t let her in. She’ll steal you from me.”
The young man laughed and ushered Sally into the room. Clarice Dupont stood in the middle of the room. Sally walked towards her and took the elegantly stretched-out hand.
“Miss Swift. Sally, isn’t it? So lovely to meet you. Thank you for coming.”
“It’s a great pleasure,
“Please, Clarice. No formality.” She stepped back from Sally and looked at her. “You’re very pretty, Sally, as Tommy was so quick to see.” She looked over at the grinning young man.
Her eyes came back to Sally.
“You’re not as young as I thought you might be.” She sounded quite pleased. “But very pretty. They tell me you were in a little music hall troupe, Sally. Quite passable, they said, but a little bit creaky and old fashioned.”
Sally wanted to jump to the defence of the Jolly Good Company, but she bit her tongue.
“It’s a big chance for me and I’m looking forward to it. I’ve been very lucky.”
Clarice waved a graceful manicured finger.
“I heard that you have friends in high places, Sally.” She laughed at Sally’s expression. “Nothing wrong in that. So do I, dear.”
Sally wasn’t quite sure what was happening. What did Clarice mean? Friends in high places? She could only look blankly at her.
Clarice Dupont was very attractive and so like Sally in many ways. But Clarice’s features were a little sharper, her platinum blonde hair fashionably short and sleek; her dress, too, was short and straight. Her lips were a slash of crimson. Sally thought there was a touch of hardness to her face, although it was beautiful. She was three or four years older than Sally.
“Can Tommy fix you a cocktail?” Clarice offered.
“Thank you, no.” Sally turned to Clarice. “I’m looking forward to watching you rehearse.”
“And I start tomorrow.” Miss Dupont put her hand dramatically to her forehead. “I’d better learn some lines, I suppose. Tommy, be a dear, search around and find that script, will you?” She looked at Sally. “Fortunately I’m a very quick learner.”
Sally prepared to leave.
“I’d better leave you in peace.”
“So nice of you to call, Sally. By the way . . .” Clarice picked up a white clutch bag and began to search through the contents “. . . would you mind calling in at the dry cleaners and picking up a few things for me?” She produced a ticket. “I can’t send Tommy; he’s hopeless. Oh, and here’s a prescription that you could drop off at the chemist.”
Sally took the ticket and prescription.
“Er, yes, of course. No trouble.”
As they reached the door, Clarice said, “You’ll probably be at the theatre before me tomorrow. What I do like before I begin is a cup of hot water and lemon in my dressing-room each morning.”
Miss Dupont gave a bright smile as Sally closed the door and Sally was left wondering whether she had been engaged as Miss Dupont’s understudy or her maid-servant.