CLARICE DUPONT stepped in, closed the door and stood leaning against it, her cool blue eyes unblinking. She held a cigarette in her white, carefully manicured hand, her crimson nails like talons. She put the cigarette to her crimson lips and slowly exhaled a thin haze of blue smoke.
She looked coolly at Sally and slowly shook her head.
“Sally, oh, Sally,” she said in a tone of mock disappointment. “Do you really think you can replace me?”
Sally was determined to remain calm.
“Mr Knowles has told you, then?”
“Oh, yes, Knowles has told me what he’s been told. I heard that you have friends in high places. That stagehand friend of yours? I heard he was some kind of war hero. So you got what you wanted?”
Sally began to protest. Clarice held up her hand.
“Why not? In this business you use everything you can. I do.” She gave a short laugh. “To get to the top you have to be determined. Can you do that, Sally?”
“I’m determined to try, yes,” Sally protested. “And it’s only one performance, Clarice. Surely you don’t begrudge me that after all the hard work I’ve put in?”
“Ha!” Clarice dismissed that remark with a wave of her cigarette. “You’ve been paid for that. Be satisfied.”
“Would you?” Sally fired back.
Clarice laughed in genuine amusement.
“No, I wouldn’t. But you’re not me. You know the best thing you could do? Go back to that little company you were with and to that dishy man who obviously dotes on you. That’s where you belong. Not on my stage.”
“Thanks for the advice, but I’m going to do that performance and if you can’t wish me good luck, I’m sorry.”
“Good luck?” Clarice frowned. “Yes, you need a lot of good luck in this business, but when you’re on stage you just need . . .” Clarice’s eyes were wide “. . . you need to dazzle, to shine, to be the star.”
She looked at Sally for a moment, then turned to go. As she reached the door she looked back.
“Will you shine, Sally, or just twinkle?” She closed the door.
* * * *
Sally’s dressing-room was filled with flowers. Three telegrams were on the dressing table. A large bouquet was From all your friends in the Jolly Goods. A small spray of roses had a card: With you in mind. Love, Will.
Two of the telegrams were also from the Jolly Goods and Will wishing her well. The third telegram read, Will watch your performance stop Robert Conroy stop.
Mr Conroy was the agent of the impresario Jacob Foster, who had come to see her performance in the Jolly Good Company and had then offered her her present job. Could she impress him again?
She heard the orchestra tuning up. There was a quick knock at her door. A voice called, “Five minutes, Miss Swift.” She wasn’t in the opening number. She looked at herself in the dressing-table mirror, took several slow, deep breaths, looked at her flowers for a moment then stood up.
After about five minutes on stage she began to relax a little. She hadn’t done anything wrong. The leading man, Warren Powers, was responding well to her and the audience seemed to be becoming more responsive.
Sally glanced in the wings. Clarice was standing there, her face expressionless. Sally tried to forget her, but 10 minutes later she had to look again. She was still there, smiling. The next time Sally looked, Clarice had gone.
At the end of the show there was warm applause. There were a couple of curtain calls, then it was all over. She felt exhausted. Thankfully, as she made her way to her dressing-room there was no sign of Clarice Dupont.
She sat and poured herself a glass of water. She was hot and parched.
There was a gentle knock at the door. That wasn’t Clarice’s knock. Will! She rushed to open the door.
“Oh! Mr Conroy.”
He smiled his thin, nervous smile.
“I’m sorry to disturb you so soon, Miss Swift, but I have a train to catch. I need to be in London this evening. May I come in?”
“Yes, of course. Come in, Mr Conroy. Sit down, please.”
Mr Conroy sat, his battered briefcase on his knee. Sally sat opposite, her eyes trying to read his face.
“What did you think of the performance, Mr Conroy?” she asked anxiously.
“Competent,” he said.
“Competent? Is that all?”
Mr Conroy looked down at his hands folded on top of his briefcase, then looked up at Sally.
“Miss Swift, you have been in this business long enough to know how hard it is. Quite brutal at times.” He shook his head in sorrow, then continued, his tone measured and precise.
“You sing and dance well. You are very attractive, but you do not have what is called star quality. You will always be able to make a good living in this business, but I do not think you will ever be able to carry a major production. I couldn’t recommend that, I’m afraid.”
“And Clarice Dupont?”
“Oh, yes.” He nodded and bent forward a little. “She may not be the most pleasant of people, but she commands a stage. I’m sorry, Miss Swift.”
Sally just sat. She didn’t know what to say.
Mr Conroy stood up.
“You’ve done well, you know. In the circumstances we have no objection to you leaving the show whenever you wish. We could always call upon you should the need arise. It won’t be going to the West End. It may only run for another three weeks. These talkies, you know. Goodbye, Miss Swift.”
The door closed, and all that Sally wanted was Will’s arms around her.