A Jolly Good Show – Episode 61

IT was a few days into the new year of 1928. Edinburgh was dressed in a thin cloak of snow. It was cold and bright with a pale sky. Sally stood alone by the wall of the castle, looking down on the white city below, the smoke from chimneys climbing in thin brown columns in the still air over Auld Reekie.

How suddenly things had happened, she thought. How quickly whole lives can be changed, for better or worse. And sometimes you couldn’t know which it would be.

In Delia’s case it was obvious. Sally smiled to herself. She was going round in a daze of happiness. It was amazing. You just never

knew what life would bring next.

Sally took the small buff envelope from her pocket, the telegram that she had received that morning. She read it again, although she knew its contents word for word.

In Edinburgh on business stop Meet me in Waverley Station buffet at 2 p.m. if interested in fine opportunity stop R. Conroy stop.

The last time she had seen Robert Conroy was in her dressing-room in Manchester when he’d come to watch her performance in “Stardust”. He’d told her she was very competent, but she could never carry a show.

He was a nice man, an honest man, and he’d brought her down to earth. Or so she thought. She had Will now. She was happy.

She stared again at the slip of paper. The temptation was still there. It would do no harm to find out what Mr Conroy had to say. Just have a cup of tea with him. No harm in that.

Boom! Sally jumped, startled by the crash of the one o’clock gun fired each day from the castle. She would walk down to the station for two o’clock.

* * * *

The station buffet was warm and cosy after the chill air. There were tiny pools of water on the chequered tile floor, left by the snowy shoes of customers. It was busy, as always. Sally’s eyes travelled around the room.

She spotted the neat figure of Mr Conroy sitting at a marble-topped table, his battered briefcase by his feet. She went over. He rose as she approached and held out his hand.

“Ah! So you came. Please sit down, Miss Swift. Would you like a cup of tea?”

A few minutes later they were sitting opposite each other with the tea things between them.

“I’m catching the three o’clock train to Newcastle,” Mr Conroy confided. He took a sip of tea.

“You said in your telegram something about a fine opportunity,” Sally prompted him.

“Oh, yes, indeed, Miss Swift. And not as an understudy.” He gave a thin little smile. “I think you’ve had enough of that. Miss Clarice Dupont has gone to the United States, hoping, I believe, to get into films. A fruitless quest, I fear. Between you and me, Miss Swift, I think Miss Dupont is getting a little desperate.”

Sally nodded impatiently.

“And what about me, Mr Conroy?”

Mr Conroy proceeded.

“London, Miss Swift. The West End. A musical comedy.” He held up a finger in warning. “Not a principal role, but a good supporting one. The young woman currently appearing is expecting a happy event and the job would be yours for twelve months, possibly longer. In five weeks, Miss Swift, you could be dancing on the West End stage.”

Sally could feel her chest tightening.

“Why me, Mr Conroy?”

He shrugged.

“I thought you coped very well in difficult circumstances. I know you to be an accomplished and reliable artiste. I think the role in this production, called ‘Springtime’, would suit you.” He glanced at his watch. “I’d better be making a move in a few minutes.”

Sally smiled at him.

“It was very kind of you to think of me. Thank you.”

“Not at all, but I do need to know within the week. There are two other young ladies who would suit the bill as well as you, so I need to know. Unless, of course, you can tell me now?”

Sally looked into his questioning eyes.

“I’m not quite . . .”

He shook his head.

“Let me know.” He reached down for his briefcase and stood up. “Remember, Miss Swift, in five, six weeks, you could be dancing in Drury Lane. Goodbye.”

Sally sat staring at her untouched cup of tea. How quickly things could change. For the better? Or worse?


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