There is Nothing like a Dame
A novel by Bronwen Welsh
Copyright© 2017 & 2018 Bronwen Welsh
A sequel to 'The Might-Have-Been Girl' and 'All the World's a Stage'
Chapter 22 'Tanglefoot'
“She's coming round,” said a far-away but familiar voice. I slowly opened my eyes and realised that I was lying on my back on a rather hard mattress, looking at a white ceiling with fluorescent lights. A face appeared in my field of view. It was blurred at first but gradually sharpened. It was Magnolia.
“What happened? Where am I?” I croaked in a voice that didn't sound like my own as I uttered those timeless words.
“You're in the Baystate Medical Center in Springfield. You had a fall at the theatre,” said Magnolia.
“The theatre! Oh my goodness, I'm meant to be performing, I have to go,” I said, struggling to try and sit up.
A man's head replaced Magnolia's. “Miss Stow, I'm Dr. Ramsay. You suffered concussion and two sprained wrists when you fell, and I'm afraid you are in no fit state to go anywhere, let alone perform on stage,” he said, gently but firmly pressing me back on the bed. It was then that I realised that I could feel a bandage around my head and also around my wrists.
“Oh lord, Julie will have to do it, someone will have to tell her,” I said, my head still swimming.
“It's alright Harriet. Everything's in hand. Julie will perform for you. She sends her love and best wishes, in fact everyone does. She asked me to tell you that she's feeling fine about performing,” said Magnolia.
“Was Hiram mad at me for spoiling the gala performance?” I asked. It was the first time I had used his first name when speaking to Magnolia.
“Not at all,” she replied. “He was very worried about you, we all were. You need to rest now; I'll ring Tanglewood and let them know that you are recovering.”
She squeezed my hand and left, then Dr. Ramsay took over again.
“While you were asleep, we scanned your head and did x-rays of your wrists and you'll be pleased to know that nothing is broken, but you may have a headache for a few days and also a nasty bruise, but nothing that makeup can't conceal.”
I managed a faint smile at that, thinking to myself that I'd found another advantage of being a woman.
I was anxious to ring Reggie and tell him that I was alright. It was better that I spoke to him directly, than someone else passing on a message. This I did, but apparently I still sounded a bit 'away with the fairies' as he told me later, so after I hung up, he phoned Magnolia to get her take on what had happened. He was assured that there was no need for him to rush over and that he would be telephoned immediately if need be. The doctor was convinced that it was only mild concussion and that I'd be fine in a few days.
Soon afterwards, a nurse came along and gave me an injection. It must have been a sedative because I slept for about twelve hours, which I'm sure did me tremendous good. I had been working very hard while in America, not physical work so much as mental work, and I was really very tired.
Later I heard what happened when I fell. I hit the stage with such a thump that even those who didn't see me fall came rushing around to the back of the set. I must have looked a sight, lying spread-eagled and out cold. Miranda was very good. She took charge and immediately called for the ambulance service to be contacted. She established that I was breathing and insisted that I not be moved in case I had broken any bones. Fortunately that was not the case, although I had instinctively stretched out my hands to save myself and that resulted in the wrist sprains.
The ambulance arrived very quickly and the paramedics assessed me, put me on a stretcher and loaded me into the ambulance which then departed, lights flashing and sirens wailing, for Springfield, the nearest hospital which had an Emergency Department, or 'ER” as it's generally known there.
Miranda went to find Julie, sat her down and told her that it was highly unlikely that I would be able to perform, so they would be relying on her to step in. Julie could have fallen into a screaming heap, but she was surprisingly calm and said that thanks to all my coaching she was sure that she could do it. James would now perform both the prologues. There was a thirty minute break so that everyone could settle down. Richard, bless him, spoke to Julie and told her that he had every confidence in her ability to perform as 'Juliet'. Everyone was doing everything they could to boost her confidence. They started the rehearsal again from the beginning and everything went very smoothly.
That evening, before the performance started, there was an announcement made that I had suffered an accident and that Julie would be performing instead. This caused a murmur in the audience as you can imagine. Let's face it, if Richard had been unable to perform there might have been requests for money back, but everyone seem to accept the fact that I wouldn't be there. No-one asked for a refund. When I heard that, I didn't know if I should be offended or not!
I awoke the next morning feeling a lot better, apart from the headache Dr. Ramsay had promised me. I was asked if I would like something to eat and I realised that I was ravenous. After some sandwiches and a cup of coffee, which was the best they could offer as it was long past breakfast time, I felt a lot better. I was also given a tablet for the headache.
I had just turned on the television which hung from the ceiling near the foot of the bed when a nurse came in.
“There's someone to see you Miss Stow,” she said. “Are you up to receiving visitors?”
She looked all starry-eyed, and I had no trouble in guessing who was there.
“Yes, please send Richard in,” I said, and she looked a bit embarrassed that I had so easily guessed the identity of my visitor.
Richard entered bearing a huge bunch of flowers.
“Some people will do anything to get out of performing with me,” he said, pretending to be grumpy, as he approached the bed and kissed my cheek.
“Richard, darling, what lovely flowers! Thank you. Now you know it's not true about avoiding performing with you; I just had a 'tanglefoot' moment.”
He roared with laughter: “Well I'm glad to see it hasn't dented your sense of humour.”
“Even if it dented my head?” I replied. I was really glad to see him.
“Did I ever tell you about the time when I was playing Hamlet and my sword got tangled between my legs? Somehow I stayed upright, but I was told later that I should become a ballet dancer since pirouetting came so naturally to me.”
“So tell me everything. How did last night go?”
“Really well,” he replied. “Julie is a good little actress; not as good as you of course, but she's getting there. She gives you great credit for her performance. Apparently you've been giving her a lot of coaching.”
“I consider it my duty to look after the next generation,” I said.
“Next generation? You're not exactly an old lady yourself.”
“I know, but I sometimes feel it, especially when I meet someone like Julie.”
“Well, she put on an excellent performance, and I rewarded her accordingly,” he said straight-faced.
“Richard! You didn't!”
He laughed again: “The look on your face! No of course I didn't, even if she did instantly fall in love with me. It was just a kiss on the cheek. I made enquiries and apparently she has the hots for young Dean. Who am I to stand in the way of young love?”
Richard and I will always be friends, even if he does love teasing me unmercifully. I suppose the fact that we have a little 'history' has something to do with it. He told me that he was on his way to the airport and that Henry was waiting for him with 'Annabel', so I didn't keep him any longer. After he left, the same nurse came back to check my 'obs'.
“How do you know Richard Jenkins?” she said in awed tones.
“Oh we've performed together a few times,” I replied airily.
“I'm sorry, I didn't know,” she said, blushing. “So you're an actress?”
Talk about stating the obvious, but I was kind: “Yes I am, but mostly on stage in England so it's not surprising that you haven't heard of me,” I replied.
“And you're acting here?” she persisted.
“I was supposed to be performing Juliet in 'Romeo and Juliet' last night until I took a dive from the stairs. Have you heard of it?” I enquired.
“Oh yes, we did it at school, but I found that old English very hard to understand.”
“Yes, it can be,” I conceded. “That's why it's better to hear it acted than just reading it.”
It was funny in a way that her attitude towards me changed so dramatically, not that she hadn't been friendly before, but now she treated me as though I was royalty.
I was feeling much better now and wondered how much longer they would keep me in. I made enquiries of Dr. Ramsay when he arrived again to check me, and was disappointed when he said I should stay one more night to be on the safe side. I occupied my time by rehearsing in my mind my recital which was only a few days off. I decided that one more night at the hospital would be worth it to make sure that I was fit for my solo performance.
That evening Magnolia and Hiram arrived to see me. I immediately apologised for my non-appearance at Tanglewood, but he was very kind, saying it could have happened to anyone.
“Do you think you'll be well enough to do your recital?” he said.
“Yes, I'm sure I will be,” I replied. I could tell he had something on his mind.
“Actually, there's been a huge response to the performance, especially after your accident. The theatre is totally sold out and people are clamouring for tickets. Do you think you could possibly do a matinée the following day? Miranda tells me the theatre will be free then.”
“I'm sure I could,” I replied. “But I'm not sure if the two young musicians can make it. You'll have to ask them.”
“Of course I'll do that,” he replied, a relieved look on his face.
He didn't fool me for a moment; he's a man after all and certainly not an actor. I knew that tickets were being sold for the matinée already, and I could have made things very awkward for him if I'd refused. However, I felt I owed him after my no-show at Tanglewood, and this would go some way to making up for that. I was also quite sure that he had already approached the Rabinovichs and obtained their agreement to perform. I felt that it was the right time to put in a good word for them.
“The young Rabinovichs are very talented; you'll be amazed when you hear them,” I said. “I can see them enjoying a stellar career.”
What I was too smart to say outright but certainly implied, was that anyone who helped their career along in any way would bask in the reflected glory of 'discovering' them. I was sure that Hiram took that onboard and future events proved me right.
I enjoyed another long sleep that night and the following morning felt even better. Dr. Ramsay agreed that I could leave the hospital and provided I had another few days rest, saw no reason why I shouldn't perform the recital. As arranged, I called the Thompson residence and was informed that Henry would arrive to pick me up in about an hour, bringing some clothes packed by Magnolia. After all, I had been brought to the medical centre wearing a hospital gown over my underwear, since they needed the costume I had been wearing, for the play. Later Miranda assured me that she had supervised the change-over while I was unconscious, thus sparing my blushes.
In due course, Henry arrived and I put on my clothes and some basic makeup with help from the nurse, since my wrists were still bandaged. I was taken in a wheelchair down to the ground floor foyer where I signed various papers and produced my insurance policy which Magnolia had thoughtfully sent along. Hiram had already told them that he was guarantor for any extra changes, and apparently that was good enough for them. It's very different to the British National Health Service over there. I was helped into the front seat of 'Annabel', and we set off for East Devon.
As we drove along I asked Henry if he had seen the gala performance of 'Romeo and Juliet'.
“No I didn't, Miss Harriet,” he replied. “After your accident I was too busy taking Mr and Mrs Thompson to the hospital.”
“I only saw Mrs Thompson,” I replied.
“Well Mr Thompson was there. I haven't seen him look so worried in a long time. Maybe you were still asleep when he visited you.”
I had assumed that he attended the performance so that made me feel very kindly towards him.
When we arrived at 'Tara', Magnolia fussed over me like a mother hen, and I had to diplomatically point out that I wasn't an invalid. I could still dress myself; it just took a little longer.
I failed to notice that Henry wasn't around, after he dropped me off at the house. Later, Magnolia helped me change into one of my gowns and insisted on escorting me down the stairs.
“Do you think they'll ever give me another rôle that involves walking downstairs?” I asked Magnolia, and we both laughed.
“I'm sure they will, because they know you'll be the most careful actress around,” she replied.
We had our usual glass of sherry, and it seemed to me that dinner was taking longer than usual to be announced. It was then that we heard the crunch of wheels on the gravel outside, and a few minutes later, in walked...“Reggie!” I gasped.
It was totally unexpected and I was so pleased to see him.
Later that night when we were in bed together, he said: “They told me there was no need to come over, but I couldn't just sit there on the other side of the Atlantic worrying about you, so I rang the Dean's office and told them what happened and that I'd be away for a few days. Then I booked my ticket. I hope you'll forgive me for arriving unannounced.”
“Forgive you? Oh my darling, there's nothing to forgive. You're the sweetest, most caring man alive, and it's wonderful to see you again so soon. I'm sure it will help me recover more quickly.”
“I couldn't work out what to do; it seemed rude to invite myself back to the Thompsons', so I rang here and spoke to Magnolia, telling her I had to come over to see you but I'd make my own way to East Devon and stay in a motel. Of course she would have none of it and insisted that Henry pick me up and that I stay here again. It was very kind of her.”
“She's a very kind person, they both are,” I replied.
“This is hard to believe, but yesterday evening after I booked my ticket, Dame Emily rang me. Somehow she'd heard about your accident, and sends her love and best wishes for a speedy recovery. She said she would catch up with you when you are back in England.”
“That's very kind of her. I'll certainly ring and thank her,” I said. “Now, if you don't mind, I really need to get some sleep.”.
To be continued.
Many thanks once again to Louise Ann and Julia Phillips for spotting my 'typos', thus allowing me to correct them before publishing. A special thank-you to Karen Lockhart, a native of New England who has provided me with local knowledge, menus and correct American idioms for this and the following chapters while Harriet visits the United States.
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