There is Nothing like a Dame Chapter 26


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 26   A significant purchase.

I realise now that I failed to mention that when I first returned to the flat the previous evening, ready to eat the tea that Frank had cooked, I was greeted by the most delicious aromas coming from the kitchen. Dale was home from work by now and of course, I congratulated him on the news of his impending marriage to Frank. We called it a 'marriage' even though we knew that officially it was a 'commitment ceremony', but as far as Dale and Frank were concerned, they were getting married.

During the discussion of the ceremony over tea of roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, peas and carrots, with home-made apple strudel and custard to follow, it seemed that they had already worked out quite a lot of the details. The first thing I had to ask was whether it was to be a 'black tie' event? They assured me that it was, and that meant I could start thinking about what sort of a new dress I should buy. A floor-length gown sounded most suitable.

Dale laughed: “What to wear is always the first thing on a woman's mind.”

“Well, I wouldn't want to let you down by turning up in jeans and a tee-shirt,” I retorted. “After all, if I am to be the 'Best Woman', I want to look my best in the photos.”

I asked about the venue. As it was to be a ceremony conducted by a celebrant, they had decided that it would take place at the same venue as the reception.

“We're going to spend a few weekends checking out what is on offer, and the cost,” said Frank. “I don't think there'll be any problems about it being a 'same-sex commitment', but if they appear at all reluctant, then we'll just cross them off the list. There's plenty of choice.”

I wondered how many guests would be coming. I knew that Dale's parents had come around to the idea of him being gay, but I wasn't sure about Frank's parents and it didn't seem appropriate to ask. I would let him tell me.


The following morning I was back at the theatre to make my report to Duncan Morgan. I told him that in my opinion Edith Evans was very good and would be a real asset to the Company.

“It's very good of you to say so, Harriet,” he replied. “I'm sure there is room for two young female stars in our programme.”

'I hope so,' I thought to myself.

I had some shopping to do and also I wanted to review my selected speeches for the Lady M audition. I didn't know if Edith was also going to audition for the part. It might be a case of 'Let the best actress win'. I wondered if there was some way that I could meet Edith, and then it happened. As I was leaving the theatre building I saw a young woman walking towards me.

“Edith Evans?” I said. She looked at me quizzically, probably trying to remember where she had seen me.

“I'm Harriet Stow,” I said.

“Of course, Harriet. I'm so pleased to meet you,” she said, offering me her hand.

I made a quick decision: “Do you have time for a cup of coffee?” I asked.

She glanced at her watch: “Yes, the rehearsal doesn't start for forty minutes. I'm always chronically early.”

“Better that than chronically late,” I responded with a laugh as we headed to the theatre café.

“I've been wanting to meet you,” she said. “I've heard a lot about you, but I was told you were in America as a 'resident artist'.”

“Yes, I returned a few days ago. It was a great learning experience. I saw you perform 'Desdemona' last night; I was very impressed.”

Edith blushed: “It's very kind of you to say so.”

“When you get to know me better, you'll know that I don't throw praise around unless it's warranted. I hope you are going to stay at Stratford?” I enquired.

“I hope so,” she replied. “It's very kind of you. I was afraid you'd see me as a rival and hate me on sight.”

“Not at all. The only effect on me is to make me lift my game. I know we're likely to be rivals for rôles, but apart from that, I hope we can be friends.”

You may think this was a subtle form of gamesmanship, designed to put Edith off her guard, but I meant every word I said. I had always thought that the Company was more important than the actors in it, and if she proved to be the better person for some parts, then so be it. Of course, there were also some plays where we might have the chance to be on stage together.

Edith glanced at her watch and I didn't want to keep her.

“Just out of interest, are you auditioning for 'The Scottish Play'?” I asked.

“'The Scot...'?” she paused, looking puzzled. “Oh, of course, yes I am.”

“You'll have to forgive me, I'm one of those superstitious actors,” I smiled.

She smiled back: “It's good to keep the traditions alive. Is there a time when we can use the actual name?”

“Oh yes, if we're involved in the production. It would be a bit time-consuming to keep saying 'The Scottish Play',” I said.

With that we said 'goodbye' for the present. Edith walked to the stage and I left the theatre to go and do my shopping, and also check out a few boutiques for a possible gown for the boys' wedding. Well you can never start too soon.

Time got away from me and by the time I returned to the flat, Dale was already there.

“There's a letter for you,” he said, handing me an envelope with a solicitor's name on the front top corner. It wasn't the solicitor I used and I wondered what it was all about. Dale was itching to know, but I took the envelope very casually as though I knew what it was all about and walked into my bedroom before opening it.

After returning from America and receiving the unexpected bonus from Hiram Thompson, Reggie and I had discussed what I should do with the money. I had been in the business long enough now to know that acting can be a precarious occupation. It's possible to earn a lot of money very quickly and then have a 'dry' spell where no money is coming in at all. I had been lucky so far, but I was keen to invest my money somewhere secure, 'just in case'. After all, it only takes a downturn in the economy and people's discretionary spending falls. One of the first things they are likely to stop buying are theatre tickets.

“You could buy some shares, or maybe another property,” said Reggie.

I have always been dubious about the share market which I view as gambling akin to visiting a casino. Such illogical things happen, such as a company posting a good profit and the shares falling because someone thought their profit should have been higher. Of course the reverse can happen too; the company makes a loss but the shares go up because it wasn't as bad as expected.

“You have to choose your shares carefully,” said Reggie. “That's why you employ a broker to act for you.”

“But don't they get it wrong sometimes?” I asked.

“That's true, but the odds are more in your favour if you employ an expert,” he said.

'Odds'? That sounded very much like gambling to me but I said nothing. I still preferred the thought of 'bricks and mortar'.

Now, as I opened the solicitor's letter our conversation came back to me. Unfortunately, I seem to have mislaid the original. Solicitors like to use a quasi-legal form of writing, presumably to justify their high fees. As far as I can remember, the content was something like the following:

Dear Ms Stow,

We are acting on behalf of Miss Harriet Hosking, the proprietor of the apartment at (here it gave the address) which you are currently leasing.

To be honest, I had never heard of Miss Hosking before, since I dealt with an estate agent.

The letter went on:

Miss Hosking wishes to realise some of her assets, including the apartment, and as you are a long-term tenant, she has authorised me to give you first refusal of the property. She is aware of your occupation and has had much pleasure in seeing you perform in Imperial Shakespeare Company productions. She therefore wishes to offer you the property for (here the letter gave the asking price) which is £10,000 less than the sum for which it will be offered on the open market. Please reply within seven working days if you wish to proceed with purchase of the apartment.

Yours faithfully,

Charles Bennet,
Darcy, Bennet and Bingley,

I rang Reggie that evening and told him the contents of the letter.

“That sounds like the answer to your problem of what to do with your money. However, I hope you realise that by offering you a 'discount', Miss Hosking has made it difficult for you to offer less than her asking price. I suggest your first move is to contact a couple of estate agents and ask them to do a valuation on the flat. You'll probably have to pay for it but it shouldn't cost more than a hundred pounds. Can you do that tomorrow and tell me how you get on please?”

“Thanks for your advice Reggie. Of course I shall, darling, but I do wish you would remember it’s our money."

I explained what had happened to Dale and Frank.

“What will you do?” asked Frank. He looked a bit worried. I assured him and Dale that they were most unlikely to find themselves on the street, and told them about my conversation with Reggie.

The next day I telephoned two agents. One said the charge for a valuation of a flat was eighty pounds; the other said there would be no charge but they hoped I would bear them in mind if I wished to buy or sell property in the future. I arranged for them both to come to the flat the following day. Their valuations came in within ten thousand pounds of each other and interestingly were both slightly higher that Miss Hosking's asking price. When I reported this to Reggie, he said that I had my answer, and to go ahead and accept the offer.

Dale and Frank were very happy to find out that they would be living with their landlady. They were already paying me their portion of the rent each month and then I forwarded the full amount to the estate agent who was managing the property. We agreed that their payment would remain the same, only this time the money would be going directly to me. Of course, as the owner I would now be responsible for costs such as the Council Tax and any maintenance work which needed doing.

There was the usual paperwork to be completed, so it was a good thing that I was in Stratford. I used my usual solicitor to handle my side of the purchase. He was quite surprised when I told him that I would not require a bank loan to purchase the property. I hoped he didn't think I was a millionaire. It was only thanks to Hiram Thompson's generosity that I was able to do this, but I didn't tell him that of course.

I had a few days before the auditions, so I drove back to York to spend them with Reggie. The following day while he was at the university, I was busy doing my 'housewife' thing and singing away to the radio when Reggie arrived home early as one of the lecturers was sick.

The trouble with Reggie is that once he gets an idea in his head, it's very difficult to shift it. The subject of me singing professionally was raised again as it had been on several occasions, and so, more to stop the 'broken record' than anything else, I promised to seek out a reputable singing teacher back in Stratford who would check out my voice and in my opinion, surely tell me that I would be laughed off the stage if I ever sought payment for seeking rôles as a professional singer. If I came away with a written assessment to this effect, surely this would stop Reggie in his tracks and let me get back to doing what I did best, namely straight acting in serious plays, with just the odd song thrown in.

Since Shakespeare's plays have more than a hundred songs, I was always going to be singing occasionally, and I supposed that singing exercises would do no harm to my performing voice. My single song performed in America had gone down reasonably well, so perhaps I was already as good as I needed to be.

As soon as I returned to Stratford in time for the audition, I leafed through the Yellow Pages in a search of a singing teacher. I was surprised how many of them were in the Stratford area, and the problem was how to pick a good one. One name that caught my eye was a Madame Yelena Mussorgsky. I wondered if she could possibly be related in any way to the famous Russian composer. Her advertisement said 'Forty years experience. Children and seniors a speciality.' Well I wasn't either of those, but I thought I would give her a try. After all, if we didn't get on, there were plenty more teachers to chose from.

I phoned the number given and heard a message in a distinctly Russian accent informing me that she was sorry not to take my call, please leave a number and she would call back as soon as possible. This I did, and less than thirty minutes later my phone rang.

“Hello? This is Madame Mussorgsky; you left me a message?”

“Yes, Madame Mussorgsky. My name is Harriet Stow and I'm a performer with the Imperial Shakespeare Company here in Stratford,” I paused, expecting some sort of response but, there being none, I continued. “Shakespeare's plays have a number of songs and I feel that I am not doing them justice. I would like to enquire about some singing tuition to improve my performances.”

“I see,” she responded. “Well I'm sure I can help you. Are you busy at present?”

“I have to attend an audition tomorrow morning, but I'm free for the rest of today if that's not too short notice, or else tomorrow afternoon. Does that suit you at all?”

“It so happens I have a cancellation this afternoon at three o'clock. My first appointment is always for ninety minutes and I charge thirty pounds. Follow-up lessons are twenty pounds per hour,” she replied.

“This afternoon would suit me very well,” I replied.

“Good. Please be sure to wear loose clothing so that your chest can expand,” she replied.

After giving me her address, she hung up. I wondered about the 'cancellation'. Was it genuine or was she trying to make out that her appointment diary was usually very full? No matter, she was on trial as much as I was. If we didn't connect, then I would try someone else.

I followed her advice regarding clothing, wearing a loose summer dress as the weather was quite warm. Of course, as an actress, used to filling a theatre, unaided by a microphone, I did know something about breathing, but I suppose she had to give instructions to total beginners.

I arrived at her address which turned out to be a two-storey solid brick dwelling with a large bay window on the right-hand side of the front door. I was fifteen minutes early, so waited for five before approaching the front door. On it was a notice saying 'Madame Y Mussorgsky, CME.' Underneath in smaller type was: 'Teacher of Singing and Pianoforte' and on the third line: 'Please ring the bell, enter and take a seat in the room on your left.'

I pushed open the door and found myself in a central corridor which seemed to run the length of the house. Behind the closed door to my right, I could hear a piano playing and a voice singing, not terribly well in my opinion. I walked into the room on the left which had some comfortable chairs and couches, and picked up one of the small selection of magazines.

I am usually a confident person but it was at this point that I began to wonder what I was doing there. Did I really need singing lessons for the little I did, and should I reveal to Madame Mussorgsky my other reason for having my voice checked out, namely the possibility of expanding my repertoire by taking part in musicals or light opera. Would she laugh when she heard my ambitions and tell me to stick to my 'day job'?

The singing in the other room ceased and a few minutes later I heard the front door open and footsteps as the previous pupil left. Suddenly, Madame Mussorgsky appeared in the doorway.

“Good afternoon, Miss Stow,” she said.

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.

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