He always sought out the quiet of the office in the moments before the tempest. The silence helped him to concentrate, to evict the everyday thoughts from his mind and pull in the character, the man who would stride on stage in a little over half an hour. There was no room in his head for Daniel Johnson until after the curtain had fallen. He sat there alone, eyes closed and breathing slowed, until he heard the rap of the call-boy’s knuckles on the door.
‘I’ll be down imminently,’ he called out, and waited for the light footsteps to recede down the staircase before standing and stretching his arms above his head, his fingers brushing against the wood of the low beam. The office was up in the rafters of the theatre, an unfinished room in a building that was only two decades old. If he stood in a certain spot it was possible to see the bright July sky through the less than perfect joinery. The room had little to recommend it but its segregation from the rest of the bustling building.
He made his way down to the wings, already dressed as Tybalt. He should have been Romeo, only the month before there had been uproar when his Othello had dared to kiss his wife, Desdemona. Sam had convinced him, he knew himself, that it was not worth stirring up trouble again so soon. This new fellow, Ned, was a decent actor. Daniel was happy to give him the opportunity to play the lead. Besides, after the curtain fell he had an appointment to meet Celine.
‘Danny, good news,’ Sam appeared out of nowhere. Daniel fought to keep annoyance from his face. Sam should know better than to disturb him now. ‘Sorry, only I must speak with you before you leave. We can talk on the way to Covent Garden.’
His friend vanished and the orchestra began to play, for much to Daniel’s continued annoyance this was Romeo and Juliet with music and dance. The stringent licencing laws demanded it, yet another reminder that for all he had achieved, he was still only considered fit for a theatre like the Olympia, on the edge of what used to be marshland and adrift, on the wrong side of the river to be considered in the same realm as the patent theatres of London. At least, he thought, he did not have to sing.
He was on his way to Covent Garden by nine o’clock that evening, the long summer day continuing as he and Sam rumbled along busy streets in the carriage.
‘So what did you need to speak with me about?’ he asked Sam.
‘You act as though I have forced you to travel with me against your will!’ Sam laughed. ‘I have good news, as I said earlier. Ziegler wrote to me from Hamburg. They want you to go back and play Othello once more. He has already arranged it with Leipzig and Berlin that they will make it a tour, and I know that we can extend to Poland easily. This could be six months well paid work, Daniel. Longer if you can bear the winter.’
Daniel thought for a moment. ‘When would I have to leave?’
Sam sighed, knowing what held Daniel back. ‘At the end of the month. I know that means leaving Celine but is there any hope there anyway?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Daniel, my good friend, please do not take offence. She is no ordinary girl. Her father is extremely rich and powerful. He would never consent to you marrying his eldest daughter. Rich white women do not marry negro men. In fact, I would be extremely amazed if he does not have her hand promised to a Frenchman of similar standing already. I’m sorry, truly, but you must realise she is a lost cause.’ Sam paused but Daniel kept his silence. ‘Speak to her tonight. See what she says. I know that you love her. Think of her future. Would you not regret consigning her to a life of poverty when she is used to such riches?’
‘But what if that made her happy? What if I made her happy?’ Daniel spoke finally.
‘Perhaps. But what if you make her unhappy? Not at first, admittedly, but if you marry in haste, spirit her away, when she realises what it is like to be poor, when her friends snub her because they cannot be associated with a black man, will she resent you?’
Daniel looked away from his friend, pushing down his anger until it burned in the depths of him, a simmering heat that was best kept hidden. He knew that once unleashed he would not be able to prevent it from destroying the only friendship he had in this country which was still strange to him. Besides, he knew that no matter how he hated the words, his friend had spoken true.