Belgravia

Keeping Up Appearances – Part One

‘Those letters won’t read themselves,’ David warned.

Sam had sought sanctuary in his study, away from Daniel and Celine who were in the throes of their first marital disagreement, and Maria who was feeling unwell yet again. He sat at his grandfather’s desk, shipped over from America at great cost, a stack of correspondence before him. He was due back at the Olympia the following day and would be harangued and pestered the very moment he set foot through the theatre door. He would be wise to make a start now but he felt listless, more exhausted than he had felt since an attack of influenza ten years before.

David pulled up a chair opposite his employer and reached over to pick up the silver letter opener. Sam placed his hand over his valet’s. ‘Don’t. Can’t we just sit for a while? In peace? Listen – silence in this damned house for the first time all day!’

‘Samuel.’ David gave him a stern look, reminding him of his grandfather. He took his hand away.

‘The doctor came?’

‘He is here now, upstairs with Maria. Hopefully this time he can diagnose her mysterious illness. Anyway, I’ve told him to come and speak with you after his examination.’ David slit the first envelope open. ‘Langston wants to know…oh, the man is a pest.’ He rummaged through the pile and pulled out three more envelopes bearing the same handwriting. ‘Can you spare him the box for Daniel’s next performance, whenever that will be. Gratis of course.’

‘Tell him yes. Should I be worried, do you think?’ Sam took a sip of his brandy.

‘I don’t believe so. Langston is always over-keen, there was really no reason to send three…’

            ‘No, David, not Langston for pity’s sake! Maria! My wife. Should I be worried about her illness?’

‘Oh.’ David put down his work. ‘Is it not just female problems? I admit that I am no expert in such matters but it seems to me that she is seeking your attention more than anything.’

‘Oh, David,’ Sam sighed and picked up his spectacles. ‘I will reply to Langston. Read the next.’

David made a neat pile of the repetitive missives, crumpling the envelopes and discarding to the floor. ‘Ah, this is from Hamburg. It must be Ziegler.’

Hans Ziegler was a great friend of Sam’s, a fellow theatre manager. He hadn’t heard from Hans since, oh, it must have been April, just after he and Daniel had spent a month in Hamburg, Daniel playing Othello and Shylock to great acclaim. There had been no need to pander to the requested of a Herbert Langston type over there, he mused.

David began to read the letter aloud, suddenly pausing and looking up at Sam in horror. ‘Sam, this cannot be true but…had anyone but Ziegler written this I would not believe a word.’

‘What on earth is the matter?’ Sam reached across and tore the letter from his valet’s hand, reading the words quickly for himself and falling back in his chair as dread stirred in his stomach. ‘My God.’

‘Sam, this girl must be lying. You told me that it was only the once that you lay with her.’ David’s eyes were pleading and Sam could not bear to look at him.

‘That is true, but I visited her, on more than one occasion.’ He spoke slowly. ‘She was a young girl, not experienced, as per your advice. I felt sorry for her, for the life she had been forced into, so I paid to have her kept exclusively for my…use, I suppose is the word. Ziegler told me that if I did not go to the place then the madam would rent her again rather than lose the use of her, and so I went every night. She listened while I talked. She could not understand a word but I felt better for it. If they say that the child is mine then we will know for certain soon enough.’

David was dumbstruck, both men’s attentions jolted by a knock on the door. David hurried to admit Maria’s physician, Dr West as Sam hid Ziegler’s letter from view.

‘Mr McCarthy.’ The men shook hands and the good doctor took up the seat that had been vacated by David, accepting the offer of a small sherry as it was his last call of the day after all. ‘Well, I have examined your good wife and am very happy to inform you that there is nothing seriously wrong with her.’

‘Thank goodness.’ Sam smiled politely.

‘I am quite surprised that she did not surmise herself what the problem was,’ the doctor continued. ‘She is not close with her mother? Or have sisters?’

‘Mara is estranged from her family.’ Sam’s impatience grew. ‘Why?’

‘Well, Mr McCarthy, it is my honour to tell you that she is with child. Due before the end of the year I would say.’

Sam heard the crash as the sherry decanter slipped from David’s hand onto the glass below. ‘What good news.’ He forced a smile to his face but he could see that the doctor saw through him.

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