The year was nearing its end, the days barely worth noticing as the dark winter nights invaded London. Ned had never minded the cold. Keeps the mind sharp, his father had always said, and since most evenings were spent in the warmth of a local tavern it didn’t matter to him that the streets outside were white with frost. As soon as Ned stepped off stage each evening he came down to Union Street and claimed his spot by the fire. By the time he made his way home he would be wrapped up safe in an ale jacket.
‘It’ll be another year before you know it.’ Sean was Ned’s only friend, often given to such blatant observations. ‘I’ve grand plans for it.’
‘1831 will be a better year,’ Ned agreed, ‘though I’ve not too many complaints about this year. Apart from the Maggie debacle, I’m finally getting somewhere. I’ve got this audition tomorrow but from what I’ve been told the role’s mine.’
‘Good luck to you,’ Sean said. ‘Or break a leg is it you lot say?’
‘Luck is on my side, old friend. Finally.’
‘D’you have the time?’ Sean asked, draining his glass.
Ned pulled out his new silver pocket watch, bought with his hard earned wages from the Olympia. ‘Almost ten o’clock. Nora will be here soon, my friend, never fear.’
‘I’m that obvious?’ Sean chuckled. ‘Another?’
Ned nodded and leaned back in his armchair as his friend walked off to the bar. The flames from the fire played across the shiny watch case as he shone it on his jacket sleeve. He deserved his success, he decided. Had he not struggled for years? Lived in foul lodgings that the rats were not sure about, and lived hand to mouth since childhood?
There was one thing missing that would have made life complete. Ned closed his eyes and let his mind focus on the dream that now occupied his thoughts. A thirty year old man was well old enough to be thinking of family life. At one time he had dared to believe that Maggie Lenahan was the woman for him, but she was nothing to Ned now.
‘Mind if I join you?’ A female voice shook Ned from his reverie. Nora had arrived, Sean beaming proudly as he placed the drinks down and fetched her a chair.
‘Long day,’ Ned commiserated. Nora was the wardrobe mistress at the Olympia, a job that entailed arriving before and leaving after the rest of the company.
‘Bloody ballet girls!’ She took a sip of her gin, wincing at the burn of it. ‘Every night they manage to rip their costumes or spill tea on themselves.’
‘The whole place would fall apart without you, love.’ Sean took her hand and she smiled.
Ned shifted uneasily in his chair. He was happy for Sean. Really, he was. He couldn’t stop the needling in his stomach though, the idea that he deserved such attention from a woman like Nora. He secretly thought himself a better prospect than his best friend. More than one woman had called him handsome, and with his newfound fame, why weren’t more of them falling at his feet? Sean was not an ugly man, but no one would give him a second glance. His coffee stall was the source of what little money he earned, barely enough to cover the rent on his room and keep him fed. How he would look after Nora if, as seemed inevitable now, they married?
‘Are you still with us, Ned?’ Sean shook him lightly by the shoulder.
Ned laughed. ‘Sorry, old friend. I’m falling asleep. I’ll leave you two alone and head off I think. I’ve an audition tomorrow to prepare for.’
Taking up his warm overcoat and jamming his hat back on his head, Ned headed out into the frosty air. Tomorrow he would show Sam McCarthy that he was the only choice for Iago and then he would begin his new quest: to find a wife worthy of him.
Click here for Part Two.