Today, I’m delighted to share an extract from Mrs Morphett’s Macaroons.
Violet & Elizabeth
Extract from Chapter 15 of ‘Mrs Morphett’s Macaroons’
The scene takes place outside Daly’s Theatre in London’s Leicester Square in 1905* following a performance of the operetta The Merry Widow, which Elizabeth Chester-Bolt and Violet Graham have attended independently. Miss Chester-Bolt is what’s known in the theatre business as an ‘’angel’, who invests her vast inherited wealth in plays. She is backing a new play written by Robbie Robinson and produced by Violet Graham. The two women have met once before, when the estranged yet not divorced Violet was aware of a distinct frostiness from Miss Chester-Bolt on account of her jealousy of Violet and Robbie’s putative romance.
*I’ve played with chronology a tad here: The Merry Widow actually premiered in London in 1907.
Outside the theatre Violet was contemplating which route to take home when she heard her name called from what appeared to be the inside of a brougham, the door of which stood open.
‘Mrs Graham!’ It was more of a command than a greeting. ‘May I offer you a lift?’
Now that was unexpected. Violet approached the carriage cautiously.
‘That is very kind of you, Miss Chester-Bolt, but I live in quite the opposite direction to you.’
‘No matter, get in.’
She hesitated. She wanted to refuse but she couldn’t immediately think of a reason to do so. And besides, it was late, and it was chilly, and there was a heavy demand for cabs. She climbed in.
She gave Miss Chester-Bolt her address, which the lady relayed to the driver before turning to Violet and saying, ‘What did you think of the show tonight? Extravagant, isn’t it? I’ve seen it five times. It has caused quite a stir here, and in Vienna, and quite right too. For once extreme wealth is not regarded as evil. The notion of a woman who is the centre of attention solely because of her money is a novel one, and I like it very much. And the idea that a man refuses to marry a woman because she is wealthy is clever and ingenious, don’t you agree? I can identify with that myself. You may wonder why I am not yet married, many people do, and it is for the very same reason, not because I have not received offers – because I assure you I have, plenty of them – but because I do not believe they are given honestly.’
She paused, and Violet realised she was expected to respond.
‘It’s a shame,’ she said eventually, ‘you have so little trust.’
‘Whereas you do not have any such excuse. You are lucky. The question is, why would a woman such as yourself remain unmarried? I understand you are estranged from your husband.’
‘That is true, yes.’
‘Not yet divorced. That is an awkward situation to be in, I grant you.’
It was not the direction Violet expected any conversation between herself and Miss Chester-Bolt to take, one-sided as it was. She was intrigued, and not a little apprehensive, as to where this particular one was going.
‘I see there is a certain attraction between Mr Robinson and yourself, am I right?’
Again that was unexpected. She suspected a trap.
‘We are good friends, yes, and working partners.’
‘That is not the impression I get. I have known Robbie for some time and I recognise an attraction when I see one.’
Violet shifted uncomfortably. ‘We are working together to put a show on, there is nothing more to it than that.’ She was trying her best not to sound defensive, or insulted, though she felt both.
‘You must take me for a complete fool,’ said Miss C-B. ‘Or perhaps you think you might be offending me in some way. Perhaps you think I have my own designs on Robbie. And you did not want to upset me because you need my money.’ Miss Chester-Bolt sighed, a touch melodramatically. ‘Because in the end it always comes down to money. And nobody can be completely honest with me so long as there is money involved.’
She had been looking out of the window while she spoke, her eyes on the road. Now she turned to face Violet directly. In the dim light of the carriage interior Violet was aware of a pair of eyes boring into her very soul.
‘I see you are struggling to find an answer, and I understand why. You don’t know whether to agree with me at the risk of offending me, or to continue to disagree with me at the risk of offending me. It is a cleft stick.’
‘I think you’ve rather lost me, Miss Chester-Bolt.’
‘What exactly do you want me to say?’
Miss Chester-Bolt turned her face away from Violet and Vi thought she saw a hint of tears in her eyes.
‘I know I frighten people. I do not have the social skills of some, yourself included, I’ve no doubt. I have a habit of snubbing people, not because . . . ’ She hesitated. ‘Not intentionally.’
She stopped. Violet waited.
‘I do not know who my true friends are. I do not know if I have any true friends. It has made me suspicious, of everyone. Of the most innocent of people, like yourself.’
She stopped speaking again, and it occurred to Violet, with some surprise, that the lady was perhaps attempting to apologise for her abrupt behaviour.
‘So all I wish to say, when it comes to the play, and to Robbie, you do what you like. Take no notice of me. It is your venture.’
‘We will consult with you, obviously.’
The carriage was drawing up outside Violet’s house.
‘Is this where you live?’ Elizabeth peered through the window at the tall house. ‘Gracious me, where on earth are we?’
‘Shoreditch,’ said Violet.
‘Shoreditch? What makes you want to live here?’ she cried. ‘Is it salubrious?’
‘Far from it. But it’s all I can afford. And it suits me. I don’t need much.’
‘You could lodge me with me if you’d like to.’
‘Oh. That’s extraordinarily kind of you, but I would not presume.’
‘You would not be presuming. You could act as a buffer between my mama and myself.’
Violet laughed, and then checked herself. Miss Chester-Bolt was not making a joke.
They sat for a moment in silence. Elizabeth was staring straight ahead.
‘Very well,’ she said. And then leaning across Violet she opened the door and said, ‘Goodnight.’
‘Goodnight,’ said Violet, as she clambered out of the carriage and stood watching as the vehicle, with its extraordinary occupant, sped away down the road.
Here’s the blurb:
London, 1905. A show. A stuttering romance. Two squabbling actresses.
Is it Shakespeare? Is it Vaudeville?
Not quite. It is Mrs Morphett’s Macaroons, a satirical play about suffragettes which its creators – friends and would-be lovers Robbie Robinson and Violet Graham – are preparing to mount in London’s West End.
It is the play rival actresses Merry and Gaye would kill to be in, if only they hadn’t insulted the producer all those years ago.
For Robbie and Violet however the road to West End glory is not smooth. There are backers to be appeased, actors to be tamed and a theatre to be found; and in the midst of it all a budding romance that risks being undermined by professional differences.
Never mix business with pleasure?
Maybe, maybe not.
Meet the author
Patsy Trench has spent her life working in the theatre. She was an actress for twenty years in theatre and television in the UK and Australia. She has written scripts for stage and (TV) screen and co-founded The Children’s Musical Theatre of London, creating original musicals with primary school children. She is the author of three non fiction books about colonial Australia based on her own family history and four novels about women breaking the mould in times past. Mrs Morphett’s Macaroons is book four in her ‘Modern Women: Entertaining Edwardians’ series and is set in the world she knows and loves best. When she is not writing books she teaches theatre part-time and organises theatre trips for overseas students.
She lives in London. She has two children and so far one grandson.
Connect with Patsy
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