Basil had not been smoking during the evening. [Now he took one.] Without thinking what he was doing he drew a little photograph, highly finished and very clear, from the tiny cardboard case. He glanced at it casually.
The thing was one of those pictures of burlesque actresses which are given away with this kind of tobacco. A tall girl with short skirts and a large picture hat was shown in a coquettish attitude that was meant to be full of invitation. Basil looked at it steadily with a curious expression on his face. Then he took a large reading-glass from the table and examined it again, magnifying it to many times its original size. He scrutinised it with great care. It was the portrait of the strange girl who came to St. Mary's. Basil had told Spence of this woman, and now he passed the photograph on to him.
"Harold, that is the girl who comes to church and looks so unhappy. She is an actress, of course. The name is underneath— Miss Gertrude Hunt. Who is Miss Gertrude Hunt?"
Spence took the thing. "How very queer!" he said, "to find your unknown like this. Gertrude Hunt? Why, she is a well-known musical comedy girl, sings and dances at the Regent, you know. There are all the usual stories about the lady, but possibly they are all lies. I'm sure I don't know. I've chucked that sort of society long ago. Are you sure it's the same person?"
observations: Earlier entry explains what's going on in this book, and should be read first.
Gertrude is a lot more fun than the other woman in the book – Helena, Basil’s fiancée, who has no role to play at all. Poor Gertrude is of course doomed – just going to church is not going to be enough to save her. She has had possibly my favourite fictional diagnosis of all time:
Now, she is dying from a slow complaint. She will live a year or two, the doctors think, and that is all. It does not prevent her from living her ordinary life, but it will strike her down suddenly some day.
If only we knew the name of this disease – such a useful one for authors, so convenient.
When Basil, a curate, goes to visit her in ‘the vice-haunted streets of Bloomsbury’ – that has changed over the years – she is wearing a very nice-sounding outfit:
a long, dull red teagown of cashmere, with a broad white band round the neck opening of white Indian needlework, embroidered with dark green leaves.
As he observantly says, she wears different clothes to come to church than in publicity photos.
Gertrude will make the ultimate sacrifice to save the world – she will commit a sin that she thinks will damn her forever, in order to find out the truth of the anti-Christianity conspiracy. Luckily, all the male religious are able to pronounce that far from being damned, she will go to heaven – see the earlier entry.
Links on the blog: Julia in Maugham’s Theatre was a completely unabashed and splendid actress.
The photograph is from the Bain Collection at the Library of Congress, of an unknown actress.