The Winds Begin To Sing by Finn
Summary:

The sequel to Tea and Militancy. Susie has gone from Tiernsee and her friends have no clear picture what has happened to her. Meanwhile Tristan Denny is suffering in more ways than just from a broken heart.


Categories: Ste Therese's House Characters: Con Stewart, Jem Russell, Madge (Bettany) Russell, Minor character(s), Nell Wilson, OC
School Period: Tyrol
School Name: Chalet School
Genre: None
Challenges:
Series: Tea and Militancy
Chapters: 76 Completed: No Word count: 68952 Read: 125504 Published: 10 Feb 2014 Updated: 13 Aug 2017

1. Chapter 1 Part I by Finn

2. Chapter 1 Part II by Finn

3. Chapter 1 Part III by Finn

4. Chapter 2, Part I by Finn

5. Chapter 2, Part II by Finn

6. Chapter 2, Part III by Finn

7. Chapter 2, Part IV by Finn

8. Chapter 3, Part I by Finn

9. Chapter 3, Part II by Finn

10. Chapter 3, Part III by Finn

11. Chapter 3, Part IV by Finn

12. Chapter 4, Part I by Finn

13. Chapter 4, Part II by Finn

14. Chapter 5, Part I by Finn

15. Chapter 5, Part II by Finn

16. Chapter 5, Part III by Finn

17. Chapter 5, Part IV by Finn

18. Chapter 5, Part V by Finn

19. Chapter 6, Part I by Finn

20. Chapter 6, Part II by Finn

21. Chapter 6, Part III by Finn

22. Chapter 7, Part I by Finn

23. Chapter 8, Part I by Finn

24. Chapter 8, Part II by Finn

25. Chapter 9, Part I by Finn

26. Chapter 9, Part II by Finn

27. Chapter 9, Part III by Finn

28. Chapter 10, Part I by Finn

29. Chapter 10, Part II by Finn

30. Chapter 10, Part III by Finn

31. Chapter 11, Part I by Finn

32. Chapter 11, Part II by Finn

33. Chapter 11, Part III by Finn

34. Chapter 12, Part I by Finn

35. Chapter 12, Part II by Finn

36. Chapter 12, Part III by Finn

37. Chapter 13, Part I by Finn

38. Chapter 13, Part II by Finn

39. Chapter 13, Part III by Finn

40. Chapter 13, Part IV by Finn

41. Chapter 13, Part V by Finn

42. Chapter 14, Part I by Finn

43. Chapter 14, Part II by Finn

44. Chapter 14, Part III by Finn

45. Chapter 15, Part I by Finn

46. Chapter 15, Part II by Finn

47. Chapter 15, Part III by Finn

48. Chapter 16, Part I by Finn

49. Chapter 16, Part II by Finn

50. Chapter 16, Part III by Finn

51. Chapter 17, Part I by Finn

52. Chapter 17, Part II by Finn

53. Chapter 17, Part III by Finn

54. Chapter 18, Part I by Finn

55. Chapter 18, Part II by Finn

56. Chapter 18, Part III by Finn

57. Chapter 19, Part I by Finn

58. Chapter 19, Part II by Finn

59. Chapter 20, Part I by Finn

60. Chapter 20, Part II by Finn

61. Chapter 20, Part III by Finn

62. Chapter 21, Part 1 by Finn

63. Chapter 21, Part 2 by Finn

64. Chapter 22, Part I by Finn

65. Chapter 22, Part II by Finn

66. Chapter 22, Part III by Finn

67. Chapter 23, Part I by Finn

68. Chapter 23, Part II by Finn

69. Chapter 23, Part III by Finn

70. Chapter 23, Part IV by Finn

71. Chapter 23, Part V by Finn

72. Chapter 24, Part I by Finn

73. Chapter 24, Part II by Finn

74. Author's note by Finn

75. Chapter 24, Part III by Finn

76. Chapter 25, Part I by Finn

Chapter 1 Part I by Finn
Author's Notes:

Reviews always welcome! (Make me feel like I've done the right thing, posting this story!)

‘Time, gentlemen, please.’

Of course, Herr Steiner did not say that, for this was not a London pub but an Alpine inn - the very finest on the Tiernsee shore, or so the fat innkeeper would have you believe. But he polished a glass on his grubby apron and gave the young man at the corner table, who was bent almost double over his beer, a certain look, and the young man translated it thus in his head and lurched upwards, thrusting his chair back so hard that it hit the wall and rebounded with a clatter.

‘Ach, mein Herr,’ the innkeeper protested. ‘Must I add the repainting of my wall to your bill along with your beer?’

But he could see that, as ever, the young man was not listening; he grunted, slapped some coins onto the counter and ducked out of the low doorway to begin the long stagger home.

Herr Steiner watched him go with some pity, but no regret.

It was late summer in the Alps, and by day the sun was beginning to hang lower in the sky, though the leaves were still glossy green and the heat blazed as intense as ever. Even at night, when the sun had dipped behind the mountains and the stars glittered overhead, the temperature was uncomfortably warm and could stick a man’s shirt to his back and armpits more effectively than any adhesive, or so Jack Maynard felt as he came along the lake path from the direction of Seespitz, where he had been attending a patient. It was almost tempting to veer from the path and plunge fully clothed into the lake, and it was only the thought of Herr Braun’s face as he answered the door to a man both very late and sopping wet that stopped Jack from doing so - for it was too late to make it back up to the Sonnalpe tonight and he couldn’t afford to have the best hotelier on that side of the lake turn him away to sleep in the open air. He was tired and was looking forward to a late supper, a glass of wine and a soft feather bed for his night’s rest.

But he was destined to wait for both, for as he came on apace he saw, in the gloom ahead of him, another figure, shambling and stumbling and entirely unsteady, making his way in the same direction, towards Briesau. Jack groaned. A drunk - and his responsible conscience would not let him leave the man at the side of the road until he’d made the most strenuous efforts to find out where he lived and, if possible, to get him home. Not at all a task he relished, but one he would not shirk, especially given that…

Good grief! He’d fallen over. Well, that decided him - Jack hastened along the path towards the prone figure, who to his relief was still moving, and as he reached him and bent over him he recognised, with no little astonishment, his own rival in love, the man that Susie Smith had favoured above him, her beloved, her fiancé - Tristan Denny, singing master at the Chalet School, was lying on the lake path, dead drunk and laughing up at the sky.

It startled Jack out of all politeness.

‘Denny!’ he exclaimed, ‘what in God's name are you are doing?’

Denny’s eyes rolled and then focussed on Jack’s face and he blinked, slowly and comically.

‘Maynard,’ he said, in a voice that was disconcertingly conversational. ‘F'ncy seeing you here,’

‘Denny!’ growled Jack, and he took him by the arm and hauled him into a sitting position. ‘What the hell do you think you are doing?’

‘’M going home,’ said the singing master. He frowned, and added in a confidential undertone, ‘’S taking a…surprisingly long time.’

‘That’s because you’re sitting down,’ said Jack, and took a firm hold of the man and pulled him to his feet. ‘Good God, I never thought I’d see you too drunk to stand. Come on, let’s get you home.’

Which was easier said than done. Denny was a tall man, and though lightly built he had long limbs that had become remarkably unwieldy in the course of his drinking. Jack staggered under the burden. Good grief, the man was so steeped in alcohol he could have pickled a cherry! No wonder he’d barely made any progress towards Briesau unassisted.

Eventually, and it was quite a while later, they were tottering down the garden path to Denny's house and, before Jack had time to ring the bell, the door had opened and Miss Denny was there, staring out into the night.

‘Oh good grief…Tristan, you…Dr Jack, how can I thank you, I…where have you been, Tristan? I’ve been going out of my mind…’

‘Let me get him indoors, Miss Denny, and we’ll have a talk,’ said Jack, and she helped him manoeuvre her brother through the door, down the hall and into the salon. A reading lamp was the room’s only illumination, and the book that lay open beside it told of Miss Denny’s anxious wait for her errant brother.

‘On the sofa,’ she said and, as Jack deposited the rolling body of the singing master onto the broad sofa, Miss Denny switched on the electric light.

‘Dr Maynard, I am so sorry,’ she said. ‘I’m mortified…how can I thank you? It’s…he’s not normally like this, only…’

‘Has he done this before?’ asked Jack when she paused, for there was something in her unhappy face that told of long-kept secrets. She twisted her hands together.

‘I’d better fetch him some water,’ she said, and left the room abruptly. Jack turned back to the patient, whose eyes were blinking slowly open and closed.

‘'M home,’ he said.

‘You're home,’ agreed Jack, ‘and bound to wake up tomorrow with an awful hangover, if I’m any judge. Why’d you do it, Denny? Why’d you worry your sister like this? It’s not exactly decent behaviour.’

‘Not exactly decent man,’ was the mumbled response, and then Denny's head flopped to one side and his eyes closed with a finality that did not require Jack’s skills as a medical man to interpret.

‘He’s asleep,’ he said as Miss Denny came back through with a large mug of water. ‘We’ll wake him in a minute and make him drink something, but first you can sit down with me and tell me all about it.’

Chapter 1 Part II by Finn

‘He’s been drinking heavily on and off all summer,’ Sarah said, ‘but I…I think it’s getting worse. It’s…oh, it’s everything. Susie going, and Evelyn, and no-one’s been around, not a soul. They’re all away in Belsornia, or up at the Sonnalpe, and it’s been just Tristan and me and…’

She put a hand to her forehead in a gesture that was as frustrating to her as it was helpless - she couldn’t bear for the doctor to see how ineffectual she was, but what else could she do, now that he had seen the extent of their disgrace?

‘It’s Susie that’s hit him hardest,’ she said, and she did not notice how the doctor was beginning to frown. ‘He loved her, you know. I don’t understand what happened! They were so happy - they were going to be married, and now…’

‘They’ve separated?’ asked Dr Maynard, and she looked up at him and saw his expression for the first time.

‘Yes,’ she said, ‘and Susie’s gone back to London and no-one knows where to find her. Even Matty - her brother - hasn’t heard from her since July. She’s simply vanished, and poor old Tristan…’

She looked past the doctor to the pathetic figure of her brother, sprawled untidily on the sofa, and felt a tightness in her throat that threatened tears to come. Taking a grip of herself, she picked up the mug of water.

‘Shall we wake him, Dr Maynard?’ she said. ‘I’ll…need some help getting him to bed.’

‘Let me take him,’ said the doctor. ‘I can manage quite well if you’ll lend a hand here or there. Come on, Denny,’ he said, hefting the young man one more time, and the singing master groaned as he started to come round. ‘Up the wooden hill, there’s a good chap…’

Once Denny was in bed and some water forced down his throat, Dr Maynard turned to Sarah.

‘Do you want me to stay?’ he said in a low voice, though the patient’s heavy breathing indicated no need for caution. ‘Just in case…’

‘No need,’ she managed, though the offer stung fresh tears into her eyes. ‘He’s a terribly hard stomach - he can drink an awful lot without making himself ill. Only…I wish he wouldn’t do it. He says it helps him to sleep, but - this much? I simply can’t see that it can be good for him.’

‘A broken heart…’ said Dr Maynard, and paused. He was silent for some moments, and Sarah remarked a forced buoyancy in his voice when he began speaking again.

‘Well, Miss Denny,’ he said, ‘for a broken heart I would prescribe plenty of work, which he will be getting very soon, given that term starts in a couple of weeks. As for trouble sleeping, I’ll write out a prescription. There are things you can take, nowadays, to help with that…let me get my bag and I’ll write it out now.’

A few minutes later, Sarah was bidding the doctor goodbye at her front door, the prescription for sleeping tablets clutched in her left hand. As he retreated, she almost wished she had accepted his offer to stay the night, but then she remembered how Tristan would have hated it - would hate it, when he woke up and remembered how Jack Maynard had picked him up off the lake path and carried him home, and so she went back inside and closed the door, keeping the world at bay for him for just a little longer.

Chapter 1 Part III by Finn

As they clamoured around him, he drowsed.

the tanks lurch ponderously forward towards the lines, jolt over the puckered wasteland, their tracks chucking up mud, barbed wire, dead bits of men


It was the night that he hated most, the night that swung him around and shook him up and turned him into the white-faced creature that scared his sister. It was the night that tipped him into drink, and sloshed him onto the bed in a haze of beer or brandy fumes (but not whisky, never whisky, not after that night), and shook him roughly awake in the morning, a fur on his tongue and his skull shaking and trembling and battering his brain to and fro like a football in a schoolyard.

he watches them come, grey lumps of rolling steel

he will run


Only the drink could blot it out, the noise, the shouting, the metal-on-metal metal-on-flesh metal-on-bone splintering that echoed in his head - that grisly carillon.

he will run

On the cusp of consciousness he heard a male voice alongside the more familiar exclamations of his sister, but he chose to close his eyes and he kept them closed until cold liquid splashed into his face and he opened his mouth instinctively to swallow.

he will…run…

the wire wraps around his leg, the barbs tangling in his flesh and ripping it apart

In the dark of drunkenness he could silence the screams and close his eyes on the world and not fear that the carrion of his past would be spread, entrails slick and glistening, to be pecked over by the crows and the ravens.

and all the while the tanks come on, solemn and unstoppable

their tracks are inches from him


 It was the night, but it was becoming the day, and when it did…

he can hear the cracking of his ankles as it presses on, on, up, up, snapping his bones and splintering his ribs, crushing his cries...

He chokes awake, only it is not quite awake, and the darkness still suffocates him.

When it became the day, he knew he would not go on.

Chapter 2, Part I by Finn
Author's Notes:

I assume people ARE reading here, because the read-count goes up, but it's jolly hard to tell if anyone is enjoying it, or whether the writing is working and effective or if the audience find it plain dull. If it's not too much trouble, I'd be so grateful if people could just say in a quick comment if they're enjoying it and if the prose is effective - it'd mean ever such a lot to me. Thanks.

‘You need to sort yourself out.’

Tristan opened his eyes. He had been sitting in his armchair with his head tossed back, trying to ignore the pain that was shuttling from one side of his head to the other with all the regular insistency of a loom, but the words brought him back to himself, and he opened his eyes to look up with some distaste at the man who was to be his brother-in-law.

‘Mm,’ he said, seeing that some remark was called for but having nothing to say.

‘I mean it,’ said Ted Humphries, and his voice was urgent, low, insistent. Tristan gazed at him through narrowed eyes, his aching mind beginning to unravel the reasons for Ted’s tone of voice, his anxious glances towards the door.

‘Mm,’ he repeated, then exerted himself to a mumble. ‘Mustn’t upset the womenfolk.’

‘Don’t be such an ass,’ said Ted. ‘Pull yourself together, man. Can’t you see how you’re worrying your sister?’

Tristan thought about this and decided that, while it was undoubtedly sad that Sarah was so upset, he could not quite bring himself to feel guilty.

‘Good thing she’s got you,’ he said, and closed his eyes again. A second later he reopened them, for Ted was suddenly bending over him and he could almost feel his hot breath on his face.

‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ he snarled, and Tristan felt his heart begin to gallop like a startled deer, and struggled backwards away from his antagonist. ‘She needs you as much as she needs me - any idiot can see that! Dear God, what sort of a man…’

But before he brought them both to the final insult he stopped himself, backed away, pulled a hand across his moustache, and Tristan remembered Ted’s broken heart, his wife who had died so young, and the tension collapsed out of his muscles. He sensed a strange kinship with the man, a kinship stronger than the one promised by their future relationship, their shared love of Sarah.

‘For God’s sake, just…’

But Ted could not finish, and then Sarah appeared in the doorway and they both turned to look at her, and if Tristan had been in his right mind he would have noticed the strain in her neck muscles, the pinched forehead, the eyes that resembled those of a rabbit, that knows the hawk is in the air above it and fears to move even slightly, lest it be seen.

‘Coffee,’ was what she said, and she said it brightly, and for once Tristan reached out eagerly, because he needed something to drive away this headache and coffee might…might…

‘I am sorry,’ he said, quietly, as she bent to give him his cup, and it surprised him even more than he surprised her. Her lips pressed together but she nodded.

‘Drink your coffee,’ she said, and, eyes closing again, he did.

Chapter 2, Part II by Finn
Author's Notes:

Thanks so much for all the comments. It's such a pleasure to find out so many people are reading. I'm afraid I have very low self-esteem and assume that, if people aren't commenting, they're not enjoying it! Given that the read count has gone down so dramatically since T&M Part II, it doesn't seem an unreasonable assumption...

He left them alone in the afternoon - he still had enough tact for that.

He walked.

The lake offered a mirror to the blue sky above it, the sun tilting with shadows upon its waves, - but he could see no beauty in it. He, country boy that he was, always delighting in nature, had finally drunk his fill; he preferred the unbroken shade of his bedroom, the unnatural closeness of its shuttered and curtained windows, the sweltering warmth of the feather eiderdown upon which he lay, minute by endless minute, until some spur of guilt drove him downstairs to Sarah, to where she sat and sewed, and knitted, and read her books, and waited for him.

It would be better for her if he had never been born at all, but he was here, now, and he must make the best of it, for her sake. But he wished the effort were not so necessary, that he could simply fade away, be forgotten, be never-born, never-loved, never-alone.

He turned from the lake and went towards the pine woods; their shrouded gloom suited his mood far better than the clamour of sunshine and the lakeside. The wood had become his friend this holiday, his friend and refuge; he knew every inch of it and he believed he could even find his way by night - which supposition he had once had occasion to test and to prove. But today there was to be no stumbling in the dark; no, for he made straight for a certain patch he loved, where the trees ringed about a small clearing and one trunk had, many years before, tumbled to the ground and made a delightful bench for the discerning walker. When he reached it he stopped and took out of his pocket the letters that had sustained him all that endless summer, the letters that had breathed life into his withered soul and kept him here on earth, even in those moments where he had thought he might be coming to an end before his time.

The envelopes alone were enough to sustain him, addressed as they were to Uncle Tristan.

He sat down on the tree trunk and looked over to his left, to where its branches stuck out of the loose pine needles that carpeted the wood, and noticed for the first time that they looked like charred stumps of bone, black and withered and crumbling. He had seen bone burned, and flesh, too, for neither the Germans nor the British had been above the use of flamethrowers, and the memory of the blackened, melted men, the smell of their scorching flesh was…it was…

His stomach lurched and he swallowed, breathed heavily, and he found himself rocking back and forth as he strove to forget.

When he felt a little better, he turned his attention to the letters.

Evelyn had written almost every week, sometimes more frequently and, careless correspondent that he usually was, he had surprised himself by answering every letter the very morning that it had arrived. Her earliest communications had been pitifully short and polite, detailing nothing more than daily events - shopping with her stepmother, visiting acquaintances, sitting quietly in corners - and telling him how much practice she had put in on her violin and piano. This last part was the only part of the letters that he enjoyed, as her words speeded up and left her pen behind, and sent her characters slanting and askew and slapdash, but considerably more alive.

Then had come her holiday with Rafaela. She had written on the first day, full of homesickness - not for Trentino, where her father was currently working, but for Tiernsee, for the school, for him. Then there had been no letters for a week, until a very sandy, damp-marked specimen had arrived, containing an account of adventures so lurid and fanciful that he did not know whether to trust her word or to treat them as a work of fantasy, especially as Rafaela was her companion in these escapades and one could never trust that young lady to speak the truth where a lie would be more exciting. After that, she had written once more from Portugal, and those four weeks without letters from his little girl had ached more than his head on the morning after his binges - had, perhaps, driven him to it, for he had not been drinking until…

No, it was the nights that drove him to drink. The nights, full of noise and war and her face, bloody and stretched and pale, and the silence, the deafening silence…

Perhaps she was dead. She certainly was in his dreams, all blood-covered and ghastly open mouth, and he dreaded to close his eyes for fear of conjuring her up, stabbing her in the neck, watching her blood spurt from the tiny wound…

He could feel it again, the rising nausea, the blood running down his fingers, the charred limbs sticking up from the soft pine needles…he shot to his feet, swayed, and some instinct drove him to the shelter provided by two trees close-rooted together before the inevitable happened.

It was the drink. He was still hungover, and he had tortured his tender stomach with unnecessary memories. His own fault. He wiped his mouth, wiped his brow, noted the sweat and shiver all over his forehead and back and decided he was ill. Time to go home.

And so he turned and went, and he forgot about his letters, lying where they had fallen upon the soft and sharp needles.

Chapter 2, Part III by Finn
Author's Notes:

Thanks for the comments. They really do matter.

 

‘Sarah? Sarah, come away from the window.’

 

Sarah turned, but she was staring back out into the sinking evening before she even caught Ted’s eye.

 

‘You won’t bring him home any faster by watching for him every minute of the day,’ said Ted, and he suppressed the sigh that expressed all his frustration with his future brother-in-law. ‘Come on, Sarah, come and sit down and try to relax. We don’t get nearly enough time together as it is, and you’ve spent most of it…’

 

Mooning over that brother of yours, was what he stopped himself from saying, but Sarah seemed to hear him nonetheless. However, she took his point. She sighed, but she did at least come and sit beside him, though he could feel from the tension in her shoulders that she was most certainly not relaxing.

 

‘My dear love,’ he said, and tried to kiss her, but their lips met for barely moments before she pulled away.

 

‘No…no, Ted,’ and her arms came across her chest in a gesture that was unmistakeable, and this time he lost his patience and sighed. That wretched young man! He had known there was something wrong from the way Sarah had been that summer, tense and nervy, but he had not known the extent of it until today, when he had seen Tristan at his bloodshot worst, Sarah rise to the disaster at her unhappy best.

 

‘He’s damned selfish,’ he said, finally uttering the words that he’d pinned to his heart ever since he had arrived that morning, and Sarah drew further from him, as he had known she would.

 

‘He’s not!’ she protested, and Ted looked her in the eye until she had either to glance away or admit the truth of his words. She did not hold his gaze for long.

 

‘He’s miserable,’ she said, and the catch in her voice spoke of her own misery, moored alongside Tristan’s like a tugboat beside its barge. ‘He doesn’t know what to do with himself - Susie’s gone, and he won’t tell me why, and I know he loved her…I’ve never seen him in love before, Ted! It breaks my heart to see him so sad, but there’s nothing anyone can do…’

 

‘Nothing at all,’ said Ted, and he knew he was being curt but he couldn’t stop himself. ‘The sooner he gets over it, the better. We’ve all had broken hearts.’

 

‘Ted!’ She had drawn right away from him now. ‘I’d have thought you’d be more understanding! After all that happened with Marya…’

 

‘She was my wife!’ cried Ted. ‘We’d been married seven years, we had a daughter! He’s known her less than a year. How can it possibly be…’

 

Too late he realised his error and he held his hands out to Sarah, and when he saw the hurt in her eyes he cursed himself for a fool.

 

‘Sarah, I’m sorry, I…’

 

‘If less than a year isn’t long enough to love someone,’ she cut across him in a voice that brought winter into the warm room, ‘then why did you ask me to marry you?’

 

‘Sometimes you know,’ he began, but she shook her head like a terrier that has fastened onto a rat.

 

‘So it’s your prerogative to love after so little time, but my brother must dust himself off as if nothing has happened? What would you do if it were me, Ted? What would you do, if we parted, and I disappeared for months on end and no-one knew where I had gone? Would you carry on just as normal? Because if so, then I don’t think I really want to…’

 

But she couldn’t finish, because her face scrunched into tears and he forgot his anger with Tristan and put his arms around her. To his relief, she hugged him back.

 

‘You’re right,’ he said. ‘I was unfair. Of course one can love after so short a time - of course! But - oh, Sarah, when I see how worried he’s making you…’

 

‘He’s my brother,’ said Sarah, ‘and he’s been so ill. I…oh, how I wish I could make it better for him!’

 

‘It’s not your responsibility.’

 

‘You don’t have brothers or sisters,’ said Sarah, as Ted realised that he had yet again said the wrong thing, ‘so you wouldn’t understand. We might row and complain and be as rude as we like to each other, but I’d do anything to keep him safe, and I know he’d do the same for me. He’s the only family I have - the only close family, anyway - and he’s had such an awful time of it, Ted. I know you’ve suffered too, but you’ve kept your mind intact, and your body - Tristan has neither. Can you imagine what it is to go from being healthy and strong and vital, and then to wake up and find that you can’t breathe properly, and your insides are forever going funny, and every time you have a cold you’re laid out for a month with bronchitis or - worse - pneumonia? And on top of that, to forget who you are, to lose control of your mind? I can’t tell you what it was like when he came home from the War…’

 

Ted couldn’t imagine. He could only nod, and pat her hand.

 

‘Don’t distress yourself,’ he said, but it was a futile sentence - how on earth could he expect her not to distress herself over her brother? So he did the next best thing and kissed her again and, this time, she let him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2, Part IV by Finn
Author's Notes:

Thank you for all the comments :) I'm glad so many people seem to understand the dynamics of this three-way relationship - nice to know I'm getting something right! ;)

It was much later when he got back, and Ted had gone. 

 

‘He stayed as long as he could,’ Sarah said, ‘but he had to get back to the Sonnalpe. Where have you been, Tristan? You’re not…you’ve not been drinking?’

 

He had had a brandy, at one of the small wayside inns that lurked about this place, but only to take the taste of his stomach from his mouth - and he had had soup with it, for he had suddenly found that he was tremendously hungry, and had remembered that he had not eaten lunch, and that it was past dinner time. He sniffed. Burnt meat. She’d been waiting for him.

 

He looked down at her. Her eyes gleamed hope, while her mouth and forehead expected the worst. 

 

‘I am sorry,’ he said, and this time, he meant it. ‘I am sorry - I was not drinking, but I was walking and I forgot the hour. You…should have eaten…’

 

‘How could I, not knowing where you were?’ she snapped back, exactly as he had expected, and her voice shrilled as she continued, ‘Honestly, I don’t know what’s got into you. I know you’re unhappy about Susie, I know you miss Evelyn, but to behave like this? So irresponsible! Do you know, Ted and I have been arguing this afternoon? And do you want to know what was the cause of it? You! Oh, Tristan, the trouble you’re causing! For goodness’ sake, we’ve all had broken hearts…’ 

 

She took a breath and controlled herself. 

 

‘I don’t want any more of this,’ she said, and the years fell away as he found himself facing his mother. ‘I’ve had enough. I know that little piece has broken your heart, and I know you’re wretched over her, but the sooner you start controlling yourself, the better. All this…this drama, Tristan!’

 

‘I know,’ he said, and held up his hands, surrendering as he always did when Mother was speaking. ‘But I will cease, Sarah, I promise you. When school begins again, there will be much to do - I will not have time to…to brood. And Evelyn will return to us…’

 

‘I’m not having her if you’re going to continue to behave as you have been,’ Sarah said, and the threat slid chill down his throat and into his stomach.

 

‘Not have her back…?’

 

‘Not if you stay like this,’ said Sarah. ‘If you want her back, I need to be able to trust you.’

 

‘You can trust me.’

 

‘Then prove it. Act like a man, not a lovesick boy. Stop drinking, stop moping. Be normal. Behave yourself. Evelyn will be home…that is, she’ll be back in a week’s time, and I want her to come to a happy home, not a miserable one.’

 

‘I will change,’ he said. ‘I will change, Sarah, only - do not keep her from me! Not my girl…’

 

‘Well, then,’ said his sister, and he knew what he had to do. 

 

It took a deep breath, and a very great deal of stomach, but he managed it. He smiled at her. 

 

It was a poor smile, and he knew it did not reach as far as his eyes, but it was a smile nonetheless - and it must have worked, for she blinked and smiled back.

 

‘There!’ she said, and she put her hands on his arms and he managed not to flinch. ‘Oh!’ and she sighed with such a gusty relief that he thought he might have to catch her, ‘oh, I’ve not seen that for such a long time. Oh, Tristan, you devil! You worrisome, dreadful devil!’

 

And her arms were around his thin frame, and there was nothing he could do but embrace her back. Warm, smiling, loving Sarah…

 

they lurch towards him, ghastly faces

 

He blinked, and there was only a wall behind his sister.

 

Was she safe with him? Was Evelyn? 

 

ghostly pale wraiths, blood-spattered

 

Was anybody safe? 

 

He closed his eyes and the wraiths disappeared, and he held his sister, and he hoped and he prayed that she might stay safe, not matter what happened to him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 3, Part I by Finn
Author's Notes:

Thanks for the comment

‘Nell!’

 

‘Mollie Maynard! Lovely to see you. How - ‘ Nell broke off, her voice muffled as Mollie flung enthusiastic arms around her. ‘Steady on, Mollie! You’re as energetic as one of our Middles! How were your holidays?’

 

‘Oh, same-old,’ said Mollie, whose eyes were sparkling with untold secrets. Tempting though it was to tease her news out of her, Nell restrained herself and let her lead the way indoors. After all, Mollie would tell all as soon as she wanted to - no sense in forcing a confession.

 

‘How were your holidays?’ Mollie asked, drawing Con into the conversation, and Nell smiled.

 

'It's been an interesting few weeks.'

 

She glanced sidelong at Con, whose eyes were demurely cast down. Mollie, thankfully, did not notice the exchange. 

 

'Yes,' she agreed cheerfully. ‘Mine were…well, I went home, of course, and that wasn't exactly exciting, but then I went to London with my cousin and then I really did have some fun!'

 

'Up for the season?' Nell, not a society lady, was careful to keep the scorn from her voice

 

‘Not really,' said Mollie. 'The season was over before I got back - but we had some fun anyway. As a matter of fact,’ and Nell realised they had arrived at the crux of her news rather more swiftly than she had expected, ‘I’ve some grand news for you all.'

 

Here she broke off with a tantalising flourish, but she let her left hand rest on the arm of her chair so deliberately that no-one could mistake her meaning.

 

'Mollie!'

 

'I know!' said Mollie, running a finger over the slender diamond ring and grinning in excitement. 'Isn't it thrilling? His name's Bob - Robert Mackenzie - and I've known him ever so long, only I didn't know how he felt until last Saturday, when he got down on one knee and proposed! I’ve never been so startled in my life! But, that said, I didn't even think twice about saying ‘yes’, which I suppose is a good sign.'

 

'Oh, definitely,' said Nell, who was wondering why Con maintained such a gloomy silence. 'Congratulations, Mollie. Have you set the date?'

 

'Oh, not yet. Too much to do, and I had to get back over here. But I'll let you know as soon as I do. I don’t think I’ll be able to keep it to myself! I’m thrilled to bits about it, and as for my mother…’

 

'Well,' said Nell. 'If we aren't full of excitement! I hope we’re all invited?’

 

‘As if I’d marry without my Chalet School colleagues there to see it,’ said Mollie, with mock-indignation, and even Con managed to rouse herself into a laugh.

 

‘My congratulations,’ she said, and Mollie beamed.

 

‘Well, now,' said Nell, pressing her hands into her knees and pushing herself up, 'I'm going to see if that pesky junior mistress of ours is back yet. She ought to be - term is starting soon.'

 

'Miss Norman?' said Mollie. 'Oh, she's here alright. But why is she pesky?'

 

'Miss Norman?' Nell echoed. 'But - where's Susie?'

 

'Hadn't you heard?' Mollie’s face was one of consternation. 'She left at the end of last term. Mademoiselle told me just now. I assumed you'd know, Nell - you two were always so thick.'

 

'Well, I didn't,' said Nell, sitting down again. 'Why did she go?'

 

'Family problems, Mademoiselle said.'

 

 

'But she hasn't…' Got any family, Nell finished in her head, beginning to frown. What on earth was Susie up to? 

Chapter 3, Part II by Finn
Author's Notes:

Thank you for the comments :)

Nell was in luck. Her rather peremptory knock at the front door to the Dennys’ chalet brought the man of the house himself to answer it.

 

‘Afternoon,’ gasped Nell, for she was out of breath with walking so fast, but she only had half an hour or so before she would be missed. ‘Susie…is she…I mean…’ She took a deep breath and steadied herself. ‘What’s happened to her? Where’s she gone?’

 

It wasn’t until she had panted out her request that she looked at him properly and realised that, perhaps, her abrupt greeting had been somewhat wanting in tact. 

 

‘I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘Oh my goodness, I’m sorry.’

 

Tristan Denny blinked, slowly, rubbed a hand over his bloodshot eyes and gestured wordlessly for her to enter.

 

‘Will you take tea?’ he asked as he led her to the salon, and his voice seemed even more peculiar than usual - it was a moment before Nell realised that he spoke as if reciting something he knew one ought to say, in such circumstances, that he took no interest in her comfort but knew he must feign otherwise. Pulling herself together, she refused the offer of tea and, following his vague gesticulation, took a seat on the sofa. 

 

‘Sarah is collecting Evelyn,’ he said. ‘Her father is bringing her back today.’

 

‘I expect you’ll be pleased to see her,’ said Nell, and he nodded.

 

‘Yes,’ he said, and his voice was as grey as a mud-flat. There was silence for a moment, and then he spoke again.

 

‘I know nothing,’ he said. ‘I know nothing of where she is, what she is doing. She…I…’ He rubbed weary hands over his eyes and sighed. ‘She left the very moment term ended, on the day which followed the party, and all she left behind was her painting - the one she did of Evelyn. My birthday present.’

 

It hung upon the far wall, opposite his armchair. Nell glanced at it, nodded a fleeting approval and turned back to him, hoping he would tell her more. He looks older somehow, she thought. So tired…

 

‘Did something happen?’ she asked. He was still gazing up at that portrait, face inscrutable, but after a few moments he leaned his head back against the antimacassar.

 

‘A great many things,’ he said, and closed his eyes.

 

He was silent for so long that Nell began to wonder whether he had fallen asleep, but then he blinked and looked at her.

 

‘We have both lost her,’ he said. ‘You loved her, I think?’

 

‘Not…quite like that,’ said Nell, wondering how much he knew, how discreet Susie had been about her past. ‘But she is one of my dearest friends. I did love her - do love her,’ she corrected herself, as she realised her abuse of the past tense (Susie must be alive somewhere - she couldn’t possibly be dead! There was too much vitality in her for that). ‘But I don’t think I love her in quite the way that you do,’ she added, and he let out a breath that might have been a laugh.

 

‘I will never love another.’

 

‘You don’t know…’

 

‘I do.’

 

The silence that followed was almost terminal. Nell could not think of a way to extract herself and Mr Denny was not helping in the slightest; his eyes were open and staring into the middle distance, somewhere to the left of her head, and it was taking almost all of her strength of will not to turn around to see whether he had fixed them upon anything in particular. Small talk, in such a situation, was impossible, but so was simply rising and leaving, with him sitting there, looking like that…the poor soul - oh, she had warned Susie, she had known all along how he would suffer, when Love finally left him, as she had known it would…no use asking if a forwarding address had been left - he clearly knew nothing more than what he had already told her. Oh, that wench - to leave him so wretched - it was cruel, too cruel! If she hadn’t been so fond of Susie and concerned about her welfare, she might have hated her at that moment.

 

And then there came the sounds of the front door being unlocked and Nell watched a transformation take place, as the sorrow smoothed out of Tristan Denny’s face and was replaced by a calm, measured, controlled pleasantness, which became almost a smile as he rose to his feet. 

 

The reason why was immediately clear - the salon door opened and in burst a small whirlwind of excitement - brown arms and legs, freckled face, hair bleached by the Portuguese sun, Evelyn Keane clattered across the wooden floor in her outdoor shoes and flung herself into his arms with a shriek of ‘Uncle Tristan!’

 

Nell watched as Mr Denny swung her up into the air, round in a circle, and then hugged her close, so close he might have suffocated her, only she never noticed, she was clinging back so hard. 

 

‘Oh, my darling girl!’

 

Sarah Denny followed the little girl into the salon, smiling to see her brother smiling, though the smile fell away in her surprise at seeing Nell on the sofa. Nell stood up, feeling even more like an intruder than she had during the awful silence.

 

‘I went fishing in the sea!’ Evelyn was exclaiming. ‘And we went to Lisbon and we ate squid and sardines and I saw a shark, a real shark! And, and, and Rafaela’s brother has a chameleon as a pet! I saw it go brown and green and red and, and the beaches are all sandy, no stones at all, and we went swimming every day, and, and, and can I have a chameleon? Please? I’ll look after it! And…oh! I’ve got you a present…’

 

She wriggled out of his arms and ran off to fetch it, and Nell took advantage of the distraction to make her escape, offering a polite greeting to a rather bemused Sally as she slipped out of the door and away back to school.

 

 

Con was waiting for her in her room when she got in.

 

‘No idea,’ she said, in answer to the question in her eyes. ‘She’s vanished, and that seems to be that. Even Mr Denny doesn’t know where she is.’

 

‘You mean she’s…’ 

 

‘Broken it off with him? It seems like it, to look at him. Oh, Con,’ she said, sinking down onto the bed beside her. ‘I never saw a man so wretched - women, yes, but never a man. To tell the truth, he looks a little like he did when he was so…unwell at the end of last term.’

 

‘Poor soul,’ murmured Con, and Nell grunted her assent.

 

‘Daft as a brush,’ she said, ‘but with real feelings.’

 

Con smiled.

 

‘A brush with feelings,’ she said, and Nell’s face lit up with amusement.

 

‘Not the best analogy,’ she agreed, and chuckled, but her face sobered rapidly. ‘Though, Con, it doesn’t seem right to laugh about it. Oh dear,’ she groaned, putting her hands to her temples. ‘I can see that this year is not going to be anything like as jolly as the last.’

 

‘It’s better in some ways,’ said Con. ’At least, for me it is.’

 

 

And she smiled at Nell, and Nell smiled back and reached for her, and for a short while they were back in the Dolomites, where they had spent such a glorious summer, and not at the school at all.

Chapter 3, Part III by Finn
Author's Notes:

Thank you for the comments! This may be the last from me for a while, as I'm off to Bern tomorrow morning (at some ghastly hour).

‘I believe she’s in London,’ said Madge Russell. ’Or at least, her forwarding address is in London, so I assumed she must be as well.’

 

Madge had come down three days after term began, allowing Con to pocket fifty Schillinge - Nell had been running a book on how long it would be before their erstwhile headmistress paid them a visit - and that same afternoon Nell had cornered her and questioned her about Susie. It had been an unexpectedly unpleasant meeting.

 

‘Nell, I know all about you and Susie,’ Madge had said, as Nell’s stomach sank coldly out of her body and ended somewhere near her ankles. ‘I had a letter from Matron - our old Matron, I mean, Matron Wilson - and she told me all the…particulars. I’m sure it will come as no surprise to hear that I’m shocked - very shocked indeed. I had no idea such things were happening at this school! That said,’ she continued, holding up a hand to forestall Nell’s protest, ‘I am not about to take you to task about it. It’s not what I think of as…normal behaviour, but I hope I am enough of a Christian to forgive and to forget. The only problems arise when someone is hurt by it - and I did have cause to fear that the school would be hurt by Matron Wilson.’

 

‘Why now?’ said Nell, without thinking, but Madge did not seem surprised.

 

‘Yes, she said she had made previous protests,’ she said, with a wry smile. ‘In fact, she thought she had ‘sorted it out’, whatever that means. I understand that she had spoken to Susie on the subject.’

 

‘She blackmailed her,’ said Nell. ‘Susie was beside herself - and it was all over by then anyway. Between us, I mean. Anne was out to make trouble, and she picked on Susie as her victim because…because she’s different. Because she has a different background, isn’t ‘one of us’, so Anne thought she could bully her. We had to prove her wrong!’

 

‘If you’d brought it to me at the time,’ said Madge, gently, ‘then perhaps I might have been able to arrange things to everyone’s satisfaction. As it was, Anne had to leave us abruptly, when her sister-in-law died, and what with departing so quickly to take over the family and attend to all their needs, she forgot entirely about the…situation here until, quite by chance, she met with the mother of one of our juniors. I believe Mrs Cardew talked about the school, and poor Susie, with such enthusiasm that Miss Wilson was quite incensed and resolved to write to me that very night - which she did - and of course, it arrived on the day of our end of term party. I spoke to Susie on the following day, and we both agreed that it was for the best if she leave the school and return to England until it all blew over. She departed that afternoon and I’ve heard not a word from her since, even though I did promise her a good reference when she found a new position. I had assumed that she would write to you, or to the Dennys.’

 

‘She’s done neither,’ said Nell. ‘It’s as if she’s vanished off the face of the earth. I can’t understand it. We may have…ended our affair, but we were still friends - good friends - and as for Mr Denny…’ She trailed off as she remembered the hurt in his eyes. ‘Did you know they were engaged?’ she said to Madge, who looked startled.

 

‘Engaged?’ she said. ‘I…I’d no idea. Engaged? To Mr Denny? But…when did this happen?’

 

‘In June,’ said Nell, ‘but…I think there was some falling out between them - before the end of term, I mean. I assumed they’d patch things up, but…’

 

Apparently not, she thought, as she sat in front of an open pad of paper, brain in a tangle. Madge had given her the forwarding address she had mentioned - t53; a woman named Anna Schmidt, address in Soho. The name sounded familiar, though Nell didn’t think she had heard Susie mention it - for someone so open, she had always been oddly cagey about those of her former acquaintance. Still, if this were her forwarding address, then presumably Anna Schmidt knew where Susie had gone. The trick now was to phrase her letter in such a way as would encourage the stranger to respond…

 

 

Chapter 3, Part IV by Finn
Author's Notes:

Thanks for the comments, both. Hope this is still ok?

She must have managed it, for two days later a response came. It was on a sheet of rather scrappy paper, the corner of which was stained with coffee and a smear of something dark blue that smelt of something Nell could not immediately identify - not that she was paying too close attention to it. It was the words that interested her.

Dear Miss Wilson,

It is kind of you to ask after our mutual friend, and perhaps quite brave of you to write, being a stranger. As a matter of fact I have heard of you, from Susie, and I know your story. It is not an uncommon one - in fact, it is one we share, for some years ago I was as closely acquainted with her as you have so lately been. She is a loving soul - I believe she has a difficulty in separating that great affection she holds in her heart for almost everyone she meets from the physical attraction she feels for so many of us, and thus she is always in and out of love. But it is to be expected - she is still a child.

I offered myself as a forwarding address some time ago when she first went out to Austria, and I would be happy still to continue in that capacity, but for one problem. That is, I also do not know where she is. I do not know how much of this is connected with you, chère Madame, but when she arrived here in July she was in great distress - if you know Susie, you know that she cannot hide such things as are in her heart, but writes them passionately upon every feature. Believe me, then, when I say she was deeply unhappy, but she would not tell me any reason, nor say anything but that she was dismissed from her post and must find somewhere to live and somewhere to work, and would I let her sleep at the studio until she was settled?

Naturally I agreed, for she was once my protegée as well as my lover, and I will always do my best for her. She remained with me for almost two weeks, during which time she spoke of nothing but art, and London life, and spent a great amount of time sitting in the corner drinking and staring into the darkness, and then one afternoon I went out and returned to find Susie gone and a note which read, ‘Off to my new place - will let you know where I am when I’m settled’. 

I can only assume that she is not settled, for I have heard nothing of her from that day to this, and she has left her case of better clothes and all of her art materials here, with me. However, I feel sure that she must be safe - I cannot tell you why, it is one of those feelings one gets, sometimes, that are inexplicable but indelible. Beyond that, I am afraid, my dear Miss Wilson, that I can tell you nothing. Neither I nor any of her friends here in London know any news of her, and I must only conclude that whatever it was that sent her away from Tiernsee was of a most distressing nature, and that she has chosen, like an injured animal, to crawl away and ‘lick her wounds’ before she rejoins us all, as one day she must.

I wish that I could be of more assistance to you, Miss Wilson, especially as I know how you and Susie were once so close. If you wish to write again, please do so, but until then I remain,

Sincerely yours,

Anna Schmidt

 

‘Well, of all…’ said Nell, baffled. She folded the letter, then unfolded it and read it again, her gaze lingering on the signature. Anna Schmidt - she had heard that name before! An artist - a portrait artist, and one of not insignificant reputation. Susie’s mentor! Why on earth had the girl not mentioned her before?

 'But if even her forwarding address doesn't know where she is,' she said to herself, 'then how the hell am I to find her? She's simply vanished, and who's to tell if she's safe or not? I wonder what on earth she can be doing?'

 


Chapter 4, Part I by Finn
Author's Notes:

Thanks for the comments!

‘Would Madam like to see it in the green?’

‘Don’t be ridiculous, child! What an absurd suggestion. I have never suited green in my life.’

‘It really is a very muted green, Madam. Almost blue, in fact. With your hair and complexion, I think…’

‘Silly girl! What a notion! Keep your ideas to yourself, and pray don’t come to me with them, especially when they are so patently incorrect. You are paid to fetch me dresses to try, not to think for me.'

Shame, thought Susie as she hung the dress back on its hanger. You ought to pay someone to do it - you’re clearly incapable of managing it yourself.

She helped Madam back on with her coat but, as she was settling her hat, could not quite resist the urge to let her hand slip slightly…

‘Oh! You clumsy fool! Now you’ve torn my hairnet! Well, if this isn’t the most incompetent establishment…give me that bag! I shall never return - never! Do you hear that, Madame Beauville? Never!'

‘Good bloody riddance,’ said Sylvia, the other assistant, as the door banged behind Madam, bell jangling like an angry jester. 

‘Sylvia!’ protested Madame Beauville, but she, too, was stung out of her usual effete refinement, and she gave Susie a covert smile when Sylvia turned away. ‘I should reprimand you for your carelessness,’ she said in quiet tones, ‘but I will simply advise you to take a little more care in future. I cannot have all my customers telling their friends of how my shop girls rip their stockings and hairnets, can I?'

‘Sorry, Madame,’ said Susie, and they both knew she only half-meant it.

Madame sent her home at five o’clock that day. A small reward.

‘Blow it!’ said Sylvia, coming in as Susie was putting on her hat. ‘I was going to ask you if you fancied going to the Alhambra tonight, but if you’re off now you won’t feel like coming out again, will you?’

‘Probably not,’ said Susie, ‘but I wouldn’t have anyway. It’s Tuesday.’

‘Oh, of course. Your meeting.’ Sylvia sighed in a gloomy fashion. 'I wish you’d tell me what these meetings are about.’

‘Temperance,’ said Susie, shrugging on her coat. ‘Too much of the sauce - had to swear off it. Terrible shame.’

To her small amusement, Sylvia looked for a moment as if she were about to believe her.

‘Oh…oh! Susie, stop being rotten!’

‘Can’t,’ said Susie, and then Madame called for Sylvia and the girl departed, throwing Susie a look that was half-scowl, half-giggle. Susie smiled, then gave her collar a final tweak and looked in the mirror.

Black was really the most awful colour, like being at a permanent funeral. It completely ruined her complexion. She examined herself in the glass, noting the hollow pallor of her cheeks, the dark circles beneath her eyes which no amount of powder could conceal. Strange to think that just three months ago, she had been really quite pretty. Happy, too. Oh, she smiled now and then, and sometimes she laughed, especially after a drink, but she wasn’t really happy. Funeral…yes, that was right enough. Remembering the happy times, but in the main she was thinking about the future, the bleak and empty life ahead of her, without Nell, without Sarah, without…

‘No,’ she said aloud. There were some things she wasn’t going to think about.

She picked up her handbag, and went home.

 

Chapter 4, Part II by Finn
Author's Notes:

Thanks for the comments!

She dined in her room, toasting a kipper over the gas ring and eating it with a slab of bread and a cup of weak tea. Then she changed out of her black shop dress and into the twinset and pleated skirt that had been her best before her Chalet School days - were her best again, now that she was here. It was what she always wore to her meetings, but that didn’t matter. She dusted on a little powder and finished it off with a dash of lipstick, and then closed the door on the fading wallpaper and shabby furniture and went down the stairs, trying to keep her heels from clacking on the bare boards - for that would rouse old Mrs Morris who had the flat below, and Susie had no desire to be held up by her chatter on this, her most important evening of the week.

It wasn’t that she had turned her back on her former friends, more that she could not think how to explain to them why it was that she no longer laughed. The year in Austria, that had lifted her from the rotten masses to become a respectable middle class young lady, that had brought her friends in new circles, new lessons, new interests, new loves and new heartbreaks - it was what it was, a fairy tale, the workings of a dream, the sort of dream she had cherished throughout her childhood. Tristan, Sarah, Nell, Con, Jack were all characters in her head, the Tiernsee was the fantastic setting in which the strange events had unfolded, whose magic could linger no longer than the sun. Gradually it had become the story she told herself at night, when the ancient mattress bruised her spine, and only the sullen ache beneath her breastbone endured as a constant reminder of that strange alter-life, and of how she had through her own carelessness thrown away that solitary chance. Were it not for that, she would never have believed that she had been a schoolmistress in a respectable school for girls.

Working in a shop was several steps down from being a schoolmistress, she thought, as she walked swiftly down the grubby street, but it was nothing like as degrading as being paid to be somebody’s mistress. There was a nasty name for that. 

No, better that it had ended, better that she had come away from Austria. Tristan need never know how low she had once sunk, for she would never see him again.

But she could not explain it to her old friends, and so she kept her distance. Besides, she had new friends now - Sylvia was a nice, if unimaginative, girl, and Madame Beauville (her birth certificate said Bovill, but she had always felt that the French spelling lent a certain elegance to her establishment) was a surprisingly kind mistress. And then there were the women (and men) of the Women’s Welfare League, the small Socialist group which had become so close to her bruised heart, and whither she was wending her way that very evening. She had landed on her feet, as she always did. Really, she said to herself as she turned the corner into the brighter lights of the main street, she wanted for nothing.

Chapter 5, Part I by Finn

Silence.

Evelyn had gone out. Sarah had taken her…somewhere - he hadn’t listened. There were lessons to prepare, there was work to be done, he must be ready for the new term, ready for work, ready for anything. He must keep up his strength of will for his little girl, for all of the young maids.

And yet he lay on the sofa, one arm flung up to shade his eyes from the afternoon sun that blasted in at the window and shattered his peace.

He could prepare his lessons tomorrow. There was plenty of time.

And yet, the silence…

Oh, hell, it was too much! Music would clear his head. He had no will to play, but there was bound to be something on the wireless. If he could persuade himself to get up, to walk across the room and switch it on…

Minutes pulled themselves by, and still he did not move.

Eventually he persuaded himself into a sitting position, and sat for some time, blinking in the sunlight - cursed indifferent weather. Then he rose and, with slow steps, crossed the room and flicked on the set.

The local station yielded up a Haydn symphony, which was light and major and far too frivolous. He switched it off again and listened as the bright violins were swallowed up into silence; but now that he was on his feet he could coax himself into putting a record on the gramophone. Beethoven’s Ninth was always a sound choice - indeed, it was bearable up until the final triumphal chorus, which was so damnably joyous that he thought that it had colluded with the climate to mock him, his tiredness, his slow mind.

‘Freude trinken alle Wesen
An den Brüsten der…’

He lifted the needle, and the record span on in dusty silence.

What the hell to do now?

He wondered if he might be able to play, and crossed to the piano with this purpose in mind, but on sitting down to it he was seized with panicked confusion. He had been working on some Scriabin, but it seemed to be more agonising than he could contemplate, just at this moment - and yet Liszt was too glittering, Schubert too tender, Brahms too German…he toyed with the pages of some transcriptions his friend Percy Grainger had sent him, but the thought of England, of folk music, of the banks of green willow and the pastoral harmonies of Butterworth, Holst, his old teacher Ralph Vaughan-Williams, filled him both with homesickness and a terrible dissatisfaction. What use was such music, in these harsh and angry years? So many of his friends had died, either on the field of battle like George Butterworth and Ernest Farrar, or afterwards, expiring in hospitals or asylums like poor Ivor Gurney - oh, what a loss he was, for only a man of his genius could have combined Severn and Somme in both words and music! Yes, pastoral idylls were obsolete - any fool could see that - but where on earth was music to go, and would it take him with it? He had written nothing since that day in June, had scarcely heard anything at all, when his head was usually so full of music. He could not think of a time when his head had been so empty - at least, not since that time

No. He would not think of that. He could not. This was not then, after all, however silent it might be. But perhaps it would be better to fill his head with someone else’s music, if he were to have none of his own.

He selected Mozart as suitably addictive to the ear, and began on Sonata No. 16. C major was an indifferent key, as far as he was concerned, but it had a pleasant tune and he knew it well. It would break the silence.

But perhaps he did not know it as well as he had thought, for in the first repeat his fingers stumbled, and then shortly afterwards they stumbled again, and again, until he stopped out of frustration and held his hands out before him, examining them closely. They did not shake, and yet he seemed to have no strength, no dexterity. Closing his fists, he sank his head over them as if in prayer, and it was in this posture that Sarah and Evelyn found him, coming in from their walk with glowing faces and laughter in their eyes.

‘Summoning up your strength?’ asked Sarah, as she came across to peer over his shoulder. ‘Oh, it’s only Mozart. I thought it must be that frightful Scriabin, from the look on your face.’

‘Only Mozart,’ he agreed, with an attempt at a smile.

‘Whatever it is,’ she said, ‘it’s nice to see you playing again. Go on - entertain us while I make some tea.’

‘You play it,’ he said, rising from the piano, ‘and Evelyn and I shall make the tea. I have no stomach to play, today.’

She looked at him askance, but he controlled his features and nodded encouragement.

‘You have always played Mozart better than I,’ he said. ‘I have not the patience for his twiddling - but you have all the patience in the world.’

‘I’m glad you’ve noticed at last,’ she said, and with a sudden snort that was half-indignant, half-laughter, she took his place at the piano, and he took Evelyn’s hand and they went to make the tea.

Chapter 5, Part II by Finn

The last day of the holidays. They collected at the breakfast table with various degrees of trepidation. Sarah maintained her customary serenity - how much of anxiety lurked beneath that calm exterior, he could never tell - no wonder he was frequently surprised on those occasions when she surged up in anger. He had always envied her that ability she had to go on as she always did, no matter what had happened to dislodge her. She was the type he’d always liked to have under his command - woman though she was, she would have made an excellent subaltern.

Evelyn was easier to interpret. She picked at her hair, the tablecloth and her breakfast. No happy return to school for her - and especially not, now that she knew that her old form mistress would not be there to welcome her back. Poor wraith child…

His own feelings did not bear thinking about, and so he did not try.

But something must be done - and he, the man who had done so much to bring gloom to this household, must be the one to do it.

He pulled the corners of his strength about him like a rough blanket, and spoke.

‘It is a fine day. We must do something with it - to celebrate the end of our holidays.’

They both looked up at him, his womenfolk, and there was an eagerness about them that provoked a smile. He was still master of himself, of their house - he could still please his family. He would conquer this emotion, this lethargy…

‘What did you have in mind?’ asked Sarah.

‘I thought we might walk around the lake to Buchau,’ he said. ‘We can have lunch at one of the hotels on that side of the lake and spend the afternoon there.’

‘Good scheme,’ said Sarah. ‘I’ve heard good things of the Hotel Ferdinand…’

‘Not the Ferdinand,’ he said, before he could stop himself - Susie, in sheer lace and slip and skin, hanging weakly in the arms of that Teutonic monster - and then, as his sister turned astonished eyes on him, added, ‘but the Hotel Schifli is said to be quite as good. And,’ he continued, hastening on before an argument could be raised, ‘I thought that, after lunch, that Evelyn and I might go and enquire of Herr August Pfeiffen as to whether he might permit us the use of his dinghy for an hour or so. I know that you have long desired to try sailing properly, my dear.’

‘Ohhh!’ Evelyn’s eyes were round with wonder. ‘Oh, yes please, Uncle Tristan!’

‘I see!’ But Sarah sounded amused. ‘And what am I supposed to do whilst Nelson and Hardy are out navigating the treacherous waters?’

‘You might bring a book,’ he suggested, and did not understand why she laughed in indignation. ‘Or there is much walking to be had on that side of the lake, and we see it so rarely. You might stroll to Scholastika.’

Sarah snorted again, but this time she smiled.

‘I think Evelyn’s enjoyment has been considered in this plan rather more than mine,’ she observed, but added, as he opened his mouth to protest, ‘though I can’t say no, not when I see that excited face imploring me.’ She smiled over at Evelyn, whose eyes widened, then softened as a grin broke across her freckled face.

’Thank you! Oh…thank you!’

She all but jumped up and hugged them both, but contented herself with wriggling in delight, then bolted her breakfast at such a rate that Sarah was moved to express her concern about whether it was likely to stay where it had been put. But her enthusiasm infected her adults, and before long they were setting off in the bright September sunshine, and Tristan was slightly surprised to find that he was looking forward to the excursion.

Chapter 5, Part III by Finn

By the time they had had lunch, drunk their coffee, waved goodbye to Sarah and walked down to the lake shore at Buchau, Tristan was no longer so certain. On the previous occasion when he had taken Evelyn out in Herr August’s boat, it had been with the boat’s owner himself at the tiller and Tristan acting as occasional crew, but on the whole free to explain various things to Evelyn and to sit admiring the view. Today, however, was different.

‘By all means you may take my boat out, Herr Denny, but I am afraid I cannot come with you. I must attend to a matter of great urgency on behalf of my brother - but you have long been a sailor, have you not? She is but a small craft - you will be able to handle her easily by yourself.’

‘Not for years,’ murmured Tristan in answer to the question, but he looked down at Evelyn’s face and felt unable to refuse her after his earlier promise.

‘You will have to trust me, little one,’ he said, and she beamed that loving smile up at him. She did trust him - she had always trusted him. It was he that doubted. If she knew what he knew… 

He settled her in the bows and ran up the mainsail, hand over hand, working unfamiliar muscles and surprised to discover how much they remembered. He’d last done this ten years ago, with a man now dead, in memory of another dead man.

‘What do I do, Uncle Tristan?’

‘Stay there, watch and learn,’ he said. ‘And keep out of the way of the boom.’

One good shove - how much less effort it took than it had when he was a child - and a vault over the side, gather mainsheet and tiller, steer her to catch the wind and…there! The sail filled out in a shudder of canvas and suddenly they were bounding away from the shore, skipping from wave crest to wave crest in a manner he had once found exhilarating. Now, with his forgetful limbs and his precious cargo, he felt more nervous than excited, and kept the sheet taut to slow them, while his eyes skimmed the water’s surface in case of rocks.

Evelyn turned round in the bows, eyes bright with thrills and reflected sunlight.

‘Can we go faster?’

He laughed, realised he was laughing, and laughed again.

‘Speed fiend,’ he said, but obliged by releasing the mainsheet a little, and the dinghy bounded forward and Evelyn squeaked in excitement.

‘C’n I do something? Please?’

‘Yes - sit tight and watch,’ he growled, and when she looked round, wounded, added, ‘but if you’re a good girl I might let you have a go with the mainsheet in a few minutes. Let me find my way around first.’

‘Should have checked before you got on board,’ said a voice beside him and he scowled.

‘I did, actually,’ he said, sharp as only his brother could make him, and Evelyn looked round.

‘Sorry?’ she said, but he pulled himself together and shook his head.

‘Nothing, child,’ he said.

They were running almost parallel to the shore, and the lake was large enough that they might have carried on indefinitely, only Tristan, on looking over to windward, observed a rather troubling sight heading towards them.

‘Evelyn, come down into the boat,’ he said, and Evelyn obligingly slipped down from her perch in the bows and clambered over to him.

‘Now,’ he said, eyes still watching out to windward, ‘you remember what I taught you about tacking?’

‘I…think so,’ said Evelyn.

‘When I say, ‘Ready about’, you must reply, ‘Ready’ - and you must be ready,’ he said. ‘And when I say ‘Lee ho’, you must duck right down into the boat so that the boom doesn’t hit you when it comes over, and then you must get up onto the other side as soon as you can. Understand?’

‘Yes,’ said Evelyn, and Tristan set about hauling the sheet in until they were as close to the wind as he could get them.

‘Ready about,’ he said, and Evelyn squeaked, ‘Ready!’

A few moments, then as he thrust the tiller over, he cried,

‘Lee ho!’

A mad scramble - he wasn’t any taller, but he was out of practice and the boom swung quite close to his head as he ducked across to the starboard side of the boat and hauled on the mainsheet once again. The sail filled obligingly and they sheered off in the direction of Geisalm as the ferry, which had been bearing down upon them, ran across their wake with a cheerful shrill at its whistle.

‘Nicely done,’ said Eddie, and he nodded assent.

‘Could have been worse.’

‘First time I ever let you take the tiller you got us caught in irons, d’you remember?’

‘Be fair - I was only nine!’

‘Still, I suppose one can only improve from that. Good work, little brother.’

‘Did you used to sail on your own?’ asked Evelyn, oblivious to the exchange, and with Eddie present, Tristan was startled into the truth.

‘No - with my bro…that is, with my brother.’

She looked around, eager.

‘You have a brother? Where?’

‘He…fell in the War.’

To his surprise, Evelyn nodded sagely.

‘That’s what happened to my father’s brother,’ she said. ‘He - my father, I mean - didn’t fight. He was a cons…consie…’

‘Conscientious objector,’ said Tristan, just as his brother remarked, ‘Damned conchies!’

‘They had their reasons,’ he protested, mildly, and Eddie made a scornful noise.

‘Cowards.’

‘Not necessarily.’

‘This one was. Believe me.’

They looked at Evelyn, who was perched on the thwart, frowning.

‘Were you in the War, Uncle Tristan?’

He hesitated, then nodded. Evelyn nodded too, looking oddly happy.

‘I knew you were brave,’ she said, and settled down again, twisting round to look out over the side of the boat.

‘Evelyn,’ he said, ‘not everyone who fights in a war is brave.’

She turned round to look at him, blue eyes wide and steady.

‘But you are,’ she said. ‘Braver than Daddy.’

 And then, before he could correct her,

‘C’n I have a go on the rope?’

’It’s called a sheet,’ he corrected, but he let her grasp it, keeping his own hand steady upon it all the while, and with instructions from him and eager energies from Evelyn, they slowly beat their way back to Buchau.

Chapter 5, Part IV by Finn
Author's Notes:

Thanks for the comments.

He carried Evelyn home, for she was worn out with the excitement and the exercise and began drooping before they were even halfway back. Hanging onto his back with her arms draped around his neck, she looked around her with a weary pleasure, keeping up a steady chatter with Sarah about the sailing, until at last she fell silent, and then he felt her arms slacken and her cheek come to rest against his own head. He looked down at Sarah, and they shared a smile, and it took him a moment to remember that he was not actually his little girl’s father.

Sarah insisted on waking her for some supper when they reached home, and while she went into the kitchen Tristan carried Evelyn through to the salon and set her gently down onto the sofa. She barely stirred, and so he sat down next to her, lifted her so that his arm was round her again, and cuddled her against him until Sarah should call for them to come through and eat. Fáfnir jumped up onto his lap, trampled him a few times, then curled up and purred, and with the air and the warmth and the low rumble of affection from his cat, it should not have come as a surprise to him to be jolted into alertness by his sister’s hand upon his shoulder, and to open his eyes to see her brown ones twinkling down at him.

‘A fine trio you are,’ she said, for the cat was asleep too, huddled in a tight ball as if fearing that if he were larger he might draw attention to himself. Tristan evicted him, then Evelyn was woken was made to eat soup and bread and drink a glass of milk. She did so with as little grace as ever they had seen her display, but her grumpiness was all the more amusing for its rarity and neither Sarah nor Tristan could bring themselves to chide her.

‘Bedtime,’ said Sarah when they had all finished, and she took the flushed and mutinous child away to be hustled into nightdress and bed. ‘And you should go soon, too,’ she flung over her shoulder as they departed. ‘The exercise has tired you both out!’

‘Mm,’ he agreed, and as they disappeared upstairs, he went through to the salon and moved with Newtonian inevitability towards the drinks cabinet. He unstoppered the brandy, then paused.

‘No,’ he said, aloud.

He had already slept once that evening. Perhaps Sarah was right - the exercise had tired him. And it was better for Evelyn that he not drink, for once he started, he could never tell when to stop, not any more. No. Enough was enough. He stoppered up the bottle, and turned away.

Chapter 5, Part V by Finn
Author's Notes:

Thanks for the comments!

The one o’clock chime of the church tower was an unpleasant sound. The two o’clock chime made him swear, sit up, and switch on the bedside lamp.

How could it be that he lay there night after night, awake and knowing her absence? They had not spent one night together in all the time they had been…he had never shared his bed with anyone, never slept with anyone for a whole night through, not even Éva - her time had been rationed, after all.

And yet he was acutely aware of the emptiness of the space beside him, the space Susie should have occupied, had he not gone mad. Better for her, of course, that she had gone, for he knew he was sinking. He would end up like Ivor Gurney, unable to sleep for fear of what he might see, and hear, and smell, and taste - they would lock him away, he would wither and die within asylum walls, and he would never see Sarah or Evelyn again…

A pinprick at the back of his nose, and on raising his hand to rub at it he was surprised to touch tears.

No, this was too much. He could not bear to lie awake any longer, waiting for sleep - or death.

He had not handed over all autonomy to Sarah, he still kept some of his wages apart from the household income. Downstairs lay the courage he needed to sleep. He got up, pulling his dressing gown about him against the night chill, and padded along the landing, and as he came to Evelyn’s room he paused for a moment, but the door was closed, and she was asleep behind it, and the memory of her face was not enough to stop him going down, crossing the salon, unstoppering the brandy bottle.

Chapter 6, Part I by Finn
Author's Notes:

Thanks for the comments!

‘That little imp Rafaela is beginning to try my nerves.’

‘Oh, my dear Nell!’ Mollie Maynard groaned in sympathy. ‘She may be old enough to have come over to us but, my goodness, I do wish she could have remained a junior for just one more year!’

‘What - are you planning to be married and gone by then?’ teased Nell, and she and the others laughed when Mollie blushed.

‘Goodness, no! Well - maybe. I don’t know. Oh - do be quiet, you lot! We were talking about Rafaela, not me.’

‘And I must say, I do agree with you,’ said Nell, taking pity. ‘If only she were your problem, Ivy, and not ours!’

‘Though - perhaps not entirely fair to poor Ivy,’ Mollie said, as Miss Norman laughed with all the shyness of a new girl. ‘It would be too cruel to drop the poor thing in it like that, Nell. Rafaela isn’t something one wants to face in one’s first term as a schoolmistress.’

‘Susie managed it,’ said Nell before she could stop herself, and a queer hush fell on the room, as it always did when Susie’s name was mentioned. It spurred Con, who had as usual been listening rather than taking part in the conversation, to find a subject with which to interrupt the uncomfortable pause - and her seat beside the window furnished her with an appropriate alternative.

‘Here comes Mr Denny,’ she said. ‘I wonder what he’ll be teaching this week. I thought they sounded sublime last week - don’t you agree?’

’Doesn’t he look simply dreadful?’ said Mollie, coming to join her at the window. ‘I’m sure he’s getting thinner. And - is it just me, or is he even funnier than usual?’

‘Was he ever amusing?’ asked Nell, who had refrained from joining their inspection and remained in her armchair, though Con could feel the heat of her curiosity even from there.

‘Funny peculiar, I mean,’ replied Mollie. ‘Oddness of manner - I can’t think what else to call it, I’m afraid - but last Friday, when he was leaving, I spoke to him - I only said what a good job he was doing with the girls, but he looked right past me with the most awful face, all ghastly and pale and dreadful, and then he gave quite a gulp and dashed outside without saying goodbye. And he’s never rude, as a rule.’

‘I did see something similar,’ said Miss Norman in her quiet voice. ‘He often asks after Evelyn’s progress when he comes over, and the other week he did look queer, rather like you’ve just described, Mollie. It was - yes, I suppose it was as if he’d seen a ghost - he gave me quite a turn, staring like that, and when he came to he was shaking so much he dropped his music all over the floor and I had to help him to pick it all up. He was terribly embarrassed.’

‘He is terminally embarrassed, though,’ said Nell.

‘Do you think?’ put in Con, and Nell looked over, an odd expression in her eyes. ‘A little awkward, socially, but I don’t recall him being this jumpy last term.’

Nell shrugged, but now Con could see that the look she had been giving her was to implore her to silence, so she turned the conversation and chattered with Mollie about the spot test with which she intended to make her junior middles jump - Rafaela most particularly. But as soon as Mollie’s attention turned from her to Ivy Norman, Con slipped down from the window seat and came to perch beside her girlfriend.

‘Don’t you think there’s something wrong, Nell?’ she said.

‘Of course there is,’ Nell began, but Con cut her off.

‘I mean, really wrong,’ she said. ‘He looks as ill as I’ve ever seen him. And it’s not Susie, either,’ she added, holding up a hand to forestall the anticipated remark. ‘I feel certain that it’s more than that.’

‘Well…’ Nell let out the word as a sigh, but she put away the book she had been half-reading and looked at Con. ‘What do you suggest we do about it? One can’t cure a broken heart, and I don’t know what else it can be.’

‘Talk to Sally?’ suggested Con. ‘She ought to know.’

But to her disappointment, Nell shook her head.

‘Rather a liberty,’ she said. ‘How would we make it appear as if we weren’t prying? After all, it’s not as if we’re particular friends of his - or hers, for that matter. Why take an interest now?’

‘Why not? When another Christian soul is in distress?’

Nell was silenced, but not for long.

‘I don’t see what we can do,’ she said. ‘You know as well as I do that his nerves are unsteady. What’s to say that it’s not just Susie breaking it off with him that’s given them a bit of a shake-up, and that he won’t be alright again in a few weeks?’

‘But it’s been a few weeks!’ said Con. ‘Susie left in July, and it’s getting on for October now, and he’s still not right. Actually, I’d say he’s worse than ever, and it makes my heart bleed to see it, Nell - doesn’t it yours?’

‘Of course I feel sorry for him,’ said Nell. ’But I honestly can’t see what we can do, Con. It’s not our place to interfere.’

‘I know, but…’ Con broke off, dissatisfied, and Nell smiled up at her.

‘Dear old thing,’ she said. ‘You sounded just like Susie then…’

The look of horror on Nell’s face this unguarded observation was so comical that Con snorted.

‘I think I’ll take that as a compliment,’ she said, and got up to prepare for her next task - for she had replaced Mademoiselle as pianist for the school singing lessons and was therefore needed in the big school room - and as she went across to the table where she had left her music, she was aware that Miss Norman was following her.

‘I can see that you’re concerned, Miss Stewart,’ she said in a low voice, ‘so I thought I must tell you that - last week, when Mr Denny spoke to me about Evelyn there was…well, I have to confess, there was…quite a smell of…of drink about him. I don’t wish to gossip,’ she added hastily, as Con’s eyebrows rose, ‘but I thought perhaps…I don’t want to say anything to Mademoiselle, and I barely know Miss Denny, but…’

‘No, quite,’ said Con. ‘You were right to keep quiet about it. Leave it with me and I’ll…I’ll have a word with him.’

‘Thank you!’ whispered Miss Norman. ‘I know everyone here knows him much better than I do, but with Evelyn in his care…it was barely half past one in the afternoon…I don’t like to think that…that something might happen to her.’

That settles it, thought Con, as she reassured Miss Norman and sent her back to Le Petit Chalet rather easier in mind. Prying it may be, but I’m jolly well going to do something about this - whether Nell likes it or not.

Chapter 6, Part II by Finn
Author's Notes:

Thanks for the comments

The following day Con knocked on the door to the Dennys’ chalet, a sick feeling thumping within her chest. Impulse had carried her this far, now wit must take over - and she was beginning to fear that she was unequal to the challenge. How on earth would she get him to speak to her?

Her knock was answered by Miss Denny, who seemed surprised, but showed her in with an expression of pleasure. Con stepped over the threshold and, as Miss Denny closed the door behind her, the gloom that descended in the front hall served only to increase the tremor she felt in her heart. 

‘It was nice of you to come round,’ said Miss Denny, leading her into the salon, which was a welcome relief, brightly lit by the afternoon sun. ‘We don’t often have visitors, and it’s always pleasant to see people. Would you like some tea?’

‘Thank you,’ said Con, with automatic politeness, and she smiled at Evelyn, who had been sitting cross-legged on the floor examining a book that lay open on the coffee table, but who had leapt to her feet when Con had come in and was now looking nervous, fingers twisted around fingers so that the skin at the tips turned white.

‘Evelyn, look after our visitor while I make the tea,’ said Miss Denny, giving the girl a smile, and she went out. Evelyn’s nervousness increased perceptibly.

‘Will you sit down?’ she whispered, and Con sat. Evelyn remained standing, and examined the history mistress with a worried eye for almost a minute, before turning abruptly and running out of the room. 

She reappeared after a minute or so, looking embarrassed.

‘Auntie Sarah says, do you take sugar?’ she asked in a rush and, as Con shook her head, she darted out again, only to run back in a moment later and sit down at the piano.

‘I’ve just learned it,’ she mumbled, and began to play something that sounded like Schumann. Con, unable to remain serious in the face of the child’s eccentric anxiety, listened with attention and applauded when the piece was finished.

‘Wonderful,’ she said. ‘If only all hosts would greet me in such a beautiful fashion.’

Evelyn looked round slowly, shyly, anticipating mockery, but when she saw that Con was quite serious, she suddenly smiled, and her plain face was transformed.

‘Do you like jazz?’ she asked, and without waiting for an answer began to play something with a definite swing to the rhythm. Miss Denny came in as she was playing and set the tray down on the table with a conspiratorial smile at her guest. 

‘Very nice, my dear,’ she said, as Evelyn’s piece came to an end. ‘Now, come and pour the milk for me, there’s a good girl. How are things at the school, my dear?’ she said, turning to hand Con her cup. ‘All well, I trust?’

‘Oh, yes,’ said Con, who had just noticed that there were only three cups laid out. ‘Um…is your brother not joining us? Only I was…hoping to see him.’

‘See Tristan?’ She could forgive Miss Denny’s surprise, for as Nell had quite rightly pointed out, she had not exactly shown much of an interest in him before. But Miss Denny jumped to an inaccurate conclusion. ‘Oh, about the singing, I suppose. Evelyn, run and call him. I’m sorry, my dear,’ she said, as Evelyn ran off. ‘He is…not particularly amenable to social calls at the moment, but I hadn’t realised you wanted to talk shop.’

‘Oh, no, that’s not…’ Inwardly, Con cursed. The last thing she had wanted was to take away any of the enjoyment of this visit for Miss Denny - the pleasure in her face on finding Con on the doorstep showed plainly how few social calls they received. Oh, damn and blast! ‘I wanted to see you both,’ she said, her tongue unwilling on the edge of the lie, ‘but I did come with a particular proposition for Mr Denny.’

‘I’m intrigued,’ said Miss Denny, with an arched eyebrow, but she possessed her soul in patience until they heard Evelyn’s light footsteps come back along the passage, followed by a heavier tread. Con got to her feet.

‘Good afternoon, Mr Denny,’ she said as he came in, and in the glare of sunlight that came in through the window she saw what Mollie Maynard had meant the previous day. Never less than gaunt, he was looking positively haggard - his eyes were dark-shadowed, his cheeks dull as well as pale, and he had shaved badly, as if his hand had shaken as he wielded the razor. Con felt another pang of sorrow beneath her breastbone, and glanced across to Miss Denny, who was watching her, ready to leap to her brother’s defence should it be necessary.

‘Miss Stewart,’ Mr Denny said, in a voice without much inflexion, and sat down in his armchair. Evelyn, sticking close beside him, was pulled to sit on his knee, which she did with cheerful compliance, leaning her head against his shoulder. Touched by the domestic scene, and feeling ever more out of place, Con sat back down herself and wondered where to start.

‘I came about the viola,’ she said, and she startled herself as much as she baffled her hosts.

‘Viola?’ said Miss Denny, and the question was reflected in Mr Denny’s face.

‘Yes,’ said Con, trying her best to recover, for that was not how she had meant to start the conversation! ‘I mean, the viola you said you had. Last term,’ she added, as the confusion did not clear from Mr Denny’s forehead. ‘You said last term that you had a viola lying about the place, and that I could borrow it and we’d play music together - you and I, and maybe Herr Anserl and the chap who comes to teach cello. At least,’ she added, the certainty draining from her voice as he continued to look blank, ‘I’m sure you said that. You did, didn’t you?’

‘Oh!’ He had remembered! And, praise God, a smile came with the memory. ‘I did! I had entirely forgotten. Do you…I mean…you wish to…?’

‘Yes!’ she answered the inarticulate question. ‘That is, if you’re still interested.’

‘I…yes, certainly,’ he said, sitting forward with a careful arm around Evelyn. ‘I should…like that very much. I shall write to Anserl and we can arrange a time to meet…’

‘Perhaps I could come over at the weekend and have a look through some music with you,’ said Con, pressing home her advantage. ‘I’m a bit rusty, and I’d like to vet the parts before we tell Herr Anserl - you know what he’s like!’

The smile he gave her showed her that he did, and he nodded agreement.

‘Saturday afternoon?’ he said, and she noted it down with a certain glee. ‘Now, Evelyn, if you get down, I will go and fetch my viola for Miss Stewart, that she may practise a little before we meet again.’

Well, thought Con, as she replaced her teacup and rose to follow him, that was considerably less painful than I expected. I wonder what made me think of the viola? Still, I’ve thought of it now, and I’ll be back here on Saturday. I only hope that I can persuade him to talk to me then!

Chapter 6, Part III by Finn
Author's Notes:

Thanks for the comments, and apologies for leaving it for so long!

‘I think this one might be a little…’

‘Yes, it is somewhat…dull.’

‘I was going to say, ‘out of my reach’,’ said Con, smiling. ‘Some of these passages look rather terrifying.’

‘Mm.’ Mr Denny did not return the smile but frowned over the music. ‘Yes, it is rather awkward in places.’

‘I’ve forgotten how to make my fingers do that,’ said Con with a laugh, and she was relieved as this time he managed a smile. ‘Sorry. I don’t think I’m up to Brahms quite yet.’

‘Not at all. There are plenty of other choices. Here - I will let you look and you may make your decision unimpeded.’

Mr Denny threw himself into the armchair and left the desk, strewn with chamber music, to Con. The study was not large, but it was a light and pleasant room, with a desk and an old armchair and a rug covering most of the wooden floor. A large set of shelves were built into one wall and held a large quantity of sheet music, mostly contained within carefully labelled box files, and also a number of volumes on music history and theory, many of which, Con had observed, were well thumbed. The desk stood beneath the broad window and looked down towards the lake, and on the opposite side of the room stood a cheap upright piano, its lid down, and on top of it more sheet music and Mr Denny’s flute. A wooden music stand and a battered violin case were tucked behind the door, and there was a patch in the dust to show where, until recently, Con’s newly acquired viola had stood alongside them.

Con rifled through the music with only half her mind on the task. Ideal though this opportunity was to get him to herself, yet she was finding it difficult to move beyond the specific subject of chamber music to more general matters. She never found it easy to talk to men, as a rule - her brothers the exception - and as for drawing them out on the subject of their innermost pain and distress…no, she had no idea how she could approach it, let alone persist for long enough to get him to talk to her.

‘I think I like the look of the Beethoven,’ she said eventually, when her musings failed to provide a solution. ‘Well, I say ‘like the look of’ - on paper, it doesn’t look too tricky, but I’m never especially good at reckoning difficulty without actually playing the thing. You look and tell me - it’s not too hard, is it?’

‘It is not,’ said Mr Denny, waking from his reverie and pushing himself upright to come and look over her shoulder. ‘There are far more difficult quartets than this, and yet this one is perfectly charming in and of itself. Naturally it is - Beethoven wrote very little that was of low quality - nay, indeed, his weakest efforts outshine the greatest triumphs of many other composers. Yes - I think this is an excellent choice to start us off. Anserl will be pleased,’ he added, and smiled suddenly. ‘I do not mind in the slightest,’ he said, in lower tones, ‘not playing Brahms. Not to my taste, I must confess, though never tell Anserl that I said so! But Beethoven…’ He picked up the violin part and turned a few, idle pages. ‘Did you know that he wrote this originally for wind quintet? And yet I have only ever heard it as a piano quartet. I wonder how it would sound in its original arrangement - and yet I fear we would not find sufficient wind players - unless you happen to be a secret bassoonist as well?’

Con could not help grinning at the conspiratorial look he was giving her while, at the same time, she contemplated how long it had been since she had seen him so animated. It seemed a shame even to think of spoiling his good humour.

‘Never so much as a puff, I’m afraid,’ she said. ‘I’m strictly a one-instrument woman, and even then, I’ve not played viola since I was at school. When I moved to London I took up dancing instead of playing. The EFDS,’ she added, and Mr Denny frowned.

‘The EFDS?’ he repeated, then, before she could explain, ‘Oh, but of course - the English Folk Dance Society - how could I have forgotten? And it was there, I imagine, that you met Susie. How peculiar,’ he added, in a thoughtful voice which Con would not have expected, given the subject of this change in conversation, ‘to think that I might have met you both before - at least have crossed paths with you. I took an interest in folk song and dance myself, during the time that I studied in London,’ he explained. ‘My composition teacher at the College was Vaughan Williams and he had much to do with Cecil Sharp before Sharp’s death, and one cannot be taught by such a man as he and not take an interest in the music that inspires him - inspires us all, for we have all inherited this new tradition,’ he finished, thoughtful and vague, and his voice died away as he gazed down to the lake, dark eyes preoccupied.

Well! thought Con. Who’d have thought he’d be the first to bring her up - and so casually, too? And instead of leaping on my chance, I’ve let him get away from her and settle back onto music - wretched man! So, now what?

But he brought the subject back himself, for before she could even draw breath to speak, he had murmured, ‘So much has happened since then.’

‘Yes, I know,’ said Con, the sympathy torn from her in her surprise, and he laughed without humour. 

‘I suppose everyone does.’

‘We’re worried about you,’ said Con, and he turned surprised eyes on her. ‘I mean it,’ she said. ‘I think it’s shameful that she’s left you like this - you don’t deserve it, it’s not right! And to see you suffer so…’

‘What is it about me,’ he interrupted softly, his gaze returning to the lake, ‘that makes everyone assume that it is she who has run away from me, that I am the one abandoned? And yet,’ he added, with another of those cold laughs, ‘I do understand it. I think there is not a person in the valley that does not have the wrong impression about me.’

His voice was hard, and Con’s heart was bouncing upon her stomach as she struggled to think of some way to answer him. But he did not give her the chance, for he turned back and all of a sudden he was smiling again and proffering her the Beethoven with all the weary assurance he had displayed earlier that day.

‘Let us settle a time to play,’ he said, ‘and I will marshall the others to attend us.’

‘Splendid,’ said Con, and in that moment she realised that he was edging her out of the room and out of his house before she could unsettle him any further, that he had won this battle, and she gave in and resigned herself to failure. ‘And now I had better return to the school with my loot, or I won’t have any time to practise before our rehearsal!’

She was turning to pick up both the Beethoven copy and her viola when she stopped, for an awful look was coming across Mr Denny’s face, and she realised she was seeing the same haunted look as had been described by Mollie Maynard and Miss Norman. His skin whitened, his eyes grew fixed and terrible, and then he shuddered as if coming out of a faint, gasped and held a gulp of breath and then, as sweat began to break out across his forehead and down the sides of his nose, the breath exploded out of him and he dived forward onto his hands and knees and, to Con’s horror, was sick into the wastepaper basket.

‘Oh God…!’ he gasped, breathing heavily.

He remained kneeling for a few moments as Con, appalled and disgusted in equal measure, took a step away from him, and then he looked up at her, the back of his hand pressed to his forehead in weakness and humiliation, and from his knees he begged her pardon.

‘I am so sorry…I don’t know what…oh God, in front of you…’

He got to his feet and fumbled at the door, then disappeared, clutching the bin. Con remained where she was, pressed against the desk, but after a few moments she had recovered enough to go to the door and look down the hallway. She could hear Sally Denny’s voice rising in alarm, and then the back door clattered and Sally came out of the kitchen and made straight for her, hands outstretched in the same appeal as her brother’s stammered apologies.

‘It must be something he ate! Con, I…I don’t know what to say, I…’

‘It’s alright,’ said Con, ‘it’s alright. Don’t worry - I’ve seen worse. Look,’ she added, urgency overriding her pity for Sally’s distress, ‘I don’t imagine he’ll want to see me for a while, but take my best wishes to him and tell him not to be embarrassed, and if it’s alright I’ll come over again in a few days. I need to see him - to talk to him.’

For Con thought that she was beginning to understand.

Chapter 7, Part I by Finn
Author's Notes:

Thanks for the comments! 

September was nudging up against October, and Susie hesitated over whether to get out her winter coat for the walk to the League meeting that night. The thought was tempting - October in London settled around the shoulders with a chilly damp quite unlike the biting freshness of the Tiernsee winter and she could see from the halo that glistened around the lamppost outside her flat that a foggy night was on its way. But it was her winter tweed, the only item of her Tiernsee clothing she had brought with her from Anna’s flat, the coat that she had bargained and wheedled for and eventually persuaded her friend Anna to part with, so that she might look like the sort of nice lady that would teach in a girls’ boarding school, and not freeze to death while she was doing it. No sense in wasting a good coat, she had thought, when she had packed up and left, not after the trouble she had been to to get her hands on it - but now that she was here she could hardly bear the thought of donning the one thing she had to remind her…the number of times he had helped her out of it, with the winter snow gathering on the collar, sending up the familiar damp and acrid smell…no, she did not want to smell that again, not tonight. Save the coat for when it was really winter.

The League worked out of a small Jewish Workers’ club just off Cable Street, not too far from her own lodgings, and when Susie arrived at the door she found Dennis waiting for her.

‘Good evening, Susie,’ he said. ‘Shall I take your coat?’

Now she was glad she hadn’t worn the tweed, not for Dennis to take it from her shoulders. Not that she really wanted him taking this one either - she felt like hanging onto it in childish fashion, just to prove a point, but after that moment’s hesitation she shook it off (quickly, before he could help her), handed it over and even managed a smile for him.

‘Long day?’ he said, with careful sympathy, and she nodded. ‘I do admire you,’ he said. ‘It must take such energy to work in a shop. Such long hours, and having all those rude people talking to you like you’re dirt. It’s a good thing you have such strength of character. I was saying as much to Mr Benson at work today and, do you know, he quite agreed with me.’

Dennis was a clerk in a shipping office. He didn’t need to work but he did so anyway, claiming he wanted to mix with ‘ordinary folk’. From what Susie had seen, however, the ordinary folk didn’t much want him to mix with them. In her charitable moments, she remembered him as a lonely soul. Today, however, she was not feeling charitable.

‘Mm, yes,’ she replied, as repressive as she could be, and went into the club. He followed close behind her, hung up her coat on the stand in the narrow hallway and gestured with a smile for her to precede him up the stairs. Susie hung back.

‘After you,’ she said, ever hopeful, but he shook his head with a laugh.

‘Honestly!’ he exclaimed. ‘I do like you modern women being liberated and what have you, but really, we have to maintain some standards. Please - after you.’

He waved his hand again and she gave in, though with reluctance, for there was something about being followed on the stairs by Dennis that made her uncomfortable. 

The room in which they met was on the first floor, so there was not far to climb. As soon as she reached the landing, Susie turned so that her back was to the wall, and her unconscious hands smoothed down the material of the back of her skirt. Dennis gave her a smile that might have been innocent and stopped too. He wanted her to sit with him, thought Susie, and cursed the weakness in her that stopped her from saying, ‘No.’

Fortunately, before she was tested further, Henrietta poked her head out into the corridor.

‘There you are,’ she said, in a high-pitched voice of the sort that had commanded a legion of servants, in the old days, and gestured with all the associated assurance of being immediately obeyed. ‘Come along, buck up! Everyone else is here, and Mother wants to get started.’ 

But imperious though Henrietta could be, there was in her more than a spark of kindness to her fellow men. She waited until Susie was at the door, then caught her by the arm and steered her to the left hand side of the room.

‘Come and sit next to me, Susie,’ she said. ‘I want to pick your brains about something.’

‘What’s that, then?’ asked Susie, watching as Dennis took the spare seat next to Georgiana Rushby and began to speak to her in a low voice, and Henrietta pulled her down into the seat next to her and let go of her arm.

‘Oh, nothing, actually,’ she said. ‘I thought you might like to get away from Dennis, that’s all. You had that look in your eye - fox that’s been run to ground, you know.’

‘I did?’

‘Oh, yes. You’re very expressive, actually, in the eyes and so on. But, Susie, you really shouldn’t let him see he’s winning.’

‘He’s not winning,’ said Susie, stung to sharpness, and Henrietta gave her a rare grin.

‘Oh, good!’ she said. ‘I thought you were started to give up, and I do so loathe it when…’

But what she loathed was not to be revealed, for at that moment Beatrice Lockhart, president of the Women’s Welfare League (Stepney branch) stood up and called the meeting to order.

Chapter 8, Part I by Finn
Author's Notes:

Decided to hell with it all, am going to post here again!

It was all up with him.

Every day it grew harder to distinguish real from false, ghost from flesh. He crept sidelong through a world of fresh air that was rank with sweat and mud and the bodily stench of too many men packed together, where cooking smells mingled with the bile of his near-constant retching and the wax used to polish the wooden floors of the school tossed him back to Brigade HQ, autumn 1916 - a big chateau three miles behind the lines, a place of clicking and saluting, heels together, chin held high…

In between these shifting spaces floated the dead men. Their features were blurred - he had never had a memory for faces - and yet he could recall their gaping mouths as the flesh rotted from their lips and bared their teeth - yes, he could remember that, and the manner that broken limbs had of hanging inside a jacket, as they had when Sarah had flung away her doll in a fit of pique - its right arm had dangled, suddenly longer than the left, and the hand had flapped uselessly within the loose sleeve of its dress - it made him sick and yet he could not tell, even as his stomach pushed uselessly upwards, whether he had even seen them, for it could have been his own limbs, his own face that he saw in the glass - dead-fish skin and hollow cheeks - his insides were perpetually empty, he had no strength left for this fight, he could no longer prevent his body from revolting against all he smelled, all he heard, all he saw…

Currently he was in the study, trapped at his desk by Satan, who was lurking near the piano. This was a new departure - he had never had a personal call from the Adversary before and it frightened him, but not as much as the idea that He might break out of the study and invade some other part of the house, and so he stood, not quite facing Him down, but keeping His attention diverted. It was not simple, for it required the sort of concentration he no longer had - and soon he would have to admit to the inevitable defeat, for Sarah was shortly to call him to lunch and he could not very well take Him along, not with Evelyn there.

When his reason came back to him, as it did, from time to time, he remembered to wonder why this had happened now, so long after…

He stared, and Satan lurked, and then all at once the strain became too much and he cried aloud to heaven.

‘Oh, God!’

The first words he had spoken aloud that day, and suddenly his limbs were as weary as the winter sun, and they dropped him to the floor as he sent up another cry to Him Above, not in English, but a Hebrew phrase that had for so long ached in his very bones:

‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’

But as he gave himself up to defeat, the door to the study opened and Con Stewart walked in, and he stretched out his hands to her and, as she took them in her own warm ones and then sat on the floor beside him and put an arm around his shoulders, cutting him off from Lucifer’s fatal stare, he knew that, this time, he had won.

He closed his eyes, leaned against her, and began to cry.

Chapter 8, Part II by Finn

‘It’s alright,’ she was saying, and he was saying, ‘Is Sarah…?’ and she said, ‘She’s outside,’ and he breathed again, shallow, gasping breaths as he fought against the tightness in his chest, and as his breaths quickened he felt his head grow fainter and more distant, until he found himself with something papery held against his mouth, and Con Stewart was crouching over him and telling him to, ‘Breathe deeply, come on.’

It was hard but there was no argument in him, and he did as she bid and gradually his chest stopped heaving quite so much and his breaths became less desperate, more regular, more even.

‘That’s better,’ said Miss Stewart, and she smiled as she knelt over him. ‘Good thing I still carry one with me.’ She folded up the paper bag and slipped it into her pocket. ‘My brother,’ she explained, when he said nothing. ‘He often has attacks like that - we’ve learned to be ready for them.’

She shifted position to sit next to him on the floor and he kept his eyes averted from her, for the presence of other people was shameful and he was too busy trying to stop the tears from starting again. The Devil, he was thankful to note, had gone back to his demonic realm; they were alone.

‘That was why I came round,’ Miss Stewart was saying, and with an effort he listened. ‘My brother.’

‘Doctor,’ he managed, and was startled by this piece of recollection, but Miss Stewart shook her head - he caught the glimpses of it, though he still looked away - her red-gold hair bouncing in the corner of his vision - how pretty she was, Miss Stewart, entirely dazzling, and here she was, sitting beside him on the floor of his study, back against the legs of his chair, talking about her brother. He had loved Susie for this - the feeling he had of a butterfly, or a hummingbird, all bright colour and motion, settling next to him briefly, sharing some of its vivid life with the worn out husk that was Tristan Denny. Impossible not to love her - absurd to think it could last!

‘Not the doctor,’ she was saying. ‘My other brother.’

Ah, she had an ‘other brother’. He almost laughed, for Sarah had one of those - and yet, impossible to laugh…his face spitting blood…

‘He’s not well,’ she said, and he pulled away from Eddie and turned to look at her beautiful face instead. ‘He fought in the war and…I think he has what you have,’ she said, turning to him, and for the first time he held her gaze. ‘You do have shell-shock, don’t you?’

His closing eyelids cut off her concerned loveliness.

‘He can’t cope with much,’ he heard her say. ‘My parents look after him at the moment, but he struggles dreadfully. He can never quite settle, you know, and he goes off into trances - stares into space for ages, sometimes half an hour at a time.’

‘Neurasthenia,’ he said, opening his eyes, though only to stare across the room. ‘That is what they call it, in better circles than these. It gives a more courageous sound to stammering, and crying, and wetting the bed.’ Oh yes, might as well confess all the shame - and yet she did not flinch from it.

‘Have you seen anyone - had any…?’

‘Treatment?’ His laughter was empty. ‘What treatment is there? My board did not even believe that my nerves were damaged. They discharged me for my damaged lungs, not for this.’

He tapped his forehead and then he saw that he had admitted to it - to neurasthenia, or shell-shock, or plain bloody madness - and the air shifted within the room and he knew suddenly that they were friends. Such a strange way to come at it…

‘Do you think you should see the doctor?’ she asked.

‘Has your brother?’

‘Well, yes, but…’

‘Then it is as I said. There is nothing to be done.’

‘Not necessarily! Pat isn’t well, but he’s a whole lot better than he used to be. He can go into town and buy a paper - five years ago that was impossible! There are things, you know…and you’re so much better than him, really you are. I know everything seems impossible at the moment, but you’ve managed university and music training, you’ve been holding down a job…there has to be a chance, don’t you think?’

He leaned back, eyes closing once more. It was too much - he was so weary, worn, sad…if he could only lay down and rest…

‘I don’t know…’

‘Let me at least ask Dr Russell. He knows so many people - there might be someone…’

‘Ohhh…oh, very well! Ask, ask. Do as you please with me - I am quite done with myself.’

There was a moment of silence, and then he felt her hand come to rest on the back of his head, just at the base of his skull. It was a gentle gesture and yet, it seemed to impart some imagined strength to him, and he opened his eyes and looked at her.

‘I’ll phone him directly I get back,’ she said. Her hand drifted away from his neck but it did not leave him entirely - she took his hand and held it close between hers. ‘And I’ll pray for you, Tristan, if you’ll let me.’

‘I…’ She had used his name. ‘Please…if you wish it…though I fear it will do me no good. I am too far…’

‘Hush! Don’t be absurd. I’ll go now and telephone Dr Russell - unless you’d like me to stay?’

Con was too short, he baulked at its ugliness. Miss Stewart, who was all beauty, length and elegance - no, Con was not the name for her.

‘Would you stay?’ he asked, and trembled to ask it, and yet…’I feel I might face anything with you here beside me - Constance.’

She smiled.

‘Then I’ll stay,’ she said, and she did.

Chapter 9, Part I by Finn

‘Dr Russell is here to see you, Tristan dear.’

‘Oh.’

He had been lying on the sofa, but that was not a posture in which to receive visitors, so he levered himself upright and stared hollow-eyed at the doctor. He had looked in the mirror only that morning, to try to see if he could shave, and therefore he felt that he could understand Russell’s raised eyebrows as he took a seat opposite him.

‘Good heavens, Denny,’ were the doctor’s first words. ‘What on earth have you been doing with yourself?’

There was no answer to that question, so he made none. Russell seemed to expect this, though, for he was already reaching down to take a notebook from his briefcase and fishing inside his jacket for a pen.

‘I can quite see why I was called in,’ he said. ‘Your sister and Miss Stewart were right to be worried.’

‘Constance.’

His voice was like that of a raucous crow, and for a moment he was there in the trees with the rest of the carrion eaters. He gasped a sudden breath and swallowed hard.

‘She’s very worried about you, you know,’ said Russell, with a slight smile. Tristan did not trust that smile. ‘So’s your sister - and I can see why, now. They say you’ve had trouble keeping food down?’

‘I…yes. A little.’

‘Any other symptoms? Diarrhoea? Stomach cramps?’

‘No.’

‘Any cause you’ve noticed?’

He paused, and the doctor looked up from his notebook.

‘Jack Maynard tells me you were drinking quite heavily the last time he saw you.’

‘I…perhaps.’

‘Still drinking?’

‘Not as much.’

They shared a glance in the glare of the lie.

‘How often are you vomiting?’

Tristan paused for longer than appropriate; he saw the doctor’s eyebrows rise and jerked his languid mind into action.

‘Every so often,’ he managed.

‘And does anything trigger it?’

He must have given Russell a look, for the doctor leaned forward a little.

‘Any food that’s connected with it? Is it at a certain time of the day, or associated with anything you’re doing at the time?’

Eddie, standing up, the impact of metal on skull and the spattering of brain...

‘Denny? There is something, isn’t there?’

He pulled himself together, shook away the spectres.

‘Nothing in particular,’ he said, slowly.

Russell put down his notes and leaned forward properly, elbows on knees and fingers making a point like a church steeple.

‘Denny,’ he said, and he sounded as sharp as Tristan had ever heard him, ‘I can’t help you unless you tell me what’s the matter with you. You know what’s causing it, don’t you? Then tell me - or there’s not a damned thing I can do about it.’

Tristan closed his eyes. He was tired - too tired for this. It had been easy enough to conceded to Constance and her demands - far harder, now that Russell was here, to confess, to admit, to lay it all bare. Humiliation was bad enough in front of women, but in front of a man…a man like Russell…

‘Very good,’ he said, and he lay back, eyes still closed, and waited for the doctor to go.

It took a while, but eventually he heard Russell sigh, then a rustle and a creak as he got up from the chair and picked up his briefcase.

‘Very well,’ he said, and without further ado he left. Tristan heard him close the door behind him.

The breath that he had been holding exploded out of him, and then he swung his legs up onto the sofa, curled on his side and tried to fall asleep.

Chapter 9, Part II by Finn

Sarah was waiting outside the salon. Ted was with her - he had come down with the doctor and had brought a bag with him, determined that he would be staying in the Denny household and brooking no argument to the contrary - and she was clinging to his hand like a schoolgirl; but, eager as she was to hear the news, she was rather startled to see the doctor so soon.

‘Is everything alright?’ she asked, and she wasn’t sure herself whether she was referring to this immediate moment or to Tristan’s condition. The doctor seemed equally uncertain, for he passed a hand over his face and sighed wearily.

‘Not really,’ he said. ‘He won’t talk to me, but I’ve seen enough to convince me that he’s having some variety of nervous breakdown. I’m dashed if I can see where the physical symptoms are coming in but then, I’m a lung doctor, not a psychiatrist. Although, that said…tell me, Miss Denny - I know your brother was in the War, but when he came home, did he show any signs of nervous shock? Bad dreams, shaking hands, that sort of thing.’

‘Oh!’ Sarah felt the tension collapse out of her. ‘Yes! Yes, oh - Dr Russell, he was so badly upset by the whole thing. He didn’t speak to us for months - not a word - and he was so disconnected, completely absent, like he didn’t know what was going on around him. I…I’ve hardly told anyone. I’ve not even told Ted…’

She turned to Ted, eyes wild with fear and relief, and he took her hand again and pressed it.

‘It’s alright,’ he said. ‘One doesn’t…’

‘But one probably ought to,’ said Dr Jem, but he said it thoughtfully and after a few anxious moments Sarah realised it wasn’t a rebuke. ’So much is concealed…listen, Miss Denny, it’s my belief that your brother needs specialist help. I know it’s not my area of expertise, but I do know some people and when I go back tonight I’ll look out some names and write some letters for you, if you don’t mind.’

‘Oh - no, not in the least,’ said Sarah. ‘But…what sort of help? I mean, I…’

‘Psychiatric help,’ said Dr Jem. ‘Studies into neurasthenia have come a long way since the accusations of funk in wartime. I know the Maudsley is doing a lot of work with neurasthenics - that’s shell shock, to the layman,’ he added, and for once Sarah was too preoccupied with anxiety to mind his patronising tone, ‘but I’m sure there are others. I’ll look into it when I go back up tonight. And, look here, Miss Denny, you’re doing a splendid job, but I can’t help thinking it’d be easier for you if your brother were off your hands for a little while. Give you a chance to rest. What do you say?’

‘No!’

‘I…’ Dr Jem looked utterly taken aback - it can’t have been often he was contradicted by a patient, thought Sarah, as she stared at him, fists clenched and jaw set in defiance. ‘But I thought that…’

‘Well, you thought wrong,’ said Sarah. ‘Have my brother sent away? Locked up? He’s not a lunatic! He’s unhappy, but he’s not…’

She broke off, for she was breathing too heavily to manage more words, and Ted’s hands on her shoulders were exceedingly welcome. But the doctor shook his head.

‘No, no!’ he said. ‘I was only going to suggest that he came up to the Sonnalpe with me at the weekend. It’s not ideal, but it would give you some breathing space - and him, too. I can see that he feels he has let you down…’

‘Let me down? But…what rot! I…’

‘Miss Denny,’ said the doctor, ‘it may all seem a lot of rot to you, and to the rest of us, but it’s all very real to him. I…’

‘You don’t have to tell me that!’ She had cut him off, but really - such condescension! ‘Forgive me, but you don’t have to live with it! Every night - every night without fail - and he’s so sick, you’ve seen how much weight he’s lost, and it’s not as if he has any to lose…of course I know that it’s real! I’m not a complete idiot, whatever you may think of me! I have been looking after my brother ever since he came home from the war, I’ve nursed him through pneumonia and bronchitis and pleurisy, and I’ve woken every night he has one of his nightmares, and I’ve held his hand when he cries, and I’ve cut his food up for him when his hands are shaking too much to hold anything, and I’ve cleaned up every mess under the sun, and I know - I damned well know it’s real! It’s real for him and it’s real for me, too - and…’

Her breath caught, and Ted pulled her into his arms as she collapsed into sobs, gathering her close to his heart.

‘You’ve been so alone,’ he said. ‘If only I’d…’

‘I didn’t want to worry you,’ she said, feebly. ‘I haven’t told anyone. After all, ‘One doesn’t’.’

‘Forgive me for this,’ he said, ‘but I agree with Dr Russell. You can’t carry on trying to cope alone - and the Sonnalpe is so close. You’ll be able to visit often, and you’ll both have some proper rest. There are nurses up at the San - trained nurses.’

‘I’m a trained nurse,’ said Sarah. ‘Well, I nursed during the war,’ she added, defensively. ‘I was a VAD in Liverpool.’

‘But you’re not now,’ said Ted. ‘And besides, you’re too close. Let Tristan go up to the San and, if Dr Russell will give me leave, I’ll stay down here for a while and keep you company once he’s gone. It’s a good idea, you must agree.’

Sarah took a deep breath, but she knew he had won.

‘Alright,’ she said, eventually. ‘But only if he agrees. I’m not doing anything without his say so - it wouldn’t be fair otherwise.’

And with that, Ted and the doctor were in agreement.

Chapter 9, Part III by Finn

That evening, Madge poked her head into Jem’s study and found him engrossed in a book.

‘What are you reading, dear?’ she asked. ‘W.H. Rivers still?’

‘Yes,’ said Jem, barely raising his eyes to look at his wife. ‘It’s interesting. Rivers says here that it’s mostly the NCOs and officers that were raised from the ranks that displayed mutism, not commissioned officers. They tended towards stammering, if they had any speech defect at all. I wonder what it could have been that shut Denny’s mouth for all those months after the war?’

‘Something that was so terrible that he couldn’t speak about it,’ said Madge, coming to stand behind Jem and glancing over at the book.

‘Rivers says it seemed to be a mental conflict between needing to give orders and not wanting anyone else to be killed,’ said Jem, absently. ‘Though that said…’

His eyes lifted from the book and looked out of the window into the darkness, a pensive expression displacing the tiredness. Madge, seeing the expression in his reflection, was careful to say nothing, and they remained there quietly for a minute or so, until Jem turned and looked up at her.

‘I wonder if you haven’t got it right after all,’ he said, still thoughtful. ‘There are sights in war that you’d never…’

He didn’t finish, and Madge felt her heart thump with a painful beat. She put an arm upon his shoulders and ran her other hand over his head, and he leaned against her and smiled.

‘Jem, did you…?’

‘No,’ he said, and sat up abruptly and went back to his book. ‘No, Madge. Please - don’t ask me.’

Madge nodded, ran her hand over his hair again and bent to kiss his head.

‘Abendessen in twenty minutes,’ she said. ‘Don’t forget.’

She looked round when she reached the door, but his eyes were on his book and his back remained resolutely turned.

Chapter 10, Part I by Finn

Evelyn stood in the doorway to Tristan’s bedroom, tight hands gripped anxiously together. Every so often she threw a glance down the landing, hoping to see Auntie Sarah appear on the stairs, for she was growing frightened of Uncle Tristan’s erratic behaviour. He had torn open all of the drawers and rifled through their contents, leaving the clothing hanging out untidily over the sides, and all the books from his shelf had been taken down, their pages shaken and examined, and then discarded onto the floor. The bed had also been pulled to pieces, sheets and pillows scattered wide, but whatever it was he sought was not to be found and he was growing increasingly agitated, much to Evelyn’s alarm.

‘Oh damn it, damn it!’ he was muttering. ‘Where are the damned things? Where the bloody, bloody hell are they?’

Evelyn hesitated, glancing back once again for Auntie Sarah, but there was no sign of her - and, after all, Uncle Tristan was so seldom angry, and he never got cross with her for asking questions - so she took a tentative step forward and said, ‘Where are what? Can I help you look?’

‘No!’ he exclaimed angrily, then closed his eyes and took a breath. ‘No, child,’ he said more gently, and she relaxed a little from the frozen terror that had gripped her at his impatience. ‘I’m merely…I had some letters - your letters, the ones you wrote to me over the summer. I had them…’ he frowned, ‘I do not know when I had them last…but I did want to take them with me when I…go…’

He turned back to his search and then, just as Evelyn was about to step further into the room, he gave vent to a roar of frustration and she jumped in terror.

‘Oh, God! Where the HELL are the bloody things?’

Evelyn’s heart thudded painfully in her chest as all her muscles tensed up to run from him. But this was Uncle Tristan, who had never had a cross word for her in all the time she had known him - and so she came forward as he turned to search again the already ransacked drawers and pleaded with him.

‘I’ll write some more for you,’ she said. ‘I’ll write one every day, only - ’ as he turned round and tore the quilt back from the bed with another inarticulate cry of anger and she shrank back in fright, ‘only do stop, please - please stop!’

But for once the panic in her childish voice did not penetrate Tristan’s consciousness and he continued to scrabble about and swear, and all Evelyn’s pleas for him to ‘Stop, please stop!’ went unheeded until, terror rattling her down to her very feet, the little girl turned and ran to find her aunt.

As she dashed along the landing she met Sarah coming the other way, and she flung herself into her arms crying, ‘Please make him stop!’

‘What’s he doing, my darling?’ asked Sarah, catching her up into her arms, but Evelyn wriggled free and pointed.

‘Looking for my letters!’ she cried. ‘I said I’d write more but he won’t listen to me! Oh, do stop him, please!’

Sarah hesitated for a moment and then a clatter from her brother’s room sent her off in that direction; at which point a knock sounded at the front door and brought her to another sudden halt. She paused, then looked at Evelyn.

‘Go and answer the door, dear,’ she said, ‘and I’ll calm Uncle Tristan down, and then we can all look for the letters together.’

She turned away to Tristan’s room and Evelyn sped down the stairs and opened the door to find Miss Stewart there.

‘Oh!’ she said, and realised her rudeness almost immediately. ‘I mean, won’t you come in, Miss Stewart?’

She held the door open and the history mistress came through the door with a question on her lips, which died away when they heard a woman’s scream, then a crash, then a silence which was broken moments later by a howl of utter despair.

Evelyn turned panicked eyes on Miss Stewart, who was looking anxious and alarmed, but who pulled herself together and made a sign to her.

‘Stay here,’ she said, and ran past her and up the stairs, and Evelyn the ever obedient stayed where she was, her legs shaking until they were so weak that she had to sink down onto the floor, where she hugged her knees tightly and tried not to cry.

Meanwhile Con reached the top of the stairs and, after a moment’s disorientation, made her way along the landing to the room from which she could hear the sounds of heavy breathing that was catching into sobs - and she froze when she got to the door, for there on the floor was the body of Sally Denny, limp and lifeless, while over her knelt her brother, gasping frantically, shaking her by the shoulders and pleading with her in words that were almost unintelligible.

‘Wake up! Sarah - oh, Sarah, wake up! Please - for God’s sake - wake up!’

But from the procumbent Sarah there came not a sound.

Chapter 10, Part II by Finn

‘Oh, my God!’ cried Con, too horrified for anything but blasphemy. Tristan turned to her and reached out a hand in her direction, blind desperation in the gesture.

‘Constance!’ he cried. ‘Help me - come and help me, for I have killed her!’

‘Stand back,’ ordered Con, and he rose instantly and took two steps away from Sarah, allowing Con to approach. She knelt down beside the body, wondering for a panicked moment where to begin until her Guides training took the upper hand.

‘What happened?’ she asked as she began to examine Sarah. She was sharp with anxiety and she heard him gasp without compunction.

‘I…I did not hit her!’ he cried in a voice distorted with anguish. ‘I was looking beneath my bed. I had lost some letters and I wanted them - I am to leave this afternoon and…and I wanted them and could not - cannot - find them, and Sarah…she came to remonstrate with me for frightening Evelyn, and I…I…’

His voice broke again and he sank onto the bed.

‘I have killed them both!’ he said, to Con’s bafflement, for he must know that Evelyn was alive and well. As for his sister…

‘She’s not dead,’ she said, and heard him gasp in sudden elation. ‘She’s unconscious, though - I think she’s stunned herself on the chest of drawers here.’ She touched the side of Sarah’s head and her fingers came away bloody. ‘Damned lucky,’ she said, almost to herself. ‘She’s gashed her head - and it’s not so very far from the temple.’

‘Oh…thank heaven…’

He was on his knees beside her, feeling the wound in Sarah’s head for himself. Then his fingers touched his sister’s jaw and neck, moving tenderly around the spine, feeling for breakages.

‘I think we have indeed been damned lucky,’ he said, and gone was the panic, and instead of his usual hesitancy was a clipped delivery that spoke of coolness under fire. ‘You are quite right - there is nothing broken, but we must move her. She cannot remain here.’

Con felt her neck creeping, for she did not recognise this Tristan Denny - steady, collected, commanding. He was back in the army, she thought, and shivered.

‘No,’ she agreed, then added quickly, before he could give out any orders, ‘I’ll take her shoulders if you take her legs. We should be able to…’

‘Stop!’ he commanded suddenly, and bent over his sister. ‘See - she is coming round.’

Con pushed him aside with more force than she had intended and leaned down to watch as Sarah’s eyelids flickered, then slowly opened.

‘Hnn,’ said Sarah, blinking as her eyes adjusted to the light. ‘Hm - uhh.’

‘Sarah?’ Tristan was at Con’s shoulder. ‘Speak to us.’

‘Mm?’

He touched her cheek and her eyes focussed on him.

‘Do you remember your name?’ he asked, a sensible question which startled Con. He’d clearly done this before - another time, another place…

Sarah was blinking slowly at them both.

‘’Course I do,’ she said, mumbling slightly. ‘I’m Sarah - and you’re Tristan, my irritating little brother. Not sure who that is, though,’ she added, frowning, ‘but she’s very pretty.’

‘Does concussion usually cause honesty?’ asked Con, smiling slightly at Tristan, but his face was serious and he ignored the jibe.

‘Come,’ he said, ‘you know Miss Stewart from the school. She is here to help us. Do you think you can sit? How does your head feel?’

‘Aches,’ said Sarah. ‘What happened?’

‘You fell and hit it on the drawers,’ said her brother, sliding an arm under his sister’s shoulders. ‘Do you feel sick?’

‘A little. Not much.’

‘Then I will lift you up now, and we will get you to bed. Ready?’

‘Mm.’

He helped her upright and Con, tacit in the matter of his small dishonesty, came to support them both.

‘We must send for the doctor,’ she said, but Tristan shook his head.

‘Get her to bed first,’ he said and Con, recognising when she was beaten, helped him get Sarah to her feet and to her own bedroom.

It wasn’t until Sarah was lying down on her bed, eyes screwed shut against the nausea, that she said, ‘Evelyn?’

Tristan turned large and alarmed eyes on Con, who took a sudden breath in remembrance.

‘I told her to stay downstairs,’ she said. ’She must still be there…’

‘I will go to her,’ said Tristan. ‘Do you care for my sister?’

‘What about the doctor? Will you telephone?’

He gave a tired laugh.

‘No need. He is coming for me anyway - he will be here in an hour. Forgive me - I must go to Evelyn. Make sure my sister remains awake.’

‘I know,’ said Con, and with some doubts as to her wisdom in his going to the child in the state he was in - for this clipped and military manner was almost as frightening as his intense anxiety - she let him go, and turned back to her patient.

Chapter 10, Part III by Finn

Later. Much later.

Sarah was in bed, now that Dr Russell was satisfied that it was safe to let her sleep. Constance was with her, keeping a watchful vigil until Captain Humphries arrived to take over his fiancée’s care. Evelyn was in bed, too, worn out with the emotion - and there would be no chance to say goodbye.

He sat in the salon, drinking, waiting, prepared. He knew what he had to say.

Eventually Russell burst in, all action and noise, and flung himself down in the chair opposite.

‘All’s well,’ he said. ‘She’s sleeping, and it’s not as bad as it could have been. Concussion, but it’s fairly mild and she’ll be up and about in a few days, you see if she isn’t. Come on, man,’ he added, as Tristan continued to stare gloomily into his glass. ‘She’s very lucky. I know it’s a damned shame that she hit her head when she fell, but there’s no sense in brooding over it. Accidents do happen.’

‘I hit her.’

The doctor stopped, blinked, leaned forward.

‘What?’

‘I hit her.’ He laughed an empty laugh. ‘I hit my sister. She came to me, to help me find the letters I was missing, but I was so frantic that she pulled at my arm, and I flung her off and…’

He shrugged.

‘She was only trying to help.’

‘Dear Lord! Denny, I…’

‘That’s why you must take me away,’ he said. He had rehearsed these words, but forcing them out was harder, far harder than he had expected. ‘You must take me away from here, lock me up where I may not do any more damage. To Sarah - or to Evelyn…’

‘Now, look here, Denny…’

‘Good God, Russell!’ He slammed a fist into the arm of his chair. ‘I almost killed my own sister, for pity’s sake! I see visions, I cannot keep my temper, and now I am committing violence to my own family - even I know that the only place I belong is an asylum.’

And then his voice cracked, fear and grief and terrified loneliness overpowering his carefully chosen words, and the soldier fell away and left nothing but the frightened boy behind it.

‘Just lock me away!’ he pleaded, and he covered his face so that the doctor would not see him crying.

‘Denny, Denny, old man.’ Russell’s hand was on his shoulder. ‘Of course I’ll take you away if you feel I must. We were going up to the Sonnalpe anyway - I’ll sort you out with a room in the San, away from any of the patients, and while you rest I’ll have a look into what’s available to help you - to treat you. It is possible, you know. Would that settle you, for now? Will it ease your mind, if we did that?’

Tristan nodded, vigorously, as he took deep breaths and tried to stop crying, and the doctor left him to make the arrangements and to talk to Constance about Sarah’s care. But the tears started again half an hour later, as he followed Russell out of the front door and realised that it was probably the last time he would set foot over this threshold. He turned back at the gate, to look on the once beloved house, but Evelyn was not there and it was Constance, and not his sister, that stood at the door to wave him goodbye.

He turned away quickly, and got into the cart the doctor had procured, and as they rattled off along the lake path he kept his eyes fixed firmly forward, and refused to look back. This was the end of the old life - now he must steel himself for the new.

Chapter 11, Part I by Finn

The Stepney Women’s Welfare Centre was quiet on a Sunday. Susie had been manning one of the desks since 12 o’clock that afternoon and now it was 5pm, with darkness closing in about them, and she had spoken to a grand total of two woman, one of whom was pregnant and wanting a midwife, and another who had come in in the hope of pawning a coat to tide her over till Friday, since her man had already drunk last week’s wages. She had also spoken to three children who wanted to know if they might use the lavatory, and two men of suspiciously unsteady gait, who had leered at her, made a few lewd suggestions and then staggered out when Joe, the building’s caretaker, had come in through the office and surprised them with his height and bulk.

The Women’s Welfare Centre had been Bea’s idea. The Women’s Welfare League was her own little project, financed by her family’s considerable wealth, and had originally been set up with the nebulous idea of ‘doing good’ in the local area. Bea, however, was sensible enough to know that such a vague scheme was unworkable in the long term, and given that the members of the group were uncertain about their future, she had settled upon one project to which they could turn their considerable energies - and it had taken the form of a Welfare Centre, a place to which she hoped that women would be able to come for information about housing, financial assistance, pregnancy, childcare, education - and even, for refuge, if in very dire straits.

Susie was a regular volunteer and had read very enthusiastically all of the literature and pamphlets that they could get on the various topics, though there was plenty that she knew from first hand experience. But all the information in the world couldn’t convince the women of Stepney to walk through the front doors, no matter how much Susie sat at the desk, giving up her one free afternoon of the week in the hope of helping someone in a way that she couldn’t help herself. And the hours passed so slowly and tiresomely when they didn’t come in…

Henrietta came in from the office and found her half-slumped over her desk, eyes drifting closed.

‘Cuppa,’ she said and planted a mug in front of Susie, who jerked back into alertness with an embarrassed yelp.

‘I’m awake!’

‘’Course you are,’ said Henrietta, collapsing onto the end of the desk with her own mug. ‘I am too, promise. Gods above, why do we volunteer - and on a Sunday, of all days?’

‘Because we care?’ said Susie, but it was more of a question than a statement of fact. She blinked, yawned, and pressed her thumbs into her eyes. ‘Heavens, I am tired. Six days at the shop this week, and now here. No peace for the wicked.’

‘You’re not that awful.’

‘You don’t know,’ said Susie, darkly, but Henrietta laughed at her self-satisfied gloominess.

‘Get that down you, then,’ she said. ’Enjoy some more pleasures of this earth before your life of eternal damnation.’

Susie smiled, accepting the rebuke, and obeyed the instructions, blowing on her tea to cool it. Henrietta did the same, then yawned and rolled her head to and fro, stretching out her neck and shoulders. There was a companionable silence, broken only when Henrietta, in the process of craning her neck, caught sight of what Susie had been doing as she waited for visitors.

‘I didn’t know you were an artist.’

‘Oh…’ Susie glanced down at the scrawls on the notepad she kept with her, and shrugged. ‘I’m not,’ she said. ‘Not really, anyway.’

‘I’m afraid that there you and I shall have to disagree,’ said Henrietta, twitching the book away before Susie could protest. ‘Remember, my child, that I come from a family of art critics. Well, not critics in the newspaper way - more in the buying more of it than is strictly sensible way. But it does leave you with an eye for the good stuff - and this is good stuff.’

‘It’s a doodle!’

‘That’s what I mean. I’d love to see something you’d actually put some effort into. Have you got anything - anything big, I mean?’

‘No.’ The last thing she wanted was Henrietta prying into her former life. ‘No - I don’t paint, I just doodle.’

‘Then I think you should paint,’ said Henrietta. ‘I know some arty types - I’m sure one of them could come and…’

‘No!’

The word was angrier than she had intended, but it had the desired effect, for Henrietta handed back the book and retreated to the corner of the desk and her mug of tea. But that particular young lady was never repressed for long.

‘I say!’ she said. ‘I’ve thought of the perfect outlet for your talents. Oh, not art lessons - don’t worry, I won’t force you - but you can’t have any objections to using your skills to help the League, can you?’

‘I already do,’ said Susie, gesturing at the desk and her pamphlets, but Henrietta dismissed her with a wave of the hand.

‘Anyone could be a desk monkey,’ she said. ‘But not everyone can draw like you do - and there’s all sorts of things we could do with an artist…a new logo, for a start, and then there’s posters, lettering for our correspondence paper, advertisements, even - yes, cartoons in the papers - oh, so many things we could do…’

Her eyes went dreamy for a moment, then focussed even more sharply than their usual gimlet stare.

‘If I dash out now and get some materials, will you do me some bits and pieces?’ she asked. ‘Doodles, if you like to call them that - just so I can get a sense of your style.’

Susie, nonplussed, could only think of one protest.

‘Where are you going to get art materials at this time of night?’ she demanded, but Henrietta laughed.

‘Told you - I have heaps of arty friends,’ she said. ‘There’s one living just down the road…stay there, I’ll be right back. Joe!’ she called, as she dashed towards the front door, and Joe appeared from the back. ‘Joe, fetch Miss Smith another cup of tea. She’s an important job to do when I get back.’

And with an imperious wave of the hand at the unfortunate Joe, she disappeared and Susie sat back, breathed a heavy sigh and then, to Joe’s and her own amazement, began to laugh.

Chapter 11, Part II by Finn

Two hours and several drafts later, Susie leaned back with a nod.

‘There.’

Henrietta pulled the sketch over and gave it a glance, then she nodded as well.

‘Yes,’ she said.

The image was a simple one, geometric in the slightly old fashion. It featured a woman, tall and straight, with her hair looped round her ears and wearing a straight dress and long cape which hung down from her outstretched arms and brushed the floor. In her hands she held a banner on which were emblazoned the words, ‘Stepney Women’s Welfare Centre’. It was the lettering that had taken Susie so long to complete, for the image itself was very simple, but now as Henrietta held it up for her so that she could view it from a distance, she felt that a night’s work had indeed been done.

‘It’s jolly good,’ said Henrietta, craning round to look at it again. ‘I like her fierce expression.’

‘Mm,’ said Susie. ‘She wasn’t supposed to be so fierce. I was hoping she’d look serene, but she didn’t want to come out that way.’

‘I think fierceness suits her,’ said Henrietta. ‘She’s very lifelike, anyway.’

‘Ah, well, portraiture was always my favourite.’

‘I thought you said you didn’t paint?’ said Henrietta, her eyes stabbing round to fix Susie to the wall behind her, and Susie flapped her hands and beat a retreat.

‘Well, I…oh, alright, I was lying! It’s only that I didn’t want you asking questions.’

Henrietta cocked her head to one side, the needle pricks of her eyes still keeping Susie fixed under their gaze, but then she nodded.

‘I won’t ask, then,’ she said, and put the sketch down. She contemplated it for a moment longer, then looked up again.

‘Am I allowed to ask who is the sitter for this portrait?’ she said, and the twinkle in her eye made Susie smile when really she wanted to frown. ‘Sorry, but she looks so tremendously fierce and determined. I feel like I’d enjoy getting to know her.’

‘Oh, you’d like each other very much,’ said Susie. ‘But you can’t meet her - she’s not around. It’s…it’s someone I left behind. When I came to London, I mean.’

‘I see.’

But Henrietta was as good as her word, and did not ask.

‘There’s a hint of Art Nouveau about it, actually,’ she said. ‘Fan of Beardsley?’

‘Can you tell?’ Susie laughed. ‘I love his work - all the curves and lines and those bendy, elegant women. And the shock factor, of course - I’m rather fond of that.’

‘Of course you are,’ said Henrietta, and Susie laughed again. ‘And what’s this? The signature?’

‘Oh!’ Susie leaned down. ‘I didn’t even realise I’d signed it. How silly - habit, I suppose.’

‘But it doesn’t say Susie - or even Susanna, come to that.’

‘No, I know. That’s me being…well, anti-women, I think, which is a little shame-facing. But my work wasn’t being taken seriously until I changed my signature to make it look like it was being done by a man. That says ‘Blaydon Smith’. Sort of a pen name, I suppose.’

‘Pseudonym,’ said Henrietta, absently. ‘I’ve seen this before somewhere…wait, I have it! You used to do cartoons for the London Evening Herald!’

Susie smiled, bashful, pleased to be recognised.

‘My brother used to work on it,’ she said, and pulled herself up sharply. It was all so tiresome, this forgetting business. She had managed it with so much of her past before now, but to have built up a new history only to have to start forgetting again…she shook her head and said, ‘Not any more, though,’ and hoped Henrietta would take the hint.

She did, leaning back and scanning the poster one more time.

‘I’d take out that serif over the C,’ she said. ‘Makes it look like a T.’

‘Yes, and I think I’ll straighten out the T of ‘Stepney’ too,’ said Susie, relieved to have returned to non-committal topics. ‘Everything else is straight. But I’ll do that tomorrow. Too tired now.’

‘Me too,’ said Henrietta. ‘And I’m hungry. Fancy a quick supper? There’s a nice place down the road that’s clean and cheap. Jewish, but you’re not the sort of person to mind that, are you?’

‘Certainly bloody not,’ said Susie, standing up, and Henrietta grinned.

‘Course you aren’t,’ she said, and they went out into the cold November night.

Henrietta shivered as the fog closed around them and pulled her fur collar closer about her neck.

‘Nearly Christmas,’ she said, and she said it so gloomily that Susie, who had been brooding miserably about her own lonely Christmas on and off for a few days now, turned to her and said,

‘Don’t you like Christmas?’

‘Don’t mind it,’ said Henrietta, ‘but I’ll have to spend it with my sister and her husband. A and Bea are going, you see, so it’s them or nothing.’

‘I thought you liked your sister,’ said Susie, amused as ever by Henrietta’s device for referring to her parents.

‘It’s not my sister,’ said Henrietta, ‘it’s Raymond. I don’t know how a clever kid like Gerry could have married such an ape. All he can say to Samantha is what a pretty little girl she is, nothing about her brains or character. I-mean-ter-say, who brings up their child like that in this day and age?’

‘Better than telling her she’s ugly,’ said Susie, but Henrietta growled.

‘Two sides of the same coin,’ she said. ‘Tell a girl she’s pretty and she learns that her only quality is her looks. Not her strength, physical or moral, not her intelligence, not her resourcefulness or the mischief she gets into, but how pretty she is - and it’s exactly the same if you tell her she’s ugly all the time. Negate her skills, turn her into an oil painting - or not, and make her feel dreadful because she isn’t one, no matter how clever or talented she is.’

There was a short silence when she had finished, and then Susie sighed.

‘I have so much to learn,’ she said.

‘You’re young,’ said Henrietta, then took her arm in tacit apology for the patronising remark. ‘I mean, there’s plenty of time, if you think you need to improve. Now look,’ she pressed on before Susie could answer, ‘here we are. Hope you like mutton stew, by the way. It’s about the only thing on the menu, but it’s jolly good.’

Susie tried to peer in, but the window was thick with condensation. But there was a steady chatter from inside, and for a moment it reminded her of Mauritz’s cafe in Soho where she and Marjorie Durrant had met, when she had first been persuaded to go out to Austria. That was another place to which she had not returned.

‘I’ll eat anything,’ she said, and Henrietta laughed again and tugged her arm, and they ducked through the doorway into the steamy heat beyond.

End Notes:

(There's an image attached to the version over on LGM of my rendition of the poster Susie drew up, but I can't seem to make that facility work over here.)

Chapter 11, Part III by Finn

Bea approved the new artwork and instantly commissioned Susie to provide poster illustrations, letter heads and sundry other designs for not only her Stepney organisation, but for the innumerable other ‘good works’ she performed all over London.

‘At the moment,’ she said to Susie over tea, which they were taking, fittingly, in the Refreshment Room of the Tate Gallery in Millbank, ‘the people I talk to about one organisation don’t know about any of the other things I’m involved with. I can hoik money out of them for one cause - or not, as the case may be - but what if there were something that caught their interest more than fallen women, or baby carriages for an underfunded orphanage, or the intellectual challenge that is trying to get the Left wing factions to talk to each other? What if they really wanted to help out-of-work dockers, or to provide musical instruments for poor schoolchildren? But if I had some sort of coherent artistic style for all my charitable works, people would begin to associate that style with me, wouldn’t they? And then they’d say, ‘Ah, but I know that paper! That’s Bea Lockhart, she runs that women’s refuge over in Whitechapel, or she funds the scholarship my neighbour’s daughter’s just won to St Hilda’s’…yes, Susie, you must design me! I can’t think why I didn’t think of this years ago.’

‘Because you hadn’t seen Susie’s drawings back then, Mother,’ said Henrietta, and winked at Susie, who looked down at the table rather than join in the merry making. After all, she had wanted to forget art, along with everything else.

Bea insisted on paying her. When Susie wanted to refuse she pressed a one pound note into her hands, saying, ‘In advance,’ kissed her and Henrietta, and had left, also paying the bill on her way out, much to Susie’s irritation.

‘She should have let me take that!’ she grumbled, waving the pound note at Henrietta, who laughed.

‘Hang onto it, I say,’ she suggested. ‘For one thing, the Revenue will want four shillings back out of it.’

‘Stuff the Revenue,’ said Susie, and Henrietta snorted.

‘I’d love to hear you say that to their faces,’ she said, and Susie grinned with genuine pleasure, a fact she realised only after she had done it.

Before they left the Tate, Susie insisted on a quick tour round her favourite galleries. She performed the tour in the same order every time she came here, and her first stop was always Marriage à la Mode. Henrietta came to stand beside her and they examined the paintings one after the other.

‘I wonder if I shall ever manage quite the bite of satire that Hogarth does?’ mused Susie, and Henrietta grinned.

‘One day,’ she said, then nudged Susie. ‘I have faith, even if you don’t.’

Susie’s smile was weak, but Henrietta wasn’t looking, so she quickly led the way through to the Blake drawings in Room 2, her favourite of all the rooms - then into the Pre-Raphaelite galleries, pausing briefly before Beata Beatrix, before dragging Henrietta back across the entrance hall into the contemporary galleries. Henrietta dutifully followed after, watching Susie with interest. The young artist was gazing upon the contemporary works with a fervour like that of a starving man reaching out for bread and water, but also with a certain frustration about her. The galleries, filled as they were with Victorian art, did not entirely merit the title, ‘contemporary’, and Henrietta could tell that Susie was seeking among the artworks a visionary of the stature of Blake, and finding them all wanting. It was an interesting fact to note and she filed it away, as she always did with facts about people she liked.

Turning, she spotted a portrait which caught her eye, of a tall brunette with strikingly heavy features. She lay fully dressed upon a sofa, head upon one folded arm, eyes half-open, and in the place of the usual feminine serenity her features were caught partway between scowl and laughter. The painting was entitled, ‘Anna Schmidt On Waking,’ and Henrietta could not recall ever seeing a female face in art that looked so honestly human.

‘Oh, it’s a Philip Lennox,’ she said, and behind her, Susie started.

‘Mm,’ she said, carefully non-committal. ‘They do hold some genuinely contemporary art.’

‘Is he still alive then? I always think of artists as dead unless I’ve met them - well, artists that exhibit in galleries like the Tate, anyway.’

‘Oh yes,’ said Susie. ‘He’s still alive.’

If Henrietta wondered at the sharp blade in her voice, and at why she did not look round, she kept to her earlier promise and did not ask.

Once they had left the gallery and were strolling down the road in search of a number 88 bus to take them back into town, the talk turned to politics. Socialism was the cohesive bond between them, despite their increasing realisation of a number of other similarities, and their conversation returned to it with all the smooth regularity of a gyroscope - an apt simile, for they had a tendency to agree broadly on almost any topic of welfare of workers, women’s issues and healthcare.

‘We think too alike!’ said Susie, with a laugh, having only the moment before said, ‘I agree,’ for the third time in as many minutes. ‘Quick, let’s go and find a Conservative, so we can have a proper debate!’

‘Well, we’re in the right part of town for them,’ said Henrietta. ‘But if you want a real debate, it’s not a Conservative you want. Let’s go and find a Communist.’

‘I thought Communists were on our side,’ said Susie, and Henrietta gave a long and hollow laugh.

‘Oh-ho no! My dear, Susie, surely you are not such a naïve as this?’

‘Really, I didn’t know! But then, I don’t think I’ve ever met a Communist.’

Henrietta shook her head.

‘Dennis tries to be one,’ she said. ‘Calls everyone at the shipyard, ‘Comrade’, and cries ‘Revolution!’ over the slightest thing. But he’s not really - too fond of his cushy berth, so’s to speak. No, Bea doesn’t welcome Communists - it’s much easier to get things done without them. It was bad enough when we had that anarchist with us…’

‘An anarchist? In a socialist organisation?’

‘Oh, they’re left-wing - and they’re not always as crazy as they seem. Mind you, he was a bit crazy, to tell the truth, but we didn’t know he was an anarchist until it was too late. Apparently it is possible to have rational anarchists. Incidentally, aren’t you a Quaker?’

‘I am. What of it?’

‘Anarchist movement,’ said Henrietta. ‘No, I’m serious!’ when Susie laughed. ‘Shout if I’m wrong, but as I understand it, you have no formal hierarchy in the - d’you call it a church? - and all the decisions you make are made locally, within the religious community, and everyone is given an equal voice in the decision-making. Believe it or not, that’s a pretty anarchic sort of idea. No wonder them thar historical overlords tried to oppress you lot.’

‘Oi!’ said Susie, who did not relish being referred to as ‘you lot’, and Henrietta laughed, and then the bus appeared along the road and the subject dropped as they hailed the bus and scrabbled for pennies for the fare.

‘Come for Christmas,’ said Henrietta, as they settled themselves on the top deck.

‘What?’

‘Come for Christmas.’

‘What, to your sister’s?’

‘No, to my flat. Just you and me. Please, Susie,’ she added as Susie hesitated. ‘I can’t bear to have to go and sit opposite that smug visage all afternoon, but no-one will accept my excuses unless I’m performing an act of real charity, like stopping a lonely friend from spending the festival of Our Lord’s birth all on her own…’

Henrietta’s tone of voice was enough to stop Susie from resenting her rather ill-chosen words, and she laughed.

‘Alright,’ she said. ‘I mean - thank you, that would be lovely. I was…beginning to wonder what I was going to do.’

The slight crack in her voice was perfectly evident to both of them, but as ever, Henrietta said nothing.

‘That’s settled, then,’ she said. ‘Come round to me after church - or whatever it is that Quakers do on Christmas Day. Oh, splendid. Do you know, I think I’m going to look forward to it, now.’

Chapter 12, Part I by Finn

As if to taunt her over her recent visit to the Tate gallery, a week later Susie had an unsettling experience in the shop.

She was leaning against the counter, thinking longingly of the hour when work would be finished, while Sylvia tidied the changing cubicle after the last patron.

"You’d think that two such well-bred women would be a bit more tidy,” said Sylvia, emerging with two dresses hung over her arm.

"You should know by now that money does not equal good breeding,” said Susie in a dry tone.

She shifted uncomfortably. Her calves were aching and she longed to bend down and rub them, but the fear of being caught in an undignified position by whichever madam should wander through the door next was the one thing that could prevent her. All the same, she felt particularly tired today and, since Mme Beauville wasn’t there right at that moment, having gone out to the West End to meet a manufacturer, it seemed that the time was ripe for a little sit down.

"Mind the desk while I go and powder my nose,” she said to Sylvia, and the young girl nodded, hung up the dress she was carrying on the appropriate rail, and came forward to stand importantly beside the cash register.

Susie was halfway across the shop, when the door burst open, the bell jangling like a cheerful morris dancer. She turned, hoping that it might be something Sylvia could handle alone, and stopped dead, for the new client was not one of the regular madams, but a little girl. She was small, tow-headed, and distressingly familiar.

"Can I try on a hat?” she piped in a high voice.

Sylvia turns to Susie, deferring as she always did to her colleague’s greater experience, but Susie found herself unable to respond. She stared at child, such a pain of shock in her heart as she had not felt for many months.

"But where is your sister?” she said, before she could stop herself, and the little girl looked at her in obvious bafflement.

"I don’t have a sister,” she said. "I have a brother, but he’s not here. He’s with my daddy, but they don’t like dress shops, so I came in by myself.”

Susie felt a blush burst forth like a ripe tomato upon her cheeks, and then the agony and humiliation of the situation struck her full force between the ribs. Now she knew where she had recognised this little girl from, and it was not…

"Carol!”

The door jangled open again, and a tall, blond man steps through and waved and imperious hand.

"My apologies, ladies,” he said. "This young lady is somewhat prone to running off on her own, especially to visit dress shops.  I hope she hasn’t inconvenienced you.”

"Oh, no,” said Sylvia, when it became clear to her that Susie was too busy staring at the man and his daughter to say anything. "She only wanted to try on a hat, and that’s quite fair enough – they are rather smart, I mean. When I was her age…”

But the door had clanged shut behind the pair, and Sylvia’s anecdote was left unfinished.

"Well, I never,” she said. ”You think you’re getting used to rudeness, but you never do, do you?”

“No,” said Susie automatically. She fumbled at her pocket and swore. ”You can manage for a few minutes can’t you? I still need to powder my nose.”

She turned away without waiting for Sylvia’s answer, and went through the shop and out of the backdoor into the alley beyond. She fumbled in the handbag she had caught up on the way through, and struggled several times with shaky hands before she managed to light the cigarette.

The bastard. The utter, cringing, oblivious bastard. He haven’t even looked at her, let alone recognised her. She, who had been mother to his children, passed over because she was in a black frock and worked in a shop. Ignored and forgotten, by Carol as well as by him. Well, that would teach her to go to galleries. Apparently just looking at paintings could summon up ghosts.

But you wouldn’t have wanted him to notice you, she reminded herself.  After all, It wasn’t exactly as if the time you had was in the slightest bit pleasant -  and what if he had noticed and had asked you where you’d been all this time? What would you have told him about the reason that took you away? What would you have said about Anna? No, much better that a cursory glance had left him with no imprint of her upon his mind.

And yet, the little girl… for a moment she had thought, had really thought that she was…

"Right, that’s enough", she told herself. "Stop maundering. There’s no changing things."

She flung the cigarette down, ground the stub under her heel, and went back inside.

Chapter 12, Part II by Finn

Susie had to pull herself together eventually, because that evening was her evening at the women’s centre. Eventually, though, she realised it was almost a relief that she would be going out. For one thing, she was on with Henrietta tonight, and her young friend’s presence was always soothing in spite of their various differences – although Susie was coming to wonder whether they really were so different after all. Henrietta may have been the daughter of a former landowner, with all the easy assurance that was concomitant with wealth and top-class education (for Henrietta had taken a first in PPE from St Hilda’s, the only woman in her year to do so), but in spite of that advantageous upbringing, which should have made her the enemy of all of Susie’s kind, nonetheless she won round everyone she dealt with through a mixture of vigorous practicality and sheer bloody-mindedness no matter whom she faced, be it a poor and hungry family or the highest level of civil servants.

It was this particular attribute that reminded Susie most of Nell, though she was also reminded of her erstwhile lover by Henrietta’s indifferent figure and plain features, which were never truly plain but gloriously tinted with her vibrant energy, just as Nell’s expression had always been. And then there was her boundless experience and understanding. She never tried to put at a gloss on serious matters, never tried to make life in Stepney seem colourful or romantic or anything other than the miserable struggle that it really was – happy sometimes, sad sometimes, difficult always, for those unfortunate enough to be poor.

Of course, that was what Susie disliked most about Dennis. Bohemia was an adventure to him and he longed for romance among the low life, but it was all a poor imitation. Comfortably well-off, he would never experience the true poverty that Susie and her peers knew all too well; if ever he found himself in dire straits, he had his influence, his connections, his money to fall back on. It was hardly a fair comparison with her own life, for this was no matter of choice for her, no great romantic dream; quite the opposite, since really this life had chosen her. Being thrown out of home, settling in London, following Phil Lennox back to his house for a life of sin, coming to Anna’s attention – she may have thought she was planning it, but really it had all been the work of chance. Chance had taken her out of that world, in the form of Marjorie Durrant and the Chalet School, and chance had taken her back into it, through the machinations of Matron Wilson, and her own chaotic behaviour, and poor Tristan’s illness.

She was just beginning to think that Henrietta might understand, if she were brave enough to tell her everything, but she could not quite bring herself to do so yet. Tonight Henrietta would be in the office, giving the accounts a much needed going-over, but it was still a relief to know that she was nearby, not asking questions, simply sitting in quiet judgement and, apparently, not finding her wanting. It was with a lighter heart, therefore, that Susie turned her footsteps towards Stepney and, by the time she was sitting down at her desk, she had almost forgotten the encounter with Philip Lennox.

A pity for her, then, that this should be the night that Imogen walked in.

A glance at her told Susie that a woman who had just stepped through the door was not the typical visitor. From her neat grey cloche and well-rolled hair to her polished leather shoes, her entire outfit spoke of a wealth not common amongst the citizens of Stepney, and the two smartly brushed and dusted children that clung to either side of her marked the entire family out as being ‘a cut above”, as Susie’s mother had been wont to put it. And yet there were signs that all was not as it should be. Though her shoes were polished, the leather was beginning to bag around the toes, and when she let go of the boy’s hand to reach into her handbag, Susie caught a glimpse of the hole in the forefinger of her glove. The children, too, were mended beyond what a family of her sort would think suitable, were they living in more solvent times. It was all distinctly interesting.

Susie got up and welcomed them.

’Won’t you sit down?’ she said in her ”best” voice, and the lady smiled the sort of hasty smile that told of too many appointments, too many smiling faces saying, “Won’t you sit down?”, and looked about her, first towards the door, (securing an exit, thought Susie, and wondered why she had thought it), then towards Susie’s desk. There were not enough chairs, but the little boy had seen and was starting to drag one from across the room, and Susie went to help him, and then the children were sliding themselves up onto hard wooden seats while the lady sat down more purposefully, hands tight around her handbag – but more than that, for they were clutching a letter.

”I need help,” she said, and then her eyes widened and she gave a gulp. “Sorry, I’m not always this forward. It’s just that I…I’m…”

“Before you tell me all about it,” said Susie, for she could see now how close the lady was to fainting from sheer exhaustion, “let’s have a cup of tea. And I’m sure these two youngsters could do with a glass of milk and biscuit, yes?”

She rang a bell on her desk, which brought Henrietta in from the office and Susie, distinctly aware that she was commanding an Honourable, ordered tea, milk and biscuits, and kept the conversation on purely idle subjects until the refreshment arrived. Henrietta had the good sense to realise, just as Susie had, that the lady would prefer to talk on her own, and so she said, cheerfully,

”I’ll take the scamps upstairs for their tea, shall I? Nice and out of your way.”

”No!” The expression, ringing with desperation, was out before she could stop it, and Henrietta and Susie both froze, their eyes meeting in surprise. The lady gulped again, and said, ”That is, I… I’d rather they were here with me.”

“Right then, you two,” said Henrietta, still in her hearty voice. “Come over here and we’ll do some drawings while you have your milk and biscuits, and your Mamma can talk to Susie in peace.”

She took hold of the children and marched them to the far side of the room, and there they sat quite cheerfully on the floor, chattering and drawing with Henrietta, while their mother turned to Susie and gave a helpless shrug..

”There’s only so much you can do,” she said. ”Only so much you can protect them from.”

Susie poured out the tea silently, added sugar to the visitor’s cup, then pushed it in the tired woman’s direction and sat back with her own.

”Why don’t you tell me about it?” she asked, so Imogen did.

Chapter 12, Part III by Finn

‘Well!’ said Henrietta, when Imogen Henderson had gone.

Susie blew a strand of hair away from her face. It bounced back into her eyes; she tucked it behind her ear and looked up at her friend.

‘She’s not telling us the truth,’ she said. ‘Or, at least, not the whole truth.’

‘I agree,’ said Henrietta. “I didn’t hear it all, but I could tell from her manner that there’s something she’s keeping back.”

That much had been clear from Mrs Henderson’s manner as she had begun her confession. There was something in the way she pulled at her left earlobe as she said certain things that had roused Susie’s suspicions. She may not have been a poker player, but she knew enough to spot a ‘tell’ when she saw one - and yet it was not her place, here in the Welfare Centre, to question or to judge, so she had let the anxious woman tell her story as she chose, prompting only occasionally with questions.

“I want to divorce my husband,” Mrs Henderson had said, straight away, no preamble. Susie had glanced over to see that the children were fully occupied in playing with Henrietta before observing quietly that the Welfare Centre was not a legal establishment. Mrs Henderson had waved a hand impatiently.

“I know,” she said, “but he wants my children!”

Susie’s bafflement must have shown on her face. She leaned forward, elbows creasing several of the papers that littered the desk, and raised a puzzled eyebrow.

“I’m sorry?” she said. “Who does?”

“Conrad. My husband, I mean. Hr wants them - he’s going to try to keep them, and I can’t let him, I can’t!”

Gentle questioning pulled from Mrs Henderson a perfectly plausible story; a husband given to cruelty, albeit more often with his words than his fists, with the stranglehold he kept on the housekeeping money and the way he undermined his wife’s authority with the children; no parents or other close relatives on either side in whom to seek refuge or advice; Imogen herself, restricted and unhappy, afraid to leave her husband out of both a sense of propriety - or shame - and an awareness of her own inability to support her children. Conrad Henderson was well-heeled and well-connected; he would have no trouble in paying for the best in legal support, and his wife was frightened that the fact that she had deserted the marital home would count against her when it came to divorce proceedings - and, more importantly, to custody of the children.

“But he’s not been unfaithful to me,” she said. “That’s the very worst of it - I have only cruelty to offer as a reason for divorce, and that’s not enough, is it?”

“Actually it might be,” said Henrietta, abandoning the children who had had only a scant half of her attention anyway. “They changed the law in 1923 to make adultery a sole cause for divorce for either party. I know that women used to have to prove cruelty and adultery before they could get a divorce before that - I wonder if they’ve let cruelty stand on its own as a cause yet?” She frowned in the lopsided way that was typical for her, head tilted to one side and the right side of her face screwed up into a quizzical expression that would have been comical in anybody else, but rendered Henrietta tremendously endearing - or so thought Susie as she watched the young woman, before a movement from Imogen brought her back to herself and made her clear her throat quickly.

“How would we find that out?” she asked Henrietta, whose face dropped back into normal shape as she shrugged.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Sadly I studied economics, not the law. We can put you in touch with a good solicitor, Mrs Henderson? We’ve used him often enough before and he’s very reasonable.”

“Oh, well…” Again, the tell-tale ear pull. “I have a solicitor. I just…I thought you might be able to help.”

“In what sense?”

Mrs Henderson looked helpless, humiliated, crushed.

“I…I don’t know.”

“Are you in need of somewhere to live?” asked Henrietta, and Mrs Henderson shook her head. “Need money, then?”

“I’m not here for charity!”

Mrs Henderson started up, angry, but Henrietta put one hand upon her shoulder and pushed her back down. The children were looking round from their drawings; Susie, who knew perfectly well that children always heard more than their adults ever intended, got up and went over to them, full of warm chatter and affection, and in the process of distracting them heard nothing more of what Henrietta said to Mrs Henderson, until their visitor rose to leave, several pamphlets in her hand.

“…you could always choose that route - but otherwise,” Henrietta was saying, “though I sympathise tremendously with your plight, I’m not absolutely sure there’s anything more we can do for you. You really need some good legal advice - now, if you look in this pamphlet, it’ll give you some information about financial assistance. Are you earning at all? No? Well, if your income is under £2 per week, you’re entitled to free counsel - and a free solicitor - you’ll just be paying expenses. Did I mention that we know a very good one…oh, I did? No? Alright, then. But do come back and see us again if you want me to put you in touch with him.”

“Thank you,” said Mrs Henderson, quite formally. The urgency of manner had gone and Susie recognised in her the resignation of one who feels that no-one is listening. She held out her hands for the children and they came quickly, their drawings clutched in grubby hands. “Thank you, ladies. You have been…most helpful.”

She nodded and then left, and they heard the front door swing to behind her. Susie’s heart went with her, lost to Imogen’s pale anxiety and the blue eyes that gleamed tragic as a mountain lake. Now she sat back, tugged at the short ends of hair about her right ear and sighed again.

“She’s certainly not telling us everything,” she said. “The question is, what are we going to do about it?”

“What can we do about it?” said Henrietta. “We aren’t a solicitor’s office. We’ve given her all the advice we can and sent her in the appropriate direction. We can’t do anything more than that.”

“She needs help…”

“Susie!” Henrietta was stooping, picking up the glasses, the crumb-covered plate, rolling up the scraps of paper into a ball to be thrown away. “We can’t help every heartbroken soul that wanders in off the street! I know it sounds heartless, but there it is - and you can trust me, I’ve been at this business for a good long while now.” She straightened up, dishes in a neat pile in her arms, and gave Susie a look that mixed affection with caution. “You have to have a tough heart to do this,” she said. “Don’t get too involved, Susie. It never ends well.”

Susie murmured assent, feeling stupidly cross, and followed Henrietta through to the small office with the teacups from the desk. Henrietta poured the last of the kettle water into the bowl they used for washing up and plunged the crockery in, indicating to her colleague that no assistance was needed, so Susie left her to it and went to lock up, given that it was 9pm and high time for them to close. As she went through, however, she found that in her brief absence, another visitor had come in, very quietly, and was standing beside her desk, leafing through the papers and leaflets that were laid out there.

“Can I help you?” she asked, and the visitor turned. He was a youngish man, black haired and moustached, clad in grey serge trousers and an off-white shirt, sleeves up, jacket over the back of the chair, and as Susie looked at him she sensed an immense power in him, a tightly-wound intensity, like the spring inside a clock…she sensed it, and instantly she lifted her head in a challenge to it. He noticed, and she was rewarded with a smile and the usual look, straight down to the ankles and back up to the face, before he idled forward with a nonchalance that was almost proprietorial.

“You must be the new lass,” he said. “I’m Bill.”

He put out a hand and his eyes dared her to take it. She did, and felt calloused palms and a rough warmth as his massive hand enveloped hers. His eyes were a dark blue; he smelled of machine oil and cheap aftershave. She fought back.

“Bill Who?”

“Bill Riley,” said Henrietta from behind her, and her voice spoke her unhappiness. Susie turned, hand still in Bill’s, and saw the frown dipping between Henrietta’s heavy brows. “What are you doing here, Bill?”

“Come back,” said Bill. He waited until Susie turned back and looked her firmly in the eye before he let go of her hand. “France got boring.”

The sardonic smile was still in place, but just as Susie was about to bite, he turned to Henrietta and the slant of his shoulders became deferential, and Susie began to wonder whether she really had sensed that coiled up energy at all.

“Won’t you shake hands with me?” he asked, and Henrietta came forward with a reluctance quite unlike anything Susie had seen in her before.

“This is a women’s centre,” was all she said. “Our clients won’t be happy to see you hanging around here.”

“Naturally,” said Bill. “So I won’t. Just wanted to drop in, see what you’d got going. Meeting still on Tuesday night? I’ll see you there, then, Henry - and…what do I call you?” he asked Susie, who stiffened again and lifted her head.

“Susie Smith,” she said, and he smiled at her chilly voice.

“See you on Tuesday, Susie Smith,” he said, nodded to Henrietta, and disappeared out of the door.

Susie felt her knees sag slightly with relief. Against her will, her heart had started to beat faster, and she could feel the heat in the tips of her ears, but she refused to acknowledge the signs and turned away and started tidying leaflets on the desk. Henrietta, interpreting her busyness as a sign that she, too, was relieved to see the back of their visitor, left her to it, and went to lock up.

Chapter 13, Part I by Finn

Madge put her head into the airy attic room, bright with the midday sun, and smiled at its occupant.

‘Jem’s just driving over to the mountain path,’ she said. ‘He’ll be back with everyone any minute now.’

Tristan, who was sitting on the edge of the bed, gave a slight nod.

‘Very well,’ he said. Madge waited for a moment, until he seemed to recollect that more was required, and stirred himself again. ‘I will join you - shortly.’

Madge contented herself with that. In the month that Mr Denny had been at Die Rosen he had proved to be very slow at responding to her efforts at conversation and had been happy enough to stay tucked away in his room beneath the eaves, with its view out over the snow-covered alpe. She had tried her hardest to let him be, though it was her instinct that he should get up and out of the house, if only to shake away some of the cobwebs - for he was so slow - and earlier in his stay she had managed to coax him out on walks around the neighbourhood, until Jem had intervened and had pointed out that her efforts could do as much harm as good in this case. Since then she had left him mostly to do as he pleased, difficult though it had been for her not to interfere, but when she saw his pale face and the horrible dark circles about his eyes, reminiscent of Joey at her worst, she could not help regretting Jem’s instructions, however much she trusted in his experience as a doctor.

As she ran down the stairs and stood waiting at the door, one hand pressed to her belly in the manner she had unconsciously adopted since she - or, more precisely, Jem - had realised her situation, she murmured to herself, ‘Still, at least he’s put a tie on.’ It was certainly more than he’d managed during the last fortnight.

The sound of the motor carried clearly, but Madge restrained herself from opening the door too soon - she had no desire to stand in a cold draught and catch a chill at Christmas time. But at length it drew up, and then they were there, Joey and Robin piling in through the door and throwing themselves upon her, snowy boots and all, and behind them came Sarah Denny, an arm around little Evelyn, and Mademoiselle, all warm and friendly smiles, and Captain Humphries and Jem following with the luggage.

‘Are you sure you don’t mind, my dear?’ were Sally’s first words as she stepped over the threshold. ‘Your first Christmas together…’

‘Not in the slightest,’ said Madge. ‘I’d not sleep easy to think of you, alone down there in that chalet at this time of year. Besides, Thérèse is staying too, and Captain Humphries would have been here anyway, and that’s without mentioning your brother. He knows you’re here,’ she added in a lower voice, so that the others would not hear. ‘He said he would come down, but perhaps he might prefer…’

‘I say, Madge!’ Joey interrupted, ‘Miss Maynard asked if we might go to England for a week after Christmas! Did she ask you? Oh, do say we might! Robin’s never been, and she’s half-English, so she really ought to go, and Grizel said that she might come to Pretty Maids if we were there. We may go, mayn’t we?’

‘I can’t help thinking it might be a good idea if you intend to keep on making that sort of noise all Christmas!’ laughed Madge. ‘Need I remind you, Joey, that Mr Denny is here to recuperate and he needs rest and quiet! Now, into the salon with you, and for goodness sake be a little quieter! I…oh!’ she finished, as she turned to the stairs. Mr Denny had emerged from his room and was standing halfway down the final flight, looking down on the merry throng with a distinctly absent air. He had put on a jacket for the first time in two weeks, and Madge suddenly realised how much thinner he was, how awkwardly the clothes hung on his gaunt frame, while the sunlight that flashed in through the landing window served only to show how pale and ill he looked.

Certainly his appearance put an end to conversation in the hall, as Joey and Robin looked up at him in silent wonder, before being ushered hastily into the salon by Mademoiselle. Captain Humphries and Jem followed them, and Madge went swiftly after them, leaving the Dennys and Evelyn alone in the hall.

Chapter 13, Part II by Finn

Her departure released Evelyn as if on a spring - she let go of Sarah’s hand and hurtled up the stairs and threw herself upon Tristan, who staggered and sat down on the step behind him. He let her hug him, though, and from somewhere in the depths of his soul he found a laugh.

‘Child, child!’ he said as she clung to his neck.

‘I’ve missed you!’ she squeaked, and he pulled her closer because nothing else mattered but that his little girl still loved him.

Sarah stood at the bottom of the stairs and he hardly dared look at her, but Madame reappeared from the salon and murmured a few words into his sister’s ear, and they both looked at him. Sarah came forward and started up the stairs, and Evelyn detached herself from his neck and looked up at her. So did he, reluctant, embarrassed, unhappy, and he met her eye for the first time since the afternoon when he had almost killed her.

“Madge says she’s arranged some rooms for all of us, upstairs,” she said. “She says that you’re to have the little dressing room off my room, Evelyn, and that I’m to have the room next door to you.”

She looked at Tristan, but he noticed that she did not say his name.

“Sally’s room is large enough to act as a sitting room for all of you,” said Madame, from the bottom of the stairs. “Why don’t you show them up, Mr Denny, and you can all sit together quite peacefully in the quiet - until you’re ready to come down.”

And so he did.

Chapter 13, Part III by Finn

“Here they are,” Tristan said as they reached the top landing. “I think…I believe this is…”

He opened the door and discovered a small room beyond it, fitted out with a bed, chest of drawers and wicker chair.

“It’s mine, isn’t it?” said Evelyn, and went inside. She looked around at the brightly painted furniture and the rose-covered counterpane, then skipped across and looked out of the window. “Oh!” she cried. “I can see almost to the lake!”

“You can’t possibly see it from here!” laughed Sarah, going to check for herself, and Evelyn turned round to look up at her.

“I can see the valley, though,” she said, “and that’s almost the same.”

As one, they turned from the window and saw him still standing in the doorway.

“Come and see?” suggested Sarah, but he knew his energies were not sufficient to produce excitement at a view.

“I have…seen it many times before,” he said, and backed out onto the landing. Sarah followed him, and he turned away hastily and opened her door.

“I imagine this must be yours,” he said, and stood back to let her in.

She passed him, pausing in the doorway for a moment, before crossing to one of the windows, the one that was next along from Evelyn’s. The wintry light streamed in through it and made the room bright with sunshine; it glinted off Sarah’s hair, catching the reds, the golds, the grey.

“Are you going to come in,” she said, and turned round to fix him with her gaze, “or are you going to stand around like a lemon all day? There’s room enough for two.”

She spread her arms wide to illustrate this point, and he stepped across the threshold and stood just inside the door, tense, anxious. There was a long, awkward pause.

“You don’t look any fatter,” she said, eventually.

“No. I…it is still difficult…I am still…unwell.”

“Oh. I hadn’t heard. You see, you haven’t written.”

“I have…not had much to say.”

“Any little something would have done. You never used to have a problem filling a sheet of paper.”

Challenge was sparking in the air and gleaming in her eye. He took a steadying breath and tried to begin again.

“Has Russell said that I am to go to a hospital in London?”

She looked almost startled at this.

“Hospital? When?”

“Very soon…after Christmas.”

“And they will…fix you?”

“That is the idea.”

“In London?” He could see her face but discern no expression in it. “That’s a long way away.”

“Yes.” He gave a dead laugh. “You will be safe - you and Evelyn. I cannot harm you from London.”

“You can harm me wherever you are in the world.”

The words were out, and they stared at each other, and then she closed her eyes and crumpled, head drooping to her chest.

“Oh, Tristan!”

He had small hope of comforting her, but he put his shaking hand out and she reached for it, so he came forward and let her grasp it, and then she was hugging him, or he was hugging her - he could not tell which, but he managed to say, “I’m sorry.”

She brushed that aside and wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand, turning away from him, and he glanced back to see Evelyn in the doorway, looking warily at them. For the second time he held out a hand without knowing quite what he was doing, and she came to him, hung onto his hand, and then he had them both - and it was all less horrifying than he had imagined it would be.

Chapter 13, Part IV by Finn

The hardest part was explaining to Evelyn.

“But why must you go away?” she asked, clinging to him.

“To get better.”

“But can’t Dr Jem make you better?” And, before he could respond, “I don’t want you to go away!”

He did not respond to that. How could he explain that to go away, to be far away in London, safely locked in a hospital, was the only thing he wanted to be just now?

Eventually she let go of his neck and sat back, her pale eyes fixed on him.

“Why are you ill?” she asked.

Not “what’s wrong with you?” but “why?”. Impossible to tell her, and yet impossible not to try…

“Have you ever…” He stopped, considered his words. “Have you ever felt sad?”

A stupid question - Evelyn had seen little but sadness in her short life. He shook his head as she opened her mouth to answer and tried again.

“You remember that I was a soldier,” he said, and she nodded. “Well, when I was fighting in the War…things happened. To me. I saw things…”

“Tell her,” said Eddie, who was leaning against the window, watching them. He frowned, for he had been trying not to look at him.

“Seeing people killed…”

Oh, but she was too young for this! Evelyn, the sweet child…and yet she was wise - and she had seen death herself.

“My brother,” he said, and stopped. She was watching him, careful not to move too much, fearing to distract him; behind her, Eddie drew himself up in the way he used to when holding his breath. “My brother died. He was killed in front of me. I saw it…”

“You saw him killed?”

“Shot. Yes.”

“How awful.”

“Yes,” he said, pulling her closer again. “It is another suffering that we share, my child.”

He looked towards the window, but Eddie had gone.

“So you see,” he said, trying to forget his brother’s ghastly face, “I have seen too much. Not only my br-brother - there was so much, all around me, so much horror…and it has…it has addled me. My mind is…upset, and only rest will mend it. I must go right away, to London, so that the doctors may help me.”

Evelyn sat up a little, twisted so that she could look up at him. Her face bore a curious expression - questioning, puzzled, old. When she spoke, it was in an unusually intense and investigative tone of voice.

“Does your upset mind give you headaches?”

He blinked.

“A little…why?”

“And is it what makes you be sick?”

“Well…” What was she driving at? “Yes, it is.”

“What else does it do?” she asked, and he sighed, frowned, rubbed the bridge of his nose with his finger and thumb.

“I see things,” he said, eventually. “Things that are not there.”

“Like in dreams?”

“Not quite…almost, I suppose. I see visions - odd things, nasty things. I hear sounds - sometimes I even smell things, but…but it is always when I am awake. It is not a dream - or perhaps it is a waking dream - but…”

“Do you dream of bad things too, though?” she wanted to know, and he touched her cheek and shook his head.

“Why do you wish to know all of this, child?” he asked, and she looked down in embarrassment.

“I just…I wanted to know,” she said, her voice sad and quiet, and he hugged her around the shoulders and sighed again.

“Yes, it does make me dream bad things,” he said. “It makes me feel bad things, too. I am sad - so deeply sad - and frightened. I know not what I may do, and that scares me. It is best that I go away…safest for all of us, if I am where I can do no harm.”

“But can’t you stay…?”

“There is no-one here, child,” he chided. “No-one who knows what to do to upset minds to make them better. No, I must go to London. I…do not wish it,” he added, his throat tensing up. “I would not leave you and Sarah if I could help it…”

There was silence for a time. The sun had ducked below the horizon and all was dark beyond the shutters; inside, the fire hissed and cracked, and an occasional shriek of glee from below was the only thing to tell them of the fun they were missing.

Finally Evelyn shifted.

“I’m glad you’re going to hospital,” she said. “I want you to get better. I don’t like it when you’re poorly, because it makes everyone else sad too. I just…wish it wasn’t England.”

“I know, child.”

She leaned on him for a few more moments, then twisted so she could see into his face.

“Is it going to help your tummy too?” she asked, and he almost laughed.

“I hope so.”

“I have an upset mind sometimes,” Evelyn said, “but it doesn’t make me be sick. But I dream bad things, and I feel awfully sad, sometimes - like I won’t ever be happy again. Do you think that, if the doctors are clever enough to fix your upset mind, then could I go and see them and ask them to fix mine?”

He had not cried in a long time - it had been impossible, these last few months - but this remark finished him off; and though he made sure that she could not see his face, it was almost impossible to keep her from feeling the shaking of his chest as he wept silently - for his brother, for his little girl, for himself - and in the window Eddie wept with him, for the deaths they might have avoided, for the lives they might have led. But if Evelyn noticed anything she did not speak of it, only sat there with him in the gathering gloom and finally, snug and safe in her beloved uncle’s arms, her “upset mind” quieted for a time and his little girl closed her tired eyes and drifted off to sleep.

Chapter 13, Part V by Finn

Tristan slipped away immediately after dinner that evening, and when Sarah went on the hunt she found him sitting in a chair beside Evelyn’s bed, watching the child as she slept. His shoulders were slumped and his face very solemn. When she touched his shoulder he jumped; he had not noticed her come in, but he did not seem sorry to see her.

“She is wonderful, is she not?” he said in an undertone, nodding towards the sleeping child. “So calm, so trusting, even after…everything. She gives me hope and strength - and yet…”

He rubbed at the corners of his eyes with his forefingers, then buried his face in his hands. Sarah nudged him.

“Come along,” she said. “Let’s talk elsewhere.”

He followed her through to her room and sank into an armchair, an exhausted skeleton in the firelight. Sarah would have switched on the electric light, but he had held up a hand to stop her, so she contented herself with switching on the bedside lamp and sat down opposite him, and waited.

Eventually he looked up at her.

“We’ve had some bloody awful Christmases, haven’t we?”

She nodded, and after a few moments his head dropped and he started to cry, quietly, head in his hands. She let him for half a minute or so, but when he showed no sign of stopping she got up and knelt by his chair and silently put her arms around him. After a moment he returned the hug, clinging to her like he had once clung to their mother.

Eventually the crying ceased, and shortly after that he spoke - and what he said surprised her.

“I miss Susie.”

“Strangely,” said Sarah, pausing for a moment to think, “so do I, in spite of everything. I’ve been so angry with her, but I do miss her.”

He sat up.

“Angry?”

“Of course! You don’t think I’d be anything else about the woman that broke my little brother’s heart?”

Tristan leaned back and looked at her, and then he gave a laugh that had very little to do with humour.

“I suppose it is more likely to be that way round - for me, the innocent, to be abandoned…but Sarah, you misunderstand. It was not Susie that left me. She wanted to stay - she wanted to marry me still, in spite of…but I could not. How could I, knowing what I am, all of this…?”

“You…you?”

“Yes, I ended it. And now she is gone, and who knows where she is - it is my fault, Sarah, and I cannot atone for it…and as for you, and Evelyn…”

“Stop it,” she said, fearing another burst of self-reproach. “You must stop thinking about that. Just…get yourself better, and…”

He was breathing unsteadily again, but with her words he calmed himself, breath by tortuous breath. When he was able to speak again, he said,

“Sarah, I want you to marry Ted. As soon as you may.”

“But you…”

“I shall be better - soon! At the hospital they shall know all the latest that can be done to help…men like me. And if not…”

“Oh, Tristan, stop it!”

“No, it is important. If I cannot be helped, if the hospital can do nothing for me, you must have as much consolation as you can find. I shall want it for you - I shall not be easy unless I know you are cared for, that there is someone there to comfort you.”

Sarah took a deep breath and pushed the idea firmly from her mind.

“I am not yet willing to reject the idea of your recovery,” she said, and laid a hand on his, feeling the sharp bones of his wrist. His dark eyes met hers, and she read the years of suffering in the lines and shadows about them.

“I will not rest easy until I know it is all arranged,” he said, and eventually she nodded.

“Alright - alright. I’ll talk to Ted - if you promise me one thing?”

“And that is?”

“That if we arrange the wedding for the summer, you will work hard to be well enough to give me away. I mean it, Tristan. I won’t marry him otherwise.”

A shadow of a smile appeared in his eyes.

“Fine,” he said, and as an exhausted tremor shook him, he closed his fingers around her hand and said, “We’ll do it.”

Sarah sat back, feeling almost as tired as he looked. He let go of her hand and in a hurried gesture reached into the inside pocket of his jacket, and drew out a razor blade.

“Here,” he said, not looking at her, and held it out. “Take this.”

She clutched it, a cold chill sinking into her stomach.

“What is it?”

“My insurance policy. I thought…I thought about ending it all. I think…if you and Evelyn hadn’t come…but now that I have seen you both, now that we have talked thus…take it, take it and get rid of it. I shall go to England and I shall return…I shall be better, Sarah. I shall walk you down the aisle yet.”

“Oh…Tristan!” She was swallowing against the tears, and he saw that and reached out a hand in sudden fright.

“My dear one…Sarah, don’t cry. I will be well…I will be well.”

“For God’s sake!” was all she could say, but she put the razor blade down carefully on the table beside her and pulled her brother into her arms, trying to resist the urge to break down and howl.

As she did so, she heard him say,

“I wish Mother were here.”

“So do I,” she said into his shoulder. “I’m so scared.”

Her voice was cracked and worn, and when she swallowed it was through the pain of unshed tears. They stayed quite still, until Tristan, in a voice as sore as Sarah’s own, began to murmur in German. She strained to hear him.

Erbarme dich, mein Gott, um meinen Zähren willen. Schaue hier, Herz und Auge weint vor dir bitterlich. Erbarme dich.

She could think of nothing useful to say in response to that, and so she murmured, “Amen.”

End Notes:

---END OF PART 1---

Chapter 14, Part I by Finn
Author's Notes:

---PART 2---

One of the first things Susie had learned on returning to London was that she was absolutely terrified of living alone.

It had come upon her in a rush on her third week in the city. The fluster of getting from the station to Soho, of Anna’s bustling attentiveness, the drift in and out of her studio of old friends and acquaintances, all had driven solitude from her mind, and solitude had, back then, been all she craved. She had ached in her bones for peace, for the quiet she needed to learn to live without him - without all of them, for with Tristan’s rejection she had lost not only the man she loved, but the small family that had built itself on the shore of that foreign lake, beneath the quiet mountains. She had longed so much for silence that one day she had simply got up and gone, had walked until she could walk no more and, finding herself in Stepney and seeing a sign that offered rooms for single women, had knocked at the door to the house, given the rooms a cursory inspection, and had taken it on the spot. The following day had been spent in fitting it up with such items as she lacked; blankets, a saucepan, cutlery and crockery, the usual oddments, and then she had left, without much more than a note to her hostess, had moved out of the studio and into her new “flat”; and on that first night of true solitude she had discovered how little she really wanted the immense silence that comes with being alone.

After the third evening of weeping into her pillow, Susie had come to a resolution. She was entirely unfit for company, and had no desire to go out and make friends, but she must have something to take her mind off the unbearable loneliness. She had managed to accrue some little money in her time at the school, for the wages had been fair and there had been small chance of spending much of them in the Tiern valley - and so she had gone on a something of a spree of spending. A bookcase had been purchased and stacked with books - mostly of the crime thriller sort, but there were a handful of literary gems in amongst them - and she had taken out a subscription for a lending library, and on one afternoon when she was not needed at Madame Beauville’s, she had gone round the corner to a cycle shop and had picked up a little crystal set and headphones (she had felt the walls of her lodgings too thin to warrant her buying a loudspeaker horn). Between her books, the BBC and her cosy fire, she managed to banish the silence, both outside and in, as long as she was listening, or reading, or simply not thinking.

It was not long now till Christmas, and Susie was tucked up in her armchair, carefully placed between the wireless table in the window and the fireplace, tuned into 2LO, which was broadcasting some dance music from the Savoy. Over the past few months, armed with a crochet hook and various assorted wools, she had cobbled together a blanket for her chair, and she was now well wrapped up in it, her hook busy on another blanket intended for Henrietta, who had been over for dinner several times in the past two months and had admired it on each occasion. Susie had bought her a present already, but had been busy for most of her free evenings on the project, in the hope of having it ready in time for Christmas, which fell next Sunday.

Thank goodness, in some ways. Splendid though her wireless set had been, it really didn’t help on a Sunday. It ought to have been a good way to break up the day, easily the loneliest and emptiest day of the week, for her to feel some sort of outside contact, but the BBC was so fond of offering up religious fare on a Sunday; and Susie had no time for sermons, not when her heart was broken. Sundays were days for long walks about the city, sometimes ending up at the cinema, but more often at quite a different place. Susie was no great lover of the pictures - she had found that most of the shows were fluffy love stories, and lovers grated on her soul - but if her walks around London took her, as they often did, in Lambeth, she was frequently drawn to the Old Vic, and once there, she frequently spent her evening in the theatre. Tickets were ridiculously cheap and the acting very good, to her unpractised eye, but it was not the plays that attracted her as much as the operas. Susie had seen opera only once before, in Paris, with Tristan, but though she tried to avoid anything else that reminded her of him, she couldn’t resist the music, the singing, the sheer spectacle that was an operatic production, even in spite of the small stage and tiny orchestra. It was a good day, when it was a Sunday and the Old Vic was showing Figaro, Madame Butterfly, La Forza Del Destino, Il trovatore…she had not quite got the hang of Wagner yet, but Mozart was adorable, Verdi was divine - yes, she was certainly learning to step with confidence through the world of opera.

Not that there would be a performance this coming Sunday, of course. Thank goodness for Henrietta! Much as she might have tried to pretend otherwise, she really had been dreading Christmas. At least this way she didn’t have to spend it entirely alone.

The dance tunes came to a brief halt and then a singer came on, and as Susie listened paying more attention to her crochet than to the music, she began to sing along before quite realising what she was singing.

Some of these days, you gonna miss me, honey,
Some of these days, you gonna be so lonely.
You’ll miss my huggin’,
You gonna miss my kissin’,
You gonna miss me, honey, when I’m far away!


Susie stopped singing and snatched the headphones off, then heaved a sigh and sat back, wondering gloomily whether Tristan did miss her. She had managed quite successfully not to think of him much in the past few months, and when she did it was only to acknowledge the deep hurt within her, but now she called his face to mind, his gentle smile and dark eyes, and she forgot the irritations he had caused her and remembered only his loving kindness. Oh, she missed him. She had been missing him ever since she left Tiernsee - and she realised in a sudden jolt that, like the narrator of the song, she rather hoped he had missed her, too.

“What a bad person you are,” she said aloud.

She had bought him a Christmas card. She had wandered up to the Edgware Road on her lunchbreak one day the previous week, and had found herself inside Woolworths, surrounded by gaudy Christmas decorations (only 1d apiece!). There had been a rack of cards, and she had thought first of Matty, realising with a stab of pain that she had no idea where she would send a card, if she bought one for him, and as gloom shrouded her heart she had turned away, but as she did so she caught a glimpse of a card that made her stop and turn back. It took some moments for her to find it again; an image of a tall man holding the hand of a small girl. They were both singing from carol sheets, and for a moment Susie thought it was Tristan and Evelyn - until her eyes misted up and the image became nothing more than a swimming blur of colour. She had turned away very definitely after that and had left the Christmas section, pausing to look unnecessarily at the jewellery before meandering to stationery - but when she came upon the bridal section she had turned sharply away and gone back towards the door, and had firmly ignored the card as she walked out.

And yet, the following day she had drifted back - and had gone in and bought it. She had written it, too - having drafted the message carefully on five or six sheets of paper before copying it in - and now it lay in the drawer of the wireless table, abandoned because Susie could not decide whether it would be wise to send it. Probably not, not when she had caused so much harm.

Susie had never stopped to ponder carefully what she really believed in. Socialism was “good work”, and was therefore important, and as for her personal philosophy…well, there had never been anything in that except for a love of fun, of thrills and of love, and that had got her into trouble enough times for not looking ahead before she leapt. She was not much of a philosopher, she told herself, not like Tristan. He thought about his actions to the point of inaction - oh, when she thought of how long it had taken him to pluck up the courage to approach her, it was a miracle the thing had happened at all! But as for her - well, any good that she had done had been done unthinkingly, as unthinkingly as all of the bad she had done; and unintentional as they had been, some of the things she had done had been utterly devastating, and not just to others. If only she could learn to think more deeply! Maybe then she’d make fewer stupid, awful mistakes, and even learn to pick up the pieces of the ones she had already made. Perhaps she could even go back to the Tiernsee, sort things out, make Tristan see reason…

No, that wasn’t going to happen. Forget about Tiernsee - forget about Tristan. London, shop work, crochet and the wireless. And socialism. That was enough. And the next time she met a man - or woman - she really liked, she would just have to take damned good care not to rush into things. She was determined not to make the same impetuous mistakes again.

Chapter 14, Part II by Finn

“Here you are,” said Henrietta, handing her a mug. “Tea. Apply directly to the affected parts for immediate relief.”

“Thanks,” said Susie, and she even managed a laugh. “I was getting so…so…”

“You were maundering,” said Henrietta, but not unkindly. “Your trouble is that you spend altogether too much time on your own.”

“And I always end up with a bad case of the morbs.” Susie was recovering so quickly that she didn’t even notice it, but laughed quite naturally. “You’re right, of course - only it’s so easy to get into a habit.”

“I know what you mean,” said Henrietta, flopping down into Susie’s armchair - Susie herself was perched on a dining chair which she had hastily drawn up to the fire on Henrietta’s absurdly timely arrival. “I can go for days not seeing a single person I like. I spend every day surrounded by acquaintances, but there’s barely half a dozen among them I’d choose to spend my time with, if you gave me the choice. And yet when I have the time, do I call one of you up? Do I hell!”

“You’ve called me up,” said Susie, feeling a flattered blush coming at the news that she was one of the people Henrietta would choose to spend time with. “Well, knocked me up, anyway, which is the only thing you can do to someone who isn’t on the telephone. I’m glad you did,” she added. “Your coming over has stopped me getting terribly low. Just now I’d been thinking about all the stupid things I’ve done…I get very silly, sometimes,” she finished in a rush, and looked down into her tea.

Henrietta was watching her over her teacup. Susie risked another glance and found herself looking straight into those sharp hazel eyes, and she blushed again but held her gaze. She hadn’t noticed it, not at first, but Henrietta was a lovely young woman. Not pretty in the traditional sense of the world, but tall and straight and filled with fierce animation and a decided sense of herself, and that was far more attractive than plain beauty would have been. It certainly worked for Susie. She looked away, flustered, and wondered if Henrietta had noticed.

“Look here,” said Henrietta, exactly as if the long exchange of looks hadn’t happened, “why don’t you come over early? I know we said Christmas Day, but you’re invited anyway and it seems silly for you to be here and me to be there, and only to meet on Sunday. Why don’t we make a proper holiday of it, and spend a week or so together? I don’t like the thought of you being alone, not at this time of the year. It can get so miserable.”

“Do you mean it?” A warm flush of pleasure spread through Susie, from her heart to her fingertips, and she smiled. “I’d love to.”

“Come tonight,” said Henrietta. “Might as well start as we mean to go on! I’ll wait while you pack a bag and we’ll get a cab back to my flat, and we can make plans over cocoa.”

“Oh, yes!” Susie leapt up and put down her tea, the half-full cup clicking on the wooden table. “Grand scheme! I’ll go and pack a bag this very minute. Don’t go anywhere!”

Henrietta disobeyed, of course - she came through to the bedroom and sat on the bed while Susie threw stockings and shoes and underthings and her best dress and almost all of her woollens into a battered packing case, and she chattered all the while about what they would do in their week together.

“I know you have to carry on at work,” she said, “but there’ll be evenings off. We can go to the theatre - or a show, if you like. I know there’s a terribly awful one that’s just got past the censor - on the third attempt!”

“Sounds splendid,” said Susie, sweeping various makeup items into a wooden case and clicking it shut. She added it to the pile in the case and swung round to her friend. “Might we go dancing, d’you think?”

She asked tentatively, realising as she did so that she had no idea of Henrietta’s musical tastes, and hoping that she hadn’t disappointed her friend. Henrietta’s heavy brows drew together for a moment but her lips twitched in amusement.

“I’m no dancer,” she said, “but if you like, then of course we can. Oh, but,” she added, suddenly animated, “I tell you what we will do. I’m going to take you riding!”

“Riding?” Susie almost scoffed. “In London?”

“Absolutely in London.” Henrietta was grinning. “You’ll see!”

Susie laughed, then sent Henrietta to the bathroom to collect her toothbrush whilst she nipped swiftly back into the main room to collect all the pieces of the blanket she was preparing, which she had stuffed under the armchair on Henrietta’s arrival. She packed them into a cloth bag along with her hook and the remaining wool, and as she was turning to leave she paused beside the wireless table, and even put her hand on the drawer handle, but she drew it away without opening it. She went back through to the tiny bedroom and flung her blanket on top of the toothbrush that Henrietta had rescued for her, then they both sat on the case, trying to fasten it, their laughter growing shrill and silly and delightfully companionable.

“Well!” Henrietta giggled as Susie finally managed to make the fastenings catch. “I think I’ve got you the wrong present from Christmas - you need a bigger suitcase! Are we in?”

“We are,” said Susie, trying not to think of the much larger suitcase that still stood in Anna’s studio - unless Anna had got rid of it by now. Shaking her head to banish the gloom that threatened again, she swung the case from the bed and turned to Henrietta with a grin.

“Come on, then,” she said. “Lead on, MacDuff!”

Henrietta looked at her, then snorted with laughter and flung a companionable arm around her neck.

“Anyone who can cheerfully misquote Shakespeare is just my sort,” she said cheerfully. “You wait, Susie. We’re going to have such fun this Christmas!”

Chapter 14, Part III by Finn

“Well,” said Henrietta, pulling off her beret and flinging it onto the table beside the door, “and how was that for an afternoon’s entertainment?”

“It was…” Susie gave a breathy sigh of excitement as she tugged off her own hat and gloves and followed Henrietta through to the sitting room. “It was brilliant! Absolutely cracking. Though I’m still feeling a bit bumpity-bumpity-bumpity-bump, if you know what I mean.”

Henrietta grinned up from the sofa, where she had dropped full length, not even bothering to take off her boots.

“I have to say,” she said, “you’re a natural horsewoman, Susie. No, I mean it,” she said, as Susie snorted her disbelief. “I saw you getting into the rhythm of it a couple of times towards the end there.”

“I think that may have just been a lucky fluke!” said Susie, but she said it happily, and collapsed into the armchair at the head of Henrietta’s sofa with exhausted relief. “Coo, I ache!”

“Mm.” Henrietta frowned momentarily. “I think I’ve got some embrocation in the cupboard. I hope I do, or else you’ll be stiff as a board for Christmas Day.”

“I still can’t believe I was allowed to walk through London wearing trousers,” said Susie, who was only half-listening. “And not my old haunts - the proper smart part of London!”

“Breeches, my dear.” Henrietta was wagging a finger. “As Bea will tell you, a lady may never wear trousers, and really ought to be sitting sidesaddle.” She grinned lazily. “How Granny would be horrified to see us riding astride!”

“But your mother can’t mind, surely?” Susie tried to imagine Bea’s face twisted in disapproval, but even her fertile imagination couldn’t conjure up the image.

“Oh, no,” said Henrietta, relieving her of the effort. “No, Bea’s far too sensible for that sort of thing. She just likes to quote Granny now and then to remind me, when I need to be reminded, that the world has changed a great deal since her childhood.”

“Well I, for one, am glad that it’s changed so much,” said Susie. “And I enjoyed walking around London in breeks and a jacket. I feel quite the country gentleman - except for the shoes, of course.”

Thank goodness I kept all my Tyrol footwear, she thought to herself, examining the tough, low-heeled brogues that Nell had persuaded her to buy during that first winter in Austria. It would have been rather a shame if she’d left these at Anna’s with everything else.

“Well,” said Henrietta, pushing herself upright and holding out hands to Susie, “I think that tea and a bath are in order. For you, I mean, not for me - I’m used to the exercise. Why don’t you go and put the kettle on, and I’ll turn on the taps and rummage about for the embrocation.”

“Hot running water!” said Susie, letting herself be pulled up and out of the sitting room. “I don’t think I’ve lived anywhere with hot running water in my life! You are a lucky madam.”

“Move in, if you like,” said Henrietta, disappearing towards the bathroom, and Susie was left to attend to the kettle, and to wonder whether Henrietta was entirely serious or not.

Chapter 15, Part I by Finn

“Ah, Sister Norton, I sometimes think it’s not worth taking a holiday. There’s always so much to catch up on when you get back!”

“Well, it was Christmas, and you were entitled. And I think you’ll find I’ve kept everything in order, Matron.”

“So you have, Sister, so you have,” said Matron quickly, as Sister Norton’s face grew cold and clenched. It was easy to forget how touchy the nurse was – easy to forget that sometimes people resented their juniors being promoted above them. Once upon a time she had answered to Sister Norton; now the reverse was true. It was not easy for either of them.

“Yes, well, it’s not been too franctic.” Sister Norton’s face grew a little less pinched, and she was gracious enough to nod towards one particular file. “There’s been a new admission.”

“Mm, yes.” Matron was carefully non-committal. “Dr Bincoe discussed the case with me before I went away.”

“Of course he did.” The pinched look was back, and Matron realised suddenly that she couldn’t be bothered to soothe Sister Norton’s feelings any further. She stood up, always an effective way of drawing a conversation to a close.

“I am sure you’ve done all the necessary paperwork, Sister,” she said. “I will look it over very shortly, but first we shall do a quick inspection. Now, if you don’t mind?”

Sister Norton looked as if she did mind, very much, no matter how reasonable Matron’s request, but she led the way and, as Matron had foreseen, there was no cause for complaint – the wards were spotless, the patients happy, or at least, as happy as they could be, given what they were here with. She returned to her room satisfied, tidied up her desk, checked that all records were in order – and only then did she sit down and open the file for the newest patient.

She spent a while looking through it very carefully, then laid it down on the desk and sat with her hands folded in front of her, eyes fixed on the wall opposite. Those who knew her only as Matron may have said that she was looking fierce; in fact, she was simply remembering. It had all been a long time ago.

Eventually, she got up and made her way from her office to Rivers Ward, where the new patient had his bed. She walked along the line of beds until she reached Bed 8, then turned and tugged the curtains round to screen them from interested eyes.

He was lying on his side, turned away from her, but she could see through the blankets that he was painfully thin, far thinner than the last time that she had seen him. His hair was longer, too – more Liszt than Chopin, she thought – and it had fallen across his face so that, when she went slowly round the bed to get a better look at him, he was obscured from her view, and she from his. He lay unresponsive, as some of them did when they first came in, afraid that the slightest movement would bring them attention – so she crouched down, brushed the hair tenderly from his face, and looked into a pair of dark eyes that she had not seen for ten years.

“Well, well,” she said, “Tristan Denny. What have you been doing to yourself?”

He blinked, slow and exhausted, then the eyes widened and he moved, lifted up onto an elbow, blinked again, pulled his hair away from his face.

“Jean?” he said in a weak voice, and she nodded and smiled.

“Yes,” she said. “It’s me – it’s Jeanie.”

Grappling with his astonishment, he stared at her, open-mouthed.

“Jean?” he said. “Jean Maddox? My Jean?”

“Yes,” she said, quietly, for unlike some, she knew that the curtains were not soundproof. “I was your Jean once. Oh, Tristan, my poor old lamb, just look at you! I never even knew…”

“But you’re…” He stared at her, taking in the headdress, the darker blue of her dress. “You’re…”

“Yes, I’ve dropped the surname now,” she said, with another smile. “I’m just Matron these days – but I’ll be Jean to you, if you’ll let me.”

“Jean…” He breathed the word, and suddenly a great relief swept the lines of pain from his face and he dropped back into his pillow. “Oh,” he said, “now I am safe. Now I am safe, thank God!”

Abruptly he screwed closed his eyes and began to shake, and Jean, who knew the signs, took out a clean handkerchief and pressed it into his hand just as the first tears squeezed their way out of the corners of his eyes and began to work their hesitant way down his cheeks. Then she drew up a chair and sat down beside him, holding his hand until the shaking eased and the tears were mopped, and the strain around his eyes vanished as he drifted off into a far calmer sleep than any he had had since he’d arrived on the ward. She was not, as a rule, sentimental about patients, but she was making an exception for Tristan Denny, and so she sat with him for longer than she ought to have done, unable to take away her hand even when his grip slackened and she knew he was asleep, for in his face she could still see traces of the boy she had loved, and had left to the mercy of Fate, back in the cold days of the War.

“Oh, my dear,” she whispered to him as he slept, “my poor, dear thing, I am so sorry – so sorry!”

Chapter 15, Part II by Finn

Jean came round the next morning and found her patient lying in much the same state as he had been the previous night - except that he had acquired a large and fluffy cat, who was curled on his lap, rumbling with purrs.

"Ah," she said, with some satisfaction, "I see you've met Basil."

Tristan looked up at her with the first hint of a smile that she seen from him, and the sight of his eyes lighting up even a little brought a smile to her own lips. Yesterday he had been so tired…

"Is that his name? He wandered in and took possession, and I had no heart to refuse him."

"He's one of Dr Bincoe's innovations," said Jean."He thinks that animals in general, and cats in particular, are very relaxing, and if there's anything Dr Bincoe wants to promote, it's relaxation in his patients."

"I left my cat at home." Tristan stretched out a thin hand and pulled Basil's ear, and the cat twisted his head round and purred louder, eyes contentedly half-closed. "I've not seen this one yet, but he has made himself very much at home." He frowned at the cat. "I can't decide whether he makes me miss Fáfnir more, or makes up a little for my missing him."

"He certainly seems to have taken a shine to you, and you to him. You look more relaxed than yesterday, at any rate." Jean pulled up a chair and sat down beside him. "Now, it's time we had a little chat."

Tristan's hand fell away from the cat's ears and he turned his face away - just a fraction, but Jean could read that gesture as easily as a yellow back novel.

"It will do you no good if you hide from us," she said, as gently as she could manage. "The best way to overcome your difficulties is to be as open and honest as possible."

"Is that another of Dr Bincoe's ideas?" asked Tristan, with a sour note in his voice.

"It is, and he has a great deal of experience to draw on," said Jean, quite accustomed to defending her boss, "so you should listen to what I say."

Tristan looked away again and Jean recognised the signs. Gentle though he was, he has always been stubborn, and as with many of her patients she knew it would take a great deal to persuade him to talk about something as humiliating to him as his innermost fears and emotions. But Jean had spent years working with cases like his, and she knew what she was doing.

"Come on, get up" she said, rising to her feet herself. "You and I are going for a walk."

"What for?" He was looking at her, full of bemused weariness. "And where to?"

"Round the grounds, she replied. "They're quite substantial - don't tell me you've not been out to see them yet! Honestly, Tristan, no wonder you're so pale. Come on, up you get. It's time you had some fresh air and exercise - and yes, that is Dr Bincoe's advice," she forestalled, as he opened his mouth, "so step to it!"

Chapter 15, Part III by Finn

When they came back in from their walk, Jean was pleased to note that, while his spirits had not noticeably improved, there was a touch of colour in Tristan’s cheeks. He even appeared a little more relaxed as they walked back onto the ward.

“Don’t you want to sit in the common room for a while?” Jean asked, with a hint of wheedle about her voice. “Yours looks out to the south and is ever so bright and jolly. It has a gramophone – it’s even got a piano!”

Tristan shook his head and sat down on the bed with the air of a man who had done his day’s work and did not intend to get up again if he could help it, and Jean nodded, for she knew when to stop pushing.

“Alright,” she said, “but you do know where it is, if you want it? Down the corridor and second on the left. You share it with Adler ward, but it’s never overwhelmingly busy, and it’s a nice little space.”

He made a non-committal noise and swung his legs up onto the bed, leaning back and closing his eyes. Jean bent down to tidy away the boots which he had taken off and dropped any old how, and as she did so she spotted a carpet bag under the bed.

“What’s this?” she asked. “Haven’t you unpacked yet?”

“Mm,” he murmured, then made an effort. “Mostly. Things that matter, anyway.”

“Then this is?”

“Books and so on. Can’t read though. Not yet.”

Jean opened the bag anyway and found, as predicted, books and various bits of sheet music, as well as a bundle of blank manuscript paper and notebooks. Lying on top of them was something else. Jean drew it out with a smile.

“I can’t believe you didn’t unpack your bear,” she said, and Tristan’s eyes flew open in surprise.

“Bear?”

He sat up to take it from her, and all of a sudden he softened, the tension draining from his face and leaving his eyes wide and astonished.

“She’s given me Alfred,” he said, staring at the bear.

“Who? Who has?”

“Evelyn. My little girl. I gave her my bear when she went away this summer and now she’s given me her bear in return.” He looked up at Jean, a complicated mixture of sorrowful and overjoyed. “My wonderful little girl!”

His face crumpled, but he lay down again and rolled away from Jean, the bear clutched in his arms, and Jean could do nothing but creep away and speculate in the privacy of her office as to who this little girl was, and exactly how she might be related to the distinctly unmarried Tristan Denny.

Chapter 16, Part I by Finn

The next good thing to happen to Tristan Denny came a little while later, on a damp, drizzly Tuesday afternoon in the middle of February.

The time had passed slowly and painfully, but though he had lingered for a long time on the very edge of reason, he was beginning to realise that rooted deep within him was a tiny flower of – not hope, exactly, but of sheer damnable stubbornness - a faint tendril of bloody-minded determination that kept him alive despite his wishes and, though he was not exactly living, he was most certainly not going to be dying any time soon.

At first the realisation had irked him – he did not have the energy to be actively annoyed by it, as everything was so damned draining, but it was a nuisance. He had barely registered the irritation, however, when he became sensible of the fact that he was now trying. Where before he had lain upon his bed, willingly exhausted and waiting only for the gathering dusk, now he was sitting up, looking out of the window on the far side of the ward, through which he could see the clouds passing and the dancing tips of the poplars at the far end of the grounds. He was getting up, shuffling along the ward and out of the door to the head of the stairs, where the nurses’ office on one side and the ward common room on the other formed an appendix of a corridor, at the end of which was a window with a padded seat along its width. He spent a good deal of time here, looking down onto the gravel path three stories below, which led down between dark beds decked in winter green and brown towards those crowded poplars he could see from his bed. Once, only once, he had tried to open the casement – but the staff here were not stupid, and it was securely locked. He had almost laughed at this, since for once he had not intended any action of that sort at all – he had merely wanted to feel the breeze on his face, to smell the fresh ground after the rain – and realising this made him pause once again, and consider.

Jean visited regularly, despite her duties, and twice weekly they went for walks in the grounds. They talked a little, and very slowly, but mostly they walked in silence. He had thought he resented her company, but as the days rolled past he grew used to her quiet presence at his side. As he improved, and his attention began to draw itself away from the utter ghastliness of existence to take notice of things around him, he began to watch her, as easily and quietly as she was watching him. She had certainly made the right decision, he felt, seeing how comfortable she was with her work, in her senior position at the hospital. The work suited her; she was happy – he could see it in the way her shoulders swung as they walked along, in the way in which she calmly commanded the women in her charge. She had always been a nurse first, his Jean second. Now, of course, she was not his Jean at all, and he knew that he didn’t want her to be. Whenever he thought of anything of that sort, which he tried to do as little as possible, then it was Susie of whom he thought. He was torn between wishing he knew where she was, and being glad that he hadn’t the temptation of an address at which to write to her.

Jean had never asked about Evelyn, and after that first night he had decided not to enlightened her. There was something strangely charming about the secret; Jean obviously assumed that Evelyn was his daughter, and the pretence pleased him, for had that been the case he could not have loved the little girl more, nor felt such possessive pride over her. He wanted her as his daughter; Jean allowed it to be so, and did not seem to object. Where was the harm in this little subterfuge?

She wrote twice a week, his little girl, which extraordinary dedication from so young a child touched him more than he realised. Her letters were filled with school, but also with expressions of love, and his sister always added a postscript when she had not written herself. Sarah’s letters were generally beyond him; like him, she was not a good idle letter writer, and he frequently got lost in her discussions of erudite subjects, or the lengthy screeds concerning people he did not know or could not remember, and so her letters were laid aside for when his mind was stronger and his brain could cope with such complications. Constance Stewart wrote, too, often carrying the good wishes of all the staff, and he wished he could believe her assurances that they were all looking forward to his safe return. He looked forward to Evelyn’s letters most of all, and wrote back in similar vein with the help of Sister Gulbransen, who was a regular nurse on his ward and a kind-hearted soul who could be relied upon to jog his memory about what he had done that week. His writings were plain and bare and scarcely covered one sheet, for he tended not to report the less savoury parts of his week, and therefore left more out than he put in.

His sessions with Dr Bincoe were one of the things he tended to omit. He was not sure about the man, nor about his technique, and their conversations tended to be a struggle between his desire not to talk about anything, let alone the specific events that had affected him so badly, and “Loony” Bincoe’s desire to extract the information come what may. The battle of wills left him more exhausted than ever, and frequently led to a slide back into low spirits, to Loony’s frustration as much as his own. He tried as much as possible not to think of them when he was not actually in the room with the doctor, and he also refrained from writing down the more fruitful – and fruity – discussions held between the patients in the shared common room.

Though he was no great user of the common room, Tristan happened to be in there when the good thing happened. He was sitting in the window, trying to ignore Merrick, who was eagerly engaging two fellow patients in his latest gleanings on the subject of the causes of neurasthenia. Tristan was humming under his breath, as he had taken to doing just a couple of days before and which he had not quite noticed yet, and was trying to shut his ears to Merrick’s reedy, excitable ramblings when they were pricked by a deeper voice that came from right outside the door.

“Jeanie, you young goddess! Still determined to break my heart?”

“If there’s one thing I’m certain I’m not going to be breaking, it’s your heart, young man! How did you find him today?”

“Oh, much the same. Still, I think he likes it here. He almost made sense a couple of times. I say, what’s through here?”

“A common room – no, please don’t…!”

But the door had been flung back by that point and Tristan looked up to espy a stranger standing in the doorway. He was small and had the appearance of a slender man who had enjoyed too many fine dinners in recent years, but his curling fair hair was slicked down in the fashionable way and he wore a suit of the finest quality, and there was altogether an air of sparkling humour about him that distracted attention from his diminutive stature and slightly strained waistline and left the impression of a suave charmer at the peak of health and youth.

Tristan turned his head away rapidly, but the incomer was not looking at him.

“I say, what a splendid set of windows you’ve got in here,” he said. “But that’s the joy of Queen Anne Revival, of course – plenty of places for the light to get in. I say, you have made sure they’re all locked, haven’t you? Wouldn’t want any…accidents.”

“Honestly!” Jean sounded shocked but amused, though Tristan did not dare to look round to see her face. His breathing was tightening and he tried his hardest not to gasp.

There was a long moment of quiet, and Tristan began to relax, thinking that the invader must have gone. Then he jumped violently, for the voice spoke again, right next to him.

“Charming grounds. Charming – they’re come right out of old England, aren’t they? ‘The green garden path, the tufts of flowers, purple and white columbines, and…’ oh, how does it go, Denny? You'll remember.”

Tristan looked around, and up into the bright and inquisitive ice-blue eyes he’d known since his earliest schooldays, and he found himself mumbling,

And great oriental red poppies with their black chaps and mulleins tall and yellow.”

Timms smiled at him.

“I knew you’d remember,” he said. “You always had the better memory for recitation. England, my England, eh? Well, well. So what’s going on, Denny? How on earth does a sensible fellow like you end up in the 'snake-infested commons'?”

“A long story,” said Tristan, closing his eyes, but he felt the cushion flump and opened them to see Timms sitting next to him on the window seat, the old affection in his chilly blue gaze.

“Suppose you start at the beginning, then?” he suggested, and Tristan, with nothing else to stop him, did so.

Chapter 16, Part II by Finn

Afterwards, unbeknownst to Tristan, Timms had a word with Jean.

“Look here, Matron,” he said, and Jean was amused to see him so serious, “is there any reason Denny needs to be locked up? I mean, he’s not about to go berserk and charge around with a penknife trying to put out the eyes of infidels, or anything?”

“Of course not! Don’t be so absurd, Mr Timms. And he’s not locked up, anyway - he’s a voluntary inpatient and he’s at perfect liberty to discharge himself whenever he chooses. He’s not a danger to anyone but himself, and I fancy he’s no longer even that, from what I’ve seen in recent weeks.” A flicker of suspicion finally passed across her mind. “Why, what are you thinking of doing?”

“I?” Timms pressed a wounded hand to his breast. Jean narrowed her eyes, not fooled.

“Yes, you,” she said. “I’ll thank you to remember I’m not stupid, and that I know when you are up to something.”

“Oh, it was only an idea…”

He left the sentence dangling, but Jean was no Tantalus; she simply waited until Timms could bear the suspense no longer.

“It doesn’t suit him,” he said, eventually. “All this, I mean,” waving a hand to indicate the nearby wards. “How’s a man ever supposed to get to feeling well in a hospital, for heaven’s sake? No,” he continued before Jean could protest, “but I do know the perfect place for him.”

“And where is that?”

“With me!” Timms looked more earnest than she’d ever seen him. “You don’t know us, Jean. At school we were like brothers. I know him through and through, and I know what’s good for him. He’s certainly not the wreck he thinks he is – not like my poor old brother. No, Denny’s far more normal than Charlie. He needs to be out of this prison, Jean, and back in the real world where he can remember why living is so good…”

“He needs quiet, and rest!” protested Jean.

“I can provide him with ample supplies of both!”

“You live quietly, then? Place in the country, is it?”

Timms mumbled, then said,

“Well…Piccadilly, but…”

“Famed for its peaceful surroundings, of course,” said Jean, but she was beginning to let Timms’ argument win her over. There was only so much that could be done in these medicalised surroundings, and Tristan really was recovering quite well. Perhaps a few steps out into the ‘real world’ would suit him – and he could always come back, if he found it too hard to cope. “I suppose you’ll permit your patient to attend his regular appointments with Dr Bincoe?”

“All the formalities will be observed, Sister,” said Timms, with solemnity, “and in the intervening periods he shall be looked after as lovingly as if he were a newborn babe. My man Jesson is a model of discretion and will be there whenever I am not, and my flat is huge and very comfortable – I’ve even got a piano! Really, Jean, it couldn’t be better.”

Jean looked at him for a long moment, but the cool blue gaze was unwavering. She decided at length that she might as well concede.

“I’ll speak to Dr Bincoe,” she said, “and if he says yes then Mr Denny can go with you – under one condition.”

Timms had been about to stride triumphantly back into the sitting room, but turned again at these words.

“What’s that?” was his wary question.

“It has to be his decision,” said Jean, “not yours. You may ask him, but if I catch a hint of wheedling then it’s out you go and here he stays. You never know,” she added, as Timms’ eyes grew reproachful, “he may prefer to be in a hospital. Some people feel safer somewhere like this than in the ‘real world’, as you so charmingly put it.”

Timms grinned.

“Tish and pish,” he said. “He’s coming with me – see if he doesn’t!”

Chapter 16, Part III by Finn

Jean realised, on the morning that he was due to leave, that she was going to miss Tristan Denny. He seemed scarcely to have changed from the shy and awkward boy she had walked out with all those years ago, and she had grown oddly used to his company. Even in his worst moments there was something charming about him. Every day after she came off duty, she had grown into the habit of wandering into his ward and spending half an hour sitting with him, talking idly of things and letting him speak or sit in silence, as he preferred. At first he had been very quiet indeed, simply lying on the bed with Basil on his knee and seeming not to hear her chatter, though she could tell from the way he flicked a glance at her now and then that he was grateful for her undemanding company - but lately he had begun to rouse, to talk a little of his life since they had last met. She had heard a little about his musical training, and rather more about the Tiernsee, about Madame and the Chalet School, and the little maidens whose voices he had the pleasure to be training. He spoke a little of his sister, whom Jean had heard of before but never met, and a very little of Evelyn, always referred to as his “little girl”. Jean was intrigued by Evelyn, but out of delicacy she refrained from asking for more detail, though she was eager to know more about the girl and about what had happened to her mother.

It was odd, but when Tristan talked of Tiernsee, Jean sensed that there was something else he was keeping back. He spoke with no reference to time, beyond summer and winter, and when he recited anecdotes, he would sometimes stop himself before he reached even the middle of the story. It was intriguing but, again, one about which she would never have enquired - except for the fact that, on the day that Tristan was due to leave, the day which had started with her contemplating how much she would miss him, something unexpected happened which gave her a small hint as to the truth of his mysterious silence.

Jean had gone down the ward with a heavier heart than usual, to see that Tristan had everything packed and was ready to leave, and came into his cubicle to find Nurse Morris buckling up the suitcase he had brought, while the patient himself stood, dressed in clothes that were rather too large for him, with all the weight he had lost (and had failed to regain since his admission, a fact which had troubled Jean and Dr Bincoe equally), frowning and looking around him in forlorn manner.

“I cannot see Basil,” he said to her as she came through. “I wish to bid him farewell, but he has not made his face known at all this day.”

“Nurse,” said Jean, with a smile, “leave that suitcase for now, and go and see if you can lay your hands on him, will you, so Mr Denny can make his farewells?”

Nurse Morris looked somewhat askance, but it was her duty to say nothing but, “Yes, Matron,” which she duly did, and vanished in search of the cat. Jean sat down on the end of the bed, in strict defiance of her own rules, and beckoned for Tristan to join her. He did, after a moment’s hesitation.

“How does it feel to be leaving us?” she asked, and he sighed, shrugged, and sighed again.

“How does anything feel?” was his rhetorical response, and Jean did not try to offer an answer.

“We shall miss you,” she said instead, and he looked at her.

“Will you?” he asked, and she realised he was using the singular, and smiled at him.

“Of course I will!” she said, and she put her arms around him and kissed his cheek. “I shall miss you dearly, old friend.”

She thought she saw a smile struggling in his eyes, but it never reached his lips. He did take her hand, however, and look at her with a fervent intensity.

“Will you visit me?” he asked. “Is it permitted? Having found you, I wish that we might not part forever a second time.”

“If you want me to,” said Jean, “then of course I’ll visit. I can drop round any time you like.”

“I imagine you will always find me at home,” Tristan said, tiredly, and he let go of her hand just in time, for the curtains rustled and then Nurse Morris reappeared, the cat clamped firmly in her arms and with something wedged into one of her pockets.

“Here he is!” she said, carefully not observing Matron rising from the bed on which she had been sitting. “And here is something for you, Mr Denny - letters from Austria, I think.”

“Oh, how nice,” said Jean, accepting the package, as Tristan was occupied with making a fuss of Basil, who had been quite happy to be transferred into his old friend’s arms; but when the cat tired of goodbyes and made his exit, bottle brush tail dragging the curtain out as he wriggled underneath it, Tristan turned his attention gladly to his letters.

“It is a veritable bundle!” he exclaimed, opening the outer envelope. “This is from my sister, and this from Evelyn, and I believe this must be Madame - and this parcel is from Constance!” He waved a thick bundle wrapped in brown paper. “I wonder what she can be sending.”

He perched onto the edge of the bed and opened the parcel first - and froze, astonishment turning his face pale, before drawing out a thick bundle of letters tied with a brown hair ribbon. They were mottled and blotched with damp, but on the outer letters a rounded, childish script was still legible in places. Tristan looked up at Jean, eyes dark and wide in his white face.

“They are Evelyn’s letters!” he said. “The ones I thought lost!”

Jean had no idea what he meant but he seemed unlikely to enlighten her, for he had turned back to the letters and was reading the note that had been in the parcel with them, in a much more fluent hand.

“She found them,” he said, after a moment. “She was not looking for them, but she came across the place where I had dropped them. I am amazed! I cannot imagine how she can have found them…”

He stared at them for a few moments more, then put them aside.

“I shall read the rest later,” he said, shuffling them into a pile; but as he was doing so he stopped again, face growing even more strained, and twitched one envelope out from among the rest.

“Is it…can it be…?”

He hesitated, then tore the envelope with a ferocity that surprised Jean, and pulled out what appeared to be a Christmas card. He opened it, read, then dropped the card onto his knee and squeezed his eyes tightly closed. Jean tried her hardest but it was impossible to refrain from taking a glance, though all she read was the closing greeting,

Ever yours,
Susie


Tristan did not notice Jean quietly extricate herself from his cubicle, nor did he hear her at the end of the ward, preventing Timms from making his noisy way down the ward and ripping open the curtains to drag his old friend off with him to Piccadilly. He simply sat on the bed, eyes still firmly shut, and for the first time in a long while he allowed himself to wonder what Susie might be doing right now.

Chapter 17, Part I by Finn

Back in Austria, someone else was wondering what Susie was doing. Sarah had been thoroughly torn over whether to forward on that Christmas card to her brother, but her moral qualms over concealing it won out over her concern for what it might do to Tristan’s recovery. After all, she reasoned with herself as she sealed up  the envelope containing Evelyn’s, Susie’s and her own letters, he was a grown man and she had no right to make such a decision on his behalf however much she wanted to protect him; but it worried her all week and, when the weekend came and brought with it no letter from England, she caught herself fretting once or twice and had to force herself quite determinedly to stop.

Still, she could not help herself from wandering restlessly from room to room all of Saturday morning. If the weather had been more clement she would have taken herself for a long walk, but just four days before the thaw had come on with a vengeance and the whole lakeside was swimming in mud. Such a time to be forced into inactivity! If she had been less anxious, she might have found it funny.

As she came into the salon for the fourth time in an hour, Sarah found Evelyn kneeling on a sofa peering out of the window with a dismal expression on her face. The Robin was pressed up against her, wearing much the same expression. They had both been curled up with books just a few moments before and had seemed content; but Sarah was not forced to wait for long to know the cause for their apparent anxiety

“Uncle Ted won’t be able to come, will he?” Evelyn said, and the two girls looked round as one with such hope in their expressions that Sarah felt it incumbent upon her to alter the weather that instant and make the weekend come right for them all. So this was it! She had forgotten to discuss with them the probability that Ted would not be there that weekend. Since Christmas he had got into the habit of walking down every weekend to spend time with Sarah, and since she still had Evelyn, and they always called at the school for Robin, it had been a natural progression for Sarah to take the Robin home with her on a Friday afternoon and for her to spend the weekend with her future stepmother.

Sarah wished, with all her heart, that Ted was coming down. She needed him this weekend more than she had in quite some time; but she refused to give in to her disappointment. Instead she shook her head and held out her hands to the girls.

“I’m afraid not,” she said, “not in all this mud and mess, but we can still have some fun without him. How about an indoor picnic?”

“Please,” said Robin, sliding down from the sofa and trotting over to take the proffered hand, “what is that?”

“We’ll make sandwiches,” said Sarah, “and all sorts of other food - whatever you like - and pack it all into a basket with a picnic blanket, and then we can go on an adventure through the house. We can explore the attics, if you like. Tristan and I have never been up there - there might be all sorts of treasures.”

“Zere might be spiders,” said Robin, though she looked considerably more cheerful already.

Evelyn looked at her with a frown.

“What’s wrong with spiders?” she asked, so matter of fact that Robin also frowned and considered the question.

“I am not sure,” she said eventually.

“There won’t be any spiders,” said Sarah, hoping that she was right, for she was none too anxious to meet them herself. “They will all be asleep for the winter. Now, come on through to the kitchen and let’s make some sandwiches. You may choose whatever you like to go in them.”

She turned and made her way back out into the passage and the girls, much cheered, trotted after her.

Chapter 17, Part II by Finn

The attics proved spider-free, or at least the animals had had the good sense to run away from their torch beams, and all that they had to offer was dust, dirt and an interesting stripe of mould on one wall that Sarah forbade the girls to go near. They were not all that dark, either, for there were small windows at either end, and Sarah mused that, with a good deal of cleaning and scrubbing and fitting out, they could be made quite respectable.

“We could have a room each up here, for Robin and Evelyn,” she thought, then remembered that she was not going to live here after her wedding, because she would be moving to the small house on the Sonnalpe that Ted had bought for them. It was not very large - Robin and Evelyn would have to share - and she was a little worried about how they were going to manage. She had little enough of her own to bring to the marriage; her mother had been an old-fashioned woman, and when the will had been read following her death, Tristan had been just as shocked as his sister had been to find that their mother had left everything - property, savings and investments - to him alone, with Sarah allotted only some of her fine jewellery and other sundries which, while pretty, were worth very little at all. Tristan, to do him credit, had always shared everything with her as far as he was permitted. He had done his best to make up for the peculiar terms of the will, saying that by rights it should have been hers as much as his, and their mutual agreement to share had worked well as long as they were two single people living together; but in spite of his goodwill it was still his money, not hers, and things would change once she was married.

Still, she was used to living on little, and so she thrust the worries aside for the time being and turned her attention to the girls.

“Well, what do you say?” she asked. “Shall we picnic here?”

“Yes!” was the resounding chorus, and Sarah laughed and set out the blanket, and they picnicked by torchlight.

After they had eaten their fill, Robin and Evelyn scrambled off to explore the attics, a delightful pursuit that produced no tangible results except the thorough griming of their hands, faces and dresses, and Sarah felt for a tentative moment that she might not be as terrible a stepmother as she often feared (another constant mental refrain, though one which she suppressed with rather more energy than her financial concerns). The girls certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves, anyway, and she was quite comfortable watching them…and then there came a sound from downstairs that made her prick up her ears and wave a hand to hush the chatter.

“What was that?” she said, and then it came again, a rat-tat-tat on the front door, two storeys down. Sarah got to her feet, regarding her dust-smeared dress with dismay.

“Still,” she said, “it’ll have to do. Hopefully it isn’t anyone too important.”

She left the girls with a careful admonishment to sit on the rug and play cards till she returned and ran downstairs to answer the door, feeling perfectly confident that when she returned, Robin and Evelyn would be exactly where she had left them.

The knock was sounding for a third time as she tumbled down the last flight of stairs into the hall, and she shouted, “Yes, YES!” as she hurried to answer it, then as she did so, her voice changed utterly and she spoke a quiet little, “Oh!”

“Weren’t you expecting me?” said Ted.

“As a matter of fact,” said Sarah, when she got her breath back, “no, we weren’t! What on earth made you come down in all this weather, you daft…you, you silly…”

It’s difficult to insult someone when they’re kissing you, so Sarah stopped trying, but when he let her go she held him away from her and looked him up and down. He was mud to his knees and looking remarkably cheerful about it, but she was too pleased to see him to be indignant.

“Marie will have your hide,” she contented herself with saying. “You could have slipped and broken your neck!”

She shuddered at this admonishment and kissed him again, for quite a long time.

Eventually she managed to break away for long enough to say, “I am pleased you’re here. I was quite sorry when I realised it was unlikely to come off this weekend.”

He smiled as he bent to unlace his boots.

“‘Quite sorry’, she says! You do know how to flatter a man, my dear! And where are the girls?”

Sarah’s eyes, which had narrowed with Ted’s teasing, widened suddenly.

“Heavens! I’ve left them in the attic all this time!”

“The attic? What, have you taken to tidying them away out of sight? Anything for a quiet life while my back’s turned?”

“Oh, you…! We were having a picnic indoors, since we can’t outside, and we went up there. I’d better go and see…”

She was already racing up the stairs, but Ted was close on her heels, and when the girls (who were, of course, exactly where she had left them) turned and saw who was there, they both leapt to their feet in delight.

“Papa!”

“Uncle Ted!”

“Hallo, babies,” said Ted, and flung his arms round both of them at once, thus adding mud to the mix of dust and grime that coated the children. “Well, this is a jolly affair you’re having here! Room for one more? Are there any more sandwiches?”

“I’ll go and make you some,” said Sarah, turning, but she found herself caught by the wrist and seated firmly on the rug beside Ted.

“I’ll manage with what we have,” he said. “You’re going nowhere, Sarah Denny. It’s taken me all morning and half the afternoon to get here and I’m da…I’m blowed if I’m going to be a moment longer without you than I need to be. What’s in this one, Evelyn? Um…potted meat and jam? Are you sure? Er…no thank you, dear. I think I’ll just…”

“I’ll go and make you some sandwiches!” Sarah repeated, and was amused to find that, this time, he did not try to stop her.

Chapter 17, Part III by Finn

Later that evening, once the girls had gone to bed, Sarah and Ted settled down on the sofa with a glass of Sarah’s homemade apple wine, warmed on the stove and flavoured with spices. It had been a noisy day of games and fun, and now that peace reigned supreme they both felt little desire to talk at first, but simply sat with their wine, Sarah with her head on Ted’s shoulder and his arm around her, watching the sparks flickering through the glass door of the stove.

Eventually Sarah pulled herself upright and put down her glass.

“I suppose you’ll have to go soon,” she said, and Ted laughed.

“Oh, Sarah,” he said. “Always looking for future trouble! Can’t we just be happy as we are, now?”

“I’m not always looking for trouble!” Sarah objected, before stopping and laughing at herself. “Well, alright, maybe I am being a little premature - but after the year I’ve had, is it any wonder I can’t relax?”

“None at all,” said Ted, and pulled her back into his arms. She held onto him, feeling his solid bulk under her arms and drawing from it a deep sense of comfort.

“You’ve been my rock all this time,” she said. “No, I mean it,” as he tried to demur. “I’m so used to bearing my worries on my own. I can’t quite believe my luck in meeting you before this latest trial, what with it being one of the worst I’ve ever…” She stopped and pulled herself together just in time. “I think I’d have gone to pieces myself,” she said, and had to stop again.

Ted had no objection to this cessation of praise; he had the look of a man whose mother has just been telling her friends what a wonderful boy he is and when she looked up at him, Sarah forgot the tears that had threatened just a moment before and laughed at him.

“I’m more interested in the future,” he said, tweaking her nose and making her squawk in indignation. “Have you thought any more about a wedding date?

“Oh…” Sarah sighed. “I don’t know. From Tristan’s latest letter, I don’t think he’s a lot better, and I’m not doing it without him - but I have no idea when he might be…”

“It’s alright,” said Ted, taking her hands to soothe her. “It doesn’t matter too much to me whether it’s in the summer or the winter - only, if it is likely to be the former, we should probably start arranging it sooner rather than later…”

“I know, I know.” Sarah pushed her hair back in a worried gesture that was becoming all too familiar. “But I haven’t heard from him at all this week. I hope he’s alright. He usually writes at least once a week. I hope he’s alright,” she repeated, and Ted gave her hands a squeeze.

“We could always arrange the bridesmaids’ dresses,” he said, to change the subject. “They aren’t going to change very much.”

“That’s what you think!” said Sarah with a shaky laugh. “Have you seen the rate that Evelyn’s growing? If we have the dresses made now it’ll be too short by summer - and in the winter it won’t even go near her!”

“Oh - well…” Ted was momentarily nonplussed. “Well,” he said, “what about your dress? You aren’t likely to grow between now and then!”

“No,” said Sarah, smiling. “I’m not about to change any time soon. I’m fat now, and I’ll be fat for our wedding.”

Ted let go of her hands and frowned at her. “You’re not fat.”

“I’m not thin!”

“No, but you aren’t fat. You’re not even close! And anyway,” he added coyly, “I like you as you are.”

Sarah ducked her head, but she was smiling, and Ted lifted her chin and kissed her.

“Oh, I hope we can be married and move into our house soon,” he said, wrapping his arms around her again. “Not that I dislike Die Rosen - Mrs Russell couldn’t be kinder - but I am so looking forward to the time when we have a house of our own, with Robin and Evelyn, and maybe a little one of our own…”

“A little one?!” Sarah sat up, taken aback. “I wasn’t planning on having any of my own, Ted.”

“Why not?”

“Why? Because I’m too old, for one! And between us we’ve Evelyn and Robin - do we need any more?”

“But…” Ted sat up too, looking puzzled. “Don’t you want children?”

“Well, I…I’d never thought of it,” said Sarah. “I always assumed I’d not have the chance.”

“But you’re not opposed to children per se?" Ted insisted, and she thought he was looking somewhat anxious and tried to reassure him.

“I don’t know. I don’t think so. I…I’m afraid I just assumed!”

“Well, don’t!” Ted kissed her nose and didn’t draw back but stayed close, holding her gaze. “Much as I love the ones we have, I want your children. And what’s this rot about you being too old? First fat, now old…I’m afraid I don’t recognise the Sarah in the picture you’re painting me!”

“Alright, alright!” Sarah held up her hands, but she was laughing. “I don’t suppose there’s a great deal we can do about children, anyway - once we’re married.”

“Nothing at all,” said Ted, and pulled her into a kiss.

Some minutes later, Sarah pulled away from him, her hair rather more dishevelled and her cheeks very pink. She was not inclined to pull away, but the knowledge that Ted would need to leave for his hotel before too long persuaded her better judgement into action.

Ted sat up too.

“Something wrong?”

“No! Goodness, no. It’s just…well, oughtn’t you to be going soon? It’s getting on for ten o’clock and…and I don’t want to get too carried away if you’re about to…to leave.”

Ted smiled. “Trying to get rid of me?”

“No.” Sarah smiled a gentle smile, with a hint of something more in her brown eyes. “But it is getting late…”

“Ah.” Ted put his hands on his knees and looked up at the ceiling with some consideration. “Well. This is a little awkward. You see, I was in such a hurry to get down here that I didn’t actually book a room at the Adalbert - and I expect their reception won’t be open any longer.”

He looked at Sarah, who looked back at him, trying unsuccessfully to fathom his expression.

“Ah,” she said.

“Ah indeed,” said Ted. “And what with the Kron Prinz Karl being closed for winter and the Post having all their rooms done up, it seems a bit hopeless.”

“Yes.”

Ted smiled slightly.

“Looks like it’s the shed for me, then,” he said, and Sarah was certain at last that he was joking.

“Oh, stop this nonsense!” she said, swiping his arm. “You know perfectly well that you’re staying here, you devil, though why you couldn’t just ask rather than leaving it so late…”

“I thought your scruples would make you refuse,” said Ted as he stood up and held out a hand to her. “You don’t mind, really, do you? I won’t stay if you do. Just say the word…”

Sarah stood up, holding his hand, and she smiled as she said the word, and then she took him upstairs to bed, and he didn’t even think of offering to take the spare room.

End Notes:

Yes I know, I know, I am as surprised as anyone that they might do such a thing as spending the night together, but that's apparently what they wanted to do...blame them, not me!

Chapter 18, Part I by Finn

The taxi stopped outside a block of flats that were a perfect example of the modern idiom of architecture and, thought Tristan as he got out and stood looking up at them, probably the most expensive flats in this part of London - not to mention the ones with the best view. He turned to look across at Green Park, which lay directly opposite, then back up at the flats, and then Timms had him by the arm and was leading him in and he felt, in that moment, a flash of absurd vanity, for his suit was hanging off him and he hadn’t shaved for a month, and the immaculate fair-haired man coming out of the door just as they were going in was giving him a rather suspicious look.

“He must think I’m moving a Communist into the building,” said Timms, who was clearly on the same train of thought. “Peter,” as his neighbour tipped his hat in greeting and sprang into a waiting taxi, and then Timms hustled Tristan into the flats before they could attract any more attention, and before he knew it, Tristan was up three flights of stairs and was being ushered into an opulent hallway that whispered promises of greater luxuries to come.

Timms tossed his hat onto the telephone table, shrugged off his coat and waved a hand at Tristan in a vague and unintelligible way.

“Jesson will show you where to go,” he said. “Jesson! Oh - you’re here,” he said, flashing Tristan a sudden grin, and Tristan found himself being unexpectedly helped out of his coat by a slender figure of whose presence he had been entirely unaware up until this point.

“If you would like to follow me, sir,” the figure murmured, and Tristan obeyed, beginning to wonder if he were hallucinating again, so dreamlike was the feeling he was experiencing. Timms had disappeared through one of the doors to the right, but Tristan was led through to the left and found himself in a bedroom of ample proportions and understated bachelor comfort.

“You will want a bath, sir,” said Jesson from the doorway, and Tristan realised that he was right - coming into this chamber fresh from the asylum felt like sacrilege. “You will find the bathroom through that door. All the necessaries are laid out.”

He disappeared as effortlessly as he had appeared and Tristan, feeling that life with Timms might end up being no less authoritarian than hospital had been, went obediently through to the bathroom, where he found a bath already drawn. It was almost unbearably hot to the touch, but when he could finally move enough to wash, it felt wonderfully as if it were scouring away all traces of the hospital from his skin. He washed thoroughly, plunging under the water to rinse out his hair, and as he sat up again he realised how long it had grown, and wondered idly whether he should do anything about it. Ordinarily Sarah would decide that it needed cutting and, given his unreasoning aversion to the barber, would trim it herself; his only warning of this impending event tended to be the sight of her advancing on him wielding a pair of scissors, like a pint-sized avenging angel. But there was no Sarah here, and he refused to trust Timms with a pair of scissors anywhere near his head. He considered the point briefly but then gave it up as unimportant, and instead he stepped out of the bath into the absurdly soft towels and dressing gown that had been provided for him.

Lying alongside them, he noticed, was a shaving kit: two razors, cutthroat and safety, and all the associated paraphernalia. He frowned at them for a moment, then picked up the cutthroat and weighed it thoughtfully. Opening the blade, he raised it to his cheeks, but immediately his hands began to tremble violently. At the very same moment, to his astonishment, the door flew open and as he turned round he was met by Timms, who bounded over and snatched the razor from him without ceremony.

“Idiot!” he cried, and Tristan couldn’t decide whether he meant him, Jesson, who had appeared in the doorway behind his master, or himself. He folded the razor away and dropped it into his pocket, then turned to Jesson.

“No open blades!” he said, fierce with anger, then looked round at Tristan and waved a finger in a gesture only a little less furious. “D’you hear me? And don’t you lock this door, not ever. Promise me, Denny!”

“I was only testing to see if my hands had stopped shaking,” Tristan said weakly, but Timms was looking more serious than he’d ever seen him, so he hastily recast the sentence. “I promise - on my honour, I promise it.”

“Good.” Timms took a deep breath and Tristan saw with astonishment that he was shaking - Timms, whose insouciance had been legendary in their schooldays. But he tossed back his head as if to shake away the impression that he cared and gave a respectable version of his customary saunter as he departed, saying over his shoulder, “Jesson can always shave you, you know, if you can’t manage. Good as an Italian. See you in the library when you’re dressed.”

 Abandoning the idea of shaving - or of thinking for himself - Tristan went through to his bedroom and found Jesson waiting there, with a smart grey suit laid out on the bed for him.

“But…” Tristan frowned at the clothing, “this is not mine.”

“I know, sir,” said Jesson, “but Mr Timms thought it would be nice for you to have something that fitted, sir, given as how you’ve lost weight and suchlike. He got your current measurements off of Matron Maddox and had this run up for you by his tailor on Monday - and there’s some new shirts for you in this drawer here, sir, and ties - socks - all the other things,” he added, indicating the relevant drawers as he spoke. “I’m sure you won’t mind, sir, and think it his interference, for it is all meant in kindness. I’ve unpacked your bag, sir, but I hope you’ll forgive me if I take away the rest of your clothes to wash and press. Hospital laundry…” He didn’t finish the sentence, but Tristan knew exactly what he meant and nodded his approval. “All the personal items are in that drawer there for you to arrange as you wish. Do you need a hand with dressing, sir?”

Tristan shook his head and Jesson withdrew to leave him contemplating the quality of the suit and the munificence of his friend, as well as Timms’ unanticipated anxiety. It was more than he deserved, he knew very well, and it was with some pain that he dressed in the unfamiliar clothes and then attacked his hair with a towel until it was as dry as he could make it. He combed it out before the mirror, studying his face as he did so and observing all that Timms and Jesson must have perceived; gaunt cheeks, the sunken flesh which made the bones stand out under waxy skin, his darkly-shadowed eyes with none of their former life and expression. He was a sad creature indeed, he reflected, and looked away from his own expression to examine the room, and then to explore.

The drawer that Jesson had indicated last contained all his letters and photographs, including his new favourite of Sarah and Evelyn together, which she had sent him just a week ago - Evelyn’s cropped hair had been growing out since the summer and was now in a nice, tidy bob. He studied their faces as he worked the comb through his hair, but he could not tell whether they were more relaxed, now that he was here in England and no longer causing them daily distress. He took out the frame which held the portrait of both of his parents, taken on their wedding day, and then a pair of tiny photographs in a double frame: Sarah in her VAD uniform, and one of his mother, which they had sent out to him the first Christmas that he was in France. He glanced at Sarah but he could not make himself look at his mother’s face. What she would think, if she could see him now! The double frame went out beside the others, hidden away at the back, and then his hand fell on Susie’s Christmas card, which had been tucked in beneath the photographs. For a moment, he hesitated over whether to put it up with his other things, but then he closed the drawer firmly and went to join Timms, taking care not to think of Susie’s fair hair, her blue eyes, her wicked smile…

And at the same time over on the far side of town, in a solicitor’s office in Whitechapel, a fair-haired, blue-eyed girl was turning a grin that had lost only some of its wickedness upon an old lawyer’s clerk, who didn’t mind it in the least.

Chapter 18, Part II by Finn

Susie was in the outer office of Able and Sons, the firm of solicitors which the Welfare League used when it needed legal advice. The offices were in a shabby, patched-up building in one of the better streets in Whitechapel, and the frosting of the glass door of the outer office still read “Able & Sons”, even though all three of the Sons had moved on to prettier buildings and more prestigious cases, and only the elder Mr Able remained.

Mr Able was good; he was also cheap, which was more unusual, but he was not a man of prepossessing manner, which put off all but the most discerning clients. Mr Able stammered and his hands shook and he had a tendency to drop his papers, but where many of his clients shied away and tended not to return, Susie found herself only liking him all the more for it. Behind the appearance of vulnerability lay a shrewd intelligence and a sharpness of wit that had taken some of the best advocates by surprise. Susie had never met the sons, but she was convinced that they could never have matched their father for sagacity, nor in his gentle teasing humour. She had decided, in the short time that she’d known him, that she would rather have Mr Able on her side than any other legal mind in London.

When Susie had arrived at the offices, Mr Able had been engaged with a client for only the second time in her experience, and so she was sitting in the outer office with his clerk, Mr Burdiss, a stout man with a rich South Shields accent, though he had been in London for more than twenty years. If Susie were entirely honest, Mr Burdiss was at least an equal part of the reason why she loved Able and Sons, for it was so very pleasant to meet a soul who had shared at least some of the same pleasures of childhood as she had, even if the last time Burdiss had set foot in the north-east had been before Susie was born. He liked to tease her too, though his teasing was broader and somewhat coarser than Mr Able’s; still, he reminded her of her childhood, and she liked him all the better for it.

He was in the middle of a lengthy tale involving two keelmen and a whitening-stone seller, which Susie was beginning to think she recognised from a song she’d heard, when the door opened and the client came out, closely followed by Mr Able.

“Oh dear, it’s you,” he said, filling his voice with a teasing weariness, and waved for her to follow him into the office. “What have you got for m-me today?” he asked, as he sat down heavily on the far side of the desk. “M-m-murder? Wife-beating? Attempted abduction of an infant?”

“Divorce,” said Susie, and Mr Able sighed his disappointment and pulled his jotter towards him. “At least, I have the idea it’s that sort of thing. I’m not really here on behalf of one of our people, actually,” she added, as he began to make notes. “All I want is some information so I know what to say to her when she comes back. If she comes back,” she said, frowning, for Imogen Henderson had crept in just twice since her appearance before Christmas, and had not said much more than that she needed food, on one occasion, and clothes for her two children on another. She had worn her humiliation in her face, but had mentioned nothing more about her divorce except in response to a direct question from Susie about how it was progressing, to which she had replied that everything was fine, thanks, and had disappeared very quickly, her worn out bairns in tow.

“Tell m-me what you know,” said Mr Able, and Susie turned her frown into a grimace.

“Almost nothing, really,” she said, and laughed when Mr Able put his pen down and looked at her over his spectacles with an expression that said she was wasting his time. “She’s a slippery customer, I’m afraid! I’ll give you what I’ve got, but…”

“N-not a lot to go on,” said Mr Able, when she had finished. “And I’m not sure she has m-much of a case - aggressive husbands are ten a penny…but wait one m-moment. Henderson…Henderson…”

He pulled a file of papers towards him and scanned quickly through them, the frown line scored between his eyebrows deepening to give him a quite ferocious appearance.

“Ah! Listen to this - and d-don’t interrupt, girl,” as Susie opened her mouth to ask what he was about to read her. “My b-boy Ned came over the other day with this bunch - ha!” he grunted, with a satisfied half-smile. “He m-may have gone up in the world, but he still comes b-back to ask his old man to argue his cases through with him! Anyway, your Mrs Henderson is already being sued for d-divorce, Susie. This is the p-petition her - her husband’s got in first, and what he has to say is juicy, my dear girl, j-juicy.”

“You needn’t enjoy it so much!” said Susie, leaning over to try to twitch the papers from his hand, but he swept them away and raised a cautioning finger to her.

“Now, now,” he said. “I can’t possibly show you these, m-my child. Confidentiality!” He twinkled at her and she grinned back.

“I won’t tell if you don’t,” she said. “Go on, give us the particulars.”

“‘Gi’us it’,” he mocked, and ducked as she aimed a ball of blotting paper at his head. “D-dear God, women these days! I don’t know what they teach you in the b-board schools, but they ought to stop. Now then, sit still and listen and you m-might hear something to your advantage.” He rustled his papers and cleared his throat. “The p-particulars. The respondent - that’s your Mrs Henderson - is accused of…well, almost everything, by the looks of it, but m-most important are the adultery and desertion.”

“Adultery? She told us that she’d deserted the family home, but she never mentioned adultery!”

“Is it likely that she would? It says here that the petitioner - that’s…good g-grief, is it really Conrad Henderson?”

“Why, is that a problem?”

“Quite possibly, m-my dear. He’s one of those financial hot-shots, very b-big in the City - and he’s a b-brother who’s a silk and his father’s on the b-b-bench.”

“Reserve squad, eh?”

This time it was Susie who ducked the balled up blotting paper.

“I mean he’s a j-judge, girl, as you well know! Well well, this m-makes everything m-more interesting.”

Mr Able frowned at the papers again, until Susie coughed politely.

“You still haven’t told me the particulars,” she said.

“Oh, fairly standard. There was a tutor to the ch-children, she’s accused of adultery resulting in the birth of a child, one Bernadette Martha, culminating in their mutual desertion of the family home with the said Bernadette Martha and the two children of the marriage, William Geoffrey and Marianne Paula. The co-respondent is a Mr Simon Alexander, the children’s m-music tutor, who was also lodging with them…why is it always the music tutor?” he mused to himself, not observing how Susie’s face had gone taut. “They do seem to be unable to avoid fornication, these artistic types. Oh - present company and all that,” he added, and Susie’s face relaxed as she snorted, restraining the urge to deny any exceptional status. “She d-doesn’t appear to have taken the lover with her,” he added, looking back down at his notes. “Writ was served at the last known address, which was…Shoreditch. N-n-non-attendance at court on p-part of respondent…no current address known. Susie,” he said, looking up at her, “do you know where Mrs Henderson is living?”

“No.”

“Well, if you find out, d-don’t tell me,” he said, and looked back down again. “Dear me, Susie, your client is in a lot of trouble. Simon Alexander…hmm. Could be an anti-semitic angle, too. Tricky. D-dear me, dear me indeed.”

“She’s not my client,” said Susie, “not unless she comes back again and tells us what it is she wants us to do for her. Wait…” she frowned, suddenly remembering. “You said there was a child - a baby?”

“Indeed - B-bernadette M-martha…goodness, she could have chosen b-better syllables for me,” he sighed, but Susie wasn’t listening.

“I’ve never seen the baby,” she said. “Whenever she’s been in she’s had the two older kids - barely lets go of them - but I’m certain I’ve never seen a baby. Do you think it could have…died or something?”

“That,” said Mr Able, “or she has someone helping her. P-perhaps the lover did come with her, after all.”

“Perhaps.” Susie sat for some moments, mulling over the information, then stood up. “Well, thank you, Mr Able. You’ve been a lot of help.”

“No I haven’t,” he said, tidying up his papers and not looking up at her, and she understood and grinned. “B-but if you should see her again, I’ll take her.” He looked up suddenly, bright-eyed. “I’ll enjoy facing Ned across a courtroom,” he said. “Teach him the old d-dog has life in him yet.”

And Susie left him, grinning to himself and humming a popular music hall song, and went out into the gathering gloom of a February evening, well aware that she had a great deal to think about.

Chapter 18, Part III by Finn

When Susie came out of the solicitor’s office, a faint drizzle had started up, and she turned up her coat collar against it with a grimace. London rain was always so filthy, she thought as she walked as quickly as her worn shoes would allow her down back towards Stepney - though not back to her cheerless flat, never again! Henrietta had been as good as her word and shortly after Christmas Susie had given notice and had arrived at the door to her friend’s flat armed with one suitcase and two cardboard boxes, which along with her wireless set represented the sum total of her possessions - if you didn’t count the suitcase and art case left behind in Anna’s studio, of course. The increased luxury of her surroundings - not spectacular, but considerably more pleasant than her previous situation - had led to a consequent improvement in spirits and, in spite of the rain, which was working its way between her hat and collar in defiance of her best efforts, she found herself humming as she walked in the direction of home.

The fog was beginning to swirl in, and she quickened her pace, for she knew what London fogs could be like, but as she hurried past a pub, already crowded and noisy despite the early hour, she heard her name called and instinctively she stopped, allowing Dennis to leap out and take her arm before she could pull her wits together and disappear into the growing darkness.

“You going home?” he asked her companionably. “I’ll walk you, if you like. Here, share my umbrella.”

“I don’t need your…” she began, but he had that cheerfully oblivious look on his face that told her he was not listening, and his arm was quite determinedly linked with hers, pulling her to his side under the umbrella, so she submitted to it and let him walk her along the road while he kept up a ceaseless chatter about the League, about his work, and about what he imagined her work to be. It was dull stuff, but little of what he said required a response and Susie was accustomed to men talking at, rather than to, her, so was quite capable of letting it wash over her as she tried to think of a way to shake him off before they got to her door.

“Have you had dinner yet?” he interrupted her thoughts, and changed their direction. “I know a nice place, jolly nice place just round the corner here, we can go if you like…”

“I don’t want to, thanks,” said Susie. “I’ve got dinner at home.”

But he was ignoring her. “It’s really very pleasant, only place you can get a decent chop in this part of town, don’tcherknow, and all that…”

He steered them towards a darkish alleyway, and finally she gave up being polite and began to struggle against him.

“Dennis! No!”

She twisted and managed to free her arm from his, and he swung about and faced her.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, his voice so light that she almost wondered whether his grip on her arm could really have been that firm. “It’s jolly good - and don’t worry, it’s not dear at all. I often eat here.”

“I don’t want to,” she said, firmly, rubbing at her wrist.

“But why not?” His chivalry had not, she observed, brought him back to shelter her under his umbrella again; he stood at a distance, trying to look more puzzled than annoyed and fooling nobody but himself.

Since she could not very well say to his face that he made her skin crawl, Susie settled for, “I don’t like it.”

Dennis looked at the entrance to the narrow passage, then back at Susie, and then his frown cleared as he decided he understood what was troubling her.

“Oh, Susie,” he said. “I know they’re ghastly things, on the whole, but this one’s perfectly safe. It only leads through to the next street, and I’ll be with you to fight off any marauding lowlifes, you know.”

Susie almost laughed in his face, but held herself back.

“I’m not afraid of a chare, ya prat,” she snapped instead, leaning a little more heavily on her Gateshead accent in defiance of his supercilious manner. “I told ya I’d have ma tea in ma own yem, thanks a’ the same.”

Dennis looked perplexed, and she realised that probably half of her speech had passed him by. Taking advantage of his confusion, she moved to step past him, but he put out an arm to stop her. She shied away and avoided being grasped, and then a figure had stepped between her and Dennis and a deep voice said, “She said no, mate, and I think she means it. Drop it. Or else,” he added, turning suddenly to wink at Susie, “I reckon she’ll bite your balls off.”

Susie hadn’t recognised him until this point, but now that she did she snorted with amusement. Dennis saw nothing humorous, though. He stood there, scowling in the drifting fog, as if trying to make up his mind, but the newcomer was bigger and more solid than he was and so, after directing a final glare at Susie, he muttered, “Well, I suppose I’ll see you on Tuesday then,” and slouched off back towards the pub.

The big man turned now and nodded at her.

“Evening, Susie Smith.”

“Bill Riley!” Susie was relieved enough to throw her arms around him, who seemed surprised but pleased with this response.

“Well, here’s a turn up,” he said. “We friends now, then?”

Susie let him go with a guilty feeling. Ever since the night just before Christmas, when he had turned up unannounced in the Women’s Centre, she had kept Bill Riley at something of a distance at their Tuesday evening meetings - mostly out of deference to Henrietta, who clearly didn’t like him - and had twice refused an offer of the pictures and once of the music hall. Seeing him now, however, with the relief of being helped out of a sticky situation blowing away all of the tension in her nerves, she felt rather differently towards him, and gave him one of her broadest smiles.

“Were we ever not, Bill?” she said sweetly, and he grinned back and offered her his arm.

“Since I’ve sent that rat packing,” he said, “I think I’ve earned the right to take you to dinner myself.”

Susie hesitated, but he had spoken politely enough and she felt certain that he would not try to remonstrate if she said no, so she shook off her doubts and accepted his arm.

“I think you have,” she said, with a smile, and they strolled off jauntily together into the fog.

Chapter 19, Part I by Finn

Life with Timms was decidedly gentle. There were hot water and hot meals, a library full of interesting books, a gramophone and all the latest good recordings and, which should have been the most exciting of all, not a mere pianoforte (he should have known no ordinary Steinway or Bechstein could have been flashy enough for Timms) but an eighteenth century fortepiano with janissary stop, bought, so said Timms, on a whim, and on which he had already serenaded Tristan with a flashy but secure performance of the Rondo alla turca.

And yet…

…he drifted from room to room, unable to settle to any one thing. The food was good but he ate only for its own sake, with no real interest in the quality of what he was eating. The books were none of them at the right level - the kinds that had once interested him were now too difficult to understand, and yet the novels and lighter books either irritated him or simply failed to hold his attention. As for music…oh, how he wished he could sit happily and listen as once he had, for Timms had all his old favourites and several new recordings besides, but he found that, just as with the books he left lying about all through the library, his concentration was simply not equal to the task of listening, and interpreting, and appreciating. He found it impossible to articulate, but the loss of such a significant part of his identity distressed him almost more than the terrible hallucinations had, so it was no wonder that he roamed the flat, getting continually in Jesson’s way, and unable to settle in one place for long.

He was still seeing Dr Bincoe twice a week, though he had had no further hallucinations since he had gone into the hospital and had spent a couple of days under heavy sedation, waking only twice in his first two days there. Now that Timms, rather than the hospital, was hosting him, he attended the doctor in Harley Street and these sessions were, unless Timms were not too busy and feeling particularly determined, the only times at which he left the house. His lack of enthusiasm for going out frustrated poor ‘Loony’, who was attempting a new kind of treatment with him, a combination of talk and exercise. As the doctor pointed out, Tristan was not doing very well at either.

“I do not care for going out,” the patient had mumbled. “People stare at me.”

“Of course they do, with that beard,” said the ruthless doctor. “Why don’t you go to a barber’s and have it sorted out? I’ve at least three I can recommend to you.”

“Nobody shaves me but me,” retorted his recalcitrant patient and Dr Bincoe, recognising when Tristan Denny was not going to be moved, dropped the subject for the time being.

But though the question of shaving was in abeyance, the topic of exercise was still open and the good doctor was clearly not above involving others in his schemes for his patients. One day, a week or so after the above conversation had taken place and just as he was about to leave ‘Loony’s’ practice for home, Tristan found himself being accosted in the waiting room by Jean Maddox.

“Ah, there you are,” she said.

“Jean,” he said, not very sure why she might have been waiting for him, “I…”

“Now, I have an idea for something that might help,” she said, tucking an arm into his and ignoring his attempts at protest as she towed him through the door and out into the street. “And don’t worry - Dr Bincoe’s all in favour.” She raised a hand towards a passing cab and bundled him unceremoniously inside.

“Jean,” he said, limply, leaning out to speak to her, “where are we going?”

“You’ll see,” she said, and gave the cabbie an address in St John’s Wood.

They got out at a house in the middle of a well-to-do terraced row and Jean knocked at the door. She was obviously known hereabouts for she was welcomed as an old friend, and Tristan found himself shaking awkward hands with several people before being ushered, to his surprise, into the kitchen. He realised why almost immediately, however, for in front of the range lay a large boxer dog in a basket and, crawling over her in blind and mewling petition were…

“Oh!”

He could not help himself exclaiming in delight over the puppies, none of which were even the size of his hand yet. Taking care to keep his distance from the wary mother, he knelt down beside the basket for a closer look.

“Goodness, Elsie, there are so many of them!” said Jean, crouching down as well.

“Too many,” said the lady addressed as Elsie, who was standing just inside the doorway. “That’s why I was asking if you knew anybody who might want to take one, Jean, especially given they won’t have the pedigree. Beena may be a purebred boxer,” she said, addressing Tristan, “but I’m afraid the babies are the result of an…unplanned breeding - so if you were looking for purebred…”

“Oh, no,” said Jean. “He’s not looking for anything like that, are you, Tristan?”

He smiled - almost laughed, in fact.

“I was not aware that I was looking for anything at all,” he said quietly to her. “So this is your idea? A dog?”

“Puppies need training, love and they especially need exercise,” said Jean. “Just the thing for you, wouldn’t you say? Well, Dr Bincoe does, and I agree with him. You have all the expanse of Green Park to explore - all you need is someone, or something, to force you out to indulge in it!”

He hesitated, but looked back at the puppies.

“I shall have to ask Timms,” he said, though his protests were growing weaker by the moment. “It is his flat, after all.”

“You’ve plenty of time,” said Jean. “They’re far too young to go yet.”

“Absolutely they are,” put in Elsie. “They’re only just two weeks old - it’ll be another month and a half at least before I can think about separating them from Beena. But I can put your name down if you’re interested, Mr Denny, and when they’re a little older you can come back and choose which you think you’d like best?”

“I think that’s a very good idea,” said Jean, looking at him with a veiled triumph in her eyes, and he restrained himself from rolling his own - principally because he privately agreed with her - and he handed over his card without hesitation.

Chapter 19, Part II by Finn
Author's Notes:

Thank you for the comments!

Tristan escorted Jean back to her lodgings, mostly in silence. She was staring out of the window, quietly humming something by Mozart; he was busy contemplating the lengths the world seemed to want to go to remind him that he was loved - cherished, even. It should have been a happy thought, but at that moment it only troubled him.

“Look,” said Jean, and pointed.

He looked. They had pulled up outside an unprepossessing church near to Hanover Square, and Jean was pointing at an advertising handbill pasted on a board outside.

“Handel’s Ode for Saint Cecilia’s Day, at half past seven, a week next Friday. Chorus and musicians drawn from among the students of the…oh!” as the cab moved off into the traffic and the church disappeared out of sight. “Can’t remember if it was the Royal Academy or the Royal College of Music.”

“It will be the Royal Academy,” said Tristan, and he could not keep the note of disdain in his voice. “They are but a few steps away from here, while the College is in South Kensington.”

Jean smiled at him. “Tribal affiliations,” she said, and nudged him and he smiled and, to their mutual astonishment, nudged her back. He cleared his throat immediately and sat up straight.

“Who are the soloists?” he said hurriedly, to cover his discomfort.

“I can only remember the soprano - Harriet Armstrong, I think it said.”

“Oh!” Tristan sat up, embarrassment forgotten. “I know her! That is, not well, but she fond of my work, and is a regular performer of…of my songs,” he said, suddenly bashful. Jean and he had never discussed his compositions and he had suddenly realised his remarks could be taken as boastful.

All Jean said, however, was, “She must be a woman of taste, then,” and looked back in the direction of the church, while Tristan tried to decide whether her casual dismissal of his music was how he had wanted, or an affront to his skill and talent.

He had not concluded these deliberations by the time she had turned back and said, “I haven’t heard the Ode for St. Cecilia before.”

“It is enjoyable, as is all Handel,” he said. “What I should really like is to hear Purcell’s take on the same work.”

She was looking at him sideways, he noticed, apparently not interested in questions of Purcell versus Handel.

“It would do you good to get out and see some music performed, wouldn’t it?”

It wasn’t a question, so he murmured, “Oh, undoubtedly, I should imagine so.”

She left a pause, then said, “It’ll be my day off, a week on Friday.”

“Mm,” he said, still thinking of Purcell.

“Tristan,” said Jean, “are you listening to me?”

“Of course,” he said, snapping back to the present. “It is your day off a week on Friday, and you think I should see more music.”

Jean leaned back in her seat, her eyes raised to the roof of the taxi.

“I think you should go to the Ode to St. Cecilia,” she corrected, “even if it is performed by students of the Royal Academy. And I think some company while you listen might make the experience…more enjoyable. And it is my day off that day…”

Tristan turned to face her fully, startled into attention.

“Jean!” he exclaimed. “Are you asking me to ask you out to a concert?”

“It seems to be the only way it’ll ever happen!” laughed Jean, but rather than joining in, Tristan sat back and frowned. “What? What is it?”

“Oh…” He waved an expressive hand. “History. You and I…”

Jean relaxed and smiled again.

“One concert does not a romantic entanglement make,” she said, and laughed to see him blush. “Besides, it’ll be nice.” She laid a hand upon his arm and smiled at him, more gently this time. “It’s been a long time since we went to a concert together. Old times, but the happier ones. You know.”

He did know, and finally he smiled and surprised himself again by putting his hand over Jean’s. But after a moment it stopped feeling strange, and he felt quite pleased that she let it stay there till the end of the journey.

Chapter 20, Part I by Finn
Author's Notes:

Many thanks for the comments!

 

“You’re still not happy,” said Timms.

Tristan looked up from the magazine he had been half-heartedly leafing through. Timms, back from his day in the City, was stretched out in his armchair, shirt collar open, shoe-less feet on a footstool up to the fire. Tristan had been slumped over the arm of the sofa, head on arms, the latest copy of Gramophone spread out on the table beside him but, realising that his posture did indeed have a somewhat melancholy air, he sat up and tried to look cheerful.

“You don’t fool me,” said Timms, and laughed as Tristan rolled his eyes and slumped back down again. “You’ve been like this since I got in. I thought the idea of a dog and a concert with a young lady had cheered you up!”

“It has…though I will confess, I am concerned that a young dog about the place will not improve my standing with Jesson. And you know well enough that going to a concert with Jean is not that sort of an excursion. But…”

“But what? Come on - tell your Uncle Timms.”

“Oh…it is nothing. I meant to say nothing at all.”

“Liar,” said Timms, and smiled. “Let’s see - it was your appointment with Dr Bincoe today, wasn’t it? That tends to leave you out of sorts - although not usually this much.”

“He said…” Tristan had started before he could stop himself and he scowled, for Timms always managed to induce confessions from him - had done since they were boys. He sighed and frowned more deeply at Timms’s encouraging gesture. “It is not so much what he said…it is…it’s…oh, I have no desire to talk about it!” he finished in a rush, his cheeks flushing a humiliated red.

“To make you go that shade at a mere memory,” Timms remarked, “it’s either sex or something to do with your mother.”

“Timms!”

“Or both,” added Timms and, as his friend rose in angry dignity, laughed and threw a cushion at him, which Tristan caught and hurled back with some force. Timms disappeared behind it, laughing. “I see you’ve not lost your aim,” he cried. “Bowled, I do declare! Howzat, and so on. Go on, sit down and tell me, and stop looking like a wet blanket. Who else can you tell, if not me? I am, after all, something of an expert on deviance - especially of the sexual kind.”

Tristan hesitated for a moment or two, then resumed his seat with a reluctant awareness that, however annoying Timms could be at times, he was depressingly sharp when it came to divining problems and distinctly unlikely to let this one go.

“You are correct,” he said. “It was sex. He wanted to know everything. I was forced to relive all manner of experiences…things I should rather forget.”

“You want to forget sex?” Timms gave a snort. “You can’t have had much luck. Have you told Jean? Perhaps she ought to…”

“Listen, you…you…!” He was back on his feet, truly angry now. “Not everyone has your…your skill, your prowess, your…unbearable overconfidence. We do not all seek the same…impermanence of relations as you. Some of us give our hearts before we give our bodies. And…and besides,” he spat down at Timms, whose face had lost all of its insouciance, “when was the last time you had to break off halfway…because you…you saw the dead body of…of…”

He broke off and Timms was pushing him down into the sofa, muttering phrases of comfort, pouring a glass of something strong and pushing it into his hand and crouching down in front of him, his face, for once, completely serious.

“Whose body?” he said, and Tristan took a gulp of the brandy to take away the taste of blood and death that rose in his throat.

“Eva…she was a…she was French - Paris - she saw to us, we officers…”

“I understand. What happened to her?”

“Don’t know…I remember her being carried out…her hand falling down from under the blanket…her dead face and the blood…the blood, all up the wall…”

He gulped and Timms, concerned by the way in which the colour had drained from his friend’s face, leaned away a little in fear that he might be sick - but Tristan simply gulped a second time, swallowed hard, then crumpled and covered his face with his hands, and a moment later he was crying - not just crying, but howling, sobs rattling up from deep within him and shaking his entire frame with long-repressed grief.

Uncomfortable though it made him, Timms wisely chose to put two strong arms around his friend and let him cry, and cry he did, ignorant of any feelings of shame or weakness, because Timms was his friend and there could be no shame between them…he did not notice Jesson enter and then discreetly withdraw, but at length he felt Timms shaking him slightly and heard him saying quietly,

“Easy, old man. Come on, steady down now. Think of the old school tie. What would old Maudsley say if he could see you like this?”

Tristan mumbled something in which the only audible words were, “Maudie can piss off,” followed shortly by, “bloody wreck,” and Timms topped up his glass and persuaded him to drink, and the bite of the alcohol made him catch his breath through the sobbing.

“That’s better,” said Timms, on his haunches in front of the sofa, and Tristan looked down to see him proffering a clean and very expensive linen handkerchief. He looked at it askance, but took it anyway, and Timms made good his escape - not too far, though, for he drew up a chair to the sofa and sat with his elbows on his knees, looking for all the world like Dr Bincoe in one of his more Freudian moments. Tristan took another gulp of brandy, wiped his eyes again, and decided to tell Timms everything.

“What Dr Bincoe said…all this talk of my failures - it has brought to mind something. Something a patient at the hospital said…it’s…it troubles me…”

“Go on?”

“He said…he said that neurasthenia is brought on by…by repressed homosexuality.”

His hands started to shake; he gripped them together with the handkerchief wrapped around them. Timms was staring at him, and then he leaned back in his chair and let out a breath of pure astonishment.

“Good God!”

“But why should it not be?” Tristan demanded. “It could be - it could so easily be the reason I have been so…so unsuccessful! But I…I cannot tell - is the cause of all of this - all of it - the fact that I have not seen myself for what I truly am?”

“And this is what’s been eating at you?” Timms was frowning, though not entirely serious. “After all you’ve been telling me, this girlfriend of yours in Paris, taking your old flame Jean out for dinner and music - and someone else more recently, or you’d not be talking about all these “failures” - girls girls girls, and now you spring this on me? Denny, old man, don’t you think if you were homosexual that I’d have noticed? I do have specialist knowledge of this area, after all.”

Tristan looked down.

“You do not know everything.”

“I know more than you do!”

“Do you? How many repressed men have you met? Not many, I should imagine, at your usual…haunts.”

“You’re wrong there,” said Timms. “Quite a number of the men I come across are repressed to some degree - but if you don’t want to take my word for it, tell me - have you ever felt anything for a man? I mean anything physical, of course.”

“I…do not recall…”

“Never met a boy so heart-stoppingly beautiful you couldn’t remember your own name or what you were supposed to be doing, only stand and stare and try not to look a complete haddock?”

“No, but…”

“Well, then! How can you be?”

“But Timms,” Tristan wailed, “he said “repressed”! How could I feel such things if I were hiding the truth from myself?”

Timms cocked his head to one side.

“How do you feel about homosexuals?” he asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Does the thought of men like me fill you with a visceral loathing?”

“No! No, of course not. How could it? We are all children of the same Father, are we not?”

“You’ve never felt violent urges towards overtly effeminate men?”

“No!”

“Never wanted to punch me in the face?”

“Well, it has occurred…”

“Never had an unfortunate reaction when pressed up against some dishy young chap on the Tube?”

“Timms!”

“You’re not homosexual, old thing,” said Timms, leaning over with great daring and clapping Tristan’s shoulder, “though Lord knows, you should be if there were any justice in this world. I know at least a dozen men who’d go weak at the knees for you. But,” he said, holding up a finger to silence Tristan’s splutter of protest, “if you like, we’ll make one final test. I happen to have someone on the go just now - lovely lad, butch and blond and bloody luscious. Honestly, Denny, he’s even conquered Jesson, so if there’s even the slightest hint of the omi polone about you, he’ll soon find it out. I’ve not had him over since you arrived, but what say I invite him round at the weekend and you can meet him, and we will go out and paint the town and…see what happens?”

“I…I don’t know.”

“Oh come on, Denny. It’ll settle your mind to know one way or another - not that there is anything so very terrible about being homosexual, of course…”

“No! No, of course not…it is but that…”

“It just takes some getting used to.” Timms nodded in sympathy. “Believe me, I do understand - but I don’t think it’s something that will be causing you conniptions for long. Oh, I know you don’t quite believe me yet,” he said, waving a hand as Tristan began to argue again, “but you will - once I’m through with you.”

He said the last few words in an undertone as he turned to go and negotiate a late dinner with Jesson, but it was probably a good thing that Tristan never heard them, or he’d have been even more apprehensive for the morrow…

 

Chapter 20, Part II by Finn

Tristan was growing steadily more tense as the day wore to a close. Timms had come home slightly early and was freshening up in the bathroom - Tristan could hear snatches of popular song with interruptions of silence, which indicated that his friend was shaving. He had made no such effort, for he was growing ever more stubborn about his beard and refusing to do anything about it was becoming a matter of pride. No, he was simply sitting half-dressed in a borrowed suit, staring gloomily at his reflection in the mirror.

What did a homosexual look like? He knew several, of course - you couldn’t avoid it even if you wanted to, not in the world of music. He’d had a kiss with another boy himself, back in the fourth form, though he’d really only done that because the other boy had offered him a pocket’s worth of sweets for the favour - and anyway, that was school, and school couldn’t count or half the world would be at it with their fellow men. There was something different about true homosexuality, something he couldn’t identify, but the not-knowing was driving him wild. He was beginning to realise that he didn’t mind either way, if only he could be sure which

If there were such a thing as a “which”, of course. He found himself reflecting, somewhat unwillingly, on Susie and her attitude to affairs of the…well, heart was the wrong word. Bedroom. Perhaps it wasn’t a question of him or her, but of whomever one chose. Perhaps life, and love, and sex, were all far more complicated than he had thought they were.

The bell made him jump and he got to his feet, deeply unwilling to go through to the library but knowing that he had no choice. He heard voices, Timms’s light tenor being answered by a voice slightly lower, slightly rougher - it sounded oddly reassuring - and then the sounds were muffled as the library door closed behind them. Timms would be excusing his absence - “He’ll be along in just a moment,” as his visitor sat down - or would he remain standing, back to the fire, waiting…? Jesson would be pouring drinks - they were all in there, waiting for him…

He shrugged on his jacket, straightened his shoulders, and then he left the room and walked slowly, so slowly to the library. The voices were audible again, the visitor’s voice rising in a laugh, and it sounded almost familiar, and then Tristan opened the door and the long, blond-haired man who had been leaning back into the sofa rose to his feet and turned to him with an expression falling rapidly from welcoming to sheer, cold horror.

“Bugger me,” he said.

“We are indeed here to find out if that’s a possibility,” said Timms in cheerful oblivion, until he saw the shock in Tristan’s expression as he gasped and stared as though hoping this were nothing but a dream, and eventually choked out the word,

“Matty?!”

Chapter 20, Part III by Finn
Author's Notes:

Thank you for the comments. Sorry to have been so slow with this update - weirdly, it's been really, really hard to get it right and I am enormously relieved to have finally completed it. (Goodness knows why it was so stressful!)
I'm not happy with it but it'll do![

“And how did you find that?” asked Timms as the taxi pulled away from Little Denmark Street, and Tristan shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

“Interesting,” he offered, and glanced across to see how Timms would take this. His friend was giving him a tolerant look which barely concealed his amusement, and Tristan shrugged faintly. “I was not…that is, it did not…”

“You hated it.”

“Not entirely.”

“Told you you weren’t queer.”

“It wasn’t that - it was…”

What could he say? That the sight of men dancing together, caressing each other in ways that would have shocked him had it been with a woman, let alone another man, men wearing lipstick and rouge and beads, all these men had made him wince, that even he, who should have understood these men - even he, who professed to love all who loved, no matter whom they loved, had found the whole thing…he hated even to think of an appropriate adjective, but he had not liked it; and now he hated himself for it, for being so helplessly repelled and, by extension, his rejection of his dearest friend’s lifestyle…no, he could not say it; but his face could say it for him, and Timms was a good reader of faces.

“Don’t worry,” his friend said. “It’s an acquired taste - and not liking it doesn’t make you a bad person, you know.”

Tristan nodded, hoping that Timms was right.

“It doesn’t,” Timms urged. “I never pretended it was normal, Denny, but even taking that into account, I suppose it’s not a place for the prudish. You’re bound to be shocked at first. Even Matty was, poor darling - well, not so much by the club as by…”

“I…!” Tristan held up a hand, and Timms ceased obligingly. “I have no desire to…”

“‘Course you don’t. Forget I started that sentence.”

“Thank you.”

“Though it was better than the one we’d have been serving if we’d been caught tonight.”

“Timms!”

“Sorry, sorry!”

“Incidentally,” said Timms, after a long silence, during which they had turned onto Shaftesbury Avenue, all glittering theatre lights and threatening alleyways, “what was all that between you and Matty? You’ve met before, I can see that, but you were so dreadfully offish with each other tonight. What’s the story, old man?”

“It is nothing,”

“Rot. You’re always tense, but he’s not, and the pair of you barely exchanged a word all evening. I know what rats smell like, Denny, and this one stinks.”

Tristan remained mute, and Timms sighed. He had hoped Tristan would be honest with him, but he was determined to have an answer. Earlier that evening a young man had come to sit with them and had attempted, without great success, to engage Tristan Denny in conversation, and after watching the performance for a few minutes Timms had leaned across to Matty and cheerfully whispered, “See? I told you so - definitely not!”

He had intended it as a joke, but Matty’s reaction had startled him, for the young man’s face, already pale and guarded, had hardened completely, brittle as cold glass. Timms had seen him like this before, when they had first met, but since Matty had loosened up so much since they had come together, growing ever more willing to forgive himself for that sin which he could not help, it was a shock to his boyfriend to see this strange regression. However, as Timms’s father would sometimes grudgingly admit, his youngest son, if nothing else, was damnably shrewd and, not for the first time, Timms the younger had put two and two together and come up with a pretty astute four.

“Shall I tell you what I think?” he said now to his old friend. “You and Matty met, he fell for you, then what - he made a move? Or,” judging my Tristan’s horrified face, “perhaps it didn’t progress that far. I’m close, though, aren’t I?”

“Nothing like,” said Tristan, but his voice revealed how shaken he was by Timms’s assessment of the situation. He shook his head vigorously, then came clean. “Matty is the brother of…she was my fiancée,” he said, unwillingly. “Now I suppose she is another old flame.”

“I see.” Timms remained unconvinced. Perhaps anger on his sister’s behalf might provoke such a reaction in Matty, but to his mind the strained atmosphere they had endured all evening sprang from a more painful cause than that. Timms himself had three sisters and he adored them all, unconditionally, but he wouldn’t have sat like an ice statue in the company of the man who had done away with their honour. He’d either have called him out, or else - and this, thought Timms, was much more likely, for he was under no illusions about his own personal valour - he’d have got his revenge in some subtle but exceedingly painful manner, such as taking out a half-page advertisement in the Times announcing that “Tristan Francis Denny is a bounder, a cad, a deflowerer of virgins and, furthermore, cried every night for three weeks each time he went back to school,” or something of that kind. And Matty was far more hot tempered than Timms. He would have started a fight, or at least a slanging match, if he thought his sister had been discredited by Denny - entertaining (and baffling) though the notion was. Timms shook his head. He needed more information if he were to refine his judgement.

“Who broke it off?” he asked. “You, or her?”

“I did,” said Denny. “I realised - belatedly - that I was…unfit.”

“The sex thing?”

Denny said nothing, but the terse jerk of his head told Timms that he had hit yet another target.

“Bad breakup, was it?”

“Quite bad, yes. I have not seen her since.”

“Ah.”

Timms leaned back as the cab bowled up Piccadilly towards the Green Park end. He had more information, but no definitive answers. He would have to do some more gentle probing later, of both Denny and Matty. Well, perhaps some slightly less gentle probing of Matty - Timms could think of various methods he could use to get that young man to open his mouth, though he would have to remember to ask for the information before…Timms sat back in the cab and chuckled silently to himself.

Tristan was also thinking, about Susie, where she was, whether Matty knew, and why he himself had not asked him while he had had the opportunity. If only he had seized this chance - but he was never quick enough, he was always hampered by his stupid awkwardness. And who knew if Matty would return again, now that he knew that Timms had brought him to live in Piccadilly? His coldness tonight - Timms’s ideas! And yet, if he had really wanted to know where Susie was, surely he would have asked - he would not have let any little frostiness hold him back, not if he truly loved her. Perhaps this was a sign that he didn’t actually want to know where she was at all.

The cab pulled up and Timms murmured, “Home,” and for a moment it really felt as if it were home. He allowed the feeling for a moment, but as he went through into the hall he had a sudden inspiration and, ignoring Timms’s offer of a nightcap in the library, he ran into his bedroom and opened the drawer wherein he kept Susie’s Christmas card. He wasn’t even sure if he had kept the envelope or not - but yes, here it was, and it was just possible to read the postmark. He murmured it aloud as he strained to read:

“Whitechapel Parcel Office.”

He stood for a minute, holding the envelope in both hands, his heart beating a veritable tattoo of exultation. She was here - she was in London. She might even be in Whitechapel, unless she had just been passing through - but nonetheless, she was close, so very close. She was alive - she was safe - she was here - and he knew where she was.

Now he had only to decide what to do about it.

Chapter 21, Part 1 by Finn
Author's Notes:

Sorry for the long wait

On the Friday night a week after Tristan’s debut in the nightclub, Susie was dashing about the flat she shared with Henrietta, trying to get ready to go out in good time. Bill was coming over to take her out – in fact, they had gone about together a good deal recently. Their dinner the evening that he had rescued her from Dennis’s over-attentions had been such a success that she had not felt inclined to refuse him when he asked her out a second time, and by the third time, she had started to think that Henrietta was entirely wrong about him. In spite of her friend’s charm and open-mindedness, she was not of the same class as Susie and Bill, and Susie had come to the conclusion that she simply did not understand him, and could not appreciate him as Susie could.

Besides, thought Susie, why shouldn't I have a bit of fun? After all she had been through in the last year, coming so close to happiness and losing it all so dramatically, occasionally being taken on a night out seemed a very small pleasure, and she did enjoy the company of a good-looking young man. That was why she had not discouraged him, which was beginning to cause her one or two qualms, for she currently had no intention of let it go beyond dinner and dancing or the pictures, and she did not want to lead him on; and yet, when at the end of another evening’s fun Bill would smile at her and say, "Same time next week?” she would always completely fail to turn him down.

She twitched her frock into better order in the mirror, then turned to Henrietta.

"How do I look?" she asked.

Henrietta looked up slowly and without much animation.

"Very nice," she said in a voice lacking in any expression. "Is this for Bill?"

"It's for me, really,” said Susie defiantly, but she hesitated at Henrietta’s cool remark. “You don't think it's a bit – much?"

“Probably not," said Henrietta after a short pause, then made an impatient gesture. “Oh, don't ask me. I don't know anything about men and dresses and the like.”

Susie gave her a curious glance it's as she's adjusted her sash. Henrietta so resented Bill, and yet Susie could not see why Bill should have so offended the sensible young woman. It wasn’t as if he was anything other than perfectly polite to either of them, and he seemed clean-living enough, with just enough spice to keep Susie amused. No, there was nothing wrong with him.

A slow thought, warm like ginger, blossomed in her mind. Could it be that Henrietta was off with her for more reason then plain dislike of Bill?

“She can't be,” she thought. “She can't possibly be interested in me! She couldn’t be…jealous?”

At that moment the doorbell sounded, and Susie started like a rabbit and darted to answer it. It was Bill, a bunch of flowers in his hand and smile under his moustache.

"Bill," said Susie, taking the flowers with a slightly uncomfortable feeling, "you shouldn't have."

"I can buy a lass flowers if I like," he said as she took them, and stepped over the threshold. Henrietta glanced up from her book again and gave him at the usual disapproving glance.

"Henry," he said, and she sniffed, nodded briefly at and turned back to her book. Susie glanced between the two of them, then disappeared to find a glass for her flowers, leaving Bill waiting in the frosty silence until she reappeared.

"Where would you like to go tonight?" he asked her. “There's a new picture at the odeon, or there's always…?”

Susie, arranging her flowers, stopped and put them down apologetically.

“Actually, Bill," she said, "I wonder if…?”

"Go on," he said, as she hesitated.

“You see," she said, “it's just that I was on the bus home the other night and went past a church, and it had a poster outside. You see, it’s Handel, and I do like a bit of choral music and I haven’t heard any for so long. I don't suppose…?”

"Choir music?" Inwardly Bill winced, for the last thing he fancied tonight was to take his girl to a concert of serious music. But she looked at him so earnestly and he did love her eyes, so wide and blue and pretty, that he couldn't resist her. Anyway, Henrietta was there, undoubtedly disapproving his taste, so he shrugged and said, “Oh, alright - if that's what you want, miss!”

“Oh, thank you!" Susie clapped her hands with glee. “I’ll go and get my coat."

“Hi, Susie!" called Bill, as she dashed back into her bedroom. "It isn't all – all formal-like, is it? Only I haven't anything better than this."

“Don’t be daft!" said Susie, shrugging on her thin coat. “It's not the opera. You can dress as you like at one of these things.”

“You’ve done it before, then?” said Bill as he held the door for her.

“Once or twice,” she admitted, hesitant again. “I…like music.”

“I’ve always wondered why you have to dress up just to hear it,” said Bill. “I mean, it's not as if all those blokes that wrote it are going to care now, is it?"

“No!” laughed Susie. “Although some of them might, I suppose. There's plenty of living composers, you know."

She felt a momentary pang at that thought, but shook it off and took Bill’s arm. "Where are we going to eat, them?" she asked, as they set off into the fog.

Chapter 21, Part 2 by Finn
Author's Notes:

Thank you for the reassuring comments!

They arrived at the church in good time and took seats in the side aisle, those with limited view being the cheapest.

 

“Not that it matters," said Susie, settling into the hard pew. "We're here to listen, not look.” 

 

"I don't like churches," said Bill, who was staring around him with an expression of distaste. The church was clearly influenced by the Oxford movement, judging by the number of statues and icons about the place and the lingering scent of spices on the air, and Susie looked around her with interest. 

 

"Why don't you like churches?" she asked. “I think it’s rather lovely.”

 

“Just look at it!" said Bill. "Plaster saints and painted Virgins, and all for what? So the priest can line his pockets, hypocritical businessmen get absolution from having too much wealth and treating their workers like dogs, and the poor get nothing but some sort of hope that, after they die, life will get a bit better.” He snorted. “It's like Marx said – religion stops everyone from thinking about what will really make a difference to them. Well, don’t look at me like that. You know I’m an anarchist.”

 

“I know that, but…oh, I don’t know. I know I shouldn’t, but I can’t help liking churches, really, deep down. There’s something so calming about them, don’t you think?”

 

“I do not think,” said Bill. “And I’m surprised at you, Susie - I thought you were a good little anarchist.”

 

“I’m not little! Come to that, I’m not an anarchist, either.”

 

“Religiously you are - you’re a Quaker, aren’t you? Quakers are God’s anarchists, after all. Susie – Susie, what are you doing?" 

 

For Susie had stopped listening. She was seated almost directly behind the pillar which blocked her view of the audience in the nave of the church, but as Bill had been speaking she had spotted someone come in and sit down in the row just out of her eyeline. Now she was leaning practically into Bill’s lap, trying to crane around the pillar to see whether what she thought she had seen was correct. 

 

And yes – it was! He had leaned forward and it was him! Of all the people! Even though he seemed to have grown a beard since she saw him last, still she’d have known him anywhere. She was on her feet, Bill forgotten, about to run around and seize him and hold him close and never let him go – when the blonde lady next to him leaned in and murmured something in his ear and he inclined his head and smiled as she laughed, and his companion laid an affectionate hand on his arm, and then the choir began to file in and Bill was pulling her back into her seat. 

 

“What the hell are you doing, woman?” he hissed. “D’you want to get us thrown out?” 

 

He looked like he thought this would be rather a lark, but Susie turned away from his glee, her eyes heavy with misery. 

 

He was with a woman! She forgot Bill, forgot that she'd insisted on his coming with her; she could think only of the unknown lady who had laid hand so possessively on Tristan's arm. Tristan with another woman? Had he forgotten her so soon? 

 

She could give barely any attention to the concert and, as the final applause died away, she was on her feet as quickly as could be. Bill was at her left elbow, breathing a sigh of relief as he stood up and eased the aches from his back and legs. 

 

“Blimey, I’m glad that’s over,” he said. “No offence, Susie, but I’m not sure I think a lot of your Handel bloke - it all sounded like the same thing over and over again! Susie - hi, Susie!”

 

Susie had heard scarcely a word of what Bill had said; she was easing her way towards the door, trying to get close to Tristan and his woman. The crowd was so thick, though, and the people in her row so slow about standing up and gathering their possessions, that she was still stuck in the side aisle as Tristan and his lady-friend passed by her along the nave.

 

“Well, what did you think of it?”

 

“Most enjoyable. I have not heard young singers of such an endearing quality since - well, since last I was in England. It was a most wise suggestion of yours.”

 

“I’m not sure about wise, but it certainly was very enjoyable indeed - better than I expected, I think. But look here, Tristan, don’t you want to go and congratulate Miss Armstrong? You said she’s a friend of yours.”

 

“I said no such thing. She has performed some of my own works, but I barely know the woman.”

 

“All the same, I’m sure you can get us backstage, as it were. Drop a few names if they don’t recognise yours!”

 

And Tristan laughed, and the two of them turned against the tide of concert-goers and made their way towards the altar. Susie turned on the spot and watched, helplessly, as they drifted away from her, and then Bill caught up with her and took her arm, and she leaned on it and asked wearily to be taken home.

 

 

 

—END OF PART 2—

Chapter 22, Part I by Finn
Author's Notes:

Apologies for the long, long delay between Parts 2 and 3. 

—PART 3—

 

The chance meeting preyed on Susie’s mind for some days after. Indeed, on the Saturday immediately following she was so unhappy that her head began to ache with it, and Henrietta talked of telephoning Mme Beauville to excuse her from work. Susie refused to let her, but by halfway through the day she was beginning to wish that she had not been so resistant, and finally Mme Beauville herself sent her home after lunch, as she was so clearly unfit to be at work. Being at home wasn't much of an improvement, and she drove Henrietta mad by her continual restlessness, and her refusal to explain why. 

She declined to see Bill the following Friday, for she realise now that she had treated him very unfairly indeed. She wanted no sweetheart, for she had one already, a fiancé, in fact - for whatever he might think of it, she still wore the ring he had given her on a chain around her neck, the only thing from her old life she had been unable to part with. Now she knew why and, embarrassed at her behaviour and inclined to gloominess, she kept away from the women’s group on the Tuesday following, sending Henrietta with her excuses. 

This plan backfired somewhat, however, for it brought Bill back to the house with Henrietta, apparently concerned that there was something wrong with her. It took all her powers of persuasion to get rid of him, and she realised that for some time now he had been reading more into their relationship than she had ever intended. As ever, she had no idea how to extricate herself – the old tactics of insouciance and casual flippancy which she had used in her girlhood seemed entirely inappropriate for a woman in her twenties to employ, and yet she had not developed any alternative - she hadn’t thought she’d need one! Oh, how could she have been so foolish, yet again? Every time this happened, she thought she had learned her lesson, and yet…

She got rid of him, though not without a promise that she’d be better for her shift at the Centre on Thursday, and he went away somewhat mollified, while she sat down and tried to think of a way out of things.

"You are a silly nit, Susie," she said aloud, and Henrietta, returning from the door, nodded.

“You certainly are," she said, and Susie smiled weakly. 

"So much for fun," she said, and Henrietta chuckled. 

“Dangerous sort of fun, running round with anarchists," she said." I don't know why you couldn't be satisfied with the sort of fun I can provide." 

She went through to the bathroom and Susie was briefly distracted from her gloomy reflections by the tone of Henrietta’s remark.

"Now, is that an invitation to your everyday sort of fun, or something more?" she said, and found herself smiling just a little, for it felt rather pleasant to be admired by somebody such as Henrietta.

“Not that I shall do anything about it, of course," she told herself firmly. No, that sort of thing was finished – the night at the concert had told her that much – but there was is no harm in a little light daydreaming…

She would have waited until they were next on duty together at the welfare centre to find out more about Henrietta's feelings, but there was no chance of that, for events of a very different nature overtook them and drove all thoughts of flirtations, male or female, from Susie’s mind. It was a Thursday evening, and the days were lightening so that at 6 o'clock it was still fairly bright and a hint of sun gleamed between the buildings to the west. The weather had been extremely clement for the time of year and Susie and Henrietta had gone to Hyde Park after work for a brisk ride. Susie was improving enormously as a horsewoman and had found, very much to her surprise, that she rather enjoyed it. They had got as far as a gallop, so the final few minutes of the excursion had been spent chasing each other, whooping and yelling, and they were both full of fresh air, sunshine and youthful vigour when they came in. Henrietta had gone so far as to pick up a bag of chips from the shop at the corner, and they had just sat down to eat them with some boiled eggs when a furious hammering sounded at their door. 

Susie, her mouth full of egg, looked up at Henrietta in astonishment, then quickly swallowed and said, “I’ll get it." 

She opened the door to find Georgina, one of the girls from their group, leaning on the doorframe and panting for breath.

“Oh, Susie," she gasped as the door opens. “I’ve just run here from the centre. That woman you were interested in, the one with the children, Mrs Henderson…” 

“What about her?" asked Susie. Georgina, scarlet from running, pulled out a handkerchief to mop her brow, and Susie remembered her manners and open the door wider. “Come on in, won’t you? Come in and sit down. I'll get you a glass of water." 

“Oh, you’re eating,” said Georgina as she tottered through the doorway. “I’m so sorry…”

“What's going on?" demanded Henrietta, who had risen from the table, chips abandoned. Upon eyeing Georgina, she waved her to her own chair and went to the kitchen for the water. ”Here you are, Georgie, drink this." 

"I'm all right really," said Georgina, accepting it gratefully. “It's just that I've run all the way here. You see, I know you two were interested in her - Mrs Henderson, that is - even though we've only seen her the once. But this evening, you see, she's turned up again, in an absolutely terrible state. She was shrieking when she wasn’t crying and it took Dennis and me ever such a long time to get anything of sense out of her.” 

"Why?” demanded Susie. “What’s happened?” 

Georgina turned to her, her eyes filled with tears from deep within her compassionate soul. 

“Oh Susie, it's awful," she said. "They've only gone and taken her children away!”

Chapter 22, Part II by Finn
Author's Notes:

I have edited to correct some continuity errors which have been pointed out to me in the comments. Sadly, I haven't gone back through the rest of the drabble as I am very pressed for time, due to that pesky PhD I'm trying to finish, but I shall try to do so at some point.

Just to clarify: Mrs Henderson's first name is Imogen, not Isobel - apparently I have used both, but that was in error.

If I have named the children anywhere other than Chapter 18 (the scene at Mr Able's office) and here, please let me know, as apparently I am having trouble remembering what the non-speaking characters in this very long, over-populated drabble are called - but please let me know gently. Thanks.

When Henrietta and Susie arrived at the centre, Imogen Henderson was sitting in a chair all alone in the middle of the room. She had her head sunk into one gloved hand, but she was not crying as Susie had expected she might; she was more dazed, Susie thought, and her face as she lifted it to them was very white. 


 


“I told you this would happen,” she said. “I said he'd do anything.”


 


“Mrs Henderson,” said Henrietta, coming over and crouching beside the chair, “have you had anything to eat or drink?”


 


Mrs Henderson looked at her as though she were crazy.


 


“To eat?” she demanded, as though utterly dumbfounded by the question. “No, I haven’t.” She shook herself slightly and turned to look more closely at Henrietta. “I’m not here for food,” she said, as though explaining to someone very confused. “He's taken my children.”


 


“I know that,” said Henrietta. “Georgina has told us all about what's happened, but my dear girl, you look done in. Before we talk this through thoroughly, I want you to…”


 


But she got no further, for Mrs Henderson rose to her feet understood, swaying slightly unsteadily. 


 


“You don't understand,” she said in a voice that shock with emotion. “He’s taken my children. I don't care if I never eat again - I need to get them back, before…before…”


 


“All right, all right,” said Susie in her most soothing voice, taking Mrs Henderson by the arm and easing her back into her seat. “Why don't you tell us what happened, Mrs Henderson? We can always see about food afterwards,” she added, turning to glance over her shoulder at Henrietta, who shrugged and nodded acquiescence.


 


Mrs Henderson needed no more persuasion. She gripped Susie’s hand and held it, eyes filled with horrible memories.


 


“They came this morning,” she said. “I don't know how he found me, I'd always taken such care, but he did. It was about 8 o'clock this morning. I've just got the baby settled and was laying the table for William and Marianne, when they came in. Three of them, big rough men, and they had a court order. It said…” Her voice broke and she had to swallow hard. “It said that Conrad, my husband, had been granted full custody by the courts. He'd won the case, you see. I had wanted to divorce him, but he got there first, and they believed him.” Her voice broke again and the tears finally began to well up in her eyes. “They believed him, because he's rich and he knows people, and I'm poor and have no friends at all, and now I have no husband either, and my children…”


 


At this point she gave way completely, and sobbed uncontrollably, clinging to Susie, who held her close, her heart aching with compassion. Henrietta heaved a deep sigh, though whether in sympathy or frustration Susie could not tell.


 


How long she might have wept for, no-one would know, for after only a few moments a high, thin wail began. Susie looked round and saw that the basket in which Mrs Henderson carried her youngest child was on the floor just inside the door. Before she could say anything, however, Mrs Henderson had let go of her and leapt up, wiping her eyes viciously on a balled up handkerchief she was clutching in her fist.


 


“It’s been such a long day,” she choked. “I must…see to her.”  


 


Georgina hurried forward.


 


“Come through to the kitchen, won’t you, Mrs Henderson,” she said, and led the way to the door. Mrs Henderson followed, the baby’s basket clutched in her arms, and Susie sank down into her vacated chair and looked up at Henrietta with an expression of bewilderment.


 


“This gets curiouser and curiouser,” said Henrietta. “I thought when she came in, she was after advice about getting a divorce herself?”


 


“Ah,” said Susie, “I'm slightly ahead of you there. You remember that a couple of weeks ago I went to see Mr Able? Well, he told me that he'd seen a case coming up involving our Mrs Henderson. He said she was being sued for divorce by her husband - he’s called Conrad Henderson and he's some sort of big shot…”


 


“I know Conrad Henderson,” said Henrietta, cutting over her. “Why, the fawning, snivelling, grubby, dirty little sneak! How dare he?”


 


“What do you know about him?” demanded Susie, struck by Henrietta’s sudden venom. “Quick, before she comes back.”


 


“I know he’s about as trustworthy as a snake,” Henrietta said in voice oozing with scorn. “He'll do just about anything for money, but if you cross him…” 


 


She paused thoughtfully, and Susie tried to remember what the lawyer had said about the case.


 


“I take it he’s not the sort of person to take kindly to his wife having an affair?” she asked.


 


“I should think not!” Henrietta snorted. “What, let a mere woman impugn his honour?” She looked at Susie and her eyes widened. “Why, is that what she's done?”


 


“Shh!” exclaimed Susie, flapping her hands, and Henrietta fell silent as Georgina and Mrs Henderson came back in.


 


“Mrs Henderson,” said Henrietta, “do you know where your husband has taken your children?”


 


“Er, um…” Isabel Henderson transferred her infant to one shoulder and fished about in her glove with her free hand. “I have his address here,” she said. “Why - can you…?”


 


“I can't promise anything,” said Henrietta, “but it may be that a mediator can do something for you. You're not friendless, Mrs Henderson,” she added, giving the poor woman one of her rare smiles. “You have me now, and I know people. Lots of people - so don't give up hope just yet.”


 


“And me,” Susie interjected standing up and coming to squeeze Isobel's hand. “I don't know people, but I'll do what I can for you.”


 


“Me too,” said Georgina. “Do you have somewhere to stay, Mrs Henderson? Are you safe where you are now? You can come back with me if you like - the girl I was sharing with has just moved out, so there's plenty of space.”


 


“You're so kind,” said Mrs Henderson. “All of you, so kind. I thought I might get help, somehow or other, but I never expected to meet with kindness. Conrad… was not a kind man.”


 


“Mrs Henderson,” said Georgina, to break an embarrassed pause, “may I ask, why did he not take the baby? Is it because she's still nursing? Does he mean to…to come back for her?”


 


Isobel Henderson looked down at the bundle in her arms and the love in her eyes welled up into tears.


 


“No, he won’t come back for Bernadette,” she said, her voice dropping to a whisper as she added, “You see, he doesn't think she is his child.”

Chapter 22, Part III by Finn
Author's Notes:

Thank you for the kind comments! Sorry to have caused a mess last week.

“It's horrible, isn't it?”


 


They were walking home through a misty London evening and Henrietta, her arm linked tightly with Susie’s, was looking unusually miserable.


 


“Simply ghastly,” she continued, when Susie was silent, and leaned a little on her friend’s shoulder. “When Georgina came to fetch us, I wasn't expecting anything like this.”


 


“Nor was I,” agreed Susie, “even if I did already have an inkling of what might happen.”


 


“Simply ghastly,” said Henrietta again, and fell silent.


 


They reached home without exchanging another word, but as Henrietta was heading towards her bedroom door, she stopped and turned back.


 


“Sorry,” she said, with uncharacteristic quietness. “It's just that I feel so terribly sad. This work can make me feel that way, sometimes, but not usually like this.”


 


She hesitated for a moment, then with an impulsive rush she came forward and threw her arms around Susie’s neck. She clung on for a moment and Susie puts her own arms around Henrietta's thin shoulders in a gesture of comfort, until Henrietta drew away. 


 


“I need to sleep it off, I think,” she said. “I'm going to bed. See you in the morning.”


 


She hesitated, and looked back.


 


“It's such a comfort, having you here with me,” she said, then ducked into her room and closed the door firmly behind her.


 


Susie sat down on the edge of the sofa, her body fizzing with the thrill of that last parting moment. Henrietta, so bold and fearless, turning to her for comfort? It was extraordinary. Not that she intended to try anything…no, nothing of that sort…but it was an unusual feeling, to be needed - wanted, even. In her youth Susie had always been in demand, both for who she was and what she could do, and it gave her a warm feeling to find herself once again, after so much time, the object of someone’s desires.


 


But no, she wasn’t going to try anything with Henrietta. She was lonely, but it wouldn’t be fair to attempt something when her heart really was engaged elsewhere. 


 


Poor Imogen. 


 


She went to stand by the window and looked out onto the street below, but it was dark and quiet. The evening had stirred up troubling memories for her and it didn’t seem right to be sitting warm indoors while others were in such trouble. But if there was one thing she had learned in the past few years, it was that staying up late simply because she was feeling sad and guilty wouldn’t help her or anyone else, so she drew reluctantly away from the window and took herself off to bed, where she found herself praying, for the first time in months: for Imogen and her children, and for herself as well.

Chapter 23, Part I by Finn
Author's Notes:

As this update was "just too short", to quote a friend :D I have decided to treat everyone to an early update! Enjoy

Meanwhile in Piccadilly life continued in its usual secure pattern. Timms went out in the morning and came home in the evening, looking puffed up and important with his work, which he had never described more precisely than, “Just been in the City, old boy,” as if that made everything clear. Sometimes, however, he appeared unexpectedly at the lunch table and then spent the afternoon in the flat, reading, playing chess or backgammon with Tristan, or sometimes just talking to him until the light started to dim and Jesson came in to coax a fire into the grate - though it was getting warm enough to do without one as the spring rolled on. 

There was the odd dinner which he could not avoid, but mostly Timms dined at the flat with Tristan, though occasionally he would invite a friend round to vary the conversation. Tristan had initially found this a trial, but by the end of a month he was growing quite accustomed to the idea and was even beginning to enjoy it, especially when Timms introduced him as, "my friend the composer,” the only form of flattery which could possibly work on Tristan. Matty came round quite often and, after a shaky start, he and Tristan managed to regain some of their former friendliness. Tristan, inclined to self-blame, was under the impression that either his current condition as a mental case or his former treatment of Susie were the cause for the coolness which still sprang up occasionally, but eventually he was satisfied that Matty had no intention of helping his sister in a suit for breach of promise, and he relaxed enough to enjoy the company of his young friend, as he had done formerly.

He spent his own days in quiet contemplation, which was growing less terrifying than it had been. He was beginning to realise that he had kept himself wildly busy over the last ten years partly as a ploy to stop himself thinking about what had happened, and now he had a growing awareness that in his desire to quell any memories of his brother and his time during the war, he had lost something infinitely more tender, his ability to stop and simply experience the world around him - and what a profound effect this gradual shallowing of character had had on his music. He spent a lot of time, now, trying to regain his sense of wonder, his appreciation for the more poetic things in life, and to find the depths of character that had led to his previously excellent composition and performance skills. 

It helped that these habits were something Dr Bincoe encouraged in him. Whenever he visited him in Harley Street, at least once a week, they found themselves talking of the myriad sources of beauty in life, in the faces of the people around him, even the birds that congregated on London's blackened rooftops. The doctor had expressed reassurance at his progress several times and Tristan himself was beginning to feel that he was making headway. Though initially he had been convinced that Bincoe's insistence on his reliving all the events of the war must surely have hurt more than it could help, the terrifying nightmares had receded and he had not had a daytime vision since January. The doctor had laughingly put it down to fresh air and exercise, but Tristan knew better and was privately astonished. There clearly was method in the old man's madness after all.

The last Friday in March found him lying on the sofa in Timm’s library, with Jean perched on the arm at the far end, her feet on the cushions just above his own. Jean was another regular visitor to the Piccadilly flat and she brought with her an air of cheerfulness as sweet and intangible as the scent which hung about her clothing. She and Tristan had been to two more concerts since the first, and on the Saturday night just gone they had been joined by Timms and Matty for a celebratory night out, which had involved dinner at the Criterion, a show, and then on to a nightclub with what Matty had declared to be the last word in jazz bands in London. The poor boy had looked somewhat askance at Jean when Tristan had introduced her, but the obvious fact that any intimate relationship she had had with Tristan was long over had made him relax a good deal over dinner, and by the time they reached the club he was even flirting with her himself. 

Tristan, meanwhile, had surprised himself with how much he had enjoyed the jazz. His brain, struggling to retain the sense of his normal sort of music, was finding the deceptive simplicity of this unfamiliar style an interesting challenge, and after one trio had finished for the night he had accosted the pianist, much to Matty’s embarrassment, and had begun a lengthy discussion with him about chord sequences and the harmonies of jazz and blues, which had moved from the dance hall to the bar and ended only after much persuasion from the rest of his party. Still, as Timms had said, at least they’d all had a good night and Jean, despite her urgent efforts to persuade him to leave the poor pianist in peace, had evidently not been put off coming round again!

“You can go and pick your puppy up soon,” she said, and Tristan opened his eyes.

“Has the time really passed so quickly?” he exclaimed. “I believe you are right.”

“You know I’m right!” Jean nudged his foot with her own. 

“Of course. I had forgotten that you always are.”

She kicked him properly this time and he jerked away, then smiled. He enjoyed Jean’s company, even if she did make him reflect on how little his smile had been exercised of late.

“Will you go this weekend?” she asked. “If you arranged it for Sunday, I could come along with you - if you wanted me to, of course.”

“That would have been very pleasant, but…” He paused, wary of offending her. “But I think it would be better if I saved that trip for next week. You see,” in answer to the question in her eyes, “my sister is coming to visit, it being the Easter holiday, and she will be bringing Evelyn with her. I fancy it would be something of a treat for her - for Evelyn, I mean - to go with me to meet our new puppy.”

He needn’t have worried, for Jean was immediately understanding.

“Of course! I’m sure she would love that. How…” There was some hesitation in her voice as she asked, “How old is she?”

“She is eight - nine next Thursday.”

“Oh, that’s a lovely age.”

“Yes.” He sat up in his enthusiasm, finding himself smiling again. “She is an excellent child of her age, too. She is consistently top in mathematics, and when you hear her piano…”

“Yes!” He had told Jean about Evelyn’s musical prowess before. “You must be very proud of her.”

“I am.”

There was a pause, and then Jean remarked, “She must be missing her daddy.”

It had happened once or twice before that someone had mistaken him for Evelyn’s father, and Tristan felt the same jolt, part-joy and part-regret, and he shook his head.

“Sadly, that is not my privilege - much as I wish it were.”

“Oh?” Jean was all attentiveness, now, looking at him in some puzzlement. “I’m sorry - I just assumed…”

“You are by no means the only one,” he reassured her. “But she is not my child, merely my ward. My sister and I act as her temporary guardians while she is in Austria, but her parents are - or, at least, her father is alive and well. She has a stepmother.”

“Oh.” Jean was silent for a moment as she digested this new information. “And they - Evelyn and your sister - are coming when?”

“They should arrive on Monday next,” said Tristan, “and will stay for two weeks. It is not all for my sake - Sarah wishes to prepare for her wedding - it is in the summer, as I believe I mentioned before - but I shall be glad to welcome them, for it has been a long time.” He paused, feeling the wave of excitement rising to choke him, as it had so many times since he had heard from his sister that she proposed this brief visit. “I feel I can barely wait to see them again.”

“It must be utterly thrilling.”

She smiled at him with true feeling and, reassured, he smiled back.

Chapter 23, Part II by Finn
Author's Notes:

Thank you for the comments!

“There he is there he is THERE HE IS!”

The shriek was coming from somewhere behind him, and Tristan had barely time to turn around before a small tousle-haired whirlwind collided with his legs, and then he picked her up and Evelyn was clinging to his neck and squealing, “I MISSED you!”

He had almost forgotten how much he loved her, but as she clung to him, her arms wrapped firmly about his neck, he remembered with full force and he felt like laughing and crying at the same time. 

Glancing about, he finally spotted Sarah standing some distance away with a trolley stacked with their cases, and without putting Evelyn down he hurried over to her and caught her with his free arm, and he saw from the tears which sprang up in her eyes that he must be looking better.

“You’re alive!” she said, and there was a brief attempt at a three-way hug which almost resulted in a broken neck for Tristan. Evelyn tumbled to the floor and clung to his waist, and he put an arm around both of them and kissed his sister’s hair, and wondered whether there were any greater happiness than this. 

Eventually they disentangled themselves and Tristan commandeered a porter, swung Evelyn onto his back and led the way to the front of the station, wondering how many people passing by thought that she was his daughter and hoping that they all did.

Jesson was driving them and Sarah’s face as she beheld the splendid Daimler (little did she know it was just one of several motors!) was a picture.

“This belongs to Timms? Little Timms, that you were at school with?”

“The very same.”

“But I thought he was the third son?”

“That’s been his saving grace, I fancy,” said Tristan, as they settled back into their seats. “His eldest brother was…damaged in the War. He is…er…permanently insane. The second brother runs the estate, and Timms was left to fend for himself - and you have to admit, my dear, he was always very capable of that.”

“I’ll say!” Sarah laughed. “So - where is he putting us up? Somewhere as spectacular as this car?” She saw the expression on his face and her eyes widened. “Tristan! Tell me!”

“I cannot! I am sworn to secrecy.” 

He distracted them with chatter for the short time that it took them to get to Piccadilly and then, as Evelyn twisted round in her seat to get a last view of Piccadilly Circus, Tristan nudged his sister. 

“Keep a look out on the left,” he said, and Sarah did so, but it wasn’t until they pulled up in front of the splendid façade that she really believed it.

“The Ritz?!”

Tristan shrugged. 

“It is on the same street,” he said, “and…”

“No, no…there has to be some mistake,” his sister interrupted, even as the smart commissionaire stepped up to open the door of the car. 

“Good afternoon, ma’am.” 

“Sarah, get out,” said Tristan, nudging his sister, who was sitting and gaping. “You look like a fish. Come along, Evelyn. Let’s get Auntie Sarah inside. I think she may have lost what remained of her senses on the voyage over.”

Chapter 23, Part III by Finn
Author's Notes:

Thank you for the comments!

“I couldn’t believe it!” Sarah said for the third time that afternoon. “I simply couldn’t believe it! I’ve never stayed anywhere like it in all my life!”

“You have said that already,” put in her brother.

“But it’s so astonishing!”

“You have said that, too!”

“Tristan, don’t be awkward,” said Jean, flapping her napkin at him. They were at Timms’s, consuming one of Jesson’s excellent teas, and Jean had now been introduced both to Sarah and to Evelyn. Timms was cheerfully presiding, but Matty, though invited, had cited deadlines, though he had promised to come over on the following evening and take them all out to the latest hit show on the West End.

Sarah gasped suddenly, a hand over her mouth.

“Suppose we see Noel Coward there?!”

“Then you should ask him if he has ever considered working with a young, up-and-coming English composer who happens to be lodging just down the road,” suggested Jean, with a wicked twinkle at Tristan, and he shook his head in embarrassment.

“It’s extraordinary,” said Sarah, “but it’s a welcome relief to be waited on with such attentiveness. What with Evelyn and trains, and me and water, it’s astounding that we managed to get here with our sanity intact! I can’t tell you how glad I am to be here, and that it’s a fortnight before I have to face all of that again.”

“Evelyn looks remarkably unscathed, considering,” Tristan said, watching Timms tease her and noting, with surprise, her less than usually bashful response. “How she has grown in just three months!”

“The good news is that she and Robin are now firm friends,” said Sarah. “Robin is my step-daughter-to-be - she is almost the same age as Evelyn,” she explained to Jean, who nodded. “I worry about what will happen when I’m married and everything has changed, but she seems remarkably sanguine about it.”

Evelyn looked round at this point and smiled up at Tristan with her mouth full of cake. Tristan smiled back and stroked her hair, then gave her a napkin and bade her wipe her hands.

“Come and see,” he said. “My friend Timms here has a very fine instrument which will be new to you, for I doubt you have seen a fortepiano before.

“Is it different from an ordinary piano?” Evelyn asked, slipping out of her chair and taking his hand as they crossed the room to look at it. 

“A little, yes,” he said. “This one is almost 150 years old.”

“150?!” Evelyn’s eyes grew huge. “I didn’t know there were pianos that old. But - but, Uncle Tristan, what do all of these do? I’ve never seen so many pedals on a piano before.”

“Well, these ones do as you would expect them.”

“And the others?”

“Why don’t you press one?”

“Which one?”

“The one on the end there.”

Evelyn looked at him for reassurance of permission, then held firmly onto his hand and with one foot pressed down the pedal. There was a low bang and a rattly tinkle of a bell, and Evelyn leapt backwards, then laughed and looked up at Tristan again.

“It’s called a Janissary stop,” he told her. “It was invented in the time of Mozart to imitate the sound of a Turkish band - but you must ask Timms for a real demonstration of its powers.”

Evelyn turned and went immediately to Timms, who rose from his seat with a pretence at a sigh and came over.

“Very well, very well,” he said, grinning, and sat to play an arrangement of Beethoven’s Turkish March, complete with Janissary sound effects as well as a burring bassoon sound. Then he waved to Tristan, who joined him for a four-hands rendition of Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca, and Evelyn immediately wanted a go herself.

“She’s an utter sweetheart, isn’t she?” said Jean as Tristan resumed his seat, and he could not have agreed more quickly. “Very good at the piano, too. You weren’t exaggerating.”

“I never exaggerate!” he protested, and Jean laughed at him.

“Except when it comes to how much you’re to blame for everything that’s happened,” she said, and Tristan coloured, “though you’ve eased back on that of late. Doesn’t he look a whole lot better than he was when he came here?” she said to Sarah, who nodded vigorously. 

“He certainly is. I saw that the moment I arrived. It is such a relief, my dear, you can have no notion…”

“Enough,” said Tristan, and the women complied with his wishes, though their exchanged glances told of a conversation that would be held privately in the near future.

“Though I have to say, the hair is growing a little wild,” said his sister, tweaking a strand of the dark hair which now fell to well below Tristan’s collar. He twitched it away from her, his expression defensive, and Jean laughed.

“Oh, that’s nothing, my dear,” she said. “Until last Sunday he had the most incredible beard. Honestly, you have seen nothing like it. Karl Marx simply wasn’t in it!”

“A beard?!” Sarah gasped, and laughed aloud. “Now that I should have liked to have seen!”

Tristan cleared his throat pointedly and both women laughed and took the hint.

“We must decide on what we shall do for Evelyn’s birthday,” said Sarah, by way of changing the subject. “We were in Paris last time, and London this. Have you got any ideas, Tristan?”

“I thought we might visit Benjamin Pollock’s,” said Tristan. “It is supposed to be an excellent toy shop, though I have never been. I imagine, however, that it would be best to ask Evelyn herself what she would like to do - at least for the morning. I have plans for the afternoon…”

“Oh?” enquired his sister, but he shook his head as Jean’s eyes began to twinkle. “Jean, do you know anything of this? You do, don’t you?”

“It’ll be a lovely surprise,” said Jean. “Now, come on - let’s see if we can manage a one piano, five hands rendition of that Mozart!”

End Notes:

Here are some links to Janissary stop demonstrations!

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JuhSAbQPk7E

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2OjYKvl5raM

Chapter 23, Part IV by Finn

“Have you had an enjoyable birthday?” Tristan enquired. 

It was the evening, and the sun was going down over Green Park. He and Evelyn were walking the new puppy before Evelyn had to return to the hotel and, as they strolled along, the evening light a welt of crimson ahead of them, Tristan felt more relaxed than he had for months. 

Evelyn had been talking to the puppy, a beautiful little bitch who was more boxer than mongrel and as excitable as Evelyn herself, but she looked up at him now, all sunny smiles.

“Very nice, thank you,” she said, quite properly. “I loved getting Sammy.”

Tristan smiled again at the name. He had asked Evelyn if she wanted to name the new dog, and Evelyn had thought about it for about two seconds before asking, “Can we call her Psammead?” 

“She’s reading E. Nesbit at the moment!” Sarah had laughed, and Tristan had smiled and acquiesced - but it had taken a mere hour or so before the pup had lost her cumbersome name and become plain Sammy.

The puppy romped off again before Evelyn could finish her answer to his question, and she bounded away in pursuit, and Tristan laughed and sat down on a bench to wait for them, reflecting on how much more he had smiled and laughed since they had arrived then in all the months previously. He hoped this new-found humour would not desert him when his family did.

Evelyn was looking very well indeed. He was astonished at how she had grown, and though she was still shy she had lost her crippling embarrassment at drawing attention to herself. She had taken to Timms startlingly quickly and was only too happy to show off her skills on his fortepiano and to receive his compliments in return. For his part, Timms was remarkably good with her, considering he was a man with a profound lack of interest in children; but as he had said to his friend on the first night that they had met, “You don't often get to meet such a rare infant,” which was as hearty a compliment as Timms had ever payed.

Evelyn eventually returned, pulling the reluctant puppy along behind her, and collapsed next to him on the bench with an exaggerated sigh of relief.

“I'm tired out!” she declared. “I can't run any more. For the first time, I think I understand what it's like to be grown-up.”

Tristan urgently wanted to laugh, but he restrained himself and merely smiled as he took Sammy’s lead and murmured, “Alas, it will only get worse!”

He put his arm around her and she leaned into his embrace.

“Is your head better?” she enquired, reaching up to touch his forehead. He let her, and smiled down at her.

“Do you know,” he said, “I think it is. Not perfectly better, but a very great deal better all the same.”

“Oh, good!” she sighed, and wrapped her arm around him again. “Does that mean you can come home with us?”

His arm around her tightened as he struggled to find the right words.

“I think the doctor wants me to stay here for now,” he said as gently as he could manage, but Evelyn tensed and, to his astonishment, drew away from him.

“Why?” she demanded, and there was something strange and unfamiliar - a hint of petulant pout about her mouth! He struggled against his bewilderment and tried his best to explain more fully.

“Because I am not quite well yet,” he said. “The doctor thinks it will be some months yet before my…my head is fully better, and he wishes me to remain here under his regular treatment. You must understand it, my child - it is only like those people up at the Sonnalpe. They also dearly wish to return to their homes, but it is not always possible, is it, to have what we want?”

“But the Sonnalpe people are close,” protested Evelyn. “You’re miles and miles and miles away and…and I thought you were coming home with us.”

“Beloved child,” he said, “I, too, wish that were to happen, but sadly…”

“Why not?” Her face drew into an even more distressed grimace. “Why can’t Dr Jem look after you?”

“He is not the right kind of doctor, my dear,” said Tristan. 

Evelyn had a hand on his arm, her expression anxious and urgent.

“But you can't stay here!” she declared. “You can’t, because we want you.”

“And I want you, my sweetheart,” he said, trying to draw her back to him, but she resisted.

“You’re never coming home again, are you?”

“Of course I am,” he protested, amazed, but she shook her head.

“You HAVE to come home now,” she insisted, “or you’ll miss everything, and Auntie Sarah will get married, and we’ll never live together, and…and…and it's not fair, and I want to go home!”

She almost wailed the last sentence, and she jumped up from the bench and ran off. Tristan gathered the puppy’s lead in his hand and made to hurry after his little girl, but to his relief he saw his sister at the end of the path, come to usher her charge to bed. Evelyn careered into Sarah's arms and was gathered up, crying “He’s not coming home, he’s not coming!” and sobbing wildly. As Tristan came up to them, his sister mouthed, “Tired out,” and bore Evelyn off, leaving him to follow, forlorn, with a suddenly weary Sammy drooping along behind on her lead.

Chapter 23, Part V by Finn

“I have lost her.”

He had not felt so dejected since Christmas. He sat in the library of Timms’s flat, Jean beside him on the sofa and Sarah nearby in an armchair, and cultivated an aspect of profound gloom.

“She thinks I have abandoned you both - that I have ruined everything. And I have! I have made a mess of our final year together, and she is quite right to so accuse me.”

“Now stop being silly,” said Jean, at the same moment as Sarah said, “Oh, that's ridiculous!” The two women looked at each other, and Jean continued. “It’s no more your fault if you had broken your leg, or got cancer, or brain fever or something equally vile. Evelyn is a sweetheart, but she is a growing girl and she misses you - and really, you should take heart from that! She wouldn't strike out at you if she didn't care!”

“She’s disappointed,” said Sarah, “even though I told her that you would not likely come home with us - and she was very tired this evening. It's been an exciting day for her! But Matty’s cheering her up now and she'll be right as rain tomorrow. And if I think about it, it’s actually very healthy. As Jean says, she's behaving like a perfectly normal eight-year-old. Don't you remember when she wouldn't say boo to a goose?”

“Sarah is right,” said Jean. “Children often only do that kind of thing if they feel truly secure. It's all perfectly healthy. Something to celebrate, even!”

Reluctant though he was to stop blaming himself, Tristan had to concede that they had a point. After all, hadn't they always wanted Evelyn to be as normal child as possible? But it did hurt, to be the cause of her misery - and the object of her anger.

“Did you know that Evelyn has nasty dreams herself?” said Sarah to Jean. “I wonder if Tristan’s doctor might be any use to her? For all that she's behaving quite normally at the moment, I know that there's a lot underneath the surface. I don't want that breaking out unexpectedly.”

Jean frowned.

“Dr Bincoe works mainly with former soldiers,” she said, glancing sidelong at Tristan. “I don't know anyone who specialises in children's minds.” She looked at both of them, her expression thoughtful and curious. “Would you tell me about her? I know she's not actually related to either of you, and I'm interested to hear her story.”

Sarah summarised what they knew; the harsh father, the stepmother who had come into her life when she was around two years old, the mother who had died in an accident at a railway station, Evelyn’s consequent fear of trains.

“She had an uncle who was killed in the war,” said Tristan, surprised to have remembered. Jean looked at him with a keen glance.

“What's her surname, please?” she asked. 

“Keane,” said Sarah. “Her father is Gervase Keane. I think he's a noted economist, or something of the sort.”

Jean shook her head.

“Doesn’t ring a bell,” she said. “Leave it with me - I’ll ask around. We might be able to get some help for her, if that’s what you - and she - really want.”

*

After Jean had gone, Sarah and Tristan sat opposite one another beside the dying fire. There was a long silence, but it was companionable in a way that Tristan would not have thought possible six months ago.

“I have been inexcusably vile to you this year,” he said, and Sarah looked around and up at him in surprise.

“What do you mean? You've been ill!”

“I know that, but…if I’d only been stronger…”

She sat up and leaned forward in her armchair, suddenly fierce in attitude.

“Don't waste your time feeling guilty,” she said. “None of this is your fault. You didn't declare war on Germany.”

“No…”

“For what it's worth,” she said, “I think you're very strong. Look at you. Not only are you still alive but you seem almost happy, sometimes. Think of what you’ve overcome to do that!”

“At great expense to my friends - to you.”

“You're my brother. And clearly your friends love you - and they're all splendid people, so you should believe that you're worth their time and effort! Well…that is, they're mostly splendid people.”

She had never been overwhelmingly sold on Timms, Tristan remembered, and he found himself laughing. Sarah smiled too, and then laughed.

“Besides,” she said, “I might do something to worry you one day.”

He looked up at her.

“Please do,” he said, “for then I might feel less guilty!”

They both laughed, and though Sarah almost immediately looked at her watch and declared it was time for her to go, he knew that any remaining resentment had been cleared away in this so-brief conversation, and he went to bed that night with a lighter heart in spite of all that had happened with Evelyn.

Chapter 24, Part I by Finn

It was Saturday night, and Jean and Tristan were going to the opera. 

“I know you’re sad about everyone leaving,” she had said the previous afternoon, when she had come to bid farewell to Sarah and Evelyn, “so we need something to drive away the blues.”

“It’s not romantic, is it?” Tristan demanded in a manner which would have done justice to Ebenezer Scrooge. “I fear I cannot take romance in my present state.”

“Nor bleak tragedy, I should imagine.” Jean was laughing. “No need to worry, my lad - it’s Hansel und Gretel, which must be the only opera in the repertoire that contains neither romance nor tragedy!”

Tristan brightened up at this. 

“I have never seen it, though I’ve read about it and seen some parts of the score. I gather that Humperdinck incorporated a great many folk songs into the music - I should indeed like to hear the effects. It strikes me that…”

But he paused, for he was not entirely sure what it was that had struck him. He had recently been beset by a sense of something just out of reach, an idea that was waiting for the right moment to reveal itself. It had something to do with music, of that he was certain, but it was no clearer than that. There had been no new music in his head since the previous summer and he was still unused to the empty feeling a lack of creative power engenders. He frowned until Jean asked him what was the matter, at which point he pulled himself together and shook off the haunted feeling. 

He took a cab to pick Jean up on the Saturday evening and they set off in rather more reasonable spirits than he had anticipated. Sarah and Evelyn had departed for Dover that very morning and he had moped extensively throughout the day, in spite of all that Sammy the puppy could do to lighten his mood. But it would be an interesting evening, attending an opera he had never seen performed, and he was surprising himself with his own enthusiasm. 

To his slight surprise, Jean was dressed in her very best.

“What?” she demanded, as he gazed at her in wonder.

“Nothing!” he declared, blinking, and proffered her his arm as he conducted her to the cab, but he couldn’t help taking another, furtively astonished look at her as they started for the theatre. It had been a long time since he had seen her looking so well, her golden hair curled and rolled elegantly under a slender headband and her cheeks blushed with the merest puff of rouge.

“It’s not for your benefit, you know,” she said tartly, and he realised he’d been caught staring. Then she smiled and relaxed. “I like the chance to dress up a bit,” she said. “Now that I’m Matron I may not get covered in all the muck I used to when I was a probationer, but it’s still nice to get out of uniform - and character!”

Tristan said nothing, but he found himself smiling when he helped her out of the cab and walked into the opera house with her on his arm. Heads were turning, and not only to look at Jean; they repaired to the bar at the interval and had barely got their drinks when a substantial man with an ostentatious pair of whiskers seized Tristan’s shoulder. 

“Denny, isn’t it?”

“Er…yes,” said Tristan, wondering whether he was sensible to acknowledge his own name, but the man seized his right hand and began shaking for all he was worth.

“Brilliant, brilliant!” he was exclaiming. “Dolores, it is him! The composer chappie I was telling you about. Met you at Timms’s, don’t suppose you remember, famous chappie like you, but I hadn’t heard any of your stuff then, and the first thing I did the next day was go and buy those Tudor songs of yours, and Dolores here - lovely voice she’s got, very lovely, not professional but really lovely - she’s been singing them ever since. Fine stuff, sir, fine stuff!”

“Thank you,” said Tristan, wincing as his fingers buckled under the man’s grip and wondering faintly if he’d ever be able to play the piano again. The bluff gentleman carried on for a few moments longer, Dolores twittering excitedly at his side, and then departed; though his voice had been so penetrating and his views so loudly expressed that the attention of the room did not immediately wander, and Tristan was left to suffer the excruciating feeling that all eyes were upon him.

“Well!” said Jean, and she didn’t need to expand, for the one word contained several sentences’ worth of sentiment.

“If I was not famous before, I am now,” muttered Tristan. “Come - let us go and stand on the stairs. I cannot tolerate all these people looking at me!”

But as he got to his feet, he was suddenly seized by an understanding of what it was that had been lurking in his mind for the past few weeks. It hit him, in fact, in a cacophonous chord of brass which reverberated in his head, and he froze and put a hand to his forehead, eyes wide in a shock that was three parts delight. 

“Tristan, what is it?”

Jean sounded worried, but he had no time to concern himself with her anxieties. He reached out and gripped both her hands and caught her gaze, eyes shining. 

“I must go,” he said. “I am sorry - I fear I must abandon you. Here,” and he rummaged for his wallet and drew out a note, “take this and get a cab home. I must go immediately, before I forget it!”

And he bolted from the bar, careered down the stairs to the front door and dove into a cab, with the astonished eyes of Jean, and half of the opera goers still in the bar, following him in bafflement.

Chapter 24, Part II by Finn

When a somewhat indignant Jean called round at Piccadilly a week later, having heard no communication from Tristan in that time to explain his odd behaviour on the night of the opera, she wasn’t expecting the master of the house to answer his own door.

“Thank God it’s you,” said Timms, pulling her across the threshold before she’d even managed a greeting and helping her rather forcibly out of her coat and hat. “Maybe between us we can get some sense into them.”

“Why, what’s happened?” asked Jean. “And who are ‘they’, may I ask?”

“Matty, and that absurd buffoon who’s living in my spare room,” snapped Timms, who judging by his tired face and rumpled hair, was really quite anxious indeed. “They’ve been at it all day for the last three and I swear they’ve barely slept nights, either. I can hear them, going at it constantly, and they come out looking all pale at mealtimes, if they come out at all, and quite frankly, my dear girl, it’s driving me to distraction!”

“Good grief,” said Jean. “But I thought you and Matty…and surely Tristan isn’t…I mean, I thought he’d only just lost a girlfriend, I never thought there was anything queer about him…”

Timms looked at her, frozen in the act of running his hand through his hair, and then he dropped the hand and laughed instead, so loudly and wildly that Jean wondered if he were going into hysterics.

“Oh that’s…that’s…oh, priceless!” he gasped, doubled up with laughter, and when he raised his head she saw tears in both eyes. “An opera! They’re writing an opera together! Not…not…!”

He collapsed into wheezes again and Jean, crimson-faced at her mistake, took him firmly by the shoulders, turned him right about and propelled him into the library, where he collapsed on a chair and continued to shake with mirth. Jean stood on the hearthrug and, tempted though she was to administer a short sharp slap, she managed to restrain herself and waited for him to take control of himself.

“It started the night you went to that ridiculous Humperdinck pantomime,” he choked out as he tried to sober up. “I’d gone out myself that evening, so I never realised that he’d abandoned you there until he told me two days later. He came out for tea for the first time that weekend and said he’d had the most marvellous idea and that he needed to work on it, and then he drank his tea, had half a slice of cake and then shut himself off in his room again and never re-emerged till Wednesday. Oh, I suppose he must have come out at various points, and I suspect he may have come out for lunch once or twice, but otherwise it’s been meals in his room and candles burning till late - well, electric lightbulbs, anyway. Is it possible to burn an electric lightbulb at both ends? Though even if it were, they certainly don’t burn out as quickly as candles,” he mused, then returned firmly to the point, “But Denny is no electric lightbulb, not at the moment. Wax taper at the most. You have to stop him, Matron. He’ll burn himself out at both ends and in the middle as well and we’ll have no more of him, and I don’t much fancy that idea. I sent Matty in on Thursday to winkle him out, but he seems to have got stuck in there himself!”

Sammy, on the hearthrug, whined a note of lonely yearning, and Timms reached down and pulled her ears affectionately. “You’re missing him as well, old girl, aren’t you?” he said, and sighed gloomily.

Jean sat down on the library sofa and looked keenly at Timms. Despite the cheeks reddened by laughter, he was looking remarkably strained, for Timms, and the flow of words had had a nervous energy that was quite unlike his usual laid back conversation. Jean recalled the look on Tristan’s face as he had gripped her shoulders before disappearing into the night, the nervous excitement, a gleam in his eyes that she couldn’t recall ever having seen before, and she realised with a jolt that Dr Bincoe had been right, that while Tristan’s recovery may have been progressing at a pace almost imperceptible to the ordinary eye, it was very much likely to leap forward in ways that might prove startling to his nearest and dearest. To judge by Timms’s wide-eyed face, strikingly owl-like in its roundness, that stage had definitely been reached.

“I think it’s good news, don’t you?” she said, and Timms shot her a surprised, almost antagonistic look. “What, you don’t want him to get better? To get back to his old self after all this time?”

“Of course I do, but not like this.” Timms sighed and thrust a hand into already ruffled hair. “It’s all happening too fast! I mean, certainly I’m pleased that he’s…I don’t know, being creative, or whatever it is - but…”

“No, I take your point,” said Jean, and stood up. “So you want me to go and sort this out for you?”

“I’ve tried myself, but they’re so stubborn! Just…try to make him slow down a little, Jean darling?” His round blue eyes implored her, but turned back to the puppy moments later. “And while you’re at it,” he added, in much more normal tones, “I’d be very grateful if you’d bring me that young man of mine back. It’s all very well, him going off to be an opera librettist, but he might think of how it’s affecting me…”

His voice trailed off into a plaintive sigh and Jean chuckled as she went out into the hallway and crossed to Tristan’s door. She waited for a moment, ear near to the door, and she heard the murmur of male conversation, voices that sounded tired, with a somewhat fractious undertone. It seemed that she had, yet again, arrived unexpectedly at the right moment.

“Well, it’s now or never,” she said to herself, and opened the door.

Author's note by Finn

Merry Christmas, everybody! 

I'm very sorry that I seem to have abandoned this series, but rest assured, it is only temporary. I am in the final six months of writing up my PhD thesis, which has been with me for as long as T&M itself has. I am deeply thrilled about the idea of it being All Over, but sadly if it is ever to be ready by the deadline it requires all my attention!

Thank you to all of you for being loyal readers and for sticking with me through the last six years. I can't tell you how much support you've all given me, especially those of you who have become personal friends, and you'll be getting a collective mention in my acknowledgements! Apologies if I am getting emotional, but these next few months are going to be momentous and I want to express my gratitude to you all in advance.

T&M will return in May 2017! Please hold out till then! 

Love to you all, and I hope you all have peaceful Christmases and all happiness for the New Year. 

Finn x

Chapter 24, Part III by Finn
Author's Notes:

I did it! I did the thing! Handed the thesis in a week ago and am finally getting round to all the other things in my life that were on hold for six months or more...


“Honestly,” said Jean in her lilting voice, as she and Tristan wandered slowly along Regent Street, “and we’d only just got you looking human again. You’re back to being a ghost, you great nuisance. Ruined all my hard work, and for what?”

“You do not yet understand quite how striking an idea it was,” Tristan protested. He was still a little resentful at being dragged from his desk at a most critical moment in the work, but now, as the sun bathed his face and he felt his limbs stretching and his muscles relaxing with the gentle exercise, he felt almost inclined to concede that Jean had been right. It was good to get outside, even if only for a short while.

“Thank you,” he said, answering his thoughts rather than her words, and she understood, and smiled at him and tucked her arm into his.

“Why don’t you tell me about it?” she suggested, but he shook his head. There were some things that he wasn’t ready to share with Jean, yet, and he had no desire to share the more intimate details of this operatic endeavour. It was all rather too personal - and yet share it he must, some day very soon. And not just with Jean, but with all of London - and maybe even further.

“One thing I can tell you is that it is by no means my customary musical style,” he said. “I seem to have been infected by a quite unusual spirit - a spirit of Jazz, no less!”

He was faintly put out when Jean began to laugh and stopped where he was, an affronted expression suffusing his face. Jean pulled on his arm to make him resume movement, and patted it as she led him along the street.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t mean to be cruel, but I simply cannot imagine anything less like you!”

“Nevertheless,” he insisted, “I speak the truth.”

“Of course you do,” said Jean. “That’s what’s so funny. I truly can’t wait to hear it! Now look, dear heart, here’s the shop I was after. Are you going to come in with me, or will you wait out here?”

Tristan looked up at the shop window, which was filled with frothy dresses and feathered hats, and raised an eyebrow.

“I believe I will wait,” he said, and Jean disengaged her arm from his with good grace and went inside with a tinkle of shop doorbell. Tristan wandered on a few paces to look into the window of the camera shop next door, and presently Jean reemerged and took his arm again.

“Splendid woman, Mme Beauville,” she said, “though I don’t believe for a moment that she’s really French. Not that it matters, of course! And she always employs such charming assistants. She’s got herself a new girl since I was in last, a very pretty one, too, blonde as anything. Mind you, she might not be new - it’s not as if I’m able to go in that often! Usually I have to rely on the telephone. I haven’t been in since July last year, I think.”

Tristan let her rattle on, barely attending to her words. He was thinking about Susie, for it was she, of course, who was the subject of his opera. He had thought to exorcise some of his ghosts when she had presented herself as a prime candidate for operatic heroine, but the exercise had brought her ever closer and more constantly into his thoughts. And yet he didn’t mind, not in the slightest. It was almost pleasant, to have her warm and fleeting presence in his mind, swift as a hummingbird, delicate as a butterfly. If only he knew…

But he did know where she was, or at least roughly where. He’d walked round Stepney more than once in recent weeks, hoping that Fate might smile on him for once, but he’d never seen the slightest trace of her. If the Good Lord would only be kind - if he could but find her!

“Now then,” said Jean, breaking in on his thoughts, “I said I have something to tell you, and I think it’s best if we’re both sitting down comfortably, as it’s going to take a lot of talking over. There’s a marvellous little place just up here - we’ll be perfectly snug, and they do excellent China tea. You’re going to need it - I’ve quite the surprise for you…”

Chapter 25, Part I by Finn
Author's Notes:

Oh my goodness, I thought I'd have more time once the Phd was done but apparently I do not! Please accept my apologies for the delay, and here is the next bit of T&M...

It was two days before Tristan felt able to communicate Jean’s news to his sister, and even now he sat with his pen in his hand, wondering how on earth to write down all that he knew, and more particularly all that he felt. It was news of such particular interest to Sarah, and she would be so excited to read what he had written so far – and yet, for reasons he could not fathom, he hardly dared put his final thoughts onto paper. It was not that he begrudged her the honour, but if things went their way – and there was no guarantee of that, of course – then Evelyn would no longer be his, for all that he would have a greater stake in her life than ever before. It was too confusing…the whole idea was too enormous to contemplate, let alone communicate! And yet he must try. He looked down at what he had written.

 

My very dear Sarah,

I am writing to you out of turn, but I have received such good news that I cannot bear to keep it from you. I know not how much sense this letter will make, for I am still uncertain on some parts of the matter, so I pray you will forgive me and try to make the best of my faulty composition.

The matter, my dear, concerns Evelyn, and has been communicated to me, through Jean, by a Miss Bowles, who trained alongside Jean and who was employed as a private nurse before joining the staff at one of the London hospitals. Some years ago, this Miss Bowles had told her a most intriguing story of a family whose employ she had recently left, and Jean has lately sought again her confidence, that she might discover some particulars upon which she was uncertain. She has subsequently related the whole to me, and now I relate the same to you, for reasons which will become clear.

The family which Miss Bowles served comprised a married pair and a young woman whose relation to them was never entirely clear to her, though Miss Bowles gleaned enough from conversations to put together a reasonable explanation for herself. It was this latter woman whom she was employed to nurse, for she was sickly in both body and spirit, suffering from malnourishment and, further, expecting a child. The nursing took place in a house deep in the countryside of Lincolnshire, in a cottage most uncomfortable for the purpose. Miss Bowles saw very little of the man of the house, for he was attached to one of the colleges at Cambridge, but she heard his wife speak of him and the good lady let slip considerably more than perhaps she ought to have done. It was in the course of several conversations with her that Miss Bowles learned the truth of the situation: that the young woman (who was French, though she spoke good English) was the mistress of the husband’s younger brother, an infantry officer who had been killed in the latter days of the War. He had put her on a boat for England as soon as he learned she was expecting, with a letter to his brother to beg his care for the young lady should anything happen, and she had, with great courage, found her way to his brother’s home and presented herself as a new relation. This poor girl had claimed to be the wife of the younger brother, and it is perfectly possible that this was the truth, but the fact that she had no papers to prove it told badly against her with her lover’s brother. Indeed, Miss Bowles gathered that there was a good deal of hostility on the part of this elder brother to his younger sibling’s indiscretion, but that his wife, to all appearances a cowed sort of a woman, had held firm that they must do as much for her as they would for any blood relation, and had been the principal in hiring a nurse and this out-of-the-way cottage for the young Frenchwoman to have her child without arousing the suspicion of neighbours and friends.

Sadly the young woman had been through such privations during the War, and had used what remained of her strength in travelling to England to find her lover’s nearest relations. When she heard of his death her grief was, by the nurse’s account, almost insupportable, and it was with difficulty that they kept her healthy enough to sustain the child within her. As soon as the infant was born, she gave up what remained of her strength, thus delivering to the elder brother the means of escape from a potential scandal. His wife had been away, her friends knew not where – why should they not present the child to their friends and neighbours as their own, born in the countryside and absolutely nothing to do with their late and much lamented brother, who could now be said to have died, unmarried and childless, in the defence of his country? The only snag, so Miss Bowles tells it, was the birth certificate, which she had witnessed and which had the details of the child’s true parents on it, but this was not sufficiently problematic to stop the elder brother from carrying through his plan, and as the wife seemed truly attached to the little girl, Miss Bowles thought it the best outcome all round, for all that the husband’s cold and occasionally hostile manner still gave her some cause for anxiety.

I am sure your reasoning will have raced ahead of my story, dear Sarah, and you are right – Jean recalled the name “Keane” from the time when Miss Bowles first told her story, and upon hearing our story of Evelyn’s parentage, she was prompted to renew both her acquaintance with her old friend and her familiarity with the story. She is as certain as she can be that it is Evelyn of whom her friend spoke back in 1919, and you will assuredly see what are the implications if this can be proven absolutely. If this child is Evelyn, then she is an orphan and has been so almost from her very first breath. Further, she is an orphan who has never been formally adopted, not by her putative father, nor the mother that died when she was still a very little child, nor indeed by her stepmother (who, I suspect, never realised that Evelyn was not the natural child of her “father”). She is an orphan who is not beloved of any of her supposed relatives, who has been bullied and terrorised by the “father” who cannot forget her origin, her illegitimate status, nor the scandal that almost struck his family as a result of her existence. Sarah, she is an orphan, but she is also free! She is unencumbered by parents – there is a chance that the law courts might grant us more than guardianship of our girl – they might even award us the highest status we could possibly hope for, that of parenthood! Or, at least, they might award it to you. Single men are not, it would seem, deemed appropriate adopters of small children, but you will soon be married, there will be a family for her to enter into, and one that she is well acquainted with. I believe – I really believe that we have a chance!

 

And there he had paused, for only at that moment had he truly realised his own feelings on the subject – that he wanted Evelyn, not as a niece, but as his own daughter, as she already was in his heart. But even as he thought it, he knew how unfair it would be. He could offer her none of the stability of a family and a home – he was single and seemed likely to remain that way forever, and more than that, he was mad, and as such unfit for the care of any child. Far better for Evelyn herself that Sarah should adopt her, and that he should remain nearby, ever the obliging uncle. And yet…and yet…to have her as his daughter – it seemed all of a sudden that this was everything he had ever really wanted, and he was jealous – yes, jealous of his sister, for having a home to offer his little girl!

But how could he say all of that? His brain rebelled at the thought of causing his sister any pain in what should be a letter filled with hope, even joy. He must find a way to express his anxieties that was less direct, but at that moment he felt unequal to the task.

Glancing about the room to escape his painful thoughts, his eyes fell upon the manuscript of his opera, untouched since Jean had sprung her news upon him. Astonishingly, it was almost finished. All that was lacking was a final aria, some closing resolution that would round off the drama on a glad, or a sorrowful, note. He had still not decided which turn it would take, and all Matty’s efforts to guide his thinking merely made him irritable. And yet it was most frustrating, to have come on so far in so short a time – and for once, he was actually convinced that the work was a worthwhile one – and to be baulked just before the final curtain by his own indecision! It irked him beyond description. No, he could not think about the opera while Evelyn was on his mind, and yet he could not think about Evelyn clearly either.

A walk – yes, a walk would clear his head and give him time to reflect on all these wretched feelings.

He rose from his desk and took up his hat, which despite Jesson’s best efforts at tidiness lay upon the chair next to the bed. Sammy looked up from the hearthrug, ears erect, and he rewarded her with a smile and a whistle that made her jump up and dash excitedly up and down the hall until he retrieved her lead from the hallstand.

It was still quite early in the evening and the evening light slanted golden across Green Park. After walking about there for almost half an hour, Tristan got bored and, having wrestled Sammy back onto her lead, returned to the pavements of the West End, meaning to walk about for a little while longer and then return home. And yet, as so often happened these days, his feet, and Sammy’s paws, turned gradually, inevitably, in the direction of Stepney…

This story archived at http://www.sallydennylibrary.co.uk/viewstory.php?sid=757