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.