Susie Smith, Tristan and Sarah Denny and Evelyn go to Paris for their holidays. What happens to them?
Ste Therese's House Characters:
Minor character(s), OC
Tea and Militancy
08 Jan 2012 Updated:
24 Mar 2012
This is very much a holiday drabble. It's not very well balanced, but it is hopefully rather fun :)
1. Postcard 1 - Part of a journey by Finn
2. Another part of a journey by Finn
3. Postcard 2 - Evelyn by Finn
4. Postcard 3 - Matty by Finn
5. Postcard 4 - Susie by Finn
6. Postcard 5 - Tristan by Finn
7. Postcard 6 - Sarah by Finn
8. Dressing for Dinner Part I by Finn
9. Dressing for dinner Part II by Finn
10. In The Nightclub by Finn
11. In the Nightclub Part II by Finn
12. A Night on the Tiles by Finn
13. The Back Streets of Paris by Finn
14. What happened to Matty by Finn
15. The Morning After The Night Before by Finn
Postcard 1 - Part of a journey by Finn
I'll be posting bits of this as and when I get round to it. It's a matter of fitting it round my work. Hope you enjoy!
Safe at last! I can’t wait to see you and tell you about the journey we had! Suffice it to say, it was thoroughly exciting and I’m glad we all got here in one piece - more or less...but that’s a story for later.
Paris is sunny this morning, so we’re off for an explore. More tomorrow!
“Now, my little maid,” said Tristan Denny, crouching down so that he was on a level with Evelyn, “the train will be here very soon. Are you sure that you will manage? If you are at all uncertain, Madame will be quite happy to take you back to the Chalet and look after you while we are away.”
“Of course,” said Madge Bettany, who was standing nearby holding the Robin by the hand. “We don’t in the least mind having you with us, Evelyn.”
Evelyn’s frightened blue eyes met those of her headmistress, but she shook her head.
“N-no,” she stammered. “I...I want to come. I’ll be brave, Mr Denny, really I will.”
“Good on you,” said Matty Smith, laying a hand upon her shoulder and flashing her a grin. “You’re a plucky kid, Evelyn. Not everyone can face their fears like this.”
Evelyn flushed with pleasure as she looked up at Matty, wondering if he knew any fears himself. Little did Matty know it, but Evelyn stood rather in awe of him. Miss Smith had talked often of her bold journalist brother, impressing upon them his daring in facing up to rich men and corporations who could so easily have him silenced, and Evelyn regarded him now with admiration and not a little reverence. And he was praising her for bravery! She stood a little prouder, gave him a small, shy smile, and Matty was inwardly pleased to see the effects his words had had on the girl. He exchanged glances with Tristan, who had risen again to his full height, and was gladdened to read approval in Tristan’s eyes at this treatment of his little favourite. In spite of his words, however, he was concerned about the girl. He hoped Evelyn could keep her nerve. It was a long train journey to Paris.
He looked about the little platform. It was a mild afternoon and the sun was struggling through the thin clouds. Tristan’s sister Sarah was fiddling with a strap on her bag, Matty’s own sister was talking animatedly to Madame, telling her of all the things they would do in Paris. Evelyn and the Robin were standing together, stumbling through a conversation. Matty took the opportunity to shuffle a little closer to Tristan, who was peering down the track seeking the train, and gave him a conspiratorial grin.
“Looking forward to it?” he asked, and inwardly cursed himself for such an inane opening. But Tristan had turned to him, a beaming smile on his open face, and Matty tried not to look like a pathetic puppy as he basked in that smile.
Get a grip, man, he told himself. You’ve got ten days with him yet! Stop behaving like a mushy eighteen-year-old girl!
“Very much so,” Tristan was saying in reply to his question. “I have never been to Paris.”
“Do you know France at all?” Matty asked him, wondering internally if all his questions were going to be this stupid today. He was surprised, however, at the slight shadow that flickered across Tristan’s face as he replied swiftly, “Not very well,” and looked rapidly away, straining to see the drift of steam that came from the distant train, just out of sight along the line. Matty frowned in consternation at his friend’s response, wondering what it could mean. He had no time to ask, however, for Tristan turned and announced to the party that the train was coming in and there was a general rush to gather cases and prepare themselves for the journey.
Evelyn had looked up with terrified eyes at the news that the train was approaching and now she sidled close to Tristan, eyes fixed on the black engine that was coming rapidly along the tracks, pushing its red and white carriages before it, spewing steam behind it and making such frantic noises that it seemed to shudder right through her body and down through her shoes. In her fear she instinctively reached out and clutched convulsively at Mr Denny’s hand, and he let her hold on to him, though he refrained from making a fuss of her. Instead he bent and picked up his case with his spare hand and followed after his sister, who had also refused to acknowledge Evelyn’s fear and was mounting into the train with her own loads. He passed the case up to her, then caught the child up in his arms and lifted her briskly into the train. A mute shudder passed through her and she went quite rigid with fear, but then Tristan had climbed up beside her and had her hand again and was leading her to where Sarah had taken a seat beside the window.
“Now where would you like to sit, Evelyn?” asked Sarah. “Here beside me, or by the window, so you can look out?”
Evelyn was so stricken with terror that she could not speak, but Tristan guided her gently forward, stowed the cases away and sat down beside his sister. He took Evelyn into his arms and lifted her onto his knee, and she leaned against him and buried her face against his jacket, hiding from the great black engine that was the terror of her life. Sarah gave a slight smile, amused by how thoughtful her usually absent-minded brother was being, but said nothing, not wishing to draw attention to Evelyn’s fear.
“And we’re off!” said Susie merrily at that juncture, settling down into the seat opposite Sarah while Matty squeezed in beside her.
“Evelyn, are you going to wave to Madame and the Robin and the others?” asked Sarah, but Evelyn was too frightened to raise her head and it was left to the four adults to lean out of the open sides to the coaches and wave back at the group they were leaving behind.
Robin sighed wistfully as the train began to move out of the station.
“I wish zat I could go,” she said.
“Another time, dear,” said Madge and, taking her hand, drew her away from the platform and back to the school.
The wild joltings of the mountain railway down to Spärtz did nothing to alleviate Evelyn’s fears and she remained clinging to Tristan for the entire journey, much to the amusement of the four local boys sitting opposite, whose whispers and sniggers would have mortified the little girl had she known about them. They did, however, subside hastily when Sarah leaned over and uttered a rebuke in sharp, rapid German which made the large lady with the shopping basket behind them chuckle with laughter as she sat there in the rocking train.
“What did you say?” asked Susie, leaning forward eagerly.
“Oh, nothing much,” replied Sarah. “Just warned them against being nasty, if they don’t want to feel my wrath. I suppose they thought they could get away with it because we’re foreign.” She gave a chuckle. “It’s always funny, startling people by knowing their language!”
By the time they pulled into the station in Spärtz, Evelyn had been coaxed to sit up and look around her a little, and this was when they discovered that she’d been crying silently all the way down from Seespitz.
“Didn’t you notice?” Sarah demanded of her brother, who shrugged helplessly. Susie had her handkerchief out and was leaning over to dry Evelyn’s face while the child sat pale and exhausted upon Tristan’s knee, trying to make herself inconspicuous.
“I’m alright,” she murmured so that only Tristan could hear her. “It just...bumps so…”
“It is an unsteady ride, yes,” agreed Tristan, “but we are here now, see, and can have a rest until the next part of our journey.”
“Actually, Denny, I don’t think we’ll have time for a rest,” said Matty quietly. “In fact, we’ll have a bit of a push to make the next Innsbruck train.”
He was right. The train down from the valley had been somewhat delayed and as they climbed down from its open carriages they found themselves fighting with a mass of people all hurrying for the Innsbruck train. Sarah, carrying Evelyn for the child was too uncertain on her legs to walk in this crowd, led the way and Tristan and Susie followed with the cases. It was only once they had scrambled up into a compartment, stowed away the cases and settled a once more tearful Evelyn in a corner seat that Susie took a look around and noticed what was missing.
“Matty! Where is he?”
A quick search of the compartment revealed that Matty was indeed not there. Susie hastened out into the corridor but found no trace of him. Growing anxious now she leaned out of the door and looked along the platform, but yet again this proved unfruitful. She waved to the guard and he came slowly over, portly and officious, to hear what she had to say.
“Have you seen a young man, a fair man, getting on the train?” she asked in her broken German, but the guard gave a scornful laugh; many men were young, many were fair - could the gnädiges Fräulein not give more particulars?
“He was wearing...oh, what was he wearing? Grey? And he has a broken nose!” she added, remembering the time when her brother had been beaten up by some hired muscle for looking too closely into a certain businessman’s affairs.
But the guard shrugged and gestured that he had noticed no such man, either getting on or off the train, and added that the train was about to leave, so the gnädiges Fräulein might like to put her head back into the carriage now.
“But you can’t go!” she cried in English, aghast. “Not without my brother!”
The guard shrugged once more, then he blew his whistle and the train began to move out.
Susie, horrified, ran back to the compartment and declared dramatically to its occupants,
“We’ve lost Matty!”
Another part of a journey by Finn
Thank you for the comments! Sorry about the cliff, Minim.
(I'm not really)
Sarah looked up from where she was sitting next to Evelyn, trying to soothe the terrified girl.
“Oh, for goodness sake,” she said. “How’ve we done that?”
“I don’t know!” exclaimed Susie. “I thought he was behind us!”
“Oh dear,” said Tristan, who was hovering anxiously beside his sister, wanting to help in some way but unable to see how. “That is unfortunate.”
“Unfortunate?!” Susie hurriedly moderated her tones, which were on the edge of shrieking. “Unfortunate? It’s a disaster! What if he’s got lost?”
“Nonsense,” returned Sarah briskly. “You must have a pretty poor belief in your brother, Susie, if you think he could get lost in a station the size of Spärtz! If we have left him behind we’re bound to find a wire waiting for us at Innsbruck station, and we can wait there for him. It’ll probably do Evelyn some good,” she added, indicating the little girl’s strained face. “She’s very worn with all of these trains, aren’t you, my love?”
Evelyn shook her head, regardless of the fact that tears still dripped down her cheeks.
“No,” she murmured. “I can manage - really I can.”
“There’s my brave chick,” said Sarah, slipping an arm around her shoulders. “Lean on me, dear, there we are. Soon be there.”
No-one contradicted the lie and they all settled down in the compartment, Susie fretting about her lost brother. She hoped throughout the journey that he would turn up, but though she glanced up expectantly every time someone passed the door of their compartment, he failed to appear. Finally she was forced to admit that he had probably been caught up in the melee at Spärtz station, had missed the train, and would follow them on a later one.
By the time they got to Innsbruck Evelyn was white and exhausted and the three remaining adults were growing anxious about her.
“Time we had a rest,” said Sarah. “Why don’t I go and see about tickets and see if there’s a wire from Matty, and you and Tristan and Evelyn can go to the restaurant and get something to eat, Susie? Tristan, can you manage the cases?”
“Indeed I can,” replied her brother and, gathering up their luggage, he and Susie made their way towards the restaurant. They were just sitting down to the table and Susie was fussing over Evelyn, when a shadow fell across them and, looking up, they were accosted by a most welcome vision.
“Matty!” exclaimed Susie in delight. “But wherever have you been? Why didn’t you join us on the train? Have you gone off our company, or something?”
“Well, it’s a little complicated,” replied her brother, taking the remaining chair and drawing it in to the table. “I got a bit tangled up in the crowd running for the Innsbruck train and lost you all. I just about got on it before it left! And then I was wandering up the train trying to find you all when, of all people, I ran into Humphrey Butterworth - did I ever tell you about him, Suze?” he asked.
“Do you mean that sub-editor in your Birmingham job? The one you could hear all the way down the corridor?”
“That’s the fellow!” Matty grinned. “Huge bloke with grey sideburns and a booming voice,” he explained for Tristan and Evelyn’s benefit. “Used to scare the living daylights out of me, but he was wonderfully witty - a real eccentric. I used to admire him from a distance, but never really spoke much with him. What he's doing in the Tyrol I do not know! Well, believe it or not, he remembered me - or at least, so it seemed at first. He hailed me heartily - ‘Ahh, my dear young man!’,” he repeated, imitating the deep, declamatory voice, “‘Here is a face from the past! An old friend from my Herald days,’ he told the others in the compartment, and fair pulled me through the door and forcibly sat me down with them, and then proceeded to deliver a lecture on my deeds and doings in those days. It wasn’t until he was about halfway through that I realised I had no idea what he was talking about. Turns out he’d mistaken me for young Jeffries, who I’ll grant looks a bit like me - although I hope I’m not quite that plain!” he added, giving Susie an appealing look. She scowled at him, rejecting the plea for a compliment.
“You have your two eyes, your nose, your mouth and your arms and legs. You just thank God for them and stop looking for compliments!” she told him pointedly and he gave her a good-natured grin and settled back in his chair.
“Fair point. Well, by that point I couldn’t extricate myself without huge embarrassment to all concerned, so I had to sit through Humphrey Butterworth chuntering on about my various achievements, none of which had anything to do with me, and I had my work cut out to bluff whenever he asked me to fill in on the details! Mercifully it wasn't too long - he got distracted by his recent trip to Italy and started banging on about that, thank heavens.” He gave a laugh and rubbed his face with his hands. “I thought it was too good to be true that he remembered me! I wasn’t any much cop at the Herald, after all - it was one of my first jobs.”
“Oh, Matty!” Susie laughed. “So we’ve been deprived of your company by someone who thought you were someone else? How absurdly wonderful! But I am glad you’re here and we don’t have to wait for you - the sooner we’re in Paris the better,” she said, with an eye on Evelyn’s tired face. “Let’s order some food and then you can see about a ticket - Sarah’s fetching ours, but I don’t know if she’s getting one for you.”
They had plenty of time before the Paris train in which to make a good meal and Evelyn managed to regain a little of her colour, sitting safely in the restaurant. They stayed for as long as they dared, then Susie, a careful eye on her watch, suggested they ought to make their way to the platform.
“After all, it would be silly to miss it after we’ve been here all this time,” she said as they gathered their things and settled the bill.
Dusk was falling, and the station was brightly lit. Susie stood on the platform and glanced about at the crowd that was awaiting the Paris train. Three men in smart business suits with briefcases stood nearby, speaking in rapid French. Beyond them was a harried-looking mother with four children plaguing her as she tried to settle a tired baby, while their bored father hid himself behind a newspaper. And standing just beside Susie was a beautiful young American woman with sharply bobbed black hair who was talking to a man in a beautiful camel overcoat, a black cigarette holder between two of her delicate fingers. Susie watched her for a moment, attracted in spite of herself. Then the woman turned slightly and Susie gasped in astonishment. Louise Brooks! The American film star! Surely she couldn’t be catching the Paris express? She found herself blushing with excitement, then Louise turned around and caught her staring. She gave a slight smile at Susie’s gaping face and Susie, in her surprise, stepped back, collided heavily with her suitcase and went over backwards, legs splaying in the air, giving Louise and the rest of the platform a delightful view up her skirt.
Susie lay on the cold platform, the breath knocked out of her, wondering if the world had really gone quiet or if she were unexpectedly starring in her own silent film. Trust mine to be a slapstick, she thought to herself as she opened her eyes and saw, as she had expected, a circle of faces peering down at her. Tristan was there, asking concernedly if she were hurt; his face was very red and she suddenly realised that from where he was standing he would likewise have had a very good view of her ‘unmentionables’. She flushed embarrassedly, and then Louise Brooks’ face was above hers, grinning in amusement and extending one of those fine hands to help her up. She seized it and hauled herself to a more dignified position and, torn between mortification and hysterical mirth, she looked at her rescuer.
“Well,” drawled the American, “You sure know how to get attention.”
“I’m so sorry!” gasped Susie, red to the roots of her hair. “It’s just that..." She froze, mind blank, and then burst out, "I love your films!”
“You coulda just told me,” Louise pointed out, waving with her cigarette. “You didn’t have to pull that stunt, you know.” She gave Susie a grin with more than a hint of friendliness in it. “Y’know,” she said in a confidential undertone, “I was told only last week that I had “knock-me-down” eyes, but I never expected anyone to take it quite so literally.”
That settled it. Susie took one look at the film star’s face and burst into giggles. Louise maintained her cool for a few moments longer before joining her, and as they shared in their mirth the Paris express came rolling in, breathing steam across the platform, and the various passengers busied themselves about preparing themselves to board the train. The young man with Louise touched her wrist.
“C’m’on, Lulu,” he said, “we gotta go get our seats.”
Louise looked at Susie, head cocked on one side.
“Coming?” she asked, indicating the first class carriages. Susie shook her head rapidly.
“Oh, no,” she said. “We’re not travelling first class!”
“Shame,” said Louise, with a lingering smile. “Well, so long…?” she gave Susie a questioning look.
“Susie,” she said. “Susie Smith.”
Louise grinned at her.
“Nice to meet you, Susie,” she said, and, giving Susie's outstretched hand a little press, she swept off on the arm of her friend. Susie turned back to the others and stared at them in fascinated awe.
“I just fell over in front of Louise Brooks!” she exclaimed, and burst out laughing again. The tone of her laughter was such that Sarah was worried about her turning hysterical, but Evelyn, who had been getting increasingly agitated on the platform and who was worn out anyway with the strain of travelling, suddenly created a diversion by fainting dead away, and they all rushed around to try to revive her - so there was no need to slap Susie after all.
Apart from the fact that Susie sometimes just needs a good slap, of course!
Not that I'd advocate violence.
Don't expect any more of this for a time - I'm trying to get some real work done, after all!
Postcard 2 - Evelyn by Finn
The weather is nice and the sun was out today. Today we went to the Eiffel Tower and on a boat and Miss Denny bought me a doll. She is called Marianne.
Evelyn paused and sucked thoughtfully at her pen. It was not wholly satisfactory. For one thing, it looked like she had said Miss Denny was called Marianne, which she wasn’t, because only last night Miss Smith had said that saying “Miss” all the time in the holidays was too formal, and that Evelyn was to call her Auntie Susie and Miss Denny was to be Auntie Sarah - so “Sarah” was obviously Miss Denny’s Christian name. Evelyn had not really got the hang of calling them both Auntie yet but they didn’t chide her over it - they had both been very nice indeed. The three of them were staying with Mr Smith’s kindly downstairs neighbour, Mme. Moreau, while Mr Denny and Mr Smith were sharing Mr Smith’s much smaller flat. Miss Smith - Auntie Susie - was supposed to have been staying with her brother, but on their first night she had come storming down from the flat above, complaining vociferously that the two men were talking nineteen to the dozen and that she couldn’t possibly sleep with all that chatter, and that since Tristan (this was Mr Denny’s Christian name) was keeping her from her own bed, she would jolly well sleep in his (she hadn’t said “jolly” - she had said a word Daddy sometimes used when he was very cross, and which made Mother frown). And so a swap had been arranged and now all the girls were all together, to quote Miss Smith again, and M. Moreau wandered about his flat looking faintly bemused to be surrounded by so many women.
Evelyn bit the end of her pen and turned back to her postcard. There wasn’t a lot she could add. This was only their second day in Paris and they had not done a great deal, only walked around. They had taken an omnibus from Mr Smith’s flat into the city and had spent some time sight-seeing - the Champs Elysees, the Arc de Triomph, the aforementioned Eiffel Tower and they had had a boat ride on the Seine. Miss Denny - Auntie Sarah - had stayed behind for that and Mr Smith had stayed with her, saying that he had been on the trip several times and knew the sights quite well. So Evelyn had sat between Mr Denny and Miss - Auntie Susie - and had gazed out in wonder at the beautiful buildings as they passed. She hadn’t taken a great deal in, rather to her shame, but she had stared up in awe at the filigree windows and finger-like buttresses of Notre Dame, the spring trees beneath its gothic heights all in rosy bloom, and she had even wondered aloud how long it could have taken to build the great cathedral. Auntie Susie had not known, but the guide on the boat informed her that work had begun on the building in 1160 and had not ended until almost two hundred years later.
“But that means that the people who started building it never actually saw it finished!” marvelled Evelyn. “They were working for something which would always be a dream to them.”
“And very lucky we are that they did so,” said the guide when this was translated for him, “or our great cathedral would never have been begun.”
Evelyn had fallen silent after this but the amazement at this great feat had not left her, and when they had regained the shore and joined Auntie Sarah and Mr Smith she had been very quiet and thoughtful. Auntie Sarah had asked what she was thinking about and she had replied, rather vaguely,
“What it is to work towards something that is bigger than yourself.”
She had not spoken further and after a time they had left her alone to her thoughts - thoughts which had, however, been driven out of her head when they came to the main shopping district and had entered the biggest toyshop she had ever seen. She had stared around her, wide-eyed, unable to decide where to turn first, and the grown ups had laughed at her astonishment.
Unbeknownst to Evelyn there had been a conference on the first night of their stay. Auntie Sarah had been helping Evelyn to unpack her suitcase to get her ready for bed and had been taken aback to see that there was no comforting toy in amongst her things.
“But Evelyn,” she had said in surprise, “where is your dolly, or your teddy? Have we left it behind?”
“Oh, no,” replied Evelyn quietly. “I don’t have a doll. My...my father...threw them all away when I was seven. He said I was too old for dolls or teddies.”
“He…” Auntie Sarah had broken off and stared at her, horrified. She had stopped herself from saying anything, however, and merely continued to unfold Evelyn’s nightgown and lay it on her little mattress on the floor of their room. Evelyn had not noticed the expression. She was caught up in thoughts of her little doll, Baby Jane, whom she had had ever since she could remember and whom Daddy had got rid of in the purge of toys that had happened just after her seventh birthday. She had had blue eyes, and a primrose yellow dress that her mother had made and embroidered with tiny daisies. Suddenly she wanted Baby Jane very much.
Later on, Sarah had brought this information to the attention of the other adults.
“It’s shocking, quite frankly,” she had said, an indignant tone in her voice. “To get rid of all her toys - everything slightly cuddly or lifelike went, and she only has puzzles and games which stretch the mind nowadays - it’s awful! We must do something.”
“I know of a toyshop,” said Matty. “It’s right in the centre of the city and it’s got more toys than you could possibly want in there. We’ll take her there tomorrow and get her set up with a new doll.”
“Oh, Matty!” Susie had turned on her brother, eyes shining with delight. “What a lovely idea. We must - Sarah, you agree?”
“Not tomorrow,” Sarah had said decisively. “She’s worn out with travelling. I think we should have a quiet day tomorrow and go on Saturday when she’s a bit fresher.”
“I agree,” said Tristan, unexpectedly. “She has been so pale this evening. She must rest. We will go on Saturday.”
Thus it was decreed, and so Evelyn found herself in the toy shop, gazing about her at hobby horses, and jigsaw puzzles, and fluffy rabbits, and dolls’ houses until her head was spinning, and still she had not guessed that they were there for her benefit. She had said to Auntie Sarah,
“I should like to get something for Robin while we’re here,”
and Auntie Sarah had looked at her, and laughed, and pulled her into an embrace and kissed her.
“You blessed thing!” she said. “Of course you shall get something for Robin, but that is not the reason we’re here. We’re here to get something for you, Evelyn!”
“For...me?” Her eyes were wide, and then her mind went to Baby Jane and she realised what Auntie Sarah had planned, and she smiled suddenly, a brilliant, gap-toothed smile that brought light into Auntie Sarah’s eyes.
“What would you like best,” she asked, “a doll, or a teddy?”
“A doll,” replied Evelyn immediately. She could picture it - blue eyes and painted lashes, a primrose dress and little shoes...she followed as Auntie Sarah led her along to where some dolls were sitting, smiling prettily on their shelves, and she saw straightaway which one she wanted. She was wearing a white lacy frock with blue flowers embroidered around the hem, and she was smiling so merrily that Evelyn couldn’t help smiling straight back. She was just like Baby Jane, she realised as she cuddled the toy to her, except that she had grey eyes instead of blue. But she had brown curls tied back with a blue bow, and pink cheeks and red lips, and she was the dearest toy ever.
As she was turning away from the dolls, however, her eye was caught by another toy - a teddy, with sad eyes of golden brown, sitting all alone on a shelf beside some games in boxes. He looked so lonely sitting there that Evelyn’s little heart went out to him and she longed to take him and cuddle him so that he wouldn’t be alone any more. She glanced up at Auntie Sarah with wistful eyes and that lady saw the dilemma that was raging within. She exchanged a glance with Auntie Susie and then crouched down and gave Evelyn a serious look.
“Now then,” she said, “which would you rather have? Mr Teddy here, or your doll? You have to decide, Evelyn.”
Evelyn felt as if the struggle were battering at her very breast. The teddy looked so sad, but the doll was so like Baby Jane and the pain of that loss burned within her. Finally she gave a small sigh and held out the doll.
“I’d like the doll, please, Miss - Auntie Sarah,” she murmured, and she had entirely missed the look that that lady exchanged with Auntie Susie.
“Very well,” said Auntie Sarah. “Now let’s go and pay - and where have those boys got to?” she demanded of Auntie Susie. “I swear they were right behind us a moment ago!”
They took the doll and paid for her, and she was handed to Evelyn all wrapped up neatly, for they were going straight back to the flat. Then Auntie Sarah and she went to search for Mr Smith and Mr Denny, whom they finally unearthed in amongst the boys’ toys, sitting cross-legged on the floor playing unashamedly with a clockwork train. Auntie Sarah told them off for being “a pair of big children”, and then Mr Smith insisted that he wanted to buy a jigsaw puzzle, so they waited while he did that, and then Auntie Susie appeared carrying a bulky parcel of her own, and finally they were on the way home on the bus, Evelyn sitting in a seat beside Auntie Sarah with Marianne held carefully on her knee, watching the streets of Paris go by.
Evelyn looked up now and smiled to see Marianne grinning down at her with porcelain lips. She hurriedly applied herself to her postcard to Robin, determined to finish before the grown ups finished their tea and came downstairs to find her.
We are going to the Louvre tomorrow. I hope you are well. See you soon.
That would do. She signed her name and, jumping down from the seat, picked up Marianne and trotted next door, just as Auntie Sarah came through the door to see where she was.
“So that’s where you’ve got to!” she said. “Writing a postcard? How lovely, Evelyn. We’ll send it tomorrow when we go out. Now then, come on upstairs so Mme. Moreau can have some peace to prepare dinner.”
And, taking Evelyn’s hand, she drew her up to the little flat on the top-most floor, where the rest of the adults were sitting around the main room, talking and, in Auntie Susie’s case, smoking out of the window, though she threw the cigarette out when she saw Evelyn come in and made a valiant attempt to look like a sedate schoolmistress. Evelyn settled on the floor with Marianne, holding her gently, and listened to the conversation of her elders. It was not very interesting, though, and she found herself almost drifting off, leaning against Auntie Sarah’s chair and cuddling Marianne to her. She jerked into startled wakefulness, therefore, to hear Mr Smith say,
“Now then, Evelyn, you must be bored, sitting here listening to us talk! How do you fancy playing at a game?”
She looked up at him, alarmed at being included in the conversation.
“Um,” she said, and bit her lip nervously. This was just the sort of question she hated so much at school. The other girls seemed to know instinctively how to play, but to her it was a subject fraught with confusion.
Auntie Susie saw her expression and leaned forward reassuringly.
“It’s alright, Evelyn,” she said. “Uncle Matty’s got it all worked out. We’re going to do a scavenger hunt.”
Evelyn’s eyes must have given away her confusion, for Susie was moved to explain,
“Uncle Matty has hidden some things in the flat and we have to hunt until we’ve found them all.”
She felt rather shy, poking about someone else’s belongings, but with clear instructions like those Auntie Susie had given Evelyn felt more at liberty to investigate, and Mr Denny and Auntie Sarah were playing along as well. Mr Smith sat enthroned upon the sofa, giving teasing hints now and then, and little parcels of chocolate, and sweets, and handkerchiefs, and collars, and balloons, and little trinkets, kept emerging from behind books, down the side of the sofa, inside the coal scuttle (this last made Auntie Sarah give Mr Smith rather a dark look and observe that obviously he wasn’t washing Evelyn’s clothes or he’d have thought of a more sensible place to hide things; looking meekly at the dark streak of coal dust down the front of her dress, Evelyn was almost moved to agree with her). Once the main room had been exhausted, Mr Smith flung open the door to the bathroom and bade them look in there, and there it was that Evelyn found the most exciting prize of all, tucked inside a cupboard; a large, squashy parcel wrapped in brown paper and tied with string. She bore it into the main room to open - and her heart almost stopped when she saw the rich amber fur and golden brown eyes of the teddy she had so admired in the shop. She gaped at it, looked up open-mouthed at Auntie Sarah and Auntie Susie, who were standing grinning down at her surprised face.
“Well, we could see how much you wanted him,” said Auntie Susie.
“He’s a special treat from all of us,” said Auntie Sarah, and Evelyn could barely stammer her gratitude out, but her thanks were swept aside as Auntie Susie bent down to kiss her, tousling her blonde hair and pinching her cheek. Then there was a general scramble to get ready for dinner and the new toys had to be put away.
But later that night, tucked up in bed with Marianne on one side and Alfred, her new teddy, on the other, Evelyn thought drowsily about how she had never had so lovely a day. So many happy things had happened! And she felt so comfortable, for almost the first time. The four adults didn’t seem to want her to be quiet - they were always asking her about things, hugging her, lifting her up to see sights better, joking with her - and even though they were her teachers, they seemed more like friends. Or at least, what she had always imagined friends to be like. She had never had any to find out. But maybe she had some now. She hoped she did. She certainly had Marianne and Alfred. She snuggled up with them, her eyes drifting closed, and felt herself content.
The door opened softly, as Auntie Sarah came in to check on her. She tiptoed to the bed, pulled the blankets up closer and bent to kiss Evelyn. Evelyn lay very still, barely breathed as Auntie Sarah slipped quietly out of the room, then she relaxed and nestled under the covers, feeling warm from the kiss on her cheek to the tips of her toes.
Was this how it felt to be happy? She rather thought that it might be. What a very nice feeling it was.
Postcard 3 - Matty by Finn
Matty isn't writing a postcard, because he's not on holiday. Here is his scene anyway :D
ETA: I sort of assumed everyone has read Brothers in Arms. If you haven't, the storyline is given in a nutshell below. I may now have ruined it for you. Sorry, if so! It's possibly still worth reading...
“The fact is it is a ridiculous, decadent corruption of centuries of musical accomplishment!” Tristan exclaimed as he sat on the battered old sofa in Matty’s flat, looking earnestly at his host, who was perched on the arm of the sofa with his feet on the seat.
“And it’s jolly fun to dance to!” laughed Matty, gesturing with his whisky glass. “You have to face it, Tristan - this is the twentieth century, and jazz is on the up.”
“And what a century!” groaned Tristan, rubbing a hand across his face. “I fear the absolute decline of music - all I hold sacred, farewell!”
“Oh, don’t be so melodramatic,” teased Matty, descending from the arm of the sofa and sliding across to sit beside his friend. Fortified by whisky, he laid an arm across Tristan’s shoulders and gave them a squeeze. “No-one’s going to forget Bach, or Mozart, just because they’re enjoying a bit of the Hot Fives.”
Tristan gave him a dark, sidelong look and Matty dropped his arm, leaning back in a manner which he hoped looked casual. Don’t move too fast, Matty-boy, he told himself and took a sip of whisky, waving the other hand in the air.
“Anyway, it’s just a bit of fun,” he said. “No-one takes it seriously.”
“No, and that is my point!” exclaimed Tristan, turning fervently to his friend. “With real music comes a whole range of emotions - joy, melancholy, contentment, excitement, humour, love…but not this…this thrill-seeking, this relentless pursuit of fun which is all people these days seem to want. There is no time to sit and contemplate, to reflect on the true emotions of the music.”
“But after what we’ve just come through,” said Matty, “the war, and the ‘flu - is it any wonder people was to enjoy themselves and just...forget?”
“Forget? Through jazz?”
“Yes! Oh, I know I won’t convince you, but there’s nothing like the fun to be had cavorting to some light music, believe me.” Matty leaned forward earnestly. “People don’t want to think too deeply,” he said. “It brings back memories…”
“Nonsense!” Tristan interrupted, scorn in his voice. “You speak of the war...the younger generation remember nothing of the war! They did not live through it as my generation did, did not fight in it...no, it is pure self-indulgence and nothing else.”
“That’s a bit harsh,” protested Matty, frowning. “I don’t pretend it’s Mozart, but there’s more to it than you think.”
“Ha!” Tristan tossed his hair back and scoffed.
“Have you listened to any recently?” Matty persisted, desperate to convince, not to be at odds with Tristan. “The songs tell stories people want to hear!”
“Stories! Purcell wrote such stories in the seventeenth century, which are much more pleasing to the ear!”
“That depends on your taste,” said Matty, laughing as he leaned back.
“There is no question of taste,” replied Tristan stiffly. “Jazz is an abomination and it is no music that I recognise.”
Matty bit down on a sharp response and held his tongue instead. He realised this was a conversational dead end and he had no wish to fall out with Tristan - far from it! He couldn’t help thinking of what a boon it was, that Susie had decided to swap beds with Tristan and had left them alone in the flat together. Why, before the end of the week he hoped he’d have summoned up enough courage to make his move! But only if Tristan seemed receptive, of course, and he was still so unsure of him…
Realising he was turning slightly pink about the ears, he pulled himself together and found Tristan looking concernedly at him.
“I’ve not offended you?” he asked Matty. “I did not mean...it is but my unruly tongue.”
“No, no!” Matty replied hastily, trying to dismiss the thought of what he would like that unruly tongue to be doing. “It’s just your opinion.”
“Nothing will reconcile me to jazz,” said Tristan, leaning back on the sofa, “but I realise I may have been...rude.” He gave Matty a very contrite look. “I do apologise.”
“No need to apologise,” said Matty, trying to ignore the fluttering sensations in his chest. He’s apologising! He cares what I think! He…he pushed aside the thoughts and changed the subject swiftly.
“Tell me more about Purcell,” he suggested. “I don’t know very much about his music at all.”
“No, he is sadly neglected,” said Tristan, growing animated at the thought of discussing his beloved composer. “I came across some of his songs whilst I was studying at the RCM and after that I sought them out eagerly. I think they are the most charming collection of odes I have ever had the fortune to sing.”
“And he wrote...love songs?” asked Matty, carefully.
“Songs of love, and loss, and ballads of a kind,” said Tristan, “and he wrote humorous songs as well.” He chuckled suddenly. “Some of them could be rather bawdy.”
“Such as what?” said Matty, intrigued, and Tristan grinned and lifted his voice in song.
Once, twice, thrice I Julia tried,
The scornful puss as oft denied,
And since I can no better thrive,
I’ll cringe to ne’er a bitch alive,
So kiss my arse, disdainful sow,
Good claret is my mistress now.
“No!” Matty burst into startled laughter and applauded. “Did he really write that?”
“Indeed he did,” replied Tristan, grinning with a wicked expression in his eyes. “One could sing such things, in the seventeenth century.”
“I suppose you could!” Matty chuckled quietly. “It’s a good thing you sang it quietly - I wouldn’t want Mme. Moreau to hear!”
“Nor my sister - nor yours!” added Tristan, looking down at the floor as if he expected to see an angry army of women rising up to protest against his song.
“Oh, I think my sister would cope!” grinned Matty. “In fact, she could probably teach old Purcell a thing or two on the subject of language!”
Tristan raised his eyebrows in surprise.
“I will not believe it!” he said swiftly.
“As you like,” shrugged Matty. “But I think I like Purcell! The only song of his I knew before was Dido’s Lament - you know, the one she sings before she throws herself on the fire.”
“I know it well,” said Tristan. “It is a...difficult piece. For anyone who has experience of suicide…”
He broke off suddenly and Matty glanced at him, wondering. His face had lost all of its usual sunshine and a grave, distant expression had replaced it. There was a pause where neither spoke, and then Matty realised.
The words were out before Tristan could stop them, and he froze. Silence fell between them. Tristan stared into the space before him, seeing...what? Matty had an idea. He longed to reach out to him but held himself back, letting Tristan breathe. After a few moments he asked, gently,
Tristan took a shuddering breath and came back to himself. He looked away.
“The...the war...he could not stand it…”
He broke off again and rubbed a hand across his face.
“Why am I telling you this?” But the question was more to himself than to Matty.
“You don’t have to…” Matty struggled to find the words. “You don’t have to tell me anything. I shouldn’t have asked.”
“No.” Tristan turned and looked him square in the face. “I want to.”
He held Matty’s gaze for a few moments, then turned away and took a gulp of whisky, colour flooding his cheeks. Then he took a breath and began to speak, in a distant tone, falteringly, but steadily.
“It was Passchendaele,” he said. “We were on the front line. We’d barely slept, hardly eaten...the shelling was constant and Eddie…”
He closed his eyes.
“I see it at night,” he told Matty, opening them again and looking into the middle distance. “It comes to me in my dreams…his face…it was that he could no longer bear it, the constant bombardment, the knowledge that soon we would be sent over the top, to our deaths - he…”
He shut his eyes again, his face harrowed with pain.
“It was deliberate - he stood up and he was shot, by a sniper. I was there - I saw it all…”
Here he broke off again and stood up, impetuously, as if he were about to break out of the flat and storm into the night, but he didn’t. Matty sat very still as he took a moment to steady himself, then turned back.
“No-one knows this,” he said urgently. “I did not even tell Sarah until last year. It looked like an accident - it was reported as such - you won’t…you won’t…”
“I won’t say anything,” said Matty earnestly, jumping up and taking Tristan’s hands in his own. “I swear it, not a word.”
They were standing so close; Tristan was gazing into his eyes, his expression unreachable. Matty waited breathlessly, those dark eyes filling him, until finally Tristan closed his eyes briefly, nodded, and clasped Matty’s hands tightly.
“I know I can trust you,” he said simply and, letting go, he turned away and went to the window. Matty wanted to follow after him but he let him go, sinking back down onto the sofa again, a tingling sensation in his blood. What had they just shared? He felt excitement and more - honoured that Tristan trusted him. And desperately sorry for him - to think that he’d fought in the war - and now he understood why Tristan had been so reticent when he'd asked him if he knew France…but - surely it meant something, didn’t it? They'd spoken of something so dark, so secret, and there was that shared look…he took a deep breath, picked up his whisky and drank deeply to steady his nerves. He felt suddenly more confident than ever before. His blood was rushing, he could hear it in his ears, his heart raced - and then there was a knocking at the door and the moment was shattered.
Tristan turned around from the window and gave Matty a quizzical look.
“At this time of night?” he said, and Matty shrugged.
“Sometimes,” he said as he got up to answer it. Moments later he was shooting backwards, arms raised to defend himself, as a diminutive Frenchman with a huge, soup strainer moustache, launched himself into the room and set about him with a furled umbrella.
“Fiend!” the man cried in agitated French. “Fiend! Abandoning my daughter - you cad! You bounder! I’ll have you!”
“Stop!” yelped Matty in the same language, as an astonished Tristan leapt across the room to assist him. “Tristan, grab his arm! Stop hitting me, M. Giroux! I’m not who you think I am! Mme. Francine!” he called desperately through the open door as he and Tristan grappled with the assailant. “Mme. Francine, your father’s attacking me again!”
“Again?” Tristan gaped at Matty. “You mean this has happened before?”
“About once a week or so,” said Matty, gripping M. Giroux’s arm as the latter redoubled his yells of “Fiend! Devil!” and flailed ineffectively against the two young men holding him. “He thinks I’m his son-in-law, who abandoned his daughter years ago - Mme. Francine, you see? Apparently I look a bit like him - or at least, like he did when they last saw him. Mme Francine!” he called again, then breathed a sigh of relief as a small, dark haired woman appeared in the doorway and, spying M. Giroux, gave a heavy sigh.
“There you are!” she exclaimed in French to the old man, coming forward to reclaim him. “I’m so sorry, M. Smith. He slipped out while I had my back turned and he must have come straight up here - I only noticed he’d gone a minute ago. Now then, Papa,” she said in gentle tones to M. Giroux, “you must stop hitting Mr Smith and come back downstairs with me. We’ll get you a cup of coffee and then you’ll go to bed, how does that sound?” She nodded to Matty and Tristan, who released their captive and stood back, allowing her to take him by the hand and coax him to the door. He came quite willingly, trustingly, and she threw another apologetic look at Matty and then the door closed behind her and M. Giroux disappeared from view.
Tristan turned to look at Matty and his expression of astonishment was so comical that Matty threw himself down onto the sofa and exploded into laughter. Moments later, Tristan joined him.
“Oh…oh dear!” chuckled Matty, wiping a hand across his eyes. “Your face!”
“He was hitting you with an umbrella!” replied Tristan, teasing in kind. “Naturally I wished to know why!”
“Poor M. Giroux,” said Matty. “He’s been getting worse all year. He can’t go outside on his own now because he gets confused and can’t remember where he lives.” He turned his head to his friend, more sober now. “I hope I don’t end like that, Tristan.”
“There is no reason to think of that now,” Tristan chided him. “You have many years left before you must worry about such a fate.”
They lay against the sofa cushions, looking at each other. Matty felt his pulse jump again; he waited, trying to breathe slowly and ignore the thumping of his heart. He was about to lean forward, to move in, when Tristan suddenly turned away and sighed.
“I think I am for my bed,” he announced. “Forgive me, Matty - our exertions with your umbrella man have quite worn me out!”
“Right,” said Matty, mumbling to hide his disappointment. He got up and straightened the sofa, then turned to his guest. “I suppose I’m quite tired as well. Goodnight, then, old fellow.”
“Goodnight,” said Tristan and went across to where his mattress lay in a corner of the main room, while Matty took one final look at him before making his way to the bedroom, alone.
Links to the songs mentioned in this chapter:
Postcard 4 - Susie by Finn
Thank you for the comments! Sorry I'm taking my time with these - working quite hard at the moment which is distracting me from the real business of my life - drabbling :D
Here is your promised postcard.
Susie paused thoughtfully.
“What should I write to Jack?” she called through to the bedroom.
“I don’t know!” came Sarah’s muffled voice, her tone one of mild exasperation. “What do you want to write to him?”
“I want to say that I’m going to take this postcard and dip it in a puddle, so that I can send him a proper dirty postcard,” said Susie. “But I don’t think I can do that, really. Not to a good Catholic boy like him.”
“I should think not!” chuckled Sarah, emerging from the bedroom. “Not with Dr Russell and Captain Humphries all in the same house. Anyone could read it.”
“And get the wrong end of the stick,” agreed Susie. “So I’d better think of something else.”
“Think quickly,” said Sarah, “or we’ll miss this lovely day. What do you think we should do? More sightseeing?”
“I said we’d take Evelyn to the Luxembourg Gardens so she can play for a bit,” said Susie. “But we can do that this afternoon. This weather looks set to last. Isn’t it lovely? Real spring at last.”
“Certainly a lot more pleasant than overcast muddiness,” agreed Sarah. “But the breeze is getting up a bit. We’ll have to be careful, taking you out to the Gardens, Susie. You’re so slim, we’ll have to peg you down by your hair to stop you blowing away.”
“Tosh!” chuckled Susie, penning a couple of lines to her postcard. “But now you mention it, that’s something we could do this morning.”
“Peg you down?” questioned Sarah, looking at her with an amused expression.
“Hair,” corrected Susie. “We could all do with a visit to the hairdresser - Evelyn certainly could, at least, and so could I, and I’m sure you wouldn’t object?”
Sarah shook her head thoughtfully.
“No, you’re quite right,” she said. “Good plan. Let’s do that this morning, and then we can go to the gardens this afternoon.”
“Excellent!” Susie grimaced down at her scrawl. “Let me just finish this depressingly sedate postcard and we’ll go and rouse the boys.”
A few minutes later Susie was poking her head round the door of Matty’s flat, where Tristan and Matty were sprawled on armchair and sofa, reading.
“We’re off to the hairdresser for a shampoo and general tidy-up,” she announced. “Either of you joining us?”
Matty glanced up from his book and shook his head. “I only had my hair cut a couple of weeks ago,” he said.
“Well, you don’t look it,” observed Susie with true sisterly candour. Ignoring Matty’s snort of protest, she glanced over at Tristan.
“Don’t look at him,” Sarah said from behind her. “I don’t think he’s been to the barber this decade.”
“Not wittingly,” Tristan agreed mildly.
Matty shot his friend a quizzical look.
“How can you go unwittingly to the barber?” he demanded.
Tristan lowered the paper he had been reading and gave Matty a dark stare.
“When your friends think it amusing to tell you that you are all going to a lunchtime concert at Wigmore Hall, then on the way to the concert proceed to drag you along a side street and into a barber shop and tell the barber that you are there for a short back and sides,” he said, his tones scathing, and Susie and Sarah both spluttered with laughter. “It’s not funny!” he protested. “It was quite a trial to convince the man that I did not want my hair cut.”
“When was that?” his sister asked.
“When I was at college,” he said. “I forget precisely.”
“But surely you don’t want Tristan to cut his hair, Susie?” asked Matty. “Why, he wouldn’t be Tristan without long hair!”
“I beg your pardon,” said Tristan, looking up again with a wounded expression. “I like to think I would be me whether my hair is long, short, or even nonexistent.”
“Of course you would be,” Susie soothed him, “although I can’t imagine you bald. And, for the record,” she grinned at Matty, a twinkle in her eye, “I like your hair as it is. Well, since we can’t tempt you pair out, we’ll have to go by ourselves. See you later!”
“Where is Evelyn, by the way?” asked Sarah as they turned to descend the stairs again, the door swinging shut behind them.
“In the garden across the road,” said Susie. “I sent her out for a bit of a run around, since she was so fidgety at breakfast.”
They hastened downstairs and across into the garden, which was little more than a piece of scrub between two large buildings, and found Evelyn sitting talking to Marianne the doll.
“Evelyn! You’re supposed to be running around working off your energy, not sitting down!” laughed Susie as they came up to her, and Evelyn jumped to her feet with a guilty expression. “No, no,” Susie crouched down and gave her a hug. “I’m not being serious, you ninny,” she said as she let go, and Evelyn hesitated, then grinned at her.
“Sorry,” she murmured.
“Nothing to be sorry for,” said Susie. “Now come on, my lamb,” she added, holding out a hand for her. “We’re off for a little adventure.”
Evelyn came willingly, clutching Marianne underneath her other arm.
“Where are we going, please?” she asked, stumbling a little as she hurried to keep up.
“To the hairdresser,” said Susie and stopped as Evelyn’s hand tugged out of her grip.
“The hairdresser?” the child repeated, her eyes wide and alarmed.
“Yes,” said Susie. “Why, what’s the matter, Evelyn? Don’t you want your hair to be tidied up?”
“Is he going to cut it?” asked Evelyn in worried tones.
“Only just a little, to tidy up the ends,” said Susie, “and a shampoo to make it nice and clean.”
“I don’t want him to cut it,” said Evelyn quickly, then stopped, pink to her ears at having defied an adult.
“Whyever not?” demanded Susie, too startled to notice defiance.
“Because…because…because…he might cut it really short, like last time,” stuttered Evelyn.
Susie exchanged a glance with Sarah, then bent down to Evelyn’s level.
“When was last time?” she asked gently.
“When…when…I was poorly,” said Evelyn. “Daddy said I had too much hair and he got the nurse to cut it all short and it was nasty. I hate short hair,” she said with a firmness in her little voice.
Susie’s lips twitched in a suppressed smile, but she bestowed another hug upon the girl.
“I promise he won’t cut it all off,” she said, holding her by her shoulders. “Scout’s honour.”
“You’re not a Scout,” observed Sarah drily, but Susie waved a hand to dismiss the remark.
“On my honour as a reputable schoolmistress, then,” she said, and ignored Sarah’s splutter of laughter. “Really, Evelyn, I won’t let him. I’ll defend your hair like a knight at arms!” she declared, and Evelyn bit her lip before smiling too. “That’s more like it. Come on, little one. We’ll just have you tidied up a little and shampooed, like Auntie Sarah.”
“And you yourself,” said Sarah as they set off along their way again.
“Susie? What have you got planned?”
“Nothing,” was Susie’s innocent response.
Sarah gave her a steady look.
“I don’t believe you,” she said.
“Then don’t!” said Susie lightly, turning her step into a skip and swinging Evelyn along as well. “See if I care!”
Sarah laughed as she watched Susie dance away, drawing stares from passers-by with her antics.
“Honestly, who'd think you were a grown woman and schoolma'am too?” she muttered at the younger woman's retreating back. "I presume you're planning something spectacular. I wonder what it might be!"
Matty whistled and a grin broke out across his face.
“Very nice!” he said. “Go on, turn around, let’s have a proper look.”
Susie performed the requested twirl with a beaming smile, delighting in the feeling of weightlessness about her neck. No more long hair! It felt wonderful. She had waited until Sarah and Evelyn were both at the basins having their hair shampooed before asking in her best French (which she had had to prepare, with the help of Matty’s dictionary and about fifteen minutes the previous evening) if the hairdresser felt he could manage to crop her hair for her. To her relief it seemed she had got the words right, for he had readily assented and, as she had sat down in the seat and had the white cloth flung about her neck, she had felt no anxiety, no regret, only excitement and tingling anticipation at the thought of her new style, and of their faces when they saw her.
Now she looked over at Tristan, who was staring at her with a frozen expression on his face.
“What have you done?” he said slowly, his voice dripping with horror.
“Got a haircut,” she said, noting with amusement a twinge of defiance in her voice. She posed cheekily. “An eton crop, although they don’t call it that over here. Like it?”
“I…” He shook his head briefly, as if to get rid of a buzzing noise, and stared at her. “Your beautiful hair…”
Susie resumed her normal posture and looked at him quizzically.
“I didn’t know you’d even noticed my hair,” she said in a softer tone. Tristan shook his head again, too much aghast to hear the question implied in her sentence.
“Sarah,” he said urgently to his sister, “why did you condone this?”
“It’s not my place to condone or condemn!” Sarah responded indignantly. “And although it’s not what I would have done, I happen to think that, on Susie, it’s rather becoming.”
“But it is not ladylike, to crop your hair thus like a man,” Tristan told Susie very seriously, a fervent expression in his eyes, and Susie drew breath, torn between laughter and indignation.
“That’s rich, coming from you!” she exclaimed. She saw Matty cram a fist into his mouth to stifle a laugh, while Tristan looked first bemused, and then a little abashed. Sarah flung a triumphant look at her brother.
“She’s got you there!” she teased him. “You of all people can’t go lecturing other people about their hair, my lamb.”
“But…” he said, then broke off and gave a gusty sigh. “Oh very well. Tease all you like. But I do not like it.”
“Well, I do,” said Susie firmly, planting herself down beside him on the sofa and folding her arms defiantly.
“I like it too,” came an unexpected voice and they all looked up to see Evelyn standing in the doorway, Marianne clutched close upon her hip.
“Evelyn!” Susie gave her pet a broad smile. “But I thought you hated short hair?”
“I did,” admitted Evelyn, coming over to Susie, who shuffled up so the little girl could sit on the sofa beside her, “but I was really talking about my hair. I like it short on you. It looks right, somehow.”
“Hear, hear,” said Matty. “Although,” he added, “I’m biased, what with being used to it. She used to have it short a couple of years ago,” he informed Sarah and Tristan, “but you gave up on it, didn’t you, because of the expense of having it cut so often?”
“Those were harder days,” Susie reminded him. “I wasn’t making much money then. But I’m getting a decent wage now and if I want to spend a little of it on myself, I jolly well will and be damned to the lot of them!”
“Susie!” exclaimed Sarah, indicating Evelyn, who was gaping up at Susie in startled astonishment. Susie put a hand over her mouth in mock-horror, then bent down to whisper in Evelyn’s ear.
“Don’t tell anyone I said that!” she begged, and Evelyn looked at her, then put a hand over her mouth and giggled.
“You’re a bad influence,” her brother told her and Susie put her tongue out at him. “See what I mean?” he asked the others. “A thoroughly disreputable influence, getting your hair cut off and swearing and making rude gestures at your loving brother, who only cares about you. You shouldn’t be allowed in a classroom, Susie. We ought to keep you in a zoo and charge punters a penny a time to look at you.”
“Oi!” she exclaimed and, snatching up the paper Tristan had been reading earlier, flung herself at her brother and laid into him with it.
“I’m worth far more than a penny a visit!” she cried as he cowered away from her, arms upraised to defend himself.
“Help!” he cried. “Help! Denny! Sarah! Evelyn! Evelyn!” He caught the eye of the little girl and made a passionate appeal. “Come over here and bite her ankles for me!”
Evelyn hesitated, giggling gleefully, then to everyone’s amazement she got down from the sofa and ran over, but instead of trying to restrain Susie she caught at one of Matty’s arms and held onto it, allowing Susie to get in a few more blows with the newspaper before she subsided, giggling, onto the hearthrug. Matty dragged himself out of range and gave them all an indignant look.
“Well, a fat lot of use you bunch are!” he declared. “I don’t know what I’ve done to you all, to deserve such an attack in the first place and then to get such a sterling lack of assistance from you pair!” He indicated the Dennys, who sat regarding him with some amusement. “Well, I’m going to go and make myself some tea, and none of you are getting any. See how you like that!”
Susie, propping herself up on her elbows with Evelyn leaning against her legs, giggled at her brother.
“Oh, go on, Matty,” she said. “Do the flounce! Oh, go on, please?”
Matty sniffed haughtily.
“Not for you, not for anyone,” he said, then picked up the kettle and flounced camply out of the room. Susie collapsed back onto the hearthrug and burst into laughter again, and moments later Evelyn was lying beside her.
“Short hair makes you fun!” she said delightedly. “I think it's really good!"
"Thank you, pet!" said Susie. "I think it's really good too. It's just a shame other people don't think so."
She shot a glare at Tristan who shrugged and looked away, and then turned to tickle Evelyn in the ribs and make that young lady squeal with mirth.
Later that evening Matty suggested that they all go down to the local wine bar and have a drink with some of his neighbours and local acquaintances. Mme. Moreau had by this time taken quite a fondness to Evelyn and was perfectly happy to look after her for the evening, so they felt no compunctions in leaving the little girl in their hostess’ capable charge.
Several of Matty’s friends were in evidence when they arrived at the bar and lost no time in introducing themselves to the newcomers, although as the conversation was for the most part restricted to French they made better progress with Sarah than with Susie or with Tristan, whose conversational French was a little rusty through lack of use. Susie listened rather than joining in, except when Matty remembered to translate for her benefit, and as her attention wandered she realised that Tristan kept looking at her as though she were some new and exotic creature he’d never seen before. She tried to ignore him and concentrate, but the attention was very distracting.
“Oh, Tristan, for heaven’s sake!” she exclaimed when she caught him staring for about the fifth time. “It’s not like I’ve suddenly grown three heads or something!”
“No!” He raised his hands to free himself from accusation. “It is merely that I…I was thinking that…it…becomes you. The short hair. It is somehow…fitting. As Evelyn said earlier, it looks right.”
She turned to face him, a warm smile breaking out on her face.
“Do you mean it?” she asked and he beamed back at her as he said,
“I do. I cannot,” he added, “profess to like it, entirely, but it is…you.”
To her surprise, she found herself blushing. “I’m glad you…no, you’ve just said you don’t like it.” She laughed embarrassedly. “I’m glad you approve, sort of. I didn’t like thinking you were so horribly appalled by what I’d done.”
“I was not appalled,” he corrected her. “Merely…surprised. Your hair is so beautiful…but Sarah is quite correct,” he said quickly, glossing over that remark. “It is not my place, nor anybody’s, to condemn or approve.”
“I think Madame will!” chuckled Susie suddenly, imagining the headmistress’ face. “She’ll have a thousand fits when I get back. Heigh ho! I shall have to prepare myself.”
“I feel sure she will not be angry,” said Tristan. “She is too kind a soul for that.”
“Well, we shall see,” said Susie, and bestowed another smile upon him. He smiled at her, then to her startled surprise he reached out a hand and stroked the back of her head, where her hair was cropped closest. His hand rested at the base of her skull for a moment, then he removed it and looked away, embarrassed.
“Feels strange, doesn’t it?” she asked him with a gentle smile.
“Indeed it does,” he agreed. He looked back at her, head tilted to one side. “But yes. Very becoming.”
Their eyes met and held for a moment, then Susie glanced away, feeling oddly flustered. Stop being daft, she told herself and looked back up at him with a smile. He was looking amused, then chuckled and brandished a finger at her.
“Just do not start to wear trousers,” he instructed her jokily, “or you truly will have everyone worried!”
She laughed at him, trying not to think of how apposite those words were. He laughed too and then - it was only a moment, but there was a flicker of emotion across his face, as if he had suddenly realised something, and he stopped laughing. She gave him a questioning look and he forced a smile and then became very interested in his wine. Susie frowned slightly, unable to think what had caused this change, and then Matty drew her into the conversation at the far end of the table and by the time she could return her attention to Tristan he was quite back to normal.
I wonder what that was all about, she mused to herself on the way back to the flat. Or did I just imagine it?
But there was no answer to be had, and as Tristan’s manner towards her was as impeccable as ever, she shelved the question for another day, and turned her mind instead to bed, and thoughts of the morrow.
Postcard 5 - Tristan by Finn
Tristan has forgotten to bring his address book so he can't write a postcard either. I apologise for the change of tone in this update, but I can't help it - he can be bloody stubborn at times and refused to do anything else.
Warning: there is some Plot in this update...I know, shocking!
ETA: thanks for all the comments! And special thanks to Abi, who proofed this for me.
Tristan breathed a quiet sigh of relief when Matty Smith finally gave in to his yawns and, bidding Tristan a good night, departed to take his rest. Ordinarily Tristan loved the young man’s company, but since his sudden realisation in the wine bar that evening his mind had been distracted by disconcerting thoughts and he had been hard pressed to pay any attention to the conversation. But as the bedroom door swung closed behind his friend he sat back on the sofa and gave that sigh, glad to be alone with his thoughts.
Susie had startled him today, shearing off her lovely hair in such a dramatic fashion. Of course, she did love the dramatic, but there was so evidently more to it than mere drama. He wondered why he had not understood before that she was different, that she was not as other women. It was so plainly obvious, now that he thought about it.
He knew all about unconventional relationships, of course. He was a musician, after all, and one could not escape such affairs in his profession. He had never questioned, merely accepted them like any other - if this was how people chose to love, it was not his place to naysay. What with all he had done in the war…no, to love was better than to kill, and so how could he be the judge of them? Such men - such women - hurt no-one. So he accepted, and in time came to forget it was an anomaly.
And yet, Susie…that he had not expected. Such a vivacious young maiden, so open, nothing of the secrecy he had come to expect from such people as these. But it followed quite plainly - Susie’s desire to crop her hair short, so masculine...well, many young women did that these days, and he could have accepted it in her, would have thought no further of it, had it not suddenly made sense of something he had heard her say, something which he had not understood at the time but now, in the light of these fresh developments…
He had not meant to overhear, that night when Susie and Sarah were in the kitchen, talking of going to Madame, and Sarah being helpful, and of something special with Nell…Miss Wilson, of course…of being committed to something - he had put it aside, considering it none of his business to make sense of a remark half-overheard, and had forgotten it. It would not have occurred to him had he not made that senseless remark about Susie donning trousers…but suddenly it was clear, in sharp focus in his mind. Susie and Miss Wilson, they had shared one of these unnatural relationships. Susie was…he had no word for it, so settled for “unconventional”. She was not interested in men - she was interested in playing the man. He wondered briefly how that could work, then stopped himself abruptly, horrified. He could not think of her in that way! She was his friend…no! It was wrong! He got up from the sofa and paced the hearth rug, trying to dispel the image from his mind.
But…this at least explained why she had been so miserable recently. There must have been some argument, some split from Miss Wilson that had hurt her, had made her break down into tears in his arms and talk of leaving the valley. To think of her so hurt, and unable to speak, unable to share her secret - his heart ached for her even as he tried to push aside the memory of her soft warmth in his arms as she wept upon his shoulder, and he stood, grim-faced upon the hearth rug, wondering what he could do to help. He could not discuss it with her - with either of them - without betraying that he knew their secret, and he knew how hard people in their situation would endeavour to conceal their nature. But maybe there was something else he could do. He thought furiously, scarcely aware of the niggling little ache in his heart. Perhaps Sarah would have an idea…Sarah! He pulled up at this startling thought. She must know! After all, it had been she in whom Susie had confided. Faintly he wondered, rather dismayed, how his sister had come to be aware of such matters, but he put that thought aside. She knew, and was not shocked. She was not often shocked, his good sister. The last time he could remember had been when he had told her of Eddie…God, that night! He stood for a moment, his heart beating painfully at the awful memory. But she had prevailed, and she had forgiven, just as she had forgiven Susie, accepted her, helped her. He wondered what sin Sarah wouldn’t forgive?
Suddenly, unbidden, a memory rose up in his mind, the memory of a face he’d not thought of for a decade. She was golden-haired, too, her face sharp-boned and her smile but faint, as though she wearied of the pretence of happiness. They had all known her, all his regiment had known her sunken and miserable beauty, the tired sorrow of her face even when she laughed and smiled, welcomed them with a kiss…his Elke…
He crossed the floor slowly and sank into the sofa, his mind turning over these unwelcome memories. She had worn her hair cut short, in the end, but not for fashion. No, it was for the war, the bombardment, the endless stream of lost men that passed through her door…he remembered the time he had gone to her to find that mane of golden hair, her beautiful hair that used to lie about her in voluptuous clouds, now cut in blunt blocks on either side of her face. She had made some excuse about lice, but he had known that it was the bloody grime of war and of her work that had caused her to lay hands upon the scissors and shear her hair off just below the chin. She had wanted to maim her last remaining beauty, when all her other beauties had been stripped away by the men, the soldiers who paraded themselves in her bedroom, the men who had bombed her town and shattered her home and turned her to the life of a common whore…he sank his face into his hands, breathed deeply and screwed shut his eyes, hating himself for her, for being with her, for forgetting her…
And yet, when she had died he had felt the blow physically, deep within him. Little Elke, who was so knowing, so wise, and yet who clung with a childlike trust to him when he said he would marry her. She could not have believed it. How many others had uttered such promises?
But he would have kept his, had she lived…
“Enough,” he said aloud.
He sat for a moment longer, then rose and went to get ready for bed, focussing upon the routine actions to banish the thoughts. But as he crawled into bed the memories crept back, thick as ghosts, and he lay awake, staring at the ceiling, remembering.
It was a long time before he slept.
Postcard 6 - Sarah by Finn
Thank you for the comments. I was a bit worried about that last update, but it seems to have gone down well :)
Not much happens here, but it happens suddenly, I'll have you know.
Perfect weather, good company and the pleasure of exploring a city I’ve never properly visited are making this a delightful holiday. We’ve managed most of the major sights now and are planning a visit to Montmartre today - for Susie’s benefit, of course! Hope you are well and enjoying England - Sally
“Who are you writing to?” asked Susie at this point, craning over Sarah’s shoulder. “Oh, Mollie! Send her my love.”
“I’ve written it now,” said Sarah. “There’s not a spare space on it. Why don’t you write her your own, if you’re so keen?”
“I don’t know if I ought,” said Susie, fiddling with the hem of her dress. “She’s not a friend like Nell is.”
“What a silly thing to say!” said Sarah bluntly, capping her pen and blotting the postcard. “You’ve sent one to her brother, why not her?”
Susie gave a small chuckle, then shrugged.
“I suppose, when you put it like that…Evelyn!” she called suddenly. “Be careful near that vase!”
“Sorry,” said the little girl, jumping down from the chair she’d been standing on to look out of the window and narrowly missing catching the aforementioned vase with her elbow. She came over to join the women. “Please, Miss Smith…Auntie Susie, I mean,” she corrected herself as Susie gave her a mock-stern look, “when are we going out?”
“What does Auntie Sarah say?” Susie asked, and Sarah shrugged.
“Whenever those boys make their presence felt, I suppose,” she said. “It’s not quite ten yet, so I don’t expect they’ll be long. You’ll have to possess your soul in patience until then, Evelyn.”
She gave the little girl a fond smile as she reached for a stamp for her postcard, and Evelyn nodded tolerantly and went off to collect Marianne, who was never far away, and sit upon the hearth rug with her. Sarah watched her for a few moments, feeling a surge of protective love such as she had never felt for any child before. Honestly, she had taught dozens of children - how had this little girl wormed her way into her heart so quickly? There was something in the way that she expected no-one to notice her that touched Sarah deeply, something in her complete lack of self-pity, when she was so badly used. Sarah found herself wishing, rather irrationally, that she could keep her with her always, then shook her head. The child was no possession to be held on to; she was a living person, with parents of her own. It was to be hoped that her mother was warmer to her than her father was, that she was not completely starved of love.
Sarah smiled to see Susie drop onto the rug beside Evelyn and draw her into a little game with the doll. She might say what she liked, but Susie really was wonderful with small children. Sarah watched them for a little while, then sighed and affixed her stamp to her postcard. Where were those boys? They were very late this morning. She sighed, then shook her head. No sense in wasting time. She had a little business to attend to; she may as well do it now. She drew a piece of writing paper towards her and uncapped her pen, but at that moment the door to the flat opened and Matty appeared. His hair, which had probably been neat when he had left his flat, was being rumpled into its usual state of untidiness by his right hand and, after kissing Evelyn and his sister good morning, he drifted over and perched himself on the corner of Sarah’s table, his tapping foot the only outward sign of his agitation.
“Come to pester me, young man?” Sarah said to him, not looking up from her letter. “Where’s Tristan?”
“Er…still in bed,” he said, and as she looked up in surprise he met her eye slightly diffidently.
“What, at this hour?” she demanded. “The lazy devil! That’s not like him.” She stopped, suddenly wary. “Is he…he isn’t…? No, he was looking fit as a fiddle yesterday. He can’t have suddenly taken ill…”
“Would you mind coming and taking a look?” asked Matty, carefully keeping his voice low. “I woke him up over an hour ago, but he just muttered something about being tired and went back to sleep. I wouldn’t have worried, only he’s up so early as a rule. But today…well, he’s not quite like himself.”
“I’ll go at once,” said Sarah, replacing the cap on her pen. She stood up and Matty came with her to the door, hovering in a state of worry beside her.
“Shall I…?” he said, but she shook her head.
“No, you stay here with those two and keep them busy,” she said, nodding to where Susie and Evelyn were curled up together on the hearthrug, playing with the doll. “There’s probably nothing to worry about, so no sense in getting everyone stirred up. I won’t be long,” she said, and slipped through the door and up the stairs to Matty’s flat, her heart beating anxiously. You’d have thought she’d be used to it, by now, Tristan being ill - for he was not one to linger in bed without good reason - but she was still filled with a sick nervousness every time he showed a sign of illness. She could not help remembering the time she was summoned back from Italy after he had suffered a bout of pneumonia that had almost killed him, just before they had come out to the Tyrol. She’d come so close to losing him then, and before that, when he’d been ill during the Spanish ‘flu epidemic, and of course, when he was gassed in the War…he’d been spared so many times that she couldn’t help feeling with each subsequent illness that this time his luck might have run out.
She slipped into Matty’s flat which was shrouded in gloom, curtains pulled fast against the morning light. Sarah was touched at the young man’s evident concern for her brother. It was so nice for Tristan to have such a pleasant friend worrying about him. He was not the sort of person to make friends easily, her brother, and his devotion to Matty, and Matty’s to him, pleased her greatly. She picked her way across the room now to where Tristan lay curled up on the mattress, his regular breathing showing that he was, indeed, fast asleep. She hesitated, reluctant to wake him, and instead laid a hand very gently on his forehead to check for a temperature. He was warm, but not overtly hot, and there was no flush on his cheeks as far as she could see. She felt a surge of relief and, suspecting that her brother’s sleepiness had a different cause, she took him by the shoulder and gave him a little shake to wake him.
“Tristan?” she called softly.
He made a reluctant noise and opened his eyes very unwillingly.
“Mm?” he mumbled, and blinked a couple of times. “What?”
“Do you have any idea what time it is, young man?” demanded Sarah sternly. “How long have you been asleep for?”
“Have I been asleep?” he asked vaguely, rubbing weary eyes with his thumb and forefinger. “It must only have happened recently. I was awake for so long, and then when I slept…”
These words confirmed Sarah’s suspicions and she gave him a little grimace of sympathy. “Nightmares?”
“Memories,” he replied shortly, “and - yes, there were nightmares.” His eyes drifted closed. “I am so weary,” he said.
She looked at his pale face, lined with exhaustion, and felt a wrench of pity, but she knew that staying in bed late would only result in another sleepless night for him, and so she touched his shoulder again.
“I know you’re tired out, but do you think you can get up?” she asked as his eyes flickered open. “We’re all waiting for you to come out and do something with us.”
“Go without me,” he said, and rolled over in bed. “I am scarcely in the mood for sight-seeing.”
Sarah rocked back on her heels, then got up and crossed to the window. The only way to deal with her brother when he was in this mood was to be firm, as she well knew. She flung both curtains back so that light flooded the dim room, and Tristan groaned and tried to bury himself beneath the blankets. Sarah looked at him and tutted, feeling momentarily that she was growing more like her mother every day.
“I know you don’t feel like it right now, but just think how much better you’ll be when you're out in the bright sunshine, instead of staying in bed,” she said. When Tristan didn’t respond, she gave another tut and an imp of wickedness came to her and inspired her to say something their mother had often said to them when they were children and reluctant to get up in the morning.
“I’ll give you five minutes to be up and getting ready or I’m coming back in here with a wet sponge.”
The look that Tristan gave her at this statement was such that she was hard pressed not to laugh, and so to preserve the effect of her words she was forced to beat a hasty retreat. She waited for two minutes but heard no sound of movement, so she slipped downstairs and into Mme. Moreau’s bathroom, locating and thoroughly soaking her sponge in cold water. Matty was looking expectantly at her as she passed back through but she refrained from meeting his eye and tried to conceal the sponge as well as she could. Five minutes had elapsed by the time she reached the upstairs flat and so she went in, sponge primed, and saw instantly that her brother had not risen, for there was his unmoving shape curled underneath the blankets. She tiptoed over, raised the soaking sponge, and drew back the blankets with a stealthy hand, dripping a little of the water onto Tristan’s neck. He shifted uncomfortably, raised a hand to wipe away the water, then his eyes opened and he turned over to see her standing there, a schoolgirlish grin on her face.
“Sarah!” His tones were outraged horror. “I did not think you were serious!”
“When am I not serious?” she asked him cheerfully, then she jerked away, but not quickly enough, for he had sat up and deftly plucked the sponge from her hand. Knowing that retaliation was not far away she scrambled to her feet and turned tail, but too late she remembered that her brother had been on the First Eleven at school, and the soaking sponge hit her squarely on the back of the head before she was more than a few paces towards the door.
“Ugh!” She tugged her sleeve over her hand and wiped quickly at the drips that were running down her neck, turning to bestow a scowl upon her brother, who was laughing at her.
“It is your own fault!” he informed her gleefully. “Or have you forgotten that Eddie used to do that to me of a morning?”
“Did he?” Sarah said, startled at this sudden confession. Despite their talk of last summer, when he had finally told her of what had happened to their brother, Tristan was still reluctant to speak of Eddie, so this statement came as rather a surprise to her. Clearly it was also a surprise to him; he stopped laughing and his expression became confused, as though he wondered why he had said it, but he nodded nonetheless.
“Yes, it was a trick of his,” he said, then gave a chuckle. “I became swift in taking my revenge! But I did not quite believe that you would be so audacious,” he told her sternly, and scowled at her. “What is this fresh cruelty, when I have told you how weary I am? What has happened to you, Sarah? You never before teased me so much.”
“It must be Susie’s influence,” she said with a twinkling eye. “She could give us all lessons at teasing.”
He did not reply to that and Sarah noticed how his expression changed when she mentioned Susie, from amused to introspective - and was that a faint tinge of colour in his cheeks? He looked up at her, apparently on the verge of speaking, then at the last moment he seemed to change his mind and made a vague gesture at the bedclothes.
“I shall rise and join you shortly,” he said simply, and she nodded and left him to get up. But she wondered at that expression and at what he had been about to say to her. Could it be…no, her mind refused to believe that. Tristan had never shown any interest in the opposite sex before. Why should she think that, just because he looked a little funny when she mentioned Susie’s name, that he…
But what do you know? she asked herself. You were in Italy for four years and you barely saw him. How do you know what interest he’s shown before?
And Susie was a dear girl, if a little unconventional. She could well understand if he had fallen for her, and she certainly seemed very fond of Tristan. But this was not a very good time for her, after all this business with Nell, and with Matron Wilson. Maybe she should give her some warning…maybe she should speak to Tristan…maybe…
Maybe you should just mind your own business, Sarah Denny, she said to herself firmly as she re-entered Mme. Moreau’s flat. It’s not exactly your concern, is it?
“Hallo, Sarah,” said Susie as she came in. “Where’ve you been?”
“Waking Tristan up,” she said absently, and Matty gave her a puzzled look.
“Then why the sponge?” he asked, and Sarah glanced down and realised she was still gripping the damp sponge in her left hand. She stared at it, looked back up at Matty’s confused face, and laughed at his expression.
“Incentive,” she said, and Matty shuddered.
“I’m glad you’re not my sister!” he laughed and Sarah gave him a grin.
“I don’t particularly want you as a brother either,” she teased, and he stuck his tongue out at her.
“Well, now you’re here,” said Susie, pulling her down next to her on the sofa, “You can help me make a decision. The Vingt-Huit, or the Rose Noire?”
“The what or the what?” asked Sarah, bemused.
“They’re nightclubs,” explained Susie. “It’s our last night tomorrow and I’m not going without going to a real Paris nightclub. Matty isn’t much help but he did manage to come up with those names, and they’re quite nearby, so it’s one or the other. What do you think?”
“I don’t think anything,” said Sarah with a laugh. “Do you mean all of us to go?”
“Oh yes,” said Susie.
“Especially Tristan!” Susie gave a wicked grin. “It’ll be good for him.”
“Well, I suggest you don’t mention anything until he’s feeling a bit more cheerful,” said his sister, “because I doubt he’ll take the suggestion well. In fact, I’ll be surprised if he comes at all.”
“Oh, he’ll come,” said Susie confidently. “I’ll see to that.”
“I’ll believe that when I see it,” said Sarah, and went to put the sponge away in the bathroom.
Dressing for Dinner Part I by Finn
Thanks for the comments and the favourites! Sorry about this - Susie and Tristan insisted on one more scene before they all go out, and since it's their holiday I didn't like to refuse them.
“Tristan, may I talk to you?”
Tristan, halfway into his trousers, froze in alarm as Susie breezed into Matty’s bedroom where he was changing and addressed him in cheerful tones.
“I should…prefer if you waited until I was dressed,” he said. She blinked, then seemed to realise the position he was in.
“Oh, that,” she said carelessly. “Don’t worry, I won’t watch. I’ll sit on the bed and stare at the curtains.”
She did as she said, planting herself firmly onto the eiderdown so that her back was turned towards him. As she did so, something seemed to amuse her for she gave a wicked little chuckle.
“Anyway,” she said, “you got a thoroughly good look at my smalls when I fell over on the platform in Innsbruck, so I’m only turning the tables, really.”
Tristan felt a blush spreading across his cheeks and was grateful that Susie’s back was turned. He hurriedly donned his trousers and reached for his shirt, wondering how she always seemed to know how to make him feel most uncomfortable.
“What did you wish to discuss?” he enquired, hoping to hasten her along and out of the bedroom before someone came in and discovered them, for he was not at all sure of the propriety of this situation.
“Do you ever not think about music?” she said, running her fingernails along the edge of the blanket.
“Music?” he replied, nonplussed. “I…I think of music a great deal, naturally. It is - well, it is my life. But…why? Why do you ask?”
“Was there ever a time when you didn’t think about it a lot?” she asked, picking up the corner of the blanket and rubbing it with her fingertips. “Say, a few months, or a year when you weren’t writing music, when you…oh, I don’t know. When you thought about other things?”
He frowned thoughtfully.
“It is interesting that you should ask,” he said. “There was a time - while I was at college, as it happens - when I composed almost nothing. It lasted at least two years.”
He fumbled with his shirt buttons as his mind drifted back to that time. It was not an entirely fond remembrance. Just home from war, just recovering from that awful year when he had…had lost his mind…the sort of introspection required of composing had been too difficult for him to contemplate. Singing, performing - he had set his mind and his heart to those, and his fumbling attempts at producing music for his composition classes had only just passed muster with his examiner - all until his final year, when he had at long last produced a piece to rival any he had hitherto created. He glanced up at Susie’s delicate back, bent over as she toyed with the blanket, and wondered how much to say. How much had Sarah told her? They shared a great deal, he knew - probably she already knew about the war, about how he had been at that time…
“It was most peculiar,” he said slowly, trying to explain, “for only a short time before I joined the College, I had been writing almost constantly, creating new pieces and improvising…”
Oh, the improvisation! That was something he had not done for so long. He remembered the feeling of sitting down at the piano and producing not music, but sheer emotion, feelings translated into sound. It had transcended any pieces he could play at that time, bounded by conventions of structure and harmony - no, this music had taken flight and had taken him with it, and how he had hated to be brought back to the world! He reached mechanically for his cufflinks and brought his attention back to Susie.
“It was…after the war…once I was at the College, the ideas disappeared, when I resumed my studies…yes, I was without music for some time - although not without it, for I was surrounded by it, and yet never a note left my pen that was of any worth until the very last spring…”
Susie twisted round and grinned at him.
“Did you find your muse?” she asked, then turned away hastily on seeing his face. “Sorry, sorry. Look, I’m not looking.”
“It makes little difference,” he said with a sudden laugh. “I am almost dressed now.”
“Oh, good,” she said, and swung round on the bed to face him. “I hate not looking at someone when I’m talking to them.” She gave him a cheeky smile and lay down on her front, kicking her legs up behind her and crossing her ankles. “So go on, tell me about her.”
“About whom?” he asked, confusedly.
“Your muse!” she exclaimed teasingly. “Whoever it was that made you start composing again after so long.”
“Oh! Oh, there was no muse,” he explained carefully, “merely necessity. I had perforce to pass my composition class, and somehow something came to me, an idea I’d had…some time before, but had been unable to complete…”
She was giving him a peculiar look, her chin propped on her hands. “In the trenches?” she said softly, and he gave a brittle smile and a brief nod. So she did know.
“Sarah told me,” she said. “I must say, I think you’re awfully brave.”
He turned away, just managing not to give a scornful snort. “You are quite mistaken,” he said, and hurriedly added, before she could say anything else, “but you are correct about the…the music. I realised it into a score, presented it to my composition professor and…”
“Passed with flying colours?” she grinned, and he managed a smile in return.
“I took the composition prize,” he said, and she whistled.
“Goodness! Well done!” She rolled over and lay on her back, hands folded on her stomach, contemplating the ceiling. “And you’ve been composing ever since?”
“As a matter of fact, no,” he said, slipping on his jacket. “I was not even composing with that piece I mentioned, merely remembering and re-scoring. I did not start again until coming here - in fact,” he added with a laugh, “the moment that I saw the Tiernsee, I was seized with music, and that feeling has not yet left me.”
She grinned up at the ceiling. “So you could say that the Tiernsee is your muse,” she teased, but he nodded quite seriously.
“You may jest all you like,” he said, “but whenever my inspiration dies I find that all I need is a walk beside the lake and the ideas begin to flow once more.”
“I wish I could say the same,” Susie said. “You’d have thought that being in such beautiful surroundings would inspire me to great things, but…no, nothing.” She heaved a sigh. “Oh, when I was young I used to have such ideas, such images in my mind, and never the time nor the materials to do anything about them. Now I have the facilities, the peace and tranquility, and I am too busy teaching, and playing, and just living life, and I don’t have the ideas.” She sat up suddenly and looked over at him, worriedly. “Do you think I’ll ever get it back?” she asked.
She looked so dejected that he went across and sat beside her on the bed, taking her slender hand in his to reassure her.
“Sometimes,” he said, “the mind requires rest, inactivity, time to recover from events, or to absorb them and incorporate them into itself. You cannot always be inspired, it would exhaust you. If you do not have the ideas, do not struggle to think of them - they will be distorted, imperfect. You cannot force art, but must let it take its course. Even now, I am only composing small pieces; motets, songs, sonatas and so on. The grander works will come later. Keep working on the small things, practise, and you will find that the inspiration comes back.”
“Do you think so?” She made a face. “I hope so. I hate being without art. It’s so rotten and empty.”
“But you do not seem unhappy,” he said, giving her a careful look.
“No-o,” she agreed, “I’m enjoying myself in the Tyrol. But…oh, never mind me. I’m just fretting over nothing, as usual. Tell me about your music! I find composing so fascinating,” she said. “I can see images, and when I see something I like I can always see exactly how I want to draw it, but I can’t imagine how you could put together all those melodies and harmonies into a piece of music at all.”
“It is not hard,” he assured her. “But then, I cannot conceive of producing an image as you do. Music is easy to me - especially songs. But then, there you have words which help in the setting of the music.”
“Oh, have you written songs?” she said delightedly. “I’d love to hear some! Are they for the girls?”
“Ah…in fact, no,” he said. “That is I…I have written…your voice, it has inspired me…I have always loved the contralto…” He flushed red again and didn’t look at her as he said, as casually as he could manage, “They are for you.”
“For me?” Her eyes were shining as she turned to him, a smile spreading across her face. “I’ve never had a song written for me before! How wonderful! Oh, thank you, Tristan! May I see them now?”
He glanced at his watch. “We will be late for dinner if we begin now,” he said. “But I will gladly play them after dinner - if you are willing to relinquish this absurd nightclub idea.”
“Oh no!” She laughed at him. “You’re not getting out of it that easily, my lamb. And you’re not properly dressed yet, either. Where’s your bow-tie? Here, let me tie it for you.”
She made him stand up and, despite his assurances that he could manage quite well without her help, she insisted upon doing the tie for him. Her soft fingers deftly tied the bow and then she stepped back and surveyed her handiwork.
“My goodness, you do brush up well,” she told him, running her hands lightly over his shoulders and arms with a small smile, then a glance at her watch sent her to the door.
“Good grief! I’d no idea that was the time! I’ll never be ready at this rate. I’ll see you in a moment - and thanks for the talk, Tristan,” she added from the doorway, her eyes twinkling. “You’re an angel!”
She blew him a kiss, and was gone, leaving him to shake his head and laugh, before checking that he had everything and strolling out into the main room to await the ladies and the pleasant dinner they had planned. Hopefully it would fortify him against the horror awaiting him later that evening.
He had been quite firm about not going to the nightclub, and was rather taken aback to find that despite his protests, he was nonetheless going. Even more startling was that his own sister was aligned with the Smiths against him. Sarah, liking jazz? But she had averred that indeed she did and that, short of having nothing suitable to wear, she saw no argument against going to a nightclub. In the end, the combined efforts of Susie and Mme. Moreau’s younger daughter Julie had seen her settled with an outfit, and so there were only Tristan’s own objections to be overcome. In vain had he protested that they were welcome to go without him; it was the four of them or nothing, apparently, and the thought of Susie’s face if she were denied this evening out had forced him, very reluctantly, to acquiesce. After all, he could always leave quite soon after he had arrived there - there was nothing forcing him to stay, once Susie was distracted with the music and dancing. He contented himself with that thought as he went through into the main room.
Matty, already dressed, was sitting at the table piecing together his jigsaw when Tristan came to join him.
“What was she up to?” he demanded, looking round at Tristan, and if his expression were a little jealous Tristan did not notice as he replied,
“Seeking my advice on matters artistic.”
Matty gave a huff and turned back to his puzzle.
“She’ll make us late for dinner. She’s not even dressed yet!”
Tristan laughed and shook his head.
“She will be ready in time,” he said. “After all, this is her idea and, misguided though it is, I think we can rely upon her not to ruin the plans.”
He patted Matty’s shoulder and went to pour himself a drink, and entirely failed to observe the longing look Matty was giving him, jigsaw lying disregarded under his hands. It would never have occurred to him to notice such a look, anyway. His thoughts were with his songs, the poetry he had chosen, the music he had written and Susie’s lovely contralto singing it. What more was there to think about?
Dressing for dinner Part II by Finn
Well, what lovely comments the last update generated! It's so delightful for a writer to see, not just that people are engaged with a story, but how they are engaged - I really enjoy reading them and they're a special treat for me, so thank you very much :)
Now, there have been developments since last I posted, with the appearance of Lesley's new website for CS fic, and so from now on I'll be posting in two places at once. Depending on how well the new site goes, I may switch over entirely, but I'll make sure to mention it if I do. The website can be found here: http://www.annersley.co.uk/index.php (I do not know how to put links into SDL stuff! Someone please enlighten me!)
Right, and onto the next bit, where once again, nothing much happens. I hope it's enjoyable nonetheless.
Sarah fiddled with the neckline of her evening gown and tutted.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I’d almost be happier in my black thing.”
“What?” Susie whirled round from rolling up her stockings. “Nonsense! You look stunning, my love.”
“Now that is nonsense,” said Sarah, tugging at the dress again. It was a very simple affair in dull crimson, with plain shoulder straps, a band of embroidered flowers at the low waistline, and a slightly flared skirt with more flowers embroidered at strategic points just above the hem. Borrowed, of course - she didn’t own anything this fashionable herself. But fortunately for her, Mme. Moreau’s daughter Julie was roughly the same size as her and had quite cheerfully let her borrow one of her evening dresses. Sarah had been rather surprised that Julie had more than one smart dress, for the Moreaus were not wealthy, but Mme. Moreau had told her quite proudly that her daughter had made a good marriage and that her husband was quite happy to spend money on the materials for his beloved wife to make herself nice dresses. Privately reflecting that there were far better things to be spending money on, Sarah was nonetheless quite pleased that Julie had been able to lend her something, because her own best frock was somewhat dated. It didn’t matter too much at the Tiernsee, where she used it perhaps once a term and where there was no-one looking too closely at how shabby she was, but here in fashionable Paris, she had felt a strange surge of pride in her appearance and had baulked at the idea of wearing something so outmoded to a gay Parisian nightclub.
It was rather absurd, though. No-one expected old maids to push themselves forward, to try to out-do their younger, prettier fellows - especially when they were as plain as her! She glanced over to where Susie sat on the bed straightening the seam of her stocking and sighed internally. Susie had everything ahead of her, whereas she herself was over the hill these days. After all, she was in her thirties now, and well and truly on the shelf. She recalled with a small smile how she had dreamed in her younger days of a husband and children, but it had never transpired. The War had taken all that from her, as it had from so many other women like her. Many of her friends had never married, and not always through choice - there simply weren’t the men. Susie didn’t have that problem, though. There were plenty of young men her age - she might marry one day, if she wished.
She suddenly realised with a stab of guilt that she herself might marry if she chose - Dino had made that perfectly clear last term. It hurt her to reject him as she was doing. He had waited for her, all those years they had been apart. How he had remained so resolutely single she would never know, for he was an attractive man with many charms about him, and she had fully expected him to marry someone else, once she had left Italy. Of course, the first time he had proposed had been not very long after Angelo had thrown her over so cruelly. She hadn’t been ready then to contemplate anything with another man - not to mention the fact that she could not morally accept him as a suitor, not after what she and Angelo had done. But now she might have him, if she chose - and yet…and yet, niggling away inside her was the knowledge that she did not love him as she ought to - as she had loved Angelo, she thought and frowned at herself. Oh, it wasn’t fair - it wasn’t fair at all, that Dino should love her and that she should not return it, that she should have loved that pig better than the honest, decent man Dino was. She was very fond of him and she dearly hated to see him unhappy. Sometimes she thought that she ought to give in, to marry him, to try to love him as he loved her. It wasn’t right that he should suffer - she almost snorted at the idea of a man suffering through love for her, however clearly it was the case. He cared so deeply, he wanted her, she had it in her power to make him happy…and yet, somehow, something always held her back.
She frowned again and turned away from the mirror with a slight huff of irritating, pulling out her hairpins and shaking her hair out of its daytime arrangement. Maybe when she saw Dino next she’d just say yes and have done with it. She hated being the cause of his misery, and she was finding it harder and harder to refuse him.
“Your hair is so lovely, Auntie Sarah,” said Evelyn at this juncture, and Sarah turned to smile at the little girl. Evelyn was curled on the bed, wrapped up in her nightie and dressing gown ready to go to sleep as soon as the adults left the flat. She had been allowed to stay up to see Susie and Sarah in their party frocks, and she was watching their preparations with a glow of excitement.
Now she scrambled over the bed and stroked a timid hand down Sarah’s long hair, eyes wide to see how long it was.
“It goes right down to your waist!” she said in an awed tone, and Sarah chuckled.
“That’s not very far,” she observed drily. “I’m almost as short as you!”
She bent down to tickle Evelyn and the girl wriggled away, squealing with laughter.
“It is beautiful hair,” said Susie, who had finally dressed as far as her slip and was now standing, dress in hand, looking at the brown sheen of hair that tumbled down Sarah’s back. Sarah snorted and picked up a brush, but she was secretly pleased. Her hair was her chief - her one - beauty, and she was rather proud of it. Not that anyone ever saw it like this, of course, but she derived a certain pleasure from brushing it out at night and in arranging it in the morning. She was aware that she was a victim of vanity just as much as a prettier woman might be, and she did find this rather ironically amusing, but it didn’t stop her. She sat down on the bed to brush it, as Susie scrambled into her own dress and dropped down in front of the dressing table to apply some powder. Evelyn came to perch beside Sarah, still fascinated by her hair.
“May I brush it for you, please?” she asked shyly. “I’ll be ever so careful!”
Sarah smiled, then handed over the brush.
“You mind that you are,” she said, but gently, and Evelyn knelt behind her on the bed and ran the brush through her long tresses with faultless care. Sarah felt another burst of the protective love that Evelyn inspired in her and had to restrain herself from turning round and hugging the child. They had all been like a family this past week - a strangely formed family, but there was a together-ness about them that intrigued her. It was odd to think that she and Tristan weren’t related in the slightest to Matty and Susie, and that none of them were related to Evelyn. The Smiths should be her cousins at the very least, she thought, while Evelyn inspired such maternal affection in Sarah that she was really quite surprised at herself. She had never thought she could feel in that way, especially about a child that was not her own, whom she had only come to know so recently. Not for the first time she wished, rather irrationally, that she could keep her, and then she laughed, turned around and bestowed a hug upon Evelyn, taking back the brush as she did so.
“Thank you, my dear,” she said. “It’s lovely and tidy now, all ready to go up. What shall I do with it?”
Susie got up from the dressing table and waved a hand toward it, and Sarah took a seat before the mirror and fiddled with her hairpins, attempting to create a nice, smart style to go with her fashionable dress. Susie slipped briefly from the room. Sarah could hear Mme. Moreau in the main room exclaiming over how nice Susie looked in her beautiful green gown, then there came the strains of some lively music. The Moreaus owned an elderly gramophone and Susie had evidently put on a record, for she came back into the room with a cheerful smile on her face.
“A little something to get us in the mood,” she grinned at Sarah, taking up the brush and running it through her short locks.
Evelyn had sat up on the bed, listening hard, with an expression of growing fascination on her face. After a few moments had passed she said, in marvelling tones,
“Auntie Susie, what is that?”
“That?” Susie turned away from the mirror where she had been craning past Sarah to inspect her hair. “That’s jazz, Evelyn.”
Evelyn sat, rapt with wonder.
“That's jazz? But why does Mr Denny not like it?” she said in a gasp. “It’s…it’s simply super!”
“Like it, do you?” Susie grinned and tousled the young girl’s hair. “I think it’s marvellous, myself. Mr Denny doesn’t like it because it’s…well…why does Tristan not like jazz, Sarah?” she asked, but Sarah didn’t answer because she had hairpins in her mouth. She was struggling to style her hair the way she wanted, and finally she let it fall and dropped the hairpins, muttering,
“Oh, hang it all!”
Susie came over and laid a slim hand upon Sarah’s shoulder.
“Let me do it for you,” she said. “I’m good with hair, and you’ve such pretty heaps of it. It almost makes me miss my own!”
Sarah handed over the hairbrush and submitted to Susie’s skillful fingers, and by the time that young lady had finished she could barely recognise herself in the glamorous, well-dressed woman that stared back at her from the mirror. Susie smiled proudly at her handiwork and tweaked Sarah’s dress slightly so it hung better.
“You do look simply ravishing,” she said. “Red suits you! You should wear it more often.” Her eyes twinkled. “Give Signor Ruggiero something to think about!”
“Susie!” Sarah indicated Evelyn’s presence with an urgent gesture, and Susie had the grace to look abashed. Sarah felt slightly cross with the young woman. True, Evelyn never repeated anything, but one had to be careful, especially when…her heart sank to think of Dino again, but she pushed him firmly out of her mind. Tonight they were going to have fun and forget about their troubles - well, all apart from Tristan, whose troubles would probably start at the nightclub. Sarah wondered with a grin how he would cope tonight. Poor thing, it wasn’t really his scene! She adjusted her headband slightly and paused to wait for Susie, who was slipping on some lipstick at the mirror.
“Don’t you want some?” she asked Sarah, waving the lipstick, then straightened up and looked at her friend critically. “It’s a lovely red, and it’d set you off just nicely.”
“I don’t know…” Sarah made a face. “I’ve never worn lipstick in my life!”
“Oh, come here,” said Susie briskly and pulled her back under the light. She painted Sarah’s lips with a deft hand and then pushed her in front of the mirror so she could see the effect. It was rather startling.
“It looks wonderful, my dear,” said Susie, with a smile.
“Hmm.” Sarah considered the bright red lips warily. She knew it was quite respectable to paint one’s lips these days, but…it didn’t really feel like her.
“No, I don’t think so,” she said, finally. “It’s rather too bright for me. I think I’ll do without.”
She fished out a handkerchief and was about to wipe the lipstick away when Susie stopped her.
“No, I’ve an idea,” she said. “It does look rather bright to start with, but why don’t you take some off and leave a little colour there? Honestly, Sarah, it’ll set the whole outfit off - and besides, if you don’t have any on, well, you’ll be the only one there who’s not wearing it! Give it here.”
And she took the handkerchief from Sarah and dabbed at her lips until there was a muted red sheen there, which Sarah felt was much more tasteful. Susie tucked the lipstick into her bag then turned to Sarah, who was patting her hair once more.
“Come on,” she said, a note of impatience in her voice, “or we’ll be late for dinner.”
“I like that,” said Sarah indignantly, “when it was you taking so long to get ready yourself!”
Susie merely gave a blithe smile and bent to kiss Evelyn goodnight.
“Be good for Mme. Moreau,” she said, and Sarah kissed Evelyn too before the little girl tumbled down off Sarah’s bed and scrambled into her own.
“May I listen to some more jazz tomorrow?” she asked plaintively, and Sarah glanced at Susie. It wasn’t the sort of musical education her brother had had in mind for the girl, but she was so earnest in her request, and so dear to her heart, that Sarah was not inclined to refuse her. Finally she nodded and smiled.
“Very well,” she said. “But don’t tell Mr Denny!”
“I won’t sleep at all tonight,” Evelyn informed them, her eyes wide open and her face enthusiastic. “Mayn’t I read a little?”
“For half an hour, and then you must shut your book and lie down and go to sleep,” said Susie. “We’ll see you in the morning, my pet. Promise to be good?”
Evelyn nodded rapidly and picked up her book, propping herself against the pillow. Sarah smiled at the sight, and then she and Susie went through into the main room to find Matty and Tristan waiting for them, looking very smart in their black tie. Matty gallantly offered Sarah his arm, leaving Tristan to escort Susie, and they all made their way out of the flat and down into the street with a sense of muted excitement. Their night out was about to begin!
Thank you for the comments! Most of you will already have seen this bit as it's been posted over on LGM, but I'm posting the two bits from there as one chapter here. Enjoy!
“I’m so pleased you’re wearing the seaweed dress,” said Matty to Susie as they wound their way through the tables in the nightclub. “I’ve rather missed its weedy delights.”
Susie hit him on the arm.
“Stop calling it that!” she protested. “They’re frills, not weed!” And she shook her hips so that the dark green frills hanging about the skirt of her short dress fluttered to and fro.
"Looks like weed to me," said her brother and ducked as another blow was aimed at him.
“My friend Emma made it for me,” Susie told Tristan and Sarah, turning away from her brother with a haughty flounce. “We both thought it was lovely, til Matty started on about it being made of seaweed. Then, of course, Emma had to make another one because she’s jealous of me having a seaweed dress when she didn’t! She’s a bit bats, is Emma,” she added confidentially, and gave the skirt another shimmer.
“It’s a very beautiful dress,” said Tristan, rather startling his sister, who had never heard him express an opinion on fashion before.
Maybe I’m right after all, she thought to herself as Susie thanked Tristan sweetly for the compliment and slipped her arm through his as they sat down at a table in a corner of the club. A waiter glided by and was accosted, drinks were ordered and they sat back to take in the view. Red velvet and gold fittings seemed to be the order of the day, and there was a general appearance of somewhat faded luxury in the draped curtains and plushly cushioned chairs, as well as in the gilded archway that dominated the far wall of the club. The tables clustering up to the edge of the dancefloor were covered in crisp white cloths, and over the whole scene floated the beguiling strains of jazz music, emanating from the small group of musicians upon a small dais above the dancefloor. Though the night had barely begun, the floor was already quite full; evidently the club was a popular one. Susie sat, foot tapping to the rhythm, looking eagerly out at the swaying dancers.
“Susie, wait ‘til we get our drinks, can’t you?” laughed Matty, ruffling up his hair with a careless hand. “I’m parched, and the music isn’t going to go away.”
“It might do,” said Susie. “They might go on strike before I set foot on the dancefloor!”
“Unlikely,” said Matty as the waiter arrived, the tray of drinks at his right shoulder. He made his sister wait until he had downed half his martini before he stood up and, quite courteously, turned first to his guest.
“Sarah, can I tempt you to a dance?”
“Oh, not just yet,” said Sarah, flustered. “Maybe after a little Dutch courage. I have two left feet, I’m afraid to say.”
“I fear nothing will induce me to dance,” put in Tristan, leaning back in his chair and folding his arms, an air of dissatisfaction about him. Matty grinned.
“Well, Suze, looks like it’s you and me,” he said, flourishing his arm in a grand gesture to his sister. She smiled, accepted it and, with a little wave to the two who remained behind, they strolled out onto the floor.
Tristan closed his eyes and sighed. How long would it be polite to sit here before he made his excuses and left? Perhaps half an hour would suffice. He checked his watch, then looked across to his sister, who was grinning amusedly at him.
“Planning your escape already?” she teased.
“Can you blame me?” He grimaced at her. “It is appalling!”
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Sarah. “I think it’s rather jolly, all things considered.”
Tristan permitted himself a snort of disgust and Sarah looked at him curiously.
“Why did you come, then, if you hate it so much?” she asked. “Was it…to please Susie?”
He nodded, not observing the pause in her sentence.
“She was so excited to be coming, and she seemed to want us all together…” He gave a shrug to indicate his helplessness, then turned back to watch the dancers cavorting jauntily around the wooden dance floor, with not a little disapproval. What a ridiculous sight! He would never understand this behaviour, he thought to himself, and then glanced at his watch again. Barely a minute had gone by, and he heaved a sigh of irritation. Twenty-nine minutes, then he would make his excuses. It would be a pleasant walk back to the flat, and he could write down the little tune that had been niggling him all through dinner, which was currently drowned out by the irritating buzz of music in this close, confined place. How silly it all was, to get dressed up so smartly to come out to a place like this and jiggle around to absurd tunes and senseless songs! Although, he had to confess, he had never seen Susie look so beautiful, even with the rather shocking lipstick she had seen fit to apply - and what was the sense in that, when she needed no enhancement to her natural beauty? And as for his sister…he had been startled to see her so well-dressed, when usually she was quite plain. It was just a shame that they were so dressed up for a nightclub, and not the opera, which would have better suited him. He checked his watch again. Twenty-six minutes until he could depart this place. He would be counting every second!
“Tristan,” said Sarah, cutting in on his thoughts, “may I ask you something?”
“What is that?” he asked her, turning his attention back to her.
She was silent for a few moments, clearly considering how to proceed. He waited patiently, rather puzzled, until finally she turned to him in rather a rush and said,
“The other day, when I mentioned Susie, you looked…well, really rather funny. Is there…I mean, I know you’re very fond of her, of course…”
“Of course,” he repeated. She gave him a funny sidelong glance, then took a deep breath and said,
“Of course, but is there something more?”
“More?” He frowned at her in confusion. “What do you mean?”
She looked at him, her face suddenly exasperated, then gestured impatiently with her hands.
“Are you in love with Susie?”
Tristan sat up, startled out of all caution.
“What?” He gaped at her in astonishment. “N…no! No, I am not!” He shook his head at his sister, his cheeks flushing hotly. “What makes you suggest such a thing?”
“Oh.” Sarah bit her lip, then laughed. “I think I must have got hold of the wrong end of the stick. I’m sorry. I…I read too much into it.”
“Into what?” he demanded, running an anxious hand into his hair. “What have I done to make you think…think this?”
“Oh, nothing, not really,” she said. “You look at her a little oddly sometimes…and that morning when you were so tired, you looked very preoccupied when I mentioned her name…I simply thought…but I was wrong. Sorry.”
She gave him an apologetic grin, but he did not return it, for another terrifying thought had struck him.
“Do you think she thinks I am?” he asked, eyes wide with alarm. "I would not have her think that…that I could be so presumptuous…she must be disabused!"
Sarah raised her hands soothingly.
“No, I’m sure she doesn’t,” she said. “For one thing, Susie isn’t observant, not about things like that. For another, it was only me being overly sensitive in the first place that led to me jumping to the wrong conclusion.
“It was indeed the wrong conclusion,” he said, relaxing slightly. “Quite erroneous…nothing further from my thoughts! As for that morning,” he broke off and his cheeks, which had only just returned to their normal hue, flushed once again, “that was…was something I had discovered, the previous night…”
“What was that?” enquired Sarah.
“Some knowledge to which you are already a party,” he told her and added in an undertone, not quite looking at her, “About…Susie and…and…Miss Wilson.”
Sarah’s eyes widened in alarm.
“How do you know about that?” she hissed quietly, glancing around as if expecting to see Madame or some other staff member eavesdropping on the conversation.
“I…I overheard,” he said. “I did not mean to listen, but nevertheless…I heard you and Susie discussing it one night. But I did not understand your talk until three nights ago, when…” He broke off, unwilling to confess all his thoughts. “There was some split between them, am I right?” he asked, and Sarah nodded carefully.
“There was,” she said. “Susie came to me for advice. I happened to…to see them,” she said, and he noticed that her cheeks were also a little pink as she confessed this fact, “so she knew she could trust me. It’s been quite horrible for them. Matron Wilson found out, and she was threatening to expose them…just think of the scandal!”
He breathed in, surprised. “Indeed,” he said. “That would have been truly terrible…but she has now left, has she not? Without speaking?”
“I suppose she didn’t have the opportunity in the end,” said Sarah. “She had to go in rather a hurry.”
“Poor Susie,” Tristan said, looking for the green dress in among the throng out dancing. “It is little wonder she has been so melancholy. I have worried about her,” he added in softer tones, and Sarah gave him a curious look.
“You’re very accepting,” she said to him, and he looked back at her in surprise.
“Should I be otherwise?” he demanded, and she raised her eyebrows and held up her hands.
“Not at all,” she said. “I simply didn’t realise…”
“It is love,” he cut in on her words. “Whether it is between a man and a woman, or two women, or…or even two men, where is the harm in it? It is no sin, to love.”
His tone was defensive and something in Sarah’s face changed; she looked first startled, then grew introspective, studying him carefully. His cheeks tinged pink, he turned away from her and his hot protection of Susie and, as the music came to a close, he saw Matty and Susie come running back from the dancefloor.
“Tris, you’ll dance with me, won’t you?” cried Susie as she came up to him. “Matty’s being noble and has come back to give Sarah a dance, but I don’t want to sit out!”
Tristan held up his hands in protest.
“I am afraid I cannot dance,” he said. “I know neither the steps, nor the…” there was a brief hesitation before he said, “music.”
“Of course you can dance!” Susie argued, catching at his hand and trying to tug him to his feet. “I saw you at the ice carnival with Annunziata. You managed there.”
“Oh, but that was not this sort of dancing,” returned Tristan, resisting her attempts to make him stand. “Now, if they played such a thing as a waltz, I might be able to oblige.”
“I don’t think they really do waltzes in a place like this,” said Sarah over her shoulder, as Matty led her out into the crowd.
Tristan shook his head and shrugged at Susie.
“Then I am afraid I cannot dance with you,” he said.
But Susie wasn’t about to be put off this easily.
“It’s quite simple,” she said, holding out her hands to him again. “I’ll teach you! Come on.”
Tristan uttered a sigh and looked at her tiresomely.
“Oh, Susie,” he said. “Is it not bad enough that you have dragged me here, against my will? Must you now put me through fresh torture upon the dance floor?”
Susie pouted at him.
“So you won’t oblige me,” she said accusingly.
“I cannot oblige!” he protested, holding up his hands. “I have told you I cannot dance, and certainly not to this…this noise.”
Susie huffed in frustration, then flung herself down into the nearest seat and looked out at the dancers with an expression of mingled annoyance and longing. Tristan, observing her as he was wont to do, felt a twinge of guilt at robbing her of some of her joy, and to his surprise he found himself reconsidering his decision. After all, it was only a dance, and the worst thing that could happen would be for him to look a little foolish, and he so seldom cared about such things as the opinions of others that this was not a particular consideration. His dislike of the so-called music was an argument against it, but perhaps the experience of dancing to it would enhance it somewhat, or at least help him to see its appeal. He gazed at Susie’s downcast face and, with an internal sigh, he made up his mind.
“You truly wish to dance, don’t you?” he said to her, and she turned to him with eyes that shone fit to touch his soul. He shook his head, smiled at her, then stood up and held out a hand.
“Very well, then,” he said, as she seized his hand delightedly and rose to join him. “You will have to teach me, for I do not know even the steps.”
“Oh, that’s alright,” she said, hooking her arm through his in a possessive sort of a way. “I’m an excellent teacher. You’ll be Charleston-ing round the room in no time at all, my love!”
“Oh heavens!” exclaimed Sarah, looking over Matty’s left shoulder with startled eyes. “I don’t believe it!”
“What?” asked Matty, letting go of her and turning to look in the same direction. “What is it?”
“She’s only gone and done it!” was the inexact reply, but Matty had seen what had caught Sarah’s eye, and he gave a surprised laugh.
“Well, that I never thought I’d see!” he said, and Sarah and he stood for a moment, watching in amusement as Tristan received his first lesson in modern dancing.
“I don’t know whether I can bear to watch,” said Sarah after a moment. “Come on, let’s look the other way. I hope it doesn’t all end in tears!”
“Bend your knees, Tristan,” warned Susie, steering her partner along the edge of the dancefloor.
Tristan tried to comply, but somehow he got his foot underneath Susie’s and she toppled into his arms with an exclamation. He caught her, blushing at his ineptitude, but to his relief she started to giggle as she clung onto him.
“I fear this is not one of my best ideas!” he complained as she righted herself.
“Oh, nonsense,” she admonished him, righting herself. “We were doing quite well up to that point. Come on, let’s try again.”
But she got no further than that, for suddenly at Tristan’s side appeared a dapper young man, shorter than Tristan and compactly made, with a head of slicked down blond hair and an engaging, brilliant, white smile.
“S’il vous plait, mademoiselle,” he said in a distinctly American accent, “une danse?”
And before Susie had time to protest, he had caught her hand and whisked her into his arms, leaving Tristan standing, deprived of his partner.
“I beg your pardon,” he said rather indignantly, “but the lady was dancing with me.”
“And now I’m cutting in on you, buddy,” said the American, giving him a disdainful look, “because the lady looks like she could do with a real dance, not just a fumble, if you get my meaning.”
And so-saying he swept Susie off into the crowd, and Tristan was left standing on his own, rather taken aback. Still, he reflected, at least he could return to his seat. He felt slightly relieved at that as he carefully crossed the floor, avoiding the bouncing couples. Dancing was all very well if you enjoyed the music, he reflected, but when it gave you no joy to listen, there was no joy in the dancing - and besides, this Charleston was rather complicated, and he had not shown a great deal of prowess. No, Susie could have a pleasant dance with this young man, who clearly knew what he was doing, and in future he, Tristan, would stick to waltzing, if he were called upon to dance at all.
“That was a bit rude,” said Susie to the American man as they danced past the band. “Couldn’t you see I was giving him a lesson?”
“Ma’am, if you’d given him a hundred lessons he’d not have been a worthy partner for you,” said the American smoothly, with that charming white smile.
“And you are?” she asked him, cocking her eyebrow, but he only laughed at her.
“I’m better than he is, for sure,” he said, and Susie had to admit to herself that he really was rather a good dancer - better than her brother. And, she supposed, it was probably the done thing, in America, to cut in on dances like that. She was sure she had read about it somewhere. She decided to be nice to him, and ignore his rudeness to Tristan.
“What’s your name, then?” she asked him.
“Emerson Calvert III, at your service, ma’am.”
“The third?” Susie giggled in spite of herself. “Like a king, or something?”
Emerson Calvert III was giving her a quizzical look.
“I’m not a ma’am,” said Susie firmly. “D’you see a wedding ring?”
She raised her left hand up to his face and his eyes twinkled.
“All the better,” he said. “I can see I'm going to enjoy tonight."
"You're not getting fresh with me, are you?" she asked him, but he could see she was teasing.
"I tell you," he said, "it’s nice to meet someone who speaks the same lingo. I twist my tongue on all this Frenchie-speak, don’t you?”
“I don’t even try,” said Susie. “I’m just visiting. What about you - do you live here?”
He shook his head. “Business,” he said. “Boring. Let’s talk about pleasant things, like Paris nightclubs and the pretty ladies in them.”
Susie smiled at him, and agreed.
Tristan, sitting alone at the table, was trying to keep an eye on Susie, for he felt that she was his responsibility while her brother was engaged and he wanted to make sure the young American who had claimed her was not taking too many liberties. Of course, a little freedom was to be expected in a place like this, but nonetheless, they knew nothing of this young man, and Susie could be impetuous at times. So he watched for the green of her dress and the gold of her hair, and with half an ear he listened to the music and, to his surprise, found his interest caught by the chord progressions. This tune had been progressing in the usual circle of fifths manner at first, but was now taking some surprising harmonic detours. In fact, his perfect pitch told him that they were going through almost every key possible; and another thing - the melody was quite deceptive. Despite the apparent simplicity, it was probably the very devil to play, and that was even without the improvisatory skill of the clarinetist, who had just begun to take the tune into quite wild musical realms. Tristan sat back and found himself lost in admiration at the skill the man was showing. It wasn’t only the clarinetist, either - the pianist was quite clearly a master of his instrument. Tristan thought that the man would have been at home playing Beethoven and Mozart, as well as this…he realised with some surprise that he had been drawn into the music and shook his head in astonishment, wondering what was happening to his critical faculties. Of course it was all nonsense! But…there was some interest in it. And he could begin to see the reason for its popularity - there was something almost enjoyable about its simplicity…yes, he could listen to it, though he still disliked it. There was…something to it.
He was still preoccupied with the complex harmonies when the song came to an end and moments later Sarah and Matty reappeared, laughing and breathless. Sarah’s cheeks were rosy and her eyes sparkling, and she dropped into a chair beside Tristan, fanning herself with her hand.
“Oh, what fun!” she exclaimed. “I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed dancing, even if I am a bit behind the times when it comes to the latest “moves”.”
“I have still not progressed beyond the basics,” said Tristan with a self-deprecating smile. “Susie has found herself a better prospect.”
“She abandoned you?” asked Matty, throwing himself into the seat on Tristan’s other side.
“An American…” he hesitated before granting the word, “gentleman interrupted us. She is dancing with him now.”
“Ah well,” said Sarah, patting his arm as she reached for her drink. “Probably for the best.”
“What do you mean?” asked Tristan, slightly bemused, and she shook her head.
“Nothing, nothing,” she said, then Susie came hurrying over in a flutter of green silk.
“Well, that was fun!” she said, flopping down into a seat beside Sarah and seizing her cocktail, draining it in one draught. “Another round of drinks, folks?” She glanced appealingly at her brother, who rolled his eyes good-naturedly and caught the attention of a nearby waiter. The band struck up another tune and more couples took to the floor. Matty ordered another round of drinks and, as he did so, a group sitting in the far corner of the nightclub caught his eye. With an internal groan he recognised them, and turned his face quickly. He did not want to be noticed by them tonight, not with Tristan here…oh, hang it! What timing! Well - maybe they wouldn't notice. But of all the places!
“Did you enjoy your dance?” Tristan was asking when Matty turned back to the conversation, and Susie was giving him a sympathetic smile as she said,
“Yes, thank you. It was very noble of you to relinquish me like that.”
“Oh, it was my pleasure,” he said with a half-bow. “I am sure you had a much more enjoyable time than you would have had with me.”
“Oh, no, not at all!” said Susie, but her eyes belied her and Matty smiled to himself.
I wouldn't mind dancing with Tristan, he thought to himself, and chuckled at the image. Then with a slight pang, he realised it was their last night together.
And still I haven't found out, he thought. Bloody hell, Matty, you are a coward. Tonight's your last chance - what are you going to do about it?
The drinks arrived before he reached a conclusion and so he pulled himself back to the conversation. Sarah sipped her pink gin, while Tristan looked askance at Susie’s choice of beverage.
“What is that?” he asked, and Susie grinned as she said,
“A cocktail, darling. Want to try it?”
“I don’t think so,” said Tristan, looking at it warily. "It is a most peculiar looking thing."
“What’s it made of?” Sarah wanted to know.
Susie glanced at her glass.
“D’you know, I’m not really sure,” she said. “It’s a Manhattan, if that helps.”
“Whisky and vermouth, in that case,” said Sarah, and Tristan gave her a look of consternation.
“How do you know that?” he demanded, and Sarah gave a graceful shrug and grinned secretively.
“Another life,” she said, and Susie chuckled.
“Well, if it’s whisky, you ought to like it, Tris,” she said, and handed him the glass. Feeling compelled by their eyes upon him, he took a sip and made a face.
“That…is…I fear there is something terribly wrong with it,” he said, trying not to grimace too much as he handed the glass back to Susie. She looked down into it, puzzled.
“That’s how it’s suppose to taste!” she protested and he nodded slowly.
“Then I think I will leave it to you, if you enjoy it,” he said, “and I shall continue to drink whisky the way it is supposed to be drunk.”
Susie grinned and sipped at her cocktail as the conversation turned to other matters. The next dance ended and, rather to Susie’s surprise, Emerson Calvert III suddenly materialised beside their table, hand held out to her.
“Another dance, Susie?” he asked her and she rose to her feet, feeling delightedly flattered. When the dance ended she did not come back, and the rest of the group were left to assume she had remained with the American.
“I hope he is suitable company,” was all that Tristan had to say on the subject, but his eyes continually sought out her green dress in the crowd and Sarah and Matty exchanged amused glances.
The band had played several more tunes, and Matty and Sarah had essayed a couple more dances, before Susie deigned to return to them. She was a little starry of eye and flushed of face, and merely said that the Americans were charming company and plumped down quite definitely into her seat. Sarah privately wondered just how charming these Americans were, given that they had not bothered to come and introduce themselves to Susie’s friends, but she refrained from saying anything, simply passed Susie her cocktail and sat back to listen to the music. A man had got up onto the dais beside the musicians, and now he began to sing as the band struck up a lively number.
“Oh when my baby, when my baby smiles at me…”
Tristan listened carefully to the song, and partway through he turned to Sarah, frowning in complete bemusement.
“Why is he singing about a baby sending him to Rio de Janeiro?” he asked in an undertone. “Is it his child he is singing about? I cannot quite divine his meaning.”
“No…” Sarah bit her lip to stifle a laugh. “No, he doesn’t mean his child. He means his sweetheart,” she said, putting it into terms Tristan should understand. “It’s about how her smile makes him happy.”
Tristan frowned even more profoundly.
“But why does he not say so?” he wanted to know. “Why does he called this…this sweetheart a “baby”?”
“It’s just the American way,” she told him, just managing to stop herself from giggling at his disgusted expression, and then she began to clap as the rest of the room broke into applause. Tristan did not clap.
“I do not think much of his performance,” he said. “He closed down every single vowel sound before its proper time, and his breath control was quite appalling.”
Sarah laid a hand on his arm. “Not too loud, dear, or everyone will hear you,” she cautioned him, and he waved an arm.
“But one cannot sing on a consonant!” He would have complained further, but after Sarah murmured another, much more caustic, warning in his ear he subsided, albeit with bad grace. The music struck up once more, a more jaunty tune this time, and the man began to sing again.
“I have got a sweetie known as Susie,
And in the words of Shakespeare she’s a wow.”
Susie sat up straight and waved excitedly at Matty.
“It’s my song!” she cried in delight, and turned her beaming smile on the Dennys. “Shh! Listen!” And she danced about in her seat as the man sang,
“If you knew Susie,
Like I know Susie,
Oh, oh, oh what a girl!”
Tristan began to chuckle at Susie’s excitement, and then Sarah gave a great snort of laughter, principally because man had just sung the line,
“Susie has a perfect reputation.”
Susie turned injured eyes on her friend.
“What?” she demanded. “What? Stop laughing, you wretch!”
“Why do you laugh, Sarah?” enquired Tristan, and Sarah shook her head, trying to suppress her laughter.
“Nothing,” she replied in strangled tones, then caught Matty’s amused eye and they both burst into laughter again.
“Will you two stop being horrible?” asked Susie, and Tristan said,
“I do not see what is so amusing.”
“Oh, nothing,” said Sarah, wiping at her eye. “Look, Susie, here’s your American to ask you for another dance.
Emerson Calvert III was indeed making his way across the floor to seek Susie, and Susie rose with haughty dignity and turned her back on her friends, taking the American’s arm and disappearing into the throng of dancers. Tristan gave up trying to make Matty and Sarah explain the source of their amusement and turned his attention back to watching the dancers.
Matty leaned across to Sarah.
“What do you know that I don’t?” he asked quietly, eyes twinkling but face serious.
“What do you mean?”
“Susie’s been up to something, hasn’t she?” he said. “Oh, don’t look at me like that. I know my sister of old! What’s she been doing to get herself into trouble this time?”
“I…I don’t think it’s fair for me to tell you, if she hasn’t,” said Sarah.
“Is it something to do with this “Nell” woman?” asked Matty, and grinned when Sarah’s eyes widened for a moment. “I thought so! She’s been all over Susie’s letters like a rash, and then just as suddenly she vanished. An unfortunate liaison?”
“I really can’t tell you!” hissed Sarah. “Don’t ask me, please. I’m supposed to be her confidante, after all, and confidantes don't blab to other people, even when they're related.”
“I'm sorry,” Matty conceded, and sat back up again. “You're right, it's not fair. I’ll just have to try and get it out of Susie herself, I suppose.”
“What…” The cry startled them both, as all of a sudden Tristan leapt to his feet. Matty jumped up as well, but Tristan was off into the mass of dancers before Matty could see what had so startled his friend.
He did not have long to wait. Tristan reappeared moments later, bringing with him a rather indignant-looking Susie. There were words being exchanged between the two of them, quite hotly.
“It is not appropriate, not at all!”
“What are you talking about? Let go of me!”
“But he was kissing you! In full view of everyone!”
“He was taking advantage!”
“And what if I want to be taken advantage of?”
Sarah and Matty watched the scene with bated breath, neither wishing to interfere. Susie’s eyes were twinkling as Tristan spluttered incoherently for a moment, then she spoke again.
“Just because he kissed me…”
Tristan recovered himself and went back to berating her with alacrity.
“And you are scarcely behaving in a ladylike manner - to let him do such a thing…”
“At least I don’t run away when people kiss me!”
“What?” He stopped dead, looking down at her, unable to believe his ears. She gave him a defiant look.
“You heard me.”
“I do not run away…”
“Prove it?” He spread his hands. “How?”
Taking advantage of his open arms, Susie darted forward and, wrapping her arms about his neck, kissed him full on the mouth. Rather to her surprise, his lips parted slightly as she flicked her tongue across them and then he was kissing her back, his hands moving to her waist; then suddenly he froze in her embrace and pulled away, horror in every feature. She grinned up at him, arms resting on his shoulders.
“Now prove it!”
In the Nightclub Part II by Finn
Thanks for the comments!
I would have waited til I had a bit more, but I can't resist a cliff.
For a moment no-one said anything. Tristan, red to the ears, took a faltering step backwards and gaped at Susie, who was giggling at his appalled face.
“Honestly, anyone would think I’d just slapped you,” she said. “You really ought to be smiling, you know!”
Tristan recovered himself at her words and, tearing his gaze from hers, reached up and removed her arms from about his neck. His grip was slightly too firm, and it made Susie wince slightly and pull away from him.
“Ow!” she exclaimed, tugging her wrist from his grasp. He glanced up at her but looked away immediately. His face was thoroughly dismayed and Susie gave him an interested stare.
“Well,” she said, cheerfully, “you've not run away, at least!”
Sarah, her expression slightly troubled, stood up and took her brother’s arm, tugging him down into a seat beside her.
“That’s enough,” she said. “Sit down, you two, and stop causing a scene!”
“Tristan was the one causing a scene,” said Susie. “Hauling me away like that. It was only a little kiss, after all, and I’ve given you one too, now,” she said to him, “so there’s no need to be jealous.”
“I am not jealous!” snapped Tristan, still very red in the face.
Matty, who was jealous, was studying Tristan carefully. He barely noticed when Sarah, thinking to give her brother some time to recover from the situation, lured Susie away from the table to teach her some new dance steps, leaving the two men alone; he was too busy trying to divine how Tristan felt about the kiss. Embarrassed, obviously, but did he welcome Susie’s attention or was it repulsive to him? It was so hard to tell; Tristan sat with his face turned away, studiously avoiding looking at Susie or anyone else until the two women were gone. As soon as they were out of sight, however, he dropped his face into his hands, then ran his fingers through his long hair and leaned back, sighing in the direction of the ceiling.
Matty cleared his throat embarrassedly.
Tristan glanced over at him and Matty tapped his own lips, then, seeing that Tristan didn’t understand him, took out his handkerchief and waved it vaguely at his friend.
“Lipstick,” he said briefly, and Tristan grasped his meaning and, his colour flaring up once again, hurriedly wiped away the traces with Matty’s handkerchief.
“Oh, that woman!” he said in tones of utter exasperation. “I am sorry, Matty - I know she is your sister, and an enchanting young maiden, but she does delight so in putting me in impossible situations.”
“It didn’t mean anything,” said Matty, not quite looking at Tristan. “She was only messing around.”
“I know that she was teasing,” said Tristan. “I…realised almost at once. I am quite aware that she enjoys a joke at my expense.”
“She has had quite a bit to drink,” said Matty. “I think the American fellow has been plying her with it, and she’s quite carefree when it comes to liquor. And she really isn’t at her most sensible when she’s had a few.”
“Which of us is?” asked Tristan, and gave a rueful smile. “But she is so…”
“Young,” said Tristan, sounding weary. “So very young. She thinks she knows the world, when in fact she is just beginning to learn. She has made many assumptions about me…”
He broke off, and Matty’s breath caught. He inspected Tristan sidelong, trying to divine his meaning. Was this it? Was Tristan telling him what he had half-suspected all along? His face gave nothing away - he was staring into the middle distance, melancholy in his eyes - but his words were so suggestive. They were the sort of thing Matty would have said himself, if he were testing the ground with another man. Matty felt himself trembling upon the edge of something momentous. His hand shook as he reached to take a casual sip from his glass and his heart fluttered tremulously, and he knew he had to speak, to draw the truth from Tristan. Now might just be his chance!
“What sort of assumptions?” he asked, trying to sound politely interested rather than frantic, but Tristan shook his head and gave a humourless laugh.
“She thinks me an innocent child,” he said. “She forgets all I have seen…all I have done…”
His face grew grim as he toyed with his whisky, and then suddenly he drained the glass and stood up.
“I feel the need for some air,” he said. “The smoke in this room is choking me.”
Matty scrambled to his feet as well.
“Yes…let’s go outside,” he said, but then his spirits plummeted as Tristan shook his head.
“I should prefer to be alone,” he said curtly, then gave Matty an apologetic glance. “I will rejoin you, soon.”
“Right,” mumbled Matty and flopped down into his seat in an anguish of rejection as Tristan disappeared towards the door to the club. Another chance, lost! Or perhaps he was reading too much into it, after all. Tristan was so careful…but weren’t all men in their situation? Once again he railed silently against the law that forbade his form of loving, which made it impossible openly to confess his feelings, and he sank his chin onto his hand and stared out at the dancers, the picture of misery.
It did not improve his mood when someone dropped into the chair next to him and put an arm around his shoulders.
“‘Ello, Matty,” said the loathsome, high-pitched voice, just beside his left ear. “Why the long eek?”
Matty only just stopped himself from groaning aloud. So he had been noticed, and by the worst of the bunch! He lifted his chin from his hand and turned to face his interlocutor. With gingery hair that receded from a pale forehead and brilliant blue eyes that glinted wickedly above a jutting nose, Gregory Sparkes was about ten years older than Matty in years and at least thirty years older in cynicism. He owned a small bookshop in the area of Matty’s flat, helped by the fluent French he had learned at his mother’s knee, she being a Parisienne, though Gregory himself had been born in Liverpool and spoke both French and English with traces of that accent. Matty knew him in the same way that he knew all the men of their particular circle - they shared a certain tendency which they dared not speak aloud, though they referred to it in coded terms amongst themselves, and they had gravitated together via certain clubs and meeting places. The two men cordially loathed each other and Gregory took every opportunity to needle his friend. Now he jerked his head towards the door through which Tristan had just departed and gave Matty a cheerful grin.
“She looked in a bit of a hurry,” he said, using the slang that all the men in their circle of acquaintance were familiar with. “Gone for a troll, has she? Where did you pick her up from, my little chicken?”
“I haven’t picked him up,” said Matty, steadfastly refusing to give Tristan the female pronoun, as his friends so often did about men like themselves. “He’s just a friend.”
“Oh, what a shame,” said Gregory, turning to gaze in the direction Tristan had gone. “I was looking forward to getting to know her. She’s a bit of a dish,” he said, his voice dripping with suggestion. “Such bona riah!”
“What do you want, Gregory?” asked Matty through gritted teeth. He was confused about Tristan and, if he were to sit in a nightclub feeling despondent, he would have preferred to do it alone - and Susie was here, and he preferred that she should not find out about this! It was one area of his life he wanted to keep private until a time of his own choosing, and a fellow like Gregory was not subtle.
Gregory smiled now, wolfishly, his arm still around Matty’s shoulders.
“There’s a small crowd of us over there,” he said, gesturing with the other hand. “All your old friends, chicken. We’ve been waiting all night for you to come and talk to us. Come and polare with us, and bring the other omi polone too. We could all do with a new eek, especially one as dolly as hers.”
“I can’t,” said Matty. “For a start, I don’t know if he is omi polone, and for another, I’m here with my sister and she needs keeping an eye on - and no,” he added swiftly, forestalling Gregory’s next suggestion, “I’m not bringing her over too.”
“Oo-o-o-oh!” Gregory’s tone oozed surprise. “Doesn’t she know?”
Matty closed his eyes and sighed. Another secret given away! He hated giving Gregory anything to use against him - not that he had used anything against him yet, but Matty didn’t trust him any more than he’d have trusted a Conservative politician to look after the dock workers in the East End, and he preferred not to hand him ammunition as freely as he had just done.
“I can’t join you,” he repeated, but Gregory made a show of looking about him for people.
“I don’t see anybody here,” he said. “Oh, come on, Matty-chicken! Varda those three over there?” He pointed at three strange men sitting with Matty’s friends. “She’s a naval captain and those two are lieutenants and my word, they’re dishes alright. Such lovely thews on them, and as for buns…” He kissed his fingers in the manner of a chef. “You won’t regret it!”
He hauled Matty to his feet and, despite his struggles to resist, Matty found himself being propelled over to the table in the dark corner of the nightclub where the rest of their crowd were lurking.
“Only for a few minutes,” he protested as Gregory pushed him along before him. “I have to get back…”
The night air was fresh and cool, and distinctly more breathable than the smokey atmosphere of the club. Tristan stood a few paces from the doorway and inhaled deeply, turning his gaze up to the moon, which hung in a sharp crescent above the sleeping city. A fine, clear night, and he was wasting it in a dingy basement listening to music he did not particularly enjoy and…his cheeks flushed hot again as he thought of Susie and he laid the back of his fingers against them to cool them. That girl! She challenged all his notions of what was proper - she smoked, she drank, she wore makeup and she let perfect strangers kiss her without asking a question. It was all so peculiar, so unfamiliar, and he felt awkward and strange here, as awkward and strange as ever he felt outside of his own home, outside of music and the things he understood. He did not understand this world; and now he felt he would never understand Susie.
He dared not think of her kissing him, for it had been so…so delightful, and yet he knew there was nothing in it. A man like him could hold no appeal for a girl like her, and of course, she so rejoiced in teasing him…and he should not think of such things, for it was not right, not proper. She was his friend and she was very dear to him, as dear as his sister, and that was all there was to it. The sooner he forgot about this disconcerting event, the sooner things would return to how they should be. He closed the kiss out of his mind and opened his eyes to the night sky, the velvet blackness spattered with stars. How beautiful it was, that pale sliver of a moon suspended above him, yellow against the dark depths of heaven. The music that had come to him over dinner returned now, a tentative, fragile melody that flickered across his thoughts like tendrils of blue fire. Soon he would need to write it down, but for now he could let it play and enjoy its delicate vibrations - and suddenly he realised that he would not go back into the club, for this night was too splendid, this music too fine, and he wished to be alone with it. He slipped back into the club, borrowed paper and a pen and hastily scribbled a note to the others, passed it on to their waiter with instructions to hand it to one of their party. Then he went to reclaim his coat and set off into the night, not following the route they had taken earlier but meandering, allowing the stillness to sink into his bones and the music to play, and for the first time that night he found that he was content.
“Susie,” said Sarah, as they were dancing together, ostensibly so that Sarah could learn some new dance steps, “where are the…”
Susie looked at her quizzically, then in a flash of inspiration she divined her meaning.
“Oh, the significant pauses!” she laughed. “I don’t know, my darling, I’ve never been here before. Shall we go and see?”
“I think I can manage on my own,” Sarah said. “Why don’t you go and apologise to Tristan while you’re waiting for me?”
“Apologise to Tristan?” said Susie. “For a kiss?”
“He might appreciate it,” suggested Sarah quietly, and departed in search of a bathroom, while Susie made her way meditatively to the table. Maybe she had been a little unkind, she reflected, even if she had only meant to tease. Perhaps Sarah was right, and an apology was a good idea. It certainly wouldn’t hurt and if she had upset Tristan then hopefully it would make him feel better.
When she got to the table, however, she found it deserted, with only the remains of their drinks upon it and no sign of the two men.
“Where have they got to?” she asked herself, standing on tiptoe and scanning the club, but she saw no sign of her brother or Tristan, though her brother had left his cigarettes upon the table next to his half-finished martini. She thought she would smoke while she waited for them and fished a cigarette out of the packet, then realised she had nothing with which to light it. Grumbling under her breath, she glanced around again for her brother, but their waiter had seen her predicament and came hastening over to strike a match for her. She thanked him prettily and he smiled, then presented her with a piece of paper before gliding away, leaving Susie to unfold the note in private.
Intrigued, she sank gracefully into a seat to read it, but moments later she leapt up in alarm.
I have returned to the flat, for I am tired and desire some repose before the morrow. Do not worry, but enjoy yourselves in my absence.
Susie re-read the note, gripped by horror. Oh, what a fool she’d been! She’d been cruel to Tristan, and now he was upset and had gone home, and it was her fault! Well, there was only one thing to do. She must go after him and apologise, and somehow she must make it up to him! She span around and made for the door, pausing only to collect her coat and throw it about her shoulders before dashing off, quite alone, into the Parisian night.
A Night on the Tiles by Finn
Having successfully completed her errand, Sarah was hurrying back to the main room of the nightclub when, to her astonishment, she heard a vaguely familiar voice hailing her name.
“I say - Miss Denny?”
Turning, she was even more startled to find herself face to face with Captain Humphries, in full black tie, smiling at her in surprised recognition.
“I thought it was you,” he said, “but I couldn’t be quite certain. You look…” He hesitated, and Sarah chuckled.
“Different?” she questioned, eyes twinkling.
His eyes smiled as he responded to her humour.
“I was going to say chic,” he said. “Your dress is beautiful.”
Rather to her surprise, Sarah found herself blushing slightly, but she brushed the flattery aside briskly.
“Borrowed, I’m afraid,” she said. “I don’t own a thing like this.”
He laughed, not at all dismayed at her rejection of his compliment.
“It suits you very well,” he told her, and she blushed even harder and looked away from him. “But what are you doing in a nightclub? I would not have expected to run into you here!”
“Well, to be truthful, this is the last place I’d have thought of meeting you!” she agreed with a laugh. “Why are you here? In Paris, I mean, not the club. Is Robin with you?”
“Oh, no,” he said, shaking his head. “No, she is at the Sonnalpe with Mrs Russell. As for me, I had some business in Paris and…well, I decided to have a night on the tiles! Shameful, at my age, but I’m rather enjoying it. And you?”
“It’s our last night in Paris,” Sarah said, “and Susie - Miss Smith - wanted to have some fun, and since she’s never been to a Parisian nightclub we thought we would try one.”
“Your brother too?” asked Captain Humphries, and raised his eyebrows in surprise when Sarah replied.
“Oh, yes.” She chuckled. “He’s mostly sitting at our table looking very grumpy. But why don’t you come and join us? Or are you here with friends?”
“No,” said Captain Humphries, glancing around him as if surprised to find himself alone. “No, I’m a rogue element tonight, and nightclubs are best enjoyed in the company of friends. I’d be delighted to join you, Miss Denny.”
So saying, he beamed a smile and offered his arm, and she took it with a smile. When they got to the table, however, Sarah pulled up short.
“Where is everybody?” she demanded.
“Is this the right table?” asked Captain Humphries and Sarah darted him a stern look.
“Yes, it’s the right table!” she told him, and he laughed and fended off her indignation hastily.
“I only ask because once I found myself having dinner with a crowd of strangers thanks to a certain short-sighted error on my part,” he said, “and this nightclub is a lot darker and smokier than the restaurant that night!”
Sarah chortled with laughter.
“Well, I can assure you there is nothing wrong with my vision!” she said firmly. “But where are they? I told Susie to wait for me! I suppose she’s dragged my brother up to dance again.”
“Is he a good dancer?” enquired Captain Humphries.
“Absolutely terrible,” replied Sarah, craning her neck to see whether she could spy them on the dancefloor.
“Then we shouldn’t have too much trouble spotting them,” said Captain Humphries with a twinkle in his eye. Sarah shot him a look but divined quickly that he was joking and grinned at him. He grinned back and used the advantage of his greater height to inspect the dancefloor, but there was no sign of the two dancers, nor of Matty Smith, who had also vanished without a trace.
“I don’t understand it,” said Sarah, when Captain Humphries had finally coaxed her into a chair. “They were all here when I left them! I wonder what can have got into them?”
“Perhaps they decided to get some air?” suggested Captain Humphries. “In any case, they’re bound to be back shortly. Don’t worry, Miss Denny! Have a cigarette?”
He was proffering a silver cigarette case, but Sarah shook her head.
“Oh, no, thank you,” she said and gave an embarrassed laugh. “Just because I come to nightclubs once in a blue moon, that doesn’t mean I smoke.”
“I beg your pardon,” said Captain Humphries. “I didn’t mean to assume…not that there’s anything wrong with it,” he added hastily, and cleared his throat. “Do you mind if I do?”
“Not at all,” said Sarah, and he smiled his thanks and slid a cigarette from his holder. Instead of striking a match, however, he produced an item that looked like a pocket watch and created a small flame with it, from which he lit his cigarette. Sarah stared at it in fascination.
“What is that?” she asked, and Captain Humphries laughed as he held out the object.
“It’s a cigarette lighter,” he said. “I’ve had it since the War. Much more convenient than matches. See, the fluid goes in here, and this is where the flint strikes.”
“I see!” Sarah had never looked at one before. She turned the lighter over in her hands and glanced at the engraving upon the back, which was of a biplane.
“How very clever,” she said. “Like you say, much better than a box of matches, and much less likely to get wet on a rainy night!” She handed the lighter back and Captain Humphries slipped it back into his pocket with a smile.
“Now then,” he said. “What would you like to drink? Garçon!”
The waiter brought drinks, though Sarah was careful only to take sips from hers, because she was already beginning to feel light-headed from the alcohol. Captain Humphries smoked and drank, and talked to her about his experiences in Russia - at least, as much as he was allowed to tell her, and she found herself very interested in what he had to say. She tried out the few Russian phrases in her vocabulary on him, and he smiled cheerfully and said that he would have to teach her more, which she agreed to joyfully - she did love languages! Eventually he stubbed out his cigarette and rose to his feet.
“I suppose that, since we’re in a nightclub, we may as well make the most of the music,” he said. “Miss Denny, may I invite you to a dance?”
Sarah stumbled slightly as she scrambled to her feet.
“What about the others?” she asked, but Captain Humphries seemed supremely unconcerned.
“They’ll find us, or we’ll find them,” he said. “In any case, one dance won’t hurt, will it?”
“It might,” she said with a slight grin. “Beware your feet! I’m not much of a dancer!”
He grinned at her as he took her hand.
“Neither am I,” he said. “Certainly not at this modern dancing they seem to be doing nowadays. But that makes it rather more fun, doesn’t it? Come on, let’s show these young things how it’s done! Or not, of course, as the case may be…”
Distracted by his music, vague and abstracted, it had taken Tristan nearly an hour to walk the half-hour journey back to the flat. He had strayed from the path, meandered along side streets, lost himself and found his way again. At one point he had passed a small park, grey and enchanting in the starlight, and had spent a pleasant time wandering along its gravel paths beneath blossom-laden boughs, their scent sweet even this late into the night. He dreamed of music, of his new melody, and forgot entirely the nightclub and all that had passed that night. It seemed unimportant, here under the crescent moon, with air to breathe and the gloom of night around him, enfolding him in its cool embrace.
When finally he did arrive at the flat, he realised that the big front door was closed, and simultaneously he realised he did not have the means to open it. All too late, he remembered that Matty had the keys both to the house itself and to the front door of his own flat, and that if he, Tristan, wanted to get in, he would have to go and retrieve them from their owner. He uttered a swift curse, but the magic of the night was upon him and he could not feel anger for long. After all, he had simply to walk back to the nightclub and claim the key from Matty, and then he could come back here and indulge in his music. They would probably laugh at him, but he was seldom concerned with what others thought, so this did not bother him a great deal. The sooner he left, the sooner he would be back and in perfect peace once again.
Tristan turned and strolled off down the path back to the nightclub, but he had not gone more than a few paces when the door to the house opened and he heard Susie’s voice calling his name. Startled, he turned back and saw her striding down the path towards him, but there was no smile on her face; indeed, the set of her shoulders and the way she stalked along warned him that there was something quite wrong, though he was at a loss to understand it. She stopped a pace in front of him, a scowl marring her pretty face, and gave him an aggressive look.
“Where have you been?” she snapped, taking him quite aback.
“I have been walking home,” he told her, but she seemed not to hear him, for she flung up her hands angrily and snarled at him.
“I’ve been knocking on the door for ages! Why didn’t you answer?”
“Why?” He was baffled. “Where have you been knocking?”
“On the door to your flat!” she answered, her voice lifting in anger. “I’ve been here for almost twenty minutes! Why didn’t you answer the door, you pig?”
His eyes widened when he realised she was in earnest, and despite himself he felt his temper rising to match hers.
“I have been walking home,” he said in clipped tones. “I did not answer your knock simply because I was not inside the flat when you knocked. And I will thank you not to take that tone with me when I have done nothing wrong.”
At his words some of the anger in her eyes muted and she looked slightly puzzled.
“Not in the flat?” she said. “But I’ve been knocking fit to wake the dead!”
“And have most likely woken the neighbours,” he observed pointedly. “I am sure they will thank us in the morning.”
“Don’t you act as if it’s all my fault!” she snapped, eyes beginning to flash once again. “If you’d answered the door we’d have been fine. Anyway,” she added as he was about to protest once more that he could not have done so, “it’s your fault for running off as you did. What possessed you to dash off like that without saying goodbye?”
“I left a note!” protested Tristan. “In it I explained myself quite adequately. I am an adult and permitted to do as I please, am I not? And besides,” he retorted, “what possessed you to come racing after me? Do you not trust me to find my own way home?”
“I came to apologise to you,” said Susie, her tones heated. “But now I don’t think I’ll bloody bother.”
“Apologise?” He was surprised. “Why do you need to apologise?”
“For kissing you!” she exclaimed as if he were a dullard. “Although,” she added with a cruel laugh, “I think I win that round.”
“In what way?” he demanded, bemused by her words.
“Well, you ran away, didn’t you!” she teased. “Proved me right!”
“I did not run away!” he snarled through gritted teeth. “You presume a great deal, madam, and…”
“Madam!” She snorted with laughter, and he clenched his fists.
“You presume a great deal about me,” he continued, ignoring her laughter, “without truly knowing me.”
“I know you’re afraid of women!” she said loudly, and he reddened furiously.
“That is utterly untrue,” he argued. “You know nothing…nothing…” He broke off in anger and took a deep breath. “You silly girl…”
She bridled, eyes widening.
“What did you call me?” she shrieked.
“Susie!” he tried to hush her. “There are many people living hereabouts and they do not wish to hear us arguing thus! Please lower your voice!”
“I will not! Not for someone who calls me a silly girl!” she cried. “Perhaps you’d prefer it if I weren’t here at all! A silly girl who holds no interest for you…”
And with these words she turned and marched off in the opposite direction, regardless of where she was going. He watched her for a few moments, trying to calm himself. Let her walk! He had had enough of her!
From further along the street came the sound of a motor; a taxi cab was crawling up the road towards them. The sound brought Tristan to his senses, and poured a cooling draught on his temper as he became suddenly aware of what might happen to Susie. She could wander off into the back streets and be lost to him; she could fall prey to any passer-by or chancer who happened upon her, especially in her current state! Anxiety froze his fury, and he hastened after her.
She refused to stop and he was forced to run to catch up with her.
He caught her wrist to halt her progress and she rounded on him like an angry cat.
“Let go of me!” she hissed. “Don’t touch me!”
“Susie,” he repeated, still holding her wrist, “stop this at once! You are behaving like a child!”
“I?” She scoffed, momentarily speechless, then she tugged at his grip. “Let go of my arm!”
“Not unless you come back to the house with me,” he said, as she pulled ineffectually at him.
She would almost certainly have shot back with some nasty remark, but at that point the taxi cab drew level with them, and there was a sudden shout from its occupant.
The cab stopped and a young man tumbled out, then hurled himself towards Tristan and Susie, who froze in a kind of tableau. As the man came into the lamplight, however, Susie gave a start of recognition.
“You mean brute!” yelled the American at Tristan as he approached them. “You unhand the lady right this minute, or I’ll give you something to think about!”
Tristan, in his surprise, let go of Susie’s arm and took a step back as Emerson Calvert III approached, anger bristling out of him.
“Susie, are you ok?” the American asked her.
“I’m fine,” she said. “Emerson…”
“As for you, you scum,” cried Emerson, striding up to Tristan, “you deserve what’s coming to you!”
Tristan took another step back and found himself up against a wall. Behind Emerson Calvert III he could see two or three other men now ranged upon the pavement, apparently in support of the American man, while before him, Emerson Calvert III raised his fists.
“Er,” said Tristan, “I fear there has been some mistake…”
But he got no further, for Emerson Calvert III’s fist was flying at him, and instinct kicked in. He dodged to the side and, before the American knew what was happening, he had landed a fist in the man’s belly. Emerson’s fist struck the wall behind him and the American folded around his fist and gave a yell of pain, but that was nothing to the yell that sounded beside him as, to Tristan's astonishment, Susie hurled herself upon the American with all the fury of a tigress.
“You leave Tristan alone you…beast, you…ugh! Bastard!”
“Susie!” Tristan dived forwards and caught at the girl, trying to haul her off the crippled Emerson, who was bent double and wheezing. It was not easy, for her fingers were claw-like and were digging viciously into the young man’s flesh, but the other men with Emerson were coming rapidly to the aid their friend, and so Tristan fought with Susie and finally succeeded in hauling her away, though not before she added in a swift kick for good measure, which caught Emerson in a place no gentleman would dare to strike. The American collapsed upon the pavement, groaning in pain, and then a shout came from further down the street and the sound of running boots. Policemen sound the same in every city of the world, and so Tristan seized Susie and they ran, ran as if the hounds of hell were at their heels, into the dark Parisian night.
The Back Streets of Paris by Finn
Thank you as ever for the comments. Here is the next update, and then there'll be just one more before Postcards from Paris comes to an end!
Somewhere deep in the backstreets of a Paris suburb, Tristan and Susie stopped running and stood at the corner of the street, listening.
“I don’t hear anything,” said Susie eventually. “I think we lost them.”
“Good,” said Tristan briefly, leaning against the wall of a nearby house in the struggle to catch his breath. Susie turned back from her examination of the street and cast an anxious glance at him.
“Are you alright?” she said, coming over and slipping a hand onto his shoulder. Tristan straightened hastily.
“I am quite alright,” he replied with slight indignation. “Merely a little out of breath.”
“Sorry!” Susie backed away from his offended pride. “I’m only worried about you. Anyway,” she added with a sudden giggle, “it’s a good thing you can run, otherwise the gendarmes would have caught us and then Matty and Sarah would have been bailing us out tomorrow morning and then what would Madame have said? It’d have knocked my hair into a cocked hat!”
Tristan had only just got his wheezing breath under control, but he lost it again entirely as the pair of them gave way to the laughter that often follows a stressful situation. Susie leaned her forehead against Tristan’s shoulder and clung to him, shaking with mirth.
“Oh…oh!” she gasped. “Oh, what a joke! Look at us, two respected school teachers, running away from the police! And Emerson’s face…” She giggled again and leaned back, giving Tristan an admiring look. “That was some right hook from you, my love!” she said.
“It was nothing of the kind,” he replied, sobering suddenly. “For one thing, it was a left hook. And quite besides that, I should never have struck the man.”
“He was going to hit you,” Susie pointed out, “and he would have, if you hadn’t dodged. Fair’s fair.”
Tristan shook his head. “Violence begets violence,” he quoted. “I should not have fought back.”
Susie gave him an interested look, intrigued by his words and his self-reproaching tone.
“Are you a pacifist?” she asked him.
He frowned slightly as he thought how to answer.
“I do not believe in violence,” he replied carefully, “but after…after what happened…in the war, I could hardly call myself a pacifist.”
“It’s alright,” said Susie, hurrying to reassure him. “I’m a pacifist myself. So is Matty. I think we’d have been pacifists even if we weren’t Quakers, too. So I understand. I’m not judging you, or anything like that.”
He hesitated, then smiled slightly.
“I know you are not,” he said, and to her amusement he gently touched her hand before glancing quickly away, as if surprised at himself.
Susie was growing increasingly conscious of a need to admit her fault in the evening’s events, and she hesitated before him, twisting her fingers together embarrassedly until she realised how much like one of her juniors that made her look. She almost laughed, but controlled herself and looked up at Tristan, her expression quite penitent.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I was pretty horrid to you just now, when none of it was your fault. Can you forgive me?”
“But of course!” said Tristan, surprised. “There was never any doubt of that. And, for my part,” he added, his expression growing contrite, “I also said some…things I did not mean. I hope I did not offend you?”
“Oh, that!” said Susie. “I offended myself! I’m afraid I can get a bit…uppity when I’ve had a drink.”
“I see.” Tristan’s tone was serious, but his eyes were twinkling and he was suppressing a smile. “How very troublesome for you.”
“It is!” she exclaimed, not seeing the joke. “Especially as I love cocktails so much…oh, you’re teasing, aren’t you, you rotten man?” She hit him on the arm gently and he chuckled in amusement.
“Naturally,” he smiled. “Do you forgive me?”
“Of course I do!” she cried, and flung her arms around his neck. He staggered slightly, surprised by her weight, but he embraced her gently back. She hung on to him for a few moments, then released him and glanced over her shoulder at the road.
“I suppose we should retrace our steps,” she suggested, “or else we’ll be out here all night, and Matty and Sarah won’t know what’s become of us.”
“They will have seen my note,” said Tristan, but Susie shook her head and slipped a hand into her pocket.
“I’m afraid they won’t,” she said, drawing out the note. “I took it with me.”
“Oh, Susie!” he exclaimed, exasperated. “Do you mean that you ran out of the club, all alone, leaving no indication as to where you had gone?”
“I’m afraid so,” she said. “No trace of the route I took at all. I’d never make a Guide!”
He shook his head in amusement.
“Well, we had better get back immediately and allay their fears, for surely they must be concerned by now.”
He proffered his arm to Susie, who took it, then stopped as a sudden realisation came to her.
“Oh, drat and damn it,” she said. “My stocking’s come adrift. Must have been all that running. Wait a second, Tris - I’ll fix it in a trice.”
So-saying, she brought her foot up to rest on a low wall that ran beside the houses and hitched her dress up to reach her suspenders, which she neatly hooked onto her stocking once more. Tristan stood rooted for several moments, apparently unable to tear his eyes away, then he turned abruptly, a blush spreading over his cheeks. By the time he returned his gaze to her, she had shaken her skirts back over her slender thigh and was giving him a cheeky grin.
“Sorry,” she said, not at all repentant. “I’ll give you more warning next time.”
“I should be grateful…” he said faintly, and allowed her to slip her arm through his once more. They strolled slowly along the road in gentle silence, until they came to the turning. Susie hesitated at the corner.
“Which way did we come?” she asked.
“I think we came from the right,” replied Tristan, but his tone was hesitant and Susie looked at him sharply.
“You think?” she said. “I think we came from the left.”
“I am sure it was the right,” said Tristan mildly. “Let us take it, and see if we are reminded when we are upon it.”
Susie looked askance at him, but acquiesced and they took the right hand road. The next turning proved even more contentious; they argued extensively over the one after that, and before long they were standing upon a street corner that neither recognised, looking right, left and straight ahead, and bickering over who had led them to this place.
“You said right at the last bend!” complained Susie.
“I said right, but you insisted left,” returned Tristan, “and so, if I recall correctly, we went left.”
“We went right!” she protested.
“Well,” sighed Tristan, giving up the argument, “whichever way we went, we have not ended up in the right place.”
“And we can’t even tell which way’s north because it’s night-time,” added Susie gloomily. “What are we going to do? We can’t stay out here all night!”
“Then I suggest we keep walking,” said Tristan. “Come along, my dear. We’ll find our way sooner or later…”
The dance came to an end and the dancers stopped to applaud the band. Upon the dais there was some rearrangement as the singer came forward once more to give another performance, and the dancers began to shuffle back to their tables.
On the edge of the dancefloor, Sarah held on to Ted’s hand as she bent to adjust her shoe.
“I must say,” she said, straightening up, “though I’m enjoying myself terribly much, I think I probably ought to call it a night. For one thing, I’m starting to get a bit worried about where the others have got to - I’ve got the key to our flat, you see, so wherever Susie’s got to, she won’t be able to get in. And for another, much more of this and my feet are going to fall off!”
“Oh dear,” said Ted in concerned tones. “I did warn you! I do hope I haven’t broken anything.”
“Nothing like that!” chuckled Sarah, letting him lead her back to their table. “But they aren’t used to this sort of exercise. And I do have to be up at a reasonable time tomorrow, so that we can pack up our things for the trip home.”
“I’m only sorry I’m not returning until Saturday,” said Ted as he passed her shawl. “The company would have been most welcome.”
He bestowed a warm smile upon her and Sarah found herself responding in kind. It really had been a charming evening. Ted was a perfect gentleman (somewhere in the course of the evening they had progressed on to first name terms, though Sarah could not quite recall how) and she had had splendid fun with him, trying to outdo the younger partygoers on the dancefloor, and laughing over their efforts when they failed. And she felt proud to have been singled out by him, for though he was not exactly handsome, there was something that appealed in his broad shoulders, his dark hair and his brown eyes shadowed in melancholy, even when he smiled at her. Yes, she rather liked him, even down to his neat moustache, and it had been a very pleasant night. But now it was time to return home, however much she had enjoyed Ted’s company and was wishing they could be sharing the train carriage home tomorrow.
“Yes, it is a shame,” she said with real regret. “I’ve had a wonderful time this evening.”
“Then let’s finish it in style,” said Ted. “Another cocktail, then I’ll go and get us a cab and escort you home.”
“Oh, no!” Sarah waved her hands. “That’s really not necessary. I can walk home quite well.”
“On those feet?” said Ted with a grin, and she had to laugh at his teasing. “No, it’ll be my pleasure.”
He was as good as his word. Three songs later and they were stepping into a taxi cab, and it was only moments until the growling motor deposited her at the door to the flats. Ted looked rather askance at Sarah staying in such a run down area, but she assured him that she was quite safe as she scrambled from the car. Nonetheless, the cab did not pull away until she had entered the house and had closed the door behind her. She leaned upon it for a moment, amused and delighted in equal measure, feeling the presence of Ted outside the door like warm sunlight on her back, then she heard the cab roll away and smiled to herself. It really had been a lovely night. But, came the sobering thought, where were the others?
She gathered her coat and her shawl about her and hurried up the stairs as quickly as her tired feet would allow, and she received rather a surprise when she arrived at Mme. Moreau’s door and was confronted by two rather pitiful figures, slumped like puppets upon the stairs. Dishevelled, footsore and drawn with exhaustion, Tristan and Susie were a sight to behold. He was leaning against the bannisters and she against him, his arm supporting her as she rested her sleepy head upon his shoulder.
“What on earth happened to you two?” demanded Sarah in a loud whisper, and Tristan gave her a tired look.
“It would take too long to explain,” he said, “and poor Susie is very weary.”
“And where’s Matty?” asked Sarah, looking about for the young man.
“Indeed, I thought him with you!” Tristan exclaimed. “Is he not?" Sarah shook her head and his face grew troubled. "He is not in his flat - I knocked when we came back.”
“And he’s not at the nightclub, because I’ve just come from there,” said Sarah. “I take it your presence on the stairs means you’re locked out?”
“It would appear so,” replied her brother with just a hint of sarcasm, but then he frowned once more. “But where on earth is Matty? I do hope he is safe.”
“So do I,” said Sarah as she tugged out the key and unlocked the door. “Well, since you’re locked out of upstairs, you’d better come in.”
“Susie,” said Tristan softly, giving the girl’s shoulders a gentle shake. “Susie, Sarah has come home. Wake up, and you can go to sleep in a proper bed.”
“Hm?” Susie stirred and opened her eyes. “What?”
Tristan helped her to her feet and slipped an arm around her to guide her into the flat, where he handed her over to Sarah, and slumped upon one of the sofas. Sarah coaxed Susie into the bedroom and, careful not to wake Evelyn, managed to persuade the girl to get undressed and into bed. When finally Susie had settled down and was asleep once more, radiating golden innocence as she lay upon her pillow, Sarah came out into the main room once again, waking her brother from the doze he had fallen into on the sofa.
“No sign of Matty?” she said, and Tristan blinked and shook his head.
"I do not think so," he replied, "at least, not that I have heard."
"I wonder what's happened to him?" Sarah asked, but her brother could not answer.
“Who were you with at the nightclub, if not Matty?” he demanded suddenly, looking at her with a slight frown.
“I was quite adequately chaperoned,” she informed him haughtily, “not that I need it, at my advanced age. But Ted Humphries was there and he took very good care of me.”
“Captain Humphries?” said Tristan, surprised. “How peculiar."
"I know," said Sarah. "Of all the nightclubs he should pick..."
"I am glad, though," said Tristan. "I should never have abandoned you as I did! I would not, had I known what was to happen.”
“No, you shouldn’t have,” said Sarah. “I might have ended up in all kinds of trouble! But I didn’t,” she added, “and all’s well that ends well. Well, I suppose you and I should turn in. You look half-dead, my dear! You'll have to tell me about it tomorrow. I don't suppose anything will come of us waiting up for Matty - he could be anywhere, and staying awake isn't going to bring him home. But I do hope he's safe..."
What happened to Matty by Finn
Thank you for the comments. Here is the last chapter! (Except that there may be more, actually...)
Tristan woke very suddenly and was unable for some moments to divine what had roused him. The air was cool and still, the darkness pressing upon him, a piano gently playing somewhere above him…he sat up suddenly in his makeshift bed - a couple of blankets stretched over Mme. Moreau’s sofa - as he realised what was wrong with what his senses has just registered. A piano? But what time was it? Still night, surely - it was dark, and it seemed barely moments since he had lain his head upon his pillow. Why was a piano sounding? Surely it was his ears playing tricks. But no - very definitely, music was sounding from somewhere within the house, and now he could hear voices upraised in laughter. Who could it be? The Moreaus were asleep; the lady who lived downstairs, the one with the elderly father, was hardly likely to have visitors this late. It must be coming from upstairs.
He was still mostly dressed, for he had not deemed it appropriate to remove his clothing when sleeping upon a sofa in a flat full of women, so it took him no time to be across the room and out of the door. The music was louder on the landing and definitely coming from the floor above - could it be Matty’s flat? He ran lightly up the stairs in his stockinged feet and listened at Matty’s door. Yes, this was the source of the unlikely entertainment, and now he recognised Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantasie, a challenging work, and one he had thought rather beyond the powers of his young friend. He hesitated, thoroughly flummoxed, then laughter sounded again from within - male laughter - and he plucked up his courage and knocked upon the door.
It was a good five minutes before someone answered his percussive efforts, and as the door was pulled open Tristan took a step back in surprise, for it was not Matty who had answered but a burly young man, very strong, very fair, clad in only his trousers and vest. He leaned against the door in a suggestive way and threw Tristan a sultry look which took in the singing master’s disheveled, half-dressed state.
“Come to join the party?” he asked, in English, and Tristan was so startled that he failed to note this fact, but simply stared at the stranger.
“Who are you?” he demanded, and the man gave a laugh.
“Who are you?” he mimicked, but from behind him came a voice that Tristan gratefully recognised.
“Tristan? Tristan, is that you? My dear, where have you been?”
The long and wavering figure of Matty appeared behind the burly man, silhouetted against the light within, and stretched out a hand to draw Tristan into the flat.
“These are some friends of mine,” he said in languid tones, and Tristan noticed his accent, ordinarily a gentle north-eastern lilt, was much more strongly in evidence than usual. “This is Stephen, and the man fixing my reading lamp is Owen. And that’s William playing the piano. Isn’t it divine?”
Matty kept a careful hold of Tristan’s hand as he pulled him into the warmth of the flat and Tristan, his wits rather numbed with sleep and surprise, did not think to disentangle himself. The scene being played out was quite a shock to him. The man named Owen was also stripped as far as his vest and was fiddling with some electrical wires in Matty’s broken reading lamp, while the fair Stephen had left the door and crossed to join him, and was engaged in rubbing Owen’s broad shoulders as he leaned over to lend verbal assistance. The third man, identified as William, gave Tristan a careful nod, though he hardly turned from the piano whence his sensitive fingers were drawing Chopin’s famous harmonies. Tristan turned, wide-eyed, to stare at Matty, who was smiling back at him with shining, thoroughly inebriated, eyes.
“We’ve had a marvellous evening,” he said, and Tristan realised that his voice was also slurred with alcohol. “Superb! Words don’t describe it. Isn’t the piano beautiful, Tristan? Isn’t it? I bet you can play that, can’t you? You’re superb, you know. You can play anything.”
“Hardly,” Tristan demurred, giving his friend a wary look. “Come, my friend, you are unsteady. Why don’t you sit down?”
“Ooh, yes, let’s sit down!” laughed Matty. “Let’s all sit down! That’ll be fun.”
He allowed Tristan to steer him to the sofa but refused to relinquish his hand, so Tristan was forced to sit down beside him, his exhausted mind working furiously. What a situation! He might not have realised the truth, had Matty and the piano-playing William been alone in the flat, but the behaviour of Owen and Stephen was hard to mistake. There was something more to this gathering - something these men all shared, something he was reluctant to name but recognised quite well enough. He would not judge - he would never do that - but if they didn’t want anyone finding out about it all, he would have to break the party up, or someone else would come to complain about the noise and would discover them all together. And he would be caught right in the middle of it!
As he sat there, wondering what on earth to do, his sharp ears caught the sound of a door closing somewhere in the building. Cold anxiety trickled down his spine and he turned in haste to Matty, who was smiling with heedless delight upon the scene.
“Isn’t it lovely,” he said to Tristan, “that we can all be ourselves! Just us, being us…no-one frowning. Isn’t it nice? Don’t you like it?”
“It is very nice,” said Tristan in pacifying tones, “but is it perhaps not time for us to seek our beds?”
“Beds?” Matty’s eyes caught a certain light that Tristan would have suspected, had he been thinking clearly - but he was brought to a sudden realisation as Matty said, his tone warm treacle, “Bed singular, darling!”
Tristan felt his cheeks flame hot as he realised what his host meant, and found himself unsure of how to respond. Owen and Stephen were clearly…together, so it must be William that Matty meant to share a bed with. Not wishing to think too deeply about it, Tristan cast about him for some way to respond. He felt he had to remove these strange men from the flat, but how he was to achieve that he did not know. He sat uncomfortably on the edge of the sofa, supporting his head with one hand while the other was still in Matty’s grip, trying not to look at what Owen and Stephen were getting up to and struggling to think of a way out.
“The Chopin is very nice,” he said carefully, “but it is late, and there are people sleeping in this house, and I fancy it might be time to call an end to this party.”
Matty was giving him a curious look, his head lolling against the back of the sofa.
“Yes!” he said, his face lighting suddenly, as if he had stumbled upon a new scientific theory. “Yes! Now that you’re here…”
He lurched immediately to his feet and Tristan had to leap to support him as he swayed.
“Bedtime!” he cried out, clinging to Tristan, and Tristan winced at the volume of the shout. “Time for bed, chaps!”
“Where are the bedrooms?” asked Stephen, and Matty glanced at Tristan, who shook his head hastily.
“No bedrooms,” announced Matty. “You’ll have to go back to your hotel.”
Owen and Stephen gave a chorus of complaints but despite his unsteadiness Matty was firm on this point, and they were eventually persuaded to put down the reading lamp, gather their clothes, and leave. William lingered until last, lighting up a slender cigarette with hands which showed no trace of a tremor.
“Lovely evening, Matty,” he said in clipped, cut-glass tones. “But I can see you have better company. I’ll wish you a good night…” And he left, with a wink aimed at Tristan.
“He’s a captain in the navy,” said Matty, drawing out the "a" in "navy" until the word was unrecognisable. “Could you tell?”
“Indeed, I could not have told, not if he’d had his uniform on and were on a quarterdeck,” said Tristan, not thinking very carefully about what he was saying. “And now, young man, you are looking very tired. I think it is time you went to bed.”
Matty stood giving him a slightly sullen look and Tristan placed hands upon his shoulders and swung him around in the direction of the bedroom.
“Bed,” he repeated and propelled the young man through into his room.
Once inside, Matty displayed a pronounced reluctance to go to bed, but collapsed instead onto the floor, giggling sleepily.
“Bedtime,” he kept repeating as Tristan attempted to raise his friend up from the floorboards.
“Yes, it is bedtime,” Tristan said, “and you, my young friend, are drunk, and need to sleep it off.”
“Come to bed,” slurred Matty, his arms finding their way to Tristan’s neck as the elder man bent over him.
“I am sleeping in the other room, remember?” said Tristan carefully, disengaging Matty. Matty attempted to scowl and flopped back into the floor.
“Boring,” he mumbled, his eyes drifting closed. “Oh, the room’s stopped moving!”
“That is because your eyes are closed,” Tristan pointed out.
“Are they?” Matty opened his eyes again and blinked rapidly. “Ooh!”
Tristan pulled the bedclothes aside and, after some efforts of persuasion, convinced Matty to get in.
“We need not worry about your clothes,” he said. “They can be washed later.”
“Clothes!” repeated Matty happily, from between the sheets. He opened his eyes and peeped at Tristan. “Aren’t you coming?”
“I am sleeping in the other room!” said Tristan with a laugh, shaking his head over his friend’s forgetfulness.
“I love you, Tristan,” announced Matty suddenly as his eyes drifted closed. “I really love you. You’re wonderful.”
“As are you,” said Tristan, drawing the bedclothes over his friend, “but it is time for sleep now.”
He thought he heard Matty murmur something, but the young man’s eyes were shut, and so he drew the blanket up and made to leave. As he was about to step away, however, Matty opened his eyes, reached up and pulled Tristan down to him, and landed a kiss upon the side of his mouth. The younger man giggled, and Tristan pulled back swiftly, his insides crunching in embarrassment at this demonstration of affection.
Drunken high spirits, he thought, and cleared his throat awkwardly.
“Go to sleep, young one!” he instructed when he had managed to find his voice, and hastening to the door, he flicked out the light.
The Morning After The Night Before by Finn
Well, we've reached the final episode at last, the morning after the night before. I hope this ending to the holiday meets with the approval of the readers of this sorry tale.
I'm afraid I'm having to think long and hard about whether to post T&M Part III. I'm starting to think it's had its day and is running out of steam - and certainly readers - so we shall have to see whether I think it's worth it to continue the story.
Thank you for reading and commenting, those of you who did. It really matters to be to hear from people who are enjoying this story, because I have very little confidence in it and in my characters, so hearing from those who appreciate them is very important to me.
Cheerio, and maybe see you again soon.
It seemed to Evelyn that the grown ups would never wake that morning. She herself had woken at her usual seven o’clock, but when she looked over Auntie Susie was still lying fast asleep, so Evelyn had gathered her things quietly and hurried to her bath, before getting dressed and going through into the main room to find Auntie Sarah. But Auntie Sarah was not there either, so Evelyn had sat down upon the sofa to wait for the adults. Soon, however, she began to grow very dull, and started to wish she’d brought her book, or Marianne and Alfred, to pass the time. She contemplated going to fetch one or other of them, but Auntie Susie was still asleep and she might be cross if she were woken up. Evelyn knew Auntie Susie was very rarely cross, but the little girl was so schooled against going into a grown up’s bedroom that she hardly dared think about it. She had learned that particular lesson from going into Daddy and Mother’s room - when they had still slept in the same room, of course - after her nightmare had come one night. Her insides tangled uncomfortably as she remembered that particular scene - Mother’s face, so frantic, her arms reaching out to her as Daddy hauled her away, back to her room, to imprison her in the dark. Soon after he had had locks fitted to the bedroom doors, and one day, in a jocular mood, had told Evelyn she might have the key to hers when she was twenty-one. But that was a long way away, and Evelyn hated to close her eyes in her bedroom, terrified that one day she would wake up and be unable to escape it. She shuddered and then thrust the memories down with a firm resolution. No, she daren’t go back and fetch her book. It wasn’t allowed to wake grown ups from their sleep. She must content herself with what she had.
She looked around the room. It was quite small, and dingy, with the curtains drawn across the windows. The Moreaus were bookish people and a couple of shelves against the wall near the fire offered a range of reading material, but the titles were all French and offered little to poor Evelyn. But they were also musical, and in the corner of the room stood their treasured upright piano - not an ancient, crumbling wreck like the one Uncle Matty had in his flat, all broken ivories and jangling strings, but a nice one that kept its tune well and had a jug of water standing beneath it, to maintain the wood in a good condition. M. Moreau was a piano tuner and also a music teacher, and he played piano very nicely. Evelyn had heard him play most nights and had enjoyed his music, but one night she remembered especially well, for they had had a music evening and M. Moreau had played, not his usual Mozart, which he was rehearsing for a concert, but modern French music, Debussy and Ravel, with shimmering harmonies, like the sun upon a lake. Evelyn had listened in utter fascination, sitting at her beloved Mr Denny’s feet as he leaned back with his eyes closed, and when the music finished she had asked him what it was. She had had to stand to make herself heard and M. Moreau had thought she was asking to perform and had stood up politely, smiling beneath his huge moustache, and gestured for her to come and take a seat. She had turned terrified eyes upon Mr Denny, beseeching him to explain for her, but he had smiled too and waved a hand at her, so she had gone forward very reluctantly and picked her way through a piece of Schumann, before running to hide her embarrassment against Mr Denny’s shoulder. They had laughed at her, of course, but she realised eventually that it was a kind laughter, and everyone had said how beautifully she had played - so much so that she had almost believed them.
She liked playing piano, she decided as she looked at the shining black instrument. She might have been almost overpowered by self-consciousness that night, but a small part of her had exulted at the thrill of performing and at the joy of making music. Dare she try the piano? The flat was so quiet, she might wake somebody…but at that point, the tune that had been playing last night on the gramophone came back to her and she couldn’t resist it. She crossed to the piano and, sliding onto the leather piano stool, began to pluck the melody from the keys before her.
Soon she felt she had it almost right, and so she turned to the chords. These were trickier, and several times she felt unsure of herself. She could see the record still upon the turntable of the gramophone - a gift to the Moreaus from their daughter Julie, along with several of the latest records, of which M. Moreau privately disapproved, though he would never say as much to his daughter - and she was severely tempted to set it running to see if she could correct herself. But the thought of such disobedience - for she had promised to be careful, which to Evelyn meant “touch nothing” - brought her up short, and she clenched her small fists briefly before turning back to the piano and playing the jazz tune through another time. As she finished, a door opened and Mme. Moreau came in. Evelyn jumped down from the piano in a moment, worried that she was about to be disciplined, but Mme. Moreau merely smiled and said something in French, and though Evelyn did not speak French she understood the tone, and smiled back rather shyly. Then M. Moreau came through and, finding her at the piano, encouraged her with words and gestures to sit back down and play some more, and so she found herself with the old Frenchman sitting beside her, playing through her Schumann and some Mendelssohn that had been arranged for young hands, and then she played the old man one of Mr Denny’s own pieces that he had written for her and M. Moreau had expressed delight over it. Just as she finished that piece, Auntie Sarah came hobbling into the main room, complaining at the pain in her feet.
“Stupid shoes,” she said. “Not fit for purpose. Was that one of my brother’s?”
Evelyn realised she was talking about the piano piece and nodded assent, and Auntie Sarah gave her a funny look, her head tilted to one side.
“I didn’t know you had so many pieces by heart,” she said, and Evelyn understood that she must have heard the other music as well, and her heart nearly seized with horror.
“I didn’t mean to wake you!” she stammered, but Auntie Sarah only laughed and bent to kiss her, giving her plait a gentle pull.
“It was a lovely awakening,” she said. “Now, how about breakfast?”
“Is Auntie Susie coming?” asked Evelyn, scrambling down from the piano stool and giving Auntie Sarah her hand, but Auntie Sarah shook her head.
“I think it’ll be better to leave her to sleep for a while longer,” she said, and M. Moreau, understanding what had just been said, gave a broad smile which he hid behind his hand. Evelyn didn’t understand, and was slightly worried that Auntie Susie was ill, but she was swept off to breakfast and had no time to ask. But she was relieved when a little time later Auntie Susie appeared, complaining of a “foul headache” but otherwise perfectly happy. Evelyn didn't like the thought of her beloved form-mistress being ill. She didn't like her to be sad at all. She had been so unhappy at the end of last term, and Evelyn had thought she might never smile again. She was very glad to be wrong. And they had had such a fun time in Paris! She couldn't quite believe all the things they had done. When Auntie Susie had asked if she had wanted the Robin to come along, for company, Evelyn had been so worried, but she hadn't been able to explain that she wanted to go to Paris by herself. Other girls still confused her so very much, and she was so relieved that she had been able to say no, eventually. And she hadn't missed the company. Why, she had had her four best friends with her all the time! It had been simply wonderful. She sat on the floor in the sitting room, playing with Marianne while Auntie Susie lay flopped upon the sofa and Auntie Sarah fussed around packing their things, and wondered if all the other girls in her class had had such splendidly super holidays.
“Oh, Christ!” groaned Matty, as the light struck his eyes like the clap of a bell. He closed them again and swayed where he stood in the doorway to the bedroom, clinging to the door for support.
“My dear fellow.” Tristan’s voice rang with sympathy, and Matty opened his eyes a fraction to see his friend perched in the armchair, fully dressed, shaven and looking bright and ready for the day. “Is it bad?”
“It’s…awful,” said Matty, staggering forward and collapsing upon the sofa. “It’s like a Galapagos tortoise has got into my head and is tramping about all over my brain, and every time it turns around its shell scrapes against the inside of my skull.”
“It is clear that you are a writer!” said Tristan in an amused voice.
“It hurts!” whined Matty in dramatic fashion, resting his aching skull against the back of the sofa.
“Will coffee help?” asked Tristan, laying aside the pad upon which he had been scribbling and uncurling himself from the armchair.
While Tristan was making coffee for them both, Matty leaned against the cushions and tried not to move. What had happened last night? Images crowded in on him, but in scraps, and in a nonsensical order, and he gave up on the task of remembering and concentrated on his throbbing head. It really was ghastly! But a few minutes later a glistening mug appeared before him, steam pouring over its ceramic lip, and Matty seized it gratefully.
“Have I ever told you how wonderful you are?” he asked, looking up at his friend, and Tristan’s lips twitched bewitchingly.
“You have,” he said. “Last night. Amongst other things.”
Matty stared at him for a blank moment, clutching his mug as if it were an anchor for his sanity.
“Oh, God,” he said eventually. “What did I do?”
Tristan paused, then sat down next to him.
“How much do you remember?” he asked.
“Not a great deal,” said Matty, not feeling reassured. “Go on, tell me the worst. Was I very embarrassing?”
“Oh, no,” said Tristan hastily. “You were very drunk.”
“I know that part,” said Matty sourly. “That’s why I can’t open my eyes properly. But it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t do something stupid. What was it, go on?”
“If you did anything stupid…it was not while I was with you,” said Tristan. “But…you did bring some people back here with you.”
“What…sort of people?” asked Matty, chilled with apprehension.
“Some friends of yours,” said Tristan carefully. “A naval captain, and a couple of others.”
“A naval captain?” Matty screwed his face up in confusion, then a memory struck. “Oh! Yes…I remember. I brought him here?” He frowned again. “No, no recollection, sorry.” Another trickle of ice-cold worry entered his veins as he glanced up at Tristan. “What did…we do? Or don’t I want to know?”
“Oh, nothing very…” began Tristan, but seemed to find himself unable to finish the sentence. He moved on rapidly. “He played some Chopin and you all had a drink, and then they left - at about three o’clock in the morning,” he added, his tone remaining light.
“Oh, Tris!” Matty was horrified. “Keeping you up so late…I’m so sorry! But thank goodness we didn’t do anything…anything, um…”
He broke off. Tristan wasn’t saying anything; he wasn’t even looking at him, and Matty felt a faint prickle of unease about him which he couldn’t quite explain. He began to worry that he had done something the night before, something awful…he tried to recollect, tried to pull back his memories from the dark void of alcohol, but he was not successful, and then a tap sounded at the door and Tristan leapt to answer it.
“Oh, there you are, Matty!” said Sarah’s voice, and Matty winced as her high tones penetrated his very skull. “Where did you get to, young man?”
“I don’t know,” he pleaded, weakly. “I can’t remember. Please stop shouting.”
Sarah chuckled, and obligingly lowered her tones.
“Your sister is in much the same way,” she informed him, and gave a snort of laughter. “You young things, you don’t know how to hold your drink! Oh, and she wants to see you, Tristan,” she added to her brother. “She’s quite insistent about it.”
“Indeed?” Tristan sounded surprised. “I will come with you now.” He shot a glance at Matty. “I shall return shortly,” he said to him, and Matty was gratified to hear concern in his voice.
“I won’t have moved,” he replied, leaning his head back against the sofa once again, only to start up again when the door closed behind them with a bang that thumped from one side of his head to the other and back again.
“Oh, Christ,” he muttered, squeezing his eyes shut. “Never again…never bloody again…”
“Oh! Tristan, there you are!”
Susie was on her feet almost as soon as Tristan walked through the door and had taken several steps towards him before she stopped self-consciously, and glanced at Evelyn.
“Come through to the bedroom,” she said. Tristan’s expression grew troubled and his cheeks went touchingly pink.
“The bedroom?” he repeated, his eyes imploring her not to insist, but she made a small gesture towards Evelyn.
“I’d rather we weren’t…overheard,” she said quietly, coming over to him and tucking an arm into his. “Come on. It’ll only be for a moment.”
Tristan turned to seek permission from his sister, who shrugged when she saw his expression.
“It won’t hurt,” was all she said, and so Tristan allowed Susie to tug him along into the privacy of the bedroom she was sharing with Evelyn. He stood very awkwardly just inside the door, trying to keep his eyes from roaming, for Susie was not especially tidy and sundry items of an intimate nature could be seen strewn upon the bed and dressing table, and poking out from her suitcase, which was flung open upon the floor.
Susie was about to drop onto the bed but, glancing up, she saw his expression and took pity on him.
“Come and sit down,” she said, and dragged the chair from under the dressing table for him to sit on. He came unwillingly and sat opposite her, giving her a somewhat wary look.
“What is the matter?” he asked her, and she hesitated for some moments before she responded.
“It’s just that I…wanted to apologise to you,” she said. “Properly, you know. For last night.”
She was too embarrassed to look at him, so she did not see his expression go from surprised to amused, but she did feel it when his hand covered hers, and she looked up into his smiling eyes.
“You have already apologised,” he said, and she gave him a quick smile and shook her head.
“I don’t think I can apologise enough,” she said. “I really was dreadful, teasing you at the club and then having a go at you like that - shouting, I mean,” she added when she saw that he did not understand the slang. “I was utterly awful and I’m so, so very sorry. I’d not hurt you for worlds, you do know that?”
“Of course,” he said softly. “I never thought that for a moment…”
“Good,” she said, “because you’re very dear to me and I hate to think that I upset you. I’ll probably not stop fretting over it for ages,” she added, her cheeks reddening, and she never noticed that Tristan had gone a similar colour. “I’m so embarrassed!”
“There is no need to be,” Tristan said, squeezing her hand gently. “Let us not think of it again.”
Susie felt a surge of gratitude to him and squeezed his hand back, then rose swiftly to her feet.
“Stand up,” she commanded and he obeyed, although his eyes were puzzled.
“Why?” he asked, and got his answer as she flung her arms around his neck.
“So I can hug you,” she said, her voice muffled by his shoulder, and to her delight he gave a small laugh and embraced her back.
“I do love you really very much,” she told him. He laughed again, more shyly this time.
“Yes,” was all he said, but it seemed to Susie that he hugged her a little tighter before he let her go.
“Was that all you wished to discuss with me?” he asked her, and she nodded, feeling the load in her heart considerably lightened by their talk. Tristan smiled down at her. “Then let us return to the others,” he said. “Although, I should go back and attend your brother. He is…suffering.”
“Oh, poor lamb!” said Susie. “I’ll go and get some aspirin for him. He never was much good with spirits.”
“I think he may have had more than just spirits,” admitted Tristan. “The poor fellow does not look well.”
“It was quite a night!” said Susie. “But…well, apart from that, it’s been a nice holiday, hasn’t it?”
“Apart from that, yes,” he said seriously, and she looked anxiously at him until he grinned and she saw he was teasing. “No, indeed it has all been very enjoyable. But I must confess to feeling very tired today. I fear I will need a holiday to recover from my holiday!”
Susie laughed and shook her head as she opened the door to the main room.
“No stamina,” she teased him and he grinned.
“Truly, I am past my youth,” he said. “I cannot keep up with you young things.”
“Mind you,” said Susie, dropping into the sofa and holding her arms out for Evelyn, who came running over with Marianne, “I don’t think I can keep up either! And I’m supposed to be full of youth!”
“But you are young, Auntie Susie,” said Evelyn at this point, and she was giving Susie such a serious look that Susie had to laugh.
“It’s all very well you sitting around,” came Sarah’s voice from behind them, as she bustled in from her own bedroom with a handful of items that belonged to Susie. “I’m the only one doing any packing in this place! We won’t be catching the train at this rate.”
“Do not fuss, Sarah!” exclaimed Tristan. “There are many hours yet before evening. All will be ready.”
“Yes, because I’ve put it ready,” grumbled his sister, “and no-one lifting a finger to help. Have you even started packing your own things?”
Tristan tried to look haughty, but the knowledge that he had spent all morning writing his latest composition and had not put a single thing into his suitcase caused him to take on a rather guilty aspect, and he failed to meet his sister’s eye. She gave a snort of triumph, dropped the handful of things she was carrying onto the sofa next to Susie and swept out again.
Susie chuckled with laughter and leaned back in the sofa.
“Well, my pet,” she said to Evelyn, reaching out and caressing the girl’s blonde hair, “are you looking forward to getting back to the valley and seeing everyone again?”
Evelyn wrinkled her nose as she thought about this question.
“I’m not really looking forward to the trains,” she said eventually. “But I am sort of looking forward to getting home. It’s been so much fun in Paris! I can’t wait to tell the everyone all about what I did on my holidays!”
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.