The Well of Loneliness, by Radclyffe Hall

Chapter Forty-one

Burton, who had enlisted in the Worcesters soon after Stephen had found work in London, Burton was now back again in Paris, loudly demanding a brand-new motor.

‘The car looks awful! Snub-nosed she looks — peculiar — all tucked up in the bonnet,’ he declared.

So Stephen bought a touring Renault and a smart little landaulette for Mary. The choosing of the cars was the greatest fun; Mary climbed in and out of hers at least six times while it stood in the showroom.

‘Is it comfortable?’ Stephen must keep on asking. ‘Do you want them to pad it out more at the back? Are you perfectly sure you like the grey whip-cord? Because if you don’t it can be reupholstered.’

Mary laughed: ‘I’m climbing in and out from sheer swank, just to show that it’s mine. Will they send it soon?’

‘Almost at once, I hope,’ smiled Stephen.

Very splendid it seemed to her now to have money, because of what money could do for Mary; in the shops they must sometimes behave like two children, having endless things dragged out for inspection. They drove to Versailles in the new touring car and wandered for hours through the lovely gardens. The Hameau no longer seemed sad to Stephen, for Mary and she brought love back to the Hameau. Then they drove to the forest of Fontainebleau, and wherever they went there was singing of birds — challenging, jubilant, provocative singing: ‘Look at us, look at us! We’re happy, Stephen!’ And Stephen’s heart shouted back: ‘So are we. Look at us, look at us, look at us. We’re happy!’

When they were not driving into the country, or amusing themselves by ransacking Paris, Stephen would fence, to keep herself fit — would fence as never before with Buisson, so that Buisson would sometimes say with a grin:

‘Mais voyons, voyons! I have done you no wrong, yet it almost appears that you wish to kill me!’

The foils laid aside, he might turn to Mary, still grinning: ‘She fence very well, eh, your friend? She lunge like a man, so strong and so graceful.’ Which considering all things was generous of Buisson. But suddenly Buisson would grow very angry: ‘More than seventy francs have I paid to my cook and for nothing! Bon Dieu! Is this winning the war? We starve, we go short of our butter and chickens, and before it is better it is surely much worse. We are all imbeciles, we kind-hearted French; we starve ourselves to fatten the Germans. Are they grateful? Sacré Nom! Mais oui, they are grateful — they love us so much that they spit in our faces!’ And quite often this mood would be vented on Stephen.

To Mary, however, he was usually polite: ‘You like our Paris? I am glad — that is good. You make the home with Mademoiselle Gordon; I hope you prevent her injurious smoking.’

And in spite of his outbursts Mary adored him, because of his interest in Stephen’s fencing.

2

One evening towards the end of June, Jonathan Brockett walked in serenely: ‘Hallo, Stephen! Here I am, I’ve turned up again — not that I love you, I positively hate you. I’ve been keeping away for weeks and weeks. Why did you never answer my letters? Not so much as a line on a picture postcard! There’s something in this more than meets the eye. And where’s Puddle? She used to be kind to me once — I shall lay my head down on her bosom and weep . . . ’ He stopped abruptly, seeing Mary Llewellyn, who got up from her deep arm-chair in the corner.

Stephen said: ‘Mary, this is Jonathan Brockett — an old friend of mine; we’re fellow writers. Brockett, this is Mary Llewellyn.’ Brockett shot a swift glance in Stephen’s direction, then he bowed and gravely shook hands with Mary.

And now Stephen was to see yet another side of this strange and unexpected creature. With infinite courtesy and tact he went out of his way to make himself charming. Never by so much as a word or a look did he once allow it to be inferred that his quick mind had seized on the situation. Brockett’s manner suggested an innocence that he was very far from possessing.

Stephen began to study him with interest; they two had not met since before the war. He had thickened, his figure was more robust, there was muscle and flesh on his wide, straight shoulders. And she thought that his face had certainly aged; little bags were showing under his eyes, and rather deep lines at the sides of his mouth — the war had left its mark upon Brockett. Only his hands remained unchanged; those white and soft-skinned hands of a woman.

He was saying: ‘So you two were in the same Unit. That was a great stroke of luck for Stephen; I mean she’d be feeling horribly lonely now that old Puddle’s gone back to England. Stephen’s distinguished herself I see — the Croix de Guerre and a very becoming scar. Don’t protest, my dear Stephen, you know it’s becoming. All that happened to me was a badly sprained ankle’; he laughed, ‘fancy going out to Mesopotamia to slip on a bit of orange peel! I might have done better than that here in Paris. By the way, I’m in my own flat again now; I hope you’ll bring Miss Llewellyn to luncheon.’

He did not stay embarrassingly late, nor did he leave suggestively early; he got up to go just at the right moment. But when Mary went out of the room to call Pierre, he quite suddenly put his arm through Stephen’s.

‘Good luck, my dear, you deserve it,’ he murmured, and his sharp grey eyes had grown almost gentle: ‘I hope you’ll be very, very happy.’

Stephen quietly disengaged her arm with a look of surprise: ‘Happy? Thank you, Brockett,’ she smiled, as she lighted a cigarette.

3

They could not tear themselves away from their home, and that summer they remained in Paris. There were always so many things to do, Mary’s bedroom entirely to refurnish for instance — she had Puddle’s old room overlooking the garden. When the city seemed to be growing too airless, they motored off happily into the country, spending a couple of nights at an auberge, for France abounds in green, pleasant places. Once or twice they lunched with Jonathan Brockett at his flat in the Avenue Victor Hugo, a beautiful flat since his taste was perfect, and he dined with them before leaving for Deauville — his manner continued to be studiously guarded. The Duphots had gone for their holiday and Buisson was away in Spain for a month — but what did they want that summer with people? On those evenings when they did not go out, Stephen would now read aloud to Mary, leading the girl’s adaptable mind into new and hitherto unexplored channels; teaching her the joy that can lie in books, even as Sir Philip had once taught his daughter. Mary had read so little in her life that the choice of books seemed practically endless, but Stephen must make a start by reading that immortal classic of their own Paris, Peter Ibbetson, and Mary said:

‘Stephen — if we were ever parted, do you think that you and I could dream true?’

And Stephen answered: ‘I often wonder whether we’re not dreaming true all the time — whether the only truth isn’t in dreaming.’ Then they talked for a while of such nebulous things as dreams, which will seem very concrete to lovers.

Sometimes Stephen would read aloud in French, for she wanted the girl to grow better acquainted with the lure of that fascinating language. And thus gradually, with infinite care, did she seek to fill the more obvious gaps in Mary’s none too complete education. And Mary, listening to Stephen’s voice, rather deep and always a little husky, would think that words were more tuneful than music and more inspiring, when spoken by Stephen.

At this time many gentle and friendly things began to bear witness to Mary’s presence. There were flowers in the quiet old garden for instance, and some large red carp in the fountain’s basin, and two married couples of white fan-tail pigeons who lived in a house on a tall wooden leg and kept up a convivial cooing. These pigeons lacked all respect for Stephen; by August they were flying in at her window and landing with soft, heavy thuds on her desk, where they strutted until she fed them with maize. And because they were Mary’s and Mary loved them, Stephen would laugh, as unruffled as they were, and would patiently coax them back into the garden with bribes for their plump little circular crops. In the turret room that had been Puddle’s sanctum, there were now three cagefuls of Mary’s rescues — tiny bright-coloured birds with dejected plumage, and eyes that had filmed from a lack of sunshine. Mary was always bringing them home from the terrible bird shops along the river, for her love of such helpless and suffering things was so great that she in turn must suffer. An ill-treated creature would haunt her for days, so that Stephen would often exclaim half in earnest:

‘Go and buy up all the animal shops in Paris . . . anything, darling, only don’t look unhappy!’

The tiny bright-coloured birds would revive to some extent thanks to Mary’s skilled treatment; but since she always bought the most ailing, not a few of them left this disheartening world for what we must hope was a warm, wild heaven — there were several small graves already in the garden.

Then one morning, when Mary went out alone because Stephen had letters to write to Morton, she chanced on yet one more desolate creature who followed her home to the Rue Jacob, and right into Stephen’s immaculate study. It was large, ungainly and appallingly thin; it was coated with mud which had dried on its nose, its back, its legs and all over its stomach. Its paws were heavy, its ears were long, and its tail, like the tail of a rat, looked hairless, but curved up to a point in a miniature sickle. Its face was as smooth as though made out of plush, and its luminous eyes were the colour of amber.

Mary said: ‘Oh, Stephen — he wanted to come. He’s got a sore paw; look at him, he’s limping!’

Then this tramp of a dog hobbled over to the table and stood there gazing dumbly at Stephen, who must stroke his anxious, dishevelled head: ‘I suppose this means that we’re going to keep him.’

‘Darling, I’m dreadfully afraid it does — he says he’s sorry to be such a mongrel.’

‘He needn’t apologize,’ Stephen smiled, ‘he’s all right, he’s an Irish water-spaniel, though what he’s doing out here the Lord knows; I’ve never seen one before in Paris.’

They fed him, and later that afternoon they gave him a bath in Stephen’s bathroom. The result of that bath, which was disconcerting as far as the room went, they left to Adèle. The room was a bog, but Mary’s rescue had emerged a mass of chocolate ringlets, all save his charming plush-covered face, and his curious tail, which was curved like a sickle. Then they bound the sore pad and took him downstairs; after which Mary wanted to know all about him, so Stephen unearthed an illustrated dog book from a cupboard under the study book-case.

‘Oh, look!’ exclaimed Mary, reading over her shoulder, ‘He’s not Irish at all, he’s really a Welshman: “We find in the Welsh laws of Howell Dda the first reference to this intelligent spaniel. The Iberians brought the breed to Ireland . . . ” Of course, that’s why he followed me home; he knew I was Welsh the moment he saw me!’

Stephen laughed: ‘Yes, his hair grows up from a peak like yours — it must be a national failing. Well, what shall we call him? His name’s important; it ought to be quite short.’

‘David,’ said Mary.

The dog looked gravely from one to the other for a moment, then he lay down at Mary’s feet, dropping his chin on his bandaged paw, and dosing his eyes with a grunt of contentment. And so it had suddenly come to pass that they who had lately been two, were now three. There were Stephen and Mary — there was also David.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 20:51