With Martin’s return Stephen realized how very deeply she had missed him; how much she still needed the thing he now offered, how long indeed she had starved for just this — the friendship of a normal and sympathetic man whose mentality being very much her own, was not only welcome but reassuring. Yes, strange though it was, with this normal man she was far more at ease than with Jonathan Brockett, far more at one with all his ideas, and at times far less conscious of her own inversion; though it seemed that Martin had not only read, but had thought a great deal about the subject. He spoke very little of his studies, however, just accepting her now for the thing that she was, without question, and accepting most of her friends with a courtesy as innocent of patronage as of any suspicion of morbid interest. And thus it was that in these first days they appeared to have achieved a complete reunion. Only sometimes, when Mary would talk to him freely as she did very often of such people as Wanda, of the night life of the cafés and bars of Paris — most of which it transpired he himself had been to — of the tragedy of Barbara and Jamie that was never very far from her thoughts, even although a most perfect spring was hurrying forwards towards the summer — when Mary would talk to him of these things, Martin would look rather gravely at Stephen.
But now they seldom went to the bars, for Martin provided recreations that were really much more to Mary’s liking. Martin the kindly, the thoroughly normal, seemed never at a loss as to what they should do or where they should go when in search of pleasure. By now he knew Paris extremely well, and the Paris he showed them during that spring came as a complete revelation to Mary. He would often take them to dine in the Bois. At the neighbouring tables would be men and women; neat, well tailored men; pretty, smartly dressed women who laughed and talked very conscious of sex and its vast importance — in a word, normal women. Or perhaps they would go to Claridge’s for tea or to Ciro’s for dinner, and then on to supper at an equally fashionable restaurant, of which Mary discovered there were many in Paris. And although people still stared a little at Stephen, Mary fancied that they did so much less, because of the presence of Martin.
At such places of course, it was out of the question for a couple of women to dance together, and yet everyone danced, so that in the end Mary must get up and dance with Martin.
He had said: ‘You don’t mind, do you, Stephen?’
She had shaken her head: ‘No, of course I don’t mind.’ And indeed she had been very glad to know that Mary had a good partner to dance with.
But now when she sat alone at their table, lighting one cigarette after another, uncomfortably conscious of the interest she aroused by reason of her clothes and her isolation — when she glimpsed the girl in Martin’s arms, and heard her laugh for a moment in passing, Stephen would know a queer tightening of her heart, as though a mailed fist had closed down upon it. What was it? Good God, surely not resentment? Horrified she would feel at this possible betrayal of friendship, of her fine, honest friendship for Martin. And when they came back, Mary smiling and flushed, Stephen would force herself to smile also.
She would say: ‘I’ve been thinking how well you two dance —’
And when Mary once asked rather timidly: Are you sure you’re not bored, sitting there by yourself?’
Stephen answered: ‘Don’t be so silly, darling; of course I’m not bored — go on dancing with Martin.’
But that night she took Mary in her arms — the relentless, compelling arms of a lover.
On warm days they would all drive into the country, as Mary and she had so frequently done during their first spring months in Paris. Very often now it would be Barbizon, for Martin loved to walk in the forest. And there he must start to talk about trees, his face glowing with its curious inner light, while Mary listened half fascinated.
One evening she said: ‘But these trees are so small — you make me long to see real forests, Martin.’
David loved these excursions — he also loved Martin, not being exactly disloyal to Stephen, but discerning in the man a more perfect thing, a more entirely fulfilling companion. And this little betrayal, though slight in it self; had the power to wound out of all proportion, so that Stephen would feel very much as she had done when ignored years ago by the swan called Peter. She had thought then: ‘Perhaps he thinks I’m a freak,’ and now she must sometimes think the same thing as she watched Martin hurling huge sticks for David — it was strange what a number of ridiculous trifles had lately acquired the power to hurt her. And yet she clung desperately to Martin’s friendship, feeling herself to be all unworthy if she harboured so much as a moment’s doubt; indeed they both loyally clung to their friendship.
He would beg her to accept his aunt’s invitations, to accompany Mary when she went to Passy:
‘Don’t you like the old thing? Mary likes her all right — why won’t you come? It’s so mean of you, Stephen. It’s not half as much fun when you’re not there.’ He would honestly think that he was speaking the truth, that the party or luncheon or whatever it might be, was not half as much fun for him without Stephen.
But Stephen always made her work an excuse: ‘My dear, I’m trying to finish a novel. I seem to have been at it for years and years; it’s growing hoary like Rip Van Winkle.’
There were times when their friendship seemed well-nigh perfect, the perfect thing that they would have it to be, and on such a day of complete understanding, Stephen suddenly spoke to Martin about Morton.
They two were alone together in her study, and she said: There’s something I want to tell you — you must often have wondered why I left home.’
He nodded: ‘I’ve never quite liked to ask, because I know how you loved the place, how you love it still . . .
‘Yes, I love it,’ she answered.
Then she let every barrier go down before him, blissfully conscious of what she was doing. Not since Puddle had left her had she been able to talk without restraint of her exile. And once launched she had not the least wish to stop, but must tell him all, omitting no detail save one that honour forbade her to give — she withheld the name of Angela Crossby.
‘It’s so terribly hard on Mary,’ she finished; ‘think of it, Mary’s never seen Morton; she’s not even met Puddle in all these years! Of course Puddle can’t very well come here to stay — how can she and then go back to Morton? And yet I want her to live with my mother . . . But the whole thing seems so outrageous for Mary.’ She went on to talk to him of her father: ‘If my father had lived, I know he’d have helped me. He loved me so much, and he understood — I found out that my father knew all about me, only —’ She hesitated, and then: ‘Perhaps he loved me too much to tell me.’
Martin said nothing for quite a long time, and when he did speak it was very gravely: ‘Mary — how much does she know of all this?’
‘As little as I could possibly tell her. She knows that I can’t get on with my mother, and that my mother won’t ask her to Morton; but she doesn’t know that I had to leave home because of a woman, that I was turned out — I’ve wanted to spare her all I could.’
‘Do you think you were right?’
‘Yes, a thousand times.’
‘Well, only you can judge of that, Stephen.’ He looked down at the carpet, then he asked abruptly: ‘Does she know about you and me, about..
Stephen shook her head: ‘No, she’s no idea. She thinks you were just my very good friend as you are today. I don’t want her to know.’
‘For my sake?’ he demanded.
And she answered slowly: Well, yes, I suppose so . . . for your sake, Martin.’
Then an unexpected, and to her very moving thing happened; his eyes filled with pitiful tears: ‘Lord,’ he muttered, ‘why need this have come upon you — this incomprehensible dispensation? It’s enough to make one deny God’s existence!’
She felt a great need to reassure him. At that moment he seemed so much younger than she was as he stood there with his eyes full of pitiful tears, doubting God, because of his human compassion: ‘There are still the trees. Don’t forget the trees, Martin — because of them you used to believe.’
‘Have you come to believe in a God then?’ he muttered.
‘Yes,’ she told him, ‘it’s strange, but I know now I must — lots of us feel that way in the end. I’m not really religious like some of the others, but I’ve got to acknowledge God’s existence, though at times I still think: “Can He really exist?” One can’t help it, when one’s seen what I have here in Paris. But unless there’s a God, where do some of us find even the little courage we possess?’
Martin stared out of the window in silence.
Mary was growing gentle again; infinitely gentle she now was at times, for happiness, makes for gentleness, and in these days Mary was strangely happy. Reassured by the presence of Martin Hallam, reestablished in pride and self-respect, she was able to contemplate the world without her erstwhile sense of isolation, was able for the moment to sheathe her sword, and this respite brought her a sense of well-being. She discovered that at heart she was neither so courageous nor so defiant as she had imagined, that like many another woman before her, she was well content to feel herself protected; and gradually as the weeks went by, she began to forget her bitter resentment.
One thing only distressed her, and this was Stephen’s refusal to accompany her when she went to Passy; she could not understand it, so must put it down to the influence of Valérie Seymour who had met and disliked Martin’s aunt at one time, indeed the dislike, it seemed, had been mutual. Thus the vague resentment that Valérie had inspired in the girl, began to grow much less vague, until Stephen realized with a shock of surprise that Mary was jealous of Valérie Seymour. But this seemed so absurd and preposterous a thing, that Stephen decided it could only be passing, nor did it loom very large in these days that were so fully taken up by Martin. For now that his eyesight was quite restored he was talking of going home in the autumn, and every free moment that he could steal from his aunt, he wanted to spend with Stephen and Mary. When he spoke of his departure, Stephen sometimes fancied that a shade of sadness crept into Mary’s face, and her heart misgave her, though she told herself that naturally both of them would miss Martin. Then too, never had Mary been more loyal and devoted, more obviously anxious to prove her love by a thousand little acts of devotion. There would even be times when by contrast her manner would appear abrupt and unfriendly to Martin, when she argued with him over every trifle, backing up her opinion by quoting Stephen — yes, in spite of her newly restored gentleness, these were times when she would not be gentle with Martin. And these sudden and unforeseen changes of mood would leave Stephen feeling uneasy and bewildered, so that one night she spoke rather anxiously: ‘Why were you so beastly to Martin this evening?’
But Mary pretended not to understand her: ‘How was I beastly? I was just as usual.’ And when Stephen persisted, Mary kissed her scar: ‘Darling, don’t start working now, it’s so late, and besides . . .
Stephen put away her work, then she suddenly caught the girl to her roughly: ‘How much do you love me? Tell me quickly, quickly!’ Her voice shook with something very like fear.
‘Stephen, you’re hurting me — don’t, you’re hurting! You know how I love you — more than life.’
‘You are my life . . . all my life,’ muttered Stephen.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55