A Red Candle by Peter Jordan

11/29/17 05:31:56PM
112 posts

They had met through Marion, of course. Marion had seen Lou’s father only once (he had since gone back abroad and could not yet return for good). And she was disappointed with his stepson, who kept himself to himself. But she had taken a fancy to his daughter, and on Dannie’s arrival at Camlyn Court that Easter had introduced them to each other directly.

Dannie knew her other guests well—members of a theatrical group, which they had asked him to join. He had felt that the warmth of his welcome must be obvious to them, and they must hold him in account as having a high place in his godmother’s affections. Perhaps, once or twice, while still smiling at him, she had ceased to listen to him, but in bed later, casting back, he’d found he had, just then, been romancing. So he judged that she had helped him, as often before: to know her was to learn to know himself. Had he suspected that she aimed at influencing him he would hardly have been pleased. It was like her though, as he had been reminded during the same conversation, after telling her about the new review of which he now styled himself editor in partibus and about the money difficulties it had got him into, to show reluctance even to give advice. And he couldn’t for a moment seriously suppose she had set up for his Egeria. “Dannie will make his way in the world, he’ll forget me”, she had predicted at dinner, with a droll sigh which had provoked much amusement.

He had left Abergyffin the next day for his grandparents’ home near Auxerre, and had not returned from Oxford till the summer. But then he had not only met Lou again (thanks to Marion), he had also met her half-brother, Leo Pybus, who had struck up a conversation with him outside the Tudor Teashop a few days after she had pointed Dannie out to him from the town hall. Leo lacked the social touch, and though Dannie had murmured civilly his gaze had strayed past Leo and fastened on somebody behind him, who was entering the shop. Leo had recognized Charlotte Grant, the daughter of a friend of his stepfather’s, mumbled some excuse, and left them together.

It was a day of the first importance to Dannie, as will appear; it was also one—the latest of several such—for much of which he had merely roved the streets by himself. He was as fond of Marion as ever, and thinking of asking her for a sub. Of Lou he hadn’t yet grown as fond as Marion’s intuition had told her he would, but Marion herself, after Lou had last called on them—bringing with her a new friend, Una Bucklee—, had expressed some dissatisfaction with her. Marion had got it from Mrs Grant (to whom she owed her introduction to him) that Mr Traube, so long awaited, might be back within the month, but she had failed to draw his daughter, and had set her down as ‘close’.

To Dannie, Lou seemed as open as a child, so he had not been surprised when, after more than a week, Marion had spoken of her in the old way again. She had asked his opinion of Una, whom they had known only by sight before Lou’s visit with her (Dannie had seen her ogling him at performances by the players); she had gone on to conjecture what had become of Lou since; and “Lou’s a sweet girl,” she had let fall, “we’re sworn friends.” Then: “Una must be great fun, I suppose.”

As she had presently complained of a sick headache, Dannie had fallen back on his own society, sauntering out of the drowsy town beneath the day moon. The red horse-chestnut tree outside the presbytery—more massive even, as he fancied, than that dusty giant in the Turl—still bore its candles, amongst lush bunchy leafage. He had broken one off to smell it, smearing his fingers with a velvety dust, but it had seemed scentless. In the gateway a girl had appeared, and fixed in admiration of her face and figure he had wondered why he felt a pang. Even as she was driven away, of course, in the car that had been waiting for her, he was thinking only of how he might make her acquaintance. So he had been looking out for her each day, which is why from the moment he had set eyes on her again he had paid no more attention to Leo.


Miss Arthur’s father, having sold his newspaper, had bought Herkomer House to end his days in, and had indeed died from a seizure there six months later. She had buried her mother as many years later again, and had since shared the place with an adopted cat and her P.Gs. These fell into two groups: the holidaymakers (including for several seasons the Bucklees), and ‘her young men’, the latest of whom, recommended by Mrs Grant, she was listening for now. As it happened, the thought of what Mrs Grant had let out on the same occasion had just taken her mind back to him who had been truly her young man. His name would long since have been hers, only his turn to bleed for his country had come while they were still courting, and he had been enrolled among those other sons of Caerabersaint of whom, in words chosen by his favourite author, the memorial in the harbour square averred: ‘Their name liveth for evermore’.

After this loss, she had had recourse to mediums, but at length, unsatisfied, had taken up theosophy. The organ of the Lodge of Corresponding Fellows, whose introductory course had thrilled her, was a monthly Bulletin, which within a few years she was editing. In Gus Arthur’s daughter, though, the love of print arose from an itch for self-expression, and she had come into her own when, as his daughter, as an editress, and as secretary of a Ladies’ Guild, she was invited by the Argus’s present proprietor to take over the women’s page. This had since regularly diffused her fads and fancies, while in accordance with an evolution the reverse of her old heroine Mrs Besant’s, its general cast had grown markedly feminist.

She was in the mood now to rebuke there this Guild-sister who was also, she knew, one of her readers. Constance Grant, her good turn done, had had another call to pay, on her new neighbour Mr Traube, and after sadly mentioning his dead Lucie, had run on artlessly: “How we used to love jitterb… dancing with Americans!—before we met our spouses, that is” (flushing slightly). “Well, all my girl-friends did. Well, you never knew you wouldn’t be bombed the very same night, did you? So there was this wonderful sense of togetherness.”

Sensing now Maud’s disapproval, she had bidden her goodbye. But driving down the avenue in a fond dream of smart young servicemen, and of one in especial who had brought her candy and nail-varnish and nylon stockings, and had asked her to come home with him to Pine Bluff as his bride, she had murmured defensively: “Still they really were glamorous—like a film come to life. Such a jolly time we had!” Then loyally: “It was Ronnie Grant I wanted to marry though—a real Englishman, true blue, so gentle and nice.”

It was Connie Grant the landlady was thinking of still when she heard the stairs creak at last, and releasing a warm fishy gust into the hall surprised her new lodger at the porch door. Not going without his tea! Young people should eat regularly. How old was he? Oh, Norman’s age. Too young to remember the war, of course, hadn’t even been born. Not that some who did had truly experienced it, or knew what it had been like for those who had done their bit, even if it was only knitting socks, who’d had to make do and mend (you would have supposed Miss Arthur had had to)—for girls who hadn’t messed around (with a little snort). If she’d got any leisure, she’d used it writing to her soldier-boy—British-style: no money, no swank—, not dancing and smoking and primping… And so forth (with the kettle on the hiss and his taxi waiting) for some minutes before letting him go, she felt so strongly.

Now that the feeling had had way though, not only did she cease to think of putting that squanderbug Connie to the blush, she felt herself infused, as the tea was drawing, with a quite different feeling. Wasn’t it a satisfaction, after all, to be cosing in her kitchen a quarter of a century on? It seemed to her plain that she had been called to exercise a special talent—it was her dharma. And now, from the same starting-point as before, her piece for the Argus took a quite different course in her mind.


Thinking only, for his part, of the evening before him—of where he would soon be and with whom—, Dannie had scarcely attended to her, and now he settled in his taxi-cab the more mystified as, already knowing from her something of her interests, he had taken a closing reference to ‘the spirit of the Home Front’ in an occult sense. Apart from which he couldn’t see why she should mind not teaing him. He had yet to understand she would rather allow him any amount of bread and scrape than a reduction in rent—a thing which his predecessor at Herkomer House (Mr Bates, a young executive and the players’ treasurer, who while still lodging there had ceased eating there) had actually claimed from her. Dannie lacked experience of landladies. He himself hadn’t yet been there a week, and not three weeks earlier had still had rooms in College.

It had been only the day before the move that he had made up his mind to it. Then too he had gone out untea’d, but when he returned, there were cheese and coffee going as Marion entertained some dramatic friends who had dropped in after a rehearsal. He had returned happy indeed, yet as soon as they had gone, and even before Marion had left him to his thoughts, he had felt discontented. Her friends in general no longer seemed to him such good company. Certainly he didn’t suppose you could be good company yet never uncharitable. He though had nothing against their producer, if not that each time he had been in a room with him the other’s facetiousness had kept breaking in on his own. He was even obliged to him for having told Gerald Bates, who when he had auditioned had said he wouldn’t do, “Nonsense, he may lack the Voice Mellifluous, but he’ll be outstanding as First Citizen.” (Wasn’t that why Bates wouldn’t allow what Marion had suggested, that the producer ‘knew how to pull ‘em in’—insisting with his mouth full of cracker, “But that isn’t proven, takings are still down”?) Despite which he had associated himself with this disparagement of him by friends of Marion’s who were none of them friends of his.

And yet, he had flattered himself, companied differently he too could be different. With congenial people—with his own friends the Trusloves, say (he might think of them so again now, a long twelvemonth since Emma and he had ceased being anything more to each other than friends),—he could like himself as he liked them. The truth was, to him Marion’s friends were not congenial. And that wasn’t all. He was sensible that his failure to make them his friends, if not his failure to cultivate Lou, was straining his friendship with Marion. Even when those boardstrutters were gone she hadn’t asked him how he had spent the evening, and ‘It’s not as if I only came to her for feeding up’, he had thought now—though as to that, after waiting while they were supped, he had ended by serving himself. And then there was her evident disapproval of his new friendship.


Not only had she failed to receive Charlotte well on his return with her from the teashop; the next evening, having heard he was off for a stroll—and she must have guessed with whom—, she had virtually obliged him to take along Una, a not unexpected dropper-in, who had caught at the suggestion, and before whom he had felt unable to oppose it for long. It had been some mitigation to find that Charlotte couldn’t rightly mind, not being alone either, and before the stroll was over they had swapped explanations. But meanwhile it had been most unsatisfactory. Twisting up through rhododendron thickets, their path had never let more than two go abreast, the original division had persisted, and Una had taken advantage of it.

“This is quite fortuitous actually. You see, I’m going all out these holidays, work and play equally. Perhaps I’ll have a breakdown, and never go back to teaching! (No, I’ll have to ere long, and probably not here”—with a frown—, “that’s why I’ve kept on my flatlet in deepest Herts, also I’d just paid a quarter’s rent). Anyway, this summer I’m determined to study up my French, I’ve been meaning to for many moons, ever since we did Jean Anouilh’s The Seagull at college, and Andrew—Andrew Thwaite, much garlanded, you probably know his work?—, Andrew would say lines in French without translating them; I found that enormously flattering. Well, I knew you had the gift of tongues, as ‘twere—your name’s Polish, isn’t it, but I believe you’re half French?—, so I’d be eternally grateful for your thoughts on the best method. Only as I’m hardly ever in Abergyffin I thought I might not get to hear them.”

Even when they had come out on a knoll, with an outlook over the estuary, and sat down on open swarth for some refreshment, brought by Charlotte’s companion—the youngest of the boardstrutters, whose brother Willie had been Marion’s (and Mrs Grant’s) grocer’s roundsman—it had hardly been better. Although (through their mothers) Charlotte and Una were already acquainted, they had had nothing to say to each other, and whether Charlotte remarked Dannie’s little attentions to her had been more than he could read.

On the way down, though, Jane Price had at last found her tongue. “I suppose I may teach,” he had heard her tell Una, “if I don’t go on the stage. Because I’m not very academic, people tend to be surprised that I care passionately about the arts. I did think of being a ballet-dancer—I have a very supple body. Do you know Dick Partridge?”

“The puppets bod, who used to run our group?”

“He thinks I should try for stage school.”

“Oh, you’ve met him, that’s interesting, I hear good things of him, much missed by many. He’s rather like the actor-managers of yore, isn’t he. A friend was telling me only this afternoon—I don’t think you know Marion Lewis—he was in rep in Manchester.”

“He was in films in his time, he developed early, he was very tenacious, hailed as the Prodigal Son. I don’t think I’d film well, I’m an introvert really, though not in the perjurative sense, but he says I have a film face.”

“Give me strength,” Charlotte had prayed audibly, “I just jolly well wish she’d dry up about that Partridge, she was going to be an opera singer before she met him.”

“She seems to know you well”, Dannie had said with a touch of jealousy, though amused at her vehemence.

“Siany? she’s my best friend, I’m at her house today, sleeping over. We go bathing together, but I’d rather whack round the lanes on my horse.”

“Oh, is it yours?” Una had interrupted, “I’d have envied you once, careering about the country on horseback, but now I think Shanks’ pony’s best,” (turning back to Jane) “I love losing myself in nature and feeling insignificant.”

“I saw the Mountain Walker once” (mysteriously).

“Oh!” (after a moment) “you’ve seen a ghost? I’d probably depart this life myself if I saw one, but as a Christian I’ve never really believed in them, though some of my College friends did who were rather weird and wonderful—psychic or ‘alternative’ in some way.”

“I felt sorry for it actually, I knew it was just another being on a different level of consciousness.”

“How did you know it wasn’t a happy ghost? There’s a story by Oscar Wilde, one of my favourite authors, which I used to wish my father might read to me…”

“I don’t need a religion to help me collude with the god of my choice, but as a spiritual person I do know about other beings, and the best level of consciousness is the one ’umans are on.”

“Do you ride?” Charlotte had asked him, “I’m a sack of potatoes in the saddle.” On which hint, after accounting for his own barnacle,

“Riding is too strenuous for an unhealthy sybarite,” he had added, “but might we go walking again?”

“Tomorrow afternoon if you like. Oh no, Father Agrotis! Unless you can see me home afterwards? I’ll tell my mother not to fetch me. The bus doesn’t go all the way though. Bet you it will rain.”

In the trees’ deep gloom the four of them had rejoined the lane from where they had set off together and from where now a late bus had taken Una back to Old Dolwen. Having parted from the two friends at Jane’s gate, Dannie had climbed over a stile and struck across a rough field townwards by the light of a ginger-ale moon. He had let himself into Marion’s flat well after she had gone to bed.


Already then (and already with thoughts of his friend Marek’s charming garçonnière) he had understood that entertaining Charlotte regularly at Marion’s flat was not on. He didn’t suspect his godmother of regard for propriety; the difficulty here, he had suspected at once the previous afternoon, on bringing Charlotte back with him after Leo had made them acquainted, was that Marion had not made them acquainted (the reason for which, and for his not having known Mrs Grant’s daughter before, being that this daughter had shunned Miss Lewis as she had Miss Arthur, that other member of the Ladies’ Guild, and in her eyes probably the most decrepit—pitilessly viewing the former, despite appearances, as the latter’s coeval, and scouting any suggestion that she might ever count among ‘Marion’s friends’ herself).

Anyhow, if that afternoon he had already decided not to bring Charlotte back with him again soon, the day after their first rendezvous he was unwilling even for Marion to know he was going for another walk, so had left the flat before her return from an afternoon’s shopping. In consequence not only had he reached the presbytery too early, he had had to forego tea; and without desiring to see Mrs Price’s daughter, as he lounged again under the red chestnut-tree (not inelegantly, he hoped, in his well-pressed linen jacket), he could have done with another slice or two of her bara brith.

His desire to see Jane’s friend had brought back to his mind the image of that friend as he had seen her first which had drawn him out into the streets every day until she was before him again. He had realized with surprise that he had found entry into an existence which had seemed to him an impenetrable mystery, and had considered whether what had caused him a pang on first seeing her had been knowing he had no part in that existence.

The novel charm her person had for him had stimulated him now, when at last they were waiting together, and then in the lurching country-bus, to try to penetrate her inner life. But she had responded warily, as if she risked giving a wrong answer. The thing he was burning to ask, what she thought about their own acquaintance, he had hesitated to ask outright, and that acquaintance was not much nearer intimacy for the little more he did know before the bus had put them down.

“Didn’t I tell you? Now I’m a big girl I take Spanish lessons, but you won’t see me swirl out with a rose between my teeth. He was really sarcastic again today, I just kept looking at my watch.”

Evidently, though, his curiosity wasn’t taken amiss. Their way had wound uphill, the glimmering estuary had sunk from view. They had dawdled to a halt in a high-banked lane quite overboughed. After a silence, “I reckon”, she had suddenly brought out, “you’re a person that takes friendship very seriously—with you it’s all or nothing.”

Enchanted to hear her speak of himself, he had concurred directly—to wonder then, doubtful in his turn, whether that had been the right response. So far as he could make out her expression, in that dark cocoon the summer had woven, he had found it enigmatic. A mild rain was falling, they had gone on their way. Not until the lights of a house had shown up, through a wet weft of leaves, had he perceived that they had cut out of the lane by a shrub-lined drive. Then they were in a rusticated stone porch with the ring of the door-chime in his ears, the hall-light on Charlotte’s hair, and his name on her lips. She had been looked for sooner, and before the wedge of whisky fruitcake she had cut for him herself, he had accepted from her mother only three roast-beef sandwiches, in case her parents felt the hour was late.

Her mother though, who had invited him in, was so pleasant that by the time he had wished her good night he had forgotten how faded, beside her daughter, she had appeared to him at first. In fact, without knowing anything of that young Arkansawyer who one evening long since at the Savoy had asked for her hand, he had wondered that she had bestowed it where she had. This was being rather hard on his host (whom he had heard rasping on the telephone—“Fifteen hundred? Are you mad? I’m not running a charity!”—before seeing him). True, none of Mr Grant’s acquaintances of later years could easily have supposed him once ‘so gentle and nice’, and he had taken no such trouble that evening as, on his wife’s part, had persuaded their guest that she might in her day have been almost as pleasing as Charlotte. (It would have struck him as puppyism, Dannie felt sure, the familiarity with which Gerald had named his new business acquaintance when boasting “It’s all right now of course, the losses are factored into our business-plan, which I got forensically tested by Ronnie Grant, and he agreed we should maintain cash-flow during the plan period and be into classic profits next season.”) Still Dannie might have reflected that her mate couldn’t always have been grizzled and ungenial, with boiled eyes and the breath of a crocodile. And had he not let himself be put out by the stare to which, after splashing them each a double scotch, Mr Grant had subjected him, he might have discerned in it the very quality of shrewdness which Mr Grant’s rival had lacked, and on which his future wife, without foreseeing that Bill Brady was to die on a misty moel in nineteen forty-three, had known by instinct she might rely for her future ease and security—an instinct whose sureness was attested in her lounge by just that costly comfort which had left on Dannie an impression merely of tastelessness.

He had in truth been more self-conscious than conscious of anything else, and not only uncomfortably so, under her husband’s looking-over: her smiles had made him agreeably so, and led him to say more than he had thought of saying.

“At my godmother’s,” (in answer to an inquiry from her) “I have a standing invitation—although this summer”, he had found himself continuing, “I’m looking about for somewhere else. Marion knows so many people, I’m afraid I always have a pretext for not working. And now with the review I’m trying to bring out, a self-denying ordinance wouldn’t suffice,” (smiling back) “I need a sanctum where I can get on with the dummy undistracted.”

“A lady I know lets rooms, if you like I could speak to her for you tomorrow. Not at all, you see I know she wants a tapestry-frame, preferably upright, and Mrs Peters of Pontygower has just let me have one for our summer fair, so I shall give Maud the refusal of it. Which reminds me, dear,” (looking at her husband) “that old silver-and-leather hip-flask you said was junk—well, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure, Bem said.”

“Does he want it?”

“No, dear!” (laughing) “he was talking about pictures—you remember. I thought you might let me have it for our rummage-stall.”

She had obliged Dannie further on his thanking her just before rising to go. “Ronald will run you back (won’t you, dear?). What, and let you foot it all that way in the wet?” (parting thick curtains with a pompom). “How it does come down! But that’s why the country is so green, isn’t it.”

Here he had thought her husband also would demur, and mean it, though as could be seen from an onyx-and-marble clock (with spelter nymph and fawn) when she turned on the heavy brass lamp (with a pink tulip shade) that stood on an onyx-and-gilt table beside her, by this the last bus must have gone. But then Charlotte had stated that she would come with them, and while she was fetching a sweater her father had actually spoken to him. Mrs Grant’s “You won’t drive too fast, dear?” meeting with silence, “We found on coming here we had to have a shopping car”, she had explained to him. “Well, Charlotte goes shopping all she can, and I was using our old car as often as my husband, though of course he drives when we go out together, unless he’s a little tiddly, and it’s beginning to date, he says. So now that’s mine, and Ronald has a nice new one—he is only semi-retired—, but it’s very high-powered.”

“So she won’t hold anyone up,” her husband had struck in, “that’s important!” Then, “She’s a thirsty beast”, he had conceded complacently. And now addressing Dannie directly, while re-charging his glass without waiting for a reply, “One for the road?”

Finally, in the front hall, Mrs Grant had gratified him by bidding him to dinner this evening at the Castle Hotel. But it was Charlotte—O filia pulchrior—who had made his happiness that evening complete, so that beside her again, in her father’s new saloon (“Camlyn Court, Daddy, and don’t spare the horses”), and wonderfully assured that in the hollow way his response had been the right one, he had felt he must shift his quarters without delay.


And so he would have to borrow money hand over fist. Apply to Pop? Having long since strained his credit in that quarter, he might rather have applied to his tutor, only that ‘swept in the social round’ he had visited him so much less often than was expected. As for his contemporaries, he had, also, ‘soon left Old Thursburians behind’—and got (he trusted) more friends than ever, but were any squeezable? Well, he’d settled to write to Marek. And it wasn’t without satisfaction that he had noted Marion’s surprise on informing her (with the same reasons he had given Mrs Grant) that the matter was arranged.

It would have been arranged even sooner but that, having heard from Mrs Grant about his review, Miss Arthur had delayed him with advice. Still she hadn’t proved his patience then so severely as today. And now on Gyffin bridge he was further delayed in the traffic waiting to debouch into the town through beetling East Gate. He paid off his cab under the old town wall, slipped through the postern, and leaving on his left the orielled town hall, hurried down that dogleg alley which brings you to the cobbled top of Castle Street, midway down which, its gables strung with coloured lamps, stood the hotel.

He paused. He could see a glossy motor gliding over the forecourt, the doorman moving forward—and his night drive with Charlotte and her father came vividly back to him, with the crustle of leather, the shine of her hair, and the electric touch of her hand by which this creature of his own kind, whose existence he had yet thought so remote from his, had signified she was now his friend. Then in anticipation—sharpset as he was—he was already in the crimson, galleried dining-room, thrilled again by her proximity, exchanging civilities across fine napery with her mother while deferent strangers did her father’s bidding. In this mood of his even a floppy silk tie and the scent of cologne seemed constituents of happiness. And looking down through the dusk he saw life as a box of delights, from which like Mr Grant he might help himself.

updated by @americymru: 11/29/17 05:32:27PM