Short Story: Literary Love

Colette was searching for distraction. Down the hill in Villejoie shutters were clamped tight, fires were stoked. The only sign of life was the billowing smoke from the chimneys. Even the village dogs, usually a noisy, machismo pack who greeted passersby with bared teeth and aggressive stance were silent, snoozing in front of kitchen stoves. Earth gloomed under dirty frost, a crumpled newspaper landscape with no story to tell. She struggled with the final chapters of her dissertation, jaded even with George Sand, the ‘large-brained woman and large-hearted man’ who had been her sole companion for four weeks. Colette was not a Facebook friend to anyone and could never think of anything worth tweeting but she checked her emails five times a day, eager for any small stimulus they might afford. There was usually just a flurry of invitations from would-be Russian pen pals or from the relatives of cabinet ministers in unknown countries, eager to share newly inherited fortunes on receipt of bank details.  On December 29th, for the fourth time that day she checked again and clicked open an email which looked as if it came from an academic institution in Fiji.


 

From: Andre.Bottin@Ac.Fiji

To: Colette@Writer.fr

December 29, 2009

Dear Madame Colette,

I hope this email surprises you as pleasantly as my discovery of your website did me. I am writing to you from my office in the English Department of the University of Fiji. You may imagine, then, how I was ‘surprised by joy’ when I chanced upon your website, Colette, whilst researching on the internet. The more so when I discovered that you are an English woman academic, albeit with an appropriately French literary name, living near Toulouse, where I plan to reinstall myself when I return to France in mid April. Your brief biography on the site – I am ‘impatient as the wind’ to learn more about you – indicates that you are unmarried. Excellent. Very good indeed. I foresee many happy discussions, excursions, ‘expotitions’. Yes, as you will gather, I am a devotee of Winnie Ille Pooh.  I hope we may anticipate a meeting, very soon though necessarily, alas, slightly delayed.

I am, as you will have deduced from the main thrust of the quotations, a Wordsworthian, a lover of all things Wordsworth; of the Pantheists, of Coleridge, of Dorothy, of ‘Chatterton, the marvellous boy’. My PhD was on the poet himself Wordsworth and the Semiotics of Loneliness. I am, in a word, immersed, living in his very world, out here in Fiji, no less.

A little more about myself: I am a lecturer in the English Department. (See biography, attached.) We are a small, tight ship, sailing on the rugged waters around this cultural desert island, smaller still when I jump overboard to return to France in two months’ time. My particular joy, my passion, is Wordsworth, as I have intimated. But do not let that intimidate you. My interests are many and varied. As writers we have much to discuss. Now, a little about yourself, if you please, lest my unsatisfied curiosity blow me straight across the water towards you.



Yours very cordially and in hopeful, I should say, in happy anticipation, of your reply,

Andre Bottin, (Phd)



Colette was enthralled. Here was a literary man, no less, sent to warm her winter chill. She did not want it to appear that she had too little to do to occupy her time so she waited for two days before she replied. She passed the days browsing an anthology of Wordsworth, who had grown dim in her memory since schooldays.

 

From: Colette@Writer.fr
To: Andre.Bottin@Ac.Fiji

December 31, 2009

Cher Andre

‘O blithe new-comer! I have heard,

I hear thee and rejoice’.

Two can play at this quotations game, you see.

I’m not sure how you stumbled across me and am puzzled as to how you would have encountered me or my site in the normal course of your research. Was it really my website you found and not my profile on the Meetic site? Whichever it was, I was delighted to hear from you. I am, indeed, unmarried, divorced rather than a spinster of the parish, and am hoping to make new friends in the area. Villejoie is not, as I am sure you must know, the epicentre of the cultural world, although the absence of distraction is excellent for a writer painfully plodding through her dissertion. I write, ah yes, indeed, I write, but slowly and it’s a solitary occupation, as you will know.

How interesting that your sphere of interest is Wordsworth. He is such a very English poet, one of the most English, don’t you think, and yet many of his descriptions are so apt for this part of France? As a Francophile your passion for him is maybe no coincidence. I see you have attached to your email a list, impressively long, of your publications. And to my surprise, my pleasure, I should say, a CD of four of your lectures dropped into my post box yesterday. What excellent research, to have discovered my address and have sent the CD even before the email. Should I swot you up before your arrival? The thought is just a little intimidating. I shall enjoy the effort, however, should my own studies permit me to take a little expotition into the world of Wordsworth.

Does anything remain uncharted of his life, I wonder? You seem to have written or spoken on every aspect of it. I had forgotten that he and his circle were so heavily drug dependent. How interesting. Do you suppose they held their own twelve step meetings? What a frivolous thought. I suspect you may think me flippant. So to be serious. What are your plans when you return? A new life awaits you. I like to imagine you making a dash to Paris in search of Oscar Wilde.

I have been here for three years. An impulsive move prompted by England’s low barometric pressure and high property prices. The South Aveyron is, I must admit, a contrast from central London. What am I doing here, I ask myself at times? Then I remember; peace, calm, tranquillity, but don’t get me started on French builders.

I am in the final stages of writing a dissertation on George Sand. It is going well but when I need a rest from study, I transform my garden into a miniature Sissinghurst. Have you been to that wonderful garden created by Vita Sackville West? That is the basis of my design for my own garden and I’ve made a very good start with beds of white roses and silver leaved shrubs. I hope I may show it to you, one day.

I look forward to hearing from you with more details about your life.


Cordialement


Colette.

 
Her hopes ran ahead of the reality. Colette’s garden did not resemble that of Sissinghurst. The moles were winning on the lawn which, when newly planted, was tender and green but had quickly become humped and bald. She had tried sewing grass seed but, however many handfuls she cast about her, the birds ate the new shoots as soon as they appeared. In the midst of winter, the ground was too frozen to work so she doodled her designs in the margins of her notebook and dreamed of spring. The project stuttered slowly along. She was a novice gardener, not naturally gifted.
 
It snowed at the beginning of January.  It was not the snow of the picture postcards in the village shop. It fell in mean, wet flakes, barely covering the grass and melted within hours, leaving icy patches at the edges of the flower beds. The rose bushes she had planted in the autumn had lost their leaves and looked as miserable in the cold as she was. Colette made darting forays to fetch wood for the stove from the pile in the animal byres under the big barn. Once, she startled a stone marten and ran shrieking back into the house with only a couple of logs to keep the fire alight. She was discovering too late that she was not a natural country woman. She sat as close to the stove as she could, huddled in her green tartan dressing grown, the duvet from her bed covering her knees. She longed for the spring when she hoped she would have renewed energy to attack and tame the garden wilderness.
 
She searched her emails more hopefully now but It was mid January before Andre wrote again. Oh, surprised by joy¸ indeed.
 

15th January, 2009

Ma Tres Chere Colette

A rich reply from you; more, I fear, than I deserve. ‘The world is too much with us’, especially right now as I wind down my year ready for a departure which brings me ever closer to you. Dear Colette. How I long for the day when we shall meet, tete a tete.

Do tell me more about your life. What is happening right now, in the Springtime of the year, in the Aveyron? Do share the minutiae of your ‘diurnal course’ (cf A Slumber did my Spirit Seal)


Until we meet, adieu

Andre

 

18th January, 2009

Bien Cher Andre

How disappointing that you have so little time at the moment. I have too much and am, I fear, in danger of creating you more in my own image than in yours. I look forward so much to hearing about your life and thoughts but shall have to make do with the impressively full bibliography of suggested Wordsworth study (thank you for attaching that with your last) and the second CD of your interesting lectures. For the rest, I shall curb my impatience until we meet. Only eight weeks now. I count the days.

The springtime of the year, you say. That’s a happy thought if ever there were one. Here, we are in the dog days of winter, with mist and rain swirling around us. Yesterday, I ventured down to the village clutching a fog lamp in one hand and a stick in the other. I understand now how it must feel for Claire, my nearest neighbour, who can hardly see. I stumbled down the hill, groping my way, able to make out the path only a foot or two in front of me. The wind was blowing so hard that it took me ten minutes to reach the village, although it is only 200 yards from my house. Claire called me in to shelter from the rain. It was ten in the morning but she laced my coffee with cognac, or rather, heated my cognac with a tablespoon full of coffee and I was grateful for every drop.

We huddle at this time of year. I go out as little as possible, some days only to fetch logs to stoke the fire which I keep ablaze around the clock. I’ve moved from my first floor bedroom downstairs where it is warmer and I am a shorter distance from the fire. It’s lonely, though. I have only the mice for company and I would prefer your companionship. Here, I am not wandering lonely as a cloud. I’m trapped in it and not enjoying it.  My garden, alas, blooms in my head rather than on the ground.

I am not clear about your country of origin. Your name seems French, as mine does, but your accent is not. Of course your English is perfect and your accent does definitely lean rather more towards Leeds than Toulouse. I must confess, though, it was a little difficult to hear because of the rather high volume of audience participation in your lectures. How different from my student days. Heckling was not countenanced then. It was brave of you indeed to record your dignified retreat before the end, slamming the door so assertively. Most impressive.

You do not mention any family. I have a trio of offspring, scattered rather to the winds as is the fashion with the young these days. I have been divorced for more years than I care to remember and do not always enjoy the spinster life. I do look forward to our meeting. How long have you been divorced?

Warmest good wishes,

Colette.

 
Her literary man had a busier life in Fiji than Colette could claim in the Aveyron. She waited for nearly a month for his reply, impatient as the wind and deeply impatient with the mist and the rain.

A bat had woken from its winter torpor and flown through the open window into her bedroom. It whirred overhead and she dived under the duvet until it flew out again. She had seen signs of rats in the byre and had made an excursion to the Mairie just below her house to ask what she should do about them. Phillipe, the mayor, had brought poisoned grain to her and had stayed so long drinking cognac that she began to think she would prefer the rats. She made a mental note not to apply to him for assistance again. She admitted to herself, though, that her irritation with the mayor might have been triggered when, seeing a photograph of her daughter, he had suggested that Colette should return to England and send Alice in her place. ‘Tell her’ he said, ‘that I have very pretty moustaches.’

When Andre’s answer came, she printed it so that she could sit cosily by the fire to enjoy it and let its warmth seep into her soul.
 

15th February, 2009

My Dear Colette

Another rich email from you which I shall savour as soon as I have a moment so to do. ‘Oh Duty’. I am sure you know the rest (cf Ode to Duty). So much to do, so little time; too little, alas, to reply to you as you deserve. In haste, therefore.

My marital situation is a little complicated. In a word, I am at present still married but working to resolve the situation and shall, I trust, have good news for you in this regard before much longer. Certainly, I expect to move things forward on my return. It is all rather too involved to make an explanation in this email. Duty calls. Oh Duty.

More at my next.


Much love

Andre

 
Colette noted the reference to his marital complications but skimmed over them in her haste to plug the gaps in her knowledge of Ode to Duty. It brought her closer to her literary man and her studies of Wordsworth and his circle edged George Sand out of pole position in Colette’s research. By the time the Professor arrived, she would be able with complete confidence to parry Wordsworth quotes with him.

It was still too cold to work for long in the garden but bramble twines had started to invade the rose bed. She waited until it had rained for several days before attacking them with a hoe. The ground was still so resistant that she bent the metal neck. She retreated into the house, frustrated by her inability to tame this hostile wasteland. She hoped that her literary man might, perhaps, be a gardener, able to hack his way through the brambles which were impervious to her efforts. So far, the signs were not promising.

She slept at odd hours during the day, hibernating while she waited for spring. At the beginning of March she felt at last that winter was turning the corner into early spring. It was still cold but there were rare moments when the sun poked dimly through the clouds. With a faint stirring of energy she wrote to Andre again.

 

4th March 2009

Dear Andre

How very nice it was to receive your photograph in the mail this morning. I do like curly black hair, or at least, now I do. And such a huge smile. What a charming photograph, like a vibrant Della Robbia cherub. I have nobody here I can ask to take one of me so I am afraid you will have to wait to see the original. Only 46 days to go. I am already a little nervous. I am, you see, falling in love with you but I know that it is only my own projection. One cannot fall in love with somebody with whom one has corresponded for only a couple of months, can one? So I imagine you and I must say, it is keeping me going through the last, I hope, cold days of this slow springing Spring.

The daffodils are starting to poke up but no flowers yet, just the green sheath where the flower waits to burst through. My neighbours, Claire and Jean, have yet to emerge from their burrow. The shutters are still firmly closed on the summer visitors’ houses so all is a bit duller than I would like. There is a suggestion of green in the hills and forests. I love the pale lettuce shades of early spring and the way the wheat, only a few weeks after it is sown, ripples in the breeze like crushed velvet. So I try to keep loneliness at bay, watching for the signs of approaching spring. Most important, of course, I have the prospect of our meeting to cheer me up.

Now that the spring is on the way, I am impatient to get back to my Sissinghurst- in-the-Aveyron. My poor garden is looking just a little dejected but I shall coax it into glory as soon as the ground softens.

I am still working my way through your latest paper with the very useful footnotes directing me to further reading. Thank you for it. Is it really true, about Wordsworth and Dorothy? It is not how I would have interpreted the Romantic in Romantic Poet. But I suppose if the Egyptians thought it alright, who are we to point the finger? Your research and impressive bibliography at the end is so thorough I am sure you must be right. I read now with eyes newly awakened. It does make me wonder who he is describing in

‘A noble woman, nobly planned,

To warn, to comfort, and command’

(cf Memorials of a Tour in Scotland.)

Probably not Dorothy at all, but was she a model for all the women he writes about?  There’s a subject for your next paper, although already much researched, I imagine.

I have resumed my own researches into George Sand with renewed vigour. Such an admirably strong woman every bit as noble a woman, nobly planned as any in Wordsworth’s circle. I look forward to sharing with you my findings about her life and work. I think I have a rather new angle on her which I shall enjoy discussing with you. In the meantime, I attach the first draft of my chapter George Sand, Proto-feminist, which may be of interest.

There is not much more news I can give you to entertain you. So I eagerly await your reply.



Yours affectionately

Colette.

 

She had emerged from her dressing gown cocoon and was starting to plan what she would wear for her first meeting with Andre. She did not have too much from which to choose. In winter she wore a couple of sweaters under her dressing gown and thick corduroy trousers tucked into woollen socks. Men’s carpet slippers completed her cold weather attire. In summer, she removed a few layers but the effect remained rough and rural and her trousers were usually streaked with grass stains. She inspected her wardrobe with dissatisfaction and decided, faute de mieux, on a pair of black trousers, a full sleeved, peasant blouse and a long, brown woollen cloak which seemed to her to be the sort of outfit George Sand might have worn. She imagined that a trilby with a feather in the band would add a dashing touch but all she could find in the local shop were the flat caps the farmers wore.

With Andre’s departure so imminent, Colette did not expect an immediate reply and it was just as well. He wrote three weeks after she had sent her last email.

 

25th March, 2009

Dearest Colette

How angry you must be with me for my shameful neglect of you these past couple of weeks. Parties, parties, parties. One does get so very tired of the tributes poured upon one by people with nothing better to do. No invitations to speak of for the five years of my time here and now, all of a sudden, I am bidden to attend farewell functions hosted by all from the Dean to the janitor. I shall be so very relieved to leave all of this frenetic merrymaking behind and to be able to focus on the really important things in life; our meeting, for example.

I have a growing fantasy that we shall meet on the steps of the Toulouse Lautrec Museum in Albi. You know it, of course; a bijoux collection, not of his very best work but enough to give some small idea of his talent. If we have time, we might spend a couple of hours there before lunch and I can introduce you to a few of my favourite works. Then I shall sweep you off to the best restaurant in Albi, L’Esprit du Vin, without a question. Every dish a little masterpiece. We can talk and sip wine and bask at our meeting in the sun.

But until then, duty calls once more. Adieu, sweet Colette, till we meet.


Much love

Andre

p.s I had time only to skim the headings of your chapter on George Sand, who does not seem to me to be an admirable woman. I am not sure you made the point convincingly enough. There seemed, dare I say it, a suggestion that you actually admired her? Surely not.

 
Colette allowed herself to feel disappointed by his reply. She did indeed admire George Sand who, she felt sure, would have coped much better with rural solitude than she had done. Hovering for a  moment over her mind was a doubt about whether Andre could experience empathy. She did not permit it to settle. She had invested too much hope in the relationship and too much time in becoming reacquainted with Wordsworth. She was not prepared, at this late stage, to allow an imagined drawback to come between them.

 
On reflection, the George Sand outfit might not be the most appropriate for their first meeting. A Vita Sackville-West style of black dress and large hat would, she decided, be more suitable.

There was time for one more communication before they met.

 

10th April 2009

My Dear Andre

Just a quick email to wish you well on your journey home. I do hope all goes smoothly.

I was suitably chastened by your comments on George Sand who I do, indeed, admire, and so did numerous other more distinguished writers, including Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  No matter. I hope to convince you of her merits.

I have decided to wear a Vita Sackville-West hat by which you can easily identify me on the steps of the Toulouse Lautrec Museum. I do hope it doesn’t rain. A large hat under an umbrella won’t be quite the same. How exciting. There you will be, standing at the bottom and – there my imagination fails me. I hope my words don’t but I am sure I can count on you to plug any gaps.

Before I forget, thank you for sending me the speech made by the Dean at your ‘passing out parade’. Clearly, you are going to leave an unbridgeable gap in their lives. I thought his reference to the greatly increased workload slightly gratuitous. Rather pragmatic for such an occasion, I thought, putting the emphasis too much on work. It must have been very sad for everyone to see you go. But their loss …

I shall save the rest of my musings for our meeting. I await it with the greatest imaginable impatience.

Love

Colette

 

The telephone rang. Colette rushed from the end bedroom upstairs, from where she had been watching the swallows circling the bell tower, harbingers of spring at last. She jumped down the  three steps of the winding wooden staircase into the salon and plucked up the ‘phone just before it flicked onto answer phone.

‘Allo, j’ecoute’ she said.

There was a pause and she thought the line had gone dead. Then a man’s voice said

‘Is that Colette, writer’?

She hesitated for a moment, trying to identify the voice. ‘That must be you Andre. Welcome back. How wonderful to hear your voice.’

‘Et tu brute’ he said.

‘I can’t wait to meet you. I’ve thought so much about our meeting. When do you think you can make it? Of course you are just back and must have a lot to do. Any time this week would do for me ‘. There was a sound of paper rustling. ‘Or next’, she added.

‘I’m looking at my diary’ he said. ‘It’s filling up quite alarmingly.’

‘With what?’ she asked. ‘You’re only just back.’

‘I can manage next Wednesday’ he said.

‘Done. On the steps of the Toulouse Lautrec. At midi. Me in the hat. You down the steps.’

There was a pause and she was about to hang up when he said ‘There’s something I thought I’d better warn you about, in case you get a fright.’

‘I am sure, where you are concerned, I am impervious to fright’ she laughed.

‘I have no teeth’ he said.

The teeth did come as a surprise and even, she had to admit to herself, a disappointment. She pictured the professor with his black curly hair and his toothlessness now making him look like a still younger Della Robbia cherub than she had imagined.

‘None´? She asked.

‘None.’

‘Fine, fine’ she said. ‘No problem. Absolutely fine. Definitely.’

She had five days before their meeting in which to adjust to the news about the teeth. She held his photograph at arm’s length in front of her, squinting at it to try and visualise him, toothless. The white dazzle of his smile was all she could see. She took a felt tip pen and carefully blacked it out. It gave him a different look, but not too horrible. She wondered how he could eat. Surely his diet did not consist of baby pap? She concluded that he must, somehow, have toughened his gums. She tried to chew a chicken leg with her lips wrapped round her teeth. It was not a successful experiment. In the days before she met him, though, she managed to adapt her new vision of him to one very nearly approaching the image he had sent her, but rather darker and more mysterious.

 
By the time Wednesday arrived, she was again anticipating the meeting with pleasure. She set off happily, wearing the black dress and a bright orange hat with a ragged rose and a floppy brim which fell over her sunglasses making her, she thought, look satisfactorily literary.

 
The drive from Villejoie to Albi usually took fifty minutes but she managed it in forty, running along the banks of the River Tarn, rushing down the middle of the three discarded railway tunnels which were cut through the rocky hills. Into her aged Seat’s cassette player she inserted a recording of TS Eliot reading The Wasteland. His voice was monotonous and his reading was not jolly and uplifting but it was the only poetry recording she had and would have to do. The route along the Tarn made up for Eliot’s lugubriousness.  Clumps of primroses flowered along the banks, the moorhens were diving and chasing each other across the water.

‘The roads

Were crowded with the bravest youth of France ….. ‘

driving tractors that blocked her way and she hooted, trying to disguise her irritation with a friendly wave as she squeezed past them. The air smelled of spring manure, horsey and earthy and a relief after the smoggy, clogging fumes of winter.

 
At 11.56 she made her way slowly towards the steps of the Toulouse Lautrec Museum. As the bells of the Cathedrale de Ste Cecile tolled mid day, she arrived at the top and paused. She looked down and there, at last, was her professor, gazing up at her. She began to walk down the steps, trying not to stumble in heels which suddenly seemed ill-advised. It wasn’t until she reached the bottom that she was able to see him properly. He was wearing a mustard coloured jacket without lapels and a maroon shirt. He smiled. He had misled her about the teeth. There was one on each side of his upper gum. On the right was a sharpened stake, on the left an inch long, dangling donkey hoof. But it was the hair that surprised her. Where were the black curls? They had turned to ash. Her professor resembled Mr. Pickwick to her carefully contrived Vita.

 
They greeted each other with the awkward kiss on each cheek that the English affect when in France.  His gaze swept down her but his expression did not alter. Perhaps, she thought, his disappointment matched her own.

 
Andre led the way towards the doors of the Musee des Berbiers, where the Toulouse Lautrec collection was housed. Tottering across the cobbles, Colette tried to keep up with him. Andre reached the door just as the curator was switching  the notice from ouvert to ferme. He banged on the door. ‘What’s all this?’ he said. ‘It’s just mid day. We’ve come a long way just to see the exhibition and you’re bloody well closed.’ The curator shrugged his shoulders, pointed towards the panel displaying the opening hours, mouthed ‘bon appetit’, turned around and walked away. ‘Typical French’ Andre said. ‘If they’re not on strike they’re closed for lunch. I had decided exactly what I was going to show you. It was just enough to whet your appetite for a more in depth knowledge of Toulouse Lautrec. I suppose we’ll have to eat first and come back later. It won’t be the same at all’.

 
‘I’m sure we’ll enjoy it just as much after lunch. I have seen the exhibition before, you know’ she said.

 
But Andre was already halfway up the steps. He waited for her at the top and led the way across the Cathedral Square to L’Esprit du Vin where the black aproned waiter, lounging by the wall, jumped to attention when he saw them. ‘Madame’ he cooed, as he pulled a metal cafe chair out and seated her with her back to the traffic on the brick paved terrace. Colette and Andre were silent while they studied the menu. He ordered steak, saignant, perched on top of black squid pasta and managed successfully to suck his way through it. She chose mussels and magret de canard. She was tempted to watch him eat but focused her eyes firmly on her plate so that she could not. They shared a huge platter of cheese and a trio of desserts. In between mouthfuls, they began to talk.

‘What news of your wife?’ she asked. ‘Have you managed to resolve the marital impasse you mentioned’?

‘It’s very complicated’ he sighed. ‘I have to tread delicately. Very delicately. She is not a well woman, Griselda. She lies in a darkened room most of the day.’ He tapped the side of his forehead. ‘Depressed.’

Colette nodded, the brim of her hat bobbing in sympathy. ‘Your very own mad woman in the attic’ she said. ‘How thrillingly literary.’

‘Give it time’ he said. ‘Time and the hour runs through the roughest day’. He sighed and she sighed with him.

 
When they had finished eating, an hour remained before the museum opened its doors again so they decided to visit the Baptisterie de St. Jean. He took her elbow and steered her along the lane and into the dark gloom of the building. It was filled with tourists, also sheltering until the shops and gallery opened again. They began to circle the pillars.

 
‘That photograph you sent me´ she said. ‘You seemed to have very black hair and a full set of teeth.’ She was whispering so that an English speaking couple, slung about with cameras, could not overhear her.

‘Must be very old then’ he replied. ‘Haven’t had teeth for a long time now’.

‘Are you planning to replace them any time soon?’ she whispered, trying to sound disinterested.

‘Certainly not’ he said. ‘That’s very bourgeois. I’d rather spend the money on a new car.’

‘Teeth in general are bourgeois or replacement teeth in particular?’ she asked.

He did not answer. He had sunk down into a nearby pew and motioned for her to sit beside him.

‘I think I should forewarn you’ he said. ‘I don’t want to lead you along the primrose path of dalliance then cause you disappointment.’ Colette wondered what else he might reveal that had not already caused disappointment.  ‘I have greatly enjoyed our intellectual exchanges, a meeting of true minds.’ He tapped his forehead as if to indicate where his mind lay. ‘But I feel I must confess. I recently reconnected with a former girlfriend I met in China. It is looking promising. I don’t know how it will work out. I should know quite soon and if it doesn’t, of course I shall be straight back in touch with you. I hope you don’t feel too disappointed but I felt I should tell you that this may, possibly, be as far as we travel along life’s road together.’

Colette removed her hat and held it in front of her face, seeming to fan herself with it. She paused until the laughter which fizzed up had subsided and she could sound suitably composed. She could not decide whether relief or disappointment predominated. ‘Andre,’ she said. ‘How wonderful for you. I do hope it works out. And don’t worry about me. I find, now that spring is here, I have regained my enthusiasm for my garden. My own design, as it happens. Sissinghurst in the Aveyron didn’t work. Besides, as your poet said ‘Time and the hour runs through the roughest day.’
 

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