I want to set down as much as I can remember because, dear lord, I have made a complete and utter fool of myself.
Tamara replied by return post that she would come on Wednesday. Except I forgot that I do, in fact, have a performance on Wednesday night, so that at least kept the interview mercifully brief. But first I had to endure an early morning summons from Sam.
Half awake, I go to the door and find Sam, in full uniform, standing there. "What have you been telling Gracie?" There was nothing to do but invite him in and be railed at while I make tea. "She doesn't even know what exactly you've admitted to."
"I daresay she does, from the way she began interrogating me. And I certainly didn't teach her about picking boys out of the lavs, but I'm sure she thought it. You should have seen how she looked at me."
"Why did you say anything at all?"
"She's my sister!"
"She can't possibly understand what you mean when you say you're an invert."
"She just doesn't want to admit to you that she had it pretty well figured out. Or else she put on a damned fine act for me. Which would you rather believe?"
"If you weren't her brother, I'd hit you right now."
"Do you really think I'm implying that my own sister is a tramp?"
"How else would she know such things as you suggest she does know?"
"She's not an idiot, and mum doesn't know about all of her friends. The way a couple of them flirt with the chaps when they come to watch me play cricket, I don't think they're terribly innocent. There's nothing wrong with Gracie, just a desire for more exciting company at times than is allowed. She did step out with you."
"Are you saying that by marrying me, your sister is slumming?"
"No, I'm saying that mum thinks by marrying you, Gracie is slumming. Mum's perceptions are frequently divorced from reality. She thinks Cecil will be a wonderful addition to the family, and though she feeds me whenever I turn up, she's certain I'm going to hell and thus am forbidden to take biscuits home with me. She's Scottish - of course she's obsessed with money. I'd be rather more popular if my career looked more like Caruso's, I daresay. Why are you so upset over what I tell my own sister about myself."
He finally sat down, his head in his hands. "She's terribly cross with you. I don't know how she knows half the things she knows, but I'm willing to wager my entire savings that she doesn't fully understand the extent of what you've told her. She knows it's illegal. She knows people say terrible things about Oscar Wilde and men of his sort. She knows there must be something beyond simple kissing. But I'm certain she doesn't know exactly what you've admitted to her you've done. And that's what makes her so cross, that you've lied, and you still lie, and I'm a part of that lie, so she's cross with me, too. All I've done is keep my trap shut. Why should I get punished because you start wanting to make confessions?"
"You're a saint. I appreciate it more than you can imagine."
"Oh, I can imagine. I've seen a man come off a treadmill. It would be vastly easier if you would just make up your mind and take a wife. You're making confessions and attaching yourself to boys because you're lonely. Surely you know someone, a chorus girl perhaps, who would be a thoroughly nice match. And then confessions wouldn't have to be made at all."
"The cat's already out of the bag."
"Who else would I tell?"
"How would I know? I didn't think you'd be fool enough to tell Gracie!"
"No one else in the family would care. I don't even like anyone else in the family except for Dad, and I'd rather die than tell him. Frank would rat me out in a heartbeat. The only other people who would understand or care already know."
"Is it even worth my breath to tell you to be careful?"
"Yes. I know it already, but it's good to hear a friend say it."
"Why did you have to make a mess of everything this week? Scotland Yard want to see me on Friday."
"Not yet. I did not need this this week. I told Gracie you never actually confirmed a thing, I just assumed from what I could make out when you were sobbing on me in the taxi on the way to the hospital. Which is rather a lie in itself, but I'm not going to play telephone on this. It's your life, it's your mistake, and it's your argument with your sister. Or rather her argument with you, as she appears to have delegated me to appear in your place. Fix this."
"How? She's not just seen the cat, she's pet it and called it 'good kitty'. Crying over me wasn't exactly the end I had hoped."
"I don't know. Just get her off my back. Perhaps an expanded version of the truth, without the lurid details? Talk to her. Keep me out of it. I've got to get to work."
"Great friend you are, Sam!" I distinctly remember muttering under my breath when he closed the door behind him. Not an auspicious way to begin the day.
But the day continued, and just before four, Tamara was on my doorstep. She greeted me as always, and my courage immediately failed. I made small talk full of false cheer as I readied the tea things, but as I poured her a cup, she took my hand and asked what was the matter.
"Nothing, nothing at all," I replied quickly.
"You were beginning to quote Ideal Ignorance at me, and the play wasn't very good the first time around."
"You saw that rubbish too?" She didn't answer. I sighed. She knows me too well. "Everything's the matter."
"Start at the beginning."
"The beginning?" I laughed hollowly. "I should never have slept with Thea Brannigan."
"You ran into the old cow?"
"Worse. I have to work with her."
"Oh, darling." It was nice to have a show of sympathy, and I didn't want to move on to the real trouble, but something, perhaps a need for honesty after the reminder of Gracie's outburst, pushed me forward.
"The real problem, though, isn't exactly Thea. She's part of it - a profound annoyance that is making the real problem seem somewhat worse - but not exactly the root cause. I've met a boy." I sounded miserable even to myself.
She started away. "What do you need me for?" she asked tartly. "To bless the union?"
"It's not like that at all. You met him when he was here the other day."
"Him? That little thing? He's pretty, darling, but he shouldn't have you this kind of state. He's too young to have a thing in his head."
"He's older than he looks."
"So you're defensive about him. Why do you pull me into your tawdry little affair?" She was angry, and I didn't blame her. I was angry with myself, that was really what was at the bottom of my wretchedness.
"Because I need you more than I need him."
"I haven't got a cock for you to suck."
"It's not like that at all. He got very drunk at opening on Friday, his awful woman keeper had already left with one of her girlfriends, so I brought him home and put him to bed. He fell asleep straight off, so I climbed in after him rather than spend the night on the sofa. Nothing untoward happened. He slept through the night, and so did I. The best sleep I've had in years. When I half-woke and felt him in my arms, I felt whole for the first time in years. And then I woke properly and felt terrible about it. I tried to put it behind me, speak to him normally, glean what precisely had afflicted him, and send him home. And I nearly did. And yet I spent half the day in Golders Green. I felt I had to go straight to the cemetery to apologise. And I hadn't done anything by normal standards. I want to help the boy, but I don't want him. I want David." She slid over a laid her head on my shoulder, her arm around my waist. "I'm so tired of sleeping alone."
"You can sleep with me tonight."
"Am I a charity case?"
"Never say that. You know it isn't true."
"I promised Julian something I shouldn't have done."
"He's got a spell on you."
"Perhaps. He's in a bad way, living off the generosity of a woman who reminds me of Thea."
"You've that in common - awful taste in older women."
"The real trouble is this: he's an artist. Taste not much in this line, so we get on on that score. I met him because I walked past the gallery where he picks up a bit of extra money working for a man with no taste whatsoever and I thought I ought to have someone look at these and value them for insurance purposes."
"Just go to Goupil."
"David said they do old masters."
"David was annoyed that papa had turned his back on the Impressionists and thus avoided the place as if conservatism were an infectious disease. Oh, they still do old master drawings and the like, but they mostly do this now. It's where the market is. You should have just come to me."
I felt a fool - it was the most logical thing to have done. But I wouldn't go to Tamara to ask about getting into the ballet, I would have looked up a dancer. I rather expected the art business to be as specialised as the theatre one. But she had made the opening, so I took it. "I mentioned Goupil to him."
"Alleyn." She wasn't touching me anymore, I suddenly noticed.
"It's an awful thing to ask."
"Yes, it is. How can you say there's nothing between you and then drag me into it?"
"I don't know. I don't know how I could offer such a thing in the first place. It's much too personal, I've only known him a month, it's utterly ridiculous. But I gave him my word that I would ask. So I've asked, and you can toss me out on my ear."
"Can't. It's your flat." She sighed. I think I felt even worse, assuming that were possible. "What do you want from him?"
"I don't know precisely. To rescue him. To know that he is rescued, that he won't have to fall to prostitution. Some gratitude for it, that would be logical. Some respect."
"To be seen as a mentor?"
"Yes. I suppose that is it. The finer half of Wilde's love that dare not speak it's name. Not the romp in the sheets, but to be the older half, to lead him to the finer things of which I know he is capable. And then be admired for doing it."
"I can see that," she said slowly.
"But I don't know that I can help you. It's not an easy thing that you want, not like Sam and his rather offensive question about jewelers."
"Do you? I can't just go up to Maman and ask if she still sees any of the old crowd from Goupil, then go straight to one of their houses and ask if they'd like to hire David's lover's new boy. I have to ease into it. Ask Maman. Manage an introduction to one of the ladies, which is extremely difficult considering my profession. If by some miracle that works out, perhaps I might come into contact with the husband, and only then, as a friend of his wife, could I even venture a mention of your boy. This is years of acquaintance."
"I just thought maybe, as Solomon Elias's daughter . . ."
"Perhaps men can do that, but it's not so easy for women."
"I'll tell him. I was mistaken in my connections."
But she frowned, looking thoughtful. "He's prostituting himself, you said?"
"Essentially. Not for money but for protection and favours. He's a kept woman."
"Are you certain he isn't using you?"
I did wonder. Could it all have been an act? When he saw me, saw the paintings, assumed that despite the flat and the profession, there might be some benefit to him in stringing me along? But if he were that effective an actor, why use it on someone as admittedly poor as I? No, there was too much honesty in how he awoke on Saturday. He's thoroughly genuine. He would have tried to seduce me again if monetary gain were his aim. "I am. I've nothing material to offer him, and he knows it."
She nodded. "I'll have to meet him."
"You'll do it? Really?"
"I'll have to meet him before I can tell. I'm not arranging tea with Maman's friends if I don't like him."
"I'll arrange it."
"I need to see him alone."
Of course. To save me from myself. "Then you write him. His address is on the table."
She copied it down. "I promise nothing, Alleyn."
"I'll let you know what I decide." She was profoundly serious as she left, looking almost as she had at the funeral.
I sit here in my dressing room, writing this up, avoiding seeing people for the moment. I don't know how it is that I trust Julian to speak to the truth, and yet I cannot bring myself to believe he is false. Such fragility can certainly be feigned, but over such a span of time as we spent on Friday night and Saturday morning? I must believe him, otherwise I trust no one ever again.
In a way, I wish I had not broached the subject at all. It would be nice to go home to find Tamara waiting in bed. A friendly voice, the touch of skin, a warm body beside you in the cold night. Perhaps Sam is right and I do need to give in to society as it is and take a wife since I doubt I shall ever find a husband.
As Mme B: How do you want to do this? Tamara will wind up making the inquiries, for Alleyn's sake, but only after running Julian through a wringer of an interrogation to make sure that he isn't going to rip Alleyn off or break his heart. We can play it out if you like or take it as a given. Alleyn won't stop by Julian's place for a couple more days, waiting until it's probable that Julian will have received an invitation from Tamara.