I saw comparatively little of Jeremy. We had drinks together, and supper, on my first evening, but it was only infrequently after that that we met over the next few days, and then only for a quick drink in town. He left very early for work and was thoroughly occupied with it during the daytime; conscientious businessman as he was, he had long been asleep by the time I got back at night, and I would manage to slip into bed without rousing him. This was probably all for the best, for solitude was what I largely needed. Right at the start we arranged that we would have dinner at length together on my last evening, before I caught the night train back to England, and then make up for all the time that had been lost.
He arrived in fact much earlier than I had anticipated at the rendezvous, and we drank a great deal of wine before going to dinner. I had persuaded him to patronize a cheap restaurant, and we tried one of those marvellous places by the station that specializes in provincial cooking so that, amongst the many courses we indulged in, we could both have cassoulet. After dinner there was still plenty of time for my train, so we had several rounds of brandy.
It was towards the end that I brought up something that had been worrying me somewhat over the previous few days. ‘If you’ll forgive me saying so,’ I remarked, ‘you don’t sound as kind about Jane as you once did.’
‘Well she’s not that kind about me.’ He twirled his glass of brandy. I said nothing. He went on. ‘It’s all because of that fellow Jules, if you ask me.’
‘I thought that was all over.’ When I had met Jane the previous year, she had told me that Jules would be staying on in Paris. She had not mentioned him since, in her fairly regular postcards from America or wherever she happened to be travelling.
‘Oh yes. But he had a great influence on her, you know.’
‘Surely it couldn’t have been as great as the influence you had.’ He looked at me blankly, so I went on. ‘They say, don’t they, that the first man……..’ I stopped, but it was late, and I went on, ‘to possess a woman is the most important in her life.’
‘Yes.’ And then he smiled. But it was a sad smile, and the dimples were not to be seen. ‘Oh yes.’ He paused, and suddenly leaned across the table. ‘Look, I’m going to tell you something. You remember when I first met Jane?’ I said nothing. It seemed however that he was waiting for a reply, and in the end I nodded. ‘You remember what she was like?’ I nodded again. ‘She was wonderful. Absolutely glorious. Absolutely perfect. And I worshipped her. Worshipped everything about her. And I was determined she shouldn’t change at all, that she would remain exactly the same’ It was like a trust. I had to keep her as perfect as she’d been when I first set eyes on her.’ As suddenly as he’d leaned across the table he leaned back and drank off his glass of brandy. The fervour in his voice had died down when he next spoke. ‘She was a virgin. And she remained that way. Until she met Jules.’
I allowed some time to elapse before I next spoke. Even then what I said was totally inadequate to the occasion. ‘But the pills?’ My only excuse is that I needed to have things clear. ‘She was on the pill, wasn’t she?’
‘She wanted to be absolutely safe.’ I didn’t react. Startlingly, he grinned. ‘You can’t blame her. We went very far sometimes. She had to be careful.’ And then the grin vanished, and was replaced by a look of extraordinary sadness. ‘But she needn’t have worried. I always took good care of her. And then – and then that Frenchman came along and spoilt it all.’
I finished my brandy. I thought of Jane as I had first known her, and then later, when she seemed to have come into her own. ‘You shouldn’t worry,’ I said at last. ‘It had to happen some time.’
‘Oh, I’m not worried about that,’ he said firmly, and then his voice broke. ‘It’s just that she doesn’t appreciate me. You know, when I first arrived in Paris, I stayed with her for a few days before she left. She made me sleep on the floor.’
There was nothing I could say. He looked absurdly young, as young as when I had first known him. And then, dramatically, he stood up. ‘We’d better rush,’ he said, in his usual voice. ‘Or you’ll miss your train.’
We bustled. There were, in fact, only a very few minutes left by the time we got to the platform. At the gate he held out his hand and shook mine firmly. ‘It’s been absolutely super having you,’ he said. His voice was once more that of the assured young executive. ‘You must come again, old chap.’