Back with old Leo, he tells the reader that he had meant to put away his memories at the end of the story, but that they failed to settle. That’s how he has come to write this epilogue.
The narrative’s sudden return to the “sixty-odd” Leo shows the trauma’s severity—it literally severed his life in two. In the retelling of the story, though, he has brought his memories back to life and now seeks their resolution.
Old Leo likens his breakdown to being “a train going through a series of tunnels … sometimes in the daylight … sometimes in the dark, sometimes knowing who and where I was, sometimes not knowing.” By September in 1900 he was deemed fit to return to school. He has never remembered what exactly happened after the discovery of Marian and Ted, or his return home.
The discovery of Ted and Marian affects Leo so deeply that he loses entire weeks to a mental blackout. His mind presents his recovery as a literal journey back to sanity as he seeks to recover some semblance of identity. The train journey is also a metaphor for the relationship between Leo’s self-awareness and his subconscious: he has to travel through both to get back to any kind of normality.
Young Leo felt that he had betrayed everyone at Brandham Hall. Furthermore, he was haunted by visions of Ted, “his blood and brains stuck to the kitchen wall,” and by an image of him cleaning his gun. Ultimately, feels old Leo, his spell worked: it broke off Ted and Marian’s relationship, but with unintended terrible consequences. He sees his fate as linked with Ted’s—“I could not injure him without injuring myself.”
Because Leo accidentally led Mrs. Maudsley to the lovers, he feels a deep sense of guilt about what happened. The vision of Ted’s suicide is understandably haunting. Leo shows that he hasn’t completely rid himself of his magical thinking—part of him blames the spell he cast using the deadly nightshade. But he also characterized Ted as having supernatural powers—meaning both were bound to suffer.
Young Leo believed that supernatural powers punished him for believing he could harness their control. At Brandham Hall, he had “invoked these powers against each other, had tried to set the Zodiac against itself. In my eyes the actors in my drama had been immortals, inheritors of the summer and of the coming glory of the twentieth century.” Whether he looked towards “the world of experience or the world of the imagination,” he could make no contact with either and “shrank” into himself.
Too late, Leo comes to see the powers of the zodiac as beyond his control. The world that he had created for himself—or thought he had—showed itself to be an illusion. The twentieth century itself mirrors this disappointment, heralding not a new “Golden Age” as once predicted but instead the horrors of two world wars. Leo’s only option was to retreat from emotional risk and to shut down his active imagination.
When Leo returned to school, he and Marcus barely acknowledged one another. Leo’s fear of hearing anything about Brandham eventually turned into a lack of curiosity about people more generally. Instead, he spent the rest of his life accumulating “facts.” His skill with facts meant that when the First World War came around, he was more useful in an administrative role. Just as he never learnt about war, he never learnt about “spooning” either.
Both Leo and Marcus are traumatized by what happened. The easiest thing for both of them is to ignore one another and avoid having to engage with the events of the summer. Leo misses out on another supposed kind of glory—war—because his skill with facts makes him more useful in an office than on the battlefield. It also seems he remained a virgin throughout his life—he was the Virgo in the zodiac after all, not Marian. Ted was his only authority on “spooning”—but “spooning” led Ted to his death; for Leo, it’s easier to just avoid the subject altogether.
Old Leo realizes now that Marian took him to Norwich so she could meet Ted there. He also sees that Marcus must have told Mrs. Maudsley that Leo knew something about Marian’s whereabouts at the time.
Old Leo is not as naïve as his youthful self and has the benefit of hindsight. He realizes that Marcus betrayed him, although Marcus can’t be said to have realized the consequences of doing so.
Old Leo cannot take his younger self’s interest in spells or magic seriously anymore. In writing about the facts of Brandham, it has “lost its terrors.” Amongst his possessions, Leo finds the final letter that Marian gave him to take to Ted on that fateful day. If he wants true closure, he feels, he will have to reach beyond what he remembers and find out what happened to the people involved. For that reason, he decides to open Marian’s last letter.
Interestingly, though Leo professes to have grown out of his magic and spells, both the prologue and the epilogue are littered with examples of him slipping back into the same supernatural way of seeing the world as his younger self, e.g., his opinion that he set the powers of the zodiac against himself. This shows that the supernatural still appeals to him, even if he can’t admit it outwardly.
The letter reveals Marian’s disquiet at meeting at six o’clock—she intended to tell Ted that she thought Leo had made a mistake, and instead they should meet at six thirty. She also tells Ted that Leo’s new bicycle will mean he doesn’t have to do so much walking on their behalf. She says if the letter doesn’t make it to Ted she will wait from six till “seven or eight or nine or Doomsday — darling, darling.”
Marian knew something was wrong with Leo’s final message at Brandham Hall. Here the reader learns that even the gift of the bicycle had an ulterior motive—to speed up Leo’s journeys between the Hall and the farm. Marian’s use of “doomsday” in the final letter is sadly prophetic, as the day of the meeting is hers and Ted’s day of judgment.
Old Leo heads back to Norfolk to try and find out what happened to everyone. He goes to the church and learns from the mural tablets that Trimingham had died in 1910. It also tells of a tenth Viscount, born in 1901, who was killed in action during the Second World War. Leo wonders how Trimingham could have married and had a child in the less than seven months since he left Brandham. It occurs to Leo that there might now be an eleventh Viscount who is still alive.
The dates don’t quite add up, opening up the possibility that there is some kind of secret regarding the tenth Viscount (Trimingham’s alleged son). Just like his first visit to this church, Leo ponders life and death through the vehicle of the Viscounts. Of course, the mural tablets don’t give much away—he’ll have to dig deeper to find out anything more about what happened.
Though he is not religious, old Leo says a prayer for everyone involved in the events at Brandham. He leaves the church and passes by the cricket ground. As he heads towards the village, he sees a young man whose face seems “less unfamiliar” to him than anyone else that’s around.
Leo’s prayer is really just a gesture—he doesn’t believe it’s going to work. His journey back to Brandham is a kind of pilgrimage into his memory: the cricket ground was where he caught out Ted Burgess before his popular singing at the ball afterwards.
Leo stops the young man and asks if there is still a Lord Trimingham—an eleventh Viscount—living at Brandham Hall. In fact, the young man replies that he is Lord Trimingham. He lives in just a corner of the house; the rest is a girls’ school.
Much has changed over the years, and being the Viscount is evidently no longer as prestigious as it used to be. Most likely, the rest of the Hall is rented out in order to pay for the eleventh Viscount’s living costs. This also emphasizes the passage of time—a brand new generation occupies the Hall now.
Leo informs the eleventh Viscount that he had stayed at Brandham in his youth and knew his grandfather, the ninth Lord Trimingham. The eleventh Lord Trimingham disconcertedly asks if Leo had known his grandmother, Marian, too. He informs Leo that she is still alive and living in the village, where Nannie Robson used to live.
The eleventh Viscount is edgy about talk of his grandfather because he knows about what happened. Given that the dates don’t add up, there is some uncertainty about who his grandfather actually is—Ted or Trimingham. Ironically, Marian is now in the house where she had pretended to be at the time of her discovery.
The eleventh viscount says that his grandmother is quite lonely, and asks whether Leo would mind going to see her. Leo asks Trimingham if he will first go and tell Marian that Leo Colston is here to see her, to which he agrees. While Leo waits for Trimingham to return, he walks by the village hall in which he sung, but can’t connect with the memory of his former “public triumph.”
Leo isn’t sure if Marian will want to see him, given what happened. The past now seems like a different place altogether to Leo, a “foreign country” that he doesn’t understand. Much like his last visit to Brandham, he feels himself to be an outsider. This shows that, really, he’s never grown up or gotten over what happened.
The eleventh viscount returns and informs Leo that Marian would be very happy to see him; she has also asked Trimingham to provide lunch for Leo at the Hall after he has been to see her. Trimingham says that Marian wasn’t sure if Leo would want to see her, “because of something that had happened long ago.” Trimingham apologizes to Leo if they didn’t treat him well at the time, but Leo tells him not to give it another thought.
Clearly the story of that summer has been passed down through the generations, which shows how strong its impact on everyone’s lives has been. Both the young Trimingham’s apology and Leo’s refusal of it are examples of politeness and understatement, showing that neither man really wants to go into any detail.
Leo and the eleventh viscount part ways, planning to meet for lunch at the Hall around one. Trimingham begins walking away, but then turns around. He asks: “Were you the little boy who—?” Leo interrupts and says “yes.”
Both men are deeply curious about one another, but Leo doesn’t want to talk about what happened. Perhaps this suggests that Leo is only comfortable with revisiting the memories when he is alone with them, in control of them with his pen and paper.
Leo arrives at Marian’s house. She looks very elderly, but her eyes retain some of “their frosty fire.” Leo asks her questions about the different people from Brandham Hall. She thinks that Marcus and Denys were both killed in the first world war. Mrs. Maudsley, she informs Leo, had a nervous breakdown.
This is the first time Leo has seen Marian since that summer. Hartley’s mention of the “fire” in her eyes is intended to remind the reader of her position as Leo’s “sun”—the fire that he flies too close to. Like many young men, Marcus and Denys died in the “glory” of defending their country. Leo wasn’t able to do that, and was thus again denied the right to “become a man.” Mrs. Maudsley and Leo suffered in a similar way, both unable to cope with the traumatic discovery of Ted and Marian’s affair.
Marian tells Leo that they weren’t sure how he found out about Ted’s suicide. They knew he knew because one of the “few things” Leo said in the aftermath was “why did Ted kill himself—wasn’t he a good shot?” She says Ted had a weak streak in him, like her grandson Edward (the eleventh Viscount).
Leo didn’t understand Ted’s suicide at the time. All he knew of Ted and guns was that Ted was extremely good at handling them. This once again places Leo outside of the world of emotions, a misfit who cannot truly understand the way that people feel. It’s not possible to say for sure why Ted did shoot himself—was it the reality of losing Marian, shame, or fear of reprisal?
Marian tells Leo that Trimingham (the ninth) married her regardless of her affair and behaved very honorably towards her. Mr. Maudsley, she says, lived to be very old, and often came to see them.
This is quite surprising news for the reader: Trimingham (the ninth) stayed with Marian despite the discovery of her affair. The fact that he didn’t disown her shows either that he truly did care about her or that he was concerned about losing his social status from the embarrassment—or a mixture of both.
Marian complains that her grandson, Edward, doesn’t visit her often. She asks if Edward reminds Leo of anyone. She says that Edward wants to get married, but feels that he is “under some sort of spell or curse, and that he’d hand it on.”
Despite none of the characters expressly believing in the supernatural anymore, it continues to hold power over them. Even if they don’t believe in magic, this confirms that there are forces in life beyond their understanding.
Marian asks Leo to tell Edward “what really happened.” She says that only he knows that she and Ted weren’t “ordinary lovers,” but that their love was a “beautiful thing.” She and Ted were made for each other, she says. She asks Leo if he realized how beautiful their love was at the time, and wouldn’t he be proud to be descended from their union, “the child of so much happiness and beauty?” Leo feels that the only answer he can give is yes.
The nature of Marian and Leo’s relationship hasn’t really changed despite their advancing age and the many years they’ve been without seeing one another. She’s still giving him questions that he can only answer self-consciously in the way that she wants him to. The truth is Leo doesn’t know anything about love or having children precisely because of what happened at Brandham Hall. Marian’s actions have denied Leo the life experience necessary to answer her question truthfully.
Marian says that she is glad Leo agrees, as he was their “instrument”—he made them happy. They entrusted him with their “greatest treasure.” She implores Leo to go and tell Edward that her and Ted’s love was nothing to be ashamed of. She says that they never meant to hurt anyone, and though there were great sorrows in the lives of the Maudsleys, they were the fault of “this hideous century we live in, which has denatured humanity and planted death and hate where love and living were.” Deliver this message, she says, and it will the “best day’s work” Leo will ever do.
Being an “instrument” is not the most flattering of descriptions—it shows that Marian on one level saw Leo as a tool to make her affair happen more easily. Marian sees her love with Ted as somehow being in opposition to the terrors of the twentieth century, but Leo knows little of either, having never loved and not gone to war. She offers Leo one last job as her go-between, but this time it’s to openly testify to the purity of the love she shared with Ted—not to carry its secret communication. She sees this final message as an important testament to the role of love in the world.
Marian wants her grandson to get married, and also thinks it’s not too late for Leo to do so either. She says she can tell Leo is “all dried up inside.” She asks him if he doesn’t feel “any need of love,” and says if only Ted “had more brains he wouldn’t have blown them out.” Leo owes it to Ted, and to her, to tell Edward that there’s no curse or spell except “an unloving heart.”
Marian doesn’t see the reason why Leo is “all dried up inside”—because of the psychological pressure she put him under. She reverses Leo’s view that love is a kind of spell, instead claiming that resisting love is the real curse. This means that, in her opinion, Leo is still under the control of supernatural powers. Marian’s view of what happened is clearly blinkered—she doesn’t pay much mind to either Leo’s trauma or, a bit more understandably, that of her controlling mother.
Leo agrees to deliver the message, and Marian kisses him, calling him “a friend in a thousand.” Her face is wet with tears. Leo leaves her house, “a foreigner in the world of emotions, ignorant of their language but compelled to listen to it.” He marvels at Marian’s self-deception. But why, then, he wonders, was he so moved by what she had said? And why ought he to go on this “preposterous errand”? He feels he should just head home, but instead turns towards Brandham Hall and walks towards it.
It’s unclear if Leo delivers the message because he feels it’s important or because, despite all these years, he still wants to please Marian and win her affections—he himself isn’t sure. On the one hand, he thinks that she’s absurd and deluded. But on the other, there’s something about her appeal to the purity and sanctity of love that resonates with him, even if he doesn’t have direct experience of it. Once again, his self is divided. In this final act as go-between, then, he is not only taking a message to the Hall, but he’s also going between two different, contradictory versions of himself, one that believes in the world of emotion despite its “foreignness,” and the other that wants to return to the cold, solid ground of facts.