It is said there were ancient
schools of thought which held that the number 3 is unstable.
If the reasons for this belief were ever known they
are lost in time. A three-legged stool refutes the claim,
as - less prosaically - we are told does the Christian
trinity. Whatever the case, it is a fact that three
is a protean number: under certain conditions it will
tend to collapse into two - or expand into four ...
IAfter Peter Hansome died, people
were surprised that his widow seemed to be spending
so much time with his mistress. Bridget Hansome was
not the kind of woman who could have failed to notice
her husband's discreet, but regular, visits to the flat
in Turnham Green where Frances Slater lived. And, indeed,
anyone married to Peter Hansome would have needed to
learn the art of turning a blind eye. Had the various
friends and acquaintances of the Hansomes' been asked
to bet on how the wife might deal with a mistress discovered
in the aftermath of the husband's death (were it the
thing to gamble on the likely effects on a widow of
the discovery of a long-established infidelity), the
odds would probably have been on Bridget allowing Frances
to attend the funeral, but with an unspoken provision
that no mention be made of the reason for her being
In the event the punters would
have lost their bets for this is not what occurred...
After that they had crossed
the Seine to the Louvre, where she showed him the Leonardo
of St Anne, the Virgin's mother, with her daughter in
her lap and her young grandchild, on his mothers knee,
playing - in a small patch of freedom - with a lamb.
St Anne's feet, with their long
toes, were planted firmly on the pebbled ground, while
the foot of her daughter was entwined with the lamb's
hoof. But the boy's fat foot… Frances wanted to
reach out and pinch it. 'Look at his grandmother's expression,'
she said, repressing another thought. 'You wonder if
she knows what is going to happen.'
On the days that Peter's mortal
remains were shunted into a powerful modern incinerator
to be reduced to a cupful of ashes, Frances retuned
to the old gallery to find the painting of the holy
family by the master of the enigmatic. St Anne, her
hand on her left hip, the mysterious azure mountains
behind her, gazed down as before as at her daughter.
The lidded face, with the strange, calms smile in which
compassion blends with anguish, had not altered, but
its meaning for Frances had. Looking now, she could
see that the virgins mother knows what her daughter
cannot yet afford to know, as all her maternal being
is directed at the small boy, who, pulling at the years
of the struggling lamb, stares back at his mother in
ordinary childish defiance. Yes, Leonardo's St Anne
is aware of what her family is going to have to bear:
that small, mean, brutal, tragedy, which was ordained
to ensure a larger comic end - the ultimate salvation
of the human race. She must have wondered, St Anne,
Frances thought, passing quickly out of the room to
avoid the diluting sight of other paintings, if it was
worth it. How could you set the loss of your heart's
dearest against any objective, however universal? It
was too theoretical - a woman would have known that.
Sensible Leonardo had insured that in this Trinity at
least it was the women who counted.