Arthurian fans will probably know Mary Stewart more for her Merlin Chronicles, but she didn't write those until the '70s and '80s. 'Madam, Will You Talk?' was her first novel, published in 1955. Some years ago, while poking around in a used bookstore, I was delighted to find a first edition of the American printing, from 1956 (pictured), which I immediately snapped up. I was literally incapable of leaving it on the shelf...no one else was going to have it. Although I do appreciate my e reader, it just doesn't give that sense of emotional attachment which you can have for a real, physical book. But I digress.
That evening, Charity and Louise sit in the hotel dining room, amusing themselves by watching the other guests and speculating about their lives. These include a French antiques dealer, M. Paul Very, an English schoolteacher named John Marsden, and the Palmers, a British couple vacationing with their teenage daughter. After dinner, Louise decides to retire to her room with a book, and Charity heads out to wander around Avignon. While at a cafe, she bumps into Mrs. Palmer, who gossipingly tells her that young David's surname is actually Byron, and his father is Richard Byron, who was charged with murder in England the year before. Mrs. Palmer explains that Richard apparently suspected that his wife- David's stepmother- was carrying on with his best friend who was visiting them, and in a fit of jealousy, strangled him. After the murder, David was found, knocked unconscious, and it is supposed that he witnessed something which he cannot remember. During the trial, Mrs. Byron- now Bristol- divorced Richard and took David abroad. Due to lack of evidence, Richard Byron was acquitted and has dropped out of sight.
Again wandering about the town that evening, Charity is watching the Rhone when she overhears a man and woman talking and recognizes the woman's voice as that of Loraine Bristol. Loraine is telling the man in a panicky voice that he has been spotted in a nearby town, and is looking for them. The man, whose voice Charity doesn't know, tells her to calm down, that he'll get her out of this, just as he got her and David out of England. Loraine remarks bitterly that if the English police had done their job, he would be dead now, not in France chasing them. The man tells her to keep her nerve and hold onto David. From this, Charity deduces that Richard Byron is searching for his son. After Loraine and the unknown man have left the area, Charity lingers, thinking of the strange conversation, and sees another man slip out of the shadows nearby... it is John Marsden from the hotel.
In the morning, Mrs. Bristol tells Charity that they will shortly be leaving for Nice. In the meantime, Mr. Marsden accompanies David on a walk around Avignon. Restless and trying not to think about David and his problems, Charity decides to drive to Les Baux, a small village in the hills, to spend a couple of nights.
While Richard and Marsden look for a way down the cliff, Charity goes with Rommel to check on David. Drugged by Lorraine, he has been asleep the entire time, and Richard had hidden him safely some distance from the road. David gradually wakes up, and is overjoyed to see them, though also sick from being drugged. When feeling better, they talk about what's happened, and David tells her that the reason he didn't want to see his father before was because he was afraid Lorraine was going to kill him, because he had realized she was up to something. As they talk, Richard and Marsden return... no one survived the crash. David, seeing his father, runs to him and they embrace.
In the end, all is well. Richard asks Charity to marry him, and she accepts, much to David's delight. Later, as Richard and Charity stroll together along the streets of Marseilles, they stop to look in an art shop, and are surprised and moved to find a painting of young David, standing with his sling to face Goliath... the signature of the artist is Emmanuel Bernstein. Richard buys it as a wedding gift for Charity.