Page 81 of The Protege

Valmary, who’s been doing very little talking, speaks up. “I want them where I can see them. As a reminder of what we’ve been through to get where we are today.”

Isabeau turns to look at him, and nods. She gets up and places one of the photographs next to their wedding portrait. In the picture, Valmary appears to be talking to someone just out of shot, mirror-ball sunglasses atop his head and unbuttoned shirt gaping. One of his arms is around Isabeau who has both of hers wrapped around his waist, and is smiling up at him. It’s a bright, easy smile showing no sign of the impending complications the pair have hinted at.

They’re reticent to talk about exactly when they became lovers. “I always loved Laszlo, and he didn’t know. When I was old enough I sprang myself on him and it went very badly. I think I shocked him. In fact I know I did.”

Valmary declines to answer.

“Later, we were able to figure things out,” Isabeau adds. When asked if the figuring out happened on the recent tour with the RLSO during which Isabeau was second cello, she merely smiles, refusing to answer the question. Isabeau Valmary seems to have as much tenacity as her husband beneath her charm and beauty. While researching the pair I found no evidence that Isabeau and Valmary performed together after the night of her eighteenth birthday, until the most recent tour.

In February of this year Isabeau joined the RLSO on a limited contract and there are several professional photographs of the couple on stage during a tour of Southeast Asia. Neither have posted any informal photographs of themselves separately or as a couple from this time on social media.

There was a photograph taken by an orchestra member that appears to show the pair embracing, Isabeau possibly unwell, on Khaosan Road in Bangkok but it’s since been removed from Facebook and neither admit to knowing of its existence.

The first candid photograph of them together and the first public indication that they were a couple is from four weeks ago: a slightly blurry untagged photograph of Isabeau and Valmary on Hayley Chiswell’s Instagram. Miss Chiswell was concertmaster in Valmary’s youth orchestra and is now an accomplished soloist and one of Isabeau’s closest friends and co-performers. The photograph shows the couple laughing together over dinner, Valmary’s arm around his bride-to-be with Isabeau’s engagement ring clearly visible. It is simply captioned, Gorgeous fucking idiots. At time of publication the post has over twenty-one thousand likes.

Isabeau speaks of her mother, a cellist who passed away when Isabeau was seven. “She taught me to love music. After she died my father struggled with pain and addiction. We weren’t close, but Laszlo sent my father regular letters and recordings as I grew up. I saw him briefly before he died.”

Is she angry with him for not being there for her?

“He tried to get better, but sometimes people aren’t able to. It’s a great comfort knowing he tried, for my sake.”

When I ask if there was any formal or legal arrangement between Valmary and Isabeau’s father both decline to answer. Adopted children are not legally able to marry their adoptive parent so it’s doubtful an adoption took place. There are no records of any other sort of formal guardian and ward arrangement, though several of Valmary’s friends and colleagues have stated that he referred to Isabeau as his ward during the ten years up until her eighteenth birthday.

Finally, I ask the question that’s been at the back of my mind since arriving in their home. What would they say to people who find their relationship objectionable, even abhorrent? Isabeau seems to be have been expecting this and answers easily. “I was so happy for ten years living with Laszlo, and then what followed was a very sad and lonely time. We both worked hard to get where we are now. I think we’ve earned our happiness.”

I turn to her husband and see that Valmary’s jaw is set and his face his closed. Those who have worked with him or tracked his career over the years are familiar with this Laszlo Valmary: formidable; severe; someone who was able to hold his own against the classical music elite at the age of twenty-five. He has weathered his fair share of censure and disapproval. “I have nothing to say to anyone about our relationship.”

I thought this defiant statement was all I would get out of Valmary but his eyes land on his bride and his face softens. As his hand caresses her cheek I see a glimpse of Valmary’s private, affectionate side. The sort of man a girl of eight could cherish. The sort of man a woman could fall for.

“Isabeau is happy, and I have her love. Keeping it, being deserving of it, that is all that matters to me. That is everything.”