Frances Rutherford, in her seventies, once Liz’s governess, now a painter and sometime pianist. Advancing old age, worsening rheumatism, and approaching death have all darkened Frances’ vision; violence and inhumanity are now the subjects of her paintings, which once delicately reflected simpler, more pleasant details of life. Frances now feels that she has wasted her life. Her resentment is expressed in her brusque treatment of Camilla and particularly Liz, to whom she devoted much of her younger life. Her anger is somewhat softened by Morland Beddoes’ sympathetic, devoted admiration, so that she can finally accept her increasing need to depend on the others.
Elizabeth (Liz) Nicholson, who is girlish in appearance in her thirties. She is restless and insecure as a married woman and mother. Absorbed in the care of her baby, Harry, she is nevertheless acutely aware of Frances’ testiness, Camilla’s jealousy, and the impulses that compel Camilla to pursue Richard Elton, whom Liz instinctively loathes. During the holiday, Liz reconciles herself to the compromises demanded in marriage and relaxes somewhat into motherhood, gaining maturity and becoming less self-absorbed.
Richard Elton, who is probably in his mid-thirties, movie-star handsome but perceptibly weak in character. Richard is able to overcome Camilla’s initial indifference to him, first when they are drawn together by their mutual witnessing of a suicide at the train station, then later with the image he creates of himself out of stories of wartime heroics, literary aspirations, and a brutal childhood–all false. He benefits from Camilla’s loneliness and yearning for a romantic relationship. In reality a sadist who has recently murdered a young woman, Richard desperately tries to hold self-knowledge and horror at bay, reaching out to Camilla as a woman too strong to harm. Having lost Camilla and increasingly unnerved by Morland Beddoes’ scornful scrutiny, Richard finally commits suicide, leaping into the path of an approaching train as he and Camilla had seen the stranger do.
Morland Beddoes, in his fifties, rumpled and plump, a well-established film director with a distinguished wartime military career. Captivated as a younger man by a painting of Liz by Frances, Morland has subsequently built a collection of Frances’ work and has corresponded with her for years. Now he comes at last to meet Frances and stays to admire, to sympathize with, and to encourage her. Concerned for the happiness of all three women, Morland is especially disturbed by Camilla’s reckless pursuit of Richard, whom he instantly recognizes as a man with something to hide. There is hope that Morland’s own attraction to Camilla may bring an end to the isolation they have both felt to varying degrees.
The Reverend Arthur Nicholson, Liz’s husband and Harry’s father. Both the aura of his clerical authority and his overbearing masculinity have hemmed Liz in, provoking her petulance with him. He learns to accept her growth as an individual, no longer girlish and submissive as she was when he first knew and loved her.