From Roper's Memoirs 
The trouble with Lucy was she wanted to be in charge. She wanted to be a wife, but I already had one of those, wherever she was, and I didn't want another. It was all right Lucy coming to the house and giving it a bit of a tidy-up and insisting on getting laundry together and cooking the odd meal. That was all right, although the meals were always finicking what she called exotic dishes, vine-leaves wrapped round things and lasagne and whatnot. It was better to have these working parties in the house (though what did I really want with a house now?) so that she could be sort of swallowed up among the others while we got on with this pamphlet about science in society. Some nights when we'd finished work and I tried to sneak off on my own saying I'd got to see somebody, she used to ask who I was going to see, and then I couldn't think who I was going to see, not knowing many people in London now except those we both worked with. All I wanted was a quiet sandwich in a pub and then perhaps to go to the (inema, all on my own. But sometimes I had to take work home and then she said she'd cook something for me, so as not to waste my time doing it myself, and she'd be quite content to sit quiet, so she said, with a book. I saw that if I didn't watch out we'd be on to sex, and that was something I didn't particularly want, not with Lucy anyway.
[1 Clara and Alan calmer now but sent to bed with a couple of sleeping tablets each. The _Polyolbion__ throbbing away from Yarylyuk towards Istanbul. I have sent a radio message to the address given by T, namely Cumhuriyet Caddesi i5. Another steward answered my ring, saying Wriste unaccountably not reported back to ship. I sit here with the crabbed royal blue script of Roper and a new bottle of Old Mortality. All right, Roper, let's hear all about it.]
Why not? I suppose she was attractive enough in her very thin way, but I'd got used to a different sort of woman, bad as she was. But the badness wasn't her fault, I kept telling myself. If there'd been no woman in the house I wouldn't have been perpetually reminded of Brigitte, reminded that is by contrast. I still had something of Brigitte, namely photographs, and it was because Lucy was around that I took to comforting myself with photographs which recalled happier times – Brigitte on a rock at the seaside posing as a sort of Lorelei, Brigitte wearing her frothy d'ecollet'e evening dress, Brigitte demure in a simple frock. They were a comfort sometimes to take to bed.1 It was when I went down with a bit of stomach trouble that things got a bit out of hand. I rang up to say I wouldn't be coming to the lab and then I went back to bed with a hot water bottle. It was I think gastric flu. I knew there was no way out of what was going to happen that evening, but I felt too ill to care very much. Well, she turned up at about five, having got off early and everybody would wink and know why, and then she was in her element, florence nightingaling all over the house in for some reason her white lab coat. She gave me bicarb and hot milk and two hot water bottles (one of them was Brigitte's and as if Brigitte was being vindictive even in her absence it started to leak so I threw it out) and smoothed my Fevered Brow. She said I ought not to be left that night and besides there was the question of seeing how I was in the morning, so she insisted on making up the bed in the spare room. Naturally I was grateful but I knew there would be a Reckoning.
The Reckoning came three days later when I was feeling a good deal better and thinking of getting up. She said no, see how I was when she came back that evening and [1 Oh no, Roper. You never even did that at school.] perhaps the next day something might be done about my getting up. It was a very cold day in late November and she returned from work shivering. I suppose I should never have suggested to her that she have a hot water bottle that night instead of me, me being very warm now, and I told her not to take the one that leaked. But she did, either by accident or design, perhaps the latter, and she came into my room to say that she couldn't possibly sleep in a damp bed. Well, there we were then. She just lay there and I just lay there as though we were side by side in lounging chairs on a crowded deck, then she said she still felt very cold and came closer. Then I said: You'll catch my flu. She said: There are things more important than catching flu. Before I knew what was happening we'd started. I suppose the sweating got rid of the last of the flu, and I sweated a long time.
I sweated a long time because I was able to just go on and on, nothing happening to me at all. It was like acting it on the stage. That school group photograph was just about visible in the light from the street lamp and I could see Father Byrne and Hillier and O'Brien and Pereira and the others very dimly. After an hour they must have got very bored with the performance. Mine, anyway. She thought it was marvellous and kept going oh oh darling oh I never knew it could be like this and don't stop. It was all right for her but there was nothing in it for me. I tried to imagine it was somebody else – a girl in one of the offices with the same black sweater on every day giving off a great aroma of stew and earwax but with huge breasts on her, a half-caste girl singer on the television whose dresses were cut very low so that the camera always deliberately tried to make her look naked, a big-buttocked woman in the local supermarket. All the time I was trying to avoid Brigitte but at last I had to bring her in and then it was different. At last I was able to bring it to an end and then she cried out very loud and afterwards said: Darling, was it as good for you as it was for me?
Somebody in some book on sex said that the biggest sin a man can commit with a woman is to do it and pretend you're doing it with somebody else. That seems to me very mystical. I mean, who knows you're pretending except you? Unies, of course, you're going to bring God into it. What the book should have said was the danger of calling the real woman by the name of the imagined one. But Lucy was very good about that. She even said: Poor darling, you must have loved her very much and she hurt you very badly, didn't she? And then she said: Never mind, when we're really together I'll make you happier than she ever could. And I'll never leave you. What Lucy meant was getting married. We're as good as married now, aren't we. darling, except that I'm still not Mrs Roper. She had a wedding ring though, her dead mother's she said it was, and she would use it as a kind of stimulator in bed, as though she thought that was why married women wore wedding rings.
But she couldn't drive Brigitte out. She was making me bring Brigitte back again. Every night. And she herself had brought all her clothes and little knick-knacks from her flat and then she gave up the flat. But I'd never asked her to come and settle in and share my bed, had I? It was what they call a liberty. But I couldn't tell her to get out, could I? One day she said that people in the Institute were talking and that it was about time I did something about a divorce. So then I went out and got drunk. I wasn't supposed to drink at all now. When Brigitte left I'd started to hit the bottle a bit, but it was Lucy who'd stopped all that. Beer for everyone else at those parties, lemon barley water for me. So it was a big disappointment for Lucy now when I staggered in after closing-time reeking of bitter beer (five pints) and whisky (five John Haigs, large), also whiskey in memory of Father Byrne (two small JJs). Why had I been thinking of Father Byrne? Perhaps because of the damnable sex, perhaps because I was homesick and had no home.1 Anyway, when I staggered in I fell against things, and Lucy was _bitterly__ disappointed. I staggered against a little table with a brown fruit-bowl on it, and in the brown fruit-bowl not fruit but a crouching cat made of blue china. I knocked this over, and the head came off the cat, and then Lucy cried, saying it had belonged to her mother. So I said nobody had asked her to bring it into my house and for that matter nobody had asked her to bring herself into my house, so she cried worse. She said nothing of walking out of the house with her bags packed, all she said was that I'd better sleep in the spare room that night and she hoped I'd have one hell of a hangover the next morning, which I did.
From now on I didn't much care to go home in the evenings. Damn it, it was my home, or house anyway, and I had a good big damned slice of mortgage still to pay off. But I couldn't order Lucy out, having, in her view, taken advantage of her and allowed her to build up hopes as yet unfulfilled. And this business of it being the biggest sin a man could commit in bed with a woman made me, even though it was all nonsense, feel guilty towards her. I was turning her into a kind of thin Brigitte, although, to be fair to myself, it was always Lucy who made the first bed-move. So, although I was in my rights in regarding her as an intruder, I couldn't tell her to get out. But I wasn't going to marry her – oh no. I was still married. What I did most evenings now was to look for Brigitte.
I looked first of all in Soho. There were laws now which forbade prostitutes to parade the streets with little dogs on leads or to walk up and down with their handbags open, 1 You sentimental self-pitying bastard, Roper. You'll be back in the Church yet, you mark my words. waiting for men to come along to tell them they'd got their handbags open. But the laws weren't taken very seriously. Still, I don't think there were as many on the streets as there had used to be, certainly not anywhere near so many as in the great days of opportunity of the war, when the lie was given to the old liberal sociological studies of prostitution which said that women took it up only because they couldn't get any other kind of work. What you saw more of now was women beckoning from doorways and windows and suddenly darting out from the darkness and saying: Want a quickie, darling? I made a very thorough job of my search around Soho – Frith Street, Greek Street, War-dour Street, Old Compton Street, Dean Street, everywhere – but I didn't find Brigitte. In the advertisement-cases of shady tobacconists and bookshops I saw ambiguous announcements: Fifi for Correction (Leather a Speciality); Yvonne, Artist's and Photographer's Model – 40 24 38; Colonie Irrigation administered by Spanish Specialist. Never once did I find anything (like Fr"aulein with German Novelties) which would lead me to Brigitte. In a pub I found a man who had a brochure – all photographs and telephone numbers – called The Ladies' Directory, but Brigitte wasn't in it. I even went into a police station and said I was looking for my wife, a German girl who, through her innocence, had perhaps let herself be drugged and whiteslaved, but they were very suspicious about that.1 As always happens, I found Brigitte by accident. I went one night to a cinema on Baker Street (nothing I particularly wanted to see; I was just tired and fed up) and afterwards had a couple of small whiskies in a pub just by Blandford Street. A woman entered, well dressed, well made-up, well spoken, bringing in with her a synthetic smell of rose gardens2 and a husky Dietrich kind of voice.
[1 They should have been most willing to help, shouldn't they?]
[2 Cut out the frills, Roper. Not your line at all.]
She said to the landlord: Bottle of Booth's, Fred, and forty Senior. Certainly mavourneen, he said. She crackled a lot of five-pound notes in her bag. I wondered about the mavourneen and then caught on: Bridget sounds Irish to the English. I gave her a long look but it was a fair time before she recognised me, or else she did recognise me and pretended that she hadn't. Anyway, she couldn't get away with that. She went out quickly and I followed. Leave me alone, she said, or I'll call the police. That was a good one, that was. I said: The police are the last people you'll call. Besides, there's no law that I know of that prevents a husband speaking to his wife. She said: You'd better forget all about that. Divorce me and finish with it. I could now, I said, now that I know where you are and what you're doing; otherwise I'd have to wait three years for desertion (she'd reconciled herself to my following her to where she lived), but once you're divorced you'll be deported as an undesirable alien. I saw that undesirable was the wrong word there. All she said was: I won't be deported.
Her flat was evidently a very expensive one, central heating, corner bar with bar-stools, cushions, erotic pictures on the walls (German ones from the Nazi time; I saw that). There was a kitchenette with a refrigerator humming, an open bathroom-door with bath-smells coming from it, an open bedroom-door showing a big bed with a silk coverlet, dim wall-lights on. Will you have a drink? she said. This is my night off and I was going to get to bed early, but have a drink and say what you want and then go. Perhaps she thought I wanted to know where she'd left the spare front-door key of the house. Thinking of the house made me want to cry. What I said was: I want you. She said: You can have my number; ring me sometime. No no no, I said, I want you. I want you to come back. She laughed at that and said: Warum? Her suddenly asking why in German, when her English seemed to have improved so much, brought back the whole past to me, and I really started to cry this time. Don't do that, she said. What has to be has to be. I want to be as I am. I don't want shopping and hausfrauing any more. I meet some very important people now. I'm a lady. You're a whore, I said, the English and German words being very nearly the same. That's what you are, a prostitute. She said: the two words are not quite the same. Oh, why don't you grow up and learn about the great world?
Apart from anything else, I said, I have certain rights. Conjugal rights. I demand their restoration. You filthy pig, she shouted; I've never had such filth spoken to me before. Get out of here at once. And then she gave me a very foul mouthful of German. And then she said: If you want a woman there are thousands in London willing to do it for the money. Some of them even walk the streets with little dogs, which is against the law. But do not come to me, no, not to me, do not come to me. I felt very bitter and ill-used then, but I could not really turn against her. Also I felt triumphant, because I would have her that night and she would not know it. But I boiled also within to think that this was my wife and other men could possess her and I could not. I became very cold and cunning outside, despite the boiling inside, and, when I saw her handbag lying open on the settee, I said: Give me a drink and then I'll go. A cold drink. Perhaps you have beer in the fridge. We always used to have it in the old days. All right, she said, go and help yourself. Then get out. But I said: For old time's sake, Brigitte, get me a drink with your own hands. Please. I ask no more. She shrugged and said: Oh all right, then went to get it. I knew that her key was in that bag. It was no trouble to get it out and put it in my pocket. When she brought the beer I drank it off in one draught. She said: You drink like a pig, just as you ate like a pig. I only smiled and said: A goodnight kiss? For old time's sake? But she wouldn't give me even that, my right. I left then and said: Goodbye, dear Brigitte. Look after yourself. She seemed a little puzzled to see me go without further trouble. Out in the street I looked up at her sitting-room window till the lights went out. Then I went home. Lucy was waiting for me with some nice hot supper.
I now had something to do every night. What I did mostly at first was to walk that street, seeing who went into her flat. Her trade was a high-class one, to judge by the cars that parked there. Once a policeman looked at me suspiciously but I got in right away with: Never mind, constable. This is a job. Private detective agency. He didn't ask to see my card or anything. The pleasure I got from watching was what, I suppose, is called a masochistic one. I never thought such pleasure was possible, but it is. It is not just what Shakespeare calls wearing the horns; it is making a kind of crown of horns.* I delayed my entering for as long as possible, letting weeks go by. I felt especially virtuous about submitting to all this delicious pain, since I'd told Lucy that I was after evidence for a divorce. When I got back at night she said: You poor dear. Let's have a nice hot drink before we go to bed.
I watched and watched till one night a very unpretentious car came to her door and a man got out of the car looking furtive. He darted up the stairs to the open doorway of the little block of flats and, in the light from the hall, I saw his profile fairly clearly. I knew I'd seen that face somewhere, but I couldn't think where. It seemed to me to be a fairly important face, but whether political or artistic or even in the ecclesiastical field I knew not. A Television Personality perhaps? That got closer to it. I felt I'd seen that face earnestly talking one night on television when Lucy and I were taking hot soup from our knees, I mean from bowls on our knees, with crackling slices of 1 Oh no, Roper. No no NO.
Ryvita. The face, I thought, was both political and televisual-something to do with a party political broadcast? I had to wait about an hour and a half before he came out, stuffing his wallet into his inside pocket, still looking furtive but more smugly furtive. It was about the time when the theatres were finishing, and there were one or two taxis coming down the street to turn on to Baker Street. This man hadn't yet got into his car, but I stopped a taxi and the driver said: Where to, guv? (or it may have been: Where to, mate?) I felt like giggling as I said: Follow that car once it starts. The driver said: I can't very well bleeding follow it while it's stationary, can I? Then he said: You mean it, guv (or mate)? Cor, this comes from seeing too much telly. But he did what I said.
It was a bit difficult, because other cars and taxis got in the way, but eventually we came to the area round about Marble Arch, and this car stopped outside what looked like a block of flats. The taxi-driver drew up very discreetly on the opposite side of the road. Now, he said, go in and get your man. Not too much rough stuff, mind. I paid him and he went off. I waited a little while then I went to the entrance where I'd seen the man go in. There was, as I'd expected, a sort of porter on duty in the entrance-hall. I said: Excuse me, but wasn't that Mr Barnaby who went in just then? He looked at me most suspiciously and said: What's it to you who went in, mate? (Too much of this mate, everywhere – the parody of friendliness of an uneasily egalitarian state.1) I said: Don't call me mate. My name is Doctor Roper. Sorry, he said, doctor. No, that wasn't no Barny, or whatever you said. That was none other than Mr Cornpit-Ferrers.2 And a very nice gentleman too. This porter went on then about his eloquence on television and (though how did he know, obviously no 1 From what pretentious TV play did you pick that up?
[2 Sir Arnold Cornpit-Ferrers, as he now is? The dawn breaks, Roper.]
man for the Strangers' Gallery?) in the House. Also his generosity, always ready with the odd half-bar for small services rendered. Like now, going to put his wife's car away for the night, that being it as he'd just come in, him perhaps not wanting to use the regular Bentley this evening. I donated 10s or half-a-bar and said: Married then, is he? He said: Thank you, sir, doctor. Yes, a lovely wife and three kids, lovely kids.
Adulterous whoring swine. But at last I saw a way of getting Brigitte back. Next time I would Confront Them both, as that time with that ghastly Wurzel. But no, I'd played no man's role then; I'd had to leave it to Hillier. I watched and waited another week and he didn't come, the House perhaps sitting late. But one evening a man for all the world like that filthy West German Devil came, dropped by somebody in a car. He shouted something like Guter Kerl, very foolishly, to the driver, who shouted back some-think like Sei gut before going off. This time I decided to go up, after a decent, wrong word there, interval. I was blazing, that bad time, the first speck of rot in the apple, coming back to me. Outside her door I had to pause and take deep though silent breaths. Then I heard them talking very serious German inside. This made me wonder. Surely there should be none of that going on, the seriousness reserved to a different kind of communication. I listened and I kept hearing the name Eberswalde. Eberswalde? That was in East Germany. Brigitte had spoken a couple of times about some filthy relative she hated who lived in Eberswalde. I listened hard but could take in little. I could not take in very fast German, despite my marriage to one who spoke it when in passion or anger. At one point Brigitte seemed to start to cry very gently. Was this relative in Eberswalde really so filthy? Had other relatives turned up there, not filthy at all? The only other word that came clearly through the door was another name – Maria. I heard it often. Surely Brigitte had spoken of a niece of that name, someone who was, apparently, far from filthy. And then, quite loud, Brigitte cried: But I know nothing, not yet. Softer, the man seemed to say: But you will know. You will know much if you try harder. And then: Ich gehe. I got away quickly before he left and walked right down the street, as far from the flat as possible.
What did all this mean? I couldn't tell. It might mean nothing. But, like everybody else, I'd had this security thing hammered into me, and I couldn't help thinking that a German prostitute (terrible thing to call Brigitte) who had relatives in East Germany would, in free and easy London, be all too much a subject for proposals or target for threats from the Other Side. Not that I could take it very seriously. We scientists who were socialists were working out a highminded blueprint about International Cooperation in Research, and we saw, rightly, all research as one – all answers to all questions free to all. War was to be outlawed, and we were in the vanguard of the outlawing process, the scientist having great responsibilities and terrible powers.
I looked up Mr Cornpit-Ferrers in Who's Who and saw that he was a Minister without Portfolio. That was three governments ago. What he is now I neither know nor care. He was, and probably still is, a man highly thought of, not only by his hall-porter, a member of Commissions and Committees, including one that had something to do with Television Teenage Religious Programmes. The hypocrite. Anyway, the time for Confrontation must come very soon now, so I thought. But I still had to wait three weeks, in which period Brigitte, poor corrupted girl, had many visitors, all of them well-dressed. The night it happened was a rainy night, and I nearly decided to give up. But that remembered car drew up and the remembered face, now with a name pinned on it, looked through the rain with the old furtiveness. Cornpit-Ferrers went in, and I was five minutes after him. My heart went like mad, I could hardly breathe, and I wondered if I would be able to speak. I turned the key boldly in the lock and entered. There was nobody in the sitting-room, but from the bedroom I could hear writhings between sheets and sickening yumyumyum noises. I found I could speak, even cry aloud. I called: Come on out of there, both of you, you sinful bastards. And at the same time I felt the things in my inside pocket that I'd brought with me, just to make sure they were still there. There was a surprised silence, then whispering, then I called again: Come out, hypocritical politician. Come out, you who I'm ashamed to call my wife. Then they came out, she pulling a n'eglig'ee around her, he in shirt and trousers, smoothing his hair. She said: I thought that's where that other key must have got to. Go on, quickly, what do you want? But Cornpit-Ferrers said: He wants a good firm kick on the arse, straight down those steps. Who is he anyway? Your ponce? Of course, that was something I'd never thought of, that Brigitte might have such a man or half-man in the background. I now felt sick as well as angry and bitter and I said: I, Mr Cornpit-Ferrers, am this woman's husband. He said: Know my name, do you? Hm, that's a pity. To Brigitte: Get him for trespass. Ring up the police. Ah, that's fixed you, hasn't it? (to me). Don't like the sound of that, do you? I said: This woman is my wife. Brigitte Roper. Here (and I took it out of my pocket) is our marriage licence. And here (taking that out too) is our joint passport; the photographs aren't bad likenesses.
He didn't ask for a close look. He sat down on the settee and took a cigarette from Brigitte's cloisonn'e box. Then he said: What is this? What are you after? Money? Divorce? I shook my head and said: No. All I want is my wife back again. Brigitte cried: I'm not going back to you. Whatever you do, dirty filth. Never never never. Cornpit-Ferrers said: You hear the lady. I don't see how I can do anything about getting her to return to you. Incidentally, I didn't know, obviously. I'm sorry. Just one of those things. I said: And if it were discovered that she receives visits from East German agents?
Brigitte turned pale; it was true then. What I mean, I said, is this: she ought really to be deported. I take it you're reasonably friendly with the Home Secretary? Corn-pit-Ferrers said: What the hell's that got to do with anything? (He was blustering badly.) I said: It's up to Brigitte now. I could easily bring pressure on you to see about her deportation. If she comes back with me – not necessarily tonight, as there's somebody else staying with me at the moment, but, say, in the next day or so, we'll take it that none of this ever happened. That I never saw you. I have a responsible position and am not likely to want to discredit anyone in a position of authority. Too dangerous. Nor would I stoop to blackmail. Unless, of course, I have to.
What is this position of yours? asked Cornpit-Ferrers. I told him. He was not unimpressed. He said to Brigitte: Well, what he says seems reasonable enough. How about it? Brigitte said: Never. If you try to have me thrown out then I will say about you coming here. I will say to your wife and to the Prime Minister. He said: Difficult. No witnesses. She said: Here is a witness, my husband. I grinned at that, the silly little fool. She said: I have another. He has seen you come here often. Both Cornpit-Ferrers and I felt that might be true. He said: Well, no need to be hasty about anything. I think it's time you and I (to me) got out of here. A drink or something. Leave little Bridget to sort things out. I must say (he said) you're a forgiving sort of man. I admire you rather. I suppose that's love. I said: No drink, thank you. I'd sick it up at once. If either of you wants to get in touch with me, you know where I am. Then I left. But, before going down the steps, I decided to turn back, open up again, and say, in a twisted disgusted tone, God God God, what a bloody mess you're both in. Then I really left. I was very cheerful with Lucy that night, and she was overjoyed to think that it wouldn't be long now, poor girl.
The things that happened after that I didn't expect. One morning I received a rather grubby envelope through the post. My name and address were typed on it quite neatly, which made the grubbiness of the envelope seem all the stranger. Inside were ten one-pound notes. A typewritten slip said: Sorry to be so long repaying the loan. And then there came the typed initial C. I thought back, frowning, to any time I could remember lending ten pounds to anyone, but I couldn't catch at a memory. Lucy, bringing in breakfast, asked me what the matter was, and I told and showed her. She said: Never frown over buck-shee money (her father had been a soldier). You are forgetful, you know. Then we ate our cornflakes. I threw the slip and envelope away and put the pound notes in my wallet. That evening two men in raincoats came to the door. Can we have a word with you, sir? they said. I took them to be police officers. Seeing Lucy, they said: Mrs Roper? I said: A friend. Miss Butler. Ah, the older one said, as they came in, of course. Mrs Roper doesn't live here any more, does she? No, she doesn't, does she, sir? And then, to Lucy: We'd like a word with Mr Roper alone, if you don't mind, miss. Lucy looked worried. Please, miss, they said. She went upstairs; she had no authority to question or argue or complain.
Now then, said the senior officer. Could we please examine whatever money you have on you, sir? Notes, I mean. I said: Oh, if it's something to do with that ten pounds – Ten pounds is the sum, sir. Could we see the ten pounds, please? I showed them all my money. The junior officer took out a list with numbers on it. They checked the numbers of my notes with those numbers. Hm, they nodded, hm hm. The senior said: You understand, sir, it is a very serious crime to live off a woman's immoral earnings.1 couldn't speak. Then I said: Nonsense. Utter bloody nonsense. I got this money in the post this morning. Really, sir? said the junior in a sleepy way. I take it you won't deny that Mrs Roper, who is not living with you but is in fact engaged in prostitution, has received certain visits from you recently? I didn't deny it. But, I said, this money – Yes, this money, sir. Mrs Roper drew out from lier bank three days ago these identical notes. I said: A frame-up. A put-up job. The senior officer said: We'll keep these, if you don't mind, sir. You'll be hearing more about this. Then they got up to go. I said: You mean you're not charging me? The junior said: We have no authority, sir. But you'll be hearing about this in a day or two. I spluttered at them. I even got Lucy to come down and shout at them, but they only smiled and touched their hats (which they'd not taken off in the house) as they left.
It was hard for me to work in the days that followed. Then came the summons, and it was a kind of relief. It was a summons to a small house not far from Goldhawk Road. Cornpit-Ferrers opened the door. With him was a man who looked foreign and, when he spoke, spoke with what seemed to be a Slavonic accent. It seemed to be this man's house we were in, dirty and ill-furnished. But the man himself was clean and rather well-dressed. Cornpit-Ferrers was very urbane. He said: I gather that you and some of your colleagues have been doing a little polemical work on the need for International Co-operation in Scientific Research. I said nothing. He said: It seems there's a chance for you to do more than merely discuss it or draft pamphlets about it. I said: What are you getting at? He said: Oh, by the way, this is Mr-(I didn't catch the name; I never learned it). I don't think I need tell you which embassy he is in. He's making all arrangements. This is a wonderful opportunity, Dr Roper. We politicians talk and talk but we do little. (You do enough, I nearly said, with venom.) You, he went on, represent a sort of spearhead of action. I understand that this is rather a good time for you to leave the country. Am I right? I swore at him; I said: Your filthy bloody trick. But you won't get away with it. He said: Not just my trick. She was very ready to help. The Slav man now laughed. Corn-pit-Ferrers also laughed, saying: He knows her too. Quite as well as I. And, as for getting away with it, to use your term, the two men who called on you are waiting for the word to lodge some sort of information with the police. The law deals harshly, for some reason, with that kind of crime. I don't see (he continued) why you should grieve overmuch at going away. You don't like England all that much, do you? You don't feel all that loyal to England either. I know. You don't want England nearly as much as you want you-know-who. Cheer up, Dr Roper. She's going with you.
I gasped. She's agreed to it? He said: I'm afraid it's all got to be done rather quickly. There's a boat leaving Tilbury tomorrow morning at eleven. Eleven? (looking for confirmation to the Slav man. The man nodded.) The Petrov-Vodkin, carrying cargo to Rostock. Some men from Warnemiinde will pick you up at the Warnow Hotel. Everything's going to be all right, believe me. A new lease of life. Your career's done for here, you must realise that. What's that in Shakespeare about the man almost damned in a fair wife? Never mind. You'll like your new ambience – hard work and hard drinking, so I understand. Any questions?
I'm not going, I said. He said: That's not a question. As for the disposal of your goods and chattels (you have a house, I believe), that can be done by remote control. The Curtain may be Iron, but it has letter-boxes cut in it. From now on our friend here will be looking after you. Give him your house-key and he'll arrange for bags to be packed. You'll sleep here tonight.
I said: And you call yourself a Minister of the Crown. I knew England was corrupt, but I never dreamed-And then: Will she be coming here too? Will we be going together? He said: You'll meet at the Warnow Hotel. You don't believe me? You think this is all a trick? Well, here's something for you. He took from his top pocket, from behind a handkerchief arranged in seven points, an envelope. He gave it to me. I recognised the handwriting of the note within. / was a fool. We will make a new beginning. Corn-pit-Ferrers said: No forgery. The genuine article. She has been a fool too. In fact, we've all been fools. Live and learn. But you've been the biggest fool of the lot. Of the lot. Of the.1 I said: This is going to be bloody merry England's last betrayal of a Roper. Oh yes. What you did in 1558 you're doing again now. Faith then, still faith. England's damned herself. Warmongering cynical bloody England. His light went out at 15.58. Continental time.2 Up all your pipes. Martyr's blood runs through them. He said: No regrets, then. Good. He put on a bowler hat and picked up an umbrella. He was wearing a grey raglan overcoat. He was Trumper-shaved-and-barbered. Eucris. Eucharist.3 He had a hard handsome look that would soon go soft. I said: On your own head be it. In my head I carry things England thought valuable. Good, he said again. International share-out, eh? Plans across the sea. I said: Traitor. He said: To whom or to what? Then: I must be going now. I'm giving 1 Watch it, watch it.2 And again.3 Do try. lunch to a couple of rather important constituents. He did a sort of mock-salute against his bowler-brim, then ordered arms with his umbrella, lip-farting a bugle-call, grinned goodbye at the Slav man, left. I spat in his wake. The Slav man reproved me for that in thick English. His house, he said. Rented by him, anyway.
The story can end here. Except that, at the Warnow Hotel in Rostock, there was no Brigitte waiting for me. I was not surprised. In a way I was pleased. My sense of betrayal was absolute. I fetched the barnaby out of the cheese-slice, fallowed the whereupon with ingrown versicles, then cranked with endless hornblows of white, gamboge, wortdrew, hammon and prayrichard the most marvellous and unseen-as-yet fallupons that old Motion ever hatched in all his greenock nights.1 The men from Warnemiinde were very jolly and plied me with gallons of the stuff. I think we sang songs. We hardhit bedfriends in twiceknit garnishes. Oh, the2 welter of all that moon-talk, such as it was, whistles and all.3 Whenever an empty trestlestack is given4 more than half of its prerequisite of mutton fibres, you may expectorate high as a HOUSE FULL placard. Implacable.5 8 'What do we do now?' repeated Hillier, awake again but dog-tired. He stood up, letting the manuscript fall in loose sheets to the floor. She sought his chest, bare under the dressing-gown, and, arms about him, wept and wept. 'My *? 2Knocknoise, distant.3 Wherewhatwhowhy?
'Oh, please, please, please. He's dead, I tell you. It's all over. Alan won't wake up.
Clara in dressing-gown, weeping. She came in to tell me, triumphant almost. He's dead. Oh, what do we do now? poor darling,' he murmured into her hair. 'But we knew this was going to happen. You have me to look after you now.' The figure of Cornpit-Ferrers danced through his brain, waving its rolled umbrella, another of the bloody neutrals. That was where evil lay: in the neutrals. Clara wept, her face still hidden; he could feel tears rilling down the sternum. She drew in breath for a sob and coughed on an inhaled chest hair. His arms held her tight. He stroked, soothing. But the body of a woman was the body of a woman, even when she was a girl, even when she was a daughter. 'Come,' he said gently. 'You'll feel better soon.' And he led her over to the narrow bunk. She sat there, wiping her eyes with her knuckles, and he sat beside her, still trying to soothe. She said, her voice denasalised by tears: 'She walked right in. To my cabin and. Shook me. It was as if she was. Glad.'
'She's one of the neutrals,' said Hillier. 'And now you'll be rid of her.' He kissed her forehead.
'And then. When she'd told me. She went. Back to bed;'
'There there there there.' But, of course, what was there to do except go back to bed? And tomorrow she would have a blinding headache and expect pity, the widow. Had she already equipped herself with smart black? There would be men all too ready to give comfort. Hillier saw them knocking gently at her cabin door; they wore bowler hats and carried umbrellas. He saw himself, tomorrow, making all arrangements. I insist on a rebate, he would tell the purser. And, for that matter, it wasn't Mr Innes's fault that he didn't embark at Yarylyuk. I'll bet he didn't nudge out other possible bookings. I want a sizeable chunk of money back. A question of a coffin. Thrown in free, one of the ship's amenities?
'There'll be a lot to do tomorrow,' said Hillier. 'She'll see out the cruise, all the way back to Southampton. A distraught and desirable widow. Leave everything to me. As for now, we both need rest.'
She was tired with the whole evening; it had been a very tiring evening for the three of them: no wonder Alan couldn't wake up. When he woke he would have a memory of a dream of killing a man, then he would hear of the death of his father. It was no way to start a sunny cruising morning. But there was still this merciful night, a whole black sea of it. 'Come,' said Hillier, and he raised her gently from the bunk so that he could draw down the coverlet and blanket and top sheet. Dead-beat, she nodded, sniffing. Hillier helped her off with her silk dragon-patterned dressing-gown; the nightdress underneath was black, bare-armed and shoulder-strapped, opaque but maddening. This was no time for being maddened, though; this was his daughter. She flopped into the bunk, her hair everywhere. Hillier brought his chair closer, sat, and held her hand. Soon the hand tried to drop from his, finger by finger. She slept quite soundly, the power of the sedative Hillier had given her earlier re-asserting itself blessedly. Totally without desire, he stripped himself naked and eased himself into the bunk beside her. Her body, unconsciously accommodating, rolled itself to the bulkhead. He lay with his back to her, almost on a knifeedge of bed space.
A ghost of sobbing possessed her sleep. He could not lie so, averted. He turned to hold her, and his hands strove to avoid those areas of her body where she would cease to be a daughter. Again that sleeping body helped, turning to face him, the head at length cradled in his oxter, tiny gales of her breathing heating his bare chest. It was possible then to sleep, but he slept lightly, awakening to a rougher sea than any they had known yet, outside the half-open light. Sleepless, a man was parading the deck, coughing over a two-in-the-morning cigarette. Wriste looked in, switched on the bunkside lamp, and, dangling from a bloodless socket an eye on a rubbery stalk, said: 'I admire you, sir, I do really. What time your early-morning death, sir?' Hillier shook him out, along with the lamp, but Cornpit-Ferrers, much diminished in size, jumped on to the other bunk and, gripping his lapels in elder-statesman style, addressed the House: 'My right honourable friend has spoken eloquently of duty to the country as a whole, but duty as seen by a government consists primarily not in governing so much as in existing (Hear hear), and this applies not merely collectively but (man thrown out of Strangers' Gallery for crying: Adulterer!) componentially. Divided we stand even though united we may fall.' Hillier found himself in the House of Commons, waiting to meet his own member to protest about being awarded death instead of a bonus. On the floor he disentangled Virtue Prevails and Love and Fidelity to Our Country and Faithful out of the florid Byzantine cryptograms. Then the letters all snaked up again and the meanings were lost. Instead of his member there came along his chief and colleagues – RF, VT, JBW, LJ. Hue and cry. Guns going off while the Speaker toddled in, preceded by his mace-bearer, followed by his doddering chaplain. 'I appeal,' called Hillier, 'in the name of the Mother of Parliaments.' A policeman with the portcullis symbol on his flat cap said: 'Court of Appeal's not here, mate.' Hillier was told to take it like a man, not to interrupt the grave processes of legislation, question-time just coming up. Foreign tourists disobeying orders, snapped with their cameras the leaping and twisting body of Hillier as bullet after bullet got home.
He awoke to find Clara comforting him. 'A nightmare,' she said, wiping the sweat off his forehead with her bare hand, which she then rubbed dry against the over-sheet. The sea was quiet again; it was grey very early morning.
His member; what had that been about his member? Her hands were smoothing his body, girl's curiosity as well as motherly tenderness in them. His body's dream-leaping must have shaken her awake. As one hand went down he arrested it, thinking: Never would I have thought possible, never could I have ever possibly conceived that I would now resist what of all things. But her hand, that had turned the pages of so many cold sex-books, was interested. What she touched was warm, smooth, a bauble rather than a rocketing monster. 'No,' he said. 'Not that. But there are other things.' This was no time, this was no girl, for the big sweating engine of phallic sex. And so, very gently, he showed her. He gave without taking. He imagined shocked faces on the ceiling whispering: 'Necrophily', but he rubbed them out with his own acts of tenderness. To ease her in gently to that world of release and elation which lay all before her, all too easily spoilt for ever by the boor, cynic, self-seeker, was surely a valid part of the office of almost-father he had assumed. This was an act of love.
But had she already perhaps half-corrupted herself with curiosity? It was more avidity for knowledge than acceptance of pleasure that, after the first epiphany, led her to ask for more things, her greed squeaking faintly like the pencil of an inventory-taker. And what is this, that? How is the other thing done? She wanted to turn atlas names into the photographable stuff of foreign travel. Hillier bade her sleep again, they must be up early, there were many things to be seen to before their disembarkation at Istanbul. He fed her one pleasure that brought her to the sword-point of a cry that might wake the whole corridor, and after that she slept, her firm young body mottled with heat-rash and her hair all dark strings. Hillier wearily looked at his watch: 6.20. At seven she wakened him roughly and demanded what he had been loath to give her. He still demurred but soon, the morning advancing and his own lust angry at its bits and snaffles, he led her to the phallic experience. It was then that she ceased to be Clara. His head was too clear now, tenderness bundled out like a passenger who had not paid his fare, and he was able to say to himself: There are no virgins any more; ponies and gym-mistresses are the distracted denowerers, jolly liquidators of a once high and solemn ritual spiced with pain. Tea-trays began to rattle in the corridor. He muffled the shriek of her climax with a hand over her mouth and then took his own, humbler, orgasm outside her. At once he was able to plunge into the prose-world of the morning – to lock the door against a tea-bringing steward, light a cigar, tell her to cover herself and, when the corridor was clear, seek her own cabin. Love. How about love?
She said: 'Do you think my breasts are too small?'
'No no no, perfect.'
She put on her nightdress and then her dressing-gown with a child's glow of smugness. She said: 'Do you have to smoke those horrible things first thing in the morning?'
'I'm afraid I do. An old habit.'
'An old habit.' She nodded. 'Old. It's a pity one has to wait till one's old to really know anything. You know a lot.'
'What any mature man knows.'
'They'll be jealous at school when I tell them.' She lay on the bunk again, very wide awake, her hands behind her head.
'Oh, no,' murmured Hillier.
'It's all talk with them. And of course what they get out of books. I can hardly wait.'
Hillier was hurt. Early though it was, he gave himself a large Old Mortality and tepid water; the name on the bottle glared at him like his own reflection. She looked indulgently: this was a bad habit, but it didn't smell like a cigar. 'Which,' he asked, 'will you tell them first – that you've lost a father or gained a lover?'
Her face screwed up at once. 'That was a filthy and cruel thing to say.' It was too.
'Sorry,' he said. 'I know a lot but I've forgotten much more. I'd forgotten the coldness of youth till you reminded me of it. It needs to be matched with the coldness of the village initiator. There used to be such men, you know -safe experienced men who showed young girls what it was all about. No love in it, of course. I suppose now you think me a fool for having talked about love.'
She sniffed back the renewed tears of bereavement. 'I shall remember it. It's one of the things I shan't tell the other girls.'
'Oh yes you will.' His mouth tasted sour. He would have liked to be lying in that bed alone, watching the tea brought in. 'It doesn't matter really. I'd forgotten you were a schoolgirl. I've never even asked your age.'
'Sixteen.' She smirked very faintly then looked sad again.
'Not so young. I once had an Italian girl of eleven. I was once offered a Tamil girl of nine.'
'You're pretty horrid really, aren't you?' But she gave him a full gaze of neutral appraisal. Initiator: he could see the word being marshalled into position behind her eyes. And on this cruise there was a man who was really what you might call an initiator. A what? Tell us more.
'I don't know what I am,' said Hillier. 'I failed to be a corpse. I dreamed of a regeneration. Perhaps one can't have that without dying first. It was foolish of me to think I could be both a father and a husband. And yet in what capacity do I dread your being thrown to the wolves?'
'I can look after myself. We can both look after ourselves.'
There was a knock at the door. 'Tea at last,' Hillier said. 'You'd better get off that bunk. You'd better look as though you just came in to tell me your sad news.' She got up and went demurely to a chair. Sad news; that was what the Old Mortality tasted like. Have another nip of Sad News. Hillier unlocked and opened up. It was not the strange steward, Wriste's replacement. It was Alan. In his dressing-gown, hair sleek, Black Russian in holder, he looked rested and mature.
'Did she spend the night here?' he asked. Hillier made a mouth and shrugged; no point in denying it. The brother had done murder; the sister had been initiated. 'Well,' said Alan, 'you've certainly shown both of us how the other half lives.' He tasted, like Sad News, the ineptness of that last word 'She came,' he said. 'She woke me up to tell me. It seemed rather small stuff really. I hope that doesn't sound callous.'
Very ill at ease, Hillier said: 'He reached Byzantium first.' He could then have bitten out his tongue. Alan looked at him gravely, saying: 'You're what I'd call a romantic. Poetry and games and visions.' To Clara he said: 'She's behaving as I knew she would. Terribly ill after telling everybody the news. Blinding headache. Prostrate with grief. She said it was up to the Captain to see to everything. Get him off the ship. Bundle him out of sight. It upsets the passengers, having a dead body on board. They paid for a good time and by God they're going to have it.'
'You must leave everything to me,' said Hillier. 'You'll want to travel back with him. You can fly BEA from Istanbul. I'll sort it all out for you, the least I can do. I'll get dressed now and go and see the purser. I ought to radio your solicitors, his I mean. They can meet you at London Airport.'
'I know what has to be done,' said Alan. 'You're too much of a romantic to be any good at real things. I notice you don't say anything about flying to London with us. That's because you daren't, isn't it? Some of your pals will be waiting for you, other romantic games-players in raincoats with guns in their pockets. You talked about looking after us, but you daren't even set foot in England.'
'Things to do in Istanbul,' mumbled Hillier. 'One thing, anyway. Very important. Then I was going to suggest that you both meet me in Dublin. At the Dolphin Hotel, Essex Street. Then we could decide about the future.'
'Our future,' said Alan, 'will be decided by Chancery. Wards in Chancery, Clara and Alan Walters. A stepmother has no legal obligation. I suppose you'll start talking about yourself having a moral obligation. And all that means is our skulking in Ireland with you. Neutral territory. Opting out of history-that was your expression. That means the IRA and gun-men and blowing up post-offices. No, thank you. Back to school for us. We want to learn slowly.'
Hillier looked guiltily and bitterly at the two children. 'You didn't always think like that,' he said. 'Sex-books and dinner-jackets and ear-rings and cognac after dinner. You talk about me playing games-'
'We,' said Alan with something like sweetness, 'are only children. It was up to you to recognise that. Games are all right for children.' Then his larynx throbbed with anger like an adult's. 'Look where your bloody games have landed us.'
'You're not being fair-'
'Bloody neutrals. That bitch with the grief-stricken headache and filthy Theodorescu and grinning Wriste and you. But I suppose you feel very self-righteous and very badly done to.'
'There are no real martyrs,' said Hillier carefully. 'One should always read the small print on the contract.'
'Oh, you even have to make a game out of that,' sneered Alan. He took out of his dressing-gown pocket a much-mauled piece of paper. 'Look at it,' he said. 'This is that message you gave me to de-code.' Hillier took it. The paper was quite blank. 'No come-back there,' said Alan. 'They play the game well.'
'Seven-day vanishing ink,' said Hillier. 'I might have known.'
'It would be lovely if everything could vanish as easily. Conjuring tricks. Games. Oh, let's get back to the real world.' He made as to leave. 'You coming, Clara?'
'In a minute. I just want to say goodbye.'
'I'll see you at breakfast.' And, with no farewell to Hillier, he left. His mature smoker's cough travelled down the corridor, perhaps to a boy's tears in his own cabin, the natural self-pity of a newly-made orphan. Hillier and Clara looked at each other. He said: 'A kiss wouldn't be in order, would it? Too much like love.'
Her eyes were bright as from dexedrine. She lowered them bashfully. 'It doesn't look as if you're going to get any morning tea,' she said. 'Why don't you lock the door again?' He stared at her incredulously. 'There's plenty of time,' she said, raising her eyes to him. How often had he seen those eyes before.
'Get out,' he said. 'Go on. Out.'
'But you seemed to like it-'
'You're horrible.' She began to cry. 'You said you loved-'
'Go on.' Blindly he pushed her out on to the corridor.
'Beast. Filthy filthy beast.' And then, as she too made for her cabin, it was just tears. But tears, however public, were in order. Hillier settled in his wretchedness to the bottle of Old Mortality.