This Charlie seemed to be what they called a dragoman. He counted his charges on and then, when they were on, counted them again. He frowned, as if the numbers did not tally. Hogg was seated next to a rather dowdy woman in early middle age, younger than himself, that was. She smiled at him as to a companion in adventure. She wore churchgoing clothes of sensible district-nurse-type hat and costume in a land of underdone piecrust colour. Her stockings, of which the knees just about showed, were of some kind of lisle material, opaque gunmetal. Hogg smiled back very tentatively, and then warily surveyed the other members of the party. They were mostly unremarkable people subduedly thrilled at going off to exotic places. The men were already casting themselves for parts, as if the trip were really going to be full of enforced privations and they had somehow to make their own entertainment. One beef-necked publican-type was pointing out the sights on the way to the airport and inventing bogus historical associations, like "Queen Lizzy had a milk stout there." There was cautious fencing for the r^ole of low comedian, and one man who, his teeth out, could contort his face in a rubbery manner seemed likely to win. There was a loud and serious man, a frequenter presumably of public libraries, who was giving a preliminary account of the more hurtful fauna of North Africa. Another man could reel off exchange rates. Hogg's seat-companion smiled again at him, as if with pleasure that everything was going to be so nice and cosy. Hogg closed his eyes in feigned (but was it feigned?) weariness.
When they got to the airport the news was still unbroken. Perhaps the management, on the instructions of the police, had sealed everything off, and it was no good the Prime Minister saying he had to get back to the House. Twenty minutes before take-off. Hogg spent most of that time in one of the lavatories, sitting gloomily on the seat. Could he do anything about disguising himself? With teeth out he would be expected to compete for the part of cruise comedian perhaps. Spectacles off? He tried that; he could just about see. Rearrange hair-style? Too little hair really, but he combed what he had down in a Roman emperor arrangement. Walk with a limp? Easy enough, if he could remember to keep on doing it. He heard ladylike intonations from a loudspeaker, so he pulled the chain and went to join his party. The man with the overweight luggage had suddenly woken up to the fact of Hogg's kindness; he did not seem to notice any change in Hogg's appearance. With bleary unfocused eyes, top denture out (a compromise that a sudden feeling of nausea had forced upon him on leaving the lavatory), and scant imperial coiffure, Hogg nodded and nodded that that was really quite all right, only too glad to oblige.
They all walked to the aircraft. Wind blew grit across the tarmac. Farewell, English autumn. It did not seem to Hogg to be a very elegant aircraft. There was a button missing from the stewardess's uniform jacket, and she herself, though insipidly and blondly pretty, had a look of vacancy that did not inspire confidence. Things done on the cheap, that was about it. Hogg sat down next to a starboard window, taking his last look at England. Somebody sat next to him, a woman. She said, in a semi-cultured Lancashire accent:
"We seem destined, don't we?" It was the one who had sat next to him on the bus. Hogg grunted. The unavoidable happening. In the elastic-topped pocket on the back of the seat in front of him, Hogg sadly found reading-matter, very cheerful and highly coloured stuff. No need to worry if we go down into the sea. We have a fine record for air safety. Keep calm, the stewardess will tell you what to do. But who, wondered Hogg, would tell her? There were brochures about the ports of call on the air cruise.
"This is my first time," said the woman next to Hogg. "Is it yours?" Her teeth seemed to be all her own. She had taken off her hat. Her hair was prettily mousy.
"First time to do what?" said Hogg dourly.
"Oh, you know, go on one of these things. It's funny really, I suppose, but I know all about the moon yet I"ve never seen the Mountains of the Moon."
"A stronger telescope," said Hogg. He was leafing through a booklet, full of robes, skies of impossible blue, camels, palms, the wizened faces of professional Moorish beggars, which told him of the joys of Tangier.
"No, no, I mean the Mountains of the Moon in Africa." She giggled.
Hogg heard the door of the aircraft slam. It did not slam properly. Charlie the dragoman, who now wore a little woolly highly coloured cap, helped the stewardess to give it a good hard slam, and then it seemed to stay shut. Engines and things began to fire and backfire or something. They were going to take off. Hogg felt safe for an instant, but then realised that there was no escape. They had things like Interpol and so on, or some such things. Spanish police, with teeth all bits of gold like John, waiting for him at Seville. But perhaps not, he thought with a little rising hope. Perhaps Spain would consider the murder of a pop-singer a very nugatory crime, which of course it was. Not really a crime at all if you took the larger view. Well then, landed in Spain, let him stay in Spain, el se~nor ingl'es. But how live there? With his little bit of money he could not, even in that notoriously cheap (because poverty-stricken) country, find a retreat or lavatory that would accommodate him long enough to coax, like a costive bowel, the art of verse back. The Muse had still made no real sign. There was a poem still to be completed. And, besides, there was terrible repression in Spain, a big dictator up there in the Escorial or wherever it was, directing phalanges of cruel bruisers (no, not bruisers; thin sadists, rather) with steel whips. No freedom of expression, poets suspect, foreign poets arrested and eventually handed over to Interpol. No, better to go to a country full of men on the run and smugglers and (so he had heard) artistic homosexuals, where English, language of international shadiness, was spoken and understood, and where at least he might hide (even out of doors; the nights were warm, weren't they?) and work out the future. One step at a time.
"You haven't fastened your safety-belt," said the woman. Hogg grumbled, fumbling for the metal-tipped tongues of dirty webbing. The airfield, his last view of England, was speeding as a grey blur back into the past. Speed increased; they were getting off the ground. You in that high-powered car. Perhaps an old-fashioned image, really. Hogg leafed through the Tangier brochure absently noticing little box advertisements for restaurants and bars. He frowned at one of these, wondering. It said: