lapel of her dressing-gown. She murmured some endearment and tightened her arms round his neck.

Why shouldn't he go on? It seemed he'd be able to, though he couldn't tell how far. Did he want to? Yes, in a way, but was it fair to her? He remembered dimly how he'd advised her not to get into even the mildest sexual entanglement for a good long time, say a year, after the Catchpole one. Was it fair to her? Was it fair to him? He could only just handle her as a female friend; as her 'lover' he'd be a cowboy facing his first, and notoriously formidable, steer. No, it wouldn't be fair to him. And it certainly wouldn't be fair to her, confronting her with something that could hardly fail to disturb and upset her in the short run, let alone what might happen later. No, she oughtn't to have it. On the other hand - Dixon battled for clear, or any, thought - she certainly seemed to want it. He felt her breath, soft and warm, on his cheek, and his desire, which had been failing, suddenly strengthened. Of course, all that had been worrying him was fear of a rebuff. He withdrew his hand, then put it back, this time under her nightdress. This, and the shudder she gave, made his head reel the furthest yet; too far, indeed, for him to do any more thinking. The silence roared in his ears.

Some short time later, as they lay on the bed, he made a movement not only quite unambiguous, but even, perhaps, rather insolently frank. Margaret's response to it, though violent, was hard to interpret. Without hesitation Dixon advanced further. There was a brief rolling struggle, then he found himself flung sideways with enough vigour to bring his head, with a brisk report, into contact with the bed's footboard. Margaret got up, adjusting her dressing-gown, and picked up his raincoat. 'Go on,' she said. 'Out you go, James.'

He struggled to his feet and managed to catch his coat when she flung it. 'I'm sorry; what's the matter?'

'Out.' Her small figure was trembling with anger.

'All right, but I don't see…'

She opened the door and gestured with her head. Feet were mounting the stairs to the landing.

'Look, there's somebody…'

He found himself bundled out, his coat over his arm, his head spinning in a new direction. Half-way to the bathroom he found himself confronted by the Callaghan woman. 'Good evening,' he said politely. She looked away and went past him to her room. He tried to open the bathroom door; it was again locked. Without thinking he threw back his head, filled his lungs, and let loose a loud and prolonged bray of rage which recalled, in volume and timbre, Goldsmith's performance in the madrigals. Then he clumped down the stairs, hung his coat on a hook, went into the dining-room, and genuflected in front of the fake, or possibly genuine, eighteenth-century sideboard.

In a moment he'd taken a bottle of port from among the sherry, beer, and cider which filled half a shelf inside. It was from this very bottle that Welch had, the previous evening, poured Dixon the smallest drink he'd ever been seriously offered. Some of the writing on the label was in a Romance language, but not all. Just right: not too British, and not too foreign either. The cork came out with a festive, Yule-tide pop which made him wish he had some nuts and raisins; he drank deeply. Some of the liquor coursed refreshingly down his chin and under his shirt-collar. The bottle had been about three-quarters full when he started, and was about three-quarters empty when he stopped. He thumped and clinked it back into position, wiped his mouth on the sideboard-runner, and, feeling really splendid, gained his bedroom without opposition.

Here he wandered about for a few minutes, undressing slowly, thinking as best he could about the encounter with Margaret. Had he really wanted what his actions had implied? As before, the only answer was Yes, in a way. But he wouldn't have tried, would he? or not so hard, anyway, if she hadn't seemed so keen. And why had she decided to seem so keen, after so many weeks of seeming so not keen? Most likely because of some new novelist she'd been reading. But of course she ought to be keen anyway. It's what she really wants, he thought, scowling with the emphasis with which he put this to himself. She doesn't know it, but it's what she really wants, what her nature really demands. And, God, it was his due, wasn't it? After all he'd put up with. But was it fair to her to implicate her in this sort of situation after all she'd had to put up with? As soon as Dixon recognized the mental envelope containing this question he thrust it away from him unopened, and went into the bathroom tying his pyjama-cord.

It wasn't as nice in the bathroom as it had been in the bedroom. Though it was a cool night for early summer, he found he felt hot and was sweating. He stood for some time in front of the wash-basin, trying to discover more about how he felt. His body seemed swollen below the chest and uneven in density. The stuff coming from the light seemed less like light than a very thin but cloudy phosphorescent gas; it gave a creamy hum. He turned on the cold tap and bent over the basin. When he did this, he had to correct an impulse to go on leaning forward until his head lay between the taps. He wetted his face, took a bakelite mug from the glass shelf above the basin, and drank a very great deal of water, which momentarily refreshed him, though it had some other effect as well which he couldn't at once identify. He cleaned his teeth with a lot of toothpaste, wetted his face again, refilled the mug, and ate some more toothpaste.

He stood brooding by his bed. His face was heavy, as if little bags of sand had been painlessly sewn into various parts of it, dragging the features away from the bones, if he still had bones in his face. Suddenly feeling worse, he heaved a shuddering sigh. Someone seemed to have leapt nimbly up behind him and encased him in a kind of diving-suit made of invisible cotton-wool. He gave a quiet groan; he didn't want to feel any worse than this.

He began getting into bed. His four surviving cigarettes - had he really smoked twelve that evening? - lay in their packet on a polished table at the bed-head, accompanied by matches, the bakelite mug of water, and an ashtray from the mantelpiece. A temporary inability to raise his second foot on to the bed let him know what had been the secondary effect of drinking all that water: it had made him drunk. This became a primary effect when he lay in bed. On the fluttering mantelpiece was a small china effigy, the representation, in a squatting position, of a well-known Oriental religious figure. Had Welch put it there as a silent sermon to him on the merits of the contemplative life? If so, the message had come too late. He reached up and turned off the light by the hanging switch above his head. The room began to rise upwards from the right-hand bottom corner of the bed, and yet seemed to keep in the same position. He threw back the covers and sat on the edge of the bed, his legs hanging. The room composed itself to rest. After a few moments he swung his legs back and lay down. The room lifted. He put his feet to the floor. The room stayed still. He put his legs on the bed but didn't lie down. The room moved. He sat on the edge of the bed. Nothing. He put one leg up on the bed. Something. In fact a great deal. He was evidently in a highly critical condition. Swearing hoarsely, he heaped up the pillows, half-lay, half-sat against them, and dangled his legs half-over the edge of the bed. In this position he was able to lower himself gingerly into sleep.


DIXON was alive again. Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way; not for him the slow, gracious wandering from the halls of sleep, but a summary, forcible ejection. He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of the morning. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he'd somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad.

He reached out for and put on his glasses. At once he saw that something was wrong with the bedclothes immediately before his face. Endangering his chance of survival, he sat up a little, and what met his bursting eyes roused to a frenzy the timpanist in his head. A large, irregular area of the turned-back part of the sheet was missing; a smaller but still considerable area of the turned-back part of the blanket was missing; an area about the size of the palm of his hand in the main part of the top blanket was missing. Through the three holes, which, appropriately enough, had black borders, he could see a dark brown mark on the second blanket. He ran a finger round a bit of the hole in the sheet, and when he looked at his finger it bore a dark-grey stain. That meant ash; ash meant burning; burning must mean cigarettes. Had this cigarette burnt itself out on the blanket? If not, where was it now? Nowhere on the bed; nor in it. He leaned over the side, gritting his teeth; a sunken brown channel, ending in a fragment of discoloured paper, lay across a light patch in the pattern of a valuable-looking rug. This

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