'A ballet student? I didn't know there were such things.'

'There are, apparently. This one's called Sonia Loosmore.'

'No, really? How do you know all this?'

'I've heard nothing else from either of the Neddies for the last week.'

'I can imagine that.' Dixon began looking towards the barmaid. 'Then perhaps you can tell me why I've been asked.'

'They weren't very clear about that. Just to join in, I suppose. There'll be plenty of things for you to do, I've no doubt at all.'

'Look, Margaret, you know as well as I do that I can't sing, I can't act, I can hardly read, and thank God I can't read music. No, I know what it is. Good sign in a way. He wants to test my reactions to culture, see whether I'm a fit person to teach in a university, see? Nobody who can't tell a flute from a recorder can be worth hearing on the price of bloody cows under Edward the Third.' He put seven or eight onions into his mouth and began crunching them.

'But he's exposed you to culture before now, surely.'

'Not such a heavy concentration as this looks like being. My God, what the hell does he think he's playing at? What's it all in aid of? I mean it can hardly be all just for my benefit.'

'He's got some idea of an article or a wireless talk on the provincial culture-group. You know, that stuff he came back from Manchester full of at Easter.'

'But he can't really think anyone'll take him up, can he?'

'Who knows what he really thinks? No, it's probably just an excuse for doing it. You know how he loves that sort of thing.'

'None better,' Dixon said, again trying to catch the barmaid's eye. 'You'll have to start finding out what he's got lined up for me. So I can start thinking up reasons for not being able to do it.'

She laid her hand on his.' You can rely on me,' she said in a soft voice.

Dixon said quickly: 'But how's he got hold of the B.B.C type and the Picture Post people? He must have got someone interested.'

'I gather both lots are contacts of Bertrand's, or perhaps his girl's. But don't let's talk about it any more. Can't we talk about ourselves? We've got so much to say to each other, haven't we?'

'Yes, of course,' he said, trying to stuff comradeliness into his tone. He brought out his cigarettes and, while lighting two of these and getting more drinks, he meditated on Margaret's capacity of talking like this at no notice. He wanted to give an inarticulate shout and run out of the bar, not stopping until he was on board a city bus. Though silenced, he was grateful to notice, by the barmaid's nearness, Margaret was yet managing to keep up the pressure by intimate glances, even touching his knee with hers. He converted his start at this into a glance upwards, to the clock above the counter. The thin red second hand swung smoothly round the dial, giving the illusion of time rapidly passing. The other hands pointed to five past nine.

While he was being given his change, Dixon studied the barmaid, who was large and very dark with a narrow upper lip and rather close-set eyes. He thought how much he liked her and had in common with her, and how much she'd like and have in common with him if she only knew him. With the maximum of deliberation he trousered his change, then picked up and shook a cigarette packet someone had left on the counter. It proved empty. At his side, Margaret heaved the sigh which invariably preluded the worst avowals. She waited until he had to look at her and said: 'How close we seem to be tonight, James.' A fat-faced man on the other side of her turned and stared at her. 'All the barriers are down at last, aren't they?' she asked.

Finding this unanswerable, Dixon gazed at her, slowly nodding his head, half expecting a round of applause from some invisible auditorium. What wouldn't he give for a fierce purging draught of fury or contempt, a really efficient worming from the sense of responsibility?

At last she lowered her eyes and might have fallen to scanning her beer for foreign matter. 'It seemed almost too much to hope for.' After another silence, she went on in a brisker tone: 'But can't we sit somewhere more… out of the public eye?'

Dixon said he thought this was a good idea, and they moved across the room, which was starting to fill up, to a vacant corner. Before sitting down, he excused himself and went out to the lavatory.

Out there, he thought how nice it would be if he could give up his dual role of conciliator and go right away from here. Five minutes would be ample for a vituperative phone-call to Welch and a short statement of the facts of the case to Margaret. Then he'd go and pack a few clothes and get on the ten-forty for London. As he stood in the badly-lit jakes, he was visited again, and unbearably, by the visual image that had haunted him ever since he took on this job. He seemed to be looking from a darkened room across a deserted back street to where, against a dimly-glowing evening sky, a line of chimneypots stood out as if carved from tin. A small double cloud moved slowly from right to left. The image wasn't purely visual, because he had a feeling that some soft unidentifiable noise was in his ears, and he felt with a dreamer's baseless conviction that somebody was going to come into the room where he seemed to be, somebody he knew in the image but not in reality. He was certain it was an image of London, and just as certain that it wasn't of any part of London he'd ever visited. He hadn't spent more than a dozen evenings there in his life. Then why, he pondered, was his ordinary desire to leave the provinces for London sharpened and particularized by this half-glimpsed scene?

He walked thoughtfully out of the lavatory without bothering to close its door, which was fitted with a compressed-air delaying device. The cylinder of this having been unscrewed by some rioter, the door swung to at once behind him, just missing his rear heel. The effect, in that short and narrow passage, was like the discharge of a piece of ordnance. He seemed to catch a hoarse cry of alarm from inside the bar. More than ever it was the moment to dart into the street and fail to return. But economic necessity and the call of pity were a strong combination; topped up by fear, as both were, they were invincible. He went back through the polished door into the Oak Lounge.


'EXCUSE me, Mr Dixon; have you got a minute to spare?'

First making his shot-in-the-back face, Dixon stopped and turned. He was leaving College after a lecture, and so had been hurrying. 'Yes, Mr Michie?'

Michie was a moustached ex-service student who'd commanded a tank troop at Anzio while Dixon was an R.A.F. corporal in western Scotland. He now confronted Dixon near the porter's lodge. As always, his manner seemed to be concealing something, though Dixon could never be sure what. He waited for a moment and said: 'Have you got that syllabus together yet, sir?' He was the only student Dixon had ever heard calling a member  of the staff 'sir', and apparently reserved the title exclusively for Dixon.

'Oh yes, that syllabus,' Dixon said, playing for time. He hadn't got it together yet.

Michie pretended to think his question needed amplifying. 'You know, sir, the list of stuff for your special subject next year. You said you were going to distribute copies to the Honours people, if you remember.'

'Yes, oddly enough I can remember having said that,' Dixon said, then pulled himself together; he mustn't antagonize Michie. 'I've got the stuff ready in my digs, but I've not given it to the typist yet. I'll try to have it ready for you early next week, if that's all right.'

'That'll do beautifully, sir,' Michie said fulsomely, his moustache writhing a little as he smiled. He began moving away down the drive, keeping his eyes on Dixon, trying, it seemed, to engineer a joint departure from College. A briefcase, swollen with the week-end's reading, swayed in his loose grip. 'If I could come along to your room some time and pick them up?'

Dixon stopped trying to stand his ground, and allowed Michie to draw him away towards the road. 'If you would,' he said. Fury flared up in his mind like forgotten toast under a grill. The getting together of the syllabus had been, of course, Welch's idea; on receipt of it, the candidates for Honours in History were to 'see whether they were interested' in studying this new special subject, in preference to the old special subjects taught by the other members of the Department and examined in one of the eight papers required for B.A. Clearly, the more students, within reason, Dixon could get 'interested' in his subject, the better for him; equally clearly, too large a number of 'interested' students would mean that the number studying Welch's own special subject would fall to a

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