then she saw the way he was treating me, things like the way be behaved at the sherry thing. Then she saw he was the one to blame, not me.'

She stood with her shoulders a little hunched, saying all this quickly and with embarrassment, her back to a shop-window full of brassieres, corsets, and suspender-belts. The lowered blind shadowed her face as she looked almost slyly at him, possibly to see whether she'd said enough to satisfy his curiosity.

'A bit noble of her, wasn't it? Bertrand won't look at her after this.'

'Oh, she doesn't want him to. I gather…'


'I sort of gathered from what she said that there's someone else in the background now. I don't know who.'

Dixon was pretty sure he did; the last thread was untangled. He took Christine's arm and walked off with her. 'That's enough,' he said.

'There's a lot more about what he told her about…'

'Later.' A leer of happiness suffused Dixon's face. He said: 'I think you might like to hear this. I am going to have nothing more to do with Margaret. Something's come up - never mind what for now - which means I needn't bother with her any more.'

'What, you mean you're absolutely…?'

'I'll tell you all about it later, I promise. Don't let's think about it now.'

'All right. But it is genuine, isn't it?'

'Of course, perfectly genuine.'

'Well then, in that case…'

'That's right. Tell me: what are you going to do this afternoon?'

'I suppose I shall have to go back to London, shan't I?'

'Do you mind if I come with you?'

'What's all this?' She pulled at his arm until he looked at her. 'What's going on? There's something else, isn't there? What is it?'

'I've got to find somewhere to live.'

'Why? I thought you lived somewhere in this part of the world.'

'Didn't Uncle Julius tell you about my new job?'

'For goodness' sake tell me about this properly, Jim. Don't tease me.'

While he explained, he pronounced the names to himself: Bayswater, Knightsbridge, Netting Hill Gate, Pimlico, Belgrave Square, Wapping, Chelsea. No, not Chelsea.

'I knew he had something up that sleeve of his,' Christine was saying. 'I didn't know that'd be it, though. I hope you'll be able to put up with him. Couldn't be better, could it? I say, there won't be any difficulty about you leaving your job with the University here, will there?'

'No, I don't think so.'

'What job is it, by the way? The one he's given you?'

'The one Bertrand thought he was going to get.'

Christine began laughing noisily and blushing at the same time. Dixon laughed too. He thought what a pity it was that all his faces were designed to express rage or loathing. Now that something had happened which really deserved a face, he'd none to celebrate it with. As a kind of token, he made his Sex Life in Ancient Roman face. Then he noticed something ahead of them and slowed in his walk. He nudged Christine. 'What's the matter?' she asked.

'See that car?' It was Welch's, parked slightly nearer one kerb than the other, outside a teashop with green linen curtains and copper pots on the window-sills. 'What's it doing there?'

'He's picking up Bertrand and the others, I suppose. Bertrand said he wasn't going to have lunch in the same house with me after what I said to him. Hurry up, Jim, before they come out.'

Just as they drew level with the shop-window, the door opened and a crowd of Welches came out and blocked the pavement. One of them was clearly the effeminate writing Michel, on stage at last just as the curtain was about to ring down. He was a tall pale young man with long pale hair protruding from under a pale corduroy cap. Sensing the approach of passers-by, the whole group, with the natural exception of Welch himself, began automatically shifting about out of the way. Dixon squeezed Christine's arm encouragingly and walked up to them. 'Excuse me,' he said in a fruity comic-butler voice.

On Mrs Welch's face appeared an expression of imminent vomiting; Dixon inclined his head indulgently to her. (He remembered something in a book about success making people humble, tolerant, and kind.) The incident was almost closed when he saw that not only were Welch and Bertrand both present, but Welch's fishing-hat and Bertrand's beret were there too. The beret, however, was on Welch's head, the fishing-hat on Bertrand's. In these guises, and standing rigid with popping eyes, as both were, they had a look of being Gide and Lytton Strachey, represented in waxwork form by a prentice hand. Dixon drew in breath to denounce them both, then blew it all out again in a howl of laughter. His steps faltered; his body sagged as if he'd been knifed. With Christine tugging at his arm he halted in the middle of the group, slowly doubling up like a man with the stitch, his spectacles misting over with the exertion of it, his mouth stuck ajar in a rictus of agony. 'You're…' he said. 'He's…'

The Welches withdrew and began getting into their car. Moaning, Dixon allowed Christine to lead him away up the street. The whinnying and clanging of Welch's self-starter began behind them, growing fainter and fainter as they walked on until it was altogether overlaid by the other noises of the town and by their own voices.


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