Iris Murdoch

The Book And The Brotherhood

© 1987

To Diana Avebury



“David Crimond is here in a kilt!`

Good God, is Crimond here? Where is he?'

`Over in that tent or marquee or whatever you call it. He's with Lily Boyne.'

The first speaker was Gulliver Ashe, the second was Conrad Lomas. Gulliver was a versatile, currently unemployed, young Englishman in his early thirties, pointedly vague about his age. Conrad was a more gorgeously young young American student. He was taller than Gulliver who was rated as tall. Gulliver had never hitherto met Conrad, but he had heard of him and had addressed the remark which caused such excitement to, jointly, Conrad and his partner Tamar Hernshaw. The scene was the so-much-looked-forward- to Commem Ball at Oxford, and the time about eleven p.m. It was midsummer and the night was not yet, and was indeed never entirely to be, dark. Above the various lighted marquees, from which various musics streamed, hung a sky of dusky blue already exhibiting a few splintery yellow stars. The moon, huge, crumbly like a cheese, was still low down among trees beyond the local streamlets of the river Cherwell which bounded the more immediate territory of the college. Tamar and Conrad had just arrived, had not yet danced. Gulliver had confidently addressed them since lie knew, though not well, Tamar, and had heard who her escort was to be. The sight of Tamar filled Gulliver, in fact, with irritation, since his partner for the momentous night was to have been (only she had cried off the last moment) Tamar's, mother Violet. Gulliver did not particularly like Violet, but had agreed to be paired with her to oblige Gerard Hernshaw, whom he usually obliged, even obeyed. Gerard was Tamar's uncle, or 'uncle', since he was not Violet's brother but her cousin. Gerard was considerably older than Gulliver. Gerard's sister Patricia, who was to have had Jenkin Riderhood as her partner, had also not turned up, but had (unlike Violet, who seemed to have no reason) a good reason, since Gerard's father, long ill, had suddenly become filler. Gulliver, though of course thrilled to be asked, was irritated by being paired by Gerard with Violet, which seemed to relegate Gulliver to the older generation. Gulliver would not have minded partnering Tamar, though he was not especially 'keen' on her. He found her too shy and stiff, she was pale and thin and rather schoolgirlish, she was wispy and waifish and lacked style, she did her short straight hair in a little-girl way with a side parting. He did not like her virginal white dress. Gull, who was not always sure that he liked girls at all, preferred ones who were bolder and able to take charge of him. In any case there was never any question of Tamar, since she was known to be going to the dance with her new acquaintance, this clever young American, whom she had met through her cousin Leonard Fairfax. Gerard, apologetic about Violet's defection, had said vaguely to Gulliver that he could no doubt 'pick up a girl somehow', but so far this did not seem likely to be possible, all the girls being firmly held onto by their chaps. Later on of course as the chaps got drunk the situation might change. He had wandered about in the warm blue twilight for some time hoping to meet someone he knew, but Tamar's had been the first familiar face, and he felt on seeing her annoyance rather than pleasure. He was also annoyed because he had not, after much consideration, put on his frilly lacy blue evening shirt, such as most of the younger generation were now seen to be dressed in, and was wearing the conventional black and white uniform which he knew that Gerard, Jenkin, and Duncan would have on. Gulliver, who thought himself good-looking, was tall and dark and slim, with straight oily dark hair, and a thin slightly hooked nose which he had come to terms with when someone called it aquiline. His eyes, which he had been told were beautiful, were of a very pure unflecked liquid golden brown. He very much wanted to dance and would have felt thoroughly cross with Gerard for messing things up if it had not been that Gerard had paid for Gulliver's (very expensive) ticket without which he would not be there at all. While these thoughts were mingling and colliding in Gulliver's mind, Conrad Lomas, with a murmured apology to Tamar, had shot offlike an arrow in the direction of the marquee where David Crimond was said to be. He ran upon his unusually long legs across the grass and disappeared, leaving Gulliver and Tamar together. Tamar, surprised by the amazing speed of his departure, had not immediately followed her swain. This should have been Gulliver's opportunity, and he did indeed wonder for a moment whether he should quickly ask Tamar to dance. He hesitated however, knowing that if Tamar refused he would be upset. Nor did he want to find himself, perhaps, later on, 'landed' with her for some long time. He had really, in spite of his cherished grievances, quite enjoyed wandering around by himself and being a voyeur. Moreover, the idea had Just occurred to him of returning to the room where Gerard and the oldies were still drinking champagne, and asking Rose Curtland to dance. Of course Rose 'belonged' to Gerard, but Gerard wouldn't mind, and the notion of putting his arm, where it had never dreamt of being, round Rose Curtland's waist, was certainly an appealing one. His moment for Tamar passed and she began to move away.

Gull said, 'That was Conrad Lomas, wasn't it? Whatever got into him?'

Tamar said, 'He's doing a thesis about something about Marxism in Britain.'

'So he’ll have read all Crimond's stuff.'

'He idolises Crimond,' said Tamar, 'he's read everything he’s written, but never met him. He wanted me to get someone to introduce him but I felt I couldn't. I didn't know he'd be here tonight.’

‘Neither did I,' said Gulliver, and added, 'neither do they.’

Tamar with a vague wave, set off in the direction of the tent into which Conrad had disappeared. Gulliver decided not to go back to the others yet after all. He wanted to wander about a little longer. This was not his college or his university. He had done his degree in London, and although he regarded Oxford and Oxford ways with sardonic detachment he was ready, on this unique evening, to give himself up to the charm of his surroundings, the ancient buildings floodlit, the pale exquisite tower, the intense green of illumined trees, the striped tents as of an exotic army, and the peregrinating crowd of colourful young people of whom, now that he had had a few drinks, he did not after all feel too uncomfortably envious. Perhaps the immediate thing to do was to have some more drink. He made his way toward the cloisters where he could get some whisky. He was tired of Gerard's champagne.

Tamar had not failed to notice Gulliver's indecision about asking her to dance. She would have refused but felt hurt at not being asked. She clutched her embroidered cashmere shawl closely about her, crossing it upon her breast and humping it up high about her neck. The day had been cloudlessly hot, the evening was warm, but there was now a slight breeze and Tamar felt chilly, she tended to feel the cold. Her white evening dress swept the grass upon which she imagined that she could already feel the dew. She reached the marquee where the lights had been turned up, since the pop group were knocking off for refreshments, and the dancers were standing about upon the wooden floor talking. She could not see Conrad anywhere, but soon noticed a closely packed group of young people, like a swarm of bees, in one corner where a high-pitched voice with a slight Scottish accent was holding forth. Tamar did not like Crimond, she was frightened of him, but she had had occasion to meet him very rarely, and, since the row with Gerard and the others, never. It did not occur to her to go over to the group of worshippers and join Conrad. She sat down for a while on one of the seats round the edge of the tent and waited. She noticed Lily Boyne, who, had been reported as being

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