“What I say is," said the oldest of the men, his skin of broken veins and capillaries like an enlargement of a microscopic picture of motor oil, "there couldn't have been any conspiracy. They choose crack shots. A political assassination is, in our country at least, a rather serious undertaking."
"It's altogether possible," said a dried ancient, goitrous thyroid colloidally distended, eyes popping, voice hoarse, "that it was the act of a private entrepreneur. More enthusiasm than skill. They should never have got rid of National Service."
“Well, that's just what I said, isn't it?"
"Implied, if you will. Hardly said."
"He too," said a brisk barking small ex-major, the youngest, about seventy-five, "might have been resurrected. Wouldn't put anything past them. An everlasting premier."
"Or he was just a liar." This was a dithering man with twittering toothless mouth. "Jealousy of the bug for the flea. Shot at him. Failed to kill. Now tries to make himself a political hero. What do you think, Rawcliffe?"
"I really have no opinion on the matter," said Enderby. He sat in the fireside-type chair, the table in front of him, paper and ballpoint on the table, not a line added to the lines already there:
As loaves were gifts from Ceres when she laughed,
Thyrsis was Jack, but Crousseau on a raft
Sought Johnjack's rational island -
The sun was weakish, what Tangier called winter inching up. The bottles behind the bar caught that meagre light as if to store anew what was already long stored. Manuel measured out whisky for the old men, retired here for the warmth and fancied cheapness. Manuel was cheerful and honest, to be trusted with the till. Honesty was a Tangerine luxury, to be enjoyed. There were bright pin-up calendars, promising, after the mild though windy winter, torrid abandon renewed, golden flesh, the heartbreaking wagging cruppers of the bikinied young over the golden beaches. And there were plaques advertising Byrrh, Rivoli, Royal Anjou, Carlier, a British beer called Golden Fleece. The Coca-Cola ice-box had been freshly polished by Tetuani. Marie Brizard's name was on the water-jugs, Picon's on the ashtrays. Antonio sang, preparing tapas in the kitchen. "Both politicians and pop-singers," Enderby said, "are boils on the bottom of the communal body." The oldest elder went aaaaargh. He liked that. Writer fellow this Rawcliffe. The apt phrase.
Enderby was not pushing on with the sonnet, nor with the letter he still had to write. The question was, he was thinking, how he was to address her. When he wrote. If he wrote. Dear Vesta: never. Dear Mrs-He'd forgotten her new name. (The address was easy: the publisher of this filthy volume.) An abusive salutation, that would be letting himself down. He had written to his own publisher, for he thought he might need him, them, again. Tiny royalties had accrued: they had been keeping them for him (lb5. 7. 9.); they were glad, they said, to know where he was at last. As for this business of plagiarism, that was his affair, since he owned copyright. They themselves were not willing to take action, since they were in the bidding for resurrected Yod Crewsy's next book-a brief prose volume, they understood, humorous, inspirational, even religious. And they enclosed a personal letter, still in its envelope, only recently arrived at the office. Enderby had frowned over the handwriting, female. You and your female hadmirers. With a thudding heart he had opened it up.
Dear Piggy or Hoggy or Dirty (for I don't know what else to call you, do I?),
I was sorry about things and still am. And now this is the only way I can get in touch with you. Because I got it out of that silly girl on the plane that it was all really a mistake and you had gone to the wrong room without meaning to do what that silly captain of the plane thought (you know what I'm talking about, don't you). They choose too many of these air-hostesses for their looks, though hers weren't much to write home about really, and not their intelligence, and that silly captain was a bit too quick to draw conclusions, and I certainly shan't fly with them again, that courier with the stupid woolly cap on was also very rude, I thought. The number of wrongs that seem to have been done you! I was stupid too, wasn't I, thinking you could have anything to do with that shooting, it must have been my inflamed holiday imagination. I’ve been thinking about you a lot and am sure you must have been thinking very bad thoughts about me. But could you blame me really? I mean, you were a bit mysterious, no luggage and all. What I had to do to try and make amends was to get some of your poems from the library-very difficult, the library had to send off for them-and I found some of them rather obscure and others very sad. Very modern, of course. I can't make up my mind yet about whether I really like them-that sounds ungrateful, doesn't it, but I do like to think of myself as an Honest Person, but one of our junior English lecturers-did I tell you about him? Harold Pritchard, he's trying to get a little book of criticism published-was quite gone on them. He said there were curious resemblances to the poems of Yod Crewsy (the more I think of this whole scandalous business the more convinced I am it was a big publicity stunt and in the presence of the Prime Minister as well and that makes me think less of him). Then Harold found the same poem in both books, and that gave him an unholy thrill, he loves anything like a literary scandal. There was no doubt, he said, who stole from whom. So he's written a letter to the Times Literary Supplement and thinks the sparks will fly. Where are you, dear Piggy? I wish I could make proper amends. Looking back I see that despite everything that Seville night was really romantic-love and your sudden inspiration and my dear moon and even your mistake when, bless you, you were looking for me. Write to me and accept my love if you will and forgive me.
Sitting here on this quiet week-day, the train from royal Rabat just going by on the single-tracked line that separated the Spanish Avenue from the beach caf'es, the ink-paint congealing in his ballpoint, the harmless winter approaching, he thought that, despite the luck that had been granted (said, and died), the autumn should, for the sake of justice, flame out with a last act of vengeance. But he could not write the letter and, the letter unwritten, the poem would never flood into the estuary of its sestet. What did he really want from her? His money back? No, this place made enough, even in winter. Her humiliation, her smartness wrecked once more but by more devastating waters than the rain of Castel whatever-it-was, the snivelling, the running eye-shadow, the smooth face collapsed into that of a weary crone? No, not that either. Rawcliffe had taught him pity, that maketh the forests to fail.
“It will die down," said the goitrous old man, "and new sensations will come up. That new shiftless generation must be fed with fresh novelties." He took some Wilson's snuff, then hawked, carked and shivered with the dour pleasure of it.
"Not a religious man," said the snapping ex-major. "But when I see a central tenet of my father's faith-he held it, poor devil, through all his suffering-when I see that, I say, turned to a trick or gimmick or whatever the fashionable word is, then I wonder. I wonder what new blasphemy they can devise." He shuddered his whisky down in one.
“No morals," said the twittering man. "No loyalty. They will turn on their friends as if they were enemies. It was at a private party that this youth with the gun boasted in his cups. Isn't that so, Rawcliffe?"
"I don't really know," said Enderby. "I don't read the papers."
“Very wise too," said the senior elder. "Stay away from that world. Get on with your job, whatever it is."
"Sam Foot," said the goitrous old man. "A ridiculous name. Probably made up."
"Samuel Foot," said Enderby, "was an eighteenth-century actor and playwright. He was also an agent for small beer. And they all jell to playing the game of catch as catch can, till the gunpowder ran out at the heels of their boots."
There was a silence. “They did, eh?" said the senior. “Well suppose I'd better be thinking about getting home for lunch. Takes me longer and longer. Walking, that is."
"He wrote that," said Enderby. "It was a test-piece. This other man said that he could recite anything after hearing it once only."
"On my way too," said the ex-major. "Bit of a blow on the prom."
The door opened and a girl came in, very tanned. She wore, as for high summer, a simple green frock well above her knees, deep-cut at her young bosom, her golden arms totally bare. She carried a beach-bag. She smiled shyly and went up to Manuel at the bar. "I understand," she said, "that I can hire a changing-cubicle or whatever it's called." Her voice was low in pitch, the accent classless. Susannah among the elders, Enderby thought. The ex-major said quietly:
"Susannah among the elders." Enderby could see them feeling old, impotent, lust too tired within to rage at so many opportunities lost, the time gone, perhaps death to be their next season. And himself? He got up and said to the girl:
"Well, you can actually, but -" She looked at him from green eyes sprinkled, like a sireh quid, with gold. They were set wide apart but not too much: enough for beauty, perhaps honesty; not enough for the panic mindless world of the animals. Hair? Enderby at once, to his surprise, thought of the flower called montbretia. "What I mean is that, surely, it's getting a bit cold now. This time of the year I mean."
"I don't feel the cold. A cold sea doesn't frighten me." As in an allegory or Punch title-page, the aged trundled off-winter or war, industrial depression or an all-around bad year-from the presence of youth as peace, spring, a change of government. They creaked and groaned, snorted, limped, winced at arterio-sclerotic calf-ache, went. One or two waved tiredly at Enderby from beyond the closed glass door, a safe distance. "Could I have one then? For a couple of days. Do I pay in advance?"
"No, no, no need-Certainly. Un llave, Manuel."
"Numero ocho," Manuel smiled.
They all-Tetuani clearing the old men's whisky-glasses, Antonio at the kitchen-door, Manuel from the arena with its furled umbrellas, Enderby turned in his chair-watched her prancing seawards over the deserted sand, in scanty crimson, her hair loose. Enderby turned back in rage to his table. He took paper and wrote fiercely: "You bitch, you know you ruined my life. You also stole my verse to give to that blasphemous false commercial Lazarus of yours. Well, you won't get away with it. One of the stolen poems had already been published in one of my volumes. I'm going to sue, you’re all going to suffer." And then he could see Vesta standing there, cool, smart in spotless dacron, unperturbed, saying that she wouldn't suffer, only that mouthing creature of hers, and he was going to be abandoned anyway, past his peak, the time for the chaotopoeic groups coming, or the duo called Lyserge and Diethyl, or Big D and the Cube and the Hawk and the Blue Acid. Or worse. Enderby took another sheet of paper and wrote:
Smell and fearful and incorrigible knackers
With the crouched pole under
And strings of his inner testes strewn
Over curried pancreas and where the
Hollowed afternoon vomits
Semen of ennui and
And and and. Send it round, signed, to the bloody Doggy Wog, showing that I can beat them at their own game if I want to, but the game isn't worth the, in Walkerian locution, turn-the-handle. And, amigo with the onion, I know what's in the carta you wanted to bring round to my lodgings where my razor and antisolar spectacle clip-on and few dirty handkerchiefs have been long snapped up by those who had not, that night, yet been betrayed to the police by fat Napo. Khogh. It was some word of their language, no deformed proper name from another. And the letter surely says that he saw who did it, hombre, and told Scotland Yard as much. A curious and perhaps suspicious lack of treachery from treacherous Spain. Enderby felt ungratefully gloomy. All was set for writing and yet he could not write. Draft after unfinished draft. Gloomily he read through his sonnet octave again.
Augustus on a guinea sat in state. This is the eighteenth century, the Augustan age, and that guinea is a reduction of the sun. The sun no proper study. Exactly, the real sun being God and that urban life essentially a product of reason, which the sun melts. And no more sun-kings, only Hanoverians. But each shaft of filtered light a column. Meaning that you can't really do without the sun, which gives life, so filter it through smoked glass, using its energy to erect neo-classic structures in architecture or literature (well, The Rambler, say, or The Spectator, and there's a nuance in "shaft" suggesting wit). Classic craft abhorred the arc or arch. Yes, and those ships sailed a known world, unflood-able by a rational God, and the arc-en-ciel covenant is rejected. Something like that. To circulate (blood or ideas) meant pipes, and pipes were straight. Clear enough. You need the roundness of the guinea only so that it can roll along the straight streets or something of commercial enterprise. The round bores of the pipes are not seen on the surface, the pipes in essence being means of linking points by the shortest or most syllogistical way. And, to return to that guinea, impress on it the straight line of royal descent. And, to return to that pipe business, remember that pipes were smoked in coffee-houses and that news and ideas circulated there. And that craft business ties up with Lloyd's coffee-house. As loaves were gifts from Ceres when she laughed, Thyrsis was Jack. A bit fill-in for rhyme's sake, but, rejecting the sun, you reject life and can only accept it in stylised mythological or eclogue forms. But Jack leads us to Jean-Jacques. Crousseau on a raft sought Johnjack's rational island-The pivot coming with the volta. Defoe started it off: overcome Nature with reason. But the hearer will just hear Crusoe. Jack is dignified to John, glorification of common, or natural, man. Then make Nature reason and you start to topple into reason's antithesis, you become romantic. Why? A very awkward job, the continuation.
"Lovely." She had come running in, wet. She wrung a hank of hair, wetting the floor. Fat drops broke on her gold limbs. Her high-arched foot left Man Friday spoors. Seeing her round jigging nates, Enderby could have died with regret and rage. "Like a fool I brought everything except a towel. Could you possibly -" She smiled, her chin dripping as from a crunching of grapes.
"Just a minute." He puffed to his bedroom and brought out a bath towel, not yet, if ever to be, used by him, and also the gaudy robe, not greatly stained, that Rawcliffe had died in. He put it round her shoulders. Clear gold skin without a blemish and a flue of ridiculous delicacy. She rubbed her hair dry with vigour, smiling her thanks. Manuel hovered, smiling. She smiled back. Enderby tried to smile.
"Could I," she smiled, “have a drink? Something a bit astringent. Let me see -" The bottles smiled. No, they bloody well didn't: Enderby was not going to have that. "A whisky sour."
“I’ll do it," said Enderby. "Fetch some white of egg. Clara de huevo." Manuel ran into the kitchen. She rubbed herself all over in, with, dead Rawcliffe's brilliant robe. "A difficult art," blabbed Enderby, "making a whisky sour." That sounded like boasting. "Americans are very fond of them." An egg cracked loudly off. She rubbed and rubbed. Enderby got behind the bar and looked for the plastic lemon that contained lemon-juice. Manuel, having brought a tea-cup with egg-white in it and some minute embedded triangles of shell, watched her rub instead of his master mix. "There," said Enderby, quite soon.
She took it and sipped. "Hm. Is nobody else drinking?"
"About time," Enderby said, "I had my preprandial, if that's the right word." He seemed to himself to simper, pouring out straight Scotch.
“Do I pay now or do you give me a bill afterwards? And can I get lunch here, talking about preprandials?"
"Oh," said Enderby, "have this one on me. It's a kind of custom here, the first drink of a new customer on the house." And "Oh, yes, you can have steak and salad or something like that. Or spaghetti with something or other. Anything you like, really. Within reason, that is." Reason. That brought him back to that bloody poem. To his shock, he saw her bending over his table, looking openly at his papers.
"Hm," she said, having sipped again. "You’ve certainly got it in for this person, bitch rather."
"That," went flustered Enderby, coming round from the counter, "is of no consequence. I'm not sending it. It was just an idea, that's all. Really," he said, "you shouldn't, you know. Private." But it was your privates you were only too ready to expose, wasn't that so, when you-He felt a land of tepid pleasure promising warmth, not outrage at all. She sat down in his fireside-type chair. She started reading his octave, frowning a little. A curiously tutorial aura seemed to be forming. Enderby went to sit down on one of the stackable chairs near his table.
"Bring it closer," she said. "What's all this about?"
"Well," babbled Enderby, "it's a sonnet, very strict. It's an attempt, really, to tie up the Age of Reason with the French Revolution. Or, on another level, the rational and the romantic can be regarded as aspects of each other, if you see what I mean." Sitting, he moved towards her without getting up, as though this were an invalid chair. “What I have to do is to show that romantic curves are made out of classical straightnesses. Do you see what I mean?” And then, gloomily, to himself: Probably not. She was young. She had perhaps mourned Yod Crewsy's death, gone to some open-air evangelical meeting on his resurrection.
She closed her eyes tight. "Keep a triplet pattern in your sestet," she said. "A breath between your cdc and your dcd. How will the classical pillars become Gothic arches? The sun will melt them, I suppose. And then you ought to have the guillotine. A very rational machine-sorry about the rhyme, but it's rhymes you’re after, isn't it?"
"What," Enderby asked gravely, "would you like for lunch? There's Antonio, you see, waiting there ready to cook it." Antonio stood at the kitchen-door, trying to smile while chewing something. She nodded, not smiling but puckered charmingly, thoughtful. Guillotine, machine, seen, scene.
“What are you going to eat?" she asked. “I’ll eat what you eat. Not fish, though. I can't stand fish."
“Well," Enderby mumbled, "I don't normally till-We close for the siesta, you see, and then I usually have -"
"I hate eating on my own. Besides, we’ve got to work this thing out. Is it something with meat in it?”
“Well," Enderby said, "I have a sort of stew going most of the time. Beef and potatoes and turnips and things. I don't know whether you'd like it, really."
“With pickled onions," she said. "And Worcestershire sauce, plenty of it. I like gross things sometimes." Enderby blushed. "I like to come down to earth sometimes."
"Here with your family?" She didn't answer. Monied, probably. “Where are you staying? The Rif? The El Greco?"
"Oh," vaguely. "It's right up the hill. Now, then. Try it."
"Eh?" And, while Tetuani set places in the conservatory, he tried it.
Sought Johnjack's rational island, loath to wait
Till the sun, slighted, took revenge so that
The pillars nodded, melted, and were seen
As Gothic shadows where a goddess sat -
"Volta not strong enough. The rhyme-words are far too weak. That that is shocking."
Then, over the thick stew, grossly over-sauced, with pickled onions crunched whole on the side and a bottle of thick red eely alumy local wine, they, he rather, literally sweated over the rest of the sestet.
For, after all, that rational machine,
Imposed on all men by the technocrat,
Was patented by Dr Guillotine.
"This is terrible," she said. "Such bloody clumsiness." She breathed on him (though a young lady should not eat, because of the known redolence of onions, onions) onions. "I'd like a bit of cheese now," she crunched. "Have you any Black Diamond cheddar? Not too fresh, if that's possible. I like it a bit hard."
“Would you also like," asked Enderby humbly, "some very strong tea? We do a very good line in that."
"It must be really strong, though. I'm glad there's something you do a very good line in. These lines are a bloody disgrace. And you call yourself a poet."
"I didn't-I never -" But she smiled when she said it.