“ When the battle is lost and won “

Nothing was painful. I came into the crowded room. He was sitting on a settee at the far side, next to Margo. When he saw me, he came to me immediately with the news that he had “the book” for me. We shook hands. He did not seem to notice my reluctance concerning further greetings; so I let him kiss me. Then I followed him outside to be given the book I had asked him to get me. I explained that I had to pay him next week, not having any money on me that night. He said it was a Christmas present. Back in the room he told me about a volcano on Tenerife which had showered him with sulphur : yellow dust everywhere on body and clothes. Once he leant on me as he was explaining something.

Steve and Ron discussed ski-resorts with him, while I joined Margo who gave me the usual friendly greeting. After that we did not have much to say to one another.

Later he did a few conjuring tricks for everybody. I had seen them on previous occasions. He made a few mistakes, but always managed to make people laugh.

During the carol-singing he sat on a chair in a corner, looking tired and not happy. I felt sorry for him and gave him a smile to which he responded readily. I was glad. I think he looked at me when I was not looking.

I managed to borrow money from somebody, went up to him and offered to pay for the book. He repeated it was a Christmas present and kissed me on the cheek.

I remarked he could practise his German with the German visitor in his house, an elderly lady, Margo’s friend. He said he had no time for anything, having started writing a book, about his medicine, which had to be finished by May next year. I nearly told him I might be writing a book, too, and decided he should have a copy, if ever anything materialized. He complained about not really being able to write, even if he finds talking easy enough.

Towards the end of the evening I was standing with two men of my age by the door, telling them a little bit about the Novel à la mode. He and Margo were preparing to go. Margo came first to say good-bye. Then he came, shaking hands with me and the others. I thought that was enough, but he insisted on kissing me again. I let him, feeling slightly embarrassed, with that unpleasant taste staying for a time after.