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The Secret Pilgrim Part 28

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I could feel my blood beginning to rise, and there was nothing I could do to check it. "We're asking you to lay off. Stop. You've got your knighthood, you're worth a fortune, you have a duty to your country today just as you had twelve years ago. So get out of the Balkans and stop stirring it with the Serbs and stop stirring it in Central Africa, stop offering them guns galore on tick, and stop trying to cash in on wars that may never happen if you and other like-minded spirits keep your fingers out of them. You're British. You've more money in your pocket than most of us will touch in a lifetime. Stop. Just stop. That's all we're asking. Times have changed. We're not playing those games any more."

For a moment I fancied I had impressed him, for he turned his unlit gaze on me, and looked me over as if I were someone "who might after all be worth buying. Then his interest flickered out again and he relapsed into despondency.

"It's your country talking to you, Bradshaw," I said, now with real anger. "For Christ's sake, man, what more do you need? Haven't you got even the vestige of a conscience?"

I will give you Bradshaw's reply as I transcribed it, for at Burr's request I had slipped a recorder into my jacket pocket, and Bradshaw's sawing nasal tones ensured a perfect reproduction. I will give you his voice too, as nearly as I can write it down. He spoke English as if it were his second language, but it was the only one he had. He spoke in what my son Adrian tells me is called "slur," which is a slack-mouthed Belgravia c.o.c.kney that contrives to make mice out of mouse and dispenses almost entirely with the formality of p.r.o.nouns. It has a vocabulary, naturally: nothing rises but it escalates, no opportunity is without a window, no minor event occurs that is not sensational. It also has a pedantic inaccuracy which is supposed to distinguish it from the unwashed, and explains gems like "as for you and I" But even without my tape recorder, I like to think I would have remembered every word, for his speech was like an evening war-cry from a world I was leaving to itself.

"I'm sorry," he began, which was a lie to start with. "Did I understand you were appealing to my conscience? Good. Right. Make a statement for the record. Mind? Statement begins here. Point One. There is only one point actually. I don't give a fart. The difference between me and other charlies is, I admit it. If a horde of n.i.g.g.e.rs - yes, I said n.i.g.g.e.rs, I meant n.i.g.g.e.rs - if these n.i.g.g.e.rs shot each other dead with my toys tomorrow and I made a bob out of it, great news by me. Because if I don't sell 'em the goods, some other charlie will. Government used to understand that. If they've gone soft, tough t.i.tty on 'em. Point Two. Question: heard what the tobacco boys are up to these days? Flogging off high-toxic tobacco to the fuzzy-wuzzies and telling 'em it makes 'em h.o.r.n.y and cures the common cold. Tobacco boys give a fart? Sit at home having nervous breakdowns about spreading lung cancer among the natives? The f.u.c.k they do. Doing a little creative selling, period. Take drugs. Don't use 'em personally. Don't need 'em. Never mind. If willing seller is doing business with willing buyer, my advice is step aside, let them slug it out, and b.l.o.o.d.y good luck to 'em. If drugs don't kill 'em, the atmosphere will or they'll get barbecued by the global warming. British, you said. Matter of fact, rather proud of it. Also rather proud of one's school. Empire man. Happens to be the tradition one's inherited. When people get in one's way, I break 'em. Or they break me. Discipline is rather up one's street too, actually. Order. Accepting responsibilities of one's cla.s.s and education, and beating the foreigner at his own game. Thought you people were rather committed to that one, too. Error, apparently. Failure of communication. What one cares about is quality of life. This life. Standards actually. Old word. Don't care. These standards. Pompous, you're thinking. All right, I'm pompous. f.u.c.k you. I'm Pharaoh, right? If a few thousand slaves have to die so that I can build this pyramid, nature. And if they can make me die for their f.u.c.king pyramid, b.l.o.o.d.y good on 'em. Know what I've got in my cellar? Iron rings. Rusty iron rings, built into the walls when this house was built. Know what they were for? Slaves. That's nature too. Original owner of this house-man who built this house-man who paid for it, man who sent his architect to Italy, learn his trade-that man owned slaves, and had his slave quarters in the cellar of this house. Think there aren't slaves today? Think capital doesn't depend on slaves? Jesus Christ, what kind of shop do you run? One doesn't normally talk philosophy, but I'm afraid one doesn't like being preached to either. Won't have it, you see. Not in my house, thank you. Annoys me. Don't bug easily, rather famous for one's cool. But one does have a certain view of nature; one gives work to people and one takes one's share."



I said nothing, and that is on the tape too.

In the face of an absolute, what can you say? All my life I had battled against an inst.i.tutionalised evil. It had had a name, and most often a country as well. It had had a corporate purpose, and had met a corporate end. But the evil that stood before me now was a wrecking infant in our own midst, and I became an infant in return, disarmed, speechless and betrayed. For a moment, it was as if my whole life had been fought against the wrong enemy. Then it was as if Bradshaw had personally stolen the fruits of my victory. I remembered Smiley's aphorism about the right people losing the Cold War, and the wrong people winning it, and I thought of repeating it to him as some sort of insult, but I would have been beating the air. I thought of telling him that now we had defeated Communism, we were going to have to set about defeating capitalism, but that wasn't really my point: the evil was not in the system, but in the man. And besides, by then he was asking me whether I wanted to stay to dinner, at which I politely declined, and left.

In the event, it was Burr who gave me dinner, and I am pleased to say I don't remember much about it. Two days later, I turned in my Head Office pa.s.s.

You see your face. It's no one you remember. You wonder where you put your love, what you found, what you were after. You want to say: "I slew the dragon, I left the world a safer place."

You can't really, not these days. Perhaps you never could.

We have a good life, Mabel and I. We don't talk about things we can't change. We don't cross each other. We're civilised. We've bought a cottage on the coast. There's a long garden there I'd like to get my hands on, plant a few trees, make a vista to the sea. There's a sailing club for poor kids I'm involved in; we bring them down from Hackney, they enjoy it. There's a move to draft me for the local council. Mabel does the church. I go back to Holland now and then. I still have a few relations there.

Burr drops in from time to time. I like that in him. He gets on well with Mabel, as you'd expect. He doesn't try to be wise. He chats to her about her watercolours. He's not judgmental. We open a good bottle, cook a chicken. He brings me up to date, drives back to London. Of Smiley, nothing, but that's the way he wanted it. He hates nostalgia, even if he's part of other people's.

There's no such thing as retirement, really. Sometimes there's knowing too much, and not being able to do much about it, but that's just age, I'm sure. I think a lot. I'm stepping out with my reading. I talk to people, ride on buses. I'm a newcomer to the overt world but I'm learning.

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