This time, Major Edwards was with his wife on the boat. He seemed young to be a major, and, when Katarina commented on it, Janet Edwards replied, “Howie was a very young bomber pilot over Germany in the war, and they had to bribe the best pilots to stay in the Air Force afterwards.”
Howie explained, “A lot of bomber pilots became highly paid airline pilots, but this is more interesting and exciting.”
Blonde and tall, with eyes of an odd color, he was clearly an exciting man. It happened that he had just been in a judo tournament, and he and Vic compared injuries.
Katarina would never have been ignored by any man, but it seemed that she appealed at least as much to Janet. Indeed, her vivacity and spontaneity must have been a welcome diversion for a woman who had lived in quasi-isolation for some time. Katarina, enthusing over her up-coming move to America, was full of questions, and Janet was happy to answer them. That was well and good, but, knowing that Katarina might say or do almost anything at any time, Vic continued to be a little nervous.
On the other hand, he was fascinated by a man who flew a huge jet bomber, was clearly willing to fly through thousands of miles of very hostile and dangerous territory, drop an atomic bomb on Moscow, and then try to survive as best he could. No one, first meeting Major Howie on some athletic field, would have guessed any of that. In any case, it did seem that he, Vic, should do what little he could to make life a little easier for such a man and his wife. If that was what Swede and Joan wanted to do, he couldn’t have any serious misgivings.
The conversation eventually became four-way, which would ordinarily have been good. However, with the added stimulation, Katarina seemed to get increasingly excited. After a couple of hours,Vic looked at his watch, and ‘discovered’ that they were late to meet a friend. He practically had to drag Katarina away, but that was natural enough. It all ended on a good note with invitations to come back as they went down the gangplank to the shore. Vic was pretty sure that they had impressed their hosts as a vibrant young couple. If he ever came back with Vicki, the Major and his wife might feel a little let down.
With luck, they arrived at the meeting place further down the river at almost the same time as Elizabeth. It amused Vic that Katarina didn’t seem to realize that no time had been set.
Elizabeth had had a success of a quite different sort. She told the ladies that she had heard about their protest in Oxford, which was, in fact, true. Then, being of like mind, she had come up and found the house after only a couple of inquiries.
After that, she said it had been easy. That didn’t surprise Vic. He was sure that Elizabeth could convincingly take up almost any ideology and show just the right intensity of emotion while appearing to be eminently sane and sensible. The ladies Vic had met hadn’t been suspicious by nature, and, while Elizabeth had encountered different ones, she was quickly taken in.
A little further down the canal, Katarina suggested that they take off their clothes and go swimming. Elizabeth was utterly appalled. Quite apart from not doing that sort of thing in any weather, she pointed out that the water in the canal would be about forty. Moreover, the air was getting colder.
It seemed that Katarina had seen pictures of Russians swimming in a northern bay off the White Sea in which there was scattered ice. Vic did know that there were people who swam in extreme conditions, probably not for very long. While the sight of Katarina nude tempted him, the getting into the canal would be unpleasant. Moreover, it would be almost impossible to get warm afterwards. Gently discouraging Katarina, he tried to calm Elizabeth, who might have been thinking that the mere suggestion warranted a quick trick to the loony bin.
They reached the shelter of the station platform just as the rain came down hard, drumming loudly on the tin roof. The wind had also risen so that it was necessary to stand at the very front of the platform in order to keep dry. It was a dismal scene by any account, and they kept staring up the line, where it went into some woods, hoping for a train.
Even though the rain and wind was undiminished, the sun broke through just as a locomotive, spewing quantities of white steam and black smoke, emerged from the woods and came around the bend. The bright light combined with the rain and steam reminded Vic of a railway painting by Turner he had just seen in one of the London galleries, he couldn’t remember which one.
It was dry and a good deal warmer on the train, and Katarina, now somewhat deflated, said, “Let’s agree not to think about having to get off the train.”
Elizabeth replied, a little tartly, “It’s really good that we aren’t, at this moment, climbing naked out of the canal.”
When they finally got back to Pusey Street, Vic was invited to Elizabeth’s room, where she made tea. Speaking of her mission, she said, “It was almost too easy. Joan wants to know in advance of any protests or other moves that the women make, but, most of the time, they want to advertize them. They even have a mimeograph machine on which they turn out pamphlets. As for the politics, I just chime in.”
“Katarina was certainly a hit with Mrs. Edwards and her husband. But I thought she was getting a little too excited, and so I said that we had an appointment.”
“If you hadn’t, she might have urged them to dive naked into the canal.”
“Do you think she was serious about that?”
“Probably not. But she likes to shock, and, since she knew that we wouldn’t dive, she could get away with suggesting it.”
“That was clever in a way.”
“She is quite bright. She got an upper second in PPE here at Oxford.”
“That’s good, isn’t it?”
“Probably the top ten per cent. She can apply herself when she wants to.”
“I haven’t seen that side of her.”
“She’s being lazy with the prince. She doesn’t have to think with any rigor, and can let her considerable imagination run wild.”
“That’s rather attractive.”
“It’s something you know you can’t afford to do, Vic. It’s also quite seductive. Can you manage to resist?”
“Yeah. I would certainly like to watch while she undresses, but I guess it would have to be from a safe distance.”
The trouble is that the prince, by appealing to her sense of humor, is leading her into charlatanism.”
“I wasn’t aware that the prince had any sense of humor.”
“He doesn’t. But he’s funny without meaning to be.”
“She does sound like him sometimes.”
“That’s why I want to get her away from him.”
“If you and she both get to America together, you may have her on her hands.”
“I really do care for her. Ideally, she’ll end up with some rich sane man who’ll delight in her and protect her.”