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Read the story to the end. What impression and feelings does the ending leave ?
I spent the next morning looking over St Matthias Church and the ancient fortress, two of the buildings that showed no evidence of the revolution. I then took a short trip down the Danube before spending the afternoon supporting the swimmers at the Olympic pool. At six I left the pool and went back to my hotel. I changed into my team blazer and grey slacks, hoping I looked smart enough for my distinguished host.
The old man answered immediately, as if he had been standing there, waiting by the door. I noticed that he was wearing the same suit he had had on the previous day.
УI am sorry to be late,Ф I said.
УNo matter, my own students also find me hard to find the first time,Ф he said, grasping my hand. He paused. УBad to use the same word twice in the same sentence. УLocateФ would have been better, wouldnТt it?Ф
He trotted on ahead of me, not waiting for my reply, a man obviously used to living on his own. He led me down a small, dark corridor into his drawing room. I was shocked by its size. Three sides were covered with indifferent prints and watercolours, depicting English scenes, while the fourth wall was dominated by a large bookcase. I could spot Shakespeare, Dickens, Austen, Trollope, Hardy, even Waugh and Graham Greene. On the table was a faded copy of the New Statesman. I looked round to see if we were on our own, but there seemed to be no sign of a wife or child either in person or picture, and indeed the table was only set for two.
The old man turned and stared with childish delight at my pile of newspapers and magazines.
УPunch, Time and the Observer, a veritable feast,Ф he declared gathering them into his arms before placing them lovingly on his bed in the corner of the room.
The professor then opened a bottle of wine and left me to look at the pictures while he prepared the meal. He slipped away into an alcove which was so small that 1 had not realised the room contained a kitchenette. He continued to bombard me with questions about England, many of which I was quite unable to answer.
A few minutes later he stepped back into the room, requesting me to take a seat. УDo be seated,Ф he said, on reflection. УI do not wish you to remove the seat. I wish you to sit on it.Ф He put a plate in front of me which had on it a leg of something that might have been a chicken, a piece of salami and a tomato. I felt sad, not because the food was inadequate, but because he believed it to be plentiful.
After dinner, which despite my efforts to eat slowly and hold him in conversation, did not take up much time, the old man made some coffee which tasted bitter and then filled a pipe before we continued our discussion. We talked of Shakespeare and his views on A. L. Rowse, and then he turned to politics.
УIs it true,Ф the professor asked, Уthat England will soon have a Labour government?Ф
УThe opinion polls seem to indicate as much,Ф I said.
УI suppose the British feel that Sir Alec Douglas-Home is not swinging enough for the sixties,Ф said the professor, now puffing vigorously away at his pipe. He paused and looked up at me through the smoke. УI did not offer you a pipe as I assumed after your premature exit in the first round of the competition you would not be smoking.Ф I smiled. УBut Sir Alec,Ф he continued, Уis a man with long experience in politics, and itТs no bad thing for a country to be governed by an experienced gentleman.Ф
I would have laughed out loud had the same opinion been expressed by my own tutor.
УAnd what of the Labour leader?Ф I said, forbearing to mention his name.
УMoulded in the white heat of a technological revolution,Ф he replied. УI am not so certain. I liked Gaitskell, an intelligent and shrewd man. An untimely death. Attlee, like Sir Alec, was a gendeman. But as for
I could think of no reply.
УI was considering last night after we parted,Ф the old man continued, Уthe effect that Suez must have had on a nation which only ten years before had won a world war. The Americans should have backed you. Now we read in retrospect, always the historianТs privilege, that at the time Prime Minister Eden was tired and ill. The truth was he didnТt get the support from his closest allies when he most needed it.Ф
УPerhaps we should have supported you in 1956.Ф
УNo, no, it was too late then for the West to shoulder HungaryТs problems. Churchill understood that in 1945. He wanted to advance beyond Berlin and to free all the nations that bordered Russia. But the West had had a belly full of war by then and left Stalin to take advantage of that apathy. When Churchill coined the phrase Уthe Iron CurtainФ, he foresaw exactly what was going to happen in the East. Amazing to think that when that great man said, Уif the British Empire should last a thousand yearsФ, it was in fact destined to survive for only twenty-five. How I wish he had still been around the corridors of power in 1956.Ф
УDid the revolution greatly affect your life?Ф
УI do not complain. It is a privilege to be the Professor of English in a great university. They do not interfere with me in my department and Shakespeare is not yet considered subversive literature.Ф He paused and took a luxuriant puff at his pipe. УAnd what will you do, young man, when you leave the university Ч as you have shown us that you cannot hope to make a living as a runner.Ф
УI want to be a writer.Ф
УThen travel, travel, travel,Ф he said. УYou cannot hope to learn everything from books. You must see the world for yourself if you ever hope to paint a picture for others.Ф
I looked up at the old clock on his mantelpiece only to realise how quickly the time had passed.
УI must leave you, IТm afraid; they expect us all to be back in the hotel by ten.Ф
УOf course,Ф he said smiling at the English public school mentality. УI will accompany you to Kossuth Square and then you will be able to see your hotel on the hill.Ф
As we left the flat, I noticed that he didnТt bother to lock the door. Life had left him little to lose. He led me quickly through the myriad of narrow roads that I had found so impossible to navigate earlier in the evening, chatting about this building and that, an endless fund of knowledge about his own country as well as mine. When we reached Kossuth Square he took my hand and held on to it, reluctant to let go, as lonely people often will.
УThank you for allowing an old man to indulge himself by chattering on about his favourite subject.Ф
УThank you for your hospitality,Ф I said, Уand when you are next in Somerset you must come to Lympsham and meet my family.Ф
УLympsham? I cannot place it,Ф he said, looking worried.
УIТm not surprised. The village only has a population of twenty-two.Ф
УEnough for two cricket teams,Ф remarked the professor. УA game, I confess, with which I have never come to grips.Ф
УDonТt worry,Ф I said, Уneither have half the English.Ф
УAh, but I should like to. What is a gully, a no-ball, a night watchman? The terms have always intrigued me.Ф
УThen remember to get in touch when youТre next in England and IТll take you to LordТs and see if I can teach you something.Ф
УHow kind,Ф he said, and then he hesitated before adding: УBut I donТt think we shall meet again.Ф
УWhy not?Ф I asked.
УWell, you see, I have never been outside Hungary in my whole life. When I was young I couldnТt afford to, and now I donТt imagine that those in authority would allow me to see your beloved England.Ф
He released my hand, turned and shuffled back into the shadows of the side streets of Budapest.
I read his obituary in The Times once again as well as the headlines about Afghanistan and its effect on the Moscow Olympics.
He was right. We never met again.
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