Colin McAllistair ended his call with Cyril Galloway with a whole mix of thoughts spinning in his head. He remembered the last time they met, and it brought to mind an episode in his life he would rather have forgotten.
His interview with Jonathan Harcourt had gone well. Once Colin had got over his initial surprise that the gentle, careworn old man sat over the table from him in the kitchen of a small, terraced house in North Yorkshire was in fact the same man who had penned such brilliant articles on the early months of the Spanish Civil War, he knew he had found a rich seam of memories of the period. For his part, the writer seemed to relax almost by the minute, as if the very telling of his story was a catharsis.
He described vividly his arrival in
Colin had been mesmerized. He had read so much about the Spanish Civil War, and Harcourt was by no means the only survivor he had interviewed, but rarely had he heard such a vivid and moving account of what life was like at the epicenter of a social revolution. He found himself astonished that his subject had not published a memoir of his time in
Harcourt had explained how he had filed weekly reports for six months or so, encouraged by an editor who fired back telegrams describing the effect his writing was having on his paper’s readers. He had tried to remain objective – to explain the background to the rising social tensions. Then, in July, a calm voice had been broadcast across the radio in
He told McAllistair how he noticed, suddenly, that a woman was watching him from in the corner of the small bar. He had caught the touch of a smile when he glanced across to her, his pen held in his hand seeming, suddenly, like an instrument of cowardice. He smiled back, and she took his signal as an encouragement to walk across to him. “I’ve watched you writing,” she said: she was English. “I never saw a more beautiful woman in my life,” Harcourt had told Colin. “She had the loveliest, palest complexion you could imagine. I suppose I fell in love with her at that very moment…” and his voice had trailed off, as his mind tried to catch the echoes of his first meeting with Lillian Blyth.