Ringo moved away along the pavement.
A young woman came around the corner and headed towards him.
Now this is what Grandfather had been talking about. She was dainty and elegant, and it made you feel good just to look at her. There might be clouds in the sky behind and above her, the traffic might be gushing diesel fumes and the coke brazier might be laying a pall of grit across the pavement; but when creatures like this appeared, you knew that the world wasn’t such a dump after all.
The girl was stepping neatly, smilingly around a series of puddles. As there had been no rain today that Ringo could recall, the puddles must have come from a burst water main (which perhaps the workmen were repairing), a window cleaner’s clumsily handled pail (going up as the workmen dug deeper), or the dregs of a series of teapots (tossed away by the workmen after one of their breaks).
The setting was right, the mood was right. Ringo twitched the mackintosh from his shoulders and, with a flourish which would have turned Sir Walter Raleigh pale with envy, swept it across one of the puddles as the girl approached.
She faltered, then smiled graciously and walked over it.
Ringo backed away in front of her, whisking the mackintosh away and spreading it over the following puddles. The girl laughed and Ringo laughed back at her. Yes, you had to admit it: there were more things in life than beating out four in a bar and putting your earnings in the Post Office.
Suddenly the girl disappeared. One moment she was there, the next she had gone. And Ringo’s mackintosh had gone, too. By now, well and truly in the rhythm of the thing, he had reached out to snatch the coat away and spread it over whatever dark patch appeared next. But he groped at thin air.
And then the girl was yelling. And a man’s voice, a bit muffled, was adding a bass continuo.
The man appeared. He waved something in the air to get it freed from his head and arms – and the something was Ringo’s mackintosh. And the man, his head peeping furiously over the edge of the hole in the road, had someone clinging to him. It was the girl, collapsed over his shoulder. The workman tried to straighten her up, and found himself pinned in the hole with his arms round her.
Ringo, in what might be described as a flash of intuition – though this is not how the workman was describing it right at this moment – decided that he must have spread his raincoat over space rather than over a puddle. It was an unfortunate but perfectly understandable mistake.
The trouble was that nobody seemed disposed to understand. There was a general air of unpleasant criticism about.
A smart young man came hurrying round the corner as though he had lost something or as though he were anxious to catch someone up. His sleekness matched that of the young woman and it was clear that they belonged together. It was also clear that he was hurrying to catch her up and that he had in fact lost her – down a hole in the road, into the arms of a stupefied workman.
The workman was climbing out, supporting the girl.
The young man dragged the workman’s arm away from the girl’s shoulder and hit him, careless of the strikes or go-slow decisions which might result.
Ringo decided to abandon his mackintosh. He backed cautiously away over another sequence of puddles, and then turned to run.
He ran straight into the waiting policeman.