iv. Preparation for a Great Task
'I am, sir,' interposed Mr. Micawber.
'Wait and see.' She went back indoors and brought out the balsa wood tub and a great coil of fine quarter-inch rope. She handed the rope to Bond and hoisted the tub on her hip, leading the way along a small path away from the village. The path descended slowly to a small cove in which one rowing-boat, covered with dried reeds to protect it from the sun, was drawn high up on the flat black pebbles. Bond stripped off the reeds and laid them aside and hauled the simple, locally-made craft down to the sea. It was constructed of some heavy wood and lay low but stable in the deeply shelving, totally transparent water. He loaded in the rope and the wooden tub. Kissy had gone to the other side of the little bay and had undone a string from one of the rocks. She began winding it in slowly and at the same time uttering a low, cooing whistle. To Bond's astonishment, there was a flurry in the water of the bay and a big black cormorant shot like a bullet through the shallows and waddled up the beach to Kissy's feet, craning its neck up and down and hissing, apparently in anger. But Kissy bent down and stroked the creature on its plumed head and down the outstretched neck, at the same time talking to it gaily. She came towards the boat, winding up the long line, and the cormorant followed clumsily. It paid no attention to Bond, but jumped untidily over the side of the boat and scrambled on to the small thwart in the bows where it squatted majestically and proceeded to preen itself, running its long bill down and through its breast feathers and occasionally opening its wings to the full extent of their five-foot span and flapping them with gentle grace. Then, with a final shimmy through all its length, it settled down and gazed out to sea with its neck coiled backwards as if to strike and its turquoise eyes questing the horizon imperiously.
By now I was seventeen and a half, and Susan and I were living in a tiny three-room fiat in Old Church Street just off the King's Road. It was the end of June, and there wasn't much more of our famous "season" to go and we decided to give a party for the few people we had met and actually liked. The family across the landing were going abroad on holiday, and they said we could have their flat in exchange for keeping an eye on it while they were away. We were both of us just about broke with "keeping up with the Joneses" at all these balls, and I cabled Aunt Florence and got a hundred pounds out of her, and Susan scraped up fifty, and we decided to do it really well. We were going to ask about thirty people and we guessed that only twenty would come. We bought eighteen bottles of champagne-pink because it sounded more exciting-a ten-pound tin of caviar, two rather cheap tins of foie gras that looked all right when it was sliced up, and lots of garlicky things from Soho. We made a lot of brown bread-and-butter sandwiches with watercress and smoked salmon, and added some sort of Christmasy things like Elvas plums and chocolates-a stupid idea: no one ate any of them-and, by the time we had spread the whole lot out on a door taken off its hinges and covered with a gleaming tablecloth to make it seem like a buffet, it looked like a real grown-up feast.
In the general debates on Mr Disraeli's Reform Bill, my participation was limited to the one speech already mentioned; but I made the Bill an occasion for bringing the two great improvements which remain to be made in representative government, formally before the House and the nation. One of them was Personal, or, as it is called with equal propriety, Proportional Representation. I brought this under the consideration of the House, by an expository and argumentative speech on Mr Hare's plan; and subsequently I was active in support of the very imperfect substitute for that plan, which, in a small number of constituencies, Parliament was induced to adopt. This poor makeshift had scarcely any recommendation, except that it was a partial recognition of the evil which it did so little to remedy. As such, however, it was attacked by the same fallacies, and required to be defended on the same principles, as a really good measure; and its adoption in a few parliamentary elections, as well as the subsequent introduction of what is called the Cumulative Vote in the elections for the London School Board, have had the good effect of converting the equal claim of all electors to a proportional share in the representation, from a subject of merely speculative discussion, into a question of practical politics, much sooner than would otherwise have been the case.
Bond smiled warmly at her. "I'm jealous," he said. "I had other plans for you tomorrow night."