A13 The Secret Pilgrim by John Le Carre

A13 The Secret Pilgrim by John Le Carre

Author:John Le Carre
Language: eng
Format: mobi, epub
ISBN: 9780345418326
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Published: 1990-06-22T18:30:00+00:00


The Secret Pilgrim

EIGHT

MY STUDENTS had decided to give Smiley a rough ride, just as they’d done to me from time to time. We’d be running along perfectly smoothly - a double session on natural cover, say, in the late afternoon - when one of them would start hectoring me, usually by adopting an anarchic stance which nobody in his right mind could sustain. Then a second would chime in, then all of them, so that if I didn’t have my sense of humour shining-ready-and I’m only human they’d be trampling me till the bell rang for close of play. And next day all would be forgotten: they’d have fed whatever little demon had got hold of them, and now they’d like to go back to learning, please, so where were we? At first I used to brood over these occasions, suspect conspiracy, hunt for ringleaders. Then cautiously I came to recognise them as spontaneous expressions of resistance to the unnatural harness that these children had chosen to put on.

But when they started in on Smiley, their guest of honour and mine, even questioning the entire purpose of his life’s work, my tolerance ended with a snap. And this time the offender was not Maggs, either, but the demure Clare, his girlfriend, who had sat so adoringly opposite Smiley throughout dinner.

“No, no, Ned,” Smiley protested, as I leapt angrily to my feet. “Clare has a valid point. Nine times out of ten a good journalist can tell us quite as much about a situation as the spies can. Very often they’re sharing the same sources anyway. So why not scrap the spies and subsidise the newspapers? It’s a point that should be answered in these changeable times. Why not?”

Reluctantly I resumed my seat, while Clare, snuggling close against Maggs, continued to gaze angelically at her victim, while her colleagues smothered their grins.

But where I would have taken refuge in humour, Smiley elected to treat her sally seriously: “It is perfectly true,” he agreed, “that most of our work is either useless, or duplicated by overt sources. The trouble is, the spies aren’t there to enlighten the public, but governments.”

And slowly I felt his spell re-unite them. They had moved their chairs to him in a disordered half-circle. Some of the girls were sprawled becomingly on the floor.

“And governments, like anyone else, trust what they pay for, and are suspicious of what they don’t,” he said. Thus delicately passing beyond Clare’s provocative question, he addressed a larger one: “Spying is eternal,” he announced simply. “If governments could do without it, they never would. They adore it. If the day ever comes when there are no enemies left in the world, governments will invent them for us, so don’t worry. Besides - who says we only spy on enemies? All history teaches us that today’s allies are tomorrow’s rivals. Fashion may dictate priorities, but foresight doesn’t. For as long as rogues become leaders, we shall spy. For as long as there are bullies and liars and madmen in the world, we shall spy.



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