Meadows of Fantasy



THE CAR WAS maybe a trifle old, and maybe a trifle shabby. Not outrageously so in either case, but old enough and shabby enough nevertheless to stand out among the stream of traffic. It was Theo Trunkard's car, after all, and that was the way Theo Trunkard liked it.

Theo, as usual, was driving. Tallish, slimmish, fairish, youngish -- to describe him fully would be to compile a veritable catalogue of "-ishes". Specifically, he was about five-foot-ten, fairly well-proportioned, sandy-haired with short full beared to match, and thirty-one years of age. He was dressed in sandals, shorts and open-necked shirt. He liked wearing sandals, shorts and open-necked shirt. He wasn't unreasonable about it though -- when he reached the hotel he'd probably change into sandals, longs and open-necked shirt. And his heart was light, for that moment was not far off now.

He was on his way to attend the annual B.S.F.A. Convention.

Beside him, eyes gazing straight ahead, was Barker. Barker, too, was on his way to attend the Con.

Barker was a large and handsome mongrel. He was about the size of a collie -- though his ancestry was untraceable. He was an old convention-dog. He hadn't been able to make last year's -- that snooty hotel in Oxford had refused to allow him on the premises under any circumstances whatsoever. Luckily Brian Aldiss had come to the rescue and found him a good home for the week-end. But Theo had been furious. However, there would be no trouble this year -- he had it in writing that there was no objection to a well-behaved dog in either the public rooms or the bedrooms.

This year both Theo and Barker were determined to enjoy themselves.

They were beginning to get into the built-up area now. Theo reached a hand into the glove compartment to pull forth the last bulletin, the one with the map. "Be a mate and hold this for me," he said to the dog beside him. Barker obligingly took hold of the bulletin in his teeth, and allowed his head to be positioned where Theo could see the map. Theo identified the first roundabout, turned correctly left then right, and some five minutes later the car rolled gently to a stop in the yard of the Bird in Hand Hotel.

There were several vehicles parked in a line against the far wall, and Theo reversed into the parade between Phil Roger's car and Ken Slater's car. Idly he wondered whose was the big delivery-van at the end. Surely that was Archie's scooter over there.

"Out we come, Barker," he told the dog. And side by side man and dog strolled round to the main entrance and entered the hotel.

The lobby was full of fans.

"There's Theo."

"Hi, Theo. Hi, Barker."

"Hello, Theo," said Ethel Lindsay. "Good to see you again. And very good to see you again, Barker." She fondled the dog's ears. Barker -- entirely sedately -- rested his front paws on her waist and reached to lick her face. "No -- get doon, you silly thing."

"Here, boy," said Bruce Burn.

"Hello, Barker mate," said Ken Cheslin.

Barker's tail -- he had a long, graceful, furry tail -- thumped happily against his legs and furniture as he moved round in his dignified way, renewing old friendships and making new ones.

Presently Theo excused himself and went over to the register at the desk, then fetched his luggage and started upstairs. At the second landing he paused and looked over the bannister.

"Aren't you coming to see your bedroom, Barker?" he called softly.

There was a rapid patter of canine footsteps as the dog joined him, and they went in to get sorted out.

Downstairs again, somebody told Theo that they were registering in the con hall so he wandered round there. Pat Whatsit was officiating, and she took his money and handed him the name-tag and programme with her usual brisk efficiency. "Look at page six, Theo," she told him as he turned away. Idly he fingered the pages. Two -- four -- six -- INTRODUCING BARKER TRUNKARD, he read, FOUR-LEGGED TRUFAN. He scanned down the item -- AT PAST CONVENTIONS AND OTHER FANNISH SOCIAL OCCASIONS HAS BEEN THE LIFE AND SOUL OF A PARTY ... HOUND OF SAINT FANTONY ... UNIVERSALLY POPULAR, EVEN CAT OWNERS LIKE HIM ... UNFORTUNATELY WAS UNABLE TO BE WITH US LAST EASTER ... AS A MARK OF THE AFFECTION IN WHICH WE ALL HOLD HIM, THIS YEAR WE ARE MAKING HIM FANDOM'S FIRST EVER CANINE GUEST OF HONOUR.

Theo looked up.

"Barker!" he called. "Barker!" The dog trotted in. "Here -- have a look at this."


"It's not fair," said Ron Bennett loudly. "It never happened to Cecil."

"Now I ask of you," said Archie Mercer. "How can an elephant be a canine guest of honour?"

"I never thought of that," said Ron, mollified. "It's a good point."


An enthusiastic youngster with an armful of fanzines buttonholed Theo.

"One-and-six each," he chanted. "Worth at least a tanner."

"Why?" asked Theo. "What are they?"

The youngster held one up. "SON OF THE TURTLE," he amplified. "Believed to be the world's only floating fanzine."

Theo swivelled his eyes to the youngster's name-tag. "Owen Mole," he repeated. "Thisbury. Here, I've been wanting to meet you lot -- any more of you here?"


This Thisbury delegation numbered eight all told -- Owen Mole, Dave Portable, Bert Duckbarrow, Ian Omlet, Mine Smith, Dick, Harry the Second, and the latter's latest girl-friend. They had all travelled up together in Harry's delivery-van, riding in comfort on a brand new three-piece-suite. "Don't anybody dare spill a drop of anything on it, mind," Harry had warned them. "It's for delivery first thing Tuesday morning. It was supposed to be delivered yesterday, but I got the despatch bloke to reorganise the schedules a bit." Of course a three-piece-suite will only hold five normal adults -- or near-adults -- so with Harry's girl-friend sitting up front that still left six people to share five seats, but Mine wasn't really a heavy girl, and it's doubtful if anybody would have objected all that much had she been twice the weight. It was a pity Cynthia hadn't been able to make it -- it would have been an ideal opportunity to initiate her into the innocent pleasures of lap-sitting.

"Ah," said Owen as an attractive-looking female materialised beside him. "Here's one of them. This is Mine."

"That doesn't mean what it sounds," quoth the female in question.

"Somebody," said Theo Trunkard, "is being obscure."

"Let's start again," Owen suggested. "This young lady goes under the name of Miss Mine Smith."

"Why?" asked Theo reasonably.

The girl laughed.

"I was supposed to be christened Minnie," she explained, "but the vicar got drunk on holy water and forgot how to spell it."

"That," said Theo, "sounds so unlikely it might even be true. That is your name then?"

"As it happens, yes -- though not necessarily for that reason." She peered at Theo's tag. "Talking of names though, you don't seem to be doing badly yourself. Short for Theophilus, I suppose?"

"No, Theodore. As in Sturgeon. You'll have to overlook the surname though -- except that it sometimes comes in handy for making puns on."

"Just wait till you meet Bert -- he'll make you wish you hadn't been born." She paused. "Or that he hadn't," she amended.

Owen had slipped away to flog some more SONs OF THE TURTLE. Presently Dave Portable came up and told Mine that the gang were going out for a bite to eat. Theo called Barker and they went along too, and soon all the humans were getting stuck into assorted foodstuffs round a couple of adjacent tables.

"Much Wenlock?" asked Bert Duckbarrow. "Is there much fandom in Much Wenlock?"

"Not when I'm away," said Theo.

"Pity -- then I could say that much fandom in Much Wenlock is better than too much wedlock in fandom. Or something."

"Er -- is that supposed to be a pun?"

"Not really. Just the Edge of one."

"Hey," said Ian Omlet. "Why won't this dog won't sit up and beg?"

Theo turned to him. "Would you?" he asked.

"If I was a dog, yes."

"When they begin, the beg-Ian," Bert broke into song.

"Anyway," Ian went on, "why won't he?"

"Mainly because he's never either been taught to or found it necessary."

"Don't you believe in training dogs then?"

"Barker's trained to come when he's called -- unless he has an acceptable reason not to. He's been trained to be clean around the house, never to start a fight, never to chase cats -- or any animal to which he's been properly introduced, always to look both ways before crossing a road -- that's about all. He'd no more think of sitting up and begging than of saluting the Queen, or dying for his country."

"What d'you mean by properly introduced?" asked Mine.

"Well, if you had a tame rabbit, and he was shown it, told it was a friend, allowed to get a good sniff at it -- then that rabbit would be safer with him than it would be with you. Or a mouse or an elephant or anything. Here, Barker -- have a sausage."

Barker accepted it gratefully.


When Theo started to clue Thisbury fandom into the rules of the party system, they confirmed that they'd read about fannish parties and had a vague idea of possibly throwing one of their own. As the grapevine didn't promise much else the first night, it was decided that they might as well set up shop in the vacuum. Harry the Second volunteered his room as the obvious place -- they could whoop it up all night, he said, just so long as they didn't necessarily expect him to be on the spot all the time. And thus it was arranged. Word was passed around, and by half past eleven there was quite a crowd of happy fans in Harry's room. Somebody had brought a tape recorder -- but no tape -- and somebody else had brought some records -- but no record player -- and so it started quietly enough, but somehow the spark caught and burned steadily. Theo sat in the middle of the bed, leaned back against Brian Burgess (who was apparently asleep) and found himself discussing by turns the supernatural with the Grays, OMPA with Roles and Mercer (they were unable to persuade Theo to take on the job of Association Editor for the second year in succession), and finally the West Indies with Alan Rispin -- a subject that both participants freely admitted they knew nothing about, but which kept them going for a hectic quarter of an hour nevertheless. Down by his feet, Guntram Omacht and Barker were lying on the floor making faces at each other. Burgess was getting a bit of weight, so when a nearby chair went vacant Theo moved smartly over. Suddenly Mine materialised in front of him, bottle in hand.

"Doesn't Barker drink?" she asked.

No -- he's TT -- like me."

Mine contemplated Theo's half-empty glass rather doubtfully. "What's in there then?" she wondered.

"Gin and something I think."

"But you just..."

Theo indicated his name tag, and the message clicked. "Well, I'm MS," she told him, "so I suppose you can read me like a book."

"Not exactly," returned Theo. "But it'd be a pleasure to set you in type."

Mine moved aside to let somebody squeeze past, and caught sight of Dave Portable's face breathing heavily from the bottom of the bed. The rest of him was hidden from view by Burgess and the others. "Why, Dave," she exclaimed delightedly -- this was the first time she remembered him looking really undignified. "What are you doing down there?"

"Me," said a matter-of-fact female voice, and Pat -- the girl from the registration table -- appeared beside him. A smooth arm slid round Dave's neck, and Dave had to push stoutly against her chest to hold her at arm's length.

"There will now be a break of one minute," he told her. "To get one's breath."

"You ought to breathe through your nose like me," said Pat.

"Yes, but I forgot," was Dave's excuse.

Mine did the obvious thing and settled herself on Theo's lap. "The number of laps I've been on today is positively disgusting," she commented as she arranged herself comfortably.

"Already?" asked Theo, somewhat surprised. Mine explained about the seating arrangements for the journey.

"But they're all younger than me," she reflected. "So it really doesn't count."

"How old are you, if it isn't being rude?" he asked her.

"Just twenty-five -- and I've got a certificate in my bag to prove it."

"Ah," said Theo. "This does count then."


Some time after midnight, Owen Mole found himself in the lobby, watching the card school.

"Can you play brag?" asked Ron Bennett as he reshuffled the cards between rounds.

"No," said Owen. "What's one supposed to do?"

Norman Shorrock swivelled his head. "It's easy," he explained. "All you do is take a hand of cards, throw them away again, and give all your money to Ron Bennett."

"Well I like that," Ron protested. "How much have I won from you tonight, Norman? The truth, mind."

"Can't you leave Ina as a deposit?" someone suggested.

"What d'you think we're playing for now?" Phil Rogers demanded.


When Harry the Second finally returned to his room (he didn't say precisely when), he found nobody left but Brian Burgess, who was stretched out on the bed with his feet on the pillow, still fast asleep.


The programme made a good start the next morning with Phil Rogers, who had clanged for Con chairman, repeating the previous night's general welcome to the Bird in Hand.

"Bird lives," chanted Ian Omlet audibly. Jim Linwood looked round, grinned and raised both thumbs. Ian returned the gesture. Contact had been made.

"Before we get on with the programme proper," Phil continued, "there's a little ceremony I'd just like to perform. Where's Barker?"

Ella Parker, who had been talking with Ian McAuley at the back of the room, looked up. "Hello? Did somebody want me?" she called.

"No, not you Ella -- Barker, not Parker."

"A dog, Ella," McAuley said pointedly.

"Where is he -- anybody know?"

"He's baby-sitting out at the back," somebody volunteered.

"Could somebody call him?"

"He's with the Barton baby -- I don't think there's anybody else there."

Neither adult Barton being in evidence, Ina Shorrock got up. "I'll go," she offered. "You want him in here you say?"

A minute or two later, Barker strolled in and made a bee-line for Theo. "Up on the platform," said Theo, and Barker trotted obligingly up. "Come on, boy," said Phil. "On the stand. That's a boy -- now face the audience. Ladies and gentlemen -- it gives me very great pleasure to introduce our canine guest of honour -- Mr. Barker Trunkard." Amid general applause he slipped a decorated ribbon over the dog's head. "Speech!" somebody called. "Woof!" said Barker. "Woof! Woof! Woof!" His oration was greeted with a barrage of delighted cheers and clapping. Barker's tail thumped madly against the table as he sat there, thoroughly enjoying every minute of it.

It was definitely his convention.


Shortly before lunch the first auction began, and Theo found himself on the stand conducting the proceedings. Half a dozen lots were quickly disposed of, when he announced a run of the first six issues of "Nebula", offered as one batch. Mine's hand suddenly shot up.

"Five bob!" she called.

"Six," called somebody else.

"Seven and six," offered somebody else again.

Mine raised her offer to eight bob, then to ten, and was ultimately successful at one pound five. She carried the little pile triumphantly back to the Thisbury encampment.

"But," she exclaimed in dismay as she reached them. "I didn't want these!"

"Why did you bid for them then?" asked Dave.

"But it wasn't 'Nebula'."

"He said 'Nebula' pretty distinctly, Mine. Several times."

"Yes, I know. But I was thinking of 'Galaxy'."


It was a Saturday afternoon. Ron Bennett, Theo Trunkard, Archie Mercer and Barker stood in a row looking in a stationery shop window. A policeman who had been watching them strolled over.

"Excuse me," he said, "but is one of you gentlemen in charge of this dog?"

Theo acknowledged his responsibility.

"I'm afraid you'll have to put him on the lead, sir. There's a by-law."

"Oh," said Theo. His hand went into his pocket and came out with his room-key, which he handed to the dog. Barker accepted it between his teeth. "D'you think you could go and get your lead, Barker?" he asked. Barker bounded off before the policeman had managed to do more than splutter ineffectually.

"It's all right, officer," said Theo. "I'll wait right here until he comes back."

"I think you'd better, sir," said the policeman ominously.

"Where is it, anyway?" Ron wondered.

"In a suitcase in his -- our room. He'll find somebody to get it all right."

And sure enough, some twenty minutes later the dog came bounding back, lead and room-key both held firmly in his mouth. "Thank you, Barker," said Theo gravely as he took them and snapped the lead onto Barker's collar.

"I'd keep him under control, sir, while you're in this town if I was you," said the policeman. And he strolled away with assumed nonchalance, his face -- as the saying says -- a study.

Ron, Archie and Theo could hardly stand upright.


Later that evening, to the strains of the Shorrock tape-recorder, the fancy dress party began to get under way. Mine looked fetching in a some-what scanty uniform as she examined her fellow-masqueraders. There was one fairly tall individual who seemed to be covered from head to foot in stringy black hair, with a moth-eaten fur coat draped incongruously over his shoulders. Momentarily she wondered who it was, until the sight of a smaller animal-shaped being similarly covered gave the game away. She approached.

"Excuse my curiosity," she asked the tall hairy bem, "but would I be correct in assuming that you are responsible for the disappearance of one Theo Trunkard from the scene?"

The bem nodded. "That is indeed so," it confirmed. "What, by the way, are you -- this year, next year, some time or never?" This last referred to the official theme of the costuming that year.

"Next year or some time I suppose," said Mine. "We're all supposed to be the crew of a spaceship -- I'm the stewardess."

"Well, stewardess," the bem suggested, "you can start by getting me a vessel of punch. The bowl seems to be in action."

"Can you hold a glass?" she asked.

A tentacle snaked out through the front of the fur coat. "I can have a damn good try."

Keeping in character, Mine fetched two glassfuls on a tray. The bem was indeed capable of manipulating a glass, not to mention drinking from it.

"That's apparently a woman's fur coat," Mine remarked. "Does that mean you're supposed to be a female bem?"

"Female?" said the bem doubtfully. "What does the word 'female' mean?"

"Oh -- one of those. Would you like me to explain it to you? I used to be a teacher -- before I was a stewardess -- so you've come to the right person."

"Yes please," said the bem enthusiastically. "This sounds as if it might be very interesting."

"Well now. You know what a flower is?"


Owen Mole was attired as the spaceship's ordinary crewman -- being a year older than Ian, he had escaped being cabin-boy. Pat Whatsit wasn't really in fancy dress -- just her ordinary clothes with a large notice hung around her neck saying MAMMAL. Owen grabbed her arm. "Dance," he suggested.


"Can't you jive?"

"You jive and I'll twist. See who wins." And they took the floor together.


Bill Gray -- a magnificent Gandalf-figure -- walked over to the hairy-bem Theo. "That poor animal of yours will be stifled," he told him.

"I don't think so," said Theo. "He knows he can have it off whenever he wants to." He raised his voice. "Barker! Come here a mo!"

Barker trotted up, tail waving gently from side to side through a convenient gap in the overgrowth.

"How're you doing? Ready to take your costume off yet?"

The tail drooped despondently.

"OK -- only wanted to know." He patted the dog's head. The tail went slowly up again. "Thanks for the reminder though Bill."

Bill returned to Bobbie -- who was in her standard female-warrior getup. "That's a dog in a million," he said.

"I'm not so sure," said Bobbie. "I'd have said Theo was a master in a million, myself."

"Yes -- there's that of course," Bill agreed.


When it was time for the judging, the Thisbury spaceship-crew made a gallant showing as, Captain Dave Portable at their head, they paraded in a bunch round the ring. Nevertheless they were completely outclassed. The top prizes went -- quite fairly -- to the Liverpool, against hot competition from the two hairy bems, Gandalf the (Bill) Gray having contrived as usual not to be around.

The prizes were given out, and the merrymaking re-commenced. Dave found himself talking to bat-woman Ina Shorrock. He found her remarkably easy to talk to.

"I'm supposed to be the captain," he was explaining. "That's more or less because I'm the chairman. Bert's the engineer, Dick's the astrogator, Ian's the cabin-boy, Harry's the cook, Owen's the crew, and Mine's the stewardess."

"Yours?" said Ina. Then -- "Oh -- of course, her name. Odd name that. Even more than m... -- I nearly caught myself. Even more than 'Ina'."

"Isn't it. It really is her name though."

"Has she ever said why?"

"Frequently. I've never heard her tell the same story twice though." He paused, looked across the dance floor to where she sat with her hairy bem. "She seems to have made a conquest this week-end."

"Theo's one of the best," said Ina obliquely, then as Harry the Second and his girl danced past them: "That girl's one of yours, isn't she? Where does she fit into the crew?"

"She doesn't," said Dave. "She's just a passenger."


Gradually the fancy-dress party slowed down and dispersed to reassemble upstairs as various room-parties. s Owen and Pat, arms linked firmly together, strode down the corridor en route for Ella Parker's room. Dave, nattering on the stairs with the Jeeveses, waved to them as they went by. They both waved back.


"Brian," said Theo severely. "If you were to ask me nicely, I wouldn't mind lending you my bem costume. But that one you're trying to get into happens to be Barker's. And I know he's a big dog -- but not that perishing big."


Mine sat sedately on Theo's lap in Ella's room -- or it may have been Ethel's, or even Eddie's. Room, not lap. The latter was definitely Theo's. Barker lay on the dressing-table surrounded by half-empty bottles, and watched them.

"Doesn't he ever get jealous?" she asked. "I mean, dogs do."

"No more than I do when other people pet him. He's a civilised animal, aren't you Barker mate?"

"Woof," said Barker. His tail was wagging slowly -- but he never touched a bottle. Mine sat and regarded him -- and marvelled.


Sunday morning. A pleasant morning -- if you happen to like church bells. By twos and threes the more or less weary fans assembled for the B.S.F.A. business meeting. It was an interesting meeting -- they usually are, what with one thing and another. Eventually they got round to the subject of the next year's convention. Theo Trunkard was given the floor.

"Is there a hotel in Much Wenlock?" somebody asked.

"Several, as a matter of fact. But not our size. No --" he looked round, addressing the room at large "-- Barker and myself have been investigating the situation in a town that's not very far from Much Wenlock -- a very attractive town, I may say -- you've maybe heard of it -- name of Shrewsbury..."

"Don't you mean Thisbury?" called somebody, raising a general laugh.

"No -- I'm keeping that to myself. Anyway, as I say, we've been investigating, and if the meeting gives us the go-ahead I don't anticipate any difficulty in closing a suitable deal. I know the manager of the place I'm thinking of personally, by the way -- business acquaintance. Thank you." He sat down.

No rival bids being forthcoming, the chairman asked for a formal proposal.

"Proposed," said Ron Bennett.

"Proposed by Mr. Ronald Bennett. Anyone want to second it?"


"And seconded by Mr. Barker Trunkard."

It was unanimous.


Ken Slater conducted the auction in the late afternoon. It was a wild time , with mixed lots of largely crud going for whatever was offered -- seldom more than half a crown. Alan Rispin's egg-timer (why Rispin should see fit to bring an egg-timer to a convention is not relevant) went for four and sixpence. Barker's fancy dress (as misused by Brian Burgess) was bought by Ella Parker. ("It'll do to hang on the wall - no, not that wall.") A pencil, alleged to have once been used by John Phillifent to write down an address, went for twopence -- bid up from a penny. A bottle of Guiness, autographed by Harry Harrison, went to Ken McIntyre for approximately its shop value.

Mine made a bid on an original "New Worlds" cover.

"Are you sure you want it, Mine?" called Owen from across the room.

"No, I'm not," Mine called back. "I don't even know what it is."

She didn't get it, anyway. It was somewhat beyond her budget.


Dick, it may be noted, seemed to have found his level at last -- most of that afternoon he'd been in the company of the pro-circus. Bert Duckbarrow, with whom he was sharing a room, came in search of him to borrow the key.

"Actually," Brian Aldiss was saying, "she's a damn good writer."

"Yes," Harry Harrison agreed. "It's a shame the way she chooses to prostitute her talent in the women's mags."

"You mean," said Bert as he came up to the table, "that she's a member of the Aldiss profession?"

"What's the name of your friend?" asked Harrison when Bert had disappeared again. "Duckbarrel? Dogpaddle?"

"Duckbarrow," said Dick.

"Ah yes. Obviously he's got some sort of grudge against the entire human race that he's vainly endeavouring to work off. With a name like that one can almost understand why."

"He's not the one who wrote that story about a rainbow, is he?" Brian Aldiss asked.

"Rainbow? Oh -- no. That's Owen. Owen Mole."

"I'll have to have a word with him," said Brian. "It's a surprisingly good anecdote to find in a fanzine.

"Surprises me that he was able to sit still long enough to write it," said Dick.


Later, Owen was watching the brag-school again. Bert Duckbarrow was among the players.

"Come on in," Norman invited. "It's quite painless."

Owen shook his head. "Not this year."

"He can't," explained Bert. "He's still Owen."


Theo and Mine lay side by side on Theo's bed.

It was perfectly respectable -- they were more than adequately chaperoned. Barker wasn't there, as it happened -- he was baby-sitting again, in the Bartons' bedroom. But plenty of other assorted fans were. down on the floor to one side of them, Pat Whatsit and one of the London bachelor-fen were wrapped efficiently round each other. The other side, Dave Portable was talking quietly with Daisy Barton, the baby's mother. (She could sing, too.) Several other fans occupied chairs or floor-space.

Suddenly Brian Burgess's bulk loomed over the bed.

"I'm sorry if I strained that costume, Theo," he announced.

Theo looked up. "You don't want to apologise to me, Brian," he told him. "Apologise to Barker."

"Uh -- I've already done that." Brian paused. "He licked my face."

"Did you remember to lick his face in return?" asked Mine, in an interested voice.

Brian beamed. "I'm afraid I didn't think of it," he admitted.


Monday morning, Easter Monday morning, is always a bit of an anti-climax. The fans sit around in the downstairs lounge desultorily drinking coffee and things, and every time one looks up somebody else seems to be leaving. The Thisbury contingent had agreed to postpone their departure until after lunch, and Mine sat with Theo in a not very secluded corner. Barker lay at their feet. The bathos affected him, too.

"I suppose you'll be pretty busy now you're next year's convention chairman," Mine was saying.

Theo shook his head. "Wherever did you get the idea that I'd be Con chairman?" he demanded.

"Well -- but -- I thought..."

"You made an wild and erroneous guess, you mean." Theo snapped his fingers, and the dog looked round. "Allow me to present the chairdog of the Shrewsbury convention."

Barker sat up, rested his jaw on the girl's knee, and looked soulfully into her eyes.

Mine made a recovery. "Oh," she murmured. "Of course. I should've realised. But then -- you won't be all that busy then."

Well, I wouldn't say that exactly -- I imagine Barker will leave me to handle a lot of the routine work."

"I was sort of wondering really if you -- both of you of course -- mightn't be able to drop over to Thisbury one of these week-ends. See the Turtle. And other things."

"I'd been sort of wondering about that myself," Theo admitted. "And on the other hand, would it be beyond the bounds of possibility for you -- any of you, you especially perhaps -- to perhaps drop over to Much Wenlock? My establishment's capable of coping with any number of people within reason, so long as they don't all expect spring beds. And incidentally, I imagine Barker will be looking round for suitable characters to co-opt on to the Con Committee. I shouldn't be surprised if he's already wondering whether Thisbury fans mightn't be useful to know."

This, thought Mine, is what they call conversation on more than one level. She was in the process of framing a suitable reply when Owen erupted among them.

"Mine!" he chortled. "You'd never guess!"

"All right. So I'd never guess. What do I do now?"

Owen was just about boiling over. "Brian Aldiss. He bought -- buying 'The Rainbow Man'. For an anthology. I just can't get over it. Me."

Mine's reaction to this was completely spontaneous. She sprang to her feet with a little glad cry and kissed him full on the mouth. And that, as she was careful to point out when she'd sat down again, was the first time she'e ever kissed -- or been kissed by -- a Thisbury fan.

"Well," said Theo philosophically, "they say there's always a first time. Come to think of it, I hadn't ever kissed a Thisbury fan until this week-end, either. Rather pleasant, isn't it."

Mine winked at him. It was the most adequate reply she could think of.


(A matter of no particular significance except to members of OMPA, who are Special.)

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