Beowulf: King or Con? has created division among Professor Sinclair’s contemporaries. Critics of his previous lectures (Alfred, Not So Great, and The Anglo Saxons Should Thank the Normans) claim Sinclair has sunk to a new low; attempting to kowtow to the lowest academic denominator with wild claims and questionable sources. However, Alistair has received support from J.R.R. Tolkien, the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford (and a fellow Beowulf “expert”), who praises the lecture for supporting the idea that Beowulf should be viewed as a work of art rather than a “dodgy” piece of history.
Amidst the controversy, Professor Sinclair has been invited to lecture in the United States at the request of the Anglo-Saxon Colloquium ( Columbia University, New York University, Rutgers University, Princeton University, and Miskatonic University). Professor Sinclair, accompanied by his Graduate Assistant (and card-carrying Communist), Hugh d’Arcy, will be stateside from June 1st through July 11th.
The trip from London takes sixteen days by steamship, and both Alistair and Hugh are glad to be on terra firma. A driver has been sent by Professor Rudolph Pearson to pick up the pair, and they are taken to the Hotel Belleclaire.
The lecture on June 4th goes well. It is well-attended by faculty and a few, adventurous graduate students. A spirited question and answer period is followed by an elegant faculty reception. Between chats with various colleagues, Alistair notices a young woman looking at him from across the room. She introduces herself as Helen Bosworth, a graduate assistant in the history department. She has read the manuscripts of all of Alistair’s lectures, and finds them equally provocative and brilliant.
Perhaps it’s the approbation of the young student – perhaps it’s her amethyst frock, cloche hat, and flesh-colored stockings. Either way, Alistair is taken with Helen’s eloquence and charm. He hasn’t thought of life with another woman since his wife, Fanny, died, but the few hours he’s spent in academic bliss with Helen Bosworth has awoken something inside of him.
He asks if he can see her again. Helen suggests Saturday night, when she promises to, “show you the REAL New York!” To help pay her room and board, Helen has taken a job as a cigarette girl at a Harlem speak-easy. “It’s called the Blue Heaven Ballroom,” she says, “and I get off at eleven. You should come by – Mitch Wester and his 5-Stars are playing.”
Hugh is going to a “party” meeting in Greenwich Village, and stays behind. Alistair hails a taxicab and heads to the Blue Heaven Ballroom, where he waits in line to enter the hopping nightclub.