Debits and Credits, by Rudyard Kipling

The Prophet and the Country

NORTH of London stretches a country called ‘The Midlands,’ filled with brick cities, all absolutely alike, but populated by natives who, through heredity, have learned not only to distinguish between them but even between the different houses; so that at meals and at evening multitudes return, without confusion or scandal, each to the proper place.

Last summer, desperate need forced me to cross that area, and I fell into a motor-licence ‘control’ which began in a market-town filled with unherded beeves carrying red numbered tickets on their rumps. An English-speaking policeman inspected my licence on a bridge, while the cattle blundered and blew round the car. A native in plain clothes lolled out an enormous mulberry-coloured tongue, with which he licked a numbered label, precisely like one of those on the behinds of the bullocks, and made to dab it on my wind-screen. I protested. ‘But it will save you trouble,’ he said. ‘You’re liable to be held up for your licence from now on. This is your protection. Everybody does it.’

‘Oh! If that’s the case —’ I began weakly.

He slapped it on the glass and I went forward — the man was right — all the cars I met were ‘protected’ as mine was — till I reached some county or other which marked the limit of the witch-doctoring, and entered, at twilight, a large-featured land where the Great North Road ran, bordered by wide way-wastes, between clumps of old timber.

Here the car, without warning, sobbed and stopped. One does not expect the make-and-break of the magneto — that tiny two-inch spring of finest steel — to fracture; and by the time we had found the trouble, night shut down on us. A rounded pile of woods ahead took one sudden star to its forehead and faded out; the way-waste melted into the darker velvet of the hedge; another star reflected itself in the glassy black of the bitumened road; and a weak moon struggled up out of a mist-patch from a valley. Our lights painted the grass unearthly greens, and the treeboles bone-white. A church clock struck eleven, as I curled up in the front seat and awaited the progress of Time and Things, with some notion of picking up a tow towards morning. It was long since I had spent a night in the open, and the hour worked on me. Time was when such nights, and the winds that heralded their dawns, had been fortunate and blessed; but those Gates, I thought, were for ever shut . . .

I diagnosed it as a baker’s van on a Ford chassis, lit with unusual extravagance. It pulled up and asked what the trouble might be. The first sentence sufficed, even had my lights not revealed the full hairless face, the horn-rimmed spectacles, the hooded boots below, and the soft hat, fashioned on no block known to the Eastern trade, above, the yellow raincoat. I explained the situation. The resources of Mr. Henry Ford’s machines did not run to spare parts of my car’s type, but — it was a beautiful night for camping-out. He himself was independent of hotels. His outfit was a caravan hired these months past for tours of Great Britain. He had been alone since his wife died, of duodenal ulcer, five years ago. Comparative Ethnology was his present study. No, not a professor, nor, indeed, ever at any College, but a ‘realtor’— a dealer in real estate in a suburb of the great and cultured centre of Omaha, Nebraska. Had I ever heard of it? I had once visited the very place and there had met an unforgettable funeral-furnisher; but I found myself (under influence of the night and my Demon) denying all knowledge of the United States. I had, I said, never left my native land; but the passion of my life had ever been the study of the fortunes and future of the U.S.A.; and to this end I had joined three Societies, each of which regularly sent me all its publications.

He jerked her on to the grass beside my car, where our mingled lights slashed across the trunks of a little wood; and I was invited into his pitch-pine-lined caravan, with its overpowering electric installation, its flap-table, typewriter, drawers and lockers below the bunk. Then he spoke, every word well-relished between massy dentures; the inky-rimmed spectacles obscuring the eyes, and the face as expressionless as the unrelated voice.

He spoke in capital letters, a few of which I have preserved, on our National Spirit, which, he had sensed, was Homogeneous and in Ethical Contact throughout — Unconscious but Vitally Existent. That was his Estimate of our Racial Complex. It was an Asset, but a Democracy postulating genuine Ideals should be more multitudinously-minded and diverse in Outlook. I assented to everything in a voice that would have drawn confidences from pillar-boxes.

He next touched on the Collective Outlook of Democracy, and thence glanced at Herd Impulse, and the counter-balancing necessity for Individual Self–Expression. Here he began to search his pockets, sighing heavily from time to time.

‘Before my wife died, sir, I was rated a one-hundred-per-cent. American. I am now — but . . . Have you ever in Our Literature read a book called The Man Without a Country? I’m him!’ He still rummaged, but there was a sawing noise behind the face.

‘And you may say, first and last, drink did it!’ he added. The noise resumed. Evidently he was laughing, so I laughed too. After all, if a man must drink, what better lair than a caravan? At his next words I repented.

‘On my return back home after her burial, I first received my Primal Urge towards Self–Expression. Till then I had never realised myself . . . Ah!’

He had found it at last in a breast pocket — a lank and knotty cigar.

‘And what, sir, is your genuine Opinion of Prohibition?’ he asked when the butt had been moistened to his liking.

‘Oh! — er! It’s a — a gallant adventure!’ I babbled, for somehow I had tuned myself to listen-in to tales of other things. He turned towards me slowly.

‘The Revelation qua Prohibition that came to me on my return back home from her funeral was not along those lines. This is the Platform I stood on.’ I became, thenceforward, one of vast crowds being addressed from that Platform.

‘There are Races, sir, which have been secluded since their origin from the microbes — the necessary and beneficent microbes — of Civ’lisation. Once those microbes are introdooced to ’em, those races re-act precisely in proportion to their previous immunity or Racial Virginity. Measles, which I’ve had twice and never laid by for, are as fatal to the Papuan as pneumonic plague to the White. Alcohol, for them, is disaster, degeneration, and death. Why? You can’t get ahead of Cause and Effect. Protect any race from its natural and God-given bacteria and you automatically create the culture for its decay, when that protection is removed. That, sir, is my Thesis.’

The unlit cigar between his lips circled slowly, but I had no desire to laugh.

‘The virgin Red Indian fell for the Firewater of the Paleface as soon as it was presented to him. For Firewater, sir, he parted with his lands, his integrity, an’ his future. What is he now? An Ethnological Survival under State Protection. You get me? Immunise, or virg’nise, the Cit’zen of the United States to alcohol, an’ you as surely redooce him to the mental status an’ outlook of that Redskin. That is the Ne-mee-sis of Prohibition. And the Process has begun, sir. Haven’t you noticed it already’— he gulped —‘among Our People?’

‘Well,’ I said. ‘Men don’t always act as they preach, of course.’

‘You won’t abrade my National Complex. What’s the worst you’ve seen in connection with Our People — and Rum?’ The round lenses were full on me. I chanced it.

‘I’ve seen one of ’em on a cross-Channel boat, talking Prohibition in the bar — pretty full. He had three drinks while I listened.’

‘I thought you said you’d never quit England?’ he replied.

‘Oh, we don’t count France,’ I amended hastily.

‘Then was you ever at Monte Carlo? No? Well, I was — this spring. One of our tourist steamers unloaded three hundred of ’em at the port o’ Veel Franshe; and they went off to Monte Carlo to dine. I saw ’em, sir, come out of the dinner-hall of that vast Hotel opp’site the Cassino there, not drunk, but all — all havin’ drink taken. In that hotel lounge after that meal, I saw an elderly cit’zen up an’ kiss eight women, none of ’em specially young, sittin’ in a circle on the settees; the rest of his crowd applaudin’. Folk just shrugged their shoulders, and the French nigger on the door, I heard him say: “It’s only the Yanks tankin’ up.” It galled me. As a one-hundred-per-cent. American, it galled me unspeakably. And you’ve observed the same thing durin’ the last few years?’

I nodded. The face was working now in the yellow lights reflected from the close-buttoned raincoat. He dropped his hand on his knee and struck it again and again, before he steadied himself with the usual snap and grind of his superb dentist-work.

‘My Rev’lation qua the Peril of Prohibition was laid on me on my return back home in the hour of my affliction. I’d been discussin’ Prohibition with Mrs. Tarworth only the week before. Her best friend, sir, a neighbour of ours, had filled one of the vases in our parlour with chrysanthemums out of a bust wreath. I can’t ever smell to those flowers now ‘thout it all comin’ back. Yes, sir, in my hour of woe it was laid on me to warn my land of the Ne-mee-sis of Presumption. There’s only one Sin in the world — and that is Presumption. Without strong Presumption, sir, we’d never have fixed Prohibition the way we did . . . An’ when I retired that night I reasoned it out that there was but one weapon for me to work with to convey my message to my native land. That, sir, was the Movies. So I reasoned it. I reasoned it so-oo! Now the Movies wasn’t a business I’d ever been interested in, though a regular attendant . . . Well, sir, within ten days after I had realised the Scope an’ Imperativeness of my Rev’lation, I’d sold out an’ re-invested so’s everything was available. I quit Omaha, sir, the freest — the happiest — man in the United States.’

A puff of air from the woods licked through the open door of the caravan, trailing a wreath of mist with it. He pushed home the door.

‘So you started in on Anti–Prohibition films?’ I suggested.

‘Sir? — More! It was laid on me to feature the Murder of Immunised America by the Microbe of Modern Civ’lisation which she had presumptuously defied. That text inspired all the titling. Before I arrived at the concept of the Appeal, I was months studyin’ the Movie business in every State of Our Union, in labour and trava-il. The Complete Concept, sir, with its Potential’ties, came to me of a Sunday afternoon in Rand Park, Keokuk, Iowa — the centre of our native pearl-button industry. As a boy, sir, I used to go shell-tongin’ after mussels, in a shanty-boat on the Cumberland River, Tennessee, always hopin’ to find a thousand dollar pearl. (The shell goes to Keokuk for manufacture.) I found my pearl in Keokuk — where my Concept came to me! Excuse me!’

He pulled out a drawer of card-indexed photographs beneath the bunk, ran his long fingers down the edges, and drew out three.

The first showed the head of an elderly Red Indian chief in full war-paint, the lined lips compressed to a thread, eyes wrinkled, nostrils aflare, and the whole face lit by so naked a passion of hate that I started.

‘That,’ said Mr. Tarworth, ‘is the Spirit of the Tragedy — both of the Red Indians who initially, and of our Whites who subsequently, sold ‘emselves and their heritage for the Firewater of the Paleface. The Captions run in diapason with that note throughout. But for a Film Appeal, you must have a balanced leet-motif interwoven with the footage. Now this close-up of the Red Man I’m showin’ you, punctuates the action of the dramma. He recurs, sir, watchin’ the progressive degradation of his own people, from the advent of the Paleface with liquor, up to the extinction of his race. After that, you see him, again, more and more dominant, broodin’ over an’ rejoicin’ in the downfall of the White American artificially virg’nised against Alcohol — the identical cycle repeated. I got this shot of Him in Oklahoma, one of our Western States, where there’s a crowd of the richest Red Indians (drawin’ oil-royalties) on earth. But they’ve got a Historical Society that chases ’em into paint and feathers to keep up their race-pride, and for the Movies. He was an Episcopalian and owns a Cadillac, I was told. The sun in his eyes makes him look that way. He’s indexed as “Rum-in-the-Cup” (that’s the element of Popular Appeal), but, say ‘— the voice softened with the pride of artistry —‘ain’t He just it for my purposes?’

He passed me the second photo. The cigar rolled again and he held on:

‘Now in every Film Appeal, you must balance your leet-motif by balancin’ the Sexes. The American Women, sir, handed Prohibition to Us while our boys were away savin’ you. I know the type —‘born an’ bred with it. She watches throughout the film what She’s brought about — watches an’ watches till the final Catastrophe. She’s Woman Triumphant, balanced against Rum-in-the-Cup — the Degraded Male. I hunted the whole of the Middle West for Her in vain, ‘fore I remembered — not Jordan, but Abanna and Parphar–Mrs. Tarworth’s best friend at home. I was then in Texarkhana, Arkansas, fixin’ up a deal I’ll tell you about; but I broke for Omaha that evenin’ to get a shot of Her. When I arrived so sudden she — she — thought, I guess, I meant to make her Number Two. That’s Her. You wouldn’t realise the Type, but it’s it.’

I looked; saw the trained sweetness and unction in the otherwise hardish, ignorant eyes; the slightly open, slightly flaccid mouth; the immense unconscious arrogance, the immovable certitude of mind, and the other warning signs in the poise of the broad-cheeked head. He was fingering the third photo.

‘And when the American Woman realises the Scope an’ the Impact an’ the Irrevocability of the Catastrophe which she has created by Her Presumption, She–She registers Despair. That’s Her — at the finale.’

It was cruelty beyond justification to have pinned down any living creature in such agony of shame, anger, and impotence among life’s wreckage. And this was a well-favoured woman, her torment new-launched on her as she stood gripping the back of a stamped-velvet chair.

‘And so you went back to Texarkhana without proposing,’ I began.

‘Why, yes. There was only forty-seven minutes between trains. I told her so. But I got both shots.’

I must have caught my breath, for, as he took the photo back again, he explained: ‘In the Movie business we don’t employ the actool. This is only the Basis we build on to the nearest professional type. That secures controlled emphasis of expression. She’s only the Basis.’

‘I’m glad of that,’ I said. He lit his cigar, and relaxed beneath the folds of the loose coat.

‘Well, sir, having secured my leet-motifs and Sex-balances, the whole of the footage coverin’ the downfall of the Red Man was as good as given me by a bust Congregational Church that had been boosting Prohibition near Texarkhana. That was why I’d gone there. One of their ladies, who was crazy about Our National dealin’s with the Indian, had had the details documented in Washington; an’ the resultant film must have cost her any God’s dollars you can name. It was all there — the Red Man partin’ with his lands and furs an’ women to the early settlers for Rum; the liquor-fights round the tradin’-posts; the Government Agents swindlin’ ’em with liquor; an’ the Indians goin’ mad from it; the Black Hawk War; the winnin’ of the West — by Rum mainly — the whole jugful of Shame. But that film failed, sir, because folk in Arkansaw said it was an aspersion on the National Honour, and, anyway, buying land needful for Our inevitable development was more Christian than the bloody wars of Monarchical Europe. The Congregationalists wanted a new organ too; so I traded a big Estey organ for their film. My notion was to interweave it with parallel modern instances, from Monte Carlo and the European hotels, of White American Degradation; the Main Caption bein’: “The Firewater of the Paleface Works as Indifferently as Fate.” An’ old Rum-in-the-Cup’s close-up shows broodin’— broodin’— broodin’— through it all! You sense my Concept?’

He relighted his cigar.

‘I saw it like a vision. But, from there on; I had to rely on my own Complex for intuition. I cut out all modern side-issues — the fight against Prohibition; bootlegging; home-made Rum manufacture; wood-alcohol tragedies, an’ all that dope. ‘Dunno as I didn’t elim’nate to excess. The Revolt of the Red Blood Corpuscules should ha’ been stressed.’

‘What’s their share in it?’

‘Vital! They clean up waste and deleterious matter in the humane system. Under the microscope they rage like lions. Deprive ’em of their job by sterilisin’ an’ virginising the system, an’ the Red Blood Corpuscules turn on the humane system an’ destroy it bodily. Mentally, too, mebbe. Ain’t that a hell of a thought?’

‘Where did you get it from?’

‘It came to me — with the others,’ he replied as simply as Ezekiel might have told a fellow-captive beside Chebar. ‘But it’s too high for a Democracy. So I cut it right out. For Film purposes I assumed that, at an unspecified date, the United States had become virg’nised to liquor. The Taint was out of the Blood, and, apparently, the Instinct had aborted. “The Triumph of Presumption” is the Caption. But from there on, I fell down because, for the film Appeal, you cannot present such an Epoch without featurin’ confirmatory exhibits which, o’ course, haven’t as yet materialised. That meant that the whole Cultural Aspect o’ that Civ’lisation of the Future would have to be built up at Hollywood; an’ half a million dollars wouldn’t cover it. “The Vision of Virg’nised Civ’lisation.” A hell of a proposition! But it don’t matter now.’

He dropped his head and was still for a little.

‘Never mind,’ I said. ‘How does the idea work out — in your mind?’

‘In my mind? As inevitably, sir, as the Red Man’s Fall through Rum. My notion was a complete Cultural Exposay of a She-dom’nated Civ’hsation, built on a virginal basis qua alcohol, with immensely increased material Productivity (say, there’d be money in that from big Businesses demonstratin’ what they’ll prodooce a hundred years hence), and a side-wipe at the practically non-existent birth-rate.’

‘Why that, too?’ I asked.

He gave me the reason — a perfectly sound one — which has nothing to do with the tale, and went on:

‘After that Vision is fully realised, the End comes — as remorselessly for the White as for the Red. How? The American Woman — you will recall the first close-up of that lady I showed you, interweavin’ throughout the narr’tive — havin’ accomplished all She set out to do, wishes to demonstrate to the world the Inteegral Significance of Her Life-work. Why not? She’s never been blamed in Her life. So delib’rately, out of High Presumption, the American Woman withdraws all inhibit’ry legislation, all barriers against Alcohol — to show what She has made of Her Men. The Captions here run —“The Zeenith of Presumption. America Stands by Herself–Guide and Saviour of Humanity.” “Let Evil do Its Damnedest! We are above It.” Say, ain’t that a hell of a thought?’

‘A bit extravagant, isn’t it?’

‘Extrav’gance? In the life of actool men an’ women? It don’t exist. Well, anyway, that’s my top-note before the day-bakkle. There’s an interval while the Great World–Wave is gatherin’ to sweep aside the Children of Presumption. Nothin’ eventuates for a while. The Machine of Virg’nised Civ’lisation functions by its own stored energy. And then, sir — then the World–Wave crashes down on the White as it crashed on the Red Skin! (All this while old Rum-in-the-Cup is growin’ more an’ more dom’nant, as I told you.) But now, owin’ to the artificialised mentality of the victims and the immune pop’lation, its effects are Cataclysmic. “The Alcohol Appeal, held back for five Generations, wakes like a Cyclone.” That’s the Horror I’m stressin’. And Europe, and Asia, and the Ghetto exploit America — cold. “A Virg’nised People let go all holts, and part with their All.” It is no longer a Dom’nationbut an Obsession. Then a Po-ssession! Then come the Levelled Bay’nets of Europe. Why so? Because the liquor’s peddled out, sir, under armed European guards to the elderly, pleadin’ American Whites who pass over their title-deeds — their businesses, fact’ries, canals, sky-scrapers, town-lots, farms, little happy-lookin’ homes — everything — for it. You can see ’em wadin’ into the ocean, from Oyster Bay to Palm Beach, under great flarin’ sunsets of National Decay, to get at the stuff sooner. And Europe’s got ’em by the gullet-peddlin’ out the cases, or a single bottle at a time, to each accordin’ to his need — under the Levelled Bay’nets of Europe.’

‘But why lay all the responsibility on Europe?’ I broke in. ‘Surely some progressive American Liquor Trust would have been m the game from the first?’

‘Sure! But the Appeal is National, and there are some things, sir, that the American People will not stand for. It was Europe or nothing. Otherwise, I could not have stressed the effect of the Levelled Bay’nets of Europe. You see those bay’nets keepin’ order in the vast cathedrals of the new religions — the broken whisky bottles round the altar — the Priest himself, old and virg’nised, pleadin’ and prayin’ with his flock till, in the zeenith of his agony an’ his denunciations, he too falls an’ wallows with the rest of ’em! Extrav’gant? No! Logic. An’ so it spreads, from West to East, from East to West up to the dividin’ line where the European and the Asiatic Liquor Trust have parcelled out the Land o’ Presumption. No paltry rum-peddlin’ at tradin’posts this time, but mile-long electric freight-trains, surgin’ and swoopin’ from San Francisco an’ Boston with their seven thousand ton of alcohol, till they meet head-on at the Liquor Line, an’ you see the little American People fawnin’ an’ pleadin’ round their big wheels an’ tryin’ to slip in under the Levelled Bay’nets of Europe to handle and touch the stuff, even if they can’t drink it. It’s horrible — horrible! “The Wages of Sin!” “The Death of the She–Dom’nated Sons of Presumption!”’

He stood up, his head high in the caravan’s resonant roof, and mopped his face.

‘Go on!’ I said.

‘There ain’t much more. You see the devirg’nised European an’ the immemorially sophisticated Asiatic, who can hold their liquor, spreadin’ out an’ occupyin’ the land (the signs in the streets register that) like — like a lavva-flow in Honolulu. There’s jest a hint, too, of the Return of the Great Scourge, an’ how it fed on all this fresh human meat. Jest a few feet of the flesh rottin’ off the bones —‘same as when Syph’lis originated in the Re-nay-sanse Epoch. Last of all — date not specified — will be the herdin’ of the few survivin’ Americans into their reservation in the Yellowstone Park by a few slouchin’, crippled, remnants of the Redskins. ‘Get me? “Presumption’s Ultimate Reward.” “The Wheel Comes Full Circle.” An’ the final close-up of Rum-in-the-Cup with his Hate–Mission accomplished.’

He stooped again to the photos in the bunk-locker.

‘I shot that,’ he said, ‘when I was in the Yellowstone. It’s a document to build up my Last Note on. They’re jest a party of tourists watchin’ grizzly bears rakin’ in the hotel dumpheaps (they keep ’em to show). That wet light hits back well off their clothes, don’t it?’

I saw six or seven men and women, in pale-coloured raincoats, gathered, with no pretence at pose, in a little glade. One man was turning up his collar, another stooping to a bootlace, while a woman opened her umbrella over him. They faced towards a dimly defined heap of rubbish and tins; and they looked unutterably mean.

‘Yes.’ He took it back from me. ‘That would have been the final note — the dom’nant resolvin’ into a minor. But it don’t matter now.’

‘Doesn’t it?’ I said, stupidly enough.

‘Not to me, sir. My Church — I’m a Fundamentalist, an’ I didn’t read ’em more than half the scenario — started out by disownin’ me for aspersin’ the National Honour. A bunch of our home papers got holt of it next. They said I was a ren’gade an’ done it for dollars. An’ then the ladies on the Social Betterment an’ Uplift Committees took a hand. In your country you don’t know the implications of that! I’m — I’m a one-hundred-per-cent. American, but — I didn’t know what men an’ women are. I guess none of us do at home, or we’d say so, instead o’ playin’ at being American Cit’zens. There’s no law with Us under which a man can be jailed for aspersin’ the National Honour. There’s no need. It got into the Legislature, an’ one Senator there he spoke for an hour, demandin’ to have me unanimously an’ internationally disavowed by — by my Maker, I presoom. No one else stood by me. I’d been to the big Jew combines that control the Movie business m our country. I’d been to Heuvelstein — he represents sixty-seven million dollars’ interests. They say he’s never read a scenario in his life. He read every last word of mine aloud. He laughed some, but he said he was doin’ well in a small way, and he didn’t propose to start up any pogroms against the Chosen in New York. He said I was ahead of my time. I know that. An’ then — my wife’s best friend was back of this — folk at home got talkin’ about callin’ for an inquiry into my state o’ mind, an’ whether I was fit to run my own affairs. I saw a lawyer or two over that, an’ I came to a realism’ sense of American Law an’ Justice. That was another of the things I didn’t know. It made me sick to my stummick, sir — sick with physical an’ mental terror an’ dread. So I quit. I changed my name an’ quit two years back. Those ancient prophets an’ martyrs haven’t got much on me in the things a Democracy hands you if you don’t see eye to eye with it. Therefore, I have no abidin’-place except this old caravan. Now, sir, we two are like ships that pass in the night, except, as I said, I’ll be very pleased to tow you into Doncaster this morning. Is there anythin’ about me strikes you in anyway as deviatin’ from sanity?’

‘Not m the least,’ I replied quickly. ‘But what have you done with your scenario?’

‘Deposited it in the Bank of England at London.’

‘Would you sell it?’

‘No, sir.’

‘Couldn’t it be produced here?’

‘I am a one-hundred-per-cent. American. The way I see it, I could not be a party to an indirect attack on my Native Land.’

Once again he ground his jaws. There did not seem to be much left to say. The heat in the shut caravan was more and more oppressive. Time had stood still with me listening. I was aware now that the owls had ceased hooting and that a night had gone out of the world. I rose from the bunk. Mr. Tarworth, carefully rebuttoning his raincoat, opened the door.

‘Good Lord Gord Almighty!’ he cried, with a child’s awed reverence. ‘It’s sun-up. Look!’

Daylight was just on the heels of dawn, with the sun following. The icy-blackness of the Great North Road banded itself with smoking mists that changed from solid pearl to writhing opal, as they lifted above hedge-row level. The dew-wet leaves of the upper branches turned suddenly into diamond facets, and that wind, which runs before the actual upheaval of the sun, swept out of the fragrant lands to the East, and touched my cheek — as many times it had touched it before, on the edge, or at the ends, of inconceivable experiences.

My companion breathed deeply, while the low glare searched the folds of his coat and the sags and wrinkles of his face. We heard the far-away pulse of a car through the infinite, clean-born, light-filled stillness. It neared and stole round the bend — a motor-hearse on its way to some early or distant funeral, one side of the bright oak coffin showing beneath the pall, which had slipped a little. Then it vanished in a blaze of wet glory from the sun-drenched road, amid the songs of a thousand birds.

Mr. Tarworth laid his hand on my shoulder.

‘Say, Neighbour,’ he said. ‘There’s somethin’ very soothin’ in the Concept of Death after all.’

Then he set himself, kindly and efficiently, to tow me towards Doncaster, where, when the day’s life should begin again, one might procure a new magneto make-and-break — that tiny two-inch spring of finest steel, failure of which immobilises any car.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38