In Whatever Shape
Facing death together the Squire and the Poacher catch a vision of a new England
THE OBSERVATION POST sat on the shaven crown of one of those gentle ridges that overlook the fat, hedge-bordered farms and fields of the Weald. You could see miles and miles of suave opulent country, Norman church towers set amongst rook-haunted elms. Cottages whose thatched roofs drooped over small, glistening panes—diamonds when the sun hit them. In their walls one counted here and there a thin, flinty Roman brick, for this way once tramped the clanking legions from Cantuar to Londinium. There were sprawling country mansions with mullioned windows opening on velvety lawns and ordered flower beds, manicured by generations of quiet-spoken men with wise, tender hands who spent their years in perfumed toil, then slept content in the soil they loved so well. One saw old barns whose oaken beams were powdered with the rich dust of uncounted harvests; walled gardens where peach and plum ripened and hung; paddock and pasture, fallow and tilled, covert and spinney alive with russety gold pheasants, riddled with rabbits. There were sunken lanes along which
creaked Kentish carts with great, cradled bodies and small front wheels; oasthouses, round, stone built, where the hops were dried, and in season there rose from the conical ventilators a sweetish, penetrating breath that dipped the whole region in a sort of somnolent nostalgia. Windmills whose gigantic arms signalled languid acknowledgment to the breeze; the Dover Road where shiny black beetles lately sped to Margate, Ramsgate and Deal, but now the traffic was in battle dress.
The O.P., resembling rather more than one turn of a corkscrew with ends overlapping, had a spiral wall of sandbags, chin high. No roof. In the middle
a tripod with telescope mounted on a sort of graduated ruler that followed every movement of the glass: the ruler swung over a map divided into areas, and told you just where your eyes were directed. If you spotted a machine, friendly or hostile, you estimated its make, height, distance and direction of flight, and telephoned this to the Coast Defense section under which you served. A dozen O.P.’s might report the same plane at the same time, so the Fighter Command knew exactly where to find it.
To the Post had been added an annex six fset square, covered with corrugated iron. Sacks hung over the entrance. Inside, an eighteen-inch table, a haphazard bunk, two tubs to sit on, a single-burner heater, a small lamp. It smelled of soot, fried bacon and kerosene. Three fields away, also linked by telephone, was a Listening Post operating a pair of huge, mechanical ears, supersensitive and funnelshaped, connected by a sort of copper, Eustachian tube to an amplifier. The L.P. would pick up the throb of a plane long before it came in sight, and put the O.P. wise.
Two men are on four-hour watch, the clock round, each doing eight watches a week at one and three pence an hour.
Back in September, 1940, when the job began, it wasn’t so bad: nothing much came over that way, and, when it did come, headed for the Estuary of the Thames, twenty miles north; then, when Fritz unloaded, he would make for home, fast and high over this corner of Kent. In those days one could watch for an hour and see nothing.
It took twelve for the O.P. We ran from Sir John, over at the Hall down to Joe Patton, the poacher. Sir John was called The Ancient Briton, and belonged to feudal days: he had a red face, sharp, resiless blue eyes, and explosive nature: he owned the village with most people in it, dressed in old baggy tweeds, and would tramp about, a Scotty at his heels, blaspheming at what he found. He had a charming voice. When angered, his face came out in purple spots like measles. Behind a spinney not far from the Hall was a six-foot dump of brandy bottles. He drank nothing but brandy, was a local magistrate, and the terror of every poacher in East Kent—except one.
Parson Mayhew, tall, lean, sombre, through the week a pillar of coal, on Sunday one of salt: he loved God, but, felt the villagers, hadn’t quite made up his mind about his fellow man. Stock, from the garage, lived up to his name; short and square, he had a kind of agonizing deliberation if you weren’t a friend of his, fine black lines round his wrists always brought a faint whiff of petrol: Stock didn’t pretend to be much of a mechanic, but —well, it’s like that in Kent where folks know far more than you’d imagine. What they know is their business, not yours, and they never, never forget. There was little Tibbs from the grocery, a lot of others down to Joe Patton, the poacher.
I SAID “down to” but that’s not right, Joe being the best of them. From before the time when he left Board school, he had only really lived after sunset. He was stoutish, very slow of movement, but how quiet! Had large, plantigrade feet—you’d think by the way he walked that each foot knew just where it was going. He could, they said in the pub, see in the dark. Eyes like an owl.
Knew every copse, covert, spinney and warren for miles round. Had a 16-bore breechloader with eighteen - inch barrels, that he carried down his leg: used very little powder with a few grains of shot—you didn’t need more to get a sleepy pheasant twenty feet away. It made a sort of cushioned “pumph.” Also a thin, screw-jointed bamboo rod with a noose of softcopper snare wire at the tip. Easy to spot a bird if there was any light at all —looked like a long-tailed sponge lodged on a branch. Joe was very careful, very patient, could move without sound, black himself out in almost any patch of shadow. Had no use for rabbits, calling them vermin as did the Squire.
Sir John knew all about this, knew that his own coverts were Joe’s favorite ground, knew that Peters, the keeper, would give a month’s pay to pull the thing off, but not yet had Joe made a single slip. When the two happened to meet, Joe, with no change of expression would touch his cap, while Sir John’s blue eyes flickered, purple spots sprang to his cheeks; he’d give a throaty cough, seem about to say something, then catching that blankness of face, stride on, cursing the Scotty, swinging his ash stick, and taking it out on the first tenant he encountered. In that village, all were his tenants.
Joe had it arranged that he never shared a shift with Squire: he’d relieve Sir John or hand over to him, but nothing more. At night you’d see him coming over a field—he didn’t like roads resembling a bulky bit of darkness more solid than the rest: he’d squeeze in between the sandbags, give a nod or grunt, twist off the little canvas sack he always carried by a cord over his right shoulder it smelled of game—put this in the annex, and say “orl right.” He didn’t say “sir,” in the O.P., the matter of rank being left outside. Then Squire, if
he were going off duty, would jerk out “night, everybody” or “morning, everybody,” as the case might be, and make for the Hall a mile distant. On seven gallons of petrol a month, he only used his car to go into Mopham when Court was sitting. At other times he drove a dogcart with yellow wheels.
Apart from the forty shillings a week, which, thought Joe, was a lot of money for staying up when you never meant to go to bed, he liked these night watches, was more at home in them than any of the others. His eyes seemed to expand. There was little continuous darkness, the horizon all round being stabbed by prodigious arms of white light that chased each other, lost and found each other, joined, separated, mingled. From Charing and Bethersden, from Biddenden and Benenden, from the Romney Marsh where Fritz had so machine gunned the sheep and cattle that now the lush meadows were bare of life; from the Estuary; from Whitstable where the oyster beds, once a titbit for His Grace of Canterbury, covered the muddy reaches; from Chatham, up London way from Woolwich and Deptford, sprang the impalpable fence of radiance. And in its glare Joe could pick out sleeping coverts he knew like the back of his hand, could select the one to which he would shortly repair. If clouds hung low there would be a moment or two of blackness while more clearly came the deep-throated growl of gunfire from the Channel, still deeper thuds where the R.A.F. were busy over Calais and Boulogne.
Months passed. Now instead of revealing a few stragglers, the skies were populated; fighting over the Channel, fighting over Kent, fighting over all England. Fritz came in droves, flocks, coveys, multiple squadrons like migrating birds. No time to count them, just report—“about forty hostile machines over A-3 heading northwest approximately 20,000 feet—get that?” You’d see this lot dwindling Londonward, then spot another; see the interceptor fighters wheeling like gadflies, hear the rat-rat-tat; see something flutter brokenly down— faster, faster—trailing a plume of black, perhaps hear its whine of speed and rotten crashing noise when it hit, note climbing smoke from its funeral pyre.
A lot of these tumbled round the O.P. Fritz pilots were given decent burial in the village churchyard. Two or three of the British Legion would manage to turn up, though local opinion was divided on this point of courtesy; but most felt that though we were fighting swine, there was something about a dead blighter who had had guts enough for a pilot’s job that called for recognition. Parson expressed no ideas either way, but consulted his bishop, who consulted the Archbishop. There was nothing in the rubric against it, so, never lifting his eyes, he’d read an abbreviated service in an distant, noncommittal tone, then stalk off to the vestry, discard his surplice, and start thoughtfully under the yew trees for the parsonage. We had three big yews about five hundred years old next the church: it seemed that darkness never quite left them: always in the thick, massive branches lingered some tattered fragment of night.
Things in our village turned round Squire, and
if there was anything he loved, it was his pheasants. So did Joe. Squire would lay traps. Joe’d smell ’em out soon as laid. They’d talk about it in the pub. “Put a poker in that half pint, George, it’s a dratted bad night,” and George, who’d have the hot iron ready, would stick it in, the ale would sizzle a little—mulled ale now—and—“got an extry sense about him, has Joe: danged if he don’t see in the dark. Coinin’ home last night, black as pitch it were, I barged right into him, an’ if he didn’t take me by the arm, an’ say, ‘Look—there!’ an’ I didn’t see naught, but it were a hen he brought back in lessen a minute. He don’t poach a cock exceptin’ he has to, I’ll say that for him. More cocks you snare, less hens next year, eh?” Then perhaps Joe himself would push in between the double, blackout door curtain, and the talk shifted from poaching.
FOURTEEN months of war; short murky days, long nights, good for Fritz who didn’t waste time hunting for targets. Anywhere over England was a target, so he dropped ’em anywhere, remembering that the biggest blacked-out areas were the biggest cities.
It was one of those nights when Joe turned up at the O.P., put his sack in the shelter, came out, and got a surprise.
“Evening, Joe,” said parson, “nothing much on top just now. Three of those big Junkers about an hour ago; I think we got one over Lenham.”
“ ’Ope so, parson; nahsty blighters, them bombers. That all?”
“Yes, except that you’ll have Sir John on your shift tonight,” added his Reverence with a dry smile. “Stock’s taken sick. Good luck.”
As he spoke, Squire came up—had cut it a bit short—puffed a little.
“Evening, Mayhew, evening—oh!”
Parson, chuckling, went off with little Tibbs. Joe took a sidelong look, licked his lips. Sir John, not seeming to know he was there, stooped for the shelter, inwardly furious. Hadn’t been told about this—and why not? Rubbing his stiff hands in the half-light, he saw the sack.
Now he felt in deep water, that is deep for him. There were certain things one didn’t do under any provocation such as investigate another man’s property, but the sack held him fascinated. He sniffed it. Any fool could tell what was there, and, he argued vaguely, he wasn’t quite a fool. Also owner of the best coverts in Kent, that to his knowledge were regularly poached by the man outside. Also a magistrate.
On the other hand, the country was in a damned war, life had changed, the meat ration worked out at fourteen ounces per head per week, and a lot of people, even among his own friends, were ventilating notions of coming days when a man might not be allowed to preserve and feed and protect game to be shot at his own pleasure while other people went short, a sort of rank Bolshevism—though it wasn’t called this—but the new socialism or democracy, that the younger generation had got hold of. Even Sinclair, who sat on the Bench with him, and had a thousand acres over near Harrietsham, was beginning, if rather apologetically, in the same fashion; but the Sinclairs had only been in Kent for a hundred years, while his own folk—well—what about that sheepskin Saxon charter he kept under glass in the long room. No—no—England wouldn’t be England any longer.
Finally he gave a snort, puffing full lips, and went out:
“Fine night for November, Patton.”
“Yus; it’s a fair night.”
Deliberate, this. Squire choked a little. Joe
had his eye to the telescope, apparently very busy, which was absurd, just insolence. The cloud ceiling hung about four thousand feet, with holes that revealed shifting pools of star-sprinkled sky: the holes opened and closed; you’d see a searchlight calcimining the fluffy base of the clouds, fingering about, then darting through a cavity to lose itself
Continued on page 45
Continued from page 11—Starts on page 10
in distant infinity; so say anything might be taking place in the upper regions, and the O.P. know nothing about it. Came a faint stir of wind from southeast, with cushioned sounds of midnight hell rained on Boulogne.
The village, like all others, was blacked out: you could hear the cruk cruk of a cock pheasant, the bark of a dog fox—Sir John knew exactly where he earthed—and the steps of old Moffat, the air-raid warden, coming up the gravelly lane. You could set your watch by him; turned seventy, with childlike chinablue eyes, frosty cheeks and an inchwide rib of close-cropped white beard, stiff as pigs’ bristles, that ran from ear to ear under his shaven chin. Moffat knew more about drying hops than any other man in Kent, and had dug every grave in the village churchyard these last fifty years. Now, every night, he made his rounds with gas mask, tin hat, first-aid kit and electric torch.
“Evening, Sir John,” he chirped, coming abreast, “evening.”
“Evening, Moffat. It’s a fine night.” Squire put Joe out of his
head with relief. “Like to ask you in, but it’s against orders, eh.”
“That’s all right, Squire,” cackled the old man, “happen you’ll ask me somewheres else some other day. G’night, sir.”
HE PLODDED on. Joe, sloping shoulders hunched, had turned unwinking eyes southeast toward Dover: he did not speak, and Squire was somehow thankful. A lot of things he meant to say when watch was over, meantime lookouts weren’t supposed to chat much—took their attention off. So it dragged on with Joe a mound of immobility; no hours from the church clock—striker disconnected, bells only in case of invasion—the Lord of the Manor equally silent except when L.P. spoke on the telephone, and they had little to tell.
A lot of things, odd things, were stirring in Squire’s brain, but he couldn’t sort them out. Wealth, position, authority—what, he found himself asking, did they amount to after all? This village, these three thousand acres of the garden of Eng-
Continued on page 47
Continued from page 45
land—he could smell the acres, almost hear the village breathing in its sleep—all were his. For how long? What would come after him? When? His only son, childless, somewhere in North Africa. Hadn’t heard for a month. When he came back (if he did), what would be his ideas about property, position, inherited privilege? Was he, too, tainted by this mad new doctrine? Would he break the entail, sell land, perhaps close the Hall? ’Twas possible. A dozen tenant farmers asked to be allowed fo buy, but Sir John would have none of that. Taxes were a millstone, but sell! Not if he knew it. Sooner hang on till he dropped, even with scoundrels like Patton on the prowl every night.
And after the war—what? Would all the old things be back in their old places again? He couldn’t quite see it. Girded round the coast was a militarized belt, twenty miles deep, stiff with troops and munition dumps. Transport parked under the big timber, land girls on the farm. Most of the big houses taken over by the War Department, families moved out, heaven knew where. A company of the R.A.S.C. in the Hall, he himself in the gate lodge. He didn’t mind that; the R.A.S.C. were a decent lot—knew some of their fathers.
And the hops this year only half picked because the Eastenders could not get carriage from London. He used to like those three weeks, generally bright and sunny, when they invaded the village with prams, bundles and scores of youngsters, live in the hutments, sleep on cotton mattresses stuffed with straw, cook in the open. The big, fat women sat on-stools, stripping bines like fairy fir cones that the children dragged from the wire network overhead. An average family cleaned up a fiver a week, with health for the coming winter, and you could imagine Pan, with his goatish body, cloven hoofs and horny ears, peering between the pale-green draperies of vines. On Saturday afternoons the men would come down from Whitechapel, Shoreditch and Hackney till Sunday night. George, publican at the Red Horse, always got an extension till midnight while the picking was on, and you could hear the laughter and songs a mile away. But not last September.
Squire, shaking his head, glanced at the weather. A bit foggy now, you could smell the sea: clouds melting, fusing, lowering, trailing. He looked at his watch, only half an hour to go, and Joe hadn’t given a single grunt.
“Poor night for flying, Joe.”
Joe shrugged. “Happen it’s a good night for summat else.”
Squire gave it up, fell back on his rumination. Could you, he wondered, imagine that all he had been picturing, old things, old friends, old ways of going about it, would ever be fitted back just as they were before? He could not see it.
■-* Presently two dusky figures came up: that would be Berryman, the smith, and Tretheway, a retired London broker, who had put up one of those infernal, factory-made bungalows near the Forstall.
“Evening, Tretheway — evening, Berryman; got a bit thick lately— nothing much on.”
.... Berryman, touching his cap, made out the massive bulk of the poacher,
smiled to himself, wondered how the two had hit it off, said nothing. Nor did, Joe. Tretheway, a newcomer two years past, knew nothing of Joe, and was still in the process of being locally accepted. He, too, had wanted to buy the plot he leased, but Squire was adamant.
“Coming my way, Joe?” asked Sir John casually.
“Might be I am.”
“Don’t—er—forget your sack.” “Weren’t forgetting neither.”
THEY moved off: the O.P. was a blur: no words spoken: a breeze came in from the sea bringing more fog, reinforcements of fog that moved lazily northwest with gaps of clearer air between. From very high sounded a mechanical murmur. Just one plane. For a moment they walked slowly, listening, when Joe pulled up. “Strewth ! that’s funny.”
“What’s funny — twin-engined bomber, isn’t it?”
“Yus—but where’s ’e goin’?”
The sound continued: it didn’t grow or dwindle; the machine might have been moored in some aerial anchorage.
“Cuttin’ circles, that Jerry,” said Joe, “there—’e can’t see nowt— wot’s ’e up to?—get that?”
The sound ceased for perhaps ten seconds, then continued; now it did diminish—died out.
“Nothing about that,” said Squire, “he was having a look-see. I say, Joe?”
“That sack—I know what’s in it.” “So do I—wot abaht it?”
“Proveit! You can’t prove it.” Squire, clearing his throat, decided to be broad-minded, more than decent, make it a man to man matter.
‘ ‘Look here, Joe, this has been going on far too long. Now, war or no war it’s got to stop. You don’t have to poach. The W. D. pays you forty shillings a week. If that’s not enough, though I don’t see why it shouldn’t be, I’ll give you a couple of days on the home farm. We’re all together in this mess, Joe, but just the same my patience is ended. No more lifting pheasants—you mark that.”
“Found that bird dead in ditch along o’ the Big Spinney, I did. Happened on it like as I comes up t’hill.”
“Fortunate you had the sack with you,” snapped Squire; then, crushing his last humanitarian impulse, “nothing more to say?”
“Very well. I went pretty far to meet you tonight, but, after this, take notice that—”
Joe wasn’t looking at him; had stopped, head lifted, gazing intently at the fog bank, eyes quite round— staring—staring, his blue jaw thrust out. Of a sudden he gripped Squire’s arm.
“Thort so—danged if I didn’t! See ’im—see the blighter? There—”
Sir John tightened his lids, split them wide following a stubby finger. In a rift of fog he did catch it, a tiny thing, greyish white, like a fat saucer upside down: beneath swayed a dot. The thing was a little tilted; now it levelled off.
“Dropped ’im away up top, that bomber did. Lor’, but them young ’uns ’as guts. Big Spinney, Squire,”
he creaked, forgetting to be insolent, “Big Spinney—that’s where ’e’ll fetch up. Wot abaht you an’ me goin’ in arter ’im?”
Sir John’s throat was dry. He knew what orders were in such a case. That would be a picked man, he’d have a torch, tommy gun, revolver, grenades, and probably knew that corner of Kent as well as either of them.
“No, Joe; we must get some of the Home Guard.”
“ ’Ome Guard!—Old Ladies ’Ome —’Ouse of Refuge! Why not call up the ’orspital? That blighter’s too quick for the likes o’ them—makin’ for the amnition dump—that’s wot ’e’s up to. Come on, Squire. I’m all right in the dark, while ’e ain’t.”
Sir John hesitated—pictured himself telling Sinclair about it over the port—“Gad, sir, that poacher, Joe Patton, you know him—has eyes like a cat, and the first thing I knew—” “What’s your idea?”
“Simple—simple! When ’e’s ready, ’e’ll put for the dump, but I’ll be on that side of ’im. If ’e ’ears me an’ turns, you just mark ’im down, an’ give a whistle; then I’ll get ’im backside on.”
“You armed, Joe?”
“Might say I was: ’ere, ’old this!” He pushed the sack into Squire’s hands, felt in his long coat, brought out a small gunstock with its eighteen inch barrels: then for the first time he grinned. “Being as you say that’s your bird, better ’ang onto it. Got a revolver?”
“Always at night.” For some unknown reason Squire was stuffing the pheasant into a shooting pocket.
Joe gave a sniff, took another swift glance. The parachutist had vanished. They heard nothing.
“Foller me till I tell you, Squire. Lots o’ time. ’E’s got to reach earth an’ get ’is wind back. Easy now, we’ll take the ditch for it.”
DARK in the Big Spinney, a breathless, dripping darkness. Joe didn’t follow any of the narrow drives. He seemed to progress rather than walk, with no sound at all. Squire started after him at six feet, dropping back to twelve as released branches switched his face, lifting his feet high, setting them firmly. He began to sweat, could feel the pulse in his throat.
“I’m a darned old fool, and there’ll be trouble over this,” he reflected, “but I wouldn’t have missed it for ten acres of hops.”
He thought he knew this spinney, found he didn’t. It seemed enormous. There was no distance, no dimension, with Joe swerving so often that he lost all sense of direction. Yet his watch with its phosphorescent dial said he had only been here for ten minutes. Presently Joe halted behind some alders on the edge of a patch where timber stood thinner, put a finger to his mouth—pointed.
Over a clump of opposite trees the parachute had flattened like a gigantic nightcap twenty feet in diameter, a pendant of tangled cords hung loosely. This much they could make out in the evanescent flicker of fortuitous searchlights. But of the man—nothing.
Squire felt his skin prickle. It looked unearthly, unreal, this sea of silky folds, this empty aerial harness, but it wasn’t, no more unreal
than the hundred tons of H.E.’s camouflaged less than half a mile away. And all in a flash he rejoiced that here, close, was Joe Patton the poacher, the one man in the whole village for a job like this.
He’d tell Sinclair that too. “Y’know, Sinclair, the fellow fitted in exactly—was made for it—might have been in his own kitchen the way he went about it. No fuss or feathers. Hanged if he didn’t seem to enjoy himself, and, well it was a sort of education to work with a skilled poacher at night in one of my own coverts. His woodcraft was—”
Joe had turned, made a gesture, squatted: so did Squire: they heard an infinite number of tiny inarticulate sounds blending into what men call silence, a new thing to Sir John, but old to Joe who had listened every night for forty years. Not a squeak from a rabbit, no croak from a pheasant, and the whole spinney waiting—waiting—waiting.
Presently from nearby came the very slightest suggestion of movement— of something, a faint vibration rather than sound itself, but they both caught it. Joe’s hand went up, stayed up. Squire, feeling his joints solidifying, stirred not at all. It came again. Fritz, evidently satisfied, was moving. Now he put up a pheasant that whirred off with a clatter. This stopped him for a full minute, till, more confident, he crept on. Now, quite distinctly, they heard a smothered “Ach!” Then more silence.
Joe turned, grinned, put his lips to Squire’s ear. “Soft bit there,” he breathed. “Maybe yer don’t know it —that’ll turn ’im westlike.”
Squire did know it—generally good for a brace of woodcock—also now for the first time he knew exactly where he was.
“What next?” he whispered.
‘Tm goin’ to ’ead the ruddy blighter off; you stick ’ere; if ’e works back north, let ’im go—can’t get away there nohow—we’ll ’ave the ’ole crowd arter ’im.”
Squire nodded; it sounded good. Thing was to keep the chap away from the dump: north, the country was much more open, stiff with Home Guards. Strategy ! ’twas like heading off a fox. Good for Joe! As to that darned pheasant in his own pocket? He grinned in the dark. Queer how circumstances color facts.
Joe had vanished—evaporated— one instant there, the next not there —the night received him. Listening, straining, revolver clutched, Squire
felt more alive than ever before. Stout fellow that poacher! he’d get behind him—straighten things out for good. Britisher, by Gad—though he did cost Kentish keepers a lot of sleep. Might make Joe a keeper himself. Brilliant idea, that would tickle Sinclair too.
Now of a sudden he heard feet, quick feet plunging through the underbrush—no mistake this time— and a grunt: his pulse leaped; he stood up, leaning forward, tensely tuned. Then a sort of “phut phut” like a gun with muzzle up against a mattress—now a shout—three revolver shots, sharp, staccato, splitting the gloom —then silence.
He moistened his lips; the shots had followed the “phut phut.” He didn’t like that. No sound from either of them, so he assumed the stalking proceeded. Now he caught noises from the dump half a mile away. That was to the good, so he moved on very gingerly.
Ten yards farther he spotted a figure coming toward him. Not Joe!
The man saw him, slipped behind a tree. A spit of fire, and Squire felt something like a hot poker in his left shoulder. Cursing, he dropped into some alders, remembered an old Shikari trick, laid very still, so still that presently the figure stepped out.
A young man, tall, slim, belted, in a black, skull-tight, cloth helmet, uniform of no particular color. He carried a revolver. A patch of blood on his face took a strange gleam from the flicker of searchlights, and seemed to start at his left eye.
He saw Squire just a second too late. Squire was on his stomach, left hand steadying his right wrist. No signal from Joe and he felt like killing. His hard blue eye glinted over the short black barrel at an emblem on the man’s chest as he squeezed three times. The man jerked back as though hit by a club, his knees sagged, Squire smelled powder.
Then everything went black.
THREE days later. That afternoon in the churchyard Parson nearly stalled. Joe had never been inside the church, but he did his best. The Legion was there with its medals and banner; the Oddfellows with a much more impressive banner. Squire looking a little sallow, left arm in a sling. Sinclair; a covey of Home Guards, the O.C. from the ammunition dump; an R.A.F. chap from Manston in Thanet. A couple from the R.A.S.C., most of the O.P. and L.P. crowd; local constable, a ring of
The Char ter of the Atlantic
OTIDES and winds of freedom, bear the message o'er the sea That evil shall not triumph and all men shall be free,
Two nations stand together as champions of the right,
Two beacons blaze together against the clouds of night.
Beware, ye Hosts of Satan, who blast each crippled land,
For God's avenger cometh and the sword is in his hand,
His face is as the lightning, his anger swift and sure,
His name is Truth and Justice and his victories endure.
Beneath his mighty banner we face the bitter odds,
We shall not faint nor falter for the cause we guard is God's;
We scorn the power of tyrants and the challenge they have hurled, And march, with souls undaunted, to liberate the world.
—Frederick George Scott.
red-cheeked youngsters, mouthing their fingers. A Spitfire was mixing things with a Messerschmitt over Lenham way, making it hard to be attentive. No shooting yet. All quiet for a change along the Channel.
Fritz slept in another part of the churchyard with those who had arrived before him by the same route. The Mothers’ Union was cutting up the parachute into shirts for evacuated London children.
After the Last Post, Squire gave a general nod round, turned to Sinclair.
“Do a good deed—break a crust with me tonight. I’ll send you back in the cart.”
Sinclair agreed. Later, facing each other over the port, Sir John had told his story, but not with the embellishments he anticipated. There were a lot of things he had meant to say that sounded quite good, alive with human interest, starting with Joe’s sack, but, somehow they didn’t fit, so he cut them out and presently seemed to dry up.
“One thing you’ve overlooked, Pearson.”
“His name ought to go on the Memorial.”
“Yes—that’s right—I’ll see to it.” “That was a nice fat bird we had— done to a turn.”
“Yes—er—not so bad.”
“Do you usually go about with a pheasant in your pocket? They showed it me when I reached the first aid. One of your own, I hope.” Squire grinned at him. “Meant to tell you about that. Yes, I believe it was—by way of Joe. Look here, Sinclair—all that balderdash you’ve been talking lately about the new order after this mess is cleaned up— think there’s anything in it?”
“Yes, I do: it will go hard with some of us; that is why I’m getting ready for it now. You see at the bottom is the fact that chaps like you and me never actually earned a cent in our lives.”
“But, dammit, we didn’t have to !” “Exactly, while others did—and do, and when they watch our kind barging about, free as air on money we’ve inherited, they’re not going to stand for it.”
“Then it won’t be England any more.”
“Not the England of today, but perhaps a better one.”
“You maintain,” said Squire stubbornly, “that places like ours, lives like ours, will have to be—” he broke off for oddly—or not oddly—at that moment came a vision of Joe Patton in his rusty coat, eye to the telescope, Joe moving through the thicket, he heard Joe’s whisper, and the “phut phut” that only half blinded Fritz, and it seemed that now at this moment, well—“I want to talk to you when I’m a bit more frisky; there may be something in what you say, and y’know, Sinclair, I’ve an idea there isn’t a darned poacher in the county that wouldn’t be glad of the chance to do what that chap did —even at the same cost.”
“Certainly: why not?”
Squire got to his feet, lifted his glass:
“England! Sinclair,” his voice was a shade husky, “I give you England —whatever shape she may take.”