The moon shone glumly over the lonesome spires of London.
A chill breeze filled the air, as every solemn square was filled with trembling, dread anticipation.
A lonely bell or two pealed, in solitude.
Nobody paid attention to such clarion prayers of beauty.
Their attention was upon the wireless.
Could it be true?
Could it possibly be true that Chamberlain was dead?
The crackling, and the fizz.
The first, familiar, tentative coughs.
Prompt, impetuous; almost imperious.
The world was on the edge of their seats.
And not just this pretty, frail and fragile corner of the Grand Unreckoned.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The old familiar drawl; snarling honey, treacled salt.
It is my great and inestimable displeasure to announce that the recent fog and innuendo of rumours is not, by any means, far from the truth.
I must not hesitate to break the silence, nonetheless. In such a time of terror and of trauma, the peals of consolation needs must breach the solemn, autumnal waves of August Albion.
A few grey, old eyes rolled and rumbled at the pretentious diction. Some had heard it all before.
They well knew how ‘those people’ liked to talk.
Mr Neville Chamberlain is, or rather WAS…
A man of great character, honor, and unimpeachable dignity of spirit.
Myriad maids and mothers immediately broke into inconsolable weeping.
It is perhaps not by any means to the point, to inquire whether those who remain, aye, we among the living, are not perhaps also without our stern nobility of spirit, and rigorous concern for justice?
A few scattered shouts of glory.
But glory-seeking must ever ring hollow, at a tremendous time of fear.
Now, my dear compatriots of these islands; permit me to be crystal clear.
The man, Neville Chamberlain, who you once loved and honoured as a treasured friend, is no longer among us, here in the land of the living. But in the valley of the shadow of death, it shall truly be said…
I. SHALL. FEAR. NO. EVIL.
The confidence trick was surprisingly effective. Old maids and old madams alike swooned over every pounding throb; the wily old Jesuit had certainly discerned the pulse of the nation. Now that was one thing for certain!
I hereby announce, with the greatest of sorrow for a long-departed friend and fellow-traveller, but at the same time, with the greatest reverence conceivable for the dignity conferred about me, that our revered monarch King George VI has consented to permit his humble servant, Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, to take the reins of the chariot of Boudicca, at this most inhospitable, and yet most courageous and honorable of ages.
Did he linger rather too long or lovingly over his own name?
For his more or less dearly departed mother had always told him:
“Win half the buggers, Winston. Win half of ’em. And all the rest will be too damned timorous to say a word. Win half the buggers, and you’ll win more than half the world; now just you mark my words, young lad!”
The ambitious young political prostitute had indeed tried to win the buggers.
But his agile mind was not focused on the filthy, Dickensian spiritual or material lucre of mere calculation.
His eyes were set upon a higher prize.
A knock came at the door.
Churchill’s eyebrows flicked up, in ironical half-surprise.
“Should I let him in?” the maid implored, desperately afraid of the consequences for her, should she make her second great misstep of this…
Well, pretty damn nigh a month, truth be told!
A month shall tell all.
“It is a long time in politics,” Churchill slurred.
Straightening himself up, he pointed with his pointy-stick, beckoning Clara to admit the curious visitor.
“As you wish, sir,” she wept, turning to the door.
“There, there, now, my girl,” he muttered, with an affection perhaps not one whit more than three-quarters hypocritical and insincere.
“Every open door is an opportunity. And every opportunity, in turn, will disclose things, or disclose them not. Everything hinges on the eye with which we regard the matter.”
Clara turned the handle.
Churchill drew in his breath sharply.
But the visitor was no surprise to him.
Clara clutched her womb…
And weeping, scurried to the scullery.