Wednesday, 27 March 2013

That gnarled old man

. . . at that moment an audible snore erupted from the General’s corner of the cab. He was leaning back, his great head sunk forward on his chest, his hat tilted over his eyes, breathing stertorously; one great mottled hand lay palm down on the seat beside him; Mr Franklin could see the shiny white streak of a wound running from wrist to little finger, and there was a star-shaped scar of what might have been an old bullet-hole in the loose flesh between thumb and forefinger. He shivered; he had looked Sir Harry up in Who’s Who and read incredulously through the succinct list of campaigns and decorations — that gnarled old man sleeping there had seen Custer ride into the broken bluffs above Little Big Horn, and fought hand-to-hand with Afghan tribesman more than seventy years ago; he had ridden into the guns at Balaclava and seen the ranks form for Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg; he had known Wellington and Lincoln — and now he was snoring gently in the corner of a motor car in the busy heart of modern London, and all the glory and horror and fear and bloodshed were small, dimly-remembered things of no account, and when he woke his one concern would not be the fate of nations or armies or his own life in the hazard, but the welfare of one wilful young woman who he was trying to save from her own folly in his strange, unscrupulous way.

Mr American, pp.431-2, Pan Books, paperback edition 1982.

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