Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Farewell Flash Harry

     ‘Well, if you don’t mind,’ said Mr Franklin, ‘I feel I ought to get out here.’ The old gentleman, he told himself yet again, was decidedly unsafe. ‘I hope you don’t think I’m running out — ’
      ‘I do,’ said the veteran promptly. ‘And I commend you for it. First sign of exceptional character I’ve detected in you. But you’re missing a great chance, you know.’ He tapped Mr Franklin on the knee. ‘The first man I ever rode through those gates with was the Duke of Wellington, seventy-two years ago. Wouldn’t you like to be the last?’
      Mr Franklin hesitated. He was amused, and astonished, and a little touched. He looked into the mischievous, grinning old face, then shook his head.
      ‘I think you ought to ride in alone,’ he said gently, ‘And with the hood back.’
      He reached across and shook the old man’s hand, and then managed to push his way out of the car. The Guardsmen had succeeded in clearing the crowd from round the car, and a long aisle between to people ran fairly clear to the gates; police were moving in it, ushering them to keep it clear. At a word from Mr Franklin the hood was removed, and with the General leaning back comfortably in one corner the car rolled slowly forward. The crowd had begun to sing again, willing the King and Queen to come out on the balcony; as the car pulled away, Sir Harry was waving to him with his crooked grin; the crowd jostled forward into the space where the car had been, but Mr Franklin, craning, could see over their heads. With policeman half-running on either side, and Sergeant Rooney pacing ahead on his horse, the car was moving into the open gates held back by the red-coated Guardsmen; the singing was thundering up in full-throated ecstatic chorus, and he could just glimpse the great white head above the back seat and Sir Harry’s raised hand solemnly waving in time to the music:

Land . . . of . . . hope . . . and . . . glory!
Moth . . . er . . . of . . . the . . . free!
How . . . can we . . . extoll . . . thee,
Who . . . are . . . bo-orn of thee!

The car was lost to sight as it turned through the gates and made towards the Palace, even as the lights on the balcony came up again and royalty reappeared. The singing swelled to a triumphant climax; Mr Franklin could imagine the monarch glimpsing the car with its eccentric occupant as it sped across the open space before the Palace — what in God’s name was the old villain going to say when he got inside and the Palace minions discovered he was an entirely unauthorised visitor bent only on relieving himself? Mr Franklin could not guess — but he had no doubt Sir Harry would think of something. He’d had a lot of practice.

Mr American, pp.525-26, Pan Books, paperback edition 1982.

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