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A Witness comes to visit

Jun. 18th, 2006 | 4:29

Not, I hasten to say, one of that peculiar sect who call themselves Jehovah’s Witnesses, concerning whom I can only paraphrase Voltaire’s verdict on the Holy Roman Empire. However, my caller was every bit as insistent, and would not hear of leaving without a pint of bitter and a long monologue on TRVTH as he knows it. There are points of resemblance.

I was woolgathering industriously in my study: not the bleak corner of a windowless basement room, fenced off by cheap shelving, where I do most of my actual work, but the Platonic study in my mind, with the cherry-panelled walls and tall ogive windows, wingback chairs before the roaring fireplace, and fine old books in rank upon rank clear up to the fifteen-foot ceiling. It has a genuine transom window, double-glazed and frosted, but nobody has yet pitched anything over the transom and I am guardedly hopeful that they never will. This was not the first such visitor I have had, but he was among the most interesting, and I have thought it worth my while to write down something of what he said.

My visitor did me the bare courtesy of rapping on the door before barging in. He was a shade under five feet tall, with hair the colour of iron filings, very thin on top, and the thick unruly beard of a mountain man. His nose came from the same lot of factory discards as Karl Malden’s, and while his eyes were dark, he had the knack of catching the firelight with them so that they appeared to sparkle fiercely. He claimed the better of the chairs by the fire, kicked off his boots, put his feet up on the fender, and loudly demanded beef and beer. When these had been supplied, he said through a full mouth: ‘You called for a Witness.’

‘Yes,’ I said cautiously. ‘You might say I’m holding auditions for the part. I’ll be needing one for the story I’m working on.’
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