Her Finest Hour

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“She’s common, Arthur, for all her airs and graces. She comes from a lower class. She’s a shopgirl with ideas of herself as better than the rest of us. Yes, she’s a pretty little thing, and you like to talk about poetry to her and she likes to read, good God, she likes to read, but she has ideas beyond her station—although she is good to me, I grant you that. But she won’t be content with a life with us. You mark my words, my lad! You’d be better off with Doris the cafeteria manager: at least you know she can cook!”

Several days after this assessment had been delivered to Arthur, he was leaning on the handrail silently beside Gracie at the end of the pier, jutting out as it did into the cold North Sea, then dancing in whitecaps whipped up by a strong northeast wind. They were both lost in their divergent thoughts until she asked him a question:

“Did you know that this is the easternmost part of England?”

“I thought Dover was.”

“The Channel is only eighteen miles across there, so yes, Europe is much closer at that point, but this is the furthest east that our country stretches towards Europe. Over there, not so far away”—she pointed to the horizon beyond which the invisible armies of the Third Reich crouched, poised to strike—“this smug, blind little part of our ‘sceptred isle, this ‘fortress built by Nature for herself, this blessed plot’, this ‘other Eden, demi-paradise—‘

“That’s John of Gaunt’s speech in Richard  II!”

“Yes, yes, it is, but he warns, Arthur, he warns, that ‘this dear, dear land’ is now ‘leased out… like to a tenement or pelting farm;’ it was then in deadly danger, as we are now.” ‘This England,’’” she continued, her voice rising as the wind picked up, “’that was wont to conquer others / Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.’’”

Arthur looked bewildered. “How so?”

“By not being ready. By appeasing the enemy, as Chamberlain did at Munich. By pretending the fear of war was misplaced. Only Churchill can see through the deception. And deception it was. Have you read Mein Kampf?”

“Hitler’s book? No.”

“My young man has, and I must. He told me of the evil this man intends to do to us all. It’s right there in the book. Hitler himself sets it out. He hates the Jews. He wants to imprison them all, or worse, and take away their property. He wants a superior race of ‘Aryans’ to run the world, consisting of himself and his goons. It’s lunacy, of course, but his people adore him. You’ve seen what he did to Poland, to Czechoslovakia, to Austria. You’ve seen the parades on the newsreels, the goose-stepping, the adulation of the crowds, his foaming at the mouth—“

“Yes, but—“

MORE pages to follow: click the page numbers below!
Peter was born in England, spent his childhood there and in South America, and taught English for 33 years in Ottawa, Canada. Now retired, he reads and writes voraciously, and travels occasionally with his wife Louise.
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    Harold Corrin3 months ago

    Thanks for “Her Finest Hour.” Well done, Peter Scotchmer! A fine wartime story, with an articulate and well-read young heroine. You capture the era and the characters perfectly. — Harry Corrin


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