By Phillip Donnelly
“Oh gawd, he’s sozzled again!” Lord Beaverbrook exclaimed.
He held up the brandy bottle to the light, noted it was nearly empty and then shook his head at the rotund figure, slouched over his writing desk, drooling over his papers and snoring loudly.
“His sense of timing is truly impeccable. The House, the country and the free world awaits his emergency address, and how does he prepare? By getting blotto! For Heaven’s sake, Sawyers, how could you let him get into this state?”
“My master is not one to be told what to do, and certainly not by his valet,” Sawyers replied resignedly. “Shall I call a doctor? Or perhaps The Voice?”
“What good would that do? No doctor can cure drunkenness and no impersonator can take his place in a live address to the House. This is not a BBC production!”
“Then might I be so bold as to suggest a postponement, owing to my master finding himself so… indisposed?”
There was a brief pause while Beaverbrook considered this and both men looked at the snoring hulk slumped on the chair.
“Can you hear that, Sawyers?”
“The snoring, Lord Beaverbrook?”
“The wolves, Sawyers, the wolves.”
“Wolves, your lordship?”
“They are circling this Prime Slumberer of ours already. I heard them first after the Norway fiasco, in the distance, but they have come a lot closer now that France is about to collapse; and if he does not deliver the speech of his life tonight, I fear the whisperers who speak of peace treaties will start to holler.”
“The Prime Minister would never allow it, sir!”
“Then they will have another Prime Minister.”
Sawyers looked to the ground and tried to take this information in. His life had been spent in the service of his master and he had difficulty imagining that anyone could imagine life without him.
“Might I be permitted to enquire as to who ‘they’ are, your Lordship?”
Beaverbrook turned away and walked toward the window. Sawyers noted that his shoulders fell and his back bent a little, as though he was weighed down by some terrible truth.
“The landed gentry; the monarchy; the church; the industrialists; the imperialists; the defeatists; the army; the navy and the air force; the newspaper barons and their invisible men who shape opinion: in short, the owners of this sceptered isle.”
“But… are they not all committed to the fight against fascism?”
“They are committed to their own survival. If that means selling Europe into Nazi slavery, then they will do so. If that means an alliance with the Wermacht against the Soviet Commissars, then they will do so.”
“Does the Prime Minister know of their treachery?”
“He thinks he can control them. He thinks himself a master of wolvish politics. The bottle feeds his delusions and he looks deeper and deeper into it… but let us see if we can pull him out of it. Sawyers—get some black coffee, and make it strong enough to wake the dead!”
“At once, your Lordship,” Sawyers said and left the room.
Beaverbrook pulled some papers from under Churchill’s face, grimacing a little as he did so. He walked nearer to the lamp at the other side of the study, not so much for the light but to avoid the stench of alcohol that rose from Winston’s gargantuan frame.
He spoke to himself as he flicked through the papers.
“Hum… ‘Let us fight on and never surrender. I say that we should fight them on the beaches, the shores, the fields and the streets. We must defend our island, regardless of the loss of life and suffering.’ Not bad, not bad at all.”
“Not bad! What rot! It’s bloody genius, you young whelp,” Churchill announced and went to rise from his chair, but finding his legs unwilling, slumped back into it.
“Ah you’re back in the land of the living, Winston, I see.”
“I never left it, and never will; for the land of the living is the best place to live, and I have never heard anyone speak well of the other place; not from first-hand experience, in any case. Now, where’s that confounded valet of mine? My glass is dry, and my tongue in sore need of lubrication.”
“I say, old boy, don’t you think you’ve had enough?”
“Nonsense! Quite the contrary, in fact, I think I need to drink a great deal more, for I must now drink for two.”
“For two, Prime Minister?”
“For two, I say. France, as you may have noticed, has fallen; and I must therefore also imbibe for our Gallic friends, in their absence from the sodden field of battle. Oh heavy burden! Now, in the absence of my missing valet, please perform your duties as Minister for Munitions and furnish me with a brandy forthwith.”
“But Winston, The House expects you within a couple of hours and…”
“And they shall find me willing, ready and able; but before that time, I must lubricate my parched vocal chords. Now, for the last time, I ask you, nay I tell you, to silence your tongue and pour me a brandy.”
Beaverbrook ground his teeth and pursed his lips, but in the end, he did as requested. Tipping the decanter slowly, he poured a small measure of vintage brandy and went to add a larger measure of water to it, but before he could even touch the water decanter, Winston interrupted him.
“Do you mean to drown me?! If I had wanted water, I would have asked for it. Now, return your hand to the elixir I did request, eons ago, and fill me a proper measure. I must say, Lord B., that if you plan to manufacture this realm’s munitions so slowly, we might as well surrender now, so poorly furnished shall we be.”
Grudgingly, he filled the glass half-way and handed it to Churchill, whose eyes fixated on the glass as a baby’s eyes would a milk bottle.
“Very well, Winston. Now, please promise me this will be your last. Sawyers will be here presently with some coffee and we can be an audience for you to rehearse your speech with.”
“Rehearse? Do you take me for a vaudeville performer? Would you like to me tread the boards of the scullery while I entertain you? Dance a jig to the Free State, perhaps?”
“I only meant…”
“I wonder what you meant… Perhaps you would rather deliver the speech yourself, Lord Beaverbrook? Perhaps you tire of your lordly title and seek another? There is something in your eyes of late, good friend, that troubles me.”
“I am your most loyal friend. I only want to help you.”
“Then to that end, I would ask you to kindly return my notes to me so that I might finish them. Or were you planning to help me with that task also?”
“Get thee to a bomb factory, and be a breeder of munitions rather than my distemper!” Winston hollered, rising to his feet and staring straight at Beaverbrook with angry bloodshot eyes.
Lord Beaverbrook left, his eyes cast down, and Winston drained off the last of the brandy and moved to the other side of the room to fill his glass up again. He gulped two more glasses down in quick succession and brought the bottle back to his desk before returning to his notes.
“I shall drink brandy in my study, I shall drink brandy in the bars
I shall drink brandy till my eyes pop, and use the sockets for some jars.”
He hiccuped and tried to focus once more on his notes.
The speech started well enough, with Churchill sounding only slightly slurred, but soon coming into his stride. An evacuation from Dunkirk, which a lesser orator might have tried to hush up or mention in passing, was dwelt on in detail, and so well described, that defeat became victory.
And then Beaverbrook noticed a strange look come over Churchill’s face. He had seen it before, just before his collapse in front of the BBC microphone at Bush House, just before The Voice was hired to do all of his recordings.
“We shall go on to the end…” he had said and then stopped dead. To the rest of the House, the pause was momentary, and merely an opportunity for Churchill to adjust his monocle, but Beaverbrook felt the moment stretch out into the eternal night of a Nazi victory, and his mind had enough time to allow him to feel the free world fall under the odious grip of Nazi tyranny that Churchill had just mentioned.
He removed his monocle and Beaverbrook suspected that he was now too drunk to read and wondered what he would say next.
“… we shall fight in France,” he said, but then seemed again to have forgotten the rest of his sentence.
Again the comma turned into a rack for Beaverbrook, so long did it stretch. He wondered how many more things the old devil could think to fight against; and he saw that with each addition, the resolve of his audience to actually fight grew stronger and stronger.
“… we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills…”
Beaverbrook glanced at the house and saw them to be mesmerised; ready if called upon, to charge at any enemy, to fly into the jaws of hell, if need be.
“… we shall never surrender!”
And with that exclamation, what had seemed so possible only a few hours previously became unthinkable. Churchill’s words became flesh and infused bloody valour into the dying heart the British parliament.
Beaverbrook smiled at the old man and saw that in this speech, on which his drunken head had slobbered only a few hours previously, he had ensured not only his own survival but England’s too.
After completing a psychology degree, Phillip realised he was profoundly misanthropic. So, he set about travelling the world, to find understanding aliens, who might take him to another planet – thus far without success. He currently lives in Hong Kong, with his patient and long-suffering wife.
He has written four novels, a book of short stories and produced travel writing on India, China, Vietnam and Lebanon. Letters from the Ministry, a piece of Orwellian office satire, was published by Rebel ePublishers in 2013, and they will release his new novel, Kev the Vampire, in 2014.
Download some of his short stories as a free e-book. Free copies of Kev the Vampire are also available in return for an Amazon or Goodreads review.