Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1183
On the evening of November 20, 1923, an old Ford car stopped on a hill overlooking Folly Down, a village in western England. Within the car Mr. Weston, a wine merchant, conferred with Michael, his assistant, about possible customers in the village. They had a large book that listed the names of the inhabitants, and Michael had detailed knowledge about them, which only a supernatural being could possess. As they talked, their coming was forecast to the village of Folly Down by an electrical sign displayed atop the car.
Down in the village, many people noticed the sign on the hill; they could scarcely avoid seeing it, for it lit up the sky. As the men gathered in the inn for their evening beer, they began to speak of the peculiar sign, but the conversation drifted to the cause of all the pregnancies among the village maidens. Most of the men blamed Mr. Grunter, the sexton, but Mr. Bunce blamed God. While they argued the question, the men noticed that the clock had stopped. Mr. Grunter announced that eternity had come. He seemed to be correct, for all over the village time stood still at seven o’clock.
Mr. Weston arrived in the parlor of the inn and announced his wares. Although no one was interested in buying, they all felt an affection for the man and believed that they had known him somewhere before. When asked if he knew whether God or Mr. Grunter was responsible for the misfortunes of the village maidens, Mr. Weston referred them to Mr. Grobe, the rector, and then went himself to visit the clergyman.
Mr. Grobe was a melancholy man, for the accidental death of his vivacious and pretty wife had proved to him, clergyman though he was, that there was no God. Life weighed heavily upon him that evening; his bottle of London gin was empty. He ordered a bottle to try from Mr. Weston. He did not see the merchant leave a bottle; but after Mr. Weston’s departure, Mr. Grobe found, in place of his large Bible, a vast flagon of delicious wine, a flagon that remained full as long as he drank. Much later, although the clocks still pointed to seven o’clock, Mr. Weston appeared with a small bottle that he said gave eternal peace. After being assured he would meet his long-dead wife, Mr. Grobe drank from the small bottle and died peacefully.
While he was gone from the rectory, Mr. Weston had seen a number of the village people and transacted business with them. He had seen Tamar Grobe, who had looked all of her life for an angel to marry, in whose arms she would be so happy that she would die. Mr. Weston sent her to see his assistant Michael, who waited under an old oak tree, the village trysting place where so many of the maidens had lost their virtue. In Michael’s company, Tamar found happiness there. They went to the church, where Mr. Weston married them and entered their names in the register.
After the couple had gone, Mr. Grunter found the wine merchant in the church. He thought at first that Mr. Weston was the devil, but he soon discovered that Mr. Weston had every right to be there. He agreed to aid Mr. Weston in some further transactions that evening.
Mr. Weston met Jenny Bunce, a simple-hearted girl who wanted only to marry a good man, like Mr. Bird, and care for him as long as she lived. Her father, however, thought Mr. Bird a fool and had said that they could marry only when Mr. Bird’s well ran with wine. Mr. Weston told Jenny to curl up in his car and wait while he went to see Mr. Bird. Mr. Weston found Mr. Bird an honest, virtuous man who preached the gospel to animals as well as men, when they would listen. Like Mr. Grunter and Mr. Grobe, Mr. Bird recognized Mr. Weston. Unlike the other two, Mr. Bird was willing to listen to a chapter from the book Mr. Weston had written long before he became a wine merchant. Mr. Weston recited to him the One Hundred Fourth Psalm.
Then Mr. Weston asked for a drink from Mr. Bird’s well; much to the owner’s surprise, the well ran wine. Jenny Bunce’s father happened along and in his surprise agreed to the wedding. Mr. Weston took Jenny Bunce and Mr. Bird to church and married them.
Two men whom Mr. Weston visited while the clocks stood still were the rascally sons of Squire Mumby. Because they were responsible for the large number of illegitimate children in Folly Down, Mr. Weston took them to the churchyard to see the corpse of a girl who had committed suicide after she had been with them. Failing to recognize Mr. Weston or understand his motives, they left him in a huff. Before they had gone far, they were chased by a wild beast that had hoofs and a roar like a lion’s, a beast which Mr. Weston controlled on a very light chain.
The Mumby boys were so frightened that they ran to the cottage of the evil woman who pandered to their desires. They found two of their victims there and promised to marry the girls. The strange beast walked about the cottage for several minutes. The evil old woman died, crying out that the devil was taking her down to hell.
After the Mumby boys had left the churchyard, Mr. Weston helped Mr. Grunter bury the corpse of the dead girl. The interment depressed Mr. Grunter until Mr. Weston told him to look at the sky. There, among a band of angels, Mr. Grunter saw the dead girl’s soul singing happily. On his way home, Mr. Grunter passed the oak tree that had seen the dead girl’s downfall. Thinking sorrowfully of her life’s end, Mr. Grunter called down a curse in her name. The effect was instantaneous; lightning struck and shattered the tree. The lightning also killed Tamar Grobe, who was lying beneath its branches with Michael. Unscathed, Michael gave a signal, whereupon two angels appeared and carried the dead girl to heaven.
A short time later, Michael and Mr. Weston met and decided that their business in Folly Down was complete. Climbing into the battered old car that had brought them, they drove out of the village by the same road they had come. As they left Folly Down, all the clocks again began telling time. Much to everyone’s surprise, it was only ten o’clock.
At the top of the hill where they had sat discussing the inhabitants of the village some time before, Mr. Weston stopped the car and turned off the motor and lights. Mr. Weston remarked that the beast in the rear of the car might like to return to his element in fire, and so Michael set a match to the gas tank. When the flames died away, everything had disappeared. Mr. Weston and Michael were gone from human sight.
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