(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

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...

(The entire section is 1183 words.)