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Ray Bradbury

Henry the Ninth

«There he is!»

The two men leaned. The helicopter tilted with their lean. The coastline whipped by below.

«No. Just a bit of rock and some moss ?» The pilot lifted his head, which signaled the lift of the helicopter to swivel and rush away. The white cliffs of Dover vanished. They broke over green meadows and so wove back and forth, a giant dragonfly excursioning the stuffs of winter that sleeted their blades.

«Wait! There! Drop!»

The machine fell down, the grass came up. The second man, grunting, pushed the bubble-eye aside and, as if he needed oiling, carefully let himself to the earth. He ran. Losing his breath instantly he slowed to cry bleakly against the wind:


His yell caused a ragged shape on the rise ahead to stumble up and run.

«I've done nothing!»

«It's not the law, Harry! It's me! Sam Welles!»

The old man who fled before him slowed, then stopped, rigid, on the edge of the cliff above the sea, holding to his long beard with two gloved hands.

Samuel Welles, gasping, trudged up behind, but did not touch, for fear of putting him to flight.

«Harry, you damn fool. It's been weeks. I was afraid I might not find you.»

«And I was afraid you would

Harry, whose eyes had been tight shut, now opened them to look tremblingly down at his beard, his gloves, and over at his friend Samuel. Here they were, two old men, very gray, very cold, on a rise of raw stone on a December day. They had known each other so long, so many years, they had passed each other's expression back and forth between their faces. Their mouths and eyes, therefore, were similar. They might have been ancient brothers. The only difference showed in the man who had unhinged himself from the helicopter. Under his dark clothes you could spy an incongruous Hawaiian-colored sport shirt. Harry tried not to stare at it.

Right now, anyway, both their eyes were wet.

«Harry, I came to warn you.»

«No need. Why do you think I've been hiding. This is the final day?»

«The final, yes.»

They stood and thought on it.

Christmas tomorrow. And now this Christmas Eve afternoon the last boats leaving. And England, a stone in a sea of mist and water, would be a marble monument to herself left written on by rain and buried in fog. After today, only the gulls would own the island. And a billion monarch butterflies in June rising up like celebrations tossed on parades to the sea.

Harry, his eyes fixed to the tidal shore, spoke:

«By sunset, will every damn stupid idiot fool clear off the Isle?»

«That's about the shape of it.»

«And a dread shape it is. And you, Samuel, have you come to kidnap me?»

«Persuade is more like it.»

«Persuade? Great God, Sam, don't you know me after fifty years? Couldn't you guess I would want to be the last man in all Britain, no, that hasn't the proper sound. Great Britain?»

Last man in Great Britain, thought Harry, Lord, listen. It tolls. It is the great bell of London heard through all the mizzles down through time to this strange day and hour when the last, the very last save one, leave this racial mound, this burial touch of green set in a sea of cold light. The last. The last.

«Samuel, listen. My grave is dug. I'd hate to leave it behind.»

«Who'll put you in it?»

«Me, when the time's right.»

«And who's to cover over?»

«Why, there's dust to cover dust, Sam. The wind will see to it. Ah, God!» Not wishing it, the words exploded from his mouth. He was amazed to see tears flung out on the air from his blinking eyes. «What are we doing here? Why all the good-byes? Why are the last boats in the Channel and the last jets gone? Where did people go, Sam? What happened, what happened

«Why,» said Samuel Welles quietly, «it's simple, Harry. The weather here is bad. Always has been. No one dared speak of it, for nothing could be done. But now, England is finished. The future belongs ?»

Their eyes moved jointly South.

«To the damn Canary Islands?»


«To the Brazilian shores?»

«Don't forget California, Harry.»

Both laughed, gently.

«California. Air the jokes. That funny place. And yet, aren't there a million English from Sacramento to Los Angeles this noon?»

«And another million in Florida.»

«Two million Down Under, the past four years alone.»

They nodded at the sums.

«Well, Samuel, man says one thing. The sun says another. So man goes by what his skin tells his blood. And the blood at last says: South. It has been saying it for two thousand years. But we pretended not to hear. A man with his first sunburn is a man in the midst of a new love affair, know it or not. Finally, he lies out under some great foreign sky and says to the Minding light: Teach me, oh God, gently, teach.»

Samuel Welles shook his head with awe. «Keep talking like that and I won't have to kidnap you!»

«No, the sun may have taught you, Samuel, but cannot quite teach me. I wish it could. The truth is, 'twill be no fun here alone. Can't I argue you, Sam, to stay on, the old team, you and me, like when we were boys, eh?» He buffed the other's elbow roughly, dearly.

«God, you make me feel I'm deserting King and Country.»

«Don't. You desert nothing, for no one's here. Who would have dreamt, when we were kids in 1980, the day would come when a promise of always summer would leak John Bull to the four corners of beyond?»

«I've been cold all my life, Harry. Too many years putting on too many sweaters and not enough coal in the scuttle. Too many years when the sky did not show so much as a crack of blue on the first day of June nor a smell of hay in July nor a dry day and winter begun August 1st, year on year. I can't take it any more, Harry, I can't.»

«Nor need you. Our race has suffered itself well. You have earned, all of you, you deserve, this long retirement in Jamaica, Port-au-Prince, and Pasadena. Give me that hand. Shake hard again! It's a great moment in history. You and me,We're living it!»

«So we are, by God.»

«Now look here, Sam, when you've gone and settled in Sicily, Sidney, or Navel Orange, California, tell this „moment“ to the news. They might write you in a column. And history books? Well, shouldn't there be half a page for you and me, the last gone and the last stayed behind? Sam, Sam, you're breaking the bones, but shake away, hold tight, this is our last tussle.»

They stood off, panting, wet-eyed.

«Harry, now, will you walk me as far as the copter?»

«No. I fear the damn contraption. The thought of the sun on this dark day might leap me in and fly me off with you.»

«And what harm in that?»

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