There was a man, he was a man of the cloth. I’ll repeat that. There was a man, he was a man of the cloth. Let that sink in.
When asked to identify himself, by a sentry say, the man would say “I am a man of the cloth”, and when he saw a flicker of doubt on the sentry’s face, a puckering of the brows, a purse of the lips, a narrowing of the eyes, he would say “Would you like to see my cloth?”, and he would take from his pocket a frayed and filthy rag, besmirched with remnants of food, soup stains and eggy smears and embedded crumbs, and he would hold it by two corners, between fingers and thumbs, to give the sentry the clearest possible view.
The sentry, perhaps cocking his rifle, would say something like “That is not a cloth, it is a frayed and filthy food-splattered rag”.
To which the man, the man of the cloth, would reply, “I did not say it was a cloth, I said it was the cloth”. He would say this with such conviction that the sentry would be jarred and disconcerted.
“What do you mean, the cloth?” he would ask.
“Is that not self-evident?” the man of the cloth would snap back without missing a beat, further discombobulating the sentry, who could do little but shake his head.
Sensing the sentry’s confusion, the man of the cloth would say, “Let me help you. I am a man of the cloth, and this is the cloth. You have now seen it, so I shall scrunch it up and replace it in my pocket, and I trust you will let me pass, unimpeded”.
Usually, this folderol would work like a dream, and the man of the cloth would be allowed to go on his way.
But there was an occasion when he met with a sentry of fearsome mettle, who would not be bamboozled. This particular sentry had long ago learned to give no quarter where attempted bamboozlement threatened. He still suffered from awful nightmares about his rookie days, and the incident with the ne’er-do-well bent on infamy, armed with a bottle of bleach and a dough cormorant, and the other incident, on his very next watch, with the other ne’er-do-well, fanatically committed to an enormity, carrying a lump of marzipan and a framed portrait of Nobby Stiles. This sentry was not to be bamboozled again, so he shot the man of the cloth.
He shot him in the ankle, hobbling him, and as the man of the cloth had not yet scrunched up the cloth and replaced it in his pocket, as he toppled to the ground and released the cloth from his grasp, between fingers and thumbs, it fluttered and was about to drop beside him, when a sudden gust of wind lifted it into the air and blew it away, o’er fields and filbert hedges, away, away, it was swept away and gone (see “Resignation” from A Character of a True Christian, Abiezer Coppe, 1680).
The man of the cloth ought to have resigned himself to his loss, but he did not. As soon as his ankle mended, he set out in search of the cloth. He carried with him, as succour, a cloth, which rapidly became frayed and filthy and food-splattered, but he was painfully aware that it was merely a cloth, not the cloth. He wandered the world, and wanders it still, o’er field and filbert hedge, o’er tor, fell, and hill.