To what nobler cause can a man devote his energies and talents than the bemufflement of clangings? ‘Tis a pursuit both noble and perilous. But then, do not all noble deeds contain at least a trace element of peril? That, perhaps, is an inquiry for another time, when the moon is high and fires are lit and the cocoa has been poured into the cocoa cups and stirred, stirred well, with the cocoa spoon.
The peril inherent in the bemufflement of clangings, Dennis, lies in the brute fact that the source of most clangings is high up in towers, and towers, even the strongest of them, however solidly they are built, will crumble in time, crumble to ruin. Once ruin has come, all clangings cease. We are concerned with that period before utter ruination, when the tower still stands, just about, when it teeters in high winds, when masonry is dislodged by the frantics of crows and bats, when crumblement is slow but certain. Then you will hear still the atrocious clangings. Then you are called, noble, valiant in the face of peril, to bemuffle as best you can.
Wait, Dennis, wait! Your agility is admirable, but it will not do to go skittering up the side of that crumbling tower, speedy as a spider, in just your Fairisle sweater and ski-jumper’s leggings and Chelsea boots, unequipped. With what do you intend to bemuffle the clangings? Ah, now you realise the drawbacks of your impetuous vim. Come, we shall repair to the hangar wherein is kept a startling array of this and that.
See, here there is cotton wool, and wool, and large blankets, an eiderdown or two, lagging meant for hot pipes, costumier’s muffs, and much similar material, all of it just the ticket for the achievement of your noble pursuit. Improvise a sling around your shoulders, Dennis, with string or ribbons. You must keep your arms free to clamber, yet you must carry up stuffings for the bemufflement. And if, god help you, you should lose your footing and plunge to earth before you reach the top of the tower, such stuffings will soften the impact. Bruising there will be, but no broken bones, no groaning on a pallet in a clinic on a hill.
It was a high tower, ancient and crumbling. I thought it wise for Dennis and I to don hats of hardness as we knelt down in its looming to wail a prayer before he climbed. Then we stood, and shook hands, the noble impetuous young chit and his no less noble parson, and he was up, defying gravity, impervious to peril, oh so valiant! So misty was the morn, he was soon out of sight. I shoved marshmallows into my ears against the awful clangings, and lit a cigarette. High above, at the very top of the tower, Mungo waited. Mungo, maddened by clangings, deafened, hunchbacked, distressingly twisted and shrivelled and vile, leaping about, possessed of inhuman strength and the savagery of a bird of prey, Mungo waited. I ground the butt of my cigarette beneath my boot and turned away, and walked, jaunty and carefree and lascivious, off along the towpath of the canal towards Dennis’ dilapidated but homely hut, to pay my respects to his widow.