Readers constantly remark that Clarence J. Birdwhistle is their favorite character. I’m always happy to hear this because frankly, he’s my favorite as well. Ironically, my initial concept for the book portrayed him as a complete and utter fraud. After developing him and integrating him into the little town however, I decided I liked him too much for him to be anything but the kind, respectable gentleman he seemed to be. So the theme of the book took a drastic shift and I’m glad.
Colonel Birdwhistle hails from Chelmsly, England, but joined the British Army in his youth and spent his entire career in colonial Africa. After his retirement from the service, he left England on a whim and ended up in Portsong, Georgia. A lifelong bachelor, he had never spent much time around children. But with the increase of his celebrity as the exotic stranger in the quiet town, he suddenly became very popular among the youngest crowd.
Over the next several weeks, I will be presenting an excerpt from Virgil Creech Takes a Swipe at Redemption, in which the Colonel makes his storytelling debut from his favorite yellow bench.
“Excuse me,” interrupted the voice of a lady to his right.
Being a gentleman, the Colonel rose instantly. On the way up he opened his eyes and coughed to regain his voice, “Hello, madam.”
“Excuse me, but I’m Mrs. Dobrey and I believe we met at the Ladies Tea just the other day,” said the lady. “Colonel Birdwhistle, isn’t it?”
“Quite right, ma’am,” he replied with a bow. “It is a pleasure to see you again.”
“Why thank you, sir. I was absolutely fascinated by your stories,” she said. “I have always wanted to travel abroad and see some of the things you talked about. To think, you’ve sat in Europe and Africa, while I’ve never left this state. It’s a fine state and a fine place, don’t get me wrong, but I should like to see something outside of it some day. That’s not wrong, is it?” she said without leaving the slightest pause for answer. “I mean if one wants to travel, it doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with the place she lives. It just means that there are more interesting places to be. Excuse me, I didn’t mean ‘more’ interesting. That was a mistake. I only meant that there are ‘other’ interesting places. Yes, that’s it. Other interesting places. Don’t you agree?”
The Colonel said he did, but really didn’t know what he was agreeing with. While she talked, he was able to take in the thin lady in front of him. She was really somewhat of a mouse actually — very small with round glasses perched on an active nose. Every time she talked, the glasses bounced on her face, and it seemed that they were rarely still.
“I love Portsong, I really do,” she continued. “There are all sorts of fine things to be seen here. But Africa. It really flutters the mind, doesn’t it? All of the animals and the danger. It’s really quite romantic to ponder. You must have had wonderful adventures while you were there.”
“Why yes…” he started to say but was cut short as the glasses leapt again.
“There isn’t much adventure here,” she continued. “But it is a fine place, really. Such a fine place. I wouldn’t want to be from any other place in the whole world, if you ask me. But I would like to hear more about the places you’ve been. Actually, I was telling my boy, Leon about you just the other day, and he said he would love to meet you. Do you mind if I bring him over here?”
“Of course not, madam,” he replied. But she was already gone. She was a fast little mouse.