I was pastor at St. John’s Anglican Church in London from 1910 to 1950. When I started there as assistant pastor I was thirty-one years of age. For the first five years I was assistant pastor and for the last thirty-five I was senior pastor. Many people have passed through the doors of St. John’s while I was pastor there, but I only came to know a small minority of the people who came to St. John’s. Let me clarify that. I came to know a large number of people by name, and I knew their occupations and their family histories, but I know the souls of only a few of my parishioners. I think that must be the way with all pastors. When you leave the seminary you have notions of taking a world of troubles onto your shoulders and solving the deep and perplexing spiritual problems of your many and myriad parishioners. But reality quickly sets in. The spiritual problem of most of my parishioners was that they didn’t believe they had any spiritual problems. They needed Christ’s pastors to baptize them, marry them, and bury them. In return for those services they were willing to put up with a Sunday sermon and a few pastoral visits. That is the reality, but there are a few, the men and women who seek you out because you have publicly avowed your allegiance to Him. Those men and women need something more from a pastor than the average parishioner. It’s not for me to judge whether their need makes them better or worse than the average birth-marriage-and-death parishioners. I can only say that those men and women who came to me in the throes of spiritual dilemmas are the men and women I came to know. My remembrances are not of things past; they are of people past. Every human personality is a universe. What follows are my memories of those universes.
John Talbot looked, at first glance, to be a man in his early forties, broad-shouldered, deep-chested with eyes that looked quite through you. In point of fact he was in his early sixties; except for the few grey hairs he showed no outward signs of age. Before I knew his profession I had marked him as a military type. John approached me one day after a Sunday sermon in April of 1921.
“Reverend, sir, could I speak to you for a moment?”
“I’d like to come see you sometime about a matter of some importance, at least to me.”
There were many people around me at the time, most of them waiting to ask me something, and I could see John did not want to make his private problem a public one, so I quickly made an appointment with him for Tuesday night of that week and we parted.
The front of my house, which was next to the church, faced the main street, but the door to my study faced a side street. That is usually where I received the nocturnal Nicodemuses such as John Talbot.
“It’s kind of you to see me.”
“Not at all, it’s one of the most pleasant aspects of my calling. I get to meet so many different people.”
“I’m not a particularly religious man, Reverend, but I heard you were not a typical religious man.”
“I won’t inquire who it was that said that about me.”
“She meant it as a compliment.”
“Then I’ll take it as a compliment. But what is it you want from me?
“I want you to listen to me for about an hour, and then I want you to pass judgment on me.”
“I’m not really in the business of passing judgment on people.”
“I put that rather crudely, Reverend. What I meant was… well, if you listen to what I have to say, you’ll be able to understand what I mean when I say I want you to pass judgment on me.”
“Certainly, I’ll listen to you. Do you want what you say to be under the seal of confession?”
Talbot looked at me a long time and then took his time answering my question. “No, I don’t think that will be necessary. I was raised in the Church of England, though I haven’t been to church in years, and I know about the seal of confession. But if you’re the type of man who would break his word, then you’d be the type of priest who would violate the seal of confession. So I’ll take my chances with your word. If you tell me that what I say here stays right here with you, then that is good enough for me. You see I’ve already decided that you’re a man of your word.”
“Not that soon, Reverend. I’ve made my living as a police inspector at Scotland Yard for over thirty years, and I’ve learned to read people pretty well.”
“And you’ve read me already?”
“I guess I’ve put my foot in it again. I don’t mean to sound presumptuous. I certainly don’t know you inside out from just one meeting, but I know enough to take a chance with you. And I’m not taking a chance based on just one meeting. I listened to your sermons the last four Sundays. Actually I didn’t do much listening, I observed you. That’s when I made up my mind that you were my man, the man I needed to judge me. Then when I came here and saw you and your study, I was even more convinced that you were the man I needed.”
“I hope I can be of some help to you, but I’m also afraid you might be making something of me I’m not, because I most definitely am not a seer or a man with the ability to read souls. You seem to be a man with a great weight on his heart – that I can see – but that is all I can discern.”
Talbot had a way, no doubt developed from years as a detective for Scotland Yard, of seeming to ask irrelevant questions that were in reality very relevant. Such was the case in this instance. “I see a Bible on your bookshelf and the Book of Common Prayer, and I see Shakespeare, Dickens, and Scott as well. But I don’t see any books of theology or church history, which are the books one usually sees on a clergyman’s shelf. Why is that?”
“I have the books that give me spiritual sustenance. I never had much use for theology or ecclesiastical history. I love the poets and the novelists, though. Do you read literature yourself?”
“No, I don’t; well, I do read one author.”
“If I could only read just one author, he would be the one.”
“I find he helps in my work, Reverend.”
“He helps me in mine, too.”
“For the same reason he helps you, I imagine. He helps me to understand people, for good or for ill. Surely a minister needs to understand people just as much, if not more so, than a police inspector?”
“I suppose you do. But most ministers wouldn’t go to Shakespeare to find out about people.”
“Not just people, Mr. Talbot. I go to Shakespeare to find out about God. It never ceases to amaze me, and trouble me, that Christians who profess to believe that God has a human heart think that they can’t learn anything about God from the human heart. Speaking for myself, I can honestly say that I only know God through the hearts of his creatures. But you didn’t come here to listen to me; you want me to listen to you.”
“You just made my point, Reverend. You are not the run-of-the-mill cleric, and I need a man who is not run-of-the-mill.”
“I think then, Inspector, you should proceed with your story.”
I won’t present what the Inspector told me verbatim, but I will, to the best of my recollection, relate what John Talbot told me.
In 1895, there was a murder in the town of Langsford, England. Langsford was a small fishing village on the west coast of England between Liverpool and Blackpool. The people there were not strangers to violent death. The sea is cruel. But murder was something else. There had never been a murder in Langsford. The town had a constable, but he was an elderly man and more a night watchman than a constable. He felt, and the Mayor of Langsford agreed with him, that the town needed someone from Scotland Yard to “come up.”
John Talbot was in his mid-thirties at the time and considered to be one of the best detectives on the force.
“The locals expect Scotland Yard men to get results. Make sure you get results.” With those words from his superior, Talbot was sent to Langsford to “wrap things up in two weeks.”
“Some things have changed considerably in law enforcement since 1895,” John related, “but the basics still remain the same. In murder you look for motive, opportunity, and means. Find those three components, and you’ve found your murderer.”
The victim in this case was a twenty-year-old woman, who was found on the Langsford docks at 1:00 AM by the town constable. She had been raped and stabbed in the heart.
John had seen many dead bodies before in his capacity as a police detective and before that in his capacity as a soldier in India’s sunny climes. But this murder hit John personally.
“It’s hard to describe, Reverend. I know all human life is precious, but that young woman seemed more precious. Even in death, she had… I can’t really describe it… she was beautiful but also something more than beautiful. She seemed like an angel. I felt such a rage inside me. If her murderer had been beside me when I viewed the body, I have no doubt I would have killed that man on the spot with my bare hands.”
As it turned out, it didn’t take the Inspector long to find the murderer. The one suspect was a young man who had been engaged to the victim two years before she was murdered. About a year before her death she broke off the engagement and became engaged to another young man from Langsford. The first thought of many of the townspeople when Jennie was found murdered was that her former fiancé had committed the crime. But he had an unassailable alibi; he had been out with the fishing boats during the time of the murder. That left the constable without any other suspects and necessitated calling Scotland Yard.
As John related to me, he followed the usual procedures. He talked to everyone connected to the young women: her parents, her friends, and her fiancé. It was during his interview with the fiancé that John knew he had found the murderer.
“It wasn’t because he didn’t show any emotion when he talked about the woman he had been about to wed. I’d learned by that time that people respond to grief in different ways. Some go cold outside, kind of numb, while others get hysterical. There isn’t one set pattern. So it wasn’t his lack of emotion that made me certain he had murdered Jennifer Cowley. It was the cold hate I saw in his eyes every time he talked about her and every time I mentioned her name. It’s not evidence you can present to a jury — I knew I still had to prove my case – but I knew as sure as the turning of the earth that Arthur Windom had raped and murdered Jennifer Cowley.”
John needed evidence of a motive if he was going to get a conviction. He could easily establish means and opportunity, but why would a man kill his fiancé? John came up with nothing useful in his countless interviews with people of Langsford. By all accounts Arthur Windom was a beloved native son. He grew up in Langsford, got into some trouble as a school boy, but not anything unusual. He was handsome and a great athlete. The only period of his life in which he didn’t live in Langsford was the four years he spent in India, “a servin’ of her Majesty, the Queen.” When he returned to Langsford at age twenty-six, he was viewed as a conquering hero. And as a conquering hero he became engaged to the prettiest girl in town, Jennifer Cowley. Windom was twenty-eight at the time of Jenny’s death.
After two weeks, the time limit which his superiors had given him, John had no evidence to support his belief in Windom’s guilt. Nor had he told a living soul of his conviction. He was hoping he could turn up something or that a witness would come forward. He asked Scotland Yard for one more week, telling them he was about to crack the case. He was given one more week.
It was more than just the detective in John Talbot that made him unwilling to let go of the case. He had fallen in love with Jennifer Cowley. I can remember the exact words he used to describe his love. “It’s not just a romantic love, Reverend, in fact it isn’t that type of love at all. It’s… well, it’s a spiritual love, and I know a man like me has no right to talk about spiritual things.”
“It’s not a question of rights, John. The spirit goes where it lists. There is no law that says God’s love is confined to church-goers.”
“Thank you for not laughing at me. It was, and still is, of absolute importance to me that Jenny Cowley should know that I loved her. I needed to love her; she deserved to be loved. I spent some time with her family and there was something that her brother told me about her that confirmed for me what I already knew about her.
“He was twelve when she was eighteen. And he was passionately fond, as most English boys are, of football. His favorite team was playing in Liverpool on an upcoming Saturday. Neither the boy’s father or mother could get away from Langsford on the day of the game, so Jennifer agreed to take her brother to the game. At some point during the game, Jennifer spotted a boy, around eight years old, who had somehow gotten separated from his parents. Jenny took that crying boy in her arms and assured him he could stay with her until his parents found him. ‘She took care of everyone like that,’ her brother said through his tears. ‘Why wasn’t there someone there to take care of her when she needed someone?’ Could you have answered her brother, Reverend?”
“No, I could not.”
“Neither could I, but I vowed then and there that if I didn’t collect the evidence to have Windom hanged, I would kill him myself. Oh, I knew what the Christian pastors would tell me. ‘Vengeance is wrong; leave him to God’s justice. She would have forgiven him.’ All that they would say and more. But there was something inside of me then, and it’s still in me, that said, ‘Someone has to stand up for Jenny in the here and now. If anything is to make any sense, someone has to stand up for her.’ I couldn’t get past that. I suppose you’d call it an obsession.”
“An obsession isn’t necessarily bad.”
“But was my obsession wrong?”
“Suppose you finish your story before I say anything more about your obsession.”
After John failed to “crack the case” during his one week extension, he was called back to London. The Langsford murder case was still his case, but only if the local authorities found some evidence, and in that event he would be sent for again. So John went back to his work in London, but he spent all his spare time working on another aspect of the Cowley murder. He checked on Arthur Windom’s war record. That took time, but John was a bulldog on every case he took on, even when he wasn’t emotionally involved with the victim. With the added incentive of love, John was indefatigable.
Windom’s war record was quite good. He had been decorated for bravery on two separate occasions. Talbot found three former officers, now back in England, who had served with Windom. They all spoke highly of his character and his courage under fire. Gathering incriminating evidence via Windom’s war record seemed to be a dead end. But six months after his return to London from Langsford, Talbot received a visitor in his office.
“I’m looking for Inspector Talbot. I’ve come in reference to that advertisement in the paper. It said you was looking to interview them that was in the 2nd Irregular Calvary Regiment from ’89 to ’93. There was also mention of some kind of reward.”
“Come in and sit down, Mr. uh…”
“My name is Thomas Hughes.”
“Sit down, Mr. Hughes. The reward is not large, just five pounds, but I would be most grateful if you could tell me if you knew Arthur Windom. He was said to be in your regiment.”
“Five pounds ain’t much, but it’s better than nothing. Yes, I knew Arthur Windom. What do you want to know about him?”
“First, I would like to know what was your relationship with Arthur Windom while you were in the service.”
“I was his orderly, and he was my superior officer. I was a private, and he was a captain. I got assigned to him after his promotion.”
“And for how long were you his orderly?”
“During that time did you notice what his relationships were with women?”
“Privates don’t get to go around with captains.”
“Certainly they don’t, but surely during the two years you were Windom’s orderly you must have been told to get out his uniform and clean it and polish his boots for those special affairs officers are always invited to.”
“Yes, Captain Windom went to a lot of those affairs. And he made a lot of married officers pretty nervous.”
“And why was that?”
“’Cause he was handsome and had a way with the ladies.”
“Was there ever one special lady?”
“Well, there was the Colonel’s daughter. She must have been about seventeen or eighteen. And she hated India; most of the women do. Her mother was always after the Colonel to invite the young officers for dinner and cards and so on. So the girl wouldn’t be bored. The Colonel was a tartar with us, but he was a weak sister when it came to his wife. Whatever she wanted, she got. So he always tried to get the young officers over to his place to please his wife who wanted their daughter to meet young men her own age.”
“And that’s how she met Arthur Windom?”
“Yes, but it wasn’t long before they were meeting each other places that neither the Colonel nor his wife knew about. They were very private meetings, if you know what I mean.”
At this point in the interview John Talbot felt he had to make a decision about Thomas Hughes. If he was to get the type of cooperation he needed, he had to appeal to Hughes’ humanity. That was the rub. Did Hughes have any humanity? Talbot decided that he did. He sized Hughes up as a man who would fight with his friend over a shilling, but would never think of taking a single shilling from the same friend if that friend had entrusted his life savings to him.
“Mr. Hughes, I need to appeal to you man to man. I can give you another twenty pounds on top of the five I gave you, but that’s about all I can give you for something that is worth more than a million pounds to me. I need to know if you ever heard or saw anything in those private meetings between Windom and the Colonel’s daughter that would suggest that Windom was capable of raping and murdering a young woman.”
“This sounds serious, Inspector. I don’t know that I want to be involved in …”
“I think Arthur Windom raped and killed a young woman in Langsford because she refused to give him what he wanted before they were married. I can’t save that woman’s life, but I can, with your help, make sure that Windom is called to account for the murder he committed. And if he murdered once, he will do it again, so you would also be helping me to prevent other murders.”
“I’ll help you, Inspector. I never liked Windom, but I didn’t want to be the type of man who does a man dirt just because he doesn’t like him. But if it’s murder, and worse yet, rape you’re talking about, I’m for you and that woman that’s been murdered, and I’m against that Windom.”
“Thank you, Mr. Hughes. Is there something then that you saw or heard that would indicate that Windom was capable of rape and murder?”
“Yes, sir, there was. He had been seeing the Colonel’s daughter privately for about six months, and one night she came out to the Captain’s tent. I was just about to come in and ask if there was nothing else he wanted me to do before turning in. I stopped short of going in though because I could hear him screaming at someone. It didn’t take long for me to make out that it was the Colonel’s daughter he was screaming at.
“He was boiling mad at her for coming out to where we was camped and showing herself where somebody might see her. Oh, she cried something awful and said nobody had seen her and she just had to see him and when was they going to get married like he said they were.
“Well, he made it clear they were not going to get married ever. That he wouldn’t marry damaged goods and such talk like that. It was pretty clear, Inspector, that it was him that made her damaged goods and that he had promised to marry her. But after she settled down from all her crying she got real calm and she told him that she didn’t care what happened to her; she was going to tell everybody what he had done.”
“What was his response?”
“That’s what sent chills down my spine, Inspector. He said he’d kill her; not in the way you say ‘I’ll kill you’ to somebody that cheated you at cards or because you’re angry but you don’t really have any intention of killing ‘em. I mean he meant it. And she must have believed him because she never said a word about what he done. Not even in the hospital.”
“Why did she go to the hospital?”
“’Cause she almost drowned. Her parents said she fell into the river, but I think – no, I don’t just think it, I know it – she jumped in after what he said to her that night. Some young lieutenant that was just going back to the barracks after having a few saw her go off the bridge, and he jumped in and saved her. She spent some time in the hospital, but she came out alright. And you know at the time I left India I heard she was engaged to that young lieutenant, only he wasn’t a lieutenant anymore, he was a captain. Imagine that, he went out for a few beers and ended up saving the Colonel’s daughter!”
“I’m glad it worked out for that young girl. But let’s not forget the girl that it didn’t work out for. I can’t prove it, but I’m convinced more than ever, after what you’ve said, that Jennifer Cowley was going to break off her engagement to Windom, or else she refused to have relations with him before they were married. He most likely had no more intention of marrying Jennifer than he had of marrying the Colonel’s daughter.”
“No, I don’t think Windom was made for marriage, Inspector, leastways not to a fisherman’s daughter. He always said he’d only marry a woman as wealthy as a duchess and then he’d be as faithful to her money as he was unfaithful to her.”
“I need your help, Thomas, and I want to make it clear what type of help I’m asking you to give me. I don’t have enough evidence to arrest Windom, let alone to have him convicted of the murder. I intend to confront him, give him a chance to confess, and then kill him. You needn’t know all the details. All you need to know is that I plan to go outside the law to bring Windom to justice.”
“What do you need from me, Inspector?”
“I need you to write him a letter, which I’ll dictate, asking him to meet you on a certain date on the moors near Cheviot Hills.”
“Don’t you think he’ll be a bit suspicious, me asking him to meet me on the moors?”
“Possibly. But why should he be suspicious of you? And when you tell him you found a way to make 10,000 pounds, but you need the help of a bold Officer of the Dragoons, he’ll meet you. And we’ll make sure to tell him to destroy the letter after he reads it. That way there will be no way anybody will link you to his death.”
“It all sounds kind of crazy, Inspector. Two hours ago, I was reading an advertisement in the paper that said there was 5 pounds reward for anyone that had served in the 2nd Irregular Calvary Regiment. Now I’m to invite Arthur Windom to be murdered on the moors.”
“Not murdered, Thomas; he is going to be executed.”
“Begging your pardon, Inspector. I didn’t mean to call you a murderer. I think you’re a man.”
“Then you’ll help me?”
“That I will. You dictate the letter and I’ll sign it and send it, though I’m a bit slow on the writing.”
“Does Windom know that?”
“Yes, sir, he does. He once asked me to write a letter for him, and he was mad at me when he saw what a bad job I made of it.”
“Then we’ll send him a letter that is a bad job of it so he’ll know it came from you. But I should warn you, Thomas; once he sees me there, he’ll know who set him up. And if he kills me, he’ll come after you.”
“I’ll take that chance. There’s just one thing, Inspector.”
“I’ll take the five pounds ‘cause I need it, but I don’t want no more money from you than that. I just want you to let me know when it’s done. Just send me a line that says, ‘It’s done.’”
“Thomas, you’re a man. God bless you.”
A certain chill came over me when John came to the end of his description of his meeting with Thomas Hughes. I knew that I was now going to be told about Inspector John Talbot’s meeting with Arthur Windom on the bare lonely moors of Cheviot Hills, after which I would be expected to render some kind of judgment. I told John one more time that I was not fit to judge anyone, and he was not obligated to go any further. Though I must admit I was not immune to the all too human failing of morbid curiosity. I was afraid he was going to tell me what happened on the moor between him and Arthur Windom, and I was afraid he wouldn’t tell me. But John was not a man for half measures. He had chosen me as the man to whom his tale had to be told, and there was no going back. He accepted a glass of water, finished it in one gulp, and proceeded with his narrative.
“The letter did the trick. Two weeks after we sent it I met Arthur Windom at midnight on the moors. It sounds like some kind of detective story, but that’s how it turned out. There he was. If he was surprised to see me instead of Thomas Hughes, he didn’t show it. He was completely self-possessed and calm. Probably because he thought I was there to trick him into a confession or something like that. The surprise came when I pulled my revolver and leveled it at his heart.”
“What’s that for, Inspector? Surely you don’t intend to shoot me?”
At those words his self-possession left him, and he assumed the defensive posture of a hunted animal at bay.
“You raped and murdered Jenny Cowley.”
“That’s absurd, she was my fiancé. I loved her.”
“So you told me.”
“Then why are you accusing me of murdering her?”
“And raping her.”
“All right, why are you accusing me of raping and murdering her?”
“I’m not accusing you. I’m telling you I know you did it. And I’m going to give you one chance to save your miserable life. You confess and I’ll put this gun down.”
“You’d let me go?”
“No, I’ll put this gun down and we’ll settle it between us with knives. I’m sure you carry some kind of blade; maybe it’s the same one you killed Jenny with. You’re supposed to be quite an athlete as well; maybe you’ll get lucky. If you do you can drop me in the moor and live happily ever after.”
“And if I refuse?”
“I’ll put a bullet between your eyes.”
“How do I know that you’ll keep your promise?”
“You’ve been in the service. You can read a man, even if you’re not a man yourself.”
Windom’s eyes flashed hate at John’s remark, which was what John wanted.
“You’re an English gentleman, and a English gentleman never breaks his word, is that it?”
“Let’s just say I prefer to take you on man to man, and to the knife.”
“All right, you’ll have your knife fight. And I’ll dump you in the moors after I slice you up. Oh, wait, you wanted a confession first. It’s all quite simple. The young lady wanted to call off the marriage. It seems that she had detected certain deficiencies in my character. I wasn’t really put out by her breaking off the marriage, because I had no intention of going through with it. But I wasn’t leaving without my… well, to put it in military terms, without my commission. She owed that to me. It was her own fault that I killed her. She made such a fuss that I had to shut her up. Now, I ask you, man to man, does it really matter that one silly twit of a girl died before her time? I saw young men and plenty of children die in India, and no one cared. Why make such a fuss over one dead girl? Well, say something, you stupid copper.”
John never said a word. He set his gun aside and drew his knife as Windom drew his. The fight was long, and John received a wound in the thigh, which troubled him the rest of his life, but in the end, Arthur Windom was buried in the moors of Cheviot Hills. Three days later Thomas Hughes received a letter of just two words: “It’s done.”
“I know it’s unfair to place my burden on you, Reverend, but I needed someone to hear my story.”
“Tell me, John, now with benefit of hindsight, do you regret what you did?”
“Then I’m at a loss to understand why you want my judgment, as you put it, at all.”
“It’s like this, Reverend. There are things you know inside, things that just are. I fell in love with Jennie Cowley, and I couldn’t let her murderer live. Nothing will make me regret what I did. But it’s been lonely keeping the secret all those years. I needed someone to share it with, and not just anybody, but someone who could, if not agree with what I did, at least understand why I did it. Even if your judgment goes against me, I’m still glad I told you my secret.”
“There is a passage in the Bible, John, which you may be familiar with. Under attack from the Pharisees who accuse Him of undermining the law, Christ tells them: ‘Think not that I come to destroy the law and the prophets, I come to fulfill.’ Any law, it seems to me as a Christian, to be a binding law must be rooted in God’s law. If there is something in the letter of our law that prevents a man from carrying out the spirit of God’s law, then I must side with the man who carries out the spirit of God’s law in defiance of the letter of man’s law.”
“You surprise me, Reverend. I never expected your approval.”
“You have it.”
I don’t think John was the type of man who cried often, but he cried then, and we embraced.
“There’s one more thing, John. You said you read Shakespeare.”
“Have you read the sonnets?”
“No, just the plays; I’m not too fond of sonnets.”
“Well, there is one sonnet I want to read to you. It’s the greatest Christian work of devotion ever written, yet it is seldom noted by the members of the Christian community. If you hand me that volume of Shakespeare on the table there, I shall read it to you.”
John handed me the volume of Shakespeare’s works, and I read him Sonnet 31:
Thy bosom is endeared with all hearts,
Which I by lacking have supposed dead;
And there reigns Love, and all Love’s loving parts,
And all those friends which I thought buried.
How many a holy and obsequious tear
Hath dear religious love stol’n from mine eye,
As interest of the dead, which now appear
But things removed that hidden in thee lie!
Thou art the grave where buried love doth live,
Hung with the trophies of my lovers gone,
Who all their parts of me to thee did give,
That due of many now is thine alone:
Their images I loved, I view in thee,
And thou (all they) hast all the all of me.
“What you loved and still love in Jennifer Cowley is still alive with Christ. If you have Him you have her. Our Lord said in the Kingdom of Heaven they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but we shouldn’t take that to mean that there are no special bonds between a man and a woman in heaven. How could the Source of all love banish any genuine, pure bond of love between a man and a woman? Jenny waits for you, John, in the arms of the Lord.”
“Do you believe that, Reverend?”
“Yes, I do. And you’re not to be stranger here after tonight. I expect to see you often, if not in church, then here in my study. Now, will you kneel and let me give you my blessing?”
“Yes, please do.”
“Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord, and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night, for the love of thy only Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.”
John retired two years after our meeting with over thirty years of service to Scotland Yard. He lived well into his eighties, and we became very close friends. He only attended services on Christmas and Easter, but he visited my study almost every week. I must relate the circumstances of his death.
During World War II, England was under siege from German planes. We were in complete darkness every night. The lights of London could not be used for fear of the German war planes. Although he was in his mid-eighties, John Talbot was still strong and healthy. He served as an air raid warden, and he was always the last to seek shelter. “Women, children, and everybody else before me,” was John Talbot’s code of conduct. One night the German bombers exploded a building on top of John. He was still alive, but no one knew quite how. He asked for me. When I got to him he was almost completely covered with the remains of the building, but I could see his face and shoulders beneath the rubble.
“I didn’t want to die until you came, Chris.”
“Are you in much pain, John?”
“No, not much. I see her now, Chris. It’s as you told me that first night in your study. She’s alive and in His arms. I’m going to her and to Him. I must thank you for…”
“No, John, I must thank you.”
I made the sign of the cross over him, and gave him my final blessing.
“O merciful God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the resurrection and the life, in whom whosoever believeth, shall live though he die, and whosoever liveth and believeth in him, shall not die eternally; who also taught us (by his holy Apostle Paul) not to be sorry, as men without hope, for them that sleep in him: We meekly beseech thee (O Father) to raise us from the death of sin unto the life of righteousness, that when we shall depart this life, we may rest in him, as our hope is this our brother doth; and that at the general resurrection in the last day, we may be found acceptable in thy sight, and receive that blessing which thy well-beloved son shall then pronounce to all that love and fear thee, saying, Come ye blessed children of my Father, receive the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world. Grant this we beseech thee, O merciful Father, through Jesus Christ our mediator and redeemer. Amen.”
The most remarkable thing about John Talbot was that he didn’t see himself as a remarkable man. He saw himself as a sinner, and his constant prayer to our Lord was always, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.” I loved him then. I love him now, and I shall always love him. I think in many respects, John was the last of a breed. His Christianity was in the blood. He was of the same metal as Alfred and the Christian heroes of Walter Scott. When there are no Englishmen left like John Talbot, there will no longer be an England. +