I don’t know that I’ve told you the story of Humphert Narrow. “Straight-As-A” Narrow, as he was known, was Inspector of Public Works for the Borough of Constant Tooting, enough years ago that this position carried a great deal of respectability. He was a professional of the old school – one who had no time for the varsity set, with their flippant manners and their up-to-date protractors. “Errant nonsense”, he’d say – the substitution of education for good sense.
No, his career was made by the soles of his boots, the set of his brow – and by the heavy old walking cane he habitually carried. Considerably larger and longer than usual, this accessory served as his tool of the trade and, indeed, as his badge of office. When, in the course of his rounds, he came to a building project – whether it was the laying of a gutter or the construction of the new courthouse – he’d lift his cane to shoulder height, fix it parallel to the works with a loud “crack”, and, if there was any deviation between the two, declare at the top of his voice “It’s bent! Tear it down; do it again!”
“Straight-As-A” Narrow’s brusque manner and exacting standards were a considerable point of pride for the people of Constant Tooting – townsfolk would say that anything particularly fine was “good enough for Humphert Narrow”, and, when travelling beyond their home pastures, would joke “It’s bent! Not like back home!” Narrow himself grew old in the job, and eventually retired, taking a comfortable townhouse which he shared with his son and daughter. Even in his declining years, he would still occasionally be seen on his familiar rounds, stick in hand.
When he died, his effects were collected by the council to be put on display at the town hall. There, it was discovered that, over its years of heavy use, his stick had warped, and was bent almost fifteen degrees from its correct line – and so, therefore, was any building which had used it as a rule. The endless unnecessary rebuilds and corrections, added to those that needed to be done to constructions now shown to be structurally unsound, was estimated to have cost the municipality tens if not hundreds of thousands of pounds. Narrow’s portrait was torn down from its former place of pride, and a furious mob descended upon his house and systematically bent everything they could get their hands on, from the decorative columns beside the front doors to the spoons in the butler’s pantry.
“Straight-As-A” Narrow is rarely mentioned in Constant Tooting these days, except as a dour allusion to the importance of a modern education. His children left the borough, and were last seen living in a prefabricated dormitory in Weston-under-Mustard. The cane itself was broken down for matchsticks, and, for years afterwards, folks would pause while lighting their pipe or stoking their fire to observe “It’s bent!” and watch the slivers burn away to nothing.