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Portrait of a Leader

Short Story, 2,527 words

This, like Dialogue behind a Curtain, is a by-product of the trip Canning made to Yugoslavia in 1948 to research the background to his novel A Forest of Eyes.

Chief-of-police Mencev is chairing a meeting when there is a power cut. When the power comes back the ceremonial portrait of The Leader (Tito presumably) has been defaced in red chalk with the Serbo-Croatian form of le mot de Cambronne. Who has committed this outrage, the fanatical engineer Palovic or the podgy farmer Janto? The culprit must be exposed.

Le mot de Cambronne, by the way, is "Merde!", though General Cambronne always denied he had said it when asked to surrender at the Battle of Waterloo.

Published in Magpie, January, 1952, p. 35 - 41.
Reprintedin This Week, February 1952.

Included in the collection Italy and the Balkans, ed. John Higgins (2013).