Our drive till then had been quite a success. The other men in the car
were my friend Woodhouse, young Ollyett, a distant connection of his,
and Pallant, the M.P. Woodhouse's business was the treatment and cure of
sick journals. He knew by instinct the precise moment in a newspaper's
life when the impetus of past good management is exhausted and it
fetches up on the dead-centre between slow and expensive collapse and
the new start which can be given by gold injections--and genius. He was
wisely ignorant of journalism; but when he stooped on a carcase there
was sure to be meat. He had that week added a half-dead, halfpenny
evening paper to his collection, which consisted of a prosperous London
daily, one provincial ditto, and a limp-bodied weekly of commercial
leanings. He had also, that very hour, planted me with a large block of
the evening paper's common shares, and was explaining the whole art of
editorship to Ollyett, a young man three years from Oxford, with
coir-matting-coloured hair and a face harshly modelled by harsh
experiences, who, I understood, was assisting in the new venture.
Pallant, the long, wrinkled M.P., whose voice is more like a crane's
than a peacock's, took no shares, but gave us all advice.
'You'll find it rather a knacker's yard,' Woodhouse was saying. 'Yes, I
know they call me The Knacker; but it will pay inside a year. All my
papers do. I've only one motto: Back your luck and back your staff.
It'll come out all right.'
Then the car stopped, and a policeman asked our names and addresses for
exceeding the speed-limit. We pointed out that the road ran absolutely
straight for half a mile ahead without even a side-lane. 'That's just
what we depend on,' said the policeman unpleasantly.
'The usual swindle,' said Woodhouse under his breath. 'What's the name
of this place?'
'Huckley,' said the policeman. 'H-u-c-k-l-e-y,' and wrote something in
his note-book at which young Ollyett protested. A large red man on a
grey horse who had been watching us from the other side of the hedge
shouted an order we could not catch. The policeman laid his hand on the
rim of the right driving-door (Woodhouse carries his spare tyres aft),
and it closed on the button of the electric horn. The grey horse at once
bolted, and we could hear the rider swearing all across the landscape.
'Damn it, man, you've got your silly fist on it! Take it off!' Woodhouse
'Ho!' said the constable, looking carefully at his fingers as though we
had trapped them. 'That won't do you any good either,' and he wrote once
more in his note-book before he allowed us to go.
This was Woodhouse's first brush with motor law, and since I expected
no ill consequences to myself, I pointed out that it was very serious. I
took the same view myself when in due time I found that I, too, was
summonsed on charges ranging from the use of obscene language to
Judgment was done in a little pale-yellow market-town with a small,
Jubilee clock-tower and a large corn-exchange. Woodhouse drove us there
in his car. Pallant, who had not been included in the summons, came with
us as moral support. While we waited outside, the fat man on the grey
horse rode up and entered into loud talk with his brother magistrates.
He said to one of them--for I took the trouble to note it down--'It
falls away from my lodge-gates, dead straight, three-quarters of a mile.
I'd defy any one to resist it. We rooked seventy pounds out of 'em last
month. No car can resist the temptation. You ought to have one your side
the county, Mike. They simply can't resist it.'
'Whew!' said Woodhouse. 'We're in for trouble. Don't you say a word--or
Ollyett either! I'll pay the fines and we'll get it over as soon as
possible. Where's Pallant?'
'At the back of the court somewhere,' said Ollyett. 'I saw him slip in
The fat man then took his seat on the Bench, of which he was chairman,
and I gathered from a bystander that his name was Sir Thomas Ingell,
Bart., M.P., of Ingell Park, Huckley. He began with an allocution
pitched in a tone that would have justified revolt throughout empires.
Evidence, when the crowded little court did not drown it with applause,
was given in the pauses of the address. They were all very proud of
their Sir Thomas, and looked from him to us, wondering why we did not
Taking its time from the chairman, the Bench rollicked with us for
seventeen minutes. Sir Thomas explained that he was sick and tired of
processions of cads of our type, who would be better employed breaking
stones on the road than in frightening horses worth more than themselves
or their ancestors. This was after it had been proved that Woodhouse's
man had turned on the horn purposely to annoy Sir Thomas, who happened
to be riding by'! There were other remarks too--primitive enough,--but
it was the unspeakable brutality of the tone, even more than the quality
of the justice, or the laughter of the audience that stung our souls out
of all reason. When we were dismissed--to the tune of twenty-three
pounds, twelve shillings and sixpence--we waited for Pallant to join us,
while we listened to the next case--one of driving without a licence.
Ollyett with an eye to his evening paper, had already taken very full
notes of our own, but we did not wish to seem prejudiced.
'It's all right,' said the reporter of the local paper soothingly. 'We
never report Sir Thomas _in extenso_. Only the fines and charges.'
'Oh, thank you,' Ollyett replied, and I heard him ask who every one in
court might be. The local reporter was very communicative.
The new victim, a large, flaxen-haired man in somewhat striking
clothes, to which Sir Thomas, now thoroughly warmed, drew public
attention, said that he had left his licence at home. Sir Thomas asked
him if he expected the police to go to his home address at Jerusalem to
find it for him; and the court roared. Nor did Sir Thomas approve of the
man's name, but insisted on calling him 'Mr. Masquerader,' and every
time he did so, all his people shouted. Evidently this was their
'He didn't summons me--because I'm in the House, I suppose. I think I
shall have to ask a Question,' said Pallant, reappearing at the close
of the case.
'I think _I_ shall have to give it a little publicity too,' said
Woodhouse. 'We can't have this kind of thing going on, you know.' His
face was set and quite white. Pallant's, on the other hand, was black,
and I know that my very stomach had turned with rage. Ollyett was dum.
'Well, let's have lunch,' Woodhouse said at last. 'Then we can get away
before the show breaks up.'
We drew Ollyett from the arms of the local reporter, crossed the Market
Square to the Red Lion and found Sir Thomas's 'Mr. Masquerader' just
sitting down to beer, beef and pickles.
'Ah!' said he, in a large voice. 'Companions in misfortune. Won't you
gentlemen join me?'
'Delighted,' said Woodhouse. 'What did you get?'
'I haven't decided. It might make a good turn, but--the public aren't
educated up to it yet. It's beyond 'em. If it wasn't, that red dub on
the Bench would be worth fifty a week.'
'Where?' said Woodhouse. The man looked at him with unaffected surprise.
'At any one of My places,' he replied. 'But perhaps you live here?'
'Good heavens!' cried young Ollyett suddenly. 'You _are_ Masquerier,
then? I thought you were!'
'Bat Masquerier.' He let the words fall with the weight of an
international ultimatum. 'Yes, that's all I am. But you have the
advantage of me, gentlemen.'
For the moment, while we were introducing ourselves, I was puzzled. Then
I recalled prismatic music-hall posters--of enormous acreage--that had
been the unnoticed background of my visits to London for years past.
Posters of men and women, singers, jongleurs, impersonators and
audacities of every draped and undraped brand, all moved on and off in
London and the Provinces by Bat Masquerier--with the long wedge-tailed
flourish following the final 'r.'
'_I_ knew you at once,' said Pallant, the trained M.P., and I promptly
backed the lie. Woodhouse mumbled excuses. Bat Masquerier was not moved
for or against us any more than the frontage of one of his own palaces.
'I always tell My people there's a limit to the size of the lettering,'
he said. 'Overdo that and the ret'na doesn't take it in. Advertisin' is
the most delicate of all the sciences.'
'There's one man in the world who is going to get a little of it if I
live for the next twenty-four hours,' said Woodhouse, and explained how
this would come about.
Masquerier stared at him lengthily with gunmetal-blue eyes.
'You mean it?' he drawled; the voice was as magnetic as the look.
'_I_ do,' said Ollyett. 'That business of the horn alone ought to have
him off the Bench in three months.' Masquerier looked at him even longer
than he had looked at Woodhouse.
'He told _me_,' he said suddenly, 'that my home-address was Jerusalem.
You heard that?'
'But it was the tone--the tone,' Ollyett cried.
'You noticed that, too, did you?' said Masquerier. 'That's the artistic
temperament. You can do a lot with it. And I'm Bat Masquerier,' he went
on. He dropped his chin in his fists and scowled straight in front of
him.... 'I made the Silhouettes--I made the Trefoil and the Jocunda. I
made 'Dal Benzaguen.' Here Ollyett sat straight up, for in common with
the youth of that year he worshipped Miss Vidal Benzaguen of the Trefoil
immensely and unreservedly. '"_Is_ that a dressing-gown or an ulster
you're supposed to be wearing?" You heard _that_?... "And I suppose you
hadn't time to brush your hair either?" You heard _that_?... Now, you
hear _me_!' His voice filled the coffee-room, then dropped to a whisper
as dreadful as a surgeon's before an operation. He spoke for several
minutes. Pallant muttered 'Hear! hear!' I saw Ollyett's eye flash--it
was to Ollyett that Masquerier addressed himself chiefly,--and
Woodhouse leaned forward with joined hands.
'Are you _with_ me?' he went on, gathering us all up in one sweep of the
arm. 'When I begin a thing I see it through, gentlemen. What Bat can't
break, breaks him! But I haven't struck that thing yet. This is no
one-turn turn-it-down show. This is business to the dead finish. Are you
with me, gentlemen? Good! Now, we'll pool our assets. One London
morning, and one provincial daily, didn't you say? One weekly commercial
ditto and one M.P.'
'Not much use, I'm afraid,' Pallant smirked.
'But privileged. _But_ privileged,' he returned. 'And we have also my
little team--London, Blackburn, Liverpool, Leeds--I'll tell you about
Manchester later--and Me! Bat Masquerier.' He breathed the name
reverently into his tankard. 'Gentlemen, when our combination has
finished with Sir Thomas Ingell, Bart., M.P., and everything else that
is his, Sodom and Gomorrah will be a winsome bit of Merrie England
beside 'em. I must go back to town now, but I trust you gentlemen will
give me the pleasure of your company at dinner to-night at the Chop
Suey--the Red Amber Room--and we'll block out the scenario.' He laid his
hand on young Ollyett's shoulder and added: 'It's your brains I want.'
Then he left, in a good deal of astrachan collar and nickel-plated
limousine, and the place felt less crowded.
We ordered our car a few minutes later. As Woodhouse, Ollyett and I were
getting in, Sir Thomas Ingell, Bart., M.P., came out of the Hall of
Justice across the square and mounted his horse. I have sometimes
thought that if he had gone in silence he might even then have been
saved, but as he settled himself in the saddle he caught sight of us and
must needs shout: 'Not off yet? You'd better get away and you'd better
be careful.' At that moment Pallant, who had been buying
picture-postcards, came out of the inn, took Sir Thomas's eye and very
leisurely entered the car. It seemed to me that for one instant there
was a shade of uneasiness on the baronet's grey-whiskered face.
'I hope,' said Woodhouse after several miles, 'I hope he's a widower.'
'Yes,' said Pallant. 'For his poor, dear wife's sake I hope that, very
much indeed. I suppose he didn't see me in Court. Oh, here's the parish
history of Huckley written by the Rector and here's your share of the
picture-postcards. Are we all dining with this Mr. Masquerier to-night?'
'Yes!' said we all.
* * * * *
If Woodhouse knew nothing of journalism, young Ollyett, who had
graduated in a hard school, knew a good deal. Our halfpenny evening
paper, which we will call _The Bun_ to distinguish her from her
prosperous morning sister, _The Cake_, was not only diseased but
corrupt. We found this out when a man brought us the prospectus of a new
oil-field and demanded sub-leaders on its prosperity. Ollyett talked
pure Brasenose to him for three minutes. Otherwise he spoke and wrote
trade-English--a toothsome amalgam of Americanisms and epigrams. But
though the slang changes the game never alters, and Ollyett and I and,
in the end, some others enjoyed it immensely. It was weeks ere we could
see the wood for the trees, but so soon as the staff realised that they
had proprietors who backed them right or wrong, and specially when they
were wrong (which is the sole secret of journalism), and that their fate
did not hang on any passing owner's passing mood, they did miracles.
But we did not neglect Huckley. As Ollyett said our first care was to
create an 'arresting atmosphere' round it. He used to visit the village
of week-ends, on a motor-bicycle with a side-car; for which reason I
left the actual place alone and dealt with it in the abstract. Yet it
was I who drew first blood. Two inhabitants of Huckley wrote to
contradict a small, quite solid paragraph in _The Bun_ that a hoopoe had
been seen at Huckley and had, 'of course, been shot by the local
sportsmen.' There was some heat in their letters, both of which we
published. Our version of how the hoopoe got his crest from King Solomon
was, I grieve to say, so inaccurate that the Rector himself--no
sportsman as he pointed out, but a lover of accuracy--wrote to us to
correct it. We gave his letter good space and thanked him.
'This priest is going to be useful,' said Ollyett. 'He has the impartial
mind. I shall vitalise him.'
Forthwith he created M.L. Sigden, a recluse of refined tastes who in
_The Bun_ demanded to know whether this Huckley-of-the-Hoopoe was the
Hugly of his boyhood and whether, by any chance, the fell change of name
had been wrought by collusion between a local magnate and the railway,
in the mistaken interests of spurious refinement. 'For I knew it and
loved it with the maidens of my day--_eheu ab angulo!_--as Hugly,' wrote
M.L. Sigden from Oxf.
Though other papers scoffed, _The Bun_ was gravely sympathetic. Several
people wrote to deny that Huckley had been changed at birth. Only the
Rector--no philosopher as he pointed out, but a lover of accuracy--had
his doubts, which he laid publicly before Mr. M.L. Sigden who suggested,
through _The Bun_, that the little place might have begun life in
Anglo-Saxon days as 'Hogslea' or among the Normans as 'Argilé,' on
account of its much clay. The Rector had his own ideas too (he said it
was mostly gravel), and M.L. Sigden had a fund of reminiscences. Oddly
enough--which is seldom the case with free reading-matter--our
subscribers rather relished the correspondence, and contemporaries
'The secret of power,' said Ollyett, 'is not the big stick. It's the
liftable stick.' (This means the 'arresting' quotation of six or seven
lines.) 'Did you see the _Spec._ had a middle on "Rural Tenacities" last
week. That was all Huckley. I'm doing a "Mobiquity" on Huckley
Our 'Mobiquities' were Friday evening accounts of easy
motor-bike-_cum_-side-car trips round London, illustrated (we could
never get that machine to work properly) by smudgy maps. Ollyett wrote
the stuff with a fervour and a delicacy which I always ascribed to the
side-car. His account of Epping Forest, for instance, was simply young
love with its soul at its lips. But his Huckley 'Mobiquity' would have
sickened a soap-boiler. It chemically combined loathsome familiarity,
leering suggestion, slimy piety and rancid 'social service' in one
fuming compost that fairly lifted me off my feet.
'Yes,' said he, after compliments. 'It's the most vital, arresting and
dynamic bit of tump I've done up to date. _Non nobis gloria!_ I met Sir
Thomas Ingell in his own park. He talked to me again. He inspired
most of it.'
'Which? The "glutinous native drawl," or "the neglected adenoids of the
village children"?' I demanded.
'Oh, no! That's only to bring in the panel doctor. It's the last flight
we--I'm proudest of.'
This dealt with 'the crepuscular penumbra spreading her dim limbs over
the boskage'; with 'jolly rabbits'; with a herd of 'gravid polled
Angus'; and with the 'arresting, gipsy-like face of their swart,
scholarly owner--as well known at the Royal Agricultural Shows as that
of our late King-Emperor.'
'"Swart" is good and so's "gravid,"' said I, 'but the panel doctor will
be annoyed about the adenoids.'
'Not half as much as Sir Thomas will about his face,' said Ollyett. 'And
if you only knew what I've left out!'
He was right. The panel doctor spent his week-end (this is the
advantage of Friday articles) in overwhelming us with a professional
counterblast of no interest whatever to our subscribers. We told him so,
and he, then and there, battered his way with it into the _Lancet_ where
they are keen on glands, and forgot us altogether. But Sir Thomas Ingell
was of sterner stuff. He must have spent a happy week-end too. The
letter which we received from him on Monday proved him to be a kinless
loon of upright life, for no woman, however remotely interested in a man
would have let it pass the home wastepaper-basket. He objected to our
references to his own herd, to his own labours in his own village, which
he said was a Model Village, and to our infernal insolence; but he
objected most to our invoice of his features. We wrote him courtously to
ask whether the letter was meant for publication. He, remembering, I
presume, the Duke of Wellington, wrote back, 'publish and be damned.'
'Oh! This is too easy,' Ollyett said as he began heading the letter.
'Stop a minute,' I said. 'The game is getting a little beyond us.
To-night's the Bat dinner.' (I may have forgotten to tell you that our
dinner with Bat Masquerier in the Red Amber Room of the Chop Suey had
come to be a weekly affair.) 'Hold it over till they've all seen it.'
'Perhaps you're right,' he said. 'You might waste it.'
At dinner, then, Sir Thomas's letter was handed round. Bat seemed to be
thinking of other matters, but Pallant was very interested.
'I've got an idea,' he said presently. 'Could you put something into
_The Bun_ to-morrow about foot-and-mouth disease in that fellow's herd?'
'Oh, plague if you like,' Ollyett replied. 'They're only five measly
Shorthorns. I saw one lying down in the park. She'll serve as a
sub-stratum of fact.'
'Then, do that; and hold the letter over meanwhile. I think _I_ come in
here,' said Pallant.
'Why?' said I.
'Because there's something coming up in the House about foot-and-mouth,
and because he wrote me a letter after that little affair when he fined
you. 'Took ten days to think it over. Here you are,' said Pallant.
'House of Commons paper, you see.'
DEAR PALLANT--Although in the past our paths have not lain
much together, I am sure you will agree with me that on the
floor of the House all members are on a footing of equality.
I make bold, therefore, to approach you in a matter which I
think capable of a very different interpretation from that
which perhaps was put upon it by your friends. Will you let
them know that that was the case and that I was in no way
swayed by animus in the exercise of my magisterial duties,
which as you, as a brother magistrate, can imagine are
frequently very distasteful to--Yours very sincerely,
_P.S._--I have seen to it that the motor vigilance to which
your friends took exception has been considerably relaxed in
'What did you answer?' said Ollyett, when all our opinions had been
'I told him I couldn't do anything in the matter. And I couldn't--then.
But you'll remember to put in that foot-and-mouth paragraph. I want
something to work upon.'
'It seems to me _The Bun_ has done all the work up to date,' I
suggested. 'When does _The Cake_ come in?'
'_The Cake_,' said Woodhouse, and I remembered afterwards that he spoke
like a Cabinet Minister on the eve of a Budget, 'reserves to itself the
fullest right to deal with situations as they arise.'
'Ye-eh!' Bat Masquerier shook himself out of his thoughts. '"Situations
as they arise." I ain't idle either. But there's no use fishing till the
swim's baited. You'--he turned to Ollyett--'manufacture very good
ground-bait.... I always tell My people--What the deuce is that?'
There was a burst of song from another private dining-room across the
landing. 'It ees some ladies from the Trefoil,' the waiter began.
'Oh, I know that. What are they singing, though?'
He rose and went out, to be greeted by shouts of applause from that
merry company. Then there was silence, such as one hears in the
form-room after a master's entry. Then a voice that we loved began
again: 'Here we go gathering nuts in May--nuts in May--nuts in May!'
'It's only 'Dal--and some nuts,' he explained when he returned. 'She
says she's coming in to dessert.' He sat down, humming the old tune to
himself, and till Miss Vidal Benzaguen entered, he held us speechless
with tales of the artistic temperament.
We obeyed Pallant to the extent of slipping into _The Bun_ a wary
paragraph about cows lying down and dripping at the mouth, which might
be read either as an unkind libel or, in the hands of a capable lawyer,
as a piece of faithful nature-study.
'And besides,' said Ollyett, 'we allude to "gravid polled Angus." I am
advised that no action can lie in respect of virgin Shorthorns. Pallant
wants us to come to the House to-night. He's got us places for the
Strangers' Gallery. I'm beginning to like Pallant.'
'Masquerier seems to like you,' I said.
'Yes, but I'm afraid of him,' Ollyett answered with perfect sincerity.
'I am. He's the Absolutely Amoral Soul. I've never met one yet.'
We went to the House together. It happened to be an Irish afternoon, and
as soon as I had got the cries and the faces a little sorted out, I
gathered there were grievances in the air, but how many of them was
'It's all right,' said Ollyett of the trained ear. 'They've shut their
ports against--oh yes--export of Irish cattle! Foot-and-mouth disease at
Ballyhellion. _I_ see Pallant's idea!'
The House was certainly all mouth for the moment, but, as I could feel,
quite in earnest. A Minister with a piece of typewritten paper seemed to
be fending off volleys of insults. He reminded me somehow of a nervous
huntsman breaking up a fox in the face of rabid hounds.
'It's question-time. They're asking questions,' said Ollyett. 'Look!
There was no mistaking it. His voice, which his enemies said was his one
parliamentary asset, silenced the hubbub as toothache silences mere
singing in the ears. He said:
'Arising out of that, may I ask if any special consideration has
recently been shown in regard to any suspected outbreak of this disease
on _this_ side of the Channel?'
He raised his hand; it held a noon edition of _The Bun_. We had thought
it best to drop the paragraph out of the later ones. He would have
continued, but something in a grey frock-coat roared and bounded on a
bench opposite, and waved another _Bun_. It was Sir Thomas Ingell.
'As the owner of the herd so dastardly implicated--' His voice was
drowned in shouts of 'Order!'--the Irish leading.
'What's wrong?' I asked Ollyett. 'He's got his hat on his head, hasn't
'Yes, but his wrath should have been put as a question.'
'Arising out of that, Mr. Speaker, Sirrr!' Sir Thomas bellowed through a
lull, 'are you aware that--that all this is a conspiracy--part of a
dastardly conspiracy to make Huckley ridiculous--to make _us_
ridiculous? Part of a deep-laid plot to make _me_ ridiculous, Mr.
The man's face showed almost black against his white whiskers, and he
struck out swimmingly with his arms. His vehemence puzzled and held the
House for an instant, and the Speaker took advantage of it to lift his
pack from Ireland to a new scent. He addressed Sir Thomas Ingell in
tones of measured rebuke, meant also, I imagine, for the whole House,
which lowered its hackles at the word. Then Pallant, shocked and pained:
'I can only express my profound surprise that in response to my simple
question the honourable member should have thought fit to indulge in a
personal attack. If I have in any way offended--'
Again the Speaker intervened, for it appeared that he regulated these
He, too, expressed surprise, and Sir Thomas sat back in a hush of
reprobation that seemed to have the chill of the centuries behind it.
The Empire's work was resumed.
'Beautiful!' said I, and I felt hot and cold up my back.
'And now we'll publish his letter,' said Ollyett.
We did--on the heels of his carefully reported outburst. We made no
comment. With that rare instinct for grasping the heart of a situation
which is the mark of the Anglo-Saxon, all our contemporaries and, I
should say, two-thirds of our correspondents demanded how such a person
could be made more ridiculous than he had already proved himself to be.
But beyond spelling his name 'Injle,' we alone refused to hit a man when
he was down.
'There's no need,' said Ollyett. 'The whole press is on the buckle from
end to end.'
Even Woodhouse was a little astonished at the ease with which it had
come about, and said as much.
'Rot!' said Ollyett. 'We haven't really begun. Huckley isn't news yet.'
'What do you mean?' said Woodhouse, who had grown to have great respect
for his young but by no means distant connection.
'Mean? By the grace of God, Master Ridley, I mean to have it so that
when Huckley turns over in its sleep, Reuters and the Press Association
jump out of bed to cable.' Then he went off at score about certain
restorations in Huckley Church which, he said--and he seemed to spend
his every week-end there--had been perpetrated by the Rector's
predecessor, who had abolished a 'leper-window' or a 'squinch-hole'
(whatever these may be) to institute a lavatory in the vestry. It did
not strike me as stuff for which Reuters or the Press Association would
lose much sleep, and I left him declaiming to Woodhouse about a
fourteenth-century font which, he said, he had unearthed in the sexton's
My methods were more on the lines of peaceful penetration. An odd copy,
in _The Bun's_ rag-and-bone library, of Hone's _Every-Day Book_ had
revealed to me the existence of a village dance founded, like all
village dances, on Druidical mysteries connected with the Solar Solstice
(which is always unchallengeable) and Mid-summer Morning, which is dewy
and refreshing to the London eye. For this I take no credit--Hone being
a mine any one can work--but that I rechristened that dance, after I
had revised it, 'The Gubby' is my title to immortal fame. It was still
to be witnessed, I wrote, 'in all its poignant purity at Huckley, that
last home of significant mediæval survivals'; and I fell so in love with
my creation that I kept it back for days, enamelling and burnishing.
'You's better put it in,' said Ollyett at last. 'It's time we asserted
ourselves again. The other fellows are beginning to poach. You saw that
thing in the _Pinnacle_ about Sir Thomas's Model Village? He must have
got one of their chaps down to do it.'
''Nothing like the wounds of a friend,' I said. 'That account of the
non-alcoholic pub alone was--'
'I liked the bit best about the white-tiled laundry and the Fallen
Virgins who wash Sir Thomas's dress shirts. Our side couldn't come
within a mile of that, you know. We haven't the proper flair for
'That's what I'm always saying,' I retorted. 'Leave 'em alone. The other
fellows are doing our work for us now. Besides I want to touch up my
"Gubby Dance" a little more.'
'No. You'll spoil it. Let's shove it in to-day. For one thing it's
Literature. I don't go in for compliments as you know, but, etc. etc.'
I had a healthy suspicion of young Ollyett in every aspect, but though I
knew that I should have to pay for it, I fell to his flattery, and my
priceless article on the 'Gubby Dance' appeared. Next Saturday he asked
me to bring out _The Bun_ in his absence, which I naturally assumed
would be connected with the little maroon side-car. I was wrong.
On the following Monday I glanced at _The Cake_ at breakfast-time to
make sure, as usual, of her inferiority to my beloved but unremunerative
_Bun_. I opened on a heading: 'The Village that Voted the Earth was
Flat.' I read ... I read that the Geoplanarian Society--a society
devoted to the proposition that the earth is flat--had held its Annual
Banquet and Exercises at Huckley on Saturday, when after convincing
addresses, amid scenes of the greatest enthusiasm, Huckley village had
decided by an unanimous vote of 438 that the earth was flat. I do not
remember that I breathed again till I had finished the two columns of
description that followed. Only one man could have written them. They
were flawless--crisp, nervous, austere yet human, poignant, vital,
arresting--most distinctly arresting--dynamic enough to shift a
city--and quotable by whole sticks at a time. And there was a leader, a
grave and poised leader, which tore me in two with mirth, until I
remembered that I had been left out--infamously and unjustifiably
dropped. I went to Ollyett's rooms. He was breakfasting, and, to do him
justice, looked conscience-stricken.
'It wasn't my fault,' he began. 'It was Bat Masquerier. I swear _I_
would have asked you to come if--'
'Never mind that,' I said. 'It's the best bit of work you've ever done
or will do. Did any of it happen?'
'Happen? Heavens! D'you think even _I_ could have invented it?'
'Is it exclusive to _The Cake_?' I cried.
'It cost Bat Masquerier two thousand,' Ollyett replied. 'D'you think
he'd let any one else in on that? But I give you my sacred word I knew
nothing about it till he asked me to come down and cover it. He had
Huckley posted in three colours, "The Geoplanarians' Annual Banquet and
Exercises." Yes, he invented "Geoplanarians." He wanted Huckley to think
it meant aeroplanes. Yes, I know that there is a real Society that
thinks the world's flat--they ought to be grateful for the lift--but Bat
made his own. He did! He created the whole show, I tell you. He swept
out half his Halls for the job. Think of that--on a Saturday! They--we
went down in motor char-à-bancs--three of 'em--one pink, one primrose,
and one forget-me-not blue--twenty people in each one and "The Earth
_is_ Flat" on each side and across the back. I went with Teddy Rickets
and Lafone from the Trefoil, and both the Silhouette Sisters, and--wait
a minute!--the Crossleigh Trio. You know the Every-Day Dramas Trio at
the Jocunda--Ada Crossleigh, "Bunt" Crossleigh, and little Victorine?
Them. And there was Hoke Ramsden, the lightning-change chap in _Morgiana
and Drexel_--and there was Billy Turpeen. Yes, you know him! The North
London Star. "I'm the Referee that got himself disliked at Blackheath."
_That_ chap! And there was Mackaye--that one-eyed Scotch fellow that all
Glasgow is crazy about. Talk of subordinating yourself for Art's sake!
Mackaye was the earnest inquirer who got converted at the end of the
meeting. And there was quite a lot of girls I didn't know, and--oh,
yes--there was 'Dal! 'Dal Benzaguen herself! We sat together, going and
coming. She's all the darling there ever was. She sent you her love, and
she told me to tell you that she won't forget about Nellie Farren. She
says you've given her an ideal to work for. She? Oh, she was the Lady
Secretary to the Geoplanarians, of course. I forget who were in the
other brakes--provincial stars mostly--but they played up gorgeously.
The art of the music-hall's changed since your day. They didn't overdo
it a bit. You see, people who believe the earth is flat don't dress
quite like other people. You may have noticed that I hinted at that in
my account. It's a rather flat-fronted Ionic style--neo-Victorian,
except for the bustles, 'Dal told me,--but 'Dal looked heavenly in it!
So did little Victorine. And there was a girl in the blue brake--she's a
provincial--but she's coming to town this winter and she'll knock
'em--Winnie Deans. Remember that! She told Huckley how she had suffered
for the Cause as a governess in a rich family where they believed that
the world is round, and how she threw up her job sooner than teach
immoral geography. That was at the overflow meeting outside the
Baptist chapel. She knocked 'em to sawdust! We must look out for
Winnie.... But Lafone! Lafone was beyond everything. Impact,
personality--conviction--the whole bag o' tricks! He sweated conviction.
Gad, he convinced _me_ while he was speaking! (Him? He was President of
the Geoplanarians, of course. Haven't you read my account?) It _is_ an
infernally plausible theory. After all, no one has actually proved the
earth is round, have they?'
'Never mind the earth. What about Huckley?'
'Oh, Huckley got tight. That's the worst of these model villages if you
let 'em smell fire-water. There's one alcoholic pub in the place that
Sir Thomas can't get rid of. Bat made it his base. He sent down the
banquet in two motor lorries--dinner for five hundred and drinks for ten
thousand. Huckley voted all right. Don't you make any mistake about
that. No vote, no dinner. A unanimous vote--exactly as I've said. At
least, the Rector and the Doctor were the only dissentients. We didn't
count them. Oh yes, Sir Thomas was there. He came and grinned at us
through his park gates. He'll grin worse to-day. There's an aniline dye
that you rub through a stencil-plate that eats about a foot into any
stone and wears good to the last. Bat had both the lodge-gates
stencilled "The Earth _is_ flat!" and all the barns and walls they could
get at.... Oh Lord, but Huckley was drunk! We had to fill 'em up to make
'em forgive us for not being aeroplanes. Unthankful yokels! D'you
realise that Emperors couldn't have commanded the talent Bat decanted on
'em? Why, 'Dal alone was.... And by eight o'clock not even a bit of
paper left! The whole show packed up and gone, and Huckley hoo-raying
for the earth being flat.'
'Very good,' I began. 'I am, as you know, a one-third proprietor of
'I didn't forget that,' Ollyett interrupted. 'That was uppermost in my
mind all the time. I've got a special account for _The Bun_ to-day--it's
an idyll--and just to show how I thought of you, I told 'Dal, coming
home, about your Gubby Dance, and she told Winnie. Winnie came back in
our char-à-banc. After a bit we had to get out and dance it in a field.
It's quite a dance the way we did it--and Lafone invented a sort of
gorilla lockstep procession at the end. Bat had sent down a film-chap on
the chance of getting something. He was the son of a clergyman--a most
dynamic personality. He said there isn't anything for the cinema in
meetings _qua_ meetings--they lack action. Films are a branch of art by
themselves. But he went wild over the Gubby. He said it was like Peter's
vision at Joppa. He took about a million feet of it. Then I photoed it
exclusive for _The Bun_. I've sent 'em in already, only remember we must
eliminate Winnie's left leg in the first figure. It's too arresting....
And there you are! But I tell you I'm afraid of Bat. That man's the
Personal Devil. He did it all. He didn't even come down himself. He said
he'd distract his people.'
'Why didn't he ask me to come?' I persisted.
'Because he said you'd distract me. He said he wanted my brains on ice.
He got 'em. I believe it's the best thing I've ever done.' He reached
for _The Cake_ and re-read it luxuriously. 'Yes, out and away the
best--supremely quotable,' he concluded, and--after another survey--'By
God, what a genius I was yesterday!'
I would have been angry, but I had not the time. That morning, Press
agencies grovelled to me in _The Bun_ office for leave to use certain
photos, which, they understood, I controlled, of a certain village
dance. When I had sent the fifth man away on the edge of tears, my
self-respect came back a little. Then there was _The Bun's_ poster to
get out. Art being elimination, I fined it down to two words (one too
many, as it proved)--'The Gubby!' in red, at which our manager
protested; but by five o'clock he told me that I was _the_ Napoleon of
Fleet Street. Ollyett's account in _The Bun_ of the Geoplanarians'
Exercises and Love Feast lacked the supreme shock of his version in _The
Cake_, but it bruised more; while the photos of 'The Gubby' (which, with
Winnie's left leg, was why I had set the doubtful press to work so
early) were beyond praise and, next day, beyond price. But even then I
did not understand.
A week later, I think it was, Bat Masquerier telephoned to me to come to
'It's your turn now,' he said. 'I'm not asking Ollyett. Come to the
I went, and, as Bat's guest, was received as Royalty is not. We sat well
back and looked out on the packed thousands. It was _Morgiana and
Drexel_, that fluid and electric review which Bat--though he gave Lafone
the credit--really created.
'Ye-es,' said Bat dreamily, after Morgiana had given 'the nasty jar' to
the Forty Thieves in their forty oil 'combinations.' 'As you say, I've
got 'em and I can hold 'em. What a man does doesn't matter much; and how
he does it don't matter either. It's the _when_--the psychological
moment. 'Press can't make up for it; money can't; brains can't. A lot's
luck, but all the rest is genius. I'm not speaking about My people now.
I'm talking of Myself.'
Then 'Dal--she was the only one who dared--knocked at the door and stood
behind us all alive and panting as Morgiana. Lafone was carrying the
police-court scene, and the house was ripped up crossways with laughter.
'Ah! Tell a fellow now,' she asked me for the twentieth time, 'did you
love Nellie Farren when you were young?'
'Did we love her?' I answered. '"If the earth and the sky and the
sea"--There were three million of us, 'Dal, and we worshipped her.'
'How did she get it across?' Dal went on.
'She was Nellie. The houses used to coo over her when she came on.'
'I've had a good deal, but I've never been cooed over yet,' said 'Dal
'It isn't the how, it's the when,' Bat repeated. 'Ah!'
He leaned forward as the house began to rock and peal full-throatedly.
'Dal fled. A sinuous and silent procession was filing into the
police-court to a scarcely audible accompaniment. It was dressed--but
the world and all its picture-palaces know how it was dressed. It
danced and it danced, and it danced the dance which bit all humanity in
the leg for half a year, and it wound up with the lockstep finale that
mowed the house down in swathes, sobbing and aching. Somebody in the
gallery moaned, 'Oh Gord, the Gubby!' and we heard the word run like a
shudder, for they had not a full breath left among them. Then 'Dal came
on, an electric star in her dark hair, the diamonds flashing in her
three-inch heels--a vision that made no sign for thirty counted seconds
while the police-court scene dissolved behind her into Morgiana's
Manicure Palace, and they recovered themselves. The star on her forehead
went out, and a soft light bathed her as she took--slowly, slowly to the
croon of adoring strings--the eighteen paces forward. We saw her first
as a queen alone; next as a queen for the first time conscious of her
subjects, and at the end, when her hands fluttered, as a woman
delighted, awed not a little, but transfigured and illuminated with
sheer, compelling affection and goodwill. I caught the broken mutter of
welcome--the coo which is more than tornadoes of applause. It died and
rose and died again lovingly.
'She's got it across,' Bat whispered. 'I've never seen her like this. I
told her to light up the star, but I was wrong, and she knew it. She's
''Dal, you darling!' some one spoke, not loudly but it carried through
'Thank _you_!' 'Dal answered, and in that broken tone one heard the last
fetter riveted. 'Good evening, boys! I've just come from--now--where the
dooce was it I have come from?' She turned to the impassive files of
the Gubby dancers, and went on: 'Ah, so good of you to remind me, you
dear, bun-faced things. I've just come from the village--The Village
that Voted the Earth was Flat.'
She swept into that song with the full orchestra. It devastated the
habitable earth for the next six months. Imagine, then, what its rage
and pulse must have been at the incandescent hour of its birth! She only
gave the chorus once. At the end of the second verse, 'Are you _with_
me, boys?' she cried, and the house tore it clean away from
her--'_Earth_ was flat--_Earth_ was flat. Flat as my hat--Flatter than
that'--drowning all but the bassoons and double-basses that marked
'Wonderful,' I said to Bat. 'And it's only "Nuts in May," with
'Yes--but _I_ did the variations,' he replied.
At the last verse she gestured to Carlini the conductor, who threw her
up his baton. She caught it with a boy's ease. 'Are you _with_ me?' she
cried once more, and--the maddened house behind her--abolished all the
instruments except the guttural belch of the double-basses on
'_Earth_'--'The Village that voted the _Earth_ was flat--_Earth_ was
flat!' It was delirium. Then she picked up the Gubby dancers and led
them in a clattering improvised lockstep thrice round the stage till her
last kick sent her diamond-hiked shoe catherine-wheeling to the
I saw the forest of hands raised to catch it, heard the roaring and
stamping pass through hurricanes to full typhoon; heard the song, pinned
down by the faithful double-basses as the bull-dog pins down the
bellowing bull, overbear even those; till at last the curtain fell and
Bat took me round to her dressing-room, where she lay spent after her
seventh call. Still the song, through all those white-washed walls,
shook the reinforced concrete of the Trefoil as steam pile-drivers shake
the flanks of a dock.
'I'm all out--first time in my life. Ah! Tell a fellow now, did I get it
across?' she whispered huskily.
'You know you did,' I replied as she dipped her nose deep in a beaker of
barley-water. 'They cooed over you.'
Bat nodded. 'And poor Nellie's dead--in Africa, ain't it?'
'I hope I'll die before they stop cooing,' said 'Dal.
'"_Earth_ was flat--_Earth_ was flat!"' Now it was more like mine-pumps
'They'll have the house down if you don't take another,' some one
'Bless 'em!' said 'Dal, and went out for her eighth, when in the face of
that cataract she said yawning, 'I don't know how _you_ feel, children,
but _I_'m dead. You be quiet.'
'Hold a minute,' said Bat to me. 'I've got to hear how it went in the
provinces. Winnie Deans had it in Manchester, and Ramsden at
Glasgow--and there are all the films too. I had rather a heavy
The telephones presently reassured him.
'It'll do,' said he. 'And _he_ said my home address was Jerusalem.' He
left me humming the refrain of 'The Holy City.' Like Ollyett I found
myself afraid of that man.
When I got out into the street and met the disgorging picture-palaces
capering on the pavements and humming it (for he had put the gramophones
on with the films), and when I saw far to the south the red electrics
flash 'Gubby' across the Thames, I feared more than ever.
* * * * *
A few days passed which were like nothing except, perhaps, a suspense of
fever in which the sick man perceives the searchlights of the world's
assembled navies in act to converge on one minute fragment of
wreckage--one only in all the black and agony-strewn sea. Then those
beams focussed themselves. Earth as we knew it--the full circuit of our
orb--laid the weight of its impersonal and searing curiosity on this
Huckley which had voted that it was flat. It asked for news about
Huckley--where and what it might be, and how it talked--it knew how it
danced--and how it thought in its wonderful soul. And then, in all the
zealous, merciless press, Huckley was laid out for it to look at, as a
drop of pond water is exposed on the sheet of a magic-lantern show. But
Huckley's sheet was only coterminous with the use of type among mankind.
For the precise moment that was necessary, Fate ruled it that there
should be nothing of first importance in the world's idle eye. One
atrocious murder, a political crisis, an incautious or heady
continental statesman, the mere catarrh of a king, would have wiped out
the significance of our message, as a passing cloud annuls the urgent
helio. But it was halcyon weather in every respect. Ollyett and I did
not need to lift our little fingers any more than the Alpine climber
whose last sentence has unkeyed the arch of the avalanche. The thing
roared and pulverised and swept beyond eyesight all by itself--all by
itself. And once well away, the fall of kingdoms could not have
Ours is, after all, a kindly earth. While The Song ran and raped it with
the cataleptic kick of 'Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay,' multiplied by the West
African significance of 'Everybody's doing it,' plus twice the infernal
elementality of a certain tune in _Dona et Gamma_; when for all
practical purposes, literary, dramatic, artistic, social, municipal,
political, commercial, and administrative, the Earth _was_ flat, the
Rector of Huckley wrote to us--again as a lover of accuracy--to point
out that the Huckley vote on 'the alleged flatness of this scene of our
labours here below' was _not_ unanimous; he and the doctor having voted
against it. And the great Baron Reuter himself (I am sure it could have
been none other) flashed that letter in full to the front, back, and
both wings of this scene of our labours. For Huckley was News. _The Bun_
also contributed a photograph which cost me some trouble to fake.
'We are a vital nation,' said Ollyett while we were discussing affairs
at a Bat dinner. 'Only an Englishman could have written that letter at
this present juncture.'
'It reminded me of a tourist in the Cave of the Winds under Niagara.
Just one figure in a mackintosh. But perhaps you saw our photo?' I
'Yes,' Bat replied. 'I've been to Niagara, too. And how's Huckley taking
'They don't quite understand, of course,' said Ollyett. 'But it's
bringing pots of money into the place. Ever since the motor-bus
excursions were started--'
'I didn't know they had been,' said Pallant.
'Oh yes. Motor char-à-bancs--uniformed guides and key-bugles included.
They're getting a bit fed up with the tune there nowadays,'
'They play it under his windows, don't they?' Bat asked. 'He can't stop
the right of way across his park.'
'He cannot,' Ollyett answered. 'By the way, Woodhouse, I've bought that
font for you from the sexton. I paid fifteen pounds for it.'
'What am I supposed to do with it?' asked Woodhouse.
'You give it to the Victoria and Albert Museum. It is fourteenth-century
work all right. You can trust me.'
'Is it worth it--now?' said Pallant. 'Not that I'm weakening, but merely
as a matter of tactics?'
'But this is true,' said Ollyett. 'Besides, it is my hobby, I always
wanted to be an architect. I'll attend to it myself. It's too serious
for _The Bun_ and miles too good for _The Cake_.'
He broke ground in a ponderous architectural weekly, which had never
heard of Huckley. There was no passion in his statement, but mere fact
backed by a wide range of authorities. He established beyond doubt that
the old font at Huckley had been thrown out, on Sir Thomas's
instigation, twenty years ago, to make room for a new one of Bath stone
adorned with Limoges enamels; and that it had lain ever since in a
corner of the sexton's shed. He proved, with learned men to support him,
that there was only one other font in all England to compare with it. So
Woodhouse bought it and presented it to a grateful South Kensington
which said it would see the earth still flatter before it returned the
treasure to purblind Huckley. Bishops by the benchful and most of the
Royal Academy, not to mention 'Margaritas ante Porcos,' wrote fervently
to the papers. _Punch_ based a political cartoon on it; the _Times_ a
third leader, 'The Lust of Newness'; and the _Spectator_ a scholarly and
delightful middle, 'Village Hausmania.' The vast amused outside world
said in all its tongues and types: 'Of course! This is just what Huckley
would do!' And neither Sir Thomas nor the Rector nor the sexton nor any
one else wrote to deny it.
'You see,' said Ollyett, 'this is much more of a blow to Huckley than it
looks--because every word of it's true. Your Gubby dance was
inspiration, I admit, but it hadn't its roots in--'
'Two hemispheres and four continents so far,' I pointed out.
'Its roots in the hearts of Huckley was what I was going to say. Why
don't you ever come down and look at the place? You've never seen it
since we were stopped there.'
'I've only my week-ends free,' I said, 'and you seem to spend yours
there pretty regularly--with the side-car. I was afraid--'
'Oh, _that's_ all right,' he said cheerily. 'We're quite an old engaged
couple now. As a matter of fact, it happened after "the gravid polled
Angus" business. Come along this Saturday. Woodhouse says he'll run us
down after lunch. He wants to see Huckley too.'
Pallant could not accompany us, but Bat took his place.
'It's odd,' said Bat, 'that none of us except Ollyett has ever set eyes
on Huckley since that time. That's what I always tell My people. Local
colour is all right after you've got your idea. Before that, it's a mere
nuisance.' He regaled us on the way down with panoramic views of the
success--geographical and financial--of 'The Gubby' and The Song.
'By the way,' said he, 'I've assigned 'Dal all the gramophone rights of
"The Earth." She's a born artist. 'Hadn't sense enough to hit me for
triple-dubs the morning after. She'd have taken it out in coos.'
'Bless her! And what'll she make out of the gramophone rights?' I asked.
'Lord knows!' he replied. 'I've made fifty-four thousand my little end
of the business, and it's only just beginning. Hear _that_!'
A shell-pink motor-brake roared up behind us to the music on a key-bugle
of 'The Village that Voted the Earth was Flat.' In a few minutes we
overtook another, in natural wood, whose occupants were singing it
through their noses.
'I don't know that agency. It must be Cook's,' said Ollyett. 'They _do_
suffer.' We were never out of earshot of the tune the rest of the way
Though I knew it would be so, I was disappointed with the actual aspect
of the spot we had--it is not too much to say--created in the face of
the nations. The alcoholic pub; the village green; the Baptist chapel;
the church; the sexton's shed; the Rectory whence the so-wonderful
letters had come; Sir Thomas's park gate-pillars still violently
declaring 'The Earth _is_ flat,' were as mean, as average, as ordinary
as the photograph of a room where a murder has been committed. Ollyett,
who, of course, knew the place specially well, made the most of it to
us. Bat, who had employed it as a back-cloth to one of his own dramas,
dismissed it as a thing used and emptied, but Woodhouse expressed my
feelings when he said: 'Is that all--after all we've done?'
'_I_ know,' said Ollyett soothingly. '"Like that strange song I heard
Apollo sing: When Ilion like a mist rose into towers." I've felt the
same sometimes, though it has been Paradise for me. But they
The fourth brake in thirty minutes had just turned into Sir Thomas's
park to tell the Hall that 'The _Earth_ was flat'; a knot of obviously
American tourists were kodaking his lodge-gates; while the tea-shop
opposite the lych-gate was full of people buying postcards of the old
font as it had lain twenty years in the sexton's shed. We went to the
alcoholic pub and congratulated the proprietor.
'It's bringin' money to the place,' said he. 'But in a sense you can buy
money too dear. It isn't doin' us any good. People are laughin' at us.
That's what they're doin'.... Now, with regard to that Vote of ours you
may have heard talk about....'
'For Gorze sake, chuck that votin' business,' cried an elderly man at
the door. 'Money-gettin' or no money-gettin', we're fed up with it.'
'Well, I do think,' said the publican, shifting his ground, 'I do think
Sir Thomas might ha' managed better in some things.'
'He tole me,'--the elderly man shouldered his way to the bar--'he tole
me twenty years ago to take an' lay that font in my tool-shed. He _tole_
me so himself. An' now, after twenty years, me own wife makin' me out
little better than the common 'angman!'
'That's the sexton,' the publican explained. 'His good lady sells the
postcards--if you 'aven't got some. But we feel Sir Thomas might ha'
'What's he got to do with it?' said Woodhouse.
'There's nothin' we can trace 'ome to 'im in so many words, but we think
he might 'ave saved us the font business. Now, in regard to that votin'
'Chuck it! Oh, chuck it!' the sexton roared, 'or you'll 'ave me cuttin'
my throat at cock-crow. 'Ere's another parcel of fun-makers!'
A motor-brake had pulled up at the door and a multitude of men and
women immediately descended. We went out to look. They bore rolled
banners, a reading-desk in three pieces, and, I specially noticed, a
collapsible harmonium, such as is used on ships at sea.
'Salvation Army?' I said, though I saw no uniforms.
Two of them unfurled a banner between poles which bore the legend: 'The
Earth _is_ flat.' Woodhouse and I turned to Bat. He shook his head. 'No,
no! Not me.... If I had only seen their costumes in advance!'
'Good Lord!' said Ollyett. 'It's the genuine Society!'
The company advanced on the green with the precision of people well
broke to these movements. Scene-shifters could not have been quicker
with the three-piece rostrum, nor stewards with the harmonium. Almost
before its cross-legs had been kicked into their catches, certainly
before the tourists by the lodge-gates had begun to move over, a woman
sat down to it and struck up a hymn:
Hear ther truth our tongues are telling,
Spread ther light from shore to shore,
God hath given man a dwelling
Flat and flat for evermore.
When ther Primal Dark retreated,
When ther deeps were undesigned,
He with rule and level meted
Habitation for mankind!
I saw sick envy on Bat's face. 'Curse Nature,' he muttered. 'She gets
ahead of you every time. To think _I_ forgot hymns and a harmonium!'
Then came the chorus:
Hear ther truth our tongues are telling,
Spread ther light from shore to shore--
Oh, be faithful! Oh, be truthful!
Earth is flat for evermore.
They sang several verses with the fervour of Christians awaiting their
lions. Then there were growlings in the air. The sexton, embraced by the
landlord, two-stepped out of the pub-door. Each was trying to outroar
the other. 'Apologising in advarnce for what he says,' the landlord
shouted: 'You'd better go away' (here the sexton began to speak words).
'This isn't the time nor yet the place for--for any more o' this chat.'
The crowd thickened. I saw the village police-sergeant come out of his
cottage buckling his belt.
'But surely,' said the woman at the harmonium, 'there must be some
mistake. We are not suffragettes.'
'Damn it! They'd be a change,' cried the sexton. 'You get out of this!
Don't talk! _I_ can't stand it for one! Get right out, or we'll
The crowd which was being recruited from every house in sight echoed the
invitation. The sergeant pushed forward. A man beside the reading-desk
said: 'But surely we are among dear friends and sympathisers. Listen to
me for a moment.'
It was the moment that a passing char-à-banc chose to strike into The
Song. The effect was instantaneous. Bat, Ollyett, and I, who by divers
roads have learned the psychology of crowds, retreated towards the
tavern door. Woodhouse, the newspaper proprietor, anxious, I presume, to
keep touch with the public, dived into the thick of it. Every one else
told the Society to go away at once. When the lady at the harmonium (I
began to understand why it is sometimes necessary to kill women) pointed
at the stencilled park pillars and called them 'the cromlechs of our
common faith,' there was a snarl and a rush. The police-sergeant checked
it, but advised the Society to keep on going. The Society withdrew into
the brake fighting, as it were, a rear-guard action of oratory up each
step. The collapsed harmonium was hauled in last, and with the perfect
unreason of crowds, they cheered it loudly, till the chauffeur slipped
in his clutch and sped away. Then the crowd broke up, congratulating all
concerned except the sexton, who was held to have disgraced his office
by having sworn at ladies. We strolled across the green towards
Woodhouse, who was talking to the police-sergeant near the park-gates.
We were not twenty yards from him when we saw Sir Thomas Ingell emerge
from the lodge and rush furiously at Woodhouse with an uplifted stick,
at the same time shrieking: 'I'll teach you to laugh, you--' but Ollyett
has the record of the language. By the time we reached them, Sir Thomas
was on the ground; Woodhouse, very white, held the walking-stick and was
saying to the sergeant:
'I give this person in charge for assault.'
'But, good Lord!' said the sergeant, whiter than Woodhouse. 'It's Sir
'Whoever it is, it isn't fit to be at large,' said Woodhouse. The crowd
suspecting something wrong began to reassemble, and all the English
horror of a row in public moved us, headed by the sergeant, inside the
lodge. We shut both park-gates and lodge-door.
'You saw the assault, sergeant,' Woodhouse went on. 'You can testify I
used no more force than was necessary to protect myself. You can testify
that I have not even damaged this person's property. (Here! take your
stick, you!) You heard the filthy language he used.'
'I--I can't say I did,' the sergeant stammered.
'Oh, but _we_ did!' said Ollyett, and repeated it, to the apron-veiled
horror of the lodge-keeper's wife.
Sir Thomas on a hard kitchen chair began to talk. He said he had 'stood
enough of being photographed like a wild beast,' and expressed loud
regret that he had not killed 'that man,' who was 'conspiring with the
sergeant to laugh at him.'
''Ad you ever seen 'im before, Sir Thomas?' the sergeant asked.
'No! But it's time an example was made here. I've never seen the sweep
in my life.'
I think it was Bat Masquerier's magnetic eye that recalled the past to
him, for his face changed and his jaw dropped. 'But I have!' he groaned.
'I remember now.'
Here a writhing man entered by the back door. He was, he said, the
village solicitor. I do not assert that he licked Woodhouse's boots, but
we should have respected him more if he had and been done with it. His
notion was that the matter could be accommodated, arranged and
compromised for gold, and yet more gold. The sergeant thought so too.
Woodhouse undeceived them both. To the sergeant he said, 'Will you or
will you not enter the charge?' To the village solicitor he gave the
name of his lawyers, at which the man wrung his hands and cried, 'Oh,
Sir T., Sir T.!' in a miserable falsetto, for it was a Bat Masquerier of
a firm. They conferred together in tragic whispers.
'I don't dive after Dickens,' said Ollyett to Bat and me by the window,
'but every time _I_ get into a row I notice the police-court always
fills up with his characters.'
'I've noticed that too,' said Bat. 'But the odd thing is you mustn't
give the public straight Dickens--not in My business. I wonder why
Then Sir Thomas got his second wind and cursed the day that he, or it
may have been we, were born. I feared that though he was a Radical he
might apologise and, since he was an M.P., might lie his way out of the
difficulty. But he was utterly and truthfully beside himself. He asked
foolish questions--such as what we were doing in the village at all, and
how much blackmail Woodhouse expected to make out of him. But neither
Woodhouse nor the sergeant nor the writhing solicitor listened. The
upshot of their talk, in the chimney-corner, was that Sir Thomas stood
engaged to appear next Monday before his brother magistrates on charges
of assault, disorderly conduct, and language calculated, etc. Ollyett
was specially careful about the language.
Then we left. The village looked very pretty in the late light--pretty
and tuneful as a nest of nightingales.
'You'll turn up on Monday, I hope,' said Woodhouse, when we reached
town. That was his only allusion to the affair.
So we turned up--through a world still singing that the Earth was
flat--at the little clay-coloured market-town with the large Corn
Exchange and the small Jubilee memorial. We had some difficulty in
getting seats in the court. Woodhouse's imported London lawyer was a man
of commanding personality, with a voice trained to convey blasting
imputations by tone. When the case was called, he rose and stated his
client's intention not to proceed with the charge. His client, he went
on to say, had not entertained, and, of course, in the circumstances
could not have entertained, any suggestion of accepting on behalf of
public charities any moneys that might have been offered to him on the
part of Sir Thomas's estate. At the same time, no one acknowledged more
sincerely than his client the spirit in which those offers had been made
by those entitled to make them. But, as a matter of fact--here he became
the man of the world colloguing with his equals--certain--er--details
had come to his client's knowledge _since_ the lamentable outburst,
which ... He shrugged his shoulders. Nothing was served by going into
them, but he ventured to say that, had those painful circumstances only
been known earlier, his client would--again 'of course'--never have
dreamed--A gesture concluded the sentence, and the ensnared Bench looked
at Sir Thomas with new and withdrawing eyes. Frankly, as they could see,
it would be nothing less than cruelty to proceed further with
this--er-unfortunate affair. He asked leave, therefore, to withdraw the
charge _in toto_, and at the same time to express his client's deepest
sympathy with all who had been in any way distressed, as his client had
been, by the fact and the publicity of proceedings which he could, of
course, again assure them that his client would never have dreamed of
instituting if, as he hoped he had made plain, certain facts had been
before his client at the time when.... But he had said enough. For his
fee it seemed to me that he had.
Heaven inspired Sir Thomas's lawyer--all of a sweat lest his client's
language should come out--to rise up and thank him. Then, Sir
Thomas--not yet aware what leprosy had been laid upon him, but grateful
to escape on any terms--followed suit. He was heard in interested
silence, and people drew back a pace as Gehazi passed forth.
'You hit hard,' said Bat to Woodhouse afterwards. 'His own people think
'You don't say so? I'll show you some of his letters to-night at
dinner,' he replied.
He brought them to the Red Amber Room of the Chop Suey. We forgot to be
amazed, as till then we had been amazed, over the Song or 'The Gubby,'
or the full tide of Fate that seemed to run only for our sakes. It did
not even interest Ollyett that the verb 'to huckle' had passed into the
English leader-writers' language. We were studying the interior of a
soul, flash-lighted to its grimiest corners by the dread of 'losing its
'And then it thanked you, didn't it, for dropping the case?' said
'Yes, and it sent me a telegram to confirm.' Woodhouse turned to Bat.
'Now d'you think I hit too hard?' he asked.
'No-o!' said Bat. 'After all--I'm talking of every one's business
now--one can't ever do anything in Art that comes up to Nature in any
game in life. Just think how this thing has--'
'Just let me run through that little case of yours again,' said Pallant,
and picked up _The Bun_ which had it set out in full.
'Any chance of 'Dal looking in on us to-night?' Ollyett began.
'She's occupied with her Art too,' Bat answered bitterly. 'What's the
use of Art? Tell me, some one!' A barrel-organ outside promptly pointed
out that the _Earth_ was flat. 'The gramophone's killing street organs,
but I let loose a hundred-and-seventy-four of those hurdygurdys twelve
hours after The Song,' said Bat. 'Not counting the Provinces.' His face
brightened a little.
'Look here!' said Pallant over the paper. 'I don't suppose you or those
asinine J.P.'s knew it--but your lawyer ought to have known that you've
all put your foot in it most confoundedly over this assault case.'
'What's the matter?' said Woodhouse.
'It's ludicrous. It's insane. There isn't two penn'orth of legality in
the whole thing. Of course, you could have withdrawn the charge, but the
way you went about it is childish--besides being illegal. What on earth
was the Chief Constable thinking of?'
'Oh, he was a friend of Sir Thomas's. They all were for that matter,' I
'He ought to be hanged. So ought the Chairman of the Bench. I'm talking
as a lawyer now.'
'Why, what have we been guilty of? Misprision of treason or compounding
a felony--or what?' said Ollyett.
'I'll tell you later.' Pallant went back to the paper with knitted
brows, smiling unpleasantly from time to time. At last he laughed.
'Thank you!' he said to Woodhouse. 'It ought to be pretty useful--for
'What d'you mean?' said Ollyett.
'For our side. They are all Rads who are mixed up in this--from the
Chief Constable down. There must be a Question. There must be a
'Yes, but I wanted the charge withdrawn in my own way,' Woodhouse
'That's nothing to do with the case. It's the legality of your silly
methods. You wouldn't understand if I talked till morning,' He began to
pace the room, his hands behind him. 'I wonder if I can get it through
our Whip's thick head that it's a chance.... That comes of stuffing the
Bench with radical tinkers,' he muttered.
'Oh, sit down!' said Woodhouse.
'Where's your lawyer to be found now?' he jerked out.
'At the Trefoil,' said Bat promptly. 'I gave him the stage-box for
to-night. He's an artist too.'
'Then I'm going to see him,' said Pallant. 'Properly handled this ought
to be a godsend for our side.' He withdrew without apology.
'Certainly, this thing keeps on opening up, and up,' I remarked inanely.
'It's beyond me!' said Bat. 'I don't think if I'd known I'd have
ever ... Yes, I would, though. He said my home address was--'
'It was his tone--his tone!' Ollyett almost shouted. Woodhouse said
nothing, but his face whitened as he brooded.
'Well, any way,' Bat went on, 'I'm glad I always believed in God and
Providence and all those things. Else I should lose my nerve. We've put
it over the whole world--the full extent of the geographical globe. We
couldn't stop it if we wanted to now. It's got to burn itself out. I'm
not in charge any more. What d'you expect'll happen next. Angels?'
I expected nothing. Nothing that I expected approached what I got.
Politics are not my concern, but, for the moment, since it seemed that
they were going to 'huckle' with the rest, I took an interest in them.
They impressed me as a dog's life without a dog's decencies, and I was
confirmed in this when an unshaven and unwashen Pallant called on me at
ten o'clock one morning, begging for a bath and a couch.
'Bail too?' I asked. He was in evening dress and his eyes were sunk feet
in his head.
'No,' he said hoarsely. 'All night sitting. Fifteen divisions. 'Nother
to-night. Your place was nearer than mine, so--' He began to undress
in the hall.
When he awoke at one o'clock he gave me lurid accounts of what he said
was history, but which was obviously collective hysteria. There had been
a political crisis. He and his fellow M.P.'s had 'done things'--I never
quite got at the things--for eighteen hours on end, and the pitiless
Whips were even then at the telephones to herd 'em up to another
dog-fight. So he snorted and grew hot all over again while he might have
'I'm going to pitch in my question about that miscarriage of justice at
Huckley this afternoon, if you care to listen to it,' he said. 'It'll be
absolutely thrown away--in our present state. I told 'em so; but it's my
only chance for weeks. P'raps Woodhouse would like to come.'
'I'm sure he would. Anything to do with Huckley interests us,' I said.
'It'll miss fire, I'm afraid. Both sides are absolutely cooked. The
present situation has been working up for some time. You see the row was
bound to come, etc. etc.,' and he flew off the handle once more.
I telephoned to Woodhouse, and we went to the House together. It was a
dull, sticky afternoon with thunder in the air. For some reason or
other, each side was determined to prove its virtue and endurance to the
utmost. I heard men snarling about it all round me. 'If they won't spare
us, we'll show 'em no mercy,' 'Break the brutes up from the start. They
can't stand late hours.' 'Come on! No shirking! I know _you've_ had a
Turkish bath,' were some of the sentences I caught on our way. The House
was packed already, and one could feel the negative electricity of a
jaded crowd wrenching at one's own nerves, and depressing the
'This is bad!' Woodhouse whispered. 'There'll be a row before they've
finished. Look at the Front Benches!' And he pointed out little personal
signs by which I was to know that each man was on edge. He might have
spared himself. The House was ready to snap before a bone had been
thrown. A sullen minister rose to reply to a staccato question. His
supporters cheered defiantly. 'None o' that! None o' that!' came from
the Back Benches. I saw the Speaker's face stiffen like the face of a
helmsman as he humours a hard-mouthed yacht after a sudden following
sea. The trouble was barely met in time. There came a fresh, apparently
causeless gust a few minutes later--savage, threatening, but futile. It
died out--one could hear the sigh--in sudden wrathful realisation of
the dreary hours ahead, and the ship of state drifted on.
Then Pallant--and the raw House winced at the torture of his
voice--rose. It was a twenty-line question, studded with legal
technicalities. The gist of it was that he wished to know whether the
appropriate Minister was aware that there had been a grave miscarriage
of justice on such and such a date, at such and such a place, before
such and such justices of the peace, in regard to a case which arose--
I heard one desperate, weary 'damn!' float up from the pit of that
torment. Pallant sawed on--'out of certain events which occurred at the
village of Huckley.'
The House came to attention with a parting of the lips like a hiccough,
and it flashed through my mind.... Pallant repeated, 'Huckley. The
'That voted the _Earth_ was flat.' A single voice from a back Bench sang
it once like a lone frog in a far pool.
'_Earth_ was flat,' croaked another voice opposite.
'_Earth_ was flat.' There were several. Then several more.
It was, you understand, the collective, overstrained nerve of the House,
snapping, strand by strand to various notes, as the hawser parts from
'The Village that voted the _Earth_ was flat.' The tune was beginning to
shape itself. More voices were raised and feet began to beat time. Even
so it did not occur to me that the thing would--
'The Village that voted the _Earth_ was flat!' It was easier now to see
who were not singing. There were still a few. Of a sudden (and this
proves the fundamental instability of the cross-bench mind) a
cross-bencher leaped on his seat and there played an imaginary
double-bass with tremendous maestro-like wagglings of the elbow.
The last strand parted. The ship of state drifted out helpless on the
rocking tide of melody.
'The Village that voted the _Earth_ was flat!
The Village that voted the _Earth_ was flat!'
The Irish first conceived the idea of using their order-papers as
funnels wherewith to reach the correct '_vroom--vroom_' on '_Earth_.'
Labour, always conservative and respectable at a crisis, stood out
longer than any other section, but when it came in it was howling
syndicalism. Then, without distinction of Party, fear of constituents,
desire for office, or hope of emolument, the House sang at the tops and
at the bottoms of their voices, swaying their stale bodies and
epileptically beating with their swelled feet. They sang 'The Village
that voted the _Earth_ was flat': first, because they wanted to, and
secondly--which is the terror of that song--because they could not stop.
For no consideration could they stop.
Pallant was still standing up. Some one pointed at him and they laughed.
Others began to point, lunging, as it were, in time with the tune. At
this moment two persons came in practically abreast from behind the
Speaker's chair, and halted appalled. One happened to be the Prime
Minister and the other a messenger. The House, with tears running down
their cheeks, transferred their attention to the paralysed couple. They
pointed six hundred forefingers at them. They rocked, they waved, and
they rolled while they pointed, but still they sang. When they weakened
for an instant, Ireland would yell: 'Are ye _with_ me, bhoys?' and they
all renewed their strength like Antaeus. No man could say afterwards
what happened in the Press or the Strangers' Gallery. It was the House,
the hysterical and abandoned House of Commons that held all eyes, as it
deafened all ears. I saw both Front Benches bend forward, some with
their foreheads on their despatch-boxes, the rest with their faces in
their hands; and their moving shoulders jolted the House out of its last
rag of decency. Only the Speaker remained unmoved. The entire press of
Great Britain bore witness next day that he had not even bowed his head.
The Angel of the Constitution, for vain was the help of man, foretold
him the exact moment at which the House would have broken into 'The
Gubby.' He is reported to have said: 'I heard the Irish beginning to
shuffle it. So I adjourned.' Pallant's version is that he added: 'And I
was never so grateful to a private member in all my life as I was to
He made no explanation. He did not refer to orders or disorders. He
simply adjourned the House till six that evening. And the House
adjourned--some of it nearly on all fours.
I was not correct when I said that the Speaker was the only man who did
not laugh. Woodhouse was beside me all the time. His face was set and
quite white--as white, they told me, as Sir Thomas Ingell's when he
went, by request, to a private interview with his Chief Whip.
The Soldier may forget his sword
The Sailorman the sea,
The Mason may forget the Word
And the Priest his litany:
The maid may forget both jewel and gem,
And the bride her wedding-dress--
But the Jew shall forget Jerusalem
Ere we forget the Press!
Who once hath stood through the loaded hour
Ere, roaring like the gale,
The Harrild and the Hoe devour
Their league-long paper bale,
And has lit his pipe in the morning calm
That follows the midnight stress--
He hath sold his heart to the old Black Art
We call the daily Press.
Who once hath dealt in the widest game
That all of a man can play,
No later love, no larger fame
Will lure him long away.
As the war-horse smelleth the battle afar,
The entered Soul, no less,
He saith: 'Ha! Ha!' where the trumpets are
And the thunders of the Press.
Canst thou number the days that we fulfil,
Or the _Times_ that we bring forth?
Canst thou send the lightnings to do thy will,
And cause them reign on earth?
Hast thou given a peacock goodly wings
To please his foolishness?
Sit down at the heart of men and things,
Companion of the Press!
The Pope may launch his Interdict,
The Union its decree,
But the bubble is blown and the bubble is pricked
By Us and such as We.
Remember the battle and stand aside
While Thrones and Powers confess
That King over all the children of pride
Is the Press--the Press--the Press!