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    The Village that Voted the Earth was Flat

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    Chapter 6
    Previous Chapter
    (1913)

    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
    shouted.

    '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
    endangering traffic.

    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
    just now.'

    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
    applaud too.

    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
    established _auto-da-fé_.

    '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
    quoted freely.

    '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
    next week.'

    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.'

    We read:

    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,

    T. INGELL.

    _P.S._--I have seen to it that the motor vigilance to which
    your friends took exception has been considerably relaxed in
    my district.

    'What did you answer?' said Ollyett, when all our opinions had been
    expressed.

    '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
    beyond me.

    '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!
    Pallant's up.'

    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
    he?'

    '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.
    Speaker, Sir!'

    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
    matters.

    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
    tool-shed.

    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
    sexual slobber.'

    '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
    _The Bun_.'

    '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
    the Trefoil.

    'It's your turn now,' he said. 'I'm not asking Ollyett. Come to the
    stage-box.'

    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
    wistfully.

    '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
    an artist.'

    "Dal, you darling!' some one spoke, not loudly but it carried through
    the house.

    '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
    the word.

    'Wonderful,' I said to Bat. 'And it's only "Nuts in May," with
    variations.'

    '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
    electrolier.

    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
    in flood.

    'They'll have the house down if you don't take another,' some one
    called.

    '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
    week-end.'

    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
    diverted it.

    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
    said proudly.

    'Yes,' Bat replied. 'I've been to Niagara, too. And how's Huckley taking
    it?'

    '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,'
    Ollyett added.

    '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
    to Huckley.

    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
    _do_ suffer.'

    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'
    done better.'

    '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'
    business--'

    '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
    font you!'

    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
    Thomas.'

    '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
    that is.'

    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
    he's mad.'

    '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
    position.'

    'And then it thanked you, didn't it, for dropping the case?' said
    Pallant.

    '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
    replied.

    '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
    us.'

    '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
    Question.'

    'Yes, but I wanted the charge withdrawn in my own way,' Woodhouse
    insisted.

    '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
    been resting.

    '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
    afternoon soul.

    '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
    village--'

    '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
    its moorings.

    '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
    Mr. Pallant.'

    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 PRESS

    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!
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 6
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