The napoleon of notting.., p.14
The Napoleon of Notting Hill, p.14
CHAPTER III--_The Great Army of South Kensington_
The article from the special correspondent of the _Court Journal_arrived in due course, written on very coarse copy-paper in the King'sarabesque of handwriting, in which three words filled a page, and yetwere illegible. Moreover, the contribution was the more perplexing atfirst, as it opened with a succession of erased paragraphs. The writerappeared to have attempted the article once or twice in severaljournalistic styles. At the side of one experiment was written, "TryAmerican style," and the fragment began--
"The King must go. We want gritty men. Flapdoodle is all very ...;"and then broke off, followed by the note, "Good sound journalismsafer. Try it."
The experiment in good sound journalism appeared to begin--
"The greatest of English poets has said that a rose by any ..."
This also stopped abruptly. The next annotation at the side was almostundecipherable, but seemed to be something like--
"How about old Steevens and the _mot juste_? E.g...."
"Morning winked a little wearily at me over the curt edge of CampdenHill and its houses with their sharp shadows. Under the abrupt blackcardboard of the outline, it took some little time to detect colours;but at length I saw a brownish yellow shifting in the obscurity, and Iknew that it was the guard of Swindon's West Kensington army. They arebeing held as a reserve, and lining the whole ridge above theBayswater Road. Their camp and their main force is under the greatWaterworks Tower on Campden Hill. I forgot to say that the WaterworksTower looked swart.
"As I passed them and came over the curve of Silver Street, I saw theblue cloudy masses of Barker's men blocking the entrance to thehigh-road like a sapphire smoke (good). The disposition of the alliedtroops, under the general management of Mr. Wilson, appears to be asfollows: The Yellow army (if I may so describe the WestKensingtonians) lies, as I have said, in a strip along the ridge, itsfurthest point westward being the west side of Campden Hill Road, itsfurthest point eastward the beginning of Kensington Gardens. The Greenarmy of Wilson lines the Notting Hill High Road itself from Queen'sRoad to the corner of Pembridge Road, curving round the latter, andextending some three hundred yards up towards Westbourne Grove.Westbourne Grove itself is occupied by Barker of South Kensington. Thefourth side of this rough square, the Queen's Road side, is held bysome of Buck's Purple warriors.
"The whole resembles some ancient and dainty Dutch flower-bed. Alongthe crest of Campden Hill lie the golden crocuses of West Kensington.They are, as it were, the first fiery fringe of the whole. Northwardlies our hyacinth Barker, with all his blue hyacinths. Round to thesouth-west run the green rushes of Wilson of Bayswater, and a line ofviolet irises (aptly symbolised by Mr. Buck) complete the whole. Theargent exterior ... (I am losing the style. I should have said'Curving with a whisk' instead of merely 'Curving.' Also I should havecalled the hyacinths 'sudden.' I cannot keep this up. War is too rapidfor this style of writing. Please ask office-boy to insert _motsjustes_.)
"The truth is that there is nothing to report. That commonplaceelement which is always ready to devour all beautiful things (as theBlack Pig in the Irish Mythology will finally devour the stars andgods); that commonplace element, as I say, has in its Black Piggishway devoured finally the chances of any romance in this affair; thatwhich once consisted of absurd but thrilling combats in the streets,has degenerated into something which is the very prose of warfare--ithas degenerated into a siege. A siege may be defined as a peace plusthe inconvenience of war. Of course Wayne cannot hold out. There is nomore chance of help from anywhere else than of ships from the moon.And if old Wayne had stocked his street with tinned meats till all hisgarrison had to sit on them, he couldn't hold out for more than amonth or two. As a matter of melancholy fact, he has done somethingrather like this. He has stocked his street with food until there mustbe uncommonly little room to turn round. But what is the good? To holdout for all that time and then to give in of necessity, what does itmean? It means waiting until your victories are forgotten, and thentaking the trouble to be defeated. I cannot understand how Wayne canbe so inartistic.
"And how odd it is that one views a thing quite differently when oneknows it is defeated! I always thought Wayne was rather fine. But now,when I know that he is done for, there seem to be nothing else butWayne. All the streets seem to point at him, all the chimneys seem tolean towards him. I suppose it is a morbid feeling; but Pump Streetseems to be the only part of London that I feel physically. I suppose,I say, that it is morbid. I suppose it is exactly how a man feelsabout his heart when his heart is weak. 'Pump Street'--the heart is apump. And I am drivelling.
"Our finest leader at the front is, beyond all question, GeneralWilson. He has adopted alone among the other Provosts the uniform ofhis own halberdiers, although that fine old sixteenth-century garb wasnot originally intended to go with red side-whiskers. It was he who,against a most admirable and desperate defence, broke last night intoPump Street and held it for at least half an hour. He was afterwardsexpelled from it by General Turnbull, of Notting Hill, but only afterdesperate fighting and the sudden descent of that terrible darknesswhich proved so much more fatal to the forces of General Buck andGeneral Swindon.
"Provost Wayne himself, with whom I had, with great good fortune, amost interesting interview, bore the most eloquent testimony to theconduct of General Wilson and his men. His precise words are asfollows: 'I have bought sweets at his funny little shop when I wasfour years old, and ever since. I never noticed anything, I am ashamedto say, except that he talked through his nose, and didn't washhimself particularly. And he came over our barricade like a devil fromhell.' I repeated this speech to General Wilson himself, with somedelicate improvements, and he seemed pleased with it. He does not,however, seem pleased with anything so much just now as he is with thewearing of a sword. I have it from the front on the best authoritythat General Wilson was not completely shaved yesterday. It isbelieved in military circles that he is growing a moustache....
"As I have said, there is nothing to report. I walk wearily to thepillar-box at the corner of Pembridge Road to post my copy. Nothingwhatever has happened, except the preparations for a particularly longand feeble siege, during which I trust I shall not be required to beat the Front. As I glance up Pembridge Road in the growing dusk, theaspect of that road reminds me that there is one note worth adding.General Buck has suggested, with characteristic acumen, to GeneralWilson that, in order to obviate the possibility of such a catastropheas overwhelmed the allied forces in the last advance on Notting Hill(the catastrophe, I mean, of the extinguished lamps), each soldiershould have a lighted lantern round his neck. This is one of thethings which I really admire about General Buck. He possesses whatpeople used to mean by 'the humility of the man of science,' that is,he learns steadily from his mistakes. Wayne may score off him in someother way, but not in that way. The lanterns look like fairy lights asthey curve round the end of Pembridge Road.
* * * * *
"_Later_.--I write with some difficulty, because the blood will rundown my face and make patterns on the paper. Blood is a very beautifulthing; that is why it is concealed. If you ask why blood runs down myface, I can only reply that I was kicked by a horse. If you ask mewhat horse, I can reply with some pride that it was a war-horse. Ifyou ask me how a war-horse came on the scene in our simple pedestrianwarfare, I am reduced to the necessity, so painful to a specialcorrespondent, of recounting my experiences.
"I was, as I have said, in the very act of posting my copy at thepillar-box, and of glancing as I did so up the glittering curve ofPembridge Road, studded with the lights of Wilson's men. I don't knowwhat made me pause to examine the matter, but I had a fancy that theline of lights, where it melted into the indistinct brown twilight,was more indistinct than usual. I was almost certain that in a certainstretch of the road where there had been five lights there were nowonly four. I strained my eyes; I counted them again, and there wereonly three. A moment after there were only two; an instant after onlyone; and an instant after that the lanterns near to me swung likejangled bells, as if struck suddenly. They flared and fell; and forthe moment the fall of them was like the fall of the sun and stars outof heaven. It left everything in a primal blindness. As a matter offact, the road was not yet legitimately dark. There were still redrays of a sunset in the sky, and the brown gloaming was still warmed,as it were, with a feeling as of firelight. But for three secondsafter the lanterns swung and sank, I saw in front of me a blacknessblocking the sky. And with the fourth second I knew that thisblackness which blocked the sky was a man on a great horse; and I wastrampled and tossed aside as a swirl of horsemen swept round thecorner. As they turned I saw that they were not black, but scarlet;they were a sortie of the besieged, Wayne riding ahead.
"I lifted myself from the gutter, blinded with blood from a veryslight skin-wound, and, queerly enough, not caring either for theblindness or for the slightness of the wound. For one mortal minuteafter that amazing cavalcade had spun past, there was dead stillnesson the empty road. And then came Barker and all his halberdiersrunning like devils in the track of them. It had been their businessto guard the gate by which the sortie had broken out; but they had notreckoned, and small blame to them, on cavalry. As it was, Barker andhis men made a perfectly splendid run after them, almost catchingWayne's horses by the tails.
"Nobody can understand the sortie. It consists only of a small numberof Wayne's garrison. Turnbull himself, with the vast mass of it, isundoubtedly still barricaded in Pump Street. Sorties of this kind arenatural enough in the majority of historical sieges, such as the siegeof Paris in 1870, because in such cases the besieged are certain ofsome support outside. But what can be the object of it in this case?Wayne knows (or if he is too mad to know anything, at least Turnbullknows) that there is not, and never has been, the smallest chance ofsupport for him outside; that the mass of the sane modern inhabitantsof London regard his farcical patriotism with as much contempt as theydo the original idiotcy that gave it birth--the folly of our miserableKing. What Wayne and his horsemen are doing nobody can evenconjecture. The general theory round here is that he is simply atraitor, and has abandoned the besieged. But all such larger but yetmore soluble riddles are as nothing compared to the one small butunanswerable riddle: Where did they get the horses?
* * * * *
"_Later_.--I have heard a most extraordinary account of the origin ofthe appearance of the horses. It appears that that amazing person,General Turnbull, who is now ruling Pump Street in the absence ofWayne, sent out, on the morning of the declaration of war, a vastnumber of little boys (or cherubs of the gutter, as we pressmen say),with half-crowns in their pockets, to take cabs all over London. Noless than a hundred and sixty cabs met at Pump Street; werecommandeered by the garrison. The men were set free, the cabs used tomake barricades, and the horses kept in Pump Street, where they werefed and exercised for several days, until they were sufficientlyrapid and efficient to be used for this wild ride out of the town. Ifthis is so, and I have it on the best possible authority, the methodof the sortie is explained. But we have no explanation of its object.Just as Barker's Blues were swinging round the corner after them, theywere stopped, but not by an enemy; only by the voice of one man, andhe a friend. Red Wilson of Bayswater ran alone along the main roadlike a madman, waving them back with a halberd snatched from asentinel. He was in supreme command, and Barker stopped at the corner,staring and bewildered. We could hear Wilson's voice loud and distinctout of the dusk, so that it seemed strange that the great voice shouldcome out of the little body. 'Halt, South Kensington! Guard thisentry, and prevent them returning. I will pursue. Forward, the GreenGuards!'
"A wall of dark blue uniforms and a wood of pole-axes was between meand Wilson, for Barker's men blocked the mouth of the road in tworigid lines. But through them and through the dusk I could hear theclear orders and the clank of arms, and see the green army of Wilsonmarching by towards the west. They were our great fighting-men. Wilsonhad filled them with his own fire; in a few days they had becomeveterans. Each of them wore a silver medal of a pump, to boast thatthey alone of all the allied armies had stood victorious in PumpStreet.
"I managed to slip past the detachment of Barker's Blues, who areguarding the end of Pembridge Road, and a sharp spell of runningbrought me to the tail of Wilson's green army as it swung down theroad in pursuit of the flying Wayne. The dusk had deepened into almosttotal darkness; for some time I only heard the throb of the marchingpace. Then suddenly there was a cry, and the tall fighting men wereflung back on me, almost crushing me, and again the lanterns swung andjingled, and the cold nozzles of great horses pushed into the press ofus. They had turned and charged us.
"'You fools!' came the voice of Wilson, cleaving our panic with asplendid cold anger. 'Don't you see? the horses have no riders!'
"It was true. We were being plunged at by a stampede of horses withempty saddles. What could it mean? Had Wayne met some of our men andbeen defeated? Or had he flung these horses at us as some kind of ruseor mad new mode of warfare, such as he seemed bent on inventing? Ordid he and his men want to get away in disguise? Or did they want tohide in houses somewhere?
"Never did I admire any man's intellect (even my own) so much as I didWilson's at that moment. Without a word, he simply pointed the halberd(which he still grasped) to the southern side of the road. As youknow, the streets running up to the ridge of Campden Hill from themain road are peculiarly steep, they are more like sudden flights ofstairs. We were just opposite Aubrey Road, the steepest of all; upthat it would have been far more difficult to urge half-trained horsesthan to run up on one's feet.
"'Left wheel!' hallooed Wilson. 'They have gone up here,' he added tome, who happened to be at his elbow.
"'Why?' I ventured to ask.
"'Can't say for certain,' replied the Bayswater General. 'They've goneup here in a great hurry, anyhow. They've simply turned their horsesloose, because they couldn't take them up. I fancy I know. I fancythey're trying to get over the ridge to Kensingston or Hammersmith, orsomewhere, and are striking up here because it's just beyond the endof our line. Damned fools, not to have gone further along the road,though. They've only just shaved our last outpost. Lambert is hardlyfour hundred yards from here. And I've sent him word.'
"'Lambert!' I said. 'Not young Wilfrid Lambert--my old friend.'
"'Wilfrid Lambert's his name,' said the General; 'used to be a "manabout town;" silly fellow with a big nose. That kind of man alwaysvolunteers for some war or other; and what's funnier, he generallyisn't half bad at it. Lambert is distinctly good. The yellow WestKensingtons I always reckoned the weakest part of the army; but he haspulled them together uncommonly well, though he's subordinate toSwindon, who's a donkey. In the attack from Pembridge Road the othernight he showed great pluck.'
"'He has shown greater pluck than that,' I said. 'He has criticised mysense of humour. That was his first engagement.'
"This remark was, I am sorry to say, lost on the admirable commanderof the allied forces. We were in the act of climbing the last half ofAubrey Road, which is so abrupt a slope that it looks like anold-fashioned map leaning up against the wall. There are lines oflittle trees, one above the other, as in the old-fashioned map.
"We reached the top of it, panting somewhat, and were just about toturn the corner by a place called (in chivalrous anticipation of ourwars of sword and axe) Tower Crecy, when we were suddenly knocked inthe stomach (I can use no other term) by a horde of men hurled backupon us. They wore the red uniform of Wayne; their halberds werebroken; their foreheads bleeding; but the mere impetus of theirretreat staggered us as we stood at the last ridge of the slope.
"'Good old Lambert!' yelled out suddenly the stolid Mr. Wilson ofBayswater, in an uncontrollable excitement. 'Damned jolly old Lambert!He's got there already! He's driving them back on us! Hurrah! hurrah!Forward, the Green Guards!'
"We swung round the corner eastwards, Wilson running first,brandishing the halberd--
"Will you pardon a little egotism? Every one likes a little egotism,when it takes the form, as mine does in this case, of a disgracefulconfession. The thing is really a little interesting, because it showshow the merely artistic habit has bitten into men like me. It was themost intensely exciting occurrence that had ever come to me in mylife; and I was really intensely excited about it. And yet, as weturned that corner, the first impression I had was of something thathad nothing to do with the fight at all. I was stricken from the skyas by a thunderbolt, by the height of the Waterworks Tower on CampdenHill. I don't know whether Londoners generally realise how high itlooks when one comes out, in this way, almost immediately under it.For the second it seemed to me that at the foot of it even human warwas a triviality. For the second I felt as if I had been drunk withsome trivial orgie, and that I had been sobered by the shock of thatshadow. A moment afterwards, I realised that under it was going onsomething more enduring than stone, and something wilder than thedizziest height--the agony of man. And I knew that, compared to that,this overwhelming tower was itself a triviality; it was a mere stalkof stone which humanity could snap like a stick.
"I don't know why I have talked so much about this silly oldWaterworks Tower, which at the very best was only a tremendousbackground. It was that, certainly, a sombre and awful landscape,against which our figures were relieved. But I think the real reasonwas, that there was in my own mind so sharp a transition from thetower of stone to the man of flesh. For what I saw first when I hadshaken off, as it were, the shadow of the tower, was a man, and a manI knew.
"Lambert stood at the further corner of the street that curved roundthe tower, his figure outlined in some degree by the beginning ofmoonrise. He looked magnificent, a hero; but he looked something muchmore interesting than that. He was, as it happened, in almostprecisely the same swaggering attitude in which he had stood nearlyfifteen years ago, when he swung his walking-stick and struck it intothe ground, and told me that all my subtlety was drivel. And, upon mysoul, I think he required more courage to say that than to fight as hedoes now. For then he was fighting against something that was in theascendant, fashionable, and victorious. And now he is fighting (at therisk of his life, no doubt) merely against something which is alreadydead, which is impossible, futile; of which nothing has been moreimpossible and futile than this very sortie which has brought him intocontact with it. People nowadays allow infinitely too little for thepsychological sense of victory as a factor in affairs. Then he wasattacking the degraded but undoubtedly victorious Quin; now he isattacking the interesting but totally extinguished Wayne.
"His name recalls me to the details of the scene. The facts werethese. A line of red halberdiers, headed by Wayne, were marching upthe street, close under the northern wall, which is, in fact, thebottom of a sort of dyke or fortification of the Waterworks. Lambertand his yellow West Kensingtons had that instant swept round thecorner and had shaken the Waynites heavily, hurling back a few of themore timid, as I have just described, into our very arms. When ourforce struck the tail of Wayne's, every one knew that all was up withhim. His favourite military barber was struck down. His grocer wasstunned. He himself was hurt in the thigh, and reeled back against thewall. We had him in a trap with two jaws. 'Is that you?' shoutedLambert, genially, to Wilson, across the hemmed-in host of NottingHill. 'That's about the ticket,' replied General Wilson; 'keep themunder the wall.'
"The men of Notting Hill were falling fast. Adam Wayne threw up hislong arms to the wall above him, and with a spring stood upon it; agigantic figure against the moon. He tore the banner out of the handsof the standard-bearer below him, and shook it out suddenly above ourheads, so that it was like thunder in the heavens.
"'Round the Red Lion!' he cried. 'Swords round the Red Lion! Halberdsround the Red Lion! They are the thorns round rose.'
"His voice and the crack of the banner made a momentary rally, andLambert, whose idiotic face was almost beautiful with battle, felt itas by an instinct, and cried--
"'Drop your public-house flag, you footler! Drop it!'
"'The banner of the Red Lion seldom stoops,' said Wayne, proudly,letting it out luxuriantly on the night wind.
"The next moment I knew that poor Adam's sentimental theatricality hadcost him much. Lambert was on the wall at a bound, his sword in histeeth, and had slashed at Wayne's head before he had time to draw hissword, his hands being busy with the enormous flag. He stepped backonly just in time to avoid the first cut, and let the flag-staff fall,so that the spear-blade at the end of it pointed to Lambert.
"'The banner stoops,' cried Wayne, in a voice that must have startledstreets. 'The banner of Notting Hill stoops to a hero.' And with thewords he drove the spear-point and half the flag-staff throughLambert's body and dropped him dead upon the road below, a stone uponthe stones of the street.
"'Notting Hill! Notting Hill!' cried Wayne, in a sort of divine rage.'Her banner is all the holier for the blood of a brave enemy! Up onthe wall, patriots! Up on the wall! Notting Hill!'
"With his long strong arm he actually dragged a man up on to the wallto be silhouetted against the moon, and more and more men climbed upthere, pulled themselves and were pulled, till clusters and crowds ofthe half-massacred men of Pump Street massed upon the wall above us.
"'Notting Hill! Notting Hill!' cried Wayne, unceasingly.
"'Well, what about Bayswater?' said a worthy working-man in Wilson'sarmy, irritably. 'Bayswater for ever!'
"'We have won!' cried Wayne, striking his flag-staff in the ground.'Bayswater for ever! We have taught our enemies patriotism!'
"'Oh, cut these fellows up and have done with it!' cried one ofLambert's lieutenants, who was reduced to something bordering onmadness by the responsibility of succeeding to the command.
"'Let us by all means try,' said Wilson, grimly; and the two armiesclosed round the third.
* * * * *
"I simply cannot describe what followed. I am sorry, but there is sucha thing as physical fatigue, as physical nausea, and, I may add, asphysical terror. Suffice it to say that the above paragraph waswritten about 11 p.m., and that it is now about 2 a.m., and that thebattle is not finished, and is not likely to be. Suffice it further tosay that down the steep streets which lead from the Waterworks Towerto the Notting Hill High Road, blood has been running, and is running,in great red serpents, that curl out into the main thoroughfare andshine in the moon.
* * * * *
"_Later._--The final touch has been given to all this terriblefutility. Hours have passed; morning has broken; men are still swayingand fighting at the foot of the tower and round the corner of AubreyRoad; the fight has not finished. But I know it is a farce.
"News has just come to show that Wayne's amazing sortie, followed bythe amazing resistance through a whole night on the wall of theWaterworks, is as if it had not been. What was the object of thatstrange exodus we shall probably never know, for the simple reasonthat every one who knew will probably be cut to pieces in the courseof the next two or three hours.
"I have heard, about three minutes ago, that Buck and Buck's methodshave won after all. He was perfectly right, of course, when one comesto think of it, in holding that it was physically impossible for astreet to defeat a city. While we thought he was patrolling theeastern gates with his Purple army; while we were rushing about thestreets and waving halberds and lanterns; while poor old Wilson wasscheming like Moltke and fighting like Achilles to entrap the wildProvost of Notting Hill--Mr. Buck, retired draper, has simply drivendown in a hansom cab and done something about as plain as butter andabout as useful and nasty. He has gone down to South Kensington,Brompton, and Fulham, and by spending about four thousand pounds ofhis private means, has raised an army of nearly as many men; that isto say, an army big enough to beat, not only Wayne, but Wayne and allhis present enemies put together. The army, I understand, is encampedalong High Street, Kensington, and fills it from the Church to AddisonRoad Bridge. It is to advance by ten different roads uphill to thenorth.
"I cannot endure to remain here. Everything makes it worse than itneed be. The dawn, for instance, has broken round Campden Hill;splendid spaces of silver, edged with gold, are torn out of the sky.Worse still, Wayne and his men feel the dawn; their faces, thoughbloody and pale, are strangely hopeful ... insupportably pathetic.Worst of all, for the moment they are winning. If it were not for Buckand the new army they might just, and only just, win.
"I repeat, I cannot stand it. It is like watching that wonderful playof old Maeterlinck's (you know my partiality for the healthy, jollyold authors of the nineteenth century), in which one has to watch thequiet conduct of people inside a parlour, while knowing that the verymen are outside the door whose word can blast it all with tragedy. Andthis is worse, for the men are not talking, but writhing and bleedingand dropping dead for a thing that is already settled--and settledagainst them. The great grey masses of men still toil and tug andsway hither and thither around the great grey tower; and the tower isstill motionless, as it will always be motionless. These men will becrushed before the sun is set; and new men will arise and be crushed,and new wrongs done, and tyranny will always rise again like the sun,and injustice will always be as fresh as the flowers of spring. Andthe stone tower will always look down on it. Matter, in its brutalbeauty, will always look down on those who are mad enough to consentto die, and yet more mad, since they consent to live."
* * * * *
Thus ended abruptly the first and last contribution of the SpecialCorrespondent of the _Court Journal_ to that valued periodical.
The Correspondent himself, as has been said, was simply sick andgloomy at the last news of the triumph of Buck. He slouched sadly downthe steep Aubrey Road, up which he had the night before run in sounusual an excitement, and strolled out into the empty dawn-lit mainroad, looking vaguely for a cab. He saw nothing in the vacant spaceexcept a blue-and-gold glittering thing, running very fast, whichlooked at first like a very tall beetle, but turned out, to his greatastonishment, to be Barker.
"Have you heard the good news?" asked that gentleman.
"Yes," said Quin, with a measured voice. "I have heard the gladtidings of great joy. Shall we take a hansom down to Kensington? I seeone over there."
They took the cab, and were, in four minutes, fronting the ranks ofthe multitudinous and invincible army. Quin had not spoken a word allthe way, and something about him had prevented the essentiallyimpressionable Barker from speaking either.
The great army, as it moved up Kensington High Street, calling manyheads to the numberless windows, for it was long indeed--longer thanthe lives of most of the tolerably young--since such an army had beenseen in London. Compared with the vast organisation which was nowswallowing up the miles, with Buck at its head as leader, and the Kinghanging at its tail as journalist, the whole story of our problem wasinsignificant. In the presence of that army the red Notting Hills andthe green Bayswaters were alike tiny and straggling groups. In itspresence the whole struggle round Pump Street was like an ant-hillunder the hoof of an ox. Every man who felt or looked at thatinfinity of men knew that it was the triumph of Buck's brutalarithmetic. Whether Wayne was right or wrong, wise or foolish, wasquite a fair matter for discussion. But it was a matter of history. Atthe foot of Church Street, opposite Kensington Church, they paused intheir glowing good humour.
"Let us send some kind of messenger or herald up to them," said Buck,turning to Barker and the King. "Let us send and ask them to cave inwithout more muddle."
"What shall we say to them?" said Barker, doubtfully.
"The facts of the case are quite sufficient," rejoined Buck. "It isthe facts of the case that make an army surrender. Let us simply saythat our army that is fighting their army, and their army that isfighting our army, amount altogether to about a thousand men. Say thatwe have four thousand. It is very simple. Of the thousand fighting,they have at the very most, three hundred, so that, with those threehundred, they have now to fight four thousand seven hundred men. Letthem do it if it amuses them."
And the Provost of North Kensington laughed.
The herald who was despatched up Church Street in all the pomp of theSouth Kensington blue and gold, with the Three Birds on his tabard,was attended by two trumpeters.
"What will they do when they consent?" asked Barker, for the sake ofsaying something in the sudden stillness of that immense army.
"I know my Wayne very well," said Buck, laughing. "When he submits hewill send a red herald flaming with the Lion of Notting Hill. Evendefeat will be delightful to him, since it is formal and romantic."
The King, who had strolled up to the head of the line, broke silencefor the first time.
"I shouldn't wonder," he said, "if he defied you, and didn't send theherald after all. I don't think you do know your Wayne quite so wellas you think."
"All right, your Majesty," said Buck, easily; "if it isn'tdisrespectful, I'll put my political calculations in a very simpleform. I'll lay you ten pounds to a shilling the herald comes with thesurrender."
"All right," said Auberon. "I may be wrong, but it's my notion of AdamWayne that he'll die in his city, and that, till he is dead, it willnot be a safe property."
"The bet's made, your Majesty," said Buck.
Another long silence ensued, in the course of which Barker alone, amidthe motionless army, strolled and stamped in his restless way.
Then Buck suddenly leant forward.
"It's taking your money, your Majesty," he said. "I knew it was. Therecomes the herald from Adam Wayne."
"It's not," cried the King, peering forward also. "You brute, it's ared omnibus."
"It's not," said Buck, calmly; and the King did not answer, for downthe centre of the spacious and silent Church Street was walking,beyond question, the herald of the Red Lion, with two trumpeters.
Buck had something in him which taught him how to be magnanimous. Inhis hour of success he felt magnanimous towards Wayne, whom he reallyadmired; magnanimous towards the King, off whom he had scored sopublicly; and, above all, magnanimous towards Barker, who was thetitular leader of this vast South Kensington army, which his owntalent had evoked.
"General Barker," he said, bowing, "do you propose now to receive themessage from the besieged?"
Barker bowed also, and advanced towards the herald.
"Has your master, Mr. Adam Wayne, received our request for surrender?"he asked.
The herald conveyed a solemn and respectful affirmative.
Barker resumed, coughing slightly, but encouraged.
"What answer does your master send?"
The herald again inclined himself submissively, and answered in a kindof monotone.
"My message is this. Adam Wayne, Lord High Provost of Notting Hill,under the charter of King Auberon and the laws of God and all mankind,free and of a free city, greets James Barker, Lord High Provost ofSouth Kensington, by the same rights free and honourable, leader ofthe army of the South. With all friendly reverence, and with allconstitutional consideration, he desires James Barker to lay down hisarms, and the whole army under his command to lay down their armsalso."
Before the words were ended the King had run forward into the openspace with shining eyes. The rest of the staff and the forefront ofthe army were literally struck breathless. When they recovered theybegan to laugh beyond restraint; the revulsion was too sudden.
"The Lord High Provost of Notting Hill," continued the herald, "doesnot propose, in the event of your surrender, to use his victory forany of those repressive purposes which others have entertained againsthim. He will leave you your free laws and your free cities, your flagsand your governments. He will not destroy the religion of SouthKensington, or crush the old customs of Bayswater."
An irrepressible explosion of laughter went up from the forefront ofthe great army.
"The King must have had something to do with this humour," said Buck,slapping his thigh. "It's too deliciously insolent. Barker, have aglass of wine."
And in his conviviality he actually sent a soldier across to therestaurant opposite the church and brought out two glasses for atoast.
When the laughter had died down, the herald continued quitemonotonously--
"In the event of your surrendering your arms and dispersing under thesuperintendence of our forces, these local rights of yours shall becarefully observed. In the event of your not doing so, the Lord HighProvost of Notting Hill desires to announce that he has just capturedthe Waterworks Tower, just above you, on Campden Hill, and that withinten minutes from now, that is, on the reception through me of yourrefusal, he will open the great reservoir and flood the whole valleywhere you stand in thirty feet of water. God save King Auberon!"
Buck had dropped his glass and sent a great splash of wine over theroad.
"But--but--" he said; and then by a last and splendid effort of hisgreat sanity, looked the facts in the face.
"We must surrender," he said. "You could do nothing against fiftythousand tons of water coming down a steep hill, ten minutes hence. Wemust surrender. Our four thousand men might as well be four. _VicistiGalilaee!_ Perkins, you may as well get me another glass of wine."
In this way the vast army of South Kensington surrendered and theEmpire of Notting Hill began. One further fact in this connection isperhaps worth mentioning--the fact that, after his victory, Adam Waynecaused the great tower on Campden Hill to be plated with gold andinscribed with a great epitaph, saying that it was the monument ofWilfrid Lambert, the heroic defender of the place, and surmounted witha statue, in which his large nose was done something less than justiceto.
The Napoleon of Notting Hill by G. K. Chesterton / Fantasy have rating 4.1 out of 5 / Based on41 votes