An earnest and eloquent petition was
sent up to the King signed with the names of Wilson,
Barker, Buck, Swindon, and others. It urged that
at the forthcoming conference to be held in his Majesty’s
presence touching the final disposition of the property
in Pump Street, it might be held not inconsistent
with political decorum and with the unutterable respect
they entertained for his Majesty if they appeared
in ordinary morning dress, without the costume decreed
for them as Provosts. So it happened that the
company appeared at that council in frock-coats and
that the King himself limited his love of ceremony
to appearing (after his not unusual manner), in evening
dress with one order - in this case not the
Garter, but the button of the Club of Old Clipper’s
Best Pals, a decoration obtained (with difficulty)
from a halfpenny boy’s paper. Thus also
it happened that the only spot of colour in the room
was Adam Wayne, who entered in great dignity with
the great red robes and the great sword.
“We have met,” said Auberon,
“to decide the most arduous of modern problems.
May we be successful.” And he sat down gravely.
Buck turned his chair a little, and
flung one leg over the other.
“Your Majesty,” he said,
quite good-humouredly, “there is only one thing
I can’t understand, and that is why this affair
is not settled in five minutes. Here’s
a small property which is worth a thousand to us and
is not worth a hundred to any one else. We offer
the thousand. It’s not business-like, I
know, for we ought to get it for less, and it’s
not reasonable and it’s not fair on us, but I’m
damned if I can see why it’s difficult.”
“The difficulty may be very
simply stated,” said Wayne. “You may
offer a million and it will be very difficult for
you to get Pump Street.”
“But look here, Mr. Wayne,”
cried Barker, striking in with a kind of cold excitement.
“Just look here. You’ve no right to
take up a position like that. You’ve a
right to stand out for a bigger price, but you aren’t
doing that. You’re refusing what you and
every sane man knows to be a splendid offer simply
from malice or spite - it must be malice
or spite. And that kind of thing is really criminal;
it’s against the public good. The King’s
Government would be justified in forcing you.”
With his lean fingers spread on the
table, he stared anxiously at Wayne’s face,
which did not move.
“In forcing you ... it would,” he repeated.
“It shall,” said Buck,
shortly, turning to the table with a jerk. “We
have done our best to be decent.”
Wayne lifted his large eyes slowly.
“Was it my Lord Buck,”
he inquired, “who said that the King of England
‘shall’ do something?”
Buck flushed and said testily -
“I mean it must - it
ought to. As I say, we’ve done our best
to be generous; I defy any one to deny it. As
it is, Mr. Wayne, I don’t want to say a word
that’s uncivil. I hope it’s not uncivil
to say that you can be, and ought to be, in gaol.
It is criminal to stop public works for a whim.
A man might as well burn ten thousand onions in his
front garden or bring up his children to run naked
in the street, as do what you say you have a right
to do. People have been compelled to sell before
now. The King could compel you, and I hope he
“Until he does,” said
Wayne, calmly, “the power and government of
this great nation is on my side and not yours, and
I defy you to defy it.”
“In what sense,” cried
Barker, with his feverish eyes and hands, “is
the Government on your side?”
With one ringing movement Wayne unrolled
a great parchment on the table. It was decorated
down the sides with wild water-colour sketches of
vestrymen in crowns and wreaths.
“The Charter of the Cities,” he began.
Buck exploded in a brutal oath and laughed.
“That tomfool’s joke. Haven’t
we had enough -
“And there you sit,” cried
Wayne, springing erect and with a voice like a trumpet,
“with no argument but to insult the King before
Buck rose also with blazing eyes.
“I am hard to bully,”
he began - and the slow tones of the King struck in with incomparable gravity -
“My Lord Buck, I must ask you
to remember that your King is present. It is
not often that he needs to protect himself among his
Barker turned to him with frantic gestures.
“For God’s sake don’t
back up the madman now,” he implored. “Have
your joke another time. Oh, for Heaven’s
“My Lord Provost of South Kensington,”
said King Auberon, steadily, “I do not follow
your remarks, which are uttered with a rapidity unusual
at Court. Nor do your well-meant efforts to convey
the rest with your fingers materially assist me.
I say that my Lord Provost of North Kensington, to
whom I spoke, ought not in the presence of his Sovereign
to speak disrespectfully of his Sovereign’s ordinances.
Do you disagree?”
Barker turned restlessly in his chair, and Buck cursed
without speaking. The King went on in a comfortable voice -
“My Lord Provost of Notting Hill, proceed.”
Wayne turned his blue eyes on the
King, and to every one’s surprise there was
a look in them not of triumph, but of a certain childish
“I am sorry, your Majesty,”
he said; “I fear I was more than equally to
blame with the Lord Provost of North Kensington.
We were debating somewhat eagerly, and we both rose
to our feet. I did so first, I am ashamed to
say. The Provost of North Kensington is, therefore,
comparatively innocent. I beseech your Majesty
to address your rebuke chiefly, at least, to me.
Mr. Buck is not innocent, for he did no doubt, in
the heat of the moment, speak disrespectfully.
But the rest of the discussion he seems to me to have
conducted with great good temper.”
Buck looked genuinely pleased, for
business men are all simple-minded, and have therefore
that degree of communion with fanatics. The King,
for some reason, looked, for the first time in his
“This very kind speech of the
Provost of Notting Hill,” began Buck, pleasantly,
“seems to me to show that we have at least got
on to a friendly footing. Now come, Mr. Wayne.
Five hundred pounds have been offered to you for a
property you admit not to be worth a hundred.
Well, I am a rich man and I won’t be outdone
in generosity. Let us say fifteen hundred pounds,
and have done with it. And let us shake hands;”
and he rose, glowing and laughing.
“Fifteen hundred pounds,”
whispered Mr. Wilson of Bayswater; “can we do
fifteen hundred pounds?”
“I’ll stand the racket,”
said Buck, heartily. “Mr. Wayne is a gentleman
and has spoken up for me. So I suppose the negotiations
are at an end.”
“They are indeed at an end.
I am sorry I cannot sell you the property.”
“What?” cried Mr. Barker, starting to
“Mr. Buck has spoken correctly,” said
“I have, I have,” cried Buck, springing
up also; “I said -
“Mr. Buck has spoken correctly,”
said the King; “the negotiations are at an end.”
All the men at the table rose to their
feet; Wayne alone rose without excitement.
“Have I, then,” he said,
“your Majesty’s permission to depart?
I have given my last answer.”
“You have it,” said Auberon,
smiling, but not lifting his eyes from the table.
And amid a dead silence the Provost of Notting Hill
passed out of the room.
“Well?” said Wilson, turning round to
Barker - “well?”
Barker shook his head desperately.
“The man ought to be in an asylum,”
he said. “But one thing is clear - we
need not bother further about him. The man can
be treated as mad.”
“Of course,” said Buck,
turning to him with sombre decisiveness. “You’re
perfectly right, Barker. He is a good enough fellow,
but he can be treated as mad. Let’s put
it in simple form. Go and tell any twelve men
in any town, go and tell any doctor in any town, that
there is a man offered fifteen hundred pounds for
a thing he could sell commonly for four hundred, and
that when asked for a reason for not accepting it
he pleads the inviolate sanctity of Notting Hill and
calls it the Holy Mountain. What would they say?
What more can we have on our side than the common
sense of everybody? On what else do all laws
rest? I’ll tell you, Barker, what’s
better than any further discussion. Let’s
send in workmen on the spot to pull down Pump Street.
And if old Wayne says a word, arrest him as a lunatic.
Barker’s eyes kindled.
“I always regarded you, Buck,
if you don’t mind my saying so, as a very strong
man. I’ll follow you.”
“So, of course, will I,” said Wilson.
Buck rose again impulsively.
“Your Majesty,” he said,
glowing with popularity, “I beseech your Majesty
to consider favourably the proposal to which we have
committed ourselves. Your Majesty’s leniency,
our own offers, have fallen in vain on that extraordinary
man. He may be right. He may be God.
He may be the devil. But we think it, for practical
purposes, more probable that he is off his head.
Unless that assumption were acted on, all human affairs
would go to pieces. We act on it, and we propose
to start operations in Notting Hill at once.”
The King leaned back in his chair.
“The Charter of the Cities ...,” he said
with a rich intonation.
But Buck, being finally serious, was
also cautious, and did not again make the mistake
“Your Majesty,” he said,
bowing, “I am not here to say a word against
anything your Majesty has said or done. You are
a far better educated man than I, and no doubt there
were reasons, upon intellectual grounds, for those
proceedings. But may I ask you and appeal to your
common good-nature for a sincere answer? When
you drew up the Charter of the Cities, did you contemplate
the rise of a man like Adam Wayne? Did you expect
that the Charter - whether it was an experiment,
or a scheme of decoration, or a joke - could
ever really come to this - to stopping a
vast scheme of ordinary business, to shutting up a
road, to spoiling the chances of cabs, omnibuses,
railway stations, to disorganising half a city, to
risking a kind of civil war? Whatever were your
objects, were they that?”
Barker and Wilson looked at him admiringly;
the King more admiringly still.
“Provost Buck,” said Auberon,
“you speak in public uncommonly well. I
give you your point with the magnanimity of an artist.
My scheme did not include the appearance of Mr. Wayne.
Alas! would that my poetic power had been great enough.”
“I thank your Majesty,”
said Buck, courteously, but quickly. “Your
Majesty’s statements are always clear and studied;
therefore I may draw a deduction. As the scheme,
whatever it was, on which you set your heart did not
include the appearance of Mr. Wayne, it will survive
his removal. Why not let us clear away this particular
Pump Street, which does interfere with our plans,
and which does not, by your Majesty’s own statement,
interfere with yours.”
“Caught out!” said the
King, enthusiastically and quite impersonally, as
if he were watching a cricket match.
“This man Wayne,” continued
Buck, “would be shut up by any doctors in England.
But we only ask to have it put before them. Meanwhile
no one’s interests, not even in all probability
his own, can be really damaged by going on with the
improvements in Notting Hill. Not our interests,
of course, for it has been the hard and quiet work
of ten years. Not the interests of Notting Hill,
for nearly all its educated inhabitants desire the
change. Not the interests of your Majesty, for
you say, with characteristic sense, that you never
contemplated the rise of the lunatic at all.
Not, as I say, his own interests, for the man has
a kind heart and many talents, and a couple of good
doctors would probably put him righter than all the
free cities and sacred mountains in creation.
I therefore assume, if I may use so bold a word, that
your Majesty will not offer any obstacle to our proceeding
with the improvements.”
And Mr. Buck sat down amid subdued
but excited applause among the allies.
“Mr. Buck,” said the King,
“I beg your pardon, for a number of beautiful
and sacred thoughts, in which you were generally classified
as a fool. But there is another thing to be considered.
Suppose you send in your workmen, and Mr. Wayne does
a thing regrettable indeed, but of which, I am sorry
to say, I think him quite capable - knocks
their teeth out?”
“I have thought of that, your
Majesty,” said Mr. Buck, easily, “and I
think it can simply be guarded against. Let us
send in a strong guard of, say, a hundred men - a
hundred of the North Kensington Halberdiers”
(he smiled grimly), “of whom your Majesty is
so fond. Or say a hundred and fifty. The
whole population of Pump Street, I fancy, is only about
“Still they might stand together
and lick you,” said the King, dubiously.
“Then say two hundred,” said Buck, gaily.
“It might happen,” said
the King, restlessly, “that one Notting Hiller
fought better than two North Kensingtons.”
“It might,” said Buck,
coolly; “then say two hundred and fifty.”
The King bit his lip.
“And if they are beaten too?” he said
“Your Majesty,” said Buck,
and leaned back easily in his chair, “suppose
they are. If anything be clear, it is clear that
all fighting matters are mere matters of arithmetic.
Here we have a hundred and fifty, say, of Notting
Hill soldiers. Or say two hundred. If one
of them can fight two of us - we can send
in, not four hundred, but six hundred, and smash him.
That is all. It is out of all immediate probability
that one of them could fight four of us. So what
I say is this. Run no risks. Finish it at
once. Send in eight hundred men and smash him - smash
him almost without seeing him. And go on with
And Mr. Buck pulled out a bandanna and blew his nose.
“Do you know, Mr. Buck,”
said the King, staring gloomily at the table, “the
admirable clearness of your reason produces in my mind
a sentiment which I trust I shall not offend you by
describing as an aspiration to punch your head.
You irritate me sublimely. What can it be in
me? Is it the relic of a moral sense?”
“But your Majesty,” said
Barker, eagerly and suavely, “does not refuse
“My dear Barker, your proposals
are as damnable as your manners. I want to have
nothing to do with them. Suppose I stopped them
altogether. What would happen?”
Barker answered in a very low voice -
The King glanced quickly at the men
round the table. They were all looking down silently:
their brows were red.
He rose with a startling suddenness, and an unusual
“Gentlemen,” he said,
“you have overruled me. Therefore I can
speak plainly. I think Adam Wayne, who is as
mad as a hatter, worth more than a million of you.
But you have the force, and, I admit, the common sense,
and he is lost. Take your eight hundred halberdiers
and smash him. It would be more sportsmanlike
to take two hundred.”
said Buck, grimly, “but a great deal less humane.
We are not artists, and streets purple with gore do
not catch our eye in the right way.”
“It is pitiful,” said
Auberon. “With five or six times their number,
there will be no fight at all.”
“I hope not,” said Buck,
rising and adjusting his gloves. “We desire
no fight, your Majesty. We are peaceable business
“Well,” said the King,
wearily, “the conference is at an end at last.”
And he went out of the room before
any one else could stir.
Forty workmen, a hundred Bayswater
Halberdiers, two hundred from South, and three from
North Kensington, assembled at the foot of Holland
Walk and marched up it, under the general direction
of Barker, who looked flushed and happy in full dress.
At the end of the procession a small and sulky figure
lingered like an urchin. It was the King.
“Barker,” he said at length,
appealingly, “you are an old friend of mine - you
understand my hobbies as I understand yours. Why
can’t you let it alone? I hoped that such
fun might come out of this Wayne business. Why
can’t you let it alone? It doesn’t
really so much matter to you - what’s
a road or so? For me it’s the one joke that
may save me from pessimism. Take fewer men and
give me an hour’s fun. Really and truly,
James, if you collected coins or humming-birds, and
I could buy one with the price of your road, I would
buy it. I collect incidents - those
rare, those precious things. Let me have one.
Pay a few pounds for it. Give these Notting Hillers
a chance. Let them alone.”
“Auberon,” said Barker,
kindly, forgetting all royal titles in a rare moment
of sincerity, “I do feel what you mean.
I have had moments when these hobbies have hit me.
I have had moments when I have sympathised with your
humours. I have had moments, though you may not
easily believe it, when I have sympathised with the
madness of Adam Wayne. But the world, Auberon,
the real world, is not run on these hobbies.
It goes on great brutal wheels of facts - wheels
on which you are the butterfly; and Wayne is the fly
on the wheel.”
Auberon’s eyes looked frankly at the other’s.
“Thank you, James; what you
say is true. It is only a parenthetical consolation
to me to compare the intelligence of flies somewhat
favourably with the intelligence of wheels. But
it is the nature of flies to die soon, and the nature
of wheels to go on for ever. Go on with the wheel.
Good-bye, old man.”
And James Barker went on, laughing,
with a high colour, slapping his bamboo on his leg.
The King watched the tail of the retreating
regiment with a look of genuine depression, which
made him seem more like a baby than ever. Then
he swung round and struck his hands together.
“In a world without humour,”
he said, “the only thing to do is to eat.
And how perfect an exception! How can these people
strike dignified attitudes, and pretend that things
matter, when the total ludicrousness of life is proved
by the very method by which it is supported?
A man strikes the lyre, and says, ’Life is real,
life is earnest,’ and then goes into a room
and stuffs alien substances into a hole in his head.
I think Nature was indeed a little broad in her humour
in these matters. But we all fall back on the
pantomime, as I have in this municipal affair.
Nature has her farces, like the act of eating or the
shape of the kangaroo, for the more brutal appetite.
She keeps her stars and mountains for those who can
appreciate something more subtly ridiculous.”
He turned to his equerry. “But, as I said
‘eating,’ let us have a picnic like two
nice little children. Just run and bring me a
table and a dozen courses or so, and plenty of champagne,
and under these swinging boughs, Bowler, we will return
It took about an hour to erect in
Holland Lane the monarch’s simple repast, during
which time he walked up and down and whistled, but
still with an unaffected air of gloom. He had
really been done out of a pleasure he had promised
himself, and had that empty and sickened feeling which
a child has when disappointed of a pantomime.
When he and the equerry had sat down, however, and
consumed a fair amount of dry champagne, his spirits
began mildly to revive.
“Things take too long in this
world,” he said. “I detest all this
Barkerian business about evolution and the gradual
modification of things. I wish the world had
been made in six days, and knocked to pieces again
in six more. And I wish I had done it. The
joke’s good enough in a broad way, sun and moon
and the image of God, and all that, but they keep
it up so damnably long. Did you ever long for
a miracle, Bowler?”
“No, sir,” said Bowler,
who was an evolutionist, and had been carefully brought
“Then I have,” answered
the King. “I have walked along a street
with the best cigar in the cosmos in my mouth, and
more Burgundy inside me than you ever saw in your
life, and longed that the lamp-post would turn into
an elephant to save me from the hell of blank existence.
Take my word for it, my evolutionary Bowler, don’t
you believe people when they tell you that people
sought for a sign, and believed in miracles because
they were ignorant. They did it because they were
wise, filthily, vilely wise - too wise to
eat or sleep or put on their boots with patience.
This seems delightfully like a new theory of the origin
of Christianity, which would itself be a thing of no
mean absurdity. Take some more wine.”
The wind blew round them as they sat at their little table,
with its white cloth and bright wine-cups, and flung the tree-tops of Holland
Park against each other, but the sun was in that strong temper which turns green
into gold. The King pushed away his plate, lit a cigar slowly, and went on
“Yesterday I thought that something
next door to a really entertaining miracle might happen
to me before I went to amuse the worms. To see
that red-haired maniac waving a great sword, and making
speeches to his incomparable followers, would have
been a glimpse of that Land of Youth from which the
Fates shut us out. I had planned some quite delightful
things. A Congress of Knightsbridge with a treaty,
and myself in the chair, and perhaps a Roman triumph,
with jolly old Barker led in chains. And now
these wretched prigs have gone and stamped out the
exquisite Mr. Wayne altogether, and I suppose they
will put him in a private asylum somewhere in their
damned humane way. Think of the treasures daily
poured out to his unappreciative keeper! I wonder
whether they would let me be his keeper. But life
is a vale. Never forget at any moment of your
existence to regard it in the light of a vale.
This graceful habit, if not acquired in youth -
The King stopped, with his cigar lifted,
for there had slid into his eyes the startled look
of a man listening. He did not move for a few
moments; then he turned his head sharply towards the
high, thin, and lath-like paling which fenced certain
long gardens and similar spaces from the lane.
From behind it there was coming a curious scrambling
and scraping noise, as of a desperate thing imprisoned
in this box of thin wood. The King threw away
his cigar, and jumped on to the table. From this
position he saw a pair of hands hanging with a hungry
clutch on the top of the fence. Then the hands
quivered with a convulsive effort, and a head shot
up between them - the head of one of the
Bayswater Town Council, his eyes and whiskers wild
with fear. He swung himself over, and fell on
the other side on his face, and groaned openly and
without ceasing. The next moment the thin, taut
wood of the fence was struck as by a bullet, so that
it reverberated like a drum, and over it came tearing
and cursing, with torn clothes and broken nails and
bleeding faces, twenty men at one rush. The King
sprang five feet clear off the table on to the ground.
The moment after the table was flung over, sending
bottles and glasses flying, and the dÃ©bris
was literally swept along the ground by that stream
of men pouring past, and Bowler was borne along with
them, as the King said in his famous newspaper article,
“like a captured bride.” The great
fence swung and split under the load of climbers that
still scaled and cleared it. Tremendous gaps
were torn in it by this living artillery; and through
them the King could see more and more frantic faces,
as in a dream, and more and more men running.
They were as miscellaneous as if some one had taken
the lid off a human dustbin. Some were untouched,
some were slashed and battered and bloody, some were
splendidly dressed, some tattered and half naked, some
were in the fantastic garb of the burlesque cities,
some in the dullest modern dress. The King stared
at all of them, but none of them looked at the King.
Suddenly he stepped forward.
“Barker,” he said, “what is all
“Beaten,” said the politician - “beaten
all to hell!” And he plunged past with nostrils
shaking like a horse’s, and more and more men
plunged after him.
Almost as he spoke, the last standing
strip of fence bowed and snapped, flinging, as from
a catapult, a new figure upon the road. He wore
the flaming red of the halberdiers of Notting Hill,
and on his weapon there was blood, and in his face
victory. In another moment masses of red glowed
through the gaps of the fence, and the pursuers, with
their halberds, came pouring down the lane. Pursued
and pursuers alike swept by the little figure with
the owlish eyes, who had not taken his hands out of
The King had still little beyond the
confused sense of a man caught in a torrent - the
feeling of men eddying by. Then something happened
which he was never able afterwards to describe, and
which we cannot describe for him. Suddenly in
the dark entrance, between the broken gates of a garden,
there appeared framed a flaming figure.
Adam Wayne, the conqueror, with his
face flung back, and his mane like a lion’s,
stood with his great sword point upwards, the red raiment
of his office flapping round him like the red wings
of an archangel. And the King saw, he knew not
how, something new and overwhelming. The great
green trees and the great red robes swung together
in the wind. The sword seemed made for the sunlight.
The preposterous masquerade, born of his own mockery,
towered over him and embraced the world. This
was the normal, this was sanity, this was nature; and
he himself, with his rationality and his detachment
and his black frock-coat, he was the exception and
the accident - a blot of black upon a world
of crimson and gold.