Journalism had become, like most other
such things in England under the cautious government
and philosophy represented by James Barker, somewhat
sleepy and much diminished in importance. This
was partly due to the disappearance of party government
and public speaking, partly to the compromise or dead-lock
which had made foreign wars impossible, but mostly,
of course, to the temper of the whole nation which
was that of a people in a kind of back-water.
Perhaps the most well known of the remaining newspapers
was the Court Journal, which was published
in a dusty but genteel-looking office just out of Kensington
High Street. For when all the papers of a people
have been for years growing more and more dim and
decorous and optimistic, the dimmest and most decorous
and most optimistic is very likely to win. In
the journalistic competition which was still going
on at the beginning of the twentieth century, the
final victor was the Court Journal.
For some mysterious reason the King
had a great affection for hanging about in the Court
Journal office, smoking a morning cigarette and
looking over files. Like all ingrainedly idle
men, he was very fond of lounging and chatting in
places where other people were doing work. But
one would have thought that, even in the prosaic England
of his day, he might have found a more bustling centre.
On this particular morning, however,
he came out of Kensington Palace with a more alert
step and a busier air than usual. He wore an
extravagantly long frock-coat, a pale-green waistcoat,
a very full and dÃ©gagÃ© black tie, and curious
yellow gloves. This was his uniform as Colonel
of a regiment of his own creation, the 1st Decadents
Green. It was a beautiful sight to see him drilling
them. He walked quickly across the Park and the
High Street, lighting his cigarette as he went, and
flung open the door of the Court Journal office.
“You’ve heard the news,
Pally - you’ve heard the news?”
The Editor’s name was Hoskins,
but the King called him Pally, which was an abbreviation
of Paladium of our Liberties.
“Well, your Majesty,”
said Hoskins, slowly (he was a worried, gentlemanly
looking person, with a wandering brown beard) - “well,
your Majesty, I have heard rather curious things, but
“You’ll hear more of them,”
said the King, dancing a few steps of a kind of negro
shuffle. “You’ll hear more of them,
my blood-and-thunder tribune. Do you know what
I am going to do for you?”
“No, your Majesty,” replied the Paladium,
“I’m going to put your
paper on strong, dashing, enterprising lines,”
said the King. “Now, where are your posters
of last night’s defeat?”
“I did not propose, your Majesty,”
said the Editor, “to have any posters exactly -
“Paper, paper!” cried
the King, wildly; “bring me paper as big as a
house. I’ll do you posters. Stop, I
must take my coat off.” He began removing
that garment with an air of set intensity, flung it
playfully at Mr. Hoskins’ head, entirely enveloping
him, and looked at himself in the glass. “The
coat off,” he said, “and the hat on.
That looks like a sub-editor. It is indeed the
very essence of sub-editing. Well,” he
continued, turning round abruptly, “come along
with that paper.”
The Paladium had only just extricated himself reverently from
the folds of the Kings frock-coat, and said bewildered -
“I am afraid, your Majesty -
“Oh, you’ve got no enterprise,”
said Auberon. “What’s that roll in
the corner? Wall-paper? Decorations for
your private residence? Art in the home, Pally?
Fling it over here, and I’ll paint such posters
on the back of it that when you put it up in your
drawing-room you’ll paste the original pattern
against the wall.” And the King unrolled
the wall-paper, spreading it over the whole floor.
“Now give me the scissors,” he cried,
and took them himself before the other could stir.
He slit the paper into about five pieces, each nearly as big
as a door. Then he took a big blue pencil, and went down on his knees on
the dusty oil-cloth and began to write on them, in huge letters -
“FROM THE FRONT.
GENERAL BUCK DEFEATED.
DARKNESS, DANGER, AND DEATH.
WAYNE SAID TO BE IN PUMP STREET.
FEELING IN THE CITY.”
He contemplated it for some time,
with his head on one side, and got up, with a sigh.
“Not quite intense enough,”
he said - “not alarming. I want
the Court Journal to be feared as well as loved. Lets try
something more hard-hitting. And he went down on his knees again.
After sucking the blue pencil for some time, he began writing again busily.
How will this do? he said -
“I suppose,” he said,
looking up appealingly, and sucking the pencil - “I
suppose we couldn’t say ’wictory’ - ’Wayne’s
wonderful wictory’? No, no. Refinement,
Pally, refinement. I have it.”
ASTOUNDING FIGHT IN THE DARK.
The gas-lamps in their courses fought against Buck.”
(Nothing like our fine old English translation.) What else
can we say? Well, anything to annoy old Buck; and he added, thoughtfully,
in smaller letters -
on General Buck.”
“Those will do for the present,”
he said, and turned them both face downwards.
The Paladium, with an air of great
terror, brought the paste out of an inner room.
The King slabbed it on with the enjoyment
of a child messing with treacle. Then taking
one of his huge compositions fluttering in each hand,
he ran outside, and began pasting them up in prominent
positions over the front of the office.
“And now,” said Auberon,
entering again with undiminished vivacity - “now
for the leading article.”
He picked up another of the large
strips of wall-paper, and, laying it across a desk,
pulled out a fountain-pen and began writing with feverish
intensity, reading clauses and fragments aloud to himself,
and rolling them on his tongue like wine, to see if
they had the pure journalistic flavour.
“The news of the disaster to
our forces in Notting Hill, awful as it is - awful
as it is - (no, distressing as it is), may
do some good if it draws attention to the what’s-his-name
inefficiency (scandalous inefficiency, of course)
of the Government’s preparations. In our
present state of information, it would be premature
(what a jolly word!) - it would be premature
to cast any reflections upon the conduct of General
Buck, whose services upon so many stricken fields (ha,
ha!), and whose honourable scars and laurels, give
him a right to have judgment upon him at least suspended.
But there is one matter on which we must speak plainly.
We have been silent on it too long, from feelings,
perhaps of mistaken caution, perhaps of mistaken loyalty.
This situation would never have arisen but for what
we can only call the indefensible conduct of the King.
It pains us to say such things, but, speaking as we
do in the public interests (I plagiarise from Barker’s
famous epigram), we shall not shrink because of the
distress we may cause to any individual, even the
most exalted. At this crucial moment of our country,
the voice of the People demands with a single tongue,
‘Where is the King?’ What is he doing while
his subjects tear each other in pieces in the streets
of a great city? Are his amusements and his dissipations
(of which we cannot pretend to be ignorant) so engrossing
that he can spare no thought for a perishing nation?
It is with a deep sense of our responsibility that
we warn that exalted person that neither his great
position nor his incomparable talents will save him
in the hour of delirium from the fate of all those
who, in the madness of luxury or tyranny, have met
the English people in the rare day of its wrath.”
“I am now,” said the King,
“going to write an account of the battle by
an eye-witness.” And he picked up a fourth
sheet of wall-paper. Almost at the same moment
Buck strode quickly into the office. He had a
bandage round his head.
“I was told,” he said,
with his usual gruff civility, “that your Majesty
“And of all things on earth,”
cried the King, with delight, “here is an eye-witness!
An eye-witness who, I regret to observe, has at present
only one eye to witness with. Can you write us
the special article, Buck? Have you a rich style?”
Buck, with a self-restraint which
almost approached politeness, took no notice whatever
of the King’s maddening geniality.
“I took the liberty, your Majesty,”
he said shortly, “of asking Mr. Barker to come
As he spoke, indeed, Barker came swinging
into the office, with his usual air of hurry.
“What is happening now?”
asked Buck, turning to him with a kind of relief.
“Fighting still going on,”
said Barker. “The four hundred from West
Kensington were hardly touched last night. They
hardly got near the place. Poor Wilson’s
Bayswater men got cut about, though. They fought
confoundedly well. They took Pump Street once.
What mad things do happen in the world. To think
that of all of us it should be little Wilson with
the red whiskers who came out best.”
The King made a note on his paper -
of Mr. Wilson.”
“Yes,” said Buck; “it
makes one a bit less proud of one’s h’s.”
The King suddenly folded or crumpled
up the paper, and put it in his pocket.
“I have an idea,” he said.
“I will be an eye-witness. I will write
you such letters from the Front as will be more gorgeous
than the real thing. Give me my coat, Paladium.
I entered this room a mere King of England. I
leave it, Special War Correspondent of the Court
Journal. It is useless to stop me, Pally;
it is vain to cling to my knees, Buck; it is hopeless,
Barker, to weep upon my neck. ’When duty
calls’ - the remainder of the sentiment
escapes me. You will receive my first article
this evening by the eight-o’clock post.”
And, running out of the office, he
jumped upon a blue Bayswater omnibus that went swinging
“Well,” said Barker, gloomily, “well.”
“Barker,” said Buck, “business
may be lower than politics, but war is, as I discovered
last night, a long sight more like business. You
politicians are such ingrained demagogues that even
when you have a despotism you think of nothing but
public opinion. So you learn to tack and run,
and are afraid of the first breeze. Now we stick
to a thing and get it. And our mistakes help
us. Look here! at this moment we’ve beaten
“Beaten Wayne,” repeated Barker.
“Why the dickens not?”
cried the other, flinging out his hands. “Look
here. I said last night that we had them by holding
the nine entrances. Well, I was wrong. We
should have had them but for a singular event - the
lamps went out. But for that it was certain.
Has it occurred to you, my brilliant Barker, that
another singular event has happened since that singular
event of the lamps going out?”
“What event?” asked Barker.
“By an astounding coincidence,
the sun has risen,” cried out Buck, with a savage
air of patience. “Why the hell aren’t
we holding all those approaches now, and passing in
on them again? It should have been done at sunrise.
The confounded doctor wouldn’t let me go out.
You were in command.”
Barker smiled grimly.
“It is a gratification to me,
my dear Buck, to be able to say that we anticipated
your suggestions precisely. We went as early as
possible to reconnoitre the nine entrances. Unfortunately,
while we were fighting each other in the dark, like
a lot of drunken navvies, Mr. Wayne’s friends
were working very hard indeed. Three hundred yards
from Pump Street, at every one of those entrances,
there is a barricade nearly as high as the houses.
They were finishing the last, in Pembridge Road, when
we arrived. Our mistakes,” he cried bitterly,
and flung his cigarette on the ground. “It
is not we who learn from them.”
There was a silence for a few moments,
and Barker lay back wearily in a chair. The office
clock ticked exactly in the stillness.
At length Barker said suddenly -
“Buck, does it ever cross your
mind what this is all about? The Hammersmith
to Maida Vale thoroughfare was an uncommonly good
speculation. You and I hoped a great deal from
it. But is it worth it? It will cost us
thousands to crush this ridiculous riot. Suppose
we let it alone?”
“And be thrashed in public by
a red-haired madman whom any two doctors would lock
up?” cried out Buck, starting to his feet.
“What do you propose to do, Mr. Barker?
To apologise to the admirable Mr. Wayne? To kneel
to the Charter of the Cities? To clasp to your
bosom the flag of the Red Lion? To kiss in succession
every sacred lamp-post that saved Notting Hill?
No, by God! My men fought jolly well - they
were beaten by a trick. And they’ll fight
“Buck,” said Barker, “I
always admired you. And you were quite right
in what you said the other day.”
“In saying,” said Barker,
rising quietly, “that we had all got into Adam
Wayne’s atmosphere and out of our own. My
friend, the whole territorial kingdom of Adam Wayne
extends to about nine streets, with barricades at
the end of them. But the spiritual kingdom of
Adam Wayne extends, God knows where - it
extends to this office, at any rate. The red-haired
madman whom any two doctors would lock up is filling
this room with his roaring, unreasonable soul.
And it was the red-haired madman who said the last
word you spoke.”
Buck walked to the window without
replying. “You understand, of course,”
he said at last, “I do not dream of giving in.”
The King, meanwhile, was rattling
along on the top of his blue omnibus. The traffic
of London as a whole had not, of course, been greatly
disturbed by these events, for the affair was treated
as a Notting Hill riot, and that area was marked off
as if it had been in the hands of a gang of recognised
rioters. The blue omnibuses simply went round
as they would have done if a road were being mended,
and the omnibus on which the correspondent of the
Court Journal was sitting swept round the corner
of Queen’s Road, Bayswater.
The King was alone on the top of the
vehicle, and was enjoying the speed at which it was
“Forward, my beauty, my Arab,”
he said, patting the omnibus encouragingly, “fleetest
of all thy bounding tribe. Are thy relations
with thy driver, I wonder, those of the Bedouin and
his steed? Does he sleep side by side with thee -
His meditations were broken by a sudden
and jarring stoppage. Looking over the edge,
he saw that the heads of the horses were being held
by men in the uniform of Wayne’s army, and heard
the voice of an officer calling out orders.
King Auberon descended from the omnibus
with dignity. The guard or picket of red halberdiers
who had stopped the vehicle did not number more than
twenty, and they were under the command of a short,
dark, clever-looking young man, conspicuous among
the rest as being clad in an ordinary frock-coat,
but girt round the waist with a red sash and a long
seventeenth-century sword. A shiny silk hat and
spectacles completed the outfit in a pleasing manner.
“To whom have I the honour of
speaking?” said the King, endeavouring to look
like Charles I., in spite of personal difficulties.
The dark man in spectacles lifted
his hat with equal gravity.
“My name is Bowles,” he
said. “I am a chemist. I am also a
captain of O company of the army of Notting Hill.
I am distressed at having to incommode you by stopping
the omnibus, but this area is covered by our proclamation,
and we intercept all traffic. May I ask to whom
I have the honour - Why, good gracious, I
beg your Majesty’s pardon. I am quite overwhelmed
at finding myself concerned with the King.”
Auberon put up his hand with indescribable grandeur.
“Not with the King,” he
said; “with the special war correspondent of
the Court Journal.”
“I beg your Majesty’s
pardon,” began Mr. Bowles, doubtfully.
“Do you call me Majesty?
I repeat,” said Auberon, firmly, “I am
a representative of the press. I have chosen,
with a deep sense of responsibility, the name of Pinker.
I should desire a veil to be drawn over the past.”
“Very well, sir,” said
Mr. Bowles, with an air of submission, “in our
eyes the sanctity of the press is at least as great
as that of the throne. We desire nothing better
than that our wrongs and our glories should be widely
known. May I ask, Mr. Pinker, if you have any
objection to being presented to the Provost and to
“The Provost I have had the
honour of meeting,” said Auberon, easily.
“We old journalists, you know, meet everybody.
I should be most delighted to have the same honour
again. General Turnbull, also, it would be a
gratification to know. The younger men are so
interesting. We of the old Fleet Street gang
lose touch with them.”
“Will you be so good as to step
this way?” said the leader of O company.
“I am always good,” said Mr. Pinker.