HOW BERT SMALLWAYS GOT INTO DIFFICULTIES
It did not occur to either Tom or Bert Smallways that this
remarkable aerial performance of Mr. Butteridge was likely to
affect either of their lives in any special manner, that it would
in any way single them out from the millions about them; and when
they had witnessed it from the crest of Bun Hill and seen the
fly-like mechanism, its rotating planes a golden haze in the
sunset, sink humming to the harbour of its shed again, they
turned back towards the sunken green-grocery beneath the great
iron standard of the London to Brighton mono-rail, and their
minds reverted to the discussion that had engaged them before Mr.
Butteridge's triumph had come in sight out of the London haze.
It was a difficult and unsuccessful discussions. They had to
carry it on in shouts because of the moaning and roaring of the
gyroscopic motor-cars that traversed the High Street, and in its
nature it was contentious and private. The Grubb business was in
difficulties, and Grubb in a moment of financial eloquence had
given a half-share in it to Bert, whose relations with his
employer had been for some time unsalaried and pallish and
Bert was trying to impress Tom with the idea that the
reconstructed Grubb & Smallways offered unprecedented and
unparalleled opportunities to the judicious small investor. It
was coming home to Bert, as though it were an entirely new fact,
that Tom was singularly impervious to ideas. In the end he put
the financial issues on one side, and, making the thing entirely
a matter of fraternal affection, succeeded in borrowing a
sovereign on the security of his word of honour.
The firm of Grubb & Smallways, formerly Grubb, had indeed been
singularly unlucky in the last year or so. For many years the
business had struggled along with a flavour of romantic
insecurity in a small, dissolute-looking shop in the High Street,
adorned with brilliantly coloured advertisements of cycles, a
display of bells, trouser-clips, oil-cans, pump-clips,
frame-cases, wallets, and other accessories, and the announcement
of "Bicycles on Hire," "Repairs," "Free inflation," "petrol,"
and similar attractions. They were agents for several obscure
makes of bicycle,--two samples constituted the stock,--and
occasionally they effected a sale; they also repaired punctures
and did their best--though luck was not always on their side--
with any other repairing that was brought to them. They handled
a line of cheap gramophones, and did a little with musical boxes.
The staple of their business was, however, the letting of
bicycles on hire. It was a singular trade, obeying no known
commercial or economic principles--indeed, no principles. There
was a stock of ladies' and gentlemen's bicycles in a state of
disrepair that passes description, and these, the hiring stock,
were let to unexacting and reckless people, inexpert in the
things of this world, at a nominal rate of one shilling for the
first hour and sixpence per hour afterwards. But really there
were no fixed prices, and insistent boys could get bicycles and
the thrill of danger for an hour for so low a sum as threepence,
provided they could convince Grubb that that was all they had.
The saddle and handle-bar were then sketchily adjusted bv Grubb,
a deposit exacted, except in the case of familiar boys, the
machine lubricated, and the adventurer started upon his career.
Usually he or she came back, but at times, when the accident was
serious, Bert or Grubb had to go out and fetch the machine home.
Hire was always charged up to the hour of return to the shop and
deducted from the deposit. It was rare that a bicycle started
out from their hands in a state of pedantic efficiency. Romantic
possibilities of accident lurked in the worn thread of the screw
that adjusted the saddle, in the precarious pedals, in the
loose-knit chain, in the handle-bars, above all in the brakes and
tyres. Tappings and clankings and strange rhythmic creakings
awoke as the intrepid hirer pedalled out into the country. Then
perhaps the bell would jam or a brake fail to act on a hill; or
the seat-pillar would get loose, and the saddle drop three or
four inches with a disconcerting bump; or the loose and rattling
chain would jump the cogs of the chain-wheel as the machine ran
downhill, and so bring the mechanism to an abrupt and disastrous
stop without at the same time arresting the forward momentum of
the rider; or a tyre would bang, or sigh quietly, and give up the
struggle for efficiency.
When the hirer returned, a heated pedestrian, Grubb would ignore
all verbal complaints, and examine the machine gravely.
"This ain't 'ad fair usage," he used to begin.
He became a mild embodiment of the spirit of reason. "You can't
expect a bicycle to take you up in its arms and carry you," he
used to say. "You got to show intelligence. After all--it's
Sometimes the process of liquidating the consequent claims
bordered on violence. It was always a very rhetorical and often
a trying affair, but in these progressive times you have to make
a noise to get a living. It was often hard work, but
nevertheless this hiring was a fairly steady source of profit,
until one day all the panes in the window and door were broken
and the stock on sale in the window greatly damaged and
disordered bv two over-critical hirers with no sense of
rhetorical irrelevance. They were big, coarse stokers from
Gravesend. One was annoyed because his left pedal had come off,
and the other because his tyre had become deflated, small and
indeed negligible accidents by Bun Hill standards, due entirely
to the ungentle handling of the delicate machines entrusted to
them--and they failed to see clearly how they put themselves in
the wrong by this method of argument. It is a poor way of
convincing a man that he has let you a defective machine to throw
his foot-pump about his shop, and take his stock of gongs outside
in order to return them through the window-panes. It carried no
real conviction to the minds of either Grubb or Bert; it only
irritated and vexed them. One quarrel makes many, and this
unpleasantness led to a violent dispute between Grubb and the
landlord upon the moral aspects of and legal responsibility for
the consequent re-glazing. In the end Grubb and Smallways were
put to the expense of a strategic nocturnal removal to another
It was a position they had long considered. It was t small,
shed-like shop with a plate-glass window and one room behind,
just at the sharp bend in the road at the bottom of Bun Hill; and
here they struggled along bravely, in spite of persistent
annoyance from their former landlord, hoping for certain
eventualities the peculiar situation of the shop seemed to
promise. Here, too, they were doomed to disappointment.
The High Road from London to Brighton that ran through Bun Hill
was like the British Empire or the British Constitution--a thing
that had grown to its present importance. Unlike any other roads
in Europe the British high roads have never been subjected to any
organised attempts to grade or straighten them out, and to that
no doubt their peculiar picturesqueness is to be ascribed. The
old Bun Hill High Street drops at its end for perhaps eighty or a
hundred feet of descent at an angle of one in five, turns at
right angles to the left, runs in a curve for about thirty yards
to a brick bridge over the dry ditch that had once been the
Otterbourne, and then bends sharply to the right again round a
dense clump of trees and goes on, a simple, straightforward,
peaceful high road. There had been one or two horse-and-van and
bicycle accidents in the place before the shop Bert and Grubb
took was built, and, to be frank, it was the probability of
others that attracted them to it.
Its possibilities had come to them first with a humorous flavour.
"Here's one of the places where a chap might get a living by
keeping hens," said Grubb.
"You can't get a living by keeping hens," said Bert.
"You'd keep the hen and have it spatch-cocked," said Grubb. "The
motor chaps would pay for it."
When they really came to take the place they remembered this
conversation. Hens, however, were out of the question; there was
no place for a run unless they had it in the shop. It would have
been obviously out of place there. The shop was much more modern
than their former one, and had a plate-glass front. "Sooner or
later," said Bert, "we shall get a motor-car through this."
"That's all right," said Grubb. "Compensation. I don't mind
when that motor-car comes along. I don't mind even if it gives
me a shock to the system.
"And meanwhile," said Bert, with great artfulness, "I'm going to
buy myself a dog."
He did. He bought three in succession. He surprised the people
at the Dogs' Home in Battersea by demanding a deaf retriever, and
rejecting every candidate that pricked up its ears. "I want a
good, deaf, slow-moving dog," he said. "A dog that doesn't put
himself out for things."
They displayed inconvenient curiosity; they declared a great
scarcity of deaf dogs.
"You see," they said, "dogs aren't deaf."
"Mine's got to be," said Bert. "I've HAD dogs that aren't deaf.
All I want. It's like this, you see--I sell gramophones.
Naturally I got to make 'em talk and tootle a bit to show 'em
orf. Well, a dog that isn't deaf doesn't like it--gets excited,
smells round, barks, growls. That upsets the customer. See?
Then a dog that has his hearing fancies things. Makes burglars
out of passing tramps. Wants to fight every motor that makes a
whizz. All very well if you want livening up, but our place is
lively enough. I don't want a dog of that sort. I want a quiet
In the end he got three in succession, but none of them turned
out well. The first strayed off into the infinite, heeding no
appeals; the second was killed in the night by a fruit
motor-waggon which fled before Grubb could get down; the third
got itself entangled in the front wheel of a passing cyclist, who
came through the plate glass, and proved to be an actor out of
work and an undischarged bankrupt. He demanded compensation for
some fancied injury, would hear nothing of the valuable dog he
had killed or the window he had broken, obliged Grubb by sheer
physical obduracy to straighten his buckled front wheel, and
pestered the struggling firm with a series of inhumanly worded
solicitor's letters. Grubb answered them--stingingly, and put
himself, Bert thought, in the wrong.
Affairs got more and more exasperating and strained under these
pressures. The window was boarded up, and an unpleasant
altercation about their delay in repairing it with the new
landlord, a Bun Hill butcher--and a loud, bellowing, unreasonable
person at that--served to remind them of their unsettled troubles
with the old. Things were at this pitch when Bert bethought
himself of creating a sort of debenture capital in the business
for the benefit of Tom. But, as I have said, Tom had no
enterprise in his composition. His idea of investment was the
stocking; he bribed his brother not to keep the offer open.
And then ill-luck made its last lunge at their crumbling business
and brought it to the ground.
It is a poor heart that never rejoices, and Whitsuntide had an
air of coming as an agreeable break in the business complications
of Grubb & Smallways. Encouraged by the practical outcome of
Bert's negotiations with his brother, and by the fact that half
the hiring-stock was out from Saturday to Monday, they decided to
ignore the residuum of hiring-trade on sunday and devote that day
to much-needed relaxation and refreshment--to have, in fact, an
unstinted good time, a beano on Whit sunday and return
invigorated to grapple with their difficulties and the Bank
Holiday repairs on the Monday. No good thing was ever done by
exhausted and dispirited men. It happened that they had made the
acquaintance of two young ladies in employment in Clapham, Miss
Flossie Bright and Miss Edna Bunthorne, and it was resolved
therefore to make a cheerful little cyclist party of four into
the heart of Kent, and to picnic and spend an indolent afternoon
and evening among the trees and bracken between Ashford and
Miss Bright could ride a bicycle, and a machine was found for
her, not among the hiring stock, but specially, in the sample
held for sale. Miss Bunthorne, whom Bert particularly affected,
could not ride, and so with some difficulty he hired a basket-
work trailer from the big business of Wray's in the Clapham Road.
To see our young men, brightly dressed and cigarettes alight,
wheeling off to the rendezvous, Grubb guiding the lady's machine
beside him with one skilful hand and Bert teuf-teuffing steadily,
was to realise how pluck may triumph even over insolvency. Their
landlord, the butcher, said, "Gurr," as they passed, and shouted,
"Go it!" in a loud, savage tone to their receding backs.
Much they cared!
The weather was fine, and though they were on their way southward
before nine o'clock, there was already a great multitude of
holiday people abroad upon the roads. There were quantities of
young men and women on bicycles and motor-bicycles, and a
majority of gyroscopic motor-cars running bicycle-fashion on two
wheels, mingled with old-fashioned four-wheeled traffic. Bank
Holiday times always bring out old stored-away vehicles and odd
people; one saw tricars and electric broughams and dilapidated
old racing motors with huge pneumatic tyres. Once our holiday-
makers saw a horse and cart, and once a youth riding a black
horse amidst the badinage of the passersby. And there were
several navigable gas air-ships, not to mention balloons, in the
air. It was all immensely interesting and refreshing after the
dark anxieties of the shop. Edna wore a brown straw hat with
poppies, that suited her admirably, and sat in the trailer like a
queen, and the eight-year-old motor-bicycle ran like a thing
Little it seemed to matter to Mr. Bert Smallways that a newspaper
GERMANY DENOUNCES THE MONROE
AMBIGUOUS ATTITUTDE OF JAPAN.
WHAT WILL BRITAIN DO? IS IT WAR?
This sort of thing was alvays going on, and on holidays one
disregarded it as a matter of course. Week-davs, in the slack
time after the midday meal, then perhaps one might worry about
the Empire and international politics; but not on a sunny sunday,
with a pretty girl trailing behind one, and envious cyclists
trying to race you. Nor did our young people attach any great
importance to the flitting suggestions of military activity they
glimpsed ever and again. Near Maidstone they came on a string of
eleven motor-guns of peculiar construction halted by the
roadside, with a number of businesslike engineers grouped about
them watching through field-glasses some sort of entrenchment
that was going on near the crest of the downs. It signified
nothing to Bert.
"What's up?" said Edna.
"Oh!--manoeuvres," stid Bert.
"Oh! I thought they did them at Easter," said Edna, and troubled
The last great British War, the Boer War, was over and forgotten,
and the public had lost the fashion of expert military criticism.
Our four young people picnicked cheerfully, and were happy in the
manner of a happiness that was an ancient mode in Nineveh. Eyes
were bright, Grubb was funny and almost witty, and Bert achieved
epigrams; the hedges were full of honeysuckle and dog-roses; in
the woods the distant toot-toot-toot of the traffic on the
dust-hazy high road might have been no more than the horns of
elf-land. They laughed and gossiped and picked flowers and made
love and talked, and the girls smoked cigarettes. Also they
scuffled playfully. Among other things they talked aeronautics,
and how thev would come for a picnic together in Bert's
flying-machine before ten years were out. The world seemed full
of amusing possibilities that afternoon. They wondered what
their great-grandparents would have thought of aeronautics. In
the evening, about seven, the party turned homeward, expecting no
disaster, and it was onlv on the crest of the downs between
Wrotham and Kingsdown that disaster came.
They had come up the hill in the twilight; Bert was anxious to
get as far as possible before he lit--or attempted to light, for
the issue was a doubtful one--his lamps, and they had scorched
past a number of cyclists, and by a four-wheeled motor-car of the
old style lamed by a deflated tyre. Some dust had penetrated
Bert's horn, and the result was a curious, amusing, wheezing
sound had got into his "honk, honk." For the sake of merriment
and glory he was making this sound as much as possible, and Edna
was in fits of laughter in the trailer. They made a sort of
rushing cheerfulness along the road that affected their fellow
travellers variously, according to their temperaments. She
did notice a good lot of bluish, evil-smelling smoke coming from
about the bearings between his feet, but she thought this was one
of the natural concomitants of motor-traction, and troubled no
more about it, until abruptly it burst into a little
"Bert!" she screamed.
But Bert had put on the brakes with such suddenness that she
found herself involved with his leg as he dismounted. She got to
the side of the road and hastily readjusted her hat, which had
"Gaw!" said Bert.
He stood for some fatal seconds watching the petrol drip and
catch, and the flame, which was now beginning to smell of enamel
as well as oil, spread and grew. His Chief idea was the
sorrowful one that he had not sold the machine second-hand a year
ago, and that he ought to have done so--a good idea in its way,
but not immediately helpful. He turned upon Edna sharply. "Get
a lot of wet sand," he said. Then he wheeled the machine a
little towards the side of the roadway, and laid it down and
looked about for a supply of wet sand. The flames received this
as a helpful attention, and made the most of it. They seemed to
brighten and the twilight to deepen about them. The road was a
flinty road in the chalk country, and ill-provided with sand.
Edna accosted a short, fat cyclist. "We want wet sand," she
said, and added, "our motor's on fire." The short, fat cyclist
stared blankly for a moment, then with a helpful cry began to
scrabble in the road-grit. Whereupon Bert and Edna also
scrabbled in the road-grit. Other cyclists arrived, dismounted
and stood about, and their flame-lit faces expressed
satisfaction, interest, curiositv. "Wet sand," said the short,
fat man, scrabbling terribly--"wet stnd." One joined him. They
threw hard-earned handfuls of road-grit upon the flames, which
accepted them with enthusiasm.
Grubb arrived, riding hard. He was shouting something. He
sprang off and threw his bicycle into the hedge. "Don't throw
water on it!" he said--"don't throw water on it!" He displayed
commanding presence of mind. He became captain of the occasion.
Others were glad to repeat the things he said and imitate his
"Don't throw water on it!" they cried. Also there was no water.
"Beat it out, you fools!" he said.
He seized a rug from the trailer (it was an Austrian blanket, and
Bert's winter coverlet) and began to beat at the burning petrol.
For a wonderful minute he seemed to succeed. But he scattered
burning pools of petrol on the road, and others, fired by his
enthusiasm, imitated his action. Bert caught up a trailer-cushion
and began to beat; there was another cushion and a table-cloth,
and these also were seized. A young hero pulled off his jacket
and joined the beating. For a moment there was less talking than
hard breathing, and a tremendous flapping. Flossie, arriving on
the outskirts of the crowd, cried, "Oh, my God!" and burst loudly
into tears. "Help!" she said, and "Fire!"
The lame motor-car arrived, and stopped in consternation. A
tall, goggled, grey-haired man who was driving inquired with an
Oxford intonation and a clear, careful enunciation, "Can WE help
It became manifest that the rug, the table-cloth, the cushions,
the jacket, were getting smeared with petrol and burning. The
soul seemed to go out of the cushion Bert was swaying, and the
air was full of feathers, like a snowstorm in the still twilight.
Bert had got very dusty and sweaty and strenuous. It seemed to
him his weapon had been wrested from him at the moment of
victory. The fire lay like a dying thing, close to the ground
and wicked; it gave a leap of anguish at every whack of the
beaters. But now Grubb had gone off to stainp out the burning
blanket; the others were lacking just at the moment of victory.
One had dropped the cushion and was running to the motorcar.
"'ERE!" cried Bert; "keep on!"
He flung the deflated burning rags of cushion aside, whipped off
his jacket and sprang at the flames with a shout. He stamped
into the ruin until flames ran up his boots. Edna saw him, a
red-lit hero, and thought it was good to be a man.
A bystander was hit by a hot halfpenny flying out of the air.
Then Bert thought of the papers in his pockets, and staggered
back, trying to extinguish his burning jacket--checked, repulsed,
Edna was struck by the benevolent appearance of an elderly
spectator in a silk hat and Sabbatical garments. "Oh!" she cried
to him. "Help this young man! How can you stand and see it?"
A cry of "The tarpaulin!" arose.
An earnest-looking man in a very light grey cycling-suit had
suddenly appeared at the side of the lame motor-car and addressed
the owner. "Have you a tarpaulin?" he said.
"Yes," said the gentlemanly man. "Yes. We've got a tarpaulin."
"That's it," said the earnest-looking man, suddenly shouting.
"Let's have it, quick!"
The gentlemanly man, with feeble and deprecatory gestures, and in
the manner of a hypnotised person, produced an excellent large
"Here!" cried the earnest-looking man to Grubb. "Ketch holt!"
Then everybody realised that a new method was to be tried. A
number of willing hands seized upon the Oxford gentleman's
tarpaulin. The others stood away with approving noises. The
tarpaulin was held over the burning bicycle like a canopy, and
then smothered down upon it.
"We ought to have done this before," panted Grubb.
There was a moment of triumph. The flames vanished. Every one
who could contrive to do so touched the edge of the tarpaulin.
Bert held down a corner with two hands and a foot. The
tarpaulin, bulged up in the centre, seemed to be suppressing
triumphant exultation. Then its self-approval became too much
for it; it burst into a bright red smile in the centre. It was
exactly like the opening of a mouth. It laughed with a gust of
flames. They were reflected redly in the observant goggles of
the gentleman who owned the tarpaulin. Everybody recoiled.
"Save the trailer!" cried some one, and that was the last round
in the battle. But the trailer could not be detached; its
wicker-work had caught, and it was the last thing to burn. A
sort of hush fell upon the gathering. The petrol burnt low, the
wicker-work trailer banged and crackled. The crowd divided
itself into an outer circle of critics, advisers, and secondary
characters, who had played undistinguished parts or no parts at
all in the affair, and a central group of heated and distressed
principals. A young man with an inquiring mind and a
considerable knowledge of motor-bicycles fixed on to Grubb and
wanted to argue that the thing could not have happened. Grubb
wass short and inattentive with him, and the young man withdrew
to the back of the crowd, and there told the benevolent old
gentleman in the silk hat that people who went out with machines
they didn't understand had only themselves to blame if things
The old gentleman let him talk for some time, and then remarked,
in a tone of rapturous enjoyment: "Stone deaf," and added, "Nasty
A rosy-faced man in a straw hat claimed attention. "I DID save
the front wheel," he said; "you'd have had that tyre catch, too,
if I hadn't kept turning it round." It became manifest that this
was so. The front wheel had retained its tyre, was intact, was
still rotating slowly among the blackened and twisted ruins of
the rest of the machine. It had something of that air of
conscious virtue, of unimpeachable respectability, that
distinguishes a rent collector in a low neighbourhood. "That
wheel's worth a pound," said the rosy-faced man, making a song of
it. "I kep' turning it round."
Newcomers kept arriving from the south with the question, "What's
up?" until it got on Grubb's nerves. Londonward the crowd was
constantly losing people; they would mount their various wheels
with the satisfied manner of spectators who have had the best.
Their voices would recede into the twilight; one would hear a
laugh at the memory of this particularly salient incident or
"I'm afraid," said the gentleman of the motor-car, "my
tarpaulin's a bit done for."
Grubb admitted that the owner was the best judge of that.
"Nothin, else I can do for you?" said the gentleman of the
motor-car, it may be with a suspicion of irony.
Bert was roused to action. "Look here," he said. "There's my
young lady. If she ain't 'ome by ten they lock her out. See?
Well, all my money was in my jacket pocket, and it's all mixed up
with the burnt stuff, and that's too 'ot to touch. IS Clapham
out of your way?"
"All in the day's work," said the gentleman with the motor-car,
and turned to Edna. "Very pleased indeed," he said, "if you'll
come with us. We're late for dinner as it is, so it won't make
much difference for us to go home by way of Clapham. We've got
to get to Surbiton, anyhow. I'm afraid you"ll find us a little
"But what's Bert going to do?" said Edna.
"I don't know that we can accommodate Bert," said the motor-car
gentleman, "though we're tremendously anxious to oblige."
"You couldn't take the whole lot?" said Bert, waving his hand at
the deboshed and blackened ruins on the ground.
"I'm awfully afraid I can't," said the Oxford man. "Awfully
sorry, you know."
"Then I'll have to stick 'ere for a bit," said Bert. "I got to
see the thing through. You go on, Edna."
"Don't like leavin' you, Bert."
"You can't 'elp it, Edna." ...
The last Edna saw of Bert was his figure, in charred and
blackened shirtsleeves, standing in the dusk. He was musing
deeply by the mixed ironwork and ashes of his vanished
motor-bicycle, a melancholy figure. His retinue of spectators
had shrunk now to half a dozen figures. Flossie and Grubb were
preparing to follow her desertion.
"Cheer up, old Bert!" cried Edna, with artificial cheerfulness.
"So long, Edna," said Bert.
"'See you to-morrer."
"See you to-morrer," said Bert, though he was destined, as a
matter of fact, to see much of the habitable globe before he saw
Bert began to light matches from a borrowed boxful, and search
for a half-crown that still eluded him among the charred remains.
His face was grave and melancholy.
"I WISH that 'adn't 'appened," said Flossie, riding on with
And at last Bert was left almost alone, a sad, blackened
Promethean figure, cursed by the gift of fire. He had
entertained vague ideas of hiring a cart, of achieving miraculous
repairs, of still snatching some residual value from his one
Chief possession. Now, in the darkening night, he perceived the
vanity of such intentions. Truth came to him bleakly, and laid
her chill conviction upon him. He took hold of the handle-bar,
stood the thing up, tried to push it forward. The tyreless
hind-wheel was jammed hopelessly, even as he feared. For a
minute or so he stood upholding his machine, a motionless
despair. Then with a great effort he thrust the ruins from
him into the ditch, kicked at it once, regarded`it for a moment,
and turned his face resolutely Londonward.
He did not once look back.
"That's the end of THAT game!" said Bert. "No more
teuf-teuf-teuf for Bert Smallwavs for a year or two. good-bye
'Olidays! ... Oh! I ought to 'ave sold the blasted thing when I
had a chance three years ago."
The next morning found the firm of Grubb & Smallways in a state
of profound despondency. t seemed a smallmatter to them that the
newspaper and cigarette shop opposite displayed such placards as
REPORTED AMERICAN ULTIMATUM.
BRITAIN MUST FIGHT.
OUR INFATUATED WAR OFFICE STILL
REFUSES TO LISTEN TO MR. BUTTERIDGE.
GREAT MONO-rail DISASTER AT TIMBUCTOO.
WAR A QUESTION OF HOURS.
New York CALM.
EXCITEMENT IN BERLIN.
WASHINGTON STILL SILENT.
WHAT WILL PARIS D0?
THE PANIC ON THE BOURSE.
THE KING'S GARDEN PARTY TO THE
MR. BUTTERIDGE TAKES AN OFFER.
LATEST BETTING FROM TEHERAN.
WILL AMERICA FIGHT?
ANTI-Geman RIOT IN BAGDAD.
THE MUNICIPAL SCANDALS AT DAMASCUS.
MR. BUTTERIDGE'S INVENTION FOR AMERICA.
Bert stared at these over the card of pump-clips in the pane in
the door with unseeing eyes. He wore a blackened flannel shirt,
and the jacketless ruins of the holiday suit of yesterday. The
boarded-up shop was dark and depressing beyond words, the few
scandalous hiring machines had never looked so hopelessly
disreputable. He thought of their fellows who were "out," and of
the approaching disputations of the afternoon. He thought of
their new landlord, and of their old landlord, and of bills and
claims. life presented itself for the first time as a hopeless
fight against fate....
"Grubb, o' man," he said, distilling the quintessence, "I'm fair
sick of this shop."
"So'm I," said Grubb.
"I'm out of conceit with it. I don't seem to care ever to speak
to a customer again."
"There's that trailer," said Grubb, after a pause.
"Blow the trailer!" said Bert. "Anyhow, I didn't leave a deposit
on it. I didn't do that. Still--"
He turned round on his friend. "Look 'ere," he said, "we aren't
gettin' on here. We been losing money hand over fist. We got
things tied up in fifty knots."
"What can we do?" said Grubb.
"Clear out. Sell what we can for what it will fetch, and quit.
See? It's no good 'anging on to a losing concern. No sort of
good. Jest foolishness."
"That's all right," said Grubb--"that's all right; but it ain't
your capital been sunk in it."
"No need for us to sink after our capital," said Bert, ignoring
"I'm not going to be held responsible for that trailer, anyhow.
That ain't my affair."
"Nobody arst you to make it your affair. If you like to stick on
here, well and good. I'm quitting. I'll see Bank Holiday
through, and then I'm O-R-P-H. See?"
"Leavin' you. If you must be left."
Grubb looked round the shop. It certainly had become
distasteful. Once upon a time it had been bright with hope and
new beginnings and stock and the prospect of credit. Now--now it
was failure and dust. Very likely the landlord would be round
presently to go on with the row about the window...."Where d'you
think of going, Bert?" Grubb asked.
Bert turned round and regarded him. "I thought it out as I was
walking 'ome, and in bed. I couldn't sleep a wink."
"What did you think out?"
"Oh! You're for stickin, here."
"Not if anything better was to offer."
"It's only an ideer," said Bert
"You made the girls laugh yestiday, that song you sang."
"Seems a long time ago now," said Grubb.
"And old Edna nearly cried--over that bit of mine."
"She got a fly in her eye," said Grubb; "I saw it. But what's
this got to do with your plan?"
"No end," said Bert.
"Don't you see?"
"Not singing in the streets?"
"Streets! No fear! But 'ow about the Tour of the Waterin'
Places of England, Grubb? Singing! Young men of family doing it
for a lark? You ain't got a bad voice, you know, and mine's all
right. I never see a chap singing on the beach yet that I
couldn't 'ave sung into a cocked hat. And we both know how to
put on the toff a bit. Eh? Well,that's my ideer. Me and you,
Grubb, with a refined song and a breakdown. Like we was doing
for foolery yestiday. That was what put it into my 'ead. Easy
make up a programme--easy. Six choice items, and one or two for
encores and patter. I'm all right for the patter anyhow."
Grubb remained regarding his darkened and disheartening shop; he
thought of his former landlord and his present landlord, and of
the general disgustingness of business in an age which re-echoes
to The Bitter Cry of the Middle Class; and then it seemed to him
that afar off he heard the twankle, twankle of a banjo, and the
voice of a stranded siren singing. He had a sense of hot
sunshine upon sand, of the children of it least transiently
opulent holiday makers in a circle round about him, of the
whisper, "They are really gentlemen," and then dollop, dollop
came the coppers in the hat. Sometimes even silver. It was all
income; no outgoings, no bills. "I'm on, Bert," he said.
"Right 0!" said Bert, and, "Now we shan't be long."
"We needn't start without capital neither," said Grubb. "If we
take the best of these machines up to the Bicycle Mart in
Finsbury we'd raise six or seven pounds on 'em. We could easy do
that tomorrow before anybody much was about...."
"Nice to think of old Suet-and-Bones coming round to make his
usual row with us, and finding a card up 'Closed for Repairs.'"
"We'll do that," said Grubb with zest--"we'll do that. And we'll
put up another notice, and jest arst all inquirers to go round to
'im and inquire. See? Then they'll know all about us."
Before the day was out the whole enterprise was planned. They
decided at first that they would call themselves the Naval Mr.
O's, a plagiarism, and not perhaps a very good one, from the
title of the well-known troupe of "Scarlet Mr. E's," and Bert
rather clung to the idea of a uniform of bright blue serge, with
a lot of gold lace and cord and ornamentation, rather like a
naval officer's, but more so. But that had to be abandoned as
impracticable, it would have taken too much time and money to
prepare. They perceived they must wear some cheaper and more
readily prepared costume, and Grubb fell back on white dominoes.
They entertained the notion for a time of selecting the two worst
machines from the hiring-stock, painting them over with crimson
enamel paint, replacing the bells by the loudest sort of
motor-horn, and doing a ride about to begin and end the
entertainment. They doubted the advisability of this step.
"There's people in the world," said Bert, "who wouldn't recognise
us, who'd know them bicycles again like a shot, and we don't want
to go on with no old stories. We want a fresh start."
"I do," said Grubb, "badly."
"We want to forget things--and cut all these rotten old worries.
They ain't doin' us good."
Nevertheless, they decided to take the risk of these bicycles,
and they decided their costumes should be brown stockings and
sandals, and cheap unbleached sheets with a hole cut in the
middle, and wigs and beards of tow. The rest their normal
selves! "The Desert Dervishes," they would call themselves, and
their Chief songs would be those popular ditties, "In my
Trailer," and "What Price Hair-pins Now?"
They decided to begin with small seaside places, and gradually,
as they gained confidence, attack larger centres. To begin with
they selected Littlestone in Kent, chiefly because of its
So they planned, and it seemed a small and unimportant thing to
them that as they clattered the governments of half the world and
more were drifting into War. About midday they became aware of
the first of the evening-paper placards shouting to them across
THE WAR-CLOUD DARKENS
Nothing else but that.
"Always rottin' about War now," said Bert.
"They'll get it in the neck in real earnest one of these days, if
they ain't precious careful."
So you will understand the sudden apparition that surprised
rather than delighted the quiet informality of Dymchurch sands.
Dymchurch was one of the last places on the coast of England to
be reached by the mono-rail, and so its spacious sands were
still, at the time of this story, the secret and delight of quite
a limited number of people. They went there to flee vulgarity
and extravagances, and to bathe and sit and talk and play with
their children in peace, and the Desert Dervishes did not please
them at all.
The two white figures on scarlet wheels came upon them out of the
infinite along the sands from Littlestone, grew nearer and larger
and more audible, honk-honking and emitting weird cries, and
generally threatening liveliness of the most aggressive type.
"good heavens!" said Dymchurch, "what's this?"
Then our young men, according to a preconcerted plan, wheeled
round from file to line, dismounted and stood it attention.
"Ladies and gentlemen," they said, "we beg to present ourselves--
the Desert Dervishes." They bowed profoundly.
The few scattered groups upon the beach regarded them with horror
for the most part, but some of the children and young people were
interested and drew nearer. "There ain't a bob on the beach,"
said Grubb in an undertone, and the Desert Dervishes plied their
bicycles with comic "business," that got a laugh from one very
unsophisticated little boy. Then they took a deep breath and
struck into the cheerful strain of "What Price Hair-pins Now?"
Grubb sang the song, Bert did his best to make the chorus a
rousing one, and it the end of each verse they danced certain
steps, skirts in hand, that they had carefully rehearsed.
What Price Hair-pins Now?"
So they chanted and danced their steps in the sunshine on
Dymchurch beach, and the children drew near these foolish young
men, marvelling that they should behave in this way, and the
older people looked cold and unfriendly.
All round the coasts of Europe that morning banjos were ringing,
voices were bawling and singing, children were playing in the
sun, pleasure-boats went to and fro; the common abundant life of
the time, unsuspicious of all dangers that gathered darkly
against it, flowed on its cheerful aimless way. In the cities
men fussed about their businesses and engagements. The newspaper
placards that had cried "wolf!" so often, cried "wolf!" now in
Now as Bert and Grubb bawled their chorus for the third time,
they became aware of a very big, golden-brown balloon low in the
sky to the north-west, and coming rapidly towards them.
"Jest as we're gettin' hold of 'em," muttered Grubb, "up comes a
counter-attraction. Go it, Bert!"
What Price Hair-pins Now?"
The balloon rose and fell, went out of sight--"landed, thank
goodness," said Grubb--re-appeared with a leap. "'ENG!" said
Grubb. "Step it, Bert, or they'll see it!"
They finished their dance, and then stood frankly staring.
"There's something wrong with that balloon," said Bert.
Everybody now was looking at the balloon, drawing rapidly nearer
before a brisk north-westerly breeze. The song and dance were a
"dead frost." Nobody thought any more about it. Even Bert and
Grubb forgot it, and ignored the next item on the programme
altogether. The balloon was bumping as though its occupants
were trying to land; it would approach, sinking slowly, touch the
ground, and instantly jump fifty feet or so in the air and
immediately begin to fall again. Its car touched a clump of
trees, and the black figure that had been struggling in the ropes
fell back, or jumped back, into the car. In another moment it
was quite close. It seemed a huge affair, as big as a house, and
it floated down swiftly towards the sands; a long rope trailed
behind it, and enormous shouts came from the man in the car. He
seemed to be taking off his clothes, then his head came over the
side of the car. "Catch hold of the rope!" they heard, quite
"Salvage, Bert!" cried Grubb, and started to head off the rope.
Bert followed him, and collided, without upsetting, with a
fisherman bent upon a similar errand. A woman carrying a baby in
her arms, two small boys with toy spades, and a stout gentleman
in flannels all got to the trailing rope at about the same time,
and began to dance over it in their attempts to secure it. Bert
came up to this wriggling, elusive serpent and got his foot on
it, went down on all fours and achieved a grip. In half a dozen
seconds the whole diffused population of the beach had, as it
were, crystallised on the rope, and was pulling against the
balloon under the vehement and stimulating directions of the man
in the car. "Pull, I tell you!" said the man in the car--"pull!"
For a second or so the btlloon obeyed its momentum and the wind
and tugged its human anchor seaward. It dropped, touched the
water, and made a flat, silvery splash, and recoiled as one's
finger recoils when one touches anything hot. "Pull her in,"
said the man in the car. "SHE'S FAINTED!"
He occupied himself with some unseen object while the people on
the rope pulled him in. Bert was nearest the balloon, and much
excited and interested. He kept stumbling over the tail of the
Dervish costume in his zeal. He had never imagined before what a
big, light, wallowing thing a balloon was. The car was of brown
coarse wicker-work, and comparatively small. The rope he tugged
at was fastened to a stout-looking ring, four or five feet above
the car. At each tug he drew in a yard or so of rope, and the
waggling wicker-work was drawn so much nearer. Out of the car
came wrathful bellowings: "Fainted, she has!" and then: "It's
her heart--broken with all she's had to go through."
The balloon ceased to struggle, and sank downward. Bert dropped
the rope, and ran forward to catch it in a new place. In another
moment he had his hand on the car. "Lay hold of it," said the
man in the ear, and his face appeared close to Bert's--a
strangely familiar face, fierce eyebrows, a flattish nose, a huge
black moustache. He had discarded coat and waistcoat--perhaps
with some idea of presently having to swim for his life--and his
black hair was extraordinarily disordered. "Will all you people
get hold round the car?" he said. "There's a lady here fainted--
or got failure of the heart. Heaven alone knows which! My name
is Butteridge. Butteridge, my name is--in a balloon. Now
please, all on to the edge. This is the last time I trust myself
to one of these paleolithic contrivances. The ripping-cord
failed, and the valve wouldn't act. If ever I meet the scoundrel
who ought to have seen--"
He stuck his head out between the ropes abruptly, and said, in a
note of earnest expostulation: "Get some brandy!--some neat
brandy!" Some one went up the beach for it.
In the car, sprawling upon a sort of bed-bench, in an attitude of
elaborate self-abandonment, was a large, blond lady, wearing a
fur coat and a big floriferous hat. Her head lolled back against
the padded corner of the car, and her eyes were shut and her
mouth open. "Me dear!" said Mr. Butteridge, in a common, loud
voice, "we're safe!"
She gave no sign.
"Me dear!" said Mr. Butteridge, in a greatly intensified loud
voice, "we're safe!"
She was still quite impassive.
Then Mr. Butteridge showed the fiery core of his soul. "If she
is dead," he said, slowly lifting a fist towards the balloon
above him, and speaking in an immense tremulous bellow--"if she
is dead, I will r-r-rend the heavens like a garment! I must get
her out," he cried, his nostrils dilated with emotion-"I must get
her out. I cannot have her die in a wicker-work basket nine feet
square--she who was made for kings' palaces! Keep holt of this
car! Is there a strong man among ye to take her if I hand her
He swept the lady together by a powerful movement of his arms,
and lifted her. "Keep the car from jumping," he said to those
who clustered about him. "Keep your weight on it. She is no
light woman, and when she is out of it--it will be relieved."
Bert leapt lightly into a sitting position on the edge of the
car. The others took a firmer grip upon the ropes and ring.
"Are you ready?" said Mr. Butteridge.
He stood upon the bed-bench and lifted the lady carefully. Then
he sat down on the wicker edge opposite to Bert, and put one leg
over to dangle outside. A rope or so seemed to incommode him.
"Will some one assist me?" he said. "If they would take this
It was just at this moment, with Mr. Butteridge and the lady
balanced finely on the basket brim, that she came-to. She
came-to suddenly and violently with a loud, heart-rending cry of
"Alfred! Save me!" And she waved her arms searchingly, and then
clasped Mr. Butteridge about.
It seemed to Bert that the car swayed for a moment and then
buck-jumped and kicked him. Also he saw the boots of the lady
and the right leg of the gentleman describing arcs through the
air, preparatory to vanishing over the side of the car. His
impressions were complex, but they also comprehended the fact
that he had lost his balance, and was going to stand on his head
inside this creaking basket. He spread out clutching arms. He
did stand on his head, more or less, his tow-beard came off and
got in his mouth, and his cheek slid along against padding. His
nose buried itself in a bag of sand. The car gave a violent
lurch, and became still.
"Confound it!" he said.
He had an impression he must be stunned because of a surging in
his ears, and because all the voices of the people about him had
become small and remote. They were shouting like elves inside a
He found it a little difficult to get on his feet. His limbs
were mixed up with the garments Mr. Butteridge had discarded when
that gentleman had thought he must needs plunge into the sea.
Bert bawled out half angry, half rueful, "You might have said you
were going to tip the basket." Then he stood up and clutched the
ropes of the car convulsively.
Below him, far below him, shining blue, were the waters of the
English Channel. Far off, a little thing in the sunshine, and
rushing down as if some one was bending it hollow, was the beach
and the irregular cluster of houses that constitutes Dymchurch.
He could see the little crowd of people he had so abruptly left.
Grubb, in the white wrapper of a Desert Dervish, was running
along the edge of the sea. Mr. Butteridge was knee-deep in the
water, bawling immensely. The lady was sitting up with her
floriferous hat in her lap, shockingly neglected. The beach,
east and west, was dotted with little people--they seemed all
heads and feet--looking up. And the balloon, released from the
twenty-five stone or so of Mr. Butteridge and his lady, was
rushing up into the sky at the pace of a racing motor-car. "My
crikey!" said Bert; "here's a go!"
He looked down with a pinched face at the receding beach, and
reflected that he wasn't giddy; then he made a superficial survey
of the cords and ropes about him with a vague idea of "doing
something." "I'm not going to mess about with the thing," he
said at last, and sat down upon the mattress. "I'm not going to
touch it.... I wonder what one ought to do?"
Soon he got up again and stared for a long time it the sinking
world below, at white cliffs to the east and flattening marsh to
the left, at a minute wide prospect of weald and downland, at dim
towns and harbours and rivers and ribbon-like roads, at ships and
ships, decks and foreshortened funnels upon the ever-widening
sea, and at the great mono-rail bridge that straddled the Channel
from Folkestone to Boulogne, until at last, first little wisps
and then a veil of filmy cloud hid the prospect from his eyes.
He wasn't at all giddy nor very much frightened, only in a state
of enormous consternation.
War in the Air Chapter 1
... War in the Air Chapter 3