The various football-grounds would be heavily hit, too. And there was to be a monster roller-skating carnival at Olympia. That also would be spoiled.
A deputation of amusement-caterers hurried to the two camps within an hour of the appearance of the first evening paper. They put their case plainly and well. The Generals were obviously impressed. Messages passed and repassed between the two armies, and in the end it was decided to put off the outbreak of hostilities till Monday morning.
* * * * *
Satisfactory as this undoubtedly was for the theatre-managers and directors of football clubs, it was in some ways a pity. From the standpoint of the historian it spoiled the whole affair. But for the postponement, readers of this history might—nay, would—have been able to absorb a vivid and masterly account of the great struggle, with a careful description of the tactics by which victory was achieved. They would have been told the disposition of the various regiments, the stratagems, the dashing advances, the skilful retreats, and the Lessons of the War.
As it is, owing to the mistaken good-nature of the rival generals, the date of the fixture was changed, and practically all that a historian can do is to record the result.
A slight mist had risen as early as four o'clock on Saturday. By night-fall the atmosphere was a little dense, but the lamp-posts were still clearly visible at a distance of some feet, and nobody, accustomed to living in London, would have noticed anything much out of the common. It was not till Sunday morning that the fog proper really began.
London awoke on Sunday to find the world blanketed in the densest, yellowest London particular that had been experienced for years. It was the sort of day when the City clerk has the exhilarating certainty that at last he has an excuse for lateness which cannot possibly be received with harsh disbelief. People spent the day indoors and hoped it would clear up by tomorrow.
"They can't possibly fight if it's like this," they told each other.
But on the Monday morning the fog was, if possible, denser. It wrapped London about as with a garment. People shook their heads.
"They'll have to put it off," they were saying, when of a sudden—Boom! And, again, Boom!
It was the sound of heavy guns.
The battle had begun!
* * * * *
One does not wish to grumble or make a fuss, but still it does seem a little hard that a battle of such importance, a battle so outstanding in the history of the world, should have been fought under such conditions. London at that moment was richer than ever before in descriptive reporters. It was the age of descriptive reporters, of vivid pen-pictures. In every newspaper office there were men who could have hauled up their slacks about that battle in a way that would have made a Y.M.C.A. lecturer want to get at somebody with a bayonet; men who could have handed out the adjectives and exclamation-marks till you almost heard the roar of the guns. And there they were—idle, supine—like careened battleships. They were helpless. Bart Kennedy did start an article which began, "Fog. Black fog. And the roar of guns. Two nations fighting in the fog," but it never came to anything. It was promising for a while, but it died of inanition in the middle of the second stick.
It was hard.
The lot of the actual war-correspondents was still worse. It was useless for them to explain that the fog was too thick to give them a chance. "If it's light enough for them to fight," said their editors remorselessly, "it's light enough for you to watch them." And out they had to go.
They had a perfectly miserable time. Edgar Wallace seems to have lost his way almost at once. He was found two days later in an almost starving condition at Steeple Bumpstead. How he got there nobody knows. He said he had set out to walk to where the noise of the guns seemed to be, and had gone on walking. Bennett Burleigh, that crafty old campaigner, had the sagacity to go by Tube. This brought him to Hampstead, the scene, it turned out later, of the fiercest operations, and with any luck he might have had a story to tell. But the lift stuck half-way up, owing to a German shell bursting in its neighbourhood, and it was not till the following evening that a search-party heard and rescued him.
The rest—A. G. Hales, Frederick Villiers, Charles Hands, and the others—met, on a smaller scale, the same fate as Edgar Wallace. Hales, starting for Tottenham, arrived in Croydon, very tired, with a nail in his boot. Villiers, equally unlucky, fetched up at Richmond. The most curious fate of all was reserved for Charles Hands. As far as can be gathered, he got on all right till he reached Leicester Square. There he lost his bearings, and seems to have walked round and round Shakespeare's statue, under the impression that he was going straight to Tottenham. After a day and a-half of this he sat down to rest, and was there found, when the fog had cleared, by a passing policeman.
And all the while the unseen guns boomed and thundered, and strange, thin shoutings came faintly through the darkness.
THE TRIUMPH OF ENGLAND
It was the afternoon of Wednesday, September the Sixteenth. The battle had been over for twenty-four hours. The fog had thinned to a light lemon colour. It was raining.
By now the country was in possession of the main facts. Full details were not to be expected, though it is to the credit of the newspapers that, with keen enterprise, they had at once set to work to invent them, and on the whole had not done badly.
Broadly, the facts were that the Russian army, outmanoeuvered, had been practically annihilated. Of the vast force which had entered England with the other invaders there remained but a handful. These, the Grand Duke Vodkakoff among them, were prisoners in the German lines at Tottenham.
The victory had not been gained bloodlessly. Not a fifth of the German army remained. It is estimated that quite two-thirds of each army must have perished in that last charge of the Germans up the Hampstead heights, which ended in the storming of Jack Straw's Castle and the capture of the Russian general.
* * * * *
Prince Otto of Saxe-Pfennig lay sleeping in his tent at Tottenham. He was worn out. In addition to the strain of the battle, there had been the heavy work of seeing the interviewers, signing autograph-books, sitting to photographers, writing testimonials for patent medicines, and the thousand and one other tasks, burdensome but unavoidable, of the man who is in the public eye. Also he had caught a bad cold during the battle. A bottle of ammoniated quinine lay on the table beside him now as he slept.
* * * * *
As he lay there the flap of the tent was pulled softly aside. Two figures entered. Each was dressed in a flat-brimmed hat, a coloured handkerchief, a flannel shirt, football shorts, stockings, brown boots, and a whistle. Each carried a hockey-stick. One, however, wore spectacles and a look of quiet command which showed that he was the leader.
They stood looking at the prostrate general for some moments. Then the spectacled leader spoke.
The other saluted.
Scout-Master Wagstaff walked to the side of the bed, and shook the sleeper's shoulder. The Prince grunted, and rolled over on to his other side. The Scout-Master shook him again. He sat up, blinking.
As his eyes fell on the quiet, stern, spectacled figure, he leaped from the bed.
"What—what—what," he stammered. "What's the beadig of this?"
He sneezed as he spoke, and, turning to the table, poured out and drained a bumper of ammoniated quinine.
"I told the sedtry pardicularly not to let adybody id. Who are you?"
The intruder smiled quietly.
"My name is Clarence Chugwater," he said simply.
"Jugwater? Dod't doe you frob Adab. What do you want? If you're forb sub paper, I cad't see you now. Cub to-borrow bordig."
"I am from no paper."
"Thed you're wud of these photographers. I tell you, I cad't see you."
"I am no photographer."
"Thed what are you?"
The other drew himself up.
"I am England," he said with a sublime gesture.
"Igglud! How do you bead you're Igglud? Talk seds."
Clarence silenced him with a frown.
"I say I am England. I am the Chief Scout, and the Scouts are England. Prince Otto, you thought this England of ours lay prone and helpless. You were wrong. The Boy Scouts were watching and waiting. And now their time has come. Scout-Master Wagstaff, do your duty."
The Scout-Master moved forward. The Prince, bounding to the bed, thrust his hand under the pillow. Clarence's voice rang out like a trumpet.
"Cover that man!"
The Prince looked up. Two feet away Scout-Master Wagstaff was standing, catapult in hand, ready to shoot.
"He is never known to miss," said Clarence warningly.
The Prince wavered.
"He has broken more windows than any other boy of his age in South London."
The Prince sullenly withdrew his hand—empty.
"Well, whad do you wad?" he snarled.
"Resistance is useless," said Clarence. "The moment I have plotted and planned for has come. Your troops, worn out with fighting, mere shadows of themselves, have fallen an easy prey. An hour ago your camp was silently surrounded by patrols of Boy Scouts, armed with catapults and hockey-sticks. One rush and the battle was over. Your entire army, like yourself, are prisoners."
"The diggids they are!" said the Prince blankly.
"England, my England!" cried Clarence, his face shining with a holy patriotism. "England, thou art free! Thou hast risen from the ashes of the dead self. Let the nations learn from this that it is when apparently crushed that the Briton is to more than ever be feared."
"Thad's bad grabbar," said the Prince critically.
"It isn't," said Clarence with warmth.
"It is, I tell you. Id's a splid idfididive."
Clarence's eyes flashed fire.
"I don't want any of your beastly cheek," he said. "Scout-Master Wagstaff, remove your prisoner."
"All the sabe," said the Prince, "id is a splid idfididive."
Clarence pointed silently to the door.
"And you doe id is," persisted the Prince. "And id's spoiled your big sbeech. Id—"
"Come on, can't you," interrupted Scout-Master Wagstaff.
"I ab cubbing, aren't I? I was odly saying—"
"I'll give you such a whack over the shin with this hockey-stick in a minute!" said the Scout-Master warningly. "Come on!"
The Prince went.
CLARENCE—THE LAST PHASE
The brilliantly-lighted auditorium of the Palace Theatre.
Everywhere a murmur and stir. The orchestra is playing a selection. In the stalls fair women and brave men converse in excited whispers. One catches sentences here and there.
"Quite a boy, I believe!"
"How perfectly sweet!"
"'Pon honour, Lady Gussie, I couldn't say. Bertie Bertison, of the Bachelors', says a feller told him it was a clear thousand."
"Do you hear that? Mr. Bertison says that this boy is getting a thousand a week."
"Why, that's more than either of those horrid generals got."
"It's a lot of money, isn't it?"
"Of course, he did save the country, didn't he?"
"You may depend they wouldn't give it him if he wasn't worth it."
"Met him last night at the Duchess's hop. Seems a decent little chap. No side and that, if you know what I mean. Hullo, there's his number!"
The orchestra stops. The number 7 is displayed. A burst of applause, swelling into a roar as the curtain rises.
A stout man in crinkled evening-dress walks on to the stage.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he says, "I 'ave the 'onour to-night to introduce to you one whose name is, as the saying goes, a nouse'old word. It is thanks to 'im, to this 'ero whom I 'ave the 'onour to introduce to you to-night, that our beloved England no longer writhes beneath the ruthless 'eel of the alien oppressor. It was this 'ero's genius—and, I may say—er—I may say genius—that, unaided, 'it upon the only way for removing the cruel conqueror from our beloved 'earths and 'omes. It was this 'ero who, 'aving first allowed the invaders to claw each other to 'ash (if I may be permitted the expression) after the well-known precedent of the Kilkenny cats, thereupon firmly and without flinching, stepped bravely in with his fellow-'eros—need I say I allude to our gallant Boy Scouts?—and dexterously gave what-for in no uncertain manner to the few survivors who remained."
Here the orator bowed, and took advantage of the applause to replenish his stock of breath. When his face had begun to lose the purple tinge, he raised his hand.
"I 'ave only to add," he resumed, "that this 'ero is engaged exclusively by the management of the Palace Theatre of Varieties, at a figure previously undreamed of in the annals of the music-hall stage. He is in receipt of the magnificent weekly salary of no less than one thousand one 'undred and fifty pounds a week."
"I 'ave little more to add. This 'ero will first perform a few of those physical exercises which have made our Boy Scouts what they are, such as deep breathing, twisting the right leg firmly round the neck, and hopping on one foot across the stage. He will then give an exhibition of the various calls and cries of the Boy Scouts—all, as you doubtless know, skilful imitations of real living animals. In this connection I 'ave to assure you that he 'as nothing whatsoever in 'is mouth, as it 'as been sometimes suggested. In conclusion he will deliver a short address on the subject of 'is great exploits. Ladies and gentlemen, I have finished, and it only now remains for me to retire, 'aving duly announced to you England's Darling Son, the Country's 'Ero, the Nation's Proudest Possession—Clarence Chugwater."
A moment's breathless suspense, a crash from the orchestra, and the audience are standing on their seats, cheering, shouting, stamping.
A small sturdy, spectacled figure is on the stage.
It is Clarence, the Boy of Destiny.