The Echo (London), October 10, 1902
BY P. G. WODEHOUSE.
The Intelligent New Zealander (Macaulay’s Patent1) was puzzled. He stood on Westminster Bridge, looking thoughtful. “I admit,” he murmured to himself, “that I am here a trifle before my time. The arrangement, if I remember rightly, was that I should come to London when the city was in ruins. Some of it—indeed, a considerable portion of it—appears to be in ruins now—especially the roads. But I cannot conceal from myself the fact that the place is not deserted. No,” he continued, as an energetic passer-by jostled him into the gutter, “there are still several people about, if you know where to look for them. Yes, I am before my time. And that may, of course, be the reason why I do not understand things. I am puzzled. And what puzzles me particularly is this. To the best of my knowledge a profound peace reigns over the land. And yet, in the very first street round the corner, what appears to be a free-fight of the most violent nature is in progress. I will make inquiries.”
He looked about him. A youth approached. He was swinging a satchel, and whistling. A deaf man could have told that he was whistling. A musical expert could not have said what he was whistling. It was one of those things which no fellow can understand. The New Zealander’s intelligent eye lit up as he saw him. He recognised the type. It was a schoolboy, and a schoolboy, he had often heard Macaulay say, knew everything.2
A Mine of Information.
“Come hither, youth,” he said.
The boy stopped. He stared. He gazed long and earnestly at the Intelligent New Zealander, as if he interested him. As, indeed, he did.
“From your satchel,” said the New Zealander, “and from your general aspect I gather that you are a schoolboy; and a schoolboy, so I am credibly informed, is a mine of information on every subject—a species of walking encyclopædia. Am I not right?”
“Sir,” replied the boy, with simple dignity, “come off it. Why cawn’t yer tork like a nordinary yuman bean?”
“I beg your pardon,” said the New Zealander.
The boy obliged with a repetition of his remark.
“While not wholly comprehending your observation,” said the New Zealander, “I nevertheless have a sort of rough, sketchy impression that I have failed to make myself entirely clear. Young man, I am puzzled, and you can possibly help me. Tell me this. Round that corner you will see, if you care to look, a free-fight proceeding with no small vigour. The——”
But the boy had departed. The New Zealander saw him skimming along the road in the direction indicated, his mobile features shining with glad expectation.
He turned to a policeman who was standing close by.
“Constable,” he said.
“Sir?” said the man in blue, waking with a start.
“You have an intelligent face,” said the New Zealander. “Perhaps you can solve this problem. Round that corner a terrible free-fight is raging.”
He paused to see the effect of his words. Unlike the schoolboy, the constable evinced no desire to visit the scene of the action. The New Zealander resumed.
“The pavements are red with vital fluid. Corpses are heaped up at the side of the road. The air rings with the curses of men, the shrieks of women, and the staccato howlings of children. Tell me, why is this? Has not peace been declared long since?”3
“It has,” said the constable.
“Then it can’t be the masses making merry in their own honest, genial way after long months of heart-breaking anxiety. Perhaps all the Irishmen in London, goaded to frenzy by the Crimes Act,4 have risen en masse to wipe out the tyrant Sassenach? Is that so?”
“No official intimation of the fact has reached me,” said the constable.
“Is it a football match, then?”
“Has M. Pelletan really produced that Holy War?”5
“Then what, in the name of everything weird and inexplicable, is it all about?” said the Intelligent New Zealander.
“Well, Sir,” said the policeman, “of course I can’t say for certain without looking, but, from your description, I should say——”
“I should say that it was the peaceable London citizen and his friends looking for a seat on the last tram home.”
1 Thomas Babington Macaulay’s review of von Ranke’s The Ecclesiastical and Political History of the Popes coined what became, in the 19th century, the most frequently used literary allusion to New Zealand: “She may still exist in undiminished vigour when some traveler from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul’s.” [note by Terry Mordue]
2 “Every schoolboy knows who imprisoned Montezuma, and who strangled Atahualpa” (Macaulay, On Lord Clive, 1840). This and many other uses by Macaulay of “as every schoolboy knows” prompted Lord Melbourne to remark “I wish I was as cocksure of anything as Tom Macaulay is of everything.”
3 The Boer War ended with the Treaty of Vereeniging on May 31, 1902.
4 In an attempt to control uprisings by Irish nationalists, on September 1, 1902, nearly all of Ireland was declared by the British Secretary for Ireland to be “under the crimes act”—that is, crimes could be tried by special juries or in some cases by summary jurisdiction.
5 Camille Pelletan, French minister of marine, made a speech on September 15, 1902, asserting French rights in the Mediterranean. “It is part of our duty to prepare for the holy war—for the French fatherland against its enemies, whoever they may be.”