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The Village That Voted The Earth Was Flat
by [?]


Our drive till then had been quite a success. The other men in the car were my friend Woodhouse, young Ollyett, a distant connection of his, and Pallant, the M.P. Woodhouse’s business was the treatment and cure of sick journals. He knew by instinct the precise moment in a newspaper’s life when the impetus of past good management is exhausted and it fetches up on the dead-centre between slow and expensive collapse and the new start which can be given by gold injections–and genius. He was wisely ignorant of journalism; but when he stooped on a carcase there was sure to be meat. He had that week added a half-dead, halfpenny evening paper to his collection, which consisted of a prosperous London daily, one provincial ditto, and a limp-bodied weekly of commercial leanings. He had also, that very hour, planted me with a large block of the evening paper’s common shares, and was explaining the whole art of editorship to Ollyett, a young man three years from Oxford, with coir-matting-coloured hair and a face harshly modelled by harsh experiences, who, I understood, was assisting in the new venture. Pallant, the long, wrinkled M.P., whose voice is more like a crane’s than a peacock’s, took no shares, but gave us all advice.

‘You’ll find it rather a knacker’s yard,’ Woodhouse was saying. ‘Yes, I know they call me The Knacker; but it will pay inside a year. All my papers do. I’ve only one motto: Back your luck and back your staff. It’ll come out all right.’

Then the car stopped, and a policeman asked our names and addresses for exceeding the speed-limit. We pointed out that the road ran absolutely straight for half a mile ahead without even a side-lane. ‘That’s just what we depend on,’ said the policeman unpleasantly.

‘The usual swindle,’ said Woodhouse under his breath. ‘What’s the name of this place?’

‘Huckley,’ said the policeman. ‘H-u-c-k-l-e-y,’ and wrote something in his note-book at which young Ollyett protested. A large red man on a grey horse who had been watching us from the other side of the hedge shouted an order we could not catch. The policeman laid his hand on the rim of the right driving-door (Woodhouse carries his spare tyres aft), and it closed on the button of the electric horn. The grey horse at once bolted, and we could hear the rider swearing all across the landscape.

‘Damn it, man, you’ve got your silly fist on it! Take it off!’ Woodhouse shouted.

‘Ho!’ said the constable, looking carefully at his fingers as though we had trapped them. ‘That won’t do you any good either,’ and he wrote once more in his note-book before he allowed us to go.

This was Woodhouse’s first brush with motor law, and since I expected no ill consequences to myself, I pointed out that it was very serious. I took the same view myself when in due time I found that I, too, was summonsed on charges ranging from the use of obscene language to endangering traffic.

Judgment was done in a little pale-yellow market-town with a small, Jubilee clock-tower and a large corn-exchange. Woodhouse drove us there in his car. Pallant, who had not been included in the summons, came with us as moral support. While we waited outside, the fat man on the grey horse rode up and entered into loud talk with his brother magistrates. He said to one of them–for I took the trouble to note it down–‘It falls away from my lodge-gates, dead straight, three-quarters of a mile. I’d defy any one to resist it. We rooked seventy pounds out of ’em last month. No car can resist the temptation. You ought to have one your side the county, Mike. They simply can’t resist it.’

‘Whew!’ said Woodhouse. ‘We’re in for trouble. Don’t you say a word–or Ollyett either! I’ll pay the fines and we’ll get it over as soon as possible. Where’s Pallant?’