Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1189
Although they were his friends, Barker and Lambert often considered Quinn a fool, even a dangerous man, for he persisted in seeing the ludicrous where they saw only the grave. On this particular afternoon, Quinn was walking behind his two friends; as he saw the buttons on their tailcoats, he thought them very much like dragon’s eyes. Forever afterward, he thought of their backs as two dragons shuffling to the rear.
By the end of the twentieth century, such imagination was scarcely appreciated. The whole world had become orderly. The smaller nations had disappeared, and among the larger nations, Great Britain was by far the most extensive and best organized. The king was now chosen by lot instead of by heredity on the theory that anybody could be a good king. Parliament was only a memory of the days when government was a tedious process. As a reflection of the times, everyone wore sober, uniform clothing. Armies and wars were almost forgotten.
During their walk, Quinn and his friends were astonished to see a fine-looking man in a green military uniform decorated with many insignia. The man was attracting a good deal of attention, for the people had never seen brilliant clothes before. When Lambert and Barker invited the man to dinner, they learned that he was the former president of Nicaragua, the last small state to be conquered. They considered the former president an affable, saddened man. He still believed firmly in the right of individuals and of states to be different, but he was obviously very old-fashioned in his thinking. In fact, after they argued with him and showed him the current reasoned view, he committed suicide.
Later, Quinn was entertaining his friends as usual with pointless quixotic stories. Barker and Lambert listened patiently at first, but the meaning of the vague stories always eluded them. At last, in exasperation, they told Quinn to go stand on his head. To their surprise, Quinn did so, and competently. While he was thus attracting attention from the passersby, some policemen approached. Thinking they were to be reprimanded, all began to apologize. The policemen, however, brought word that Quinn had been chosen king. Barker protested loudly that Britain had no need to choose a buffoon as king. Quinn, however, was quite willing to be a king. He immediately styled himself King Auberon.
One day, the king was taking a stroll when a nine-year-old boy in a cocked hat struck him smartly with a wooden sword. Instead of punishing the boy, Auberon gave him a coin and complimented him on his knightly bearing. The sight of the boy in his make-believe armor gave the king an idea for bringing life and joy to staid London.
As soon as he could, he appeared before a historical society with his great innovation. All the districts of London that had been cities in earlier days were to be returned to their former autonomy. North Kensington, South Kensington, Notting Hill—all were to have a provost as their chief official. The provosts were to be garbed in medieval splendor and were to be accompanied by an honorary guard armed with halberds. Although the announcement was received with incredulity at first, the people humored their fanciful king. One provost objected to the guards, however, on the grounds that when he was obliged to take a bus, there were often no seats for his henchmen.
Ten years later, the plan was still in effect. One day, the Provost of North Kensington, who was in private life Mr. Buck, a linen draper, came to the king with a serious and angry face. A new highway through London was being planned, and the Provost of Notting Hill refused to sell the land necessary for a right of way. Soon other provosts came in to second Mr. Buck’s complaint. They complained that the Provost of Notting Hill was taking his office much too seriously; the offer for the land was more than fair, and Notting Hill was little more than a slum anyway. In a puckish mood, the king upheld the independence of Notting Hill. He was interested to hear that the stubborn provost was Adam Wayne, once a nine-year-old boy with a wooden sword.
The difficulty arose from the fact that young Wayne had never been out of London, and he thought Notting Hill the most beautiful place in the world. Imbued with chivalric ideals, he had no intention of allowing a modern highway to run through his beloved narrow streets. To get help in his fight to preserve his domain, he visited the merchants in his territory. He found them apathetic to their peril. They were interested only in making money.
The one kindred spirit he found was Mr. Turnbull, who kept a toy shop. Mr. Turnbull had a collection of lead soldiers and a brick model of Notting Hill. Wayne sat down with the enthusiastic toy dealer to plan the defense of Notting Hill. Cooperation was easier to get because Wayne promised to make Turnbull a high officer in the army.
Mr. Buck calculated that Notting Hill could muster only two hundred defenders at best. If he could lead five or six hundred men against them, it was mathematically certain that the Notting Hill stronghold could be taken and the highway would go through. At dusk, he marched his men against the district, expecting an easy conquest. Wayne, however, had shut off the gas and plunged the streets into darkness. The cunning defenders of Notting Hill then fell on the attackers with halberds and swords.
After this defeat, the other provosts combined a larger force and in broad daylight attacked again. This time they could find no opposition. While they were searching everywhere for the small Notting Hill forces, Wayne again used superior strategy. He gave a half crown to all the boys he could find and ordered the urchins to hire hansom cabs and have the drivers come to the heart of Notting Hill. Then Wayne kept the horses and used the carriages to construct a barricade around the center of his district. Amply provisioned, the defenders prepared to sit out a siege.
As more attackers came to join battle, it looked at last as if Notting Hill must fall. Once again, Wayne was equal to the occasion. He sent out word that if the besiegers did not withdraw at once, he would open the reservoir and flood the narrow streets.
The men from the other districts sullenly acknowledged their defeat for the present time. Again, they prepared for a fresh attack. At last, all London was ready. With banners flying and with axes and halberds held high, the soldiers closed in on Notting Hill. Wayne knew his defeat was at hand. Admiring the resurgence of local pride, King Auberon went into the thick of things as a reporter. He was knocked down and left for dead on the ground. Wayne also fell mortally wounded; thus Notting Hill was taken.
Afterward, as disembodied voices, Auberon and Wayne compared notes. The king had brought laughter to London, and Wayne had brought love. They were content.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 651
Walking to work on a wintry day in 1984, powerful bureaucrat James Barker, idler Wilfred Lambert, and prankster Auberon Quin meet the exiled president of Nicaragua, a country that has been swallowed up by more powerful nations. Despite the Nicaraguan’s argument that imperialists annihilate the customs of the conquered, Barker defends imperialism, insisting on the superiority of English civilization, which has evolved from democracy to despotism. He explains that the country needs neither a parliament nor a king; the latter, whose duty is simply to sign papers, is now chosen through a rotation system. The Nicaraguan, appalled by Barker’s words, dies three days later. Quin, meanwhile, is stirred by the Nicaraguan’s patriotism.
Quin, to Barker’s horror, is named king. Unlike Barker, he realizes that London’s people are sunk in a deadening, joyless routine. He mingles among common people to determine their needs. A child named Adam Wayne attacks him with a toy sword, and Quin, amused by this childish imitation of knighthood, decides, as a joke, to revive medievalism. He issues a Great Proclamation of the Charter of Free Cities. Suburbs become cities, each with a city wall, a guard, banners, official colors, and coats of arms. Their provosts are selected by a rotation system. Quin happily assigns the cities their official colors, garb, guards, heralds, and trumpeters.
The selected provosts, who include Barker and Red Buck, conspire to create, through bribery, purchase, and bullying, a road that will destroy five old stores on Pump Street in Notting Hill. Ten years later, negotiations for the road encounter an obstacle in Adam Wayne, who has become the provost of Notting Hill. Objecting to the destruction of the shops, he vows to preserve his city. The other provosts appeal to the king. Barker regards Wayne as a madman, since any sane man would accept the provosts’ financial offers. Having tried unsuccessfully to convince the king to force sale of the Notting Hill property or to have Wayne certified as insane, the provosts prepare for war. Quin notes that the provosts, obsessed with money, power, and respectability, are as mad as Wayne, but Quin is stunned that his joke has inspired Wayne’s passion and patriotism. He sadly expects Wayne to lose the war.
Wayne finds it difficult to inspire others to his cause. Notting Hill’s merchants conduct their transactions without interest or joy; Wayne cannot break through their torpor, until he reaches Mr. Turnbull. Turnbull is the proprietor of a toy or curiosity shop, a collector of toy soldiers, and a student of military history. While Buck is assuring the others on his side that their victory is certain—because battle, like everything else, is a matter of numbers—Turnbull becomes Wayne’s military strategist. From their Pump Street headquarters, Turnbull sends forty London boys for hansom cab rides. The boys bring the cabs to Turnbull; the horses, once properly fed, become cavalry horses, the cabs become barricades, and their drivers, soldiers.
Thanks to Turnbull’s genius, Wayne’s army defeats a far larger force. Still convinced that greater numbers inevitably win, Buck insists that the battle resume at night under the illumination of gaslights. Wayne’s forces cut off the gas, leaving their enemies to fight one another in the dark. Wayne’s opponents regroup. With an enormous army, they are certain of victory, until Wayne announces his capture of a water tower. Unless his enemies surrender, he will release the water and they will drown. His victory is complete.
Twenty years later, Notting Hill’s council has become imperialistic, and Wayne anticipates their inevitable defeat because their cause is unjust. Quin and Wayne survive. Quin admits he began the whole thing as a joke. Wayne explains that they need each other: Quin needs Wayne’s seriousness, and Wayne needs Quin’s humor. They are, Wayne says, two halves of the same brain. They go off together.
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