CHAPTER THE THIRD
THE ENDING OF WAR
On the mountain-side above the town of Brissago and commanding
two long stretches of Lake Maggiore, looking eastward to
Bellinzona, and southward to Luino, there is a shelf of grass
meadows which is very beautiful in springtime with a great
multitude of wild flowers. More particularly is this so in early
June, when the slender asphodel Saint Bruno's lily, with its
spike of white blossom, is in flower. To the westward of this
delightful shelf there is a deep and densely wooded trench, a
great gulf of blue some mile or so in width out of which arise
great precipices very high and wild. Above the asphodel fields
the mountains climb in rocky slopes to solitudes of stone and
sunlight that curve round and join that wall of cliffs in one
common skyline. This desolate and austere background contrasts
very vividly with the glowing serenity of the great lake below,
with the spacious view of fertile hills and roads and villages
and islands to south and east, and with the hotly golden rice
flats of the Val Maggia to the north. And because it was a remote
and insignificant place, far away out of the crowding tragedies
of that year of disaster, away from burning cities and starving
multitudes, bracing and tranquillising and hidden, it was here
that there gathered the conference of rulers that was to arrest,
if possible, before it was too late, the debacle of civilisation.
Here, brought together by the indefatigable energy of that
impassioned humanitarian, Leblanc, the French ambassador at
Washington, the chief Powers of the world were to meet in a last
desperate conference to 'save humanity.'
Leblanc was one of those ingenuous men whose lot would have been
insignificant in any period of security, but who have been caught
up to an immortal role in history by the sudden simplification of
human affairs through some tragical crisis, to the measure of
their simplicity. Such a man was Abraham Lincoln, and such was
Garibaldi. And Leblanc, with his transparent childish innocence,
his entire self-forgetfulness, came into this confusion of
distrust and intricate disaster with an invincible appeal for the
manifest sanities of the situation. His voice, when he spoke, was
'full of remonstrance.' He was a little bald, spectacled man,
inspired by that intellectual idealism which has been one of the
peculiar gifts of France to humanity. He was possessed of one
clear persuasion, that war must end, and that the only way to end
war was to have but one government for mankind. He brushed aside
all other considerations. At the very outbreak of the war, so
soon as the two capitals of the belligerents had been wrecked, he
went to the president in the White House with this proposal. He
made it as if it was a matter of course. He was fortunate to be
in Washington and in touch with that gigantic childishness which
was the characteristic of the American imagination. For the
Americans also were among the simple peoples by whom the world
was saved. He won over the American president and the American
government to his general ideas; at any rate they supported him
sufficiently to give him a standing with the more sceptical
European governments, and with this backing he set to work-it
seemed the most fantastic of enterprises-to bring together all
the rulers of the world and unify them. He wrote innumerable
letters, he sent messages, he went desperate journeys, he
enlisted whatever support he could find; no one was too humble
for an ally or too obstinate for his advances; through the
terrible autumn of the last wars this persistent little visionary
in spectacles must have seemed rather like a hopeful canary
twittering during a thunderstorm. And no accumulation of
disasters daunted his conviction that they could be ended.
For the whole world was flaring then into a monstrous phase of
destruction. Power after Power about the armed globe sought to
anticipate attack by aggression. They went to war in a delirium
of panic, in order to use their bombs first. China and Japan had
assailed Russia and destroyed Moscow, the United States had
attacked Japan, India was in anarchistic revolt with Delhi a pit
of fire spouting death and flame; the redoubtable King of the
Balkans was mobilising. It must have seemed plain at last to
every one in those days that the world was slipping headlong to
anarchy. By the spring of 1959 from nearly two hundred centres,
and every week added to their number, roared the unquenchable
crimson conflagrations of the atomic bombs, the flimsy fabric of
the world's credit had vanished, industry was completely
disorganised and every city, every thickly populated area was
starving or trembled on the verge of starvation. Most of the
capital cities of the world were burning; millions of people had
already perished, and over great areas government was at an end.
Humanity has been compared by one contemporary writer to a
sleeper who handles matches in his sleep and wakes to find
himself in flames.
For many months it was an open question whether there was to be
found throughout all the race the will and intelligence to face
these new conditions and make even an attempt to arrest the
downfall of the social order. For a time the war spirit defeated
every effort to rally the forces of preservation and
construction. Leblanc seemed to be protesting against
earthquakes, and as likely to find a spirit of reason in the
crater of Etna. Even though the shattered official governments
now clamoured for peace, bands of irreconcilables and invincible
patriots, usurpers, adventurers, and political desperadoes, were
everywhere in possession of the simple apparatus for the
disengagement of atomic energy and the initiation of new centres
of destruction. The stuff exercised an irresistible fascination
upon a certain type of mind. Why should any one give in while he
can still destroy his enemies? Surrender? While there is still
a chance of blowing them to dust? The power of destruction which
had once been the ultimate privilege of government was now the
only power left in the world-and it was everywhere. There were
few thoughtful men during that phase of blazing waste who did not
pass through such moods of despair as Barnet describes, and
declare with him: 'This is the end…'
And all the while Leblanc was going to and fro with glittering
glasses and an inexhaustible persuasiveness, urging the manifest
reasonableness of his view upon ears that ceased presently to be
inattentive. Never at any time did he betray a doubt that all
this chaotic conflict would end. No nurse during a nursery
uproar was ever so certain of the inevitable ultimate peace.
degrees to be regarded as an extravagant possibility. Then he
began to seem even practicable. The people who listened to him in
1958 with a smiling impatience, were eager before 1959 was four
He answered with the patience of a philosopher and the lucidity
of a Frenchman. He began to receive responses of a more and more
hopeful type. He came across the Atlantic to Italy, and there he
gathered in the promises for this congress. He chose those high
meadows above Brissago for the reasons we have stated. 'We must
get away,' he said, 'from old associations.' He set to work
requisitioning material for his conference with an assurance that
was justified by the replies. With a slight incredulity the
conference which was to begin a new order in the world, gathered
itself together. Leblanc summoned it without arrogance, he
controlled it by virtue of an infinite humility. Men appeared
upon those upland slopes with the apparatus for wireless
telegraphy; others followed with tents and provisions; a little
cable was flung down to a convenient point upon the Locarno road
below. Leblanc arrived, sedulously directing every detail that
would affect the tone of the assembly. He might have been a
courier in advance rather than the originator of the gathering.
And then there arrived, some by the cable, most by aeroplane, a
few in other fashions, the men who had been called together to
confer upon the state of the world. It was to be a conference
without a name. Nine monarchs, the presidents of four republics,
a number of ministers and ambassadors, powerful journalists, and
such-like prominent and influential men, took part in it. There
were even scientific men; and that world-famous old man, Holsten,
came with the others to contribute his amateur statecraft to the
desperate problem of the age. Only Leblanc would have dared so
to summon figure heads and powers and intelligence, or have had
the courage to hope for their agreement…
And one at least of those who were called to this conference of
governments came to it on foot. This was King Egbert, the young
king of the most venerable kingdom in Europe. He was a rebel,
and had always been of deliberate choice a rebel against the
magnificence of his position. He affected long pedestrian tours
and a disposition to sleep in the open air. He came now over the
Pass of Sta Maria Maggiore and by boat up the lake to Brissago;
thence he walked up the mountain, a pleasant path set with oaks
and sweet chestnut. For provision on the walk, for he did not
want to hurry, he carried with him a pocketful of bread and
cheese. A certain small retinue that was necessary to his comfort
and dignity upon occasions of state he sent on by the cable car,
and with him walked his private secretary, Firmin, a man who had
thrown up the Professorship of World Politics in the London
School of Sociology, Economics, and Political Science, to take up
these duties. Firmin was a man of strong rather than rapid
and after some years he was still only beginning to apprehend how
largely his function was to listen. Originally he had been
something of a thinker upon international politics, an authority
upon tariffs and strategy, and a valued contributor to various of
the higher organs of public opinion, but the atomic bombs had
taken him by surprise, and he had still to recover completely
from his pre-atomic opinions and the silencing effect of those
The king's freedom from the trammels of etiquette was very
complete. In theory-and he abounded in theory-his manners were
purely democratic. It was by sheer habit and inadvertency that he
permitted Firmin, who had discovered a rucksack in a small shop
in the town below, to carry both bottles of beer. The king had
never, as a matter of fact, carried anything for himself in his
life, and he had never noted that he did not do so.
'We will have nobody with us,' he said, 'at all. We will be
So Firmin carried the beer.
As they walked up-it was the king made the pace rather than
Firmin-they talked of the conference before them, and Firmin,
with a certain want of assurance that would have surprised him in
himself in the days of his Professorship, sought to define the
policy of his companion. 'In its broader form, sir,' said Firmin;
'I admit a certain plausibility in this project of Leblanc's, but
I feel that although it may be advisable to set up some sort of
general control for International affairs-a sort of Hague Court
with extended powers-that is no reason whatever for losing sight
of the principles of national and imperial autonomy.'
'Firmin,' said the king, 'I am going to set my brother kings a
Firmin intimated a curiosity that veiled a dread.
'By chucking all that nonsense,' said the king.
He quickened his pace as Firmin, who was already a little out of
breath, betrayed a disposition to reply.
'I am going to chuck all that nonsense,' said the king, as Firmin
prepared to speak. 'I am going to fling my royalty and empire on
the table-and declare at once I don't mean to haggle. It's
haggling-about rights-has been the devil in human affairs,
Firmin halted abruptly. 'But, sir!' he cried.
The king stopped six yards ahead of him and looked back at his
adviser's perspiring visage.
politician to put my crown and my flag and my claims and so forth
in the way of peace? That little Frenchman is right. You know he
is right as well as I do. Those things are over. We-we kings
and rulers and representatives have been at the very heart of the
mischief. Of course we imply separation, and of course
separation means the threat of war, and of course the threat of
war means the accumulation of more and more atomic bombs. The old
game's up. But, I say, we mustn't stand here, you know. The
world waits. Don't you think the old game's up, Firmin?'
Firmin adjusted a strap, passed a hand over his wet forehead, and
followed earnestly. 'I admit, sir,' he said to a receding back,
'that there has to be some sort of hegemony, some sort of
'There's got to be one simple government for all the world,' said
the king over his shoulder.
'But as for a reckless, unqualified abandonment, sir--'
'BANG!' cried the king.
Firmin made no answer to this interruption. But a faint shadow
of annoyance passed across his heated features.
'Yesterday,' said the king, by way of explanation, 'the Japanese
very nearly got San Francisco.'
'I hadn't heard, sir.'
'The Americans ran the Japanese aeroplane down into the sea and
there the bomb got busted.'
'Under the sea, sir?'
'Yes. Submarine volcano. The steam is in sight of the
Californian coast. It was as near as that. And with things like
this happening, you want me to go up this hill and haggle.
Consider the effect of that upon my imperial cousin-and all the
'HE will haggle, sir.'
'Not a bit of it,' said the king.
'Leblanc won't let him.'
Firmin halted abruptly and gave a vicious pull at the offending
strap. 'Sir, he will listen to his advisers,' he said, in a tone
that in some subtle way seemed to implicate his master with the
trouble of the knapsack.
The king considered him.
'We will go just a little higher,' he said. 'I want to find this
unoccupied village they spoke of, and then we will drink that
beer. It can't be far. We will drink the beer and throw away the
bottles. And then, Firmin, I shall ask you to look at things in a
He turned about and for some time the only sound they made was
the noise of their boots upon the loose stones of the way and the
irregular breathing of Firmin.
At length, as it seemed to Firmin, or quite soon, as it seemed to
the king, the gradient of the path diminished, the way widened
out, and they found themselves in a very beautiful place indeed.
It was one of those upland clusters of sheds and houses that are
still to be found in the mountains of North Italy, buildings that
were used only in the high summer, and which it was the custom to
leave locked up and deserted through all the winter and spring,
and up to the middle of June. The buildings were of a soft-toned
gray stone, buried in rich green grass, shadowed by chestnut
trees and lit by an extraordinary blaze of yellow broom. Never
had the king seen broom so glorious; he shouted at the light of
it, for it seemed to give out more sunlight even than it
received; he sat down impulsively on a lichenous stone, tugged
out his bread and cheese, and bade Firmin thrust the beer into
the shaded weeds to cool.
'The things people miss, Firmin,' he said, 'who go up into the
air in ships!'
Firmin looked around him with an ungenial eye. 'You see it at
its best, sir,' he said, 'before the peasants come here again and
make it filthy.'
'It would be beautiful anyhow,' said the king.
'Superficially, sir,' said Firmin. 'But it stands for a social
order that is fast vanishing away. Indeed, judging by the grass
is in use even now.'
'I suppose,' said the king, 'they would come up immediately the
hay on this flower meadow is cut. It would be those slow,
creamy-coloured beasts, I expect, one sees on the roads below,
and swarthy girls with red handkerchiefs over their black
hair… It is wonderful to think how long that beautiful old
life lasted. In the Roman times and long ages before ever the
rumour of the Romans had come into these parts, men drove their
cattle up into these places as the summer came on… How haunted
is this place! There have been quarrels here, hopes, children
have played here and lived to be old crones and old gaffers, and
died, and so it has gone on for thousands of lives. Lovers,
innumerable lovers, have caressed amidst this golden broom…'
He meditated over a busy mouthful of bread and cheese.
'We ought to have brought a tankard for that beer,' he said.
Firmin produced a folding aluminium cup, and the king was pleased
'I wish, sir,' said Firmin suddenly, 'I could induce you at least
to delay your decision--'
'It's no good talking, Firmin,' said the king. 'My mind's as
clear as daylight.'
'Sire,' protested Firmin, with his voice full of bread and cheese
and genuine emotion, 'have you no respect for your kingship?'
The king paused before he answered with unwonted gravity. 'It's
just because I have, Firmin, that I won't be a puppet in this
game of international politics.' He regarded his companion for a
moment and then remarked: 'Kingship!-what do YOU know of
'Yes,' cried the king to his astonished counsellor. 'For the
lead, and lead by my own authority. For a dozen generations my
family has been a set of dummies in the hands of their advisers.
to-to abolish, dispose of, finish, the crown to which I have
been a slave. But what a world of paralysing shams this roaring
stuff has ended! The rigid old world is in the melting-pot again,
and I, who seemed to be no more than the stuffing inside a regal
of things and put an end to blood and fire and idiot disorder.'
'But, sir,' protested Firmin.
'This man Leblanc is right. The whole world has got to be a
Republic, one and indivisible. You know that, and my duty is to
make that easy. A king should lead his people; you want me to
stick on their backs like some Old Man of the Sea. To-day must
be a sacrament of kings. Our trust for mankind is done with and
ended. We must part our robes among them, we must part our
kingship among them, and say to them all, now the king in every
one must rule the world… Have you no sense of the magnificence
of this occasion? You want me, Firmin, you want me to go up
there and haggle like a damned little solicitor for some price,
some compensation, some qualification…'
Firmin shrugged his shoulders and assumed an expression of
despair. Meanwhile, he conveyed, one must eat.
For a time neither spoke, and the king ate and turned over in his
mind the phrases of the speech he intended to make to the
conference. By virtue of the antiquity of his crown he was to
preside, and he intended to make his presidency memorable.
Reassured of his eloquence, he considered the despondent and
sulky Firmin for a space.
'Firmin,' he said, 'you have idealised kingship.' 'It has been
'At the levers, Firmin,' said the king.
'You are pleased to be unjust,' said Firmin, deeply hurt.
'I am pleased to be getting out of it,' said the king.
'Oh, Firmin,' he went on, 'have you no thought for me? Will you
grandparents never in all their august lives had a waking moment.
They loved the job that you, you advisers, gave them; they never
had a doubt of it. It was like giving a doll to a woman who ought
to have a child. They delighted in processions and opening things
and being read addresses to, and visiting triplets and
nonagenarians and all that sort of thing. Incredibly. They used
to keep albums of cuttings from all the illustrated papers
showing them at it, and if the press-cutting parcels grew thin
they were worried. It was all that ever worried them. But there
is something atavistic in me; I hark back to unconstitutional
monarchs. They christened me too retrogressively, I think. I
wanted to get things done. I was bored. I might have fallen into
vice, most intelligent and energetic princes do, but the palace
precautions were unusually thorough. I was brought up in the
purest court the world has ever seen… Alertly pure… So I
read books, Firmin, and went about asking questions. The thing
was bound to happen to one of us sooner or later. Perhaps, too,
He reflected. 'No,' he said.
Firmin cleared his throat. 'I don't think you are, sir,' he
said. 'You prefer--'
He stopped short. He had been going to say 'talking.' He
'That world of royalty!' the king went on. 'In a little while no
one will understand it any more. It will become a riddle…
'Among other things, it was a world of perpetual best clothes.
Everything was in its best clothes for us, and usually wearing
bunting. With a cinema watching to see we took it properly. If
you are a king, Firmin, and you go and look at a regiment, it
instantly stops whatever it is doing, changes into full uniform
and presents arms. When my august parents went in a train the
coal in the tender used to be whitened. It did, Firmin, and if
coal had been white instead of black I have no doubt the
authorities would have blackened it. That was the spirit of our
treatment. People were always walking about with their faces to
us. One never saw anything in profile. One got an impression of
a world that was insanely focused on ourselves. And when I began
to poke my little questions into the Lord Chancellor and the
people turned round, the general effect I produced was that I
wasn't by any means displaying the Royal Tact they had expected
He meditated for a time.
'And yet, you know, there is something in the kingship, Firmin.
It stiffened up my august little grandfather. It gave my
grandmother a kind of awkward dignity even when she was
cross-and she was very often cross. They both had a profound
sense of responsibility. My poor father's health was wretched
during his brief career; nobody outside the circle knows just how
he screwed himself up to things. "My people expect it," he used
to say of this tiresome duty or that. Most of the things they
made him do were silly-it was part of a bad tradition, but there
was nothing silly in the way he set about them… The spirit of
kingship is a fine thing, Firmin; I feel it in my bones; I do not
know what I might not be if I were not a king. I could die for my
people, Firmin, and you couldn't. No, don't say you could die for
the slightest difference to that. But the proper text-book for
kings, Firmin, is none of the court memoirs and Welt-Politik
books you would have me read; it is old Fraser's Golden Bough.
Have you read that, Firmin?'
Firmin had. 'Those were the authentic kings. In the end they
were cut up and a bit given to everybody. They sprinkled the
Firmin turned himself round and faced his royal master.
'What do you intend to do, sir?' he asked. 'If you will not
listen to me, what do you propose to do this afternoon?'
The king flicked crumbs from his coat.
'Manifestly war has to stop for ever, Firmin. Manifestly this
can only be done by putting all the world under one government.
Our crowns and flags are in the way. Manifestly they must go.'
'Yes, sir,' interrupted Firmin, 'but WHAT government? I don't see
what government you get by a universal abdication!'
'Well,' said the king, with his hands about his knees, 'WE shall
be the government.'
'The conference?' exclaimed Firmin.
'Who else?' asked the king simply.
'It's perfectly simple,' he added to Firmin's tremendous silence.
'But,' cried Firmin, 'you must have sanctions! Will there be no
form of election, for example?'
'Why should there be?' asked the king, with intelligent
'The consent of the governed.'
'Firmin, we are just going to lay down our differences and take
over government. Without any election at all. Without any
sanction. The governed will show their consent by silence. If
any effective opposition arises we shall ask it to come in and
We aren't going to worry people to vote for us. I'm certain the
mass of men does not want to be bothered with such things…
We'll contrive a way for any one interested to join in. That's
quite enough in the way of democracy. Perhaps later-when things
don't matter… We shall govern all right, Firmin. Government
only becomes difficult when the lawyers get hold of it, and since
these troubles began the lawyers are shy. Indeed, come to think
of it, I wonder where all the lawyers are… Where are they? A
lot, of course, were bagged, some of the worst ones, when they
blew up my legislature. You never knew the late Lord Chancellor.
'Necessities bury rights. And create them. Lawyers live on dead
rights disinterred… We've done with that way of living. We
won't have more law than a code can cover and beyond that
government will be free…
'Before the sun sets to-day, Firmin, trust me, we shall have made
our abdications, all of us, and declared the World Republic,
supreme and indivisible. I wonder what my august grandmother
would have made of it! All my rights!… And then we shall go
on governing. What else is there to do? All over the world we
shall declare that there is no longer mine or thine, but ours.
China, the United States, two-thirds of Europe, will certainly
fall in and obey. They will have to do so. What else can they
do? Their official rulers are here with us. They won't be able
to get together any sort of idea of not obeying us… Then we
shall declare that every sort of property is held in trust for
'But, sir!' cried Firmin, suddenly enlightened. 'Has this been
'My dear Firmin, do you think we have come here, all of us, to
talk at large? The talking has been done for half a century.
Talking and writing. We are here to set the new thing, the
simple, obvious, necessary thing, going.'
He stood up.
Firmin, forgetting the habits of a score of years, remained
'WELL,' he said at last. 'And I have known nothing!'
The king smiled very cheerfully. He liked these talks with
That conference upon the Brissago meadows was one of the most
heterogeneous collections of prominent people that has ever met
together. Principalities and powers, stripped and shattered until
all their pride and mystery were gone, met in a marvellous new
humility. Here were kings and emperors whose capitals were lakes
of flaming destruction, statesmen whose countries had become
chaos, scared politicians and financial potentates. Here were
leaders of thought and learned investigators dragged reluctantly
to the control of affairs. Altogether there were ninety-three of
them, Leblanc's conception of the head men of the world. They
had all come to the realisation of the simple truths that the
indefatigable Leblanc had hammered into them; and, drawing his
resources from the King of Italy, he had provisioned his
conference with a generous simplicity quite in accordance with
astonishing and entirely rational appeal. He had appointed King
Egbert the president, he believed in this young man so firmly
that he completely dominated him, and he spoke himself as a
secretary might speak from the president's left hand, and
evidently did not realise himself that he was telling them all
exactly what they had to do. He imagined he was merely
recapitulating the obvious features of the situation for their
convenience. He was dressed in ill-fitting white silk clothes,
and he consulted a dingy little packet of notes as he spoke.
They put him out. He explained that he had never spoken from
notes before, but that this occasion was exceptional.
And then King Egbert spoke as he was expected to speak, and
Leblanc's spectacles moistened at that flow of generous
sentiment, most amiably and lightly expressed. 'We haven't to
stand on ceremony,' said the king, 'we have to govern the world.
We have always pretended to govern the world and here is our
'Of course,' whispered Leblanc, nodding his head rapidly, 'of
'The world has been smashed up, and we have to put it on its
wheels again,' said King Egbert. 'And it is the simple common
sense of this crisis for all to help and none to seek advantage.
Is that our tone or not?'
The gathering was too old and seasoned and miscellaneous for any
great displays of enthusiasm, but that was its tone, and with an
astonishment that somehow became exhilarating it began to resign,
repudiate, and declare its intentions. Firmin, taking notes
behind his master, heard everything that had been foretold among
dreaming, he assisted at the proclamation of the World State, and
saw the message taken out to the wireless operators to be
throbbed all round the habitable globe. 'And next,' said King
Egbert, with a cheerful excitement in his voice, 'we have to get
every atom of Carolinum and all the plant for making it, into our
Firman was not alone in his incredulity. Not a man there who was
not a very amiable, reasonable, benevolent creature at bottom;
some had been born to power and some had happened upon it, some
had struggled to get it, not clearly knowing what it was and what
it implied, but none was irreconcilably set upon its retention at
the price of cosmic disaster. Their minds had been prepared by
circumstances and sedulously cultivated by Leblanc; and now they
took the broad obvious road along which King Egbert was leading
them, with a mingled conviction of strangeness and necessity.
Things went very smoothly; the King of Italy explained the
arrangements that had been made for the protection of the camp
from any fantastic attack; a couple of thousand of aeroplanes,
each carrying a sharpshooter, guarded them, and there was an
excellent system of relays, and at night all the sky would be
searched by scores of lights, and the admirable Leblanc gave
luminous reasons for their camping just where they were and going
on with their administrative duties forthwith. He knew of this
place, because he had happened upon it when holiday-making with
Madame Leblanc twenty years and more ago. 'There is very simple
fare at present,' he explained, 'on account of the disturbed
state of the countries about us. But we have excellent fresh
milk, good red wine, beef, bread, salad, and lemons… In a
few days I hope to place things in the hands of a more efficient
The members of the new world government dined at three long
tables on trestles, and down the middle of these tables Leblanc,
in spite of the barrenness of his menu, had contrived to have a
great multitude of beautiful roses. There was similar
accommodation for the secretaries and attendants at a lower level
down the mountain. The assembly dined as it had debated, in the
open air, and over the dark crags to the west the glowing June
sunset shone upon the banquet. There was no precedency now among
the ninety-three, and King Egbert found himself between a
pleasant little Japanese stranger in spectacles and his cousin of
Central Europe, and opposite a great Bengali leader and the
President of the United States of America. Beyond the Japanese
was Holsten, the old chemist, and Leblanc was a little way down
the other side.
The king was still cheerfully talkative and abounded in ideas. He
fell presently into an amiable controversy with the American, who
seemed to feel a lack of impressiveness in the occasion.
It was ever the Transatlantic tendency, due, no doubt, to the
necessity of handling public questions in a bulky and striking
manner, to over-emphasise and over-accentuate, and the president
was touched by his national failing. He suggested now that there
should be a new era, starting from that day as the first day of
the first year.
The king demurred.
'From this day forth, sir, man enters upon his heritage,' said
'Man,' said the king, 'is always entering upon his heritage. You
Americans have a peculiar weakness for anniversaries-if you will
forgive me saying so. Yes-I accuse you of a lust for dramatic
effect. Everything is happening always, but you want to say this
or this is the real instant in time and subordinate all the
others to it.'
The American said something about an epoch-making day.
'But surely,' said the king, 'you don't want us to condemn all
humanity to a world-wide annual Fourth of July for ever and ever
more. On account of this harmless necessary day of declarations.
No conceivable day could ever deserve that. Ah! you do not know,
as I do, the devastations of the memorable. My poor grandparents
were-RUBRICATED. The worst of these huge celebrations is that
they break up the dignified succession of one's contemporary
emotions. They interrupt. They set back. Suddenly out come the
flags and fireworks, and the old enthusiasms are furbished
up-and it's sheer destruction of the proper thing that ought to
be going on. Sufficient unto the day is the celebration thereof.
Let the dead past bury its dead. You see, in regard to the
things I hold, are august, and have a right to be lived through
on their merits. No day should be sacrificed on the grave of
departed events. What do you think of it, Wilhelm?'
had been saying.
And then, since the American pressed his idea, the king contrived
to shift the talk from the question of celebrating the epoch they
were making to the question of the probabilities that lay ahead.
Here every one became diffident. They could see the world
unified and at peace, but what detail was to follow from that
unification they seemed indisposed to discuss. This diffidence
struck the king as remarkable. He plunged upon the possibilities
of science. All the huge expenditure that had hitherto gone into
unproductive naval and military preparations, must now, he
declared, place research upon a new footing. 'Where one man
worked we will have a thousand.' He appealed to Holsten. 'We
have only begun to peep into these possibilities,' he said. 'You
at any rate have sounded the vaults of the treasure house.'
'They are unfathomable,' smiled Holsten.
'Man,' said the American, with a manifest resolve to justify and
reinstate himself after the flickering contradictions of the
king, 'Man, I say, is only beginning to enter upon his heritage.'
'Tell us some of the things you believe we shall presently learn,
give us an idea of the things we may presently do,' said the king
Holsten opened out the vistas…
'Science,' the king cried presently, 'is the new king of the
'OUR view,' said the president, 'is that sovereignty resides with
'No!' said the king, 'the sovereign is a being more subtle than
that. And less arithmetical. Neither my family nor your
emancipated people. It is something that floats about us, and
above us, and through us. It is that common impersonal will and
sense of necessity of which Science is the best understood and
most typical aspect. It is the mind of the race. It is that
which has brought us here, which has bowed us all to its
He paused and glanced down the table at Leblanc, and then
re-opened at his former antagonist.
'There is a disposition,' said the king, 'to regard this
gathering as if it were actually doing what it appears to be
doing, as if we ninety-odd men of our own free will and wisdom
were unifying the world. There is a temptation to consider
ourselves exceptionally fine fellows, and masterful men, and all
anything abler than any other casually selected body of
ninety-odd men. We are no creators, we are consequences, we are
salvagers-or salvagees. The thing to-day is not ourselves but
the wind of conviction that has blown us hither…'
The American had to confess he could hardly agree with the king's
estimate of their average.
'Holster, perhaps, and one or two others, might lift us a
little,' the king conceded. 'But the rest of us?'
His eyes flitted once more towards Leblanc.
'Look at Leblanc,' he said. 'He's just a simple soul. There are
hundreds and thousands like him. I admit, a certain dexterity, a
certain lucidity, but there is not a country town in France where
there is not a Leblanc or so to be found about two o'clock in its
principal cafe. It's just that he isn't complicated or
Super-Mannish, or any of those things that has made all he has
would have remained just what his father was, a successful
epicier, very clean, very accurate, very honest. And on holidays
he would have gone out with Madame Leblanc and her knitting in a
punt with a jar of something gentle and have sat under a large
reasonable green-lined umbrella and fished very neatly and
successfully for gudgeon…'
The president and the Japanese prince in spectacles protested
'If I do him an injustice,' said the king, 'it is only because I
want to elucidate my argument. I want to make it clear how small
are men and days, and how great is man in comparison…'
So it was King Egbert talked at Brissago after they had
proclaimed the unity of the world. Every evening after that the
assembly dined together and talked at their ease and grew
accustomed to each other and sharpened each other's ideas, and
every day they worked together, and really for a time believed
that they were inventing a new government for the world. They
discussed a constitution. But there were matters needing
attention too urgently to wait for any constitution. They
attended to these incidentally. The constitution it was that
waited. It was presently found convenient to keep the
constitution waiting indefinitely as King Egbert had foreseen,
and meanwhile, with an increasing self-confidence, that council
went on governing…
On this first evening of all the council's gatherings, after King
Egbert had talked for a long time and drunken and praised very
abundantly the simple red wine of the country that Leblanc had
procured for them, he fathered about him a group of congenial
spirits and fell into a discourse upon simplicity, praising it
above all things and declaring that the ultimate aim of art,
religion, philosophy, and science alike was to simplify. He
instanced himself as a devotee to simplicity. And Leblanc he
instanced as a crowning instance of the splendour of this
quality. Upon that they all agreed.
When at last the company about the tables broke up, the king
found himself brimming over with a peculiar affection and
admiration for Leblanc, he made his way to him and drew him aside
and broached what he declared was a small matter. There was, he
said, a certain order in his gift that, unlike all other orders
and decorations in the world, had never been corrupted. It was
reserved for elderly men of supreme distinction, the acuteness of
whose gifts was already touched to mellowness, and it had
included the greatest names of every age so far as the advisers
of his family had been able to ascertain them. At present, the
king admitted, these matters of stars and badges were rather
obscured by more urgent affairs, for his own part he had never
set any value upon them at all, but a time might come when they
would be at least interesting, and in short he wished to confer
the Order of Merit upon Leblanc. His sole motive in doing so, he
added, was his strong desire to signalise his personal esteem.
He laid his hand upon the Frenchman's shoulder as he said these
things, with an almost brotherly affection. Leblanc received this
proposal with a modest confusion that greatly enhanced the king's
opinion of his admirable simplicity. He pointed out that eager
as he was to snatch at the proffered distinction, it might at the
present stage appear invidious, and he therefore suggested that
the conferring of it should be postponed until it could be made
the crown and conclusion of his services. The king was unable to
shake this resolution, and the two men parted with expressions of
The king then summoned Firmin in order to make a short note of a
number of things that he had said during the day. But after about
twenty minutes' work the sweet sleepiness of the mountain air
overcame him, and he dismissed Firmin and went to bed and fell
asleep at once, and slept with extreme satisfaction. He had had
an active, agreeable day.
The establishment of the new order that was thus so humanly
begun, was, if one measures it by the standard of any preceding
age, a rapid progress. The fighting spirit of the world was
exhausted. Only here or there did fierceness linger. For long
decades the combative side in human affairs had been monstrously
exaggerated by the accidents of political separation. This now
became luminously plain. An enormous proportion of the force that
sustained armaments had been nothing more aggressive than the
section of the men actually enlisted for fighting ever at any
time really hungered and thirsted for bloodshed and danger. That
kind of appetite was probably never very strong in the species
after the savage stage was past. The army was a profession, in
which killing had become a disagreeable possibility rather than
an eventful certainty. If one reads the old newspapers and
periodicals of that time, which did so much to keep militarism
alive, one finds very little about glory and adventure and a
constant harping on the disagreeableness of invasion and
subjugation. In one word, militarism was funk. The belligerent
resolution of the armed Europe of the twentieth century was the
resolution of a fiercely frightened sheep to plunge. And now that
its weapons were exploding in its hands, Europe was only too
eager to drop them, and abandon this fancied refuge of violence.
For a time the whole world had been shocked into frankness;
nearly all the clever people who had hitherto sustained the
ancient belligerent separations had now been brought to realise
this atmosphere of moral renascence, there was little attempt to
get negotiable advantages out of resistance to the new order.
Human beings are foolish enough no doubt, but few have stopped to
haggle in a fire-escape. The council had its way with them. The
band of 'patriots' who seized the laboratories and arsenal just
outside Osaka and tried to rouse Japan to revolt against
inclusion in the Republic of Mankind, found they had
miscalculated the national pride and met the swift vengeance of
their own countrymen. That fight in the arsenal was a vivid
incident in this closing chapter of the history of war. To the
last the 'patriots' were undecided whether, in the event of a
defeat, they would explode their supply of atomic bombs or not.
They were fighting with swords outside the iridium doors, and the
moderates of their number were at bay and on the verge of
destruction, only ten, indeed, remained unwounded, when the
republicans burst in to the rescue…
One single monarch held out against the general acquiescence in
the new rule, and that was that strange survival of mediaevalism,
the 'Slavic Fox,' the King of the Balkans. He debated and
delayed his submissions. He showed an extraordinary combination
of cunning and temerity in his evasion of the repeated summonses
from Brissago. He affected ill-health and a great preoccupation
with his new official mistress, for his semi-barbaric court was
arranged on the best romantic models. His tactics were ably
seconded by Doctor Pestovitch, his chief minister. Failing to
establish his claims to complete independence, King Ferdinand
Charles annoyed the conference by a proposal to be treated as a
protected state. Finally he professed an unconvincing
submission, and put a mass of obstacles in the way of the
transfer of his national officials to the new government. In
these things he was enthusiastically supported by his subjects,
still for the most part an illiterate peasantry, passionately if
the effect of atomic bombs. More particularly he retained control
of all the Balkan aeroplanes.
For once the extreme naivete of Leblanc seems to have been
mitigated by duplicity. He went on with the general pacification
of the world as if the Balkan submission was made in absolute
aeroplanes that hitherto guarded the council at Brissago upon the
approaching fifteenth of July. But instead he doubled the number
upon duty on that eventful day, and made various arrangements for
their disposition. He consulted certain experts, and when he took
King Egbert into his confidence there was something in his neat
and explicit foresight that brought back to that ex-monarch's
mind his half-forgotten fantasy of Leblanc as a fisherman under a
About five o'clock in the morning of the seventeenth of July one
of the outer sentinels of the Brissago fleet, which was soaring
unobtrusively over the lower end of the lake of Garda, sighted
and hailed a strange aeroplane that was flying westward, and,
failing to get a satisfactory reply, set its wireless apparatus
talking and gave chase. A swarm of consorts appeared very
promptly over the westward mountains, and before the unknown
aeroplane had sighted Como, it had a dozen eager attendants
closing in upon it. Its driver seems to have hesitated, dropped
down among the mountains, and then turned southward in flight,
only to find an intercepting biplane sweeping across his bows. He
then went round into the eye of the rising sun, and passed within
a hundred yards of his original pursuer.
The sharpshooter therein opened fire at once, and showed an
intelligent grasp of the situation by disabling the passenger
first. The man at the wheel must have heard his companion cry out
behind him, but he was too intent on getting away to waste even a
glance behind. Twice after that he must have heard shots. He let
his engine go, he crouched down, and for twenty minutes he must
have steered in the continual expectation of a bullet. It never
came, and when at last he glanced round, three great planes were
close upon him, and his companion, thrice hit, lay dead across
his bombs. His followers manifestly did not mean either to upset
or shoot him, but inexorably they drove him down, down. At last
he was curving and flying a hundred yards or less over the level
fields of rice and maize. Ahead of him and dark against the
morning sunrise was a village with a very tall and slender
campanile and a line of cable bearing metal standards that he
could not clear. He stopped his engine abruptly and dropped flat.
He may have hoped to get at the bombs when he came down, but his
pitiless pursuers drove right over him and shot him as he fell.
Three other aeroplanes curved down and came to rest amidst grass
close by the smashed machine. Their passengers descended, and
ran, holding their light rifles in their hands towards the debris
and the two dead men. The coffin-shaped box that had occupied
the centre of the machine had broken, and three black objects,
each with two handles like the ears of a pitcher, lay peacefully
amidst the litter.
These objects were so tremendously important in the eyes of their
captors that they disregarded the two dead men who lay bloody and
broken amidst the wreckage as they might have disregarded dead
frogs by a country pathway.
'By God,' cried the first. 'Here they are!'
'And unbroken!' said the second.
'I've never seen the things before,' said the first.
'Bigger than I thought,' said the second.
The third comer arrived. He stared for a moment at the bombs and
then turned his eyes to the dead man with a crushed chest who lay
in a muddy place among the green stems under the centre of the
'One can take no risks,' he said, with a faint suggestion of
The other two now also turned to the victims. 'We must signal,'
said the first man. A shadow passed between them and the sun,
and they looked up to see the aeroplane that had fired the last
shot. 'Shall we signal?' came a megaphone hail.
'Three bombs,' they answered together.
'Where do they come from?' asked the megaphone.
The three sharpshooters looked at each other and then moved
towards the dead men. One of them had an idea. 'Signal that
first,' he said, 'while we look.' They were joined by their
aviators for the search, and all six men began a hunt that was
necessarily brutal in its haste, for some indication of identity.
They examined the men's pockets, their bloodstained clothes, the
machine, the framework. They turned the bodies over and flung
them aside. There was not a tattoo mark… Everything was
elaborately free of any indication of its origin.
'We can't find out!' they called at last.
'Not a sign?'
'Not a sign.'
'I'm coming down,' said the man overhead…
The Slavic fox stood upon a metal balcony in his picturesque Art
Nouveau palace that gave upon the precipice that overhung his
bright little capital, and beside him stood Pestovitch, grizzled
and cunning, and now full of an ill-suppressed excitement. Behind
them the window opened into a large room, richly decorated in
aluminium and crimson enamel, across which the king, as he
glanced ever and again over his shoulder with a gesture of
inquiry, could see through the two open doors of a little azure
walled antechamber the wireless operator in the turret working at
his incessant transcription. Two pompously uniformed messengers
waited listlessly in this apartment. The room was furnished with
a stately dignity, and had in the middle of it a big green
baize-covered table with the massive white metal inkpots and
antiquated sandboxes natural to a new but romantic monarchy. It
was the king's council chamber and about it now, in attitudes of
suspended intrigue, stood the half-dozen ministers who
constituted his cabinet. They had been summoned for twelve
o'clock, but still at half-past twelve the king loitered in the
balcony and seemed to be waiting for some news that did not come.
The king and his minister had talked at first in whispers; they
had fallen silent, for they found little now to express except a
vague anxiety. Away there on the mountain side were the white
metal roofs of the long farm buildings beneath which the bomb
factory and the bombs were hidden. (The chemist who had made all
these for the king had died suddenly after the declaration of
Brissago.) Nobody knew of that store of mischief now but the king
and his adviser and three heavily faithful attendants; the
aviators who waited now in the midday blaze with their
bomb-carrying machines and their passenger bomb-throwers in the
exercising grounds of the motor-cyclist barracks below were still
in ignorance of the position of the ammunition they were
presently to take up. It was time they started if the scheme was
to work as Pestovitch had planned it. It was a magnificent plan.
It aimed at no less than the Empire of the World. The government
of idealists and professors away there at Brissago was to be
blown to fragments, and then east, west, north, and south those
aeroplanes would go swarming over a world that had disarmed
itself, to proclaim Ferdinand Charles, the new Caesar, the
Master, Lord of the Earth. It was a magnificent plan. But the
tension of this waiting for news of the success of the first blow
The Slavic fox was of a pallid fairness, he had a remarkably long
nose, a thick, short moustache, and small blue eyes that were a
little too near together to be pleasant. It was his habit to
worry his moustache with short, nervous tugs whenever his
restless mind troubled him, and now this motion was becoming so
incessant that it irked Pestovitch beyond the limits of
'I will go,' said the minister, 'and see what the trouble is with
the wireless. They give us nothing, good or bad.'
Left to himself, the king could worry his moustache without
stint; he leant his elbows forward on the balcony and gave both
of his long white hands to the work, so that he looked like a
pale dog gnawing a bone. Suppose they caught his men, what
should he do? Suppose they caught his men?
The clocks in the light gold-capped belfries of the town below
presently intimated the half-hour after midday.
Of course, he and Pestovitch had thought it out. Even if they
had caught those men, they were pledged to secrecy… Probably
they would be killed in the catching… One could deny anyhow,
deny and deny.
And then he became aware of half a dozen little shining specks
very high in the blue… Pestovitch came out to him presently.
'The government messages, sire, have all dropped into cipher,' he
said. 'I have set a man--'
'LOOK!' interrupted the king, and pointed upward with a long,
Pestovitch followed that indication and then glanced for one
questioning moment at the white face before him.
'We have to face it out, sire,' he said.
For some moments they watched the steep spirals of the descending
messengers, and then they began a hasty consultation…
They decided that to be holding a council upon the details of an
ultimate surrender to Brissago was as innocent-looking a thing as
the king could well be doing, and so, when at last the ex-king
Egbert, whom the council had sent as its envoy, arrived upon the
scene, he discovered the king almost theatrically posed at the
head of his councillors in the midst of his court. The door upon
the wireless operators was shut.
The ex-king from Brissago came like a draught through the
curtains and attendants that gave a wide margin to King
Ferdinand's state, and the familiar confidence of his manner
belied a certain hardness in his eye. Firmin trotted behind him,
and no one else was with him. And as Ferdinand Charles rose to
greet him, there came into the heart of the Balkan king again
it passed at the careless gestures of his guest. For surely any
one might outwit this foolish talker who, for a mere idea and at
the command of a little French rationalist in spectacles, had
thrown away the most ancient crown in all the world.
One must deny, deny…
And then slowly and quite tiresomely he realised that there was
nothing to deny. His visitor, with an amiable ease, went on
talking about everything in debate between himself and Brissago
Could it be that they had been delayed? Could it be that they
had had to drop for repairs and were still uncaptured? Could it
be that even now while this fool babbled, they were over there
among the mountains heaving their deadly charge over the side of
Strange hopes began to lift the tail of the Slavic fox again.
What was the man saying? One must talk to him anyhow until one
knew. At any moment the little brass door behind him might open
with the news of Brissago blown to atoms. Then it would be a
delightful relief to the present tension to arrest this chatterer
forthwith. He might be killed perhaps. What?
The king was repeating his observation. 'They have a ridiculous
fancy that your confidence is based on the possession of atomic
King Ferdinand Charles pulled himself together. He protested.
'Oh, quite so,' said the ex-king, 'quite so.'
'What grounds?' The ex-king permitted himself a gesture and the
ghost of a chuckle-why the devil should he chuckle? 'Practically
none,' he said. 'But of course with these things one has to be
And then again for an instant something-like the faintest shadow
of derision-gleamed out of the envoy's eyes and recalled that
chilly feeling to King Ferdinand's spine.
Some kindred depression had come to Pestovitch, who had been
watching the drawn intensity of Firmin's face. He came to the
'A search!' cried the king. 'An embargo on our aeroplanes.'
'Only a temporary expedient,' said the ex-king Egbert, 'while the
search is going on.'
The king appealed to his council.
'The people will never permit it, sire,' said a bustling little
man in a gorgeous uniform.
'You'll have to make 'em,' said the ex-king, genially addressing
all the councillors.
King Ferdinand glanced at the closed brass door through which no
news would come.
'When would you want to have this search?'
The ex-king was radiant. 'We couldn't possibly do it until the
day after to-morrow,' he said.
'Just the capital?'
'Where else?' asked the ex-king, still more cheerfully.
'For my own part,' said the ex-king confidentially, 'I think the
whole business ridiculous. Who would be such a fool as to hide
atomic bombs? Nobody. Certain hanging if he's caught-certain,
and almost certain blowing up if he isn't. But nowadays I have to
The king thought he had never met such detestable geniality. He
glanced at Pestovitch, who nodded almost imperceptibly. It was
well, anyhow, to have a fool to deal with. They might have sent a
diplomatist. 'Of course,' said the king, 'I recognise the
overpowering force-and a kind of logic-in these orders from
'I knew you would,' said the ex-king, with an air of relief, 'and
so let us arrange--'
They arranged with a certain informality. No Balkan aeroplane
was to adventure into the air until the search was concluded, and
meanwhile the fleets of the world government would soar and
circle in the sky. The towns were to be placarded with offers of
reward to any one who would help in the discovery of atomic
'You will sign that,' said the ex-king.
'To show that we aren't in any way hostile to you.'
Pestovitch nodded 'yes' to his master.
'And then, you see,' said the ex-king in that easy way of his,
'we'll have a lot of men here, borrow help from your police, and
run through all your things. And then everything will be over.
Meanwhile, if I may be your guest…' When presently Pestovitch
sea. One moment he was exalted and full of contempt for 'that
ass' and his search; the next he was down in a pit of dread.
'They will find them, Pestovitch, and then he'll hang us.'
The king put his long nose into his councillor's face. 'That
grinning brute WANTS to hang us,' he said. 'And hang us he will,
if we give him a shadow of a chance.'
'But all their Modern State Civilisation!'
Vivisecting Prigs?' cried this last king of romance. 'Do you
adventure has any appeal to them? Here am I, the last and
greatest and most romantic of the Caesars, and do you think they
will miss the chance of hanging me like a dog if they can,
killing me like a rat in a hole? And that renegade! He who was
once an anointed king!…
'I hate that sort of eye that laughs and keeps hard,' said the
'I won't sit still here and be caught like a fascinated rabbit,'
said the king in conclusion. 'We must shift those bombs.'
'Risk it,' said Pestovitch. 'Leave them alone.'
'No,' said the king. 'Shift them near the frontier. Then while
they watch us here-they will always watch us here now-we can
buy an aeroplane abroad, and pick them up…'
The king was in a feverish, irritable mood all that evening, but
he made his plans nevertheless with infinite cunning. They must
get the bombs away; there must be a couple of atomic hay lorries,
the bombs could be hidden under the hay… Pestovitch went and
came, instructing trusty servants, planning and replanning…
The king and the ex-king talked very pleasantly of a number of
subjects. All the while at the back of King Ferdinand Charles's
mind fretted the mystery of his vanished aeroplane. There came no
news of its capture, and no news of its success. At any moment
all that power at the back of his visitor might crumble away and
It was past midnight, when the king, in a cloak and slouch hat
that might equally have served a small farmer, or any respectable
middle-class man, slipped out from an inconspicuous service gate
on the eastward side of his palace into the thickly wooded
gardens that sloped in a series of terraces down to the town.
Pestovitch and his guard-valet Peter, both wrapped about in a
similar disguise, came out among the laurels that bordered the
pathway and joined him. It was a clear, warm night, but the stars
seemed unusually little and remote because of the aeroplanes,
each trailing a searchlight, that drove hither and thither across
the blue. One great beam seemed to rest on the king for a moment
as he came out of the palace; then instantly and reassuringly it
had swept away. But while they were still in the palace gardens
another found them and looked at them.
'They see us,' cried the king.
'They make nothing of us,' said Pestovitch.
The king glanced up and met a calm, round eye of light, that
seemed to wink at him and vanish, leaving him blinded…
The three men went on their way. Near the little gate in the
garden railings that Pestovitch had caused to be unlocked, the
king paused under the shadow of an flex and looked back at the
place. It was very high and narrow, a twentieth-century rendering
of mediaevalism, mediaevalism in steel and bronze and sham stone
and opaque glass. Against the sky it splashed a confusion of
pinnacles. High up in the eastward wing were the windows of the
apartments of the ex-king Egbert. One of them was brightly lit
now, and against the light a little black figure stood very still
and looked out upon the night.
The king snarled.
'He little knows how we slip through his fingers,' said
And as he spoke they saw the ex-king stretch out his arms slowly,
like one who yawns, knuckle his eyes and turn inward-no doubt to
Down through the ancient winding back streets of his capital
hurried the king, and at an appointed corner a shabby
atomic-automobile waited for the three. It was a hackney
carriage of the lowest grade, with dinted metal panels and
deflated cushions. The driver was one of the ordinary drivers of
the capital, but beside him sat the young secretary of
Pestovitch, who knew the way to the farm where the bombs were
The automobile made its way through the narrow streets of the old
town, which were still lit and uneasy-for the fleet of airships
overhead had kept the cafes open and people abroad-over the
great new bridge, and so by straggling outskirts to the country.
And all through his capital the king who hoped to outdo Caesar,
sat back and was very still, and no one spoke. And as they got
out into the dark country they became aware of the searchlights
wandering over the country-side like the uneasy ghosts of giants.
The king sat forward and looked at these flitting whitenesses,
and every now and then peered up to see the flying ships
'I don't like them,' said the king.
Presently one of these patches of moonlight came to rest about
them and seemed to be following their automobile. The king drew
'The things are confoundedly noiseless,' said the king. 'It's
like being stalked by lean white cats.'
He peered again. 'That fellow is watching us,' he said.
And then suddenly he gave way to panic. 'Pestovitch,' he said,
clutching his minister's arm, 'they are watching us. I'm not
going through with this. They are watching us. I'm going back.'
Pestovitch remonstrated. 'Tell him to go back,' said the king,
and tried to open the window. For a few moments there was a grim
struggle in the automobile; a gripping of wrists and a blow. 'I
can't go through with it,' repeated the king, 'I can't go through
'But they'll hang us,' said Pestovitch.
'Not if we were to give up now. Not if we were to surrender the
bombs. It is you who brought me into this…'
At last Pestovitch compromised. There was an inn perhaps half a
mile from the farm. They could alight there and the king could
get brandy, and rest his nerves for a time. And if he still
thought fit to go back he could go back.
'See,' said Pestovitch, 'the light has gone again.'
The king peered up. 'I believe he's following us without a
light,' said the king.
In the little old dirty inn the king hung doubtful for a time,
council. 'If there is a council,' said Pestovitch. 'By this time
your bombs may have settled it.
'But if so, these infernal aeroplanes would go.'
'They may not know yet.'
'But, Pestovitch, why couldn't you do all this without me?'
Pestovitch made no answer for a moment. 'I was for leaving the
bombs in their place,' he said at last, and went to the window.
About their conveyance shone a circle of bright light. Pestovitch
had a brilliant idea. 'I will send my secretary out to make a
kind of dispute with the driver. Something that will make them
watch up above there. Meanwhile you and I and Peter will go out
by the back way and up by the hedges to the farm…'
It was worthy of his subtle reputation and it answered passing
In ten minutes they were tumbling over the wall of the farm-yard,
wet, muddy, and breathless, but unobserved. But as they ran
towards the barns the king gave vent to something between a groan
and a curse, and all about them shone the light-and passed.
But had it passed at once or lingered for just a second?
'They didn't see us,' said Peter.
light went swooping up the mountain side, hung for a second about
a hayrick, and then came pouring back.
'In the barn!' cried the king.
He bruised his shin against something, and then all three men
were inside the huge steel-girdered barn in which stood the two
motor hay lorries that were to take the bombs away. Kurt and
Abel, the two brothers of Peter, had brought the lorries thither
in daylight. They had the upper half of the loads of hay thrown
off, ready to cover the bombs, so soon as the king should show
the hiding-place. 'There's a sort of pit here,' said the king.
'Don't light another lantern. This key of mine releases a
For a time scarcely a word was spoken in the darkness of the
barn. There was the sound of a slab being lifted and then of feet
descending a ladder into a pit. Then whispering and then heavy
breathing as Kurt came struggling up with the first of the hidden
'We shall do it yet,' said the king. And then he gasped. 'Curse
that light. Why in the name of Heaven didn't we shut the barn
door?' For the great door stood wide open and all the empty,
lifeless yard outside and the door and six feet of the floor of
the barn were in the blue glare of an inquiring searchlight.
'Shut the door, Peter,' said Pestovitch.
'No,' cried the king, too late, as Peter went forward into the
light. 'Don't show yourself!' cried the king. Kurt made a step
forward and plucked his brother back. For a time all five men
stood still. It seemed that light would never go and then
abruptly it was turned off, leaving them blinded. 'Now,' said
the king uneasily, 'now shut the door.'
'Not completely,' cried Pestovitch. 'Leave a chink for us to go
It was hot work shifting those bombs, and the king worked for a
time like a common man. Kurt and Abel carried the great things
up and Peter brought them to the carts, and the king and
Pestovitch helped him to place them among the hay. They made as
little noise as they could…
'Ssh!' cried the king. 'What's that?'
But Kurt and Abel did not hear, and came blundering up the ladder
with the last of the load.
'Ssh!' Peter ran forward to them with a whispered remonstrance.
Now they were still.
The barn door opened a little wider, and against the dim blue
light outside they saw the black shape of a man.
'Any one here?' he asked, speaking with an Italian accent.
The king broke into a cold perspiration. Then Pestovitch
answered: 'Only a poor farmer loading hay,' he said, and picked
up a huge hay fork and went forward softly.
'You load your hay at a very bad time and in a very bad light,'
said the man at the door, peering in. 'Have you no electric
Then suddenly he turned on an electric torch, and as he did so
Pestovitch sprang forward. 'Get out of my barn!' he cried, and
drove the fork full at the intruder's chest. He had a vague idea
that so he might stab the man to silence. But the man shouted
loudly as the prongs pierced him and drove him backward, and
instantly there was a sound of feet running across the yard.
'Bombs,' cried the man upon the ground, struggling with the
prongs in his hand, and as Pestovitch staggered forward into view
with the force of his own thrust, he was shot through the body by
one of the two new-comers.
The man on the ground was badly hurt but plucky. 'Bombs,' he
repeated, and struggled up into a kneeling position and held his
electric torch full upon the face of the king. 'Shoot them,' he
cried, coughing and spitting blood, so that the halo of light
round the king's head danced about.
For a moment in that shivering circle of light the two men saw
the king kneeling up in the cart and Peter on the barn floor
beside him. The old fox looked at them sideways-snared, a
white-faced evil thing. And then, as with a faltering suicidal
heroism, he leant forward over the bomb before him, they fired
together and shot him through the head.
The upper part of his face seemed to vanish.
'Shoot them,' cried the man who had been stabbed. 'Shoot them
And then his light went out, and he rolled over with a groan at
the feet of his comrades.
But each carried a light of his own, and in another moment
everything in the barn was visible again. They shot Peter even
as he held up his hands in sign of surrender.
Kurt and Abel at the head of the ladder hesitated for a moment,
and then plunged backward into the pit. 'If we don't kill them,'
said one of the sharpshooters, 'they'll blow us to rags. They've
gone down that hatchway. Come!…
'Here they are. Hands up! I say. Hold your light while I
It was still quite dark when his valet and Firmin came together
and told the ex-king Egbert that the business was settled.
He started up into a sitting position on the side of his bed.
'Did he go out?' asked the ex-king.
'He is dead,' said Firmin. 'He was shot.'
The ex-king reflected. 'That's about the best thing that could
have happened,' he said. 'Where are the bombs? In that
farm-house on the opposite hill-side! Why! the place is in sight!
Let us go. I'll dress. Is there any one in the place, Firmin, to
get us a cup of coffee?'
Through the hungry twilight of the dawn the ex-king's automobile
carried him to the farm-house where the last rebel king was lying
among his bombs. The rim of the sky flashed, the east grew
bright, and the sun was just rising over the hills when King
Egbert reached the farm-yard. There he found the hay lorries
drawn out from the barn with the dreadful bombs still packed upon
them. A couple of score of aviators held the yard, and outside a
few peasants stood in a little group and stared, ignorant as yet
of what had happened. Against the stone wall of the farm-yard
five bodies were lying neatly side by side, and Pestovitch had an
expression of surprise on his face and the king was chiefly
identifiable by his long white hands and his blonde moustache.
The wounded aeronaut had been carried down to the inn. And after
the ex-king had given directions in what manner the bombs were to
be taken to the new special laboratories above Zurich, where they
could be unpacked in an atmosphere of chlorine, he turned to
these five still shapes.
Their five pairs of feet stuck out with a curious stiff
'What else was there to do?' he said in answer to some internal
'I wonder, Firmin, if there are any more of them?'
'Bombs, sir?' asked Firmin.
'No, such kings…
'The pitiful folly of it!' said the ex-king, following his
thoughts. 'Firmin,' as an ex-professor of International Politics,
I think it falls to you to bury them. There?… No, don't put
them near the well. People will have to drink from that well.
Bury them over there, some way off in the field.'