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The World Set Free

H. Wells


H.G. Wells

The World Set Free

by

WE ARE

ALL THINGS THAT

MAKE AND PASS,

STRIVING UPON A

HIDDEN MISSION,

OUT TO THE

OPEN

SEA.

THE WORLD SET FREE

H.G. WELLS

TO

FREDERICK SODDY'S

'INTERPRETATION OF RADIUM'

THIS STORY, WHICH OWES LONG PASSAGES

TO THE ELEVENTH CHAPTER OF

THAT BOOK, ACKNOWLEDGES

AND INSCRIBES

ITSELF

PREFACE

THE WORLD SET FREE was written in 1913 and published early in

1914, and it is the latest of a series of three fantasias of

possibility, stories which all turn on the possible developments

in the future of some contemporary force or group of forces. The

World Set Free was written under the immediate shadow of the

Great War. Every intelligent person in the world felt that

disaster was impending and knew no way of averting it, but few of

us realised in the earlier half of 1914 how near the crash was to

us. The reader will be amused to find that here it is put off

until the year 1956. He may naturally want to know the reason

for what will seem now a quite extraordinary delay. As a

prophet, the author must confess he has always been inclined to

be rather a slow prophet. The war aeroplane in the world of

reality, for example, beat the forecast in Anticipations by about

twenty years or so. I suppose a desire not to shock the sceptical

reader's sense of use and wont and perhaps a less creditable

disposition to hedge, have something to do with this dating

forward of one's main events, but in the particular case of The

World Set Free there was, I think, another motive in holding the

Great War back, and that was to allow the chemist to get well

forward with his discovery of the release of atomic energy.

1956-or for that matter 2056-may be none too late for that

crowning revolution in human potentialities. And apart from this

procrastination of over forty years, the guess at the opening

phase of the war was fairly lucky; the forecast of an alliance of

the Central Empires, the opening campaign through the

Netherlands, and the despatch of the British Expeditionary Force

were all justified before the book had been published six months.

And the opening section of Chapter the Second remains now, after

the reality has happened, a fairly adequate diagnosis of the

essentials of the matter. One happy hit (in Chapter the Second,

Section 2), on which the writer may congratulate himself, is the

forecast that under modern conditions it would be quite

impossible for any great general to emerge to supremacy and

concentrate the enthusiasm of the armies of either side. There

could be no Alexanders or Napoleons. And we soon heard the

scientific corps muttering, 'These old fools,' exactly as it is

here foretold.

These, however, are small details, and the misses in the story

far outnumber the hits. It is the main thesis which is still of

interest now; the thesis that because of the development of

scientific knowledge, separate sovereign states and separate

sovereign empires are no longer possible in the world, that to

attempt to keep on with the old system is to heap disaster upon

disaster for mankind and perhaps to destroy our race altogether.

The remaining interest of this book now is the sustained validity

of this thesis and the discussion of the possible ending of war

on the earth. I have supposed a sort of epidemic of sanity to

break out among the rulers of states and the leaders of mankind.

I have represented the native common sense of the French mind and

of the English mind-for manifestly King Egbert is meant to be

'God's Englishman'-leading mankind towards a bold and resolute

effort of salvage and reconstruction. Instead of which, as the

school book footnotes say, compare to-day's newspaper. Instead

of a frank and honourable gathering of leading men, Englishman

meeting German and Frenchman Russian, brothers in their offences

and in their disaster, upon the hills of Brissago, beheld in

Geneva at the other end of Switzerland a poor little League of

(Allied) Nations (excluding the United States, Russia, and most

of the 'subject peoples' of the world), meeting obscurely amidst

a world-wide disregard to make impotent gestures at the leading

problems of the debacle. Either the disaster has not been vast

enough yet or it has not been swift enough to inflict the

necessary moral shock and achieve the necessary moral revulsion.

Just as the world of 1913 was used to an increasing prosperity

and thought that increase would go on for ever, so now it would

seem the world is growing accustomed to a steady glide towards

social disintegration, and thinks that that too can go on

continually and never come to a final bump. So soon do use and

wont establish themselves, and the most flaming and thunderous of

lessons pale into disregard.

The question whether a Leblanc is still possible, the question

whether it is still possible to bring about an outbreak of

creative sanity in mankind, to avert this steady glide to

destruction, is now one of the most urgent in the world. It is

clear that the writer is temperamentally disposed to hope that

there is such a possibility. But he has to confess that he sees

few signs of any such breadth of understanding and steadfastness

of will as an effectual effort to turn the rush of human affairs

demands. The inertia of dead ideas and old institutions carries

us on towards the rapids. Only in one direction is there any

plain recognition of the idea of a human commonweal as something

overriding any national and patriotic consideration, and that is

in the working class movement throughout the world. And labour

internationalism is closely bound up with conceptions of a

profound social revolution. If world peace is to be attained

through labour internationalism, it will have to be attained at

the price of the completest social and economic reconstruction

and by passing through a phase of revolution that will certainly

be violent, that may be very bloody, which may be prolonged

through a long period, and may in the end fail to achieve

anything but social destruction. Nevertheless, the fact remains

that it is in the labour class, and the labour class alone, that

any conception of a world rule and a world peace has so far

appeared. The dream of The World Set Free, a dream of highly

educated and highly favoured leading and ruling men, voluntarily

setting themselves to the task of reshaping the world, has thus

far remained a dream.

H. G. WELLS.

EASTON GLEBE,

DUNMOW, 1921.

CONTENTS

PRELUDE

THE SUN SNARERS

CHAPTER THE FIRST

THE NEW SOURCE OF ENERGY

CHAPTER THE SECOND

THE LAST WAR

CHAPTER THE THIRD

THE ENDING OF WAR

CHAPTER THE FOURTH

THE NEW PHASE

CHAPTER THE FIFTH

THE LAST DAYS OF MARCUS KARENIN

PRELUDE

THE SUN SNARERS

Section I

THE history of mankind is the history of the attainment of

external power. Man is the tool-using, fire-making animal. From

the outset of his terrestrial career we find him supplementing

the natural strength and bodily weapons of a beast by the heat of

burning and the rough implement of stone. So he passed beyond

the ape. From that he expands. Presently he added to himself the

power of the horse and the ox, he borrowed the carrying strength

of water and the driving force of the wind, he quickened his fire

by blowing, and his simple tools, pointed first with copper and

then with iron, increased and varied and became more elaborate

and efficient. He sheltered his heat in houses and made his way

easier by paths and roads. He complicated his social

relationships and increased his efficiency by the division of

labour. He began to store up knowledge. Contrivance followed

contrivance, each making it possible for a man to do more.

Always down the lengthening record, save for a set-back ever and

again, he is doing more… A quarter of a million years ago the

utmost man was a savage, a being scarcely articulate, sheltering

in holes in the rocks, armed with a rough-hewn flint or a

fire-pointed stick, naked, living in small family groups, killed

by some younger man so soon as his first virile activity

declined. Over most of the great wildernesses of earth you would

have sought him in vain; only in a few temperate and sub-tropical

river valleys would you have found the squatting lairs of his

little herds, a male, a few females, a child or so.

He knew no future then, no kind of life except the life he led.

He fled the cave-bear over the rocks full of iron ore and the

promise of sword and spear; he froze to death upon a ledge of

coal; he drank water muddy with the clay that would one day make

cups of porcelain; he chewed the ear of wild wheat he had plucked

and gazed with a dim speculation in his eyes at the birds that

soared beyond his reach. Or suddenly he became aware of the scent

of another male and rose up roaring, his roars the formless

precursors of moral admonitions. For he was a great

individualist, that original, he suffered none other than

himself.

So through the long generations, this heavy precursor, this

ancestor of all of us, fought and bred and perished, changing

almost imperceptibly.

Yet he changed. That keen chisel of necessity which sharpened

the tiger's claw age by age and fined down the clumsy Orchippus

to the swift grace of the horse, was at work upon him-is at work

upon him still. The clumsier and more stupidly fierce among him

were killed soonest and oftenest; the finer hand, the quicker

eye, the bigger brain, the better balanced body prevailed; age by

age, the implements were a little better made, the man a little

more delicately adjusted to his possibilities. He became more

social; his herd grew larger; no longer did each man kill or

drive out his growing sons; a system of taboos made them

tolerable to him, and they revered him alive and soon even after

he was dead, and were his allies against the beasts and the rest

of mankind. (But they were forbidden to touch the women of the

tribe, they had to go out and capture women for themselves, and

each son fled from his stepmother and hid from her lest the anger

of the Old Man should be roused. All the world over, even to this

day, these ancient inevitable taboos can be traced.) And now

instead of caves came huts and hovels, and the fire was better

tended and there were wrappings and garments; and so aided, the

creature spread into colder climates, carrying food with him,

storing food-until sometimes the neglected grass-seed sprouted

again and gave a first hint of agriculture.

And already there were the beginnings of leisure and thought.

Man began to think. There were times when he was fed, when his

lusts and his fears were all appeased, when the sun shone upon

the squatting-place and dim stirrings of speculation lit his

eyes. He scratched upon a bone and found resemblance and pursued

it and began pictorial art, moulded the soft, warm clay of the

river brink between his fingers, and found a pleasure in its

patternings and repetitions, shaped it into the form of vessels,

and found that it would hold water. He watched the streaming

river, and wondered from what bountiful breast this incessant

water came; he blinked at the sun and dreamt that perhaps he

might snare it and spear it as it went down to its resting-place

amidst the distant hills. Then he was roused to convey to his

brother that once indeed he had done so-at least that some one

had done so-he mixed that perhaps with another dream almost as

daring, that one day a mammoth had been beset; and therewith

began fiction-pointing a way to achievement-and the august

prophetic procession of tales.

For scores and hundreds of centuries, for myriads of generations

that life of our fathers went on. From the beginning to the

ripening of that phase of human life, from the first clumsy

eolith of rudely chipped flint to the first implements of

polished stone, was two or three thousand centuries, ten or

fifteen thousand generations. So slowly, by human standards, did

humanity gather itself together out of the dim intimations of the

beast. And that first glimmering of speculation, that first

story of achievement, that story-teller bright-eyed and flushed

under his matted hair, gesticulating to his gaping, incredulous

listener, gripping his wrist to keep him attentive, was the most

marvellous beginning this world has ever seen. It doomed the

mammoths, and it began the setting of that snare that shall catch

the sun.

Section 2

That dream was but a moment in a man's life, whose proper

business it seemed was to get food and kill his fellows and beget

after the manner of all that belongs to the fellowship of the

beasts. About him, hidden from him by the thinnest of veils, were

the untouched sources of Power, whose magnitude we scarcely do

more than suspect even to-day, Power that could make his every

conceivable dream come real. But the feet of the race were in

the way of it, though he died blindly unknowing.

At last, in the generous levels of warm river valleys, where food

is abundant and life very easy, the emerging human overcoming his

earlier jealousies, becoming, as necessity persecuted him less

urgently, more social and tolerant and amenable, achieved a

larger community. There began a division of labour, certain of

the older men specialised in knowledge and direction, a strong

man took the fatherly leadership in war, and priest and king

began to develop their roles in the opening drama of man's

history. The priest's solicitude was seed-time and harvest and

fertility, and the king ruled peace and war. In a hundred river

valleys about the warm, temperate zone of the earth there were

already towns and temples, a score of thousand years ago. They

flourished unrecorded, ignoring the past and unsuspicious of the

future, for as yet writing had still to begin.

Very slowly did man increase his demand upon the illimitable

wealth of Power that offered itself on every hand to him. He

tamed certain animals, he developed his primordially haphazard

agriculture into a ritual, he added first one metal to his

resources and then another, until he had copper and tin and iron

and lead and gold and silver to supplement his stone, he hewed

and carved wood, made pottery, paddled down his river until he

came to the sea, discovered the wheel and made the first roads.

But his chief activity for a hundred centuries and more, was the

subjugation of himself and others to larger and larger societies.

The history of man is not simply the conquest of external power;

it is first the conquest of those distrusts and fiercenesses,

that self-concentration and intensity of animalism, that tie his

hands from taking his inheritance. The ape in us still resents

association. From the dawn of the age of polished stone to the

achievement of the Peace of the World, man's dealings were

chiefly with himself and his fellow man, trading, bargaining,

law-making, propitiating, enslaving, conquering, exterminating,

and every little increment in Power, he turned at once and always

turns to the purposes of this confused elaborate struggle to

socialise. To incorporate and comprehend his fellow men into a

community of purpose became the last and greatest of his

instincts. Already before the last polished phase of the stone

age was over he had become a political animal. He made

astonishingly far-reaching discoveries within himself, first of

counting and then of writing and making records, and with that

his town communities began to stretch out to dominion; in the

valleys of the Nile, the Euphrates, and the great Chinese rivers,

the first empires and the first written laws had their

beginnings. Men specialised for fighting and rule as soldiers and

knights. Later, as ships grew seaworthy, the Mediterranean which

had been a barrier became a highway, and at last out of a tangle

of pirate polities came the great struggle of Carthage and Rome.

The history of Europe is the history of the victory and breaking

up of the Roman Empire. Every ascendant monarch in Europe up to

the last, aped Caesar and called himself Kaiser or Tsar or

Imperator or Kasir-i-Hind. Measured by the duration of human life

it is a vast space of time between that first dynasty in Egypt

and the coming of the aeroplane, but by the scale that looks back

to the makers of the eoliths, it is all of it a story of

yesterday.

Now during this period of two hundred centuries or more, this

period of the warring states, while men's minds were chiefly

preoccupied by politics and mutual aggression, their progress in

the acquirement of external Power was slow-rapid in comparison

with the progress of the old stone age, but slow in comparison

with this new age of systematic discovery in which we live. They

did not very greatly alter the weapons and tactics of warfare,

the methods of agriculture, seamanship, their knowledge of the

habitable globe, or the devices and utensils of domestic life

between the days of the early Egyptians and the days when

Christopher Columbus was a child. Of course, there were

inventions and changes, but there were also retrogressions;

things were found out and then forgotten again; it was, on the

whole, a progress, but it contained no steps; the peasant life

was the same, there were already priests and lawyers and town

craftsmen and territorial lords and rulers doctors, wise women,

soldiers and sailors in Egypt and China and Assyria and

south-eastern Europe at the beginning of that period, and they

were doing much the same things and living much the same life as

they were in Europe in A.D. 1500. The English excavators of the

year A.D. 1900 could delve into the remains of Babylon and Egypt

and disinter legal documents, domestic accounts, and family

correspondence that they could read with the completest sympathy.

There were great religious and moral changes throughout the

period, empires and republics replaced one another, Italy tried a

vast experiment in slavery, and indeed slavery was tried again

and again and failed and failed and was still to be tested again

and rejected again in the New World; Christianity and

Mohammedanism swept away a thousand more specialised cults, but

essentially these were progressive adaptations of mankind to

material conditions that must have seemed fixed for ever. The

idea of revolutionary changes in the material conditions of life

would have been entirely strange to human thought through all

that time.

Yet the dreamer, the story-teller, was there still, waiting for

his opportunity amidst the busy preoccupations, the comings and

goings, the wars and processions, the castle building and

cathedral building, the arts and loves, the small diplomacies and

incurable feuds, the crusades and trading journeys of the middle

ages. He no longer speculated with the untrammelled freedom of

the stone-age savage; authoritative explanations of everything

barred his path; but he speculated with a better brain, sat idle

and gazed at circling stars in the sky and mused upon the coin

and crystal in his hand. Whenever there was a certain leisure for

thought throughout these times, then men were to be found

dissatisfied with the appearances of things, dissatisfied with

the assurances of orthodox belief, uneasy with a sense of unread

symbols in the world about them, questioning the finality of

scholastic wisdom. Through all the ages of history there were

men to whom this whisper had come of hidden things about them.

They could no longer lead ordinary lives nor content themselves

with the common things of this world once they had heard this

voice. And mostly they believed not only that all this world was

as it were a painted curtain before things unguessed at, but that

these secrets were Power. Hitherto Power had come to men by

chance, but now there were these seekers seeking, seeking among

rare and curious and perplexing objects, sometimes finding some

odd utilisable thing, sometimes deceivingthemselves with fancied

discovery, sometimes pretending to find. The world of every day

laughed at these eccentric beings, or found them annoying and

ill-treated them, or was seized with fear and made saints and

sorcerers and warlocks of them, or with covetousness and

entertained them hopefully; but for the greater part heeded them

not at all. Yet they were of the blood of him who had first

dreamt of attacking the mammoth; every one of them was of his

blood and descent; and the thing they sought, all unwittingly,

was the snare that will some day catch the sun.

Section 3

Such a man was that Leonardo da Vinci, who went about the court

of Sforza in Milan in a state of dignified abstraction. His

common-place books are full of prophetic subtlety and ingenious

anticipations of the methods of the early aviators. Durer was his

parallel and Roger Bacon-whom the Franciscans silenced-of his

kindred. Such a man again in an earlier city was Hero of

Alexandria, who knew of the power of steam nineteen hundred years

before it was first brought into use. And earlier still was

Archimedes of Syracuse, and still earlier the legendary Daedalus

of Cnossos. All up and down the record of history whenever there

was a little leisure from war and brutality the seekers appeared.

And half the alchemists were of their tribe.

When Roger Bacon blew up his first batch of gunpowder one might

have supposed that men would have gone at once to the explosive

engine. But they could see nothing of the sort. They were not

yet beginning to think of seeing things; their metallurgy was all

too poor to make such engines even had they thought of them. For

a time they could not make instruments sound enough to stand this

new force even for so rough a purpose as hurling a missile. Their

first guns had barrels of coopered timber, and the world waited

for more than five hundred years before the explosive engine

came.

Even when the seekers found, it was at first a long journey

before the world could use their findings for any but the

roughest, most obvious purposes. If man in general was not still

as absolutely blind to the unconquered energies about him as his

paleolithic precursor, he was at best purblind.

Section 4

The latent energy of coal and the power of steam waited long on

the verge of discovery, before they began to influence human

lives.

There were no doubt many such devices as Hero's toys devised and

forgotten, time after time, in courts and palaces, but it needed

that coal should be mined and burning with plenty of iron at hand

before it dawned upon men that here was something more than a

curiosity. And it is to be remarked that the first recorded

suggestion for the use of steam was in war; there is an

Elizabethan pamphlet in which it is proposed to fire shot out of

corked iron bottles full of heated water. The mining of coal for

fuel, the smelting of iron upon a larger scale than men had ever

done before, the steam pumping engine, the steam-engine and the

steam-boat, followed one another in an order that had a kind of

logical necessity. It is the most interesting and instructive

chapter in the history of the human intelligence, the history of

steam from its beginning as a fact in human consciousness to the

perfection of the great turbine engines that preceded the

utilisation of intra-molecular power. Nearly every human being

must have seen steam, seen it incuriously for many thousands of

years; the women in particular were always heating water, boiling

it, seeing it boil away, seeing the lids of vessels dance with

its fury; millions of people at different times must have watched

steam pitching rocks out of volcanoes like cricket balls and

blowing pumice into foam, and yet you may search the whole human

record through, letters, books, inscriptions, pictures, for any

glimmer of a realisation that here was force, here was strength

to borrow and use… Then suddenly man woke up to it, the

railways spread like a network over the globe, the ever enlarging

iron steamships began their staggering fight against wind and

wave.

Steam was the first-comer in the new powers, it was the beginning

of the Age of Energy that was to close the long history of the

Warring States.

But for a long time men did not realise the importance of this

novelty. They would not recognise, they were not able to

recognise that anything fundamental had happened to their

immemorial necessities. They called the steam-engine the 'iron

horse' and pretended that they had made the most partial of

substitutions. Steam machinery and factory production were

visibly revolutionising the conditions of industrial production,

population was streaming steadily in from the country-side and

concentrating in hitherto unthought-of masses about a few city

centres, food was coming to them over enormous distances upon a

scale that made the one sole precedent, the corn ships of

imperial Rome, a petty incident; and a huge migration of peoples

between Europe and Western Asia and America was in Progress,

and-nobody seems to have realised that something new had come

into human life, a strange swirl different altogether from any

previous circling and mutation, a swirl like the swirl when at

last the lock gates begin to open after a long phase of

accumulating water and eddying inactivity…

The sober Englishman at the close of the nineteenth century could

sit at his breakfast-table, decide between tea from Ceylon or

coffee from Brazil, devour an egg from France with some Danish

ham, or eat a New Zealand chop, wind up his breakfast with a West

Indian banana, glance at the latest telegrams from all the world,

scrutinise the prices current of his geographically distributed

investments in South Africa, Japan, and Egypt, and tell the two

children he had begotten (in the place of his father's eight)

that he thought the world changed very little. They must play

cricket, keep their hair cut, go to the old school he had gone

to, shirk the lessons he had shirked, learn a few scraps of

Horace and Virgil and Homer for the confusion of cads, and all

would be well with them…

Section 5

Electricity, though it was perhaps the earlier of the two to be

studied, invaded the common life of men a few decades after the

exploitation of steam. To electricity also, in spite of its

provocative nearness all about him, mankind had been utterly

blind for incalculable ages. Could anything be more emphatic than

the appeal of electricity for attention? It thundered at man's

ears, it signalled to him in blinding flashes, occasionally it

killed him, and he could not see it as a thing that concerned him

enough to merit study. It came into the house with the cat on any

dry day and crackled insinuatingly whenever he stroked her fur.

It rotted his metals when he put them together… There is no

single record that any one questioned why the cat's fur crackles

or why hair is so unruly to brush on a frosty day, before the

sixteenth century. For endless years man seems to have done his

very successful best not to think about it at all; until this new

spirit of the Seeker turned itself to these things.

How often things must have been seen and dismissed as

unimportant, before the speculative eye and the moment of vision

came! It was Gilbert, Queen Elizabeth's court physician, who

first puzzled his brains with rubbed amber and bits of glass and

silk and shellac, and so began the quickening of the human mind

to the existence of this universal presence. And even then the

science of electricity remained a mere little group of curious

facts for nearly two hundred years, connected perhaps with

magnetism-a mere guess that-perhaps with the lightning. Frogs'

legs must have hung by copper hooks from iron railings and

twitched upon countless occasions before Galvani saw them.

Except for the lightning conductor, it was 250 years after

Gilbert before electricity stepped out of the cabinet of

scientific curiosities into the life of the common man… Then

suddenly, in the half-century between 1880 and 1930, it ousted

the steam-engine and took over traction, it ousted every other

form of household heating, abolished distance with the perfected

wireless telephone and the telephotograph…

Section 6

And there was an extraordinary mental resistance to discovery and

invention for at least a hundred years after the scientific

revolution had begun. Each new thing made its way into practice

against a scepticism that amounted at times to hostility. One

writer upon these subjects gives a funny little domestic

conversation that happened, he says, in the year 1898, within ten

years, that is to say, of the time when the first aviators were

fairly on the wing. He tells us how he sat at his desk in his

study and conversed with his little boy.

His little boy was in profound trouble. He felt he had to speak

very seriously to his father, and as he was a kindly little boy

he did not want to do it too harshly.

This is what happened.

'I wish, Daddy,' he said, coming to his point, 'that you wouldn't

write all this stuff about flying. The chaps rot me.'

'Yes!' said his father.

'And old Broomie, the Head I mean, he rots me. Everybody rots

me.'

'But there is going to be flying-quite soon.'

The little boy was too well bred to say what he thought of that.

'Anyhow,' he said, 'I wish you wouldn't write about it.'

'You'll fly-lots of times-before you die,' the father assured

him.

The little boy looked unhappy.

The father hesitated. Then he opened a drawer and took out a

blurred and under-developed photograph. 'Come and look at this,'

he said.

The little boy came round to him. The photograph showed a stream

and a meadow beyond, and some trees, and in the air a black,

pencil-like object with flat wings on either side of it. It was

the first record of the first apparatus heavier than air that

ever maintained itself in the air by mechanical force. Across the

margin was written: 'Here we go up, up, up-from S. P. Langley,

Smithsonian Institution, Washington.'

The father watched the effect of this reassuring document upon

his son. 'Well?' he said.

'That,' said the schoolboy, after reflection, 'is only a model.'

'Model to-day, man to-morrow.'

The boy seemed divided in his allegiance. Then he decided for

what he believed quite firmly to be omniscience. 'But old

Broomie,' he said, 'he told all the boys in his class only

yesterday, "no man will ever fly." No one, he says, who has ever

shot grouse or pheasants on the wing would ever believe anything

of the sort…'

Yet that boy lived to fly across the Atlantic and edit his

father's reminiscences.

Section 7

At the close of the nineteenth century as a multitude of passages

in the literature of that time witness, it was thought that the

fact that man had at last had successful and profitable dealings

with the steam that scalded him and the electricity that flashed

and banged about the sky at him, was an amazing and perhaps a

culminating exercise of his intelligence and his intellectual

courage. The air of 'Nunc Dimittis' sounds in same of these

writings. 'The great things are discovered,' wrote Gerald Brown

in his summary of the nineteenth century. 'For us there remains

little but the working out of detail.' The spirit of the seeker

was still rare in the world; education was unskilled,

unstimulating, scholarly, and but little valued, and few people

even then could have realised that Science was still but the

flimsiest of trial sketches and discovery scarcely beginning. No

one seems to have been afraid of science and its possibilities.

Yet now where there had been but a score or so of seekers, there

were many thousands, and for one needle of speculation that had

been probing the curtain of appearances in 1800, there were now

hundreds. And already Chemistry, which had been content with her

atoms and molecules for the better part of a century, was

preparing herself for that vast next stride that was to

revolutionise the whole life of man from top to bottom.

One realises how crude was the science of that time when one

considers the case of the composition of air. This was

determined by that strange genius and recluse, that man of

mystery, that disembowelled intelligence, Henry Cavendish,

towards the end of the eighteenth century. So far as he was

concerned the work was admirably done. He separated all the known

ingredients of the air with a precision altogether remarkable; he

even put it upon record that he had some doubt about the purity

of the nitrogen. For more than a hundred years his determination

was repeated by chemists all the world over, his apparatus was

treasured in London, he became, as they used to say, 'classic,'

and always, at every one of the innumerable repetitions of his

experiment, that sly element argon was hiding among the nitrogen

(and with a little helium and traces of other substances, and

indeed all the hints that might have led to the new departures of

the twentieth-century chemistry), and every time it slipped

unobserved through the professorial fingers that repeated his

procedure.

Is it any wonder then with this margin of inaccuracy, that up to

the very dawn of the twentieth-century scientific discovery was

still rather a procession of happy accidents than an orderly

conquest of nature?

Yet the spirit of seeking was spreading steadily through the

world. Even the schoolmaster could not check it. For the mere

handful who grew up to feel wonder and curiosity about the

secrets of nature in the nineteenth century, there were now, at

the beginning of the twentieth, myriads escaping from the

limitations of intellectual routine and the habitual life, in

Europe, in America, North and South, in Japan, in China, and all

about the world.

It was in 1910 that the parents of young Holsten, who was to be

called by a whole generation of scientific men, 'the greatest of

European chemists,' were staying in a villa near Santo Domenico,

between Fiesole and Florence. He was then only fifteen, but he

was already distinguished as a mathematician and possessed by a

savage appetite to understand. He had been particularly attracted

by the mystery of phosphorescence and its apparent unrelatedness

to every other source of light. He was to tell afterwards in his

reminiscences how he watched the fireflies drifting and glowing

among the dark trees in the garden of the villa under the warm

blue night sky of Italy; how he caught and kept them in cages,

dissected them, first studying the general anatomy of insects

very elaborately, and how he began to experiment with the effect

of various gases and varying temperature upon their light. Then

the chance present of a little scientific toy invented by Sir

William Crookes, a toy called the spinthariscope, on which radium

particles impinge upon sulphide of zinc and make it luminous,

induced him to associate the two sets of phenomena. It was a

happy association for his inquiries. It was a rare and fortunate

thing, too, that any one with the mathematical gift should have

been taken by these curiosities.

Section 8

And while the boy Holsten was mooning over his fireflies at

Fiesole, a certain professor of physics named Rufus was giving a

course of afternoon lectures upon Radium and Radio-Activity in

Edinburgh. They were lectures that had attracted a very

considerable amount of attention. He gave them in a small

lecture-theatre that had become more and more congested as his

course proceeded. At his concluding discussion it was crowded

right up to the ceiling at the back, and there people were

standing, standing without any sense of fatigue, so fascinating

did they find his suggestions. One youngster in particular, a

chuckle-headed, scrub-haired lad from the Highlands, sat hugging

his knee with great sand-red hands and drinking in every word,

eyes aglow, cheeks flushed, and ears burning.

'And so,' said the professor, 'we see that this Radium, which

seemed at first a fantastic exception, a mad inversion of all

that was most established and fundamental in the constitution of

matter, is really at one with the rest of the elements. It does

noticeably and forcibly what probably all the other elements are

doing with an imperceptible slowness. It is like the single

voice crying aloud that betrays the silent breathing multitude in

the darkness. Radium is an element that is breaking up and flying

to pieces. But perhaps all elements are doing that at less

perceptible rates. Uranium certainly is; thorium-the stuff of

this incandescent gas mantle-certainly is; actinium. I feel

that we are but beginning the list. And we know now that the

atom, that once we thought hard and impenetrable, and indivisible

and final and-lifeless-lifeless, is really a reservoir of

immense energy. That is the most wonderful thing about all this

work. A little while ago we thought of the atoms as we thought

of bricks, as solid building material, as substantial matter, as

unit masses of lifeless stuff, and behold! these bricks are

boxes, treasure boxes, boxes full of the intensest force. This

little bottle contains about a pint of uranium oxide; that is to

say, about fourteen ounces of the element uranium. It is worth

about a pound. And in this bottle, ladies and gentlemen, in the

atoms in this bottle there slumbers at least as much energy as we

could get by burning a hundred and sixty tons of coal. If at a

word, in one instant I could suddenly release that energy here

and now it would blow us and everything about us to fragments; if

I could turn it into the machinery that lights this city, it

could keep Edinburgh brightly lit for a week. But at present no

man knows, no man has an inkling of how this little lump of stuff

can be made to hasten the release of its store. It does release

it, as a burn trickles. Slowly the uranium changes into radium,

the radium changes into a gas called the radium emanation, and

that again to what we call radium A, and so the process goes on,

giving out energy at every stage, until at last we reach the last

stage of all, which is, so far as we can tell at present, lead.

But we cannot hasten it.'

'I take ye, man,' whispered the chuckle-headed lad, with his red

hands tightening like a vice upon his knee. 'I take ye, man. Go

on! Oh, go on!'

The professor went on after a little pause. 'Why is the change

gradual?' he asked. 'Why does only a minute fraction of the

radium disintegrate in any particular second? Why does it dole

itself out so slowly and so exactly? Why does not all the

uranium change to radium and all the radium change to the next

lowest thing at once? Why this decay by driblets; why not a decay

en masse?… Suppose presently we find it is possible to

quicken that decay?'

The chuckle-headed lad nodded rapidly. The wonderful inevitable

idea was coming. He drew his knee up towards his chin and swayed

in his seat with excitement. 'Why not?' he echoed, 'why not?'

The professor lifted his forefinger.

'Given that knowledge,' he said, 'mark what we should be able to

do! We should not only be able to use this uranium and thorium;

not only should we have a source of power so potent that a man

might carry in his hand the energy to light a city for a year,

fight a fleet of battleships, or drive one of our giant liners

across the Atlantic; but we should also have a clue that would

enable us at last to quicken the process of disintegration in all

the other elements, where decay is still so slow as to escape our

finest measurements. Every scrap of solid matter in the world

would become an available reservoir of concentrated force. Do

you realise, ladies and gentlemen, what these things would mean

for us?'

The scrub head nodded. 'Oh! go on. Go on.'

'It would mean a change in human conditions that I can only

compare to the discovery of fire, that first discovery that

lifted man above the brute. We stand to-day towards

radio-activity as our ancestor stood towards fire before he had

learnt to make it. He knew it then only as a strange thing

utterly beyond his control, a flare on the crest of the volcano,

a red destruction that poured through the forest. So it is that

we know radio-activity to-day. This-this is the dawn of a new

day in human living. At the climax of that civilisation which

had its beginning in the hammered flint and the fire-stick of the

savage, just when it is becoming apparent that our

ever-increasing needs cannot be borne indefinitely by our present

sources of energy, we discover suddenly the possibility of an

entirely new civilisation. The energy we need for our very

existence, and with which Nature supplies us still so grudgingly,

is in reality locked up in inconceivable quantities all about us.

We cannot pick that lock at present, but--'

He paused. His voice sank so that everybody strained a little to

hear him.

'--we will.'

He put up that lean finger again, his solitary gesture.

'And then,' he said…

'Then that perpetual struggle for existence, that perpetual

struggle to live on the bare surplus of Nature's energies will

cease to be the lot of Man. Man will step from the pinnacle of

this civilisation to the beginning of the next. I have no

eloquence, ladies and gentlemen, to express the vision of man's

material destiny that opens out before me. I see the desert

continents transformed, the poles no longer wildernesses of ice,

the whole world once more Eden. I see the power of man reach out

among the stars…'

He stopped abruptly with a catching of the breath that many an

actor or orator might have envied.

The lecture was over, the audience hung silent for a few seconds,

sighed, became audible, stirred, fluttered, prepared for

dispersal. More light was turned on and what had been a dim mass

of figures became a bright confusion of movement. Some of the

people signalled to friends, some crowded down towards the

platform to examine the lecturer's apparatus and make notes of

his diagrams. But the chuckle-headed lad with the scrub hair

wanted no such detailed frittering away of the thoughts that had

inspired him. He wanted to be alone with them; he elbowed his way

out almost fiercely, he made himself as angular and bony as a

cow, fearing lest some one should speak to him, lest some one

should invade his glowing sphere of enthusiasm.

He went through the streets with a rapt face, like a saint who

sees visions. He had arms disproportionately long, and

ridiculous big feet.

He must get alone, get somewhere high out of all this crowding of

commonness, of everyday life.

He made his way to the top of Arthur's Seat, and there he sat for

a long time in the golden evening sunshine, still, except that

ever and again he whispered to himself some precious phrase that

had stuck in his mind.

'If,' he whispered, 'if only we could pick that lock…'

The sun was sinking over the distant hills. Already it was shorn

of its beams, a globe of ruddy gold, hanging over the great banks

of cloud that would presently engulf it.

'Eh!' said the youngster. 'Eh!'

He seemed to wake up at last out of his entrancement, and the red

sun was there before his eyes. He stared at it, at first without

intelligence, and then with a gathering recognition. Into his

mind came a strange echo of that ancestral fancy, that fancy of a

Stone Age savage, dead and scattered bones among the drift two

hundred thousand years ago.

'Ye auld thing,' he said-and his eyes were shining, and he made

a kind of grabbing gesture with his hand; 'ye auld red thing…

We'll have ye YET.'

CHAPTER THE FIRST

THE NEW SOURCE OF ENERGY

Section I

The problem which was already being mooted by such scientific men

as Ramsay, Rutherford, and Soddy, in the very beginning of the

twentieth century, the problem of inducing radio-activity in the

heavier elements and so tapping the internal energy of atoms, was

solved by a wonderful combination of induction, intuition, and

luck by Holsten so soon as the year 1933. From the first

detection of radio-activity to its first subjugation to human

purpose measured little more than a quarter of a century. For

twenty years after that, indeed, minor difficulties prevented any

striking practical application of his success, but the essential

thing was done, this new boundary in the march of human progress

was crossed, in that year. He set up atomic disintegration in a

minute particle of bismuth; it exploded with great violence into

a heavy gas of extreme radio-activity, which disintegrated in its

turn in the course of seven days, and it was only after another

year's work that he was able to show practically that the last

result of this rapid release of energy was gold. But the thing

was done-at the cost of a blistered chest and an injured finger,

and from the moment when the invisible speck of bismuth flashed

into riving and rending energy, Holsten knew that he had opened a

way for mankind, however narrow and dark it might still be, to

worlds of limitless power. He recorded as much in the strange

diary biography he left the world, a diary that was up to that

particular moment a mass of speculations and calculations, and

which suddenly became for a space an amazingly minute and human

record of sensations and emotions that all humanity might

understand.

He gives, in broken phrases and often single words, it is true,

but none the less vividly for that, a record of the twenty-four

hours following the demonstration of the correctness of his

intricate tracery of computations and guesses. 'I thought I

should not sleep,' he writes-the words he omitted are supplied

in brackets-(on account of) 'pain in (the) hand and chest and

(the) wonder of what I had done… Slept like a child.'

He felt strange and disconcerted the next morning; he had nothing

to do, he was living alone in apartments in Bloomsbury, and he

decided to go up to Hampstead Heath, which he had known when he

was a little boy as a breezy playground. He went up by the

underground tube that was then the recognised means of travel

from one part of London to another, and walked up Heath Street

from the tube station to the open heath. He found it a gully of

planks and scaffoldings between the hoardings of house-wreckers.

The spirit of the times had seized upon that narrow, steep, and

winding thoroughfare, and was in the act of making it commodious

and interesting, according to the remarkable ideals of

Neo-Georgian aestheticism. Such is the illogical quality of

humanity that Holsten, fresh from work that was like a petard

under the seat of current civilisation, saw these changes with

regret. He had come up Heath Street perhaps a thousand times, had

known the windows of all the little shops, spent hours in the

vanished cinematograph theatre, and marvelled at the high-flung

early Georgian houses upon the westward bank of that old gully of

a thoroughfare; he felt strange with all these familiar things

gone. He escaped at last with a feeling of relief from this

choked alley of trenches and holes and cranes, and emerged upon

the old familiar scene about the White Stone Pond. That, at

least, was very much as it used to be.

There were still the fine old red-brick houses to left and right

of him; the reservoir had been improved by a portico of marble,

the white-fronted inn with the clustering flowers above its

portico still stood out at the angle of the ways, and the blue

view to Harrow Hill and Harrow spire, a view of hills and trees

and shining waters and wind-driven cloud shadows, was like the

opening of a great window to the ascending Londoner. All that

was very reassuring. There was the same strolling crowd, the same

perpetual miracle of motors dodging through it harmlessly,

escaping headlong into the country from the Sabbatical stuffiness

behind and below them. There was a band still, a women's suffrage

meeting-for the suffrage women had won their way back to the

tolerance, a trifle derisive, of the populace again-socialist

orators, politicians, a band, and the same wild uproar of dogs,

frantic with the gladness of their one blessed weekly release

from the back yard and the chain. And away along the road to the

Spaniards strolled a vast multitude, saying, as ever, that the

view of London was exceptionally clear that day.

Young Holsten's face was white. He walked with that uneasy

affectation of ease that marks an overstrained nervous system and

an under-exercised body. He hesitated at the White Stone Pond

whether to go to the left of it or the right, and again at the

fork of the roads. He kept shifting his stick in his hand, and

every now and then he would get in the way of people on the

footpath or be jostled by them because of the uncertainty of his

movements. He felt, he confesses, 'inadequate to ordinary

existence.' He seemed to himself to be something inhuman and

mischievous. All the people about him looked fairly prosperous,

fairly happy, fairly well adapted to the lives they had to

lead-a week of work and a Sunday of best clothes and mild

promenading-and he had launched something that would disorganise

the entire fabric that held their contentments and ambitions and

satisfactions together. 'Felt like an imbecile who has presented

a box full of loaded revolvers to a Creche,' he notes.

He met a man named Lawson, an old school-fellow, of whom history

now knows only that he was red-faced and had a terrier. He and

Holsten walked together and Holsten was sufficiently pale and

jumpy for Lawson to tell him he overworked and needed a holiday.

They sat down at a little table outside the County Council house

of Golders Hill Park and sent one of the waiters to the Bull and

Bush for a couple of bottles of beer, no doubt at Lawson's

suggestion. The beer warmed Holsten's rather dehumanised system.

He began to tell Lawson as clearly as he could to what his great

discovery amounted. Lawson feigned attention, but indeed he had

neither the knowledge nor the imagination to understand. 'In the

end, before many years are out, this must eventually change war,

transit, lighting, building, and every sort of manufacture, even

agriculture, every material human concern--'

Then Holsten stopped short. Lawson had leapt to his feet. 'Damn

that dog!' cried Lawson. 'Look at it now. Hi! Here!

Phewoo-phewoo phewoo! Come HERE, Bobs! Come HERE!'

The young scientific man, with his bandaged hand, sat at the

green table, too tired to convey the wonder of the thing he had

sought so long, his friend whistled and bawled for his dog, and

the Sunday people drifted about them through the spring sunshine.

For a moment or so Holsten stared at Lawson in astonishment, for

he had been too intent upon what he had been saying to realise

how little Lawson had attended.

Then he remarked, 'WELL!' and smiled faintly, and-finished the

tankard of beer before him.

Lawson sat down again. 'One must look after one's dog,' he said,

with a note of apology. 'What was it you were telling me?'

Section 2

In the evening Holsten went out again. He walked to Saint Paul's

Cathedral, and stood for a time near the door listening to the

evening service. The candles upon the altar reminded him in some

odd way of the fireflies at Fiesole. Then he walked back through

the evening lights to Westminster. He was oppressed, he was

indeed scared, by his sense of the immense consequences of his

discovery. He had a vague idea that night that he ought not to

publish his results, that they were premature, that some secret

association of wise men should take care of his work and hand it

on from generation to generation until the world was riper for

its practical application. He felt that nobody in all the

thousands of people he passed had reallyawakened to the fact of

change, they trusted the world for what it was, not to alter too

rapidly, to respect their trusts, their assurances, their habits,

their little accustomed traffics and hard-won positions.

He went into those little gardens beneath the over-hanging,

brightly-lit masses of the Savoy Hotel and the Hotel Cecil. He

sat down on a seat and became aware of the talk of the two people

next to him. It was the talk of a young couple evidently on the

eve of marriage. The man was congratulating himself on having

regular employment at last; 'they like me,' he said, 'and I like

the job. If I work up-in'r dozen years or so I ought to be

gettin' somethin' pretty comfortable. That's the plain sense of

it, Hetty. There ain't no reason whatsoever why we shouldn't get

along very decently-very decently indeed.'

The desire for little successes amidst conditions securely fixed!

So it struck upon Holsten's mind. He added in his diary, 'I had

a sense of all this globe as that…'

By that phrase he meant a kind of clairvoyant vision of this

populated world as a whole, of all its cities and towns and

villages, its high roads and the inns beside them, its gardens

and farms and upland pastures, its boatmen and sailors, its ships

coming along the great circles of the ocean, its time-tables and

appointments and payments and dues as it were one unified and

progressive spectacle. Sometimes such visions came to him; his

mind, accustomed to great generalisations and yet acutely

sensitive to detail, saw things far more comprehensively than the

minds of most of his contemporaries. Usually the teeming sphere

moved on to its predestined ends and circled with a stately

swiftness on its path about the sun. Usually it was all a living

progress that altered under his regard. But now fatigue a little

deadened him to that incessancy of life, it seemed now just an

eternal circling. He lapsed to the commoner persuasion of the

great fixities and recurrencies of the human routine. The remoter

past of wandering savagery, the inevitable changes of to-morrow

were veiled, and he saw only day and night, seed-time and

harvest, loving and begetting, births and deaths, walks in the

summer sunlight and tales by the winter fireside, the ancient

sequence of hope and acts and age perennially renewed, eddying on

for ever and ever, save that now the impious hand of research was

raised to overthrow this drowsy, gently humming, habitual, sunlit

spinning-top of man's existence

For a time he forgot wars and crimes and hates and persecutions,

famine and pestilence, the cruelties of beasts, weariness and the

bitter wind, failure and insufficiency and retrocession. He saw

all mankind in terms of the humble Sunday couple upon the seat

beside him, who schemed their inglorious outlook and improbable

contentments. 'I had a sense of all this globe as that.'

His intelligence struggled against this mood and struggled for a

time in vain. He reassured himself against the invasion of this

disconcerting idea that he was something strange and inhuman, a

loose wanderer from the flock returning with evil gifts from his

sustained unnatural excursions amidst the darknesses and

phosphorescences beneath the fair surfaces of life. Man had not

been always thus; the instincts and desires of the little home,

the little plot, was not all his nature; also he was an

adventurer, an experimenter, an unresting curiosity, an

insatiable desire. For a few thousand generations indeed he had

tilled the earth and followed the seasons, saying his prayers,

grinding his corn and trampling the October winepress, yet not

for so long but that he was still full of restless stirrings.

'If there have been home and routine and the field,' thought

Holsten, 'there have also been wonder and the sea.'

He turned his head and looked up over the back of the seat at the

great hotels above him, full of softly shaded lights and the glow

and colour and stir of feasting. Might his gift to mankind mean

simply more of that?…

He got up and walked out of the garden, surveyed a passing

tram-car, laden with warm light, against the deep blues of

evening, dripping and trailing long skirts of shining reflection;

he crossed the Embankment and stood for a time watching the dark

river and turning ever and again to the lit buildings and

bridges. His mind began to scheme conceivable replacements of all

those clustering arrangements…

'It has begun,' he writes in the diary in which these things are

recorded. 'It is not for me to reach out to consequences I cannot

foresee. Iam a part, not a whole; Iam a little instrument in

the armoury of Change. If I were to burn all these papers,

before a score of years had passed, some other man would be doing

this…

Section 3

Holsten, before he died, was destined to see atomic energy

dominating every other source of power, but for some years yet a

vast network of difficulties in detail and application kept the

new discovery from any effective invasion of ordinary life. The

path from the laboratory to the workshop is sometimes a tortuous

one; electro-magnetic radiations were known and demonstrated for

twenty years before Marconi made them practically available, and

in the same way it was twenty years before induced radio-activity

could be brought to practical utilisation. The thing, of course,

was discussed very much, more perhaps at the time of its

discovery than during the interval of technical adaptation, but

with very little realisation of the huge economic revolution that

impended. What chiefly impressed the journalists of 1933 was the

production of gold from bismuth and the realisation albeit upon

unprofitable lines of the alchemist's dreams; there was a

considerable amount of discussion and expectation in that more

intelligent section of the educated publics of the various

civilised countries which followed scientific development; but

for the most part the world went about its business-as the

inhabitants of those Swiss villages which live under the

perpetual threat of overhanging rocks and mountains go about

their business-just as though the possible was impossible, as

though the inevitable was postponed for ever because it was

delayed.

It was in 1953 that the first Holsten-Roberts engine brought

induced radio-activity into the sphere of industrial production,

and its first general use was to replace the steam-engine in

electrical generating stations. Hard upon the appearance of this

came the Dass-Tata engine-the invention of two among the

brilliant galaxy of Bengali inventors the modernisation of Indian

thought was producing at this time-which was used chiefly for

automobiles, aeroplanes, waterplanes, and such-like, mobile

purposes. The American Kemp engine, differing widely in principle

but equally practicable, and the Krupp-Erlanger came hard upon

the heels of this, and by the autumn of 1954 a gigantic

replacement of industrial methods and machinery was in progress

all about the habitable globe. Small wonder was this when the

cost, even of these earliest and clumsiest of atomic engines, is

compared with that of the power they superseded. Allowing for

lubrication the Dass-Tata engine, once it was started cost a

penny to run thirty-seven miles, and added only nine and quarter

pounds to the weight of the carriage it drove. It made the heavy

alcohol-driven automobile of the time ridiculous in appearance as

well as preposterously costly. For many years the price of coal

and every form of liquid fuel had been clambering to levels that

made even the revival of the draft horse seem a practicable

possibility, and now with the abrupt relaxation of this

stringency, the change in appearance of the traffic upon the

world's roads was instantaneous. In three years the frightful

armoured monsters that had hooted and smoked and thundered about

the world for four awful decades were swept away to the dealers

in old metal, and the highways thronged with light and clean and

shimmering shapes of silvered steel. At the same time a new

impetus was given to aviation by the relatively enormous power

for weight of the atomic engine, it was at last possible to add

Redmayne's ingenious helicopter ascent and descent engine to the

vertical propeller that had hitherto been the sole driving force

of the aeroplane without overweighting the machine, and men found

themselves possessed of an instrument of flight that could hover

or ascend or descend vertically and gently as well as rush wildly

through the air. The last dread of flying vanished. As the

journalists of the time phrased it, this was the epoch of the

Leap into the Air. The new atomic aeroplane became indeed a

mania; every one of means was frantic to possess a thing so

controllable, so secure and so free from the dust and danger of

the road, and in France alone in the year 1943 thirty thousand of

these new aeroplanes were manufactured and licensed, and soared

humming softly into the sky.

And with an equal speed atomic engines of various types invaded

industrialism. The railways paid enormous premiums for priority

in the delivery of atomic traction engines, atomic smelting was

embarked upon so eagerly as to lead to a number of disastrous

explosions due to inexperienced handling of the new power, and

the revolutionary cheapening of both materials and electricity

made the entire reconstruction of domestic buildings a matter

merely dependent upon a reorganisation of the methods of the

builder and the house-furnisher. Viewed from the side of the new

power and from the point of view of those who financed and

manufactured the new engines and material it required the age of

the Leap into the Air was one of astonishing prosperity.

Patent-holding companies were presently paying dividends of five

or six hundred per cent. and enormous fortunes were made and

fantastic wages earned by all who were concerned in the new

developments. This prosperity was not a little enhanced by the

fact that in both the Dass-Tata and Holsten-Roberts engines one

of the recoverable waste products was gold-the former

disintegrated dust of bismuth and the latter dust of lead-and

that this new supply of gold led quite naturally to a rise in

prices throughout the world.

This spectacle of feverish enterprise was productivity, this

crowding flight of happy and fortunate rich people-every great

city was as if a crawling ant-hill had suddenly taken wing-was

the bright side of the opening phase of the new epoch in human

history. Beneath that brightness was a gathering darkness, a

deepening dismay. If there was a vast development of production

there was also a huge destruction of values. These glaring

factories working night and day, these glittering new vehicles

swinging noiselessly along the roads, these flights of

dragon-flies that swooped and soared and circled in the air, were

indeed no more than the brightnesses of lamps and fires that

gleam out when the world sinks towards twilight and the night.

Between these high lights accumulated disaster, social

catastrophe. The coal mines were manifestly doomed to closure at

no very distant date, the vast amount of capital invested in oil

was becoming unsaleable, millions of coal miners, steel workers

upon the old lines, vast swarms of unskilled or under-skilled

labourers in innumerable occupations, were being flung out of

employment by the superior efficiency of the new machinery, the

rapid fall in the cost of transit was destroying high land values

at every centre of population, the value of existing house

property had become problematical, gold was undergoing headlong

depreciation, all the securities upon which the credit of the

world rested were slipping and sliding, banks were tottering, the

stock exchanges were scenes of feverish panic;-this was the

reverse of the spectacle, these were the black and monstrous

under-consequences of the Leap into the Air.

There is a story of a demented London stockbroker running out

into Threadneedle Street and tearing off his clothes as he ran.

'The Steel Trust is scrapping the whole of its plant,' he

shouted. 'The State Railways are going to scrap all their

engines. Everything's going to be scrapped-everything. Come and

scrap the mint, you fellows, come and scrap the mint!'

In the year 1955 the suicide rate for the United States of

America quadrupled any previous record. There was an enormous

increase also in violent crime throughout the world. The thing

had come upon an unprepared humanity; it seemed as though human

society was to be smashed by its own magnificent gains.

For there had been no foresight of these things. There had been

no attempt anywhere even to compute the probable dislocations

this flood of inexpensive energy would produce in human affairs.

The world in these days was not really governed at all, in the

sense in which government came to be understood in subsequent

years. Government was a treaty, not a design; it was forensic,

conservative, disputatious, unseeing, unthinking, uncreative;

throughout the world, except where the vestiges of absolutism

still sheltered the court favourite and the trusted servant, it

was in the hands of the predominant caste of lawyers, who had an

enormous advantage in being the only trained caste. Their

professional education and every circumstance in the manipulation

of the fantastically naive electoral methods by which they

clambered to power, conspired to keep them contemptuous of facts,

conscientiously unimaginative, alert to claim and seize

advantages and suspicious of every generosity. Government was an

obstructive business of energetic fractions, progress went on

outside of and in spite of public activities, and legislation was

the last crippling recognition of needs so clamorous and

imperative and facts so aggressively established as to invade

even the dingy seclusions of the judges and threaten the very

existence of the otherwise inattentive political machine.

The world was so little governed that with the very coming of

plenty, in the full tide of an incalculable abundance, when

everything necessary to satisfy human needs and everything

necessary to realise such will and purpose as existed then in

human hearts was already at hand, one has still to tell of

hardship, famine, anger, confusion, conflict, and incoherent

suffering. There was no scheme for the distribution of this vast

new wealth that had come at last within the reach of men; there

was no clear conception that any such distribution was possible.

As one attempts a comprehensive view of those opening years of

the new age, as one measures it against the latent achievement

that later years have demonstrated, one begins to measure the

blindness, the narrowness, the insensate unimaginative

individualism of the pre-atomic time. Under this tremendous dawn

of power and freedom, under a sky ablaze with promise, in the

very presence of science standing like some bountiful goddess

over all the squat darknesses of human life, holding patiently in

her strong arms, until men chose to take them, security, plenty,

the solution of riddles, the key of the bravest adventures, in

her very presence, and with the earnest of her gifts in court,

the world was to witness such things as the squalid spectacle of

the Dass-Tata patent litigation.

There in a stuffy court in London, a grimy oblong box of a room,

during the exceptional heat of the May of 1956, the leading

counsel of the day argued and shouted over a miserable little

matter of more royalties or less and whether the Dass-Tata

company might not bar the Holsten-Roberts' methods of utilising

the new power. The Dass-Tata people were indeed making a

strenuous attempt to secure a world monopoly in atomic

engineering. The judge, after the manner of those times, sat

raised above the court, wearing a preposterous gown and a foolish

huge wig, the counsel also wore dirty-looking little wigs and

queer black gowns over their usual costume, wigs and gowns that

were held to be necessary to their pleading, and upon unclean

wooden benches stirred and whispered artful-looking solicitors,

busily scribbling reporters, the parties to the case, expert

witnesses, interested people, and a jostling confusion of

subpoenaed persons, briefless young barristers (forming a style

on the most esteemed and truculent examples) and casual eccentric

spectators who preferred this pit of iniquity to the free

sunlight outside. Every one was damply hot, the examining King's

Counsel wiped the perspiration from his huge, clean-shaven upper

lip; and into this atmosphere of grasping contention and human

exhalations the daylight filtered through a window that was

manifestly dirty. The jury sat in a double pew to the left of

the judge, looking as uncomfortable as frogs that have fallen

into an ash-pit, and in the witness-box lied the would-be

omnivorous Dass, under cross-examination…

Holsten had always been accustomed to publish his results so soon

as they appeared to him to be sufficiently advanced to furnish a

basis for further work, and to that confiding disposition and one

happy flash of adaptive invention the alert Dass owed his

claim…

But indeed a vast multitude of such sharp people were clutching,

patenting, pre-empting, monopolising this or that feature of the

new development, seeking to subdue this gigantic winged power to

the purposes of their little lusts and avarice. That trial is

just one of innumerable disputes of the same kind. For a time the

face of the world festered with patent legislation. It chanced,

however, to have one oddly dramatic feature in the fact that

Holsten, after being kept waiting about the court for two days as

a beggar might have waited at a rich man's door, after being

bullied by ushers and watched by policemen, was called as a

witness, rather severely handled by counsel, and told not to

'quibble' by the judge when he was trying to be absolutely

explicit.

The judge scratched his nose with a quill pen, and sneered at

Holsten's astonishment round the corner of his monstrous wig.

Holsten was a great man, was he? Well, in a law-court great men

were put in their places.

'We want to know has the plaintiff added anything to this or

hasn't he?' said the judge, 'we don't want to have your views

whether Sir Philip Dass's improvements were merely superficial

adaptations or whether they were implicit in your paper. No

doubt-after the manner of inventors-you think most things that

were ever likely to be discovered are implicit in your papers. No

doubt also you think too that most subsequent additions and

modifications are merely superficial. Inventors have a way of

thinking that. The law isn't concerned with that sort of thing.

The law has nothing to do with the vanity of inventors. The law

is concerned with the question whether these patent rights have

the novelty the plantiff claims for them. What that admission

may or may not stop, and all these other things you are saying in

your overflowing zeal to answer more than the questions addressed

to you-none of these things have anything whatever to do with

the case in hand. It is a matter of constant astonishment to me

in this court to see how you scientific men, with all your

extraordinary claims to precision and veracity, wander and wander

so soon as you get into the witness-box. I know no more

unsatisfactory class of witness. The plain and simple question

is, has Sir Philip Dass made any real addition to existing

knowledge and methods in this matter or has he not? We don't

want to know whether they were large or small additions nor what

the consequences of your admission may be. That you will leave to

us.'

Holsten was silent.

'Surely?' said the judge, almost pityingly.

'No, he hasn't,' said Holsten, perceiving that for once in his

life he must disregard infinitesimals.

'Ah!' said the judge, 'now why couldn't you say that when counsel

put the question?…'

An entry in Holsten's diary-autobiography, dated five days later,

runs: 'Still amazed. The law is the most dangerous thing in this

country. It is hundreds of years old. It hasn't an idea. The

oldest of old bottles and this new wine, the most explosive wine.

Something will overtake them.'

Section 4

There was a certain truth in Holsten's assertion that the law was

'hundreds of years old.' It was, in relation to current thought

and widely accepted ideas, an archaic thing. While almost all the

material and methods of life had been changing rapidly and were

now changing still more rapidly, the law-courts and the

legislatures of the world were struggling desperately to meet

modern demands with devices and procedures, conceptions of rights

and property and authority and obligation that dated from the

rude compromises of relatively barbaric times. The horse-hair

wigs and antic dresses of the British judges, their musty courts

and overbearing manners, were indeed only the outward and visible

intimations of profounder anachronisms. The legal and political

organisation of the earth in the middle twentieth century was

indeed everywhere like a complicated garment, outworn yet strong,

that now fettered the governing body that once it had protected.

Yet that same spirit of free-thinking and outspoken publication

that in the field of natural science had been the beginning of

the conquest of nature, was at work throughout all the eighteenth

and nineteenth centuries preparing the spirit of the new world

within the degenerating body of the old. The idea of a greater

subordination of individual interests and established

institutions to the collective future, is traceable more and more

clearly in the literature of those times, and movement after

movement fretted itself away in criticism of and opposition to

first this aspect and then that of the legal, social, and

political order. Already in the early nineteenth century Shelley,

with no scrap of alternative, is denouncing the established

rulers of the world as Anarchs, and the entire system of ideas

and suggestions that was known as Socialism, and more

particularly its international side, feeble as it was in creative

proposals or any method of transition, still witnesses to the

growth of a conception of a modernised system of

inter-relationships that should supplant the existing tangle of

proprietary legal ideas.

The word 'Sociology' was invented by Herbert Spencer, a popular

writer upon philosophical subjects, who flourished about the

middle of the nineteenth century, but the idea of a state,

planned as an electric-traction system is planned, without

reference to pre-existing apparatus, upon scientific lines, did

not take a very strong hold upon the popular imagination of the

world until the twentieth century. Then, the growing impatience

of the American people with the monstrous and socially paralysing

party systems that had sprung out of their absurd electoral

arrangements, led to the appearance of what came to be called the

'Modern State' movement, and a galaxy of brilliant writers, in

America, Europe, and the East, stirred up the world to the

thought of bolder rearrangements of social interaction, property,

employment, education, and government, than had ever been

contemplated before. No doubt these Modern State ideas were very

largely the reflection upon social and political thought of the

vast revolution in material things that had been in progress for

two hundred years, but for a long time they seemed to be having

no more influence upon existing institutions than the writings of

Rousseau and Voltaire seemed to have had at the time of the death

of the latter. They were fermenting in men's minds, and it needed

only just such social and political stresses as the coming of the

atomic mechanisms brought about, to thrust them forward abruptly

into crude and startling realisation.

Section 5

Frederick Barnet's Wander Jahre is one of those autobiographical

novels that were popular throughout the third and fourth decades

of the twentieth century. It was published in 1970, and one must

understand Wander Jahre rather in a spiritual and intellectual

than in a literal sense. It is indeed an allusive title,

carrying the world back to the Wilhelm Meister of Goethe, a

century and a half earlier.

Its author, Frederick Barnet, gives a minute and curious history

of his life and ideas between his nineteenth and his twenty-third

birthdays. He was neither a very original nor a very brilliant

man, but he had a trick of circumstantial writing; and though no

authentic portrait was to survive for the information of

posterity, he betrays by a score of casual phrases that he was

short, sturdy, inclined to be plump, with a 'rather blobby' face,

and full, rather projecting blue eyes. He belonged until the

financial debacle of 1956 to the class of fairly prosperous

people, he was a student in London, he aeroplaned to Italy and

then had a pedestrian tour from Genoa to Rome, crossed in the air

to Greece and Egypt, and came back over the Balkans and Germany.

His family fortunes, which were largely invested in bank shares,

coal mines, and house property, were destroyed. Reduced to

penury, he sought to earn a living. He suffered great hardship,

and was then caught up by the war and had a year of soldiering,

first as an officer in the English infantry and then in the army

of pacification. His book tells all these things so simply and

at the same time so explicitly, that it remains, as it were, an

eye by which future generations may have at least one man's

vision of the years of the Great Change.

And he was, he tells us, a 'Modern State' man 'by instinct' from

the beginning. He breathed in these ideas in the class rooms and

laboratories of the Carnegie Foundation school that rose, a long

and delicately beautiful facade, along the South Bank of the

Thames opposite the ancient dignity of Somerset House. Such

thought was interwoven with the very fabric of that pioneer

school in the educational renascence in England. After the

customary exchange years in Heidelberg and Paris, he went into

the classical school of London University. The older so-called

'classical' education of the British pedagogues, probably the

most paralysing, ineffective, and foolish routine that ever

wasted human life, had already been swept out of this great

institution in favour of modern methods; and he learnt Greek and

Latin as well as he had learnt German, Spanish, and French, so

that he wrote and spoke them freely, and used them with an

unconscious ease in his study of the foundation civilisations of

the European system to which they were the key. (This change was

still so recent that he mentions an encounter in Rome with an

'Oxford don' who 'spoke Latin with a Wiltshire accent and

manifest discomfort, wrote Greek letters with his tongue out, and

seemed to think a Greek sentence a charm when it was a quotation

and an impropriety when it wasn't.')

Barnet saw the last days of the coal-steam engines upon the

English railways and the gradual cleansing of the London

atmosphere as the smoke-creating sea-coal fires gave place to

electric heating. The building of laboratories at Kensington was

still in progress, and he took part in the students' riots that

delayed the removal of the Albert Memorial. He carried a banner

with 'We like Funny Statuary' on one side, and on the other

'Seats and Canopies for Statues, Why should our Great Departed

Stand in the Rain?' He learnt the rather athletic aviation of

those days at the University grounds at Sydenham, and he was

fined for flying over the new prison for political libellers at

Wormwood Scrubs, 'in a manner calculated to exhilarate the

prisoners while at exercise.' That was the time of the attempted

suppression of any criticism of the public judicature and the

place was crowded with journalists who had ventured to call

attention to the dementia of Chief Justice Abrahams. Barnet was

not a very good aviator, he confesses he was always a little

afraid of his machine-there was excellent reason for every one

to be afraid of those clumsy early types-and he never attempted

steep descents or very high flying. He also, he records, owned

one of those oil-driven motor-bicycles whose clumsy complexity

and extravagant filthiness still astonish the visitors to the

museum of machinery at South Kensington. He mentions running

over a dog and complains of the ruinous price of 'spatchcocks' in

Surrey. 'Spatchcocks,' it seems, was a slang term for crushed

hens.

He passed the examinations necessary to reduce his military

service to a minimum, and his want of any special scientific or

technical qualification and a certain precocious corpulence that

handicapped his aviation indicated the infantry of the line as

his sphere of training. That was the most generalised form of

soldiering. The development of the theory of war had been for

some decades but little assisted by any practical experience.

What fighting had occurred in recent years, had been fighting in

minor or uncivilised states, with peasant or barbaric soldiers

and with but a small equipment of modern contrivances, and the

great powers of the world were content for the most part to

maintain armies that sustained in their broader organisation the

traditions of the European wars of thirty and forty years before.

There was the infantry arm to which Barnet belonged and which was

supposed to fight on foot with a rifle and be the main portion of

the army. There were cavalry forces (horse soldiers), having a

ratio to the infantry that had been determined by the experiences

of the Franco-German war in 1871. There was also artillery, and

for some unexplained reason much of this was still drawn by

horses; though there were also in all the European armies a small

number of motor-guns with wheels so constructed that they could

go over broken ground. In addition there were large developments

of the engineering arm, concerned with motor transport,

motor-bicycle scouting, aviation, and the like.

No first-class intelligence had been sought to specialise in and

work out the problem of warfare with the new appliances and under

modern conditions, but a succession of able jurists, Lord

Haldane, Chief Justice Briggs, and that very able King's Counsel,

Philbrick, had reconstructed the army frequently and thoroughly

and placed it at last, with the adoption of national service,

upon a footing that would have seemed very imposing to the public

of 1900. At any moment the British Empire could now put a

million and a quarter of arguable soldiers upon the board of

Welt-Politik. The traditions of Japan and the Central European

armies were more princely and less forensic; the Chinese still

refused resolutely to become a military power, and maintained a

small standing army upon the American model that was said, so far

as it went, to be highly efficient, and Russia, secured by a

stringent administration against internal criticism, had scarcely

altered the design of a uniform or the organisation of a battery

since the opening decades of the century. Barnet's opinion of his

military training was manifestly a poor one, his Modern State

ideas disposed him to regard it as a bore, and his common sense

condemned it as useless. Moreover, his habit of body made him

peculiarly sensitive to the fatigues and hardships of service.

'For three days in succession we turned out before dawn and-for

no earthly reason-without breakfast,' he relates. 'I suppose

that is to show us that when the Day comes the first thing will

be to get us thoroughly uncomfortable and rotten. We then

proceeded to Kriegspiel, according to the mysterious ideas of

those in authority over us. On the last day we spent three hours

under a hot if early sun getting over eight miles of country to a

point we could have reached in a motor omnibus in nine minutes

and a half-I did it the next day in that-and then we made a

massed attack upon entrenchments that could have shot us all

about three times over if only the umpires had let them. Then

came a little bayonet exercise, but I doubt if Iam sufficiently

a barbarian to stick this long knife into anything living. Anyhow

in this battle I shouldn't have had a chance. Assuming that by

some miracle I hadn't been shot three times over, I was far too

hot and blown when I got up to the entrenchments even to lift my

beastly rifle. It was those others would have begun the

sticking…

'For a time we were watched by two hostile aeroplanes; then our

own came up and asked them not to, and-the practice of aerial

warfare still being unknown-they very politely desisted and went

away and did dives and circles of the most charming description

over the Fox Hills.'

All Barnet's accounts of his military training were written in

the same half-contemptuous, half-protesting tone. He was of

opinion that his chances of participating in any real warfare

were very slight, and that, if after all he should participate,

it was bound to be so entirely different from these peace

manoeuvres that his only course as a rational man would be to

keep as observantly out of danger as he could until he had learnt

the tricks and possibilities of the new conditions. He states

this quite frankly. Never was a man more free from sham heroics.

Section 6

Barnet welcomed the appearance of the atomic engine with the zest

of masculine youth in all fresh machinery, and it is evident that

for some time he failed to connect the rush of wonderful new

possibilities with the financial troubles of his family. 'I knew

my father was worried,' he admits. That cast the smallest of

shadows upon his delighted departure for Italy and Greece and

Egypt with three congenial companions in one of the new atomic

models. They flew over the Channel Isles and Touraine, he

mentions, and circled about Mont Blanc-'These new helicopters,

we found,' he notes, 'had abolished all the danger and strain of

sudden drops to which the old-time aeroplanes were liable'-and

then he went on by way of Pisa, Paestum, Ghirgenti, and Athens,

to visit the pyramids by moonlight, flying thither from Cairo,

and to follow the Nile up to Khartum. Even by later standards,

it must have been a very gleeful holiday for a young man, and it

made the tragedy of his next experiences all the darker. A week

after his return his father, who was a widower, announced himself

ruined, and committed suicide by means of an unscheduled opiate.

At one blow Barnet found himself flung out of the possessing,

spending, enjoying class to which he belonged, penniless and with

no calling by which he could earn a living. He tried teaching

and some journalism, but in a little while he found himself on

the underside of a world in which he had always reckoned to live

in the sunshine. For innumerable men such an experience has

meant mental and spiritual destruction, but Barnet, in spite of

his bodily gravitation towards comfort, showed himself when put

to the test, of the more valiant modern quality. He was saturated

with the creative stoicism of the heroic times that were already

dawning, and he took his difficulties and discomforts stoutly as

his appointed material, and turned them to expression.

Indeed, in his book, he thanks fortune for them. 'I might have

lived and died,' he says, 'in that neat fool's paradise of secure

lavishness above there. I might never have realised the

gathering wrath and sorrow of the ousted and exasperated masses.

In the days of my own prosperity things had seemed to me to be

very well arranged.' Now from his new point of view he was to

find they were not arranged at all; that government was a

compromise of aggressions and powers and lassitudes, and law a

convention between interests, and that the poor and the weak,

though they had many negligent masters, had few friends.

'I had thought things were looked after,' he wrote. 'It was with

a kind of amazement that I tramped the roads and starved-and

found that no one in particular cared.'

He was turned out of his lodging in a backward part of London.

'It was with difficulty I persuaded my landlady-she was a needy

widow, poor soul, and I was already in her debt-to keep an old

box for me in which I had locked a few letters, keepsakes, and

the like. She lived in great fear of the Public Health and

Morality Inspectors, because she was sometimes too poor to pay

the customary tip to them, but at last she consented to put it in

a dark tiled place under the stairs, and then I went forth into

the world-to seek first the luck of a meal and then shelter.'

He wandered down into the thronging gayer parts of London, in

which a year or so ago he had been numbered among the spenders.

London, under the Visible Smoke Law, by which any production of

visible smoke with or without excuse was punishable by a fine,

had already ceased to be the sombre smoke-darkened city of the

Victorian time; it had been, and indeed was, constantly being

rebuilt, and its main streets were already beginning to take on

those characteristics that distinguished them throughout the

latter half of the twentieth century. The insanitary horse and

the plebeian bicycle had been banished from the roadway, which

was now of a resilient, glass-like surface, spotlessly clean; and

the foot passenger was restricted to a narrow vestige of the

ancient footpath on either side of the track and forbidden at the

risk of a fine, if he survived, to cross the roadway. People

descended from their automobiles upon this pavement and went

through the lower shops to the lifts and stairs to the new ways

for pedestrians, the Rows, that ran along the front of the houses

at the level of the first story, and, being joined by frequent

bridges, gave the newer parts of London a curiously Venetian

appearance. In some streets there were upper and even third-story

Rows. For most of the day and all night the shop windows were

lit by electric light, and many establishments had made, as it

were, canals of public footpaths through their premises in order

to increase their window space.

Barnet made his way along this night-scene rather apprehensively

since the police had power to challenge and demand the Labour

Card of any indigent-looking person, and if the record failed to

show he was in employment, dismiss him to the traffic pavement

below.

But there was still enough of his former gentility about Barnet's

appearance and bearing to protect him from this; the police, too,

had other things to think of that night, and he was permitted to

reach the galleries about Leicester Square-that great focus of

London life and pleasure.

He gives a vivid description of the scene that evening. In the

centre was a garden raised on arches lit by festoons of lights

and connected with the Rows by eight graceful bridges, beneath

which hummed the interlacing streams of motor traffic, pulsating

as the current alternated between east and west and north and

south. Above rose great frontages of intricate rather than

beautiful reinforced porcelain, studded with lights, barred by

bold illuminated advertisements, and glowing with reflections.

There were the two historical music halls of this place, the

Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, in which the municipal players

revolved perpetually through the cycle of Shakespeare's plays,

and four other great houses of refreshment and entertainment

whose pinnacles streamed up into the blue obscurity of the night.

The south side of the square was in dark contrast to the others;

it was still being rebuilt, and a lattice of steel bars

surmounted by the frozen gestures of monstrous cranes rose over

the excavated sites of vanished Victorian buildings.

This framework attracted Barnet's attention for a time to the

exclusion of other interests. It was absolutely still, it had a

dead rigidity, a stricken inaction, no one was at work upon it

and all its machinery was quiet; but the constructor's globes of

vacuum light filled its every interstice with a quivering green

moonshine and showed alert but motionless-soldier sentinels!

He asked a passing stroller, and was told that the men had struck

that day against the use of an atomic riveter that would have

doubled the individual efficiency and halved the number of steel

workers.

'Shouldn't wonder if they didn't get chucking bombs,' said

Barnet's informant, hovered for a moment, and then went on his

way to the Alhambra music hall.

Barnet became aware of an excitement in the newspaper kiosks at

the corners of the square. Something very sensational had been

flashed upon the transparencies. Forgetting for a moment his

penniless condition, he made his way over a bridge to buy a

paper, for in those days the papers, which were printed upon thin

sheets of metallic foil, were sold at determinate points by

specially licensed purveyors. Half over, he stopped short at a

change in the traffic below; and was astonished to see that the

police signals were restricting vehicles to the half roadway.

When presently he got within sight of the transparencies that had

replaced the placards of Victorian times, he read of the Great

March of the Unemployed that was already in progress through the

West End, and so without expenditure he was able to understand

what was coming.

He watched, and his book describes this procession which the

police had considered it unwise to prevent and which had been

spontaneously organised in imitation of the Unemployed

Processions of earlier times. He had expected a mob but there was

a kind of sullen discipline about the procession when at last it

arrived. What seemed for a time an unending column of men

marched wearily, marched with a kind of implacable futility,

along the roadway underneath him. He was, he says, moved to join

them, but instead he remained watching. They were a dingy,

shabby, ineffective-looking multitude, for the most part

incapable of any but obsolete and superseded types of labour.

They bore a few banners with the time-honoured inscription:

'Work, not Charity,' but otherwise their ranks were unadorned.

They were not singing, they were not even talking, there was

nothing truculent nor aggressive in their bearing, they had no

definite objective they were just marching and showing themselves

in the more prosperous parts of London. They were a sample of

that great mass of unskilled cheap labour which the now still

cheaper mechanical powers had superseded for evermore. They were

being 'scrapped'-as horses had been 'scrapped.'

Barnet leant over the parapet watching them, his mind quickened

by his own precarious condition. For a time, he says, he felt

nothing but despair at the sight; what should be done, what could

be done for this gathering surplus of humanity? They were so

manifestly useless-and incapable-and pitiful.

What were they asking for?

They had been overtaken by unexpected things. Nobody had

foreseen--

It flashed suddenly into his mind just what the multitudinous

shambling enigma below meant. It was an appeal against the

unexpected, an appeal to those others who, more fortunate, seemed

wiser and more powerful, for something-for INTELLIGENCE. This

mute mass, weary footed, rank following rank, protested its

persuasion that some of these others must have foreseen these

dislocations-that anyhow they ought to have foreseen-and

arranged.

That was what this crowd of wreckage was feeling and seeking so

dumbly to assert.

'Things came to me like the turning on of a light in a darkened

room,' he says. 'These men were praying to their fellow

creatures as once they prayed to God! The last thing that men

will realise about anything is that it is inanimate. They had

transferred their animation to mankind. They still believed

there was intelligence somewhere, even if it was careless or

malignant… It had only to be aroused to be

conscience-stricken, to be moved to exertion… And I saw, too,

that as yet THERE WAS NO SUCH INTELLIGENCE. The world waits for

intelligence. That intelligence has still to be made, that will

for good and order has still to be gathered together, out of

scraps of impulse and wandering seeds of benevolence and whatever

is fine and creative in our souls, into a common purpose. It's

something still to come…'

It is characteristic of the widening thought of the time that

this not very heroical young man who, in any previous age, might

well have been altogether occupied with the problem of his own

individual necessities, should be able to stand there and

generalise about the needs of the race.

But upon all the stresses and conflicts of that chaotic time

there was already dawning the light of a new era. The spirit of

humanity was escaping, even then it was escaping, from its

extreme imprisonment in individuals. Salvation from the bitter

intensities of self, which had been a conscious religious end for

thousands of years, which men had sought in mortifications, in

the wilderness, in meditation, and by innumerable strange paths,

was coming at last with the effect of naturalness into the talk

of men, into the books they read, into their unconscious

gestures, into their newspapers and daily purposes and everyday

acts. The broad horizons, the magic possibilities that the spirit

of the seeker had revealed to them, were charming them out of

those ancient and instinctive preoccupations from which the very

threat of hell and torment had failed to drive them. And this

young man, homeless and without provision even for the immediate

hours, in the presence of social disorganisation, distress, and

perplexity, in a blazing wilderness of thoughtlesspleasure that

blotted out the stars, could think as he tells us he thought.

'I saw life plain,' he wrote. 'I saw the gigantic task before

us, and the very splendour of its intricate and immeasurable

difficulty filled me with exaltation. I saw that we have still

to discover government, that we have still to discover education,

which is the necessary reciprocal of government, and that all

this-in which my own little speck of a life was so manifestly

overwhelmed-this and its yesterday in Greece and Rome and Egypt

were nothing, the mere first dust swirls of the beginning, the

movements and dim murmurings of a sleeper who will presently be

awake…'

Section 7

And then the story tells, with an engaging simplicity, of his

descent from this ecstatic vision of reality.

'Presently I found myself again, and I was beginning to feel cold

and a little hungry.'

He bethought himself of the John Burns Relief Offices which stood

upon the Thames Embankment. He made his way through the

galleries of the booksellers and the National Gallery, which had

been open continuously day and night to all decently dressed

people now for more than twelve years, and across the

rose-gardens of Trafalgar Square, and so by the hotel colonnade

to the Embankment. He had long known of these admirable offices,

which had swept the last beggars and matchsellers and all the

casual indigent from the London streets, and he believed that he

would, as a matter of course, be able to procure a ticket for

food and a night's lodgings and some indication of possible

employment.

But he had not reckoned upon the new labour troubles, and when he

got to the Embankment he found the offices hopelessly congested

and besieged by a large and rather unruly crowd. He hovered for

a time on the outskirts of the waiting multitude, perplexed and

dismayed, and then he became aware of a movement, a purposive

trickling away of people, up through the arches of the great

buildings that had arisen when all the railway stations were

removed to the south side of the river, and so to the covered

ways of the Strand. And here, in the open glare of midnight, he

found unemployed men begging, and not only begging, but begging

with astonishing assurance, from the people who were emerging

from the small theatres and other such places of entertainment

which abounded in that thoroughfare.

This was an altogether unexampled thing. There had been no

begging in London streets for a quarter of a century. But that

night the police were evidently unwilling or unable to cope with

the destitute who were invading those well-kept quarters of the

town. They had become stonily blind to anything but manifest

disorder.

Barnet walked through the crowd, unable to bring himself to ask;

indeed his bearing must have been more valiant than his

circumstances, for twice he says that he was begged from. Near

the Trafalgar Square gardens, a girl with reddened cheeks and

blackened eyebrows, who was walking alone, spoke to him with a

peculiar friendliness.

'I'm starving,' he said to her abruptly.

'Oh! poor dear!' she said; and with the impulsive generosity of

her kind, glanced round and slipped a silver piece into his

hand…

It was a gift that, in spite of the precedent of De Quincey,

might under the repressive social legislation of those times,

have brought Barnet within reach of the prison lash. But he took

it, he confesses, and thanked her as well as he was able, and

went off very gladly to get food.

Section 8

A day or so later-and again his freedom to go as he pleased upon

the roads may be taken as a mark of increasing social

disorganisation and police embarrassment-he wandered out into

the open country. He speaks of the roads of that plutocratic age

as being 'fenced with barbed wire against unpropertied people,'

of the high-walled gardens and trespass warnings that kept him to

the dusty narrowness of the public ways. In the air, happy rich

people were flying, heedless of the misfortunes about them, as he

himself had been flying two years ago, and along the road swept

the new traffic, light and swift and wonderful. One was rarely

out of earshot of its whistles and gongs and siren cries even in

the field paths or over the open downs. The officials of the

labour exchanges were everywhere overworked and infuriated, the

casual wards were so crowded that the surplus wanderers slept in

ranks under sheds or in the open air, and since giving to

wayfarers had been made a punishable offence there was no longer

friendship or help for a man from the rare foot passenger or the

wayside cottage…

'I wasn't angry,' said Barnet. 'I saw an immense selfishness, a

monstrous disregard for anything but pleasure and possession in

all those people above us, but I saw how inevitable that was, how

certainly if the richest had changed places with the poorest,

that things would have been the same. What else can happen when

men use science and every new thing that science gives, and all

their available intelligence and energy to manufacture wealth and

appliances, and leave government and education to the rustling

traditions of hundreds of years ago? Those traditions come from

the dark ages when there was really not enough for every one,

when life was a fierce struggle that might be masked but could

not be escaped. Of course this famine grabbing, this fierce

dispossession of others, must follow from such a disharmony

between material and training. Of course the rich were vulgar and

the poor grew savage and every added power that came to men made

the rich richer and the poor less necessary and less free. The

men I met in the casual wards and the relief offices were all

smouldering for revolt, talking of justice and injustice and

revenge. I saw no hope in that talk, nor in anything but

patience…'

But he did not mean a passivepatience. He meant that the method

of social reconstruction was still a riddle, that no effectual

rearrangement was possible until this riddle in all its tangled

aspects was solved. 'I tried to talk to those discontented men,'

he wrote, 'but it was hard for them to see things as I saw them.

When I talked of patience and the larger scheme, they answered,

"But then we shall all be dead"-and I could not make them see,

what is so simple to my own mind, that that did not affect the

question. Men who think in lifetimes are of no use to

statesmanship.'

He does not seem to have seen a newspaper during those

wanderings, and a chance sight of the transparency of a kiosk in

the market-place at Bishop's Stortford announcing a 'Grave

International Situation' did not excite him very much. There had

been so many grave international situations in recent years.

This time it was talk of the Central European powers suddenly

attacking the Slav Confederacy, with France and England going to

the help of the Slavs.

But the next night he found a tolerable meal awaiting the

vagrants in the casual ward, and learnt from the workhouse master

that all serviceable trained men were to be sent back on the

morrow to their mobilisation centres. The country was on the eve

of war. He was to go back through London to Surrey. His first

feeling, he records, was one of extreme relief that his days of

'hopeless battering at the underside of civilisation' were at an

end. Here was something definite to do, something definitely

provided for. But his relief was greatly modified when he found

that the mobilisation arrangements had been made so hastily and

carelessly that for nearly thirty-six hours at the improvised

depot at Epsom he got nothing either to eat or to drink but a cup

of cold water. The depot was absolutely unprovisioned, and no one

was free to leave it.

CHAPTER THE SECOND

THE LAST WAR

Section I

Viewed from the standpoint of a sane and ambitious social order,

it is difficult to understand, and it would be tedious to follow,

the motives that plunged mankind into the war that fills the

histories of the middle decades of the twentieth century.

It must always be remembered that the political structure of the

world at that time was everywhere extraordinarily behind the

collective intelligence. That is the central fact of that

history. For two hundred years there had been no great changes in

political or legal methods and pretensions, the utmost change had

been a certain shifting of boundaries and slight readjustment of

procedure, while in nearly every other aspect of life there had

been fundamental revolutions, gigantic releases, and an enormous

enlargement of scope and outlook. The absurdities of courts and

the indignities of representative parliamentary government,

coupled with the opening of vast fields of opportunity in other

directions, had withdrawn the best intelligences more and more

from public affairs. The ostensible governments of the world in

the twentieth century were following in the wake of the

ostensible religions. They were ceasing to command the services

of any but second-rate men. After the middle of the eighteenth

century there are no more great ecclesiastics upon the world's

memory, after the opening of the twentieth no more statesmen.

Everywhere one finds an energetic, ambitious, short-sighted,

common-place type in the seats of authority, blind to the new

possibilities and litigiously reliant upon the traditions of the

past.

Perhaps the most dangerous of those outworn traditions were the

boundaries of the various 'sovereign states,' and the conception

of a general predominance in human affairs on the part of some

one particular state. The memory of the empires of Rome and

Alexander squatted, an unlaid carnivorous ghost, in the human

imagination-it bored into the human brain like some grisly

parasite and filled it with disordered thoughts and violent

impulses. For more than a century the French system exhausted

its vitality in belligerent convulsions, and then the infection

passed to the German-speaking peoples who were the heart and

centre of Europe, and from them onward to the Slavs. Later ages

were to store and neglect the vast insane literature of this

obsession, the intricate treaties, the secret agreements, the

infinite knowingness of the political writer, the cunning

refusals to accept plain facts, the strategic devices, the

tactical manoeuvres, the records of mobilisations and

counter-mobilisations. It ceased to be credible almost as soon as

it ceased to happen, but in the very dawn of the new age their

state craftsmen sat with their historical candles burning, and,

in spite of strange, new reflections and unfamiliar lights and

shadows, still wrangling and planning to rearrange the maps of

Europe and the world.

It was to become a matter for subtle inquiry how far the millions

of men and women outside the world of these specialists

sympathised and agreed with their portentous activities. One

school of psychologists inclined to minimise this participation,

but the balance of evidence goes to show that there were massive

responses to these suggestions of the belligerent schemer.

Primitive man had been a fiercely combative animal; innumerable

generations had passed their lives in tribal warfare, and the

weight of tradition, the example of history, the ideals of

loyalty and devotion fell in easily enough with the incitements

of the international mischief-maker. The political ideas of the

common man were picked up haphazard, there was practically

nothing in such education as he was given that was ever intended

to fit him for citizenship as such (that conception only

appeared, indeed, with the development of Modern State ideas),

and it was therefore a comparatively easy matter to fill his

vacant mind with the sounds and fury of exasperated suspicion and

national aggression.

For example, Barnet describes the London crowd as noisily

patriotic when presently his battalion came up from the depot to

London, to entrain for the French frontier. He tells of children

and women and lads and old men cheering and shouting, of the

streets and rows hung with the flags of the Allied Powers, of a

real enthusiasm even among the destitute and unemployed. The

Labour Bureaux were now partially transformed into enrolment

offices, and were centres of hotly patriotic excitement. At

every convenient place upon the line on either side of the

Channel Tunnel there were enthusiastic spectators, and the

feeling in the regiment, if a little stiffened and darkened by

grim anticipations, was none the less warlike.

But all this emotion was the fickle emotion of minds without

established ideas; it was with most of them, Barnet says, as it

was with himself, a natural response to collective movement, and

to martial sounds and colours, and the exhilarating challenge of

vague dangers. And people had been so long oppressed by the

threat of and preparation for war that its arrival came with an

effect of positive relief.

Section 2

The plan of campaign of the Allies assigned the defence of the

lower Meuse to the English, and the troop-trains were run direct

from the various British depots to the points in the Ardennes

where they were intended to entrench themselves.

Most of the documents bearing upon the campaign were destroyed

during the war, from the first the scheme of the Allies seems to

have been confused, but it is highly probable that the formation

of an aerial park in this region, from which attacks could be

made upon the vast industrial plant of the lower Rhine, and a

flanking raid through Holland upon the German naval

establishments at the mouth of the Elbe, were integral parts of

the original project. Nothing of this was known to such pawns in

the game as Barnet and his company, whose business it was to do

what they were told by the mysterious intelligences at the

direction of things in Paris, to which city the Whitehall staff

had also been transferred. From first to last these directing

intelligences remained mysterious to the body of the army, veiled

under the name of 'Orders.' There was no Napoleon, no Caesar to

embody enthusiasm. Barnet says, 'We talked of Them. THEY are

sending us up into Luxembourg. THEY are going to turn the

Central European right.'

Behind the veil of this vagueness the little group of more or

less worthy men which constituted Headquarters was beginning to

realise the enormity of the thing it was supposed to control…

In the great hall of the War Control, whose windows looked out

across the Seine to the Trocadero and the palaces of the western

quarter, a series of big-scale relief maps were laid out upon

tables to display the whole seat of war, and the staff-officers

of the control were continually busy shifting the little blocks

which represented the contending troops, as the reports and

intelligence came drifting in to the various telegraphic bureaux

in the adjacent rooms. In other smaller apartments there were

maps of a less detailed sort, upon which, for example, the

reports of the British Admiralty and of the Slav commanders were

recorded as they kept coming to hand. Upon these maps, as upon

chessboards, Marshal Dubois, in consultation with General Viard

and the Earl of Delhi, was to play the great game for world

supremacy against the Central European powers. Very probably he

had a definite idea of his game; very probably he had a coherent

and admirable plan.

But he had reckoned without a proper estimate either of the new

strategy of aviation or of the possibilities of atomic energy

that Holsten had opened for mankind. While he planned

entrenchments and invasions and a frontier war, the Central

European generalship was striking at the eyes and the brain. And

while, with a certain diffident hesitation, he developed his

gambit that night upon the lines laid down by Napoleon and

Moltke, his own scientific corps in a state of mutinous activity

was preparing a blow for Berlin. 'These old fools!' was the key

in which the scientific corps was thinking.

The War Control in Paris, on the night of July the second, was an

impressive display of the paraphernalia of scientific military

organisation, as the first half of the twentieth century

understood it. To one human being at least the consulting

commanders had the likeness of world-wielding gods.

She was a skilled typist, capable of nearly sixty words a minute,

and she had been engaged in relay with other similar women to

take down orders in duplicate and hand them over to the junior

officers in attendance, to be forwarded and filed. There had

come a lull, and she had been sent out from the dictating room to

take the air upon the terrace before the great hall and to eat

such scanty refreshment as she had brought with her until her

services were required again.

From her position upon the terrace this young woman had a view

not only of the wide sweep of the river below her, and all the

eastward side of Paris from the Arc de Triomphe to Saint Cloud,

great blocks and masses of black or pale darkness with pink and

golden flashes of illumination and endless interlacing bands of

dotted lights under a still and starless sky, but also the whole

spacious interior of the great hall with its slender pillars and

gracious arching and clustering lamps was visible to her. There,

over a wilderness of tables, lay the huge maps, done on so large

a scale that one might fancy them small countries; the messengers

and attendants went and came perpetually, altering, moving the

little pieces that signified hundreds and thousands of men, and

the great commander and his two consultants stood amidst all

these things and near where the fighting was nearest, scheming,

directing. They had but to breathe a word and presently away

there, in the world of reality, the punctual myriads moved. Men

rose up and went forward and died. The fate of nations lay behind

the eyes of these three men. Indeed they were like gods.

Most godlike of the three was Dubois. It was for him to decide;

the others at most might suggest. Her woman's soul went out to

this grave, handsome, still, old man, in a passion of instinctive

worship.

Once she had taken words of instruction from him direct. She had

awaited them in an ecstasy of happiness-and fear. For her

exaltation was made terrible by the dread that some error might

dishonour her…

She watched him now through the glass with all the unpenetrating

minuteness of an impassioned woman's observation.

He said little, she remarked. He looked but little at the maps.

The tall Englishman beside him was manifestly troubled by a swarm

of ideas, conflicting ideas; he craned his neck at every shifting

of the little red, blue, black, and yellow pieces on the board,

and wanted to draw the commander's attention to this and that.

Dubois listened, nodded, emitted a word and became still again,

brooding like the national eagle.

His eyes were so deeply sunken under his white eyebrows that she

could not see his eyes; his moustache overhung the mouth from

which those words of decision came. Viard, too, said little; he

was a dark man with a drooping head and melancholy, watchful

eyes. He was more intent upon the French right, which was feeling

its way now through Alsace to the Rhine. He was, she knew, an

old colleague of Dubois; he knew him better, she decided, he

trusted him more than this unfamiliar Englishman…

Not to talk, to remain impassive and as far as possible in

profile; these were the lessons that old Dubois had mastered

years ago. To seem to know all, to betray no surprise, to refuse

to hurry-itself a confession of miscalculation; by attention to

these simple rules, Dubois had built up a steady reputation from

the days when he had been a promising junior officer, a still,

almost abstracted young man, deliberate but ready. Even then men

had looked at him and said: 'He will go far.' Through fifty

years of peace he had never once been found wanting, and at

manoeuvres his impassive persistence had perplexed and hypnotised

and defeated many a more actively intelligent man. Deep in his

soul Dubois had hidden his one profound discovery about the

modern art of warfare, the key to his career. And this discovery

was that NOBODY KNEW, that to act therefore was to blunder, that

to talk was to confess; and that the man who acted slowly and

steadfastly and above all silently, had the best chance of

winning through. Meanwhile one fed the men. Now by this same

strategy he hoped to shatter those mysterious unknowns of the

Central European command. Delhi might talk of a great flank march

through Holland, with all the British submarines and hydroplanes

and torpedo craft pouring up the Rhine in support of it; Viard

might crave for brilliance with the motor bicycles, aeroplanes,

and ski-men among the Swiss mountains, and a sudden swoop upon

Vienna; the thing was to listen-and wait for the other side to

begin experimenting. It was all experimenting. And meanwhile he

remained in profile, with an air of assurance-like a man who

sits in an automobile after the chauffeur has had his directions.

And every one about him was the stronger and surer for that quiet

face, that air of knowledge and unruffled confidence. The

clustering lights threw a score of shadows of him upon the maps,

great bunches of him, versions of a commanding presence, lighter

or darker, dominated the field, and pointed in every direction.

Those shadows symbolised his control. When a messenger came from

the wireless room to shift this or that piece in the game, to

replace under amended reports one Central European regiment by a

score, to draw back or thrust out or distribute this or that

force of the Allies, the Marshal would turn his head and seem not

to see, or look and nod slightly, as a master nods who approves a

pupil's self-correction. 'Yes, that's better.'

How wonderful he was, thought the woman at the window, how

wonderful it all was. This was the brain of the western world,

this was Olympus with the warring earth at its feet. And he was

guiding France, France so long a resentful exile from

imperialism, back to her old predominance.

It seemed to her beyond the desert of a woman that she should be

privileged to participate…

It is hard to be a woman, full of the stormy impulse to personal

devotion, and to have to be impersonal, abstract, exact,

punctual. She must control herself

She gave herself up to fantastic dreams, dreams of the days when

the war would be over and victory enthroned. Then perhaps this

harshness, this armour would be put aside and the gods might

unbend. Her eyelids drooped…

She roused herself with a start. She became aware that the night

outside was no longer still. That there was an excitement down

below on the bridge and a running in the street and a flickering

of searchlights among the clouds from some high place away beyond

the Trocadero. And then the excitement came surging up past her

and invaded the hall within.

One of the sentinels from the terrace stood at the upper end of

the room, gesticulating and shouting something.

And all the world had changed. A kind of throbbing. She couldn't

understand. It was as if all the water-pipes and concealed

machinery and cables of the ways beneath, were beating-as pulses

beat. And about her blew something like a wind-a wind that was

dismay.

Her eyes went to the face of the Marshal as a frightened child

might look towards its mother.

He was still serene. He was frowning slightly, she thought, but

that was natural enough, for the Earl of Delhi, with one hand

gauntly gesticulating, had taken him by the arm and was all too

manifestly disposed to drag him towards the great door that

opened on the terrace. And Viard was hurrying towards the huge

windows and doing so in the strangest of attitudes, bent forward

and with eyes upturned.

Something up there?

And then it was as if thunder broke overhead.

The sound struck her like a blow. She crouched together against

the masonry and looked up. She saw three black shapes swooping

down through the torn clouds, and from a point a little below two

of them, there had already started curling trails of red…

Everything else in her being was paralysed, she hung through

moments that seemed infinities, watching those red missiles whirl

down towards her.

She felt torn out of the world. There was nothing else in the

world but a crimson-purple glare and sound, deafening,

all-embracing, continuing sound. Every other light had gone out

about her and against this glare hung slanting walls, pirouetting

pillars, projecting fragments of cornices, and a disorderly

flight of huge angular sheets of glass. She had an impression of

a great ball of crimson-purple fire like a maddened living thing

that seemed to be whirling about very rapidly amidst a chaos of

falling masonry, that seemed to be attacking the earth furiously,

that seemed to be burrowing into it like a blazing rabbit…

She had all the sensations of waking up out of a dream.

She found she was lying face downward on a bank of mould and that

a little rivulet of hot water was running over one foot. She

tried to raise herself and found her leg was very painful. She

was not clear whether it was night or day nor where she was; she

made a second effort, wincing and groaning, and turned over and

got into a sitting position and looked about her.

Everything seemed very silent. She was, in fact, in the midst of

a vast uproar, but she did not realise this because her hearing

had been destroyed.

At first she could not join on what she saw to any previous

experience.

She seemed to be in a strange world, a soundless, ruinous world,

a world of heaped broken things. And it was lit-and somehow

this was more familiar to her mind than any other fact about

her-by a flickering, purplish-crimson light. Then close to her,

rising above a confusion of debris, she recognised the Trocadero;

it was changed, something had gone from it, but its outline was

unmistakable. It stood out against a streaming, whirling uprush

of red-lit steam. And with that she recalled Paris and the Seine

and the warm, overcast evening and the beautiful, luminous

organisation of the War Control…

She drew herself a little way up the slope of earth on which she

lay, and examined her surroundings with an increasing

understanding

The earth on which she was lying projected like a cape into the

river. Quite close to her was a brimming lake of dammed-up water,

from which these warm rivulets and torrents were trickling. Wisps

of vapour came into circling existence a foot or so from its

mirror-surface. Near at hand and reflected exactly in the water

was the upper part of a familiar-looking stone pillar. On the

side of her away from the water the heaped ruins rose steeply in

a confused slope up to a glaring crest. Above and reflecting

this glare towered pillowed masses of steam rolling swiftly

upward to the zenith. It was from this crest that the livid glow

that lit the world about her proceeded, and slowly her mind

connected this mound with the vanished buildings of the War

Control.

'Mais!' she whispered, and remained with staring eyes quite

motionless for a time, crouching close to the warm earth.

Then presently this dim, broken human thing began to look about

it again. She began to feel the need of fellowship. She wanted

to question, wanted to speak, wanted to relate her experience.

And her foot hurt her atrociously. There ought to be an

ambulance. A little gust of querulous criticisms blew across her

mind. This surely was a disaster! Always after a disaster there

should be ambulances and helpers moving about…

She craned her head. There was something there. But everything

was so still!

'Monsieur!' she cried. Her ears, she noted, felt queer, and she

began to suspect that all was not well with them.

It was terribly lonely in this chaotic strangeness, and perhaps

this man-if it was a man, for it was difficult to see-might for

all his stillness be merely insensible. He might have been

stunned…

The leaping glare beyond sent a ray into his corner and for a

moment every little detail was distinct. It was Marshal Dubois.

He was lying against a huge slab of the war map. To it there

stuck and from it there dangled little wooden objects, the

symbols of infantry and cavalry and guns, as they were disposed

upon the frontier. He did not seem to be aware of this at his

back, he had an effect of inattention, not indifferent attention,

but as if he were thinking

She could not see the eyes beneath his shaggy brows, but it was

evident he frowned. He frowned slightly, he had an air of not

wanting to be disturbed. His face still bore that expression of

assured confidence, that conviction that if things were left to

him France might obey in security…

She did not cry out to him again, but she crept a little nearer.

A strange surmise made her eyes dilate. With a painful wrench

she pulled herself up so that she could see completely over the

intervening lumps of smashed-up masonry. Her hand touched

something wet, and after one convulsive movement she became

rigid.

It was not a whole man there; it was a piece of a man, the head

and shoulders of a man that trailed down into a ragged darkness

and a pool of shining black…

And even as she stared the mound above her swayed and crumbled,

and a rush of hot water came pouring over her. Then it seemed to

her that she was dragged downward…

Section 3

When the rather brutish young aviator with the bullet head and

the black hair close-cropped en brosse, who was in charge of the

French special scientific corps, heard presently of this disaster

to the War Control, he was so wanting in imagination in any

sphere but his own, that he laughed. Small matter to him that

Paris was burning. His mother and father and sister lived at

Caudebec; and the only sweetheart he had ever had, and it was

poor love-making then, was a girl in Rouen. He slapped his

second-in-command on the shoulder. 'Now,' he said, 'there's

nothing on earth to stop us going to Berlin and giving them

tit-for-tat… Strategy and reasons of state-they're over…

Come along, my boy, and we'll just show these old women what we

can do when they let us have our heads.'

He spent five minutes telephoning and then he went out into the

courtyard of the chateau in which he had been installed and

shouted for his automobile. Things would have to move quickly

because there was scarcely an hour and a half before dawn. He

looked at the sky and noted with satisfaction a heavy bank of

clouds athwart the pallid east.

He was a young man of infinite shrewdness, and his material and

aeroplanes were scattered all over the country-side, stuck away

in barns, covered with hay, hidden in woods. A hawk could not

have discovered any of them without coming within reach of a gun.

But that night he only wanted one of the machines, and it was

handy and quite prepared under a tarpaulin between two ricks not

a couple of miles away; he was going to Berlin with that and just

one other man. Two men would be enough for what he meant to

do…

He had in his hands the black complement to all those other gifts

science was urging upon unregenerate mankind, the gift of

destruction, and he was an adventurous rather than a sympathetic

type…

He was a dark young man with something negroid about his gleaming

face. He smiled like one who is favoured and anticipates great

pleasures. There was an exotic richness, a chuckling flavour,

about the voice in which he gave his orders, and he pointed his

remarks with the long finger of a hand that was hairy and

exceptionally big.

'We'll give them tit-for-tat,' he said. 'We'll give them

tit-for-tat. No time to lose, boys…'

And presently over the cloud-banks that lay above Westphalia and

Saxony the swift aeroplane, with its atomic engine as noiseless

as a dancing sunbeam and its phosphorescent gyroscopic compass,

flew like an arrow to the heart of the Central European hosts.

It did not soar very high; it skimmed a few hundred feet above

the banked darknesses of cumulus that hid the world, ready to

plunge at once into their wet obscurities should some hostile

flier range into vision. The tense young steersman divided his

attention between the guiding stars above and the level, tumbled

surfaces of the vapour strata that hid the world below. Over

great spaces those banks lay as even as a frozen lava-flow and

almost as still, and then they were rent by ragged areas of

translucency, pierced by clear chasms, so that dim patches of the

land below gleamed remotely through abysses. Once he saw quite

distinctly the plan of a big railway station outlined in lamps

and signals, and once the flames of a burning rick showing livid

through a boiling drift of smoke on the side of some great hill.

But if the world was masked it was alive with sounds. Up through

that vapour floor came the deep roar of trains, the whistles of

horns of motor-cars, a sound of rifle fire away to the south, and

as he drew near his destination the crowing of cocks…

The sky above the indistinct horizons of this cloud sea was at

first starry and then paler with a light that crept from north to

east as the dawn came on. The Milky Way was invisible in the

blue, and the lesser stars vanished. The face of the adventurer

at the steering-wheel, darkly visible ever and again by the oval

greenish glow of the compass face, had something of that firm

beauty which all concentrated purpose gives, and something of the

happiness of an idiot child that has at last got hold of the

matches. His companion, a less imaginative type, sat with his

legs spread wide over the long, coffin-shaped box which contained

in its compartments the three atomic bombs, the new bombs that

would continue to explode indefinitely and which no one so far

had ever seen in action. Hitherto Carolinum, their essential

substance, had been tested only in almost infinitesimal

quantities within steel chambers embedded in lead. Beyond the

thought of great destruction slumbering in the black spheres

between his legs, and a keen resolve to follow out very exactly

the instructions that had been given him, the man's mind was a

blank. His aquiline profile against the starlight expressed

nothing but a profound gloom.

The sky below grew clearer as the Central European capital was

approached.

So far they had been singularly lucky and had been challenged by

no aeroplanes at all. The frontier scouts they must have passed

in the night; probably these were mostly under the clouds; the

world was wide and they had had luck in not coming close to any

soaring sentinel. Their machine was painted a pale gray, that

lay almost invisibly over the cloud levels below. But now the

east was flushing with the near ascent of the sun, Berlin was but

a score of miles ahead, and the luck of the Frenchmen held. By

imperceptible degrees the clouds below dissolved…

Away to the north-eastward, in a cloudless pool of gathering

light and with all its nocturnal illuminations still blazing, was

Berlin. The left finger of the steersman verified roads and open

spaces below upon the mica-covered square of map that was

fastened by his wheel. There in a series of lake-like expansions

was the Havel away to the right; over by those forests must be

Spandau; there the river split about the Potsdam island; and

right ahead was Charlottenburg cleft by a great thoroughfare that

fell like an indicating beam of light straight to the imperial

headquarters. There, plain enough, was the Thiergarten; beyond

rose the imperial palace, and to the right those tall buildings,

those clustering, beflagged, bemasted roofs, must be the offices

in which the Central European staff was housed. It was all coldly

clear and colourless in the dawn.

He looked up suddenly as a humming sound grew out of nothing and

became swiftly louder. Nearly overhead a German aeroplane was

circling down from an immense height to challenge him. He made a

gesture with his left arm to the gloomy man behind and then

gripped his little wheel with both hands, crouched over it, and

twisted his neck to look upward. He was attentive, tightly

strung, but quite contemptuous of their ability to hurt him. No

German alive, he was assured, could outfly him, or indeed any one

of the best Frenchmen. He imagined they might strike at him as a

hawk strikes, but they were men coming down out of the bitter

cold up there, in a hungry, spiritless, morning mood; they came

slanting down like a sword swung by a lazy man, and not so

rapidly but that he was able to slip away from under them and get

between them and Berlin. They began challenging him in German

with a megaphone when they were still perhaps a mile away. The

words came to him, rolled up into a mere blob of hoarse sound.

Then, gathering alarm from his grim silence, they gave chase and

swept down, a hundred yards above him perhaps, and a couple of

hundred behind. They were beginning to understand what he was.

He ceased to watch them and concentrated himself on the city

ahead, and for a time the two aeroplanes raced…

A bullet came tearing through the air by him, as though some one

was tearing paper. A second followed. Something tapped the

machine.

It was time to act. The broad avenues, the park, the palaces

below rushed widening out nearer and nearer to them. 'Ready!'

said the steersman.

The gaunt face hardened to grimness, and with both hands the

bomb-thrower lifted the big atomic bomb from the box and steadied

it against the side. It was a black sphere two feet in diameter.

Between its handles was a little celluloid stud, and to this he

bent his head until his lips touched it. Then he had to bite in

order to let the air in upon the inducive. Sure of its

accessibility, he craned his neck over the side of the aeroplane

and judged his pace and distance. Then very quickly he bent

forward, bit the stud, and hoisted the bomb over the side.

'Round,' he whispered inaudibly.

The bomb flashed blinding scarlet in mid-air, and fell, a

descending column of blaze eddying spirally in the midst of a

whirlwind. Both the aeroplanes were tossed like shuttlecocks,

hurled high and sideways and the steersman, with gleaming eyes

and set teeth, fought in great banking curves for a balance. The

gaunt man clung tight with hand and knees; his nostrils dilated,

his teeth biting his lips. He was firmly strapped…

When he could look down again it was like looking down upon the

crater of a small volcano. In the open garden before the

Imperial castle a shuddering star of evil splendour spurted and

poured up smoke and flame towards them like an accusation. They

were too high to distinguish people clearly, or mark the bomb's

effect upon the building until suddenly the facade tottered and

crumbled before the flare as sugar dissolves in water. The man

stared for a moment, showed all his long teeth, and then

staggered into the cramped standing position his straps

permitted, hoisted out and bit another bomb, and sent it down

after its fellow.

The explosion came this time more directly underneath the

aeroplane and shot it upward edgeways. The bomb box tipped to

the point of disgorgement, and the bomb-thrower was pitched

forward upon the third bomb with his face close to its celluloid

stud. He clutched its handles, and with a sudden gust of

determination that the thing should not escape him, bit its stud.

Before he could hurl it over, the monoplane was slipping

sideways. Everything was falling sideways. Instinctively he gave

himself up to gripping, his body holding the bomb in its place.

Then that bomb had exploded also, and steersman, thrower, and

aeroplane were just flying rags and splinters of metal and drops

of moisture in the air, and a third column of fire rushed eddying

down upon the doomed buildings below…

Section 4

Never before in the history of warfare had there been a

continuing explosive; indeed, up to the middle of the twentieth

century the only explosives known were combustibles whose

explosiveness was due entirely to their instantaneousness; and

these atomic bombs which science burst upon the world that night

were strange even to the men who used them. Those used by the

Allies were lumps of pure Carolinum, painted on the outside with

unoxidised cydonator inducive enclosed hermetically in a case of

membranium. A little celluloid stud between the handles by which

the bomb was lifted was arranged so as to be easily torn off and

admit air to the inducive, which at once became active and set up

radio-activity in the outer layer of the Carolinum sphere. This

liberated fresh inducive, and so in a few minutes the whole bomb

was a blazing continual explosion. The Central European bombs

were the same, except that they were larger and had a more

complicated arrangement for animating the inducive.

Always before in the development of warfare the shells and

rockets fired had been but momentarily explosive, they had gone

off in an instant once for all, and if there was nothing living

or valuable within reach of the concussion and the flying

fragments then they were spent and over. But Carolinum, which

belonged to the beta group of Hyslop's so-called 'suspended

degenerator' elements, once its degenerative process had been

induced, continued a furious radiation of energy and nothing

could arrest it. Of all Hyslop's artificial elements, Carolinum

was the most heavily stored with energy and the most dangerous to

make and handle. To this day it remains the most potent

degenerator known. What the earlier twentieth-century chemists

called its half period was seventeen days; that is to say, it

poured out half of the huge store of energy in its great

molecules in the space of seventeen days, the next seventeen

days' emission was a half of that first period's outpouring, and

so on. As with all radio-active substances this Carolinum,

though every seventeen days its power is halved, though

constantly it diminishes towards the imperceptible, is never

entirely exhausted, and to this day the battle-fields and bomb

fields of that frantic time in human history are sprinkled with

radiant matter, and so centres of inconvenient rays.

What happened when the celluloid stud was opened was that the

inducive oxidised and became active. Then the surface of the

Carolinum began to degenerate. This degeneration passed only

slowly into the substance of the bomb. A moment or so after its

explosion began it was still mainly an inert sphere exploding

superficially, a big, inanimate nucleus wrapped in flame and

thunder. Those that were thrown from aeroplanes fell in this

state, they reached the ground still mainly solid, and, melting

soil and rock in their progress, bored into the earth. There, as

more and more of the Carolinum became active, the bomb spread

itself out into a monstrous cavern of fiery energy at the base of

what became very speedily a miniature active volcano. The

Carolinum, unable to disperse, freely drove into and mixed up

with a boiling confusion of molten soil and superheated steam,

and so remained spinning furiously and maintaining an eruption

that lasted for years or months or weeks according to the size of

the bomb employed and the chances of its dispersal. Once

launched, the bomb was absolutely unapproachable and

uncontrollable until its forces were nearly exhausted, and from

the crater that burst open above it, puffs of heavy incandescent

vapour and fragments of viciously punitive rock and mud,

saturated with Carolinum, and each a centre of scorching and

blistering energy, were flung high and far.

Such was the crowning triumph of military science, the ultimate

explosive that was to give the 'decisive touch' to war…

Section 5

A recent historical writer has described the world of that time

as one that 'believed in established words and was invincibly

blind to the obvious in things.' Certainly it seems now that

nothing could have been more obvious to the people of the earlier

twentieth century than the rapidity with which war was becoming

impossible. And as certainly they did not see it. They did not

see it until the atomic bombs burst in their fumbling hands. Yet

the broad facts must have glared upon any intelligent mind. All

through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the amount of

energy that men were able to command was continually increasing.

Applied to warfare that meant that the power to inflict a blow,

the power to destroy, was continually increasing. There was no

increase whatever in the ability to escape. Every sort of

passive defence, armour, fortifications, and so forth, was being

outmastered by this tremendous increase on the destructive side.

Destruction was becoming so facile that any little body of

malcontents could use it; it was revolutionising the problems of

police and internal rule. Before the last war began it was a

matter of common knowledge that a man could carry about in a

handbag an amount of latent energy sufficient to wreck half a

city. These facts were before the minds of everybody; the

children in the streets knew them. And yet the world still, as

the Americans used to phrase it, 'fooled around' with the

paraphernalia and pretensions of war.

It is only by realising this profound, this fantastic divorce

between the scientific and intellectual movement on the one hand,

and the world of the lawyer-politician on the other, that the men

of a later time can hope to understand this preposterous state of

affairs. Social organisation was still in the barbaric stage.

There were already great numbers of actively intelligent men and

much private and commercial civilisation, but the community, as a

whole, was aimless, untrained and unorganised to the pitch of

imbecility. Collective civilisation, the 'Modern State,' was

still in the womb of the future…

Section 6

But let us return to Frederick Barnet's Wander Jahre and its

account of the experiences of a common man during the war time.

While these terrific disclosures of scientific possibility were

happening in Paris and Berlin, Barnet and his company were

industriously entrenching themselves in Belgian Luxembourg.

He tells of the mobilisation and of his summer day's journey

through the north of France and the Ardennes in a few vivid

phrases. The country was browned by a warm summer, the trees a

little touched with autumnal colour, and the wheat already

golden. When they stopped for an hour at Hirson, men and women

with tricolour badges upon the platform distributed cakes and

glasses of beer to the thirsty soldiers, and there was much

cheerfulness. 'Such good, cool beer it was,' he wrote. 'I had

had nothing to eat nor drink since Epsom.'

A number of monoplanes, 'like giant swallows,' he notes, were

scouting in the pink evening sky.

Barnet's battalion was sent through the Sedan country to a place

called Virton, and thence to a point in the woods on the line to

Jemelle. Here they detrained, bivouacked uneasily by the

railway-trains and stores were passing along it all night-and

next morning he: marched eastward through a cold, overcast dawn,

and a morning, first cloudy and then blazing, over a large

spacious country-side interspersed by forest towards Arlon.

There the infantry were set to work upon a line of masked

entrenchments and hidden rifle pits between St Hubert and Virton

that were designed to check and delay any advance from the east

upon the fortified line of the Meuse. They had their orders, and

for two days they worked without either a sight of the enemy or

any suspicion of the disaster that had abruptly decapitated the

armies of Europe, and turned the west of Paris and the centre of

Berlin into blazing miniatures of the destruction of Pompeii.

And the news, when it did come, came attenuated. 'We heard there

had been mischief with aeroplanes and bombs in Paris,' Barnet

relates; 'but it didn't seem to follow that "They" weren't still

somewhere elaborating their plans and issuing orders. When the

enemy began to emerge from the woods in front of us, we cheered

and blazed away, and didn't trouble much more about anything but

the battle in hand. If now and then one cocked up an eye into the

sky to see what was happening there, the rip of a bullet soon

brought one down to the horizontal again…

That battle went on for three days all over a great stretch of

country between Louvain on the north and Longwy to the south. It

was essentially a rifle and infantry struggle. The aeroplanes do

not seem to have taken any decisive share in the actual fighting

for some days, though no doubt they effected the strategy from

the first by preventing surprise movements. They were aeroplanes

with atomic engines, but they were not provided with atomic

bombs, which were manifestly unsuitable for field use, nor indeed

had they any very effective kind of bomb. And though they

manoeuvred against each other, and there was rifle shooting at

them and between them, there was little actual aerial fighting.

Either the airmen were indisposed to fight or the commanders on

both sides preferred to reserve these machines for scouting…

After a day or so of digging and scheming, Barnet found himself

in the forefront of a battle. He had made his section of rifle

pits chiefly along a line of deep dry ditch that gave a means of

inter-communication, he had had the earth scattered over the

adjacent field, and he had masked his preparations with tussocks

of corn and poppy. The hostile advance came blindly and

unsuspiciously across the fields below and would have been very

cruelly handled indeed, if some one away to the right had not

opened fire too soon.

'It was a queer thrill when these fellows came into sight,' he

confesses; 'and not a bit like manoeuvres. They halted for a

time on the edge of the wood and then came forward in an open

line. They kept walking nearer to us and not looking at us, but

away to the right of us. Even when they began to be hit, and

their officers' whistles woke them up, they didn't seem to see

us. One or two halted to fire, and then they all went back

towards the wood again. They went slowly at first, looking round

at us, then the shelter of the wood seemed to draw them, and they

trotted. I fired rather mechanically and missed, then I fired

again, and then I became earnest to hit something, made sure of

my sighting, and aimed very carefully at a blue back that was

dodging about in the corn. At first I couldn't satisfymyself

and didn't shoot, his movements were so spasmodic and uncertain;

then I think he came to a ditch or some such obstacle and halted

for a moment. "GOT you," I whispered, and pulled the trigger.

'I had the strangest sensations about that man. In the first

instance, when I felt that I had hit him I was irradiated with

joy and pride…

'I sent him spinning. He jumped and threw up his arms…

'Then I saw the corn tops waving and had glimpses of him flapping

about. Suddenly I felt sick. I hadn't killed him…

'In some way he was disabled and smashed up and yet able to

struggle about. I began to think

'For nearly two hours that Prussian was agonising in the corn.

Either he was calling out or some one was shouting to him…

'Then he jumped up-he seemed to try to get up upon his feet with

one last effort; and then he fell like a sack and lay quite still

and never moved again.

'He had been unendurable, and I believe some one had shot him

dead. I had been wanting to do so for some time…'

The enemy began sniping the rifle pits from shelters they made

for themselves in the woods below. A man was hit in the pit next

to Barnet, and began cursing and crying out in a violent rage.

Barnet crawled along the ditch to him and found him in great

pain, covered with blood, frantic with indignation, and with the

half of his right hand smashed to a pulp. 'Look at this,' he

kept repeating, hugging it and then extending it. 'Damned

foolery! Damned foolery! My right hand, sir! My right hand!'

For some time Barnet could do nothing with him. The man was

consumed by his tortured realisation of the evil silliness of

war, the realisation which had come upon him in a flash with the

bullet that had destroyed his skill and use as an artificer for

ever. He was looking at the vestiges with a horror that made him

impenetrable to any other idea. At last the poor wretch let

Barnet tie up his bleeding stump and help him along the ditch

that conducted him deviously out of range…

When Barnet returned his men were already calling out for water,

and all day long the line of pits suffered greatly from thirst.

For food they had chocolate and bread.

'At first,' he says, 'I was extraordinarily excited by my baptism

of fire. Then as the heat of the day came on I experienced an

enormous tedium and discomfort. The flies became extremely

troublesome, and my little grave of a rifle pit was invaded by

ants. I could not get up or move about, for some one in the trees

had got a mark on me. I kept thinking of the dead Prussian down

among the corn, and of the bitter outcries of my own man. Damned

foolery! It WAS damned foolery. But who was to blame? How had

we got to this?…

'Early in the afternoon an aeroplane tried to dislodge us with

dynamite bombs, but she was hit by bullets once or twice, and

suddenly dived down over beyond the trees.

' "From Holland to the Alps this day," I thought, "there must be

crouching and lying between half and a million of men, trying to

inflict irreparable damage upon one another. The thing is idiotic

to the pitch of impossibility. It is a dream. Presently I shall

wake up."…

'Then the phrase changed itself in my mind. "Presently mankind

will wake up."

'I lay speculating just how many thousands of men there were

among these hundreds of thousands, whose spirits were in

rebellion against all these ancient traditions of flag and

empire. Weren't we, perhaps, already in the throes of the last

crisis, in that darkest moment of a nightmare's horror before the

sleeper will endure no more of it-and wakes?

'I don't know how my speculations ended. I think they were not

so much ended as distracted by the distant thudding of the guns

that were opening fire at long range upon Namur.'

Section 7

But as yet Barnet had seen no more than the mildest beginnings of

modern warfare. So far he had taken part only in a little

shooting. The bayonet attack by which the advanced line was

broken was made at a place called Croix Rouge, more than twenty

miles away, and that night under cover of the darkness the rifle

pits were abandoned and he got his company away without further

loss.

His regiment fell back unpressed behind the fortified lines

between Namur and Sedan, entrained at a station called Mettet,

and was sent northward by Antwerp and Rotterdam to Haarlem.

Hence they marched into North Holland. It was only after the

march into Holland that he began to realise the monstrous and

catastrophic nature of the struggle in which he was playing his

undistinguished part.

He describes very pleasantly the journey through the hills and

open land of Brabant, the repeated crossing of arms of the Rhine,

and the change from the undulating scenery of Belgium to the

flat, rich meadows, the sunlit dyke roads, and the countless

windmills of the Dutch levels. In those days there was unbroken

land from Alkmaar and Leiden to the Dollart. Three great

provinces, South Holland, North Holland, and Zuiderzeeland,

reclaimed at various times between the early tenth century and

1945 and all many feet below the level of the waves outside the

dykes, spread out their lush polders to the northern sun and

sustained a dense industrious population. An intricate web of

laws and custom and tradition ensured a perpetual vigilance and a

perpetual defence against the beleaguering sea. For more than two

hundred and fifty miles from Walcheren to Friesland stretched a

line of embankments and pumping stations that was the admiration

of the world.

If some curious god had chosen to watch the course of events in

those northern provinces while that flanking march of the British

was in progress, he would have found a convenient and appropriate

seat for his observation upon one of the great cumulus clouds

that were drifting slowly across the blue sky during all these

eventful days before the great catastrophe. For that was the

quality of the weather, hot and clear, with something of a

breeze, and underfoot dry and a little inclined to be dusty. This

watching god would have looked down upon broad stretches of

sunlit green, sunlit save for the creeping patches of shadow cast

by the clouds, upon sky-reflecting meres, fringed and divided up

by masses of willow and large areas of silvery weeds, upon white

roads lying bare to the sun and upon a tracery of blue canals.

The pastures were alive with cattle, the roads had a busy

traffic, of beasts and bicycles and gaily coloured peasants'

automobiles, the hues of the innumerable motor barges in the

canal vied with the eventfulness of the roadways; and everywhere

in solitary steadings, amidst ricks and barns, in groups by the

wayside, in straggling villages, each with its fine old church,

or in compact towns laced with canals and abounding in bridges

and clipped trees, were human habitations.

The people of this country-side were not belligerents. The

interests and sympathies alike of Holland had been so divided

that to the end she remained undecided and passive in the

struggle of the world powers. And everywhere along the roads

taken by the marching armies clustered groups and crowds of

impartially observant spectators, women and children in peculiar

white caps and old-fashioned sabots, and elderly, clean-shaven

men quietlythoughtful over their long pipes. They had no fear of

their invaders; the days when 'soldiering' meant bands of

licentious looters had long since passed away…

That watcher among the clouds would have seen a great

distribution of khaki-uniformed men and khaki-painted material

over the whole of the sunken area of Holland. He would have

marked the long trains, packed with men or piled with great guns

and war material, creeping slowly, alert for train-wreckers,

along the north-going lines; he would have seen the Scheldt and

Rhine choked with shipping, and pouring out still more men and

still more material; he would have noticed halts and

provisionings and detrainments, and the long, bustling

caterpillars of cavalry and infantry, the maggot-like wagons, the

huge beetles of great guns, crawling under the poplars along the

dykes and roads northward, along ways lined by the neutral,

unmolested, ambiguously observant Dutch. All the barges and

shipping upon the canals had been requisitioned for transport. In

that clear, bright, warm weather, it would all have looked from

above like some extravagant festival of animated toys.

As the sun sank westward the spectacle must have become a little

indistinct because of a golden haze; everything must have become

warmer and more glowing, and because of the lengthening of the

shadows more manifestly in relief. The shadows of the tall

churches grew longer and longer, until they touched the horizon

and mingled in the universal shadow; and then, slow, and soft,

and wrapping the world in fold after fold of deepening blue, came

the night-the night at first obscurely simple, and then with

faint points here and there, and then jewelled in darkling

splendour with a hundred thousand lights. Out of that mingling of

darkness and ambiguous glares the noise of an unceasing activity

would have arisen, the louder and plainer now because there was

no longer any distraction of sight.

It may be that watcher drifting in the pellucid gulf beneath the

stars watched all through the night; it may be that he dozed. But

if he gave way to so natural a proclivity, assuredly on the

fourth night of the great flank march he was aroused, for that

was the night of the battle in the air that decided the fate of

Holland. The aeroplanes were fighting at last, and suddenly

about him, above and below, with cries and uproar rushing out of

the four quarters of heaven, striking, plunging, oversetting,

soaring to the zenith and dropping to the ground, they came to

assail or defend the myriads below.

Secretly the Central European power had gathered his flying

machines together, and now he threw them as a giant might fling a

handful of ten thousand knives over the low country. And amidst

that swarming flight were five that drove headlong for the sea

walls of Holland, carrying atomic bombs. From north and west and

south, the allied aeroplanes rose in response and swept down upon

this sudden attack. So it was that war in the air began. Men

rode upon the whirlwind that night and slew and fell like

archangels. The sky rained heroes upon the astonished earth.

Surely the last fights of mankind were the best. What was the

heavy pounding of your Homeric swordsmen, what was the creaking

charge of chariots, beside this swift rush, this crash, this

giddy triumph, this headlong swoop to death?

And then athwart this whirling rush of aerial duels that swooped

and locked and dropped in the void between the lamp-lights and

the stars, came a great wind and a crash louder than thunder, and

first one and then a score of lengthening fiery serpents plunged

hungrily down upon the Dutchmen's dykes and struck between land

and sea and flared up again in enormous columns of glare and

crimsoned smoke and steam.

And out of the darkness leapt the little land, with its spires

and trees, aghast with terror, still and distinct, and the sea,

tumbled with anger, red-foaming like a sea of blood…

Over the populous country below went a strange multitudinous

crying and a flurry of alarm bells…

The surviving aeroplanes turned about and fled out of the sky,

like things that suddenly knowthemselves to be wicked…

Through a dozen thunderously flaming gaps that no water might

quench, the waves came roaring in upon the land…

Section 8

'We had cursed our luck,' says Barnet, 'that we could not get to

our quarters at Alkmaar that night. There, we were told, were

provisions, tobacco, and everything for which we craved. But the

main canal from Zaandam and Amsterdam was hopelessly jammed with

craft, and we were glad of a chance opening that enabled us to

get out of the main column and lie up in a kind of little harbour

very much neglected and weedgrown before a deserted house. We

broke into this and found some herrings in a barrel, a heap of

cheeses, and stone bottles of gin in the cellar; and with this I

cheered my starving men. We made fires and toasted the cheese and

grilled our herrings. None of us had slept for nearly forty

hours, and I determined to stay in this refuge until dawn and

then if the traffic was still choked leave the barge and march

the rest of the way into Alkmaar.

'This place we had got into was perhaps a hundred yards from the

canal and underneath a little brick bridge we could see the

flotilla still, and hear the voices of the soldiers. Presently

five or six other barges came through and lay up in the meer near

by us, and with two of these, full of men of the Antrim regiment,

I shared my find of provisions. In return we got tobacco. A

large expanse of water spread to the westward of us and beyond

were a cluster of roofs and one or two church towers. The barge

was rather cramped for so many men, and I let several squads,

thirty or forty perhaps altogether, bivouac on the bank. I did

not let them go into the house on account of the furniture, and I

left a note of indebtedness for the food we had taken. We were

particularly glad of our tobacco and fires, because of the

numerous mosquitoes that rose about us.

'The gate of the house from which we had provisioned ourselves

was adorned with the legend, Vreugde bij Vrede, "Joy with Peace,"

and it bore every mark of the busy retirement of a comfort-loving

proprietor. I went along his garden, which was gay and delightful

with big bushes of rose and sweet brier, to a quaint little

summer-house, and there I sat and watched the men in groups

cooking and squatting along the bank. The sun was setting in a

nearly cloudless sky.

'For the last two weeks I had been a wholly occupied man, intent

only upon obeying the orders that came down to me. All through

this time I had been working to the very limit of my mental and

physical faculties, and my only moments of rest had been devoted

to snatches of sleep. Now came this rare, unexpected interlude,

and I could look detachedly upon what I was doing and feel

something of its infinite wonderfulness. I was irradiated with

affection for the men of my company and with admiration at their

cheerful acquiescence in the subordination and needs of our

positions. I watched their proceedings and heard their pleasant

voices. How willing those men were! How ready to accept

leadership and forget themselves in collective ends! I thought

how manfully they had gone through all the strains and toil of

the last two weeks, how they had toughened and shaken down to

comradeship together, and how much sweetness there is after all

in our foolish human blood. For they were just one casual sample

of the species-their patience and readiness lay, as the energy

of the atom had lain, still waiting to be properly utilised.

Again it came to me with overpowering force that the supreme need

of our race is leading, that the supreme task is to discover

leading, to forget oneself in realising the collective purpose of

the race. Once more I saw life plain…'

Very characteristic is that of the 'rather too corpulent' young

officer, who was afterwards to set it all down in the Wander

Jahre. Very characteristic, too, it is of the change in men's

hearts that was even then preparing a new phase of human history.

He goes on to write of the escape from individuality in science

and service, and of his discovery of this 'salvation.' All that

was then, no doubt, very moving and original; now it seems only

the most obvious commonplace of human life.

The glow of the sunset faded, the twilight deepened into night.

The fires burnt the brighter, and some Irishmen away across the

meer started singing. But Barnet's men were too weary for that

sort of thing, and soon the bank and the barge were heaped with

sleeping forms.

'I alone seemed unable to sleep. I suppose I was over-weary, and

after a little feverish slumber by the tiller of the barge I sat

up, awake and uneasy…

'That night Holland seemed all sky. There was just a little

black lower rim to things, a steeple, perhaps, or a line of

poplars, and then the great hemisphere swept over us. As at

first the sky was empty. Yet my uneasiness referred itself in

some vague way to the sky.

'And now I was melancholy. I found something strangely sorrowful

and submissive in the sleepers all about me, those men who had

marched so far, who had left all the established texture of their

lives behind them to come upon this mad campaign, this campaign

that signified nothing and consumed everything, this mere fever

of fighting. I saw how little and feeble is the life of man, a

thing of chances, preposterously unable to find the will to

realise even the most timid of its dreams. And I wondered if

always it would be so, if man was a doomed animal who would never

to the last days of his time take hold of fate and change it to

his will. Always, it may be, he will remain kindly but jealous,

desirous but discursive, able and unwisely impulsive, until

Saturn who begot him shall devour him in his turn…

'I was roused from these thoughts by the sudden realisation of

the presence of a squadron of aeroplanes far away to the

north-east and very high. They looked like little black dashes

against the midnight blue. I remember that I looked up at them at

first rather idly-as one might notice a flight of birds. Then I

perceived that they were only the extreme wing of a great fleet

that was advancing in a long line very swiftly from the direction

of the frontier and my attention tightened.

'Directly I saw that fleet I was astonished not to have seen it

before.

'I stood up softly, undesirous of disturbing my companions, but

with my heart beating now rather more rapidly with surprise and

excitement. I strained my ears for any sound of guns along our

front. Almost instinctively I turned about for protection to the

south and west, and peered; and then I saw coming as fast and

much nearer to me, as if they had sprung out of the darkness,

three banks of aeroplanes; a group of squadrons very high, a main

body at a height perhaps of one or two thousand feet, and a

doubtful number flying low and very indistinct. The middle ones

were so thick they kept putting out groups of stars. And I

realised that after all there was to be fighting in the air.

'There was something extraordinarily strange in this swift,

noiseless convergence of nearly invisible combatants above the

sleeping hosts. Every one about me was still unconscious; there

was no sign as yet of any agitation among the shipping on the

main canal, whose whole course, dotted with unsuspicious lights

and fringed with fires, must have been clearly perceptible from

above. Then a long way off towards Alkmaar I heard bugles, and

after that shots, and then a wild clamour of bells. I determined

to let my men sleep on for as long as they could…

'The battle was joined with the swiftness of dreaming. I do not

think it can have been five minutes from the moment when I first

became aware of the Central European air fleet to the contact of

the two forces. I saw it quite plainly in silhouette against the

luminous blue of the northern sky. The allied aeroplanes-they

were mostly French-came pouring down like a fierce shower upon

the middle of the Central European fleet. They looked exactly

like a coarser sort of rain. There was a crackling sound-the

first sound I heard-it reminded one of the Aurora Borealis, and

I supposed it was an interchange of rifle shots. There were

flashes like summer lightning; and then all the sky became a

whirling confusion of battle that was still largely noiseless.

Some of the Central European aeroplanes were certainly charged

and overset; others seemed to collapse and fall and then flare

out with so bright a light that it took the edge off one's vision

and made the rest of the battle disappear as though it had been

snatched back out of sight.

'And then, while I still peered and tried to shade these flames

from my eyes with my hand, and while the men about me were

beginning to stir, the atomic bombs were thrown at the dykes.

They made a mighty thunder in the air, and fell like Lucifer in

the picture, leaving a flaring trail in the sky. The night,

which had been pellucid and detailed and eventful, seemed to

vanish, to be replaced abruptly by a black background to these

tremendous pillars of fire…

'Hard upon the sound of them came a roaring wind, and the sky was

filled with flickering lightnings and rushing clouds…

'There was something discontinuous in this impact. At one moment

I was a lonely watcher in a sleeping world; the next saw every

one about me afoot, the whole world awake and amazed…

'And then the wind had struck me a buffet, taken my helmet and

swept aside the summerhouse of Vreugde bij Vrede, as a scythe

sweeps away grass. I saw the bombs fall, and then watched a great

crimson flare leap responsive to each impact, and mountainous

masses of red-lit steam and flying fragments clamber up towards

the zenith. Against the glare I saw the country-side for miles

standing black and clear, churches, trees, chimneys. And

suddenly I understood. The Central Europeans had burst the dykes.

Those flares meant the bursting of the dykes, and in a little

while the sea-water would be upon us…'

He goes on to tell with a certain prolixity of the steps he

took-and all things considered they were very intelligent

steps-to meet this amazing crisis. He got his men aboard and

hailed the adjacent barges; he got the man who acted as barge

engineer at his post and the engines working, he cast loose from

his moorings. Then he bethought himself of food, and contrived to

land five men, get in a few dozen cheeses, and ship his men again

before the inundation reached them.

He is reasonably proud of this piece of coolness. His idea was

to take the wave head-on and with his engines full speed ahead.

And all the while he was thanking heaven he was not in the jam of

traffic in the main canal. He rather, I think, overestimated the

probable rush of waters; he dreaded being swept away, he

explains, and smashed against houses and trees.

He does not give any estimate of the time it took between the

bursting of the dykes and the arrival of the waters, but it was

probably an interval of about twenty minutes or half an hour. He

was working now in darkness-save for the light of his

lantern-and in a great wind. He hung out head and stern

lights…

Whirling torrents of steam were pouring up from the advancing

waters, which had rushed, it must be remembered, through nearly

incandescent gaps in the sea defences, and this vast uprush of

vapour soon veiled the flaring centres of explosion altogether.

'The waters came at last, an advancing cascade. It was like a

broad roller sweeping across the country. They came with a deep,

roaring sound. I had expected a Niagara, but the total fall of

the front could not have been much more than twelve feet. Our

barge hesitated for a moment, took a dose over her bows, and then

lifted. I signalled for full speed ahead and brought her head

upstream, and held on like grim death to keep her there.

'There was a wind about as strong as the flood, and I found we

were pounding against every conceivable buoyant object that had

been between us and the sea. The only light in the world now

came from our lamps, the steam became impenetrable at a score of

yards from the boat, and the roar of the wind and water cut us

off from all remoter sounds. The black, shining waters swirled

by, coming into the light of our lamps out of an ebony blackness

and vanishing again into impenetrable black. And on the waters

came shapes, came things that flashed upon us for a moment, now a

half-submerged boat, now a cow, now a huge fragment of a house's

timberings, now a muddle of packing-cases and scaffolding. The

things clapped into sight like something shown by the opening of

a shutter, and then bumped shatteringly against us or rushed by

us. Once I saw very clearly a man's white face…

'All the while a group of labouring, half-submerged trees

remained ahead of us, drawing very slowly nearer. I steered a

course to avoid them. They seemed to gesticulate a frantic

despair against the black steam clouds behind. Once a great

branch detached itself and tore shuddering by me. We did, on the

whole, make headway. The last I saw of Vreugde bij Vrede before

the night swallowed it, was almost dead astern of us…'

Section 9

Morning found Barnet still afloat. The bows of his barge had

been badly strained, and his men were pumping or baling in

relays. He had got about a dozen half-drowned people aboard whose

boat had capsized near him, and he had three other boats in tow.

He was afloat, and somewhere between Amsterdam and Alkmaar, but

he could not tell where. It was a day that was still half night.

Gray waters stretched in every direction under a dark gray sky,

and out of the waves rose the upper parts of houses, in many

cases ruined, the tops of trees, windmills, in fact the upper

third of all the familiar Dutch scenery; and on it there drifted

a dimly seen flotilla of barges, small boats, many overturned,

furniture, rafts, timbering, and miscellaneous objects.

The drowned were under water that morning. Only here and there

did a dead cow or a stiff figure still clinging stoutly to a box

or chair or such-like buoy hint at the hidden massacre. It was

not till the Thursday that the dead came to the surface in any

quantity. The view was bounded on every side by a gray mist that

closed overhead in a gray canopy. The air cleared in the

afternoon, and then, far away to the west under great banks of

steam and dust, the flaming red eruption of the atomic bombs came

visible across the waste of water.

They showed flat and sullen through the mist, like London

sunsets. 'They sat upon the sea,' says Barnet, 'like frayed-out

waterlilies of flame.'

Barnet seems to have spent the morning in rescue work along the

track of the canal, in helping people who were adrift, in picking

up derelict boats, and in taking people out of imperilled houses.

He found other military barges similarly employed, and it was

only as the day wore on and the immediate appeals for aid were

satisfied that he thought of food and drink for his men, and what

course he had better pursue. They had a little cheese, but no

water. 'Orders,' that mysterious direction, had at last

altogether disappeared. He perceived he had now to act upon his

own responsibility.

'One's sense was of a destruction so far-reaching and of a world

so altered that it seemed foolish to go in any direction and

expect to find things as they had been before the war began. I

sat on the quarter-deck with Mylius my engineer and Kemp and two

others of the non-commissioned officers, and we consulted upon

our line of action. We were foodless and aimless. We agreed

that our fighting value was extremely small, and that our first

duty was to get ourselves in touch with food and instructions

again. Whatever plan of campaign had directed our movements was

manifestly smashed to bits. Mylius was of opinion that we could

take a line westward and get back to England across the North

Sea. He calculated that with such a motor barge as ours it would

be possible to reach the Yorkshire coast within four-and-twenty

hours. But this idea I overruled because of the shortness of our

provisions, and more particularly because of our urgent need of

water.

'Every boat we drew near now hailed us for water, and their

demands did much to exasperate our thirst. I decided that if we

went away to the south we should reach hilly country, or at least

country that was not submerged, and then we should be able to

land, find some stream, drink, and get supplies and news. Many of

the barges adrift in the haze about us were filled with British

soldiers and had floated up from the Nord See Canal, but none of

them were any better informed than ourselves of the course of

events. "Orders" had, in fact, vanished out of the sky.

' "Orders" made a temporary reappearance late that evening in the

form of a megaphone hail from a British torpedo boat, announcing

a truce, and giving the welcome information that food and water

were being hurried down the Rhine and were to be found on the

barge flotilla lying over the old Rhine above Leiden.'…

We will not follow Barnet, however, in the description of his

strange overland voyage among trees and houses and churches by

Zaandam and between Haarlem and Amsterdam, to Leiden. It was a

voyage in a red-lit mist, in a world of steamy silhouette, full

of strange voices and perplexity, and with every other sensation

dominated by a feverish thirst. 'We sat,' he says, 'in a little

huddled group, saying very little, and the men forward were mere

knots of silent endurance. Our only continuing sound was the

persistent mewing of a cat one of the men had rescued from a

floating hayrick near Zaandam. We kept a southward course by a

watch-chain compass Mylius had produced…

'I do not think any of us felt we belonged to a defeated army,

nor had we any strong sense of the war as the dominating fact

about us. Our mental setting had far more of the effect of a

huge natural catastrophe. The atomic bombs had dwarfed the

international issues to complete insignificance. When our minds

wandered from the preoccupations of our immediate needs, we

speculated upon the possibility of stopping the use of these

frightful explosives before the world was utterly destroyed. For

to us it seemed quite plain that these bombs and the still

greater power of destruction of which they were the precursors

might quite easily shatter every relationship and institution of

mankind.

' "What will they be doing," asked Mylius, "what will they be

doing? It's plain we've got to put an end to war. It's plain

things have to be run some way. THIS-all this-is impossible."

'I made no immediate answer. Something-I cannot think what-had

brought back to me the figure of that man I had seen wounded on

the very first day of actual fighting. I saw again his angry,

tearful eyes, and that poor, dripping, bloody mess that had been

a skilful human hand five minutes before, thrust out in indignant

protest. "Damned foolery," he had stormed and sobbed, "damned

foolery. My right hand, sir! My RIGHT hand…"

'My faith had for a time gone altogether out of me. "I think we

are too-too silly," I said to Mylius, "ever to stop war. If we'd

had the sense to do it, we should have done it before this. I

think this--" I pointed to the gaunt black outline of a smashed

windmill that stuck up, ridiculous and ugly, above the blood-lit

waters-"this is the end." '

Section 10

But now our history must part company with Frederick Barnet and

his barge-load of hungry and starving men.

For a time in western Europe at least it was indeed as if

civilisation had come to a final collapse. These crowning buds

upon the tradition that Napoleon planted and Bismarck watered,

opened and flared 'like waterlilies of flame' over nations

destroyed, over churches smashed or submerged, towns ruined,

fields lost to mankind for ever, and a million weltering bodies.

Was this lesson enough for mankind, or would the flames of war

still burn amidst the ruins?

Neither Barnet nor his companions, it is clear, had any assurance

in their answers to that question. Already once in the history

of mankind, in America, before its discovery by the whites, an

organised civilisation had given way to a mere cult of warfare,

specialised and cruel, and it seemed for a time to many a

thoughtful man as if the whole world was but to repeat on a

larger scale this ascendancy of the warrior, this triumph of the

destructive instincts of the race.

The subsequent chapters of Barnet's narrative do but supply body

to this tragic possibility. He gives a series of vignettes of

civilisation, shattered, it seemed, almost irreparably. He found

the Belgian hills swarming with refugees and desolated by

cholera; the vestiges of the contending armies keeping order

under a truce, without actual battles, but with the cautious

hostility of habit, and a great absence of plan everywhere.

Overhead aeroplanes went on mysterious errands, and there were

rumours of cannibalism and hysterical fanaticisms in the valleys

of the Semoy and the forest region of the eastern Ardennes.

There was the report of an attack upon Russia by the Chinese and

Japanese, and of some huge revolutionary outbreak in America.

The weather was stormier than men had ever known it in those

regions, with much thunder and lightning and wild cloud-bursts of

rain…

CHAPTER THE THIRD

THE ENDING OF WAR

Section 1

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.

From being treated as an amiable dreamer he came by insensible

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

months old to know just exactly what he thought might be done.

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…

Section 2

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

thought, he had anticipated great influence in this new position,

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

sustained explosives.

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

perfectly simple.'

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

good example.'

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,

for-always. Iam going to stop this nonsense.'

Firmin halted abruptly. 'But, sir!' he cried.

The king stopped six yards ahead of him and looked back at his

adviser's perspiring visage.

'Do you reallythink, Firmin, that Iam here as-as an infernal

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

Amphictyonic council--'

'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

others!'

'HE will haggle, sir.'

'Not a bit of it,' said the king.

'But, sir.'

'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

more generous light… Because, you know, you must…'

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

between the stones and in the huts, Iam inclined to doubt if it

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

to drink.

'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

kingship, Firmin?

'Yes,' cried the king to his astonished counsellor. 'For the

first time in my life Iam going to be a king. Iam going to

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.

Advisers! Now Iam going to be a real king-and Iam going

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

robe, Iam a king among kings. I have to play my part at the head

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

my dream, sir,' said Firmin sorrowfully, 'to serve.'

'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

never realise that Iam not only flesh and blood but an

imagination-with its rights. Iam a king in revolt against that

fetter they put upon my head. Iam a king awake. My reverend

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,

very likely I'm not vicious. I don't thinkIam.'

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

substituted 'ideas.'

'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

archbishop and all the rest of them, about what I should see if

people turned round, the general effect I produced was that I

wasn't by any means displaying the Royal Tact they had expected

of me…'

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

me, because I know better. Don't think I forget my kingship,

Firmin, don't imagine that. Iam a king, a kingly king, by right

divine. The fact that Iam also a chattering young man makes not

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

nations-with Kingship.'

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

curiosity.

'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

help. The true sanction of kingship is the grip upon the sceptre.

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

the Republic…'

'But, sir!' cried Firmin, suddenly enlightened. 'Has this been

arranged already?'

'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

seated.

'WELL,' he said at last. 'And I have known nothing!'

The king smiled very cheerfully. He liked these talks with

Firmin.

Section 3

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

the rest of his character, and so at last was able to make his

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

opportunity.'

'Of course,' whispered Leblanc, nodding his head rapidly, 'of

course.'

'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

the yellow broom, come true. With a queer feeling that he was

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

control…'

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

caterer…'

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

the American.

'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

calendar, Iam for democracy and you are for aristocracy. All

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?'

'For the noble, yes, all days should be noble.'

'Exactly my position,' said the king, and feltpleased at what he

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

to Holsten.

Holsten opened out the vistas…

'Science,' the king cried presently, 'is the new king of the

world.'

'OUR view,' said the president, 'is that sovereignty resides with

the people.'

'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

demands…'

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

the rest of it. We are not. I doubt if we should average out as

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

done possible. But in happier times, don't you think, Wilhelm, he

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

together.

'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…'

Section 4

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

mutual esteem.

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.

Section 5

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

fear of war and warlike neighbours. It is doubtful if any large

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

the need for simplicity of attitude and openness of mind; and in

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…

Section 6

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

confusedly patriotic, and so far with no practical knowledge of

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

goodfaith, and he announced the disbandment of the force of

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

green umbrella.

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

machine.

'One can take no risks,' he said, with a faint suggestion of

apology.

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…

Section 7

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

was-considerable.

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

endurance.

'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,

lean finger.

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

that same chilly feeling that he had felt upon the balcony-and

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

except--.

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

the aeroplane?

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

bombs.'

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

so careful.'

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

help of his master, who, he feared, might protest too much.

'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

take orders like the rest of the world. And here Iam.'

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

Brissago.'

'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

bombs…

'You will sign that,' said the ex-king.

'Why?'

'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

was alone with the king again, he found him in a state of

jangling emotions. His spirit was tossing like a wind-whipped

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.'

'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!'

'Do you think there's any pity in that crew of Godless,

Vivisecting Prigs?' cried this last king of romance. 'Do you

think, Pestovitch, they understand anything of a high ambition or

a splendid dream? Do you think that our gallant and sublime

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

king.

'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

vanish…

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

Pestovitch.

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

his bed.

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

hidden.

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

overhead.

'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

back.

'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

with it.'

'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,

and was for going back and throwing himself on the mercy of the

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

well.

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.

'I don't think they saw us,' said the king, and stared as the

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

ring…'

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

bombs.

'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

out by…'

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

light here?'

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

all!'

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,