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THE WORLD SET FREE
A PROPHETIC TRILOGY
BY H. G. WELLS
WITH A PICTURE BY GEORGE INNESS, JR.
a great multitude of wild flowers. More
particularly is this so in early June, when *HE whole world was flaring into a the slender asphodel, with its spike of
monstrous phase of destruction. white lily blossom, is in flower. To the Power after power about the armed globe westward of this delightful shelf there is sought to anticipate attack by aggression. a deep and densely wooded trench, a great They went to war in a delirium of panic gulf of blue a mile or so in width, out of in order to use their bombs first. China which arise great precipices, very high and and Japan had assailed Russia and de- wild. Above the asphodel-fields themstroyed Moscow; the United States had selves the mountains climb in rocky slopes attacked Japan; India was in anarchistic to solitudes of stone and sunlight that revolt, with Delhi a pit of fire spouting curve round and join that wall of cliffs death and flame; the redoubtable King of in one common sky-line. This desolate the Balkans was mobilizing. It must and austere background contrasts very have seemed plain at last to every one in vividly with the glowing serenity of the those days that the world was slipping great lake below, with the spacious view headlong to anarchy. By the spring of
By the spring of of fertile hills and roads and villages and 1959, from nearly two hundred centers, islands to south and east, and with the and every week added to their number- hotly golden rice-fields of the Val Magroared the unquenchable, crimson con- gia to the north. flagrations of the atomic bombs; the flimsy And because it was a remote and insigfabric of the world's credit had vanished; nificant place, far away out of the crowdindustry was completely disorganized; and ing tragedies of that year of disaster and every city, every thickly populated area, of universal war, away from burning was starving or trembled on the verge of cities and starving multitudes, bracing starvation. Most of the capital cities of and tranquilizing and hidden, it was here the world were burning, millions of peo- that there gathered the conference of rulple had already perished, and over great ers that was to arrest, if possible, before areas government was at an end. Hu- it was too late the débâcle of civilization. manity has been compared by one contem- Here, brought together by the indefatigaporary writer to a sleeper who handles ble energy of that impassioned humanimatches in his sleep, and wakes to find tarian Leblanc, the French ambassador himself in flames.
at Washington, the chief powers of the
world were to meet in a last desperate THE BIRTHPLACE OF THE NEW
conference to “save humanity.” CIVILIZATION
Leblanc was one of those simple, spirOn the mountain-side above the town of ited men whose lot would have been inBrissago, and commanding two long significance in any period of security, but stretches of Lake Maggiore, looking east- who have been caught up to an immortal ward to Bellinzona and southward to rôle in history by the sudden simplificaLuino, there is a shelf of grass meadows tion of human affairs to the measure of which is very beautiful in springtime with their simplicity through some tragical
Copyright, 1914, by THE CENTURY CO.
crisis. Such a man was Abraham Lin- a spirit of reason in the crater of Etna. coln, and such was Garibaldi. And Le- Even though the shattered official governblanc, with his transparent, childish in- ments now clamored for peace, bands of nocence, his entire self-forgetfulness, came irreconcilables and invincible patriots, into this confusion of distrust and intri- usurpers, adventurers, and political descate disaster with an invincible appeal for perados, were now everywhere in possesthe manifest sanities of the situation. His sion of the simple apparatus for the disvoice, when he spoke, was "full of remon- couragement of atomic energy and the instrance.” He was a little, bald, spectacled itiation of new centers of destruction. man, full of that intellectual idealism The stuff exercised an irresistible fascinawhich has been one of the peculiar gifts tion upon a certain type of mind. Why of France to humanity. He was possessed should any one give in while he could still of one clear persuasion: that war must destroy his enemies? Surrender? While end, and that the only way to end war was there is still a chance of blowing them to to have only one government for mankind. dust? The power of destruction which He brushed aside all other considerations. had once been the ultimate privilege of At the very outbreak of the war, so soon government was now the only power left as the two capitals of the belligerents had in the world, and it was everywhere. been wrecked, he went to the President There were few thoughtful men during in the White House with this proposal; that phase of blazing waste who did not he made it as if it was a matter of course. pass through such moods of despair and He was fortunate to be in Washington declare, “This is the end." and in touch with that gigantic childish- And all the while Leblanc was going to ness which was the characteristic of the and fro with glittering glasses and an American imagination. For the Ameri- inexhaustible persuasiveness, urging the cans also were among the simple peoples manifest reasonableness of his view upon by whom the world was saved.
ears that ceased presently to be inattenover the American President and the tive. Never at any time did he betray a American Government to his general doubt that all this chaotic conflict would ideas. At any rate, they supported him end. No nurse during a nursery uproar sufficiently to give him a standing with was ever so certain of the inevitable ultithe more skeptical European governments, mate peace.
From being treated as an and with this backing he set to work-it amiable dreamer, he came by insensible seemed the most fantastic of enterprises degrees to be regarded as an extravagant - to bring together all the rulers of the possibility. Then he began to seem even world and unify them. He wrote in- practicable. The people who listened to numerable letters, he sent messages, he him in 1958 with a smiling impatience went desperate journeys, he enlisted what- were eager before 1959 was four months ever support he could find. No one was old to know just exactly what he thought too humble for an ally or too obstinate might be done. He answered with the for his advances; through the terrible au- patience of a philosopher and the lucidity tumn of the last wars this persistent little of a Frenchman. He began to receive revisionary in spectacles must have seemed sponses of a more and more hopeful type. rather like a hopeful canary twittering
THE GATHERING OF THE RULERS during a thunder-storm. And no accu
OF THE WORLD mulation of disasters daunted his conviction that they could be ended.
He came across the Atlantic to Italy, and For many months it was an open ques- there he gathered in the promises for this tion whether there was to be found congress. He chose those high meadows throughout all the race the will and intel- above Brissago for the reasons we have ligence to face these new conditions and stated. “We must get away,” he said, make even an attempt to arrest the down- “from old associations. He set to work fall of the social order. For a time the requisitioning material for his conference war spirit defeated every attempt to rally with an assurance that was justified by the forces of preservation and construc- the replies. With a slight incredulity the tion. Leblanc seemed to be protesting conference, which was to begin a new oragainst earthquakes, and as likely to find der in the world, gathered itself together. Leblanc summoned it without arrogance; Firmin was a man of strong rather than he controlled it by virtue of a vast humil- of rapid thought; he had anticipated great ity. Men appeared upon those upland influence in this new position, and after slopes with the apparatus for wireless some years he was still only beginning to telegraphy; others followed with tents apprehend how largely his function was and provisions; a little cable was Aung to listen. Originally he had been somedown to a convenient spot upon the Locarno thing of a thinker upon international poliroad below. Leblanc arrived, sedulouslytics, an authority upon tariffs and stratdirecting every detail that would affect egy, and a valued contributor to various the tone of the assembly. He might have of the higher organs of public opinion; been a courier in advance rather than the but the atomic bombs had taken him by originator of the gathering.
surprise, and he had still to recover comAnd then there arrived, some by the pletely from his preatomic opinions and cable, most by aëroplane, a few in other the silencing effect of those sustained exfashions, the men who had been called plosions. together to confer upon the state of the As they walked up,-it was the king world. It was to be a conference with who made the pace rather than Firmin, out a name. Nine monarchs, the presi- they talked of the conference before them, dents of four republics, several ministers and Firmin, with a certain want of assurand ambassadors, powerful journalists, ance that would have surprised him in and such-like prominent and influen- himself in the days of his professorship, tial men took part in it. There were sought to define the policy of his comeven scientific men, and that world-fa- panion. mous old man Holsten came with the “In its broader form, sir," said Firmin, others to contribute his amateur state- "I admit a certain plausibility in this craft to the desperate problem of the age. project of Leblanc's; but I feel that alOnly Leblanc would have dared so to though it may be advisable to set up some summon figureheads and powers and in- sort of general control for international telligence, or have had the courage to affairs,-a sort of Hague court with ex- . hope for their agreement.
tended powers, – that is no reason what
ever for losing sight of the principles of II
national and imperial autonomy.” And one at least of those who were called "Firmin," said the king, "I am going to this conference of governments came to to set my brother-kings a good example.' it on foot. This was King Egbert, the Firmin intimated a curiosity that veiled young king of the most venerable king- a dread. dom in Europe. He was a rebel, and had "By chucking all that nonsense,” said always been of deliberate choice a rebel the king. against the magnificences of his position. He quickened his pace as Firmin, who He affected long pedestrian tours and a was already a little out of breath, bedisposition to sleep in the open air. He trayed a disposition to reply. came now over the Pass of Sta. Maria "I am going to chuck all that nonMaggiore, and by boat up the lake to sense," said the king as Firmin prepared Brissago; thence he walked up the moun- to speak. “I am going to Aling my roytain, a pleasant path set with oaks and alty and empire on the table, and declare sweet chestnuts. For provision on the at once I don't mean to haggle. It 's walk, for he did not want to hurry, he haggling about rights that has been the carried with him a pocketful of bread and devil in human affairs for-always. I cheese. A certain small retinue that was am going to stop this nonsense.” necessary to his comfort and dignity upon Firmin halted abruptly. occasions of state he sent on by the cable- “But, sir!” he cried. car, and with him walked his private sec- The king stopped six yards ahead of retary, Firmin, a man who had thrown him, and looked back at his adviser's perup the professorship of world politics in spiring visage. the London School of Sociology, Econom- “Do you really think, Firmin, that I ics, and Political Science, to take up these am here as an infernal politician to put duties.
my crown and my flag and my claims and
so forth in the way of peace? That little buildings were all of a softened gray Frenchman is right, and you know he is stone, buried in rich green grass, shadright as well as I do. Those things are owed by chestnut-trees, and lit by an exover. We-we kings and rulers and rep- traordinary blaze of yellow broom. Never resentatives have been at the very heart had the king seen broom so glorious; he of the mischief.
we imply shouted at the light of it, for it seemed to separation, and of course separation means give out more sunlight even than it rethe threat of war, and of course the threat ceived. He sat down impulsively on a of war means the accumulation of more lichenous stone, tugged out his bread and and more atomic bombs. The old game 's cheese, and bade Firmin thrust the beer up. But, I say, we must n't stand here, into the shaded woods to cool. you know. The world waits. Don't
you “The things people miss, Firmin," he think the old game 's up, Firmin?" said, "who go up into the air in ships."
Firmin adjusted a strap, passed a hand Firmin looked around him with an unover his wet forehead, and followed ear
genial eye. nestly.
“You see it at its best, sir," he said, “I admit, sir," he said to a receding "before the peasants come here again and back, “that there has to be some sort of make it filthy." hegemony, some sort of amphictyonic “It would be beautiful anyhow," said council-"
the king. “There 's got to be one simple govern- "Superficially, sir," said Firmin. "But ment for all the world,” said the king it stands for a social order that is fast vanover his shoulder.
Indeed, judging by the "But as for a reckless, unqualified aban- grass between the stones and in the huts, donment, sir-"
I am inclined to doubt if it is in use even “Bang!" cried the king.
now." Firmin made no answer to this inter- "I suppose," said the king, "they would ruption, but a faint shadow of annoyance come up immediately the hay on this passed across his heated features.
flower meadow is cut. It would be those "Yesterday," said the king by way of slow, creamy-colored beasts, I suspect, explanation, "the Japanese very nearly sees on the roads below, and the got San Francisco."
swarthy girls with red handkerchiefs over “I had n't heard, sir."
their black hair. It is wonderful to think "The Americans ran the Japanese aëro- how long that beautiful old life lasted. plane down into the sea, and there the In the Roman times, and long ages before bomb got bu'sted.”
ever the manners of the Romans had come “Under the sea, sir?”
into these parts, men came driving their “Yes. Submarine volcano. The steam cattle up into these places as the summer is in sight of the Californian coast; it was
How haunted is this place! as near as that. And with things like There have been quarrels here, hopes; this happening, you want me to go up this children have played here and lived to be hill and haggle. Consider the effect of old crones and old gaffers and died: and that upon my imperial cousin-and all so it has gone on for thousands of lives. the others !"
Lovers, innumerable lovers, have caressed "He will haggle, sir."
amid this golden broom." "Not a bit of it," said the king.
"Sire," protested Firmin, with his voice At length, as it seemed to Firmin, or full of bread and cheese and genuine emoquite soon, as it seemed to the king, the tion, “have you no respect for your kinggradient of the path diminished, the way ship?" widened out, and they found themselves The king paused before he answered in a very beautiful place indeed. It was with unwonted gravity: one of those upland clusters of sheds and “It 's just because I have, Firmin, that houses, still to be found in the mountains I won't be a puppet in this game of interof northern Italy, that were used only in national politics." He regarded his comthe high summer and were left locked up panion for a moment and then remarked : and deserted through all the winter and "Kingship! What do you know of kingspring and up to the middle of June. The ship, Firmin? Yes," cried the king to his