Puslapio vaizdai
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Leblanc summoned it without arrogance; he controlled it by virtue of a vast 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 spot 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 aëroplane, 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, several 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 figureheads and powers and intelligence, or have had the courage to hope for their agreement.

II

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 magnificences 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 chestnuts. 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 cablecar, 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 of 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 preatomic opinions and the silencing effect of those sustained explosions.

As they walked up,-it was the king who 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 that has been the devil in human affairs for always. I am 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 really think, Firmin, that I am here 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, and 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 must n'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 had n't heard, sir.”

"The Americans ran the Japanese aëroplane down into the sea, and there the bomb got bu'sted."

"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.

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, still to be found in the mountains of northern Italy, that were used only in the high summer and were left locked up and deserted through all the winter and spring and up to the middle of June. The

buildings were all of a softened 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 woods 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, I am 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-colored beasts, I suspect,

one

sees on the roads below, and the 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 manners of the Romans had come into these parts, men came driving 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 amid this golden broom.”

"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 counselor, "for the first time in my life I am going to be a king. I am 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. Now I am going to be a real king, and I am going to-to abolish, dispose of, finish, the crown to which I have been a slave. But what a world of paralyzing shame 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-I am 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, Firminyou want me to go up there and haggle like some 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 Reassured of his eloquence, he considered the desponded and sulky Firmin for a space.

"Firmin," he said, "you have idealized 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. "Firmin,' he went on,

"have you no thought for me? Will you never realize that I am not only flesh and blood, but an imagination-with its rights? I am a king in revolt against that fetter they put upon my head. I am 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. 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. 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 think I am."

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, they thought I was n't displaying the royal tact expected of me."

He meditated for a time.

"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 could n'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. I am a king, a kingly king, by right divine. The fact that I am also a chattering young man makes not the slightest difference to that."

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?"

"Manifestly war has to stop forever, Firmin. Manifestly this can be done only 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 our government. Without any election at all. Without my 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 scepter. We are n'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 becomes difficult only 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 arc. 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. Lawyers live on rights. 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."

He stood up.

Firmin, forgetting the habits of a score of years, remained seated.

At last he said:

"And I have known nothing!"

The king smiled very cheerfully. He liked these talks with Firmin.

III

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 marvelous 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 at last to the realization of the simple truths that the indefatigable Leblanc had hammered into them; and drawing his resources from the King of Italy, he had provisioned it with a generous simplicity quite in accordance with the rest of his character, and here he made his astonishing and entirely rational appeal.

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THE NEW DIVINE RIGHTS OF KINGS

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.

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 aeroplanes, each carrying a sharp-shooter, 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.

Firmin was not alone in his incredulity. There was 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

The members of the new world government dined at three long tables on trestles, and down the middle of these tables Leblanc, despite the barrenness of his menu, had contrived to have set 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 this epochmaking 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 on 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 overemphasize and overaccentuate, 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.

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