While these events had been in progress three squadrons of air-ships had been speeding to St. Petersburg, Vienna, and Rome. Three vessels had been despatched to each city, and the instructions of those in command of the squadrons were to bring the German Emperor, the Emperor of Austria, and the King of Italy to London.
The news of the defeat of the League had preceded them by telegraph, and all three monarchs willingly obeyed the summons which they carried to attend a Conference for the ordering of affairs of Europe.
The German Emperor was at once released from his captivity, although only under a threat of the destruction of the city by the air-ships, for the Grand Duke Vladimir, who ruled at St. Petersburg as deputy of the Tsar, had first refused to believe the astounding story of the defeat of his brother and the destruction of his army. The terrible achievements of the air-ships were, however, too well and too certainly known to permit of resistance by force, and so the Kaiser was released, and made his first aërial voyage from St. Petersburg to London, arriving there at ten o’clock on the evening of the 8th, in the midst of the jubilations of the rejoicing city.
The King of England had sent a despatch to the Emperor of Austria inviting him to the Conference, and General Cosensz had sent a similar one to the King of Italy, and so there had been no difficulty about their coming. At mid-day on the 9th the Conference was opened in St. Paul’s, which was the only public building left intact in London capable of containing the vast audience that was present, an audience composed of men of every race and language in Europe.
Natas was absent, and Tremayne occupied his seat in the centre of the table; the other members of the Inner Circle, now composing the Supreme Council of the Federation, were present, with the exception of Natasha, Radna, and Anna Ornovski, and the other seats at the table were occupied by the monarchs to whom the purposes of the Conference had been explained earlier in the day. France was represented in the person of General le Gallifet.
The body of the Cathedral was filled to overflowing, with the exception of an open space kept round the table by the Federation guards.
The proceedings commenced with a brief but impressive religious service conducted by the Primate of England, who ended it with a short but earnest appeal, delivered from the altar steps, to those composing the Conference, calling upon them to conduct their deliberations with justice and moderation, and reminding them of the millions who were waiting in other parts of Europe for the blessings of peace and prosperity which it was now in their power to confer upon them. As the Archbishop concluded the prayer for the blessing of Heaven upon their deliberation, with which he ended his address, Tremayne, after a few moments of silence, rose in his place and, speaking in clear deliberate tones, began as follows:—
“Your Majesties have been called together to hear the statement of the practical issues of the conflict which has been decided between the armies of the Federation of the Anglo–Saxon peoples and those of the late Franco–Slavonian League.
“Into the motives which led myself and those who have acted with me to take the part which we have done in this tremendous struggle, there is now no need for me to enter. It is rather with results than with motives that we have to deal, and those results may be very briefly stated.
“We have demonstrated on the field of battle that we hold in our hands means of destruction against which it is absolutely impossible for any army fortress or fleet to compete with the slightest hope of victory; and more than this, we are in command of the only organised army and fleet now on land or sea. We have been compelled by the necessities of the case to use our powers unsparingly up to a certain point. That we have not used them beyond that point, as we might have done, to enslave the world, is the best proof that I can give of the honesty of our purposes with regard to the future.
“But it must never be forgotten that these powers remain with us, and can be evoked afresh should necessity ever arise.
“It is not our purpose to enter upon a war of conquest, or upon a series of internal revolutions in the different countries of Europe, the issue of which might be the subversion of all order, and the necessity for universal conquest on our part in order to restore it.
“With two exceptions the internal affairs of all the nations of Europe, saving only Russia, which for the present we shall govern directly, will be left undisturbed. The present tenure of land will be abolished, and the only rights to the possession of it that will be recognised will be occupation and cultivation. Experience has shown that the holding of land for mere purposes of luxury or speculative profit leads to untold injustices to the general population of a country. The land on which cities and towns are built will henceforth belong to the municipalities, and the rents of the buildings will be paid in lieu of taxation.
“The other exception is even more important than this. We have waged war in order that it may be waged no more, and we are determined that it shall now cease for ever. The peoples of the various nations have no interest in warfare. It has been nothing but an affliction and a curse to them, and we are convinced that if one generation grows up without drawing the sword, it will never be drawn again as long as men remain upon the earth. All existing fortifications will therefore be at once destroyed, standing armies will be disbanded, and all the warships in the world, which cannot be used for peaceful purposes, will be sent to the bottom of the deepest part of the ocean.
“For the maintenance of peace and order each nation will maintain a body of police, in which all citizens between the ages of twenty and forty will serve in rotation, and this police will be under the control, first of the Sovereign and Parliament of the country, and ultimately of an International Board, which will sit once a year in each of the capitals of Europe in turn, and from whose decision there will be no appeal.
“The possession of weapons of warfare, save by the members of this force, will be forbidden under penalty of death, as we shall presuppose that no man can possess such weapons save with intent to kill, and all killing, save execution for murder, will henceforth be treated as murder. Declaration of war by one country upon another will be held to be a national crime, and, should such an event ever occur, the forces of the Anglo–Saxon Federation will be at once armed by authority of the Supreme Council, and the guilty nation will be crushed and its territories will be divided among its neighbours.
“Such are the broad outlines of the course which we intend to pursue, and all I have now to do is to commend them to your earnest consideration in the name of those over whom you are the constituted rulers.”
As the President of the Federation sat down the German Emperor rose and said in a tone which showed that he had heard the speech with but little satisfaction —
“From what we have heard it would seem that the Federation of the Anglo–Saxon peoples considers itself as having conquered the world, and as being, therefore, in a position to dictate terms to all the peoples of the earth. Am I correct in this supposition?”
Tremayne bowed in silence, and he continued —
“But this amounts to the destruction of the liberties of all peoples who are not of the Anglo–Saxon race. It seems impossible to me to believe that free-born men who have won their liberty upon the battlefield will ever consent to submit to a despotism such as this. What if they refuse to do so?”
Tremayne was on his feet in an instant. He turned half round and faced the Kaiser, with a frown on his brow and an ominous gleam in his eyes —
“Your Majesty of Germany may call it a despotism if you choose, but remember that it is a despotism of peace and not of war, and that it affects only those who would be peace-breakers and drawers of the sword upon their fellow-creatures. I regret that you have made it necessary for me to remind you that we have conquered your conquerors, and that the despotism from which we have delivered the nations of Europe would infallibly have been ten thousand times worse than that which you are pleased to miscall by the name.
“You deplore the loss of the right and the power to draw the sword one upon another. Well, now, take that right back again for the last time! Say here, and now, that you will not acknowledge the supremacy of the Council of the Federation, and take the consequences!
“Our soldiers are still in the field, our aërial fleet is still in the air, and our sea-navy is under steam. But, remember, if you appeal to the sword it shall be with you as it was with Alexander Romanoff and the Russian force which invaded England. We have annihilated the army to a man, and exiled the Autocrat for life. Choose now, peace or war, and let those who would choose war with you take their stand beside you, and we will fight another Armageddon!”
The pregnant and pitiless words brought the Kaiser to his senses in an instant. He remembered that his army was destroyed, his strongest fortresses dismantled, his treasury empty, and the manhood of his country decimated. He turned white to the lips and sank back into his chair, covered his face with his hands, and sobbed aloud. And so ended the last and only protest made by the spirit of militarism against the new despotism of peace.
One by one the monarchs now rose in their places, bowed to the inevitable, and gave their formal adherence to the new order of things. General le Gallifet came last. When he had affixed his signature to the written undertaking of allegiance which they had all signed, he said, speaking in French —
“I was born and bred a soldier, and my life has been passed either in warfare or the study of it. I have now drawn the sword for the last time, save to defend France from invasion. I have seen enough of modern war, or, as I should rather call it, murder by machinery, for such it only is now. They spoke truly who prophesied that the solution of the problem of aërial navigation would make war impossible. It has made it impossible, because it has made it too unspeakably horrible for humanity to tolerate it.
“In token of the honesty of my belief I ask now that France and Germany shall bury their long blood-feud on their last battlefield, and in the persons of his German Majesty and myself shake hands in the presence of this company as a pledge of national forgiveness and perpetual peace.”
As he ceased speaking, he turned and held out his hand to the Kaiser. All eyes were turned on William II, to see how he would receive this appeal. For a moment he hesitated, then his manhood and chivalry conquered his pride and national prejudice, and amidst the cheers of the great assembly, he grasped the outstretched hand of his hereditary enemy, saying in a voice broken by emotion —
“So be it. Since the sword is broken for ever, let us forget that we have been enemies, and remember only that we are neighbours.”
This ended the public portion of the Conference. From St. Paul’s those who had composed it went to Buckingham Palace, in the grounds of which the aërial fleet was reposing on the lawns under a strong guard of Federation soldiers. Here they embarked, and were borne swiftly through the air to Windsor Castle, where they dined together as friends and guests of the King of England, and after dinner discussed far on into the night the details of the new European Constitution which was to be drawn up and formally ratified within the next few days.
Shortly after noon on the following day the Ithuriel, with Natas, Natasha, Arnold, and Tremayne on board, rose into the air from the grounds of Buckingham Palace and headed away to the northward. The control of affairs was left for the time being to a committee of the members of what had once been the Inner Circle of the Terrorists, and which was now the Supreme Council of the Federation.
This was under the joint presidency of Alexis Mazanoff and Nicholas Roburoff, who was exerting his great and well-proved administrative abilities to the utmost in order to atone for the fault which had led to the desertion of the Lucifer, and to amply justify the intercession of Natasha which had made it possible for him to be present at the last triumph of the Federation and the accomplishment of the long and patient work of the Brotherhood. There was an immense amount of work to be got through in the interval between the pronouncement of the judgment of Natas on the Tsar and his Ministers and the execution of the sentence. After twenty-four hours in Newgate they were transferred to Wormwood Scrubs Prison, and there, under a guard of Federation soldiers, who never left them for a moment day or night, they awaited the hour of their departure to Siberia.
Communication with all parts of the Continent and America was rapidly restored. The garrisons of the League were withdrawn from the conquered cities, gave up their arms at the depots of their respective regiments, and returned to their homes. The French and Italian troops round London were disarmed and taken to France in the Federation fleet of transports. Meanwhile three air-ships were placed temporarily at the disposal of the Emperor of Austria, the Kaiser, and the King of Italy, to convey them to their capitals, and furnish them with the means of speedy transit about their dominions, and to and from London during the drawing up of the new European Constitution.
A fleet of four air-ships and fifteen aerostats was also despatched to the Russian capital, and compelled the immediate surrender of the members of the Imperial family and the Ministers of the Government, and the instant disarmament of all troops on Russian soil, under pain of immediate destruction of St. Petersburg and Moscow, and invasion and conquest of the country by the Federation armies. The Council of State and the Ruling Senate were then dissolved, and the Executive passed automatically into the hands of the controllers of the Federation. Resistance was, of course, out of the question, and as soon as it was once known for certain that the Tsar had been taken prisoner and his army annihilated, no one thought seriously of it, as it would have been utterly impossible to have defended even Russia against the overwhelming forces of the Federation and the British Empire, assisted by the two aërial fleets.
The Ithuriel, after a flight of a little more than an hour, stopped and descended to the earth on the broad, sloping, and now snow-covered lawn in front of Alanmere Castle. Lord Marazion and his daughter, who, as it is almost needless to say, had been kept well informed of the course of events since the Federation forces landed in England, had also been warned by telegraph of the coming of their aërial visitors, and before the Ithuriel had touched the earth, the new mistress of Alanmere had descended the steps of the terrace that ran the whole length of the Castle front to welcome its lord and hers back to his own again.
Then there were greetings of lovers and friends, well known to each other by public report and familiar description, yet never seen in the flesh till now, and of others long parted by distance and by misconception of aims and motives. But however pleasing it might be to dwell at length upon the details of such a meeting, and its delightful contrast to the horrors of unsparing war and merciless destruction, there is now no space to do so, for the original limits of this history of the near future have already been reached and overpassed, and it is time to make ready for the curtain to descend upon the last scenes of the world-drama of the Year of Wonders — 1904.
Tremayne was the first to alight, and he was followed by Natasha and Arnold at a respectful distance, which they kept until the first greeting between the two long and strangely-parted lovers was over. When at length Lady Muriel got out of the arms of her future lord, she at once ran to Natasha with both her hands outstretched, a very picture of grace and health and blushing loveliness.
She was Natasha’s other self, saving only for the incomparable brilliance of colouring and contrast which the daughter of Natas derived from her union of Eastern and Western blood. Yet no fairer type of purely English beauty than Muriel Penarth could have been found between the Border and the Land’s End, and what she lacked of Natasha’s half Oriental brilliance and fire she atoned for by an added measure of that indescribable blend of dignity and gentleness which makes the English gentlewoman perhaps the most truly lovable of all women on earth.
“I could not have believed that the world held two such lovely women,” said Arnold to Tremayne, as the two girls met and embraced. “How marvellously alike they are, too! They might be sisters. Surely they must be some relation.”
“Yes, I am sure they are,” replied Tremayne; “such a resemblance cannot be accidental. I remember in that queer double life of mine, when I was your unconscious rival, I used to interchange them until they almost seemed to be the same identity to me. There is some little mystery behind the likeness which we shall have cleared up before very long now. Natas told me to take Lord Marazion to him in the saloon, and said he would not enter the Castle till he had spoken with him alone. There he is at the door! You go and make Muriel’s acquaintance, and I will take him on board at once.”
So saying, Tremayne ran up the terrace steps, shook hands heartily with the old nobleman, and then came down with him towards the air-ship. As they met Lady Muriel coming up with Arnold on one side of her and Natasha on the other, Lord Marazion stopped suddenly with an exclamation of wonder. He took his arm out of Tremayne’s, strode rapidly to Natasha, and, before his daughter could say a word of introduction, put his hands on her shoulders, and looked into her lovely upturned face through a sudden mist of tears that rose unbidden to his eyes.
“It is a miracle!” he said, in a low voice that trembled with emotion. “If you are the daughter of Natas, there is no need to tell me who he is, for you are Sylvia Penarth’s daughter too. Is not that so, Sylvia di Murska — for I know you bear your mother’s name?”
“Yes, I bear her name — and my father’s. He is waiting for you in the air-ship, and he has much to say to you. You will bring him back to the Castle with you, will you not?”
Natasha spoke with a seriousness that had more weight than her words, but Lord Marazion understood her meaning. He stooped down and kissed her on the brow, saying —
“Yes, yes; the past is the past. I will go to him, and you shall see us come back together.”
“And so we are cousins!” exclaimed Lady Muriel, slipping her arm round Natasha’s waist as she spoke. “I was sure we must be some relation to each other; for, though I am not so beautiful”—
“Don’t talk nonsense, or I shall call you ‘Your Ladyship’ for the rest of the day. Yes, of course we are alike, since our mothers were twin-sisters, and the very image of each other, according to their portraits.”
While the girls were talking of their new-found relationship, Arnold had dropped behind to wait for Tremayne, who, after he had taken Lord Marazion into the saloon of the Ithuriel, had left him with Natas and returned to the Castle alone.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54