The evangel of the Lord Paramount of England was swift and direct.
Clad thinly in the incorporated identity of Mr. Parham, the Senior Tutor of St. Simon’s, publicist and historian, sustained at the outset by the wealth of this strangely subdued Sir Bussy which he commandeered without scruple, waited upon in a state of awestricken devotion by Hereward Jackson, and attended hygienically by the cowed and convinced Sir Titus Knowles, the Master Spirit, without haste and without delay, imposed his personality upon the national imagination. Without delay and yet without apparent haste, he set about the task for which he had become incarnate.
With unerring judgment he chose and summoned his supporters to his side and arranged what in the case of any inferior type would have been called a vulgar publicity campaign. That is the first necessary phase in any sort of human leadership. To begin with, one must be known. Vulgarization is the road to empire. By that the most fine-minded of men must come to power, if they would have power. The careers of Cæsar and Napoleon opened with a bold operation of the contemporary means of publicity. They could open in no other way.
The country was weary of parliamentary government, weary of a conservatism which did not reduce the taxes upon property and enterprise to a minimum, weary of a liberalism that it could not trust to maintain overwhelming but inexpensive armaments, weary of the unintelligible bickerings of liberalism and labour, weary of the growing spectre of unemployment, weary of popular education, religious discussion, and business uncertainty, disappointed by peace and dismayed at the thought of war, neurasthenic and thoroughly irritable and distressed. The papers it read attacked the government and would not support the opposition. Politics could not escape from personalities, and none of the personalities succeeded in being more than actively undignified or industriously dull. Everybody nagged everybody. Trade was bad, the new talking movies a clanging disappointment, county cricket more and more tedious, and the influenza hung about maddeningly. Whenever one tried to do anything one found one had a cold. Criticism and literature fostered discord with whatever was old and would not countenance hope for anything new. Aimless skepticism was the “thing.” Nobody seemed to know where to go or what to do, and the birth rate and death rate, falling together, witnessed together to the general indecisiveness. The weather was moody and treacherous. The General Election had pleased nobody. It had taken power out of the hands of a loyal if dull conservative majority, faithful to the honoured traditions of an expanding empire, and transferred it to the control of a vague and sentimental idealism in which nobody believed. The country was ripe for some great change.
It was at a mass gathering of the Amalgamated Patriotic Societies in the Albert Hall, convened not very hopefully to protest against any pampering of the unemployed by their fellows on the government benches, that the Lord Paramount, still thinly personating the vanished Mr. Parham, rose, like a beneficent star upon the British horizon. When he stood up to speak he was an unknown man except to the elect few to whom he had already revealed himself. When at last, amidst an unparalleled storm of enthusiasm, he resumed his seat, he was already and irrevocably leader of a national renascence. The residue of the agenda was washed away and forgotten in the wild storm of enthusiasm that beat upon the platform.
Yet his début was made with the very minimum of artificiality. His voice rang clear and true into the remotest circles of that great place; the handsome pallor of his face, lit ever and again by an extraordinarily winning smile, focussed every eye. His bearing was inaggressive, and yet his whole being radiated an extraordinary magnetism. His gestures were restrained but expressive; the chief of them the throwing out of a beautifully formed hand. “Who is this man,” whispered a thousand lips, “that we have never known of him before?”
His speech was entirely devoid of rhetorical gymnastics. His style can be best described as one of colossal simplicity. He touched the familiar and obvious to a new life. His discourse carried along platitudes as hosts carry time-honoured banners and one familiar phrase followed another, like exiled leaders refreshed and renewed returning to their people. With a few closely knit phrases he gathered together the gist of the previous speakers. Some of them had been perhaps a trifle querulous, over explicit, or lengthy, and it was marvellous how he plucked the burning heart from the honest and yet plaintive copiousness that had preceded him and held it out, a throbbing and beating indignation. It was true, he conceded, that our working classes, under the poisonous infection of foreign agitators, deteriorated daily; it was true that art and literature had become the vehicles of a mysterious malaria, true that science was mischievous and miasmatic and the very pulpit and altar were touched by doubt. It was true that our young people had lost all sense of modesty in the poisoned chalice of pleasure and that our growing hosts of unemployed seemed to lack even the will to invent anything to do. Nevertheless . . .
For a moment his golden voice held its great audience in the immense expectation of that overarching word. Then, very gently and clearly and sweetly, it told of what Britain had been to the world and what she still might be, this little island, this jewel in the forehead of the world, this precious jewel, this crowned imperial jewel, set in the stormy frosted silver of the seas. For, after all, these workers of ours — properly safeguarded — were still the best in the world, and their sons and daughters heirs of the mightiest tradition that had ever been hewn from the crucibles of time. (No time to correct that; it had to go. The meaning was plain.) Superficially our land might seem to have given way to a certain lassitude. That made it all the more urgent that we should thrust all masks and misconceptions aside now, and stand forth again in this age of the world’s direst need, the mighty race, the race of leaders and adventurers that we were and had always been. BUT. . .
Again a moment of expectation; every face in that quintessential assembly intent.
Was all our pride and hope to be dashed and laid aside to subserve the manoeuvres of a handful of garrulous politicians and their parasites and dupes? Was Britain to be forever gagged by its infatuation with elected persons, and the national voice of our great people belied by the tediums and dishonesties of a parliamentary institution that had long outlived its use? Through years of impatience the passionate negative had been engendering itself in our indignant hearts. Let us borrow a phrase from an unexpected quarter. The poor rebels on the outer fringe of the Socialist party, that fringe the Socialist party was so anxious to deny, the Bolsheviki, the Communistky, the Cooks and Maxtons, and so forth, used a phrase that went far beyond their courage. That phrase was Direct Action. Not for such as they were, was the realization of so tremendous a suggestion. For Direct Action could be a great and glorious thing. It could be the drawing of the sword of righteousness. It could be the launching of the thunderbolt. The time had come, the hour was striking, for honest men and true women and all that was real and vital in our national life to think of Direct Action, to prepare for Direct Action; to discipline themselves for the hour of Direct Action, when they would hold and maintain, strike and spare not.
For some moments the Master Spirit was like a strong swimmer in a tumultuous sea of applause. As the tumult fell to attention again he sketched out his line of action very briefly and so came to his peroration. “I ask you to return to the essential, the substantial things of life,” he said. “Here I stand for plain and simple things — for King and Country, for Religion and Property, for Order and Discipline, for the Peasant on the Land and for all Men at their Work and Duty, for the Rightness of the Right, the Sacredness of Sacred Things and all the Fundamental Institutions of Mankind.”
He remained standing. The voice died away. For some moments there was a great stillness and then a sound like “Ah!”— a long universal “Ah!” and then a thunder of expression that rose and rose. English audiences they say are hard to move, but this one was on fire. Everyone stood. Everyone sought the relief of gesticulation. All the great hall seemed to be pressing and pouring down towards its Master made manifest. Everywhere were shining eyes and extended hands. “Tell us what to do,” cried a hundred voices. “Show us what to do. Lead us!” Fresh people seemed to be flowing into the place as those who had been there throughout pressed down the gangways. How they responded! Surely of all gifts of power that God gives his creatures that of oratory has the swiftest reward! The Lord Paramount faced his conquered audience, and within, restored to the religious confidence of an earlier time, he thanked his God.
It was impossible to leave things at that point; some immediate action was needed. “What are we to tell them to do?” pressed the chairman.
“Form a league,” said the Master simply.
Hands were held up to command silence. The chairman’s thin voice could be heard reiterating the suggestion. “Yes, form a league,” thundered the multitude. “What are we to call the league?”
“League of Duty,” suggested Hereward Jackson, jammed close to the Master.
“The Duty Paramount League,” said the Master, his voice cutting through the uproar like the sweep of a sword. The multitude vibrated upon that.
A little speechifying followed, heard eagerly but impatiently. The League, someone said, was to be the Fascisti of Britain. There were loud cries of “British Fascisti” and “The English Duce” (variously pronounced). Young Englishmen, hitherto slack and aimless, stood up and saluted Fascist fashion and took on something of the stiff, stern dignity of Roman camerieri as they did so.
“And who is he?” cried a penetrating voice. “What is his name? He is our leader. Our Deuce! We will follow him.”
“Doochy!” someone corrected . . . .
Cries and confusion, and then out of it all the words, “Duty Paramount! The Master Paramount! Paramount!” growing to a great shout, a vast vocal upheaval.
“Hands up for adhesions,” bawled a tall, intensely excited man at the Master Spirit’s elbow, and the whole multitude was a ripe cornfield of hands. It was an astounding gathering; young men and old men, beautiful women, tall girls like flames and excited elderly persons of every size and shape, all fused in one stupendous enthusiasm, and many of them waving sticks and umbrellas. Never had there been a religious revival to compare with it. And every eye in all that swaying mass was fixed on the serene determination of the Master Spirit’s face.
Flashes of blinding lavender-tinted light showed that press cameras were in action.
“Turn this place into a headquarters. Enrol them,” said the Master Spirit.
He felt a tug at his sleeve. It was the first of a number of queer little backward tugs he was to feel even in the first exaltation of his ascent. “We’ve only got the place until midnight,” said a thin, unnecessary, officious-mannered little man.
“Disregard that,” said the Master Spirit and prepared to leave the auditorium.
“They’ll turn us out,” the little man insisted.
“Turn THAT out! NEVER!” said the Master Spirit waving a hand to the following he had created, the stormy forces he had evoked, and scorched the doubter with his blazing eyes. But still the creature insisted.
“Well, they’ll cut off the lights.”
“Seize the switches! And tell the organist not to play the National Anthem until he is told to. Tell him to play some stirring music as the enrolment goes on.”
The timid man shrunk away, and others more resolute obeyed the Master’s behests. ‘Turn us out’ indeed! The organist after a brief parley arranged to play “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” with variations wandering occasionally into “Onward, Christian Soldiers” and “Rule, Britannia” until a suitable relief could be found for him, and to such magnificent music it was that the League of Duty Paramount was born.
The enrolment continued until dawn. Thousands of names were taken. They poured past the little tables endlessly. Their eyes blazed, their noses resembled the first Duke of Wellington’s, their chins protruded more and more. It was amazing that the Albert Hall could have held so many earnest and vigorous people . . . .
The Master’s task for that evening was done. He had fought his first fight on the road to power. Reverential hands guided him down steps of faded baize. He found himself in a little ante-room, and Hereward Jackson was offering him a glass of water. The chairman of the meeting stood out at the centre of a select circle of devotees. Mrs. Pinchot, dark and mutely worshipping, had managed somehow to get into this inner grouping. Her eyes were full of understanding. “Too late for the morning papers,” said the chairman, “but we shall see that the evening press gets everything full and good. A wonderful speech sir! Do you mind a few photographers from the picture papers taking shots at you?”
“Let them,” said the Master Spirit.
He considered. “I am to be seen at Carfex House. I shall make that my headquarters. Let them come to me there.”
For a moment that rare smile of his dazzled the chairman, touched Mrs. Pinchot like a glancing sunbeam, and he had gone.
“Not tired, sir?” asked Hereward Jackson anxiously in the car.
“It is not for me to be tired,” said the Master Spirit.
“I have an excellent tonic I can give you at Carfex House,” said Sir Titus.
“Chemicals when I must,” said the Master, with that characteristic gesture of his hand.
Yet he was sensible of fatigue and oddly enough of just one faint twinge of anxiety. There was one little speck upon the splendour of this triumph. These two men were manifestly faithful, and Jackson was full of emotion at the immense success of the meeting, but — there ought to have been a third man in the car.
“By the by,” said the Master Spirit, leaning back restfully in the big Rolls–Royce and closing his eyes with an affectation of complete indifference. “Where is Sir Bussy Woodcock?”
Jackson thought. “He went away. He went quite early. He got up suddenly and went out.”
“Did he say anything?”
“Something — it always sounds like ‘Gaw.’”
The Master Spirit opened his eyes. “He must be sent for — if he is not at Carfex House. I shall want him at hand.”
But Sir Bussy was not at Carfex House. He had not gone home. The place, however, was entirely at the disposal of the Master Spirit and his retinue. The servants had everything in readiness for them, and the major domo offered to telephone to Marmion House to restore communications with Sir Bussy. But if there was a reply it did not get through to the Master Spirit, and next morning Sir Bussy was still missing. He did not reappear until late the next afternoon and then he drifted into his own property, the most detached and observant person in what was rapidly becoming a busy and militant hive. The organization of the staff of the Master Spirit and the apportionment of rooms to the secretaries he engaged, had gone on rapidly in the absence of the legal owner of the house. Among the secretaries, most energetic and capable of helpers, was little Mrs. Pinchot, the medium. Others were chosen from among the little Oxford group of “Parham’s Young Men.”
Next morning after a séance with a number of photographers, the Master Spirit motored to Harrow School, where as a result of headlong arrangements he was able to address the boys in the morning. His address was substantially the same as that he had given in the Albert Hall, and the enthusiasm of the generous youngsters, led by the more military masters, was a very glorious experience. While he lunched with the head, the gallant lads, neglecting all thought of food, bolted off to put on their cadet uniforms, and an informal parade of the corps was held to bid him farewell, with shouts of “Duty Paramount!” and “We are ready!”
There was little classroom work for the rest of that day at Harrow.
A strong contingent of reporters was present and next morning saw the demonstration fully reported and pictured in all the daily papers. So his message came through to that greater outer world, the general public, and awakened an immediate response.
The following afternoon saw him repeating his triumph on the playing fields of Eton.
The time was ripe, and men had been waiting for him. In a few weeks the whole empire knew of the Duty Paramount movement and the coming of the Master Paramount (the formal title of Lord Paramount came later) to lead England back into the paths she had forsaken. The main newspaper groups supported him from the outset; Lord Bothermey became his devoted standard bearer, and all the resources of modern journalism were exerted in his favour. He was urged in leading articles that would have been fulsome had they referred to any mere mortal leader, to conduct his manifest mission of control and suppression fearlessly and speedily. His popularity with the army, navy, and flying corps, and particularly with the very old and very young officers in these services, was instantaneous and complete. Literature cast off the triviality and skepticism that had overtaken it and flamed to his support. Mr. Bloodred Hipkin, the Laureate of Empire, burst into his swan song at his coming and Mr. Berandine Shore, overjoyed at the fall of the entire detestable race of politicians, inundated the press with open letters to proclaim him even greater than Mussolini. He was cheered for twenty minutes at the Stock Exchange. The feminine electorate was conquered en masse by the Byronic beauty of his profile, the elegance of his gestures, and the extraordinary charm of his smile.
England fell into his hands like a ripe fruit. It was clear that the executive and legislative functions were his for the taking.
The Master Spirit was incapable of hesitation. In uniforms of a Cromwellian cut, designed after the most careful consideration of the proper wear for expelling legislative assemblies and made under pressure at remarkable speed, the chiefs of the Duty Paramount movement and a special bodyguard armed with revolvers and swords, marched under his leadership to Westminster at the head of a great popular demonstration. The Houses of Parliament were surrounded. The police offered a half-hearted resistance, for the Metropolitan Police Commissioner was himself a strong man and could understand what was happening to the world. An attempt, essentially formal, was made to treat this historical March upon Westminster as ordinary traffic and divert it towards Chelsea; this failing, the police, in accordance with a prearranged scheme, evacuated the building, paraded in good order in Parliament Square, and marched off in Indian file, leaving the League in possession. For some minutes Miss Ellen Wilkerson offered a formidable resistance in one of the corridors, but reinforcements arrived, and she was overpowered. The “Talking Shop” had fallen.
The House of Commons was in session and did not seem to know how to get out of it. The Master Spirit, supported by the staff he had gathered about him — except Sir Bussy, who was again unaccountably missing — entered by the Strangers’ entrance and came through the division lobby onto the floor of the House. At the significant brown band across the green carpet he stopped short.
The atmosphere of the place was tensely emotional as this tall and slender and yet most portentous figure, supported by the devoted lieutenants his magic had inspired, stood facing the Speaker and his two bewigged satellites. Someone had set the division bells ringing, and the House was crowded, the Labour party clustered thickly to his left, Commander Benworthy bulky and outstanding. There was little talk or noise. The great majority of the members present were silently agape. Some were indignant, but many upon the right were manifestly sympathetic. Above, the attendants were attempting, but not very successfully, to clear the Strangers’ and Distinguished Strangers’ galleries. The reporters stared or scribbled convulsively and there was a luminous abundance of ladies in their particular gallery.
Methodical and precise as ever, the tapes in the dining and smoking rooms had announced, “Dictator enters House with armed force. Business in suspense,” and had then ceased their useful function. From behind the Speaker’s chair a couple of score of the bodyguard, with swords drawn, had spread out to the left and right and stood now at the salute.
It would have needed a soul entirely devoid of imagination to ignore the profound historical significance of this occasion, and the Master was of imagination all compact. His stern determination was mellowed but not weakened by a certain element of awe at his own immense achievement. To this House, if not to this particular chamber, Charles the First had come in pursuit of the tragic destiny that was to bring him to Whitehall, and after him, to better effect had come Cromwell, the great precursor of the present event. Here, through a thousand scenes of storm and conflict, the mighty fabric of the greatest empire the world had ever seen had been welded and reshaped. Here had spoken such mighty rulers and gladiators as Walpole and Pelham, Pitt and Burke, Peel and Palmerston, Gladstone and Disraeli. And now this once so potent assembly had waxed vulgar, senile, labourist, garrulous and ineffective, and the day of rejuvenescence, the restoration of the Phoenix, was at hand. The eyes of the Master Spirit, grave and a little sorrowful, were lifted as if for guidance to the fretted roof and then fell thoughtfully upon the mace, “that bauble,” which lay athwart the table before him. He seemed to muse for a moment upon the mighty task he had undertaken, before he addressed himself to the wigged and robed figure at the head of the assembly.
“Mr. Speaker,” he said, “I must ask you to leave the chair.” He turned half-face to the government benches. “Gentlemen, the Ministers of the Crown, I would advise you to yield your portfolios without demur to my secretaries. For the good of His Majesty’s realm and the needs of our mighty Empire I must for a time take these things over from you. When England has found her soul again, when her health has been restored, then all her ancient liberties of speech and counsel will return to her again.”
For a perceptible interval everyone present might have been a wax-work image, so still and intent did they all stand. It might have been some great historical tableau set out at Madame Tussaud’s. It seemed already history, and for all the length of that pause it was as if the Lord Paramount were rather witnessing what he had done than actually doing it. It became flattened but bright like a coloured picture in a child’s book of history . . . .
The action of the piece was resumed by a little significant detail. Two bodyguards came forward and placed themselves at either elbow of the Speaker.
“I protest in the name of the Commons of England,” said the Speaker, standing and holding his robes ready to descend.
“Your protest is duly noted,” said the Master Spirit, and turning slowly, ordered and motioned his guards to clear the House.
They did their duty without haste or violence.
On the left hand herding thickly, was this new labour government, this association of vague idealists and socialist adventurers and its supporters. Mr. Ramsy McDougal stood against the table, as ever a little apart from his colleagues, an image of unreadiness. Mr. Parham had only seen him on one or two occasions before and looking at him now through the Lord Paramount’s eyes, he seemed more gaunt and angular than ever, more like a lonely wind-stripped tree upon some blasted heath, more haggard and inaccurate in his questionable handsomeness. He was evidently looking about him for support. His eyes wandered appealingly to the reporters’ gallery, to the opposition benches, to the ladies’ gallery and to the roof that presumably veiled his God from him, and then they came back to the knots and masses of his own followers. It was clear above the general murmur that he was speaking. He made noises like a cow barking or like a dog which moos. The Lord Paramount heard himself denounced as “the spirit of unrighteousness.” Then there was an appeal to “fair play.” Finally something about going to “raise the fiery cross.” As two of the League guards approached him guided by the Lord Paramount’s signal, his gestures which indicated a rallying place elsewhere became more emphatic. For a moment he posed tall and commanding, arm lifted, finger pointing heavenward, before he folded himself up and retired.
Behind him Sir Osbert Moses had seemed to be pleading in vain with a sheepish crowd of government supporters for some collective act of protest. Mr. Coope, the extremist, was plainly an advocate for violence, but managed nothing. For the most part these labour people seemed as usual only anxious to find out what was considered the right thing to do and to do it as precipitately as possible. The attendants gave them no help, but the League guards herded them like sheep. But Mr. Philip Snowfield, very pale and angry, remained in his place, uttering what appeared to be inaudible imprecations. As the guards approached him he moved away from them towards the exit but still turned at intervals to say what were visibly disagreeable things and to thump the floor with his stick. “Mark my words,” he could be heard hissing, “you fellows will be sorry for this foolery.” Commander Benworthy hovered huge and protective above him. The only actual scuffle was with that left-wing desperado, Waxton, who was dealt with in accordance with the peculiar ju-jitsu of the Lord Paramount’s guards. He was carried out face downwards, his hair dragging on the floor.
The other occupants of the government benches decided not to share his fate and remained vertical and unhandled in their slow retreat. Most of them sought a certain dignity of pose, and folded arms, a sideways carriage, and a certain scornfulness were popular. There was a good deal of bumping against liberals who were doing exactly the same thing at a slightly different angle. Mr. St. George went out stoutly and as if inadvertently, his hands behind his back. It was as if he had been called away by some private concern and had failed to observe what was going on. His daughter who was also a member followed him briskly. Sir Simon John and Mr. Harold Samuel remained whispering together and taking notes, until the advancing shadows of physical expulsion were close at hand. Their gestures made it clear to everyone that they considered the Lord Paramount was acting illegally and that they were greatly pleased to score that point against him.
Many of the conservatives were frankly sympathetic with the Lord Paramount. Mr. Baldmin was not in the house, but Sir Austin Chamberland stood talking, smiling and looking on, at the side of Lady Asper, who exulted brightly and clapped her pretty hands when Waxton was tackled and overpowered. She seemed eager that more labour members should join in the fray and get similar treatment, and disappointed when they did not do so. Mr. Emery the great fiscal imperialist stood on a seat the better to watch proceedings and smiled broadly at the whole affair, making movements of benediction. He knew already that he was marked for the Lord Paramount’s Council. The Lord Paramount, intent on such particulars, realized suddenly that he was being cheered from the opposition benches. He drew himself up to his full height and bowed gravely.
“WHO GOES HOME?” a voice cried and the cry was echoed in the corridors without. It was the time-honoured cry of parliamentary dissolution, that has closed the drama of five hundred parliaments.
The Lord Paramount found himself in the handsome passage that leads from the Commons to the Lords. A solitary figure sat there, sobbing quietly. It looked up and revealed the face of that Lord Cato, who was formerly Sir Wilfred Jameson Jicks. “I ought to have done it,” he whispered, “I ought to have done it months ago.” Then his natural generosity reasserted itself and, dashing away a tear, he stood up and held out his hand frankly and brotherly to the Lord Paramount.
“You must help ME now, for England’s sake,” said the Lord Paramount.
The state of London outside the House of Commons on that memorable May evening was one of gaping astonishment. As the twilight deepened to night and the illuminated advertisements grew bright, the late editions of the evening papers gave the first intimations of the coup d’état, and an increasing driftage of people towards Westminster began. The police, still functioning normally outside Palace Yard, were increased as the crowds, entirely inaggressive and orderly crowds, thickened. Some of the rougher elements from Pimlico and Chelsea showed a mild riotousness, but they were kept well in hand. The guards were under arms in Wellington Barracks, and the normal protection of Buckingham Palace was increased, but there was no need of intervention to protect the monarchy. No one in authority attempted to invoke the military against the Master Paramount, and it is open to question whether the officers, and particularly the junior officers, would have consented to act in such a case. Since the days of the Curragh mutiny there has always been an implicit limit to the powers of the politicians over the army. As the expelled Members of Parliament came out by the various exits into the streets they had receptions dependent upon their notoriety and popularity. Generally the crowd showed nothing but an amused sympathy for their debacle. Their names were shouted after them when they were recognized, usually with the addition of “Good old”— so and so. Women members were addressed affectionately by their Christian names when these were known.
Many of them got away unobserved. The idea that they were the people’s agents and representatives had faded out of English life. They were simply people who had “got into Parliament” and now were being turned out of it. When later on the Master Paramount and the chiefs of the Duty Paramount League emerged, they were received, not so much with enthusiasm as with an observant acquiescence. Few failed to mark the great distinction of the Master’s presence. The staffs of the new rulers repaired to Downing Street to accelerate the departure of the private establishments of the dismissed ministers and to prepare for the installation of the heads of the provisional government in the official residences. Until a very late hour that night an affectionate crowd besieged Buckingham Palace “to see,” as they put it, “that the King was all right.” At intervals members of the Royal Family appeared to reassure the people and were received with loyal cries and the better-known verses of the National Anthem. There was no demand for speeches and no interchange of views. It was a rapprochement too deep for words.
Next day the remarkable news in the morning papers filled London with crowds of visitors from the suburbs and provincial towns. They came up to see what was going on, wandered about for the day, and went home again. All day long, large crowds stagnated about the Houses of Parliament. A multitude of hawkers, selling buns, winkles, oranges, and suchlike provender, did a flourishing trade. Attempts at oratory were suppressed by the police, both there and in Trafalgar Square.
So the new régime took possession. The Crown, as became a constitutional monarchy, accepted the new state of affairs without comment or any gesture of disapproval. A special levee and a garden party to entertain the League of Duty Paramount were arranged at Buckingham Palace, and the Lord Paramount was photographed, for world-wide publicity, tall and erect, in an attitude of firm but entirely respectful resolution, at his monarch’s right hand. He was wearing the livery of a Cabinet Minister, the garter, in which order a timely vacancy had occurred, and the plaque of the Order of Merit. His white and beautifully chiselled face was very grave and still.
With a tact and sagacity as great as his courage the Lord Paramount gathered about him a number of councillors who were in effect his ministers. He consulted and directed them, but they had no collective power; their only collective function was cooperation upon the schemes he outlined for their guidance. Occasionally in council they would offer suggestions which were received with attention, considered and commented upon by the Lord Paramount. Sometimes, but rarely, their suggestions would be allowed to sway the course of the national policy. But on the whole he preferred that they should come to him privately and individually with their proposals, rather than interrupt the proceedings of the Council meetings.
The Council included all that was best among the leaders of English life. The mighty barons of the popular press were there, and prominently Lord Bothermey. The chief military, naval and air experts were intermittently represented. Coal and steel magnates were well in evidence, particularly those most closely associated with armament firms, and one or two rather evasive personalities of the Sir Bussy Woodcock type attended by command. Sir Bussy might or might not be there; he continued to be difficult to locate. He seemed to become present suddenly and then to become conspicuously absent. The Governor of the Bank of England was present ex officio, though the Lord Paramount found he smiled far too much and said far too little, and there were several leading representatives of the Big Five, who also proved to be markedly silent men with a faraway facial habit. Labour was represented at the Lord Paramount’s invitation, by Mr. J. H. Humbus, and women by the Countess of Crum and Craythorpe. Lord Cato was of course a member, and for some reason that the Lord Paramount never had very clear in his mind, Mr. Brimstone Burchell seemed always to be coming in or going out or talking in much too audible undertones to someone while the Council was in session. No-one had asked him; he just came. It was difficult to find an appropriate moment to say something about it. On the whole he seemed to be well disposed and eager to take entire charge of army, navy, air force, munitions, finance, or any other leading function which might be entrusted to him. In addition to these already prominent members a number of vigorous personalities hitherto unknown to British public life, either chosen from among Mr. Parham’s Young Men, scions of noble families, or connected with the militant side of the Duty Paramount League, took a silently active part in the proceedings. Alfred Mumby, Colonel Fitz Martin, Ronald Carberry, Sir Horatio Wrex, and the young Duke of Norham, were among the chief of these. Mrs. Pinchot, the only reporter present, sat in a little low chair at the Lord Paramount’s right hand and recorded all that happened in shorthand in a gilt-edged notebook. Hereward Jackson, the faithful disciple, also hovered helpfully close to him.
The procedure was very simple and straightforward. The Council would assemble or be collected according to the alacrity of the individual member, and the Lord Paramount would enter quite informally, waving a hand to this man and greeting that, and so make his way to the head of the table. There he would stand, Hereward Jackson would say, “Ssh!” and everyone standing or sitting or leaning against the wall would cease to gossip and turn to listen. Explicitly and simply the Lord Paramount would put his views to them. It was very like a college lecturer coming in and talking to a batch of intelligent and sympathetic students. He would explain his policy, say why this had to be done or that, and indicate who it was should undertake whatever task opened before them. An hour or even more might be spent in this way. Then he would drop into his seat, and there would be questions, mostly of an elucidatory nature, a few comments, a suggestion or so, and, with a smile and a friendly word of dismissal, everything was over, and the Council went about its business, each man to do what he knew to be his duty. So simple a task was government now that the follies of party, the presumption and manoeuvres of elected people, the confusion and dishonesties inseparable from the democratic method had been swept aside.
The third meeting of the Council was the most important of the earlier series, for then it was that the Lord Paramount gave these heads of the national life, a résumé of the policy he proposed to pursue.
Let them consider at first, he said, the position and the manifest dangers and destinies of this dear England of ours and its Empire to which they were all devoted. He would ask them to regard the world as a whole, not to think of it in a parochial spirit, but broadly and sanely, looking beyond the immediate tomorrow. Directly they did so they would begin to realize the existence and development of a great world struggle, which was determined by geography and by history, which was indeed in the very nature of things. The lines of that struggle shaped themselves, rationally, logically, inevitably. Everything else in the world should be subordinated to that.
Something almost confidential crept into his manner, and the Council became very silent and attentive. He indicated regions upon the green baize table before him by sweeping gestures of his hands and arms, and his voice sank.
“Here,” said the Lord Paramount, “in the very centre of the Old World, illimitably vast, potentially more powerful than most of the rest of the world put together —” he paused dramatically —“is RUSSIA. It really does not matter in the least whether she is Czarist or Bolshevik. She is the final danger — the overwhelming enemy. Grow she must. She has space. She has immense resources. She strikes at us, through Turkey as always, through Afghanistan as always, and now through China. Instinctively she does that; necessarily. I do not blame her. But preserve ourselves we must. What will Germany do? Cleave to the East? Cleave to the West? Who can tell? A student nation, a secondary people, a disputed territory. We win her if we can, but I do not count on her. The policy imposed upon the rest of the world is plain. We must circumvent Russia; we must encircle this threat of the Great Plains before it overwhelms us. As we encircled the lesser threat of the Hohenzollerns. In time. On the West, here, we outflank her with our ally France and Poland her pupil; on the East with our ally Japan. We reach at her through India. We strive to point the spearhead of Afghanistan against her. We hold Gibraltar on her account; we watch Constantinople on her account. America is drawn in with us, necessarily our ally, willy-nilly, because she cannot let Russia strike through China to the sea. There you have the situation of the world. Broadly and boldly seen. Fraught with immense danger — yes. Tragic — if you will. But fraught also with limitless possibilities of devotion and courage.”
The Lord Paramount paused, and a murmur of admiration went round the gathering. Mr. Brimstone Burchell’s head nodded like a Chinese automaton’s to express his approval. The statement was so perfectly lucid, so direct and compact. Yet it was identically the same speech that Mr. Parham had delivered to Sir Bussy, Mr. Hamp, Camelford, and the young American only a month or so previously, at the dinner table of the former! How different now was its reception when it came from the lips of the Lord Paramount speaking to understanding minds! No carping criticism, or attempts to disregard and ignore, no preposterous alternatives of world organization and the like follies, no intimation of any such alternatives. If Sir Bussy had whispered his habitual monosyllable it was done inaudibly.
“And that being our general situation,” the Lord Paramount continued, “which is the most becoming thing for a Great Nation to do? To face its Destiny of leadership and championship, open-eyed and resolute, or to wait, lost in petty disputes, blinded by small considerations, until the inevitable antagonist, grown strong and self-conscious, its vast realms organized and productive, China assimilated and India sympathetic and mutinous against its established rulers, strikes at the sceptre in its negligent hands — maybe strikes the sceptre clean out of its negligent hands? Is it necessary to ask that question of the Council of the British peoples? And knowing your answer to be what it must be, then plainly the time for Duty and Action is now. I exhort you to weigh with me the preparations and the strategy that have to be the guiding form of our national policy from this time forth. The time to rally western Europe is now. The time to call plainly to America to take up her part in this gigantic struggle is now.”
This time the little man sitting at the table was clearly heard. His “Gaw!” was deep and distinct.
“Sir Bussy,” said the Lord Paramount in a penetrating aside, “for six long years you have said that word ‘Gaw’ at me and I have borne with you. Say it no more.”
He did not even pause for an answer, but went on at once to sketch the determinations before the Council.
“It is my intention,” he said, “so soon as home affairs are regularized to make an informal tour of Europe. Here, between these four walls, I can speak freely of an adventure we all have at heart, the gallant efforts of Prince Otto von Barheim to overthrow the uncongenial republican régime that now disfigures, misrepresents, and humiliates the loyal and valiant German people. It is a lukewarm thing, half radical and Bolshevist and half patriotic, and Germany is minded to spew it out. I have had communications from a very trustworthy source, and I can say with confidence that that adventure is on the high road to success. Prince Otto, like myself, has a profound understanding of the philosophy of history, and like myself he recalls a great nation to its destiny. The good sword of Germany may soon be waiting in its scabbard for our signal.
“Yes! I know what you think at this moment, but, believe me, it will be with the consent of France. Nevermore will Britain move without France. M. Parème shall be consulted and I will see to that. The situation would be delicate had we still a parliamentary régime. Happily no questions in the House now can disturb our negotiations. Snowfield is gagged and Benworthy silenced. Trust France. She is fully aware that now it is we alone who stand between her and a German–Italian combination. We reconcile. The French mind is realistic, logical and patriotic. The other European nations may need Dictators but in France, the Republic is Dictator; the army and the nation are one, and, guaranteed security, suitably compensated in Africa and Nearer Asia, France will be ready to take her proper place in the defence of the West against its final danger. The age-long feud of the Rhineland draws to an end. The peace of Charlemagne returns. Even the speeches of M. Parème lose their belligerent note. Such little matters as the language question in Alsace and various repayments and guarantees find their level of unimportance. We have been living too much in the counting house. Europe draws together under pressure from the East and from the West. These things I propose to confirm by personal interviews with the men I shall find in charge of the European nations. Then to our course of action: first, a renewal, a confirmation and intensification of the blockade of Russia — by all Europe, by the United Strong Men of Europe; secondly a vigorous joint intervention to restore the predominance of European ideas and European finance in China; thirdly a direct challenge to Russian propaganda in India and Persia, a propaganda in reality political — social and economic now only in phrase and pretension. If we mean to encircle this mighty threat to all we hold dear, then the time for encirclement is here and now. And so, when at last the Day comes it will not be the Slav aggressive we shall have facing us but the Slav anticipated and at bay.”
The Lord Paramount paused and did his best to ignore the one flaw upon that perfect gathering. Sir Bussy, looking exceedingly small and wicked and drumming softly on the table with his stumpy fingers, spoke, addressing, as it were, the blank universe. “And how is America going to take this sort of stuff?”
“She will be with us.”
“She may have other ideas.”
“She HAS to be with us,” said the Lord Paramount with a rising intonation, and a murmur of approval came from the corner in which Lord Cato was standing. His face was very pink, and his little eyes were round and bright. His bearing had the unsubdued aggressiveness of an unsmacked child’s. He had always regarded America as impertinent and in need of a good snubbing and, if need be, of further chastening. He could not believe that a nation so new could really consist of grown-up people.
“The Americans,” Sir Bussy informed the world, “don’t learn history in English public schools.”
No one regarded him.
“I have begun by sketching the frame of circumstance about our national life,” the Lord Paramount resumed, “because the small troubles of internal politics — and relatively they are very small — fall into place directly we recognize the fact that we are a militant people, that our empire is a mighty camp of training for the achievement of our enduring leadership. To this great struggle all our history is a crescendo. When you tell me that we have a million unemployed I rejoice to think we have that much man power free at once for the great adventure. Before 1914 our industrial system had a margin, a necessary margin of unemployment of about five to nine per cent. Now that margin has increased to eleven or twelve per cent. — I will not trouble about the exact figures. A large element of these unemployed come out of the coal-mining industry, which was abnormally inflated after the war. But our gross production has not diminished. Note that! What we are witnessing is a world-wide process, in which industry produces as much as ever, or more, but has so increased its efficiency that it calls for fewer hands. Clearly this so-called unemployment is really a release of energy. These people, in many cases young men, must be taken in hand and trained for other ends. The women can go into munitions. If only on account of unemployment, our great empire needs to take a gallant and aggressive line. What we have saved we must spend. We must not bury our talent in out-of-work sloth. I am no Individualist, I am no Socialist; these are phrases left over by the Nineteenth Century, and little meaning remains in them now. But I say, of him who does not work for his country, neither shall he eat in it, and that he who will not work generously must be made to work hard, and I say also that wealth that is not active and productive for our imperial ends needs to be called upon to justify itself. Wantoning in pleasure cities, lavish entertainments in huge hotels, jazz expenditure, must cease. A special tax on champagne. . . . Yes, a tax on champagne. It is poison for soul and body. No more night clubs for London. A censorship of suggestive plays and books. Criticism by honest police officials — worthy, direct-minded men. Golf only for hygienic ends. Race meetings without special trains. Even the shooting and hunting restrained. Service! Everywhere Service. Duty Paramount. In High and Low alike. These things have been said already upon the slighter stage of Italy; it is for us to say them now, imperially, in tones of thunder, to the very ends of the earth.”
It seemed that he had done. In the appreciative silence that ensued, the noise of an elderly and edentate gentleman talking through a thick moustache, became evident. The speaker had been at the back of the cluster to the right of the Lord Paramount, but now he came forward in a state of agitated resolution, and grasping with his right hand the back of the chair in which Sir Bussy was sitting, crossed his legs and leaning forward at an almost perilous angle, he gesticulated in an oratical manner with his left. The noise he made rose and fell. Word was not separated from word, but now and then a cough snapped off a length of it. It was a sort of ectoplasmic speech. Very like ectoplasm. Ectoplasm?
(For a moment the mind of the Lord Paramount was blurred.)
This venerable figure was Lord Bylass of Brayne. At intervals it was possible to distinguish the submerged forms of such words and phrases as “tariff” . . . “adequate protection” . . . “safeguarding” . . . “dumping” . . . “insensate foreign competition” . . . “colonial preference” . . . “an empire sufficient unto itself” . . . “capable, sir, of absorbing every willing worker in the country.”
For three or four minutes the Lord Paramount endured this interruption with patient dignity, and then he held up a hand to signify that he had heard sufficient for a reply.
“A state is a militant organization, and a militant organization that is healthy and complete must be militant through and through,” he began with that illuminating directness which had made him the leader and master of all these men. “Tariffs, Lord Bylass, are now the normal everyday method of that same conflict for existence between states which is the substance of all history and which finds its highest, noblest expression in war. By means of tariffs, Lord Bylass, we protect our economic life from confusion with the economic life of other states, we ensure the integrity of our resources against the day of trial, we sustain our allies and attack the social balance and well-being of our enemies and competitors. Here in this council, free from eavesdroppers, we can ignore the pretence that tariffs are designed for the enrichment or security of the common citizen and that they, by themselves, can do anything to absorb unemployed workers. Forgive me, Lord Bylass, if I seem to contradict your arguments while accepting your conclusions. Tariffs do not enrich a country. They cannot do, they never have done, anything of the sort. That is a deception, and I think a harmful deception, that the squalid necessities of that system of elective government we have so happily set aside have forced upon politicians. We can drop it here and now. Tariffs, like every other form of struggle, involve and require sacrifices. If they create employment in one trade by excluding or handicapping the foreign product, then manifestly they must destroy it in another which has hitherto exported goods in payment, direct or indirect, for the newly protected commodity. A tariff is a method of substituting an inconvenient production for a convenient one. In order to cause greater inconvenience elsewhere. The case for protection rests on grounds higher and nobler than considerations of material advantage or disadvantage. We must have tariffs and pay for tariffs, just as we must have armies and navies and pay for them. Why? Because they are the continuing intimation of our national integrity. Our guns and bombs explode only during the war phase, but a tariff sustains a perpetual friction and menace; it injures while we sleep. And I repeat, for it is the very essence of our faith, it is the cardinal belief of our League of Duty Paramount, that a sovereign state which boasts a history and unfurls a flag, must remain either a militant state through and through, pressing its rivals as hard as it can in every possible way, during peace time and wartime alike, or it must become a decadent and useless absurdity fit only to be swept into the cosmopolitan dustbin.”
The ringing voice ceased. Lord Bylass, who had resumed his perpendicular attitude during the reply of the Lord Paramount, said something either in the nature of approval, disapproval, extension, or qualification of what had gone before, and after perhaps a dozen minor questions had been raised and compactly disposed of the Council settled down to the apportionment of the mighty tasks in hand. First one and then another would sketch his conception of cooperation, and often the Lord Paramount would say no more than “Do it” or “Wait” or “Raise that again in a week’s time” or “Not like that.” A few of the members for whom there seemed to be no immediate call withdrew to an ante-room to talk together over the tea, sherry, and lemonade served there. Some of the more restless spirits departed altogether. Among these was Sir Bussy Woodcock.
The mind of the Lord Paramount seemed to go after him and watch him and yet it knew what he would do.
He was to be seen standing pensive on the doorstep of No. 10 Downing Street, that doorstep which has been trodden by every famous man in British affairs for a couple of centuries, and looking with his mouth askew at the dense inexpressive crowd which blocked the opening into Whitehall. The police had formed a cordon, and except for the chauffeurs of the waiting automobiles there were only a few pressmen, press photographers and obvious plain-clothes men standing about in the street itself. But beyond was that mysterious still congestion of the English people, almost cow-like in its collective regard, giving no intimations of its feelings, if indeed it had any feelings, towards this gallant new rule which had relieved it of any lingering illusions about self-government. It was an almost completely silent crowd, save for the yapping of the vendors of the Lord Paramount’s photographs. The afternoon was warm and overcast with gray clouds that seemed like everything else to be awaiting orders. The very policemen were lost in passive expectation. Everybody was accepting the Lord Paramount inertly. Sir Bussy remained quite still for nearly a minute. “GAW,” he whispered at last and turned slowly towards the little gate to his right that led down the steps to the Horse Guards parade.
With his customary foresight he had sent his car round there, where the crowd was inconsiderable.
As he vanished through the gate a plain-clothes policeman with an affectation of nonchalance that would not have deceived a baby, detached himself from his fellows and strolled after him. BY ORDER!
In another twenty minutes the session was over and the Council was actively dispersing.
Lanes were made in the crowd by the departing automobiles. Its more advantageously situated ranks were privileged to see, afar off, the Lord Paramount himself, accompanied by his little dark woman secretary and a tall, slender, devoted-looking man who was carrying a huge portfolio, cross swiftly from No. 10 to the Foreign Office and vanish under its archway.
Towards seven the Lord Paramount reappeared and went in the big new Rolls–Royce he had purchased on behalf of the nation, to the War Office, and there he remained until long after midnight.
There were moments even in the opening phase of this great adventure of the Lord Paramount when it was difficult for him to believe himself true, but his sense of duty to those he was lifting out of their ten-year post-war lethargy made him conceal these instants — for there were no more than instants — of weakness from everyone about him, even from the faithful and sustaining Mrs. Pinchot and the indefatigable Hereward Jackson. His ordinary state of mind was one of profound, of almost exultant admiration for his own new vigour of purpose and action. He knew that his ascendency meant a march towards war, war on a vaster and handsomer scale than had ever yet illuminated the page of history. This might have dismayed a lesser soul. But he knew himself the successor of Napoleon and Cæsar and Alexander and Sargon, adequate to the task before him. And he knew what history demands of great nations. His mission was to make history and to make it larger and heavier and with a greater displacement of the fluidities of life than it had ever been made before.
As he made it he wrote it in his mind. He saw his own record, the story of his war, towering up at the end of the great series of autobiographic war histories from Thucydides to Colonel Lawrence and Winston Churchill. Parham De Bella Asiatico. That he would do in the golden days of rest, after the victory. It was pleasant to anticipate those crowning literary hours amidst the stresses of present things. He would find himself making character sketches of himself and telling in the third person of his acts and decisions in the recognized style of such records.
It was queer at times how strongly his anticipations of this record imposed themselves upon his mind. There were phases and moments when he did not so much seem to be doing and experiencing things as relating them to himself.
It was manifest that among the most urgent of his duties was the rapid acquisition of a broad and exact knowledge of the equipment and possibilities of the armed forces of the Empire. Of these he had now to be the directive head, the supreme commander. On him would fall the ultimate responsibility in the day of battle. Other men might advise him, but it was he who must control, and who can control without adequate knowledge? Lucky for him that his mind was as swift as an eagle and that he could grasp the import of a scheme while lesser intelligences still struggled with its preliminary details.
He sought among ex-war ministers, sea lords, and high permanent officials in the combatant departments, for informants and experts with whom he could work. It was profoundly important to know and take the measure of all such men. And they had to know him, they had to experience his personal magnetism and be quick to understand and ready to obey him. At first there was some difficulty in getting the right tone. In all the fighting services there is an habitual distrust of politicians, an ingrained disposition to humbug and hoodwink interfering civilians, and this tradition of reserve was sufficiently strong to retard their first surrender to the Lord Paramount’s charm and energy for some time.
Moreover, there were many restraints and reservations between different sections of the services that were hard to overcome. Most of these men betrayed not only the enthusiasm but the narrowness of the specialist’s concentrated mind. Air experts ridiculed battle ships; naval men showed a quiet contempt for the air; gas was a sore subject with nearly everybody; gunners considered everything else subsidiary to well directed gunfire, and the tank people despised sea, air, gunfire, and chemical warfare in nearly equal proportions. “We go through,” was their refrain. There were even men who held that the spearhead of warfare was propaganda and that the end to which all other operations must be directed was the production of a certain state of mind (variously defined and described) in the enemy government and population. The Empire was, in fact, partially prepared for every conceivable sort of warfare with every conceivable and many inconceivable antagonists, and apart from a common contempt for pacificists as “damned fools” and for cosmopolitans as dreamers and scoundrels, its defenders did not as yet possess an idea in common to ensure their cooperation when the moment of conflict came.
Such were the fruits of our all too copious modern inventiveness and our all too destructive criticism of simple political issues. Such were the consequences of a disputatious parliamentary system and the lack of any single dominating will. The navy was experimenting with big submarines and little submarines, with submarines that carried aircraft inside them and submarines that could come out on land and even climb cliffs, with aircraft carriers and smoke screens, and new types of cruiser; the gunners were experimenting; the army was having a delightful time with tanks, little tanks and big tanks, hideous and ridiculous and frightful and stupendous tanks, tanks that were convertible at a pinch into barges, and tanks that would suddenly expand wings and make long flying hops, and tanks that became field kitchens and bathrooms; the air force killed its two young men or more a week with a patient regularity, elaborating incredible stunts; Gas Warfare was experimenting; each was going its own way irrespective of the others, each was doing its best to crab the others. The Lord Paramount went hither and thither, inspecting contrivances that their promoters declared to be marvellous and meeting a series of oldish young and youngish old men, soured by the fermentation of extravagant hopes.
Sir Bussy, an unwilling consultant upon many of these expeditions, found a phrase for them so lacking in dignity that for a time it troubled the Lord Paramount’s mind.
“Like a lot of damned schoolboys,” said Sir Bussy, “mucking about with toy guns and chemical sets in an attic. Each one on his own — just as disconnected as he can be. With unlimited pocket money. What do they think they are up to? What do they think it is for — all this damned militarism? They don’t know. They lost connection long ago, and there they are. They’ll just set the place on fire. What else do you expect of them?”
The Lord Paramount made no reply, but his swift mind tackled the challenge. He was capable of learning, even from an enemy.
“Lost connection,” that was the illuminating phrase.
Disconnected — that was the word. Because they had had no one and no great idea to marshal them in order and unify their efforts. They were the scattered parts of a great war machine which had quietly disarticulated itself after 1918 and followed its divergent traditions and instincts, and it was for him to assemble them into cooperation again. After that remark of Sir Bussy’s he knew exactly what to say to these forgotten and unhonoured experts. He knew the one thing of which they stood in need: Connection. To everyone he spoke of the nature of the campaign ahead and of the particular part to be played in it.
That was the magic touch for which they had been waiting. It was wonderful how these sorely neglected men brightened at his words. He made them see — Russia; he projected the minds of the airmen towards mighty raids amidst the mountains of central Asia and over the dark plains of eastern Europe; he lit the eyes of the special underseas services with the words “a relentless blockade”; he asked the mechanized soldiers how they would go over steppes and reminded them darkly of the prophetic fact that the first writing on the pioneer tank had been in Russian. To the naval men he spoke also of another task. “While we do our work in the Old World, you are the sure shield between us and the follies of the New.”
Yes, that meant America, but the word America was never said. America which might do anything, which might even go “modern” and break with history — even her own brief and limited history. The fewer years she was given to think before the crisis came, the better for the traditions of our old world.
Many of these brave, ingenious men to whom the Lord Paramount came were sick at heart with hope deferred. Year by year they had invented, contrived, and organized, and still the peace held. There were breezes, but these died away. These workers in the obscurity read pacificist articles in the newspapers; they heard continually of a League of Nations that was to make a futility of all the dear lethal inventions they had given the best of their years to perfect. A clamour for economies, the bitter ingratitude of retrenchment, threatened them. He brought new life and hope to their despondent souls.
From amidst the miscellany of experts and officials the figure of a certain General Gerson emerged gradually to a sort of preeminence. He emerged by a kind of innate necessity. He seemed to know more than the others and to have a more exhaustive knowledge. He had a genius for comprehensive war plans. There was something quintessential about him, as though he concentrated all that Mr. Parham had ever read, seen, thought, or felt about soldiers. Undeniably he had force. He was the man to whom it became more and more natural to turn in any doubtful matter. He was presently almost officially the Lord Paramount’s right hand in military things. It was not that the Lord Paramount chose him so much as that he arrived. He became the embodiment of the material side of power. He was the sword — or shall we say the hand grenade? — to the Lord Paramount’s guiding brain and will. He was his necessary complement. He translated imperial vision into practical reality.
He was not exactly a prepossessing person. His solid worth had to be discovered without extraneous aid. He was sturdily built, short and rather thickset, with exceptionally long, large, and hairy hands. His head was small and bomb-shaped and covered with a wiry fuzz. His nose was short but not insignificant, a concentrated, wilful nose. His mouth was large, vituperative in form when open, and accustomed to shut with emphasis. Generally he kept it shut. His bristling moustache was a concession to military tradition rather than an ornament, and his yellow skin was blue spotted as the result of an accident with some new explosive powder. One eye, because of that same accident was of glass; it maintained an expression of implacable will, while its fellow, alert and bright brown, gathered information. His eyebrows were the fierce little brothers of his moustache. He wore uniform whenever he could, for he despised “mufti men,” but also he despised the splendours of full uniform. He liked to be a little soiled. He liked common and rather dirty food eaten standing with the fingers instead of forks, and he resorted to harsh and violent exercises to keep fit.
His fitness was amazing, a fierce fitness. “In this world,” he said, “the fittest survive.” But he despised the mawkish games of feebler men. In the country, when he could, he cut down trees with great swiftness and animosity or he pursued and threw over astonished and over-domesticated cows, rodeo fashion. In towns, he would climb swiftly up the backs of high houses and down again, or box, or work an electric drill and excavate and repave back yards. The electric drill bucked up the neighbours tremendously and created a hostile audience that was of use in checking any tendency to slack off. On such occasions he dressed lightly and exposed and ventilated an impressive breadth of hairy chest.
The Lord Paramount was more and more compelled by the logic of his own undertakings to respect and defer to this heroic associate as time went on, but he would not have looked like him for the lordship of a dozen worlds.
From the first the advice of General Gerson had something of the dictatorial.
“You ought to do so and so,” he would say and add compactly, “they expect it of you.” And the Lord Paramount would realize that that was so.
It was, for example, borne in upon him through something in the bearing and tone of General Gerson that it behoved him to display a certain temerity in his attitude to the various new, ingenious, and frightful things that were being accumulated to ensure the peace of the Empire. It was not in the nature of the Lord Paramount to shrink from personal danger but he might have been disposed to husband his time and nervous energy in regard to those things, if it had not been for Gerson’s influence. Gerson was hard. And a ruler who rules Gersons must be hard also. A certain hardness is a necessary part of greatness. Good to be reminded of that. At times he found himself sustaining his own determination by talking to himself in quite the old Parham fashion. “I owe it to myself,” he said. “I owe it to the world.”
So he looped the loop over London, holding tight and keeping his face still and calm. He wore strange and dreadful-looking gas masks and went into chambers of vaporous abomination, where instant death would have been the result of a pin prick to his nozzle. It was a pity his intrepid face was so disguised, for it would have been well for weaker spirited men to mark its observant calm. Rather reluctantly he had to see a considerable number of cats, sheep, and dogs demoralized and killed by poison gas, the precious secret of General Gerson’s department, that Gas L of which Camelford had spoken, for which no antidote was known. It seemed to hurt damnably in the two or three minutes before the final collapse. Unless all forms of animal expression are a lie, it was death by intolerable torture. “I owe it,” he repeated, for there was mercy in his nature.
“This gas we do not use,” he said firmly, “except as an ultimate resort.”
“War,” said Gerson, sighing contentedly as the last victim ceased to writhe, “war IS an ultimate resort.”
The Lord Paramount made no answer because he felt he might be sick. He seemed to have Mr. Parham’s stomach, and very often in those feats of hardihood he had occasion to feel sick. He spent some chilly and clammy hours at the bottom of the Solent, and he raced at twenty miles an hour in a leaping, bumping tank across the rough of Liss Forest, and both occasions tested him out. He wore boules quiès and fired immense chest-flattening guns by touching a button, and he was wetted to the skin and made sickest of all by tearing down the Channel against a stiff south-wester at forty miles an hour in a new mystery boat that was three parts giant torpedo.
“It was the lot of Nelson too,” he said, coming ashore, greenly triumphant but empty to the depths of his being. “His heart kept in the right place even if his stomach betrayed him . . . .”
Several times did the Lord Paramount return to the topic of poison gas with Gerson. He did not want it to be used, but at the same time the logic of war made him anxious to be sure of an effective supply. Camelford’s threat of holding it up haunted him with a very tiresome persistence. And Gerson had been a poison gas expert.
The Lord Paramount wanted war to be magnificent. Wars are the red letters that illuminate the page of history. The resolute tramp of infantry, the inspiring jingle and clatter of cavalry, the mounting thunder of the guns: that was the music to which history had gone since history was worthy of being called history, and he wished that the old tunes could still be played and history still march to them. Some of these new machines and new methods, he perceived had the hardness and intolerance of a scientific thesis; they despiritualized warfare; they made it indiscriminate; almost they abolished heroism in favour of ingenuity and persistence, these scientific virtues. At the climax men would be just carried forward willy-nilly. He would gladly have subscribed to any common understanding to eliminate the aeroplane, the submarine, and all gas from civilized hostilities, as bacteria and explosive bullets have already been eliminated. But Gerson would have none of these exclusions. “War is war,” said he, “and what kills and breaks the spirit best is what you have to use.”
“But the bombing of towns! Poison gas on civilians. Poison gas almost haphazard.”
“What right have they to be civilians?” said Gerson.
“Probably shirking a levy or something. In the next war there won’t be any civilians. Gas doesn’t have a fair deal. Everyone’s against it. Ask me, I should say it improves fighting. Robs them of the idea there’s something safe behind them. How’s the old nigger song go? Bombs —
“‘Kicking up ahind and afore
And a yaller gas aspreading out ahind old Joe’—
Turns ’em back to it.”
“Practically — at Geneva we have undertaken not to use gas.”
“Query — the ‘practically.’ ‘Fit comes to that, we’ve renounced the use of war — by the Kellogg Pact and suchlike flummery. Doesn’t prevent every Power in Europe, and Washington too, keeping its Poison Gas Department up to strength and working overtime. No — sir. For propaganda purposes you may begin a war gentlemanly and elegant, but wait till the game warms up! Then you gouge. Then you bite off noses. And the gas comes in-trust me.
“Yes,” said the Lord Paramount, yielding. “Yes. It’s true. To impose a decision one must be stern.”
He composed himself for some moments as an image of implacable sternness.
The expression in the eye of General Gerson was no doubt reluctant respect.
“And now for the most probable campaigns,” began the Lord Paramount, and stirred the maps that lay upon the table before them. “First — Russia.”
“Things might very well begin there,” said Gerson.
For a time they discussed the possibilities arising out of a clash with Moscow. “In that event,” said Gerson, “if nothing occurs in nearer Europe, we would have to run a sort of second-rate war. As we did in Palestine with Allenby. For a time, anyhow. The new things are for closer populations. We can’t send a lot of ultramodern stuff out there. Aeroplanes with machine guns — in sufficient abundance, of course — ought to settle anything that we’re likely to have against us in India or central Asia. Central Asia has always fallen back on nomadism hitherto, cavalry swarms, Parthians, Huns, Mongols, and so on. But that game’s up, against aeroplanes and machine guns. The wing will beat the horse. New chapter of history. And the Afghan game of sitting among rocks and sniping at you goes the same way. The bird comes down on him. Every sort of what I might call barbaric and savage warfare is over now — twenty years out of date. We’ve got ’em. Russia in Asia would be a comparatively easy war. But we can’t count on restricting it to Asia.”
“I hope to do so.”
“Hope, yes — I said, ‘count on it.’ And besides, there’s Petersburg — what they WILL call Leningrad — and a little raid from that as a base to Moscow, just to settle things. We may be forced to do that. We might fight in central Asia for ten years and settle nothing. . . . And who knows? If things get difficult with us — our friends in Berlin . . . Or even nearer . . . You never know.”
He scrutinized the Lord Paramount.
“It isn’t safe,” he said, making it plainer, “to lean over Europe and fight Russia.”
“I do not think it will be like that,” said the Lord Paramount.
“No. But it might be.”
Gerson left that doubt to rankle.
“I don’t care what agreements you make,” he said, “not to use this or that. States that can keep such agreements aren’t really at war at all. It’s just sport, s’long as you have rules. War don’t begin until law ends. It isn’t necessary if any sort of agreement can be made and enforced. All this agreeing not to use gas.” Gerson smiled and showed his black teeth and pointed his witticism — “well, it’s gas and nothing else. The decisive factor in any first-class war now has to be gas delivered from the air. Work it out — it’s as plain as daylight. It’s the only way to decision. All modern war from now on will be a fight to be able to drop gas in quantity on the most crowded, sensitive, nervous centre of the enemy. Then and then only will the other side give in. They HAVE to give in. You go on gassing till they do. . . . What other idea of war CAN there be now?”
It was hard stuff, but the man was right. The thoughtful face of the Lord Paramount grew resolute.
“I admit the logic of it.” The white hand clenched.
“I believe the Germans have the most powerful explosives in the world,” said Gerson. “If we left it at that they’d be on the top. They’re still the ingenious devils they always were. The Republic didn’t alter much — and now that’s over for good, thank God. ‘Ware their chemists, say I! All the same we, as it happens, just now, and God knows for how long, have absolutely the lead in poison gas. Absolutely. It happens — so.”
“I know,” said the Lord Paramount. “Gas L.”
He was secretly pleased to see Gerson’s amazement. “But — who TOLD you of that?”
The white hand waved the question aside. “I know, my dear Gerson,” smiled the Lord Paramount. “I happen to know. Works at Cayme, eh?”
“Well, there you are! If we had a war in Europe now we could astonish the world. . . . Do you know ALL about Gas L?”
“I don’t,” said the Lord Paramount. “Tell me.”
“WELL,” said Gerson, “well,” and leant forward over his clenched fists on the table in a pose that was somehow suggestive of a cat with its forefeet tucked under it. He stuck his head on one side.
He gave information reluctantly and confusedly. He was not accustomed to give information to anyone. He was not accustomed to give anything to anyone. But gradually before the mind of the Lord Paramount the singularity of Gas L became plain.
This was the gas Camelford had spoken of at that dinner at Sir Bussy’s which still haunted his mind. This was the unknown gas that needed the rare earths and basic substances that it seemed only Cayme in Cornwall could supply. Even at the time, that gas had touched Mr. Parham’s imagination and set him speculating. “Don’t the scientific men, the real scientific men know about it?” he asked. “The devil of all this scientific warfare is that science keeps no secrets, and there’s always someone, in some other country, hard on your track. Look how we tackled the German gas on the western front. In a week or so.”
“You’re right, precisely,” said Gerson, “and that is just why I’d like to get to business with Gas L before very long. Before it’s blown upon. Before they’ve set men to think it out. It’s true that Cayme MAY be the only source of the stuff, and in that case the British monopoly is assured. But are we safe?”
The Lord Paramount nodded. But he wanted more particulars.
The real poison it seemed was not Gas L, but Gas L combined with nearly a hundred times its volume of air. It was very compressible. You let a little sizzle out from its reservoir, it vaporized, expanded, and began to combine. “It hurts. You remember those cats in the experimental chamber,” said Gerson. It didn’t decompose for weeks. It drifted about and it was still distressful when it was diluted to the merest trace. All the London area could be devastated with a score of tons. And there was no anti-gas known. For all the other known war gases there were anti-gases. But Gas L you had to counter with an impervious mask, adherent at its edges, keeping your air respirable with a combined oxygen maker and carbon dioxide absorber slung under the arm. You had, in fact, to put your men in a sort of sub-aerial diver’s helmet that it needed training to adjust. “Think of the moral effect of it,” said Gerson. “Paris or Berlin, a dead city, dead from men to rats, and nobody daring to go in to clean it up. After such a sample the world would howl for peace at any price whatever.”
The Lord Paramount saw it for a moment as in a vision. The Place de la Concorde — still. Paris without a sound. Stiff bodies crumpled by the last agony . . . .
He came back to Gerson with an effort.
“Plainly Cayme is the key position of our defences,” he said. His mind searched among the possibilities of the situation.” Why shouldn’t we nationalize it right away?”
“Why not?” said Gerson and seemed to chew unpleasant things. He finished his chewing. “I will tell you why not.
“WE,” he said, “know how to make Gas L. We know that. But we don’t know how to prepare those basal substances — which are peculiar. And we don’t know how to separate those rare earths. That THEY know; they’ve got secret processes at Cayme. It’s a question of linked processes. Probably no single man knows all of them properly. Unless it’s Camelford. (Camelford again!) If we seize Cayme, if we make any trouble about Cayme, then, for one thing, we call the attention of foreign experts to what is going on. See?”
The Master Spirit and the Master General eyed each other comprehendingly.
“What exactly — IS Cayme?”
“Cayme in Lyonesse,” began Gerson.
“Lyonesse?” said the Lord Paramount softly. His mind went back to his youth, his ardent poetic but still classical and seemly youth, when Tennyson was still admired and the lost land of King Arthur cast a glamour on the Cornish coast. For a moment or so he could have imagined he was dreaming, so strong was the flavour of unreality the magic name threw over the story. Then distant Lyonesse and Avalon sleeping under the sunset gave place to the blotched and formidable visage of Gerson again.
“It’s the new works the Star and Rocket Research Combine have made. It’s a sort of joint subsidiary. Romer Steinhart & Co. Camelford. Some American capital. But Woodcock’s the moving spirit on the business side. He’s become a sort of alter ego of Camelford. Camelford’s just taken hold of him and got him. He’s a devil of a buyer and cornerer. They’re up to something big together. God knows what goes on there! But it isn’t Gas L. They’re up to something of their own. Some revolution in dyes or films or artificial this, that, or the other. That’s what THEY want the stuff for. Cheap films in schools or some such foolery. Think of it! Wasting our gas for the sake of kids in schools! They dole us out the material for our own gas, just as they think proper. At any price they like. And make a favour of it.”
The mind of the Lord Paramount returned to the point that had held it up some moments before.
“Lyonesse? But WHY Lyonesse?”
“You don’t know? I admit it’s been done very quietly. They don’t want to advertise it. Two or three square miles of ground brought up out of the sea, down by the village of Cayme and out towards Land’s End. The stuff is out there. The works are supposed to be at Cayme, but really they’re out beyond low water mark, that was. And there’s some old poem or legend or something . . . .”
“So it really is Lyonesse!”
“That’s what they call it.”
“They’ve built a place up from the sea bottom?”
“No! They’ve raised the sea bottom and built a place on it. Something between a gas works and a battleship.”
“But how —! Raised the sea bottom?”
“God knows how they did it. There it is. Raised. Mineral veins and all. And while we’re at peace we can’t raid ’em, we can’t search ’em, we can’t seize ’em. We can’t get at them. That’s the one flaw in our military situation. The weak point is the merchant at home. I always said it would be. People say the workers will give trouble. Workers, damn them! never give trouble unless someone eggs them on. They’re all as patriotic as I am, really. They’re human. They hate foreigners until their minds get spoilt. Strike at the eggers-on, say I, and the workers are yours for the drilling. But there’s no national love or loyalty between business men and soldiering. Not the big business men. I mean the big world-wide traders. Of course, we’ve got so-called nationalist motor-car men and nationalist brands of this and that, but even the men with a straight Union Jack on car or can will hold us up if possible. Still, at the worst, they can be bought. There’s something to be said for an army with an all-British equipment out and out. Battles won on Empire food and all that. But it isn’t that sort of chap I mean. I mean the men who handle the broad products. This new sort. These new Big Civilians. Who think of the industry before they think of the flag. Who’re getting outrageous ideas. It was a BIT like this once or twice in the Great War: they objected to waste, but whatever is going on now is ever so much bigger. What is going on now is fundamental. These people are cornering Victory. That’s what it comes to. Making a corner in Victory. Much they care for the Empire! I’m under no illusions. If the Empire wants Victory next time the Empire has got to pay for it, and there’s times when I think that it won’t get it even if it pays. Suppose they hold it up ANYHOW!”
The Lord Paramount was thinking profoundly. The fine and regular teeth nibbled at the knuckles of the shapely hand. He had an idea. Meanwhile, with the undertow of his mind he followed Gerson.
“There was a time,” said Gerson, “when the man of science knew his place in the world. He kept his place just as the engineer on a battleship kept his place. You had to keep a sharp eye on finance always — finance being so largely Jews and international in spirit — but their women like titles and show and they’re sort of silly with the women. And at bottom a Jew is always afraid of a soldier. But your man of science you could trust outright. You could — once. All you had to do with him was to slap him into uniform, give him temporary rank for the duration, and he got so fierce and patriotic he’d kill his mother to please you. And the business men too. They LOVED a belt and a sword. They’d crawl for a bit of ribbon. The old sort of business man who went into shop or workshop at fourteen. Natural born patriots. They’d give the army anything it asked for. Once. Not now. All that has changed. This damned modern education, these new ideas, creep about everywhere. They’re a sort of poison gas of the mind. They sap discipline. The young men of science, the clever ones, are all going Bolshy or worse. You’d be astonished. You can’t count on them. It’s extraordinary. And the business men and the bankers are rotten with pacificism. They get it out of the air. They get it from America. God knows how they get it! ‘Does war PAY?’ they ask. Does war pay? Pretty question that! We get along now simply because the rich men are afraid of the Communists and the Communists won’t have any truck with a rich man. The poor pacificist keeps the rich pacificist in order for us. But will that last? If ever that quarrel eases off and they look around them, you’ll have the United States of Everywhere, and fleets and armies will be on the scrap heap and sojers in the casual ward. Look at the situation! About this gas. Here we are with the master gas of the world! Here we are, as we are. England’s opportunity if ever there was opportunity. Go right out now and we win. And before we can take a firm line with anyone we have to ask ourselves: ‘Shall we get our guns in time? Are we safe for high explosive? And in particular — will Mr. Camelford and Sir Bussy Woodcock please to kindly let us have our gas?’ Gurr! When I think of it!”
Even great military experts must not be allowed to talk forever. The Lord Paramount sighed and drew himself up in a manner that conveyed the conference was at an end. He tapped the table between them and nodded and spoke reassuringly.
“When the time comes, mon général,” he said, “you shall have your gas.”
(And then again that momentary pang of doubt.)
As soon as the Lord Paramount returned to London Sir Bussy was sent for.
It was a curious encounter. These two men had had scarcely a word together in private since that marvellous evening of the Advent when the Master Spirit had come and taken Mr. Parham to himself. Yet all the time the little man had been hovering in a very curious and persistent manner in the background of the Lord Paramount’s perceptions.
There was little of the tactful Parham now in the calm firm mastery with which the Lord Paramount spoke, and it was as if Sir Bussy had shrunken from his former sullen dominance to the likeness of a wary and resentful schoolboy under reproof.
The Lord Paramount was seated at his desk, lordly and serene. He was as large again as Mr. Parham. Compared with Sir Bussy he was enormous. “I want a word with you, Woodcock,” he said.
The new tone.
Sir Bussy grunted faintly. No chair had been placed for him. He considered the situation, dragged one across the room, and sat down. What a little fellow he was! “Well?” he said ungraciously.
“I think of making you responsible for the military supplies of the Empire and particularly of non-ferrous metals, explosives, and — gas.”
Straight to the point. Sir Bussy had nothing ready by way of reply. How WORDLESS! A white finger pointed to him; a clear eye regarded him. “Have you any objection?”
“Large order,” said Sir Bussy.
He attempted no excuse.
“It’s a responsible position,” the Master’s voice pursued him.
“I say ‘responsible.’”
“I seemed to hear you say it.”
The same Sir Bussy as ever.
“‘Responsible’ means that if these things are not forthcoming in limitless abundance on the day of need, it is YOU will answer for it.”
“Wha’d’ you WANT with gas?” Sir Bussy asked abruptly and unexpectedly.
“It is of vital importance.”
The quick mind of the Lord Paramount leapt at once at the revealing discovery that Sir Bussy thought instantly of gas.
“But it isn’t historical,” said Sir Bussy. “It isn’t in tradition.”
“What has that to do with it?”
“Isn’t all this stuff — carrying on history?”
“The military organization of the Empire, national and imperial ascendancy, flags, armies, frontiers, love of the Empire, devotion, sacrifice, and having a damned good go at Russia.”
“What else COULD it be?” Sir Bussy reflected. “Lemme see, where were we?”
It was evident that he had been thinking profoundly by the things he had next to say.
“Well,” he began, developing his premeditated argument, “then why not play your traditional game with the traditional pieces? Why drag in modern science? Use historical armies and fleets for historical destinies and leave gas and tanks and submarines out of it. If you must still play about with flags and frontiers, go back to Brown Bess and foot slogging and ten-pounder field guns and leave these modern things alone. Chemistry doesn’t belong to your world. It isn’t for you. It’s NEW. It’s out-size.”
For a moment the Lord Paramount was baffled. Sir Bussy was still Sir Bussy the unexpected. Then a beautiful word came like an angel of light to the rescue. The Lord Paramount pronounced it like a charm. “Continuity,” he said and leant back to observe its effect.
The intellectual elements of Mr. Parham that he had absorbed into his constitution suddenly asserted themselves. The Lord Paramount departed from his customary use of pithy and direct speech and argued a point.
“You are mentally underdeveloped, Woodcock,” he went on — when he should not have gone on. “You are a very good fellow, but you are uneducated. Your historical imagination is that of a child of five. You have no sense of continuity whatever. All things progress by stages — EVOLVE— if we must use that word. You do not understand that. It is you who are old-fashioned with your ideas of revolutions and strange new beginnings and progress that never looks back. Your brain accepts that sort of stuff because nature abhors a vacuum. Let me tell you a little secret, Sir Bussy. As one who knows something of history. There never has been a revolution in all history. There have been so-called revolutions; that is all — times when the clock struck — violent and confused periods; mere froth upon the great stream of events. Broaden down from precedent to precedent — Yes. Begin anew — No. It is the past that rules; it is the past that points us on to our assured Destinies.”
“No way out, in fact?” said Sir Bussy.
“Evolve or nothing?”
“That’s the law of it.”
“No fresh starts?”
“So the railway train had to evolve, I suppose, bit by bit, slipping its end carriages and expanding out its footboards, until it became an aeroplane, and the mainmast of the sailing ship hollowed out into a funnel and squatted close until the cook’s galley became the furnace room and his kettle became a boiler. Always Continuity. Eh? No gaps. No fresh start. Why, damn it! a child of five knows that it’s only by fresh starts man can keep alive!”
The Lord Paramount stared at his adversary, regretting now that he had stooped to argue with this obstinate and obscure mentality.
“I tell you these Powers and Policies of yours are worn out and done for,” Sir Bussy went on. “It’s a dream you’re in. A damned old dream. It wouldn’t matter if you weren’t sleepwalking and wandering into dangerous places. Gas and high explosives don’t belong to your game. Brains don’t grow at Aldershot, the soil’s too sandy. They dry up there. These experts of yours, these mongrels, these soldiers who dabble in chemistry and engineering, and these engineers and chemists who dabble in soldiering, will let you down when the crash comes. . . . Soldiering’s a profession of incompetents and impostors, jobbing about with engineering firms and second-rate chemical combines. . . . You won’t get the stuff you want, and even if you get it, your experts won’t be able to use it. Or they’ll use it all wrong . . . .”
The Lord Paramount decided that there must be no more argument.
“That is for me to decide,” he said. “Your rôle is to facilitate supplies in every possible way.”
“And suppose I don’t choose to.”
“There is such a thing as treason even in peace time, Sir Bussy.”
“Treason!” said Sir Bussy. “What! and axes on Tower Hill? Put the cards down. I’ll SEE you.”
It was the first open opposition the Lord Paramount had encountered since his triumphant accession to power, and he found himself strangely perturbed. There was a tremulous quiver in his nerves, and he felt the need for self-control. Sir Bussy stood for much more than himself. An impulse to order his arrest had to be restrained. If anything of that sort was to be done it must be done as undramatically as possible. Behind him were such men as Camelford — incalculable factors.
The Lord Paramount turned his eyes to the window and regarded the fine lines of the corner of the United Services’ Museum for a moment or so. How he hated Sir Bussy! Still not looking at his recalcitrant visitor he touched a little bell on his desk.
“I have given you fair warning,” he said. “You can go.”
Sir Bussy vanished instantly, leaving the faint flavour of a “Gaw” behind him.
For some time after Sir Bussy had left him the Lord Paramount remained staring out of his window upon Whitehall, in a state of some perplexity.
He was like a reader who has lost his place in a story and omitted to turn down the page.
He had forgotten himself.
He had argued.
He had forgotten himself, and some subtle magic in the queerly formidable little creature Sir Bussy, had recalled the suppressed and assimilated Mr. Parham. Something, at any rate, of Mr. Parham. For a moment or so it had been almost as though he were Mr. Parham. Instead of just telling Sir Bussy of his task and his danger he had disputed, had listened to what the fellow had to say and for some moments allowed it to weigh in his mind. Indeed, it still weighed in his mind.
Lords Paramount should not do things in this fashion. They know. They know altogether. They are decisive at once. Otherwise what right had they to assume a lordship over their fellows? At any cost their prestige for instant rightness must be upheld. It had been a queer incident, and it must not recur. The memory of one of the late Mr. Parham’s dinner-table arguments, of that late Mr. Parham with whom his own being was so mysteriously linked, had taken on a monstrous disproportion. He must recover scale.
He turned sharply. Hereward Jackson had entered the room noiselessly and then coughed.
There was something extraordinarily reassuring about Hereward Jackson. He was a born believer; he radiated faith; his mental deference, his entirely unquestioning loyalty was like a perpetual tonic to the Master. And a perpetual example to everyone else about him.
“All is ready,” he said. “You can lunch in the air with a flask and a tin of sandwiches, and the new Dictator in Berlin will be awaiting you about three.”
For the Lord Paramount had arranged to make a brief circuit of Europe, to marshal the strong men of the Continent about a common policy. They too, masters indeed in their own houses, were still manifestly in need of a leader to unite them for a common control of the chaotic forces of this age. That leader the Lord Paramount proposed to be, a dictator among the dictators, master of masters, the leader of the new Crusade that would reunite Christendom.
He made the circuit in open military aeroplanes. Before his incorporation with the Lord Paramount Mr. Parham had had no experience of flying except for one or two fine-weather crossings in the big Paris–London omnibuses. Now, muffled to the eyes, with the sweet fresh air whipping his cheeks and chin and the tip of his nose, mounting, beating the air, swooping like a bird, he realized for the first time what a delight and glory flying may be. Accompanied by companion planes carrying his secretarial staff, and escorted by a number of fighting planes, which ever and again would loop the loop or fall headlong like dead leaves and recover miraculously within fifty feet of the ground, fly turning over screw-like, pattern in squares and long wedges, chase each other in interlacing circles, and perform a score of similar feats for his diversion, the squadrons of the Lord Paramount swept over the pleasant land of Kent and the Channel, coasted by Dunkirk and athwart mouth after mouth and green delta after green delta of the Rhine, and so, leaving the sleeping law courts of The Hague to the left, turned eastward over the plains to Berlin. Berlin was his first objective, for in strict accordance with his forecast to the Council of the Empire the smouldering and resentful nationalism of Germany had broken out, and the Dictator Von Barheim was now effectual master of Germany. He had to be talked to a little, and assurances had to be won from him. Then to Paris to revive the spirit of Locarno. Afterwards Rome. And then, before the week was out, a scythe-like moving of the outer edge. King Paramitri, Count Paroli, Paraminski, and then a spectacular flight at a great height to Madrid and Parimo de Rivera. For Parimo was still at Madrid it seemed. All kindred-spirited men. All patriot master spirits, devoted to the honoured traditions of mankind; to flag and fatherland, to faith and family.
At every European capital the aeroplanes rose like swarms of autumnal starlings to greet the great conservator. Once he was within twenty feet of a collision, but his airman displayed astonishing quickness and skill. A youthful and too ardent Italian got out of control and nose-dived into the crowd on the Pincio at Rome, and there was a slight ground accident which burnt out two bombers at Warsaw, but no other misadventures.
The exhilaration of circling over one great capital after another, over its parks, towers, bridges, and bristling buildings, its encircling hills and clustering suburbs, and the banking and curving about to come down in a swift, clean rush was immense. What ancient conqueror ever made such a hawk’s swoop into an allied city? Then followed the bumping rush up to the aerodrome, and then it was the proudly impassive marble face relaxed for the smiling descent from the machine, the greetings, the cameras, the applause.
The vigour of the Lord Paramount’s personality, which had been a little impaired in his wrangle with Sir Bussy, was entirely restored by this European tour. His interview in Berlin was pure dominance. There had been street fighting, and the southeast region of the city was said to be in a mess with bombs and machine guns; there was still a little shooting audible in that direction, but Unter den Linden was packed with a patriotic crowd in a state of exalted delight at this immediate personal recognition of the new régime by the master mind of Britain. Everywhere the old imperial flag had reappeared.
The room in which these two dictators met was furnished with Prussian severity; everything was very simple, very necessary, and very, very big and heavy. Intimate relics of Frederick the Great occupied a position of honour in a glass case. The snuffbox would have carried through a long campaign, and there was room for luggage in the boots. Both men wore military uniforms. Von Barheim aped the still venerated figure of Bismarck and was none the more flexible in mind or manner for the compression of a tight cuirass; the Lord Paramount wore the simple yet effective service dress of a British general. The cap with its gilt-edged peak, the red band with its richly simple adornments, the well-tailored uniform suited his tall figure extremely.
For a time it was a little difficult to get Von Barheim away from the question of war responsibility. He came back to it again and again, and he betrayed a regrettable resentment on account of the post-war policy of France. He harped upon the Rhine. When will Europe forget that ancient dispute? When will Europe look forward? Well it is to be traditional, historical, national, and loyal, but one should not be too rigidly and restrictedly traditional, historical, national, and loyal. If only one could give Europe English eyes! — to see the world. The Lord Paramount perceived that willy-nilly he must play the schoolmaster. “May I put my conceptions of the world situation to you?” he asked.
Germany’s man of iron nodded a joyless assent.
“Here,” said the Lord Paramount with a sweeping gesture of his hand over the table, “in the very centre of the Old World, illimitably vast, potentially more powerful than all the rest of the world put together —” he made a momentary pause —“is Russia. Consider Russia.”
“Their ally in 1914,” said Von Barheim.
“But not now.”
“Which is just why they ought to be reasonable and not make themselves intolerable to us.”
“They have Poland at their beck and call.”
The Lord Paramount said no more about Poland. He came back to the unalterable certain greatness of Russia in the future and so proceeded to unfold the standard British conception of world policy in the light of that fact, using almost the same phrases as those he had employed in the recent council, making indeed only one or two modifications, dictated by consideration for the patriotic feelings of Von Barheim. “What part will Germany play in this?” he asked. “Germany, the heart of Europe, the central nation? If she is not the forefront of Westernism against Asia she becomes the forefront of Russia against Europe.”
“She can be her own forefront,” said Von Barheim, but the Lord Paramount disregarded that.
He felt he was winning and enlarging Von Barheim. The lucidity of Mr. Parham and the magnetism of the Lord Paramount made indeed an irresistible combination. Strange to think how badly that comprehensive exposition had been received when first it had been given to mortal ears at Sir Bussy’s table. Slowly but surely this sturdy German mind was turned away from its sombre preoccupations as the new conceptions opened out before it. Von Barheim seemed to breathe a fresher air.
The Lord Paramount came to his climax. “If I could go from here to Paris with some definite proposal,” he said and laid a firm white hand on Von Barheim’s arm, “if I could restore the Frank to his eastern kindred in friendship and cooperation, I feel I should not have lived in vain.”
“Danzig,” said Von Barheim compactly. Then added: “And the other points I have explained to you.”
“And why not Danzig? Between the Polish border and the Pacific there is room for compensation.”
“If it is THAT sort of proposal,” said Von Barheim and turned about to face his visitor squarely. “I did not understand at first. . . . If we can rearm freely. A big honest enterprise.”
They had come to business.
Von Barheim clapped his hands in Oriental fashion, and a secretary instantly appeared. “Get a map of the world,” he said. “Bring a big atlas.”
And before eleven next morning the Lord Paramount was in Paris closeted with M. Parème. M. Parème wore the frock coat without which all French statesmanship is invalid, and the Lord Paramount had assumed a dark lounge suit of the most perfect cut.
M. Parème was skeptical, realist, swift, and epigrammatic. His manner was more hostile than his matter. For Frenchmen all bargaining is a sort of quarrelling. One side must give in. And this was bargaining of the most elaborate sort. Slowly the Lord Paramount unfolded his vast designs. Slowly and with much resistance M. Parème assimilated those designs. But always with safeguarding conditions.
“Germany goes eastward to the north,” said M. Parème. “Good. In the country to the north of Moscow there ought to be excellent scope for German energy — particularly in the winter. Later compensations may come in South America. Again good. France does not touch America. She did all she wished to do over there in the Mexican expedition. We are to go southward and eastward, following out our traditional destinies in Syria and North Africa. Again — good. But it is clearly understood that in the final settlement there is nothing in this arrangement to exclude France from additional — indemnifications in central Asia or north China?”
Leaving a number of issues open in this region, M. Parème turned suddenly to other possibilities. Suppose the Lord Paramount’s proposals collapsed. Such things had been known to occur. Suppose that at the eleventh hour Germany did not abide by this bargain but were to attack France in alliance with Italy, would Britain bind herself to come in on the side of her ancient ally? He was very insistent that Britain held to that. These negotiations must not be supposed to set that older understanding aside. On the other hand, if Italy were to attack France while Germany, through a counter revolution or any other cause, failed to support Italy so that Italy was left alone vis-à-vis with France, then France would be free to deal with Italy and her boundaries and her African possessions without any interference from Great Britain. That was understood? It was to be a simple duel in that case, and all Great Britain would do would be to keep the ring. And in case of the joint defeat of France and Great Britain the latter Power would of course undertake to repay to France all of whatever indemnity she might have to pay in addition to such penalties as were directly imposed upon herself, and regardless of any economic difficulties in which she might find herself?
The Lord Paramount’s confidence in victory made him very yielding upon such issues.
Their talk became less difficult when it turned to America.
“And across the Atlantic,” asked M. Parème, “our friends the Prohibitionists seem to want to Prohibit war.”
“They won’t intervene,” said the Lord Paramount as one who knows absolutely.
“Can you even begin to understand the mental operations of America?” said M. Parème.
“If they DID choose to interfere,” said M. Parème, “they have an overwhelming fleet, and France has a considerable coast line. Would Great Britain undertake in that case to retain at least two thirds of her naval forces in European waters south and west of the British Channel, so as to defend the French coast?” . . .
At last the Lord Paramount had his understanding plain. France would assist and also France would share. The German ambassador, in spite of the very grave doubts of M. Parème, was called in for an informal confirmation. Then, without haste and without delay, the Lord Paramount returned to his aeroplane, and the British squadrons, with an escort of French aces, streamed, stunting gaily, up the sky. The whole sky was a pattern of aeroplanes. It was very beautiful. It had the splendour of newness, the splendour of order, the thrill of convergent power.
“Rome,” said the Lord Paramount.
It was in quite a different key that he met the mighty Paramuzzi, pattern of all the militant great men of the age, a genius almost too stupendous for Italy. “This is a man,” said Mr. Parham at their meeting. “Ecce Homo,” said Paramuzzi.
It was necessary now in the most grandiose manner possible, to offer Italy the fourth place in and the fourth share of the spoils of this mighty adventure of western Europe against the East. She had, moreover, to be a little disillusioned about her future in North Africa. Her attention had to be deflected to Greece, the Balkans, and (a brain wave of the Lord Paramount’s) the Crimea.
The understanding was achieved.
At Rome things were done in the classical style — or perhaps if one may employ a slight contradiction in terms, the neo-classic style. The white colonnades of the Victor Emanuele monument formed a becoming background to the scene. The Lord Paramount wore a British court costume with the Garter and Order of Merit under a cloak of his own design. Paramuzzi met the occasion in black velvet and silver with a hat adorned with a number of exceptionally large ostrich plumes. They met in the focus of a great semicircle of cameras.
“Hail, Cæsar Britannicus!”
“Hail, Cisalpine Cæsar!”
There was some tremendous saluting by serried Fascisti. They were patterned across the Piazza Venetia. Never was saluting carried to higher levels than in Italy under Paramuzzi. They did marvellous things with their hands, their chests, their legs and knees, their chins and noses. They brought down their hands with a slap so unanimous and simultaneous that it was as if the sky had cracked.
“Hail, Cæsar Britannicus!” and then the Fascist cry. London cannot do things in this style.
When the two great men were alone there was a moment of intense spiritual communion. Paramuzzi thrust his face with intense dilated eyes close to the Byronic visage of his visitor. He thrust a tightly clenched fist even nearer. “POWER!” he said. “POWER!” The other fist came to help in a sort of wrenching gesture.
“Exactly,” said the Lord Paramount, backing a little with Anglo–Saxon restraint and then bowing stiffly.
Paramuzzi englobed a planet with extended hands. His eyes devoured the Englishman.
“The world,” he said. “And what we are! Virility! The forces of life!”
“Yes,” said the Lord Paramount. “Yes.”
“I love life,” said Paramuzzi, “I love life with an exorbitant passion. And death and danger, the red essence of life. Discipline, yes — but death and danger. I delight in untamed horses. Attempts at assassination amuse me.”
And then, with a lapse into great tenderness: “And music. Our Italian Scarlatti. . . . AND LOVE! Sincere, passionate, headlong love! The love of disciples and devotees! Realized.”
“For me,” said the Lord Paramount succinctly, “my duty.”
He perceived he had scored a point. Paramuzzi would have liked to have said that.
To the Nordic mind of the Lord Paramount this encounter had a slight flavour of extravagance, and a certain anxiety invaded his mind as to the outcome of their negotiations, but when it came to business Paramuzzi proved to be a very reasonable man. He was lavish with his assurances and quite ready to accept the fourth share as if it were the first. It was evident the Italian people would receive it as the first and triumph. For there was glamour about this Paramuzzi. He could bring all the glory of Rome out of his sleeve; he could make an old hat look like empire, and a swarming and swelling population of illiterates adequate security for limitless loans . . . .
The King of the House of Savoy was something of an anticlimax . . . .
In such fashion it was that the Lord Paramount wove his net of understandings and gathered his allies together for his Asiatic war, the great effort of Europe against Asia. Europe versus Asia. He felt like Herodotus preaching Hellenic unity; a greater Herodotus preaching the unity of Christendom; he felt like King Philip of Macedonia preparing the campaigns that Alexander led. He felt like Cæsar marching southward. Like Peter the Hermit. Like John the Baptist. Like — But indeed all history welled up in him. He believed all the promises he extorted. He perceived indeed that these promises were made with a certain resistance, with implicit reservations, but for a time he was able to carry on and disregard the faint flavour of unreality this gave his great combination. He was convinced that if only he held his course his own will was powerful enough to carry the European mind with him.
His squadrons throbbed over Europe, and above him was the blue sky — and above the blue that God of Nations who surely rules there, though so many pseudo-intellectual men have forgotten it. The Lord Paramount, in an ecstasy of self-confidence, waved his white hand aloft.
The God of Nations grew real again as the Lord Paramount recreated him. The God of Battles came back reassured and sat down again upon the Great White Throne.
“MY God,” said the Lord Paramount.
Whatever obsessions with local feuds might cloud the minds of his kindred dictators, whatever sub-policies and minor issues (from a world point of view) might be complicating their thoughts, surely there was nothing so comprehensive and fundamental and profoundly and essentially true as his own statement of British policy. After all, he owed something to the vanished Parham’s intelligence. It was unjust not to admit something brilliant about poor old Parham. The Parham that had been. The man had had penetration even if he had had no power. He had been too modest and inaggressive, but he had had penetration. The more often his admirable summation of the international situation was repeated the more clear and beautiful it seemed.
“The lines of the next world struggle shape themselves,” said the Lord Paramount to Paramuzzi, “rationally, logically, inevitably. Need I explain the situation to your Latin lucidity? Here —” and he made a sweeping gesture in the air before them, for now he could do it without a table —“here, inimitably vast, potentially more powerful than most of the world put together, is Russia . . .”
And so to the aeroplane again, droning loudly over the mountain crests, a god of destiny, a being history would never forget.
Europe became like a large-scale map spread out beneath him. It was as if he sat in Mr. Parham’s study at St. Simon’s and had lapsed into daydreams with his atlas on his knee. How often had Mr. Parham passed an evening in that very fashion! And so soaring over Europe, he could for a time forget almost altogether his dispute with Camelford and Sir Bussy; the paradoxical puzzle of the gas supply he could ignore almost completely, and those queer impish doubts which scuttled about in the shadows of his glory.
The results of the Lord Paramount’s meteoric circlings in the European heavens would no doubt have become apparent in any event, very soon. But their development was forced on with a very maximum of swiftness by a series of incidents in Persia, Turkestan, Afghanistan, and along the northwest frontier of India.
For such a crisis the mind of the Lord Paramount was fully prepared. He could draw the map of central Asia from memory and tell you the distance between all the chief strategic points. Fact was only assisting his plans. For a century it had been evident to every sound student of history, under the Soviet rule just as plainly as under the Czar, that the whole welfare and happiness of Russia depended upon access to the sea. From the days of Peter the Great to those of the enlightened and penetrating Zinovieff, the tutors of the Russian intelligence had insisted upon the same idea. Dostoievsky had given it the quality of a mystical destiny. It was inconceivable to them that Russia could prosper, flourish, and be happy without owning territories that would give her a broad, uninterrupted, exclusive outlet upon the Pacific, the Indian Ocean, and the Mediterranean.
The school of British thought that had produced Mr. Parham was entirely of that opinion, and for an industrious century the statecraft of Britain had schemed, negotiated, and fought with the utmost devotion for the strangulation of Russia. The vast areas of Russia in Europe and Asia could not be productive and prosperous without serious injury to the people in Great Britain. That was axiomatic. If Russia established herself upon the sea, Britain would be irrevocably injured. That there might be a way of trading the products and needs of that great territory in an entirely satisfactory manner without the conquest, assimilation, or stringent suppression of Turks, Persians, Armenians, Baluchis, Indians, Manchus, Chinese, and whoever else intervened, was equally preposterous to the realistic minds of Russia. It was one of those great questions of ascendancy out of which the shapes of history are woven.
Steadfastly, automatically, these two great political systems had worked out the logical consequences of their antagonism. The railway in central Asia had been and remained primarily, a weapon in this war. The Russians pushed up their strategic railways from Askabad and Merv and Bokhara; the British replied with corresponding lines. Teheran and Kabul festered with abominable Russian spies and propagandists, scoundrels of the deepest dye, and with the active and high-minded agents Britain employed against them.
With the coming of the aeroplane the tension had tightened exceedingly. Over Meshed and Herat buzzed the Russians and the British, like wasps who might at any time sting.
This was the situation with which the Lord Paramount had to deal. He meant to force a decision now while the new régime in Russia was still weak and comparatively unprepared. Although the anti-British propaganda of the Russians was extraordinarily effective —“anti-imperialist” they called it — there was every reason to believe that their military discipline, munitions, and transport preparations in Uskub and Turkomania were still far below the Czarist level.
The crisis was precipitated by an opportune British aviator who nose-dived in flames into the bazaar at Kushk and killed and cooked several people as well as himself. A violent anti-British riot ensued. Bolshevik propaganda had trained these people for such excesses. A British flag was discovered and duly insulted, and shots were fired at two colleagues of the fallen airman who circled low to ascertain his fate.
The news, in an illuminated form, was at once communicated to the press of the world, and the Lord Paramount dictated a spirited communication to Moscow that followed the best precedents of Lord Curzon.
The Russian reply was impolite. It declared that British aeroplanes had no business over the Turkoman soviet republic. It reiterated charges of sustained hostility and malignity against the British government since the fall of the Kerensky regime. It enlarged upon the pacific intentions and acts of soviet Russia and the constant provocation to which it had been subjected. It refused point blank to make any apology or offer any compensation.
The Lord Paramount communicated this ungracious and insolent reply to the Powers, with an appeal for their sympathy. He announced at the same time that as a consequence of this culminating offence a state of war now existed between the United Soviet Republics and the British Empire. Neutral Powers would observe the customary restraints towards belligerents.
Herat and Kandahar were promptly occupied by Russian and British troops respectively, as precautionary measures, and a powerful British air force, supporting a raid of friendly Kurds, took and sacked Meshed. Herat was bombed by the British simultaneously with the far less effective bombing of Kandahar by the Russians. Although only high explosives and incendiary bombs were used in both cases, the Afghan population of these two towns, oblivious to the gigantic urgencies of the situation, displayed the liveliest resentment against Britain. This was manifestly unfair. This was clearly the result of an unscrupulous propaganda. They might perhaps be allowed a certain resentment for Herat, but it was soviet bombs which burst in Kandahar.
The Lord Paramount had succeeded in doing what even Mr. Brimstone Burchell had failed to do. He had got his war with Russia — and Afghanistan thrown in.
The day following the declaration of hostilities the British and Japanese, acting in strict accordance with a secret agreement already concluded through the foresight of the Lord Paramount, proclaimed the Chinese Kuomintang as an ally of Russia, published documents alleged to have been stolen by trustworthy agents from Russian and Chinese representatives in proof of this statement, and announced the blockade of China. The Japanese also landed very considerable forces to protect the strategic points in the railway system of eastern China from anything that might threaten them.
The British people, always a little slow at the uptake, took a day or so to realize that another World War was beginning. At first the hostilities seemed to be all Asia away, and merely spectacular for the common man. The music halls were laughing rather cynically at this return to war, but in quite a patriotic and anti-Bolshevik key. It was a joke against peace talk, which has always been rather boring talk to the brighter sort of people. The Lord Protector considered it advisable to create a press control bureau to make it perfectly clear to the public what was to be thought and felt about the conflict. True, there was none of the swift patriotic response that had made England the envy of the world in 1914, but unemployment was rife, and the recruiting figures were sufficiently satisfactory to preclude an immediate resort to conscription. Anti–Russian propaganda could be developed gradually, and enthusiasm could be fanned as it was required.
He issued a general order to commanding officers everywhere: “A cheerful activity is to be maintained. Everyone on the move briskly. Every flag flying and every band busy. This is to be a bright and hopeful war. A refreshing war.”
The instant fall in the numbers of the unemployed was featured conspicuously in all the papers.
But now, after these confident beginnings, came a pause for thought. So far he had been doing his best to leave America out of the reckoning. He had counted on a certain excitement and discontent over there. His concerted action with Japan, and particularly the revelation of a secret understanding with Tokio, was, he knew, bound to produce irritation. But he was now to realize the extreme sensitiveness of American opinion, not only to any appearance of interference with American shipping, but also to any tampering with American interests in China and eastern Siberia. And he was to realize reluctantly how alien to British ideas American thought has become.
He was suddenly and strenuously visited by the new American ambassador. Abruptly on the heel of a telephone message at one o’clock in the morning the American ambassador came.
Through some conspiracy of accidents the Lord Paramount had not yet met the American ambassador. Mr. Rufus Chanson had been in France, where his wife had been undergoing an operation. Now he had come back post-haste, and a communication from Washington had brought him headlong to the Lord Paramount in the small hours.
His appearance recalled at once a certain Mr. Hamp, a banker whom Mr. Parham had met at that memorable dinner at Sir Bussy’s. He had the same rather grayish complexion, the same spectacles; he stooped in the same way, and he spoke with the same deliberation. If he had not been Mr. Rufus Chanson, he would certainly have been Mr. Hamp.
He was received in the War Office room that had now become the Lord Paramount’s home. He was ushered in almost furtively by an under secretary. Mrs. Pinchot, with whom the Lord Paramount had been relaxing his mind, sat in one corner throughout the interview, watching her master with dark adoring eyes.
“My lord!” said Mr. Chanson, advancing without a greeting. “What does this mean? What does it all mean? I’ve hardly kept touch. I got papers on board the boat, and my secretary met me at Dover. I’m thunderstruck. What have you been doing? Why have I got this?” He waved an open document in his hand.
The Lord Paramount was surprised by his visitor’s extreme agitation but remained calm. “Mr. Chanson, I believe,” he said and offered his hand and motioned to a chair. “May I ask what is the matter?”
“Don’t say you’ve been deliberately interfering with American shipping at Tientsin,” implored Mr. Chanson. “After all that has passed. Don’t say you’ve seized five ships. Don’t say it’s by your orders the Beauty of Narragansett was fired on and sunk with seven men. As things are, if that is so — God knows what our people won’t do!”
“There is a blockade.”
The American appealed to heaven. “WHY, in the name of Holiness, is there a blockade?”
“There has been some incident,” the Lord Paramount admitted. He turned to Mrs. Pinchot, who rustled with her papers. Her little clear voice confirmed, “Beauty of Narragansett refused to obey signals and sunk. Number of drowned not stated.”
“My God!” said Mr. Chanson. “Will you British people never understand that in the American people you’re dealing with the most excitable people on God’s earth? Why did you let it happen? You’re asking for it.”
“I don’t understand,” said the Lord Paramount calmly.
“Oh, God! He doesn’t understand! The most sensitive, the most childish, the most intelligent and resolute of nations! And he outrages their one darling idea, the Freedom of the Seas, and he sinks one of their ships and seven of their citizens as though they were so many Hindoos!”
The Lord Paramount regarded the scolding, familiar-mannered figure and contrasted it with any possible European diplomatist. Surely the Americans were the strongest of all strangers. And yet so close to us. It was exactly like being scolded by a brother or an intimate schoolfellow, all seemliness forgotten.
“We gave notice of our intention. We were within our rights.”
“I’m not here to argue points. What are we going to do about it? Couldn’t you have given way just on that particular thing? I can’t help myself, I have to give you this dispatch.”
He didn’t offer to give it. He seemed indeed to cling to it.
“Listen to me, my Lord Paramount,” he said. “The President is a man of Peace; he’s God’s own man of Peace; but remember also he’s the spokesman of the American people and he has to speak as their representative. This dispatch, sir, is going to the newspapers as we talk. It can’t be held. Here it is. You may think it hectoring, but half the folks over there will say it isn’t hectoring enough. The Freedom of the Seas! They’re mad for it. Even the Middle West, which hasn’t an idea what it means, is mad for it. Seizures! And sinking us! Never did I think, when I came to St. James’s, I should have to deal with such a situation as this. . . . Everything so pleasant. The court. The kindly friends. And now this fierceness. . . . My wife, sir, over there has taken to her bed again. All the good Paris did her — undone!”
He put the paper on the table and wrung his liberated hands. He subsided into distressful mutterings.
The Lord Paramount took the dispatch and read it swiftly. His face grew pale and stern as he read. Dismay and indignation mingled in his mind. “Hectoring” was certainly the word for it. It made the historical Venezuela message seem a love letter. These Americans had never been adepts at understatement. Britain had to discontinue the blockade “forthwith”— a needless word — restore certain seized ships, compensate . . .
When he had finished reading he turned back a page, in order to gain time before he spoke. He was thinking very rapidly how the country would take this, how Canada would take it, how the Empire and the world would be affected. He was already very anxious about his proposed allies in Europe, for none had shown a decent promptitude in carrying out the terms of the understandings he had made with them. Germany, Poland, Yugo–Slavia, Italy had done nothing against Russia, had not even closed a frontier, and France, though she had partly mobilized, had made no clear intimation of her intentions and done nothing further in the way of cooperation. All of them seemed to be waiting — for some further cue. What was going to happen to these hesitating associates when they heard of this quarrel with America?
“My dear sir,” he said. “My dear sir. In Britain we have always been willing to recognize the peculiar difficulties of American diplomacy. But this dispatch —!”
“Yeh!” said the American ambassador. “But don’t think it’s just talking.”
“It goes too far. We know how urgent the exigencies of party politics can be over there. But the embarrassment —! It is almost a habit with American statesmen to disregard every difficulty with which we may be struggling on this side. . . . I will try to take this patiently, this string of insults. But — The President must have written it at fever heat.”
“Can’t you say that the shooting was a mistake? Hot-headed subordinates and all that?”
For a moment the Lord Paramount thought, and then, with a start and a glance at Mrs. Pinchot he exclaimed, “Good heavens! Go back on a man who obeys orders!”
“You’ll hold to it, it was by order?”
“A general order — yes.”
The American shrugged his shoulders and despaired visibly.
“I must consider the situation,” said the Lord Paramount. “Your President has put me in a very terrible position. I have come into public affairs to restore honour to human life. I have vowed myself to a high-spirited England. I have come to carry out great policies that will save all that is precious in Western civilization. I do not think that this public of yours in America dreams of the immense issues of this struggle that is now beginning. Nor your President. And while I gather together the forces of this great empire for a world conflict, suddenly this petty affair is seized upon to distress, to complicate — I don’t know — possibly to humiliate. . . . What good, I ask you, can this hectoring do? What end can it serve?”
“Yeh!” the American ambassador intervened. “But what I want you to understand, sir, is that this message isn’t simply hectoring with an eye to the next election, and it isn’t just to be set aside as tail-twisting the British lion. You’ll get things all wrong if you try to see it like that. The American people are a childish people, perhaps, but they’re large. They see things big. They have some broad ideas. Perhaps suddenly they’ll grow up into something very fine. Even now they have a kind of rightness. And, rightly or wrongly, they have got this idea of the Freedom of the Seas as strongly now as they have the Monroe idea; they’ve got it and the President has got it; and if there isn’t something done to put this in order, and if your people go seizing or shooting at any more of our ships, well — I’m not threatening you. I’m talking in sorrow and dismay — you’ll get an ultimatum.”
“My DEAR sir!” said the Lord Paramount, still resisting the unpleasant idea. “But an ultimatum means —”
“What I’m telling you. It means war, sir. It means something nobody on either side of the Atlantic has ever had the courage to figure out . . . .”
For the truly great, dark days are inevitable. Purple is the imperial colour. All great lives are tragedies. Across the first splendour of the Lord Paramount’s ascendancy there began now to fall the shadows of approaching disaster. His mood changed with the mood of his adventure. America had misunderstood him, had almost wilfully refused to respect the depth and power of his tremendous purpose. He had not realized how widely she had diverged from the British conception of history and a European outlook upon world affairs. And suddenly all his giant schemes were straining to the breaking point. The incident of the Beauty of Narragansett and the note from the American President was the turning point of his career.
He had known this adventure with human affairs was heroic and vast; he had not realized its extreme and dangerous intricacy. He felt suddenly that he was struggling with a puzzle. It was as if he had been engaged in an argument and had been trapped and involved and confused. His mind was curiously haunted by that dispute of Mr. Parham’s with Camelford and Hamp and Sir Bussy. They seemed always in the back of his picture now, welcoming any setback, declaring his values false and his concepts obsolete, and foreshadowing some vague and monstrous new order of things in which he had no part. That vague and monstrous new order of things was at the same time the remotest, least distinct, and most disconcerting element in all this sideshow of unpleasant apprehensions.
He had believed himself the chosen head of the united British peoples. Under the stress of the presidential note he was to discover how extremely unBritish, British peoples could be. That realization of the supreme significance of the Empire, of which Seeley and Kipling had been the prophets, had reached only a limited section of the population. And the intensity with which that section had realized it had perhaps a little restricted its general realization. Had imperial patriotism come too late? Had it yet to penetrate outwardly and DOWN? Had it failed to grip, or had it lost its grip on the colonial imagination?
Not only the masses at home, but the Dominions had drifted out of touch with and respect for, or perhaps had never really been in touch with, the starry preeminence of Oxford and Cambridge thought, with army and navy and ruling-class habits and traditions, with the guarded intimacies of London and all that makes our Britain what it is today. These larger, vaguer multitudes were following America in a widening estrangement from the essential conceptions of British history and British national conduct. For some years the keen mind of Mr. Parham had sensed this possible ebb of the imperial idea. It had troubled his sleep. Failing it, what was there before us but disintegration? Now the heroic intelligence of the Lord Paramount was suffused by those anxieties of Mr. Parham. Could it be that he might have to play a losing game? Might it be that after all his destiny was not victory but the lurid splendour of a last stand for ideas too noble for this faltering world?
When he had seized power the London crowd had seemed oafishly tolerant of this change of régime. It had not applauded, but it had not resisted. Evidently it did not care a rap for Parliament. But, on the other hand, had there been enthusiasm for the dictatorship? Now it became apparent that whatever enthusiasm there might be was shot and tainted by the gravest discontent. As he drove down Whitehall in his big blue car with Mrs. Pinchot and Hereward Jackson to take the air in Richmond Park for his one precious hour of waking rest in the day, he discovered an endless string of sandwich men plodding slowly up the street.
“Leave Russia alone,” in red, was the leading inscription. This when we were actually at war with Russia. That at least was open treason. Other boards more wordy said: “Leave China alone. We have enough to worry about without grabbing China.” A third series declared: “We don’t want War with America.” That was the culminating point of the protest. These men were plodding up the street unhindered. Not a patriot was in action. No one had even thought of beating them about their heads. And yet sandwich men are particularly easy to beat about their heads. The police had done nothing.
What on earth did the people want? National dishonour? He could not disdain these sandwich boards. He was taken too much by surprise. He looked. He turned his head about. He gave himself away. People must have observed his movements, and it was necessary to do something promptly. The car pulled up. “Get out,” he said to Hereward Jackson, “go back and have this stopped. Find out who supplied the money.”
He went on his way past the Houses of Parliament, locked up and, as it seemed to him that day, silently and unfairly reproachful. He was moody with Mrs. Pinchot in Richmond Park. “They are stirring up my own people against me,” he said suddenly out of a great silence. Some interesting work was being done in the park with military telpherage, but his mind was preoccupied, and his questions lacked their usual penetrating liveliness.
Presently he found himself phrasing the curt sentences of a Decree of public security. That is what things had come to. There would have to be a brief opening, detailing the position of danger in which the Empire was placed. Then would follow the announcement of new and severe laws against unpatriotic publications, unpatriotic agitation, and the slightest suggestion of resistance to the civil and military authorities. The punishments would have to be stern. Real plain treason in wartime calls for death. Military men obliged to kill were to be released from all personal responsibility if their acts were done in good faith. Attacks on the current régime were to involve the death penalty — by shooting. In any case. An Empire that is worth having is worth shooting for.
When he returned, stern and preoccupied, to his desk at the War Office, ready to dictate this Decree, he found Hereward Jackson with a medley of fresh and still more disconcerting news. The sandwich men of Whitehall were only the first intimations of a great storm of protest against what speakers were pleased to call the provocation of America.
All over the country meetings, processions, and a variety of other demonstrations were disseminating a confused but powerful objection to the Lord Paramount’s policy. The opposition to his action against Russia was second only in vigour to the remonstrances against the American clash. “Right or wrong,” said one prominent Labour leader at Leicester, “we won’t fight either Russia or America. We don’t believe in this fighting. We don’t believe it is necessary. We were humbugged last time — but never again.” And these abominable sentences, this complete repudiation of national spirit, were cheered!
“One must shoot,” muttered the Lord Paramount; “one must not hesitate to shoot. That would be the turning point,” and he called on Mrs. Pinchot to take down his first draft of the Decree.
“We must have this broadcast forthwith,” he said. “This rot must be arrested, these voices must be silenced, or we go to pieces. Read the Decree over to me . . . .”
With the publication of the American blockade message throughout the Empire, all the multiplying evidences of hesitation, disintegration, and positive disloyalty underwent an abrupt and alarming magnification. The Dominions, it became evident, were as disposed as the masses at home toward a dishonourable pacificism. They were as blind to the proper development of the imperial adventure. The Canadian Prime Minister sent the Lord Paramount a direct communication to warn him that in no case could Britain count on Canadian participation in a war with the United States. Moreover, British armed forces in Canadian territory and Canadian waters would have to be immobilized as a precautionary measure if the tension of the situation increased further. He was making all the necessary preparations for this step.
A few hours later protests nearly as disconcerting came in from South Africa and Australia. In Dublin there were vast separatist republican meetings, and there was a filibustory raid of uncertain significance against Ulster. At the same time a string of cipher telegrams made it plain that the insurrectionary movement in India was developing very gravely. A systematic attack upon the railway systems behind the northwest frontier was evidently going on; the bombing of bridges and the tearing up of the tracks at important centres was being carried out far more extensively than anyone could have foreseen. The trouble was taking a religious turn in the Punjab. A new leader, following, it would seem, rather upon the precedent of Nansk, the founder of the Sikhs, had appeared out of the blue and was preaching a sort of syncretic communist theology, intended to unite Moslim and Hindu, communist and nationalist, in a common faith and a common patriotism. He was actively militant. His disciples were to be fighters, and their happiest possible end was death in battle.
Amidst the confusion one cheering aspect was the steady loyalty of the Indian princes. They had formed a sort of voluntary Council of India of their own, which was already cooperating actively with the imperial authorities in the suppression of disorder and the defence of the frontier. Their readiness to take over responsibilities was indisputable.
Such events, the Lord Paramount argued, should have raised the whole of Britain in a unison of patriotic energy. All social conflicts should have been forgotten. A torrent of patriot recruits should be pouring into the army from every position in life. They would have done so in 1914. What had happened since to the spirit and outlook of our people?
Well, the Decree of Public Security must challenge them. Its clear insistence on unquestioning loyalty would put the issue plainly. They would have to search their hearts and decide.
A further series of anxieties was caused by the ambiguous behaviour of his promised allies in Europe. Some of them were taking action in accordance with the plain undertakings of their respective strong men. France and Italy had mobilized, but on their common frontier. Von Barheim, on the telephone, pleaded that he was embarrassed by a republican and antipatriotic revolt in Saxony. Turkey also had mobilized, and there was complex nationalist trouble in Egypt.
The Lord Paramount became more and more aware of the extreme swiftness with which things happen to responsible statesmen as the war phase comes round. The American situation had developed from a featureless uneventfulness to an acute clash in four days. Hour after hour, fresh aspects of the riddle of Empire elaborated themselves. He had drawn together all the threads of Empire into his own hands. There were moments when he felt an intolerable envy of Paramuzzi with his straightforward peninsula and his comparatively simple problem.
As the situation became more complicated and the urgent dangers crowded closer and closer upon the Lord Paramount, this realization of the atmosphere of haste in which the great decisions of our modern world are made grew more and more vivid and dominant in his vision of the rôle he had to play.
“I found my task too easy at the beginning,” he said to Mrs. Pinchot. “Plainly there has to be a struggle, an intricate struggle. I had counted on national and imperial solidarity. I find I have to create it. I had counted on trusty allies, and I find I must take precautions against them. I thought I should be sustained by patriotic science and patriotic finance and patriotic business enterprise, and I find men without souls that evade my inspiration. I fight against forces of dissolution more powerful than I ever dreamt could be launched against the established order of human life. Only our army, our navy, the church, and the old conservative classes stand out amidst this universal decay. They keep their form; they still embody imperial purpose. On these at least I can rely. But see what falls upon me.”
“My demi-God!” breathed Mrs. Pinchot, but lest it should be a source of embarrassment to both of them he affected not to hear. He became magnificently practical.
“I must organize my life so that not a moment of time nor an ounce of energy goes to waste. Here I shall install myself for good. Here I must trust you to control my staff and arrange my hours. Here you must make me as much of a home as I can have, as well as an office. Your intelligence I know I can count upon, as I count upon your loyalty. Gradually we will select a staff from the civil service to act as a filter for news and for responsibility. We will apportion each man his task. At present we have still to assemble that machine. Economy of force, efficiency of action . . . .”
Very rapidly these ideas bore fruit, and the Lord Paramount’s life began to be ordered so as to squeeze the utmost work out of his marvellous brain in his gigantic struggle to keep the Empire and the world upon the rails of established tradition.
Sir Titus Knowles, formerly so antagonistic, had now become the rude but subjugated servant of the master’s revealed greatness. To him was entrusted the task of keeping the Lord Paramount fit. He dieted and when necessary he drugged this precious body. He pursued its chemical variations in all their manifestations with sedulous watchfulness. He prescribed its phases of rest and its intervals of sleep.
Sir Titus had found his place in life.
All day and all night, at every half hour, a simple meal, a cutlet, or a roast fowl would be prepared. Had the moment come to eat? If not, the meal was dismissed and the next in succession was brought into readiness for service. So too the Lord Paramount’s couch or his bed was always there for repose or slumber.
War and diplomacy have been compared to the game of chess, but it is chess with a board of uncertain shape and extent and with pieces with unlimited powers of spontaneous movement. At any moment astounding adjustments of view must be possible, if this game is to be carried to a triumphant conclusion. In his own room he had a comparatively clear table, from which all papers not immediately under consideration were banished. Usually it bore only a water bottle and glass and a silver bowl in which every day Mrs. Pinchot arranged a fresh mass of simple but beautiful flowers. She and she alone shared this workroom with him, silent and watchful, the only being whose continual close proximity did not interfere with the mighty workings of his mind. Thence he moved to and fro between the large apartment in which General Gerson and Field Marshal Capper had tables covered with maps, and a series of other apartments containing books and files for reference, in which expert secretaries waited, ready to leap to their feet and answer the slightest inquiry. Beyond and out of hearing were typists and other copyists. Further were an outer circle of messengers, waiting rooms for visitors, and the like.
Sir Titus arranged that the Lord Paramount should take exercise in artificially oxygenated chambers, clad in a restricted but becoming costume reminiscent of a Spartan athlete. There also he rode horseless saddles that backed and reared in the most hygienic fashion, or he rowed in imaginary boat races with dials recording his speed, or he punched leather balls, or cycled on stationary bicycles, or smacked golf balls at targets that registered the force and distance of his drive — always in a manner, Sir Titus arranged, to exhilarate him and sustain his self-confidence. And once a day he would drive out with Mrs. Pinchot through the sullen and yet stimulating atmosphere of the capital.
A simple life it was in essence that the Lord Paramount led during this phase, a life of industrious servitude for the sake of all the noblest traditions of mankind.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:02