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|The Ending Of War||H. G. [Herbert George] Wells|
|Page 3 of 8||
King Ferdinand Charles pulled himself together. He protested.
'Oh, quite so,' said the ex-king, 'quite so.'
'What grounds?' The ex-king permitted himself a gesture and the ghost of a chuckle--why the devil should he chuckle? 'Practically none,' he said. 'But of course with these things one has to be so careful.'
And then again for an instant something--like the faintest shadow of derision--gleamed out of the envoy's eyes and recalled that chilly feeling to King Ferdinand's spine.
Some kindred depression had come to Pestovitch, who had been watching the drawn intensity of Firmin's face. He came to the help of his master, who, he feared, might protest too much.
'A search!' cried the king. 'An embargo on our aeroplanes.'
'Only a temporary expedient,' said the ex-king Egbert, 'while the search is going on.'
The king appealed to his council.
'The people will never permit it, sire,' said a bustling little man in a gorgeous uniform.
'You'll have to make 'em,' said the ex-king, genially addressing all the councillors.
King Ferdinand glanced at the closed brass door through which no news would come.
'When would you want to have this search?'
The ex-king was radiant. 'We couldn't possibly do it until the day after to-morrow,' he said.
'Just the capital?'
'Where else?' asked the ex-king, still more cheerfully.
'For my own part,' said the ex-king confidentially, 'I think the whole business ridiculous. Who would be such a fool as to hide atomic bombs? Nobody. Certain hanging if he's caught--certain, and almost certain blowing up if he isn't. But nowadays I have to take orders like the rest of the world. And here I am.'
The king thought he had never met such detestable geniality. He glanced at Pestovitch, who nodded almost imperceptibly. It was well, anyhow, to have a fool to deal with. They might have sent a diplomatist. 'Of course,' said the king, 'I recognise the overpowering force--and a kind of logic--in these orders from Brissago.'
'I knew you would,' said the ex-king, with an air of relief, 'and so let us arrange----'
They arranged with a certain informality. No Balkan aeroplane was to adventure into the air until the search was concluded, and meanwhile the fleets of the world government would soar and circle in the sky. The towns were to be placarded with offers of reward to any one who would help in the discovery of atomic bombs....
'You will sign that,' said the ex-king.
'To show that we aren't in any way hostile to you.'
Pestovitch nodded 'yes' to his master.
'And then, you see,' said the ex-king in that easy way of his, 'we'll have a lot of men here, borrow help from your police, and run through all your things. And then everything will be over. Meanwhile, if I may be your guest....' When presently Pestovitch was alone with the king again, he found him in a state of jangling emotions. His spirit was tossing like a wind-whipped sea. One moment he was exalted and full of contempt for 'that ass' and his search; the next he was down in a pit of dread. 'They will find them, Pestovitch, and then he'll hang us.'
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|The World Set Free
H. G. [Herbert George] Wells
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