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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Swoop! Or How Clarence Saved England - Part One - Chapter 7 - A CONFERENCE OF THE POWERS
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The Swoop! Or How Clarence Saved England - Part One - Chapter 7 - A CONFERENCE OF THE POWERS Post by :Gilles_Turbide Category :Long Stories Author :P G Wodehouse Date :June 2011 Read :1526

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The Swoop! Or How Clarence Saved England - Part One - Chapter 7 - A CONFERENCE OF THE POWERS

Part One Chapter 7 - A CONFERENCE OF THE POWERS


The Russians, led by General Vodkakoff, arrived at Hampstead half an
hour after the bombardment had ceased, and the rest of the invaders,
including Raisuli, who had got off on an _alibi_, dropped in at
intervals during the week. By the evening of Saturday, the sixth of
August, even the Chinese had limped to the metropolis. And the question
now was, What was going to happen? England displayed a polite
indifference to the problem. We are essentially a nation of
sight-seers. To us the excitement of staring at the invaders was
enough. Into the complex international problems to which the situation
gave rise it did not occur to us to examine. When you consider that a
crowd of five hundred Londoners will assemble in the space of two
minutes, abandoning entirely all its other business, to watch a
cab-horse that has fallen in the street, it is not surprising that the
spectacle of nine separate and distinct armies in the metropolis left
no room in the British mind for other reflections.

The attraction was beginning to draw people back to London now. They
found that the German shells had had one excellent result, they had
demolished nearly all the London statues. And what might have
conceivably seemed a draw-back, the fact that they had blown great
holes in the wood-paving, passed unnoticed amidst the more extensive
operations of the London County Council.

Taking it for all in all, the German gunners had simply been
beautifying London. The Albert Hall, struck by a merciful shell, had
come down with a run, and was now a heap of picturesque ruins;
Whitefield's Tabernacle was a charred mass; and the burning of the
Royal Academy proved a great comfort to all. At a mass meeting in
Trafalgar Square a hearty vote of thanks was passed, with acclamation,
to Prince Otto.

But if Londoners rejoiced, the invaders were very far from doing so.
The complicated state of foreign politics made it imperative that there
should be no friction between the Powers. Yet here a great number of
them were in perhaps as embarrassing a position as ever diplomatists
were called upon to unravel. When nine dogs are assembled round one
bone, it is rarely on the bone alone that teeth-marks are found at the
close of the proceedings.

Prince Otto of Saxe-Pfennig set himself resolutely to grapple with the
problem. His chance of grappling successfully with it was not improved
by the stream of telegrams which arrived daily from his Imperial
Master, demanding to know whether he had yet subjugated the country,
and if not, why not. He had replied guardedly, stating the difficulties
which lay in his way, and had received the following: "At once mailed
fist display. On Get or out Get.--WILHELM."

It was then that the distracted prince saw that steps must be taken at
once.

Carefully-worded letters were despatched by District Messenger boys to
the other generals. Towards nightfall the replies began to come in,
and, having read them, the Prince saw that this business could never be
settled without a personal interview. Many of the replies were
absolutely incoherent.

Raisuli, apologising for delay on the ground that he had been away in
the Isle of Dogs cracking a crib, wrote suggesting that the Germans and
Moroccans should combine with a view to playing the Confidence Trick on
the Swiss general, who seemed a simple sort of chap. "Reminds me of
dear old Maclean," wrote Raisuli. "There is money in this. Will you
come in? Wire in the morning."

The general of the Monaco forces thought the best way would be to
settle the thing by means of a game of chance of the odd-man-out class.
He knew a splendid game called Slippery Sam. He could teach them the
rules in half a minute.

The reply of Prince Ping Pong Pang of China was probably brilliant and
scholarly, but it was expressed in Chinese characters of the Ming
period, which Prince Otto did not understand; and even if he had it
would have done him no good, for he tried to read it from the top
downwards instead of from the bottom up.

The Young Turks, as might have been expected, wrote in their customary
flippant, cheeky style. They were full of mischief, as usual. The body
of the letter, scrawled in a round, schoolboy hand, dealt principally
with the details of the booby-trap which the general had successfully
laid for his head of staff. "He was frightfully shirty," concluded the
note jubilantly.

From the Bollygolla camp the messenger-boy returned without a scalp,
and with a verbal message to the effect that the King could neither
read nor write.

Grand Duke Vodkakoff, from the Russian lines, replied in his smooth,
cynical, Russian way:--"You appear anxious, my dear prince, to scratch
the other entrants. May I beg you to remember what happens when you
scratch a Russian?"

As for the Mad Mullah's reply, it was simply pure delirium. The journey
from Somaliland, and his meeting with his friend Mr. Dillon, appeared
to have had the worse effects on his sanity. He opened with the
statement that he was a tea-pot: and that was the only really coherent
remark he made.

Prince Otto placed a hand wearily on his throbbing brow.

"We must have a conference," he said. "It is the only way."

Next day eight invitations to dinner went out from the German camp.

* * * * *

It would be idle to say that the dinner, as a dinner, was a complete
success. Half-way through the Swiss general missed his diamond
solitaire, and cold glances were cast at Raisuli, who sat on his
immediate left. Then the King of Bollygolla's table-manners were
frankly inelegant. When he wanted a thing, he grabbed for it. And he
seemed to want nearly everything. Nor was the behaviour of the leader
of the Young Turks all that could be desired. There had been some talk
of only allowing him to come down to dessert; but he had squashed in,
as he briefly put it, and it would be paltering with the truth to say
that he had not had far more champagne than was good for him. Also, the
general of Monaco had brought a pack of cards with him, and was
spoiling the harmony by trying to induce Prince Ping Pong Pang to find
the lady. And the brainless laugh of the Mad Mullah was very trying.

Altogether Prince Otto was glad when the cloth was removed, and the
waiters left the company to smoke and talk business.

Anyone who has had anything to do with the higher diplomacy is aware
that diplomatic language stands in a class by itself. It is a language
specially designed to deceive the chance listener.

Thus when Prince Otto, turning to Grand Duke Vodkakoff, said quietly,
"I hear the crops are coming on nicely down Kent way," the habitual
frequenter of diplomatic circles would have understood, as did the
Grand Duke, that what he really meant was, "Now about this business.
What do you propose to do?"

The company, with the exception of the representative of the Young
Turks, who was drinking _creme de menthe out of a tumbler, the
Mullah and the King of Bollygolla bent forward, deeply interested, to
catch the Russian's reply. Much would depend on this.

Vodkakoff carelessly flicked the ash off his cigarette.

"So I hear," he said slowly. "But in Shropshire, they tell me, they are
having trouble with the mangel-wurzels."

The prince frowned at this typical piece of shifty Russian diplomacy.

"How is your Highness getting on with your Highness's roller-skating?"
he enquired guardedly.

The Russian smiled a subtle smile.

"Poorly," he said, "poorly. The last time I tried the outside edge I
thought somebody had thrown the building at me."

Prince Otto flushed. He was a plain, blunt man, and he hated this
beating about the bush.

"Why does a chicken cross the road?" he demanded, almost angrily.

The Russian raised his eyebrows, and smiled, but made no reply. The
prince, resolved to give him no chance of wriggling away from the
point, pressed him hotly.

"Think of a number," he cried. "Double it. Add ten. Take away the
number you first thought of. Divide it by three, and what is the
result?"

There was an awed silence. Surely the Russian, expert at evasion as he
was, could not parry so direct a challenge as this.

He threw away his cigarette and lit a cigar.

"I understand," he said, with a tinkle of defiance in his voice, "that
the Suffragettes, as a last resource, propose to capture Mr. Asquith
and sing the Suffragette Anthem to him."

A startled gasp ran round the table.

"Because the higher he flies, the fewer?" asked Prince Otto, with
sinister calm.

"Because the higher he flies, the fewer," said the Russian smoothly,
but with the smoothness of a treacherous sea.

There was another gasp. The situation was becoming alarmingly tense.

"You are plain-spoken, your Highness," said Prince Otto slowly.

At this moment the tension was relieved by the Young Turk falling off
his chair with a crash on to the floor. Everyone jumped up startled.
Raisuli took advantage of the confusion to pocket a silver ash-tray.

The interruption had a good effect. Frowns relaxed. The wranglers began
to see that they had allowed their feelings to run away with them. It
was with a conciliatory smile that Prince Otto, filling the Grand
Duke's glass, observed:

"Trumper is perhaps the prettier bat, but I confess I admire Fry's
robust driving."

The Russian was won over. He extended his hand.

"Two down and three to play, and the red near the top corner pocket,"
he said with that half-Oriental charm which he knew so well how to
exhibit on occasion.

The two shook hands warmly.

And so it was settled, the Russian having, as we have seen, waived his
claim to bombard London in his turn, there was no obstacle to a
peaceful settlement. It was obvious that the superior forces of the
Germans and Russians gave them, if they did but combine, the key to the
situation. The decision they arrived at was, as set forth above, as
follows. After the fashion of the moment, the Russian and German
generals decided to draw the Colour Line. That meant that the troops of
China, Somaliland, Bollygolla, as well as Raisuli and the Young Turks,
were ruled out. They would be given a week in which to leave the
country. Resistance would be useless. The combined forces of the
Germans, Russians, Swiss, and Monacoans were overwhelming, especially
as the Chinese had not recovered from their wanderings in Wales and
were far too footsore still to think of serious fighting.

When they had left, the remaining four Powers would continue the
invasion jointly.

* * * * *

Prince Otto of Saxe-Pfennig went to bed that night, comfortably
conscious of a good work well done. He saw his way now clear before
him.

But he had made one miscalculation. He had not reckoned with Clarence
Chugwater.

Content of Part One Chapter 7 - A CONFERENCE OF THE POWERS (P G Wodehouse's novel: The Swoop! or How Clarence Saved England)

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