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WITHIN five minutes they were seated in the big Napier, with ninety horse-power under them, and a possibility of eighty miles an hour before them. A white flag was fastened to a little flag-staff on the left-hand side. They put on their goggles and overcoats and took Westminster Bridge, as it seemed, in a leap. Rochester was reached in twenty-five minutes, but at the southern side of Rochester Bridge they were held up by German sentries.
"Not a pleasant sort of thing on English soil," growled Lord Kitchener as Lord Whittinghame stopped the motor.
"Is the German Emperor here yet?" asked Lennard in German.
"No, Herr, he is at Canterbury," replied the sentry. "Would you like to see the officer?"
"Yes," said Lennard, "as soon as possible. These gentlemen are Lord Whittinghame and Lord Kitchener, and they wish to meet the Emperor as soon as possible."
The sentry saluted and retired, and presently a captain of Uhlans came clattering across the street, clicked his heels together, touched the side of his helmet, and said:
"At your service, gentlemen. What can I do for you?"
"We wish to get into communication with the German Emperor as soon as possible," replied Lord Whittinghame. "Is the telegraph still working from here to Canterbury?"
"It is," replied the German officer; "if you will come with me to the office you shall be put into communication with His Majesty at once; but it will be necessary for me to hear what you say."
"We're only going to try and make peace," said Lord Kitchener, "so you might as well hear all we've got to say. Those infernal airships of yours have beaten us. Will you get in? We'll run you round to the office."
"I thank you," replied the captain of the Uhlans, "but it will be better if I walk on and have the line cleared. I will meet you at the office. Adieu."
He stiffened up clicked his heels again, saluted, and the next moment he had thrown his right leg across the horse which the orderly had brought up for him.
"Not bad men, those Uhlans," said Lord Kitchener, as the car moved slowly towards the telegraph station. "Take a lot of beating in the field, I should say, if it once came to cold steel."
They halted at the post-office, and the captain of Uhlans, who was in charge of all the telegraph lines of the south-east, was requested to send the following telegram, which was signed by Lord Whittinghame and Lord Kitchener.
"Acting as deputation from British Government we desire interview with your Majesty at Canterbury, with view to putting end to present bloodshed, if possible, also other important news to communicate."
This telegram was despatched to the Kaiser at the County Hotel, Canterbury, and while they were waiting for the reply a message came in from Whitstable addressed to "Lennard, oyster merchant, Rochester," which was in the following terms
Oyster catch promises well. Advised large purchase to-morrow. ROBINSON & SMITH."
"That seems rather a frivolous sort of thing to send one nowadays," said Lennard, dropping the paper to the floor after reading the telegram aloud. "I have some interest in the beds at Whitstable, and my agents, who don't seem to know that there's a war going on, want me to invest. I think it's hardly good enough, when you don't know whether you'll be in little pieces within the next ten minutes."
"I don't see why you shouldn't take on a contract for supplying our friends the enemy," laughed Lord Kitchener, as the twinkle of an eye passed between them, while the captain of Uhlans' back was turned for an instant.
"I'm afraid they would be confiscated before I could do that," said Lennard. "I shan't bother about answering it. We have rather more serious things than oysters to think about just now."
The sounder clicked, and the German telegraphist, who had taken the place of the English one, tapped out a message, which he handed to the captain of Uhlans.
"Gentlemen, His Imperial Majesty will be glad to receive you at the County Hotel, Canterbury. I will give you a small flag which shall secure you from all molestation."
He handed the paper to Lord Whittinghame as he spoke. The Imperial message read:
"Happy to meet deputation. Please carry German flag, which will secure you from molestation en route. I am wiring orders for suspension of hostilities till dawn to-morrow. I hope we may make satisfactory arrangements. WILHELM."
"That is quite satisfactory," said Lord Whittinghame to the captain of Uhlans. "We shall be much obliged to you for the flag, and you will perhaps telegraph down the road saying that we are not to be stopped. I can assure you that the matter is one of the utmost urgency."
"Certainly, my lord," replied the captain. "His Majesty's word is given. That is enough for us."
Ten minutes later the big Napier, flying the German flag on the left-hand side, was spinning away through Chatham, and down the straight road to Canterbury. They slowed up going through Sittingbourne and Faversham, which were already in the hands of the Allied forces, thanks to John Castellan's precautions in blocking all railroads to Dover, and the German flag was saluted by the garrisons, much to Lord Kitchener's quietly-expressed displeasure, but he knew they were playing for a big stake, and so he just touched his cap, as they swung through the narrow streets, and said what he had to say under his breath.
Within forty minutes the car pulled up opposite the County Hotel, Canterbury. The ancient city was no longer English, save as regarded its architecture. Everywhere, the clatter of German hoofs sounded on the streets, and the clink and clank of German spurs and swords sounded on the pavements. The French and Austrians were taking the westward routes by Ashford and Tonbridge in the enveloping movement on London. The War Lord of Germany had selected the direct route for himself.
As the motor stopped panting and throbbing in front of the hotel entrance, a big man in the uniform of the Imperial Guard came out, saluted, and said:
"Lord Whittinghame and Lord Kitchener, with Mr Lennard, I presume?"
"Yes, that's so," said Lord Kitchener, opening the side door and getting out. "Colonel von Folkerstrom, I believe. I think we've met before. You were His Majesty's attaché with us during the Boer War, I think. This is Lord Whittinghame, and this is Mr Lennard. Is His Majesty within?"
"His Majesty awaits you, gentlemen," replied the Colonel, formally. And then as he shook hands with Lord Kitchener he added, "I am sorry, sir, that we should meet as enemies on English soil."
"Just the fortune of war and those damned airships of yours, Colonel," laughed Lord Kitchener in reply. "If we'd had them this meeting might have been in Berlin or Potsdam. Can't fight against those things, you know. We're only human."
"But you English are just a little more, I think," said the Colonel to himself. "Gottes willen! What would my August Master be thinking now if this was in Berlin instead of Canterbury, and here are these Englishmen taking it as quietly as though an invasion of England happened every day." And when he had said this to himself he continued aloud:
"My lords and Mr Lennard, if you will follow me I will conduct you into His Majesty's presence."
They followed the Colonel upstairs to the first floor. Two sentries in the uniform of the 1st Regiment of Cuirassiers were guarding the door: their bayoneted rifles came up to the present, the Colonel answered the salute, and they dropped to attention. The Colonel knocked at the door and a harsh voice replied:
The door swung open and Lennard found himself for the first but not the last time in the presence of the War Lord of Germany.
"Good-evening, gentlemen," said the Kaiser. "You will understand me when I say I am both glad and sorry to see you."
"Your Majesty," replied Lord Whittinghame, in a curiously serious tone, "the time for human joy and sorrow is so fast expiring that almost everything has ceased to matter, even the invasion of England."
The Kaiser's brows lifted, and he stared in frank astonishment at the man who could say such apparently ridiculous words so seriously. If he had not known that he was talking to the late Prime Minister, and the present leader of the Unionist party in the House of Lords, he would have thought him mad.
"Those are very strange words, my lord," he replied. "You will pardon me if I confess that I can hardly grasp their meaning."
"If your Majesty has an hour to spare," said Lord Whittinghame, "Mr Lennard will make everything perfectly plain. But what he has to say, and what he can prove, must be for your Majesty's ears alone."
"Is it so important as that?" laughed the Kaiser.
"It is so important, sire," said Lord Kitchener, "that the fate of the whole world hangs upon what you may say or do within the next hour. So far, you have beaten us, because you have been able to bring into action engines of warfare against which we have been unable to defend ourselves. But now, there is another enemy in the field against which we possess the only means of defence. That is what we have come to explain to your Majesty."
"Another enemy!" exclaimed the Kaiser, "but how can that be. There are no earthly powers left sufficiently strong that we would be powerless against them."
"This is not an earthly enemy, your Majesty," replied Lennard, speaking for the first time since he had entered the room. "It is an invader from Space. To put it quite plainly, the terms which we have come to offer your Majesty are: Cessation of hostilities for six months, withdrawal of all troops from British soil, universal disarmament, and a pledge to be entered into by all the Powers of Europe and the United States of America that after the 12th of May next there shall be no more war. Your fleets have been destroyed as well as ours, your armies are here, but they cannot get away, and so we are going to ask you to surrender."
"Surrender!" echoed the Kaiser, "surrender, when your country lies open and defenceless before us? No, no. Lord Whittinghame and Lord Kitchener I know, but who are you, sir a civilian and an unknown man, that you should dictate peace to me and my Allies?"
"Only a man, your Majesty," said Lord Whittinghame, "who has convinced the British Cabinet Council that he holds the fate of the world in the hollow of his hands. Are you prepared to be convinced?"
"Of what?" replied the Kaiser, coldly.
"That there will be no world left to conquer after midnight on the 12th of May next, or to put it otherwise, that unless our terms are accepted, and Mr Lennard carries out his work, there will be neither victors nor vanquished left on earth."
"Gentlemen," replied the Kaiser, "you will pardon me when I say that I am surprised beyond measure that you should have come to me with a schoolboy's tale like that. The eternal order of things cannot be interrupted in such a ridiculous fashion. Again, I trust you will forgive me when I express my regret that you should have wasted so much of your own time and mine on an errand which should surely have appeared to you fruitless from the first.
"Whoever or whatever this gentleman may be," he continued with a wave of his hand towards Lennard, "I neither know nor care; but that yourself and Lord Kitchener should have been deceived so grossly, I must confess passes the limits of my imagination. Frankly, I do not believe in the possibility of such proofs as you allude to. As regards peace, I propose to discuss terms with King Edward in Windsor not before, nor with anyone else. Gentlemen, I have other matters to attend to, and I have the honour to bid you good-evening."
"And that is your Majesty's last word?" said Lord Kitchener. "You mean a fight to the finish?"
"Yes, my lord," replied the Kaiser, "whether the world finishes with the fight or not."
"Very well then," said Lennard, taking an envelope from the breast-pocket of his coat, and putting it down on the table before the Emperor. "If your Majesty has not time to look through those papers, you will perhaps send them to Berlin and take your own astronomer's report upon them. Meanwhile, you will remember that our terms are: Unconditional surrender of the forces invading the British Islands or the destruction of the world. Good-night."
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