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The Auriole Hoists The White Ensign







From: The World Peril Of 1910

Rather to Mr Parmenter's surprise his first interview "with a real king"
was rather like other business interviews that he had had; in fact, as
he said afterwards, of all the business men he had ever met in his
somewhat varied career, this quiet-spoken, grey-haired English gentleman
was about the best and 'cutest that it had ever been his good fortune to
strike.

The negotiations in hand were, of course, the hiring of the Syndicate's
fleet of airships to the British Empire during the course of the war.
His Majesty had summoned a Privy Council at the Palace, and again Mr
Parmenter was somewhat surprised at the cold grip and clear sight which
these British aristocrats had in dealing with matters which he thought
ought to have been quite outside their experience. Like many Americans,
he had expected to meet a sort of glorified country squire, fox-hunter,
grouse-killer, trout and salmon-catcher, and so on; but, as he admitted
to Lennard later on, from His Majesty downwards they were about the
hardest crowd to do business with that he had ever struck.

The terms he offered were half a million a week for the services of
twenty-five airships till the war was ended. Two were retained as
guardians for Whernside House and the observatory, and three for the
Great Lever colliery, and this left twenty, not counting the original
Columbia, which Mr Parmenter had bought as his aerial yacht, available
for warlike purposes.

The figure was high, as the owners of the aerial battle-fleet admitted,
but war was a great deal dearer. They guaranteed to bring the war to a
stop within fourteen days, by which time Britain would have a new fleet
in being which would be practically the only fleet capable of action in
western waters with the exception of the Italian and the American. Given
that the Syndicate's airships, acting in conjunction with the Ithuriel
and the twelve of her sisters which were now almost ready for launching,
could catch and wipe out the Flying Fishes, either above the waters or
under them, the result would be that the Allies, cut off from their base
of supplies, and with no retreat open to them, would be compelled to
surrender; and Mr Parmenter did not consider that five hundred thousand
pounds a week was too much to pay for this.

At the conclusion of his speech, setting forth the position of the
Syndicate, he said, with a curious dignity which somehow always comes
from a sense of power:

"Your Majesty, my Lords and gentlemen, I am just a plain American
business man, and so is my friend, the inventor of these ships. We have
told you what we believe they can do and we are prepared to show you
that we have not exaggerated their powers. There is our ship outside in
the gardens. If your Majesty would like to take a little trip through
the air and see battle, murder and sudden death--"

"That's very kind of you, Mr Parmenter," laughed His Majesty, "but, much
as I personally should like to come with you, I'm afraid I should play a
certain amount of havoc with the British Constitution if I did. Kings of
England are not permitted to go to war now, but if you would oblige me
by taking a note to the Duke of Connaught, who has his headquarters at
Reading, and then, if you could manage it under a flag of truce, taking
another note to the German Emperor, who, I believe, has pitched his camp
at Aldershot, I should be very much obliged."

"Anything your Majesty wishes," replied Mr Parmenter. "Now we've fixed
up the deal the fleet is at your disposal and we sail under the British
flag; though, to be quite honest, sir, I don't care about flying the
white flag first. We could put up as pretty a fight for you along the
front of the Allies as any man could wish to see."

"I am sorry, Mr Parmenter," laughed His Majesty, "that the British
Constitution compels me to disappoint you, but, as some sort of
recompense, I am sure that my Lords in Council will grant you permission
to fly the White Ensign on all your ships and the Admiral's flag on your
flagship, which, I presume, is the one in which you have come this
morning. It is unfortunate that I can only confer the honorary rank of
admiral upon Mr Hingeston, as you are not British subjects."

"Then, your Majesty," replied Mr Parmenter, "if it pleases you, I hope
you will give that rank to my friend Newson Hingeston, who, as I have
told you, has been more than twenty years making these ships perfect. He
has created this navy, so I reckon he has got the best claim to be
called admiral."

"Does that meet with your approval, my lords?" said the King.

And the heads of the Privy Council bowed as one in approval.

"I thank your Majesty most sincerely," said Hingeston, rising. "I am an
American citizen, but I have nothing but British blood in my veins, and
therefore I am all the more glad that I am able to bring help to the
Motherland when she wants it."

"And I'm afraid we do want it, Mr Hingeston," said His Majesty. "Make
the conditions of warfare equal in the air, and I think we shall be able
to hold our own on land and sea. Your patent of appointment shall be
made out at once, and I will have the letters ready for you in half an
hour. And now, gentlemen, I think a glass of wine and a biscuit will not
do any of us much harm."

The invitation was, of course, in a certain sense, a command, and when
the King rose everyone did the same. While they were taking their wine
and biscuits in the blue drawing-room overlooking St James's Park, His
Majesty, who never lost his grip of business for a moment, took Lennard
aside and had a brief but pregnant conversation with him on the subject
of the comet, and as a result of this all the Government manufactories
of explosives were placed at his disposal, and with his own hand the
King wrote a permit entitling him to take such amount of explosives to
Bolton as he thought fit. Then there came the letters to the Duke of
Connaught and the German Emperor, and one to the Astronomer Royal at
Greenwich.

Then His Majesty and the members of the Council inspected the aerial
warship lying on the great lawn in the gardens, and with his own hands
King Edward ran the White Ensign to the top of the flagstaff aft; at the
same moment the Prince of Wales ran the Admiral's pennant up to the
masthead. Everyone saluted the flag, and the King said:

"There, gentlemen, the Auriole is a duly commissioned warship of the
British Navy, and you have our authority to do all lawful acts of war
against our enemies. Good-morning! I shall hope to hear from you soon."

"I'm sorry, your Majesty," said Mr Parmenter, "that we can't fire the
usual salute. These guns of ours are made for business, and we don't
have any blank charges."

"I perfectly understand you, Mr Parmenter," replied His Majesty with a
laugh. "We shall have to dispense with the ceremony. Still, those are
just the sort of guns we want at present. Good-morning, again."

His Majesty went down the gangway and Admiral Hingeston, with Mr
Parmenter and Lennard, entered the conning-tower. The lifting-fans began
to whirr, and as the Auriole rose from the grass the White Ensign
dipped three times in salute to the Royal Standard floating from the
flagstaff on the palace roof. Then, as the driving propellers whirled
round till they became two intersecting circles of light, the Auriole
swept up over the tree-tops and vanished through the clouds. And so
began the first voyage of the first British aerial battleship.

The Duke of Connaught had his headquarters at Amersham Hall School on
the Caversham side of the Thames, which was, of course, closed in
consequence of the war, and half an hour after the Auriole had left
the grounds of Buckingham Palace she was settling to the ground in the
great quadrangle of the school. The Duke, with Lord Kitchener and two or
three other officers of the Staff, were waiting at the upper end where
the headmaster's quarters were. As the ship grounded, the gangway ladder
dropped and Mr Parmenter said to Lennard:

"That's Lord Kitchener, I see. Now, you know him and I don't, so you'd
better go and do the talking. We'll come after and get introduced."

"Ah, Mr Lennard," said Lord Kitchener, holding out his hand. "You're
quite a man of surprises. The last time I went with you to see the
Kaiser in a motor-car, and now you come to visit His Royal Highness in
an airship. Your Royal Highness," he continued, turning to the Duke,
"this is Mr Lennard, the finder of this comet which is going to wipe us
all out unless he wipes it out with his big gun, and these will be the
other gentlemen, I presume, whom His Majesty has wired about."

"Yes," replied Lennard, after he had shaken hands. "This is Mr Parmenter
whose telescope enabled me to find the comet, and this is Mr--or I ought
now to say Admiral--Hingeston, who had the honour of receiving that rank
from His Majesty half an hour ago."

"What!" exclaimed the Duke. "Half an hour! Are you quite serious,
gentlemen? The telegram's only just got here."

"Well, your Royal Highness," said Mr Parmenter, "that may be because we
didn't come full speed, but if you would get on board that flagship,
sir, we'd take you to Buckingham Palace and back in half an hour, or, if
you would like a trip to Aldershot to interview the German Emperor, and
then one to Greenwich, we'll engage to have you back here safe by dinner
time."

"Nothing would delight me more," replied the Duke, smiling, "but at
present my work is here and I cannot leave it. Lord Kitchener, how would
you like that sort of trip?"

"If you will give me leave till dinner-time, sir," laughed K. of K.,
"there's nothing I should like better."

"Oh, that goes without saying, of course," replied the Duke, "and now,
gentlemen, I understand from the King's telegram that there are one or
two matters you want to talk over with us. Will you come inside?"

"If your Royal Highness will excuse me," said Admiral Hingeston, "I
think I'd better remain on board. You see, we may have been sighted, and
if there are any of those Flying Fishes about you naturally wouldn't
want this place blown to ruins; so, while you are having your talk, I
reckon I'll get up a few hundred feet, and be back, say, in half an
hour."

"Very well," said the Duke. "That's very kind of you. Your ship
certainly looks a fairly capable protector. By the way, what is the
range of those guns of yours? I must say they have a very business-like
look about them."

"Six thousand yards point blank, your Royal Highness," replied the
Admiral, "and, according to elevation, anything up to fifteen miles;
suppose, for instance, that we were shooting at a town. In fact, if we
were not under orders from His Majesty to fly the flag of truce I would
guarantee to have all the Allied positions wrecked by to-morrow morning
with this one ship. As you will see from the papers which Mr Parmenter
and Mr Lennard have brought, nineteen other airships are coming south
to-night and, unless the German Emperor and his Allies give in, the war
will be over in about six days."

"And when you come back to dinner to-night, Admiral Hingeston, you will
have my orders to bring it to an end within that time."

"I sincerely hope so, sir," replied Admiral Hingeston, as he raised his
right hand to the peak of his cap. "I can assure you, that nothing would
please me better."

As the lifting-fans began to spin round and the Auriole rose from the
gravelled courtyard, Lord Kitchener looked up with a twinkle in his
brilliant blue eyes and said:

"I wonder what His Majesty of Germany will think of that thing when he
sees it. I suppose that means the end of fighting on land and sea--at
least, it looks like it."

"I hope to be able to convince your lordship that it does before
to-morrow morning," said Lennard, as they went towards the dining-room.

Then came half an hour's hard work, which resulted in the allotment of
the aerial fleet to positions from which the vessels could co-operate
with the constantly increasing army of British citizen-soldiers who were
now passing southward, eastward and westward, as fast as the crowded
trains could carry them. Every position was worked out to half a mile.
The details of the newly-created fleet in British waters and of those
ships which were arriving from the West Indies and the Mediterranean
were all settled, and, as the clock in the drawing-room chimed half-past
eleven, the Auriole swung down in a spiral curve round the
chimney-pots and came to rest on the gravel.

"There she is; time's up!" said Lord Kitchener, rising from his seat. "I
suppose it will only take us half an hour or so to run down to
Aldershot. I wonder what His Majesty of Germany will say to us this
time. I suppose if he kicks seriously we have your Royal Highness's
permission to haul down the flag of truce?"

"Certainly," replied the Duke. "If he does that, of course, you will
just use your own discretion."





Next: A Parley At Aldershot

Previous: The Auriole



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