Empire Of Steam: Chapter 10

Chapter Ten: Recruiting An Army

 

More and more weapons of war were in storage, ready for the vengeance of Sir Edward Monk. But the industrialist was still well aware that he did not yet have people to operate his machines and guns. They could not operate themselves. And no automatons able to go to war had yet been designed. Nor did he trust his factory workers. Some might have joined Monk’s cause. But he suspected that would only have been a few.

And those who did not join might tell what he had planned. Then the authorities might come, and his vengeance would be over before it even started. No, he could not trust the people who he employed. There was no way that he could compel them to be loyal to him.

Until anything happened, though, he still had to trust the likes of Johnson not to say anything.

 

Monk wondered just how well he knew his chauffeur. Johnson had been his chauffeur for the past ten years or so, not long after he had got rid of the old landau carriage and the horses which went with them, and had begun going around in his Mark One Monk Steam Automobile. He had pensioned off Blenkinsop – who had driven the landau – at the same time. The stables had been knocked down shortly afterwards, and replaced with a new greenhouse.

It would not have done for the designer of a steam automobile to be seen going around in a horse-drawn vehicle. It would not have inspired confidence in his inventions. So he had made the switch, despite the fact that his first steam automobile had only trundled along at a mere twelve miles per hour.

That had been a two-seater. But Monk had decided that a two-seater was not good enough; and that twelve miles an hour was not fast enough. It had meant that he had had to drive to the nearest railway station and take the train into London, rather than drive all of the way in. He also had wanted to be driven, rather than drive. So, a few years after going into the production of steam cars, he had designed the far superior Mark Two, which had been a four-seater, and capable of doing over thirty miles per hour.

He had advertised for a chauffeur for his steam automobile; for a man who would always be available to drive him no matter what time of day or night. The only candidate who had been at all suitable had been Johnson. He had been the only man familiar with steam automobiles. So Monk had hired him on the spot.

Yet Monk did not really know about the background of his chauffeur. He presumed that Johnson was not married, as Johnson lived at the mansion and never made any trips away from the place, unless he was taking Monk somewhere. But he did not know whether Johnson had had a wife in the past; or where the man was from; or whether the man’s parents were still alive.

It had not been important in the past. It had never occurred to Monk to acquire about the background of those who he employed. Yet, now, with the point of no return approaching, Monk began to wonder about his chauffeur.

For now, though, Monk had to brush these worries aside. He had other things to do, ones which could not wait.

 

It was time to go into the dark places of London; and alone. Monk would not employ Johnson in this, apart from to have Johnson take him to a railway station where Monk could get a train into the Smoke. Monk could always hire a hansom cab for the return journey. But it was better if Johnson did not come into the city. Not this time.

This would be the most dangerous part of the entire plan. Failure here, Monk knew, and he might well end up floating in the Thames with a dagger in his back; or with his plans revealed to the police. But if he was successful here then he believed that there was nothing which would be able to stop him.

Monk would have to go into the back streets of London. London was the capital of one of the wealthiest empires which the world had ever seen. Parts of the city were some of the most desirous locations in the world, offering art galleries and theatres, museums and the newly-launched cinemas. Who would not want to live in the West End, and be able to dine at a different restaurant every night of the week?

Yet the great wealth which flowed into the capital did not flow down all the way to those at the bottom of society. London had perhaps the greatest difference between the wealthy and the poor, the Haves and the Have-Nots. There were those in places like Whitechapel, Spitalfields and Seven Dials who still lived in the worst kind of property. These included the sort of people who would murder you for a nice, shiny shilling. These were the sort of people who Monk wanted to recruit.

Monk summoned his chauffeur and had the mysterious Johnson rake him down to the railway.

 

Sometime later somebody dressed most unlike the way that Sir Edward Monk normally dressed was walking around the East End of London.

For the first time since the funeral of Eliza Sir Edward was not dressed entirely in black. He was not in mourning clothes. He had bought a new suit for this visit. But this was not one made to measure, from the tailors of Savile Row. Monk had ventured out into the sort of places where the poor people went. He had found clothing cheaper than he had imagined. He had forgotten what it was like not to have money – his own youth had now been a very long time ago.

So he was now dressed in a cheap white shirt of rough cloth, and a brown suit of material which felt like sackcloth when he touched it. Sackcloth and ashes – he had imagined things like that, hadn’t he?

The outfit was completed by a brown bowler hat. It was his disguise, which he hoped meant that he could pass peacefully through these poverty-struck streets, without some shoeless ragamuffins running up to him and asking him for money; or with some sly criminal attempting to pick his pocket.

Monk walked the streets of London that he had not gone down for fifty years or more.

 

Monk looked at the people walking past him with something approaching disdain. He saw how people slouched along, with their heads down, as though they had no reason to look at anything other than the ground. They were people who had given up a long time ago. Now they only endured.

These were people without hope for the future. The Age of Steam had passed them by. None of these people could afford a steam automobile, or any of the other wonders of the age. He doubted if they could even afford a kettle. These were the sort of people who sometimes had to sleep in the back of an alley because they did not have tuppence to stay in the cheapest lodgings of a night.

He saw children with dirty faces and dirty hands and dirty feet. They ran along the cold roads with no shoes on their feet. They should have been in school, rather than in some street urchin gang, running down some cobbled street, shouting at each other. When these urchins ran past him Monk’s hands flattened his pockets down, as he was fearful that these gamins might try to rob him as they ran past. But they ignored him, not knowing that he was a man of great wealth. His disguise was working.

Twice he was approached by the most common of soiled doves, wanting to know if he wanted to go into some back alley. It will only cost you a shilling, luv. He backed away from these harridans in horror. That was the last thing which he would have done.

He saw only one policeman as he walked through Whitechapel and Spitalfields, past the same places where, not many years ago, the horror known as the Ripper had struck down five women. Looking at some of the places which he passed Monk could well believe that gross murder had been committed; and that the police had never found the monster who had been responsible. These places were murky even by the light of day. Monk shuddered to think what they were like in the midnight hours.

It was mainly the people, though, who Monk studied; the poor and the hopeless, the downtrodden and those who made their trade by criminal ways.

These people would be the soldiers in his army. The only problem was that Sir Edward Monk had no idea in how to approach them. He could not go around recruiting them one by one. And he no longer really knew how to speak to such commoners. He knew how to speak to his peers; and how to give orders to those beneath him. But he did not know how to approach this underclass. The only ones who he had spoken to had been those two bunters (as the slang went); and speaking to them had hardly been his choice.

He walked on, looking for inspiration.

 

Eventually Monk noticed a dirty young man standing on one of the street corners. The young man was dressed just as poorly as anybody else whom Monk had seen in this part of London: scuffed, unpolished brown shoes, trousers going thin at the knees, a jacket which had seen better days, and so on.

The man had some poorly printed leaflets, which he was trying to hand out to those who passed by him. Some took one of the leaflets; others did not.

The young man was shouting out about the injustice of society; of how the wealthy dominated and ruled, keeping the workers down, and that it was time for the workers to rise up and overthrow their overlords.

“Brothers, we must throw off the shackles which our unjust masters have imposed on us! It is time for us to rise up and to take what is rightfully ours! Heed the wisdom of Marx, that capitalism must fall! We should establish a new commune here in London, as the Parisians so bravely attempted before they were crushed by the German forces.”

Monk listened. At first he had thought that the young man was some anarchist, such as that French scoundrel, Martial Bourdin, who had tried to blow up the Greenwich Observatory; or the Walsall anarchists of a few years back. But, as Monk listened, he realised that this young fool was actually one of those communists, as they were called (or was it communard?), who followed the teachings of men like Karl Marx or Vladimir Ulyanov.

The young man was shouting out about the Paris Commune, which had been established at the time of the Franco-Prussian War. But Monk could not help but smile, as the young man obviously did not know what he was talking about, and getting some of the details wrong. Monk was fairly sure that it had not been the Germans who had crushed those in the Paris commune, but Prussian forces. Germany had not come together to form one nation until after the Franco-Prussian War. That young man did not know his history.

Monk began to move away, as he did not need any fools working for him. Then he reconsidered. Perhaps a fool was exactly what he needed to lead his army. and this man must have associates, as well. If Monk could convince this young man to follow him then perhaps he would have a small army in the making.

He would have to be careful what he said, though, as this man was some sort of an extremist.

Monk waited until the man paused for breath and then moved forwards to stand in front of him.

“What is your name?” Sir Edward Monk asked.

“Who is it who wants to know?” the young man asked, looking Monk up and down. He moved a couple of steps back from Monk, and looked around, as though preparing to run.

Monk paused. He was used to having a question answered as soon as he asked it. He drew himself up to his full height, about to inform this young rapscallion that there stood before him Sir Edward Monk, industrialist, and one of the wealthiest men in the world.

Another pause. Perhaps it was not wise to say such things. He was not in a nice neighbourhood. Of people knew that he was so wealthy then they might try to rob him, even though only a dashed fool would have come into such a place while bearing substantial funds. And, again, there was the fact that, as perhaps the leading capitalist in London he and this young man should have been natural enemies. No, perhaps it was for the best that this man did not yet know that Sir Edward Monk stood before him.

“How would you like to earn some money?” Sir Edward Monk asked, before realising that this, too, was probably not the best approach to take to lure some rabid communist to his side.

The young man looked around the street corner.

“Are you a bluebottle?”

“What?” Monk did not understand the slang.

“Are you a slop? Are you a rozzer? Are you a copper? Are you a policeman?”

“I can assure you that I am not a member of the Metropolitan Police; and that the last thing that I would like to see at this current moment in time is a policeman.” Monk said. “I have a proposition to make. Forget the offer of money. How would you like to have the ability to strike at this capitalist society which you profess to hate? What if I gave you the means to strike physically against figures of authority? I need somebody to lead an army of rebellion…”

“Sh!” the young man said, suddenly looking very nervous. “I don’t know who you are, but you can’t talk like that, unless you want to end up in the clink. I know that you’re not one of is, anyway. You’re a toff, aren’t you?”

Monk did not say anything.

“We can’t talk here, not out on the street.” the other man said. “You never know who’s listening. I don’t want to be done up like a kipper. Come with me. If you’re serious I know somewhere where we can talk without worrying about being nibbed.”

 

The young man – Monk still did not know his name – led the industrialist to a public house of the worst sort. It was the sort which would have had sawdust on the floor, if the publican could have bothered with such an extravagance.

It was a gloomy place, ill lit and small. Even so, it was less than half full. The few patrons in the place looked depressed, staring down into their beers as though looking for the secrets of life, and finding nothing but dead flies. They really were a dour-looking bunch.

“Get your yennaps out.” the young man said. “You’re buying, as I guess that you’re a bit wealthier than me. I’ll have a pint of mild.”

Monk realised that he was being told to buy the drinks. At first anger began welling up through the soul of Sir Edward Monk, that this youth – little better than a boy, really – had the temerity to try to order around no less an individual than Sir Edward Monk. His face reddened.

Then Monk calmed himself down, reminding himself that he was supposed to be incognito. He walked up to the bar, hoping that the young man was not merely trying to gull a free drink out of him.

Monk brought two pints of mild back to the table, the industrialist a little disappointed that they had not even heard of his favourite brand of cognac.

Monk sat down opposite the young communist.

“So, what brings some toff down to Spitalfields in some clothes which are not his own?”

“Is it that obvious?” Monk asked. He had felt that his disguise had been good.

“Not to most people. But you didn’t change your shoes. And your hair is too clean, beneath that brown bowler. So what is it that you want? You said something about an army of rebellion.”

Monk sighed. He feared telling what he had planned, should he be revealed. But he had to take the chance.

So Monk explained what he had planned, although not why. He said that he was Sir Edward Monk, the leading industrialist in the entire British Empire. He said that he was constructing land ironclads, with the intent of using them to attack certain targets in London. Monk did not yet reveal just what those targets were.

But he sold his plan, saying how if this man really did consider himself to be a revolutionary then this was his chance. Monk had the weapons of war – or soon would have, when the land ironclads were complete and in the warehouses. But what he did not have was men who he could trust.

“So, can you help me?” Monk said. He lifted up his pint of mild and took a sip, and then quickly put the beer back down. It was disgusting. It tasted like dishwater – or like Monk imagined dishwater would taste, as he did not make a habit of drinking that, either.

“My name’s Kirby.” the man said. His eyes glittered. He was no longer seeing Monk. His vision was of a socialist Britain, one where everybody was equal, even if it meant that some people would have to be more equal than others.

He saw himself leading an army of the underclass to success, with him in the lead land ironclad. There was so much poverty in London that once things started the poor would be bound to follow him.

The old order would come crashing down. There would be no more House of Lords: no more would people inherit power. That idea was ridiculously unjust; and it should have been obvious that it was not a way to conduct affairs. No more dukes or duchesses. No more kings or queens. Power would lie in the hands of the people.

There would be no more inherited wealth. Money would be divided among all of the people of Great Britain and Ireland. Why should somebody inherit money which they had not earned? He had not inherited anything. So why should anybody else?

“Yes, I think that I can help you.” Kirby said.

“I need an army.” Monk muttered. “Can you provide one?”

Kirby was not about to say no. Not when this man seemed willing to fund a campaign which was going to overthrow the established order. Kirby did not know why somebody like monk might go against his own class in such a manner.

“I have associates.” Kirby said. He had a few friends who shared his dreams. He did not say just how few they were. But he knew that, given the assistance of this class traitor, he would be able to get more. “I can raise an army of the poor.”

Monk breathed a sigh of relief. Another part of his plan was slotting into place. He would still have his revenge.

“We will need a way to converse.” he muttered to himself. “I can provide him with a Tesla device.”

Then, to Kirby:

“What is your address? Where can I find you?”

“No, I think that it best if I don’t tell you where I live.” Kirby said. “That way I don’t have to worry about some copper turning up at my front door. If you want to find me again… well, look for me where you saw me today. I will be there, or close by.”

“Very well.” Monk said, standing up. The business concluded, he now wanted to get out of there. This public house, with its bad beer and dour customers, was not the sort of place where he liked to be. “I will see you again, Kirby, when I have a transmitter. Then we will be able to discuss matters without necessarily having to meet. I think that it will be better of we meet as little as possible.”

 

Monk left the horrible little public house feeling a strange sense of elation. It was not happiness, because he did not think that he would be happy ever again. No, he now believed that he would have his vengeance, after all, on all of those people who had failed him and let his beloved Eliza die.

Monk hailed a hansom cab, and had it drive him all of the way back to his mansion home. It was not like he had to worry about the money, after all; and he preferred not to be in a railway carriage with other people.

All of the way back home he thought, his mind engaged in planning all of the things which he needed to do next.

 

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