Empire Of Steam: Chapter 12

Chapter Twelve: Kirby


While Sir Edward Monk had been engaged in fitting out his secret facility, and overseeing his weapon production, Kirby had been assembling his army of the underclass, just as he had promised the industrialist. Unfortunately, it had not been going well.

There was a small group of like-minded men who Kirby trusted, and who Kirby had let in on the plan. They would be his sub-commanders in the coming war. Kirby was almost certain that none of them was a government spy.

Kirby had not yet recruited more than a few more people to his cause, though, as he was careful to check people out before he revealed any element of the plan for rebellion. Kirby had heard about the Walsall Anarchists, and he had no intention of ending up like them.

The Walsall Anarchists had been arrested a few years ago and charged with such offences as manufacturing Infernal Devices. In total ten men were arrested; four of whom were found guilty and given sentences of between five and ten years. At the trial much was made of the fact that the men had had the publications Means of Emancipation and The Anarchist Feast at The Opera.

It was suggested that the men were the victim of a police plot, though, and that the supposed forces of law and order had used an agent provocateur to push the men forward into committing acts for which they could be charged. Nothing was made of this idea at the trial of the men, but Kirby firmly believed that to be the case. He knew that the police were not on the side of the ordinary poor people of London, but were dedicated to helping the rich. They wanted to keep the status quo – they were the enemies of change. And that made the police the enemies of all of the poor people of London, as far as this would-be revolutionary was concerned.

Therefore Kirby had decided to be very careful with those who he recruited into his would-be army of revolution. The last thing which he wanted was for the police to hear about what was going on. They would not need an agent provocateur if they learned the truth about what he had planned. This was nothing less than high treason, and Kirby had no desire to feel the harsh fibre of a hangman’s noose around his neck.


Then there was his mother, the redoubtable Mrs Kirby. Kirby still lived with his mother, and barely a day went by when she did not berate him for the fact that he did not yet have a job.

“Go down to the docks.” she would say (or words to that effect). “They are always taking people on. You need to get your hands dirty, my son, or I will turn you out of this house. By all that is holy I swear that, one day, I will turn you out on the street where you belong. Your father worked all of his life, and he must be turning in his grave to see you shirking good hard work like some slugabed. That is all that you are, William, just a little slugabed who will never amount to anything at all.”

William Kirby had learned not to answer his mother back, as he had grown tired of being boxed around the ears. He did not say that his father had worked all of his life for very little in the way of reward, working some days from six o’clock in the morning until nine o’clock at night. His father had effectively been worked to death; and Kirby did not intend to share the same fate. But there was no way that his mother would ever have understood that.

On and on his mother would go, nearly every minute of the day that they were in the house.

“And as for your so-called friends, I don’t know what you see in any of then. They are a bad lot, I’m telling you, William, and they will all come to a bad end, you mark my words. If you had any sense in that empty head of yours you wouldn’t have anything to do with them.”

“Yes, mother.” Kirby sighed. He had learned the hard way not to argue with his mother. It was, perhaps, a surprise that he did not have cauliflower ears, considering how often Mrs Kirby had clipped her son around his.

“And don’t take that tone of voice with me!”

“Yes, mother.” Kirby said, as he ducked under the sweeping hand of his Ma. He grinned because she had missed. But she caught him with the backhand on the way back. Oh, how he wished that she would stop doing things like that.

She didn’t realise the dreams he had. Or perhaps she did. Perhaps she did know his foolish dreams of one day building a communist state in England’s green and pleasant land, and thought it nothing but a childish illusion.


Still, though, Kirby had begun to increase the ranks of what would be his grand army of the revolution – although not by the numbers which he had hinted at when he had spoken to Sir Edward Monk. Kirby had exaggerated somewhat in his various reports.

Kirby had had to hide the Tesla device which he had been provided with by Sir Edward Monk in the attic of the house, so that his termagant mother did not ask what it was. She could not manage to climb up into the attic. It was the one place in the house which she could not get into. Bring up there the device also had better reception, although Kirby did not realise that. The way that the device functioned was a mystery to him. Voices without wires? It was almost like magic.

Mrs Kirby had, of course, wanted to know why her good-for-nothing son went into the attic every evening, at around the same time. William could not tell her that he was waiting for the regular evening call from Sir Edward Monk, the leading industrialist in the British Empire. She would never have believed that her son knew such a figure, anyway; and, if she had believed her son, then she would only have told him to try to get a job from Monk.

He did not work for Monk. William Kirby thought that he was being clever. He would take the money of Monk; and he would take the land ironclads which Monk’s factories were supposed to be producing at the moment. But it would be he, Kirby, who would be in control, and not some old, grey-haired businessman.

He knew what he wanted to do. He had known what he had wanted to do ever since he had read a copy of Das Kapital two years ago. Well, he thought of himself as having read it. But he had found the book to be hard going, and he had been forced to skim through part of the book, before his mother had found it and thrown it away.

He had discovered other socialist literature since then, though. Those pamphlets were now hidden away in the attic, safe from his mother, and her desire to purge anything which she did nit agree with. He even tried to help distribute some of those leaflets, while trying to keep away from any policemen. He had not been arrested, and he did not intend to be.

Soon, though, that would not matter. Soon he would have the means at his disposal to inspire a revolution. With just a few more months of campaigning, and giving out leaflets, Kirby was sure that he would be able to convince an army of people to join with him. After all, America and France had had revolutions in the past. So why shouldn’t Britain?

And once the revolution was under way more and more people would flock to his cause, he was sure of it. And perhaps all that they would need to do was to take London for the Prime Minister and his cronies to give up.


While Sir Edward Monk was giving the finishing touches to his underground complex Kirby was out of the house. He spent most of his time out of the house, because if he did not his mother would find him some work to do. Even if he did those chores he was not left in peace, as his mother would carry on telling him how lazy he was.

So Kirby was out with his comrades, saying to each other how wonderful it would be if the regime was overthrown. He had met up with half a dozen like-minded people, in that same public house where Kirby had taken Sir Edward Monk.

They spent around an hour discussing things, not least of which was Monk and his support of their revolution. Then, before they split up for the day, there was an exchange of printed material, with Kirby receiving leaflets which he was supposed to give out to the public, extolling them the virtues of the things which Karl Marx had espoused. Kirby then spent the rest of the day trying to get people to take his leaflets, while avoiding any policemen. Even the hint of a blue uniform and Kirby was running away as fact as he could, nit wanting to answer any questions about what he was doing. He had not been arrested yet, and he did not want that to happen now.

Kirby never distributed the leaflets too close to where he lived. He never took the risk that he might be identified by somebody who he knew.

More than once, in the past, Kirby had run away from some street corner because he had glimpsed some entirely innocent gentleman or lady who had just happened to be dressed in a blue coat.

That was what Kirby did that day, before going back home to his Ma, and the inevitable complaints from her. It was one day like so many before.


That evening Kirby sneaked back up into the attic, avoiding his Tartar of a mother, and sat down next to the Tesla radio transmitter, ready for his daily briefing with Sir Edward Monk. As he waited he dreamt of the war to come.


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