Empire Of Steam: Chapter 15

Chapter Fifteen: Hero

 

While Kirby was launching his attack on the Bank of England the other column of land ironclads had been rolling through the streets of London. But they had not had it as easy as Kirby and his friends.

They had taken four of the land ironclads – but with two men in each of the ponderous machines, rather than three. That meant that, as the machines rumbled along, the machine gun could be manned, or the cannon in the turret, but not both at the same time.

The land ironclads went to the west, going down the centre of the streets, traffic getting out of the way. People stared as they went past.

These land ironclads did not yet fire their guns, as they were going west through a poor area of London. Firing off the cannons would have meant destroying the homes and lodging houses of the sort of people who they hoped to recruit. So they contented themselves with simply driving the land ironclads through the East End of London, towards where they were supposed to be meeting up with Kirby.

A lot of these streets were narrow, though; and the drivers of the four land ironclads had not had a chance to test these machines before. The controls were simple, yes; but that did not mean that mistakes could not be made.

At Seven Dials something of an error was made by the driver of one of the land ironclads, as he was going down a particularly narrow street. He miscalculated the turn, and went through the corner of one of the houses. It was a lodging house, poorly built, and around a quarter of the house was demolished, the bricks falling down onto the land ironclad and bouncing off it. But the rubble did not even slow it down. It went on down the road, leaving the ruination behind it.

A man ran out of the remains of the lodgings house and shouted at the land ironclads, shaking his first at them. But the men boiling inside those machines did not even hear him. They were oblivious to his fury.

 

A man called Bracknell stood up in the turret of one of the land ironclads. Bracknell had always considered himself to have a bit of the gift of the gab. He felt that it should have been him, rather than Kirby, who should be in command, in this action. It had only been sheer luck that Sir Edward Monk had attached himself to Kirby rather than him.

Well, Bracknell thought, he would see who would be in charge after the revolution – and it would not be Kirby. They could not have a leader who still lived at home with his mother, and was dominated by her. Somebody by the name of Bracknell would make a far better leader. Kirby was too young, as well. The people would need somebody more experienced to look up to. Somebody like a man now in his forties, and standing up in one of the land ironclads.

“Friends, comrades, citizens!” Bracknell shouted, just about making himself heard above the sound of the land ironclads as they rumbled along. “Join us in our revolution! We are going to bring down the Whig and Tory hegemony, and put power into the hands of the workers! Grab your weapons and come follow us!”

Bracknell waited for the cheers. But no cheering came. Instead people just stared at the land ironclads as they went slowly along the streets of the East End of London. This was not what Bracknell had expected. Why weren’t these people rising up against the rich? Did they not realise that this was their one chance?

He tried again.

“Comrades!” he shouted, swiping one hand through the air in what he thought was an aggressive motion. “This is your once chance to throw off your chains! We have guns for you. Follow behind us as we overthrow the corrupt state. It is time to share all of the money which your overlords have been keeping from you. Rise up against your uncaring landlords! Tear down the slums!

“Rise up against the bankers! It is your money which is in the banks. The money belongs to all of the people of Britain, and not just the rich who sneer at you.”

Bracknell was not aware of Kirby’s private plans for the Bank of England.

“Comrades! Rise up against the police who serve only the interests of the wealthy…”

On and on Bracknell went. But Bracknell was no more successful than Kirby had been in gathering an army to him. The poor and downtrodden of London were not suddenly going to become some murderous mob. They stared at him, not at all inspired by his speech. A couple of them even jeered. But at least nobody bothered to throw anything at Bracknell. That would have been the final humiliation.

Bracknell gave up his shouting. All that was happening was that he was giving himself a sore throat.

Then Bracknell saw a line of half a dozen policemen on front of him. They had their hands up, and were shouting at him to stop the vehicles, and to get out of the land ironclads. The policemen were armed with nothing more effective than their truncheons. They did not even have any revolvers on them.

Bracknell saw red. He did not like policemen. In fact he absolutely loathed the police, and everything to do with them. Unlike Kirby Bracknell had been arrested, in the past, for his would-be revolutionary activities. Bracknell had spent two years in prison doing hard labour. Because of that he would never forgive the police, or the judges, or even the jury of twelve men who had put him away.

Bracknell wanted to kill these policemen. He wanted to see their corpses lying on the floor, broken, and riddled with bullets. As far as he was concerned that would have been one of the finest things in the world. He had absolutely no qualms about killing those who he considered to be his enemies.

“Fire all guns!” Bracknell shouted, loud enough so that everybody in the road – including the police – were able to hear him. He waited for the police to go down in a hail of machine gun bullets. But nothing happened. It took Bracknell a few seconds to realise that the land ironclads behind his could not fire their weapons, because his land ironclad was in the way. Had they fired their machine guns the bullets would only have bounced off the laminated armour of this vehicle of war. Had they fired their cannons then they would have blown apart his land ironclad. And, other than Bracknell himself, there was nobody free in the lead land ironclad to fire its guns.

Bracknell cursed profusely, and disappeared down into the hatch. He took a look at the cannon. But he was not sure exactly how it worked.

There was the forward pointing machine gun, though. Bracknell understood that all that you had to do was to press the trigger.  The gun would apparently do the rest.

Bracknell sat down in the seat behind the gun. He grasped it in his hands, and jerked back the trigger as his land ironclad continued going at full speed towards the policemen. The machine gun jerked in his hands. He had not expected it to have such a powerful kick; and most of the bullets sprayed over the heads of the policemen, who scattered out of the way of the war machines. He thought that he had hit one of the policemen, possibly in the shoulder. Before Bracknell could bring the gun to fire again the police had got of the way, no longer being in the arc of fire. There was nothing but to carry on through the streets of London. Bracknell cursed. But there was not room in which to turn around the land ironclad in which to have another go at the police.

 

Police Constable Davis ducked down into a side alley as the land ironclads came charging down towards them. It was either that or find himself beneath their caterpillar tracks. It had been nothing but self-preservation.

Davis let the first three land ironclads go past. But when the fourth one began to rumble past he was seized by a moment of madness – what some people might call bravery.

Davis rushed back out of the alleyway, and climbed up onto the land ironclad, before the people inside even realised what was happening. He opened the hatch and jumped down, his truncheon in his hand.

The two men inside were hot, and tired; and they had not expected to see some policemen suddenly join them. The land ironclad was so noisy that they had not even heard the hatch being pulled open. They were taken entirely by surprise.

One man was stoking the fire, while the other steered the land ironclad. Davis attacked the man stoking the fire first, swinging his truncheon at the man’s head with all of the strength at his disposal – and Davis was not a weak man. The man went down like the proverbial sack of potatoes.

Davis turned towards the driver. It was only then that Davis saw that the land ironclad had been filled with weapons: mainly revolvers, but there were a couple of rifles in there, as well. It seemed that Bracknell must have loaded up the land ironclads intending to dole out the weapons when the people rose up in support. But, of course, this had not yet happened. The weapons were still rattling around in the back of the war machine.

The driver dived for the back of a revolver, nicely presenting the back of his head to Davis. Davis did not forgo this opportunity. He brought his truncheon down with a resounding smack on the back of the man’s head. Davis was now in a land ironclad with nobody at the controls.

The land ironclad continued forwards, through two houses, turning them to rubble, before it became stuck. Davis climbed out of the land ironclad, to the cheers of some of the people gathered there. They had seen what he had done, and could appreciate a bit of bravery.

Davis climbed down from the land ironclad while the other three still trundled on.

The other land ironclads went onwards, unaware that their number had gone down from four to three. The land ironclads were incredibly noisy; and there was no way to see behind them, unless a person put his head out of the hatch. But with Bracknell having retreated into the main body of the lead war machines nobody was looking behind.

It was the first victory against Kirby and his rebel forces.

 

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