Empire Of Steam: Chapter 17

Chapter Seventeen: Elsewhere

 

The news of land ironclads rumbling through London, in some sort of an insurrection, had spread as fast as word of mouth could spread; as fast as the telegraph; as fast as the telephone. It had gone a lot further than the factory where hardy worked.

It had gone all over London; and, as it had spread, the story of the land ironclads slowly rumbling through the streets had become more than a little distorted. In one part of London it had become twisted so that people were being told that the forces of the Kaiser had sailed up the Thames and invaded London, and that there were German soldiers all over the streets of London. People shut themselves in their homes, hoping that they were not going to get killed.

In other areas it was not believed at all. People said that it was nothing but some myth, and that some dashed fool was playing around. Land ironclads going along the streets of London? Utter poppycock!

Despite what Bracknell had thought, there were one or two people who had considered what he had said, and not have minded if the old order had changeth. But those people had not been about to put themselves in harm’s way. Let somebody else risk getting shot at, in the name of freedom or whatever that man had been going on about.

A couple of people armed themselves with knives, but making sure that their weapons were not visible. Had they known that, in London, there were warehouses bristling with weapons then perhaps they might have helped themselves to a revolver or two – just for their own defence, of course.

 

The doors of the warehouse where Bracknell and his motley crew had helped themselves to land ironclads had been left open by the would-be revolutionaries. They had not bothered to push the doors shut.

Within half an hour the contents of the warehouse had been seen, and a criminal gang was at the warehouse helping themselves to guns and ammo – revolvers and automatic pistols, which could be sold to other criminals.

The gang were still helping themselves to guns when the police arrived, tipped off that criminals were ransacking a warehouse in the East End of London. The police, unfortunately, had not realised that it was armaments which were being stolen by the gang. A short and extremely uneven battle ensued, one which would leave three police officers dead. The gang would then make their getaway, with what turned out to be an extremely large number of small arms.

It would prove to be years before all of the guns stolen that day were finally rounded up. They were involved in a large number of crimes. A lot of evil was destined to come out of that robbery.

Luckily for the forces of law and order Kirby had closed the doors of the warehouse when his group had helped themselves to the land ironclads. Nobody went inside the warehouse. People presumed that the doors were locked; or that there were people on site. Besides, by mid-morning, everybody was more concerned with what was going on with the land ironclads in London, rather than investigating warehouses to see if they were locked or not.

During that morning and afternoon not one person went into the warehouses to the north and the south. The doors were unlocked. There were eight land ironclads in each of the factories, just waiting for the army of the poor to possess them, as well as many other weapons. But nobody came. Kirby had nowhere near the number of people who he had intimated to Monk that he possessed; and no army rose up to claim London from the powerful and the wealthy. This was not Paris in the 1790s. Unlike the French of a century before, the poor were not revolting.

 

Two people in London committed suicide that day. Whether they had heard about the land ironclads, and really though that London had been invaded by an enemy army (or that a revolutionary one was on the verge of success) can not be truly known. Perhaps hearing about the war machines wreaking havoc on the streets of London was that final bit of stress to force them over the edge. Or perhaps those two unfortunate souls never actually heard about ‘Monk’s Madness’, as it would later be called.

What is known, however, is that ‘Monk’s Madness’ was blamed for their taking their own lives. It was blamed for many things that day.

 

At the partially demolished lodging house in Seven Dials the owner of that establishment went to complain to the police, once the land ironclads continued on their merry way. He wanted to know who was going to pay to have his house repaired. By then, though, the police had heard all about what was going on, and they had far too many other things to worry about than some doss house in Seven Dials.

The man walked back to his lodgings house cursing at the injustice of the situation. He discovered that a gang of street urchins were looking through the wreckage for things to steal. He chased them down the street, wondering why bad things only ever seemed to happen to him.

Then he sat down on the rubble and wondered what he was going to do next.

 

It was still early for the gentlemen’s clubs of Pall Mall: the likes of the Army and Navy Club, or the Athenaeum, or the Carlton Club, or the Newtonian Club, or any of the other such clubs in Pall Mall. But a few of them had members inside; and, in a few of them, it was mentioned that land ironclads had been seen traversing London’s thoroughfares, although details provided were few and far between.

In Boodle’s, in St James’s Street, two of the near-residents argued who was behind this incursion. One gentleman proposed that it had to be the Russians, who were opposing British interests in areas like Tibet and Afghanistan. Another gentleman said that the Russians had nothing in the way of land ironclads, and that it had to be the Germans, who were competing with Britain for control of what bits of Africa and the Far East had not yet fallen in the great Game of Empires.

The two gentlemen, to settle the matter, and possessing no more information at that moment in time, decided to settle the matter by a bet: one thousand pounds – a huge sum, at that time – to whichever of them was proved to be correct. But they were both to be proved wrong. In the end no money was to be exchanged.

 

For some reason, in the East End of London, a rumour started saying that it was the government which was behind the land ironclads who had been seen on the streets; and that the government intended to use these machines of war to knock down some of the slums which were still extant, and which the government was committed to removing.

Perhaps that rumour had been started because of the buildings which had been damaged by the passage of the land ironclads from the warehouse in the east, such as the lodgings house which had been destroyed. But belief that this was true would continue long after this affair was over, and the truth revealed to the people of London. There continued to be some people, for years to come, who refused to believe that the government was not behind it.

 

In Greenwich the news reached the Monks Armaments Factory run by Masters. But, unlike Hardy, Masters did not do anything. He had not been told to do anything other than to continue to produce weapons. So he continued to make bullets, revolvers, rifles and all the rest.

That did not mean that Masters was not worried, though. He fretted as he sat in his office, wondering if he should attempt to send a telegram to Sir Edward Monk to try to find out what was going on. Masters knew that the land ironclads had to be ones produced by Sir Edward. There were no other ones in London.

Masters did not send the telegram, though. He was not the sort of person who would ever challenge his employer. Instead he carried on sitting in his office, not really doing anything at all.

 

The news went all over London: to the East End; to Greenwich, to the gentlemen’s clubs of Pall Mall. And, of course, the news went to Westminster…

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