Chapter Twenty One: An Incident
George Monk heard the sounds of battle. It was the sounds which woke him up. He had been out late the night before, at a show at Covent Garden. Afterwards he had gone with his friends to Betty’s, in the Strand, where he had enjoyed a long and languorous supper, aided and abetted by the consumption of a lot of wine. By the time that he had got back to his pied-a-terre it had been very late.
“What on Earth is going on?” George Monk mumbled, as he staggered out of bed, swaying a little. His head hurt, and the banging sounds coming from somewhere outside were not improving his megrim (not a hangover, he lied to himself, he had not drunk enough for one of those).
He took some of Dr Robert’s Alterative Pills. According to the legend they were the best Blood Purifier, having over 100 year’s reputation. They should be used in all skin infections. These pills are also strongly recommended for Habitual Constipation, Pimples, Headache, Heartburn, Sluggish Liver and are invaluable as a general family aperient. All he had was a pain in the head. As long as they cured that, that was all that he cared about.
George got dressed. He thought that he might as well, now that he was awake. He doubted if he could get back to sleep with all of the noise coming from outside. He wondered what that noise was. It sounded like some houses, somewhere, were being demolished.
He put on his coat. He was sure that the banging was not in his head. And he was going to find out what it was.
George went out onto the streets, pulling shut the door of his pied-a-terre. He could still hear noises somewhere in the distance. But they seemed to be further away, moving away from him.
The people on the street seemed to be in a hurry. Well, London was always a busy street. But he did not usually see people running down his road, not at this time of the day.
George grabbed one person who was running past.
“I say, sir, could you tell me what is occurring?” George asked. “What is all that noise?”
“It’s madness!” the man shouted at George, as he pulled his arm free from George’s grip. “Land ironclads on the streets of London! They’re destroying everything!”
The man continued running down the street. George watched him go.
George had heard what the man had said, but the words had not really sunk into his head. They did not seem to make any sense. Land ironclads destroying everything.
George stood there for a little while longer as the words filtered through into his befuddled brain. He finally realised that the sounds which he could still hear, off in the distance, were the land ironclads which the man had mentioned; and that the reason why the people were running was because they were running away from those war machines.
George knew that the land ironclads were those of his father. His father was the only person in Britain who produced such war machines. George did not even consider the possibility of some foreign invasion. No country would have dared.
“He’s gone mad.” George said, to nobody in particular. He knew that the death of Eliza had badly affected his father. But George had not thought that it would ever come to anything like this.
Yet it all fitted. His father had been destroyed by sorrow. His father had switched all production to making things of war. George mentally berated himself for not seeing this possibility. He had let his father evade explaining what he was up to, suggesting that the government had been planning some war. But it had been Sir Edward Monk who had been planning a war – and now it had broken out.
George had a mental image of his father standing in the turret of some land ironclad, leading the attack as his war machines caused random destruction and murder.
George had to stop this madness. He had to save his father from himself. This would have surprised Sir Edward, who thought that his son had become something of a wastrel. Sir Edward would never have imagined that George would do what he did next. But Sir Edward had never really known his son.
George, without a thought for his own safety, hurried down the streets of London, towards the sound of the guns, whereas everybody else was running in the opposite direction.
For a while he thought that he would not catch up with the land ironclads, and he despaired that he was on a fool’s quest, his father determined to destroy himself.
Then he came to where there were two land ironclads standing in the middle of a road. For a second George halted, wondering what he should do next. He wondered why the land ironclads were not moving, or creating mayhem.
He could see pockmarks on some of the walls of the buildings, where bullets had ricocheted off. He could see the remains of some barricade, which looked like it had been blown apart. But there was nobody about. He could still here noises in the distance, though: gunfire, rather than the sound of shells from some big gun.
He had to know if his father was inside one of these land ironclads. With some difficulty George climbed up onto the first of the war machines. He had seen these lumbering hulks before, at one of the factories. But he had never really taken much interest in them. He had never been inside one before, despite the fact that his father manufactured them.
With a tug he managed to open the hatch built into the turret. He could smell something odd. But he could not really see anything, from where he was.
There was no reply. He would have to climb down into the belly of the beast.
George climbed down the ladder, into the twilight world inside the thing. Light came in from the open hatch, and from the viewing slit; and a red light filtered through from where the fire was stoked. The red light added to the feeling that George was looking at some scene from Hell.
There had once been three men inside this craft. But something had blown them apart, as well as the controls of the land ironclad. There was blood painting the inside of the war machine, and body parts everywhere. It was truly a charnel horror.
George managed to climb back out of the land ironclad before he was sick. When he had gathered himself together he gulped in the cold air. He felt that he needed stronger medicine than those pills which he had taken but a short time ago.
His father had not been one of the dead men. None of the three men had been broad or tall enough. But there was the other land ironclad. George realised that he would have to look inside there, as well. But now, at least, he knew what to expect.
He climbed up onto the other land ironclad. He steeled himself before opening the hatch. Then he climbed down, inside, holding his breath, and only staying inside long enough to see that his father was not among the dead in that war machine.
George climbed back out of the war machine, taking more deep gulps of air. At least his father was still alive. George thought that Sir Edward Monk must be where the sounds of gunfire were coming from.
George Monk hurried towards the sound of the guns. In less than two decades a hell of a lot of young men would be doing just that. But this conflict was not in the mud of Flanders field, but in that the British government claimed was the greatest city on Earth.
As he strode along he saw more signs of conflict. Some sort of exchange had taken place where he was: the bullet impacts on the walls of the buildings were testament to that.
Here and there were bodies dressed in khaki. Not many, but some soldiers had fallen in this little war, their bodies riddled in bullets from the machine guns in the front of the land ironclads.
George was now almost running. He had to stop his father from killing more people. George thought that things could still be done. Perhaps they might only put his father in an asylum, rather than hang him. George’s father was mad, not evil.
The guns were much closer now. They were not some distant thunder.
George ran around the corner of a street to see a land ironclad bearing down on him, going as fast as it was able to, with a squad of soldiers chasing after it.
“Father!” George shouted. He just had enough time to throw his hands up, in a useless gesture of protection, before the caterpillar tracks of the land ironclad ran him over and George Monk was gone.