Part 7 out of 7
I'll tell you what I've done, and what moved me to it. Smart as
you are, the Church was smarter. It was the Church that sent
you cruising--through her servants, the doctors."
"It is the truth. I know it. Every officer of your ship was
the Church's picked servant, and so was every man of the crew."
"It is just as I tell you. I did not find out these things at once,
but I found them out finally. Did you send me verbal information,
by the commander of the ship, to the effect that upon his return
to you, with supplies, you were going to leave Cadiz--"
"Cadiz! I haven't been at Cadiz at all!"
"--going to leave Cadiz and cruise in distant seas indefinitely,
for the health of your family? Did you send me that word?"
"Of course not. I would have written, wouldn't I?"
"Naturally. I was troubled and suspicious. When the commander
sailed again I managed to ship a spy with him. I have never
heard of vessel or spy since. I gave myself two weeks to hear
from you in. Then I resolved to send a ship to Cadiz. There was
a reason why I didn't."
"What was that?"
"Our navy had suddenly and mysteriously disappeared! Also, as
suddenly and as mysteriously, the railway and telegraph and
telephone service ceased, the men all deserted, poles were cut
down, the Church laid a ban upon the electric light! I had to be
up and doing--and straight off. Your life was safe--nobody in
these kingdoms but Merlin would venture to touch such a magician
as you without ten thousand men at his back--I had nothing to
think of but how to put preparations in the best trim against your
coming. I felt safe myself--nobody would be anxious to touch
a pet of yours. So this is what I did. From our various works
I selected all the men--boys I mean--whose faithfulness under
whatsoever pressure I could swear to, and I called them together
secretly and gave them their instructions. There are fifty-two of
them; none younger than fourteen, and none above seventeen years old."
"Why did you select boys?"
"Because all the others were born in an atmosphere of superstition
and reared in it. It is in their blood and bones. We imagined
we had educated it out of them; they thought so, too; the Interdict
woke them up like a thunderclap! It revealed them to themselves,
and it revealed them to me, too. With boys it was different. Such
as have been under our training from seven to ten years have had
no acquaintance with the Church's terrors, and it was among these
that I found my fifty-two. As a next move, I paid a private visit
to that old cave of Merlin's--not the small one--the big one--"
"Yes, the one where we secretly established our first great electric
plant when I was projecting a miracle."
"Just so. And as that miracle hadn't become necessary then,
I thought it might be a good idea to utilize the plant now. I've
provisioned the cave for a siege--"
"A good idea, a first-rate idea."
"I think so. I placed four of my boys there as a guard--inside,
and out of sight. Nobody was to be hurt--while outside; but any
attempt to enter--well, we said just let anybody try it! Then
I went out into the hills and uncovered and cut the secret wires
which connected your bedroom with the wires that go to the dynamite
deposits under all our vast factories, mills, workshops, magazines,
etc., and about midnight I and my boys turned out and connected
that wire with the cave, and nobody but you and I suspects where
the other end of it goes to. We laid it under ground, of course, and
it was all finished in a couple of hours or so. We sha'n't have
to leave our fortress now when we want to blow up our civilization."
"It was the right move--and the natural one; military necessity,
in the changed condition of things. Well, what changes _have_ come!
We expected to be besieged in the palace some time or other, but
--however, go on."
"Next, we built a wire fence."
"Yes. You dropped the hint of it yourself, two or three years ago."
"Oh, I remember--the time the Church tried her strength against
us the first time, and presently thought it wise to wait for a
hopefuler season. Well, how have you arranged the fence?"
"I start twelve immensely strong wires--naked, not insulated
--from a big dynamo in the cave--dynamo with no brushes except
a positive and a negative one--"
"Yes, that's right."
"The wires go out from the cave and fence in a circle of level
ground a hundred yards in diameter; they make twelve independent
fences, ten feet apart--that is to say, twelve circles within
circles--and their ends come into the cave again."
"Right; go on."
"The fences are fastened to heavy oaken posts only three feet apart,
and these posts are sunk five feet in the ground."
"That is good and strong."
"Yes. The wires have no ground-connection outside of the cave.
They go out from the positive brush of the dynamo; there is a
ground-connection through the negative brush; the other ends of
the wire return to the cave, and each is grounded independently."
"No, no, that won't do!"
"It's too expensive--uses up force for nothing. You don't want
any ground-connection except the one through the negative brush.
The other end of every wire must be brought back into the cave
and fastened independently, and _without_ any ground-connection.
Now, then, observe the economy of it. A cavalry charge hurls
itself against the fence; you are using no power, you are spending
no money, for there is only one ground-connection till those horses
come against the wire; the moment they touch it they form a
connection with the negative brush _through the ground_, and drop
dead. Don't you see?--you are using no energy until it is needed;
your lightning is there, and ready, like the load in a gun; but
it isn't costing you a cent till you touch it off. Oh, yes, the
"Of course! I don't know how I overlooked that. It's not only
cheaper, but it's more effectual than the other way, for if wires
break or get tangled, no harm is done."
"No, especially if we have a tell-tale in the cave and disconnect
the broken wire. Well, go on. The gatlings?"
"Yes--that's arranged. In the center of the inner circle, on a
spacious platform six feet high, I've grouped a battery of thirteen
gatling guns, and provided plenty of ammunition."
"That's it. They command every approach, and when the Church's
knights arrive, there's going to be music. The brow of the
precipice over the cave--"
"I've got a wire fence there, and a gatling. They won't drop any
rocks down on us."
"Well, and the glass-cylinder dynamite torpedoes?"
"That's attended to. It's the prettiest garden that was ever
planted. It's a belt forty feet wide, and goes around the outer
fence--distance between it and the fence one hundred yards--kind of
neutral ground that space is. There isn't a single square yard
of that whole belt but is equipped with a torpedo. We laid them
on the surface of the ground, and sprinkled a layer of sand over
them. It's an innocent looking garden, but you let a man start
in to hoe it once, and you'll see."
"You tested the torpedoes?"
"Well, I was going to, but--"
"But what? Why, it's an immense oversight not to apply a--"
"Test? Yes, I know; but they're all right; I laid a few in the
public road beyond our lines and they've been tested."
"Oh, that alters the case. Who did it?"
"A Church committee."
"Yes. They came to command us to make submission. You see they
didn't really come to test the torpedoes; that was merely an incident."
"Did the committee make a report?"
"Yes, they made one. You could have heard it a mile."
"That was the nature of it. After that I put up some signs, for the
protection of future committees, and we have had no intruders since."
"Clarence, you've done a world of work, and done it perfectly."
"We had plenty of time for it; there wasn't any occasion for hurry."
We sat silent awhile, thinking. Then my mind was made up, and
"Yes, everything is ready; everything is shipshape, no detail is
wanting. I know what to do now."
"So do I; sit down and wait."
"No, _sir_! rise up and _strike_!"
"Do you mean it?"
"Yes, indeed! The _de_fensive isn't in my line, and the _of_fensive
is. That is, when I hold a fair hand--two-thirds as good a hand
as the enemy. Oh, yes, we'll rise up and strike; that's our game."
"A hundred to one you are right. When does the performance begin?"
"_Now!_ We'll proclaim the Republic."
"Well, that _will_ precipitate things, sure enough!"
"It will make them buzz, I tell you! England will be a hornets'
nest before noon to-morrow, if the Church's hand hasn't lost its
cunning--and we know it hasn't. Now you write and I'll dictate thus:
"BE IT KNOWN UNTO ALL. Whereas the king having died
and left no heir, it becomes my duty to continue the
executive authority vested in me, until a government
shall have been created and set in motion. The
monarchy has lapsed, it no longer exists. By
consequence, all political power has reverted to its
original source, the people of the nation. With the
monarchy, its several adjuncts died also; wherefore
there is no longer a nobility, no longer a privileged
class, no longer an Established Church; all men are
become exactly equal; they are upon one common
level, and religion is free. _A Republic is hereby
proclaimed_, as being the natural estate of a nation
when other authority has ceased. It is the duty of
the British people to meet together immediately,
and by their votes elect representatives and deliver
into their hands the government."
I signed it "The Boss," and dated it from Merlin's Cave.
"Why, that tells where we are, and invites them to call right away."
"That is the idea. We _strike_--by the Proclamation--then it's
their innings. Now have the thing set up and printed and posted,
right off; that is, give the order; then, if you've got a couple
of bicycles handy at the foot of the hill, ho for Merlin's Cave!"
"I shall be ready in ten minutes. What a cyclone there is going
to be to-morrow when this piece of paper gets to work!... It's a
pleasant old palace, this is; I wonder if we shall ever again
--but never mind about that."
THE BATTLE OF THE SAND BELT
In Merlin's Cave-- Clarence and I and fifty-two fresh, bright,
well-educated, clean-minded young British boys. At dawn I sent
an order to the factories and to all our great works to stop
operations and remove all life to a safe distance, as everything
was going to be blown up by secret mines, "_and no telling at what
moment--therefore, vacate at once_." These people knew me, and
had confidence in my word. They would clear out without waiting
to part their hair, and I could take my own time about dating the
explosion. You couldn't hire one of them to go back during the
century, if the explosion was still impending.
We had a week of waiting. It was not dull for me, because I was
writing all the time. During the first three days, I finished
turning my old diary into this narrative form; it only required
a chapter or so to bring it down to date. The rest of the week
I took up in writing letters to my wife. It was always my habit
to write to Sandy every day, whenever we were separate, and now
I kept up the habit for love of it, and of her, though I couldn't
do anything with the letters, of course, after I had written them.
But it put in the time, you see, and was almost like talking;
it was almost as if I was saying, "Sandy, if you and Hello-Central
were here in the cave, instead of only your photographs, what
good times we could have!" And then, you know, I could imagine
the baby goo-gooing something out in reply, with its fists in its
mouth and itself stretched across its mother's lap on its back,
and she a-laughing and admiring and worshipping, and now and then
tickling under the baby's chin to set it cackling, and then maybe
throwing in a word of answer to me herself--and so on and so on
--well, don't you know, I could sit there in the cave with my pen,
and keep it up, that way, by the hour with them. Why, it was
almost like having us all together again.
I had spies out every night, of course, to get news. Every report
made things look more and more impressive. The hosts were gathering,
gathering; down all the roads and paths of England the knights were
riding, and priests rode with them, to hearten these original
Crusaders, this being the Church's war. All the nobilities, big
and little, were on their way, and all the gentry. This was all
as was expected. We should thin out this sort of folk to such
a degree that the people would have nothing to do but just step
to the front with their republic and--
Ah, what a donkey I was! Toward the end of the week I began to get
this large and disenchanting fact through my head: that the mass
of the nation had swung their caps and shouted for the republic for
about one day, and there an end! The Church, the nobles, and
the gentry then turned one grand, all-disapproving frown upon them
and shriveled them into sheep! From that moment the sheep had
begun to gather to the fold--that is to say, the camps--and offer
their valueless lives and their valuable wool to the "righteous
cause." Why, even the very men who had lately been slaves were
in the "righteous cause," and glorifying it, praying for it,
sentimentally slabbering over it, just like all the other commoners.
Imagine such human muck as this; conceive of this folly!
Yes, it was now "Death to the Republic!" everywhere--not a dissenting
voice. All England was marching against us! Truly, this was more
than I had bargained for.
I watched my fifty-two boys narrowly; watched their faces, their
walk, their unconscious attitudes: for all these are a language
--a language given us purposely that it may betray us in times of
emergency, when we have secrets which we want to keep. I knew
that that thought would keep saying itself over and over again
in their minds and hearts, _All England is marching against us!_
and ever more strenuously imploring attention with each repetition,
ever more sharply realizing itself to their imaginations, until
even in their sleep they would find no rest from it, but hear
the vague and flitting creatures of the dreams say, _All England_
--ALL ENGLAND!--_is marching against you_! I knew all this would
happen; I knew that ultimately the pressure would become so great
that it would compel utterance; therefore, I must be ready with an
answer at that time--an answer well chosen and tranquilizing.
I was right. The time came. They HAD to speak. Poor lads, it
was pitiful to see, they were so pale, so worn, so troubled. At
first their spokesman could hardly find voice or words; but he
presently got both. This is what he said--and he put it in the
neat modern English taught him in my schools:
"We have tried to forget what we are--English boys! We have tried
to put reason before sentiment, duty before love; our minds
approve, but our hearts reproach us. While apparently it was
only the nobility, only the gentry, only the twenty-five or thirty
thousand knights left alive out of the late wars, we were of one
mind, and undisturbed by any troubling doubt; each and every one
of these fifty-two lads who stand here before you, said, 'They
have chosen--it is their affair.' But think!--the matter is
altered--_All England is marching against us_! Oh, sir, consider!
--reflect!--these people are our people, they are bone of our bone,
flesh of our flesh, we love them--do not ask us to destroy our nation!"
Well, it shows the value of looking ahead, and being ready for
a thing when it happens. If I hadn't foreseen this thing and been
fixed, that boy would have had me!--I couldn't have said a word.
But I was fixed. I said:
"My boys, your hearts are in the right place, you have thought the
worthy thought, you have done the worthy thing. You are English
boys, you will remain English boys, and you will keep that name
unsmirched. Give yourselves no further concern, let your minds be
at peace. Consider this: while all England is marching against
us, who is in the van? Who, by the commonest rules of war, will
march in the front? Answer me."
"The mounted host of mailed knights."
"True. They are thirty thousand strong. Acres deep they will march.
Now, observe: none but _they_ will ever strike the sand-belt! Then
there will be an episode! Immediately after, the civilian multitude
in the rear will retire, to meet business engagements elsewhere.
None but nobles and gentry are knights, and _none but these_ will
remain to dance to our music after that episode. It is absolutely
true that we shall have to fight nobody but these thirty thousand
knights. Now speak, and it shall be as you decide. Shall we
avoid the battle, retire from the field?"
The shout was unanimous and hearty.
"Are you--are you--well, afraid of these thirty thousand knights?"
That joke brought out a good laugh, the boys' troubles vanished
away, and they went gaily to their posts. Ah, they were a darling
fifty-two! As pretty as girls, too.
I was ready for the enemy now. Let the approaching big day come
along--it would find us on deck.
The big day arrived on time. At dawn the sentry on watch in the
corral came into the cave and reported a moving black mass under
the horizon, and a faint sound which he thought to be military
music. Breakfast was just ready; we sat down and ate it.
This over, I made the boys a little speech, and then sent out
a detail to man the battery, with Clarence in command of it.
The sun rose presently and sent its unobstructed splendors over
the land, and we saw a prodigious host moving slowly toward us,
with the steady drift and aligned front of a wave of the sea.
Nearer and nearer it came, and more and more sublimely imposing
became its aspect; yes, all England was there, apparently. Soon
we could see the innumerable banners fluttering, and then the sun
struck the sea of armor and set it all aflash. Yes, it was a fine
sight; I hadn't ever seen anything to beat it.
At last we could make out details. All the front ranks, no telling
how many acres deep, were horsemen--plumed knights in armor.
Suddenly we heard the blare of trumpets; the slow walk burst into
a gallop, and then--well, it was wonderful to see! Down swept
that vast horse-shoe wave--it approached the sand-belt--my breath
stood still; nearer, nearer--the strip of green turf beyond the
yellow belt grew narrow--narrower still--became a mere ribbon in
front of the horses--then disappeared under their hoofs. Great
Scott! Why, the whole front of that host shot into the sky with
a thunder-crash, and became a whirling tempest of rags and fragments;
and along the ground lay a thick wall of smoke that hid what was
left of the multitude from our sight.
Time for the second step in the plan of campaign! I touched
a button, and shook the bones of England loose from her spine!
In that explosion all our noble civilization-factories went up in
the air and disappeared from the earth. It was a pity, but it
was necessary. We could not afford to let the enemy turn our own
weapons against us.
Now ensued one of the dullest quarter-hours I had ever endured.
We waited in a silent solitude enclosed by our circles of wire,
and by a circle of heavy smoke outside of these. We couldn't
see over the wall of smoke, and we couldn't see through it. But
at last it began to shred away lazily, and by the end of another
quarter-hour the land was clear and our curiosity was enabled
to satisfy itself. No living creature was in sight! We now
perceived that additions had been made to our defenses. The
dynamite had dug a ditch more than a hundred feet wide, all around
us, and cast up an embankment some twenty-five feet high on both
borders of it. As to destruction of life, it was amazing. Moreover,
it was beyond estimate. Of course, we could not _count_ the dead,
because they did not exist as individuals, but merely as homogeneous
protoplasm, with alloys of iron and buttons.
No life was in sight, but necessarily there must have been some
wounded in the rear ranks, who were carried off the field under
cover of the wall of smoke; there would be sickness among the
others--there always is, after an episode like that. But there
would be no reinforcements; this was the last stand of the chivalry
of England; it was all that was left of the order, after the recent
annihilating wars. So I felt quite safe in believing that the
utmost force that could for the future be brought against us
would be but small; that is, of knights. I therefore issued a
congratulatory proclamation to my army in these words:
SOLDIERS, CHAMPIONS OF HUMAN LIBERTY AND EQUALITY:
Your General congratulates you! In the pride of his
strength and the vanity of his renown, an arrogant
enemy came against you. You were ready. The conflict
was brief; on your side, glorious. This mighty
victory, having been achieved utterly without loss,
stands without example in history. So long as the
planets shall continue to move in their orbits, the
BATTLE OF THE SAND-BELT will not perish out of the
memories of men.
I read it well, and the applause I got was very gratifying to me.
I then wound up with these remarks:
"The war with the English nation, as a nation, is at an end.
The nation has retired from the field and the war. Before it can
be persuaded to return, war will have ceased. This campaign is
the only one that is going to be fought. It will be brief
--the briefest in history. Also the most destructive to life,
considered from the standpoint of proportion of casualties to
numbers engaged. We are done with the nation; henceforth we deal
only with the knights. English knights can be killed, but they
cannot be conquered. We know what is before us. While one of
these men remains alive, our task is not finished, the war is not
ended. We will kill them all." [Loud and long continued applause.]
I picketed the great embankments thrown up around our lines by
the dynamite explosion--merely a lookout of a couple of boys
to announce the enemy when he should appear again.
Next, I sent an engineer and forty men to a point just beyond
our lines on the south, to turn a mountain brook that was there,
and bring it within our lines and under our command, arranging
it in such a way that I could make instant use of it in an emergency.
The forty men were divided into two shifts of twenty each, and
were to relieve each other every two hours. In ten hours the
work was accomplished.
It was nightfall now, and I withdrew my pickets. The one who
had had the northern outlook reported a camp in sight, but visible
with the glass only. He also reported that a few knights had been
feeling their way toward us, and had driven some cattle across our
lines, but that the knights themselves had not come very near.
That was what I had been expecting. They were feeling us, you
see; they wanted to know if we were going to play that red terror
on them again. They would grow bolder in the night, perhaps.
I believed I knew what project they would attempt, because it was
plainly the thing I would attempt myself if I were in their places
and as ignorant as they were. I mentioned it to Clarence.
"I think you are right," said he; "it is the obvious thing for
them to try."
"Well, then," I said, "if they do it they are doomed."
"They won't have the slightest show in the world."
"Of course they won't."
"It's dreadful, Clarence. It seems an awful pity."
The thing disturbed me so that I couldn't get any peace of mind
for thinking of it and worrying over it. So, at last, to quiet
my conscience, I framed this message to the knights:
TO THE HONORABLE THE COMMANDER OF THE INSURGENT
CHIVALRY OF ENGLAND: YOU fight in vain. We know
your strength--if one may call it by that name.
We know that at the utmost you cannot bring
against us above five and twenty thousand knights.
Therefore, you have no chance--none whatever.
Reflect: we are well equipped, well fortified, we
number 54. Fifty-four what? Men? No, MINDS--the
capablest in the world; a force against which
mere animal might may no more hope to prevail than
may the idle waves of the sea hope to prevail
against the granite barriers of England. Be advised.
We offer you your lives; for the sake of your
families, do not reject the gift. We offer you
this chance, and it is the last: throw down your
arms; surrender unconditionally to the Republic,
and all will be forgiven.
(Signed) THE BOSS.
I read it to Clarence, and said I proposed to send it by a flag
of truce. He laughed the sarcastic laugh he was born with, and said:
"Somehow it seems impossible for you to ever fully realize what
these nobilities are. Now let us save a little time and trouble.
Consider me the commander of the knights yonder. Now, then,
you are the flag of truce; approach and deliver me your message,
and I will give you your answer."
I humored the idea. I came forward under an imaginary guard of
the enemy's soldiers, produced my paper, and read it through.
For answer, Clarence struck the paper out of my hand, pursed up
a scornful lip and said with lofty disdain:
"Dismember me this animal, and return him in a basket to the
base-born knave who sent him; other answer have I none!"
How empty is theory in presence of fact! And this was just fact,
and nothing else. It was the thing that would have happened,
there was no getting around that. I tore up the paper and granted
my mistimed sentimentalities a permanent rest.
Then, to business. I tested the electric signals from the gatling
platform to the cave, and made sure that they were all right;
I tested and retested those which commanded the fences--these
were signals whereby I could break and renew the electric current
in each fence independently of the others at will. I placed the
brook-connection under the guard and authority of three of my
best boys, who would alternate in two-hour watches all night and
promptly obey my signal, if I should have occasion to give it
--three revolver-shots in quick succession. Sentry-duty was discarded
for the night, and the corral left empty of life; I ordered that
quiet be maintained in the cave, and the electric lights turned
down to a glimmer.
As soon as it was good and dark, I shut off the current from all
the fences, and then groped my way out to the embankment bordering
our side of the great dynamite ditch. I crept to the top of it
and lay there on the slant of the muck to watch. But it was
too dark to see anything. As for sounds, there were none. The
stillness was deathlike. True, there were the usual night-sounds
of the country--the whir of night-birds, the buzzing of insects,
the barking of distant dogs, the mellow lowing of far-off kine
--but these didn't seem to break the stillness, they only intensified
it, and added a grewsome melancholy to it into the bargain.
I presently gave up looking, the night shut down so black, but
I kept my ears strained to catch the least suspicious sound, for
I judged I had only to wait, and I shouldn't be disappointed.
However, I had to wait a long time. At last I caught what you
may call in distinct glimpses of sound dulled metallic sound.
I pricked up my ears, then, and held my breath, for this was the
sort of thing I had been waiting for. This sound thickened, and
approached--from toward the north. Presently, I heard it at my
own level--the ridge-top of the opposite embankment, a hundred
feet or more away. Then I seemed to see a row of black dots appear
along that ridge--human heads? I couldn't tell; it mightn't be
anything at all; you can't depend on your eyes when your imagination
is out of focus. However, the question was soon settled. I heard
that metallic noise descending into the great ditch. It augmented
fast, it spread all along, and it unmistakably furnished me this
fact: an armed host was taking up its quarters in the ditch. Yes,
these people were arranging a little surprise party for us. We
could expect entertainment about dawn, possibly earlier.
I groped my way back to the corral now; I had seen enough. I went
to the platform and signaled to turn the current on to the two
inner fences. Then I went into the cave, and found everything
satisfactory there--nobody awake but the working-watch. I woke
Clarence and told him the great ditch was filling up with men,
and that I believed all the knights were coming for us in a body.
It was my notion that as soon as dawn approached we could expect
the ditch's ambuscaded thousands to swarm up over the embankment
and make an assault, and be followed immediately by the rest
of their army.
"They will be wanting to send a scout or two in the dark to make
preliminary observations. Why not take the lightning off the
outer fences, and give them a chance?"
"I've already done it, Clarence. Did you ever know me to be
"No, you are a good heart. I want to go and--"
"Be a reception committee? I will go, too."
We crossed the corral and lay down together between the two inside
fences. Even the dim light of the cave had disordered our eyesight
somewhat, but the focus straightway began to regulate itself and
soon it was adjusted for present circumstances. We had had to feel
our way before, but we could make out to see the fence posts now.
We started a whispered conversation, but suddenly Clarence broke
off and said:
"What is that?"
"What is what?"
"That thing yonder."
"There beyond you a little piece--dark something--a dull shape
of some kind--against the second fence."
I gazed and he gazed. I said:
"Could it be a man, Clarence?"
"No, I think not. If you notice, it looks a lit--why, it _is_
a man!--leaning on the fence."
"I certainly believe it is; let us go and see."
We crept along on our hands and knees until we were pretty close,
and then looked up. Yes, it was a man--a dim great figure in armor,
standing erect, with both hands on the upper wire--and, of course,
there was a smell of burning flesh. Poor fellow, dead as a
door-nail, and never knew what hurt him. He stood there like a
statue--no motion about him, except that his plumes swished about
a little in the night wind. We rose up and looked in through
the bars of his visor, but couldn't make out whether we knew him
or not--features too dim and shadowed.
We heard muffled sounds approaching, and we sank down to the ground
where we were. We made out another knight vaguely; he was coming
very stealthily, and feeling his way. He was near enough now for
us to see him put out a hand, find an upper wire, then bend and
step under it and over the lower one. Now he arrived at the
first knight--and started slightly when he discovered him. He
stood a moment--no doubt wondering why the other one didn't move
on; then he said, in a low voice, "Why dreamest thou here, good
Sir Mar--" then he laid his hand on the corpse's shoulder--and just
uttered a little soft moan and sunk down dead. Killed by a dead
man, you see--killed by a dead friend, in fact. There was something
awful about it.
These early birds came scattering along after each other, about
one every five minutes in our vicinity, during half an hour.
They brought no armor of offense but their swords; as a rule,
they carried the sword ready in the hand, and put it forward and
found the wires with it. We would now and then see a blue spark
when the knight that caused it was so far away as to be invisible
to us; but we knew what had happened, all the same; poor fellow,
he had touched a charged wire with his sword and been elected.
We had brief intervals of grim stillness, interrupted with piteous
regularity by the clash made by the falling of an iron-clad; and
this sort of thing was going on, right along, and was very creepy
there in the dark and lonesomeness.
We concluded to make a tour between the inner fences. We elected
to walk upright, for convenience's sake; we argued that if discerned,
we should be taken for friends rather than enemies, and in any case
we should be out of reach of swords, and these gentry did not seem
to have any spears along. Well, it was a curious trip. Everywhere
dead men were lying outside the second fence--not plainly visible,
but still visible; and we counted fifteen of those pathetic
statues--dead knights standing with their hands on the upper wire.
One thing seemed to be sufficiently demonstrated: our current
was so tremendous that it killed before the victim could cry out.
Pretty soon we detected a muffled and heavy sound, and next moment
we guessed what it was. It was a surprise in force coming! whispered
Clarence to go and wake the army, and notify it to wait in silence
in the cave for further orders. He was soon back, and we stood
by the inner fence and watched the silent lightning do its awful
work upon that swarming host. One could make out but little of
detail; but he could note that a black mass was piling itself up
beyond the second fence. That swelling bulk was dead men! Our
camp was enclosed with a solid wall of the dead--a bulwark,
a breastwork, of corpses, you may say. One terrible thing about
this thing was the absence of human voices; there were no cheers,
no war cries; being intent upon a surprise, these men moved as
noiselessly as they could; and always when the front rank was near
enough to their goal to make it proper for them to begin to get
a shout ready, of course they struck the fatal line and went down
I sent a current through the third fence now; and almost immediately
through the fourth and fifth, so quickly were the gaps filled up.
I believed the time was come now for my climax; I believed that
that whole army was in our trap. Anyway, it was high time to find
out. So I touched a button and set fifty electric suns aflame
on the top of our precipice.
Land, what a sight! We were enclosed in three walls of dead men!
All the other fences were pretty nearly filled with the living,
who were stealthily working their way forward through the wires.
The sudden glare paralyzed this host, petrified them, you may say,
with astonishment; there was just one instant for me to utilize
their immobility in, and I didn't lose the chance. You see, in
another instant they would have recovered their faculties, then
they'd have burst into a cheer and made a rush, and my wires
would have gone down before it; but that lost instant lost them
their opportunity forever; while even that slight fragment of time
was still unspent, I shot the current through all the fences and
struck the whole host dead in their tracks! _There_ was a groan
you could _hear_! It voiced the death-pang of eleven thousand men.
It swelled out on the night with awful pathos.
A glance showed that the rest of the enemy--perhaps ten thousand
strong--were between us and the encircling ditch, and pressing
forward to the assault. Consequently we had them _all!_ and had
them past help. Time for the last act of the tragedy. I fired
the three appointed revolver shots--which meant:
"Turn on the water!"
There was a sudden rush and roar, and in a minute the mountain
brook was raging through the big ditch and creating a river a
hundred feet wide and twenty-five deep.
"Stand to your guns, men! Open fire!"
The thirteen gatlings began to vomit death into the fated ten
thousand. They halted, they stood their ground a moment against
that withering deluge of fire, then they broke, faced about and
swept toward the ditch like chaff before a gale. A full fourth
part of their force never reached the top of the lofty embankment;
the three-fourths reached it and plunged over--to death by drowning.
Within ten short minutes after we had opened fire, armed resistance
was totally annihilated, the campaign was ended, we fifty-four were
masters of England. Twenty-five thousand men lay dead around us.
But how treacherous is fortune! In a little while--say an hour
--happened a thing, by my own fault, which--but I have no heart
to write that. Let the record end here.
A POSTSCRIPT BY CLARENCE
I, Clarence, must write it for him. He proposed that we two
go out and see if any help could be accorded the wounded. I was
strenuous against the project. I said that if there were many,
we could do but little for them; and it would not be wise for us to
trust ourselves among them, anyway. But he could seldom be turned
from a purpose once formed; so we shut off the electric current
from the fences, took an escort along, climbed over the enclosing
ramparts of dead knights, and moved out upon the field. The first
wounded mall who appealed for help was sitting with his back
against a dead comrade. When The Boss bent over him and spoke
to him, the man recognized him and stabbed him. That knight was
Sir Meliagraunce, as I found out by tearing off his helmet. He
will not ask for help any more.
We carried The Boss to the cave and gave his wound, which was
not very serious, the best care we could. In this service we had
the help of Merlin, though we did not know it. He was disguised
as a woman, and appeared to be a simple old peasant goodwife.
In this disguise, with brown-stained face and smooth shaven, he
had appeared a few days after The Boss was hurt and offered to cook
for us, saying her people had gone off to join certain new camps
which the enemy were forming, and that she was starving. The Boss
had been getting along very well, and had amused himself with
finishing up his record.
We were glad to have this woman, for we were short handed. We
were in a trap, you see--a trap of our own making. If we stayed
where we were, our dead would kill us; if we moved out of our
defenses, we should no longer be invincible. We had conquered;
in turn we were conquered. The Boss recognized this; we all
recognized it. If we could go to one of those new camps and
patch up some kind of terms with the enemy--yes, but The Boss
could not go, and neither could I, for I was among the first that
were made sick by the poisonous air bred by those dead thousands.
Others were taken down, and still others. To-morrow--
_To-morrow._ It is here. And with it the end. About midnight
I awoke, and saw that hag making curious passes in the air about
The Boss's head and face, and wondered what it meant. Everybody
but the dynamo-watch lay steeped in sleep; there was no sound.
The woman ceased from her mysterious foolery, and started tip-toeing
toward the door. I called out:
"Stop! What have you been doing?"
She halted, and said with an accent of malicious satisfaction:
"Ye were conquerors; ye are conquered! These others are perishing
--you also. Ye shall all die in this place--every one--except _him_.
He sleepeth now--and shall sleep thirteen centuries. I am Merlin!"
Then such a delirium of silly laughter overtook him that he reeled
about like a drunken man, and presently fetched up against one
of our wires. His mouth is spread open yet; apparently he is still
laughing. I suppose the face will retain that petrified laugh until
the corpse turns to dust.
The Boss has never stirred--sleeps like a stone. If he does not
wake to-day we shall understand what kind of a sleep it is, and
his body will then be borne to a place in one of the remote recesses
of the cave where none will ever find it to desecrate it. As for
the rest of us--well, it is agreed that if any one of us ever
escapes alive from this place, he will write the fact here, and
loyally hide this Manuscript with The Boss, our dear good chief,
whose property it is, be he alive or dead.
THE END OF THE MANUSCRIPT
FINAL P.S. BY M.T.
The dawn was come when I laid the Manuscript aside. The rain
had almost ceased, the world was gray and sad, the exhausted storm
was sighing and sobbing itself to rest. I went to the stranger's
room, and listened at his door, which was slightly ajar. I could
hear his voice, and so I knocked. There was no answer, but I still
heard the voice. I peeped in. The man lay on his back in bed,
talking brokenly but with spirit, and punctuating with his arms,
which he thrashed about, restlessly, as sick people do in delirium.
I slipped in softly and bent over him. His mutterings and
ejaculations went on. I spoke--merely a word, to call his attention.
His glassy eyes and his ashy face were alight in an instant with
pleasure, gratitude, gladness, welcome:
"Oh, Sandy, you are come at last--how I have longed for you! Sit
by me--do not leave me--never leave me again, Sandy, never again.
Where is your hand?--give it me, dear, let me hold it--there
--now all is well, all is peace, and I am happy again--_we_ are happy
again, isn't it so, Sandy? You are so dim, so vague, you are but
a mist, a cloud, but you are _here_, and that is blessedness sufficient;
and I have your hand; don't take it away--it is for only a little
while, I shall not require it long.... Was that the child?...
Hello-Central!... she doesn't answer. Asleep, perhaps? Bring her
when she wakes, and let me touch her hands, her face, her hair,
and tell her good-bye.... Sandy! Yes, you are there. I lost
myself a moment, and I thought you were gone.... Have I been
sick long? It must be so; it seems months to me. And such dreams!
such strange and awful dreams, Sandy! Dreams that were as real
as reality--delirium, of course, but _so_ real! Why, I thought
the king was dead, I thought you were in Gaul and couldn't get
home, I thought there was a revolution; in the fantastic frenzy
of these dreams, I thought that Clarence and I and a handful of
my cadets fought and exterminated the whole chivalry of England!
But even that was not the strangest. I seemed to be a creature
out of a remote unborn age, centuries hence, and even _that_ was
as real as the rest! Yes, I seemed to have flown back out of that
age into this of ours, and then forward to it again, and was set
down, a stranger and forlorn in that strange England, with an
abyss of thirteen centuries yawning between me and you! between
me and my home and my friends! between me and all that is dear
to me, all that could make life worth the living! It was awful
--awfuler than you can ever imagine, Sandy. Ah, watch by me, Sandy
--stay by me every moment--_don't_ let me go out of my mind again;
death is nothing, let it come, but not with those dreams, not with
the torture of those hideous dreams--I cannot endure _that_ again....
He lay muttering incoherently some little time; then for a time he
lay silent, and apparently sinking away toward death. Presently
his fingers began to pick busily at the coverlet, and by that sign
I knew that his end was at hand with the first suggestion of the
death-rattle in his throat he started up slightly, and seemed
to listen: then he said:
"A bugle?... It is the king! The drawbridge, there! Man the
battlements!--turn out the--"
He was getting up his last "effect"; but he never finished it.