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Title: The Land Ironclads
Author: H G Wells
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eBook No.: 0604041.txt
Language:  English
Date first posted: July 2006
Date most recently updated: July 2006

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Title: The Land Ironclads
Author: H G Wells


The young lieutenant lay beside the war correspondent and admired the
idyllic calm of the enemy's lines through his field-glass.

"So far as I can see," he said, at last, "one man."

"What's he doing?" asked the war correspondent.

"Field-glass at us," said the young lieutenant

"And this is war!"

"No," said the young lieutenant; "it's Bloch."

"The game's a draw."

"No! They've got to win or else they lose. A draw's a win for our side."

They had discussed the political situation fifty times or so, and the
war correspondent was weary of it. He stretched out his limbs. "Aaai
s'pose it _is_!" he yawned.


"What was that?"

"Shot at us."

The war correspondent shifted to a slightly lower position. "No one shot
at him," he complained.

"I wonder if they think we shall get so bored we shall go home?"

The war correspondent made no reply.

"There's the harvest, of course...."

They had been there a month. Since the first brisk movements after the
declaration of war things had gone slower and slower, until it seemed as
though the whole machine of events must have run down. To begin with,
they had had almost a scampering time; the invader had come across the
frontier on the very dawn of the war in half-a-dozen parallel columns
behind a cloud of cyclists and cavalry, with a general air of coming
straight on the capital, and the defender horsemen had held him up, and
peppered him and forced him to open out to outflank, and had then bolted
to the next position in the most approved style, for a couple of days,
until in the afternoon, bump! they had the invader against their
prepared lines of defense. He did not suffer so much as had been hoped
and expected: he was coming on, it seemed with his eyes open, his scouts
winded the guns, and down he sat at once without the shadow of an attack
and began grubbing trenches for himself, as though he meant to sit down
there to the very end of time. He was slow, but much more wary than the
world had been led to expect, and he kept convoys tucked in and shielded
his slow marching infantry sufficiently well to prevent any heavy
adverse scoring.

"But he ought to attack," the young lieutenant had insisted.

"He'll attack us at dawn, somewhere along the lines. You'll get the
bayonets coming into the trenches just about when you can see," the war
correspondent had held until a week ago.

The young lieutenant winked when he said that.

When one early morning the men the defenders sent to lie out five
hundred yards before the trenches, with a view to the unexpected
emptying of magazines into any night attack, gave way to causeless panic
and blazed away at nothing for ten minutes, the war correspondent
understood the meaning of that wink.

"What would you do if you were the enemy?" said the war correspondent,

"If I had men like I've got now?"


"Take those trenches."


"Oh--dodges! Crawl out half-way at night before moonrise and get into
touch with the chaps we send out. Blaze at 'em if they tried to shift,
and so bag some of 'em in the daylight. Learn that patch of ground by
heart, lie all day in squatty holes, and come on nearer next night.
There's a bit over there, lumpy ground, where they could get across to
rushing distance--easy. In a night or so. It would be a mere game for
our fellows; it's what they're made for.... Guns? Shrapnel and stuff
wouldn't stop good men who meant business."

"Why don't _they_ do that?"

"Their men aren't brutes enough: that's the trouble. They're a crowd of
devitalized townsmen, and that's the truth of the matter' They're
clerks, they're factory hands, they're students, they're civilized men.
They can write, they can talk, they can make and do all sorts of things,
but they're poor amateurs at war. They've got no physical staying power,
and that's the whole thing. They've never slept in the open one night in
their lives; they've never drunk anything but the purest water-company
water; they've never gone short of three meals a day since they left
their feeding-bottles. Half their cavalry never cocked leg over horse
till it enlisted six months ago. They ride their horses as though they
were bicycles--you watch 'em! They're fools at the game, and they know
it. Our boys of fourteen can give their grown men points.... Very

The war correspondent mused on his face with his nose between his

"If a decent civilization," he said, "cannot produce better men for war

He stopped with belated politeness.

"I mean----"

"Than our open-air life," said the young lieutenant, politely.

"Exactly," said the war correspondent. "Then civilization has to stop."

"It looks like it," the young lieutenant admitted.

"Civilization has science, you know," said the war correspondent. "It
invented and it makes the rifles and guns and things you use."

"Which our nice healthy hunters and stockmen and so on, rowdy-dowdy
cowpunchers and negro-whackers, can use ten times better than----_What's

"What?" said the war correspondent, and then seeing his companion busy
with his field-glass he produced his own: "Where?" said the war
correspondent, sweeping the enemy's lines.

"It's nothing" said the young lieutenant, still looking.

"What's nothing?"

The young lieutenant put down his glass and pointed. "I thought I saw
something there, behind the stems of those trees. Something black. What
it was I don't know."

The war correspondent tried to get even by intense scrutiny.

"It wasn't anything" said the young lieutenant, rolling over to regard
the darkling evening sky, and generalized: "There never will be anything
any more for ever. Unless----"

The war correspondent looked inquiry.

"They may get their stomachs wrong, or something---living without proper

A sound of bugles came from the tents behind. The war correspondent slid
backward down the sand and stood up. "Boom!" came from somewhere far
away to the left. "Halloa!" he said, hesitated, and crawled back to peer
again. "Firing at this time is jolly bad manners."

The young lieutenant was incommunicative again for a space.

Then he pointed to the distant clump of trees again. "One of our big
guns. They were firing at that." he said.

"The thing that wasn't anything?"

"Something over there, anyhow."

Both men were silent, peering through their glasses for a space. "Just
when it's twilight," the lieutenant complained. He stood up.

"I might stay here a bit," said the war correspondent.

The lieutenant shook his head. "There is nothing to see," he apologized,
and then went down to where his little squad of sun-brown, loose-limbed
men had been yarning in the trench. The war correspondent stood up also,
glanced for a moment at the business-like bustle below him, gave perhaps
twenty seconds to those enigmatical trees again, then turned his face
toward the camp.

He found himself wondering whether his editor would consider the story
of how somebody thought he saw something black behind a clump of trees,
and how a gun was fired at this illusion by somebody else, too trivial
for public consultation.

"It's the only gleam of a shadow of interest," said the war
correspondent, "for ten whole days."

"No," he said, presently; "I'll write that other article, 'Is War Played

He surveyed the darkling lines in perspective, the tangle of trenches
one behind another, one commanding another, which the defender had made
ready. The shadows and mists swallowed up their receding contours, and
here and there a lantern gleamed, and here and there knots of men were
busy about small fires.

"No troops on earth could do it," he said....

He was depressed. He believed that there were other things in life
better worth having than proficiency in war; he believed that in the
heart of civilization, for all its stresses, its crushing concentrations
of forces, its injustice and suffering, there lay something that might
be the hope of the world, and the idea that any people by living in the
open air, hunting perpetually, losing touch with books and art and all
the things that intensify life, might hope to resist and break that
great development to the end of time, jarred on his civilized soul.

Apt to his thought came a file of defender soldiers and passed him in
the gleam of a swinging lamp that marked the way.

He glanced at their red-lit faces, and one shone out for a moment, a
common type of face in the defender's ranks: ill-shaped nose, sensuous
lips, bright clear eyes full of alert cunning, slouch hat cocked on one
side and adorned with the peacock's plume of the rustic Don Juan turned
soldier, a hard brown skin, a sinewy frame, an open, tireless stride,
and a master's grip on the rifle.

The war correspondent returned their salutations and went on his way.

"Louts," he whispered. "Cunning, elementary louts. And they are going to
beat the townsmen at the game of war!"

From the red glow among the nearer tents came first one and then
half-a-dozen hearty voices, bawling in a drawling unison the words of a
particularly slab and sentimental patriotic song.

"Oh, _go_ it!" muttered the war correspondent, bitterly.


It was opposite the trenches called after Hackbone's Hut that the battle
began. There the ground stretched broad and level between the lines,
with scarcely shelter for a lizard, and it seemed to the startled, just
awakened men who came crowding into the trenches that this was one more
proof of that green inexperience of the enemy of which they had heard so
much. The war correspondent would not believe his ears at first, and
swore that he and the war artist, who, still imperfectly roused, was
trying to put on his boots by the light of a match held in his hand,
were the victims of a common illusion. Then, after putting his head in a
bucket of cold water, his intelligence came back as he towelled. He
listened. "Gollys!" he said; "that's something more than scare firing
this time. It's like ten thousand carts on a bridge of tin."

There came a sort of enrichment to that steady uproar. "Machine-guns!"

Then, "Guns!"

The artist, with one boot on, thought to look at his watch, and went to
it hopping.

"Half an hour from dawn," he said. "You were right about their
attacking, after all...."

The war correspondent came out of the tent, verifying the presence of
chocolate in his pocket as he did so. He had to halt for a moment or so
until his eyes were toned down to the night a little. "Pitch!" he said.
He stood for a space to season his eyes before he felt justified in
striking out for a black gap among the adjacent tents. The artist coming
out behind him fell over a tent-rope. It was half-past two o'clock in
the morning of the darkest night in time, and against a sky of dull
black silk the enemy was talking searchlights, a wild jabber of
searchlights. "He's trying to blind our riflemen," said the war
correspondent with a flash, and waited for the artist and then set off
with a sort of discreet haste again. "Whoa!" he said, presently.

They stopped.

"It's the confounded searchlights," said the war correspondent.

They saw lanterns going to and fro, near by, and men falling in to march
down to the trenches. They were for following them, and then the artist
began to feel his night eyes. "If we scramble this," he said, "and it's
only a drain, there's a clear run up to the ridge." And that way they
took. Lights came and went in the tents behind, as the men turned out,
and ever and again they came to broken ground and staggered and
stumbled. But in a little while they drew near the crest. Something that
sounded like the impact of a very important railway accident happened in
the air above them, and the shrapnel bullets seethed about them like a
sudden handful of hail. "Right-ho!" said the war correspondent, and soon
they judged they had come to the crest and stood in the midst of a world
of great darkness and frantic glares, whose principal fact was sound.

Right and left of them and all about them was the uproar, an army-full
of magazine fire, at first chaotic and monstrous and then, eked out by
little flashes and gleams and suggestions, taking the beginnings of a
shape. It looked to the war correspondent as though the enemy must have
attacked in line and with his whole force--in which case he was either
being or was already annihilated.

"Dawn and the dead," he said, with his instinct for headlines. He said
this to himself, but afterwards, by means of shouting, he conveyed an
idea to the artist.

"They must have meant it for a surprise," he said.

It was remarkable how the firing kept on. After a time he began to
perceive a sort of rhythm in this inferno of noise. It would
decline--decline perceptibly, droop towards something that was
comparatively a pause--a pause of inquiry. "Aren't you all dead yet?"
this pause seemed to say. The flickering fringe of rifle-flashes would
become attenuated and broken, and the whack-bang of the enemy's big guns
two miles away there would come up out of the deeps. Then suddenly, east
or west of them, something would startle the rifles to a frantic
outbreak again.

The war correspondent taxed his brain for some theory of conflict that
would account for this, and was suddenly aware that the artist and he
were vividly Illuminated. He could see the ridge on which they stood and
before them in black outline a file of riflemen hurrying down towards
the nearer trenches. It became visible that a light rain was falling,
and farther away towards the enemy was a clear space with men--"our
men?"--running across it in disorder. He saw one of those men throw up
his hands and drop. And something else black and shining loomed up on
the edge of the beam-coruscating flashes; and behind it and far away a
calm, white eye regarded the world. "Whit, whit, whit," sang something
in the air, and then the artist was running for cover, with the war
correspondent behind him. Bang came shrapnel, bursting close at hand as
it seemed, and our two men were lying flat in a dip in the ground, and
the light and everything had gone again, leaving a vast note of
interrogation upon the night.

The war correspondent came within bawling range. "What the deuce was it?
Shooting our men down!"

"Black," said the artist, "and like a fort. Not two hundred yards from
the first trench."

He sought for comparisons in his mind. "Something between a big
blockhouse and a giant's dish-cover," he said.

"And they were running!" said the war correspondent.

"_You'd_ run if a thing like that, searchlight to help it, turned up
like a prowling nightmare in the middle of the night."

They crawled to what they judged the edge of the dip and lay regarding
the unfathomable dark. For a space they could distinguish nothing, and
then a sudden convergence of the searchlights of both sides brought the
strange thing out again.

In that flickering pallor it had the effect of a large and clumsy black
insect, an insect the size of an ironclad cruiser, crawling obliquely to
the first line of trenches and firing shots out of portholes in its
side. And on its carcass the bullets must have been battering with more
than the passionate violence of hail on a roof of tin.

Then in the twinkling of an eye the curtain of the dark had fallen again
and the monster had vanished, but the crescendo of musketry marked its
approach to the trenches.

They were beginning to talk about the thing to each other, when a flying
bullet kicked dirt into the artist's face, and they, decided abruptly to
crawl down into the cover of the trenches. They had got down with an
unobtrusive persistence into the second line, before the dawn had grown
clear enough for anything to be seen. They found themselves in a crowd
of expectant riflemen, all noisily arguing about what would happen next.
The enemy's contrivance had done execution upon the outlying men, it
seemed, but they did not believe it would do any more. "Come the day and
we'll capture the lot of them," said a burly soldier.

"Them?" said the war correspondent.

"They say there's a regular string of 'em, crawling along the front of
our lines.... Who cares?"

The darkness filtered away so imperceptibly that at no moment could one
declare decisively that one could see. The searchlights ceased to sweep
hither and thither. The enemy's monsters were dubious patches of
darkness upon the dark, and then no longer dubious, and so they crept
out into distinctness. The war correspondent, munching chocolate
absent-mindedly, beheld at last a spacious picture of battle under the
cheerless sky, whose central focus was an array of fourteen or fifteen
huge clumsy shapes lying in perspective on the very edge of the first
line of trenches, at intervals of perhaps three hundred yards, and
evidently firing down upon the crowded riflemen. They were so close in
that the defender's guns had ceased, and only the first line of trenches
was in action.

The second line commanded the first, and as the light grew the war
correspondent could make out the riflemen who were fighting these
monsters, crouched in knots and crowds behind the transverse banks that
crossed the trenches against the eventuality of an enfilade. The
trenches close to the big machines were empty save for the crumpled
suggestions of dead and wounded men; the defenders had been driven right
and left as soon as the prow of this land ironclad had loomed up over
the front of the trench. He produced his field-glass, and was
immediately a centre of inquiry from the soldiers about him.

They wanted to look, they asked questions, and after he had announced
that the men across the traverses seemed unable to advance or retreat,
and were crouching under cover rather than fighting, he found it
advisable to loan his glasses to a burly and incredulous corporal. He
heard a strident voice, and found a lean and sallow soldier at his back
talking to the artist.

"There's chaps down there caught," the man was saying. "If they retreat
they got to expose themselves, and the fire's too straight...."

"They aren't firing much, but every shot's a hit."


"The chaps in that thing. The men who're coming up----"

"Coming up where?"

"We're evacuating them trenches where we can. Our chaps are coming back
up the zigzags.... No end of 'em hit.... But when we get clear our
turn'll come. Rather! These things won't be able to cross a trench or
get into it; and before they can get back our guns'll smash 'em up.
Smash 'em right up. See?" A brightness came into his eyes. "Then we'll
have a go at the beggar inside," he said....

The war correspondent thought for a moment, trying to realize the idea.
Then he set himself to recover his field-glasses from the burly

The daylight was getting clearer now. The clouds were lifting, and a
gleam of lemon-yellow amidst the level masses to the east portended
sunrise. He looked again at the land ironclad. As he saw it in the bleak
grey dawn, lying obliquely upon the slope and on the very lip of the
foremost trench, the suggestion of a stranded vessel was very great
indeed. It might have been from eighty to a hundred feet long--it was
about two hundred and fifty yards away--its vertical side was ten feet
high or so, smooth for that height, and then with a complex patterning
under the eaves of its flattish turtle cover. This patterning was a
close interlacing of portholes, rifle barrels, and telescope
tubes---sham and real---indistinguishable one from the other. The thing
had come into such a position as to enfilade the trench, which was empty
now, so far as he could see, except for two or three crouching knots of
men and the tumbled dead. Behind it, across the plain, it had scored the
grass with a train of linked impressions, like the dotted tracings
sea-things leave in sand. Left and right of that track dead men and
wounded men were scattered--men it had picked off as they fled back from
their advanced positions in the searchlight glare from the invader's
lines. And now it lay with its head projecting a little over the trench
it had won, as if it were a single sentient thing planning the next
phase of its attack....

He lowered his glasses and took a more comprehensive view of the
situation. These creatures of the night had evidently won the first line
of trenches and the fight had come to a pause. In the increasing light
he could make out by a stray shot or a chance exposure that the
defender's marksmen were lying thick in the second and third line of
trenches up towards the low crest of the position, and in such of the
zigzags as gave them a chance of a converging fire. The men about him
were talking of guns. "We're in the line of the big guns at the crest
but they'll soon shift one to pepper them," the lean man said,

"Whup," said the corporal:

"Bang! bang! bang! Whir-r-r-r-r!" It was a sort of nervous jump, and all
the rifles were going off by themselves. The war correspondent found
himself and the artist, two idle men crouching behind a line of
preoccupied backs, of industrious men discharging magazines. The monster
had moved. It continued to move regardless of the hail that splashed its
skin with bright new specks of lead. It was singing a mechanical little
ditty to itself, "Tuf-tuf, tuf-tuf, tuf-tuf," and squirting out little
jets of steam behind. It had humped itself up, as a limpet does before
it crawls; it had lifted its skirt and displayed along the length of
it--_feet_! They were thick, stumpy feet, between knobs and buttons in
shape--flat, broad things, reminding one of the feet of elephants or the
legs of caterpillars; and then, as the skirt rose higher, the war
correspondent, scrutinizing the thing through his glasses again, saw
that these feet hung, as it were, on the rims of wheels. His thoughts
whirled back to Victoria Street, Westminster, and he saw himself in the
piping times of peace, seeking matter for an interview.

"Mr.--Mr. Diplock," he said; "and he called them Pedrails...Fancy
meeting them here!"

The marksman beside him raised his head and shoulders in a speculative
mood to fire more certainly--It seemed so natural to assume the
attention of the monster must be distracted by this trench before
it--and was suddenly knocked backwards by a bullet through his neck. His
feet flew up, and he vanished out of the margin of the watcher's field
of vision. The war correspondent grovelled tighter, but after a glance
behind him at a painful little confusion, he resumed his field-glass,
for the thing was putting down its feet one after the other, and
hoisting itself farther and farther over the trench. Only a bullet in
the head could have stopped him looking just then.

The lean man with the strident voice ceased firing to turn and reiterate
his point. "They can't possibly cross," he bawled. They----"

"Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!"--drowned everything.

The lean man continued speaking for a word or so, then gave it up, shook
his head to enforce the impossibility of anything crossing a trench like
the one below, and resumed business once more.

And all the while that great bulk was crossing. When the war
correspondent turned his glass on it again it had bridged the trench,
and its queer feet were rasping away at the farther bank, in the attempt
to get a hold there. It got its hold. It continued to crawl until the
greater bulk of it was over the trench--until it was all over. Then it
paused for a moment, adjusted its skirt a little nearer the ground, gave
an unnerving "toot, toot," and came on abruptly at a pace of, perhaps,
six miles an hour straight up the gentle slope towards our observer.

The war correspondent raised himself on his elbow and looked a natural
inquiry at the artist.

For a moment the men about him stuck to their position and fired
furiously. Then the lean man in a mood of precipitancy slid backwards,
and the war correspondent said "Come along" to the artist, and led the
movement along the trench.

As they dropped down, the vision of a hillside of trench being rushed by
a dozen vast cockroaches disappeared for a space, and instead was one of
a narrow passage, crowded with men, for the most part receding, though
one or two turned or halted. He never turned back to see the nose of the
monster creep over the brow of the trench; he never even troubled to
keep in touch with the artist. He heard the "whit" of bullets about him
soon enough, and saw a man before him stumble and drop, and then he was
one of a furious crowd fighting to get into a transverse zigzag ditch
that enabled the defenders to get under cover up and down the hill. It
was like a theatre panic. He gathered from signs and fragmentary words
that on ahead another of these monsters had also won to the second

He lost his interest in the general course of the battle for a space
altogether; he became simply a modest egotist, in a mood of hasty
circumspection, seeking the farthest rear, amidst a dispersed multitude
of disconcerted riflemen similarly employed. He scrambled down through
trenches, he took his courage in both hands and sprinted across the
open, he had moments of panic when it seemed madness not to be
quadrupedal, and moments of shame when he stood up and faced about to
see how the fight was going. And he was one of many thousand very
similar men that morning. On the ridge he halted in a knot of scrub, and
was for a few minutes almost minded to stop and see things out.

The day was now fully come. The grey sky had changed to blue, and of all
the cloudy masses of the dawn there remained only a few patches of
dissolving fleeciness. The world below was bright and singularly clear.
The ridge was not, perhaps, more than a hundred feet or so above the
general plain, but in this flat region it sufficed to give the effect of
extensive view. Away on the north side of the ridge, little and far,
were the camps, the ordered wagons, all the gear of a big army; with
officers galloping about and men doing aimless things. Here and there
men were falling in, however and the cavalry was forming up on the plain
beyond the tents. The bulk of men who had been in the trenches were
still on the move to the rear, scattered like sheep without a shepherd
over the farther slopes. Here and there were little rallies and attempts
to wait and do--something vague; but the general drift was away from any
concentration. There on the southern side was the elaborate lacework of
trenches and defences, across which these iron turtles, fourteen of them
spread out over a line of perhaps three miles, were now advancing as
fast as a man could trot, and methodically shooting down and breaking up
any persistent knots of resistance. Here and there stood little clumps
of men, outflanked and unable to get away, showing the white flag, and
the invader's cyclist-infantry was advancing now across the open, in
open order but unmolested, to complete the work of the machines.
Surveyed at large, the defenders already looked a beaten army. A
mechanism that was effectually ironclad against bullets, that could at a
pinch cross a thirty-foot trench, and that seemed able to shoot out
rifle-bullets with unerring precision, was clearly an inevitable victor
against anything but rivers, precipices, and guns.

He looked at his watch. "Half-past four! Lord! What things can happen in
two hours. Here's the whole blessed army being walked over, and at
half-past two----

"And even now our blessed louts haven't done a thing with their guns!"

He scanned the ridge right and left of him with his glasses. He turned
again to the nearest land ironclad, advancing now obliquely to him and
not three hundred yards away, and then scrambled the ground over which
he must retreat if he was not to be captured.

"They'll do nothing," he said, and glanced again at the enemy.

And then from far away to the left came the thud of a gun, followed very
rapidly by a rolling gunfire.

He hesitated and decided to stay.


The defender had relied chiefly upon his rifles in the event of an
assault. His guns he kept concealed at various points upon and behind
the ridge ready to bring them into action against any artillery
preparations for an attack on the part of his antagonist. The situation
had rushed upon him with the dawn, and by the time the gunners had their
guns ready for motion, the land ironclads were already in among the
foremost trenches. There is a natural reluctance to fire into one's own
broken men, and many of the guns, being Intended simply to fight an
advance of the enemy's artillery, were not in positions to hit anything
in the second line of trenches. After that the advance of the land
ironclads was swift. The defender-general found himself suddenly called
upon to invent a new sort of warfare, in which guns were to fight alone
amidst broken and retreating infantry. He had scarcely thirty minutes in
which to think it out. He did not respond to the call, and what happened
that morning was that the advance of the land ironclads forced the
fight, and each gun and battery made what play its circumstances
dictated. For the most part it was poor play.

Some of the guns got in two or three shots, some one or two, and the
percentage of misses was unusually high. The howitzers, of course, did
nothing. The land ironclads in each case followed much the same tactics.
As soon as a gun came into play the monster turned itself almost end on,
so as to minimize the chances of a square hit, and made not for the gun,
but for the nearest point on its flank from which the gunners could be
shot down. Few of the hits scored were very effectual; only one of the
things was disabled, and that was the one that fought the three
batteries attached to the brigade on the left wing. Three that were hit
when close upon the guns were clean shot through without being put out
of action. Our war correspondent did not see that one momentary arrest
of the tide of victory on the left; he saw only the very ineffectual
fight of half-battery 96B close at hand upon his right. This he watched
some time beyond the margin of safety.

Just after he heard the three batteries opening up upon his left he
became aware of the thud of horses' hoofs from the sheltered side of the
slope, and presently saw first one and then two other guns galloping
into position along the north side of the ridge, well out of sight of
the great bulk that was now creeping obliquely towards the crest and
cutting up the lingering infantry beside it and below, as it came.

The half-battery swung round into line--each gun describing its
curve--halted, unlimbered, and prepared for action....


The land ironclad had become visible over the brow of the hill, and just
visible as a long black back to the gunners. It halted, as though it

The two remaining guns fired, and then their big antagonist had swung
round and was in full view, end on, against the sky, coming at a rush.

The gunners became frantic in their haste to fire again. They were so
near the war correspondent could see the expressions on their excited
faces through his field-glass. As he looked he saw a man drop, and
realized for the first time that the ironclad was shooting.

For a moment the big black monster crawled with an accelerated pace
towards the furiously active gunners. Then, as if moved by a generous
impulse, it turned its full broadside to their attack, and scarcely
forty yards away from them. The war correspondent turned his field-glass
back to the gunners and perceived it was now shooting down the men about
the guns with the most deadly rapidity.

Just for a moment it seemed splendid and then it seemed horrible. The
gunners were dropping in heaps about their guns. To lay a hand on a gun
was death. "Bang!" went the gun on the left, a hopeless miss, and that
was the only second shot the half-battery fired. In another moment
half-a-dozen surviving artillerymen were holding up their hands amidst a
scattered muddle of dead and wounded men, and the fight was done.

The war correspondent hesitated between stopping in his scrub and
waiting for an opportunity to surrender decently, or taking to an
adjacent gully he had discovered. If he surrendered it was certain he
would get no copy off; while, if he escaped, there were all sorts of
chances. He decided to follow the gully, and take the first offer in the
confusion beyond the camp of picking up a horse.


Subsequent authorities have found fault with the first land ironclads in
many particulars, but assuredly they served their purpose on the day of
their appearance. They were essentially long, narrow, and very strong
steel frameworks carrying the engines, and borne upon eight pairs of big
pedrail wheels, each about ten feet in diameter, each a driving wheel
and set upon long axles free to swivel round a common axis. This
arrangement gave them the maximum of adaptability to the contours of the
ground. They crawled level along the ground with one foot high upon a
hillock and another deep in a depression, and they could hold themselves
erect and steady sideways upon even a steep hillside. The engineers
directed the engines under the command of the captain, who had look-out
points at small ports all round the upper edge of the adjustable skirt
of twelve-inch iron-plating which protected the whole affair, and could
also raise or depress a conning-tower set about the portholes through
the center of the iron top cover. The riflemen each occupied a small
cabin of peculiar construction and these cabins were slung along the
sides of and before and behind the great main framework, in a manner
suggestive of the slinging of the seats of an Irish jaunting-car. Their
rifles, however, were very different pieces of apparatus from the simple
mechanisms in the hands of their adversaries.

These were in the first place automatic, ejected their cartridges and
loaded again from a magazine each time they fired, until the ammunition
store was at an end, and they had the most remarkable sights imaginable,
sights which threw a bright little camera-obscura picture into the
light-tight box in which the rifleman sat below. This camera-obscura
picture was marked with two crossed lines, and whatever was covered by
the intersection of these two lines, that the rifle hit. The sighting
was ingeniously contrived. The rifleman stood at the table with a thing
like an elaborately of a draughtsman's dividers in his hand, and he
opened and closed these dividers, so that they were always at the
apparent height--if it was an ordinary-sized man--of the man he wanted
to kill. A little twisted strand of wire like an electric-light wire ran
from this implement up to the gun, and as the dividers opened and shut
the sights went up and down. Changes in the clearness of the atmosphere,
due to changes of moisture, were met by an ingenious use of that
meteorologically sensitive substance, catgut, and when the land ironclad
moved forward the sites got a compensatory deflection in the direction
of its motion. The riflemen stood up in his pitch-dark chamber and
watched the little picture before him. One hand held the dividers for
judging distance, and the other grasped a big knob like a door-handle.
As he pushed this knob about the rifle above swung to correspond, and
the picture passed to and fro like an agitated panorama. When he saw a
man he wanted to shoot he brought him up to the cross-lines, and then
pressed a finger upon a little push like an electric bell-push,
conveniently placed in the center of the knob. Then the man was shot. If
by any chance the rifleman missed his target he moved the knob a trifle,
or readjusted his dividers, pressed the push, and got him the second

This rifle and its sights protruded from a porthole, exactly like a
great number of other portholes that ran in a triple row under the eaves
of the cover of the land ironclad. Each porthole displayed a rifle and
sight in dummy, so that the real ones could only be hit by a chance
shot, and if one was, then the young man below said "Pshaw!" turned on
an electric light, lowered the injured instrument into his camera,
replaced the injured part, or put up a new rifle if the injury was

You must conceive these cabins as hung clear above the swing of the
axles, and inside the big wheels upon which the great elephant-like feet
were hung, and behind these cabins along the center of the monster ran a
central gallery into which they opened, and along which worked the big
compact engines. It was like a long passage into which this throbbing
machinery had been packed, and the captain stood about the middle, close
to the ladder that led to his conning-tower, and directed the silent,
alert engineers--for the most part by signs. The throb and noise of the
engines mingled with the reports of the rifles and the intermittent
clangour of the bullet hail upon the armour. Ever and again he would
touch the wheel that raised his conning tower, step up his ladder until
his engineers could see nothing of him above the waist, and then come
down again with orders. Two small electric lights were all the
illumination of this space--they were placed to make him most clearly
visible to his subordinates; the air was thick with the smell of oil and
petrol, and had the war correspondent been suddenly transferred from the
spacious dawn outside to the bowels of the apparatus he would have
thought himself fallen into another world.

The captain, of course, saw both sides of the battle. When he raised his
head into his conning-tower there were the dewy sunrise, the amazed and
disordered trenches, the flying and falling soldiers, the
depressed-looking groups of prisoners, the beaten guns; when he bent
down again to signal "half speed", "quarter speed", "half circle round
towards the right," or what not, he was in the oil-smelling twilight of
the ill-lit engine room. Close beside him on either side was the
mouthpiece of a speaking-tube, and ever and again he would direct one
side or other of his strange craft to "Concentrate fire forward on
gunners," or to "clear out trench about a hundred yards on our right

He was a young man, healthy enough but by no means sun-tanned, and of a
type of feature and expression that prevails in His Majesty's Navy:
alert, intelligent, quiet. He and his engineers and his riflemen all
went about their work, calm and reasonable men. They had none of that
flapping strenuousness of the half-wit in a hurry, that excessive strain
upon the blood-vessels, that hysteria of effort which is so frequently
regarded as the proper state of mind for heroic deeds.

For the enemy these young engineers were defeating they felt a certain
qualified pity and a quite unqualified contempt. They regarded these
big, healthy men they were shooting down precisely as these same big,
healthy men might regard some inferior kind of native. They despised
them for making war; despised their bawling patriotisms and their
emotionality profoundly; despised them, above all, for the petty cunning
and the almost brutish want of imagination their method of fighting
displayed. "If they _must_ make war," these young men thought, "why in
thunder don't they do it like sensible men?" They resented the
assumption that their own side was too stupid to do anything more than
play their enemy's game, that they were going to play this costly folly
according to the rules of unimaginative men. They resented being forced
to the trouble of making man-killing machinery; resented the alternative
of having to massacre these people or endure their truculent yappings;
resented the whole unfathomable imbecility of war.

Meanwhile, with something of the mechanical precision of a good clerk
posting a ledger, the riflemen moved their knobs and pressed their

The captain of Land Ironclad Number Three had halted on the crest close
to his captured half-battery. His lined-up prisoners stood hard by and
waited for the cyclists behind to come for them. He surveyed the
victorious morning through his conning-tower.

He read the general's signals. "Five and Four are to keep among the guns
to the left and prevent any attempt to recover them. Seven and Eleven
and Twelve, stick to the guns you have got; Seven, get into position to
command the guns taken by Three. Then, we're to do something else, are
we? Six and One, quicken up to about ten miles an hour and walk round
behind that camp to the levels near the river---we shall bag the whole
crowd of them," interjected the young man. "Ah, here we are! Two and
Three, Eight and Nine, Thirteen and Fourteen, space out to a thousand
yards, wait for the word, and then go slowly to cover the advance of the
cyclist infantry against any charge of mounted troops. That's all right.
But where's Ten? Halloa! Ten to repair and get movable as soon as
possible. They've broken up Ten!"

The discipline of the new war machines was business-like rather than
pedantic, and the head of the captain came down out of the conning-tower
to tell his men. "I say, you chaps there. They've broken up Ten. Not
badly, I think; but anyhow, he's stuck."

But that still left thirteen of the monsters in action to finish up the
broken army.

The war correspondent stealing down his gully looked back and saw them
all lying along the crest and talking fluttenng congratulatory flags to
one another. Their iron sides were shining golden in the light of the
rising sun.


The private adventures of the war correspondent terminated in surrender
about one o'clock in the afternoon, and by that time he had stolen a
horse, pitched off it, and narrowly escaped being rolled upon; found the
brute had broken its leg, and shot it with his revolver. He had spent
some hours in the company of a squad of dispirited riflemen, had
quarrelled with them about topography at last, and gone off by himself
in a direction that should have brought him to the banks of the river
and didn't. Moreover, he had eaten all his chocolate and found nothing
in the whole world to drink. Also, it had become extremely hot. From
behind a broken, but attractive, stone wall he had seen far away in the
distance the defender-horsemen trying to charge cyclists in open order,
with land ironclads outflanking them on either side. He had discovered
that cyclists could retreat over open turf before horsemen with a
sufficient margin of speed to allow of frequent dismounts and much
terribly effective sharpshooting; and he had a sufficient persuasion
that those horsemen, having charged their hearts out, had halted just
beyond his range of vision and surrendered. He had been urged to sudden
activity by a forward movement of one of those machines that had
threatened to enfilade his wall. He had discovered a fearful blister on
his heel.

He was now in a scrubby gravelly place, sitting down and meditating on
his pocket-handkerchief, which had in some extraordinary way become in
the last twenty-four hours extremely ambiguous in hue. "It's the whitest
thing I've got," he said.

He had known all along that the enemy was east, west, and south of him,
but when he heard war Ironclads Number's One and Six talking in their
measured, deadly way not half a mile to the north he decided to make his
own little unconditional peace without any further risks. He was for
hoisting his white flag to a bush and taking up a position of modest
obscurity near it, until someone came along. He became aware of voices,
clatter, and the distinctive noises of a body of horse, quite near, and
he put his handkerchief in his pocket again and went to see what was
going forward.

The sound of firing ceased, and then as he drew near he heard the deep
sounds of many simple, coarse, but hearty and noble-hearted soldiers of
the old school swearing with vigour.

He emerged from his scrub upon a big level plain, and far away a fringe
of trees marked the banks of the river. In the center of the picture was
a still intact road bridge, and a big railway bridge a little to the
right. Two land ironclads rested, with a general air of being long,
harmless sheds, in a pose of anticipatory peacefulness right and left of
the picture, completely commanding two miles and more of the river
levels. Emerged and halted a few yards from the scrub was the remainder
of the defender's cavalry, dusty, a little disordered and obviously
annoyed, but still a very fine show of men. In the middle distance three
or four men and horses were receiving medical attendance, and nearer a
knot of officers regarded the distant novelties in mechanism with
profound distaste. Everyone was very distinctly aware of the twelve
other ironclads, and of the multitude of townsmen soldiers, on bicycles
or afoot, encumbered now by prisoners and captured war-gear but
otherwise thoroughly effective, who were sweeping like a great net in
their rear.

"Checkmate," said the war correspondent, walking out into the open. "But
I surrender in the best of company. Twenty-four hours ago I thought war
was impossible--and these beggars have captured the whole blessed army!
Well! Well!" He thought of his talk with the young lieutenant. "If
there's no end to the surprises of science, the civilized people have
it, of course. As long as their science keeps going they will
necessarily be ahead of open-country men. Still...." He wondered for a
space what might have happened to the young lieutenant.

The war correspondent was one of those inconsistent people who always
want the beaten side to win. When he saw all these burly, sun-tanned
horsemen, disarmed and dismounted and lined up; when he saw their horses
unskillfully led away by the singularly not equestrian cyclists to whom
they had surrendered; when he saw these truncated Paladins watching this
scandalous sight, he forgot altogether that he had called these men
"cunning louts" and wished them beaten not four-and-twenty hours ago. A
month ago he had seen that regiment in its pride going forth to war, and
had been told of its terrible prowess, how it could charge in open order
with each man firing from his saddle, and sweep before it anything else
that ever came out to battle in any sort of order, foot or horse. And it
had had to fight a few score of young men in atrociously unfair

"Manhood _versus_ Machinery" occurred to him as a suitable headline.
Journalism curdles all one's mind to phrases.

He strolled as near the lined-up prisoners as the sentinels seemed
disposed to permit and surveyed them and compared their sturdy
proportions with those of their lightly built captors.

"Smart degenerates," he muttered. "Anmic cockneydom"

The surrendered officers came quite close to him presently, and he could
hear the colonel's high-pitched tenor. The poor gentleman had spent
three years of arduous toil upon the best material in the world
perfecting that shooting from the saddle charge, and he was mourning
with phrases of blasphemy, natural under the circumstances what one
could be expected to do against this suitably consigned ironmongery.

"Guns," said some one.

"Big guns they can walk round. You can't shift big guns to keep pace
with them and little guns in the open they rush. I saw 'em rushed. You
might do a surprise now and then--assassinate the brutes, perhaps----"

"You might make things like 'em."

"What? _More_ ironmongery? Us?...."

"I'll call my article," meditated the war correspondent, "'Mankind
_versus_ Ironmongery,' and quote the old boy at the beginning."

And he was much too good a journalist to spoil his contrast by remarking
that the half-dozen comparatively slender young men in blue pajamas who
were standing about their victorious land ironclad, drinking coffee and
eating biscuits, had also in their eyes and carriage something not
altogether degraded below the level of a man.


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