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Downing Street

From: The Coming Conquest Of England

A meeting of the Cabinet Council was being held at the Foreign Office
in London. With gloomy faces the Ministers were all assembled. The
foreboding of a catastrophe brooded over England like a black cloud;
all manner of rumours of disaster were current in the land, and coming
events were awaited with sickening dread.

"A telegram from the general in command," said the Prime Minister,
opening the paper he held in his hand. A deadly silence fell upon the

"With painful emotion, I communicate to His Majesty's Government the
news of a great reverse I suffered the day before yesterday at Lahore.
I have only to-day reached Delhi with the remnant of my army, which
has been pursued by the Russian advance guard. We had taken up a very
favourable position on the left bank of the Ravi and were on the
point of preventing the Russian army from crossing the river, when
unexpectedly a violent onslaught made upon our left wing at Shah Dara
compelled us to send reinforcements to this wing and thus to weaken the
centre. Under the cover of jungle on the river-bank, the Russian cavalry
and the Mohammedan auxiliaries of the Russian army succeeded in forcing
the passage and in throwing our sepoy regiments into disorder. The
troops of the Maharajah of Chanidigot traitorously went over to the
enemy and that decided the day against us. Had not all the sepoy
regiments deserted, I could have maintained my ground, but the English
regiments under my command were too weak to resist for long the superior
numbers of the enemy. The bravery of these regiments deserves the
highest praise, but after a battle lasting several hours I was compelled
to give the order to retreat. We fell back upon the city of Lahore, and
I contrived to convey a portion of my troops by railway to Delhi. This
city I shall defend to the bitter end. Reinforcements are being sent
from all military stations in the country. The extent of our losses I
am unable to give at the time of writing. I have been able to bring five
thousand troops intact to Delhi."

The reading of this terrible report was succeeded by a chilling silence.
Then the Minister of War arose and said:--

"This despatch certainly comes upon us as a staggering blow. Our best
general and his army, composed of the flower of India's troops, have
been defeated. We may rightly say, however, that our power is still
established on a firm basis, so long as England, this seagirt isle, is
safe from the enemy. No defeat in India or in any one of our colonies
can deal us a death-blow. What we lose in one portion of the world, we
can recover, and that doubly, in another, so long as we, in our island,
are sound in both head and heart. But that is just what makes me
anxious. The security of Great Britain is menaced when we have almost
the whole world in arms against us. A strong French army is standing
ready opposite Dover to invade us, and a German army is in Holland also
prepared to make a descent on our coasts. I ask what measures have been
taken to meet an attack upon our mother country?"

"The British fleet," replied the First Lord of the Admiralty, "is strong
enough to crush the fleets of our enemies should they dare to show
themselves on the open seas. But the Russian, French, and German
navies are clever enough to remain in harbour under the cover of
the fortifications. We have, too, fleets in the Channel, one of ten
battleships and eighteen cruisers, and the necessary smaller vessels,
told off to engage the German fleet; and a second, a stronger force, of
fourteen battleships and twenty-four cruisers, destined to annihilate
the French fleet. A third fleet is in the harbour of Copenhagen in order
to prevent a union being effected between the Russian and German
fleets. The plan of sailing for Cronstadt has been abandoned, from the
experiences of the Crimean War and the fear that we should be keeping
our naval forces too far apart. Our admirals and captains will, owing to
the Russian successes, be convinced that England's honour and England's
very existence are now at stake. When in the eighteenth century we swept
the sea power of France from all the seas and vanquished the fleet of
the Great Napoleon, the rule was laid down that every defeated admiral
and captain in our navy should be court-martialled and shot, and that
even where the victory of our ships of war was not followed up and taken
the utmost advantage of, the court-martial was to remove the commander.
The time has now arrived when those old, strict rules must be again

"According to the last Admiralty reports," said the First Lord of the
Treasury, "the fleet consists of twenty-seven new ironclads, the oldest
of which is of the year 1895. The ironclads of 1902, the Albemarle,
Cornwallis, Duncan, Exmouth, Montagu, and Russell, as well as those
of 1899, Bulwark, Formidable, Implacable, Irresistible, London, and
Venerable are, as I see from the report, constructed and armed according
to the latest technical principles. Are all the most recent twenty-seven
battleships with the Channel fleet?"

"No; the Albion, the Ocean, and the Glory are in other waters. The
twelve newest ironclads which your lordship mentioned are included in
both Channel fleets; in addition, several older battleships, such as the
Centurion, Royal Sovereign, and Empress of India are in the Channel. I
may say with truth that both the Channel Squadrons are fully suited for
the tasks before them. We have, besides, twenty-four ironclads of an
older type, all of which are of excellent value in battle."

"Among these older ironclads are there not many which are equipped with

"Yes, but a naval battle has yet to determine whether the general view
that breechloaders are more serviceable in action is correct or not.
In the case of quick-firing guns it is certain that the breechloader
is alone the right construction; but in our heaviest guns, which have a
bore of 30.5 centimetre, and require three to four minutes to load, the
advantage of quick-firing is not apparent, for here everything depends
upon accurate aim, so that the heavy projectile may hit the right place.
For this purpose clever manoeuvring is everything. Moreover, the battles
round Port Arthur show us the importance of the torpedo and the mine.
The Russian fleet has met with its heaviest losses owing to the clever
manoeuvring and the superior torpedo tactics of the Japanese. It looks
as if in modern naval battles artillery would prove altogether inferior
to mines, and here our superiority in submarines will soon show itself
when we attack the fleets of Germany and France in their harbours. Only
a naval engagement between our squadrons and those of the French and
Germans can teach us the proper use of modern ships of war. And it will
be a lesson, a proper lesson for those misguided people who dare expose
themselves to the fire of a British broadside and the attack of our
torpedo and submarine boats. Let the steel plating of the vessels be as
it will, the best cuirass of Great Britain is the firm, true breast of

"When I hear these explanations," the Colonial Minister interjected, "I
cannot suppress the suspicion, that the whole plan of our naval strategy
is rotten."

"I beg you to give your reasons for your suspicion," the First Lord of
the Admiralty replied, somewhat irritated.

"It has ever been said that England rules the waves. Now the war has
been going on for a considerable time and I perceive nothing of our
boasted supremacy."

"How can you say so? Our enemies' commerce has been completely
paralysed, while our own ships carry on their trade everywhere as freely
as ever."

"That may be the case, but by naval supremacy I mean something quite
different. No naval victory has as yet been gained. The enemies' fleets
are still undamaged: until they are annihilated there is always a danger
that the war may take a turn prejudicial to us. Only the struggle on the
open sea can decide the issue. If the English fleet is really supreme,
she can force the enemies' ships to a decisive action. Why do we not
blockade the French and German fleets in their harbours, and compel them
to give us battle? Our guns carry three miles, we can attack our enemies
in their harbours. What is the meaning of this division of our fleet
into three squadrons? Our whole fleet ought to be concentrated in the
Channel, in order to deal a crushing blow."

"The right honourable gentleman forgets that a combination of our fleet
would also entail the concentration of our enemies' fleets. If we leave
our position at Copenhagen, a strong Russian fleet will proceed from
Cronstadt and join the German warships in the Baltic. This united fleet
could pass through the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal into the North Sea. England
in its naval preparations has always adopted the 'two power standard,'
and although we have aimed at the 'three power standard,' our resources
in money and personnel are not capable of fitting out a naval force
superior to the fleets of the now three allied Powers. All the same, our
own prestige holds these three Powers so far in check that they dare not
attack us on the open seas. Should we not be hazarding this prestige
in provoking a naval battle without a definite chance of success?
This naval battle will take place, but the favourable moment must be
carefully chosen. Considering the present state of the war, it would be
in the highest degree frivolous to stake all upon one throw of the dice.
Well, that is exactly what we should be doing were we to force on a
naval conflict. If the attack failed, if our fleet suffered a defeat,
England would be then exposed to the invasion of a Continental army. It
is true that our fleet is weakened by being split up, but the same
is also true of the fleets of our enemies, so that this apparent
disadvantage is equalised. We must keep on the watch for the moment
when some alteration of the present situation permits us to attack our
enemies' fleets with a superior force."

"There might be a way of enticing the German fleet into the open,"
maintained the Colonial Minister. "Let us send an ironclad squadron
to Heligoland and bombard the island and its fortifications until it
crumbles into the sea. The acquisition of Heligoland was the Emperor
William's darling idea, and this monarch will take good care that
Heligoland does not disappear from the earth's surface. But if, in spite
of the bombardment of Heligoland, the Germans do not come out into the
open sea, let us send our fleet up the Elbe and lay Hamburg in ashes.
Let our warships put to sea from Copenhagen and destroy Kiel harbour
and all the German coast towns on the Baltic. Then the German fleet will
soon enough put out to meet us!"

"This plan has already been considered, and will perhaps be acted upon.
There are, however, two difficulties in the way. First of all, by the
destruction of unfortified towns we should be conjuring up odium against
us, which--"

"Nonsense! there is no 'odium' for a victor! England would never have
attained its present might and grandeur had it allowed itself to be
deterred by a too delicate regard for humanity and the law of nations
from taking practical steps."

"Well, and then there is, at any rate, the second consideration."

"And that is, my lord?"

"A battle of ships, even though they have the finest possible armour,
against land fortifications, is always a hazardous undertaking, and more
especially when the coasts are defended by innumerable mines and torpedo
boats. Moreover, ironclads are very expensive, and are, in a certain
sense, very fragile things."

"Fragile things?"

"The Germans have removed all their light-ships, all their buoys,
and, like the French, the German ports are also defended by mines. An
ironclad, given calm sea, is strong as against another ship, but the
nature of its build makes it weak in a storm and in insecure waters.
An ironclad, owing to its enormously heavy armament, goes to the bottom
very rapidly, as soon as it gets a heavy list either on the one side or
the other. Again, owing to its enormous weight, it can never ram another
vessel for fear of breaking to pieces itself; if a torpedo strikes its
armour, or if the ship runs upon a mine, the explosion will send it to
the bottom with greater ease than it would a wooden ship of a century
ago. And then, if it runs on a shallow or a rock it cannot be brought
off again. Moreover, its supply of coal requires to be constantly
renewed, so that it cannot be sent on long expeditions. Our ironclads
have their own specific purpose--they are intended for a naval battle.
But they are like giants, are rendered top-heavy by their own weight,
and are thus easily capsized, and the loss of an ironclad battleship,
apart from the effect it might have upon our chances in the war, entails
the loss of more than a million pounds. The cruisers, again, I would not
without urgent necessity expose to the steel projectiles of a Krupp's
coast battery. Let us take care not to suffer the smallest disaster at
sea! It would be as dangerous for our prestige and for our position as
a world-power as a steel shot would be for the water-line of one of our
ships of war."

The Colonial Minister was silent. He had nothing to urge against these

"Our Indian troops are greatly in need of reinforcements," began the
Prime Minister again. "We must put English soldiers into the field, for
we cannot rely longer upon the sepoys."

"Certainly," said the Minister of War, "and drafts are constantly being
despatched to Bombay. Forty thousand men have been embarked; of these
more than twenty thousand have been landed in India; the remainder are
still on the sea. A great fleet is on the road, and eight ironclads
are stationed in Aden to meet any attack upon our transports. But it
is really a question whether we are well advised in still sending more
troops to India. My lords! hard as it is for me to say so, we must be
prudent. I should be rightly accused of having lost my head if I did
more than bare prudence demanded. Great Britain is denuded of troops.
Now, I know full well, and England also knows it full well, that an
enemy will never plant his foot on these shores; for our fleet assures
us the inviolability of our island, but we should not be worthy of our
responsible positions were we to neglect any measure for the security of
our country. Let us, my lords, be cowards before the battle, provided we
are heroes in it! Let us suppose that we had no fleet, but had to defend
England's territory on land. We must have an army on English soil ready
to take the field; failing this, we are guilty of treason against our
country. The mobilisation of our reserve must be further extended. Ten
thousand yeomen, whom we have not yet summoned to the ranks, are to-day
in a position to bear arms and wave the sword. To-day every capable man
must be enlisted. The law provides that every man who does not already
belong to a regular army or to a volunteer corps can, from eighteen to
fifty years of age, be forced to join the army, and thus a militia
can be formed of all men capable of bearing arms. If His Majesty will
sanction it, I am ready to form a militia army of 150,000 men. I reckon
for India 120,000 men, for Malta 10,000, for Hong Kong 3,500, for Africa
10,000, 3,000 for the Antilles, for Gibraltar 6,000, and 10,000 more
for Egypt, apart from the smaller garrisons, which must all remain
where they are at present; I shall then hope, after having called up all
volunteers and reserves, to be in a position to place an army of 400,000
men in the field for the defence of the mother country."

The First Lord of the Treasury shook his head. "Do not let us be lulled
by such figures into false optimism! Great masses without military
discipline, unused to firearms, with newly appointed officers (and they
chosen, moreover, by the men whom they are to command), troops
without any practical intelligence, without any understanding of the
requirements of modern warfare, such are the men, as I understand,
we are to place in the field against such splendid troops, as are the
French and German. Whence should we get our artillery? In 1871 we
saw the result, when masses of men with muskets were pitted against
regularly disciplined troops. Bourbaki was in command of an army that
had been disciplined for months gone by, and yet his host, although they
took the field with cavalry and artillery, suffered enormous losses on
meeting an army numerically inferior, yet well-organised, and commanded
by scientific and experienced officers. They were pushed across the
frontier into Switzerland, like a great flock of sheep pursued by a bevy
of wolves."

"But they were French, and we are Englishmen!"

"An Englishman can be laid low by a bullet as well as a Frenchman.
The days of the Black Prince are past and gone, no Henry V. is to-day
victorious at Agincourt, we have to fight with firearms and magazine

"The Boers, my lord, showed us what a brave militia is capable of doing
against regular troops."

"Yes, in the mountains. The Tyrolese held out in the same way against
the great Napoleon for a while. But England is a flat country, and in
the plain tactical strategy soon proves its superiority. No, England's
salvation rests entirely on her fleet."

A despatch from the Viceroy of India was handed to the Prime
Minister: "The Viceroy informs His Majesty's Government that the
Commander-in-Chief in Delhi has massed an army of 30,000 men, and will
defend the city. The sepoys attached to his army are loyal, because they
are confined within the fortifications and cannot flee. The Viceroy will
take care that the Mohammedan sepoys shall all, as far as possible,
be brought south, and that only Hindu troops shall be led against the
Russians. Orders have been given that the treacherous Maharajah of
Chanidigot, whose troops in the battle of Lahore gave the signal for
desertion, shall be shot. The Viceroy is of opinion that the
Russian army will have to halt before Delhi in order to collect the
reinforcements which, though in smaller numbers, are still coming up
through Afghanistan. He does not doubt that the English army, whose
numbers are daily increasing by the addition of fresh regiments, will,
when massed in the northern provinces, deal the Russians a decisive
blow. The Commander-in-Chief will leave to General Egerton the defence
of Delhi, and concentrate a new field army at Cawnpore, with which it
is his intention to advance to Delhi. All lines of railway are now
constantly engaged in forwarding all available troops to Cawnpore."

"This news is, at all events, calculated to inspire new courage," said
the Prime Minister after reading the telegram, "and we will not disguise
from ourselves the fact, my lords, that we need courage now more than
ever. This new man in Germany, whom the Emperor has made Chancellor,
is arousing the feelings of the Germans most alarmingly against us.
He appears to be a man of the Bismarck stamp, full of insolent
inconsiderateness and of a surprising initiative. We stand quite
isolated in the world; Russia, France, and Germany are leagued against
us. Austria cannot and will not help us, Italy temporises in reply to
our advances, says neither 'yes' nor 'no,' and seeks an opportunity of
allying herself with France and wresting the remainder of the Italian
territories from Austria and of aggrandising herself at the expense
of our colonies. Yet, whenever England has stood alone, she has always
stood in the halo of glory and power. Let us trust in our own right hand
and in the loyalty of our colonies, who are ready to come to our aid
with money and men, and whom, after our victory, we will repay with all
those good gifts that His Majesty's Government can dispense."

"Our colonies!" the Minister of the Board of Trade intervened. "You are
right, they are ready to make sacrifices. Only I am afraid that those
sacrifices which the Right Honourable the Minister for the Colonies
demands of them will be too great, and that, having regard to the
tendency of the modern imperialism of our Government, they will not
believe in those rewards that are to be dangled before their eyes."

"My lord," replied the last speaker, "I am considered an agitator, and
am accused of being responsible for the present perilous position of
England. Well, I will accept that responsibility. Never in the world's
history did a statesman entertain great plans without exposing his
country to certain risks. I remind you how Bismarck, after the war of
1866 had been fought to a successful issue, said that the old women
would have beaten him to death with cudgels had the Prussian army been
defeated. But it was not defeated, and he stood before them as a man
who had united Germany and made Prussia great. He exposed Prussia to the
greatest risks, in that by his agitation he made almost the whole world
Prussia's enemy, declared war upon Austria and upon the whole of South
Germany, and forced the latter eventually to engage in the war against
France. England at that time pursued the luckless policy of observing
and waiting for an opportunity, merely because no agitator conducted its
policy. Had England in 1866 declared war against Prussia, Germany would
not to-day be so powerful as to be able to wage war upon us. Since those
days, profound changes have taken place in England itself, and entirely
owing to the growth of the German power. Since the fall of Napoleon,
we have not troubled ourselves sufficiently about events upon the
Continent, but in our proud self-assurance have thought ourselves so
powerful, that we only needed to influence the decisions of foreign
governments, in order to pursue our own lines of policy. But this
self-assurance suffered a severe shock in the events of 1866 and 1870,
and England has, and rightly enough, become nervous. The Englishman down
to that period despised the forward policy of the Continental powers.
This is no longer the case, but, on the other hand patriotic tendencies
are at work even in England itself, which are branded by the weak-minded
apostles of peace as chauvinistic. Let that pass, I am proud to call
myself a chauvinist in the sense that I do not desire peace at any
price, but peace only for England's welfare. The patriotic tendencies
of our people have been directed into their proper channel by my
predecessor Chamberlain. And has not the Government for the last thirty
years hearkened to these patriotic feelings, in that, whether led by
Disraeli or Gladstone, it has brought about an enormous strengthening of
our defensive forces both on land and sea? These military preparations,
whilst not only redounding to the advantage of the motherland, but also
to that of the colonies (which they shall ever continue to do) have
saddled the mother country with the entire burden of expenditure. But
how shall the enormous cost of this war be met for the future? How shall
the commerce of the English world-empire be increased in the future and
protected from competition, if the colonies do not share in the expense?
I vote for a just distribution of the burdens, and maintain that not
England alone but that the colonies also should share in bearing them.
The plan of Imperial Federation, a policy which we are pursuing, is the
remedy for our chronic disease, and will strengthen the colonies and the
mother country in economic, political, and military respects. Certainly,
my lords, such utterances will appear to you to be somewhat impertinent,
at a time when a Russian army has invaded India and our army has
suffered a severe defeat, but I should wish to remind you that every war
that England has yet waged has begun with defeats. But England has never
waged other than victorious wars since William the Conqueror infused
Romanic blood into England's political life and thus gave it a
constitution of such soundness and tenacity that no other body politic
has ever been able permanently to resist England. We shall again, as in
days of yore, drive the Russians out of India, shall force the fleets
of France, Germany, and Russia who are now hiding in their harbours
into the open, annihilate them, and thwart all the insolent plans of our
enemies, and finally raise the Union Jack as a standard of a world-power
that no one will for evermore be able to attack."

Next: The Young Russian Captain Of Dragoons

Previous: The Professor

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