The Great War in England in 1897 - William Le Queux - ebook
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Though it was a gay comic opera that was being performed for the first time, entertainers and entertained lost all interest in each other. They were amazed, dismayed, awestricken. Amusement was nauseating; War, with all its attendant horrors, was actually upon them! The popular tenor, one of the idols of the hour, blundered over his lines and sang terribly out of tune, but the hypercritical first-night audience passed the defect unnoticed. They only thought of what might happen; of the dark cavernous future that lay before.

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Contents

BOOK I

THE INVASION

I. THE SHADOW OF MOLOCH.

II. A TOTTERING EMPIRE.

III. ARMING FOR THE STRUGGLE.

IV. THE SPY.

V. BOMBARDMENT OF NEWHAVEN.

VI. LANDING OF THE FRENCH IN SUSSEX.

VII. BOMB OUTRAGES IN LONDON.

VIII. FATEFUL DAYS FOR THE OLD FLAG.

IX. COUNT VON BEILSTEIN AT HOME.

X. A DEATH DRAUGHT.

XI. THE MASSACRE AT EASTBOURNE.

XII. IN THE EAGLE'S TALONS.

XIII. FIERCE FIGHTING IN THE CHANNEL.

XIV. BATTLE OFF BEACHY HEAD.

BOOK II

THE STRUGGLE

XV. THE DOOM OF HULL.

XVI. TERROR ON THE TYNE.

XVII. HELP FROM OUR COLONIES.

XVIII. RUSSIAN ADVANCE IN THE MIDLANDS.

XIX. FALL OF BIRMINGHAM.

XX. OUR REVENGE IN THE MEDITERRANEAN.

XXI. A NAVAL FIGHT AND ITS CONSEQUENCES.

XXII. PANIC IN LANCASHIRE.

XXIII. THE EVE OF BATTLE.

XXIV. MANCHESTER ATTACKED BY RUSSIANS.

XXV. GALLANT DEEDS BY CYCLISTS.

XXVI. GREAT BATTLE ON THE MERSEY.

XXVII. THE FATE OF THE VANQUISHED.

BOOK III

THE VICTORY

XXVIII. A SHABBY WAYFARER.

XXIX. LANDING OF THE ENEMY AT LEITH.

XXX. ATTACK ON EDINBURGH.

XXXI. "THE DEMON OF WAR."

XXXII. FRIGHTFUL SLAUGHTER OUTSIDE GLASGOW.

XXXIII. MARCH OF THE FRENCH ON LONDON.

XXXIV. LOOTING IN THE SUBURBS.

XXXV. LONDON BOMBARDED.

XXXVI. BABYLON BURNING.

XXXVII. FIGHTING ON THE SURREY HILLS.

XXXVIII. NAVAL BATTLE OFF DUNGENESS.

XXXIX. THE DAY OF RECKONING.

XL. "FOR ENGLAND!"

XLI. DAWN.

BOOK I

THE INVASION

I. THE SHADOW OF MOLOCH.

WAR! War in England!

Growled by thoughtful, stern-visaged men, gasped with bated breath by pale-faced, terrified women, the startling news passed quickly round the Avenue Theatre from gallery to boxes. The crisis was swift, complete, crushing. Actors and audience were appalled.

Though it was a gay comic opera that was being performed for the first time, entertainers and entertained lost all interest in each other. They were amazed, dismayed, awestricken. Amusement was nauseating; War, with all its attendant horrors, was actually upon them! The popular tenor, one of the idols of the hour, blundered over his lines and sang terribly out of tune, but the hypercritical first-night audience passed the defect unnoticed. They only thought of what might happen; of the dark cavernous future that lay before.

War had been declared against Britain–Britain, the Empire that had so long rested in placid sea-girt security, confident of immunity from attack, was to be invaded! The assertion seemed preposterous.

Some, after reading eagerly the newspapers still damp from the press, smiled incredulously, half inclined to regard the startling intelligence as a mere fabrication by alarmists, or a perfected phase of the periodical war-scare which sensational journalists annually launch upon the world during what is technically known as the “gooseberry” season.

Other readers, however, recollecting the grave political crises on the Continent, set their teeth firmly, silent and dumfounded. Upon many merchants and City men the news fell like a thunderbolt, for financial ruin stared them in the face.

Evidently a desperate attempt would be made by the enemy to land on English soil. Already the startled playgoers could hear in their excited imagination the clash of arms mingling with the triumphant yell of the victor, and the stifled, despairing cry of the hapless victim. But who, they wondered, would be the victim? Would Britannia ever fall to the dust with broken trident and shattered shield? Would her neck ever lie under the heel of the foreign invader? No, never–while Britons could fight.

The theatre, in its garish blaze of electricity, and crowded with well-dressed men and women, presented a brilliant appearance, which had suddenly become strangely incongruous with the feelings of the audience. In the boxes, where youth and beauty smiled, the bouquets which had been provided by the management gave to the theatre a bright, artistic touch of colour. Yet the pungent odour they diffused had become sickening. Intermingled with other flowers there were many tuberoses. They are funereal blossoms, ineffably emblematic of the grave. There is death in their breath.

When the astounding news fell upon the house the performance was drawing to a close. A moment before, every one had been silent and motionless, listening with rapt attention to the tenor’s plaintive love song, and admiring the grace of the fair heroine, but as the terrible truth dawned upon them they rose, amid a scene of the wildest excitement. The few papers that had been purchased at fabulous prices at the doors were eagerly scanned, many of the sheets being torn into shreds in the mad struggle to catch a glimpse of the alarming telegrams they contained. For a few moments the agitation nearly approached a panic, while above the hum and din the hoarse, strident voices of running newsmen could be heard outside, yelling, “War declared against England! Expected landing of the enemy! Extrur-speshal!”

There was a hidden terror in the word “War” that at first held the amazed playgoers breathless and thoughtful. Never before had its significance appeared so grim, so fatal, so fraught with appalling consequences.

War had been actually declared! There was no averting it! It was a stern reality.

No adroit diplomatic negotiations could stem the advancing hordes of foreign invaders; Ministers and ambassadors were as useless pawns, for two great nations had had the audacity to combine in the projected attack upon Great Britain.

It seemed incredible, impossible. True, a Great War had long been predicted, forecasts had been given of coming conflicts, and European nations had for years been gradually strengthening their armies and perfecting their engines of war, in the expectation of being plunged into hostilities. Modern improvements in arms and ammunition had so altered the conditions of war, that there had long been a feeling of insecurity even among those Powers who, a few years before, had felt themselves strong enough to resist any attack, however violent. War-scares had been plentiful, crises in France, Germany, and Russia of frequent occurrence; still, no one dreamed that Moloch was in their midst–that the Great War, so long foreshadowed, had in reality commenced.

Yet on this hot, oppressive Saturday night in August the extra-special editions of the papers contained news that startled the world. It ran as follows:–

INVASION OF ENGLAND. WAR DECLARED BY FRANCE AND RUSSIA. HOSTILE FLEETS ADVANCING. EXTRAORDINARY MANIFESTO BY THE TSAR. [REUTER’S TELEGRAMS.]

St. Petersburg, August 14th, 4 P.M.

The most intense excitement has been caused here by a totally unexpected and amazing announcement made this afternoon by the Minister of Foreign Affairs to the French Ambassador. It appears that the Minister has addressed to the French representative a short note in which the following extraordinary passage occurs:–

"The earnest negotiations between the Imperial Government and Great Britain for a durable pacification of Bosnia not having led to the desired accord, His Majesty the Tsar, my august master, sees himself compelled, to his regret, to have recourse to force of arms. Be therefore so kind as to inform your Government that from to-day Russia considers herself in a state of war with Great Britain, and requests that France will immediately comply with the obligations of the alliance signed by President Carnot on February 23rd, 1892.”

A circular note has also been addressed by the Russian Foreign Office to its ambassadors at the principal Courts of Europe, stating that, for reasons assigned, the Tsar has resolved to commence hostilities against Great Britain, and has given his Armies and Navy orders to commence the invasion.

This declaration has, no doubt, been contemplated by the Russian Government for several days. During the past week the French Ambassador has twice had private audience of the Tsar, and soon after 11 A.M. to-day he had a long interview at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is understood that the Minister of War was also present.

No official notification of the Declaration of War has been given to the British Ambassador. This has created considerable surprise.

5.30 P.M.

Large posters, headed “A Manifesto of His Majesty the Emperor of Russia,” and addressed to his subjects, are being posted up in the Nevski Prospekt. In this document the Tsar says–

"Our faithful and beloved subjects know the strong interest which we have constantly felt in the destinies of our Empire. Our desire for the pacification of our western frontier has been shared by the whole Russian nation, which now shows itself ready to bear fresh sacrifices to alleviate the position of those oppressed by British rule. The blood and property of our faithful subjects have always been dear to us, and our whole reign attests our constant solicitude to preserve to Russia the benefits of peace. This solicitude never failed to actuate my father during events which occurred recently in Bulgaria, Austro-Hungary, and Bosnia. Our object, before all, was to effect an amelioration in the position of our people on the frontier by means of pacific negotiations, and in concert with the great European Powers, our allies and friends. Having, however, exhausted our pacific efforts, we are compelled by the haughty obstinacy of Great Britain to proceed to more decisive acts. A feeling of equity and of our own dignity enjoins it. By her recent acts Great Britain places us under the necessity of having recourse to arms. Profoundly convinced of the justice of our cause, we make known to our faithful subjects that we declare war against Great Britain. In now invoking a blessing upon our valiant armies, we give the order for an invasion of England.”

This manifesto has excited the greatest enthusiasm. The news has spread rapidly, and dense crowds have assembled in the Nevski, the Izak Platz, and on the English Quay, where the posters are being exhibited.

The British Ambassador has not yet received any communication from the Imperial Government.

Fontainebleau, Aug. 14th, 4.30 P.M.

President Felix Faure has received a telegram from the French representative at St. Petersburg, stating that Russia has declared war against Great Britain. The President left immediately for Paris by special train.

Paris, Aug. 14th, 4.50 P.M.

An astounding piece of intelligence has this afternoon been received at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is no less than a Declaration of War by Russia against Britain. The telegram containing the announcement was received at the Ministry from the French Ambassador at St. Petersburg soon after three o’clock. The President was at once informed, and the Cabinet immediately summoned. A meeting is now being held for the purpose of deciding upon the course to be pursued with regard to the obligations of France contracted by the Treaty of Alliance made after the Cronstadt incident in 1891. The news of impending hostilities has just been published in a special edition of the Soir, and has created the wildest excitement on the Boulevards. Little doubt is entertained that France will join the invading forces, and the result of the deliberations of the Cabinet is anxiously awaited. President Felix Faure has returned from Fountainebleau.

[BY TELEPHONE THROUGH DALZIEL’S AGENCY.]

6 P.M.

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