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 re-
move 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
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 worship-
ing, 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 im-
pressive. 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 slabber-
ing over it, just like all the other commoners. Im-
agine such human muck as this; conceive of this folly!
Yes, it was now "Death to the Republic!" every-
where -- not a dissenting voice. All England was
marching against us! Truly, this was more than I had
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 atten-
tion 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 ENG-
LAND 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 fore-
seen 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 march-
ing against us, who is in the van? Who, by the com-
monest rules of war, will march in the front? Answer me."
"The mounted host of mailed knights."
"True. They are 30,000 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 epi-
sode. 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
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 approach-
ing 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. Break-
fast 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 be-
came its aspect; yes, all England was there, appar-
ently. 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 horse-
men -- 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 be-
came 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 proclama-
tion 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 con-
I picketed the great embankments thrown up around
our lines by the dynamite explosion -- merely a look-
out 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 be-
lieved 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
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 scorn-
ful 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 embank-
ment 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 inhospitable?"
"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 ad-
justed 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 conversa-
tion, but suddenly Clarence broke off and said:
"What is that?"
"What is what?"
"That thing yonder."
"What thing -- where?"
"There beyond you a little piece -- dark some-
thing -- 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, ex-
cept 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 hap-
pened, 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 out-
side 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 breast-
work, 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 without testifying.
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 work-
ing 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 -- per-
haps 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 embank-
ment; 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.
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Room | A
Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's