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First episode taken from The Skipper No. 340 – March 6th 1937.




The Conquerors

Left-Right! Left-right! Tramp-tramp! Tramp-tramp! Even from a distance it was possible to tell that this quick, jerky tread was not that of British soldiers. A full one hundred and fifty steps to the minute was this contingent making, and the people in the vicinity of Buckingham Palace that sunny morning turned and glared sullenly at the newcomers. The soldiers were coming from Wellington Barracks to form the new guard at the palace. Of average height, they moved stiffly but swiftly, with perfect co-ordination of movement. Not a man was out of step, not a hand swung farther than another, not a face was turned from the strict forward position. Iron discipline had moulded these men into soldiers, but it was not the discipline of Wellington Barracks or Aldershot. These troops were foreigners, and they had been trained before they had ever set foot on English soil. “Look, dad!” cried one fair haired youngster, clutching at his father’s hand. “Here’s some more of the Mangoths. Aren’t they smart?” Bill Hutton dragged one leg as he turned, for it was an artificial one, his real leg having been lost at the battle of Arras during the Great War of 1914. Leaning heavily on his stick, he scowled as the troops went past. “Yeah, they’re smart enough, darn them, but you ought to ‘ve seen the Life Guards in the old days, Ted. They were real soldiers!” “Aren’t these real soldiers, dad?” inquired the youngster, who was no more than ten years old. “They licked us and conquered England, didn’t they?” “Aye!” It was more of a growl than a reply.

Bill Hutton was still staring at the foreign troops. There was something mechanical about the pale faces of the soldiers. Their uniform was of a drab grey, made in two pieces, with a wide black belt at the waist. Their head, down to the level of their ears, was encased in a steel helmet of close fitting shape. On the front of it was painted the Mangoth device, a tiger’s head in a circle of red and blue. “Aye, what’s that you say?” “I said they must be good to have licked us and conquered the country,” repeated his son, watching the tail end of the contingent disappearing through the gates of Buckingham Palace. Bill Hutton clenched his hands. His eyes flashed to the Mangoth flag flying over the Palace. It was a large flag, the usual tiger’s head on a red background, with a blue horizontal stripe, and it was flown much higher than the pitifully small Union Jack. “They’d never have beaten us but for the plague!” he snarled. “What plague, dad?” You weren’t old enough to remember. It was a kind of ‘flu, but a strange kind. It knocked down everyone and left us as limp as rags. Our ships couldn’t sail because the crews were too weak to work ‘em. The ‘planes couldn’t fly because the pilots were sick as well. Out of the whole army only a few thousands were able to go on parade. It was a terrible kind of ‘flu, and it put Britain in chains.” “How, dad?” demanded the inquiring youngster, as Mangoth guards came striding down the pavement, ordering the sullen crowds to move on. “Because the Mangoths came over from the East. They hadn’t got the plague there. They were strong and fit, well-disciplined, and well led. They came in great air fleets and in captured warships. They swooped down on Britain when everyone was hardly able to stand, and crumpled up what was left of our defences. It was a terrible time. The only good thing was they didn’t kill many people. They didn’t have to. Nobody could put up a fight.” “Then how is it London Bridge was knocked down and all those houses out at Westminster, dad?” “That was done by their bombs. They launched three great air raids to terrify everyone, and then they pounced.” The Mangoth guard on their side of the road reached them. He was swinging his rifle scientifically and mercilessly, using the butt of it to urge the crowds to disperse. Muttered curses left him unmoved. Like all members of his race he moved with smooth indifference. He despised these people who had allowed themselves to be conquered. Biff! Bill Hutton had got one in the back. It almost knocked him into the gutter and his artificial leg was in grave danger of collapsing. “Mali!” grunted the Mangoth, which was his way of saying. “Move on!” Bill Hutton went red with rage. Again his fists clenched. “I’ll ‘mali’ you, you dirty foreigner!” he hissed, and his son pulled him away in terror, the father muttering and mouthing threats under his breath. It did not do to cause a scene in those days. All rebels and mutineers were arrested and carried away to big depots where they were formed into chain gangs.

One of these gangs was just emerging from St James’ Park, where they had been engaged in chopping down all the trees. The Mangoths intended building a barracks there. They had no eye for beauty. There were fifty or sixty men, chained together in fours, sullen, in rags, hungry-looking. On either side marched a line of Mangoth guards, with rifles and whips. This miserable array went past the old soldier and his boy. Again Bill Hutton’s colour burned, and Ted grabbed him by the hand. “There’s a bus that’s going our way, dad. Come on. Hurry!” He was anxious to get his father away from that spot, where old memories could raise passions. No old soldier liked to see the home of his King in the hands of foreigners or see strange troops in famous barracks. It was wiser to get him home. The buses were run much as usual, but beside the conductor stood an armed Mangoth guard. They were everywhere. It had been the policy of the invaders to destroy as little of the country as possible. Orders had been given that everything was to be run as usual, but now it was being run for the benefit of the Mangoths. All the profits went to them. Britons were little more than slaves working for their foreign masters. The guard on the bus looked at Bill Hutton rather suspiciously, but young Ted managed to prevent his father making a scene. The boy never tired of looking out of the window at the panorama that was modern London. He saw Mangoth soldiers everywhere, organising the work of the city. There were Mangoth patrols at every corner. All the larger shops had Mangoth guards, who saw that the place was run as efficiently as possible for the benefit of the invaders. Here and there a great building had collapsed under the impact of a bomb, but these were isolated cases. There had been no wholesale bombing. On the Thames floated giant seaplanes with the Mangoth device on their tails. Air patrols belonging to the conquerors passed to and fro overhead. Everywhere Mangoth flags were flown above the Union Jack. Ted began to feel vaguely what his father felt more strongly. The instinct to rebel rose within him, but what could he do against these disciplined, well-equipped hordes? “Have they got all Britain?” he asked his father in a whisper, for the guard on the step of the bus might have understood English. “No, me lad, not yet. Their grip’s strongest down here in the south. They haven’t touched Scotland yet, but they’ve sent expeditions into Wales an’ the North o’ England. I do hear there’s been hard fighting in some parts, but they don’t allow us to hear much about that down here.” They passed the Houses of Parliament, now closed and shuttered, with two bomb holes in Big Ben.

The Mangoth command who ran London did so from a famous hotel. They had no use for the Mother of Parliament. The bus was not held up as in the old days, for there was no private traffic on the roads. The Mangoth had ruthlessly suppressed all that. Only business and public vehicles were allowed to use the main routes of the city. In many places chain gangs were clearing away ruins or doing the work of the streets. It made Bill’s blood boil whenever he saw a Mangoth guard lash one of the workers. But now the Huttons were nearing their destination. They left the bus at the nearest point to their humble home, and passed into a narrow street where the shabby little houses sheltered many others like themselves. From most came the smell of cooking, for it was lunch time. Ted was hungry, and licked his lips in anticipation. The table was set when they arrived, and Mrs Hutton, a large, placid woman, was ready to serve. They were joined by Walt. Ted’s elder brother, who worked at the nearby power station, and as they sat down, there entered someone who seated himself at the head of the table. It was a burly Mangoth soldier. There was one billeted in every house in London. Without a word this man reached for the dish from which Mrs Hutton was about to serve, and tilted it over his own plate. Cascades of food shot out. He did not care for the mess he made on the cloth. Roughly, grunting to himself all the time, he picked out the choicest pieces of meat, the best vegetables, and the juiciest gravy. All this was piled on his plate, and then he almost threw on his plate, and then he almost threw the rest back at Mrs Hutton. The others looked on with blazing eyes. They had schooled themselves to stand this sort of thing, but today as the dish was flung back some of the hot gravy went over Ted’s hand, and he gave a little cry. That finished Walt Hutton. Ted’s older brother was a heavily built young fellow, with a determined jaw. One could not see him knuckling down to a conqueror for long at his own table. Now he lurched to his feet. “You clumsy ox!” he roared. “Uh?” The Mangoth looked up in surprise, a laden fork on the way to his big mouth. “Why don’t you try and behave like a civilised being, even though you are a Mangoth?” bellowed Walt Hutton, whilst his mother plucked unavailingly at his sleeve. “You aren’t fit to eat with decent people. You’ve got three shares there. Put some of that meat back.” He pointed to the dish to make his meaning clear. The Mangoth lowered his fork and glowered. “Ni!” he snapped. “You won’t, eh?” Something seemed to snap in Walt’s brain. He had put up with this long enough. He had come to the end of his patience. He was tired of seeing his mother and brother bullied and ill-treated. “we’ll see about that.” “Easy, lad!” implored Bill Hutton, but it was too late. His son sprang forward, caught the Mangoth by the neck, and lifted him to his feet. Then he flung him against the wall with sufficient force to shake the tiny house, and as the soldier recoiled Walt punched him on the jaw. The man sank to a sitting position at the foot of the wall, shaking his head as though dazed. Then an evil light came to his eyes, and he snatched for his revolver, which hung at his belt. Walt Hutton was too quick for him and kicked it out of his hand, whereupon the man rolled over, came to his feet, dashed out of the door, and shrilled a high-fluted whistle. That settled it. Two minutes later half a dozen Mangoth patrol men descended on the house. Walt Hutton had no chance of escape. Wisely he did not struggle or give them a chance to manhandle him, and allowed them to handcuff him and take him away. His mother, father, and little brother came tearfully to the door to see him marched down the street. They feared the worst.

In the Chain Gang

Walt Hutton was still defiant. They took him to the nearest depot where rebellious Britons such as he were questioned. Between a file of guards he was faced up to an officer, whose cold, grey eyes bored into his questions were asked in slow, precise English. Name, address, work, were all noted down, and then—“You admit you struck the soldier?” “I do! He acted like a hog at my own table. He took food that should have gone to my mother and father. He—” “That’s enough! You are guilty. You will be taught to respect the Mangoths uniform and to obey orders. Take him away!” They marched Walt Hutton down a long corridor into what had been a garage for buses in the old days. It was a huge place under one roof, and in it were now herded several hundred Britishers, all eating a meal which was provided for them by their captors. They were chained in fours, and to young Hutton’s disgust he was attached to three others by a steel band that encircled his waist, and a chain of sufficient length to allow him to work with them. He was given no food, and sat there glaring sullenly at the guards who stood near the door. “What have they brought you here for?” demanded his nearest chain gang neighbour, a tall fair, rather striking-looking young man with educated accents. “Huh, I sloshed one of them, the one billeted in my home!” growled the new arrival. “H’m, I’m surprised you weren’t shot. I suppose it’s because they want more workers. They certainly exercise complete control over their tempers. They could teach us a thing or two in that way.” He offered Walt some of his food, but the young engineer refused. He was too disgusted to eat. The flames of rebellion were still hot within him. He was not left there long with his thoughts. A bell rang, the chained men lurched to their feet, sharp orders were barked by Mangoths, and the fours lined up to form a squad. Left-right! Left-right! Even if a man did not want to keep in step he soon found it was the best way of avoiding treading on the heels of the others. The entire squad was marched out into the street. People either looked at them pityingly or turned their eyes away. There were whiplashes for laggards. Walt Hutton felt he must spring at the nearest guard’s throat, the first time he felt the touch of a whip on his shoulders, but a warning pull on the chain checked him. “Don’t be foolish!” whispered the tall, fair young man. “It’s no use. Just do the work and say nothing. Maybe our time will come one day.” So Walt Hutton calmed down, and when they reached the scene of their work, a factory which had been struck by one of the Mangoth bombs, they were given their tasks.

The Mangoths wanted to get this factory working again, so the debris had to be cleared away and piled in readiness for rebuilding. Once he had got used to manipulating the chains, Walt Hutton found it was some relief to forget himself in hard labour. He was greatly encouraged in this by the man next him. In course of conversation he learned that the young fellow was called Laif Raeburn, and that he had occupied a high position at the Foreign Office before the conquerors had come. He was clever and intelligent. Walt Hutton was quite willing to do whatever he suggested. The afternoon’s work finished at last, and they were again taken back to the big garage. This time their chains were removed, but the guards outside the garage and in the doorways were doubled. Orders were given to shoot any man who attempted to go outside. Walt Hutton soon realised he was amongst men as rebellious as himself. There were ex-officers there, men who had tried to fight in spite of the weakness which the plague had brought to them, some ex-policemen, many ordinary citizens smarting under the indignity of being treated as slaves, and others who wanted to avenge themselves on the Mangoths by any means in their power. They were there for a variety of reasons, some because they had taken arms against the invaders, others for refusing to hand over their factories and shops, some because they had struck Mangoths or impeded them in their duty. The coldly efficient Mangoths might have shot them, but they preferred to keep them alive and work them, and they only gave them just enough food to retain their strength. It was no kind of life for a self-respecting Briton. Whilst those round the edges of the crowd of prisoners chattered of other matters, those in the centre and farthest from the Mangoth guards were discussing the chances of escape. There were many hotheads amongst them who suggested making a break for it that very night. They pointed out that they were not chained at night, that darkness would give them cover, and that if they once got into the country outside London they might hide until the day came for a general rising. The idea found a good deal of support. It was Laif Raeburn who voted against it. “We’re not ready for the attempt yet,” he insisted. “We have no chains at night, but there are twice as many Mangoths guarding us. We’ll be shot down or recaptured before we’ve gone a hundred yards. We don’t even know how many men they’ve got waiting for us out there.” “Huh, if you’re content to be a slave the rest o’ your life, I’m not!” growled an ex-policeman. “I’m all for takin’ the plunge as soon as possible.” “it would fail.” The tall, fair man warned them. “We don’t know enough about conditions outside. Wait a few days and let one of us find out all about the guards. Then I’ll be willing to come with you.”

But his arguments did not impress the fuming prisoners. That day their indignation against their position had risen to fever pitch. They felt they were not acting like true-blooded Britishers. Walt Hutton felt himself carried away by the excitement. He was burning to escape, and he willingly allied himself with those who were in favour of it. At last Laif Raeburn shrugged his shoulders and said that if they were all determined to make the attempt, he would naturally help them. “As a matter of fact, I know something of the Mangoth tongue,” he informed them. “In the old days my father was an attaché in the East, and our family lived out there with him. I remember the place where we lived was attacked by the Mangoths, and my father, with my brother Stuart and myself, were captured. We were kept at their headquarters for nearly six months before my father and I managed to escape. He learned a lot of their lingo and taught me later to speak it.” “What happened to your brother?” asked Walt Hutton, looking at his neighbour with new respect. “I never knew. Either he has died, been killed, or is still prisoner out there. We were only kids then.” He looked wistfully into the distance, but one burly prisoner clapped him on the back. “That’s grand. You solve a big problem for us. We wondered now we were going to get those doors open after they’d locked ‘em for the night.” “How can I help?” “Listen,” said the leader of the hotheads. “At ten o’clock they close and lock those doors. I don’t think there are so many guards outside then. I believe they go away an’ feed. About five minutes past ten you can bellow out from just inside in their lingo, sayin’ you’re one of the guards who’s been shut inside. I bet they open the doors sharp enough. Then we can make a dash for it, scatter, and there you are.” Again Laif Raeburn shrugged his shoulders. It was clear he did not think much of the scheme. “All right, I’ll do what I can, but remember you’ve got no weapons.” “We will as soon as we get hold of some of those Mangoths,” was the grim reply. The rest of that evening the garage seethed with excitement. Now they had actually arranged to do something the prisoners were eager to get going. Ten o’clock seemed a long time coming, and when at last the doors were locked and barred from the outside, they could scarcely contain their impatience. They listened. Tramp-tramp-tramp! Went the feet of their late guards, and the Britons firmly believed that most of them were being marched away to their supper. “Now!” hissed Marsh, the ringleader. In the darkness Laif Raeburn advanced to the door, and kicked on it lustily. “Help! Help!” he roared in the Mangoth tongue. “Let me out! It’s Kreg. I got shut inside. They’ll kill me in a minute. Let me out!” He had heard one of the guards addressed by that name, and evidently those outside had no suspicion of trickery. There were exclamations of surprise, grunted orders, and then the sound of bars being removed. “Ready!” muttered Marsh, and all the desperate men crouched as close to the door as possible. The big door swung half way open, and a harsh voice commanded Kreg to come out. There was a grunt, a roar, and nearly two hundred angry Britons threw themselves at the speaker. The other half of the door crashed outwards, and the next moment those astonished guards were knocked flat, their weapons snatched from them, and the triumphant prisoners surged across the yard. The way seemed clear. There had been only half a dozen of the Mangoth guards, and they were now trampled under the feet of the escaping crowd. With March in the lead, the freed Britons headed for the open street. There seemed to be no Mangoths in sight. “Separate!” roared Marsh. “Every man for himself.” Some turned right and some left.

Walt Hutton found himself racing down the road to the right. Everything was in darkness, for the Mangoths did not believe in street lamps after ten o’clock. The way seemed clear, and Walt Hutton wondered whether he would be able to double back and see his parents before he headed for the country. Beside him was Laif Raeburn, running as eagerly as the rest, but a moment later there came howls from the front, cries of pain and rage, then a halt amongst the leaders. Unbeknown to them, a tangle of barbed wire had been stretched across the roadway, and they had run into this. Many of them were caught by their clothing or flesh. Those who turned about and ran the other way found their comrades already returning, for there was a similar barricade down there. The cunning Mangoths had closed the street at either end, and now searchlights were flashed on from nearby housetops, flooding the infuriated men with light. They blinked and shook their fists in helpless rage. Rat-tat-tat-tat! Came the rattle of a machine-gun, and the bullets whistled just over their heads. “Back to your kennel, you English dogs, or the next burst will be in your midst!” came a harsh voice. “Back!” The attempt had failed, just as Laif Raeburn had said it would, because they had known enough about the conditions outside. The sullen crowd, threatened by the machine-gun, blinded by the dazzling light, slowly retreated to the garage yard, and then to the garage itself. Once they were inside Mangoth guards arrived, and refastened the doors. Nothing was said to them, but the silence of their captors was all the more ominous. What was going to be done to them as punishment? Asked many men. Even Laif Raeburn could not answer that. They could only wait until the morning.

Sentenced to Death

There was no sleep the rest of that night. Everyone awaited the dawn anxiously, and they had good cause to do so, for as soon as the doors were unbolted they were chained and ordered to march outside. They found themselves hemmed in by armed Mangoths. There must have been a whole company of them, and they levelled their rifles at the prisoners ominously. “Now for the fireworks!” muttered Laif Raeburn. The captives were lined up, pushed into close formation, and marched through the nearby streets until they came to the courtyard of one of the great temporary barracks where the Mangoths had their quarters. At each corner of this courtyard there was a machine-gun, with a cold-eyed Mangoth behind it. The newcomers exchanged gloomy glances. Things looked decidedly bad. The commander of the depot, a man named Laru, had travelled by car to this same barracks. He was not a specially cruel or vicious man, just coldly efficient, but there was an angry glitter in his eyes that morning, especially when he looked at the Britons. “He’s got something up his sleeve,” murmured Walt Hutton to Laif Raeburn. “Yes, I’m afraid so. S-sh, here comes someone important!” Every Mangoth soldier within sight sprang stiffly to attention. Out from the barracks, surrounded by other high officers, had come someone who wore no uniform. He had on the usual national costume of the Mangoths, but in appearance he was unusual. Tall and dark, he showed above all the others. He was only a young man, and his eyes had none of the slant that so many of the Mangoths showed. A whisper ran around amongst the waiting men. They had seen this figure before. “Gengis! It is Gengis, the man who controls London.” Everyone shivered. They knew from hearsay that Gengis was perhaps the most coldly efficient of all the invaders. For that reason he had been put in sole command of the captured city. He returned the salute calmly, and walked across to where the two hundred expectant Britons were lined up. He looked them over without change of expression, then turned to Laru, the commandant of the depot. “Well, Commandant? Why did you ask to see me this morning?” Laif Raeburn was the only man in those ranks who understood what was being said. He caught every word of it. Standing stiffly to attention, Laru replied—“O Gengis, I suggest that an example be made of these men. They are rebellious and mutinous. They have always given trouble.” “These British slaves always give trouble!” snapped Gengis. “Flog them. Cut their rations. Show them who is master.” “That I have done, but last night something more serious occurred. They broke out of the depot. They would have escaped but for the barbed-wire entanglements which you ordered to be placed at every street corner after 10 p.m.” Laif Raeburn was listening intently to all this. It was the first time he had seen Gengis, and he could not take his eyes off him. “That is indeed serious!” barked the ruler of London. “What do you suggest?” “I suggest they all be shot dead by machine-guns as a lesson to others and that all the other chain gangs be assembled to see it done,” said Laru. “It will be a stern example to the rest, and maybe we shall have fewer rebellions.” Laif Raeburn trembled. Surely the tall, dark Mangoth could not listen to such a suggestion. But Gengis stroked his smooth chin thoughtfully. “It is a pity to waste so many strong men,” he murmured. “But I believe you’re right, Laru. An example must be made, and we can get plenty more recruits where these came from. I will sign the order for their execution at the hour of noon.”

He turned stiffly, and as he did so a voice rang out from those doomed ranks, a voice which spoke his own tongue. “If you do that you’ll be a cowardly swine! Don’t you expect slaves to try and escape? What kind of men do you think they are?” It was Laif Raeburn; he had been unable to contain his rage any longer. He had shouted as loudly as he could, and everyone on the parade ground heard his words. His fellow prisoners turned their heads. Gengis went red in the face. His lips pressed together in a cruel, straight line as he swung about. “Who said that?” he snarled. For the moment he almost thought it was one of their own men, for never yet had he found a Briton who could speak the difficult tongue of the Mangoths. But Laif Raeburn had not finished. “I did!” he retorted. “And now we’re about it I might as well tell you what we British think of you cold-blooded, fish-eyed scoundrels—” This he proceeded to do, whilst the rest of his comrades looked on open-mouthed, not knowing what he was saying. The Mangoth guards looked almost stupefied with amazement. Gengis was the first to recover his wits. He pointed straight to the tall young fellow in the rear rank. “Bring that man out here!” Laif Raeburn saved them the trouble by stepping out and standing up to the Governor of London fearlessly. They were about the same height and colouring. “Impertinent dog!” snapped Gengis. “Filthy coward!” retorted Laif in the same tongue. “You shall suffer for this!” thundered the Governor. “And so will you—one of these days!” roared the Briton. Gengis suddenly clicked his teeth together and stifled his rage. Something approaching admiration showed in his eyes. He nodded to Laru. “March the others away to their places of execution. Don’t tell them what is going to happen until they are there, then you’ll have no trouble with them.” Laif Raeburn moved as though to follow the doomed chain gang, but at a nod from Gengis two burly guards stepped up and stood on either side of him with drawn revolvers. Walt Hutton called out a “cheerio,” and Laif answered his with a catch in his throat. He would never see his fellow-prisoners again. “Who are you>” demanded Gengis. “How came you to speak our language?” “Because I learned it in the East, where some of your treacherous countrymen captured an unarmed attaché’s family some years ago. I spent six months with your people.” “H’m, is that so? Very Interesting!” He still spoke in the Mangoth tongue, and there was a hint of mockery in his tone. “So you don’t like us or admire us?” “I despise you all!” flashed the other. “If you’d tried to conquer England at any other time you’d have failed. You’re nothing more than a nation of half-civilised rascals. Your civilization is only a veneer.” “Very interesting!” repeated the other. “It seems to me that you will have to be shown some things.” “Do what you like!” flashed Laif Raeburn, by now convinced he was as good as dead. “I’m not afraid to die.” “Die! Who mentioned anything about dying? You will not die, my boasting friend, but you will become my personal servant. As such you will be of considerable use to me, and maybe you will learn a few things that you did not know about my race.” His tone was condescending. His eyes were mocking.

Laif Raeburn wanted to hit him in the face. “I’ll do no such thing!” roared the Briton. “I’ll be no man’s servant.” “You will, otherwise you will be whipped with wire whips until you agree,” was the almost purred reply. “Make up your mind quickly. Follow at my heels, or stay here and get your first flogging.” Laif Raeburn saw one of the men producing an enormous whip, the end of which was bound with pieces of wire. He clenched his teeth. Every instinct within him impelled him to rebel, but what would be the use? He would only be cut to pieces. That would do him no good, neither would it help the country. If he went with Gengis, and pretended to knuckle down, he might get in a position where he could do something really useful. So Gengis had not gone more than half a dozen strides before he heard someone pacing behind him, and when he looked round it was Raeburn. The captive Briton was pale, but his head was high, and as they walked out of the gate there was something peculiarly similar in the bearing of these two young men. That was the only likeness. In their position in life they could not have been further apart. One was the top and the other was the bottom of the Mangoth social scale. Laif Raeburn was little more than a slave. A huge armoured car was ready for Gengis, and he stepped into this, nodding for his new servant to sit behind him. Surrounded by an escort of motor cyclists, the Governor of London sped on his way. Far overhead flew a large fighting ‘plane with the Mangoth device on its tail and wings. The Mangoths were taking no chances with one of their important leaders. Laif Raeburn sat there sullenly. Perhaps it would be better if he hurled himself at the back of this tyrant and was killed by the guards. Then he saw another of the chain gangs go past, and realised his position had at least improved. He had greater opportunities for striking for his country. As they crossed London the captive could not help marvelling at the smooth way everything was running. Although Britain was in chains and her people were little more than slaves, work went on much as usual. The only difference was the vast number of Mangoth soldiers. There seemed no possible chance of a rising.

Twice the armoured car was stopped by Mangoth officials who came humbly to ask Gengis advice about things. One complained that now no lights were allowed in the streets after ten o’clock there was too much power being developed at the two London power stations for their needs. “Close one down!” snapped Gengis. “It is wasteful to produce too mush.” “What of the men, O Gengis? There are more than five hundred employed at the power station.” “Put them on other work,” growled the Governor of London. “Send them out to the farms.” The armoured car went on, and Laif Raeburn was sure he had never hated anyone in all his life as much as this cold, efficient man who had become his master. He was still glowering when he realised they had stopped at a building he recognised. It was the old War Office. Gengis was being received by a number of officers. A conference of the High Command was being held there, and the great Kurdon himself was to preside. Just as Gengis was the dictator of London, so was Kurdon the dictator of captured England. He controlled the destinies of the enslaved people. Something important must be on the books to have brought him by air to London. Laif Raeburn followed Gengis down the long, bare corridors, until he came near the door of the conference room. Mangoth soldiers waited there on guard. Gengis turned. “Stop here!” he snapped. “Be here when I come out. They have orders to let you wait.” He passed stiffly into the council chamber, and through the open door, Laif could see him shaking hands with the man at the head of the table. It was the great Kurdon, a short, thickset man who was never seen out of uniform, a man who was reported to have no more mercy in his make-up than a block of ice. Anxious to see more, and hear more, Laif Raeburn pressed closer to the door, and leaned against the wall with downcast eyes. The soldiers looked at him, shrugged their shoulders, and turned away. They did not suspect he knew a word of their language, or they would not have let him stand so close.

The Prisoner in the Tower

Kurdon’s deep voice boomed out. “We are deciding the fate of Sir Robert Keith, Gengis. You know he was the chief of the British War Office and one of the cleverest scientists they had. You know the trouble he has caused us one way and another. I consider him the most dangerous man amongst the lot of them.” “I agree,” snapped Gengis. “But he is now safely in the Tower of London, and can do no harm.” Kurdon leaned forward. “That is where you are mistaken! Yesterday it was discovered that he had constructed a secret wireless set and was communicating with the English and Scottish armies in the north, giving them a deal of information and advice. There is only one thing for it. He must be shot.” Gengis sat up straight. “It seems a pity that such a brilliant scientist should have to die like any ordinary rebel!” he objected. “We could make use of him, perhaps.” “Impossible! I have suggested it, and he only laughs at us. He must die. All those in favour of shooting him, raise their hands.” A forest of arms went up. Only Gengis and two or three others abstained at first, but when they saw they were outvoted they raised theirs as well. “Carried!” snapped Kurdon. “You will see to the execution at midnight tonight, Gengis. Let nobody know about it until afterwards. We want no rising. Now we will proceed to the next matter.” But Laif was not listening any longer. He was shocked and appalled by the decision made about Sir Robert. He knew the famous scientist well, had worked with him, and knew him to be one of the most brilliant brains in all Europe. It would be nothing more than a calamity for England if Sir Robert Keith was shot. Something must be done to save him. Laif Raeburn stiffened as he leaned against the wall. He had made a great resolve. If his new position allowed, he would do everything possible to prevent the execution. He was willing to go to any lengths to do this. The rest of the conference did not interest him. It was a long time before his master re-appeared and curtly commanded him to follow. Again they were whizzed through London in the armoured car. It was evening now, and curfew was being sounded on all the church bells. Every Englishman had to be in his own house after this, or claimed for the chain gangs if found in the street. People were scuttling in all directions. The armoured car ran over one of them, and Laif had expected Gengis to laugh. Instead, he cursed the driver, ordered the car to stop, and had the man carried swiftly to hospital. “He was an able-bodied man, and we want all we can get for necessary work,” he explained to Laif with a twinkle in his eye. “One does not injure horses whilst there is work left in them.” Laif Raeburn clenched his hands. He believed Gengis said things like that just to irritate and annoy him. He decided to show no emotion at all. He would not give the other the satisfaction of knowing he was writhing under this insolent patronage. “Within a few years we shall have everybody in your country working at top pressure,” went on Gengis, as they neared the big house where he lived in style. “We will make Britain the workshop of the world, and all the profits will be ours. That is the right way to run a conquered country. It should pay profits not cost money.”

Laif made no reply. A few minutes later they were inside the one-time ducal mansion, and Laif was told he was to feed with his master. He would have preferred to have eaten alone, or with the other servants, but it was a command he could not refuse, and in due course he was at table with Gengis. He was rather surprised to see that Gengis favoured English dishes and food, and not the Eastern dishes that most of the Mangoths preferred. Laif enjoyed his dinner but for the sarcastic and patronising talk of Gengis. Only once did he behave like a human being, and that was when a message was handed him on a tray. “H’m, the report of the officer who handled the execution of your late companions,” he murmured. “The first volley killed the lot of them. It’s a pity things like that have to be done.” He shook his head and almost looked sad. Raeburn was moved. Marsh, Walt Hutton, and the others then were dead. He burst out—“You ordered the execution yourself! It was your fault!” Gengis looked pained. “I only carry out instructions. I often have to do things I hate doing. I don’t mind telling you that I admire some of your countrymen very much. I fight against that feeling, but there are certain qualities in them which appeal to me, such as your own foolish challenge on the parade ground.” Laif Raeburn was surprised, but a moment later his master’s tone had changed—“Now there’s the affair of Sir Robert Keith. It’s a pity he’s got to be executed, but orders are orders. I have a job for you.” There and then he scribbled a brief note and sealed it in an envelope. He tossed it across the table and Laif saw it was addressed to the Mangoth Governor of the Tower of London. “That is advising him of the execution at midnight. You will deliver it yourself. One of my cars will take you there and back. Tell him I will be there by midnight, but now I have other things to do.” He waved his hand, and Laif Raeburn left the room, sick at heart at the thought of what was going to happen that night at the Tower, yet inwardly thrilling to a new idea. A closed car was waiting outside, and he was escorted into it with the note. A Mangoth soldier sat beside the driver, but whether they had been told to keep a special eye on Laif he did not know. They sped swiftly through the streets. It was the first time Laif had been out at this hour, and he marvelled at the stillness of the great city under the Mangoth control. He saw nobody except patrols. From time to time inquiring searchlights were flashed on them, but were put out as soon as the banner on their bonnet was seen. As they approached the Tower, and again Laif saw that grim building standing against the sky, he could not help feeling a lump in his throat. That Tower had been built by another conqueror of England, William of Normandy. Now it was being used by these cold-blooded conquerors who had Britain in chains. He wondered if it would ever see the country free again. The car was challenged and stopped near the entrance. The driver explained his mission, and two Mangoth soldiers escorted Laif inside. He was marched across several courtyards, and could not help glancing at the turret where he knew Sir Robert Keith to be imprisoned. It being a coldish night, Laif had brought a long Mangoth cloak with him from the car, but it was not merely to keep him warm. On the way he had been concocting a plot. He was going to try and put it into action.

The Governor was a short, saturnine Mangoth, and received him in his quarters. Silent, stiff soldiers stood around the walls, but no hostility was shown by Laif. The fact that he wore one of their cloaks and carried a message from Gengis, proved to them he was a man to be trusted. There were one or two renegade Englishmen who had gone over to the Mangoths. Perhaps they thought Laif was one of these. The Governor read the note and grunted. Laif delivered his verbal message, then added—“It was the wish of Gengis that I should see the prisoner for a few moments and prepare him for his fate.” “H’m! Huh! Gengis always was soft-hearted to these dogs. Very well. You can have five minutes with him.” Laif could scarcely believe his good luck. He was taken across to the turret room, the door unlocked, and was told to go inside. Four Mangoth soldiers waited on the outside. Sir Robert Keith was sitting at a table writing. He was pale and his eyes unnaturally bright. When he looked up he did not recognise his visitor, seeing merely a man in a Mangoth cloak. Laif Raeburn stepped closer. “Sir Robert, you don’t remember me? I am Raeburn, of the Foreign Office. I worked under you at one time.” Sir Robert nodded coldly. “And now you work for the Mangoths?” “No, I am a prisoner like yourself. I’ve been made the personal servant of Gengis. I’ve been sent here to tell you that the Higher Command has ordered your execution tonight.” He saw Sir Robert’s hands clench. “So!” “Yes, but you won’t be shot if you listen to me, Sir Robert,” whispered the visitor. “Take this cloak and put on the hat. Go swiftly out of here and leave me in your place. You will get past all soldiers. There is a car waiting in the dark over there. Step in at one door and out of the other. I’m sure they won’t see you. I’m sure it can be done.” The prisoner was on his feet, flushed with hope, then he shook his head and sat down again. “Raeburn, I appreciate that, but I can’t do it. Do you think I’d let you suffer death for me? No!” “But you must, Sir Robert!” Laif clawed at him in his excitement. “You are of value to the country. Maybe you can organise the rising that will make us free again. A lot hangs on you. I—I’m just nobody. You’ve got to take the chance. Please!” For full three minutes he argued, but only when the guards were unlocking the door did Sir Robert allow the cloak and hat to be put on him. Laif sat at the table bent in a position depicting dejection. The guards did not as much as look at him, but motioned for the cloaked figure to come out. The door closed and Laif listened intently. Three minutes later he heard the car driving away. There had been no uproar or alarm, and he grinned to himself. “He’s got away! I’ve done it!” He had no thought for himself. All he rejoiced was that he had been able to save a great and important man for Britain. He had been able to strike a blow at the Mangoths. He sat down at the table to read one of Sir Robert’s books and almost before he knew it the clock struck 11.45.

It was only a quarter of an hour before he was to be executed. Footsteps sounded outside. There were voices, including one he recognised. Gengis was coming to see the important prisoner before he went to his doom. Laif almost smiled. By this time Sir Robert would be on his way to safety. Laif had advised him to head for the country, and seek refuge in the family home of the Raeburns, at a moorland village in Yorkshire, There was a shock in store for Gengis. The Governor of London came inside, and stood stiffly near the door. He looked at the figure sitting at the table, and for the moment noticed nothing amiss. “Sir Robert, I have an unpleasant duty to perform. At midnight precisely you are to be shot by order of the High Command for having conspired against the Mangoth regime.” Laif stood up and turned with a cheery grin on his face. “I’m sorry, but you’ll be disappointed. Sir Robert is well away by now.” He saw the man’s eyes blaze unbelievingly, saw him take a quick step forward and look around the chamber. There was nobody else to be seen. But for Laif the chamber was empty. “You mean you—you took his place, you dog?” thundered Gengis. “I did, and I’m glad of it. Sir Robert will be saved for Britain.” Face to face they stood, and then Gengis’ lips parted in a vicious snarl. His voice was almost unrecognizable when he roared—“By all the gods of Asia, this is too much! You have carried insolence too far!” His automatic pistol leapt to his hand, and he raised it level with Laif Raeburn’s heart.


Britain Down – But Never Out 13 episodes appeared in The Skipper issues 340 - 352 (1937)

© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd

Vic Whittle 2007