THE YELLOW SWORD
episode taken from The Wizard No. 1550 -
Dazed by the
suddeness with which their country has been conquered, the people of
They are too bewildered to fight back—yet!
He had seen the grey hoards from
the East spread like a flood across
The war of 1968 had come close to
Hopebridge, but John did not realise it until he rested against the parapet of
the railway bridge and looked down at the gutted wreck of a diesel locomotive
and trucks that had come off the line like a great, dead snake. Maitland moved
on. He was on the last lap. He had been walking for the best part of a week
because there was no transport of any kind. He had escaped from the Kushantis
after the round-up in
Thrice the gong was struck. By
contrast, the voice on the radio that followed was shrill and falsetto in
intonation. “Conquered peoples of
“Dictate One,” said the sing-song voice of another speaker. “Persons will not move from the town or village in which they are now residential.
Dictate Two! The roads will be kept clear for movements by the Army of the Conquerors.
Dictate Three! All persons will resume their work in the towns and villages. The gas and electricity services are to be resumed without delay.
Dictate Four! Until the Censorships can be applied, there will be no employment of the telephone or postal communications.
Dictate Five! All persons will listen to the radio at this evening for further dictates.”
Maitland staggered on. He passed by the locked and shuttered school where he had taught, on towards the house where he had lived with his mother, father and younger brother. The wireless was now silent, but some of the villagers heard another voice, a voice that came from the street. Maitland with his head back and a strange glow in his eyes, was singing as he marched. “Rule Britannia,” he sang, “Britannia rules the waves. Britons never, never never shall be slaves!” His voice weakened and faded away. As, with shouts of “John! John’s come home!” his parents and brother rushed out of the house. Maitland staggered and fell sprawling and inert on the garden path.
The Conquerors Arrive
“They’re coming!” The villagers had
watched the main road from the south all morning, and it was a flicker of light
as a ray of sunshine caught a moving vehicle that started the shout of terror.
One of the last dictates to be sent out by the radio was that all inhabitants
were to be in the streets to receive the Occupiers. Only invalids were to be
excused. After a long sleep, Maitland was more himself, but his wounded arm was
painful and his feet sore. The grey suit he had worn as teacher hung loosely on
him. He stood near the gate with his father, the former headmaster, his mother,
and his brother Eric, who wore the cap of
The road to the left led to
This was the villagers’ first look at the Inquirer, Mr Kade. Fang’s expression was cold, inscrutable. He did not raise his voice as he issued an order. The troops, who had been standing like robots, leapt from the lorry. With clicking heels they formed a file. The sergeant, whose name was Lam, produced the flag of Kushanti, black and bearing the emblem of the Yellow Sword. Lieutenant Fang drew his sword and rested it on his shoulder. Followed by the soldiers, he marched with short, slow steps towards the village flagpole. The sergeant lashed the flag to the lanyard. Maitland, gritting his teeth hard together, observed that one of the troopers held a gong. Showing a mouthful of teeth, Mr Kade said something to Fang. The lieutenant turned and then beckoned to Noddy Jones. Noddy shambled up, wearing his empty grin. Mr Kade spoke in slow and precise accents. “Remove your hat,” he ordered. Noddy took off his topper. As the trooper beat thrice upon the gong, the flag was hoisted. Fang saluted with his sword and Noddy, with his mouth drooling open stared up. Mr Kade, camera sight to eye, clicked the shutter and took a picture. Was it that moment that hope was born again in Maitland? The remorseless and inscrutable Conquerors had mistaken Noddy for the most important person in the village. Without trying to, the simpleton had somehow turned the flag hoisting ceremony into a farce. Maitland even saw a slight relaxation of tension in the faces of his father and mother, and young Eric tittered. Perhaps the Conquerors could be deceived again in more vital ways.
The Search Squad
Next morning Maitland looked out of the attic window. He had gone up there to fetch his shotgun. An order had been issued that all weapons were to be surrendered immediately. He looked down the street. Placards were dotted about everywhere. The efficiency of the Conquerors was astonishing. The main purpose of the edicts on the placards was to order the continuation of work. The only act of aggression had been the requisition of Miss Tithlery’s house. Miss Tithlery had been given two minutes in which to leave with her elderly maid, Emily. They had simply moved to the rectory. The “Laurels,” as Miss Tithlery’s house was named, had become the headquarters of Fang and Mr Kade. The first edict promulgated from it, was that curfew was at sundown and that any person disobeying it would be executed. Maitland heard the tramp of feet and he felt anxious. Sergeant Lam and two troopers marched up the garden path. Maitland heard his mother speak to them tremulously. “You have hens?” Lam hissed. “Yes,” whispered Mrs Maitland. “How many eggs did the hens yesterday lay?” demanded Lam. “Ten, I think,” murmured Mrs Maitland. “Yes, it was ten.” “Half of ten is five,” Lam calculated aloud. “I take five.” There was a pause and then the tramp of feet. Lam led the way down the path and one of the soldiers carried a paper bag containing five eggs. Maitland came downstairs and went out with the gun. He walked out with it towards a table placed on the lawn of headquarters. A Kushanti clerk, helmeted, sat at the table. The flag with the Yellow Sword flew on a pole. In a neat row on the ground were lined rook rifles, airguns and shotguns as well as swords, pistols and other weapons. Maitland, at a sign, placed his gun on the table and gave his name. As Maitland walked away, he was intercepted by Mr Kade. The latter pointed at a wood and glass erection at the side of the road. “What is that?” he asked. “It’s the bus shelter,” stated Maitland. Mr Kade regarded him with anger. “Do not answer me with contumely,” he snarled. “An omnibus could not be inserted in the erection.” “We call it a bus shelter because it’s a shelter for omnibus passengers,” said Maitland. Mr Kade had a notebook and a large fountain pen. He made an entry in the book in spidery writing and then pointed to an old, stone structure at the end of the green. “What is that?” he demanded. “It’s the pound,” Maitland answered. Mr Kade again regarded him suspiciously. “A pound is your standard monetary unit,” he said like a parrot. “That structure is also called a pound,” retorted Maitland. “Stray animals are still put in it. Possibly the name comes from impound.”
Mr Kade stuck up a thin finger to show that he understood. He made another note. Maitland realised that while the inquirer and other Kushantis had a wide literal knowledge of English, the double meaning of words eluded them. It was something to remember. Across the green marched Lieutenant Fang and a squad. They were searching for arms, and there was a crash of splintering wood as troopers smashed in the door of the little cricket pavilion with their rifle butts. A soldier shouted shrilly and marched out holding a set of cricket stumps. Fang peered at the metal points. He called to Mr Kade, who gestured to Maitland to follow him. “Look, we have found some javelins that have not been surrendered,” hissed Fang. “No, they are not javelins, they are wickets,” said Maitland. “They are used for the game of cricket.” Mr Kade placed the tips of his fingers against his forehead and consulted his memory. “He does not lie,” he said, quoting as if from a dictionary. “Cricket is an outdoor game played with a bat, a ball and wickets.” Fang gave an order and the soldier marched back into the pavilion with the stumps. From the pavilion the soldiers crossed the green towards the church. In the lych gate stood old James Crumley, the Sexton. “Stand aside,” commanded Fang. “We have to search for arms.” Crumley did not move. “You won’t find any arms in the church,” he protested. Fang stepped to the side. He mouthed an order. There was a ragged volley of shots and the Sexton thudded to the ground. Fang and the troopers marched over him to search the church and later his body was tied to the gate with a placard— HE WAS EXTINGUISHED FOR RESISTING THE CONQUERORS.
John’s Big Decision
The murder of James Crumley revolted the people of Hopebridge and yet no act of bullying or cruelty followed on it. When the rector asked Mr Kade for permission to bury Crumley, the answer he received was, “Follow your customary practice.” At the funeral, attended by everyone except the children, Mr Kade watched what was going on, made notes and took photographs. Maitland was walking away when Sergeant Lam and a patrol came marching down the street. Some children were playing and one of the boys gave a yell. Lam gave a jump. He stalked towards the urchin and ministered a stinging blow across his face. Maitland had previously noticed how the Conquerors disliked noise and he had often felt fear when he saw them coldly regarding the children as if speculating what to do with them. After a curfew that night, John Maitland told his father what he had in mind. “I’m going to reopen the school tomorrow,” he said. Mr Maitland peered at his son in shortsighted astonishment. “It won’t be permitted, John!” he exclaimed. “The Conquerors have put a ban on any sort of meeting.” “I think I shall get away with it,” Maitland replied calmly. “The Invaders—” He never called them Conquerors— “are very insistent that people shall work. Teaching is my work. I shall make my stand on that.” “My word, it’s worth trying,” muttered Mr Maitland. “I’ve been frightened for the children and it would get them off the street. They should have their lessons, too. If this goes on they’ll be illiterates.” “That’s how I feel about it,” Maitland answered. In the morning, shortly before none o’clock, Maitland let himself into the playground. He opened the shutters. He unlocked the door. While he had been in the Army, his father and a schoolmistress from Carbridge, ten miles away, had kept classes going. The village had a school population of about fifty. Maitland walked over to the bottom of the little belfry. He grasped the rope and the bell began to ring. At its clang every activity in the village ceased. People came out of their houses and looked towards the school. The children were held back. Out from the Kushantis’ headquarters doubled a squad of soldiers with fixed bayonets, led by Fang and accompanied by Mr Kade. Through the open door Maitland saw the gleam of the bayonets. He remembered how the Sexton had been shot. He went on ringing the bell.
Fang drew his pistol from its holster and advanced through the porch. “Stop!” he ordered. “Speak! The bell is a signal? What is the signal for?” “I am the schoolteacher,” replied Maitland slowly and deliberately. “To teach the children is my work. You have ordered people to get on with their work. That I am doing.” Fang slowly returned the pistol to the holster. He turned to Mr Kade and they conversed in their own tongue. Finally Fang turned on Maitland. “Come with us,” he hissed. The onlookers shuddered as they saw Maitland walking between the soldiers to the Occupation Headquarters. There, John was taken into what had been Miss Tithlery’s drawing-room. Two soldiers remained on guard. John heard Fang’s muffled voice in the next room and was sure the lieutenant was telephoning. The conversation ended. Fang marched in followed by Mr Kade and sat at the table. A clerk brought in a book, bowed low and placed it in front of the lieutenant. As Fang licked a thumb and turned the pages, Maitland managed to see that each page was headed with the name of a villager. Fang found the page he sought and lifted his gaze on Maitland. “Your name is John Maitland,” he said. “You were a Sergeant in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment?” “Yes,” answered Maitland. “It appears to be true that before the War of Invincible Conquest you were the teacher,” pursued Fang. “I had been teacher for two years,” said Maitland. “No,” hissed Fang and pointed at the page. “It is our information that you were the teacher for two years three months.” “I was speaking roughly,” Maitland replied. “You must be more precise,” Fang said. “How do you know so much about me? How did you get information about humble folk such as we are?” Maitland blurted out. Mr Kade spoke smugly. “We have ways,” he sniggered. Fang conferred with Mr Kade and then rose from his chair and walked out stiffly. Maitland heard him telephoning again. In a while Fang returned. “It had been decided,” he said. “It is permitted for you to open the school tomorrow. Attendance at the school is not to be compulsory.” Immense was the relief of the villagers, when Maitland was seen to come out of the headquarters. His family met him at the garden gate. “School opens tomorrow,” said Maitland with a ring of satisfaction in his tones. “It’s not to be compulsory but you—” He pointed at Eric, “will attend.” “I shan’t be sorry to have something to do,” admitted Eric. So, after a meagre breakfast next day, Maitland and Eric went to the school. Maitland unlocked and opened the door.
Eric nudged him, put a finger to his lips and then pointed down. A small pile of sawdust lay underneath a tiny hole that had been bored in the skirting board. Eric got down on his knees and squinted into the hole. He scrambled up and went to the blackboard. On it he chalked— “There’s a wire! I bet the Kushantis wired the place for sound last night! There will be microphones here so that they can overhear what happens in the school!” Maitland nodded and watched as his brother wiped the message off the blackboard. Then he grasped the rope and rang the bell. From houses and cottages all the way down the street, with parents watching them go, the children came running. With pattering feet, but not shouting, they hurried. Some of the boys engaged in a race to see who could get in to school first. Sentries on patrol watched them pass with impassive faces. In through the porch poured the children, eager and breathless, and as Maitland regarded their fresh faces, he felt hope well up in him, and suddenly knew afresh that he had a good reason for working for the future!
The Yellow Sword 15 episodes appeared in The Wizard issues 1550 - 1564 (1955)
© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd
Vic Whittle 2007