The Lord of the
Dynamos by H. G.
The chief attendant of the three dynamos that buzzed and rattled at
Camberwell, and kept the electric railway going, came out of Yorkshire,
and his name was James Holroyd. He was a practical electrician, but fond
of whisky, a heavy, red-haired brute with irregular teeth. He doubted the
existence of the Deity, but accepted Carnot's cycle, and he had read
Shakespeare and found him weak in chemistry. His helper came out of the
mysterious East, and his name was Azuma-zi. But Holroyd called him
Pooh-bah. Holroyd liked a nigger help because he would stand kicking—a
habit with Holroyd—and did not pry into the machinery and try to learn
the ways of it. Certain odd possibilities of the negro mind brought into
abrupt contact with the crown of our civilisation Holroyd never fully
realised, though just at the end he got some inkling of them.
To define Azuma-zi was beyond ethnology. He was, perhaps, more negroid
than anything else, though his hair was curly rather than frizzy, and his
nose had a bridge. Moreover, his skin was brown rather than black, and the
whites of his eyes were yellow. His broad cheekbones and narrow chin gave
his face something of the viperine V. His head, too, was broad behind, and
low and narrow at the forehead, as if his brain had been twisted round in
the reverse way to a European's. He was short of stature and still shorter
of English. In conversation he made numerous odd noises of no known
marketable value, and his infrequent words were carved and wrought into
heraldic grotesqueness. Holroyd tried to elucidate his religious beliefs,
and—especially after whisky—lectured to him against superstition and
missionaries. Azuma-zi, however, shirked the discussion of his gods, even
though he was kicked for it.
Azuma-zi had come, clad in white but insufficient raiment, out of the
stoke-hole of the Lord Clive, from the Straits Settlements and
beyond, into London. He had heard even in his youth of the greatness and
riches of London, where all the women are white and fair, and even the
beggars in the streets are white, and he had arrived, with newly-earned
gold coins in his pocket, to worship at the shrine of civilisation. The
day of his landing was a dismal one; the sky was dun, and a wind-worried
drizzle filtered down to the greasy streets, but he plunged boldly into
the delights of Shadwell, and was presently cast up, shattered in health,
civilised in costume, penniless, and, except in matters of the direst
necessity, practically a dumb animal, to toil for James Holroyd, and to be
bullied by him in the dynamo shed at Camberwell. And to James Holroyd
bullying was a labour of love.
There were three dynamos with their engines at Camberwell. The two that
have been there since the beginning are small machines; the larger one was
new. The smaller machines made a reasonable noise; their straps hummed
over the drums, every now and then the brushes buzzed and fizzled, and the
air churned steadily, whoo! whoo! whoo! between their poles. One was loose
in its foundations and kept the shed vibrating. But the big dynamo drowned
these little noises altogether with the sustained drone of its iron core,
which somehow set part of the ironwork humming. The place made the
visitor's head reel with the throb, throb, throb of the engines, the
rotation of the big wheels, the spinning ball-valves, the occasional
spittings of the steam, and over all the deep, unceasing, surging note of
the big dynamo. This last noise was from an engineering point of view a
defect, but Azuma-zi accounted it unto the monster for mightiness and
If it were possible we would have the noises of that shed always about the
reader as he reads, we would tell all our story to such an accompaniment.
It was a steady stream of din, from which the ear picked out first one
thread and then another; there was the intermittent snorting, panting, and
seething of the steam engines, the suck and thud of their pistons, the
dull beat on the air as the spokes of the great driving wheels came round,
a note the leather straps made as they ran tighter and looser, and a
fretful tumult from the dynamos; and, over all, sometimes inaudible, as
the ear tired of it, and then creeping back upon the senses again, was
this trombone note of the big machine. The floor never felt steady and
quiet beneath one's feet, but quivered and jarred. It was a confusing,
unsteady place, and enough to send anyone's thoughts jerking into odd
zigzags. And for three months, while the big strike of the engineers was
in progress, Holroyd, who was a blackleg, and Azuma-zi, who was a mere
black, were never out of the stir and eddy of it, but slept and fed in the
little wooden shanty between the shed and the gates.
Holroyd delivered a theological lecture on the text of his big machine
soon after Azuma-zi came. He had to shout to be heard in the din. "Look at
that," said Holroyd; "where's your 'eathen idol to match 'im?" And
Azuma-zi looked. For a moment Holroyd was inaudible, and then Azuma-zi
heard: "Kill a hundred men. Twelve per cent, on the ordinary shares," said
Holroyd, "and that's something like a Gord."
Holroyd was proud of his big dynamo, and expatiated upon its size and
power to Azuma-zi until heaven knows what odd currents of thought that and
the incessant whirling and shindy set up within the curly black cranium.
He would explain in the most graphic manner the dozen or so ways in which
a man might be killed by it, and once he gave Azuma-zi a shock as a sample
of its quality. After that, in the breathing-times of his labour—it was
heavy labour, being not only his own, but most of Holroyd's—Azuma-zi
would sit and watch the big machine. Now and then the brushes would
sparkle and spit blue flashes, at which Holroyd would swear, but all the
rest was as smooth and rhythmic as breathing. The band ran shouting over
the shaft, and ever behind one as one watched was the complacent thud of
the piston. So it lived all day in this big airy shed, with him and
Holroyd to wait upon it; not prisoned up and slaving to drive a ship as
the other engines he knew—mere captive devils of the British Solomon—had
been, but a machine enthroned. Those two smaller dynamos Azuma-zi by force
of contrast despised; the large one he privately christened the Lord of
the Dynamos. They were fretful and irregular, but the big dynamo was
steady. How great it was! How serene and easy in its working! Greater and
calmer even than the Buddhas he had seen at Rangoon, and yet not
motionless, but living! The great black coils spun, spun, spun, the rings
ran round under the brushes, and the deep note of its coil steadied the
whole. It affected Azuma-zi queerly.
Azuma-zi was not fond of labour. He would sit about and watch the Lord of
the Dynamos while Holroyd went away to persuade the yard porter to get
whisky, although his proper place was not in the dynamo shed but behind
the engines, and, moreover, if Holroyd caught him skulking he got hit for
it with a rod of stout copper wire. He would go and stand close to the
colossus, and look up at the great leather band running overhead. There
was a black patch on the band that came round, and it pleased him somehow
among all the clatter to watch this return again and again. Odd thoughts
spun with the whirl of it. Scientific people tell us that savages give
souls to rocks and trees,—and a machine is a thousand times more alive
than a rock or a tree. And Azuma-zi was practically a savage still; the
veneer of civilisation lay no deeper than his slop suit, his bruises, and
the coal grime on his face and hands. His father before him had worshipped
a meteoric stone, kindred blood, it may be, had splashed the broad wheels
He took every opportunity Holroyd gave him of touching and handling the
great dynamo that was fascinating him. He polished and cleaned it until
the metal parts were blinding in the sun. He felt a mysterious sense of
service in doing this. He would go up to it and touch its spinning coils
gently. The gods he had worshipped were all far away. The people in London
hid their gods.
At last his dim feelings grew more distinct, and took shape in thoughts,
and at last in acts. When he came into the roaring shed one morning he
salaamed to the Lord of the Dynamos, and then, when Holroyd was away, he
went and whispered to the thundering machine that he was its servant, and
prayed it to have pity on him and save him from Holroyd. As he did so a
rare gleam of light came in through the open archway of the throbbing
machine-shed, and the Lord of the Dynamos, as he whirled and roared, was
radiant with pale gold. Then Azuma-zi knew that his service was acceptable
to his Lord. After that he did not feel so lonely as he had done, and he
had indeed been very much alone in London. And even when his work-time was
over, which was rare, he loitered about the shed.
Then, the next time Holroyd maltreated him, Azuma-zi went presently to the
Lord of the Dynamos and whispered, "Thou seest, O my Lord!" and the angry
whirr of the machinery seemed to answer him. Thereafter it appeared to him
that whenever Holroyd came into the shed a different note came into the
sounds of the dynamo. "My Lord bides his time," said Azuma-zi to himself.
"The iniquity of the fool is not yet ripe." And he waited and watched for
the day of reckoning. One day there was evidence of short circuiting, and
Holroyd, making an unwary examination—it was in the afternoon—got a
rather severe shock. Azuma-zi from behind the engine saw him jump off and
curse at the peccant coil.
"He is warned," said Azuma-zi to himself. "Surely my Lord is very
Holroyd had at first initiated his "nigger" into such elementary
conceptions of the dynamo's working as would enable him to take temporary
charge of the shed in his absence. But when he noticed the manner in which
Azuma-zi hung about the monster he became suspicious. He dimly perceived
his assistant was "up to something," and connecting him with the anointing
of the coils with oil that had rotted the varnish in one place, he issued
an edict, shouted above the confusion of the machinery, "Don't 'ee go nigh
that big dynamo any more, Pooh-bah, or a'll take thy skin off!" Besides,
if it pleased Azuma-zi to be near the big machine, it was plain sense and
decency to keep him away from it.
Azuma-zi obeyed at the time, but later he was caught bowing before the
Lord of the Dynamos. At which Holroyd twisted his arm and kicked him as he
turned to go away. As Azuma-zi presently stood behind the engine and
glared at the back of the hated Holroyd, the noises of the machinery took
a new rhythm, and sounded like four words in his native tongue.
It is hard to say exactly what madness is. I fancy Azuma-zi was mad. The
incessant din and whirl of the dynamo shed may have churned up his little
store of knowledge and big store of superstitious fancy, at last, into
something akin to frenzy. At any rate, when the idea of making Holroyd a
sacrifice to the Dynamo Fetich was thus suggested to him, it filled him
with a strange tumult of exultant emotion.
That night the two men and their black shadows were alone in the shed
together. The shed was lit with one big arc light that winked and
flickered purple. The shadows lay black behind the dynamos, the ball
governors of the engines whirled from light to darkness, and their pistons
beat loud and steady. The world outside seen through the open end of the
shed seemed incredibly dim and remote. It seemed absolutely silent, too,
since the riot of the machinery drowned every external sound. Far away was
the black fence of the yard with grey shadowy houses behind, and above was
the deep blue sky and the pale little stars. Azuma-zi suddenly walked
across the centre of the shed above which the leather bands were running,
and went into the shadow by the big dynamo. Holroyd heard a click, and the
spin of the armature changed.
"What are you dewin' with that switch?" he bawled in surprise. "Han't I
Then he saw the set expression of Azuma-zi's eyes as the Asiatic came out
of the shadow towards him.
In another moment the two men were grappling fiercely in front of the
"You coffee-headed fool!" gasped Holroyd, with a brown hand at his throat.
"Keep off those contact rings." In another moment he was tripped and
reeling back upon the Lord of the Dynamos. He instinctively loosened his
grip upon his antagonist to save himself from the machine.
The messenger, sent in furious haste from the station to find out what had
happened in the dynamo shed, met Azuma-zi at the porter's lodge by the
gate. Azuma-zi tried to explain something, but the messenger could make
nothing of the black's incoherent English, and hurried on to the shed.
The machines were all noisily at work, and nothing seemed to be
disarranged. There was, however, a queer smell of singed hair. Then he saw
an odd-looking crumpled mass clinging to the front of the big dynamo, and,
approaching, recognised the distorted remains of Holroyd.
The man stared and hesitated a moment. Then he saw the face, and shut his
eyes convulsively. He turned on his heel before he opened them, so that he
should not see Holroyd again, and went out of the shed to get advice and
When Azuma-zi saw Holroyd die in the grip of the Great Dynamo he had been
a little scared about the consequences of his act. Yet he felt strangely
elated, and knew that the favour of the Lord Dynamo was upon him. His plan
was already settled when he met the man coming from the station, and the
scientific manager who speedily arrived on the scene jumped at the obvious
conclusion of suicide. This expert scarcely noticed Azuma-zi, except to
ask a few questions. Did he see Holroyd kill himself? Azuma-zi explained
he had been out of sight at the engine furnace until he heard a difference
in the noise from the dynamo. It was not a difficult examination, being
untinctured by suspicion.
The distorted remains of Holroyd, which the electrician removed from
the machine, were hastily covered by the porter with a coffee-stained
table-cloth. Somebody, by a happy inspiration, fetched a medical man. The
expert was chiefly anxious to get the machine at work again, for seven or
eight trains had stopped midway in the stuffy tunnels of the electric
railway. Azuma-zi, answering or misunderstanding the questions of the
people who had by authority or impudence come into the shed, was presently
sent back to the stoke-hole by the scientific manager. Of course a crowd
collected outside the gates of the yard—a crowd, for no known reason,
always hovers for a day or two near the scene of a sudden death in
London—two or three reporters percolated somehow into the engine-shed,
and one even got to Azuma-zi; but the scientific expert cleared them out
again, being himself an amateur journalist.
Presently the body was carried away, and public interest departed with it.
Azuma-zi remained very quietly at his furnace, seeing over and over again
in the coals a figure that wriggled violently and became still. An hour
after the murder, to any one coming into the shed it would have looked
exactly as if nothing remarkable had ever happened there. Peeping
presently from his engine-room the black saw the Lord Dynamo spin and
whirl beside his little brothers, and the driving wheels were beating
round, and the steam in the pistons went thud, thud, exactly as it had
been earlier in the evening. After all, from the mechanical point of view,
it had been a most insignificant incident—the mere temporary deflection
of a current. But now the slender form and slender shadow of the
scientific manager replaced the sturdy outline of Holroyd travelling up
and down the lane of light upon the vibrating floor under the straps
between the engines and the dynamos.
"Have I not served my Lord?" said Azuma-zi inaudibly, from his shadow, and
the note of the great dynamo rang out full and clear. As he looked at the
big whirling mechanism the strange fascination of it that had been a
little in abeyance since Holroyd's death resumed its sway.
Never had Azuma-zi seen a man killed so swiftly and pitilessly. The big
humming machine had slain its victim without wavering for a second from
its steady beating. It was indeed a mighty god.
The unconscious scientific manager stood with his back to him, scribbling
on a piece of paper. His shadow lay at the foot of the monster.
Was the Lord Dynamo still hungry? His servant was ready.
Azuma-zi made a stealthy step forward; then stopped. The scientific
manager suddenly ceased his writing, walked down the shed to the endmost
of the dynamos, and began to examine the brushes.
Azuma-zi hesitated, and then slipped across noiselessly into the shadow by
the switch. There he waited. Presently the manager's footsteps could be
heard returning. He stopped in his old position, unconscious of the stoker
crouching ten feet away from him. Then the big dynamo suddenly fizzled,
and in another moment Azuma-zi had sprung out of the darkness upon him.
First, the scientific manager was gripped round the body and swung towards
the big dynamo, then, kicking with his knee and forcing his antagonist's
head down with his hands, he loosened the grip on his waist and swung
round away from the machine. Then the black grasped him again, putting a
curly head against his chest, and they swayed and panted as it seemed for
an age or so. Then the scientific manager was impelled to catch a black
ear in his teeth and bite furiously. The black yelled hideously.
They rolled over on the floor, and the black, who had apparently slipped
from the vice of the teeth or parted with some ear—the scientific manager
wondered which at the time—tried to throttle him. The scientific manager
was making some ineffectual efforts to claw something with his hands and
to kick, when the welcome sound of quick footsteps sounded on the floor.
The next moment Azuma-zi had left him and darted towards the big dynamo.
There was a splutter amid the roar.
The officer of the company who had entered stood staring as Azuma-zi
caught the naked terminals in his hands, gave one horrible convulsion, and
then hung motionless from the machine, his face violently distorted.
"I'm jolly glad you came in when you did," said the scientific manager,
still sitting on the floor.
He looked at the still quivering figure. "It is not a nice death to die,
apparently—but it is quick."
The official was still staring at the body. He was a man of slow
There was a pause.
The scientific manager got up on his feet rather awkwardly. He ran his
fingers along his collar thoughtfully, and moved his head to and fro
"Poor Holroyd! I see now." Then almost mechanically he went towards the
switch in the shadow and turned the current into the railway circuit
again. As he did so the singed body loosened its grip upon the machine and
fell forward on its face. The core of the dynamo roared out loud and
clear, and the armature beat the air.
So ended prematurely the worship of the Dynamo Deity, perhaps the most
short-lived of all religions. Yet withal it could at least boast a
Martyrdom and a Human Sacrifice.