The Lord of the Dynamos, by H. G. Wells
Bacillus and Other Incidents
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 cheek-bones 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
whiskey—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 Buddahs 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 whiskey, 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 of Juggernaut.
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
"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
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
"What are you dewin' with that switch?" he bawled in surprise. "Han't
I told you—"
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 help.
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
The distorted remains of Holroyd, which the electrician removed from
the machine, were hastily covered by the porter with a coffee-stained
tablecloth. 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
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 anyone 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
"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
"Was the Lord Dynamo still hungry? His servant was ready."
Azuma-zi made a stealthy step forward; then stopped. The scientific
manager suddenly stopped writing, and 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
"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.