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|When the Sleeper Wakes||H. G. [Herbert George] Wells|
While The Aerolanes Were Coming
|Page 7 of 10||
His face had changed. It had dawned upon him that the struggle was perhaps more than half over, that Ostrog was holding his own, that the arrival of the aeroplanes would mean a panic that might leave him helpless. A chance phrase in the message had given him a glimpse of the reality that came. Each of these soaring giants bore its thousand half savage negroes to the death grapple of the city. Suddenly his humanitarian enthusiasm showed flimsy. Only two of the Ward Leaders were in their room, when presently he repaired thither, the Hall of the Atlas seemed empty. He fancied a change in the bearing of the attendants in the outer rooms. A sombre disillusionment darkened his mind. She looked at him anxiously when he returned to her.
"No news," he said with an assumed carelessness in answer to her eyes.
Then he was moved to frankness. "Or rather--bad news. We are losing. We are gaining no ground and the aeroplanes draw nearer and nearer."
He walked the length of the room and turned.
"Unless we can capture those flying stages in the next hour--there will be horrible things. We shall be beaten.
"No!" she said. "We have justice--we have the people. We have God on our side."
"Ostrog has discipline--he has plans. Do you know, out there just now I felt--. When I heard that these aeroplanes were a stage nearer. I felt as if I were fighting the machinery of fate."
She made no answer for a while. "We have done right," she said at last.
He looked at her doubtfully. "We have done what we could. But does this depend upon us? Is it not an older sin, a wider sin?"
"What do you mean? " she asked.
"These blacks are savages, ruled by force, used as force. And they have been under the rule of the whites two hundred years. Is it not a race quarrel? The race sinned--the race pays."
"But these labourers, these poor people of London--! "
"Vicarious atonement. To stand wrong is to share the guilt."
She looked keenly at him, astonished at the new aspect he presented.
Without came the shrill ringing of a bell, the sound of feet and the gabble of a phonographic message. The man in yellow appeared. "Yes?" said Graham.
"They are at Vichy."
"Where are the attendants who were in the great Hall of the Atlas? " asked Graham abruptly.
Presently the Babble Machine rang again. "We may win yet," said the man in yellow, going out to it. "If only we can find where Ostrog has hidden his guns. Everything hangs on that now. Perhaps this--"
Graham followed him. But the only news was of the aeroplanes. They had reached Orleans.
Graham returned to Helen. "No news," he said "No news."
"And we can do nothing?"
He paced impatiently. Suddenly the swift anger that was his nature swept upon him. "Curse this complex world!" he cried, "and all the inventions of men! That a man must die like a rat in a snare and never see his foe! Oh, for one blow! . . ."
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|When the Sleeper Wakes
H. G. [Herbert George] Wells
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