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|1. The Consultation||H. G. [Herbert George] Wells|
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He stressed his words and reinforced them with a quivering gesture of his upraised clenched hand. "My temper's in rags. I explode at any little thing. I'm RAW. I can't work steadily for ten minutes and I can't leave off working."
"Your name," said the doctor, "is familiar. Sir Richmond Hardy? In the papers. What is it?"
"Of course! The Fuel Commission. Stupid of me! We certainly can't afford to have you ill."
"I AM ill. But you can't afford to have me absent from that Commission."
"Your technical knowledge--"
"Technical knowledge be damned! Those men mean to corner the national fuel supply. And waste it! For their profits. That's what I'm up against. You don't know the job I have to do. You don't know what a Commission of that sort is. The moral tangle of it. You don't know how its possibilities and limitations are canvassed and schemed about, long before a single member is appointed. Old Cassidy worked the whole thing with the prime minister. I can see that now as plain as daylight. I might have seen it at first. . . . Three experts who'd been got at; they thought _I_'d been got at; two Labour men who'd do anything you wanted them to do provided you called them 'level-headed.' Wagstaffe the socialist art critic who could be trusted to play the fool and make nationalization look silly, and the rest mine owners, railway managers, oil profiteers, financial adventurers. . . . "
He was fairly launched. "It's the blind folly of it! In the days before the war it was different. Then there was abundance. A little grabbing or cornering was all to the good. All to the good. It prevented things being used up too fast. And the world was running by habit; the inertia was tremendous. You could take all sorts of liberties. But all this is altered. We're living in a different world. The public won't stand things it used to stand. It's a new public. It's--wild. It'll smash up the show if they go too far. Everything short and running shorter--food, fuel, material. But these people go on. They go on as though nothing had changed. . . . Strikes, Russia, nothing will warn them. There are men on that Commission who would steal the brakes off a mountain railway just before they went down in it. . . . It's a struggle with suicidal imbeciles. It's--! But I'm talking! I didn't come here to talk Fuel."
"You think there may be a smash-up?"
"I lie awake at night, thinking of it."
"A social smash-up."
"Economic. Social. Yes. Don't you?"
"A social smash-up seems to me altogether a possibility. All sorts of people I find think that," said the doctor. "All sorts of people lie awake thinking of it."
"I wish some of my damned Committee would!"
The doctor turned his eyes to the window. "I lie awake too," he said and seemed to reflect. But he was observing his patient acutely--with his ears.
"But you see how important it is," said Sir Richmond, and left his sentence unfinished.
"I'll do what I can for you," said the doctor, and considered swiftly what line of talk he had best follow.
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|The Secret Places of the Heart
H. G. [Herbert George] Wells
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