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|The Wheels of Chance||H. G. [Herbert George] Wells|
|Page 1 of 3||
As they were sitting by the roadside among the pine trees half-way up a stretch of hill between Wimborne and Ringwood, however, Mr. Hoopdriver reopened the question of his worldly position.
"Ju think," he began abruptly, removing a meditative cigarette from his mouth, "that a draper's shopman IS a decent citizen?"
"When he puts people off with what they don't quite want, for instance?"
"Need he do that?"
"Salesmanship," said Hoopdriver. "Wouldn't get a crib if he didn't.--It's no good your arguing. It's not a particularly honest nor a particularly useful trade; it's not very high up ; there's no freedom and no leisure--seven to eight-thirty every day in the week; don't leave much edge to live on, does it?--real workmen laugh at us and educated chaps like bank clerks and solicitors' clerks look down on us. You look respectable outside, and inside you are packed in dormitories like convicts, fed on bread and butter and bullied like slaves. You're just superior enough to feel that you're not superior. Without capital there's no prospects; one draper in a hundred don't even earn enough to marry on; and if he DOES marry, his G.V. can just use him to black boots if he likes, and he daren't put his back up. That's drapery! And you tell me to be contented. Would YOU be contented if you was a shop girl?"
She did not answer. She looked at him with distress in her brown eyes, and he remained gloomily in possession of the field.
Presently he spoke. "I've been thinking," he said, and stopped.
She turned her face, resting her cheek on the palm of her hand. There was a light in her eyes that made the expression of them tender. Mr. Hoopdriver had not looked in her face while he had talked. He had regarded the grass, and pointed his remarks with redknuckled hands held open and palms upwards. Now they hung limply over his knees.
"Well?" she said.
"I was thinking it this morning," said Mr. Hoopdriver.
"Of course it's silly." "Well?"
"It's like this. I'm twenty-three, about. I had my schooling all right to fifteen, say. Well, that leaves me eight years behind.--Is it too late? I wasn't so backward. I did algebra, and Latin up to auxiliary verbs, and French genders. I got a kind of grounding."
"And now you mean, should you go on working?"
"Yes," said Mr. Hoopdriver. "That's it. You can't do much at drapery without capital, you know. But if I could get really educated. I've thought sometimes. . ."
"Why not? said the Young Lady in Grey.
Mr. Hoopdriver was surprised to see it in that light. "You think?" he said. "Of course. You are a Man. You are free--" She warmed. "I wish I were you to have the chance of that struggle."
"Am I Man ENOUGH?" said Mr. Hoopdriver aloud, but addressing himself. "There's that eight years," he said to her.
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|The Wheels of Chance
H. G. [Herbert George] Wells
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