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|When the Sleeper Wakes||H. G. [Herbert George] Wells|
|Page 2 of 6||
She spoke softly." Listen! For at least half the years of your sleep--in every generation--multitudes of people, in every generation greater multitudes of people, have prayed that you might awake--prayed."
Graham moved to speak and did not.
She hesitated, and a faint colour crept back to her cheek. "Do you know that you have been to myriads--King Arthur, Barbarossa--the King who would come in his own good time and put the world right for them?"
"I suppose the imagination of the people--"
"Have you not heard our proverb, 'When the Sleeper wakes?' While you lay insensible and motionless there--thousands came. Thousands. Every first of the month you lay in state with a white robe upon you and the people filed by you. When I was a little girl I saw you like that, with your face white and calm."
She turned her face from him and looked steadfastly at the painted wall before her. Her voice fell. "When I was a little girl I used to look at your face. . . .it seemed to me fixed and waiting, like the patience of God."
"That is what we thought of you," she said. "That is how you seemed to us."
She turned shining eyes to him, her voice was clear and strong." In the city, in the earth, a myriad myriad men and women are waiting to see what you will do, full of strange incredible expectations."
"Ostrog--no one--can take that responsibility."
Graham looked at her in surprise, at her face lit with emotion. She seemed at first to have spoken with an effort, and to have fired herself by speaking.
"Do you think," she said, "that you who have lived that little life so far away in the past, you who have fallen into and risen out of this miracle of sleep--do you think that the wonder and reverence and hope of half the world has gathered about you only that you may live another little life? . . . That you may shift the responsibility to any other man?"
"I know how great this kingship of mine is," he said haltingly. "I know how great it seems. But is it real? It is incredible--dreamlike. Is it real, or is it only a great delusion?"
"It is real," she said; "if you dare."
"After all, like all kingship, my kingship is Belief. It is an illusion in the minds of men."
"If you dare!" she said.
"Countless men," she said, "and while it is in their minds--they will obey."
"But I know nothing. That is what I had in mind. I know nothing. And these others--the Councillors, Ostrog. They are wiser, cooler, they know so much, every detail. And, indeed, what are these miseries of which you speak? What am I to know? Do you mean--"
He stopped blankly.
"I am still hardly more than a girl," she said. "But to me the world seems full of wretchedness. The world has altered since your day, altered very strangely. I have prayed that I might see you and tell you these things. The world has changed. As if a canker had seized it--and robbed life of--everything worth having."
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|When the Sleeper Wakes
H. G. [Herbert George] Wells
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