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|When the Sleeper Wakes||H. G. [Herbert George] Wells|
|Page 3 of 6||
She turned a flushed face upon him, moving suddenly. "Your days were the days of freedom. Yes--I have thought. I have been made to think, for my life--has not been happy. Men are no longer free--no greater, no better than the men of your time. That is not all. This city--is a prison. Every city now is a prison. Mammon grips the key in his hand. Myriads, countless myriads, toil from the cradle to the grave. Is that right? Is that to be--for ever? Yes, far worse than in your time. All about us, beneath us, sorrow and pain. All the shallow delight of such life as you find about you, is separated by just a little from a life of wretchedness beyond any telling Yes, the poor know it--they know they suffer. These countless multitudes who faced death for you two nights since--! You owe your life to them."
"Yes," said Graham, slowly. "Yes. I owe my life to them."
"You come," she said, "from the days when this new tyranny of the cities was scarcely beginning. It is a tyranny--a tyranny. In your days the feudal war lords had gone, and the new lordship of wealth had still to come. Half the men in the world still lived out upon the free countryside. The cities had still to devour them. I have heard the stories out of the old books--there was nobility! Common men led lives of love and faithfulness then--they did a thousand things. And you--you come from that time."
"It was not--. But never mind. How is it now--? "
"Gain and the Pleasure Cities! Or slavery--unthanked, unhonoured, slavery."
"Slavery!" he said.
"You don't mean to say that human beings are chattels."
"Worse. That is what I want you to know, what I want you to see. I know you do not know. They will keep things from you, they will take you presently to a Pleasure City. But you have noticed men and women and children in pale blue canvas, with thin yellow faces and dull eyes? "
"Speaking a horrible dialect, coarse and weak."
"I have heard it."
"They are the slaves--your slaves. They are the slaves of the Labour Company you own."
"The Labour Company! In some way--that is familiar. Ah! now I remember. I saw it when I was wandering about the city, after the lights returned, great fronts of buildings coloured pale blue. Do you really mean--?"
"Yes. How can I explain it to you? Of course the blue uniform struck you. Nearly a third of our people wear it--more assume it now every day. This Labour Company has grown imperceptibly."
"What is this Labour Company?" asked Graham.
"In the old times, how did you manage with staning people?"
"There was the workhouse--which the parishes maintained."
"Workhouse! Yes--there was something. In our history lessons. I remember now. The Labour Company ousted the workhouse. It grew--partly--out of something--you, perhaps, may remember it--an emotional religious organisation called the Salvation Army--that became a business company. In the first place it was almost a charity. To save people from workhouse rigours. Now I come to think of it, it was one of the earliest properties your Trustees acquired. They bought the Salvation Army and reconstructed it as this. The idea in the first place was to give work to starving homeless people."
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|When the Sleeper Wakes
H. G. [Herbert George] Wells
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