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|When the Sleeper Wakes||H. G. [Herbert George] Wells|
The Old Man Who Knew Everything
|Page 1 of 7||
He was startled by a cough close at hand.
He turned sharply, and peering, saw a small, hunched-up figure sitting a couple of yards off in the shadow of the enclosure.
"Have ye any news? " asked the high-pitched wheezy voice of a very old man.
Graham hesitated." None," he said.
"I stay here till the lights come again," said the old man." These blue scoundrels are everywhere--everywhere."
Graham's answer was inarticulate assent. He tried to see the old man but the darkness hid his face. He wanted very much to respond, to talk, but he did not know how to begin.
"Dark and damnable," said the old man suddenly. "Dark and damnable. Turned out of my room among all these dangers."
"That's hard," ventured Graham. "That's hard on you."
"Darkness. An old man lost in the darkness. And all the world gone mad. War and fighting. The police beaten and rogues abroad. Why don't they bring some negroes to protect us? . . . No more dark passages for me. I fell over a dead man."
"You're safer with company," said the old man, "if it's company of the right sort," and peered frankly. He rose suddenly and came towards Graham.
Apparently the scrutiny was satisfactoy. The old man sat down as if relieved to be no longer alone. "Eh!" he said, "but this is a terrible time! War and fighting, and the dead lying there--men, strong men, dying in the dark. Sons! I have three sons. God knows where they are tonight."
The voice ceased. Then repeated quavering: "God knows where they are tonight."
Graham stood revolving a question that should not betray his ignorance. Again the old man's voice ended the pause.
"This Ostrog will win," he said. "He will win. And what the world will be like under him no one can tell. My sons are under the wind-vanes, all three. One of my daughters-in-law was his mistress for a while. His mistress! Were not common people. Though they've sent me to wander tonight and take my chance. . . . I knew what was going on. Before most people. But this darkness! And to fall over a dead body suddenly in the dark!"
His wheezy breathing could be heard.
"Ostrog!" said Graham.
"The greatest Boss the world has ever seen," said the voice.
Graham ransacked his mind. "The Council has few friends among the people," he hazarded.
"Few friends. And poor ones at that. They've had their time. Eh! They should have kept to the clever ones. But twice they held election. And Ostrog. And now it has burst out and nothing can stay it, nothing can stay it. Twice they rejected Ostrog--Ostrog the Boss. I heard of his rages at the time--he was terrible. Heaven save them! For nothing on earth can now, he has raised the Labour Companies upon them. No one else would have dared. All the blue canvas armed and marching! He will go through with it. He will go through."
He was silent for a little while. "This Sleeper," he said, and stopped.
"Yes," said Graham. "Well?"
The senile voice sank to a confidential whisper, the dim, pale face came close. "The real Sleeper--"
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|When the Sleeper Wakes
H. G. [Herbert George] Wells
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