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When the Sleeper Wakes H. G. [Herbert George] Wells

While The Aerolanes Were Coming

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He turned with an abrupt change in his manner. "That's nonsense," he said. "I am a savage."

He paced and stopped. "After all London and Paris are only two cities. All the temperate zone has risen. What if London is doomed and Paris destroyed? These are but accidents. "Again came the mockery of news to call him to fresh enquiries. He returned with a graver face and sat down beside her.

"The end must be near," he said. "The people it seems have fought and died in tens of thousands, the ways about Roehampton must be like a smoked beehive. And they have died in vain. They are still only at the sub stage. The aeroplanes are near Paris. Even were a gleam of success to come now, there would be nothing to do, there would be no time to do anything before they were upon us. The guns that might have saved us are mislaid. Mislaid! Think of the disorder of things! Think of this foolish tumult, that cannot even find its weapons! Oh, for one aeropile--just one! For the want of that I am beaten. Humanity is beaten and our cause is lost! My kingship, my headlong foolish kingship will not last a night. And I have egged on the people to fight--."

"They would have fought anyhow."

"I doubt it. I have come among them--"

"No," she cried," not that. If defeat comes--if you die--. But even that cannot be, it cannot be, after all these years."

"Ah! We have meant well. But--do you indeed believe--?"

"If they defeat you," she cried, "you have spoken. Your word has gone like a great wind through the world, fanning liberty into a flame. What if the flame sputters a little! Nothing can change the spoken word. Your message will have gone forth. .. ."

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"To what end? It may be. It may be. You know I said, when you told me of these things dear God! but that was scarcely a score of hours ago!--I said that I had not your faith. Well--at any rate there is nothing to do now...."

"You have not my faith! Do you mean--? You are sorry?"

"No," he said hurriedly, "no! Before God--no!" His voice changed. "But--. I think--I have been indiscreet. I knew little--I grasped too hastily.. .."

He paused. He was ashamed of this avowal. "There is one thing that makes up for all. I have known you. Across this gulf of time I have come to you. The rest is done. It is done. With you, too, it has been something more--or something less--"

He paused with his face searching hers, and without clamoured the unheeded message that the aeroplanes were rising into the sky of Amiens.

She put her hand to her throat, and her lips were . white. She stared before her as if she saw some horrible possibility. Suddenly her features changed. "Oh, but I have been honest!" she cried, and then, "Have I been honest? I loved the world and freedom, I hated cruelty and oppression. Surely it was that."

"Yes," he said, "yes. And we have done what it lay in us to do. We have given our message, our message! We have started Armageddon! But now--. Now that we have, it may be our last hour, together, now that all these greater things are done. . . ."

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When the Sleeper Wakes
H. G. [Herbert George] Wells

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