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The People March







From: When The Sleeper Wakes

He became aware of someone urging a glass of clear fluid upon his
attention, looked up and discovered this was a dark young man in a
yellow garment. He took the dose forthwith, and in a moment he was
glowing. A tall man in a black robe stood by his shoulder, and pointed
to the half open door into the hall. This man was shouting close to
his ear and yet what was said was indistinct because of the tremendous
uproar from the great theatre. Behind the man was a girl in a silvery
grey robe, whom Graham, even in this confusion, perceived to be
beautiful. Her dark eyes, full of wonder and curiosity,-were fixed on
him, her lips trembled apart. A partially opened door gave a glimpse
of the crowded hall, and admitted a vast uneven tumult, a hammering,
clapping and shouting that died away and began again, and rose to a
thunderous pitch, and so continued intermittently all the time that
Graham remained in the little room. He watched the lips of the man in
black and gathered that he was making some clumsy explanation.

He stared stupidly for some moments at these things and then stood up
abruptly; he grasped the arm of this shouting person.

"Tell me!" he cried. "Who am I? Who am I?"

The others came nearer to hear his words. "Who am I?" His eyes searched
their faces.

"They have told him nothing!" cried the girl.

"Tell me, tell me!" cried Graham.

"You are the Master of the Earth. You are owner of half the world."

He did not believe he heard aright. He resisted the persuasion. He
pretended not to understand, not to hear. He lifted his voice again. "I
have been awake three days--a prisoner three days. I judge there is some
struggle between a number of people in this city--it is London?"

"Yes," said the younger man.

"And those who meet in the great hall with the white Atlas? How does it
concern me? In some way it has to do with me. Why, I don't know. Drugs?
It seems to me that while I have slept the world has gone mad. I have
gone mad."

"Who are those Councillors under the Atlas? Why should they try to drug
me?"

"To keep you insensible," said the man in yellow.

"To prevent your interference."

"But why?"

"Because you are the Atlas, Sire," said the man in yellow. "The world
is on your shoulders. They rule it in your name."

The sounds from the hall had died into a silence threaded by one
monotonous voice. Now suddenly, trampling on these last words, came
a deafening tumult, a roaring and thundering, cheer crowded on cheer,
voices hoarse and shrill, beating, overlapping, and while it lasted the
people in the little room could not hear each other shout.

Graham stood, his intelligence clinging helplessly to the thing he had
just heard. "The Council," he repeated blankly, and then snatched at a
name that had struck him. "But who is Ostrog?" he said.

"He is the organiser--the organiser of the revolt. Our Leader--in your
name."

"In my name?--And you? Why is he not here?"

"He--has deputed us. I am his brother--his half-brother, Lincoln. He
wants you to show yourself to these people and then come on to him. That
is why he has sent. He is at the wind-vane offices directing. The people
are marching."

"In your name," shouted the younger man. "They have ruled, crushed,
tyrannised. At last even--"

"In my name! My name! Master?"

The younger man suddenly became audible in a pause of the outer thunder,
indignant and vociferous, a high penetrating voice under his red
aquiline nose and bushy moustache. "No one expected you to wake. No one
expected you to wake. They were cunning. Damned tyrants! But they were
taken by surprise. They did not know whether to drug you, hypnotise you,
kill you."

Again the hall dominated everything.

"Ostrog is at the wind-vane offices ready--. Even now there is a rumour
of fighting beginning."


The man who had called himself Lincoln came close to him. "Ostrog has it
planned. Trust him. We have our organisations ready. We shall seize the
flying stages--. Even now he may be doing that. Then--"

"This public theatre," bawled the man in yellow, "is only a contingent.
We have five myriads of drilled men--"

"We have arms," cried Lincoln. "We have plans. A leader. Their police
have gone from the streets and are massed in the--" (inaudible). "It
is now or never. The Council is rocking--They cannot trust even their
drilled men--"

"Hear the people calling to you!"

Graham's mind was like a night of moon and swift clouds, now dark and
hopeless, now clear and ghastly. He was Master of the Earth, he was a
man sodden with thawing snow. Of all his fluctuating impressions the
dominant ones presented an antagonism; on the one hand was the White
Council, powerful, disciplined, few, the White Council from which he
had just escaped; and on the other, monstrous crowds, packed masses of
indistinguishable people clamouring his name, hailing him Master.
The other side had imprisoned him, debated his death. These shouting
thousands beyond the little doorway had rescued him. But why these
things should be so he could not understand.

The door opened, Lincoln's voice was swept away and drowned, and a rush
of people followed on the heels of the tumult. These intruders came
towards him and Lincoln gesticulating. The voices without explained
their soundless lips. "Show us the Sleeper, show us the Sleeper!" was
the burden of the uproar Men were bawling for "Order! Silence!"

Graham glanced towards the open doorway, and saw a tall, oblong picture
of the hall beyond, a waving, incessant confusion of crowded, shouting
faces, men and women together, waving pale blue garments, extended
hands. Many were standing, one man in rags of dark brown, a gaunt
figure, stood on the seat and waved a black cloth. He met the wonder and
expectation of the girl's eyes. What did these people expect from him.
He was dimly aware that the tumult outside had changed its character,
was in some way beating, marching. His own mind, too, changed for a
space he did not recognise the influence that was transforming him.
But a moment that was near to panic passed. He tried to make audible
inquiries of what was required of him.

Lincoln was shouting in his ear, but Graham was deafened to that. All
the others save the woman gesticulated towards the hall. He perceived
what had happened to the uproar. The whole mass of people was chanting
together. It was not simply a song, the voices were gathered together
and upborne by a torrent of instrumental music, music like the music of
an organ, a woven texture of sounds, full of trumpets, full of flaunting
banners, full of the march and pageantry of opening war. And the feet of
the people were beating time--tramp, tramp.

He was urged towards the door. He obeyed mechanically. The strength
of that chant took hold of him, stirred him, emboldened him. The hall
opened to him, a vast welter of fluttering colour swaying to the music.

"Wave your arm to them," said Lincoln. "Wave your arm to them."

"This," said a voice on the other side, "he must have this." Arms were
about his neck detaining him in the doorway, and a black subtly-folding
mantle hung from his shoulders. He threw his arm free of this and
followed Lincoln. He perceived the girl in grey close to him, her face
lit, her gesture onward. For the instant she became to him, flushed and
eager as she was, an embodiment of the song. He emerged in the alcove
again. Incontinently the mounting waves of the song broke upon his
appearing, and flashed up into a foam of shouting. Guided by Lincoln's
hand he marched obliquely across the centre of the stage facing the
people.

The hall was a vast and intricate space--galleries, balconies, broad
spaces of amphitheatral steps, and great archways. Far away, high up,
seemed the mouth of a huge passage full of struggling humanity. The
whole multitude was swaying in congested masses. Individual figures
sprang out of the tumult, impressed him momentarily, and lost definition
again. Close to the platform swayed a beautiful fair woman, carried by
three men, her hair across her face and brandishing a green staff. Next
this group an old careworn man in blue canvas maintained his place in
the crush with difficulty, and behind shouted a hairless face, a
great cavity of toothless mouth. A voice called that enigmatical word
"Ostrog." All his impressions were vague save the massive emotion
of that trampling song. The multitude were beating time with their
feet--marking time, tramp, tramp, tramp, tramp. The green weapons waved,
flashed and slanted. Then he saw those nearest to him on a level space
before the stage were marching in front of him, passing towards a great
archway, shouting "To the Council!" Tramp, tramp, tramp, tramp. He
raised his arm, and the roaring was redoubled. He remembered he had to
shout "March!" His mouth shaped inaudible heroic words. He waved his arm
again and pointed to the archway, shouting "Onward!" They were no longer
marking time, they were marching; tramp, tramp, tramp, tramp. In that
host were bearded men, old men, youths, fluttering robed bare-armed
women, girls. Men and women of the new age! Rich robes, grey rags
fluttered together in the whirl of their movement amidst the dominant
blue. A monstrous black banner jerked its way to the right. He perceived
a blue-clad negro, a shrivelled woman in yellow, then a group of tall
fair-haired, white-faced, blue-clad men pushed theatrically past him.
He noted two Chinamen. A tall, sallow, dark-haired, shining-eyed youth,
white clad from top to toe, clambered up towards the platform shouting
loyally, and sprang down again and receded, looking backward. Heads,
shoulders, hands clutching weapons, all were swinging with those
marching cadences.

Faces came out of the confusion to him as he stood there, eyes met his
and passed and vanished. Men gesticulated to him, shouted inaudible
personal things. Most of the faces were flushed, but many were ghastly
white. And disease was there, and many a hand that waved to him was
gaunt and lean. Men and women of the new age! Strange and incredible
meeting! As the broad stream passed before him to the right, tributary
gangways from the remote uplands of the hall thrust downward in an
incessant replacement of people; tramp, tramp, tramp, tramp. The unison
of the song was enriched and complicated by the massive echoes of arches
and passages. Men and women mingled in the ranks; tramp, tramp, tramp,
tramp. The whole world seemed marching. Tramp, tramp, tramp, tramp; his
brain was tramping. The garments waved onward, the faces poured by more
abundantly.


Tramp, tramp, tramp, tramp; at Lincoln's pressure he turned towards the
archway, walking unconsciously in that rhythm, scarcely noticing his
movement for the melody and stir of it. The multitude, the gesture and
song, all moved in that direction, the flow of people smote downward
until the upturned faces were below the level of his feet. He was aware
of a path before him, of a suite about him, of guards and dignities, and
Lincoln on his right hand. Attendants intervened, and ever and again
blotted out the sight of the multitude to the left. Before him went the
backs of the guards in black--three and three and three. He was marched
along a little railed way, and crossed above the archway, with the
torrent dipping to flow beneath, and shouting up to him. He did not
know whither he went; he did not want to know. He glanced back across a
flaming spaciousness of hall. Tramp, tramp, tramp, tramp.





Next: The Battle Of The Darkness

Previous: The Roof Spaces



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