The Hunting of the Wild Asses of the Devilby@hgwells

The Hunting of the Wild Asses of the Devil

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At this point the surviving manuscript comes to an abrupt end. But Boon read or extemporized far beyond this point.

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Boon, The Mind of the Race, The Wild Asses of the Devil, and The Last Trump by H. G. Wells, is part of the HackerNoon Books Series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. The Hunting of the Wild Asses of the Devil

The Hunting of the Wild Asses of the Devil

§ 1

At this point the surviving manuscript comes to an abrupt end.

But Boon read or extemporized far beyond this point.

He made a figure that was at once absurd and pitiful of his little Author making this raid upon the world, resolved to detect and exorcise these suspected Wild Asses, and he told us at great length of how steadily and inevitably the poor enthusiast entangled himself in feuds and false accusations, libels and denunciations, free fights, burglaries, and so to universal execration in a perpetually  tightening coil. “I’ll stick to it,” he squeaks, with every fresh blow of Fate. Behind him, with a developing incurable bronchitis that could never be fatal, toiled the devil, more and more despondent, more and more draggle-tailed, voiceless and unhelpful.

After a time he was perpetually trying to give his Author the slip.

But continually it is clearer that there were diabolical Wild Asses loose and active in the affairs of the world….

One day the Author had an inspiration. “Was your lot the only lot that ever escaped?”

“Oh no!” said the devil. “Ages before—there were some. It led to an awful row. Just before the Flood. They had to be drowned out. That’s why they’ve been so stiff with me…. I’m not quite sure whether they didn’t interbreed. They say in hell that the world has never been quite the same place since.”…

You see the scope this story gave Boon’s disposition to derision. There were endless  things that Boon hated, movements that seemed to him wanton and mischievous, outbreaks of disastrous violence, evil ideas. I should get myself into as much hot water as his Author did if I were to tell all this poor man’s adventures. He went to Ulster, he pursued prominent Tariff Reformers, he started off to Mexico and came back to investigate Pan-Germanism. I seem to remember his hanging for days about the entrance to Printing House Square…. And there was a scene in the House of Commons. The Author and the devil had been tracking a prominent politician—never mind whom—with the growing belief that here at last they had one of them. And Walpurgis Night grew near. Walpurgis Night came.

“We must not lose sight of him,” said the Author, very alert and ruthless. “If necessary we must smash the windows, blow open doors.”

But the great man went down to the House as though nothing could possibly happen. They followed him.

 “He will certainly rush home,” said the Author, as the clock crept round to half-past eleven. “But anyhow let us get into the Strangers’ Gallery and keep our eyes on him to the last.”

They managed it with difficulty.

I remember how vividly Boon drew the picture for us: the rather bored House, a coming and going of a few inattentive Members, the nodding Speaker and the clerks, the silent watchers in the gallery, a little flicker of white behind the grille. And then at five minutes to twelve the honourable Member arose….

“We were wrong,” said the Author.

“The draught here is fearful,” said the devil. “Hadn’t we better go?”

The honourable Member went on speaking showy, memorable, mischievous things. The seconds ticked away. And then—then it happened.

The Author made a faint rattling sound in his throat and clung to the rail before him. The devil broke into a cold sweat. There, visible to all men, was a large  black Wild Ass, kicking up its heels upon the floor of the House. And braying.

And nobody was minding!

The Speaker listened patiently, one long finger against his cheek. The clerks bowed over the papers. The honourable Member’s two colleagues listened like men under an anæsthetic, each sideways, each with his arm over the back of the seat. Across the House one Member was furtively writing a letter and three others were whispering together.

The Author felt for the salt, then he gripped the devil’s wrist.

“Say those words!” he shouted quite loudly—“say those words! Say them now. Then—we shall have him.”

But you know those House of Commons ushers. And at that time their usual alertness had been much quickened by several Suffragette outrages. Before the devil had got through his second sentence or the Author could get his salt out of his pocket both devil and Author were travelling violently, scruff and pant-seat irresistibly gripped, down Saint Stephen’s Hall….

 § 2

“And you really begin to think,” said Wilkins, “that there has been an increase in violence and unreasonableness in the world?”

“My case is that it is an irruption,” said Boon. “But I do begin to see a sort of violence of mind and act growing in the world.”

“There has always been something convulsive and extravagant in human affairs,” said Wilkins. “No public thing, no collective thing, has ever had the sanity of men thinking quietly in a study.”

And so we fell to discussing the Mind of the Race again, and whether there was indeed any sanity growing systematically out of human affairs, or whether this Mind of the Race was just a poor tormented  rag of partial understanding that would never control the blind forces that had made and would destroy it. And it was inevitable that such a talk should presently drift to the crowning human folly, to that crowned Wild Ass of the Devil, aggressive militarism. That talk was going on, I remember, one very bright, warm, sunny day in May, or it may be in June, of 1914. And we talked of militarism as a flourish, as a kicking up of the national heels, as extravagance and waste; but, what seems to me so singular now, we none of us spoke of it or thought of it as a thing that could lead to the full horror of a universal war. Human memory is so strange and treacherous a thing that I doubt now if many English people will recall our habitual disregard in those days of war as a probability. We thought of it as a costly, foolish threatening, but that it could actually happen——!

 § 3

Some things are so shocking that they seem to have given no shock at all, just as there are noises that are silences because they burst the ears. And for some days after the declaration of war against Germany the whole business seemed a vast burlesque. It was incredible that this great people, for whom all Western Europe has mingled, and will to the end of time mingle, admiration with a certain humorous contempt, was really advancing upon civilization, enormously armed, scrupulously prepared, bellowing, “Deutschland, Deutschland ueber Alles!” smashing, destroying, killing. We felt for a time, in spite of reason, that it was a joke, that presently Michael would laugh….

But by Jove! the idiot wasn’t laughing….

 For some weeks nobody in the circle about Boon talked of anything but the war. The Wild Asses of the Devil became an allusion, to indicate all this that was kicking Europe to splinters. We got maps, and still more maps; we sent into the town for newspapers and got special intelligence by telephone; we repeated and discussed rumours. The Belgians were showing pluck and resource, but the French were obviously shockingly unprepared. There were weeks—one may confess it now that they have so abundantly proved the contrary—when the French seemed crumpling up like pasteboard. They were failing to save the line of the Meuse, Maubeuge, Lille, Laon; there were surrenders, there was talk of treachery, and General French, left with his flank exposed, made a costly retreat. It was one Sunday in early September that Wilkins came to us with a Sunday Observer. “Look,” he said, “they are down on the Seine! They are sweeping right round behind the Eastern line. They  have broken the French in two. Here at Senlis they are almost within sight of Paris….”

Then some London eavesdropper talked of the British retreat. “Kitchener says our Army has lost half its fighting value. Our base is to be moved again from Havre to La Rochelle….”

Boon sat on the edge of his hammock.

“The Germans must be beaten,” he said. “The new world is killed; we go back ten thousand years; there is no light, no hope, no thought nor freedom any more unless the Germans are beaten…. Until the Germans are beaten there is nothing more to be done in art, in literature, in life. They are a dull, envious, greedy, cunning, vulgar, interfering, and intolerably conceited people. A world under their dominance will be intolerable. I will not live in it….”

“I had never believed they would do it,” said Wilkins….

“Both my boys,” said Dodd, “have gone into the Officers’ Training Corps.  They were in their cadet corps at school.”

“Wasn’t one an engineer?” asked Boon.

“The other was beginning to paint rather well,” said Dodd. “But it all has to stop.”

“I suppose I shall have to do something,” said the London eavesdropper. “I’m thirty-eight…. I can ride and I’m pretty fit…. It’s a nuisance.”

“What is a man of my kind to do?” asked Wilkins. “I’m forty-eight.”

“I can’t believe the French are as bad as they seem,” said Boon. “But, anyhow, we’ve no business to lean on the French…. But I wonder now—— Pass me that map.”

 § 4

Next week things had mended, and the French and British were pushing the Germans back from the Marne to the Aisne. Whatever doubts we had felt about the French were dispelled in that swift week of recovery. They were all right. It was a stupendous relief, for if France had gone down, if her spirit had failed us, then we felt all liberalism, all republicanism, all freedom and light would have gone out in this world for centuries.

But then again at the Aisne the Germans stood, and our brisk rush of hope sobered down towards anxiety as the long flanking movement stretched towards the sea and the Antwerp situation developed….

By imperceptible degrees our minds began to free themselves from the immediate  struggle of the war, from strategy and movements, from the daily attempt to unriddle from reluctant and ambiguous dispatches, Dutch rumours, censored gaps, and uninforming maps what was happening. It became clear to us that there were to be no particular dramatic strokes, no sudden, decisive battles, no swift and clear conclusions. The struggle began to assume in our minds its true proportions, its true extent, in time, in space, in historical consequence. We had thought of a dramatic three months’ conflict and a redrawn map of Europe; we perceived we were in the beginnings of a far vaster conflict; the end of an age; the slow, murderous testing and condemnation of whole systems of ideas that had bound men uneasily in communities for all our lives. We discussed—as all the world was discussing—the huge organization of sentiment and teaching that had produced this aggressive German patriotism, this tremendous national unanimity. Ford Madox Hueffer came in to tell us stories of a  disciplined professoriate, of all education turned into a war propaganda, of the deliberate official mental moulding of a whole people that was at once fascinating and incredible. We went over Bernhardi and Treitschke; we weighed Nietzsche’s share in that mental growth. Our talk drifted with the changing season and Boon’s sudden illness after his chill, from his garden to his sitting-room, where he lay wrapped up upon a sofa, irritable and impatient with this unaccustomed experience of ill-health.

“You see how much easier it is to grow an evil weed than a wholesome plant,” he said. “While this great strong wickedness has developed in Germany, what thought have we had in our English-speaking community? What does our world of letters amount to? Clowns and dons and prigs, cults of the precious and cults of style, a few squeaking author-journalists and such time-serving scoundrels as I, with my patent Bathwick filter, my twenty editions, and my thousands a year. None of us  with any sense of a whole community or a common purpose! Where is our strength to go against that strength of the heavy German mind? Where is the Mind of our Race?”

He looked at me with tired eyes.

“It has been a joke with us,” he said.

“Is there no power of thought among free men strong enough to swing them into armies that can take this monster by the neck? Must men be bullied for ever? Are there no men to think at least as earnestly as one climbs a mountain, and to write with their uttermost pride? Are there no men to face truth as those boys at Mons faced shrapnel, and to stick for the honour of the mind and for truth and beauty as those lads stuck to their trenches? Bliss and I have tried to write of all the world of letters, and we have found nothing to write about but posturing and competition and sham reputations, and of dullness and impudence hiding and sheltering in the very sheath of the sword of thought…. For a little  while after the war began our people seemed noble and dignified; but see now how all Britain breaks after its first quiet into chatter about spies, sentimentality about the architecture of Louvain, invasion scares, the bitter persecution of stray Germans, and petty disputes and recriminations like a pool under a breeze. And below that nothing. While still the big thing goes on, ungrasped, day after day, a monstrous struggle of our world against the thing it will not have…. No one is clear about what sort of thing we will have. It is a nightmare in which we try continually to escape and have no-whither to escape…. What is to come out of this struggle? Just anything that may come out of it, or something we mean shall come out of it?”

He sat up in his bed; his eyes were bright and he had little red spots in his cheeks.

“At least the Germans stand for something. It may be brutal, stupid, intolerable, but there it is—a definite intention,  a scheme of living, an order, Germanic Kultur. But what the devil do we stand for? Was there anything that amounted to an intellectual life at all in all our beastly welter of writing, of nice-young-man poetry, of stylish fiction and fiction without style, of lazy history, popular philosophy, slobbering criticism, Academic civilities? Is there anything here to hold a people together? Is there anything to make a new world? A literature ought to dominate the mind of its people. Yet here comes the gale, and all we have to show for our racial thought, all the fastness we have made for our souls, is a flying scud of paper scraps, poems, such poems! casual articles, whirling headlong in the air, a few novels drowning in the floods….”

 § 5

There were times during his illness and depression when we sat about Boon very much after the fashion of Job’s Comforters. And I remember an occasion when Wilkins took upon himself the responsibility for a hopeful view. There was about Wilkins’s realistic sentimentality something at once akin and repugnant to Boon’s intellectual mysticism, so that for a time Boon listened resentfully, and then was moved to spirited contradiction. Wilkins declared that the war was like one of those great illnesses that purge the system of a multitude of minor ills. It was changing the spirit of life about us; it would end a vast amount of mere pleasure-seeking and aimless extravagance; it was giving people a sterner sense of duty and a more vivid apprehension of  human brotherhood. This ineffective triviality in so much of our literary life of which Boon complained would give place to a sense of urgent purpose….

“War,” said Boon, turning his face towards Wilkins, “does nothing but destroy.”

“All making is destructive,” said Wilkins, while Boon moved impatiently; “the sculptor destroys a block of marble, the painter scatters a tube of paint….”

Boon’s eye had something of the expression of a man who watches another ride his favourite horse.

“See already the new gravity in people’s faces, the generosities, the pacification of a thousand stupid squabbles——”

“If you mean Carsonism,” said Boon, “it’s only sulking until it can cut in again.”

“I deny it,” said Wilkins, warming to his faith. “This is the firing of the clay of Western European life. It stops our little arts perhaps—but see the new beauty that comes…. We can well spare our professional books and professional writing for a time to get such humour  and wonder as one can find in the soldiers’ letters from the front. Think of all the people whose lives would have been slack and ignoble from the cradle to the grave, who are being twisted up now to the stern question of enlistment; think of the tragedies of separation and danger and suffering that are throwing a stern bright light upon ten thousand obscure existences….”

“And the noble procession of poor devils tramping through the slush from their burning homes, God knows whither! And the light of fire appearing through the cracks of falling walls, and charred bits of old people in the slush of the roadside, and the screams of men disembowelled, and the crying of a dying baby, in a wet shed full of starving refugees who do not know whither to go. Go on, Wilkins.”

“Oh, if you choose to dwell on the horrors——!”

“The one decent thing that we men who sit at home in the warm can do is to dwell on the horrors and do our  little best to make sure that never, never shall this thing happen again. And that won’t be done, Wilkins, by leaving War alone. War, war with modern machines, is a damned great horrible trampling monster, a filthy thing, an indecency; we aren’t doing anything heroic, we are trying to lift a foul stupidity off the earth, we are engaged in a colossal sanitary job. These men who go for us into the trenches, they come back with no illusions. They know how dirty and monstrous it is. They are like men who have gone down for the sake of the people they love to clear out a choked drain. They have no illusions about being glorified. They only hope they aren’t blood-poisoned and their bodies altogether ruined. And as for the bracing stir of it, they tell me, Wilkins, that their favourite song now in the trenches is—

“‘Nobody knows how bored we are,

Bored we are,

Bored we are,

Nobody knows how bored we are,

And nobody seems to care.’

 Meanwhile you sit at home and feel vicariously ennobled.”

He laid his hand on a daily newspaper beside him.

“Oh, you’re not the only one. I will make you ashamed of yourself, Wilkins. Here’s the superlative to your positive. Here’s the sort of man I should like to hold for five minutes head downwards in the bilge of a trench, writing on the Heroic Spirit in the Morning Post. He’s one of your gentlemen who sit in a room full of books and promise themselves much moral benefit from the bloodshed in France. Coleridge, he says, Coleridge—the heroic, self-controlled Spartan Coleridge was of his opinion and very hard on Pacificism—Coleridge complained of peace-time in such words as these: ‘All individual dignity and power, engulfed in courts, committees, institutions…. One benefit-club for mutual flattery.’… And then, I suppose, the old loafer went off to sponge on somebody…. And here’s the stuff the heroic, spirited Osborn, the Morning Post gentleman—unhappily  not a German, and unhappily too old for trench work—quotes with delight now—now!—after Belgium!—

“‘My spear, my sword, my shaggy shield!

With these I till, with these I sow,

With these I reap my harvest field—

No other wealth the gods bestow:

With these I plant the fertile vine,

With these I press the luscious wine.

My spear, my sword, my shaggy shield!

They make me lord of all below—

For those who dread my spear to wield,

Before my shaggy shield must bow.

Their fields, their vineyards, they resign,

And all that cowards have is mine.’

“He goes on to this—

“‘It is in vain that the Pacificist rages at such staunch braggadocio. It blares out a political truth of timeless validity in words that are by no means politic. Sparta was the working model in ancient times of the State that lives by and for warfare, though never despising the rewards of an astute diplomacy; she was the Prussia of antiquity….

“‘Spartan ideal of duty and discipline.’…

“You see the spirit of him! You see what has got loose! It is a real and potent  spirit; you have to reckon with it through all this business. To this sort of mind the ‘Pacificist’ is a hateful fool. The Pacificist prefers making vineyards, painting pictures, building Gothic cathedrals, thinking clear thoughts to bawling “Bruteland, Bruteland, over all!” and killing people and smashing things up. He is a maker. That is what is intended here by a ‘coward.’ All real creative activity is hateful to a certain ugly, influential, aggressive type of mind, to this type of mind that expresses itself here in England through the Morning Post and Spectator. Both these papers are soaked through and through with a genuine detestation of all fine creation, all beauty, all novelty, all frank, generous, and pleasant things. In peace-time they maintain an attitude of dyspeptic hostility to free art, to free literature, to fresh thought. They stand uncompromisingly for ugliness, dullness, and restriction—as ends in themselves. When you talk, Wilkins, of the intellectual good of the war, I ask you to note the new exultation that has come into these evil papers. When  they speak of the ‘moral benefits’ of war they mean the smashing up of everything that they hate and we care for. They mean reaction. This good man Osborn, whom I have never seen or heard of before, seems to be quintessential of all that side. I can imagine him. I believe I could reconstruct him from this article I have here, just as anatomists have reconstructed extinct monsters from a single bone. He is, I am certain, a don. The emotional note suggests Oxford. He is a classical scholar. And that is the extent of his knowledge. Something in this way.”

He began to sketch rapidly.

image

Fancy portrait of Mr. E. B. Osborn, singing about his sword and his shield and his ruthless virility, and all that sort of thing.

 “You have to realize that while the Pacificists talk of the horrible ugliness of war and the necessity of establishing an everlasting world-peace, whiskered old ladies in hydropaths, dons on the Morning Post, chattering district visitors and blustering, bellowing parsons, people who are ever so much more representative of general humanity than we literary oddities—all that sort of people tucked away somewhere safe, are in a state of belligerent lustfulness and prepared—oh, prepared to give the very eyes of everybody else in this country, prepared to sacrifice the lives of all their servants and see the poor taxed to the devil, first for a victory over Germany and then for the closest, silliest, loudest imitation of Prussian swagger on our part (with them, of course, on the very top of it all) that we can contrive. That spirit is loose, Wilkins. All the dowagers are mewing for blood, all the male old women who teach classics and dream of re-action at Oxford and Cambridge, are having the time of their lives. They trust to panic, to loud  accusations, to that fear of complexity that comes with fatigue. They trust to the exhaustion of delicate purposes and sensitive nerves. And this force-loving, bullying silliness is far more likely to come out on top, after the distresses of this war, after the decent men are dead in the trenches and the wise ones shouted to silence, than any finely intellectual, necessarily difficult plan to put an end for ever to all such senseless brutalities.”

“I think you underrate the power of—well, modern sanity,” said Wilkins.

“Time will show,” said Boon. “I hope I do.”

“This man Osborn, whoever he may be, must be just a fantastic extremist…. I do not see that he is an answer to my suggestion that for the whole mass of people this war means graver thought, steadier thought, a firmer collective purpose. It isn’t only by books and formal literature that people think. There is the tremendous effect of realized and accumulated facts——”

 “Wilkins,” said Boon, “do not cuddle such illusions. It is only in books and writings that facts get assembled. People are not grasping any comprehensive effects at all at the present time. One day one monstrous thing batters on our minds—a battleship is blown up or a hundred villagers murdered—and next day it is another. We do not so much think about it as get mentally scarred…. You can see in this spy hunt that is going on and in the increasing denunciations and wrangling of the papers how the strain is telling…. Attention is overstrained and warms into violence. People are reading no books. They are following out no conclusions. No intellectual force whatever is evident dominating the situation. No organization is at work for a sane peace. Where is any power for Pacificism? Where is any strength on its side? America is far too superior to do anything but trade, the liberals here sniff at each other and quarrel gently but firmly on minor points, Mr. Norman Angell advertises himself in a  small magazine and resents any other work for peace as though it were an infringement of his copyright. Read the daily papers; go and listen to the talk of people! Don’t theorize, but watch. The mind you will meet is not in the least like a mind doing something slowly but steadfastly; far more is it like a mind being cruelly smashed about and worried and sticking to its immediate purpose with a narrower and narrower intensity. Until at last it is a pointed intensity. It is like a dying man strangling a robber in his death-grip…. We shall beat them, but we shall be dead beat doing it…. You see, Wilkins, I have tried to think as you do. In a sort of way this war has inverted our relations. I say these things now because they force themselves upon me….”

Wilkins considered for some moments.

“Even if nothing new appears,” he said at last, “the mere beating down and discrediting of the militarist system leaves a world released….”

“But will it be broken down?” said Boon. “Think of the Osborns.”

 And then he cried in a voice of infinite despair: “No! War is just the killing of things and the smashing of things. And when it is all over, then literature and civilization will have to begin all over again. They will have to begin lower down and against a heavier load, and the days of our jesting are done. The Wild Asses of the Devil are loose and there is no restraining them. What is the good, Wilkins, of pretending that the Wild Asses are the instruments of Providence kicking better than we know? It is all evil. Evil. An evil year. And I lie here helpless, spitting and spluttering, with this chill upon my chest…. I cannot say or write what I would…. And in the days of my sunshine there were things I should have written, things I should have understood….”

 § 6

Afterwards Boon consoled himself very much for a time by making further speculative sketches of Mr. Osborn, as the embodiment of the Heroic Spirit. I append one or two of the least offensive of these drawings.

image

Fancy sketch of Mr. Osborn (the Heroic Spirit) compelling his tailor to make him trousers for nothing.

My weapon with my tailor speaks,

It cuts my coat and sews my breeks.

image

Mr. Osborn, in a moment of virile indignation, swiping St. Francis of Assisi one with a club.

image

The soul of Mr. Osborn doing a war dance (as a Spartan Red Indian) in order to work itself up for a “Morning Post” article.

image

Mr. Osborn’s dream of himself as a Prussian Spartan refreshing himself with Hero’s food (fresh human liver) and drink (blood and champagne) after a good Go In at some Pacificist softs.

 § 7

Boon’s pessimistic outlook on the war had a profoundly depressing effect upon me. I do all in my power to believe that Wilkins is right, and that the hopelessness that darkened Boon’s last days was due to the overshadowing of his mind by his illness. It was not simply that he despaired of the world at large; so far as I am concerned, he pointed and barbed his opinion by showing how inevitable it was that the existing publishing and book trade would be shattered to fragments. Adapted as I am now to the necessities of that trade, incapable as I am of the fresh exertions needed to bring me into a successful relationship to the unknown exigencies of the future, the sense of complete personal ruin mingled with and intensified the vision he imposed  upon me of a world laid waste. I lay awake through long stretches of the night contemplating now my own life, no longer in its first vigour, pinched by harsh necessities and the fiercer competition of a young and needy generation, and now all life with its habits and traditions strained and broken. My daily fatigues at drill and the universal heavy cold in the head that has oppressed all Britain this winter almost more than the war, have added their quota to my nightly discomfort. And when at last I have slept I have been oppressed with peculiar and melancholy dreams.

One is so vividly in my mind that I am obliged to tell it here, although I am doubtful whether, except by a very extreme stretching of the meaning of words, we can really consider it among the Remains of George Boon.

It was one of those dreams of which the scenery is not so much a desolate place as desolation itself, and I was there toiling up great steepnesses with a little box of something in my hand. And I knew, in that  queer confused way that is peculiar to dreams, that I was not myself but that I was the Author who is the hero of the Wild Asses of the Devil, and also that I was neither he nor I, but all sorts of authors, the spirit of authorship, no Author in particular but the Author at large, and that, since the melancholy devil had deserted me—he had sneaked off Heaven knows whither—it rested with me and with me alone to discover and catch and send out of this tormented world those same Wild Asses of the Devil of which you have read. And so I had salt in my box, Attic Salt, a precious trust, the one thing in all the universe with which I could subdue them.

And then suddenly there I was amidst all those very asses of which I have told you. There they were all about me, and they were more wild and horrible than I can describe to you. It was not that they were horrible in any particular way, they were just horrible, and they kicked up far over head, and leapt and did not even seem to trouble to elude my poor ineffectual efforts to get within salting distance of them. I  toiled and I pursued amidst mad mountains that were suddenly marble flights of stairs that sloped and slid me down to precipices over which I floated; and then we were in soft places knee-deep in blood-red mud; and then they were close to my face, eye to eye, enormous revolving eyes, like the lanterns of lighthouses; and then they swept away, and always I grew smaller and feebler and more breathless, and always they grew larger, until only their vast legs danced about me on the sward, and all the rest was hidden. And all the while I was tugging at my box of Attic Salt, to get it open, to get a pinch. Suddenly I saw they were all coming down upon me, and all the magic salt I had was in the box that would not open….

I saw the sward they trampled, and it was not sward, it was living beings, men hurt by dreadful wounds, and poor people who ran in streaming multitudes under the beating hoofs, and a lichenous growth of tender things and beautiful and sweet and right things on which they beat, splashing it all to blood and dirt. I  could not open my box. I could not open my box. And a voice said: “Your box! Your box! Laugh at them for the fools they are, and at the salt sting of laughter back they will fly to hell!”

But I could not open my box, for I thought of my friend’s sons and dear friends of my own, and there was no more spirit in me. “We cannot laugh!” I cried. “We cannot laugh! Another generation! Another generation may have the heart to do what we cannot do.”

And the voice said: “Courage! Only your poor courage can save us!”

But in my dream I could do no more than weep pitifully and weep, and when I woke up my eyes were wet with tears.

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This book is part of the public domain. H. G. Wells (2011). Boon, The Mind of the Race, The Wild Asses of the Devil, and The Last Trump. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved October 2022, from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/34962/34962-h/34962-h.htm

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by H.G. Wells @hgwells.English novelist, journalist, sociologist, and historian best known for such science fiction novels as The Time Machine.
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