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   Chapter 3 THE BUTTERFLIES

The Blue Germ By Maurice Nicoll Characters: 6525

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Two years passed by after my return to London without special incident, save that my black cat died. My work as a consulting physician occupied most of my time. In the greater world beyond my consulting-room door life went on undisturbed by any thought of the approaching upheaval, full of the old tragedies of ambition and love and sickness. But sometimes as I examined my patients and listened to their tales of suffering and pain, a curious contraction of the heart would come upon me at the thought that perhaps some day, not so very far remote, all the endless cycle of disease and misery would cease, and a new dawn of hope burst with blinding radiance upon weary humanity. And then a mood of unbelief would darken my mind and I would view the creation of the bacillus as an idle and vain dream, an illusion never to be realized....

One evening as I sat alone before my study fire, my servant entered and announced there was a visitor to see me.

"Show him in here," I said, thinking he was probably a late patient who had come on urgent business.

A moment later Professor Sarakoff himself was shown in.

I rose with a cry of welcome and clasped his hand.

"My dear fellow, why didn't you let me know you were coming?" I cried.

He smiled upon me with a mysterious brightness.

"Harden," he said in a low voice, as if afraid of being heard, "I came on a sudden impulse. I wanted to show you something. Wait a moment."

He went out into the hall and returned bearing a square box in his hands. He laid it on the table and then carefully closed the door.

"It is the first big result of my experiments," he whispered. He opened the box and drew out a glass case covered over with white muslin.

He stepped back from the table and looked at me triumphantly.

"What is it?" I asked.

"Lift up the muslin."

I did so. On the wooden floor of the glass case were a great number of dark objects. At first I thought they were some kind of grub, and then on closer inspection I saw what they were.

"Butterflies!" I exclaimed.

He held up a warning finger and tiptoed to the door. He opened it suddenly and seemed relieved to find no one outside.

"Hush!" he said, closing the door again. "Yes, they are butterflies." He came back to the table and gave one of the glass panels a tap with his finger. The butterflies stirred and some spread their wings. They were a brilliant greenish purple shot with pale blue. "Yes, they are butterflies."

I peered at them.

"The specimen is unknown in England as far as I know."

"Quite so. They are peculiar to Russia."

"But what are you doing with them?" I asked.

He continued to smile.

"Do you notice anything remarkable about these butterflies?"

"No," I said after prolonged observation, "I can't say I do ... save that they are not denizens of this country."

"I think we might christen them," he said. "Let us call them Lepidoptera Sarakoffii." He tapped the glass again and watched the insects move. "But they are very remarkable," he continued. "Do they appear healthy to you?"

"Perfectly."

"You agree, then, that they are in good condition?"

"They seem to be in excellent condition."

"No signs of decay-or disease?"

"None."

He nodded.

"And yet,"

he said thoughtfully, "they should be, according to natural law, a mass of decayed tissue."

"Ah!" I looked at him with dawning comprehension. "You mean--?"

"I mean that they should have died long ago."

"How long do they live normally?"

"About twenty to thirty hours. At the outside their life is not more than thirty-six hours. These are somewhat older."

I gazed at the little creatures crawling aimlessly about. Aimless, did I say? There they were, filling up the floor of the glass case, moving with difficulty, getting in each other's way, sprawling and colliding, apparently without aim or purpose. At that spectacle my thoughts might well have taken a leap into the future and seen, instead of a crowded mass of butterflies, a crowded mass of humanity. I asked Sarakoff a question.

"How old are they?" I expected to hear they had existed perhaps a day or two beyond their normal limit.

"They are almost exactly a year old," was the reply. I stared, marvelling. A year old! I bent down, gazing at the turbulent restless mass of gaudy colour. A year old-and still vital and healthy!

"You mean these insects have lived a whole year?" I exclaimed, still unconvinced.

He nodded.

"But that is a miracle!"

"It is, proportionately, equal to a man living twenty-five thousand years instead of the normal seventy."

"You don't suggest--?"

He replaced the muslin covering and took out his pipe and tobacco pouch. Absurd, outrageous ideas crowded to my mind. Was it, then, possible that our dream was to become reality?

"I don't suppose they'll live much longer," I stammered.

He was silent until he had lit his pipe.

"If you met a man who had lived twenty-five thousand years, would you be inclined to tell me he would not live much longer, simply on general considerations?"

I could not find a satisfactory answer.

As a matter of fact the question scarcely conveyed anything to me. One can realize only by reference to familiar standards. The idea of a man who has lived one hundred and fifty years is to me a more realistic curiosity than the idea of a man twenty-five thousand years old. But I caught a glimpse, as it were, of strange figures, moving about in a colourless background, with calm gestures, slow speeches, silences perhaps a year in length. The familiar outline of London crumbled suddenly away, the blotches of shadow and the coloured shafts of light striking between the gaps in the crowds, the violet-lit tubes, the traffic, faded into the conception of twenty-five thousand years. All this many-angled, many-coloured modern spectacle that was a few thousand years removed from cave dwellings, was rolled flat and level, merging into this grey formless carpet of time.

Next morning Sarakoff returned to Russia, bearing with him the wonderful butterflies, and for many months I heard nothing from him. But before he went he told me that he would return soon.

"I have only one step further to take and the ideal germ will be created, Harden. Then we poor mortals will realize the dream that has haunted us since the beginning of time. We will attain immortality, and the fear of death, round which everything is built, will vanish. We will become gods!"

"Or devils, Sarakoff," I murmured.

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