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The Blue Germ By Maurice Nicoll Characters: 9353

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

After two hours of sleep I awoke. My brief rest had been haunted by unpleasant dreams, vague and indefinite, but seeming to centre about the idea of an impending catastrophe. I lay in bed staring at the dimly outlined window. I felt quite rested and very wide awake. For some time I remained motionless, reflecting on my night adventures and idly thinking whether it was worth while getting up and attending to some correspondence that was overdue. The prospect of a chilly study was not attractive. And then I noticed a very peculiar sensation.

There is only one thing that I can compare it with. After a day of exhausting work a glass of champagne produces in me an almost immediate effect. I feel as if the worries of the day are suddenly removed to a great and blessed distance. A happy indifference takes their place. I felt the same effect as I lay in bed on that dreary winter's morning. The idea that I should get up and work retreated swiftly. A pleasant sense of languor came over me. My eyes closed and for some time I lay in a blissful state of peace, such as I had never experienced before so far as my memory could tell.

I do not know how long I lay in this state, but at length a persistent noise made me open my eyes. I looked round. It seemed to be full daylight now. The first thing I noticed was the unusual size of the room. The ceiling seemed far above my head. The walls seemed to have receded many feet. In my astonishment I uttered an exclamation. The result was startling. My voice seemed to reverberate and re-echo as if I had shouted with all my strength. Considerably startled, I remained in a sitting posture, gazing at my unfamiliar surroundings. The persistent noise that had first roused me continued, and for a long time I could not account for it. It appeared to come from under my bed. I leaned over the edge, but could see nothing. And then, in a flash, I knew what it was. It was the sound of my watch, that lay under my pillow.

I drew it out and stared at it in a state of mystification. Each of its ticks sounded like a small hammer striking sharply against a metal plate. I held it to my ear and was almost deafened. For a moment I wondered whether I were not in the throes of some acute nervous disorder, in which the senses became sharpened to an incredible degree. Such an exultation of perception could only be due to some powerful intoxicant at work on my body. Was I going mad? I laid the watch on the counterpane and in the act of doing it, the explanation burst on my mind. For the recollection of Mr. Herbert Wain and the Clockdrum suddenly came to me. I flung aside the bedclothes, ran to the window and drew the curtains. The radiance of the day almost blinded me. I pressed my hands to my eyes in a kind of agony, feeling that they had been seared and destroyed, and dropped on my knees. I remained in this position for over a minute and then gradually withdrew my hands and gazed at the carpet. I dared not look up yet. The pattern of the carpet glowed in colours more brilliant than I had ever seen before. As I knelt there, in attitude of prayer, it seemed to me that I had never noticed colour before; that all my life had been passed without any consciousness of colour. At last I lifted my sight from the miracle of the carpet to the miracle of the day. High overhead, through the dingy windowpane, was a patch of clear sky, infinitely sweet, remote and inaccessible, framed by golden clouds. As I gazed at it an indescribable reverence and joy filled my mind. In the purity of the morning light, it seemed the most lovely and wonderful thing I had ever beheld. And I, Richard Harden, consulting physician who had hitherto looked on life through a microscope, remained kneeling on my miraculous carpet, gazing upwards at the miraculous heavens. Acting on some strange impulse I stretched out my hands, and then I saw something which turned me into a rigid statue.

It was in this attitude that Sarakoff found me.

He entered my room violently. His hair was tousled and his beard stuck out at a grotesque angle. He was clad in pink pyjamas, and in his hand he carried a silver-backed mirror. My attitude did not seem to cause him any surprise. The door slammed behind him, with a noise of thunder, and he rushed across the room to where I knelt, and stooping, examined my finger nails at which I was staring.

"Good!" he shouted. "Good! Harden, you've got it too!"

He pointed triumphantly. Under the nails there was a faint tinge of blue, and at the nail-bed this was already intense, forming little crescent-shaped areas of vivid turquoise.

Sarakoff sat down on the edge of my bed and studied hims

elf attentively in the hand mirror.

"A slight pallor is perceptible in the skin," he announced as if he was dictating a note for a medical journal, "and this is due, no doubt, to a deposit of the blue pigment in the deeper layers of the epidermis. The hair is at present unaffected save at the roots. God knows what colour blond hair will become. I am anxious about Leonora. The expression-I suppose I can regard myself as a typical case, Harden-is serene, if not animated. Subjectively, one may observe a great sense of exhilaration coupled with an extraordinary increase in the power of perception. You, for example, look to me quite different."

"In what way?" I demanded.

"Well, as you kneel there, I notice in you a kind of angular grandeur, a grotesque touch of the sublime, that was not evident to me before. If I were a sculptor, I would like to model you like that. I cannot explain why-I am just saying what I feel. I have never felt any impulse towards art until this morning." He twisted his moustache. "Yes, you have quite an interesting face, Harden. I can see in it evidence that you have suffered intensely. You have taken life too seriously. You have worked too hard. You are stunted and deformed with work."

I regarded him with some astonishment.

"Work is all very well," he continued, "but this morning I see with singular clarity that it is only a means of development. My dear Harden, if it is overdone, it simply dwarfs the soul. Our generation has not recognized this properly."

"But you were always an apostle of hard work," I remarked irritably.

"May be." He made a gesture of dismissal. "Now, I am an Immortal, and you are an Immortal. The background to life has changed. Formerly, the idea of death lurked constantly in the depths of the unconscious mind, and by its vaguely-felt influences spurred us on to continual exertion. That is all changed. We have, at one stroke, removed this dire spectre. We are free."

He rose suddenly and flung the mirror across the room.

"What do we need mirrors for?" he cried. "It is only when we fear death that we need mirrors to tell us how long we have to live." He strode over to me and halted. "You seem in no hurry to get up from that carpet," he observed. His remark made me realize that I had been kneeling for some minutes. Now this was rather odd. I am restless by nature and rarely remain in one position for any length of time, and to stay like that, kneeling before the window, was indeed curious. I got up and moved to the dressing-table, thinking. Sarakoff must have been thinking in the same direction, for he asked me a question.

"Did you realize you were kneeling?"

"Yes," I replied. "I knew what I was doing. It merely did not occur to me that I should change my position."

"The explanation is simple," said the Russian. "Restlessness, or the idea that we must change our position, or that we should be doing something else, belongs to the anxious side of life; and the anxious side of life is nourished and kept vigorous by the latent fear of death. All that is removed from you, and therefore you see no reason why you should do anything until it pleases you."

I began to study myself in the glass on the dressing-table. The examination interested me immensely. There was certainly a marble-like hue about the skin. The whites of my eyes were distinctly stained, but not so intensely as had been the case with Mr. Herbert Wain, showing that I had not suffered from the Blue Disease as long as he had. But when I began to study my reflection from the ?sthetic point of view, I became deeply engrossed.

"I don't agree with you, Sarakoff," I remarked at length. "We still need mirrors. In fact I have never found the mirror so interesting in my life."

"Don't use that absurd phrase," he answered. "It implies that something other than life exists."

"So it does."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, if I stick this pair of scissors into your heart you will die, my dear fellow." He was silent, and a frown began to gather on his brow. "Yes," I continued, "your psychological deductions are not entirely valid. The fear of death still exists, but now limited to a small sphere. In that sphere, it will operate with extreme intensity." I picked up the scissors and made a stealthy movement towards him. To my amazement I obtained an immediate proof of my theory. He sprang up with a loud cry, darted to the door and vanished. For a moment I stood in a state of bewilderment. Was it possible that he, with all his size and strength, was afraid of me? And then a great fit of laughter overcame me and I sank down on my bed with the tears coming from my eyes.

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