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   Chapter 15 THE TERRIBLE FEAR

The Blue Germ By Maurice Nicoll Characters: 11826

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


On coming down to breakfast, I found Sarakoff already seated at the table devouring the morning papers. I picked up a discarded one and stood by the fire, glancing over its contents. There was only one subject of news, and that was the spread of the Blue Disease. From every part of the north cases were reported, and in London it had broken out in several districts.

"So it's all come true," I remarked.

He nodded, and continued reading. I sauntered to the window. A thin driving snow was now falling, and the passers-by were hurrying along in the freezing slush, with collars turned up and heads bowed before the wind.

"This is an ideal day to spend indoors by the fireside," I observed. "I think I'll telephone to the hospital and tell Jones to take my work."

Sarakoff raised his eyes, and then his eyebrows.

"So," he said, "the busy man suddenly thinks work a bother. The power of the germ, Harden, is indeed miraculous."

"Do you think my inclination is due to the germ?"

"Beyond a doubt. You were the most over-conscientious man I ever knew until this morning."

For some reason I found this observation very interesting. I wished to discuss it, and I was about to reply when the door opened and my housemaid announced that Dr. Symington-Tearle was in the hall and would like an immediate interview.

"Shew him in," I said equably. Symington-Tearle usually had a most irritating effect upon me, but at the moment I felt totally indifferent to him. He entered in his customary manner, as if the whole of London were feverishly awaiting him. I introduced Sarakoff, but Symington-Tearle hardly noticed him.

"Harden," he exclaimed in his loud dominating tones, "I am convinced that there is no such thing as this Blue Disease. I believe it all to be a colossal plant. Some practical joker has introduced a chemical into the water supply."

"Probably," I murmured, still thinking of Sarakoff's observation.

"I'm going to expose the whole thing in the evening papers; I examined a case yesterday-a man called Wain-and was convinced there was nothing wrong with him. He was really pigmented. And what is it but mere pigmentation?" He passed his hand over his brow and frowned. "Yes, yes," he continued, "that's what it is-a colossal joke. We've all been taken in by it-everyone except me." He sat down by the breakfast table suddenly and once more passed his hand over his brow.

"What was I saying?" he asked.

Sarakoff and I were now watching him intently.

"That the Blue Disease was a joke," I said.

"Ah, yes-a joke." He looked up at Sarakoff and stared for a moment. "Do you know," he said, "I believe it really is a joke."

An expression of intense solemnity came over his face, and he sat motionless gazing in front of him with unblinking eyes. I crossed to where he sat and peered at his face.

"I thought so," I remarked. "You've got it too."

"Got what?"

"The Blue Disease. I suppose you caught it from Wain, as we did." I picked up one of his hands and pointed to the faintly-tinted fingernails. Dr. Symington-Tearle stared at them with an air of such child-like simplicity and gravity that Sarakoff and I broke into loud laughter.

The humour of the situation passed with a peculiar suddenness and we ceased laughing abruptly. I sat down at the table, and for some time the three of us gazed at one another and said nothing. The spirit-lamp that heated the silver dish of bacon upon the table spurted at intervals and I saw Symington-Tearle stare at it in faint surprise.

"Does it sound very loud?" asked Sarakoff at length.

"Extraordinarily loud. And upon my soul your voice nearly deafens me."

"It will pass," I said. "One gets adjusted to the extreme sensitiveness in a short time. How do you feel?"

"I feel," said Symington-Tearle slowly, "as if I were newly constructed from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet. After a Turkish bath and twenty minutes' massage I've experienced a little of the feeling."

He stared at Sarakoff, then at me, and finally at the spirit lamp. We must have presented an odd spectacle. For there we sat, three men who, under ordinary circumstances, were extremely busy and active, lolling round the unfinished breakfast table while the hands of the clock travelled relentlessly onward.

Relentlessly? That was scarcely correct. To me, owing to some mysterious change that I cannot explain, the clock had ceased to be a tyrannous and hateful monster. I did not care how fast it went or to what hour it pointed. Time was no longer precious, any more than the sand of the sea is precious.

"Aren't you going to have any breakfast?" asked Symington-Tearle.

"I'm not in the least hurry," replied Sarakoff. "I think I'll take a sip of coffee. Are you hungry, Harden?"

"No. I don't want anything save coffee. But I'm in no hurry."

My housemaid entered and announced that the gentleman who had been waiting in Dr. Symington-Tearle's car, and was now in the hall, wished to know if the doctor would be long.

"Oh, that is a patient of mine," said Symington-Tearle, "ask him to come in."

A large, stout, red-faced gentleman entered, wrapped in a thick frieze motor coat. He nodded to us briefly.

"Sorry to interrupt," he said, "but time's getting on, Tearle. My consultation with Sir Peverly Salt was for half past nine, if you remember. It's that now."

"Oh, there's plenty of time," said Tearle. "Sit down, Ballard. It's nice and warm in here."

"It may be nice and warm," replied Mr. Ballard loudly, "but I don't want to keep Sir Peverly waiting."

"I don't see why you shouldn't keep him waiting," said Tearle. "In fact I really don't see why you should go to him at all."

Mr. Ballard stared for a moment. Then his eyes travelled round the table and dwelt first on Sarakoff and then on me. I suppose something in our manner rather baffled him, but outwardly he shewed no

sign of it.

"I don't quite follow you," he said, fixing his gaze upon Tearle again. "If you recollect, you advised me strongly four days ago to consult Sir Peverly Salt about the condition of my heart, and you impressed upon me that his opinion was the best that was obtainable. You rang him up and an appointment was fixed for this morning at half-past nine, and I was told to call on you shortly after nine."

He paused, and once more his eyes dwelt in turn upon each of us. They returned to Tearle. "It is now twenty-five minutes to ten," he said. His face had become redder, and his voice louder. "And I understood that Sir Peverly is a very busy man."

"He certainly is busy," said Tearle. "He's far too busy. It is very interesting to think that business is only necessary in so far--"

"Look here," said Mr. Ballard violently. "I'm a man with a short temper. I'm hanged if I'll stand this nonsense. What the devil do you think you're all doing? Are you playing a joke on me?"

He glared round at us, and then he made a sudden movement towards the table. In a moment we were all on our feet. I felt an acute terror seize me, and without waiting to see what happened, I flung open the door that led into my consulting room, darted to the further door, across the hall and up to my bedroom.

There was a cry and a rush of feet across the hall. Mr. Ballard's voice rang out stormily. A door slammed, and then another door, and then all was silent.

I became aware of a movement behind me, and looking round sharply, I saw my housemaid Lottie staring at me in amazement. She had been engaged in making the bed.

"Whatever is the matter, sir?" she asked.

"Hush!" I whispered. "There's a dangerous man downstairs."

I turned the key in the lock, listened for a moment, and then tip-toed my way across the floor to a chair. My limbs were shaking. It is difficult to describe the intensity of my terror. There was a cold sweat on my forehead. "He might have killed me. Think of that!"

Her eyes were fixed on me.

"Oh, sir, you do look bad," she exclaimed. "Whatever has happened to you?" She came nearer and gazed into my eyes. "They're all blue, sir. It must be that disease you've got."

A sudden irritation flashed over me. "Don't stare at me like that. You'll have it yourself to-morrow," I shouted. "The whole of the blessed city will have it." A loud rap at the door interrupted me. I jumped up, darted across the room and threw myself under the bed. "Don't let anyone in," I whispered. The rap was repeated. Sarakoff's voice sounded without.

"Let me in. It's all right. He's gone. The front door is bolted." I crawled out and unlocked the door. Sarakoff, looking rather pale, was standing in the passage. He carried a poker. "Symington-Tearle's in the coal-cellar," he announced. "He won't come out."

I wiped my brow with a handkerchief.

"Good heavens, Sarakoff," I exclaimed, "this kind of thing will lead to endless trouble. I had no idea the terror would be so uncontrollable."

"I'm glad you feel it as I do," said the Russian. "When you threatened me with a pair of scissors this morning I felt mad with fear."

"It's awful," I murmured. "We can't be too careful." We began to descend the stairs. "Sarakoff, you remember I told you about that dead sailor? I see now why that expression was on his face. It was the terror that he felt."

"Extraordinary!" he muttered. "He couldn't have known. It must have been instinctive."

"Instincts are like that," I said. "I don't suppose an animal knows anything about death, or even thinks of it, yet it behaves from the very first as if it knew. It's odd."

A door opened at the far end of the hall, and Symington-Tearle emerged. There was a patch of coal-dust on his forehead. His hair, usually so flat and smooth that it seemed like a brass mirror, was now disordered.

"Has he gone?" he enquired hoarsely.

We nodded. I pointed to the chain on the door.

"It's bolted," I said. "Come into the study."

I led the way into the room. Tearle walked to the window, then to a chair, and finally took up a position before the fire.

"This is extraordinary!" he exclaimed.

"What do you make of it?" I asked.

"I can make nothing of it. What's the matter with me? I never felt anything like that terror that came over me when Ballard approached me."

Sarakoff took out a large handkerchief and passed it across his face. "It's only the fear of physical violence," he said. "That's the only weak spot. Fear was formerly distributed over a wide variety of possibilities, but now it's all concentrated in one direction."

"Why?" Tearle stared at me questioningly.

"Because the germ is in us," I said. "We're immortal."

"Immortal?"

Sarakoff threw out his hands, and flung back his head. "Immortals!"

I crossed to my writing-table, and picked up a heavy volume.

"Here is the first edition of Buckwell Pink's System of Medicine. This book was produced at immense cost and labour, and it is to be published next week. When that book is published no one will buy it."

"Why not?" demanded Tearle. "I wrote an article in it myself."

"So did I," was my reply. "But that won't make any difference. No member of the medical profession will be interested in it."

"Not interested? I can't believe that. It contains all the recent work."

"The medical profession will not be interested in it for a very simple reason. The medical profession will have ceased to exist."

A look of amazement came to Tearle's face. I tapped the volume and continued.

"You are wrong in thinking it contains all the recent work. It does not. The last and greatest achievement of medical science is not recorded in these pages. It is only recorded in ourselves. For that blue pigmentation in your eyes and fingers is due to the Sarakoff-Harden bacillus which closes once and for all the chapter of medicine."

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