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   Chapter 18 IMMORTAL LOVE

The Blue Germ By Maurice Nicoll Characters: 15623

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


On the same afternoon Miss Annot paid me a visit. I was still sitting in the waiting-room, and Sarakoff was with me. My mind had been deeply occupied with the question of the larger beliefs that we hold. For it had come to me with peculiar force that law and order, and officials like the Home Secretary, are concerned only with the small beliefs of humanity, with the burdensome business of material life. As long as a man dressed properly, walked decently and paid correctly, he was accepted, in spite of the fact that he might firmly believe the world was square. No one worried about those matters. We judge people ultimately by how they eat and drink and get up and sit down. What they say is of little importance in the long run. If we examine a person professionally, we merely ask him what day it is, where he is, what is his name and where he was born. We watch him to see if he washes, undresses and dresses, and eats properly. We ask him to add two and two, and to divide six by three, and then we solemnly give our verdict that he is either sane or insane.

The enormity of this revelation engrossed me with an almost painful activity of thought.

I gazed across at Sarakoff and wondered what appalling gulf divided our views on supreme things. What view did he really take of women? Did he or did he not think that the planets and stars were inhabited? Did he believe in the evolution of the soul like Mr. Thornduck?

A kind of horror possessed me as I stared at him and reflected that these questions had never entered my consciousness until that moment. I had lived with him and dined with him and worked with him, and yet hitherto it would have concerned me far more if I had seen him tuck his napkin under his collar or spit on the carpet.... What laughable little folk we were! I, who had always seen man as the last and final expression of evolution, now saw him as the stumbling, crawling, incredibly stupid, result of a tentative experiment-a first step up a ladder of infinitive length.

Whilst I was immersed in the humiliation of these thoughts Miss Annot entered. She wore a dark violet coat and skirt and a black hat. I noticed that her complexion, usually somewhat muddy, was perfectly clear, though of a marble pallor. We greeted each other quietly and I introduced Sarakoff.

"So you are an Immortal, Alice," I said smiling. She gazed at me.

"Richard, I do not know what I am, but I know one thing; I am entirely changed. Some strange miracle has been wrought in me. I came to ask you what it is."

"You see that both Professor Sarakoff and I have got the germ in our systems like you, Alice. Yes, it is a miracle; we are Immortals."

I studied her face attentively, she had changed. It seemed to me that she was another woman, she moved in a new way, her speech was unhurried, her gaze was direct and thoughtful. I recalled her former appearance when her manner had been nervous and bashful, her eyes downcast, her movements hurried and anxious.

"I do not understand," she said. "Tell me all you know."

I did so, I suppose I must have talked for an hour on end. Throughout that time neither she nor Sarakoff stirred. When I had finished there was a long silence.

"It is funny to think of our last meeting, Richard," she said at length. "Do you remember how my father behaved? He is different now. He sits all day in his study-he eats very little. He seems to be in a dream."

"And you?" I asked.

"I am in a dream, too. I do not understand it. All the things I used to busy myself with seem unimportant."

"That is how we feel," said Sarakoff. He rose to his feet and spoke strongly. "Harden, as Miss Annot says, everything has changed. I never foresaw this; I do not understand it myself."

He went slowly to the mantelpiece and leaned against it.

"When I created this germ, I saw in my mind an ideal picture of life. I saw a world freed from a dire spectre, a world from which fear had been removed, the fear of death. I saw the great triumph of materialism and the final smashing up of all superstition. A man would live in a state of absolute certainty. He would lay his plans for pleasure and comfort and enjoyment with absolute precision, knowing-not hoping-but certainly knowing, that they would come about. I saw cities and gardens built in triumph to cater for the gratification of every sense. I saw new laws in operation, constructed by men who knew that they had mastered the secret of life and had nothing to fear. I saw all those things about which we are so timid and vague-marriage and divorce, the education of children, luxury, the working classes, religion and so on-absolutely settled in black and white. I saw what I thought to be the millennium."

"And now?" asked Alice.

"Now I see nothing. I am in the dark. I do not understand what has happened to me."

"What we are in for now, no man can say," I remarked.

"It's the extraordinary restfulness that puzzles me," said Sarakoff. "Here I have been sitting for hours and I feel no inclination to do anything."

"The thing that is most extraordinary to me is the difficulty I have in realizing how I spent my time formerly," said Alice. "Of course, father is no bother now and meals have been cut down, but that does not account for all of it. It seems as if I had been living in a kind of nightmare in the past, from which I have suddenly escaped."

"What do you feel most inclined to do?" I asked.

"Nothing at present. I sit and think. It was difficult for me to make myself come here to-day." She smiled suddenly. "Richard, it seems strange to recall that we were engaged."

She spoke without any embarrassment and I answered her with equal ease.

"I hope you don't think our engagement is broken off, Alice. I think my feelings towards you are unchanged."

"Ah!" exclaimed Sarakoff. "That is interesting. Are you sure of that, Harden?"

"Not altogether," I answered tranquilly. "There is a lot to think out before I can be sure, but I know that I feel towards Alice a great sympathy."

"Sympathy!" the Russian exclaimed. "What are we coming to? Good heavens! Is sympathy to be our strongest emotion? What do you think, Miss Annot."

"Sympathy is exactly what I feel," she replied. "Richard and I would be very good companions. Isn't that more important than passion?"

"Is sympathy to be the bond between the sexes, then, and is all passion and romance to die?" he exclaimed scornfully. He seemed to be struggling with himself, as if he were trying to throw off some spell that held him. "Surely I seem to recollect that yesterday life contained some richer emotions than sympathy," he muttered. "What has come over us? Why doesn't my blood quicken when I think of Leonora?" He burst into a laugh. "Harden, this is comic. There is no other word for it. It is simply comic."

"It may be comic, Sarakoff, but to speak candidly, I prefer my state to-day to my state yesterday. Last night seems to me like a bad dream." I got to my feet. "There is one thing I must see about as soon as possible, and that is getting rid of this house. What an absurd place to live in this is! It is a comic house, if you like-like a tomb."

The room seemed suddenly absurd. It was very dark, the wallpaper was of a heavy-moulded variety, sombre in hue and covered with meaningless figuring. The ceiling was oppressive. It, too, was moulded in some fantastic manner. Several large faded oil-paintings hung on the wall. I do not know why they hung there, they were hideous and meaningless as well. The whole place was meaningless. It was the meaninglessness that seemed to leap out upon me wherever I turned my eyes. The fireplace astounded me. It was a mass of pillars and super-structures and carvings, increasing in complexity from within outwards, until i

t attained the appearance of an ornate temple in the centre of which burned a little coal. It was grotesque. On the topmost ledges of this monstrous absurdity stood two vases. They bulged like distended stomachs, covered on their outsides with yellow, green and black splotches of colour. I recollected that I paid ten pounds apiece for them. Under what perverted impulse had I done that? My memories became incredible. I moved deliberately to the mantelpiece and seized the vases. I opened the window and hurled them out on to the pavement. They fell with a crash, and their fragments littered the ground.

Alice expressed no surprise.

"It is rather comic," said the Russian, "but where are you going to live?"

"Alice and I will go and live by the sea. We have plenty to think about. I feel as if I could never stop thinking, as if I had to dig away a mountain of thought with a spade. Alice, we will go round to the house agent now."

When Alice and I left the house the remains of the vases littered the pavement at our feet. We walked down Harley Street. The house agent lived in Regent Street. It was now a clear, crisp afternoon with a pleasant tint of sunlight in the air. A newspaper boy passed, calling something unintelligible in an excited voice. I stopped him and bought a paper.

"What an inhuman noise to make," said Alice. "It seems to jar on every nerve in my body. Do ask him to stop."

"You're making too much noise," I said to the lad. "You must call softly. It is an outrage to scream like that."

He stared up at me, an impudent amazed face surmounting a tattered and dishevelled body, and spoke.

"You two do look a couple of guys, wiv' yer blue faices. If some of them doctors round 'ere catches yer, they'll pop yer into 'ospital."

He ran off, shrieking his unintelligible jargon.

"We must get to the sea," I said firmly. "This clamour of London is unbearable."

I opened the paper. Enormous headlines stared me in the face.

"Blue Disease sweeping over London. Ten thousand cases reported to-day. Europe alarmed. Question of the isolation of Great Britain under discussion. Debate in the Commons to-night. The Duke of Thud and the Earl of Blunder victims. The Royal Family leave London."

We stood together on the pavement and gazed at these statements in silence. A sense of wonder filled my mind. What a confusion! What an emotional, feverish, heated confusion! Why could not they take the matter calmly? What, in the name of goodness, was the reason of this panic. They knew that the Blue Disease had caused no fatalities in Birmingham, and yet so totally absent was the power of thought and deduction, that they actually printed those glaring headlines.

"The fools," I said. "The amazing, fatuous fools. They simply want to sell the paper. They have no other idea."

A strong nausea came over me. I crumpled up the paper and stood staring up and down the street. The newspaper boy was in the far distance, still shrieking. I saw Sir Barnaby Burtle, the obstetrician, standing by his scarlet front door, eagerly devouring the news. His jaw was slack and his eyes protruded.

The solemn houses of Harley Street only increased my nausea. The folly of it-the selfish, savage folly of life!

"Come, Richard," said Alice. "The sooner we get to the house agent the better. We could never live here."

"I'll put him on to the job of finding a bungalow on the South Coast at once," I said. "And then we'll go and live there."

"We must get married," she observed.

"Married!" I stopped and stared at her with a puzzled expression. "Don't you think the marriage ceremony is rather barbarous?"

She did not reply; we walked on immersed in our own thoughts. At times I detected in the passers-by a gleam of sparrow-egg blue.

My house agent was a large, confused individual who habitually wore a shining top hat on the back of his head and twisted a cigar in the corner of his mouth. He was very fat, with one of those creased faces that seem to fall into folds like a heavy crimson curtain. His brooding, congested eye fell upon me as we entered, and an expression of alarm became visible in its depths. He pushed his chair back and retreated to a corner of the room.

"Dr. Harden!" he exclaimed fearfully, "you oughtn't to come here like that, you really oughtn't."

"Don't be an ass, Franklyn," I said firmly. "You are bound to catch the germ sooner or later. It will impress you immensely."

"It's all over London," he whimpered. "It's too much; it will hit us hard. It's too much."

"Listen to me," I said. "I have come here to see you about business. Now sit down in your chair; I won't touch you. I want you to get me a bungalow by the sea with a garden as soon as possible. I am going to sell my house."

"Sell your house!" He became calmer. "That is very extraordinary, Dr. Harden."

"I am going out of London."

He was astonished.

"But your house-in Harley Street-so central...." he stammered. "I don't understand. Are you giving up your practice?"

"Of course."

"At your age, Dr. Harden?"

"What has age got to do with it? There is no such thing as age."

He stared. Then his eyes turned to Alice.

"No such thing as age?" he murmured helplessly. "But surely you are not going to sell; you have the best house in Harley Street. Its commanding position ... in the centre of that famous locality...."

"Do you think that any really sane man would live in the centre of Harley Street," I asked calmly. "Is he likely to find any peace in that furnace of crude worldly ambitions? But all that is already a thing of the past. In a few weeks, Franklyn, Harley Street will be deserted."

"Deserted?" His eyes rolled.

"Deserted," I said sternly. "In its upper rooms there may remain a few Immortals, but the streets will be silent. The great business of sickness, which occupies the attention of a third of the world and furnishes the main topic of conversation in every home, will be gone. Sell my house, Franklyn, and find me a bungalow on the South Coast facing the sea."

I turned away and went towards the door, Alice followed me. The house agent sat in helpless amazement. He filled me with a sense of nausea. He seemed so gross, so mindless.

"A bungalow," he whispered.

"Yes. Let us have long, low, simple rooms and a garden where we may grow enough to live on. The age of material complexity and noise is at an end. We need peace."

Strolling along at a slow pace, we went down Oxford Street towards the Marble Arch. It was dusk. The newsboys were howling at every corner and everyone had a paper. Little groups of people stood on the pavements discussing the news. In the roadway the stream of traffic was incessant. The huge motor-buses thundered and swayed along, with their loads of pale humanity feverishly clinging to them. The public-houses were crowded. The slight tension that the threat of the Blue Disease produced in people filled the bars with men and women, seeking the relaxation of alcohol. There was in the air that liveliness, that tendency to collect into small crowds, that is evident whenever the common safety of the great herd is threatened. In the Park a crowd surrounded the platform of an agitator. In a voice like that of a delirious man, he implored the crowd to go down on its knees and repent ... the end of the world was at hand ... the Blue Disease was the pouring out of one of the vials of wrath ... repent!... repent!... His voice rang in our ears and drove us away. We crossed the damp grass. I stumbled over a sleeping man. There was something familiar in his appearance and I stooped down and turned him over. It was Mr. Herbert Wain. He seemed to be fast asleep.... We walked to King's Cross, and I put Alice without regret in the train for Cambridge.

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