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   Chapter 20 THE WAY BACK

The Blue Germ By Maurice Nicoll Characters: 7555

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


It had been a wet night. Pools of water lay on the glistening pavements, but the rain had ceased. We ran steadily until we came in sight of Piccadilly Circus, and there our fear left us suddenly. It was like the cutting off of a switch. We stopped in the street, gasping for breath.

"This is really absurd," I observed; "we must learn to control ourselves."

"We can't control an emotion of that strength, Harden. It's overwhelming. It's all the emotion we had before concentrated into a single expression. No, it's going to be a nuisance."

"The worst of it is that we cannot foresee it. We get no warning. It springs out of the unknown like a tiger."

We walked slowly across the Circus. It was thronged with a night crowd, and seemed like some strange octagonal room, walled by moving coloured lights. Here lay a scene that remained eternally the same whatever the conditions of life-a scene that neither war, nor pestilence, nor famine could change. We stood by the fountain, immersed in our thoughts. "I used to enjoy this kind of thing," said Sarakoff at length.

"And now?"

"Now it is curiously meaningless-absolutely indecipherable."

We walked on and entered Coventry Street. Here Sarakoff suddenly pushed open a door and I followed him. We found ourselves in a brilliantly illuminated restaurant. A band was playing. We sat down at an unoccupied table.

"Harden, I wish to try an experiment. I want to see if, by an effort, we can get back to the old point of view."

He beckoned to the waiter and ordered champagne, cognac, oysters and caviare. Then he leaned back in his seat and smiled.

"Somehow I feel it won't work," I began.

He held up his hand.

"Wait. It is an experiment. You must give it a fair chance. Come, let us be merry."

I nodded.

"Let us eat, drink and be merry," I murmured.

I watched the flushed faces and sparkling eyes around us. So far we had attracted no attention. Our table was in a corner, behind a pillar. The waiter hurried up with a laden tray, and in a moment the table was covered with bottles and plates.

"Now," said Sarakoff, "we will begin with a glass of brandy. Let us try to recall the days of our youth-a little imagination, Harden, and then perhaps the spell will be broken. A toast-Leonora!"

"Leonora," I echoed.

We raised our glasses. I took a sip and set down my glass. Our eyes met.

"Is the brandy good?"

"It is of an admirable quality," said Sarakoff. He put his glass on the table and for some time we sat in silence.

"Excuse me," I said. "Don't you think the caviare is a trifle--?"

He made a gesture of determination.

"Harden, we will try champagne."

He filled two glasses.

"Let us drink off the whole glass," he said. "Really, Harden, we must try."

I managed to take two gulps. The stuff was nasty. It seemed like weak methylated spirits.

"Continue," said Sarakoff firmly; "let us drink ourselves into the glorious past, whither the wizard of alcohol transports all men."

I took two more gulps. Sarakoff did the same. It was something in the nature of a battle against an invisible resistance. I gripped the table hard with my free hand, and took another gulp.

"Sarakoff," I gasped. "I can't take any more. If you want to get alcohol into my system you must inject it under my skin. I can't do it this way."

He put down his glass. It was half full. There were beads of perspiration on his brow.

"I'll finish that glass somehow," he observed. He passed his hand across his forehead. "This is extraordinary. It's just like taking poison, Harden, and yet it is an excellent brand of wine."

"Do get these oysters taken away," I said. "They serve no purpose lying here. They only take up room."

"Wait till I finish my glass."

With

infinite trouble he drank the rest of the champagne. The effort tired him. He sat, breathing quickly and staring before him.

"That's a pretty woman," he observed. "I did not notice her before."

I followed the direction of his gaze. A young woman, dressed in emerald green, sat at a table against the opposite wall. She was talking very excitedly, making many gestures and seemed to me a little intoxicated.

Sarakoff poured out some more champagne.

"I am getting back," he muttered. He looked like a man engaged in some terrific struggle with himself. His breath was short and thick, his eyes were reddened. Perspiration covered his face and hands. He finished the second glass.

"Yes, she is pretty," he said, "I like that white skin against the brilliant green. She's got grace, too. Have you noticed white-skinned women always are graceful, and have little ears, Harden?"

He laughed suddenly, with his old boisterousness and clapped me on the shoulder.

"This is the way out!" he shouted, and pointed to the silver tub that contained the champagne bottle.

His voice sounded loudly above the music.

"The way out!" he repeated. He got to his feet. His eyes were congested. The sweat streamed down his cheeks. "Here," he called in his deep powerful voice, "here, all you who are afraid-here is the way out." He waved his arms. People stopped drinking and talking to turn and stare at him. "Back to the animals!" he shouted. "Back to the fur and hair and flesh! I was up on the mountain top, but I've found the way back. Here it is-here is the magic you need, if you're tired of the frozen heights!"

He swayed as he spoke. Strangely interested, I stared up at him.

"He's delirious," called out the emerald young woman. "He's got that horrid disease."

The manager and a couple of waiters came up. "It's coming," shouted Sarakoff; "I saw it sweeping over the world. See, the world is white, like snow. They have robbed it of colour." The manager grasped his arm firmly.

"Come with me," he said. "You are ill. I will put you in a taxi."

"You don't understand," said Sarakoff. "You are in it still. Don't you see I'm a traveller?"

"He is mad," whispered a waiter in my ear.

"A traveller," shouted the Russian. "But I've come back. Greeting, brothers. It was a rough journey, but now I hear and see you."

"If you do not leave the establishment at once I will get a policeman," said the manager with a hiss.

Sarakoff threw out his hands.

"Make ready!" he cried. "The great uprooting!" He began to laugh unsteadily. "The end of disease and the end of desire-there's no difference. You never knew that, brothers. I've come back to tell you-thousands and thousands of miles-into the great dimension of hell and heaven. It was a mistake and I'm going back. Look! She's fading-further and further--" He pointed a shaking hand across the room and suddenly collapsed, half supported by the manager.

"Dead drunk," remarked a neighbour.

I turned.

"No. Live drunk," I said. "The champagne has brought him back to the world of desire."

The speaker, a clean-shaven young man, stared insolently.

"You have no business to come into a public place with that disease," he said with a sneer.

"You are right. I have no business here. My business is to warn the world that the end of desire is at hand." I signalled to a waiter and together we managed to get Sarakoff into a taxi-cab.

As we drove home, all that lay behind Sarakoff's broken confused words revealed itself with increasing distinctness to me.

Sarakoff spoke again.

"Harden," he muttered thickly, "there was a flaw-in the dream--"

"Yes," I said. "I was sure there would be a flaw. I hadn't noticed it before--"

"We're cut off," he whispered. "Cut off."

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