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   Chapter 23 AT DOWNING STREET

The Blue Germ By Maurice Nicoll Characters: 7768

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


That night, at eight o'clock, I was summoned to Downing Street. I left Sarakoff lying on the sofa, apparently asleep. I drove the first part of the way in a taxi, but at the corner of Orchard Street the cab very nearly collided with another vehicle, and in a moment I was a helpless creature of fear. So I walked the rest of the way, much to the astonishment of the driver, who thought I was a lunatic. It was a fine crisp evening and the streets were unusually full. Late editions of the paper were still being cried, and under the lamps were groups of people, talking excitedly.

From what I could gather from snatches of conversation that I overheard, it seemed that many thought the millennium was at hand. I mused on this, wondering if beneath the busy exterior of life there lurked in people's hearts a secret imperishable conviction. And, after all, was it not a millennium-the final triumph of science-the conquest of the irrational by the rational?

There was a good deal of drunkenness, and crowds of men and women, linked arm and arm, went by, singing senseless songs. In Piccadilly Circus the scene was unusually animated. Here, beyond doubt, the Jason press had produced a powerful impression. The restaurants and bars blazed with light. Crowds streamed in and out and a spirit of hilarious excitement pervaded everyone. Irresponsibility-that was the universal attitude; and I became deeply occupied in thinking how the germ should have brought about such a temper in the multitude. Only occasionally did I catch the blue stain in the eyes of the throng about me.

I reached Downing Street and was shown straight into a large, rather bare room. By the fireplace sat Jason, and beside him, on the hearthrug, stood the Premier. Jason introduced me and I was greeted with quiet courtesy.

"I intend to make a statement in the House to-night and would like to put a few questions to you," said the Premier in a slow clear voice. "The Home Secretary has been considering whether you and Dr. Sarakoff should be arrested. I see no use in that. What you have done cannot be undone."

"That is true."

"In matters like this," he continued, "it is always a question of taking sides. Either we must oppose you and the germ, or we must side with you, and extol the virtues of the new discovery. A neutral attitude would only rouse irritation. I have therefore looked into the evidence connected with the effects claimed for the germ, and have received reports on the rate of its spread. It would seem that it is of benefit to man, so far as can be judged at present, and that its course cannot be stayed."

I assented, and remained gazing abstractedly at the fire.

He continued in a sterner tone-

"It may, however, be necessary to place you and Dr. Sarakoff under police protection. There is no saying what may happen. Your action in letting loose the germ in the water supply of Birmingham was unfortunate. You have taken a great liberty with humanity, whatever may result from it."

"Medical men have no sense of proportion," murmured Jason. "Science makes them so helpless."

"I see no kind of helplessness in rescuing humanity from disease," I answered calmly. "Please tell me what you want to know."

They both looked at me attentively. The Premier took out a pair of pince-nez and began to clean the lenses, still watching me.

"France is unwilling to let the germ into her territory. Can measures be taken to stop its access to the Continent?"

"No. It will get there inevitably. It has probably got there long ago. It is air borne and water borne and probably sea borne as well. The whole world will be infected sooner or later. There is no immunity possible."

The Premier put on his pince-nez and warmed his hands at the fire.

"Then what will the result of the germ be upon mankind?" he asked at length.

"It will begin a new era. What

has made reform so difficult up to now?"

"People do not see eye to eye on all questions, Dr. Harden. That is the main reason."

"And why do they not see eye to eye?"

"Because their desires are not the same."

"Very good. Now imagine a humanity without desires, as you and Jason understand desire. What would be the result?"

"It is impossible to conceive. The wheels of the world would cease turning. We should be like sheep without a shepherd." He surveyed me quietly for some time. "Then you think the germ will kill desire?"

"I know it. I am a living example. I have no desires. I am like a man without a body, I am immortal."

Jason laughed.

"You are above temptation?" he asked.

"Absolutely. Neither money, power nor woman has any influence on me. They are meaningless."

"You have, perhaps, reached Nirvana?" the Premier enquired.

"Yes. That is why I am immortal. I have reached Nirvana."

"By a trick."

"If you like-by a trick."

"Then I cannot think you will stay there for long," said the Premier. "I shall look forward to my attack of the Blue Disease with interest. It will be amusing to note one's sensations."

It was clear to me that he was defending himself against my greater knowledge, but it was a matter of no importance to me. I was faintly oppressed by the dreary immensity of the room. I had become sensitive to atmosphere, and the feeling of that room was not harmonious.

The Premier stood in deep thought.

"If the germ prolongs life, it will lead to complications," he remarked. "The question of being too old has attracted public attention for some time now, which shows the way the wind is blowing. Oldness has become, in a small degree, a problem. The world is younger than it used to be-more impatient, more anxious to live a free life, to escape from any form of bondage. And so people have begun to ask what we are to do with our old men."

He paused and looked at Jason.

"My friend Jason thinks these murders are caused indirectly by the germ."

"It is possible."

"It seems fantastic. But there may be something in it." The Premier raised his eyes and studied the ceiling. "There is certainly some excitement abroad. We are dealing with an unprecedented situation. I therefore propose to say to-night that if, in the course of time, we find that life is prolonged and disease done away with, new laws will have to be considered."

"Not only new laws," I said. "We shall have to reconstruct the whole future of life. But there is no hurry. There is plenty of time. There is eternity before us."

"What do you eat?" demanded the Premier suddenly.

"A little bread or biscuit."

He clasped his hands behind his back and surveyed me for quite a minute.

"I don't believe you're a quack," he observed. "But when you walked into the room, I was doubtful."

"Why?"

"Because you wouldn't look at me squarely."

"Why should I look at you squarely? I looked at you and saw you. I have no desire to make any impression on you, or to dominate you in any way. It was sufficient just to see you. As Immortals, we do not waste our time looking at one another squarely. An Immortal cannot act."

The Premier smiled to himself and took out his watch.

"I am obliged to you for the instance," he said. "Good-night."

I rose and walked towards the door. On my way I stopped before a vast dingy oil-painting.

"Why do you all deceive yourselves that you admire things like that? Throw it away. When you become an Immortal you won't live here."

The Premier and Jason stood together on the hearth-rug. They watched me intently as I went out and closed the door behind me. A servant met me on the landing and escorted me downstairs. I observed that he was an Immortal.

"What are you doing here?" I asked.

"I am a spectator," he said in a calm voice. "And you?"

"I, too, am a spectator."

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