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   Chapter 26 ON THE SPANIARD'S WALK

The Blue Germ By Maurice Nicoll Characters: 9135

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


I paid the man half-a-sovereign. There was a seat near by and Sarakoff deposited himself upon it. I joined him. On those heights the morning air struck chill. London, misty-blue, lay before us. The taxi-man took out his pipe and began to fill it.

"Lucky me comin' along like that," he observed. "If it hadn't been because of my missus I wouldn't have been out so early." He blew a puff of smoke and continued: "This Blue Disease seems to confuse folk. My missus was took with it last night." He paused to examine us at his leisure. "When did you get it?"

"We became immortal the day before yesterday," said Sarakoff.

The taxi-man took his pipe out of his mouth and stared.

"You ain't them two doctors what's in the paper this morning, by any chance?" he asked. "Them as is supposed to 'ave invented this Blue Disease?"

We nodded. He emitted a low whistle and gazed thoughtfully at us. At length he spoke I noticed his tone had changed.

"As I was saying, my missus was took with it in the night. I had a job waking 'er up, and when she opened her eyes I near had a fit. We'd had a bit of a tiff overnight, but she got up as quiet as a lamb and never said a word agin me, which surprised me. When I 'ad dressed myself I went into the kitchen to get a bit o' breakfast, and she was setting in a chair starin' at nothing. The kettle wasn't boiling, and there wasn't nothing ready, so I asked 'er quite polite, what she was doing. 'I'm thinking,' she says, and continues sitting in the chair. After a bit of reasoning with her, I lost my temper and picked up a leg of a chair, what we had broke the evening previous when we was 'aving a argument. She jump up and bolted out of the house, just as she was, with her 'air in curl-papers, and that's the last I saw of her. I waited an hour and then took the old cab out of the garage, and I was going to look for my breakfast when I met you two gents." He took his pipe out of his mouth and wiped his lips. "Now I put it all down to this 'ere Blue Disease. It's sent my missus off 'er head."

"There's no reason why you should think your wife mad simply because she ran away when you tried to strike her," I said. "It's surely a proof of her sanity."

He shook his head.

"That ain't correct," he said, with conviction. "She always liked a scrap. She's a powerful young woman, and her language is extraordinary fine when she's roused, and she knows it. I can't understand it."

He looked up suddenly.

"So it was you two who made this disease was it?"

"Yes."

"Fancy that!" he said. "Fancy a couple of doctors inventing a disease. It does sound a shame, don't it?"

"Wait till you get it," said Sarakoff.

"It seems to me you've been and done something nasty," he went on. "Ain't there enough diseases without you two going and makin' a new one? It's a fair sickener to think of all the diseases there are-measles and softenin' of the brain, and 'eaving stummicks and what not. What made you do it? That's what I want to know." He was getting angry. He pointed the stem of his pipe at us accusingly. His small eyes shone. "It's fair sickening," he muttered. "I've never took to doctors, nor parsons-never in my life."

He spat expressively.

"And my wife, too, clean barmy," he continued. "Who 'ave I got to thank for that? You two gents. Doctors, you call yourselves. I arsk you, what is doctors? They never does me any good. I never seed anyone they'd done any good. And yet they keeps on and no one says nothing. It's fair sickening."

There was a sound of footsteps behind me. I turned and saw a policeman climbing slowly up the bank towards the road. Like all policemen he appeared not to notice us until he was abreast of our seat. Then he stopped and eyed each of us in turn. His boots were muddy.

"These gents," said the taxi-man, "'ave been and done something nasty."

The phrase seemed attractive to him and he repeated it. The policeman, a tall muscular man, surveyed us in silence. Sarakoff, his hair and beard dishevelled, was leaning back in a corner of the seat, with his legs crossed. His dressing-gown was tucked closely round him, and below it, his pink pyjamas fluttered in the thin breeze. His expression was calm.

The taxi-man continued-

"I picked these gents up in the Euston Road. They was in a hurry. I thought they'd done something ordinary, same as what you or me might do, but it seems I was wrong. They've been and done something nasty. They've gone and invented this 'ere Blue Disease."

The policeman raised his helmet a little and the taxi-

man uttered an exclamation.

"Why, you've got it yourself," he said, and stared. The policeman's eyes were stained a vivid blue.

"An immortal policeman!" murmured Sarakoff dreamily.

The discovery seemed to discomfit the taxi-man. The tide of indignation in him was deflected, and he shifted his feet. The policeman, with a deliberation that was magnificent advanced to the seat and sat down beside me.

"Good-morning," I said.

"Good-morning," he replied in a deep calm voice. He removed his helmet from his head and allowed the wind to stir his hair. The taxi-man moved a step nearer us.

"You ought to arrest them," he said. "Here's my wife got it, and you, and who's to say when it will end? They're doctors, too. I allus had my own suspicions of doctors, and 'ere they are, just as I supposed, inventing diseases to keep themselves going. That's what you ought to do ... arrest them. I'll drive you all down to the police-station." The policeman replaced his helmet, crossed his long blue legs, and leaned back in the corner of the seat. Side by side on the seat Sarakoff, the policeman, and I gazed tranquilly at the figure of the taxi-man, at the taxi-cab, and at the misty panorama of London that lay beyond the Vale of Health. The expression of anger returned to the taxi-man's face.

"And 'ere am I, standing and telling you to do your duty, and all the time I haven't had my breakfast," he said bitterly. "If you was to cop them two gents, your name would be in all the evenin' papers." He paused, and frowned, conscious that he was making little impression on the upholder of law and order. "Why 'aven't I 'ad my breakfast? All because of these two blokes. I tell you, you ought to cop them."

"When I was a boy," said the policeman, "I used to collect stamps."

"Did yer," exclaimed the taxi-man sarcastically. "You do interest me, reely you do."

"Yes, I used to collect stamps." The policeman settled himself more comfortably. "And afore that I was in the 'abit of collecting bits o' string."

"You surprise me," said the taxi-man. "And what did you collect afore you collected bits of string?"

"So far as I recollect, I didn't collect nothing. I was trying to remember while I was walking across the Heath." He turned to us. "Did you collect anything?"

"Yes," I said. "I used to collect beetles."

"Beetles?" The policeman nodded thoughtfully. "I never had an eye for beetles. But, as I said, I collected stamps. I remember I would walk for miles to get a new stamp, and of an evening I would sit and count the stamps in my album over and over again till my head was fair giddy." He paused and stroked his clean-shaven chin thoughtfully. "I recollect as if it was yesterday how giddy my head used to get."

The taxi-man seemed about to say something, but he changed his mind.

"Why did you collect beetles?" the policeman asked me.

"I was interested in them."

"But that ain't a suitable answer," he replied. "It ain't suitable. That's what I've been seeing for the first time this morning. The point is-why was you interested in beetles, and why was I interested in bits o' string and stamps?"

"Yes, he's quite right," said Sarakoff; "that certainly is the point."

"To say that we are interested in a thing is no suitable explanation," continued the policeman. "After I'd done collecting stamps--"

"Why don't you arrest these two blokes?" shouted the taxi-man suddenly. "Why can't you do yer duty, you blue fathead?"

"I'm coming to that," said the policeman imperturbably. "As I was saying, after I collected stamps, I collected knives-any sort of old rusty knife-and then I joined the force and began to collect men, I collected all sorts o' men-tall and short, fat and thin. Now why did I do that?"

"It seems to me," observed the taxi-man, suddenly calm, "that somebody will be collecting you soon, and there won't be no need to arsk the reason why."

"That's where you and me don't agree," said the policeman. "I came to the conclusion this morning that we don't ask the reason why enough-not by 'alf. Now if somebody did as you say, and started collectin' policemen, what would be the reason?"

"Reason?" shouted the taxi-man. "Don't arsk me for a reason."

He turned to his taxi-cab and jerked the starting handle violently. The clatter of the engine arose. He climbed into his seat, and pulled at his gears savagely. In a few moments he had turned his cab, after wrenching in fury at the steering-wheel, and was jolting down the road in the morning brightness in search of breakfast.

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