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The Blue Germ By Maurice Nicoll Characters: 12701

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Amid all the strife and clamour of the next few days one thing stands out now in my mind with sinister radiance. It is that peculiar form of lawlessness which broke out and had as its object the destruction of the old.

There is no doubt that the idea of immortality got hold of people and carried them away completely. The daily miracles that were occurring of the renewal of health and vigour, the cure of disease and the passing of those infirmities that are associated with advancing years, impressed the popular imagination deeply. As a result there grew up a widespread discontent and bitterness. The young-those who were as yet free from the germ-conceived in their hearts that an immense injustice had been done to them.

It must be remembered that life at that time had taken on a strange and abnormal aspect. Its horizons had been suddenly altered by the germ. Although breadth had been given to it from the point of years, a curious contraction had appeared at the same time. It was a contraction felt most acutely by those in inferior positions. It was a contraction that owed its existence to the sense of being shut in eternally by those in higher positions, whom death no longer would remove at convenient intervals. The student felt it as he looked at his professor. The clerk felt it as he looked at his manager. The subaltern felt it as he looked at his colonel. The daughter felt it when she looked at her mother, and the son when he looked at his father. The germ had given simultaneously a tremendous blow to freedom, and a tremendous impetus to freedom.

Thus, perhaps for the first time in history, there swiftly began an accumulation and concentration of those forces of discontent which, in normal times, only manifest themselves here and there in the relationships between old and young men, and are regarded with good-humoured patience. A kind of war broke out all over the country.

This war was terrible in its nature. All the secret weariness and unspoken bitterness of the younger generation found a sudden outlet. Goaded to madness by the prospect of a future of continual repression, in which the old would exercise an undiminished authority, the younger men and women plunged into a form of excess over which a veil must be drawn.... There is only one thing which can be recorded in their favour. Chloroform and drowning appear to have been the methods most often used, and they are perhaps merciful ways of death. The great London clubs became sepulchres. All people who had received the highest distinctions and honours, whose names were household words, were removed with ruthless determination. Scarcely a single well-known man or woman of the older generation, whose name was honoured in science, literature, art, business or politics, was spared. All aged and wealthy people perished. A clean sweep was made, and made with a decision and unanimity that was incredible.

It is painful now to recall the terrible nature of that civil war. It lasted only a short time, but it opened my eyes to the inner plan upon which mortal man is based. For I am compelled to admit that this widespread murder, that suddenly flashed into being, was founded upon impulses that lie deep in man's heart. They were those giant impulses that lie behind growth, and the effect of the germ was merely to throw them suddenly into the broad light of day, unchained, grim and implacable.

Fortunately, the germ spread steadily and quickly, killing as it did so all hate and desire.

Jason, still free from the germ, flung himself into the general uproar with extraordinary vigour. It was clear that he thought the great opportunity had come which would eventually bring him to the height of his power. To check the growing lawlessness and murder he advocated a new adjustment of property. Big meetings were held in the public spaces of London, and some wild ideas were formulated.

In the meantime the medical profession, as far as the men yet free from the germ were concerned, continued its work in a dull, mechanical way. Each day the number of patients fell lower, as the Blue Disease slowly spread. Hammer, himself an Immortal, came to see me once, but only to speak of the necessity for the immediate simplification of houses. It was odd to observe how, once a man became infected, his former interests and anxieties fell away from him like an old garment. In Harley Street an attitude of stubborn disbelief continued amongst those still mortal. There is something magnificent in that adamantine spirit which refuses to recognize the new, even though it moves with ever-increasing distinctness before the very eyes of the deniers. I was not surprised. I was familiar with medical men.

Meanwhile the Royal Family became infected by the germ, and passed out of the public eye. The Prime Minister became a victim and vanished. For once a man had the germ in his system, as far as externals were concerned, he almost ceased to exist.

The infection of Jason occurred in my presence. He had come in to explain to me a proposed line of campaign as regards the marriage laws.

"This germ of yours has given people the courage to think!" he exclaimed. "It is extraordinary how timid people were in thinking. It has launched them out, and now is the time to bring in new proposals."

"In all your calculations, you omit to recollect the effects of the germ," I said. "Surely you have seen by now that it changes human nature totally?"

He stared at me uncomprehendingly. He was one of those men, so common in public life, who have no power of understanding what they themselves have not experienced. He continued with undiminished enthusiasm.

"We must have marriage contracts for definite periods. With the increased state of health, and the full span of life confronting every man, we must face the problem squarely. Now what stands in our way?"

He got up and went to the window. It was a dull foggy day, and there was frost on the ground. He stared outside for some moments.

"What, I repeat, stands in our way?"


"The Church, and a mass of superstitions that we have inherited from the Old Testament. That's what stands in our way. We still attach more value to the Old Testament than to the New. The Scotch, for example, like the Jews.... Yes, of course.... What was I saying?"

He lef

t the window and sat down once more before me, moving rather listlessly.

"Yes, Harden. Of course. That's what it is, isn't it? Do you remember-diddle-yes it was diddle, diddle--"

He paused and frowned.

"Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle," he muttered, "Yes-hey, diddle, diddle, diddle-that's what it is, isn't it?"

"Of course," I said. "It's all really that."

"Just diddle, diddle, diddle?"

"Yes-if you like."

"That is substituting diddle for riddle," he said earnestly. He frowned again and passed his hand across his eyes.

"Yes," I said calmly. "It's going a step up."

I suppose about half an hour passed before either of us spoke again after this extraordinary termination to our conversation. In absolute silence we sat facing one another and during that time I saw the blue stain growing clearer and clearer in Jason's eyes. At last he rose.

"It's very odd," he said. "Tell me, were you like this?"

"How do you feel?"

"As if I had been drunk and suddenly had been made sober. I will leave you. I want to think. I will go down to the country."

"And your papers?"

"We must have a new Press," he said, and left the room.

That same day the great railway accident occurred just outside London that led to the death of sixty people, many of them Immortals. Its effect on public imagination was profound. All dangerous enterprises became invested with a terrible radiance. Men asked themselves if, in face of a future of health, it was worth risking life in rashness of any description, and gradually traffic came to a standstill. Long before the germ had infected the whole populace all activities fraught with danger had ceased. The coal mines were abandoned. The railways were silent. The streets of London became empty of traffic.

Blue-stained people began to throng the streets of London in vast masses, moving to and fro without aim or purpose, perfectly orderly, vacant, lost-like Sarakoff's butterflies....

Thornduck came to see me one day when the reign of the germ was practically absolute in London.

"They are wandering into the country in thousands," he remarked. "They have lost all sense of home and possession. They are vague, trying to form an ideal socialistic community. What a mess your germ is making of life! They're not ready for it. The question is whether they will rouse themselves to consider the food question."

"We need scarcely any food," I replied. "I've had nothing to eat to-day."

"Nor I. But since we're still linked up to physical bodies we must require some nourishment."

"I have eaten two biscuits and a little cheese in the last twenty-four hours. Surely you don't think that food is to be a serious problem under such circumstances?"

"It might be. You must remember that initiative is now destroyed in the vast majority of people. They may permit themselves to die of inanition. Can you say you have an appetite now?"

I reflected for some time, striving to recall the feeling of hunger that belonged to the days of desire.

"No. I have no appetite."

"Think carefully. In place of appetite have you no tendencies?"

"I feel a kind of lethargy," I said at last. "I felt it yesterday and to-day it is stronger."

"As if you wished to sleep?"

"Not exactly. But it is akin to that. I have some difficulty in keeping my attention on things. There is a kind of pull within me away from-away from reality."

He nodded.

"I went in to see your Russian friend. He's upstairs. He is not exactly asleep. He is more like a man partially under the influence of a drug."

"I will go and see him," I said.

Sarakoff was lying on the bed with his eyes shut. He was breathing quietly. His eyelids quivered, as if they might open at any moment, but my entrance did not rouse him. His limbs were relaxed. I spoke to him and tried to wake him, without result. Then I remembered how I had stumbled across the body of Herbert Wain in the Park some days ago. He had seemed to be in a strange kind of sleep. I sat down on the bed and stared at the motionless figure of the Russian. There was something strangely pathetic in his pose. His rough hair and black beard, his keen aquiline face seemed weirdly out of keeping with his helpless state. Here lay the man whose brain had once teemed with ambitious desires, relaxed and limp like a baby, while the nails of his hands, turquoise blue, bore silent witness to his great experiment on humanity. Had it failed? Where was all that marvellous vision of physical happiness that had haunted him? The streets of London were filled with people, no longer working, no longer crying or weeping, but moving aimlessly, like people in a dream. Were they happy? I moved to the window and drew down the blind.

"This may be the end," I thought. "The germ will be sweeping through France now. It may be the end of all things."

I rejoined Thornduck in the study.

"Sarakoff is in a kind of trance," I observed. "What do you make of it?"

"Isn't it natural?" he asked. "What kind of a man was he? What motives did he work on? Just think what the killing of desire means. All those things that depended on worldly ambition, self-gratification, physical pleasure, conceit, lust, hatred, passion, egotism, selfishness, vanity, avarice, sensuality and so on, are undermined and rendered paralysed by the germ. What remains? Why, in most people, practically nothing remains."

"Even so," I said, "I don't see why Sarakoff should go into a trance."

"He's gone into a trance simply because there's not enough left in him to constitute an individuality. The germ has taken the inside clean out of him. He's just an immortal shell now."

"Then do you think--?"

I stared at him wonderingly.

"I think that the germ will send most of the world to sleep."

He got up and walked to the window. The clear noonday light fell on his thin sensitive face and accentuated the pallor of his skin.

"All those who are bound on the wheel of desire will fall asleep," he murmured. A smile flickered on his lips and he turned and looked at me.

"Harden," he said, "it's really very funny. It's infinitely humorous, isn't it?"

"I see nothing humorous in anything," I replied. "I've lost all sense of humour."

He raised his eyebrows.

"Of humour?" he queried. "Surely not. Humour is surely immortal."

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