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The Visit Of The Home Secretary







From: The Blue Germ

In a few hours the initial effects of stimulation had worn off. The
acuity of hearing was no longer so pronounced and the sense of
refreshment, although still present, was not intense. We were already
becoming adjusted to the new condition. The feeling of inertia and
irresponsibility became gradually replaced by a general sense of
calmness. To me, it seemed as if I had entered a world of new
perspectives, a larger world in which space and time were widened out
immeasurably. I could scarcely recall the nature of those impulses that
had once driven me to and fro in endless activities, and in a constant
state of anxiety. For now I had no anxiety.

It is difficult to describe fully the extraordinary sense of freedom
that came from this change. For anxiety--the great modern emotion--is
something that besets a life on all sides so silently and so
continuously that it escapes direct detection. But it is there,
tightening the muscles, crinkling the skin, quickening the heart and
shortening the breath. Though almost imperceptible, it lurks under the
most agreeable surroundings, requiring only a word or a look to bring it
into the light. To be free from it--ah, that was an experience that no
man could ever forget! It was perhaps the nearest approach to that
condition of bliss, which many expect in one of the Heavens, that had
ever been attained on earth. As long as no physical danger threatened,
this bliss-state surrounded me. Its opposite, that condition of violent,
agonizing, uncontrollable fear that suddenly surged over one on the
approach of bodily danger, was something which passed as swiftly as it
came, and left scarcely a trace behind it. But of that I shall have more
to say, for it produced the most extraordinary state of affairs and more
than anything else threatened to disorganize life completely.

I fancy Sarakoff was more awed by the bliss-state than I was. During the
rest of the day he was very quiet and sat gazing before him His
boisterousness had vanished. Symington-Tearle had left us--a man deeply
amazed and totally incredulous. I noticed that Sarakoff scarcely smoked
at all during that morning. As a rule his pipe was never out. He was in
the habit of consuming two ounces of tobacco a day, which in my opinion
was suicidal. He certainly lit his pipe several times, mechanically, but
laid it aside almost immediately. At lunch--we had not moved out of the
house yet--we had very little appetite. As a matter of interest I will
give exactly what we ate and drank. Sarakoff took some soup and a piece
of bread, and then some cheese. I began with some cold beef, and finding
it unattractive, pushed it away and ate some biscuits and butter. There
was claret on the table. I wish here to call attention to a passing
impression that I experienced when sipping that claret. I had recently
got in several dozen bottles of it and on that day regretted it because
it seemed to me to be extremely poor stuff. It tasted sour and harsh.

We did not talk much. It was not because my mind was devoid of ideas,
but rather because I was feeling that I had a prodigious, incalculable
amount to think about. Perhaps it was the freedom from anxiety that
made thinking easier, for there is little doubt that anxiety, however
masked, deflects and disturbs the power of thought more than anything
else. Indeed it seemed to me that I had never really thought clearly
before. To begin a conversation with Sarakoff seemed utterly artificial.
It would have been a useless interruption. I was entirely absorbed.

Sarakoff was similarly absorbed. When, therefore, the servant came in to
announce that two gentlemen wished to see us, and were in the
waiting-room, we were loth to move. I got up at length and went across
the hall. I recollect that before entering the waiting-room I was
entirely without curiosity. It was a matter of total indifference to me
that two visitors were within. They had no business to interrupt
me--that was my feeling. They were intruders and should have known
better.

I entered the room. Standing by the fire was Lord Alberan. Beside him
was a tall thin man, carefully dressed and something of a dandy, who
looked at me sharply as I came across the room. I recognized his face,
but failed to recall his name.

Lord Alberan, holding himself very stiffly, cleared his throat.

"Good day, Dr. Harden," he said, without offering his hand. "I have
brought Sir Robert Smith to interview you. As you may know he is the
Home Secretary." He cleared his throat again, and his face became rather
red. "I have reported to the Home Secretary the information that
I--er--that I acquired from you and your Russian companion concerning
this epidemic that has swept over Birmingham and is now threatening
London." He paused and stared at me. His eyes bulged. "Good heavens," he
exclaimed, "you've got it yourself."

Sir Robert Smith took a step towards me and examined my face
attentively.

"Yes," he said, "there's no doubt you've got it."

I indicated some chairs with a calm gesture.

"Won't you sit down?"

Lord Alberan refused, but Sir Robert lowered himself gracefully into an
arm-chair and crossed his legs.

"Dr. Harden," he said, in smooth and pleasant tones, "I wish you to
understand that I come here, at this unusual hour, solely in the spirit
of one who desires to get all the information possible concerning the
malady, called the Blue Disease, which is now sweeping over England. I
understand from my friend Lord Alberan, that you know something about
it."

"That is true."

"How much do you know?"

"I know all there is to be known."

"Ah!" Sir Robert leaned forward. Lord Alberan nodded violently and
glared at me. There was a pause. "What you say is very interesting,"
said Sir Robert at length, keeping his eyes fixed upon me. "You
understand, of course, that the Blue Disease is causing a lot of
anxiety?"

"Anxiety?" I exclaimed. "Surely you are wrong. It has the opposite
effect. It abolishes anxiety."

"You mean----?" he queried politely.

"I mean that the germ, when once in the system, produces an atmosphere
of extraordinary calm," I returned. "I am aware of that atmosphere at
this moment. I have never felt so perfectly tranquil before."

He nodded, without moving his eyes.

"So I see. You struck me, as you came into the room, as a man who is at
peace with himself." Lord Alberan snorted, and was about to speak, but
Sir Robert held up his hand. "Tell me, Dr. Harden, did you actually
contaminate the water of Birmingham?"

"My friend Sarakoff and I introduced the germ that we discovered into
the Elan reservoirs."

"With what object?"

"To endow humanity with the gift of immortality."

"Ah!" he nodded gently. "The gift of immortality." He mused for a
moment, and never once did his eyes leave my face. "That is
interesting," he continued. "I recollect that at the International
Congress at Moscow, a few years ago, there was much talk about
longevity. Virchow, I fancy, and Nikola Tesla made some suggestive
remarks. So you think you have discovered the secret?"

"I am sure."

"Of course you use the term immortality in a relative sense? You mean
that the--er--germ that you discovered confers a long life on those it
attacks?"

"I mean what I say. It confers immortality."

"Indeed!" His expression remained perfectly polite and interested, but
his eyes turned for a brief moment in the direction of Lord Alberan. "So
you are now immortal, Dr. Harden?"

"Yes."

"And will you, in such circumstances, go on practising
medicine--indefinitely?"

"No. There will be no medicine to practise."

"Ah!" he nodded. "I see--the germ does away with disease. Quite so." He
leaned back in the chair and pressed his finger tips together. "I
suppose," he continued, "that you are aware that what you say is very
difficult to believe?"

"Why?"

"Well, the artificial prolongation of life is, I believe, a possibility
that we are all prepared to accept. By special methods we may live a few
extra years, and everything goes to show that we are actually living
longer than our ancestors. At least I believe so. But for a man of your
position, Dr. Harden, to say that the epidemic is an epidemic of
immortality is, in my opinion, an extravagant statement."

"You are entitled to any opinion you like," I replied tranquilly. "It is
possible to live with totally erroneous opinions. For all I know you may
think the earth is square. It makes no difference to me."

"What do you mean, sir?" exclaimed Lord Alberan. He had become
exceedingly red during our conversation and the lower part of his face
had begun to swell. "Be careful what you say," he continued violently.
"You are in danger of being arrested, sir. Either that, or being locked
in an asylum."

The Home Secretary raised a restraining hand.

"One moment, Lord Alberan," he said, "I have not quite finished. Dr.
Harden, will you be so good as to ask your friend--his name is Sarakoff,
I believe--to come in here?"

I rose without haste and fetched the Russian. He behaved in an extremely
quiet manner, nodded to Alberan and bowed to the Home Secretary.

Sir Robert gave a brief outline of the conversation he had had with me,
which Sarakoff listened to with an absolutely expressionless face.

"I see that you also suffer from the epidemic," said Sir Robert. "Are
you, then, immortal?"

"I am an Immortal," said the Russian, in deep tones. "You will be
immortal to-morrow."

"I quite understand that I will probably catch the Blue Disease," said
Sir Robert, suavely. "At present there are cases reported all over
London, and we are at a loss to know what to do."

"You can do nothing," I said.

"We had thought of forming isolation camps." He stared at us
thoughtfully. There was a slightly puzzled look in his face. It was the
first time I had noticed it. It must have been due to Sarakoff's
profound calm. "How did you gentlemen find the germ?" he asked suddenly.

Sarakoff reflected.

"It would take perhaps a week to explain."

Sir Robert smiled slightly.

"I'm afraid I am too busy," he murmured.

"You are wasting your time," muttered Alberan in his ear. "Arrest
them."

The Home Secretary took no notice.

"It is curious that this epidemic seems to cut short other diseases," he
said slowly. "That rather supports what you tell me."

His eyes rested searchingly on my face.

"You are foolish to refuse to believe us," I said. "We have told you the
truth."

"It would be very strange if it were true." He walked to the window and
stood for a moment looking on to the street. Then he turned with a
movement of resolution. "I will not trespass on your time," he said.
"Lord Alberan, we need not stay. I am satisfied with what these
gentlemen have said." He bowed to us and went to the door. Lord Alberan,
very fierce and upright, followed him. The Home Secretary paused and
looked back. The puzzled looked had returned to his face.

"The matter is to be discussed in the House to-night," he said. "I think
that it will be as well for you if I say nothing of what you have told
me. People might be angry." We gazed at him unmoved. He took a sudden
step towards us and held out his hands. "Come now, gentlemen, tell me
the truth. You invented that story, didn't you?" Neither of us spoke.
He looked appealingly at me, and with a laugh left the room. He turned,
however, in a moment, and stood looking at me. "There is a meeting at
the Queen's Hall to-night," he said slowly. "It is a medical conference
on the Blue Disease. No doubt you know of it. I am going to ask you a
question." He paused and smiled at Sarakoff. "Will you gentlemen make a
statement before those doctors to-night?"

"We intended to do so," said Sarakoff.

"I am delighted to hear it," said the Home Secretary. "It is a great
relief to me. They will know how best to deal with you. Good day."

He left the room.

I heard the front door close and then brisk footsteps passing the window
on the pavement outside.

"There's no doubt that they're both a little mad." Sir Robert's voice
sounded for a moment, and then died away.





Next: Clutterbuck's Odd Behaviour

Previous: The Terrible Fear



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