The Attitude Of Mr Thornduck

: The Blue Germ

We reached London next day in the afternoon. I felt exhausted and could

scarcely answer Sarakoff, who had talked continuously during the


But his theory had interested me. The Russian had revealed much of his

character, under the stress of excitement. He spoke of the coming of

Immortality in the light of a physical boon to mankind. He seemed to

see in his mind's eye a great picture of comfort and
hysical enjoyment

and of a humanity released from the grim spectres of disease and death,

and ceaselessly pursuing pleasure.

"I love life," he remarked. "I love fame and success. I love comfort,

ease, laughter, and companionship. The whole of Nature is beautiful to

me, and a beautiful woman is Nature's best reward. Now that the dawn of

Immortality is at hand, Harden, we must set about reorganizing the world

so that it may yield the maximum of pleasure."

"But surely there will be some limit to pleasure?" I objected.

"Why? Can't you see that is just what there will not be?" he cried

excitedly. "We are going to do away with the confining limits. Your

imagination is too cramped! You sit there, huddled up in a corner, as if

we had let loose a dreadful plague on Birmingham!"

"It may prove to be so," I muttered. I do not think I had any clear idea

as to the future, but there is a natural machinery in the mind that

doubts golden ages and universal panaceas. Call it superstition if you

will, but man's instinct tells him he cannot have uninterrupted pleasure

without paying for it. I said as much to the Russian.

He gave vent to a roar of laughter.

"You have all the caution and timidity of your race," he said. "You are

fearful even in your hour of deliverance. My friend, it is impossible to

conceive, even faintly, of the change that will come over us towards the

meaning of life. Can't you see that, as soon as the idea of Immortality

gets hold of people, they will devote all their energies to making their

earth a paradise? Why, it is obvious. They will then know that there is

no other paradise."

He took out his watch and made a calculation. His face became flushed.

"The bacillus has travelled forty-two miles towards Birmingham," he

said, just as our train drew in to the London terminus.

I was busy with patients until dinner-time and did not see anything of

Sarakoff. While working, my exhaustion and anxiety wore off, and were

replaced by a mild exhilaration. One of my patients was a professor of

engineering at a northern university; a brilliant young man, who, but

for physical disease, had the promise of a great career before him. He

had been sent to me, after having made a round of the consultants, to

see if I could give him any hope as to the future. I went into his case

carefully, and then addressed him a question.

"What is your own view of your case, Mr. Thornduck?"

He looked surprised. His face relaxed, and he smiled. I suppose he

detected a message of hope in my expression.

"I have been told by half-a-dozen doctors that I have not long to live,

Dr. Harden," he replied. "But it is very difficult for me to grasp that

view. I find that I behave as if nothing were the matter. I still go on

working. I still see goals far ahead. Death is just a word--frequently

uttered, it is true--but meaningless. What am I to do?"

"Go on working."

"And am I to expect only a short lease of life?"

I rose from my writing-table and walked to the hearth. A surge of power

came over me as I thought of the bacillus which was so silently and

steadily advancing on Birmingham.

"Do you believe in miracles?" I asked.

"That is an odd question." He reflected for a time. "No, I don't think

so. All one is taught now-a-days is in a contrary direction, isn't it?"

"Yes, but our knowledge only covers a very small field--perhaps an

artificially isolated one, too."

"Then you think only a miracle will save my life?"

I nodded and gazed at him.

"You seem amused," he remarked quietly.

"I am not amused, Mr. Thornduck. I am very happy."

"Does my case interest you?"

"Extremely. As a case, you are typical. Your malady is invariably fatal.

It is only one of the many maladies that we know to be fatal, while we

remain ignorant of all else. Under ordinary circumstances, you would

have before you about three years of reasonable health and sanity."

"And then?"

"Well, after that you would be somewhat helpless. You would begin to

employ that large section of modern civilization that deals with the

somewhat helpless."

I began to warm to my theme, and clasped my hands behind my back.

"Yes, you would pass into that class that disproves all theories of a

kindly Deity, and you would become an undergraduate in the vast and

lamentable University of Suffering, through whose limitless corridors we

medical men walk with weary footsteps. Ah, if only an intelligent group

of scientists had had the construction of the human body to plan! Think

what poor stuff it is! Think how easy it would have been to make it

more enduring! The cell--what a useless fragile delicacy! And we are

made of millions of these useless fragile delicacies."

To my surprise he laughed with great amusement. He stood there, young,

pleasant, and smiling. I stared at him with a curious uneasiness. For

the moment I had forgotten what it had been my intention to say. The

dawn of Immortality passed out of my mind, and I found myself gazing, as

it were, on something strangely mysterious.

"Your religion helps you?" I hazarded.

"Religion?" He mused for a moment. "Don't you think there is some

meaning behind our particular inevitable destinies--that we may perhaps

have earned them?"

"Nonsense! It is all the cruel caprice of Nature, and nothing else."

"Oh, come, Dr. Harden, you surely take a larger view. Do you think the

short existence we have here is all the chance of activity we ever have?

That I have a glimpse of engineering, and you have a short phase of

doctoring on this planet, and that then we have finished all


"Certainly. It would not be possible to take any other view--horrible."

"But you believe in some theory of evolution--of slow upward progress?"

"Yes, of course. That is proved beyond all doubt."

"And yet you think it applies only to the body--to the instrument--and

not to the immaterial side of us?"

I stared at him in astonishment.

"I do not think there is any immaterial side, Mr. Thornduck."

He smiled.

"A very unsatisfying view, surely?" he remarked.

"Unsatisfying, perhaps, but sound science," I retorted.

"Sound?" He pondered for an instant. "Can a thing be sound and

unsatisfying at the same time? When I see a machine that's ugly--that's

unsatisfying from the artist's point of view--I always know it's wrongly

planned and inefficient. Don't you think it's the same with theories of

life?" He took out his watch and glanced at it. "But I must not keep

you. Good-bye, Dr. Harden."

He went to the door, nodded, and left the room before I recalled that I

meant to hint to him that a miracle was going to happen, and save his

life. I remained on the hearth-rug, wondering what on earth he meant.