The Dead Immortal
: The Blue Germ
When I reached home, Sarakoff was out. He had left a message to say he
would not be in until after midnight, as he was going to hear Leonora
sing at the opera, and purposed to take her to supper afterwards. Dinner
was therefore a solitary meal for me, and when it was all over I
endeavoured to plunge into some medical literature. The hours passed
slowly. It was almost impossible to read, for the process, to me, was
ar to trying to take an interest in a week-old newspaper.
The thought of the bacillus made the pages seem colourless; it dwarfed
all meaning in the words. I gave up the attempt and set myself to
smoking and gazing into the fire. What was I to do about Alice?
Midnight came and my mind was still seething. I knew sleep was out of
the question and the desire to walk assailed me. I put on a coat and
hat and left the house. It was a cold night, clear with stars. Harley
Street was silent. My footsteps led me south towards the river. I walked
rapidly, oblivious of others. The problem of Alice was beyond solution,
for the simple reason that I found it impossible to think of her
clearly. She was overshadowed by the wonder of the bacillus. But the
picture of her father haunted me. It filled me with strange emotions,
and at moments with stranger misgivings.
There are meanings, dimly caught at the time, which remain in the mind
like blind creatures, mewing and half alive. They pluck at the brain
ceaselessly, seeking birth in thought. Old Annot's face peering into the
hall mirror--what was it that photographed the scene so pitilessly in my
memory? I hurried along, scarcely noticing where I went, and as I went I
argued with myself aloud.
On the Embankment I returned to a full sense of my position in space.
The river ran beneath me, cold and dark. I leaned over the stone
balustrade and stared at the dark forms of barges. Yes, it was true
enough that I had not realized that the germ would keep Mr. Annot alive
indefinitely. Sarakoff's significant whistle that morning came to my
mind, and I saw that I had been guilty of singular denseness in not
understanding its meaning.
And now old Annot would live on and on, year after year. Was I glad? It
is impossible to say. It was that expression in the old man's face that
dominated me. I tried to think it out. It had been a triumphant look;
and more than that ... a triumphant toothless look. Was that the
solution? I reflected that triumph is an expression that belongs to
youth, to young things, to all that is striving upwards in growth.
Surely old people should look only patient and resigned--never
triumphant--in this world? Some strong action with regard to Alice's
position would be necessary. It was absurd to think that her father
should eternally come between her and me. It would be necessary to go
down to Cambridge and make a clean confession to Alice. And then, when
forgiven, I would insist on an immediate arrangement concerning our
marriage. Marriage! The word vibrated in my soul. The solemnity of that
ceremony was great enough to mere mortals, but what would it mean to us
when we were immortals? Sarakoff had hinted at a new marriage system.
Was such a thing possible? On what factors did marriage rest? Was it
merely a discipline or was it ultimately selfishness?
My agitation increased, and I hurried eastwards, soon entering an area
of riverside London that, had I been calmer, might have given me some
alarm. It must have been about two o'clock in the morning when the
pressure of thoughts relaxed in my mind. I found myself in the great
dock area. The forms of giant cranes rose dimly in the air. A distant
glare of light, where nightshifts were at work, illuminated the huge
shapes of ocean steamers. The quays were littered with crates and bales.
A clanking of buffers and the shrill whistles of locomotives came out of
the darkness. For some time I stood transfixed. In my imagination I saw
these big ships, laden with cargo, slipping down the Thames and out into
the sea, carrying with them an added cargo to every part of the earth.
For by them would the Blue Germ travel over the waterways of the world
and enter every port. From the ports it would spread swiftly into the
towns, and from the towns onwards across plain and prairie until the
gift of Immortality had been received by every human being. The vision
A commotion down a side street on my right shattered this glorious
picture. Hoarse cries rang out, and a sound of blows. I could make out a
small dark struggling mass which seemed to break into separate parts and
then coalesce again. A police whistle sounded. The mass again broke up,
and some figures came rushing down the street in my direction. They
passed me in a flash, and vanished. At the far end of the street two
twinkling lights appeared. After a period of hesitation--what doctor
goes willingly into the accidents of the streets?--I walked slowly in
When I reached them I found two policemen bending over the body of a
man, which lay in the gutter face downwards.
"Good evening," I said. "Can I be of any service? I am a doctor."
They shone their lamps on me suspiciously. "What are you doing here?"
"Walking," I replied. Exercise had calmed me. I felt cool and collected.
"I often walk far at nights. Let me see the body."
I stooped down and turned the body over. The policemen watched me in
silence. The body was that of a young, fair-haired sailor man. There was
a knife between his ribs. His eyes were screwed up into a rigid state of
contraction which death had not yet relaxed. His whole body was rigid. I
knew that the knife had pierced his heart. But the most extraordinary
thing about him was his expression. I have never looked on a face either
in life or death that expressed such terror. Even the policemen were
startled. The light of their lamps shone on that monstrous and distorted
countenance, and we gazed in horrified silence.
"Is he dead?" asked one at last.
"Quite dead," I replied, "but it is odd to find this rigidity so early."
I began to press his eyelids apart. The right eye opened. I uttered a
cry of astonishment.
"Look!" I cried.
"Blest if that ain't queer," said one. "It's that Blue Disease. He must
'ave come from Birmingham."
"Queer?" I said passionately. "Why, man, it's tragedy--unadulterated
tragedy. The man was an Immortal."
They stared at me heavily.
"Immortal?" said one.
"He would have lived for ever," I said. "In his system there is the most
marvellous germ that the world has ever known. It was circulating in his
blood. It had penetrated to every part of his body. A few minutes ago,
as he walked along the dark street, he had before him a future of
unnumbered years. And now he lies in the gutter. Can you imagine a
The policemen transferred their gaze from me to the dead man. Then, as
if moved by a common impulse, they began to laugh. I watched them
moodily, plunged in an extraordinary vein of thought. When I moved away
they at once stopped me.
"No, you don't," said one. "We'll want you at the police station to give
your evidence. Not," he continued with a grin, "to tell that bit of
information you just gave us, about him being an angel or something."
"I didn't say he was an angel."
They laughed tolerantly. Like Mr. Clutterbuck, they thought I was mad.
"Let's hope he's an angel," said the other. "But, by his face, he looks
more like the other thing. Bill, you go round for the ambulance. I'll
stay with the gentleman."
The policeman moved away ponderously and vanished in the darkness.
"What was that you were saying, sir?" asked the policeman who remained
"Never mind," I muttered, "you wouldn't understand."
"I'm interested in religious matters," continued the policeman in a soft
voice. "You think that the Blue Disease is something out of the common?"
I am never surprised at London policemen, but I looked at this one
closely before I replied.
"You seem a reasonable man," I said. "Let me tell you that what I have
told you about the germ--that it confers immortality--is correct. In a
day or two you will be immortal."
He seemed to reflect in a calm massive way on the news. His eyes were
fixed on the dead man's face.
"An Immortal Policeman?"
"You're asking me to believe a lot, sir."
"I know that. But still, there it is. It's the truth."
"And what about crime?" he continued. "If we were all Immortals, what
"Crime will become so horrible in its meaning that it will stop."
"It hasn't stopped yet...."
"Of course not. It won't, till people realize they are immortal."
He shifted his lantern and shone it down the road.
"Well, sir, it seems to me it will be a long time before people realize
that. In fact, I don't see how anyone could ever realize it."
"Just think," he said, with a large air. "Supposing crime died out, what
would happen to the Sunday papers? Where would those lawyers be? What
would we do with policemen? No, you can't realize it. You can't realize
the things you exist for all vanishing. It's not human nature." He
brooded for a time. "You can't do away with crime," he continued.
"What's behind crime? Woman and gold--one or the other, or both. Now you
don't mean to tell me, sir, that the Blue Disease is doing away with
women and gold in a place like Birmingham? Why, sir, what made
Birmingham? What do you suppose life is?"
"I have never been asked the question before by a policeman," I said. "I
do not know what made Birmingham, but I will tell you what life is. It
is ultimately a cell, containing protoplasm and a nucleus."
A low rumbling noise began somewhere in his vast bulk. It gradually
increased to a roar. I became aware that he was laughing. He held his
sides. I thought his shining belt would burst. At length his hilarity
slowly subsided, and he became sober. He surveyed the dead body at his
"No, sir," he said, "don't you believe it. Life is women and gold. It
always was that, and it always will be." He shone his lamp downwards so
that the light fell on the terrible features of the dead sailor. "Now
this man, sir, was killed because of money, I'll wager. And behind the
money I reckon you'll find a woman." He mused for a time. "Not
necessarily a pretty woman, but a woman of some sort."
"How do you account for that look of fear on his face?"
"I couldn't say. I've never seen anything like it. I've seen a lot of
dead faces, but they are usually quiet enough, as if they were asleep.
But I'll tell you one thing, sir, that I have noticed, and that is that
money--which includes diamonds and such like, makes a man die worse and
more bitter than anything else."
He turned his lantern down the street. A sound of wheels reached us.
"That's the ambulance."
"Will you really require me at the police station?" I asked.
"Will it be necessary to prove who I am?"
"You won't need to prove that you're a doctor, sir," he said genially.
"We have a lot to do with doctors. I could tell you were a doctor after
talking a minute with you. You are all the same."
"What do you mean?"
"Well--it's the things you say. Now only a doctor could have said what
you did--about life being a cell. Do you know, sir, I sometimes believe
that doctors is more innocent than parsons. It's the things they
The low rumbling began again in his interior. I waited silently until
the ambulance came up. I felt a slight shade of annoyance. But how could
I expect the enormous uneducated bulk beside me to take a really
intelligent and scientific view of life? Of course life was a cell.
Every educated person knew that--and now that cell was, for the first
time in history, about to become immortal--but what did the policeman
care? How stupid people were, I reflected. We moved off in a small
procession towards the police station. Half an hour later I was on my
way west, deeply pondering on the causes of that extraordinary
expression of fear in the dead sailor's face. Never in my life before
had I seen so agonized a countenance, but I was destined to see others
as terrible. As I walked, the strangeness of the dead man's tragedy
grew in my mind and filled me with a tremendous wonder, for who had ever
seen a dead Immortal?
On reaching home I roused Sarakoff and related to him what I had seen.