"The effects of last night have vanished," said Sarakoff to me. "My head is clear again and I have no intention of ever repeating the experiment."
"You got back, to some extent."
"Yes, partly. It was tremendously painful. I felt like a man in a nightmare."
I turned to Jason and explained what had happened at the restaurant. He listened intently.
"You see," I concluded, "the germ kills desire. Sarakoff and I live on a level of consciousness that is undisturbed by any craving. We live in a wonderful state of peace, which is only broken by the appearance of physical danger--against which, of course, the germ is not proof."
Jason was silent.
"Do you mean to tell me," he said at length, in a very deliberate voice, "that the effect of the germ is to destroy ambition?"
"Worldly ambition, certainly," I replied. "But I believe that, in time, ambitions of a subtler nature will reveal themselves in us, as Immortals."
Jason smiled very broadly.
"Gentlemen," he said, "you are wonderful men. You have discovered something that benefits humanity enormously. But take my advice--leave your other theories alone. Stick to the facts--that your germ cures sickness. Drop the talk about immortality and desire. It's too fantastic, even for me. In the meantime I shall spread abroad the news that the end of sickness is at hand, and that humanity is on the threshold of a new era. For that I believe with all my heart."
"One moment," said Sarakoff. "If you believe that this germ does away with disease, what is going to cause men to die?"
"But that is a disease itself."
"Wear and tear isn't a disease. That's what kills most of us."
"Yes, but wear and tear comes from desire, Mr. Jason," I said. "And the germ knocks that out. So what is left, save immortality?"
When Jason left us, I could see that he was impressed by the possibility of life being, at least, greatly prolonged. And this was the line he took in his newspapers next day.
THE FIRST MURDERS.
The effect of Jason's newspapers on public opinion was remarkable. Humanity ever contains within it the need for mystery, and the strange and incredible, if voiced by authority, stir it to its depths. The facts about the healing of sickness and the cure of disease in Birmingham were printed in heavy type and read by millions. Nothing was said about immortality save what Sarakoff and I had stated at the Queen's Hall meeting. But instinctively the multitude leaped to the conclusion that if the end of disease was at hand, then the end of death--at least, the postponement of death--was to be expected.
Jason, pale and masterful, visited us in the afternoon, and told us of the spread of the tidings in England. "They've swallowed it," he exclaimed; "it's stirred them as nothing else has done in the last hundred years. I visited the East End to-day. The streets are full of people. Crowds everywhere. It might lead to anything."
"Is the infection spreading swiftly?"
"It's spreading. But there are plenty of people, like myself, who haven't got it yet. I should say that a quarter of London is blue." He looked at me with a sudden anxiety. "You're sure I'll get it?"
"Quite sure. Everyone is bound to get it. There's no possible immunity."
He sat heavily in the chair, staring at the carpet.
"Harden, I didn't quite like the look of those crowds in the East End. Anything big like this stirs up the people. It excites them and then the incalculable may happen. I've been thinking about the effect upon the uneducated mind. I've spread over the country the vision of humanity free from disease, and that's roused something in them--something dangerous--that I didn't foresee. Disease, Harden, whatever you doctors think of it, puts the fear of God into humanity. It's these sudden releases--releases from ancient fears--that are so dangerous. Are you sure you can't stop the germ, or direct it along certain channels?"
"I have already told you that's impossible."
"You might as well try and stop the light of day," said Sarakoff from a sofa, where he was lying apparently asleep. "Let the people think what they like now. Wait till they get it themselves. There are rules in the game, Jason, that you have no conception of, and that I have only realized since I became immortal. Yes--rules in the game, whether you play it in the cellar or the attic, or in the valley, or on the mountain top."
"Your friend is very Russian," said Jason equably. "I have always heard they are dreamers and visionaries. Personally, I am a practical man, and as such I foresee trouble. If the masses of the people have no illness, and enjoy perfect health, we shall be faced by a difficult problem. They'll get out of hand. Depressed states of health are valuable assets in keeping the social organization together. All this demands careful thought. I am visiting the Prime Minister this evening and shall give him my views."
At that moment a newspaper boy passed the window with an afternoon edition and Jason went out to get a copy. He returned with a smile of satisfaction, carrying the paper open before him.
"Three murders in London," he announced. "One in Plaistow, one in East Ham and one in Pimlico. I told you there was unrest abroad." He laid the paper on the table and studied it "In every case it was an aged person--two old women, and one old man. Now what does that mean?"
"A gang at work."
He shook his head.
"No. In one case the murderer has been caught. It was a case of patricide--a hideous crime. Curiously enough the victim had the Blue Disease. The end must have been ghastly, as it states here that the expression on the old man's face was terrible."
He sat beside the table, drumming his fingers on it and staring at the wall before him. I was not particularly interested in the news, but I was interested in Jason. Character had formerly appealed little to me, but now I found an absorbing problem in it.
"Harden, do you think that son killed his father because he had the Blue Disease?"
I was struck by the remark. For some reason the picture of Alice's father came into my mind. Jason sprang to his feet.
"Yes, that's it," he exclaimed. "That's what lay behind those restless crowds. I knew there was something--a riddle to read, and now I've got the answer. The crowd doesn't know what's rousing them. But I do. It's fear and resentment, Harden. It's fear and resentment against the old." He brought his fist down on the table. "The germ's going to lead to war! It's going to lead to the worst war humanity has ever experienced--the war of the young against the old. Not the ancient strife or struggle between young and old, but open bloodshed, my friends. That's what your germ is going to do."
I smiled and shook my head.
"Wait," said Sarakoff from the sofa; "wait a little. Why are you in such a hurry to jump to conclusions?"
"Because it's my business to jump to conclusions just six hours before anyone else does," said Jason. "I calculate that my mind, for the last twenty years, has been six hours ahead of time. I live in a state of chronic anticipation, Dr. Sarakoff. Just let me use your telephone for a moment."
He returned a quarter of an hour later. His expression was calm, but his eyes were hard. "I was right," he said. "Those two old women had the Blue Disease, and a girl, a daughter, is suspect in one case. Can't you imagine the situation? Girl lives with her aged mother--can't get free--mother has what money there is--not allowed to marry--girl unconsciously counts on mother's death--probably got a secret love-affair--is expecting the moment of release--and then, along comes the Blue Disease and one of my newspapers telling her what it means. The old lady recovers her health--the future shuts down like a rat trap and what does the poor girl do? Kills her mother--and probably goes mad. That, gentlemen, is my theory of the case."
He strode up and down the room.
"You may think I'm taking a low view," he cried. "But there are hundreds of thousands of similar cases in England. God help the old if the young forget their religion!"
For some reason I was unmoved by the outcry. It was no doubt owing to the peculiar emotionless state that the germ induced in people. Jason was roused. He paced to and fro in silence, with his brows contracted. At length he stopped before me.
"Do you see any way out?"
"There will be no war between the young and the old," I replied. "In another week everyone will get the germ and that will be the end of war in every form."
He drew a chair and sat down before me.
"You don't understand," he said earnestly. "Perhaps you had a happy childhood. I didn't. I know how some sons and daughters feel because I suffered in that way. People are strangely blind to suffering unless they have suffered themselves. When I was a young man, my father put me in his office and gave me a clerk's wages. He kept me there for six years at eighteen shillings a week. Whenever I made a suggestion concerning the business he was careful to ridicule it. Whenever I tried to break away and start on my own, he prevented it. There were a thousand other things--ways in which he fettered me. My only sister he kept at home to do the housework. He forbade her to marry. She and I never had enough money to do anything, to go anywhere, or to buy anything. Now, to be quite frank, I longed for him to die so that I could get free. To me he was an ogre, a great merciless tyrant, a giant with a club. Well, he died. When he was dead I felt what a man dying of thirst in the desert must feel when he suddenly comes to a spring of water. I recovered, and became what I am. My sister never recovered. She had been suppressed beyond all the limits of elasticity. As far as her body is concerned, it is alive. Her soul is dead."
He paused and looked at me meditatively.
"If your blue germ had come along then, Harden, I might---- Who knows? I have often wondered why our pulpit religion ignores the crimes of parents to their children. I'm not conventionally religious, but I seem to remember that Christ indirectly said something pretty strong on the subject. But the pulpit folk show a wonderful facility for ignoring the awkward things Christ said. In about three years' time I'm going to turn my guns on the Church. They've sneered at me too much."
"There will be a new Church by that time," murmured Sarakoff. "And no guns."
Jason eyed the prostrate figure of the Russian.
"I refer to my newspapers. That's going to be my final triumph. Why do you smile?"
"Because you said a moment ago that it was your business to be six hours ahead of everyone else. You're countless centuries behind Harden and me. We have taken a leap into the future. If you want to know what humanity will be, look at us closely. You'll get some hints that should be valuable. I admit that our bodies are old-fashioned in their size and shape, but not our emotions."
The telephone bell rang in the hall and Jason jumped up.
"I think that's for me."
He went out. I remained sitting calmly in my chair. An absolute serenity surrounded me. All that Jason did or said was like looking at an interesting play. I was perfectly content to sit and think--think of Jason, of what his motives were, of the reason why a man is blind where his desires are at work, of the new life, of the new organizations that would be necessary. I was like a glutton before a table piled high with delicacies and with plenty of time to spare. Sarakoff seemed to be in the same condition for he lay with his eyes half shut, motionless and absorbed.
Jason entered the room suddenly. He carried his hat and stick.
"Two more murders reported from Greenwich, and ten from Birmingham. It's becoming serious, Harden! I'm off to Downing Street. Watch the morning editions!"
AT DOWNING STREET.
That night, at eight o'clock, I was summoned to Downing Street. I left Sarakoff lying on the sofa, apparently asleep. I drove the first part of the way in a taxi, but at the corner of Orchard Street the cab very nearly collided with another vehicle, and in a moment I was a helpless creature of fear. So I walked the rest of the way, much to the astonishment of the driver, who thought I was a lunatic. It was a fine crisp evening and the streets were unusually full. Late editions of the paper were still being cried, and under the lamps were groups of people, talking excitedly.
From what I could gather from snatches of conversation that I overheard, it seemed that many thought the millennium was at hand. I mused on this, wondering if beneath the busy exterior of life there lurked in people's hearts a secret imperishable conviction. And, after all, was it not a millennium--the final triumph of science--the conquest of the irrational by the rational?
There was a good deal of drunkenness, and crowds of men and women, linked arm and arm, went by, singing senseless songs. In Piccadilly Circus the scene was unusually animated. Here, beyond doubt, the Jason press had produced a powerful impression. The restaurants and bars blazed with light. Crowds streamed in and out and a spirit of hilarious excitement pervaded everyone. Irresponsibility--that was the universal attitude; and I became deeply occupied in thinking how the germ should have brought about such a temper in the multitude. Only occasionally did I catch the blue stain in the eyes of the throng about me.
I reached Downing Street and was shown straight into a large, rather bare room. By the fireplace sat Jason, and beside him, on the hearthrug, stood the Premier. Jason introduced me and I was greeted with quiet courtesy.
"I intend to make a statement in the House to-night and would like to put a few questions to you," said the Premier in a slow clear voice. "The Home Secretary has been considering whether you and Dr. Sarakoff should be arrested. I see no use in that. What you have done cannot be undone."
"That is true."
"In matters like this," he continued, "it is always a question of taking sides. Either we must oppose you and the germ, or we must side with you, and extol the virtues of the new discovery. A neutral attitude would only rouse irritation. I have therefore looked into the evidence connected with the effects claimed for the germ, and have received reports on the rate of its spread. It would seem that it is of benefit to man, so far as can be judged at present, and that its course cannot be stayed."
I assented, and remained gazing abstractedly at the fire.
He continued in a sterner tone-- "It may, however, be necessary to place you and Dr. Sarakoff under police protection. There is no saying what may happen. Your action in letting loose the germ in the water supply of Birmingham was unfortunate. You have taken a great liberty with humanity, whatever may result from it."
"Medical men have no sense of proportion," murmured Jason. "Science makes them so helpless."
"I see no kind of helplessness in rescuing humanity from disease," I answered calmly. "Please tell me what you want to know."
They both looked at me attentively. The Premier took out a pair of pince-nez and began to clean the lenses, still watching me.
"France is unwilling to let the germ into her territory. Can measures be taken to stop its access to the Continent?"
"No. It will get there inevitably. It has probably got there long ago. It is air borne and water borne and probably sea borne as well. The whole world will be infected sooner or later. There is no immunity possible."
The Premier put on his pince-nez and warmed his hands at the fire.
"Then what will the result of the germ be upon mankind?" he asked at length.
"It will begin a new era. What has made reform so difficult up to now?"
"People do not see eye to eye on all questions, Dr. Harden. That is the main reason."
"And why do they not see eye to eye?"
"Because their desires are not the same."
"Very good. Now imagine a humanity without desires, as you and Jason understand desire. What would be the result?"
"It is impossible to conceive. The wheels of the world would cease turning. We should be like sheep without a shepherd." He surveyed me quietly for some time. "Then you think the germ will kill desire?"
"I know it. I am a living example. I have no desires. I am like a man without a body, I am immortal."
"You are above temptation?" he asked.
"Absolutely. Neither money, power nor woman has any influence on me. They are meaningless."
"You have, perhaps, reached Nirvana?" the Premier enquired.
"Yes. That is why I am immortal. I have reached Nirvana."
"By a trick."
"If you like--by a trick."
"Then I cannot think you will stay there for long," said the Premier. "I shall look forward to my attack of the Blue Disease with interest. It will be amusing to note one's sensations."
It was clear to me that he was defending himself against my greater knowledge, but it was a matter of no importance to me. I was faintly oppressed by the dreary immensity of the room. I had become sensitive to atmosphere, and the feeling of that room was not harmonious.
The Premier stood in deep thought.