"If the germ prolongs life, it will lead to complications," he remarked. "The question of being too old has attracted public attention for some time now, which shows the way the wind is blowing. Oldness has become, in a small degree, a problem. The world is younger than it used to be--more impatient, more anxious to live a free life, to escape from any form of bondage. And so people have begun to ask what we are to do with our old men."
He paused and looked at Jason.
"My friend Jason thinks these murders are caused indirectly by the germ."
"It is possible."
"It seems fantastic. But there may be something in it." The Premier raised his eyes and studied the ceiling. "There is certainly some excitement abroad. We are dealing with an unprecedented situation. I therefore propose to say to-night that if, in the course of time, we find that life is prolonged and disease done away with, new laws will have to be considered."
"Not only new laws," I said. "We shall have to reconstruct the whole future of life. But there is no hurry. There is plenty of time. There is eternity before us."
"What do you eat?" demanded the Premier suddenly.
"A little bread or biscuit."
He clasped his hands behind his back and surveyed me for quite a minute.
"I don't believe you're a quack," he observed. "But when you walked into the room, I was doubtful."
"Because you wouldn't look at me squarely."
"Why should I look at you squarely? I looked at you and saw you. I have no desire to make any impression on you, or to dominate you in any way. It was sufficient just to see you. As Immortals, we do not waste our time looking at one another squarely. An Immortal cannot act."
The Premier smiled to himself and took out his watch.
"I am obliged to you for the instance," he said. "Good-night."
I rose and walked towards the door. On my way I stopped before a vast dingy oil-painting.
"Why do you all deceive yourselves that you admire things like that? Throw it away. When you become an Immortal you won't live here."
The Premier and Jason stood together on the hearth-rug. They watched me intently as I went out and closed the door behind me. A servant met me on the landing and escorted me downstairs. I observed that he was an Immortal.
"What are you doing here?" I asked.
"I am a spectator," he said in a calm voice. "And you?"
"I, too, am a spectator."
NIGHT OF AN IMMORTAL.
I passed a most remarkable night. On reaching home I went to bed as usual. My mind was busy, but what busied it was not the events of the day.
I lay in the darkness in a state of absolute contentment. My eyes were closed. My body was motionless, and felt warm and comfortable. I was quite aware of the position of my limbs in space and I could hear the sound of passing vehicles outside. I was not asleep and yet at the same time I was not awake. I knew I was not properly awake because, when I tried to move, there seemed to be a resistance to the impulse, which prevented it from reaching the muscles. As I have already said, I could feel. The sensation of my body was there, though probably diminished, but the power of movement was checked, though only slightly. And all the time I lay in that state, my mind was perfectly lucid and continually active. I thought about many things and the power of thought was very great, in that I could keep my attention fixed hour after hour on the same train of thought, go backwards and forwards along it, change and modify its gradations, just as if I were dealing with some material and plastic formation. Since that time I have become acquainted with a doctrine that teaches that thoughts are in the nature of things--that a definite thought is a formation in some tenuous medium of matter, just as a cathedral is a structure in gross matter. This is certainly the kind of impression I gained then.
It was now in the light of contrast that I could reflect on the rusty and clumsy way in which I had previously done my thinking, and I remembered with a faint amusement that there had been a time when I considered that I had a very clear and logical mind. Logical! What did we, as mere mortals full of personal desire, know of logic? The reflection seemed infinitely humorous. My thoughts had about them a new quality of stability. They formed themselves into clear images, which had a remarkable permanence. Their power and influence was greatly increased. If, for example, I thought out a bungalow situated on the cliff, I built up, piece by piece in my mind, the complete picture; and once built up it remained there so that I could see it as a whole, and almost, so to speak, walk round it and view it from different angles. I could lay aside this thought-creation just as I might lay aside a model in clay, and later on bring it back into my mind, as fresh and clear as ever. The enjoyment of thinking under such conditions is impossible to describe. It was like the joy of a man, blind from childhood, suddenly receiving his sight.
As ordinary mortals, we are all familiar with the apparently real scenes that occur in dreams. In our dreams we see buildings and walk round them. We see flights of steps and climb them. We apparently touch and taste food. We meet friends and strangers and converse with them. At times we seem to gaze over landscapes covered with woods and meadows.
It seemed to me that the magic of dreams had in some way become attached to thought. For as Immortals we did not dream as mortals do. In place of dreaming, we created immense thought-forms, working as it were on a new plane of matter whose resources were inexhaustible.
That night I built my ideal bungalow and when I had finished it I constructed my ideal garden. And then I made a sea and a coast-line, and when it was finished it was so real to me that I actually seemed to go into its rooms, sit on the verandah, breathe in its sea-airs and listen to the surf below its cliff. I remember that one of its rooms did not please me entirely, and that I seemed to pull it down--in thought--and reconstruct it according to my wish. This took time, for brick by brick I thought the new room into existence. One law that governed that state was easy to grasp, for whatever you did not think out clearly assumed a blurred unsatisfactory form. It became clear to me as early as that first night of immortality that the more familiar a man was with matter on the earth and its ways and possibilities, the more easily could he make his constructions on that plan of thought.
The whole of that night I lay in this state of creative joy and I know that my body remained motionless. It seemed that only a film divided me from the use of my limbs, but that film was definite. At eight o'clock on that morning, I became aware of a vague feeling of strain. It was a very slight sensation, but its effect was to make the thoughts that occupied my consciousness to become less definite. I had to make an effort to keep them distinct. The strain slowly became greater. It had begun with a sense of distance, but it seemed to get nearer, and I experienced a feeling that I can only compare to as that which a man has when he is losing his balance and about to fall.
The strain ended suddenly. I found myself moving my limbs. I opened my eyes and looked round. The graphic, visible quality of my thoughts had now vanished. I was awake.
I have given the above account of the night of an Immortal, because it has seemed to me right that some record should be left of the effect of the germ on the mind. I would explain the inherent power of thought as being due to the freedom from the ordinary desires of mortals, which waste and dissipate the energies of the mind ... but of that I cannot be certain.
I got out of bed and began to examine my clothes. They were strewn about the floor and on chairs. The colour of them seemed peculiar to my senses. My frock coat, of heavy black material, with curious braiding and buttons, fascinated me. I counted the number of separate things that made up my complete attire. They were twenty-four in number. I discovered that in addition to these articles of actual wearing material I was in the habit of carrying on my person about sixty other articles. For some reason I found these calculations very interesting. I had a kind of counting mania that morning. I counted all the things I used in dressing myself. I counted the number of stripes on my trousers and on my wall-paper; I counted the number of rooms in my house, the articles of furniture that they contained, and the number of electric lamps. I went into the kitchen and counted everything I could see, to the astonishment of my servants. I observed that my cook showed a faint blue stain in her eyes, but that the other servants showed no signs as yet of the Blue Disease. I went into my study and counted the books; I opened one of them. It was the British Pharmacopoeia. I began mechanically to count the number of drugs it contained. I was still counting them when the breakfast gong sounded. I went across the hall and counted on my way the number of sticks and hats and coats that were there. I finished up by counting the number of things on the breakfast table. Then I picked up the newspaper. There were, by the way, one hundred and four distinct things on my breakfast table.
The paper was full of the records of crime and of our names.
The account of the Prime Minister's statement in the House was given in full. Our names were printed in large letters, and apparently our qualifications had been looked up, for they were mentioned, together with a little biographical sketch. In a perfectly calm and observant spirit I read the closely-printed column. My eye paused for some time at an account of my personal appearance--"a small, insignificant-looking man, with straight blue-black hair, like a Japanese doll, and an untidy moustache, speaking very deliberately and with a manner of extreme self-assurance."
Extreme self-assurance! I reflected that there might, after all, be some truth in what the reporter said. On the night that I had spoken at the Queen's Hall meeting I had been quite self-possessed. I pursued the narrative and smiled slightly at a description of the Russian--"a loosely-built, bearded giant, unkempt in appearance, and with huge square hands and pale Mongolian eyes which roll like those of a maniac." That was certainly unfair, unless the reporter had seen him at the restaurant when Sarakoff drank the champagne. I was about to continue, when a red brick suddenly landed neatly on my breakfast table, and raised the number of articles on that table to one hundred and five.
There was a tinkle of falling glass; I looked up and saw that the window was shattered. The muslin curtain in front of it had been torn down by the passage of the brick, and the street without was visible from where I sat. A considerable crowd had gathered on the pavement. They saw me and a loud cry went up. The front door bell was ringing and there was a sound of heavy blows that echoed through the house.
My housemaid came running into the room. She uttered a shriek as she saw the faces beyond the window and ran out again. I heard a door at the back of the house slam suddenly.
A couple of men, decently enough dressed, were getting over the area rails with the intent of climbing in at the window. I jumped up and went swiftly upstairs. So far I was calm. I entered Sarakoff's bedroom. It was in darkness. The Russian was lying motionless on the bed. I shook him by the shoulder. It seemed impossible to rouse him, and yet in outward appearance he seemed only lightly asleep. I redoubled my efforts and at length he opened his eyes, and his whole body, which had felt under my hands as limp and flaccid as a pillow, suddenly seemed to tighten up and become resilient.
"Get up," I said. "They're trying to break into the house. We may be in danger. We can escape by the back door through the mews."
The blows on the front door were clearly audible.
"I've been listening to it for some time," he said. "But I seemed to have lost the knack of waking up properly."
"We have no time to waste," I said firmly.
We went quickly downstairs. Sarakoff had flung a blue dressing-gown over his pyjamas and thrust his feet into a pair of slippers. On reaching the hall there was a loud crack and a roar of voices. In an instant the agonizing fear swept over us. We dashed to the back of the house, through the servants' quarters and out into the mews. Without pausing for an instant we ran down the cobbled alley and emerged upon Devonshire Street. We turned to the right, dashed across Portland Place and reached Great Portland Street. We ran steadily, wholly mastered by the great fear of physical injury, and oblivious to the people around us. We passed the Underground Station. Our flight down the Euston Road was extraordinary. Sarakoff was in front, his dressing-gown flying, and his pink pyjamas making a vivid area of colour in the drab street. I followed a few yards in the rear, hatless, with my breath coming in gasps.
It was Sarakoff who first saw the taxi-cab. He veered suddenly into the road and held out his arms. The cab slowed down and in a moment we were inside it.
"Go on," shouted Sarakoff, "Drive on. Don't stop."
The driver was a man of spirit and needed no further directions. The cab jerked forward and we sped towards St. Pancras Station.
"Follow the tram lines up to Hampstead," I called out, and he nodded. We lay gasping in the back of the cab, cannoning helplessly as it swayed round corners. By the time we had reached Hampstead our fear had left us.
The cab drew up on the Spaniard's Walk and we alighted. It was a bleak and misty morning. The road seemed deserted. A thin column of steam rose from the radiator of the taxi, and there was a smell of over-heated oil.
"Sharp work that," said the driver, getting out and beating his arms across his chest. His eyes moved over us with frank curiosity. Sarakoff shivered and drew his dressing-gown closely round him.
ON THE SPANIARD'S WALK.
I paid the man half-a-sovereign. There was a seat near by and Sarakoff deposited himself upon it. I joined him. On those heights the morning air struck chill. London, misty-blue, lay before us. The taxi-man took out his pipe and began to fill it.
"Lucky me comin' along like that," he observed. "If it hadn't been because of my missus I wouldn't have been out so early." He blew a puff of smoke and continued: "This Blue Disease seems to confuse folk. My missus was took with it last night." He paused to examine us at his leisure. "When did you get it?"
"We became immortal the day before yesterday," said Sarakoff.
The taxi-man took his pipe out of his mouth and stared.
"You ain't them two doctors what's in the paper this morning, by any chance?" he asked. "Them as is supposed to 'ave invented this Blue Disease?"
We nodded. He emitted a low whistle and gazed thoughtfully at us. At length he spoke I noticed his tone had changed.
"As I was saying, my missus was took with it in the night. I had a job waking 'er up, and when she opened her eyes I near had a fit. We'd had a bit of a tiff overnight, but she got up as quiet as a lamb and never said a word agin me, which surprised me. When I 'ad dressed myself I went into the kitchen to get a bit o' breakfast, and she was setting in a chair starin' at nothing. The kettle wasn't boiling, and there wasn't nothing ready, so I asked 'er quite polite, what she was doing. 'I'm thinking,' she says, and continues sitting in the chair. After a bit of reasoning with her, I lost my temper and picked up a leg of a chair, what we had broke the evening previous when we was 'aving a argument. She jump up and bolted out of the house, just as she was, with her 'air in curl-papers, and that's the last I saw of her. I waited an hour and then took the old cab out of the garage, and I was going to look for my breakfast when I met you two gents." He took his pipe out of his mouth and wiped his lips. "Now I put it all down to this 'ere Blue Disease. It's sent my missus off 'er head."
"There's no reason why you should think your wife mad simply because she ran away when you tried to strike her," I said. "It's surely a proof of her sanity."
He shook his head.
"That ain't correct," he said, with conviction. "She always liked a scrap. She's a powerful young woman, and her language is extraordinary fine when she's roused, and she knows it. I can't understand it."
He looked up suddenly.
"So it was you two who made this disease was it?"
"Fancy that!" he said. "Fancy a couple of doctors inventing a disease. It does sound a shame, don't it?"
"Wait till you get it," said Sarakoff.
"It seems to me you've been and done something nasty," he went on. "Ain't there enough diseases without you two going and makin' a new one? It's a fair sickener to think of all the diseases there are--measles and softenin' of the brain, and 'eaving stummicks and what not. What made you do it? That's what I want to know." He was getting angry. He pointed the stem of his pipe at us accusingly. His small eyes shone. "It's fair sickening," he muttered. "I've never took to doctors, nor parsons--never in my life."
He spat expressively.
"And my wife, too, clean barmy," he continued. "Who 'ave I got to thank for that? You two gents. Doctors, you call yourselves. I arsk you, what is doctors? They never does me any good. I never seed anyone they'd done any good. And yet they keeps on and no one says nothing. It's fair sickening."
There was a sound of footsteps behind me. I turned and saw a policeman climbing slowly up the bank towards the road. Like all policemen he appeared not to notice us until he was abreast of our seat. Then he stopped and eyed each of us in turn. His boots were muddy.
"These gents," said the taxi-man, "'ave been and done something nasty."
The phrase seemed attractive to him and he repeated it. The policeman, a tall muscular man, surveyed us in silence. Sarakoff, his hair and beard dishevelled, was leaning back in a corner of the seat, with his legs crossed. His dressing-gown was tucked closely round him, and below it, his pink pyjamas fluttered in the thin breeze. His expression was calm.
The taxi-man continued-- "I picked these gents up in the Euston Road. They was in a hurry. I thought they'd done something ordinary, same as what you or me might do, but it seems I was wrong. They've been and done something nasty. They've gone and invented this 'ere Blue Disease."
The policeman raised his helmet a little and the taxi-man uttered an exclamation.
"Why, you've got it yourself," he said, and stared. The policeman's eyes were stained a vivid blue.
"An immortal policeman!" murmured Sarakoff dreamily.
The discovery seemed to discomfit the taxi-man. The tide of indignation in him was deflected, and he shifted his feet. The policeman, with a deliberation that was magnificent advanced to the seat and sat down beside me.
"Good-morning," I said.
"Good-morning," he replied in a deep calm voice. He removed his helmet from his head and allowed the wind to stir his hair. The taxi-man moved a step nearer us.
"You ought to arrest them," he said. "Here's my wife got it, and you, and who's to say when it will end? They're doctors, too. I allus had my own suspicions of doctors, and 'ere they are, just as I supposed, inventing diseases to keep themselves going. That's what you ought to do ... arrest them. I'll drive you all down to the police-station." The policeman replaced his helmet, crossed his long blue legs, and leaned back in the corner of the seat. Side by side on the seat Sarakoff, the policeman, and I gazed tranquilly at the figure of the taxi-man, at the taxi-cab, and at the misty panorama of London that lay beyond the Vale of Health. The expression of anger returned to the taxi-man's face.
"And 'ere am I, standing and telling you to do your duty, and all the time I haven't had my breakfast," he said bitterly. "If you was to cop them two gents, your name would be in all the evenin' papers." He paused, and frowned, conscious that he was making little impression on the upholder of law and order. "Why 'aven't I 'ad my breakfast? All because of these two blokes. I tell you, you ought to cop them."
"When I was a boy," said the policeman, "I used to collect stamps."
"Did yer," exclaimed the taxi-man sarcastically. "You do interest me, reely you do."
"Yes, I used to collect stamps." The policeman settled himself more comfortably. "And afore that I was in the 'abit of collecting bits o' string."
"You surprise me," said the taxi-man. "And what did you collect afore you collected bits of string?"
"So far as I recollect, I didn't collect nothing. I was trying to remember while I was walking across the Heath." He turned to us. "Did you collect anything?"
"Yes," I said. "I used to collect beetles."
"Beetles?" The policeman nodded thoughtfully. "I never had an eye for beetles. But, as I said, I collected stamps. I remember I would walk for miles to get a new stamp, and of an evening I would sit and count the stamps in my album over and over again till my head was fair giddy." He paused and stroked his clean-shaven chin thoughtfully. "I recollect as if it was yesterday how giddy my head used to get."