THE POISON BELT (annotated)
Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Details if other :. Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. Written in , roughly a year before the outbreak of World War I, much of it takes place--rather oddly, given that it follows The Lost World, a story set in the jungle--in a room in Challenger's house. This would be the last story written about Challenger until the s, by which time Doyle's spiritualist beliefs had begun to affect his writing.
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This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Community Reviews. Showing Rating details. It is the largest island, located in Indonesia and the sixth-largest island in the world at , km2. Sumatra is an elongated landmass spanning a diagonal northwest-southeast axis; the Indian Ocean borders the west and southwest coasts of Sumatra with the island chain of Simeulue and Mentawai off the western coast. In the northeast the narrow Strait of Malacca separates the island from the Malay Peninsula , an extension of the Eurasian continent.
In the southeast the narrow Sunda Strait separates Sumatra from Java ; the northern tip of Sumatra borders the Andaman Islands , while off the southeastern coast lie the islands of Bangka and Belitung , Karimata Strait and the Java Sea. The Bukit Barisan mountains, which contain several active volcanoes, form the backbone of the island, while the northeastern area contains large plains and lowlands with swamps, mangrove forest and complex river systems; the equator crosses the island at its center in West Riau provinces.
The climate of the island is tropical and humid. Lush tropical rain forest once dominated the landscape. Many species are now critically endangered, such as the Sumatran ground cuckoo , the Sumatran tiger , the Sumatran elephant , the Sumatran rhinoceros , the Sumatran orangutan.
Deforestation on the island has resulted in serious seasonal smoke haze over neighbouring countries, such as the Southeast Asian haze causing considerable tensions between Indonesia and affected countries Malaysia and Singapore. Arab geographers referred to the island as Lamri in the tenth through thirteenth centuries, in reference to a kingdom near modern-day Banda Aceh , the first landfall for traders.
The island is known by other names namely, Andalas or Percha Island. Late in the 14th century the name Sumatra became popular in reference to the kingdom of Samudra Pasai , a rising power until replaced by the Sultanate of Aceh. Sultan Alauddin Shah of Aceh , in letters addressed to Queen Elizabeth I of England in , referred to himself as "king of Aceh and Samudra"; the word itself is from Sanskrit "Samudra", meaning "gathering together of waters, sea or ocean".
Marco Polo named the kingdom Samara or Samarcha in the late 13th century, while the 14th century traveller Odoric of Pordenone used Sumoltra for Samudra. Subsequent European writers used similar forms of the name for the entire island. European writers in the 19th century found that the indigenous inhabitants did not have a name for the island; the Melayu Kingdom was absorbed by Srivijaya. Srivijayan influence waned in the 11th century after it was defeated by the Chola Empire of southern India. By the late 13th century, the monarch of the Samudra kingdom had converted to Islam.
Marco Polo visited the island in Ibn Battuta visited with the sultan for 15 days, noting the city of Samudra was "a fine, big city with wooden walls and towers," and another 2 months on his return journey. Samudra was succeeded by the powerful Aceh Sultanate. With the coming of the Dutch , the many Sumatran princely states fell under their control.
Detailed Review Summary of The Poison Belt by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Aceh, in the north, was the major obstacle, as the Dutch were involved in the long and costly Aceh War ; the Free Aceh Movement fought against Indonesian government forces in the Aceh Insurgency from to Security crackdowns in and resulted in several thousand civilian deaths; the longest axis of the island runs 1, km northwest—southeast, crossing the equator near the centre. At its widest point, the island spans km; the interior of the island is dominated by two geographical regions: the Barisan Mountains in the west and swampy plains in the east.
Sumatra is the closest Indonesian island to mainland Asia. To the southeast is Java , separated by the Sunda Strait. To the north is the Malay Peninsula , separated by the Strait of Malacca. To the east is Borneo , across the Karimata Strait. West of the island is the Indian Ocean ; the Great Sumatran fault , the Sunda megathrust , run the entire length of the island along its west coast.
On 26 December , the western coast and islands of Sumatra Aceh province, were struck by a tsunami following the Indian Ocean earthquake; this was the longest earthquake recorded, lasting between seconds. More than , Indonesians were killed in Aceh. Other recent earthquakes to strike Sumatra include the Nias—Simeulue earthquake and the Mentawai earthquake and tsunami. To the east, big rivers carry silt from the mountains, forming the vast lowland interspersed by swamps. If unsuitable for farming, the area is of great economic importance for Indonesia , it produces oil from both above and below the soil -- petroleum.
Sumatra is the largest producer of Indonesian coffee. Small-holders grow Arabica coffee in the highlands, while Rob. In addition to the series of stories chronicling the activities of Sherlock Holmes and his friend Dr John Watson for which he is well-known, Doyle wrote on a wide range of topics, both fictional and non-fictional. In Doyle entered the University of Edinburgh Medical School , where he became a pupil of Joseph Bell , whose deductive processes impressed his pupil so much that the teacher became the chief model for Holmes.
Doyle began writing while still a student, in October he had his first work—"The Mystery of the Sasassa Valley"—published in Chambers's Journal , he continued writing short works—both fictional and non-fictional—throughout his career, had over stories and articles published. In July Doyle published the short story " A Scandal in Bohemia " in The Strand Magazine—a "story which would change his life", according to his biographer, Andrew Lycett , as it introduced Holmes and Watson to a wide audience; the story in The Strand was one in a series of six, published in successive months.
They were well received by the public, the editors of the magazine commissioned a further six stories, another series of twelve. Doyle, fearful of having his other work overshadowed by his fictional detective, killed his creation off in December in " The Adventure of the Final Problem ", he wrote four full-length Holmes works, as well as adventure novels and nine historical works of fiction.
In he began the adventure series featuring Professor Challenger , who first appeared in The Lost World—both in short stories and novel form. Doyle wrote four volumes of poetry and a series of stage works—his first was Jane Annie , an unsuccessful attempt at a libretto to an operetta , which he wrote with J. Doyle was an enthusiastic supporter of the Boer War , wrote two histories of the events.
During the First World War he wrote extensively on that conflict, both short articles and a six-volume history. Owing to the close successive deaths of his son and brother, Doyle turned to spiritualism and wrote extensively on the subject. The majority of Doyle's poetry falls into the genre of war poetry. Project Gutenberg Project Gutenberg is a volunteer effort to digitize and archive cultural works, to "encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks".
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When users are unable to download the CD, they can request to have a copy sent to them, free of charge. In December , a DVD was created containing nearly 10, items. At the time, this represented the entire collection. There's a sixty- ounce brain inside it —a big engine, running smooth, and turning out clean work. Show me the engine-house and I'll tell you the size of the engine.
But he is a born charlatan —you've heard me tell him so to his face —a born charlatan, with a kind of dramatic trick of jumping into the limelight. Things are quiet, so friend Challenger sees a chance to set the public talking about him. You don't imagine that he seriously believes all this nonsense about a change in the ether and a danger to the human race? Was ever such a cock-and-bull story in this life? A wave of anger passed through me as I listened to Summerlee. It was disgraceful that he should speak thus of the leader who had been the source of all our fame and given us such an experience as no men have ever enjoyed.
I had opened my mouth to utter some hot retort, when Lord John got before me. It seems to me, Professor Summerlee, he's beyond your class, and the best you can do with him is to walk wide and leave him alone. Whatever his faults may be, he is as straight as a line, and I don't believe he ever speaks evil of his comrades behind their backs. Then, with a kindly smile, he slapped Professor Summerlee upon his shoulder. We've seen too much together. But keep off the grass when you get near Challenger, for this young fellah and I have a bit of a weakness for the old dear.
But Summerlee was in no humour for compromise. His face was screwed up in rigid disapproval, and thick curls of angry smoke rolled up from his pipe. I have my own judgment, sir, and I use it in my own way. Because it has misled me once, is that any reason why I should accept without criticism anything, however far-fetched, which this man may care to put forward? Are we to have a Pope of science, with infallible decrees laid down ex cathedra, and accepted without question by the poor humble public?
I tell you, sir, that I have a brain of my own and that I should feel myself to be a snob and a slave if I did not use it. If it pleases you to believe this rigmarole about ether and Fraunhofer's lines upon the spectrum, do so by all means, but do not ask one who is older and wiser than yourself to share in your folly. Is it not evident that if the ether were affected to the degree which he maintains, and if it were obnoxious to human health, the result of it would already be apparent upon ourselves?
Where do we see any signs of this poisonous cosmic disturbance? Answer me that, sir! Answer me that! Come, come, no evasion! I pin you to an answer! I felt more and more angry. There was something very irritating and aggressive in Summerlee's demeanour. Do you for an instant suppose that there is an English ether and a Sumatran ether? Perhaps you imagine that the ether of Kent is in some way superior to the ether of Surrey, through which this train is now bearing us.
There really are no bounds to the credulity and ignorance of the average layman. Is it conceivable that the ether in Sumatra should be so deadly as to cause total insensibility at the very time when the ether here has had no appreciable effect upon us whatever? Personally, I can truly say that I never felt stronger in body or better balanced in mind in my life. I don't profess to be a scientific man," said I, "though I have heard somewhere that the science of one generation is usually the fallacy of the next. But it does not take much common sense to see that, as we seem to know so little about ether, it might be affected by some local conditions in various parts of the world and might show an effect over there which would only develop later with us.
Yes, sir, pigs may fly —but they don't. It is not worth arguing with you. Challenger has filled you with his nonsense and you are both incapable of reason. I had as soon lay arguments before those railway cushions. For a moment Lord John's eyes blazed, and then, with a tremendous effort, he mastered his anger and leaned back in his seat with arms folded and a bitter smile upon his face. To me all this was dreadful and deplorable. Like a wave, the memory of the past swept over me, the good comradeship, the happy, adventurous days —all that we had suffered and worked for and won. That it should have come to this —to insults and abuse!
Suddenly I was sobbing —sobbing in loud, gulping, uncontrollable sobs which refused to be concealed. My companions looked at me in surprise. I covered my face with my hands. You need not waste your sympathy, Lord John. These tears are purely alcoholic. The man has been drinking. By the way, Lord John, I called you a coxcomb just now, which was perhaps unduly severe.
But the word reminds me of a small accomplishment, trivial but amusing, which I used to possess. You know me as the austere man of science. Can you believe that I once had a well-deserved reputation in several nurseries as a farmyard imitator? Perhaps I can help you to pass the time in a pleasant way.
Would it amuse you to hear me crow like a cock? Might I venture? But in spite of this earnest prohibition, Professor Summerlee laid down his pipe and for the rest of our journey he entertained —or failed to entertain —us by a succession of bird and animal cries which seemed so absurd that my tears were suddenly changed into boisterous laughter, which must have become quite hysterical as I sat opposite this grave Professor and saw him —or rather heard him —in the character of the uproarious rooster or the puppy whose tail had been trodden upon.
Once Lord John passed across his newspaper, upon the margin of which he had written in pencil, "Poor devil! Mad as a hatter. Whilst this was going on, Lord John leaned forward and told me some interminable story about a buffalo and an Indian rajah which seemed to me to have neither beginning nor end. Professor Summerlee had just begun to chirrup like a canary, and Lord John to get to the climax of his story, when the train drew up at Jarvis Brook, which had been given us as the station for Rotherfield.
And there was Challenger to meet us.
His appearance was glorious. Not all the turkey-cocks in creation could match the slow, high-stepping dignity with which he paraded his own railway station and the benignant smile of condescending encouragement with which he regarded everybody around him. If he had changed in anything since the days of old, it was that his points had become accentuated.
The huge head and broad sweep of forehead, with its plastered lock of black hair, seemed even greater than before. His black beard poured forward in a more impressive cascade, and his clear grey eyes, with their insolent and sardonic eyelids, were even more masterful than of yore. He gave me the amused hand-shake and encouraging smile which the head master bestows upon the small boy, and, having greeted the others and helped to collect their bags and their cylinders of oxygen, he stowed us and them away in a large motor-car which was driven by the same impassive Austin, the man of few words, whom I had seen in the character of butler upon the occasion of my first eventful visit to the Professor.
Our journey led us up a winding hill through beautiful country. I sat in front with the chauffeur, but behind me my three comrades seemed to me to be all talking together. Lord John was still struggling with his buffalo story, so far as I could make out, while once again I heard, as of old, the deep rumble of Challenger and the insistent accents of Summerlee as their brains locked in high and fierce scientific debate. Suddenly Austin slanted his mahogany face toward me without taking his eyes from his steering-wheel. No one would stay a week. If I was to go, that 'ouse would run down like a watch with the mainspring out.
I'm telling you because you're 'is friend, and you ought to know. If I was to take 'im at 'is word —but there, I wouldn't have the 'eart. I'm just everything. And then 'e goes and gives me notice. I've seen 'im right off 'is onion, and no error. Well, look what 'e did this morning. Bit 'er on the leg. I saw 'er with my own eyes startin' a marathon from the 'all-door. There's some of them thinks that when 'e was up among those monsters you wrote about, it was just Ome, Sweet 'Ome' for the master, and 'e was never in fitter company.
That's what they say. But I've served 'im ten years, and I'm fond of 'im, and, mind you, 'e's a great man, when all's said an' done, and it's an honor to serve 'im. But 'e does try one cruel at times. Now look at that, sir. That ain't what you might call old-fashioned 'ospitality, is it now? Just you read it for yourself. The car on its lowest speed had ground its way up a steep, curving ascent.
At the corner a notice-board peered over a well-clipped hedge. As Austin said, it was not difficult to read, for the words were few and arresting:—. I beg your pardon, sir, for I haven't spoke as much as this for many a long year, but to-day my feelings seem to 'ave got the better of me. I'm 'is man and 'e's my master, and so it will be, I expect, to the end of the chapter. We had passed between the white posts of a gate and up a curving drive, lined with rhododendron bushes.
Beyond stood a low brick house, picked out with white woodwork, very comfortable and pretty. Challenger, a small, dainty, smiling figure, stood in the open doorway to welcome us. It is something new for us to have visitors, is it not? No love lost between us and our neighbors, is there? If they could get rat poison into our baker's cart, I expect it would be there.
We haven't a friend on the countryside. Picture a gorilla and a gazelle, and you have the pair of them. Has Sarah returned? The lady shook her head ruefully, and the Professor laughed loudly and stroked his beard in his masterful fashion. Now, gentlemen, will you please step into my study, for there are one or two very urgent things which I am anxious to say to you. As we crossed the hall the telephone-bell rang, and we were the involuntary auditors of Professor Challenger's end of the ensuing dialogue.
I say "we," but no one within a hundred yards could have failed to hear the booming of that monstrous voice, which reverberated through the house. His answers lingered in my mind. Yes, certainly, the Professor Challenger, the famous Professor, who else? Of course, every word of it, otherwise I should not have written it I shouldn't be surprised There is every indication of it Within a day or so at the furthest Well, I can't help that, can I?
Very unpleasant, no doubt, but I rather fancy it will affect more important people than you. There is no use whining about it No, I couldn't possibly. You must take your chance That's enough, sir. I have something more important to do than to listen to such twaddle. He shut off with a crash and led us upstairs into a large airy apartment which formed his study. On the great mahogany desk seven or eight unopened telegrams were lying. Possibly 'Noah, Rotherfield,' would be the most appropriate.
As usual when he made an obscure joke, he leaned against the desk and bellowed in a paroxysm of laughter, his hands shaking so that he could hardly open the envelopes. Finally Challenger, still rumbling and exploding, began to open his telegrams. The three of us stood in the bow window and occupied ourselves in admiring the magnificent view. It was certainly worth looking at. The road in its gentle curves had really brought us to a considerable elevation —seven hundred feet, as we afterwards discovered.
Challenger's house was on the very edge of the hill, and from its southern face, in which was the study window, one looked across the vast stretch of the weald to where the gentle curves of the South Downs formed an undulating horizon. In a cleft of the hills a haze of smoke marked the position of Lewes. Immediately at our feet there lay a rolling plain of heather, with the long, vivid green stretches of the Crowborough golf course, all dotted with the players.
A little to the south, through an opening in the woods, we could see a section of the main line from London to Brighton. In the immediate foreground, under our very noses, was a small enclosed yard, in which stood the car which had brought us from the station. An ejaculation from Challenger caused us to turn. He had read his telegrams and had arranged them in a little methodical pile upon his desk. His broad, rugged face, or as much of it as was visible over the matted beard, was still deeply flushed, and he seemed to be under the influence of some strong excitement.
May I ask if you have observed anything upon your journey from town? I am sorry to state that I have had to seriously complain of his conduct in the train, and I should be wanting in frankness if I did not say that it has left a most unpleasant impression in my mind. After all, he's an International, so if he takes half an hour to describe a game of football he has more right to do it than most folk. Professor Summerlee will be my witness. As I sat there in sad but thoughtful silence—".
Let's put it all together from the first. We got into a first-class smoker, that's clear, ain't it? Then we began to quarrel over friend Challenger's letter in the Times. I seem to have heard the words before. And may I ask with what arguments the great and famous Professor Summerlee proceeded to demolish the humble individual who had ventured to express an opinion upon a matter of scientific possibility?
Perhaps before he exterminates that unfortunate nonentity he will condescend to give some reasons for the adverse views which he has formed. He bowed and shrugged and spread open his hands as he spoke with his elaborate and elephantine sarcasm. The explanation only brought uproarious merriment from Challenger. He laughed until everything in the room seemed to rattle and quiver.
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You will the more easily condone any mental aberration upon your own part when you realize that even I have had moments when my balance has been disturbed. We have had for some years in this household a housekeeper —one Sarah, with whose second name I have never attempted to burden my memory. She is a woman of a severe and forbidding aspect, prim and demure in her bearing, very impassive in her nature, and never known within our experience to show signs of any emotion. As I sat alone at my breakfast —Mrs.
Challenger is in the habit of keeping her room of a morning —it suddenly entered my head that it would be entertaining and instructive to see whether I could find any limits to this woman's inperturbability. I devised a simple but effective experiment. Having upset a small vase of flowers which stood in the centre of the cloth, I rang the bell and slipped under the table. She entered and, seeing the room empty, imagined that I had withdrawn to the study.
As I had expected, she approached and leaned over the table to replace the vase. I had a vision of a cotton stocking and an elastic-sided boot. Protruding my head, I sank my teeth into the calf of her leg. The experiment was successful beyond belief. For some moments she stood paralyzed, staring down at my head. Then with a shriek she tore herself free and rushed from the room. I pursued her with some thoughts of an explanation, but she flew down the drive, and some minutes afterwards I was able to pick her out with my field-glasses traveling very rapidly in a south-westerly direction.
I tell you the anecdote for what it is worth. I drop it into your brains and await its germination. Is it illuminative? Has it conveyed anything to your minds? What do you think of it, Lord John? And it did. I say it with all modesty, but it did. Of course, it all seems obvious enough to you who know what occurred, but it was not so very clear when everything was new. But it came on me suddenly with the full force of absolute conviction. Then, even as I said the word, my mind flashed back over the whole morning's experiences, past Lord John with his buffalo, past my own hysterical tears, past the outrageous conduct of Professor Summerlee, to the queer happenings in London, the row in the park, the driving of the chauffeur, the quarrel at the oxygen warehouse.
Everything fitted suddenly into its place. Our planet has swum into the poison belt of ether, and is now flying deeper into it at the rate of some millions of miles a minute. Our young friend has expressed the cause of all our troubles and perplexities in a single word, 'poison. But no doubt it is appreciable even in our young friend here.
After the little outburst of high spirits which so alarmed my domestic I sat down and reasoned with myself. I put it to myself that I had never before felt impelled to bite any of my household. The impulse had then been an abnormal one. In an instant I perceived the truth. My pulse upon examination was ten beats above the usual, and my reflexes were increased. I called upon my higher and saner self, the real G.
I summoned him, I say, to watch the foolish mental tricks which the poison would play. I found that I was indeed the master. I could recognize and control a disordered mind. It was a remarkable exhibition of the victory of mind over matter, for it was a victory over that particular form of matter which is most intimately connected with mind. I might almost say that mind was at fault and that personality controlled it. Thus, when my wife came downstairs and I was impelled to slip behind the door and alarm her by some wild cry as she entered, I was able to stifle the impulse and to greet her with dignity and restraint.
An overpowering desire to quack like a duck was met and mastered in the same fashion. On the contrary, I touched him on the shoulder and ordered the car to be at the door in time to meet your train. At the present instant I am most forcibly tempted to take Professor Summerlee by that silly old beard of his and to shake his head violently backwards and forwards. And yet, as you see, I am perfectly restrained.
The Poison Belt
Let me commend my example to you. However, as I cast my mind back over the events of the morning, and as I reconsider the fatuous conduct of my companions, I find it easy to believe that some poison of an exciting kind was responsible for their symptoms. Challenger slapped his colleague good-humouredly upon the shoulder. It is, in my opinion, the end of the world. The end of the world! Our eyes turned to the great bow-window and we looked out at the summer beauty of the country-side, the long slopes of heather, the great country-houses, the cozy farms, the pleasure-seekers upon the links.
One had often heard the words, but the idea that they could ever have an immediate practical significance, that it should not be at some vague date, but now, to-day, that was a tremendous, a staggering thought. We were all struck solemn and waited in silence for Challenger to continue.
The Poison Belt
His overpowering presence and appearance lent such force to the solemnity of his words that for a moment all the crudities and absurdities of the man vanished, and he loomed before us as something majestic and beyond the range of ordinary humanity. Then to me, at least, there came back the cheering recollection of how twice since we had entered the room he had roared with laughter.
Surely, I thought, there are limits to mental detachment. The crisis cannot be so great or so pressing after all. The gardener passes it through a disinfecting medium. It may be that he desires his grapes to be cleaner. It may be that he needs space to breed some fresh bacillus less noxious than the last.
He dips it into the poison and they are gone. Our Gardener is, in my opinion, about to dip the solar system, and the human bacillus, the little mortal vibrio which twisted and wriggled upon the outer rind of the earth, will in an instant be sterilized out of existence.
He was gone from the room for a minute or two. I remember that none of us spoke in his absence. The situation seemed beyond all words or comments. Our seven hundred feet of elevation give us an advantage. Folk seem to have learned that I am the first authority upon the question. No doubt it comes from my letter in the Times. That was the mayor of a provincial town with whom I talked when we first arrived.
You may have heard me upon the telephone. He seemed to put an entirely inflated value upon his own life. I helped him to readjust his ideas. Summerlee had risen and was standing by the window. His thin, bony hands were trembling with his emotion. Do not suppose that I desire to irritate you by any question I may ask. But I put it to you whether there may not be some fallacy in your information or in your reasoning.
There is the sun shining as brightly as ever in the blue sky. There are the heather and the flowers and the birds. There are the folk enjoying themselves upon the golf-links and the laborers yonder cutting the corn. You tell us that they and we may be upon the very brink of destruction —that this sunlit day may be that day of doom which the human race has so long awaited.
So far as we know, you found this tremendous judgment upon what? Upon some abnormal lines in a spectrum— upon rumours from Sumatra —upon some curious personal excitement which we have discerned in each other. This latter symptom is not so marked but that you and we could, by a deliberate effort, control it. You need not stand on ceremony with us, Challenger. We have all faced death together before now. Speak out, and let us know exactly where we stand, and what, in your opinion, are our prospects for our future. It was a brave, good speech, a speech from that stanch and strong spirit which lay behind all the acidities and angularities of the old zoologist.
Lord John rose and shook him by the hand. We ain't nervous folk, as you know well; but when it comes to makin' a week-end visit and finding you've run full butt into the Day of Judgment, it wants a bit of explainin'. What's the danger, and how much of it is there, and what are we goin' to do to meet it? He stood, tall and strong, in the sunshine at the window, with his brown hand upon the shoulder of Summerlee. I was lying back in an armchair, an extinguished cigarette between my lips, in that sort of half-dazed state in which impressions become exceedingly distinct. It may have been a new phase of the poisoning, but the delirious promptings had all passed away and were succeeded by an exceedingly languid and, at the same time, perceptive state of mind.
I was a spectator. It did not seem to be any personal concern of mine. But here were three strong men at a great crisis, and it was fascinating to observe them. Challenger bent his heavy brows and stroked his beard before he answered. One could see that he was very carefully weighing his words. There is, in fact, a general and very insistent demand that I should come to London; but I see no good end to be served.
From the accounts the poisonous effect begins with mental excitement; the rioting in Paris this morning is said to have been very violent, and the Welsh colliers are in a state of uproar. So far as the evidence to hand can be trusted, this stimulative stage, which varies much in races and in individuals, is succeeded by a certain exaltation and mental lucidity —I seem to discern some signs of it in our young friend here —which, after an appreciable interval, turns to coma, deepening rapidly into death. I fancy, so far as my toxicology carries me, that there are some vegetable nerve poisons—".
Let it be daturon. To you, my dear Summerlee, belongs the honour —posthumous, alas, but none the less unique— of having given a name to the universal destroyer, the Great Gardener's disinfectant. The symptoms of daturon, then, may be taken to be such as I indicate. That it will involve the whole world and that no life can possibly remain behind seems to me to be certain, since ether is a universal medium. Up to now it has been capricious in the places which it has attacked, but the difference is only a matter of a few hours, and it is like an advancing tide which covers one strip of sand and then another, running hither and thither in irregular streams, until at last it has submerged it all.
There are laws at work in connection with the action and distribution of daturon which would have been of deep interest had the time at our disposal permitted us to study them. So far as I can trace them" —here he glanced over his telegrams —"the less developed races have been the first to respond to its influence.
There are deplorable accounts from Africa, and the Australian aborigines appear to have been already exterminated. The Northern races have as yet shown greater resisting power than the Southern.
This, you see, is dated from Marseilles at nine-forty-five this morning. I give it to you verbatim:—. Tumult of vine growers at Nimes. Socialistic upheaval at Toulon. Sudden illness attended by coma attacked population this morning. Great numbers of dead in the streets. Paralysis of business and universal chaos.
Cathedrals and churches full to overflowing. The dead outnumber the living. It is inconceivable and horrible. Decease seems to be painless, but swift and inevitable.
India and Persia appear to be utterly wiped out. The Slavonic population of Austria is down, while the Teutonic has hardly been affected. Speaking generally, the dwellers upon the plains and upon the seashore seem, so far as my limited information goes, to have felt the effects more rapidly than those inland or on the heights. Even a little elevation makes a considerable difference, and perhaps if there be a survivor of the human race, he will again be found upon the summit of some Ararat.
Even our own little hill may presently prove to be a temporary island amid a sea of disaster. But at the present rate of advance a few short hours will submerge us all. I've seen death as often as most folk, but universal death —it's awful! But as to the horror with which universal death appears to inspire you, I would put it to you that it is somewhat exaggerated. If you were sent to sea alone in an open boat to some unknown destination, your heart might well sink within you. The isolation, the uncertainty, would oppress you. But if your voyage were made in a goodly ship, which bore within it all your relations and your friends, you would feel that, however uncertain your destination might still remain, you would at least have one common and simultaneous experience which would hold you to the end in the same close communion.
A lonely death may be terrible, but a universal one, as painless as this would appear to be, is not, in my judgment, a matter for apprehension. Indeed, I could sympathize with the person who took the view that the horror lay in the idea of surviving when all that is learned, famous, and exalted had passed away. We can but trust that no cosmic disturbance has dulled her excellent abilities.
My Scharzberger of '96 must also be rescued, so far as our earnest and united efforts can do it, from what would be a deplorable waste of a great vintage. And, indeed, it proved to be a very merry meal. It is true that we could not forget our awful situation. The full solemnity of the event loomed ever at the back of our minds and tempered our thoughts.
But surely it is the soul which has never faced death which shies strongly from it at the end. To each of us men it had, for one great epoch in our lives, been a familiar presence. As to the lady, she leaned upon the strong guidance of her mighty husband and was well content to go whither his path might lead.
The future was our fate. The present was our own. We passed it in goodly comradeship and gentle merriment. Our minds were, as I have said, singularly lucid. Even I struck sparks at times. As to Challenger, he was wonderful! Never have I so realized the elemental greatness of the man, the sweep and power of his understanding. Summerlee drew him on with his chorus of subacid criticism, while Lord John and I laughed at the contest and the lady, her hand upon his sleeve, controlled the bellowings of the philosopher.
Life, death, fate, the destiny of man —these were the stupendous subjects of that memorable hour, made vital by the fact that as the meal progressed strange, sudden exaltations in my mind and tinglings in my limbs proclaimed that the invisible tide of death was slowly and gently rising around us. Once I saw Lord John put his hand suddenly to his eyes, and once Summerlee dropped back for an instant in his chair. Each breath we breathed was charged with strange forces.
And yet our minds were happy and at ease. Presently Austin laid the cigarettes upon the table and was about to withdraw. The taciturn Austin saluted and withdrew. Challenger lit a cigarette, and, drawing his chair closer to his wife's, he took her hand in his. You're not afraid are you? Every time you have had it you have practically died. The worn-out bodily machine can't record its impression, but we know the mental pleasure which lies in a dream or a trance.
Nature may build a beautiful door and hang it with many a gauzy and shimmering curtain to make an entrance to the new life for our wondering souls. In all my probings of the actual, I have always found wisdom and kindness at the core; and if ever the frightened mortal needs tenderness, it is surely as he makes the passage perilous from life to life. No, Summerlee, I will have none of your materialism, for I, at least, am too great a thing to end in mere physical constituents, a packet of salts and three bucketfuls of water.
Here —here" —and he beat his great head with his huge, hairy fist —"there is something which uses matter, but is not of it— something which might destroy death, but which death can never destroy. I don't know," he added, looking round the table in a shamefaced way, "that I wouldn't feel more homely myself if I was put away with my old. How does it strike you, Herr Professor? I'm of the twentieth century myself, and would wish to die like a reasonable civilized man.
I don't know that I am more afraid of death than the rest of you, for I am an oldish man, and, come what may, I can't have very much longer to live; but it is all against my nature to sit waiting without a struggle like a sheep for the butcher. Is it quite certain, Challenger, that there is nothing we can do?
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I have taken certain steps—". There is not a greater difference in quality between a brick-bat and a gas than there is between oxygen and ether. They are different planes of matter. They cannot impinge upon one another. Come, Challenger, you could not defend such a proposition. We see it in the methods and distribution of the outbreak. We should not a priori have expected it, but it is undoubtedly a fact. Hence I am strongly of opinion that a gas like oxygen, which increases the vitality and the resisting power of the body, would be extremely likely to delay the action of what you have so happily named the daturon.
It may be that I am mistaken, but I have every confidence in the correctness of my reasoning. With matting and varnished paper. It is not to keep out the ether that we have gone to such trouble. It is to keep in the oxygen.