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|The Poison Belt||Arthur Conan Doyle|
The Dead World
|Page 2 of 9||
"But what in the world are we to do with our lives?" I asked, appealing in desperation to the blue, empty heaven.
"What am I to do, for example? There are no newspapers, so there's an end of my vocation."
"And there's nothin' left to shoot, and no more soldierin', so there's an end of mine," said Lord John.
"And there are no students, so there's an end of mine," cried Summerlee.
"But I have my husband and my house, so I can thank heaven that there is no end of mine," said the lady.
"Nor is there an end of mine," remarked Challenger, "for science is not dead, and this catastrophe in itself will offer us many most absorbing problems for investigation."
He had now flung open the windows and we were gazing out upon the silent and motionless landscape.
"Let me consider," he continued. "It was about three, or a little after, yesterday afternoon that the world finally entered the poison belt to the extent of being completely submerged. It is now nine o'clock. The question is, at what hour did we pass out from it?"
"The air was very bad at daybreak," said I.
"Later than that," said Mrs. Challenger. "As late as eight o'clock I distinctly felt the same choking at my throat which came at the outset."
"Then we shall say that it passed just after eight o'clock. For seventeen hours the world has been soaked in the poisonous ether. For that length of time the Great Gardener has sterilized the human mold which had grown over the surface of His fruit. Is it possible that the work is incompletely done--that others may have survived besides ourselves?"
"That's what I was wonderin'" said Lord John. "Why should we be the only pebbles on the beach?"
"It is absurd to suppose that anyone besides ourselves can possibly have survived," said Summerlee with conviction. "Consider that the poison was so virulent that even a man who is as strong as an ox and has not a nerve in his body, like Malone here, could hardly get up the stairs before he fell unconscious. Is it likely that anyone could stand seventeen minutes of it, far less hours?"
"Unless someone saw it coming and made preparation, same as old friend Challenger did."
"That, I think, is hardly probable," said Challenger, projecting his beard and sinking his eyelids. "The combination of observation, inference, and anticipatory imagination which enabled me to foresee the danger is what one can hardly expect twice in the same generation."
"Then your conclusion is that everyone is certainly dead?"
"There can be little doubt of that. We have to remember, however, that the poison worked from below upwards and would possibly be less virulent in the higher strata of the atmosphere. It is strange, indeed, that it should be so; but it presents one of those features which will afford us in the future a fascinating field for study. One could imagine, therefore, that if one had to search for survivors one would turn one's eyes with best hopes of success to some Tibetan village or some Alpine farm, many thousands of feet above the sea level."
"Well, considerin' that there are no railroads and no steamers you might as well talk about survivors in the moon," said Lord John. "But what I'm askin' myself is whether it's really over or whether it's only half-time."
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|The Poison Belt
Arthur Conan Doyle
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