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Chapter 5

  • IF the sweltering heat that hung over London added in one way to the terror o_he hour, it was not without a beneficent effect in another direction. Unde_uch a sky, and with a barometer somewhere in the nineties, it was impossibl_or rioting to last long at a stretch.
  • The early hours of dawn saw London comparatively quiet again. Perhaps it wa_o more than the sleep of exhaustion and sullen despair, perhaps the flam_ight break out again with the coming of the day. Down in the East End _onstant struggle was maintained, a struggle between the industrious an_rudent and those who depended upon luck or the power of the strong arm.
  • The day came again with the promise of another round of blazing hours. A_irst there were no signs of lawlessness, nothing more than an eager jostlin_tream of people pushing impatiently towards the districts where water coul_e obtained. These were the folks who preferred to get their own instead o_aiting for the carts or tanks to visit them.
  • Naturally, the Press was full of good advice. Thousands of correspondents ha_ushed into print with many a grotesque suggestion for getting rid of th_ifficulty. Amongst these ingenious inventions was one that immediatel_rrested popular attention. The writer pointed out that there were othe_hings to quench thirst besides water. There were hundred of tons of fruit i_ondon, it came up from the provinces by the trainload every day, foreig_essels brought consignments to the Thames and the Mersey. Let the Governmen_our all this into London and distribute it free in a systematic way.
  • This letter appeared in three popular papers. The thing was talked about fro_ne end of London to the other. It was discussed in Whitechapel and eagerl_ebated in the West End clubs.
  • Instantly the whole metropolis had a wild longing for fruit. Some of the shop_ere cleared out directly at extraordinary prices. Grapes usually sold at _hilling or two the pound now fetched twenty times their value. A costermonge_n the Strand with a barrow of oranges suddenly found himself a comparativel_ich man. Towards mid-day crowds began to gather before the big fruit stores, and in the neighbourhood of Covent Garden traffic was impossible.
  • Prices went leaping up as if fruit had become as extinct as the dodo.
  • Still the stuff came pouring in in response to urgent telegrams. It looked a_f the dealers were bent upon making a fortune out of the public mood. Lik_ightning the news of what was happening flashed over London, and graduall_he approaches to Covent Garden were packed with people.
  • Presently curiosity was followed by a sullen resentment. Who were these me_hat they should be allowed to fatten on public misfortune? These things ough_o have been given away if only on the ground of mere public policy. Throug_he crush came a waggon-load of baskets and boxes. A determined-lookin_echanic stopped the horses whilst another man, amidst the yells of the crow_prang to the top of the load and whirled a basket of apples far and wide.
  • "You've got too heavy a load, matey," he said grimly to the driver.
  • The man grinned meaningly. He was benefiting nothing by the new order o_hings. He took an apple and began to eat it himself. In a few minutes ever_peck of fruit had disappeared.
  • The thing was done spontaneously and in perfect order. One moment the marke_ad been absolutely crammed with fruit of all kinds, an hour afterwards it wa_mpty.
  • It was a fairly good-humoured crowd, if a little grim, as yet. But th_uthorities had serious faces, whilst quite half the police in streets looke_hy and out of place as well they might be seeing that several thousand o_hem had been drafted into London from all parts of the country. Toward_idday a sport was added to the amusement of the great mobs that packed th_ain streets. There was not the slightest reason why all London should not b_t work as usual, but, by mutual consent, the daily toil had come to _tandstill. It was grilling hot with a sun that made the pavement gleam an_remble in the shimmering haze and there was little to quench the thirst o_he multitude. But then did not London teem from end to end with places o_ublic entertainment where thirsts were specially catered for?
  • Already sections of the crowd had begun to enter them and call loudly fo_undry liquids. Why should the hotel proprietors get off scot free?
  • Mysteriously as the sign that called up the Indian Mutiny, the signal wen_ound to raid the public houses. There was no call to repeat it twice.
  • Everybody suffered alike. The bars were choked and packed with perspirin_umanity yelling for liquid refreshment, the men who were wise bowed to th_nevitable and served out their stock till it was exhausted and said so wit_heerful faces. In the Strand the cellars of certain famous restaurants wer_ooted and one proprietor proclaimed that Whitechapel and Shoreditch had take_rom him wines to the value of £30,000. Men were standing in the Strand wit_trange dusty bottles in their hands, the necks of which they knocked of_ithout ceremony to reach the precious liquid within. For the most part the_ere disappointed, There were murmurs of disgust and wry faces at the store_uice of the grape that a connoisseur would have raved over.
  • Fortunately there was little or no drunkenness. The crowd was too vast and th_upply too limited for that. And practically there was no rioting where th_nfortunate license holders were discreet enough to bow to the inevitable. On_r two places were gutted under the eyes of the police who could do no mor_han keep a decent show of order and bustle about certain suspiciou_haracters who were present for something more than curiosity.
  • About one o'clock in the afternoon the early edition of the evening paper_egan to appear. They were eagerly bought up with a view to the latest news.
  • Presently the name of the Mirror seemed to rise spontaneously to every lip.
  • Nobody knew whence it came or why, but there it was. With one accord everybod_as calling for the Mirror. There was pregnant news within. Yet none of th_apers could be seen in the streets. There was a rush to the office of th_aper.
  • A large flag floated on the top of the building. Across the front was a whit_heet with words upon it that thrilled the heart of the spectator.
  • "The panic is at an end. London to use its full water supply again. Dr.
  • Darbyshire saves the situation. The mains turned on everywhere. See th_irror."
  • What could it mean? In the sudden silence the roar of the Mirror printin_resses could be heard. Presently the big doors in the basement burst open an_undreds of copies of the paper were pitched into the street. No payment wa_sked and none was expected. A white sea of rustling sheets fluttered ove_en's heads as far as the Strand. Up there the turncocks were busy flushin_he gutters with standpipes, a row of fire engines was proceeding to wash th_treets down from the mains. The whole thing was so sudden and unexpected tha_t seemed like a dream.
  • Who was this same Dr. Darbyshire who had brought this miracle about? But i_as all in the Mirror for everyone to see who could read.
  • "Very late last night Dr. Longdale the well-known hygienic specialist wa_alled to Charing Cross Hospital to see Dr. Darbyshire who the night befor_ad been taken to that institution with concussion of the brain. It may not b_enerally known that Dr. Darbyshire discovered the bubonic plague bacillus i_he Thames which led to the wholesale cutting off of the London Water Supply.
  • "Unfortunately the only man who might have been able to grapple with th_ifficulty was placed hors de combat. We know now that if nothing had happene_o him there would have been no scare at all. Unfortunately the bacillus stor_ound its way to the office of a contemporary, who did not hesitate to mak_apital out of the dreadful discovery. The dire result that followed on th_ublication of the _Telephone_  we already know to our cost.
  • "To obviate that calamity Dr. Darbyshire was on his way to the  _Telephone_ffice when he met with his accident. Late last night the learned gentlema_ad so far recovered as to ask full particulars of what had happened and als_o see Dr. Longdale without delay.
  • "Judge of the surprise and delight of the latter to know that matters had bee_lready remedied. It appears that for years past Dr. Darbyshire has bee_xperimenting upon contaminated water with a view to making the same innocuou_o human life. Quite recently the discovery has been perfectly an_uccessfully tried with water impregnated with the germs of every know_isease. So long as so many great towns draw their water supply from ope_treams liable to all kinds of contamination, Dr. Darbyshire felt sure ther_ould be no public safety till the remedy was found.
  • "The remedy had been found and would have been made public directly, whe_here came the now historic case of the Santa Anna and the alarming outbrea_f bubonic fever at Ashchurch.
  • "On reaching the village in question and on verifying his suspicions, Dr.
  • Darbyshire found that the waters of the Thames were strongly impregnated wit_he germs of that fell disease. As a matter of fact, the sterilising proces_as applied at once, and an examination of the water of the Thames a few mile_ower down gave the result of absolute purity.
  • "This part of the story Dr. Darbyshire had no time to tell his colleague Dr.
  • Longdale. He was only too anxious to get away and prevent the issue of a scar_eader by the  _Telephone_.
  • "Accident prevented this design, and when Dr. Longdale was questioned he wa_ound to admit that he had seen the Thames water strongly impregnated with th_ubonic bacillus. After that there was no alternative but to cut off th_upply from the Thames. Let us hope the severe lesson has not been in vain.
  • "Once these facts came to Dr. Longdale's notice, he lost no time. A specia_rain was dispatched to Ashchurch, and returned quickly, bringing specimens o_ater from the Thames.
  • "These, after investigation, a small body of leading specialists drank withou_he slightest hesitation. The new process of sterilisation discovered by Dr.
  • Darbyshire has saved the situation. Otherwise it would have been impossible t_agnify the disaster."
  • Did ever a quiet and dignified newspaper paragraph produce such a sensationa_utbreak in the history of journalism? Nobody needed to be convinced of th_ruth of the statement—truth was on the face of it. Men shook one another b_he hand, hats were cast into the air and forgotten heedless of the blazin_un; up in the Strand where fire-engines were sluicing the streets with wate_eople stood under the beating drip of the precious fluid until they wer_oaked to the skin; well-dressed men laved themselves in the clear runnin_utters with an eagerness that the pursuit of gold never surpassed. London wa_aved from disaster, and Dr. Darbyshire was the hero of the hour.
  • The great man was sitting up in bed and modestly listening to the story tha_ongdale had to tell. Darbyshire was blaming himself severely.
  • "I ought to have told you," he said. "When I asked you to come round to me th_ther night I had a dramatic surprise for you. I told you all about the feve_nd the state of the Thames. From the condition of the germs I knew that th_rouble had not gone far. Here was a chance to test my sterilisation on a bi_cale. I tried it with perfect success. I'll show you the whole process th_irst time I get back home."
  • "Yes, do," said Longdale grimly. "It's all right as it is, but if you mee_ith another accident and another such scourge comes along and we don't know—"
  • "I quite understand. When I had worked upon your feelings, I was going to sho_ou the whole thing. Then I found out what that fellow Chase had got hold of, and I had to fly off post haste and see his editor. I didn't mind the pape_aving its 'scare' so long as I came in at the finish with the assurance tha_here was no need for alarm.
  • "Hence my hurry, and hence my accident. All the same, it was a mean thing, Longdale. Some day perhaps the country will realise what a debt it owes to it_en of science."
  • Longdale looked at the yelling joyous mob outside heedless of the sunshine an_eckless in the hysteria of the moment.
  • "And perhaps the country will foster them a little more," he said. "Nothin_ut science could have prevented a calamity that would have multiplied ten- fold the horrors of the Great Plague, and destroyed, not thousands, but ten_f thousands."
  • Darbyshire nodded thoughtfully.
  • "One of the things that might have been," he said.
  • "Might have been! We have had a lesson, but I doubt if we shall profit by it.
  • England never seems to profit by anything. It is one of the things that ma_e. And there is more difference than meets the eye."
  • * * *
  • **THE END**