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The Poison Belt

A Diary Of The Dying
How strange the words look scribbled at the top of the empty page of my book! How
stranger still that it is I, Edward Malone, who have written them--I who started only some
twelve hours ago from my rooms in Streatham without one thought of the marvels which
the day was to bring forth! I look back at the chain of incidents, my interview with
McArdle, Challenger's first note of alarm in the Times, the absurd journey in the train,
the pleasant luncheon, the catastrophe, and now it has come to this--that we linger alone
upon an empty planet, and so sure is our fate that I can regard these lines, written from
mechanical professional habit and never to be seen by human eyes, as the words of one
who is already dead, so closely does he stand to the shadowed borderland over which all
outside this one little circle of friends have already gone. I feel how wise and true were
the words of Challenger when he said that the real tragedy would be if we were left
behind when all that is noble and good and beautiful had passed. But of that there can
surely be no danger. Already our second tube of oxygen is drawing to an end. We can
count the poor dregs of our lives almost to a minute.
We have just been treated to a lecture, a good quarter of an hour long, from Challenger,
who was so excited that he roared and bellowed as if he were addressing his old rows of
scientific sceptics in the Queen's Hall. He had certainly a strange audience to harangue:
his wife perfectly acquiescent and absolutely ignorant of his meaning, Summerlee seated
in the shadow, querulous and critical but interested, Lord John lounging in a corner
somewhat bored by the whole proceeding, and myself beside the window watching the
scene with a kind of detached attention, as if it were all a dream or something in which I
had no personal interest whatever. Challenger sat at the centre table with the electric light
illuminating the slide under the microscope which he had brought from his dressing
room. The small vivid circle of white light from the mirror left half of his rugged,
bearded face in brilliant radiance and half in deepest shadow. He had, it seems, been
working of late upon the lowest forms of life, and what excited him at the present
moment was that in the microscopic slide made up the day before he found the amoeba to
he still alive.
"You can see it for yourselves," he kept repeating in great excitement. "Summerlee, will
you step across and satisfy yourself upon the point? Malone, will you kindly verify what I
say? The little spindle-shaped things in the centre are diatoms and may be disregarded
since they are probably vegetable rather than animal. But the right-hand side you will see
an undoubted amoeba, moving sluggishly across the field. The upper screw is the fine
adjustment. Look at it for yourselves."
Summerlee did so and acquiesced. So did I and perceived a little creature which looked
as if it were made of ground glass flowing in a sticky way across the lighted circle. Lord
John was prepared to take him on trust.