The Poison Belt
The Dead World
I remember that we all sat gasping in our chairs, with that sweet, wet south-western
breeze, fresh from the sea, flapping the muslin curtains and cooling our flushed faces. I
wonder how long we sat! None of us afterwards could agree at all on that point. We were
bewildered, stunned, semi-conscious. We had all braced our courage for death, but this
fearful and sudden new fact--that we must continue to live after we had survived the race
to which we belonged--struck us with the shock of a physical blow and left us prostrate.
Then gradually the suspended mechanism began to move once more; the shuttles of
memory worked; ideas weaved themselves together in our minds. We saw, with vivid,
merciless clearness, the relations between the past, the present, and the future--the lives
that we had led and the lives which we would have to live. Our eyes turned in silent
horror upon those of our companions and found the same answering look in theirs.
Instead of the joy which men might have been expected to feel who had so narrowly
escaped an imminent death, a terrible wave of darkest depression submerged us.
Everything on earth that we loved had been washed away into the great, infinite,
unknown ocean, and here were we marooned upon this desert island of a world, without
companions, hopes, or aspirations. A few years' skulking like jackals among the graves of
the human race and then our belated and lonely end would come.
"It's dreadful, George, dreadful!" the lady cried in an agony of sobs. "If we had only
passed with the others! Oh, why did you save us? I feel as if it is we that are dead and
everyone else alive."
Challenger's great eyebrows were drawn down in concentrated thought, while his huge,
hairy paw closed upon the outstretched hand of his wife. I had observed that she always
held out her arms to him in trouble as a child would to its mother.
"Without being a fatalist to the point of nonresistance," said he, "I have always found that
the highest wisdom lies in an acquiescence with the actual." He spoke slowly, and there
was a vibration of feeling in his sonorous voice.
"I do NOT acquiesce," said Summerlee firmly.
"I don't see that it matters a row of pins whether you acquiesce or whether you don't,"
remarked Lord John. "You've got to take it, whether you take it fightin' or take it lyin'
down, so what's the odds whether you acquiesce or not?
I can't remember that anyone asked our permission before the thing began, and nobody's
likely to ask it now. So what difference can it make what we may think of it?"
"It is just all the difference between happiness and misery," said Challenger with an
abstracted face, still patting his wife's hand. "You can swim with the tide and have peace
in mind and soul, or you can thrust against it and be bruised and weary. This business is
beyond us, so let us accept it as it stands and say no more."