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The Poison Belt

The Great Awakening
And now I come to the end of this extraordinary incident, so overshadowing in its
importance, not only in our own small, individual lives, but in the general history of the
human race. As I said when I began my narrative, when that history comes to be written,
this occurrence will surely stand out among all other events like a mountain towering
among its foothills. Our generation has been reserved for a very special fate since it has
been chosen to experience so wonderful a thing. How long its effect may last--how long
mankind may preserve the humility and reverence which this great shock has taught it--
can only be shown by the future. I think it is safe to say that things can never be quite the
same again. Never can one realize how powerless and ignorant one is, and how one is
upheld by an unseen hand, until for an instant that hand has seemed to close and to crush.
Death has been imminent upon us. We know that at any moment it may be again. That
grim presence shadows our lives, but who can deny that in that shadow the sense of duty,
the feeling of sobriety and responsibility, the appreciation of the gravity and of the
objects of life, the earnest desire to develop and improve, have grown and become real
with us to a degree that has leavened our whole society from end to end? It is something
beyond sects and beyond dogmas. It is rather an alteration of perspective, a shifting of
our sense of proportion, a vivid realization that we are insignificant and evanescent
creatures, existing on sufferance and at the mercy of the first chill wind from the
unknown.
But if the world has grown graver with this knowledge it is not, I think, a sadder place in
consequence. Surely we are agreed that the more sober and restrained pleasures of the
present are deeper as well as wiser than the noisy, foolish hustle which passed so often
for enjoyment in the days of old--days so recent and yet already so inconceivable. Those
empty lives which were wasted in aimless visiting and being visited, in the worry of great
and unnecessary households, in the arranging and eating of elaborate and tedious meals,
have now found rest and health in the reading, the music, the gentle family communion
which comes from a simpler and saner division of their time. With greater health and
greater pleasure they are richer than before, even after they have paid those increased
contributions to the common fund which have so raised the standard of life in these
islands.
There is some clash of opinion as to the exact hour of the great awakening. It is generally
agreed that, apart from the difference of clocks, there may have been local causes which
influenced the action of the poison. Certainly, in each separate district the resurrection
was practically simultaneous. There are numerous witnesses that Big Ben pointed to ten
minutes past six at the moment. The Astronomer Royal has fixed the Greenwich time at
twelve past six. On the other hand, Laird Johnson, a very capable East Anglia observer,
has recorded six-twenty as the hour. In the Hebrides it was as late as seven. In our own
case there can be no doubt whatever, for I was seated in Challenger's study with his
carefully tested chronometer in front of me at the moment. The hour was a quarter-past
six.
 
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