Chapter 5                       Dance With The Devil         By Gunther Schwab                   Written in 1963.

 

 

IT WAS NOW NOON. THE DEVIL LED HIS VISITORS INTO A ROOM

where he opened up a large bar.

"Fruit juice?" he said. "Or something stronger?"

 

"Brandy," said Harding. "A double one, if you don't mind."

 

"Same for me," said Groot.

He tossed a glassful down and handed it back to the Boss for more.

"I must confess that till now I was in some doubt as to whether we were really in the Devil's house or not.

After hearing what we've just heard, I believe —"

 

The Devil laughed, and raised his glass. "You believe because you can't help yourself, eh?"

 

Harding felt the moment had come for an explanation.

"I've been registered with the Boss for years now, and I've never regretted it.

All the same, it puts one under certain obligations."

 

"Not very burdensome ones," said the Devil, in a soothing tone, and filled up the glasses.

"The chief one is that each of the Devil's assistants must bring a new recruit in every year.

I was three years in arrears and so —"

 

"So you thought we were just about good enough for your purpose," Sten interrupted angrily.

 

"I have the very best intentions for you," the Boss said, with an arch expression.

"But let's have a meal."

 

The food was excellent; it was served by two men in livery, silently, and with expert skill.

 

"I hope you like it here in my house," said the Devil.

 

"But why are we prisoners here?" asked Rolande.

 

"Who said you were prisoners? It is simply that you can't open the door."

 

"That comes to the same thing."

"You need only express a wish and it will immediately be granted.

Be patient for a few days.

Then you'll have a dearer view of things."

 

"And when will you be so gracious as to set us free?" she asked.

 

"When we have talked everything over," said the Devil, with a mysterious air.

 

Harding was a little more explicit. "When your instruction is over and you've declared yourselves

ready to work as agents of the Devil. He will make you rich," he added.

 

"And if we don't give any such undertaking?" asked Sten.

 

The Boss slowly looked him up and down and went on chew­ing his food.

"Then – but that's a question that will not arise."

 

Rolande said, "What will people say when we're away from home for so long?

Won't they miss us? Won't they look for us?

Won't someone go to the police?"

 

"Nobody will do anything. The time that you pass here doesn't count in the world of men.

Even if you thought you'd been living for years in my house, you would return on the same night

on which your friend, Bob Harding, fetched you here."

 

The Foul Water Devil was a small, neat little man in a plum-coloured suit.

His face was as yellow as his shoes. His tie, which was gaily coloured, and also slightly obscene,

hung out un­tidily in front of his jacket. His name, he said, was Soft. He bowed to the Devil,

stepped to one side and opened his brief-case.

 

"My big brother, Grabbleskrit, has told you something about the vanishing of water.

It is my special task to be-foul the little bit of water that's left, so that man can poison himself with it.

Without clean water, life becomes impossible, yet over large areas of the civilized world,

there just is no water that has been cleared of the filth that comes from becoming sick and dies.

I have made the water sick.

Sick water makes sick men.

Dead water kills the land.

 

"You have already heard how much water man uses. Water that is used automatically becomes wastewater,

and the amount of waste increases proportionately to the use. All that man pours away is in one way

or another a risk to life, and to himself. Primitive peoples still possess a residual remnant

of their para­disial purity in the religious conception they have of the holiness of water.

Every drink they have is a sacrament; every ablution a symbolic act.

 

"I began my task by destroying this superstition among primi­tive people.

This opened the road to the developments we see today.

In his presumption man thinks nothing of making a convenience of water,

and treating it as something into which he can discharge his refuse without expense,

and make of it a receptacle for every kind of filth.

The rivers have become sewers and there is no longer any water that can be drunk unless

it is first treated chemically.

 

"By day and by night, tens of thousands of factories discharge their waste into these rivers.

From cotton mills, from smelting Plants, from gas works, from every kind of undertaking foulness

is discharged upon the water. When I speak of foulness, I actually mean organic poisons.

Concentrated foecal matter, aldehyde, cyanide, sulpho-cyanate,

combinations of lead, arsenic, copper, carbonic acid, alkalis, and phenol compounds,

tar deriva­tives, inorganic metallic poisons, and a thousand other different kinds of mixtures.

All the rivers of the world have been made foul, from the Colorado to the Seine, the Rhine, the Oder

and the Po.

I have made them dirty, stinking, discoloured, desolate canals, which can no longer pass

through the land to feed its fruitfulness, but can only poison it."

 

"Unless I'm very much mistaken, all water has the faculty of cleansing itself."

It was Rolande who spoke.

 

"That only holds good of certain forms of organic impurity, when the natural micro-flora

and micro-fauna of water have keen preserved. But the more a river is regulated,

the smaller becomes its content of living organisms and the more it loses this faculty of self-cleansing.

You see, man has deliberately impaired, or even destroyed, water's natural power of regaining its health.

He began to do that at the moment when he started using it as a receptacle for his own dirt."

 

"Oh, the intelligence of man," grunted the Devil, "you just can't beat it."

 

"And don't forget," continued Soft, "that the filth from the factories often extends for miles

and that it has more filth added to it before the first lot becomes innocuous, if it ever does.

 

"Did you know that in the U.S.A. fish in the Shenandoa River were dying of zinc poisoning

from an artificial silk factory more than fifty miles away?"

 

Groot raised his head. "Do you intend to conceal the fact," he said, in a challenging tone,

"that industry tries very hard to prevent the befouling of rivers by building filter installations?"

 

The foul water fiend's answer was not unfriendly: "I have no need to conceal that,"

he said, "since there's no danger in it for me or my work.

 

“First of all, only a very small proportion of manufacturers are really concerned about the matter at all.

Even more to the point is the fact that in the case of most of the filth that gets discharged into the water,

there is no kind of filtering process that's really effective, and even if there were,

the cost would send the profits down.

So we need have no fear of any­body doing anything useful here.

 

“In Austria only 3 per cent of the waste water is filtered.

All the principal cities, including Vienna, discharge their waste directly into the river.

Also the experts are by no means of one mind in this matter. Some say the filtering should be done

mechanically; some say it should be cleaned chemically, while others declare it should be done

by a biological process.

Meanwhile, the streams of stinking water continue all over the world.

 

“The poisoning of the waters proceeds much more quickly than the application of any counter­measures.

New industries are continually being created, so that new forms of poison are continually being produced

and dis­charged into the water. The result is that in a few years, even the most costly filter equipment

will be out of date and utterly useless."

 

"But what are we to do?" asked the girl.

 

"Nothing, dear lady. Nothing.

There is no escape. Industrial waste is as complex as industry itself,

and nobody had any idea how certain waste products are to be treated.

This applies especially in the chemical industry. Nor does anybody know how to deal with water from the mines.

There is no place in the world that's immune from this progressive poisoning."

 

"I'm convinced," said Groot, "that one day we'll master the problem.

It's only a question of giving inventors time to develop the right processes."

 

Soft replied, "Your inventors are always much more ready to invent new processes of production

than they are to invent any­thing that will help save life.

Many industries are already allowing their waste water simply to dribble away.

In this manner they expect to make use of the natural filtering power of the soil."

 

"I'm glad you mentioned that, Mr. Groot.

In the Aargau a chemical factory allowed its wastewater to dribble away in just that fashion.

The result was that in all the brooks and rivers of the neighbourhood the fish died in their thousands."

 

The engineer shrugged his shoulders. "Industry must live," he said, and that was all.

 

"Certainly, Mr. Groot," said Soft, "and industry must earn profits even if man perishes.

It's a fine principle."

 

Rolande asked: "What actually happens when water is in­fected like this?"

 

"The foul water disease destroys water's biological equili­brium and this has a number

of most damaging after-effects.

 

“It can well be likened to degeneration in the blood of a living organisms,

which causes the whole body to be poisoned. It leads to the destruction of all life.

Putrefying material robs water of its oxygen and without it there can be no breathing.

Incidentally the outflow of these mechanical filtering installations can also add to the damage.

It can make a desert all around the water. Wherever you see plants going brown and dying,

or stones with a green and blue covering of algae, there you are looking on the death

that comes from foul water. There is an end to all animal life, the protective mucous membranes

in the gills of fishes are destroyed.

 

"What injures one kind of living organism will probably injure another, even though the injury

is not immediately apparent. Organic pollution in water brings the danger of bacterial infection.

Typhus, paratyphus, dysentery, infantile paralysis, contagious jaundice, all these we owe to foul water.

For this reason, unfortunately, bathing in a number of rivers has to be forbidden,

but even washing in this water can attack the mucous membrane. By steadily increasing their foulness,

I shall turn rivers and lakes into focal points of catastrophe, compared with which

the cholera-typhus epidemics of bygone days will appear relatively harmless."

 

"I shall be interested to see if what you say is true," said the Boss.

 

"Actually," continued the Foul Water Fiend, "business is injur­ing itself by poisoning the water.

Because the foulness of the Rhine is a threat to the plantations of Holland,

the Dutch Gov­ernment has claimed damages from Germany to the extent of 800 million D.M."

 

Soft went on, "Ultimately, man will have to accustom himself to drinking concoctions of poison

and slime because there just, won't be any more healthy water left, for what's been reclaimed

by complicated and expensive processes from the filth of the rivers is anything but real drinking water."

 

Groot said stubbornly, "The Krefeld Waterworks, which has the most modern equipment in Europe,

has succeeded in trans­forming waste water into the purest drinking water."

 

The Devil smiled. "Your very good health, Mr. Groot, but you drink it first."

 

"Present-day filtering processes," Soft continued, "are quite unable to remove certain poisonous matter,

including carcino­genous carbohydrates, from water. If you drink the water, you've got to drink these too.

The Hamburg filtering equipment func­tions perfectly,

but it can't remove the germs of the typhus and typhoid group."

 

He gave a sudden shrill laugh. "That, my friends, is the end !

A land that can no longer offer people water fit to drink, is a land that's uninhabitable."

 

"But people needn't drink river water," objected Rolande.

"I know for a fact that they're pumping up drinking water —"

 

"Indeed, they are," said Soft. "They're still largely pumping up ground water for drinking purposes

and also for industry, but as a result the spaces where the ground water was stored have become empty

and what happens now? Until recently, ground water used to flow away into the open channels,

but today the filth from the poisoned rivers seeps into the places where the ground water

once used to accumulate, and so into the very drinking water which is being pumped up to the surface

and delivered free into the houses through the water supply.

 

“This has opened up some grand possibilities. In Graz, the water­works which was erected near

the gas-works at a cost of 13 million Austrian schillings, has been rendered highly dangerous

by the presence of benzole in the ground water."

 

"You forget that such water can be made innocuous through chlorination," said Harding.

 

"And what, may I ask, does one gain from that?"

 

"The destruction of bacteria."

 

"Yes indeed, but bacterial protoplasm is made of the same stuff as human protoplasm and

the one suffers exactly the same amount of damage as the other.

 

"Incidentally, chlorination only offers a limited protection.

In Western Germany between 1945 and 1952, there were 7,657 cases of illness due to the drinking of water

which is definitely known to have been chlorinated. Usually the illness was typhus and typhoid;

in 448 cases it proved fatal. Of course, the filth carried by the rivers comes from the most varied sources.

A German family of four produces well over 50,000 gallons of waste water in a year

and most cities just pass this on to the rivers without bothering to filter it.

The Rhine at Constant carries along daily 500 tons of chemical salts. At Basle the figure has risen to 1,000,

while when it has passed beneath the potash pits of Alsace it has reached 8,000

and after passing through the Ruhr territory, 30,000 tons.

 

“Water, that has thus been be­fouled by salts, is utterly unfit for use.

It can't be given to cattle and can't be used by industry. In every year the Rhine carries 500 million tons

of industrial refuse to the sea, and the Rhine is by no means the worst offender.

The Weser is simply a flowing sewer; the Saar is a typical industrial river that has become devoid of all life.

Forty years ago, there were 40 fishing fleets on Lake Constance; today there are perhaps 10.

 

"Of course industry is the worst offender. A small cheese factory produces as much refuse as a town

with 15,000 inhabi­tants. The daily wastewater of a cardboard factory corresponds to that of a town

of 30,000, while the refuse of a large-size paint factory is equal to that of a city of three million.

 

"Of course our enemies are active, but the importance of stupid ‘nature fanatics’ and enemies

of progress shouldn't be exaggerated. The hopeless struggle to keep water pure has been going

on for about a century now. It began in England in 1840. In 1852 ... Ferdinand Cohn, the Breslau botanist,

discovered that the degree to which rivers and waste water had been pol­luted could be determined

by the nature and quantity of the organisms that had survived and failed to survive.

But it was all quite useless.

 

“The wheel which I set in motion can't be turned back, or stopped.

I've multiplied the blindness and presumption of men.

There are no means of arresting the disaster.

Even if there were, they would be financially insupportable, and as man has been made sick

by his lust for profits, we can never expect him to adopt them.

He'd rather perish than see a drop in his earnings.

When he sees the knife is at his throat, he'll try to save what there is to save,

but then it will be too late.

The process of universal annihilation will have begun, and those who even to­day set a higher value

on their expectation of profit than they do on human life, will not be the men to arrest it.

 

"May I, in conclusion, draw your attention to a most gratify­ing phenomenon

and one which we owe to the co-operation between my department and that for Atomic Death.

It is this: The purer the water, the less it's able to absorb radio-active isotopes.

The dirtier it is, the greater the likelihood of a spread of radiation sickness which water,

in perpetual motion, could carry from one end of the world to the other.

 

"That, Boss, concludes my report.

I hope you're satisfied. I've made water,

the source of health and life, into the enemy of life.

The healthy smell of the pure element has been turned into a stink.

Man stands up to his neck in a brew of filth, and there's nothing he can do about it;

for since no one can arrest the disease of the profit motive,

all efforts to avert the ultimate disaster are futile."

 

 

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