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Across the Zodiac by Percy Greg

The tank was about sixty feet in depth


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winding through meadows, which

I at first supposed to be natural. Eveena, however, quickly undeceived me, pointing out the prevalence of certain plants peculiar to the cultivated pastures we had seen in the plain. These were so predominant as to leave no reasonable doubt that they had been originally sown by the hand of man, though the irregularity of their arrangement, and the encroachment of one species upon the ground of another, enabled my companion to prove to me with equal clearness that since its first planting the pasture had been entirely neglected. It was, she thought, worth planting once for all with the most nutritious herbage, but not worth the labour of subsequent close cultivation. Any lady belonging to a civilised people, and accustomed to a country life, upon Earth might easily have perceived all that Eveena discovered; but considering how seldom the latter had left her home, how few opportunities she had to see anything of practical agriculture, the quickness of her perception and the correctness of her inferences not a little surprised me. The path we pursued led directly to the object of our visit. The waters of the higher hills were collected in a vast tank excavated in an extensive plateau at the mid-level. At the summit of the first ascent we met and were escorted by one of the officials entrusted with the charge of these works, which supply water of extraordinary purity to a population of perhaps a quarter of a million, inhabiting a district of some 10,000 square miles in extent. The
tank was about sixty feet in depth, and perhaps a mile in length, with half that breadth. Its sides and bottom-were lined with the usual concrete. Our guide informed me that in many cases tanks were covered with the crystal employed for doors and windows; but in the-pure air of these hills such a precaution was thought unnecessary, as it would have been exceedingly costly. The water itself was of wonderful purity, so clear that the smallest object at the bottom was visible where the Sun, still high in the heavens, shone directly upon the surface. But this purity would by no means satisfy the standard of Martial sanitary science. In the first place, it is passed into a second division of the tank, where it is subjected to some violent electric action till every kind of organic germ it may contain is supposed to be completely destroyed. It is then passed through several covered channels and mechanically or chemically cleansed from every kind of inorganic impurity, and finally oxygenated or aerated with air which has undergone a yet more elaborate purification. At every stage in this process, a phial of water is taken out and examined in a dark chamber by means of a beam of light emanating from a powerful electric lamp and concentrated by a huge crystal lens. If this beam detect any perceptible dust or matter capable of scattering the light, the water is pronounced impure and passed through further processes. Only when the contents of the bottle remain absolutely dark, in the midst of an atmosphere whose floating dust renders the beam visible on either side, so that the phial, while perfectly transparent to the light, nevertheless interrupts the beam with a block of absolute darkness, is it considered fit for human consumption. It is then distributed through pipes of concrete, into which no air can possibly enter, to cisterns equally, air-tight in every house. The water in these is periodically examined by officers from the waterworks, who ascertain that it has contracted no impurity either in the course of its passage through hundreds of miles of piping or in the cisterns themselves. The Martialists consider that to this careful purification of their water they owe in great measure their exemption from the epidemic diseases which were formerly not infrequent. They maintain that all such diseases are caused by organic self-multiplying germs, and laugh to scorn the doctrine of spontaneous generation, either of disease, or of even such low organic life as can propagate it. I suggested that the atmosphere itself must, if their theory were true, convey the microscopic seeds of disease even more freely and universally than the water.


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