The Blood Test by Arthur B Reeve

Story type: LiteratureWe arrived late at night, or rather in the morning, but in spite of the late hour Kennedy was up early urging me to help him carry the stuff over to …

Story type: Literature

We arrived late at night, or rather in the morning, but in spite of the late hour Kennedy was up early urging me to help him carry the stuff over to Cushing’s laboratory. By the middle of the morning he was ready and had me scouring about town collecting his audience, which consisted of the Winslows, Borland and Lathrop, Dr. Howe, Dr. Harris, Strong and myself. The laboratory was darkened and Kennedy took his place beside an electric moving picture apparatus.

The first picture was different from anything any of us had ever seen on a screen before. It seemed to be a mass of little dancing globules. “This,” explained Kennedy, “is what you would call an educational moving picture, I suppose. It shows normal blood corpuscles as they are in motion in the blood of a healthy man. Those little round cells are the red corpuscles and the larger irregular cells are the white corpuscles.”

He stopped the film. The next picture was a sort of enlarged and elongated house fly, apparently, of sombre grey color, with a narrow body, thick proboscis and wings that overlapped like the blades of a pair of shears. “This,” he went on, “is a picture of the now well known tse-tse fly found over a large area of Africa. It has a bite something like a horse-fly and is a perfect blood- sucker. Vast territories of thickly populated, fertile country near the shores of lakes and rivers are now depopulated as a result of the death-dealing bite of these flies, more deadly than the blood-sucking, vampirish ghosts with which, in the middle ages, people supposed night air to be inhabited. For this fly carries with it germs which it leaves in the blood of its victims, which I shall show next.”

A new film started.

“Here is a picture of some blood so infected. Notice that worm- like sheath of undulating membrane terminating in a slender whip- like process by which it moves about. That thing wriggling about like a minute electric eel, always in motion, is known as the trypanosome.

“Isn’t this a marvellous picture? To see the micro-organism move, evolve and revolve in the midst of normal cells, uncoil and undulate in the fluids which they inhabit, to see them play hide and seek with the blood corpuscles and clumps of fibrin, turn, twist, and rotate as if in a cage, to see these deadly little trypanosomes moving back and forth in every direction displaying their delicate undulating membranes and shoving aside the blood cells that are in their way while by their side the leucocytes, or white corpuscles, lazily extend or retract their pseudopods of protoplasm. To see all this as it is shown before us here is to realise that we are in the presence of an unknown world, a world infinitesimally small, but as real and as complex as that about us. With the cinematograph and the ultra-microscope we can see what no other forms of photography can reproduce.

“I have secured these pictures so that I can better mass up the evidence against a certain person in this room. For in the blood of one of you is now going on the fight which you have here seen portrayed by the picture machine. Notice how the blood corpuscles in this infected blood have lost their smooth, glossy appearance, become granular and incapable of nourishing the tissues. The trypanosomes are fighting with the normal blood cells. Here we have the lowest group of animal life, the protozoa, at work killing the highest, man.”

Kennedy needed nothing more than the breathless stillness to convince him of the effectiveness of his method of presenting his case.

“Now,” he resumed, “let us leave this blood-sucking, vampirish tse-tse fly for the moment. I have another revelation to make.”

He laid down on the table under the lights, which now flashed up again, the little hollow silver cylinder,

“This little instrument,” Kennedy explained, “which I have here is known as a canula, a little canal, for leading off blood from the veins of one person to another–in other words, blood transfusion. Modern doctors are proving themselves quite successful in its use.

“Of course, like everything, it has its own peculiar dangers. But the one point I wish to make is this: In the selection of a donor for transfusion, people fall into definite groups. Tests of blood must be made first to see whether it ‘agglutinates,’ and in this respect there are four classes of persons. In our case this matter had to be neglected. For, gentlemen, there were two kinds of blood on that laboratory floor, and they do not agglutinate. This, in short, was what actually happened. An attempt was made to transfuse Cushing’s blood as donor to another person as recipient. A man suffering from the disease caught from the bite of the tse- tse fly–the deadly sleeping sickness so well known in Africa–has deliberately tried a form of robbery which I believe to be without parallel. He has stolen the blood of another!

“He stole it in a desperate attempt to stay an incurable disease. This man had used an arsenic compound called atoxyl, till his blood was filled with it and its effects on the trypanosomes nil. There was but one wild experiment more to try–the stolen blood of another.”

Craig paused to let the horror of the crime sink into our minds.

“Some one in the party which went to look over the concession in the Congo contracted the sleeping sickness from the bites of those blood-sucking flies. That person has now reached the stage of insanity, and his blood is full of the germs and overloaded with atoxyl.

“Everything had been tried and had failed. He was doomed. He saw his fortune menaced by the discovery of the way to make synthetic rubber. Life and money were at stake. One night, nerved up by a fit of insane fury, with a power far beyond what one would expect in his ordinary weakened condition, he saw a light in Cushing’s laboratory. He stole in stealthily. He seized the inventor with his momentarily superhuman strength and choked him. As they struggled he must have shoved a sponge soaked with ether and orange essence under his nose. Cushing went under.

“Resistance overcome by the anesthetic, he dragged the now insensible form to the work bench. Frantically he must have worked. He made an incision and exposed the radial artery, the pulse. Then he must have administered a local anesthetic to himself in his arm or leg. He secured a vein and pushed the cut end over this little canula. Then he fitted the artery of Cushing over that and the blood that was, perhaps, to save his life began flowing into his depleted veins.

“Who was this madman? I have watched the actions of those whom I suspected when they did not know they were being watched. I did it by using this neat little device which looks like a field glass, but is really a camera that takes pictures of things at right angles to the direction in which the glass seems to be pointed. One person, I found, had a wound on his leg, the wrapping of which he adjusted nervously when he thought no one was looking. He had difficulty in limping even a short distance to open a window.”

Kennedy uncorked a bottle and the subtle odor of oranges mingled with ether stole through the room.

“Some one here will recognize that odour immediately. It is the new orange-essence vapour anesthetic, a mixture of essence of orange with ether and chloroform. The odour hidden by the orange which lingered in the laboratory, Mr. Winslow and Mr. Strong, was not isoprene, but really ether.

“I am letting some of the odour escape here because in this very laboratory it was that the thing took place, and it is one of the well-known principles of psychology that odours are powerfully suggestive. In this case the odour now must suggest the terrible scene of the other night to some one before me. More than that, I have to tell that person that the blood transfusion did not and could not save him. His illness is due to a condition that is incurable and cannot be altered by transfusion of new blood. That person is just as doomed to-day as he was before he committed–“

A figure was groping blindly about. The arsenic compounds with which his blood was surcharged had brought on one of the attacks of blindness to which users of the drug are subject. In his insane frenzy he was evidently reaching desperately for Kennedy himself. As he groped he limped painfully from the soreness of his wound.

“Dr. Harris,” accused Kennedy, avoiding the mad rush at himself, and speaking in a tone that thrilled us, “you are the man who sucked the blood of Cushing into your own veins and left him to die. But the state will never be able to exact from you the penalty of your crime. Nature will do that too soon for justice. Gentlemen, this is the murderer of Bradley Cushing, a maniac, a modern scientific vampire.”

I regarded the broken, doomed man with mingled pity and loathing, rather than with the usual feelings one has toward a criminal.

“Come,” said Craig. “The local authorities can take care of this case now.”

He paused just long enough for a word of comfort to the poor, broken-hearted girl. Both Winslow answered with a mute look of gratitude and despair. In fact, in the confusion we were only too glad to escape any more such mournful congratulations.

“Well,” Craig remarked, as we walked quickly down the street, “if we have to wait here for a train, I prefer to wait in the railroad station. I have done my part. Now my only interest is to get away before they either offer me a banquet or lynch me.”

Actually, I think he would have preferred the novelty of dealing with a lynching party, if he had had to choose between the two.

We caught a train soon, however, and fortunately it had a diner attached. Kennedy whiled away the time between courses by reading the graft exposures in the city.

As we rolled into the station late in the afternoon, he tossed aside the paper with an air of relief.

“Now for a quiet evening in the laboratory,” he exclaimed, almost gleefully.

By what stretch of imagination he could call that recreation, I could not see. But as for quietness, I needed it, too. I had fallen wofully behind in my record of the startling events through which he was conducting me. Consequently, until late that night I pecked away at my typewriter trying to get order out of the chaos of my hastily scribbled notes. Under ordinary circumstances, I remembered, the morrow would have been my day of rest on the Star. I had gone far enough with Kennedy to realise that on this assignment there was no such thing as rest.

“District Attorney Carton wants to see me immediately at the Criminal Courts Building, Walter,” announced Kennedy, early the following morning.

Clothed, and as much in my right mind as possible after the arduous literary labours of the night before, I needed no urging, for Carton was an old friend of all the newspaper men. I joined Craig quickly in a hasty ride down-town in the rush hour.

On the table before the square-jawed, close-cropped, fighting prosecutor, whom I knew already after many a long and hard-fought campaign both before and after election, lay a little package which had evidently come to him in the morning’s mail by parcel- post.

“What do you suppose is in that, Kennedy?” he asked, tapping it gingerly. “I haven’t opened it yet, but I think it’s a bomb. Wait- -I’ll have a pail of water sent in here so that you can open it, if you will. You understand such things.”

“No–no,” hastened Kennedy, “that’s exactly the wrong thing to do. Some of these modern chemical bombs are set off in precisely that way. No. Let me dissect the thing carefully. I think you may be right. It does look as if it might be an infernal machine. You see the evident disguise of the roughly written address?”

Carton nodded, for it was that that had excited his suspicion in the first place. Meanwhile, Kennedy, without further ceremony, began carefully to remove the wrapper of brown Manila paper, preserving everything as he did so. Carton and I instinctively backed away. Inside, Craig had disclosed an oblong wooden box.

“I realise that opening a bomb is dangerous business,” he pursued slowly, engrossed in his work and almost oblivious to us, “but I think I can take a chance safely with this fellow. The dangerous part is what might be called drawing the fangs. No bombs are exactly safe toys to have around until they are wholly destroyed, and before you can say you have destroyed one, it is rather a ticklish business to take out the dangerous element.”

He had removed the cover in the deftest manner without friction, and seemingly without disturbing the contents in the least. I do not pretend to know how he did it; but the proof was that we could see him still working from our end of the room.

On the inside of the cover was roughly drawn a skull and cross- bones, showing that the miscreant who sent the thing had at least a sort of grim humour. For, where the teeth should have been in the skull were innumerable match-heads. Kennedy picked them out with as much sang-froid as if he were not playing jackstraws with life and death.

Then he removed the explosive itself and the various murderous slugs and bits of metal embedded in it, carefully separating each as if to be labelled “Exhibit A,” “B,” and so on for a class in bomb dissection. Finally, he studied the sides and bottom of the box.

“Evidence of chlorate-of-potash mixture,” Kennedy muttered to himself, still examining the bomb. “The inside was a veritable arsenal–a very unusual and clever construction.”

“My heavens!” breathed Carton. “I would rather go through a campaign again.”

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