The Filterable Virus by Arthur B Reeve

Story type: Literature

I was surprised to run into O’Hanlon himself in the train out to Norwood. The failure to get Dr. Loeb troubled him and he had reasoned that if Darius Moreton took the trouble to write a letter about his friend he might possibly know more of his whereabouts than he professed. We discussed the case nearly the whole journey, agreeing to separate just before we reached the station in order not to be seen together.

It took me longer to carry out Kennedy’s request than I had expected. I found Myra at home alone, very much excited.

“Someone called me up from New York this morning,” she said, “and asked whether father and Lionel were at home. I thought they were at the factory, but when I called there, the foreman told me they hadn’t been there. And Dr. Goode is out, too–hasn’t seen any of his patients today. Oh, Mr. Jameson, what does it all mean? Where have they gone?”

I was a poor one to comfort her, for I had no idea myself. Still, I did my best, and incidentally secured the brushes, though I must confess I had to commit a little second-story work to get into Dr. Goode’s.

It seemed heartless to leave the poor girl all alone, but I knew that Kennedy was waiting anxiously for me. I promised to make inquiries all over about her father, Lionel, and Dr. Goode, and, I think, the mere fact that someone showed an interest in her cheered her up, especially when I told her Kennedy was working hard on the case.

As I waited for the train that was to take me back to the city, the train from New York pulled in. Imagine my surprise when I saw Miss Golder step off nervously and hurry up the main street.

I watched her, debating what to do, whether to let Kennedy wait and follow her, or not.

“Someone, they don’t know who, bailed her out,” I heard a voice whisper in my ear.

I turned quickly. It was O’Hanlon. “She put up cash bail,” he added under his breath. “No one knows where she got it. I’m waiting until she turns that corner–then I’m going to shadow her. I can’t seem to find anyone in this town just now. Perhaps she knows where Loeb is.”

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“If you get on the trail, will you wire me?” I asked. “Here’s my train now.”

O’Hanlon promised, and as I swung on the step I caught a last glimpse of him sauntering casually in the direction Miss Golder had taken.

I handed Kennedy the brushes I had obtained, but he gave me no opportunity to satisfy my curiosity. Instead, he started me out again to keep in touch with the progress made in the cases of the quacks, particularly the search for Dr. Loeb, which seemed to interest him quite as much as the bailing out of Miss Golder.

It was after dinner and I was preparing to follow the cases on into the night court, if necessary, when one of O’Hanlon’s assistants hurried up to me.

“We’ve just had a wire from Mr. O’Hanlon,” he cried excitedly, handing me a telegram.

I read:

“Loeb captured Norwood. Darius Moreton hiding
him in vacant house outside town. Advise Kennedy.”

I dashed for the nearest telephone and called up Craig.

“Fine, Walter,” he shouted back. “I am ready. Meet me at the station and wire O’Hanlon to wait there for us.”

We made the journey to Norwood as impatiently as any two passengers on the accommodation at that hour of night, Craig carrying his evidence in the case in a little leather hand satchel.

Already, out at the old house, O’Hanlon had gathered the Moreton family, Dr. Goode, who had turned up with the rest, Dr. Loeb, and Miss Golder. Myra Moreton was even more agitated than she had been when I left her during the afternoon. In fact the secrecy maintained by both her family and Dr. Goode, to say nothing of the presence of Dr. Loeb in the house under arrest, had all but broken her down. She greeted Kennedy almost as though he had been a life-long friend.

“I want you to look after Miss Moreton, Walter,” he said in a low tone as we three stood in the hall. “And you, Miss Moreton, I want to trust me when I tell you I am going to bring you safely out of this thing. Be a brave girl,” he encouraged, taking her hand. “Remember that Mr. Jameson and I are here solely in your interest.”

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“I know it,” she murmured, her lip trembling. “I will try.”

A moment later we entered the Moreton library. Dr. Loeb was glaring impartially at everybody. I am sure that if he had been able to get at any of his formidable electrical apparatus he would have made short work of us “without cautery or knife.” Darius Moreton was indignant, Lionel supercilious, Dr. Goode silent.

Kennedy lost no time in getting down to the business that had brought him out to Norwood, for this was not exactly a sociable gathering.

“Of course,” he began, laying his leather case on the table and unlocking, but not opening it, “references to cancer houses abound in medical literature, but I think I am safe in saying that nothing has been conclusively proved in favor either of the believers or the skeptics. At least, it may be said to be an open question, with the weight of opinion against it. Such physicians as Sir Thomas Oliver have said that the evidence in favor is too strong to be ignored. Others, equally brilliant, have shown why it should be ignored.

“In the absence of better proof–or rather in the presence of other facts–perhaps, in this case, it would be better to see whether there is not some other theory that may fit the facts better.”

“Dr. Goode thought that the cancers might have been caused artificially by X-rays or radium,” I ventured.

Craig shook his head. “I have taken a piece of filter paper saturated with a solution of potassium iodide, starch paste, and ferrosulphate and laid it over a sample of blood, not four millimeters away. The whole I have kept in the dark.

“Now, we know that blood gives off peroxide of hydrogen. Peroxide of hydrogen is capable of attacking photographic plates. The paper can be permeated by a gas. No, that was not a case of photo-activity observed by Dr. Goode. It was the emission of gas from the blood that affected the plates.”

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“But suppose that is the case,” objected Dr. Goode hastily. “There are the deaths from cancer. How do you explain them? It is not a cancer house, you say. Is it mere chance?”

“Anyone may be pardoned for believing that cancer houses or even cancer districts exist,” reiterated Craig. “Indeed some observations seem to show it, as I have said, though the opponents of the theory claim to have found other causes. Here, as you hint, five people, living in close association, have died in five years.”

He paused and drew from the satchel the little porcelain cone which he had picked up between the Moreton and Goode houses.

“I have here,” he resumed, “what is known as a Berkefeld filter. Its meshes let through none of the germs that we can see with a microscope. It is bacteria-proof. Only something smaller than these things can pass through it, something that we cannot see, a clear watery fluid. That something in this case is a filterable virus.”

Kennedy paused again, then went on, “Although the filterable viruses have only recently come to attention, it is known that they are of very diverse character. Here we have opened up the world of the infinitely little–the universe that lies beyond the range of the microscope. The study of these tiny particles is now one of the greatest objects in scientific medicine.

“Are they living? It seems so, for a very little of the virus gives rise to growths from which many others start. It may, of course, be chemical, but it looks as if it were organic, since it resists cold, although not heat, and can be destroyed by phenol, toluol, and other antiseptics. Perhaps the virus may be visible, but not by any means yet known. Still, we do know that these things which no eye can see may cause some of the commonest diseases.”

Kennedy paused. As usual he had his little audience following him breathlessly. Even Dr. Loeb forgot to glower.

“In recent experiments with cancer in chickens,” continued Craig, “tumor material ground fine and treated in various ways has been filtered through these filters. Cancers have been caused by this agent which has passed through the filter.

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“On the inside of the filter which I picked up back of this very house, near the boundary of Dr. Goode’s, I have found the giant cells of cancer. On the outside was something which I have been able to develop into a virus, these micro-organisms that belong to the ultra-invisible. I do not pretend to know just how this bacteriological dwarf has been used. But I know enough to say that someone has, without doubt, been using some sort of filterable virus to induce cancers, just as the experimenters at the Rockefeller Institute have done with animals.

“Naturally, in the Moreton family, this person found a fertile soil. Perhaps he waited until he saw what looked like a favorable wound, or traumatism. It is well-known that cancer often can be traced to a wound. Perhaps he introduced this virus surreptitiously into a cut, now and then. For, experiments show that the virus is strikingly dependent for its action on the derangement of the tissues with which it is brought in contact.

“This person must have had a high percentage of failures in his attempts to inoculate the virus successfully. But by persistence and taking advantage of every predisposition afforded by nature, he succeeded. At any rate, this person must have been intimately acquainted with the family, must have had some motive for seeking their deaths,–for instance the family fortune.

“It makes no difference whether the victims might have had cancer sooner or later, anyway. Even if that were so, this cold-blooded villain was at least hastening the development, if not actually causing the frightful and fatal disease.”

Myra Moreton shuddered, and looked at Dr. Goode anxiously as Kennedy proceeded. He seemed about to interrupt, but managed to check himself. Craig reached over and picked out from the satchel the hat which we had found on a desk at the office of the cancer quack.

“In the raid of Dr. Loeb’s,” he explained, changing tone, “a man disappeared. I have here a soft hat which he left behind in his hurry to escape, as well as some of the filters he was carrying.”

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He turned the hat inside out. “You will see,” Craig pointed out, “that on the felt of the inside there are numerous hairs, from the head of the wearer.”

I leaned forward, breathlessly. I began to see the part I had played in building up his case.

“Human hair,” he remarked, “differs greatly. Under the microscope one may study the oval-shaped medulla, the long pointed cortex, and the flat cuticle cells of an individual hair. The pigment in the cortex can be studied also.

“I have taken some of the hairs from the inside of this hat, examined, photographed, and measured them. I have compared them with a color scale perfected by the late Alphonse Bertillon. In fact, in France quite a science has been built up about hair by the so-called ‘pilologists.’ The German scientific criminalists have written minute treaties on the hair and astounding results have been obtained by them in detection.

“I have been able to secure samples of the hair of everyone in this case and I have studied them also. These hairs in the hat which was left over the package of filters have furnished me with a slender but no less damning clew to a veritable monster.”

One could have heard a pin drop, as if Kennedy were a judge pronouncing a death sentence.

“Dr. Loeb is guilty of being one of the most heartless of quacks, it is true,” Kennedy’s voice rang out tensely, as he faced us. “But the slow murders, one by one, bringing the family estate nearer and nearer–they were done by one who hoped to throw the blame on Dr. Loeb, by the man whose hair I have here–Lionel Moreton.”

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