The X-Ray “Movies” by Arthur B Reeve

Story type: LiteratureStill holding Dana Phelps between us, we hurried toward the tomb and entered. While our attention had been diverted in the direction of the swamp, t …

Story type: Literature

Still holding Dana Phelps between us, we hurried toward the tomb and entered. While our attention had been diverted in the direction of the swamp, the body of Montague Phelps had been stolen.

Dana Phelps was still deliberately brushing off his clothes. Had he been in league with them, executing a flank movement to divert our attention? Or had it all been pure chance?

“Well?” demanded Andrews.

“Well?” replied Dana.

Kennedy said nothing, and I felt that, with our capture, the mystery seemed to have deepened rather than cleared.

As Andrews and Phelps faced each other, I noticed that the latter was now and then endeavouring to cover his wrist, where the dog had torn his coat sleeve.

“Are you hurt badly?” inquired Kennedy.

Dana said nothing, but backed away. Kennedy advanced, insisting on looking at the wounds. As he looked he disclosed a semicircle of marks.

“Not a dog bite,” he whispered, turning to me and fumbling in his pocket. “Besides, those marks are a couple of days old. They have scabs on them.”

He had pulled out a pencil and a piece of paper, and, unknown to Phelps, was writing in the darkness. I leaned over. Near the point, in the tube through which the point for writing was, protruded a small accumulator and tiny electric lamp which threw a little disc of light, so small that it could be hidden by the hand, yet quite sufficient to guide Craig in moving the point of his pencil for the proper formation of whatever he was recording on the surface of the paper.

“An electric-light pencil,” he remarked laconically, in an undertone.

“Who were the others?” demanded Andrews of Dana.

There was a pause as though he were debating whether or not to answer at all. “I don’t know,” he said at length. “I wish I did.”

“You don’t know?” queried Andrews, with incredulity.

“No, I say I wish I did know. You and your dog interrupted me just as I was about to find out, too.”

We looked at each other in amazement. Andrews was frankly skeptical of the coolness of the young man. Kennedy said nothing for some moments.

“I see you don’t want to talk,” he put in shortly.

“Nothing to talk about,” grunted Dana, in disgust.

“Then why are you here?”

“Nothing but conjecture. No facts, only suspicions,” said Dana, half to himself.

“You expect us to believe that?” insinuated Andrews.

“I can’t help what you believe. That is the fact.”

“And you were not with them?”


“You’ll be within call, if we let you go now, any time that we want you?” interrupted Kennedy, much to the surprise of Andrews.

“I shall stay in Woodbine as long as there is any hope of clearing up this case. If you want me, I suppose I shall have to stay anyhow, even if there is a clue somewhere else.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” offered Kennedy.

“I’ll give it.”

I must say that I rather liked the young chap, although I could make nothing out of him.

As Dana Phelps disappeared down the road, Andrews turned to Kennedy. “What did you do that for?” he asked, half critically.

“Because we can watch him, anyway,” answered Craig, with a significant glance at the now empty casket. “Have him shadowed, Andrews. It may lead to something and it may not. But in any case don’t let him get out of reach.”

“Here we are in a worse mystery than ever,” grumbled Andrews. “We have caught a prisoner, but the body is gone, and we can’t even show that he was an accomplice.”

“What were you writing?” I asked Craig, endeavouring to change the subject to one more promising.

“Just copying the peculiar shape of those marks on Phelps’ arm. Perhaps we can improve on the finger-print method of identification. Those were the marks of human teeth.”

He was glancing casually at his sketch as he displayed it to us. I wondered whether he really expected to obtain proof of the identity of at least one of the ghouls by the tooth-marks.

“It shows eight teeth, one of them decayed,” he remarked. “By the way, there’s no use watching here any longer. I have some more work to do in the laboratory which will keep me another day. To- morrow night I shall be ready. Andrews, in the mean time I leave the shadowing of Dana to you, and with the help of Jameson I want you to arrange to have all those connected with the case at my laboratory to-morrow night without fail.”

Andrews and I had to do some clever scheming to bring pressure to bear on the various persons interested to insure their attendance, now that Craig was ready to act. Of course there was no difficulty in getting Dana Phelps. Andrews’s shadows reported nothing in his actions of the following day that indicated anything. Mrs. Phelps came down to town by train and Doctor Forden motored in. Andrews even took the precaution to secure Shaughnessy and the trained nurse, Miss Tracy, who had been with Montague Phelps during his illness but had not contributed anything toward untangling the case. Andrews and myself completed the little audience.

We found Kennedy heating a large mass of some composition such as dentists use in taking impressions of the teeth.

“I shall be ready in a moment,” he excused himself, still bending over his Bunsen flame. “By the way, Mr. Phelps, if you will permit me.”

He had detached a wad of the softened material. Phelps, taken by surprise, allowed him to make an impression of his teeth, almost before he realised what Kennedy was doing. The precedent set, so to speak, Kennedy approached Doctor Forden. He demurred, but finally consented. Mrs. Phelps followed, then the nurse, and even Shaughnessy.

With a quick glance at each impression, Kennedy laid them aside to harden.

“I am ready to begin,” he remarked at length, turning to a peculiar looking instrument, something like three telescopes pointing at a centre in which was a series of glass prisms.

“These five senses of ours are pretty dull detectives sometimes,” Kennedy began. “But I find that when we are able to call in outside aid we usually find that there are no more mysteries.”

He placed something in a test-tube in line before one of the barrels of the telescopes, near a brilliant electric light.

“What do you see, Walter?” he asked, indicating an eyepiece.

I looked. “A series of lines,” I replied. “What is it?”

“That,” he explained, “is a spectroscope, and those are the lines of the absorption spectrum. Each of those lines, by its presence, denotes a different substance. Now, on the pavement of the Phelps mausoleum I found, you will recall, some roundish spots. I have made a very diluted solution of them which is placed in this tube.

“The applicability of the spectroscope to the differentiation of various substances is too well known to need explanation. Its value lies in the exact nature of the evidence furnished. Even the very dilute solution which I have been able to make of the material scraped from these spots gives characteristic absorption bands between the D and E lines, as they are called. Their wave- lengths are between 5774 and 5390. It is such a distinct absorption spectrum that it is possible to determine with certainty that the fluid actually contains a certain substance, even though the microscope might fail to give sure proof. Blood– human blood–that was what those stains were.”

He paused. “The spectra of the blood pigments,” he added, “of the extremely minute quantities of blood and the decomposition products of hemoglobin in the blood are here infallibly shown, varying very distinctly with the chemical changes which the pigments may undergo.”

Whose blood was it? I asked myself. Was it of some one who had visited the tomb, who was surprised there or surprised some one else there? I was hardly ready for Kennedy’s quick remark.

“There were two kinds of blood there. One was contained in the spots on the floor all about the mausoleum. There are marks on the arm of Dana Phelps which he probably might say were made by the teeth of my police-dog, Schaef. They are human tooth-marks, however. He was bitten by some one in a struggle. It was his blood on the floor of the mausoleum. Whose were the teeth?”

Kennedy fingered the now set impressions, then resumed: “Before I answer that question, what else does the spectroscope show? I found some spots near the coffin, which has been broken open by a heavy object. It had slipped and had injured the body of Montague Phelps. From the injury some drops had oozed. My spectroscope tells me that that, too, is blood. The blood and other muscular and nervous fluids of the body had remained in an aqueous condition instead of becoming pectous. That is a remarkable circumstance.”

It flashed over me what Kennedy had been driving at in his inquiry regarding embalming. If the poisons of the embalming fluid had not been injected, he had now clear proof regarding anything his spectroscope discovered.

“I had expected to find a poison, perhaps an alkaloid,” he continued slowly, as he outlined his discoveries by the use of one of the most fascinating branches of modern science, spectroscopy. “In cases of poisoning by these substances, the spectroscope often has obvious advantages over chemical methods, for minute amounts will produce a well-defined spectrum. The spectroscope ‘spots’ the substance, to use a police idiom, the moment the case is turned over to it. There was no poison there.” He had raised his voice to emphasise the startling revelation. “Instead, I found an extraordinary amount of the substance and products of glycogen. The liver, where this substance is stored, is literally surcharged in the body of Phelps.”

He had started his moving-picture machine.

“Here I have one of the latest developments in the moving-picture art,” he resumed, “an X-ray moving picture, a feat which was until recently visionary, a science now in its infancy, bearing the formidable names of biorontgenography, or kinematoradiography.”

Kennedy was holding his little audience breathless as he proceeded. I fancied I could see Anginette Phelps give a little shudder at the prospect of looking into the very interior of a human body. But she was pale with the fascination of it. Neither Forden nor the nurse looked to the right or to the left. Dana Phelps was open-eyed with wonder.

“In one X-ray photograph, or even in several,” continued Kennedy, “it is difficult to discover slight motions. Not so in a moving picture. For instance, here I have a picture which will show you a living body in all its moving details.”

On the screen before us was projected a huge shadowgraph of a chest and abdomen. We could see the vertebrae of the spinal column, the ribs, and the various organs.

“It is difficult to get a series of photographs directly from a fluorescent screen,” Kennedy went on. “I overcome the difficulty by having lenses of sufficient rapidity to photograph even faint images on that screen. It is better than the so-called serial method, by which a number of separate X-ray pictures are taken and then pieced together and rephotographed to make the film. I can focus the X-rays first on the screen by means of a special quartz objective which I have devised. Then I take the pictures.

“Here, you see, are the lungs in slow or rapid respiration. There is the rhythmically beating heart, distinctly pulsating in perfect outline. There is the liver, moving up and down with the diaphragm, the intestines, and the stomach. You can see the bones moving with the limbs, as well as the inner visceral life. All that is hidden to the eye by the flesh is now made visible in striking manner.”

Never have I seen an audience at the “movies” so thrilled as we were now, as Kennedy swayed our interest at his will. I had been dividing my attention between Kennedy and the extraordinary beauty of the famous Russian dancer. I forgot Anginette Phelps entirely.

Kennedy placed another film in the holder.

“You are now looking into the body of Montague Phelps,” he announced suddenly.

We leaned forward eagerly. Mrs. Phelps gave a half-suppressed gasp. What was the secret hidden in it?

There was the stomach, a curved sack something like a bagpipe or a badly made boot, with a tiny canal at the toe connecting it with the small intestine. There were the heart and lungs.

“I have rendered the stomach visible,” resumed Kennedy, “made it ‘metallic,’ so to speak, by injecting a solution of bismuth in buttermilk, the usual method, by which it becomes more impervious to the X-rays and hence darker in the skiagraph. I took these pictures not at the rate of fourteen or so a second, like the others, but at intervals of a few seconds. I did that so that, when I run them off, I get a sort of compressed moving picture. What you see in a short space of time actually took much longer to occur. I could have either kind of picture, but I prefer the latter.

“For, you will take notice that there is movement here–of the heart, of the lungs, of the stomach–faint, imperceptible under ordinary circumstances, but nevertheless, movement.”

He was pointing at the lungs. “A single peristaltic contraction takes place normally in a very few seconds. Here it takes minutes. And the stomach. Notice what the bismuth mixture shows. There is a very slow series of regular wave-contractions from the fundus to the pylorus. Ordinarily one wave takes ten seconds to traverse it; here it is so slow as almost to be unnoticed.”

What was the implication of his startling, almost gruesome, discovery? I saw it clearly, yet hung on his words, afraid to admit even to myself the logical interpretation of what I saw.

“Reconstruct the case,” continued Craig excitedly. “Mr. Phelps, always a bon vivant and now so situated by marriage that he must be so, comes back to America to find his personal fortune–gone.

“What was left? He did as many have done. He took out a new large policy on his life. How was he to profit by it? Others have committed suicide, have died to win. Cases are common now where men have ended their lives under such circumstances by swallowing bichloride-of-mercury tablets, a favourite method, it seems, lately.

“But Phelps did not want to die to win. Life was too sweet to him. He had another scheme.” Kennedy dropped his voice.

“One of the most fascinating problems in speculation as to the future of the race under the influence of science is that of suspended animation. The usual attitude is one of reserve or scepticism. There is no necessity for it. Records exist of cases where vital functions have been practically suspended, with no food and little air. Every day science is getting closer to the control of metabolism. In the trance the body functions are so slowed as to simulate death. You have heard of the Indian fakirs who bury themselves alive and are dug up days later? You have doubted it. But there is nothing improbable in it.

“Experiments have been made with toads which have been imprisoned in porous rock where they could get the necessary air. They have lived for months in a stupor. In impervious rock they have died. Frozen fish can revive; bears and other animals hibernate. There are all gradations from ordinary sleep to the torpor of death. Science can slow down almost to a standstill the vital processes so that excretions disappear and respiration and heart-beat are almost nil.

“What the Indian fakir does in a cataleptic condition may be duplicated. It is not incredible that they may possess some vegetable extract by which they perform their as yet unexplained feats of prolonged living burial. For, if an animal free from disease is subjected to the action of some chemical and physical agencies which have the property of reducing to the extreme limit the motor forces and nervous stimulus, the body of even a warm- blooded animal may be brought down to a condition so closely resembling death that the most careful examination may fail to detect any signs of life. The heart will continue working regularly at low tension, supplying muscles and other parts with sufficient blood to sustain molecular life, and the stomach would naturally react to artificial stimulus. At any time before decomposition of tissue has set in, the heart might be made to resume its work and life come back.

“Phelps had travelled extensively. In Siberia he must undoubtedly have heard of the Buriats, a tribe of natives who hibernate, almost like the animals, during the winters, succumbing to a long sleep known as the ‘leshka.’ He must have heard of the experiments of Professor Bakhmetieff, who studied the Buriats and found that they subsisted on foods rich in glycogen, a substance in the liver which science has discovered makes possible life during suspended animation. He must have heard of ‘anabiose,’ as the famous Russian calls it, by which consciousness can be totally removed and respiration and digestion cease almost completely.”

“But–the body–is gone!” some one interrupted. I turned. It was Dana Phelps, now leaning forward in wide-eyed excitement.

“Yes,” exclaimed Craig. “Time was passing rapidly. The insurance had not been paid. He had expected to be revived and to disappear with Anginette Phelps long before this. Should the confederates of Phelps wait? They did not dare. To wait longer might be to sacrifice him, if indeed they had not taken a long chance already. Besides, you yourself had your suspicions and had written the insurance company hinting at murder.”

Dana nodded, involuntarily confessing.

“You were watching them, as well as the insurance investigator, Mr. Andrews. It was an awful dilemma. What was to be done? He must be resuscitated at any risk.

“Ah–an idea! Rifle the grave–that was the way to solve it. That would still leave it possible to collect the insurance, too. The blackmail letter about the five thousand dollars was only a blind, to lay on the mythical Black Hand the blame for the desecration. Brought into light, humidity, and warmth, the body would recover consciousness and the life-functions resume their normal state after the anabiotic coma into which Phelps had drugged himself.

“But the very first night the supposed ghouls were discovered. Dana Phelps, already suspicious regarding the death of his brother, wondering at the lack of sentiment which Mrs. Phelps showed, since she felt that her husband was not really dead–Dana was there. His suspicions were confirmed, he thought. Montague had been, in reality, murdered, and his murderers were now making away with the evidence. He fought with the ghouls, yet apparently, in the darkness, he did not discover their identity. The struggle was bitter, but they were two to one. Dana was bitten by one of them. Here are the marks of teeth–teeth–of a woman.”

Anginette Phelps was sobbing convulsively. She had risen and was facing Doctor Forden with outstretched hands.

“Tell them!” she cried wildly.

Forden seemed to have maintained his composure only by a superhuman effort.

“The–body is–at my office,” he said, as we faced him with deathlike stillness. “Phelps had told us to get him within ten days. We did get him, finally. Gentlemen, you, who were seeking murderers, are, in effect, murderers. You kept us away two days too long. It was too late. We could not revive him. Phelps is really dead!”

“The deuce!” exclaimed Andrews, “the policy is incontestible!”

As he turned to us in disgust, his eyes fell on Anginette Phelps, sobered down by the terrible tragedy and nearly a physical wreck from real grief.

“Still,” he added hastily, “we’ll pay without a protest.”

She did not even hear him. It seemed that the butterfly in her was crushed, as Dr. Forden and Miss Tracy gently led her away.

They had all left, and the laboratory was again in its normal state of silence, except for the occasional step of Kennedy as he stowed away the apparatus he had used.

“I must say that I was one of the most surprised in the room at the outcome of that case,” I confessed at length. “I fully expected an arrest.”

He said nothing, but went on methodically restoring his apparatus to its proper place.

“What a peculiar life you lead, Craig,” I pursued reflectively. “One day it is a case that ends with such a bright spot in our lives as the recollection of the Shirleys; the next goes to the other extreme of gruesomeness and one can hardly think about it without a shudder. And then, through it all, you go with the high speed power of a racing motor.”

“That last case appealed to me, like many others,” he ruminated, “just because it was so unusual, so gruesome, as you call it.”

He reached into the pocket of his coat, hung over the back of a chair.

“Now, here’s another most unusual case, apparently. It begins, really, at the other end, so to speak, with the conviction, begins at the very place where we detectives send a man as the last act of our little dramas.”

“What?” I gasped, “another case before even this one is fairly cleaned up? Craig–you are impossible. You get worse instead of better.”

“Read it,” he said, simply. Kennedy handed me a letter in the angular hand affected by many women. It was dated at Sing Sing, or rather Ossining. Craig seemed to appreciate the surprise which my face must have betrayed at the curious combination of circumstances.

“Nearly always there is the wife or mother of a condemned man who lives in the shadow of the prison,” he remarked quietly, adding, “where she can look down at the grim walls, hoping and fearing.”

I said nothing, for the letter spoke for itself.

I have read of your success as a scientific detective and hope that you will pardon me for writing to you, but it is a matter of life or death for one who is dearer to me than all the world.

Perhaps you recall reading of the trial and conviction of my husband, Sanford Godwin, at East Point. The case did not attract much attention in New York papers, although he was defended by an able lawyer from the city.

Since the trial, I have taken up my residence here in Ossining in order to be near him. As I write I can see the cold, grey walls of the state prison that holds all that is dear to me. Day after day, I have watched and waited, hoped against hope. The courts are so slow, and lawyers are so technical. There have been executions since I came here, too–and I shudder at them. Will this appeal be denied, also?

My husband was accused of murdering by poison–hemlock, they alleged–his adoptive parent, the retired merchant, Parker Godwin, whose family name he took when he was a boy. After the death of the old man, a later will was discovered in which my husband’s inheritance was reduced to a small annuity. The other heirs, the Elmores, asserted, and the state made out its case on the assumption, that the new will furnished a motive for killing old Mr. Godwin, and that only by accident had it been discovered.

Sanford is innocent. He could not have done it. It is not in him to do such a thing. I am only a woman, but about some things I know more than all the lawyers and scientists, and I KNOW that he is innocent.

I cannot write all. My heart is too full. Cannot you come and advise me? Even if you cannot take up the case to which I have devoted my life, tell me what to do. I am enclosing a check for expenses, all I can spare at present.

Sincerely yours,


“Are you going?” I asked, watching Kennedy as he tapped the check thoughtfully on the desk.

“I can hardly resist an appeal like that,” he replied, absently replacing the check in the envelope with the letter.

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