« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
gather as much strange and horrible information as it is good for the lay mind to acquire. The difficulty of the preliminary process lay in the fact that it was impossible to tell what particular exhibition of ignorance would goad the Professor out of his wonted taciturnity. Just then he was simmering; but the explosion did not seem immediately imminent. I had so far only succeeded in making him brood in longsuffering silence in which he sank more deeply as the smoke issued thicker from his pipe. Then I chanced to comment -a reminiscence of some leading article or other-with the air of one who commits a truism on the wicked folly whereby, owing to the lack of proper precautions, a valuable life had been idly thrown away.
That was the cue. The empty remark stung my host on the raw. He came out of his lair of tobacco smoke with a bound, his eyes ablaze; assault and battery seemed probable. The storm had evidently been brewing for some time, and it broke with violence. Fortunately, the first ravages of its fury spattered away in words.
"What do you know? What do your poor little inflated newspapers knowwhen you glibly talk of a life thrown away? What do you know of the perils that beset on every side the bacteriologist who dares original research? What do you know? You talk of holding your life in your hand whenever some chance blow may, by favor of fortune, teach you what silence is. We hold death in our hands-death in its most insidious and loathsome formwith every groping step we take along the dark road to knowledge. We handle it; we foster it into yet more venomous activity; we make death our tool, our toy, until we wring its secrets from it. Death! What is death to us? It lies in wait for us in every slide, in every test tube, and in every instrument we touch. A scratch on the fin
ger, an unguarded movement, and death has us in its grip, as surely as if some silly bayonet had rammed it through our heart. Yet, when one of us falls a victim to the death that encompasses us on every side, you talk of reckless folly and fill your papers with unctuous claptrap. When one of your soldiers dies in the field of battle because some other idiot hits him on the head with a scrap of iron, or drills a bit of lead through him, do you talk of a criminal lack of precautions then? Your fighting-men die in scores on every battle-field to take a red rag a few hundred miles farther into a country where it isn't wanted. Yet when one of us dies in the wide cause of all humanity, you mouth your stale catchwords at us anew. Mind you, I am not talking of the hewers of wood and the drawers of water. Let the little men look after them, lest by their death they tell the people of the dangers we are fighting. I am speaking of those who are in the forefront of the battle. Dare you talk of precautions to them? Do you expect your soldiers never to move unless they are slinking under cover, where no stray bullet can reach them? Is this the way your victories were won? And are we never to move a step forward lest, perchance, we pay the penalty of it with our lives? No! Do not revile us if perchance we die; rather marvel that one of us is left alive."
The Professor had been pacing up and down the room during this outburst-mouth, eyes, arms, legs, all working and threatening. I had never before seen him so greatly moved. He was one of those self-contained men who, once roused, are formidable. They have long accumulations to work off. The torrent of words that had overwhelmed me seemed to have relieved my host. It had certainly left me limp. After a few minutes' silence he continued, more calmly, wrestling
with himself rather than addressing
"Let us look facts in the face. Was ever a great achievement wrought without its cost? Did Koch learn what cholera was without paying the toll of human life? Do you expect us to await the advent of an epidemic with folded arms for fear lest we lose a life in trying to learn its cure? It is good, you teach, that one man should die for the many, yet you raise a howl if a rabbit be done to death to save countless human lives. And when a man who, knowing the risk he runs, dies, you talk of recklessness. Who knows the hazard better than the bacteriologist? Yet he dares, and at times pays the penalty of his daring. No great discovery, I tell you, has ever been won until the stakes were laid. For myself. Yes! don't gape at me so owlishly. I myself have laid the stakes more than once, and I have once paid forfeit. I have told you about my researches into the Kampuli plague. What I have never told you is- Come with me and I will show you. The price of it was two human lives. And-be careful not to knock anything over in the laboratory."
The Professor picked up his keys. He was his wonted self again. Action always restored his balance.
He unlocked the folding doors which shut off his study from the laboratory and passed into the farther darkness. It was the first time I had seen them open. I followed reluctantly, wishing greatly that I had not adventured in these matters. The sentiment was intensified when my guide into these realms locked the doors behind me. The foregoing conversation had not been a bracing introduction to a locked bacteriological laboratory with the Professor in an unprobed mood. Consequently I stepped delicately; nor did I knock anything over. I was relieved when the Professor switched on the light. He
was standing before a solid cabinet of polished wood beneath which a flicker of gas gave, or seemed to give, a pallid, ghastly light. He unlocked and opened one side of it, revealing an inner shell of burnished glass. The laboratory with its gleaming microscopes and uncanny glass instruments looked innocent enough in the glare of the electric light. Nevertheless, I wished myself safely out of it. The limitations of the lay mind, of course. But there are times when the Professor gets on to one's nerves. So I watched him jealously. He had taken two commonplace test tubes thinly coated with a gelatinous layer halfway up the sides and half a potato, partially covered with insignificant mildew, from the safe.
"Typhoid, cholera and diphtheria," he remarked, genially, as he laid them severally down with care, "also erysipelas. We keep them all in stock . . . efficiency guaranteed from our own cultures."
He was brisk and cheerful again, but his humor does not always exhilarate the lay mind. At length, from the recesses of the unholy cavern, he drew out another test tube with infinite tenderness. He dipped a slim platinum rod into the viscous fluid and spread a tiny speck with the delicacy of a miniature painter on a slip of glass. added a drop of water and a dot of vermilion to the unholy brew. After a minute he covered it with another glass slip, and waved the slide rapidly once or twice over the gas jet. "To fix it," he explained, in answer to the silent question which these cabalistic preparations challenged.
"Kampuli bacteria," he said. There was great solemnity in his voice, as of one who is showing a pearl of great price. I gazed at the slide respectfully. It was an ordinary slip of glass, slightly blurred in the middle. There was nothing to be seen. The Professor put
it under a large microscope, and switched on a convenient light. I saw countless hundreds of tiny reddish whorls. I was not impressed.
"That is Kampuli," said the Professor, who evidently expected me to be. "You don't say so," I answered, feeling guilty of another manifestation of the inanity of the lay mind. "They seem to be remarkably fine-er-specimens."
"They are remarkably fine cultures," said the Professor, gravely. "I took them from young Hardy."
The blankness of the lay mind was probably reflected in my face. In any case the Professor went on immediately:
"You know what Kampuli in the remote interior of East Africa is. You may call it the bubonic plague of Africa, if you like. It isn't that, as a matter of fact, but still it is near enough for you. You will recall the symptoms of it, the swelling of the "
"I remember," I said, hastily. gan to feel it would not be good to go into details.
"You remember how the epidemic ravages the southeast of Uganda," continued my host. "It annihilates whole villages, and in an epidemic the natives die like flies; well, we are now going up the Nile, and we have taken cholera with us. It would profit us little to bring Kampuli back with us. But should the danger arise it is the duty of science to meet it forearmed. That is the task of the bacteriologist."
"And a very interesting and agreeable duty it is." The lay mind felt the need of keeping its courage up.
"I wouldn't finger that test tube about too much," returned the Professor, grimly. "You'll be smashing it in another minute. It's rather a valuable culture."
I put the bottled death out of harm's way with edifying alacrity.
"As I was telling you," the Professor VOL. VIII. 412
went on more placably, "very soon after Kampuli had been definitely reported-we heard of it first of all from the missionaries, who, of all sources of information, are the most hopelessly unsatisfactory-I became deeply interested in the epidemic, but I was groping in the dark for want of anything like accurate data. Then I did obtain certain material, the usual thing, you know, specimens of the diseased intest-"
"Oh, yes! the usual thing, of course," I interposed hurriedly. It is always as well for the lay mind to keep the Professor to generalities. The particulars of his work do not appeal to it.
"Dr. Simpson sent them, Simpson of the London; you remember him? He had gone out to Uganda on some special mission or other and had drifted into the interior. He was a very well-meaning fellow was Simpson, but he had no more idea of how to send home the material for a bacteriological investigation than Hagebitter has of conducting a controversy with any degree of decency. He died shortly afterwards, somewhere on the Victoria Nyanza. Caught blackwater fever, which he insisted on treating as malaria, according to Hagebitter's theory. Consequently he killed himself with overdoses of quinine. Hagebitter, I remember, adopted a very unbecoming tone when I pointed out that quinine-"
"Did you get any results from theer-stuff which Simpson forwarded?"
The Professor was in the habit of drifting from the point whenever the mention of his dearest enemy crossed the track of his story.
"Well, enough to put forward a cautious theory, though it was, of course, impossible to speak with any degree of certainty. Hagebitter railed against it in the Review in a manner that would have been unbecoming in a medical student. I had, at that time, a young assistant working in the laboratory,
though, as you know, I don't care for assistants; they are clumsy and spoil any experiment that requires delicate manipulation. I never had another since young Hardy. Hardy was an exceptionally promising lad. His heart was in his work and he had enough courage for original research. He had just left Oxford, where they succeed in turning out a man every now and again. They train them to use their brains, and not to be frightened when they do happen to stumble across something new. Young as he was, he had already published a paper in the Review which deserved serious attention. Hagebitter, it is true-"
"Hardy was very young, you said?" "Yes. When Hardy had once got over certain outside distractions-he was very young, as I said-I could foresee a very distinguished and useful career for him. He had helped me in my researches in Kampuli, and was keenly interested in my speculations. Intelligently interested, what's more. When he came in one morning-it's about a couple of years ago now-I showed him Hagebitter's article. He read it through without saying any thing. Then he handed the Review back to me and put on his hat.
"Where are you going? I asked.
""To Buddu,' he said. "They say it's very bad out there just now. I am convinced you are right, but we must have certainty!'
"So we arranged-"
"But what did you-?" I asked.
It was a foolish question that once again betrayed the limitations of the lay mind. I might have known, without making him say so, that the Professor was quite capable of aiding and abetting a misguided youngster in his zeal to hunt a deadly disease through the wilds of Central Africa. But I was thinking of Hardy's "certain outside distractions" at the moment.
"I told him to keep an eye on any
cases of blackwater fever he might come across, and gave him full instructions to bring duplicate specimens. Hardy was away for about twelve months, and I had a lot of difficulty in squeezing the necessary funds out of the Council for him. They will spend money like water when it is a question of getting some chemist to perform monkey tricks at one of their conversaziones, but when it comes to supporting an important scientific mission, they-"
"So he did come back safely," I interrupted.
"Oh, certainly; and brought the most valuable material back with him. It seems that he had great trouble in getting it to the coast in safety. A silly tribe attacked the expedition in the interior, and Hardy only just succeeded in escaping with the all-important part of his baggage. As it was, his clinical and ætiological notes were lost, which was the more vexatious as we wanted to make Hagebitter eat his words on all points. Scarcity of provisionsthey had to be sacrificed when the camp was attacked-and mutiny among the survivors of the expedition, accounted for the delay in reaching the coast. However, he had carried out the main object of his mission most excellently. We set to work on our investigations at once. The bacteriological nature of the disease was soon established beyond all shadow of doubt. It then became our duty to discover a prophylactic and a curative serum, if possible. Our experiment-Kampuli is most terribly virulent-required the most careful handling. More than once I suggested to Hardy that he should leave the whole business to me-I was an old hand and not likely to run any risks. But the boy insisted on taking his share of the work, and, as he had already done so much and was so eager to associate his name with mine in the discoveries he believed we should make,
it would have been churlish for me to have refused him. But from the very outset I had misgivings for which I could not account. I was, as a matter of fact, uneasy from the first day the bacteria were brought into the laboratory, the effect of a little overwork, probably. We adopted every precaution, and only worked behind locked doors. But in the laboratory, as in the field of battle, there are accidents which defy precautions. How it happened I do not know to this day. I was not in the room at the time. When I came in I saw Hardy standing at the window with his lips glued to his wrist. He showed me a tiny puncture in his forearm. He was very pale and one or two beads of perspiration stood on his forehead.
"My God!' I said, and seized his wrist.
""Why didn't you call me in to amputate?' I asked.
""I hardly know,' he said; 'I suppose I lost my head. It all happened in an instant. I had rested the syringeit was charged right enough-on the edge of the table. I had to fetch an anæsthetic. It was careless, I know. Coming back I slipped. That bit of orange peel was sticking to the sole of my boot. I must have picked it up on my way down here. I half fell and saved myself by the table. The thing ran deep into my wrist. Well, it's no use making a fuss. That, I suppose, is the end of the story.'
"From the first I could see that he knew himself to be a dead man as surely as if a bullet had passed through his heart. I knew it, too.
"You must isolate me now at once,' he went on, after a minute's silence. "The thing will take three or four days to declare itself. If you are going to look after me I beg your pardon, I know you will-you had better inoculate yourself at once, though I haven't
much faith in that serum of yours. We are getting near it, but it is not powerful enough yet. That brings me to the point I want to impress on you. Shethat is, my people, if they should find out I am ill, will probably try to see me. You must on no account allow this. We can't risk it. I have seen Kampuli at work, and I know how the contagion spreads. That stuff may pull you through. I hope it will. In any case, you will be able to take notes first.'
"Well, we went away at once. I was the only person who saw him after the accident. The people at the hospital I went to were trustworthy and knew enough about the case to recognize the need of strict precautions. Everything we wanted was left in the lift outside the ward, and no one, except one of the staff, was allowed to set foot in the courtyard. To be prepared for every emergency I had dropped Hagebitter a line. I knew that if any. thing went wrong with me, a wire would bring him to watch my case within four and twenty hours. To give Hagebitter his due, he does not lack courage, and he can be relied on when vital interests are at stake. Besides, it would be his only chance of seeing Kampuli with his own eyes. For the first three days Hardy was busy writing up the results of our previous investigations. He worked feverishly hard, as if determined not to give himself a moment for any thought apart from his great work. Once or twice he handed me a note in which some point that remained to be cleared up was jotted down for future reference. I had to ask him, as a personal favor, to stop doing this. He was, of course, quite right, and, looking back I am ashamed of my weakness when I compare it with his quiet strength. But the long days of waiting had unnerved me. I could not lose myself in my work as that boy did. On the evening