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- OF THE SILENT BULLET - 10/54 -


She advanced toward him, repeating her inquiry.

"I am Professor Kennedy. Pray be seated," he said.

The presence of a lady in our apartment was such a novelty that really I forgot to disappear, but busied myself straightening the furniture and opening a window to allow the odour of stale tobacco to escape.

"My name is Eveline Bisbee," she began. "I have heard, Professor Kennedy, that you are an adept at getting at the bottom of difficult mysteries."

"You flatter me;" he said in acknowledgment. "Who was so foolish as to tell you that"

"A friend who has heard of the Kerr Parker case," she replied.

"I beg your pardon," I interrupted, "I didn't mean to intrude. I think I'll go out. I'll be back in an hour or two."

"Please, Mr. Jameson--it is Mr. Jameson, is it not?"

I bowed in surprise.

"If it is possible I wish you would stay and hear my story. I am told that you and Professor Kennedy always work together."

It was my turn to be embarrassed by the compliment.

"Mrs. Fletcher, of Great Neck," she explained, "has told me. I believe Professor Kennedy performed a great service for the Fletchers, though I do not know what it was. At any rate, I have come to you with my case, in which I have small hope of obtaining assistance unless you can help me. If Professor Kennedy cannot solve it, well, I'm afraid nobody can." She paused a moment, then added, "No doubt you have read of the death of my guardian the other day."

Of course we had. Who did not know that "Jim" Bisbee, the southern California oil-magnate, had died suddenly of typhoid fever at the private hospital of Dr. Bell, where he had been taken from his magnificent apartment on Riverside Drive? Kennedy and I had discussed it at the time. We had commented on the artificiality of the twentieth century. No longer did people have homes; they had apartments, I had said. They didn't fall ill in the good old-fashioned way any more, either in fact, they even hired special rooms to die in. They hired halls for funeral services. It was a wonder that they didn't hire graves. It was all part of our twentieth century break-up of tradition. Indeed we did know about the death of Jim Bisbee. But there was nothing mysterious about it. It was just typical in all its surroundings of the first decade of the twentieth century in a great, artificial city--a lonely death of a great man surrounded by all that money could buy.

We had read of his ward, too, the beautiful Miss Eveline Bisbee, a distant relation. As under the heat of the room and her excitement, she raised her veil, we were very much interested in her. At least, I am sure that even Kennedy had by this time completely forgotten the lecture on toxins.

"There is something about my guardian's death," she began in a low and tremulous voice, "that I am sure will bear investigating. It may be only a woman's foolish fears, but--I haven't told this to a soul till now, except Mrs. Fletcher. My guardian had, as you perhaps know, spent his summer at his country place at Bisbee Hall, New Jersey, from which he returned rather suddenly about a week ago. Our friends thought it merely a strange whim that he should return to the city before the summer was fairly over, but it was not. The day before he returned, his gardener fell sick of typhoid. That decided Mr. Bisbee to return to the city on the following day. Imagine his consternation to find his valet stricken the very next morning. Of course they motored to New York immediately, then he wired to me at Newport, and together we opened his apartment at the Louis Quinze.

"But that was not to be the end of it. One after another, the servants at Bisbee Hall were taken with the disease until five of them were down. Then came the last blow--Mr. Bisbee fell a victim in New York. So far I have been spared. But who knows how much longer it will last? I have been so frightened that I haven't eaten a meal in the apartment since I came back. When I am hungry I simply steal out to a hotel--a different one every time. I never drink any water except that which I have surreptitiously boiled in my own room over a gas-stove. Disinfectants and germicides have been used by the gallon, and still I don't feel safe. Even the health authorities don't remove my fears. With my guardian's death I had begun to feel that possibly it was over. But no. This morning another servant who came up from the hall last week was taken sick, and the doctor pronounces that typhoid, too. Will I be the next? Is it just a foolish fear? Why does it pursue us to New York? Why didn't it stop at Bisbee Hall?"

I don't think I ever saw a living creature more overcome by horror, by an invisible, deadly fear. That was why it was doubly horrible in a girl so attractive as Eveline Bisbee. As I listened I felt how terrible it must be to be pursued by such a fear. What must it be to be dogged by a disease as relentlessly as the typhoid had dogged her? If it had been some great, but visible, tangible peril how gladly I could have faced it merely for the smile of a woman like this. But it was a peril that only knowledge and patience could meet. Instinctively I turned toward Kennedy, my own mind being an absolute blank.

"Is there anyone you suspect of being the cause of such an epidemic?" he asked. "I may as well tell you right now that I have already formed two theories--one perfectly natural, the other diabolical. Tell me everything."

"Well, I had expected to receive a fortune of one million dollars, free and clear, by his will and this morning I am informed by his lawyer, James Denny, that a new will had been made. It is still one million. But the remainder, instead of going to a number of charities in which he was known to be interested, goes to form a trust fund for the Bisbee School of Mechanical Arts, of which Mr. Denny is the sole trustee. Of course, I do not know much about my guardian's interests while he was alive, but it strikes me as strange that he should have changed so radically, and, besides, the new will is so worded that if I die without children my million also goes to this school--location unnamed. I can't help wondering about it all."

"Why should you wonder--at least what other reasons have you for wondering?"

"Oh, I can't express them. Maybe after all it's only a woman's silly intuition. But often I have thought in the past few days about this illness of my guardian. It was so queer. He was always so careful. And you know the rich don't often have typhoid."

"You have no reason to suppose that it was not typhoid fever of which he died"

She hesitated. "No," she replied, "but if you had known Mr. Bisbee you would think it strange, too. He had a horror of infectious and contagious diseases. His apartment and his country home were models. No sanitarium could have been more punctilious. He lived what one of his friends called an antiseptic life. Maybe I am foolish, but it keeps getting closer and closer to me now, and--well, I wish you'd look into the case. Please set my mind at rest and assure me that nothing is wrong, that it is all natural."

"I will help you, Miss Bisbee. To-morrow night I want to take a trip quietly to Bisbee Hall. You will see that it is all right, that I have the proper letters so I can investigate thoroughly"

I shall never forget the mute and eloquent thanks with which she said good night after Kennedy's promise.

Kennedy sat with his eyes shaded under his hand for fully an hour after she had left. Then he suddenly jumped up. "Walter," he said, "let us go over to Dr. Bell's. I know the head nurse there. We may possibly learn something."

As we sat in the waiting-room with its thick Oriental rugs and handsome mahogany furniture, I found myself going back to our conversation of the early evening. "By Jove, Kennedy, you were right," I exclaimed. "If there is anything in this germ-plot idea of hers it is indeed the height of the dramatic--it is diabolical. No ordinary mortal would ever be capable of it."

Just then the head nurse came in, a large woman breathing of germlessness and cheerfulness in her spotless uniform. We were shown every courtesy. There was, in fact, nothing to conceal. The visit set at rest my last suspicion that perhaps Jim Bisbee had been poisoned by a drug. The charts of his temperature and the sincerity of the nurse were absolutely convincing. It had really been typhoid, and there was nothing to be gained by pursuing that inquiry further.

Back at the apartment, Craig began packing his suitcase with the few things he would need for a journey. "I'm going out to Bisbee Hall tomorrow for a few days, Walter, and if you could find it convenient to come along I should like to have your assistance."

"To tell you the truth, Craig, I am afraid to go," I said.

"You needn't be. I'm going down to the army post on Governor's Island first to be vaccinated against typhoid. Then I am going to wait a few hours till it takes effect before going. It's the only place in the city where one can be inoculated against it, so far as I know. While three inoculations are really best, I understand that one is sufficient for ordinary protection, and that is all we shall need, if any."

"You're sure of it?"

"Almost positive."

"Very well, Craig. I'll go."

Down at the army post the next morning we had no difficulty in being inoculated against the disease. The work of immunising our army was going on at that time, and several thousands of soldiers in various parts of the country had already been vaccinated, with the best of results. "Do many civilians come over to be vaccinated?" asked Craig of Major Carroll, the surgeon in charge.


OF THE SILENT BULLET - 10/54

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