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- OF THE SILENT BULLET - 30/54 -
away, without pain and without struggle. Its breath simply seemed to stop.
Next he took the gourd I had seen on the table and with a knife scraped off just the minutest particle of the black licorice-like stuff that encrusted it. He dissolved the particle in some alcohol and with a sterilised needle repeated his experiment on a second mouse. The effect was precisely similar to that produced by the blood on the first.
It did not seem to me that anyone showed any emotion except possibly the slight exclamation that escaped Miss Marian Wainwright. I fell to wondering whether it was prompted by a soft heart or a guilty conscience.
We were all intent on what Craig was doing, especially Doctor Nott, who now broke in with a question.
"Professor Kennedy, may I ask a question? Admitting that the first mouse died in an apparently similar manner to the second, what proof have you that the poison is the same in both cases? And if it is the same can you show that it affects human beings in the same way, and that enough of it has been discovered in the blood of the victims to have caused their death? In other words, I want the last doubt set aside. How do you know absolutely that this poison which you discovered in my office last night in that black precipitate when you added the ether--how do you know that it asphyxiated the victims?"
If ever Craig startled me it was by his quiet reply. "I've isolated it in their blood, extracted it, sterilised it, and I've tried it on myself."
In breathless amazement, with eyes riveted on Craig, we listened.
"Altogether I was able to recover from the blood samples of both of the victims of this crime six centigrams of the poison," he pursued. "Starting with two centigrams of it as a moderate dose, I injected it into my right arm subcutaneously. Then I slowly worked my way up to three and then four centigrams. They did not produce any very appreciable results other than to cause some dizziness, slight vertigo, a considerable degree of lassitude, and an extremely painful headache of rather unusual duration. But five centigrams considerably improved on this. It caused a degree of vertigo and lassitude that was most distressing, and six centigrams, the whole amount which I had recovered from the samples of blood, gave me the fright of my life right here in this laboratory this afternoon.
"Perhaps I was not wise in giving myself so large an injection on a day when I was overheated and below par otherwise because of the strain I have been under in handling this case. However that may be, the added centigram produced so much more on top of the five centigrams previously taken that for a time I had reason to fear that that additional centigram was just the amount needed to bring my experiments to a permanent close.
"Within three minutes of the time of injection the dizziness and vertigo had become so great as to make walking seem impossible. In another minute the lassitude rapidly crept over me, and the serious disturbance of my breathing made it apparent to me that walking, waving my arms, anything, was imperative. My lungs felt glued up, and the muscles of my chest refused to work. Everything swam before my eyes, and I was soon reduced to walking up and down the laboratory with halting steps, only preventing falling on the floor by holding fast to the edge of this table. It seemed to me that I spent hours gasping for breath. It reminded me of what I once experienced in the Cave of the Winds of Niagara, where water is more abundant in the atmosphere than air. My watch afterward indicated only about twenty minutes of extreme distress, but that twenty minutes is one never to be forgotten, and I advise you all, if you ever are so foolish as to try the experiment, to remain below the five-centigram limit.
"How much was administered to the victims, Doctor Nott, I cannot say, but it must have been a good deal more than I took. Six centigrams, which I recovered from these small samples, are only nine-tenths of a grain. Yet you see what effect it had. I trust that answers your question."
Doctor Nott was too overwhelmed to reply.
"And what is this deadly poison?" continued Craig, anticipating our thoughts. "I have been fortunate enough to obtain a sample of it from the Museum of Natural History. It comes in a little gourd, or often a calabash. This is in a gourd. It is blackish brittle stuff encrusting the sides of the gourd just as if it was poured in in the liquid state and left to dry. Indeed, that is just what has been done by those who manufacture this stuff after a lengthy and somewhat secret process."
He placed the gourd on the edge of the table where we could all see it. I was almost afraid even to look at it.
"The famous traveller, Sir Robert Schomburgh first brought it into Europe, and Darwin has described it. It is now an article of commerce and is to be found in the United States Pharmacopoeia as a medicine, though of course it is used in only very minute quantities, as a heart stimulant."
Craig opened a book to a place he had marked:
"At least one person in this room will appreciate the local colour of a little incident I am going to read--to illustrate what death from this poison is like. Two natives of the part of the world whence it comes were one day hunting. They were armed with blow-pipes and quivers full of poisoned darts made of thin charred pieces of bamboo tipped with this stuff. One of them aimed a dart. It missed the object overhead, glanced off the tree, and fell down on the hunter himself. This is how the other native reported the result:
"'Quacca takes the dart out of his shoulder. Never a word. Puts it in his quiver and throws it in the stream. Gives me his blow-pipe for his little son. Says to me good-bye for his wife and the village. Then he lies down. His tongue talks no longer. No sight in his eyes. He folds his arms. He rolls over slowly. His mouth moves without sound. I feel his heart. It goes fast and then slow. It stops. Quacca has shot his last woorali dart.'"
We looked at each other, and the horror of the thing sank deep into our minds. Woorali. What was it? There were many travellers in the room who had been in the Orient, home of poisons, and in South America. Which one had run across the poison?
"Woorali, or curare," said Craig slowly, "is the well-known poison with which the South American Indians of the upper Orinoco tip their arrows. Its principal ingredient is derived from the Strychnos toxifera tree, which yields also the drug nux vomica."
A great light dawned on me. I turned quickly to where Vanderdyke was sitting next to Mrs. Ralston, and a little behind her. His stony stare and laboured breathing told me that he had read the purport of Kennedy's actions.
"For God's sake, Craig," I gasped. "An emetic, quick--Vanderdyke."
A trace of a smile flitted over Vanderdyke's features, as much as to say that he was beyond our interference.
"Vanderdyke," said Craig, with what seemed to me a brutal calmness, "then it was you who were the visitor who last saw Laura Wainwright and John Templeton alive. Whether you shot a dart at them I do not know. But you are the murderer."
Vanderdyke raised his hand as if to assent. It fell back limp, and I noted the ring of the bluest lapis lazuli.
Mrs. Ralston threw herself toward him. "Will you not do something? Is there no antidote? Don't let him die!" she cried.
"You are the murderer," repeated Kennedy, as if demanding a final answer.
Again the hand moved in confession, and he feebly moved the finger on which shone the ring.
Our attention was centred on Vanderdyke. Mrs. Ralston, unobserved, went to the table and picked up the gourd. Before O'Connor could stop her she had rubbed her tongue on the black substance inside. It was only a little bit, for O'Connor quickly dashed it from her lips and threw the gourd through the window, smashing the glass.
"Kennedy," he shouted frantically, "Mrs. Ralston has swallowed some of it."
Kennedy seemed so intent on Vanderdyke that I had to repeat the remark.
Without looking up, he said: "Oh, one can swallow it--it's strange, but it is comparatively inert if swallowed even in a pretty good-sized quantity. I doubt if Mrs. Ralston ever heard of it before except by hearsay. If she had, she'd have scratched herself with it instead of swallowing it."
If Craig had been indifferent to the emergency of Vanderdyke before, he was all action now that the confession had been made. In an instant Vanderdyke was stretched on the floor and Craig had taken out the apparatus I had seen during the afternoon.
"I am prepared for this," he exclaimed quickly. "Here is the apparatus for artificial respiration. Nott, hold that rubber funnel over his nose, and start the oxygen from the tank. Pull his tongue forward so it won't fall down his throat and choke him. I'll work his arms. Walter, make a tourniquet of your handkerchief and put it tightly on the muscles of his left arm. That may keep some of the poison in his arm from spreading into the rest of his body. This is the only antidote known--artificial respiration."
Kennedy was working feverishly, going through the motions of first aid to a drowned man. Mrs: Ralston was on her knees beside Vanderdyke, kissing his hands and forehead whenever Kennedy stopped for a minute, and crying softly.
"Schuyler, poor boy, I wonder how you could have done it. I was with him that day. We rode up in his car, and as we passed through Williston he said he would stop a minute and wish
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