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- The Blind Spot - 10/71 -
Hobart spoke up.
"What is it, Chick? I have a suspicion. Am I right?"
Chick looked up; he closed his eyes.
"All right, Hobart, what's your suspicion?"
Fenton leaned over. It seemed to me that he was peering into the other's soul. He touched his forearm.
"Chick, old boy, I think I know. But tell me. Am I right? It's the Blind Spot."
At the words Watson opened his eyes; they were full of hope and wonder, for a moment, and then, as suddenly of a great despair. His body went to a heap. His voice was feeble.
"Yes," he answered, "I am dying--of the Blind Spot"
It was a terrible thing; death stalking out of the Blind Spot. We had almost forgotten. It had been a story hitherto--a wonderful one to be sure, and one to arouse conjecture. I had never thought that we were to be brought to its shivering contact. It was out of the occult; it had been so pronounced by the professor; a great secret of life holding out a guerdon of death to its votaries. Witness Chick Watson, the type of healthy, fighting manhood--come to this. He opened his eyes feebly; one could see the light; the old spirit was there--fighting for life. What was this struggle of soul and flesh? Why had the soul hung on? He made another effort.
"More drink," he asked; "more drink. Anything to hold me together. I must tell you. You must take my place and--and--fight the Blind Spot! Promise that--"
"Order the drinks," I told Hobart. "I see Dr. Hansen over there. Even if we cannot save him we must hold him until we get his story."
I went and fetched Hansen over.
"A strange case," he murmured. "Pulse normal; not a trace of fever. Not sick, you say--" Hobart pointed to his head. "Ah, I see! I would suggest home and a bed."
Just here Watson opened his eyes again. They rested first upon the doctor, then upon myself, and finally upon the brandy. He took it up and drank it with eagerness. It was his third one; it gave him a bit more life.
"Didn't I tell you, boys, that there is not a doctor on earth that can save me? Excuse me, doc. I am not sick. I told them. I am far past physic; I have gone beyond medicine. All I ask is stimulant and life enough to tell my story."
"My boy," asked the doctor kindly, "what ails you?"
Watson smiled. He touched himself on the forehead.
"Up here, doc. There are things in the world with which we may not tamper. I tried it. Somebody had to do it and somebody has to do it yet. You remember Dr. Holcomb; he was a great man; he was after the secret of life. He began it."
Dr. Hansen started.
"Lord!" he exclaimed, looking at us all; "you don't mean this man is mixed up in the Blind Spot?"
We nodded. Watson smiled; again he dropped back into inertia; the speech he had made was his longest yet; the brandy was coming into effect.
"Give him brandy," the doctor said; "it's as good as anything. It will hold him together and give him life for a while. Here." He reached into his pocket and flicked something into the glass. "That will help him. Gentlemen, do you know what it means? I had always thought! I knew Dr. Holcomb! Crossing over the border! It may not be done! The secret of life is impossible. Yet--"
Watson opened his eyes again; his spirit seemed suddenly to flicker into defiance.
"Who said it was impossible? Who said it? Gentlemen, it IS possible. Dr. Holcomb--pardon me. I do not wish to appear a sot; but this brandy is about the only thing to hold me together. I have only a few hours left."
He took the glass, and at one gulp downed the contents. I do not know what the doctor had dropped into it. Chick revived suddenly, and a strange light blazed up in his eyes, like life rekindled.
"Ah, now I am better. So?"
He turned to us all; then to the doctor.
"So you say the secret of life is impossible?"
Chick smiled wanly. "May I ask you: what it is that has just flared up within me? I am weak, anaemic, fallen to pieces; my muscles have lost the power to function, my blood runs cold, I have been more than two feet over the border. And yet--a few drinks of brandy, of stimulants, and you have drawn me back, my heart beats strongly, for an hour. By means of drugs you have infused a new life--which of course is the old--and driven the material components of my body into correlation. You are successful for a time; so long as nature is with you; but all the while you are held aghast by the knowledge that the least flaw, the least disarrangement, and you are beaten.
"It is your business to hold this life or what you may. When it has gone your structures, your anatomy, your wonderful human machine is worthless. Where has it come from? Where has it gone? I have drunk four glasses of brandy; I have a lease of four short hours. Ordinarily it would bring reaction; it is poison, to be sure; but it is driving back my spirit, giving me life and strength enough to tell my story--in the morning I shall be no more. By sequence I am a dead man already. Four glasses of brandy; they are speaking. Whence comes this affinity of substance and of shadow?"
We all of us listened, the doctor most of all. "Go on," he said.
"Can't you see?" repeated Watson. "There is affinity between substance and shadow; and therefore your spirit or shadow or what you will is concrete, is in itself a substance. It is material just as much as you are. Because you do not see it is no proof that it is not substance. That pot palm yonder does not see you; it is not blessed with eyes."
The doctor looked at Watson; he spoke gently.
"This is very old stuff, my boy, out of your abstract philosophy. No man knows the secret of life. Not even yourself."
The light in Watson's eyes grew brighter, he straightened; he began slipping the ring from his finger.
"No," he answered. "I don't. I have tried and it was like playing with lightning. I sought for life and it is giving me death. But there is one man living who has found it."
"And this man?"
"Is Dr. Holcomb!"
We all of us started. We had every one given the doctor up as dead. The very presence of Watson was tragedy. We did not doubt that he had been through some terrible experience. There are things in the world that may not be unriddled. Some power, some sinister thing was reaching for his vitality. What did he know about the professor? Dr. Holcomb had been a long time dead.
"Gentlemen. You must hear my story; I haven't long to tell it. However, before I start here is a proof for a beginning."
He tossed the ring upon the table.
It was Hobart who picked it up. A beautiful stone, like a sapphire; blue but uncut and of a strange pellucid transparency--a jewel undoubtedly; but of a kind we have never seen. We all of us examined it, and were all, I am afraid, a bit disappointed. It was a stone and nothing else.
Watson watched us. The waiter had brought more brandy, and Watson was sipping it, not because he liked it, he said, but just to keep himself at the proper lift.
"You don't understand it, eh? You see nothing? Hobart, have you a match? There, that's it; now give me the ring. See--" He struck the match and held the flame against the jewel. "Gentlemen, there is no need for me to speak. The stone will give you a volume. It's not trickery, I assure you, but fact. There, now, perfect. Doctor, you are the sceptic. Take a look at the stone."
The doctor picked it up casually and held it up before his eyes. At first he frowned; then came a look of incredulity; his chin dropped and he rose in his chair.
"My God," he exclaimed, "the man's living! It--he--"
But Hobart and I had crowded over. The doctor held the ring so we could see it. Inside the stone was Dr. Holcomb!
It was a strenuous moment, and the most incredible. We all of us knew the doctor. It was not a photograph, nor a likeness; but the man himself. It was beyond all reason that he could be in the jewel; indeed there was only the head visible; one could catch the expression of life, the movements of the eyelids. Yet how could it be? What was it? It was Hobart who spoke first.
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