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THE STOLEN BACILLUS AND OTHER INCIDENTS
BY H.G. WELLS
AUTHOR OF "THE TIME MACHINE"
METHUEN & CO.36 ESSEX STREET, STRANDLONDON1895_Colonial Library_
H.B. MARRIOTT WATSON
Most of the stories in this collection appeared originally in the_Pall Mall Budget_, two were published in the _Pall Mall Gazette_,and one in _St James's Gazette_. I desire to make the usualacknowledgments. The third story in the book was, I find, reprintedby the _Observatory_, and the "Lord of the Dynamos" by the Melbourne_Leader_.
I. THE STOLEN BACILLUS
II. THE FLOWERING OF THE STRANGE ORCHID
III. IN THE AVU OBSERVATORY
IV. THE TRIUMPHS OF A TAXIDERMIST
V. A DEAL IN OSTRICHES
VI. THROUGH A WINDOW
VII. THE TEMPTATION OF HARRINGAY
VIII. THE FLYING MAN
IX. THE DIAMOND MAKER
X. AEPYORNIS ISLAND
XI. THE REMARKABLE CASE OF DAVIDSON'S EYES
XII. THE LORD OF THE DYNAMOS
XIII. THE HAMMERPOND PARK BURGLARY
XIV. A MOTH--_GENUS NOVO_
XV. THE TREASURE IN THE FOREST
THE STOLEN BACILLUS
"This again," said the Bacteriologist, slipping a glass slide underthe microscope, "is a preparation of the celebrated Bacillus ofcholera--the cholera germ."
The pale-faced man peered down the microscope. He was evidently notaccustomed to that kind of thing, and held a limp white hand over hisdisengaged eye. "I see very little," he said.
"Touch this screw," said the Bacteriologist; "perhaps the microscopeis out of focus for you. Eyes vary so much. Just the fraction of aturn this way or that."
"Ah! now I see," said the visitor. "Not so very much to see after all.Little streaks and shreds of pink. And yet those little particles,those mere atomies, might multiply and devastate a city! Wonderful!"
He stood up, and releasing the glass slip from the microscope, heldit in his hand towards the window. "Scarcely visible," he said,scrutinising the preparation. He hesitated. "Are these--alive? Arethey dangerous now?"
"Those have been stained and killed," said the Bacteriologist. "Iwish, for my own part, we could kill and stain every one of them inthe universe."
"I suppose," the pale man said with a slight smile, "that you scarcelycare to have such things about you in the living--in the activestate?"
"On the contrary, we are obliged to," said the Bacteriologist. "Here,for instance--" He walked across the room and took up one of severalsealed tubes. "Here is the living thing. This is a cultivation of theactual living disease bacteria." He hesitated, "Bottled cholera, so tospeak."
A slight gleam of satisfaction appeared momentarily in the face of thepale man.
"It's a deadly thing to have in your possession," he said, devouringthe little tube with his eyes. The Bacteriologist watched the morbidpleasure in his visitor's expression. This man, who had visitedhim that afternoon with a note of introduction from an old friend,interested him from the very contrast of their dispositions. The lankblack hair and deep grey eyes, the haggard expression and nervousmanner, the fitful yet keen interest of his visitor were a novelchange from the phlegmatic deliberations of the ordinary scientificworker with whom the Bacteriologist chiefly associated. It was perhapsnatural, with a hearer evidently so impressionable to the lethalnature of his topic, to take the most effective aspect of the matter.
He held the tube in his hand thoughtfully. "Yes, here is thepestilence imprisoned. Only break such a little tube as this into asupply of drinking-water, say to these minute particles of life thatone must needs stain and examine with the highest powers of themicroscope even to see, and that one can neither smell nor taste--sayto them, 'Go forth, increase and multiply, and replenish thecisterns,' and death--mysterious, untraceable death, death swift andterrible, death full of pain and indignity--would be released uponthis city, and go hither and thither seeking his victims. Here hewould take the husband from the wife, here the child from its mother,here the statesman from his duty, and here the toiler from histrouble. He would follow the water-mains, creeping along streets,picking out and punishing a house here and a house there where theydid not boil their drinking-water, creeping into the wells of themineral-water makers, getting washed into salad, and lying dormant inices. He would wait ready to be drunk in the horse-troughs, and byunwary children in the public fountains. He would soak into the soil,to reappear in springs and wells at a thousand unexpected places. Oncestart him at the water supply, and before we could ring him in, andcatch him again, he would have decimated the metropolis."
He stopped abruptly. He had been told rhetoric was his weakness.
"But he is quite safe here, you know--quite safe."
The pale-faced man nodded. His eyes shone. He cleared his throat."These Anarchist--rascals," said he, "are fools, blind fools--to usebombs when this kind of thing is attainable. I think--"
A gentle rap, a mere light touch of the finger-nails was heard at thedoor. The Bacteriologist opened it. "Just a minute, dear," whisperedhis wife.
When he re-entered the laboratory his visitor was looking at hiswatch. "I had no idea I had wasted an hour of your time," he said."Twelve minutes to four. I ought to have left here by half-past three.But your things were really too interesting. No, positively I cannotstop a moment longer. I have an engagement at four."
He passed out of the room reiterating his thanks, and theBacteriologist accompanied him to the door, and then returnedthoughtfully along the passage to his laboratory. He was musing on theethnology of his visitor. Certainly the man was not a Teutonic typenor a common Latin one. "A morbid product, anyhow, I am afraid," saidthe Bacteriologist to himself. "How he gloated on those cultivationsof disease-germs!" A disturbing thought struck him. He turned to thebench by the vapour-bath, and then very quickly to his writing-table.Then he felt hastily in his pockets, and then rushed to the door. "Imay have put it down on the hall table," he said.
"Minnie!" he shouted hoarsely in the hall.
"Yes, dear," came a remote voice.
"Had I anything in my hand when I spoke to you, dear, just now?"
"Nothing, dear, because I remember--"
"Blue ruin!" cried the Bacteriologist, and incontinently ran to thefront door and down the steps of his house to the street.
Minnie, hearing the door slam violently, ran in alarm to thewindow. Down the street a slender man was getting into a cab. TheBacteriologist, hatless, and in his carpet slippers, was running andgesticulating wildly towards this group. One slipper came off, buthe did not wait for it. "He has gone _mad_!" said Minnie; "it's thathorrid science of his"; and, opening the window, would have calledafter him. The slender man, suddenly glancing round, seemed struckwith the same idea of mental disorder. He pointed hastily to theBacteriologist, said something to the cabman, the apron of the cabslammed, the whip swished, the horse's feet clattered, and in a momentcab, and Bacteriologist hotly in pursuit, had receded up the vista ofthe roadway and disappeared round the corner.
Minnie remained straining out of the window for a minute. Then shedrew her head back into the room again. She was dumbfounded. "Ofcourse he is eccentric," she meditated. "But running about London--inthe height of the season, too--in his socks!" A happy thought struckher. She hastily put her bonnet on, seized his shoes, went into thehall, took down his hat and light overcoat from the pegs, emerged uponthe doorstep, and hailed a cab that opportunely crawled by. "Driveme up the roa