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Title: The Dust of Death
Author: Fred M. White
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Language: English
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Date first posted: July 2006
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The Dust of Death: The Story of the Great Plague of the Twentieth Century.
by
Fred M. White



THE front door bell tinkled impatiently; evidently somebody was in a
hurry. Alan Hubert answered the call, a thing that even a
distinguished physician might do, seeing that it was on the stroke of
midnight. The tall, graceful figure of a woman in evening dress
stumbled into the hall. The diamonds in her hair shimmered and
trembled, her face was full of terror.

"You are Dr. Hubert," she gasped. "I am Mrs. Fillingham, the artist's
wife, you know. Will you come with me at once...My husband...I
had been dining out. In the studio...Oh, please come!"

Hubert asked no unnecessary questions. He knew Fillingham, the great
portrait painter, well enough by repute and by sight also, for
Fillingham's house and studio were close by. There were many artists
in the Devonshire Park district--that pretty suburb which was one of
the triumphs of the builder's and landscape gardener's art. Ten years
ago it had been no more than a swamp; to-day people spoke complacently
of the fact that they lived in Devonshire Park.

Hubert walked up the drive and past the trim lawns with Mrs.
Fillingham hanging on his arm, and in at the front door. Mrs.
Fillingham pointed to a door on the right. She as too exhausted to
speak. There were shaded lights gleaming everywhere, on old oak and
armour and on a large portrait of a military-looking man propped up on
an easel. On a lay figure was a magnificent foreign military uniform.

Hubert caught all this in a quick mental flash. But the vital interest
to him was a human figure lying on his back before the fireplace. The
clean-shaven, sensitive face of the artist had a ghastly, purple-black
tinge, there was a large swelling in the throat.

"He--he is not dead?" Mrs. Fillingham asked in a frozen whisper.

Hubert was able to satisfy the distracted wife on that head.
Fillingham was still breathing. Hubert stripped the shade from a
reading lamp and held the electric bulb at the end of its long flex
above the sufferer's mouth, contriving to throw the flood of light
upon the back of the throat.

"Diphtheria!" he exclaimed. "Label's type unless I am greatly
mistaken. Some authorities are disposed to scoff at Dr. Label's
discovery. I was an assistant of his for four years and I know better.
Fortunately I happen to know what the treatment--successful in two
cases--was."

He hurried from the house and returned a few minutes later
breathlessly. He had some strange-looking, needle-like instruments in
his hands. He took an electric lamp from its socket and substituted a
plug on a flex instead. Then he cleared a table without ceremony and
managed to hoist his patient upon it.

"Now please hold that lamp steadily thus," he said. "Bravo, you are a
born nurse! I am going to apply these electric needles to the throat."

Hubert talked on more for the sake of his companion's nerves than
anything else. The still figure on the table quivered under his touch,
his lungs expanded in a long, shuddering sigh. The heart was beating
more or less regularly now. Fillingham opened his eyes and muttered
something.

"Ice," Hubert snapped, "have you got any ice in the house?"

It was a well-regulated establishment and there was plenty of ice in
the refrigerator. Not until the patient was safe in bed did Hubert's
features relax.

"We'll pull him through yet," he said. "I'll send you a competent
nurse round in half-an-hour. I'll call first thing in the morning and
bring Dr. Label with me. He must not miss this on any account."

Half-an-hour later Hubert was spinning along in a hansom towards
Harley Street. It was past one when he reached the house of the great
German savant. A dim light was burning in the hall. A big man with an
enormous shaggy head and a huge frame attired in the seediest of dress
coats welcomed Hubert with a smile.

"So, my young friend," Label said, "your face promises excitement."

"Case of Label's diphtheria," Hubert said crisply. "Fillingham, the
artist, who lives close by me. Fortunately they called me in. I have
arranged for you to see my patient the first thing in the morning."

The big German's jocular manner vanished. He led Hubert gravely to a
chair in his consulting-room and curtly demanded details. He smiled
approvingly as Hubert enlarged upon his treatment of the case.

"Undoubtedly your diagnosis was correct," he said, puffing furiously
at a long china pipe. "You have not forgotten what I told you of it.
The swelling--which is caused by violent blood poisoning--yielded to
the electric treatment. I took the virus from the cases in the north
and I tried them on scores of animals. And they all died.

"I find it is the virus of what is practically a new disease, one of
the worst in the wide world. I say it recurs again, and it does. So I
practise, and practise to find a cure. And electricity is the cure. I
inoculate five dogs with the virus and I save two by the electric
current. You follow my plans and you go the first stage of the way to
cure Fillingham. Did you bring any of that mucous here?"

Hubert produced it in a tiny glass tube. For a little time Label
examined it under his microscope. He wanted to make assurance doubly
sure.

"It is the same thing," he said presently. "I knew that it was bound
to recur again. Why, it is planted all over our big cities. And
electricity is the only way to get rid of it. It was the best method
of dealing with sewage, only corporations found it too expensive.
Wires in the earth charged to say 10,000 volts. Apply this and you
destroy the virus that lies buried under hundreds of houses in London.
They laughed at me when I suggested it years ago."

"Underground," Hubert asked vaguely.

"Ach, underground, yes. Don't you recollect that in certain parts of
England cancer is more common than in other places? The germs have
been turned up in fields. I, myself, have proved their existence. In a
little time, perhaps. I shall open the eyes of your complacent
Londoners. You live in a paradise, ach Gott! And what was that
paradise like ten years ago? Dreary pools and deserted brickfields.
And how do you fill it up and level it to build houses upon?"

"By the carting of hundreds of thousands of loads of refuse, of
course."

"Ach, I will presently show you what that refuse was and is. Now go
home to bed."

* * * * * Mrs. Fillingham remained in the studio with Hubert whilst
Label was making his examination overhead. The patient had had a bad
night; his symptoms were very grave indeed. Hubert listened more or
less vaguely; his mind had gone beyond the solitary case. He was
dreading what might happen in the future.

"Your husband has a fine constitution," he said soothingly.

"He has overtried it lately," Mrs. Fillingham replied. "At present he
is painting a portrait of the Emperor of Asturia. His Majesty was to
have sat to-day; he spent the morning here yesterday."

But Hubert was paying no attention.

The heavy tread of Label was heard as he floundered down the stairs.
His big voice was booming. What mattered all the portraits in the
world so long as the verdict hung on the German doctor's lips!

"Oh, there is a chance," Label exclaimed. "Just a chance. Everything
possible is being done. This is not so much diphtheria as a new
disease. Diphtheria family, no doubt, but the blood poisoning makes a
difficult thing of it."

Label presently dragged Hubert away after parting with Mrs.
Fillingham. He wanted to find a spot where building or draining was
going on.

They found some men presently engaged in connecting a new house with
the main drainage--a deep cutting some forty yards long by seven or
eight feet deep. There was the usual crust of asphalt on the road,
followed by broken bricks and the like, and a more or less regular
stratum of blue-black rubbish, soft, wet, and clinging, and emitting
an odour that caused Hubert to throw up his head.

"You must have broken into a drain somewhere here," he said.

"We ain't, sir," the foreman of the gang replied. "It's nout but
rubbidge as they made up the road with here ten years ago. Lord knows
where it came from, but it do smell fearful in weather like this."

The odour indeed was stifling. All imaginable kinds of rubbish and
refuse lay under the external beauties of Devonshire Park in strata
ranging from five to forty feet deep. It was little wonder that trees
and flowers flourished here. And here--wet, and dark, and festering--
was a veritable hotbed of disease. Contaminated rags, torn paper, road
siftings, decayed vegetable matter, diseased food, fish and bones all
were represented here.

"Every ounce of this ought to have gone through the destructor," Label
snorted. "But no, it is used for the foundations of a suburban
paradise. My word, we shall see what your paradise will be like
presently. Come along."

Label picked up a square slab of the blue stratum, put it in a tin,
and the tin in his pocket. He was snorting and puffing with contempt.

"Now come to Harley Street with me and I will show you things," he
said.

He was as good as his word. Placed under a microscope, a minute
portion of the subsoil from Devonshire Park proved to be a mass of
living matter. There were at least four kinds of bacillus here that
Hubert had never seen before. With his superior knowledge Label
pointed out the fact that they all existed in the mucous taken from
Fillingham on the previous evening.

"There you are!" He cried excitedly. "You get all that wet sodden
refuse of London and you dump it down here in a heap. You mix with it
a heap of vegetable matter so that fermentation shall have every
chance. Then you cover it over with some soil, and you let it boil,
boil, boil. Then, when millions upon millions of death-dealing
microbes are bred and bred till their virility is beyond the scope of
science, you build good houses on the top of it. For years I have been
prophesying an outbreak of some new disease--or some awful form of an
old one--and here it comes. They called me a crank because I asked for
high electric voltage to kill the plague--to destroy it by lightning.
A couple of high tension wires run into the earth and there you are.
See here."

He took his cube of the reeking earth and applied the battery to it.
The mass showed no outward change. But once under the microscope a
fragment of it demonstrated that there was not the slightest trace of
organic life.

"There!" Label cried. "Behold the remedy. I don't claim that it will
cure in every case, because we hardly touch the diphtheretic side of
the trouble. When there has been a large loss of life we shall learn
the perfect remedy by experience. But this thing is coming, and your
London is going to get a pretty bad scare. You have laid it down like
port wine, and now that the thing is ripe you are going to suffer from
the consequence. I have written articles in the Lancet, I have warned
people, but they take not the slightest heed."

Hubert went back home thoughtfully. He found the nurse who had
Fillingham's case in hand waiting for him in his consulting-room.

"I am just back from my walk," she said. "I wish you would call at Dr.
Walker's at Elm Crescent. He has two cases exactly like Mr.
Fillingham's, and he is utterly puzzled."

Hubert snatched his hat and his electric needles, and hurried away at
once. He found his colleague impatiently waiting for him There were
two children this time in one of the best appointed houses in
Devonshire Park, suffering precisely as Fillingham had done. In each
instance the electric treatment gave the desired result. Hubert
hastily explained the whole matter to Walker.

"It's an awful business," the latter said, "Personally, I have a great
respect for Label, and I feel convinced that he is right. If this
thing spreads, property in Devonshire Park won't be worth the price of
slum lodgings." By mid-day nineteen cases of the so-called diphtheria
had been notified within the three miles area known as Devonshire
Park. Evidently some recent excavations had liberated the deadly
microbe. But there was no scare as yet. Label came down again hotfoot
with as many assistants as he could get, and took up his quarters with
Hubert. They were going to have a busy time.

It was after two before Hubert managed to run across to Fillingham's
again. He stood in the studio waiting for Mrs. Fillingham. His mind
was preoccupied and uneasy, yet he seemed to miss something from the
studio. It was strange, considering that he had only been in the room
twice before.

"Are you looking for anything?" Mrs. Fillingham asked.

"I don't know," Hubert exclaimed. "I seem to miss something. I've got
it--the absence of the uniform."

"They sent for it," Mrs. Fillingham said vaguely. She was dazed for
want of sleep. "The Emperor had to go to some function, and that was
the only uniform of the kind he happened to have. He was to have gone
away in it after his sitting to-day. My husband persuaded him to leave
it when it was here yesterday, and---"

Hubert had cried out suddenly as if in pain.

"He was here yesterday--here, with your husband, and your husband with
the diphtheria on him?"

Then the weary wife understood.

"Good heavens--"

But Hubert was already out of the room. He blundered on until he came
to a hansom cab creeping along in the sunshine.

"Buckingham Palace," he gasped. "Drive like mad. A five-pound note for
you if you get me there by three o'clock!"

* * * * *

Already Devonshire Park was beginning to be talked about. It was
wonderful how the daily press got to the root of things. Hubert caught
sight of more than one contents bill as he drove home that alluded to
the strange epidemic.

Dr. Label joined Hubert presently in Mrs. Fillingham's home, rubbing
his huge hands together. He knew nothing of the new dramatic
developments. He asked where Hubert had been spending his time.

"Trying to save the life of your friend, the Emperor of Asturia,"
Hubert said. "He was here yesterday with Fillingham, and, though he
seems well enough at present, he may have the disease on him now. What
do you think of that?"

Hubert waited to see the great man stagger before the blow. Label
smiled and nodded as he proceeded to light a cigarette.

"Good job too," he said. "I am honorary physician to the court of
Asturia. I go back, there, as you know, when I finish my great work
here. The Emperor I have brought through four or five illnesses, and
if anything is wrong he always sends for me."

"But he might get the awful form of diphtheria!"

"Very likely," Label said coolly. "All these things are in the hands
of Providence. I know that man's constitution to a hair, and if he
gets the disease I shall pull him through for certain. I should like
him to have it."

"In the name of all that is practical, why?"

"To startle the public," Label cried. He was mounted on his hobby now.
He paced up and down the room in a whirl of tobacco smoke. "It would
bring the matter home to everybody. Then perhaps something will be
done. I preach and preach in vain. Only the Lancet backs me up at all.
Many times I have asked for a quarter of a million of money, so that I
can found a school for the electrical treatment of germ diseases. I
want to destroy all malaria. All dirt in bulk, every bit of refuse
that is likely to breed fever and the like, should be treated by
electricity. I would take huge masses of deadly scourge and mountains
of garbage, and render them innocent by the electric current. But no;
that costs money, and your poverty-stricken Government cannot afford
it. Given a current of 10,000 volts a year or two ago, and I could
have rendered this one of the healthiest places in England. You only
wanted to run those high voltage wires into the earth here and there,
and behold the millions are slain, wiped out, gone for ever. Perhaps I
will get it now."

* * * * *

London was beginning to get uneasy. There had been outbreaks before,
but they were of the normal type. People, for instance, are not so
frightened of smallpox as they used to be. Modern science has learnt
to grapple with the fell disease and rob it of half its terrors. But
this new and virulent form of diphtheria was another matter.

Hubert sat over his dinner that night, making mental calculations.
There were nearly a thousand houses of varying sizes in Devonshire
Park. Would it be necessary to abandon these? He took down a large
scale map of London, and hastily marked in blue pencil those areas
which had developed rapidly of recent years. In nearly all of these a
vast amount of artificial ground had been necessary. Hubert was
appalled as he calculated the number of jerry-built erections in these
districts.

A servant came in and laid The Evening Wire upon the table. Hubert
glanced at it. Nothing had been lost in the way of sensation. The
story of the Emperor's visit to the district had been given great
prominence. An inquiry at Buckingham Palace had elicited the fact that
the story was true.

Well, perhaps no harm would come of it. Hubert finished a cigar and
prepared to go out. As he flung the paper aside a paragraph in the
stop press column--a solitary paragraph like an inky island in a sea
of white--caught his eye.

"No alarm need be experienced as to the danger encountered by the
Emperor of Asturia, but we are informed that His Majesty is prevented
from dining at Marlborough House to-night owing to a slight cold and
sore throat caught, it is stated, in the draughts at Charing Cross
Station. The Emperor will go down to Cowes as arranged to-morrow."

Hubert shook his head doubtfully. The slight cold and sore throat were
ominous. His mind dwelt upon the shadow of trouble as he made his way
to the hospital. There had been two fresh cases during the evening and
the medical staff were looking anxious and worried. They wanted
assistance badly, and Hubert gave his to the full.

It was nearly eleven before Hubert staggered home. In the main
business street of the suburb a news-shop was still open.

A flaming placard attracted the doctor's attention. It struck him like
a blow.

"Alarming illness of the Asturian Emperor. His Majesty stricken down
by the new disease. Latest bulletin from Buckingham Palace."

Almost mechanically Hubert bought a paper. There was not much beyond
the curt information that the Emperor was dangerously ill.

Arrived home Hubert found a telegram awaiting him. He tore it open.
The message was brief but to the point.

"Have been called in to Buckingham Palace, Label's diphtheria certain.
Shall try and see you to-morrow morning. Label."

London was touched deeply and sincerely. A great sovereign had come
over here in the most friendly fashion to show his good feeling for a
kindred race. On the very start of a round of pleasure he had been
stricken down like this.

The public knew all the details from the progress of that fateful
uniform to the thrilling eight o'clock bulletin when the life of
Rudolph III was declared to be in great danger. They knew that Dr.
Label had been sent for post haste. The big German was no longer
looked upon as a clever crank, but the one man who might be able to
save London from a terrible scourge. And from lip to lip went the news
that over two hundred cases of the new disease had now broken out in
Devonshire Park.

People knew pretty well what it was and what was the cause now.
Label's warning had come home with a force that nobody had expected.
He had stolen away quite late for half-an-hour to his own house and
there had been quite free with the pressmen. He extenuated nothing.
The thing was bad, and it was going to be worse. So far as he could
see, something of this kind w as inevitable. If Londoners were so
blind as to build houses on teeming heaps of filth, why, London must
be prepared to take the consequences.

Hubert knew nothing of this. He had fallen back utterly exhausted in
his chair with the idea of taking a short rest--for nearly three hours
he had been fast asleep. Somebody was shaking him roughly. He
struggled back to the consciousness that Label was bending over him.

"Well, you are a nice fellow," the German grumbled.

"I was dead beat and worn out," Hubert said apologetically. "How is
the Emperor?"

"His Majesty is doing as well as I can expect. It is a very bad case,
however. I have left him in competent hands, so that I could run down
here. They were asking for you at the hospital, presuming that you
were busy somewhere. The place is full, and so arc four houses in the
nearest terrace."

"Spreading like that?" Hubert exclaimed.

"Spreading like that! By this time tomorrow we shall have a thousand
cases on our hands. The authorities are doing everything they can to
help us, fresh doctors and nurses and stores are coming in all the
time."

"You turn people out of their houses to make way then?"

Label smiled grimly. He laid his hand on Hubert's shoulder, and
piloted him into the roadway. The place seemed to be alive with cabs
and vehicles of all kinds. It was as if all the inhabitants of
Devonshire Park were going away for their summer holidays
simultaneously. The electric arcs shone down on white and frightened
faces where joyous gaiety should have been. Here and there a child
slept peacefully, but on the whole it was a sorry exodus.

"There you are," Label said grimly. "It is a night flight from the
plague. It has been going on for hours. It would have been finished
now but for the difficulty in getting conveyances. Most of the cabmen
are avoiding the place as if it were accursed. But money can command
everything, hence the scene that you see before you."

Hubert stood silently watching the procession. There was very little
luggage on any of the cabs or conveyances. Families were going
wholesale. Devonshire Park for the most part was an exceedingly
prosperous district, so that the difficulties of emigration were not
great. In their panic the people were abandoning everything in the
wild flight for life and safety.

Then he went in again to rest before the unknown labours of to-morrow.
Next morning he anxiously opened his morning paper.

It was not particularly pleasant reading beyond the information that
the health of the Emperor of Asturia was mentioned, and that he had
passed a satisfactory night. As to the rest, the plague was spreading.
There were two hundred and fifty cases in Devonshire Park. Label's
sayings had come true at last; it was a fearful vindication of his
prophecy. And the worst of it was that no man could possibly say where
it was going to end.

* * * * *

Strange as it may seem, London's anxiety as to the welfare of one man
blinded all to the great common danger. For the moment Devonshire Park
was forgotten. The one centre of vivid interest was Buckingham Palace.

For three days crowds collected there until at length Label and his
colleagues were in a position to issue a bulletin that gave something
more than hope. The Emperor of Asturia was going to recover. Label was
not the kind of man to say so unless he was pretty sure of his ground.

It was not till this fact had soaked itself into the public mind that
attention was fully turned to the danger that threatened London.
Devonshire Park was practically in quarantine. All those who could get
away had done so, and those who had remained were confined to their
own particular district, and provisioned on a system. The new plague
was spreading fast.

In more than one quarter the suggestion was made that all houses in
certain localities should be destroyed, and the ground thoroughly
cleansed and disinfected. It would mean a loss of millions of money,
but in the scare of the moment London cared nothing for that.

At the end of a week there were seven thousand cases of the new form
of diphtheria under treatment. Over one thousand cases a day came in.
Devonshire Park was practically deserted save for the poorer quarters,
whence the victims came. It seemed strange to see fine houses
abandoned to the first comer who had the hardihood to enter.
Devonshire Park was a stricken kingdom within itself, and the Commune
of terror reigned.

Enterprising journalists penetrated the barred area and wrote articles
about it. One of the fraternity bolder than the rest passed a day and
night in one of these deserted palatial residences, and gave his
sensations to the Press. Within a few hours most of the villas were
inhabited again! There were scores of men and women in the slums who
have not the slightest fear of disease--they are too familiar with it
for that--and they came creeping westward in search of shelter. The
smiling paradise had become a kind of Tom Tiddlers ground, a huge
estate in Chancery.

Nobody had troubled, the tenants were busy finding pure quarters
elsewhere, the owners of the property were fighting public opinion to
save what in many cases was their sole source of income. If Devonshire
Park had to be razed to the ground many a wealthy man would be ruined.

It was nearly the end of the first week before this abnormal state of
affairs was fully brought home to Hubert. He had been harassed and
worried and worn by want of sleep, but tired as he was he did not fail
to notice the number of poorer patients who dribbled regularly into
the terrace of houses that now formed the hospital. There was
something about them that suggested any district rather than
Devonshire Park.

"What does it mean, Walker?" he asked one of his doctors.

Walker had just come in from his hour's exercise, heated and excited.

"It's a perfect scandal," he cried. "The police are fighting shy of us
altogether. I've just been up to the station and they tell me it is a
difficult matter to keep competent of officers in the district. All
along Frinton Hill and Eversley Gardens the houses are crowded with
outcasts. They have drifted here from the East End and are making some
of those splendid residences impossible."

Hubert struggled into his hat and coat, and went out. It was exactly
as Walker had said. Here was a fine residence with stables and
greenhouses and the like, actually occupied by Whitechapel at its
worst. A group of dingy children played on the lawn, and a woman with
the accumulated grime of weeks on her face was hanging something that
passed for washing out of an upper window. The flower beds were
trampled down, a couple of attenuated donkeys browsed on the lawn.

Hubert strolled up to the house fuming. Two men were sprawling on a
couple of morocco chairs smoking filthy pipes. They looked up at the
newcomer with languid curiosity. They appeared quite to appreciate the
fact that they were absolutely masters of the situation.

"What are you doing here?" Hubert demanded.

"If you're the owner well and good," was the reply. "If not, you take
an' 'ook it. We know which side our bread's buttered."

There was nothing for it but to accept this philosophical suggestion.
Hubert swallowed his rising indignation and departed. There were other
evidences of the ragged invasion as he went down the road. Here and
there a house was closed and the blinds down; but it was an exception
rather than the rule.

Hubert walked away till he could find a cab, and was driven off to
Scotland Yard in a state of indignation. The view of the matter rather
startled the officials there.

"We have been so busy," the Chief Inspector said; "but the matter
shall be attended to. Dr. Label was here yesterday, and at his
suggestion we are having the whole force electrically treated--a kind
of electrical hardening of the throat. The doctor claims that his
recent treatment is as efficacious against the diphtheria as
vaccination is against smallpox. It is in all the papers to-day. All
London will be going mad over the new remedy to-morrow."

Hubert nodded thoughtfully. The electric treatment seemed the right
thing. Label had shown him what an effect the application of the
current had had on the teeming mass of matter taken from the road
cutting. He thought it over until he fell asleep in his cab on the way
back to his weary labours.

* * * * *

London raged for the new remedy. The electric treatment for throat
troubles is no new thing. In this case it was simple and painless, and
it had been guaranteed by one of the popular heroes of the hour. A
week before Label had been regarded as a crank and a faddist; now
people were ready to swear by him. Had he not prophesied this vile
disease for years, and was he not the only man who had a remedy? And
the Emperor of Asturia was mending rapidly.

Had Label bidden the people to stand on their heads for an hour a day
as a sovereign specific they would have done so gladly. Every private
doctor and every public institution was worked to death. At the end of
ten days practically all London had been treated. There was nothing
for it now but to wait patiently for the result.

Another week passed and then suddenly the inrush of cases began to
drop. The average at the end of the second week was down to eighty per
day. On the seventeenth and eighteenth days there were only four cases
altogether and in each instance they proved to be patients who had not
submitted themselves to the treatment.

The scourge was over. Two days elapsed and there were no fresh cases
whatever. Some time before a strong posse of police had swamped down
upon Devonshire Park and cleared all the slum people out of their
luxurious quarters. One or two of the bolder dwellers in that once
favoured locality began to creep back. Now that they were inoculated
there seemed little to fear.

But Label had something to say about that. He felt that he was free to
act now, he had his royal patient practically off his hands. A strong
Royal Commission had been appointed by Parliament to go at once
thoroughly into the matter.

"And I am the first witness called," he chuckled to Hubert as the
latter sat with the great German smoking a well-earned cigar. "I shall
be able to tell a few things."

He shook his big head and smiled. The exertion of the last few weeks
did not seem to have told upon him in the slightest.

"I also have been summoned," Hubert said. "But you don't suggest that
those fine houses should be destroyed?"

"I don't suggest anything. I am going to confine myself to facts. One
of your patent medicine advertisements says that electricity is life.
Never was a truer word spoken. What has saved London from a great
scourge? Electricity. What kills this new disease and renders it
powerless? Electricity. And what is the great agent to fight dirt and
filth with whenever it exists in great quantities? Always electricity.
It has not been done before on the ground of expense, and look at the
consequences. In one way and another it will cost London 2,000,000 to
settle this matter. It was only a little over a third of that I asked
for. Wait till you hear me talk!"

* * * * *

Naturally the greatest interest was taken in the early sittings of the
Commission. A somewhat pompous chairman was prepared to exploit Label
for his own gratification and self-glory. But the big German would
have none of it. From the very first he dominated the Committee, he
would give his evidence in his own way, he would speak of facts as he
found them. And, after all, he was the only man there who had any
practical knowledge of the subject of the inquiry.

"You would destroy the houses?" an interested member asked.

"Nothing of the kind," Label growled. "Not so much as a single pig-
sty. If you ask me what electricity is I cannot tell you. It is a
force in nature that as yet we don't understand. Originally it was
employed as a destroyer of sewage, but it was abandoned as too
expensive. You are the richest country in the world, and one of the
most densely populated. Yet you are covering the land with jerry-built
houses, the drainages of which will frequently want looking to. And
your only way of discovering this is when a bad epidemic breaks out.
Everything is too expensive. You will be a jerry-built people in a
jerry-built empire. And your local authorities adopt some cheap system
and then smile at the ratepayers and call for applause. Electricity
will save all danger. It is dear at first, but it is far cheaper in
the long run."

"If you will be so good as to get to the point," the chairman
suggested.

Label smiled pityingly. He was like a schoolmaster addressing a form
of little boys.

"The remedy is simple," he said. "I propose to have a couple of 10,000
volts wires discharging their current into the ground here and there
over the affected area. Inoculation against the trouble is all very
well, but it is not permanent and there is always danger whilst the
source of it remains. I propose to remove the evil. Don't ask me what
the process is, don't ask me what wonderful action takes place. All I
know is that some marvellous agency gets to work and that a huge mound
of live disease is rendered safe and innocent as pure water. And I
want these things now, I don't want long sittings and reports and
discussions. Let me work the cure and you can have all the talking and
sittings you like afterwards."

Label got his own way, he would have got anything he liked at that
moment. London was quiet and humble and in a mood to be generous.

* * * * *

Label stood over the cutting whence he had procured the original
specimen of all the mischief. He was a little quiet and subdued, but
his eyes shone and his hand was a trifle unsteady. His fingers
trembled as he took up a fragment of the blue grey stratum and broke
it up.

"Marvellous mystery," he cried. "We placed the wires in the earth and
that great, silent, powerful servant has done the rest. Underground
the current radiates, and, as it radiates, the source of the disease
grows less and less until it ceases to be altogether. Only try this in
the tainted areas of all towns and in a short time disease of all
kinds would cease for ever."

"You are sure that stuff is wholesome, now?" Hubert asked.

"My future on it," Label cried. "Wait till we get it under the
microscope. I am absolutely confident that I am correct."

And he was.



THE END



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