The War Terror HTML version
The Vital Principle
"That's the handwriting of a woman--a jealous woman," remarked Kennedy, handing to
me a dainty note on plain paper which had come in the morning mail.
I did not stop to study the writing, for the contents of the letter were more fascinating
than even Kennedy's new science of graphology.
You don't know me [the note read], but I know of your work of scientific investigation.
Let me inform you of something that ought to interest you.
In the Forum Apartments you will find that there is some strange disease affecting the
Wardlaw family. It is a queer disease of the nerves. One is dead. Others are dying.
Look into it.
As I read it I asked myself vainly what it could mean. There was no direct accusation
against any one, yet the implication was plain. A woman had been moved by one of the
primal passions to betray--some one.
I looked up from the note on the table at Craig. He was still studying the handwriting.
"It's that peculiar vertical, angular hand affected by many women," he commented, half to
himself. "Even at a glance you can see that it's written hastily, as if under the stress of
excitement and sudden resolution. You'll notice how those capitals--" The laboratory
door opened, interrupting him.
"Hello, Kennedy," greeted Doctor Leslie, our friend, the coroner's physician, who had
recently been appointed Health Commissioner of the city.
It was the first time we had seen him since the appointment and we hastened to
congratulate him. He thanked us absently, and it was evident that there was something on
his mind, some problem which, in his new office, he felt that he must solve if for no other
purpose than to justify his reputation. Craig said nothing, preferring to let the
commissioner come to the point in his own way.
"Do you know, Kennedy," he said, at length, turning in his chair and facing us, "I believe
we have found one of the strangest cases in the history of the department."
The commissioner paused, then went on, quickly, "It looks as if it were nothing less than
an epidemic of beriberi--not on a ship coming into port as so often happens, but actually
in the heart of the city."