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   Chapter 17 CLUTTERBUCK'S ODD BEHAVIOUR

The Blue Germ By Maurice Nicoll Characters: 4175

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Scarcely had the Home Secretary departed when my maid announced that a patient was waiting to see me in my study.

I left Sarakoff sitting tranquilly in the waiting-room and entered the study. A grave, precise, clean-shaven man was standing by the window. He turned as I entered. It was Mr. Clutterbuck.

"So you are Dr. Harden!" he exclaimed.

He stopped and looked confused.

"Yes," I said; "please sit down, Mr. Clutterbuck."

He did so, twisting his hat awkwardly and gazing at the floor.

"I owe you an apology," he said at length. "I came to consult you, little expecting to find that it was you after all-that you were Dr. Harden. I must apologize for my rudeness to you in the tea-shop, but what you said was so extraordinary ... you could not expect me to believe."

He glanced at me, and then looked away. There was a dull flush on his face.

"Please do not apologize. What did you wish to consult me about?"

"About my wife."

"Is she worse?"

"No." He dropped his hat, recovered it, and finally set it upon a corner of the table. "No, she is not worse. In fact, she is the reverse. She is better."

I waited, feeling only a mild interest in the cause of his agitation.

"She has got the Blue Disease," he continued, speaking with difficulty. "She got it yesterday and since then she has been much better. Her cough has ceased. She-er-she is wonderfully better." He began to drum with his fingers on his knee, and looked with a vacant gaze at the corner of the room. "Yes, she is certainly better. I was wondering if--"

There was a silence.

"Yes?"

He started and looked at me.

"Why, you've got it, too!" he exclaimed. "How extraordinary! I hadn't noticed it." He got to his feet and went to the window. "I suppose I shall get it next," he muttered.

"Certainly, you'll get it."

He nodded, and continued to stare out of the window. At length he spoke.

"My wife is a woman who has suffered a great deal, Dr. Harden. I have never had enough money to send her to health resorts, and she has always refused to avail herself of any insti

tutional help. For the last year she has been confined to a room on the top floor of our house-a nice, pleasant room-and it has been an understood thing between Dr. Sykes and myself that her malady was to be given a convenient name. In fact, we have called it a weak heart. You understand, of course."

"Perfectly."

"I have always been led to expect that the end was inevitable," he continued, speaking with sudden rapidity. "Under such circumstances I made certain plans. I am a careful man, Dr. Harden, and I look ahead and lay my plans." He stopped abruptly and turned to face me. "Is there any truth in what you told me the other day?"

I nodded. A curiously haggard expression came over him. He stepped swiftly towards me and caught my arm.

"Does the germ cure disease?"

"Of course. Your wife is now immortal. You need not be alarmed, Mr. Clutterbuck. She is immortal. Before her lies a future absolutely free from suffering. She will rapidly regain her normal health and strength. Provided she avoids accidents, your wife will live for ever."

"My wife will live forever?" he repeated hoarsely. "Then what will happen to me?"

"You, too, will live for ever," I said calmly. "Please do not grasp my arm so violently."

He drew back. He was extremely pale, and there were beads of perspiration on his brow.

"Are you married?" he asked.

"No."

"Have you any idea what all this means to me if what you say is true?" he exclaimed. He drew his hand across his eyes. "I am mad to believe you for an instant. But she is better-there is no denying that. Good God, if it is true, what a tragedy you have made of human lives!"

He remained standing in the middle of the room, and I, not comprehending, gazed at him. Then, of a sudden, he picked up his hat, and muttering something, dashed out and vanished.

I heard the front door bang. Perfectly calm and undisturbed, I rejoined Sarakoff in the waiting-room. The incident of Mr. Clutterbuck passed totally from my mind, and I began to reflect on certain problems arising out of the visit of the Home Secretary.

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