Chapter XXXIII. The Sex Control
 

I did not see Kennedy again that day until late in the afternoon, when he came into the laboratory carrying a small package.

"Theory is one thing, practice is another," he remarked, as he threw his hat and coat into a chair.

"Which means--in this case?" I prompted.

"Why, I have just seen Atherton. Of course I didn't repeat our conversation of this morning, and I'm glad I didn't. He almost makes me think you are right, Walter. He's obsessed by the fear of Burroughs. Why, he even told me that Burroughs had gone so far as to take a leaf out of his book, so to speak, get in touch with the Eugenics Bureau as if to follow his footsteps, but really to pump them about Atherton himself. Atherton says it's all Burroughs' plan to break his will and that the fellow has even gone so far as to cultivate the acquaintance of Maude Schofield, knowing that he will get no sympathy from Crafts."

"First it was Edith Atherton, now it is Maude Schofield that he hitches up with Burroughs," I commented. "Seems to me that I have heard that one of the first signs of insanity is belief that everyone about the victim is conspiring against him. I haven't any love for any of them--but I must be fair."

"Well," said Kennedy, unwrapping the package, "there is this much to it. Atherton says Burroughs and Maude Schofield have been seen together more than once--and not at intellectual gatherings either. Burroughs is a fascinating fellow to a woman, if he wants to be, and the Schofields are at least the social equals of the Burroughs. Besides," he added, "in spite of eugenics, feminism, and all the rest--sex, like murder, will out. There's no use having any false ideas about that. Atherton may see red--but, then, he was quite excited."

"Over what?" I asked, perplexed more than ever at the turn of events.

"He called me up in the first place. 'Can't you do something?' he implored. 'Eugenia is getting worse all the time.' She is, too. I saw her for a moment, and she was even more vacant than yesterday."

The thought of the poor girl in the big house somehow brought over me again my first impression of Poe's story.

Kennedy had unwrapped the package which proved to be the instrument he had left in the closet at Atherton's. It was, as I had observed, like an ordinary wax cylinder phonograph record.

"You see," explained Kennedy, "it is nothing more than a successful application at last of, say, one of those phonographs you have seen in offices for taking dictation, placed so that the feebler vibrations of the telephone affect it. Let us see what we have here."

He had attached the cylinder to an ordinary phonograph, and after a number of routine calls had been run off, he came to this, in voices which we could only guess at but not recognize, for no names were used.

"How is she to-day?"

"Not much changed--perhaps not so well."

"It's all right, though. That is natural. It is working well. I think you might increase the dose, one tablet."

"You're sure it is all right?" (with anxiety).

"Oh, positively--it has been done in Europe."

"I hope so. It must be a boy--and an Atherton?"

"Never fear."

That was all. Who was it? The voices were unfamiliar to me, especially when repeated mechanically. Besides they may have been disguised. At any rate we had learned something. Some one was trying to control the sex of the expected Atherton heir. But that was about all. Who it was, we knew no better, apparently, than before.

Kennedy did not seem to care much, however. Quickly he got Quincy Atherton on the wire and arranged for Atherton to have Dr. Crafts meet us at the house at eight o'clock that night, with Maude Schofield. Then he asked that Burroughs Atherton be there, and of course, Edith and Eugenia.

We arrived almost as the clock was striking, Kennedy carrying the phonograph record and another blank record, and a boy tugging along the machine itself. Dr. Crafts was the next to appear, expressing surprise at meeting us, and I thought a bit annoyed, for he mentioned that it had been with reluctance that he had had to give up some work he had planned for the evening. Maude Schofield, who came with him, looked bored. Knowing that she disapproved of the match with Eugenia, I was not surprised. Burroughs arrived, not as late as I had expected, but almost insultingly supercilious at finding so many strangers at what Atherton had told him was to be a family conference, in order to get him to come. Last of all Edith Atherton descended the staircase, the personification of dignity, bowing to each with a studied graciousness, as if distributing largess, but greeting Burroughs with an air that plainly showed how much thicker was blood than water. Eugenia remained upstairs, lethargic, almost cataleptic, as Atherton told us when we arrived.

"I trust you are not going to keep us long, Quincy," yawned Burroughs, looking ostentatiously at his watch.

"Only long enough for Professor Kennedy to say a few words about Eugenia," replied Atherton nervously, bowing to Kennedy.

Kennedy cleared his throat slowly.

"I don't know that I have much to say," began Kennedy, still seated. "I suppose Mr. Atherton has told you I have been much interested in the peculiar state of health of Mrs. Atherton?"

No one spoke, and he went on easily: "There is something I might say, however, about the--er--what I call the chemistry of insanity. Among the present wonders of science, as you doubtless know, none stirs the imagination so powerfully as the doctrine that at least some forms of insanity are the result of chemical changes in the blood. For instance, ill temper, intoxication, many things are due to chemical changes in the blood acting on the brain.

"Go further back. Take typhoid fever with its delirium, influenza with its suicide mania. All due to toxins--poisons. Chemistry-- chemistry--all of them chemistry."

Craig had begun carefully so as to win their attention. He had it as he went on: "Do we not brew within ourselves poisons which enter the circulation and pervade the system? A sudden emotion upsets the chemistry of the body. Or poisonous food. Or a drug. It affects many things. But we could never have had this chemical theory unless we had had physiological chemistry--and some carry it so far as to say that the brain secretes thought, just as the liver secretes bile, that thoughts are the results of molecular changes."

"You are, then, a materialist of the most pronounced type," asserted Dr. Crafts.

Kennedy had been reaching over to a table, toying with the phonograph. As Crafts spoke he moved a key, and I suspected that it was in order to catch the words.

"Not entirely," he said. "No more than some eugenists."

"In our field," put in Maude Schofield, "I might express the thought this way--the sociologist has had his day; now it is the biologist, the eugenist."

"That expresses it," commented Kennedy, still tinkering with the record. "Yet it does not mean that because we have new ideas, they abolish the old. Often they only explain, amplify, supplement. For instance," he said, looking up at Edith Atherton, "take heredity. Our knowledge seems new, but is it? Marriages have always been dictated by a sort of eugenics. Society is founded on that."

"Precisely," she answered. "The best families have always married into the best families. These modern notions simply recognize what the best people have always thought--except that it seems to me," she added with a sarcastic flourish, "people of no ancestry are trying to force themselves in among their betters."

"Very true, Edith," drawled Burroughs, "but we did not have to be brought here by Quincy to learn that."

Quincy Atherton had risen during the discussion and had approached Kennedy. Craig continued to finger the phonograph abstractedly, as he looked up.

"About this--this insanity theory," he whispered eagerly. "You think that the suspicions I had have been justified?"

I had been watching Kennedy's hand. As soon as Atherton had started to speak, I saw that Craig, as before, had moved the key, evidently registering what he said, as he had in the case of the others during the discussion.

"One moment, Atherton," he whispered in reply, "I'm coming to that. Now," he resumed aloud, "there is a disease, or a number of diseases, to which my remarks about insanity a while ago might apply very well. They have been known for some time to arise from various affections of the thyroid glands in the neck. These glands, strange to say, if acted on in certain ways can cause degenerations of mind and body, which are well known, but in spite of much study are still very little understood. For example, there is a definite interrelation between them and sex--especially in woman."

Rapidly he sketched what he had already told me of the thyroid and the hormones. "These hormones," added Kennedy, "are closely related to many reactions in the body, such as even the mother's secretion of milk at the proper time and then only. That and many other functions are due to the presence and character of these chemical secretions from the thyroid and other ductless glands. It is a fascinating study. For we know that anything that will upset- -reduce or increase--the hormones is a matter intimately concerned with health. Such changes," he said earnestly, leaning forward, "might be aimed directly at the very heart of what otherwise would be a true eugenic marriage. It is even possible that loss of sex itself might be made to follow deep changes of the thyroid."

He stopped a moment. Even if he had accomplished nothing else he had struck a note which had caused the Athertons to forget their former superciliousness.

"If there is an oversupply of thyroid hormones," continued Craig, "that excess will produce many changes, for instance a condition very much like exophthalmic goiter. And," he said, straightening up, "I find that Eugenia Atherton has within her blood an undue proportion of these thyroid hormones. Now, is it overfunction of the glands, hyper-secretion--or is it something else?"

No one moved as Kennedy skillfully led his disclosure along step by step.

"That question," he began again slowly, shifting his position in the chair, "raises in my mind, at least, a question which has often occurred to me before. Is it possible for a person, taking advantage of the scientific knowledge we have gained, to devise and successfully execute a murder without fear of discovery? In other words, can a person be removed with that technical nicety of detail which will leave no clue and will be set down as something entirely natural, though unfortunate?"

It was a terrible idea he was framing, and he dwelt on it so that we might accept it at its full value. "As one doctor has said," he added, "although toxicologists and chemists have not always possessed infallible tests for practical use, it is at present a pretty certain observation that every poison leaves its mark. But then on the other hand, students of criminology have said that a skilled physician or surgeon is about the only person now capable of carrying out a really scientific murder.

"Which is true? It seems to me, at least in the latter case, that the very nicety of the handiwork must often serve as a clue in itself. The trained hand leaves the peculiar mark characteristic of its training. No matter how shrewdly the deed is planned, the execution of it is daily becoming a more and more difficult feat, thanks to our increasing knowledge of microbiology and pathology."

He had risen, as he finished the sentence, every eye fixed on him, as if he had been a master hypnotist.

"Perhaps," he said, taking off the cylinder from the phonograph and placing on one which I knew was that which had lain in the library closet over night, "perhaps some of the things I have said will explain or be explained by the record on this cylinder."

He had started the machine. So magical was the effect on the little audience that I am tempted to repeat what I had already heard, but had not myself yet been able to explain:

"How is she to-day?"

"Not much changed--perhaps not so well."

"It's all right, though. That is natural. It is working well. I think you might increase the dose one tablet."

"You're sure it is all right?"

"Oh, positively--it has been done in Europe."

"I hope so. It must be a boy--and an Atherton."

"Never fear."

No one moved a muscle. If there was anyone in the room guilty of playing on the feelings and the health of an unfortunate woman, that person must have had superb control of his own feelings.

"As you know," resumed Kennedy thoughtfully, "there are and have been many theories of sex control. One of the latest, but by no means the only one, is that it can be done by use of the extracts of various glands administered to the mother. I do not know with what scientific authority it was stated, but I do know that some one has recently said that adrenalin, derived from the suprarenal glands, induces boys to develop--cholin, from the bile of the liver, girls. It makes no difference--in this case. There may have been a show of science. But it was to cover up a crime. Some one has been administering to Eugenia Atherton tablets of thyroid extract--ostensibly to aid her in fulfilling the dearest ambition of her soul--to become the mother of a new line of Athertons which might bear the same relation to the future of the country as the great family of the Edwards mothered by Elizabeth Tuttle."

He was bending over the two phonograph cylinders now, rapidly comparing the new one which he had made and that which he had just allowed to reel off its astounding revelation.

"When a voice speaks into a phonograph," he said, half to himself, "its modulations received on the diaphragm are written by a needle point upon the surface of a cylinder or disk in a series of fine waving or zigzag lines of infinitely varying depth or breadth. Dr. Marage and others have been able to distinguish vocal sounds by the naked eye on phonograph records. Mr. Edison has studied them with the microscope in his world-wide search for the perfect voice.

"In fact, now it is possible to identify voices by the records they make, to get at the precise meaning of each slightest variation of the lines with mathematical accuracy. They can no more be falsified than handwriting can be forged so that modern science cannot detect it or than typewriting can be concealed and attributed to another machine. The voice is like a finger print, a portrait parle--unescapable."

He glanced up, then back again. "This microscope shows me," he said, "that the voices on that cylinder you heard are identical with two on this record which I have just made in this room."

"Walter," he said, motioning to me, "look."

I glanced into the eyepiece and saw a series of lines and curves, peculiar waves lapping together and making an appearance in some spots almost like tooth marks. Although I did not understand the details of the thing, I could readily see that by study one might learn as much about it as about loops, whorls, and arches on finger tips.

"The upper and lower lines," he explained, "with long regular waves, on that highly magnified section of the record, are formed by the voice with no overtones. The three lines in the middle, with rhythmic ripples, show the overtones."

He paused a moment and faced us. "Many a person," he resumed, "is a biotype in whom a full complement of what are called inhibitions never develops. That is part of your eugenics. Throughout life, and in spite of the best of training, that person reacts now and then to a certain stimulus directly. A man stands high; once a year he falls with a lethal quantity of alcohol. A woman, brilliant, accomplished, slips away and spends a day with a lover as unlike herself as can be imagined.

"The voice that interests me most on these records," he went on, emphasizing the words with one of the cylinders which he still held, "is that of a person who has been working on the family pride of another. That person has persuaded the other to administer to Eugenia an extract because 'it must be a boy and an Atherton.' That person is a high-class defective, born with a criminal instinct, reacting to it in an artful way. Thank God, the love of a man whom theoretical eugenics condemned, roused us in--"

A cry at the door brought us all to our feet, with hearts thumping as if they were bursting.

It was Eugenia Atherton, wild-eyed, erect, staring.

I stood aghast at the vision. Was she really to be the Lady Madeline in this fall of the House of Atherton?

"Edith--I--I missed you. I heard voices. Is--is it true--what this man--says? Is my--my baby--"

Quincy Atherton leaped forward and caught her as she reeled. Quickly Craig threw open a window for air, and as he did so leaned far out and blew shrilly on a police whistle.

The young man looked up from Eugenia, over whom he was bending, scarcely heeding what else went on about him. Still, there was no trace of anger on his face, in spite of the great wrong that had been done him. There was room for only one great emotion--only anxiety for the poor girl who had suffered so cruelly merely for taking his name.

Kennedy saw the unspoken question in his eyes.

"Eugenia is a pure normal, as Dr. Crafts told you," he said gently. "A few weeks, perhaps only days, of treatment--the thyroid will revert to its normal state--and Eugenia Gilman will be the mother of a new house of Atherton which may eclipse even the proud record of the founder of the old."

"Who blew the whistle?" demanded a gruff voice at the door, as a tall bluecoat puffed past the scandalized butler.

"Arrest that woman," pointed Kennedy. "She is the poisoner. Either as wife of Burroughs, whom she fascinates and controls as she does Edith, she planned to break the will of Quincy or, in the other event, to administer the fortune as head of the Eugenics Foundation after the death of Dr. Crafts, who would have followed Eugenia and Quincy Atherton."

I followed the direction of Kennedy's accusing finger. Maude Schofield's face betrayed more than even her tongue could have confessed.