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THE EXPLOSION

from The Citadel by A. J. Cronin

Adnrew Manson, a young inexperienced doctor, has come to work in a small miners town in Wales. His very first case proves to be typhoid. Andrew is terribly anxious, especially when the disease begins to spread. He is at a loss what to do and turns for advice to Philip Denny, a doctor who has been living in the town for some time.

Andrew gazed at Denny, burning to ask a dozen questions.

"You've got cases too?" he asked anxiously.

"Four! All in the same area as yours," Denny paused. "One day, very soon, we're going to have an outbreak of an epidemic. It's the main sewer that's to blame. It leaks like the devil, and poisons half the wells of the town. I've hammered at the Health Officer about it till I'm tired." His tone was cold and bitter.

"It's shame!" Andrew burst out. "I wish he were here and knew what we know."

Denny shrugged his shoulders, "It's no use."

There was a silence. Andrew got up from his seat at the table and moved towards the door.

"I'm much obliged f or the information. From now on every drop of water in the area is going to be boiled."

"It's the Health Office who ought to be boiled," muttered Denny.

During the weeks that followed Andrew slaved joyfully. He loves his work and counted himself fortunate to have such an opportunity so early in his career. He worked tirelessly with all the fire of his passionate nature. He only wished he could do more.

Then, unexpectedly, Denny rargh imu p." Manson! Can you come to my place at three o'clock? It's important."

Denny received him in silence with a gloomy eye and a darkened forehead. "One of my patients died this morning. I have two new cases of typhoid." He spoke quietly, with a still, cold rage.

"We must write to the Ministry of Health," said Andrew.

"We could write a dozen letters," Denny said bit- terly. "It's a waste of time No! I've thought it all out. There's only one way to make them build a new sewer."

"How?" asked Andrew eagerly.

"Blow up the old one!"

For a second Andrew wondered if Denny had taken leave of his senses. He stared at him in terrified astonishment, then he muttered, "There'll be no end of trouble if it's found out."

Denny glanced up a him, "You needn't come in with me, if you don't want to."

"Oh, I'm coming in with you," Andrew answered slowly. Immediately he wished he had not said those words.

All that afternoon Andrew went about his work regretting the promise he had given. He was a madman, this Denny, who would, sooner or later, get him into serious trouble. It was a terrible thing that he now proposed. If discovered, they might get struck off the Medical Register. Andrew was seized with horror at the thought of his beautiful career suddenly cut short, ruined. He cursed Denny violently, swore a dozen times that he would not go.



Yet, for some strange reason, he would not, could not draw back.

At eleven o'clock that night Denny and he started out in company with Hawkins, Denny's dog, for the main manhole of the sewer.

The two men and the dog moved along the deserted street. In the pocket of his overcoat Denny had six sticks of dynamite. Andrew carried six empty tins, each with a hole in the lid, an electric torch, and a length of fuse.

Immediately they reached the manhole they set to work, raising the rusty iron cover which had not been disturbed for years.

They slipped a stick of dynamite in each tin, cutting fuses and attaching them. One by one the tins were dropped into he ill-smelling depths. In the light of a match Andrew saw Denny's pale hard face, his own shaking hands.

As the last tin went in with its short fuse burning, the dog took it into its head to hunt a rat. They chased the dog and captured it, expecting an explosion beneath their feet. Then swiftly the cover was flung back, and they raced madly up the street.

They had scarcely reached the corner when bang! the first tin exploded.

"By God! We've done it!" exclaimed Andrew.

Then swiftly the explosions followed: two, three, four, five, and the last.

Doors and windows were flung open, people ran out of their houses. In a minute the street was crowded. A party of men set out with lanterns to explore. Under cover of the darkness and the noise Denny and Manson slipped away. Before eight o'clock next morning the Health Officer arrived upon the scene by car, nervous and frightened.

Wiping his forehead he approached Denny who, with Manson, stood amongst the crowd. For a moment Andrew felt uncomfortable.

But it did not enter the Officer's mind to suspect anybody.

"It's a mystery to me how it all happened. We'll have to get that new sewer for you straight off now," was all he said.

NOTES:

1. sewer

2. to be struck off the Medical Register to have no further right to practise as a doctor.

 


Date: 2015-02-16; view: 601


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