Chapter XXVI.

23 Jun

When the doctor returned from his medical rounds, Ranid made a direct inquiry of him on the veranda of Sural’s cabin. The reply came at once from their host.

“I can truthfully inform you that neither I nor anyone else can answer that question. Maybe the mosquitoes are carrying agents of swamp fever, but maybe not. No one has ever studied them for that possibility. How could anyone study the flying dipterans in a scientific manner? I certainly don’t know.”

Ranid smiled with confidence. “I think that I’ll let them practice biting on me,” he confessed.

“You must not try anything risky or dangerous,” frowned the host. “No one can be sure what the results might be.”

Glia opened her mouth as if to speak, but was unable to say anything.

“Do not worry, I will take care of myself,” promised Ranid. “If I locate and identify the causal factor, then a cure for the fever will be all the closer to realization. I am an optimist about success in achieving that.”

A discovery can occur as a sudden, instant stroke when least expected.

An ordinary statement by Glia during the bathing of Ranid in a large tub set him on the trail of a thoughtful explanation.

“I see three insect bites on your back, up near your shoulder,” she observed. “Do they hurt? Do they itch?”

“Don’t touch them,” he instructed her instantly.

“I would imagine that you were attacked by hungry gallinippers,” she told him off-handedly. “Perhaps some rubbing cream or ointment might help you live with those awful bites.”

The suddenly surprised mind of Ranid mulled over the condition just described to him by Glia.

When he was finished bathing and drying himself, he spoke to Glia on the subject she herself had brought up.

“Do you think that an insect like a mosquito could act as contagium of the Blackwater Fever?” he asked her, gazing deeply into her eyes.

She realized how serious this question was for him.

“I can’t say, Ranid, because I don’t know. My knowledge of nature is a limited one. But I know one person who can give us answers on these matters.”

“Who is that?” he eagerly asked his wife.

“Ereth,” she answered. “If we go back to Feretrum, he could tell us all that he knows about gallinippers. I am certain he would want to assist us on such a matter.”

He considered what to do, biting his lower lip.

“I can make the best time there and back if I travel by myself. It can be completed in a few days, at top speed.”

“What will I be doing all alone here?” asked Glia.

He gave her an understanding, sympathetic smile.

“Hold down the fort here, my dear. Keep your eyes open and note down the various characteristics of any new cases of fever that arise. I will go there and return in as short a time as I can make it. My plan is to take samples of the local gallinippers along with me for Ereth to examine and study. He should be able to determine whether my hypothesis about them is true or not.”

She placed her right hand on his.

“My heart and mind will be traveling with you, my dear Ranid. When do you intend to leave for Feretrum?”

“As soon as I have collected enough samples of the flying insects. My hope is that this is not a ridiculous idea I have hatched. If it is, we shall soon find that out.”

Glia, resting in his close embrace, kissed his lips.

“Take care of yourself,” she said. “There is no need to try anything risky.”

He nodded his head once, then picked up the large metallic box containing both dead and live mosquitoes.

In less than half a minute, Ranid was out of sight, making his way down the swamp path on the back of a trail pony he had rented from a swampman.

How is this venture going to end up? he asked himself again and again.

Ranid rode into Feretrum unnoticed. It was an evening of clear, star-filled dark sky. He dismounted and walked directly to the Frog Sump, finding Ereth at home in his small cabin.

The biologist was overjoyed to see that his friend had returned.

“This is a big surprise!” he said with a laugh. “How are you, and how is Glia? Where is she?”

The two men sat down. Ranid explained that he had journeyed here by himself. He then narrated the story of his severe Blackwater Fever and his difficult recovery. Then the traveler launched into his dream of defeating the scourge by searching for the cause in an unexpected direction.

“The concept of contagion resulting from gallinipper bites has captured my mind and imagination. Could the mosquito be the carrier of this dangerous disease? I ask myself a thousand times each day.”

“I have never studied that insect as the cause of any infection,” confessed Ereth. “But it strikes me as an idea worthy of attention and study.” He suddenly, unexpectedly jumped up on his feet. “Let me get some books and manuals that describe these stingers in detail.”

Most of that night, the two of them studied both the volumes and the mosquito samples brought there by Ranid. Short exchanges between them occurred at points of new, surprising interest.

“The entire family to which the gallinippers belong is covered by the name of culicines. Examining these many examples from the Blackwater Swamp, where you fell ill, I have to put these biters down as anophelines. These have the reputation of being aggressive and pesky pests, biting animals as well as human beings. Yes, these insects are known as fierce enemies of our own species. They can cause misery with their bites.”

“But do they infect us with the awful Blackwater Fever?”

Ereth stared at him with a frozen look. “It is an explanation that makes sense, but cannot yet be confirmed. We have to look deeper into the question, and that may take us considerable time.”

“But do we have the time for long, laborious research while the illness is still raging?” inquired an impatient Ranid.

The scientist looked down at the floor as if humiliated. “At times it may be necessary to act before enough knowledge has been found and collected. But I believe that there is already a way of wiping out the anopheline dominance in a swampy region. Their numbers could be greatly reduced today, even before we have scientific proof of their health dangers.”

“How is something like that done?” anxiously asked Ranid.

Ereth opened a large, heavy book and found a page with illustrations. He pointed to a drawing of an odd-looking insect.

“This particular mosquito is a chaoborine, a very interesting one found in only a few areas of Caeclia. It has a special group of unique characteristics and could well hold the key.”

“The key?”

Ereth turned his eyes back to the illustration in the book before him.

“Notice how the insect’s body has only a few scales, unlike the anophelines. The mouth is small and not at all the piercing type most often found in other culicines.

“It is the larvae of the chaoborines that can be of critical importance to us. These strangely colorless creatures are predators. They destroy the larvae and adults of other mosquitoes and other small aquatic insects. Do you see what that means? Can you understand how significant it is?

“If the chaoborines were introduced into an area like the Blackwater Swamp, where they are at the present time unknown, they would soon cause a drastic change in the make-up of the overall mosquito population. A new balance between the species of insects would shortly arise. The number of anophelines would certainly fall precipitously, since they could not fight back against the strong, overpowering invaders, the warlike chaoborines.

“We would be able to measure a precipitous fall in the cases of Blackwater Fever, if your theory about the gallinippers is the correct one, my friend.”

Ranid felt his heart pounding and his lungs working rapidly. His mind was excited with the new prospect just unfolded before him.

“But is what you say practical? Can it be done?” he asked the manager of the Frog Sump.

The biologist clenched his teeth. “With a lot of help, it can be achieved,” he predicted.

Ereth went on to describe a plan of action against the anopheline gallinippers.


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