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The Weed Of Madness
by [?]

In my absence Craig had set to work on a peculiar apparatus, as though he were distilling something from several of the other cigarette stubs.

I placed the cat in a basket and watched Craig until finally he seemed to be rewarded for his patient labors. It was well along toward morning when he obtained in a test-tube a few drops of a colorless, almost odorless liquid.

I watched him curiously as he picked the cat out of the basket and held it gently in his arms. With a dropper he sucked up a bit of the liquid from the test-tube. Then he let a small drop fall into the eye of the cat.

The cat blinked a moment and I bent over to observe it more closely. The cat’s eye seemed to enlarge, even under the light, as if it were the proverbial cat’s eye under a bed.

What did it mean? Was there such a thing as the drug of the evil eye?

“What have you found?” I queried.

“Something very much like the so-called ‘weed of madness,’ I think,” he replied slowly.

“The weed of madness?” I repeated.

“Yes, something like that Mexican toloache and the Hindu datura which you must have heard about,” he continued. “You know the jimson weed–the Jamestown weed? It grows almost everywhere in the world, but most thrivingly in the tropics. They are all related in some way, I believe. The jimson weed on the Pacific coast of the Andes has large white flowers which exhale a faint, repulsive odor. It is a harmless looking plant with its thick tangle of leaves, a coarse green growth, with trumpet-shaped flowers. But, to one who knows its properties, it is quite too dangerously convenient.

“I think those cigarettes have been doped,” he went on positively. “It isn’t toloache that was used. I think it must be some particularly virulent variety of the jimson weed. Perhaps it is in the preparation of the thing. The seeds of the stramonium, which is the same thing, contain a higher percentage of poison than the leaves and flowers. Perhaps they were used. I can’t say.”

He took a drop of the liquid he had isolated and added a drop of nitric acid. Then he evaporated it by gentle heat and it left a residue which was slightly yellow.

Next he took from the shelf over his table a bottle marked alcoholic solution, potassium hydrate, and let a drop fall on it. Instantly the residue became a beautiful purple, turning rapidly to violet, then to dark red and finally disappeared.

“Stramonium all right,” he nodded with satisfaction. “That was known as Vitali’s test. Yes, there was stramonium in those cigarettes–datura stramonium–perhaps a trace of hyocyamino. They are all, like atropine, mydriatic alkaloids, so-called from the effect on the eye. One one-hundred-thousandth of a grain will affect the cat’s eye. You saw how it acted. It is more active than even atropine. Better yet, you remember how Don Luis’s eyes looked.”

“How about the Senora?” I put in.

“Oh,” he answered quickly, “her pupils were normal enough. Didn’t you notice that? This concentrated poison which has been used in Mendoza’s cigarettes does not kill, at least not outright. It is worse. Slowly it accumulates in the system. It acts on the brain. Of all the dangers to be met with in superstitious countries, these mydriatic alkaloids are among the worst. They offer a chance for crimes of the most fiendish nature–worse than the gun or the stiletto, and with little fear of detection. It is the production of insanity!”

Horrible though the idea was I could not doubt it in the face of Craig’s investigations and what I had already seen. In fact, it was necessary for me only to recall the peculiar sensations I myself had experienced after smoking merely a few puffs of one of Mendoza’s cigarettes in order to be convinced of the possible effect of the insidious poison contained in the many that he smoked.