This story is copyright © the heirs of E.E. Kellet; I have been unable to locate the copyright owner to arrange the payment of suitable royalties, any information concerning them would be appreciated.
"YES," said Arthur, "I feel very much inclined to try it."
The speaker, Arthur Moore was a man whom I was proud to call my friend. Early in life he had distinguished himself by many wonderful inventions. When a boy he had adorned his bedroom with all sorts of curious mechanical contrivances; pulleys for lifting unheard-of weights; rattraps which, by cunning devices, provided the captured animal with a silent and painless end; locomotives which, when once wound up, would run for a day; and numberless other treasures, which, if hardly useful or even ornamental, had yet the effect of inspiring the housemaid who made the bed with a mortal terror of everything in the room.
As he grew older he lost none of his skill. At the age of fifteen he had successfully emulated most of the feats of Vaucanson; his mechanical ducks gobbled and digested their food so naturally that even the famous scientist, the Rev. Henry Forest, was for a moment taken in. He had been to College, but, after a year of University life, he had wearied of the dull routine, and had begged his father to let him start life on his own account.
His father need have had no fear for the result. Within a year young Moore's automatic chess player, that had played a draw with Steinitz himself, had attracted the awe-struck attention of the civilised world by the simplicity and daring of its mechanism. The chess player was followed in two years by a whist player, still more simply and boldly conceived; and after that time scarcely a year passed without being signalised by the appearance of new wonders from Moore's fertile brain and dexterous hand.
His last achievement had been a phonograph so perfectly constructed that people began to think that even Edison must soon begin to look to his laurels, or he would be eclipsed by the rising fame of this young man of thirty.
I had known him since he was a boy; and had kept my acquaintance with him in spite of the ever-widening difference between our paths and our beliefs. I had chosen the medical profession, and was already a fashionable doctor, pretty well known by the public.
It was just after the new phonograph had appeared that I had with Arthur the memorable and unfortunate conversation which I shall regret to the very end of my life.
"Well," I said, "a new and great success again. You will be one of the greatest benefactors of the century in a few years."
"Yes," he answered, for he had no false modesty. "I believe the phonograph is about as perfect as I can make it. Suppose we listen to it now." He produced the instrument, and I had the pleasure of listening to a speech of Lord Rosebery with the familiar tones and inflections of the great orator reproduced to the life. I could have believed I saw the President before me.
"Wonderful," I said. " It is indeed perfect. What a strange and almost uncanny thing it is! We shall soon have to be very careful what we say; for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter. Fancy what a preventive of crime a phonograph fastened on every lamp-post would be! It would be a kind of Magic Flute, forcing people to tell the truth whether they would or no. Jones might say, 'I said this,' but the phonograph would say 'You said that.' Mere human fallible creatures will soon be banished from the witness box; judges and juries will content themselves with taking the evidence of unerring, unlying phonographs."
"Heaven save us," Moore replied; " all of us say many things that will hardly bear repeating; and if they are all to be recorded how dreadful it would be."
"Yes, you see you are after all but a doubtful benefactor of the human race; it is not everybody, who, like Job, can wish that his words were now written."
"Nor Job himself at all times," he answered; "perhaps he would hardly have wished to have recorded the words he used when he cursed his day."
"In fact," I said, " what is a phonograph after all but a tattling old woman, repeating whatever it hears without discrimination or tact?"
"Exactly, he said; "but with this difference; that the phonograph repeats what it hears without alteration or addition, whereas the old woman repeats it just as it suits her."
At this moment the fatal idea struck me, which now I would give worlds to have forgotten or suppressed before it came to the birth. Alas, we know not the result of our least words.
"Why," I said, "don't you try to make a kind of complement of a phonograph?"
"What do you mean?"
"Why, this. Your phonograph only repeats what it hears. Why not make an instrument which should not repeat words, but speak out the suitable answer to them? If, for instance, I were to say to it ' Good morning; have you used So-and-so's Soap? ' then why should it not answer ' No, I use somebody else's,' instead of merely reiterating my words? At present your machine is nothing but an echo; glorious, I grant; a triumph of civilisation; but what an achievement it would be to contrive a sort of anti-phonograph, that should give the appropriate answer to each question I like to put!"
"Why, a thing that could do that would be nothing less than man."
"Well," I said, " what is man but a bundle of sensations -- a machine that answers pretty accurately to the questions daily put to it?" For I was, or pretended to be, a full-blown materialist.
"It may be so," he answered, " yet it seems to me that he is a very complex machine for all that. He has taken thousands of years to evolve, if what Darwin in says is true; you ask me to make him in at most a year or two."
"Listen to me," I said, half in irony, half in earnest. "When you made your whist player, what did you do but calculate on a certain number of actions, all theoretically possible, and arrange that the machine should give the proper answer to them? "
"And with your chess player, was it not the same ? "
"Well, then, the general principle is granted. Are there not practically infinite varieties of hands at whist? Yet your automaton never made a mistake. Are there not infinite varieties of number? Yet did that puzzle Babbage's calculating machine?
"You may be right, Phillips," he said, smiling at my earnestness. " I will think of it."
I took my leave, little dreaming that I had set in motion a mighty force which would bring misery to more than a few. Indeed, I completely forgot the whole conversation. It was not till several months later that, happening to meet Moore in the street, I was suddenly startled by hearing the words I have already mentioned.
"Yes, I feel very much inclined to try it."
"To try what?" I said, completely bewildered.
"Why, the thing we were talking of some months ago. Listen. Words are nothing but air-vibrations, are they? "
"Nothing," I answered.
"Well, then, it follows that words, if put in the proper positions, can generate motion."
"I follow you; a molecular windmill."
"Well," he said, "this is the idea of my machine. Words are spoken into the ear of my automaton. Passing through the ear they enter a machine you would call an anti-phonograph, and set in motion various processes which in a very short time produce the words constituting the proper answer."
"Wonderful," I said, "if true."
"Come and see then," he rejoined, "if you will be so sceptical."
I followed him to his workshop, and saw a small instrument, in its main external details exactly like a phonograph.
This," said Moore, "is the centre of my automaton. Try it yourself. Ask it a question--anything you like."
Wondering, I did as he suggested. There was a tube on each side of the instrument, communicating with its centre, which I supposed would form the " ear " of the automaton when finished. I was at a loss how to begin the conversation, so called the weather to my aid.
"A very cold day," I remarked.
A sweet and beautifully modulated feminine voice answered.
"Yes; but hardly so cold as yesterday." I started, as though I had seen a ghost. Had I not been a doctor, old as I was, I should have precipitately fled. But it takes a good deal to shake the nerves of a physician. In an instant I recovered myself.
"Moore," I said, " you can't play with me. You are ventriloquising."
He was very indignant. "What do you think of me? " he said. " I to go playing the tricks of a strolling mountebank!
"Try it again. I will not open my mouth."
I tried again, a certain uncanny feeling still possessing me. Oh, for the inventive powers of a Frenchman, in order to begin the conversation naturally!
"That was a fine speech by Mr. Chamberlain yesterday evening."
"Yes," the delicate feminine voice again replied; "I didn't read it all, but the beginning and the end were very good, weren't they?"
Again the same eerie feeling came over me, followed as before by the conviction that some trickery must be at the bottom of this most unparalleled experience.
I tried yet a third time, determined to watch Moore's face during the whole operation.
"It looks as if there'll be war between China and Japan," I said rather inanely.
"Yes, and I fancy Japan will win," replied the voice, precisely at the same moment as Moore was saying:
"Two to one on the little 'un."
I was convinced by that. No human being ever spoke two sentences precisely at the same instant. Either there was somebody else in the room, or Moore had succeeded, marvellously succeeded. He had made an instrument that could not only imitate the tones of the human voice, but could keep up a conversation as constantly, if not as wittily, as Miss Notable and Mr. Neverout in Swift's "Polite Conversation."
"Satisfied, old fellow? " said Moore, rising from his chair and coming toward me.
"My dear fellow," I said, "I know you are incapable of deception. But this is extraordinary. I never heard anything like it."
"No more did I," he replied with pardonable vanity, "until a week or so ago. I had tried all kinds of devices to make the thing answer sensibly; she would answer, of course, long ago, but I wanted her to behave like a lady, not like a lunatic."
"So you mean your automaton to be a lady, do you?"
"Yes," he replied, drawing closer. "And I want her to be a lady that would deceive anyone. Not a thing that can only act when lifted into a chair, or stuck up on a platform; but a creature that will guide herself, answer questions, talk and eat like a rational being -- in fact, perform the part of a society lady as well as the best bred of them all."
"Moore," I said, "you must be mad."
"Mad or not, I mean to try it. See here. Here is another automaton that can walk, eat, turn its head, shut its eyes. That is common enough. Here is the brain power, the 'anti-phonograph' that can speak and hear--indeed, do anything but think. What is wanted but that the two should be combined ?"
"My dear fellow," I answered, "it is easy to talk like that. I am a materialist, and would grant you more than most; but even in my view the brain is more than a mere machine. A man guides himself; you have to guide this automaton. How are you to get inside her and make her do all these things together at the proper time?
"Take a very simple example; your thing has to be sure to open its mouth when it speaks. How are you to insure that the process which causes it to open its mouth, and the process which causes certain words to be uttered, shall take place simultaneously? Suppose the thing to say, 'I will sit down,' how are you to insure that, at the proper moment, she shall go through the proper motions involved in sitting down? Remember, an error of half a second in your mysterious clockwork may make all the difference between your lady occupying a dignified position in a chair and sprawling ingloriously on the floor.
"Why, think of the actions of but five minutes. She rises from a chair, she avoids the toes of the ladies and gentlemen in the room, she bows to a gentleman, she smiles -- more or less hypocritically -- at a lady, she makes a bon-mot, she laughs at somebody else's bon-mots; she even blows her nose. What countless simultaneous processes, not one of which must go wrong!"
Moore heard me through.
"Plausible enough," he said, when I had finished; " we shall soon see who is right."
"Who was it," he went on, "who lectured so vigorously on the folly of certain women of our time, and talked so largely about their utter inanity? 'The Society woman of our time,' you proclaimed, 'what is she but a doll? Her second-hand opinions, so daintily expressed, would not a parrot speak them as well?' You meant that for metaphor and eloquence, old fellow, and yet you object to my proving that it is all literal truth."
"Prove it first," I said.
"Only give me time," he answered. "But before you go," he said, with a sudden impulse, as he saw me nearing the door, "for Heaven's sake not a word of this until I give you leave."
"Make your mind easy," I replied, "a doctor knows how to keep a secret. When your lady goes out of order, send for a bottle of my emulsion, and I'll engage she'll trouble you no more."
During the next few months, I often thought of Moore and his hallucination; the picture of the poor fellow engaged on a hopelessly mad task often rose before my mind. I pitied him greatly. "Another fine brain wasted," I used to say. "A man that more than rivalled Edison spending the best years of his life over a mad chimera!"
I urged rest, a sea voyage, anything to cure him of his brain-sick folly. But he met me always with one reply: " Rest then; not before." Rest in the grave, poor fellow, I thought, as I noted his hectic cheek and staring bones. His fiery soul was fretting his body to decay.
At last, more than a year after our last conversation, amid the heap of letters lying on my table at breakfast, I came upon one that startled me. It was from Arthur Moore, short, but to the point.
" Success at last; come when you can."
As soon as my round of visits was finished, I drove to his rooms. Mounting the stairs, I was ushered into the room by the most beautiful girl I had ever seen; a creature with fair hair, bright eyes, and a doll-like childishness of expression.
"Can he have married?" I thought, as I looked at her. " How is Mr. Moore? " I said aloud.
"Poorly to-day," she replied. "He will be here in a minute."
Where and when had I heard that voice before? I seemed to know it, and yet I could not associate it with anybody. But I had no time to be perplexed, for in two or three seconds Moore appeared, looking ghastly and deathlike in his pallor.
"You are ill," I said, when the first greeting was over. " You have been overstraining yourself. You must really rest, or you will kill yourself."
"Yes, I must," he replied; " and I think I shall. It has been toilsome work. But I think it was worth it, don't you?"
"How should I know? " I answered. " I haven't seen it yet." " Yes, you have," he said, smiling in spite of the pain that he must have been feeling.
I looked around, bewildered. I could see nothing but the same old room, and the strange girl sitting in an easy chair in the corner.
"You are mysterious," I said.
"Wait a moment," said Moore. Then, turning to the girl, he spoke a little louder.
"It looks as if there has been war between China and Japan," he said.
Again those clear, distinct, delicate tones, as the answer came.
"Yes, and I fancy Japan has won."
I saw it all now. That beautiful, lady-like girl that had ushered me into the room, whom I had taken for his wife, was an automaton! That doll-like expression was due to the fact that she was a doll. I was utterly astounded. Moore sat by, enjoying my bewilderment; for a moment his weakness left him.
"Come here," he said to the automaton.
The lady arose, after one second of apparent indecision, and approached him.
"Let me introduce to you Dr. Phillips," he said.
The lady smiled approval. (To this day I have never understood how Moore had managed to produce that smile -- that fatal monotonous, fascinating smile.)
"Dr. Phillips, Miss Amelia Brooke."
The lady bowed, and extended her hand.
"I am most happy to meet one of whom I have so often heard," she said.
Could it be a reality? I felt more and more staggered. The lady stood perfectly still, her hands clasped before her. This fair creature not of flesh and blood? Impossible!
"You may go," said Moore.
The thing moved back to her place, and sat down.
" What do you think of her? " he said aloud.
Before answering, I looked round to see where she was.
"Don't mind," he said laughing; " she can't hear. I often have that feeling myself. You may discuss her as you please, and she won't be offended. She has one merit other women haven't; she is not touchy; but she has a failing the best of them have not ; she can't blush. On the whole, however, I prefer her."
" I am still almost incredulous," I replied; " indeed, until I have dissected her, and found pulleys instead of a liver, and eccentrics instead of a spleen, I shall hardly believe she isn't a woman in reality."
" You can easily do so," he said. " Come here, Amelia.' The creature rose, and came forward. " Let Dr. Phillips see your arm," he said. The lady showed me her arm, and turned up her sleeve. It did not need a moments inspection to show me that this was not an arm of flesh and blood. What it actually was made of Moore would not tell me.
"Better than a waxwork figure, isn't it? " he said.
"Much better," I replied. " Might deceive anyone but a doctor."
Passing my hand down to her wrist, I noted an exactly-moving pulse. So wonderfully was the human pulse imitated, that I believe anybody but one, like myself, trained to accurate discrimination would have been deluded. I could not refrain from expressing my admiration.
"Yes," said Moore, " she will often have her arms bare, and there may be a good deal of hand-pressing and that sort of thing; so that I thought I ought to have everything right."
"Does her heart beat, too? " I asked.
"No," he said; "I wanted the space for other mechanism, so she has to do without a heart altogether. Besides," he added, smilingly, "I wanted her to be a Society lady."
"The thing will be worth thousands to you," I said, when I had finished the examination of the creature's cutaneous covering. It is uncanny enough, and I can't say I like it, but it will draw. What a pity Barnum has gone! He would have given you a million pounds for it."
Moore rose angrily.
"Do you think I will sell my own lifepower for money? " he cried. " That thing has cost me at least ten years of my life, and she shall never be exhibited like a twoheaded nightingale, or a creature with its legs growing out of its pockets! She shall walk drawing-rooms like a lady, or I will break her to pieces myself! "
" My dear fellow," I said, " you are overexcited and ill. Surely you cannot know what you are saying? "
" I know well enough," he answered doggedly. " I have made a lady, you can't deny it; and a lady she shall be.
"Phillips," he went on, all the force of his character coming out in his face, "I am determined that she shall be the beauty of the season. She shall eclipse them all! I tell you. What are they but dolls? and she is more than a doll; she is ME. I have breathed into her myself, and she all but lives; she understands and knows! Come, promise me you will not betray me."
" Of course I will not," I said; " but you must give up this mad scheme. Consider, as an automaton she will make you for life; as a lady she will be found out in five minutes, and you will be laughed at. For your own sake pause."
" Listen," he said fiercely. " You call her an automaton. I tell you she is alive. See!"
He called the thing to him.
"Amelia," he said, " I have made you, and you are mine. Are you grateful?"
The creature smiled -- the one smile she possessed, which she had, as I knew afterwards, for prince or peasant, man or maid.
" I can never forget what I owe you," she replied.
"Kiss me, then," he said. The thing bent down and kissed him obediently.
"You see," he cried, "is that an automaton? Now, will you introduce her to Society as a lady?
"For the present she is perfect. I have taught her French -- drawing- room French, I mean -- and three songs. She can enter a room, bow, smile, and dance. If, with these accomplishments, she can't oust the other dolls and turn them green with jealousy for one season, 1 am much surprised. Now, will you help me?"
I tried to enter a feeble protest, but he overbore me. You ask how; I cannot tell. Call it magic -- anything you like; but it overbore me. I yielded; I promised my assistance.
We sat like two mischief-making children far into the small hours of the night, plotting how we could carry out the plan best. Moore had enslaved me, body and mind; I was carried away in a kind of drunken enthusiasm and almost as feverishly excited as Moore himself. Nothing would now have stopped me. Would Frankenstein have paused the very hour before his creature took life? As for Moore, I believe he would have gone on with his designs in the very midst of the thunders of the Judgment Day itself.
Why should I linger over the early triumphs of our Phantasm? I was a fashionable doctor; I brought Miss Amelia Brooke out as a niece of mine. The Countess of Lorimer, one of my patients, undertook to pilot her through the first shoals of real life.
Never shall I forget that first evening. Scarcely had she entered the room -- it was at Mrs. Vandeleur's when the eyes of all seemed, as if by magic, to be turned towards her. Exquisitely dressed, with a proud demeanour, with the step of a queen, she swept into the ball-room. She was my niece; I ought to have been proud of her, but I hated her with an intense loathing. Moore could do much with me, but he could not make me like this creature. Yet I was bound in nature to do all I could for her.
"Who is she? " said young Harry Burton to me. "By Jove, she looks like a born queen."
"You flatter me," I replied. "She is my niece. Good Heavens," I went on to myself, "would that she were a born anything, instead of a made doll!"
"Oh," rejoined Burton, " lucky man that you are! Introduce me, will you?"
"With pleasure," I answered. I took him up and introduced him. During the ceremony I watched the creature carefully. No, there was no doubt about it. Such acting would deceive the Master of the Ceremonies in the Court of Louis XIV. himself. Every motion, every word, was exactly as it should be. How on earth had Moore managed it? I was almost deceived myself. Could this be after all a real creature of flesh and blood, substituted for the Phantasm? No; that detestable, beautiful smile was there -- a smile which no woman ever wore, yet which none the less would be the bane of more than one man's existence.
Harry Burton danced many dances with her that night. When it closed, he was head over ears in love.
"Phillips," he said in a brief interval, "she is divine."
"Fiendish, rather," I thought. "Yes," I said aloud, " I think she is good looking.
"Good looking!" he cried. "What are all these painted dolls to her? They have nothing to say for themselves, they are mere bundles of conventionality; but she -- she is all soul."
"My boy," I said warningly, " you are evidently all heart. Be careful. Don't do anything rash. Dance with her, talk to her --do anything but fall in love with her."
"Who talked of falling in love? " he said, astonished at my earnestness. " I said nothing but that she was the finest girl in the room, and so she is, by Jove!"
At this moment a new dance began, and Burton ran off to claim his partner. I remained, absorbed in not very pleasant reflections. Things were getting involved already. Moore had only told me he was making a woman; I had never calculated that he would make a coquette. What would come of it? I sat and watched her as she danced, dancing beautifully but a little mechanically, I thought, saying always the right things, answering questions always in the same way, and wearing at pretty regular intervals the same detestable smile.
If I hated her before, I hated her tenfold now. I would speak to Moore, and put an end to it. A sudden cold -- ordered to the South of France -- and never let her come back. Good Heavens, this creature never had a cold, never had a headache, never felt out of sorts; yet Moore said he had made a woman.
Slowly the evening dragged to its close-the most wearisome evening I had ever spent. The creature did not seem to tire; one dance or twenty was the same to her. The monotony of it all became at length intolerable to me. At the earliest decent opportunity I took my leave.
Moore had never been a Society man. Even to witness his own triumph he had refused to be drawn out of his retirement. and it was with a feverish eagerness that he waited for the story of her successes from my lips.
"How did it go off? " he said anxiously, as I made my promised call to tell him.
"As an experiment, very well," I answered. " There was no hitch, no failure. The success was only too monotonous. Human beings sometimes put their foot in it; she never. Would to Heaven she might show now and then a little proneness to error!"
"You are queer," Moore answered. " Why should you grudge her her victories? "
"Arthur," I said, " the joke has gone quite far enough. Put a stop to it. Why go further? Think of the chances of detection -- no, think of the far worse chances of success! Can't you see that the more skilful the deception the more dangerous will its consequences be? Already, more than one young fellow has fallen head over ears in love with her. It is horrible to think of!"
"The fools !" he said, with a rather cynical smile. "That is just the way with young fellows -- never looking below the surface, looking only at the face. Why, Phillips, if they are taken in in that way they deserve to be taken in. I shall do nothing."
So the thing went on, new developments constantly arising. I hasten to the fatal ending.
Among the many deserters from the shrines of other goddesses who thronged to pay their court to this new and strange divinity, two seemed to hold the divided first place in her favour. One was my young friend Harry Burton; the other was handsome, impulsive, universally-liked Dick Calder. These two had been firm friends before, in spite of the fact that they had often flirted with the same girl. But it was impossible for two young fellows to love Amelia and continue to love each other.
To do Amelia justice, she was rigidly impartial between Burton and Calder. For both she had the same silvery tones, for both the same fascinating smile. To both, if they asked the same questions, she returned identically the same answers. To both she sang the same songs, with the crescendo on the same passages, and both, at the conclusion of the songs, received the same languishing, irresistible smile over the right shoulder, which made them her slaves on the spot.
One evening, a curious incident happened. Burton and Calder were as usual basking in the rays of their divinity, when by some mischance Amelia's brooch fell to the ground. Both the swains stooped to pick it up, but Burton was successful. Delighted at his triumph over his rival he solicited the honour of refastening it. Calder watched him with jealous eyes. Suddenly a clumsy pair of waltzers, not looking where they were going, came hard into Burton. The brooch pin was driven deep into the fair throat of Amelia. Burton started in horror; he began a savage oath, but stopping in time he pulled out the pin. Amelia had not uttered a sound.
Burton, speechless with dismay, was taking out his handkerchief to staunch the blood; a little crowd was gathering round them; when I, suddenly recollecting myself, rushed in. With the speed of lightning I slipped out my handlierchief and tied it round Amelia's neck.
"Stand back, all of you!" I said in a tone of command. Even Burton and Calder fell back a little. " My niece is very sensitive," I said. "The hurt is not great, but it would be as well that she should go home at once." A terror had possessed me; an overmastering fear of detection held me as in a vice.
"I assure you, uncle, that I am not hurt at all," said Amelia.
"Come along," I said sternly.
I hurried her off, finding just time to bid my adieus to my hostess, and to console the dumfounded Burton by saying there was no danger.
We drove, not home, but direct to Moore's lodgings. Hurriedly we went upstairs. Moore was still up. He seemed surprised to see us.
"What do you want," he said.
"Fools that we are," I answered. "Why, we were within a hair's breadth of detection. The creature can't bleed."
"Why, what need has she to bleed?" he said.
"Every need," I answered. "Doesn't a girl bleed when a pin is driven a good inch into her throat?"
"What do you mean?"
I explained the circumstances, and how I hoped I had for this once staved off discovery. I had been just in time.
"No," he said, when I had finished. "I never thought she would need to bleed. Strange that I should have forgotten that. They say that murderers always forget just one thing, just one little thing. But they take pains to get rid of the blood, and I ought to take pains to have it there."
"Give it up, Moore," I said.
"Give it up! Never! " he shouted. "Give it up for a few drops of blood! Rather would I drain my own veins into hers. Rather go out and kill somebody. What did Mephistopheles say? 'Blood is a peculiar sort of juice.' But I will make it."
Miss Brooke was "ill" for a few weeks from "shock to the system." At the end of that time I saw Moore again. He and the Phantasm were in the room together. He gave me a pin.
"Prick her," he said. I obeyed, not unwillingly; and to my horror something very like bleeding began. " Yes," said Moore! " I have done it. I have looked up Shakespeare. Do you remember what Shylock says, to prove that a Jew is, after all, a man? ' Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food! hurt with the same weapons! subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? ' Now every one of these marks my Amelia has; so I say she is a genuine woman. Why, if you tickle her, she will laugh!"
"No one is likely to tickle her," I said.
"No; but after our last experience it is well to be prepared for all emergencies."
In this case, however, I did not make an experiment. Moore's word was enough. If the creature's smile was so detestable! what must her laugh be like?
After her time of seclusion, Amelia again appeared in Society, and was again the cynosure of all eyes, chiefly, however, of the four owned by Burton and Calder. These latter had never ceased to make inquiries after her health.
I had often wondered whether Burton had noticed that the scratch of the pin had drawn no blood; but his conduct afterwards set me at ease. If he had seen it he had probably thought that his Venus was too ethereal to bleed even the thinnest celestial ichor.
Though Amelia certainly could not feel, yet there was no doubt that in the future she would bleed if pricked, and I was free from anxiety on that score. But there was one thing which caused me considerable uneasiness. She was a girl of originality -- indeed, I venture to think that there has never been a girl quite like her -- yet there was a sameness, an artificiality. about her which puzzled and alarmed me. To the same question she always and inevitably returned the same answer. On topics of the day she always had the same opinion, expressed in the same words. My rival, Sir John Bolas, who didn't like her for some reason or other, used to say that in her company he always felt as if talking to a very well-trained parrot. She uttered her opinions as if they had been learnt verbatim from someone else.
The time drew near for Calder and Burton to declare themselves. I need not say that, closely as I watched the doings of Amelia! I was not present on these auspicious occasions. But I can distinctly assert, nevertheless, from my knowledge of human nature! that the language of Calder, who came second, was almost precisely the same as that of Burton, who had the first chance. Hence it followed, with mathematical certainty, that Amelia's reply would be the same to both.
Here was a pretty predicament! What I had blamed in her was her unwomanly constancy; but this very constancy had led -- as I was sure both a priori and from the happy faces of the two young men -- to a display of fickleness unparalleled in the whole history of womankind. Within an hour after accepting Burton the faithless creature accepted Calder in almost identically the same terms. Even the most heartless of coquettes had surely never been guilty of such conduct as this.
All this, however, was for the present merely a plausible conjecture, based upon a more or less certain knowledge of character. To make sure of it, I determined to ask. The result but too sadly confirmed my fears. Burton was almost delirious with joy.
"She is mine," he said; "and that beast Calder was never in it with her. To think that I should ever have been afraid of a cad like that!"
I congratulated him, as in duty bound, and spent an hour with him, which may have been pleasant to him, but became very tedious to me, so difficult was it to get him off his one eternal topic and induce him to talk like a rational being. At last, however, I managed to effect my escape, and made y way to Calder. He also received me very graciously.
"Old man," he said, " I have good news to tell you. Amelia has just consented to be engaged to me!"
"Indeed! " I replied; " I am very pleased to hear it. You are a happy man, Dick."
"Yes!" he said! " happier than I deserve. But what delights me almost as much as having won her is that she never gave a thought to that fellow Burton. If I had had any sense I must have seen that a girl like her could never be taken in by a wretched fellow like him; but somehow I managed to be jealous of him. Well, that's all over! thank goodness. I really believe I shall get to like him now I'm sure he can do me no harm."
And so the young fellow chatted on, cutting me to the heart with almost every sentence that he uttered. What a dreadful awakening I was preparing for him! For of course! the awful truth must be told him, that he and his rival had fallen in love with a sham. It would be an awkward moment for both of us. Should I tell him now, and get it over? On the whole I preferred to put it off, and consult Moore first. His fertile brain would suggest a way out of the difficulty. Perhaps he would make a second automaton that would do for one of the rival suitors, while the other kept to Amelia. At any rate! I preferred to get his advice before acting. He had made the Phantasm bleed; might he not get us out of this still more unpleasant position?
I told him of the new complication. To my surprise he made light of it.
"Well?" he said, when I had finished my recital.
"Well?" I replied, "I should think that was enough."
"Why," he said, " I can see nothing wonderful in that. The wonder would be if they hadn't proposed to her. Women have had offers before now."
"But you can't intend to let things go on as they are?" I cried.
"That's exactly what I do intend," he answered. "Why should I interfere?"
"But think of it for one moment," I said. " Two men in love with the same automaton; two men in the position of accepted lovers at the same moment! Think of even one man in that position! How awful it is--why, it is too dreadful to think of!"
"Then I shan't think of it," he answered coolly. "My dear fellow, what is there so strange in it all? Men have been in love with stone-like women before this. Men have given themselves up to heartless and soulless abstractions before this. Anyone who gets my Amelia will get something, at any rate, not a mere doll."
The plain fact dawned on me that Moore's extraordinary success had turned his brain. He had put so much of himself into his automaton that he had positively begun to regard her as a real living being, in whose veins flowed his own blood, in whose nostrils was his own breath. Eve was not more truly bone of Adam's bone than this Amelia was part and parcel of Moore's life.
There was a mysterious union between them which gave me an uncanny feeling of sorcery. Could it be that by some unholy mealls Moore had succeeded in conveying some portion of his own life to this creature of his brain? I tried to dismiss the thought, for I am a man of science; yet it recurred again and again.
Burton and Calder were engaged to Amelia. It may be easily understood that now and then they came into collision. Sometimes things looked strange to them. Calder once demanded an explanation of his fiancée as to the frequency of Burton's visits. She gave him an account that satisfied him, and sealed it with a smile and a kiss that made him feel like a villain forever doubting her. People wondered at the confidence with which both the young men asserted that they were the favoured suitors, and admired the daring skill with which Amelia played off one against the other. No one warned the young men; it was none of our business to interfere with them.
In such matters one young man is remarkably similar to another. Their very modes of speech tend to become the same. In asking Amelia to fix the day, need it be wondered at that they used precisely the same terms as have been used by all young rnen from the dav when that nameless suitor of "pretty Jane" promised to buy the ring for his beloved? The result may be easily foreseen. Amelia, by some hidden law of her being, for which not she but perhaps Moore was to blame, could not help fixing the same day for both. Had a third candidate appeared on the scene, she would have fixed the same day for him also.
When I had heard this fatal dénouement, I confess that even Moore's influence could not keep me from taking a step on my own account. I would not destroy Amelia, much as I hated her for the trouble she had caused me. Something seemed to tell me that her death would be the certain death of Moore, whose life was bound up in hers as closely as the life of Jacob was bound up in that of Benjamin.
By some subtle process, every time danger threatened Amelia, Moore's spirits seemed to sink; every time she surmounted the danger his spirits rose again. He had put himself into her. I would not destroy her; but I went to Calder and I gave him a pretty plain hint as to the position of affairs between her and Burton. He would not believe me.
"If I thought she was false," he said, " I would stab her where she stood, were it at the very altar. But it cannot be. She has pledged herself to me, and mine she is!"
"I know it for a fact," I answered, " that she has promised to marry Burton on the 29th of February."
"The twenty-ninth," he cried. " Why, that is my day, the day on which she promised to marry me."
"Precisely so," I said. " What she means to do I don't know."
"But I know what I mean to do," he answered gloomily. " I will have it out with her."
" None at all. Don't fear me. By Heaven, what a heartless creature. But it can't be true. You are deceiving me."
"Too true. But find out for yourself." I took my leave, and went home. I afterwards ascertained what Calder's plan was. He made no inquiry from Amelia; he simply went and begged her to put off the day of his marriage a month, from the twenty-ninth of February to the last day of March. She readily agreed. He then went off and bought a sharp Spanish dagger.
The day of the marriage drew near, and nearer. Every preparation was completed. It was to be fashionable. The church was got ready in expectation of a large assemblage of people. At length the eventful morning dawned. I was to give the bride away to Burton, as after the postponement of Calder's wedding he was the only bridegroom left in the race. We came out and stood before the altar.
As I passed along I noticed two figures in different parts of the building, both familiar to me. They were Moore and Calder. The former was untidy, evidently excited and restless. The latter was scrupulously neat; but he had a strangely determined look on his face. One hand was hidden under the breast of his frock coat.
The service proceeded. Fancy a girl like this being told she was a daughter of Abraham, so long as she was not afraid with any amazement! Certainly a cooler, less perturbed daughter of the patriarch I never saw. She gave the response in a clear, musical voice. They came to the fatal question--" Wilt thou have this man to be thy husband?"
Before she could answer "I will," there was a sudden confusion; a man rushed forward, drew forth a dagger from his breast and shouting, "You shall not!" stabbed Amelia to the heart -- or rather through the left side of her bodice. She fell to the ground, striking her head heavily as she fell against the rail. There was a whirr, a rush. The anti-phonograph was broken. I bent over her, and opened her dress to staunch the wound. Moore had made no provision for her bleeding there. As I drew out the dagger, it was followed by a rush of sawdust.
In the confusion of the strange discovery, no one noticed that a real death was taking place not twenty feet away. As the sexton was clearing out the church, he noticed a man asleep in one of the pews, leaning against a pillar. He went up and touched him; but there was no answer. He shook him; but the man was as heedless as Baal. It was Arthur Moore, and he was dead. He had put his life into his masterpiece; his wonderful toy was broken, and the cord of Moore's life was broken with it.
And as for me, why, I am no longer a fashionable physician. As I write, there are men about me, who talk of me as a patient.