THE LOVE MACHINE
When Marcueil said: 'I adore her,' Ellen was no longer at his side.
Ellen was not dead.
Only fainted, in a swoon; women never die from this sort of adventure.
Her father greeted the return of his ill, drunk, happy, and cynical daughter with stupefaction, and Bathybius, summoned in haste, in spite of the woman's mask and without regard for professional secrecy or even professional prejudice—Bathybius added his confirmation:
'I saw it—as truly as though I had held it under a microscope or a speculum—I saw it face to face: the Impossible!'
But when the doxies were freed they spoke out, and their jealousy claimed its revenge. Virginie called on Elson—beautiful, miraculously made up, with her pure forehead and her candid eyes looking like Truth incarnate—and declared:
'The doctor is an old fool. We were there all the time. Nothing extraordinary happened. By the second day they still hadn't done anything, and when we were watching them they did it three times just to impress us, and then the woman wouldn't go on.'
All that could be gotten out of Ellen was:
'I love him.'
'Does he love you?' asked her father.
However much the Supermale had dishonoured him, the American had but one outcome in view: André Marcueil must marry his daughter.
'I love him,' was Ellen's reply to every question.
'Then he doesn't love you?' asked Elson.
This presumption largely determined the tragic course of the events that were to follow.
Bathybius was completely unnerved by what he had observed, and was instrumental in suggesting to William Elson the idea that: 'He's not a man, he's a machine.'
He added the old phrase he was always wont to repeat when speaking of Marcueil:
'The fellow just refuses to understand anything.'
'He must love my daughter, though,' reflected Elson who, although panic-stricken, remained practical, and was ready to demonstrate just how practical he was, even to the point of absurdity.
'Surely, doctor, science must be able to devise something!'
Bathybius' motley science could well have been compared to a compass with its needle gyrating like a pinwheel and coming to rest at random at any point but north. The physician's brain must have been more or less in the same state as the dynamometer that the Supermale had once demolished.
'The ancients had their philter,' mused the chemist. 'We should need to be able to rediscover processes, as old as human superstition, which force a soul to love!'
Arthur Gough was consulted, and said:
'There is suggestion… hypnotism… it's infallible, but that's the doctor's department.'
'I saw him put the woman to sleep… put her to sleep… in articulo mortis… just when she was about to jab his eyes out with a pin… His eyes would knock anyone right over… No one is mad enough, is he, to look into the eyes of the double headlights of a locomotive at night, which loom larger and larger as they bear down on him?'
'Well then,' said Arthur Gough, 'let's go back to the ancient processes. The Desert Fathers were acquainted with a machine that might possibly serve our purpose. It is described in Saint Jerome's Life of St. Hilarion.
'"Certainly thy strength, (O Demon) must be very great, as thou art thus bound and halted by a strip of copper and braided wire!"'
'An electromagnetic device,' said William Elson, without hesitation.
And thus it was that Arthur Gough, the engineer who could build anything, was called upon to create the most unusual machine of modern times, a machine not designed to produce a physical effect, but to act on forces hitherto considered out of reach: the machine-to-inspire-love.
If André Marcueil were a machine, or endowed with an iron constitution that enabled him to overcome machines, why then, the combined efforts of the engineer, the chemist, and the physician would pit one machine against another for the greater good of bourgeois science, medicine, and morality. Since this man had become a mechanism, the equilibrium of the world required that another mechanism should manufacture—a soul.
The construction of the device was simple enough for Arthur Gough. He gave no explanation to his two colleagues. It was all set up within two hours.
He based his experiment on one of Faraday's. When a piece of coper is dropped between the two poles of a powerful electromagnet, being of nonmagnetic metal it cannot be influenced; nevertheless it will not fall through. It will float down slowly as though a viscous liquid occupied the space between the magnetic poles. Now, if one is brave enough to place one's head in this spot—and Faraday, as we know, did carry out this experiment—absolutely nothing can be felt. What is remarkable is precisely that absolutely nothing is felt, but the terrible thing is that nothing, in scientific parlance, has never meant anything else than 'the unknown,' the unexpected force, x, perhaps death itself.
Another known fact on which the device was based is that in America criminals are generally electrocuted by a current of twenty-two hundred volts. Death is instantaneous, the body fries, and the convulsive paroxysms are frightful to the point of making it seem as though the device that has killed it is falling upon the corpse in an effort to revive it. Now, if a person be subjected to a current more than four times as strong—let's say ten thousand volts—nothing happens.
To elucidate what follows, let us note that the water running through the Lurance moat provided power for an eleven-thousand-volt dynamo.
André Marcueil, still plunged in a stupor, was tied to an armchair by his own servants—since servants will always obey a doctor if he diagnoses that their master is either ill or mad. His arms and legs were spread-eagled by a sort of crenelated platinum crown with its teeth pointing downward. In the front and back it had a sort of tubular diamond. The crown was made in two sections, each provided with a red earpiece lined with a damp sponge to metal semicircles were insulated from each other by a thick sheet of glass that projected over his forehead and occiput, and sparkled like rhinestones. Marcueil did not wake up when the springs of the side plates were pressed had against his temples, but it was at that instant that he dreamed of scalps and hair.
The doctor, Arthur Gough, and William Elson were observing, unseen from the neighbouring room, and the patient with his crown, still undressed, and with his makeup peeling off in places, as the gilding wears off a statue, presented so inhuman a spectacle that the two Americans, who 'knew their Gospels,' needed a few moments to compose themselves and call on their common sense to shake off the pitiful and supernatural image of the King of the Jews diademed with thorns and nailed on a cross.
Could they be on the track of a force that was capable of regenerating the world, or destroying it?
Wires encased in gutta-percha and green silk led to the electrodes and held the Supermale as though by a leach attached to his temples. They wound and dangled, passing through the wall like vermin gnawing an avenue of escape somewhere in the direction of the crackling and rumbling of the dynamo.
William Elson, a curious scientist and a practical parent, prepared to throw the current.
'One minute,' said Arthur Gough.
'What is it?' asked the chemist.
'Although this device may produce the desire effect,' said the engineer, 'it may also yield nothing at all, or something quite different. Besides, it was made rather hastily.'
'That's fine, it'll make this an experiment,' interrupted Elson, pressing the switch.
André Marcueil did not budge.
He seemed to be feeling a rather pleasant sensation.
The three scientists, spying on him gathered that Marcueil distinctly understood what the machine required of him. For at that very moment, still dreaming, he said:
'I adore her.'
The machine was working, then, according to its builders' calculations, but an indescribable phenomenon occurred, one which should nevertheless have entered into their equations.
Everyone knows that when two electrodynamic machines are coupled together, the one with the higher output charges the other.
Within this antiphysical circuit connecting the nervous system of the Supermale to the eleven thousand volts, transformed perhaps into something that was no longer electricity, neither the chemist nor the doctor nor the engineer could deny the evidence: it was the man who was influencing the machine-to-inspire-love.
Thus, as might mathematically have been foreseen, if the machine really did produce love, it was THE MACHINE THAT FELL IN LOVE WITH THE MAN.
Arthur Gough, in a couple of leaps, was down inspecting the dynamo; horrified, he telephone up that it was now receiving current and revolving backward at an unknown and astonishing speed.
'I should never have thought it possible… never… but it's really so natural!' murmured the doctor. 'In these days when metal and machines are all-powerful, man, if he is to survive, must become stronger than the machines, just as he became stronger than the beasts… A mere adaptation to his environment… But this man is the first of a new race…'
Arthur Gough, however, with a mechanical gesture—he was, like the others, a practical man—Arthur Gough, so as not to waste this unexpected energy, linked up the dynamo with a group of accumulators…
When he got back upstairs he was faced with a terrible sight. Either it was that the Supermale's nervous tension had reached too fabulous a potential, or, on the contrary, that it had grown weaker (perhaps because he was beginning to wake up) and the previously overcharged accumulators had grown stronger and reversed the flow of current, or there was perhaps quite a different cause, but the platinum crown grew first red- and then white-hot.
In painful paroxysm of effort, Marcueil snapped the straps holding his forearms and raised his hands to his head. His crown—probably owing to its faulty construction, with which Elson later bitterly reproached Arthur Gough—its glass plate not being sufficiently thick, or else too easily fusible—his crown collapsed inward, then folded in two. Drops of molten glass flowed like tears down the Supermale's cheeks.
On contact with the floor, several exploded violently, like Prince Rupert's drops.
We know that glass, when liquefied and tempered under certain conditions—here by the acidulated water of the contact sponges—resolves into explosive drops.
The three hidden spectators distinctly saw the crown totter, and, like a pair of incandescent jaws, sink its teeth into the man's temples. Marcueil howled and sprang forward, bursting his remaining bonds and tearing out the electrodes, whose ends were sputtering behind him.
Marcueil bounded down the stairs… The three men understood how lamentably tragic can be a dog with a pot tied to its tail.
When they reached the steps, all they could see was a grimacing, pain-racked silhouette rushing at superhuman speed down the driveway, then grasping the gate with a grip of steel, with no other purpose than to flee or to struggle, twisting two of the square bars of the monumental grille.
Meanwhile, in the vestibule, the broken wires writhed and hissed, electrocuting a servant who had tried to run past them, and setting fire to an arras which was consumed without a flame, with sullen slowness, seemingly swallowed up by a vast red lip.
And André Marcueil's body, stark naked, and gilded in spots with reddish gold, remained wrapped around the bars—or the bars remained wrapped around it…
There the Supermale died, twisted into the ironwork.
Ellen Elson is cured, and married.
She imposed only one condition before she accepted a husband: that he be capable of 'containing love with the prudent bonds of human capacities'…
Finding him was… 'just a game.'
She found an adroit jeweler to set, in the place of a pearl in a ring that she faithfully wears, one of the solid tears of the Supermale.
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