FICTION

The Devil Machine

ERIC AMBROSE June 15 1935
FICTION

The Devil Machine

ERIC AMBROSE June 15 1935

The Devil Machine

ERIC AMBROSE

DEBLETT invented a machine. It was called by those who first saw it the Devil Machine; possibly a pun on the inventor’s name, but afterward people still called it the Devil Machine.

When he spoke of it to the General Council, they were amused, but then doctors always are amused at anything new. They were amused when Liébault talked oi mesmerism until Bernheim came and watched, saw and believed.

So with Deblett; only no one came and watched or believed, for who was Deblett!

Qualified at the age ot twenty-two, it was a surprise to all who knew him that after completing his travelling scholarships he should have refused an important appointment and set up in practice in a small village. He was, he said, going to do research, but everyone told him it was foolish to do research in a village. But he did as he intended, and for nine long years carried on in the village, living simply and augmenting his small earnings with an equally small income.

People said unpleasant things about his work. That he was a vivisectionist they all knew, and at first he had purchased all sorts of animals from the villagers until they learned the real purpose to which he put them, so that he had to go farther afield for his fodder. Later he purchased dead animals, and the villagers had no objection, for he paid as much for them as for live ones.

One day in the seventh year of Deblett’s stay in the village, an elderly woman lost a cat. It is strange how little, unimportant events are often pointers to great revolutions. Even in villages there are women whose whole world is wrapped up in overfed useless cats. It was also a strange fact that the village policeman had found no fewer than four of the species in the village well alone. But the policeman said he couldn’t help her, and off she stalked to see Deblett herself.

“Where,” she demanded, “is my cat, you murderer?” Perhaps she was a little disappointed when he left the room and returned with the missing animal.

It was a pleasant enough creature, tortoiseshell except for a white patch on the head. Everyone knew it, particularly the village policeman. The old lady grasped it without a word of thanks and hurried off, though later she told her friends it had never been the same since she lost it.

When the village policeman saw it, he left his duties,

went home and got drunk. But other things happened, so that it was not only the policeman who was unable to believe his eyes in that village.

One day in the eighth year of Deblett’s stay, there was a fire. A little child was rescued, too late it seemed, and when the firemen brought her down the ladder they thought she was asphyxiated. The firemen tried artificial respiration. Then Deblett arrived and ordered the child to be taken to his surgery.

Next morning the child was back in its mother’s arms and there was no one who could speak too highly of Deblett, with the possible exception of the policeman, who was now degenerating into an open drunkard. At the inn that night he listened to the fireman saying, “After last night I shan't believe no one’s dead.”

THEN PROSPERO fell in a fit and struck his head so

hard that the vicar, who arrived early on the scene, said he must have died of cerebral hemorrhage. Deblett, who arrived five minutes later, said he didn’t think so. He asked that the body be taken to his surgery.

That night it was said in the inn that the vicar had been up to Deblett’s house and had seen Prospero with his head in bandages, his chest rising and falling, breathing; and all agreed that Deblett was a great doctor and that he ought to go to a big city and be at a hospital.

But the vicar, who had heard about the child before and had heard also the jokes passed by the men about the “policeman’s cat,” was uneasy and went to see Deblett again on the next day. Deblett, when asked what he had done to Prospero, said he had operated on the brain and had removed the cause of the trouble, and that Prospero would recover.

Then the vicar looked at Deblett and said to him, “Deblett, the man was dead as we understand the word,” and Deblett laughed and replied, “Then it is our understanding perhaps which is at fault,” and he opened the door to show that the conversation was at an end.

But the vicar looked at Deblett again and said: “There seems to be something of the devil’s work here.” Deblett threw back his head and laughed. Then the vicar grew angry and repeated: “I say there is devil’s work here.”

“It’s a poor pun on my name,” chuckled Deblett, who was to hear it many times in the future. Then he stopped laughing and looked at the vicar with interest. “Do you mean to say that it would be against Church doctrine if a man who had ‘died’ were restored to life?”

But put like that, the little country vicar was coping with more than he understood. No man could give back life— only the Creator, through the saints, and Deblett was no saint. The poor fellow almost ran out of the surgery.

Later that year, when Deblett was away on a distant visit, Lucano died. When Deblett came to see him he found that the vicar had arrived before him.

They told Deblett that Lucano had died suddenly; but Deblett ordered them to take the body to his surgery. “He is not dead,” he said. There was joy on the faces of those who stood without when these words were told them, for had not the same thing happened to Prospero?

But the vicar rose. He was not a very intelligent man and was entirely lacking in imagination. Here was a man who was dead, and by means of evil magic was to be made alive. Evil magic, or why else was it necessary to carry the body to the surgery? He placed himself between those who entered to do the doctor’s bidding and Lucano.

“You shall not take him,” he said. “He is dead and has

gone to his Heavenly Father,” though when he said these last words a great doubt came into his mind. Often ]x?ople were revived after drowning—but this man had been dead six hours. He would have struggled had not Lucano’s wife and child looked at him in utter amazement. He felt weak, helpless, and left the house. And Lucano lived.

BUT ON THE Sunday in the little village church the vicar denounced the doctor, nor was he entirely without sympathizers. It is difficult to say to what pass things would have come had not Deblett left for the city; but before he left, a covered cart carried away all the things lrom his surgery.

Deblett came to the Congress to speak of his machine. He arrived joyful, enthusiastic, and even when he rose to speak this enthusiasm was evident to his listeners, so that they looked at him with suspicion for he was as yet a young man. But when he started to speak, so beautiful was his delivery that they found it pleasant even to hear the sound of his voice. Deblett was aware ol this, and because of the nature ol the subject he was to introduce to them that night he gave full play to his oratorical powers, hoping by that means to impress ujxm them the greatness of his discovery.

He spoke of the heart and its functions; he told them nothing that they did not know, but they listened because they felt, as he intended them to feel, that he was preparing the way for something dramatic.

So they listened to him as he spoke of clotting blood, of Hyman’s experiment, of artificial respiration and resuscitation, and gradually there became evident the nature of his discovery.

He spoke of internal combustion engines, motor cars which stopped when the ignition was switched off and would not start again however hard the starting handle was turned. But, he said, if the ignition was unimpaired and the engine undamaged, then when the switch was on the engine would once more function.

He said the human heart was the engine and the brain the ignition; that was why artificial respiration failed after the lapse of any length of time. There were, of course, dangers; no one but a lunatic would attempt to start an engine which was affected in any integral part.

He gave examples of simple everyday instances, and compared them with medical curiosities he had tabulated. Many of his listeners hojxrd that he would stop then and not spoil an excellent oration, but of a sudden his voice became quieter and he said;

“Gentlemen, it is this key to the ignition which is the crux of the whole matter.” Many smiled, and some said “Hear, hear,” as if the matter were now a simple one, only the key to life being required. But Deblett did not finish. Instead he told them of his discovery. “Gentlemen, I have discovered that key.” There was a respectful silence broken only by the queen’s physician, who laughed mirthlessly. The queen was very ill.* The chairman turned in his chair so that he might face Deblett, and all waited for the latter to continue. “I have made,” he said, “a machine which will stimulate the brain into action, so that the heart will not merely beat but the mind will work and the two interdependent forces will again function.” Still there was no sound from the assembled audience. “It means,” continued Deblett. “that the heart could stop, an operation take place, and then the heart and brain commence working once more, together, after, say some hours.” THEN THE assembly broke its silence in a perfectly conservative manner. It laughed; quietly, restrainedly, but nevertheless derisively. Deblett never finished all he had wanted to say; all he had to tell of the failures he had experienced, and the slow way in which success had come to him. Others rose, and in a bantering tone said that they would like to see this machine, this wonderful instrument. I hey spoke of death intecta, rapid clotting, life existing only when there was living bkx:>d, and a hundred and one other things that had worried Deblett during those nine years. One clever gentleman, drawing on Deblett s simile, reminded him that he had overlooked a very important factor of the internal combustion engine, the “spirit.” He pointed out it might evaporate very quickly. Another, a very old chap and a humorist, suggested that the machine should be brought in and the chairman subjected to shock and revived, but the chairman replied that it would be better employed in the humorist’s case since he merely needed reviving, and it was in this lrame of mind that the Congress broke up. Deblett, when he left, felt no surprise at the reception he had had. He could not return to his village, and the thought made him laugh a little bitterly. There, at least, was one place where men believed that the Deblett machine could do all that he had claimed for it. What fools men were! And so by means of his machine he began to win fame as

a surgeon. Of course it was so much easier to work on an operation when the heart had been stopped from pumping blood.

No one saw the machine which he was using in his private nursing home. After his reception at the-Congress he had become embittered. But a number of doctors who had heard, or heard of, his speech, were becoming uneasy about some of the things he was doing; they seemed to border on the miraculous. And still he continued his experiments, for now he was on the time phase—attempting to discover how long after death his experiments would be successful.

Little was published of his work, but its very success caused news to leak out.

He carried out a clever experiment whereby a monkey was kept on a contrivance which moved its limbs perpetually in the action of artificial respiration, while the temperature of the surrounding atmosphere was below zero.

Each morning when he entered his laboratory he would draw the qurtains which separated the animal from the gaze of all entering. After a year he put it on the machine and—it lived. After a few days he killed it; it got on his nerves.

But it meant that under certain conditions a man might be revived after many years.

AT LAST he was accepted. That is, by some. Strangely enough, the church was the most tolerant body toward the new discovery. The enlightened clergy said that it showed our definition of death had been incorrect and it explained some of the miracles of the saints without robbing them of their glory, for the saints had had no machine. Science once more showed that the Scriptures were true.

This was no return from the dead, for that was im|x>ssible; this was just a new interpretation placed upon death.

That was the attitude of the Church at the beginning, but as Deblett became more successful he attempted greater things. One day he revived a man who had died of a knife wound twenty-five hours before. The man suffered terrible agony as the blood once more began to circulate in his veins, but under an anaesthetic he recovered.

Then others, t(x), who had died were operated on; but it seemed that when they lived again there was something different, something strange about them. They used to smile, a sad smile, a little cynical but a little contemptuous.

Then other things began to be noticed about them. One day an old man who had been a pious church-goer fell and broke his leg. Later he died. Deblett revived him. and when the curate heard he was overjoyed and went to welcome him.

But the old man looked at him with the strange smile that many were beginning to know and never said a word, nor did he ever again go near t he church.

It seemed, though, that the old man’s second childhood had been hurried on, for he consorted only with children, and spoke to them in a low voice so that no one heard what he said. The children, when questioned as to the old fellow’s conversation, looked puzzled, and said they did not know what he said but they loved him very much because he was kind.

And so it was with the others. They preferred the company of children, and always they would smile, though the smile was only pity when they were with children, but it changed when they were with the parents.

The Church became uneasy; it seemed some unholy force was at work, and an attempt was made to bring pressure upon the Government to take some form of action. These New People, said the Church, were automatons; they did not want to live.

But the Government said it was not within its province to prevent the study of medicine and the alleviating of the sick and those near death, till something happened which made the Government change its mind all in one afternoon.

Young Benson died.

THE NEWS fled round Whitehall; the Chancellor of the Exchequer was overjoyed at the prospect of the twenty million pounds which would pour into the Treasury to balance the budget.

Benson died at three o’clock in the afternoon, and at eleven that night he was having a very light meal in hospital.

Young Benson was a healthy enough fellow. The Government stood little chance of seeing the twenty million pounds for many years to come.

When the news reached Whitehall that Benson was no longer dead, not a single Civil servant took coffee that morning.

That same morning every lawyer was discussing the situation which had risen; every newspaper was speculating; everybody was talking about it in a hushed voice, as though it were wicked to talk of it above a whisper.

A Government official came down to see Benson, and when he left, the Government’s policy had been decided. Young Benson’s death certificate had been signed and therefore young Benson was dead; that is, so far as death duties were concerned. If a doctor liked to resuscitate his body afterward, he was at perfect liberty to do so.

Of course this was bluff, and the Government never got the twenty millions that year. But a law was passed that if a

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man should die and his death certificate should be signed, then he was dead, notwithstanding anything that should happen afterward. It was made a criminal offense to fail to sign a death certificate later than fifteen minutes after death, or to register it later than three hours after.

The gentlemen in Whitehall were very pleased with themselves; they felt sure that when the resuscitated ones died a second time, or even a third or fourth time, they would manage to get some more of the estate, each time increased by its original owner.

Benson’s uncle came to see him. He was Benson’s executor and was a little disappointed at losing a rather fine legacy. He tried to get Benson interested in Rex vs. Benson, but he failed. Possibly the result of the operation, thought Benson’s uncle.

Benson just smiled and thanked him. Then he went into the garden, taking the housekeeper’s little daughter by the hand.

The housekeeper, almost beside herself with fear, called to the child, but she did not seem to hear. And it was with Benson just as it had been with the others—he sought always the company of children.

They used to take him to board meetings and he used to sit in his chair with an amused, half-vacant expression on his face.

One day another Government official came down to see him and asked all manner of strange questions. It seemed his memory was unimpaired and he answered all the questions. The Government, which thereby got several thousands out of his estate, was elated.

Matheson, head of the rival firm to Benson’s, read his newspaper carefully, and then went along and had a little chat with Benson. He would have come to see him more often if his secret visits had not been discovered and the firm of Benson’s consequently saved in the nick of time.

Then Malcolm, the Prime Minister, died, just before he was due to attend the signing of a Quadruple Alliance. It was a great blow. For a long time he had worked to bring about the pact; there was no one else in whom the nations had sufficient confidence.

The Cabinet was summoned—and a decision reached. The next morning at eleven, when no one was any the wiser for what had happened, the Prime Minister, who had merely had a bad heart attack the day before, rose to address the three foreign Powers. What he said to them will always be a mystery. Suffice to say he told them something which annoyed them exceedingly and caused them to withdraw in anger, and the treaty was never signed. Later it was discovered that the resuscitated ones could not tell a lie—and the Government subsequently fell.

Henrickson offered an explanation of this strange fact. He said it was because they were as children reborn. Rattenheim did not agree. He said that it was because they had come nearer the Divinity.

The new Government asked no questions, or rather it just asked questions and collected the outstanding income tax.

AND SO at last there was an outcry. TT Companies objected to having their secrets retailed; heirs objected to having their legacies withdrawn and the capital reduced by Government raids. When General Thessinger died and lived, all in one afternoon, the Army objected.

As promotion became increasingly difficult, the Navy objected. And all this from one small institute where Deblett had established eight machines. Everybody except the bereaved objected.

One day a man came to Deblett and asked that his brother should be revived immediately. He offered a large sum to any charity Deblett should name. And so Renkworth, the swindler, lived again. But when Renk-

worth was revived, he did not behave like the others. He did not go about with a smile of cynicism on his features.

Instead there was fear, unreasoning, cringing fear, as though he had awakened from a nightmare that was all too vivid. Renkworth began to frequent the church often; he made large bequests to charity; he established a centre for the relief of the poor. He seemed to be working feverishly against Time itself.

But it was only New Men like Renkworth who would work. The others would not, just smiling in their almost foolish manner. It seemed that they knew something . . . And the toilers about them murmured; and it was an ominous, suspicious murmur.

Deblett revived three women, young and married, but no children were born to them, though there was one woman who was an expectant mother when Deblett revived her. When the child was born, it was strange and dreamy and the same happened to it as was to happen to its mother and all that were revived.

For there came upon all the New Men and the New Women a strange malady, if malady it was. Its grip was slow and almost imperceptible. Deblett recognized it as delirium precox. At first they would become absent-minded, they could not remember the name of the street in which they lived, the date, the year. Later they could not remember their names; they forgot.

They forgot to eat; they had to be fed, looked after. They talked to themselves; held imaginary conversations. They seemed to be going — disappearing — into their bodies. They became presences, presences unattainable.

One could strike and wound them, but they did not feel. Then slowly, their eyes only showing that life was still there, they slipped, slipped—unattainable.

Renkworth, the swindler, was the first to go, though he was by no means the first who had been revived, and Deblett was troubled, for there is no known cure for delirium precox. One just watches the victim slipping, slipping, taking no interest in human affairs, wrapped up in something outside those affairs, unseen, carrying on conversations with the invisible. Those are the signs of delirium precox; it is not understood and there is no cure. It may take six months, it may take a year, or it may take five or ten.

As the people saw this latest development of something which to them had always seemed horrible, unnatural, there arose a great outcry against Deblett.

One night, while he slept, a man came into his room and shot him as he lay sleeping.

HIS ASSISTANT heard the noise and rushed in. Deblett was dying. He ordered his assistant to place him on the machine. But the assistant could not start for an hour after Deblett had ceased to breathe, for the operation would be a difficult, arduous one, and he waited for help.

It was five hours before Deblett breathed again.

As the machine was used and the heart began to pump, the assistants waited to see the first twinge of the agony of life. Even those who were to smile broadest and most cynically, gave that first labored pain. Life is never easy.

Slowly the face of the inventor moved in that agony, and he rose from the machine and looked at his assistants but he did not speak. Then, before they were aware of his intention, he brought down his fist with a crash upon the delicate organism of the brain stimulator.

They pulled him away as he attempted to wreak further damage. And the expression of fear never left his face.

All that night they watched him as he

slept, and the next morning he was quieter and they thought he had recovered.

He must have set fire to the Debiet t Institute a few minutes after midnight, a week later. A fireman thought he saw him through one of the windows. The strange thing was, though, that instead of the look of fear which had never left his face, now, the fireman said, he was smiling contentedly and seemed to be talking to himself. They never found his body, nor were any of the machines saved.

To this day we do not know what delirium precox is, or if there is a cure.