By John M. Burt
Thursday: Chapter Nine
[Synopsis: In a world where Victor Frankenstein was a real person and where he founded the field of vitalogy in 1776, in 1837 reporter Richard Adams Locke is investigating the murder of a leading vitalogist. Was he killed by a friend? A rival? A member of some kind of secret vitalogy-related conspiracy? Locke interviews vitalogists, police detectives and other people in hope of finding out. He has heard hints of something called the Illuminati, and something else (or the same thing) called Mellonta Tauta (Greek for “We speak now of future things”).]
On the morning of June 14th, Locke woke with a terrible headache well before Nereus knocked. He took his spoonful of Blue Mass and opened a twist of paper he kept in the same drawer. He inhaled the green powder inside and waited for the ground moss to relieve his pain.
When Nereus brought the pitcher of hot water, Locke put it on the floor and cautiously touched his bare feet to it. He held his feet to the almost-scalding water and over the next minute or so gradually immersed them. It also seemed to help, but he knew what he really needed: coffee.
When he lifted his feet out, he was alarmed by how red they were. They hurt almost as much as his head. Standing up, they were tender but didn’t seem to have actually been burned.
The water was still hot enough and clean enough for washing, in spite of some bits of lint and a faint smell of cheese.
Washed and dressed, Locke pulled his wideawake lower to shield his eyes and set out on the street in search of coffee.
The place he usually went to, on the same block as the Decatur, he found vacant, evidently another victim of the Panic. Two head-throbbing blocks further, he found a place where a sign hanging from a ring in the mouth of a cast-zinc horse indicated that coffee was available, and he went in.
A hoover, immense but almost skeletal, limped from table to table. Rather than force the wretch to walk any further, Locke sat at the counter.
When the hoover made his way to the counter, he bowed gravely to Locke and said, “How may I serve you, Master?” Both the bow and the “Master” indicated the hoover was very old, and had been trained in manners in the Georgian style.
“Er, coffee, black, as strong as it comes.”
“A double, Master?”
“Um, yes, fine.”
Locke watched the hoover drain steaming water from one of two huge brass urns, then add pour a tiny quantity of hot black liquid from a tiny pot that sat on top of the urn.
“Two parts of buna and two of water, Master,” the hoover said with a ghastly forced smile. “Just what a hangover needs.”
Locke ignored this impertinence. He didn’t have the energy to high-hat the creature.
Sipping his coffee, Locke slowly turned to look around the café. Some were clearly like him, on their way to work. Others looked as though they had just left work, bolstering themselves with coffee on their way home. A few looked as though they had no jobs to go to, and possibly no homes. Some people spent the entire day in a café, nursing a cup or two while they read newspapers, or wrote in notebooks.
He saw a copy of the New York Observer lying in an empty booth and opened it. He looked for news that didn’t have to do with reanimated body parts, lethal conspiracies and threats to the nation. He did not succeed. Business, politics, crime -- everything seemed to be touched by the products of vitalogy.
# A British organization called the Temple of Hymen was opening a branch in Manhattan, on Bleecker Street. They claimed -- hinted might be a better word -- that they could cure impotence, “marital incompatibility” and barrenness by the rental of one of their “Celestial Beds”.
# A clerk working at John Anderson’s tobacco shop at Broadway and Pine had been found dead in the Hudson River. Cuts on her body and missing parts suggested she had been the victim of a “burking” -- killed, in other words, for salable organs.
# The State of Virginia’s Secretary of Science had released a report saying that Carolina parakeets had caused forty million dollars’ worth of damage to crops and property in the preceding years. The birds had been the messenger system of choice in the 1820s, but they had been superseded by ravens. Message parakeets which had escaped, or been released by thoughtless owners, had gone feral, interbred with wild stocks, and become a pest far beyond what the original stock had been.
# P.T. Barnum had a new attraction at his Dime Museum at Broadway and Ann Street: an extremely aged-looking Negress whom he claimed was Joice Heth, age 136, who had been George Washington’s wet nurse.
# John C. Calhoun, former Vice President and currently a Senator, had spoken on the Senate floor on the status of the hoovers. His own feelings were quite strong: he had grown up among the backward and impoverished humans of South Carolina’s back country, who had worked the land indifferently. He had seen the bustling plantations and other commercial enterprises which had displaced them, using hoover labor. In his latest speech, Calhoun staked an even bolder position than before. He refused to accept that the use of hoovers was in any sense a “necessary evil”, declaring it “a good — a positive good.”
Calhoun declared that “there never has yet existed a wealthy and civilized society in which one portion of the community did not, in point of fact, live on the labor of the other.” He compared the making and employment of hoovers with “the various devices by which the wealth of all civilized communities has been so unequally divided, with so small a share allotted to those by whose labor it was produced, and so large a share given to the non-producing classes. The devices are almost innumerable, from the brute force and gross superstition of ancient times, to the subtle and artful fiscal contrivances of the modern day. I might well challenge a comparison between them and the more direct, simple, and honest mode by which the labor of the resurrected is, among us, commanded by the living....”
He defended hoover slavery, and complained of the need to discuss it at all: “The subject is beyond the jurisdiction of Congress - they have no right to touch it in any shape or form.” He predicted terrible consequences if it were asserted “that this Government had a right, in the last resort, to determine the extent of its own powers, and enforce its decision at the point of the bayonet.”
Determinedly, Locke turned to the “letters to the Editor” section. He often found such letters amusing.
Two letters denounced Barnum’s Joice Heth as a fraud, one claiming that she was a hoover and another that she was an automaton made from gutta percha and whalebone. Locke suspected both letters had been written by Barnum himself.
Another letter seemed to echo Locke’s own thoughts: “Hoover slavery is like the Egyptian plague of frogs: one sits down to supper, and frogs leap onto one’s plate. Music and theater are inaudible due to the frog chorus. The parlor grants no rest, the bed no sleep, even church grants no solace, for everywhere there are frogs, frogs, frogs....”
Locke noticed his coffee had gone cold. Although it tasted horrible, he tossed the remainder of the cup down and hurried away to Wall Street, where he was expected at the House of Usher.
Going further south in Manhattan than he’d been in weeks, Locke found a bright, modern-looking building at the corner of Broadway and Wall Street. A human receptionist in a smart checkered suit ordered a hoover to escort him up to Miss Usher’s office.
Madeline Usher was fairly new to New York, having built hoovers along with her late brother at what had originally been the family home, in a remote location in western Pennsylvania. The story of the house’s destruction in a flood, with the complete loss of all equipment and materials, and the death of Roderick Usher himself, had been a sensation two years past. When Madeline Usher on her own had moved to New York and rebuilt her business, the fame of the House of Usher had grown enormously.
The hoover led Locke up a flight of stairs and then, not to an office or a laboratorium, but to a parlor that could have been in any upper middle class home. Sunlight streamed in through a row of windows, beneath which was a couch and a couple of armchairs in which three well-dressed ladies were having tea. The only anomaly was that each of them had a large and rather ugly male hoover standing by her, where normally a lady would be attended by a dainty female.
“Excuse me, Doctor,” Locke’s escort said softly, “Mister Locke is here for his appointment.”
A thin woman in a white dress looked up from her cup. A narrow black ribbon and her black hair emphasized her very pale skin.
“I’m sorry, Mister Locke, but I really don’t have time for a proper interview. I’ve had the unexpected pleasure of a visit today from two colleagues from overseas. The three of us have corresponded for years, but this is the first chance we’ve had to meet face to face.”
Doctor Usher gestured to a red-haired woman in black velvet. “Miss Jane Greystone.” Her hand moved to point at the third woman, brown-haired in a green dress. “Dottora Beatrice Rappaccini.”
Locke bowed deeply to each of them in turn, saying softly, “Doctor Usher. Dottora Rappaccini. And, er, Miss Greystone, or should I say Doctor?”
The woman shook her head, smiling sadly.
“I’m afraid I’ve never been granted that degree. I have inherited the title of Baronette, so you could call me ‘Lady Jane’ if you insist, but I would prefer ‘Miss Greystone’.”
“Very well, then, Miss Greystone. Please pardon me.”
She didn’t wave the apology away, merely nodded.
“Narbon,” Madeline Usher said to the hoover standing behind her, “bring Mister Locke a chair.
“Mister Locke, I can give you a few minutes, if you don’t mind interrogating me in this setting. Do sit down.”
“I very much appreciate your seeing me, Dr. Usher.”
Locke seated himself. The hoover who had escorted him to the parlor held out a cup of tea on a saucer.
“Well, Dr. Usher, if your guests have just arrived, I presume they did not know Dr. Bullivant at all...?”
“No,” Dottora Rappaccini said. Locke noticed that the hands which held her cup and saucer were covered with satin gloves which reached past her elbows. He wondered if this were the current Continental fashion.
“Nor I,” Miss Greystone said.
“Not so much because they do not live on Manhattan, Mr. Locke, as that like me, they deal in industrial hoovers, rather than in domestic servants as Bullivant did.”
“Er, really? I’ll admit, I had assumed that you ladies were in the same line as Dr. Foster.”
Soft, ladylike laughter came at Locke from around the table.
“No,” Dr. Usher said, smiling, “I’m afraid not. Surely you’ve noticed that even our own attendants are not the usual pretty things seen in a parlor like this.”
She pointed at her own attendant, who had skin that was warty, almost scaly, and had clawlike hands.
“Topo is made for mining -- digging cinnabar, to be precise -- his skin is capable of enduring both the bumps and scrapes of mining, and the damaging effects cinnabar has on the skin.”
The Italian lady pointed to her own servant, who was quite slender, and had amazingly-long fingers. Locke had to look twice to confirm that the creature did indeed have seven fingers on each hand.
“Cushing is made for manufacturing watches and other small machinery.
“This is Ouran. He’s a pongo, made from a combination of human, orang-outang and chimpanzee organs.”
Locke was interested by how she put the emphasis on the second syllable of “chim-PAN-zee” rather than the last, which was how he’d heard it pronounced before.
“That’s illegal in this country.”
Lady Greystone nodded, smiling.
“Yes, but I have a dispensation from your Department of Commerce for Ouran so that he’s counted as a ‘specimen’ rather than a working hoover.
“In any event, it is to be hoped that the law will be changed soon. It never made much sense. When Frankenstein built his Number One, ‘The sepulcher and the slaughterhouse provided my material’.”
“I wonder whether there will be a market for pongos in the U.S., though. The ape parts would all have to be imported, and the duties on them would make it hard to compete with human parts.”
“I don’t know. There are persistent rumors of some sort of hairy bipeds in the west.”
“Um, yes, in the Oregon Country, I think.”
Rappaccini inserted, “There is some speculation that the Limehouse Consumption originated with a disease of African green monkeys that jumped to humans by way of pongos built from humans and chimpanzees. If that is the case, it would certainly dampen interest in building American pongos.”
Lady Greystone glared at her.
Leaving the House of Usher, Locke found he had more than an hour until his appointment at the laboratorium of Drs. Howard, Fine & Howard.
Locke turned to see that same odd hoover which had spoken with him outside the post office, holding a small suitcase.
“I understand you wish to speak with someone about future things.”
Interlude: Advertisements in the Observer
One of the great mysteries of vitalogy was why it should be that self-pollution would have its well-known deleterious effects on a man’s body, when no such degradation takes place conjugally, even when relations are quite frequent.
The answer is as simple as it is startling: during intercourse, as the woman absorbs the man’s essence, he absorbs hers as well. The skin of a man’s genitalia is unlike the skin anywhere else, and capable of easily absorbing life-supporting substances such as are contained in natural female secretions.
Until now, a bachelor’s choices were limited to self-pollution (and a rapid decline in his health), continence (and a slow one), and the favors of women of easy virtue (with the risk -- nay, certainty -- of venereal infection). Now, however, thanks to Doctor Benway’s Gynebutyron, a man can safely keep his manly vigor throughout his bachelorhood.
By color, texture and odor, Gynebutyron is indistinguishable from the natural female substance, and if rubbed into the skin in the minutes prior to ejaculation, will be absorbed just as readily and have the same ataraxic effect.
Gynebutyron -- just 25c for a half-ounce jar
Don’t Be the Hunter’s Prey!
The hunter massacres animals in droves, so he may pick out the choicest cuts for his own family and neighbors, and ship the rest off to the city for market.
Don’t let a hunter feed your children on his table scraps!
Buy the healthiest and freshest meat from the Manhattan Central Farm. We apply the most modern and up-to-date techniques of modern vitalogy to ensure that meats of the highest quality are abundantly available at the lowest prices.
Beef * Pork * Chicken * Rabbit * Goat * Lombrick * Venison
And Introducing Cuy Brava, the Taste of South America!
In the June Issue of
TALES OF MYSTERY AND IMAGINATION
“The Man of Steel” by Herbert S. Phibes
“Nell, the Little Hoover”, the last story of the late Charles Dickens
Seward’s chimerical auction house
Announces the arrival of numerous fine draft and riding chimerae
Mokes # stalwarts # guays # ziegenbocks
All fresh from the finest laboratoria
Auction on Friday
Coming Monday: industrial hoovers