- Author: Green Peyton
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Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Amazing Stories July 1962, a reprint from Amazing Stories October 1929. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.
The CHAMBER of LIFE By G. PEYTON WERTENBAKER Copyright 1929 by E. P. Inc. A Strange Awakening
My first sensation was one of sudden and intense cold—a chill that shot through my body and engulfed it like a charge of electricity. For a moment I was conscious of nothing else. Then I knew that I was sinking in cold water, and that I was fighting instinctively against the need to gasp and breathe fresh air. I kicked weakly and convulsively. I opened my eyes, and squeezed them as the bright green water stung them. Then I hung for an instant as if suspended over the depths, and began to rise. It seemed hours before I shot up into the open air again, and was drinking it deeply and thankfully into my tortured lungs. The sun [Pg 1]touched my head warmly like the hand of a benign god.
Floating gently, I lay there for a long while before I even looked about me. There was a vague confusion in my head, as if I had just awakened from a long sleep. Some memory seemed to be fading away, something I could still feel but couldn't understand. Then it was gone, and I was alone and empty, riding on the water.
I glanced about, puzzled. Only a few yards away rose the gray stone side of the embankment, with its low parapet, and behind that the Drive. There was no one in sight—not even a car—and the open windows of the apartment houses across the Drive seemed very quiet. People slept behind them.
It was only a little after dawn. The sun, blazing and tinted with pink, had hardly risen from the horizon. The lake was still lined with dark shadows behind glittering ridges of morning sunlight, and a cool breeze played across my face, coming in from the east. Over the city, the sound of a street car rumbling into motion, rising and dying away, was like the crowing of a rooster in the country.
I shivered, and began to swim. A few strokes brought me to the embankment, and I clambered up, almost freezing as I left the water. I was fully clothed, but without a hat. Perhaps I had lost it in the lake. I stood there, dripping and chill, and suddenly I realized that I had just waked up in the water. I had no recollection of falling in, nor even of being there. I could remember nothing of the previous night.
A glance along the Drive told me where I was, at the corner of Fifty-third street. My apartment was only a few blocks away. Had I been walking in my sleep? My mind was a blank, with turbulent, dim impressions moving confusedly under the surface.
Trembling in the chill air, I started up the Drive. I must go home and change at once. Something came back to me—a memory of talking to some [Pg 3]friends at the Club. But was that last night? Or months ago? It was as though I had slept for months. We had had a few drinks—could I have been drunk, and fallen into the lake on my way home? But I never took more than two or three drinks. Something had happened.
Then I remembered the stranger. We had all been sitting about the lounge, talking of something. What had we been discussing? Franklin had mentioned Einstein's new theory—we had played with that for a while, none of us with the least idea what it was about. Then the conversation had shifted slowly from one topic to another, all having to do with scientific discoveries.
Somewhere in the midst of it, Barclay had come in. He brought with him a guest—a straight, fine-looking man with a military carriage, about fifty years old. Barclay had introduced him as Mr. Melbourne. He spoke with a slight southern accent.
In some way Melbourne and I gravitated into a corner. We went on with the conversation while the others left it. They drifted into politics, drawing together about the table where the whisky stood, leaving us alone.
Melbourne had been a fascinating man to talk to. He discussed topics ranging from theories of matter to the early Cretan culture, and related them all to one dominant scientific thread. He spoke like a man of wide knowledge[Pg 4] and experience.... As I walked up the Drive, bits of his conversation came disjointedly back to me with the clarity and significance of sentences from Spengler.
An early-morning taxi went by slowly as I crossed the Drive to my apartment. The driver stopped a moment, and looked at me in astonishment.
"What's the matter, buddy," he said, "you look all wet. Fall in the lake?" I smiled, embarrassed.
"Looks that way, doesn't it?" I answered.
"Can I take you anywhere?"
"No," I said, "I live here." He grinned, and started off again.
"Wish I'd been in on that party!" he called back, as he drove away.
I frowned, once more with that puzzled feeling, and went in.Melbourne's Story
Glimpses of last night came back to me and pieced themselves together slowly while I undressed and drew the water for my bath.
Melbourne had been interested to know that I worked for Bausch, the motion picture producer.
"Perhaps you could be of aid to me some time," he said thoughtfully.
"In what way, Mr. Melbourne?" I asked him.[Pg 5]
"I can talk to you about that later," he replied cryptically. "Tell me about your work."
So I told him the conception I had of the motion pictures to be made in the future. He listened with keen interest.
"I visualize a production going beyond anything done today," I said, "and yet one that would be possible now, if there were someone capable of creating it. A picture with sound and color, reproducing faithfully the ordinary life about us, its tints and voices, even the noises of the city—or traffic passing in the street and newsboys crying the scores of the afternoon games—vividly and naturally. My picture would be so carefully constructed that the projector could be stopped at any moment and the screen would show a scene as harmonious in design and composition and coloring, and as powerful in feeling, as a painting by Rockwell Kent." After a pause I added, "And I'd give almost anything if I could do it myself."
Melbourne looked at me sympathetically, reflectively.
"It might be possible," he said after a time.
"What do you mean, Mr. Melbourne?" He puffed at a cigar, and considered.
"It's not something I could explain to you off-hand," he said. "It's strange and it's new. It needs preparation."[Pg 6]
"I'm ready to listen," I said with eager interest. He smiled.
"Perhaps I had better tell you a little of my life."
"Go on," I answered briefly.
"I had ideas much like yours when I was a boy," he began his story. "In high school and college I had believed myself an artist. I was a good musician, and I dabbled with painting and literature. I wanted to come back for post-graduate work, though, and something attracted me to science. I had put off studying mathematics until my graduating year, only to find that it fascinated me. And I was curious about physics.
"While I was studying for my Master's degree and my Doctorate, I felt the need of some interest to merge all the divergent sides of my nature. Something that would give me a chance to be both the artist and the man of science. That was a quarter of a century ago. The motion picture and the phonograph were just coming into the public eye. They seemed to supply just the field for which I felt a need.
"I had much the same idea as yourself, except that there were no discoveries to back it—no color photography, no method for harmonizing sound and sight. Indeed, neither the screen nor the phonograph had come to be regarded yet as essentially more[Pg 7] than a toy. But, like yourself, I had vision. And enthusiasm. And an intense desire to create.
"After I had taken my degrees, I went to work with almost abnormal intensity. With sufficient income to live as I desired, I fitted up my laboratory and concentrated on the thing I wanted to do. I spent years at it. I gave my youth—or, at least, the best of my youth—to that labor. Long before sound and color pictures were perfected commercially, I had developed similar processes for myself. But they were not what I wanted. The real thing was beyond my grasp, and I couldn't see how to attain it.
"I worked feverishly. I think I must have worked myself into a sort of frenzy, a sort of madness. I never mingled with people, and I became bitter and despondent. One day my nerves broke down. I smashed everything in my laboratory, all my models, all my apparatus, and I burned the plans and papers I had labored over for years.
"My physician told me that I must rest and recuperate. He told me I must interest myself again in daily life, in people and inanimate things. So I went away. For the next few years I traveled. I tore myself away from everything scientific and plunged into the business of living. Almost overnight I became an adventurer, tasting sensations with[Pg 8] the same ardor I had once given to my work. I went back to art, to painting and literature and music. I was a connoisseur of wines and of foods and of women. I was an experimenter with life.
"Little by little, though, the zest of that passed away. I grew tired of my dilettantism. And eventually I found that, even while I had been moving about the world and experiencing its curious values, my mind had been grappling quietly, subconsciously, with my old problem. The change in my life had given me the wider outlook, the keener understanding necessary to the accomplishment of my task. In the end, I went back to it again with renewed vigor. With greater power, too, and greater sanity."
Melbourne paused here. Sensing his need, I brought him a highball, and one for myself. He tasted it with a quizzical expression.
"They call this whisky nowadays!" he observed absently, with quiet irony. I wanted to hear the rest of his account.
"Go on with your story, sir," I begged him.
"The rest is simple enough—but it's the meat of the narrative. You see, I had to revise the way I was going about my work, and I went at it at a new angle. By this time wireless telegraphy was being[Pg 9] widely developed, and there were many features of it that appealed to me. With the knowledge I had gained during my first feverish years of experiment, however, I was able to go far beyond what has been done in recent times with radio.
"I used a system differing in many respects from that of the commercial radio. We haven't time now to go into all that—I can tell you later, and it involves much that is highly technical and still secret. It is sufficient if I explain that my object was to evolve and fuse methods for doing with each of the senses what radio does with sound. Telephotography was the simplest problem—the others required an almost superhuman amount of labor.
"But my biggest job was to combine them. And, to do that, I had to use knowledge I had gained not only in the laboratory but in my wanderings about the earth—not only in the colleges and salons of Europe and America, but in the bazaars and temples of India, Egypt, China. I had to unite the lore of ancient and modern civilizations, and I created a new factor in electrical science. I suppose the simplest and most intelligible name for it would be mental telepathy. But it is more than that, and basically it is as simple and material as your own motion pictures."
I think Melbourne would have[Pg 10] gone on and told me more about his discoveries. At that moment, however, he paused to reflect, and we looked up to find the others leaving. The bottle of Scotch was empty.
"Ready, Melbourne?" Barclay called. We rose.
"I didn't realize it was so late,"