“The professor is expecting you, sir,” she said.
“Archy, my friend!” came a loud voice a moment later from the inner doorway. “How delightful that you could join me.”
Professor Haversham swept into the room, a bottle of champagne in one hand, two flutes in the other. Placing the glasses on an end-table, he popped the cork and poured. “Success!” he said, and tilted back his glass.
Bemused, I echoed his toast. “I must confess,” I added, “that I am quite at a loss. Your request induced me to board the first train to town, and your greeting implies some celebration, but so far I have not a clue as to the cause.”
“I want you to witness something that the world has never before seen,” he said, pouring himself another glass. “A machine like no other.”
“You’ve invented the chess-playing automaton?” I asked—for such, indeed, was the challenge of the age. Modern scientific engineering stood poised on the verge of turning Von Kempelen’s Mechanical Turk from hoax to reality, and competition was fierce among the savants of the city.
“No, no, dear boy. Better. Come, let me show you.” The professor led the way, up two flights of stairs, to a combination workshop and laboratory under the garret. Boxes, jars, and tools filled shelves along three walls, while the fourth held a chalkboard covered with mathematical formulae and schematic diagrams. Benches and tables were piled with papers, electrical apparatus, and chemical flasks. Notebooks, opened, lay scattered on the floor. A sheeted object stood on a pedestal against the far wall.
“Archy,” Haversham said to me, “have you any pocket change?”
“Yes, but what has that to do…?”
“Everything.” He whipped away the sheet to reveal what appeared to be a human arm and hand, attached to an iron framework. Pneumatic tubes ran into the arm, connected to pressure bottles and a baffling array of mechanical switches. Palm up, elbow slightly bent, the arm extended into the room.
“Here,” Haversham said. “I have no idea what money you have in your pocket, do I? No way of knowing in advance, will you grant me as much?”