The Chamber Of Life
: The Chamber Of Life
I didn't know what Melbourne meant, and I looked at him inquiringly.
He explained: "I have in my home a model--or rather a complete
test-apparatus. It was finished only a few days ago. I have been
postponing my trial of it from day to day, afraid that it might be a
failure--although, of course, it can't be. I have verified my work
dozens of times, step by step.
"If you care to see it, I shou
d be glad to have you come with me. Now
that I have reached the end of my search, I need someone to share my
triumph with me." I glanced at him eagerly, but hardly understanding
that his offer was serious.
"But, Mr. Melbourne," I said, "why have you chosen me--a man you've only
met this evening?" He smiled.
"I am a lonely man, almost a recluse, Mr. Barrett," he answered. "I have
many friends in many countries--but no intimates. It is the penalty of a
man's devotion to one single and absorbing task. And, too, I think you
share a little of my interest in this particular task."
"I do, sir! It has fascinated me," I said.
"Then come along. I shall soon be an old man, and I will need someone to
carry on this work as I should carry it on. Perhaps you will be that
A taxi was coming up the Drive at that moment. Melbourne hailed it, and
held the door for me to enter. Then he gave the driver an address which
I didn't hear, and climbed in after me.
"This will be quicker," he said. "After all, I am more excited about it
myself than I should care to admit."
As we turned and went on up the Drive, he told me more about his
"I call it the Chamber of Life," he said. "It's a fantastic name, but it
designates precisely what my instrument is.
"You see, it's like living another life to experience an hour or two in
the Chamber. You cannot possibly realize yet just what it's like. I have
created a means of reproducing all the sensations that a man would have
in actual living; all the sounds, the odors, the little feelings that
are half-realized in daily life--everything. The Chamber takes
possession of you and lives for you. You forget your name, your very
existence in this world, and you are taken bodily into a fictitious
land. It is like actually living the books you would read today, or the
motion pictures and plays you would watch and hear.
"It is as real as life, but it moves swiftly as a dream. You seem to
pass through certain things slowly and completely, in the tempo of
life. Then, when the transitional moment comes, between the scenes, your
sensations pass with unbelievable rapidity. The Chamber has possession
of your mind. It tells you that you are doing such and such a thing, it
gives you all the feeling of doing that thing, and you actually believe
you are doing it. And when it snatches you away from one day and takes
you into the next, it has only to make you feel that a day has passed,
and it is as though you had lived through that day. You could live a
lifetime in this way, in the Chamber, without spending actually more
than a few hours."
* * * * *
The taxi turned a corner, leaving the Drive, and plunged into a maze of
side streets. I didn't notice particularly where we were going, because
I was utterly absorbed in everything Melbourne said. The city, along the
upper part of the Drive, is filled with streets that twist and turn
crookedly, like New York's Greenwich Village. It has always puzzled me
to know how the residents ever find their way home at night--especially
when they are returning from parties. I suppose they manage it
somehow--perhaps by signs cut in the trees, like primitive Indians.
"Even after I had worked out the machine," Melbourne continued, "it was
a year's job to put together a record for a thorough trial. That was a
matter of synchronization like your talking pictures, except that
everything had to be synchronized--taste touch as well as sound and
vision. And thought-processes had to be included. I had this advantage,
however--that I could record everything by a process of pure
imagination, as I shall explain later, just as everything is received
directly through the mind. And I worked out a way of going back and
cutting out the extraneous impressions. Even so, it was all amazingly
"I've gotten around the difficulties of this, my first record, by
avoiding a story of ordinary life. Indeed, what I have made is hardly a
story at all. You can readily see how hard it would have been to use the
medley of noises in traffic, or the infinite variety of subtle
country-sounds. Instead, I made a story of an ideal life as I have
visioned it--the future, if you like, or the life on another planet."
At this moment we turned into a dark driveway and skirted a large lawn
for several hundred yards, up to Melbourne's home. It was a large
house, dark at the moment, like the colonial houses you see in
Virginia--the real ones, not the recent imitations that consist of
little except the spotless white columns, which Jefferson adopted from
* * * * *
We went up some steps to a wide porch as the taxi drove away, and
Melbourne unlocked the door. The hall inside was a hint of quiet, fine
furnishings, with the note of simplicity that marks real taste.
Melbourne himself took my hat, and put it away meticulously with his own
in a cloak-room at the end of the hall. Then he led me up the stairs,
deeply carpeted, to his study. I glanced around the study with interest,
but I saw nothing that could, conceivably, have been what he called the
Chamber of Life.
"It's not here, Mr. Barrett," he said, noticing my eagerness with a
smile, "we'll go to it in a moment. I thought you might care for a
highball first." From a closet he selected a bottle of Scotch, some
soda, and glasses. Before he poured the whisky, he removed a small box
from a cabinet, opened it, and extracted two small capsules. He dropped
one of them into each glass.
"This is a harmless drug," he explained. "It will paralyze some of the
nerves of your body so that you won't feel the chair you'll be sitting
in nor any extraneous sensation that might interfere with the
impressions you must get from the instrument. It's a sort of local
anesthetic." He handed me my glass.
We drank the highballs rather hastily, and rose. Melbourne went to a
door at one end of the room and opened it, switching on a light.
Following him, I looked past the doorway into a small room something
like the conception I had of the control-room in a submarine. It was a
small chamber with metal walls. It had no windows, and only the one door
through which we entered.
Around the walls were a series of cabinets with innumerable dials,
switches, wires, and tiny radio tubes. It was like a glorified radio,
but there were no loud speakers and no ear-phones. Two very deep and
comfortable chairs stood side by side in the center of the room.
"The experience will be very simple," Melbourne said softly. "I'm not
going into any detail about this instrument until we see how it works. I
may as well explain, though, that the room is absolutely sound-proof, so
that no trace of noises outside can enter it. Furthermore, I maintain it
at an even body temperature. These precautions are to prevent
interference with the sound impressions and the heat and cold stimuli
of the instrument. That is the only reason we have to be confined here
in this room, because it is especially adapted to the reception of these
"The instrument, you see, like a radio, is operative at a distance. I am
going to test you in a moment for your wavelength. When I have that, and
set the instrument, you could receive the story, so far as I know,
anywhere in the world. No receiving set is necessary, for it acts
directly upon the brain. But you must have these ideal conditions for
* * * * *
I seated myself in one of the chairs, yawning a little. Melbourne,
working at the dials, noticed my yawn and observed approvingly.
"That's good. The more deadened your body is to real sensations--the
nearer it is to sleep--the better and more vivid will be your
impressions." He pressed several buttons, and twisted a dial with
"Now, concentrate for a moment on the word Venus," he directed. I did
so, and shortly I heard a faint humming which rose within the
instrument. Then Melbourne turned a switch with a nod of satisfaction,
and the humming ceased.
"That gave me your wavelength," he explained. "I have set it for my own
as well--I can broadcast at one time two or more different lengths. I
can broadcast more than one part in the drama, too. Whereas you, for
instance, will be the man waking up in a strange world in the record we
are going to receive, I have connected my wavelength to receive the
emotions and the sensations of the girl, Selda."
He came forward to the other chair, and sat down.
"Everything is in readiness now," he said. "When I press this button on
the arm of my chair, the lights will go out. A moment later we shall be
under the stimulus of the machine. I don't think anything can happen."
He smiled. "If anything does, and you are conscious enough to know it,
you can call my butler by means of an electrical device I have perfected
simply by speaking his name, Peter, in an ordinary conversational voice.
But I don't see how anything can go wrong."
We reached for each other's hands, and shook them quietly.
"Good luck," I said. "The outcome of this means almost as much to me as
it does to you." With another smile, Melbourne answered:
"Good luck to you, then, too."
At that moment the lights went off, and we sat there a few moments in
Remembering this scene, as I bathed that morning when I came out of the
lake, I began to understand more clearly what had happened to me.
Evidently, then, it had been last night that I saw Melbourne, and the
strange other-life I had been recalling earlier had been the experience
in the Chamber of Life.
But there was more yet. My mind raced back to the awakening on the hill,
and to the landing in the city of Richmond. I remembered the
conversation with Edvar in his apartment, the place where I had left off
and gone back to my recollections of Melbourne.
Now, as I stepped out of the tub and dried myself and dressed, I
returned mentally to the curious, mythical adventure in the mythical
city. It was still impossible for me to feel that it was unreal, it had
been so vivid, so clear.