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PROFESSOR VAN WAGENER'S EYE.

BY W. L. ALDEN.

"THERE is one thing," said the Colonel, as we were walking along the Strand one evening, "in which London is behind the age, and that is in the matter of electric lighting. Take my own town of New Berlinopolisville. It hasn't more than fifty thousand inhabitants, but there isn't a gas lamp in the whole place, except in a few houses. The streets and most of the houses are all lighted with electricity, and I shouldn't be surprised to find when I get home again, that our people were doing all their cooking and house-warming by electric heat. Why you Britishers still stick to gas as you do, is something that I can't account for.

"Did I ever tell you about old Professor Van Wagener and his electric inventions? Well, this looks like a respectable bar-room, and, if you say so, we'll step in and have a little something; and I'll tell you about the Professor. He was one of our most remarkable men, and though the general public doesn't know it, he did more for the cause of electricity than almost any man in America, except Edison.

"About two years ago," began the Colonel, as he sipped his hot Scotch, and tried in vain to tilt back on its imaginary hind-legs the sofa on which we were sitting, "Professor Van Wagener went crazy, as most folks thought, on the subject of electricity. Incandescent lamps were his particular style of lunacy, and he made up his mind that he wouldn't have any other sort of light in his house. You see his sight was beginning to get a little dim, which made him dissatisfied with gas; and then he had knocked over his kerosene lamp—paraffin, I believe you call it over here, though I don't see what right you have to invent new names for things that we Americans have named—half a dozen times, and had come so near to setting the house on fire, that he was anxious to get rid of kerosene altogether. Then, again, he believed that electricity would be a good deal cheaper than gas, provided it was properly managed; and I'm inclined to think that he was right. Anyway, he told Mrs. Van Wagener that he was going to furnish the house with incandescent lights, and that she might sell her kerosene lamps and her gas fixtures for what they would bring.

"Now thishyer Professor was not only an ingenious man, but he was a practical man, which is something that a Professor very seldom is. He saw that it was all a mistake to have lights fixed in one place, as gas-burners are, or to have them carried about by hand like ordinary lamps or candles. , and supplied it from a storage battery that was concealed under the girl's back hair. When there was no need for a light in the front hall it was left in darkness, but whenever anybody rang at the front door, the maid just turned up her light, and answered the bell. She was a rather pretty girl, and she made a fine effect with her lamp glowing on the top of her head, and lighting up her face in a way that would have made an ugly face pretty hard to bear. When she showed visitors into the parlour, she would walk in front of them, lighting the way; and everybody declared that she was a long way superior to the best hall light that had ever been previously known.

"Then the Professor fitted a light in the inside of his silk hat, and cut openings in the hat to let the light shine through. In front of the hat was a window of plain glass; on the right side was one of green glass; and on the left side one. of red gloss. You see, the Professor's idea was, that his lights would, show which way he was heading, when he went out on the street after dark. 'Any man who knows the rule of the road,' said he, 'will know by the colour of my lights which way I am heading, and can keep out of my way.' This was very convenient for the old gentleman, for, as I have said, his sight was rather dim, letting alone the fact that he had one glass eye; and this being the case, he often ran into people, and horses, and things, when he was out after dark. He made a good deal of a sensation the first time he appeared on our Broadway, with his head-light and his side-lights burning their brightest, and, as was natural, he had a pretty big crowd following him. The policemen were a little doubtful about the thing at the start, for a policeman always thinks that anything that is new must be unlawful. However, the Professor was so generally respected that even the policemen hesitated to club their ideas into his head.

"Professor Van Wagener had a daughter who was middling popular with the young men, although she did know an awful lot of mathematics and chemistry. Of course, her father fitted her, as he did everybody else in the house, with an electric head-light; but the girl wasn't very well pleased with it. When a young man came to, see her, she would turn herself on, and light him into the back parlour, where they would sit together and talk. But somehow the young men never seemed to make much progress after Miss Sallie was lighted by electricity. Whether it was that no fellow likes to have an electric light resting on his shoulder, or whether it was because there was no way of turning the light down till it would burn in a cosy subdued way, like gas when it is turned down by an intelligent girl, I can't say; but the result of the thing was that Sallie didn't get a single offer from the day her father lit her up with the incandescent light. At first she begged him to let her have a kerosene light, and when, he wouldn't do it she cried a good deal, and said that he wanted her to die an old maid. That's what would probably have happened if it hadn't been for the intelligence of a young man who came to see her before the winter was quite over, and brought a candle with him every time. Sallie would light the candle, and then turn herself off for the rest of the evening, and she gathered in that young man the very second time he called at the house.

"Professor Van Wagener had a cat that he considered to be an animal of considerable taste for science, and nothing would satisfy him till he had provided the cat with an electric head-light. He had considerable difficulty in fastening the light on the cat's head, for, although she had always seemed to take a good deal of interest in watching him experimenting with different sorts of things in his chemical laboratory, she drew the line at electricity and objected to being lighted up like the rest of the people in the house. However, the Professor wouldn't listen to her; and the first night that the lamp was in working order, he put the cat in the kitchen, and told her to lay for mice. They do say that the next morning, when the housemaid came downstairs, she found about five thousand mice lying on the kitchen floor, too frightened to think of running away. The cat was sitting up in the middle of the room, with her head-light blazing away, and she paying not the least attention to the mice, but just licking her chops, and saying to herself that after all there was considerable good in electricity. She never made the least attempt to catch the mice, considering that it wouldn't be sportsmanlike to take advantage of their condition. The girl, she just gave one big scream, and then she got out of that kitchen and fainted dead away on the hall-floor, breaking her head-light in her fall, and creating a good deal of excitement in the house. The Professor, came down and swept up the mice, and carried them out in a basket. They do say that there was pretty near a bushel of them, but I don't doubt that the thing was exaggerated. Anyhow, the house was completely cleared of mice; and whether the Professor drowned his basketful, or just let them loose somewhere in the street, I never knew. I suspect he let them loose, for that is what a scientific man would have been middling sure to do.

"There was one person in the Professor's family who didn't like the electric light business. That was Mrs. Van Wagener. She was a woman of a great deal of character, people said, and, of course, we all know that when a woman is said to have a great deal of character, what is meant is that she can make herself mighty disagreeable, and generally does it. Mrs. Van Wagener always disliked her husband's scientific habits. She used to say that some men were kept up late at night by whiskey, and some by science, but of the two she preferred the man who went in for whiskey. Mrs. Waterman, who lived next door to Mrs. Van Wagener, had a husband who drank considerable whiskey, and Mrs. Van Wagener used to say to her, 'My dear, don't you grieve! When Waterman gets drunk, you know where he is, but when my husband gets to work in his laboratory I never know from one minute to another whether he is alive, and all in one piece, or whether he has blown himself up, and is scattered all over the country in mornamillion bits.' You see, the Professor had blown himself up a number of times, which made his wife a little prejudiced against chemistry, though he had never done himself any very great harm, except when he lost his eye.

"Well, as I was saying, Mrs. Van Wagener was mightily opposed to the electric light, and nothing could induce her to wear one on her head. She compromised by wearing a light fastened to her waist-belt, but she complained that it was of very little use when she wanted to read or to sew. 'Gimme an old-fashioned kerosene lamp every time,' she used to say. 'Some day thishyer electricity will blow up and kill the whole of us.' By the way, did you ever notice that women always believe that electricity is liable to explode? I remember when we had electric bells put into our house in New Berlinopolisville, my aunt, who kept house for me, used to warn the servants never to bring a lighted candle anywhere near the wires for fear of setting the electricity on fire and blowing up the house. Say what you will for women, you can't honestly think that they have scientific minds.

"There was one thing that troubled the Professor. He had his electric light rigged up in the top of his hat, as I believe I told you. This was all right when he took his walks abroad, but it wasn't quite so convenient in the house. Every time the Professor wanted a light he hail either to call the maid, or his daughter, or his wife, or else he had to put on his hat. Now he had a fashion of reading in bed, and he found it mighty awkward to go to bed with his hat on, which was what he had to do if he wanted a light in road by. One day a happy thought struck him, and he told his wife that he had solved the problem of his head-light at last.

"A glass eye isn't of very much use, except for show, and this was a reflection that had always annoyed the Professor, ever since he began to wear a glass eye. He now saw his way to make that eye useful, and to give himself the most convenient light that a man ever had. His idea was to make a glass eye with an incandescent fibre in the middle of it, and to run it by a storage battery in his waistcoat pocket. So he went to work, and, being a very ingenious workman, as well as a man brimful of science, he turned out a glass eye that couldn't be distinguished from a natural one, so far as appearances went, and that had an electric light of six candle-power in the middle of it.

"It was the biggest success that the Professor had ever had. Wherever he went after dark, that eye was blazing away and lighting up the path. When he wanted to read, there was his light in just the handiest place it could possibly have been. The fine wires that ran from it down to his waistcoat pocket wore concealed under his hair, so that hardly anybody would notice them; and when he wanted to put his light out, or to turn it on, all he had to do was to put his finger and thumb into his pocket. Then again, the thing operated like a dark lanthorn, for whenever the Professor wanted to turn his light off in a hurry, and without fumbling for the button in his pocket, all he had to do was to shut his eye. The light would keep on burning behind the eyelid, but it wouldn't be bright enough to attract attention.

"The day the Professor got his new eye-light into working order, his wife wasn't at home, having gone out to spend the day and the evening. He lit himself up early in the evening, and, keeping in his room, he wasn't seen by anybody. When night came he went to bed early, so as to enjoy the luxury of reading in bed. He took the storage battery out of his pocket, and put it under the pillow; and when he had stretched himself out in bed, with a book in his hand and his eye blazing away with six candle-power, he was about the happiest man in all New Berlinopolisville. He read and read until he began to get sleepy, and then he put down his book, and thought over a lot of scientific things, till he accidentally fell asleep. I told you be could close the lid over the illuminated eye if he wanted to, but as a rule he didn't close that lid, but slept with it wide open. Mrs. Van Wagener came home in course of time, and naturally went up to her bedroom. She was a strong-minded woman, who was about as likely to steal a sheep as to faint away, but she admitted afterwards that when she entered the room and saw the Professor's eye blazing its level best, she came nearer dropping on the floor than she had ever done before. However, she pulled herself together, and woke the Professor up. She never said just how she did it, but it's my idea that he was waked up suddener than a man was ever waked before. She told him that this time he had gone too far; that his illuminated eye was simply blasphemous, and that she wouldn't stay in the same house, and much less in the same room, with it. 'It's bad enough for a man to sleep with a glass eye wide open,' says she, 'but when it comes to an illuminated eye, it is more than any Christian woman is called to bear.'

"The Professor was offered to turn his eye out at once, which he naturally did, being a small, as well as a peaceful, man; and he was told that he must never wear an illuminated eye again. This didn't suit him, for he was proud of his new eye, and then there is no denying that it was a very convenient thing. So he said that he really couldn't afford to give up one of the most important inventions of the age just because of a woman's whim, and he stuck to this view of the case all through the night. The next morning, Mrs. Van Wagener went home to her mother, and brought a suit for a divorce against the Professor on the ground of cruel and inhuman treatment. When the case came on to be tried, the Professor was compelled to show the practical working of his illuminated eye to the jury, and they found a verdict for the plaintiff without leaving their seats.

"The Professor didn't seem to care very much about this, for the only thing he did care much about was science, and now that he had his house to himself he had nobody to interrupt him in his experiments. But he never could go into the street with his eye lit up without causing a crowd to collect and follow him, and presently there was an injunction got out against him, forbidding him to wear his eye in public, on the ground that it constituted a nuisance, and led to breaches of the peace. The poor old gentleman got angry at this, and said he wouldn't go into the street either by day or night; and the consequence was that, not having any exercise, he took sick and died. Well, he was a mighty bright light of science, and it's my opinion that some one else will take up his scheme of illuminated servant girls, and the like, and make a fortune out of it, though I'm willing to admit that I don't believe that illuminated glass eyes will ever become popular."


This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.