Life's Troubled Bubble
THE WEIGHER OF SOULS—Andre Maurois—Appleton ($2).*
André Maurois's trademark of polite irony will not fit this Poe-like yarn. Smoothly and deftly written as ever, it has not a chuckle in it, but many an eerie frisson, many an un-Gallic, shivery surmise.
Narrator of the story is a Frenchman who is in London on business and looks up an old trench-comrade, a doctor. The doctor is wrapped up in some very strange experiments; he shows the Frenchman what he is doing. When a patient at the hospital dies the doctor puts the body on scales, and shows his friend that the corpse loses weight not only gradually but after a time suddenly. The Frenchman, impressed but skeptical, suggests putting the whole business under a glass bell, so that the "vital essence" may not escape. They try it. Nothing happens. Then the doctor bethinks himself of ultraviolet rays. When he shoots the ray through the top of the glass bell, the "vital essence" is beautifully visible. Both are tremendously excited; but the Frenchman, only scientifically interested, is a little scared; the doctor has a personal motive.
Years pass before they meet again. One day the Frenchman gets an urgent summons from his friend, arrives to find the doctor and his recently-married young wife both dead. He finds also instructions for carrying out the final experiment the doctor has spent his life in preparing. But alas, an officious official has smashed the queer-looking apparatus.
The Author, Andre Maurois (ne Hertzog) returned to his native France last January after lecturing for a term at Princeton University. The War rescued him from an uncongenial business career; his knowledge of English got him a job as liaison officer with the British Army; his own scrupulous artistic conscience has made him one of the most meticulous of living writers. Dismissed by the bigwigs as "slight," he changed his key and wrote a full-length biography of Byron. Many an admirer will be glad he has once again written a short book, will admit its size fits the author more nearly. Other books: The Silence of Colonel Bramble, Ariel, or The Life of Shelley, The Life of Disraeli.
*Published March 27.