Harper's New Monthly Magazine,  9 (1884–85), 701–10.

Too Much Momentum

James Lane Allen


Short Fiction


Scientific Practitioners, Chemistry, Laboratories, Dynamics, Collecting

    Professor Charles Evers, who holds the 'chair of chemistry' at a 'college in Owensville—a quiet town situated in the heart of the blue-grass region of Kentucky', is also 'a practical botanist, and a farmer', and, since the death of his wife, lives alone in a rambling house on his farm (701). His neighbours consider the Professor and his house a mysterious enigma, especially his purpose-built 'laboratory, into which none of them had ever been allowed to put so much as a nose: not that any of them wished to put a nose inside it. No, indeed, far from it. It smelled bad enough on the outside; so bad, in fact, that even the animals had been known to run away from around the house at times, and the servants to be sick for days. But he never was sick. He was strange who could stand such vile odors'. Even on Sundays, the Professor 'remained closely shut up' in the laboratory 'doing Heaven—perhaps the devil—only knew what'. (702) A widow in the rural neighbourhood, Mrs Artemesia Headley Peckover, is frequently bemused by seeing the Professor's strenuous attempts to capture insects such as a 'blue-and-red-winged butterfly' in his garden. Subsequently, she is given a 'shock that almost destroyed all friendliness on her part' when 'she saw jets of flame, showers of sparks, and puffs of lurid smoke through the windows of the recently furnished laboratory' and 'thought nothing else than that her neighbor's house was on fire, and at once ran with all possible and quite unprecedented violence to give notice and help', only to be informed 'with true scientific coolness and precision' by a black servant that 'Mars Charles is jes' a-sperimentin' in the libertory' (such 'negroes', she later insists, 'are not to be trusted' (708)). (704) Mrs Peckover nevertheless begins to develop a romantic interest in the eccentric Professor. Initially moving 'slowly, very slowly; in fact, quite as an emotional glacier', her affection soon gathers considerable 'momentum', and she finally bears down on him 'at a rate of motion which insured her a speedy and memorable arrival' (705). The Professor, however, has spent the summer months 'looking in the North for some specimens' (707), and after the voluptuous Mrs Peckover reveals her true feelings for him, he informs her that the 'most valuable specimen' he has collected in New England is a young lady whom he has already married (710).

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