The brilliant mad inventor Tarantula Turnbull built herself a robotic man, for all the wrong reasons. She called him Adam Mann, but it came out like, “A Damn Mann.” She hated men, but she admired their sleek power and cunning, their grace. The way women adored them — all women but herself.
She wished she had been born a man. She wished her parents had not named her Tarantula. They were eccentric geniuses, like herself. Sadly, in a tragic experiment to make wings out of treated silk, they had both dashed over the Cliffs of Dover when she was only a small child, leaving her only their fortune and laboratories. When she left Aylward’s Asylum for Orphaned Girls at eighteen, she inherited everything.
“I hate them for being so stupid sometimes,” she told Adam, as soon as she had finished his ears. “Why start at Dover? If only they had practiced on a small step ladder, like sensible inventors. My life would be so different.”
“I am sorry about your parents,” said Adam, as soon as she finished installing his voice box. When his brain was fully functional, he added, “They were idiots.” When she had the tear ducts working properly, they wept together in the orangery. She never took him outside, for fear it might rain. It rained every day.
“I’m sorry I can’t make you proper skin,” she told Adam. “I don’t know how.” She had to make him out of fine glove leather. It wasn’t quite the same.
“It’s fine,” said Adam. He loved Tarantula more than anything, hopelessly. She was the world to him.
It was wonderful for a few weeks, but then Tarantula began to envy Adam. He was everything that she could never be — tall and strong and powerful. Handsome, and above all things — male. When her neighbor, Miss Lucy Endicott came to tea, Tarantula introduced her to Adam. Because his speech had come out just a trifle foreign, she told Lucy he was her cousin from Germany.
“He’s so handsome. Like a prince in a fairytale,” Miss Lucy whispered in her ear while Adam was snipping her a bunch of grapes in the greenhouse.
“Indeed,” said Tarantula, who had long had a sad and desperate passion for the fair golden-haired Lucy, who looked like a living china doll. “He is handsome enough, but he has no soul. I fear he could never love anyone.”
“Of course he has a soul!” said Lucy. “Just look into his eyes!”
Tarantula bit her tongue. She knew very well he had no soul. She had no idea how to put a soul into Adam. She had enough time making his male equipage and getting it functional. A soul would have been even more difficult.
As long as that worked, women like Lucy would probably overlook the absent soul, she thought bitterly.
“I’m glad you like him, Lucy,” Tarantula said. She longed to confess her genius, to blurt out, “I made him in my laboratory.” But she could not. Lucy would think her mad and eccentric, and no doubt run away. She watched her beloved sip tea, and steamed quietly over the macaroons.
“Your friend Lucy is very beautiful,” said Adam. “I would like to mate with her.”
“Then you had better get an education in being a gentleman,” said Tarantula. “And quit saying things like ‘mate with her’.”
“You’ve taught me everything I know,” said Adam sadly. “I suppose it is not enough?”
“Not by half. Miss Lucy Endicott is a wealthy young heiress, with loads of suitors from London. You need to woo her, and seduce her. It’s a pity you can’t go outdoors. We shall have to tell her you have terrible allergies to almost everything — trees, grass, wasps.”
“Am I, how do you say, allergic?”
“No, silly, you are made of glove leather. Expensive glove leather. I told the tanner I was having 500 pairs of gloves made. Now everyone knows I am mad.”
Tarantula embarked on teaching Adam to be a proper gentleman, so that he might woo her own true love, Lucy. She wept nights, after she taught him how to waltz. She cried bitter tears as he learned to quote Shakespeare and Donne. It broke her heart to teach him how to kiss.
“I love you more than anything,” Adam whispered, taking Tarantula into his manly arms. “You mean everything in the world to me.”
He meant it, but Tarantula cringed.
“I don’t fancy men,” she sighed. “Not even you. My feelings for you are strictly maternal.”
When Miss Lucy visited again, Adam charmed her utterly by reading her a poem he composed about her eyes. They giggled together in the conservatory, and he picked her Tarantula’s prize roses. Tarantula watched in misery as he and Lucy sang a duet at the pianoforte.
He explained he was allergic to England, but Miss Lucy didn’t mind. She took him riding in her covered carriage.
“May I marry Miss Lucy?” Adam asked, “Since you won’t love me, Tarantula?”
“Go ahead,” she said. Perhaps this is what I built Adam for, she thought, giving him her mother’s emerald engagement ring. He could be the man she would never be.
After Adam proposed to Lucy, and she accepted, Tarantula took an old pair of her parents’ silk wings, and leaped off the Cliffs of Dover.
“Pity about those Turnbulls,” said Miss Lucy. “I was fond of Tarantula, but the family was mad as hatters.”
In her will, Tarantula left everything to Adam Mann. Everything was quite a lot, so he was now a wealthy gentleman. He and Lucy were blissfully happy — well, almost blissfully happy.
“Why are you troubled?” Adam asked.
“Once, Tarantula told me you could never love anyone,” Lucy confessed. “She said you had no soul.”
Adam closed his eyes and shook his head.
“It is the oddest thing. I’m not sure I always had one. But now I know I do,” he said, holding Lucy close.
He suspected his soul was Tarantula’s.
Eliza Archer is working on a novel. She drinks too much coffee.