Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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Ex Libris

First published in Amazing Stories, December 1946

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2023
Version Date: 2023-11-05

Produced by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

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Amazing Stories, Decemner 1946,
with "Sentimental Monster"


The metal claws sank deep and blood spurted from the corpse.

Knowit was only a robot—and his job was to take down
books from the library shelves for his master. But it seemed
that he was Capable of other things, ghastly beyond belief....

THE room was three floors high. It was a strange room, three sides of it made up of shelves of books, the fourth, all windows that opened the view to vast gardens. Normally the room, a library was peaceful enough. Tonight, violence was there. The world was here in this room. Each bit of the world's history was bound into one of the many volumes. Every bit of writing recorded by man was here. If you stood up on the third balcony and looked down at the cold marble floor, you would have caught your breath and held tightly to the railing. Tod Williams was doing that at this moment, his breathing quickened, his heart pounding so loudly that he could hear it.

He had come in quietly from the living room, and was about to descend to the library. What he saw down there made him stop short, and his eyes widen with shocked surprise.


His voice made that one word, at once, a horrified question, a plea for an answer he knew would not come. Ben James was hunched over his desk at an odd angle, Tod Williams knew he would not answer, even before he called Ben's name.

The desk seemed to rest in a floating pool of light, the remainder of the vast room being dimly lighted. Ben James was sprawled forward, head on the desk, arms spread out on the desk top as though they were separate parts of a body that did not belong to the man. At the far end of the room, Knowit, the librarian-robot, stared down like a huge, somehow barbaric God, crouching in the semi-darkness.

Before he went down the narrow, winding stairs, Tod Williams knew that Ben James was dead, that he had died violently.

Williams found himself staring wonderingly at Knowit. The head of the robot was dimly visibly, sitting atop the box-like steel body. Williams knew every inch of that metallic monstrosity. It has always given him the creeps to watch those long tentacles snap out to the farthest corners of the room, grasp a book with suction-cup fingers and deposit it on Ben James' desk. If those tentacles turned to murder? If they shot to a man's throat, instead of toward a book?

Tod Williams suppressed a shudder. His feet pounded on the steel stairs, then made loud sounds on the bare marble floor. He stood there, staring down at the corpse of a man who had two hours before, helped him eat roast beef and baked potatoes. He lifted one arm gently, and placed it back on the desk. The blood spread into a wider pool, making the coat sleeve red.

He thought he heard a sound, and whirled toward Knowit. Knowit's eyes, square, red, were blinking. He had no way of knowing why. Knowit could be signaling hatred, danger—even sympathy. Knowit was distressed, for his eyes only blinked that red signal when he was excited.

Williams hurried up the stairs. In the living room he found Lela James, Ben's daughter. They had been talking when he decided to go down to the library.

"Lela," he said, and hesitated. How did you tell a girl that her father was dead? That he was lying in his own blood, down there in the library.

Lela was resting on the divan. She had a way of relaxing that made men look at her. Her body, clad in a soft blue robe, was smooth and well formed. Her hands graceful, her nails a soft rose.

She sat up quickly, somehow sensing the alarm in his voice. Every movement was clean. She smiled at Tod, thinking she knew why he stammered so—why he acted strangely.

"Tod," she said in a reproving voice, "you've asked Dad about us, and he's gone and teased you again. He knows we love each other. He knows we're going to be married, and he likes the idea. Don't let the old tease get you excited. He's making you fight for me—and if I'm not worth fighting for?"

She stopped talking, the color draining slowly from her face. Her eyes were suddenly full of shock.

"Tod—something is wrong...."

He nodded, tried to speak and choked. After a while he managed to tell her.

"Lela, I went down to talk to Ben. I was going to tell him that we were going to get married right away—tonight. Lela,—he...."

They understood a lot about each other. They understood how each other felt.

"Tod—Dad's ill?"

"Ben's dead, Lela. I think Knowit murdered him."

THE words hurt him. She was sobbing suddenly, her face pressed to his shoulder. She was trying to ask him why? Why would anyone, even Knowit want to harm Ben. Decent, quiet Ben James wouldn't even watch the beef on his own farm slaughtered because he was so soft hearted. Her words, delivered between sobs, didn't make sense. Tod Williams would have pushed any other woman away for not getting better control of herself. He knew how much Ben meant to her. Knew that in a moment she would get control—become cool again, with her grief locked inside her.

"Lela, this won't do any good."

She straightened her hair then and stood before him, tears still on her face, as Harry Fromm, slim, bespectacled, and frowning, came in.

He stared near-sightedly at them. "Excuse me for—interrupting."

Williams suddenly felt a weird urge to laugh aloud at the thin, pale faced man. If he laughed, it would be the chuckle of an insane man. The thing had stirred Williams—way down deep. He'd have to start doing something pretty soon about Ben's body. You didn't just leave a thing like this undone. Murder was a terrible thing, and he was gradually aware of that. He whirled on Fromm.

"You didn't interrupt anything between Lela and I. If you can concentrate on one fact for a minute, get this. Ben James is dead. Call Sparta City and tell Joe Spence the Sheriff to get here as soon as he can."

It was his nerves, he thought, that made him snap at Fromm like that. He was sorry even now, but he couldn't say anything else. Fromm had looked terrible for a second. Then, without a word, he shot out the door like a rabbit. He was talking now over the phone in the hall.

Harry Fromm worshipped Ben James. You could sense that by the way that book had fallen from Fromm's hands. Harry Fromm knew no one but Ben James gave a damn if he was dead or alive. Ben hadn't needed a librarian. Knowit took care of all that work. Harry Fromm had stayed because of his long years of service before Knowit was completed. Harry was just extra baggage now, still drawing pay because, like a faithful horse, he had been turned out to green pastures by Knowit's coming.

Tod Williams heard Lela sigh, and pivoted to catch her as she fell. He might have known that being a woman, she would faint. It had taken time for the full realization of Ben's death to overtake her. He carried her to the divan and placed her carefully, her head on a pillow. The phone was ringing loudly. He heard Fromm answer it. He knew automatically that someone, maybe the paper, was calling to confirm the news of Ben's death. He looked down at Lela, who had all the appearance of an expensive French doll, encased in fine silk. She was as lifeless as a doll at this moment.

Tod Williams swore softly at the person, or the robot, that murdered Ben James. A violent act, and in a second, all their lives were plunged into a hellish nightmare of death.

SHERIFF JOE SPENCE stood near the library door. He looked at Lela with eyes that were suspiciously moist. Joe Spence was a small man, garbed in a brown hunting outfit, high-top boots—a custom he had expected to make use of when Harry Fromm called. His hair was curly and snow white. His face, thin and brown, gave away all his sixty years.

"You better stay up here," he told Lela doubtfully.

It had taken him just ten minutes to come from Sparta City. He had driven so fast that it frightened him when he thought about it. He held the door open for them. Lela acted as though she hadn't heard him speak. She followed Tod Williams to the balcony above the death room.

Everything looked the same as it had when Williams left it. Lela's face was pale and set. She held the rail tightly as they followed Spence down the winding stairs.

At the foot of the steps, Lela paused.

"I'll—wait here."

Their footsteps were loud on the marble floor. Harry Fromm, over some of the shock he had betrayed before, went directly toward the robot. He found the switch at the base of the metal librarian, turned the switch and the lights behind Knowit's eyes blinked out. They were all more at ease without those blinking orbs examining their every move.

Joe Spence tipped Ben James' head back gently and felt under his coat. Tod Williams helped the Sheriff carry the body gently to the couch. They covered it with a blanket. There was a clean, round hole entering the body above the heart. Blood had congealed on Ben's coat. Williams turned once to glance at Lela. She had turned away. Joe Spence, who had said nothing, spoke:

"No powder wounds, yet, there should be. The wound looked as though a bullet had entered. There should be. . . ."

His voice trailed off.

"No one heard a shot," Williams said. "We were all in the living room. We should have heard."

"Why does it have to be a bullet wound?" Harry Fromm asked harshly. "Why couldn't it have been a round, pointed instrument? Knowit could have...."

He stopped short, staring at the robot.

"He was alone down here—with Knowit. You can't trust a machine. It could have turned on him."

Joe Spence said drearily:

"You've seen too many Frankenstein movies, Fromm."

THE big lights on the ceiling of the room flashed on. Williams pivoted. Lela was standing near the switch.

"It's—less ghostly with them," she said. "I—don't like the dark. He was working almost in the dark. It frightens me."

Harry Fromm spoke.

"Look—Knowit's right hand."

Joe Spence reached out and touched the steel index finger. There were six fingers. There should have been six suction cups, one for each finger. One was missing. The seven inch length of steel was pointed and rounded. It was covered with blood.

"The murderer, I guess," Spence said in a tired voice.

* * *

WHAT is the stuff called Soul? Does it occur only in man? The human body is a machine. Knowit knew all about humans. Inside Knowit's brain, a great amount of knowledge was stored. Alone, he stared down with puzzled, blinking eyes at the deserted library.

Who had turned his power on?

Knowit wondered, with pain inside his brain, where they had taken The Man Who Owned the Desk. Knowit worshiped The Man Who Owned the Desk. It was the Man who invented Knowit, made his presence here possible. Knowit remembered it all from the first day.

The library was dark, save for the faint moonlight that bathed the cold floor. I suppose I've been here for a long time. The steel body, the tentacles, the fingers, must have been here before me. My brain must have been fashioned last and made a part of my body. I was first "alive" after my "head" was attached and the power was fed into it.

I was "born" with an amazing amount of knowledge. I know that I owe all that to the Man. It was his cunning that brought me here.

For a moment, Knowit stopped this reasoning, and stared at the walls of books. The place was lonely with the Man gone. The books, stacked row upon row, didn't interest Knowit without the Man being here to encourage that interest.

Knowit tried hard to think again. There had been four of them here. Three men and the girl. The Man had been here also, without his power to think or live. The Man's power had been turned off, brutally, without the Man having anything to say or any protest to make. The one who turned off the Man's power came back with the others.

Now the Man was gone and Knowit was unhappy. One of them, the one with the glass circles over his eyes, had turned off Knowit's power. Now, someone had turned it on again.

Knowit couldn't guess who had turned on his power again. Whoever had done it, was gone from the room in the darkness before Knowit could see who it was.

Knowit thought he knew why his power had been given back. He was quite sure he knew why. He stared down into the darkness and waited. Knowit was very patient, and strange sensations stirred inside him. Knowit was feeling hate—and a desire to kill.

Suddenly he knew that the Man was dead, and would never return. Knowit was angry, but more than that, he was alarmed. There was no one else to understand him or make him happy. The desire to kill grew more pronounced as the moon rose higher and the library became full of its light.

I WONDER if another Man will come who understands my power? Knowit's square, red eyes were suddenly full of moisture. It was a strange feeling. Knowit had never cried before. Even the Man would have laughed. The Man would have said that it was moisture condensing inside the metal head. Knowit wondered if the Man had ever been aware of the emotions inside Knowit. He doubted it. How would even the Man realize that a robot was capable of emotions. What was soul?

Knowit had heard "soul" spoken of often. He had absorbed much knowledge from the books. Had he "soul"? Most of Knowit's thoughts were disturbing to him. A lot of the little motors were at work inside him now, making him hate. Making him feel heartbreak and loneliness.

Idly, he allowed one tentacle to shoot aloft. Let six rubber-cupped fingers rub slowly over the bindings of books. There was no elation in him from touching those books. No longer were they interesting. They were dead. As dead as the Man.

Someone had remained to turn on his power once more.



Was someone nursing this hate that was in him? Was someone helping make the vast decisions inside his complicated, bewildered brain?

* * *


"I suspected it from the first, just as Tod did. I begged Ben not to stay alone in that room at night."

Fromm's usually mild eyes were alive with excitement. Lela James sat forward on the divan, her hands under her chin, lips parted slightly. Spence was still here, smoking, standing by the fireplace. Outside, a long, black sedan was driving slowly away from the house.

"If Tod and you both felt that way, why didn't you talk to some of us," Spence asked. "Ben was my friend too. Maybe I could have...."

Lela said in a tired voice: "Ben would have laughed at you. Tod told me he wondered about Knowit. I guess the idea of a huge robot being alone with a man for so long frightened most of us. Afterward, we all laughed at our own fears."

"Not I," Fromm snapped. "I never trusted ..."

Tod Williams laughed shortly.

"Knowit stole your job, Harry. That's one reason you had no place for him in your heart."

Fromm started to object, but Spence broke in.

"No need to quarrel," he said mildly. "We need all the help we can give each other. Without Ben, you three better stick together. It'll take all three of you to convince a jury that a robot is guilty of murder."

Harry Fromm said he was sorry. His nerves were on edge.

Spence said:

"Just how does this robot work? Ben told me about him a long time ago. Never came up to watch him do the job. Always thought Ben was a little touched on that one subject."

"He wasn't," Williams said. "Ben was way out in front on the subject of brains and their use. Knowit was a good idea. He's the first mechanical librarian ever built. He accepted brain impulses or 'thought waves' sent out by Ben. Ben thought of a subject he wished to study. Immediately, Knowit's 'brain' picked up the subject and his tentacles shot out and picked out the necessary books. Ben saved long hours of searching for the right volumes. Never had to leave his desk. The tentacles could have shot out in the same manner, plunging a steel 'finger' into Ben's chest."

Lela shuddered, picturing the horrible details of what took place in the library. Joe Spence said he was sorry that their talk had to hurt her so. There wasn't anything else he could do tonight. He'd come up first thing in the morning.

"Meanwhile," he said, "keep that library door locked. Stay out of it."

HE left the house as quietly as he had come. Lela and Tod Williams went inside as he passed out of sight in a bend of the walk. Looking back, Joe Spence saw the door close and the light go out. He got in his car and drove a dozen rods down the road. He stopped, locked the car and went swiftly back up across the garden to a tree barely fifty feet from the library windows. He sat down with his back to the tree, thanked the Lord that he had worn the heavy hunting clothes, and started to search out every nook and cranny of the grounds with his sharp eyes. He pulled the warm collar of his coat up around his neck and prepared for a long stay.

* * *

CLOUDS scudded across the face of the moon, and the night was cool. Spence closed his eyes to relieve the hot strain from his eyeballs. In spite of the matter of fact attitude he had taken before the others, Ben James' death brought the old man real pain. Someone would go back to the library tonight. He wondered who it would be.

He had a hunch about Ben James. Ben had always trusted the robot, and Ben knew more about most things than any man alive. Of course that was only his, Joe Spence's opinion, but a man had to have faith in his own hunches, or no one else would. Maybe that was why Joe Spence had switched Knowit's power on again just after the others had left the library the last time.

* * *

TOD WILLIAMS left the house just after midnight. Harry Fromm had gone to his room.

"Why not ride into town with me," Williams suggested to Lela. "Mom can fix a room for you. You'll feel better—away from here."

Lela stood near him on the porch, shivering. It was entirely the chill night that made her feel so cold and alone. She had courage, though. She thought of Ben, and how Ben would rather have died than leave the house on the hill. Ben had died, and she wasn't leaving—yet.

"I'll stay tonight. If I need someone, Harry's here."

Tod didn't urge her. He couldn't leave, not knowing she was here alone. At the thought of Harry Fromm being any help to anyone, his lips formed themselves into a tight little smile.

It was chance that caused Tod Williams to pass within ten feet of Joe Spence as he crossed the garden and hid himself in the lilac bushes below the library window. Joe Spence saw him, but gave no sign. Williams chose a spot near the window where he could see into the library. The two men were separated by a small hedge.

Companions, keeping vigil. The moon was out now, moving swiftly through the clouds, as though afraid it would not reach its destination before morning.

KNOWIT blinked his red eyes.

Hours had passed swiftly. In a manner of speaking, Knowit was aware of time and its passing. However, it meant little to him, for he was ageless, and could be kept living for centuries. Knowit was conscious of human thoughts, although he never troubled to associate himself with them. Knowit had stored within his brain, all knowledge. The history of life was there, and of death. There were reams of material sorted neatly away in his head. He sat motionless, for his tentacles were all that moved outside the shell of his body, and he had no will to move them now. Only the faint whirr of Knowit's metal brain, and the blinking eyes, signaled that the robot was alive at all.

They are puny things at best, Knowit thought, and was shocked to realize that he was worried about humans. Of course the Man Who Owned the Desk had been different. The Man had been a god, in Knowit's mind. He had made Knowit, and controlled him, and made a place for him in this world. He had caused Knowit's slim, tentacle arms, his rubber capped fingers, to grasp books from the shelves. He had inserted into Robot, the knack of finding any bit of knowledge that the books contained.

And so they were a pair, Knowit the perfect mechanical servant, The Man, who profited by Knowit's presence and help.

Now the Man was gone. Knowit's emotions were beginning to clarify themselves, and his emotions were not pleasant.

* * *

LELA JAMES tried to read. She couldn't. She arose from the divan, still seeing clearly with her mind, the image of the still figure at the library desk. She cried, quietly, wishing she had taken Tod's advice and gone to his mother. After a time, she donned her pajamas and tried to sleep. It was no good. Ben was dead, and part of her died with him. She put on a soft, blue wool robe and went back to the living room. Her cigarette tasted bitter.

The Sheriff, Lela thought, seemed to treat the whole thing oddly. Why hadn't he stayed here? Poor Joe Spence had thought a lot of Ben. They'd known each other from childhood. Perhaps Joe couldn't face it any more tonight. Maybe he felt as Lela did—lost.

The bloody steel finger—the robot, sitting still—aloof, as though its case was perfect and could not be proven. As though—

Suddenly she was afraid. She stared at the library door—then away. The door seemed to be beckoning her. Seemed to be saying:

"Come on. Open me. Pass through. There is someone in the library who waits...."

A cold shudder went up her back. How did a person deal with a murderous robot? She tried to keep from staring at the library door. Knowit was down there.

Once she thought she heard footsteps in the hall. It frightened her more than she dared admit—even to herself. She tip-toed to the hall and listened. No sound. When she came back, she went directly to the library door, as though she had given up the fight against it, and wanted to enter.

She opened the door, went out on the balcony with hesitating steps and stood there, hands on the railing. The room was cold. The moonlight flooded it, making strange patterns on the floor below.

There were footsteps. Now they had come into the living room, and were close to her—close to the open door behind her. She shrank back against the wall—hardly daring to catch a short breath.

Someone was coming into the room—onto the balcony where she stood.

Joe Spence sprang to his feet. The high pitched, horrified scream had come from the library. He raced swiftly across the lawn, his wiry old body serving him well after hours in a cramped position. Ahead of him, Tod Williams sprinted.

Tod heard him and looked over his shoulder.

"Joe—where in...." Then, as he ran, "You've been waiting...?"

Spence saved his breath. They reached the library together. Spence saw a small boulder, part of a ring of stones that bordered a small garden. He scooped it up quickly and started breaking the glass out like a madman.

The windows splintered under his blows. The scream came again. There was a place now, big enough for a man to slide through, where there was no glass. He let Tod Williams go ahead. He heard Tod cry out:

"Lela—where are you?"

Then Lela was sobbing as though her heart would break, and Spence was with them, staring at the strange sight in the big room.

"It was Knowit," Lela cried. "I knew it had to be. There was no one else. No one who would...."

Her head was buried in Tod's shoulder. He held her very tightly against him, so that she couldn't see.

KNOWIT sat at the end of the room.

He could have no expression of hate or triumph on his face, for there was only a square box of steel. Yet, there was something triumphant about the eyes. The eyes flashed wildly, like warning signals. Every motor in Knowit's body was buzzing like a huge serpent which had already struck.

Up near the third balcony, hanging in mid air, was the limp body of Harry Fromm. The corpse dangled there, Knowit's steel fingers driven half way through its chest, Knowit's long, rigid tentacle projected stiffly upward from the robot's body.

There was a dead silence in the room. Joe Spence drew his heavy service pistol from his holster beneath the coat. He aimed carefully at Knowit's head, and fired three times, slowly, deliberately.

The motors stopped buzzing. The red eyes blinked out. Reluctantly, the tentacle started to relax, and Harry Fromm's corpse slipped from the hand and fell with a sickening thud to the marble floor. The tentacle dropped like a dead serpent, hitting his body with a resounding crack.

* * *

"I DON'T understand," Tod Williams said, "why the robot attacked Harry. The robot's power should have been cut off. I remember Harry doing that when we entered the room for the first time."

They were all standing in the living room, waiting for the long black car from Sparta City to come once more. Harry Fromm's body lay where it had fallen, in the library. Lela was calm again, her face drawn and pale. She held Williams' hand tightly, as though she was afraid that he would leave her.

Joe Spence said slowly:

"That's the whole explanation. I turned on the power again, after you left the library. I went back alone, so that none of you would know. I wanted Knowit in working condition."

Lela's breath came sharply.

"But why?"

Spence shrugged.

"We all knew that Ben's robot was controlled only by him. Therefore, why would the robot destroy the one thing that it could thank for its presence here? Ben and the robot had a perfect understanding. Therefore, so far as I was concerned, the robot was innocent."

"One of you was guilty. I had to suspect everyone until two of you were proven innocent. Harry was the best suspect. He had reason to hate Ben—or more directly, the robot. Harry Fromm was an expert librarian, but Ben no longer had any use for him. Harry was here only because Ben was too good hearted to fire him.

"Harry removed the rubber cup, placed blood on Knowit's finger and told us he suspected the machine. Why did Harry turn off Knowit's power?"

"Because he was afraid, in some manner, the robot would harm him?"

Spence nodded.

"I thought it had to be Harry, but I had no proof. I wanted Knowit to be 'awake' when the murderer came back to the library. One of you had to destroy Knowit, so that he would be unable to function again. I waited until he came back—that's all."

Williams sighed.

"We both did," he said, "We made one mistake. We forgot that Lela was still in danger."

"In a way," Spence said, "it's really not a thing you could take into court. I don't think it would do any good to convict a robot, not under our present laws."

"Harry had a gun," Lela said, as though she were still in a trance—still living those moments on the balcony. "He was going to kill me when he found me there. Knowit saved my life."

"It's possible," Williams said, "that Harry was frightened, and went there to destroy Knowit, for fear of what Knowit could do to the rest of us. He might have been panicky. He was like that."

Spence said slowly:

"Anything's possible, and we can never prove our case. We'll never know anything for sure. I had to destroy the robot, because of that one point. Perhaps Knowit avenged a murder. Perhaps Knowit himself had murdered twice. I couldn't be sure. I couldn't take that chance."

"You had no choice," Lela said. "Either way we know nothing of the robot or its brain. Perhaps, if soul is what Ben thought it was, Knowit and Ben won't remain separated. I don't know if a machine can lift itself to such heights or not. If Ben knew, then perhaps he knows now where to look for his perfect librarian."


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.