"All right. Let's suppose."
"Then you tell me who is responsible for the person of James Holden?"
"He is responsible unto himself."
"Not under the existing laws," said Manison. "Let's consider James just as we know him now. Who says, 'go ahead,' if he has an attack of acute appendicitis?"
"In the absence of someone to take the personal responsibility," said James quietly, "the attending doctor would toss his coin to see whether his Oath of Hippocrates was stronger than his fear of legal reprisals. It's been done before. But let's get to the point, Mr. Manison. What do you have in mind?"
"You've rather pointedly demonstrated your preference to live here rather than with your legally-appointed guardian."
"Well, young man, I suggest that we get this matter settled legally. You are not living under the supervision of your guardian, but you are indeed living under the auspices of people who are not recognized by law as holding the responsibility for you."
"So far there's been no cause for complaint."
"Let's keep it that way," smiled Manison. "I'll ask you to accept a writ of habeas corpus, directing you to show just cause why you should not be returned to the custody of your guardian."
"And what good will that do?"
"If you can show just cause," said Manison, "the Court will follow established precedent and appoint Mr. and Mrs. Fisher as your responsible legal guardians—if that is your desire."
"Can this be done?" asked Mrs. Fisher.
"It's been done before, time and again. The State is concerned primarily with the welfare of the child; children have been legally removed from natural but unsuitable parents, you know." He looked distressed for a moment and then went on, "The will of the deceased is respected, but the law recognizes that it is the living with which it must be primarily concerned, that mistakes can be made, and that such errors in judgment must be rectified in the name of the public weal."
"I've been—" started James but Attorney Waterman interrupted him:
"We'll accept the service of your writ, Mr. Manison." And to James after the man had departed: "Never give the opposition an inkling of what you have in mind—and always treat anybody who is not in your retainer as opposition."
The case of Brennan vs. Holden opened in the emptied court room of Judge Norman L. Carter, with a couple of bored members of the press wishing they were elsewhere. For the first two hours, it was no more than formalized outlining of the whole situation.
The plaintiff identified himself, testified that he was indeed the legal guardian of the minor James Quincy Holden, entered a transcript of the will in evidence, and then went on to make his case. He had provided a home atmosphere that was, to the best of his knowledge, the type of home atmosphere that would have been highly pleasing to the deceased parents—especially in view of the fact that this home was one and the same house as theirs and that little had been changed. He was supported by the Mitchells. It all went off in the slow, cumbersome dry phraseology of the legal profession and the sum and substance of two hours of back-and-forth question-and-answer was to establish the fact that Paul Brennan had provided a suitable home for the minor, James Quincy Holden, and that the minor James Quincy Holden had refused to live in it and had indeed demonstrated his objections by repeatedly absenting himself wilfully and with premeditation.
The next half hour covered a blow-by-blow account of Paul Brennan's efforts to have the minor restored to him. The attorneys for both sides were alert. Brennan's counsel did not even object when Waterman paved the way to show why James Holden wanted his freedom by asking Brennan:
"Were you aware that James Holden was a child of exceptional intellect?"
"And you've testified that when you moved into the Holden home, you found things as the Holdens had provided them for their child?"
"In your opinion, were these surroundings suitable for James Holden?"
"They were far too advanced for a child of five."
"I asked specifically about James Holden."
"James Holden was five years old."
Waterman eyed Brennan with some surprise, then cast a glance at Frank Manison, who sat at ease, calmly watching and listening with no sign of objection. Waterman turned back to Brennan and said, "Let's take one more turn around Robin Hood's Barn, Mr. Brennan. First, James Holden was an exceptional child?"
"And the nature of his toys and furnishings?"
"In my opinion, too advanced for a child of five."
"But were they suitable for James Holden?"
"James Holden was a child of five."
Waterman faced Judge Carter. "Your Honor," he said, "I submit that the witness is evasive. Will you direct him to respond to my direct question with a direct answer?"
"The witness will answer the question properly," said Judge Carter with a slight frown of puzzlement, "unless counsel for the witness has some plausible objection?"'
"No objection," said Manison.
"Please repeat or rephrase your question," suggested Judge Carter.
"Mr. Brennan," said Waterman, "you've testified that James was an exceptional child, advanced beyond his years. You've testified that the home and surroundings provided by James Holden's parents reflected this fact. Now tell me, were the toys, surroundings, and the home suitable for James Holden?"
"In my opinion, no."
"And subsequently you replaced them with stuff you believed more suitable for a child of five, is that it?"
"Yes. I did, and you are correct."
"To which he objected?"
"To which James Holden objected."
"And what was your response to his objection?"
"I overruled his objection."
"Upon what grounds?"
"Upon the grounds that the education and the experience of an adult carries more wisdom than the desires of a child."
"Now, Mr. Brennan, please listen carefully. During the months following your guardianship, you successively removed the books that James Holden was fond of reading, replaced his advanced Meccano set with a set of modular blocks, exchanged his oil-painting equipment for a child's coloring books and standard crayolas, and in general you removed everything interesting to a child with known superiority of intellect?"
"And your purpose in opening this hearing was to convince this Court that James Holden should be returned by legal procedure to such surroundings?"
"No more questions," said Waterman. He sat down and rubbed his forehead with the palm of his right hand, trying to think.
Manison said, "I have one question to ask of Janet Fisher, known formerly as Mrs. Bagley."
Janet Fisher was sworn and properly identified.
"Now, Mrs. Fisher, prior to your marriage to Mr. Fisher and during your sojourn with James Holden in the House on Martin's Hill, did you supervise the activities of James Holden?"
"No," she said.
"Thank you," said Manison. He turned to Waterman and waved him to any cross-questioning.
Still puzzled, Waterman asked, "Mrs. Fisher, who did supervise the House on Martin's Hill?"
"During those years, Mrs. Fisher, did James Holden at any time conduct himself in any other manner but the actions of an honest citizen? I mean, did he perform or suggest the performance of any illegal act to your knowledge?"
"No, he did not."
Waterman turned to Judge Carter. "Your Honor," he said, "it seems quite apparent to me that the plaintiff in this case has given more testimony to support the contentions of my client than they have to support their own case. Will the Court honor a petition that the case be dismissed?"
Judge Norman L. Carter smiled slightly. "This is irregular," he said. "You should wait for that petition until the plaintiff's counsel has closed his case, you know." He looked at Frank Manison. "Any objection?"
Manison said, "Your Honor, I have permitted my client to be shown in this questionable light for no other purpose than to bring out the fact that any man can make a mistake in the eyes of other men when in reality he was doing precisely what he thought to be the best thing to do for himself and for the people within his responsibility. The man who raises his child to be a roustabout is wrong in the eyes of his neighbor who is raising his child to be a scientist, and vice versa. We'll accept the fact that James Holden's mind is superior. We'll point out that there have been many cases of precocious children or child geniuses who make a strong mark in their early years and drop into oblivion by the time they're twenty. Now, consider James Holden, sitting there discussing something with his attorney—I have no doubt in the world that he could conjugate Latin verbs, discuss the effect of the Fall of Rome on Western Civilization, and probably compute the orbit of an artificial satellite. But can James Holden fly a kite or shoot a marble? Has he ever had the fun of sliding into third base, or whittling on a peg, or any of the other enjoyable trivia of boyhood? Has he—"
"One moment," said Judge Carter. "Let's not have an impassioned oration, counsel. What is your point?"
"James Holden has a legal guardian, appointed by law at the express will of his parents. Headstrong, he has seen fit to leave that protection. He is fighting now to remain away from that protection. I can presume that James Holden would prefer to remain in the company of the Fishers where, according to Mrs. Fisher, he was not responsible to her whatsoever, but rather ran the show himself. I—"
"You can't make that presumption," said Judge Carter. "Strike it from the record."
"I apologize," said Manison. "But I object to dismissing this case until we find out just what James Holden has in mind for his future."
"I'll hold Counsel Waterman's petition in abeyance until the point you mention is in the record," said Judge Carter. "Counsel, are you finished?"
"Yes," said Manison. "I'll rest."
Waterman said, "Your Honor, we've been directed to show just cause why James Holden should not be returned to the protection of his legal guardian. Counsel has implied that James Holden desires to be placed in the legal custody of Mr. and Mrs. Fisher. This is a pardonable error whether it stands in the record or not. The fact is that James Holden does not need protection, nor does he want protection. To the contrary, James Holden petitions this Court to declare him legally competent so that he may conduct his own affairs with the rights, privileges, and indeed, even the risks taken by the status of adult.
"I'll point out that the rules and laws that govern the control and protection of minor children were passed by benevolent legislators to prevent exploitation, cruelty, and deprivation of the child's life by men who would take advantage of his immaturity. However we have here a young man of twelve who has shown his competence to deal with the adult world by actual practice. Therefore it is our contention that protective laws are not only unnecessary, but undesirable because they restrict the individual from his desire to live a full and fruitful life.
"To prove our contention beyond any doubt, I'll ask that James Holden be sworn in as my first witness."
Frank Manison said, "I object, Your Honor. James Holden is a minor and not qualified under law to give creditable testimony as a witness."
Waterman turned upon Manison angrily. "You really mean that you object to my case per se."
"That, too," replied Manison easily.
"Your Honor, I take exception! It is my purpose to place James Holden on the witness stand, and there to show this Court and all the world that he is of honorable mind, properly prepared to assume the rights of an adult. We not only propose to show that he acted honorably, we shall show that James Holden consulted the law to be sure that whatever he did was not illegal."
"Or," added Manison, "was it so that he would know how close to the limit he could go without stepping over the line?"
"Your Honor," asked Waterman, "can't we have your indulgence?"
"I object! The child is a minor."
"I accept the statement!" stormed Waterman. "And I say that we intend to prove that this minor is qualified to act as an adult."
"And," sneered Manison, "I'll guess that one of your later arguments will be that Judge Carter, having accepted this minor as qualified to deliver sworn testimony, has already granted the first premise of your argument."
"I say that James Holden has indeed shown his competence already by actually doing it!"
"While hiding under a false facade!"
"A facade forced upon him by the restrictive laws that he is petitioning the Court to set aside in his case so that he need hide no longer."
Frank Manison said, "Your Honor, how shall the case of James Holden be determined for the next eight or ten years if we do grant James Holden this legal right to conduct his own affairs as an adult? That we must abridge the laws regarding compulsory education is evident. James Holden is twelve years and five months old. Shall he be granted the right to enter a tavern to buy a drink? Will his request for a license to marry be honored? May he enter the polling place and cast his vote? The contention of counsel that the creation of Charles Maxwell was a physical necessity is acceptable. But what happens without 'Maxwell'? Must we prepare a card of identity for James Holden, stating his legal status, and renew it every year like an automobile license because the youth will grow in stature, add to his weight, and ultimately grow a beard? Must we enter on this identification card the fact that he is legally competent to sign contracts, rent a house, write checks, and make his own decision about the course of dangerous medical treatment—or shall we list those items that he is not permitted to do such as drinking in a public place, cast his vote, or marry? This State permits a youth to drive an automobile at the age of sixteen, this act being considered a skill rather than an act that requires judgment. Shall James Holden be permitted to drive an automobile even though he can not reach the foot pedals from any position where he can see through the windshield?"
Judge Carter sat quietly. He said calmly, "Let the record show that I recognize the irregularity of this procedure and that I permit it only because of the unique aspects of this case. Were there a Jury, I would dismiss them until this verbal exchange of views and personalities has subsided.
"Now," he went on, "I will not allow James Holden to take the witness stand as a qualified witness to prove that he is a qualified witness. I am sure that he can display his own competence with a flow of academic brilliance, or his attorney would not have tried to place him upon the stand where such a display could have been demonstrated. Of more importance to the Court and to the State is an equitable disposition of the responsibility to and over James Quincy Holden."
Judge Norman L. Carter leaned forward and looked from Frank Manison to James Holden, and then to Attorney Waterman.
"We must face some awkward facts," he said. "If I rule that he be returned to Mr. Brennan, he will probably remain no longer than he finds it convenient, at which point he will behave just as if this Court had never convened. Am I not correct, Mr. Manison?"
"Your Honor, you are correct. However, as a member of the Department of Justice of this State, I suggest that you place the responsibility in my hands. As an Officer of the Court, my interest would be to the best interest of the State rather than based upon experience, choice, or opinion as to what is better for a five-year-old or a child prodigy. In other words, I would exert the control that the young man needed. At the same time I would not make the mistakes that were made by Mr. Brennan's personal opinion of how a child should be reared."
Waterman shouted, "I object, Your Honor. I object—"
Brennan leaped to his feet and cried, "Manison, you can't freeze me out—"
James Holden shrilled, "I won't! I won't!"
Judge Carter eyed them one by one, staring them into silence. Finally he looked at Janet Fisher and said, "May I also presume that you would be happy to resume your association with James Holden?"
She nodded and said, "I'd be glad to," in a sincere voice. Tim Fisher nodded his agreement.
Brennan whirled upon them and snarled. "My reward money—" but he was shoved down in his seat with a heavy hand by Frank Manison who snapped, "Your money bought what it was offered for. So now shut up, you utter imbecile!"
Judge Norman L. Carter cleared his throat and said, "This great concern over the welfare of James Holden is touching. We have Mr. Brennan already twice a loser and yet willing to try it for three times. We have Mr. and Mrs. Fisher who are not dismayed at the possibility of having their home occupied by a headstrong youth whose actions they cannot control. We find one of the ambitious members of the District Attorney's Office offering to take on an additional responsibility—all, of course, in the name of the State and the welfare of James Holden. Finally we have James Holden who wants no part of the word 'protection' and claims the ability to run his own life.
"Now it strikes me that assigning the responsibility for this young man's welfare is by no means the reason why you all are present, and it similarly occurs to me that the young man's welfare is of considerably less importance than the very interesting question of how and why this young man has achieved so much."
With a thoughtful expression, Judge Carter said, "James Holden, how did you acquire this magnificent education at the tender age of twelve-plus?"
"I object!" cried Frank Manison. "The minor is not qualified to give testimony."
"Objection overruled. This is not testimony. I have every right in the world to seek out as much information from whatever source I may select; and I have the additional right to inspect the information I receive to pass upon its competence and relevance. Sit down, counsel!"
Manison sat grumpily and Judge Carter eyed James again, and James took a full breath. This was the moment he had been waiting for.
"Go on, James. Answer my question. Where did you come by your knowledge?"
* * * * *
James Holden stood up. This was the question that had to arise; he was only surprised it had taken so long.
He said calmly: "Your Honor, you may not ask that question."
"I may not?" asked Judge Carter with a lift of his eyebrows.
"No sir. You may not."
"And just why may I not?"
"If this were a criminal case, and if you could establish that some of my knowledge were guilty knowledge, you could then demand that I reveal the source of my guilty knowledge and under what circumstance it was obtained. If I refused to disclose my source, I could then be held in contempt of court or charged with being an accessory to the corpus of the crime. However, this is a court hearing to establish whether or not I am competent under law to manage my own affairs. How I achieve my mental competence is not under question. Let us say that it is a process that is my secret by the right of inheritance from my parents and as such it is valuable to me so long as I can demand payment for its use."
"This information may have a bearing on my ruling."
"Your Honor, the acquisition of knowledge or information per se is concomitant with growing up. I can and will demonstrate that I have the equivalent of the schooling necessary to satisfy both this Court and the State Board of Education. I will state that my education has been acquired by concentration and application in home study, and that I admit to attendance at no school. I will provide you or anybody else with a list of the books from which I have gleaned my education. But whether I practice Yoga, Dianetics, or write the lines on a sugarcoated pill and swallow it is my trade secret. It can not be extracted from me by any process of the law because no illegality exists."
"And what if I rule that you are not competent under the law, or withhold judgment until I have had an opportunity to investigate these ways and means of acquiring an accelerated education?"
"I'll then go on record as asking you to disbar yourself from this hearing on the grounds that you are not an impartial judge of the justice in my case."
"Upon what grounds?"
"Upon the grounds that you are personally interested in being provided with a process whereby you may acquire an advanced education yourself."
The judge looked at James thoughtfully for a moment. "And if I point out that any such process is of extreme interest to the State and to the Union itself, and as such must be disclosed?"
"Then I shall point out that your ruling is based upon a personal opinion because you don't know anything about the process. If I am ruled a legal minor you cannot punish me for not telling you my secrets, and if I am ruled legally competent, I am entitled to my own decision."
"You are within your rights," admitted Judge Carter with some interest. "I shall not make such a demand. But I now ask you if this process of yours is both safe and simple."
"If it is properly used with some good judgment."
"Now listen to me carefully," said Judge Carter. "Is it not true that your difficulties in school, your inability to get along with your classmates, and your having to hide while you toiled for your livelihood in secret—these are due to this extensive education brought about through your secret process?"
"I must agree, but—"
"You must agree," interrupted Judge Carter. "Yet knowing these unpleasant things did not deter you from placing, or trying to place, the daughter of your housekeeper in the same unhappy state. In other words, you hoped to make an intellectual misfit out of her, too?"
"I—now see here—"
"You see here! Did you or did you not aid in the education of Martha Bagley, now Martha Fisher?"
"Yes, I did, and—"
"Was that good judgment, James Holden?"
"What's wrong with higher education?" demanded James angrily.
"Nothing, if it's acquired properly."
"Now listen again. If I were to rule in your favor, would Martha Fisher be the next bratling in a long and everlasting line of infant supermen applying to this and that and the other Court to have their legal majority ruled, each of them pointing to your case as having established precedence?"
"I have no way of predicting the future, sir. What may happen in the future really has no bearing in evidence here."
"Granted that it does not. But I am not going to establish a dangerous precedent that will end with doctors qualified to practice surgery before they are big enough to swing a stethoscope or attorneys that plead a case before they are out of short pants. I am going to recess this case indefinitely with a partial ruling. First, until this process of yours comes under official study, I am declaring you, James Holden, to be a Ward of this State, under the jurisdiction of this Court. You will have the legal competence to act in matters of skill, including the signing of documents and instruments necessary to your continued good health. In all matters that require mature judgment, you will report to this Court and all such questions shall be rendered after proper deliberation either in open session or in chambers, depending upon the Court's opinion of their importance. The court stenographer will now strike all of the testimony given by James Holden from the record."
"I object!" exploded Brennan's attorney, rising swiftly and with one hand pressing Brennan down to prevent him from rising also.
"All objections are overruled. The new Ward of the State will meet with me in my chambers at once. Court is adjourned."
* * * * *
The session was stormy but brief. Holden objected to everything, but the voice of Judge Carter was loud and his stature was large; they overrode James Holden and compelled his attention.
"We're out of the court," snapped Judge Carter. "We no longer need observe the niceties of court etiquette, so now shut up and listen! Holden, you are involved in a thing that is explosively dangerous. You claim it to be a secret, but your secret is slowly leaking out of your control. You asked for your legal competence to be ruled. Fine, but if I allowed that, every statement made by you about your education would be in court record and your so-called secret that much more widespread. How long do you think it would have been before millions of people howled at your door? Some of them yelping for help and some of them bitterly objecting to tampering with the immature brain? You'd be accused of brainwashing, of making monsters, of depriving children of their heritage of happiness—and in the same ungodly howl there would be voices as loudly damning you for not tossing your process into their laps. And there would be a number trying to get to you on the sly so that they could get a head start over the rest.
"You want your competence affirmed legally? James, you have not the stature nor the voice to fight them off. Even now, your little secret is in danger and you'll probably have to bribe a few wiseacres with a touch of accelerated knowledge to keep them from spilling the whole story, even though I've ruled your testimony incompetent and immaterial and stricken from the record. Now, we'll study this system of yours under controlled conditions as your parents wanted, and we'll have professional help and educated advice, and both you and your process shall be under the protection of my Court, and when the time comes you shall receive the kudos and benefits from it. Understand?"
"Good. Now, as my first order, you go back to Shipmont and pack your gear. You'll report to my home as soon as you've made all the arrangements. There'll be no more hiding out and playing your little process in secret either from Paul Brennan—yes, I know that you believe that he was somehow instrumental in the death of your parents but have no shred of evidence that would stand in court—or the rest of the world. Is that, and everything else I've said in private, very clear?"
"Good. Now, be off with you. And do not hesitate to call upon me if there is any interference whatsoever."
Judge Carter insisted and won his point that James Holden accept residence in his home.
He did not turn a hair when the trucks of equipment arrived from the house on Martin's Hill; he already had room for it in the cellar. He cheerfully allowed James the right to set it up and test it out. He respected James Holden's absolute insistence that no one be permitted to touch the special circuit that was the heart of the entire machine. Judge Carter also counter-requested—and enforced the request—that he be allowed to try the machinery out. He took a simple reading course in higher mathematics, after discovering that Holden's machine would not teach him how to play the violin. (Judge Carter already played the violin—but badly.)
Later, the judge committed to memory the entire book of Bartlett's Famous Quotations despite the objection of young Holden that he was cluttering up his memory with a lot of useless material. The Judge learned (as James had learned earlier) that the proper way to store such information in the memory was to read the book with the machine turned in "stand-by" until some section was encountered that was of interest. Using this method, the judge picked and pecked at the Holy Bible, a number of documents that looked like important governmental records, and a few books in modern history.
Then there came other men. First was a Professor Harold White from the State Board of Education who came to study both Holden and Holden's machinery and what it did. Next came a Dr. Persons who said very little but made diagrams and histograms and graphs which he studied. The third was a rather cheerful fellow called Jack Cowling who was more interested in James Holden's personal feelings than he was in the machine. He studied many subjects superficially and watched the behavior of young Holden as Holden himself studied subjects recommended by Professor White.
White had a huge blackboard installed on the cellar wall opposite the machine, and he proceeded to fill the board with block outlines filled with crabbed writing and odd-looking symbols. The whole was meaningless to James Holden; it looked like the organization chart of a large corporation but it contained no names or titles. The arrival of each new visitor caused changes in the block diagram.
These arrivals went at their project with stop watches and slide rules. They calibrated themselves and James with the cold-blooded attitude of racetrack touts clocking their favorite horses. Where James had simply taken what he wanted or what he could at any single sitting, then let it settle in his mind before taking another dose of unpremeditated magnitude, these fellows ascertained the best effectiveness of each application to each of them. They tried taking long terms under the machine and then they measured the time it took for the installed information to sink in and settle into usable shape. Then they tried shorter and shorter sittings and measured the correspondingly shorter settling times. They found out that no two men were alike, nor were any two subjects. They discovered that a man with an extensive education already could take a larger sitting and have the new information available for mental use in a shorter settling time than a man whose education had been sketchy or incomplete.
They brought in men who had either little or no mathematics and gave them courses in advanced subjects. Afterwards they provided the foundation mathematics and they calibrated and measured the time it took for the higher subject to be understood as it aligned its information to the whole. Men came with crude English and bluntly read the dictionary and the proper rules of grammar and they were checked to see if their early bad-speech habits were corrected, and to what degree the Holden machine could be made to help repair the damage of a lifelong ingrained set of errors. They sent some of these boys through comparison dictionaries in foreign tongues and then had their language checked by specialists who were truly polylingual. There were some who spoke fluent English but no other tongue; these progressed into German with a German-to-English comparison dictionary, and then into French via a German-to-French comparison and were finally checked out in French by French-speaking examiners.
And Professor White's block diagram grew complex, and Dr. Persons's histograms filled pages and pages of his broad notebooks.
It was the first time that James Holden had ever seen a team of researchers plow into a problem, running a cold and icy scientific investigation to ascertain precisely how much cause produced how much effect. Holden, who had taken what he wanted or needed as the time came, began to understand the desirability of full and careful programming. The whole affair intrigued him and interested him. He plunged in with a will and gave them all the help he could.
He had no time to be bored, and he did not mark the passage of time until he arrived at his thirteenth birthday.
Then one night shortly after his birthday, James Holden discovered women indirectly. He had his first erotic dream.
We shall not go into the details of this midnight introduction to the arrival of manhood, for the simple reason that if we dwell on the subject, someone is certain to attempt a dream-analysis and come up with some flanged-up character-study or personality-quirk that really has nothing to do with the mind or body of James Holden. The truth is that his erotic dream was pleasantly stirring, but not entirely satisfactory. It was fun while it lasted, but it didn't last very long. It awakened him to the realization that knowledge is not the end-all of life, and that a full understanding of the words, the medical terms, and the biology involved did not tell him a thing about this primary drive of all life.
His total grasp of even the sideline issues was still dim. He came to a partial understanding of why Jake Caslow had entertained late visitors of the opposite sex, but he still could not quite see the reason why Jake kept the collection of calendar photographs and paintings hung up around the place. Crude jokes and rude talk heard long years before and dimly remembered did not have much connection with the subject. To James Holden, a "tomato" was still a vegetable, although he knew that some botanists were willing to argue that the tomato was really a fruit.
For many days he watched Judge Carter and his wife with a critical curiosity that their childless life had never known before. James found that they did not act as if something new and strangely thrilling had just hit the known universe. He felt that they should know about it. Despite the fact that he knew everything that his textbooks could tell him about sex and copulation he still had the quaint notion that the reason why Judge Carter and his wife were childless was because they had not yet gotten around to Doing It. He made no attempt to correlate this oddity with its opposite in Jake Caslow's ladies of the night who seemed to go on their merry way without conceiving.
He remembered the joking parry-and-thrust of that midnight talk between Tim Fisher and Janet Bagley but it made no sense to him still. But as he pondered the multitude of puzzlements, some of the answers fell partly into place just as some of the matching pieces of a jigsaw puzzle may lie close to one another when they are dumped out of the box. Very dimly James began to realize that this sort of thing was not New, but to the contrary it had been going on for a long, long time. So long in fact that neither Tim Fisher nor Janet Bagley had found it necessary to state desire and raise objection respectively in simple clear sentences containing subject, verb, and object. This much came to him and it bothered him even more, now that he understood that they were bandying their meanings lightly over a subject so vital, so important, so—so completely personal.
Then, in that oddly irrational corner of his brain that neither knowledge nor information had been adequate to rationalize nor had experience arrived to supply the explanation, James Holden's limited but growing comprehension arrived at a conclusion that was reasonable within its limited framework. Judge Carter and his wife occupied separate bedrooms and had therefore never Done It. Conversely, Tim and Janet Fisher from their midnight discussion obviously Knew What It Was All About. James wondered whether they had Done It yet, and he also wondered whether he could tell by listening to their discussions and conversations now that they'd been married at least long enough to have Tried It.
With a brand new and very interesting subject to study, James lost interest in the program of concentrated research. James Holden found that all he had to do to arrange a trip to Shipmont was to state his desire to go and the length of his visit. The judge deemed both reasonable, Mrs. Carter packed James a bag, and off he went.
* * * * *
The house on Martin's Hill was about the same, with some improvement such as a coat of paint and some needed repair work. The grounds had been worked over, but it was going to take a number of years of concentrated gardening to de-weed the tangled lawn and to cut the undergrowth in the thin woodsy back area where James had played in concealment.
But the air inside was changed. Janet, as Mrs. Bagley, had been as close to James Holden as any substitute mother could have been. Now she seemed preoccupied and too busy with her own life to act more than pleasantly polite. He could have been visiting the home of a friend instead of returning to the domicile he had created, in which he had provided her with a home—for herself and a frightened little girl. She asked him how he had been and what he was doing, but he felt that this was more a matter of taking up time than real interest. He had the feeling that somewhere deep inside, her soul was biting its fingernails. She spoke of Martha with pride and hope, she asked how Judge Carter was making out and whether Martha would be able to finish her schooling via Holden's machine.
James believed this was her problem. Martha had been educated far beyond her years. She could no more enter school now than he could; unwittingly he'd made Martha a misfit, too. So James tried to explain that part of the study undertaken in Judge Carter's program had been the question of what to do about Martha.
The professionals studying the case did not know yet whether Martha would remain ahead of her age group, or whether to let her loaf it out until her age group caught up with her, or whether to give Martha everything she could take as fast as she could take it. This would make a female counterpart of James Holden to study.
But knowing that there were a number of very brilliant scientists, educators, and psychologists working on Martha's problem did not cheer up Mrs. Janet Fisher as much as James thought it should. Yet as he watched her, he could not say that Tim Fisher's wife was unhappy.
Tim, on the other hand, looked fine. James watched them together as critically curious as he'd been in watching the Judge and Mrs. Carter. Tim was gentle with his wife, tender, polite, and more than willing to wait on her. From their talk and chit-chat, James could detect nothing. There were still elisions, questions answered with a half-phrase, comments added with a disconnected word and replied in another word that—in cold print—would appear to have no bearing on the original subject. This sort of thing told James nothing. Judge Carter and his wife did the same; if there were any difference to be noted it was only in the basic subject materials. The judge and his wife were inclined more toward discussions of political questions and judicial problems, whereas Tim and Janet Fisher were more interested in music, movies, and the general trend of the automobile repair business; or more to the point, whether to expand the present facility in Shipmont, to open another branch elsewhere, or to sell out to buy a really big operation in some sizable city.
James saw a change in Martha, too. It had been months since he came back home to supervise the removal of his belongings. Now Martha had filled out. She was dressed in a shirt-and-skirt instead of the little jumper dresses James remembered. Martha's hair was lightly wavy instead of trimmed short, and she was wearing a very faint touch of color on her lips. She wore tiny slippers with heels just a trifle higher than the altitude recommended for a girl close to thirteen.
Ultimately they fell into animated chatter of their own, just as they always had. There was a barrier between the pair of them and Martha's mother and stepfather—slightly higher than the usual barrier erected between children and their adults because of their educational adventures together. They had covered reams and volumes together. Martha's mother was interested in Holden's machine only when something specific came to her attention that she did not wish to forget such as a recipe or a pattern, and one very extensive course that enabled her to add a column of three-digit numbers by the whole lines instead of taking each column digit by digit. Tim Fisher himself had deeper interests, but nearly all of them directed at making Tim Fisher a better manager of the automobile repair business. There had been some discussion of the possibility that Tim Fisher might memorize some subject such as the names of all baseball players and their yearly and lifetime scoring, fielding, and playing averages, training for him to go as a contestant on one of the big money giveaway shows. This never came to pass; Tim Fisher did not have any spectacular qualities about him that would land him an invitation. So Tim's work with Holden's machine had been straightforward studies in mechanics and bookkeeping and business management—plus a fine repertoire of bawdy songs he had rung in on the sly and subsequently used at parties.
James and Martha had taken all they wanted of education and available information, sometimes with plan and the guidance of schoolbooks and sometimes simply because they found the subject of interest. In the past they'd had discussions of problems in understanding; they'd talked of things that parents and elders would have considered utterly impossible to discuss with young minds. With this communion of interests, they fell back into their former pattern of first joining the general conversation politely and then gradually confining their remarks to one another until there were two conversations going on at the same time, one between James and Martha and another between Janet and Tim. Again, the vocal interference and cross-talk became too high, and it was Tim and Janet who left the living room to mix a couple of highballs and start dinner.
The chatter continued, but now with a growing strain on the part of young James Holden.
He wanted to switch to a more personal topic of conversation but he did not know how to accomplish this feat. There was plenty of interest but it was more clinical than passionate; he was not stirred to yearning, he felt no overwhelming desire to hold Martha's hand nor to feel the softness of her face, yet there was a stirring urge to make some form of contact. But he had no idea of how to steer the conversation towards personal lines that might lead into something that would justify a gesture towards her. It began to work on him. The original clinical urge to touch her just to see what reaction would obtain changed into a personal urge that grew higher as he found that he could not kick the conversational ball in that direction. The idea of putting an arm about her waist as he had seen men embrace their girls on television was a pleasing thought; he wanted to find out if kissing was as much fun as it was made up to be.
But instead of offering him any encouragement, or even giving him a chance to start shifting the conversation, Martha went prattling on and on and on about a book she'd read recently.
It did not occur to James Holden that Martha Bagley might entertain the idea of physical contact of some mild sort on an experimental basis. He did not even consider the possibility that he might start her thinking about it. So instead of closing the distance between them like a gentle wolf, watching with sly calculation to ascertain whether her response was positive, negative, or completely neutral, he sat like a post and fretted inwardly because he couldn't control the direction of their conversation.
Ultimately, of course, Martha ran out of comment on her book and then there fell a deadly silence because James couldn't dredge up another lively subject. Desperately, he searched through his mind for an opening. There was none. The bright patter between male and female characters in books he'd smuggled started off on too high a level on both sides. Books that were written adequately for his understanding of this problem signed off with the trite explanation that they lived happily ever afterwards but did not say a darned thing about how they went about it. The slightly lurid books that he'd bought, delivered in plain wrappers, gave some very illuminating descriptions of the art or act, but the affair opened with the scene all set and the principal characters both ready, willing, and able. There was no conversational road map that showed the way that led two people from a calm and unemotional discussion into an area that might lead to something entirely else.
In silence, James Holden sat there sinking deeper and deeper into his own misery.
The more he thought about it, the farther he found himself from his desire. Later in the process, he knew, came a big barrier called "stealing a kiss," and James with his literal mind provided this game with an aggressor, a defender, and the final extraction by coercion or violence of the first osculatory contact. If the objective could be carried off without the defense repulsing the advance, the rest was supposed to come with less trouble. But here he was floundering before he began, let alone approaching the barrier that must be an even bigger problem.
Briefly he wished that it were Christmas, because at Christmas people hung up mistletoe. Mistletoe would not only provide an opening by custom and tradition, it also cut through this verbal morass of trying to lead up to the subject by the quick process of supplying the subject itself. But it was a long time before Christmas. James abandoned that ill-conceived idea and went on sinking deep and feeling miserable.
Then Martha's mother took James out of his misery by coming in to announce dinner. Regretfully, James sighed for his lost moments and helplessness, then got to his feet and held out a hand for Martha.
She put her hand in his and allowed him to lift her to her feet by pulling. The first contact did not stir him at all, though it was warm and pleasant. Once the pulling pressure was off, he continued to hold Martha's hand, tentatively and experimentally.
Then Janet Fisher showered shards of ice with a light laugh. "You two can stand there holding hands," she said. "But I'm going to eat it while it's on the table."
James Holden's hand opened with the swiftness of a reflex action, almost as fast as the wink of an eye at the flash of light or the body's jump at the crack of sound. Martha's hand did not drop because she, too, was holding his and did not let go abruptly. She giggled, gave his hand a little squeeze and said, "Let's go. I'm hungry too."
None of which solved James Holden's problem. But during dinner his personal problem slipped aside because he discovered another slight change in Janet Fisher's attitude. He puzzled over it quietly, but managed to eat without any apparent preoccupation. Dinner took about a half hour, after which they spent another fifteen minutes over coffee, with Janet refusing her second cup. She disappeared at the first shuffle of a foot under the table, while James and Martha resumed their years-old chore of clearing the table and tackling the dishwashing problem.
Alone in the kitchen, James asked Martha, "What's with your mother?"
"What do you mean, what's with her?"
"She's changed, somehow."
"In what way?"
"She seems sort of inner-thoughtful. Cheerful enough but as if something's bothering her that she can't stop."
"No," he went on. "She hiked upstairs like a shot right after dinner was over. Tim raced after her. And she said no to coffee."
"Oh, that. She's just a little upset in the middle."
"Sure. Can't you see?"
"Never occurred to me to look."
"Well, it's so," said Martha, scouring a coffee cup with an exaggerated flourish. "And I'm going to have a half-sibling."
"Don't you go getting upset," said Martha. "It's a natural process that's been going on for hundreds of thousands of years, you know."
"Not for months," said Martha. "It just happened."
"Too bad she's unhappy."
"She's very happy. Both of them wanted it."
James considered this. He had never come across Voltaire's observation that marriage is responsible for the population because it provides the maximum opportunity with the maximum temptation. But it was beginning to filter slowly into his brain that the ways and means were always available and there was neither custom, tradition, nor biology that dictated a waiting period or a time limit. It was a matter of choice, and when two people want their baby, and have no reason for not having their baby, it is silly to wait.
"Why did they wait so long if they both want it?"
"Oh," replied Martha in a matter-of-fact voice, "they've been working at it right along."
James thought some more. He'd come to see if he could detect any difference between the behavior of Judge and Mrs. Carter, and the behavior of Tim and Janet Fisher. He saw little, other than the standard differences that could be accounted for by age and temperament. Tim and Janet did not really act as if they'd Discovered Something New. Tim, he knew, was a bit more sweet and tender to Janet than he'd been before, but there was nothing startling in his behavior. If there were any difference as compared to their original antics, James knew that it was undoubtedly due to the fact that they didn't have to stand lollygagging in the hallway for two hours while Janet half-heartedly insisted that Tim go home. He went on to consider his original theory that the Carters were childless because they occupied separate bedrooms; by some sort of deduction he came to the conclusion that he was right, because Tim and Janet Fisher were making a baby and they slept in the same bedroom.
He went on in a whirl; maybe the Carters didn't want children, but it was more likely that they too had tried but it hadn't happened.
And then it came to him suddenly that here he was in the kitchen alone with Martha Bagley, discussing the very delicate subject. But he was actually no closer to his problem of becoming a participant than he'd been an hour ago in the living room. It was one thing to daydream the suggestion when you can also daydream the affirmative response, but it was another matter when the response was completely out of your control. James was not old enough in the ways of the world to even consider outright asking; even if he had considered it, he did not know how to ask.
* * * * *
The evening went slowly. Janet and Tim returned about the time the dishwashing process was complete. Janet proposed a hand of bridge; Tim suggested poker, James voted for pinochle, and Martha wanted to toss a coin between canasta or gin rummy. They settled it by dealing a shuffled deck face upward until the ace of hearts landed in front of Janet, whereupon they played bridge until about eleven o'clock. It was interesting bridge; James and Martha had studied bridge columns and books for recreation; against them were aligned Tim and Janet, who played with the card sense developed over years of practice. The youngsters knew the theories, their bidding was as precise as bridge bidding could be made with value-numbering, honor-counting, response-value addition, and all of the other systems. They understood all of the coups and end plays complete with classic examples. But having all of the theory engraved on their brains did not temporarily imprint the location of every card already played, whereas Tim and Janet counted their played cards automatically and made up in play what they missed in stratagem.
At eleven, Janet announced that she was tired, Tim joined her; James turned on the television set and he and Martha watched a ten-year-old movie for an hour. Finally Martha yawned.
And James, still floundering, mentally meandered back to his wish that it were Christmas so that mistletoe would provide a traditional gesture of affection, and came up with a new and novel idea that he expressed in a voice that almost trembled:
"Well, why don't I kiss you good night and send you off to bed."
"All right, if you want to."
"Oh—just—well, everybody does it."
She sat near him on the low divan, looking him full in the face but making no move, no gesture, no change in her expression. He looked at her and realized that he was not sure of how to take hold of her, how to reach for her, how to proceed.
She said, "Well, go ahead."
"I'm going to."
"As soon as I get good and ready."
"Are we going to sit here all night?"
In its own way, it reminded James of the equally un-brilliant conversation between Janet and Tim on the homecoming after their first date. He chuckled.
"What's so funny?"
"Nothing," he said in a slightly strained voice. "I'm thinking that here we sit like a couple of kids that don't know what it's all about."
"Well," said Martha, "aren't we?"
"Yes," he said reluctantly, "I guess we are. But darn it, Martha, how does a guy grow up? How does a guy learn these things?" His voice was plaintive, it galled him to admit that for all of his knowledge and his competence, he was still just a bit more than a child emotionally.
"I don't know," she said in a voice as plaintive as his. "I wouldn't know where to look to find it. I've tried. All I know," she said with a quickening voice, "is that somewhere between now and then I'll learn how to toss talk back and forth the way they do."
"Yes," he said glumly.
"James," said Martha brightly, "we should be somewhat better than a pair of kids who don't know what it's all about, shouldn't we?"
"That's what bothers me," he admitted. "We're neither of us stupid. Lord knows we've plenty of education between us, but—"
"James, how did we get that education?"
"Through my father's machine."
"No, you don't understand. What I mean is that no matter how we got our education, we had to learn, didn't we?"
"Why, yes. In a—"
"Now, let's not get involved in another philosophical argument. Let's run this one right on through to the end. Why are we sitting here fumbling? Because we haven't yet learned how to behave like adults."
"I suppose so. But it strikes me that anything should be—"
"James, for goodness' sake. Here we are, the two people in the whole world who have studied everything we know together, and when we hit something we can't study—you want to go home and kiss your old machine," she finished with a remarkable lack of serial logic. She laughed nervously.
"What's so darned funny?" he demanded sourly.
"Oh," she said, "you're afraid to kiss me because you don't know how, and I'm afraid to let you because I don't know how, and so we're talking away a golden opportunity to find out. James," she said seriously, "if you fumble a bit, I won't know the difference because I'm no smarter than you are."
She leaned forward holding her face up, her lips puckered forward in a tight little rosebud. She closed her eyes and waited. Gingerly and hesitantly he leaned forward and met her lips with a pucker of his own. It was a light contact, warm, and ended quickly with a characteristic smack that seemed to echo through the silent house. It had all of the emotional charge of a mother-in-law's peck, but it served its purpose admirably. They both opened their eyes and looked at one another from four inches of distance. Then they tried it again and their second was a little longer and a little warmer and a little closer, and it ended with less of the noise of opening a fruit jar.
Martha moved over close beside him and put her head on his shoulder; James responded by putting an arm around her, and together they tried to assemble themselves in the comfortably affectionate position seen in movies and on television. It didn't quite work that way. There seemed to be too many arms and legs and sharp corners for comfort, or when they found a contortion that did not create interferences with limb or corner, it was a strain on the spine or a twist in the neck. After a few minutes of this coeducational wrestling they decided almost without effort to return to the original routine of kissing. By more luck than good management they succeeded in an embrace that placed no strain and which met them almost face to face. They puckered again and made contact, then pressure came and spread out the pair of tightly pursed rosebuds. Martha moved once to get her nose free of his cheek for a breath of air.
At the rate they were going, they might have hit paydirt this time, but just at the point where James should have relaxed to enjoy the long kiss he began to worry: There is something planned and final about the quick smacking kiss, but how does one gracefully terminate the long-term, high-pressure jobs? So instead of enjoying himself, James planned and discarded plans until he decided that the way he'd do it would be to exert a short, heavy pressure and then cease with the same action as in the quick-smack variety.
It worked fine, but as he opened his eyes to look at her, she was there with her eyes still closed and her lips still ready. He took a deep breath and plunged in again. Having determined how to start, James was now going to experiment with endings.
They came up for air successfully again, and then spent some time wriggling around into another position. The figure-fitting went easier this time, after threshing around through three or four near-comforts they came to rest in a pleasantly natural position and James Holden became nervously aware of the fact that his right hand was cupped over a soft roundness that filled his palm almost perfectly. He wondered whether to remove it quickly to let her know that this intimacy wasn't intentional; slowly so that (maybe, he hoped) she wouldn't realize that it had been there; or to leave it there because it felt pleasant. While he was wondering, Martha moved around because she could not twist her neck all the way around like an owl, and she wanted to see him. The move solved his problem but presented the equally great problem of how he would try it again.
James allowed a small portion of his brain to think about this, and put the rest of his mind at ease by kissing her again. Halfway through, he felt warm moistness as her lips parted slightly, then the tip of her tongue darted forward between his lips to quest against his tongue in a caress so fleeting that it was withdrawn before he could react—and James reacted by jerking his head back faster than if he had been clubbed in the face. He was still tingling with the shock, a pleasant shock but none the less a shock, when Martha giggled lightly.
He bubbled and blurted, "Wha—whu—?"
She told him nervously, "I've been wanting to try that ever since I read it in a book."
He shivered. "What book?" he demanded in almost a quaver.
"A paperback of Tim's. Mother calls them, Tim's sex and slay stories." Martha giggled again. "You jumped."
"Sure did. I was surprised. Do it again."
"I don't think so."
"Didn't you like it?"
"I don't know. I didn't have time to find out."
He kissed her again and waited. And waited. And waited. Finally he moved back an inch and said, "What's the matter?"
"I don't think we should. Maybe we ought to wait until we're older."
"Not fair," he complained. "You had all the warning."
"Didn't you like it?" he asked.
"Well, it gave me the most tickly tingle."
"And all I got was a sort of mild electric shock. Come on."
"Well, then, I'll do it to you."
"All right. Just once."
Leaping to the end of this midnight research, there are three primary ways of concluding, namely: 1, physical satisfaction; 2, physical exhaustion; and 3, interruption. We need not go into sub-classifications or argue the point. James and Martha were not emotionally ready to conclude with mutual defloration. Ultimately they fell asleep on the divan with their arms around each other. They weren't interrupted; they awoke as the first flush of daylight brightened the sky, and with one more rather chaste kiss, they parted to fall into the deep slumber of complete physical and emotional exhaustion.
James Holden's ride home on the train gave him a chance to think, alone and isolated from all but superficial interruptions. He felt that he was quite the bright young man.
He noticed with surreptitious pride that folks no longer eyed him with sly, amused, knowing smiles whenever he opened a newspaper. Perhaps some of their amusement had been the sight of a youngster struggling with a full-spread page, employing arms that did not quite make the span. But most of all he hated the condescending tolerance; their everlasting attitude that everything he did was "cute" like the little girl who decked herself out in mother's clothing from high heels and brassiere to evening gown, costume jewelry, and a fumbled smear of makeup.
That was over. He'd made it to a couple of months over fourteen, he'd finally reached a stature large enough so that he did not have to prove his right to buy a railroad ticket, nor climb on the suitcase bar so that he could peer over the counter. Newsdealers let him alone to pick his own fare instead of trying to "save his money" by shoving Mickey Mouse at him and putting his own choice back on its pile.
He had not succeeded in gaining his legal freedom, but as Ward of the State under Judge Carter he had other interesting expectations that he might not have stumbled upon. Carter had connections; there was talk of James' entering a comprehensive examination at some university, where the examining board, forearmed with the truth about his education, would test James to ascertain his true level of comprehension. He could of course collect his bachelor's degree once he complied with the required work of term papers written to demonstrate that his information could be interwoven into the formation of an opinion, or reflection, or view of some topic. Master's degrees and doctor's degrees required the presentation of some original area of study, competence in his chosen field, and the development of some facet of the field that had not been touched before. These would require more work, but could be handled in time.
In fact, he felt that he was in pretty good shape. There were a couple of sticky problems, still. He wanted Paul Brennan to get his comeuppance, but he knew that there was no evidence available to support his story about the slaughter of his parents. It galled him to realize that cold-blooded, premeditated murder for personal profit and avarice could go undetected. But until there could be proffered some material evidence, Brennan's word was as good as his in any court. So Brennan was getting away with it.
The other little item was his own independence. He wanted it. That he might continue living with Judge Carter had no bearing. No matter how benevolent the tyranny, James wanted no part of it. In fighting for his freedom, James Holden's foot had slipped. He'd used his father's machine on Martha, and that was a legal error.
Martha? James was not really sorry he'd slipped. Error or not, he'd made of her the only person in the world who understood his problem wholly and sympathetically. Otherwise he would be completely alone.
Oh yes, he felt that he was quite the bright young man. He was coming along fine and getting somewhere. His very pleasant experiences in the house on Martin's Hill had raised him from a boy to a young man; he was now able to grasp the appreciation of the Big Drive, to understand some of the reasons why adults acted in the way that they did. He hadn't managed another late session of sofa with Martha, but there had been little incidental meetings in the hallway or in the kitchen with the exchange of kisses, and they'd boldly kissed goodbye at the railroad station under her mother's smile.
He could not know Janet Fisher's mind, of course. Janet, mother to a girl entering young womanhood, worried about all of the things that such a mother worries about and added a couple of things that no other mother ever had. She could hardly slip her daughter a smooth version of the birds and the bees and people when she knew full well that Martha had gone through a yard or so of books on the subject that covered everything from the advanced medical to the lurid expose and from the salacious to the ribald. Janet could only hope that her daughter valued her chastity according to convention despite the natural human curiosity which in Martha would be multiplied by the girl's advanced education. Janet knew that young people were marrying younger and younger as the years went on; she saw young James Holden no longer as a rather odd youngster with abilities beyond his age. She saw him now as the potential mate for Martha. And when they embraced and kissed at the station, Janet did not realize that she was accepting this salute as the natural act of two sub-adults, rather than a pair of precocious kids.
At any rate, James Holden felt very good. Now he had a girl. He had acquired one more of the many attitudes of the Age of Maturity.
So James settled down to read his newspaper, and on page three he saw a photograph and an article that attracted his attention. The photograph was of a girl no more than seven years old holding a baby at least a year old. Beside them was a boy of about nine. In the background was a miserable hovel made of crude lumber and patched windows. This couple and their baby had been discovered by a geological survey outfit living in the backwoods hills. Relief, aid, and help were being rushed, and the legislature was considering ways and means of their schooling. Neither of them could read or write.
James read the article, and his first thought was to proffer his help. Aid and enlightenment they needed, and they needed it quickly. And then he stopped immediately because he could do nothing to educate them unless they already possessed the ability to read.
His second thought was one of dismay. His exultation came down with a dull thud. Within seconds he realized that the acquisition of a girl was no evidence of his competent maturity. The couple photographed were human beings, but intellectually they were no more than animals with a slight edge in vocabulary. It made James Holden sick at heart to read the article and to realize that such filth and ignorance could still go on. But it took a shock of such violence to make James realize that clams, guppies, worms, fleas, cats, dogs, and the great whales reproduced their kind; intellect, education and mature competence under law had nothing to do with the process whatsoever.
And while his heart was still unhappy, he turned to page four and read an open editorial that discussed the chances of The Educational Party in the coming Election Year.
* * * * *
"Splinter" parties, the editorial said, seldom succeeded in gaining a primary objective. They only succeeded in drawing votes from the other major parties, in splitting the total ballot, and dividing public opinion. On the other hand, they did provide a useful political weathervane for the major parties to watch most carefully. If the splinter party succeeded in capturing a large vote, it was an indication that the People found their program favorable and upon such evidence it behooved the major parties to mend their political fences—or to relocate them.
Education, said the editorial, was a primary issue and had been one for years. There had been experimenting with education ever since the Industrial Revolution uncovered the fact, in about 1900, that backbreaking physical toil was going to be replaced by educated workers operating machinery.
Then the editorial quoted Judge Norman L. Carter:
"'For many years,' said Judge Carter, 'we have deplored the situation whereby a doctor or a physicist is not considered fully educated until he has reached his middle or even late twenties. Yet instead of speeding up the curriculum in the early school years, we have introduced such important studies as social graces, baton twirling, interpretive painting and dancing, and a lot of other fiddle-faddle which graduates students who cannot spell, nor read a book, nor count above ten without taking off their shoes. Perhaps such studies are necessary to make sound citizens and graceful companions. I shall not contest the point. However, I contend that a sound and basic schooling should be included—and when I so contend I am told by our great educators that the day is not long enough nor the years great enough to accomplish this very necessary end.
"'Gentlemen, we leaders of The Education Party propose to accomplish precisely that which they said cannot be done!'"
The editorial closed with the terse suggestion: Educator—Educate thyself!
James Holden sat stunned.
What was Judge Carter doing?
* * * * *
James Holden arrived to find the home of Judge Norman L. Carter an upset madhouse. He was stopped at the front door by a secretary at a small desk whose purpose was to screen the visitors and to log them in and out in addition to being decorative. Above her left breast was a large enamelled button, red on top, white in the middle as a broad stripe from left to right, and blue below. Across the white stripe was printed CARTER in bold, black letters. From in back of the pin depended two broad silk ribbons that cascaded forward over the stuffing in her brassiere and hung free until they disappeared behind the edge of the desk. She eyed James with curiosity. "Young man, if you're looking for throwaways for your civics class, you'll have to wait until we're better organized—"
James eyed her with cold distaste. "I am James Quincy Holden," he told her, "and you have neither the authority nor the agility necessary to prevent my entrance."
"You are—I what?"
"I live here," he told her flatly. "Or didn't they provide you with this tidbit of vital statistic?"
Wheels rotated behind the girl's eyes somewhere, and memory cells linked into comprehension. "Oh!—You're James."
"I said that first," he replied. "Where's Judge Carter?"
"He's in conference and cannot be disturbed."
"Your objection is overruled. I shall disturb him as soon as I find out precisely what has been going on."
He went on in through the short hallway and found audible confusion. Men in groups of two to four stood in corners talking in bedlam. There was a layer of blue smoke above their heads that broke into skirls as various individuals left one group to join another. Through this vocal mob scene James went veering from left to right to avoid the groupings. He stood with polite insolence directly in front of two men sitting on the stairs until they made room for his passage—still talking as he went between them. In his room, three were sitting on the bed and the chair holding glasses and, of course, smoking like the rest. James dropped his overnight bag on a low stand and headed for his bathroom. One of the men caught sight of him and said, "Hey kid, scram!"
James looked at the man coldly. "You happen to be using my bedroom. You should be asking my permission to do so, or perhaps apologizing for not having asked me before you moved in. I have no intention of leaving."
"Get the likes of him!"
"Wait a moment, Pete. This is the Holden kid."
"The little genius, huh?"
James said, "I am no genius. I do happen to have an education that provides me with the right to criticize your social behavior. I will neither be insulted nor patronized."
"Listen to him, will you!"
James turned and with the supreme gesture of contempt, he left the door open.
He wound his way through the place to Judge Carter's study and home office, strode towards it with purpose and reached for the doorknob. A voice halted him: "Hey kid, you can't go in there!"
Turning to face the new voice, James said calmly,
"You mean 'may not' which implies that I have asked your permission. Your statement is incorrect as phrased and erroneous when corrected."
He turned the knob and entered. Judge Carter sat at his desk with two men; their discussion ceased with the sound of the doorknob. The judge looked up in annoyance. "Hello, James. You shouldn't have come in here. We're busy. I'll let you know when I'm free."
"You'd better make time for me right now," said James angrily. "I'd like to know what's going on here."
"This much I'll tell you quickly. We're planning a political campaign. Now, please—"
"I know you're planning a political campaign," replied James. "But if you're proposing to campaign on the platform of a reform in education, I suggest that you educate your henchmen in the rudimentary elements of polite speech and gentle behavior. I dislike being ordered out of my room by usurpers who have the temerity to address me as 'hey kid'."
"Relax, James. I'll send them out later."
"I'd suggest that you tell them off," snapped James. He turned on his heel and left, heading for the cellar. In the workshop he found Professor White and Jack Cowling presiding over the machine. In the chair with the headset on sat the crowning insult of all:
Paul Brennan leafing through a heavy sheaf of papers, reading and intoning the words of political oratory.
Unable to lick them, Brennan had joined them—or, wondered young Holden, was Judge Norman L. Carter paying for Brennan's silence with some plum of political patronage?
* * * * *
As he stood there, the years of persecution rose strong in the mind of James Holden. Brennan, the man who'd got away with murder and would continue to get away with it because there was no shred of evidence, no witness, nothing but James Holden's knowledge of Brennan's actions when he'd thought himself unseen in his calloused treatment of James Holden's dying mother; Brennan's critical inspection of the smashed body of his father, coldly checking the dead flesh to be sure beyond doubt; the cruel search about the scene of the 'accident' for James himself—interrupted only by the arrival of a Samaritan, whose name was never known to James Holden. In James rose the violent resentment of the years, the certain knowledge that any act of revenge upon Paul Brennan would be viewed as cold-blooded premeditated murder without cause or motive.
And then came the angry knowledge that simple slaughter was too good for Paul Brennan. He was not a dog to be quickly released from misery by a merciful death. Paul Brennan should suffer until he cried for death as a blessed release from daily living.
James Holden, angry, silently, unseen by the preoccupied workers, stole across the room to the main switch-panel, flipped up a small half-concealed cover, and flipped a small button.
There came a sharp Crack! that shattered the silence and re-echoed again and again through the room. The panel that held the repeater-circuit of the Holden Educator bulged outward; jets of smoke lanced out of broken metal, bulged corners, holes and skirled into little clouds that drifted upward—trailing a flowing billow of thick, black, pungent smoke that reached the low ceiling and spread outward, fanwise, obscuring the ceiling like a low-lying nimbus.
At the sound of the report, the man in the chair jumped as if he'd been stabbed where he sat.
"Ouyeowwww!" yowled Brennan in a pitiful ululation. He fell forward from the chair, asprawl on wobbly hands and knees, on elbows and knees as he tried to press away the torrent of agony that hammered back and forth from temple to temple. James watched Brennan with cold detachment, Professor White and Jack Cowling looked on in paralyzed horror. Slowly, oh, so slowly, Paul Brennan managed to squirm around until he was sitting on the floor still cradling his head between his hands.
James said, "I'm afraid that you're going to have a rough time whenever you hear the word 'entrenched'." And then, as Brennan made no response, James Holden went on, "Or were you by chance reading the word 'pedagogue'?"
At the word, Brennan howled again; the pain was too much for him and he toppled sidewise to writhe in kicking agony.
James smiled coldly, "I'm sorry that you weren't reading the word 'the'. The English language uses more of them than the word 'pedagogue'."
With remarkable effort, Brennan struggled to his feet; he lurched toward James. "I'll teach you, you little—"
"Pedagogue?" asked James.
The shock rocked Brennan right to the floor again.
"Better sit there and think," said James coldly. "You come within a dozen yards of me and I'll say—"
"No! Don't!" screamed Paul Brennan. "Not again!"
"Now," asked James, "what's going on here?"
"He was memorizing a political speech," said Jack Cowling. "What did you do?"
"I merely fixed my machine so that it will not be used again."
"But you shouldn't have done that!"
"You shouldn't have been using it for this purpose," replied James. "It wasn't intended to further political ambitions."
"But Judge Carter—"
"Judge Carter doesn't own it," said James. "I do."
"I'm sure that Judge Carter can explain everything."
"Tell him so. Then add that if he'd bothered to give me the time of day, I'd be less angry. He's not to be interrupted, is he? I'm ordered out of my room, am I? Well, go tell the judge that his political campaign has been stopped by a fourteen-year-old boy who knows which button to push! I'll wait here."
Professor White took off; Jack Cowling smiled crookedly and shook his head at James. "You're a rash young man," he said. "What did you do to Brennan, here?"
James pointed at the smoke curling up out of the panel. "I put in a destructive charge to addle the circuit as a preventive measure against capture or use by unauthorized persons," he replied. "So I pushed the button just as Brennan was trying to memorize the word—"
"Don't!" cried Brennan in a pleading scream.
"You mean he's going to throw a fit every time he hears the word—"
"No! No! Can't anybody talk without saying—Ouwwouooo!"
"Interesting," commented James. "It seems to start as soon as the fore-reading part of his mind predicts that the word may be next, or when he thinks about it."
"Do you mean that Brennan is going to be like the guy who could win the world if he sat on the top of a hill for one hour and did not think of the word 'Swordfish'? Except that he'll be out of pain so long as he doesn't think of the word—"
"Thing I'm interested in is that maybe our orator here doesn't know the definition thoroughly. Tell me, dear 'Uncle' Paul, does the word 'teacher' give—Sorry. I was just experimenting. Wasn't as bad as—"
Gritting his teeth and wincing with pain, Brennan said, "Stop it! Even the word 'sch-(wince)-ool' hurts like—" He thought for a moment and then went on with his voice rising to a pitiful howl of agony at the end: "Even the name 'Miss Adams' gives me a fleeting headache all over my body, and Miss Adams was on—ly—my—third—growww—school—Owuuuuoooo—teach—earrrrrrr—Owwww!"
Brennan collapsed in his chair just as Judge Carter came in with his white mane flying and hot fire in his attitude. "What goes on here?" he stormed at James.
"I stopped your campaign."
"Now see here, you young—"
Judge Carter stopped abruptly, took a deep breath and calmed himself with a visible effort to control his rage. "James," he said in a quieter voice, "Can you repair the damage quickly?"
"Yes—but I won't."
"And why not?"
"Because one of the things my father taught me was the danger of allowing this machine to fall into the hands of ruthless men with political ambition."
"And I am a ruthless man with political ambition?"
James nodded. "Under the guise of studying me and my machine," he said, "you've been using it to train speakers, and to educate ward-heelers. You've been building a political machine by buying delegates. Not with money, of course, because that is illegal. With knowledge, and because knowledge, education, and information are intangibles and no legality has been established, and this is all very legal."
Judge Carter smiled distantly. "It is bad to elevate the mind of the average ward-heeler? To provide the smalltime politician with a fine grasp of the National Problem and how his little local problems fit into the big picture? Is this making a better world, or isn't it?"
"It's making a political machine that can't be defeated."
"Think not? What makes you think it can't?"
"Pedagogue!" said James.
The judge whirled to look at Brennan. "What was—that?" asked the judge.
James explained what had happened, then: "I've mentioned hazards. This is what would happen if a fuse blew in the middle of a course. Maybe he can be trained out of it, and maybe not. You'll have to try, of course. But think of what would happen if you and your political machine put these things into schools and fixed them to make a voltage twitch or something while the student was reading the word 'republican'. You'd end up with a single-party system."
"And get myself assassinated by a group of righteously irate citizens," said Judge Carter. "Which I would very warmly deserve. On the other hand, suppose we 'treated' people to feel anguish at thoughts of murder or killing, theft, treason, and other forms of human deviltry?"
"Now that might be a fine idea."
"It would not," said Judge Carter flatly. James Holden's eyes widened, and he started to say something but the judge held up his hand, fingers outspread, and began to tick off his points finger by finger as he went on: "Where would we be in the case of enemy attack? Could our policemen aim their guns at a vicious criminal if they were conditioned against killing? Could our butchers operate; must our housewives live among a horde of flies? Theft? Well, it's harder to justify, James, but it would change the game of baseball as in 'stealing a base' or it would ruin the game of love as in 'stealing a kiss'. It would ruin the mystery-story field for millions of people who really haven't any inclination to go out and rob, steal, or kill. Treason? Our very revered Declaration of Independence is an article of Treason in the eyes of King George Third; it wouldn't be very hard to draw a charge of treason against a man who complained about the way the Government is being run. Now, one more angle, James. The threat or fear of punishment hasn't deterred any potential felon so far as anybody knows. And I hold the odd belief that if we removed the quart of mixed felony, chicanery, falsehood, and underhandedness from the human makeup, on that day the human race could step down to take its place alongside of the cow, just one step ahead of the worm.
"Now you accuse me of holding political ambition. I plead guilty of the charge and demand to be shown by my accuser just what is undesirable about ambition, be it political or otherwise. Have you no ambition? Of course you have. Ambition drove your folks to create this machine and ambition drove you to the fight for your freedom. Ambition is the catalyst that lifts a man above his fellows and then lifts them also. There is a sort of tradition in this country that a man must not openly seek the office of the Presidency. I consider this downright silly. I have announced my candidacy, and I intend to campaign for it as hard as I can. I propose to make the problem of education the most important argument that has ever come up in a presidential campaign. I believe that I shall win because I shall promise to provide this accelerated education for everybody who wants it."
"And to do this you've used my machine," objected James.
"Did you intend to keep it for yourself?" snapped Judge Carter.
"And when did you intend to release it?"
"As soon as I could handle it myself."
"Oh, fine!" jeered the judge sourly. "Now, let me orate on that subject for a moment and then we'll get to the real meat of this argument. James, there is no way of delivering this machine to the public without delivering it to them through the hands of a capable Government agency. If you try to release it as an individual you'll be swamped with cries of anger and pleas for special consideration. The reactionaries will shout that we're moving too fast and the progressives will complain that we aren't moving fast enough. Teachers' organizations will say that we're throwing teachers out of jobs, and little petty politicians will try to slip their political plug into the daily course in Civics. Start your company and within a week some Madison Avenue advertising agency will be offering you several million dollars to let them convince people that Hickory-Chickory Coffee is the only stuff they can pour down their gullet without causing stomach pains, acid system, jittery nerves, sleepless nights, flat feet, upset glands, and so on and on and on. Announce it; the next day you'll have so many foreign spies in your bailiwick that you'll have to hire a stadium to hold them. You'll be ducking intercontinental ballistic missiles because there are people who would kill the dog in order to get rid of the fleas. You'll start the biggest war this planet has ever seen and it will go on long after you are killed and your father's secret is lost—and after the fallout has died off, we'll have another scientific race to recreate it. And don't think that it can't be rediscovered by determined scientists who know that such a thing as the Holden Electromechanical Educator is a reality."
"And how do you propose to prevent this war?"
"By broadcasting the secret as soon as we can; let the British and the French and the Russians and the Germans and all the rest build it and use it as wisely as they can program it. Which, by the way, James, brings us right back to James Quincy Holden, Martha Bagley, and the immediate future."
"Yes. James, tell me after deliberation, at what point in your life did you first believe that you had the competence to enter the adult world in freedom to do as you believed right?"
"Um, about five or six, as I recall."
"What do you think now about those days?"
James shrugged. "I got along."
"Wasn't very well, was it?"
"No, but I was under a handicap, you know. I had to hide out."
"Well, if I had legal ruling, I wouldn't have to hide."
"Think you know everything you need to know to enter this adult world?"
"No man stops learning," parried James. "I think I know enough to start."
"James, no matter what you say, there is a very important but intangible thing called 'judgment'. You have part of it, but not by far enough. You've been studying the laws about ages and rights, James, but you've missed a couple of them because you've been looking for evidence favorable to your own argument. First, to become a duly elected member of the House of Representatives, a man must be at least twenty-five years of age. To be a Senator, he must be at least thirty. To be President, one must be at least thirty-five. Have you any idea why the framers of the Constitution of the United States placed such restrictions?"
"Well, I suppose it had to do with judgment?" replied James reluctantly.
"That—and experience. Experience in knowing people, in understanding that there might be another side to any question, in realizing that you must not approach every problem from your own purely personal point of view nor expect it to be solved to your own private satisfaction or to your benefit. Now, let's step off a distance and take a good look at James Quincy Holden and see where he lacks the necessary ingredients."
"Yes, tell me," said James, sourly.
"Oh, I intend to. Let's take the statistics first. You're four-feet eleven-inches tall, you weigh one-hundred and three pounds, and you're a few weeks over fourteen. I suppose you know that you've still got one more spurt of growth, sometimes known as the post-puberty-growth. You'll probably put on another foot in the next couple of years, spread out a bit across the shoulders, and that fuzz on your face will become a collection of bristles. I suppose you think that any man in this room can handle you simply because we're all larger than you are? Possibly true, and one of the reasons why we can't give you a ticket and let you proclaim yourself an adult. You can't carry the weight. But this isn't all. Your muscles and your bones aren't yet in equilibrium. I could find a man of age thirty who weighed one-oh-three and stood four-eleven. He could pick you up and spin you like a top on his forefinger just because his bones match his muscles nicely, and his nervous system and brain have had experience in driving the body he's living in."
"Could be, but what has all this to do with me? It does not affect the fact that I've been getting along in life."
"You get along. It isn't enough to 'get along.' You've got to have judgment. You claim judgment, but still you realize that you can't handle your own machine. You can't even come to an equitable choice in selecting some agency to handle your machine. You can't decide upon a good outlet. You believe that proclaiming your legal competence will provide you with some mysterious protection against the wolves and thieves and ruthless men with political ambition—that this ruling will permit you to keep it to yourself until you decide that it is time to release it. You still want to hide. You want to use it until you are so far above and beyond the rest of the world that they can't catch up, once you give it to everybody. You now object to my plans and programs, still not knowing whether I intend to use it for good or for evil—and juvenile that you are, it must be good or evil and cannot be an in-between shade of gray. Men are heroes or villains to you; but I must say with some reluctance that the biggest crooks that ever held public office still passed laws that were beneficial to their people. There is the area in which you lack judgment, James. There and in your blindness."
"Blindness," repeated Judge Carter. "As Mark Twain once said, 'When I was seventeen, I was ashamed at the ignorance of my father, but by the time I was twenty-one I was amazed to discover how much the old man had learned in four short years!' Confound it, James, you don't yet realize that there are a lot of things in life that you can't even know about until you've lived through them. You're blind here, even though your life has been a solid case of encounter with unexpected experiences, one after the other as you grew. Oh, you're smart enough to know that you've got to top the next hill as soon as you've climbed this one, but you're not smart enough to realize that the next hill merely hides the one beyond, and that there are still higher hills beyond that stretching to the end of the road for you—and that when you've finally reached the end of your own road there will be more distant hills to climb for the folks that follow you.
"You've a fine education, and it's helped you tremendously. But you've loused up your own life and the life of Martha Bagley. You two are a pair of outcasts, and you'll be outcasts until about ten years from now when your body will have caught up with your mind so that you can join your contemporaries without being regarded as a pair of intellectual freaks."
"And what should I have done?" demanded James Holden angrily.
"That's just it, again. You do not now realize that there isn't anything you could have done, nor is there anything you can do now. That's why I'm taking over and I'm going to do it for you."
"Yes!" snapped Judge Carter. "We'll let them have their courses in baton twirling and social grace and civic improvement and etiquette—and at the same time we'll give them history and mathematics and spelling and graduate them from 'high' school at the age of twelve or fourteen, introduce an intermediary school for languages and customs of other countries and in universal law and international affairs and economics, where our bookkeepers will learn science and scientists will understand commercial law; our lawyers will know business and our businessmen will be taught politics. After that we'll start them in college and run them as high as they can go, and our doctors will no longer go sour from the moment they leave school at thirty-five to hang out their shingle.
"As for you, James Holden, you and Martha Bagley will attend this preparatory school as soon as we can set it up. There will be no more of this argument about being as competent as an adult, because we oldsters will still be the chiefs and you kids will be the Indians. Have I made myself clear?"
"Yes sir. But how about Brennan?"
Judge Carter looked at the unhappy man. "You still want revenge? Won't he be punished enough just hearing the word 'pedagogue'?"
"For the love of—"
"Don't blaspheme," snapped the judge. "You'd hang if James could bring a shred of evidence, and I'd help him if I could." He turned to James Holden. "Now," he asked, "will you repair your machine?"
"And if I say No?"
"Can you stand the pressure of a whole world angered because you've denied them their right to an education?"
"I suppose not." He looked at Brennan, at Professor White and at Jack Cowling. "If I've got to trust somebody," he said reluctantly, "I suppose it might as well be you."
THE NEW MATURITY
It is the campus of Holden Preparatory Academy.
It is spring, but many another spring must pass before the ambitious ivy climbs to smother the gray granite walls, before the stripling trees grow stately, before the lawn is sturdy enough to withstand the crab grass and the students. Anecdote and apocrypha have yet to evolve into hallowed tradition. The walks ways are bare of bronze plaques because there are no illustrious alumni to honor; Holden Preparatory has yet to graduate its first class.
It is youth, a lusty infant whose latent power is already great enough to move the world. As it rises, the world rises with it for the whole consists of all its parts; no man moves alone.
The movement has its supporters and its enemies, and between them lies a vast apathy of folks who simply don't give a damn. It supporters deplore the dolts and the sluggards who either cannot or will not be educated. Its enemies see it as a danger to their comfortable position of eminence and claim bitterly that the honored degree of doctor is being degraded. They refuse to see that it is not the degradation of the standard but rather the exaltation of the norm. Comfortable, they lazily object to the necessity of rising with the norm to keep their position. Nor do they realize that the ones who will be assaulting their fortress will themselves be fighting still stronger youth one day when the mistakes are corrected and the program streamlined through experience.
On the virgin lawn, in a spot that will someday lie in the shade of a great oak, a group of students sit, sprawl, lie. The oldest of them is sixteen, and it is true that not one of them has any reverence for college degrees, because the entrance requirements demand the scholastic level of bachelor in the arts, the sciences, in language and literature. The mark of their progress is not stated in grades, but rather in the number of supplementary degrees for which they qualify. The honors of their graduation are noted by the number of doctorates they acquire. Their goal is the title of Scholar, without which they may not attend college for their ultimate education.