The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Xii Part 157

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On the other hand, James did not wholly approve. He contrasted this with what he remembered of his own home life. The guests who came to visit his mother and father were quiet and earnest. They indulged in animated discussions, argued points of deep reasoning, and in moments of relaxation they indulged in games that demanded skill and intellect.

Tim Fisher's friends were noisy and boisterous. They mixed highb.a.l.l.s. They danced to music played so loud that it made the house throb. They watched the fights on television and argued with more volume than logic.

They were, to young James, a far cry from his parents' friends.

But, as he couldn't do anything about it, he refused to worry about it. James Holden turned his thoughts forward and began to plan how he was going to face the culmination of this romance next September Fifteenth. He even suspected that there would probably be a number of knotty little problems that he now knew nothing about; he resolved to allow some thinking-time to cope with them when, as, and if.

In the meantime, the summer was coming closer.



He prepared to make a visible show of having Mr. Charles Maxwell leave for a protracted summer travel. This would ease the growing problem of providing solid evidence of Maxwell's presence during the increasing frequency of Tim Fisher's visits and the widening circle of Mrs. Bagley's acquaintances in s.h.i.+pmont. At the same time he and Martha would make a return from the Bolton School for Youth. This would allow them their freedom for the summer; for the first time James looked forward to it. Martha Bagley was progressing rapidly. This summer would see her over and done with the scatter-brain prattle that gave equal weight to fact or fancy. Her store of information was growing; she could be relied upon to maintain a fairly secure cover. Her logic was not to James Holden's complete satisfaction but she accepted most of his direction as necessary information to be acted upon now and reasoned later.

In the solving of his immediate problems, James can be forgiven for putting Paul Brennan out of his mind.

CHAPTER ELEVEN.

But Paul Brennan was still alive, and he had not forgotten.

While James was, with astonis.h.i.+ng success, building a life for himself in hiding, Brennan did everything he could to find him. That is to say, he did everything that--under the circ.u.mstances--he could afford to do.

The thing was, the boy had got clean away, without a trace.

When James escaped for the third, and very successful, time, Brennan was helpless. James had planned well. He had learned from his first two efforts. The first escape was a blind run toward a predictable objective; all right, that was a danger to be avoided. His second was entirely successful--until James created his own area of danger. Another lesson learned.

The third was planned with as much care as Napoleon's deliverance from the island.

James had started by choosing his time. He'd waited until Easter Week. He'd had a solid ten days during which he would be only one of countless thousands of children on the streets; there would be no slight suspicion because he was out when others were in.

James didn't go to school that day. That was common; children in the lower grades are often absent, and no one asks a question until they return, with the proper note from the parent. He was not missed anywhere until the school bus that should have dropped him off did not. This was an area of weakness that Brennan could not plug; he could hardly justify the effort of delivering and fetching the lad to and from school when the public school bus pa.s.sed the Holden home. Brennan relied upon the Mitch.e.l.ls to see James upon the bus and to check him off when he returned. Whether James would have been missed earlier even with a personal delivery is problematical; certainly James would have had to concoct some other scheme to gain him his hours of free time.

At any rate, the first call to the school connected the Mitch.e.l.ls with a grumpy-voiced janitor who growled that teachers and princ.i.p.als had headed for their hills of freedom and wouldn't be back until Monday Week. It took some calling to locate a couple of James Holden's cla.s.smates who a.s.serted that he hadn't been in school that day.

Paul Brennan knew at once what had happened, but he could not raise an immediate hue-and-cry. He fretted because of the Easter Week vacation; in any other time the sight of a school-aged boy free during school hours would have caused suspicion. During Easter Week vacation, every schoolboy would be free. James would also be protected by his size. A youngster walking alone is not suspect; his folks must be close by. The fact that it was "again" placed Paul Brennan in an undesirable position. This was not the youthful adventure that usually ends about three blocks from home. This was a repeat of the first absence during which James had been missing for months. People smile at the parents of the child who packs his little bag with a handkerchief and a candy bar to sally forth into the great big world, but it becomes another matter when the lad of six leaves home with every appearance of making it stick. So Brennan had to play it cozy, inviting newspaper reporters to the Holden home to display what he had to offer young James and giving them free rein to question Brennan's housekeeper and general factotum, the Mitch.e.l.ls. With honest-looking zeal, Paul Brennan succeeded in building up a picture that depicted James as ungrateful, hard to understand, wilful, and something of an intellectual brat.

Then the authorities proceeded to throw out a fine-mesh dragnet. They questioned and cross-questioned bus drivers and railroad men. They made contact with the local airport even though its facilities were only used for a daisy-cutting feeder line. Posters were printed and sent to all truck lines for display to the truck drivers. The roadside diners were covered thoroughly. And knowing the boy's ability to talk convincingly, the authorities even went so far as to try the awesome project of making contact with pa.s.sengers bound out-of-town with young male children in tow.

Had James given them no previous experience to think about, he would have been merely considered a missing child and not a deliberate runaway. Then, instead of dragging down all of the known avenues of standard escape, the townspeople would have organized a tree-by-tree search of the fields and woods with hundreds of men walking hand in hand to inspect every square foot of the ground for either tracks or the child himself. But the modus operandi of young James Holden had been to apply sly touches such as writing letters and forging signatures of adults to cause the unquestioned sale of railroad tickets, or the unauthorized ride in the side-door Pullman.

Therefore, while the authorities were extending their circle of search based upon the velocity of modern transportation, James Holden was making his slow way across field and stream, guided by a Boy Scout compa.s.s and a U.S. Geodetic Survey map to keep him well out of the reach of roadway or town. With difficulty, but with dogged determination, he carried a light cot-blanket into which he had rolled four cans of pork and beans. He had a Boy Scout knife and a small pair of pliers to open it with. He had matches. He had the Boy Scout Handbook which was doubly useful; the pages devoted to woodsman's lore he kept for reference, the pages wasted on the qualifications for merit badges he used to start fires. He enjoyed sleeping in the open because it was spring and pleasantly warm, and because the Boy Scout Manual said that camping out was fun.

A grown man with an objective can cover thirty or forty miles per day without tiring. James made it ten to fifteen. Thus, by the time the organized search petered out for lack of evidence and manpower--try asking one question of everybody within a hundred-mile radius--James was quietly making his way, free of care, like a hardy pioneer looking for a homestead site.

The hint of kidnap went out early. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, of course, could not move until the waiting period was ended, but they did collect information and set up their organization ready to move into high speed at the instant of legal time. But then no ransom letter came; no evidence of the crime of kidnapping. This did not close the case; there were other cases on record where a child was stolen by adults for purposes other than ransom. It was not very likely that a child of six would be stolen by a neurotic adult to replace a lost infant, and Paul Brennan was personally convinced that James Holden had enough self-reliance to make such a kidnap attempt fail rather early in the game. He could hardly say so, nor could he suggest that James had indeed run away deliberately and skilfully, and with planned steps worthy of a much older person. He could only hint and urge the F.B.I. into any action that he could coerce them into taking; he did not care how or who brought James back just so long as the child was returned to his custody.

Then as the days wore into weeks with no sign, the files were placed in the inactive drawer. Paul Brennan made contact with a few private agencies.

He was stopped here, again, by another angle. The Holdens were by no means wealthy. Brennan could not justify the offer of some reward so large that people simply could not turn down the slim chance of collecting. If the missing one is heir to a couple of million dollars, the trustees can justify a reward of a good many thousand dollars for his return. The amount that Brennan was prepared to offer could not compel the services of a private agency on a full-time basis. The best and the most interested of the agencies took the case on a contingent basis; if something turned their way in the due course of their work they'd immediately take steps. Solving the case of a complete disappearance on the part of a child who virtually vanished into thin air would be good advertising, but their advertising budget would not allow them to put one man on the case without the first shred of evidence to point the way.

If Paul Brennan had been above-board, he could have evoked a lot of interest. The search for a six-year-old boy with the educational development of a youth of about eighteen, informed through the services of an electromechanical device, would have fired public interest, Government intervention, and would also have justified Paul Brennan's depth of interest. But Paul Brennan could say nothing about the excellent training, he could only hint at James Holden's mental proficiency which was backed up by the boy's school record. As it was, Paul Brennan's most frightful nightmare was one where young James was spotted by some eagle-eyed detective and then in desperation--anything being better than an enforced return to Paul Brennan--James Holden pulled out all the stops and showed everybody precisely how well educated he really was.

In his own affairs, Paul still had to make a living, which took up his time. As guardian and trustee of the Holden Estate, he was responsible to the State for his handling of James Holden's inheritance. The State takes a sensible view of the disburs.e.m.e.nts of the inheritance of a minor. Reasonable sums may be spent on items hardly deemed necessities to the average person, but the ceiling called "reasonable" is a flexible term and subject to close scrutiny by the State.

In the long run it was Paul Brennan's own indefensible position that made it impossible to prosecute a proper search for the missing James Holden. Brennan suspected James of building up a bank account under some false name, but he could not saunter into banks and ask to examine their records without a Court order. Brennan knew that James had not taken off without preparation, but the examination of the stuff that James left behind was not very informative. There was a small blanket missing and Mrs. Mitch.e.l.l said that it looked as though some cans had been removed from the stock but she could not be sure. And in a large collection of boy's stuff, one would not observe the absence of a Boy Scout knife and other trivia. Had a 100% inventory been available, the list of missing items would have pointed out James Holden's avenue of escape.

The search for an adult would have included questioning of banks. No one knows whether such a questioning would have uncovered the bank-by-mail routine conducted under the name of Charles Maxwell. It is not a regular thing, but the receipt of a check drawn on a New York bank, issued by a publis.h.i.+ng company, and endorsed to be paid to the account of so-and-so, accompanied by a request to open an account in that name might never be connected with the manipulations of a six-year-old genius, who was overtly just plain bright.

And so Paul Brennan worried himself out of several pounds for fear that James would give himself away to the right people. He cursed the necessity of keeping up his daily work routine. The hue-and-cry he could not keep alive, but he knew that somewhere there was a young boy entirely capable of reconstructing the whole machine that Paul Brennan wanted so desperately that he had killed for it.

Paul Brennan was blocked cold. With the F.B.I. maintaining a hands-off att.i.tude because there was no trace of any Federal crime involved, the case of James Holden was relegated to the missing-persons files. It became the official opinion that the lad had suffered some mishap and that it would only be a matter of time before his body was discovered. Paul Brennan could hardly prove them wrong without explaining the whole secret of James Holden's intelligence, competence, and the certainty that the young man would improve upon both as soon as he succeeded in rebuilding the Holden Electromechanical Educator.

With the F.B.I. out of the picture, the local authorities waiting for the discovery of a small body, and the state authorities shelving the case except for the routine punch-card checks, official action died. Brennan's available reward money was not enough to buy a private agency's interest full-time.

Brennan could not afford to tell anybody of his suspicion of James Holden's source of income, for the idea of a child's making a living by writing would be indefensible without full explanation. However, Paul Brennan resorted to reading of magazines edited for boys. Month after month he bought them and read them, comparing the styles of the many writers against the style of the ma.n.u.script copy left behind by James.

Brennan naturally a.s.sumed that James would use a pen name. Writers often used pen names to conceal their own ident.i.ty for any one of several reasons. A writer might use three or more pen names, each one identified with a known style of writing, or a certain subject or established character. But Paul Brennan did not know all there was to know about the pen-name business, such as an editor a.s.signing a pen name to prevent the too-often appearance of some prolific writer, or conversely to make one writer's name seem exclusive with his magazine; nor could Brennan know that a writer's literary standing can be kept high by a.s.signing a pen name to any second-rate material he may be so unfortunate as to turn out.

Paul Brennan read many stories written by James Holden under several names, including the name of Charles Maxwell, but Brennan's identification according to literary style was no better than if he had tossed a coin.

And so, blocked by his own guilt and avarice from making use of the legal avenues of approach, Paul Brennan fumed and fretted away four long years while James Holden grew from six to ten years old, hiding under the guise of the Hermit of Martin's Hill and behind the pleasant adult facade of Mrs. Janet Bagley.

CHAPTER TWELVE.

If Paul Brennan found himself blocked in his efforts to find James Holden and the re-created Holden Educator, James himself was annoyed by one evident fact: Everything he did resulted in spreading the news of the machine itself.

Had he been eighteen or so, he might have made out to his own taste. In the days of late teen-age, a youth can hold a job and rent a room, buy his own clothing and conduct himself to the limit of his ability. At ten he is suspect, because no one will permit him to paddle his own canoe. At a later age James could have rented a small apartment and built his machine alone. But starting as young as he did, he was forced to hide behind the cover of some adult, and he had picked Mrs. Bagley because he could control her both through her desire for security and the promise of a fine education for the daughter Martha Bagley.

The daughter was a two-way necessity; she provided him with a contemporary companion and also gave him a lever to wield against the adult. A lone woman could have made her way without trouble. A lone woman with a girl-child is up against a rather horrifying problem of providing both support and parental care. He felt that he had done what he had to do, up to the point where Mrs. Bagley became involved with Tim Fisher or anybody else. This part of adulthood was not yet within his grasp.

But there it was and here it is, and now there was Martha to complicate the picture. Had Mrs. Bagley been alone, she and Tim could go off and marry and then settle down in Timbuctoo if they wanted to. But not with Martha. She was in the same intellectual kettle of sardines as James. Her taste in education was by no means the same. She took to the mathematical subjects indifferently, absorbing them well enough--once she could be talked into spending the couple of hours that each day demanded--but without interest. Martha could rattle off quotations from literary masters, she could follow the score of most operas (her voice was a bit off-key but she knew what was going on) and she enjoyed all of the available information on keeping a house in order. Her eye and her mind were, as James Holden's, faster than her hand. She went through the same frustrations as he did, with different tools and in a different medium. The first offside snick of the scissors she knew to be bad before she tried the pattern for size, and the only way she could correct such defective work was to practice and practice until her muscles were trained enough to respond to the direction of her mind.

Remove her now and place her in a school--even the most advanced school--and she would undergo the unhappy treatment that James had undergone these several years ago.

And yet she could not be cut loose. Martha was as much a part of this very strange life as James was. So this meant that any revision in overall policy must necessarily include the addition of Tim Fisher and not the subtraction of Mrs. Bagley and Martha.

"Charles Maxwell" had to go.

James's problem had not changed. His machine must be kept a secret as long as he could. The machine was his, James Quincy Holden's property by every known and unwritten legal right of direct, single, uncluttered inheritance. The work of his parents had been stopped by their death, but it was by no means finished with the construction of the machine. To the contrary, the real work had only begun with the completion of the first working model. And whether he turned out to be a machine-made genius, an over-powered dolt, or an introverted monster it was still his own personal reason for being alive.

He alone should reap the benefit or the sorrow, and had his parents lived they would have had their right to reap good or bad with him. Good or bad, had they lived, he would have received their protection.

As it was, he had no protection whatsoever. Until he could have and hold the right to control his own property as he himself saw fit, he had to hide just as deep from the enemy who would steal it as he must hide from the friend who would administrate it as a property in escrow for his own good, since he as a minor was legally unable to walk a path both fitting and proper for his feet.

So, the facts had to be concealed. Yet all he was buying was time.

By careful juggling, he had already bought some. Months with Jake Caslow, a few months stolidly fighting the school, and two with the help of Mrs. Bagley and Martha. Then in these later months there had been more purchased time; time gained by the post-dated engagement and the procrastinated marriage, which was now running out.

No matter what he did, it seemed that the result was a wider spread of knowledge about the Holden Electromechanical Educator.

So with misgiving and yet unaware of any way or means to circ.u.mvent the necessity without doing more overall harm, James decided that Tim Fisher must be handed another piece of the secret. A plausible piece, with as much truth as he would accept for the time being. Maybe--hand Tim Fisher a bit with great gesture and he would not go prying for the whole?

His chance came in mid-August. It was after dinner on an evening uncluttered with party or shower or the horde of just-dropped-in-friends of whom Tim Fisher had legion.

Janet Bagley and Tim Fisher sat on the low divan in the living room half-facing each other. Apart, but just so far apart that they could touch with half a gesture, they were discussing the problem of domicile. They were also still quibbling mildly about the honeymoon. Tim Fisher wanted a short, noisy one. A ten-day stay in Hawaii, flying both ways, with a ten-hour stopover in Los Angeles on the way back. Janet Bagley wanted a long and lazy stay somewhere no closer than fifteen hundred miles to the nearest telephone, newspaper, mailbox, airline, bus stop, or highway. She'd take the 762-day rocket trip to Venus if they had one available. Tim was duly sympathetic to her desire to get away from her daily grind for as long a time as possible, but he also had a garage to run, and he was by no means incapable of pointing out the practical side of cra.s.s commercialism.

But unlike the problem of the honeymoon, which Janet Bagley was willing to discuss on any terms for the pleasure of discussing it, the problem of domicile had been avoided--to the degree of being pointed.

For Janet Bagley was still torn between two loyalties. Hers was not a lone loyalty to James Holden, there had been almost a complete a.s.sociation with the future of her daughter in the loyalty. She realized as well as James did, that Martha must not be wrested from this life and forced to live, forever an outcast, raised mentally above the level of her age and below the physical size of her mental development. Mrs. Bagley thought only of Martha's future; she gave little or no thought on the secondary part of the problem. But James knew that once Martha was separated from the establishment, she could not long conceal her advanced information, and revealing that would reveal its source.

And so, as they talked together with soft voices, James Holden decided that he could best buy time by employing logic, finance, and good common sense. He walked into the living room and sat across the coffee table from them. He said, "You'll have to live here, you know."

The abrupt statement stunned them both. Tim sat bolt upright and objected, "I'll see to it that we're properly housed, young fellow."

"This isn't charity," replied James. "Nor the goodness of my little heart. It's a necessity."

"How so?" demanded Tim crossly. "It's my life--and Janet's."

"And--Martha's life," added James.

"You don't think I'm including her out, do you?"

"No, but you're forgetting that she isn't to be popped here and there as the fancy hits you, either. She's much to be considered."

"I'll consider her," snapped Tim. "She shall be my daughter. If she will, I'll have her use my name as well as my care and affection."

"Of course you will," agreed James. The quick gesture of Mrs. Bagley's hand towards Tim, and his equally swift caress in reply were noticed but not understood by James. "But you're not thinking deeply enough about it."

"All right. You tell me all about it."

"Martha must stay here," said James. "Neither of you--nor Martha--have any idea of how stultifying it can be to be forced into school under the supervision of teachers who cannot understand, and among cla.s.smates whose grasp of any subject is no stronger than a feeble grope in the mental dawn."

"Maybe so. But that's no reason why we must run our life your way."

"You're wrong, Mr. Fisher. Think a moment. Without hesitation, you will include the education of Martha Bagley along with the 'care and affection' you mentioned a moment ago."

"Of course."

"This means, Mr. Fisher, that Martha, approaching ten years old, represents a responsibility of about seven more years prior to her graduation from high school and another four years of college--granting that Martha is a standard, normal, healthy young lady. Am I right?"

"Sure."

"Well, since you are happy and willing to take on the responsibility of eleven years of care and affection and the expense of schooling the girl, you might as well take advantage of the possibilities here and figure on five years--or less. If we cannot give her the equal of a master's degree in three, I'm shooting in the dark. Make it five, and she'll have her doctor's degree--or at least it's equivalent. Does that make sense?"

"Of course it does. But--"

"No buts until we're finished. You'll recall the tales we told you about the necessity of hiding out. It must continue. During the school year we must not be visible to the general public."

"But dammit, I don't want to set up my family in someone else's house," objected Tim Fisher.

"Buy this one," suggested James. "Then it will be yours. I'll stay on and pay rent on my section."

"You'll--now wait a minute! What are you talking about?"

"I said, 'I'll pay rent on my section,'" said James.

"But this guy upstairs--" Tim took a long breath. "Let's get this straight," he said, "now that we're on the subject, what about Mr. Charles Maxwell?"

"I can best quote," said James with a smile, "'Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!'"

"That's Shakespeare."

"Sorry. That's Sir Walter Scott. The Lay of the Last Minstrel. Canto Six, Stanza Seventeen. The fact of the matter is that we could go on compounding this lie, but it's time to stop it. Mr. Charles Maxwell does not exist."

"I don't understand!"

"Hasn't it puzzled you that this hermit-type character that never puts a foot out of the house has been out and gone on some unstated vacation or business trip for most of the spring and summer?"

"Hadn't given it a thought," said Fisher with a fatuous look at Mrs. Bagley. She mooned back at him. For a moment they were lost in one another, giving proof to the idea that blinder than he who will not see is the fellow who has his eye on a woman.

"Charles Maxwell does not exist except in the minds of his happy readers," said James. "He is a famous writer of boys' stories and known to a lot of people for that talent. Yet he is no more a real person than Lewis Carroll."

"But Lewis Carroll did exist--"

"As Charles L. Dodgson, a mathematician famous for his work in symbolic logic."

"All right! Then who writes these stories? Who supports you--and this house?"

"I do!"

Tim blinked, looked around the room a bit wildly and then settled on Martha, looking at her helplessly.

"It's true, Tim," she said quietly. "It's crazy but it works. I've been living with it for years."

Tim considered that for a full minute. "All right," he said shortly. "So it works. But why does any kid have to live for himself?" He eyed James. "Who's responsible for you?"

"I am!"

The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Xii Part 157

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