"Hold on, now," I said. "Leaving the planet, you say. And where would you be going?"
"There's another committee working on that. 'Tis not our concern. I was inclined to suggest the constellation Orion, which sounds as though it has a good Irish name, but I was hooted down. Be that as it may, my own job was to go into your nuclear center, learn how to make the ship, and proceed with its construction. Naturally, we didn't understand all of your high-flyin' science, but some of our people are pretty clever at gettin' up replicas of things."
"You mean you've been spying on us at the center all this time? Do you know, we often had the feeling we were being watched, but we thought it was by the Russians. There's one thing which puzzles me, though. If you've been constantly around us--and I'm still able to see the little people--why did I never see you before?"
"It may be we never crossed your path. It may be you can only see us when you're thinkin' of us, and of course truly believin' in us. I don't know--'tis a thing of the mind, and not important at the moment. What's important is for us to get our first ship to workin' properly and then we'll be on our way."
"You're determined to go."
"Truly we are, Mr. Houlihan. Now--to business. Just during these last few minutes a certain matter has crossed my mind. That's why I'm wastin' all this time with you, sir. You say you are a scientist."
"A nuclear engineer."
"Well, then, it may be that you can help us--now that you know we're here."
"The power control, Mr. Houlihan. As I understand it, 'tis necessary to know at any instant exactly how much thrust is bein' delivered through the little holes in back. And on paper it looks simple enough--the square of somethin' or other. I've got the figures jotted in a book when I need 'em. But when you get to doin' it it doesn't come out exactly as it does on paper."
"You're referring to the necessity for a coefficient of discharge."
"Whatever it might be named," said Keech, shrugging. "'Tis the one thing we lack. I suppose eventually you people will be gettin' around to it. But meanwhile we need it right now, if we're to make our ship move."
"And you want me to help you with this?"
"That is exactly what crossed my mind."
I nodded and looked grave and kneaded my chin for a moment softly. "Well, now, Keech," I said finally, "why should I help you?"
"Ha!" said Keech, grinning, but not with humor, "the avarice of humans! I knew it! Well, Mr. Houlihan, I'll give you reason enough. The pot o' gold, Mr. Houlihan!"
"The one at the end of the rainbow?"
"It's not at the end of the rainbow. That's a grandmother's tale. Nor is it actually in an earthen crock. But there's gold, all right, enough to make you rich for the rest of your life. And I'll make you a proposition."
"We'll not be needin' gold where we're goin'. It's yours if you show us how to make our ship work."
"Well, now, that's quite an offer," I said. Keech had the goodness to be quiet while I sat and thought for a while. My pipe had gone out and I lit it again. I finally said, "Let's have a look at your ship's drive and see what we can see."
"You accept the proposition then?"
"Let's have a look," I said, and that was all.
Well, we had a look, and then several looks, and before the morning was out we had half the spaceship apart, and were deep in argument about the whole project.
It was a most fascinating session. I had often wished for a true working model at the center, but no allowance had been inserted in the budget for it. Keech brought me paper and pencil and I talked with the aid of diagrams, as engineers are wont to do. Although the pencils were small and I had to hold them between thumb and forefinger, as you would a needle, I was able to make many sensible observations and even a few innovations.
I came back again the next day--and every day for the following two weeks. It rained several times, but Keech and his people made a canopy of boughs and leaves and I was comfortable enough. Every once in a while someone from the town or the center itself would pass by, and stop to watch me. But of course they wouldn't see the leprechauns or anything the leprechauns had made, not being believers.
I would halt work, pass the time of day, and then, in subtle fashion, send the intruder on his way. Keech and the little people just stood by and grinned all the while.
At the end of sixteen days I had the entire problem all but whipped. It is not difficult to understand why. The working model and the fact that the small people with their quick eyes and clever fingers could spot all sorts of minute shortcomings was a great help. And I was hearing the old tongue and talking of the old things every day, and truly that went far to take the clutter out of my mind. I was no longer so lonely that I couldn't think properly.
On the sixteenth day I covered a piece of paper with tiny mathematical symbols and handed it to Keech. "Here is your equation," I said. "It will enable you to know your thrust at any given moment, under any circumstances, in or out of gravity, and under all conditions of friction and combustion."
"Thank you, Mr. Houlihan," said Keech. All his people had gathered in a loose circle, as though attending a rite. They were all looking at me quietly.
"Mr. Houlihan," said Keech, "you will not be forgotten by the leprechauns. If we ever meet again, upon another world perchance, you'll find our friendship always eager and ready."
"Thank you," I said.
"And now, Mr. Houlihan," said Keech, "I'll see that a quantity of gold is delivered to your rooms tonight, and so keep my part of the bargain."
"I'll not be needing the gold," I said.
Keech's eyebrows popped upward. "What's this now?"
"I'll not be needing it," I repeated. "I don't feel it would be right to take it for a service of this sort."
"Well," said Keech in surprise, and in some awe, too, "well, now, musha Lord help us! 'Tis the first time I ever heard such a speech from a mortal." He turned to his people. "We'll have three cheers now, do you hear, for Mr. Houlihan--friend of the little people as long as he shall live!"
And they cheered. And little tears crept into the corners of some of their turned-up eyes.
We shook hands, all of us, and I left.
I walked through the park, and back to the nuclear propulsion center. It was another cool, green morning with the leaves making only soft noises as the breezes came along. It smelled exactly like a wood I had known in Roscommon.
And I lit my pipe and smoked it slowly and chuckled to myself at how I had gotten the best of the little people. Surely it was not every mortal who could accomplish that. I had given them the wrong equation, of course. They would never get their spaceship to work now, and later, if they tried to spy out the right information I would take special measures to prevent it, for I had the advantage of being able to see them.
As for our own rocket ship, it should be well on its way by next St. Patrick's Day. For I had indeed determined the true coefficient of discharge, which I never could have done so quickly without those sessions in the glade with Keech and his working model.
It would go down in scientific literature now, I suppose, as Houlihan's Equation, and that was honor and glory enough for me. I could do without Keech's pot of gold, though it would have been pleasant to be truly rich for a change.
There was no sense in cheating him out of the gold to boot, for leprechauns are most clever in matters of this sort and he would have had it back soon enough--or else made it a burden in some way.
Indeed, I had done a piece of work greatly to my advantage, and also to the advantage of humankind, and when a man can do the first and include the second as a fortunate byproduct it is a most happy accident.
For if I had shown the little people how to make a spaceship they would have left our world. And this world, as long as it lasts--what would it be in that event? I ask you now, wouldn't we be even more likely to blow ourselves to Kingdom Come without the little people here for us to believe in every now and then?
MY FATHER, THE CAT.
by HENRY SLESAR
He wondered if I'd told her everything, and, faltering, I had to admit that I hadn't. She was wonderful--but human.
My mother was a lovely, delicate woman from the coast of Brittany, who was miserable sleeping on less than three mattresses, and who, it is said, was once injured by a falling leaf in her garden. My grandfather, a descendant of the French nobility whose family had ridden the tumbrils of the Revolution, tended her fragile body and spirit with the same loving care given rare, brief-blooming flowers. You may imagine from this his attitude concerning marriage. He lived in terror of the vulgar, heavy-handed man who would one day win my mother's heart, and at last, this persistent dread killed him. His concern was unnecessary, however, for my mother chose a suitor who was as free of mundane brutality as a husband could be. Her choice was Dauphin, a remarkable white cat which strayed onto the estate shortly after his death.
Dauphin was an unusually large Angora, and his ability to speak in cultured French, English, and Italian was sufficient to cause my mother to adopt him as a household pet. It did not take long for her to realize that Dauphin deserved a higher status, and he became her friend, protector, and confidante. He never spoke of his origin, nor where he had acquired the classical education which made him such an entertaining companion. After two years, it was easy for my mother, an unworldly woman at best, to forget the dissimilarity in their species. In fact, she was convinced that Dauphin was an enchanted prince, and Dauphin, in consideration of her illusions, never dissuaded her. At last, they were married by an understanding clergyman of the locale, who solemnly filled in the marriage application with the name of M. Edwarde Dauphin.
I, Etienne Dauphin, am their son.
To be candid, I am a handsome youth, not unlike my mother in the delicacy of my features. My father's heritage is evident in my large, feline eyes, and in my slight body and quick movements. My mother's death, when I was four, left me in the charge of my father and his coterie of loyal servants, and I could not have wished for a finer upbringing. It is to my father's patient tutoring that I owe whatever graces I now possess. It was my father, the cat, whose gentle paws guided me to the treasure houses of literature, art, and music, whose whiskers bristled with pleasure at a goose well cooked, at a meal well served, at a wine well chosen. How many happy hours we shared! He knew more of life and the humanities, my father, the cat, than any human I have met in all my twenty-three years.
Until the age of eighteen, my education was his personal challenge. Then, it was his desire to send me into the world outside the gates. He chose for me a university in America, for he was deeply fond of what he called "that great raw country," where he believed my feline qualities might be tempered by the aggressiveness of the rough-coated barking dogs I would be sure to meet.
I must confess to a certain amount of unhappiness in my early American years, torn as I was from the comforts of the estate and the wisdom of my father, the cat. But I became adapted, and even upon my graduation from the university, sought and held employment in a metropolitan art museum. It was there I met Joanna, the young woman I intended to make my bride.
Joanna was a product of the great American southwest, the daughter of a cattle-raiser. There was a blooming vitality in her face and her body, a lustiness born of open skies and desert. Her hair was not the gold of antiquity; it was new gold, freshly mined from the black rock. Her eyes were not like old-world diamonds; their sparkle was that of sunlight on a cascading river. Her figure was bold, an open declaration of her sex.
She was, perhaps, an unusual choice for the son of fairy-like mother and an Angora cat. But from the first meeting of our eyes, I knew that I would someday bring Joanna to my father's estate to present her as my fiancee.
I approached that occasion with understandable trepidation. My father had been explicit in his advice before I departed for America, but on no point had he been more emphatic than secrecy concerning himself. He assured me that revelation of my paternity would bring ridicule and unhappiness upon me. The advice was sound, of course, and not even Joanna knew that our journey's end would bring us to the estate of a large, cultured, and conversing cat. I had deliberately fostered the impression that I was orphaned, believing that the proper place for revealing the truth was the atmosphere of my father's home in France. I was certain that Joanna would accept her father-in-law without distress. Indeed, hadn't nearly a score of human servants remained devoted to their feline master for almost a generation?
We had agreed to be wed on the first of June, and on May the fourth, emplaned in New York for Paris. We were met at Orly Field by Francois, my father's solemn manservant, who had been delegated not so much as escort as he was chaperone, my father having retained much of the old world proprieties. It was a long trip by automobile to our estate in Brittany, and I must admit to a brooding silence throughout the drive which frankly puzzled Joanna.
However, when the great stone fortress that was our home came within view, my fears and doubts were quickly dispelled. Joanna, like so many Americans, was thrilled at the aura of venerability and royal custom surrounding the estate. Francois placed her in charge of Madame Jolinet, who clapped her plump old hands with delight at the sight of her fresh blonde beauty, and chattered and clucked like a mother hen as she led Joanna to her room on the second floor. As for myself, I had one immediate wish: to see my father, the cat.
He greeted me in the library, where he had been anxiously awaiting our arrival, curled up in his favorite chair by the fireside, a wide-mouthed goblet of cognac by his side. As I entered the room, he lifted a paw formally, but then his reserve was dissolved by the emotion of our reunion, and he licked my face in unashamed joy.
Francois refreshed his glass, and poured another for me, and we toasted each other's well-being.
"To you, mon purr," I said, using the affectionate name of my childhood memory.
"To Joanna," my father said. He smacked his lips over the cognac, and wiped his whiskers gravely. "And where is this paragon?"
"With Madame Jolinet. She will be down shortly."
"And you have told her everything?"
I blushed. "No, mon purr, I have not. I thought it best to wait until we were home. She is a wonderful woman," I added impulsively. "She will not be--"
"Horrified?" my father said. "What makes you so certain, my son?"
"Because she is a woman of great heart," I said stoutly. "She was educated at a fine college for women in Eastern America. Her ancestors were rugged people, given to legend and folklore. She is a warm, human person--"
"Human," my father sighed, and his tail swished. "You are expecting too much of your beloved, Etienne. Even a woman of the finest character may be dismayed in this situation."
"But my mother--"
"Your mother was an exception, a changeling of the Fairies. You must not look for your mother's soul in Joanna's eyes." He jumped from his chair, and came towards me, resting his paw upon my knee. "I am glad you have not spoken of me, Etienne. Now you must keep your silence forever."
I was shocked. I reached down and touched my father's silky fur, saddened by the look of his age in his gray, gold-flecked eyes, and by the tinge of yellow in his white coat.
"No, mon purr," I said. "Joanna must know the truth. Joanna must know how proud I am to be the son of Edwarde Dauphin."
"Then you will lose her."
"Never! That cannot happen!"
My father walked stiffly to the fireplace, staring into the gray ashes. "Ring for Francois," he said. "Let him build the fire. I am cold, Etienne."
I walked to the cord and pulled it. My father turned to me and said: "You must wait, my son. At dinner this evening, perhaps. Do not speak of me until then."
"Very well, father."
When I left the library, I encountered Joanna at the head of the stairway, and she spoke to me excitedly.
"Oh, Etienne! What a beautiful old house. I know I will love it! May we see the rest?"
"Of course," I said.
"You look troubled. Is something wrong?"
"No, no. I was thinking how lovely you are."
We embraced, and her warm full body against mine confirmed my conviction that we should never be parted. She put her arm in mine, and we strolled through the great rooms of the house. She was ecstatic at their size and elegance, exclaiming over the carpeting, the gnarled furniture, the ancient silver and pewter, the gallery of family paintings. When she came upon an early portrait of my mother, her eyes misted.
"She was lovely," Joanna said. "Like a princess! And what of your father? Is there no portrait of him?"
"No," I said hurriedly. "No portrait." I had spoken my first lie to Joanna, for there was a painting, half-completed, which my mother had begun in the last year of her life. It was a whispering little watercolor, and Joanna discovered it to my consternation.
"What a magnificent cat!" she said. "Was it a pet?"
"It is Dauphin," I said nervously.
She laughed. "He has your eyes, Etienne."
"Joanna, I must tell you something--"
"And this ferocious gentleman with the moustaches? Who is he?"
"My grandfather. Joanna, you must listen--"