Jonathan frowned. Did Richie mean the greenhouse down the road? Was there a Mr. Allavarg who worked there? "Whose nursery?"
"Ours." Richie wrinkled his face thoughtfully. "I think I better go outside and play."
"Our nursery?" Jonathan stared at his son. "Where is it?"
"I think I better go play," said Richie more firmly, sliding off the chair.
"Richard! Where is the nursery?"
The full lower lip began to tremble. "I can't tell you!" Richie wailed. "I promised!"
Jonathan slammed his fist on the desk. "Answer me!" He knew he shouldn't speak this way to Richie; he knew he was frightening the boy. But the ideas racing through his mind drove him to find out what this was all about. It might be nothing, but it also might be--"Answer me, Richard!"
The child stifled a sob. "Here," he said weakly.
"In my house," said Richie. "And Steve's house and Billy's and all over." He rubbed his eyes, leaving a grimy smear.
"All right," soothed Jonathan. "It's all right now, son. Daddy didn't mean to scare you. Daddy has to learn these things, that's all. Just like learning in school."
The boy shook his head resentfully. "You know," he accused. "You just forgot."
"What did I forget, Richie?"
"You forgot all about Allavarg. He told me! It was a different Allavarg when you were little, but it was almost the same. You used to play with your Allavarg when you were little like me!"
Jonathan took a deep breath. "Where did Allavarg come from, Richie?"
But Richie shook his head stubbornly, lips pressed tight. "I promised!"
"Richie, a promise like that isn't a good one," pleaded Jonathan. "Allavarg wouldn't want you to disobey your father and mother, would he?"
The child sat and stared at him.
This was a very disturbing thought and Jonathan could see Richie did not know how to deal with it.
He pressed his momentary advantage. "Allavarg takes care of little boys and girls, doesn't he? He plays with them and he looks after them, I'll bet."
Richie nodded uncertainly.
"And," continued Jonathan, smiling what he hoped was a winning, comradely smile at his son, "I'll bet that Allavarg came from some place far, far away, didn't he?"
"Yes," said Richie softly.
"And it's his job to be here and look after the--the nursery?" Jonathan bit his lip. Nursery? Earth? Carooms--Martians? His head began to ache. "Son, you've got to help me understand. Do you--do you murv me?"
Richie shook his head. "No. But I will after--"
"After I grow up."
"Why not now?" asked Jonathan.
The blond head sank lower. "Because you framish, Daddy."
His father nodded, trying to look wise, wincing inwardly as he pictured his colleagues listening in on this conversation. "Well--why don't you help me so I don't framish?"
"I can't." Richie glanced up, his eyes stricken. "Some day, Allavarg says, I'm going to framish, too!"
"Grow up, you mean?" hazarded Jonathan, and this time his smile was real as he looked at the smudged eyes and soft round cheeks. "Why, Richie," he went on, his voice suddenly husky, "it's fun to be a little boy, but there'll be lots to do when you grow up. You--"
"I wish I was Mr. Easton!" Richie said fiercely.
Jonathan held his breath. "What about Mr. Easton?"
Richie squirmed out of the chair and clutched Jonathan's arm. "Please, Daddy! If you let Mr. Easton go back, can I go, too? Please? Can I?"
Jonathan put his hands on his son's shoulders. "Richie! What do you know about Mr. Easton?"
"Please? Can I go with him?" The shining blue eyes pleaded up at him. "If you don't let him go back pretty soon, he's going to framish again! Please! Can I?"
"He's going to framish," nodded Jonathan. "And what then?" he coaxed. "What'll happen after he framishes? Will he be able to tell me about his trip?"
"I dunno," said Richie. "I dunno how he could. After you framish, you don't remember lots of things. I don't think he's even gonna remember he went on a trip." The boy's hands shook Jonathan's arm eagerly. "Please, Daddy! Can I go with him?"
"No!" Jonathan glared and released his hold on Richie. Didn't he have troubles enough without Richie suggesting--"About the nursery," he said briskly. "Why is there a nursery?"
"To take care of us." Richie looked worried. "Why can't I go?"
"Because you can't! Why don't they have the nursery back where Allavarg came from?"
"There isn't any room." The blue eyes studied the man, looking for a way to get permission to go with Mr. Easton.
"No room? What do you mean?"
Richie sighed. Obviously he'd have to explain first and coax later. "Well, you know my school? You know my teacher in school? You know when my teacher was different?" He peered anxiously at Jonathan, and suddenly the man caught on.
"Of course! You mean when they split the kindergarten into two smaller groups because there were too many--"
His voice trailed off. Too many. Too many what? Too many Martians on Mars? Growing population? No way to cut down the birth rate? He pictured the planet with too many people. What to do? Move out. Take another planet. Why didn't they just do that? He put the question to Richie.
"Oh," said his son wisely, "they couldn't because of the framish. They did go other places, but everywhere they went, they framished. And after you framish, you ain't--aren't a Caroom any more. You're a Gunderguck and of course--"
"--and a Caroom doesn't like to framish and be a Gunderguck," continued Richie happily, as though reciting a lesson learned in school. "He wants to be a Caroom all the time because it's better and more fun and you know lots of things you don't remember after you get to be a Gunderguck. Only--" he paused for a gulp of air--"only there wasn't room for all the Carooms back home and they couldn't find any place where they could be Carooms all the time, because of the framish. So after a long time, and after they looked all over all around, they decided maybe it wouldn't be so bad if they sent some of their little boys and girls--the ones they didn't have room for--to some place where they could be Carooms longer than most other places. And that place," Richie said proudly, "was right here! 'Cause here there's almost as much gladdisl as back home and--"
"Gladdisl?" Jonathan echoed hoarsely. "What's--"
"--and after they start growing up--"
"Gladdisl," Jonathan repeated, more firmly. "Richie, what is it?"
The forehead puckered momentarily. "It's something you breathe, sort of." The boy shied away from the difficult question, trying to remember what Allavarg had said about gladdisl. "Anyway, after the little boys and girls start to grow up and after they framish and be Gundergucks, like you and Mommy, the Carooms back home send some more to take their places. And the Gundergucks who used to be Carooms here in the nursery look after the new little--"
"Wait a minute! Wait a minute!" Jonathan interrupted suspiciously. "I thought you said Allavarg looks after them."
"He does. But there's so many little Carooms and there aren't many Allavargs and so the Gundergucks have to help. You help," Richie assured his father. "You and Mommy help a little bit."
Big of you to admit it, old man, thought Jonathan, suppressing a smile. "But aren't you our little boy?" he asked. He had a sudden vision of himself addressing the scientists at the Institute: "And so, gentlemen, our babies--who, incidentally, are really Martians--are brought by storks, after all. Except in those cases where--"
"The doctor brought me in a little black bag," said Richie.
The boy stood silent and studied his father. He sort of remembered what Allavarg had said, too. Things like You mustn't ever tell and It's got to be a secret and They'd only laugh at you, Richie, and if they didn't laugh, they might believe you and try to go back home and there just isn't any room.
"I think," said Richie, "I think I better--" He took a deep breath. "Here, Allavarg," he called in a soft, piping voice.
Jonathan raised his head. "Just what do you think you're doing--"
There was a sound behind him, and Jonathan turned startledly.
"Shame on you," said Allavarg, coming through the broken window.
Jonathan's words dropped away in a faint gurgle.
"I'm sorry," said Richie. "Don't be dipplefit."
"It's a mess," Allavarg replied. "It's a krandoor mess!" He waved his arm in the air over Jonathan's head. "And don't think I'm going to forget it!" The insistent hiss of escaping gas hovered over the moving pellet in his hand. "Jivis boy!"
Jonathan coughed suddenly. He got as far as "Now look here" and then found that he could neither speak nor move. The gas or whatever it was stung his eyes and burned in his throat.
"Why don't you just freeble him?" Richie asked unhappily. "You're using up all your gladdisl! Why don't you freeble him and get me another one?"
"Freeble, breeble," grumbled Allavarg, shoving the capsule directly under Jonathan's nose. "Just like you youngsters, always wanting to take the easy way out! Gundergucks don't grow on blansercots, you know."
Jonathan felt tears start in his eyes, partly from the fumes and partly from a growing realization that Allavarg was sacrificing precious air for him. He tried to think. If this was gladdisl and if this would keep a man in the state of being a Caroom, then-- "There," said Allavarg, looking unhappily at the emptied pellet. He shook it, sniffed it and finally returned it to the container at his side.
"I'm sorry," Richie whispered. "But he kept askin' me and askin' me."
"There, there," said Allavarg, going to the window. "Don't fret. I know you won't do it again." He turned and looked thoughtfully at Jonathan. He winked at Richie and then he was gone.
Jonathan rubbed his eyes. He could move now. He opened his mouth and waggled his jaws. Now that the room was beginning to be cleared of the gas, he realized that it had had a pleasant odor. He realized-- Why, it was all so simple! Remembering his sessions with Easton, Jonathan laughed aloud. So simple! The message? Stay away from Mars! No room there! They said I could come back if I gave you the message, but I have to come back alone because there's no room for more people!
No room? Nonsense! Jonathan reached for the phone, dialled the Institute and asked for Dr. Stoughton. No room? On the paradise that was Mars? Well, they'd just have to make room! They couldn't keep that to themselves!
"Hello, Fred?" He leaned back in his chair, feeling a surge of pride and power. Wait till they heard about this! "Just wanted to tell you I solved the Easton thing. Just a simple case of hapsodon. You see, Allavarg came and gave me a tressimox of gladdisl and now that I'm a Caroom again--What? What do you mean, what's the matter? I said I'm not a Gunderguck any more." He stared at the phone. "Why, you spebberset moron! What's the matter with you? Don't you blikkel English?"
From the depths of the big chair across the room, Richie giggled.
JOHN JONES'S DOLLAR.
By Harry Stephen Keeler
Take a board with 64 squares on it. Put a grain of wheat on the first square-two on the second-four on the third. Keep doubling in this manner and you will find there isn't enough wheat in the world to fill the sixty-fourth square. It can be the same with compound interest.
On the 201st day of the year 3221 A.D., the professor of history at the University of Terra seated himself in front of the Visaphone and prepared to deliver the daily lecture to his class, the members of which resided in different portions of the earth.
The instrument before which he seated himself was very like a great window sash, on account of the fact that there were three or four hundred frosted glass squares visible. In a space at the center, not occupied by any of these glass squares, was a dark oblong area and a ledge holding a piece of chalk. And above the area was a huge brass cylinder; toward this brass cylinder the professor would soon direct his subsequent remarks.
In order to assure himself that it was time to press the button which would notify the members of the class in history to approach their local Visaphones, the professor withdrew from his vest pocket a small contrivance which he held to his ear. Upon moving a tiny switch attached to the instrument, a metallic voice, seeming to come from somewhere in space, repeated mechanically: "Fifteen o'clock and one minute-fifteen o'clock and one minute-fifteen o'clock and one min-" Quickly, the professor replaced the instrument in his vest pocket and pressed a button at the side of the Visaphone.
As though in answer to the summons, the frosted squares began, one by one, to show the faces and shoulders of a peculiar type of young men; young men with great bulging foreheads, bald, toothless, and wearing immense horn spectacles. One square, however, still remained empty. On noticing this, a look of irritation passed over the professor's countenance.
But, seeing that every other glass square but this one was filled up, he commenced to talk.
"I am pleased, gentlemen, to see you all posted at your local Visaphones this afternoon. I have prepared my lecture today upon a subject which is, perhaps, of more economic interest than historical. Unlike the previous lectures, my talk will not confine itself to the happenings of a few years, but will gradually embrace the course of ten centuries, the ten centuries, in fact, which terminated three hundred years before the present date. My lecture will be an exposition of the effects of the John Jones Dollar, originally deposited in the dawn of civilization, or to be more precise, in the year of 1921-just thirteen hundred years ago. This John Jon-"
At this point in the professor's lecture, the frosted glass square which hitherto had shown no image, now filled up. Sternly he gazed at the head and shoulders that had just appeared.
"B262H72476Male, you are late to class again. What excuse have you to offer today?"
From the hollow cylinder emanated a shrill voice, while the lips of the picture on the glass square moved in unison with the words: "Professor, you will perceive by consulting your class book, that I have recently taken up my residence near the North Pole. For some reason, wireless communication between the Central Energy Station and all points north of 89 degrees was cut off a while ago, on account of which fact I could not appear in the Visaphone. Hence-"
"Enough, sir," roared the professor. "Always ready with an excuse, B262H72476Male. I shall immediately investigate your tale."
From his coat pocket, the professor withdrew an instrument which, although supplied with an earpiece and a mouthpiece, had no wires whatever attached. Raising it to his lips, he spoke: "Hello. Central Energy Station, please." A pause ensued. "Central Energy Station? This is the professor of history at the University of Terra, speaking. One of my students informs me that the North Pole region was out of communication with the Visaphone System this morning. Is that statement true? I would-"
A voice, apparently from nowhere, spoke into the professor's ear. "Quite true, Professor. A train of our ether waves accidently fell into parallelism with a train of waves from the Venus Substation. By the most peculiar mischance, the two trains happened to be displaced, with reference to each other, one half of a wave length, with the unfortunate result that the negative points of one coincided with the positive points of maximum amplitude of the other. Hence the two wave trains nullified each other and communication ceased for one hundred and eighty-five seconds-until the earth had revolved far enough to throw them out of parallelism."