His advanced Mecanno set was "broken"--so Mrs. Mitchell told him. Uncle Paul had accidentally crushed it. "But you'll like this better," she beamed, handing him a fresh new box from the toy store. It contained bright-colored modular blocks.
Jimmy's parents had given him canvasboard and oil paints; now they were gone. Jimmy would have admitted he was no artist; but he didn't enjoy retrogressing to his uncle's selection--finger paints.
His supply of drawing paper was not tampered with. But it was not replaced. When it was gone, Jimmy was presented with a blackboard and boxes of colored chalk.
By Christmas every possession was gone--replaced--the new toys tailored to Jimmy's physical age. There was a Christmas tree, and under it a pile of gay bright boxes. Jimmy had hardly the heart to open them, for he knew what they would contain.
He was right.
Jimmy had everything that would keep a five-year-old boy contented ... and not one iota more. He objected; his objections got him nowhere. Mrs. Mitchell was reproachful: Ingratitude, Jimmy! Mr. Mitchell was scornful: Maybe James would like to vote and smoke a pipe?
And Paul Brennan was very clear. There was a way out of this, yes. Jimmy could have whatever he liked. There was just this one step that must be taken first; the machine must be put back together again.
When it came time for Jimmy to start school he was absolutely delighted; nothing, nothing could be worse than this.
At first it was a novel experience.
He sat at a desk along with forty-seven other children of his size, neatly stacked in six aisles with eight desks to the tier. He did his best to copy their manners and to reproduce their halting speech and imperfect grammar. For the first couple of weeks he was not noticed.
The teacher, with forty-eight young new minds to study, gave him his 2.08% of her total time and attention. Jimmy Holden was not a deportment problem; his answers to the few questions she directed at him were correct. Therefore he needed less attention and got less; she spent her time on the loud, the unruly and those who lagged behind in education.
Because his total acquaintance with children of his own age had been among the slum kids that hung around Jake Caslow's Place, Jimmy found his new companions an interesting bunch.
He watched them, and he listened to them. He copied them and in two weeks Jimmy found them pitifully lacking and hopelessly misinformed. They could not remember at noon what they had been told at ten o'clock. They had difficulty in reading the simple pages of the First Reader.
But he swallowed his pride and stumbled on and on, mimicking his friends and remaining generally unnoticed.
If written examinations were the rule in the First Grade, Jimmy would have been discovered on the first one. But with less than that 2% of the teacher's time directed at him, Jimmy's run of correct answers did not attract notice. His boredom and his lack of attention during daydreams made him seem quite normal.
He began to keep score on his classmates on the fly-leaf of one of his books. Jimmy was a far harsher judge than the teacher. He marked them either wrong or right; he gave no credit for trying, or for their stumbling efforts to express their muddled ideas and incomplete grasp. He found their games fun at first, but quickly grew bored. When he tried to introduce a note of strategy they ignored him because they did not understand. They made rules as they went along and changed them as they saw fit. Then, instead of complying with their own rules, they pouted-up and sulked when they couldn't do as they wanted.
But in the end it was Jimmy's lack of experience in acting that tripped him.
Having kept score on his playmates' answers, Jimmy knew that some fairly high percentage of answers must inevitably be wrong. So he embarked upon a program of supplying a certain proportion of errors. He discovered that supplying a wrong answer that was consistent with the age of his contemporaries took too much of his intellect to keep his actions straight. He forgot to employ halting speech and childlike grammar. His errors were delivered in faultless grammar and excellent self-expression; his correct answers came out in the English of his companions; mispronounced, ill-composed, and badly delivered.
The contrast was enough to attract even 2.08% of a teacher.
During the third week of school, Jimmy was day-dreaming during class. Abruptly his teacher snapped, "James Holden, how much is seven times nine?"
"Sixty-three," replied Jimmy, completely automatic.
"James," she said softly, "do you know the rest of your numbers?"
Jimmy looked around like a trapped animal. His teacher waited him out until Jimmy, finding no escape, said, "Yes'm."
"Well," she said with a bright smile. "It's nice to know that you do. Can you do the multiplication table?"
"Are you sure?"
"Let's hear you."
Jimmy looked around. "No, Jimmy," said his teacher. "I want you to say it. Go ahead." And then as Jimmy hesitated still, she addressed the class. "This is important," she said. "Someday you will have to learn it, too. You will use it all through life and the earlier you learn it the better off you all will be. Knowledge," she quoted proudly, "is power! Now, Jimmy!"
Jimmy began with two-times-two and worked his way through the long table to the twelves. When he finished, his teacher appointed one of the better-behaved children to watch the class. "Jimmy," she said, "I'm going to see if we can't put you up in the next grade. You don't belong here. Come along."
They went to the principal's office. "Mr. Whitworth," said Jimmy's teacher, "I have a young genius in my class."
"A young genius, Miss Tilden?"
"Yes, indeed. He already knows the multiplication table."
"You do, James? Where did you learn it?"
"My father taught me."
Principal and teacher looked at each another. They said nothing but they were both recalling stories and rumors about the brilliance of his parents. The accident and death had not escaped notice.
"What else did they teach you, James?" asked Mr. Whitworth. "To read and write, of course?"
Jimmy squirmed inwardly. He did not know how much to admit. "Some," he said noncommittally.
"When did Columbus discover America?"
"In Fourteen Ninety-Two."
"Fine," said Mr. Whitworth with a broad smile. He looked at Miss Tilden. "You're right. Young James should be advanced." He looked down at Jimmy Holden. "James," he said, "we're going to place you in the Second Grade for a tryout. Unless we're wrong, you'll stay and go up with them."
Jimmy's entry into Second Grade brought a different attitude. He had entered school quietly just for the sake of getting away from Paul Brennan. Now he was beginning to form a plan. If he could go from First to Second in a matter of three weeks, then, by carefully disclosing his store of knowledge bit-by-bit at the proper moment, he might be able to go through school in a short time. Moreover, he had tasted the first fruits of recognition. He craved more.
Somewhere was born the quaint notion that getting through school would automatically make him an adult, with all attendant privileges.
So Jimmy Holden dropped all pretense. His answers were as right as he could make them. He dropped the covering mimickry of childish speech and took personal pride in using grammar as good as that of his teacher.
This got him nothing. The Second Grade teacher was of the "progressive" school; she firmly believed that everybody, having been created equal, had to stay that way. She pointedly avoided giving Jimmy any opportunity to show his capability.
He bided his time with little grace.
He found his opportunity during the visit of a school superintendent. During this session Jimmy hooted when one of his fellows said that Columbus proved the world was round.
Angrily she demanded that Jimmy tell her who did prove it, and Jimmy Holden replied that he didn't know whether it was Pythagoras or one of his followers, but he did know that it was one of the few things that Aristotle ever got right. This touched her on a sore spot. She admired Aristotle and couldn't bear to hear the great man accused of error.
She started baiting Jimmy with loaded questions and stopped when Jimmy stated that Napoleon Bonaparte was responsible for the invention of canned food, the adoption of the metric system, and the development of the semaphore telegraph. This stopped all proceedings until Jimmy himself found the references in the Britannica. That little feat of research-reference impressed the visiting superintendent. Jimmy Holden was jumped into Third Grade.
Convinced that he was on the right trolley, Jimmy proceeded to plunge in with both feet. Third Grade Teacher helped. Within a week he was being called upon to aid the laggards. He stood out like a lighthouse; he was the one who could supply the right answers when the class was stumped. His teacher soon began to take a delight in belaboring the class for a minute before turning to Jimmy for the answer. Heaven forgive him, Jimmy enjoyed it. He began to hold back slyly, like a comedian building up the tension before a punch-line.
His classmates began to call him "old know-it-all." Jimmy did not realize that it was their resentment speaking. He accepted it as deference to his superior knowledge. The fact that he was not a part of their playtime life did not bother him one iota. He knew very well that his size alone would cut him out of the rough and heavy games of his classmates; he did not know that he was cut out of their games because they disliked him.
As time wore on, some of the rougher ones changed his nickname from "know-it-all" to "teacher's pet"; one of them used rougher language still. To this Jimmy replied in terms he'd learned from Jake Caslow's gutters. All that saved him from a beating was his size; even the ones who disliked him would not stand for the bully's beating up a smaller child.
But in other ways they picked on him. Jimmy reasoned out his own relationship between intelligence and violence. He had yet to learn the psychology of vandalism--but he was experiencing it.
Finding no enjoyment out of play periods, Jimmy took to staying in. The permissive school encouraged it; if Jimmy Holden preferred to tinker with a typewriter instead of playing noisy games, his teacher saw no wrong in it--for his Third Grade teacher was something of an intellectual herself.
In April, one week after his sixth birthday, Jimmy Holden was jumped again.
Jimmy entered Fourth Grade to find that his fame had gone before him; he was received with sullen glances and turned backs.
But he did not care. For his birthday, he received a typewriter from Paul Brennan. Brennan never found out that the note suggesting it from Jimmy's Third Grade teacher had been written after Jimmy's prompting.
So while other children played, Jimmy wrote.
He was not immediately successful. His first several stories were returned; but eventually he drew a winner and a check. Armed with superior knowledge, Jimmy mailed it to a bank that was strong in advertising "mail-order" banking. With his first check he opened a pay-by-the-item, no-minimum-balance checking account.
Gradually his batting average went up, but there were enough returned rejections to make Paul Brennan view Jimmy's literary effort with quiet amusement. Still, slowly and in secret, Jimmy built up his bank balance by twenties, fifties, an occasional hundred.
For above everything, by now Jimmy knew that he could not go on through school as he'd planned.
If his entry into Fourth Grade had been against scowls and resentment from his classmates, Fifth and Sixth would be more so. Eventually the day would come when he would be held back. He was already mingling with children far beyond his size. The same permissive school that graduated dolts so that their stupid personalities wouldn't be warped would keep him back by virtue of the same idiotic reasoning.
He laid his plans well. He covered his absence from school one morning and thereby gained six free hours to start going about his own business before his absence could be noticed.
This was his third escape. He prayed that it would be permanent.
Seventy-five miles south of Chicago there is a whistle-stop called Shipmont. (No ship has ever been anywhere near it; neither has a mountain.) It lives because of a small college; the college, in turn, owes its maintenance to an installation of great interest to the Atomic Energy Commission.
Shipmont is served by two trains a day--which stop only when there is a passenger to get on or off, which isn't often. These passengers, generally speaking, are oddballs carrying attache cases or eager young men carrying miniature slide rules.
But on this day came a woman and a little girl.
Their total visible possessions were two battered suitcases and one battered trunk. The little girl was neatly dressed, in often-washed and mended clothing; she carried a small covered basket, and there were breadcrumbs visible on the lid. She looked bewildered, shy and frightened. She was.
The mother was thirty, though there were lines of worry on her forehead and around her eyes that made her look older. She wore little makeup and her clothing had been bought for wear instead of for looks. She looked around, leaned absently down to pat the little girl and straightened as the station-master came slowly out.
"Need anything, ma'am?" He was pleasant enough. Janet Bagley appreciated that; life had not been entirely pleasant for her for some years.
"I need a taxicab, if there is one."
"There is. I run it after the train gets in for them as ain't met. You're not goin' to the college?" He pronounced it "collitch."
Janet Bagley shook her head and took a piece of paper from her bag. "Mr. Charles Maxwell, Rural Route Fifty-three, Martin's Hill Road," she read. Her daughter began to whimper.
The station-master frowned. "Hum," he said, "that's the Herm--er, d'you know him?"
Mrs. Bagley said: "I've never met him. What kind of a man is he?"
That was the sort of question the station-master appreciated. His job was neither demanding nor exciting; an opportunity to talk was worth having. He said cheerfully, "Why, I don't rightly know, ma'am. Nobody's ever seen him."
"Nope. Nobody. Does everything by mail."
"My goodness, what's the matter with him?"
"Don't rightly know, ma'am. Story is he was once a professor and got in some kind of big explosion. Burned the hide off'n his face and scarred up his hands something turrible, so he don't want to show himself. Rented the house by mail, pays his rent by mail. Orders stuff by mail. Mostly not real U-nited States Mail, y'know, because we don't mind dropping off a note to someone in town. I'm the local mailman, too. So when I find a note to Herby Wharton, the fellow that owns the general store, I drop it off. Margie Clark over at the bank says he writes. Gets checks from New York from publishing companies." The station-master looked around as if he were looking for Soviet spies. "He's a scientist, all right. He's doin' something important and hush-hush up there. Lots and lots of boxes and packin' cases I've delivered up there from places like Central Scientific and Labotory Supply Company. Must be a smart feller. You visitin' him?"
"Well, he hired me for housekeeper. By mail." Mrs. Bagley looked puzzled and concerned.
Little Martha began to cry.
"It'll be all right," said the station-master soothingly. "You keep your eye open," he said to Mrs. Bagley. "Iff'n you see anything out of line, you come right back and me and the missus will give you a lift. But he's all right. Nothin' goin' on up there that I know of. Fred Riordan--he's the sheriff--has watched the place for days and days and it's always quiet. No visitors. No nothin'. Know what I think? I think he's experimenting with something to take away the burn scars. That's whut I think. Well, hop in and I'll drive you out there."
"Is it going to cost much?"
"Nothin' this trip. We'll charge it to the U-nited States Mail. Got a package goin' out. Was waitin' for something else to go along with it, but you're here and we can count that. This way to the only taxicab service in Shipmont."
The place looked deserted. It was a shabby old clapboard house; the architecture of the prosperous farmer of seventy-five years ago. The grounds were spacious but the space was filled with scrub weeds. A picket fence surrounded the weeds with uncertain security. The windows--those that could be seen, that is--were dirty enough to prevent seeing inside with clarity, and what transparency there was left was covered by curtains. The walk up the "lawn" was flagstone with crabgrass between the stones.
The station-master unshipped the small trunk and stood it just inside the fence. He parked the suitcases beside it. "Never go any farther than this," he explained. "So far's I know, you're the first person to ever head up thet walk to the front door."
Mrs. Bagley rapped on the door. It opened almost instantly.
"I'm--" then Mrs. Bagley dropped her eyes to the proper level. To the lad who was standing there she said, "I'm Mrs. Bagley. Your father--a Mr. Charles Maxwell is expecting me."
"Come in," said Jimmy Holden. "Mr. Maxwell--well, he isn't my father. He sent me to let you in."
Mrs. Bagley entered and dropped her suitcases in the front hall. Martha held back behind her mother's skirt. Jimmy closed the door and locked it carefully, but left the key in the keyhole with a gesture that Mrs. Bagley could not mistake. "Please come in here and sit down," said James Holden. "Relax a moment." He turned to look at the girl. He smiled at her, but she cowered behind her mother's skirt as if she wanted to bury her face but was afraid to lose sight of what was going on around her.
"What's your name?" asked James.