"Indeed? How, may I ask?"
"It was rebuilt by James Holden from plans, specifications, and information engraved on his brain by his parents through the use of their first machine. Unfortunately, I have every reason to believe that this new machine is so booby-trapped and tamper-protected that the first interference by someone other than James Holden will cause its destruction."
"Um. It might be possible to impound this machine as a device of high interest to the State," mused Manison. "But if we start any proceeding as delicate as that, it will hit every newspaper in the country and our advantage will be lost."
"Technically," said Paul Brennan, "you don't know that such a machine exists. But as soon as young Holden realizes that you know about his machine, he'll also know that you got the information from me." Brennan sat quietly and thought for a moment. "There's another distressing angle, too," he said at last. "I don't think that there is a soul on earth who knows how to run this machine but James Holden. Steal it or impound it or take it away legally, you've got to know how it runs. I doubt that we'd find a half-dozen people on the earth who'd willingly sit in a chair with a heavy headset on, connected to a devilish aggregation of electrical machinery purported to educate the victim, while a number of fumblers experimented with the dials and the knobs and the switches. No sir, some sort of pressure must be brought to bear upon the youngster."
"Um. Perhaps civic pride? Might work. Point out to him that he is in control of a device that is essential to the security of the United States. That he is denying the children of this country the right to their extensive education. Et cetera?"
"Could be. But how are you going to swing it, technically in ignorance of the existence of such a machine?"
"Were I a member of the Congressional Committee on Education, I could investigate the matter of James Holden's apparent superiority of intellect."
"And hit Page One of every newspaper in the country," sneered Brennan.
"Well, I'm not," snapped Manison angrily. "However, there is a way, perhaps several ways, once we find the first entering wedge. After all, Brennan, the existence of a method of accelerating the course of educational training is of the utmost importance to the future of not only the United States of America, but the entire human race. Once I can locate some plausible reason for asking James Holden the first question about anything, the remainder of any session can be so slanted as to bring into the open any secret knowledge he may have. We, to make the disclosure easier, shall hold any sessions in the strictest of secrecy. We can quite readily agree with James Holden's concern over the long-range effectiveness of his machine and state that secrecy is necessary lest headstrong factions take the plunge into something that could be very detrimental to the human race instead of beneficial. Frankly, Mr. Brennan," said Manison with a wry smile, "I should like to borrow that device for about a week myself. It might help me locate some of the little legal points that would help me." He sighed. "Yes," he said sadly, "I know the law, but no one man knows all of the finer points. Lord knows," he went on, "if the law were a simple matter of behaving as it states, we'd not have this tremendous burden. But the law is subject to interpretation and change and argument and precedent--Precedent? Um, here we may have an interesting angle, Brennan. I must look into it."
"Yes, indeed. Any ruling that we were to make covering the right of a seven, eight, or nine year old to run his own life as he sees fit will be a ruling that establishes precedent."
"Well, up to now there's no ruling about such a case; no child of ten has ever left home to live as he prefers. But this James Holden is apparently capable of doing just that--and any impartial judge deliberating such a case would find it difficult to justify a decision that placed the competent infant under the guardianship and protection of an adult who is less competent than the infant."
Brennan's face turned dark. "You're saying that this Holden kid is smarter than I am?"
"Sit down and stop sputtering," snapped Manison. "What were you doing at six years old, Brennan? Did you have the brains to leave home and protect yourself by cooking up the plausible front of a very interesting character such as the mythical Hermit of Martin's Hill? Were you writing boys' stories for a nationwide magazine of high circulation and accredited quality? Could you have planned your own dinner and prepared it, or would you have dined on chocolate bars washed down with strawberry pop? Stop acting indignant. Start thinking. If for no other reason than that we don't want to end up selling pencils on Halstead Street because we're not quite bright, we've got to lay our hands on that machine. We've got to lead, not follow. Yet at the present time I'll wager that your James Holden is going to give everybody concerned a very rough time. Now, let me figure out the angles and pull the wires. One thing that nobody can learn from any electronic machine is how to manipulate the component people that comprise a political machine. I'll be in touch with you, Brennan."
The ring at the door was Chief of Police Joseph Colling and another gentleman. Janet Fisher answered the door, "Good evening, Mr. Colling. Come in?"
"Thank you," said Colling politely. "This is Mr. Frank Manison, from the office of the State Department of Justice."
"Oh? Is something wrong?"
"Not that we know of," replied Manison. "We're simply after some information. I apologize for calling at eight o'clock in the evening, but I wanted to catch you all under one roof. Is Mr. Fisher home? And the children?"
"Why, yes. We're all here." Janet stepped aside to let them enter the living room, and then called upstairs. Mr. Manison was introduced around and Tim Fisher said, cautiously, "What's the trouble here?"
"No trouble that we know of," said Manison affably. "We're just after some information about the education of James Holden, a legal minor, who seems never to have been enrolled in any school."
"If you don't mind," replied Tim Fisher, "I'll not answer anything without the advice of my attorney."
Janet Fisher gasped.
Tim turned with a smile. "Don't you like lawyers, honey?"
"It isn't that. But isn't crying for a lawyer an admission of some sort?"
"Sure is," replied Tim Fisher. "It's an admission that I don't know all of my legal rights. If lawyers come to me because they don't know all there is to know about the guts of an automobile, I have every right to the same sort of consultation in reverse. Agree, James?"
James Holden nodded. "The man who represents himself in court has a fool for a client," he said. "I think that's Daniel Webster, but I'm not certain. No matter; it's right. Call Mr. Waterman, and until he arrives we'll discuss the weather, the latest dope in high-altitude research, or nuclear physics."
Frank Manison eyed the lad. "You're James Holden?"
Tim interrupted. "We're not answering anything," he warned.
"Oh, I don't mind admitting my identity," said James. "I've committed no crime, I've broken no law. No one can point to a single act of mine that shows a shred of evidence to the effect that my intentions are not honorable. Sooner or later this whole affair had to come to a showdown, and I'm prepared to face it squarely."
"Thank you," said Manison. "Now, without inviting comment, let me explain one important fact. The state reserves the right to record marriages, births, and deaths as a simple matter of vital statistics. We feel that we have every right to the compiling of the census, and we can justify our feeling. I am here because of some apparent irregularities, records of which we do not have. If these apparent irregularities can be explained to our satisfaction for the record, this meeting will be ended. Now, let's relax until your attorney arrives."
"May I get you some coffee or a highball?" asked Janet Fisher.
"Coffee, please," agreed Frank Manison. Chief Colling nodded quietly. They relaxed over coffee and small talk for a half hour. The arrival of Waterman, Tim Fisher's attorney, signalled the opening of the discussion.
"First," said Manison, his pencil poised over a notebook, "Who lives here in permanent residence, and for how long?" He wrote rapidly as they told him. "The house is your property?" he asked Tim, and wrote again. "And you are paying a rental on certain rooms of this house?" he asked James, who nodded.
"Where did you attend school?" he asked James.
"I did not."
"Where did you get your education?"
"By a special course in home study."
"You understand that under the state laws that provide for the education of minor children, the curriculum must be approved by the state?"
"And has it?"
Waterman interrupted. "Just a moment, Mr. Manison. In what way must the curriculum be approved? Does the State study all textbooks and the manner in which each and every school presents them? Or does the State merely insist that the school child be taught certain subjects?"
"The State merely insists that certain standards of education be observed."
"In fact," added James, "the State does not even insist that the child learn the subjects, realizing that some children lack the intellect to be taught certain subjects completely and fully. Let's rather say that the State demands that school children be exposed to certain subjects in the hope that they 'take.' Am I not correct?"
"I presume you are."
"Then I shall answer your question. In my home study, I have indeed followed the approved curriculum by making use of the approved textbooks in their proper order. I am aware of the fact that this is not the same State, but if you will consult the record of my earlier years in attendance at a school selected by my legal guardian, you'll find that I passed from preschool grade to Fourth Grade in a matter of less than half a year, at the age of five-approaching-six. If this matter is subject to question, I'll submit to any course of extensive examination your educators care to prepare. The law regarding compulsory education in this state says that the minor child must attend school until either the age of eighteen, or until he has completed the standard eight years of grammar school and four years of high school. I shall then stipulate that the suggested examination be limited to the schooling of a high school graduate."
"For the moment we'll pass this over. We may ask that you do prove your contention," said Manison.
"You don't doubt that I can, do you?" asked James.
Manison shook his head. "No, at this moment I have no doubt."
"Then why do you bother asking?"
"I am here for a rather odd reason," said Manison. "I've told you the reservations that the State holds, which justify my presence. Now, it is patently obvious that you are a very competent young man, James Holden. The matter of making your own way is difficult, as many adults can testify. To have contrived a means of covering up your youth, in addition to living a full and competent life, demonstrates an ability above and beyond the average. Now, the State is naturally interested in anything that smacks of acceleration of the educational period. Can you understand that?"
"Naturally. None but a dolt would avoid education."
"Then you agree with our interest?"
"Just a moment, James," said Waterman. "Let's put it that you understand their interest, but that you do not necessarily agree."
"I understand," said James.
"Then you must also understand that this 'course of study' by which you claim the equal of a high-school education at the age of ten or eleven (perhaps earlier) must be of high importance."
"I understand that it might," agreed James.
"Then will you explain why you have kept this a secret?"
"Just a moment," said Waterman again. "James, would you say that your method of educating yourself is completely perfected?"
"Not perfected?" asked Manison. "Yet you claim to have the education of a high-school graduate?"
"I so claim," said James. "But I must also point out that I have acquired a lot of mish-mash in the course of this education. For instance, it is one thing to study English, its composition, spelling, vocabulary, construction, rules and regulations. One must learn these things if he is to be considered literate. In the course of such study, one also becomes acquainted with English literature. With literature it is enough to merely be acquainted with the subject. One need not know the works of Chaucer or Spenser intimately--unless one is preparing to specialize in the English literature of the writers of that era. Frankly, sir, I should hate to have my speech colored by the flowery phrases of that time, and the spelling of that day would flunk me out of First Grade if I made use of it. In simple words, I am still perfecting the method."
"Now, James," went on Waterman, "have you ever entertained the idea of not releasing the details of your method?"
"Occasionally," admitted James.
"Until we know everything about it, we can not be certain that its ultimate effect will be wholly beneficial."
"So, you see," said Waterman to Manison, "the intention is reasonable. Furthermore, we must point out that this system is indeed the invention created by the labor and study of the parents of James Holden, and as such it is a valuable property retained by James Holden as his own by the right of inheritance. The patent laws of the United States are clear, it is the many conflicting rulings that have weakened the system. The law itself is contained in the Constitution of the United States, which provides for the establishment of a Patent Office as a means to encourage inventors by granting them the exclusive right to the benefits of their labor for a reasonable period of time--namely seventeen years with provision for a second period under renewal."
"Then why doesn't he make use of it?" demanded Manison.
"Because the process, like so many another process, can be copied and used by individuals without payment, and because there hasn't been a patent suit upheld for about forty years, with the possible exception of Major Armstrong's suit against the Radio Corporation of America, settled in Armstrong's favor after about twenty-five years of expensive litigation. A secret is no longer a secret these days, once it has been written on a piece of paper and called to the attention of a few million people across the country."
"You realize that anything that will give an extensive education at an early age is vital to the security of the country."
"We recognize that responsibility, sir," said Waterman quietly. "We also recognize that in the hands of unscrupulous men, the system could be misused. We also realize its dangers, and we are trying to avoid them before we make the announcement. We are very much aware of the important, although unfortunate, fact that James Holden, as a minor, can have his rights abridged. Normally honest men, interested in the protection of youth, could easily prevent him from using his own methods, thus depriving him of the benefits that are legally his. This could be done under the guise of protection, and the result would be the super-education of the protectors--whose improving intellectual competence would only teach them more and better reasons for depriving the young man of his rights. James Holden has a secret, and he has a right to keep that secret, and his only protection is for him to continue to keep that secret inviolate. It was his parents' determination not to release this process upon the world until they were certain of the results. James is a living example of their effort; they conceived him for the express purpose of providing a virgin mind to educate by their methods, so that no outside interference would becloud their results. If this can be construed as the illegal experimentation on animals under the anti-vivisection laws, or cruelty to children, it was their act, not his. Is that clear?"
"It is clear," replied Manison. "We may be back for more discussion on this point. I'm really after information, not conducting a case, you know."
"Well, you have your information."
"Not entirely. We've another point to consider, Mr. Waterman. It is admittedly a delicate point. It is the matter of legal precedent. Granting everything you say is true--and I'll grant that hypothetically for the purpose of this argument--let's assume that James Holden ultimately finds his process suitable for public use. Now, happily to this date James had not broken any laws. He is an honorable individual. Let's now suppose that in the near future, someone becomes educated by his process and at the age of twelve or so decided to make use of his advanced intelligence in nefarious work?"
"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?"