"And you've testified that when you moved into the Holden home, you found things as the Holdens had provided them for their child?"
"In your opinion, were these surroundings suitable for James Holden?"
"They were far too advanced for a child of five."
"I asked specifically about James Holden."
"James Holden was five years old."
Waterman eyed Brennan with some surprise, then cast a glance at Frank Manison, who sat at ease, calmly watching and listening with no sign of objection. Waterman turned back to Brennan and said, "Let's take one more turn around Robin Hood's Barn, Mr. Brennan. First, James Holden was an exceptional child?"
"And the nature of his toys and furnishings?"
"In my opinion, too advanced for a child of five."
"But were they suitable for James Holden?"
"James Holden was a child of five."
Waterman faced Judge Carter. "Your Honor," he said, "I submit that the witness is evasive. Will you direct him to respond to my direct question with a direct answer?"
"The witness will answer the question properly," said Judge Carter with a slight frown of puzzlement, "unless counsel for the witness has some plausible objection?"'
"No objection," said Manison.
"Please repeat or rephrase your question," suggested Judge Carter.
"Mr. Brennan," said Waterman, "you've testified that James was an exceptional child, advanced beyond his years. You've testified that the home and surroundings provided by James Holden's parents reflected this fact. Now tell me, were the toys, surroundings, and the home suitable for James Holden?"
"In my opinion, no."
"And subsequently you replaced them with stuff you believed more suitable for a child of five, is that it?"
"Yes. I did, and you are correct."
"To which he objected?"
"To which James Holden objected."
"And what was your response to his objection?"
"I overruled his objection."
"Upon what grounds?"
"Upon the grounds that the education and the experience of an adult carries more wisdom than the desires of a child."
"Now, Mr. Brennan, please listen carefully. During the months following your guardianship, you successively removed the books that James Holden was fond of reading, replaced his advanced Meccano set with a set of modular blocks, exchanged his oil-painting equipment for a child's coloring books and standard crayolas, and in general you removed everything interesting to a child with known superiority of intellect?"
"And your purpose in opening this hearing was to convince this Court that James Holden should be returned by legal procedure to such surroundings?"
"No more questions," said Waterman. He sat down and rubbed his forehead with the palm of his right hand, trying to think.
Manison said, "I have one question to ask of Janet Fisher, known formerly as Mrs. Bagley."
Janet Fisher was sworn and properly identified.
"Now, Mrs. Fisher, prior to your marriage to Mr. Fisher and during your sojourn with James Holden in the House on Martin's Hill, did you supervise the activities of James Holden?"
"No," she said.
"Thank you," said Manison. He turned to Waterman and waved him to any cross-questioning.
Still puzzled, Waterman asked, "Mrs. Fisher, who did supervise the House on Martin's Hill?"
"During those years, Mrs. Fisher, did James Holden at any time conduct himself in any other manner but the actions of an honest citizen? I mean, did he perform or suggest the performance of any illegal act to your knowledge?"
"No, he did not."
Waterman turned to Judge Carter. "Your Honor," he said, "it seems quite apparent to me that the plaintiff in this case has given more testimony to support the contentions of my client than they have to support their own case. Will the Court honor a petition that the case be dismissed?"
Judge Norman L. Carter smiled slightly. "This is irregular," he said. "You should wait for that petition until the plaintiff's counsel has closed his case, you know." He looked at Frank Manison. "Any objection?"
Manison said, "Your Honor, I have permitted my client to be shown in this questionable light for no other purpose than to bring out the fact that any man can make a mistake in the eyes of other men when in reality he was doing precisely what he thought to be the best thing to do for himself and for the people within his responsibility. The man who raises his child to be a roustabout is wrong in the eyes of his neighbor who is raising his child to be a scientist, and vice versa. We'll accept the fact that James Holden's mind is superior. We'll point out that there have been many cases of precocious children or child geniuses who make a strong mark in their early years and drop into oblivion by the time they're twenty. Now, consider James Holden, sitting there discussing something with his attorney--I have no doubt in the world that he could conjugate Latin verbs, discuss the effect of the Fall of Rome on Western Civilization, and probably compute the orbit of an artificial satellite. But can James Holden fly a kite or shoot a marble? Has he ever had the fun of sliding into third base, or whittling on a peg, or any of the other enjoyable trivia of boyhood? Has he--"
"One moment," said Judge Carter. "Let's not have an impassioned oration, counsel. What is your point?"
"James Holden has a legal guardian, appointed by law at the express will of his parents. Headstrong, he has seen fit to leave that protection. He is fighting now to remain away from that protection. I can presume that James Holden would prefer to remain in the company of the Fishers where, according to Mrs. Fisher, he was not responsible to her whatsoever, but rather ran the show himself. I--"
"You can't make that presumption," said Judge Carter. "Strike it from the record."
"I apologize," said Manison. "But I object to dismissing this case until we find out just what James Holden has in mind for his future."
"I'll hold Counsel Waterman's petition in abeyance until the point you mention is in the record," said Judge Carter. "Counsel, are you finished?"
"Yes," said Manison. "I'll rest."
Waterman said, "Your Honor, we've been directed to show just cause why James Holden should not be returned to the protection of his legal guardian. Counsel has implied that James Holden desires to be placed in the legal custody of Mr. and Mrs. Fisher. This is a pardonable error whether it stands in the record or not. The fact is that James Holden does not need protection, nor does he want protection. To the contrary, James Holden petitions this Court to declare him legally competent so that he may conduct his own affairs with the rights, privileges, and indeed, even the risks taken by the status of adult.
"I'll point out that the rules and laws that govern the control and protection of minor children were passed by benevolent legislators to prevent exploitation, cruelty, and deprivation of the child's life by men who would take advantage of his immaturity. However we have here a young man of twelve who has shown his competence to deal with the adult world by actual practice. Therefore it is our contention that protective laws are not only unnecessary, but undesirable because they restrict the individual from his desire to live a full and fruitful life.
"To prove our contention beyond any doubt, I'll ask that James Holden be sworn in as my first witness."
Frank Manison said, "I object, Your Honor. James Holden is a minor and not qualified under law to give creditable testimony as a witness."
Waterman turned upon Manison angrily. "You really mean that you object to my case per se."
"That, too," replied Manison easily.
"Your Honor, I take exception! It is my purpose to place James Holden on the witness stand, and there to show this Court and all the world that he is of honorable mind, properly prepared to assume the rights of an adult. We not only propose to show that he acted honorably, we shall show that James Holden consulted the law to be sure that whatever he did was not illegal."
"Or," added Manison, "was it so that he would know how close to the limit he could go without stepping over the line?"
"Your Honor," asked Waterman, "can't we have your indulgence?"
"I object! The child is a minor."
"I accept the statement!" stormed Waterman. "And I say that we intend to prove that this minor is qualified to act as an adult."
"And," sneered Manison, "I'll guess that one of your later arguments will be that Judge Carter, having accepted this minor as qualified to deliver sworn testimony, has already granted the first premise of your argument."
"I say that James Holden has indeed shown his competence already by actually doing it!"
"While hiding under a false facade!"
"A facade forced upon him by the restrictive laws that he is petitioning the Court to set aside in his case so that he need hide no longer."
Frank Manison said, "Your Honor, how shall the case of James Holden be determined for the next eight or ten years if we do grant James Holden this legal right to conduct his own affairs as an adult? That we must abridge the laws regarding compulsory education is evident. James Holden is twelve years and five months old. Shall he be granted the right to enter a tavern to buy a drink? Will his request for a license to marry be honored? May he enter the polling place and cast his vote? The contention of counsel that the creation of Charles Maxwell was a physical necessity is acceptable. But what happens without 'Maxwell'? Must we prepare a card of identity for James Holden, stating his legal status, and renew it every year like an automobile license because the youth will grow in stature, add to his weight, and ultimately grow a beard? Must we enter on this identification card the fact that he is legally competent to sign contracts, rent a house, write checks, and make his own decision about the course of dangerous medical treatment--or shall we list those items that he is not permitted to do such as drinking in a public place, cast his vote, or marry? This State permits a youth to drive an automobile at the age of sixteen, this act being considered a skill rather than an act that requires judgment. Shall James Holden be permitted to drive an automobile even though he can not reach the foot pedals from any position where he can see through the windshield?"
Judge Carter sat quietly. He said calmly, "Let the record show that I recognize the irregularity of this procedure and that I permit it only because of the unique aspects of this case. Were there a Jury, I would dismiss them until this verbal exchange of views and personalities has subsided.
"Now," he went on, "I will not allow James Holden to take the witness stand as a qualified witness to prove that he is a qualified witness. I am sure that he can display his own competence with a flow of academic brilliance, or his attorney would not have tried to place him upon the stand where such a display could have been demonstrated. Of more importance to the Court and to the State is an equitable disposition of the responsibility to and over James Quincy Holden."
Judge Norman L. Carter leaned forward and looked from Frank Manison to James Holden, and then to Attorney Waterman.
"We must face some awkward facts," he said. "If I rule that he be returned to Mr. Brennan, he will probably remain no longer than he finds it convenient, at which point he will behave just as if this Court had never convened. Am I not correct, Mr. Manison?"
"Your Honor, you are correct. However, as a member of the Department of Justice of this State, I suggest that you place the responsibility in my hands. As an Officer of the Court, my interest would be to the best interest of the State rather than based upon experience, choice, or opinion as to what is better for a five-year-old or a child prodigy. In other words, I would exert the control that the young man needed. At the same time I would not make the mistakes that were made by Mr. Brennan's personal opinion of how a child should be reared."
Waterman shouted, "I object, Your Honor. I object--"
Brennan leaped to his feet and cried, "Manison, you can't freeze me out--"
James Holden shrilled, "I won't! I won't!"
Judge Carter eyed them one by one, staring them into silence. Finally he looked at Janet Fisher and said, "May I also presume that you would be happy to resume your association with James Holden?"
She nodded and said, "I'd be glad to," in a sincere voice. Tim Fisher nodded his agreement.
Brennan whirled upon them and snarled. "My reward money--" but he was shoved down in his seat with a heavy hand by Frank Manison who snapped, "Your money bought what it was offered for. So now shut up, you utter imbecile!"
Judge Norman L. Carter cleared his throat and said, "This great concern over the welfare of James Holden is touching. We have Mr. Brennan already twice a loser and yet willing to try it for three times. We have Mr. and Mrs. Fisher who are not dismayed at the possibility of having their home occupied by a headstrong youth whose actions they cannot control. We find one of the ambitious members of the District Attorney's Office offering to take on an additional responsibility--all, of course, in the name of the State and the welfare of James Holden. Finally we have James Holden who wants no part of the word 'protection' and claims the ability to run his own life.
"Now it strikes me that assigning the responsibility for this young man's welfare is by no means the reason why you all are present, and it similarly occurs to me that the young man's welfare is of considerably less importance than the very interesting question of how and why this young man has achieved so much."
With a thoughtful expression, Judge Carter said, "James Holden, how did you acquire this magnificent education at the tender age of twelve-plus?"
"I object!" cried Frank Manison. "The minor is not qualified to give testimony."
"Objection overruled. This is not testimony. I have every right in the world to seek out as much information from whatever source I may select; and I have the additional right to inspect the information I receive to pass upon its competence and relevance. Sit down, counsel!"
Manison sat grumpily and Judge Carter eyed James again, and James took a full breath. This was the moment he had been waiting for.
"Go on, James. Answer my question. Where did you come by your knowledge?"
James Holden stood up. This was the question that had to arise; he was only surprised it had taken so long.
He said calmly: "Your Honor, you may not ask that question."
"I may not?" asked Judge Carter with a lift of his eyebrows.
"No sir. You may not."
"And just why may I not?"
"If this were a criminal case, and if you could establish that some of my knowledge were guilty knowledge, you could then demand that I reveal the source of my guilty knowledge and under what circumstance it was obtained. If I refused to disclose my source, I could then be held in contempt of court or charged with being an accessory to the corpus of the crime. However, this is a court hearing to establish whether or not I am competent under law to manage my own affairs. How I achieve my mental competence is not under question. Let us say that it is a process that is my secret by the right of inheritance from my parents and as such it is valuable to me so long as I can demand payment for its use."
"This information may have a bearing on my ruling."
"Your Honor, the acquisition of knowledge or information per se is concomitant with growing up. I can and will demonstrate that I have the equivalent of the schooling necessary to satisfy both this Court and the State Board of Education. I will state that my education has been acquired by concentration and application in home study, and that I admit to attendance at no school. I will provide you or anybody else with a list of the books from which I have gleaned my education. But whether I practice Yoga, Dianetics, or write the lines on a sugarcoated pill and swallow it is my trade secret. It can not be extracted from me by any process of the law because no illegality exists."
"And what if I rule that you are not competent under the law, or withhold judgment until I have had an opportunity to investigate these ways and means of acquiring an accelerated education?"
"I'll then go on record as asking you to disbar yourself from this hearing on the grounds that you are not an impartial judge of the justice in my case."
"Upon what grounds?"
"Upon the grounds that you are personally interested in being provided with a process whereby you may acquire an advanced education yourself."
The judge looked at James thoughtfully for a moment. "And if I point out that any such process is of extreme interest to the State and to the Union itself, and as such must be disclosed?"