"Then I shall point out that your ruling is based upon a personal opinion because you don't know anything about the process. If I am ruled a legal minor you cannot punish me for not telling you my secrets, and if I am ruled legally competent, I am entitled to my own decision."
"You are within your rights," admitted Judge Carter with some interest. "I shall not make such a demand. But I now ask you if this process of yours is both safe and simple."
"If it is properly used with some good judgment."
"Now listen to me carefully," said Judge Carter. "Is it not true that your difficulties in school, your inability to get along with your classmates, and your having to hide while you toiled for your livelihood in secret--these are due to this extensive education brought about through your secret process?"
"I must agree, but--"
"You must agree," interrupted Judge Carter. "Yet knowing these unpleasant things did not deter you from placing, or trying to place, the daughter of your housekeeper in the same unhappy state. In other words, you hoped to make an intellectual misfit out of her, too?"
"I--now see here--"
"You see here! Did you or did you not aid in the education of Martha Bagley, now Martha Fisher?"
"Yes, I did, and--"
"Was that good judgment, James Holden?"
"What's wrong with higher education?" demanded James angrily.
"Nothing, if it's acquired properly."
"Now listen again. If I were to rule in your favor, would Martha Fisher be the next bratling in a long and everlasting line of infant supermen applying to this and that and the other Court to have their legal majority ruled, each of them pointing to your case as having established precedence?"
"I have no way of predicting the future, sir. What may happen in the future really has no bearing in evidence here."
"Granted that it does not. But I am not going to establish a dangerous precedent that will end with doctors qualified to practice surgery before they are big enough to swing a stethoscope or attorneys that plead a case before they are out of short pants. I am going to recess this case indefinitely with a partial ruling. First, until this process of yours comes under official study, I am declaring you, James Holden, to be a Ward of this State, under the jurisdiction of this Court. You will have the legal competence to act in matters of skill, including the signing of documents and instruments necessary to your continued good health. In all matters that require mature judgment, you will report to this Court and all such questions shall be rendered after proper deliberation either in open session or in chambers, depending upon the Court's opinion of their importance. The court stenographer will now strike all of the testimony given by James Holden from the record."
"I object!" exploded Brennan's attorney, rising swiftly and with one hand pressing Brennan down to prevent him from rising also.
"All objections are overruled. The new Ward of the State will meet with me in my chambers at once. Court is adjourned."
The session was stormy but brief. Holden objected to everything, but the voice of Judge Carter was loud and his stature was large; they overrode James Holden and compelled his attention.
"We're out of the court," snapped Judge Carter. "We no longer need observe the niceties of court etiquette, so now shut up and listen! Holden, you are involved in a thing that is explosively dangerous. You claim it to be a secret, but your secret is slowly leaking out of your control. You asked for your legal competence to be ruled. Fine, but if I allowed that, every statement made by you about your education would be in court record and your so-called secret that much more widespread. How long do you think it would have been before millions of people howled at your door? Some of them yelping for help and some of them bitterly objecting to tampering with the immature brain? You'd be accused of brainwashing, of making monsters, of depriving children of their heritage of happiness--and in the same ungodly howl there would be voices as loudly damning you for not tossing your process into their laps. And there would be a number trying to get to you on the sly so that they could get a head start over the rest.
"You want your competence affirmed legally? James, you have not the stature nor the voice to fight them off. Even now, your little secret is in danger and you'll probably have to bribe a few wiseacres with a touch of accelerated knowledge to keep them from spilling the whole story, even though I've ruled your testimony incompetent and immaterial and stricken from the record. Now, we'll study this system of yours under controlled conditions as your parents wanted, and we'll have professional help and educated advice, and both you and your process shall be under the protection of my Court, and when the time comes you shall receive the kudos and benefits from it. Understand?"
"Good. Now, as my first order, you go back to Shipmont and pack your gear. You'll report to my home as soon as you've made all the arrangements. There'll be no more hiding out and playing your little process in secret either from Paul Brennan--yes, I know that you believe that he was somehow instrumental in the death of your parents but have no shred of evidence that would stand in court--or the rest of the world. Is that, and everything else I've said in private, very clear?"
"Good. Now, be off with you. And do not hesitate to call upon me if there is any interference whatsoever."
Judge Carter insisted and won his point that James Holden accept residence in his home.
He did not turn a hair when the trucks of equipment arrived from the house on Martin's Hill; he already had room for it in the cellar. He cheerfully allowed James the right to set it up and test it out. He respected James Holden's absolute insistence that no one be permitted to touch the special circuit that was the heart of the entire machine. Judge Carter also counter-requested--and enforced the request--that he be allowed to try the machinery out. He took a simple reading course in higher mathematics, after discovering that Holden's machine would not teach him how to play the violin. (Judge Carter already played the violin--but badly.) Later, the judge committed to memory the entire book of Bartlett's Famous Quotations despite the objection of young Holden that he was cluttering up his memory with a lot of useless material. The Judge learned (as James had learned earlier) that the proper way to store such information in the memory was to read the book with the machine turned in "stand-by" until some section was encountered that was of interest. Using this method, the judge picked and pecked at the Holy Bible, a number of documents that looked like important governmental records, and a few books in modern history.
Then there came other men. First was a Professor Harold White from the State Board of Education who came to study both Holden and Holden's machinery and what it did. Next came a Dr. Persons who said very little but made diagrams and histograms and graphs which he studied. The third was a rather cheerful fellow called Jack Cowling who was more interested in James Holden's personal feelings than he was in the machine. He studied many subjects superficially and watched the behavior of young Holden as Holden himself studied subjects recommended by Professor White.
White had a huge blackboard installed on the cellar wall opposite the machine, and he proceeded to fill the board with block outlines filled with crabbed writing and odd-looking symbols. The whole was meaningless to James Holden; it looked like the organization chart of a large corporation but it contained no names or titles. The arrival of each new visitor caused changes in the block diagram.
These arrivals went at their project with stop watches and slide rules. They calibrated themselves and James with the cold-blooded attitude of racetrack touts clocking their favorite horses. Where James had simply taken what he wanted or what he could at any single sitting, then let it settle in his mind before taking another dose of unpremeditated magnitude, these fellows ascertained the best effectiveness of each application to each of them. They tried taking long terms under the machine and then they measured the time it took for the installed information to sink in and settle into usable shape. Then they tried shorter and shorter sittings and measured the correspondingly shorter settling times. They found out that no two men were alike, nor were any two subjects. They discovered that a man with an extensive education already could take a larger sitting and have the new information available for mental use in a shorter settling time than a man whose education had been sketchy or incomplete.
They brought in men who had either little or no mathematics and gave them courses in advanced subjects. Afterwards they provided the foundation mathematics and they calibrated and measured the time it took for the higher subject to be understood as it aligned its information to the whole. Men came with crude English and bluntly read the dictionary and the proper rules of grammar and they were checked to see if their early bad-speech habits were corrected, and to what degree the Holden machine could be made to help repair the damage of a lifelong ingrained set of errors. They sent some of these boys through comparison dictionaries in foreign tongues and then had their language checked by specialists who were truly polylingual. There were some who spoke fluent English but no other tongue; these progressed into German with a German-to-English comparison dictionary, and then into French via a German-to-French comparison and were finally checked out in French by French-speaking examiners.
And Professor White's block diagram grew complex, and Dr. Persons's histograms filled pages and pages of his broad notebooks.
It was the first time that James Holden had ever seen a team of researchers plow into a problem, running a cold and icy scientific investigation to ascertain precisely how much cause produced how much effect. Holden, who had taken what he wanted or needed as the time came, began to understand the desirability of full and careful programming. The whole affair intrigued him and interested him. He plunged in with a will and gave them all the help he could.
He had no time to be bored, and he did not mark the passage of time until he arrived at his thirteenth birthday.
Then one night shortly after his birthday, James Holden discovered women indirectly. He had his first erotic dream.
We shall not go into the details of this midnight introduction to the arrival of manhood, for the simple reason that if we dwell on the subject, someone is certain to attempt a dream-analysis and come up with some flanged-up character-study or personality-quirk that really has nothing to do with the mind or body of James Holden. The truth is that his erotic dream was pleasantly stirring, but not entirely satisfactory. It was fun while it lasted, but it didn't last very long. It awakened him to the realization that knowledge is not the end-all of life, and that a full understanding of the words, the medical terms, and the biology involved did not tell him a thing about this primary drive of all life.
His total grasp of even the sideline issues was still dim. He came to a partial understanding of why Jake Caslow had entertained late visitors of the opposite sex, but he still could not quite see the reason why Jake kept the collection of calendar photographs and paintings hung up around the place. Crude jokes and rude talk heard long years before and dimly remembered did not have much connection with the subject. To James Holden, a "tomato" was still a vegetable, although he knew that some botanists were willing to argue that the tomato was really a fruit.
For many days he watched Judge Carter and his wife with a critical curiosity that their childless life had never known before. James found that they did not act as if something new and strangely thrilling had just hit the known universe. He felt that they should know about it. Despite the fact that he knew everything that his textbooks could tell him about sex and copulation he still had the quaint notion that the reason why Judge Carter and his wife were childless was because they had not yet gotten around to Doing It. He made no attempt to correlate this oddity with its opposite in Jake Caslow's ladies of the night who seemed to go on their merry way without conceiving.
He remembered the joking parry-and-thrust of that midnight talk between Tim Fisher and Janet Bagley but it made no sense to him still. But as he pondered the multitude of puzzlements, some of the answers fell partly into place just as some of the matching pieces of a jigsaw puzzle may lie close to one another when they are dumped out of the box. Very dimly James began to realize that this sort of thing was not New, but to the contrary it had been going on for a long, long time. So long in fact that neither Tim Fisher nor Janet Bagley had found it necessary to state desire and raise objection respectively in simple clear sentences containing subject, verb, and object. This much came to him and it bothered him even more, now that he understood that they were bandying their meanings lightly over a subject so vital, so important, so--so completely personal.
Then, in that oddly irrational corner of his brain that neither knowledge nor information had been adequate to rationalize nor had experience arrived to supply the explanation, James Holden's limited but growing comprehension arrived at a conclusion that was reasonable within its limited framework. Judge Carter and his wife occupied separate bedrooms and had therefore never Done It. Conversely, Tim and Janet Fisher from their midnight discussion obviously Knew What It Was All About. James wondered whether they had Done It yet, and he also wondered whether he could tell by listening to their discussions and conversations now that they'd been married at least long enough to have Tried It.
With a brand new and very interesting subject to study, James lost interest in the program of concentrated research. James Holden found that all he had to do to arrange a trip to Shipmont was to state his desire to go and the length of his visit. The judge deemed both reasonable, Mrs. Carter packed James a bag, and off he went.
The house on Martin's Hill was about the same, with some improvement such as a coat of paint and some needed repair work. The grounds had been worked over, but it was going to take a number of years of concentrated gardening to de-weed the tangled lawn and to cut the undergrowth in the thin woodsy back area where James had played in concealment.
But the air inside was changed. Janet, as Mrs. Bagley, had been as close to James Holden as any substitute mother could have been. Now she seemed preoccupied and too busy with her own life to act more than pleasantly polite. He could have been visiting the home of a friend instead of returning to the domicile he had created, in which he had provided her with a home--for herself and a frightened little girl. She asked him how he had been and what he was doing, but he felt that this was more a matter of taking up time than real interest. He had the feeling that somewhere deep inside, her soul was biting its fingernails. She spoke of Martha with pride and hope, she asked how Judge Carter was making out and whether Martha would be able to finish her schooling via Holden's machine.
James believed this was her problem. Martha had been educated far beyond her years. She could no more enter school now than he could; unwittingly he'd made Martha a misfit, too. So James tried to explain that part of the study undertaken in Judge Carter's program had been the question of what to do about Martha.
The professionals studying the case did not know yet whether Martha would remain ahead of her age group, or whether to let her loaf it out until her age group caught up with her, or whether to give Martha everything she could take as fast as she could take it. This would make a female counterpart of James Holden to study.
But knowing that there were a number of very brilliant scientists, educators, and psychologists working on Martha's problem did not cheer up Mrs. Janet Fisher as much as James thought it should. Yet as he watched her, he could not say that Tim Fisher's wife was unhappy.
Tim, on the other hand, looked fine. James watched them together as critically curious as he'd been in watching the Judge and Mrs. Carter. Tim was gentle with his wife, tender, polite, and more than willing to wait on her. From their talk and chit-chat, James could detect nothing. There were still elisions, questions answered with a half-phrase, comments added with a disconnected word and replied in another word that--in cold print--would appear to have no bearing on the original subject. This sort of thing told James nothing. Judge Carter and his wife did the same; if there were any difference to be noted it was only in the basic subject materials. The judge and his wife were inclined more toward discussions of political questions and judicial problems, whereas Tim and Janet Fisher were more interested in music, movies, and the general trend of the automobile repair business; or more to the point, whether to expand the present facility in Shipmont, to open another branch elsewhere, or to sell out to buy a really big operation in some sizable city.
James saw a change in Martha, too. It had been months since he came back home to supervise the removal of his belongings. Now Martha had filled out. She was dressed in a shirt-and-skirt instead of the little jumper dresses James remembered. Martha's hair was lightly wavy instead of trimmed short, and she was wearing a very faint touch of color on her lips. She wore tiny slippers with heels just a trifle higher than the altitude recommended for a girl close to thirteen.
Ultimately they fell into animated chatter of their own, just as they always had. There was a barrier between the pair of them and Martha's mother and stepfather--slightly higher than the usual barrier erected between children and their adults because of their educational adventures together. They had covered reams and volumes together. Martha's mother was interested in Holden's machine only when something specific came to her attention that she did not wish to forget such as a recipe or a pattern, and one very extensive course that enabled her to add a column of three-digit numbers by the whole lines instead of taking each column digit by digit. Tim Fisher himself had deeper interests, but nearly all of them directed at making Tim Fisher a better manager of the automobile repair business. There had been some discussion of the possibility that Tim Fisher might memorize some subject such as the names of all baseball players and their yearly and lifetime scoring, fielding, and playing averages, training for him to go as a contestant on one of the big money giveaway shows. This never came to pass; Tim Fisher did not have any spectacular qualities about him that would land him an invitation. So Tim's work with Holden's machine had been straightforward studies in mechanics and bookkeeping and business management--plus a fine repertoire of bawdy songs he had rung in on the sly and subsequently used at parties.
James and Martha had taken all they wanted of education and available information, sometimes with plan and the guidance of schoolbooks and sometimes simply because they found the subject of interest. In the past they'd had discussions of problems in understanding; they'd talked of things that parents and elders would have considered utterly impossible to discuss with young minds. With this communion of interests, they fell back into their former pattern of first joining the general conversation politely and then gradually confining their remarks to one another until there were two conversations going on at the same time, one between James and Martha and another between Janet and Tim. Again, the vocal interference and cross-talk became too high, and it was Tim and Janet who left the living room to mix a couple of highballs and start dinner.
The chatter continued, but now with a growing strain on the part of young James Holden.
He wanted to switch to a more personal topic of conversation but he did not know how to accomplish this feat. There was plenty of interest but it was more clinical than passionate; he was not stirred to yearning, he felt no overwhelming desire to hold Martha's hand nor to feel the softness of her face, yet there was a stirring urge to make some form of contact. But he had no idea of how to steer the conversation towards personal lines that might lead into something that would justify a gesture towards her. It began to work on him. The original clinical urge to touch her just to see what reaction would obtain changed into a personal urge that grew higher as he found that he could not kick the conversational ball in that direction. The idea of putting an arm about her waist as he had seen men embrace their girls on television was a pleasing thought; he wanted to find out if kissing was as much fun as it was made up to be.
But instead of offering him any encouragement, or even giving him a chance to start shifting the conversation, Martha went prattling on and on and on about a book she'd read recently.
It did not occur to James Holden that Martha Bagley might entertain the idea of physical contact of some mild sort on an experimental basis. He did not even consider the possibility that he might start her thinking about it. So instead of closing the distance between them like a gentle wolf, watching with sly calculation to ascertain whether her response was positive, negative, or completely neutral, he sat like a post and fretted inwardly because he couldn't control the direction of their conversation.
Ultimately, of course, Martha ran out of comment on her book and then there fell a deadly silence because James couldn't dredge up another lively subject. Desperately, he searched through his mind for an opening. There was none. The bright patter between male and female characters in books he'd smuggled started off on too high a level on both sides. Books that were written adequately for his understanding of this problem signed off with the trite explanation that they lived happily ever afterwards but did not say a darned thing about how they went about it. The slightly lurid books that he'd bought, delivered in plain wrappers, gave some very illuminating descriptions of the art or act, but the affair opened with the scene all set and the principal characters both ready, willing, and able. There was no conversational road map that showed the way that led two people from a calm and unemotional discussion into an area that might lead to something entirely else.
In silence, James Holden sat there sinking deeper and deeper into his own misery.
The more he thought about it, the farther he found himself from his desire. Later in the process, he knew, came a big barrier called "stealing a kiss," and James with his literal mind provided this game with an aggressor, a defender, and the final extraction by coercion or violence of the first osculatory contact. If the objective could be carried off without the defense repulsing the advance, the rest was supposed to come with less trouble. But here he was floundering before he began, let alone approaching the barrier that must be an even bigger problem.
Briefly he wished that it were Christmas, because at Christmas people hung up mistletoe. Mistletoe would not only provide an opening by custom and tradition, it also cut through this verbal morass of trying to lead up to the subject by the quick process of supplying the subject itself. But it was a long time before Christmas. James abandoned that ill-conceived idea and went on sinking deep and feeling miserable.
Then Martha's mother took James out of his misery by coming in to announce dinner. Regretfully, James sighed for his lost moments and helplessness, then got to his feet and held out a hand for Martha.
She put her hand in his and allowed him to lift her to her feet by pulling. The first contact did not stir him at all, though it was warm and pleasant. Once the pulling pressure was off, he continued to hold Martha's hand, tentatively and experimentally.
Then Janet Fisher showered shards of ice with a light laugh. "You two can stand there holding hands," she said. "But I'm going to eat it while it's on the table."
James Holden's hand opened with the swiftness of a reflex action, almost as fast as the wink of an eye at the flash of light or the body's jump at the crack of sound. Martha's hand did not drop because she, too, was holding his and did not let go abruptly. She giggled, gave his hand a little squeeze and said, "Let's go. I'm hungry too."
None of which solved James Holden's problem. But during dinner his personal problem slipped aside because he discovered another slight change in Janet Fisher's attitude. He puzzled over it quietly, but managed to eat without any apparent preoccupation. Dinner took about a half hour, after which they spent another fifteen minutes over coffee, with Janet refusing her second cup. She disappeared at the first shuffle of a foot under the table, while James and Martha resumed their years-old chore of clearing the table and tackling the dishwashing problem.
Alone in the kitchen, James asked Martha, "What's with your mother?"
"What do you mean, what's with her?"
"She's changed, somehow."
"In what way?"
"She seems sort of inner-thoughtful. Cheerful enough but as if something's bothering her that she can't stop."
"No," he went on. "She hiked upstairs like a shot right after dinner was over. Tim raced after her. And she said no to coffee."
"Oh, that. She's just a little upset in the middle."
"Sure. Can't you see?"
"Never occurred to me to look."
"Well, it's so," said Martha, scouring a coffee cup with an exaggerated flourish. "And I'm going to have a half-sibling."
"Don't you go getting upset," said Martha. "It's a natural process that's been going on for hundreds of thousands of years, you know."
"Not for months," said Martha. "It just happened."
"Too bad she's unhappy."
"She's very happy. Both of them wanted it."
James considered this. He had never come across Voltaire's observation that marriage is responsible for the population because it provides the maximum opportunity with the maximum temptation. But it was beginning to filter slowly into his brain that the ways and means were always available and there was neither custom, tradition, nor biology that dictated a waiting period or a time limit. It was a matter of choice, and when two people want their baby, and have no reason for not having their baby, it is silly to wait.
"Why did they wait so long if they both want it?"
"Oh," replied Martha in a matter-of-fact voice, "they've been working at it right along."
James thought some more. He'd come to see if he could detect any difference between the behavior of Judge and Mrs. Carter, and the behavior of Tim and Janet Fisher. He saw little, other than the standard differences that could be accounted for by age and temperament. Tim and Janet did not really act as if they'd Discovered Something New. Tim, he knew, was a bit more sweet and tender to Janet than he'd been before, but there was nothing startling in his behavior. If there were any difference as compared to their original antics, James knew that it was undoubtedly due to the fact that they didn't have to stand lollygagging in the hallway for two hours while Janet half-heartedly insisted that Tim go home. He went on to consider his original theory that the Carters were childless because they occupied separate bedrooms; by some sort of deduction he came to the conclusion that he was right, because Tim and Janet Fisher were making a baby and they slept in the same bedroom.
He went on in a whirl; maybe the Carters didn't want children, but it was more likely that they too had tried but it hadn't happened.
And then it came to him suddenly that here he was in the kitchen alone with Martha Bagley, discussing the very delicate subject. But he was actually no closer to his problem of becoming a participant than he'd been an hour ago in the living room. It was one thing to daydream the suggestion when you can also daydream the affirmative response, but it was another matter when the response was completely out of your control. James was not old enough in the ways of the world to even consider outright asking; even if he had considered it, he did not know how to ask.
The evening went slowly. Janet and Tim returned about the time the dishwashing process was complete. Janet proposed a hand of bridge; Tim suggested poker, James voted for pinochle, and Martha wanted to toss a coin between canasta or gin rummy. They settled it by dealing a shuffled deck face upward until the ace of hearts landed in front of Janet, whereupon they played bridge until about eleven o'clock. It was interesting bridge; James and Martha had studied bridge columns and books for recreation; against them were aligned Tim and Janet, who played with the card sense developed over years of practice. The youngsters knew the theories, their bidding was as precise as bridge bidding could be made with value-numbering, honor-counting, response-value addition, and all of the other systems. They understood all of the coups and end plays complete with classic examples. But having all of the theory engraved on their brains did not temporarily imprint the location of every card already played, whereas Tim and Janet counted their played cards automatically and made up in play what they missed in stratagem.
At eleven, Janet announced that she was tired, Tim joined her; James turned on the television set and he and Martha watched a ten-year-old movie for an hour. Finally Martha yawned.
And James, still floundering, mentally meandered back to his wish that it were Christmas so that mistletoe would provide a traditional gesture of affection, and came up with a new and novel idea that he expressed in a voice that almost trembled: "Tired, Martha?"