Mimsy Were the Borogoves

by Lewis Padgett

Public Domain

Science Fiction Story: Millions of years in the distant future, a posthuman scientist is attempting to build a time machine and tests it by sending two boxes with a hastily gathered batch of educational toys into the past. When the boxes fails to return, he believes the entire experiment to be a failure, he discontinues his efforts. One box arrives in the middle of the 20th century and the second in the latter part of the 19th century. Both have had their time-travel circuitry irreparably damaged by the journey.

Tags: Science Fiction   Time Travel   Novel-Classic  

Published 1943

There’s no use trying to describe either Unthahorsten or his surroundings, because, for one thing, a good many million years had passed since 1942 Anno Domini and, for another, Unthahorsten wasn’t on Earth, technically speaking. He was doing the equivalent of standing in the equivalent of a laboratory. He was preparing to test his time machine.

Having turned on the power, Unthahorsten suddenly realized that the Box was empty. Which wouldn’t do at all. The device needed a control, a three-dimensional solid which would react to the conditions of another age. Otherwise Unthahorsten couldn’t tell, on the machine’s return, where and when it had been. Whereas a solid in the Box would automatically be subject to the entropy and cosmic ray bombardment of the other era, and Unthahorsten could measure the changes, both qualitative and quantitative, when the machine returned. The Calculators could then get to work and, presently, tell Unthahorsten that the Box had briefly visited 1,000,000 A.D., 1,000 A.D., or 1 A.D., as the case might be.

Not that it mattered, except to Unthahorsten. But he was childish in many respects.

There was little time to waste. The Box was beginning to glow and shiver. Unthahorsten stared around wildly, fled into the next gossatch, and groped in a storage bin there. He came up with an armful of peculiar-looking stuff. Uh-huh. Some of the discarded toys of his son Snowen, which the boy had brought with him when he had passed over from Earth, after mastering the necessary technique. Well, Snowen needed this junk no longer. He was conditioned, and put away childish things. Besides, though Unthahorsten’s wife kept the toys for sentimental reasons, the experiment was more important.

Unthahorsten left the glossatch and dumped the assortment into the Box, slamming the cover shut just before the warning signal flashed. The Box went away. The manner of its departure hurt Unthahorsten’s eyes.

He waited.

And he waited.

Eventually he gave up and built another time machine, with identical results. Snowen hadn’t been annoyed by the loss of his old toys, nor had Snowen’s mother, so Unthahorsten cleaned out the bin and dumped the remainder of his son’s childhood relics in the second time machine’s Box.

According to his calculations, this one should have appeared on Earth, in the latter part of the nineteenth century, A.D. If that actually occurred, the device remained there.

Disgusted, Unthahorsten decided to make no more time machines. But the mischief had been done. There two of them, and the first-

Scott Paradine found it while he was playing hooky from the Glendale Grammar School. There was a geography test that day, and Scott saw no sense in memorizing place names — which in 1942 was a fairly sensible theory. Besides, it was the sort of warm spring day, with a touch of coolness in the breeze, which invited a boy to lie down in a field and stare at the occasional clouds till he fell asleep. Nuts to geography! Scott dozed.

About noon he got hungry, so his stocky legs carried him to a nearby store.

There he invested his small hoard with penurious care and a sublime disregard for his gastric juices. He went down by the creek to feed.

Having finished his supply of cheese, chocolate, and cookies, and having drained the soda-pop bottle to its dregs, Scott caught tadpoles and studied them with a certain amount of scientific curiosity. He did not persevere. Something tumbled down the bank, and thudded into the muddy ground near the water, so Scott, with a wary glance around, hurried to investigate.

It was a Box. It was, in fact, the Box. The gadgetry hitched to it meant little to Scott, though he wondered why it was so fused and burnt. He pondered. With his jackknife he pried and probed, his tongue sticking out from a corner of his mouth - Hm-m-m. Nobody was around. Where had the box come from? Somebody must have left it here, and sliding soil had dislodged it from its precarious perch.

“That’s a helix,” Scott decided, quite erroneously. It was helical, but it wasn’t a helix, because of the dimensional warp involved. Had the thing been a model airplane, no matter how complicated, it would have held few mysteries to Scott. As it was, a problem was posed. Something told Scott that the device was a lot more complicated than the spring motor he had deftly dismantled last Friday.

But no boy has ever left a box unopened, unless forcibly dragged away. Scott probed deeper. The angles on this thing were funny. Short circuit, probably. That was why — uh! The knife snapped. Scott sucked his thumb and gave vent to experienced blasphemy.

Maybe it was a music box.

Scott shouldn’t have felt depressed. The gadgetry would have given Einstein a headache and driven Steinmetz raving mad. The trouble was, of course, that the box had not yet completely entered the space-time continuum where Scott exited and therefore it could not be opened. At any rate, not till Scott used a convenient rock to hammer the helical nonhelix into a more convenient position.

He hammered it, in fact, from its contact point with the fourth dimension, releasing the space0time torsion it had been maintaining. There was a brittle snap. The box jarred slightly, and lay motionless, no longer only partially in existence. Scott opened it easily now.

The soft, woven helmet was the first thing that caught his eye, but he discarded that without much interest. It was just a cap. Next he lifted a square, transparent crystal block, small enough to cup in his palm — much too small to contain the maze of apparatus within it. In a moment Scott had solved that problem. The crystal was a sort of magnifying glass, vastly enlarging the things inside the block. Strange things they were, too. Miniature people, for example-

They moved. Like clockwork automatons, though much more smoothly. It was rather like watching a play. Scott was interested in their costumes, but fascinated by their actions. The tiny people were deftly building a house. Scott wished it would catch fire, so he could see the people put it out.

Flames licked up from the half-completed structure. The automatons, with a great deal of odd apparatus, extinguished the blaze.

It didn’t take Scott long to catch on. But he was a little worried. The manikins would obey his thoughts. By the time he discovered that, he was frightened, and threw the cube from him.

Halfway up the bank, he reconsidered and returned. The crystal block lay partly in the water, shining in the sun. It was a toy; Scott sensed that, with the unerring instinct of a child. But he didn’t pick it up immediately. Instead, he returned to the box and investigated its remaining contents.

He found some really remarkable gadgets. The afternoon passed all too quickly, Scott finally put the toys back in the box and lugged it home, grunting and puffing. He was quite red-faced by the time he arrived at the kitchen door.

His find he hid at the back of the closet in his own room upstairs. The crystal cube he slipped into his pocket, which already bulged with string, a coil of wire, two pennies, a wad of tinfoil, a grimy defenses stamp, and a chunk of feldspar.

Emma, Scott’s two-year-old sister, waddled unsteadily in from the hall and said hello.

“Hello, Slug,” Scott nodded, from his altitude of seven years and some months. He patronized Emma shockingly, but she didn’t know the difference. Small, plump, and wide-eyed, she flopped down on the carpet and stared dolefully at her shoes.

“Tie ‘em, Scotty, please?”

“Sap,” Scott told her kindly, but knotted the laces. “Dinner ready yet?”

Emma nodded.

“Let’s see your hands.” For a wonder, they were reasonably clean, though probably not aseptic. Scott regarded his own paws thoughtfully and, grimacing, went to the bathroom, where he made a sketchy toilet. The tadpoles had left their traces.

Dennis Paradine and his wife Jane were having a cocktail before dinner, downstairs in the living room. He was a youngish, middle-aged man with gray-shot hair and a thinnish, prim-mouthed face; he taught philosophy at the university. Jane was small, neat, dark, and very pretty. She sipped her Martini and said:

“New shoes. Like ‘em?”

“Here’s to crime,” Paradine muttered absently. “Huh? Shoes? Not now. Wait till I’ve finished this. I had a bad day.”

“Exams?”

“Yeah. Flaming youths aspiring toward manhood. I hope they die. In considerable agony. Insh’Allah!”

“I want the olive,” Jane requested.

“I know,” Paradine said despondently. “It’s been years since I’ve tasted one myself. In a Martini, I mean. Even if I put six of ‘em in your glass, you’re still not satisfied.”

“I want yours. Blood brotherhood. Symbolism. That’s why.”

“Paradine regarded his wife balefully and crossed his long legs. “You sound like one of my students.”

“Like that hussy Betty Dawson, perhaps?” Jane unsheathed her nails. “Does she still leer at you in that offensive way?”

“She does. The child is a neat psychological problem. Luckily she isn’t mine. If she were-” Paradine nodded significantly. “Sex consciousness and too many movies. I suppose she still thinks she can get a passing grade by showing me her knees. Which are, by the way, rather bony.”

Jane adjusted her skirt with an air of complacent pride. Paradine uncoiled himself and poured fresh Martinis. “Candidly, I don’t see the point of teaching those apes philosophy. They’re all at the wrong age. Their habit-patterns, their methods of thinking, are already laid down. They’re horribly conservative, not that they’d admit it. The only people who can understand philosophy are mature adults or kids like Emma and Scotty.”

“Well, don’t enroll Scotty in your course,” Jane requested. “He isn’t ready for Philosophiae Doctor. I hold no brief for child geniuses, especially when it’s my child”

“Scotty would probably be better at it than Betty Dawson,” Paradine grunted.

“‘He died an enfeebled dotard at five, ‘“ Jane quoted dreamily. “I want your olive.”

“Here. By the way, I like the shoes.”

“Thank you. Here’s Rosalie. Dinner?”

“It’s all ready, Miz Pa’dine,” said Rosalie, hovering. “I’ll call Miss Emma ‘n’ Mista’ Scotty.”

“I’ll get ‘em.”Paradine put his head into the next room and roared, “Kids! Come and get it!”

Small feet scuttered down the stairs. Scott dashed into the view, scrubbed and shining, a rebellious cowlick aimed at the zenith. Emma pursued, levering herself carefully down the steps. Halfway she gave up the attempt to descend upright and reversed, finishing the task monkey-fashion, her small behind giving an impression of marvelous diligence upon the work in hand. Paradine watched, fascinated by the spectacle, till he was hurled back by the impact of his son’s body.

“Hi, dad!” Scott shrieked.

Paradine recovered himself and regarded Scott with dignity. “Hi, yourself. Help me in to dinner. You’ve dislocated at least one of my hip joints.”

But Scott was already tearing into the next room, where he stepped on Jane’s new shoes in an ecstasy of affection, burbled an apology, and rushed off to find his place at the dinner table. Paradine cocked up an eyebrow as he followed, Emma’s pudgy hand desperately gripping his forefinger.

“Wonder what the young devil’s been up to?”

“No good, probably,” Jane sighed. “Hello, darling. Let’s see your ears.”

“They’re clean. Mickey licked ‘em.”

“Well, that Airedale’s tongue is far cleaner than your ears,” Jane pondered, making a brief examination. “Still, as longn as you can hear, the dirt’s only superficial.”

“Fishbowl?”

“Just a little, that means,” Jane dragged her daughter to the table and inserted her legs into a high chair. Only had Emma graduated to the dignity of dining with the rest of the family, and she was, as Paradine remarked, all eat up with pride by the prospect. Only babies spilled food, Emma had been told. As a result, she took such painstaking care in conveying her spoon to her mouth that Paradine got the jitters whenever he watched.

“A conveyor belt would be the thing for Emma,” he suggested, pulling out a chair for Jane. “Small buckets of spinach arriving at her face at stated intervals.”

Dinner proceeded uneventfully until Paradine happened to glance at Scott’s plate. “Hello, there. Sick? Been stuffing yourself at lunch?”

Scott thoughtfully examined the food still left before him. “I’ve had all I need, dad,” he explained.

“You usually eat all you can hold, and a great deal more,” Paradine said. “I know growing boys need several tons of foodstuffs a day, but you’re below par tonight. Feel OK?”

“Uh-huh. Honest, I’ve had all I need.”

“All you want?”

“Sure. I eat different.”

“Something they taught you at school?” Jane inquired.

Scott shook his head solemnly.

“Nobody taught me. I found it out myself. I used spit.”

“Try again,” Paradine suggested. “It’s the wrong word.”

“Uh ... s-saliva. Hm-m-m?”

“Uh-huh. More pepsin? Is there pepsin in the salivary juices, Jane? I forget.”

“There’s poison in mine,” Jane remarked. “Rosalie’s left lumps in the mashed potatoes again.”

But Paradine was interested. “You mean you’re getting everything possible out of you food — no wastage — and eating less?”

Scott thought that over. “I guess so. It’s not just the sp ... saliva. I sort of measure how much to put in my mouth at once, and what stuff to mix up. I dunno. I just do it.”

“Hm-m-m,” said Paradine, making a note to check up later. “Rather a revolutionary idea.” Kids often get screwy notions, but this one might not be so far off the beam. He pursed his lips. “Eventually I suppose people will eat quit differently — I mean the way they eat, as well as what. What they eat, I mean.

Jane, our son shows signs of becoming a genius.”

“Oh?”

“It’s a rather good point in dietetics he just made. Did you figure it out for yourself, Scott?”

“Sure,” the boy said, and really believed it.

“Where’d you get the idea?”

“Oh, I-” Scott wriggled. “I dunno. It doesn’t mean much, I guess.”

Paradine was unreasonable disappointed. “But surely-”

“S-s-s-spit!” Emma shrieked, overcome by a sudden fit of badness. “Spit!” she attempted to demonstrate, but succeeded only in dribbling into her bib.

With a resigned air Jane rescued and reproved her daughter, while Paradine eyed Scott with rather puzzled interest. But it was not till after dinner, in the living room, that anything further happened.

“any homework?”

“N-no,” Scott said, flushing guiltily. To cover his embarrassment he took from his pocket a gadget he had found in the box, and began to unfold it. The result resembled a tesseract, strung with beads. Paradine didn’t see it at first, but Emma did. She wanted to play with it.

“No. Lay off, Slug,” Scott ordered. “You can watch me.” He fumbled with the beads, making soft, interesting noises. Emma extended a fat forefinger and yelped.

“Scotty,” Paradine said warningly.

“I didn’t hurt her.”

“Bit me. It did,” Emma mourned.

“Paradine looked up. He frowned, staring. What in-

“Is that an abacus?” he asked. “Let’s see it, please.”

Somewhat unwillingly Scott brought the gadget across to his father’s chair. Paradine blinked. The “abacus,” unfolded, was more than a foot square, composed of thing, rigid wires that interlocked here and there. On the wires colored beads were strung. They could be slid back and forth, and from one support to another, even at the points of juncture. But — a pierced bead couldn’t cross interlocking wires...

So, apparently, they weren’t pierced. Paradine looked closer. Each small bead had a deep groove running around it, so that it could be revolved and slid along the wire at the same time. Paradine tried to pull one free. It clung as though magnetically. Iron? It looked more like plastic.

The framework itself — Paradine wasn’t a mathematician. But the angles formed by the wires were vaguely shocking, in their ridiculous lack of Euclidean logic.

They were a maze. Perhaps that’s what the gadget was — a puzzle.

“Where’d you get this?”

“Uncle Harry gave it to me, “Scott said on the spur of the moment. “Last Sunday, when he came over.” Uncle Harry was out of town, a circumstance Scott well knew. At the age of seven, a boy soon learns that the vagaries of adults follow a certain definite pattern, and that they are fussy about the donors of gifts.

Moreover, Uncle Harry would not return for several weeks; the expiration of that period was unimaginable to Scott, or, at least, the fact that his lie would ultimately be discovered meant less to him than the advantages of being allowed to keep the toy.

Paradine found himself growing slightly confused as he attempted to manipulate the beads. The angles were vaguely illogical. It was like a puzzle. This red bead, if slid along this wire to that junction, should reach there — but it didn’t. A maze, odd, but no doubt instructive. Paradine had a well-founded feeling that he’d have no patience with the thing himself.

Scott did, however, retiring to a corner and sliding beads around with much fumbling and grunting. The beads did sting, when Scott chose the wrong ones or tried to slide them in the wrong direction. At last he crowed exultantly.

“I did it, dad!”

“Eh? What? Let’s see.” The device looked exactly the same to Paradine, but Scott pointed and beamed.

“I made it disappear.”

“It’s still there.”

“That blue bead. It’s gone now.”

Paradine didn’t believe that, so he merely snorted. Scott puzzled over the framework again. He experimented. This time there were no shocks, even slight. The abacus had showed him the correct method. Now it was up to him to do it on his own. The bizarre angles of the wires seemed a little less confusing now, somehow.

It was a most instructive toy-

It worked, Scott thought, rather like the crystal cube. Reminded of the gadget, he took it from his pocket and relinquished the abacus to Emma, who was struck dumb with joy. she fell to work sliding the beads, this time without protesting against the shocks — which, indeed, were very minor — and, being imitative, she managed to make a bead disappear almost as quickly as had Scott. The blue bead reappeared — but Scott didn’t notice. He had forethoughtfully retired into an angle of the chesterfield with an overstuffed chair and amused himself with the cube.

There were little people inside the thing, tiny manikins which enlarged by the magnifying properties of the crystal, and they moved, all right. They built a house. It caught fire, with realistic-seeming flames, and stood by waiting. Scott puffed urgently. “Put it out!”

But nothing happened. Where was that queer fire engine, with revolving arms, that had appeared before? Here it was. It came sailing into the picture and stopped. Scott urged it on.

This was fun. Like putting on a play, only more real. The little people did what Scott told them, inside of his head. If he made a mistake, they waited till he’d found the right way. They even posed new problems for him-

The cube, too, was a most instructive toy. It was teaching Scott, with alarming rapidity — and teaching him very entertainingly. But it gave him no really knowledge as yet. He wasn’t ready. Later — later —

Emma grew tired of the abacus and went in search of Scott. She couldn’t find him, even in his room, but once there the contents of the closet intrigued her. She discovered the box. It contained a treasure-trove — a doll, which Scott had already noticed but discarded with a sneer. Squealing, Emma brought the doll downstairs, squatted in the middle of the floor, and began to take it apart.

“Darling! What’s that?”

“Mr. Bear!”

Obviously it wasn’t Mr. Bear, who was blind, earless, but comforting in his own soft fatness. But all dolls were named Mr. Bear to Emma.

Jane Paradine hesitated. “Did you take that from some other little girl?”

“I didn’t. She’s mine.”

Scott came out from his hiding place, thrusting the cube into his pocket. “Uh — that’s from Uncle Harry.”

“Did Uncle Harry give that to you, Emma?”

“He gave it to me for Emma,” Scott put in hastily, adding another stone to his foundation of deceit. “Last Sunday.”

“You’ll break it, dear.”

“Emma brought the doll to her mother. “She comes apart. See?”

“Oh? It ... ugh!” Jane sucked in her breath. Paradine looked up quickly.

“What’s up?”

She brought the doll over to him, hesitated, and then went into the dining room, giving Paradine a significant glance. He followed, closing the door. Jane had already placed the doll on the cleared table.

“This isn’t very nice, is it Denny?”

“Hm-m-m.” It was rather unpleasant, at first glance. One might have expected an anatomical dummy in a medical school, but a child’s doll-

The thing came apart in sections, skin, muscles, organs, miniature but quite perfect, as far as Paradine could see. He was interested. “Dunno. Such things haven’t the same connotations to a kid-”

“Look at that liver. Is it a liver?”

“Sure. Say I ... this is funny.”

“What?”

“It isn’t anatomically perfect, after all.” Paradine pulled up a chair. “The digestive tract’s too short. No large intestine. No appendix, either.”

“Should Emma have a thing like this?”

“I wouldn’t mind having it myself,” Paradine said. “Where on earth did Harry pick it up? No, I don’t see any harm in it. Adults are conditioned to react unpleasantly to innards. Kids don’t. They figure they’re solid inside, like a potato. Emma can get a sound working knowledge of physiology from this doll.”

“But what are those? Nerves?”

“No, these are the nerves. Arteries here; veins here. Funny sort of aorta-” Paradine looked baffled. “That ... what’s Latin for network? Anyway ... huh? Rita? Rata?”

“Rales,” Jane suggested at random.

“That’s a sort of breathing,” Paradine said crushingly. “I can’t figure out what this luminous network of stuff is. It goes all through the body, like nerves.”

“Blood.”

“Nope. Not circulatory, not neural — funny! It seems to be hooked up with the lungs.”

They became engrossed, puzzling over the strange doll. It was made with remarkable perfection of detail, and that in itself was strange, in view of the physiological variation from the norm. “Wait’ll I get that Gould,” Paradine said, and presently was comparing the doll with anatomical charts. He learned little, except to increase his bafflement.

But it was more fun than a jigsaw puzzle.

Meanwhile, in the adjoining room, Emma was sliding the beads to and fro in the abacus. The motions didn’t seem so strange now. Even when the beads vanished. She could almost follow that new direction — almost-

Scott panted, staring into the crystal cube and mentally directing, with many false starts, the building of a structure somewhat more complicated than the one which had been destroyed by fire. He, too, was learning — being conditioned-

Paradine’s mistake, from a completely anthropomorphic standpoint, was that he didn’t get rid of the toys instantly. He did not realize their significance, and, but the time he did, the progression of circumstances had got well under way. Uncle Harry remained out of town, so Paradine couldn’t check with him. Too, the midterm exams were on, which meant arduous mental effort and complete exhaustion at night; and Jane was slightly ill for a week or so. Emma and Scott had free rein with the toys.

“What,” Scott asked his father one evening, “is a wabe, dad?”

“Wave?”

He hesitated. “I ... don’t think so. Isn’t wabe right?”

“Wab is Scot for web. That it?”

“I don’t see how,” Scott muttered, and wandered off, scowling, to amuse himself with the abacus. He was able to handle it quite deftly now. But, with the instinct of children for avoiding interruptions, he and Emma usually played with the toys in private. Not obviously, of course — but the more intricate experiments were never performed under the eye of an adult.

Scott was learning fast. What he now saw in the crystal cube had little relationship to the original simple problems. But they were fascinatingly technical. Had Scott realized that his education was being guided and supervised — though merely mechanically — he would probably have lost interest. As it was, his initiative was never quashed.

Abacus, cube, doll — and other toys the children found in the box-

Neither Paradine nor Jane guessed how much of an effect the contents of the time machine were having on the kids. How could they? Youngsters are instinctive dramatists, for purposes of self-protection. They have not yet fitted themselves to the exigencies — to them partially inexplicable — of a mature world. Moreover, their lives are complicated by human variables. They are told by one person that playing in the mud is permissible, but that, in their excavations, they must not uproot flowers or small trees. Another adult vetoes mud per se. The Ten Commandments are not carved on stone; they vary, and children are helplessly dependent on the caprice of those who give them birth and feed and clothe them. And tyrannize. The wound animal does not resent that benevolent tyranny, for it is an essential part of nature. He is, however, an individualist, and maintains his integrity by a subtle, passive fight.

Under the eyes of an adult he changes. Like an actor on-stage, when he remembers, he strives to please, and also to attract attention to himself. Such attempts are not unknown to maturity. But adults are less obvious — to other adults.

It is difficult to admit that children lack subtlety. Children are different from the mature animal because they think in another way. We can more or less easily pierce the pretenses they set up — but they can do the same to us. Ruthlessly a child can destroy the pretenses of an adult. Iconoclasm is their prerogative.

Foppishness, for example. The amenities of social intercourse, exaggerated not quite to absurdity. The gigolo-

“Such savoir faire! Such punctilious courtesy!” The dowager and the blond young thing are often impressed. Men have less pleasant comments to make. But the child goes to the root of the matter.

“You’re silly!”

How can an immature human understand the complicated system of social relationships? He can’t. To him, an exaggeration of natural courtesy is silly. In his functional structure of life-patterns, it is rococo. He is an egotistic little animal, who cannot visualize himself in the position of another — certainly not an adult. A self-contained, almost perfect natural unit, his wants supplied by others, the child is much like a unicellular creature floating in the blood stream, nutriment carried to him, waste products carried away-

From the standpoint of logic, a child is rather horribly perfect. A baby may be even more perfect, but so alien to an adult that only superficial standards of comparison apply. The thought processes of an infant are completely unimaginable. But babies think, even before birth. In the womb they move and sleep, not entirely through instinct. We are conditioned to react rather peculiarly to the idea that a nearly-viable embryo may think. We are surprised, shocked into laughter, and repelled. Nothing human is alien.

But a baby is not human. An embryo is far less human.

That, perhaps, was why Emma learned more from the toys than did Scott. He could communicate his thoughts, of course; Emma could not, except in cryptic fragments. The matter of the scrawls, for example-

Give a young child pencil and paper, and he will draw something which looks different to him than to an adult. The absurd scribbles have little resemblance to a fire engine, to a baby. Perhaps it is even three-dimensional. Babies think differently and see differently.

Paradine brooded over that, reading his paper one evening and watching Emma and Scott communicate. Scott was questioning his sister. Sometimes he did it in English. More often he had resource to gibberish and sign language. Emma tried to reply, but the handicap was too great.

Finally Scott got pencil and paper. Emma liked that. Tongue in cheek, she laboriously wrote a message. Scott took the paper, examined it, and scowled.

“That isn’t right, Emma,” he said.

Emma nodded vigorously. She seized the pencil again and made more scrawls. Scott puzzled for a while, finally smiled rather hesitantly, and got up. He vanished into the hall. Emma returned to the abacus. Paradine rose and glanced down at the paper, with some mad thought that Emma might abruptly have mastered calligraphy. But she hadn’t. The paper was covered with meaningless scrawls, of a type familiar to any parent. Paradine pursed his lips.

It might be a graph showing the mental variations of a manic-depressive cockroach, but probably wasn’t. Still, it no doubt had meaning to Emma. Perhaps the scribble represented Mr. Bear.

Scott returned, looking pleased. He met Emma’s gaze and nodded. Paradine felt a twinge of curiosity.

“Secrets?”

“Nope. Emma ... uh ... asked me to do something for her.”

“Oh.” Paradine, recalling instance of babies who had babbled in unknown tongues and baffled linguists, made a note to pocket the paper when the kids had finished with it. The next day he showed the scrawl to Elkins at the university. Elkins had a sound working knowledge of many unlikely languages, but he chuckled over Emma’s venture into literature.

“Here’s a free translation, Dennis. Quote. I don’t know what this means, but I kid the hell out of my father with it. Unquote.”

The two men laughed and went off to their classes. But later Paradine was to remember the incident. Especially after he met Holloway. Before that, however, months were to pass, and the situation to develop even further toward its climax.

Perhaps Paradine and Jane had evinced too much interest in toys. Emma and Scott took to keeping them hidden, playing with them only in private. They never did it overtly, but with a certain unobtrusive caution. Nevertheless, Jane especially was somewhat troubled.

She spoke to Paradine about it one evening. “That doll Harry gave Emma.”

“Yeah?”

“I was downtown today and tried to find out where it came from. No soap.”

“Maybe Harry bought it in New York.”

Jane was unconvinced. “I asked them about the other things, too. They showed me their stock — Johnson’s a big store, you know. But there’s nothing like Emma’s abacus.”

“Hm-m-m.” Paradine wasn’t much interested. They had tickets for a show that night, and it was getting late. So the subject was dropped for the nonce.

Later it cropped up again, when a neighbor telephoned Jane.

“Scotty’s never been like that, Denny. Mrs. Burns said he frightened the devil out of her Francis.”

“Francis? A little fat bully of a punk, isn’t he? Like his father. I broke Burns’ nose for him once, when we were sophomores.”

“Stop boasting and listen,” Jane said, mixing highball. “Scott showed Francis something that scared him. Hadn’t you better-”

“I suppose so.” Paradine listened. Noises in the next room told him the whereabouts of his son. “Scotty!”

“Bang,” Scotty said, and appeared smiling. “I killed ‘em all. Space pirates. You want me, dad?”

“Yes. If you don’t mind leaving the space pirates unburied for a few minutes. What did you do to Francis Burns?”

Scott’s blue eyes reflected incredible candor. “Huh?”

“Try hard. You can remember, I’m sure.”

“Uh. Oh, that. I didn’t do nothing.”

“Anything,” Jane corrected absently.

“Anything. Honest, I just let him look into my television set, and it ... it scared him.”

“Television set?”

Scott produced the crystal cube. “It isn’t really that. See?”

Paradine examined the gadget, startled by the magnification. All he could see, though, was a maze of meaningless colored designs.

“Uncle Harry-”

Paradine reached for the telephone. Scott gulped. “Is ... is Uncle Harry back in town?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I gotta take a bath.” Scott headed for the door. Paradine met Jane’s gaze and nodded significantly.

Harry was home, but disclaimed all knowledge of the peculiar toys. Rather glumly, Paradine requested Scott to bring down from his room all of the playthings. Finally they lay in a row on the table, cube, abacus, doll, helmet-like cap, several other mysterious contraptions. Scott was cross-examined. He lied valiantly for a time, but broke down at last and bawled, hiccuping his confession.

“Get the box these things came in,” Paradine ordered. “The head for bed.”

“Are you ... hup! ... gonna punish me daddy?”

“For playing hooky and lying, yes. You know the rules. No more shows for two weeks. No sodas for the same period.”

Scott gulped. “You gonna keep my things?”

“I don’t know yet.”

“Well ... g’night, daddy. G’night, mom.”

After the small figure had gone upstairs, Paradine dragged a chair to the table and carefully scrutinized the box. He poked thoughtfully at the fused gadgetry. Jane watched.

“What is it, Denny?”

“Dunno. Who’d leave a box of toys down by the creek?”

“It might have fallen out of a car.”

“Not at that point. The road doesn’t hit the creek north of the railroad trestle. Empty lots — nothing else.” Paradine lit a cigarette. “Drink, honey?”

“I’ll fix it.” Jane went to work, her eyes troubled. She brought Paradine a glass and stood behind him, furling his hair with her fingers. “Is anything wrong?”

“Of course not. Only — where did these toys come from?”

“Johnsons’s didn’t know, and they get their stock from New York.”

“I’ve been checking up, too,” Paradine admitted. “That doll” — he poked it — “rather worried me. Custom jobs, maybe, but I wish I knew who’d made ‘em.”

“A psychologist? The abacus — don’t they give people tests with such things?”

Paradine snapped his fingers. “Right! And say! There’s a guy going to speak at the university next week, fellow named Holloway, who’s a child psychologist. He’s a big shot, with quite a reputation. He might know something about it.”

“Holloway? I don’t-”

“Rex Holloway. He’s ... hm-m-m! He doesn’t’ live far from here. Do you suppose he might have had these things made himself?”

Jane was examining the abacus. She grimaced and drew back. “If he did, I don’t like him. But see if you can find out, Denny.”

Paradine nodded. “I shall.”

He drank his highball, frowning. He was vaguely worried. But he wasn’t scared — yet.

Rex Holloway was a fat, shiny man, with a bald head and thick spectacles above which his thick, black brows lay like bushy caterpillars. Paradine brought him home to dinner one night a week later. Holloway did not appear to watch the children, but nothing they did or said was lost on him. His gray eyes, shred and bright, missed little.

The toys fascinated him. In the living room the three adults gathered around the table, where the plaything had been placed. Holloway studied them carefully as he listened to what Jane and Paradine had to say. At last he broke his silence.

“I’m glad I came here tonight. But not completely. This is very disturbing, you know.”

“Eh?” Paradine stared, and Jane’s face showed her consternation. Holloway’s next words did not calm them.

“We are dealing with madness.”

He smiled at the shocked looks they gave him. “All children are mad, from an adult viewpoint. Ever read Hughes’ ‘High Wind in Jamaica’?”

“I’ve got it.” Paradine secured the little book from its shelf. Holloway extended a hand, took it, and flipped the pages till he had found the place he wanted. He read aloud:

“‘Babies of course are not human — they are animals, and have a very a very ancient and ramified culture, as cats have, and fishes, and even snakes; the same in kind as these, but much more complicated and vivid, since babies are, after all, one of the most developed species of the lower vertebrates. In short, babies have minds which work in terms and categories of their own which cannot be translated into the terms and categories of the human mind.’”

Jane tried to take that calmly, but couldn’t. “You don’t mean that Emma-”

“Could you think like your daughter?” Holloway asked. “Listen: ‘One can no more think like a baby than one can think like a bee.’”

Paradine mixed drinks. Over his shoulder he said, “You’re theorizing quite a bit, aren’t you? As I get it, you’re implying that babies have a culture of their own, even a high standard of intelligence.”

“Not necessarily. There’s no yardstick, you see. All I say is that babies think in other ways than we do. Not necessarily better — that’s a question of relative values. But with a different manner of extension-” He sought for the words, grimacing.

“Fantasy,” Paradine said, rather rudely, but annoyed because of Emma. “Babies don’t have different senses from ours.”

“Who said they did?” Holloway demanded. “They use their minds in a different way, that’s all. But it’s quite enough!”

“I’m trying to understand,” Jane said slowly. “All I can think of is my Mixmaster. It can whip up batter and potatoes, but I can squeeze oranges, too.”

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