He had just paid his money to the grubby, bearded old man at the door and gone in when someone coming out in a hurry took at look at him and grabbed his arm. Pieter was surprised, but didn't recognize him and made to go on, but the dirty fellow held his arm.
"Hey, not so fast, young fella, I got just the thing for ya! Ya can't afford to pass this up. Lemme jist show ya--" He pulled Pieter aside, and the metal-sheeted door to Blodgett's slammed and a bolt slipped in with a crashing finality.
Pieter looked back anxiously.
"Oh, don't worry about that! They'll let ya back in or I'll bust down de door!"
Pieter could hardly see how the half pinter in front of him, ragged clothes hardly covering skeleton-like thinness, staring at him with bloodshot, baggy eyes, could do anything of the sort. Still in the feeble grip of the stranger, he wondered if he should give him a push to the side, but the thought he’d probably break the fellow’s arm or leg made him pause. the beggar, weak or not, wasn't about to let him go just then. He fished in a bundle of rags and brought out a carousel music box with a blue horse that went round to a tinkling tune.
The beggar took one look at Pieter’s doubtful expression and stashed it quickly out of sight. With nearly the same motion he produced a greater treasure: a 1939 New York City World’s Fair souvenir from the GMC Tire Pavilion. Even in the dim light of a sputtering gas lamp, covered with grime and the gold letter worn off, the ceramic shone almost like new.
"See how pretty she be!" crowed the beggar. "And feel it! Ain’t no copy! Van Zooks don't come up to it nohow! It’s worth a lot! Real antiky, she be!"
Pieter had a strange feeling--a sense he had seen it before, though the location did not come to mind. The souvenir felt incredibly cold, then untouchably hot to his touch. Remaining strangely warm, it reminded him of the bit of amber his grandfather had once brought home from the mine.
"It'll bring ya luck, boy! I bet ya can use some of that, can't ya? Sure, ya can! It brought me plenty luck or I’d be dead by now--lying belly up in that stunken canal odder there! Funny thing, it kept me warm as toast at night, then cool by day. And it’s full of good turns! I done thought old Leamis was done fur, I up and got meself a job runnin' for a big boss down the street--doin' a lot of 'portant things I can't tell anybody about or I git to wear cement galoshes, if ya know what's I mean. Well, I don't need it no more, and innyway it keeps hoppin’ out of knapsack like it doun wanna stay and could get busted. Better sell it than lose it, right? All kinda creeps wanna steal it from me, but I’ll sell ‘er first!”
But Pieter still looked doubtful. He could see not why he had to be the new owner.
The owner, however, was not giving up. “Waal, it sure done me a good turn, lemme tell ya! I do hate to let her go! But I might as well let it do ya a good turn too. You’s lookin’ like you need one. So how's about it? It's a sure-shootin' lucky charm beyond compare! I'm only askin' five dollars!"
Pieter wasn't about to leap. Leamis might well have asked five hundred. He wasn't in need of any such thing, however historic and "lucky." Furthermore, he had never owned anything in his life that wasn't of practical use. A ceramic tire for show as a knick-knack was no use at all. He shook his good, solid Dutch head.
The beggar's face screwed up in sudden relief. Then he made a strange motion, as if handing over the souvenir with the greatest effort of will. Tears, more from effort than anguish, gushed from his eyes.
"How about one lousy buck, man?"
Pieter still would not bite.
"Fifty cents--dat's all I can let it go fur--inny less would be a crime aginst mudder natur!"
The plain Dutch boy shook his head even more firmly and the beggar seemed to sense his iron-cast resolve.
“Ya donut mean ya ain't goin' to buy it, after all I redoost de price. It's my favor to ya! Ya can't turn down a fella who's only doin' you a favor from the goodness of his Dutch heart! Last time! Fur a friend like ya I'll let it go fur five cents!"
Said that way, no, Pieter could not keep shaking his head.
The beggar saw he had a sale and his face beamed despite the thick grime. "I knew ya would come through for a fella! Ya see, I need this little fiver to jist tide me over for de night at Blodgett's, and in the mornin' I start my new job runnin' numbers fur'--"
Pieter already had his five cents out. The beggar, without finishing, grabbed it and ran. “Thanks, sucker!” he laughed over his shoulder. “Now maybe I can sleep at nights! Dat blasted thing was always wakin’ me up!”
Off he flew from Blodgetts and down toward a cluster of speakeasies, his rags whipping about and exposing pitifully thin bare thighs and calves.
Pieter fingered the tire for a moment. Despite the chill air, just like Leamis said, it continued to warm his hand. He sighed and slipped it into his carpet bag. He turned back to Blodgett's and after much pounding and yelling the door opened. As he feared, Pieter had to pay another three cents to get in to a straw-baled stall, as his money was forfeited once he had left the premises.
Thanks to the beggar, the money he had between him and destitution was flown to the winds. It was January, months before business would possibly loosen up with the spring thaw and men get hired. All he had was a tin schuyler. You couldn’t get even a fresh doughnut for that.
He knew he had gone back to the beginning, which was a bad start and a dead end. He still had to find work or ultimately take a lone, cold plunge in some stinking canal or the North River. Let others beg money to play the numbers racket!
Indeed, Pieter’s situation was most dismal at the slaughterhouse-stable-peanut warehouse-dormitory. He still had nothing to look forward to, despite the unexpected, unwanted windfall of Leamis’s ceramic tire.
The City schlepens had requisitioned chain gangs from the prisons and planted trees, but the snow and ice had been piled so high to clear the streets it had buried them. He hoped to scare up some work in this more moneyed part of town, down by Wall Street's exchange, banks, West India Company headquarters and its next-door arch rival-- the New Amsterdam-Paramaibo Trading Company (NAPTC)--and, New Amsterdam’s crowning glory, the National Capitol.
He found himself outside the massive States-General Assembly where the government of the country met. It was mighty and impressive to a poor youth from up country. Statues, brightly-lit windows, burly and tough-looking, spit and polish militia stationed along the front for rioters--for the capital was known for frequent and bloody riots whenever factories closed and there were layoffs.
Despite bitter, blowing cold and the lingering darkness, a line formed and he soon queued up for the low-pay custodian job a hundred or so men had heard about early that morning. Pieter had seen it too in a borrowed paper. He was looking at it again as he waited. His eye lit up over something else which he hadn't caught in prior reading.
"Jist look at dat snotty-nosed crip!" someone behind him sneered. "Imagine him thinkin' he'll land a job 'fore us able-bodied workin' stiffs! Wats dis countree comin’ to inyway? Isn’t stableboy good enuf fur ‘im?"
Pieter kept reading though his ears smarted and his hand clenched on the paper. His breakfast of a stale, blue-colored doughnut from a street vender had taken his precious schuyler--the man had been about to feed it to his nag when Pieter saw his chance and palmed off his worthless coin. He had to consider what to do. Should he keep waiting for a janitor job in the Capitol, a job over fifty men ahead of him had prior claim on, or--
The ad that claimed his attention was a professor scientist calling for help with "--research on Scientific Euthenics and Dysgenics," and "one who does not mind an abundance of real danger to life and limb and whatever remuneration faithful service toward the advance of human knowledge merits."
He saw listed a particularly swank New Amsterdam hotel, the Royal Wilhelmina, and that applicants for the assistant's position must inquire in person with references.
This was it! This was it! "Let them have the floor moppin’ job!" he thought, for it reminded him too much of Van Tootle's.
Pieter instinctively knew in his heart just where the better chance, for him, lay at that moment. In fact, he had been waiting all his life for just this opportunity.
He tossed the paper to its owner and despite the bothersome carpet bag stumped off at breakneck speed. The route to the Wilhelmina took him through a district of dangerously tall, empty, bat-filled towers, but it led straight to the most excitement of his life. Making his way through a crowd of numbers playing cabbies and their waiting cars, he climbed the steps and entered the grand outer door. There he met the doorman, Woggham.
Mightily conscious of his gold epaulets and shining buttons, swallowtail coat and pin-striped company boxer shorts (though they were a bit too snug and had already split), he had been newly promoted from scullery potboy that same day.
With a solemn shake of his head at the sight of Pieter, he gave him the impression the job-seeker was a pile of rubbish, even smelly horse droppings on the polished marble.
"Hey, bub, if yer anudder of dose lousy bums answerin' the professor's ad, yer barkin' up da wrong coconut tree! Git outa my sight! A thousand musta ben here 'fore ye, an, believe me, no cripples allowed! So, unless you sweeten my little palm first, push off!"
Pieter, hardened by his street experience in the big city, wasn’t about to do any such thing--not without a bit of a fight anyway. He had just the right words for the man. "I'll sweeten your nose first! You'll let me in to answer the ad, or--"
It was a sign of desperation that Pieter felt obliged to speak so roughly, but perhaps utter poverty loosened his tongue--though he, in fact, felt a bolt of energy and purpose surge through him at that moment. Prepared to follow up his words with action, Pieter held his crutch ready and looked hard at the doorman. As if shot through by Pieter’s eyes, the doorman paled. He must have seen he had a real fighter on his hands, for he suddenly grinned with crooked, stained teeth.
"Aw, furget it, pal. It's no skin offa my shins. Jist kum back tomorra mornin' and sign dis--"
The doorman held out a fancy clipboard that looked most official with gold tassels and a gold pen on a chain.. All this time Pieter was edging in. Suddenly, he reached round and grabbed the inner door, pulling himself in past the startled doorman who tried a block a moment too late. In the scuffle, Pieter proved much stronger in the arms and shoulders, thanks to all his crutch-work, and he got inside--warm, scented air rushing out to greet him. Holding the door against the furious doorman, Pieter took his first look into the grand lobby of the Royal Wilhelmina and his eyes shot wide open.
It was another world, for which the likes of New Alkmaar and Van Tootle's simply did not exist. Grand white marble pillars, this time with gilded bases. Chandeliers. Potted palms. Life-sized statues. One, a stark-naked stone maiden, bent over a little pool with a tinkling fountain. It was definitely Jack Dutch's kind of place!
Hearing heavenly music, the now thoroughly amazed Pieter saw a lady, pink pearls at her neck, in long lacy gown, strumming on a big gold harp. Was she an angel in paradise or a real person? At the moment he could not tell. Meanwhile, the doorman, huffing and puffing, was trying to burst the door open with brute force. Pieter had to move fast or lose his chance. The doorman's look meant murder. At the least, he'd be thrown headfirst down the steps if he got his way.
Having thrust himself into the situation, Pieter was at a total loss, for he had to think fast and that wasn't possible. Forcing the issue, a top hatted gentleman and a lady in a glittering silver pelisse trimmed with white Arctic fox were approaching the entrance in regal majesty.
Was it the king and queen of the whole kingdom? Their impression on Pieter was unspeakably grand. About to rub shoulders with royalty, Pieter realized now had to be the moment when he did something. Fortunately, he felt a sudden welling up within himself of invincible willpower and strength.
He knew in his mind for certain it was upmost presumption, sheer madness, to go on, but yet the force that had risen in him propelled him up over the absolutely towering mountain of impossibility.
He let the door go and moved away as quickly as possible down past harpist and statue. The doorman rushed in after him.
"I'll git ye for this, ye stinkin' little creep!" he hissed after Pieter, saliva flying through widely-spaced teeth. But the doorman stopped after a few steps. The lady playing the harp had just glanced up and given him an annoyed, withering look.
With the doorman effectively neutralized for the moment, Pieter saw his chance and passed further into the hotel without stopping at the lobby desk. He went by ladies and gentlemen in full, formal attire. Their tables held vases of hothouse orchids and complementary boxes of chocolates. They all stopped talking and glanced at him before shrinking away as from a leper. By this time, the royal-looking pair of Hollywood stars were waiting and looking about for the doorman with impatient expressions.
"Stop, I'll kill ye, ye dirty, hoppin' limey frog!" the doorman screamed in a low voice at Pieter's back once he had got past the formidable harpist. He kept chasing Pieter, as politely as he could. But Pieter kept on, past pillars, palms, floor-length gowns, dinner jackets, chocolates and coffee. Room service stared at him too when they met in the hall off the lobby. Pieter was afraid they would decide to gang up on him and throw him out. But instead each starched up, lace-capped maid and box-hatted bellboy, after looking again at him with alarm and shock, rushed off.
Finally, even the doorman gave up in the hall when Pieter turned and again looked daggers at him. He didn’t even need to thrust out menacingly with a crutch.
The doorman gave a yelp and beat it back toward the entrance, to face a now irate pair of Hollywood screen stars.
Pieter, hardly believing his success, reached the suite listed. The big, highly polished door just beyond a tall stained glass saint or angel swung open. A girl close to his age bumped him on her way out. She held, unlike the ladies and gentlemen taking coffee and candies in the elegant parlors, a large blue Delft jug dripping milk.
Before he could do anything, she adjusted a little pheasant feathered cloche hat knocked back on her head from the impact. She made a move to slip by but paused.
He thought he could read clear but unspoken pity in her reaction and first words. She had seen the crutches. "Oh, I thought that was the last of--" She looked as if she regretted not catching herself in time. He watched her blush, but he was used to the whole range of people's reactions by this time. Disgust, fear it could happen to them, pity--
The next instant she darted off, jug in hand, before Pieter could stop her. He saw splashes of white on the red carpet leading toward the lobby.
Pieter naturally glanced where she had looked. His mouth fell open. All his fighting at the entrance and fast crutch work had popped a man's most important buttons. There, for the world to see, was Van Tootle's Best. No wonder! he thought. It wasn't just because he was so badly crippled that people had reacted so strangely to him in the lobby. He hastily made himself decent and then gazed in the direction she had fled. Would she ever come back? he wondered. Others were, at that moment, happy to see that it never happened again An army of mops and brooms and pots and pans was heading his way. But quick on their heels was the girl he thought he had scandalized and frightened away.
"Let him be," Dr. Pikkard's niece said to the leader, Mr. Terence Duckering-Puckett. The pompous, fat hotel manager from London, proud of his Britishness, gold watch, and a cross-shaped staurolite fob, shook his head and expostulated something.
She stood her ground, jug in hand. "We'll see he doesn't cause any trouble."
Dumbfounded, they all went, the girl too, and Pieter soon found he was alone.
Taking a deep breath at his close call, Pieter turned back to Dutch business. He was one of dozens of working men and shiftless "grauw" or scum of the streets who had answered the strange listing.
He knocked until he thought the milch cows must have come home. He paused. Surely, he thought, the employer must be hard of hearing or very busy drinking milk. What had happened to the girl with the blue pitcher? he wondered again, looking down the hall.
Some very fat ladies of fashion with feathery hats and long cigarette holders approached. Painfully shy in his countried clothes, Pieter acted from impulse. He let himself in at the outer office. What a room! He saw at once the big, high-ceilinged room wasn't meant to be a place where people could meet for coffee in tiny gilt-edged cups. It was more like a storage room, crammed with things even more incredible than the grand lobby's.
He also saw where the girl's milk had gone. To cats! And that wasn’t all. Bits of white bread had been added! This was most strange. Whoever fed cats? He had never seen it happen in New Alkmaar.The parquet floor's Persian carpet was covered with bowls. The cats gave him no notice but went on enjoying lunch as he looked about.
Was there any end to the strange sights? Never had he seen so many pictures either. New Alkmaar had no art such as this. Womenfolk hung up "Old Country" scenes--spindly, giraffe-necked Dutch trees, sway-backed barns, squat windmills and tall, high-gabled houses and frozen canals with red-cheeked ice skaters, and lots of pastures and cows.
But what he saw around him was vastly different. It took his breath away. Here each painting had an actual name inscribed in gold in the frame. Why would anyone want to go to that expense? It looked very suspicious and Jack Dutchy to him. "Soldiers Playing Dice," "The Cheater with the Ace of Diamonds," "The Backgammon Players" Tiepolo’s “Pharaoh Presenting the Signet Ring to Joseph,” “The Flood” by Jan van Scorel, “The Tower of Babel” were just a few gilt titles on the grand pictures stacked and hung all over the room.
There was even a gold-framed still of W.C. Fields in “Never Give a Sucker an Even Break.”
"Does the professor just play games?" he wondered. "When does he do honest work?"
Not only were the pictures about games, but the actual game sets were strewn everywhere. He stood gazing at a shove ha'penny board and a big much-used dart board stamped “Paddy O’Pugg’s, Belfast, Ulster,” and then an orange and green wari game with pea-shaped beads in the shallow cups, and then an Inuit walrus tusk carved for playing cribbage.
He ran his hands over a jeweled gameboard of draughts and nearly forgot his reason for coming. The moments flicking by without his noticing, he picked up a nine men's morris board and tried to imagine how it was played.
Hoops, marbles, yo-yos, magic squares, cat's cradles, mathematical puzzles, spinning tops, shuttlecocks, a “Buck Rogers disintegrator.” Pieter picked up the disintegrator, looked into the barrell, and pulled the trigger until it clicked. Just as he thought. Nothing happened. Rapidly losing interest in such frivolous, wasteful trivia, he glanced at jump ropes and miniature hot air balloon kits, and odd gear like crampons, ice axes, and a open, hardened, gallon-can of orange paint.
"Could the man in the ad have collected all this rubbish?" he marveled. "What does he do with his time--just play games, or run a shop for old toys and junk?" Thinking he was throwing away his time and the effort it took to get to the interview, his heart sank, but he had nothing else to do so he stayed on.
How many minutes he spent there, he could not tell. After such sights, Pieter really wondered what he was getting into. He went into the next room and stepped back immediately to the threshold.
He expected a gentleman-professor-scientist in a proper suit or laboratory uniform. Instead, he saw someone in a shiney velvet and fur-trimmed dressing gown sitting back in his chair with a dreamy expression on his face.
Surely, Pieter thought, this could not be the man who placed the ad! In stark contrast to the hotel lobby and the office anteroom occupied solely by paintings, sculptures, furniture, and cats, the professor's surroundings had been mistreated and become very shabby. The walls in a number of places were stained by numerous chemical explosions of an experimental nature. What looked like calculations ran scribbled across unlikely open spaces with green or red chalk.
Then Pieter started. He saw the same diagram for nine men's morris, along with some Egyptian hieroglyphics, etched into the ancient stone. Where had the fellow picked it up? Almost as out of place, a big slab of tree lay against the great stone, the rings plainly visible and marked with pins flagged with numbered pieces of paper.
It took more than a moment for him to absorb this scene, but there wasn't time, he found. He had to try now or never to make some sense of what he saw around him. His gruff reception, really a rebuff, helped to restore him to plain Dutch reality, his grasp of which had been so put off by all the incredible objects. It wasn't his ears gone bad like his grootvader's. “ He just won't see me!" Pieter thought, his heart sinking.
Finally, the man in the dark green smoking jacket, who had not bothered to give him more than a couple glances while he worked at mathematical calculations, broke the silence once again. "Cat nipped his wings," the man said without looking up from work on his latest Mersenne prime. "I'll never take my niece and her favorite Manx together in the balloon again. For the sake of the bird, Icarus my honorable colleague, I had to parachute both niece and her feline down, sorry to say. I like cats awfully, however, as you may have noticed when you broke in. It wasn't easy, but some things just have to be done in this world if genuine research is to go on."
Pieter swallowed. He could see he might be wrong. The Jack Dutch man with the toy collection had an unmistakable serious edge to him. But the scientist said no more and made no move to introduce himself or at least say Pieter might come back the following day for an interview. Moments ticked by on the elaborate pink and gold Bavarian cuckoo clock on the wall and Pieter was left to just stand there and feel like the fool he must have looked.
Realizing his coming was hopeless, Pieter straightened his wooden limbs. This was no place for a plain Dutch fellow anyway! He started for the door, then turned slowly around, though he could not have explained why. It was the picture on the wall behind the professor's desk. He had seen it too. There was a good reason why this item should have stopped Pieter from walking away. Amidst the Jack Dutch clutter and ruin and soiled splendor, a gilt-framed oil portrait Pieter did not recognize bore a gold name plate identifying a man with a true Dutch name. "Jacobus Hendricus van't Hoff, Nobel Prize for Chemistry, December 10, ANNO 1901," the whole inscription read.
Pieter, with his little education, could just make it out. But what was unusual to Pieter was not the distinguished, old man or his award, which signified nothing to him, but the thing under van't Hoff. A wicker wheelchair! For Pieter, that was what he needed, for one last try. He felt yet another surge within. He quickly figured that if the man in the picture could be crippled and win a place of honor above the professor's desk, then perhaps he could get the ear of the strange man at the strange desk.
The man's head bobbed. As if surprised by the sudden little declamation, the scientist looked up sharply. He darted a look at Pieter above very dusty, water-spotted, round-rimmed spectacles. Then he looked even harder at Pieter. He took some time doing it too, and Pieter began to feel uncomfortable in a way the strange items all about had not made him feel. But there were some other things maybe not so visible but still present at that moment that made him feel even more uneasy. The canal. The mill. The fog--which poured like a huge, coiling serpent around his ankles.
As the professor gave him the probe with analytical eyes, the staunch Dutch courage and faith in human goodness that had got poor Pieter all the way from the gristmill to the Royal Wilhelmina began to sputter.
"What have I gotten myself into here?" he had to wonder once again. Then he did something rash and foolish. He blurted out what was on his heart. "I'll...I swear I'll throw myself in the river or a canal before I have to go back to the mill or beg on the streets with the grauw!" His own words shocked Pieter, even more now than when he had confronted the doorman. He couldn't help it and stumbled on. "All I've got, I got the hard way since I lost my legs. But I can still do any job fit for a good Dutch man!"
There was no more sound in the room. No scratching of a pen, not even the pecking of the fat, pampered swallow at its overflowing seed tray. It was a horrible moment for Pieter. He thought he must have turned green, he felt so odd and out of place.
The disheveled man with the cool, gray eyes looked Pieter over again and didn't miss the makeshift legs and crutches and carpet bag. He stroked his chin, his manner saying nothing to reassure Pieter. The playboy-professor, the scientist-gamester, glanced to the portrait on the wall that had caught Pieter's attention. He then faced Pieter. His eyes became full of interest. He pushed a paper toward Pieter he had already signed and dated January 8.
Pieter stared at it dumbly and the professor smiled. "To get in to see me was a real feat, for I left strict instructions at the door. I admire your faith in pressing toward the goal, my boy, but I think I do no disrespect when I say sheer determination is beside the point here. It's no game, like those who see in the next room.
This position I'm offering involves extremely hazardous duty. Do you think I, or God Almighty, should be made responsible where you should be? Well, do you? Read this contract carefully. I've lost five or six assistants already from accidents that are unavoidable in my line of work. The contract's good for a year. Afterwards, it can be renewed, if you survive and I like your work. Be forewarned, lad. My last assistant is, you may as well know, alive still, but he is presently tramping the streets with the grauw, for two good reasons. First, he paid too much attention to my niece's excellent lunches.
He grew so large my excellent balloons refused to carry him. Then he developed into an Enrico Casanova and paid unwanted attention to my excellent niece. That, for me, was the last straw. She complained to me after he proposed marriage several times in the balloon shed. But, then, I don't suppose there is any danger of a repeat of his follies in your condition? And, by the way, I think my carpenters in the balloon shed can fix you up with a decent wood leg-brace or two that should enable you to dispense with at least one crutch."
The long speech gave Pieter time to recover a bit. It dawned on him what the paper signified. Amazement and relief must have shown in his features. "I can't believe he's giving me work!" Pieter thought in the rush of comprehension, though he had a secret feeling that he deserved it.
Now that the job was in the bag, his good fortune seemed impossible to a plain Dutch youth.
"Let Sir Spectacles look me over all he wants! Landing a job in this big of a city is too good to be true!" thought the desperate refugee from little Alkmaar's gristmill. “I must have done something good for this to happen,” he reflected, without realizing any contradiction.
With a jolt, he remembered the professor had already ordered him to look at the contract. Pieter made a dive at the paper . His heart soared within him, an eagle against the wind. He took the pen offered and scribbled without looking at the paper's print.
The scientist slowly shook his odd, Coney-hatted head. "Boy Friday, you are signing over your foolish, young life a little too precipitately."
But he broke into a laugh and added "--and you don't want to read WHAT FOR?"
Overjoyed as he was, Pieter's cheeks reddened. He darted another look of Dutch determination at his new employer. But there was an added element--which had seen the doorman fleeing. He felt called to give a speech of sorts. "I don't have much schoolin' maybe, but I can write my own name. I worked in a mill since I was twelve. And I can make decisions on my own, now that both my parents be passed on. I want work you promised in the paper--that be all I need to know, Meinheer."
It was a good defense too, evidently serving the purpose. For the scientist, toy merchant, rich eccentric--whatever he was, his laughter gone, played a bit with the ends of his mustache. He was somewhat annoyed by the prospective employee’s hardness of eye. Then he smiled with approval, and the smile was so infectious and reassuring to Pieter he forgot he was dealing with an absolute stranger and had just signed his life over to him to boot.
"Enough English twaddle from you and me! There's work waiting to be done! I think you'll do just fine, young fellow. Oh, one more thing, what religion are you? In my line of work, we go out in all weathers and on every day left in the week--including the Sabbath."
"Yes, I gathered that much from the looks of you, but which Dutch Reformed church body--there are three, so they tell me--a lapsed member though not entirely unbelieving and unwashed. Now is it the D.R.C., or the R.D.C., or the C.OR.D.? The government requires a strict accounting of these things, you know."
Pieter had never heard of three church bodies. Why should he have? New Alkmaar had one church, and he had always supposed it to be Dutch Reformed, pure and simple. Having attended so very little, he had no idea there were two other Dutch Churches in the country. It came as something of a revelation, but one which he needed to think long upon, lest he fall in heresy by choosing the wrong division.
"Oh, never mind!" laughed the professor. "We don't have time to waste on it. The third sacred body is the more liberal and allows for hauling out mules from wells on the Sabbath, which gets us around the laws against any business and scientific activity on that day. I took the precaution of legally registering my ballooning and other endeavors as a non-profit engineering business set up for Mule Search and Rescue. Of course, I've never found occasion to actually rescue a mule at 16,000 feet either above or below sea level, but I'm legally empowered and authorized to do it."
The registered mule-rescue engineer then took a final glance at the portrait on the wall before punching a button on his desk. This gave Pieter a chance to swallow hard, now that he was getting his feet back on the ground. He realized the job was still for real--despite the professor's odd remarks about religion and mules.
"Now where was I before you came in? Oh, yes, do sit down and eat lunch!" his employer ordered.
He motioned to covered dishes on a nearby stand. "I'm busy with some important work--a jolly good prime-- and don't have time to waste on food just now, and my niece will be very, very angry if it gets cold and goes uneaten again. So please eat it all while it's still hot!"
In a daze over how quickly his life had altered, Pieter sank down on a chair beside the wonderful aromas. He lifted a napkin over a basket and found the largest loaf of white bread he had ever seen. But that was only the beginning, as he lifted a series of smaller silver lids. It was his first decent hot meal since his father was crushed by the boiler on the barge. Never had he eaten this much and well in New Alkmaar. While he was thanking his lucky stars for the job and making up for lost time on pure white bread, hot chowders, chicken dumplings, oysters, coffee and fresh fruit, his employer gave a deep snort of disgust and stopped writing. Someone was knocking at the inner door.
Motioning to Pieter to keep on eating, Dr. Pikkard went and gave a message to the red and gold jacketed hotel courier.
Pieter thought the scientist moved rather awkwardly, favoring the right leg. He looked closer when his employer returned, and he saw how his leg terminated in a special, tall patent leather shoe strapped to his calf.
The professor had a sharp eye. He caught Pieter's glance. But still he didn't wince with annoyance or embarrassment, only shrugged. "A South American jaguar--a blessed female," he explained. "She took the foot off after I gave her a good kick in the rump for raiding my jungle aviary of rare birds." Pieter was still stuffing himself as only someone his age and with his background could, but he noted something. The gentleman had commented most matter-of-factly about an accident most people would have taken as a terrible tragedy, as the end of their usefulness and value as human beings.
"I don't want that monstrous chocolate-strawberry torte either, young fellow. When you think you've had enough, go in the room off the bedroom to my right and take a look at the pretty rug on the floor."
As soon as his ferocious, long suppressed appetite let go, Pieter went as directed to a room beyond a massive, oak-bedded chamber stuffed, floor to ceiling, with chemicals and chemistry laboratory gear--proof the professor did real scientific work when he wasn’t playing games.
Treading a perilous path between bottles and vials of strangely colored mixtures, he got to the next room. He found it very large and fitted with a luxurious Roman bath, not big enough to float a barge perhaps, but large enough to drown an ox, or Horst Van Syckle--if either were first knocked hard enough in the head. Pieter also found the water running in a big marble wash basin. A fantastically ornate, gold dolphin spigot was pouring out hot water full blast. Some careless person, obviously, had left it on.
Job or no job, Pieter was again scandalized almost as much as by the sparrow in the gilded cage.
"How could someone do such a thing? I would never leave good clean water running like this!" he thought, shaking his blond head. He, after all, had grown up in a household without hot running water. They had to heat bath water on the stove, and then carry it to the tub--naturally, there was only a couple inches at best to bathe in, and that amount quickly cooled.
Pieter's eye fell on something else. On the tiled floor was a rug. No, it was a pelt of some animal. Eyes widening, he looked long at it. Silently snarling at him, its eyes glaring with fury--it actually gave him a cold sweat.
"My sweet little niece dispatched it," said his employer when Pieter found his way back through the jungle like tangle of scientific gear. He seemed to be amused by his new assistant’s look of disbelief. "Otherwise, my boy, I should not be around to tell about it."
Dr. August Pikkard and Pieter van de Wordt. Except for handicaps, they had little or nothing in common as scientific researchers. One couldn't be more Jack Dutch, by appearances. The other less plain Dutch. One constantly left the hot water taps running. One would never dream of it. Yet it was the beginning.
"Allow me to explain one thing about myself," Dr. Pikkard began with his employee, when he had been settled in a chair.
Pieter looked toward him expectantly, as if eager to learn some new thing.
"Since we’re going to work together, you might well take note of a few oddities about me. I don't do things like other people do them--purposely. I don't think like them either. And you'll soon find that I firmly believe, contrary to public opinion, that this whole society is going to Meinheer Bosch’s hell on a bubble-domed toboggan sled! Is that understood?"
Naturally, Pieter just stared and had no idea whatsoever what the good man meant. His remarks were one piece with the rest of the strange and incomprehensible office scenery.
"My niece will be coming in a minute," said the professor the following noon. "She's in deep, deep mourning for her departed mother, so don't expect much out of her. She's all glum looks and tears these days. It’ll spoil her looks if she keeps on--but you know these Dutch women. They’re mad about showing proper respect for the departed."
The door swung open as if it had been kicked. It nearly crashed against a Ming vase, and a less than demure girl pranced in, a lyric from the latest musical comedy hit on her lips.
The professor seemed to give no heed as he sat working at his desk, scribbling on paper. "Why, I even have to see that the old fool's head and mustache are trimmed!" she said. "For a genius you’ll soon find he's quite a magnificent dope in ordinary matters!"
As Pieter saw it, the professor was intellectually engrossed in other, larger issues and didn't notice what was being said about him. Just the same he burned with terrible embarrassment for the professor, until he learned to take her remarks as casually as she produced them.
Until then, it was Dr. Pikkard and Pieter van de Wordt and Anne Kilpaison, whether Pieter liked it or not.
Dr. Pikkard looked up from his primes one day and noticed Pieter’s glance. He rose and pulled out another specimen. With two set side by side, he pointed out the large rings on one and the very narrow rings on the opposite. “I have over 900 specimens, sawn and drilled, taken from all over the country and stored somewhere, but these will do nicely for our little inquiry. Now what has caused them to grow so divergently?” he asked Pieter, two penetrating gleams darting at him over his spectacles.
Pieter thought he could tell, having lived in a rural town and so near the forests, but he was hesitant to tread the solemn, ivied halls of science, so the professor prodded him.
“The one on the left dates from the year 2170. The other dates before 2170. You see the tremendous contrast in the sizes of their rings. Why, the “from ones” look almost tropical, they’re nearly ringless they grow so fast. What could have done it?”
“Good rains made the rings on the tree grow faster,” Pieter finally ventured. “The one on the left didn’t get enough water.
Dr. Pikkard smiled gently. “Good try. I too thought that might be the cause when I first started looking at such specimens. But I soon found I was wrong, after examining dozens of other specimens, the channels of creek and river beds in the area, and other tell-tale signs of changing rainfall patterns. Eventually, I put my findings all together in a strip-calendar by which I use to date specimens. Well, the cause could have been drought before 2170, only I found the rainfall was ample and there was no significant drop in precipitation. It could have been insect blight--except the rings did not show anything unusual in that respect. That left heavy cone production. But the question follows: why did all the trees go into excessive cone production just before 2170. 2170 and on the trees exploded in numbers, it appears.”
Dr. Pikkard paced the floor, stirred up by the question. The same had once repeatedly pulled him away from the comfortable life of the Wilhelmina to forests stretching over thousands of miles of land, land he had found was formerly highly populated and filled with huge cities and productive farms producing wheat and a beautiful, golden-kerneled corn.
He stopped abruptly, giving the tree rings a whack with a pointing stick before turning back to Pieter with sharp glance . “I will tell you what I concluded! The two tree ring segments are evidence of a complete reversal in climate and nature, which might have begun even before the fatal year of 2170! But what caused the forests to explode back across vast territories in so short a time? My boy, we’ve got to find out! The explosion is still going on--we simply can’t cut and burn trees fast enough and our cities and towns, ever declining in population, will be covered in less than another generation. Strangely enough, no one believes me, though super-abundant evidence stands and grows right in front of us, in the cold light of day! But come with me, we needn’t rely wholly on sense data which human stupidity and tight-minded prejudice can contradict. Dendrochronology, a wonderful new science created by an astronomer-monk named Douglass around ANNO 1900, has given us a most valuable and accurate history of Earth’s weather going back centuries. We can use his same techniques to study the centuries after him as well! That’s exactly what I’ve done. Now let me show you the incredible results of my research!”
Grabbing a box of bright yellow chalk and taking Pieter out into the hall, Dr. Pikkard started writing on the red brocaded wall a number from memory. The professor did not seem to mind several aristocratic, fat, English ladies passing by, staring at him through lorgnettes as if he were a prize specimen of madness.
“This is the number of trees before 2170 in North America,” he eagerly began as he examined his figures. “This is the number after that catastrophic year. Please note this is the rate of increase in the number of trees from 2170 and afterward. Compare that rate with our birth rate, which is...”
He turned around to see how Pieter was taking the information. Noticing that Pieter's eyes were glazed over, he sighed, dropped the chalk and went back to his primes. He had albums of collected daguerreotypes from a copper-plate process showing New Amsterdam over a hundred year period.
He wanted Pieter to see how the city had once been much larger and populous and the forests miles away from the city limits.
Obvious to him, Pieter first needed to be “primed” if he was to appreciate science and what it had to say about the world’s condition.
If he wasn't going to be given any real work, and he could just spend his time looking at books, what was he to do with all the hours? But at least he could spend the time eating and going through the books on mathematics the professor handed him. Putting on needed weight, he ate the wonderful lunches Anne brought up every day from the kitchen and studied beside the gigantic volume of discovered primes the mathematical and game-loving Dr. Pikkard was compiling. It must have stood six or seven feet high on the floor beside his desk--obviously the world’s biggest book.
Work on the gargantuan “prime-a-copia” went on and on. Pieter came to "work" everyday as usual and, when not eating and studying, made himself "useful" by cleaning the bird's cage and tidying up the rooms as best he could in the incredible clutter of expensive collectibles. Surprising both himself and the professor, he also made good progress in mathematics, so that he opened a copy of Van Euclid's Geometry and with coaching by the professor started working through it with a skill that had to please his mathematics-obsessed employer.
Adding variety to the mathematical “work” schedule, at least once a week Anne varied her routine and dove at the professor with a pair of scissors and forced his flying locks and mustaches back to a semblance of a civilized Dutch gentleman's.
Still wondering if he would ever do any real work, Pieter asked Anne one time when the professor left the suite for a few minutes. He had gone to see some newly purchased museum works of art--mostly oil paintings and game sets--dropped off in the lobby by mistake. Anne smiled and let her eyes rove over him for a moment before she answered. "I think he's just letting you get used to him first, before he plunges you over your head in deep water! He’s learned to do it that way ever since drowning quite a few assistants before you."
The professor and Pieter hurried to the docks for the balloon and bathyscaph shipment. Starting a new career is not always a sure thing as Pieter soon found out--particularly when it had to do with balloons. Pieter discovered a strange feeling in his stomach as soon as the balloon lifted off from the launch site at New Amsterdam on an usually fine though brisk day in early spring.
A big and sweet pink pill or two or a drop of Van Kuiper’s All-Purpose Snake Oil for Gustatory Complaints might have solved Pieter's indisposition on the ground. In the air it was soon uncomfortable enough to threaten to end his ballooning and ground him indefinitely, even before it had really begun.
It was an easy thing to fly equipped with fuel, first-aid kit, navigation charts, protective clothing, and food enough to last the outing, but keeping that air-borne meal down presented the greatest challenge Pieter had yet faced on his new job.
The first time up a little breeze rocked the gondola and from then on Pieter was clutching his midriff. Dr. Pikkard, of course, had an iron-cast constitution. He could, he said, eat a full-course dinner upside down hanging in a stalled Ferris Wheel. He claimed he had not once experienced having trouble that way and said so a number of times.
His previous assistant, on the contrary, had made a poor balloonist because of his touchy digestive tract, or tendency toward developing "mal de mer." Dr. Pikkard had been forced to go to the trouble to make room for a weighty book that was the authority in Dutch home remedies--Doctor Winkelhorst's Pharmacopoeia, or 1,001 Science Tips for Perfect Dutch Health and Hygiene.
The professor then looked around in the gondola's gear bags and, with a shout of 'Eureka!' fished out a book along with some sure-fire cures. "This will fix you up!" he said, handing the green Pieter a jar of pickled onions. Pieter took one, somehow slipped it down, and was suddenly much worse for following the first of Winkelhorst's "scientifically-demonstrated cures."
He groaned and hung dangerously to the side of the gondola until he was thoroughly relieved of the pickled onion.
"Okay, my boy, Winkelhorst and I evidently miscalculated on that. So take a little of this. I never got to try it on your unfortunate predecessor, what's his name?"
Gagging down a packet of dry, powdered charcoal, Pieter chased it with a sip of ordinary water in order to stop a violent coughing seizure. A moment later, he disappointed the nurse again by upchucking the chunks of charcoal.
"You ARE a hard case," acknowledged the professor, his hand rubbing his chin. He rummaged in the first-aid kit once again. A big grin on his face, he grabbed Pieter's swimming head and gave him a liberal dose of raw egg and brandy from a Delft container. Perhaps it had been there too long. Winkelhorst had assured Dr. Pikkard it would last indefinitely because of the pickling agent of excellent high proof brandy.
The basket pitched with the least movement and again Pieter threw himself against the side. He gave a most violent heave before he was rid of the latest cure. After that, it was a chew of ginger, which left Pieter none the worse, but certainly not improved.
Groaning, wondering if his ballooning days were over, Pieter had almost despaired of Winkelhorst when the professor, at the end of his stock of remedies and nostrums, fished out some stewed tomatoes and a can of sardines. "There are two ways to take them. First, if I remember rightly, you're supposed to mix the two together and coat your mouth and tongue with the thick paste, not swallowing and keeping it there for an hour--"
Pieter's greenish eyes rolled violently upwards in their sockets. He made to lunge back to the gunwales to retch like he had never retch before, but the professor caught him.
The professor held his fingers for luck as Pieter ate one stewed tomato. Dr. Pikkard held out the sardines. "According to the good Doctor Winkelhorst, you chase it with these, or it will never work.
Pieter took one, but he immediately came to grief with it. The sardine flew earthward, rewarding some hungry, cruising gull.
Pieter went back to unchased tomatoes, and minutes passed. The gull circled once, twice, then left them in peace. Dr. Pikkard slapped the youth on his back, who managed a queasy smile. Already color was returning to his cheeks.
"We've done it!" the professor cheered. "By the white horse of St. George, we've hit the prime on the head! From now on we carry plenty of stewed tomatoes. They're Anne's specialty, some recipe of her grandmother's, by the way. You'll have to tell her they worked. I never could abide tomatoes, stewed or raw or put in pie, so she'll be pleased they saved the day for you."
The balloon, with the recovering Pieter stuffed with Anne's tomatoes, continued more merrily on its way. Now the two could continue researching together. The ugly, toothy snout of the gristmill sank momentarily back out of sight.
"Where, after all, is the proof that we have declined and not progressed?" the professor queried Pieter one day on the matter. "Well, getting and assembling that proof is exactly our business, my boy! We'll certainly not find it in any books! All the authorities oppose me and take your position. They seem to think we’re living in a second Eden just because it’s Dutch!"
Pieter, naturally, did not know what the professor was talking about. Decline? No! Things had always been hard for the Dutch in America! That was just life. Things weren't really going backward. After all, the infamous Treaty of Westminister, imposed on the Dutch by the English seven centuries before, had been reversed, and America redeemed by the people best fitted for the job--Netherlanders! Every Dutch boy had been taught that by the first or second grade.
But the professor knew better than his pupil. Recent Dutch-English wars of the 23rd and into the 24th Century had not helped, no matter what Wooden-Head thought. Newly built lending libraries, re-commissioned as munitions storage and temporary forts, suffered accordingly, and Dark Ages apparently no one but he, Dr. Pikkard, would acknowledge or recognize drew near. But there was something equally disturbing that may or may not have been caused by the same thing that crumpled, mutilated, and otherwise ruined man-made things.
Only Dr. Pikkard knew from his researches that the planet's rotation had speeded up in the last two hundred years. Earth had lost one whole day! And the days were shorter--something, again, only he knew and was not afraid to face. The day had lost seven hours, and though the process had seemingly stabilized after four hundred years, he worried how long it would last.
What was causing such tremendous havoc? Why so many earthquakes in the past couple hundred years? And where would it end? He had committed his life and every penny of his fortune to finding out. If only he could pass on his findings! Poor Pieter! He was proving a difficult heir.
By this time Denver, despite the enormous, world-class dome, was only a tired and very dusty village of less than five hundred people. Hired nags took them and their gear to a launching site on a peak ominously called Merryweather's Downfall. They arrived at the "launch field", a wide but rock-studded plat of mountain meadow, in the early morning.
Pieter soon found there was nothing particular merry about the local climate. As if distracted by more important things on his mind, the professor, despite some warning blasts, did not seem to notice the wind. They continued preparations while Pieter kept looking about, a crease of concern deepening in his forehead. Working hard with big draught horses, at last the balloon was laid out. They began the long process of heating the air for inflation as Pieter hauled on the crown line attached to the top of the 80-foot envelope. Staked to the ground, the balloon, after several hours, plumped out and showed its bright colors against a gusty, light blue sky that was getting lighter blue all the time. It was now late afternoon of that day in late spring. Pieter was not exactly happy when the professor, normally quite cautious about such things, decided to go for it.
Feeling something like lead sink in his heart, he quit biting his nails and hurried to get the balloon aloft as ordered. Towering higher than many a building in New Amsterdam, the balloon soon dispelled his misgivings. Even a plain Dutch boy was captivated by the sheer beauty of something so colorful straining to fly free of all lines and anchors.
The professor, taking a string and securing his straw hat which had blown off the moment before, hopped in the wicker gondola. Pieter was last to get in, dragging his feet as if he couldn’t leave terra firma without a decent struggle. Without waiting, the balloon lifted off, following the breeze.
As the earth grew smaller to their eyes, the professor turned his attention to his instruments. He began furiously checking results and findings in his notebook. Meanwhile, Pieter, to gain altitude, pulled the lanyard attached to the burner valve. Flames erupted from the gas line into the balloon's mouth, and they rose ever higher.
Dr. Pikkard, between "burns," explained to Pieter the use of the fuel gauges, the variometer registering rise or fall, and their rate. Since they were new and thus highly susceptible to the English disease, a box of spare parts was essential gear on board, and the parts were a very odd assortment. A temperature gauge had lost its dial, so Dr. Pikkard had fixed a tinpot whistle which could alert Pieter when it was time to turn the burner on or off.
Dr. Pikkard slapped Pieter on the back. “Well, my boy, that’s all there’s to it. See how simple it is? That’s why I favor the balloon over the aeroplane, for it takes much less manual control or constant surveillance of the instruments, freeing me to do my observations.”
Flying along in the high Rockies with nothing but an eagle or two as companions, Pieter and the professor were minding their ballooning when, after an hour, the breeze increased to a definite red flag.
Pieter glanced with meaning at the professor, who caught the glance and did not look straight back down to his computations. They both knew that if they did not want to be blown straight to China, it was time to call it a day and spend the night in the basket on the ground. Holding his hat to his head, the professor ordered Pieter to take her down. Letting the temperature drop, the balloon went with it, and soon the professor spotted a spot between peaks. It wasn't much of a landing field, Pieter saw at once. Huge rocks jutted out on which they could come to grief in an instant. It would take an expert to slip through them to the little level ground just beyond.
"Yes! I see them plainly, my boy!" shouted the professor. He gave Pieter a reassuring slap on his shoulders. "Seeing the problem is half the solution! And I've been in far worse pickles."
Pieter closed his eyes, muttering something between a curse or a prayer. "Watch your young head!" laughed the professor, it seemed a bit nervously, as they swung crazily toward the two monoliths. "Their names are most quaint. That charmer with big white teeth is, according to my ballooning map, called Jack the Ripper," he said pointing to the right. "And the other is called Mae Van West, possibly an allusion to the ship-swallowing maelstrom of ancient Dutch mythology. But to rip us to pieces, they'll first have to catch their prey!"
"And Anne could hardly hold her horses, wanting to come along with us!" Pieter swore beneath his breath as they careened straight at the first balloon-gobbling rock. “She could have my place, if I had anything to say!”
Winds swirling with a roar and high-pitched screeches changed their direction. The balloon swept rapidly away from the looming Jack, but next threatened to pound them to pieces on the equally horrid Mae. The balloon-o-nauts were holding as hard as they could to leather grips inside the gondola when they hit the Mae, or, rather, she walloped them. Tumbling along the rock face of the monolithic rock, the fabric also caught on an outcropping--and Pieter's heart froze. A badly torn balloon would dump them, just beyond the meadow's edge, into a two thousand foot deep chasm.
Somehow they slipped off Mae without major damage. They were still alive! All they sustained was a bad fright as they drifted beyond the two killers to a landing.
"Well, I guess we'll spend the night here," remarked the professor breezily as they prepared for immediate landing in the meadow. For the master balloonist, brushes with destruction were all in a day's work. He went to replace his hat, then, testing the wind, decided against it and let his hair blow free. They were very low by now. The ground came up rough and mean toward the gondola. In fact, never had innocent, sweet wildflowers looked so menacing, so lethal Pieter, at a glance, saw they were not quite out of harm's way after all, and Mae must have thrown a backhanded curse.
The moment the gondola touched earth, plowing into rocks and alpine flowers, the jolting threw them both so violently Dr. Pikkard, his hat, pencil and notebook sailing with him, was flipped and thrown past Pieter out on the ground. Sliding and plowing along, the pitching gondola tried to throw Pieter too, but a stubborn Dutch streak wasn't about to let anything do that to him. He might break his neck or, worse, what remained of his legs, he thought. He hung on for dear life, uprooted wildflowers and dirt striking his face and getting in his mouth and eyes. The balloon and basket continued toward the edge of the meadow and the abyss. Dr. Pikkard, his teardrop glasses hanging from one ear, got up dazedly, shouted and started to run after it. A moment or two later the surprised and sputtering Pieter sailed free over the cliff. He was alone in the sky, gazing back down at the receding face of his employer.
"You're really in no danger, my boy! Just do what I taught you!" Dr. Pikkard called with all his lung power, just before Pieter passed from earshot. "Be sure and pull the vent line, not the--"
Half-blinded with a mass of dirt and flowers on his head, Pieter was in no condition at first to follow any instructions. Giving his head a furious shake, he got rid of the worst and was able to see again. The scene took his breath away. He looked out at peak after peak, thousands of them, from his eagle's aerie. At first his view was so stunning he almost forgot the real "pickle" the professor had put him in.
Without a sound, the balloon raced through the sky toward the tallest of the balloon-crunchers. The sight was so beautiful, Pieter was given the impression he could come to no harm, but as he gained on the peaks the impression died away to another, which was just the opposite--he was sure to come to harm!His hand steady on the blast valve, he waited and then shot a 12-foot flame into the balloon. She barely and agonizingly cleared the ugliest of the brutes that poked at him like a mad barber brandishing drawn razors at a non-paying customer.
Beyond lay vast meadows again, slopes of a colossus of unknown name. There he hoped to find his way safely to ground, if he could pitch into the right valley or mountain meadow. But no such luck! He was going too fast and sailed right by. The dying light threw a reddish glory against the next peaks where he hoped a landing-field could be found. The first peak came up fast, and Pieter had to think fast as he readied the balloon for "descent."
This time he pulled what he believed was the vent line when he saw what he thought fairly level ground flying toward him. Not knowing it was really the rip cord, he sent the balloon plummeting. It fell so fast that Pieter did not have time to realize his mistake. The gondola dropped like a stone, fabric whirling sickeningly like sodden laundry tangled up in clotheslines. It was the worst jam Pieter had been in since his tangle with the mill's drive shaft. Down he fell, then stopped with a jolt that made him bite his tongue. Caught on a rock that jutted out over the "landing-field"--actually a series of New Amsterdam-sized crevasses which could have swallowed him more times than he could count--the balloon held.
But for how long? The hapless balloon-o-naut swung in the breeze among the curious eagles and hawks, praying the balloon skin would hold until Dr. Pikkard could reach him with a rope.
Pieter still had no idea what had gone wrong. He went through the landing procedures in his mind. Since he had hours to think about his actions, he slowly realized he was at fault. He had pulled rip, not vent. Then he did a strange thing. The moment he faced the inescapable conclusion, he put the mistake out of mind as though he had never made it--which was odd considering how he could not forget when it was someone else's.
The balloon was soon repaired. The damage was, despite the hair-raising and tongue-biting experience Pieter received, surprisingly minimal. On their way again, they had no more trouble. At over 11,000 feet, floating above the mountains of North Brabant westward toward Reno, Pieter, swathed in blankets, had the best view of anyone on Earth. Dr. Pikkard, his straw boater tied to his head, used various instruments and then took copious notes with a pencil frosted white with his breath.
Every chance he had, he was attempting to determine if the planet's rotation had begun to speed up again--or, on the other hand, had it slowed? It was a very sensitive subject for him, since he guessed but had not been able to prove that the stabilization was only temporary and that it could go either way at any time.
"What is that bright light over there? Is it a star or comet?" Pieter asked, forgetting he should not interrupt the professor at his calculations. “And that dark streak, what is that?”
The professor looked up somewhat irritably from his frosty calculations and glanced briefly at the two spots where Pieter was pointing. "I don't know. And I don't have time right now to look it up in my star charts. Maybe later when I finish with this, if you don't mind!
Pieter continued to look at the light, which had grown somewhat in size while he was observing it. As it didn't seem to change size any more, he lost interest after a while and went to looking at other parts of the heavens for his old favorite among the constellations--the Prow of Argo.
To keep his word the professor put them down in the Rockies, at a point where the glaciers had not yet reached. First they toured the site of the Will Rogers temple. What remained after the bitterly-contested Anglo-Dutch wars left much to the imagination.
"My boy, take note of the fact that everything before we Dutch civilized the American continent is termed ‘Pre-Hollandian,’ for scholarly convenience. That, also note, doesn’t mean there wasn’t a high degree of culture in some of the inhabited spots. Here in this place, this particular culture must have been widespread, for there were three of these Rogers shrines in Ancient Pre-Hollandian North America," the professor said, his annoyance showing at the desolation of the scene. "The other two are down to the foundations. This is the last one to check out. It should have some of the machines--computers--the ancient culture used to do even ordinary bookkeeping and accounting."
But there was precious little to check--and no sign of any "computer." In the previous century a few die-hard British units, mostly secret service agents of a London firm, had used it as a fortified citadel after the Dutch, led by the stadholder and lady general Bosboom-Touissant, had already taken both coasts, as well as a slice of the Southwest and portions of the Midwest. Since requisitioned museum tanks could not negotiate the steep mountain slopes at the base of the tower, they stalled and then were taken out, one after the other, by enemy fire from the tower. Meanwhile, Dutch sappers undermined the bedrock beneath the memorial. Down it came, trapping and wiping out the Redcoats.
The operation was so conclusive that Dr. Pikkard, examining the site, could find no evidence of their ever being any technology beyond the Cave Man's. All the items inside of Pre-Hollandian America's greatest philosopher and thinker had been destroyed. Here in the relatively remote Rockies of the Brabants, Dr. Pikkard had reasonably expected something to disprove Pieter's prejudice. After a difficult walking-tour of the tank-littered grounds and the ruins of the tower, Dr. Pikkard headed for the balloon without a word.
There was little said on the trip to the next proof--the city of Norad, one of the region's many Pre-Hollandian ghost cities (agrarian cities of the plains, such as Eudora, state of "Kansas," furnishing little such hope of producing anything worth his visit!), only this was built entirely underground.
Explaining the strange, archaic mechanism to Pieter in terms he might understand, the professor led the way to the mountainside site to see if they might find an entrance to the dead 20th century city. But Norad had experienced an earthquake, and the entrance had half a mountain squatting on it. Something of a geologist, the professor was immediately interested. He scrambled about the house-sized rocks that had come down, rolled there apparently by giants just to keep them out of Norad.
When Pieter was sitting and eating lunch from the lunchbasket in the balloon, the professor came back, gasping in the high altitude, his straw boater tilted back precariously. "Eureka! I found what I was looking for. It's the fault-line. I can't believe it! They built the whole underground city along a clearly visible faultline running directly into the mountain."
Then his expression darkened a shade as he realized what he was saying. He shook his head. "You're still quite, demonstrably wrong, my boy, though the locations where I expected to turn up prime evidence have sadly failed me! I see I am mistaken about Norad too. Their building on a fault-line is definite proof that the preceding Pre-Hollandian American culture could commit stupendous blunders on occasion, even with their possession of the rather ingenious contraption called a computer!"
The professor sighed and shook his head again. He looked very disappointed. He removed his hat and wiped his forehead. "Mustn’t cry over spilt milk! We might as well get the balloon up and head for Reno!"
They flew to Reno, New Limburg, and landed without a hitch. Reno with all its glitter and grease-burger carnival atmosphere was of no scientific interest to the professor, of course, but it had a rail link. It was time to turn round and head back to New Amsterdam. Pieter had passed his course in ballooning--that is, he had lived through it and was now very much alive to its truly life-threatening potential.
The "blasted balloon" stowed in a hired baggage car of an outbound train, they found some time on their hands. The train wasn't scheduled to leave for four hours. The professor shrugged at the news and muttered something under his breath.
Surprised, Pieter followed Dr. Pikkard into a casino close by the depot. He entered a dim but garishly lit world beyond his imagination. Dutch and English interests, though principally Clarke Enterprises of London, had cannibalized old ruins and rebuilt a tumbleweed-littered ghost town Reno into something approaching old Pre-Hollandian splendor
To a plain-living Dutch youth, the Royal Wilhelmina had fulfilled his highest expectation of wealth, luxury, beauty. Now it appeared a small and shabby thing. Modeled on what an ancient poet had described as a "stately pleasure dome" of Kubla Khan, everywhere under sparkling, crystalline heights, the so-called "Xanadoo Pleasure Palace" was an immense circus that stretched level on level, some square, others in the round, filled with people, gambling tables, and exotic sights.
The building was immense, a Cyclops swallowing thousands. Reno was like no other place in Holland America. Not even Atlantic City could approach it. And New Amsterdam, on the busiest day, was a New Alkmaar in comparison. Yet Dr. Pikkard acted like he had seen it all before and knew where he was going, while Pieter, with his eyes bulging and his face flushed, kept bumping into people as he gaped at every new Jack Dutch thing.
Pools of fish, only the "fish" were sequined showgirls made up to look like mermaids. "A Kiss for Good Luck--$20--ONE PER CUSTOMER, MANAGEMENT RESERVES RIGHT TO DENY ANY PATRON" a sign said. They waved to Dr. Pikkard and Pieter as they passed, beckoning them with jeweled arms and glittering-nailed fingers. Acrobatic displays, right over the gaming tables. Stages set here and there, with full chorus lines, and voluptuous torch singers looking like Betti Bangles in white clinging gowns bent over grand pianos. For Pieter it was absolutely horrible, every bit of it.
The professor led the amazed and mortified Pieter through the maze and finally settled on a particular roulette table. It was the only one that was not surrounded on all sides by exotic shows of all types. "Ah! this is better, for I need to concentrate if I am to remember every detail of my perfect system," the professor confided with his usual humility to Pieter in a whisper.
The professor kept his "Coney" but removed his coat, rolled back his sleeves, and having already bought chips colored blue got to work. An hour later, before a tremendous crowd of spectators drawn from all parts of Xanadoo and even from adjoining casinos, "Professor Blue Chips" broke the bank.
Even the mermaids and sirens had forsaken their profitable coin-collecting pools
Later, their rifle-toting Pinkerton bodyguards paid off and dismissed, it was a pleasant train ride back to New Amsterdam, civilization, and Anne--all on solid ground. Only once they could have been in real danger when they were attacked by what looked like a White Indian gang using a museum army vehicle with an anti-tank laser gun from the 21st Century. They might have been blown off the tracks and incinerated, but the gang never did get the gun to fire and the train got to a tunnel and escaped.
The would-be train robbers must have jogged the professor's memory of his recent haul he had taken at the Xanadoo. He thanked Pieter for his help in disposing equal, Dutch shares of the money since, as he said, it was a delicate and dangerous undertaking in so wretchedly poor and desperate a community. On leaving the casino, after hiring a few Pinkertons for temporary duty, Dr. Pikkard had distributed largess to paperboys, shoeshinemen, flower sellers, street walkers, and plain down-and-out gambling addicts in the casino's vicinity--just anyone with visible need of cash, in fact.
Then they had gone to the sole charity in town. The Poor Clares of St. Thomas, ministering to the sick and poor in the shanties behind the casinos and the glare of neon, received the last half of the money-- $500,000 in Dutch gold pieces. Mary Constantinopolis, the brave mother superior, took the money with many blessings, saying she had prayed for that exact amount to come in so that she might establish branch Clares among the now “Imperial” Aztekan Indians, answering a call to minister to the downtrodden, persecuted mestizos and Spanish-blooded classes. All this time Pieter’s face looked a picture of shock and disgtust. Dr. Pikkard winked at Pieter after they had settled into the train. “I know what you’ve been thinking about me!”
He looked down the coach to see if the coast was clear enough for what he needed to say to the scandalized youth.
"I wasn't ever going to use my system again," he explained. "Gambling is a vice that no longer has a grip on me, thank God. But it was not always so. You see, as a young man like you I was determined to make my fortune. With an inkblot memory I could absorb everything every devised by the mind of man to gain my objective. An English liner sank with my parents aboard. The estate was settled on me, with an attorney in his dotage to look after it and me. I was fourteen and, wanting to learn something of the middle provinces, I left New Am and applied at the University of Antwerp. They turned me down, saying I was too young to matriculate. Absolute poppycock! I then challenged the curriculum, saying I would take all the tests for my degree if they wouldn't take me as a student immediately. I was so impatient in those days to 'get ahead.' Though it was against their own bylaws, the regents refused me again. New Amsterdam had already done the same to me. Where was I to turn. I didn't want to trek to Europe to look for a school there, so I decided I would spend the time instead giving Reno a run for its money."
The professor shook his head and smiled. "Fortunately, on the train to Reno an old man had a chance to talk me out of it. He was a priest, belonging to the "Brotherhood of St. Thomasos," as the saint is called in the southern hemisphere, and he said he was returning from a visit to his ailing sister in New Amsterdam. I argued and argued, but he got the best of me by saying that everyone has one true destiny, and just getting rich and famous was not worth obtaining if it meant losing true fulfillment and happiness. ‘You can win the whole world, son, and lose your fare on the old Glory Train!’ he said to me. How could I say he did not know what he was talking about.
Lose my seat on the ‘Heaven-Bound Train’? That didn’t sound like something I really wanted to do. At fourteen, I realized I had a lot to learn about life. If I had only known how much!
Hearing this, Pieter lost interest in the Old West scenery and gazed at his employer with new eyes. It seemed, momentarily at least, that Dr. Pikkard was, in some way, a brother or twin, with as good a heart as any plain Dutch boy could boast. Only he, unlike his employer, had a gristmill in his background, which to his mind was something far worse than being turned down by a university. And the professor had revealed that he was a gambler, his hands soiled with filthy lucre!
Dr. Pikkard sighed, folding his money-contaminated hands on his belly. He put his feet up on the footrest in front of him in the more than generous leg-room provided.
"Only when something no longer stands to benefit you, you can probably do it without getting stained. That is just a little wisdom for you. But so far I haven't told you the reason for our breaking the bank. We were being followed, dear boy. I had to create a genuinely BIG diversion for them so we could safely get away. And was it not big enough?"
Pieter's eyes were bigger than they had been at the fabulous Xanadoo as he stared at Dr. Pikkard. What did he mean they were followed? Who was following them? He glanced too hastily around. But all appeared train passengers like themselves--though many looked discouraged as if they had been busted by the casinos of Reno.
Pieter would have liked to ask questions about it, but the winner of a million-dollar pot shut his eyes to take a nap. The professor muttered a few more words just before he dropped off. "We're here safe and sound, aren't we? So it must have worked. And it provided the perfect justification for the Pinkertons. I never could have hired guards just for our safe passage without letting 'them' know I was on to 'them'."
A conductor brought papers to the passengers. Dr. Pikkard spied his own picture and story on the cover. It covered his amazing escape from a cliff in the Rockies, completely changing the events in which Pieter had primarily figured.
Dr. Pikkard shook his head when reading the report. He turned to Pieter, who normally never cared that someone else got the 'glory.' This time, however, he was very upset, but kept it to himself. "How those reporters like to change facts to suit their story angle! But nice pickle that was I got you into! If this will comfort you, my boy, the value of such training flights cannot be reckoned. At least now you know the difference between vent and rip!"
"Yes, Meinheer." Pieter said nothing more as he looked out on mesquite and yucca and then more mesquite and yucca. The professor, after opening his box of memories, returned to doing his dull primes. The train route began to drop in elevation as they entered the Great Plains and Pieter's expression turned glum. Despite some horrifying experiences, he was already feeling sorry they were heading back. Instead of thinking how nice it was to enjoy the good lunches Anne ordered up from the Wilhelmina's kitchens, he thought how wonderful it was to get away for a while from primes and cats and gamesets! As for Anne, he naturally felt sorry for her too, only for a different reason.
The LADY ANNE, a tribute to the professor's jaguar-slaying niece, was a very seaworthy, titanium-hulled bathysphere, or bathyscaph, built to plumb the depths. Discovered and pulled from thick woods at Van Naghead, it was cleaned and scrubbed and the unneeded exterior features removed. Some lettering, “NAG--” and “Minn” were also removed and the new name painted on by the bathysphere’s namesake herself.
As Anne herself hated submersion, she hadn't insisted very much about going along before Pieter became an assistant. Now she had a complete change of attitude.
On their way, Dr. Pikkard described the remarkable bathyscaph which the ancients of the land had built and discarded for unknown reasons many years before. He said it was only speculation, but perhaps it was found too small for the ancient Americans, whose bones showed that they had stood at least a head taller than the average Holland American.
Overhauled, it was his submersible deepsea vessel for research on the sea bottom. The cabin was small, spherical, and pressurized, suspended beneath a cigar-shaped flotation hull that the professor had designed. Henri de Tagus would fill the tanks in the hull with gasoline, leaving some space for air to keep the bathyscaph buoyant before diving. All they needed to take her down was to vent the air and let seawater takes its place. The seawater entered from the bottom, mixing with the gasoline and compressing it, thus giving more and more weight to the descending craft. Their descent rate was controlled by releasing iron ballast. To reverse the process and ascend, the professor explained how all they needed to do was release the remaining iron ballast. As the vessel ascended, the gasoline would expand, forcing out the seawater and thus lightening the bathyscaph further. Beneath the surface, they could use battery-powered motors to move about, and the craft was equipped with powerful floodlights.
Oceanus Atlanticus, the object of Pieter's "matriculation in the Technical College of Oceanography," had an average depth of nearly 5,000 feet and was black as coal. So the professor told him. Even though Pieter saw at once, looking at the bathyscaph, that it was a work of genius, the deep-sea neophyte had to wonder if she (and they) would survive the plunge. He was quite concerned until the professor gave him various Euclidean calculations governing the construction, and only then was he assured.
After Henri Tagus's surface support ship carried the bathysphere out to the diving site, once in the water, they were virtually on their own. The boat captain, a titled but impoverished Portuguese immigrant, had to work hard for a living. Somehow he had scraped up enough for a boat. Reliable and always ready to serve the professor's bathyscaphing "whims," as he saw them, he proved old-fashioned and slightly superstitious in ways and wouldn't let Anne or any female (human or animal) set foot on his deck, saying the ship would be forever jinxed.
"I might as well shoot every holy albatross on sight!" he declared to all when she had attempted to board back at New Amsterdam. "We'll be doomed, I tell you!"
"I'm going down, aren't I, Oom?" Anne insisted. "I won't make a peep while you work, I promise, the whole time!"
"Women belong in the home, to cook and scrub and mind children!" demanded an equally determined skipper.
"NO!" responded the outraged Anne. "Don't listen to this sardine-gulping fool!"
Only her uncle's presence saved the captain, stout man that he was, from the wrath of the professor's jaguar-slaying niece. And he had a way of explaining, too, that mollified Anne and kept her out of Henri Tagus's salty locks.
After a quiet talk with her, Anne stomped away. "All right, I'll go! I'll go!" she cried with terribly unladylike and childish ill grace over her back. "But, Oom, you owe me something big for this favor! You can't get off just by naming the damn thing after me!"
In fact, he saw precious little in the Atlantic to recommend it. Reminding him of stretches of New Alkmaar, all he viewed were vistas of gray mud called the Globigerina Ooze. The sloping muck was replaced at 3,000 feet by a more interesting red clay of meteoric and volcanic origin. At least the professor thought it of interest. Reaching bottom in mid-ocean, 3,432 feet down, they made their first great discovery.
And it was truly great, for it was something absolutely new and unknown.
They saw the Abyss venting hot rivers from out of a central seam or volcanic rift, which was spreading outwards, pushing out glowing material, as they looked at it. It had put out so much material it had filled what looked to be a canyon of vast dimensions set with two seamounts in the center. At this point Pieter began to scan things through the view port with revived interest. Dr. Pikkard rapidly scribbled on his big clipboard notepad, flipping page after page. “According to an old map this site is supposed to be 8,300 feet down,” the professor commented. “Their calculations were off 4, 868 feet, which shows the ancients were not very good at mathematics.”
Pieter got his eyes full of the strangeness of the deep--creatures of all kinds flourishing in the sea-warming, highly mineralized water. The amount of life was astounding. He had expected to see nothing more than mud, mud, mud. Where there would normally have been no life at all, a spider crab ten or more feet across. Massed millions of tube-dwelling worms eight or nine feet long. Flowerlike sea anemones. Eels. Hatchetfish. Monster rat-tailed fish. A wrass the size of a truck. Mounds from which tentacles could be seen protruding, disappearing quickly on their approach. Luminous rings as large as the bathysphere which turned out to be the open mouths of unknown shark species.
Not only were huge colonies of foot-long deepwater clams thriving in the heated, rich mineral waters, but the whole planet, Dr. Pikkard observed, was being warmed by at least four underwater Amazons springing from Earth's hot exposed core. One river was at that moment sending the Lady Anne hurtling across the ocean floor at 25 knots. Dr. Pikkard had an inspiration. He decided to name the river on the spot, appropriately while in transit and not back in his office-suite in New Amsterdam.
Fortunately, Dr. Pikkard never went anywhere without three items: his straw boater, his wingless and very spoiled sparrow, and a library of scholarly and theological books. Since even with his glasses he had trouble with fine print, so he tossed an English translation of the Bible to Pieter--one of the few still in existence. "Use my decoder, a little invention of mine from college days. Works for languages of most any kind and even English, the most illogical of them all."
Pieter held the ingenious instrument over the text, and though he had never used it before it worked without his having to know a thing about it. Recorded and translated, the words came up plainly in a strip of glass that conveniently magnified them for easier reading. He was told to read just those verses the professor indicated with checks of his pencil.
Sorry he had to tear his eyes off the port window, Pieter began to read, haltingly at first but more fluently as he got on to the convenient syllabication, another feature of the instrument.
Dr. Pikkard wrote the name "Pishon" down, noting its location with a number of calculations.
In this manner, as Pieter continued to read, stop, and go at the professor's cue, the four rivers of the Abyss were named Pishon, Gihon, Tigris, and Euphrates. Afterwards, the professor relaxed a notch and sat back, balancing his dainty gilt and satin French chair on two bending legs. He told Pieter to help himself to a handful of French chocolates from a fancily decorated tin and throw some special sesame seedcake to his sparrow. They were celebrating, he said, the discovering and christening of the abysmal rivers!
Pieter took a chocolate without much enthusiasm. He was not particularly fond of sweets, though he had had precious little of the luxury growing up. As for Icarus, Pieter made sure he got only his usual allotment of three and a half sunflower seeds for his between meals treat. And it was some time since the sparrow had known velvet for a cage liner. Pieter thought honest Dutch burlap good enough.
"Science has taken note of late of the unusual abundance of sea-life along this longitude, but," Dr. Pikkard rattled off in dry, clipped accents, "as yet no theory has been devised to explain it. That is why we are here, to attempt to provide the observation for an explanation! At least that is one, the official reason for our being here. Then there is your training. And then there is--"
He glanced at Pieter, but said no more, particularly about his possible other reasons. Being well versed in ancient mythology and philosophy, the professor discussed the question in more detail with Pieter when they paused from the work of observation to snatch their lunch of tea and pastry. The drinkables could have been a problem to heat. Yet the professor's trove of inventions again came in handy.
The tea urn was heated cleverly by chemical action in a cat-shaped pot of the professor's design. It was the third one of its kind so far--new, they soon fell apart.
Being so close to the great man--for he was beginning to realize he was truly great--Pieter had ample opportunity to study his employer in detail. Though not acute in observation, the plain Dutch youth could not help noticing how Dr. Pikkard had a way of pinching the upturned ends of his mustache when he grew excited.
"All great men who run around in balloons and diving bells must do queer things like that," Pieter thought in all simplicity, who was actually more impressed by his employer than he was by the Atlantic.
The professor was pinching his mustaches almost furiously now, for Pieter, when he wanted, could be a good listener even when his mouth was full of excellent pastry. Perhaps it was the straw boater the professor wore. On the dim and metallic glow of the chocolate-scented bathysphere, Pikkard's animated, mustachioed face looked just like a carnival barker's, extolling marvels yet to unfold before the yokelry, yet since Pieter had never been to a circus he could not make any such comparison.
"This is what greatness looks like. Never has there been such a scientist!" Pieter concluded, though he still had no real means of comparison. "Only why doesn't a genius like him look and act more like a proper Dutchman?" he wondered. He had to agree with the niece's somewhat shocking assessment.
That was what bothered him, more and more. Half or more of the things the “genius professor” did scandalized the plain Dutch boy in Pieter. The golden image had two big clay feet. Unlike Anne, Pieter did not like clay feet on a man. In his mind they did not fit his image of a proper Dutchman at all.
"It may be nonsense or it may not be," continued Dr. Pikkard to Pieter, finally taking a less scientific tack in order to keep the youth's interest and, hopefully, lead him to firm scientific ground later on, "I wonder, as many have wondered before me, if there actually were an Atlantic island continent named Atlantis--the so-called White Land because of white limestone girdling its coasts like England's Dover. It was supposed to be the cat's pajamas of all civilization, and now it lies, according to old accounts, somewhere beneath the ocean of its name. Ancient philosophers, Plato chief among them, wrote that Atlantis blew up in volcanic explosions--upheavals from the planet's unstable core which are, obviously, still active in warming the planet. And, mind you, these subterranean fires might one day break out again in all their old fury. A match, if you please?"
Too plain in his thinking, Pieter was not at all interested in an old pagan place called "Atlantis," or the idea civilization might have gone downhill since earlier times. Nor did he see any humor in the professor's solemn request for the match in those circumstances. The humor also escaped the professor. Pieter solemnly lit the antique meerschaum pipe.
Since fire was involved, this could not be done with hazardous chemicals. Because of the closeness of their quarters, having learned from some previous disasters along that line and incinerated assistants, the professor allotted himself only two or three puffs before applying a candle snuffer. The rest of the time the professor contentedly savored the unlit pipe while he considered his latest discovery. He seemed to be answering his own unspoken question, as if he had asked how much his mid-Atlantic vents would affect the scientific community.
"Very little!" he concluded with grim realism. He spent some time knocking out his pipe in a priceless Ming dynasty ceramic vase a Dutch dealer from Surinam, who had claimed it came from a London museum, had let it go for a fraction of its value.
After his virtually smokeless smoking break, it was time to return to the surface. When they finally opened the Lady Anne's hatch and Pieter felt the cold, sea air break on his face, he gasped with relief. Once again the plain Dutch boy had beaten the odds. As an assistant, he had survived yet another close encounter with the tremendous force of nature called Dr. Pikkard, compared to which diving to the ocean depths and coming back alive was nothing.
On their return to town, the professor's accounts of the "Atlantis Hot Water Vent System" were soon published at his own expense, but elicited little interest and quite a lot of raised eyebrows in his own academic circle. The University did not appreciate his researches at all, regarding them as egotistic whistle-blowing, and a public nuisance. Although an earlier crack-down had failed abysmally, some still thought it was high time police applied the law again against the professor's deep sea endeavors.
If his spurious “mule-salvage” license could be revoked, he could then be stopped cold. All they needed was to indicate to the judge that he had time and again shown his contempt for New Amsterdam's blue laws prohibiting work and extensive travel on the Sabbath.
Outside academia, however, there was an entirely different reaction. On the ever-growing underside of Dutch society, tabloid newspaper editors in Sin City's bustling Grub Street, catching wind of the professor's abysmal vents, took up the ever popular story of Atlantis, a subject the professor was hoping could be avoided by publishing a scholarly treatise no one in the streets would think to read. Bowery Life, Flatlander Gaieties, the Knickerbocker Slemp Bowl were just a few of the very popular and racy rags that headlined the professor's discoveries , displacing the latest Hollywood star scandals.
But even if, for instance, the Knickerbocker Slemp Bowl editor had not set eyes on the treatise, he had heard the title somehow. In his paper's following issues, the readership hotly debated the question in letters. A hothead or two even proposed to the public that the bathysphere be equipped with dynamite, to see if artifacts of the ancient Pre-Hollandian civilization of Atlantis---those of monetary value, of course--might not be blown to the surface where a flotilla of boatmen from New Amsterdam could gather them up in nets.
"It's wonderful what yellow journalism can come up with!" snorted the professor, hearing of the dynamite fellow. "Maybe we can set off the vent system and blow ourselves all up with the aforementioned valuable artifacts!"
Scorned and shunned all the more by his scientific colleagues and the New Amsterdam university once the sensational news of Atlantis hit the tabloid newsstands, Dr. Pikkard actually was very sorry he had mentioned the vents for the good of science. Penny tabloids claimed he had not only discovered Atlantis but had mapped the capital, Poseidonia and taken pictures of mile after mile of "pleasure palaces." The writers also claimed that the professor had verified the theory that the Dutch Antilles had been an integral part of Atlantis, the portion called "Antilia," which like the rest of the island continent sank and left only mountain summits exposed as islands.
Not only that, he had loaded his bathyscaph up with "treasure," the word keep appearing again and again, for the supposed priceless artifacts of temples and palaces, spirited off for his own enrichment!
Crowds of vagabonds and ne'er-do-wells began to collect outside the Wilhelmina despite a cordon of Pinkertons, all clutching issues of Knickerbocker Slemp Bowl, demanding Dr. Pikkard and a look at his treasures. He was now so famous the city would have given him a Dutch version of a ticker tape parade if the now thoroughly alarmed City Fathers had not squelched the idea.
Dr. Pikkard wrote letters of strong protest to the editors involved. No, he had not reported sighting tall columns of porphyry shaped like beautiful young women--"Evidence that the royal palace of Atlantis and the famed caryatid columns of the Royal Harem had been found is a complete fabrication of someone's badly inflamed imagination! And as for naming my diving instrument after an empress of Atlantis, 'Anne' happens to be my niece and, as far as I know, doesn't have a drop of royal Atlantean blood in her!"
Yes, he had seen volcanic formations that resembled classical Greek columns and architraves. Yes, inside them, he had observed forms of giant figures in the rock of the sea floor as though statues had been carved and then lifted out. But all such things were freaks of nature, that was all. As for the temple treasure he was supposed to have looted, he had never done any such thing! He demanded that those who had made such charges show themselves before a legal court of inquiry or kindly shut up.
His corrections came too late. The public knew him forever after as the "Discoverer of the Lost Continent"--the discoverer who had made himself as rich as Croesus with the pelf of Atlantis!
Hapless, squalling infants across the land were named August and Augustina, as if the connection would be enriching. Replicas of Dr. Pikkard's bathysphere, cast in bronze and gilded copper, with bare-breasted "virgin priestesses of Atlantis" holding pens or pencils inscribed "Fabled Atlantis and Goddesses of Love Discovered By Modern Science Hero," sold everywhere at five and dime stores.
Opulent Atlantis-styled casinos rose up in Reno despite the dearth of funds everywhere else for new buildings. Even a giant dirigible of ancient but durable German make, taken from a museum, was re-christened Atlantis supposedly in Dr. Pikkard's honor.
Truly, after all the victim suffered in the hullabaloo, if the professor had been able to do it all over, he would have kept his own mouth shut. The North Brabant Rockies rescue incident and newspaper coverage had been more than enough publicity for Dr. Pikkard.It was thus gratifying to think he had not divulged his greatest find, beside which the vents paled to insignificance. For he had discovered in further calculations that the ancients were not so ignorant as it first appeared. Perhaps, in past eons, the Atlantic seafloor had been as deep as 8,300 feet! From his observations and projections based on them, he had detected a great increase in elevation of the sea floor, along with rapid movement of both new and old material toward both east and west compass points. It was substantial and widespread enough to warrant a hypothesis, to the effect that there would someday occur a major outbreak of the magma beneath the Earth's crust and the probable creation or re-creation of an island continent, which might as well, due to its location, be called “Atlantis.” Truly, the word "cataclysm" might describe happenings in the next three or four centuries at the latest, though the event might come any time. At the rate of upward movement, a new continent might erupt above the surface of the Atlantic in a mere century or two!
This he had hinted of in his remarks to Pieter, who forgot all about what he had said. As closely as he could, he had brought the Lady Anne to the rising seafloor without exciting Pieter's attention any further, who was dozing at the moment. Too soon he had to be content with his calculations because the terrific current of hot water quickly blew them up and away from the evidence.
This latest and probably greatest discovery, of course, was best kept confidential in his research papers, he decided. It could only fan antagonisms that were already at flash point among the encrusted, barnacle-like academic communities of New Amsterdam and New Antwerp. The furor had all started when he submitted his doctoral dissertation on world Dysgenics, incorporating his findings that significant declines and degeneration had taken place in society, industry, and in the "shelf-life" of all newly manufactured products.
When the university board was not able to disprove him, they granted him a provisional "Doctor of Post Graduate Studies" degree and a teaching position without acknowledging his epochal dissertation. His protests were ignored, and there the matter had stood until his continued researches provoked more and more opposition from the university. Citing his controversial researches as a disruption of universally recognized and established views formally held by the university, they declared their regret that they would longer require his services on the staff. When he immediately applied to the University of Antwerp, which had a significant number of non-Dutch faculty, he expected a different response, but instead he was reminded of the sister university's decision and not very politely shown the door.
As for the vents, they were rejected as he had fully expected. The vents had been the least of the things he had observed. What if he had mentioned any of them?
Well, it did not matter to him what they thought, because they, not he, had purposely deprived themselves of the key to understanding what was happening to the Earth. And now he had a further proof in hand that whatever had brought on the "English disease" had radicalized the dynamics of the Earth's rotation and the magna core itself. One glance at what was happening beneath the Atlantic was explanation enough for all the earthquakes suffered by humanity during the past two or three centuries. No wonder there was no progress! The upheavals alone were enough to shake everything to pieces.
"Truly," he concluded in writing his account of it, "despite some evidence of “reconstruction” and “continental upwelling at one particular site, I believe I am seeing a pattern of almost complete 'deconstruction' of the planet, and yet everyone thinks I am a fool! Well, we'll see who has the last word on this! They can't stop titanic forces of geology once set in motion!"
Let them hide their fool heads in the sand! he thought. Evidence was showing up everywhere he looked! Even Earth's glaciers, disturbed by the same thing that was upsetting everything else, should be able to furnish him abundant proof once the data from all the continents was tabulated. But why did he need more proof than he already had that something catastrophic and incredibly devious was at work? He could not help himself. Ever since he was a boy and had picked up one bottle too many of milk and it had fallen apart in his hands, there was no escape for him. He had to find out the reason, though twenty million other human beings accepted it as an act of divinely-ordained Nature and meekly submitted to the mess, inconvenience, and waste of good Dutch milch.
They got out of the mishap safely but the balloon and gondola tore to pieces. Pieter and Dr. Pikkard were temporarily stranded on a glacier and had to take shelter in an ice cave. Waiting for the storm to pass, they had time to talk. Actually, Pieter was silently biting his nails, a habit that drove his employer up the wall to observe, so he got a conversation going to divert his assistant. The older man discussed the signs of cannibalism in the cave. Evidently, they had not been the only people caught by alpine storms in the area.
Pieter was very affected when he found a head of a man with an ice pick still embedded in it. Pieces of the victim lay about, some still deeply grooved in a strange way, and, most strangely, his clothes and belongings--a priest's black robe, a cross and chain, missal, shoes, stockings, underclothing, and spectacles with "English disease-free" ivory rims--had been neatly arranged in a corner.
"With no fire, they had to resort to just their teeth," the professor remarked, a grim look in his eyes. Fortunately, the storm keeping the balloonists trapped soon wore out. They stepped outside the ice cave, and were soon hurrying down from the mountain to safety. The clouds even cleared enough to reveal the mountain's twin peak, Kastor.
As they paused to rest a moment, Pieter, still disturbed, had to question the older man about the nightmare in the cave. "What could make people do something like that? How could they act like wild animals? I just don't believe it was people who did that. There was an accident. That is all. "
The professor did not answer for a moment. He seemed to be thinking about the problem. He smiled. "It's not so simple as that, I'm afraid. We are all 'civilized,' my boy, or like to think we are. However, everyone of us is capable of perpetrating what you saw back there in the glacial cave. Besides, I should think a priest would make fine eating!"
Pieter was shocked to the core. "Never! I could not do something like that, Meinheer!"
The professor smiled again, more thinly. "Never? Oh, how can you tell now, when you are not faced with the dire necessity of preserving your own life? We all may do things, under great, unendurable pressure, to save our skins at the expense of another person's. What if we had been trapped there for days and weeks. Might I not have been reduced to eating you, or you me?"
Pieter shook his head, good, upright, stubborn Dutchman that he was. The question was just too outrageous for him to think about any further.
The professor, realizing Pieter’s perimeters had been crossed, looked away, then stood up. It was time to go. The light was waning and the wind off the near glacier blew dark and chill even though it was now green and summery in the valleys further down.
"Just one word more, my boy. We were very lucky we didn't have to stay there and find out what each of us might have been forced to do to stay alive. Others were not so lucky, as you saw yourself with your own eyes. But there is one safeguard for us, now that I think of it, that may help us in really tight circumstances where we may be tempted to do the wrong thing. Think of life like a game. No, you don't like games much, do you? You don't even like the word. Yet allow me to put it this way: it's not what you win or lose, or even how much. It's simply how you choose to win or lose. In conclusion, that's what makes the difference, when you find yourself trapped in an ice cave with no ORDINARY food. After all, real ogres seldom entrap believers unless deceived."
Now feeling very put upon, Jan Pieterzoon van de Wordt privately took exception. The professor was right about only one thing: he certainly did not want to think of life like a game. And he wasn't prepared to accept the ogre in himself or anyone else. Nevertheless, he thought about Dr. Pikkard's words as they walked down from Pollux, but he still could not connect the horror in the ice cave with how he would choose to play the game of life. After all, winning and losing were definite things. How he chose to win didn't matter, as long as he won. Since that was so, with his good Dutch heart he knew beyond doubt he couldn't ever go wrong.
That much was for certain, he thought confidently. Even a great man such as the professor could be dead wrong, he concluded. After all, he had never worked in a mill and experienced how rough life could be. He had always slept between real linen sheets without TOOTLE’S stamped all over.
Whatever incident sparked it was soon forgotten. But Pieter would not forget what was said, as well as done.
The professor, on the boat back to New Amsterdam, turned with two sticks in hand. He offered them to Pieter. “Bend them, my boy, and see which is the stronger.”
Mystified, Pieter did as he was instructed. One snapped immediately. The other was willow, and try as he might he could not get it to break.
“Now which is stronger?” prompted the professor.
Pieter frowned and said it was the second stick, the willow.
“It bends more than the other, Meinheer.”
“Can you apply that lesson to life?”
“You mean bending is the same as being strong?”
Pieter looked altogether lost.
“Why should I bend, Meinheer? What do you mean?”
Dr. Pikkard, would-be mentor, rapped his forehead. “I’m knocking on inpenetrable wood, I guess. Now listen carefully, my boy. We've got to get something clear, and I had hoped I could get my meaning across without words. Well, I see I can’t. I can tell what you think by just observing your expressions and reactions, and you’re moving ever closer toward, let we phrase it, a “polite contempt” for me. Well, I don't care what you privately think of me as long as it doesn't affect the generally fine quality of your assistance. Only I must add to what I said back at Mount Pollux. Do you recall? I can repeat every word, but I don't believe that's necessary. We were having a disagreement about the goodness of man. I don't hold to it. You do. That is your perfect right.
But I must advise you, as the older and senior partner in this work relationship, that evidence supports me and all you have is prejudice and the passing good-heartedness of your callow youth. That won't be enough to carry you through life.
Your ship will founder and go down, and the sharks will get you if you aren't careful. Anyway, you should have gotten the drift of things by now, but you haven't. That's why I need to say this again in a clear fashion, so there will be no confusion on your part. This world, this society, this humanity of which you and I are representatives, is going straight to the bottom, to utter destruction. It is in catastrophic decline.
I mean to find out exactly why before I die. Since you signed on to help me, you really signed on to help me find this very thing for which I am doing all this research and endangering both our lives and all our limbs. I look upon all the work of the past twenty years to be only preparation for the present investigations. There are even more ramifications, decidedly sinister, that I could tell you, but I don't want to frighten you unnecessarily.
This humble and somewhat picaresque quest of mine is not a rich fool's eccentricity.
We may never agree about man's innate goodness or badness, but do you understand what we are about with the balloon, the diving bell, and anything else the search for the truth requires?"
Never had the professor been so clear about his professional life work. He had intended to be completely candid. But absolute clearness is not always desirable or even fair in an already strained situation where one side cannot give a millimeter without shattering beyond repair.
"My boy, the so-called 'English disease' is not a pathogenic agent at all but is something entirely new to human experience. Whatever it is, the unknown nemesis has brought on the following disastrous conditions and pre-conditions:
1. it has re-started prematurely a return to an Ice Age by which we see such things as the frozen Van Niagara Falls in our own locality.
2. speeded up the planet's rotation and shortened the week by about thirty one hours;
3. it will soon raise another continent to the surface in the mid-Atlantic as a result of sub-oceanic continental collision; and
4. it is bringing about disturbances by stimulating magnetic forces at three sites on the Earth's surface that will precipitate a polar shift and a magnetic cataclysm on a scale to tear the planet apart;
5. it has already effectively reversed the pattern of human history and linear development of culture and technology; and
6. I will continue to look closely at the sun, for some initial observations of mine have indicated conditions are developing there that could create an unimaginably great expansion called a nova. There are other significant effects, affecting the star-systems beyond our own, perhaps even those that are psychological, moral, or spiritual, which authorities who are qualified to do so should add them to the list.
I don't need to explain these things now. Just keep them in mind as we conduct our researches. Now, after saying all this, do you see why I think it is so important that we discover the cause of the English disease? What it has done to man-made and mechanical things is significant in comparison.
If only I could get a better handle on it! All I see are the results, the footprints, and the beast itself continues to elude me! You know the fine old Dutch saying, 'Nature abhors a vacuum.'
Well, my boy, it seems to me an immense hole of some kind has been created on Earth and something inconceivably alien and destructive has come in to fill it.
It is our task to find and identify that hitherto 'inconceivable alien something'.
And, strangest of all, I get the distinct impression that Earth is being reconstructed into something radically different as the same time as it is being torn apart--a sort of thesis and anti-thesis in deadly collision, you might say."
No, Pieter could not say. All the time the professor was speaking, Pieter held his gaze and tried to show no emotion, but inside he was boiling. There was much about the professor's research he did not comprehend, but he could not have disagreed more with the professor's views about Dutch people and society going backwards and backwards.
And if his employer chose to waste his money and resources on such a foolish and needless investigation as he had just set forth, then that was his right. But what was someone from New Alkmaar, anxious to keep away from it forever, to say in response?
He felt just like a slave in some hateful foreign land, perhaps “Merrie England,” bowing cap off and chin to the ground before some arrogant titled master. His own employer had gone too far. Dare he rebel and stand up for his blood-bought, plain Dutch liberty? No, not just yet, he decided, recalling an earlier incident back at the old mill in which he had asserted himself.
Then he had lost nearly two legs when he stood up for himself.
What would he stand to lose if he confronted Dr. Pikkard? He wasn’t yet prepared to risk his paying job--not when he had no other alternative to the gristmill.
He slowly nodded instead, to show that he was listening attentively. That was the very best he could do in the circumstances, having no words he could find to express his own yet unorganized position without endangering job and future prospects. What did "nova," and such mean to him? Absolutely nothing. It was the job that mattered, the job that buttered his daily bread, the job...
On his side, the professor shook his own head, got up, and went to look out at the waves.
A few minutes later, as the Channel was rough and windy that day, he came carrying Pieter a big mug of plain hot cocoa from the galley. He also awarded Pieter a complementary copy of his own publishing, an edition of Isaac Newton's dot-system calculus. Marshmallows? They had perished along with a multitude of other equally frivolous, Jack Dutch things in A.D. 2170.
Pieter, in a low voice, thanked Dr. Pikkard for the cocoa after giving the two demonstration sticks of wood a kick over the side. They sat sipping from mugs and watched the ugly way the wind sheared off the tops of the waves. Unknown to them, it was a much shorter crossing--the channel had shrunk so much England and France were being rejoined as they had been in the preceding Ice Age.
“Sorry if I said things lately that offended you,” said the professor. “I tend to get carried away at times, don’t I?”
Pieter glanced quickly at him, but did not respond.
“I suppose I’m trying to pass too much of my own philosophy of life on to you, and you’re not ready. You need to find things out for yourself. But I can’t forget the time I was at loose ends in my life, roaming the country to find my purpose in life, I guess. Finally, I ended up in the countryside near Minnpaul--a miserable area to be miserable in. I was just passing a church without a hope in the world when I heard a man’s voice through the door, which someone going out had left ajar. I caught only a few words, but I went in to hear the rest. It was the preacher speaking, and I will never forget his words:
The master balloonist had the finest machine shop in New Amsterdam and the tools to get up anything he ordered. Back from the Alps, the uproar over Atlantis (and the Cave of Cannibals with the professor's unpleasant follow-up lecture) eventually dying down, the professor and his assistant went to take her up. The new hot air balloon lifted off on schedule, Anne seeing them go up.
To Pieter she seemed very upset about something, and it bothered him more than it might have because he still hadn't gotten over his employer's word of admonition in mid-ocean. In his behalf, it should be said the pressure of events had increased, to the point where he really had no time for feminine conumdrums.
Dr. Pikkard intended to steer for New Zeeland, but the weather pattern had changed on them. He saw they would never get there by balloon. Well, the brave man decided to let the wind carry them north and hoped a change in weather would sweep them out to sea. Heni Tagus following, they might reasonably hope to be sighted, though they would be but a pinpoint in the vast stretches of sea and sky. Yet even that was preferable to sailing over land. Aside from a few, widely scattered native Inuit camps on Labrador’s coast, further north they were entirely on their own.
Pausing at his exercises to rest, Pieter glanced at the professor in his work station. His eyes dropped and lit on certain initials, D. V. J., chiseled into the wood of the folding worktable. Besides being a fast talker and a womanizer, the professor's former assistant had shown himself handy with a knife. Already, Pieter had found the initials cut in a hundred places, in the professor's offices on door lintels, in the balloon shed, even on a leg of the Wilhelmina's Grand Piano.
The bored graffiti artist was now gone forever from Dr. Pikkard's life, but his immortality, like Kilroy's, was assured. What caught Pieter's attention most was the utmost fastidiousness the fellow had used in calligraphy, even adding scrolled flourishes above and below the letters that resembled skulls and crossbones of pirates. Obviously, he was bored to tears serving Dr. Pikkard and had to kill a lot of time. Finding himself half-frozen by the time he had finished looking at D. V. J.'s bid for fame, Pieter went back to his body thumping gyrations with a vengeance.
Toward the end of one Arctic night, slowly drifting north northeast, it was so cold even Professor Pikkard's Spartan constitution protested. He confessed with chattering teeth he was strongly tempted to release air from the balloon and descend to more habitable elevations. But it was only a moment's temptation. Dr. Pikkard proved stronger. In another thirty minutes, it might have turned out differently.
With stammering lips, he was stubbornly declaiming the characteristic and mantissa for number 700 on a base of ten when a massive light (originally the one Pieter had pointed out to the professor to no avail), looking like a meteor, fell starlike out of the ionosphere. "By the blessed van't Hoff!" he exclaimed, rotation finally swept from first priority in his mind.
His powers of calculation always acute, the professor quickly noted down the event and calculated the point where the glowing object must have first entered Earth's gravitational field. He wished to determine the velocity, of course, since velocities greater than 72 kilometers per second made for interstellar objects coming into the solar system.
Pieter too gazed awestruck as the great moving light. Instead of exploding and burning out, it cleanly separated into seven distinct parts. Each was only a little less brilliant than the parent meteor.
Pieter's mouth opening wider yet, he observed what appeared to be white-tailed objects that glittered like pieces of ice or diamonds. These streaked toward widely scattered points across the globe.
By this time, the separation of the object into various parts duly noted, the professor was no longer directly observing the phenomenon. He was too busy scribbling on his notepad calculations for drawing an azimuthal equidistant projection centered conveniently on Holland America's capital.
That done, he threw Pieter a paper to study and continued to calculate up a storm. Pieter, an apprentice of sorts in astronomy, navigation, geometry and calculus, as yet had some difficulty with the professor's scientific method. But, despite his limited grasp of William of Occam's Razor, he saw the professor had drawn an arciform of the horizon measured on a fixed point.
What interested him more was watching the lights until they had disappeared, striking the dark-orbed lithosphere below with imperceptible impacts. One after the other, to him it was a remarkable show, and surely of immense scientific value of some kind. He wanted badly to ask a question.
But dare he? To interrupt the professor when he was hard at work. He had done it once before and this time the professor might be more than just annoyed. He stopped himself. He knew enough of his employer's habits by now to know when silence was not only golden but job-preserving.
For some minutes, in the light of a hissing gas lamp, the professor labored at his tiny work station desk initialed D. V. J. He filled page after page with cryptic signs after a vigorous use of telescope, maps, T square, slide rule, and even an antique adding machine invented many centuries before by Blaise Pascal. He was just as intent on his work as when he was doing Mersenne primes for sheer pleasure.
Finally, he sighed. He dropped a snub of a pencil attached by chain to his sleeve, and shook his head, one hand holding it.
Pieter stared at Dr. Pikkard, his patience at the breaking point. No longer able to bear the suspense, he decided to risk his job and only real chances of escaping Van Tootle's. "What is it, Meinheer? What have you found out about the shooting stars?
The exhausted scientist looked up startled. He seemed to be gradually recalling he was in a balloon drifting somewhere over Newfoundland. Hs wan eyes failed for a moment to recognize his assistant and he stared at Pieter. Then he seemed to recover himself. The kindly light was gone, however. The great brain that at age fourteen could break Reno's biggest casino, the Xanadoo, regathered its fully matured, adult energies. A deadly serious look, even a glinting of alarm, came over him as he held out to Pieter a world map and a projection etched with darkly penciled lines.
"Intelligence, vast and unknown, has fallen our way," August Pikkard muttered, again shaking his head slowly. "Is this the alien thing that has been filling the vacuum? Whatever it is, we have been visited from far beyond our own sun by something greater than human intellect, for good or ill! And I have no idea what this could mean in terms of our own investigations, though there has got to be an effect."
To the amazed Pieter, disturbed by the change that overtaken his employer, the projection still meant nothing. Somehow he could not make the connection between the mathematics he had absorbed. He could see no particular meaning in it at all. All he could think of was an unfinished orb web, with the main mooring lines already in place. He had not long to wait for an explanation.
Recovering more of his old self, the dark cloud lifting, the professor got out his pipe. Without pausing to fill it, the man of faith in the scientist revived and he began jabbing at the heavens excitedly.
"Providence! My boy, just as it favored you in getting your job, Providence has favored us both, together, tonight! Whatever it means, for some strange reason and destiny, we are in the right place at the right time. I'd wager ours is the only astronomical balloon up in the Northern Hemisphere--or the Western, for that matter. Who else has seen what we have gazed upon just moments ago? It was given to us on a golden platter! It's pure Provi--" By this time, the professor had got so worked up Pieter could hardly recognize him. Dr. Pikkard gesticulated wildly in the direction of the falling stars and their impacts.
"Yes, we're in the right place at the right time--you with your unclouded eye for the brute sensory aspect, me with my scientific training for discovering its laws of motion and cause. You see, they're neither meteors nor 'shooting stars' as you call them. And a 'star' has struck a different continental land mass in each hemisphere and one ocean, the Atlantic--no mere coincidence. That could not happen in a million years--no, not three hundred million or a thousand million years, the math is so against it. I'd say they are projectiles, not meteors or asteroids. And they originate from a place where they could not rightly have come from, a sector of the universe where there is only stellar gas and debris and a bit of highly condensed star material left from a supernova!"
"Supernova?" Pieter had to ask, having as yet no real handle on "nova."
The professor looked down over the side at the dark globe below, shook his head and his eyes closed. He did not seem to have heard Pieter, he was so overwhelmed by the event. When he turned back to Pieter, his eyes were still shut, as if he could not bear the vision within.
"My boy, we've got to get to the bottom of us," he said, so softly Pieter had to bend close. "From this point on it is our duty as scientists to find out all we can about our visitors--or whatever these objects may be--and the specific purpose of their coming here. Mind you, say nothing to anyone about what we have seen, excepting, of course, my dear niece--the only person, other than Icarus, this cold-hearted scientist has a measurable fondness for! She's my little heiress and will inherit the best of my endeavors when the time comes, and so she has a right to know that things may get a bit more sticky from here on."
He then went on to explain the phenomena in detail, drawing from old books of the ancient English astronomer-monk, Bernard Lovell, a devotee of the ancient British goddess, Radio. He had written of pulsars, quasars, gravitational lens, flare stars, novas, supernovas and other wonders of creation.
"It appears to come from the vicinity of the exploded star, the one in the Crab nebula that produced what the Pre-Hollandian, Reverend Father Lovell, called a 'supernova,' Dr. Pikkard said. "But that event took place in A.D. 1054 and was first observed by Chinese astronomers. I found mention of one other such explosion too, occurring about three centuries ago, but any information about it has been lost."
Until Pieter could reach yet higher levels of mathematics and astronomy, it was sticky, indeed, trying to get Pieter to understand such things, and even stickier getting from Newfoundland to New Amsterdam--but that was the usual thing with astronomical ballooning.
“Sorry, my boy, we’re heading north, in a direction that I fear will put us over the Greenland Ice Cap in a few hours.”
It wasn’t welcome news. Pieter could see the wind had picked up considerably. They were moving rapidly into an unknown polar region, and to a white peril that even his employer could not possibly handle.
Possibly because their chances of survival had now dropped close to zero, the professor left Pieter alone to his own thoughts.
And Pieter was thinking too--and wondering. What if they were blown and snagged on ice mountains? Who would come to their rescue? This wasn’t Europe, which though mostly wilderness had some civilized countries with people. But where they were headed there would be only polar bears, raging blizzards, and horrible, freezing temperatures. It was bad enough in the balloon, but he knew it could soon get much worse.
The balloon gained even more speed. A day and a night passed. In the painfully chill morning they “woke” to find nothing but glaring, inhospitable, hostile whiteness spread beneath them. Open water now lay far, far away to the south. They both had to wonder if they would ever see it again as living men.
Speaking little now, as if to keep their fears private, the two watched their approach to a gigantic formation of ice. Perhaps because of the chill factor, the balloon was sagging and showing signs of descent, though they had no desire to allow that to happen. Their situation was desperate, since to use fuel now to keep afloat would jeopardize any ascent and possible escape over the Greenland Ice Cap and its mountain ranges to the open water to the east.
Though Pieter waited for Dr. Pikkard to make his decision, the professor held back, as if waiting to see what might happen. He seemed even at times to be in silent prayer, for his frost-rimed eyes closed while Pieter’s remained painfully open, viewing the desolation below with growing horror.
“We’re both going to die in this place,” thought Pieter. The facts seemed all in on that score too. After all, Henri Tagus and his boat were circling uselessly far out of reach, prevented by solid ice on the sea from following them up the Labrador Current. Then they hadn’t the supplies of fuel and food to keep themselves afloat and alive much longer. Once they descended, they were finished, since even the Inuit who had formerly inhabited the region had all left, fleeing south to get away from the perpetual winter that had clamped down on their hunting territories.
Even an unschooled Dutch boy could see their prospects were utterly hopeless. The balloon sagged more and more, great folds coming down and draping themselves around the men, as if it were thinking to furnish them funeral shrouds.
The professor, still deep in thought and prayer, his eyes closed, startled Pieter by suddenly coming back to life. He jerked his frostbitten thumb, that looked more like an icicle than a human digit, downwards, and Pieter’s heart sank with the motion.
Feeling doomed, Pieter complied with the order. He vented what little buoyancy they had left and they soon saw the glacier beneath welling up, its formations becoming more distinct and threatening with each passing second. The whistling polar wind now blew upwards, slowing their descent, which was just as well, since they might have crashed, having so little uplift in the bag. Gently, like a feather, they came down on the snow-covered ice.
The gondola slid for forty or fifty yards, spraying Pieter and the professor with snow, but the snow was so thick they met with no sharp ice outcrops that could have torn them to pieces.
Jumping out as soon as it was safe, Pieter and the professor struggled to subdue the floundering bag and keep it from snagging. The wind was in their favor, dying just enough so that they weren’t blown any further. Just beyond was the edge of the glacier, and at a sickening distance below lay a vast, frozen stretch of sea channel. In the incredibly clear air they could see from their vantage point as far as they wanted, and so they had no difficulty making out Ellesmere Island and its bluish white mounts in the west.
For the moment, they were safe and alive. The two stood looking about at the scene that no one living had ever seen except them. But--the thought occurred simultaneously in both--how long would they be able to see it? Chances were that the temperatures would drop with nightfall, and within an hour or two at the most they would be solid ice, made eternal companions with the glacier beneath their feet.
“I’ve studied old maps I’ve found various places in the Old City. We’ve landed on Humboldt, the lip face of the glacier,” the professor told Pieter with cold-numbed lips. His eyes, despite his frozen face, were full of scientific delight.
Pieter, receiving the information, wasn’t so enthused. He was thinking something else, the same thing that prisoners always think first thing after the door clangs shut. “When am I going to get out of this horrible place?”
To keep the balloon from being blown off the glacier, they pegged it down to the ice with steel spikes, and then did some walking about to keep up body warmth and their blood circulating.
Pieter wasn’t at all interested in viewing the glacier or studying it for scientific purposes, as his employer was. He followed Dr. Pikkard in his seemingly aimless rambles, only because that was better than standing about waiting for his feet to freeze to the ice. He began to get alarmed, however, as the professor moved closer to the “lip,” where the icebergs were formed in times past.
“There’s no imminent danger now,” Dr. Pikkard assured him, though Pieter had trouble making out his frozen words. “We can go as close as we like without any chance of the ice breaking off.”
Reluctantly, Pieter followed the indefatigable Pikkard as he did just what he had threatened, explore the whole frontage of the monstrous icepack.
“What on earth for?” Pieter was wondering. He hated every minute as he trudged through the thick snow, sometimes falling into small holes, fearing at the moment of his fall it was some deathly deep crevasse instead.
The unstoppable scientist turned to Pieter at a point where his assistant was all for turning back, despite having to leave his employer. “Just a little further, my boy! A few more hundred feet and we should be able to see where the icebergs were calved. I’m hoping to see signs where the calving stopped and measure the fractures, which I believe we will find healed. It could give me some idea how quickly the process occurred, though I have no means of determining the date as yet.”
Understanding nothing of the professor’s intent, Pieter threw away all Dutch caution and obeyed. He knew he had only the old mill to return to if he gave up his job at this point--that is, if he could still get out alive. So, why not follow the professor to their doom? It was six of one and half a dozen of the other, was it not?
Finally, the professor halted. In terrifying silence, on the most ghastly edge of utter desolation that human sense could comprehend, they stood trying to take in the panorama beneath them. Two or more thousand feet beneath them lay the frozen sea.
Beneath their feet was the lip that calved the enormous ice bergs that once ranged far to the south, imperiling Dutch and English shipping. Wind, warmed just enough in the blinding, reflected light, surged upwards, sweeping the cliffs clean of snow, so that the naked flanks of the glacier shone with a million sparkles and glints.
His coat, scarf, and hat blown nearly off, Pieter gazed down into the abyss. He felt terrible vertigo and overwhelmed with the vastness of everything. His plain Dutchness seemed to be extinguished forever, and what was left was only a giddy speck of human flesh that would soon be frozen to ice with everything around it. “Maybe,” he thought, “we’ll be freezed standing upright, like pillars or statues.” But his dismal statuary were not to be.
The professor gave a cry, that carried against the flow of the upwelling wind to Pieter, who turned his frigid face to see what he saw. Dr. Pikkard was pointing excitedly.
Pieter could see nothing at first--just gigantic, half-calved shapes that had seemingly re-frozen themselves to the mother glacier in mid birth. But as he strained to see through his thickening eyelashes he caught a glimpse of color--black, some specks of red, a fluttering strip of yellow.
“Shipwreck!” cried the professor.
The discovery changed everything. Dr. Pikkard was for returning to the balloon at once. They maybe had an hour, or two at the most, while the “good weather” might hold, just enough hopefully for them to reach the ship below. To get there they needed the balloon, of course. It would take precious fuel, to ascend and then descend, but Dr. Pikkard was captain, and Pieter had no choice, in such a place, of going his way alone.
The balloon inflated just beyond the critical point, they moved across the glacier to the lip edge, then they sailed free. Immediately, Pieter vented. Down they went. Again, they were fortunate. They landed in a clear enough area where they could subdue the flopping balloon before it could be torn to shreds, marooning them there forever.
Within minutes of pegging it down securely, they were climbing aboard the shattered hulk of the steam yacht, for it wasn’t quite the ship Dr. Pikkard had originally thought. Evenso, it had to have been seagoing, to get to such a site. Dr. Pikkard pointed out a boiler, so it had been a steamship. The cabin lay several feet away the bow, and wind had fortunately swept the snow free of it so they could get in without a lot of digging without shovels.
Out of the wind, the silence was almost deafening, in that Pieter heard his own heart pounding as he dropped down into the half-overturned cabin. The professor’s own whisper sounded horribly loud in the circumstances. His eyes were no longer delighted with scientific findings all about him but properly sober in the midst of death. For there was death aboard. A man was there--his form frozen where it lay thrown over on a smashed table.
Gently, the professor crouched and searched for clews of what had happened, and who was the man, and possibly what boat it was. He did not have to search far. By the man’s outstretched fingers lay a squarish object. Scooping off snow, the professor realized he was looking at the logbook. A pen was clenched, frozen, in the man’s fingers, as if he had been entering notations at the last moment before the disaster, whatever it was, overtook him and his boat.
Using a pocket knife, huffing and puffing with the effort, Dr. Pikkard hastily chopped out the book from its envelope of ice. With shaking hands he got it free and broke it open where he hoped to find the last entries. His face grew dark instantly the moment he began to read. Pieter, gazing at him, was astounded at what he was seeing. A shipwreck, a frozen captain, the logbook--it was beyond anything he could have imagined happening to himself, as if he had somehow joined company with great explorers in the past. “I must somehow become great too,” he thought. “I’ve come a long way from the dull drudgery of New Alkmaar. If they could be seeing me now!”
It was a crazy enough thought for a plain Dutch youth to think, in a place where no human beings could expect to live through the fast falling evening. But in that site of unusual discovery, it seemed reasonable to Pieter, that all the sad souls he had left behind would now have cause to admire him setting off down the towpath instead of sticking to the old town and going slowly under with them.
“Listen to this, Pieter, “ Dr. Pikkard mumbled in awed tones. Then he read the last scribbled and abbreviated entries for April 14, 1912, the date of the Mary Celeste Avenger’s destruction by collision with an iceberg.
Flipping to the beginning, the professor read for a few moments. Then he closed the book and slipped it into his coat. “It seems he was looking for the causes of many unexplained disappearances at sea,” he told Pieter. Before coming north he had been to waters off Japan and Bermuda.”
That was his only remark before they left the Dead of the doomed boat and climbed out into the now darkening icescape.
Pieter had the strangest sensation, however, as he went to put his foot down and found himself looking at--a human face? Hair and skin were not light enough to be Dutch or European. He had no time to look at it--whatever it was, was frozen forever into the ice.
Once free of the cabin, they struggled to get the balloon aloft. Whether they would fly further into the icy halls of polar doom or not, they had no chance where they were. So they spent the last fuel gaining as much altitude as possible, hoping the winds would not send them crashing against the ice cliffs above. Yet the same kind break in the weather that had allowed their day of discovery on Humboldt Glacier to continue so long also held as they ascended, and the upwelling currents, now fast weakening with night fall, were just enough to help them up over the jagged lip edge without violently dashing them against it.
It was all a matter of extreme delicacy of many factors working together, but they finally sailed up and over glacier and out to open sky. They began sailing toward the great island’s spinal column of eternally-iced mountains, which was not an encouraging direction. But they had not gone very far when the winds coming down off the cooling mountains pushed them in the opposite direction. The same descent of night and plummeting temperatures was now providing the critical factor of propulsion.
Dr. Pikkard almost shouted in Pieter’s face, he was so excited. “We’ll be in Labrador in a few hours, my boy, at this rate!”
Labrador, bleak as it was, still had a few diehard Inuit villages clinging to the coast. If they reached them, help could be found to get to the Dutch outposts further down. To Pieter, after being nearly marooned in the depths of a polar hell, Labrador was as good as paradise at that moment to his thinking.
Later, resting with an Inuit family, who hospitably plied them with fresh uncooked whale blubber and seal meat, the two men had a chance to talk about the doomed yacht left behind at the base of Humboldt Glacier. The professor, unusually subdued, would say little, however. He had the logbook, and from time to time used a seal oil lamp to look into it. All he could say to Pieter was that the captain was on a sort of quest, to find cause or causes for mysterious disappearances of ships and crews. He had come to the North Atlantic after hearing reports of missing ships, but he had not been prepared to find a “killer iceberg,” which proved his and his boilerman’s downfall.
If the professor was uncharacteristically subdued, his assistant proved unusually stirred up. “What could make an iceberg change course like that?” Pieter had to ask. “A strong gust of wind, right? And what did he mean to say when he say we should wake up and ‘MGY is just a de--’? Just a what?”
The professor eyed his assistant for several long moments as the large Inuit family looked on, all chattering in their own tongue about their strange whiteman guests. In the half-abandoned village, this was evidently one family that had the best hunters and was able to hold its own. Perhaps they would not have to flee south like the others. The children looked plump enough as they played at cat’s cradle--an elaborate arrangement and re-arrangement of strings.
Waving aside another generous haunch of seal from the elder Inuit in the group, the professor patted his belly, and the family laughed and patted theirs as well, and Dr. Pikkard could then turn back to the question Pieter had raised. “There are many strange things going on in this world and in the Universe,” he said. “That is just one of them. I expect to find the ultimate cause is the same that is still eluding us at the present moment, the Same that is causing all the other disturbances.”
Dr. Pikkard’s philosophical turn of reasoning was lost on his pupil at this point. Seeing the youth’s eyes glaze over, the professor sighed and turned back to his hosts. His eyes took in the string games the childen were playing and before long his spirits seemed to lift. Communicating with sign language, he got the sense of the game out of them--that they were attempting to change the course of the Sun, believing in this way they would trap its rays and shorten the winter.
“Such sophisticated notions for mere children!” the professor marveled. “I’ve always suspected the wisdom and lore of these people is greater than the universities’ , and this is proof!” He ended up trading his gold watch and some even more valuable tobacco for the cat’s cradles.
But making new to replace the old was not the answer. To do that the machinery itself needed to be as old as possible. So Dr. Pikkard's machine tools were indispensable, and they could not be found any longer at any price. Son of a boilermaker who valued machinery, Pieter felt angered by so much destruction of old but faithfully working machinery and tools--all very expensive and necessary to Dr. Pikkard's operations. What would happen to their work, and his job now?
He was amazed at how calmly the professor took it.
They walked through the blackened, virtually roofless shell of the hanger in the morning. Together they looked up at the few surviving rafters crowded with roosting sea gulls come to enjoy the embers' lingering warmth. The two had only spent a few minutes looking about when Dr. Pikkard glanced toward the heavens. Sea fog mingling with mist from the harbor, canals, and river covered the sky as usual at the end of summer. Thus, he could not have been looking at anything particular or admiring the view, and once again he missed seeing the odd streak of shadow Pieter had tried to point out to him.
His pipe jutting from his mouth at a jaunty angle, he glanced at Pieter over teardrop glasses, smiled grimly, then walked briskly away toward his car. Pieter didn't have to look. It was once the world's ultimate luxury car, only four of which were ever made, a Type 41 Bugatti Royale that turned Pieter's ears red with shame every time he had to ride in it. It would have made him even more miserable if he had known it once belonged to a Hollywood screen legend, Garbo the tight-lipped, enigmatic Sphinx, who had retired as an urban recluse in what was then New York City.
More important than Pieter's feelings about it, the car had never once needed to be overhauled! Even the Phantom Four Rolls, which Dr. Pikkard had fitted up as a traveling laboratory, had broken down once or twice on a cross-province jaunt up to the intermixed tundra and sand flats of Buffalo. He had gone there to measure the record snowfalls on the edge of the Athabaskan Shield glacier field and also take samples of the material drifting about along the edge, which he called a “polar desert.”
Pieter stayed behind a while, anxious to look for still usable tools before thieves found them. He had time to think about the professor's behavior. He took it as a sign the professor was determined to go ahead with his desire to "study glaciers" next--something his employer had mentioned he might add to the list of major Pikkardian projects in the near future to gain some light on the various "fool questions" he had discussed with his assistant--"Were the glaciers advancing all over the earth, just as they had been moving south from the Canadian wilderness? " "How much had they already moved southward?" And, most significantly, "What precise meteorological or extra-terrestrial mechanism was propelling them?"
Knowing enough of the professor's ways by now, he saw that the scientist was determined to clinch his glacier research with some final evidence--especially since their discovery of the Mary Celeste Avenger.
Though not particularly fond of ice and snow, to Pieter it meant paying work, but again he suspected he was in for more extremely chilling times than he had known so far in ballooning.
Indeed, in support of Pieter's hunch, in the professor's pocket were tickets for the Lakehurst- Minneapolis flight aboard the dirigible, Atlantis--unfortunate name!
How Pieter came to know was easy. The professor, when busy with his primes, was so oblivious of the world that the fares fell out of his pocket. He did not even notice when Pieter, grown familiar with his employer’s odd ways, put them back.
But at the moment they had parted at the shed, Pieter had not been thinking of glaciers. Unlike his employer, Pieter felt torn in two directions as his eyes followed the professor to the car. Should he tell the professor about Old Goatley? After all, the tramp had acted suspiciously by running off like a guilty man the day he had caught him near the shed. But what if his suspicions were unjust? After all, he had no proof of the old man's misdeeds, other than begging on the streets to keep body and soul in one piece. Could he be blamed for only a suspicion? That wouldn't be Dutch fair and square!
With an old childhood spoof of a Christmas pageant hymn coming nonsensically to mind, he scraped away charred wood and tangled metal with a rake and found something intact. A metal work table had shielded it, taking the crushing weight of falling rafters. Part of a machine used to inflate the professor's small weather balloons, a plastic clown head with the red hair and big red mouth had survived. Pieter should have been delighted to find anything, even a part of the old inflator, but he was not.Old Goatley was still on his mind and heart.
He obeyed his conscience and did nothing, but his suspicions continued to nag him at odd moments in the next few days. Perhaps they might not have provoked him so much except for Dr. Pikkard's unsolicited man-to-man talk on the boat back, most of which he had suppressed as though it had never been said. Ever since, in fact, he had done his best to forget it. But success in that did not really help. It just boiled away beneath the surface. Pieter was finding it harder and harder to keep the undeclared but gentlemen’s truce. The professor’s remarks were beginning to get to him, despite what he still believed about the goodness of everybody Dutch--and despite the fact somebody had passed even the venerable Magi a loaded cigar.
Saying nothing about the tickets in his pocket, Dr. Pikkard barked orders for a new project which wasn't connected with his usual researches at all, or so it seemed to Pieter, who felt relieved. He was given a job big enough for any Dutchman, and the fact it seemed absolutely meaningless made it all the more attractive to Pieter for some reason.
"Pieter, be so good as to find and collect all old newspaper issues dating back to 2170 A.D. that mention either the so-called 'Greek disease," as it was known in earlier times, or, more latterly, the "English disease,' as we so foolishly call it. From a previous study, I've already determined late 2170 as the year the thing reached flashpoint and came to public attention. Of course, we know it isn't disease at all in the conventional sense, but try to change people's views on that now! Anyway, take as little time as possible doing it! We need to wrap up this little project as soon as possible.”
Anne started to interrupt, but the professor cut her off, and she left in a huff as he continued speaking to Pieter. “You might start with back issues of the New Amsterdam, William of Orange Journal, North River Patrooner, Brooklyn Burgomeister, Minutes, Business, Moral Draughts, and Public Pronouncements of the Metropolitan Council of the Honorable Schlepens (M.B.D.P.M.C.S), Plain Dutch Life, Royal Netherlands States-General Acts in Review, Dutch Duty, Workman's Day and any others you come across.
Those publications will take you back over a century at least. Before that you’ll have to look at papers of defunct newspaper companies, and certain buildings in the Old City are full of such in their basements--sometimes bound up in books. Articles that mention the disease must also report a meteor shower. If they do not, I don't wish to see them. Report back to me if you have a problem. And, mind you, I don't want anybody knowing what we're doing. Let them think what they want. They'd never guess right in a million years anyway if we are the least bit discreet."
Pieter paused to study his employer a moment. What did he meant by "they"? He was more than a little annoyed, for since the finding of the Mary Celeste Avenger he had grown sensitive to mysterious hints of that kind--which, moreover, were becoming more and more frequent. Looking through papers was one thing, but now the professor was getting entirely too mysterious!
The professor took a few rumpled thousand dollar banknotes from his pocket, adding one from yet another--then stuffed them back and tossed Pieter his bankbook instead. "You've shown commendable progress in basic mathematics. You might as well start using this. You are hereby empowered to write the draughts. And try and balance it if you can. I don't have time anymore for it, and dear Anne has to divide her time between two places and seems to have no more head for money accounting than I do!"
Pieter felt of the bankbook, his eyes silently protesting as he considered the great responsibility being thrown his way. He was about to ask his employer to reconsider the fact he only went as far as the fourth grade when the professor, anticipating him, waved aside the objection.
"Stuff and nonsense! You'll do just fine, my boy! I can't thank you enough for relieving me of the infernal bother. Since it worries you, just made sure a little less goes out than comes in. You'll need to sign the cheques to get cash from the hotel purser or the bank to pay expenses accruing to your present project and whatever help you need with the transport. I want you, however, to do the final sortings. Then bring the result to the office."
It was no use to protest. The professor was certain Pieter had a flair for financial accounting simply because he liked the precision and logic of geometry and calculus. The professor then scribbled and signed a note to the hotel purser and the bank, which Pieter his reluctant new accountant was to show as his introduction to the world of considerable if not high finance.
As for the newspaper collating work, as he got busy the task no longer seemed utter nonsense but merely an odd assignment, even from the ingenious professor. Was he planning on catching up on old news they missed while ballooning and bathyscaphing? With a shake of the head, Pieter couldn't stop to talk now, and he passed the glum Anne in the hall and went to work immediately. Anne threw her cloche at a cat and stalked off.
The new doorman tipped his hat as Pieter went out. Because it was the Royal Wilhelmina and he couldn't avoid the custom, Pieter gave him a penny for his trouble. Being assistant to a gentleman-scientist had certain drawbacks.
"Thank you and good day to you, Meinheer!" said Ernesto Woggham’s replacement, pocketing the money. Woggham had been thrown out of his fine job. He had offended because of poor English and boorish behavior while serving important, English clientele, the Clarkes, come to see about latest investments. He had also refused admittance to British aristocrats' personal maids and valets who showed up black or brown-skinned. The doorman demanded they use the back entrance for freight deliveries since they weren't obviously Dutch, and the servants had complained to their lords and mistresses.
For these infractions, he was let go. But he followed up with worse offenses--resisting, and, more foolishly, resisting the person with the Rooseveltian staurolite fob! Born to lose life’s major battles, Woggham stood up to Hotel Manager Duckering-Puckett and, flinging spit through his bad teeth, utterly refused to leave his glorious post.
When he wouldn't give up his uniform, two Pinkertons held him and pulled off his pin-striped hotel trousers. But Woggham, seeing his chance when they let go of him for a moment, scrambled to his feet and ran for his life, the Pinkertons following on foot. But Woggham got away, losing them in a poor district of alleys and twisting canals. The hotel never did get his splendid swallowtail coat back.
He was put on a very black list, indeed. Never again would he serve in any capacity in any New Amsterdam hotel--if Duckering-Puckett had anything to with it!
So, seeing two tattered, stained swallowtails of someone rooting head down in a trash can behind the Wilhelmina's kitchens, Pieter hired Woggham on the spot, despite the row Duckering-Puckett might make to his employer. No one else would have done what Pieter did so easily. He really believed that everyone had a good heart if you delved and dug deep enough. Helping a person like Woggham was, to Pieter’s mind, something a good person did. You didn’t think twice about it.
Under Pieter's supervision, Woggham, seemingly overjoyed to find employment of any kind, even if it came from a despised class of country boy, gladly carted many wheelbarrow loads of old newspapers from basement archives of the various newspaper offices in town.
Then there was the loading of a hired truck. After that he unloaded at a small warehouse the professor had rented for the project. Editors were only to glad to get rid of molding, centuries-old accumulations of long defunct newspapers predating their own productions. In most cases, it wasn't so much age but the "English disease" that was responsible for their rotten condition. The latest issues most often solidified into solid blocks of cellulose. They crumbled when he tried to pry them apart and gave off a burnt aroma. Strangely, the older the papers the better the condition.
"Bring your truck and clear the whole dirty lot out!" the publisher of the New Amsterdam offered. And Pieter could see he was serious, so he had Woggham deliver several roomfuls of papers to the warehouse.
Pieter, after paying the forever ex-doorman off and saying he might be needing him again sometime, got down to even harder work. Sorting by Greek and also English disease year was easy, now he had to read and pick out for the professor's scrutiny only those editions that mentioned meteor showers and a concurrent rash of mechanical breakdowns in the same issue.
Pieter was surprised how many there were that mentioned the disease, but he could not find a single case of a meteor shower in the same issue. Was this a fool’s goose chase? If so, the professor was throwing his money away again!
He filled box after box with unwanted issues as well as solid chunks of newspapers, and to get rid of them dumped them out the third story window down into the convenient canal. The longer he worked, the more his fingers and face became smudged with black ink like any printer's devil. Soon his shirt and pants darkened with dust and hundred- year-old cobwebs, but he still failed to turn up what the professor had requested. Growing frustrated, as filthy as the grauw in the gutters of New Amsterdam, Pieter decided he had finally earned his good wages and Anne's excellent lunches. Finally, with still mountains of papers all round to go through and not one issue he could show his employer, he quit and returned to the office.
Dr. Pikkard said nothing after hearing Pieter out.
“It’s a’chasin’ the goose when he got himself eaten hours before we missed him, sir! We can look in every place where he could be, but that ain’t going to do him up from the grave, not one honker of him!”
Absorbing this piece of rural sagacity, the professor eased back in his chair and scratched his head. Then he jumped up and started pacing. As he often did with difficult questions, he went over to Icarus and in a low voice Pieter could not hear seemed to consult with the creature. The bird cocked its head first one way and then the other, looking its most intelligent . Suddenly, he started chirping a blue streak, only to stop abruptly and again cock its head while eyeing the professor.
"Of course!" the scientist exclaimed. "Thanks ever so much, my friend! What an intellect! I can't imagine why I didn't think of it before!" The professor strolled leisurely back to his desk and made himself comfortable in his chair, his feet up on his paperwork for his latest prime. "My brilliant consultant has saved you, my boy, a lot of fuss and botheration. I have to agree with him that we took a wrong tack. The reason you did not find the two events listed together is that they did not occur together. In fact, meteor showers, when they did happen, transpired 'randomly,' if I may use that word for our purposes. I have always respected my faculty of intuition, however, and I still hold to there being a true and verifiable connection. But, if you follow me, we need not prove any such thing. Proving it would be a waste of our valuable time and your valuable patience. What we really need to seek out is not proof so much as the 'party of the first part.' You see, we have been missing the point by going after the 'party of the second part'--our so-called 'meteor shower'. But, dear boy, do you follow me?"
Since all this had been delivered in the professor's most excited manner at his rapid, clipped pace, Pieter shook his head.
The professor chuckled. "Well, you'll have time to catch up later. Now it's off to catch the 'party of the first part'. The only hitch is, I haven't the slightest clue as to who or what we should look for. We only have the results of the beast, not the cause. All we know--which is more than--perhaps our little fount of wisdom, our feathered Erasmus--I ought to have named him that instead of Icarus--can break this impasse."
Pieter was too used to his employer's obtuse and whimsical ways to show any expression when the professor again flew to Icarus for another intense but private "consultation." From a goose to a sparrow, it meant little difference in his mind. Icarus again irrupted and the professor acted as though he had got his answer once more.
"Pieter, I'm afraid you're going back to the coal mines--from the looks of you! What we must look for are issues before 2170. The results follow 2170, whereas the cause or causes are necessarily operative before that year. Take a fifty year period. That ought to be sufficient. We have very little historical record of what happened around 2150--there wasn't much of any value written down then--but that need not concern you--any papers you find may tell you something."
This was just too much to swallow--the plain Dutchman revolted at the sheer nonsense of it all.
"Oh, is it? Well, the track we are following apparently goes back to 2170. What if we could go backwards, to a time just before 2170, which is the beginning of the track? Wouldn't we then capture the bird?
Pieter thought about it slowly. He thought it impossible, of course, but he didn't like to be wrong. His first brush with the professor’s “before and after” had not been encouraging. But then he had often seen V-formations of Canada geese heading south from summer nesting grounds just north of New Alkmaar and the canal, though he could not be sure what they were doing before they began to fly. They could have been swimming, walking, flying, doing any number of things in the big swamps and woodlands that made up almost all of New Amsterdam. And they could have been doing any of those things in no end of different provinces. To track a certain bird down by the professor's method would be impossible. No, let the professor have his “before and after” back! he decided.
"Meinheer, I don't know."
The professor, even more gently than the first time, begged to differ in a low, dry as dust voice.
"Egad! Are you an absolute dunce? Marshal your Dutch wits, boy! Do you have molasses and cement in that skull of yours, or good Dutch brains? After all I've tried to pound into your wooden head. Sometimes I think it's useless, a sheer waste of my valuable time! Oh, heavens, give me patience! Such stubborn idiocy will be the death of me yet! Don't be so stuck in the past! But, to go on, I would say we certainly can take the bird in hand sometime before the terminal year of 2170. What do you say to that? I suppose you have no idea how? Do you? Do you? Well, say something! Use your brain, dumkopf!"
Pieter, on his part, was beginning to look like the time he faced off with Horst over the kick in the pants. There was nothing wrong with his head that he knew. He could butt a top back on a barrel with it and not blink an eye. Utterly bemused by this time, the still pragmatic Pieter showed himself out. He really did feel like the things the professor had called him--though he'd never let him call him those things again and get away with it. But what was he to do? His job demanded he do something for his good wages.
Hours later, he was just sitting in the warehouse, a gas light burning over the scene of his utter despair. He had no idea how to find the "bird," the maker of the tracks. Nevertheless, as he sat there without hope, he continued to think about the bird tracks. Then he thought about the bird itself. Birds, he knew, came from eggs, and they had to be hatched. What evidence was there when a bird was hatching out anyway? Cracks in an egg! That kind of thinking, for Pieter, worked better than the professor’s confusing explanation.
He set to work, and before long he began to get excited when he started tracing the cracks, discarding some, while retaining others that showed more promise. Eventually, lo and behold, the most promising cracks converged more and more and ultimately led to one great Pre-Hollandian egg called Marcus M. Chillingsworth. There was simply no other egg so great as his. A marquis dubbed by some ancient Swedish king, a Nobel laureate, government leader, author of a series of highly-acclaimed books about pre-”World Union” politics in the corridors of power inside 10 Downing Street and Parliament, and renowned scientist, his name turned up most often.
And his name, interestingly, began appearing frequently around 2150 in connection with the founding of something called the "World Union." A Union of the whole world? He had never heard of such a thing. He seemed to have a lot of trouble with things blowing up on him. He rode in strange aircraft called a "domecraft." He visited many cities, which also began blowing up all around him. He got awards of various kinds.
A seventy two year old Duchess of Milford Haven had suffered a broken arm and nose at Athens at one of the awards presentations. He was married to an Allegra Samantha Jones, former art institute student.
He gathered most all the world's gold reserves in one spot, a bank in London. There were announcements of the births of three children. And, strangest of all, when he retired to live in London he still ruled over a Swedish island called Gothenberg somewhere far to the north. Was he the bird? Evidently, Chillingsworth was a very important egg of a person, to receive so much of the world's attention. He was glad he could let the professor decide.
Now that his researches had found a focus, Pieter soon had other things than dirty old newspapers to occupy his time. Having neglected Anne so long, he wished to make it up to her.
He finished the huge paper project, submitted the gleanings to the professor to read and tabulate, and was told to take a hot bath and get some fresh air.
The warehouse could be tidied up later and returned to its owner once the whole process was finished, he was told.
"And pour on plenty good Dutch suds and hot water and use the wire scrub brush like a good boy!" the professor said, sternly eyeing Pieter though he wouldn't think of inflicting the same torture on himself. "Your hair used to be blond, if I remember right. We can't have you coming on these ostensibly royal premises looking like you sweep chimneys for a living! Duckering-Puckett and the Wilhelmina owners are beginning to making some ominous noises about the upcoming renewal of my lease!
He says guests are beginning to complain of my scientific activities, which are not really “conducive to the normal operation of a hotel,’ in his opinion.
I said I would seriously consider buying the hotel, if that would help the situation any. He thought not.
Thanks to his position at the hotel, having discreet ‘connections’ with the gentleme
n of the West India Company, he released to me the private, most delicate morsel of information that this hotel is the property of the West India Company, then assured me the Company would never sell to anyone but a fully registered, affliliated shipping magnate and merchantman. I could have told him my late father once sat on the Board, but that would have flattened the poor man. Best to keep silence before fools and suffer them!"
Anne had endured a long wait. No one could have disagreed with that. As usual, she was pacing back and forth when he stepped out of the suite. "Oh, I know how busy you've been, but you don't think how difficult it is for me," she said, eyes glinting with barely suppressed fire.
But he did think about it! He knewl she could not follow the itinerant pair about the whole of Holland America, and it was impossible when they took off for the stratosphere or dove to Davy Van Jones' Locker. Also, she could not manage transatlantic trips on the stipend the Professor allotted her every month for helping about the office. Normally, all she could do was wait at the office for his time off. Yet he was never really comfortable about her hanging about for him. He had his job (and avoiding Van Tootle-Clarkes's) to think about, didn't he? Any fellow would understand, but her?
"Pieter, all I've got when you're gone is these poor old fleabags of Oom's!"
It was obvious to Pieter that Anne could not be put off one minute longer. He followed her out and they started walking in a town that seldom now lived up to its old reputation for romance and young lovers. Fortunately, the weather was still good, not too cold as yet though last year at this time the North and East River, even the upper bay, had frozen solid, so that "Staten" Islanders took sleigh-cabs to work in town.
His machine-made braces working much more efficiently than his former homespun contraptions, Pieter could manage a long walk with Anne to straighten things out. They walked slowly into the street and turned first one way and the other. New Amsterdam, with all its eccentric twists of canal and street, could look picturesque enough at certain moments when the light was just right, though most of the time it was indescribably ugly, with all the beggars, unemployed, baton-wielding constables, and litter. Also, the city itself was shrinking in population and industry. It lost more people than it took in, despite little colonies of Italian, French, and Spanish refugees sprouting like mushrooms on the American side of the Atlantic since Europe had begun to collapse in dead earnest.
They came to imposing walls and the pillared entrance of old and highly revered Van Butler Library of the University of Amsterdam--one of the buildings of ancient America that had survived to the modern era. Etched in the stone facade were the names (with the “van” added later) of the greatest Dutch geniuses of the Golden Age--Homer, Herodotus, Sophocles, Plato, Aristotle, Demosthenes, Circero, Virgil, and one that read only "Chil--" because it had suffered defacement by vandals or the dread English disease.
They stopped to look up at the names and the inscription of four words cut in stone beneath it. Anne, having been tutored in Latin, tossed off a translation for Pieter’s sake..
“I can translate that! It simply means ‘gallop like a wild horse, please open the door of the broom closet,’ no, ‘racing down the track...straightway....for the.....grass clippings?....no.....boxes of sleeping lamppoles!...no....truth!, something like that in Latin, a language you wouldn’t know.”
"Latin?" he asked. "What is Latin? Is it the same thing as 'nova' or 'supernova'?"
Anne giggled. "My, you are from up country! I’d think you’d know by now, being with the professor every hour of the day for weeks on end! Well, Latin is a famous old dead language they use on public buildings and monuments and books on science. And, no, a nova is an exploding star. Oom can tell you all about it. We didn't keep our science tutor long enough to learn much of anything. At the time my sister and I were doing an experiment with highly explosive chemicals and--"
But Dr. Pikkard already had explained the matter sufficiently. Exploding stars meant nothing to a plain Dutch boy, since there was no possibility of one within his experience. Rather, the Latin, even if Anne's description was lost on him, was impressive and noble-looking. Stone-cut letters seemed to him to contain everything a plain Dutch could want--solidity, compactness, brevity, forcefulness, and plainness. Beside Latin, all else seemed Jack Dutch thistledown and tomfoolery.
His yearning for a world where such things ruled and held undisputed sway came out in a hushed, reverential, shy voice. "I plan to attend such a place as this someday and get training like the professor," he confided with a glowing face to Anne, over-looking for the moment that she knew Latin and he did not. As for becoming an ship engineer or ship architect, well, that was best kept secret. She might think he was exceeding his capabilities, which he had lately come to see were greater than anything he had formerly thought.
"I hope not," laughed Anne with a sharpness to her laugh that was like a slap of cold water, dashing him with reality. "You really don't know what you're getting into with these people. They are the ones that hate Oom and are always undercutting him every chance they get! You'd be better off just sticking to your job with my uncle and learning what you can from him and his books."
Pieter, still entranced with the spell of the noble Latin inscription, wanted to take a look inside.
"You really aren’t thinking of going in, are you?” Anne challenged him. "It's no place for Dr. Pikkard's niece. They might eat me for dinner, and you too, if they’re really hungry!"
Pieter left Anne on the steps and went in. He had got no more than a few steps inside the entrance hall when robed men converged on him, one standing behind the other. Quickly, several other librarians with the same dark robes and cowls over their heads were approaching them too. Never had he seen anyone dressed like that--but, then, he had never been in a modern university.
"Hey, cripple. Show your card!" demanded the first. "Are you a registered student? I think not!"
Pieter, feeling the insult, bridled. Who were they, after all, compared with a future ship architect-engineer?
Another man, distinguished looking with a long gray beard, stepped forward and gave Pieter a gracious smile. "Never mind my rude assistant! He needs to mind his tongue when visitors call. You're Dr. Pikkard's assistant, aren't you? We've been hoping you would stop by. Is there a particular subject you are interested in taking? Perhaps we can be of help. I happen to be the Registrar of this noble university."
When Pieter came back out, Anne stared at him with amazement. "You mean they didn't throw you out? I can’t believe it. I’ve actually seen people come tumbling down these very steps!"
On the contrary, they had invited him to return any time he wished to look at the library of books about mathematics. He had been assured that they would be happy to take his application for matriculation. The gray-bearded gentleman, a full professor in the office of registrar, could not have been more encouraging to an up country boy like Pieter. He also expressed his great regret that relations were not as good as they should be between the university and Pieter's employer, and added that they had done all they could to mend things, but the professor had refused every friendly overture toward reconciliation of their differences. This evidently sincere overture struck a certain chord in his Dutch soul, which touched on the trait his forebears like to cultivate, the ability to bring total opposites together in smiling amity, that is, to make devils and angels dance on the head of the same pin.
Pieter looked back at the library (and his own employer) with new eyes. Instead of frustration, he felt his life had taken a new start to the career of his secret dreams. But he kept the discovery to himself and turned back to Anne.
She, in turn, was watching him closely. "What did they say to you in there? You look like a cat that just swallowed the butcher’s canary!" With a laugh she reached out to touch his shoulder with a friendly pat.
Pieter drew back instantly and stiffened up. He never liked affectionate touches from anyone--especially since his accident.
They started walking again, after an awkward silence.
"I didn’t mean anything by what I said back there," Anne said. "You take everything so personally and keep too much inside and you'll never have any fingernails if you keep biting them like that. It'll all blow up someday if you keep on that way. And you should know something.
I'm sure they recognized you. Anyone associated with my Oom could not escape their notice. But don't take their treatment personal. The one they're really out to get is my poor Oom, who is innocent of anything they hold against him except trying to advance the cause of humanity and human knowledge. The reason why they are so furious is that a couple years ago the university got the authorities involved and a suit was filed to stop his researches. It was going to come to trial, but the professor did not wait to lose the case and have to stop everything he was doing. Without defending himself, which would have been hopeless anyway, he took his balloon up over the city and dropped leaflets announcing a free circus to all of New Amsterdam at Van Coney Island. Fortunately, he had months to prepare and get the whole thing together. It was marvelous.
Of course, I was thought too young to go out unchaperoned, and poor Mama wasn't well enough to go circusing with me, so I sneaked out a window. I never had so much fun in my life.
You ought to have seen about a hundred men trying to shimmy up a greased pole for the roast suckling pig at the top! And the dancing! And the fireworks! Oom went all out and must have spent half his patrimony.
Well, most of the people at the circus heard that the university was taking their benefactor to court on a trumped up charge. The next day was the trial. A huge crowd showed up. Some things were said, a few windows broken, and the police were caught totally unprepared. It didn't take long for the judge to throw out the case so everybody could go home and not cause another nasty riot. After that, the university didn't dare try to stop him in public, but he's still in danger, I think. Maybe worse danger, because they aren't operating any more in the open. Universities, so-called!
They're supposed to increase and preserve knowledge--not bury it! But that is my own opinion. They themselves don't think they're doing anything wrong or contrary to their role as institutions of higher learning--that's how far they've sunk, or society has sunk."
Pieter, hearing Anne's account, didn't know what she was talking about. He hadn't received a rude rebuff at the university--far from it.
In fact, the more she talked the more he questioned what she was saying about the university and the professor-registrar. He might have told her so, that she was wrong about a lot of things, but whenever they came to a bench or a spot where they might be able to talk, someone moved in, usually to beg or sell them something.
He might have known that would happen. But because of Dr. Pikkard's initial warning, Pieter still did not feel entirely free to talk to her at the office, so how could he tell her plainly? All he could do was try, in as polite a manner as possible, if an opportunity ever came their way. After all, she was his employer's niece and his employer had made his own wishes clear enough.
"The professor will let me go if I continue on with you this way," he said at last, though keeping all his deepest reservations safely hidden.
"That's poppycock!" she retorted. "Boys, er, my friends are my own Dutch business! Oom would never, never fire you! You don't know, but I called him from the lobby that day you first came. Though I got him to at least give you a hearing, he's had plenty opportunity since to see you're no shiftless bum out of the gutter. He really likes your work and dedication and depend--"
Pieter, though unpleasantly surprised that he owed getting his job to Anne, got over it quickly as he warmed at the thought of his Dutch dependability. Just then New Alkmaar and the mill came to mind, spoiling the moment. He had been dependable there too, but what had it gotten him? He lifted a crutch as a final, clinching argument and the nearest beggar, about to move in on them, changed his mind.
"‘Walking backwards in the street, you bless the stones twice that you meet,’" he quoted from an old proverb in a low, contorted voice, his face breaking into a web of worry lines. "I mean, if I had another accident, I wouldn't be any use to him, good-hearted gent that he is! Then where'd I be? Back at the mill for the rest of my life, that's what!"
Anne had no response to his homely wisdom. She had seen the face of Pieter as he might well look as an old man, seventy or eighty years of age, and it wasn't pretty. "Let's go to Van Frick’s"
So they set off for the gallery containing Old Dutch Masters. But she stopped when they were almost there. "No, I don't think you'd like looking at any more Old Masters if you don't like Oom's. Instead, let's go down to Hellgate."
Pieter was really upset now. She had changed her mind again! How anyone could change one's mind was beyond his understanding.
Anne noticed and was put off. “Why can’t you try to be a little more flexible? I’m too flexible, maybe. You’re not enough! If we move toward middle ground, then we ought to be just right, don’t you think?”
Her line of reasoning led to her bursting out in laughter after being peeved with Pieter. He just stood, solemnly observing her the whole time. She sighed as her laughter ended, and they turned in at the East River instead. On a frigid sand beach already half-clogged with ice floes, the screaming gulls swooping for bread crumbs, Anne soon forgot the long, vexing wait at the University that had put her out of sorts with Pieter’s unbending nature, as she saw it. She smiled at him again. “Pieter, we near the Palace where there’s a matinee. Betti Bangles and Clarence Van Ruthingford are playing in ‘Miracle on 34th Street.’ It’s Dish Day. Let’s go!”
Still not about to give up on her outing, Anne thought hard. "Let's go to that nice--" she suddenly blurted out, thinking of a Spanish cafe on Isla de los Estados (old Staten Island). Dolorously called "The Blue Centaur," yet it was famed for gaiety, fine food, Gypsy violinists, and flamenco dancing.
They moved off, Anne tugging at his arm to get him to move a little faster. Even before the crutches, he normally moved slow and sure, like any up country Dutchman. They paid out the price of a cab, penny steamer, dinner and tips, though Anne had to pawn heirloom earrings on the way at a pawnshop. Pieter had to walk out or she would have bought an old painting she happened to pull out of a pile of trash. It was the most outlandish thing he had ever seen after she blew off the dust in a big cloud that made him choke. A train was pictured chugging in full steam out of a fireplace, of all things. “That is no good for your money!” he chided her, starting for the door.
“Wait!” she cried. “It’s a terrific message, if I can only figure it out. Maybe...maybe...yes, it means something like storms make a tree grow stronger, and in the end you get to ride the train to heaven or something pretty good, like those Jewish boys in the Fiery Furnace, remember? They took a big risk and it paid off royally. I know that is kinda mixed up, but that’s the meaning--there’s no doubt about it!”
Pieter, blowing steam of his own, pushed out the door and stood until she came out, without the painting. “You win,” was all she said as she took his arm and they continued on.
At the start of this outing she had brought some money, it is true, but Pieter soon noticed that she never estimated her expenses correctly and came up short. But in order to teach her responsibility, after daring to give her a solemn lecture, he steadfastly refused to bail her out time after time. With Pieter, she had to go "English treat" or not go at all--thus the resort to a pawnshop.
Anne, not at all grateful to him, thought she might fly into a rage and give him a lecture in return on his own short-comings. But she thought he would never admit to them, though he fully expected her to admit hers, and all the words in the world would be no use on him. So she let it pass.
Once at the cafe, everyone except a lone plain Dutch boy soon forgot wretched conditions around them in the world. Even a painting of the Blue Centaur, marvelously preserved from the English disease, only served to stimulate the most riotous and flamboyant toasts. There was a standing offer by the management too. Whoever could satisfactorily explain the painting could have his bill written off, no matter what he ordered. Anne tugged Pieter’s arm, who was reluctant to try because it would attract attention to them and perhaps occasion some rude comments.
“What do you think those strange objects in the picture mean?” she prompted him, as they stood gazing upwards at the Blue Centaur with the silver trident, held poised over another Centaur’s breast as a fire blazed against a background of intricately contorted, dark blue rocks. There were some other things in it that no one could explain. A brick, lettered with an odd name most people took for the artist’s--”DUBESOR.”
“Ol’ Du Besor was a great painter maybe, but he must have had one too many when he worked on this pitcher!” laughed a man at the table nearest them.
Anne nudged Pieter. “Cmon! Use your head! What do you think the painting means? If we can come up with a good story, we get a free meal for two! But since you’re the guy on this date, you have to tell them. They won’t listen to me.”
Pieter, even if he didn’t have an imagination, wasn’t interested. He would have liked the free meal, but interpreting a Jack Dutch picture was not something he relished. His lame try didn’t come close, making Anne’s eyes roll up in her head.
His Dutch upbringing showing in odd ways, he kept the combination bed and sitting room neat as a pin except for never dusting behind things or sending out his wash (to save the hotel laundry charge). He also saved soap by wearing his things several days in a row before washing them himself. The only thing he was really fussy about, and dusted regularly, was the useless trifle Leamis had fobbed off on him. It stood on his bureau, cleaned and buffed with a rag until it shone like new.
“Someday I’ll be able to afford the best suite in this hotel!” he thought with pride. Of course, affording and taking were two different things in his world. However rich he became, he’d never, never live up to his income. That would be shamelessly Jack Dutch. and he’d lose everything. Until then his room was conveniently cheap if not fashionable. He never had guests and Anne had popped in only once or twice and then seemed very uncomfortable. Anne had brought a distinct change into his life, now that he thought about it. In New Alkmaar he had turned a few pretty heads before his accident, but paid them no attention. What did he want there with an expensive girl? He had to work and get ahead if he could, and that was that. In New Amsterdam it was different. They could not be avoided, however a fellow tried! Never had he dreamed of such times--Italian and Spanish food, so many places to go and things to see. His head whirled at the thought.
But yet it was too much a game, too much a Jack Dutch thing, and too expensive. It made him feel uneasy and tense. It hit particularly hard in his Dutch pocketbook, his chief objection to good times. How he liked it whenever he regularly emptied his salary under his mattress, a formidable, prison-striped, cob-sawdust-tundra moss-thistledown-stuffed Dutch tick that could have passed for a convict's. That was really the only moment these days when he was really, truly glad he was working for Dr. Pikkard.Whatever his short-comings, he paid well in good Dutch money and the bulge under the mattress was getting rather difficult to sleep on.
When he did fall asleep in his little, drab quarters, he dreamed of dark-robed figures with friendly words and names of unknown great Dutchmen etched in stone, from Van Homer to the unappreciated, foreign, “van-less” "Chil-". Like them he saw himself striding along some bright day, impressively dark-robed, through the great, bright, clean palace of learning. People were bowing down to him, as if he were the splendid sovereign of all the world's royal league of Nether Lands. And Anne? She was also there, standing beneath, wagging her finger at him and shaking her pretty head.
It was a most disturbing dream.
He was suddenly awakened by furious pounding on the door. Leaping from bed, he grabbed his bathrobe and struggled into his shoes, thinking the hotel must be afire. Flinging open the door, he found the professor.
“Sorry, my boy! I’d never think to wake you on any other occasion, but you must come with me immediately and see something I caught in the starscope!”
Pieter groaned inwardly. He was more inclined to want a fire than a chance to look through the professor’s “starscope,” an astronomical instrument he had heard mentioned once or twice but not seen.
Throwing on more clothes, he hurried after the professor, who led him to the stairs (which were quicker than the elevator). Following the professor out on top of the hotel roof, Pieter was dimly aware of the unusual clearness of the sky. For once the clouds had cleared away, which was a rare opportunity for the starscope.
Although there wasn’t much room to maneuver, the steeply pitched hotel roofs had a flat iron-fenced “widows walk” along the top. Stepping round warm, usually smoking chimneys the professor had foresightedly tied asbestos blankets over, they reached the starscope. It set on the longest stretch of widows walk where the professor had several feet on each end for other equipment and a chair or two.
It was, indeed, a rare night. Still, cloudless, though quite chilly, it presented the professor an unusual chance to use his starscope, which he had not missed.
Dr. Pikkard was anxious that Pieter take a look without spending any time on explanation, which could be given while Pieter was looking through the instrument. It took him only a moment to check the setting before motioning to Pieter to begin. It was a large instrument, eight feet long and forty inches in diameter. From the ground it was dwarfed by the big chimneys of the Wilhelmina, but up close Pieter could see it had been a considerable trouble to get it to its present position, unless it had been assembled on the spot.
Sitting down he put his eye up to the viewing glass. It was like looking up through a dark chimney at a patch of open sky, only the great power of the lens brought the stars much closer to him than he had ever seen them in his life.
Impressed by the size and brilliance of the heavens, he was just beginning to wonder if that was all the professor had meant to show him, robbing him of sleep just for a nice spectacle, when he grew aware of something very odd. It brought to mind the dark patch he had seen on a previous evening, but with the starscope he could see it much, much better.
After a few moments, he had had enough and stood up, his legs stiff with cold in just pyjamas.
Eager to hear, the professor would not wait for his response but prompted him. “You saw the thing, didn’t you?”
Pieter shook his head as if he didn’t want to acknowledge what was in the sky, or couldn’t believe his eyes.
The professor suddenly grew grave. “That’s all right. It’s a bit of a shock, I know. I tend to look at things with a scientific eye and forget the personal aspect for the moment. But I realize it isn’t very pretty. I fear I waked you and gave you a sight that will give you nightmares--if you sleep again tonight.”
Pieter went back to bed after that, for it was still in the early morning, and just lay there, as the professor had thought would happen. He kept wondering, what thing could be eating stars whole? Whatever it was, it was gulping them down without a trace being left, so that there was an whole long lane of empty space cut out where there had been apparently uncountable stars shining in the night.
He recalled, too, the professor’s closing remarks: “I have no idea what it is. No known object has cast such an evil spell over the heavens since the fall of Creation. Like black acid eating up everything it touches, it has spilled out from the heart of the Galaxy, destroying everything in its path, and it is heading our way at unimaginable, scientifically impossible speeds. What could it be? I’ve got to find out!”
But Pieter, and the entire hotel, was not to rest very long. Black coal-smoke filled the hotel and soon brought people running about trying to find the fire. Soon, grand ladies with all sort of odd patches on their faces and their hair in strange contraptions were hastily evacuated to the street in mink coats and night gowns. It took some time to trace the cause, but they finally rooted it out. The professor, it seemed, had forgotten the chimney-snuffing blankets.
As for the “Black Shadow” or “Black Cloud” stalking the stars, he said not another word. It was as if it had never happened, and Pieter had to wonder if he had had a bad dream and only imagined seeing a black cloudlike thing eating its way through thick, brilliant clusters of stars and leaving a black, starless swath behind across the entire sky.
With no call on his assistance, Pieter was just in the way, so he was told to get assistance and clean the warehouse and hand back the keys after paying for its use. It took all day doing as ordered. Pieter watched as Woggham took the last box filled with crumbling newspapers out to the canal and dumped them. In need of little cleanup afterwards, Pieter went to the professor’s bath and washed his face and hands and dried them carefully on a towel monogrammed HM Wh in gold thread. Hot water.
Scented soap. What Jack Dutch luxuries! If only he had thought to bring along some good lye soap of his mother's. He hated the kind the hotel provided, so he always used just enough soap and water to do the job and would never draw a full bath just for himself, and the gold threaded monogram especially made him scowl. Like other aspects of his life with Dr. Pikkard, it could not be avoided.
The Wilhelmina and the professor's office were only about a penny steamer away from Anne's. Pieter, though thinking of his future and already building a sizable bank account under his bed mattress, still had no excuse for not visiting Anne when she wasn't at the office feeding the cats.
He slipped out of the hotel where more and more the hotel personnel were treating him with differential bows and curtsies, as though he were something more than an employee because he assisted a North River patroon and a scientist. These, unlike the effete soaps, he accepted.
Now that it was late afternoon, when the shops were beginning to close, Anne, he reckoned, would expect to meet him at her house. Still thinking to make it up to his free-lunch-bringer for past "neglect" he knew couldn't be helped, to save himself a long walk to the docks he hired a taxi after a considerable struggle with his sense of thrift. The paddle-wheeled, steam-propelled canal cab made swift progress even in the most crowded thoroughfares. The taxi, for five cents, would take him straight to a canal in Anne's neighborhood.
Just beyond was the turning onto Rensselaer Avenue with its grand procession of West and East India Company mansions, rich men's follies, lining both sides of a marble-faced stretch of Herrengracht. Though close neighbors, the patrician mansions with their “gentlemen burghers” and the workaday, middle class brownstones were worlds apart in money, culture, and power. Cops on their beat usually let lovers alone if they didn't loiter too long in one spot. It was a treat for young people to leave rows of rather dingy brownstones with their smell of fried potatoes and "Slemp" and a rather dirty canal to wander down the brightly elegant avenue. A stroller could at least look at the rich and powerful and imagine what such a life might be like. Or at least Anne, whose family had once been in a position to enjoy such opulence first-hand, could. Pieter was more of the workaday variety of Dutch and had no such imagination.
He always stopped a block away and walked, careful not to attract the attention of old lady gossips behind the stiff, white, lace curtains. Proving appearances could be deceiving, the Kilpaison domicile where Anne had been born and raised was a modest, three-story brownstone, externally.
Like the Kilpaisons, it had seen better days, but it still kept up appearances better than most of its kind. Anne's invalid mother had died a few years previously from "English gout," they termed her cheery though lingering indisposition. But her grandmother was still hale and hearty in spite of a tiny stroke now and then, and she maintained boxes of valiant geraniums at every window during the painfully brief interlude of summer--snatching them safe indoors at the first hint of frost in mid August.
Anne, knowing her uncle's habits and schedule as well as her own, had counted on Pieter getting the day off. Having worked all day on a surprise for him, she was eager to see his reaction. She was already racing toward Pieter, who at first didn't recognize her as he climbed up to the street from the taxi. Still the plain Dutch youth, though his nice, neat blond Dutch head and Delft blue eyes were handsome enough, Pieter was shocked by Anne's transformation but bit his tongue. The demure little feathered cloche hat was gone. "Where is it?" he blurted out, his face showing shock and anxiety and all the worrywart lines that went with them. "What have you done to yourself?"
He was still staring at her head, and she laughed. "Oh, that nasty, ugly thing. It's lining a mouse cage at home, for I'll never wear mourning clothes again. Once is enough for a lifetime! I'll die first before I go about like that another day! Even if Grandmama kicks the schlemph bowl, I’m wearing red! The color of a naughty, naughty, flaming red rose!"
Also missing was the modest brown sweater and long black skirt combination she favored during the period of grief for her departed mother. He might have understood some pink ribbons added to her favorite little round hat with the feathers, but this? That was farther than a Dutchman would normally choose to go with the vanity of big city fashion.
All he could do was stare as she began to show off her skirts, giving them a flamenco swirl and a flash of the ankle and calf that immediately caused a sensation behind a dozen window curtains.
Obviously, Pieter had yet to learn that the Kilpaisons thought differently than the common run of Dutch. Being what they were, they always had danced to a different drumbeat. Her grandmother helping her, Anne had truly done herself up. She gave up trying to look like she was solid Dutch. To complement her dark looks, she was wearing the most unDutch colors in her mother's old wardrobe. Let every Dutch person passing by cast a reproachful look! She knew she was stunning in Gypsy-colored skirts and silk blouse, her grandmother's magnificent Spanish shawl of black lace providing the crowning touch. A Spanish comb in her hair and long earrings like Saracen scimitars too--if only Pieter would notice!
"You're much too dark a woman with that dusky Jamaican skin even to my eye," her grandmother had advised her earlier that day. "Gracious, an ancestor on your father's side must have tarried too long in the Caribbean! I can imagine what happened! Best not try to cover it, my dear. It won’t cover. Anyway, you're now at the age to blossom out. You'll do best by yourself if you favor the exotic look. So don't be afraid of what people with starch in their skulls think. Be yourself, dear! Use plenty of heavy jewelry and deep reds, purples, violets, maroons, especially maroons--they’ll look right on you, my dusky little rose..."
After a few moments of painful adjustment, while he glanced apprehensively around at the surrounding houses, Pieter had no choice but to go through with the date, even if she were overly-colored and exotic enough to fit, in his mind, at the zoo.
She gave him a tug to hurry him up. "Sure, I look a little different from the other ducks in the pond. That was my intention. Why should I have to look like that Gladdie Gillingham lady and act so mannerly like her? You’ll get over it! Now we’ve got to hurry. Grandmama takes a hot Jamaican rum toddy for her bad toe and goes to bed early, but she wants to take a gander at you before she turns in for the night."
The nearly vertical brownstone steps took some of his breath away, and he had few words anyway, being so surprised when the Kilpaisons mobbed him at the door.
"Cute, but can he smile without having to be poked in the caboose?" observed Anne's youngest sister, nearly eleven, one dark cheek painted with red and white to resemble an ace of hearts playing card. She whispered something more to her confidante rag doll and Anne, overhearing or guessing, aimed a hefty slap at her which her sister ducked.
"Welcome, young man. Don't mind these dashing young ladies and their remarks!" said a tiny, amiable gentleman.
Pieter noted he was different too--just like Anne, with the same noticeably dark, almost chocolate skin that ran in half the Kilpaison line.
Mr. Kilpaison continued in a shy, almost feminine voice. "I've learned to hire all female tutors. The men run off after the first day! Imagine that! And my daughters are so pretty--perhaps too pretty!"
Pieter looked a little closer at the owner of the remarks and his eyes widened. Not only was the gentleman wearing a dressing gown patterned with tropical plants and parrots, but his over-sized spectacles and lens were tinted dark green. Noticing Pieter's stare, the father chuckled.
"Oh, these! My eyes were sadly, sadly weakened a few years ago when my dear wife kept me a bit too long down in Jamaica. It was the old family plantation and dairy, gone badly, badly to jungle now. Too much to keep up and the servants and dairymen were always running off to fish or play. Ours was appointed the royal dairy and supplied the palace--so we had to keep producing even without help. When my eyes went one day as, I recall, after reading some rather naughty French magazines, I recall we had to wait a terrible long time for the emperor's milk cart to come, and I had gone I don't know how many times out to the road to look for it when--"
Anne touched her father's cheek, or rather pinched and pulled it this way and that, which looked mean but started him chuckling out of control.
"We don't have time for that story, Papa!" she said to the widower, who seemed merry enough despite the big red mark Anne's fingers had left on his face. "Maybe some other time when all the lost Kilpaison cows come home from old Jamaica and restore the FABULOUS family fortune!"
Leading Pieter, Anne dashed down the hall and looked into several rooms, choked with old plantation furniture and bouquets of dried and fresh flowers, bird cages with parrots and cockatoos perched on top, rabbit hutches with no rabbits but sometimes with lizards or turtles in them, musical instruments and metronomes, an all pink grand piano, game sets of all kinds, stilt poles, skates, fancy painted trunks, ceramic figurines, tin soldier sets, kites, rocking horses, gaily painted Old Country cupboard-style beds, and many more things than Pieter could hope to recognize. Up the stairs they went, high and narrow, at least two floors. Down a twisting squeeze of a hall Anne led him next, popping into a sewing room, then a sitting parlor with a balcony and a hundred pots of geraniums brought in for the winter. She stopped, rubbing her chin just like her uncle. "Hmmm, now where has that nasty, mean old witch--" A surprised look came over her. "Well, I never!"
As if she had forgotten Pieter, she went directly to a door and threw it open. It flew so hard it banged against a huge ceramic vase with peacock feathers and would have knocked it over with a crash but the wall stopped it.
An old woman was standing up from a wicker wheelchair at a billiard table, putting the point of her stick to a ball she had just repositioned for a better strike. Everything in the room was extremely Jack Dutch and odd, even to the book (an alphabetic psaltery of Lamb and Pritchard’s) propped under one table leg that did not quite square with the floor since the time, rather recent, Anne had sawn it in a fit of pique.
"Grandmama!" Anne stormed at her. "You can't take any more of these all-night games, you know that! You'll have another English stroke, and it'll do more than deaden your big toe next time. You've been so good about it the last six months, and now!"
The old lady with the kindest and whitest face in the world, but wearing a low-cut cocktail gown off the shoulders and a heart-shaped lock on her breast, pursed her lips as if she were about to cry, which also puckered her highly rouged cheeks. She laughed instead and threw the stick on the table. "All right then, my dear, I won't play any more--not tonight anyway. Of course, you know I can't help it if I wake early and am cross with everybody! And I do hate it when I’m cross!”
Tipsy and not sure of her balance because the feeling in her big toe was gone, she suddenly sat down, or rather, fell back into the wicker chair, which fortunately was full of cushions and little plush animals, mostly jungle exotics that were the real thing, only stuffed. Her violent fall knocked the chair backwards under her, almost to the leaning vase with the peacock feathers.
Pieter, amazed at everything and everyone he had just seen (this Kilpaison was dark, this was chalk white!), was not quite sure afterwards what happened next. Somehow he found himself seating on a chair close by the old lady--in fact shoulder to shoulder. The grand dame, however, was not a loss for words or wit beneath her impromptu coronet of peacock plumes. She had Pieter come close and then whispered, rapid-fire, confidential information about her granddaughter until Anne cut in with a stinging slap of her glove on her grandmother's wrist. Looking very offended and put out, the grandmother removed her probing fingers from down inside Pieter's shirt and tossed her head girlishly (just like Anne).
"But he's such a nice boy! I can see his possibilities. Yes, indeed, I do! And I was just trying to warn him about the Kilpaison female temperament. You know, dear, our--”
The grandmother hand reached out again to Pieter and this time he colored violently in the face and shrank away.
Anne put her hands on her shapely, little hips and tossed her head just as girlishly as her grandmother. "He'll find that out soon enough. I'd rather you tell him about something you're fond of, say, old Maastricht?"
At the mere mention of the grandmother's hometown, a beatific smile of a Raphaelite angel broke on her withered cheeks, for she was a late, most reluctant immigrant to America. The family had moved from Holland to Jamaica and thence to New Amsterdam when she wouldn't budge.
"Make yourself at home, my dear boy!" she crooned to Pieter. "Oh, do have some of the latest imported chocolates! They're Maxim’s, fresh in from Paris! Sad, but there isn't much to dear, old Paris these days, it gets less and less its old self, but they still know how to make chocolates in the one confectionery that's still operating. I detest our niggardly local Dutch chocolates, don't you? They're hard as rocks and haven't enough sugar and I swear they put in ground corncob or sawdust from some prison mattress factory to stretch the batch--I think it’s called ‘English helper’."
Not noticing there were no fancy, liqueur-chocolates left in the box beside her, imported or domestic, merely a drunk, chocolate-stuffed mouse, the old dowager continued.
"There, now that you’re comfortable and are enjoying your brandy and coffee with cake, I want to tell you about my beautiful, beautiful city. Of course, it isn't today what it was when I was a girl, but Maastricht was the pearl of--"
Pieter listened politely as she gabbled on about her lineage after pointing out a gold-framed pencil drawing of herself in her maidenhood that looked absolutely nothing like her, his eyes dropping until he was staring at an old book titled Lamb’s and Pritchard’s Syllabary stuck under a foreshortened foot of the lady’s chair that had been sawn off for some reason. "Solid, solid burgher," she said. "It's mostly on my late darling husband's side, though on mine, the Van Loons, thanks to events outside my control, West Indian rum traders and Jamaican milkmen of various hues got mixed in somehow--those types are always so wickedly handsome, you know--so that I'm the only one left with a classic, pure, peaches and cream complexion."
She laughed at an old joke she had just remembered. "Oh, there was a whisper or two from my mother before she died that she had noble English blood as well as some of that dear boy, Charles the Great, in her veins, but I think she only wanted us to appreciate her with a more fancy crypt than she knew she would get otherwise from us plain Dutch. By that time, of course, there wasn't much money--the cold-blooded, evil, money-grubbing English side, those upstart Milford Havens, took it all! So they buried her in a pine box like everybody else these days. She might as well been a nursery maid!"
Upbringing: "Oh, strict! puritanical, puritanical! Dutch Reformed! and impossibly, impossibly dull!" Marriage: "Kilpaison, the dear, dear man, was the best husband a woman could ever want; served me the best French chocolates in bed whenever I wasn't feeling my best!" And so on.
He himself could not possibly imagine such a chocolate-dispensing husband, but she was only warming up apparently. She fairly sailed on the subject of her religious training. Her hands moving fluently with the action, she described the setting in old Holland and how a party of her school chums were initiating other chosen few into their secret "Oblate Sisterhood of the Bat-Goddess, Theodora X." Though knowing nothing about Jewish observances, it was to be an approximation of a Jewish bat mitzvah, with a real bat. Their headquarters were the labyrinthine limestone caves of St. Peter outside town. She had got to the place where they sacrificed a hapless summer squash, decapitating it on a stone altar set up before a captured bat, the sainted Theodora (X for rank, as she was the Tenth goddess of that line), when Anne pulled Pieter away to the door.
The old widow flew into an instant sulk, which was half a smile, so it wasn't very convincing as a smile kept interfering with her cross expression. "Must you two go? He is such a darling! Has such possibility, I feel! A little adventure now and then does my heart good! You know how this old lady likes--"
Her hand went out, exactly where it would not be decent to say.
Pieter jumped back away, his face turning red.
“Now you leave his possibilities alone!” the granddaughter protested. “They’re mine--you’ve had yours aplenty in your time, I daresay, and now it’s MY turn!”
Anne threw a shawl over her grandmother’s head when she started to object, and that was that. She and Pieter went down the stairs (Pieter losing his footing and nearly sliding out of control, a lingering effect of the incident in the grandmother’s billiard room), no one showing them to the door except a Great Dane.
Evangeline galloped with the sound of a horse and almost knocked Pieter on his head by jumping up on him. When it happened he had just reached to open the door for Anne and so his crutches were no help. Anne pushed Pieter forward and somehow got the door closed on the wildly affectionate bitch.
How relieved Pieter was to get free of this mad, mad, Jack Dutch Kilpaison household! He had never seen anything like it in all his life--nor did he wish to ever set eyes on it again, if he could help it!
They hurried to take the penny steamer back to Manhattan and, because Anne had a fit until he gave in, another musical show at one of the theaters in gas-lit Heere Street.
On the way he had to question her, just in case. "Did you bring enough money this time?"
Anne tried not to let her irritation show and spoil the occasion as she knew Pieter was probably hoping to do so he could call off the evening out. "Of course! And I have tickets for two."
Theater-going was not his idea of having a good time, of course, but Anne always insisted on going at every opportunity, especially now when they were in between tutors at the Kilpaison "Young Ladies’ Tutors Finishing School." Why he couldn't get her to go to a free lending library of Dutch Reformed religious periodicals and books, or a public art exhibition of government and city schlepen portraits at Van Fricks' was a mystery to him. It was pure malice on her part to say he didn't like fine art, especially when there was no admission charge. He would have rather spent the time with his calculus, of course, but that was too much to expect of Anne. She loved to gad about, though her own house was crammed to over-flow with gaudy, naughty, Jack Dutch books and pictures.
Anne remarked about the theater on the way that it was the only place where young people of New Amsterdam 's better homes could safely hide from the frowning city fathers. The stodgy schlepens, who mostly all lived thick as thieves along Prince's Canal, were always threatening to shut down Heere Street but never said a word about Sin City where they held certain lucrative investments. Fortunately, the hypocrites went to bed early to save lighting their fashionably narrow, high-gabled, seven-storey mansions. She also claimed she had been inside one and seen a private speakeasy going full blast on National Prayer and Fasting Day.
Afterwards, with another penny, it was off to Emilio Hiero Petronio Puciano's oyster house on Ellis Island. Definitely best of the lot, it was run by a Sicilian in an Italian colony, full of family, relatives, friends and buddies, this eatery was a lively place and amazingly cheap. If that wasn’t enough, the music was superb, provided by a Gypsy master violinist who spun sheer magic at the drop of a penny.
Fortunately for Pieter’s mood, the cost of transportation was minimal, or he would have refused to go. Judging from the reception she always got, Anne was a special friend of the family. Everyone fell on her, telling her how much they loved her new clothes while Pieter's face got pink in the cheeks and on his forehead
When she finally got free and they sat down at their table, they were hardly there a minute when a bucket of steamed oysters, newly taken off Nantucket and Cape Cod, plunked down on their table. With fresh breads and heaps of pasta and a bowl of melted butter and another of minty sauce to share between them, they started their meal. Anne had just begin to demolish an oyster while holding it in the shell when she glanced across the table and saw what he was doing. Pieter was throwing down several oysters and then a huge hunk of bread and a mess of pasta as a chaser without bothering to chew.
"Is that the way they taught you to eat where you came from?" she said, eyes snapping. “This is good stuff. You ought to at least taste it!”
Taste the food? Having been born and bred on chaff-filled blue mush and porridge, Pieter didn't know what she was talking about. He continued stuffing and only when she grabbed his hand did he pause.
Though he had stashed away half the meal by that time, she tried to show him something about eating food that would allow him to get a different sensation than just a stuffed belly.
"Why, you eat like some wild animal!" she laughed. “Slow down, it won’t run off your plate before you can eat it!”
After her little demonstration, he tried to chew and handle it the way she did it, but it was no use. He was soon back to his old way, with Anne trying to finish with the little appetite he had not yet spoiled with New Alkmaar manners. When he had finished, long before she had, she looked at him with amazement. "I've never seen anyone eat so much so fast in my life. Where do you put it all?"
Again, Pieter did not know how to respond. It had always been feast or famine in New Alkmaar. Anne changed the subject as soon as she could. Pieter listened most soberly and without the slightest comprehension to Anne's light and sophisticated, big city talk about the latest Heere Street hit.
"Utopia Limited," for that time a lavish musical drama with an opera star singing the lead, was obviously a hit on opening night, but for another reason than just the set and the acting. It was British, and safely staged away from home poked fun at British imperialism--that is, the Clarke family. What could be more welcome to the Dutch audience, Anne commented, than to laugh at former deadly foes while enjoying the spectacle of British actors and actresses pilloring their own country?
After dining, Anne tried to make the best of it this rare occasion with Pieter and enjoyed several glasses of cheap but respectable vintage from a New Gelderland winery while Pieter stuck to plain ice water. It was understood they could talk as long into the evening as they liked. If there was a need for a table or two, Emilio's family simply migrated to the kitchen to make room. No one, once he had ordered and eaten Emilio's fine fare for a modest charge, was ever pressured to pay his ticket and go. That would have been unconscionably mean and commercial.
"Unthinkable! Unspeakable! Unpossible!" Emilio would say if the subject came up.
Customers could wait for the conversion of the Dutch, as far as Emilio was concerned. He always said he ran his oystery for friends and young lovers and nobody else! If he didn't like somebody's looks or the town he came from off-Island (for him that meant not off Ellis but his natal Sicily), he wasn't served. It did not matter a fig how much money he had or how finely dressed. Or even if he brought goons hired to put Emilio in his place. All the restauranteer had to do was whistle. The manhood of the entire Italian community would gladly come running with stiletoes drawn. It was a matter of honor to put any outsider in his place. The eatery was old-fashioned in the extreme but they all made do. An outhouse in back drained like all the other neighboring privies straight into the bay. Since the waters were tidal, a tide chart was tacked to the privy wall. It wasn’t always accurate and accidents occurred.
Flocks of seagulls hanging constantly about the area did not seem to mind what drained and was thrown in the water. Any garbage heaved out the restaurant's back door was immediately grabbed in a free-for-all of beating wings, stabbing beaks, and shrill gulls' screams. Inside, booths were narrow but walled to the low ceilings, so young men courting beaux enjoyed almost complete privacy. From time to time one of Emilio's pretty, sloe-eyed daughters or his ample, moody wife, Placentia Puciano, came by to refill wine and water glasses. But that was all Emilio would permit to intrude upon young people's love-making. As he saw it, not even angels must tread upon love's holy ground.
"Ah, romance is the sauce of life, my children!" Emilio would often say, throwing up pasta-flaked hands. Then he stood beaming with fond memories of his own youthful escapades in country hayricks as Mrs. Puciano looked on with disapproval.
"It's got nothing to do with spaghetti sauce, you old fool!" Mama Puciano always corrected him, but he never seemed to hear. She had a good suspicion he purposely plugged his ears with uncooked pasta batter so he wouldn't have to hear the truth.
She couldn't help noticing other things as well. No two lovers could have been more oddly matched than Anne and her Dutch boy. She with her city ways, he with his countried Dutch manners and aloofness. Why, he ate just like an animal! He couldn't have tasted one bite of all that good food. It was an outrage to civilized sensibilities.
Yes, like oil and water, those two, she thought. Like vinegar and honey... Madame Puciano could see it plainly enough, but no one else seemingly could. But by this time of her life, she was wise enough to say nothing and let people live their own lives (even though she could see they didn’t know how and probably never would).
Anne could see something was troubling Pieter. He was chewing his nails again, so she waited until he was ready to tell her.
"The explosion at the shed," he finally said, after he had put away all he could possibly eat for the days of famine ahead. "I can't help thinking about it, now I'm free of that paper haulin' and sortin’ he had me do." He could well have been thinking about the incident of the starscope, but that was something he wanted to forget.
Anne showed no surprise though she must have been just as shocked as anyone at the sight of the destruction. She shivered, as if in a draught, and pulled her shawl closer. It was news that figured prominently in the papers. Though the authorities had stated their plans to look into the matter thoroughly, she knew from close quarters that nothing had been done to find the culprits. That was New Amsterdam!
She leaned closer across the table, and Pieter wrinkled his nose. It wasn't Anne's perfume, Jamaican Jasmine borrowed from her mother's vanity, but the strong smell of camphor. "Sorry," laughed Anne as she glanced down at her shawl. "Strong, isn't it? I should have given it a good airing first after taking it out of Mama's trunk! You'll have to come again and have dinner with Grandmama soon. She'll probably have another slight stroke from the excitement and lose the other big toe, but when she's feeling better she'll be asking for me to bring you back for a good long talk after she's seen you well fed with her favorite chocolates. Tonight was just an introduction. Father wouldn't ask you a thing we want to know. She's the one who's been giving me counsel about how to look my best. ‘You’ve got real possibilities, my dear, now go get some nice young man’s up!’ she told me. She says that Mama, bless her, won't be needing these things any more and I might as well have them. They fetched her Papa, Grandmama said, so maybe they would work on you too. I guess she was wrong.”
Anne paused in her chatter and looked away for a moment. But when she turned back, her eyes were still merry not sad. Pieter, his more practical Dutch mind on other things than frivolous women's Jack Dutch fashions, said nothing. He was still wondering how to express himself to a temperamental whirlwind named Anne Kilpaison. Ever since the meteor shower, his employer's mood, often tense, seemed to be building as if to a climax. He had even snapped at Pieter, calling him a dunce and other things, which was unlike him.
Gazing at him, Anne's smile faded and was replaced by bold, fierce determination--the side of her that had killed a jaguar finally forced to the fore. She caught his hand on the table. "Well, what do YOU think about the explosion? I hate sitting with an absolute stranger, which you are when you act this way. We might as well talk about it. It will only spoil our time together if you keep thinking and moping about it."
She still had his hand, studying him in the opportunity afforded by the close confines. "I wish I could get you to smile more, so I can see your dimples. You are always SO, SO serious! And your eyes have such a hard expression, like ice. Why, you'll wrinkle up to an old man before your time if you keep on the way you are going."
It took quite a space for Pieter to find his thoughts and respond. It was his feelings that got in the way. He didn’t like cross-examination. Introspection, that was just as strange and confusing to him. When he thought he was being personal, he only became more formal. When he thought he was speaking the plain truth, it was an outright evasion everyone else could spot but which utterly convinced him.
"I--I don't know yet what to think. I just want to do the right thing by Professor Doctor Pikkard. After all the things he had me read and put together for him from the old papers, I wonder if things'll turn out the way he planned. Maybe there's worse than what people can do."
Though not a scientist, Pieter had put at least two things together concerning the balloon shed "accident" and the events in the papers. All the mysterious allusions the professor had made in the balloon the night the stars fell, together with scattered comments made before and after, had finally made an impression. If it had involved people as such, he could never have brought himself to believe it, despite the source.
But forces that went beyond people he could imagine--when normally he could not imagine anything beyond life's basics....
Anne's wonderful, dark, Jamaican eyes darkened even further, culminating in a vampish Clara van Bow pout. Then a smile lit her face. "Oh, you're just too Dutch gloomy. Why be bothered? It's not fate or like walking under a ladder and your whole life is ruined. It's just mean-hearted people who are the problem. I think I know who might be spiteful and wicked enough to have done it! You see, there are plenty people who would like to see him stopped--people in high places. Since my brilliant uncle never felt it worth his while to sue the university for the proper degree to which he was fully entitled, he's always had his detractors there despite the fact it is they who refused to give him his due. Many people who think they are more of an authority in his field are envious of all his scientific discoveries, you see. Perhaps, the worst of them are behind this latest accident. That is the most likely explanation. So now are you going to stop worrying? We know the culprits, and there really isn’t anything Oom will do about them."
Pieter stopped rubbing his troubled head and worry-creased brow and looked deeply into her eyes--truly her chief claim to beauty amidst the unusual, southern dark looks that both attracted and repelled him. "But how can you say that about people like us? I don't believe it. There can't be bad such as that in people. Suppose it has nothing to do with 'people'? What if it is because of a nova?"
His inner self, for a moment, was starkly exposed. That, and the vehemence of his remark, was so startling, his face so contorted again into an old man's mask, Anne was taken aback. She wanted to laugh, seeing his mistake, but he was just too serious and she knew she'd hurt him badly. Obviously, it was a cry of a heart no plain Dutch boy could properly handle, but there was something more which she could not fathom.
Anne's best feature narrowed, and she gave him a strange darting look as her fine, white teeth came up to bite her upper lip. “Pieter, I think you--”
What she may have said in return was not to be as Emilio's youngest daughter arrived with more wine. She took their oyster buckets away and whatever was cracked and uneaten was thrown to her pet sea gulls.
That had given Anne time to control her own thoughts and feelings, and the rest of her remark went forever unsaid. She had just remembered why there was no music--the violinist had that night off. She smiled, brightening up at another thought. "They're all skating on the indoor ice rink in Minuit's Park down by Wall Street. Let's go and rent skates and if we're careful you too can do some slow ice dancing, the kind I like anyway. It's lit up with colored lights like a great big party, there's some wonderful big band music, so it's a really fine place to go."
Pieter, uncomfortable the whole time at Emilio’s, was glad to change the scenery. The free fresh air outdoors also made him feel better. But skating? Even though he had skated before his accident, for the life of him, Pieter couldn't trust his wooden legs on the ice. It wasn't the skates, which were sturdy varnished horn to replace the unreliable, ever-crumbling Dutch iron. Instead, embarrassed to death, he watched Anne leap and whirl around the couples on the ice--a performance that drew the claps and cheers of the other skaters.
Afterwards, very, very late, they were walking back to her house when he stopped and did something very uncharacteristic of a plain Dutch boy. His possibilities excited to an uncontrollable urgency, he pulled her tight against his body as if he wanted to lock on to Anne’s own possibilities and make them his own. Anne had been mistaken. Pieter did care for her, which she had been doubting for good reason.
Seizing the moment though she was surprised at Pieter’s sudden ardor, she had to know something first. To find out, she had to push him away a bit, and that, for her temperament, was not particularly easy.
"Would you marry a little fool like me? I might even put on a beauty mark--you know, the kind some actresses have on their cheek. Would you still love me, Pieter? Now tell me the truth! That’s all I’m asking. The plain truth.”
Pieter, sighing deeply as his violent emotions began to creep back into the dark hole he kept them in, gazed at her with no comprehension. Slowly, it dawned on him what she was saying.
Marry? Marry a girl with a beauty mark on her cheek? He was so startled and embarrassed, he looked about to see if anyone had heard. "Please don’t talk that way," he said as low as he could, afraid people were listening. "I have too much to do for your uncle first to think about such a thing."
Seeing deep worry lines appear in his face again, Anne laughed loudly, drawing a few curtains aside in neighboring windows so that Pieter felt it was time to go. In spite of him, she moved back against his body while he glanced anxiously up and around at the windows of widows and unmarried maiden aunts.
"I was just kidding!" she said. "Why marry? We're much too young and full of life for that. So try and forget you're Dutch for a moment. Kiss me like the French kiss their women. Let's give the old crows gawking at us something to crow about!"
Half in earnest, half in play, even a little hysterical after what had happened, she laid her hand on his shoulder--which was a mistake. Up to then he might have considered grabbing Anne’s offered rosebuds and throwing all Dutch security to the winds for at least five minutes.
Recovering himself like a good Dutchman, he straightened up quickly and moved away from Anne to a safe distance (after all, the Kilpaisons had proved they were good at grabbing).
"No, there are things. We must wait for the proper time!" he told her, bending stiffly forward to give her a Dutchman's good-bye peck on the cheek.
"What things?" she still wanted to know, pulling back away from the peck. Rebuffed, Pieter turned Dutch-stubborn and wouldn't answer. And everybody knew that nothing on Earth could move a Dutchman in that mood.
But Anne wasn’t through with him. She had a definite word. "We'll see about that! I got a feeling just now, something is going to break, something good, and all you need to do is welcome it. Do you think you can manage that?"
Having had the last word, the little prophetess shook her gold scimitar earrings and laughed. She ran a few steps, looked back, then hurried to the Kilpaison brownstone steps and was soon out of sight. Immediately, as though all connected by the same switch, lights went out in adjacent brownstones. Street and canal were now dark, except for a far-off gas lamp. What a night it had been! With a sigh deeper than the canal, Pieter turned back to Dr. Pikkard's hotel for a night of restless tossing in his own room. Perhaps it was Italian food. Or Anne's vivid clothes and strange, parting words about marriage and beauty marks, or her wild grandmother and family. Whatever it was, he felt like he had gone through a great storm in the middle of the Atlantic instead of a simple Dutch date.
Back safe in his room, he could not get the evening’s events out of his mind. The GMC Pavilion Tire seemed to glow in the dark, and visions of Reno, the mill, Jack and Mae, falling stars, an ice palace with big band music playing, and even a bewitching-eyed Reno mermaid with a beauty mark on her cheek danced all night in his poor head. He even saw himself up on a Jack Dutch throne, dressed in absurd, girlish ruffled sleeves like a Gypsy violinist and with a golden crown on his head. Again, there was Anne, wagging her finger with disapproval and throwing him chocolate kisses.
"Ah, young romance--how sweet, how tender it is," the enchanted Emilio rhapsodized about Anne and her boyfriend. earlier in the evening--despite Mrs. Puciano's cold, fishy eye, since she saw nothing but trouble ahead for the mismatched couple.
He had caressingly rubbed thick, floury hands together as he smacked his lips and watched the "delicious" pair of love birds, Anne and Pieter, float out his door on Cupid wings of divine love. The moment the last customer had gone, Emilio started for the door, intending to enjoy the smoke he carried secretly in a pocket under his apron.
"Husband!” called out Placentia without looking his way. “Now where do you think you're sneaking off to? There are all those dishes and pots to do! I won't have my daughters spoiling their fine, marriageable hands with this terrible Dutch soap! Why, it strips the very skin off the sink!"
Gritting his gold teeth, the restaurateur kept going. He took a walk, or his approximation of one. Ellis, though hardly big enough for a passing bird to expectorate on, was at least good for fifty paces this way and that. A cold wind gusted and reminded him of where he was. Depopulated and turning to wilderness, Italy was as good as dead. Sicily was--oh, he could not bear to think of how he had left her!
Not much of a living could be had from Ellis, the saints be blessed! But the islet was covered with grand structures, left over from ancient times. Isolated just enough to preserve things, there were far fewer marks of vandalism and the English disease than elsewhere in the once great city across the water. That's why he had settled his wife and brood on sweet, little Ellis. Penny steamers were still a penny. Let his clientele come to him and spare him having to run a business under the stern gazes of the local governing Dutch. Here on Ellis there wasn’t much, but there was freedom! He was like a king on the island! And his Papa before him had always said, "If your pasta iza good enuf, den you'll never have to beg nobody come. Dey beat down da door, I tell you! Momma mia!"
Yet the Old Country had enjoyed plenty of white flour--even up to the last. It was getting very difficult to get it anymore, even at a high price. Never would he turn to blue Dutch pasta! Ugh! It wasn’t fit for beasts, that flour! You couldn’t make them eat it!
Emilio enjoyed his cigar and wound up under the noble arches of the main immigration building. The complex was once administered by a long dead Pre-Hollandian entity called U.S.A.--which, hard to believe now, was blessedly not Dutch. Yes, the proof was everywhere--the former country’s eagle insignia, for example. The Dutch hated it--thinking it too close in style to the ones used by the Indian-ruled Mexican empire to the south, Hapsburg Spain, and possibly even more hated, Clarkean Britain.
Somehow it was nice to think the island hadn't always been Dutch. He wasn't a great lover of the Dutch, who needed population and had given him refuge in America. Though he admired the way they stuck to things and didn't give up, right or wrong, blood ran too cold in their veins. He only liked one or two "Dutchies," and then liked them a great deal, probably because they were so different from the common run.
Yet even here on Ellis there was a fly in the wine. Relatives had been pressing him, Placentia included, to leave. "Husband, I see the price of white flour from Jamaica has gone up again. By the saints of heaven! Why not we go now from this awful cold, damp, windy place to--" He wouldn't discuss it. As long he could stretch his white flour supply and the oyster beds held out--and they were doing better than ever--he would stay right where he was. Somehow he couldn't see himself South American, even if it was on the north coast in Dutch Surinam--or Dutch Guinea, as some called it. Let everybody pack up and go without him, as they were threatening to do. One move to America was enough wrenching of the old heart for him. Another would kill his love for life.
Some rain found its way through a broken window and got him, so he stepped closer in under the arches. The arches, tiled long before by Sicilian artists in the unmistakable style of his island country, were his favorite spot--for quiet, male smoking, for remembering how life and love had been when he was still young enough to--ah!
It was there he liked to stand, smoke, and gaze up at the glorious stars--whenever they came out of the fog and mist of New Amsterdam, that is. Tonight he was enjoying good fortune--the skies were clear! Like crystal! crystal!
He turned his eyes to the heavens and the star map of old Sicily imprinted indelibly on his memory, but after a moment or two he realized that there was no match--the two skies were not even close. Of course, this was to be expected. He had not quite gotten used to the new configurations of the Western Hemisphere’s constellations. But, then, he knew they weren’t quite THIS different!
He couldn’t understand it. On clear nights, he had a good view of the thing. A good third of the sky with its stars seemed to have been torn out of the map. How could that be? It was as if a dragon had swallowed them. At such times he shook his head, thinking he was seeing things. Going outdoors, he wondered if the clouds would move aside enough, and the winds
had already done the job--sweeping the rain away after only a few minutes.
When he looked up again he saw he had not been mistaken. The heavens were as empty as ever and the stars were still gone. What had happened to Persio and Andromeda? Herculio and Oriano and--
“Well, I still must have eaten and drunk too much!” he decided. “The stars I recall were there a few weeks ago, and by the saints they will be back without fail tomorrow night. Old Emilio’s only imagining things, isn’t he?” He turned his eyes away from the perturbing heavens to his inner landscape of beloved Sicily--his lost but not altogether lost homeland.
“I shall always love you, my beloved heart, my precious lost rose!” he mooned in helpless ecstasy, made all the sweeter for the ache of separation. “How sweet you grow with the passing years. How sweet! It nearly kills me!”
Golden though it was, Emilio's dream of youth and love was past and gone forever--however much he remembered the lost bloom in an alien land. Pieter's, though very different, was just beginning to come true, and not all because of the faithful patronage of Dr. Pikkard.
Obviously, he had stayed up all night again. His pipe lay on top of piled newspapers, a tendril of smoke curling from a dying ember of "The Flying Dutchman," his favorite brand. Empty cups and saucers littered the desk and floor, competing with the masses of newspapers. Dr. Pikkard looked up slowly with unfocused, bloodshot eyes, which were not much redder than Pieter's.
"So you're becoming quite the big city bon vivant, I see!" he laughed hollowly, pausing to clear his husky throat. "Please get me some fresh coffee, won’t you? I've rung room service too many times lately and run out of tipping money. That Puckering-Duckering fellow doesn’t pay them enough, poor fellows, and I can’t make them work without at least a tip!"
Bon vivant? Pieter looked at him quizzically. That was as difficult and foreign as "nova." He thought the professor was spouting Van Butler Latin at him.
"I mean you've become quite the jolly man about town." his employer, seeing Pieter’s confusion, explained.
Pieter frowned. To him "jolly" could only mean one thing: Jack Dutch. He was so out of sorts byt his time he nearly turned green at the suggestion. "Oh, no, Meinheer! I’m not what you say at all!"
"Oh, yes, you are!” the professor continued blithely on. “And don’t try to deny it. I was out taking a break in order to get more Flying Dutchman and just happened to see you going in to a place of public amusement--a theater in Heere Street, I believe it was."
This was the thing Pieter had feared most--being seen in a place where he hadn't really wanted to go. Now the truth was out--and what could he say? Pieter by now was not green but red all over but he could find no suitable explanation, for he had forgotten the professor himself had given Anne the tickets.
"Why be so defensive, my boy? It's quite all right for you to seek a little diversion, since you’ve worked so hard on this paper chase of ours. Don't feel uncomfortable about it! I had no difficulty following up your lead--brilliant, my boy, if I must say so myself! You worked faithfully and deserved to have a good time! Besides, that opera was a bit of a lark--something to do with England being a paradise back in the old days, I believe--though that's hard to imagine now in the present circumstances."
“Faithful, ” “Hard-working,” and “Deserving” Pieter was grateful, nevertheless, when the professor finally changed the subject. After Pieter had brought a fresh pot and had recovered somewhat from his employer's remarks-good and bad--he worked setting the room to rights. He piled stray newspapers the professor had marked for disposal back into boxes. That done, he called in Woggham his "gopher" from skulking around outside the hotel and had the boxes taken out to a canal and dumped. That was the way waste of any kind was treated in New Amsterdam. Canals were dug as much for transportation as the convenience of dumping garbage, unwanted, broken furniture, dead dogs and cats--all the effluvia of a hard-working city that found itself without spare funds to pay anymore for garbage collection and disposal.
The remaining papers, a dozen or so, remained on the professor's desk under sheets of copious notations and calculations. Dr. Pikkard was gone while this work was going on, and he returned, bathed and shaven, after the office was finally cleared of the worst of its messes and clutter. Except for the bags under his eyes, he looked quite the same alert and vibrant old gamester-scientist ready to tee off.
He sat down, however, and eyed Pieter as he chewed on his unlit pipe. Finally, when Pieter, though used to it, was beginning to feel uncomfortable, his employer spoke.
"My friend, it's time to take a walk in the ruins, the part we call the Old City. It's the next logical step, you see."
"Oh, what now?" Pieter muttered under his breath, trying with his foot to squash a beetle escaped from a specimen jar and missing. He still felt tired and frayed at the edges from the last two restless nights in bed. And all that work on the grubby newspapers! Perhaps the worst thing was seeing Anne's face light up as she kept saying, over and over, that things were going to "break" for him. He wanted no such "break." He just wanted what he had coming in life after working Dutch-hard for it.
Since the professor didn't want anyone reporting back to the hotel, he hired a horse and cart, an "Irish Jaunting Car" with big, red-painted wheels and green box. The rig took rich English tourists around--the late wars now being over long enough for renewed commercial and civilian contacts .
“Okay, we’re ready to go!” the professor said to Pieter outside the hotel as passers-by gawked and the doorman looked as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. “Don’t just stand there! Up in the seat you go!”
What now? Pieter inwardly groaned, climbing up into the gaudy Jack Dutch rig. The professor was giving him a ride in the park? Just what he needed--a horrible, Jack Dutch outing with nothing good that could possibly be accomplished! How embarrassing! He wished he could have sunk out of sight, right into the ground! The whole world was watching them make fools of themselves! Having paid the black-skinned, green-liveried "Irish" driver to get lost for several hours, the professor gave the horse's haunches a smart rap of the reins and off they went with Pieter sinking as far down in the seat as he could.
Pieter’s attitude was understandable. Like everyone else, he was chiefly concerned with making a living in the remaining living portions of New Amsterdam. Though at first he had been shocked by such vast tracts of ruins, he soon got used to them and paid hardly any attention to the Pre-Hollandian "Old City." Unappealingly, it stretched for miles everywhere around the Dutch city, towering over it in most places as well. Colossal in proportions, it was still in no way a living part, except that the desolate, half-dissolved but still impossibly high towers and badly decayed sky-dome could not be put from sight.
Many days and nights thick, low fogs and mists coming off the canals, rivers and bay could do that, but the wind freshened and they cleared away, there was the old, incredible pile of ugliness looming overhead! Dwarfing the New City, like an elephant next to a flea, it was an almost constant reminder that there had been some very bad times a few centuries previously. Mined like a quarry for the few materials the English disease hadn't tainted and the more valuable bat guano, vandalized and torched, there was still so much Old City it could never be entirely gotten rid of, not in a thousand years. Even countless earthquakes that not been able to bring it to ground level, there was so much for nature to play with and level. After a difficult and circuitous route, the professor stopped the horse cart. It had been hard going, getting the cart that far through the masonry and trash-littered streets. He had foreseen that a truck or car would not have made it at all. His feet still asleep from sitting up so late at work, he half-fell down to the street, Pieter following with two kerosene lanterns.
The professor handed the reins to Pieter, and Pieter tied them round the end of a huge marble slab fallen from a building. Like most of stonework and concrete in the Old City, it had a spongy, porous, dry rot quality, which tended to melt away in the rain and blow away in winter storms until dunes of the grit drifted up everywhere, some as high as the first and second floors of buildings.
Damaged lettering on the badly crumbled stone caught his attention--"ROCKE------L----E --.
The professor caught him spelling it out. "Rockefeller Center Historical Museum, this place was once called," he explained as he led toward one of the buildings. "It seems to have been the cyclopean cult center of an ancient mystery religion centered round certain goddesses called ‘muses,’ of which there were nine. People were very religious back in those days--for pagan Pre-Hollandians, that is. But it is hard to say just what it's use was. Apparently, the center was devoted to an immensely popular love muse named 'Radio.’
He paused in a ruined lobby of a vast building. Halls stood empty and dead, full of trash that had once been thronged with the worshippers of Radio. There was a stale smell of centuries of accumulated decay and bat colonies, overwhelming, even though the entrances were wide open, doors smashed and ripped off. "After years of tracking down possibilities, I think we have the birdie in the bush, if not quite in hand," he explained.
Pieter looked at him because of the allusion and saw a teasing sort of smile lighting the professor's sleep-deprived, haggard face
"This building, my boy, was a temple called 'Radio City Music Hall' and was famous for dancing museum priestesses called 'Rockettes,' presumably after the pious Rockefeller who built these towers as a major shrine for the edification of his generation."
The youth from New Alkmaar began looking around with a little more interest now that they had deciphered the ancient name. But he could see nothing but worthless ruin. What was there, besides the height, was there to be vain about? The building, like all the others, had been thoroughly ransacked and vandalized like all the other ancient left-overs from the 22nd Century. Obviously, it seemed better to his Dutch sensibility that it had never been built. All that money and labor wasted on a pagan edifice! It could have built a fleet of useful barges and keep the New Alkmaar Ways busy for decades.
Realizing the tour has not yet been a tour with his trainee, the professor darted a keen glance at Pieter. "I can almost read your thoughts and save myself a penny."
Pieter started. That was all too true, he knew. His employer had an uncanny ability that way.
The professor laughed. "I know you must think this is another hare-brained safari of the old professor’s, but I really doubt we are wasting our time. I have spent two decades in research on this project, and your little paper chase itself helped me in part to our goal, so you can’t put all the blame on me--you had a hand in it too, though unwittingly. Well, thanks to both our efforts, I finally tracked down a certain little beast I'm going to show you. I know these two cities, Old and New, precisely like I know my slide rule. Follow me."
If the rubble-choked street outside was difficult, the building indoors was much worse. Not interested in showing the main auditorium, which was full of bats he did not want to disturb, the professor led downward. Vandals and looters working for the English had stripped the floors above of anything they could possibly move, regardless of practical use or value. Almost all of the material was left to rot in the halls and rooms of the lower floors, after only the truly salable items were hauled away--and since the irreversible decay of the English disease had set in early there never had been very many things worth the trouble of getting and hauling out. The English disease, weather, and vandalism had also taken their toll on every structure, eventually, in the Old City. The city's once stupendous skyline was now a half or third of what it had been in ancient times, though even that residue was overwhelming.
"Such structures are now only good for hibernicula, or caves for bats to hibernate in during the winter or come spring to raise their young in nurseries," the professor commented. "A lot of them get killed, of course, when the buildings collapse, which happens quite often when the main struts finally give way to the English disease."
They soon left the light behind, so they lit the lanterns, both of them carried by Dr. Pikkard. Bats, disturbed by their intrusion, began flitting past.
"A common, harmless species of Brown Bats," the professor remarked. "But I think some of them are vamp--"
He tried to catch one with his hat, but the creatures were too fast and cunning to be captured by a man's hand while they were flying in their own element.
"They can see much better without light, since they use echolocation, not sight to get about. But we need all the light we can get in such a place. If one lamp should go or get broken, we can still get out by the light of the other."
Never had Pieter seen such desolation--not so close up anyway. With only bats to call it home, it seemed a world of despair inside the great building--chilling, heart-numbing despair, the kind he had felt nearly choke the life out of him back in New Alkmaar.
"The grauw have done a good job on this particular building," observed the professor, as he climbed over mounds of decayed, damp, bug-infested furniture and carpeting. Everything was now congealed into a solid, moldy mass after centuries of damp air and dust blowing into the building through shattered windows and doors.
Pieter lost the professor for a few moments. His employer had gone around a corner and the next thing Pieter heard was a yell for help, only it was a stranger's voice. He fell, trying so hard to get to Dr. Pikkard. As he was getting back to his feet, a dirty, evil-faced brute, holding his nose, scrambled past him. Still howling, his tattered cloak fluttering batlike, the creature made for the entrance.
Breathing evenly, Dr. Pikkard came up to Pieter. "Evidently, the grauw are not taught good manners in their sewers and culvert dens. He wanted my wallet without introducing himself and asking properly, so I re-set his nose which I noticed had gone a bit crooked in his line of business. You see, although I would never justify the use of violence, sometime I must have read a book on certain oriental arts of self-defense. It all came back to me the moment it was needed. All I had to do was grasp again the mental principle, and my body--more specifically, the sole of my foot--did the rest on the wretch's nose. And, now that I'm reminded of it, I applied some of those same principles and thinking to the paper chase. It revealed some truly astonishing things."
Pieter, though shaking his head, marveled at the professor's latest exercise of a phenomenal memory. Just in case, he began to look more carefully about them as they proceeded. He wondered why the professor had not thought to bring a weapon for self-defense.
"Never carry a gun, my boy," the professor said laconically, reading Pieter's thoughts again and saving himself another penny. “You’ll be forever dependent on them, if you first start.”
Not sure he could agree with the professor's high principles and wondering about the latest lapse from them, Pieter, nevertheless, had no choice but to follow Dr. Pikkard deeper into the temple's innards. Without working elevators, stairwells had to serve. They were all blocked and had been blocked for centuries.
First scraping off bat guano with his foot, the professor sat down on the low, squarish mound of something that could no longer be identified, though it had once been a marvel of invention in past some "electronic age." "So I suppose we might have to try it another day," Dr. Pikkard remarked, shaking his head. "I should have foreseen this."
Pieter, despite his desire end the exploration, suddenly thought of something. Woggham the ex-doorman seemed to be following him everywhere, looking for a few pennies' work if he could get it. Maybe the wretched fellow was hanging around the horse cart, hoping he would be paid a copper or two for "guarding" it while they were gone. "That would be like poor old Ernie" Pieter thought magnanimously. "I'll go fetch him. He really needs the money. That way, this trip won’t be a total waste of time."
He explained to his employer that he knew of help nearby. They needed a shovel and pick too.
In a hour, Pieter and the ex-doorman were back. They were carrying tools. Soon they were laboriously picking their way down through the debris. As long as he wasn't walking, Pieter could manage the work without his crutches, his wooden legs had been built that sturdy. Finally, sweating and heaving aside trash, they burst through an open door into a hall. It was littered but still they could pass through. Dr. Pikkard led the way once again. He had taken only a few steps when he turned to Pieter, giving him instructions in a low voice that Woggham would have trouble hearing.
Pieter paid his gopher, thereby redeeming the misspent day somewhat to his thinking, and they were left alone. Woggham had been told to report back to the horse cart and guard it until their return. When he had gone, Dr. Pikkard turned again to Pieter.
"That was a good thing you did, to help me when I didn’t see a way out of our impasse, but I have to say something to you. You’re too trusting, perhaps. I don't like being so suspicious, but follow him. Make sure he leaves the building and returns at least as far as the cart. If he is honest, he will do so. If not--"
Having done good deeds, benefiting both Woggham and Dr. Pikkard, Pieter was miffed. Reminded of the professor's lack of faith in people, which was so like Anne's, Pieter made his way back to the street. Careful not to be seen, he looked toward the horse cart, but through he looked everywhere in the vicinity, a stray mongrel nosing around but no Woggham was to be seen. Was he going to chalk one up for the professor? No sir! Pieter thought of half a dozen reasons of why no Woggham, but he wasn't sure the professor would buy any of them. In that case, it was best, he knew, to keep Dutch-shut on the subject.
"Just as I thought," observed the professor on Pieter's return. "Grauw are all the same. They work for whoever, even two masters at one time, if it will pay them. That fellow has gone to report our presence here. Well, let him! I am not going to be detoured now that I have found it."
Pieter, gritting his teeth, wisely said nothing. He knew he had nothing to gain from arguing with an employer who persisted in seeing the bad in people. Again, the professor, getting his bearings from sketches in a small notepad, led their slow way into the ruins. Fortunately for them, the bats had not penetrated the lower regions, since coming and going was impossible there. "We are looking for a costume storage room of the aforesaid priestesses. There were many storage rooms down there, of course, filled with implements for important museum pageants they put on during the year, but we need only the right one.
The professor stopped before a high mound of strange materials. Only by gradual inspection could it be seen that it was debris that did not look particularly Dutch Reformed--hoops, trick dog stands, lady-to-be-sawn-in half boxes, Houdini-type chains and locks, top hats for producing rabbits, carrots, scarves, champagne glasses...everything required, in fact, for a full-scale presentation of “Hello, Dolly!”
The professor, with a shake of his head, turned away. "Obviously, Pre-Hollandian religion in those days had to entertain in order to keep the attention of congregations. Either they were barbaric or lacking in brain, so that all they could understand was continual carousing and revelry. Sounds wonderful to me!"
Pieter, no ardent church-goer but still faithful to Dutch Reformed roots, was scandalized once again. Yet he swallowed this effront too down and was all business and vinegar.
The professor shook his head. "No, that would be the museum altar guild's prop room. What we want is sacral vestments--" Further down the hall he stopped again. There was no telltale mound of debris outside the door. Pieter too could see that. "Eureka!" the professor cried.
They found they needed the door-smashing pick again. The double door needed to be forced. When they got in, the first thing to greet them was a shock: a man's skeleton, wrapped in shreds of a green uniform, the strips of material fallen into the rib cage but otherwise covering the leg and arm bones. A coffee mug lay nearby, the handle broken off and lying beside it. The image on the cup was a big, smiling mouse wearing clothes and white gloves.
Trying not to look at the unpleasant sight of the dead high priest, they returned to work. Dr. Pikkard, curious about the temple security box, explained to Pieter it was based on rays, possibly infrared.
"You see this?" the professor said, pointing to a box on the wall on one side of the entrance. A receiver transmitting apparatus, it directs an invisible beam of light to that little square over there. What a strange things to have in a temple! But then, they must have felt the need to discern true worshippers from those who were not."
He pointed to a reflector fifty feet away. "Then when someone steps into the beam that is communicated back to the box here, an alarm, if the person is not a sincere believer in the goddess, sounds to the high priest. It safeguards the muse from being imposed upon...devilishly clever, is it not? It must have been made in Britain, which has always had its share of both devils and clever people. Indeed, it was! See here? It’s marked ‘Made in Britain’! Now do you believe I know what we’re about here?"
Pieter had a way of shrugging when he reserved judgment on some sensitive question. He did so now, and the professor didn’t seem to notice and went on to other things. Dr. Pikkard quickly pointed out how the ancient American high priest, was not quite so clever as the Brits. He had long ago tripped the alarm himself. Evidently, he had entertained a doubt or two about her divinity, and it had rung and worn itself completely out.
"What could be worth getting so excited about?" Pieter still wondered as he listened to the rantings of the professor. The divine chamber of the muse held nothing but oddly fashioned clothes in plastic liners, though he could see the "colonial style" identified in English on the liners was hardly Dutch colonial as he knew it from old books, being far too skimpy, transparent, and decorated with Jack Dutch rhinestones. Despite himself, Pieter grew impressed. The room filled with all the Pre-Hollandian things was intact--something he had never seen before. Nothing had been taken or disturbed. For the first time they could see how ancient pagans had lived while they still inhabited the towers of the Old City. It was like a door, opened unexpectedly to a previously lost world.
At last, a light penetrated, and Pieter began to see what the professor was getting at.
Meanwhile, more interested in getting to the heart of the matter, Dr. Pikkard did not care to examine the holy robes and went on toward the opposite wall. He knocked on it with the butt end of the pick. "What we are looking for, the inner sanctum, the "penetralia" where the goddess and the temple treasure is kept, is on the other side. This is the outer chamber containing the divine wardrobe."
Pieter, catching his meaning, groaned under his breath. Even with a slight stir of real interest in the place and its meaning, he was beginning to feel the day's work in his arms and back. But there was no recourse! When the professor said to work, he had to oblige or the professor would soon get someone else to do his dirty work.
After much brutal hacking and prying, taking turns with the pick, they broke through but barely got a hole wide enough for a human body when they had to stop, forced by exhaustion. Pieter thought he had worked himself to death at the mill. This was just possibly harder work. They crawled in and Pieter was immediately disappointed. Unlike the other room with its strange artifacts, this was empty as a Pharaoh’s rifled tomb. All he saw was a big block of cement lying on a tiled floor.
"What a waste of all our hard work getting here!" Pieter thought, thoroughly disgusted now with the whole enterprise. There was no sign of gold, or gleam of jewels, not even that worthless silver coin of the type sandwiched with copper that passed for legal money in the pre-Dutch society!
The professor, on the other hand, was ecstatic. Never had Pieter seen him so jubilant or excited, except when he had found the now unmentionable “Black Shadow.”
Overcome by the sight of the ugly block, Dr. Pikkard had to sit down. He perched on the edge of it, moisture brightening his eyes. He shook his head slowly in sheer disbelief and wonder. "You have no idea, my friend, how long and hard I labored to find this. I was afraid there would be a worthless image of some sort and maybe some treasure. But this is of incalculably greater value! It's the biggest break of my life! The means to fight the casus belli! Now at last I--we--are to be rewarded beyond our wildest dreams!"
A block of old cement was the ‘biggest break of the professor’s lifetime’?
Just when he was beginning to put some credence in the professor’s judgment, cold water was thrown over everything by the professor himself. How wrong Anne had been!
He also thought the professor had gone around the same bend in the river that Anne had taken when she changed her whole mode of dress and started pratting about a ridiculous beauty mark. The balloon mishaps, the loss of the shed, maybe even the Reno incident, they had combined to unhinge even the great brain of Dr. August Pikkard. Perhaps he had been working too hard. But the professor always worked too hard, even when he was playing games! What was a plain Dutch youth to think? There had to be another explanation.
Pieter looked the block over again, trying to see some use to it that would vindicate his employer's sanity as he bit his nails to the quick. After all, his job was at stake. If the professor had gone completely berserk, it would mean the loss of all he had done so far.
The professor, wiping his eyes, chuckled. "You think I have lost my wits, crying over this block of nothing as if it were a treasure chest of a million guilders, don't you? I can tell by that worried look of yours!"
"Meinheer, you must have saved a lot of pennies and schuylers by now!" Pieter burst out in sheer embarrassment and not a little resentment.
"I cannot help it. What you think of all this shows so plainly on your face, my boy!"
Stung, Pieter wanted to smash something, but what? Fortunately, his Dutch practicality got the better of his feelings and he took a turn around the cement block instead. It must have been about four by twelve and probably weighed several tons. There were clear signs the workman had poured the slab in a big hurry, without finishing the cleanup, for globs of half-mixed cement was scattered on the floor, together with empty bags and various tools. What was the professor intending with it? The jaunting car was too rickety to ge
t it back to town. And how were they going to get it up the stairwells? They would have to be cleared completely out first. That would need a big truck, hand carts and a gang of men.
The professor nudged Pieter's arm. "No, I haven’t gone mad, my boy. Rest your mind on that subject. It's time for us to talk Dutch. I need to explain some things. So sit down and make yourself comfortable if you can on cement. Mentioned before, they would have meant nothing, or, more likely, you would not have believed them."
“Not this again!” Pieter thought, dreading another sermon on the cannibal the professor saw in every human being. But he sat as directed with the professor on the block, which should have felt cold and damp like everything else but was dry and even warm.
A few minutes later, Pieter was looking at the platform with different eyes after the professor finished his explanation. A "Cray Bio-Cellulose supercomputer" hidden in it? A machine the size of a teacup able to run the world? An "electro-magnetic power plant" energizing it, drawing on the Earth’s own electro-magnetic field for inexhaustible power? Could the professor be right? Or was he truly a lunatic?
His plain Dutch mind, even with a good dose of good, solid Euclidean geometry and Newtonian calculus, was whirling and whirling, almost out of control. He not only looked it, he really was an old man at that moment.
"On the contrary," said the professor, divining his thoughts by Pieter’s face. "Do you see those panels on the walls? I believe if we could talk to this computer it would show us pictures on the wall panels. The computer will do anything, show whatever we want to see. Science can benefit beyond measure, with such a machine as this old Cray!"
Listening to Dr. Pikkard, Pieter felt his heart grew colder, even as he listened dutifully to his employer. He might admire any extremely capable, well-oiled piece of machinery but feel nothing personally toward it. Besides, a lot of things he had swallowed down and buried were now coming to the surface. Perhaps they arose from the unusual circumstances he was always being cast into by his employer. But as they came to the surface they froze solid and lay crushing him with the weight so that he had to relieve some of the stress.
"I'll never be what this man is if I keep going this way," he thought almost sullenly, drawing some blood from one badly bitten nail. "Anne is mistaken. I will need a real college education to hold a job with him and possibly support a wife and family someday. And even if I keep the job, I'll always be just his assistant, his little dunce of a gopher, never in charge of an important project as I deserve to be."
The feeling of being one thing and the doctor of science another grew strong as he continued to listen. What then could he become? Dreams were not his thing. His soul yearned for solidities. During daylight hours, the golden horizon glimpsed in troubled sleep was mocked by the blank that confronted him in his present condition. His job, unless he acted, led nowhere.
"Your kind can never get anywhere. So go back to the hole where you belong!" his future seemed to say. It spoke to him like he were grauw and not a son of honest, thrifty, work-minded barge builders. Except for his father’s accident, he knew he’d be working on barges, constructing the best on the river with his father, instead of grubbing for an airy-brained professor in bat-filled ruins. At the same time, the ghostly shape of New Alkmaar rose up, reminding him his father was dead and buried, that he was only an orphan, and calling him back to damp fogs and back-breaking labors that also led nowhere. Feeling caught between two nowheres, it was hard, even impossible, for Pieter to take without complaint. "Never!" he vowed, his reserve of positive feeling toward himself and mankind finally getting the upperhand over the turmoil and outrage eating out his insides. He felt, more and more, that he had greatness inside that no one appreciated. His dreams testified to that, didn’t they? Never mind they had a tinge of Jack Dutch about them, at least they seemed to lead away from New Alkmaar!
Meanwhile, Pieter's reservations and acute, inner, unacknowledged struggle concerning the future, his role, and even the professor must have showed in his eyes and face. The professor was gazing at him, and decided to put a personal question to the troubled youth despite there was little time left. A faraway look came into the professor's eyes as his fingers drummed along the edges of the cement.
"Maybe you need a break, Pieter? You look rather drawn in the face at times and you haven't one fingernail left. Well., we'll soon be taking a little trip together, and a change of scene should do you good. As I was going to say, don't be impressed by those big stacks of printed material in my office. My friend, my accomplishments are very slim to date for all my effort--I grant you and my critics that. There is precious little that will survive of all my efforts. It will make a good bonfire someday. Oh, I may be on the way to a grand discovery, but I confess I still have not gained the object of all my endeavors. Did you ever want to do something, make something beautiful and lasting before you go down the dark road we all must tread one day? What I am doing now is not enough, even if we should succeed. There has to be something more than just pushing back the fall of night. You have to know how to turn the light back on. And I don't know how to do it or where the switch might be. I suppose I've been fighting darkness too long--and that is all I really know--fighting the darkness. My hands are soiled with it, too soiled to pull the clean, brand-new switch that will flood the world someday with light."
Startled at the confessional tone of his employer, Pieter instinctually shook his head and the professor went on, which wasn't what Pieter wished at all. "I mean, Pieter, there is in me, as in many men, a desire to do something with my life beyond this mere hard -scrabble, bread-getting madness that so consumes humanity today. What I said about that cave of cannibals was true even though my views on it were poison to you. But I mean something else entirely when I say now we are not beasts, are we? That is, we weren't created just for continual drudgery and chores."
Pieter , despite himself, began to be affected by the serious tone and struggled to express his own thoughts, which as usual got free of deeper feelings only with the greatest difficulty. Work to him was a sacred thing, but he thought the professor was speaking about mill work--which he naturally exempted from his idea of holy Dutch labor. "That is right, Meinheer. We are not beasts, as you say," he affirmed stoutly when he at last found the words. He was thinking of his co-laborers back in New Alkmaar, particularly the mill manager.
The professor darted a glance at him, sighed, then turned back to his keyboard, eyes down.
My, my, he's missed my point again! thought the professor. He seems to take to mathematics like fish to mosquito larvae, but will this upcountry blockhead ever get what life is really about? I must humor the man as much as I can , Pieter thought. If only he would not get so pointed and personal! If only! But professors were like that, always digging into other people’s solemn thoughts.
Quick as the professor was to turn to serious and personal matters, he was just as quick to switch them off and get back to pressing concerns of the moment where something constructive and positive might be done.
Perhaps, he wasn't all Jack Dutch as Pieter sometimes thought. He was willing to give him the benefit of a doubt.
"We can hash over that subject later. For now I want you to return alone to the hotel. Do you think you can do that? I would go with you, but there are some things I want to try with the Cray while you are gone. We may not have time later to do it. By now 'they' know we are here, so there is no use hiding the fact. Bring some food in a basket and something to drink. Let them think we are continuing to search the building and are prepared to spend the entire night if necessary." Pieter began to glance around as the professor spoke. Again he remembered the "falling stars" and the somewhat sinister meaning his employer had then attached to them. In the same way, in the present circumstances, "they" had to refer to the unfortunate grauw, his former companions on the street. The professor was always picking on them. It was beginning to seem so unfair to Pieter, but he had work to do if he wanted to keep his job--what their was left it after this day was over.
Wasting no time at it, they filled a lantern with most of the kerosene from the other, so that Pieter had just enough to see him to the cart and back to the hotel.
"Be on the watch!" the professor said. "Stop for no one, even if it is your former assistant--Troggman, is it? If you aren't back in two hours with the food and some more kerosene, I will go search for you myself. That shouldn't be necessary if you use your God-given wits and maybe that shovel or pick in a pinch."
"But you the one who doesn’t carry weapons," the assistant retorted, expressing what he actually thought before he could suppress it.
The moment the words were out of Pieter's mouth, he knew it was a tactical error.
"On your way, little man!" said the professor sharply, seemingly forgetting his recent tiff with the robber in the hallway. "Remember, consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds! A famous Pre-Hollandia poet, one of the ancients, an infidel Englishman, though we'll pardon the accident of such a birth, said that."
How serious the professor's face looked in the glow of the lantern, yet there was a telltale gleam of Pikkardian humor even in his rebuke. Feeling somewhat chastened and confused in his honest plainness, Pieter left shaking his head regarding his employer's odd quirks, a kerosene lamp and pick in tow. What was he to think anyway? The professor seemed to take serious things lightly and light things seriously. Somebody ought to make him change his ways for his own good. Was there actually a something really wicked operating in the universe, which had now come close enough to touch their lives? Or was the professor just anxious about the grauw, whom Pieter knew from experience were bad but not evil. Why did he always have to be putting down his own Dutch people? What gain was there in that? If they didn't think positive, then something really bad might happen, and they would have only themselves to blame.
The return trip was hard going, after so much work already and carrying such gear, but he made it back to the street.. The jaunting-car was untouched by the grauw, as he believed it would be. Though he had already gone through a fit of embarrassment, it didn’t seem to help him a second time around. His face turned beet-red as he drew up at the hotel in the ridiculous cart. As for the owner, he found him waiting at the hotel, tipped him well enough to send him unresisting off to his home and bed, and got a meal basket made up in the kitchen. It did not take them long. The late shift kitchen crew was well used to the professor's odd times of eating--even to keeping a loaf or two of special white bread on hand for such emergencies.
Soon Pieter was headed back to the Temple of the Bat-Goddess at Rockefeller Center, with a horse and Irish jaunting-car he wished would disintegrate or go up in flames, and one now very weary human body. This was the break Anne had prophesied?
Only a wizard could have broken through the powerful, convoluted encryption of a Cray that was safeguarded and hedged about more securely than a medieval fortress--such as the immense pentagram-shaped ruins found near the Van Potomac River. He hadn't even the aid of a 20th Century "Clipper chip," national security encryption gear that enabled governments to eavesdrop on encrypted communications.
If Pikkard had not proven it before that he was five-brained, he proved it now beyond doubt--only there was no one present to applaud. Using a keyboard he found in the adjoining room, he plugged into a port and got to work immediately. Now he could both type commands and operate the voice function.
Maybe a new, second golden era for Dutch power was dawning, despite Pikkard's misgivings about himself and his life's work. Golden Age or not, he wanted games, to begin with.
The panel and the mathematics he had called forth suddenly went blank and a strange message flashed on and off.
All of a sudden the hair rose on the back of his neck. Without warning, something had flashed at him from a corner in the ceiling. He bent over to pick up the kerosene lantern and that sudden change of position saved him a second time from instant burning and possible death.
Dr. Pikkard threw himself on the floor. Something flashed from another corner of the room, striking a slice off the concrete block as it incinerated the toe of Dr. Pikkard's shoe. Scrambling away while trying to get his burning shoe off at the same time, the professor was trying to escape the still unknown sequence of events that was evidently trying to eliminate him from the Cray's chamber.
For the next few seconds the old primers he had read in his youth on Okinawan Japanese martial arts proved critical in saving his life. He flipped backwards, then to the side, putting the block between him each blast as it came. Of course, he knew it was only seconds before the operating system tracked his method and shot simultaneous beams down along each side of the block, eliminating every chance of escape.
With a supreme effort he rushed and dove through the hole in the door and then rolled across the floor. There were no more blasting death-rays, fortunately, to greet him in the high priest's chamber. For once, a sanctuary held true to its name. He was able to lie there and recover his breath, but meanwhile his brain was working at high gear. For some minutes he ran an even greater keyboard than the Cray's in his head.
Moving carefully so he would be out of range, he went back to the doors and peered in. The panel was still showing the last message, which meant he might have a little time left before the Cray automatically switched itself to an off-mode. Then, too, perhaps it had delayed shutting down until it had analyzed and concluded that it was safe for it to do so. "So they've built a sure-fire defense into the system," he muttered to himself. "Like Nebuchadnezzar the Babylonian king. The old fox wouldn't reveal his dreams to the astrologers and magicians for interpretation. No, they had to come up with both the dreams and the interpretation, or off goes their heads! How devilishly clever of the old boy! He wasn't potentate of once the greatest empire on Earth for nothing! Well, we'll see if the same kind of thinking can stop the Cray and me from working together.
As a last resort he meant to try ESCape, but he would have to get back into the room and remain alive long enough to work the keyboard. Now his fully alerted, arch-enemy, the computer was waiting for him, its weapons fully drawn. Looking about for something to use as a shield, not sure it would even be dense enough to give him the two or three seconds needed, he examined the room's contents. Then he realized the answer was more simple than finding sheets of thick metal. It would still be a dangerous but it was worth risking his life.
Caring nothing how absurd he looked, the next time he went in he was covered with a priestess's reflective silver cape and small mirrors strapped and tied in front of his face and anywhere else skin was exposed. Fortunate for him, Radio City priestesses were supplied with heaps of glittering gear of all kinds so there was plenty from which to choose. Drawing his breath, he stepped into the deadly arena.
Instantly, the air around Dr. Pikkard's form, head to foot, exploded full of incredible fireworks as a lightning blitz of attacking rays was split and sent off in a thousand different directions. Fortunately, they were so splintered the panels could absorb a million odd strikes, but the scientist resembled more a force of electricity than a human being.
Suddenly, it was over. The professor had reached and hit ESCape, which gave him a bank of options along with a final exiting. While he still had the option, he went for a directory and was given plenty of helps, panels of them--all, fortunately, protected against tampering or deletion. Hardly daring to breathe lest the panels go blank, he quickly scanned them and hit a file retrieval option and a coded save and double, triple, quadruple hidden file function with his own password.
The computer responded with a box of options.
The crisis passed, Pikkard got rid of his glitters and spangles and returned to work with a vengeance, minus only one shoe. Although he still hadn't achieved access to whatever the unknown password was protecting, he at least could access information. It took him some time to calm down enough to get back to the level of cool, collected rationality needed to absorb so much new knowledge..
He couldn't remember having so much fun in all his life. Was this work? No, it was the greatest lark on Earth, this sheer exercise of a man's God-given imagination and intelligence. Panel after panel flashed into life. All the wisdom of the ancients and innumerable holy men and monks--their painfully acquired hordes of quantum physics, relativity theory, symbolic logic--he drank it in and put much of it to work immediately. Thus he was able to call up the Earth's probable future, throwing in a major disaster or two for good measure, finally reaching an eras comparable to the Dark Ages, the long-buried Roman 1st Century A.D., and, finally, the 15th Century B.C. in an Egyptian-configured civilization, which was about as far as his mathematical clock could go with the computer.
Human civilization, turning backwards as it was according to his researches and calculations, might never reverse and take a forward linear direction to a repetition of the 24th Century--which, considering its cultural and intellectual stagnation, was all right with him! Yet geological disturbances might force the reversal. The planet just might--but there was not enough data from his research on the sea-bottom to justify hazarding a confirmation of a coming cataclysm and magnetic pole shift. He suspected the pole had shifted at least once, but he had not determined it as a fact nor when it may have happened. Perhaps the magnetic storm centers he had identified had a great deal to do with the shift.
At least he stood to lose nothing by counting on something close to a reversal and then a forward movement taking place. An indefinite slide backwards was quite possible, of course, thanks to the "English disease," on the other hand. But along with a cataclysm there would be a doubled chance of reversing the trend somewhere along the line.
It was wonderful, he thought. How much he had confirmed in his own mind in just a few minutes! From what he had already accomplished, he could clearly see there was no limit to the resources the Cray might unleash for the benefit of mankind. With it he could possibly find not only the Beastly Thing producing the world's decline but perhaps prescribe a cure that would send it back where it came from!
"It's for you," his employer said distracted, tapping on the keyboard, his first efforts directed toward strengthening the "shield-making" function of his program, just in case. He wanted the unknown cause of the "English disease" to find it too alien to ruin. "I've got too much to do to allow something to stop it before it even gets going."
So Pieter, famished, quickly wolfed down exactly half the contents of the big basket, while his employer continued to absorb the immense amount of information the Cray’s ROM contained. Typewriters, Pieter knew. The professor prized two old Remingtons. But this keyboard the professor had found was attached only to a few tiny wires, which in turn led to a small port inset in the side of the cement block. Pieter finished his ample meal and sat watching the professor’s antics. Finally, the professor stopped with a weary sign. “I’ve learned all I need to know from the Cray, and I’ve confirmed what I know in turn about what is destroying us. What remains to be done? We need to devise a war strategy, to meet this thing--whatever it may be--head-on instead of passively take each mortal blow, again and again, until there is nothing left in us to fight it off.” He paused to look at Pieter. “I think I better record what I’m going to say next, in a way it can be played back. Just for the record, that there were two genuine human beings involved in the genesis of this Wargame.”
The professor gave a voice command and the Cray promptly replied:
"But Meinheer!" he protested, his thoughts finally gathered in a ball he could throw. "How could we Dutch disappear and history go backwards to those times? That is impossible. Surely, our Dutch nation has made too much progress for that to happen."
Even in the dim light of the lantern, Dr. Pikkard's expressions could be plainly seen. Pieter saw his eyebrow raise, the way it did if an unlearned person in his presence said something quite the contrary of the facts, or the way a genius was apt to look at a cone-capped dunce.
"Really?" the great intellect replied, no longer lifting the scientific eyebrow and looking as if he were instead choking on a piece of tough bacon rind. "We Dutch have made progress? The world cannot run backwards? That is news to me. Last in line to fall, you see, there was this country we see on the panels, and then a country called U.S.A., or "United States of America," and then the empires of England, Holland, Spain, and France, and then the Holy Roman, Ottoman, Greek Byzantine Empires, and then Carthage, Rome, Greece, Tyre, Persia, and Assyria and Babylonia, and then Egypt and---but that is enough for now. They all fell hard, very hard. You couldn't even find the pieces of some of them afterwards--not even one solitary ceramic chamber pot. I have learned all this from the Cray while you were away, though it only confirms what I have gleaned from old books that survived the recent wars. The infidel English poet John Dryden once said, ' Faith is not built on disquisitions vain; the things we must believe are few and plain.' Well, I'm afraid it isn't quite that simple, fine poet that he was. We men of science can't always have things 'few and plain' in order to believe. Hardly anything worth-while comes in that package."
Pieter was ashamed, stung to the quick when he realized how few of the names he could identify from the old Pre-Hollandian world that the professor seemed to know everything about. "Copper-Sandwich-Coined U.S.A." he knew. "Red-Coat England" he knew. "Papist Spain" every Dutch person knew and would never forgive. Even the most mysterious "Egypt of the Pharaohs" seemed to ring a bell somewhere. But schooling, for him, had only gone to the fourth grade, though New Alkmaar was considered more of a 'schoolin' and larnin' town' than many others. In his mind such countries were lumped together. It was old Spain with its wicked wars against the holy Dutch that figured as his nation's mortal enemy in the past, with the greedy, fancy-living English stepping into Spanish shoes in more recent times.
The professor, once started, was as hard to stop as any university instructor. Pieter wanted to know what he had to say even though he was feeling more and more unsettled and left out--in exactly what way, he could not fathom.
"Whether you know them or not, trust me. They once existed but now do not. I can also tell you that when these great nations and empires fell, usually the economies and the cultures suffered accordingly and turned backwards to more primitive conditions. When the Roman Empire fell, its road system was not repaired for a thousand years. The world, my boy, has known many such 'backward turnings,' in the road of civilization, and perhaps we are in the middle of one major fallback now. Just look at the condition of our own roads and bridges--none really safe for traffic anymore and no repairs in sight. Except for one rail link which is always being cut and a British-controlled airline, you can not get from one end of the country to the other. Was it always so? Absolutely not! Even this city has more fallen bridges than we could ever rebuild in three hundred years with our present manpower and resources. That doesn't count in the underground system of roads and tunnels in this city, which you may not have seen, but I have. They're all filled with water, but I went down in a diving suit. I found trains buried under the city! But there is one great difference between our society and those that failed. They declined and fell to the attacks of neighboring countries, barbarians, bubonic plague, depopulation of the countryside, lead pipes, oppressive government laws, what have you. Whatever is dealing us the death blow now, my boy, is completely different from anything previously experienced by mankind. Do you follow me?"
He paused to get his breath. But once he had it, he used it up in a final explosion before Pieter could think to reply.
"Everything we make falls apart! That is the difference between our time and all others. Only the oldest things last. The Earth's innards are building up explosive potential. It is even causing the Sun to cool, its engine shutting down dangerously toward the flashpoint of a nova, where it would begin to expand into a monstrous red giant before collapsing and possibly, if enough material is added, finally exploding! I tell you, we have not only degenerated, we have leaped with giant steps back into the anteroom of the Dark Ages on our way to the Stone Age. That's precisely where we stand today. It would seem so, anyway, after what our paper chase and this Cray has shown.”
A flash of light interrupted the professor's long lecture, just when Pieter was hoping the professor would say they had worked long enough and would be going home. Both the scientist and assistant turned the same instant as a certain panel came, unbidden, to life. Nothing showed but a red rose on a white background, but the voice of a young woman spoke from the panel.
The following communiqué is broadcast to all people of good will, including--
The two listened intently, and moving so little they might have been struck by lightning.
--this message is unclassified. The Honorable Senior Judge of the World Court, Chairman of the Nobel Committee--
The professor raised his hands in wonder and delight. "You have a problem hearing what I’ve tried to tell you. Maybe this will convince you of something I have, with all my efforts, failed to show you concerning the first period leading to our own."
They watched and listened as a grandfatherly, white-haired old gentleman introduced as a 22nd Century "Supreme Commander Ansgar Nilsson" came on the screen and, after a bit, began to speak. They heard his message and saw everything that happened to the great leader and his people who had finally overthrown the tyranny of the world government. The facility hidden beneath polar ice was most amazing. But what struck Dr. Pikkard most, of course, was the reference to the other hidden Crays--computers needed to stop the degenerative process that was destroying their own world, just as it had destroyed Commander Nilsson’s.
When the communiqué was over and the secret base had been destroyed, the panel went dead and both viewers sat stunned, how many minutes they did not know. Dr. Pikkard, and Pieter to a degree, sensed the tragedy of the end of a world. Seemingly, it wasn’t confined just to one nation or empire in the past but included their own as well. It was like brothers and sisters, now dead, reaching out and blowing a warning whistle.
Dr. Pikkard was the one to speak, being on center stage after finding the Cray. But his words seemed dragged out of him, though the muscles in his face were working violently.
"You saw it, Pieter! I guessed as much, but now I’ve seen it with my very eyes. A world destroyed! Now the destroyer has come for us! More than ever, we've got to stop the so-called English plague! It's killing us all off by slow degrees, exterminating us like insects and mice. New Amsterdam. Holland America. What are they? England? France? I tell you the world is finished, as it is right now. England still has its ill-gotten gold horde, and France its miserable chocolate factory. But Holland America? Our casinos and syndicates are witlessly digging our graves for the insanity of profit. We are in a pit, a sump of disease and ignorance, and it will only get worse. We have been trying to make the best of hell. As if that could be done while an immense evil is working to totally eradicate every last Henrik of us!"
With this knowledge, the war certainly had begun. Commander Pikkard turned quickly to his keyboard. At last he was at the point where he could enter his war strategy. That would take the results of all his researches--the fruits of much hard and dangerous work both by himself and during the year with Pieter.
At that moment they both smelled smoke. "I knew it," groaned the professor in real anguish,, reaching to disconnect the keyboard and gather his research papers. "They think to incinerate us and the bats, together with whatever it is we may have found here. Just when I was about to inject the fruit of my reseaches we’ll have to leave, but let us hope the fire burns itself out before it reaches this facility. I doubt very much my luck will hold and I will find the other facilities, in order to replace this one.”
But the fire had not got very far in the damp trash in the lobby. Dr. Pikkard and Pieter were able to get out, though they were choking and their faces blackened with soot by the time they got clear of the building. The fire, more fleeing bats than smoke and fire, continued all that day after they got back to the hotel. Like so many that started anonymously in the Old City, this one excited little attention. It was only a messy nuisance, with hordes of bats filling the air and fouling streets and canals.
Nothing seemed to go right that day, even though it had seen the biggest break of Dr. Pikkard’s long career. On coming in the lobby, people had stared at his foot most of all, until Pieter looked and saw the professor was missing a shoe and didn’t know it. What’s more, Atlantis tickets fell out of his ruined clothes when he got back to the suite and was changing into clean clothes. But his mind on other things, he hardly noticed them. It had been that way since he left Radio City--the professor’s feet, shoeless or shoed, seemed to float. After discovering the Cray supercomputer, he couldn’t seem to get his feet back on the ground, for the life of him!
That really disturbed Pieter, who of all people wanted his own feet planted as squarely as possible on firm Dutch sod. Normally, such things as the professor’s absent-mindedness over a missing shoe would not have bothered him overly--but he was growing more sensitive to the possibility that his days at the Wilhelmina could be drawing to a close. In that frame of mind, people’s reactions to his employer now exerted a stronger effect. Now when they looked at some antic of the doctor’s and tittered, or smiled as though they were observing a child at play, he took it personally and wished he wouldn’t have to be associated with the old fool any longer than absolutely necessary.
The professor too cultivated some misgivings after the Radio City discovery. As for the wargame, he had neglected to explain it fully to his befuddled assistant in all the confusion of their escape from the burning temple. He had meant to try the computer's holographic feature and call up some fellow game-players from future eras for Pieter to meet in person, for he had almost instant access via the three existing Crays to immense archives and virtual reality capabilities of all kinds. Perhaps, if Pieter could have spoken to various warrior players and heard their responses, that should have helped his understanding and attitude. If only the grauw had not lit the building and driven them out! If only! The missed opportunity was almost enough to drive a thinking man mad! He had got half-way to his objective, then been forced to give it up.
"What a pity! If I had only five more minutes to get my armies in place and the first campaign going! I’d give the Opposing Player, whoever, whatever OP is, a run for his guiders!”
He started to lather his hair with the rose-scented soap, sighing with the deep pleasure of the luxurious bath (usually, despite his lye-soaked Dutch heritage he forgot to bathe, going weeks until Anne put her foot down and made him). His muscles, taut during the whole ordeal of getting to the hidden Cray, began to relax. Decades of effort had come to a wonderful climax. Truly, 2392 was annus mirabilis, his year of miracles. He had succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. The Cray had supplied him with everything he needed to accomplish his aims. With the Cray he might even have saved the world! It was truly a magnificent creation--with such a thing a world could be conquered and controlled beyond anything Mongolia's Genghis Khan, Rome's Julius Caesar, and present Britain's power-hungry Clarkes ever imagined.
Surely, the world had been a finer, better place with such marvelous machines! Perhaps the fellow called Nilsson was a little too severe on that chap called Chillingsworth and his union of provinces. World dominion wasn’t such a bad idea, when the right people were ruling. The Dutch, with a Cray empowering their forces, could push the nefarious English right off the world map! And then...
He reached for a towel. Soap had got into his eyes, and the water was too soapy by now for a quick rinsing out. The dismissed thought came again, audibly, as would be the case in the slapping of a child's naughty, sweet-pilfering finger after a parental frown. Too surprised to grab a towel for modesty’s sake, the professor jerked his head around, trying to determine the source.
You should not have shown Pieter the facility. You were in too much of a hurry. The Crays are not yours. You are a registered and authorized subfile programmer, but we do not acknowledge you as such when you go beyond your own perimeters and endanger the Wargame’s security. Now we await your further orders, Subfile Programmer."
The statement came so clear and strong Dr. Pikkard sat, eyes burning as if lye had poured in, utterly stunned, waiting for more. But it seemed there might be no more. Just the rose-scented soap in his streaming eyes. Had he struck the wrong key, he wondered, and installed an autonomous programmer within the Cray? Was it the Cray speaking to him by some extraordinary means only the Cray knew the use of? As if his thoughts could be read, the mystery soon cleared up when the voice broke again into his thoughts.
The professor, no longer in the mood to get Dutch clean, jumped out of the tub and skidded and nearly brained himself before he found his feet. His mind raced with the possibilities as he stood before the window with the curtains drawn all the way back and did his usual exercises. But no, he decided. The Cray had to have been badly damaged or destroyed to have produced such an independent line of programming.
“What was that noise? Laughter? What could be generating so much amusement at such an hour?”
Ceasing to throw his arms and legs about in his customary air bath (thus saving on towels), the professor looked down into the street and realized he had drawn a crowd of catcalling, gesturing people--for what reason he could not fathom.
"Understand, my boy, this machine is infinitely more mighty than it appears. It has the ability to move this planet to--to the uttermost heights and depths of space, to the Pleiades, if necessary! Why, if that nova or supernova gets going, we will--"
But he didn't get to finish.
Pieter had smiled in agreement and understanding, a rare event in itself, and held out something in his palm.
"No, you are mistaken. YOU are the enemy of the Dutch people, the Opposing Player in the Game! This will stop you, OP....OP......OP...."
His voice still echoing, the object in Pieter's hand flashed into life. It shot a dagger-shaped flame directly toward his face and then the scene vanished in darkness, a darkness that took the shape of a glittering, black crystal that spat flames and smoke as it flew off into twisting, tornado-like clouds.
The professor turned over in bed and groaned himself awake. It took several moments to gather his thoughts sufficiently so he could see the cause of his confusion was just a bad dream.
His timepiece said 3:39, too early, he decided, to be rising. To settle his mind a bit, he went to the window, stumbling on some chemistry bottles on the way, and looked out. Canals had a peculiar way of distorting reflected light at night, and the few gas lights the city fathers maintained in the district made the ghostly shapes of buildings even more ghastly. Darkened, permanently anchored prison-barges for retaining hordes of homeless and bankrupt debtors, holding tanks known popularly as the “Hulks, ” seemed to grow more ominous and brooding on the canal as he looked at them, so much so he wondered if he were still dreaming. What was worse, the Hulks of the New City, or the towering specters of the Old City?--he couldn’t say at that dismal hour.
One Pre-Hollandian Old City structure in particular--was it the tower the ancients called the "Empire State Building"?--had lost much of its upper stretches, but what remained now stretched out like black claws on the canal nearest the hotel. If that wasn’t chilling enough, as he turned to go back to bed he noticed a change. The claw was flexing, probably because of a disturbance in the water from some small boat or even a harbor seal, for seals sometimes came cruising into the city at night to feed on floating fish heads the restaurants used for making soup broth and then discarded in the nearest canals.
He waited to see if the thing disturbing the water would come closer and show up in the gas light.
It did. There was a face in the water, a man's face encased in strands of seaweed! Then, after giving him a glance of a strange, otherworldly , it vanished as quickly as it appeared and the dark reflection of the tower covered it.
Another poor man thrown himself in when he couldn't find work? Dr. Pikkard wondered. Or if not that, a victim of foul play--of which there was plenty in a city like New Amsterdam? Perhaps the body, decomposing on the canal bottom, had slipped free of a rope and attached weight of some kind and had only just risen to the surface.
Then he had to laugh at his fantasies. It was merely a seal’s mooning eyes and face. The harbor and both rivers were full of them going after the hundreds of fish heads and spoiled clams the unfridgerated eateries threw away every day.
“What’s wrong with me?” he wondered, gripping his head with his hands. “I need to watch myself--or I’ll fail by turning paranoid!”
It was, he knew a real danger for someone like him. The universities employed every means to collect damning evidence against him. How much “evidence” did they have anyway? Was it enough to put him away forever in a lunatic asylum for the dangerously insane? He shuddered, not so much at the possibility as from an intuitive feeling that somehow the whole golden enterprise of his was hanging by a hair. In other words, he was fighting a war that could be lost by a single tiny misstep--lost before it even actually began! Then, without another Cray, the outcome was certain--disaster for him and what was left of the Earth. He just had to find a replacement if it were the last thing he ever did!
Checking the next day, he ventured out to Rockefeller Center with the researches he hoped file in the Cray, but found the whole smoldering site teaming with grauw poking in the ruins. He slipped back away, so as not to be seen. Returning to the hotel, he was just in time to witness a terrific storm hit. A typhoon nearly took the dome, but it, mercifully, held, or the New City would have been crushed flat by the falling structure. For hours, even with the biggest part of the storm past, people heard the scream of the high winds lashing at every roof and crumbling Old City tower. Whatever could be ripped off was sent crashing into the streets and canals. Humanity, helpless before such awesome demonstrations of pure brute power, felt itself very small, indeed, at such times.
Yet, trailing destruction and turmoil, the storm passed. The New Amsterdamers crept out of hiding and thanked their lucky stars, and business and life went on as usual after the debris was cleared away from the streets. Everything was the same again--or was it?
Dr. Pikkard, for one, was not all that sure. He had seen the mysterious face in the canal in the dead of the night, and it had left an indelible impression that nagged him for days thereafter. Besides, he had cause for lingering grief and disappointment. His precious, new-found super-machine from the 22nd Century may been destroyed. Could he find another? What were the chances of that? Very slim, he thought. Very slim, indeed. It had taken him twenty, thirty years to find one. He knew he was out of time if he had to go looking at this late date for a replacement. 25 Atlantis--Will She Ever Come?
Jeopardizing the investment of Dr. Pikkard's tickets, the Atlantis sustained an attack in December of 2392 en route to Lakehurst, New Gelderland, to pick up East Coast passengers. While flying southerly to skirt a stormy, hurricane-breeding weather front, a saboteur shot gaping holes through the fabric of the gas cells, probably intending to blow her up. But, miraculously, she did not ignite. All ballast jettisoned, including the saboteur, it survived to make it to Kingston in the Dutch West Indies (it had been British, then independent, then British again, then Dutch again). Lengthly repairs were made by jubilant local seamstresses who, like the crafty Penelope of ancient Greek accounts unstitched most everything they did each day to stretch the work as long as possible to feed their families.
Weeks and then a entire month passed at the Royal Wilhelmina, while Dr. Pikkard grew increasing restless and nervy. Without his balloon and shed, unable to get back into the ruined tower containing the Cray without attracting attention, he had nothing to do but review and write down the conclusions of his newspaper researches and work more Mersenne primes.
Pieter and Anne, of course, saw much more of each other than in the past, but that did not necessarily improve "things" for them. It seemed the more time they had to spend together, the more their differences came out--like oil and water. Even she had grown irritable. She had taken to slapping his fingers whenever he started biting them.
One time while waiting for a steamer, they had taken a walk out to the end of the truncated Brooklyn Bridge, which was now only good for use as a hitch for the penny steamer pier. Pieter was standing where the bridge broke away, facing Brooklyn. "A schuyler for your thoughts?" teased Anne, when she saw his glum expression was going to stay put for the rest of the day. "Are you thinking about the future?"
It took him a long time for a solid Dutchman to respond. Not as Dutch as himself in Pieter’s view, Anne was always chattering about things that meant nothing to him. He would much rather have been doing his calculus than listening. He tried, within reason, to respond civilly whenever he could, however. "Future? What? I don't see none such thing," he said, his words labored. "I was just thinkin' about Van Tootles, the old mill where I used to work."
No matter where they took a walk, the Rosengracht (Roses Canal), Prinzengracht (Princes Canal), Herrengracht (Gentlemen Burgher’s Canal), or even the Tulpengracht (Tulip Canal), they could not find grounds for agreement or even a topic of conversation that could lighten Pieter's prevailing sober mood.
"I hear the queen is leaving the Old Country as she has long said she might do," Anne said lamely, for nothing better to say, even while she was really thinking, ‘Is there really an use to going on with this guy?’
Still, she tried again, hoping something she said might penetrate. "They say she's considering taking up residence in Surinam, or the Antilles, instead of coming and settling here in our capital. I wonder why she wouldn't want to live here. Maybe it's the bad weather we've had the last few years. That last storm was pretty bad, wasn’t it? And the weather doesn’t ever seem to change to the better."
Pieter had not heard the news, not even that the Old Country was mostly under water now, dikes and polder pumping stations no longer maintained. When he said nothing, Anne was really upset, though she knew at the time she wasn't justified. Why should an up country Dutch boy like Pieter be concerned, when she herself wasn't, even going so far to have said on the subject to her family at dinner, "Who needs having to support the monarchy? We'll be better off without it anyway!"
Still determined to give the human side of Pieter another try, she confronted him again, but more tenderly. "It must not be easy, your being an orphan," she commented, having reason to appreciate the loss of a parent. "I imagine you think a lot about your parents and being so far from your old home."
Pieter stiffened. He gave her a cold look that cut through her clothes like a glacial breeze from off Mt. Pollux or the nearby bay.
She shuddered, and at that point oil and water could (and perhaps should) have parted forever. But oil has a sticking quality it cannot help, even if the object is so opposite it is a vain attempt.
At that moment they were heading to their seats on a penny steamer. As usual it was crowded and nearly every space already taken. Trying to make more room, Anne had got to her seat and was going to stick her umbrella under her feet when it caught Pieter's shoe. He tripped and took a tremendous pratfall between the two benches of people, knocking newspapers, sandwiches, and various personal items out of their hands. Though it had taken everyone by surprise, Anne soon had plenty of help getting him back to his feet. Fortunately, nothing was broken, not even his wooden legs and braces.
Yet there were things Pieter hated more than breaking a leg. Sitting down by Anne, his face was a stiff, crimson mask as around him people retrieved scattered belongings. One man next to him dusted off a sandwich and continued where he had left off. Anne was full of apologies. She tried to explain about the umbrella. But Pieter said nothing and looked at her as if she had done it on purpose. No explanation would placate him, so she had to give up.
She laughed it off, or tried to. When that attempt fell flat, she gave up. "Don't tell me you've never made a mistake!" she challenged him, her eyes flashing, her Kilpaison dander showing.
Pieter slowly shook his head. "I have never done anything like what you just did. I've never done such a thing in my whole life."
What could she reply to that? Anne looked away at the water, holding back equal amounts of fury and amazement. She finally concluded that he was lying through his teeth, but she decided he had done it so many times he no longer cared if he lied. Just as long as he put himself in the right, that was all that really mattered to him. What could she do with a man like that? What?
"Perhaps, we ought to be thinking of your future and making some plans," Dr. Pikkard said abruptly one morning after a glance at the fresh new calendar. His brisk voice, as usual, cut through his assistant's gloom like a knife.
Pieter was all attention. It was the one thing he really worried about, despite inability to express it to Anne. Besides need to escape the mill, he had a second reason to be thinking about his future, now that Anne figured so largely in his present life.
"How about attending that little school in Minneapolis? I believe they call it "Free College of Minnesota." They'll never take you here with my recommendation, even with your aptitude for mathematics. I hear the New Zeeland school is still 'funct' and accepting students, though it's had to trim its faculty lately because of all the Dutch faculty protesting the school's new anti-Dutch oath of dis-allegiance.
Since there is a bit of rivalry with the universities, they might overlook your being Dutch and take someone I recommend. Out there I have the reputation of being something of a rebel and iconoclast.
Anyway, it's worth a try, and we'll take a good look at the science and math departments, and if it suits you, I'll put you through. Of course, you aren't thinking about marrying someone first, are you, because then that might complicate things?" The professor shot a keen look at his assistant, who colored in the face, then recovered as he considered the offer. Anne aside, Pieter needed considerable time to consider the offer. The thought he wasn't going to the University of Amsterdam but instead to some anti-Dutch school in another province was enough to spin his head around the wrong way. He had been thinking seriously about schooling, particularly since it involved, to his thinking, job security, but he had never dreamed that it could be done outside New Amsterdam. As for Anne, he had a growing nest egg, even with Anne's continual dragging him out on the town with her. If he spent it getting married and supporting a wife, would he be able to attend college and nail down a secure career? It was here there was possible common ground with his employer. Dr. Pikkard had offered a way out of Pieter's dilemma--even if it meant pulling up old provincial roots.
He thought about the professor's most generous offer in the following days. He had Anne to consider, of course. She had understood after a fashion about his job. But would she understand about waiting until after college in a distant, strange province? He couldn't feel free to start a serious relationship, much less get married, until he was firmly planted on his plain Dutch feet. The problem with her was she probably couldn't wait, he thought. Her moodiness has increased, he noted. Did that mean she was losing interest in marrying just as he was making his own future solid for both him and her?
Finally, whether Anne married him or not, he liked the idea well enough and told his employer. After all, New Zeeland was a great deal farther removed from the gristmill than New Amsterdam. And it was, moreover, far from the problem he had with Anne. The little woman was beginning to turn everything upside down. She had even come unannounced to his neat rooms and made a scene over nothing. She had given him an unforgivable comment about his housekeeping in the corners and the closet.
“Hypocrite!” she said. “You nothing but a Pharisee, like in the Bible! You always give the impression you have everything together, when actually your closets are in worst shape than my family’s! ”
Now that he had made up his mind how to get ahead (using Dr. Pikkard’s assistance as a springboard to something better), for him too the delay of the Atlantis proved very difficult. How time dragged! For the first time, seventeen hours in a day were just too many for a youth who, forgetting he was footless, still hoped to get his feet on solid ground and avoid the gristmill forever. Yet, plodding slowly but surely, the old year finally had done its duty, passed the torch to an impatiently waiting, beardless youth.
Even though the rich panicked as the rich do and withdrew dwindling capital from marginally profitable businesses, sending their gold down to Surinam and the Dutch Antilles, at least a not quite bankrupt restaurateur such as Emilio could share what little he had. The Sicilian only changed things a bit by feeding just as many at the backdoor as he did in the front of his establishment. A steam-chuffing penny steamer taken off the discontinued Kaweensburg run was kept busy hauling his customers to and fro. His day-old oyster soup and bread proved many a poor man's only meal of the day, and Emilio seemed never to run out.
"I wonder how the old lover boy does it!" Anne often said to Pieter, their differences put aside for the moment as they stepped through a line of down-and-out men to gain entrance. She was even more amazed when they were brought a big basket of fresh-baked white bread. "Emilio certainly knows how to stretch the white flour! And how can he afford it?"
"Are you sure he stretches it?” answered Pieter solemnly. “ I never seen my mother stretch flour--it’s too sticky for that." Now this was his first joke in New Amsterdam--only the joke was on him as much as Emilio, who actually did manage to stretch his white flour with carefully bleached bluecorn meal. Laughing as much at the joke as Pieter’s solemn ways, Anne seemed to forgive Pieter everything in his callous treatment of her the last few weeks. They had begun to quarrel more and more these days, for no apparent reason, but now she thought it might be just a passing spell and things would be getting better, not worse. As for Pieter, he stared at her as if she had gone out of her mind. They reached their chosen booth, which was always waiting for them when they came, the seats still warm from previous occupants. Something new, a vase of hothouse flowers, romantically pink and fragrant Queen Maud roses, graced the table. Emilio's youngest daughter was especially shy and full of smiles as she served them the usual menu. Her face had even turned red by the time she was filling their glasses a second time.
Anne examined the girl but could not make anything of it. Reading Anne's perplexity, Pieter bit his lip and looked down at his hands. Anne’s laughter had passed and a different mood took over. Awkward moments passed. The silence was not the good kind. Finally, Anne reached across to him and took his clenched hand.
"This was to be our dinner for making up to each other for the past couple weeks. That was my idea anyway. Well? Perhaps, you need to tell me something?"
Pieter, even then, did not speak. He wasn’t exactly inclined to do any such thing as “make up.” Whatever problems they had, they weren’t a bit his fault. Finally, he had to speak what was on his mind. "I'm going to get more schoolin’ in Minneapolis, if it comes to that. I haven't got but a fourth grade education, but I like math very much, and the professor says with some paid coaching I should be able to pass the entrance test. I know how you feel about things, but I need to think of supporting us someday, just in case--" For Pieter, it was a big and difficult speech, just as hard as cracking a joke, even if he couldn't get the whole piece out. A dark look flashed across Anne's face. Here their relationship, for which she had held out hope against hope to this moment, was the thing in question, and Pieter was acting and planning things like it was a certain, accomplished fact--the last thing that could be said of it by any sane person! She was so upset she couldn’t find the words to express what she really thought at that moment. So she said something else. "You mean something might happen to my uncle?"
Then she grew very, very angry. "Why don't you ever use my name? I'm sick and tired of this! I'm Anne! Anne! Is that so hard? What is so difficult about calling me Anne! I'm yours, aren't I? Well? Make up your blasted mind!"
Just then the waitress came by, looked questioningly at them, and no more was said and they finished at Emilio's in cold silence.
They stepped back onto Manhattan from the steamer, intending to go for a walk to discuss the issue over that had been brought up and dropped during dinner. That was Anne’s intention, anyway.
In a fragment of the formerly grand old Battery park, winter had tarried, and fall leaves still lay thick where they walked. Their feet rustled noisily as they waded through golden and red drifts. For Dutch Manhattan, it was about as good as it ever could get.
For a moment, another Pieter burst forth from all his restrains before he could stop it.
He himself could not believe he was behaving so openly. "Anne! Anne!" he cried in a choked voice, his face twisted in expression, as if he were trying to look in two directions. Passers-by looked as if they thought he had gone crazy and, for once, he didn’t notice. His eyes blinking against the glare of gas and electric lamps, the half of him that was looking back over his shoulder receded. For a moment the cold North Sea no longer coursed in his veins. A very different Pieter had stepped to the fore--pushing the plodding, analytical, methodical Pieter aside. . Still upset from the tiff in Emilio’s, her Clara Bow eyes glittered, perhaps from tears, in the dark depths of her Spanish shawl, her plumed breath mingling with his own.
He spoke quietly as he could. He was plain up country Dutch again. "Anne, I'm sorry, I--we-- still need to keep to our plans, Anne. The airship has just landed, and, Anne, the professor will be taking me along to Minneapolis tomorrow."
Anne gave a light laugh and her eyes glittered. "Our plans? I had nothing to do with them. And aren't you over-doing my name a bit? So you're going on another trip. Research? Always more research! What good is it to him, to you, to us anyway? The university will never accept his findings or give him the honor he's due! I know he thinks he can save the world, but it can't be saved! He's just too smart to see he can't do it alone. And what chance do we have in all this? I know you’re attracted to me--you can’t deny it. This time I'll follow you there if I have to scrape up the money myself. I'll take Evangeline for a draw and dance flamencos in the street for pennies and schuylers if I have to! That’s how much I care about you. And you, Pieter? How much do you care about me? Tell me. Despite all your grand plans to set up on your own, supposedly for my sake too, I really don’t know anymore!"
Pieter turned away, his face too full of emotion to show anybody. "I don't want you to follow me, Anne. That wouldn't be decent--" He stopped, breathing heavily, recalling something unusual he had just done. He turned back to her questioning gaze. "I promise, that after this waiting a proper ring will be waiting for you!" he blurted out, his hand even then clenching in his pocket the gemstone.
A moment passed, with only the sounds of breathing, and far off a barking dog and the hoarse calling of a canal cabby to a possible fare. Neither were looking at each other. "They'll be wondering where I am by now and send someone out to look." Anne pressed his hand. "Back there, I know you meant it. I never heard you say my name like that before, and you can't deny it now for all the schooling in the world!"
She gave him a little pat on his thick, plain, Dutch belt, slowly walked away toward the penny steamer docks, turned round to glance at him, then walked fast. Only then did she wipe her face with something close to a slap.
"But Anne--" Pieter said, droning her name, though no one was listening. He walked all the way back to the Wilhelmina, foregoing a pedi-taxi, which saved an impressive total of four solid copper Dutch cents.
Instead, the professor gave his helper a ticket for Minneapolis, explaining that, despite the lateness of the season, he would be doing important researches together in the northern hinterland, though he did not say exactly what they might be. After that, Pieter's contract was up, and he could do as he pleased--more schooling, some other job, or choose to be rehired with a substantial raise.
Hearing such prospects were definitely his, Pieter's ears burned agreeably for hours afterwards. He felt more grown-up and independent than ever before. Life was truly looking up for a plain Dutch youth from a wretched little canal town! He even thought he might have been mistaken about his initial experiences--it was not quite as difficult in the big city as people liked to paint it. Sure, he had gone without a few things when he first settled in town, but then the door swung open as he knew it would and he was on his way! You just couldn’t keep a good, solid, plain Dutchman down! Not for long anyway.
A first for him since he left his hated home, something he had not even done in New Alkmaar, he started humming an old tune, then actually singing. This plain Dutch boy could, strangely enough, sing when he had a mind to. Of course, there wasn’t much effort put into his singing--his heart wasn’t that much in music-making. But words came to him and he put a little of his voice to it as he took a turn around town and was looking at the barge traffic on one end of Roses Canal.
He was still singing in his own odd, half-hearted way when the line, "You always know your pal--" seemed to strike a response in the real world. As it had momentarily with Anne at the Manhattan Battery park, his good Dutch heart turned over. The cause? A ragged green scarf was fluttering round the edge of a nearby building.
Moving quickly for Pieter, he got to the corner in record time, swung round it but Mr. Ragged Green Scarf had vanished like summer's grasshopper. "Don't run, old friend!" he called in vain. "Come back! I won't call the Pinks on ya!" Whether he could hear or not, his “old friend” kept going and Pieter was genuinely disappointed. Now that he had made good, he really wanted to share some of his fortune with the old man, who, after all, had once helped him when things had gotten a bit lean.
It had reposed there, in perfect conditions for preservation, a very long and unprofitable time, indeed, and the curator was anxious to create some operational funding for the museum. He knew there was a lot of profit-making potential left in the old hulk.
Over four hundred years before, in the early 1930's, it had been a famed airship serving its great founder and German commercial interests. A ZR4, her cherry-red control car and upper decks had once accommodated 100 passengers and twice as many crew members in lavish, Pullman-car style, with a dining room, reading --writing room, lounge and smoker, promenade decks, aluminum grand piano, and other recreational amenities. Crew facilities, naturally not lavish, were yet more spacious than those on the largest seagoing liners.
Despite numerous parties, one gala affair hosting the Greta Garbo after the release of Anna Kerenina, the German Zeppelin company had taken excellent care of it. Herr Zeppelin returned it to his own company museum after the aviation "watershed disaster" of the Hindenburg burning up in 1937, when there was so much loss of life that all dirigibles world-wide were removed from active service.
Use of such giant airships, though still highly profitable and competitive with prop airplanes in hauling freight and passengers, was effectively discouraged for a very long time, until the Dutch regained control of the New World. With the Greco- English disease and the peculiar dilemma faced by the 24th Century, the same pendulum that swung against titanic gas-filled airships now reversed, just as so many other things had turned an opposite direction in these times.
The first year after the Atlantis found a buyer, it served the Dutch Royal Navy which protected the four Netherlands--Holland America, the Dutch Antilles, the Surinam, and the Old Country. Commissioned after some overhauling, the Atlantis served proudly and faithfully. It proved of great value to the Holland American army air corps, and the command's one "air admiral" used it to advantage in the very bloody land and sea wars fought with Britain. The army's air corps had many problems with maintenance of aircraft, so the airship's job was locating survivors at sea of downed Clippers, Stratocruisers, and Super Fortresses sent to bomb London.
The second year of its service saw dramatic changes in the army air corps. Except for a few items, New Holland eliminated its too costly army air corps after a peace treaty was concluded with the equally exhausted Britain, and the faithful old ZR4 was fated to be turned over completely to commercial uses. After transatlantic flights, including senatorial junkets to Panama and Puerto Rico, it was due to be placed back in moth balls forever in the Zeppelin Museum when a British company got wind of it. Clarke Enterprises sent agents to the Zeppelin headquarters on Lake Constanze. It had scarcely come to rest in its huge berth in Germany when Clarke Enterprises hustled it out for full-time service again. Once again history called with another strange twist. After hundreds of years and thousands of miles of flying, not to mention many decades of silent repose in the dirigible shed, it still needed no major altering when it was again commissioned as a commercial British carrier of passengers and freight on the transatlantic route.
As for the explosive capabilities of Zeppelins, they were as great as ever without American helium, and the rare gas had been used up centuries before. As it was, this had become a world that would take a chance with anything including hydrogen, depending on its cheapness and availability to turn the all- important and necessary profit.
Now the new owner knew precisely what it was doing by the purchase. Clarke-Handley Imperial Airways, a London-based commercial airline run by a former air corps admiral, was now the possession of the wealthy Clarkes, a family that held controlling interests in most every major enterprise on both sides of the Atlantic that still turned a profit.
By virtue of the new treaty, Clarke-Handley flew to all three major cities in Holland America, so in effect it served as an American Dutch airline without H.A. having to subsidize it to keep air-travel going. Clarke-Handley, surprisingly enough, was still making big money for the Clarkes (the Handley part was only a name tag by now). Despite continued, widespread depopulation, the East Coast of H.A. remained principally Dutch, which meant gambling operations at Atlantic City were closely regulated and jackpots kept low to discourage patrons. This was a policy that was not bringing much business either to Atlantic City or to Clarke-Handley. Thus, the Lakehurst-Minneapolis-Reno flight was proving especially lucrative, since there was no limit to anyone's winnings in the more free-wheeling, loosely Dutch-administered West. As an English carrier, Clarke-Handley could cash in on the run to Reno, but local Dutch airship lines could not, according to the strict American law which inevitably bankrupted them.
Gambling had never been better business. In these times, capital investments in factories and other real estate were an even bigger gamble than throwing all on the wheel of fortune. Thus, there was little sign Reno's boom was going to end, even if everything else turned belly up. Not surprisingly, Clarke -Handley's directors favored cutting out transatlantic flights altogether, which were too long and costly, in favor of domestic Holland America flights, all connecting with Reno's casinos and leggy floorshows. It was just a matter of time--and Money--before the Atlantis was ordered to suspend ocean travel. Declining profits would force the inevitable. She, like a number of sister ships, would serve a growing lemming like surge of desperate, "last chance" amateur gamblers, all heading for the lavish western capital of that chief of the fatal, rock-hugging sirens, Old Lady Luck.