by William Tenn
The New Jersey Turnpike had been hard on the horses. South of New Brunswick the potholes had been so deep, the scattered boulders so plentiful, that the two men had been forced to move at a slow trot, to avoid crippling their three precious animals. And, of course, this far south, farms were nonexistent; they had been able to eat nothing but the dried provisions in the saddlebags, and last night they had slept in a roadside service station, suspending their hammocks between the tilted, rusty gas pumps.
But it was still the best, the most direct route, Jerry Franklin knew. The Turnpike was a government road: its rubble was cleared semiannually. They had made excellent time and come through without even developing a limp in the pack horse. As they swung out on the last lap, past the riven tree stump with the words TRENTON EXIT carved on its side, Jerry relaxed a bit. His father, his father’s colleagues, would be proud of him. And he was proud of himself.
But the next moment, he was alert again. He roweled his horse, moved up alongside his companion, a young man of his own age.
“Protocol,” he reminded. “I’m the leader here. You know better than to ride ahead of me this close to Trenton.”
He hated to pull rank. But facts were facts, and if a subordinate got above himself he was asking to be set down. After all, he was the son—and the oldest son, at that—of the Senator from Idaho; Sam Rutherford’s father was a mere Undersecretary of State and Sam’s mother’s family was pure post-office clerk all the way back.
Sam nodded apologetically and reined his horse back the proper couple of feet. “Thought I saw something odd,” he explained. “Looked like an advance party on the side of the road—and I could have sworn they were wearing buffalo robes.”
“Seminole don’t wear buffalo robes, Sammy. Don’t you remember your sophomore political science?”
“I never had any political science, Mr. Franklin: I was an engineering major. Digging around in ruins has always been my dish. But from the little I know, I didn’t think buffalo robes went with the Seminole. That’s why I was—”
“Concentrate on the pack horse,” Jerry advised. “Negotiations are my job.”
As he said this, he was unable to refrain from touching the pouch upon his breast with rippling fingertips. Inside it was his commission, carefully typed on one of the last precious sheets of official government stationery (and it was not one whit less official because the reverse side had been used years ago as a scribbled interoffice memo) and signed by the President himself. In ink!
The existence of such documents was important to a man in later life. He would have to hand it over, in all probability, during the conferences, but the commission to which it attested would be on file in the capital up north.
And when his father died, and he took over one of the two hallowed Idaho seats, it would give him enough stature to make an attempt at membership on the Appropriations Committee. Or, for that matter, why not go the whole hog—the Rules Committee itself? No Senator Franklin had ever been a member of the Rules Committee…
The two envoys knew they were on the outskirts of Trenton when they passed the first gangs of Jerseyites working to clear the road. Frightened faces glanced at them briefly, and quickly bent again to work. The gangs were working without any visible supervision. Evidently the Seminole felt that simple instructions were sufficient.
But as they rode into the blocks of neat ruins that were the city proper and still came across nobody more important than white men, another explanation began to occur to Jerry Franklin. This all had the look of a town still at war, but where were the combatants? Almost certainly on the other side of Trenton, defending the Delaware River—that was the direction from which the new rulers of Trenton might fear attack—not from the north where there was only the United States of America.
But if that were so, who in the world could they be defending against? Across the Delaware to the south there was nothing but more Seminole. Was it possible—was it possible that the Seminole had at last fallen to fighting among themselves?
Or was it possible that Sam Rutherford had been right? Fantastic. Buffalo robes in Trenton! There should be no buffalo robes closer than a hundred miles westward, in Harrisburg.
But when they turned onto State Street, Jerry bit his lip in chagrin. Sam had seen correctly, which made him one up.
Scattered over the wide lawn of the gutted state capitol were dozens of wigwams. And the tall, dark men who sat impassively, or strode proudly among the wigwams, all wore buffalo robes. There was no need even to associate the paint on their faces with a remembered lecture in political science: these were Sioux.
So the information that had come drifting up to the government about the identity of the invader was totally inaccurate—as usual. Well, you couldn’t expect communication miracles over this long a distance. But that inaccuracy made things difficult. It might invalidate his commission, for one thing: his commission was addressed directly to Osceola VII, Ruler of All the Seminoles. And if Sam Rutherford thought this gave him a right to preen himself—
He looked back dangerously. No, Sam would give no trouble. Sam knew better than to dare an I-told-you-so. At his leader’s look, the son of the Undersecretary of State dropped his eyes groundwards in immediate humility.
Satisfied, Jerry searched his memory for relevant data on recent political relationships with the Sioux. He couldn’t recall much—just the provisions of the last two or three treaties. It would have to do.
He drew up before an important-looking warrior and carefully dismounted. You might get away with talking to a Seminole while mounted, but not the Sioux. The Sioux were very tender on matters of protocol with white men.
“We come in peace,” he said to the warrior standing as impassively straight as the spear he held, as stiff and hard as the rifle on his back. “We come with a message of importance and many gifts to your chief. We come from New York, the home of our chief.” He thought a moment, then added: “You know, the Great White Father?”
Immediately, he was sorry for the addition. The warrior chuckled briefly; his eyes lit up with a lightning-stroke of mirth. Then his face was expressionless again, and serenely dignified as befitted a man who had counted coup many times.
“Yes,” he said. “I have heard of him. Who has not heard of the wealth and power and far dominions of the Great White Father? Come. I will take you to our chief. Walk behind me, white man.”
Jerry motioned Sam Rutherford to wait.
At the entrance to a large, expensively decorated tent, the Indian stood aside and casually indicated that Jerry should enter.
It was dim inside, but the illumination was rich enough to take Jerry’s breath away. Oil lamps! Three of them! These people lived well.
A century ago, before the whole world had gone smash in the last big war, his people had owned plenty of oil lamps themselves. Better than oil lamps, perhaps, if one could believe the stories the engineers told around the evening fires. Such stories were pleasant to hear, but they were glories of the distant past. Like the stories of overflowing granaries and chock-full supermarkets, they made you proud of the history of your people, but they did nothing for you now. They made your mouth water, but they didn’t feed you.
The Indians whose tribal organization had been the first to adjust to the new conditions, in the all-important present, the Indians had the granaries, the Indians had the oil lamps. And the Indians…
There were two nervous white men serving food to the group squatting on the floor. There was an old man, the chief, with a carved, chunky body. Three warriors, one of them surprisingly young for council. And a middle-aged Negro, wearing the same bound-on rags as Franklin, except that they looked a little newer, a little cleaner.
Jerry bowed low before the chief, spreading his arms apart, palms down.
“I come from New York, from our chief,” he mumbled. In spite of himself, he was more than a little frightened. He wished he knew their names so that he could relate them to specific events. Although he knew what their names would be like—approximately. The Sioux, the Seminole, all the Indian tribes renascent in power and numbers, all bore names garlanded with anachronism. That queer mixture of several levels of the past, overlaid always with the cocky, expanding present. Like the rifle and the spears, one for the reality of fighting, the other for the symbol that was more important than reality. Like the use of wigwams on campaign, when, according to the rumors that drifted smokily across country, their slave artisans could now build the meanest Indian noble a damp-free, draftproof dwelling such as the President of the United States, lying on his special straw pallet, did not dream about. Like paint-splattered faces peering through newly reinvented, crude microscopes. What had microscopes been like? Jerry tried to remember the Engineering Survey Course he’d taken in his freshman year—and drew a blank. All the same, the Indians were so queer, and so awesome. Sometimes you thought that destiny had meant them to be conquerors, with a conqueror’s careless inconsistency. Sometimes…
He noticed that they were waiting for him to continue. “From our chief,” he repeated hurriedly. “I come with a message of importance and many gifts.”
“Eat with us,” the old man said. “Then you will give us your gifts and your message.”
Gratefully, Jerry squatted on the ground a short distance from them. He was hungry, and among the fruit in the bowls he had seen something that must be an orange. He had heard so many arguments about what oranges tasted like!
After a while, the old man said, “I am Chief Three Hydrogen Bombs. This”—pointing to the young man—“is my son, Makes Much Radiation. And this”—pointing to the middle-aged Negro—“is a sort of compatriot of yours.”
At Jerry’s questioning look, and the chief’s raised finger of permission, the Negro explained. “Sylvester Thomas, Ambassador to the Sioux from the Confederate States of America.”
“The Confederacy? She’s still alive? We heard ten years ago—”
“The Confederacy is very much alive, sir. The Western Confederacy, that is, with its capital at Jackson, Mississippi. The Eastern Confederacy, the one centered at Richmond, Virginia, did go down under the Seminole. We have been more fortunate. The Arapaho, the Cheyenne, and”—with a nod to the chief—“especially the Sioux, if I may say so, sir, have been very kind to us. They allow us to live in peace, so long as we till the soil quietly and pay our tithes.”
“Then would you know, Mr. Thomas—” Jerry began eagerly. “That is…the Lone Star Republic—Texas—Is it possible that Texas, too…?”
Mr. Thomas looked at the door of the wigwam unhappily. “Alas, my good sir, the Republic of the Lone Star Flag fell before the Kiowa and the Comanche long years ago when I was still a small boy. I don’t remember the exact date, but I do know it was before even the last of California was annexed by the Apache and the Navajo, and well before the nation of the Mormons under the august leadership of—”
Makes Much Radiation shifted his shoulders back and forth and flexed his arm muscles. “All this talk,” he growled. “Paleface talk. Makes me tired.”
“Mr. Thomas is not a paleface,” his father told him sharply. “Show respect! He’s our guest and an accredited ambassador—you’re not to use a word like paleface in his presence!”
One of the other, older warriors near the youth spoke up. “In ancient days, in the days of the heroes, a boy of Makes Much Radiation’s age would not dare raise his voice in council before his father. Certainly not to say the things he just has. I cite as reference, for those interested, Robert Lowie’s definitive volume, The Crow Indians, and Lessor’s fine piece of anthropological insight, Three Types of Siouan Kinship. Now, whereas we have not yet been able to reconstruct a Siouan kinship pattern on the classic model described by Lesser, we have developed a working arrangement that—”
“The trouble with you, Bright Book Jacket,” the warrior on his left broke in, “is that you’re too much of a classicist. You’re always trying to live in the Golden Age instead of the present, and a Golden Age that really has little to do with the Sioux. Oh, I’ll admit that we’re as much Dakotan as the Crow, from the linguist’s point of view at any rate, and that, superficially, what applies to the Crow should apply to us. But what happens when we quote Lowie in so many words and try to bring his precepts into daily life?”
“Enough,” the chief announced. “Enough, Hangs A Tale. And you, too, Bright Book Jacket—enough, enough! These are private tribal matters. Though they do serve to remind us that the paleface was once great before he became sick and corrupt and frightened. These men whose holy books teach us the lost art of being real Sioux, men like Lesser, men like Robert H. Lowie, were not these men palefaces? And in memory of them should we not show tolerance?”
“A-ah!” said Makes Much Radiation impatiently. “As far as I’m concerned, the only good paleface is a dead paleface. And that’s that.” He thought a bit. “Except their women. Paleface women are fun when you’re a long way from home and feel like raising a little hell.”
Chief Three Hydrogen Bombs glared his son into silence. Then he turned to Jerry Franklin. “Your message and your gifts. First your message.”
“No, Chief,” Bright Book Jacket told him respectfully but definitely. “First the gifts. Then the message. That’s the way it was done.”
“I’ll have to get them. Be right back.” Jerry walked out of the tent backwards and ran to where Sam Rutherford had tethered the horses. “The presents,” he said urgently. “The presents for the chief.”
The two of them tore at the pack straps. With his arms loaded, Jerry returned through the warriors who had assembled to watch their activity with quiet arrogance. He entered the tent, set the gifts on the ground and bowed low again.
“Bright beads for the chief,” he said, handing over two star sapphires and a large white diamond, the best that the engineers had evacuated from the ruins of New York in the past ten years.
“Cloth for the chief,” he said, handing over a bolt of linen and a bolt of wool, spun and loomed in New Hampshire especially for this occasion and painfully, expensively carted to New York.
“Pretty toys for the chief,” he said, handing over a large, only slightly rusty alarm clock and a precious typewriter, both of them put in operating order by batteries of engineers and artisans working in tandem (the engineers interpreting the brittle old documents to the artisans) for two and a half months.
“Weapons for the chief,” he said, handing over a beautifully decorated cavalry saber, the prized hereditary possession of the Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, who had protested its requisitioning most bitterly (“Damn it all, Mr. President, do you expect me to fight these Indians with my bare hands?” “No, I don’t, Johnny, but I’m sure you can pick up one just as good from one of your eager junior officers”).
Three Hydrogen Bombs examined the gifts, particularly the typewriter, with some interest. Then he solemnly distributed them among the members of his council, keeping only the typewriter and one of the sapphires for himself. The sword he gave to his son.
Makes Much Radiation tapped the steel with his fingernail. “Not so much,” he stated. “Not-so-much. Mr. Thomas came up with better stuff than this from the Confederate States of America for my sister’s puberty ceremony.” He tossed the saber negligently to the ground. “But what can you expect from a bunch of lazy, good-for-nothing whiteskin stinkards?”
When he heard the last word, Jerry Franklin went rigid. That meant he’d have to fight Makes Much Radiation—and the prospect scared him right down to the wet hairs on his legs. The alternative was losing face completely among the Sioux.
“Stinkard” was a term from the Natchez system and was applied these days indiscriminately to all white men bound to field or factory under their aristocratic Indian overlords. A “stinkard” was something lower than a serf, whose one value was that his toil gave his masters the leisure to engage in the activities of full manhood: hunting, fighting, thinking.
If you let someone call you a stinkard and didn’t kill him, why, then you were a stinkard—and that was all there was to it.
“I am an accredited representative of the United States of America,” Jerry said slowly and distinctly, “and the oldest son of the Senator from Idaho. When my father dies, I will sit in the Senate in his place. I am a free-born man, high in the councils of my nation, and anyone who calls me a stinkard is a rotten, no-good, foul-mouthed liar!”
There—it was done. He waited as Makes Much Radiation rose to his feet. He noted with dismay the well-fed, well-muscled sleekness of the young warrior. He wouldn’t have a chance against him. Not in hand-to-hand combat—which was the way it would be.
Makes Much Radiation picked up the sword and pointed it at Jerry Franklin. “I could chop you in half right now like a fat onion,” he observed. “Or I could go into a ring with you, knife to knife, and cut your belly open. I’ve fought and killed Seminole, I’ve fought Apache, I’ve even fought and killed Comanche. But I’ve never dirtied my hands with paleface blood, and I don’t intend to start now. I leave such simple butchery to the overseers of our estates. Father, I’ll be outside until the lodge is clean again.” Then he threw the sword ringingly at Jerry’s feet and walked out.
Just before he left, he stopped, and remarked over his shoulder: “The oldest son of the Senator from Idaho! Idaho has been part of the estates of my mother’s family for the past forty-five years! When will these romantic children stop playing games and start living in the world as it is now?”
“My son,” the old chief murmured. “Younger generation. A bit wild. Highly intolerant. But he means well. Really does. Means well.”
He signaled to the white serfs, who brought over a large chest covered with great splashes of color.
While the chief rummaged in the chest, Jerry Franklin relaxed inch by inch. It was almost too good to be true: he wouldn’t have to fight Makes Much Radiation, and he hadn’t lost face. All things considered, the whole business had turned out very well indeed.
And as for the last comment—well, why expect an Indian to understand about things like tradition and the glory that could reside forever in a symbol? When his father stood, up under the cracked roof of Madison Square Garden and roared across to the Vice-President of the United States: “The people of the sovereign state of Idaho will never and can never in all conscience consent to a tax on potatoes. From time immemorial, potatoes have been associated with Idaho, potatoes have been the pride of Idaho. The people of Boise say no to a tax on potatoes, the people of Pocatello say no to a tax on potatoes, the very rolling farmlands of the Gem of the Mountain say no, never, a thousand times no, to a tax on potatoes!”—when his father spoke like that, he was speaking for the people of Boise and Pocatello. Not the crushed Boise or desolate Pocatello of today, true, but the magnificent cities as they had been of yore…and the rich farms on either side of the Snake River…and Sun Valley, Moscow, Idaho Falls, American Falls, Weiser, Grangeville, Twin Falls…
“We did not expect you, so we have not many gifts to offer in return,” Three Hydrogen Bombs was explaining. “However, there is this one small thing. For you.”
Jerry gasped as he took it. It was a pistol, a real, brand-new pistol! And a small box of cartridges. Made in one of the Sioux slave workshops of the Middle West that he had heard about. But to hold it in his hand, and to know that it belonged to him!
It was a Crazy Horse forty-five, and, according to all reports, far superior to the Apache weapon that had so long dominated the West, the Geronimo thirty-two. This was a weapon a General of the Armies, a President of the United States, might never hope to own—and it was his!
“I don’t know how—Really, I—I—”
“That’s all right,” the chief told him genially. “Really it is. My son would not approve of giving firearms to palefaces, but I feel that palefaces are like other people—it’s the individual that counts. You look like a responsible man for a paleface; I’m sure you’ll use the pistol wisely. Now your message.”
Jerry collected his faculties and opened the pouch that hung from his neck. Reverently, he extracted the precious document and presented it to the chief.
Three Hydrogen Bombs read it quickly and passed it to his warriors. The last one to get it, Bright Book Jacket, wadded it up into a ball and tossed it back at the white man.
“Bad penmanship,” he said. “And ‘receive’ is spelled three different ways. The rule is: ‘i before e, except after c.’ But what does it have to do with us? It’s addressed to the Seminole chief, Osceola VII, requesting him to order his warriors back to the southern bank of the Delaware River, or to return the hostage given him by the Government of the United States as an earnest of good will and peaceful intentions. We’re not Seminole: why show it to us?”
As Jerry Franklin smoothed out the wrinkles in the paper with painful care and replaced the document in his pouch, the Confederate ambassador, Sylvester Thomas, spoke up. “I think I might explain,” he suggested, glancing inquiringly from face to face. “If you gentlemen don’t mind…? It is obvious that the United States Government has heard that an Indian tribe finally crossed the Delaware at this point, and assumed it was the Seminole. The last movement of the Seminole, you will recall, was to Philadelphia, forcing the evacuation of the capital once more and its transfer to New York City. It was a natural mistake; the communications of the American States, whether Confederate or United”—a small, coughing, diplomatic laugh here—“have not been as good as might have been expected in recent years. It is quite evident that neither this young man, nor the government he represents so ably and so well, had any idea that the Sioux had decided to steal a march on his majesty, Osceola VII, and cross the Delaware at Lambertville.”
“That’s right,” Jerry broke in eagerly. “That’s exactly right. And now, as the accredited emissary of the President of the United States, it is my duty formally to request that the Sioux nation honor the treaty of eleven years ago as well as the treaty of fifteen—I think it was fifteen—years ago, and retire once more behind the banks of the Susquehanna River. I must remind you that when we retired from Pittsburgh, Altoona, and Johnstown, you swore that the Sioux would take no more land from us and would protect us in the little we had left. I am certain that the Sioux want to be known as a nation that keeps its promises.”
Three Hydrogen Bombs glanced questioningly at the faces of Bright Book Jacket and Hangs A Tale. Then he leaned forward and placed his elbows on his crossed legs. “You speak well, young man,” he commented. “You are a credit to your chief…Now, then. Of course the Sioux want to be known as a nation that honors its treaties and keeps its promises. And so forth and so forth. But we have an expanding population. You don’t have an expanding population. We need more land. You don’t use most of the land you have. Should we sit by and see the land go to waste—worse yet, should we see it acquired by the Seminole, who already rule a domain stretching from Philadelphia to Key West? Be reasonable. You can retire to—to other places. You have most of New England left and a large part of New York State. Surely you can afford to give up New Jersey.”
In spite of himself, in spite of his ambassadorial position, Jerry Franklin began yelling. All of a sudden it was too much. It was one thing to shrug your shoulders unhappily back home in the blunted ruins of New York, but here on the spot where the process was actually taking place—no, it was too much.
“What else can we afford to give up? Where else can we retire to? There’s nothing left of the United States of America but a handful of square miles, and still we’re supposed to move back! In the time of my forefathers, we were a great nation, we stretched from ocean to ocean, so say the legends of my people, and now we are huddled in a miserable corner of our land, starving, filthy, sick, dying, and ashamed. In the North, we are oppressed by the Ojibway and the Cree, we are pushed southward relentlessly by the Montaignais; in the South, the Seminole climb up our land yard by yard; and in the West, the Sioux take a piece more of New Jersey, and the Cheyenne come up and nibble yet another slice out of Elmira and Buffalo. When will it stop—where are we to go?”
The old man shifted uncomfortably at the agony in his voice. “It is hard; mind you, I don’t deny that it is hard. But facts are facts, and weaker peoples always go to the wall…Now, as to the rest of your mission. If we don’t retire as you request, you’re supposed to ask for the return of your hostage. Sounds reasonable to me. You ought to get something out of it. However, I can’t for the life of me remember a hostage. Do we have a hostage from you people?”
His head hanging, his body exhausted, Jerry muttered in misery, “Yes. All the Indian nations on our borders have hostages. As earnests of our good will and peaceful intentions.”
Bright Book Jacket snapped his fingers. “That girl. Sarah Cameron—Canton—what’s-her-name.”
Jerry looked up. “Calvin?” he asked. “Could it be Calvin? Sarah Calvin? The Daughter of the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court?”
“Sarah Calvin. That’s the one. Been with us for five, six years. You remember, chief? The girl your son’s been playing around with?”
Three Hydrogen Bombs looked amazed. “Is she the hostage? I thought she was some paleface female he had imported from his plantations in southern Ohio. Well, well, well. Makes Much Radiation is just a chip off the old block, no doubt about it.” He became suddenly serious. “But that girl will never go back. She rather goes for Indian loving. Goes for it all the way. And she has the idea that my son will eventually marry her. Or some such.”
He looked Jerry Franklin over. “Tell you what, my boy. Why don’t you wait outside while we talk this over? And take the saber. Take it back with you. My son doesn’t seem to want it.”
Jerry wearily picked up the saber and trudged out of the wigwam.
Dully, uninterestedly, he noticed the band of Sioux warriors around Sam Rutherford and his horses. Then the group parted for a moment, and he saw Sam with a bottle in his hand. Tequila! The damned fool had let the Indians give him tequila—he was drunk as a pig.
Didn’t he know that white men couldn’t drink, didn’t dare drink? With every inch of their unthreatened arable land under cultivation for foodstuffs, they were all still on the edge of starvation. There was absolutely no room in their economy for such luxuries as intoxicating beverages—and no white man in the usual course of a lifetime got close to so much as a glassful of the stuff. Give him a whole bottle of tequila and he was a stinking mess.
As Sam was now. He staggered back and forth in dipping semicircles, holding the bottle by its neck and waving it idiotically. The Sioux chuckled, dug each other in the ribs and pointed. Sam vomited loosely down the rags upon his chest and belly, tried to take one more drink, and fell over backwards. The bottle continued to pour over his face until it was empty. He was snoring loudly. The Sioux shook their heads, made grimaces of distaste, and walked away.
Jerry looked on and nursed the pain in his heart. Where could they go? What could they do? And what difference did it make? Might as well be as drunk as Sammy there. At least you wouldn’t be able to feel.
He looked at the saber in one hand, the bright new pistol in the other. Logically, he should throw them away. Wasn’t it ridiculous when you came right down to it, wasn’t it pathetic—a white man carrying weapons?
Sylvester Thomas came out of the tent. “Get your horses ready, my dear sir,” he whispered. “Be prepared to ride as soon as I come back. Hurry!”
The young man slouched over to the horses and followed instructions—might as well do that as anything else. Ride where? Do what?
He lifted Sam Rutherford up and tied him upon his horse. Go back home? Back to the great, the powerful, the respected capital of what had once been the United States of America?
Thomas came back with a bound and gagged girl in his grasp. She wriggled madly. Her eyes crackled with anger and rebellion. She kept trying to kick the Confederate Ambassador.
She wore the rich robes of an Indian princess. Her hair was braided in the style currently fashionable among Sioux women. And her face had been stained carefully with some darkish dye.
Sarah Calvin. The daughter of the Chief Justice. They tied her to the pack horse.
“Chief Three Hydrogen Bombs,” the Negro explained. “He feels his son plays around too much with paleface females. He wants this one out of the way. The boy has to settle down, prepare for the responsibilities of chieftainship. This may help. And listen, the old man likes you. He told me to tell you something.”
“I’m grateful. I’m grateful for every favor, no matter how small, how humiliating.”
Sylvester Thomas shook his head decisively. “Don’t be bitter, young sir. If you want to go on living you have to be alert. And you can’t be alert and bitter at the same time. The Chief wants you to know there’s no point in your going home. He couldn’t say it openly in council, but the reason the Sioux moved in on Trenton has nothing to do with the Seminole on the other side. It has to do with the Ojibway-Cree-Montaignais situation in the North. They’ve decided to take over the Eastern Seaboard—that includes what’s left of your country. By this time, they’re probably in Yonkers or the Bronx, somewhere inside New York City. In a matter of hours, your government will no longer be in existence. The Chief had advance word of this and felt it necessary for the Sioux to establish some sort of bridgehead on the coast before matters were permanently stabilized. By occupying New Jersey, he is preventing an Ojibway-Seminole junction. But he likes you, as I said, and wants you warned against going home.”
“Fine, but where do I go? Up a rain cloud? Down a well?”
“No,” Thomas admitted without smiling. He hoisted Jerry up on his horse. “You might come back with me to the Confederacy—” He paused, and when Jerry’s sullen expression did not change, he went on, “Well, then, may I suggest—and mind you, this is my advice, not the Chief’s—head straight out to Asbury Park. It’s not far away—you can make it in reasonable time if you ride hard. According to reports I’ve overheard, there should be units of the United States Navy there, the Tenth Fleet, to be exact.”
“Tell me,” Jerry asked, bending down. “Have you heard any other news? Anything about the rest of the world? How has it been with those people—the Russkies, the Sovietskis, whatever they were called—the ones the United States had so much to do with years and years ago?”
“According to several of the Chief’s councilors, the Soviet Russians were having a good deal of difficulty with people called Tatars. I think they were called Tatars. But, my good sir, you should be on your way.”
Jerry leaned down further and grasped his hand. “Thanks,” he said. “You’ve gone to a lot of trouble for me. I’m grateful.”
“That’s quite all right,” said Mr. Thomas earnestly. “After all, by the rocket’s red glare, and all that. We were a single nation once.”
Jerry moved off, leading the other two horses. He set a fast pace, exercising the minimum of caution made necessary by the condition of the road. By the time they reached Route 33, Sam Rutherford, though not altogether sober or well, was able to sit in his saddle. They could then untie Sarah Calvin and ride with her between them.
She cursed and wept. “Filthy paleface! Foul, ugly, stinking whiteskins! I’m an Indian, can’t you see I’m an Indian? My skin isn’t white—it’s brown, brown!”
They kept riding.
Asbury Park was a dismal clatter of rags and confusion and refugees. There were refugees from the north, from Perth Amboy, from as far as Newark. There were refugees from Princeton in the west, flying before the Sioux invasion. And from the south, from Atlantic City—even, unbelievably, from distant Camden—were still other refugees, with stories of a sudden Seminole attack, an attempt to flank the armies of Three Hydrogen Bombs.
The three horses were stared at enviously, even in their lathered, exhausted condition. They represented food to the hungry, the fastest transportation possible to the fearful. Jerry found the saber very useful. And the pistol was even better—it had only to be exhibited. Few of these people had ever seen a pistol in action; they had a mighty, superstitious fear of firearms.
With this fact discovered, Jerry kept the pistol out nakedly in his right hand when he walked into the United States Naval Depot on the beach at Asbury Park. Sam Rutherford was at his side; Sarah Calvin walked sobbing behind.
He announced their family backgrounds to Admiral Milton Chester. The son of the Undersecretary of State. The daughter of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The oldest son of the Senator from Idaho. “And now. Do you recognize the authority of this document?”
Admiral Chester read the wrinkled commission slowly, spelling out the harder words to himself. He twisted his head respectfully when he had finished, looking first at the seal of the United States on the paper before him, and then at the glittering pistol in Jerry’s hand.
“Yes,” he said at last. “I recognize its authority. Is that a real pistol?”
Jerry nodded. “A Crazy Horse forty-five. The latest. How do you recognize its authority?”
The admiral spread his hands. “Everything is confused out here. The latest word I’ve received is that there are Ojibway warriors in Manhattan—that there is no longer any United States Government. And yet this”—he bent over the document once more—“this is a commission by the President himself, appointing you full plenipotentiary. To the Seminole, of course. But full plenipotentiary. The last official appointment, to the best of my knowledge, of the President of the United States of America.”
He reached forward and touched the pistol in Jerry Franklin’s hand curiously and inquiringly. He nodded to himself, as if he’d come to a decision. He stood up, and saluted with a flourish.
“I hereby recognize you as the last legal authority of the United States Government. And I place my fleet at your disposal.”
“Good.” Jerry stuck the pistol in his belt. He pointed with the saber. “Do you have enough food and water for a long voyage?”
“No, sir,” Admiral Chester said. “But that can be arranged in a few hours at most. May I escort you aboard, sir?”
He gestured proudly down the beach and past the surf to where the three forty-five-foot gaff-rigged schooners rode at anchor. “The United States Tenth Fleet, sir. Awaiting your orders.”
Hours later when the three vessels were standing out to sea, the admiral came to the cramped main cabin where Jerry Franklin was resting. Sam Rutherford and Sarah Calvin were asleep in the bunks above.
“And the orders, sir…?”
Jerry Franklin walked out on the narrow deck, looked up at the taut, patched sails. “Sail east.”
“East, sir? Due east?”
“Due east all the way. To the fabled lands of Europe. To a place where a white man can stand at last on his own two legs. Where he need not fear persecution. Where he need not fear slavery. Sail east, Admiral, until we discover a new and hopeful world—a world of freedom!”
In 1957, Anthony Boucher retired from the wonderful magazine he had helped found, The Magazine of Fantasy Science Fiction. Bob Mills, the managing editor, needed someone with a substantial background in science fiction to temporarily take Tony’s place, so Cyril Kornbluth was hired as Consulting Editor. There was a heavy snowfall in New York about that time, and Cyril, who suffered from very high blood pressure, made the mistake of hurriedly shoveling his driveway clear so he could get his car out and keep an appointment with Mills. He dropped dead, I believe, in the driveway.
Mills called me and asked me to take a short-time appointment, now filling Cyril’s place. I told him I was honored.
I worked there for about four months, trying to empty one large file drawer where Tony had stashed stories that were just not quite good enough to be published, but still too good to have been rejected. Each story had a special problem: one, for example, by Robert Bloch, “That Hell-Bound Train,” was an absolutely fine piece of work that just didn’t have a usable ending. It was my job, among other things, to come up with such an ending and persuade the writer to write it. I developed a great respect for the editors—chief among them John W. Campbell and Horace L. Gold—I had known and quarreled with a lot, an awful lot.
One of the things Bob Mills asked me to do right off was give him a story by me for the tenth anniversary issue of the magazine. I agreed, and promptly forgot about it as I wrestled with the thick inventory of science fiction written by people I much admired but which always lacked some essential quality or passage.
And then Mills came to my desk at 4:45 p.m. on a Wednesday as I was getting ready to leave, and asked me where it was.
I got into my coat and stared at him. Where what was?
“The story for the anniversary issue. It goes to bed tomorrow. Thursday morning. Dead deadline, Phil!”
In an emergency, my mother had taught me, always lie. “Oh, it’s home,” I said. “I’ll bring it in with me tomorrow morning. I’m pretty sure you’ll like it.”
“How long is it?” Mills wanted to know. “I hope it’ll fit the book. We can’t use much more than about six thousand words.”
“That’s just about what I have,” I told him. “Six or six five. I haven’t counted it yet.”
And I got out of the place.
All the subway ride home, I plotted feverishly, to absolutely no avail. I couldn’t think of a single good idea, certainly none I wanted to write. But as I got out at my station, a large poster advertisement on the platform caught my eye. It was the latest in a group that advertised a Jewish rye bread, each showing a color photograph of someone of a different, non-Jewish ethnic group proclaiming that he or she simply adored Jewish rye. This one was of an American Indian in full feathered headdress.
I ran up to the ad and, to the astonishment I suspect of everyone on the platform hurrying home that night, blew a couple of kisses at it. That was my story, I knew immediately.
And by the time I reached my house in Sea Gate at the Coney Island tip of Brooklyn, I had worked it out almost completely.
Ever since my boyhood, I had been fascinated by the Indian story—or the many Indian stories, perhaps I should say. When I was a kid and my gang played Cowboys and Indians, I always insisted on being one of the Indians. I did it partly out of a partiality for the exotic, but mostly out of a kind of an apology.
What was I apologizing for? I’m not sure. Possibly for what my people had done to them. (My people? My people came from ghettos in Poland and Lithuania! Oh, well, maybe my people, the Cowboys.)
I swallowed the supper Fruma had prepared for me and rushed to my typewriter. I began typing almost immediately.
I stopped only to go to the bathroom. By the time dawn broke over the end of the boardwalk, the story was done.
It needed very little rewriting, and once I did that, the piece came to sixty-four hundred words almost exactly. For a title, I went back to a book by a writer whose work I had loved since the age of twelve, Charles Kingsley, the vicar of Eversley. And I had a story that was science fiction and also what I liked to write those days—a moral tale. I decided that I too adored Jewish rye.
Bob Mills liked it too, the story, not the bread. And I’ve always been quite fond of what I call my science-fiction western.
Written 1957 / Published 1958