Saturday, January 23, 2010

"A Leak in the Fountain of Youth" by Amelia Reynolds Long, part 2

This is the second installment of "A Leak in the Fountain of Youth", a science fiction story from the Gernsback Era by Amelia Reynolds Long. The story first appeared in the August 1936 issue of Astounding Stories and was reprinted in the 2003 anthology Sci-Fi Womanthology edited by Forrest J. Ackerman and Pam Keesey.

The story so far:
Professor Aloysius O'Flannigan, a brilliant young biochemist, has invented a serum that will reverse the aging process. An opportunity to test it on a human subject unexpectedly presents itself when his old college chum, the poet Gustavus Adolphus Lindstrom, shows up on the lam from the police, suspected of bank robbery in a case of mistaken identity. Lindstrom needs some way to elude the police, so O'Flannigan offers to make him look sixteen years old . . .

* * *

A sudden, businesslike ring at the front doorbell was like an exclamation point after his words!

"The police!" Gustavus gasped, and went limp.

Aloysius seized him by the scruff of the neck, and propelled him toward the laboratory. "Answer the door, Eric," he said. "If it's the police, hold them off until I get back."

I had the sensation that each board I trod upon was on springs and gave under me as I walked down the hall to the front door. When I opened it, the worst was realized as a burly policeman confronted me!

"Are you Professor O'Flannigan?" he bellowed. I realized afterward that he must have spoken in only an ordinary tone of voice, but it sounded differently to me then.

"No, officer," I replied, glad that my first words, at least, could be the truth. "I'm only his friend, Eric Dale. Did you want to see the professor?"

"An' what would I be doin' here if I didn't?" he answered.

This didn't seem to call for an answer, so I didn't attempt one. "If you'll excuse me a moment, I'll go and call him," I offered instead, and started back down the hall. To my horror, the policeman followed me!

For a moment I had a hideous vision of his forcing me to guide him straight to the laboratory where Aloysius was doing heaven alone knew what to Gustavus Adolphus, and, then, clapping irons on both of us for aiding and abetting a dangerous criminal; but the situation was saved by the entrance of Aloysius in person, alone and wholly self-possessed.

"Was someone at the door, Eric?" he inquired innocently. Then, pretending to see the policeman for the first time, "Oh, good morning, officer. Can I do something for you?"

The policeman touched his cap. "It's about a friend of yours I've come, professor," he explained. "A man named Gustavus Adolphus Lindstrom. Have you seen him this mornin'?"

Aloysius registered just the right amount of annoyance and concern. "Don't tell me that Gussie's gone and got himself into trouble again!" he exclaimed protestingly.

The policeman explained that Gustavus was wanted for the robbery of the Suburban Bank. Aloysius was properly shocked.

"I simply can't believe it!" he declared. "Why, I saw him only the day before yesterday, and he said nothing at all about intending to rob a bank."

"They seldom do," the policeman said. "But seein' as you're such a good friend of his, he may try to get in touch with you now that it's over and, if he does, will you let us know, professor? If he's innocent, you'll be doin' him a favor by helpin' him prove it."

Aloysius intimated that he would -- without, however, definitely committing himself, and the policeman departed.

"Now," I demanded, turning with the ferocity of overwrought nerves upon Aloysius, "what have you done with Gussie?'

He raised a calming hand. "Gussie's all right," he assured me. "I gave him a large dose of the glandular control serum, and he's sleeping quietly in my room. Would you like to see him?"

I replied that I most certainly would.

He conducted me to his bedroom adjoining the laboratory. There lay Gussie sleeping peacefully, and with an expression on his face that for sheer guilelessness would have done credit to a hydrocephalic idiot.

I bent over him and examined him. "Heavens!" I cried almost at once. "He's young already!"

Aloysius laughed. "Your imagination, Eric," he said. "The serum won't begin to take effect for nearly an hour."

In spite of Aloysius' assurance that everything was now all right and that Gustavus would be safe until the real bank robber was discovered, I returned to my home with a feeling of strong misgiving. Suppose the serum should fail to take effect upon a human being; or suppose, having ben given in one large portion instead of small quantities, it should kill or cripple Gustavus! But, as the day wore on and none of the papers brought out an extra featuring either his capture or his murder, I decided that I was giving myself needless worry. And so I banished the matter from my mind.

* * *

But it was false security. At three o'clock the next morning my telephone rang. Aloysius was on the wire.

"Eric," he almost whispered, "come over at once! We're in the devil's own predicament!"

"Gussie --" I began incautiously, but he interrupted.

"Don't ask questions over the phone," he warned. "I'll explain when you get here." He rang off.

I dressed as quickly as possible and hurried around to where he lived. He was waiting for me at the door.

"What on earth's happened?" I demanded. "Have the police --"

He waived the police aside as if they had been of no consequence.

"It's got nothing to do with the police," he said. "Eric, we've got a real problem on our hands now. Come into the study."

He seized me by the arm and almost propelled me into the room. "Look," he commanded, and pointed dramatically at a large, overstuffed armchair.

I looked. Something was lying upon the seat of the chair. At first I thought that it was merely a blanket roll. Then, I realized that it was alive. Bending closer, I discovered with a sense of shock that it was a very young baby!

"Merciful heaven!" I gasped, and took a step backward. "Where did that come from?"

"Don't you know?" Aloysius asked.

I raised my eyebrows. "Doorstep contribution?" I inquired.

He made an impatient gesture. "Won't you understand, Eric?" he asked piteously. There was soul sickness in his eyes. "It's Gussie!"

* * *

"Gussie!" I sat down weakly upon the nearest chair and tried to keep my head from spinning while he explained. It seemed that either he had given Gustavus a slight overdose of the serum, or the stuff taken in quantity acted differently than when taken in small amounts. In any case, Gustavus had failed to stop rejuvinating when he had reached the physiological age of sixteen, but had continued to grow younger and younger until he had reached his present state.

"It was terrible!" Aloysius said, shuddering. "For a while I was afraid he was going to vanish entirely right there before my eyes. Eric, what are we going to do with him?"

I considered the situation. Once the shock of beholding Gustavus as an infant had abated, matters did not look so bad. After all, what Aloysius had set out to do was to disguise Gustavus so that the police would not recognize him, and that was precisely what he had done. Why not, I argued, permit Gustavus to remain as he was until after the real criminal had been apprehended, when he could be restored to his normal state?

This suggestion relieved Aloysius enormously. He permitted me to go home and finish my night's sleep in peace.

The following noon I dropped around again to see how he was getting on. I found him preparing a bottle for Gustavus.

"Eric," he said through clenched teeth, "this can't go on. I've done nothing since five o'clock this morning but wait on Gussie."

"Five o'clock!" I echoed. "That's no hour to get a child up. Why didn't you let him sleep?"

He looked at me in disgust. "That shows how much you know about it," he retorted resentfully. "He got me up. A five o'clock he started to yell like a banshee, and I had to walk the floor with him for two hours before he'd quiet down. Since then it's been one thing after another. I tell you, I can't stand it!"

It was on the tip of my tongue to remind him that I had warned him against the experiment in the first place, but I saw the dark circles under his eyes and refrained. After all, it would be unkind to twist the weapon in the wound just then.

"There's only one thing to do that I can think of," I told him. "You'll have to hire a nurse."

He hired a nurse, a grim-visaged professional named Miss Mabel McGillicuddy. She was a woman with an iron jaw and a physique like a horse, but she understood the care of infants. Aloysius gave her an apologetic-sounding story about Gustavus' being his orphaned nephew, and conducted her to the nursery. She appeared a trifle dashed when she discovered that her charge's entire wardrobe consisted of an old, cut-down polo shirt and a dozen and a half dinner napkins, but she said nothing and got to work.

No comments: