Goblin Reservation by Simak Clifford Chapter 15

Maxwell found a secluded corner, a couple of chairs screened by a huge flowering plant of some sort, planted in a marble tub of generous proportions. There was no one there and he sat down.

Out beyond the corner where he sat, the party was drawing to its close, beginning to dwindle down. Some people had left and those who still were there seemed to be less noisy. And if one more person asked him what had happened to him, Maxwell told himself, he'd belt them in the jaw.

I'll explain, he had told Carol when she had asked the night before-I'll explain over and over again. And that was what he'd done, not entirely truthfully, and no one had believed him. They'd looked at him with glassy eyes and they had figured that either he was drunk or was making fools of them.

And he, he realized, had really been the one who had been made a fool. He had been invited to the party, but not by Nancy Clayton. Nancy had not sent him clothes to wear and had not sent the car that had let him out at the back door to walk down the hall, past the door where the Wheeler waited. And ten to one, the dogs had not been Nancy's either, although he had not thought to ask her.

Someone, he realized, had gone to a lot of trouble in a very awkward and involved manner to make sure the Wheeler had a chance to talk with him. It was all so melodramatic, striking so of cloak and dagger, that it was ridiculous. Except that, somehow, he couldn't quite bring himself to think of it as ridiculous.

He coddled his drink with both his hands and listened to the clatter of the dying party.

He peered out around the greenery of the plant roosting in the tub and he could not see the Wheeler, although the Wheeler had been around for a good part of the evening.

He passed the drink, absentmindedly, from one hand to the other, and he knew he didn't want it, that he'd had a touch too much to drink-not so much, perhaps, too much to drink, as the wrong place to be drinking it, not with a warm, tight group of friends in a friendly room, but with too many people who were either strangers or only slightly known, and in a room that was too large and too impersonal. He was tired, more weary than he'd known. In just a little while, he'd get up on his feet and say good night to Nancy, if she were around, and stumble back to Oop's shack, the best way that he could.

And tomorrow? he asked himself. Tomorrow there were things that he should do. But he'd not think of them tonight; he'd wait until tomorrow.

He lifted the drink over the rim of the marble tub and poured it on the soil.

"Cheers," he told the plant.

Carefully, bending slowly so as not to loose his balance, he set the glass upon the floor.

"Sylvester," asked a voice, "do you see what we have here?"

He twisted around and there, on the reverse side of the plant, stood Carol, Sylvester close beside her.

"Come on in," he invited them. "It's a hideaway I found. If the two of you stay very quiet..."

"I've been trying to get you by yourself all evening," Carol told him, "but there never was a chance. I want to know what was this routine of you and Sylvester hunting down the Wheeler?"

She came farther back into the corner and stood waiting for his answer.

"You were no more surprised than I was," he said "Sylvester's showing up fairly left me gasping. I had no idea-"

"I get invited around a lot," said Carol coldly. "Not for myself, of course, since I suppose you're wondering, but because of Sylvester. He makes a good conversation piece."

"Well, good for you," said Maxwell. "You're one up on me. I was not invited."

"But you got here just the same."

"But don't ask me how. I would be somewhat pressed for an explanation."

"Sylvester has always been a decent cat," she said accusingly. "Perhaps a little greedy sometimes, but a gentleman."

"Oh, I know," said Maxwell. "I'm a bad influence on almost everyone."

She came all the way around the plant and sat down in the other chair. "Are you going to tell me what I asked?"

He shook his head. "I don't know if I can. It was somewhat confusing."

"I don't know," she said, "that I've met a more exasperating man. I don't think you're being fair."

"By the way," he said, "you saw the painting, didn't you?"

"Why, of course I did. That was what the party was all about. The painting and that funny Wheeler."

"Did you notice anything unusual?"


"Yes, about the painting."

"I don't think I did."

"Up on the hill there was a tiny cube. Black, sitting on the hill. It looked like the Artifact."

"I missed it. I didn't look that closely at it."

"You saw the gnomes, I presume."

"Yes, I noticed them. Or, at least, they looked like gnomes."

"And those other creatures," Maxwell said. "They looked different, somehow."

"Different from what?"

"Different from the other creatures Lambert usually painted."

"I didn't know," she said, "you were a Lambert expert."

"I'm not," he said. "I went to the library this morning, after I learned about this party and the painting Nancy had and hunted up a book that had plates of his paintings."

"But what if they were different?" Carol asked. "A painter surely has a right to paint anything he wants to."

"Of course he has," said Maxwell. "There's no question of that. But this painting was of Earth. Or, at least, if that was the Artifact, and I think it was, then it was of Earth. But not this Earth, not the Earth we know. Perhaps the Jurassic Earth."

"And you don't think his other paintings were of Earth? They'd have to be of Earth. When Lambert lived, there was no other place to paint. There wasn't any space travel-not any real space travel, just out to the Moon and Mars."

There was the space travel of imagination," Maxwell told her. "Space travel and time travel of the mind. No painter ever has been circumscribed by the here and now. And that's what everyone had thought, of course-that Lambert painted in the realm of imagination. But after tonight I wonder if he might not have been painting actual scenes and actual creatures-places where he'd been."

"You may be right," said Carol, "but how could he have gotten there? This business of the Artifact is exciting, of course, but-"

"It's something that Oop is always talking about," he explained. "He remembers the goblins and the trolls and all the rest of the Little Folk from Neanderthaler days. But there were others then, he said. Others that were worse. They were more malicious and mischievous and the Neanderthal people were scared to death of them."

"And you think some of these things in the painting may be the creatures Oop remembers."

"It was in my mind," he admitted. "I wonder if Nancy would mind if I brought Oop here tomorrow so he could see the painting."

"I don't imagine that she would," said Carol, "but, actually, it's not necessary. I took pictures of the painting."

"But you..."

"I know, of course," she said, "that it's not the proper thing to do. But I asked Nancy and she said she didn't mind. What else could she say? I didn't take the pictures to sell or anything like that. I just took them to have them for my own, for my personal enjoyment. A sort of pay, perhaps, for bringing Sylvester with me so people could have a look at him. Nancy knows what the score is and there wasn't anything that she could do about the picture- taking. If you want Oop to have a look at them..."

"You mean you would?" he asked.

"Why, of course I would. And don't blame me, please, for taking the pictures. It's a way of getting even."

"Getting even? With Nancy?"

"Not with her, particularly, but with all these other people who invite me to their parties. With everyone who does. For they don't want me, really. It's Sylvester they invite. As if he were a trained bear or a clown of some sort. And, of course, to get him to their parties, they must invite me, too. But I know why they're inviting me and they know that I know and they keep on inviting me."

"I think I understand," he said.

"I think," she said, "it's very patronizing of them."

"So do I," he said.

"If we're going to show Oop the pictures," she said, "perhaps we'd best get going. This party is dying on its feet. You are positive you won't tell me what happened with the Wheeler."

"Later on," he said. "Not right now. Maybe later on."

They left their place behind the potted plant and walked across the floor, heading for the door, threading their way through the thinning clusters of guests.

"We should hunt up Nancy," Carol suggested, "and say good-bye to her."

"Some other time," said Maxwell. "We can write her a note or phone her to say we couldn't find her and thank her for the evening, say how much we enjoyed it, how her parties are the ones we try to never miss, how much we liked the painting and how clever it was of her to get hold of it and-"

"Cut out the clowning," Carol said. "You are forcing it too much. You're not very good at it."

"I know it," Maxwell said, "but I always try."

They came to the door and started down the long flight of wide, curving stone stairs which led down to the roadway.

"Professor Maxwell!" cried a voice.

Maxwell turned. Coming down the stairs was Churchill.

"Just a moment, Maxwell, if you please," he said.

"Yes, what is it, Churchill?"

"A word. Alone, if the lady doesn't mind."

"I'll wait for you at the road," Carol said to Maxwell.

"Don't bother," Maxwell said. "I'll settle him real fast."

"No," said Carol, "I'll wait. I don't want any trouble."

Maxwell waited while Churchill came swiftly down the stairs. The man was slightly out of breath and he reached out a hand to grab Maxwell by the arm.

"I've been trying to get to you all evening long," he said, "but you were always with a crowd."

"What is it that you want?" Maxwell asked him sharply.

"The Wheeler," Churchill said. "You must pay no attention to him. He doesn't know our ways. I didn't know what he intended to do. In fact, I told him not to-"

"You mean you knew the Wheeler might be laying for me?"

"I told him not to," Churchill protested. "I told him to leave you alone. I've very sorry, Professor Maxwell. Believe me, I did my very best."

Maxwell's hand shot out and grabbed Churchill by the shirt front, twisting the fabric and pulling the man close to him.

"So you're the Wheeler's man!" he shouted. "You're fronting for him. It was you who made the offer for the Artifact and you made it for the Wheeler."

"What I did," declared Churchill angrily, "was my own business. I make my living representing people."

"The Wheeler isn't people," Maxwell said. "God knows what a Wheeler is. A hive full of insects, for one thing. What else we do not know."

"He has his rights," said Churchill. "He's entitled to do business."

"And you're entitled to help him," Maxwell said. "Entitled to take his wages. But be careful how you earn them. And don't get in my way."

He straightened his arm and flung Churchill from him. The man staggered, lost his balance, fell and rolled down several steps before he could catch himself. He lay there, sprawled, not trying to get up.

"By rights," said Maxwell, "I should have thrown you down the stairs and broken your filthy neck."

He glanced up toward the house and saw that a small crowd of people had collected at the door and were staring down at him. Staring and muttering among themselves.

He turned on his heel and went stalking down the stairs.

At the bottom Carol was clinging desperately to a frantic cat.

"I thought he was going to get away and go up there and tear that man to pieces," she gasped.

She looked at Maxwell with disgust written on her face.

"Can't you get along with anyone?" she asked.