By late November some drifts of snow
on the flats were 3 feet deep. The temperature
dropped regularly to ten or more below zero at night
and seldom went above freezing in the daytime.
The level of the log pile in the woodyard dropped
steadily in spite of the concentrated efforts of nearly
every available able-bodied man in the community to
add to it. Crews cut all night long by the light
of gasoline lanterns. The fuel ration had to
be lowered to meet their rate of cutting.
The deep snow hampered Mayor Hilliard’s
plan to sled the logs downhill without use of teams.
Criticisms and grumblings at his decision to sacrifice
the horses grew swiftly.
There had been no more signs of anthrax,
and some were saying the whole program of vaccination
and slaughter had been a stupid mistake. In spite
of the assurance of the veterinarians that it was the
only thing that could have been done, the grumbling
went on like a rolling wave as the severity of the
The Council was finally forced to
issue a conservation order requiring families to double
up, two to a house, on the theory that it would be
more efficient to heat one house than parts of two.
Selection of family pairings was optional. Close
friends and relatives moved together wherever possible.
Where no selection was made the committee assigned
families to live together.
As soon as the order was issued, Ken’s
mother suggested they invite the Larsens to move in
with them. The Swedish family was happy to accept.
Thanksgiving, when it came, was observed
in spirit, but scarcely in fact. There were some
suggestions that Mayor Hilliard should order special
rations for that day and for Christmas, at least, but
he stuck to his ironhard determination that every
speck of food would be stretched to the limit.
No special allowance would be made for Thanksgiving
or any other occasion until the danger was over.
Ken and his father and their friends
had done their share of criticizing the Mayor in the
past, but they now had only increasing admiration for
his determination to take a stand for the principles
he knew to be right, no matter how stern. Previously,
most of the townspeople had considered him very good
at giving highly patriotic Fourth of July speeches,
and not much good at anything else. Now, Ken realized,
the bombastic little man seemed to have come alive,
fully and miraculously alive.
The day after Thanksgiving Ken and
Professor Maddox were greeted by Mrs. Maddox upon
coming home. “Maria wants you to come to
the radio shack right away,” she said.
“There’s something important coming in
They hurried to the shack, and Maria
looked up in relief as they entered. “I’m
so glad you’re here!” she cried. “Dr.
French is on the radio personally. I’ve
been recording him, but he wants to talk to you.
He’s breaking in every 10 minutes to give me
a chance to let him know if you’re here.
It’s almost time, now.”
Ken and his father caught a fragment
of a sentence spoken by the Berkeley scientist, and
then the operator came on. “Berkeley requesting
Ken picked up the microphone and answered.
“This is Mayfield, Ken Maddox talking.
My father is here and will speak with Dr. French.”
Professor Maddox sat down at the desk.
“This is Professor Maddox,” he said.
“I came in time to hear your last sentence, Dr.
French. They tell me you have something important
to discuss. Please go ahead.”
Ken switched over to receive, and
in a moment the calm, persuasive voice of Dr. French
was heard in the speaker. “I’m glad
you came in, Dr. Maddox,” he said. “On
the tape you have my report of some experiments we
have run the last few days. They are not finished,
and if circumstances were normal I would certainly
not report a piece of work in this stage.
“I feel optimistic, however,
that we are on the verge of a substantial breakthrough
in regard to the precipitant we are looking for.
I would like you to repeat the work I have reported
and go on from there, using your own ideas. I
wanted you to have it, along with the people in Pasadena,
in case anything should happen here. In my opinion
it could be only a matter of days until we have a
“I certainly hope you are right,”
said Professor Maddox. “Why do you speak
of the possibility of something happening. Is
“Yes. Rioting has broken
out repeatedly in the entire Bay Area during the past
3 days. Food supplies are almost non-existent.
At the university here, those of us remaining have
our families housed in classrooms. We have some
small stock of food, but it’s not enough for
an indefinite stay. The rioting may sweep over
us. The lack of food may drive us out before
we can finish. You are in a better position there
for survival purposes. I hope nothing happens
to interrupt your work.
“Our local government is crumbling
fast. They have attempted to supply the community
with seafood, but there are not enough sailing vessels.
Perhaps two-thirds of the population have migrated.
Some have returned. Thousands have died.
I feel our time is limited. Give my report your
careful attention and let me know your opinion tomorrow.”
They broke contact, uneasiness filling
the hearts of Dr. French’s listeners in Mayfield.
Up to now, the Berkeley scientist had seemed impassive
and utterly objective. Now, to hear him speak
of his own personal disaster, induced in them some
of his own premonition of collapse.
When Maria had typed the report Professor
Maddox stayed up until the early-morning hours, studying
it, developing equations, and making calculations
of his own. Ken stayed with him, trying to follow
the abstruse work, and follow his father’s too-brief
When he finished, Professor Maddox
was enthusiastic. “I believe he’s
on the right track,” he said. “Unfortunately,
he hasn’t told all he knows in this report.
He must have been too excited about the work.
Ordinarily, he leaves nothing out, but he’s omitted
three or four important steps near the end. I’ll
have to ask him to fill them in before we can do very
much with his processes.”
The report was read and discussed
at the college laboratory the next day, and the scientists
began preliminary work to duplicate Dr. French’s
results. Ken and his father hurried home early
in order to meet the afternoon schedule with Berkeley
and get Dr. French to the microphone to answer the
questions he had neglected to consider.
As they arrived at the radio shack
and opened the door they found Maria inside, with
her head upon the desk. Deep sobs shook her body.
The receiver was on, but only the crackle of static
came from it. The filaments of the transmitter
tubes were lit, but the antenna switch was open.
The tape recorder was still running.
Professor Maddox grasped Maria by
the shoulders and drew her back in the chair.
“What is the matter?” he exclaimed.
“Why are you crying, Maria?”
“It’s all over,”
she said. “There’s nothing more down
there. Just nothing...”
“What do you mean?” Ken cried.
“It’s on the tape. You can hear it
Ken quickly reversed the tape and
turned it to play. In a moment the familiar voice
of their Berkeley friend was heard. “I’m
glad you’re early,” it said. “There
isn’t much time today. The thing Dr. French
feared has happened.
“Half the Bay Area is in flames.
On the campus here, the administration building is
gone. They tried to blow up the science building.
It’s burning pretty fast in the other wing.
I’m on the third floor. Did I ever tell
you I moved my stuff over here to be close to the lab?
“There must be a mob of a hundred
thousand out there in the streets. Or rather,
several hundred mobs that add up to that many.
None of them know where they’re going.
It’s like a monster with a thousand separate
heads cut loose to thrash about before it dies.
I see groups of fifty or a hundred running through
the streets burning and smashing things. Sometimes
they meet another group coming from the opposite direction.
Then they fight until the majority of one group is
dead, and the others have run away.
“The scientists were having
a meeting here until an hour ago. They gathered
what papers and notes they could and agreed that each
would try to make his own way, with his family, out
of the city. They agreed to try to meet in Salinas
6 weeks from now, if possible. I don’t think
any of them will ever meet again.”
A sudden tenseness surged into the
operator’s voice. “I can see him down
there!” he cried in despair. “Dr.
French he’s running across the campus
with a load of books and a case of his papers and they’re
trying to get him. He’s on the brow of
a little hill and the mob is down below. They’re
laughing at him and shooting. They almost look
like college students. He’s down they
A choking sob caught the operator’s
voice. “That’s all there is,”
he said. “I hope you can do something with
the information Dr. French gave you yesterday.
Berkeley is finished. I’m going to try to
get out of here myself now. I don’t think
I stand much of a chance. The mobs are swarming
all over the campus. I can hear the fire on the
other side of the building. Maybe I won’t
even make it outside. Tell the Professor and
Ken so long. I sure wish I could have made it
to Mayfield to see what goes with that Swedish accen YL.”
After dinner, Professor Maddox announced
his intention of going back to the laboratory.
Mrs. Maddox protested vigorously.
“I couldn’t sleep even
if I went to bed,” he said, “thinking about
what’s happened today in Berkeley.”
“What if a thing like that happened
here?” Mrs. Larsen asked with concern. “Could
“We’re in a much better
position than the metropolitan areas,” said
Professor Maddox. “I think we’ll manage
if we can keep our people from getting panicky.
It’s easier, too, because there aren’t
so many of us.”
Professor Larsen went back to the
laboratory with the Maddoxes. Throughout the
night they reviewed the work of Dr. French. To
Ken it seemed that they were using material out of
the past, since all of those responsible for it were
“We’ll have to fill in
these missing steps,” said Professor Maddox.
“We know what he started with and we know the
end results at which he was aiming. I think we
can fill the gaps.”
“I agree,” said Professor
Larsen. “I think we should not neglect to
pass this to our people in Stockholm. You will
see that is done?” he asked Ken.
“Our next schedule in that area
is day after tomorrow. Or I could get it to them
on the emergency watch tomorrow afternoon.”
“Use emergency measures.
I think it is of utmost importance that they have
As the days passed, strangers were
appearing more and more frequently in Mayfield.
Ken saw them on the streets as he went to the warehouse
for his family’s food ration. He did not
know everyone who lived in the valley, of course,
but he was sure some of the people he was meeting now
were total strangers, and there seemed so many of them.
He had heard stories of how some of
them had come, one by one, or in small groups of a
family or two. They had made their way from cities
to the north or the south, along the highway that
passed through the valley. They had come in rags,
half-starved, out of the blizzards to the unexpected
sanctuary of a town that still retained a vestige of
Unexpectedly, Ken found this very
subject was being discussed in the ration lines when
he reached the warehouse. People had in their
hands copies of the twice-weekly mimeographed newssheet
put out by the Council. Across the top in capital
letters was the word: PROCLAMATION.
Ken borrowed a sheet and read, “According
to the latest count we’ve made through the ration
roll, there are now present in Mayfield almost three
thousand people who are refugees from other areas and
have come in since the beginning of the disaster.
“As great as our humanitarian
feelings are, and although we should like to be able
to relieve the suffering of the whole world, if it
were in our power to do so, it is obviously impossible.
Our food supplies are at mere subsistence level now.
Before next season’s crops are in, it may be
necessary to reduce them still further.
“In view of this fact, the Mayor
and the City Council have determined to issue a proclamation
as of this date that every citizen of Mayfield will
be registered and numbered and no rations will be issued
except by proper identification and number. It
is hereby ordered that no one hereafter shall permit
the entrance of any stranger who was not a resident
of Mayfield prior to this date.
“A barbed-wire inclosure is
to be constructed around the entire residential and
business district, and armed guards will be posted
against all refugees who may attempt to enter.
Crews will be assigned to the erection of the fence,
and guard duty will be rotated among the male citizens.”
Ken passed the sheet back to his neighbor.
His mind felt numb as he thought of some of those
he had seen shuffling through the deep snow in town.
He knew now how he had known they were strangers.
Their pinched, haunted faces showed the evidence of
more privation and hardship than any in Mayfield had
yet known. These were the ones who would be turned
away from now on.
Ken heard the angry buzz of comments
all around him. “Should have done it long
ago,” a plump woman somewhere behind him was
saying. “What right have they got to come
in and eat our food?”
A man at the head of the line was
saying, “They ought to round them all up and
make them move on. Three thousand that
would keep the people who’ve got a right here
going a long time.”
Someone else, not quite so angry,
said, “They’re people just like us.
You know what the Bible says about that. We ought
to share as long as we can.”
“Yeah, and pretty soon there
won’t be anything for anybody to share!”
“That may be true, but it’s
what we’re supposed to do. It’s what
we’ve got to do if we’re going
to stay human. I’ll take anybody into my
house who knocks on my door.”
“When you see your kids crying
for food you can’t give them you’ll change
Just ahead of him in line Ken saw
a small, silent woman who looked about with darting
glances of fear. She was trembling with fright
as much as with the cold that penetrated her thin,
ragged, cloth coat.
She was one of them, Ken thought.
She was one who had come from the outside. He
wondered which of the loud-mouthed ones beside him
would be willing to be the first to take her beyond
the bounds of Mayfield and force her to move on.
That night, at dinner, he spoke of
it to his parents and the Larsens.
“It’s a problem that has
to be faced,” said Professor Maddox, “and
Hilliard is choosing the solution he thinks is right.
He’s no more heartless than Dr. Aylesworth,
“It seems a horrible thing,”
said Mrs. Larsen. “What will happen to
those who are turned away?”
“They will die,” said
Dr. Larsen. “They will go away and wander
in the snow until they die.”
“Why should we have any more
right to live than they?” asked Mrs. Maddox.
“How can we go on eating and being comfortable
while they are out there?”
“They are out there in
the whole world,” said Dr. Larsen as if meditating.
“There must be thirty million who have died in
the United States alone since this began. Another
hundred million will die this winter. The proportion
will be the same in the rest of the world. Should
we be thankful for our preservation so far, or should
we voluntarily join them in death?”
“This is different,” said
Mrs. Maddox. “It’s those who come
and beg for our help who will be on our consciences
if we do this thing.”
“The whole world would come
if it knew we had stores of food here if
it could come. As brutal as it is, the Mayor
has taken the only feasible course open to him.”
Ken and Maria remained silent, both
feeling the horror of the proposal and its inevitability.
In the following days Ken was especially
glad to be able to bury himself in the problems at
the laboratory. His father, too, seemed to work
with increasing fury as they got further into an investigation
of the material originated by Dr. French. As
if seized by some fanatic compulsion, unable to stop,
Professor Maddox spent from 18 to 20 hours of every
day at his desk and laboratory bench.
Ken stayed with him although he could
not match his father’s great energy. He
often caught snatches of sleep while his father worked
on. Then, one morning, as an especially long
series of complex tests came to an end at 3 a.m.,
he said to Ken in quiet exultation, “We can
decontaminate now, if nothing else. That’s
the thing that French had found. Whether we can
ever put it into the atmosphere is another matter,
but at least we can get our metals clean.”
Excited, Ken leaned over the notebook
while his father described the results of the reaction.
He studied the photographs, taken with the electron
microscope, of a piece of steel before and after treatment
with a compound developed by his father.
Ken said slowly, in a voice full of
emotion. “French didn’t do this,
“Most of it. I finished it up from where
he left off.”
“No. He wasn’t even
on the same track. You’ve gone in an entirely
different direction from the one his research led to.
You are the one who has developed a means of
cleaning the dust out of metals.”
Professor Maddox looked away.
“You give me too much credit, Son.”
Ken continued to look at his father,
at the thick notebook whose scrawled symbols told
the story. So this is the way it happens, he
thought. You don’t set out to be a great
scientist at all. If you can put all other things
out of your mind, if you can be absorbed with your
whole mind and soul in a problem that seems important
enough, even though the world is collapsing about
your head; then, if you are clever enough and persevering
enough, you may find yourself a great scientist without
ever having tried.
“I don’t think I’ll
ever be what the world calls a great scientist,”
Professor Maddox had said on that day that seemed so
long ago. “I’m not clever enough;
I don’t think fast enough. I can teach the
fundamentals of chemistry, and maybe some of those
I teach will be great someday.”
So he had gone along, Ken thought,
and by applying his own rules he had achieved greatness.
“I think you give me far too much credit, Son,”
he said in a tired voice.