by Jay Clarke
from Galaxy Science Fiction June 1954.
[Sidenote: Roger got his chance to rise in the world ... and
wound up with his head in the clouds!]
London, W. 1 April 3
Roger Brisby Hotel Massilon New York, N. Y.
I haven't heard from you since you arrived in New York. Are you
All my love, Anne
* * * * *
London, W. 1 April 11
Really, Roger, you might have some consideration. After all, I am
your fiancée. The very least you could do is drop me a postal card,
even if you are on a business trip. I worry about you, Roger.
It's been three weeks since I've heard from you.
* * * * *
London, W. 1 April 16
My dear Roger,
I won't stand for it. I simply won't! I know you too well!
You're probably running around with those awful American women, and
using my money to do it! Business trip, indeed! Don't think an
ocean between us is going to stop me from finding out what you're
doing! You write me this instant!
* * * * *
VIA WU CABLES LONDON APR 24 ROGER BRISBY HOTEL MASSILON NY
FIVE WEEKS SINCE WORD FROM YOU STOP IF DONT HEAR FROM YOU TWENTY
FOUR REPEAT TWENTY FOUR HOURS COMMA ENGAGEMENT BROKEN STOP ALSO WILL
SUE FOR BREACH OF PROMISE COMMA DESERTION COMMA AND EXTORTION AND FRAUD
FOR MONEY YOU HAVE BORROWED FROM ME STOP CABLE COLLECT STOP I STOPPED
YOUR DRAW ON MY ACCOUNT AT BANK STOP ANNE
* * * * *
Hotel Massilon, N. Y. April 25
My dearest Anne,
Please forgive the delay in replying to your letters and cable. The
truth is that I was quite unable to write, anxious as I was to do so.
It's a rather long story, but I would like to explain just how this
came to be and so prove how unfounded your suspicions were.
You see, shortly after I arrived here, I ran into a Professor
Phelps-Smythe Burdinghaugh, lately of England. Professor Burdinghaugh
has been forced to resign from several universities in England because
of the rather free manner in which he conducted his experiments. He
admitted that no less than 16 physics laboratories have been demolished
through his own miscalculations.
At any rate, finding the atmosphere in our country somewhat cool
toward his continued researches, he came to New York, which, as you
know, is inhabited wholly by wealthy eccentrics, tourists and boors.
Such an environment was eminently suited to the Professor's needs and
he settled here to work on an anti-gravity belt, his lifelong project.
You may wonder, reasonably enough, what Professor Burdinghaugh has
to do with the delay in writing to you, but I assure you that, were it
not for him, you would have heard from me much sooner. Much sooner
It all began with a Scotch-and-water. The Professor and I were each
having one and inevitably we struck up a conversation. We chatted on a
great number of topics and I remember that he was quite impressed when
I told him you were indeed the Chemicals Anne Harrodsbury. Not
long after this, the old boy (he is fiftyish and rather heavy) invited
me in the flush of good comradeship (and good Scotch) to take part in
his latest experiment with his anti-gravity unit. Feeling rather
light-headed, I heartily acclaimed his suggestion and we repaired to
My boy, he said to me later, as he strapped a bulky belt around my
waist. My boy, you are about to witness a milestone in history. Most
assuredly, a milestone.
I nodded, basking in the old boy's magnificent confidence.
We are about to enter a new era, he continued. The Era of Space!
His voice dropped to a low, comradely whisper. And I have chosen
you, my boy, to assist me in forging this trail to new suns, new
worlds, new civilizations! The whole Galaxy lies before us!
I could see only Professor Burdinghaugh's massive girth before me,
but I assumed he could see things much more clearly than I.
The Professor filled our glasses from the bottle I had bought, then
put his face close to mine. Do you know why no one has ever invented
an anti-gravity belt? he confided. I'll tell youit takes
research, and research takes money. And money is very hard to get.
Especially, he added, gazing somberly at his highball, in my
field of research.
He shrugged, then busied himself with some adjustments on the belt
he had wrapped around me. There, he said finally, stepping back,
it's ready. We went outside to the garden behind his laboratory.
All my life, he mused, I've wanted to be the first to defy
gravity, but here a suspicious wetness glistened in his eyesmy
fondness for good food and good drink has paid its price. I am far too
heavy for the belt. That's why I am giving you this chance to
roar to fame. Youyou will have the glory, while I.... He
choked, then quickly drained his glass.
Enough! The stars are waiting! The experiment must begin! He
paused to refill his glass from the bottle he had brought out with him.
When I say, 'Go!' push this button on the belt, he
A toast first! he cried. Soberly, he gazed at his glass. To Man,
he pronounced momentously, and the Stars. He took a sizable swallow,
then fixed me with a feverish glare.
I confess that never, before or since, have I felt such a strange
sensation as when I pushed the button on the belt. Suddenly, I felt
like a leaf, or a feather, floating on a soft warm curl of cloud. It
was as if all the troubles, all the cares of the world had been
miraculously lifted from my shoulders. A glow of well-being seemed to
pulse through my whole body.
The sound of Professor Burdinghaugh's voice brought an abrupt end to
this strange lightness of mind. The Professor was pointing at me with
an intensity I rarely before have seen, muttering, It worksit
works! He seemed rather amazed.
I looked down and, with a feeling I can only describe as giddiness,
saw that indeed it was working. I was rising slowly from the
ground and was then about a foot in the air.
At this historical juncture, we looked at each other for a moment,
then began to laugh as success rushed to our heads. The Professor even
did a mad little jig while, for my part, I gyrated in the air
It was not until I was about ten feet off the ground that I began to
feel uneasy. I was never one to stomach high altitudes, you might
recall, and the sight of ten feet of emptiness beneath me was
Professor, I asked hesitantly, how do I turn off the belt?
Burdinghaugh's glass stopped an inch from his lips. Turn it off?
he countered thickly.
Yes! I shouted, now fifteen feet in the air. How do I turn
it off? How do I get down?
The Professor gazed up at me thoughtfully. My boy, he said at
last, I never thought about getting downbeen much too concerned with
getting jolly well up.
Burdinghaugh! I screamed. Get me down! I was now
twenty feet above the ground.
I'm sorry, old boy, dreadfully sorry, he called to me. I can't.
But don't think your life will have been spent in vain. Indeed not!
I'll see to it that you get proper credit as my assistant when the
anti-gravity belt is perfected. You've been invaluable, dear boy,
invaluable! His voice faded.
Professor! I screamed futilely, but by then we were too far
apart to make ourselves heard and, even as I wasted my breath, a gust
of wind caught me and sent me soaring into the air, spinning like a
top. But, just before I entered a cloud, I saw the Professor standing
far below, his feet planted wide apart, his head thrown back while he
watched my progress. I fancied that, as I disappeared into the mist, he
waved a solemn good-by and drank my health.
You can't imagine the torture I went through as I sailed through the
air. During those first few moments, I had felt light, carefree,
buoyant. But, in these higher altitudes, I was buffeted by strong
winds, pelted by rain in enormous quantities and subjected to sudden
drops that had me gasping. How I managed to survive, I can't
understand. Surely, I would have died if I had floated completely out
of the atmosphere but, luckily, the belt's power to lift me leveled off
at about 10,000 feet.
For days, I drifted at that altitude, blown willy-nilly by the
contrary winds, starved and bitterly cold. Several times, I tried to
steer myselfbut to no avail. I was powerless to control my flight. My
sense of direction left me and I had no idea where I was. Sometimes, I
would look down through a rift in the clouds and see farmland, or
perhaps cities. Once I glimpsed the seaand shut my eyes.
It was not until the sixth day of my flight that I noticed a change.
I was sinking. Slowly but steadily, I was losing altitude. I was at a
loss to explain this phenomenon at first, but then I remembered that
the Professor had said the belt was powered by batteries. Obviously,
the batteries were weakening.
A few hours later, I landed gently, only a few blocks from where I
had started my unwilling flight. During those six frightful days, I
must have been blown around in circles. Weak, starved, shaken, sick, I
was taken to a hospital, from which I have just been released. Needless
to say, I immediately tried to locate Professor Burdinghaugh, but have
been unable to find a trace of him. You might say he has disappeared
into thin air.
You must be wondering, of course, what this singular adventure has
to do with my not writing you earlier. However, I feel certain you
understand now that writing was impossible under the circumstances.
All the ink in my fountain pen leaked out when I reached the
altitude of 10,000 feetI have the kind of pen that writes under
waterand I had to put my pencil between my teeth to keep them from
chattering and knocking out my inlays. During my stay at the hospital,
of course, I couldn't write, as I was too weak even to flirt with the
nurseswhich, as you know, is very weak indeed.
So, please forgive my unfortunate lapse in correspondence. Truly, I
would have written, had it been possible.
P.S. I resent your implication that I am engaged to you only because
of your money. The fact that you are extremely wealthy and that I have
virtually nothing, as I have told you many times before, never has and
never will have anything to do with my love for you. I'm particularly
hurt by your suspicion that I'd spend your money on other women.
Really, I'm shocked that such a thing could even occur to you. And, now
that you know why I haven't written before, I trust you'll restore my
draw on your account at the bank. My funds are rather low.
* * * * *
London, W. 1 May 1
I always sensed you were a despicable, smooth-talking
gold-diggerbut I didn't really convince myself of it until I read
your letter. Do you really expect me to believe that story? An
anti-gravity belt! What do you take me forone of your silly
impressionable American women?
Besides, I happen to have met your Professor Phelps-Smythe
Burdinghaugh in London, only a few days ago, and he assured me that,
while he had met you in New York, it was under very different
circumstances from those you described. He said you were with two women
and that all three of you were quite drunk. He also said he had never
invented an anti-gravity belt and seemed rather amused at the idea.
Needless to say, he was surprised to learn that I was your fiancée.
He was under the impression that you were engaged to some American
girl, he said, but he couldn't tell which one. That was the last
This is the end, Roger. Our engagement is broken. I bear you no ill
willindeed, I'm glad it's all over. The one thing I'm furious about
is the way you maligned the Professor, trying to make me think he
was responsible for your not writing. How perfectly ridiculous!
Really, Roger, you would do well to model yourself after the
Professor. He is so charming, so cultured, so thoughtful! I'll never
forgive you for trying to blame him for your own shortcomings.
P.S. For obvious reasons, I shan't restore your draw on my account
at the bank. And that's another thing. I thought you were awfully vague
about what business you had in New York, and now I know. The
Professor said you told him you were on vacation. Business trip indeed!
* * * * *
London, W. 1 May 3
My dear boy,
Ever since I watched you disappear into that cloud, I have been
trying to think of some way to make up to you the beastly suffering you
must have experienced at my behest. At long last, I have discovered a
Immediately after the experiment, I found it necessary to return to
London. While there, seeking funds to continue my researches, I
happened to meet your fiancée. It was at this moment that I conceived
the plan for which I know you will be eternally thankful.
I had been troubled by the fact that the world was being deprived of
your obvious natural brilliance in applied sciencewho else would have
thought of needing a button to turn off the anti-gravity
belt?because of your ties to more material things. Namely, your
fiancée. I therefore resolved to free you from your bondsand
hersand give the world the benefit of your genius.
Carrying out this plan was no easy task, however, and I am sure you
will appreciate the problems involved. I first had to convince Anne
that your story was pure rot, or else she would have hung on to you
like a leech for the rest of your life. This I did by denying all
particulars of your storyor, rather, by telling the truth about your
activities in New Yorkand adding a few embellishments of my own.
Of course, this was only temporary relief. I knew something more
permanent had to be done to keep her from ruining your bright future.
It was clear there was only one solutionI had to woo her myself. I
may add that she has found me not unattractive and so I have every
reason to believe we shall be married within the fortnight.
Thus, I have rid you of all entanglements and freed you to use your
vast talents to advance the cause of science. At the same time, if I
may return to a more materialistic plane, I have provided myself with
sufficient funds to carry on my researches, since Anne will gladly
But pleasedo not feel in debt to me. I consider it a privilege to
sacrifice myself to Anne for such a glorious cause. Then too, ladies of
such obvious refinementand meansalways have appealed to me.
I hope that in this small way I have in part repaid you for your
invaluable contribution to my work.
Sincerely, Phelps-Smythe Burdinghaugh
P.S. Since, by marrying Anne, I shall become your creditor, I
suggest you make arrangements with utmost despatch to repay the monies
you borrowed from her. Shall we say thirty days, dear boy?
My researches are quite expensive. I do, you know, still have a
quite genuine fondness for good food and drink.
* * * * *
Brisby Enterprises, Inc., N. Y. June 5
My dear Burdinghaugh,
You win. Anne is yours, for which I am glad. I may have forgotten to
tell you that nearly all of her funds are in untouchable trustsnot in
In regard to the monies due you, my cheque will be in the mails this
week. Such trifling amounts now mean nothing to me.
As for your methods in usurping my relationship with Anne, I have
only admirationspeaking as one professional to another, of course.
Unfortunately, however, in your eagerness to get your hands on Anne's
fortune, you quite overlooked one very important itemthe key item, in
factthe anti-gravity belt.
It may be of interest to you that I have taken out a patent on the
belt and am manufacturing small units for toy spaceships. The
gimmick, as these American subjects put it, is hot and the turnover
is fantastic. The toy ships rise and rise into the sky and never come
down and, as soon as they disappear, the junior rocketmen immediately
start bawling for another one. It isn't quite the Era of Space, but
it's considerably more profitable.
Pity you hadn't thought about patenting the beltthese Americans
are so free with their dollars.
But then, you have Anne. What could be fairer?
Gratefully yours, Roger