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The Ordeal of Colonel Johns

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The Ordeal of Colonel Johns

  Produced by Sankar Viswanathan, Greg Weeks, and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at

  Transcriber's Note:

  This etext was produced from IF Worlds of Science Fiction June 1954. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.


  _The Ordeal of_ COLONEL JOHNS

  By George H. Smith

  Illustrated by Rudolph Palais

  _Colonel Johns, that famous Revolutionary War hero, had the unique--and painful--experience of meeting his great-great-great-great granddaughter. Now maybe you can't change history, but what's there to prevent a soldier from changing his mind about the gal he is going to marry?_

  * * * * *

  Clark Decker winced and scrounged still lower in his seat as Mrs.Appleby-Simpkin rested her enormous bosom on the front of the podiumand smiled down on the Patriot Daughters of America in conventionassembled as she announced: "And now, my dears, I will read you onemore short quotation from Major Wicks' fascinating book 'The MinorTactics of The American Revolution.' When I am finished, I know thatyou will all agree that Rebecca Johns-Hayes will be a more thanfitting successor to myself as your President."

  Decker looked wildly about for a way of escape from the conventionauditorium. If he had only remained in the anteroom with ProfessorMacCulloch and the Historical Reintegrator! After suffering throughfour days of speeches by ladies in various stages of mammaliantop-heaviness, he hadn't believed it possible that anyone could topMrs. Appleby-Simpkin for either sheer ability to bore or for thenobility of her bust. Mrs. Rebecca Johns-Hayes had come as somethingof a shock as she squirmed her way onto the speaker's platform. Butthere she was as big as life, or rather bigger, smiling at Mrs.Appleby-Simpkin, the Past President, beaming at Mrs. Lynd-Torris, adefeated candidate for the presidency and whose ancestor had been onlya captain, and completely ignoring Mrs. Tolman, the other defeatedcandidate whose ancestor had been so inconsiderate as to have been aContinental sergeant. Only the thought that now that the voting wasover and the new president chosen, the ladies might be ready for thedemonstration of the Reintegrator had brought Decker onto theconvention floor, and now he was trapped and would have to listen.

  "And so," Mrs. Appleby-Simpkin was reading, "upon such small events dothe great moments of history depend. The brilliant scouting andskirmishing of the riflemen under Colonel Peter Johns prevented thebreakthrough of Captain Fosdick's column and the possible flanking ofthe American army before Saratoga. Thus, this little known action mayhave been the deciding factor in the whole campaign that preventedGeneral Burgoyne from carrying out the British plan to divide thecolonies and end the war. It is impossible for the historian torefrain from speculation as to what might have happened had ColonelJohns not been on hand to direct the riflemen and militia in thissection; as indeed he might _not_ have been, since his own regiment ofshort-term enlistees had returned to Pennsylvania a few dayspreviously. Only the Colonel's patriotism and devotion to duty kepthim in the field and made his abilities available to the country whenthey were most needed."

  Mrs. Appleby-Simpkin waited until the burst of applausehad died down and then continued, "That is the man whosegreat-great-great-great-granddaughter you have elected yourpresident today ... Mrs. Rebecca Johns-Hayes!" Turning to Mrs.Johns-Hayes she went on, "Before you make your acceptance speech,dear, we have a little surprise for you."

  Clark Decker had been edging his way toward the side of the auditoriumwhere the Men's Auxiliary of the Daughters had their seats but heturned back at the mention of the surprise. It sounded as though itwas time for him and the Professor to start their demonstration.

  "A surprise which we hope will also be a surprise to the whole worldof science," Mrs. Appleby-Simpkin was holding the podium against adeterminedly advancing Mrs. Johns-Hayes. "Indeed we may be able to sayin future years, that the 1989 Convention of the Patriot Daughters wasmarked by the first public demonstration of one of the most momentousinventions in the history of science." The Past President was speakingfaster and faster, because the new President with a hand full of noteswas doing her best to edge her away from both the podium and themicrophone.

  "Thank you, darling," Mrs. Johns-Hayes said, pulling the microphonefirmly toward her, "but we really must get along with business. I havequite a few things I want to say and several motions which I want toplace before the Convention."

  "And as I was saying, dear," Mrs. Appleby-Simpkin said, pulling themicrophone back with equal firmness, "I know that you will be justunbearably thrilled." There was another brief struggle for the mike andMrs. Appleby-Simpkin won and went on. "I know that he will be just asproud of you as you are of him. That is why we have arranged for ProfessorMacCulloch to demonstrate his historical Reintegrator at our convention bybringing into our midst Colonel Peter Johns, the hero of the action atTemple Farm, to see his great-great-great-great-granddaughter installed asthe fifty-fourth president of the Loyal Order of Patriot Daughters ofAmerica. Now I...." Mrs. Johns-Hayes again won control of the mike.

  "Thank you very much, dear." Her voice was a genteel screech. "I'msure that we will be only too glad to have the ... who? Who did yousay?" Mrs. Appleby-Simpkin regained the microphone from the otherwoman's relaxing grip.

  "I believe I see Mr. Decker, the Professor's assistant, in theaudience," she said. "Will you be so good as to tell the Professorthat we are ready for his epic-making experiment?"

  With a great feeling of relief, Decker escaped from the rising turmoilof the convention hall into the relative quiet of the anteroom whereMacCulloch waited with the Reintegrator. He found the Professorsitting with his head in his hands staring at the machine. The littleman looked up and smiled quizzically as his assistant approached him.

  "They're ready, Professor! They're ready!" Still under the influenceof the convention, Decker found himself shouting.

  "Ah. Ah, yes. Then it will be today. I've waited so long. Ten years ofwork and now instead of a scientific gathering, I have to demonstratemy machine before a woman's club."

  * * * * *

  Decker began to wheel the platform which held the Reintegrator toward thedoor. "After today, Professor, all the scientific organizations in theworld will have heard of you and will be demanding demonstrations."

  "Yes, but these Patriot Daughters! Who are they? Who in the scientificworld ever heard of them?"

  "No one except a few scientists unfortunate enough to fall afoul oftheir Loyalty and Conformity Committee."

  "I think we should have gone elsewhere for our demonstration."

  "Now Professor. Who in the world today would be interested in the pastexcept a group of ancestor conscious women?"

  "Some historical society perhaps," the Professor said wistfully.

  "And what historical society could have advanced the twenty thousanddollars we needed to complete the machine?"

  "I suppose you're right, my boy," MacCulloch sighed as he helped pushthe Reintegrator onto the auditorium floor.

  By the time Clark Decker reached the platform to explain thedemonstration, the fight for the microphone had turned into athree-way struggle. A lady who represented the Finance Committee wastrying to win it away from both the Past President and the newPresident.

  Taking them by surprise, Decker managed to gain control long enough toexplain what was about to happen.

  "You mean," demanded Mrs. Johns-Hayes, "that this is some sort of timemachine and you're going to transport great-great-great-great-grandfatherfrom the past into the present?"

  "No, Mrs. Hayes. This isn't a time machine in the comic book use ofthe term. It is just what Professor MacCulloch has called it, anhistorical Reintegrator. The theory upon which it is based, theMacCulloch Reaction, says that every person who ever existed, andevery event which ever took place caused electrical disturbances inthe space-time continuum of the universe by displacing an equal andidentical group of electrons. The task of the Reintegrator is toreassemble those electrons. That is why Professor MacCulloch is nowplacing your ancestor's sword in the machine. We will use that as abase point from which our recreation will begin."

  The machine was humming and small lights were beginning to play aboutits tubes and dials. "If our calculations are accurate, and we believethat they
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