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´╗┐Title: Old Rambling House
Author: Herbert, Frank, 1920-1986
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Old Rambling House" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



Old Rambling House

By FRANK HERBERT


 _All the Grahams desired was a
 home they could call their own
 ... but what did the home want?_


Illustrated by JOHNSON


On his last night on Earth, Ted Graham stepped out of a glass-walled
telephone booth, ducked to avoid a swooping moth that battered itself in
a frenzy against a bare globe above the booth.

Ted Graham was a long-necked man with a head of pronounced egg shape
topped by prematurely balding sandy hair. Something about his lanky,
intense appearance suggested his occupation: certified public
accountant.

He stopped behind his wife, who was studying a newspaper classified
page, and frowned. "They said to wait here. They'll come get us. Said
the place is hard to find at night."

Martha Graham looked up from the newspaper. She was a doll-faced woman,
heavily pregnant, a kind of pink prettiness about her. The yellow glow
from the light above the booth subdued the red-auburn cast of her
ponytail hair.

"I just _have_ to be in a house when the baby's born," she said. "What'd
they sound like?"

"I dunno. There was a funny kind of interruption--like an argument in
some foreign language."

"Did they sound foreign?"

"In a way." He motioned along the night-shrouded line of trailers toward
one with two windows glowing amber. "Let's wait inside. These bugs out
here are fierce."

"Did you tell them which trailer is ours?"

"Yes. They didn't sound at all anxious to look at it. That's odd--them
wanting to trade their house for a trailer."

"There's nothing odd about it. They've probably just got itchy feet like
we did."

He appeared not to hear her. "Funniest-sounding language you ever heard
when that argument started--like a squirt of noise."

       *       *       *       *       *

Inside the trailer, Ted Graham sat down on the green couch that opened
into a double bed for company.

"They could use a good tax accountant around here," he said. "When I
first saw the place, I got that definite feeling. The valley looks
prosperous. It's a wonder nobody's opened an office here before."

His wife took a straight chair by the counter separating kitchen and
living area, folded her hands across her heavy stomach.

"I'm just continental tired of wheels going around under me," she said.
"I want to sit and stare at the same view for the rest of my life. I
don't know how a trailer ever seemed glamorous when--"

"It was the inheritance gave us itchy feet," he said.

Tires gritted on gravel outside.

Martha Graham straightened. "Could that be them?"

"Awful quick, if it is." He went to the door, opened it, stared down at
the man who was just raising a hand to knock.

"Are you Mr. Graham?" asked the man.

"Yes." He found himself staring at the caller.

"I'm Clint Rush. You called about the house?" The man moved farther into
the light. At first, he'd appeared an old man, fine wrinkle lines in his
face, a tired leather look to his skin. But as he moved his head in the
light, the wrinkles seemed to dissolve--and with them, the years lifted
from him.

"Yes, we called," said Ted Graham. He stood aside. "Do you want to look
at the trailer now?"

Martha Graham crossed to stand beside her husband. "We've kept it in
awfully good shape," she said. "We've never let anything get seriously
wrong with it."

_She sounds too anxious_, thought Ted Graham. _I wish she'd let me do
the talking for the two of us._

"We can come back and look at your trailer tomorrow in daylight," said
Rush. "My car's right out here, if you'd like to see our house."

Ted Graham hesitated. He felt a nagging worry tug at his mind, tried to
fix his attention on what bothered him.

"Hadn't we better take our car?" he asked. "We could follow you."

"No need," said Rush. "We're coming back into town tonight anyway. We
can drop you off then."

Ted Graham nodded. "Be right with you as soon as I lock up."

Inside the car, Rush mumbled introductions. His wife was a dark shadow
in the front seat, her hair drawn back in a severe bun. Her features
suggested gypsy blood. He called her Raimee.

_Odd name_, thought Ted Graham. And he noticed that she, too, gave that
strange first impression of age that melted in a shift of light.

Mrs. Rush turned her gypsy features toward Martha Graham. "You are going
to have a baby?"

It came out as an odd, veiled statement.

Abruptly, the car rolled forward.

Martha Graham said, "It's supposed to be born in about two months. We
hope it's a boy."

Mrs. Rush looked at her husband. "I have changed my mind," she said.

Rush spoke without taking his attention from the road. "It is too ..."
He broke off, spoke in a tumble of strange sounds.

Ted Graham recognized it as the language he'd heard on the telephone.

Mrs. Rush answered in the same tongue, anger showing in the intensity of
her voice. Her husband replied, his voice calmer.

Presently, Mrs. Rush fell moodily silent.

Rush tipped his head toward the rear of the car. "My wife has moments
when she does not want to get rid of the old house. It has been with her
for many years."

Ted Graham said, "Oh." Then: "Are you Spanish?"

Rush hesitated. "No. We are Basque."

He turned the car down a well-lighted avenue that merged into a highway.
They turned onto a side road. There followed more turns--left, right,
right.

Ted Graham lost track.

They hit a jolting bump that made Martha gasp.

"I hope that wasn't too rough on you," said Rush. "We're almost there."

       *       *       *       *       *

The car swung into a lane, its lights picking out the skeleton outlines
of trees: peculiar trees--tall, gaunt, leafless. They added to Ted
Graham's feeling of uneasiness.

The lane dipped, ended at a low wall of a house--red brick with
clerestory windows beneath overhanging eaves. The effect of the wall and
a wide-beamed door they could see to the left was ultramodern.

Ted Graham helped his wife out of the car, followed the Rushes to the
door.

"I thought you told me it was an old house," he said.

"It was designed by one of the first modernists," said Rush. He fumbled
with an odd curved key. The wide door swung open onto a hallway equally
wide, carpeted by a deep pile rug. They could glimpse floor-to-ceiling
view windows at the end of the hall, city lights beyond.

Martha Graham gasped, entered the hall as though in a trance. Ted Graham
followed, heard the door close behind them.

"It's so--so--so _big_," exclaimed Martha Graham.

"You want to trade _this_ for our trailer?" asked Ted Graham.

"It's too inconvenient for us," said Rush. "My work is over the
mountains on the coast." He shrugged. "We cannot sell it."

Ted Graham looked at him sharply. "Isn't there any money around here?"
He had a sudden vision of a tax accountant with no customers.

"Plenty of money, but no real estate customers."

They entered the living room. Sectional divans lined the walls. Subdued
lighting glowed from the corners. Two paintings hung on the opposite
walls--oblongs of odd lines and twists that made Ted Graham dizzy.

Warning bells clamored in his mind.

       *       *       *       *       *

Martha Graham crossed to the windows, looked at the lights far away
below. "I had no idea we'd climbed that far," she said. "It's like a
fairy city."

Mrs. Rush emitted a short, nervous laugh.

Ted Graham glanced around the room, thought: _If the rest of the house
is like this, it's worth fifty or sixty thousand_. He thought of the
trailer: _A good one, but not worth more than seven thousand_.

Uneasiness was like a neon sign flashing in his mind. "This seems
so ..." He shook his head.

"Would you like to see the rest of the house?" asked Rush.

Martha Graham turned from the window. "Oh, yes."

Ted Graham shrugged. _No harm in looking_, he thought.

When they returned to the living room, Ted Graham had doubled his
previous estimate on the house's value. His brain reeled with the
summing of it: a solarium with an entire ceiling covered by sun lamps,
an automatic laundry where you dropped soiled clothing down a chute,
took it washed and ironed from the other end ...

"Perhaps you and your wife would like to discuss it in private," said
Rush. "We will leave you for a moment."

And they were gone before Ted Graham could protest.

Martha Graham said, "Ted, I honestly never in my life dreamed--"

"Something's very wrong, honey."

"But, Ted--"

"This house is worth at least a hundred thousand dollars. Maybe more.
And they want to trade _this_--" he looked around him--"for a
seven-thousand-dollar trailer?"

"Ted, they're foreigners. And if they're so foolish they don't know the
value of this place, then why should--"

"I don't like it," he said. Again he looked around the room, recalled
the fantastic equipment of the house. "But maybe you're right."

He stared out at the city lights. They had a lacelike quality: tall
buildings linked by lines of flickering incandescence. Something like a
Roman candle shot skyward in the distance.

"Okay!" he said. "If they want to trade, let's go push the deal ..."

Abruptly, the house shuddered. The city lights blinked out. A humming
sound filled the air.

Martha Graham clutched her husband's arm. "Ted! Wha-- what was that?"

"I dunno." He turned. "Mr. Rush!"

No answer. Only the humming.

The door at the end of the room opened. A strange man came through it.
He wore a short toga-like garment of gray, metallic cloth belted at the
waist by something that glittered and shimmered through every color of
the spectrum. An aura of coldness and power emanated from him--a sense
of untouchable hauteur.

       *       *       *       *       *

He glanced around the room, spoke in the same tongue the Rushes had
used.

Ted Graham said, "I don't understand you, mister."

The man put a hand to his flickering belt. Both Ted and Martha Graham
felt themselves rooted to the floor, a tingling sensation vibrating
along every nerve.

Again the strange language rolled from the man's tongue, but now the
words were understood.

"Who are you?"

"My name's Graham. This is my wife. What's going--"

"How did you get here?"

"The Rushes--they wanted to trade us this house for our trailer. They
brought us. Now look, we--"

"What is your talent--your occupation?"

"Tax accountant. Say! Why all these--"

"That was to be expected," said the man. "Clever! Oh, excessively
clever!" His hand moved again to the belt. "Now be very quiet. This may
confuse you momentarily."

Colored lights filled both the Grahams' minds. They staggered.

"You are qualified," said the man. "You will serve."

"Where are we?" demanded Martha Graham.

"The coordinates would not be intelligible to you," he said. "I am of
the Rojac. It is sufficient for you to know that you are under Rojac
sovereignty."

       *       *       *       *       *

Ted Graham said, "But--"

"You have, in a way, been kidnapped. And the Raimees have fled to your
planet--an unregistered planet."

"I'm afraid," Martha Graham said shakily.

"You have nothing to fear," said the man. "You are no longer on the
planet of your birth--nor even in the same galaxy." He glanced at Ted
Graham's wrist. "That device on your wrist--it tells your local time?"

"Yes."

"That will help in the search. And your sun--can you describe its atomic
cycle?"

Ted Graham groped in his mind for his science memories from school, from
the Sunday supplements. "I can recall that our galaxy is a spiral
like--"

"Most galaxies are spiral."

"Is this some kind of a practical joke?" asked Ted Graham.

The man smiled, a cold, superior smile. "It is no joke. Now I will make
you a proposition."

Ted nodded warily. "All right, let's have the stinger."

"The people who brought you here were tax collectors we Rojac recruited
from a subject planet. They were conditioned to make it impossible for
them to leave their job untended. Unfortunately, they were clever enough
to realize that if they brought someone else in who could do their job,
they were released from their mental bonds. Very clever."

"But--"

"You may have their job," said the man. "Normally, you would be put to
work in the lower echelons, but we believe in meting out justice
wherever possible. The Raimees undoubtedly stumbled on your planet by
accident and lured you into this position without--"

"How do you know I can do your job?"

"That moment of brilliance was an aptitude test. You passed. Well, do
you accept?"

"What about our baby?" Martha Graham worriedly wanted to know.

"You will be allowed to keep it until it reaches the age of
decision--about the time it will take the child to reach adult
stature."

[Illustration]

"Then what?" insisted Martha Graham.

"The child will take its position in society--according to its ability."

"Will we ever see our child after that?"

"Possibly."

Ted Graham said, "What's the joker in this?"

Again the cold, superior smile. "You will receive conditioning similar
to that which we gave the Raimees. And we will want to examine your
memories to aid us in our search for your planet. It would be good to
find a new inhabitable place."

"Why did they trap us like this?" asked Martha Graham.

"It's lonely work," the man explained. "Your house is actually a type of
space conveyance that travels along your collection route--and there is
much travel to the job. And then--you will not have friends, nor time
for much other than work. Our methods are necessarily severe at times."

"_Travel?_" Martha Graham repeated in dismay.

"Almost constantly."

Ted Graham felt his mind whirling. And behind him, he heard his wife
sobbing.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Raimees sat in what had been the Grahams' trailer.

"For a few moments, I feared he would not succumb to the bait," she
said. "I knew you could never overcome the mental compulsion enough to
leave them there without their first agreeing."

Raimee chuckled. "Yes. And now I'm going to indulge in everything the
Rojac never permitted. I'm going to write ballads and poems."

"And I'm going to paint," she said. "Oh, the delicious freedom!"

"Greed won this for us," he said. "The long study of the Grahams paid
off. They couldn't refuse to trade."

"I knew they'd agree. The looks in their eyes when they saw the house!
They both had ..." She broke off, a look of horror coming into her eyes.
"One of them did not agree!"

"They both did. You heard them."

"The baby?"

He stared at his wife. "But--but it is not at the age of decision!"

"In perhaps eighteen of this planet's years, it _will_ be at the age of
decision. What then?"

His shoulders sagged. He shuddered. "I will not be able to fight it off.
I will have to build a transmitter, call the Rojac and confess!"

"And they will collect another inhabitable place," she said, her voice
flat and toneless.

"I've spoiled it," he said. "I've spoiled it!"

                                                       --FRANK HERBERT



Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from _Galaxy Science Fiction_ April 1958.
    Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
    copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and
    typographical errors have been corrected without note.





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