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´╗┐Title: Aloys
Author: Lafferty, R. A.
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 "Aloys" ***


                           BY R. A. LAFFERTY

                         Illustrated by WALKER

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                     Galaxy Magazine August 1961.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

                 He appeared in glory and sank without
                 a trace. Why? How? For the first time
             anywhere, here is the startling inside story.

He had flared up more brightly than anyone in memory. And then he was
gone. Yet there was ironic laughter where he had been; and his ghost
still walked. That was the oddest thing: to encounter his ghost.

It was like coming suddenly on Haley's Comet drinking beer at the
Plugged Nickel Bar, and having it deny that it was a celestial
phenomenon at all, that it had ever been beyond the sun. For he could
have been the man of the century, and now it was not even known if he
was alive. And if he were alive, it would be very odd if he would be
hanging around places like the Plugged Nickel Bar.

This all begins with the award. But before that it begins with the man.

Professor Aloys Foulcault-Oeg was acutely embarrassed and in a state of

"These I have to speak to, all these great men. Is even glory worth
the price when it must be paid in such coin?"

Aloys did not have the amenities, the polish, the tact. A child of
penury, he had all his life eaten bread that was part sawdust, and worn
shoes that were part cardboard. He had an overcoat that had been his
father's, and before that his grandfather's.

This coat was no longer handsome, its holes being stuffed and quilted
with ancient rags. It was long past its years of greatness, and even
when Aloys had inherited it as a young man it was in the afternoon of
its life. And yet it was worth more than anything else he owned in the

Professor Aloys had become great in spite of--or because of?--his
poverty. He had worked out his finest theory, a series of nineteen
interlocked equations of cosmic shapeliness and simplicity. He had
worked it out on a great piece of butchers' paper soaked with lamb's
blood, and had so given it to the world.

And once it was given, it was almost as though nothing else could be
added on any subject whatsoever. Any further detailing would be only
footnotes to it and all the sciences no more than commentaries.

Naturally this made him famous. But the beauty of it was that it
made him famous, not to the commonalty of mankind (this would have
been a burden to his sensitively tuned soul), but to a small and
scattered class of extremely erudite men (about a score of them in the
world). Their recognition brought him almost, if not quite, complete

But he was not famous in his own street or his own quarter of town. And
it was in this stark conglomerate of dark-souled alleys and roofs that
Professor Aloys had lived all his life till just thirty-seven days ago.

When he received the announcement, award, and invitation, he quickly
calculated the time. It was not very long to allow travel halfway
around the world. Being locked out of his rooms, as he often was, he
was unencumbered by baggage or furniture, and he left for the ceremony
at once.

With the announcement, award, and invitation, there had also been a
check; but as he was not overly familiar with the world of finance or
with the English language in which it was written, he did not recognize
it for what it was. Having used the back of it to write down a formula
that had crept into his mind, he shoved the check, forgotten, into one
of the pockets of his greatcoat.

       *       *       *       *       *

For three days he rode a river boat to the port city, hidden and
hungry. There he concealed himself on an ocean tramp. That he did not
starve on this was due to the caprice of the low-lifers who discovered
him, for they made him stay hidden in a terrible bunker and every day
or two they passed in a bucket to him.

Then, several ports and many days later, he left the ship like a
crippled, dirty animal. And it was in That City and on That Day. For
the award was to be that evening.

"These I have to speak to, all these wonderful men who are higher than
the grocers, higher than the butchers even. These men get more respect
than a policeman, than a canal boat captain. They are wiser than a
mayor and more honored than a merchant. They know arts more intricate
than a clock-maker's and are virtuous beyond the politicians. More
perspicacious than editors, more talented than actors, these are the
great men of the world. And I am only Aloys, and now I am too ragged
and dirty even to be Aloys any more. I no longer am a man with a name."

For he was very humble as he walked the great town where even the shop
girls were dressed like princesses, and all the restaurants were so
fine that only the rich people would have dared to go in them at all.
Had there been poor people (and there were none) there would have been
no place for them to eat.

"But it is to me they have given the prize. Not to Schellendore and not
to Ottlebaum, not to Francks nor Timiryaseff, not even to Pitirim-Koss,
the latchet of whose shoe I am not--but why do I say that?--he was not,
after all, very bright--all of them are inadequate in some way--the
only one who was ever able to get to the heart of these great things
was Aloys Foulcault-Oeg, who happens to be myself. It is a strange
thing that they should honor me, and yet I believe they could not have
made a better choice."

So pride and fear warred in him, but it was always the pride that lost.
For he had only a little bit of pride, undernourished and on quaking
ground, and against it was a whole legion of fears, apprehensions,
shames, dreads, embarrassments, and nightmarish bashfulnesses.

He begged a little bit when he had found a poor part of town. But even
here the people were of the rich poor, not the poor as he had known

When he had money in his pocket, he had a meal. Then he went to Jiffy
Quick While You Wait Cleaners Open Day and Night to have his clothes
cleaned. He wrapped himself in dignity and a blanket while he waited.
And as the daylight was coming to an end, they brought his clothes back
to him.

"We have done all we could do. If we had a week or a month, we might do
a little more, but not much."

       *       *       *       *       *

Then he went out into the town, cleaner than he had been in many
years, and he walked to the hall of the Commendation and Award. Here
he watched all the great men arrive in private cars and taxis: Ergodic
Eimer, August Angstrom, Vladimir Vor. He watched them and thought of
what he would say to them, and then he realized that he had forgotten
his English.

"I remember dog, that is the first word I ever learned, but what will I
say to them about a dog? I remember house and horse and apple and fish.
Oh, now I remember the entire language. But what if I forget it again?
Would it not be an odd speech if I could only say apple and fish and
house and dog? I would be shamed."

He wished he were rich and could dress in white like the street
sweepers, or in black leather like the newsboy on the corner. He saw
Edward Edelstein and Christopher Cronin enter and he cowered on the
street and knew that he would never be able to talk to those great men.

A fine gentleman came out and walked directly to him.

"You are the great Professor Foulcault-Oeg? I would have known you
anywhere. True greatness shines from you. Our city is honored tonight.
Come inside and we will go to a little room apart, for I see that
you will have to compose yourself first. I am Graf-Doktor Hercule

Whyever he said he was the Graf-Doktor is a mystery, because he was
Willy McGilly and the other was just a name that he made up that minute.

Within, they went to a small room behind the cloak room. But here, in
spite of the smooth kindness of the gracious gentleman, Aloys knew
that he would never be able to compose himself. He was an epouvantail,
a pugalo, a clown, a ragamuffin. He looked at the nineteen-point
outline of the address he was to give. He shuddered and he gobbled
like a turkey. He sniffled and he wiped his nose on his sleeve. He was
terrified that the climax of his life's work should find him too craven
to accept it. And he discovered that he had forgotten his English

"I remember bread and butter, but I don't know which one goes on top.
I know pencil and pen-knife and bed, but I have entirely forgotten the
word for maternal uncle. I remember plow, but what in the world will I
say to all these great men about a plow? I pray that this cup may pass
from me."

Then he disintegrated in one abject mass of terror. Several minutes
went by.

       *       *       *       *       *

But when he emerged from the room he was a different man entirely.
Erect, alive, intense, queerly handsome, and now in formal attire, he
mounted with the sure grace of a panther to the speaker's platform.
Once only he glanced at the nineteen-point outline of his address.
As there is no point in keeping it a secret, it was as follows: 1.
Cepheid and Cerium--How Long Is a Yardstick? 2. Double Trouble--Is
Ours a Binary Universe? 3. Cerebrum and Cortex--the Mathematics of
Melancholia. 4. Microphysics and Megacyclic Polyneums. 5. _Ego, No,
Hemeis_--the Personality of the Subconscious. 6. Linear Convexity
and Lateral Intransigence. 7. Betelgeuse Betrayed--the Myth of
Magnitude. 8. Mu-Meson, the Secret of Metamorphosis. 9. Theogony and
Tremor--the Mathematics of Seismology. 10. Planck's Constant and
Agnesi's Variable. 11. Dien-cephalon and Di-Gamma--Unconscionable
Thoughts about Consciousness. 12. Inverse Squares and the Quintesimal
Radicals. 13. The Chain of Error in the Lineal B Translation. 14.
Skepticism--the Humor of the Humorless. 15. Ogive and Volute--Thoughts
on Celestial Curviture. 16. Conic Sections--Small Pieces of Infinity.
17. Eschatology--Medium Thoughts about the End. 18. Hypo-polarity and
Cosmic Hysteresis. 19. The Invisible Quadratic, or This is All Simpler
than You Think.

You will immediately see the beauty of this skeleton, and yet to flesh
it would not be the work of an ordinary man.

He glanced over it with the sure smile of complete confidence. Then he
spoke softly to the master of ceremonies in a whisper with a rumble
that could be heard throughout the hall.

"I am here. I will begin. There is no need for any further

For the next three and a half hours he held that intelligent audience
completely spellbound, enchanted. They followed, or seemed to follow,
his lightning flashes of metaphor illumining the craggy chasms of his
vasty subjects.

They thrilled to the magnetic power of his voice, urbane yet untamed,
with its polyglot phrasing and its bare touch of accent so strange as
to be baffling; ancient, surely, and yet from a land beyond the Pale.
And they quivered with interior pleasure at the glorious unfolding in
climax after climax of these before only half-glimpsed vistas.

Here was a world of mystery revealed in all its wildness, and it obeyed
and stood still, and he named its name. The nebula and the conch lay
down together, and the ultra-galaxies equated themselves with the zeta
mesons. Like a rich householder, he brought from his store treasures
old and new, and nothing like them had ever been seen or heard before.

       *       *       *       *       *

At one point Professor Timiryaseff cried out in bafflement and
incomprehension, and Doctor Ergodic Eimer buried his face in his hands,
for even these most erudite men could not glimpse all the shattering
profundity revealed by the fantastic speaker.

And when it was over they were limp and delighted that so much had been
made known to them. They had the crown without the cross, and the odd
little genius had filled them with a rich glow.

The rest was perfunctory, commendations and testimonials from all
the great men. The trophy, heavy and rich but not flashy, worth the
lifetime salary of a professor of mathematics, was accepted almost
carelessly. And then the cup was passed quietly, which is to say the
tall cool glasses went around as the men still lingered and talked with
hushed pleasure.

"Gin," said the astonishing orator. "It is the drink of bums and
impoverished scholars, and I am both. Yes, anything at all with it."

Then he spoke to Maecenas, who was at his side, the patron who was
footing the bill for all this gracious extravagance.

"The check I have never cashed, having been much in movement since I
have received it. And as to me it is a large amount, though perhaps not
to others, and as you yourself have signed it, I wonder if you could
cash it for me now."

"At once," said Maecenas, "at once. Ten minutes and we shall have the
sum here. Ah, you have endorsed it with a formula! Who but Professor
Aloys Foulcault-Oeg could be so droll? Look, he has endorsed it with a

"Look, look! Let us copy! Why, this is marvelous! It takes us even
beyond his great speech of tonight. The implications of it!"

"Oh, the implications!" they said as they copied it off, and the
implications rang in their heads like bells of the future.

Now it had suddenly become very late, and the elated little man with
the gold and gemmed trophy under one arm and the packet of bank notes
in his pocket disappeared as by magic.

       *       *       *       *       *

Professor Aloys Foulcault-Oeg was not seen again; or, if seen, he was
not known, for hardly anyone would have known his face. In fact, when
he had painfully released the bonds by which he had been tied in the
little room behind the cloak room, and removed the shackles from his
ankles, he did not pause at all, but slipped into his greatcoat and ran
out into the night. Not for many blocks did he even remove the gag from
his mouth, not realizing in his confusion what it was that obstructed
his speech and breathing. But when he got it out, it was a pleasant

A kind gentleman took him in hand, the second to do so that night. He
was bundled into a kind of taxi and driven to a mysterious quarter
called Wreckville. And deep inside a secret building he was given a
bath and a bowl of hot soup. And later he gathered with others at a
festive board.

Here Willy McGilly was king. As he worked his way into his cups with
the gold trophy in front of him, he expounded and elucidated.

"I was wonderful. I held them in the palm of my hand. Was I not
wonderful, Oeg?"

"I could not hear all, for I was on the floor of the little room. But
from what I could hear, yes, you were wonderful."

"Only once in my life did I give a better speech. It was the same
speech, but it was newer then. This was in Little Dogie, New Mexico,
and I was selling a snake-oil derivative whose secret I still cannot
reveal. But I was good tonight and some of them cried. And now what
will you do, Oeg? Do you know what we are?"


"Why, so we are."


"The very word."

"Low-life con men. And the world you live on is not the one you were
born on. I will join you if I may."

"Oeg, you have a talent for going to the core of the apple."

For when a man (however unlikely a man) shows real talent, then the
Wreckville bunch has to recruit him. They cannot have uncontrolled
talent running loose in the commonalty of mankind.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Aloys" ***

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