The White Widows [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Sam Merwin, Jr.
eBook Category: Science Fiction/Mystery/Crime
eBook Description: A Secret War to Wipe Out All Males! Here is a unique combination of mystery, suspense, and science fiction that only Sam Merwin, Jr., author of the classic House of Many Worlds could write. It begins when Larry Finlay, a young and unsuspecting chemist, discovers sinister forces have taken an interest in his new approach to the seemingly innocuous problem of hemophilia. Soon, Finlay is unwittingly caught up in a nightmare plot of violence and counter-violence. Behind it is the sinister cabal that calls itself The White Widows. But who are what are they? When Larry learns all these events are tied in to the concept of parthenogenesis, he realizes that a certain woman scientist has found the secret of giving birth without the need of males. She and the other White Widows are determined to end war, greed, violence, poverty, and the idea of cut-throat competition by eliminating all men! Particularly the man named Larry Finlay! The only person he can turn to for help is the woman he loves. If he can trust her with his life... And he'll have to! The New York Times says Sam Merwin, Jr.'s sf novels are "Fast-moving." And the San Francisco Chronicle hailed them as "Entertaining and realistic." The editors of Galaxy magazine described The White Widows as "a masterpiece of danger, suspense, treachery and intrigue that will sweep you along with held breath, a great book." But Sf critic and editor Geoffery Kidd condemned it as "The war between the sexes gone nuclear... a nasty piece of work." Judge for yourself when you read this thought-provoking book that still remains controversial 50 years after publication.
eBook Publisher: Renaissance E Books/PageTurner, Published: 2005
Fictionwise Release Date: March 2005
8 Reader Ratings:
The package was waiting for him when he got home from the laboratory. It sat on the hall table of the red brick potbellied house in which he lived, halfway between Huntington Avenue and the Fenway. Neatly wrapped in brown paper and twine, it looked as if it might contain a volume of notebook size.
Which was the whole trouble as far as Larry Finlay was concerned-it did contain a volume of notebook size. The volume held the thesis on which he had worked for eighteen backbreaking months-and which he had sent off to the University, blessed with high hopes of acceptance toward a D.Sc., a scant two weeks earlier.
Two weeks! It seemed incredible to him that his thesis should have been read so quickly, much less weighed and found wanting. Numbly he picked it up and thought it unpleasantly polite of the University officials to pay out postage for its return. So confident had he been of its acceptance that he had not included this precautionary item.
The stuffed shirts had kissed him off for exactly seventy-eight cents' worth of stamps!
Without any recollection of having climbed the stairs, Larry found himself in his third-floor-front apartment, standing in the semicircular bay of the front window, still holding the package. He seriously debated hurling it through the glass before him into the street. Then, a trifle unsteadily, he turned back to the dark mission table in the center of the room and carefully untied the knots in the string around it.
There was a note inside, a brief impersonal typewritten message on three-by-five paper beneath the University crest.
We regret to inform you that we do not feel qualified to hold you eligible for a Doctor of Science degree from this university on the basis of the thesis you have submitted to us. Therefore, regretfully, we are returning it to you.
It was signed with an illegible scrawl beneath which the stenographer had typed the name of a faceless assistant professor in the Department of Biology. That was all-that and the seventy-eight cents in stamps, now canceled, that had brought it back to him through the U.S. mails.
He looked groggily at the leatherette cover, on which had been pasted the title-A New Approach to the Problem of Haemophilia. Perhaps he should have called it Mother's Blood or Heritage of Death-something more commercial. Or perhaps he should have stood in bed. With this thought he dropped the rejected thesis on the table and flung himself face down on the davenport that served as his bed at night.
He was still lying there, tasting the enervating flat wine of failure, when Mrs. Bemis, the landlady, knocked on his door and called, "Why don't you answer the phone, Mr. Finlay? I know you're there-I heard you come in. Didn't you hear me shouting my lungs out?"
Larry pulled himself together, rolled over, and sat up. "Sorry, Mrs. Bemis," he called back. "I must have dozed off. Coming."
Mrs. Bemis was a leathery white-haired little widow-woman who unloaded her large and unsatisfied maternal instinct on those of her lodgers who were not too far behind in their rent. She fussed over Larry all the way down to the ground floor, telling him it wasn't right for a young man like him to work so hard, that he ought to take things easier, that there was no sense in getting anywhere in the world if you were too worn out to enjoy it.
"Relax," he told her with what he hoped was a smile. "I don't seem to be getting much of anywhere, Mrs. Bemis." With that he picked the phone up from the hall table and said, "Hello?"
It was Ned Tolman, calling from the Gazette city room, where he passed five out of every seven days toiling behind a typewriter in the rewrite battery. He said, "Hey, microbe hunter, how about a little forgathering this evening? You ought to have a couple of moments free since that opus of yours is finally finished."
Larry gave it to him straight. He said, "The opus just came back, Ned. They don't seem to want any part of it."
There was silence, during which Larry could hear in the background someone frantically shouting, "Boy! Boy-get your tail out of a sling." Then Ned said, "But you only just sent it to them. I thought they took months to make up their minds about these things."
"Not about this one, it seems," Larry told him.
"All the more reason to shake yourself loose then," said the newspaperman. "Look, I know a little place in the North End where the lasagna is out of this world-and the veal parmigiano out of this universe. Why don't you pick up Ida and meet me there in an hour?"
"Sorry, Ned," Larry replied. "I don't feel very gay right now."
Tolman spent the next five minutes in argument, wheedling, coercion, and threatened blackmail-but finally gave up. Larry wanted to see his best friend-he wanted to see Ida, who was more than friend-but he didn't want to see them tonight. When he finally managed to hang up he traipsed wearily back up the stairs to his rooms.
He didn't lie down again. Instead he sat on the window seat and smoked and tried to figure out where he could have gone wrong. Perhaps, he thought, his mistake lay in having tackled an approach that was too radical, a trail too untrodden for the academic mind.
Virtually all efforts to check the bleeding of haemophiliacs to date consisted of direct study of and efforts to increase the clottability of these unfortunates' blood. However, since the disease is a "skipper"-carried only by women, immune as a sex to its ravages, and transmitted to their children, thus occurring only in every other male generation-Larry had decided to concentrate on the women who perpetuated the disease rather than the victims themselves.
Through study of some two score actual cases and perusal of the records of hundreds more, he had come up with certain conclusions he considered at least worthy of attention by a biological board, if not of a D.Sc. But perhaps the pedagogues of science were not yet ready to approach the disease from so indirect an angle. It certainly seemed so, in view of the curt letter of rejection that lay on the mission table to his left.
Or perhaps there was some conspiracy, deeply hidden but devilishly effective, working against any promulgation of this theory. It seemed truly strange to him that no one had pioneered such an apparently obvious field before him. Larry shook himself out of this train of thought, well aware it could lead only to paranoia.
Yet, annoyingly, it recurred. He went back mentally over the course of his friendship with Ned Tolman. Sure he had known Ned a long time-one summer at the shore when they were both kids in their early teens, for two years at college before Ned flunked out due to the weight of ever-increasing extracurricular activities.
But they had never been really close until both of them turned up here in Boston, a couple of years before-Larry to work in the laboratory of a huge drug and chemical plant, Ned to hold down the assistant city editorship of the Gazette. They had stumbled across each other at a bar, both of them lonely and thinly acquainted in the city, and had poured out their stories to one another.
Unexpectedly, for Ned was about as scientific-minded as an amiable tomcat, the newsman had shown immediate interest in Larry's then still shadowy project for attacking haemophilia by the back door. He had said, "Listen, my microbe-hunting friend, you are on the straight path to recognition and riches-while I am on the path of a story that could get me out of this Fleet Street wallow into the air-conditioned grandeur of Life, Time, Fortune, or even the Saturday Evening Post. I hereby appoint myself your Boswell."
"Okay, Boswell, you can buy the next drink," had been Larry's reply. It had all been fun and games-or had it? From then on Ned had hung close to his figurative coattails, egging him on, encouraging him, even occasionally digging up records of another case of the dread disease from files in the Gazette morgue.
Why, Larry wondered, should his friend have egged him on to such stunning failure? It didn't make sense. Yet something had very definitely gone wrong. Perhaps, despite all precautions, a bit of the slangy newspaper approach, with its empirical emphasis on wished-for results rather than the true factual scientific approach, had crept into his thesis. Larry didn't see how, but it could have happened. And certainly something had gone wrong.
He was still pondering such unanswerables when there was a knock on the door. Thinking it to be Mrs. Bemis, perhaps on a mission of unwanted solace, he said, "Sorry, I'm about to take a shower."
"Then turn your back so you won't see me," came the unexpected reply in cheerful and pleasant young feminine tones.
Larry got up in a hurry and opened the door for Ida Stevens. She entered in a clean aura of Schiaparelli's "Shocking," clad otherwise in wide-wale blue corduroy that matched the delft of her eyes and a simple white shirtwaist whose demure looseness failed provocatively to conceal the fact that it was remarkably well filled. Ida was above medium height for a girl, her hair more than medium brown, her features more than medium generous in cut.
She placed a slim well-groomed hand against the side of Larry's face and kissed him on the lips. Then she said, "Larry, Ned just phoned and told me the bad news. He said you were about to call the corner drugstore and order a revolver."
Larry looked at her with gloomy affection. He said, "Do you have to be so goddam witty? Why don't you lie down on the floor and let me walk under you?"
"That's the old spirit, haemoglobin," she said gravely. "Let's all go out to Harvard Med. and have a real ball watching a hysterectomy."
"Stop trying to cheer me up," he replied, grinning reluctantly. "Just now I don't want to feel good and you're making me."
"I've only just begun to fight," she replied gravely, helping herself to a cigarette from the pack that lay open on the table. "Put on your personality and come on to my house. I'ma gonna giva you steak Ida Stevens."
"What's that?" he asked suspiciously. Ida, who was passing premarital time at Miss Greeley's Academy of Domestic Science, in a more or less chaste old Federalist mansion on the west slope of Beacon Hill, had been known to come up with some eerie culinary efforts. He recalled with a shudder one casserole of perfectly good lamb chops hopelessly mired in an olio of bananas, molasses, and sherry.
"Oh," she replied, "I just put a two-inch boned sirloin under the broiler, turn once, and serve in its own juices. It's a little trick I picked up from that cordon bleu Ned Tolman."
"You're lucky if you don't pick up leprosy from him," said Larry generously. While he still felt a certain reluctance to dismiss his fine fustian melancholy, he wasn't exactly sorry to let it dissolve in Ida's company. Besides, she was more or less his girl for reasons known only to Ida, and he had been neglecting her of late.
It was Ned again who had introduced him to Ida-he had known her in New York earlier. In a way the girl was a problem. She was far too nice a girl to be treated as a casual date, yet Larry had considered himself in no way prepared to undertake a more serious emotional commitment while sweating out his thesis. Now that he had failed he felt less ready than ever to do so.
Ida had money-how much, Larry had never asked nor had she volunteered. But her trim two-and-a-half-room apartment on Commonwealth Avenue, her casually costly clothes, her "studying" at Miss Greeley's-all of these spelled large blocks of gilt-edged stocks, to say nothing of five-figure accounts in the bank.
Furthermore Ida had family with a capital F though her parents were as dead as his own-it was, perhaps, the fact they were both orphans that had drawn them to one another in the first place. But she spoke casually, if infrequently, of staying with her grandmother in New York or California or the West Indies. The only traveling Larry had done was as a G.I.
While they rode in a cab to Ida's apartment, he wondered if such social and financial factors had also prevented him from engaging in a deeper relationship with Ida. Annoyingly, he had a strong idea that they had-and cursed himself for an inverted snob.
Ned Tolman separated himself reluctantly from the smooth Vermont granite fašade of the apartment house where Ida lived. He was a tall lean young man with a mobile face the color of a fine new pigskin wallet-result of some gastric disorder that had caused his physician to put him on a diet of beef, lamb, and blueberry muffins. By his own account he was allergic to vegetables.
His presence on a Boston newspaper was something of a minor mystery, for Ned had been on the verge of attaining success as a syndicated general columnist in Manhattan when, shortly before Larry turned up in Beantown, he had suddenly quit and joined the Gazette.
When asked, his usual reply was, "Heed well, my fine ring-tailed inquisitor-if I could, through patient and virtually illimitable research, discover the reasons for a minuscule percentage of the things I do, I'd anoint myself with peanut oil and join one of the large families of Smithfield hogs. I came here-so what?"
He did, however, explain his somewhat baroque verbosity when pressed, describing it as the normal compensation of a frustrated Christopher Marlowe forced to earn his living by compiling the quasi-legalistic telephone-booth scrawls that passed for newspaper English.
He greeted Ida with an elbow hug and, glancing at Larry, said, "I see you brought the steak on the hoof. Does it look like a happy steer? It does not-which means, since it is in your company, that it is either actually a steer or a dangerous homosexual."
"You bore me," said Larry with what aplomb he could muster.
"If I bore you, think what women will do to you!" Ned replied.
They rode the elevator to Ida's place in an atmosphere of absurd bickering, carefully calculated by Ned to lift Larry's sagging morale. But, once Ida had planted them on either side of a bottle, glasses and ice, and adjourned to the kitchenette to broil the steak, Ned regarded his friend somberly and said, "Sorry if I overdid it just now, baby. But this thing has given me almost as much of a jolt as it's given you. After all, I had a hand in starting you on it."
"I still think it's an important subject for research," said Larry. "Maybe we're just too big for science." He tried a smile.
The newsman shook his head. "Let's not kid ourselves," he said thoughtfully. "After you called I did a little checking. Once in a while our pals, the academic bureaucrats, do make mistakes-odds teeth, even bankers make 'em. I've got me a little friend who knows a sweet buck-toothed kid who sits on the typewriter in the dean's private office, waiting for it to hatch."
He shook his head and went on with, "All I could find out was that there was no mistake-that word came down from somewhere on high to give your chef d'oeuvre the old crow-hop to the nearest exit. You haven't been making any dean's daughters pregnant out of wedlock or beating their fathers at golf or anything, have you?"
Larry shook his head-but his friend's remarks offered the first ray of light to reach him since the finding of the rejected thesis on his lodging-house table. He said, "That's screwy-you mean there was actually someone working against me-or it."
"My grapevine made it sound something like that," said Ned.
"But why, for Chrissakes?" Larry asked. "It doesn't make--"
"Sure it makes sense-under some sets of conditions," Ned interrupted, eyeing his glass balefully. "Unfortunately our most highly regarded institutions are composed of men and women. And men and women do the damnedest things at times. If they didn't, there wouldn't be a single newspaper published in the United States."
"You realize what you're saying?" Larry asked, incredulous.
"Sure I realize what I'm saying," was the reply. "Larry, my boy, there's one thing you don't seem to have pounded into that thick layer of corundum that passes for your skull-the only truly sacred cow is what Ida is broiling a hunk of in the kitchenette. Do I make myself clear?"
"No," replied Larry promptly. "But I'm not giving up."
Ida, who had appeared in the doorway behind a gay ruffled apron, said, "Larry, dear, I hope you're not going to keep on butting your head against a stone wall. You're so gifted-there are so many other branches of science you could tackle."
"Back to your steak, woman!" Ned ordered with gestures. "I want to pour this poor shrinking hunk of alleged humanity around another generous slug of your whisky before you feed him."
"All right," she said, turning, "but I still think it's wrong."
As he tipped the bottle Ned remarked, "Women! Either they or we should be quietly strangled at birth. What a war!"
"Hey!" cried Larry. "That's enough-you'll spill it over."
"Never!" replied the journalist. "Me waste good whisky? You must be out of your mind."
Larry sipped in silence for a moment. Usually he had a good head for liquor but this evening, perhaps because of his emotionally let-down condition, he could feel the alcohol bite into his veins almost from the first swallow. He said, more to get his mind off his capacity than to make a point, "All right-let's suppose somebody did, or does, have some reason for working against me. Why?"
Ned Tolman regarded him tolerantly. "I didn't suggest anyone was seriously working against you, you meat-head. But somebody certainly went out of his way to toss a spoke into your thesis."
"Once again-why?" Larry asked.
Tolman shrugged, replied airily, "Don't ask me. The inner intrigues of the world of science have always been too much for me. But scientists, as I just mentioned in passing, are human." He paused for a quaff, then added, "Let's take this biology war between the theories of Mendel and Lysenko for example."
"Lysenko's nuts," said Larry quickly. "He's simply worked out a theory that fits the canons of communism. The Russians can't accept the fact that human beings are more a result of the accident of heredity than of their social environment."
"Sure-you say so. You've been trained to think so," Ned told him quietly. "But don't forget-every species does adapt to its environment or it becomes kaput. Think of the fact that some fish, a hell of a long time ago, did come out of the sea and survive."
"Sure-but there are still fish," replied Larry. "The fish that survived were mutations. Creatures don't change with their environment-those that manage to survive a change of environment are members of a species peculiarly fitted to do so. The rest die."
"But they do change," said Ned triumphantly.
Larry looked at him somberly, was a fraction of a second too late in covering his glass when Ned refilled it. He said, "Not only do I think you're deliberately setting out to get me drunk, Ned-I think you're trying to sabotage my questions."
"What you said!" exclaimed the journalist. "If you are seeking to imply that I-that I would for a moment lay you either a conversational or an alcoholic egg, you couldn't be more correct. Okay"-with a twisted grin that lit up his homely-attractive face-"let's get back to the subject. What in hell was it?"
"I merely wanted to know why anyone should go to the trouble you just implied merely to checkmate my thesis on haemophilia," Larry retold him. "Or are you now seeking to make me paranoiac?"
"Who said I'd have to seek?" Tolman countered. Then, serious once more-"I honestly don't know, my fine unfeathered friend. But I damned well intend to find out. Remember, when a scientist bases his career on a theory, he will fight for it to the death. Think of the way Isaac Newton fought for the absurd principles of alchemy after giving us his three great laws of nature.
"Charles Fort had a lot in his favor--" he went on.
"Fort!" Larry's interruption was almost a shout. "He was a crank, a charlatan, an idiot."
"Not entirely," Ned replied. "I think his basic theory made sense. He believed that every scientific theory had three stages-one, in which it was derided as fantastic-two, when it was accepted as gospel-three, when it was discarded as absurd and disproven. His idea was that every such theory was just as screwy while it was accepted as it was in its other two stages."
"But good Lord!" Larry objected. "A scientific theory is only valuable in relation to the knowledge of its period of acceptance. If you accept Fort's ideas on the subject--" He paused, squinted at his friend and said, "Ned, there you go-getting me off the subject again. What's Fort got to do with my thesis?"
"Just this," the journalist said quietly. "Somebody at the University may have a theory about haemophilia that doesn't fit in with yours. And rather than have his theory disproved he's doing his damnedest to keep you shut up."
Larry snorted. "That doesn't make sense and you know it!" he told his friend. "Ned, I think you know something you haven't told me-and I think I have a right to know what it is."
"If I knew anything I'd tell you, you big cluck," Ned replied.
But Larry, looking at him, wondered. Usually, beneath the foliage of verbosity that overlaid the journalist's simplest remarks, lay an at times frightening directness. This evening, it seemed to Larry, Ned was circling warily around the point. Or perhaps, he thought unhappily, he was merely suspecting shadows as a result of his reaction to unexpected failure.
Ida reappeared in the kitchen door, surveyed her guests and said, "Is this a private wake? Come on, kittens, this cat is about to spawn a steak."
Ned grinned and put down his empty glass, said, "Come on, Larry, let's risk our all on Ida's cooking."
Ida stuck out her tongue at him and Larry smiled. But his heart wasn't in it. His thoughts had become a whirling kaleidoscope of mistrusts and miseries. He hoped the food would sober him up-but not get him too sober.