The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Stilled Patter, by James E. Gunn

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Title: The Stilled Patter

Author: James E. Gunn

Release Date: February 24, 2022 [eBook #67487]

Language: English

Produced by: Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at


The Stilled Patter


Illustrated by STALLMAN

The age-old battle of the sexes
may yet be the deadliest of all!

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Infinity Science Fiction, June 1956.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

George Washington was the father of his country.

I am not George Washington. My name is Andrew Jones, and it is because of me there will be no more Joneses in the world. There will be, in fact, no more anybody.

This is the end of the world.

It did not come through fire or ice, with a bang or a whimper, from solar catastrophe or man's suicidal mis-use of atomic power or any of the other fearful possibilities with which the Sunday-supplement writers once terrified us. It came through the exposure of an age-old conspiracy.

I did it. My excuse is the eternal excuse of the scientist: I sought the truth. How it was used was not my concern.

But that it should have led to the depopulation of the Earth concerns me, as it must concern every man, and I have an unshakable feeling of guilt.

Perhaps I write this now in the hope that I may somehow purge myself. I know that it will never be read.

The linen wick gutters in the saucer of melted tallow. It casts strange shadows on the cellar wall. Sometimes I think that they are the ghosts of children come to haunt me, the ghosts of all the little children who will never be born.

But this is not what I sat down to write while I waited for Lindsay to return. What is keeping Lindsay? He should be back by now.

I will begin again.

My name is Andrew Jones, and today, by my figures, is October 3, 1969. The weather is turning cold here, and soon we must go looking for another hiding place. My joints are getting old; the damp has seeped into them. I long for the year-long warmth of California or Florida, but those areas are still crowded and deadly.

Someone would recognize me.

I think we will try a powerhouse again this winter. Often they have supplies of coal large enough to last us through the cold weather without extra foraging.

Cataclysm began in 1954, June 13 to be exact. That was the day my second child was born, a boy we named Kevin.

It is surprising that a man who was the father of two children should accuse himself of depopulating the Earth. And yet it is because I was the father of two children that it happened.

Pre-natal care of mothers and post-natal care of infants were subjects of compelling interest in those days, arriving monthly in the burgeoning women's magazines and annually in the proliferous child-care manuals. Pediatricians and mothers besieged parents with advice, and we consumed everything with catholic appetite: logical, illogical, sensible, insensible, nonsensical, self-contradictory.

They kept us on our toes, strung as taut as Stradivarius violins, afraid to act for fear we would do the wrong thing, afraid not to act for fear inaction would be disastrous. Pediatricians and mothers, always the same authors. Never were there any articles on the care of mother and child by a father, only by what I came to think of as the vested interests.

I was slow, I admit; but what father has not been slow? Who, if he had not been slow, would be a father?

The books and the articles would have been troublesome enough if the information they imparted had been accurate. But slowly I became aware that they were subtly interwoven with mis-statements.

I raveled them out, I categorized them. I counted five different kinds before I convinced myself.

A mother published this: "One baby takes up all your time—two can't take any more."

The fallacy was obvious. A certain amount of housework was inescapable. If the mother was unable to do the work, what happened to it?

Answer: somebody else did it.

Who? Even in the abundance of those days, most of us couldn't afford nurses, maids, cooks, laundresses, or cleaning women. The era of the poor relation who came to help out for a few months was long past.

Who did the work, then? The father, that's who.

I stared deep into the shocking chasm between the mental processes of men and women.

I studied the statement again. There was no mis-statement at all—if you granted the hidden premise and didn't boggle on the implication. It was perfectly valid.

The hidden premise was that women did all the housework. But that hadn't been true for a generation. The husband-father had been drafted into home service, and there was no discharge for him short of death or total disability.

The latter was hard to prove.

But the implication was the deadly thing: in the consideration of second child, a father's time and labor counted for nothing.

I remembered a shaggy little story about a farmer who held up his hog to let it eat the corn off the stalk. "Doesn't it take a long time to fatten up a hog that way?" exclaimed the efficiency expert.

"Shore," said the farmer, "but what's time to a hog?"

And what, in a woman's eyes, was time to a father?

The second type of mis-statement was a pure omission. The thing the baby books didn't mention was that most women felt ten times worse during their second pregnancies.[1] At this time life became almost unbearable for them—and it was, as a consequence, completely unbearable for their husbands.

Not one baby book or article mentioned that fact. That it was a fact I proved by a personal survey. Every mother questioned revealed that she felt horrible during her second pregnancy. She was surprised that my wife and I didn't know this.

I was not surprised. Nobody ever mentioned it, that is why we didn't know. I think it was at this time I first asked myself: Is there a subconscious conspiracy to keep this kind of information from leaking out?

It wasn't important that women didn't know this. They had selective memories (proof of this was that mankind lasted as long as it did). If they were maternally inclined (as most of them were at one time or another), the disadvantages of pregnancy faded into a sort of merciful blur.

If there was a conspiracy, it was aimed at fathers. It was intended to lull them into the logical supposition that conditions usually improve and that experience is the great teacher. Pure delusion! With women, things are always worse, and they are born with all the knowledge they will ever need.

Babies could be divided into two kinds: "most" and "occasional." Consider, for instance, the following quotation: "Most babies in the early months sleep from feeding to feeding; an occasional baby won't fall into this pattern but insists on being sociable after his meals."

The first time I read that I supposed that this business of "most" and "occasional" was a statistical matter. That was my fatal mistake. If there was any statistical backing for that statement, I never found it.

In my experience, the chances were nine out of ten that—try as you would—you would have an "occasional" baby.

We did. We had two of them.

The fourth type of mis-statement was the false generalization. It was said, much too often: "A full baby is a sleepy baby."

That is a re-statement of the quotation above.

I sat down with a pencil and paper and figured it out. A small infant took half an hour to finish a bottle. If he ate five times a day, he would have spent 21-1/2 hours asleep out of every 24.

A little farther on I would read something like: "If a baby wakes up early, he is not getting enough to eat." I drew up a schedule:

Baby wakes up (being hungry).

Baby gets fed (all he can hold).

Baby is sleepy (being fed).

Baby goes to sleep (being sleepy).

Baby sleeps until next feeding (being full).

I didn't recognize the baby. Who could? He wasn't my child or anybody else's. He was the pediatrician's pipe-dream child.

I looked at it another way: if the baby slept except when being fed, when did it get the baths, orange juice, vitamins, cereal, and everything else the pediatricians prescribed?

Hoist by their own petards!

The fifth type of mis-statement was the impossible ideal. I tried this one for logic: "Babies should not be allowed to cry before feeding."[2]

Had those doctors ever tried to keep a hungry child from crying?

Hungry children cried. It was their nature. Some of them—my kind for instance—cried very hard. And children—even pipe-dream children—woke up hungry.

Warming a bottle to drinkable temperature took time, at least five minutes and sometimes ten. Meanwhile, in spite of everything that anyone could do, the baby was crying. He would not he cajoled, walked, teased, patted, jollied, scolded, or argued into accepting any substitute for his formula. With him, it was food or nothing.

For horror, I had a favorite scene: the mother alone, rushing from baby to bottle, from bottle to baby, one screaming, the other cold, frantic with the pediatrician's admonitions, and then both too hot....

I would not have had it on my conscience for all the royalties in America! At least I have saved the world that.

There were more mis-statements, but those were enough. I did what any man, any scientist, would have done. I gave my findings to the world. They were published under the title: "What the Baby Books Won't Tell You." The article stirred up immediate controversy.

It is not enough to uncover a conspiracy; you must find a motive. I had discovered the motive behind the Great Conspiracy.

Baby books were not written to teach parents how to care for their children; baby books were written to sell baby books. And magazines published articles about babies to sell magazines to mothers.

Valid reasons. If they had not existed, there would have been no baby books, no women's magazines. But this had far-reaching consequences: the market for baby books and women's magazines was the great, proliferating population of new parents. If the awful truth about parenthood were published, if these hardy, ingenuous souls were discouraged, something quite startling would happen to the market: it would disappear.

There were attempts at suppression on all levels, but the truth was out and nothing could stop its spread. Secret printing presses turned out reprints by the millions; they were passed from hand to hand. Fathers whispered the word to husbands; husbands passed it on to bachelor friends.

The word raced around the world.

It would not have been so disastrous if Lindsay McPherson had not simultaneously perfected his contraceptive pill out of a Southwestern plant named Lithospermum ruderale. For the first time, a contraceptive was safe, cheap, and convenient—and 100% effective in reducing male fertility.

Birth control was in the hands of the men.

Billions of the tiny pills were turned out. Enemy nations sowed them over each other's territory in boxes containing translations of my article. Men cached them away, carried them in money belts, hollowed out hiding places in the heels of shoes....

Births dropped suddenly. Almost overnight, the maternity wards were depopulated. Hospitals went broke, or began advertising for patrons, sick or well.

The makers of baby foods, baby apparel, and baby accessories went next, then the women's magazines when they lost their advertising. In a few years, the condition hit the schools; one by one they closed their doors.

It was a creeping paralysis. The toy makers and sellers collapsed. The clothing industry couldn't survive longer. The shoe-makers were hardest hit. Food consumption dropped. All over the country, farmers went broke....

By comparison, the Great Depression seemed like a boom.

By 1965 the end was in sight. Society disintegrated. The cities were deserted; they burned for years. From a mechanical-agricultural civilization, the world returned to the stone age in one decade.

People went in packs for protection. There were two kinds of them: packs of men hunting for food and packs of women hunting for men.

Soon, as the women grow too old for child-bearing, the race of Man will be doomed.

I did it. I am guilty. Lindsay helped, but I am the one. But how was I to know that society—that human life itself—was founded on a basic deception?

I wonder what is keeping Lindsay. He should be back by now.

Editor's note: This manuscript was found in a cellar of a house in a Midwestern city; it is presented here partly for its historical interest, but chiefly for your amusement.

Mr. Wilma Masters (the former Andrew Jones) was found in the same cellar. Our hunting party had taken Lindsay McPherson some time before, and he had directed us promptly to the cellar. Men are like that.

As is the custom, the men were stripped, carefully searched, and sent to the premarital barracks to wait for some girl's proposal. Our readers will be happy to learn that they are both back in service.

Never underestimate the power of a woman.

Wilma Masters

[1] Editor's note: This may help explain the size of the average American family: 1.6 children.—W. M.

[2] Editor's note: This led to swallowing air which made gas bubbles; gas bubbles caused colic.—W. M.

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