Every writer must seek his own Flowery Kingdom in imagination's wide
demesne, and if that search can begin and end on Earth his problem has
been greatly simplified. In post-war Japan Walt Sheldon has found not only
serenity, but complete freedom to write undisturbed about the things he
treasures most. A one-time Air Force officer, he has turned to fantasy in
his lighter moments, to bring us such brightly sparkling little gems as this.
by ... Walt Sheldon
The tiny spaceship had been built for a journey to a star. But its
small, mischievous pilots had a rendezvous with destiny—on Earth.
I must admit that at first I
wasn't sure I was hearing those
noises. It was in a park near the
nuclear propulsion center—a cool,
green spot, with the leaves all telling
each other to hush, be quiet,
and the soft breeze stirring them up
again. I had known precisely such
a secluded little green sanctuary just
over the hill from Mr. Riordan's
farm when I was a boy.
Now it was a place I came to
when I had a problem to thrash out.
That morning I had been trying to
work out an equation to give the
coefficient of discharge for the matter
in combustion. You may call it
gas, if you wish, for we treated it
like gas at the center for convenience—as
it came from the rocket
tubes in our engine.
Without this coefficient to give
us control, we would have lacked a
workable equation when we set
about putting the first moon rocket
around those extraordinary engines
of ours, which were still in the undeveloped
I see I shall have to explain this,
although I had hoped to get right
along with my story. When you
start from scratch, matter discharged
from any orifice has a velocity directly
proportional to the square
root of the pressure-head driving it.
But when you actually put things
together, contractions or expansions
in the gas, surface roughness
and other factors make the velocity
a bit smaller.
At the terrible discharge speed
of nuclear explosion—which is
what the drive amounts to despite
the fact that it is simply water in
which nuclear salts have been previously
dissolved—this small factor
makes quite a difference. I had
to figure everything into it—diameter
of the nozzle, sharpness of the
edge, the velocity of approach to the
point of discharge, atomic weight
and structure— Oh, there is so
much of this that if you're not a
nuclear engineer yourself it's certain
to weary you.
Perhaps you had better take my
word for it that without this equation—correctly
stated, mind you—mankind
would be well advised not
to make a first trip to the moon.
And all this talk of coefficients and
equations sits strangely, you might
say, upon the tongue of a man
named Kevin Francis Houlihan.
But I am, after all, a scientist. If I
had not been a specialist in my field
I would hardly have found myself
engaged in vital research at the
Anyway, I heard these little
noises in the park. They sounded
like small working sounds, blending
in eerily mysterious fashion with a
chorus of small voices. I thought at
first it might be children at play,
but then at the time I was a bit
absent-minded. I tiptoed to the edge
of the trees, not wanting to deprive
any small scalawags of their pleasure,
and peered out between the
branches. And what do you suppose
I saw? Not children, but a
group of little people, hard at work.
There was a leader, an older one
with a crank face. He was beating
the air with his arms and piping:
"Over here, now! All right, bring
those electrical connections over
here—and see you're not slow as
treacle about it!"
There were perhaps fifty of the
little people. I was more than startled
by it, too. I had not seen little
people in—oh, close to thirty years.
I had seen them first as a boy of
eight, and then, very briefly again,
on my tenth birthday. And I had
become convinced they could never
be seen here in America. I had
never seen them so busy, either.
They were building something in
the middle of the glade. It was long
and shiny and upright and a little
over five feet in height.
"Come along now, people!" said
this crotchety one, looking straight
at me. "Stop starin' and get to
work! You'll not be needin' to
mind that man standin' there! You
know he can't see nor hear us!"
Oh, it was good to hear the rich
old tongue again. I smiled, and the
foreman of the leprechauns—if
that's what he was—saw me smile
and became stiff and alert for a moment,
as though suspecting that perhaps
I actually could see him. Then
he shrugged and turned away, clearly
deeming such a thing impossible.
I said, "Just a minute, friend,
and I'll beg your pardon. It so happens
I can see you."
He whirled to face me again,
staring open-mouthed. Then he
said, "What? What's that, now?"
"I can see you," I said.
"Ohhh!" he said and put his
palms to his cheekbones. "Saints be
with us! He's a believer! Run everybody—run
for your lives!"
And they all began running, in
as many directions as there were
little souls. They began to scurry
behind the trees and bushes, and a
sloping embankment nearby.
"No, wait!" I said. "Don't go
away! I'll not be hurting you!"
They continued to scurry.
I knew what it was they feared.
"I don't intend catching one of
you!" I said. "Come back, you daft
But the glade was silent, and they
had all disappeared. They thought I
wanted their crock of gold, of
course. I'd be entitled to it if I could
catch one and keep him. Or so the
legends affirmed, though I've wondered
often about the truth of them.
But I was after no gold. I only wanted
to hear the music of an Irish
tongue. I was lonely here in America,
even if I had latched on to a fine
job of work for almost shamefully
generous pay. You see, in a place as
full of science as the nuclear propulsion
center there is not much
time for the old things. I very much
wanted to talk to the little people.
I walked over to the center of
the glade where the curious shiny
object was standing. It was as
smooth as glass and shaped like a
huge cigar. There were a pair of
triangular fins down at the bottom,
and stubby wings amidships. Of
course it was a spaceship, or a
miniature replica of one. I looked
at it more closely. Everything seemed
almost miraculously complete
I shook my head in wonder, then
stepped back from the spaceship
and looked about the glade. I knew
they were all hiding nearby, watching
me apprehensively. I lifted my
head to them.
"Listen to me now, little people!"
I called out. "My name's
Houlihan of the Roscommon Houlihans.
I am descended from King
Niall himself—or so at least my
father used to say! Come on out
now, and pass the time o' day!"
Then I waited, but they didn't
answer. The little people always
had been shy. Yet without reaching
a decision in so many words I knew
suddenly that I had to talk to them.
I'd come to the glen to work out a
knotty problem, and I was up
against a blank wall. Simply because
I was so lonely that my mind had
I knew that if I could just once
hear the old tongue again, and talk
about the old things, I might be able
to think the problem through to a
So I stepped back to the tiny
spaceship, and this time I struck it
a resounding blow with my fist.
"Hear me now, little people! If you
don't show yourselves and come out
and talk to me, I'll wreck this spaceship
from stem to stern!"
I heard only the leaves rustling
"Do you understand? I'll give
you until I count three to make an
The glade remained deathly silent.
I thought I heard a stirring somewhere,
as if a small, brittle twig had
snapped in the underbrush.
And with that the little people
The leader—he seemed more
wizened and bent than before—approached
me slowly and warily as I
stood there. The others all followed
at a safe distance. I smiled to reassure
them and then waved my arm
in a friendly gesture of greeting.
"Good morning," I said.
"Good morning," the foreman
said with some caution. "My name
"And mine's Houlihan, as I've
told you. Are you convinced now
that I have no intention of doing
you any injury?"
"Mr. Houlihan," said Keech,
drawing a kind of peppered dignity
up about himself, "in such matters
I am never fully convinced. After
living for many centuries I am all
too acutely aware of the perversity
of human nature."
"Yes," I said. "Well, as you will
quickly see, all I want to do is
talk." I nodded as I spoke, and sat
down cross-legged upon the grass.
"Any Irishman wants to talk, Mr.
"And often that's all he wants,"
I said. "Sit down with me now, and
stop staring as if I were a snake
returned to the Island."
He shook his head and remained
standing. "Have your say, Mr.
Houlihan. And afterward we'll appreciate
it if you'll go away and
leave us to our work."
"Well, now, your work," I said,
and glanced at the spaceship.
"That's exactly what's got me curious."
The others had edged in a bit
now and were standing in a circle,
intently staring at me. I took out my
pipe. "Why," I asked, "would a
group of little people be building a
spaceship here in America—out in
this lonely place?"
Keech stared back without much
expression, and said, "I've been
wondering how you guessed it was
a spaceship. I was surprised enough
when you told me you could see us
but not overwhelmingly so. I've run
into believers before who could see
the little people. It happens every
so often, though not as frequently
as it did a century ago. But knowing
a spaceship at first glance! Well, I
must confess that does astonish
"And why wouldn't I know a
spaceship when I see one?" I said.
"It just so happens I'm a doctor of
"A doctor of science, now," said
"Invited by the American government
to work on the first moon
rocket here at the nuclear propulsion
center. Since it's no secret I
can advise you of it."
"A scientist, is it," said Keech.
"Well, now, that's very interesting."
"I'll make no apologies for it," I
"Oh, there's no need for apology,"
said Keech. "Though in truth
we prefer poets to scientists. But it
has just now crossed my mind, Mr.
Houlihan that you, being a scientist,
might be of help to us."
"How?" I asked.
"Well, I might try starting at the
beginning," he replied.
"You might," I said. "A man
Keech took out his own pipe—a
clay dudeen—and looked hopeful.
I gave him a pinch of tobacco from
my pouch. "Well, now," he said,
"first of all you're no doubt surprised
to find us here in America."
"I am surprised from time to
time to find myself here," I said.
"We had to come here," said
Keech, "to learn how to make a
"A spaceship, now," I said, unconsciously
adopting some of the
"Leprechauns are not really mechanically
inclined," said Keech.
"Their major passions are music
and laughter and mischief, as anyone
"Myself included," I agreed.
"Then why do you need a spaceship?"
"Well, if I may use an old expression,
we've had a feelin' lately
that we're not long for this world.
Or let me put it this way. We feel
the world isn't long for itself."
I scratched my cheek. "How
would a man unravel a statement
such as that?"
"It's very simple. With all the
super weapons you mortals have
developed, there's the distinct possibility
you might be blowin' us all
up in the process of destroying
"There is that possibility," I said.
"Well, then, as I say," said
Keech, "the little people have decided
to leave the planet in a spaceship.
Which we're buildin' here and
now. We've spied upon you and
learned how to do it. Well—almost
how to do it. We haven't learned
yet how to control the power—"
"Hold on, now," I said. "Leaving
the planet, you say. And where
would you be going?"
"There's another committee
working on that. 'Tis not our concern.
I was inclined to suggest the
constellation Orion, which sounds
as though it has a good Irish name,
but I was hooted down. Be that as it
may, my own job was to go into
your nuclear center, learn how to
make the ship, and proceed with its
construction. Naturally, we didn't
understand all of your high-flyin'
science, but some of our people are
pretty clever at gettin' up replicas
"You mean you've been spying
on us at the center all this time? Do
you know, we often had the feeling
we were being watched, but we
thought it was by the Russians.
There's one thing which puzzles
me, though. If you've been constantly
around us—and I'm still
able to see the little people—why
did I never see you before?"
"It may be we never crossed your
path. It may be you can only see us
when you're thinkin' of us, and of
course truly believin' in us. I don't
know—'tis a thing of the mind, and
not important at the moment.
What's important is for us to get
our first ship to workin' properly
and then we'll be on our way."
"You're determined to go."
"Truly we are, Mr. Houlihan.
Now—to business. Just during
these last few minutes a certain matter
has crossed my mind. That's
why I'm wastin' all this time with
you, sir. You say you are a scientist."
"A nuclear engineer."
"Well, then, it may be that you
can help us—now that you know
"The power control, Mr. Houlihan.
As I understand it, 'tis necessary
to know at any instant exactly
how much thrust is bein' delivered
through the little holes in back.
And on paper it looks simple
enough—the square of somethin' or
other. I've got the figures jotted in
a book when I need 'em. But when
you get to doin' it it doesn't come
out exactly as it does on paper."
"You're referring to the necessity
for a coefficient of discharge."
"Whatever it might be named,"
said Keech, shrugging. "'Tis the
one thing we lack. I suppose eventually
you people will be gettin'
around to it. But meanwhile we
need it right now, if we're to make
our ship move."
"And you want me to help you
"That is exactly what crossed my
I nodded and looked grave and
kneaded my chin for a moment softly.
"Well, now, Keech," I said
finally, "why should I help you?"
"Ha!" said Keech, grinning, but
not with humor, "the avarice of
humans! I knew it! Well, Mr. Houlihan,
I'll give you reason enough.
The pot o' gold, Mr. Houlihan!"
"The one at the end of the rainbow?"
"It's not at the end of the rainbow.
That's a grandmother's tale.
Nor is it actually in an earthen
crock. But there's gold, all right,
enough to make you rich for the
rest of your life. And I'll make you
"We'll not be needin' gold where
we're goin'. It's yours if you show
us how to make our ship work."
"Well, now, that's quite an
offer," I said. Keech had the goodness
to be quiet while I sat and
thought for a while. My pipe had
gone out and I lit it again. I finally
said, "Let's have a look at your
ship's drive and see what we can
"You accept the proposition
"Let's have a look," I said, and
that was all.
Well, we had a look, and then
several looks, and before the morning
was out we had half the spaceship
apart, and were deep in argument
about the whole project.
It was a most fascinating session.
I had often wished for a true working
model at the center, but no allowance
had been inserted in the
budget for it. Keech brought me
paper and pencil and I talked with
the aid of diagrams, as engineers
are wont to do. Although the pencils
were small and I had to hold
them between thumb and forefinger,
as you would a needle, I was
able to make many sensible observations
and even a few innovations.
I came back again the next day—and
every day for the following
two weeks. It rained several times,
but Keech and his people made a
canopy of boughs and leaves and I
was comfortable enough. Every once
in a while someone from the town
or the center itself would pass by,
and stop to watch me. But of course
they wouldn't see the leprechauns
or anything the leprechauns had
made, not being believers.
I would halt work, pass the time
of day, and then, in subtle fashion,
send the intruder on his way. Keech
and the little people just stood by
and grinned all the while.
At the end of sixteen days I had
the entire problem all but whipped.
It is not difficult to understand why.
The working model and the fact
that the small people with their
quick eyes and clever fingers could
spot all sorts of minute shortcomings
was a great help. And I was
hearing the old tongue and talking
of the old things every day, and
truly that went far to take the clutter
out of my mind. I was no longer
so lonely that I couldn't think properly.
On the sixteenth day I covered a
piece of paper with tiny mathematical
symbols and handed it to Keech.
"Here is your equation," I said. "It
will enable you to know your thrust
at any given moment, under any
circumstances, in or out of gravity,
and under all conditions of friction
"Thank you, Mr. Houlihan," said
Keech. All his people had gathered
in a loose circle, as though attending
a rite. They were all looking at
"Mr. Houlihan," said Keech,
"you will not be forgotten by the
leprechauns. If we ever meet again,
upon another world perchance,
you'll find our friendship always
eager and ready."
"Thank you," I said.
"And now, Mr. Houlihan," said
Keech, "I'll see that a quantity of
gold is delivered to your rooms tonight,
and so keep my part of the
"I'll not be needing the gold," I
Keech's eyebrows popped upward.
"What's this now?"
"I'll not be needing it," I repeated.
"I don't feel it would be
right to take it for a service of this
"Well," said Keech in surprise,
and in some awe, too, "well, now,
musha Lord help us! 'Tis the first
time I ever heard such a speech
from a mortal." He turned to his
people. "We'll have three cheers
now, do you hear, for Mr. Houlihan—friend
of the little people as
long as he shall live!"
And they cheered. And little tears
crept into the corners of some of
their turned-up eyes.
We shook hands, all of us, and I
I walked through the park, and
back to the nuclear propulsion center.
It was another cool, green morning
with the leaves making only
soft noises as the breezes came
along. It smelled exactly like a
wood I had known in Roscommon.
And I lit my pipe and smoked it
slowly and chuckled to myself at
how I had gotten the best of the
little people. Surely it was not every
mortal who could accomplish that. I
had given them the wrong equation,
of course. They would never get
their spaceship to work now, and
later, if they tried to spy out the
right information I would take special
measures to prevent it, for I had
the advantage of being able to see
As for our own rocket ship, it
should be well on its way by next
St. Patrick's Day. For I had indeed
determined the true coefficient of
discharge, which I never could have
done so quickly without those sessions
in the glade with Keech and
his working model.
It would go down in scientific
literature now, I suppose, as Houlihan's
Equation, and that was honor
and glory enough for me. I could
do without Keech's pot of gold,
though it would have been pleasant
to be truly rich for a change.
There was no sense in cheating
him out of the gold to boot, for
leprechauns are most clever in matters
of this sort and he would have
had it back soon enough—or else
made it a burden in some way.
Indeed, I had done a piece of
work greatly to my advantage, and
also to the advantage of humankind,
and when a man can do the first and
include the second as a fortunate byproduct
it is a most happy accident.
For if I had shown the little people
how to make a spaceship they
would have left our world. And
this world, as long as it lasts—what
would it be in that event? I ask you
now, wouldn't we be even more
likely to blow ourselves to Kingdom
Come without the little people here
for us to believe in every now and
This etext was produced from Fantastic Universe September 1955.
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.