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First published in Fantastic Adventures, November 1947

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2023
Version Date: 2023-12-19

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Fantastic Adventures, November 1947, with "The Miracle of Herbert Plunk"


Herbert Plunk came to the city expecting magical
things to happen. So he brought some magic with him....

IT all started in Morse's Restaurant on a rainy afternoon in March. I had rushed over from the office and ordered a beef sandwich with lots of gravy. Sue, the waitress, brought my order. In the next booth a familiar voice droned on and on until I started paying attention to it. I recognized the voice as belonging to Peter Flemish, that young man about town who's personality is so fascinating that he talks about himself most of the time.

I finished eating and went back and sat down beside him.

"Hello, Walt," Pete said. "Say, meet Herbert Plunk, my cousin. He comes from the Thumb."

The Thumb was that part of Michigan that sits among the Great Lakes with its fingers lost in a mitten that points at the Straits. Herbert Plunk looked as though someone had just dragged him out of the woods and forgotten to comb the birds but of his hair. He was a big, raw-boned fellow with a red face, square shoulders under a red and black woolen shirt, and a lot of good-natured, if slightly uneasy smile.

He held out a paw and squeezed mine until it hurt. He rolled the word "Hello" out of his mouth as though it were a hot potato.

"Any friend of Peter's is a friend of mine," he said.

I hadn't heard that corny line for a long time, but I could tell that Herbert Plunk really meant it. He owned honest blue eyes, a little vacant maybe, but honest. His carrot-colored hair was stiff. It didn't go where he combed it. He wore blue canvas pants and his long underwear showed at the neck, above the plaid shirt.

Just the same, I liked him.

"Glad to meet you, Herb," I told him. "Has Pete been talking you crazy?"

"Nope," Herbert Plunk said. "Nope, I like to hear Pete talk. He knows all about everything."

I looked at Pete and he winked back. It was a slow, wise wink. I was beginning to get the drift. After you've known Pete Flemish as long as I have, you know he can't leave a guy alone. He's the greatest practical joker in the world, and he'll try anything to hand you a kick in the seat of the pants.

"Oh?" I said. "What's Pete been telling you?"

"All about Dee-troit," Plunk said. "Gosh, I ain't ever been down there before. Always stayed around home."

"Oh?" I said again.

"Yes," Pete Flemish said, "I was telling Herb all about the Graham Building. Honest, Herb doesn't believe that people work in buildings that high. He's never seen one more than two stories high."

I'LL admit that he amazed me. I didn't know there was anyone left who hadn't seen or at least heard of a skyscraper.

"Don't you read the papers, Herbert?"

I guess I hurt his feelings, and it made me feel cheap. I don't like picking on a fellow. I guess I was caught off guard.

"Me? I can't read," he admitted. "Pa runs a country store and I never got any education. I always worked in the woods. Pa says I'm the dumbest guy in the world. Say, Pete says there are elevators that shoot up in the air so fast you can hardly catch your breath."

I wanted to get out of there. I didn't want to have any part in the educating of Herbert Plunk. It didn't seem right. Here was a sincere, groping mind and I wasn't going to help fill it with knowledge. I had to treat him right, though.

"The Graham Building is fifty stories high," I said. "The express elevators go all the way to the top without stopping."

His mouth opened.

"Tell Herb about the gravity situation, Walt," Pete Flemish urged. "I was explaining that the gravity is so light on top of the building that a guy can jump maybe forty feet in the air."

Herbert looked at me.

"Ah?" he said, "You—can't?"

Pete looked very grave.

"See, Walt," he said. "He doesn't believe me. How can I teach him anything? He doesn't trust—"

"Sure I do," Herbert Plunk interrupted eagerly.

"But—" I gulped.

"As you get closer to the ground," Pete Flemish hastened to add; "the gravity gets thinner. The lower you go, the harder you fall."

I don't mind a joke, but I was fed up on this.

"You ought to go to Detroit yourself, Herbert," I said. "See for yourself. Don't listen—"

"Oh, but I could listen all night," Herbert cried. "Me, I got plenty to learn. I gotta learn. I'm dumb, like I said. Pete, do you think we could maybe go to Dee-troit?"

Pete Flemish, was fast with his tongue.

"Wilt's driving down tomorrow," he said. "We'll go along, with him."

"I planned on taking Mother," I said. "The coupe—"

"Forget it," Pete said. "We can all squeeze in. Me, I'd like to meet Harriet Graham again. Now, there's a girl."

Harriet Graham was definitely a girl. She was the daughter of Walter Graham, who owned the Graham Building. I had almost sold an insurance policy to Walter Graham. Pete Flemish had been in Detroit with me at the time. He met Harriet. He hadn't forgotten her.

Incidentally, she had given him the brush-off, but that didn't trouble Pete. It's a long story, and doesn't fit here. Anyhow, Pete Flemish, Herbert Plunk and I drove to Dee-troit.

"That's an elevator over there," Pete pointed to the line of doors along the side of the lobby. The place was impressive. Waxed inlaid floors, expensive marble wall and well-uniformed attendants. The Graham Building was making a lot of money for its owner. I had a policy in my pocket written up in his name, for twenty-thousand dollars.

Herbert Plunk had put on a suit consisting of huge black and green squares. His shoes were polished like two P.T. boats at anchor in the sun. He wore a straw hat. He said:

"Which elevator is the express?"

Pete pointed.

"That one," he said. "Let's go up on the roof."

I'd rather have avoided that trip.

"I've got an appointment with Graham," I said hurriedly.

"At ten," Pete reminded me. "It's twenty minutes yet. You'll have time. Besides, I want Herbert to try out that gravity."

Herbert's eyes were shining. He edged to the elevator. I felt like a father who was about to prove that there was no Santa Claus.

"Okay," I said, "but don't blame me if this whole thing backfires and hits you right between the eyes, Pete Flemish."

Pete chuckled. His skinny, shining face was a reflection of the fun he was having.

"I don't think he'll give us any trouble," he said.

Herbert didn't even know what we were talking about.

We all went into the elevator. Herbert took a deep breath and hung on to my arm. The car shot Up. I heard Herbert sigh and felt his grip tighten on my arm. Then we stepped out on the roof of the building.

It has one of those balconies built above the roof with a fence around it so no one will fall off. It was a nice day. You could see the river stretched out like a black ribbon below, and the bridge pointing at Canada like a tiny arrow.

Herbert Plunk said nothing. He just stared. After a while, when he had looked all around, he turned to Pete.

"You think they'd let me jump?"

Pete's eyes twinkled. I went over by the rail where I couldn't hear them. I didn't want to be close to Herbert Plunk when he found out about gravity. I heard Pete say:

"Sure, take a deep breath and jump straight up. Don't get too close to the rail."

Then I was out of hearing, staring down at the street below, I could practically hear Herbert take that deep breath. Then a second passed and another. I was counting them. All of a sudden, Herbert gave out with a delighted yelp. Pete was at my side, holding on to my arm, gasping for breath.

"MY GOD!" he managed to breathe. "Walter, he did it!"

I pivoted and looked at Herbert. He was standing there with a big smile on his face. Even Pete is going nuts, I thought. Herbert looked very, very pleased with himself.

"Walter," Pete Flemish was saying, and he shook from head to foot. "I watched him. He did it."

"You're nuts," I told him.

Pete steadied himself. He walked slowly toward Herbert Plunk.

"Do it again, Herbert."

"Someone will see and think I'm just a show-off," Herbert protested.

"No," Pete said in a reverent voice. "There's no one up here but us. Do it again."

I can't believe it. I can't—not even now. But I swear it's true. Herbert Plunk took a deep breath and leaped into the air. He went up like a balloon, floated there at the top of his leap and sank back down again, light as a feather. At the highest point, he was a good fifty feet from the floor of the balcony.

"Gee!" he said. "That's a lot of fun."

I held onto the railing. I tried to clear up the things in my mind. Somehow, Herbert Plunk had done the impossible. He had produced a miracle from what would have been a practical joke. He did it, and it wasn't even written in the books.

Pete Flemish came to my rescue. He pulled me away from the railing.

"Let's get out of here," he said. "I couldn't stand it—not again."

We went down. I didn't dare look at Pete. I was having quite a struggle of it. Plunk and the elevator operator were very calm. That was because Plunk and the elevator boy hadn't seen or done anything unusual. They were both living, what to them, was a sane and normal life.

PETE FLEMISH was too badly shaken to treat Herbert Plunk with anything but the greatest dignity. Herbert had taken on a new meaning to both of us. I didn't know just how to class him. Either he was as dumb as ever, or he had been blessed with the power to perform miracles. Either way, I didn't like it.

In the lobby, we met Harriet Graham and her father, Walter. They remembered me, as I had visited them twice before. I had to introduce Herbert. Pete took care of his own introduction.

"I've been wanting to see you again, Miss Graham," he said.

Harriet was one of those slightly-built girls, with nice skin, and all the needed qualities to bring home a decent husband. She wasn't highhat, but she did have a certain dignity that rebelled under Pete's whiplash methods of courting.

"Glad to see you again," she said, and then turned to me. "Father and I will be upstairs. Won't you and Mr. Plunk come up right away? Oh, yes, and Mr. Flemish?"

She flashed a nice smile at Herbert Plunk and for the second time that day I came close to fainting. Herbert Plunk's face turned beet red. He muttered something under his breath and twisted the straw hat between his fingers.

"Yes, come up with us," Graham said. "I have a few moments to spare."

So, that was that. Herbert stood beside Harriet in the elevator, and he told her what a big, dumb goof he was and how flattered he was to meet such a beautiful girl. She just smiled and smiled. I was busy keeping Graham in the policy-signing mood, and Pete Flemish was just a skinny little guy without a smile, who came along for the ride.

I went into Graham's private office when we got up to the sixth floor. In twenty minutes he had signed the proper papers and I was outside, looking at a little group who sat in the fancy reception room. Harriet Graham was all big-eyed and serious and Herbert Plunk was telling her how he and his Pa killed a whole barn full of rats last fall by pushing a hose under the floor and connecting it to the exhaust pipe of his Ford.

Pete Flemish was sitting a few chairs away, staring at the ceiling. He looked unhappy. I finally collected them, said good-bye to Miss Graham and led them both down to the lobby and out to Woodward Avenue.

We didn't talk much until I hailed a cab and took them back toward the hotel. Then I said:

"My business is all done for the time being. I'm ready to wash up and check out at the hotel. Might as well head for home."

Not Herbert Plunk.

"Nope," he said. "Nope, I can't go yet. I'll have to stay here. I'll hike home, tomorrow night."

Herbert had me stumped. I looked at Pete and he grinned. It was a wry grin.

"Herbert," he said sourly, "can't go home because Miss Graham is very fascinated by him and they have a date for tonight."

I said:

"Is that it, Herbert?"

His face got very red again.

"I—guess so," he admitted.

I'll admit that I liked it. I liked seeing Pete Flemish getting kicked around. He had tried to put Herbert on the spot, and the tables were turned all the way over.

I said:

"If that's the case, I'll wait over a day. We'll start in the morning. That okay with you, Pete?"

It wasn't. I knew it wasn't because his face was a sort of pale-green color and his fists were clenched.

WE sat around in the hotel room.

Herbert took three showers, got out a clean pair of long-handled underwear and put them on, and spent two hours making himself look exactly like Herbert Plunk, man of the woods rather than of the world. All the time, Pete Flemish sat there reading the paper and not saying anything. I knew he was doing a lot of thinking.

Finally I had enough of Pete Flemish's sulking. I said:

"There's nothing wrong with a fellow taking Harriet Graham out, is there, Pete?"

To my amazement, he grinned suddenly.

"Sure isn't, not if he knows how to impress her," he admitted.

I watched him narrowly as he went to the window and stared out. Herbert had overheard his remark. He looked at Pete for a while. Then he said:

"Look, Pete, you ain't mad about anything, are you?"

Pete gave him the big grin.

"Me? Mad? I should say not. I hope you can make a big impression on her, that's all."

Herbert looked baffled.

"I ain't used to taking out girls," he said. "She's—pretty nice. I don't guess she thinks I'm very much. She's good to me because I'm lonesome."

"That isn't it, at all," Pete protested. "Look, Herbert, I'm going to put you wise to something. Guys like you have to do something that will make girls like Harriet Graham remember them, like that trick I learned about walking on water."

This was it, I thought. I ought to put Herbert straight right now, but I was still a little sorry for Pete Flemish. He had fallen for Harriet Graham and, besides, it was none of my business. Between Herbert and Pete, it was sort of in the family. I kept my mouth shut. Not so, Herbert Plunk.

"People don't walk on water?" he said, and his eyes popped.

"Not everyone," Pete agreed. "You got to know where and when. What if you picked Harriet Graham up and walked right across the lake with her. She wouldn't forget that, would she?"

Herbert didn't find words. He just shook his head.

"Okay," Pete said in a business-like voice. "Now, I'm your cousin and I want you to win. There is a certain place and time. Belle Isle will be all right. The lagoon, exactly at midnight. Right about then the water is calm enough and the lunar pull is strong. With the help of that moon, you can walk right across that lagoon without even sinking an inch."

Herbert couldn't express any more amazement. His mouth and eyes were both open so wide now that they weren't capable of going wider.

"Gee," he breathed. "Thanks, Pete. I don't know how I can thank you. Golly, Walt, Pete's about the smartest guy I ever heard of."

I didn't express myself. I was waiting.

"I'd try to do as much for any guy who was trying to date Harriet Graham," Pete admitted.

"You sure would," I said under my breath. "You sure would."

THE moon was big and round and it turned Belle Isle into a silver paradise. The night was quite cool and few people were around at that hour. Against my better judgment, I had followed Herbert Plunk for the past two hours. I was driving the coupe and Pete Flemish sat beside me, seemingly unable to stop chuckling.

Harriet Graham was driving her father's car. She had taken Herbert to a nice restaurant for dinner, and Pete and I had stayed on their trail, sitting behind them at the theatre. Now Herbert Plunk was evidently giving her instructions, for we had followed them across the Belle Isle bridge and they were parking ahead of us, at the edge of the lagoon.

"Hold it," Pete warned me. "Turn out your lights. They might see us."

I drove silently under the low limbs of a willow and stopped the motor. Herbert and Harriet Graham didn't seem to want to get out of the car. I figured that maybe Herbert was finally getting some sense. Then without warning, the door of the car opened and they got out.

They walked across the grass arm in arm, and stood there looking down at the lagoon. Suddenly Herbert scooped the girl up in his arms and went down the bank like a horse heading for the water tank.

I heard Harriet cry out, and Pete, at my side, was laughing loudly.

"This is gonna be good," he said in a voice strangled with laughter. "Oh, boy, this is gonna...."

His voice halted abruptly, and at the same time I rubbed my eyes with my hand and looked again.

THERE was Herbert, on top of the water, and Harriet Graham was kicking and crying for him to put her down.

Herbert didn't seem to hear a word. He didn't act as though he was very impressed at what was going on. He just kept walking across that lagoon, above eight feet of water, and finally put Harriet on her feet again, after he reached the other side.

Pete was leaning back in the seat, fists clenched, his eyes closed tightly.

"Let's get out of here," he said, and his whisper was as dry as fall leaves rattling in the wind. "Good Lord, Walt, let's get away."

That's the way I felt. We didn't wait to see what happened next. I, for one, didn't want to know.

Herbert Plunk came into my hotel room. He had a big, very pleased grin on his face.

"Hey," he said. "You know what I did last night? I walked right across the lagoon with Harriet. She laughed and cried and laughed again. She didn't know how I did the trick, but I don't think she's going to forget me."

I nodded. I had a headache. Last night after we left Belle Isle, Pete and I got drunk. We got very drunk and agreed that this morning we would put Herbert Plunk on the train and ship him back to the Thumb where he belonged. Herbert was dynamite and didn't know it. However, this morning I wasn't sure what we would do. I wasn't sure of anything. I said:

"Herbert, you and Pete better have a long talk."

His face clouded.

"Have I done something wrong?"

I shook my head. It felt as though everything inside it was rattling. I groaned, and in the next bed Pete turned over and groaned with me. He awakened. He looked at Herbert for a while, and then said:

"Go away."

Herbert felt terrible.

"Pete," he begged, "Pete, please don't be mad. I done something wrong, didn't I? What did I do, Pete?"

Pete sat up in bed. He held his head in his hands, as though it was going to fall off if he didn't.

"You wouldn't understand," he said.

We all three stared at each other. That made it worse. I laid down and buried my face under the covers. Finally Pete said:

"We—been kidding you, Herb."

"I don't care," Herbert said. "My Pa says I was born to be kidded. I'm a dumb cluck. That's what Pa says. I don't want to hurt you guys. You both been swell to me."

"But we haven't;" Pete objected. "We tried to make a fool out of you."

I pushed the covers down and said:

"Leave me out of it, Pete. I'm neutral."

Pete shrugged.

"Look, Herb," he said in a suddenly pleading voice. "You got to do what I tell you. You got to stop doing this impossible stuff."

Herbert sat down on the edge of the bed and looked miserable.

"I didn't do nothing, Pete," he said. "Honest, if I hurt—"

"How about jumping fifty feet in the air?" Pete shot at him.

"But—how in the dickens did that hurt anyone?" Herbert wanted to know! Pete groaned.

"You mean to say you really think anyone can do that?"

"Can't they?"

I thought it was time to get into the conversation. I sat up in bed and put my hand on Herbert's shoulder.

"Listen to me, Herb," I said. "Pete told you to jump in the air but it was a joke. It can't be done. Anyhow, it couldn't be done before you did it. Then that business of walking on top of the water. No one could do that. No one."

Herbert said:

"But I did."

He was beginning to turn pale. He kept staring at Pete, and not saying anything else. After a while he croaked:

"You mean it was meant to be a—joke? That I wasn't supposed to be able...?"

He stopped talking and there wasn't enough blood left in his face to color it. I nodded.

"It was Pete's idea," I said miserably. "I shouldn't have let him, but I didn't figure it would do any harm. When it did some harm, it was too late."

"Yes," Pete said. "We expected you to sink to the bottom of the lagoon. I figured it would fix you up with Harriet Graham. Fix you for keeps."

Herbert stood up. He took a step toward Pete, then stopped. He said in a sad voice:

"You like Harriet, don't you, Pete?"

Pete didn't answer him.

Herbert said:

"I—did all those things and they were impossible?"

I nodded. Herbert swayed and caught the back of a chair.

"My God," he groaned. "And I can't swim a stroke."

He fainted.

WE had a real problem on our hands now. Herbert Plunk wouldn't go outside of the hotel. He went downstairs for dinner the next night. It was the first bite he'd taken since he found out that, he was doing the impossible.

You see, Herbert Plunk lost all confidence in himself. We had to assure him there was nothing unusual about walking down to the dining room, or in handling a knife and fork. To make things worse, Harriet Graham called, asked for me, and said she was frightened to death of Herbert and didn't want to ever see him again. Harriet didn't like Herbert's magic touch. He scared her half to death. I had to tell Herbert. I thought he was going to cry.

We got Herbert drunk, slipped him a Mickey and tucked him into bed. Never have I seen a more downtrodden hunk of humanity. He didn't want to live. He didn't hold us responsible for what had happened. He said he ought to be given a kick in the pants for being so dumb. It even made Pete Flemish feel bad, for a while.

Next day Herbert was no better. I called Harriet up that afternoon, but I couldn't clear things up. She didn't have any faith in me. Said that people couldn't jump fifty feet in the air, and if I said so, I was crazy also. She didn't want to see any of us after that. Anyhow, Walter Graham called and canceled the insurance policy and said he never felt better in his life. He didn't need insurance. Not mine, at least.

After all this happened, I held ice packs on Herbert's head and tried to make him feel better. Pete Flemish went out in the afternoon and didn't come back. I didn't trust him. I had Herbert on his feet by evening, but he was shaky. He still didn't think it was any use going on living. All in all, it was a nasty problem.

"Listen, Herbert," I said. "I got it all figured out. Your mother had a lot of confidence in you."

He nodded, sitting there on the bed with his head wrapped in cold towels and following me carefully.

"Yes," he admitted. "Ma was pretty swell. She always said that anything a man wanted to do bad enough, he could do."

I was beginning to piece the thing together. I was getting an explanation for the things Herbert Plunk had done, and in a screwy way, it made sense.

"You've always had faith in your mother. You decided she was right. Everything you really wanted to do, you could do if you wanted it badly. Right?"

He just looked blank.

"So there's your explanation," I said.


I spoke patiently.

"It's simple," I said. "To begin with, you didn't know that Pete's suggestions were a joke. You thought that you could do what he suggested. You wanted to do as he said. You wanted it more than anything else. Herbert, it was faith and sincerity that made what you did a success."

He nodded, but he wasn't sure.

"Seems like faith is pretty thin to hold a guy my size on top of the water," he said doubtfully.

I agreed with him. I agreed wholeheartedly. At the same time, I had an explanation, and I wasn't going to batter my head apart looking for another.

"Just the same," I said. "If you decide you want Harriet Graham, and want her bad enough, you'll get her. It takes courage and faith in yourself."

He shook his head.

"She's Pete's girl," he said.

I groaned. I was beginning to get fed up on Pete. If you speak of the Devil, they say, he'll show up pretty soon. The phone rang and Pete was on the other end of the line.

"Walter," he told me. "I've got a date with Harriet Graham. How about me borrowing ten bucks?"

That really boiled the soup over. I was so angry at him that I could have told him a lot of things that the telephone company would have keenly resented. I told him to go to hell, and I hung up.

THE next two hours were pretty calm. I'm glad they were. Although I didn't suspect it, I needed that rest. I did a lot of thinking about Herbert, and I decided that my explanation had been pretty good. He was a simple fellow, and miracles are usually like that, happening to honest guys like Herbert.

Then the phone rang again and it was Pete. I started to hang up, but he was howling something about:

"Fire—Harriet and her father. Get here—quick. Fire, Walt. Can't you understand?"

"What's the matter with you," I shouted. "Where did you get enough money to get drunk on?"

Then I got him calmed down enough to find out that he had just left the Graham Building and it was on fire, and Harriet and her father were still up there in the office. He was calling from a pay booth across the street. I could hear the fire-sirens screaming on the telephone and I started paying more attention to him.

"They ought to be able to get out of there. It's a big place," I said.

Pete's voice was shaking. He was frightened.

"I don't know," he said. "They're on the sixth floor. The fireman I talked to says the elevators can't go through the blaze. They may be trapped."

He was silent for a minute, then his voice was very low.

"Walt, Harriet really thinks a lot about Herbert. I—I think she loves him, but she's too stubborn and frightened to say so. I—thought Herb ought to come."

That was the first decent thought Pete had ever had. It occurred to me that I hadn't ought to be waiting here—doing nothing. I banged the phone into the receiver and shouted at Herbert.

"Herbert, the Graham Building is on fire."

He sat up in bed and opened his eyes.

"Go away," he said. "Let it burn. I'm sleepy."

I shook him and tried to drag him out of bed.

"Herbert, Harriet is in there. She may be trapped. She loves you, Herbert. Pete just called up. He says he knows she loves you."

He was out of bed, pulling his pants on over his pajamas. He was so excited that he forgot to put on his winter underwear.

"What are you standing there looking at me for?" he shouted. "Harriet's trapped in a fire. We gotta get there."

I didn't remind him that it wasn't news to me. I hurried to catch up with him as he raced for the hotel elevator.

We found Pete standing behind the ropes near the entrance to the Graham lobby. Harriet wasn't in the building. She was in his arms, and he was doing a good job of comforting her. I grabbed Pete's shoulder and said:

"Herbert thinks you lied to him. He'll kill you."

Then Herbert was at my side, looking at Harriet.

"Pete," he said in a slow, deep voice, "you said she was up there."

He pointed up toward the inferno of flame that shot from the building.

"She was," Pete said. "Honest to God. The firemen just brought her down."

Harriet turned and looked at us. Pete hadn't been lying. Her face was streaked with smoke. She was crying. When she saw Herbert, she pulled away from Pete and folded up in Herbert's arms.

"Oh, Herbert," she sobbed. "Dad is up there. He's trapped." Pete was talking.

"Mr. Graham is trapped in his office. Can't get out. One of the firemen managed to get Harriet. He went back for her father, but the ceiling of the outer hall had burned through. Stuff fell down and kept him from getting to the office."

Herbert was looking down at Harriet and I guess there was a lot of stuff going through his head.

"Walt," he said, "you told me if a guy had enough faith, and wanted to do something bad enough?"

I shook my head.

"I don't know, Herb," I said. "I could feed you a lot of lies. I don't think I want to. Not any more."

His eyes were pleading. He knew what he wanted to do. He didn't quite dare. Harriet stood away from him a little, her hands still in his.

"Don't do it, Herb," Pete said suddenly. "My God, not that. It's hotter than hell in there. You'd burn before you went ten feet."

I hated to say what I did. It took more courage than anything I'd ever done.

"Herb," I told him, "you know what I said about wanting to do something bad enough?"

He nodded, his eyes on me.

"Well, I haven't got the courage to do it. I don't have the knack of performing miracles. Maybe you have. In India, there are men who can walk on live coals without burning themselves. I don't know how they do it."

He let go of Harriet and put his hand on my shoulder. He stared into my eyes as though seeking something he could distrust.

"You ain't lying, are you, Walt?"

"I don't know how they do it," I repeated. "They probably have a trick. They go through flames without feeling them."

"Walt," he said, "you're not lying, are you?"

"I'm not," I said.

"Then I want to do it and I can," he said, and went away from there so fast that I hardly knew what had happened..

When I saw him again, he had pushed a half dozen cops out of the way and was disappearing into the lobby.

HARRIET and Pete stood there looking at me without saying anything. More fire sirens were howling and a lot of people were screaming and shouting at each other. A couple of firemen followed Herbert Plunk into the lobby. After a couple of minutes they came out again.

I felt like a murderer. Pete had played practical jokes on Herbert Plunk, but, never anything like this. Never—murder.

I didn't move or look at Harriet Graham for maybe four minutes. Then someone let out a loud cry of hope. I pivoted and looked upward where fire shot out from the sixth floor. My heart did three complete handsprings, and I let out a choked yell.

Then someone called:

"Get the ladder. Get the net."

And suddenly the pane of glass in Graham's office crashed out and there was Herbert Plunk standing on the ledge with Walter Graham's limp figure in his arms.

He was magnificent. He was like Nero with Rome burning. He was like Superman fighting the elements. Herbert Plunk. Miracle Man, Herbert Plunk. The flames shot out the open window behind him, but he stood erect, holding Graham against him, his head held high.

Then the net was in place and Herbert took a deep breath. I think I could even see his chest swell. He jumped. He jumped without fear or hesitation, straight into the net six floors below. At that moment, it was Herbert Plunk who performed miracles. Herbert himself was a miracle. He was wonderful, unafraid, triumphant. No flame could sear him as long as he firmly believed that he could come to no harm.

I WENT back home the next day. There wasn't any point in waiting for Herbert. He was planning on marrying Harriet that week-end. Mr. Graham was safe, but he had been burned and was badly frightened. Before I left Herbert Plunk's Dee-troit, I made arrangements to prepare policies for Graham. I think Herbert had a hand in it, because Graham said I was going to handle all his insurance after that. He started with fifty thousand dollars. There were some fire premiums also that would help me plan a nice future.

Well, Herbert got married all right. He didn't try any more stunts. He wasn't sore at Pete, either: Harriet and Herbert built a nice lodge up north and they spend their summers there. They have two kids. One of them, at the age of three, is like Herbert. He jumped out of the hayloft door last week, thinking, I guess, that he'd float gently down to earth. He broke a collar bone and was lucky to be alive after the nasty fall.

Evidently the miracles are running out. They don't cover the family. But Herbert isn't discouraged. He took out a hundred thousand insurance just in case he ever got the urge to do something a little out of line, like flying without artificial help.

I don't know. I'm not the kind of guy to turn down business like that, but I wonder if Herbert Plunk needs protection. I have the strange feeling that if he wanted to fly badly enough, really wanted to stretch his arms into the air and fly like a bird, maybe he could do it.

I know I shall never look back upon my life, without remembering with great respect, the miracle of Herbert Plunk.


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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