But no matter how clever his inventions or
impeccable his equations were, he was still a child, barely turned
fourteen. Science and wonder were much the same to him; daydreams
formed hypotheses and hypotheses spun into daydreams. "Impossible"
was a rather dim notion to him: his third aircraft crashed
spectacularly? Then he'd build a fourth. Eventually he'd get it
right. Some scientists in England (dull hacks, obviously) had
declared heavier-than-air flight to be a fool's errand. But Jean
knew he was close, and anyway, where was the fun in statements
like that? His fledgling spirit wanted wings. For the Good of
All Mankind, said a strange adult voice back in his head; Of
course, answered Jean, but don't you want to see what the
tops of trees look like?
Jean's devotion to Reason was not at all studious and sober. He still shivered at ghost stories and knocked on wood with sincerity; he solemnly built graves for the shattered hulls of his failed aeroplanes out of some latent respect for the spirits of machines. He still believed in rather silly, illogical things — that his father would return from the sea that had swallowed his ship two years ago, for instance, and even sillier things like Love at First Sight.
If he were a little bit older, perhaps, he would not have followed the girl in Paris who turned his head. He would have grinned, maybe watched her as she vanished down the road, thought of her the rest of the day and then forgotten her. He wouldn't have dropped his wrench and taken off after her bicycle, and her certainly wouldn't have trailed her all the way to the top of that brand new steel Tower just to propose that they be friends for the duration of the World's Fair. That was really quite silly, he knew. But he did it nonetheless. The notion that maybe this would turn out like a wonderful novel drowned out the nagging voice that said Jean, you are making such a fool out of yourself.
Later, when his flying machine (which had worked! It really had!) plunged into the Seine, or when he felt the shuddering impact of torpedoes on the battleship hull below his feet, or when it dawned on him how far he was from home and that he might not ever see France again...then, some grown-up part of him knew he should be regretting chasing down the girl on the bicycle. And had Jean been a little older, he might have.
But he wasn't any older. He was Jean Raltique, just turned fourteen, inventor and scientist, who'd been dragged off on a marvelous adventure. So far he'd seen wonders beyond anything he could have imagined, rescued a pretty girl, nearly died more times than he could count, flown in the sky and dived down to the depths of sea. There was no room, in his boyish equations, for regret in any of that.