Only subscribers may read this in its entirety. What follows is a free preview, truncated midway through.The Family Herbst was never impressed with precocity—smart children had been turning up among them for generations. When Nate at five began to make up Just So stories in imitation of Kipling, the other Herbsts awarded him sincere but minimal praise. So Nate took to printing the stuff privately—crayon on shirt cardboard—and stashing them in his special drawer. One story traced the evolution of the bicycle from the eggbeater. Another, closer in style to the Master, was called How Leonard Got His Hair. Cousin Leonard had once been as bald as Grandpa Tony, Nate imagined, but during his travels a small furry animal hitched a ride on the top of his head and got stuck there. Grandpa Tony was jealous.
Back in college half a century ago people figured Leonard and Tony were brothers because they argued so much. Their disputes often referred to events they alone knew about, and to personages whose names were familiar only to them, and to recondite questions of grammar—who on Earth cared? Who even wanted to be around the Herbst boys when they were having one of their competitive spats?
They didn’t look like brothers then, and even less now. Anthony Herbst at seventy-two was compact, fit, smooth-skinned, bald. His sharp mouth could snap, yes, though never at little Nate. The thin lips could also loosen into a tender smile. His sons counted on this. “You compassionate people,” said the younger just last week, making compassionate rhyme with terminate.