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Et in Arcadia Ego

ISSUE:  Spring 1979

Arch Wembish’s puns had given him a local reputation, one which he had to work hard to maintain, So after his Friday afternoon tutorial with young Ellenburg, one in which the student had stumbled as usual through the most elementary Latin, he had recovered from the ordeal by focusing on an image of the boy’s short and thinning red hair and had thought immediately of a simple but elegant little play on words.”Barbari sine barbis,” he repeated to himself outside the door of the Masters’ Room. When he entered, however, and saw that only Weston Hadley was there, he decided to save it for a better audience.

“Friday afternoon,” he said instead, then added, “Et in Arcadia ego,” pronouncing it, as he always did with Hadley, “eego.” Hadley raised his glass in silent appreciation. It was a standard greeting between the two men, a joke from ten years before when one of the younger masters, looking at the dreary photograph of Poussin’s “Shepherds in Arcadia” hanging on the wall of the Masters’ Room, had solemnly translated, “And their egos are in Arcadia.” Though he would not say so to anyone else, Wembish liked the greeting for another reason as well: it acknowledged that the Academy—even with the unpleasant changes of the past year—was, with its semi-rural setting, a refuge of sorts, particularly to men like Hadley and himself, both bachelors. And the grimly ironic connotation of the phrase—an inscription on a tomb—merely added to the pleasure Wembish felt in its Tightness.

“Arcadia with necessary libation,” he said, pouring himself a glass of sherry from the sideboard.”And where, my friend, are the others?”

“This is the week-end for the Washington trip,” Hadley said. He was sitting in one of the brown leather armchairs with which the room was furnished, and, as Wembish remained standing, Hadley was forced to hold his head up at an angle—an obviously uncomfortable angle, Wembish thought, though making no move to sit down.”The boys will be gone,” Hadley added, “so most of us have scattered.”

“Oh yes,” Wembish said. He tried for a moment to make his voice sound natural. The “Washington trip” was an innovation of the new headmaster. Wembish looked out the window: though it was almost spring, the bare branches of the maples next to the building still allowed a clear winter’s view across the quad.”Our new leader seems determined to do new things, doesn’t he? Especially if they’re not needed: why, these boys have parents who can send them anywhere. They’ve got. . . .” Realizing in time that he was growing angry, he stopped himself, then added, in the quavering stage voice of an old man, “It wasn’t like this in the days of old King Hubert. Ah, the sere and yellow leaf.”

“Yes,” Hadley said, “Hubert was—is—a fine man. He and Eleanor both—fine people.”

“I wondered why Ellenburg seemed so fidgety”—Wembish allowed himself the low word—”even more stupid and dense than usual.” For a moment he allowed himself to think of the student’s face: the skin reddening with the struggle to translate, the imperfections becoming more emphatic: tiny pimples along the side of his nose and the edge of his mouth, the beginning of a boil on his chin. An emblem of ignorance. Wembish finished his glass of sherry.”I do not believe I’ll survive his fourth year in Latin.”

“Oh, he’s one you’ll not have to worry about,” Hadley said. He leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, and his large clumsy-looking hands holding his glass like a tiny chalice. “I’m surprised you haven’t heard, that he didn’t tell you himself. Princeton took him—on the basis of rather phenomenal test scores apparently—and agreed to waive his last year of prep.”

Wembish had picked up the sherry bottle, and when he understood what Hadley had said, he filled his glass, drained it, and poured it full a third time. The action was partly for the benefit of Hadley, who enjoyed physical comedy. But Wembish also needed the moment to control himself, to prevent an expression of anger he would later regret. In a matter of seconds he could see the humor in it. The news was outrageous, of course, another example of the unbelievable stupidity of a world rewarding its fools, but it was also comic, really ludicrous now that he thought about it: the Ivy League embracing poor acned, stumbling Ellenburg. He looked at his colleague. Hadley, who was still smiling his appreciation of Wembish’s reaction, obviously saw neither the stupidity nor the humor in the news itself. His smile slowly disappeared, leaving his upturned face innocent and bland, his eyes tiny points of blue behind his thick glasses. It was clear that he was proud of the boy’s achievement. He undoubtedly thought it spoke well for the Academy.

Wembish smiled as sardonically as he could. “We can certainly be proud of the boy’s achievement. It surely does speak well for the Academy, old man,” he said. He thought about sticking his tongue in his cheek and pointing to it for Hadley’s sake, but instead he took a drink of sherry and leaned back against the sideboard.

Hadley settled himself in his chair. He liked nothing better than praising someone else, especially a student.”Ackerman says he’s a whiz in math. It’s that which got him in. An almost perfect score, Ackermann says.”

“Well, I hope he’ll leave Latin alone. No worry about that, though. Princeton, eh? Well, well. Could have been worse, I suppose. Yale, for example.”

Hadley smiled broadly. “Or Harvard.”

It was another of their little jokes with each other, pretending to despise the other’s school. At first, Hadley, who had both a bachelor’s and a master’s from Yale, had been allowed to assume that the same was true for Wembish and Harvard. It was several years before Wembish told him that his family had decided not to send him away to school but to have him matriculate nearer home. He never told Hadley the name of the small state college in Arkansas from which he had been graduated, though, nor did he tell him about the work scholarship on which he had struggled through the four awful years. He didn’t tell him, either, that he had attended Harvard (M. A., Classics) on a scholarship given him by the Alumni Association of the little Arkansas college to which he had never returned and whose annual pleas for donations and even for news from former students he had scrupulously ignored ever since leaving there. Since he was always careful to talk about his “midwestern childhood,” Wembish wasn’t even sure that Hadley knew he was from Arkansas, or that anyone at the Academy did, for that matter, except Dr. Hubert, of course. And the new headmaster, who had access to the dossiers of all the masters.

It was terrible to think that the man had that much knowledge of Wembish’s past. It was terrible to think that the others would find out. He patted his coat pocket to assure himself that the letter he had received that morning was there—still unopened. He imagined it lying somewhere, dropped by accident, with its Little Rock postmark and his own name scrawled in pencil, to be picked up by anyone, anyone at all. There were people, not only the new headmaster, who would like very much to unmask him. They could use the letter as evidence to show that he was a fraud, born to and raised by shiftless and ignorant people, that he had gone to some obscure little college. . . . But the letter was there. He was working himself into a state needlessly. It was better not to think of such things.

“One really ought to consider such things,” Hadley was saying.”He’s apparently a much brighter boy than we gave him credit for, at least over here in the humanities.”

Wembish decided that, since no one except Hadley apparently was going to eat in refectory, he would go home, eat alone, and read. A new edition of Horace had arrived the day before from Blackwell’s, and he anticipated a good, a civilized evening, cutting the pages with a silver knife. He decided, too, that it would add to his pleasure to read by candlelight.

Wembish’s cottage was the last of a row of masters’ residences winding into the woods which extended for several miles behind the Academy. When he rounded the final curve of the walkway, he noticed at once the car parked in the culde-sac in front of his house. A station wagon, it could several years ago have been the exact duplicate of the cars which brought students down from the Main Line or over from Alexandria or the Richmond suburbs. Now it had declined beyond respectability: the hubcaps were missing from the two wheels he could see, rust was eating its way up the front fender and along the bottom of the front door, the muffler was hanging at an angle halfway between the car itself and the road, and a dark oily grime coated the body and even the windows. It was the car of someone who no longer cared about anything except getting somewhere else. It had been backed up so that it blocked the driveway where his own neat little foreign car was parked.

Probably abandoned, he thought. And it would, of course, be his responsibility to see that it was taken away. It was quite possible that someone had left it there just for that purpose—some students, perhaps, trying to get back at him. He had to go behind the car to get to his front walk, and when he did so, he saw the dirty license plates which told him that the car was from Arkansas. Only then did he notice that the lights were on in his house.

His impulse was to turn away and run, but there was no-where to go except back to the Academy, where Hadley was eating alone in refectory, or into the town, where nothing— not even the small bus station—was open after 6:00.He thought for a moment about going into the woods and hiding there until the intruders left, and he even turned halfway in that direction.

But this was nonsensical, irrational and nonsensical. There would be no trouble if he asserted himself, as he could and would do. He turned again towards the cottage, and it was then that he saw his sister Addie standing at the window. He had not seen her for ten years, but, at least from this distance, she looked exactly the same. As soon as he saw her, she started waving, and he realized that she had been watching him. He inhaled deeply and raised his hand. Then, as though nothing out of the ordinary waited for him, he walked slowly up the short pathway to the front door.

“Lord, look at you, Archie.” Addie opened the door as if receiving a guest.”If you don’t look like a schoolteacher for sure.”

“Hello, Addie.” He held up both hands as if he wanted to push her back, but, apparently taking the gesture for an invitation, she grabbed him around the neck and hugged him, pulling his head forward and down into her bosom so that he had to struggle not to lose his balance.

As she held him, her voice shifted without transition from joviality to a melodramatic whisper.”Oh, my Lord, Archie, I’m so glad to see you.” She released him and backed away. Her voice rose slightly.”I have drove all the way from Nashville today in that fretful car out there, and I knew around about Roanoke that it wouldn’t make it. It is a pure miracle of God that we got here.”

“We?” They were still standing at the open door. Addie, or whoever was with her, had turned on all the lamps in the front room, and the light flooding through the doorway made a bright rectangle on the porch floor. It was too early in the season for insects, and the darkened woods behind them were silent.

“What do you mean, “we”? Have you got H. T. with you?”

“No, Archie, it’s not him. Didn’t you get my letter? He’s in Pittsburgh working. He has a real good job now, Archie. Isn’t that good news? Come in, come in.”

She took his elbow, as if she were ushering him into her own house, and, like an obedient guest, he allowed her to lead him to a chair. When he sat down, however, she continued to stand, looking down at him. She wore no make-up, and her face in the clear light was strained, paler than Wembish remembered it. Up close, he could see that she had aged. Her eyes were slightly narrowed, and her thin lips were pressed together, drawn down at the edges so that she looked sullen and plaintive at the same time. It was the look Wembish had often seen on the faces of students who wanted both to complain and to beg a favor but couldn’t decide which was more important. When she finally moved, bringing both hands up to pull her hair back from her forehead to each side of her face, he repeated the question.

“Addie, if you do not have H. T. with you, whom did you bring?”

“Whom? Whom? Why, Archie, you surely must for true be a teacher. You even sound like one.” She laughed, a high scornful little laugh, but Wembish recognized it as a delaying action, an attempt to put him on the defensive. He sat quietly until the silence forced Addie’s admission.

“It’s Daddy, Archie. That’s who it is. It’s Daddy.” She nodded as she spoke, as if she were confirming the fact for herself as well. Wembish put his head against the back of the chair and shut his eyes, but he could still see the outline of Addie against his lids.

“I’ve got him in the bedroom, Archie. I’ve brought him all the way from Little Rock in two days, and I’ve put him to bed. But he don’t know where he is, Archie. He don’t even know who I am.”

Wembish opened his eyes and looked at his sister. She turned her head quickly, but he could tell that she had been gauging his reaction to her words. She was trying to draw him into the melodrama, to force a role on him—the sensitive listener, the sympathetic brother—which would take him somewhere he was certain he didn’t want to go. The realization pushed him towards recovery of himself. Despite his dread of what their sudden arrival would mean for him, he began to feel certain of his ability to deal with it. Addie here in the light of the living room, his father lying in the darkness on the other side of the wall—whatever it meant, he could control it.

He had dealt with it all before. It was irritating—like having to get an abandoned car hauled away—but he could handle it.

“Addie, what are you doing with him? You haven’t seen or heard from him in twenty years. Where did he come from?”

“Oh, Archie, he was in this real sleazy hotel. He had come back to Little Rock, and they called me because he was sick. It was a year ago. He had had a spell right there in the hotel, and the only way they knew to call me was he had tore my name and address off of a envelope and had it in his billfold. That was the only identification he had, and only seven dollars to his name.” She lowered her voice again to a whisper, as if to keep what she was saying a secret from the old man in the next room. It was clear to Wembish that she was enjoying the details.”He can’t talk. He can only make these noises, down in his throat like he’s strangling, whenever he wants something. But it’s like he doesn’t never want anything, or doesn’t know that he wants anything. He just lets me do for him. But he don’t know me, Archie. I can tell he don’t even know who I am.”

“Then, for God’s sake, Addie, why have you got him? Why isn’t he in a home, a hospital of some sort?”

“We can’t afford anything but the state hospital, Archie.” The emphasis of her voice showed clearly that the “we” included him.”And I’m not putting him in any such place. I’ve seen them old people there, and I’m not putting no more of my kin there. I have never forgave myself for letting our mother die there. He is our daddy, Archie. No matter what you think about him, he is our daddy.”

“Addie, he is nothing to you or me. We have no obligation towards him. He did nothing for us. He did nothing to support us. He never even came home except when he was so. . . . He was a drunkard, Addie, and our mother was a fool to let him keep returning. And if you want to blame yourself for the way she died, please leave me out of it.He’s the one who killed her.” But he was growing angry, and a quarrel with Addie would be childish and useless.”If you’ve really kept him for a year, you’ve more than repaid the time he spent with you.”

“He’s our daddy,” she said.

Wembish stood up. He was beginning to see the humor in it, the way she clung to that poor little moral certainty. He would not pursue the subject, however. It was Addie’s decision; it was her distorted sense of family which had caused her to accept the burden of a sick and loveless old man. It was nothing to him one way or the other.

He shrugged his shoulders and walked to the door of the bedroom. When he felt her behind him, he stepped into the darkened space beside the doorway and looked down at the figure on the bed. The old man lay without moving, his hands crossed over his chest like a body in a coffin. Nothing familiar remained in his appearance: the puffy drunkard’s face which Wembish remembered had thinned and collapsed. He could be any old man, Wembish thought, generic senex.Leaning over to look more closely at his face, Wembish felt himself moving further and further away from the old man. They were nothing to each other. Nothing held them together. Even when his father opened his eyes, turning them upwards so that they reflected the light from the door, even then Wembish felt nothing.

“You can stay here until tomorrow, Addie, and then you will have to leave.” He took his billfold from his coat pocket, his fingers brushing the edges of Addie’s letter.”Here is all the money I have, all the cash I have. Almost $100.You can take that to help with the car. That’s all I can give you, Addie, so you needn’t ask for more. I’ll make some sandwiches for supper, but you do whatever has to be done with him. You stay here with him, on the chair. It’ll be quite comfortable with a pillow and a blanket, and you know what he needs if he wakes up. I’ll sleep on the sofa in the front room.”

“But Archie . . .”

“Yes?” He tried to make his voice as hard as possible.

“My letter. . . .” She shook her head, as if deciding that to say anymore would be useless. He handed her the money.

Wembish was awakened next morning by the sound, a low monotonous whine which seemed as he listened both demanding and hopeless. He jumped up and ran to the window, but he knew before he got there what had happened, and he was not surprised when he saw at the end of the walkway the empty space where Addie’s car had been. She must have left through the rear door, and either she had been lucky getting it to start without much noise or, more likely, she had exaggerated the extent of the car trouble.

He went into the bedroom. When his father saw him, the moaning grew slightly louder for a moment, then stopped. He seemed to be waiting to see what would happen. The room smelled of urine, and when Wembish pulled back the blanket, there was a large wet spot on the sheet. He did not know how strong or weak the old man was, so he leaned over and slid his hands under the thin shoulders and pulled him forward. As soon as he was sitting up, the old man swivelled himself around slowly and, clasping his hands behind Wembish’s neck, pulled himself to a standing position. Wembish, relieved that the man could walk, held his elbow tightly and guided him to the bathroom. He helped him out of his soiled trousers, trying, as he exposed them, not to look at the nearly hairless genitals and the thin white legs. He eased him onto the toilet and left him there while he returned to the bedroom, stripped the bed, and remade it with clean sheets. He looked in the cardboard box Addie had left and found a pair of underwear and a wrinkled pair of brown trousers.

He returned to the bathroom, dressed the old man, and, grasping him again by the elbow, led him into the kitchen and seated him at the table. He fixed a bowl of oatmeal and placed it and a spoon in front of the man and stood there until he began feeding himself. Then he went to the living room where his jacket was folded over a chair. The letter was still in his pocket; he returned to the kitchen and opened it:

Archie, I have never tryd to interfer in your lif as you have made it plane that you want to live your own lif and so it will be so far as I am concern. But now you have got to help because something has happened. Daddy is here and he is sick. H. T. has called for me to come to Pittsburg but he says not to bring daddy, and anyway I have kept him for a year and i will not leave him with you for that long but only untill the summer is over at the most. I just have to get everything straitened out with H. T. so I will come to your house this week and leave daddy with you. I know you will not like it and i am sorry to do it. But i know no other way.

The last sentence was underlined twice, and the note was signed, “Your sister Addie.”

Wembish looked up from the page at his father, who had finished the bowl of oatmeal. It was impossible to tell by his face if he wanted more, but when Wembish filled the bowl again, the old man did not touch it. A tiny streak of the gray cereal had hardened on his chin. Every few seconds he made a faint gargling sound in his throat, but he did not seem to be trying to say anything. In the daylight, as in last night’s darkness, there was nothing which recalled the sullen, sometimes violent, drunkard Wembish had last seen almost 30 years ago. The man seemed willing to sit where he was until somebody moved him. Addie was right: he did not know where he was, and it was clear that he had no idea who Wembish was.

Wembish stood at the window of the kitchen and looked out at the narrow plot of grass which separated his house from the woods. It had rained during the night and there was still a low cover of clouds which threw everything into shade. Something would have to be done, but he couldn’t decide what. He felt very clearly that the source of control over his life was shifting from inside him to something outside, but unlike the night before, he wasn’t certain he could do anything about it. He felt empty and inert. The obvious course would be to follow Addie to Pittsburgh—he could, he supposed, find H. T.’s address in the telephone book when he got there—but he dreaded a confrontation, both because it would be unpleasant in itself and because such scenes often bound the participants together more closely afterwards. Nor could he imagine himself pursuing his sister up the Interstate, like something cheap and unreal in a second-rate movie. He could drive the old man to the state hospital, which was only an hour or so away: he felt certain they would have to take him, but that would involve him in the old man’s life. He would have to answer questions, to account for him, and, in the eyes of official people, his life and the old man’s life would be connected.

He couldn’t, he wouldn’t keep him. That, of course, was unthinkable. There was no room. He didn’t have the money to support him, to provide all the care he would obviously need. Worse than that, though, he would have to explain him to everyone. Tonight, for instance, he was to go to dinner with the Huberts. He had been looking forward to it ever since Eleanor had invited him. How could he explain the old man to them? There was no way to take care of him without having people find out. Besides, why should anyone expect him to stay? They were nothing to each other. No, allowing him to stay was unthinkable. Of that he was certain. When he turned back from the window, Wembish saw that the old man’s expression had not changed.

For the rest of the morning and into the afternoon, Wembish made no decision. He took the old man to the bathroom, he helped him into bed and watched until he fell asleep, and he cleaned the kitchen and the living room and even swept the front porch and walk. He waved to Weston Hadley, who was getting out of his car three houses down, but he turned as Hadley waved back. He did not want to encourage a visit. When he entered the house, he heard the soft moaning. He helped the old man up and into the bathroom, washed his face and hands and brought him into the kitchen. He gave him a bowl of tomato soup and two pieces of bread and butter and watched as the old man tore the bread into strips which he dropped into the soup and then fished out with his spoon.

When the telephone rang, the sudden noise made Wembish start forward, but the old man continued picking the bits of bread out of the soup and eating them. He apparently had heard nothing. Wembish’s first thought was to ignore the ringing, but then he remembered that Hadley had seen him and knew he was at home. If it were he on the phone, he might suspect something, might perhaps even come over to investigate. He walked across the floor to where the phone hung on the wall behind his father. But as soon as he answered, he regretted it. The voice was the headmaster’s.

“Wembish, I’m sorry to call you at home on your weekend, but I’m finishing up some business here at the office and wanted to get some items cleared up.”

In spite of his problems, Wembish had to smile: the self-congratulation and the criticism were so obvious.”No trouble at all,” he answered.”I’ve just finished grading some essays myself.”

“I did send you a note asking you to call sometime yesterday. It must have been delayed somehow in the campus mails,”

“Oh? That’s probably what happened. Though with all the mail which comes to me, I may accidentally have thrown it out.” (He had, in fact, torn it in two without opening it, as he did with all the headmaster’s memos.) The old man was making soft slurping noises, and Wembish backed away with the phone.”Was it something important?”

“Well, yes.” Wembish could see the headmaster leaning forward in his seat, trying to look serious, sincere.”There’s going to be a problem with the Board when it meets next week. They raised the question last October about whether there’s enough demand to warrant keeping our full classics program.” He paused, but Wembish refused to say anything, so he added, “Of course, the faculty sets the academic policy. I’ve made that very clear to the Board, but to them it’s a financial thing. Which, in a way it is. I want to try to keep the program, or at least as much of it as possible.” Again he paused.”But I think we ought not to count on replacing anyone in Greek when Finley retires this year.”

The receiver was cold against Wembish’s ear, and he wasn’t certain he had understood the headmaster’s words. “But that would mean that Mclllhenny and I would be the only classics masters?”

“Yes, I know it’d be a burden, but we’ve got to reckon with the fact that fewer and fewer boys are taking Latin beyond the requirement. And no one is taking Greek. It’s not that the three of you haven’t done a good job. At least, we don’t have any hard data to the contrary. It’s just that the boys don’t want it. You know? Look, I didn’t mean to talk about this over the phone; I really called to set up an appointment with you Monday. You know, to talk it over and get what information I can from you to give to the Board next week. We’re on the same team, Wembish, But I’ll have to be playing a facilitatory role when they meet.” His last sentence was louder, as if he wanted someone else in his office to hear it.

“I don’t know when . . . I mean, Monday is one of my tutor . . . one of my conference afternoons. I can’t remember what time. . .”

“Never mind. Look, I shouldn’t have called like this. I’ve upset you, haven’t I? Tell you what: think about when you could come by and let me know tonight at the Huberts’.”

“At the Huberts’?”

“Yes, at dinner tonight. Eleanor told me she had asked you. Brenda and I are finally going to get to one of their evenings. With all my traveling this year, we haven’t been able to accept any of her invitations before now. So we’re really looking forward to it.”

“Yes, looking forward to it.” It was only by whispering that he could control the quaver in his voice.”Tonight. Yes, of course. Good-bye.”

Wembish stood for a moment looking down at the top of his father’s head. The hair was thinning, and the scalp which showed through it seemed dirty and gray. As if nothing had happened, as if no one else were there, the old man continued raising the spoon from the empty bowl to his mouth.

It took Wembish, looking at the old man, only a moment to see how it all fit together. It was simply a conspiracy. Not that they had all gotten together to work it out, exactly. But it was nevertheless a conspiracy, a contrivance to undermine him, to make him give up. Obviously Hubert and the new headmaster had been working together behind his back: the Board had never made a decision before without Hubert’s urging it. It wouldn’t surprise Wembish to learn that Hubert had been in the office during the conversation. And the two of them had worked to get the students—Ellenburg and the others—lined up with them. The headmaster’s little dig about “hard data” hadn’t been lost on him. And, though five minutes before he would have dismissed the thought as absurd, it was more than possible that they had even been in touch with Addie. They were the only two who knew. What other explanation could there be for the old man’s presence just at this time?

But they had overplayed their hand. Perhaps they knew that, too. The hesitancy in the headmaster’s voice towards the end of the conversation had not been totally pretended: he had realized that Wembish would figure it out and would fight back. And that was what he would do; they could count on that.

It was not difficult to get the old man into the car, nor, once they were past Hadley’s cottage, was there any danger of being seen, since the road leading to the Interstate turned away before reaching the Academy itself and ran for several miles along the border of the woods. And since it was the Washington weekend, there was no danger that he would meet any students or masters out for a hike, or jogging. Planning the trip for this weekend hadn’t been very clever on their part.

But before he reached the Interstate, Wembish realized that there was a flaw in his plan: the lack of time. It was already 3:30 by his watch and that meant that he couldn’t possibly get to Pittsburgh, find Addie, and return that night. He probably wouldn’t even be able to make the round trip by morning. He turned into a fire access road and stopped the car to think what he should do.

When he cut off the motor, his father, apparently responding to the sudden ceasing of the vibrations, began moaning softly, turning toward his window as if he wanted to get out and didn’t know how. To quiet him, Wembish started the motor again and allowed the car to move forward a few feet; then he accelerated slightly and the car eased off the asphalt into the dirt road, and they were driving, slowly, into the woods.

After a quarter of an hour, Wembish stopped the car a second time, and when his father again started moaning and turning toward the door, Wembish leaned across him and pushed down on the handle. The door swung open, and the old man swayed after it for a second, then pulled his feet around, grasped the frame of the door, and raised himself out of the car. He walked several steps toward the line of trees, then sank onto his knees as though he were going to pray.

Wembish slid across the seat and stepped out. His father was kneeling in the waist-high grass, still brown from the winter, and only his shoulders and head showed above it. He was still several feet from the trees.

“Come back to the car,” Wembish said from the edge of the road, but the old man did not react.”Come back into the car. If you don’t come back, I’ll leave you here.”

The old man leaned forward, and, as he did so, the tall wet grass closed over him. From where Wembish stood, it was as if the man had never been there.

On the way out of the woods, Wembish measured the distance at four miles. He felt certain that the old man would be found, perhaps even before he died. But there was nothing to connect the two of them. Any excuse would satisfy Addie; he could handle that easily. The real battle, of course, would be at the Academy. Hubert, the headmaster, the students who had turned against him: they would not give in easily.

As he turned back onto the main road, however, Wembish couldn’t help smiling in anticipation of the evening. How would they be able to mask their surprise when he showed up as if nothing had happened? The clouds were breaking up now, and the sun shot through the branches—covered with faint promises of buds—of the great oaks which separated the campus from the woods.

He tried to think of some way he could throw his enemies off balance that evening, and the idea came to him as suddenly and as brightly as the sun through the trees. He would find a place in the conversation to drop a reference—casually, offhandedly—to Aeneas’s flight from Troy, with old Anchises on his back. The English he could remember, the way he had translated it for his students several weeks earlier: “Lifting up my father, I sought the mountains.” It irritated him that the Latin would not come to him as the English had. Lapses of memory made him uncomfortable, not in control of himself. Perhaps, after all, the idea was not a good one.

Then, just as he reached home, he thought of it. “Sublato!” he said aloud, and then he could hardly finish for laughing: “Sublato montis genitore petivi!”


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