In Memoriam: Prof. Brown



". . . . . Gentlemen, gentlemen, please wait, let me urge you, with every ounce of personal conviction that I can summon, to adopt these proposals which face problems with which our college has been struggling for years. These are reasonable suggestions, and even more than that, they offer hope. Thank you, Mr. President."

A tired voice at the back of the crowded hall notes the late hour. Immediate 'ayes' from the faculty thirsting for happy hour after a dry academic day. Voices state this is too important to rush into as such a late hour, someone is citing page and paragraph in Roberts' Rules and then a motion to Table with a seconding voice. The Administration makes insincere efforts to close the meeting as the professors already lurch to their feet and shuffle toward the door at the rear. "Until we reconvene next month, gentlemen... ". but by now the gentlemen are all out the door and gone.

Prof. Robert Brown was walking slowly to his car when Harry Willoughby caught up with him. "Wait a minute, Bob. You know a lot of us are for your proposal, and I think it is a real shame to see it slipped under the rug like that. But maybe we can bring it up again at the next meeting. That Motion to Table was awful, Schmidt always does that sort of thing with tabling at the end of a long meeting, he is just thinking of his Martini waiting at home. It's embarrassing to have a man like that on the faculty, but technically he's within his rights, and he knows it. Bob, I just want to say I know how you feel about defeat, but don't take it too hard, there's always another day......."

Going down the stone steps from the meeting to his office on the second floor, he felt that the corridor seemed dimmer tonight. Some energy-conserving nitpicker is always turning the lights off early. Key doesn't seem to work, wait a minute there that's it. Here in the office it's quiet and familiar and safe. Just sit for a minute and rest in the old chair. That's been a great chair, good smell of leather, the only overstuffed leather chair in the building, comfortable and suitable for a very tired and stuffy professor, I suppose. Tonight everything feels a little different somehow. Why not sit and wait a few minutes, very strangethat pain in my chest and arm, maybe it'll go away. This kind of work takes a lot out of you, but what can you do, just let everything slip by? These lights seem to be shimmering terribly. Relax and rest a bit, just hold on! I'm not sure I can reach my glasses down there on the floor.

The telephone was ringing in the parlor on Pleasant Street. "Yes Harry, this is Mary. Bob hasn't come home ye, was he at the Faculty Meeting? Oh, good. But that proposal of his, was it really tabled? What a shame, you know how hard he's worked on that committee, he always takes these defeats personally. I am a little worried, he usually phones if he's going to be late, I called the office but the switchboard is closed now. I hate to think of him sitting there alonein defeat again. I'd really appreciate it if you would just look in at the office, ask if he's feeling up to it and maybe the four of us could go our to dinner. Allright, you call me back, or better still, I'll walk down to your house and we can go on together from there.

He felt he was gliding toward the door effortlessly, slipping out into the hall without a sound, leaving the door as it was ajar. In a minute he was going down the steps and then outside. Fall was always such a welcome season. That crisp air in the quiet evenings, with the smell of those first fall woodfires from someone's fireplace. This would be a fine time for a stroll down South Street before headinmg home. That fifteen minutes' walk in the dark always makes everything come right again. Over there some boys were hunting horse chestnuts to carve into little baskets, just as he had done in Indiana years ago. He watched them for several minutes, they didn't seem to notice that he was standing there. Tonight he seemed to be walking with an airy step, hardly touching the ground.

Passing the college President's house, he observed the lights seemed more like old-fashioned candlelight. A maid with a black dress and lace trim at the wrists was serving formal dinner to guests at the table. A few doors down the street, the fraternity house with its disheveled aristocracy and phonograph blaring from the windows seemed out of place on such a quiet evening, but further along, where the houses began to thin out a bit, it was much nicer. There were mansions set far back on great lawns, and a few carriage houses almost hidden in towering trees planted a hundred years before. Then there was that big open space with scrubby trees where a startled rabbit popped up suddenly to stare at him and then fled. And finally, home!

He was almost at the door when he realized there were no lights on. It didn't feel good, and he was hammering at the door and crying "Mary, Mary... ", when he paused to what a nice evening it had been. Why panic now jsut ebcause she had gone out? He sat on the steps a while, and decided to go back to the office the long way around. Mary would be looking for him there.

The long way was all out in the open fields. Some fellows near the playing fields were still trying to chase a soccer ball around by the failing light. They wore knickers and knitted sweaters with big plaid stripes, they seemed terribly fresh voiced and young. Beyond that it was dark for a bit, some college students on the road, trying to push-start an Essex roadster which chugged involuntarily. "Jump in Ned as soon as we get her to fire. Hurry up or we'll never get to the flicks tonight." He went over to help and push, but nobody seemed to see him at all. That's how the young are, totally into their own life, and rightly so.

Coming through the campus gates it was ghostly, not a light, not a soul. The office building doors had been propped open, men were waiting as if ready to carry something out. In a moment he was up on the second floor, gliding down the hall, surprised to see his office door open. He stood in the blackness of the hall, looking into the flood of yellow light inside.

He could see his friend Harry standing beside the old leather chair, slowly and with effort pulling the black academic robes, which he had found hanging in the closet, over it. Mary was standing by the window, sobbing convulsively from somewhere deep in her chest. Harry went over to touch her arm. The edge of the crumpled robe at the floor did not completely cover two black shoes lying strangely askew, with a pair of gold rimmed glasses lying between them.



William Harris
Prof. Em. Middlebury College
www.middlebury.edu/~harris