La fuite de Prof. M. Francois a Miami.



Winter in New England penetrates to the bone, erasing memories of mosquitoes and the muggy swelter of summer sweat. If weather were to be bracketed and filed under hot and cold, this winter would be labeled as worst of the worst. Sleet, in turn hard pursued by hail even before Christmas decorations could be hung across Main Street in October , heralded a slippery mix of snow and some unknown substance which made travel inconceivable. Broken tractor-trailers hunched perilously off the shoulders of icy roads, passing drivers eyed them their peripheral vision like scared rabbits darting down the road. The only solution was to stay home and wait for spring thaw, which sooner or later does come to Vermont.

By early January Professor Marcel Francois knew he needed a vacation. Coming to his midwinter classroom, he found four students who had opted to study Advanced French Phonetics, and one who thinking it was Economics 113 left the room in a hurry. Another went somewhere saying he had to get an add card and never came back, so the two remaining girls were all that stood between M. Marcel Francois and freedom. After a quick discussion they were sent off to sign up for Figure Drawing. Now M. Francois was thinking to himself: "Aha Marcel, you old rogue, you have achieved your own liberty, now nothing rests between you and some marvelous vacations but a very little of ingenuity, is it not so? Now what to do?"

After a few minutes making arrangements on the phone, and a dash by taxi with Madeleine and two suitcases heading to the Airport, they was on their way. The 'International Airport' was an old army aerodrome in the ancient style, nothing more than a scrubby terminal whipped by whistling gales, with three forlorn looking planes looking like Canada geese ready to fly somewhere warmer before winter really set in. One two-motor antique was on the runway revving its motors, about to depart for its sole destination Montreal. Another plane was at the gate marked MIAMI, and there were two empty seats.

Back in the college offices at Middlebury, Dean Witherspoon, a tall man with a ruddy complexion set off by snow white hair, was standing beside a window near which hung an ancient painting of a previous Dean, to whom he bore an uncanny resemblance. He was staring out across the ice-crusted snowscape, when his secretary entered to inform him that the urgent letter to M. Francois was still in his box, and his whereabouts were unknown. "Unknown is impossible, there is no such thing as unknown, somebody knows for sure, and I want you to call that somebody and find out where he is, and let me know immediately. I think this can take precedence over your other duties, Miss Coney, just find out and let me know immediately. Do you understand?" She explained that she did understand, but had little idea what to do next.

The State Police told her all roads south were on storm alert, the road east over the mountain had been closed for months, and the passenger train service had been discontinued since the War, so if M. Francois had left town there was only one way out, which was to drive north and fly south. The airport listed two seats on a flight to Miami, l0.35 AM Flight l39 on Jan. 7th, so tracking him down from there was simple. An underworld conference in Miami had been canceled because of weather predictions, which left one hotel without reservations, and that's obviously where they had to be.

"The culprits", said the Dean said the dean when she had finished her report. The terms of faculty contracts specifically say that course or no course, students or no students, in health or in sickness, faculty are to be on hand every day, every week in each term and without exception. "Get him on the line at once, Miss Coney, I want to talk to that man immediately, no excuses do you understand. " She understood.

Duty is a word that has different meanings to different people. Dean Witherspoon he had commanded a destroyer toward the end of the War, he ran his ship tight and hard but fair. The men knew just by taking one look at his hard-chiseled features, that the Captain had a clear idea of what duty meant for him and, what is more, what it meant for them. If anyone crossed him it would be by sheer mistake, since nobody would tangle by choice with a man whose sense of duty was the result of generations of breeding, as his features and manner evidenced. Watch out for that one, mate. That's one officer you don't want to cross, sonny.

Whereas to Marcel Francois the word duty had a very different meaning. There were things you had to do, lessons, exercises, things which had to be gotten out of the way, these were your devoirs, things you had to do. Beyond that, there are things which a man owes to himself, things which are due to him as a human being; those are his rights, his privileges. If something is due to you, it is clear you take it, there is no question about that thing. There are people who take pleasure in a perverse rigidity of personality, they call this thing duty, but these are usually German or British types, and we in France consider it our duty to keep as far from them as is possible. If you do not give yourself what is right and due , you lose a part of the reason for being human, as I see it. You agree, he would say his students, you see justement what I am talking about?

Between the Ocean View Terraces and the sea there was a quarter of a mile of gleaming white sand, on the edge of which a mild and tepid sea lapped the shoreline gently with wavelets embroidered with a foamy fringe. The blue sky went streaming out over the ocean as far as the eye could see, and bent back upon itself transparently to return again to the shore, along which men and women drugged by sunshine reclined on beach chairs striped with blue and red and green, while children ran incessantly into the water and out again throwing huge colored beach balls. Far from the others, in a little gay pavilion of blue beach umbrellas flanking three beach chairs, the Swedish masseuse Olga was conversing with Madeleine and Marcel Francois. A waiter in black suit had just put down a tray with three sweating glasses of tropical fruit and rum, Marcel had just initialed the slip and was slipping a tip to the man, when a bellboy in uniform was seen approaching from a distance, dragging something with a long cord over the sand, asking if Mister Franz was on this part of the beach. "Telephone, Sir, you have a long distance call. Will you take it now, or shall I have them call back at your room after dinner, Sir?"

"No, no, I can speak now if it is necessary. I think I have an idea who it just might be. . . . .yes I can take it here, it is OK. Take this for yourself and thank you, I call you when I finish, yes?. Oui, this is Marcel Francois, can you speak a little higher, yes, that is better. I am here, of course I am here, naturally. Oh, you are calling from the college, yes, I see. The Dean wants to speak with me? I understand, but unfortunately I cannot hear you now, we seem to have a very poor connection. No, that is not better, I cannot understand what you say, I am very sorry, but I think you should call back tomorrow morning. The connections are always poor at this time of the day, the switchboard here is not good, in fact you were probably lucky to get through at all. Then you call back tomorrow morning, so until I hear again, au revoir, and recall me to the Dean, and give to him my egards."

Madeleine was leaning toward him as he put the receiver down, she handed him his drink, smiled and asked who it was, who had been calling him on the telephone. Nobody, my dear, nobody of any importance. Madeleine took her glass in her right hand, Olga was already holding her's up, and with a thoughtful twinkle in his eye Marcel raised his glass to theirs. The three glasses tinkled together in the brilliant sunshine warmth. Marcel had been thinking with some difficulty of the cold weather back there in the North, the cold and frosty New England manners, and the cold reception he would get upon returning, which he instantly forgot as he turned to his wife and holding up his glass said PROSIT

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