The Adventures of Michael MacInnes
The “Missing” Chapter
When I originally submitted the novel to FSG it was liked enough to be presented the acquisitions committee. For better or worse, they turned it down. I don't remember what all their concerns were, but I do recall that one member of the committee thought it jumped around too much. When I planned the revision, after a great deal of hand-wringing, I decided to remove the chapter below (it was originally Chapter 5) since it was the jumpiest part of the book. As you read, you'll notice a lot of discrepancies between this and the finished product. That is because a lot of other things (large and small) were changed as well. You'll also notice some spots that got preserved in new locations. Since this chapter was one of my favorites (and a favorite among my critique pals) I'm posting it here. I hope you find it interesting.
Morning Bell. Mr. William Timothy pedalled his bicycle up the path to the Stoney Batter chapel. A month had passed since opening day, and the dawning campus was a riot of October smells: moist earth, burning leaves, ripening pumpkins, gathering clouds. Timothy was a quiet man who did not like people. Their company made him nervous. He preferred music and solitude. And he loved this time of year. He parked his bike by a juniper hedge, opened a heavy wooden door that creaked on iron hinges, and mounted the steps to the chapel steeple. He found a small bench with a cracked leather cushion and put on a pair of matching leather mitts. Before him waited a panel of wooden pegs, each connected to the bellhouse above by a system of wires and pulleys. He poised his hands, muttered a few words, and played the school carillon, which was his only friend. Across the campus, boys and masters were stirred from their beds. Another Stoney Batter day had begun.
Morning Prayer. Miss Aubergine Dubois (Miz Jeanie to her friends, Miz Dubois to everyone else) watched the boys shumble across the campus toward the chapel. As she was not a Christian, she did not attend—and wouldn't have been welcome if she did: for Miz Jeanie, the Stoney Batter laundress, was a Jamaican transplant with skin as black as the eggplant for which she was named. And that was fine for her. She had her own brand of mysticism. She had the power to read entrails, turtle bellies, and even spilled coffee grounds for signs of the future. And what she had divined from this morning's cup was that trouble was brewing. And that wasn't all. Miz Jeanie had stepped away from the washers for a quick smoke at dawn, and when she returned, she was missing a canvas bodied cart filled with bedlinens. Yes sir, she thought, as she wiped the steam off the window of her laundry cottage and watched the boys shumble to prayer. When a whole cart of bedlinens just up and vanished, you knew there were strange times to come.
Breakfast. Traylor Davenport sat at his usual table with his usual cronies and took no pleasure at all in his own greatness. His team had lost its last three games, and the fans were blaming him—not to his face, but he knew all the same. Brian Kildare kept smirking at him. Worse, his girl had gone cold on him. Everyone knew that Laura was the best damned girl at the Hood School, and that he was the most eligible boy at Stoney Batter. It was only right they should be a couple. (They were not in fact engaged, as he had told the Dean Reverend.) What would the fellows think if they found out she wouldn't pet? Why—he'd be a laughing stock! Traylor picked up a spoon and started cracking away at his usual soft-boiled egg. (He would show Laura. He would run five touchdowns in Saturday's game and say they were all in her honor. Red Grange had nothing on him.) He knew something was wrong from the looks on the faces of his cronies. "What's going on, fellas?" It was Dave Burnett, the Stoney Batter quarterback, who spoke first. "Your egg," he said. Traylor stopped cracking and looked down, expecting to see the familiar white orb peaking out of its shell. In its place was a pop-eyed, feathery abortion. "It's a chicken!" he was barely able to whisper. "There's a dead chicken in my egg!"
Latin Class. Like the rest of the boys, Daphne was struggling with verb conjugations, and Mr. Montague (it rhymed with "plague") was not happy. "You damned fool!" he shouted at a boy three rows over. "You blathering snit! You despicable toad! You pimpled swagbelly!" The boy was sobbing, but Daphne was past caring. In Mr. Plague's class, it was strictly survival of the fittest. Not that Latin was good for anything. You couldn't say anything real with it. All you were allowed to say were things like, "The soldiers came over the hill with their animals." Or, "The boy sailed to Carthage." (Where the hell was Carthage, anyway?) Daphne wet his lips as Mr. Plague approached his desk. He cleared his throat. He began to speak, and it was almost as if he were watching himself on the screen of some bizarre cinema: "Timere," he began. "Timeo. Times. Timet. Timemus. Timetis. Timent." He closed his eyes and waited for the barrage of saliva as Mr. Plague cursed him for his errors. The barrage never came. He opened his eyes. Mr. Plague was already moving on to his next victim. Incredibly, Daphne had gotten his conjugations right.
The Academy Building. The Dean Reverend picked up a candlestick telephone and jiggled the switchhook. "Operator? This is the Dean Reverend. Get me the infirmary. Yes, I'll wait. Hello, Korngold? Of course, it's me. You know damned well I haven't. What do you mean, 'wait'? It's been more than a week, I tell you, and I'm sick to death of waiting. Why shouldn't I take more medicine? Obviously I haven't taken enough. A suspicious man would think your potions were only making matters worse. You're damned right I want an examination. That will be fine. Good bye." He dropped the receiver onto its hook and took a bottle of gray liquid from his desk drawer. "Damned potions," he muttered, and unscrewed the cap.
Physics Class. Mr. Woodknight was discussing gravity and inertia and all the fine points of Newtonian mechanics. On the counter in front of him stood a kind of scientific billiard table crafted of rosewood and brass. Roger Lestrange listened with rapt attention. Here, he thought, was a key to his puzzle. Planets and molecules were essentially billiard balls. All you had to do was send one ball crashing into the rest, measure the angles and masses, and a man with sharp enough instruments could predict exactly where all the other balls would bounce off to, exactly how fast, and so on, to infinity. One ball determined the future of all the others. A little to the right, and the future would be completely different. Now apply that principle to the molecules in your body. There was just no stopping them. Their motions were all the consequence of prior collisions, which were themselves the consequence of prior collisions, on and on backward through the course of history, till that first primordial atom leapt from the hand of God, crashed into the rest, and sent the entire universe spinning on its way. Roger blinked. He scratched his nose. Free will was an illusion! A man with the right tools and a large supply of paper could have predicted that very same blink, that particular scratch, centuries before Roger had been born. There had been no choice about it. And where there was no choice, there was no responsibility. And Roger was a homosexual through no fault of his own. It should have been a comforting thought.
Noon Prayer. While the boys and their masters were cowering in the chapel, listening to the Dean Reverend drone on and on, Miz Jeanie was having a fit. The pilot flames on her dryers kept blowing out. One minute the old clankety boys would be grumbling and chumbling, around and around, and the next thing she knew, one of them would be rocking to a standstill and hissing out poisonous gas. So here was Miz Jeanie, poking inside the entrails of a dryer, squinting through the spider webs, trying to strike matches, and the balmy draft kept whooshing them out. At long last, she got one to catch, relit the pilot, and scootched her sorry butt back into the room. That was when she realized her error. The old sewing machine was missing. Gone without a trace from its home in the corner of the laundry. How? Why? Miz Jeanie shook her head. It wouldn't do to question the motives of the spirit world, and this had definitely been the work of goblins and haunts. Miz Jeanie fetched a muslin pouch of herbs from her ample bosom, and started a little fire in an empty sardine tin. The smoldering rosemary was a tonic for her nerves. At least, she reflected, the goblins hadn't up and stolen the electric sewing machine, which was the only one she ever used anymore. On the other hand, there was no telling what they'd want next.
Lunch. "Amen." The Dean Reverend concluded the noon prayer, and two hundred boys went skittering out of chapel to the tune of Mr. Timothy's bells. Daphne was with them, yet not really among them. He was more like an anthropologist watching a tribe, but secretly longing to be one of them. He envied the way they loafed down the hillside, kicking through the golden fringe of fallen leaves, trading their jokes and jabs in the shoulder. Even if he imitated them, what would be the point? Their nonchalance would fit him as well as an elephant skin. Look at him now: his shoe was untied. If he bent over to fix it, he'd look like a goopher. If he ignored it, he'd fall on his face—and look like a goopher. What he did was stop walking and stare at the sky, as if a remarkably interesting cloud had caught his attention. No doubt he looked like a goopher. He wondered what it would be like to have a button in his pocket that would kill him, instantly and painlessly. He would press it without hesitation. Alas, there were no such buttons. He tied his shoe and moved on to the dining hall. He had survived another morning, and his reward, lunch, was only moments away. One sniff of the sour fumes that wafted through the foyer told him all he needed to know. Today's lunch would be turnip soup and crusts of week-old bread. Daphne hated turnip soup.
Literature Class. Mr. Walt Moffett could not recall a time when he had felt so awkward. Here he was, thirty years old, twice degreed in literature, standing before the class in his academic robe, yet thoroughly outwitted by a boy half his age. He fumbled for a book on a rickety shelf by his chalkboard. "All right," he said, "Try this one: 'Yet once more, O ye laurels—'" Naturally, MacInnes cut him off: "'—and once more / Ye myrtles brown . . .' It's Milton, of course. I told you to give me a hard one!" Walt closed the book and massaged his temples. What could he do for a boy like this? Certainly not teach him anything. Quite the opposite, in fact. Not only could MacInnes recognize every poem ever written in English (on either side of the ocean), but he could place it in historical context and throw in a biography of the poet for good measure. He was either a genius or a devil. More likely both. "Mind if I try?" MacInnes said cheerfully. Walt shrugged. MacInnes began to speak:
I have tasted the apple, and suckled the fruit,
And chewed the raw grain, and drunk the rose hips.
Yet still none compare, not the corn, nor the root,
To the sweet, dawning dew of your lips.
Every boy in the class looked at Walt. He knew the answer, didn't he? As their master, he was expected to know everything. (He did not, of course, and had lived in terror of a day such as this.) At first, he thought he had it. The fruit made him think of Campion or Herrick. But the earthiness of the grain and the roots—no, it must be Romantic. Not Wordsworth, though. More likely Keats. Yes, that was it: the robust Keats of the later Odes. But Walt had done his thesis on Keats, and he could not for the life of him remember this poem. "I give up," he said finally. "Who is it?" MacInnes's face reddened. "It's mine," he murmured. The other boys laughed. The idea that one of their comrades should write poetry no doubt struck them as hilarious. "Oh, shut up!" Walt told them, and much to his surprise, they did. "That was very good," he told MacInnes. "Have you ever been published?" MacInnes had not. "I know," Walt said. "You could start your own magazine." MacInnes's eyes caught fire. "That's an extraordinary idea!" he said, and Walt wondered if he'd done something for MacInnes after all.
The Academy Building. Roger Lestrange sat in the Dean Reverend's outer office, transcribing attendance records into a massive ledger. The masters, he'd decided, were a disorganized bunch. Barely half were able to get their paperwork in by the weekly deadline, and the rest came trickling in over the next several days. Mr. Woodknight was always first, of course, and Hamilton Smythe dead last. In fact, judging from the cracked, yellow edges of the papers he handed in, Roger suspected that Hamilton-Smythe was only now catching up to records that were ten years old. "Operator?" The Dean Reverend was on the phone again. Second time in an hour. Roger drowned his pen in its well and cocked an ear toward the inner office. "Yes, I would like the infirmary again! Hello, Korngold? How am I supposed to 'relax' when I feel as if I'm about to explode? Of course, I haven't taken more of your potion. Emergency? Tonsillitis? It's not contagious, is it? Oh. Well—under the circumstances. After vespers? I suppose it will have to do. Goodbye." Roger lifted his pen and resumed his Bob Cratchit impersonation. The Dean Reverend's shadow filled the door between the offices. "Can't you write any faster, boy?"
Afternoon Sports. Daphne skulked through the trees that bordered the north end of the gridiron. He caught his sweater on a branch, and wasted a moment tucking it back inside his knickers. (He was the only boy at Stoney Batter who still wore the childish pants. His grandmother, who purchased his clothes, was unable to accept the fact that he was no longer twelve. Even worse, she insisted on buying his knickers with "room to grow," and the only way he could keep them from falling down was to tuck his bulky sweaters inside the waistband. He looked like a cartoon.) An abrupt cry rang over the muddy field: "Heads up!" Daphne heeded the warning in a panic. A wild football was tumbling through the sky directly for him. A cosmic mistake. What should he do? Catch it, obviously. He waddled backward. Then forward. A little to the left. Where was it? He'd lost it in the sun. The wind was cold on his face. There it was! He maneuvered to the right. It was going to happen. He was actually going to catch this ball. It would be a moment of triumph that he could treasure for the rest of his life. The ball hit him in the chest. The next thing he knew, he lay gasping in the dirt beneath a pine tree. Traylor Davenport was standing over him like a leather-helmeted saint. He thrust down a muscular hand. Daphne reached up to meet it—and grabbed a fistful of air. Traylor had only wanted his football, which had come to rest by Daphne's head. "Nice going, you little fart." And then his hero was gone. Daphne turned his face to one side and wondered where his life had gone wrong.
Evening Prayer. Miz Jeanie's laundry was a nightmare. The lights were dimmed, and as the sun set over the campus, the pilot flames of her dryers and boilers filled the cottage with a bluish glow that gave life to every shadow. A pentagram lay on the floor in a paste of lye and beef fat. Dead roosters hung by their feet over every window, door, and chink in the plaster through which a haunt might pass. Miz Jeanie squatted in the corner, fingering a strand of sea-critter beads and humming the doxology, which was the only form of Christian worship she knew. This whole day, she figured, was a warning to renounce her ways and embrace Jesus once and for all. "Praise God," she sang, "from Whom all blessings flow. . . ." Her prayers went unanswered. A banging started outside. The haunts had come again, and this time they'd come for her! "Get away, you haunts!" she cried. "I am with Jesus the Lord!" The haunts did not listen—just kept banging and creaking. Miz Jeanie's eyes followed the sounds and saw that once again she had made a mistake. In her hurry to seal off the cottage, she had overlooked the exhaust fan, and the haunts had found her weakness. One by one, they unbolted the four metal struts that secured the blade to its housing. When the last strut broke free, the blade fell away into the darkness, leaving a hole through which any three haunts could fly. "Spare me, Jesus," she cried, "and I shall sin no more!" Miz Jeanie shut her eyes and waited for the icy fingers of death. And waited. And waited. After a while, she grew sleepy. She opened one eye. That wasn't so bad. She opened the other eye. Her shack was empty. The hole still gaped wide, but there were no haunts to be found. Her prayers had finally taken hold.
Dinner. Walt Moffett sat at the head of his table. The boys for whom he was responsible stared back at him. Where was dinner? What was dinner? The life of a schoolmaster was impossible. There was all that teaching, for one thing. He was also expected to proctor dinners and study hours, chaperone dances, advise clubs, coach sports, and make himself available for whatever exigencies might arise. And what did he receive in return? Free room and board—and barely enough cash to keep him stocked in bathtub gin (which he would not need in the first place if the job did not make him so depressed). He was overdrawn at the bank, his wife had run out on him, and he was in danger of becoming a drunkard. Was it too much to ask that dinner be served on time? Ah hah. There it was. The first of the white-coated scholarship boys had left the kitchen with a steaming tray of food. Walt thrilled with anticipation. His mouth began to water. His tastebuds stood on the tips of their toes. And here was his own whitecoat, rounding the Dean Reverend's table and speeding down the aisle. Dinner at last! What would it be? Ham steaks with parsley potatoes? Pot roast with carrots and yams? No. Liver and onions and overcooked cabbage. For the third night this week. Walt looked at the platter and thought he might cry. A man could starve to death at Stoney Batter.
Study Hour. Mr. Jeremy Hamilton-Smythe wrung out his washcloth and replenished it with warm soothing water. At least, he hoped it was soothing. Elizabeth wasn't talking much these days. (In fact, she had not said a word in more than a year, but he had elected not to keep track of such things.) He drew the wet cloth across her face, lingering a bit on the surgical scar that lay just above her brow. It was faded now, but the damage endured, day after day. He walked the washbasin into the kitchen. Spent a few tender moments easing Elizabeth into her nightclothes. And gingerly carried her to bed. "Goodnight, Elizabeth," he said. She closed her eyes and fell into a sleep that would last until noon. It was just eight-thirty now. Time for his rounds. He enjoyed Hastings House most at this time of night. The dormitory was filled with the ferocious quiet of study. He patrolled the halls on his blackthorn cane and felt energized by the youth of his boys. (He and Elizabeth had never had their own children, and he always referred to his boys in the possessive.) The stairwell took longer every day, but by the time he reached the top, he felt like a young man of sixty. (In fact, he was seventy-five.) He sat on the window sill at the end of the third floor and listened to his breath and the pounding of his heart. He spent an hour there—and only gradually noticed a pattern. Boys were pouring in and out of Howard Entwistle's room. A boy would knock, be received, tarry a while, then leave the way he'd come. A few minutes later, another boy would do the same. And the cycle would repeat. It made him wonder. Entwistle was a very fat boy with horrible pimples. As a freshman he'd been tragically unpopular. Yet from the look of things, he'd managed to put it all behind him. Mr. Hamilton-Smythe was happy. Some wounds, it seemed, could be healed by time.
The Laundry Cottage. Miz Jeanie collected her thoughts. Something was bugging her. What if these haunts of hers hadn't really been haunts at all? She found a shaft of wood that she used to mix up vats of dye (she'd have preferred her trusty shotgun, but this would do in a pinch) and walked around the back of her shack. Just as she'd expected! The blade of her fan had not just been removed—it had been carted away. Stolen! Just like the other items. And there was more: footprints in the dirt and the end of a cigarette. Some rascally boy had stood in this very spot and watched her make a fool of herself. If that didn't just beat all!
Vespers. Boys and masters had gathered in the chapel for the close of day. The shadow of a crucifix rippled over the Dean Reverend's cheeks and drew attention to his pallor as he uttered the prayer: "Heavenly Father . . ." He paused while his entire body convulsed. "In these times of moral chaos . . ." Those boys sitting up front would say later that his face literally turned green. "We ask that You . . . excuse me." Heads turned around in confusion as he ran down the steps, crossed the transept, and found the lavatory door. Several minutes passed in awkward silence, now and then broken by muffled reports of the Dean Reverend's excretory distress. No one laughed. Eventually, Mr. Woodknight stood up and said, "Well . . . um . . . amen." Mr. Timothy climbed up to his carillon and jangled the parishioners home. When he was through, and he had removed his leather mitts and turned off the lights, he went outside and spent several minutes looking for his bicycle before concluding he had neglected to bring it. He walked home through the October night.
Lights Out. One by one, the dormitory windows went from yellow to black, the illegal radio sets each went silent—even the Mah Jong fanatics gave up the ghost. Another Stoney Batter day had drawn to an end. Lestrange and MacInnes lay smoking in their bunks. "What the devil are you going to do with all that junk?" MacInnes asked. "You'll see," Roger said.
Darkness. MacInnes ran through the infinite forest. Shadows oozed from the gaps between the trees, as if the landscape were melted. In the distance, a glimpse of petticoat burning in the moonlight. He'd found her at last. He chased her over roots, through tangled vegetation that stunk of canker and worm. What was her name? Why did she haunt him, night after night? Why did she call him, this goddess of the hunt, this faery, this nymph? "I love you." Words without words, like smoke in the wind. Who was this shadow woman? Why did she hide? MacInnes kept searching. He knew he would catch up to her eventually.