Q: Are you aware that Cyril Wilcox is now dead?
Because it was spring and because it was New England, it had rained and they all wore slickers. The dark rubbery material, calf-length and unyielding, covered their three-piece black suits. Black felt dress hats concealed their hair. The pastor, Protestant, to be sure, and most likely of the Congregational breed, called on them. Eight of them, most of them young men, college types. It was time.
They went to the coffin, cherry, and took their positions. Kenneth and Keith were on one side with the father and brother. Four more friends lined the other side: Ernest, Eddie, Gene, and Joe. The eight pallbearers straightened their jackets, and drops of water fell down their arms, hitting that bare spot between sleeve and glove. They bent down and hoisted the casket. They moved to the open grave. They lowered him in.
One of them, so hard to tell which one in the rain, pulled the H flag out of his pocket. He unfolded it. The rain speckled the material in light polka dots. He’d removed it from his dormitory wall, the crimson H, the Harvard H, to bury with his friend. They were mostly sophomores, except Gene, who was a fifth year, a dentistry student. They all had Hs on their walls.
The six young men—only six now, though for so long they were seven—meant to depart right after the funeral. They would catch the train from the station in Fall River back to Cambridge. It was Monday, the seventeenth of May. They were just starting final examinations. They needed to study. They needed each other. They yearned for the couches and fireplaces of their sitting rooms where they could be alone—alone, as in together—and figure this out. Maybe some coffee first. Something to unglaze their eyes.
But they were not to be left alone.
Q: Did you suspect that Cyril or any of the others were abnormal?
The pallbearers took turns with the shovels. They lifted the heavy mud and let it slop off the spades into the hole below. The pastor said a blessing. They flattened the dirt into a clean, compact mound. The funeral-goers began to disperse, slowly. It would be impertinent to leave in haste, gossiped about. Gossip does not die so young.
The father, a Mr. George Wilcox, of Wilcox Pharmacy, surely the most reputable establishment of its type in town, turned from his family. He headed towards the group of young men. The brother, Lester, started to follow. Five years older than Cyril, he had a temper, had been called Lester Fester as a child. Mr. Wilcox shooed him back to stay with his mother. She was draped in wet black lace, too puritanical to cry. Lester did not look at his mother. He did not move to comfort her. Through seething eyes, the same gray-green ones that had graced Cyril’s charming face, he watched his father approach the boys. Lester knew things, things he did not want his father to know.
Mr. Wilcox reached out his hand to the six young men. Boys, we do appreciate your coming today. Firm shakes and nods for each. He cleared his throat. Kenneth, Keith, Ernest—may I have a word?
The other three backed away, confused. Gene, Joe, and Eddie would wait under a tree and wonder what the others were talking about.
Boys, I know you were close to my son. Kenneth, as his roommate, Keith and Ernest, as his closest friends. He spoke of you three highly. Frequently, too. Mr. Wilcox almost smiled, remembering one thing, but stopped and frowned, remembering another.
I’m sure you’ve read by now what was written in the Daily Globe, Mr. Wilcox continued. About Cyril, that is, about the gas, his room, the towels stuffed . . . He didn’t finish, his cheeks were damp with mist or rain or rheum or, heaven forbid, tears. He pulled at the sleeves of his slicker, first the right, then the left. He lowered his voice, How do I say this? It’s about Cyril’s character, his— What I mean to say is, did any of you feel that he was, queer, in any way?
Q: Have you had sexual relations with women?
Kenneth Day, Perkins Room 26, Roommate of the Deceased, Government Concentration:
Yes, but not since last summer. Sports keep me quite busy here on campus.
Keith Smerage, Perkins Room 24, English Concentration:
No, though I did date a woman two years back. We met as members of a summer theater group.
Eddie Say, Perkins Room 24, Economics Concentration:
Yes, yes, of course. The ladies and I are inseparable. As I’m sure you’ve surmised, they find this hump on my back most attractive.
Gene Cummings, 165 Mount Auburn Street, Fifth Year in Dental School:
Sir? No, I, uh, never, sir.
Joe Lumbard, Stoughton Room 31, History and Pre-Law Concentration:
No, but I have kissed a girl. And, sir, to be clear, I fancy ladies, not chaps.
Ernest Roberts, Perkins Room 28, Son of US Representative Ernest W. Roberts, Undeclared Concentration:
I might ask you the same question.
Q: Do you know Harry Dreyfus? And have you been to Café Dreyfus?
The room was smoky and dimly lit, made dark in part by the rich cherry furniture and the Victorian satin wallpaper, maroon in color and stretching onto the ceiling. The place was filled with young men, attractive bohemian types, many decked in the latest fashions and sitting close to one another. The management welcomed a particular clientele, encouraged them even, and they flocked there accordingly.
A cluster of three tiny round café tables had been pushed together to fit the group. Harry, the manager and son of the owner, served them six coffees on the house.
We didn’t think you’d work today, Kenneth said to Harry, pushing a hand through his blond hair, a subconscious act that nonetheless drew attention. Kenneth was strikingly handsome with big blue eyes and a broad, athletic build. The girls from Radcliffe chased him. Other types chased him too, for that matter.
I couldn’t very well attend the funeral, Harry said to the group. There might’ve been questions. What excuse could I have given for being there?
Any, Ernest said. He did not accept answers he did not like. He was their ringleader, an affluent politician’s son. He did not understand other people’s obstacles.
You know quite well I’m several years older than Cyril, Harry defended. It was true; he was eight years their senior, though he had only five years on Gene. He had a receding hairline and a moustache. He had not gone to Harvard.
You could’ve said you’re a friend from the café, that’s true enough, Keith said, attempting a more peaceable tack than Ernest’s. While Keith was a member of the Dramatic Club, he did not have a dramatic nature. He sought honesty and tranquility whenever possible.
All of you! You’re always on me.
At this, Joe sank back in his chair. He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. He did not like being included in this argument. In fact, he could not remember ever having spoken one word directly to Harry, so why should he be targeted with the group? Joe loved his friends, even their queer eccentricities, but he was not like them.
Eddie, in contrast, tiny, crippled Eddie with his mousey hair and pointy nose, looked ready to fight. Eddie had spent eight years of his childhood in a body cast, and while it had not healed his spinal deformity, it had fortified in him a snarky quickness, a readiness to fight. That, and a love of fashion and makeup. Rouge, Eddie claimed, gave his cheeks that healthy glow they so desperately lacked.
In his high, sharp voice, Eddie snapped at Harry, You fool! Of course we’re on you. Scoundrels like you need looking after. Eddie paused then lowered his voice. I just cannot comprehend how you could do this to Cyril, when the two of you . . .
Cyril and I— Harry broke off. We— You do know it had been several months, I’m sure he told you.
Yes, we knew.
It had ended the last time they’d all gone to the speakeasy in the basement below them. After the Prohibition laws had taken effect just a few months prior, Harry’s father had wasted no time in establishing a juice joint in the basement of Café Dreyfus. They’d just moved the bottles of gin and whiskey from one level to another, then installed a secret door in the back of the men’s bathroom.
The boys had become bored with their own gathering in Ernest’s room, Perkins 28. There had been the problem of liquor, too. Dearies, Ernest had announced, I’m nearly out of giggle water. On y va! So they’d meandered, zozzled as some of them were, out of the dormitory and along the cold streets to the café. They’d gone through the men’s bathroom and down the stairs and into the jazzy dimness of the bar. Cyril had disappeared with Harry, as was his usual. The rest of them drank more hooch, except Gene, who switched to ginger ale, never the type to get drunk like the others. Ernest bought everyone else a round, then flirted shamelessly with Kenneth, trying to make headway with their stubborn friend. Eddie craned his crooked spine and guffawed at two uniformed sailors petting wildly in the corner, while Keith simply nodded in his affable way at every passerby. The handful of women in the joint—the flappers, town girls, and Cliffies from the women’s college—drew Joe’s attention, but timid as he was, he knew not how to approach them. The group danced and laughed and goaded each other into daring acts. They lived as college students think they should—as, invincibly, they think they can.
From the smoky shadows, Cyril emerged with wounded eyes, so unlike him, begging some of them to return to campus with him. They went, all of them, of course they did. Even Gene followed them out: Gene, who thought Harry and Cyril were too indiscreet, Gene, who erupted in shame at the wisps of his own thoughts.
Under the gas streetlamps, they traipsed through the snowy streets. They offered concerned looks to Cyril, but they did not speak. They would not rush him. Even Ernest and Eddie kept their traps shut. They reached the fringe of campus and could see Harvard Yard with its star-crossed pathways. The little graveled roads glowed like ghostly fingers under the moon. Cyril stopped walking and gazed down one of them. He spoke, quietly:
Harry is getting married. Her name is Evelyn.
Q: What is your opinion on homosexuality?
Evidence: Exhibit #1
Procured by: Lester Wilcox, brother of the deceased
May 10, 1920
I am a rag. I hadn’t heard from my new lover, that older man I met at Café Dreyfus, for three weeks (or at least it seemed that long) until last Saturday. But then I got a letter explaining all. The dear old thing is the same precious lover as ever and will come back to me. He was laying off and went for a motor trip up through the Catskills with some relatives. These same people promised to motor him to Boston. Then I get my innings.
Our mutual friend Keith has been engaged for a feature role in the new Greenwich Follies. He starts in rehearsals June 1. Aren’t my lovers flying high? When I visited the set of The Follies, I saw one of the actors, quite young and good looking, giving Keith the chase. But we all know Keith is already faithfully taken. What a devoted couple he and his beau are!
Gene is terrible lately, my dear, downright common and far too studious as he prepares for his dental examinations. Joe is as bad, so quiet and never having any queer fun since, as we well know, he’s not a fairy like the rest of us. Eddie stays the same, bitchy looking and acting, but not going to extremes, except his daily use of face rouge. I love the way I am panning the crowd, but dearie aren’t you kind of glad to be out of it?
I have no other news, as I am never here, but spend my time in Brookline with my fiancée, Helen. Her younger brother Bradlee is the sweetest most loveable thing, and so funny, always saying cute things in such a naïve way. I haven’t made Bradlee yet, but my dear, wait, when I do it will last for 2 days and 2 nights without taking it out. It’ll be better even than inning your roommate Kenny Boy. At the moment, Kenneth is being sucked foolish by anyone and everybody he can lay hold of. I almost regret bringing him out; however he still maintains his same Jane old self. I do him once in a while, for diversion.
Thursday afternoon, I am going out to Brookline again, and my cousin’s wife and Helen are going to fix me up in my drag and take pictures. They will be good probably, as we can take them in their yard and then I can get some good looking evening wraps, etc. More darn fun!
When I visit Helen in Brookline, it gives me the opportunity to be chaste, not chased, and I really am relieved. Between you and me, I think I have had my day, that is so far as getting next to every queer diz that comes along. Though when I am gone, our friends still have the same diz parties in my room.
I am cutting my first class and am not getting any more studying done than ever. I am in the same academic fix as you, though I am not, as you are, officially on academic probation yet. How is your family coming along? I should be down to see you if I can—on my way home, if not before. My parents are summoning me home as soon as possible to talk over my poor performance. I have them worried. However, even though my record warrants release, I am confident I can bamboozle the dean and board in my favor. They would never expel Congressman Roberts’s son.
My scrawl is so bad. However, you might be used to it now. I must go as time is flying.
Always your kindred soul,
Q: Why would Mr. Wilcox commit suicide do you suppose?
After, they gathered back on campus. It had seemed fitting, necessary even, to reunite in Kenneth and Cyril’s room, though it was just Kenneth’s room now. The boys sat in silence.
Ernest pulled a hip flask from his pocket. Gene tapped his fingers anxiously on his skinny legs. Joe took off his glasses and rested his head on the high-backed chair. Eddie cursed Harry Dreyfus under his breath, still appalled he had not attended the funeral. Kenneth contemplated the curtains: those long damask curtains, the gold tassels drawing them back, Cyril’s curtains.
And Keith, well, Keith thought longingly about when he would next see that certain swarthy friend outside the group. He hated himself for this seeming weakness and disloyalty. Cyril was as close to a best friend as he had ever known, his Dramatic Club buddy, his confidant, and Keith could not help feeling that Cyril should have been the only entity to possess his mind right then.
At last, one of them asked the question that had been on all of their minds for three days, since the telephone had rung in Perkins Hall’s first floor common room, since Mr. Wilcox had asked the student who answered to go fetch Kenneth in Room 26, since Kenneth had run around campus, still in his track uniform, and told the others.
He was so cheerful, never despondent, Keith said. It was a quality the two of them had shared.
I know, Sappy Happy Cyril, Ernest said between sips. I came up with that name, remember?
Yes, I would’ve suspected one of you chaps, more than Cyril, Eddie said.
A few of them smiled, someone chuckled. They appreciated the momentary buoyancy.
I can’t help thinking it was because of that goddamned Harry Dreyfus, Eddie continued. Cyril never could get over Harry. It was one of the only things that ever weighed on him.
But why now, so many months later? Kenneth asked. Cyril had been Kenneth’s roommate for almost two years. They had been placed together in Standish as freshmen and had applied to continue living together as sophomores. He was, it seemed, the most shocked of the group.
They tried to think of more recent events.
What about his academic probation? Maybe he was shamed by that? It was Gene who asked it. Gene, who so prized doing well on examinations, who, despite studying anxiously and obsessively, still did not score as well as some of the others.
Cyril? Ernest asked. Never. Ernest felt certain about it. The two of them had always taken a certain pride in their lack of studying.
They came up with new theories. They debated them, but with little heart. I don’t know, I’m not convinced, I just can’t comprehend it, they said. Goddamn, said one. Let’s stop talking about this, said another.
But Gene had more to say. He was from Fall River too, like Cyril.
It happened when he was at home, in his house, with that mother and brother. Gene looked at the others. Maybe something happened. Maybe his family found out—something?
Yes, perhaps, Joe said quietly. I mean, the way that brother looked at us at the funeral, it made me rather uneasy.
Maybe, Kenneth agreed. I mean, surely it wouldn’t have happened here, here with us. Kenneth needed to believe that. He, he— Kenneth could not bear to say his roommate’s name aloud —well, he loved college.
Yes, he adored college, college and the damn curtains, or perhaps college because of the curtains, Keith laughed.
Gene did not find it funny. His family will not be pleased with the curtains, he argued, with any of it for that matter. When they come to collect his belongings, it will not go well.
Cyril had told them about his childhood. How Mrs. Wilcox had forbidden curtains in Cyril’s private den at home. Too feminine, she’d said. There’d been other orders: stop rearranging the furniture, Cyril. Stop taking theater classes, Cyril. Make your concentration chemistry, Cyril. Prepare to take over the family pharmacy, son. That will make you happy, dear. Please, dear.
Yet for all their demands, Cyril’s parents had rarely visited campus. Indeed, they had left Cyril quite alone. For the first time in his life, Cyril had been free to adorn his windows with gorgeous draperies, to try out for the Dramatic Club, to let his chemistry grades slip precariously in favor of the activities he loved best: theater, letter writing, attending social gatherings, decorating, exploring Boston, debating Freud and Ellis with his friends. In a first-year English course he’d taken with Keith, he’d stumbled across some words that struck the truth of his soul, a line from Robert Frost, also a Harvard man. He had scribbled them in everyone’s freshman yearbooks, penned them in myriad letters, and quoted them aloud ceaselessly for almost two years until the others mocked him for his lack of originality.
College is a refuge from hasty judgment.
Gene was right. In just a few days’ time, the curtains would appall the Wilcoxes. So too would the fringe Cyril had sewn onto the lampshade. And the lavish blanket he had bought down at Copley on one of their escapades, the one with six voluptuous women. The figures were blurred and soft, of the impressionistic style, but they were nonetheless naked and feminine and scandalous.
Cyril’s belongings whispered eerily to the young men as they sat again in silence. They wanted the day to be over. They did not want the day to be over.
They began to leave Kenneth and Cyril’s room. First Gene. Then Joe. Then Keith and Eddie to their shared room just down the hall.
Ernest was the last to leave. He tarried in the entryway. He wished he could stay with Kenneth, rustle that angelic blond hair, spend the night in his darling’s bed. But those moments had long since ended. Ernest had lost control over Kenneth—somehow, he had lost control. It bewildered him. He felt regret, too, regret that he had initiated his friend into the pleasures of male company, for now Kenneth was experiencing the hands and mouths of every queen on campus.
With Ernest’s departure, Kenneth found himself alone. He paced around the room. He was supposed to be accustomed to aloneness. He was an only child, an orphan, the charge of his grandmother. He attended Harvard on a track and boxing scholarship. An independent young man. But in the silent and solitary room, Kenneth lost his confidence. He felt angry and alarmed that his friends had left. He could even have endured Ernest for the night, pushy and possessive Ernest, if it had meant avoiding feeling this ghost of loneliness. He feared it, hated it. He kicked the ashes in the fireplace. He lowered his head to the mantle. Wept.
Cyril, where are you? Come back, please come back.
Q: Have you ever had unnatural relations with men?
They say mourning can suck all desire from your soul, but that supposes that desire is of one kind. As the weekdays piled up, fast and hard as the rain, so did their desires: the desire to be reassured, the desire to ignore, the desire to increase one’s suffering, to comprehend it in its absolute.
Gene sought the dentistry lab. His fingers bled as he cut new dental molds.
Joe went home to Manhattan for a few days. He craved the quiet that inevitably and paradoxically came with the city’s chaos and movement.
Ernest telegrammed Paul. When that lover had to leave, Ernest moved on to James, Stanley, Hugh, then a freshman whom he had never met before. Everyone but Kenneth.
Kenneth spent hours in the gymnasium at a boxing bag. He could barely breathe through the thick sweat flowing down his face. In the shower, he leaned against the tiles, tense and desirous, and released himself under the hot spray of water. It was better that way. For once, he did not want someone else to do it.
Eddie tried on every outfit in his closet, but not one adequately disguised his hump. He put on makeup, pranced around the room, then collapsed in angry tears on the mounds of colorful clothes.
Keith sought Nathaniel Wollf. Nathaniel was not one of their group, but a senior, pre-medicine, just two weeks away from graduating and entering the medical school. Their relationship had grown in intensity that spring semester, that much was clear. But they weren’t sure what to call themselves. What could they call themselves? They were more than lovers, that they knew.
Keith knocked at the door. There was an embrace, concerned and comforting, a few words. Keith kissed Nathaniel’s ear, put his hand on the back of Nathaniel’s neck, soft and freshly barbered, and clung. Their mouths opened. Nathaniel pushed Keith against the wall. They bumped one of Nathaniel’s oil paintings, a hunting scene. But they did not care. It had been days.
Keith felt soothed by the urgency Nathaniel exuded, the control. It wrapped around him. He could finally collapse.
They moved to the bed.
Q: Would you describe it as penetration or mutual masturbation?
For the moment, the world felt right, alive again, for one of them at least.
Q: Have you ever read Havelock Ellis’s Sexual Inversion?
Q: Can you tell us the names of anyone else at Harvard you suspect of being sexually abnormal?
Eight days after the funeral, the rain stopped and the air acquired a muggy disposition. They were in Ernest’s sitting room in Perkins 28 and had all the windows open.
It’s Saturday, Ernest said. It sounded almost like a question. They all knew what he meant. Saturday had been their night for large social gatherings in room 28, their headquarters.
We’re in exams, Gene said. He had two weeks left of dentistry school. Then he’d graduate. He’d be a dentist, have a gentleman’s career.
And it, it feels different, Joe mumbled.
I know, I know, Ernest said. But, maybe we should still have one, in honor of Cyril?
There was a knock at the door. Ernest rose.
It was Harry Dreyfus, from the café. He had two dark purple bruises around his eyes and an amber-stained cut near his hairline that had been unmistakably cleaned with iodine. Though they could not see it, he also had a laceration behind his right ear where it connected to his skull. It had been jerked.
Good God, Ernest gasped. The others rose from the armchairs and daybed.
We need to talk, Harry said.
Please, please, take a seat. Ernest offered him the spot where he had been sitting on the velvet sofa. That was unlike him.
Harry couldn’t make eye contact with them. He was about to cry. I didn’t— I shouldn’t— but, he was crazy, I—
Harry was not making sense.
It’s okay, Keith coaxed, always the peacemaker. Just tell us what happened.
Harry bit his lip and closed his eyes. Wilcox.
The others glanced at each other. They weren’t following. They wondered who should speak next. Gene nodded. He would do it.
You mean Cyril? You’re upset about Cyril?
No, Harry said. He exhaled, but did not speak.
Then . . . ? Gene tried again.
His brother, Harry said. Lester.
Then the words spewed rapidly from Harry’s swollen lips: He came today, to my apartment on Beacon Hill, I don’t know how he knew where I lived, but he did, and he knew about me, about me and Cyril, and—
The tears started falling down Harry’s face, in spite of himself, and one little droplet landed on his moustache and stayed there.
He blackmailed me, and did, did this, Harry gestured to his face. And he made me give names . . . Harry trailed off, his voice skittish. I’m sorry, desperately so, I just . . . Well, I don’t know what he’s planning on doing with the names, I’m quite distraught, I came to tell you that you must be careful, all of you, he’s crazy, he’s on a hunt of some sort, and listen to me, he has evidence, Ernest, he has your letter to Cyril.
My letter to Cyril? But I wrote that before, before Cyril . . . then I, I posted it on the— Oh no. Goddamn, NO.
What is it? Tell us, Eddie snapped.
Q: Do you presently masturbate?
Kenneth: I have not masturbated for seven years, I swear by that.
Keith: Yes, but only very occasionally
Eddie: Yes, once a week, at the very least.
Gene: Masturbate? No, no, I assure you I gave up that abhorrent practice six months back.
Joe: No, I do not. A physician told me to save my virility for my future wife, so I broke myself of the habit and haven’t done it since.
Q: By how many people have you been “sucked foolish”?
I do not know of what you speak. Wherever you got that information, it is slander.
Q: When was your first homosexual experience?
I had this playmate when I was ten, a theater friend, and well, sir, there was some, touching, if that’s what you mean.
Q: Is it true you wear rouge and other feminine products?
I’m a cripple, sir, surely you must understand. I do not have the benefit of athletics. So you see, it is simply a matter of health.
Q: How do you account for the contradictions in your testimony?
Sir? I don’t believe there were any contradictions.
Oh, I said that? In yesterday’s testimony?
I was nervous, perhaps.
Q: You claim you are not a faggot. Would you describe these people you know as faggots?
They are my friends, sir. Perhaps they’ve strayed a bit from the path, but they are good people, sir, I assure you that.
Q: You seem rather comfortable with the terminology—“diz,” “queer,” “innings,” “queens”— how do you account for this?
The terminology is not that esoteric, sir. Every college student knows it.
Q: Did you return to your room alone?
The day after Harry’s visit, a young man, a serious type, patient and keen, hid in the shadows of second floor Perkins. He acted the part of a hunting dog, waiting for his prey to emerge from their holes, ready to deliver them to his master.
The proctor of Perkins Hall needed to compile a list. That’s what Greenough demanded. He needed to make right for a year’s worth of ignoring the queer happenings in Room 28, of not bringing those degrading matters to the attention of the deans. He had not cared before. He had needed to focus on his graduate studies. A proctor’s pay was hardly worth concerning oneself with the undergraduates.
He would do it now, though: name all who went in and out of Perkins 28. The deans needed to verify the names against their latest evidence.
Q: Did you attend Ernest Roberts’s parties? When in Roberts’s room, did you see anything queer?
Evidence: Exhibit #2
Procured by: Anonymous source, Class of 1921
Sent to the Office of the Dean
May 26, 1920
Prof. C.N. Greenough, Acting Dean
Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.
On May 14th last Cyril B. Wilcox committed suicide by inhaling gas at his home in Fall River, Mass. I believe I have some information about his friends on campus that will be of utmost importance to you.
While in his freshman year, Cyril met in college some boys, mostly members of his own class, who committed upon him and induced him to commit on them “Unnatural Acts” which habit so grew on him that, realizing he did not have strength of character enough to break away from it, concluded suicide the only course open to him.
The leader of these students, guilty of this deplorable practice and the one directly responsible for Wilcox’s suicide, is Ernest Weeks Roberts. Roberts’s rooms at Perkins 28 are where he and more of his type have, during the past college year, conducted “parties” that beggar definition. How in the world such parties “got by” the Proctor is quite beyond me. At these parties were sailors in uniform whom Roberts and friends of his type picked up in the streets of Boston and used for their dirty, immoral purposes. At these parties were notorious young Boston male degenerates. Many of them dressed in women’s clothes and appeared in the public hallways and entries of Perkins so dressed.
Other Harvard students guilty of these acts, and chums of Roberts, are Kenneth Day, Keith Smerage, Edward Say, Joe Lumbard, and Gene Cummings, who comes from Fall River also. At these “parties” held in the rooms of Roberts, the most disgusting and disgraceful and revolting acts of degeneracy and depravity took place openly in plain view of all present.
Isn’t it about time an end was put to this sort of thing in college? If you will look into the above, you will find the charges are based on facts.
Very truly yours,
Q: Do you know why you were summoned here today?
They met in secret, off campus, arriving separately. They feared they were being followed, watched. They waited for Gene to finish vomiting in the bathroom. Nerves. They showed each other their summons, handwritten notes on Harvard letterhead slipped under their dormitory doors in the middle of the night, not even delivered to their mailboxes.
One of them had to be first, the roommate:
I expect you, whatever your engagement may be, to appear at my office tomorrow, May 28th at 8:15am. If necessary, you are directed to cut a final examination in order to keep this appointment.
—C. N. Greenough
Ernest, the ringleader, the Congressman’s son, the group member most despised by the deans, was to be last, on the thirteenth of June, at a quarter to three. But the order would not matter.
Gene came back, clutching his stomach, appearing lankier than ever, and asking the question that had made him vomit in the first place: They won’t expel us, will they?
Never, said Ernest, nursing his hip flask. I’d make it public if they did.
Not all of us have your affluence and power, Eddie snapped. He stretched out his neck, trying to stand as straight as his spine would allow.
Eddie, think about it, Keith said gently, trying to calm his roommate. The College cannot, would not do that. In all seriousness, they don’t want the negative publicity, plus, there’s dozens more like us all over campus. Keith turned to Kenneth and continued, Think about all the students and track team members who have serviced you, Kenny Boy, and he smacked him on the back. That’s at least twenty right there, chap.
This is not the time to joke! cried Gene. We should’ve been more careful! He glared at them. I was the only one of us who ever really thought this was unacceptable. I should’ve restrained myself, we all should have!
I didn’t even do anything wrong! Joe exclaimed, tearing off his glasses and looking away.
Stop, everyone! Let us gain hold of ourselves, Ernest demanded. We do not know what they will ask. The best we can do is decide on our tactics, a unified front.
Honesty, said Keith, ever the optimist. My friend Nathaniel told me boys were caught at his boarding school, Exeter, all the time, and it was never more than a chastisement, some loss of privileges, the like. They’ll reward honesty, and we’ll be temporarily suspended, at worst.
Like hell, Eddie said.
I think we should deny it, all of it, Kenneth said. I’m going to lie. I’m absolutely going to lie.
Ernest wondered whether he could call the College’s bluff.
They could not agree.
When their hours came, they crossed the Yard alone, yet hardly as individuals. In their best clothes, silk ties and pressed suits, they trudged through the soggy spring mud. They knocked on the oversized door. They entered the office, felt shrouded by the confined space. They saw that the windows were closed, all the curtains drawn. Their eyes adjusted to the dim light cast from a small desk lamp on a long rectangular table. It was the only lamp illuminated in the whole room. It had a green glass shade. They squinted to make out the five men seated behind the table. They felt nauseous and sweaty and short of breath. They felt humiliated, baffled, irate. They wanted to shout, Open the goddamn curtains! They wanted to believe the College would not expel them, would not hunt them for years to come, but it did. They wanted to stay strong, but it was all more than they could endure, the men’s faces, the questions, the curtains, the goddamn curtains.
For hours and days they suffocated like this, like a dear friend of theirs had, until together they received their answer.