zender had always been vaguely aware that his colleagues in the modern history department regarded him as a pompous ass.
he had never let this bother him.
he was also aware that his field of study - anticipatory history, which he had done so much to promote and make respectable, but which was now widely considered to be totally discredited as a result of the recent worldwide upheavals - was no longer one calculated to win him fame, or a position beyond the one he now held as department chairman.
if, indeed, he could hold on to his position as department chairman.
he wondered what had happened to schon, his most determined adversary within the department, and if schon would be back.
no doubt schon, if he returned - had zender seen him at all on the few occasions he had visited the offices during the hostilities? - would have some cutting remarks about "anticipatory history", but would he actively mount a campaign against zender?
schon's specialty was the minute chronicling of the births and marriages of the prussian and bavarian aristocracies since the formation of the second empire, and he passionately believed - and defended the belief - that "history is documentation". he invariably concluded his briefs by striking the table and exclaiming - "no more and no less."
zender suddenly realized - why had he not realized it before? - no doubt because he had not thought about it - that he did not care if schon mounted a new offensive against him - might in fact, welcome it, if it did not involve any serious financial consequences.
financial consequences! why had he allowed such a poisonous thought to seep into his curiously and pleasantly lassitudinous brain?
for is there not always a strange - though often unacknowledged - for various reasons of courtesy and propriety - exaltation at finding one in a new situation - or leaving an old one behind forever?
is there not a universal music in looking back and seeing something - no matter how previously cherished - grow smaller and smaller and finally disappearing on a receding horizon?
but now the music, pleasant enough as it had been, stopped.
and there was no recalling it. it was over.
but the poison spread.
zender sighed. maybe morgenstern knew something . he usually did.
morgenstern was still at his desk, looking at a two-page newspaper - perhaps a different one? - when zender approached him again.
zender got straight to the point. "has schon come back around?"
morgenstern's almost unchanging expression was one of polite skepticism. now it sharpened a bit. "schon? what would you have with schon?"
zender flushed slightly. after all this time - and after hardly setting eyes on him for four years - morgenstern still had the ability to irritate him. "i should have said, have schon or any or the others come back around?"
"but especially schon, eh?"
"i am still head of the department - so far as i know. until i am informed otherwise. i was wondering if there was much of a department left to be head of."
"you mean much of a department left for schon to aspire to be head of."
zender was the least violent of men but he felt that if he had a stick in his hand he would have hit morgenstern with it.
"be that as it may," zender replied evenly. "have you, or anybody else, in fact seen schon?"
morgenstern laughed. "you have been out of touch. schon is widely believed to be dead."
"well, you know how it is these days. no one brought his body into the department in a carpet and rolled it on to the floor. but it seems to be accepted that we will not see him again."
"accepted by whom?"
"by the count, among others."
"you have not seen the count, i take it," morgenstern asked.
"no, i don't think i have seen him - i don't think i have seen him since the war began."
"ah. he popped in, made the rounds about two weeks ago."
"yes, i believe you mentioned that he seemed unchanged. did he have any particular message to impart?"
"he told us to carry on."
"of course." zender hesitated. "i don't suppose, then, we shall see him again any time soon."
"unless something extraordinary were to happen."
"extraordinary! " morgenstern pretended to return to his paper. "what extraordinary thing could happen? especially after all that has already happened - and not happened."
"look here, morgenstern, can we speak frankly for once? we know that things have changed, and will never be the same again."
"why," cried morgenstern, "have we not been speaking frankly? things will never be the same again - what a thought!" he tapped the paper he had been reading. "but do you know, i have been reading the exact same sentiment in this most worthy publication." he held it out for zender's inspection.
it was , as previously noted, only two pages, and of the cheapest paper.
"the new torch of light," zender read the masthead. "to distinguish it from the old torch of darkness, no doubt. why do you read such rubbish?"
"why?" morgenstern pulled the paper back . "because my field is contemporary - not anticipatory - history - ha ha! as you, as department head, no doubt recall even after the world has been so totally changed.
"yes, of course."
"permit me to read this. it is signed by a fraulein grunbaum, whom i envision as a long legged amazon of about eighteen years, though she may be old enough to be our grandmother - ' this the time, not to try the so-called soul of mankind, but to abandon the idea of civilization itself, which has exposed itself as a total sham. the mask of civilization has been torn off and tossed into the street - -and the street itself has turned to water and washed it away. nothing indeed will ever be the same -' . there you go, your very words. eloquent stuff, eh? shall i go on?"
"please do not. i am sure you and fraulein grunbaum could have a most interesting correspondence on the subject of the future of civilization. i have a more pressing question. if you know the answer, i would appreciate your sharing it."
"and that is?" morgenstern made no effort to mitigate his smirk.
"are we to be paid? and if so, in what? and by whom?"
"ah. ah. that is indeed a question." morgenstern was no longer smiling, and shifted in his seat so that he was no longer directly facing zender. "you had to ask."
"i take it, then, that you know no more than i do."
"i know that there is still food and drink - coffee, at any rate - here in the building. as i told you, the worthy fraulein mommsen is at your service. "
"have you been in the shops lately, and attempted to purchase anything?"
"no, but i have heard travelers' tales. no doubt the same ones you have, since you are asking me." morgenstern seemed to have recovered some of his earlier aplomb. he folded his paper neatly and placed it on his desk.
"and are we to stay in the buiding forever," zender went on, " like shipwrecked sailors, until the fraulein's stores of plenty are exhausted?"
"i suppose the count may know something. if anyone does. if you care to approach him."
zender fell silent.
"after all, " said morgenstern. "you are head of the department."