The Mephisto Club
They looked like the perfect family.
This was what the boy thought as he stood beside his father’s open grave, as he listened to the hired minister read platitudes from the Bible. Only a small group had gathered on that warm and buggy June day to mourn the passing of Montague Saul, no more than a dozen people, many of whom the boy had just met. For the past six months, he had been away at boarding school, and today he was seeing some of these people for the very first time. Most of them did not interest him in the least.
But his uncle’s family—they interested him very much. They were worth studying.
Dr. Peter Saul looked very much like his dead brother Montague, slender and cerebral in owlish glasses, brown hair thinning toward inevitable baldness. His wife, Amy, had a round, sweet face, and she kept darting anxious looks at her fifteen-year-old nephew, as though aching to wrap her arms around him and smother him with a hug. Their son, Teddy, was ten years old, all skinny arms and legs. A little clone of Peter Saul, right down to the same owlish glasses.
Finally, there was the daughter, Lily. Sixteen years old.
Tendrils of her hair had come loose from the ponytail and now clung to her face in the heat. She looked uncomfortable in her black dress, and she kept shifting coltishly back and forth, as though preparing to bolt. As though she’d rather be anywhere than in this cemetery, waving away buzzing insects.
They look so normal, so average,
the boy thought.
So different from me.
Then Lily’s gaze suddenly met his, and he felt a tremor of surprise. Of mutual recognition. In that instant, he could almost feel her gaze penetrating the darkest fissures of his brain, examining all the secret places that no one else had ever seen. That he’d never allowed them to see.
Disquieted, he looked away. Focused, instead, on the other people standing around the grave: His father’s housekeeper. The attorney. The two next-door neighbors. Mere acquaintances who were here out of a sense of propriety, not affection. They knew Montague Saul only as the quiet scholar who’d recently returned from Cyprus, who spent his days fussing over books and maps and little pieces of pottery. They did not really know the man. Just as they did not really know his son.
At last the service ended, and the gathering moved toward the boy, like an amoeba preparing to engulf him in sympathy, to tell him how sorry they were that he’d lost his father. And so soon after moving to the United States.
“At least you have family here to help you,” said the minister.
Family? Yes, I suppose these people are my family,
the boy thought, as little Teddy shyly approached, urged forward by his mother.
“You’re going to be my brother now,” said Teddy.
“Mom has your room all ready for you. It’s right next to mine.”
“But I’m staying here. In my father’s house.”
Bewildered, Teddy looked at his mother. “Isn’t he coming home with us?”
Amy Saul quickly said, “You really can’t live all by yourself, dear. You’re only fifteen. Maybe you’ll like it so much in Purity, you’ll want to stay with us.”
“My school’s in Connecticut.”
“Yes, but the school year’s over now. In September, if you want to return to your boarding school, of course you can. But for the summer, you’ll come home with us.”
“I won’t be alone here. My mother will come for me.”
There was a long silence. Amy and Peter looked at each other, and the boy could guess what they were thinking.
His mother abandoned him ages ago.
coming for me,” he insisted.
Uncle Peter said, gently, “We’ll talk about it later, son.”
In the night, the boy laid awake in his bed, in his father’s town house, listening to the voices of his aunt and uncle murmuring downstairs in the study. The same study where Montague Saul had labored these past months to translate his fragile little scraps of papyrus. The same study where, five days ago, he’d had a stroke and collapsed at his desk. Those people should not be in there, among his father’s precious things. They were invaders in his house.
“He’s still just a boy, Peter. He needs a family.”
“We can’t exactly drag him back to Purity if he doesn’t want to come with us.”
“When you’re only fifteen, you have no choice in the matter. Adults have to make the decisions.”
The boy rose from bed and slipped out of his room. He crept
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