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Fortune Turns the Wheel:

Danny Carnahan:

Chapter 2


     Rose Sweeney thought she’d died and gone to heaven. The late morning light coming through the tall windows cast a yellow-gold glow about the wood-paneled reading room. And there against the wall were box after box and stack after stack of journals, bound manuscripts, sheafs of letters, clippings, books, and God only knew what else.

     Rose picked one box at random and spread its contents out across the large table. Most of the papers were written in Robert Graves’ own hand. Unknown papers. Unread notes. And scrawled at the top of more than one sheet she could read "The Roebuck in the Thicket." Graves’ first draft title for The White Goddess. This was it—the mythic Holy Grail for this lucky, young literature professor.

     She had completely forgotten she wasn’t alone in the room when Duncan Shaw reached over and added another set of books to her already tantalizing array.

     "It is a shame that Professor Dechter had to stop his work on this lot so suddenly. I did so enjoy working with him for the short time he was here. He seemed rather distressed to have to return to California after only a week of study. Still, I suppose one doesn’t say ‘no’ to the President in a cavalier fashion."

     "I’m afraid not," Rose agreed, her eyes still riveted on the handwritten journal open before her on the table. "But at the risk of sounding selfish, I couldn’t be happier that it worked out this way."

     What did the President know about—much less care about—literature, wondered Rose. A Federal Task Force on Humanities Education. Grand title, all right. But the grander the governmental posturing, the lower the funding. It was always the same.

     The dead giveaway this time was all the prep material they’d made Byron provide before the first meeting. Decades-old treatises and articles he’d written, like Roots of Biblical Mythic Iconography: Sumer to Solomon. As if anyone in government would ever read them. She could almost hear some doddering old senator on the Task Force demanding, "Are you now or have you ever been a secular humanist?"

     Byron shared her political misgivings, yet he’d gone anyway.

     Shaw sat down at the end of the table and riffled through a sheaf of loose notes. "Have you any idea how you want to begin all this?" he asked.

     "Well, not exactly. I’ve been over Byron’s notes on the few things he had time to look at, but I’m really more interested in finding out how much of Graves’ history was real history and how much he made up—starting with The White Goddess. I’m tired of having to punt on my students’ term papers when they can’t cross-document one way or the other. But even if I never teach another course in Mythic Literature, I just want to know for myself."

     Shaw fussed a little with an unruly stack of manuscripts. "Perhaps, then, the best way to start would be to cull out all the poetry from the prose. Then the novel notes from everything else, assuming one can make a clear distinction. Whatever’s left will be certain to keep you busy. And at least Dean Dechter broke the ice."

     "Sounds as plausible as any idea I’ve come up with," said Rose. "If I’m lucky I can get several hundred professors in both our countries mad as wet hens scrambling to rewrite their course outlines." Rose licked her lips and glanced at Shaw.

     He grunted unenthusiastically.

     "Well, I’m pretty excited anyway," she concluded, detecting a possible difference of opinion on the appropriate course of her research.

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