Friday, March 17

William lived in the attic room of his parents' house in town and visited his great uncle in the country, on Sundays.

Eccentric uncles can certainly prove their nephews lucky in more ways than dying rich and eccentric great uncles only more so. For instance, his favorite waistcoat (his only waistcoat, actually, which belonged to his only suit) was given to him by his great uncle Edmund Godfrey Vaughan. Said uncle also assumed that Daimler-Chryslers were still in production and that bowler hats were the height of fashion.

On his 15th birthday, Uncle Vaughan has presented his grand-nephew with a volume of poetry--ancients to the romantics--that William read religiously. On his 16th birthday, William's great uncle gave him a pocket watch, beautiful and antique but still in perfect working condition.

"How delightful," said Mr. Dufay, William's father. "Amazing that it still works. Ha ha! And we got you a wrist watch. Imagine that."

Mrs. Dufay smiled and did not ask to touch the timepiece.

His 17th birthday was spent in Italy on a school trip that William was loath to join, but miraculously on the third day of the misadventure a telegram was delivered to him at the breakfast table of his hotel and he was informed that arrangements had been made with the school and some old friends that William might stay in Venice and spend two days in the city with a man who would help him pick out a painting for Great Uncle Vaughan's smoking room (in which he never smoked, but drank port on Thursday evenings).

"Poor man probably wanted to go himself," said Mr. Dufay; "but he's old, now. I'm surprised he thought to ask you, Billy--he's got an attic full of antiques, you know."

The of evening of William's 18th birthday was spent quietly in Great Uncle Vaughan's smoking room with their respective glasses of port and special cigars. That night was the first night that William ever smoked a cigar and the last night for Vaughan; his old lungs were going out and he did not want to remember coughing over his last cigar. It was a strange sort of goodbye to William as he went away to college after his first year at home. William's 19th birthday was still spent at his great uncle's house, as he came by train to see his uncle. They walked the country lanes behind the house and talked about the world, then went inside for tea and crumpets. For William's 20th birthday, his uncle bought him a second fountain pen (his first was a gift for his 10th birthday).

"He wants to make you into a gentleman," said Mrs. Dufay to her son, smiling and thinking about the overstuffed leather armchairs she used to curl up in on days she was home sick from school.

"I don't know about your uncle. Has he always been this . . . completely off his rocker?" This from Mr. Dufay to his wife. She nodded. "He never lived in the roaring, jazzy twenties, though," said Mr. Dufay. It was a question--she shook her head, still smiling.

The 21st birthday was the oddest, William thought, in a series of birthdays, which always ended in farewells. Great Uncle Vaughan had William fitted for two three-piece suits, a tuxedo, and bought him shoes for each ensemble. The pocket watch fit nicely on the waistcoats, his fountain pen sat comfortably in his pocket, and one of a set of monogrammed handkerchieves was always in another pocket. A bowler hat, a top hat, an old fashioned tweed hat were all fitted exactly for him. Driving gloves, white gloves, and a pair for round the town. The crowning touch was a walking cane with a silver head--Vaughan could not find one anywhere and so gave William one that used to be his own.

"Will."

"Yes, Great Uncle Godfrey?"

"No--not 'Great Uncle Godfrey'. Now you are a man. What should you call me, now that you are a man?"

"I don't know." Will paused and blinked a moment, closing the slim volume of poetry on his index finger to keep his place.

"You will call me Edmund Godfrey, because that is my name." Vaughan caught his breath; he was very old. He cleared his throat after a moment, bringing William's attention from the fireplace to his lined and weary face.

William smiled--in fact, he grinned--at his great uncle. "I'm honored to meet you, Edmund Godfrey. I'm still William." They laughed softly for a few moments, until Edmund Godfrey began to cough. William brought him another glass of water.

"William. Will."

"Yes, Edmund Godfrey."

"I am very sick, and--"

"I know."

"Alright, then. That's over."

"I thought maybe I'd stay the season out, if I could manage to persuade my parents."

"Yes. I thought maybe you would stay for the opera."

"For the opera. Yes, I think--what is playing near here?"

"You should see Faust." He coughed. "Faust is playing."

"I would like to see it."

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