The house was abuzz with excitement on this Friday afternoon. Victoria scurried around putting the finishing touches on the table setting and reminding Silas of tasks to be done. Silas accepted the repeated reminders with his usual good-natured grace. “Yes ma’am, Mrs. Barkley, I’ve taken care of that, too.”
Victoria sighed. “So you told me the last time I asked you. Forgive me, Silas, but it’s just so rare that Eugene comes home anymore. And with his hopes of attending medical school back east after he graduates from Berkeley, every visit is an extra special occasion for me.”
Silas offered a brilliant smile. “I know just how you feel, Mrs. Barkley. I miss Mr. Eugene, too.”
“In here, Audra.”
Audra bounced into the room smiling. “I’ve got the guest room ready. Did Gene say much in his letter about the friend he’s bringing home?”
“No, dear. Only that his name is Richard Miller and he’s a senior at Berkeley as well. Eugene mentioned that they are taking several of the same classes.”
“I wonder if he’s a good dancer. There’s a social tomorrow night and it would be wonderful if Gene and Richard would go.”
“Invite them, of course, Audra, but don’t pressure them. Eugene said in his letter that they have final examinations starting Monday and although he’ll be home, most of their time will be spent studying this weekend.”
Audra’s disappointment was evident, but she managed a smile. “Well, it will be nice to have Gene home, even if the only time I get to spend with him is at the dinner table.”
Victoria smiled wistfully. “Yes, let’s just savor our moments together as a family. Jarrod is driving them to the house and I expect them home anytime now.”
There was no more time for reflection. As if on cue, the front door flew open and the sound of suitcases being dropped on the floor rang through the foyer.
“Mother! Audra! Where is everybody?”
“It’s Gene!” Audra squealed with delight and ran to greet her brother. Victoria followed close behind and paused to watch Audra throw herself into Eugene’s waiting arms.
“Eugene…” Victoria said teary-eyed. “Welcome home, son.”
“It’s good to be home, Ma.” Eugene whispered as he hugged her tightly. “Mother, Audra, I’d like for you to meet my friend Richard from Berkeley. I’d probably be flunking History right now if not for Richard.”
Richard stepped forward and extended his hand. “That’s not true, Mrs. Barkley, although I would definitely be flunking Biology if not for Eugene.” An easy-going, jovial smile spread across his pudgy, bespectacled face. “And we are both struggling in Mathematics! It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Barkley, Miss Audra.”
“Welcome to our home, Richard. Silas will see to the bags. Where is Jarrod, Eugene?”
“He’s having Ciego take care of the buggy, Mother.”
“Well then, shall we go into the Parlor?”
Audra noted the odd waddle in Richard’s gait and sighed. Perhaps it was just as well the boys would spend the weekend in the library studying. But Richard did have that strange Elmo Deifendorfer cuteness about him!
Victoria’s eyes sparkled with satisfaction at the sight of all her children gathered in the Billiard Room after dinner. Richard appeared bashful and a bit overwhelmed. He seemed to be particularly intimidated by Nick and could be seen to flinch visibly when caught off guard by Nick’s volume. But Eugene was obviously in his element basking in the attention of all his siblings.
“Well, Mother, it appears that my youngest brother will be following in my footsteps in pursuit of higher education at Harvard.” Jarrod raised his Scotch glass in toast to Eugene.
“I don’t intend to go anywhere close to the Law School! I only hope no one around the Medical School has ever heard of Jarrod Barkley and his amazing memory. It’s not everyone who can quote Law books verbatim! You left some mighty big shoes to fill back at Harvard. Richard, my brother Jarrod graduated summa cum laude and first in his class!”
“I’m very impressed, Mr. Barkley.” Richard’s eyes widened.
“Jarrod, please. No need to be so formal, Richard.”
“Oh, Mother! Won’t it be wonderful having a lawyer and a doctor in the family?” Audra enthused.
“Yes, dear. I am very proud and happy that you’ve settled on your true calling, Eugene. Medicine is a very noble profession.”
Heath nudged Nick. “Kind of balances out the two cowpokes, huh, Nick…” he whispered.
“Don’t start your ‘poor, simple cowpoke’ bit again, Heath.” Nick whispered back.
“Even a couple of underachievers can have a little fun.” Heath winked.
“Shut up, boy. I mean it!” Nick growled back as quietly as possible. “We run one of the biggest family enterprises on the west coast. I don’t call that underachieving.”
Heath only smiled and shrugged his shoulders. He had goaded Nick just enough and now he turned his attention back to what Eugene was saying.
“This is all still a bit premature… I mean, I have applied to Harvard, but I haven’t been accepted yet. They want to see my final semester grades before they make the decision.”
“But of course you’ll be accepted, Gene!”
“I don’t know, Audra. I don’t have near the academic record that Jarrod had at Berkeley. I don’t fool myself. I am nowhere near as smart as Jarrod. It seems I have to grind out everything I get.” Eugene smiled wistfully. “That’s the real reason I’ve rarely made it home in the last four years. It takes nearly all my free time studying to make the kind of grades that I hope will be good enough to get me into medical school.”
Victoria reached out and clasped her youngest son’s hand. “And that is why I will be all the more proud of you, Eugene, when you do get accepted to Harvard.”
“I wish I could be as certain, Mother.”
“How are your classes going, Gene?” Jarrod queried.
“Pretty good…” a pensive expression crossed Eugene’s face. “Mostly A’s and B’s.”
“Mostly?” Jarrod prodded.
“You know how I always struggled with mathematics? Well, I still do.”
“Calculus is kicking his tail!” Richard chimed in.
“OUR tails!” Eugene shot back.
“Our tails.” Richard conceded. “I didn’t even need the class for my major, but I let Gene talk me into signing up.”
“You told me you were good at math!”
“I meant basic mathematics, Gene! Adding and subtracting!”
Eugene rolled his eyes in exasperation. “I feel like I’m drowning in that class, Jarrod, and all my hopes of a decent grade point average this last semester are sinking right along with me!”
“Face it, Gene…” Richard shook his head. “Our only hope is that someone will show up with a solution for that Weierstrass equation. Then it’s an A for everybody!”
“An A for the entire class?” Jarrod’s interest was piqued.
“Yeah, that’s right, Jarrod.” Eugene affirmed. “See, this German fellow Weierstrass put forth a Calculus problem and he claims to have solved it, too, but he hasn’t published the proof. It’s an open challenge to Mathematics departments all over Europe and America. The professors at Berkeley have been working at it several years. They give a copy to the senior Mathematics classes each year. If any student brings back the solution, any way they can and with whatever help they can find, the whole class will get an A.”
“Must be some problem…” Jarrod said.
“Show him, Richard.” Eugene motioned to the textbook Richard had left on the table earlier. Richard pulled a folded piece of paper from the middle of the book and handed it to Jarrod.
Jarrod whistled. “No help here, Brother Gene! This is Greek to me.”
Richard grinned. “You’re right. The word ‘calculus’ comes from the Greek word for stone. It sure fits for a subject this darn hard!”
Nick peeked over Jarrod’s shoulder and rolled his eyes. “How do you know this German fellow isn’t just having some fun with everybody? If he knows the answer, he ought to publish it! Maybe there ain’t no answer and all you poor suckers can just quit dreaming about an easy A!”
Heath grasped the edge of the paper Jarrod held and tilted it where he could scan the page. His brow furrowed for several seconds and then a half-smile crossed his lips. “Naw, Nick. If those math professors just wanted to stump every senior class, they could have given them Fermat’s Last Theorem. It’s been open for over two hundred years.”
“Say what?” Nick threw Heath an incredulous stare.
Heath felt suddenly uncomfortable at the silent stares his remark had drawn from all in the room. He let go of the edge of the paper and shrugged nonchalantly. “Well, ah, I remember my sixth grade teacher telling us something about that. I don’t know where she got her information.”
The chatter in the room resumed and Heath smiled. He put his hands in the front pockets of his jeans and walked back over to the pool table to effectively take himself out of the conversation. Heath sat on the edge of the pool table and absently began rolling the balls off its felt-covered sides at differing angles. Nothing but vectors, he thought.
Early Sunday afternoon, Heath wandered into the library. Eugene sat in a wingback chair near a window reading intently from his Biology book. Heath glanced around the room. “Hey, Gene! What happened to Richard?”
Eugene nodded toward the window. “Audra has him down at the corral showing him some of the stock. He said he was going to take a few hours of leisure time before we have to go catch the train back to Berkeley.”
“Aren’t you about ready for a break from those books yourself?”
“What I’d like to be doing and what I need to be doing are two different things, Heath. I would have loved to taken you and Nick up on the offer to go riding yesterday but I need to put every spare minute into my studies. I realize you don’t know anything about university level academics but the pressure is very intense. There are only so many slots in Harvard’s first year Medicine class and the competition is fierce! My whole future depends on the outcome of these final exams.”
Heath sat on the edge of the large mahogany desk. “Mama used to always remind me ‘as you sow, so shall you also reap’. You’ve put in the work and the hours of studying. You’ve been very disciplined, Gene. You’re gonna do just fine on those exams. Just wait and see.”
Eugene smiled at his brother’s matter-of-fact faith in him. “Thanks, Heath. I do feel pretty good about my grasp of most of the subject matter. Well, everything except Calculus that is! But if by some miracle I can get out of there with a C, it may not hurt my chances at Harvard too badly.” Gene laughed. “Of course, a C seems about as remote as an A right now!”
Heath stared intently out the window, his mind whirling. He sighed. “Listen, Gene, I’d like you to take a break for an hour or two.”
Eugene looked up at him quizzically.
“Gene, you’ve been holed up in this library all weekend except for meals! Mother had hoped you would come to church with us this morning and…”
“I know, I know! You needed to study. Gene, it would mean so much to Mother if you would spend some time with her before you go back to Berkeley tonight. Study on the train ride back. Stay up a couple hours later tonight, Gene. I don’t care how you have to cram to make it up. This is just as important as anything in those books. One day, and I hope it is many, many years from now you’ll understand what I’m saying. You’d be willing to trade every worldly possession you own just for a little more time with her.”
Eugene looked into the deep, gentle blue eyes and the barely contained emotion there. “Thanks, Heath.” He said quietly.
“She’s in the garden.” Heath said as Eugene threw the Biology book on the desk and hurried out.
Heath smiled as he thought of Victoria’s happiness at having Eugene’s company for the afternoon. He noticed the Calculus book Richard had left on a table beside one of the chairs. His eyes locked on the folded sheet of paper that protruded an inch or two beyond the pages. Heath walked over to the library doors and listened for Eugene to exit the back door. He closed the doors quietly and turned the lock.
Jarrod paused at the door to the Dining Room and watched his mother polishing a silver candelabrum. “Tarnish doesn’t stand a chance around here. I do believe you’ve polished every piece of silver in the entire house in the last five days!”
Victoria smiled at his good-natured teasing. “It’s been a long week, Jarrod. I’ve thought so much about Eugene and how he’s faring with his examinations.” She glanced over at the clock. “It’s nearly 6 o’clock so I’m sure they’re all behind him now. There is nothing to do except wait for his final grades and hope they are good enough for his acceptance to Harvard.”
“You are amazing, Mother. You want this for Gene as much as he does. Yet you know if he attends Harvard, he’ll most likely continue living back east, if not in Europe eventually.”
“I love him, Jarrod. What a mother wants most for her child is that he find his place in this world and be happy. That is what I wish for each of you. I want to see Eugene realize his dreams, Jarrod, no matter how far away those dreams take him.”
Jarrod kissed her on the cheek and looked into her gray eyes. “Did I ever tell you what an excellent choice I made when I chose my parents?”
“None whatsoever, lovely lady!” As they shared a laugh, they did not hear the front door open.
“It’s Eugene!” Victoria laid down her polishing cloth and walked quickly to the foyer. Jarrod followed at her heels.
“Eugene! We weren’t expecting you…”
A distinguished looking gray-haired gentleman stood at Eugene’s side. “I know, Mother. This news couldn’t wait!” Victoria had not seen Eugene so excited since he was a boy on Christmas day. “Mother, Jarrod, I’d like to introduce you to Professor Carlyle, Chairman of the Department of Mathematics at Berkeley. Professor, this is my mother Victoria Barkley and my brother Jarrod.”
“My pleasure, Mrs. Barkley!” The gentleman stepped forward and took her hand. He turned to Jarrod. “Mr. Barkley.” He breathed in reverential awe as he clasped Jarrod’s hand with both of his. “I could hardly wait to meet you! We have checked and double-checked the solution to the Weierstrass problem. We can find no flaws in the mathematics, Sir. It will be sent to Karl Weierstrass himself for the final determination, but I am confident your proof will stand! I have heard of your reputation as one of the most formidable legal minds in the country. But frankly Mr. Barkley, I am astounded that you solved in two days a problem that has baffled mathematicians in Europe and America for over three years!”
Jarrod pulled his hand from the Professor’s firm grasp. “I’m sorry, Professor Carlyle. There has obviously been some misunderstanding.” He glanced over at Eugene. “I didn’t solve the Weierstrass problem! What made you think it was me?”
“But, Jarrod…” Eugene interjected. “Richard found the problem solved in his Calculus book!”
“Wednesday morning. Just before our final examination in Calculus, Professor Weber asked everyone to hand the problem back in. He said he wanted to examine any and all attempts at the solution. Richard had planned to turn his back in blank, but when he pulled the problem out, there were two other sheets of paper folded with it.”
“The entire proof was worked out on those three sheets of paper, Mr. Barkley.” Professor Carlyle stated flatly. “When Professor Weber brought the solution to me, we both knew enough of Richard Miller’s performance in Mathematics to know he was definitely not the author! The boys know that the proof was not in the book prior to their visit to Stockton… I was so sure it must have been you, Mr. Barkley.”
“But Gene, you two were studying in the library practically the entire weekend. When would I have had access to the book?”
Eugene’s brow furrowed. “I guess you’re right, Jarrod. The book was hardly out of our sight here. The only time we didn’t have our noses in the books were at meals and when we went to bed at night. Everyone else was at the dinner table or in bed as well.”
“Was the book left unattended after you arrived back at Berkeley prior to Wednesday morning?”
“Well, we were practically camped out in the university library Monday and Tuesday nights. We took a break to go get dinner each night and just left our books on the table until we got back. We were gone an hour, maybe an hour and a half each night.”
Jarrod rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “That’s long enough for someone to have slipped the problem out of the book on that Monday and placed it back with the solution on Tuesday.”
“But Mr. Barkley, why would a Berkeley student be so secretive? Eugene mentioned that he told you the entire class will be given an A. Did he also tell you that the author of the proof would be awarded a full scholarship by the Department of Mathematics?”
Jarrod shook his head. “Now we are delving into the arena of ‘motive’. The workings of the mind of a college boy are sometimes nothing short of an enigma if I recall my own college years. Perhaps he plans on coming forward at a time of his own choosing.”
Professor Carlyle smiled. “You mean let us sweat it out awhile, Mr. Barkley. Let the mystery reach a fever pitch before he reveals himself. You may be absolutely right. Some of my most intelligent students have also been some of my most notorious pranksters… always trying to give this old man a few more gray hairs. Eugene, it appears this chase has netted us nothing more than a wild goose! We’ll catch the train back to Berkeley tomorrow afternoon. I am sorry to have inconvenienced you, Mrs. Barkley.”
“Not at all, Professor! I am always happy to have my son home and it’s a pleasure to have you as our guest as well. Eugene, you and Jarrod can entertain our guest in the Parlor while I check on dinner.”
Nick and Heath entered the house to the sound of Jarrod’s voice carrying from the Dining Room.
“We’d better wash up in a hurry, Nick! Sounds like they’ve started without us.”
“I don’t care so long as they haven’t eaten all the roast beef!”
They hurried up the stairs and returned to the Dining Room a few minutes later.
“GENE!” Nick boomed. “I thought you were going to spend the summer at Berkeley taking an extra class!”
“Avoiding Ranch Work 101, Nick.” Heath deadpanned and smirked at Eugene.
“Nicholas, please keep your voice down! Heath, no teasing! You two are quite late already and we have a guest for dinner this evening.”
“Sorry, Mother.” Heath said quietly as he and Nick took their seats at the table.
“Professor, these are my brothers Nick and Heath. This is Professor Carlyle from Berkeley.”
“Hello.” Heath said simply and started filling his plate.
Nick gave the stranger a hard stare. “So, what’s going on around here? What’s he doing here? Is there an anthrax outbreak I haven’t heard about?” A perplexed look crossed the professor’s face.
“Nicholas! Can’t you find a more polite way to inquire about Professor Carlyle’s business here?” Victoria focused a stern look at Nick.
Heath elbowed Nick. “Maybe they’ve found a cure for Hoof-In-Mouth disease and he’s come to vaccinate you.”
Victoria cut her eyes at Heath. “Heath, I said…”
“Yes, Ma’am.” Heath said quickly and gave her his best repentant look. He noticed that she was trying very hard not to smile.
Jarrod could see by the look on Nick’s face that he was still expecting an answer. “You have absolutely nothing to worry about, Nick. There’s no anthrax outbreak in the valley! Professor Carlyle came home with Gene hoping to find the author of the calculus proof.”
Heath’s fork stopped in mid-air and he lowered it slowly. He lowered his eyes and stared intently into his plate.
“What are you talking about, Jarrod?” Nick asked.
“Nick!” Eugene blurted. “Someone did it! Someone solved the Weierstrass problem!”
“Gene gets his A in Calculus!” Audra added, beaming at Eugene.
“Well, well. What is it you’re always saying about Barkley luck, Jarrod? Wouldn’t you know it? Somebody up and solves that problem just when Gene needed it most!” Nick shook his head in disbelief.
“I’ll say! Looks like I’ll be sending Harvard straight A’s from my final semester!”
“Well, I guess we can forget about getting those future surgeon’s hands all dirty. Right, Heath?”
“Huh?” Heath had not taken his eyes off his plate. “Yeah, guess so, Nick.”
“Heath?” He raised his eyes only briefly to meet Victoria’s. “Is there something wrong with your dinner?”
“No, Mother.” Heath said quietly.
“I STILL don’t see why the professor followed Gene home!” Nick would not be sidetracked for long.
Jarrod chuckled. “Apparently, our little brother led Professor Carlyle to believe that I had solved the problem.”
“What did you do a thing like that for, Gene?”
“Richard found the proof in his Calculus book Wednesday morning, Nick. Honestly, I thought Jarrod had put it there last weekend! But as usual, Jarrod has put us on the right track.”
Heath shifted uncomfortably.
“That’s right, Mr. Barkley.” Professor Carlyle spoke up. “Your brother has expertly deduced that the author had opportunity to place the solution in Richard’s textbook while it was left unguarded in the library at Berkeley. We’ll be returning to the university tomorrow afternoon. I’m afraid my trip was for nothing. But, I must say not a total waste! Mrs. Barkley, this dinner is marvelous!”
“Why thank you, Professor.”
“It is delicious, Mother!” Heath said as he enthusiastically speared a piece of roast beef with his fork.
“Leave it to Jarrod…” Nick mused. “Gene, if you just become half as smart a doctor as Jarrod is a lawyer, you’ll still be a cut above the rest!”
“I expect he’ll do better than that, Nick.” Jarrod raised his glass to Eugene. “Gene, I know you’ll make us proud.”
Eugene smiled as the other glasses at the table were raised in salute.
“Thank you for driving us into town, Mr. Barkley.” Professor Carlyle and Jarrod stood on the train platform while Eugene purchased tickets at the depot.
“My pleasure, Professor. I don’t imagine it will take you very long to ferret out the guilty party among your mathematics students.”
“Oh, he’s not in my department!”
“Of that much I’m quite sure, Mr. Barkley. You see, I already know very well the capabilities as well as the limitations of the students in my own department. While some are quite gifted students, none even approach this degree of mathematical genius! He has to be a student in one of the other disciplines whom I am not familiar with… perhaps in the department of Physics or Chemistry.” The professor laughed. “Either that or it’s the fellow who sweeps out the library!”
“The fellow who… But Professor, wouldn’t the man who solved this problem have to have a background in higher mathematics?”
“Not necessarily, Mr. Barkley. There is a young man by the name of Ravi Desai currently studying Mathematics at Oxford University. His background is absolutely fascinating. He was an uneducated orphan of the lowest caste begging on the streets of Delhi. He would do math tricks – actually instant calculations in his head – for pennies from the British officers. One officer recognized his raw genius in mathematics and sent him to England from his native India. You see, Mr. Barkley, the vast majority of mathematicians such as myself are akin to the vast majority of pianists. We work very diligently to achieve some degree of proficiency and what some might even consider mastery. Ah, but a Mozart… Only God can create a Mozart!” Professor Carlyle smiled and looked past Jarrod. “Here comes Eugene with our tickets. Do thank your mother again for her hospitality.”
Jarrod’s mind churned relentlessly as he drove back to the ranch. It just can’t be, he thought. And yet, the professor’s words had ignited a spark of suspicion that had refused to die. If he had learned anything in his years as an attorney, it was to never dismiss a possibility prior to investigation. The gut instinct that had always served him so well seemed intent on fanning this particular spark into a flame. Why was it so hard to be open-minded in this instance? Perhaps he did not want to believe that seeing, he had failed to see.
Jarrod reined the carriage to a stop outside the barn as the sound of familiar whistling reached his ears. He stepped inside the barn and watched the back of his blond brother as he brushed Charger.
“Is Ciego around?”
Heath turned and smiled. “Nope. He rode down to the orchard. Did Gene and the professor get off all right?”
“Yes, they did.”
“Good. Don’t worry about the buggy, Jarrod, I’ll take care of it for ya.” Heath turned and resumed the grooming.
Jarrod took a deep breath. His poker-playing younger brother wasn’t the only one who knew how to run a bluff. There was no time like the present to confirm his suspicion or forever lay it to rest.
“Last Sunday evening I drove Gene and Richard into Stockton to catch the train. Gene told me that Richard had spent the afternoon with Audra and he had spent the afternoon with Mother. Is that when you put the proof in Richard’s Calculus book?”
The brush stopped mid-stroke. Heath turned and faced Jarrod, one set of blue eyes searching another. “You knew?”
“No Heath, not for sure. Not until just now.” Jarrod’s gamble had paid off.
Heath walked over to a bale of hay and sat down. He leaned back against the side of the barn and absently picked the horsehairs from the brush and let them drop to the ground. “I don’t want you saying anything about this to anyone, Jarrod. I want your word on that.”
“Heath, you know I’d never divulge any information you wanted kept confidential. I just don’t understand why you would want to keep this secret!”
“There’s no need for anybody to know.” Heath didn’t look up, watching the wisps of horsehair fall to the ground.
Jarrod took a seat on a bale opposite Heath. It was going to be a test of his skills of persuasion to make Heath see where he truly belonged. “Heath, maybe you don’t feel that you’d fit among academic circles, but that’s not true. What you have is a gift… a very rare gift according to Professor Carlyle. Don’t hide your light under a bushel. Can you honestly tell me that your mind doesn’t hunger for a challenge?”
Heath’s head snapped up. Jarrod could see the storm building in his eyes. “Challenge? Do you know how easy it was for me to solve that problem? Those professors have been sitting in their ivory towers for three years trying to figure it out! I look at it maybe three seconds and the solution pops into my head. The hardest part for me was sitting still long enough to write out the proof!”
“But there are other calculus problems…”
Heath shook his head. “You look at a Calculus book and see one thousand different pages. I see two fundamental ideas and nine hundred ninety-eight pages of variations and examples. I just can’t see myself in some stuffy classroom standing at a chalkboard writing out math problems all day long.”
“Heath, then you tell me what IS a challenge for you.”
“That stallion out there in the far corral is giving me a run for my money…”
“You know what I meant!” Jarrod wasn’t about to let him off the hook.
“So you want to know where my mind strays off to if I don’t have something to keep me busy all day long or I haven’t worked hard enough to fall right off to sleep?” Heath laid the brush on the bale beside him and crossed his arms. “Alright, Big Brother, here goes… I reckon some of the most profound insights have come from the most humble beginnings. Kind of like Newton sitting under an apple tree and getting hit on the head by a falling apple and coming up with his theory of gravity. He came up with his three laws of motion, too. But forces and movements in nature needed to be measured against some reference system, so Newton conceived the notion of absolute space and absolute time. He assumed that there were ‘fixed’, very distant stars, which did not move and provide a reference frame in space. Absolute time, according to Newton, ‘flows uniformly on, without regard to anything external’ and enables us to assign a unique date to every event. Seems pretty common sense and I never had reason to question it. One night Mama was reading from the Bible out loud to me and she read where the Lord ‘stretched the heavens like a curtain’ two different times. Well, it was like an apple fell and hit me on the head! I realized that if the heavens were stretched, time was stretched as well. Change the fabric of space and you change time. The two are not separate and independent, and they certainly aren’t absolute!” Heath pulled out a stem of hay straw and chewed on it with a self-satisfied look.
Jarrod stared hard at his brother. “So you’re saying Newton was wrong? That they are… relative?”
“But Newton’s concept of space and time is completely accepted in Physics…”
“I guess it all boils down to who’s version are you gonna believe: Newton’s or the God who created it all. It’s kind of like that Bible story where the sun didn’t move in the sky for an entire day because God made the earth stand still so Joshua would have light until the battle was won. Scientists say that couldn’t be true cause everything would go flying off into space. But hey, I figure God made the earth so not only can He stop it… He can spin it around backwards if He wants… put on the brakes and spin it forward again!”
Jarrod chuckled. “I can’t argue with that, Brother Heath. But this notion of yours about space and time is quite radical! And yet, I can’t discount it. If there is one thing I’ve learned from history it’s that sometimes one radical thinker will come along and dislodge the established dogma. But it is always a struggle. I can understand your reluctance to take on that challenge.”
Heath flicked the hay stem away. “Who wants to challenge their dogma? Not me. And I haven’t even got to the part that stumped me!”
“There’s more?” Jarrod was incredulous.
“Yeah, unless you’ve heard enough. I got other things I need to be doing.”
“I’m all ears, Little Brother!” How much stranger could this day get?
Heath took a deep breath. “Just for a while, Jarrod, I want you to set aside your commonsense understanding of time. If space and time are relative, then their measurement would depend on one’s frame of reference. This fourth dimension, space-time, is the ‘stage’ in which events occur. Let’s say it takes sunlight eight minutes to reach the earth and a flare on the sun happened four minutes ago. Is it in the past? If your frame of reference is as an observer on earth, the answer is no. That flare can’t influence the present moment on earth. We’d judge the present moment as coming before the flare. But another observer out there in another frame of reference might judge the two to be simultaneous. Again, it’s relative… I can make that leap pretty easy. But here is where I hit the stump, thanks again to Mama and her nightly Bible reading! She’d say ‘Heath, prophecy ain’t nothing but history written in advance’. So I got to thinking, Jarrod… Could I conceive of a model that could explain the Divine frame of reference? A frame of reference literally outside space and time as we know it… completely independent of time… able to see what we judge as in the future as though it were past. Sometimes it seemed like I was close, you know. I told Mama what I was trying to do and it scared her. She said that I shouldn’t even be thinking about such things. She said that we were created by God to be creatures bound within ‘time’ and the other realm is His alone and beyond human understanding. She told me if I kept on pursuing this, I might go crazy like some of the other Thomson geniuses did way back.”
“Your mother was aware of your gift?”
Heath gave Jarrod a lop-sided smile. “Yeah, although I’m not sure she thought of it as a gift. It worried her. Some people think there’s only a fine line between genius and insanity. This ‘gift’ as you call it has turned up in the Thomson family before and a few have crossed that line. I don’t worry about that, though. I simply realized Mama was right and I put all that stuff out of my mind. I got some distant relatives over in Europe who seem to have inherited the gift. Names are William and Joseph Thomson*. I’ll leave the theories and discoveries to them.”
Jarrod shook his head in disbelief! He had to make his hardheaded younger brother see that he couldn’t turn his back on scientific endeavor. “While YOU do what? Heath, even if you came to the end of your human understanding, there is so much more in between where you could contribute to scientific achievement and advancement!”
Heath shrugged. “You know not everybody sees scientific advancement as such a great thing. Remember my friend Charlie Whitehorse? He never viewed time as linear like we do. He told me his tribe saw time as a circle and it is represented by the ‘Sacred Hoop’. Mankind starts out primitive and travels that circle of time becoming more and more advanced. Man becomes advanced enough to almost completely destroy himself and his environment. Then after the apocalypse, man must start over on the circle again, primitive once more. I’m not saying that’s right, but it explains why they just wanna live simple. They’re in no hurry to see the hoop completed.”
“But Heath, that’s ridiculous! Any civilization that intellectually advanced would never wreak that kind of havoc on its self or their environment through their own inventions!”
Heath never blinked. “Maybe you ought to read Revelation.”
Jarrod marveled at the surprising mix of shrewd intellect and simple faith. It would be hard to argue his way past this wall. “Brother Heath, what may come to pass in the very distant future is no reason not to contribute your talents to the present! We all owe it to our fellow man to advance the realm of human endeavor in any way our God-given talents allow. You could be ranked among the great mathematicians in the world instead of wasting your life as a cowpuncher!”
Hurt and defiance appeared in unison in the blue eyes as Heath rose to his feet. “Looks like the value my life has could be considered ‘relative’, too. Well, you’ve got a right to your opinion Jarrod, but the life in question is mine! I’ll do with it what I want – including waste it!” Heath turned and stormed out of the barn.
Victoria watched Heath’s stride eat up the ground as he walked toward the far corral. She knew that walk well: his hands clenched into fists, every muscle tense and taut rippling with barely repressed energy. Victoria didn’t have to see his eyes to know that he was angry – very angry! Heath would need a little time to himself to cool down. In the meantime, she would go talk to Nick – the likely protagonist – and see what this was all about.
She walked into the barn. “Oh, Jarrod!” Victoria spoke with true surprise. “You’re back!”
“Yes… Excuse me, Mother, but I need to go talk to Heath.”
“I saw Heath leaving in quite a huff. Did the two of you have an argument?”
“More of what I’d term a difference of opinion, Mother.”
Victoria gave Jarrod a knowing look. “Over the fact that Heath doesn’t want anyone to know that he solved the Weierstrass problem?”
“What? How did you know, Mother?” It was Jarrod’s turn to be surprised.
“You’re not the only one around here capable of solving that mystery, Jarrod.”
“But how? When did you know?”
“When did I first suspect Heath knew the solution? That evening when Richard showed you all the problem!” She smiled. “I saw it all clearly in his eyes: that look of intense concentration for a few moments and then triumph when the solution came to him. When Eugene brought Professor Carlyle home yesterday and announced the problem had been solved, I immediately thought of Heath. My suspicions were confirmed with one look into his eyes at the dinner table last night. He was obviously relieved when no one seemed to suspect him. I honestly thought he had gotten away with it and you believed the author to be a Berkeley student.”
“I certainly did, Mother, until Professor Carlyle informed me that these mathematical geniuses aren’t schooled, they are born! I played a hunch and decided to bluff Heath. I must admit that I was still shocked when he confessed. It seemed so far-fetched… Heath is one of the most humble and unassuming men I’ve ever come across.”
“So what did you do to turn your ‘humble and unassuming’ brother into that angry young man that I just saw cross the yard?”
Jarrod’s blue eyes were sincere. “I had hoped to convince Heath that he should come forward as author of the proof. He would be welcomed with open arms at Berkeley or any other university in the country. Professor Carlyle likened the level of talent he displayed to a Mozart among plunkers. I simply wanted to make Heath see that the world would have been a far less rich place if Mozart had simply refused to compose. But he showed no interest! I’m afraid I only succeeded in angering and offending him… I told him he was wasting his life.”
“I see.” Victoria said coolly. “It appears Heath wasn’t inclined to agree. Nor do I!”
“But Mother, Heath should be using his talents to advance science! We live differently than people did one hundred years ago thanks to men of vision and intellect. One hundred years from now, people will be living far better for the same reason. Now what if those men simply turned their backs on science? Surely we all have a duty…”
“Jarrod, you are not arguing a case in the courtroom! I have always respected your lofty ideals.” She reached up and stroked his cheek. “They make you the man you are, the man I am so proud of. But tell me Jarrod, if Eugene had decided to drop out of Berkeley and follow Nick’s footsteps instead, would you have insisted that he go back and go on to medical school?”
“That’s different, Mother.”
“No, it’s not. Eugene would have still had the innate ability to succeed in medical school and yet he would have been making the conscious decision not to pursue it. That decision would have been his right. Do you remember what I told you I wanted most for not only Eugene but for all my children?”
“That we find our own place in this world and that we are happy.”
Victoria smiled. “That’s right. Whether it is Eugene’s choice leading him farther from home or Heath’s choice to stay right here, I’ll love and support them both. Nick and Heath are kindred spirits – they love the freedom of the great outdoors. Ranching is in their blood. Heath is happiest right where he is, working by Nick’s side. He’d be miserable anywhere else, particularly confined to a classroom!”
Jarrod nodded. “Yes, he said as much himself. Although if those professors had the slightest inkling that Heath was their man, they’d probably storm the ranch, hog-tie him and take him back to the University by force!”
Victoria laughed. “At least until the storm that is Nick Barkley arrived to take the campus apart brick by brick and bring his brother back home. We’d best keep Heath’s secret to ourselves.”
Jarrod chuckled, imagining for a moment Nick’s rampage. “Yes, I suppose so. It would be a shame to see Berkeley leveled.” His features grew serious. “And Eugene can’t be told who his secret benefactor was?”
“I believe that should be left up to Heath.”
“You are right, Mother, right about everything. And since you’re not the only one in this family who loves Heath and wants to see him happy, I think I need to go clear up a few things!”
The late afternoon was slipping into evening as Jarrod made his way out to the corral. As the red-orange sun sank low in the west, a beautiful full moon had risen in the east. Heath was leaning against the corral, one boot resting on the bottom rail, his left arm draped over the top one. Heath’s right hand was outstretched, pointing to the moon. Josh Adkins was standing sideways next to Heath, gripping the top rail with his right hand. A look of perplexity shadowed Josh’s face, as he’d glance at the moon for a moment and then back at Heath. Heath’s soft drawl was carried to Jarrod on a gentle breeze. “… the sun’s light is striking the moon’s surface parallel to our sight and it’s reflected back by the entire surface so we’re seeing a full moon. If the earth and moon were in a position where the rays were striking perpendicular to our line of sight, we’d be seeing a half-moon right now…”
Josh caught sight of Jarrod and self-consciously cleared his throat. “Evening, Mr. Jarrod!” Heath didn’t turn around. Josh sensed the tension. “Mr. Heath was just explaining a few things about the phases of the moon to me. Thanks, that was mighty interesting. Guess I’ll be getting on back to the bunkhouse.”
Jarrod nodded. “Have a good evening, Josh.” He moved over to the corral to stand beside Heath, folding his forearms on the rail. He beheld the bright, silvery orb along with his brother for a long moment. Jarrod broke the silence. “So, is lay astronomy another hidden talent?”
“Nope. I’m just an ordinary cowpoke enjoying a beautiful moon.”
“No, you’re much more than that, Heath, so very much more. I spoke out of turn earlier. The Barkley Ranch and our family’s holdings have tremendous and far-reaching benefits. Our beef, fruits and produce provide food and our horses provide transportation. There’s our timber for construction and gold and silver from our mines is minted for currency… What you are doing, carrying on Father’s vision along with Nick, I do appreciate greatly. You and Nick are the backbone of this ranch, Heath. A part of me wanted to experience the pride of seeing a Barkley receive the recognition and accolades for solving that problem. But know this Brother, whether you ever come forward or not, you make me proud every day!”
Heath turned to Jarrod and smiled. The hurt that had been visible in his eyes earlier was gone. “You know what I was just thinking?” Heath gestured toward the moon.
“I wouldn’t even want to hazard a guess…”
“If you could shoot off a projectile at a high enough speed and appropriate angle to get it to just the right altitude where it wouldn’t fall back to earth and yet wouldn’t break the bonds of earth’s gravity either… It’d stay in a circular orbit around the earth just like the moon.”
Jarrod laughed. “That’s exactly why I didn’t want to guess!”
Heath grinned. “I know what you’re thinking… more useless ramblings.”
“No, Brother Heath, I’m thinking what I don’t know about you absolutely amazes me!”
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