Art Pact 184 - Brothers


There was no doubt that out of all of the brothers Robert was both the smartest and the worst. Somehow the intelligence that in Daniel had engendered a sense of respect for his fellow man had come out in Robert as an engine of contempt for those less quick-witted than he - and the roster was long in that small town, perhaps only the doctor and his family and the Bellingham girl escaping its number. Even at the school the teacher was no true match for Robert, although her education did at least allow her to hold out rearguard action against him through the use of polysyllabic words and scientific facts that he was unable to (respectively) understand or to refute, owing to the paucity of books at the brother's house. It was obvious that the teacher could not keep this battle going forever, though, especially when it was her sworn duty to remedy the exact ignorance which allowed her some measure of control over the boy. She could see that the day would soon come when the resources of the town's small library and the teaching she was herself imparting would lift Robert to a plateau from which he could rain down scorn and pranks upon her without any fear that she might be able to put him in his place with a well-timed question. It had been her desire in teaching college to go somewhere where she could make a difference, and she considered it a terrible irony that the one difference she was sure of making was one that she ardently desired to delay.

Also watching the clock of years nervously was the town's sheriff. Sheriff Clearman relied on his physical presence to cow the bulk of the townsfolk into lawful submission, but with the Bowler family his posturing was to no avail (except in Daniel's case, of course, but Daniel was a natural law-abider, a sport amongst his kin, and the sheriff's effect on him was only to put a glaze the polite young man who would have existed even in a wasteland). The bowlers senior paid little attention to the Sheriff's requests and mandates, as too did the middle ranks of the brothers, but with them at least the Sheriff could rely on a slight mental advantage to trick them into compliance, and also on his badge to provide some back-up in the form of the fear of arrest should they step too far out of line. But he knew that Robert would soon be both big enough to challenge him physically (Robert was already unafraid of Clearman, but still not sufficiently grown to provide a return threat), and smart enough to be able to see through the various schemes and safeguards that the sheriff had set up to contain the lawlessness of the Bowler family and to channel their excess energy and their propensity for violence inwards and away from law-abiding folk. It was the sheriff's fear that one day Robert would realise that he could organise his kin into something considerably more effective and threatening than they were at present. The thought of the family turning into a gang exercised him daily with a nervous terror that kept him from ever truly relaxing if the thought of one of the Bowlers was somewhere in his mind. Sometimes, when he had been called in to distract the family's current patriarch, Bartholomew, from a drunken rampage, he would lie awake at night afterwards, utterly unable to sleep for the worry that it might easily have been Robert swaying violently through the town's main street, and that even under the influence he might have been too much for Clearman to handle. Clearman had a deputy, of course, but the lad was nowhere near as intimidating as the sheriff himself, making him useless for work involving the burly Bowlers, and he was (Clearman admitted sadly) far from the sharpest tool in the box, so no potential ally against the mental powers that Robert might one day be able to bring to bear on his career of mischief.

The only person who harboured any hope about Robert's future prospects and behaviour was in fact Daniel himself. His (perhaps naive) fellow-feeling towards humanity in general did indeed extend as far as his eldest brother, and although he lacked the sharp intellect that Robert had been unwisely gifted with, his cleverness ran deeper and wiser, and his ability to empathise gave him an insight into Robert's behaviour that Robert himself could never have achieved. For Daniel understood that the antisocial side of Robert's personality could lead him one of two ways. The sheriff feared that a Bowler family with Robert at the helm would be unstoppable, combining all the dark virtues of persistence, fearlessness, and intelligence into one horrid melange that could neither be opposed physically nor intellectually. But as unfortunate as that might be, it was that exact unsympathetic side to Robert's personality that might prevent such a calamity. If Robert had no fellow feeling or respect for his townsfolk, he had still less for his family, viewing them as nothing more than inferior versions of himself or, at best, drones to be directed as an how he wished. He frequently expressed (at home) an irritation with the slowness of the other Bowlers, and although he might be on a par mentally, Daniel's dogged refusal to embrace Robert's will to power made him just as unsatisfactory a companion as any of the less intelligent brothers. It was touch and go, Daniel thought, if on any given occasion when Robert left the house he might ever come back. He would not lead a gang, because to become an effective leader is to subordinate your own good to that of the group, and even a group tied by blood was nothing that Robert would ever value above his own well-being. The question, as far as Daniel was concerned, was whether Robert would remain in Colnberg as a rogue agent or leave it and bring trouble some other town.

Robert, naturally, gave nothing away on this matter.

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