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Four eggs crackled on the wood stove. In the log kitchen at Pero Caliente there was a smell of breakfast. Frank Oppenheimer leaned back by the open door with his flute. Over the stack of books he could see the grass slopes, the perimeter of spruces and the corral. As his eyes followed the figure among the horses, he was glad the others had left, even that Jackie had stayed home. Frank blew in the mouthpiece. In the early morning just the tone sounded good.
Down in the corral his brother waved and swung the saddle on to the fence rail. Frank sat down and began playing the allegro vivace. Presently Robert stood moodily in the door, powdered with dust. `You should be doing that full time,' he said.
`Thanks. But would you explain something to me?'
`I didn't mean giving up physics.' Robert looked at the frying pan appraisingly.
`There are five horses down there,' Frank went on, `and you have to ride the unbroken one. It makes me mad.'
`But think what the saddle must mean to him.'
`Why not quantize it and see?' Frank said.
`We'll have no quantizing down here.' Robert slipped the eggs on two tin plates and walked his shuffling uneven walk out into the sun. Frank padded after him over the pine needles with the coffee tin. Feeling his brother brooding so early in the morning, Frank experienced a little wave of anxiety. He preferred Robbie telling him how to run his life.
The snow on the Sangres looked very closeover the forest hills. The air was spiced with pine. Over the meadows the dawn shadows were warming.
`Speaking of quantizing, Frank,' Robert went on without picking up his fork. `Have you ever asked yourself what our chums from the labs think seeing us play around with horses?'
Robert looked across the plates at his younger brother, eyebrows knit. He was thinking of his intense emotion yesterday on the Mesa. Robert needed Frank to guess it. Looking up at him between bites, Frank thought it was marriage and he was moved.
`Robbie? How do you feel about it?' Frank said quietly.
`Ah, that.' Embarrassed at their misunderstanding, Robert began his eggs. `Well, a lot better than Levin about to marry his Kitty. Did it occur to you,' Robert said. `A Pittsburgh political romantic and biologist, born in Germany? What could be closer to our family?'
`And a vamp too.' Frank was silent, wondering about princesses, then about all the books they used to read together here. `Anna Karenina, now there was a book! Still it's been good this time. I don't want to go back West.'
`Or New York?' Robert shrugged. `Frank, tell me. How did you ever listen to that garbage about how wonderful your brother was?'
`To New York, the coast, anywhere!' Frank waved it away.
`I guess we feel the same about New York,' said Robert. `You know, Papa's chauffeurs and cooks, Mama's goodness.'
`You outgrew it.' Frank shook his woolly head. `I guess there's a lot more to this country. I'll tell you what it was for me, Robbie. You never went to that rally in Madison Square Garden, for the Brigade.'
The two skinny brothers faced each other, leaning on the picnic table above the clearing.
`No pasaran!' Robert spoke the Republican oath, rolling the r's and hardening the a's. `You knew friends of Kitty's arranged that rally?'
`She's pretty far from it now.'
`The farther the better.' Robert's eyes veiled. `If I start thinking about what's going on back in France, I'll boil over.'
`Kitty won't let you stick to that.'
`Am I so easily influenced?'
`It's a family trait.'
Robert put down his fork. The shadow from the tree-tops had left his face.
`When I think of pogroms, Frank,' Robert said so quietly that even in the morning hush Frank barely heard it, `it makes me think of bombs!'
`No pasaran, eh?' Frank shook his head. `Anyway, bombs won't solve any more than rallies do.'
Robert pushed his plate on the table and looked up. `It all seems pretty unreal from out here.'
Frank changed the subject. `You didn't tell me how Edith was yesterday.'
`The poetess and her Indian chief.' Robert smiled. `Obscure but splendid.'
`What's her obscurity got to do with it?' Frank said.
`It's what I meant about horses.'
`You were a terrific host!' Frank objected.
`I'm tired of being the host.' Robert took out his pipe. `Segre and Bethe can be the hosts ... I'll do their work.'
`Robbie, you'll have your moment,' Frank said gently.
`I'm thirty-six, Frank.'
The brothers sat a while in the silence. `Do you know who was at this table yesterday?'
Frank shrugged. `Who?'
`Destiny, fate knocking at the door,' Robert said.
`What a door. You know where their work could lead.'
`Galileo, Frank? The truth is the truth.'
`A vacation's a vacation. Robbie, you always loved it here.'
His handsome brother looked across with a crooked smile. `I'm sorry Frank. I'm spoiling it for you.'
`For yourself,' Frank grinned. `You'll need your strength.'
`She makes things work for me, Frank. Jean never did,' Robert squinted up at the sun. `You know I feel the same about here,' he went on. `Only there's never been a moment like now. Not in all history.'
`Famous last words. I'll settle for this.'
`I want to settle for it too. Only my mind keeps slipping off.' Robert frowned nervously. `I want to love what we've got, but it scares me. What if there's nothing else? Never anything else?'
`But that's the beauty of it!' Frank burst out.
`That's it, Frank!' Robert laughed happily. He slapped the table. `You've solved it ... that's the solution.'
While they talked, a wintry film had spread on the sky. Across the river the rich gold dawn had dulled on the slopes, the red flesh of the desert darkened.
Robert stood up, still filling the pipe. `You're right, the labs are not so wonderful,' he said. `Most of the crew are quite ignorant. Imagine grown men who blush like bobbysoxers at words like poetry, or love. Thank heaven for a few friends like Haakon Chevalier. Or students like Serber, Lomanitz, Neddermeyer.'
`They think you're some genius,' Frank said.
`Listen, Frank ...'
Robert was in a new mood. Walking up the knoll, he turned and squinted over Frank's head, down the slopes into the Albuquerque desert. `Without Bach or Buddha, Frank, mesons and quanta and isotopes are no more than mechanics.' Robert was excited. `I don't need hero worship. Just to feel I'm running more than a garage full of jealous grease-monkeys and electricians. And you're right.' He waved his pipe around the horizon. `Beside this, those cities were a floating over the surface. I was coming here all along.'
Alone at the table, Frank picked at his breakfast. They had been talking just twenty minutes, but he felt oppressed and weary. The world, overcharged with information, was hammering at them with guilts and fears. As if he, Frank, had just been used again as a sort of straw target for the moral archery of his brother's pride. He pushed the plate away.
The heat was on Frank's back. Birds twittered in the cottonwoods.
`You don't love Harvard Square more? Or sailing on the Zurichsee with Isidor and Pauli?' Frank gently tested him. `Or Bohr's vision, or Einstein's? Or cosmic-ray work with Neddermeyer, or Plutonium, or Fermi's reactor?'
`That's behind me ... it was almost easy.' Robert smiled simply, refusing to be embarrassed. Blue smoke filmed above his head.
`I can set up the math of a collapsing sun in the mind's eye,' he went on softly. `Like a landscape painter who's mastered the structure of sensation. Then add or change factors without losing the thread. I can see the mesons in cosmic rays as if they were stable, or anticipate a rare instability like U235.' Robert shaded his eyes. `But this place and our friends here Paul, Don Amaldo always seemed so mysterious, Frank. I've loved it so much I wanted to change it. Build altars. Be close to death, passion, ruin.'
`The locals have already done it in the pueblos. And without Wall Street paying the bills.'
`Not that kind, Frank. Being close to a really great ... breakthrough.'
The grass knoll did not have the correct feel. Robert began slowly circling the picnic plot.
`When you're up there for the first time, Frank. When you're completely alone with beautiful images?' Robert walked up and down, gesturing, and Frank saw the dust mark where the horse had thrown him. `They're all yours if you can possess them, in some bastardly way, keep someone else from having them!' he went on.
Frank paused, stacking the plates and cups. He grinned.
`What about Kitty? You love Kitty more, don't you?'
Robert had stopped fifteen paces off, staring away. There was no answer. And for some reason Frank remembered a scene four years ago, across a continent. In New York overlooking the Hudson River.