Beech Hill


Wolfe's comments from the Introduction to Storeys from the Old Hotel

"'Beech Hill' is a rather early piece, written after I had attended my first Milford Writers' Conference. (I had no idea when I wrote it that a Sycamore Hill Writers' Conference lurked in the future, life being an imitation of art.) Milford died away as Damon Knight, who had conducted it, grew more and more interested in teaching and less involved in writing; but for ten years or so it was a wonderful sort of fair at which serious SF writers of varying talents mingled with mountebanks frequently more gifted still. From it I conceived the notion of a convention of fictitious persons, of extraordinary poseurs who were themselves their own fiction. After all these years, it is still one of my favorites."


Mr R. 'Bobs' Roberts annually attends a get-together at Beech Hill, at which he adopts the persona of a secret agent. The other attendees have similarly exotic roles. On the way, he is disturbed to see a former attendee on TV, who is now wealthy and successful. He wonders if this man was already actually successful when he was at Beech Hill, i.e. his 'role' was genuine. Roberts talks with various other guests, ending with a young actress, who identifies his gun as a toy. Roberts throws the gun into the lake.


  • It seems that Roberts is beginning to suspect that others of the attendees may also be genuine rather than fake like him and perhaps that he may be a figure of fun or spectacle to them.
  • Since this may be the case, the game has been ruined for him. He leaves at the end and he will not be back. If they were all role-playing together he could indulge himself. Now he has to take a look at his own life, stuck in a dead-end job, living with his sister Maryanne he can barely stand. One ray of hope is that he asks Claude Brain, the wild game man, about the hard work it took to achieve his dream. He may go and do likewise. (Brain is genuine -- the scars on his back could not have been self-inflicted).
  • Roberts' gun is referred to successively as a Walther PPK, a Luger, an HSc Mauser, and a Beretta. It is actually just a toy gun.
  • His name, "Robert Roberts" may show his parents had a twisted sense of humor, but also how flat his life is other than at Beech Hill. The man who got him into the game was Wally Wallace, another flat name. (Maybe it is also a tribute to the famous fictional character who lived a secret life in his daydreams, Walter Mitty. The initials "W" and "M" show up a lot in this story. The "Robert" name may be from Robert Ludlum, author of spy thrillers like "The Bourne Identity").

Unresolved Questions

  • Which of the other guests we meet are role players and which are likely there for other reasons?
  • If some guests are not role playing, as seems likely, why are they there? Do they just find the role players humorous or is there something else going on?
  • Why does Bobs tell the girl "You may be called to testify later"? Does he plan to get a real gun and kill the billionaire?
    • Far more likely, this is just a last bit of role-playing the secret agent in order to make a graceful exit.

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