morden looked around casually. insofar as it could be ascertained in the gloom, none of the drinkers seemed to paying any more attention to the professor and himself. "why frommer, professor? perhaps i can answer your questions. about the times you are interested in. after all, i was here, no less than frommer."
"i suppose you were frommer's right hand man," the professor replied good-naturedly. foul as it was, the schnapps he had imbibed seemed to have put him in a good humour, and relaxed his stern manner towards his former pupil.
"well, no, but i did talk to him once or twice, at the bar."
"ah, you talked to him once or twice at the bar. and what did you talk to him about?"
"i can't really remember. i probably flattered him a bit, maybe tried to get him to buy me a drink."
"and did he buy you a drink?"
"probably not, i will tell you one thing about frommer. he was not very generous."
"no, he didn't know how to take care of his men."
the professor laughed at this. "what an expression! take care of his men! you make him sound like some type of military officer."
morden was mildly discomfited by the professor's mocking tone. "well, it don't have to be military. i mean anybody who wants followers for anything, who wants to be a big shot and have people look up to him, he's got to know how to treat them, make them feel wanted. like he respects them."
"and you, morden, have you ever wanted to have followers - followers that presumably you would treat right."
morden took a sip of his drink. "oh, no, i just try to get by."
"a most judicious stance. tell me, what do you remember of frommer's ideas? did they impress you?"
"ah - well as to that---"
"do you remember what his ideas were?"
"why, i can't say that i do. the usual, i suppose, for that sort of fellow. times were bad, it was somebody or other's fault, they had to be dragged into the light, it was time to take to the streets. all that. then you pass the hat."
"i see. and who exactly was to blame according to frommer and his followers - his loyal men. the bankers? the jews? the pope?"
"i can't really remember, professor. i am sorry. it was a while ago."
"let me ask you this, then. if he is passing the hat among his followers, and then is generous with his followers, what is the point? is he not just giving back what he has taken in the first place?"
"oh of course, in the beginning. the trick is to attract some attention, then get some swells on board, maybe even some ladies. then you have got something, then you can treat your fellows right."
the professor nodded, satisfied. "i see you are indeed acquainted with the drill. good." he took a taste of his drink and looked around the room. "now we just have to find frommer."
"but don't you yourself know what frommer was about, professor? if you don't, why are you interested in him in the first place?"
"i told you, i am studying the ratio of action to words and fantasies in the industrial nations."
"oh, of course."
"it is not frommer's ideas - such as they were - or his words that i am interested in, but his translation of them into action."
"i remember now."
"let me ask you one last question about him. how seriously do you think he believed in what he was preaching?"
"oh as to that i couldn't say. i never could read minds." and with that, morden finished his drink and put his glass down on the table with a thump.
ah, poor readers- such as may still be with me -
perhaps at this point you are feeling as much exasperation with my poor self as the worthy professor zender is feeling with the inarticulate morden. patience, patience! but i see i am already trying your patience. therefore i will share with you the little information that the professor had already acquired about frommer, prior to taking the step of searching for him.
frommer is a recognizable type. a type thought of as "modern" in this "modern" world, but does that mean anything? perhaps such men (and very occasionally, women) existed in babylon, in tyre, in atlantis, in cities forgotten to history. the key word is "city". "city" defined as a congregation of humans large enough to admit of anonymity for individuals - for an individual to be able to "melt into the crowd". a villager can be ostracized by his fellows. he can be driven from the village into the wilderness, he can be stoned to death, he can be ignored by his fellows, he can be, in the curious british term, "sent to coventry". but he can not exist among his fellows unseen.
but the the unseen man is still a man. like his brothers left behind in the village, he still talks, if only or mostly to himself, and he still dreams. his talk is the same talk - pathetic boasting.
his dreams are the same dreams - of impossible conquests. sometimes the unseen man puts himself forward as a leader of his fellows. more often, as a prophet or religious teacher. (if he has any interest in attracting female followers, this seems his best course.) in the last resort, he is a poet - or perhaps a combination of prophet of poet.
fame attends these poets in about the same proportion as it attends the preachers. a villon or a rimbaud emerges from the shadows as often as an augustine or a luther.
but i digess. i apologize again, dear reader. oh, to have been born into an age when digression was a virtue, a sign of - smile if you must, but not laugh - "culture". ah, i have brought a smile to your lips at last!
so. frommer was a member of this tribe of poet-preachers, who appeared in the cities of europe and asia in locust-like numbers in the aftermath of the late hostilities, when it seemed that every man who had survived the bombs and bayonets was ready to do battle with pamphlets and proclamations...
the storm of the night had abated, but dark clouds still held sway in the sky when babette, the housekeeper, approached the comtesse, who was staring out the front window at the leaves and branches scattered on the wet grounds.
"i am going to the village now, madame. the storm looks as if may return, and i would like to go and return before it does."
"i am sure you know best, babette."
"would madame like me to obtain anything extra, for our guest?"
"who is, i assume, still asleep?"
"jeanette and arette tell me she is still in her room."
"and who has, therefore, given no indication that she wants anything to eat at all."
"arette said she looked healthy enough when she arrived. i assume she has at least a normal appetite."
"maybe she is a werewolf. in that case she will no doubt feed herself."
"madame is pleased to be droll."
"her appearance seemed to partake somewhat of the miraculous and mysterious to me. jeanette was skeptical. what do you think?"
"the mysterious is quite outside my purview, madame. as to the supplies from the village..."
"oh, use your own judgment. for one or two days i don't suppose she will bankrupt us. if she wakes up and wants a whole roast oxen for her lunch, we can always send one of the boys out to find one, eh?"
"indeed, madame." babette took her leave. the comtesse continued to look at the window and through the trees at the darkening sky. presently babette appeared on the path, accompanied by one of the kitchen maids with a basket on her arm.
"excuse me madam, " a squeaky little voice behind her interrupted the comtesse's reverie. she turned and saw the young maid referred to by the other servants as "little margaret" with her hands clenched nervously in front of her. behind her, in the wide doorway of the drawing room, stood a woman of about thirty years, of medium height and haughty bearing, wearing a plain blue dress.
"good morning," the woman entered the room and smiled placidly at the comtesse.
"good morning to you."
"as you may or may not know, comtesse, i am eugenie fox-cuthbert, the daughter of your sister zorine, of blessed memory."
"ah, zorine. i have little memory of zorine, and less of anyone ever blessing her memory."
the comtesse noticed little margaret staring at her. "you may go, margaret - unless mademoiselle has some need of you? "
"oh no, no."
"have you had breakfast?"
"i was offered it. i declined."
"some tea, perhaps?"
the comtesse nodded to margaret. "find william or jeanette - in whatever cozy corner they are dozing - and have some tea sent."
margaret hastened off. the comtesse gestured to eugenie to be seated, and sat down herself.
"these servants! they are bad enough in civilization, but here in the primeval forest they are beyond description. but you, mademoiselle - i understand you arrived without a servant?"
"how curious. did you have one that died or decamped on your journey here?"
"no, nothing like that." eugenie smiled.
the comtesse stared at her guest. "and the young woman given to you - she is satisfactory?"
"i have no complaint. but i would as soon do without a servant, if it is all the same to you."
"but it is all the same to me. i find such an attitude shocking - ineffably shocking."
eugenie leaned back and smiled. "then i will make such use of her as i can. please, let us say no more about it."
"before we go further, mademoiselle, may i ask you a question?"
"of course. ask me anything. i realize how i am imposing on you, and answering your questions is the least i can do."
"well then - are you a vampire, or a werewolf?"
"i see these deeply sylvan surroundings have an effect on the imagination."
"that is as may be. but are you, in fact, any sort of supernatural being?"
"i am afraid not. you may rest easy on that. "
"i have another question. how did you find me?"
"quite by accident. one of my colleagues, a reporter for the paris - "
"you consort with journalists? how disgusting. but, please, go on - "
"my colleague, a reporter for the paris something or other -"
"that was the name it, the something or other?_"
"no, it had a name, i can't remember it, call it the paris flower of a day. it was one of those little journals that spring up around some particular cause or issue, then disappear."
"and the cause was - "
"the trial of some anarchist colleagues of ours. we were always on trial, it was what we did."
"ah, so you were an anarchist. how dreary. "
eugenie smiled politely. "so my colleague was filling up the ages of the paper - and one way that he did this was to buy the cheapest, most obscure and forgotten books he could find in second hand bookstalls, and rewrite little passages from them as stories -"
the comtesse shook her head. "i am afraid i am not following you. ah, here is jeanette with our tea. thank you, jeanette, it is good of you to take the time to serve us."
"i dozed off, madame. i am not as young as i once was."
"ah, mademoiselle. you see what i have to put up with. please go, jeanette, i will pour the tea myself."
"please go on, my dear, with your boring story."
"well, aunt, if this story bores you, perhaps i can tell you another one."
illustrated by rhoda penmarq, konrad kraus and roy dismas
click here for previous chapter, here to begin at the beginning
editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo
"so what exactly happened?" dorine asked jolene.
"in your dream. what exactly happened in your dream?"
"oh - nothing much. it was just a dream. i was walking up and down. there was a lot of empty space. i had to be somewhere but i didn't know where."
"a lot of open space?"
"yes." jolene answered politely.
"my dreams are usually in closed spaces," dorine persisted.
jolene nodded again, obviously uninterested. nobody else at the breakfast table - miss prue, the other two girls who had arrived - sabine and coraline - or any of the guards - even pretended to show any interest.
good! dorine had not really had any dreams at all the night before, because she had not slept at all. one of the things she had thought about was escaping. another was talking about escaping with the other girls. and another was devising a way of talking in code, so she could talk about escaping with the other girls. dreams... could they use talking about dreams as a way of talking in code? it was worth thinking about.
"they are in closed spaces and there is always one more door or corridor before i wake up."
miss prue took a sip of coffee. jolene looked down at the table.
dorine gave it up, and took a sip of her tea. but she felt she had scored a small point - dreams were apparently an acceptable subject of conversation.
one of the guards came and put a plate in front of dorine. she picked up a fork and began to poke at the food on it.
a couple of other girls came in. ameline came in, yawning, and after studying the table, sat down by herself in the middle of the table under the windows. florine came in and sat down next to coraline. the guard who had accompanied florine stood right behind her, as the two talked in low voices.
great, thought dorine. but they can't keep it up - it's only the second day, they will have to relax and get careless. she glanced over at prue, who was sipping tea and had taken a few nibbles at a scone. she looked tired, and not very interested in the proceedings.
"can i ask a question? or two?" dorine asked prue.
"of course. it's what i am here for." prue smiled. "but why don't you eat something first? before it gets cold. and maybe some of the others will show up and there will be more to hear the question. would that suit you?"
"yes, all right." dorine managed not to scowl. she took a forkful of scrambled eggs and put it in her mouth. she felt prue's eyes on her as she swallowed it.
"what?" prue had not, in fact, been watching her, but stifling a yawn. "oh, i'm glad you like it, dear. we will send your compliments to cook."
a guard came in and put a heaping plate - the "english breakfast" she had ordered - in front of jolene. jolene looked at it warily.
dorine looked away, down the table. i wonder how many want to escape, she thought. surely they all do! even the guards. maybe even prue. if she had anywhere to escape to. but then, where did any of them have to escape to? what a negative thought! away, negative thoughts!
dorine had spent the night thinking of two things - escaping and paulette, whom she had of course, only met the previous afternoon. she wished paulette would show up. she had to make an effort not to keep her eyes from going back and forth to the two doors. and of course she hoped paulette would sit beside her if she came in.
and hoped nobody else would come in and take up the places beside her. this is pathetic, she thought, am i still just a schoolgirl? well, it is just like a school. she took another forkful of food. it really isn't too bad. she had some more, and swallowed some tea. she took a deep breath.
and if paulette comes in and sits beside somebody else ... i won't blink, i will think positive thoughts... thoughts about escape, escape, escape.
there had only been a low hum of conversation, but suddenly it stopped. dorine looked up.