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...