The station was at Schaanwald in Liechtenstein, and rather than the Swiss Army waiting for them at the Customs Post just before the village itself, it was a group of four armed men on horseback, sabre-rattling while their leader waved a piece of very official-looking paper at them, then, when he had the attention of all the passengers, plus the entire crew of the train, he read in a fiery sort of voice: "we, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, are sent at the Command of The Creator, to Apprehend and Conduct one Grigor Haffinch to the Presence of The Creator to answer Serious Charges, viz. That he did represent himself as The Anti-Christ on Tuesday the 7th of March 1452 AD and conjoin with and support three Fallen Angels, to wit: Lucifer Lucianus, Basil Beelzebub and Nigel Gnome in their failed attempt to overthrow The Creator and set themselves up as a Ruling Troika over the Entirety of Creation. . . . ." but Grigor, who had appeared at a carriage doorway, yelled out: "it's a canard, a pack of lies, I don't know these people he's talking about, they're trying to frame me, poor, honest old Grigor, the Doorman, what use would I be to Angels? tell me that, you Windbag!" but the spokesman merely stood higher on his stirrups and in an icily steady voice, merely said: "this Warrant is issued summa rerum and in the interests of the Public Good, will be complied with immediately!" which was when all Hell broke loose – Grigor threw a saucepan he must have seized from the galley and it hit the spokesman on the head, knocking him out cold and sending him to the platform, then Grigor dived across the carriage and jumped out of the door on the other side, while the three horsemen still mounted seemed unsure as to whether they ought to attend to their unconscious leader, or chase after Grigor, which was when Pola Pinkus cried out: "you dirty, rotten swine, picking on poor, defenceless Grigor, well – you know what a koha is? a reciprocated gift, well you might not thank me for it, but here's what I'm giving you in return for frightening that poor old man!" and in rapid succession, three well aimed eggs hit the other riders on their faces and in sheer shock and probably disbelief, they too fell off their horses and with a roar of triumph, the entire company of Cabaret Voltaire, together with the train's crew and staff, were off the train and on them and in no time, they were all four trussed up like chickens in the Guard's Van, their horses set loose and the train moved off, picking up Grigor barely half a mile after passing through Schaanwald.
"What's that outside?" exclaimed Tristan Tzara, astonished, pointing,
"the Seventh Cavalry?" asked Lionel Bart, bemused, rolling his eyes,
"it's Alexander's Ragtime Band," drawled Irving Berlin, rolling his eyes knowingly,
"it's a hipparchy," trilled Hildegard von Bingen, waving gaily, flirtatiously,
"an ancillary division of the Swiss Army," suggested Pierre the waiter, confidently, setting down more drinks,
"but why?" enquired Gilbert, the other waiter, carrying in a tray of schnitzel, and shaking his head in disbelief,
"to welcome us to Switzerland," Kermit Hackensack assured them, proprietorially, while tapping the side of his nose, conspiratorially, as if he had paid for it, like the train, and perhaps he had,
"it's a Cavalcade!" said Paula Heidler-Wolff, to her brother Dada, having just entered the Dining Car, arm in arm,
"it's got nothing to do with me, I hope," muttered Grigor Haffinch, the Doorman, slinking past, on his way to the caboose for a smoke,
and they were all wrong, but who woulda thunk it?
"And that, Tristan, laddie, is why you ain't a songwriter – four words, four syllables too many, sometimes you gotta scumble a bit, you shoulda stopped with 'stuck in the middle with you' which is a nice line, it's gonna be a hit one of these days," said Issy, "and if I ever use it, I'll pay you a royalty," and Lionel added: "you should've become an accountant, Issy," but his friend waved the insult away, saying: "my momma wanted to be able to introduce me to her friends as 'my son the Doctor,' but I couldn't stand the idea of being surrounded by sick people, people with diseases, or the dying, or even already dead; I didn't want to become intimately acquainted with bed-sores or bezoars, cachexia or proctopexia, fibroids or hemorrhoids, to be forever poking around in the body's orifices and sticking my nose in where it definitely didn't want to go; do you get that Tristan?" and, thus unexpectedly addressed, the youngest occupant of the table blushed and said: "to be honest, Issy, I think there's a paralogism in there somewhere, but I'm damned if I can work out just where it is!" and Lionel laughed, and shouted: "fetch some nurses, we've got to operate immediately, or he's a goner!" and Issy cried out: "who you callin' a gonef? you can't say I'm not honest, just because I didn't have a chance to steal one of your songs!" and turning to Tzara, said triumphantly: "now that, my boy, would be a paralogism!"
And Tristan's naturally bubbling good humour flared into a roar of laughter: "at the risk of sounding like a hierophant, Issy, I really don't think I'm cut out to be a recruiting sergeant for the Salvation Army or your Band of Hope, whatever that is, though Tristan Tzara's Ragtag Band might be more like the thing for me, but to be quite honest with you, I haven't yet discovered the Moloch I'm prepared to make extreme sacrifices to," and he broke off as the dapper figure of the other half of the Berlin-Bart musical powerhouse in Cabaret Voltaire came peacocking down the length of the Dining Car, and whispered to Issy: "the rest of us look like tramps after ten days and nights on this train, how does Lionel manage to always seem newly pressed?" and Issy confided: "his old man was a master tailor, that kind of thing's in your blood – so is writing love songs for the girls in the Wardrobe Department, that wins lots of favours! but you're a poet, Tris, can't you compose a few sonnets to earn something in return: like, say, a decent haircut?" and he ducked a slap from the boy as Lionel plopped down at the other side of the table: "who's the chick?" he asked Tristan, indicating with his eyes the woman sitting alone nearby, and Tristan explained that she was a new passenger, the Prima Donna from the Opera House in Vienna, Hildegard von Bingen, at which Lionel sniffed: "opera shmopera, they think they're better than us mortals just cause they can warble in different languages, like ballet shmallet dancers, they're hoofers in tutus but put on airs and graces – they wouldn't last a minute in the East End," and Issy added: "or the Lower East Side," and Tristan affected a pose and said: "the East is Oriental and the West is Accidental, but I'm stuck in the Middle with you two Wise Guys!"
"hey, Issy," said Tristan to the young composer, who, although now professionally known as Irving Berlin, still answered to his birth name of Israel Beilin among friends; he had fallen apart after the death last year of his wife of only five months, shut himself away, struggled with writer's block and eventually fled New York, returning to Europe and re-inventing himself as a night-club singer-songwriter, which was what had brought him to Vienna and the Cabaret Voltaire where he and Lionel Bart, a young Englishman, who should have been rivals, found that they could work well together and were now providing most of the musical repertoire for the Cabaret's performers; "hey, Tris," said Issy, "you're a bibliophage, ain'tcha?" and Tristan acknowledged that he was indeed something of a bookworm; "have you read much Dickens? it seems like Lionel's set on turning one of his stories into a musical, says it's got lots of Social Comment and could be an extra for the Voltaire," and the Romanian thought about this, then asked: "which novel?" and Issy said: "Little Dorrit, a lot of it's set in the Clink, you know, the Pokey, a Debtor's Prison where her father's banged up," and Tristan laughed: "sounds like fun, but don't expect me to prognosticate about musical shows, that's your line of business – you know, if this war really gets going, it's going to plunge Europe into a Winter that could last for years, maybe even be a repeat of the Thirty or Hundred Years Wars and Switzerland might stay neutral, but it will still be affected," and the composer gazed levelly at him: "what's your point, Tris?" and Tzara explained: "well, if Peace, or the search for it, turns into a boojum, you know, a kind of poisoned chalice, and we do have a spiritual winter stretching out for years, with no hope of Spring, no Imbolc, no celebrating the rebirth, where does that leave us? don't we need to be able to offer some kind of Hope?" and it was Issy's turn to laugh: "you getting Religion young Tristan? forming a Platoon of The Band of Hope or the Salvation Army? ha ha – I got the recruiting song for you:
"This is the army, Mister Schlubbs,
No private rooms or bathroom tubs,
You had your breakfast in bed before,
But you won't have it there any more!"
But the attention of Madame von Bingen being somewhat distracted gave the bibliophage in Tristan time to run a thought through his memory and he then said: "actually, Madame, Montenegro is the Venetian for Black Mountain, it's got absolutely nothing to do with African immigrants," and she stared inexorably at him, with something in her eyes that he sensed was fissile, then said: "coming from a descendant of the Romany Gypsies, that's a bit rich – I suppose you'll be telling me that Romania is the true location of Cockaigne next, milk and honey, peace and plenty, love not war? but that's schoolboys for you – run along now, I'll find someone else to show me my cabin," and with a dismissive flick of her hand she returned her attention to the other man, who was still making notes in his score, oblivious to her presence.
And so he did – not that she could follow his Tiggerish references to macabre boerekos cooking by Old Mother Relisch, who had run the company canteen from the early weeks of Cabaret Voltaire's existence and unquestioningly packed her two small suitcases and a crate of transportable kitchen equipment and boarded the train with the rest, and even now she was a volunteer in the train's own galley, although the two permanent chefs managed to keep her away from the actual preparation area and being a bibliophage as well as an avant garde poet, Tristan certainly knew how to spin a yarn and give a lively, entertaining, amusing, gripping, occasionally shocking, account of almost anything – but as he had not paid any attention when Jakob – one rather drunken night in a lesbian bar they had both stumbled into to escape a sudden cloudburst and found themselves greeted by sullen stares and muttered obscenities, until Jakob had spontaneously invited several of the more striking women to come along to the Cabaret next morning for auditions, as he wanted to 'beef up' the number and range of performers, recognising that by taking niche groups out of their closets and putting them centre-stage, a niche market could quickly become mainstream and add to the company's repertoire, although Tristan had wondered about his boss's use of the expression 'beef-up' but in the event, none of the ladies, as he persisted in calling them, had taken offence, indeed several seemed to rather like it and had over time come to use 'beefy' as a complimentary as well as complementary description of themselves – had spoken to him about Space/Time, his spilling of the beans was messy but lacked any clearly discernible shape and, in the end, Hildegard lost interest, finding a handsome young man a few tables away, studying a musical score and making pencil marginalia, much more promising.
"Am I correct in thinking," said Madame von Bingen to Tristan Tzara as he led her along corridor after corridor, several of which seemed to be peopled by the same passengers she had already passed several coaches earlier, her speaking voice every bit as musical as Tristan was sure her singing voice must be, for though he had never been to the Opera House, even he had heard praise for the vocal talents of the star performer in it's company, "that Kermit Hackensack is travelling with you?" and he nodded, adding: "it's actually we who are accompanying him and his Bureau," the young man replied, "he's the one who booked the train, and when he told Jakob, we voted to make the move too," and this news seemed to please the singer, "do you know him?" as Tristan, "oh, certainly," Hildegard smiled, "intimately," and then said: "and I always enjoy his feuilleton, those satirical dehortations he writes, under the name of Janus, where the gist is along the lines of the sun today being too unnaturally apaugasmatic for Austrians, Hungarians, Romanians and Bulgarians, even Serbians, Bosnians, Albanians and Montenegrins – and then realises that the fundamental difference between those from Montenegro and the others is the simple lack of Vitamin A in their nutrition, and that being descended from the first Negroes to arrive in the Balkans, they are much better adapted to live in a hot, sunny climate than we pale-faced northerners: it's all sheer nonsense, of course, but he manages to write as if he were an expert in whatever subject matter he chooses, in fact, I know several people who actually believe what he writes and will quote his articles, without the faintest irony – it's such. . . . ." she broke off and stopped, and Tristan had gone a few further yards before looking round to see her staring into a compartment, so he hurried back to her: "is something wrong, Madame," he asked, concerned that she may be unwell, but she just flapped a hand, then caught his wrist and pulled him closer, so that she could whisper in his ear: "that rather florid gentleman, with the walrus moustache," and Tristan nodded, "yes, that's Grigor, the Doorman," and Hildegard hissed: "this is the third time we have come by this compartment, he and those other gentlemen are playing cards as they were twice before, what is going on?" and Tristan apologised, "I believe we must have slipped into the closed circle and are just going round and round, quick, come this way, there's a shortcut back," and he pushed open a door and pulled her into what she saw at once was a public lavatory: "if you dare." she said sternly, her voice icy, "I shall scream!" but he raised his hands in submission, "no, Madame, just come through here," and the wall beside the wash basin proved to be a sliding door and when they had stepped through it, Hildegard saw at once that this was a dining car, which they had not passed through before; she sat where Tristan suggested and he ordered brandy and coffee for them both and she said, firmly and with a directness which reduced him to putty in her hands: "explain! from A to Z! the whole caboodle!"
"I heard from people who watch and listen, that you were making this journey," said Hildegard, acknowledging that she had spies on her payroll, "and fearing that the biblioclast rabble who always emerge from under the floorboards at a time of National Crisis, would have happily consigned dear Iggy's collection to one of their conflagrations, and I could never permit that: his Library is his Memorial and if there is no place for it in a Vienna at War, then a Zurich at Peace shall be a fitting home for it," and she flutter her lashes in such a shameless way that Jakob felt embarrassment for a Prima Donna reduced to such behaviour: "let me send you along with young Tristan here, he will show you to compartment we allocated when we heard from your lawyer that you would be awaiting us here," and he dropped his voice in a way that seemed to draw her closer, to be complicit with him, and said: "he is our resident Rafflesian, you have him to thank for the fact you are not next door to Grigor," and not daring to ask anything about this rather fearsome Grigor, instead she enquired, regarding Tristan: "so this young chap is from Singapore?" but Jakob chuckled: "no, no, he runs our company raffles, to allocate seats at a dinner, bottles of cognac at a party or sleeping compartments on a refugee train," and then continued: "it's alleged, on no great authority, mind you, that if anyone should be lucky enough to get brussen on this journey, it will only be thanks to Tristan, so a word to the wise," and she drew so close to the young impresario that she could see the gold flecks in his green eyes and wondered how it was that she had never met him in Vienna, but then remembered that they moved in very different circles there, and it was only because of the war that their paths had now crossed, "such is fate," she murmured and was shocked to hear her voice and that Feldman must have heard it too, their heads almost touching, but he gave no sign, only muttered: "bon voyage," and then instructed the young man, a boy really, to take her along and ensure that Miriam was there to show here where all the necessaries were, "and keep Grigor away!"
Diligent, Hildegard von Bingen – no thon auld mediaeval nun biddy whae was aye wrotten hymns, bit the supremo soprano, undisputed star o Vienna's State Opera Hoose - was also caliginous: six months ago she had permitted the rather dusty and very ancient book collector, no, better to say exceedingly wealthy book collector, Ignatius Kant, to pursue her, with flowers, gifts, dinners at Vienna's finest restaurants, requests, promises, pleadings and eventually a proposal, which, after two minutes and thirty seconds of apparent indecision, she accepted; now, six days after his untimely demise, brought on, one might say, hastened, according to his personal physician, Doctor Esterházy Wallfischermanns, who had noticed that the number of prescriptions for ambergris his dear friend and favourite patient had been requesting, had increased rather significantly, indicating a rather excessive amount of engagements in the practice of what louche Viennese had taken to referring to as the Corkscrew Waltz because of it's repetitious spinning, although the size of a normal mattress restricted the area covered, but all of that is bye-the-bye; suffice to say that, having emptied Kant's bank account and packed all his most valuable books into a dozen large portmanteau and cabin-trunks, and despatched another ten crates of rare first editions of poetry, prose, philosophy, politics, religion and piffle - including a complete set of the classical chrestomathy which had been the adjunct to his bibliophilia, and through his philanthropic self-publishing and distribution to schools throughout the Empire and which had made him so famous to several generations of Austro-Hungarian students of linguistics that their refrain: The Kaiser Can, The Tsar Can, The Emperor Can, but Old Iggy Kant still echoes around quadrangles even as war breathes down their necks - ahead, and had, after a full day of driving in the open Landau, and then waiting for seven hours at the tiny station, with only a basic refreshment room, been rewarded by the sight of the Special she had heard about, pulling in to have it's water-tanks refilled and it's coal-tender restocked, so that now, she had boarded and wondered if she had been mistakenly informed, for this particular train seemed to her to be like something out of one of Lewis Carroll's books, why, there sat a man wearing an Admiral's fore-and-aft hat made out of newspaper, and discussing something amiable with a sheep, while along that corridor small boys were creating a long and potentially lethal slide by the excessive use of floor polish, but here was the person she had been told about, introducing himself to her, as Jakob Feldman, General Manager and Director of Cabaret Voltaire, now occupying this train and heading for a new home in Zurich, and she told him that when her performances at the Opera House permitted, she often joined the audience in his small underground hall quite incognito, and was a passionate enthusiast for their Bohemian approach to the performing arts - all utter bilge, of course, for other than through the present emergency, she would not have been seen dead, even incognito, in such a seedy venue as theirs, but then, greed and need breed strange bedfellows, as her old grandmother Pinkstein was wont to say to anyone who'd listen.
In which a bibliophilist parvenu steps into a looking-glass world and registers a downtick which stops her in her tracks, cold!
Professor Eglantine advised Kaplan not to get over-heated: "you need to sublimate this excitement," she said, laughing, as Hyman asked: "overcome Euphoria?" using her name in a patently obvious way, "yes, that," she replied and standing, told Hyman and me that she was going to Edinburgh right then, to get the dating of the wax tablet started: "and keep him away from Emus, you know what happened to Rod Hull!" and left the pub; Kaplan looked mystified: "what's with the emus, already, from such a laureate, chastisement? d'ya think she thinks I'm a scripophilist? that I am only interested in the paper? ya gotta tell her I'm a Scriptophilist – I collect stage and movie scripts, for the Woids! – that's the only true currency, Teri," and calling to Rusty Nails, the Bar Manager to bring more Scotch, began to quiz me about Christiane Lauderdale and, more particularly, how Sam Smiles had been able to go to a specific Time and Place; yes, I told him about Little Levy Balquhidder's teddy bear and the direct link from it to a satchel belonging to someone in the Roman Camp, and Hyman suddenly beamed – what he called the Mister Parkhill, after his old English Teacher – and said: "we just gotta see this Little Levy guy, today, right now, immediately – is he Orthodox? Reform? Hasid or Ashkenazi? no matter, he can be a Good Samaritan, just lead the way Teri!" and hustled me out onto the pavement.
Which is how it came to be that Hyman Kaplan and I were tucking into an early Burns Supper in The Ship Inn and listening to Euphoria Eglantyne on the subject of wax tablets: "which is why we call our electronic devices by the same name," she took a sip of her whisky and a mouthful of haggis and Hyman couldn't resist asking: "but is it real?" and Euphoria nodded: "oh. it looks to be the right period, I'll have to get it dated, but I'm pretty sure, but that makes it even more peculiar," and it was my turn: "peculiar how?" and Hyman added: "why?" and Euphoria smiled: "well, for a start it's in English," and we looked at each other and Hyman asked: "you mean like the Angles and Saxons, that kinda stuff?" but Euphoria shook her head: "oh no, modern English, and it's part of a Journal, and the author is called Christiane Lauderdale," and the silence ebbed away, until I said: "she was one of Ranulph Ochan'toshan's Ring of Gold in Bowden, she disappeared during the police raid, but Sam Smiles met her when he was transported back to Roman times, she chose to stay there with her lover, a Paladin if I remember right," and I could sense Hyman's growing excitement: "okay, it's not Julius Caesar or Nero, but that don't mean it has to be lacklustre, Teri, what's this Lauderdale broad's back-story?" so I filled him in with what I remembered: "she was a pre-op trans woman, lived with a policeman who was also in The Ring, and when she was transported back to, what did Sam say, about 163AD if got the dates right? well, she was in a woman's body, without needing the op," and Hyman clapped his hands: "Teri," he laughed, "let me buy you and the Laureate here some Champagne, this is the best thing that's happened in weeks, I get the feeling we're sitting on a schlockbuster and there could even be a movie, or a tv series in it, it all hinges on the casting!"
It looked like a slab of pottery, a large tile and – after checking that no-one was watching us – I picked it up and handed it to Hyman: "it's covered in some kind of scratchy writing," he said, "can you read it Teri?" but my eyes aren't good enough for that, so I suggested we take it to the Trimontium Exhibition in The Square: "the Pilgrimage isn't going anywhere fast now, with all this police activity, and I think my friend, Professor Eglantyne is working there today," and Hyman was pretty brumous at the idea: "yes, maybe he'll be able to tell us what it says," which I corrected: "he's a woman, Euphoria Eglantyne, you've probably seen her on television, she's rather telegenic and the local BBC reporter seems rather keen on her and manages to find a story every week or so which gives him a chance to interview her," and Hyman preened: "well, lead on Miss Somerville, and if Euphoria lives up to her name and can give us a good story on this piece of pottery, this ancient artefact, I'll splash her on the front page of the Meshuggener! she can be the Trimontium Laureate," and the picture this conjured up, of Euphoria being hailed in the paper for her distinction in a field of cows, made me laugh, at which Hyman frowned, and grunted: "come along, my little chickadee, we must hie to the Vale of Academe and consult the World's Leading Oracle on Roman Pottery," and as he marched off towards the village, I was left to lug the relic along after him.
When he realised that the line had been cut, Hyman Kaplan turned to Alison, the Widow of Bath, and swore, but the Widow, aka Norman Noggs, just grinned: "I'm guessing that was Hannah," which Hyman confirmed: "yeah, I guess I musta sounded hysterical, but we need some troops to work this one – have you found out any more?" and Alison leaned in closer: "an old boy from Newstead, walking his dog, saw them running across the Trimontium site and then they just disappeared – not in a puff of smoke – one second they were there and then they weren't!" and Hyman asked: "was anyone chasing them?" at which Alison shook her head: "no-one else around, only Maude and Madame Oyzell; it was him – Jed Forest's his name – who caught up with the Pilgrimage and spoke to Algie and Algie called the police, who seem to be arriving now," he pointed to a car just pulling up at the front of the crowd, where Algie and a few others went towards the car; Hyman seemed relieved as he saw the two Isa Urquharts and two Milly Millicans emerge: "at least the older ones have been through this themselves, so they won't dismiss it as some fancy by a bored dog walker, is that him, the Forest guy?" indicating a burly man who seemed embarrassed to be the centre of police attention; "yepp," replied Alison, somewhat anachronistically, "he's a retired prop-forward and Insurance Investigator, so he knows the difference between fact and fancy – he'll tell them what he saw, no frills, just the facts, such as they are," and Hyman gave him a little push: "okay, buddy, you get closer and listen, find out if the cops draw out any more detail, me and Teri are going to go onto Trimontium, see if we can spot anything," at which Alison gave him a concerned look: "just don't go tampering with evidence, otherwise you'll be in trouble when the SOCOs arrive," and Hyman turned to me: "just strolling, Teri, but keep your eyes peeled and give me the word if you see anything that might be significant!" and to be honest, I wasn't too happy about possible contamination of the scene – I've got a friend who's a SOCO and they can become pretty belligerent if they suspect anyone's been messing up footprints or picking up souvenirs before they've got the site locked-down, which could happen pretty fast in a case like this – two weel-kent, almost kenspeckle individuals like Oyzell and Maude going missing, right in front of a credible and probably reliable witness, who could show them exactly where it had happened, point out the precise spot, was a dream come true – usually they arrived well after the event and had to eliminate much of the possible trace evidence before they could isolate and evaluate what was relevant, and on this ancient site, from where the Romans had controlled the South of Scotland for several centuries, curious objects were always being turned up – talk about time immemorial! it wasn't outlandish to feel the presence of the people who pre-dated the Romans, the Votadini, whose hill fort on the towering North Eildon provided them with a view stretching from the distant Peeblesshire hills to the sea at Berwick, although those names never existed in their time; old gigot bones proved that they had kept domesticated sheep, as well as oxen and pigs, and when the wind came in at just the right angle, even we – who think ourselves thoroughly contempo, scientific, rational, can catch a sense of voices speaking long-dead languages and hear their screams as the Legions trample them into the mud; if there is such a thing as a Landscape Memory, then this beautiful valley has a store-full, if only we can unlock the door; but my reverie disappeared like starlings on the wind when Hyman said: "look, Teri, see, just there?" and I followed the direction from his finger and saw it too, half-hidden in a clump of turf that had been raised by the cows, now placidly grazing at the far end of the field.
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