How could I have forgotten that this was the very night Picasso and Apollinaire would be arrested for stealing the Mona Lisa?
In my defense, all I can say is that time travel seems to induce a certain curious and unique giddiness in which the role one is playing begins to take over not only one’s personality but even one’s actual memories. I argue that this blurring effect is not so much psychological as somehow organic, as if the body/mind itself were gradually being taken over by an immune reaction to “chronic karma” or the danger of possible paradox.
Be that as it may, late that afternoon I was dining (alone) at the Closerie des Lilas in the garden, where in fact the lilac was in bloom, like melting amethyst. A few drunken bees were trying to dabble in my chilled champagne,and an alchemical golden glow slanted over the foie gras in its glaze of framboises sauvages. The breast of capon larded with black truffles was inundated in the special light of the living Past. (No doubt you’ve noticed, in looking at daguerrotypes of that era, that the light was different.)
Earlier that day I’d been smoking opium with dear Jarry in his ridiculous apartment on the third-&-a-half floor of a crumbling mansion, where the ceilings were so low that only that near-dwarf could stand erect — which scarcely mattered, since we were lying on the floor (being glared at by AJ’s pet owl). He was in top form, doing his Ubu shtick as he made the pipes, and I was so amused I lost count and smoked six. As a result my appetite was now not the heartiest, and as I finished a last bite of ambrosial fowl and fungus, I wondered
if I could manage a plate of fraises de bois with cream, and a calvados, or some brie and another half bottle of the Côtes des Rhone (’98).
I was just on the verge of summoning the garçon when suddenly Pablo and Guillaume loomed up before me, obviously hot and agitated: “The jig is up! [Les carottes sont cuites]” declared Apollinaire portentously; and the Spaniard added in his picturesque accent, “Nous sommes dans la mierda maintenant!”
“It was you, wasn’t it? Wasn’t it?” The poet moaned. “Ooh, I knew we should never have gotten involved with an American.”
“It was I who what?” I demanded coolly. Apollinaire leaned over the table and hissed in my ear, “You who stole the bitch! Who else?!”
Apollinaire, fat and tall as a Pope, was dressed shabbily as usual, but Pablo was already attempting (on money borrowed from mistresses) his soon-to-befamous anglo-gentleman pose, with soft tweeds, patent-leather boots, and a snappy bowler. I myself was looking very beau-brummel in a dove-gray suit, a yellow rose boutonnière, ivory-colored spats and ebony cane. I could afford it.
“You think I lifted the Mona Lisa?” I asked incredulously.
“Ssh! Ssh!” They peeped around the garden like nervous fish. No one was paying the slightest attention to us.
Let me back up a bit and explain the situation.
I’d arrived in late 1910, as one does, with nothing — not even clothes; nothing, that is, except knowledge of what was going to happen. I’d positioned my arrival at midnight inside one of Paris’s famous arcades — the Galleries Lafayette — and of course found it easy at once to clothe myself tres comme il faut, and help myself to pocketsful of jewels, gold watches and
large-denomination bills from various boutiques in the Arcade. Slipping out at dawn, I made my way to the Bourse and at once invested the cash in certain consols that were destined to fly through the roof at about noon. By evening I was a millionaire.
Next day I rented a large apartment in a shabby hôtel particulier in the Île St Louis, across from the Cathedral, and ordered a suite of Art Nouveau furniture. I decided to keep a low profile and not buy a carriage, but instead depend on the ubiquitous hansom cabs. In a shiny new top hat I set out to contact and befriend my Cast of Characters — including Picasso and Apollinaire, Jarry, Mallarmé, Sâr Péladan the Rosicrucian, Erik Satie, and so on. I intended to collect ‘em all. O Belle Epoque! (Once I even took Monsieur Proust to dine at
the Closeries, which was also his favorite eatery.)
Having discovered how easy burglary was in those halcyon innocent days, I continued to practice it as a hobby, in honor of one of my great heroes of the era, Alexandre Jacob the anarchist second-story man, (a real-life model for Arsene Lupin and Fantomas), whom I also met. It was Jacob, in fact, who tipped me off to what became my favorite target, the new Musée de l’Homme. “It’s as if they don’t care what gets stolen,” he told me. “After all, to them it’s not ‘art’ but merely the knick-knacks of negroes and redskins — the Musée is undefended!”
I began helping myself to “primitive” fetishes and selling or giving them to the artists I’d met, such as Picasso and Apollinaire, and the anarchist and art critic (and fence) Félix Fénéon. They went nuts for African masks and Japanese ukiyo-e woodcuts. I like to think of myself as one of the founders of Cubism.
I also traded the tribal stuff for new paintings by Pablo, Douanier Rousseau, Redon, the still-unknown Marcel Duchamp and others. Fénéon gave me some wonderful Gauguins and Van Goghs in exchange for a marvelous set of Guinean idols. I decorated my flat with these treasures. But I planned eventually to ship a lot of them to America and store them in a bank vault. I’d then set up a Family Trust (I was using my own grandfather’s name, Emory Cranston) and “leave” the art to my descendants in the future — i.e., me. That way, if I ever had to abandon 1911 I’d own a nice nest-egg of Fine Art to cushion the blow.
I ordered Pablo and Guillaume to stop vibrating and sit down. I poured them some wine. I attempted to reason with them.
“Why would I heist the most famous painting in the fucking Louvre? Whom could I sell it to? Félix? Please be serious! Now calm yourselves and explain to me what you believe is happening!”
“This morning,” the poet whispered dramatically, “the flics visited both our concierges — luckily we were both out at the time — and hinted that we are considered suspects in the ‘scandalous rape of our Nation’s heritage.’ We daren’t go home! If our studios are searched they’ll find all our stolen tribal stuff. Everyone knows you’re the source! If we were arrested….”
I got the implication. If arrested, these poltroons would finger me in a minute! Perhaps they already had. What to do?
“But why should they suspect you two?”
“Why? Because I am a Spanish anarquista,” said Pablo, giving me one of his trademark piercing glances, “and he ees a Belgian ‘sur-realiste’! What other crime need we commit than to be foreign revoltés?”
“And you,” added Guillaume, “are an American anarchist. Are you sure you didn’t steal Her?”
“Of course I’m sure. It was… that is, it was probably some Italian revanchist, angry at Napoleon ’s mania for art collecting. Possibly a museum guard. Not me. Now, hush yourselves while I think.”
They gulped down the rest of my wine; I worked up a plan. It wasn’t a very good plan, and I knew it, but my brain wasn’t firing properly.
“Listen,” I pontificated. “You must get out of town and lie low. Go to Jarry’s fishing shack out on the Seine and let yourselves in. Stay there till I contact you. Meanwhile I’ll go to Félix and ask him to organize the comrades to burglarize our apartments and make off with all the bad evidence. Then we can all re-appear and let the gendarmes do their best to pin anything on us. D’accord?”
“Oui! Brilliant! We’re off at once. A million thanks!” Blah blah blah.
As I hurried home along the quais, I seethed with anger at not being able to stop and browse the open green bookstalls as usual, looking for old prints and rare occultist duodecimos. As if to mock me, Paris presented itself everywhere at its most poignantly Parisian: the sun sparkled on the river, the chestnuts dropped their petals, the cafés were alive, young lovers kissed shamelessly under the bridges. Everyone was happy except me!
And it was already too late. As I crossed over to the Île and approached my Baudelairean hôtel, I began to notice obvious plainclothes police in flat bowler hats, lurking everywhere, trying to look inconspicuous. It seemed that someone had already squealed. Apparently the “cows” had as yet no physical description of me, because they appeared not to notice me especially. But the entrance to my flat was definitely under surveillance, and I walked past my door without pausing or even glancing to left or right.
Time to go.
Félix was incredulous. “You want me to what?” he snorted.
It was eleven PM and Fénéon was just about to saunter out to his café or his mistress or something. What a flaneur.He looked exactly like Uncle Sam: same tall gangly figure and goatish chin whiskers, but with top hat and opera cape, quite the anarcho-dandy.
“Come on, Félix — after all the ‘contributions to the Cause’ I’ve made through you, you owe me one big favor –and this is it.”
True, I’d often given him art for nothing, not to mention the occasional 10,000 F note to bail out a comrade or pay for some Individualist soup kitchen or whatnot. He fingered his goatee and fixed me with his cold blue eyes. Félix made a point of never smiling, and he could be a sardonic son-of-a-bitch. But at heart he was a good comrade. I didn’t bother telling him about my plan to rescue the art. I had a new plan.
“I’m about to be popped for stealing the fucking Mona Lisa,” I again explained, “and I want you to smuggle me out of Paris and get me on a boat to England or Ireland. Tomorrow. I can pay. As soon as the banks open in the AM I’ll fill this carpet bag with gold. Then — off to Balbec or Deauville.” (If the Bank hadn’t already been alerted to my case, that is!)
Félix took off his topper, poured us each a stiff cognac, and began to ponder. At last he announced:
“You stay here. I’ll go out and find Jules Bonnot. He’ll steal an automobile and drive you to the coast. After that you’re on your own.”
I decided not to clean out my account at the Bank lest I arouse suspicion — instead I took a few million, and then emptied my self-deposit box into the bag along with the underwear I’d borrowed from Félix. It might prove awkward, no doubt, trying to pay for things with stock certificates and diamonds, but the cash would serve until I could begin to pawn my jewels and watches at a safe distance from Paris.
When I got back to Félix’s flat, he had produced, as promised, a handsome young brigand — Jules Bonnot, future bank robber and Nietzschean philosopher — and afficionado of that new-fangled toy, the horseless carriage. He’d stolen an ostentatious shiny black limousine of some sort, but in 1911 all automobiles were conspicuous, so tant pis.
Jules asked only a modest fee, and proved to be a cheerful companion, but as a chauffeur I can best describe his style as that of a self-taught genius, or at worst, a French anarchist. I’ve never been so terrified, despite the fact that I’d grown up amidst the cars of the Future, while our behemoth scarcely hit 40 kph; but Jules seemed to be inventing the art of reckless speed.
As we roared though some nameless banlieue beyond Versailles later that morning, I sarcastically told him he’d make a great get-away driver. “What’s that?” he asked.
“You and your pals rob a bank, say, and then escape in a hot car, firing pistols out the windows at any pursuers . . .”
“Fantastic! Do they do this in America?”
“Actually, no. I don’t think anyone has done it… yet.”
(I’d just remembered how Bonnot and his gang were going to achieve their glorious anarchist martyrdom a few years hence. Oh well.)
We’d decided to strike for Le Havre, so as soon as we crossed into the Calvados region we stopped for a meal at the famous Auberge Ste Lucie in Lisieux. After sharing four dozen oysters from St-Malo (the old pirate port) with a bottle of champagne, we each had a lobster stuffed with crab in Meunière sauce, then the main course, a duck with apples and turnips roasted in cider with a bottle of chilled rosé, then some white asparagus, followed by a chestnut gâteau and a flagon of old Calvados.
Bonnot was by now drunk as Lord Byron, and consequently drove much more carefully and intelligently. He dropped me at the Maritime offices in Le Havre, and gave me a comradely embrace before staggering off back to the car.
The Channel crossing was beastly, of course, but I am a good sailor and did not lose my duck. The boat took all night to get up to Dover, and I fasted the whole while, not from mal-de-mer but due to fastidiousness about the food offered on board. Upon landing I consoled myself, naturally, with a luncheon of Dover sole, which was not too awful, and then caught the Express to London.
I decided against my usual haunt, the Café Royal, lest I bump into any nosy friends, perhaps even certain acolytes of the martyred saint Oscar, such as Robbie Ross or Max Beerbohm, who were about as discreet as drunken parrots. I didn’t care to publicize my Retreat from Paris. So I dined at Simpson’s in the Strand, that mausoleum of the British gentry, on gray roast beef and rubbery Yorkshire pudding served on silver plate looted from the Armada, followed by a ghastly trifle, then Stilton and port, which were decent enough. What is it about the English and their food? a genetic malformation? Or is it necessary to suffer in order to attain the psychic power needed to lord it over an Empire? I decided not to spend the night in London but took a horse-cab at once to Victoria (through a Sherlockian miasma of smog) and booked for Holyhead where I could get a ferry to Dublin.
I needed to contact my “agent” in 1911, McQuaid, “The Original Time Traveller,” as he called himself, and perhaps he was. After all, someone had had to go first — and McQ was crazy enough to do it; or else, the sheer weirdness of the early tech (with its various distorts and paradoxical empathogens) had driven him slightly round the bend. He’d been “living” in the Past even before the Machine was perfected, dressing in wingtip collar, straw boater, candy-stripe yachting jacket, spats and a bamboo cane, and swearing he never read a book
published after 1913. He’d been a successful painter — Neo-Abstract Expressionist! — and could afford the insane fees for the early trips. He favored Dublin (as I did myself ) for its uncompromising air of being permanently marooned in the Past. He kept a suite in the Shelbourne Hotel on St Stephen’s Green. As soon as I got off the ferry, I checked into the Shelbourne — the very epitome of Ascendency Edwardian faded respectability and bourgeois comfort.
McQ was out, so I treated myself to tea in the hotel — smoked salmon on soda bread with capers, cucumber sandwiches on thin white bread with Irish butter, tea cakes and scones, strawberries and whipped cream (best in the world) and “lashings” of Assam tea, as the Irish say, with milk and sugar.
Exhausted by my long flit from Paris, I collapsed in my room and slept through till morning, cozily ensconced beneath my “duvet” of goose-feathers. I then decided to breakfast at Bewley’s Oriental Tea Rooms in Grafton St, where I was certain to find McQ holding down his usual table. The weather was “soft” and I stopped along the way to buy an umbrella.
Bewley’s is beautiful — three storeys of nooks and corners and private snugs of really lovely arts-and-crafts stained-glass windows (in “Oriental” and “Celtic” themes) which bathe the rooms in a quasi-medieval glow. McQ sat at his round table on the mezzanine, with his pal the “spoiled monk” Patrick Healy and his entourage of penurious scholars and poets, all with holes in their socks and shiny elbows to their coats. I noticed even McQ was looking a bit shabby — as he put it, one doesn’t wish to seem too well dressed in Ireland. He
was twirling his straw boater on his trademark bamboo cane and listening to one of the “monks” reciting something in Gaelic. He greeted me with a wan smile and a hand like a cold filet of cod. “Cranston, dear fellow, charmed.”
McQ always reminded me of one of those sacred eunuchs in India called hijras — tall, skinny-shouldered, gawk-armed, big jawed, limp-wristed — with a high slightly screechy voice. “Epicene” is the word I’m looking for, I think.
Obviously, one couldn’t discuss business in front of the Monks, so I went downstairs and bought myself a “full Irish Breakfast” to make up for missing supper the previous night. Two fried eggs, a kippered herring, slice of ham, two rashers of bacon, black pudding (a kind of rustic boudin of pig’s blood: lovely!), white pudding (i.e., sausage), fried tomato, fried mushrooms, fried toast, and a thick white porcelain pot of Bewley’s house tea. McQ turned
green when he saw my tray.
Afterwards, I poured out the last half-cup, lit an Egyptian oval (ah, the sheer luxe of smoking in a restaurant!) and asked McQ what he’d been up to since we’d last met. At once he perceived an opening for one of his monologues, and launched into it with a simper:
“As you know, I’m simply mad for Irish folklore. But one can only progress so far with Sir William Wilde or Lady Gregory, and then one wants to know the language. Dear Patrick had begun to tutor me, but I fear I found even the spelling simply impenetrable. I decided I needed to immerse myself in linguistic purity, and I set out for the West, Connaught, Connemara, the gaeltecht itself. It was winter, the weather was of course abominable. I found a room to rent in a remote farmhouse near Cong. The bachelor farmer, his name was Seamus O’Fahey, lived alone with his sheep, my dear. You know what the West is like: not a tree in a hundred miles, nothing but peat bogs and gloomy lochs with haunted ruined Norman towers on little lake-isles, a few thatched hovels — and the rain. Forty days and forty nights, I assure you. I had nothing to read except a Bible in excruciatingly correct Gaelic, and dear Bram Stoker’s terrifying little book about vampires, you know Bram don’t you, and nothing to do all day but attempt to engage the farmer in conversation, a concept that apparently had never before occurred to him. The Irish are reputed to be loquacious, you know, but O’Fahey was the exception that proved the rule. ‘Think it’ll rain?’ ‘Might.’ — that sort of thing. And nothing to eat but potatoes.
“At last, one night, at supper, in a fit of frustration, I flung down my potato and shrieked, ‘Say something, for God’s sake!’
“There was a long pause.
“At last he looked up shyly at me and said, ‘Will you marry me?’ You see — all that time — he’d thought I was… a WOMAN!”
The table of threadbare sycophants all tittered and guffawed, according to their phenotypes. I have to admit even I smiled. “What did you say then?” I asked.
“Well, I said I was deeply flattered, of course, etc. etc., heart engaged elsewhere, so sorry, buck up old chap. That night I stole his rubber boots and escaped, made my way back to Galway and civilization somehow. But I must say… my Irish has improved.”
I arranged to meet McQ again that afternoon for tea at the Theosophical Society. “Dear Willie Yeats is to give a lecture on Bishop Leadbeater’s psychic auras as reflected in the Ulster Cycle. So exciting! Afterwards we can go out to supper and have a little tete-à-tete.”
I decided to skip lunch and spent the day dowsing for books, a favorite occupation of mine in Dublin.
Ah, “dear dirty Dublin,” how I loved her! At that time the Celtic Twilight was so thick you could slice it like plum cake and have it for tea. The old Georgian mansions with their “Dublin sunrise” doors and verdigris’d brass knockers — the lanes where no vehicles but horse-wagons and bicycles could be seen (or smelt) — the “Victorian” pubs with their raconteurs, draysmen, lawyers and sharp-tongued old grannies in shawls lurking in the snugs; the sawdust and spit, the fog of tobacco, the old time real Guiness, thick as treacle…. Everything in a state of slow decay, wabi as the Japanese say, elegantly sad. No need for nostalgia here because this was ground zero, 1911 at its best, the real thing, the thing-in-itself — the living Past. Moss grew inside the Dublin trams, I swear it. And to be an Irish rebel there and then — how pure, how precious, how futile, how poetic.
Ah well. I found some wonderful books that day. The Irish Royal Society had begun to publish its lavish green-and-gold folios of translated Celtic classics — the Book of Invasions, the Finnian Cycle…. Back in the Future I couldn’t afford them, but now I could snap them up for a few quid. I had them sent to my “home” address in Tivoli (upstate NY, Dutchess Co.) where as it happened I also lived in the 21st century, in the very same old Dutch stone farmhouse.
At a charming little mildew-trap of an antiquarian dealer along the Liffey quai near the Ha’penny Bridge on the North bank, I found a small octavo, foxed and worn, of James Clarence Mangan’s first book of poems — a first edition — which was worth (or rather would be worth) heaping thousands in the Future but was priced at 7/6 –seven and a half shillings! I put it in my pocket to show to Yeats, who (I knew) venerated Mangan, “the Irish Edgar Poe,” poète maudit, drug addict, ether drinker, occult genius and Irish patriot. What a day — and it was raining again. Softly raining. How melancholy, how perfect. I hailed a hansom and set out for the Theosophical Society.
The suburban HDQ of Mme Blavatsky’s little empire occupied a Victorian mansionette in a Victorian suburb — although queen V herself was only a decade in the grave, the building was already in decay, the interior painted a bilious yellow, the enthusiasts tweedy and seedy, the tea thin — but so what — Yeats was there! Dressed in flowing cravat, cape and broad brimmed bohemian hat, he was unctuous and pompous as ever, but one could forgive a touch of selfimportance in a man soon to become one of the century’s small handful of great poets. I was glad to see him again. But I wasn’t so sure about his companion.
Tall and muscular, attired as rich amateur mountain climber in boots and plus-fours, radically bald, emanating a very large and somehow off-putting aura, the fellow succeeded in shocking even me when his smile revealed the two front teeth sharpened in the shape of shark’s fangs — or Dracula’s. “This is my esteemed colleague Aleister Crowley,” Willie told us, and of course I now recognized the Magus from his photographs in various (yet-to-be-written) biographies of the Beast 666.
Crowley played the gentleman well enough, greeting us smoothly in an obviously cod-Scots accent, but his extraordinary protuberant eyes drilled into us like searchlights, as if he were considering buying us. McQ visibly quailed, and I caught him making the anti-Evil-Eye sign with one hand behind his back.
Among other luminaries who’d showed up for the evening I spotted the poet “AE” (George William Russell) looking more like an effete pig farmer (which he was) than a visionary mystic (which he also was); the Welsh poet Kenneth Davis, an acolyte of Russell’s; James Stephens, who told me he was already working on The Crock of Gold, his charming fantasy; and the middleaged but still lovely Ella Young, the most crepuscular of Twilight denizens, ethereal in a patriotic green silk gown embroidered like the Book of Kells.Half the Irish Renaissance was present in that room, and it gave me a quiet thrill to contemplate my luck in meeting them.
Having regaled ourselves with Theosophical tea and digestive biscuits along with a gaggle of old Anglo-Irish ladies in bombazine, we settled into uncomfortable chairs, ready to listen to Willie’s “little talk.”
He was full of praise for Bishop Leadbeater (whose reputation was not yet tainted by scandal); Willie was fascinated by the psychic auras the Bishop beheld around human bodies and even buildings. Earlier that year the Bishop had founded a new Theosophical Order of the Eastern Star to publicize a willowy 14-year-old Indian boy named Krishnamurti, who had been picked up on a beach by Leadbeater and appointed Messiah by Mrs. Besant solely on the basis of the lad’s huge purple and gold aura, as described by the good Bishop.
Yeats had a few color reproductions of auras painted according to Leadbeater’s descriptions, which resembled nothing so much as abstract-expressionist paintings — and of course (as I knew) certain European artists (Kandinsky, Kupka, Duchamp) had already seen and digested these blobs with enthusiasm. According to Willie, Cuchulain, the hero of the ancient Ulster Cycle, was described in the old romances as possessing just such an enormous aura.
Afterwards McQ and I took our leave of Yeats and Crowley and taxi’d to a little restaurant we favor, near the Abbey Theater. Having fasted since breakfast, I felt a little peckish and ordered a dozen Galway oysters with brown bread and butter, and a Murphy’s Stout, for an appetizer. We then went on to a nice turbot in cream and parsley sauce with a Meusault’07 and a magnificent crown rack of spring lamb with new potatoes with a Château Latour.McQ
however merely toyed with his food. He looked more than usually nervous. When I’d finished with what I considered an amusing account of my recent escapades in Paris, he appeared quite overcome with gloom.
“All right McQuaid, out with it. What’s up?”
“Our affairs do not prosper,” he whined. “I’m worried about our friend,
Terrence Littleton III was our “agent” back in Dutchess County. An expert on player pianos, he’d opened a shop in Tivoli where he could hobnob with various decaying millionaires, Roosevelts, Livingstons, Astors, and that ilk, and indulge his passion for sentimental songs and novels of the period. He preferred “innocent” Grandma Moses 1911 America to Europe and its disturbing new modernism, anarchism, and gourmet food.
“Terrence is sound,” I protested. “As fanatical a Pastist as any I know.”
“He was. He might be. But… in his last letter to me he was maundering on about his inability to maintain a ‘relationship’ (ugly word!), bemoaning his ‘neuroses’ — and uttering dark hints about the dangers of ‘escapism’.”
“Yesss…. He could, I fear, ruin simply everything if he snapped. You know
how… central his role has been. Someone must go to America and deal with him — and it can’t be me, due to that annoying, uh, warrant in my name in Poughkeepsie — for such a harmless little peccadillo! — and it cannot be our friend the Duke of Nola, Freemason, Guénonian Traditionalist and Hierophant of the revived Eleusinian Mysteries of Naples… because he cannot speak English. As for the others — I wouldn’t trust any of them for a bloody minute! No, my dear, I’m sorry but I believe the burden must fall on your… competent
shoulders. You’ve got to go and sort him out.”
“Alright, McQ… I could do that. In fact I was planning a trip to America anyway. In fact, that’s what I wanted to consult you about. McQ — what if I just kept on going West? I want to visit China before the Manchu Dynasty falls and meet the Dowager Empress, whom I’ve always admired. Then I thought of retiring to India… perhaps some comfortable little hill station like
Darjeeling or Ootacamund — I could live safely even after 1914 when the Shit Hits the Fan — smoke opium — study mysticism — take up Mughul cuisine…. On what I’ve saved from Paris I could live there like a minor rajah for decades. What do you think? Any danger of… paradox or whatnot? Any… anomalies to avoid?”
“I shouldn’t think so, Emory. It sounds nice. Maybe I’ll join you there…. BUT….”
“Yes, yes. I’ll go to Tivoli. I’ll soothe the troubled dreams of our frail comrade Littleton. Don’t worry. He’ll listen to me. He’ll bloody well have to.”
When we got back to the hotel, McQ pleaded a headache and retired to bed; while I decided to put off the insomniac pleasures of Henri Bergson’s Evolution Créatrice (1907) which I’d brought with me from Paris and headed toward the bar for a nightcap.
I was proceeding down the long dark corridor that leads to the Shelbourne’s rather isolated drinkery when — suddenly — a tall cloaked figure burst out at me from a dim hallway and startled me badly. Irritated (and halfdrunk), I snapped, “Crowley! Are you following me?”
The Magus, for it was he, favored me with his barracuda smile and purred, “Of course not, Cranston! I’m staying here, just like you, and like you I felt the need of a little drink. Come, let me buy you a baby Powers.”
Nevertheless I somehow knew he was lying, that he had been shadowing me since McQ and I left the Theosophical Society — but I forced myself to be polite and accepted his offer.
The bar was noisy with a crew of late celebrants, horsily aristocratic and rather plastered, thirstily consuming magnum after magnum of champagne. We got our whiskeys and retired to a quieter and rather murky corner. Crowley lifted his glass and wished me the blessings of Beelzebub.
“Slanté,” I replied irishly, and tossed back the smooth elixir.
“You know, Cranston,” said Crowley in a low and insinuating tone, “Yeats is a nice fellow but really, when it comes to the occult, merely a blow-hard. Whereas I, you know, am a genuine Adept.”
“Yes. Oh, Willie talks well about auras — and ‘AE’ has some talent, though he is such a twit. But I, I can actually see auras.”
“Yes. Now you for example, and your fey friend McQuaid, both possess really rare and interesting ones. The only similar thing I’ve ever seen belonged to a Rosicrucian Immortal I once met in Prague — the Comte de St Germain, perhaps you’ve heard of him? Or met him?”
“I don’t believe I’ve had the honor.”
“Yours is not exactly the same as his. I detect that you have traversed a good deal of Time, Mr. Cranston, but that that Time is somehow not behind you, as with the Count; neither does it lie before you precisely. I confess I’m baffled.”
This was horrifying. Did the bugger actually possess some sort of psychic power? A dangerous paradox loomed before me.
“Nonsense, Crowley. Our Theosophical evening has gone to your head — unless it’s the whiskey. I’m simply an art dealer from New York, on my way home from a buying trip in Paris — no drinker of Oil of Gold.”
“Oh, so you know about Oil of Gold, do you? How unusual. Really Cranston, I could make it worthwhile for you to divulge whatever arcanum has impressed itself upon your subtle body. I could trade you some valuable secrets. Why, I could teach you the Spell of Invisibility!”
“O come now, sir, please….”
“Really! I swear it! Wait… watch this!”
Crowley reached into his jacket pocket and took out what looked like a Phrygian cap, the kind of floppy pointy hat once worn by Mithraists and French Revolutionaries. It was red. He clapped it on his bald head, and looking quite ludicrously serious began to mutter under his breath, “OM KROM ADONAI SATHANAS….”
“Crowley! Don’t be such an asshole! Take off that….”
But the Magus ignored me. He leapt to his feet. At once he began to sashay around the room like a demented Russian ballet dancer, waving his arms and taking little leaps from time to time. As I watched him, quite appalled, I noticed that everyone else in the room was ignoring him. It was indeed as if they could not see him… or were they simply so embarrassed by his shenanigans that they were pretending not to see him?
After about five minutes of this performance, Crowley plumped himself back onto the stool next to me and whipped off his Cap of Invisibility. He wasn’t even breathing heavily, the athletic sod!
“Are you convinced?” he sneered. He dangled the limp headgear in front of my face like a carrot before a donkey.
“Certainly not. I could see you the whole time. Utterly mortifying . . .”
“Of course you could see me, my dear. You are yourself somewhat well versed, shall we say, in the mysteries of High Magick….”
I got up and made to go. Crowley grasped my sleeve.
“Come on Cranston. I’ll add an infallible spell for seducing young virgins — of either sex.”
“Good night, sir.”
“Is it time travel? Are you from the Future…?”
In a panic I literally ran from the bar and locked myself in my room. At dawn the next day I crept out with my carpetbag-full of gelt and headed for Heuston Station (near Phoenix Park and the Guiness factory) where I booked on the next train to Belfast.
In Belfast I took a cab direct to the piers and asked for the next boat leaving for New York. I had a choice between the French liner Normandie and the brand-new super-liner launched just that year in Belfast, the Titanic.
I chose the French ship. The food would be better. And it was not, as far as I could recall, destined to meet any icebergs.
The voyage proved calm and uneventful, and I quickly recovered my sang froid. My nice 1st class deluxe stateroom, lined in mahogany and featuring a porthole with an ocean view, also bought me a place at the Captain’s table. The conversation was bland, but I found it soothing — and the grub was superb.
Not to rub it in, I’ll simply mention the celebratory meal served the night before we docked in New York. We started with caviar (from a still-unpolluted Caspian sea), gems big and lustrous as gray pearls, heavily smeared on little blini pancakes with sour cream and hardboiled plovers’ eggs, accompanied by chilled champagne and vodka cocktails. Then came a lobster bisque thick with minced claw meat and sherry cream; then a tongue with truffles in jellied aspic (moulded in the shape of a calf ’s head and served with a wonderful 1874 Vin Jaune du Jura); followed by a refreshing entremets of iced cognac. Then on to the main course (served with a superb Mouton Rothschild ’93) — a turkey stuffed with ortolans and quails, garnished with slices of dried ham and more truffles, and roasted in brandy. Then a plat of asparagus mayonnaise with green salad; followed by a lovely triple-cream cheese with fresh baguette; then desert — crépes suzette flambées with a glass of six-bundle Tokay. We finished with nuts and raisins, Napoleon brandy and Cuban cigars.
I spent most of the voyage wrapped in blankets on my deckchair, reading supernatural tales by Arthur Machen and Lord Dunsany — deliberately keeping myself immersed in the Twilight. When I felt like taking a bit of exercise, as Max Beerbohm always used to say, I’d lie down ’till the feeling went away.
I never feel homesick in Paris or London or Dublin or Florence. Waves of bittersweet nostalgia for “home” only assail me when I’m actually at home in the Hudson Valley. “Instant nostalgia” — as if the Present were so very precious that one must pine for it even in anticipation. I suppose such confusion can only really be shared (if not understood) by those who have come to inhabit a Past for which they yearned. Here I was, back in Dutchess County, in 1911 — the most beautiful landscape in America, soft with centuries of Dutch gemütlichkeit and yet wild as Washington Irving’s most gothick fancies — a perfect blend of farm, forest, mountain, river — worthy of a Taoist landscapist — and still unmarred by highways, automobiles, nuclear reactors, televisions, computers, shopping malls, or billboards.
How I loved to conform to the little folkways of the region, romantic as a scene in some Hudson River School canvas by Cole or Church or Albert Pinkham Ryder — slightly weird, to be sure — yet so unbesmirched by Post-Modern Irony or Weltschmerz. I longed to don my top hat, I looked forward to Sunday at the stuffy Anglo-Catholic Episcopal Church in Rhinecliff (“violet capital” of the world, greenhouses bursting with purple perfumes); I wanted to rake and burn the first Fall leaves on my little lawn in Tivoli (a pleasure that would be forbidden by law in the 21st century!) — surely the very smell of the enchanted Past. And no honest painter would dare attempt to depict such autumn colors, because no paint has ever been invented to capture such a spectrum. I wanted to crank up my Victrola and listen to sad old, dim arias by Caruso while lounging on my veranda sipping hard apple cider and eating lardfried nutmeg crullers.
But not yet. First, I had to go alleviate the qualms of our comrade Terrence Littleton III, lest he teeter off the edge of Reality and endanger our little chronotopia in bucolic 1911. So I walked from the tiny Tivoli Station (with its pot-bellied stove and posters advertising chewing tobacco) not to my own dear stone farmhouse, but direct to Terrence’s white Greek Revival player-piano shop on Main St. There he sold and repaired the masterpieces of the craft, with which the ghosts of Chopin’s best students could be conjured up simply by slipping perforated rolls into the mechanical (non-electric!) grand pianos and ornate uprights in Terrence’s show-room.
Terrence was there, decked out as usual in his stiffly brilliantined black hair, his gold pince-nez, his Nietzschean handlebar mustache, his rigid white collar and black foulard, his sober suit, a neat artisanal blue apron with pockets-full of esoteric little tools, and his painful elastic-sided boots.
“C… C … Cranston,” he croaked, evading my eyes. “What are you doing here?”
I couldn’t tell him about my little contretemps in Europe, could I? Instead I blustered, “Well, I live here, you know, dear old chap! But what’s all this I hear from McQuaid about your falling into a funk? Surely not you, Terrence!”
Instead of answering, he slid over to the door, opened it, peered out, closed it, and locked it with an air of paranoia. He sidled back to me and finally whispered:
“Emory! Listen! I paid a little visit to 1945… can you guess why?”
“Good heavens, Terrence, you might have caught a dose of radiation. Whatever possessed you?”
“I wanted to go into analysis with Doctor Wilhelm Reich. I found him in Maine. I told him the truth, Emory . . .”
“Well, I suppose that’s all right. After all, Reich was already considered a lunatic by then, and was destined to die in prison on a fraud charge in 1953 or thereabouts. Did he pop you into his Orgone Box? Was it… stimulating?”
“Don’t be crude. Of course Reich isn’t… wasn’t… won’t be insane. That was a lie spread by the FBI to ruin his reputation and spoil his revolutionary plan for universal Sex-Pol liberation.”
“Yes, I underwent orgonomic therapy. Living in the Past is neurotic, Cranston! I was the insane one. But now I’m cured, do you understand? I’m healthy now. I shall return to the Future to carry on the Master’s work. Deadly Orgone UFO craft will soon be attacking America, Emory — He told me so — and we must all move to the Mohave Desert and set up Orgone cannons with which to bombard them!”
“How interesting. But Terrence, if this is the case — and I’m sure you and the good Doctor are correct — what are you doing back in 1911?”
Terrence began chewing his nails — always a bad sign! I stopped humoring him.
“Terrence!! Answer me!”
“Well, Emory… I couldn’t allow… that is, compassion dictated… I mean I had to rescue you and McQuaid and the others, don’t you see? I couldn’t let you…”
“O Jesus, what have you done?”
“I… that is… surely you… we mustn’t….”
“You’ve shopped us all to the Time Lords, haven’t you, you unspeakable ninny?! You, you traitor!”
“I had to… they found me, Emory…. They’ve offered us amnesty… a deal… just talk to them, Emory…. They’re not monsters.”
“Oh yes they are. SHIT!”
I had to go away, and I had to go quickly. Despite a rush of adrenaline or some such hideous secretion I tamped down my despair and terror, I tried to think. The result was not, I fear, thought at its best. Leaving Littleton gesticulating with limp hands and sputtering, I rushed to the door and scrabbled with the lock. I let myself out, and ran at once to Terrence’s little carriage-house. His horse, ludicrously named Dobbin, was having lunch, but I rudely interrupted him and hitched him up to Terrence’s neat little one-horse shay. I leapt into the seat and cracked the whip.
Terrence ran out of the house shrieking something. I ignored him.
As I pulled away down the driveway suddenly two stark naked men rushed out of Terrence’s shop, waving their arms (genitals flapping) and shouting,
“Stop! Stop! Cranston! Come back! Talk to us!”
Agents of the Time Lords! — freshly materialized in Littleton’s living room, luckily for me sans clothes and weapons, as always . (Or almost always.)
“Giddeeup! Mush! Avanti!” I urged poor Dobbin, putting a dose of my own panic into him. We sped off, leaving the agents behind us.
Somewhere along the Albany Post Road on the way toward Rhinecliff, I realized I was being followed. A 1911 Detroit Electric, the little black-carapaced boxy flivver that would later be favored by Walt Disney’s Grandma Duck, was humming along a few hundred yards behind me. The agents had attired themselves from Terrence’s wardrobe, stolen the car, and were now hot in pursuit. But the Electric couldn’t do much more than 25 mph, and if I whipped Dobbin like a sadist I could get him to 30 or even 35.
So I did.
I don’t know, I suppose my “plan” was to beat them to the Rhinecliff Station, where miraculously an Express would be about to leave for New York; I’d leap on board even as it pulled out, thumb my nose at the chrono-cops, and find a tramp steamer in Weehawken ready to head out for the long haul to Japan, and (still using my carpetbag of francs and other valuata) book my way to freedom. Even if they could transmit agents onto the boat, I could . . .well, I suppose I could murder them. Or what?
But suddenly — the unthinkable occurred. The fabric of time was being stretched too thin, or something, how do I know? As a rule, one cannot travel in time along with any physical object, even a pair of spectacles. But rules, it seems, are not quite the same as laws.
With a ghastly nauseating ripping lurch, a hole in time burst open (I can’t describe it in any meaningful way, really) and Dobbin, the carriage, and I, dressed à la 1911, burst through a century of Lovecraftian psychogeometry and eldritch angles into (as it turned out) 2011 — still stampeding along at a breakneck speed in a slathering panic — but now headed straight for the plate glass window of some trendy restaurant full of hipsters from Brooklyn
and real estate agents…! I could see their upturned faces locked in rictus of shock at the sight of Dobbin, hurtling toward their gluten-free dream of an over-privileged consumerism. “EEEK!” “AARGH!” CRASH! TINKLE-TINKLE-TINKLE. THUD.
The Detroit Electric, which obviously had followed us through the Anomaly, screeched to a halt just short of the disaster. The agents leapt out. Ignoring the mayhem, the blood (which turned out to be poor Dobbin’s), the smashed crockery, the overturned aspidistras, the shrieking waitresses, the stunned and wailing customers — the agents rushed straight at me, pulled me from the wreckage of the carriage, and dragged me off into the gathering dark. Busted.
Well, I suppose you’ll want to know how everything turned out “in the end.”
No one died in the accident except Dobbin. It transpired that I owe the Company seven million, four hundred and seventy thousand dollars. Needless to say, even though my carpetbag had also come through the Hole with me, I was in no position to pay my bill. (And they confiscated my 1911 francs and consols, which were in any case worth only their price as antiques, and helped themselves to the gems and watches.)
Terrence is now in Arizona or New Mexico or some such place. He’s still dealing in player-pianos. Presumably saving the universe from DOR aliens.
McQuaid has eluded all attempts to retrieve him from the past. Good for him. Picasso and Apollinaire were indeed popped the night before I left Paris and charged with the theft of the Mona Lisa. Under questioning by the police, in a blue funk, they actually denied knowing each other. Two Judases, without a Jesus. It was almost the end of a beautiful friendship. But later (after being exonerated) they managed to kiss and make up. Guillaume died of a head wound he received fighting for France in World War I.
As for me, I am locked out of the Past — and I’m not even allowed to explain to you what that means. Of course, entre nous, I can assure you that I refuse to accept this lousy fate. I’ll think of something. Or McQuaid may devise a means of rescuing me. In any case, to paraphrase Baudelaire, I don’t intend to waste much more time in this here and now.
[Note: Any alert historian who reads this tale will have noticed certain minor anachronisms. These will have occurred, of course, as a result of the very existence of time travel, especially as practiced so carelessly as by our protagonists. And anyway, it is the Past that’s always changing, which is why we like it. Only the Future is unalterable. My apologies to all the real people in this text, including especially my grandfather.]