jeanette had left the window open, the breeze gently moved the lace curtains, and the rain fell softly on the persian rug.
when clement came home for lunch, he was furious to find that the lace curtains were billowing in the breeze, and that the rain was falling on the persian rug.
he became doubly enraged when, placing his keys on the teak table inside the oak door, he heard the sounds of henriette, the maid , making love with her boy friend upstairs in the master bedroom.
where was jeanette? clement decided he would deal with her later.
controlling his fury, he crossed the kitchen floor, almost slipping on some water which had leaked in from the drawing room where the window had been left open, and descended the cellar stairs in search of his riding crop, with which he was determined to give the saucy baggage and her fancy man a sound thrashing.
clement realized only too well that things had changed since his grandfather the duke’s time, but there were still amenities to be observed.
reaching the foot of the cellar stairs, clement was surprised by a gigantic purple python, which promptly devoured him.
the rain continued to fall through the window of the drawing room on to the persian rug, gradually flowing into the kitchen, and into the hallway under the teak table on which clement had placed his keys, as the python digested clement.
upstairs in the master bedroom, henriette and the boy friend, a worthless fellow who lived off women and had never done an honest day’s work in his life, paused in their lovemaking to light cigarettes.
“i had better open a window,” mused henriette. “or madame will notice the smell of smoke when she returns.”
“suit yourself,“ the boy friend replied languidly.
“listen!” henriette exclaimed , as she wrapped herself in a shawl and headed toward the window, “do you hear something?”
“only the sound of the rain, cheri.”
“i am not so sure,” henriette replied. she opened a window and a sudden gust of wind and rain burst into the room, overturning a framed photograph on the mantel of the fireplace.
the photograph was an old black and white one, of clement’s grandfather, the duke, standing on a pier with a pipe in his mouth, smiling determinedly but with his habitual furrowed brow, into the camera.
behind the duke a yacht rode gently at anchor in the mediterranean sunlight.
“listen!” henriette cried again, after picking up the photograph - which fortunately had not been cracked or damaged - from the bedroom floor and placing it back on the mantel, “there is the sound again!”
“it is only the wind, which you have so foolishly let in.”
“no, it is something else! something coming up the stairs!”
it was the python, which had finished digesting clement and had come up the stairs and entered the ground floor through the open kitchen door.
finding nothing in the kitchen, the drawing room, the library, or the dining room, the python was making its way up the stairs to the bedrooms.
henriette opened the bedroom door a crack and peered down the stairs.
“a python!” she exclaimed.
the boy friend did not wait to hear more. quickly gathering his shoes and clothes, he was out the window and down the old sycamore tree outside the window, not pausing to listen to henriette’s anguished cries as the python wrapped itself around her pale slender body.
“what a pretty fellow” thought madame duquesne, the nearest neighbor, as she happened to look out her window and saw the boy friend running past in the rain with his clothes in his arms.
later that afternoon, the python was seen making its leisurely way across the village square by madame claudette martin, who was driving her two daughters to their dancing class, and she promptly notified the authorities.
when jeanette arrived home she found the house in a shambles, for besides devouring clement and henriette, the large python had overturned and damaged many of the oldest and most valuable chairs and tables and bookcases, a number of which had been in clement’s family for centuries.
jeanette was well nigh inconsolable. “this is all my fault,” she kept repeating to her friend celeste, with whom she had been gossiping all afternoon in the coffee shop at the mall.
“these things happen,” celeste assured her. “they are fate. they are written in the stars.”
they were seated at the kitchen table, holding hands. police were tramping through the house with their cameras and notebooks attempting to determine the details of the tragedy.
flashbulbs kept going off, each new one causing jeanette to jump in her chair.
my old friend f————— was, to put it perhaps a bit uncharitably, the most ostentatiously cultured man i ever knew. though largely an autodidact, and having no official connection to any university or other cultural institution, he had strong views, which he was not loath to share, on a wide variety of subjects, but particularly architecture and literature. i have to confess i have forgotten exactly what his views on the former were , not having any strong opinions on the subject myself. in literature he was partial to the poets of the renaissance. he seemed unaware that few people - at least in the english speaking world - nowadays read or have the slightest interest in petrarch, boiardo, tasso, and ariosto , and i would on occasion gently twit him about this.
he also had an encyclopedic acquaintance with the nineteenth century novel, not just the acknowledged masters like balzac and dickens but forgotten authors like nodier, paul de kock, mrs braddon, and mrs trollope.
as you might have suspected, he held the tastes and manners of the modern age in the most severe contempt. in this, he found little opposition at the club we both frequented.
he was reticent as to his personal life, if any , and though no foe to food and drink, could not be styled a gourmet, an oenophile, a glutton, or a drunkard.
it was therefore with some surprise that i listened to his statement late one night when we were alone at the club - with the fire burning low and a couple of emptied bottles between us - that his fondest dream had always been to be - a lumberjack.
not because he particularly enjoyed the thought of felling trees or because he relished the company of other lumberjacks, but because it would afford him the opportunity to indulge in huge hearty meals of ham, bacon, eggs, potatoes, and flapjacks, which he would then work the bulk of off in a long day of vigorously swinging his axe, followed by a sound night’s sleep, and awake to a new morning of more hearty meals of ham, bacon, eggs, etc…
such was his vision of true felicity.
my rejoinder to this confidence, if any, i have quite forgotten.
although f———— continued to frequent the club until his sad demise, neither he nor i ever alluded to this conversation again.
the winter palace had been stormed, the control room had been broken into, and the people were dancing in the streets.
the imperial family had fled. not that they would get very far.
the bankers and the landlords and their lackeys had been strung up on lampposts all over the city.
all that was left was the restructuring of society.
carlos had called a meeting of the steering committee - the most trusted comrades who had been the hard hammering fists of the revolution - to divide the world into revolutionary districts and begin the planning of reeducating and reassigning the populace.
the meeting was held in the former grand hall of the winter palace.
the broken windows were open to the night sky. cold air poured through them.
gallons of scalding hot revolutionary coffee had been brewed for the occasion.
the meeting was about to begin when the unthinkable happened.
carlos started to get sleepy.
carlos, the burning firebrand who had kept his comrades on their toes through the long years of struggle.
carlos the unquenchable, who could harangue crowds, defy hostile mobs, and argue the fine points of revolutionary theory for days at a time.
carlos who was never caught napping by friend or foe.
carlos who had ferreted out plot after plot against the people’s cause. often plots by the most cunningly disguised and embedded traitors.
carlos who never slept.
now the others looked on in shock as carlos suddenly stood up, passed his hand over his eyes and announced - “i - i have to lie down.”
none looked more stunned than luis, his ever loyal lieutenant who had followed him around the world and fought a hundred battles by his side for the cause of the people.
unless it was rosa - rosa the inflamer - the red goddess of defiance who had stood with carlos at a thousand barricades.
luis seized carlos’s arm - to keep him from falling. he glanced back at the others. “it is only an attack of dizziness.” he cried. not that anyone had ever seen carlos experience so much as a spasm of dizziness before. “he will be all right in a minute.”
“no,” gasped carlos. “i - i need to lie down. i need to lie down.”
grasping carlos’s arm tighter, luis turned to the others. “start the meeting without us. breckenridge - take over. we will be back soon.”
luis and carlos left the room. there was only stunned silence behind them.
luis led carlos down the wide stairs of the palace . cold winds swirled around them.
“a little fresh air is all you need, my friend,” luis assured carlos when they reached the bottom of the stairs.
but at the door he hesitated. sounds of celebration from the street filled the lobby.
“the people must not see you like this,” luis murmured.
“you are right,” carlos muttered. he was making a great effort to stay awake. “the roof - i must get to the roof.”
“a good idea,” luis agreed. “there must be elevators here.”
after kicking through the debris of the previous day’s battle - including the corpses of several imperial guardsmen - they found a freight elevator.
miraculously undamaged, ihe elevator took them to the roof.
“leave me,” carlos told luis as they stepped out on to the roof.
the celebrating, still burning city spread out forty stories below them in the darkness.
“but - “ luis began.
“leave me!” carlos commanded.
luis left. there were some deck chairs on the roof and carlos sat down on an especially plush one - the emperor’s own?. he looked up at the sky.
his comrades had always thought that carlos “almost never” slept.
they had never realized he never slept at all.
not because of some freak of nature, or because of his iron will.
but because he had bargained his soul to a fallen angel, a colleague of lucifer’s named carrasco.
now he looked around to make sure that luis had not returned, and that nobody else was on the roof.
he took a little packet of powder from his pocket, sprinkled a little at his feet and lit it, summoning the demon.
carrasco appeared immediately, with the hint of a smirk on his face.
carlos did not waste words. “we had a bargain,” he told the demon.
“indeed we did.”
“that i would stay awake until the revolution succeeded. that i would not sleep until the revolution was over.”
carrasco pointed down at the celebration in the streets. “and you have succeeded, my friend. are you not sitting in the emperor’s own chair? is his palace not yours?”
“but the revolution has only begun! we must cleanse the world of reactionaries! we must educate the people! restructure the basis of human society! build a new world!”
the demon shrugged. “that is not my understanding of the word ’succeed’. according to my understanding you have succeeded very well. and besides -“ he smiled, “do you not trust your comrades to go on without you? can you not rest a bit?”
“the people need me!” carlos cried. “the revolution needs a strong hand - mine! mine! this was not my understanding of our bargain.”
“but it was mine - and it is mine that counts.” the demon shook his head. “you need a long rest, comrade. a long rest. what do you say to ten years of rest?”
carlos slumped in the emperor’s chair. he felt a great weariness. “well - if i must. if only - if only i could be sure of the others …”
carrasco laughed - a loud, mocking laugh that echoed in the night. “as to that, my friend, i am afraid i can give you no assurance - none at all… in fact less than none at all… ha, ha! “
carlos started up. “what! what say you?”
“yes, you have been betrayed. cruelly betrayed. there are those among you - in your innermost circle - who are the tools of your enemies! you think you have hanged the bankers, the landlords, the reactionaries - but they lie in wait… they are everywhere… ready to return at the first signal…”
“the signal from whom?” carlos gasped.
“breckenridge! that blue-eyed gringo bastard! i knew i should never have trusted him!”
the demon laughed again. “indeed. and who was it, when you suspected breckenridge, persuaded you of his loyalty?”
“it was - rosa!”
“exactly. ha, ha, ha! you poor fool! playing your role in the oldest story in the book! ”
“and - and luis? what of luis?”
“oh, luis is loyal. but he will be no match for rosa and breckenridge.” and with that the fallen angel vanished into the air.
“no!” cried carlos. “no!” but already he felt deep, black sleep descending upon him.
he staggered to the edge of the roof. “no!” he cried again.
buzz was the first bozo in the bunkhouse to hear the broadcast that the boys were all getting new buddies.
nobody knew why. or seemed to much care.
booboo and bertram were sad that they were going to be broken up, but they did not show it because they knew the others would laugh at them.
buzz was a little bit sad. he had liked all the other bozos but none of them had liked him much or paid much attention to him.
so maybe when he had a whole new set of buddies he would find one who liked him a bit more.
that was the way he looked at it.
bunky, who was into astrology, said that they were being broken up because betelgeuse was moving into the seventh house of aries or something like that. nobody agreed or disagreed with him.
they all had other interests.
they were a diverse, branched-off bunch.
bunky was a devoted student of astrology.
billy was a serious student of the natural history of primates, especially gelada and olive baboons.
bert wrote epic poems about notorious bandits and conquerors of the universe.
bruce was a baseball fan.
boris could talk for hours - if anybody had wanted to listen - about the various religions of the world.
booboo did crossword puzzles and bertram studied chess and musical scores - though of course playing music was strictly forbidden on their level. booboo and bertram were the only two in the group who seriously dreamed of moving up to the next level, so this gave them something in common.
basher, brandon, and bo were all interested in the same subject - women. but as their approaches diverged sharply, the common interest did not create any particular bond between them.
basher studied the ancient history of women.
brandon studied their psychology, especially the most up to date findings.
brandon and basher accepted that their studies were academic and that they would never actually encounter any human females.
bo was not so circumspect. he studied the history of the recent colonizations and the biological revolutions. he also dropped enough hints to the others as to be flaunting the fact that he dreamed of some day belonging to the forbidden brotherhood which dreamed of breaching the male-female barrier.
but as they were all a good bunch of guys nobody snitched on him.
buzz was the dullest and dreamiest of the boys. mostly he wrote little cartoons in a notebook he carried around with him. but what he was really doing was studying the other boys as unobtrusively as possible and wondering what it would be like to be them.
that night they would eat their last meal together. it was wednesday, so they would have chef boyardee beefaroni, with boiled beets and brussels sprouts. with banana pudding for dessert.
bert, bruce, and buzz decided to go for a walk along the beach, before the sun went down.
a light breeze ruffled the waves.
they came to an abandoned basketball court. with one hoop, which sagged at a 135 degree angle.
after kicking around in the sand, bert uncovered a dirty, somewhat deflated old ball.
bert and bruce decided to play a little horse. buzz, who was not very athletic, sat and watched them for a while, and then dozed off.
when he woke up bert and bruce were gone, and it had gotten dark.
buzz felt there would be some banana pudding, at least, left over whenever he got back so he walked a little further down the beach.
he looked out over the water but he did not see any blue whales, or even any barracudas.
he came to a blanket stretched out neatly on the sand.
it was old and tattered and looked like nobody had sat on it for a thousand years.
it seemed strange that the wind had never blown it away.