Episode 24 - AXEL!


          "Your companions have already arrived," was what I gathered the usher to have said while I was shown to a box whose occupants included Maud Gonne and Yeats.

          "So!" I remarked, " is you who are my benefactors! I am in your debt, for this place looks quite sold out..."

          Gonne looked to Yeats who looked back, then to me with an air of offense. "I do not know that which you are talking about, Cameron. Maud, is this another of your tricks?"

          "It is nothing of the sort!" fired back the Irish actress, who then levelled her eyes upon me, " are supposed to be doing the Society's business in Germany."

          "Well I was," I acknowledged, "but I was run round half the Continent... almost blown up for my labors, I might add... and the upshot is that I have been directed back here to find Mathers and a fellow named Papus..."

          "He is one of the Praemonstrator's most unsavory associates. You shall report, instead, to me!" Yeats resolved with a jutting jaw that quite invited violence. "Be at the Black Cat immediately following the curtain... I am taking charge of this inquiry. Do you have a problem with that?" he challenged Maud Gonne.

          "Mr. Crowley might... I, however, confess all this Masonic skulking about seems destined to no good end... all the strings of these occult puppets seem to wend back to the English nobility and bankers whose pleasure it is to oppress Ireland..."

          "Speaking of puppets," I took the opportunity to divert the subject, "I saw the most amazing contrivances this afternoon at..."

          "Shut up Cameron!" Yeats protested as the conductor of the orchestra took his place. "Maud and I are not interested in your plebeian anecdotes, we are here to pay homage to Genius..."

          "Which you would be more in a position to appreciate if you took time from your abracadabrae to learn the language... Mathers at least made the effort to read all of Abramelin in the Arsenal Library. I suppose you also would require translation, Arthur," sighed Gonne with an expression of derision.

          "Yes ma'am," I admitted sheepishly, "...Europe is a terribly broken-up place; I never realized there could be so many tongues and alphabets in such a small continent."

          Yeats turned away with a snort and the curtain rose. "Axel" was of epic length, five full hours from overture to tragic suicide and I confess that I occasionally drooped, only to start from my dreams and ask Gonne what was going on; at one instance rather loudly enough to draw hisses from a haughty woman behind us. Perhaps she was another of those Comtesses Paris seemed so full of.

          Maud inclined her neck so that her lips almost touched my ear.

          "It is perhaps the most beautiful and significant scene of all... if one believes in the negative example. Madame Sarah... her character is also a Sara... has asked why it is nobler to die than to live, and Axel has just said... 'Live? Our servants are quite capable of doing that for us!' Substitute the Irish for servants... or the Scots, even ragged Hindoos, and there is the epitome of class struggle..."

          "Am I to be included in your little secrets?" Yeats broke in coarsely. The Comtesse hissed again and Willie rewarded the poor creature with a poisonous glare.

          I have never since heard "Axel" nor, to my knowledge, has the libretto ever been translated, so my understanding of the plot may be faulty. Count Axel Auersberg and his evil cousin Kaspar seek the lost gold of Napoleon... which Axel's father hid in the requisite spooky castle... and the hand of Princess Sara who's fallen under the thrall of the occult Maitre Janus. After much coming and going and many odes and arias, Axel kills Kaspar and discovers the gold, Sara rejects her tutor and a wicked Deacon's offer of "Light, Hope and Life"... convinced that wealth will ruin the purity of their souls, she persuades the Count to drink poison with her which was that portion of the drama Crowley related to me... the Princess Sara Maupers crying "Made Animo! Ultima PERfulget Sola", Axel responding "AltiUs rEsurgRe SPERo Gemmatus".

          Now these lines translate, of course, "Courage! Alone the last blazes forth..." and "Bejewelled, I hope to rise higher!" but also, as Maud Gonne explained, the unusual emphasis was a primitive form of cipher... the letters spelling out the names of the doomed lovers. I was so inconsiderate to ask that if Axel's cry spelt out Auersperg in code, rather than Auersberg, would my standing in the Golden Dawn be compromised by the error in my occult name... a violent comment from the old Comtesse behind us put an end to these speculations.

          Finally the lovers, having drunk their poison, lay dead onstage and the curtain fell; when the applause and coughing faded we three foreigners rose from our box. My legs felt like those of a man of a hundred and ten, so I gripped the rail as Gonne sniffed downwards towards her rival.

          "Bernhardt's reputation is deserved but she is too partial to playwrights... men... who'd as soon see us married as dead. And the producers could have shaved off an hour or more..."

          "But it is Villiers!" Willie interrupted.

          "Well who is this fellow... I've gathered he's been dead for ten years," I remarked, "but he certainly exerts an unwholesome influence upon a sort of person from the Azur, or whatever place it is dead spirits go..."

          "Because of his unquiet genius," Yeats finished. "Look... the man was born well, educated, Baudelaire told Verlaine that he had the finest collection of medieval art and torture devices in his suite near Neuilly..."

          "A defender of the beautiful who dignified horror..." Maud dissented.

          "Well, he was a pretender to the throne of Greece, I suppose that's how he lost his money," Willie surmised, "so he had to live hand-to-mouth to the end of his days while writing tales to shame Verne and Wells and inspire the Edison who, frankly, stole most of his novelties from L'Eve Futur. He was an Adept, perhaps even greater than deGuaita... the character of Master Janus makes that plain. Some even believe he was a vampire," Yeats added, as theatrically as the sober young man ever could, "who never went out, except by night. At any rate he was no immortal... no sooner had gasped out his last words, invoking Azrael of the Assassins, then he became fashionable once again."

          "Well that is what happens to dead and dying artists," Maud remarked, "maybe you ought to consider his example..."

          "Not yet!" Willie declared. "I am going to achieve the Chameleon's path, free Ireland and write plays that will make the world embarrassed for patronizing mediocrities like Shaw. But first I must find a meal... we ought do as the Germans do, bring sausages to munch during the lesser arias of Parsifal. And then," he added, in a tone I might have considered menacing had I not already been shot at, exploded and had my coattails snapped at by wild beasts, "Cameron can tell us everything he learned in Germany..."

          Well, what I had learned was a jumble of impressions beyond the art of any of Montemartians, with the possible exception of Lolo, the pointillist ass of Lugne-Poe. Now they are even more scattered... a reasonable person informs me I could not possibly have visited the Chat Noir with Maud and Willie for the original had expired more than eighteen months previously, its furnishings divided among other cafes like the empire of Charlemagne among unworthy sons. Lolo haunted the Lapin Agile, Bruant the Mirliton but Willie had said 'after I have had a meal at Chat Noir'... and that was the address he gave our coachman. Perhaps he either failed to realize this particular kitten had reached the last of its lives, or we were all the butt of one of those jokes that the sons of Hydropathes played on gullible foreigners... or maybe it is simply that one loud, crowded cafe seems, to tourists who've had too much to drink, indistinguishable from any other. My escorts had visited Paris to pay their respects to the dying Verlaine three years earlier, on which occasion there also had been numerous banquets for Sarah Bernhardt... the razor-tongued 'Gyp' remarked that the actress was, at the time, mistress to the dramatist Rostand, author of Cyrano... "of the long nose and the longer sword".

          Such are the meanderings of an old man's memory, narrow and slippery things, like strands of Genovese spaghetti. But whereas I often forget where I've left my cap, these days, the sounds and the sights and aromas of Paris seem fresh as baguettes from the oven... if what I've remembered is false, than it is determinedly so... vibrantly, clangingly so!... an illusion without regrets, "sans regret," the Parisians say, "sans souci."


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