Episode 29 - UBU PURSUED!


          So I left the Praemonstrator furiously shaking his dried peas, walked south and west towards the Bois de Boulogne on the Rue d'Auteuil and, there, hired a carriage to Montemarte. The Theatre del'Ouevre was just as Willie (the French critic still married to Colette at that time) had derided it... Intimate!... to the point of dangerous overcrowding. There I recognized Rachilde and her entourage, the dapper man of the future, Marinetti, and the glum Munch.  Melies… directing two workmen positioning lights for the camera-projector device mounted atop a wagon that could be wheeled to follow the movements of the actors... nodded in my direction as I made my way to the orchestra row already occupied by Maud Gonne and Yeats.

          "What a town!" Frater DEDI remarked, "the other night I encountered Strindberg himself... have you seen his Miss Julie?... at the Maison Pamblay, which is inhabited mostly by actors. We discussed the Philosopher's stone and, do you know, I felt like galloping across that stage, as would a centaur..."

          "Some Martinists had taken Willie to smoke hashish, which is sort of gum from hemp," Maud explained… referring to Yeats, of course, not the French scold, "like that which the English make ropes to hang people with."

          "Alas! that the hangman's rope should be own brother to such indian happiness that keeps alone, were it not for some stray cactus, mother of as many dreams. I hope there are not so many puppets as I think I saw backstage," Yeats shuddered, "for I've always detested puppet farces. Vive les Boers!"

          He received replies appreciative to his summons - but also a few raspberries... fights were beginning to break out here and there in the orchestra... the lights dimmed save for those of Melies and Jarry himself took the stage to declaim with Gonne, again, forced into the translator's role.

          "He has said we are free to perceive Monsieur Ubu as multifold illusion or a simple puppet, the deformation by schoolboys of a Teacher who represents all that is grotesque in this world."

          "I still choose to believe that this is nothing more than vile puppetry," Yeats retaliated.

          For some minutes Jarry continued speaking in that mechanical voice which Andre Gide, I believe, later compared to a nutcracker's. Something heavy fell backstage and Maud started. "Oh... he is finishing... the drama, which is shortly to start, takes place in Poland - that is to say, Nowhere!"

          And then Gemier... the actor from the Chat Noir who had, only the night before, played the part of the tragic, langourous Axel opposite Miss Bernhardt... waddled onstage as Ubu, masked, with his Queen; he brandished a privvy brush and declaimed...


          The Theatre del'Ouevre erupted... a red faced man fairly crawling over us to rush the stage until Yeats knocked off his hat, precipitating a fight. Ubu declared "Merdre!" again after a moment and I observed Melies hastily packing his fragile equipment before calling out to Gonne over the hullaballoo...

          "What did he say?"

          The actress, evading a furious stranger who slashed towards her with a hatpin replied "Shittr! All shittr! Nothing has changed here in five years!"

          And that was the last I would see of Maud and Yeats upon the Continental side of the channel, for we were quite separated in the pandaemonium - I gave and received blows equally, catching a brief glimpse of an exuberant Marinetti swinging his cane beside Lanz von Liebenfels of Grein. Someone remarked "there goes Saint Saens!" another replied "Down with Old Death!" before I found myself pushed towards the exit. The door opened only long enough for me to tumble out; kneeling in the alley to catch my breath, I felt something metallic prod my ear.

          "Monsieur Cameron," declared the occultist Papus behind his pistol, "...I have detected a subtraction you made from the Protocols – the removal of a necessary sequence of ritual orders. No doubt, being the clever American monkey you are, you have placed it among the copy destined for the English temple. Instead, you shall transfer it to me and then we, children and heirs of Saint-Martin, shall decide what is to be done with you."

          Behind Papus, wielding a dagger, hovered the Sar Peladan in his Persian robes and, behind him, skulked the grotesque Gyp... whose face alone held terror enough to silence a roomful of schoolboys. Wholly at the mercy of this weird trio of revenants, I regained my feet only to be knocked down once more by the stage door... theatre patrons streaming like rats from the skirts of the lurching Cheval du Phynance, which knocked Encausse askew. His revolver clattered to the cobblestones. Edvard Munch shut the door; from the tangle of cloth and wood appeared Lautrec and Jarry himself, both of whom began wrestling with the larger but aged occultist. Peladan raised his dagger but Lautrec seized his beard and spun him round until he tumbled into Gyp, causing a few kilogrammes of paste and paste jewelry to clatter to the alley. Leaving the Martinists in a tangle, Jarry motioned us to run, which we did... to a row of bicycles left by theatre patrons. I grabbed the first one at hand only to find its tires wholly shredded...

          "It is rats, Mon-sieur, they find the rub-ber ti-aires of that which goes round quite le de-lec-tai-boule..."

          At Jarry's direction I seized another and the four of us attempted to escape through the riot… which had burst the confines of the Theatre and spilled out into the streets of Montmarte. I saw Melies and his crew wheeling equipment onto a horsecar in front of the Theatre del'Ouevre, fighting off the mob... Papus, Gyp and Peladan scurried from the alley as Jarry sped off into the crowd and we followed as quickly as we could, pushing pedestrians out of our way like ninepins.

          After a few blocks' journey I thought we had escaped, but a sabre whistled by my ear; Henry and three other Dreamers… garcóns from Cafe Neant in their undertakers' black and painted faces… had mounted bicycles too, brandishing swords and sceptres from Christ's Bum Shoulder Gallery. Our quartet swerved sharply onto a market street by the Gare Saint Lazare, weaving through vendors' booths with our painted pursuers closing. Dodging tables of Moroccan oranges, fish and wooden cages of chickens, some few of which overturned at the slightest bump and discharged their screeching prisoners, we followed Jarry into another sharp turn onto the Avenue de l'Opera towards the Seine and half-constructed Expo. "Mort!" cried the Neantists behind us in unison, "Mort! Mort! Mort!" and the author of Ubu, snatching a fishing rod out of the hand of a stunned perambulist, cast backwards to hook and unseat one of the Goths.

          However, round a corner of the Rue de Pont Neuf, rattled a horse carriage bearing Papus, Peladan and Gyp. Under the Exposition's gate we fled... cycling furiously through the American pavilion; I slowed the Gothic adversaries by swerving to reach out and topple a crate of false teeth that bounced, chattering, to the pavement, causing all three remaining Dreamers to tumble, painfully. Doubling back through a wilderness of crowded statuary, I reached out and toppled a winged Victory which precipitated a chain reaction... as our atomists now say... rows of alabaster dominoes falling, one into the next, until, at the entrance to the German pavilion, the horses of our enemies reared and their carriage overturned, pitching Gyp and the two occultists through an enormous glass window and into a pile of clocks and scientific devices.

          Tiring now, but apparently safe we departed the Exposition and... as the sun disappeared beyond the Arc de Triomphe far to the west... began pedaling back towards Montemarte, only to be confronted by a new danger... an automobile roaring around a corner after us. The ranting Marinetti drove with Viereck in the passengers' seat and their screaming child, Schicklgruber, between them... in the back seat reposed a bizarre cannon operated by Lanz von Liebenfels. As we crossed back through the market district, Lanz opened fire and a bright blue ray scorched vegetable barrows and burnt the bars off of a cage of swine. To our left, escape was blocked by the reappearance of the tired and battered… but undeterred… Goths.  From our right came Peladan's crew... Gyp blowing kisses to little Adolf...

          "Petit Bob! Mon Petit Bob!"

          Where the streets begin rising sharply from the Seine I slowed, seeing the carriage and equipment of Monsieur Melies, who had halted his vehicle in order to determine whether its gasoline engine had been damaged by the riot at the Theatre del'Ouevre. Melies himself stood on the sidewalk, engaged in rigourous debate with a familiar looking man.

          "Can you help us?" I pleaded. "An automobile of maniacs is on its way to run us down. Can you block the road?"

          "You can do more than that, Melies!" replied Aleister Crowley as the sky deepened from red to purple and shadows began creeping across Paris. "Hector!" the Beast called to the cinematographer's driver who was holding, at that moment, several tins of nitrite film, "...hand me the Pavilion of Lights!"

          The gasoline engine suddenly revived and Melies, snatching his precious film away from Frater Perdurabo, threaded it through his contraption. At that moment Jarry sped past towards a blind alley backed up to the wall of a piano warehouse... behind him came Lautrec, tiny feet pumping like pistons, finally the dogged Edvard Munch.

          Behind them the Daimler Dagger, with Lanz's death ray wildly gyrating and burning off cornices of buildings... even toppling a gargoyle from its perch... rounded a corner and began climbing the street. "Throw the switch!" Melies cried out and as Hector responded... the wall of the piano warehouse became suddenly transformed into a ballroom with brilliant chandeliers, so dazzling the automobilists that they swept past us with Viereck rising up in his seat in wonder...


          Only Lanz, seeing how I was now behind them, wrestled with the blue ray to turn it while Marinetti, enraptured by the sight of three of his foes seemingly transfixed before the blinding Pavilion sang out "Prepare to be run down!"

          At the last possible moment Jarry, Lautrec and Munch dived aside and the motorcar crashed through the flimsy wall of the warehouse and into the first of several pyramids of pianos on wheeled casters. Grand pianos, uprights, even player pianos arrayed in towers, leaned precariously as the enraged Marinetti engaged his reverse. A wheel of the Daimler Dagger knocked aside the last of the restraints and, one by one, the pianos yawed away from their common pile, crashed to the floor and began to roll and bounce across the sloping floor… towards, then through, the hole punched into the wall.

          "Avant!" Melies ordered, seeing the Dagger returning, trunk first... von Liebenfels flailing his arms to steady the destructive ray which roared as if in mortal torment, blue light wildly snaking out to clip and explode a gas lamp, raising jets of fire. With liberal applications of the whip, the carriage bearing the cinematograph made a sharp turn and rattled off just ahead of the motorcar, nearly bowling over Henry and the other Dreamers of Decadence who, seeing their enemies apparently transfixed at a crossroads, resumed their high-pitched cries of "Mort!  Mort - a les Macchabees!  Mort!"

          Backwards down that street came the Dagger towards us and, gaining speed behind it, a veritable cavalry of pianos. Hastily we remounted and sped off back down the steep street towards the Exposition. Faster and faster the pianos surged, the lids of the grands flapping like hungry jaws... Lanz pivoted his ray from our direction to that of his pursuit, exploding one, then another of the pianos in a blue-tinged apocalypse of wood, wires and noise. But to no avail... dozens more massed at, then rolled out of that punctured warehouse… enraged bulls, escaped from their pen.

          Ignorant of all but their prey, the Neantists pedaled ever swifter to fall into line behind the Dagger but, instead, found themselves pinioned between the pianos and the blue ray. A wild downward swipe of the latter quite melted their spokes and rubber tires; tossed in the air like rats, the Dreamers were batted between the horde, tossed up again and then, with final despairing cries of "Mort a... Mort!" the lids shut down upon them like a great clam devouring four careless nauticians.

          But there would be no lessening of those arrayed against us for there came, again, the wagon bearing Gyp, Dr. Encausse and Peladan, which proceeded to squeeze us against the Daimler as we swiftly plummeted through the Exposition, making a swathe through the crowd directly towards the Seine. I was, now, in the middle of our little wolfpack - Jarry in front, Crowley bringing up the rear; the boy, Schicklgruber, having squeezed past Viereck almost took the head off Frater Perdurabo with a huge Vehmic sword, certainly taller than himself. Lanz had, by now, wholly lost control of his Punitive Ray, it swerved on its pedestal exploding pianos, sides of buildings, even a few of the more cheaply engineered pavilions whose wood and cardboard pillars made for a lively conflagration.

          There were, in those days, a number of tiny piers or quais used by boatmen and fisherfolk at the edge of the river... towards one of these we now sped as Crowley withdrew his walking stick and, steering his bicycle unsteadily with one right hand, thrashed back at young Adolf with the left. The wagon of Martinists swerved away, for the pier would not be wide enough to hold both it and the Daimler Dagger, still accelerating in reverse towards the storied Seine as a powerful blow from Crowley's cudgel and the jostling caused by the roughness of the road caused the angry boy to fly upwards, tumble back over the windshield and into the maw of a grand piano that held him for an instant as a terrier momentarily seizes a weasel before shaking it to death; tossing him up and devouring the lad amidst a din Wagner himself or even... after... Stravinsky could not have improved upon.

          Jarry swerved left at the entrance to the pier, Lautrec to the right… so only Munch and I continued out with the automobile, still in reverse-gear, plunging after us. Brilliant blue sabre-flashes from the wildly careening Ray sliced the evening Parisian skies. "Be sunk with Ruskin's cheeses and Poe's raven!" Marinetti raved, but I did have, at least, the satisfaction of seeing how white Viereck's eyes had grown, how green with terror waxed his chin as I leaped off the bicycle and caught the edge of the pier, dangling over the Seine. With roar of engines and dazzling pencils of blue to all but ignite the sky, the Daimler Dagger plunged straight off the pier and, behind it, followed the stampede of pianos... dozens of them, some nearly crushing my fingers as they dug into the old boards of the quai for dear life.

          Edward Munch had done rather as I, and had even managed to crawl back onto the pier but the sight of the Daimler slowly sinking in the Seine amidst dozens of bobbing pianos was too horrible for him, too absurd... capping his hands to his ears against the horrible cacophony of drowning pianos he fled back, screaming, across the pier and into the French night as Marinetti lifted his head above the Seine, declaiming... "Foul moon!... fouler illusion... I shall twist your Symbolist celluloid Monsieur Smiles into the hopping rats and dancing toadstools of our grand Futurist future... purple dragons et lapus parlantes... help!... gluggh!"        

          I hauled my aching frame back onto the quai, but observed a figure interposed in the way... Sar Peladan, having vaulted from his carriage, withdrawing the huge, curved dagger from the folds of his robes. Defenseless, I pondered whether to charge or seek escape by diving, myself, into the odoriferous tide when, with an unholy crack, a bullwhip whistled out of the night and snatched the kris away. My enemy disarmed, I bounded forward and slugged the ersatz Persian vehemently... Peladan fairly turned a backwards somersault off the quai and dropped into the drink with a robust splash.

          A short, bearded man in an American cowboy hat tipped it and inclined his whip as he marched out to meet me upon the quai.

          "Monsieur," he said "...I am Claude Achille Debussy, and at your service..."

          At once I recognized the name. "You're that composer whom he doesn't like!" and I gestured towards the Seine to indicate the flailing, cursing Peladan.

          Debussy made a modest bow. "And, also, Director of an order which has been privileged to observe your situation. Fulfill your mission, young man, then go back to New York... Europe is no place for you. Nor soon, I fear, shall it be for anyone."

          "But..." I struggled, "are you an official of the Golden Dawn? The Vehm?" Debussy smiled, and rather condescendingly as I recall now. "Who is behind this?" I demanded to be told.

          "Some Russians," Debussy shrugged, "some Germans and some English, a few bad Frenchmen and others.  Americans?  Perhaps!  One of their objectives was to discourage Tsar Nicolas from the Exposition and, perhaps, they shall yet succeed. Do you know the name of the only known agent of the Illuminists a century ago?"

          "Of course I do!" I replied, "it is a name known to novices of any Hermetic brotherhood... Adam Weishaupt."

          "Think about that! Since 'weis', in the German tongue, designates the faculty of knowing, and 'haupt' refers to a leader or a chief, we are dealing with a person who is at least symbolic and quite possibly allegorical.  No... I speak of the historical courier, Mr. Cameron, that one who set out from Ingolstadt with papers to initiate the overthrow of Bavaria's government but was struck by lightning... that one's name was Lanze. Make of that what you will! But look!"

          With a dazzling display of lights, the enormous ferris wheel on the Avenue Suffern, far downriver by the Tour Eiffel, seemed to loom over the composer like whole constellations in light as it began its revolutions. Toulouse Lautrec and Alfred Jarry joined us on the quai.

          "But Monsieur," I persisted asking, "...these terrible weapons such as Lanz possesses, are they Vartanian's work?"

          Debussy's generous smile terminated abruptly. "It is quite as dangerous to involve laymen in matters of the Carpocratians as it is to initiate them into musical chemistry, so I do hope that you will understand, and forgive, my disinclination to reply. This evening has inspired me, for which I thank you both. Au revoir..."

          And whistling an air I remain quite unable to place (and I believe I have heard all his works, as those of Satie, also) Claude Debussy tipped his cowboy hat and sauntered off in the direction of the Ferris wheel, leaving our enemies angrily treading water, sputtering their venomous, polyglottal oaths.

          "God eez..." Jarry wondered, "the sure-test dis-tanze buh-twain ze-roue and les in-fin-ah-tais!"


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