In The Luxembourg Gardens Café In the novel, Night Crossing, the third in The Trilogy of Remembrance.
Alexander Wainwright is in search of a pianist in Paris. He hopes that he will lead him to the painter with whom he may have shared a vision. Despite his searches on the internet, he has come up with nothing. Have you ever felt “someone” was watching over you to assist you in any possible way? No? Doesn’t happen very much! But this time, strolling through the Luxembourg Gardens, as Alex strolls through the gardens, he has a growing sense that “someone” is watching over him.
from Chapter 15 of NIGHT CROSSING
From a darkened corridor near the bar crept a bent and frail figure. Not more than a shadow, it moved with such tentative motions that Alex immediately took notice. Surely only serious ill health could produce such painful motions! Alex expected that someone might help him to a table, but instead, the man proceeded to the piano.
Slowly, he removed his coat and folded it on the piano bench revealing a much worn tuxedo. Briefly he gave a ghastly smile to the few diners. The applause was sporadic but polite. He sat for some moments with his long neck bent down so far that his chin touched his collarbone. His shoulders rose and fell in a painful rhythm. His movements took on the ordered solemnity of a private ritual. From his bag, he withdrew a leather case, which he set carefully on the top of the piano.
Seated again, he closed his eyes. His lips moved rapidly seeming to repeat some incantation. Next, with studied movements, he opened his sheet music and adjusted his glasses on his nose.
Breathing deeply, the pianist began a Chopin etude which Alexander had heard many times before. But soon he realized this was no ordinary performance. To Alex’s ear, the man coaxed the most mellow and meditative notes from the instrument that he had ever heard. The sweet expressions fleeting across the pianist’s face fascinated him. The melody floated on the air straight from the performer’s soul directly into the hearts of the audience. The two young boys sat motionless and peacefully together in one corner. Their mother appeared to have fallen into a trance and the father now sat motionless with his mouth hanging open as the notes cascaded about them.
For Alex, the old man was highly sensitive and skilled—no ordinary Sunday afternoon café player. In fact, as the pianist progressed through the familiar pieces, tears formed in Alex’s eyes. After twenty minutes, the set ended. Sitting with his head bowed, the man scarcely acknowledged the applause.
Then he went outside onto the terrace, where he slowly smoked one cigarette. Alex could not help watching the sublime and sensuous pleasure he took from each meditative puff. When he had finished his smoke, a wry, twisting smile enlivened his features as he came inside. Alex began to eat. The wine was excellent but the beef was of middling quality.
The pianist moved in a curious, slumping fashion toward the piano. No longer did he convey any sense of pleasure and certainly no sense of the sublime so evident when he had played Chopin and smoked his cigarette. Again, the stilted, mysterious ritual took over. First, he made a curt bow toward the piano and approached it as though it were a respected foe. Arms rigid, he lifted the leather case from the top of the piano. He bowed once again to the audience and then sat down on the bench. With the case on his knees, he proceeded to unzip it.
He awkwardly withdrew a narrow pyramid shape which was, surprisingly, of incomparable beauty. It had a deep luster of gold which, in the light of the late afternoon café, took on a numinous sheen. The edges of the box appeared encrusted with diamonds. But when the pianist first held it up, his face sagged as if the life were being sucked from him. He slid a panel on the instrument aside and set it carefully on the piano. There it was—the most beautiful metronome ever seen. Immediately, Alex thought of his cosmic egg.
The pianist’s face grew firm with determination. Alexander sensed the man was performing some sort of duty. He set the rod in motion. Alex caught his breath at the sharp, hectoring sound which filled the room as the rod clipped to and fro. The old man bowed deeply to the metronome and then took his place at the keyboard. After arranging his sheet music, he began to play one of Bach’s Brandenburg concertos.
Such bold and disciplined music marched forth from the piano. Alex had always been stirred by these concertos, loving the rich, ordered sound which pictured for him the grandeur of Baroque cathedrals and palaces. Such vibrations surely must have come from on high!
Alex was fascinated to watch his face. Instead of the sweet expressions accompanying his playing of Chopin, angry furrows darted across his brow and his mouth tightened into a hard, unyielding line. With whom was the artist doing battle?
Upon completion of the set, the pianist sat with his head bent down to his collarbone. His meagre shoulders appeared to shudder briefly. Alex applauded enthusiastically and ordered another glass of wine. At last the old man stood up and stopped the metronome. Performing his ritual precisely in reverse, he put the instrument away in its case. Alex was impressed with smoothness and precision of the ceremony which he must have performed a hundred times over. To Alex’s great surprise, the pianist gave him a mock salute and then proceeded down the darkened hall on the far side of the bar. Returning to his wine, Alex looked about the café to see that all the other patrons had left. He checked his watch and realized that he had wasted several hours with no progress toward finding Henri Dumont.
As Alex finished his beef dish, he mentally reviewed all the search efforts made to find the man. They had hunted through chat rooms for classical music aficionados where there were endless discussions of performances and innumerable blog posts. But nothing—not a mention of H. Dumont. Someone can disappear if he wants.
Alex looked up. There stood the pianist. His insubstantial body appeared to sway and waver in the light. Up close, his face was parched like a riverbed.
Surprised, Alex croaked, “You do?”
The old man nodded and smiled faintly. “May I sit down?”
“Yes, please do, sir.”
He sat down across from Alex. “You enjoyed the performance? You watched so intently.”
“Yes, I liked it very much. Do you play here often?”
The pianist gave a Gallic shrug. “Mais oui…here and there…wherever.”
Alex held out his hand. “I’m Alexander Wainwright.”
The man shook his hand. “A pleasure to meet you, sir.”
“And you are?”
He smiled faintly and gave another shrug. “Are you a musician, Mr. Wainwright?”
“No. I’m a painter.”
“Really? And what do you paint?”
“Marvellous!” He frowned in recollection. “Ah yes! Now I remember! You’re the painter with the numinous light?”
Alexander smiled. “So they say…”
“Ah! A man of modesty as well.” When the man smiled, his entire face crinkled.
It was Alex’s turn to shrug. Then he continued, “I was very interested in your ritual with the metronome.”
First, the old man’s face paled and then it stiffened. His lips twisted sharply downward. Astonished, Alex sat back fearing a possible outburst. But no! The pianist spread out the fingers of both hands on the table, and sighing deeply, stared at them as if conjuring up a piece to play.
How odd, thought Alex! The man is a bundle of contradictions. One moment he is completely relaxed and the very next he’s wound up taut like a spring. And still, he hasn’t said his name.
The man spoke in low tones. “You see, Mr. Wainwright, I like to ensure that I’m fully prepared for any kind of performance.”
“Of course! I hope my inquiry didn’t offend you?”
Tossing back his head, he gave a mirthless laugh. “No one has ever asked me such a question. But I’ll try to answer you.”
“I’d like to hear. The creative process completely fascinates me.”
“In that case, let me get my metronome.” From his bag, he took out the leather case. “It’s a tragically beautiful object, don’t you think, Mr. Wainwright?”
Unsure of his meaning, Alex frowned but nodded his agreement.
“You see, this golden, bejewelled metronome was a gift from Father—a very great composer,” he said softly.
“Really? How wonderful.”
The pianist held up the metronome. “Although it has an incomparable richness of colour, I always sensed that a shadow lay underneath its surface.” He smiled faintly. “Father taught me everything I know. But, sadly, he could not teach me the true art of composing.”
“I’m sure you learned much from him.” At Alex’s first glance, the metronome had made him think of the cosmic egg. But then he suspected the old man was right. Something oddly dark—as if the instrument contained some spirit—negated his impression of unadulterated beauty.
“I did indeed, Mr. Wainwright.” He examined his fingers for several moments as if attempting to judge their usefulness. “Father made a gift of this instrument to me on my tenth birthday.” The old man slid the cover off the metronome and caressed the straight rod with his forefinger. Then, carefully, he adjusted the weight downward on the pendulum and set it in motion, producing an angry, staccato rhythm. “Father demanded I play at the swiftest, most disciplined pace.”
“But doesn’t all music have its own natural rhythm?” Alex asked.
The harsh, hectoring clacking was in perfect counterpoint to the pianist’s oddly lilting voice. “Of course it does, Mr. Wainwright. But Father determined that music—really, all forms of art and most importantly, people— should be controlled by marking the passage of time.” He gave a smirk. “Which really meant controlled by him.” The pianist raised his finger and stilled the pendulum. Then he looked off in the distance, somewhere outside in the copse of trees surrounding the restaurant. “Such a Father. Such a teacher. Unsettling, isn’t it?”
“Father was a great composer. The rhythm you just heard is prestissimo.” With his finger, he drew the weight up to the very highest point on the pendulum and let go. “This is adagio—for funeral marches.”
“He was classically trained…”
“So you said.”
Alex was aghast to see the contorted smile on the man’s face. He marvelled that he still bled as if from fresh wounds administered by his father decades ago.
Moments later the old man smiled up at him. “Oh…it’s not so bad. Father was only trying to help a rather dull student.”
Alexander had to change the conversation immediately. He asked, “By the way, do you know any other musicians in town?”
“A few…not many.” He shrugged amiably. “When you’re old, you keep to yourself.”
“I’m trying to locate a pianist by the name of Henri Dumont.”
Alexander was astonished. First, the pianist’s eyes and the veins in his temples bulged. His hands clutched the metronome. Some black, formless dread began to stir in the back of Alexander’s mind.
“Why do you want to find him?”
“It’s a long story, sir.” Alex said.
“If I am to help you, I must know the why.”
“So…you know him?”
“I ask again. Why do you want to know?”
“I have a painting with an inscription addressed to Henri Dumont, Pianist. I’m hoping he can tell me the name of the artist because I’d like to contact him.”
The old man’s eyes narrowed with suspicion. “Where did you get this painting?”
Vague perceptions, like storm clouds, were forming in Alex’s mind. “It’s a long story, but it belonged to a deceased collector. I’m responsible for his estate.”
“Is it the Cosmic Egg?”
“How did you know?”
“Because it was given to me.”
The circumstances of their meeting were so incredible, Alexander was truly shaken. But then he thought he might have guessed. “And so, you are Henri Dumont?”
“Yes. Now, perhaps we have something to discuss.” Dumont sighed. “When I first saw you, I knew we must speak, but I didn’t know why.”
“What do you mean?”
With an insouciant smile and Gallic shrug, Henri said, “I do not know, sir. But tell me. Do you have the painting and the inscription here in Paris?”
“Not the original. But I can get a copy emailed by my art dealer.”
“Did you know the painting was stolen from me?”
“No! Of course not.” Inwardly, Alex sighed. He knew that the deceased art collector, Jonathan Pryde, might well have arranged a theft. “If you can establish yourself as the owner, then I shall return it to you.”
“Then, Mr. Wainwright, I would like to invite you for dinner at my home tonight on the Ile de la Cite, Rue des Rennes, le numero trente-neuf.” Henri Dumont zipped the metronome into its case. “Shall I see you then?”
“Yes. I will see you then. Thank you.”
Five minutes later, Alexander strolled back to the Hotel des Fleurs. Now he knew what Henri Dumont always carried with him—his father’s metronome and his legacy of cruelty and scorn.
Mary E. Martin is the author of two trilogies: The Osgoode Trilogy, inspired by her many years of law practice and The Trilogy of Remembrance, set in the glitter and shadows of the art world. Both Trilogies will elevate the reader from the rush and hectic world of today and spin them into realms of yet unimagined intrigue. Be inspired by the recently released and final installment of The Trilogy of Remembrance, Night Crossing. Although all novels are available virtually anywhere online, you’ll find them easily at Amazon below in the carousels below. Or just click the coin below.