(And if you've only just arrived and have no clue what's going on, you might find it easier to start with the introductory post, here.)
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Chapter 2, conclusion...
Rapid-fire flashbacks from our adventure that previous summer following Rob Sullivan's ghastly murder took me back to Germany, Bavaria's beautiful countryside and the impressive opera house that was home to the Schweinwald Music Festival, but especially to the ruins of an old castle deep in the forest which once housed the famous Schweinwald music school. There was an old journal, most of it written in a secret code, kept by Harty who'd been a student there, relaying an adventure shared with fellow-students Gustav Mahler, Hans Rott and Ethel Smyth. This adventure, too, started with a suspicious death before escalating into a quest to protect an age-old secret of the Academy's. It turns out the journal wasn't even complete, the last part tantalizingly missing. It hadn't been a difficult code to break, a fairly simple substitution process, each letter replaced by another two letters earlier.
One of their favorite teachers, Professor Rainer Knussbaum was a haggard old man who had, as a child, become Beethoven's friend. He told how Schweinwald had promised the Master to protect the Immortal Belovèd. A monument erected to Beethoven once stood vigil on the castle plaza's fountain, only recently relocated to the festival's opera house. Inscriptions on a miniature model hinted he'd gazed upon his "Fountain of Inspiration," but what that meant was open to interpretation. We found an unmarked gravestone, possibly the Belovèd's, but there was nothing conclusive.
Generations have puzzled over the letter found in Beethoven's desk after his death, a letter apparently written some fifteen years earlier and addressed to a mysterious woman we know only as "The Immortal Belovèd." Could it be this was a rough draft (possible, given its passionate spontaneity); did he get cold feet, never sending it?
What did it mean, keeping it like that? Did he receive a response? (He'd have kept that one, don't you think?) But here's an eye-witness account, never before published, which may solve the puzzle.
Handing Cameron Schnellenlauter's index card, I told him, "Here, you work on this: you were the transcriber of the Schweinwald Journal. Since we have some time before tea's served, I will check this out."
Was it possible the deaths of Rob Sullivan and Hans-Jörg Schnellenlauter are connected? Could it be I've found a common denominator?
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written by Dr. Rainer Knussbaum
Seventy years have passed since these events began. Though I write this in my old age, it seems as only yesterday. I can hardly believe how much of my long life has been absorbed by a youthful promise to keep a secret. And yet I only write down this account because I know soon I will no longer be around to remember it: then the secret dies with me if I fail to pass it along. Even now, as I write, a thought regularly occurs to me that I might yet die before my work is finished, just as at any point in the past, I could have died unresolved. But you must understand, in those distant days, there were others who knew the secret so it would not have disappeared. Over the years, of course, there have become fewer of us who know – for a while, we called ourselves die Kenner (*) – not that there were more than a few who had ever shared it. But I thought, as we aged and one by one another would die, someone needs to survive to tell the tale. We began inducting others into our secret society – our Society of the Secret – but of my generation, there is only me. For you see, whoever you are, reading this, this secret began with me.
There have been times over these many years how I longed to tell this secret I knew to the wider world for, you see, it was not just any secret for just any friend. And when, alas, he died – this great friend – it would have been easy, an explanation of a letter curiously left behind. Many asked me, I who had often been seen in my friend's company, what this was: did I know its meaning? Surely, he to whom I was so close would have told me something? But sworn to childhood secrecy, I dare not break my oft-repeated sacred promise, most recently sworn again upon my friend's deathbed, nor could I even now, because he's dead, revoke his trust in me. For this friend was not just any friend: he was Ludwig van Beethoven. And therein lies the magnitude of my secret.
In the future, when I am gone and the others gone with me, the secret could be revealed to the world and the world won't break for the breaking of it (of my promise), by which I mean life will go on and no one will care, amazed that there was ever such delicate concern; but for now, that is not the case nor could it ever be as there are those who would be shocked – yes, shocked, I tell you – to learn the full content of my secret. That is not to say that worse things have not been known about the moral turpitude of our most modern composers like Wagner and Liszt or of what artists consider suitable subjects for opera which would have offended the very fiber of our good and honourable society when I was a youth in Beethoven's shadow.
But I am only following my master's wishes (as he made me swear) insofar as it concerned his own particular feelings regardless of the laxity of the majority of those who lived around him, lest his own failings became fodder for his less-than-perfect brothers, Karl and Johann (the latter more often a gesture than named). Since the details of our discussion at various times during his remaining years reinforced his earnest desire to maintain our secrecy, he would place further restrictions that similarly applied to maintain it in perpetuity.
It was a boy of nearly twelve years working at his first job who saw the Master for the first time, a tall and spindly child (hard to imagine, for anyone who knows me); my Uncle Tobias had allowed me to journey to Teplitz to work for his former employee who'd become their kitchen inspector. My duties were very taxing but Herr Kohl proved a mostly benevolent task-master, letting me play my fiddle in the dance-band that entertained the hotel's guests every evening after dinner outside in the garden. I was in the lobby chatting with a couple waiters when he arrived, a preoccupied man in a shabby brown coat. "That's Beethoven," I blurted out in utter awe. "Who?" they laughed, quite baffled. Seeing no porter anywhere nearby, I ran over and grabbed both his suitcases, offering to lead him off to his room.
Alas, I didn't know what room was his and when he told me, I admitted I didn't know where it was. An older waiter – Virgil, his name – helped point me in the right direction. The great composer smiled at me and laughed, unlike the man I'd expected, dour and forbidding, but instead friendly and engaging. He handed me a coin and, thanking me, called me his 'Skinny Hermes' and I laughed, not knowing what that meant.
"My uncle lets me play your 'Spring' Sonata."
"Your uncle has good taste."
Imagine meeting Beethoven like that – I'd be appalled – yet that's what I did, an impetuous boy, not very bright, I admit, but he recognized my enthusiasm if that wasn't how one approached a genius. When I would tell people about this later, they blushed for my arrogance, yet it made him seem even more approachable. His deafness was not yet nearly so extreme as it would later become – in fact, that summer, he seemed only 'hard-of-hearing.' I noticed it didn't start getting really worse until after the following summer.
When he came into the garden after dinner with a stein of beer, he sat and listened to the band's playing and I was embarrassed we played trifles badly (because we so rarely rehearsed). Still, he saw me there, looked somewhat surprised, and gave me a smile. When some aristocrat interrupted him, his smile disappeared.
Every evening he would come hear the band and even asked me once to come play his 'Spring' Sonata for him (I only knew the first page by heart) giving me advice about bowings. He stayed until October, often employing me in running simple errands for him, taking messages here and there to other guests. And when he returned the next summer, he greeted me with a laugh and told me he was expecting a friend – a lady-friend, he added with a playful wink – only recently met in Vienna. Working hard on his 7th Symphony (the scherzo), he hadn't heard her enter after walking up 105 steps to his door. There he stood, roaring out a theme, pouring cold water on his head. She appeared before him a vision of pure indescribableness, as if from nowhere, and they immediately fell in love – itself indescribable!
They needed, he explained, to get away from the prying eyes of Vienna, so they agreed on a holiday at Teplitz, traveling separately, but he was late and she, coming from Karlsbad, later still. Delighted at seeing me again when he arrived, he was a different man, a man preoccupied with the agonies of love. Still, he talked with me, heard me play, had me run some errands like carrying almost daily letters to the post; and, most strangely, confided in me the thoughts and doubts within these letters.
That one he wrote her (which Old Schindler found when the Master died), written by the happiest and unhappiest of men, is full of hidden fears and vague doubts about his life in Vienna, with her or without her, either way unable to imagine living his life, protesting his love for her for all eternity. But then she arrived and caution flew with the winds that magical night – oh, still I blush to recall his passion. He bade me tell others he'd been taken ill, confined to his room.
From how the Master spoke of his friend, given his loftiness of phrase, I expected to see some beautiful, aristocratic lady, yet she was neither beautiful nor a lady, her wiry silvered hair unmanageable. She appeared plain and older than I'd imagined but a genius who heard what he heard could see what he saw.
He confessed to a worrisome instability about her, no doubt from her blowing hot, then cold, and every emotion in between, and she left the next morning without explanation, why she went or where. The Master was bereft, inconsolable, his heart utterly torn out and stomped upon while remaining hopeful with visions of future happiness.
Over the next few months, she sent a letter, reappeared then left again, driving the Master to alternating rage and despair, returning after an unexplained absence of several months, already with child, that we...
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It was only when Cameron coughed that I looked up from my reading to realize someone was knocking at the door. I quickly closed the book, sticking my thumb in as a make-shift bookmark.
"Excuse me, Dr. Kerr, sir – and Mr. Cameron," Vector said from the doorway, "but tea will be served in fifteen minutes."
"Thank you, Vector," I said, nodding back at him, "we'll be down shortly. Will Miss Frieda be joining everyone else there?"
"It would depend upon how well she is feeling, sir, under the circumstances."
There was this strange feeling that I'd been caught doing something I shouldn't: I tried to hide what I'd been reading.
At that moment, we heard a blood-curdling scream echoing from a vast depth.
"What in devil's name was that," Vector blurted out, "begging your pardon, sir."
He turned and hurried away, closing the door.
After showing Professor Kerr to his room, Vector returned to the Great Hall hoping Kerr could deal with the headache-inducing silliness of such mathematically inspired décor.
"Why Miss Frieda felt it necessary to put him in that dreadful room, I've no idea," Vector mumbled, shaking his head.
The Great Hall was, again, quiet and empty, the way he preferred it, the fire crackling splendidly in the east-side fireplace. He heard the distant drone of the plow as Andropov attacked the snow.
"But there are still a few more guests set to arrive yet tonight," Vector continued, glancing surreptitiously at his pocket watch. "I do hope the trains will be running to schedule in this snow. No one has called to say what train they had planned on taking. How can I possibly arrange for the limousine?"
Continuing to bemoan the inconsiderateness of the world, Vector looked out the window, noticing the arrival of a small white van. In the swirling snow and late afternoon light, Vector saw no easy explanation. Deliveries, naturally, would be made to the rear but they were expecting nothing. What guests could possibly be driving... a van?
A rather dashing-looking figure struggled through the snow, mercifully leaving the motor running.
"Perhaps," Vector thought, "someone's lost and needs directions."
"Hallo," the dashing figure smiled, assuming instant recognition. "I'm Badger Bronson – BBC News?"
Vector stared at him with studied, intimidating obliviousness, raising an eyebrow in anticipation, something long perfected by butlers of the aristocracy.
"Quite the storm," the man shouted, still smiling, still awaiting the elusive epiphany.
Looking past the clueless man into the warmth, newsman Bronson lost his patience.
"Look, I'm here to cover this Pageant tonight?"
"The pageant staff and crew, sir, use the public entrance," Vector began automatically.
"If you would please drive around the side...? This is the private entrance, reserved for family," he added, closing the door.
Not much for watching television, Vector remained clueless regarding Badger Bronson, BBC news, but whoever he was, that was no excuse.
"I must tell her ladyship so she can complain to Mr. Nott tomorrow." The folks who were producing this insidious pageant signed the National Trust's contract which required them to use the public entrance.
Hearing someone enter the room, Vector turned to find a distracted silver-haired man, though he recognized him first by his cigar. Bognar Regis, Lady Vexilla's husband, looked more out of his element than usual. A small, walrusy man with a matching mustache, he was "Bugsy" to everybody but the ever-proper Vector called him Sir Bugsy.
"Ah, Vector, there you are. The whole place seems dead: can't find anyone." For some reason, he peered into the fire. "Have you by any chance seen my wife somewhere in the last millennium?"
"I believe she's meeting with the decorators in the mauve drawing room, sir. She will doubtless be in for tea, shortly."
"Ah, yes, well, the bloody wedding," he muttered. "Indeed, life must go on."
Bugsy wasn't the only one hoping murder made no impact on wedding plans. "Have all the guests arrived for dinner tonight?"
Mrs. Linebottom, the housekeeper, had just come up from downstairs, looking for Vector.
"I'm here to ask the same thing, sir."
"No cancellations I'm aware of but two more have arrived a day early."
"Oh dear," Mrs. Linebottom fretted, "that makes us thirteen for dinner, doesn't it? Should we set an extra place, in case...?"
"I doubt even Elijah'd show up on a night like this, Mrs. Linebottom." As usual, she did not get Bugsy's joke.
"We could always say someone was unable to make it," she quietly suggested.
"Still leaving us thirteen actual guests, Mrs. Linebottom," a muscular red-haired fellow said, one of the regular footmen just coming upstairs. Rudyard then stopped short seeing Vector's disapproving glare, adding "begging your pardon, sir."
The housekeeper muttered, "Mrs. French will not be pleased to hear the news," turning to leave, "but cooks are rarely pleased."
Vector told Bugsy about the pageant's recent incursions, "particularly that punk maladroit, Scricci. We live among barbarians, sir," glancing at Rudyard.
"I'll call Nott in the morning," Bugsy said. "Keep an eye on them."
Mrs. Linebottom hurried off to face the kitchen and supervise the tea things as Bugsy nodded, shuffling off toward the parlor.
"Best see to the dinner table," Vector sniffed. "It won't set itself, Rudyard."
With that, the butler turned with military precision, nodding as Sidney arrived, smiling.
"Help Rudyard with the silverware, will you, Sidney?"
"What are you smiling about, Sod ol' boy? Still thinking about your Arab?" Herring sneered as the younger man approached him. Rudyard Herring may be nearly the same age but he did have seniority. "Did you go park his camel 'round back?" He continued nudging at Sidney. "Hope you patted him down for any bombs."
"Look, Red, what the bloody hell is it to you, anyway?" Sidney fumed. "He's a nice guy, just let him alone."
"What's it to you, Sod? Sweet on him?"
"Shut up, you bloody bigot."
A gentle cough floated down from the balcony, ending the two footmen's quarrel before their argument could be overheard any further. Sidney looked up to catch the approving glances of a heavy-set, middle-aged man.
"Ah, Lord Quackerly," he nodded, "settling in, sir? Anything you need, my lord?"
The Marquess had arrived not long after luncheon.
"Nothing you'd have time for right now, Sidney," he said with a laugh. "Unless you have nothing else to do, momentarily?"
"I'm to help set the table for dinner, sir," he answered, frowning slightly.
"Well, then, perhaps some other time. Carry on." Sir Charles waved them away.
The two footmen hurried off, Rudyard chuckling quietly.
"Well, Old Sod, you certainly know which side your bed is buttered on."
"Will you shut up? Someone might hear you. He's the Marquess," Sidney hissed.
"Yeah, Charles Leighton, the fucking Marquess of Quackerly!"
"I'm the fucking Marquess of Quackerly," Charles thought, descending the grand staircase grandly. Whatever the boys argued about was lost in the crackling of the fire and he could no longer hear their bickering.
"No," he thought, checking himself, "a little too much Sunset Boulevard, there, perhaps." His gaze swept around him, appreciating his surroundings.
"Someday, I shall be living here," he continued, "this shall be my home, though I torture myself every time I visit." His hand swept over the intricately carved woodwork, tenderly caressing the crystal globe.
He stood long and thoughtfully before the fire, admired himself in the mirror, looked around the room and sighed another sigh, then wandered off to explore the rest of the house, a covetous spirit.
And for a moment, the hall was empty, the fire crackling for nobody. The silence of centuries hovered over the room.
The magical moment was not lost on Sidney, returning from the banquet room and making sure the Marquess was nowhere about. Rudyard had sent him to find Mrs. Linebottom and fetch the new footman.
He paused and looked around, thinking of Cameron, regardless what Herring had said. "Such a spiteful bastard, Rudyard," he thought, shivering.
Sidney dreamed he'd been named the Leightons' heir, that Phlaumix Court was his, but he could live anywhere with Cameron Pierce.
There was a great thump at the door: another guest managed to arrive.
This was followed by another thump, more impatient, before Sidney unlocked the door which creaked open slowly, letting snow drift in. He could barely tell anyone was standing there, the blizzard was so intense. The cab had pulled away toward the village, its lights disappearing almost instantly. A figure harumphed and dropped a hefty suitcase.
"I'm freezing to death, numbskull – get my bags. That cab ride was intolerable." The figure swept past imperiously, pushing himself inside. The man stood not quite five feet tall, a scarf hiding his face.
Lisa the maid appeared and Sidney, saying nothing, listened to the man complain while handing the man's snow-drenched things to Lisa. When Sidney gave her the man's walking stick, she fell back, screaming loudly.
The walking stick was heavy, gnarled and intricately carved like several twisted stems, topped by a dragon's head with ruby-red eyes.
"What on God's earth is all this noise?" Vector shouted over the banister. "Is she okay?" He hurried down the stairs.
"She's had a nasty fright, is all, sir," Sidney explained, helping her up.
Lisa nearly lost her balance again when the guest started snarling at her after the walking stick rolled across the floor.
"It better not be scratched," the man said, shaking it in Sidney's face. "It's hand-carved and well over three centuries old." Coming face to face with the dragon's head, Sidney very nearly screamed himself.
Still breathless, Vector piled the man's things, including the stick, in Sidney's arms, told him to take Lisa to the kitchen, whispering to him, "perhaps a little brandy would help you both – my orders."
Vector turned to the guest and deferentially introduced himself. "And you, sir, are...?"
"I'm Maurice Harty, of course – the bride's cousin?"
Totally oblivious to his surroundings and continuously complaining, Harty wondered where everyone was, why he'd been met only by incompetent servants.
"Certainly, my hostess ought to have been here, or at least my cousin."
Vector, figuring no response was better than truth, said only, "This way, sir."
Sir Charles watched everything unfold with considerable admiration.
"I've heard that a Dr. Richard Kerr is to attend this little affair."
"Yes," Vector said. "He arrived not long ago."
"A pity the storm did not deter him."
Vector noted the malevolent tone.
Since Vector seemed quite alarmed, hearing the scream which created such a commotion, both Cameron and I had rushed out to follow him into the hallway more out of sheer curiosity than hope there was anything we could do, especially if someone else might be getting murdered. From where we stood, peering over the banister down into the Great Hall, there was little to see that made sense beyond the maid who seemed so thoroughly frightened by something in the vestibule.
Alarmed one of his staff was in danger, Vector ran down the staircase, assured his very presence would be satisfactory protection, less concerned for the maid's safety than the noise disturbing the house's balance. Others had also been drawn by the disturbance, none of whom I knew, but there was one voice I could recognize.
A dark, oily voice raised to fever pitch exploded across the vast room, deeper than I recalled but no less malevolent, bringing back to mind those unpleasant childhood memories from summers spent in Maine. It's been over forty-five years but how could I forget such potential vileness? Clearly, Cousin Maurie had arrived, all grown up.
The diplomatic Vector managed to defuse the situation, calming down the new arrival, and politely escorted him toward the grand staircase. It was then I told Cameron I'd left something back in my room.
By the time I returned, Cameron told me I had missed (as he put it) 'the passing of' the new guest, as if he had died and left us, a wishful play on words.
"I didn't really miss it, no," I said. "I'd never miss Maurice Harty."
"So that was Cousin Maurie," Cameron said. "Awesome."
He'd never met him before but it seemed Maurie hated him on sight. Cameron sounded more proud than disturbed by this.
"Maurie hates everybody on sight," I told him. "Don't think you're anything special."
Most people were surprised, seeing Maurie for the first time, he's so short, recalling LauraLynn's appraisal of her now adult cousin, though from my vantage point I hadn't seen him at a flattering angle: "Maurie's like a ruthless stockbroker devoid of morals who might stand at 6'4, but he's compressed into a more concentrated 4'11."
My eyes were drawn to the details of the woodwork along the balustrade, myriads of pine cones and sunflowers in sequence with the occasional nautilus shell punctuating the line, alternately facing left or right. These were all elements of nature, images that reflected the so-called logarithmic spiral, the one Jacques Bernouli called "the Miraculous Spiral." And of course all the rabbits, large or small, worked into the background, like it had all been designed by Escher. It was amazing how everything was so detailed, one could still miss it.
"Rabbits or spirals have one thing in common: Fibonacci and the Golden Ratio."
Cameron hesitantly pointed out those were two things.
From where we were standing, I swept my arm across our entire view.
"Okay, two things, then, two things in common: Fibonacci and the Golden Ratio – and the ineluctable beauty of mathematics and art."
If you looked at the fireplaces on opposite walls of the Great Hall, you'd notice they're not exactly opposite each other. The center of each fireplace was at the Golden Section of its wall. The landing of the staircase was not the dead center of its wall: "See, it opens onto the room's Golden Section."
"Not 'dead center' like Schnellenlauter's body in London," Cameron said, "so perfectly placed."
"Which means he wasn't killed by anyone here."
"Like how Burnson couldn't cut a piece of chocolate bread into equal halves?"
The click of a door down the hall broke into our mathematical contemplations as we both turned around at the interruption. We would meet someone now, perhaps a stranger, and preferably not Cousin Maurie. An older woman dressed in a black uniform backed an old, creaky wheelchair out into the hallway and turned it around. Sitting in the chair was an even older woman dressed in simple black, her hair close-cropped and white as goose down, her hands folded in contemplation, her eyes closed and all about her, sadness.
Though I knew it had been thirty years since I'd last seen her, I would recognize her anywhere despite the years, not that time had been unkind to her that she'd changed so much. She might have been blind – I couldn't tell – but then her eyes opened and she smiled with a look of recognition.
Frieda raised her arms in a wordless greeting as I hurried toward her, my own arms outstretched, then kissed her cheeks.
Not knowing what to say – as usual in such circumstances – I said nothing.
"Oh, Terry, it's so sad," she said, clasping my hands tightly in hers. "Schnelly talked much about you, so looking forward..."
After some tearful silence, we started talking again when she suggested we meet her downstairs near the entrance to the library. Her maid took her back to the elevator while we took the staircase.
"Did you get the quote from Bernouli over the landing?" I asked him.
"If you mean the Latin, no, I'm sorry."
Eadem mutato resurgo – which basically means 'Though changed, I rise again the same.'
"Okay, so what does that have to do with spirals and Fibonacci numbers?" Cameron stopped on the stairs and looked back.
"It's what Bernouli wanted inscribed on his tombstone, inspired by the logarithmic spiral.
It's not only spiritual commentary on the resurrection. Like the mollusk who builds the nautilus shell, it's also about scientific proportions."
As the nautilus continuously grows, he builds a larger 'room' onto his shell but he remains proportional to the new space. This creates a shell reflecting the Golden Ratio and the ever-expanding Fibonacci Series.
Once we reached the bottom of the staircase, I couldn't help stopping to admire the crystal sphere on the newel post.
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to be continued... [this link will become active, with any luck, on Friday, July 8th]
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(*) die Kenner: In German, an amateur in the arts was called a "liebhaber" (literally, 'one who has love' as amateur is also from the Latin 'amo, amat,' for "love") while professionals or those knowledgeable in the arts were the "kenner" (literally, 'knowers'). Knussbaum, here, is implying a different level of "knowing," however.
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The usual disclaimer: The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, which you've no doubt figured out by now, is a work of fiction and as such all the characters (especially their names) and incidents of its story are more or less the product of the author's imagination, sometimes inspired by elements of parody, occasionally by personal experience. Many of the places are real (or real-ish) but not always "realistically used." Other places like Phlaumix Court and Umberton are purely fictional. Any similarity between characters and real people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental, but then, as Klavdia Klangfarben keeps quoting a former professor of hers, "Perception is everything." Yadda yadda yadda.
©2016 by Richard Alan Strawser for Thoughts on a Train1