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Authors: Timothy Findley

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Pilgrim

BOOK: Pilgrim
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Pilgrim

Timothy Findley

In memory of
Michael Tippett
Not only a child of our time,
but of all time.

And for
Meirion Bowen
who made the journey with him.

Here is no final grieving, but an abiding hope.
Michael Tippett
A Child of Our Time,
1944

Our story…is much older than its years, its dated-ness is not to be measured in days, nor the burden of age weighing upon it to be counted by orbits around the sun; in a word, it does not actually owe its pastness to
time.

Thomas Mann,

foreword to
The Magic Mountain,
1924

There is no light at the end of the tunnel,
only a pack of matches handed down
from one generation to the next.
Humanity does not have a long fuse
and this generation holds the last match.
JonArno Lawson,
Bad News,
in
The Noon Whistle,
1996

Table of Contents

Cover Page

Title Page

Epigraph

PROLOGUE

BOOK ONE

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21

BOOK TWO

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13

BOOK THREE

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14

BOOK FOUR

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13

BOOK FIVE

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13

BOOK SIX

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13

EPILOGUE

AUTHOR’S NOTE

Also By Timothy Findley

Praise for PILGRIM

Copyright

About the Publisher

PROLOGUE

In the early morning hours of Wednesday, the 17th of April, 1912, a man called Pilgrim walked barefooted into the garden of his home in London at number 18 Cheyne Walk. He was dressed much the same as any man of his station might have been at this hour: white pyjamas and a blue silk robe. Royal blue, deep pockets, rolled collar. His unslippered feet were cold. Not that it mattered. In minutes, nothing would matter.

The grass was thick with dew, and seeing it—even in the meagre spill of light from the house—Pilgrim muttered
green
as if the word had only just occurred to him.

A dog barked, possibly far away as the King’s Road. From the south, beyond the river, there was the sound of farm carts making their way to Covent Garden. Beside him, a dovecote hummed and fluttered in the dark.

A leaf fell.

Pilgrim made his way across the grass to a maple tree three storeys high, though its height could not be told in the dark. In one hand he carried the silken cord from his dressing-gown—in the other, a Sheraton chair of carefully measured dimensions. Just so tall—just so deep and just so wide.

In spite of his age, Pilgrim got up on the chair and
climbed with the energy of someone who had spent his life in trees. He did not look down. There was nothing there he wanted to see.

He correctly knotted the cord and threw it over a substantial branch.

An owl passed. Its wings creaked. Otherwise, there was silence.

Pilgrim looked up at the stars and leapt.

It was 4:00 a.m.

The chair fell sideways.

The body was not discovered till dawn, more than three hours later. It was Pilgrim’s valet-butler—a man called Forster—who came into the garden and found him, cut him down and laid him out on the grass—the grass still cold and wet—after which he covered the body with a blanket brought from his own bed.

Only Doctor Greene was telephoned. The police were not informed. At all costs, dignity must be preserved.

While he waited for the physician’s arrival, Forster put on his overcoat, and bringing with him a coal-oil lamp, he returned the Sheraton chair to an upright position and, sitting on it, smoked a cigarette. He thought of nothing. The sun would rise. The doves and pigeons would be fed. The world would turn yet again towards the light. Any minute, Mrs Matheson would start the kitchen fires.

Forster waited and watched. The body did not stir. Nothing. Not a murmur. Not a breath.

Pilgrim, at long last, had succeeded. Or so it seemed.

BOOK ONE

1

Inside the front doors of the Burghölzli Psychiatric Clinic in Zürich, a nurse named Dora Henkel and an orderly whose name was Kessler were waiting to greet a new patient and his companion. Their arrival had been delayed by a heavy fall of snow.

To Kessler it seemed that two wind-blown angels had tumbled down from heaven and were moving towards the steps. The figures of these angels now stood in momentary disorientation, reaching out with helpless arms towards one another through windy clouds of snow, veils, shawls and scarves that altogether gave the appearance of large unfolded wings.

At last they caught hold of one another’s hands and the female angel led the male, whose height was quite alarming, beneath the portico and up the steps. Dora Henkel and Kessler moved to open the doors to the vestibule, only to be greeted by a gale of what seemed to be perfumed snow. It was nothing of the kind, of course, but it seemed so. The female angel—Sybil, Lady Quartermaine—had a well-known passion for scent. She would not have dreamt of calling it
perfume. Flowers and spices are perfumed,
she would say.
Persons are scented.

For a moment, it seemed that her male companion
might be blind. He stood in the vestibule staring blankly, still maintaining his angel image—six-foot-six of drooping shoulders, lifeless arms and wings that at last had folded. His scarves and high-necked overcoat, pleated and damp, were hanging draped on his attenuated body as if at any moment they might sigh and slip to the marble floor.

Lady Quartermaine was younger than expected—not by any means the dowager Marchioness she had seemed in her rigid demands and almost military orders, issued by cablegrams five and six times a day, to be delivered by Consulate lackeys. In the flesh, she could not have been more than forty—if that—and was possessed of a presence that radiated charm and beauty with every word and gesture. Dora Henkel instantly fell in love with her and, in some confusion, had to turn away because Lady Quartermaine’s beauty had made her blush. Turning back, she bobbed in the German fashion before she spoke.

“Most anxious we have been for your journey, Lady Quartermaine,” she said, and smiled—perhaps with too much ingratiation.

Kessler moved towards the inner doors and pulled them open, stepping aside to let the new arrivals pass. He would call this day forevermore
the day the angels fell.
He, too, had been smitten by Lady Quartermaine and her romantic entry with a giant in her wake.

In the entrance hall, an efficient figure in a white coat came forward.

“I am Doctor Furtwängler, Lady Quartermaine. How do you do?”

She offered her hand, over which he bowed. Josef Furtwängler prided himself on his “bedside manner”—in all its connotations. His well-practised smile, while popular with his patients, was suspect amongst his colleagues.

Turning to the figure beside her, Lady Quarter-maine said: “
Herr Doktor, ich will Ihnen meinen Freund Herrn Pilgrim vorstellen
.”

Furtwängler saw the apprehension in his new patient’s eyes. “Perhaps, Lady Quartermaine,” he said, “for the sake of your friend, we should continue in English. You will find that most of us in the Burghölzli speak it fluently—including many of the patients.” He moved forward, smiling, with his hand extended. “Mister Pilgrim. Welcome.”

Pilgrim stared at the proffered hand and rejected it. He said nothing.

Lady Quartermaine explained.

“He is silent, Herr Doktor. Mute. This has been so ever since…he was found.”

“Indeed. It is not unusual.” The Doctor gave Pilgrim an even friendlier smile and said: “will you come into the reception room. There’s a fire, and we will have some coffee.”

Pilgrim glanced at Lady Quartermaine. She nodded and took his hand. “We would be delighted,” she said to Furtwängler. “A cup of good Swiss coffee is just what the doctor ordered.” She gave an amused shrug. “Which way do we go?”

“Please, come with me.”

Furtwängler flicked his fingers at Dora Henkel, who
scurried off to the dining-room across the entrance hall to arrange the refreshments while Kessler stood by, trying his best not to look like a bodyguard.

Lady Quartermaine led Pilgrim forward. “All is well,” she told him. “All is well. We have safely arrived at our destination and soon you will rest.” She slipped her arm through his. “How very glad I am to be with you, my dear. How very glad I am I came.”

2

Pilgrim’s physician had been discreet. Greene had arrived roughly five hours after the event, reaching Cheyne Walk by cab at 8:45 a.m. Forster had led him directly to the garden where Greene had established that Pilgrim had stopped breathing and his heart was no longer beating.

He took more than usual care in this examination, having experienced a previous attempt at suicide which Pilgrim had failed. On that occasion, his patient had apparently managed to drown himself in the Serpentine. In spite, however, of its being midwinter and ice having formed on the surface of the water, Pilgrim had survived—even though, when he was found, all signs of life had disappeared. It had taken more than two hours of treatment and all of Greene’s expertise to bring him around. The physician could hardly credit his success, since Pilgrim had remained seemingly dead for so long.

Over time, Greene had come to acknowledge not
only the suicidal tendencies of his patient, but equally to be aware of his extraordinary resilience—as if there were a force inside him that refused to die, no matter what opportunities Pilgrim offered.

Once another hour had passed since his arrival at Cheyne Walk, Doctor Greene pronounced Pilgrim technically dead and began the process of making out the certificate of death which his profession demanded of him. Nonetheless, he called in the services of a second physician to verify his findings. The second physician, whose name was Hammond, happened to be one of London’s foremost neurologists. The two men were well known to one another, having taken part together in a good number of autopsies performed on the corpses of suicides and murder victims.

BOOK: Pilgrim
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