The Troubadour - Cover

The Troubadour

by Robert W. Lowndes

Public Domain

Science Fiction Story: There was something odd about the guest attraction, Mr. Fayliss, and something odder still about his songs.

Tags: Science Fiction   Novel-Classic  

So far as parties go, Jocelyn’s were no duller than any others. I went to this one mainly to listen to Paul Kutrov and Frank Alva bait each other, which is usually more entertaining than most double features. Kutrov adheres to the “onward and upward” school of linear progress, while Alva is more or less of a Spenglerian. More when he goes along by himself; less when you try to pin him down to it. And since the subject of tonight’s revelations would be the pre-Mohammed Arabian Culture, I’d find Alva inclined toward my side of the debate, which is strictly morphological and without any pious theories of “progress”.

I’d completely forgotten that Jocelyn had mentioned something about having a special attraction: a “Mr. Fayliss”, who, she insisted, was a troubadour. I didn’t comment, not wanting to spend a day with Jocelyn on the phone, exploring the Provence.

The night wasn’t too warm for August, and there were occasional gusts of air seeping through the layers of tobacco smoke that hovered over the assemblage. As usual, it was a heterogeneous crowd, which rapidly formed numerous islands of discourse. The trade winds carried salient gems of intelligence throughout the entire archipelago at times, and Jocelyn walked upon the water, scurrying from one body to another, sopping up the overflow of “culture”. She visited our atoll, where Kutrov’s passionate exposition had already raised the mean temperature some degrees, but didn’t stay long. Such debates didn’t suggest any course of social or political action, and couldn’t be trued in to any of her causes.

My attention was wandering from the Kutrov-Alva variations, for Bill had only been speaking for ten minutes, and could not be expected to arrive at any point whatsoever for at least another fifteen. From the east of us came apocalyptic figures of nuclear physics; from the west, I heard the strains of Mondrian interwoven with Picasso; south of us, a post mortem on the latest “betrayal” of this or that aspiration of “the people”, and to the north, we heard the mysteries of atonality. It was while I was looking around, and letting these things roll over me, that I saw the stranger enter. Jocelyn immediately bounced up from a couch, leaving the crucial problem of atmosphere-poisoning via fission and/or fusion bombs suspended, and made effusive noises.

This, then, was the “troubadour”--Mr. Fayliss. The Main Attraction was decidedly prepossessing. Tall, peculiarly graceful both in appearance and manner, dressed with an immaculateness that seemed excessive in this post-Bohemian circle. There was a decided musical quality to his speech, as he made polite comments upon being introduced to each of us, and an exactness in sentence-structure, word-choices and enunciation that bespoke the foreigner. Jocelyn took him around with the air of conducting a quick tour through a museum, then settled him momentarily with the music group, now in darkest Schoenberg, only partially illuminated by “Wozzek”. I watched Fayliss long enough to solidify an impression that he was at ease here--but not merely in this particular discussion. It was a case of his being simply at ease, period.

Kutrov was watching him, too, and I saw now that there would be a most-likely permanent digression. Too bad--I’d had a feeling that when he came to his point, it would have been a strong one. “Hungarian, do you suppose?” he asked.

Alva examined the evidence. Fayliss had high cheekbones, longish eyes, with large pupils. He was lean, without giving an impression of thinness. He had not taken off his gloves, and I wondered if he would come forth with a monocle; if he had, it would not have seemed an affectation.

“I wouldn’t say Slavic,” Alva said. He started off on ethnology, and we toured the Near East again. I jumped into the break when Kutrov was swallowing beer and Alva lighting a cigaret to observe that Fayliss reminded me of some Egyptian portraits--although I couldn’t set the period. “If those eyes of his don’t shine in the dark,” I added, “they ought to.”

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