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Night Train to Lisbon tells the story of mild-mannered, middle-aged Classics scholar Raimund Gregorius. When, one afternoon, he walks out of his class while in the middle of giving a lesson, his uncharacteristic impulsiveness surprises him as much as his students. This break from his usually predictable routine is driven by two chance encounters that morning on his way to work - the first with a mysterious Portuguese woman, and the second with a book discovered in a forgotten corner of an old bookshop, the journal of an enigmatic Portuguese aristocrat. With the book as his talisman, Mundus finds himself boarding the night train to Lisbon on a journey to find out more about its author, Amadeu del Prado - who was this man whose words both haunt and compel him, seeming somehow clairvoyant?
In 1917 I went to Russia. I was sent to prevent theBolshevik Revolution and to keep Russia in the war.The reader will know that my efforts did not meet withsuccess. I went to Petrograd from Vladivostock. Oneday, on the way through Siberia, the train stopped atsome station and the passengers as usual got out, someto fetch water to make tea, some to buy food and othersto stretch their legs. A blind soldier was sitting on abench. Other soldiers sat beside him and more stoodbehind. There were from twenty to thirty. Theiruniforms were torn and stained. The blind soldier, abig, vigorous fellow, was quite young. On his cheekswas the soft, pale down of a beard that has never beenshaved. I daresay he wasn't eighteen. He had a broadface, with flat, wide features; and on his forehead wasa great scar of the wound that had lost him his sight.His closed eyes gave him a strangely vacant look.He began to sing. His voice was strong and sweet. Heaccompanied himself on an accordion. The trainwaited on and he sang song after song. I could notunderstand his words, but through his singing, wildand melancholy, I seemed to hear the cry of theoppressed: I felt the lonely steppes and the interminableforests, the flow of the broad Russian rivers and all thetoil of the countryside, the ploughing of the land andthe reaping of the ripe corn, the sighing of the wind inthe birch trees, the long months of dark winter; andthen the dancing of women in the villages and theyouths bathing in shallow streams on summer evenings;I felt the horror of war, the bitter nights in the trenches,the long marches on muddy roads, the battlefield withits terror and anguish and death. It was horrible anddeeply moving. A cap lay at the singer's feet and thepassengers filled it full of money; the same emotion hadseized them all, of boundless compassion and of vaguehorror, for there was something in that blind, scarredface that was terrifying; you felt that this was a beingapart, sundered from the joy of this enchanting world.He did not seem quite human. The soldiers stoodsilent and hostile. Their attitude seemed to claim asa right the alms of the travelling herd. There was adisdainful anger on their side and immeasurable pityon ours; but no glimmering of a sense that there wasbut one way to compensate that helpless man for allhis pain.
He wished to give himself a moment to think, but ashe ascended the three flights slowly his feet were likelead. There could be small doubt why two policeofficers were so bent upon seeing him. He felt on asudden dreadfully tired. He did not feel he could copewith a multitude of questions. And if he were arrestedas a secret agent he must spend at least the night in acell. He longed more than ever for a hot bath and apleasant dinner by his fireside. He had half a mind toturn tail and walk out of the hotel, leaving everythingbehind him; he had his passport in his pocket and heknew by heart the hours at which trains started for thefrontier: before the Swiss authorities had made up theirminds what to do he would be in safety. But hecontinued to trudge upstairs. He did not like the notion ofabandoning his job so easily, he had been sent toGeneva, knowing the risks, to do work of a certainkind, and it seemed to him that he had better gothrough with it. Of course it would not be very nice tospend two years in a Swiss prison, but the chance of thiswas, like assassination to kings, one of theinconveniences of his profession. He reached the landing ofthe third floor and walked to his room. Ashenden hadin him, it seems, a strain of flippancy (on account ofwhich, indeed, the critics had often reproached him) andas he stood for a moment outside the door hispredicament appeared to him on a sudden rather droll.His spirits went up and he determined to brazen thething out. It was with a genuine smile on his lips that heturned the handle and entering the room faced hisvisitors.
Ashenden, lying comfortably in his bath,was glad to think that in all probability hewould be able to finish his play in peace. Thepolice had drawn a blank and though they might watchhim from now on with some care it was unlikely thatthey would take a further step until he had at leastroughed out his third act. It behoved him to beprudent (only a fortnight ago his colleague at Lausannehad been sentenced to a term of imprisonment), but itwould be foolish to be alarmed: his predecessor inGeneva, seeing himself, with an exaggerated sense ofhis own importance, shadowed from morning till night,had been so affected by the nervous strain that it hadbeen found necessary to withdraw him. Twice a weekAshenden had to go to the market to receiveinstructions that were brought to him by an old peasantwoman from French Savoy who sold butter and eggs.She came in with the other market-women and thesearch at the frontier was perfunctory. It was barelydawn when they crossed and the officials were only tooglad to have done quickly with these chattering noisywomen and get back to their warm fires and their cigars.Indeed this old lady looked so bland and innocent, withher corpulence, her fat red face, and her smilinggood-natured mouth, it would have been a very astutedetective who could imagine that if he took the troubleto put his hand deep down between those voluminousbreasts of hers, he would find a little piece or paper thatwould land in the dock an honest old woman (whokept her son out of the trenches by taking this risk) andan English writer approaching middle-age. Ashendenwent to the market about nine when the housewives ofGeneva for the most part had done their provisioning,stopped in front of the basket by the side of which, rainor wind, hot or cold, sat that indomitable creature andbought half a pound of butter. She slipped the note intohis hand when he was given change for ten francs and hesauntered away. His only moment of risk was when hewalked back to his hotel with the paper in his pocket,and after this scare he made up his mind to shorten asmuch as possible the period during which it could befound on him.
The train started and soon Ashenden again fell asleep.When he awoke it was morning and turning roundlazily he saw that the Mexican was awake too. He wassmoking a cigarette. The floor by his side was strewnwith burnt-out butts and the air was thick and grey.He had begged Ashenden not to insist on opening awindow, for he said the night air was dangerous.
The Hairless Mexican walked boldly out. Ashendenclosed the door behind him. He shaved and slowlydressed. The sun was shining as brightly as usual on thesquare and the people who passed, the shabby littlecarriages with their scrawny horses, had the same air asbefore, but they did not any longer fill Ashenden withgaiety. He was not comfortable. He went out and calledas was his habit at the Consulate to ask if there was atelegram for him. Nothing. Then he went to Cook'sand looked out the trains to Rome: there was one soonafter midnight and another at five in the morning. Hewished he could catch the first. He did not know whatwere the Mexican's plans; if he really wanted to get toCuba he would do well to make his way to Spain, and,glancing at the notices in the office, Ashenden saw thatnext day there was a ship sailing from Naples to Barcelona.
"You'll see for yourself. She's not my type. I daresayshe's better when she's made up and that kind of thing.I talked to her like a Dutch uncle. I put the fear of Godinto her. I told her she'd get ten years. I think I scaredher, I know I tried to. Of course she denied everything,but the proofs were there, I assured her she hadn't got achance. I spent three hours with her. She went all topieces and at last she confessed everything. Then I toldher that I'd let her go scot-free if she'd get Chandra tocome to France. She absolutely refused, she said she'drather die; she was very hysterical and tiresome, but I lether rave. I told her to think it over and said I'd see herin a day or two and we'd have another talk about it. Inpoint of fact I left her for a week. She'd evidently hadtime to reflect, because when I came again she asked mequite calmly what it was exactly that I proposed. She'dbeen in gaol a fortnight then and I expect she'd hadabout enough of it. I put it to her as plainly as I couldand she accepted."
"When my friend came back from Boulogne he knewthat he was madly in love with Alix and he had arrangedto meet her again in a fortnight's time when she wouldbe performing at Dunkirk. He thought of nothing elsein the interval and the night before he was to start, heonly had thirty-six hours this time, he could not sleep,so devouring was the passion that consumed him. Thenhe went over for a night to Paris to see her and oncewhen she was disengaged for a week he persuaded herto come to London. He knew that she did not love him.He was just a man among a hundred others and shemade no secret of the fact that he was not her only lover.He suffered agonies of jealousy but knew that it wouldonly excite her ridicule or her anger if he showed it. Shehad not even a fancy for him. She liked him because hewas a gentleman and well dressed. She was quite willingto be his mistress so long as the claims he made on herwere not irksome. But that was all. His means were notlarge enough to enable him to make her any seriousoffers, but even if they had been, liking her freedom,she would have refused." 2b1af7f3a8