Lord Malquist and Mr Moon
A Novelby Tom Stoppard
“Zany, aphoristic and flashy . . . a remarkable entertainment, remarkably funny.” —The Washington Post
Tom Stoppard’s first novel, originally published in 1966 just before the premiere of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, is an uproarious fantasy set in modern London. The cast includes a penniless, dandified Malquist with a liveried coach; Malquist’s Boswellian biographer, Moon, who frantically scribbles as a bomb ticks in his pocket; a couple of cowboys, one being named Jasper Jones; a lion who’s banned from the Ritz; an Irishman on a donkey claiming to be the Risen Christ; and three irresistible women.
“Lord Malquist & Mr. Moon takes place in dream-London, where everything is seen through a haze of despair, and cowboys and a coach-and-pair and a pet lion wander with innumerable others through the plot, giving it a kind of child-like surrealism. It manages to be sad without being sentimental, and to give its fantasies a wit and exactness that make them fruitful and rewarding.” —The Sunday Telegraph
“Zany, aphoristic and flashy . . . a remarkable entertainment, remarkably funny.” —The Washington Post
“When the battle becomes a farce the only position of dignity is above it,” said the ninth earl (the battle raging farcically beneath him). “On the day the Bastille fell Louis XVI of France returned home from the hunt and wrote in his private diary, Rien. I commend to you the dignity of that remark, not to mention its cosmic accuracy.” He took a grip (lilac-gloved) on the door-frame (rosewood, mother-of-pearl) as the pair of pigeon-coloured horses rocked the coach up Whitehall under the mourning flags and across the Square, kicking dun-coloured pigeons into the air over the purple-and-white barricades that stood ready for the great funeral—and Moon, snatching at the tail-ends of recollection, trusting the echo in his skull to reproduce a meaning that had not touched him, scribbled with a kindergarten fist against the sway, and caught up—the comic inaccuracy of his remark—before the turn into Cockspur Street dragged his pen arabesque across the page. The bomb bumped in his pocket.
“Nothing,” said the ninth earl, “is the history of the world viewed from a suitable distance. Revolution is a trivial shift in the emphasis of suffering; the capacity for self-indulgence changes hands. But the world does not alter its shape or its course. The seasons are inexorable, the elements constant. Against such vast immutability the human struggle takes place on the same scale as the insect movements in the grass, and carnage in the streets is no more than the spider-sucked husk of a fly on a dusty window-sill. Ask me what changes have taken place on the moon in my lifetime and I will reply from my own observation—Rien!”
The horses cleared a path through the encroaching city and Moon scribbled on as best he could.
The ninth earl sighed. “I am an island, Mr Moon, and when the bell tolls it tolls for thee.”
Vast immutability of insects wrote Moon, despairing but without guilt, send not for whom the bell tolls, etc., by which contraction he was able to capture the next sentence whole—If they are all so obsessed with change they should begin by changing for dinner.
“Very good, Lord Malquist!”—hearty friend-of-the-nobility-Moon.
“Well write it down, dear boy, write it down.”
“Very good, Lord Malquist”—Boswellian knows-his-station Moon.
And the ninth earl (entomological) looked appalled on the passing battle in Waterloo Place; and was reminded—
“You may not know, dear boy, what the Duke of Wellington wore on his feet during the battle at Waterloo. . .?”
“Boots, my lord?”
“No doubt, but what kind of boots?”
“What kind of boots Wellington wore?” said Moon stupidly.
“Would they have been Wellington boots?” he asked feeling that he had somehow spoilt it.
But the ninth earl was triumphant.
“No!” he snapped. “He wore Malquist boots!” and smacked his stick against the polished leather of his calf.
“Make a note of it, Moon. The fourth earl wore leather boots up to the knee and they created much interest at the time. Wellington never had an original idea in his life, about boots or anything else. He entered the language by appropriating the fruits of my family genius.” He brooded bitterly for a moment. Moon wrote: Boots of family genius, and the ninth earl remarked without tone or point, “a man greeting a Mr Jones with the words The Duke of Wellington, I believe, received the reply, Yes. Can you lend me ten pounds until the end of the month.”
Up ahead at the far corner of Pall Mall and Marlborough Road a crowd had gathered. It grew as Moon watched. He tried to empty his mind but when he closed his eyes the crowd multiplied and began to pile up against the walls until it filled the city to its brim, a mass pressed wall to wall, blind prisoners packed into the city’s hold. He held his breath in the airless centre, and when he opened his eyes the buildings leaned into him. He started to interview himself, ritualistically, but could not synchronise real time with time in his head. He kept getting ahead of himself, and losing it, and starting again and losing it, like an exhausted man trying to get his prayers in before falling asleep. He put his hand into his overcoat pocket and palmed the smooth shell of his bomb.
“I find crowds extraordinarily lacking,” said the ninth earl. “Taken as a whole they have no sense of form or colour. I long to impose some aesthetic discipline on them, rearrange them into art. It would give a point to their existence.” He sighed again. “Well then, descriptive notes’ My hat is of a colour described by my hatter as pearl black. My pearl pinned to my lapel is of a colour described by my jeweller in literal translation from his native Chinese as sunkissed dewdrop on earlobe of bathing-in-pool maiden. My earlobes are gems of their kind. My Regency coat for gaming at the club is of a brocade as blue as the midnight sky over Firenze. My gloves are lilac, my hose is white, my cravat is of the palest blue silk, my boots are the hand-stitched hide of unborn gazelles and my stick is ebony, filigree-ed in silver. My malquist is slightly less pink than a sunrise though slightly less yellow than a sunset, and it is drawn by two dappled greys in black harness, and driven by a venerable coachman caped in mustard box-cloth who served as groom in my father’s stables and who has a wise Cockney wit, an example of which unaccountably fails to spring to mind.”
Moon had relapsed into interviewing himself. His hand wrote on as far as pink as pearl in ear of Chinese bathing beauty, at which point its memory gave out.
The crowd on the corner, trapped and released by the caprice of traffic, started to cross but fell back from the broadside arrogance of coach-and-pair, and Moon had to abandon his interview to prepare a face to acknowledge the loyalty of a populace who had turned out to line the streets for him; which he did by removing all expression from it. The ninth earl looked about him without malice or envy, but his eye was unwarily caught by a look of unmistakable contempt from a man with a bowler hat and a long sad moustache. Next to him a fat lady, differently affected, broke rank in a lumpy encumbered struggle towards the coach, waving something white, and came on, her mouth working around a message of some obscure desperation, thrusting the object-a tight roll of paper, loose end flying-at the window, and as it flapped once against the glass Moon caught the instant of her despair as the high wheel rode her down. All his tension exhaled in one unwinding breath.
“If there were a time and place for petitions,” said the ninth earl unloosening a fine gold mesh bag bulging with coins of an unbelievable luminosity, “it might possibly be just before dinner, and it could conceivably be in the middle of Pall Mall, but the meanest intelligence might surmise that it would not be both,” and threw a handful of the coins into the road behind where they leapt away like panicked goldfish.
Up on the box the coachman cried in terror—”Blind schmuck! she’s mad already!”—and the horses bolted.
“Don’t lose your head, O’Hara!” shouted the ninth earl. “Turn up St James!”
Moon twisted to look back through the rear pane. Several people were darting about in pursuit of coins. The man with the hat and the sad moustache was running after the coach with absurd futility. A ribbon of white paper was still unrolling itself across the street.
“She’s not moving,” he reported.
The ninth earl (numismatic) was examining one of his coins, fingernailing the yellow unmilled edge, squinting for the flaw in the smooth gold, and, having found it, he carefully began to peel away the foil.
“Breeding,” he remarked with approval. “As Lord Curzon said to the actress, a lady does not move.” And stripping off the gold tinsel, he popped the resultant chocolate into his mouth.
* * *
Sitting easy in the saddle, L. J. (for Long John) Slaughter moseyed down the slope, hat low over his eyes. The things you noticed were the single gun on his left hip and the tough leather chaps that covered his denims though this wasn’t cactus country. Slaughter was a left-handed gun and he had the look of a man who had come a long way.
The chestnut mare skidded once and L. J. lurched in the saddle, murmured “Easy, boy, easy,” and his eyes never stopped moving. He slapped his right hand whup-whup against her neck. He figured he must be heading east, which was about right. He came on down, just moseying.
Suddenly his whole body tensed and his eyes narrowed, staring ahead where a lone horseman had appeared out of the fast-fading light, riding towards him. His lips parted in the faintest smile and he let his left hand hang loose. He tightened rein and edged the mare a little to the right to favour his gun-hand. “Whoa boy,” he murmured, watching the other rider come close.
Slaughter said: “Where ya headin’, Jasper?” and to the mare, “Whoa, will you, whoa boy.”
Jasper jabbed his finger west. He kept daylight between his body and his right arm.
L. J. nodded carefully, hauling back on the rein. The distance between them closed as the mare walked on.
He said, “Whoa, boy, whoa!”
Jasper said: “Where ya bin?” His eyes were hard as gun barrels.
Slaughter hooked a thumb over his shoulder. He said: “Jes’ in case you’all thinkin’ of callin’ on a certain little lady, I happen ta know that she don’ wanna thing to do with a hick like you,” and to the mare, “Stop, you dumb bastard.”
Jasper leaned on the loaded saddle bag and his lips parted in the faintest smile.
“If you’re carryin’ a forty-five,” he said, “there ain’t no sense in shootin’ with your mouth,” as Slaughter’s mare brought them level.
Slaughter turned towards him, one hand on his loaded saddle bag. “I’ll be lookin’ for you,” he called over his shoulder.
“I ain’t so hard to find,” Jasper shouted back at him.
L.J. slackened rein but the mare kept to the same stately walk. He nudged her in the belly with his heels and said, “Go now, boy, we’ll cut round an’ head him off—giddy’yup now.” The mare walked on without resentment.
* * *
From behind a scrub of thorn the lion watched her. He was not sure yet and the wind was wrong. He lay flattened and nothing of him moved except the very end of his tail which flicked in the grass.
The woman came obliquely towards him, staggering, her eyes red-rimmed and desperate, and once she nearly fell. Her face had turned a deep unnatural red and her mouth hung open and dry. She licked her lips and fell again. It was evening but not yet dark.
She was a white woman, neither old nor young, and she had lost one of her shoes. She no longer knew where she was. She wanted to drink and sleep, and her thirst would not let sleep take her. Her mouth and throat, her whole body, felt as if she had never had a drink in her life and all the dry years were compressed now into a terrible need. Every bush was a person watching her or all the people watching her were bushes. She opened her mouth to shout at them but nothing came out but a dry hoarse sob, and she did not know she was falling until the earth smacked her flatly from ankle to cheek.
The lion lay ten yards away, watching for her to move.
* * *
He was a dark man with thick matted curls that hung down till they became a beard, and he sat on the donkey side-saddle with his feet bare and brown below the hem of his linen robe.
The path took him by a small lake. The man got down from his donkey and washed his feet carefully and then knelt to splash away the dust from his face. He was tired and very hungry. He hoped to find a fig-tree among the stunted hawthorns but there was food only for the donkey. He smiled gently at this reminder of the infinite workings that compensated all God’s creatures for their limitations and checked them for their presumptions. He lay down on the grass and fell asleep.
He slept for several hours, and although many people passed by and glanced at him none disturbed him. When he awoke he was cold. He climbed up on to the donkey and guided it along the track between green country. The track became a lane and there were people there. Many wondered at this strange stoical figure who looked neither to right nor left as the donkey carried him along.
It was quite late in the day when he came to a busy road which led into the heart of the city. The streets were crowded and there was much traffic on them, and the donkey sometimes had to push its way through the bystanders. The man made no sign to them and seemed so removed from everything around him that when the donkey halted at the central point of a busy junction, he did not look up until the horns blared from wall to wall and abusive cries rose on the air.
The man nudged the donkey with his heels but the animal did not move. He patted its neck and made encouraging sounds at it, also without result. Wearily the man got down and tried to pull the donkey forward by the halter and then, reconsidering, got behind it and started to push. The noise of the surrounding chaos took on an apoplectic pitch. The donkey stood quite still. The man took a pace back and kicked it side-footed on the rump. The donkey was unmoved. The man glanced wildly round and kicked the donkey in the genitals. He hopped round on one foot to the front of the donkey and punched it between the eyes, and hopped off again with his right fist in his left armpit. The crowd seemed to have turned against him. He started to scream at the donkey, “Get on, yer milk-brained whoor!” and beat and kicked it about the legs, and the donkey turned to look at him with an air of christ-like forbearance. The man started to cry. He climbed back on to the donkey. There seemed nowhere else to go, and when the accident happened he was weeping quietly into the donkey’s neck.
* * *
Jane was sitting at her toilette, as she called it in the French manner, dreaming of might-have-beens. It was the height of the Season in London, and an onlooker might have been forgiven for wondering why it was that this mere slip of a girl with hair like spun gold, with exquisite features that proclaimed a noble breeding, should sit alone with sadness in her heart.
She sighed deeply, with her elbows on her knees and her chin cupped in her hands. A painter would have delighted in her pensive beauty, in the enigmatic trace of sadness in those wide brown eyes which had captivated so many swains, in the peeping blush of her firm young breasts where the thin silk of her gown fell loose about her. . . . “Ah me,” she sighed, “What a silly I am!” for she was not given to feeling sorry for herself as a rule. But even as she laughed her laughter rang false.
Just at that moment her ears caught the soft fall of distant hoofbeats, and her heart fluttered within her. She raised her head to listen, one soft golden lock brushing her exquisite cheek. The hooves came closer. Her heart began to beat, but she dare not let herself believe it could be him.
“Impossible,” she breathed-and yet! The horse clattered to a halt outside the house and she heard the rider’s boots on the step.
She called sharply, “Marie! Marie! See who has come!”
“Oui, Madame,” answered Marie from outside the door. “I go.”
It seemed an eternity before she heard Marie’s voice once more—”It is Monsieur Jones, Madame!”
Jane caught her breath. She raised her head proudly.
“Tell him I am not at home!”
“Oui, Madame,” called Marie from the hall.
She sat quite still. Her young face, too young for such cares, wept bitter tears that ran down her ivory-sculptured neck and left their salty traces on her ripening breasts. Her thin shoulders shook as she buried her face in her hands.
She heard Marie’s voice—insisting—”Madame is not at home, Monsieur!” and then his voice calling, “Jane! Jane!” And suddenly he was hammering at the door behind which she sat.
But she was still proud.
“I will not see you again! Go away and leave me now, I beg you. I have suffered too much!”
“But I want you, Jane, I want you!”
She caught her breath once more. She heard him put his weight against the door.
“I cannot stay away from you, Jane!” he cried.
“Stand back—I swear I will shoot the lock!”
The next moment his pistol roared and with a splintering of wood the door burst open. She looked at him coldly as he stood disconcerted in the doorway.
“I beg your pardon, Ma’am, I thought—”
He started to back out, but Jane could contain herself no longer. She jumped up with a cry wrung out of her heart, tears of joy streaming down her face, and started to run towards his strong brown arms, forgetting that her knickers were round her ankles. She fell heavily on the bathmat, and the tight roll of paper she had been holding on her lap spun away, unwinding itself across the floor.
* * *