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Laurence Durrell

The Dark Labyrinth

The Beginning

During the early part of June, 1947, a small party of sightseers found itself trapped in what was then the newlydiscovered labyrinth of Cefalfû, in the island of Crete. They had penetrated the network of caves and corridors with a guide from a tourist agency, their intention being to examine the so-called „City in the Rock“ — whose discovery early in the preceding year had set a seal upon the long archaeological career of Sir Juan Axelos. By a sudden and unforeseen accident, the guide in charge of the party was killed. Falls of rock separated several members of the party from the main body, and it was only the sheerest chance that led one of them, Lord Graecen, to find his own way out.

Where a novelist might find it necessary to excuse himself for the choice of so formal a theme, the journalist feels no such inhibition. This extraordinary story found a welcome place on the front pages of the London papers. As representing that part of Truth which is stranger than fiction, it found a no less welcome place in the American Press, where the final piquant note was added by sub-titles reading „Lord Lost in Labyrinth“. The Times took the opportunity to call attention once more to the brilliant discovery by Axelos of a labyrinth so long believed to be purely mythical. The words „Labyrinth“ and „Minotaur“ occurred in the Daily Mirror crossword puzzle on the fifteenth of the month. The Greek Press of Athens, while it was unable to afford the expense of a special correspondent, reprinted the accounts given in the American Press. In one of these, a correspondent went so far as to say that the Labyrinth was still inhabited by some monstrous creature — a minotaur, in fact — which had been responsible for the death of a number of innocent villagers. With a definitive story from Lord Graecen himself, in which he described the accident and the luck he had had in finding his way out, the incident was all but closed. The young American drank his fourth cup of tea and closed his notebook. He was still a little awed by the childish dignity of Graecen, and the bulky figure of his friend Axelos, who sat upon the sundial in the grounds of his lovely house, idly smoking and appearing to give no heed to the young journalist’s questions. The air was very still, save for the clap of shears along the thick hedges. „Cefalû“ was a large white stone house, set back from the sea in a grove of oleanders. In the twilight the young American could see the sun touching the snow-tipped summits of the White Mountains. He sighed.

„Well, Lord Graecen,“ he said. „I guess that’s all.“ He shaped a sentence in his mind which was to compliment Sir Juan on the exquisite situation of his house and grounds, but he somehow could not get it out. Axelos was a forbidding figure, with his bandy legs, sickle nose and bald head. His eye had a reptilian slowness and torpor. He was sitting on the edge of the sundial smoking a cigar. „I guess I’ll be going,“ said the young American. The car was waiting for him in the village. It was a long drive to Canea. He allowed Lord Graecen to shake his hand with a dazzling condescension. „Thank you, sir,“ he said as he made his way down the pebbled path on to the mule-track which led to Cefalû. It wasn’t much of a story.

He had left his notebook behind on the tea-table. He retraced his steps, taking a short cut across the terrace and the pebbled drive. Axelos was sitting in a deck-chair. He had just selected a peach from the plate on the table. Graecen sat with his arm round the back of a chair, and one leg thrown over the other. They looked up as the young man’s step sounded upon the gravel. He excused himself and took up his dogeared article.

„Mr. Howe,“ said Axelos in his coarse deep voice. He had started to peel the peach with a small silver penknife. His in­ solence of voice was superb — and unintentional. Nature had combined in him the features of a degenerate pope and the torpor of a crocodile, and to these had added a voice of unconscionable harshness. When he smiled the young American saw at once that he had not intended a rudeness. „The entrance to the labyrinth has been blocked by a fall of rock. Until it’s clear there probably won’t be any more news of the others. I feel I ought to advise you not to go messing about in it, eh, Dicky?“

Graecen’s face wore its customary air of childish pomposity. He nodded benignly. „It’s extremely dangerous.“ The young American felt the vague irritation that always came over him when he had dealings with the English. „It’s disturbing, sir,“ he said, manipulating the r’s until they curled on his tongue like golden syrup, „that you can’t tell me exactly how many people were in the party. The reports conflict. For example, you gave me the name of a Mr. Campion.“

„Oh, yes. Quite definitely. Rather,“ said Graecen. „He was there all right.“

„He’s not on the passenger list of the Europa at all. On the other hand, Captain Baird . . .“

“ CaptainBaird is here,“ said Axelos. „He did not go into the labyrinth.“

„Well: the purser of the Europa has his name down as one of the original party.“

„An error.“

„It’s very confusing.“

He pocketed his notebook and hurried off to the village, climbing the steep and stony road with long strides. The car was where he had left it, and, climbing into it, he was driven slowly down the side of the mountain towards the plains. At the last bend in the road he told the driver to stop. The sun was falling, dense with its own golden weight, towards the sea. He looked back once more at Cefalû and caught his breath. It was a fantastic locality; a huge cone of conglomerate rising a thousand feet into the blue Cretan air. On the one side it ran clear up from the sea as if it had been sheared out by some insane architect. The sides were weathered and lightly covered in holm-oak and myrtle. On the very crown rose a tuft of green cypresses and olives. Half-way up the cone stood the village of Cefalfi, its houses with their child’s-paint-box colours glowing pristine and ingenuous in the waning sunlight. The mountain ran straight up from this little circle of cultivation, into the sky. He could see the avenue of small cypresses that led to the mouth of the labyrinth. Then, below the road, he could look down to the lovely house that Axelos had called Cefalû. It was built in a fault of the rock which gave it access to the sea. A white sailing boat lay like a breathing butterfly against the white mole. From this last bend he could look down on to the lawn and watch the two figures, foreshortened but quite clear in the bluish light.

Katina had come out in response to Axelos‘ call, bearing the chessboard and the box of pieces. She placed a candlestick upon the table and a box of matches. „What do you think of her, Dicky?“ said Axelos with his slurred pronunciation. She was dressed in blue with a yellow head-dress: superbly built, and with a dark hawk-featured face. Axelos passed his hand lazily across her buttocks as she bent forward to remove the tea-tray. „Dark as sin,“ he said, depressing the corners of his mouth and stroking her — as a man might pass his hands over the smooth flanks of a deer. Katina seemed not to notice. Graecen looked nervously round him, aware of the sardonic gaze of his friend. „She’s superb,“ he said with a well-bred discomfort. Axelos opened his lips and expelled some air in a mock-laugh.

„Katina is the product of in idirrhythmic monastery,“ he said. „She is a widow — or was. That is what makes her so idiorrhythmic. So uncompromisingly idiorrhythmic, eh, my dear?“ The girl carried the tray into the house. „As a term of endearment the word is unbeatable . . . my little idiorrhythmic nun, eh?“ Axelos began to set out the pieces upon the board. „My dear Dicky,“ he said, „do not look as though I was letting the white man down.“ Graecen made one of his ineffectual little gestures in the air, disclaiming the implied criticism — a „far-be-it-from-me“ gesture. Axelos enjoyed his discomfort. He took his chin in his fingers and once more depressed the corners of his mouth in a smile. „My Arabic mother and my Greek father,“ he said, „gave me a clear insight into the Mediterranean world where they value people for their . . . idiorrhythmicity, shall we say? Apart from the unhappy accident of a nationality my father thought would be useful to me, I have, little enough in common with the products of the high table. And Dicky, after thirty years you still look abashed.“

Graecen sighed. „Silenus,“ he said, using the nickname that Hogarth had bestowed upon Axelos when they were in their first year, „Silenus, you’ll come to no good.“

„She has a little sister who is even prettier and more idiorrhythmic if you’d care to . . .“

„Now,“ said Graecen primly. „I’ve been teased enough, Silenus. On guard.“

Axelos lit a candle; they sat now in a golden puddle of light while all round them the bluish airless evening closed into nightfall. The girl reappeared and placed glasses near them and a decanter. „I suppose Baird will stay the night up at the monastery,“ said Graecen abstractedly. Axelos put his cigar out and opened the game resolutely. „I’ve noticed that all Hogarth’s patients leave hurriedly for monasteries: or become monks: or accept a deaconate on Athos: what is the old devil up to with his analytic game? His last book was unreadable, Ithought.“ Graecen stroked his eyebrow and murmured something abstractedly.

“ Baird was in charge of some guerillas,“ he said, having moved, „during the last war. He says he knows parts of the labyrinth well. It’s funny he didn’t come upon your temple — and do you out of it.“ Axelos suddenly fixed upon him an eye as round and bright as a button. He gave a chuckle, a deep and ineffable chuckle this time. „Of such are the kingdom of heaven, Dicky,“ he said. He seemed about to say more but checked himself. Then he drew a breath.

“ Dicky, you’re an expert — you saw it.“

„Yes,“ said Graecen, with a startled and defensive air. It alarmed him to be called an expert.

„The sculpture I sent you for the Museum, and the relief — would you pronounce them genuine?“

„Of course,“ said Graecen.

„They’re not. If Baird never found the temple when he operated from the labyrinth it was because it wasn’t there. I built it.“

Graecen had a limited range of expressions at his command. He looked pained now rather than surprised. Axelos could not help smiling at the mixture of pain and disbelief that flitted across that serene round countenance. „The stone is from an old dig near Castro,“ he said. „The temple I assembled from fragments of marble fished out of the ancient mole. The plinth and the bas relief were done by an old monk here. The sculpture by me.“ He laughed until his eyes disappeared completely and his nose almost touched his chin. It was the face of a Greek tragic mask, thought Graecen. It was most disturbing. But then, one could always count upon Axelos for some such ponderous hoax. As a man who took antiquities seriously he felt extremely annoyed. „That was why you warned me not to . . .“ he said unhappily. He remembered the brilliant sunlight leaking through the slit in the roof on to the great bas relief.