Saturday, January 31, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 122: Arbuthnot

In our previous episode of this third-place prize-winner of the Plymouth Suburban Award for Creative Memoir, our hero Arnold Schnabel and his friend Dick Ridpath, trying to avoid the dreaded DeVores and the hot-blooded Miss Evans, have accepted the sanctuary of the little old proprietor of the Whatnot Shoppe on this fateful evening in August of 1963, in the quaint seaside resort of Cape May, New Jersey...

So up we duly went, spiraling up, the light growing less dim as we ascended.

“Just go on through,” said the old fellow, behind me.

The doorway on the second floor was open, Dick went through and I followed. We were in the living room of a cluttered apartment. In fact it looked much like the shop we had just left down below. There was even a knight in armor standing in a corner, holding a pike or a lance. Or I should say a knight’s suit of armor, as presumably there was no knight inside it.

A couple of lamps were lit, an old brass floor lamp with a tasseled yellow shade, and a table lamp with a shade made of multicolored rhombuses of glass.

The old guy came up the stairs behind me and closed the door.

“I suppose we should wait a little while until your pursuers go away?”

“If you don’t mind,” said Dick.

“Not at all, I could use the company. My name’s Arbuthnot, by the way. That’s my shop downstairs. Arbuthnot’s Whatnot Shoppe.”

“Ridpath,” said Dick, “Dick Ridpath,” and he took the old fellow’s hand. “And this is my friend Arnold. Arnold Schnabel.”

“Mr. Schnabel,” said Mr. Arbuthnot, taking my hand in its turn. “Pleased to make your acquaintance. I’ve seen you around town.”

Oh, great, I thought.

The old man withdrew his little hand and, waving it at an old tiger-striped sofa draped with yellowed antimacassars, he said, “Have a seat then, gentlemen. Who would like a drink?”

“I wouldn’t say no,” said Dick.


“Fine by me,” said Dick.

Dick and I took seats on the sofa, which turned out to be one of those sofas which absorb you like some living thing, drawing you down so that you’re sitting only an inch or two from the floor, with your knees almost at a level with your chin.

“Sherry, Mr. Schnabel?”

“Thank you, yes,” I said. I felt as if I would need some sort of fuel to give me the energy even to start to extricate myself from this sofa.

A small black cat jumped onto the sofa between me and Dick, and began examining me as Mr. Arbuthnot went across the room to a glass-doored cabinet.

“I know your aunts, Mr. Schnabel. Very nice ladies.”

Well, he probably knew about my breakdown, then. Fine. Someday I would just have a sign painted, “Madman”, and wear it around my neck.

He came back across the room with a bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream and three glasses. He laid the glasses on the long low lace-covered coffee table that was there, uncapped the bottle and poured out three drinks. Dick and I were both struggling to reach the drinks from our sunken positions when Mr. Arbuthnot helped us out and, leaning across the coffee table, handed the glasses to us. He took one too and climbed up onto an easy chair to our left. This chair had been piled up with cushions, and so Mr. Arbuthnot, instead of being almost submerged in the furniture like Dick and me, sat quite high on his seat, the bottoms of his little feet at least a foot above the rug.

“And Mr. Ridpath,” he said, “you’re staying at Mrs. Biddle’s, over on Windsor Avenue?”

“Yes. I’m sort of a family friend,” said Dick.

“Ah! A family friend. Cheers!”

Dick and I cheered, and we all drank some of the sweet sherry. I would much rather have preferred a Manhattan, but the way this evening was going I would take any drink I could get and be grateful for it.

“A navy man, aren’t you, Mr. Ridpath?” asked Mr. Arbuthnot.

“Yes,” said Dick. He was straining his reach to tap his cigarette ash into a big glass ashtray on the coffee table in front of us.

“I hope you gentlemen won’t think me an old busybody.”

Dick smiled, but, as he settled back into the sofa -- he had almost had to stand up again in order to reach the ashtray -- he gave me a brief look which seemed to say, “We’ll see who the hat fits.”

The cat jumped on my lap and looked at me more closely. It had a white patch under its chin.

“He likes you, Mr. Schnabel,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “Say hello.”

“Hello,” I said.

“His name is Shnooby.”

“Hello,” I said, “Shnooby.”

“So, Mr. Schnabel, you’re courting that young lady from the jewelry shop?”

“Uh, yes, sir.”

“Hubba hubba! What is her name? Adrasteia?”

“Um, Elektra,” I said.

“Elektra! Elektra. Ah. So beautiful. A vision. She walks in beauty like the night. More beautiful than the night, really, because you can’t, ahem, you know, whatever, with the night,” he said. “And, Mr. Ridpath, haven’t I seen you squiring Mrs. Biddle’s granddaughter around town?”

“Um, well -- we’re certainly friends,” said Dick.

“Ah, friends!” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “Ah, to be young like you two rapscallions. Ah yes. To be young.”

“Y’know, those people have probably moved on by now,” Dick said, working his body up from the absorbent sofa again, and, stretching his arm to its full length to reach the ashtray, putting out his cigarette. “We shouldn’t impose on your hospitality.”

“Not imposing at all!” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“Well, but Arnold has to get back to --”

“To Aresteia!”

“Yes,” said Dick. “She’s waiting for him.”

“Can’t keep a lady waiting!”

“No,” said Dick.

“Do you want me to check?” asked Mr. Arbuthnot.


“To see if those people are still outside. Lurking.”

“Uh, sure, if you could,” said Dick.

“Don’t move!”

Mr. Arbuthnot put his drink down on a side table, jumped lightly off the easy chair, hurried across the room to a side table with an old globe of the Earth on it, picked up the globe, which was almost half as big as he was, and brought it over and set it down in its stand on the coffee table.

“Now, first, gentlemen, I must ask you please to give me your word never to speak of what I am about to show you.”

“Sure,” said Dick.

“Not even to each other.”

“Fair enough,” said Dick.

“Mr. Schnabel?”


I’d been stroking the cat’s head, only vaguely paying attention.

“May I please have your word that you won’t speak of what I’m about to show you?”

“What if it’s something illegal?” I asked.

“It’s not. Not necessarily, anyway.”

“Well, okay,” I said.

“Good. Sit up straighter, gentlemen.”

“Well, that’s not so easy, Mr. Arbuthnot,” said Dick, stating the obvious.

“Oh, right, well, get up and let’s take it back to the other table.”

He grabbed up the globe again and took it back to the table he’d just removed it from.

Dick and I looked at each other, but we put down our drinks, struggled out of our seats and followed, and the cat followed us.

“This is the way I usually do it anyway,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “Just stand by this little table and look at the globe. Here, you two fellows stand over there and there.”

He directed me to stand right in front of the globe, and for Dick to stand to my left, nearer the wall. Mr. Arbuthnot stood across from Dick to my right.

“Okay, just spin the globe, Mr. Schnabel.”

“Just spin it?”

“Sure, give it a good healthy spin.”

Finally I had met someone in Cape May who was at least my equal in lunacy. The globe was old and its colors had faded to shades of deep brown and greyish purple. I gave it a spin, and it spun, round and round.

“Zero in around here,” said Mr. Arbuthnot, pointing with his little finger, “that’s the latitude of Cape May, scenic Cape May.”

I stared at the globe at the place he was pointing and then the three of us, Dick, Mr. Arbuthnot, and I, were standing on the sidewalk outside his shop, looking at Miss Evans and Mr. and Mrs. DeVore.

Dick and I of course were flabbergasted, silent.

“Don’t worry,” said Mr. Arbuthnot, “we can see and hear them, but they they can neither hear nor see us.”

“Let’s try Sid’s Tavern,” said Mr. DeVore. “I hear that’s a fun place.”

“Do you think Arnold would go there?” asked Miss Evans.

“Well, Miss Evans, from what I’ve heard, there aren’t any very many bars that Arnold wouldn’t go to.”

“All right,” she said.

She shifted her balck shiny purse back on her hip and led the way, striding back down Washington.

(Go here for our next wacky chapter. Kindly look to the right hand side of this page to find an allegedly complete listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, portions of which are now available as cellphone ringtones for an extremely modest fee.)

Françoise Hardy:


Unknown said...

What a world! I've always wanted a globe like Mr. Arbuthnot's. When I was eight or nine, my parents had friends who had one, or so I imagined.
It was a big as an ottoman (but round) and housed inside a standing wooden frame with little wheels on the bottom. But it was a valuable antique. I wasn't allowed near it, and I never saw anyone else use it or even casually give it a turn.

Anonymous said...

"Dick and I took seats on the sofa, which turned out to be one of those sofas which absorb you like some living thing, drawing you down so that you’re sitting only an inch or two from the floor, with your knees almost at a level with your chin."


Jennifer said...


Unknown said...

very cool!