The Garden of the Gods (1978)

By Gerald Durrell

The third book in the Corfu trilogy starting with "My Family and Other Animals"

(See also many related pictures on our Gerald Durrell and Corfu pages (Click))

Cover picture © Collins 1978.

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THE MERRIMENT OF FRIENDSHIP

‘And now, ladies and gentlemen, I present the famous escape artists, Krafty Kralefsky and his partner, Slithery Stephanides.’

‘Dear God,’ said Larry, ‘who thought of those names?’

‘Need you ask?’ said Leslie; ‘Theodore. Kralefsky wanted to call the act ‘The Mysterious Escapologist Illusionists’ but Margo couldn’t guarantee to say it properly.

‘One must be thankful for small mercies,’ said Larry.

Theodore and Kralefsky clanked on to the floor near the piano carrying their load of ropes, chains and padlocks.

‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ said Kralefsky. ‘Tonight we will show you tricks that will baffle you, tricks so mysterious that you will be agog to know how they are done.’ He paused to frown at Theodore, who had dropped a chain on the floor by mistake.

‘For my first trick I will ask my assistant not only to bind me securely with rope but chain as well.’

We clapped dutifully and watched, delighted, while Theodore wound yards and yards of rope and chain around Kralefsky. Occasional whispered altercations drifted to the audience.

‘I’ve.... er,....., you know..., um..., forgotten precisely the knot... Um..., yes..., you mean the padlock first? Ah yes, I have it... hm... er..., just a second.’

At length, Theodore turned apologetically to the audience. I must apologise for..., er..., you know..., er..., taking so long,’ he said, ‘but, unfortunately, we didn’t have time to. er..., practise, that is to say,...’

‘Get on with it!’ hissed Krafty Kralefsky.

At length, Theodore had wound so many lengths of rope and chain around Kralefsky that he looked as though he had stepped straight out of Tutankhamen’s tomb. ‘And now,’ said Theodore, with a gesture at the immobile Kralefsky, ‘would anyone like to..., er..., you know, examine the knots?’

Colonel Ribbindane lumbered forward.

‘Er... Um....,’ said Theodore, startled, not having expected his offer to be taken up. ‘I’m afraid I must ask you to..., um, that is to say..., if you don’t actually pull on the knots.. er..., um...’

Colonel Ribbindane made an inspection of the knots that was so minute one would have thought he were chief warder in a prison. At length, and with obvious reluctance, he pronounced the knots good. Theodore looked relieved as he stepped forward and gestured at Kralefsky again.

‘And now, my assistant, that is to say, my partner, will show you how..., easy it is to..., er..., you know..., um, rid yourself of..., er..., um..., several yards..., feet, I should say..., though, of course, being in Greece, perhaps one should say metres... er..., um..., several metres of.. er..., rope and chains.

He stepped back and we all focused our attention on Kralefsky.

‘Screen!’ he hissed at Theodore. ‘Ah! Hm..., yes,’ said Theodore, and laboriously moved a screen in front of Kralefsky.

There was a long and ominous pause, during which we could hear panting and the clanking of chains from behind the screen.

‘Oh dear,’ said Margo, ‘I do hope he can do it.’

‘Shouldn’t think so,’ said Leslie; ‘all those padlocks look rusty.

But at that moment, to our astonishment, Theodore whipped away the screen and revealed Kralefsky, slightly purple of face and dishevelled, standing free in a pool of ropes and chains. The applause was genuine and surprised, and Kralefsky basked in the adulation of his audience.

‘My next trick, a difficult and dangerous one, will take some time,’ he said portentously. ‘I shall be roped and chained by my assistant and the knots can be examined by - ha ha - the sceptics among you, and then I shall be cast into an airtight box. In due course you will see me emerge miraculously, but it takes some time for me to achieve this..., er..., miracle.

Spiro and Megalotopolopopoulos appeared dragging a large and extremely heavy olive-wood chest of the sort that used to be used for storing linen. It was ideal for the purpose, for when Kralefsky had been roped and chained and the knots examined minutely by a suspicious Colonel Ribbindane, he was lifted into it by Theodore and Spiro and slid into the interior as neatly as a snail into its shell. Theodore, with a flourish, slammed the lid shut and locked it.

‘Now, when my assis... er..., my..., er..., um.. partner, that is to say..., signals, I will release him,’ he said.

[Later] I don’t like it,’ said Mother. ‘I hope Mr. Kralefsky knows what he’s doing.’

‘I shouldn’t think so,’ said Leslie gloomily. ‘It’s too much like.., well...,premature burial.’

‘Perhaps when we open it he’ll have changed into Edgar Allen Poe,’ suggested Larry hopefully.

‘It’s perfectly all right, Mrs. Durrell,’ said Theodore. ‘I can communicate with him by a series of knocks..., um..., a sort of Morse code.’

Just at that moment came a loud knock from the box in which Kralefsky was incarcerated.

‘Aha!’ said Theodore. ‘The signal.’ He went to the box and bent over, his beard bristling as he tapped on it like a woodpecker. ‘He will apparently be a minute or two yet,’ announced Theodore. ‘He’s had a little trouble........., difficulty, that is, with the padlocks. At least that's what I understand him to say.

[Later] "I think, you know, perhaps I ought just to open the box and have a look," said Theodore thoughtfully. "You know just as a precaution."

Theodore had tiptoed over to the box and was now feeling in his pockets worriedly; Leslie joined him and they discussed the problem of the entombed Kralefsky. I saw Leslie trying ineffectually to raise the lid when it became obvious that Theodore had lost the key.

Leslie and Theodore had now been joined by Spiro, carrying a large crowbar; together they set about the task of trying to open the lid. There were loud groaning noises as Leslie and Spiro struggled with the heavy lid of the chest. With a splintering noise like a giant tree being felled, the lid of the chest was finally wrenched open. Inside lay Kralefsky still swathed in ropes and chains, his face an interesting shade of blue, his hazel eyes wide and terrified.

‘Aha, I see we’re a bit..., er..., you know..., premature,’ said Theodore. ‘He hasn’t succeeded in untying himself.’

‘Air! Air!’ croaked Kralefsky, ‘Give me air!’

‘Interesting,’ said Colonel Ribbindane. ‘Saw a pygmy like that once in the Congo... been trapped in an elephant’s stomach. The elephant is the largest African quadruped.."

‘Do get him out,’ said Mother agitatedly. ‘Get some brandy.’

‘Fan him! Blow on him!’ shrilled Margo, and burst into tears. ‘He’s dying, he’s dying, and he never finished his trick.’

‘Air... air,’ moaned Kralefsky as they lifted him out of the box.

In his shroud of ropes and chains, his face leaden, his eyes closed, he certainly looked a macabre sight.

‘1 think perhaps, you know, the ropes and chains are a little constricting,’ said Theodore judiciously, becoming the medical man.

‘Well, you put them on him, you get them off him,’ said Larry.

‘Come on, Theodore, you’ve got the key for the padlocks.’

‘I seem, rather unfortunately, to have mislaid it,’ Theodore confessed.

‘Dear God!’ exclaimed Leslie. ‘I knew they shouldn’t be allowed to do this. Damned silly. Spiro, can you get a hack-saw?’

They laid Kralefsky on the sofa and supported his head on the cushions; he opened his eyes and gasped at us helplessly...."

[Later] "The trick would have worked perfectly, only Dr Stephaniedes should only have pretended to lock the padlocks," Mr Kralefsky was explaining, while a scowling Spiro hack-sawed away at the locks and chains.

"Of course, said Mother, "we quite understand."

"I was never..., er..., you know..., very good at conjuring." admitted Theodore contritely

[Later] "I could feel the air running out and hear my heart-beats getting louder and louder. It was horrible, quite horrible," said Kralefsky, closing his eyes with a shudder that made all his chains jangle." I began to think I'd never get out."

"And you missed the rest of the cabaret too," put in Margo sympathetically."

Adapted from THE GARDEN OF THE GODS © Gerald Durrell 1978

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Cover picture © House of Stratus 2003

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