In which Catharine the
artist is tracked to the Shamrock Café
and eery coincidence of a
Waking up in the clean
mountain air perfumed with the crisp scents of forest, Hellmantle's first
thought was of the woman he had met last year while in Manila for an assignment
for the magazine. He wondered if today would be the day that he could kindle
that unrealized flame and secure his love interest during his noble enterprise
so far north in such a remote setting. He had met the fair-haired artist when
she was in the big city picking up art supplies for her little getaway in
Sagada. To Hellmantle her invitation to visit her was sincere enough to warrant
the effort of the Halseema Mountain Trail and the added degree of
trailbiking prowess to overcome the terrain; braving valleys with headhunters
among cloud and darkness was a pittance to him for what might lay ahead for
him. But he felt in his gut something that he wasn't sure the name for it. It
was a pre-cognitive feeling that he knew he could never fathom.
Dennis Faustino had already left for the church so he and D'Aqs
packed up but did not go over to the church to watch part of the wedding until
D'Aqs had written a note leaving his father's address in Hong Kong in case
Dennis Faustino ever landed on Hong Kong Island. With his PhD he might enjoy
meeting his father, a fellow academic. Hellmantle didn't think of leaving a
note and was noticeably impatient as he sat at the top of the steps. Through
the open doors they saw Dennis Faustino playing the organ looking a bit puffy
around the eyes.
Hellmantle noticed behind
the church where there were some graves an American World War Two memorial had
been defaced. It bothered him that someone had painted over the engraved
letters so the writing on the mantle was illegible. Beside it there was a green
shamrock over the gate of the adjoining school called Trinity College, which
made him forget about the vandalized memorial.
"Let's go to the Shamrock
Café to ask about the German lass," he said, realizing that he had started
to procrastinate. He tried to be cavalier but he was nervous about finally
tracking her down.
D'Aqs waved at Dennis and
then they left for café on the main street. There was space in front of some
tables to park their dirt bikes, as there were no sidewalks. In the brightness
of the morning, the Shamrock Café was tiny.
is still not arrived señor," said the woman with empathy." No bus yet,
but soon señor, very soon."
"I can't stay,
unfortunately. We're on our motorcycles and have to be back in Manila in four
"I can leave her a message
if you want sir."
"Hellmantle. Tell her Hellmantle
from Normandy came by to see her and consummate our destiny." The woman put
a small piece of scrap paper on the table and she wrote down his name. After
she had finished writing he took it to correct the spelling, and added: "Fair
artist from Germany, I have trekked a thousand miles on my motorbike to see you
but alas! You are not here. But knowing that you are here and known by
this bar manager, I am inspired by your honesty and will complete my quest in
honor of you. Maybe we'll have the chance to meet again." He even left a
telephone number for further correspondence at the artist's discretion due to
D'Aqs' suggestion. He had left evidence of his presence for her.
D'Aqs suggested coffee to
get Hellmantle back on track. They sat under old wooden shutters with a view of
miles of mountaintops and sloping green hills that still felt like the café at
edge of the universe by virtue of its vista: strange rock formations protruding
upwards like obelisks surrounded by bright green grass and dotted with clusters
of pine forests, wooden coffins hanging out of cave openings. It looked like a
"I feel as if I'm in
prehistoric Ireland," said Hellmantle looking out the window.
"Like a fairy tale. I can
see why the artist lives here." But the calm vibe was marred when other
foreigners sat right beside them when there was many other tables open in the
small café. Loud and excited and immature, it rattled Hellmantle's
sensitivities. Perhaps it was the combination of caffeine and the dramatic
vista before him, he soon felt claustrophobic and spoke thus to D'Aqs in a
"Why would they sit here
when there are so many other tables?" D'Aqs shrugged his shoulders and sipped
his coffee. Watch the tourists' posture manifest in an array of deviations from
their old self. Granted taking the first steps out of ones shell is a rite of passage
everyone must take, I have already stepped in those waters so I don't want to
be privy to others shin splints stumbling out of shells secluded and silent in
a small café when the vibrancy of the mountains draws me! I don't know if that
is arrogance or just because my way of traveling is truer than flying in from
some airport. I dislike being around green tourists. Perhaps it's
an imperfection of mine, but showing man's imperfections is the essence of
telling the truth, non?"
Hellmantle was so antsy that
he repacked his backpack and fastened it to his motorcycle with the bungee
cords. As D'Aqs waited for him to fix his pack, he realized that he too was
becoming claustrophobic. He wasn't sure if it was the attitude that came from
young westerners ending up in exotic locales fresh off a bus talking of
television shows that was infringing upon his sense of adventure too. Perhaps
it was his newborn love for motorcycling that had shown him another form of
traveling, the purity of its degree of freedom having wrecked his previous idea
"Let's go Hellmantle." For a
moment he watched the tall man in the motorcycle jacket and scraped black boots
laces tied around the top of the boot leaving tow hole free, gold-rimmed
glasses shining in the mountain sun.
"Yes! Let us move on! Time
to go find the Dutchman with the map. Not finding my Fair Lady will not deter
me from my duty at hand!" They started their engines with some moxie to show
the green tourists sitting with their fat bellies they lived in another dimension
of life, one where danger was real and where skills were a required ingredient
to get from point A to B. When D'Aqs was pulling his gloves he saw a woman
walking towards them, hair left to its own accord, bag drooped over a shoulder
that might have been the reason for the tilt of her head. At first he thought
it was the German artists but she was clearly brunette. He didn't know her but
he tipped his helmet to be polite.
Buenos Dias," he said, finding dormant words.
ease she put her hand on his handlebars and said:
tell me you rode here from Manila?" He felt the flush of his cheek from the
pride he had to say yes. Her eyes sparkled gray in the sun. "That's braver than
wasn't my idea. It was my cousin's," he said, bashful.
met somewhere, haven't we?" When she came closer he smelled her that sent his
physiology haywire. He had always believed there was someone out there destined
to be his partner through life but hadn't been fortunate to find her.
you an...an artista?" Her hand grabbed his with the same ease as her hair
had in the soft breeze, as if silk.
have met!" He wanted her to keep her hand on his forearm, forever.
was it in my dream?" He hand abandoned him going to her mouth, lips thin and
pink and inviting. "Oh my God! You are!" Cheeks flushed, eyes piercing.
He knew what dream she was referring, the same one he had had over and over
a priest or something, aren't you?"
I know." In all the vicissitudes life had thrown at him he had never
felt safer than this moment.
was recently a missionary in Burma," he said, his voice calm despite the tidal
waves in his heart.
from that big fort in Mandalay? Just a guess."
mean Fort Dufferin?"
That one." Their eyes could not let go.
must say, this is truly extraordinary! The stone church across from the fort,
the one near the Buddhist monastery with all of Gautama Buddha's parables
written on those stone tablets, was where I was stationed until I went to where
George Orwell used to live when he was an Imperial policeman after he graduated
from Eton from 1923 to 1928. Poor guy left with his health in tatters."
"That's classic!" eyes warm
and without malice. "I must say, this is truly extraordinary! In tatters."
Her laugh caught Hellmantle's attention through the sounds of their engines.
"No way!" she said when she
recognized Hellmantle. "You did come!"
"I have traversed many miles
to see you!" Overt and clumsy, his awkwardness gave D'Aqs a strength he had
never experienced before. Catharine put her hand on his forearm again, her eyes
intent on him. Hellmantle turned off his engine and hugged her, his hair all
over the place.
"Are you brothers? You have the
same eyes...almost." Catharine then made it clear whom she was enamored with when
she looked into D'Aqs' eyes with meaning.
cousins," he said.
"Well, I am flattered. I think that's the right word." She put her bag at
D'Aqs' feet as if she had been doing it all her life.
fair lass! We shall consummate our kindling fire so that I may fulfill my
destiny of finding the map!" Catharine looked at him with concern, and then
remembered Hellmantle's strange ways.
certainly remember meeting you."
"I knew it!" he said.
"You're the type of man a woman
remembers," she said, feeding the Man from Normandy the words he desired to
hear. "I really like your beard. It's very...bright."
knew there was an a priori understanding between us!"
what?" She giggled, looking at D'Aqs that said she was aware of Hellmantle's
eccentricities. She looked at the dried mud on her sleeve after the embrace
left from Hellmantle's riding jacket.
let me get the note I just left you!" He flew to the counter to retrieve the
he is funny." The understanding was bridged. They could already
communicate between the lines. When he shut off his engine he felt none of the
terror he always had around other women. Yes, Catharine was the one he had been
of all places we meet."
was jus thinking the same thing," she said, the moment with tremendous
they sat at the table beside the shuttered window D'Aqs had never been happier,
especially when she pressed her leg against his under the table. It was exactly
what he needed to quell insecurities that arose when he could witness her
beauty, And he could see that she loved it from her expression, which he read
as not wanting to change her present situation.
busied himself with retelling their exploits so far on the trip, taking special
care to highlight the manliness required to ‘conquer the Halseema Mountain
Trail.' Showing tremendous social tact she gave Hellmantle her attention so
that his illusions wouldn't shatter, which was something D'Aqs had learned to
we took the old missionary trail to see you despite the fact that it has cost
us some valuable time," he said, coming close to his conclusion.
God for that! Otherwise we wouldn't have met." The double entendre was
confirmed with the subtle flinching of her leg against D'Aqs'. He wondered how
Hellmantle, who was uncomfortable with human contact, could sustain a
relationship with a woman. The thought pained him because he was the last in
his family line to carry the surname Hellmantle.
don't know your family or much about you but something in my intuition told me
that you have a purpose in my grande scheme."
know what it is," she said, playfully.
so that D'Aqs and I can fulfill our holy mission in the name of love, chivalry
and the Holy Grail!" D'Aqs, knowing now what the searching for the Grail meant,
couldn't help himself from asking:
is your family from? You know we're from Normandy who recently fled to Quebec
during the war."
think I said I was from Germany, which is right because I was born there but my
family for centuries is from Gronigen in Belgium. My last name isn't German."
He and Hellmantle looked at each other, D'Aqs giving him the nod to ask the
is your surname?"
name is Catharine Asher." It meant nothing to D'Aqs but Hellmantle suddenly
is no reason for you to deceive, so that really is something: Asher!
Actual footage," he said, and straightened his posture. "I'm Roland
Hellmantle if you recall, and this fine lad here is-"
D'Aqs Grosjean," he said, henceforth using his original surname.
a shortened form of D'Aquitaine. It means of the water."
"My mother's family is from
there." Hellmantle, becoming more agitated the more he looked at his
wristwatch, spoke thus:
"I remember now! It was the
spelling of your name Catharine with the "ar" rather than the "er" that caught
recall when you asked the spelling of my name. You had a...a reaction."
rare that your name is spelt with the "ar," but for me it signifies that your
parents are aware of the massacre of the Cathars during the ninth century. And
for me that was the Sign." Looking at D'Aqs he said: "See? There was a reason."
Hellmantle is loathe to pass by a Sign."
tell me, your family is not Catholic."
my father is always talking about Catholics and history. It really made me
bananas when I was younger."
"Same with me."
"I never got it."
"Nor did I." He
unintentionally grabbed her hand, which she held and put under the table so
Hellmantle's spirit wouldn't be unbuouyed.
"He would be an Orange Man
if he could, but he wasn't born in Northern Ireland! But now that we have met
and we know you are an Asher from the tribe of the same name, we are set to
attain our quest. And that means now!" D'Aqs knew Hellmantle was not one for
long good-byes so when he paid for the food and coffee and went to his
motorcycle to put on his kit, he knew he wouldn't wait for them.
"Yes! I will. I love Hong
Kong." They gave each other a long hug, D'Aqs immediately drugged by her
have to call me because you don't have a telephone!"
know I will. At the end of next week after you guys are back. Ride safe
here though. And use your head." She looked wearily at Hellmantle. "Make sure
he doesn't do anything too extreme. We have a lot to catch up on D'Aqs."
He knew she was thinking of her reoccurring dream, the same one that had
sustained him through forty years of celibate patience and faith that one day
he would meet his mate. How rare was this moment! He decided then that God existed,
and to honor Him and Catharine he would grow his beard.