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The virtuous medlar circle
thoroughly bletted
The Lute and the Lamp
Rhys Hughes

The first of three stories
The Don Entrerrosca Trilogy


The town
was in uproar, which was difficult, for the wind blew from the south and tumbled the shouts back down into the streets. The scent of the mountains came too, cool and lonely, and because the windows of the tall houses were open, it mistook rooms for gullies and filled them. Some people decided this was a relief and newspapers were read instead of waved like fans. It had been hot, and many kind looks had been lowered on ice, in drinks and dreams, but now the breeze took away the need for such expressions. Yet the sky was still the blue of steel, a colour which sharpens thirst and forgets the sea.

The rumours had started themselves. A man was committing a crime, breaking the law in public. Was he an outsider? Was he ignorant of the rules in Córdoba? No, he did not have this excuse. Of mitigating factors there were none: he was a blatant minstrel. And his name and face were familiar to all the locals. He called himself Don Entrerrosca, by which it was surmised that he was of dubious parentage, or none at all, because the name has no basis in any meaning. He created himself, in a sense, by lisping instead of talking, for he thought he was a romantic. And so he was, but not a very good one.

Fancy you asking me now about Eber Marcela Soler! She lived in the house with the most inaccessible balconies. This situation was not of her own choice. The senate and the chamber of deputies had decreed it, so that when a minstrel paused under her windows and looked up, he might be discouraged by the height and difficulty of angle. The aim of a song is too imprecise to be certain of reaching her ears up there, and if the minstrel was a fraction of a degree out, he might accidentally serenade an inappropriate target: a man or a room of furniture or an empty balcony, and then be forced to fight a duel for their honour. And fighting a duel for something you do not love, such as a chair, is a bad idea. You will not fight with any spirit and thus you will probably lose and not even care.

The fair Señorita Soler had been causing enough trouble in Córdoba. Let us talk about obstruction of the highway! Before the authorities made it illegal, men travelled from all over Argentina to serenade her. Sometimes they came from much further, so far that they could not sing in Spanish. But she was fluent in many languages. Her hair was black and lustrous, darker than the worst bruises on the men who fought over her. And you, dear reader, would hope to win her too, if you could see her now. Her smile, her laughing eyes; no, I do not want to share her with you! Find your own southern beauty if you wish for a full description; but even so, she will not be so lovely as mine.

Not that I possess her: that is just my idle wish. Eber Soler was not a prize to be won; she is a woman, and she, and you, should know what that means. Anyway, the congestion in her neighbourhood was considerable. The streets around her house were always so thick with troubadours that not a single vehicle might pass. Delays of this sort cost money. The authorities did not view such financially ruinous incidents with tolerant eyes. They grumbled about Argentina being a country of vast resources, and fated always to remain so, for nothing could ever be harnessed properly, and beautiful women who turned all working men into lovers were as much to blame for this as bribery and corruption. And Señorita Soler was the most gorgeous of all and thus synonymous with economic recession.

They banned all suitors from her window and decreed an exclusion zone around her house with a radius the length of the echo of a plaintive note; later this was increased to that of a passionate chord. Transgression of this rule would be punished by forced eating of the instrument of melody, generally only with a light salad as an accompaniment, which explains why the few suitors who dared to woo the fair Eber after the passing of this law favoured the mandolin over the larger guitar, and never used a trumpet or bagpipes, as they do in Mexico and Scotland, but less in that latter country, on account of the climate. Plus it is easier to aim a mandolin.

No guards were paid to ensure the keeping of the peace, because of the expense, but the authorities relied on Señorita Soler's neighbours to crease the ambitions of her suitors, in a manner of squealing, by informing them on the telephone. The moment a hopeful young valiant, with his heart worn on his sleeve so often that the pin holding it there had rusted quite through, letting the organ drop into the hollow soundbox of his instrument, raised his voice to the window of his beloved, which was always Eber Soler, of course, and nobody else, the moment this happened, I repeat, some virtuous citizen, mostly a young lady herself, would call through to the authorities and cry into the mouthpiece: "Hurry! There is a serenade in progress! The sentimental content is very high!" And the police would fly to the scene of the chorus, with their sirens screaming WOO! WOO! so that everybody knew what was going on and who was going down and why this should be so. These young ladies must have studied alchemy in their spare time. How else did they convert their personal jealousy, which is a base mettle, into the pure goal of public duty?

And so the adorable Eber remained unattached, though fiercely loved, and Córdoba went about its business without surplus traffic accidents. Until Don Entrerrosca appeared again from nowhere. Who was he? Imagine a Macbeth without a blasted heath, except on the heels of his shoes. Picture to yourself an Orpheus with a head which would not float in water or wine, but which could swim on the surface of a mirror. It is not that Entrerrosca was vain and loved his own reflection; no, but he knew every song of Carlos Gardel and Eduardo Arolas, and this gave him an excess of justified pride. He was famous for his odd ideas. He claimed that Astor Piazzolla wrote real tangos and that men and women should talk to each other at barbecues. Almost as outrageously, he believed that a stubborn donkey should be beaten with a carrot, and that the original colour of that vegetable was purple. He also theorised that the most effective lutes are carved in one piece from a whole tree. And now he was ready to prove it.

Perhaps what followed has nothing to do with magic. It could be simply that his voice was very fine, and that the tips of his fingers were just soft and furious enough on the strings. Or maybe he really had discovered the lost songs of Orpheus, which can charm all living things. I am sorry to say that I have no mechanical explanation. The general view, which nobody else has bothered to question, is that he made his lute from a tree which was already a saturated sponge for love, and that his playing merely squeezed these essences back out, all at once in a concentrated form. Certainly the bark was scarred with hearts and initials from long ages past. Some wounds had started to heal, others had faded altogether and were overlapped by newer hearts. But every message had a total meaning. "Yo soy el árbol, conmovido y triste; tu eres la niña que mi cuerpo hirió," as the Cuban composer, Eusebio Delfín, puts it. Don Entrerrosca knew all the Cuban songs too. His repertoire was definitive.

He had wandered Patagonia, playing to the wind and perfecting his style. At last he was confident enough to make an attempt on Eber's heart. Let us discuss this heart! It was made of stone. That is a cliché, is it not? But it also happens to be true. Please do not accuse me of lazy writing. I am a faithful reporter of what actually happened. Metamorphic rock. It was marble, actually. In that case, how did it work? Well, it is true that the stunning Eber had been anaemic for some time after the petrification, but she had conquered that now and was better. Probably dancing the tango kept her circulation going, even though she had to dance it with her own shadow instead of a man. But no, that is silly. How could her shadow tap her on the back to give directions? The truth of the matter is that she had no use for her own heart because the hearts of so many men beat for her. That is the answer. A million other hearts, mine included; and soon, yours too.

What are the exact circumstances surrounding the turning of her heart to stone? I shrug, because I really do not know. Some people say that a gorgon cast a glance at it. As proof, they cite that gorgons no longer take their vacations in Asia Minor and that Argentina may be a substitute destination. I call this evidence purely serpentstantial and therefore worthless. It is also gliglic, whatever that means: another invented word. But the gorgon connection is probably correct. I think the great Jorge Luis Borges had the solution. He wrote about the cockatrice, a mythical beast with a look which can kill. If the egg of a cockatrice was mistakenly hatched by a gorgon, the supernatural powers of the two beings might get mixed up. It is far more plausible to my mind that a cockatrice with a glance which can turn objects to stone must have caught sight of Eber's heart. But why was her heart not tucked up safely inside her bosom? She must have taken her emotional armour off, exposing it. That is my best guess. What was the cockatrice doing in Argentina? It must have been touring the world. Others think that the turning of organs into stone is a calamity which could only have come from outside this planet, from the stars, and that it is a type of disease. This hypothesis seems awfully cryptic and occultist to me. Its supporters must be masons.

Now then: the imminent serenade! Don Entrerrosca had his song ready, safely sheathed in his throat. It was an unused weapon, lethal. He entered the outskirts of Córdoba with his giant lute on little wheels. He dragged it behind him. Because of the law and the exclusion zone, he did not find it difficult to walk down the roads to Señorita Soler's house. The traffic flowed smoothly. Soon he was parked far below her window. He called up: "Eber! Eiiiiibbbbaaa! I am here to melt your heart, and to defy the authorities, and to make a sweet din, which should accomplish both my desires simultaneously!" And before he could be sure that his shout had roused her from her siesta, he began to pluck the strings. No troubadour worth his boots will sing to a lady in the middle of the afternoon, but fear not that Entrerrosca had lost the soles of his senses. Dusk was drawing on, and the moon. The fair Eber generally took a longer siesta than most of her neighbours. Her beauty had earned it.

Did his song reach her? LOVE is not just a word, but a word on stilts; which is how it is able to touch even the highest balconies. It was the first time he had sung it all the way through. It was so potent that he had composed and rehearsed small passages in isolation. Now he was fitting them together. Any living thing which heard the whole song would instantly fall in love with him. Imagine it! The most beautiful song ever written played on a lute which was already soaked through with desire. How could Eber fail to be moved? Even her marble heart would have to turn liquid under this amorous assault. I know what you are thinking. Córdoba is renowned for its beautiful women. If Don Entrerrosca finished his song without interruption from anybody else on the street, such as a robber or drunkard, then all the ladies of the entire neighbourhood would fall in love with him, and throw themselves off their balconies into his arms, one at a time, and he would try to catch them all, from a sense of duty, and soon he would be crushed to death under a rain of accelerated caresses.

But Entrerrosca was clever and had anticipated this. He was also an amateur philosopher and knew the difference between logic and a good time. They are two separate things, but he hoped to finally blend them together, or rather to harness the former in service of the latter. He had considered the problem of courting the fair Eber to a much greater depth than his rivals. They simply launched themselves into the task without restraint. In a sense, their efforts were all feeling and no mind. But Entrerrosca, as we have already learned, was a bad romantic. Unlike his rivals, he had no natural charm. Thus he had been forced to study the ways of seduction; he had employed his reason. He knew that the inaccessibility of Eber's balcony was the doom of all other snipers of love. Invariably they chose small instruments, partly because these were easier to aim, mostly because these were easier to digest if they were apprehended by the police. But the angle was just too difficult for any aim, and they always missed. And then the neighbour who had been accidentally hit with the song would reach for the telephone. We know the outcome. WOO! WOO! Oh, those jealous Señoritas!

Don Entrerrosca's first idea was to perfect the accuracy of the aim of a mandolin, perhaps with the aid of a telescopic sight and parabolic dish, to catch and concentrate any potential echo. He soon abandoned the scheme as unworkable. Any instrument which achieved the desired accuracy would be too small to be actually heard! So he decided to adopt the opposite approach. He would not bother with secrecy. He would play to the entire neighbourhood! It did not matter if the whole of Córdoba heard him! Because his song had more love in it than any other. It was a song of total love. What does this mean? How would it save him? Well, the answer can be found at the end of a simple logical exercise. If all the girls fell in love with him simultaneously, they would not throw themselves off their balconies. No, if they felt true love, rather than just carnal desire, though lust is certainly a part of love, but only in the same way that the taste of an apple is a component of an orchard, with all its trees and paths and fences and ladders and thieves hiding in the dark of a moonless night, concealed as cunningly as a pithy saying in an overlong sentence, which reminds me of the paradox that when a heart is stolen its recovery is the crime, but let me return to the point, which is that if the love inspired in the Señoritas was total and true, what they would wish most of all is the happiness of Entrerrosca. And thus they would not interfere with his courting of Eber Soler. For his blessed sake, they would allow him to continue his song. This paragraph has been clumsy and strained. I have exhausted you, dear reader. Please boil a kettle and make yourself a refreshing drink.

Now then, let us examine more closely his giant lute. It was a whole tree, as we already know, and had been uprooted without undue fuss from a Patagonian valley. Because it was an old tree, an ancient lovers' tree, it was gnarled and hollow. An owl had made a nest inside it. This space acted as a natural soundbox. Entrerrosca had strung it with silver wires, not just the six of a guitar, nor the doubled seven of a traditional lute, but a hundred, which made it impossible to play, but he could. He did not use ten fingers and a tail to sound inhuman chords: that is a conceit for a different story by a better writer. Besides, Entrerrosca was no devil. He relied on hope, luck and his burning love to master the instrument. When he plucked it, the owl flew away and the leaves on the branches of the tree trembled. All the accumulated love in the trunk was squeezed out. It radiated over the whole street, and yet it seemed that two soundboxes were amplifying the note rather than one, for the interior of Entrerrosca's chest also throbbed with the song, as if there was a space inside there too. He continued to play and every balcony in the neighbourhood was swept by waves of love.

The jealous Señoritas leaned out to see what this beautiful fuss was about. They peered down at Entrerrosca and fell in love with him. First they wanted him for themselves and they unpinned their hair, which was swept back and secured in big chignons, then this impulse passed: they noted that the troubadour was gazing up only at Eber's balcony. So they rushed to their telephones to report him to the authorities. But before they had crossed their rooms, they thought to themselves: "I love this fellow and therefore want the best for him; and he desires only Eber Soler, so I shall fondly allow him to continue singing to her and I will not spoil his attempts to win her." And they disconnected their telephones and sat on their chairs, sighing and pouting and growing their fingernails. And nobody else who heard his song, male or female, felt the need to betray him, even with the promised reward for doing so. The stratagem had worked.

And what of beautiful Eber? What did she think of the song? I fear that at this point you may accuse me of writing a contrived fiction instead of reporting the facts. I swear that I am not playing a literary game. I would like to say that she was convinced by the melody and came down to her lover and so began a fabulous affair. Alas, the truth is more complex. At twilight, Señorita Soler always placed a lamp in her window, to let the world, and any passing troubadour, know that she was in. It was a political act, a challenge to the authorities, who had decreed an end to romance in her part of Córdoba. Don Entrerrosca knew this from his researches and he had seen the light. Unfortunately, this flame did not belong to the lamp. A minute before he started his song, Eber had ignited her little stove in order to boil her kettle. She had felt a sudden need for a refreshing drink. But then she realised that she was out of tea. There was no yerba mate in her cupboards. So she had gone to the shops to buy some. She descended and left her house through the back entrance. She never saw Entrerrosca, who was standing at the front, and he never saw her. He played to the flame of the kettle and she did not hear a single note. It was a stroke of very bad luck. But why did she feel the urge to make tea at that precise moment? Somebody must have suggested it. Somebody who loved Eber but who did not hear the song and who was thus free to sabotage the poor minstrel's efforts. A deaf rival, perhaps?

No, I am being disingenuous. But let me tell you the remainder of it: how Entrerrosca finished his song on a bended knee, and how he was carried off against his will by his own instrument. It was the first time the entire song had been played. It was powerful enough to win the affections of any living thing. The tree had been uprooted whole and thus was still alive. Being a tree, it knew nothing about Eber Soler and did not care to withhold its spontaneous passion for her sake. All it understood was that it was madly in love with the man who was already cradling it in his arms. It snatched him up with its branches and started running on its exposed roots, using them as legs. It had so many that its velocity was considerable. My best guess is that it intended to run with him out of Córdoba and all the way back to Patagonia, perhaps to live together in a casita blanca on the pampas, surrounded by rheas; probably not. Who can say? Its romantic plans remain a mystery, for it was knocked down by a vehicle where the main avenues, General Paz and Colón, intersect. Knocked down and smashed into little splinters!

The lesson of this accident is that all troubadours should beware of what they sing to their sweethearts, for their instruments are closer to them. Anyway, Don Entrerrosca was deemed absurd and exiled from this story forever. The remains of the tree were eaten by him, but he was allowed to spit them out as pulp and they were turned into paper. Córdoba is a major publishing centre. Oddly enough, the vehicle in question was a police car, but with its siren turned off. It could not have known about the serenade, because nobody had reported it. A pure coincidence. I did not sustain any injuries in the collision, though I was later reprimanded for dangerous driving. I managed to obtain the paper which was made from the tree. It was suffused with love. Here it is. I cannot play a note on a lute, nor can I write poetry. But when she reads this story, which is also my official report, she might fall in love with me. It is my only chance to win her. It is my offering. What are you thinking? That this is too self-referential for a proper twist and that I am a postmodern fool? No, just a lovesick one. And what about Eber's heart? Will it finally melt? Impossible for me to know, unless she presses this tale to her bosom and the droplets dry here on the page . . .


The Don Entrerrosca Trilogy
Continues with
The Toes of the Sun

The Lute and the Lamp
previously appeared in
STORIES FROM A LOST ANTHOLOGY, a collection of short stories
by Rhys Hughes
published by Tartarus Press,
a notoriously fine publisher.
Read the review
by William P. Simmons
in infinity plus




Rhys Hughes is, by his own admission, a heterochromic logodaedalus much
concerned with ontological fripperies, the deep
pondering of which has turned his static nimbus into a corybantic fulgor. He may get better.

He is also the author of 350 short stories and many
books, including
A NEW UNIVERSAL HISTORY OF INFAMY. For the past ten years he has been working on a long novel. It is nearly finished!

He enjoys travelling — when he can afford it — and in an ideal world would spend all his time visiting other countries. He also loves music, cooking and reasonably light physical exercise. His literary hero is Italo Calvino. His puppet hero is Bagpuss.
Rhys Hughes can be contacted at
rhysaurus (at)

The virtuous medlar circle

is part of
Anna Tambour and Others

"The Lute and the Lamp" copyright © 2002-2005 by Rhys Hughes, first appeared in STORIES FROM A LOST ANTHOLOGY, Tartarus Press, 2002
This short story appears here with thanks to Rhys Hughes, whose payment was less than a brass razoo.
This story is part of a series of invited pieces by people I find deliciously inspiring, always a hoot, and who write like a bletted medlar tastes. A.T.
The Virtuous Medlar Circle © 2005