moment, though, his job is to observe, not act. He judges Ann and Julie to be sincere, as indeed he is himself, with them. In any case, they behave towards him in a loving manner, and that – to him – is indistinguishable from love. Perhaps it is indistinguishable from love.
The old man has disappeared, but Bruno can call up the myriad possible pathways accessible from this spot from his former explorations. He sets out, slowly, to traverse them.
When he finds him, in a little alcove set off from the corridor, the old man is sitting on his suitcase and playing on an odd instrument, a kind of bulbous, elongated recorder. Or, at any rate, he is blowing softly into it and moving his fingers up and down on the stops with a curious, jerky motion. Nothing comes out, save a faint hissing sound. Seeing a uniformed man standing in front of him, the old man puts down his flute and looks up with an expression of bland enquiry, as if he has been interrupted in the midst of some vital yet ordinary task.
“What are you playing?” asks Bruno.
“Your question is imprecise, young man. If you mean to ask what musical instrument am I playing, this is a chanter – a kind of practice player for the bagpipes. Alas, my bagpipes are long gone, and I would hardly have the wind to play them if they weren’t! If you mean to ask what piece I’m playing, it is the Lament for Mary MacLeod, an ancient Highland tune in the musical form known as piobaireachd.”
“Would you play it for me?”
“Certainly, young man, certainly.”
The old man seems happy to display his skills on the ancient mouthpiece, and begins to produce a series of odd, discordant noises, with little relation to any of the melodic forms Bruno knows. For ten minutes or so he continues, then stops with a sigh.
“I suppose that means nothing to you.”
“No,” said Bruno.
“Well, where should I begin? Do you have the time for the full story, or are you going somewhere in a hurry?”
“The origins of this art are lost in the depths of time, but if we begin in the city of Cremona, in Italy …”