The next evening the group of young Americans walked into the dining area just about when everyone else in the hotel was finishing dessert. Raúl, as always, was starting his second course by himself. As soon as the Americans spotted him, they greeted him. Mark even patted him on the back with a jovial, hail-fellow, semi-patronizing gesture meant both to express his abiding gratitude and to erase the pitiable figure he must have cut the day before as the injured athlete of the group. They asked if he would like to join them for drinks at the hotel pub after he was done with dinner. With pleasure, replied the gentleman from Peru.

They had planned on going to one of the clubs around the hill, but had eventually decided to stay put on the hotel grounds. “You’ll be our guest. Or, rather, Malcolm’s guest. We’ve told him about you – he’s sorry he couldn’t be here to meet you.” Raúl gave the invitation to the bar table some thought, almost as though he regretted having accepted so readily and should have reconsidered. Then he added: “Tell Malcolm to beware of any last-minute transaction before the markets close today. He may not be able to avert or reverse its course, but he can certainly take provisions by hedging against the risks. Don’t forget.”

Basil made an it’s-been-duly-noted gesture, but Raúl, pointing his fork at him, insisted: “Tell him now, as in this minute.”

“Now, as in now?”

“Exactly,” said Raúl. “Call him!”

“He’s involved in crazy ventures,” Raúl explained to those around him, “but I know that this one is dangerous and he needs to sell before the markets close today.”

The call was made. It lasted no more than a few seconds. Angelica grabbed the phone and told him she missed him. He missed her too.

“Malcolm thanks you,” she told Raúl a moment later.

Later in the evening, as they gathered in the tiny pub and ordered drinks, Mark remarked that if Raúl was so good at forecasting volatile shifts in the market, why hadn’t his skills helped him make a fortune himself?

“Because I know nothing about the markets. Besides, I’m always afraid of risking the funds my good parents left me. I often know what dangers lie in store or what people are planning or plotting to do. But I’ve been tragically blind in the past – the greatest catastrophe in my life caught me totally by surprise. There’ve been other, terrible instances where my predictions simply proved totally wrong. But birthdays and past events are not difficult for me. Still, I know something is afoot in New York today. You watch: something will happen just before the market closes in half an hour.”

As they were relishing their drinks, Raúl told them he’d take them to see something special in the coming days if they had nothing better to do. Had any of them read The Aeneid?

Many of them had read bits and pieces. “Courtesy of our liberal arts education which cost our parents a fortune,” said Oscar, “and yet it all boils down to bits and pieces. Which is why we know nothing.”

“Exactly,” said Margot.

“They taught us contemporary poetry and contemporary issues, even contemporary grammar. But ultimately, like Margot says, nothing,” said Oscar.

“Like Margot says?” she asked, making fun of him. “As Margot says. Apologizomai.”

Everyone laughed. “Courtesy of college Greek 101.”

All toasted their alma mater.

Raúl didn’t quite understand why they were laughing but let the matter pass. He simply added that, if they wanted, he would take them to where Cuma was, one of the spots where Aeneas stopped on his travels after leaving Carthage. There, incidentally, lies the entrance to Avernus, the doorway to the world of the dead, on Lake Avernus.

“Have you been there?” asked Margot.

“Yes. But never alone.”

“Why? I’d like to go,” said Paul.

“Me too,” said Angelica.

“It’s the kind of thing Fellini would have loved, a group of friends working their way down a craggy passage into the underworld where we’re told Styx, the sacred river, ran. There you’ll see the mourning fields, the Lugentes campi,’ explained Raúl. ‘This is where all broken hearts tell their woebegone tales of love to anyone who passes by and cares to stop to listen: Phaedra, who took her own life for loving her stepson after she opened up her heart to him; Dido, who lit a fire and threw herself into it while Aeneas watched her burn from aboard his ship to Italy; Procris, who was mistakenly speared by her lover, and poor Caenis, raped by a god and begging to be turned into a man so as never to be raped again. Haven’t you all been burnt and speared and raped in your hearts at least once?”

“No comment,” said Oscar, which made everyone burst out laughing. But no one answered.

“Which means all of you have,” said Raúl.

“Everyone’s been hurt. But I still can’t believe that people actually take their own lives for love. It’s so kitsch, so camp.”

Excerpted with permission from The Gentleman from Peru, André Aciman, Faber and Faber.